Monday, 24 April 2017

REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Pages: 438
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Release Date: April 6th 2017
Buy The Book: A Great Read - Book Depository

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.

My Thoughts:
The Hate U Give follows Starr as her life completely changes after she witnesses her best friend get shot down and murdered by a white police officer. What follows is her struggle to fight for justice for Khalil and make sure he's remembered in the right way. The desperately sad fact about this story is that whilst Starr and Khalil are fictional characters, their situation is a harsh reality that occurs far too often in our society.

Compelling, powerful, and important are only some of the words that are floating around in my brain as I try to describe why this book is so amazing but, honestly, my words don't do it justice. The characters in this story are just so real and believable. I challenge you not to feel for Starr and her family, and what they have to deal with in their everyday lives. Though the subject matter is serious and important, the moments between Starr and her family were precious, heart-warming, and often funny. They all had so much life and a lot of love for each other, and it came across beautifully on the page. It was also interesting to see how Starr began to mix the two different sides of her life that she'd struggled to keep separate for so many years.

One character who frustrated me throughout this book was Hailey, but she exists to make readers feels that way. She's someone who says stupid things without thinking, and definitely doesn't recognise her own privilege. The sad thing is that there are many Haileys out there who can't even see how they're hurting and offending people with their words. So whilst her ignorance left me annoyed, it's important to show that Starr had to deal with attitudes like that.

The Hate U Give is a book that not only educates, but also inspires. It's about standing up and doing something, even though you might be afraid. Starr's journey to finding her own voice was a painful yet beautiful one, and seeing her determination grow throughout the story was brilliant. It also opened my eyes to things I wasn't as aware of as I should have been, and I'm so grateful to this book for doing that.

It's quite difficult for me to talk about everything that I want to without delving into spoilers, so I'll probably revisit this book for a video discussion at some point. I know a lot of readers, me included, can be a little skeptical of books that are surrounded by hype, but this is one of those books that earns the buzz. Relevant and raw, this is a story that shines a light on the situations like this that are still painfully common today.

Royal Rating:

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

BLOG TOUR: Review of 'Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined' by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Pages: 368
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Release Date: April 6th 2017
Buy The Book: A Great Read - Book Depository
Ingrid has made a deal with her mother: she gets to go to the school of her choice as long as she completes a three-week wilderness programme. But when Ingrid arrives, she quickly realizes there has been a terrible mistake: there will be no marshmallows or cabins here. Instead, her group will embark on a torturous trek, with almost no guidance from the two counsellors and supplied with only the things they can carry. On top of this, the other teen participants are “at risk youth”, a motley crew of screw-ups, lunatics and delinquents. But as the laborious days go by, and as memories of her complicated past come flooding back, Ingrid must confront the question of whether she shares more in common with these troubled teens than she’s willing to admit.

My Thoughts:
Ingrid is taking part in Peak Wilderness on a promise. If she completes the trip, she gets to go to the school of her dreams in England. But Peak Wilderness isn't anything like how Ingrid expected it to be. What she thought would be cabins and fun, outdoor activities were actually harsh nights of camping and brutal days of hiking. The story follows Ingrid as she struggles to make it through the difficult three weeks with a bunch of strangers who are all there for very different reasons.

What I particularly loved about this story was the various ways in which it was told. We got to jump between the past and present to gradually get the whole picture as to how and why Ingrid ended up at Peak Wilderness, and then there were the letters. Throughout the book, Ingrid writes letters that she never intends to send, but help her get her feelings out, putting them all onto the page. This variety in the storytelling kept things interesting and also kept me guessing as to what events had occurred in Ingrid's past.

Ingrid herself was a wonderful character to read about. Despite the situation she'd found herself thrown into, she managed to find determination to get through the difficult days. It was interesting to see how she reacted to the other characters and to watch her opinions of them change over time. She had a bit of everything to offer with her sarcasm, her wit, and her strength that grew throughout the book. Her turbulent relationship with her mother was heartbreaking but also beautiful at times. The writing really drove home the sadness and desperation that follows a career in the spotlight being pulled from right beneath a person's feet.

I'll admit that I'm difficult to please when it comes to romance in contemporary stories, so I was happy to see that the romantic relationships in this book didn't have any typically cheesy instalove attached to it. It wasn't what I expected, so I was pleasantly surprised! The journey that Ingrid and the other characters had to endure was gritty and tough, but I felt a sense of pride as they grew stronger through it. The secondary characters were all interesting in their own right, and it actually made me interested to learn more about them outside of Ingrid's story.

Whilst this book undoubtedly had it's more tragic elements, there was a sense of hope and determination underneath it all. With several issues being discussed, this story is a powerful one and these characters aren't easily forgettable. 

