Thursday, 30 April 2015

Books I'm Squeeing About in May

May is always an exceptionally busy month for books. So many amazing ones end up with May release dates, so it tends to be an expensive month in the book stakes - but with all of these beauties suddenly available, who could possibly resist? I'd better start saving up...

5th - A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J Maas
Feyre is a huntress. She thinks nothing of slaughtering a wolf to capture its prey. But, like all mortals, she fears what lingers mercilessly beyond the forest. And she will learn that taking the life of a magical creature comes at a high price.
Imprisoned in an enchanted court in her enemy’s kingdom, Feyre is free to roam but forbidden escape. Her captor’s body bears the scars of fighting, and his face is always masked – but his piercing stare draws her ever closer. As Feyre’s feelings for Tamlin begin to burn through every warning she’s been told about his kind, an ancient, wicked shadow grows. Feyre must find a way to break a spell, or lose her heart forever.

Sarah J Maas - need I say more? She has taken the book world by storm with her Throne of Glass series and now we're lucky enough to have another series on the go at the same time! So as well as the Thrones novel coming in September we also get to meet Feyre, a whole new heroine who's bad ass and wonderful. I have heard nothing but incredible things in the early buzz for this one, so I cannot wait to get stuck in.
You can pre-order this on Amazon here
Or read the first few chapters for free here!

5th - Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge
When Rachelle was fifteen she was good—apprenticed to her aunt and in training to protect her village from dark magic. But she was also reckless— straying from the forest path in search of a way to free her world from the threat of eternal darkness. After an illicit meeting goes dreadfully wrong, Rachelle is forced to make a terrible choice that binds her to the very evil she had hoped to defeat.

Three years later, Rachelle has given her life to serving the realm, fighting deadly creatures in an effort to atone. When the king orders her to guard his son Armand—the man she hates most—Rachelle forces Armand to help her find the legendary sword that might save their world. As the two become unexpected allies, they uncover far-reaching conspiracies, hidden magic, and a love that may be their undoing. In a palace built on unbelievable wealth and dangerous secrets, can Rachelle discover the truth and stop the fall of endless night?

I felt mixed about 'Cruel Beauty' when I read it last year, but I ultimately loved it and am very curious to see this novel set in the same world. Any retellings of fairy tales are very much my jam, and whilst the Beauty & the Beast retelling didn't quite hit all the right points for me, I'm hoping that this Red Riding Hood one will.
You can pre-order this on Amazon here

5th - The Heir by Keira Cass
Twenty years ago, America Singer entered the Selection and won Prince Maxon’s heart. Now the time has come for Princess Eadlyn to hold a Selection of her own. Eadlyn doesn’t expect her Selection to be anything like her parents’ fairy-tale love story. But as the competition begins, she may discover that finding her own happily ever after isn’t as impossible as she always thought.

I thought I was done with this series with the last book, but now Cass is adding to it and it's like some addictive sugary sweet, I can't help but go back and see what's happening next. I'm going to be honest, The Selection series isn't great. There is a whole heap of potential but it falls short in so many ways and ended up being problematic for me in most areas. However, I am intrigued with this new book, mostly because our heroine is going to be the one doing the choosing and it's always good to have boys vying to be chosen...
You can pre-order this on Amazon here

19th - Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

What if the world holds more dangers—and more wonders—than we have ever known? And what if there is more than one world? From Heather Dixon, author of the acclaimed Entwined, comes a brilliantly conceived adventure that sweeps us from the inner workings of our souls to the far reaches of our imaginations.Jonathan is perfectly ordinary. But then—as every good adventure begins—the king swoops into port, and Jonathan and his father are enlisted to find the cure to a deadly plague. Jonathan discovers that he's a prodigy at working with a new chemical called fantillium, which creates shared hallucinations—or illusions. And just like that, Jonathan is knocked off his path. Through richly developed parallel worlds, vivid action, a healthy dose of humor, and gorgeous writing, Heather Dixon spins a story that calls to mind The Night Circus and Pixar movies, but is wholly its own.
This is one of those ones where I don't even need to see the blurb. I loved 'Entwined' Dixon's take on the twelve dancing princesses tale so much that anything by Dixon is an automatic yes please put it on my bookcase immediately. That being said - THAT BLURB! THAT COVER! Where are my smelling salts, I feel faint from the sheer fabulousness!
You can pre-order this on Amazon here