Royal Rating:

 



  
 
Be sure to check out the other blogs taking part in the blog tour this week:

 

Monday, 27 March 2017

BOOK CLUB REVIEW: Dramarama by E. Lockhart

Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: Contemporary
Release Date: February 9th 2017 (This Edition)
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Two teen theatre-fanatics. One dream. And SUMMER DRAMA CAMP.

All-round theatre-enthusiast, Sarah - better known by her showbiz name, Sayde - is a girl with ambitions too big for the small and conventional town she lives in. Her life doesn't have the razzle-dazzle she craves. For once she wants to feel special, noticed and be the centre of attention.

This summer Sadye has her talents set on Wildewood's prestigious theatre summer camp. And with her best friend Demi - a flamboyant falsetto, who is equally thrilled to be leaving their small town of Brenton - they will both experience a season of hormones, hissy fits, jazz hands, song and dance, true love and unitards! But despite all the glitz and glam, there comes rivalry and competition, and Sadye will have to prove her talents more than she has ever had to before.

Summer at Wildewood will not only determine Sadye's future - but will also test her friendships.

My Thoughts:
This one sounded fun. Granted, it sounded more like something I would have preferred a few years ago, but I was still keen to read it from the blurb. After a lot serious topics I'd been reading about recently, I was excited to jump into the exciting world of musical theatre at a summer camp. But this book turned out to be nothing like I expected.

Dramarama follows Sarah, who gets a place at the summer drama camp of her dreams and completely reinvents herself as Sayde. With her best friend Demi by her side, she plans to have the most exciting summer ever, packed with fulfilling her passion for musical theatre. But predictably, it's nothing like Sayde imagines it would be, and everything starts to go wrong for not only the future on stage that she has in mind, but also the only close friendship she has.

The main issue I had with this book was Sayde herself. At first, she was fun and her friendship with Demi was great. But as the story progressed, she started to irritate me quite a lot. Characters make bad decisions and I often find myself wanting to give them a little shake to snap them out of it, but the thing with Sayde is that I didn't feel as though she redeemed herself. The way she acted wasn't part of some amazing character arc, she just got more irritating and stayed irritating as the story went on. I did enjoy the scenes in which she showed genuine self-doubt and they enabled

Demi was the character I found the most fun, and I was way more interested in learning about what was going on in his life than I was Sayde's. Whilst I enjoyed their friendship at first, I didn't like how sour their relationship turned later on. Maybe if this story had been a split narrative between the two of them, it would have been a little more interesting. But just learning Sayde's thoughts on everything grew tiring. Demi was a more entertaining character, providing some of the much needed wit and excitement in book.

The ending was the biggest point of frustration for me because it felt mostly pointless. It lacked good development and didn't offer a satisfying conclusion. Also, I felt like Sayde could have redeemed herself much better than she did. As much as I like musicals, the references and drama camp setting weren't enough to keep me hooked on this story. Apart from enjoying a few cute scenes here and there, I just wasn't as interested as I wanted to be.

Royal Rating:

Thursday, 16 March 2017

REVIEW: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Pages: 256
Format: Movie Tie-In Paperback
Publisher: Walker Books
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: October 13th 2016
Buy The Book: A Great Read
An extraordinary novel of love, loss and hope

12.07. There's a monster at Conor's window.
It's not the one from his nightmare. But it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

Now a powerful and haunting film, Patrick Ness's modern classic is a heartbreaking but uplifting tale of healing and, above all, the courage it takes to survive.

INCLUDES EXCLUSIVE ESSAY BY PATRICK NESS

My Thoughts:
I've been wanting to read this for a long time but it ended up being one of those books that kept getting lost in the ever-growing TBR pile. The lovely people at A Great Read kindly offered to send me a copy in exchange for an honest review, so since I seem to have been stuck in a massive reading slump lately, I decided to finally pick up A Monster Calls. And guess what? It immediately became one of those stories that made me furious with myself for not reading it sooner because it was truly beautiful.

This story follows Conor, whose mother is currently receiving treatment for cancer. His sleep keeps getting disturbed by a recurring nightmare, and one night he dreams about the yew tree in his garden becoming a monster. Only when Conor wakes up, he begins to wonder whether the monster was real after all. Over the course of the story, the monster reappears to tell Conor three tales, each not what he expected them to be.