19th - A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin
It’s 1814. Napoleon is exiled on Elba. Europe is in shambles. Britain is at war on four fronts. And Stranje House, a School for Unusual Girls, has become one of Regency England’s dark little secrets. The daughters of the beau monde who don't fit high society’s constrictive mold are banished to Stranje House to be reformed into marriageable young ladies. Or so their parents think. In truth, Headmistress Emma Stranje, the original unusual girl, has plans for the young ladies—plans that entangle the girls in the dangerous world of spies, diplomacy, and war.
After accidentally setting her father’s stables on fire while performing a scientific experiment, Miss Georgiana Fitzwilliam is sent to Stranje House. But Georgie has no intention of being turned into a simpering, pudding-headed, marriageable miss. She plans to escape as soon as possible—until she meets Lord Sebastian Wyatt. Thrust together in a desperate mission to invent a new invisible ink for the English war effort, Georgie and Sebastian must find a way to work together without losing their heads—or their heart.

This one just ticks so many boxes for me. Historical setting, regency period, romance, espionage, gorgeous cover and excellent blurb? All there! And I am so excited. I haven't read many YA regency novels so I'm curious to see how it translates away from the regency romances I love so much. But with spies and a war going on I'm confident this is going to be fantastic.
You can pre-order this on Amazon here

19th - Lion Heart by A. C. Gaughen

Imprisoned by Prince John for months, Scarlet finds herself a long way from Nottinghamshire. After a daring escape from the Prince's clutches, she learns that King Richard’s life is in jeopardy, and Eleanor of Aquitaine demands a service Scarlet can’t refuse: spy for her and help bring Richard home safe. But fate—and her heart—won’t allow her to stay away from Nottinghamshire for long, and together, Scarlet and Rob must stop Prince John from going through with his dark plans for England. They can not rest until he’s stopped, but will their love be enough to save them once and for all?

This is going to be a bit of a bittersweet read. I have loved reading the first two books in Scarlet's story and whilst I cannot wait to see how her story ends, I also don't want this journey to be done. I adore Scarlet, she is such a strong and determined heroine who doesn't let the love she feels constrain or define her. She is wonderful and I'm looking forward to reading this final installment with her.
You can pre-order this on Amazon here

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J Maas

Publication Date: 5th May 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 416 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Bloomsbury for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.
As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

I am a huge fan of the Throne of Glass series, so like every other fan of Maas’ writing I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this new and intriguing tale. Sarah Maas is a genius at fantasy. She blends fantastical elements with wonderful characters and her books are always bursting with imagination – I love them.

This particular story takes elements from beauty and the beast and weaves them into a different tale to the one we know. It still has the framework of the traditional tale but Maas takes it in a new direction and makes it entirely her own.

The mythology, the ideas, the courts of the High Fae were fantastic. I loved Feyre as a person. She was so determined and feisty and never afraid to speak her mind or do her own thing. Lucien and Tamlin were brilliant too – I think the three of them made a wonderful team and my favourite scenes were when all three were together and bantering.

There were two things that stopped this being a five star read for me. Firstly the pacing. The first half of the book is incredibly slow – I mean borderline glacial at points. I loved the time that Feyre got to spend at Tamlin’s house and the secrecy and withholding of information makes complete sense by the time you reach the end of the book, but without that foreknowledge the pacing of the first half may be enough to put some people off. I wasn’t tempted to put the book down at any point, but I did become a little frustrated with how little seemed to be happening at points. However all of that really pays off by the final third where the tension ratchets up, the excitement kicks off and everything becomes a lot more terrifying.

Secondly the romance. I may be stoned to death for this, but the romance didn’t quite work for me. I loved Feyre and Tamlin, I thought they were great together and definitely steamy, but whilst Feyre was spending months in Tamlin’s company the reader is just getting a few lines about how she’s spending weeks with him – talking and riding and picnicking. I wanted to see that, to witness the depth of affection growing between them, not just have it happen off page and then get to the steamy points.

I would have loved to see more of Lucien, and with a sequel due out next year I’m really hoping we get more of him. Tamlin made a wonderful hero, but I’m always slightly more smitten with the snarky boys and I really want to learn more about Lucien and see him get a bit of happiness.

This is a really fantastic book and I loved falling into Feyre’s world. Maas has a talent for creating magical and wonderful worlds and I really cannot wait to get back into it and see some more in the second book.

It’s a beautifully written tale with Maas offering up another slice of brilliance in this new series. With both this and Throne of Glass on the go she has well and truly cornered the fantasy market and with an imagination like hers I cannot wait to see what stories she spins next.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Film Review: Avengers - Age of Ultron

This review is spoiler free

The Avenger’s second outing onto the big screen has been making its debut around the world over the last week – already out in most of Europe and heading across to America for May 1st, but despite not even being fully out around the world it is already generating buzz.
Well of course it is. The first Avengers outing was brilliant and with a whole host of individual films now out to fill in more plot points and make a cohesive whole, as well as a flurry of tv series to add in some flourishes, excitement and expectations have reached an all-time high for Joss Whedon’s second instalment.

It’s big, it’s bold, it is chock full of action sequences and it definitely tries to cram in as much of everything as possible to keep the audience interested. We’ve got the set up for almost all of these characters now, we don’t have any of the origins stories or gelling of the unit into a whole – this is all about how they function now and Whedon seems to feel that throwing everything into this massive melting pot is the way to go, with mixed results.

I want to say upfront that I loved the film, I’ve been to see it twice already, and there is a huge amount to love about it. The dialogue is smart and quick, the humour simmers all the way through – there were two moments where the audience applauded, always a good sign!
The action is bigger and bolder and the team have gelled into a (mostly) cohesive whole. Yes there are points where the CGI is blatant and it throws you out of the action, and there are slow motion moments where you almost have to laugh because of how utterly ridiculous what is happening on screen is, but that is part of the brilliance of it. Whedon seems to be almost poking fun at the superhero trope, making it overtly comical at points to remind the audience that at the end of the day in amongst all of the darker plot threads, this is a light summer blockbuster.

We’re thrown right into the action mid-fight as the team take on the last known HYDRA base in search of the sceptre Loki was wielding in the first film. It’s fantastic to see the team fight, particularly Thor and Captain America who have developed a truly genius team of shield and hammer to take out their enemies. The banter between them all is fantastic (“language!”), and sets the tone for the rest of the film.

We’re treated to two new heroes in the form of the Maximoff twins, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Interesting additions who certainly add some fun obstacles to the playing field, although it’s frustrating when their accents slip… I loved the humour that Quicksilver added and witnessing how powerful Scarlet Witch can really be – within a matter of minutes she has pulled apart our intrepid heroes like taffy, a truly terrifying thing to watch.
We also get Ultron himself as the big bad, and boy does he make a good big bad. Everywhere and virtually undefeatable, Spader has brought to life a truly terrifying and brilliant villain. Sarcastic, full of dark humour and unexpected rage he is a worthy villain to follow Loki – although Loki’s absence is noted and hard to fill. His scenes are utterly mesmerizing, and I loved watching him flicker back and forth between almost benevolent dictator and complete psychopath.

Despite the ever growing cast with some notable cameos from several different branches of the Marvel universe, there is still time spent on our main six, building and developing on the foundations that have been laid in previous films. It’s wonderful to see so much more of Clint, and to have his absence in the last film acknowledged. Fans of Hawkeye will feel satisfied not only with his screen time but the backstory that is developed for him as well. He no longer feels like the weak link in the Avengers.

There are however, two plot threads that don’t seem to make quite as much sense, the first being Thor’s which yes, sets up for the next Thor film, but as a vaguely coherent storyline for Age of Ultron it fails spectacularly. It felt almost as though with a third Thor film waiting in the wings, Whedon was afraid to do too much to advance his storyline and so shoves him unceremoniously to the sidelines. As a result we get Thor vanishing off part way through the film, going for a shirtless swim and getting struck by lightning thus giving him some insight into what needs to happen and then he pootles off home. What? Was I the only one who was more than a little bit lost by a whole host of that. What is this magical swimming hole? What are these visions? What on earth is that lightning? Without any more explanation or backstory it leaves you feeling like you’ve just had a very unsatisfactory bite of Thor and that you’re going to be left disgruntled until the third Thor film hits cinemas, rather than intrigued and excited to see what will happen next.