Ness provides a heartbreaking look at life for children who have lived alongside cancer. Whilst Conor had a strong bond with his mother throughout the story that was touching to read, it was his troubled relationship with his grandmother that was the most interesting for me. The pair of them don't exactly get along, and Conor is resentful to her when she comes to the house to help out. He doesn't want to admit to himself that his mother needs her help, either. Their relationship was a difficult one, but it was developed in such a beautiful way, showing how each of them is dealing with the situation in their own very different way.

Another thing that stood out to me in this story was Conor's life at school and the challenges he faced with bullying and friendship. It showed just how easy it is for someone to become a target and not know how to get themselves out of that situation. It was heartbreaking to see that Conor didn't really want to change what was happening, almost feeling as though he deserved what he was going through.

The visits from the monster were some of my favourite scenes in this book. They managed to be witty as well as thought provoking, and I enjoyed Conor starting to form somewhat of a bond with the monster as the story progressed. Powerful seems like such a cliché word to describe A Monster Calls, but it's the truth. It definitely left a huge impression on me and my only regret is that I didn't read it sooner!

Royal Rating:

 

Friday, 10 March 2017

BLOG TOUR: Masquerade by Laura Lam

Hello everyone! Today I'm pleased to welcome Laura Lam for my stop on the Masquerade blog tour!

The Boy with Horns – 10 March

Hush, my child,
and fall into sleep,
to have your dreams of wild worlds
and oceans deep.
Let your troubles slip and fade.
You’ll dream forever, or so the doctor said.
— A banned Elladan lullaby

Every chapter in the Micah Grey series has a short found document at the start, ranging from a variety of sources: history books, diaries, songs, poetry, and more. It’s basically a sneaky way to add in more worldbuilding and detail about Ellada & the Archipelago. 

I’m not much of a poet or a songwriter, but I try now and again in these excerpts with varying degrees of success. A lot of lullabies are actually quite sinister (ring around the rosie, for one), so I wanted to play with that sentiment. As in our Victorian times, infant mortality is high in this world, so many women would have had children who might not live to toddlerhood. Or maybe it’s simply a dose for a fever and it seems like the child will dream forever, but may wake up after the medicine has worked its magic. I’m not sure myself.

If you buy Pantomime or Masquerade & send your receipt to Laura, you can claim a free 10k short story, “The Mechanical Minotaur,” set in the same world. If you buy all three, you can claim 60k of free fiction as well. More details here.



Laura Lam was raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart's desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams. She relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, whom she met on the internet when he insulted her taste in books. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn't. At times she misses the sunshine. 



The gifted hide their talents, but dare they step into the light? 

Micah's Chimaera powers are growing, until his dark visions overwhelm him. Drystan is forced to take him to Dr Pozzi, to save his life. But can they really trust the doctor, especially when a close friend is revealed to be his spy?

Meanwhile, violent unrest is sweeping the country, as anti-royalist factions fight to be heard. Then three chimaera are attacked, after revealing their existence with the monarchy's blessing - and the struggle becomes personal. A small sect decimated the chimaera in ancient times and nearly destroyed the world. Now they've re-emerged to spread terror once more. Micah will discover a royal secret, which draws him into the heart of the conflict. And he and his friends must risk everything to finally bring peace to their land.






Huge thank you to Laura for stopping by! Be sure to check out the rest of the tour stops:


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

BLOG TOUR: How To Write A Sequel - Guest Post by Sarah Mussi!

I’m totally thrilled to be on day three of my blog tour for book two in The Snowdonia Chronicles: Here be Witches at Queen of Teen Fiction.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME QUEEN OF TEEN FICTION!

During my blog tour I am interviewing myself on HOW TO WRITE A SEQUEL! 

So here goes …

Sarah interviews Sarah on how to write a sequel in a thrilling and compelling romantic fantasy!

Sarah
Welcome to the world of WRITING A SEQUEL.I am going to use Here be Witches to explain my thinking on how to give it a go.

Sarah
OK. I’m going to continue to ask Sarah lots of questions to find out all her writing secrets!

Q
For those who are just catching up with your blog tour – can you recap on what Here be Witches is all about?  

A
Here be Witches is the second story in the series The Snowdonia Chronicles

 THE SEQUEL TO HERE BE DRAGONS – A PERILOUS ADVENTURE INTO THE MAGICAL AND MURDEROUS REALM OF MYTHICAL SNOWDONIA


All Ellie Morgan wants is to be with her one true love, Henry. But she’s caught in the MIDDLE OF A BATTLE as old as SNOWDON itself. A battle between GOOD and EVIL.
A WITCHES’ SPELL, cast high on the mountain, has sped up time and made matters MUCH WORSE. The dragons are awake and evil creatures have risen.
And nearly all of them want Ellie DEAD.

Q
Now I seem to remember that you promised to tell us then how you dealt with ‘off stage’ scenes and what devices you used to help the reader feel present at the action in Here be Witches?

A
Yes I did! Right, I sorted out the problem of Ellie not being present at the initial witches ceremony, by introducing it as a prologue written in the third person. This separated the action in the spell-casting ceremony, from the first person narration of the entire story by Ellie, my chosen point-of-view character. Some writers frown upon the use of prologues, but in YA fiction and often in the fantasy genre the use of a prologue is quite traditional. 

My rule of thumb is if it works use it and don’t be too worried about what so-called ‘wisdom’ says. I particularly liked the use of a witches’ spell-casting scene at the beginning of the story, as I felt it was reminiscent of Macbeth (can’t be a bad thing!) and it also acted as a hook to bring the reader into the story straight away before falling back to tell them what had happened in the previous novel of the series. 

Here is an excerpt. The witches must speed up the passage of time to break the high magic and release the dragons … I even used Macbeth-style poetry for the spell casting! 

As Above
29th February Leap Year
At the witching hour upon the eve of St David’s Day

THE GIRL TURNS HER MASKED FACE TO THE SUMMIT, above her the air shudders. Just seconds left. If only she can time it right. Heart pounding, blood hammering, she poises herself. She pulls out the mirror, angles it, catches the refection of the dark night and the stars.
I can do this, she tells herself. I am the High Priestess. I am the Supreme One.
Then she recites aloud:

‘Fair is foul – foul is fair –
By water, fire, earth and air,
Fair is foul – foul is fair –  
Let those who challenge me, BEWARE –
Fair is foul – foul is fair –
FOR I WILL DESTROY THE DRAGONS’ LAIR!’  

Q
WOW! I can see what you mean by opening with a hook. I certainly want to know what happens next!

A
Well I can’t do a spoiler, but I can tell you that in the process of writing the sequel I had to decide about the character cast. I had to decide, should I keep the characters exactly the same as in book one – if not … who should figure in book two and did I need any new characters?

Q
So tell me how you decided that?

A
Well, the opening of any story must draw the reader into the setting of the story, and reveal the everyday life the hero has been living. This is true of a sequel as well as a standalone story. The only problem is that if my reader has read book one they probably don’t really want to read a repeat of information that they already know. So I had to do find inventive ways of sketching out the setting and the world that my characters lived in for those that hadn’t read book one. However I still had to be sure that I had the main expected cast of characters in the story.

Q
So what is the main expected cast of characters in any story?

A
I think there is a basic number of characters you cannot really go below: three or four, maybe. There is no upper limit on characters, and there are many archetypes, but the roles of these basic three or four characters needs to be evident in any story. They are:
The sidekick (George, I thought I would continue his role as sidekick as I thought readers would like to hear more about him.)
The romance character (that’s the one who everyone wants to love/save – and in this case it is Henry, the Dragon. I thought he better go on through in the series too (!) as definitely everybody would want to hear more about him – especially as he is the one that Ellie wants to be with forever).
The antagonist (Oswald has always been the major villain of the series, but he needed his own sidekick and supporters). 

Q
Why do you think Oswald is a good antagonist? Good enough to last throughout the series?

A
Well, I think that the strength of a story lies in how much it challenges the protagonist, and therefore any villain who can challenge a dragon has to be more powerful than a dragon! There are very few things that are more powerful than dragons except perhaps bigger dragons. This is why I believe that Oswald is a good antagonist for the series. I also think it is important to make sure that the forces of evil that are challenging the protagonist are always much stronger and more in number. This meant that in book two I needed Oswald to recruit some villains to work with him. When the magic awoke all of the mythological creatures in Snowdonia this gave me a lot of range to decide which ones would work for Oswald and which ones would work against him.

Q
Aha! I get it. Clever thinking!

A
Mythological characters could work for good or evil, and it was fun deciding  which side each creature would join – particularly when it came to the giants! QAre there giants in Here be Witches?
 AWell, you will have to read the story, but there is a clue in the dedication …

Dedication
To IDRIS GAWR, Stargazer, Overlord and Giant of Cadair Idris

In the land of Merioneth in the parish of Dolgelly in the commote of Talybont is a mount or peak or large high hill that is called Cadair Idris. And on the highest crown of this mountain is a bed-shaped form, great in length and width, built of slabs with stones fixed thereon. And this is called The Bed of Idris. And it is said that of whoever lies and sleeps upon that bed, from sunset until sunrise, one of two things will happen to him: either he will be a hero or poet or bard of the best kind, or descend from that Great Mountain entirely demented.
From The Giants of Wales and Their Dwellings
Sion Dafydd Rhys, ca. 1600
Peniarth Manuscript

So interesting! Thanks Sarah for sharing that and we will carry on with the Q and A session in your next blog post.