The second plot thread involves Dr Banner and Natasha Romanov, which was a great development, but just left me feeling a little like it had happened out of nothing. As a result their scenes, whilst sweet, felt awkward and clunky. Not quite the feeling I think they were aiming for.

And speaking of Black Widow, where on earth is her film? We get this tantalising snapshot of her backstory in AoU and I want to know more. Why are we getting all these new male lead super hero Marvel films and yet they are not bothering with this brilliant character who already has a fanbase? And don’t try and pacify me by pointing out we’re getting ‘Captain Marvel’ because 1) that isn’t until 2018, and 2) that is one film out of ten announced films for phase 3. But that is a much longer post for another time…

All in all this is a solid middle outing for the Avengers, expanding on previous storylines, setting up for future films and satisfying fans on multiple levels. There are always going to be bumps for any story that is trying to accommodate so many different characters and juggle so many different side stories, but this is definitely a must see for fans. It’s a lighter romp compared to some of the Marvel stories, but it still packs plenty of punch as well as more than its fair share of epic battles, which can become a little wearing towards the end. However whilst Whedon flirts with too many action sequences it never becomes outright boring, instead bringing in humour and some truly tender character moments to balance and pace the story and leave fans emerging from the cinema feeling satisfied and excited for the next Marvel outing in their bid for cinema domination.

Top Ten Books that Feature Girls that are Headstrong and Epic

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the awesome folks over at The Broke and the Bookish
Want to join in? Go and check out their site for upcoming top ten lists!

So this week we were given the freedom to pick characters that were something specific, and I love headstrong, epic, won't back down kinda girls in my books. They make me happy. They make me whoop and punch the air when they do fabulous things. So I wanted to share some of my favourites!

Bianca Piper - The Duff by Kody Keplinger
Snarky, sassy, she refuses to be pulled in by the terrible ideas and stereotypes that she sees most teens fit into. She isn't afraid to be herself, to enjoy herself and to not apologise for herself. She's also vulnerable and loving and kind and wonderful, and all in all, she's a pretty epic character.

Kami Glass - The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami knows no fear. Well, she does, but she refuses to let it rule her even when the adults are all cowering in their houses. She seeks the truth, is determined to get to the bottom of every mystery and is unfailingly loyal and fiercely protective of her friends, who all shake their heads in bafflement and get swept up in the hurricane that is her. She is fantastic and I adore her.

Alanna of Trebond - The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce
She refused to be sent off to go and learn to be a lady and sew and simper and gain a wealthy husband, instead choosing to go off and learn to be a knight. She battles through every obstacle thrown at her and refuses to give in (apart from almost once in a moment of exhaustion.) She works out her handicaps and trains even harder with heavier weapons to counteract that and refuses point blank to let the fact that she is a girl stand in her way. She is the very definition of headstrong and epic.

Claire - The Outlander Series by Diana Gabaldon
Sucked through time to 1743 Scotland where the men are in charge and never going to listen to a woman - does Claire let that stop her? No. She rolls up her sleeves, cussing and swearing as she does so and starts to bring in some twentieth century ideas and language. She is headstrong, fiery, determined, fiercely loyal and protective and all round awesome. Epic doesn't even truly cover it.

 Kestrel - The Winner's Series by Marie Rutkoski
Can't really fight to save her life, but she has the mind of a battle general, always thinking ten steps ahead and plotting ways to handle situations. Kestrel is a fantastic heroine who shows that you don't have to be physically strong to be epic. Her mind is her best tool and she hones it and uses it to her advantage in every situation. Ruthless, but full of compassion and love, she is always trying to find her own way through life and refuses to conform to how others think she should live her life.

Lady Julia Grey - The Lady Julia Series by Deanna Raybourn
Julia has such an incredible transformation over the course of the books, from quiet and meek to a force to be reckoned with. She discovers herself, what she is truly capable of and goes through quite the baptism of fire in the process. One thing is certain from the start though, she is decidedly headstrong, determined to find her own way and refusing to fit in the cubby hole that society has dictated for her. She is resplendent and glorious and utterly, truly, epic.

Alexia Tarabotti - The Parasol Protectorate Series by Gail Carriger
Alexia is not going to let anyone or anything stand in her way, least of all a little thing like badly mannered vampires - particularly not when there is tea and cake on offer. She is bitingly witty, self assured and determined and unfailingly polite. When there is mystery and hijinks afoot you can rest assured that Alexia will be digging to try and find out what is going on - and in a corset no less! Steampunk was never so funny nor so brilliant as when in Alexia's world.

Puck Connolly - The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Puck is such a fantastically brilliant character. She knows what she wants and she isn't going to let anything stand in her way to get it. She stands up and shoulders the burdens of the family to try and save them all and she inadvertently becomes a bit of a feminist icon in the process. All male race? Pah, Puck Connolley laughs in the face of that and races anyway. She also has a truly glorious transformation from surly and grumpy teenager into confident and determined young woman, and I will forever love Puck.

Hermione Granger - The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling
Hermione taught us all that it was ok to be brainy and that books were cool. She also showed us that she was the brains of the operation, that she would do whatever needed to be done for good to triumph over evil, and that she was seriously, seriously epic. Insanely difficult potion not taught until the students were much older? Hermione learns it from a book and brews it in the girls toilet. Terrible teacher stifling their learning? Hermione sets up an illegal club to learn defence against the dark arts. Oppression of House Elves? Hermione campaigns actively for their rights. Voldemort on the rise? Hermione wipes her parent's memories and sends them to another country to be safe and then goes on the run with her best friends to try and find the only way to defeat the dark lord. She is incredible. Strong, brave, but also vulnerable and full of empathy.

Hyacinth Bridgerton - It's In His Kiss by Julia Quinn
Curious, headstrong and determined. Hyacinth was my very first regency heroine and she showed me that headstrong and epic doesn't have to mean ass kicking and bad-ass. It can be feminine, wily and curious and wickedly funny as well. Fiendishly smart, outspoken, charming and vexing. She is tenacious, but incredibly loyal and kind.

So there you have it, my top ten headstrong and epic female characters. They embody headstrong and epic in so many different ways, showing that you don't have to be a stunning sword-master or able to throw down with the best to be headstrong and epic. There are all sorts of ways women can be brilliant and determined, and these are some of my favourites.

Are there any girls you think should be on here instead? Or have I inspired you to pick up any of these books and give these ladies a chance? Tell me in the comments below and link me to your own top ten lists!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Sofia from The Reading Fangirl

Today for Beneath the Surface of Book Blogging I am thrilled to be hosting Sofia from 'The Reading Fangirl'. She's been a sporadic blogger since early 2014 but really kicked into high gear at the start of this year and is offering a newer blogger's perspective on book blogging. She reads mainly YA books across a variety of genres but also branches out into TV shows, movies and general lift posts. Thank you Sofia for joining us!

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?

I started blogging mainly because I had been following the book universe for a while and I decided to join in. I learnt about the book blogging world through booktube which I discovered first and through that I discovered so many of my favourite bloggers. The blog that inspired me to start blogging was Queen of Contemporary because before that all the blogs I had found were run by adults and I thought that maybe teenagers don’t participate much. However when I discovered QoC, I thought if Lucy could do it, why couldn’t I?

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?

Honestly, I just made my blog to share my opinion with the world. I read quite quickly and therefore my friends who read generally don’t read all the books I do. Therefore, I have no one to share my feelings with but through my blog, I can do that and that’s what I love. I hope to convince people to read some books that I love because then I’m spreading the love and supporting that author even more.

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?

Definitely meeting a lot of people and discussing books with them. I love talking to other book bloggers or people who regularly read my blog because it means that my opinion is being shared which makes me so happy.

And the most frustrating?

I get quite frustrated with trying to make my blog look appealing and that’s my biggest annoyance about it as I am constantly hating the design of my blog.

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?