Thank you for hosting this blog Queen of Teen Fiction!

We read more from Sarah in her next upcoming post – which looks at setting and dilemmas in sequels and how to make them fresh and enticing. Catch us for blog post four with Everything Alyce http://everythingalyce.blogspot.co.uk/ on 3 March and … HAPPY WORLD BOOK DAY!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

REVIEW: Ink by Alice Broadway

Pages: 390
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: February 2nd 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Every action, every deed, every significant moment is tattooed on your skin for ever. When Leora's father dies, she is determined to see her father remembered forever. She knows he deserves to have all his tattoos removed and made into a Skin Book to stand as a record of his good life. But when she discovers that his ink has been edited and his book is incomplete, she wonders whether she ever knew him at all.



My Thoughts:
The idea behind Ink is just so intriguing, it had me curious to read it straight away. This book is set in a world where every aspect of your life is documented on your skin. Your decisions, your achievements, your mistakes, tattooed on your body for everyone to see. There is no hiding secrets in this world. Throughout this story, we follow Leora, who is about to finish school and hopefully progress onto the only career she ever wanted, being an inker. In this job, she will be in charge of tattooing important moments onto a person's skin.

After death, a person's skin is preserved in the form of a book so that their descendants can read their story. When Leora's father passes away, she discovers more to his story that she ever thought possible. Leora was a character who was torn between what she's always known to be true, what she's believed her whole life, and what she discovers after her father's death.

Whilst Leora has a love interest in this book, it was so refreshing to see that romance wasn't a main focus of the story. I feel like I say this way too often, but so many good fantasy stories end up focusing a little too much on the romance and for me, it can fall a little flat and take away from the story rather than add to it. With Leora and Oscar, I was actually rooting for them to develop their relationship further. Leora had an interesting relationship with her mother throughout the book and I enjoyed getting to see the two of them trying to work through their differences. I also appreciated Leora's wonderful friendship with Verity. Any scenes between the two of them were great and I'm excited to see more of the bond between them as the series progresses because they make a fantastic team.

This is a book that kept throwing lots of little plot twists in right until the very end. It also contained fascinating history for the world built within it. The story in Ink is something I couldn't ever imagine being a reality, but the writing made it feel so believable and makes you think but what if? The final few chapters were wild and definitely have me keen to find out what is going to happen in this world next. Ink was such a refreshing and original story and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for Leora as she develops over the course of this series. 

Alice recently wrote an awesome guest post about her research for Ink, which you can check out here!

Royal Rating:

Monday, 20 February 2017

REVIEW: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

Pages: 357
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hachette
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Health
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Samantha McCoy has it all mapped out. First she's going to win the national debating championship, then she's going to move to New York and become a human rights lawyer. But when Sammie discovers that a rare disease is going to take away her memory, the future she'd planned so perfectly is derailed before it’s started. What she needs is a new plan.

So the Memory Book is born: Sammie’s notes to her future self, a document of moments great and small. Realising that her life won't wait to be lived, she sets out on a summer of firsts: The first party; The first rebellion; The first friendship; The last love.

Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it's not the life she planned.

My Thoughts:
Before reading The Memory Book, I'm afraid to say I'd never heard of Niemann-Pick Type C. It is a rare type of dementia that affects younger people, usually children. But seveteen-year-old Sam is a special case as her diagnosis comes a lot later than what is typical. Her dream for after high school is to attend NYU, and she stays focused on that goal even her family and doctors try to dissuade her. Sam starts typing up her memories on the computer for future Sam to read back later.

What I really respected about this story was that despite the subject matter, it wasn't a sad read. Yes, there were heartbreaking moments, as there would be for anyone facing a life cut short because of illness, but Sam had a fantastic attitude about the whole situation from start to finish. She was determined to continue living her life the way she planned, regardless of what challenges her illness threw at her.

Whilst the story itself was a difficult but touching subject, I found myself disappointed in the romance. Sam has had a crush on Stuart for years, and now he's back in town after being at NYU. When they go to the same party, they finally start talking, and it turns into something more. Towards the end of the book, there is even a bit of a love triangle. This side of the story didn't appeal to me, and I was much more interested in Sam dealing with her illness, and her relationship with her family and best friend Maddie than I was in the romance. Maddie was an awesome character and I wish the story had given us more moments between her and Sam because I felt as though their friendship could have been expanded more. I'd have also liked to have seen more of Sam's siblings.

The Niemann-Pick Type C itself was heartbreaking to see progress throughout the book, especially when sam ends up having more episodes of memory loss. Her sudden confusion in her entries are actually quite chilling because it shows us just have terrifying it must feel to be in that situation. I'm grateful that books like this exist so that readers can become more aware of rare illnesses such as this one.

The Memory Book was a bit of a mixed-bag for me. Whilst I loved the importance of the story and the message it held, there were parts of the story that felt a little forced and stereotypical. But I was still able to enjoy the story as a whole, and I appreciate that it made me aware of Niemann-Pick Type C. I'm always grateful to stories like this that shine a light on conditions less known to the general public.

Royal Rating:


Monday, 13 February 2017

BOOK CLUB REVIEW: Margot & Me by Juno Dawson

Pages: 417
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Genre: Historical, Contemporary
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

Sometimes love has to cross all kinds of barriers . . .

Fliss is on the way to visit her grandmother in Wales - the grandmother who she doesn't get on with - with her mother who is recuperating from chemotherapy. But her mum is getting better, that's the main thing, so Fliss can concentrate on being grouchy and not looking forward to meeting her grandmother Margot, who is so cold and always so unforgiving of Fliss's every mistake . . . But when the six months is up, Fliss consoles herself, she and her mum will go back to London and back to Real Life!

In the meantime Fliss needs to get used to her new school, not upset the scary girls, and just keep her head down (whilst still making sure that everybody knows she is from London, of course). Then Fliss discovers a diary at the back of her bookcase. It is from the 1940s and is set in World War II, and, Fliss realises, is actually Margot's diary from when she was a young woman during the Blitz. Intrigued, Fliss begins to read. There she discovers a whole new side to Margot, a wartime romance and also Margot's deepest, most buried secret. And it is then that Fliss discovers something terrible in her own life that she is going to have to come to terms with...

My Thoughts:
I read this story throughout January with my fellow members of The Book Club! We also had a Twitter chat about it at the end of the month, which you can catch up on by searching for the #BCChat hashtag.

This book, guys. This book. I'm in awe. From the moment I heard about it, I knew it was my kind of thing. Split between 1998 and a 1940's diary? It called out to me. Margot & Me follows fifteen-year-old Fliss as she moves to a farm in Wales that belongs to her grandmother (who will only go by Margot, she won't be having any of that nan or gran stuff, thank you very much). Fliss believes that she'll be living there for about six months whilst her mother recovers from cancer. Fliss and Margot don't always get along, and Fliss sees her grandmother as quite a strict and severe person. When Fliss finds Margot's diary in the attic, she begins to see a different version of her, a version that she comes to adore.

Let's start with what a wonderfully realistic character Fliss is. Her emotions, her actions, her ways of thinking were told in an open and honest way that made me root for her throughout. Yes, she was naïve at times and didn't always make the wisest decisions, but that only added to the believability of her character. The difficulties she faced at her new school were sad but true for many students who have to switch schools. But the adorable development of her new friendships were heartwarming to witness.

Whilst Fliss had a gripping story, it was Margot's raw and emotional journey back in 1940 that made this book truly special for me. I don't think I can quite express how much love I had for Margot. She was an incredible character with an attitude well ahead of her time. I don't want to say too much about what she goes through for fear of spoiling it, but her story is an important one and I truly felt for her. She may be a fictional character, but you can bet your house that there were many young women like her who were forced into the same heartbreaking corner.

The final quarter of the story was packed full of emotion, and even though thinking back I can see that the signs of what direction this story would take were there, I wasn't actually expecting it. So I was a complete wreck by the end. The two different parts of the story were beautifully weaved together and wrapped up perfectly, leaving the reader to imagine for themselves what happened after the final page. With a focus on family bonds and important friendships, this book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to read it. 

Royal Rating:

Saturday, 11 February 2017

BLOG TOUR: Guest Post by Alice Broadway, author of INK

Hello everyone! Today I'm excited to share with you a fabulous post from author Alice Broadway about the research behind her new novel, Ink

The Research Behind Ink 

I am so pleased to have the chance to visit and talk a bit about my debut YA novel, Ink. Ink is based in a world where everybody is tattooed, and at death, your skin is preserved and your tattoos become a book in remembrance of a life well lived. Researching for Ink was one of my favourite things. If you’re into creepy, morbid and macabre stuff, read on.

Tattoos
As someone with no tattoos, I needed some real insight and help in order to write accurately and believably about the process. I had the honour of watching Emma Kierzek work and asked her loads of questions. Emma is an award winning artist based at Aurora Tattoo, Lancaster and her creations are amazing – her realistic black and grey portraits are stunning. I really wanted to get the input of a female tattoo artist and it was fascinating hearing her talk about her work. I also visited a local tattoo studio, New Testament Tattoos, where they brilliantly helped me understand more about how they felt as artists and as people with tattoos. AND they didn’t laugh at my stupid questions, at least not to my face.

Also, the exceptional tattoo journalist, Beccy Rimmer from Inkluded has been ace – she works really hard to make tattoo culture accessible and to demystify some of the process. She also shares the work of incredible artists and her own tattoos are so beautiful.

Preservation
Preserving skin isn’t terribly unusual – the process of creating leather from animal hides is quite normal to us. But the idea of preserving human skin suddenly becomes a lot more sinister-seeming. Thankfully, there are other humans out there who find stuff like this as fascinating as I do and when I found the work of Dr. Gemma Angel at Life and Six Months, I knew I had found my guru. Dr. Angel has studied and handled preserved tattoos and written extensively about them. She also graciously agreed to be interviewed and as a tattooist, writer and reader she was a fount of knowledge and inspiration.

Having read Dr. Angel’s work I knew there were some preserved tattoos at the Wellcome Museum in London and when I had the chance to see them ‘in the flesh’ I couldn’t resist. I was surprised by how emotional I felt seeing these scraps of skin from unknown men.

Death positivity
The world of Saintstone is one where death isn’t feared or hidden and the death positivity movement has been a fascinating area of research for me. I was expecting to find things like The Order of the Good Death interesting in a ‘this is quite weird and maybe you’re all vampires’ way – I wasn’t expecting to have my thoughts and plans about my own death completely altered by what I learned. I love the vlogs by Caitlin Doughty and her book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is now one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time.

The thing I have been most struck by is people’s willingness to share their knowledge, expertise and inspiration. I had nothing to offer them but my curiosity and their generosity has impressed me so much.



Alice Broadway drinks more tea than is really necessary loves writing in her yellow camper van. She hates being too cold or too hot, and really likes wearing lipstick and watching terrible Christmas movies.

@alicecrumbs | www.alice-broadway.com
 


Huge thank you to Alice for the fascinating post! I love learning about the research behind a story. Ink is available to buy now, and keep an eye out here for my review soon!

Friday, 27 January 2017

REVIEW: Gilded Cage by Vic James

Pages: 293
Format: ARC Paperback
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopia
Release Date: January 26th 2017
Buy The Book: Book Depository

NOT ALL ARE FREE.
NOT ALL ARE EQUAL.
NOT ALL WILL BE SAVED.

Our world belongs to the Equals—aristocrats with magical gifts—and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England's grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England's most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family's secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi's brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

My Thoughts:
This story is set in an alternate England where people with magical abilities known as Skill are held higher than those without it in society. People who are born without Skill are forced to complete ten years of Slave Days during which they serve the Equals.

Gilded Cage is an intriguing concept and the spilt between those with and without Skill was fascinating. The story focuses on a range of characters, but pays more attention to siblings Luke and Abi. Whilst Abi, her younger sister Daisy, and their parents end up working inside Kyneston, the luxurious mansion belonging to the powerful Jardine family, Luke ends up in Millmoor, a brutal slave workhouse. The contrast between these two sides of the story made for an exciting read. I expected to prefer Abi's chapters at Kyneston, but was surprised to find myself looking forward to Luke's chapters more. Luke was a character who I personally felt we got to know more than his sister. His struggles at Millmoor were heartbreaking at times but also showed him changing and growing more determined.

The Jardine family consists of three brothers, Gavar, Silyen, and Jenner. Abi ends up with a romantic subplot involving one of the brothers that didn't draw me in as much as I would have liked. We didn't get a chance to see the relationship development, with not many conversations or heartfelt scenes between them, so it felt a little bit sudden. The brothers themselves are all interesting characters in their own right, but Silyen stood out the most for me. His character has a darkness and element of mystery, and he's the one I'm most excited to learn more about in this trilogy. We don't get to see much of him, but it's a treat when we do. The scenes at the end only added to my overall curiosity about him.

Vic James has a great way of describing the world and the magic system within it. There were a few moments when I had to go back and read more carefully, but it wasn't overwhelming. The politics surrounding Skill in this story is beautifully crafted and it was compelling to learn about. It's a world that I know I'll be easily able to jump back into when the next book comes around.

The final few chapters were truly fantastic and have definitely made me eager to read the next book. I'm excited to see what the future of this trilogy has in store for the characters because after that ending, things are really going to change. I'm looking forward to seeing more of the Jardine family in the future. They were one of the most exciting aspects of this story for me and I still don't know who to trust. Gilded Cage was a thrilling start to what promises to be a trilogy that will definitely keep me hooked. 

Royal Rating:

 

Friday, 20 January 2017

BLOG TOUR: Interview with Vic James, author of Gilded Cage

Hello everyone! Today I'm pleased to welcome author Vic James to the blog as part of her tour for Gilded Cage! 

Hi Vic, welcome to The Queen of Teen Fiction! Can you introduce us to your novel, Gilded Cage?
Hi Katie – thanks so much for being a stop on my blog tour! GILDED CAGE is set in an alternate contemporary Britain, ruled by an aristocracy gifted with magical Skill. All the rest of us, without magic, must spend ten years in service to the aristocrats. You get to choose when, and you can try and choose where – in a worktown, or on a grand estate – but you can’t avoid ‘doing your days’.

18-year-old Abi Hadley hopes her family will serve their time lightly on the estate of the powerful Jardines. But when her younger brother Luke is ripped away from them, the siblings are plunged into two worlds of intrigue, power-play, romance and revolution … that may not be as separate as they think.

In the book, people are split between those who have Skill and those who don't. What inspired you to write about this divide?
It’s inspired by the division of our world today – the elite 1% with extreme wealth and power, and the 99% of all the rest of us, who face a struggle simply to get by, find a fulfilling job, own homes, pay for a rewarding education and hold on to our dreams. The lightbulb moment was when I was making a BBC TV series titled The Superrich and Us, when it struck me that the privilege and advantages of the people at the top seems almost … like magic!

How did you come up with the magic system within your story?
I wanted the magic in the world of GILDED CAGE be half-forgotten, almost degraded. People who have incredible wealth often just spend it on ever more pointless things – a ‘super’ car, then a gold-plated supercar, then a gold-plated supercar with a diamond-studded dashboard, when all you really need is something with four wheels that will move you around. In the same way, in the world of GILDED CAGE the aristocrats are using their magic mostly to do mundane things they could achieve other ways: political power, seduction, intimidation, healing.

But it can do so much more than that! The enigmatic ‘young master’ Silyen Jardine is determined to test his Skill to the limits. In the process, he discovers things about it that startle even him. We only start to dig deep into the magical system in book 2, TARNISHED CITY, out in September. Then in book 3 (BRIGHT RUIN, out next summer) we see where it takes Silyen … and not only him!

Gilded Cage switches between several different characters, which POV was your favourite to write from?
I love writing all of them, because I love all my characters (even the unlovable ones!). But I most enjoyed writing Gavar Jardine, the spoiled heir of Britain’s most powerful family, because he’s so obnoxious and oblivious – and yet there’s more to him than he realises.

My favourite chapter of the whole book, though, is from the perspective of a character whose eyes we never look through again – Euterpe Parva, a young aristocrat in a magical coma. I wanted the whole chapter to have a dreamlike quality, and yet it also tells a crucial story from the deep past. I’m always thrilled when people tell me it’s their favourite chapter, too.

What sort of research did you do when preparing to write the story?
No especial research, because in a way I’ve been researching for it my whole life! The alternate Britain diverges 400 years ago, during the English Civil War, and I did a doctorate on that period. All of the bleak details about life during the slavedays were informed by my career as a news journalist reporting on UK social affairs. The grand houses I describe are inspired by stately homes owned by the National Trust which I’ve been visiting since childhood. After all, they do say ‘write what you know’!

What was the most challenging part of writing Gilded Cage?
Bringing together all the different perspectives and plot strands in the concluding chapters! I wanted to give the story a tight, satisfying ending – and yet to make it clear that the overall story-arc of the trilogy has only just begun!

Finally, this is the first book in The Dark Gifts trilogy, how is book two coming along?
Book 2, TARNISHED CITY, is finished and in production with my publishers right now! It’s out in September. (I hate having to wait a year between books in a series, so we’re publishing every 8 months!) I simply adored writing it. The world of the books gets so much larger, and the magic gets so much more … magical! I hope you’ll pick it up!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
I’m thrilled to be here on your blog, Katie! Thank you so much for having me.


Vic James is a current affairs TV director who loves stories in all their forms, and Gilded Cage is her debut novel. She as twice judged the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, has made films for BBC1, BBC2, and Channel 4 News, and is a huge Wattpadd.com success story. Under its previous title, Slavedays, her book was read online over a third of a million times in first draft. And it went on to win Wattpad’s ‘Talk of the Town’ award in 2015 – on a site showcasing 200 million stories. Vic James lives and works in London. 



Gilded Cgae is out in eBook now, and paperback on January 26th. Don't forget to check out the rest of the stops on the tour! 


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