This has happened quite a few times due to people or things that happen in my life that affect how I feel at my blog. I’ve never been a person to do something by myself that no one else around me does so when I started my blog, it was weird because I felt like I was never good enough and other people in my life occasionally bring me down and make me feel bad about my blog and it used to affect me a lot. However now as I’ve made other blogger friends, I’ve learned that my blog is something to be proud of and I am proud of it and it’s got to the point where I don’t let other people get me down. If I feel myself feeling like my blog is terrible, I just go talk to some of my blogger friends and I feel better immediately.

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?

Last year, I took regular breaks. I’d make a post and then I wouldn’t post for a month. I think this was mainly because my heart wasn’t really in it. Last year, I didn’t try hard enough to get out of my shell and I didn’t talk to anyone so I never felt that I was good enough. I got out of all this simply by talking to people.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?

My main thing is that you should focus on your blog. Your blog is for you and write posts because you want to write them. Read books because you want to read them. Never try to force any posts or try to force yourself to read a book because that will make you enter a slump. Sometimes you need to take a break in order for you to get back into it properly.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?

I am a very organised person which is quite odd. I organise my time well so therefore I usually get all my work done within a few hours and then I blog after doing my work. And yes I do have a social life. I just happen to balance my time well because I set targets for the day, which include bookish and blogging targets, and I won’t sleep until I’ve hit them. Even then, I’m always in bed early as I always give myself at least an hour every night to read.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?

Honestly I’m not sure. While the blogging world isn’t perfect, it’s still incredibly good. We’re a welcoming community and everyone is really nice. However, I’d like to see less focus on reviews on blogs because I always feel bad when I write a post that isn’t a review because I feel reviews are sometimes the only posts that people care about.

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?

Talk to people! Don’t make the mistake I made for so long and be scared of entering the community. Honestly, Twitter is a book bloggers best friend because your life on social media really does affect your blog. #ukyachat on twitter really helped me to get out of my bubble and it got me to where I am now so I feel like all book bloggers should participate in it because you all can, even if you’re not British!

Thank you so much Sofia for such wonderful responses!
Check out Sofia's blog The Reading Fangirl
And follow her on twitter

Friday, 24 April 2015

Beneath the Surface of Book Blogging with Sya from The Mountains of Instead

Today we have Sya who runs the wonderful blog 'The Mountains of Instead'! She lives in the north of Scotland and started blogging just over five years ago, primarily because she had a small child and felt that her brain was turning to mush.  Also because she had moved to a new town and knew no readers and desperately wanted to talk about books! On The Mountains of Instead, she and her trusty team read and review all genres but the blog remains primarily focused on Young Adult fiction.

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?
I had no idea that book blogs existed - they just weren't on my radar - until my daughter's father mentioned that I should start one.  At the time I was moaning about not having anyone to talk to about books and also not being able to afford to buy books any more (I was, and remain, a single parent) and he thought that I might be able to kill two birds with one stone.  I didn't believe him but started to do some research.  I came across The Crooked Shelf, a blog that no longer exists, that I loved and emailed Carla (the blogger) who gave me some great advice.  I then spent ages thinking about names and design ideas before finally getting started.  Within a two months I was part of a growing, passionate community and working with both publishers and authors.  It was a revelation.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?
I hope that my reviews encourage people to read the books, obviously, but also to think about them in an in-depth way.  I also hope that people enjoy reading the reviews I write for the sake of reading them!

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?
While I'm not as visible in the blogging community as I once was, for the first few years fellow bloggers, authors and publicists became a life line.  I was living a fairly isolated and isolating life alone with a small child and these lovely people made me feel both valued and relative.  The confidence I gained ultimately lead to me studying for a degree in English Literature and starting a new career in the library service.  In terms of more specific rewards, highlights have been Maggie Stiefvater naming my Raven Boys review as her favourite, interviewing Patrick Ness and being shortlisted for this years' UKYABA in the content category.

And the most frustrating?
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my TBR pile and struggle to choose what to read.  I was quite ill towards the end of last year and found it difficult to read at all, and impossible to review.  Oddly, this difficult period seems to have helped as I now don't pressure myself to read review books but rather pick up the books that I feel like reading. It's been hugely refreshing and while the blog is quieter than it used to be, publicists and readers have been really supportive.

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?
The dreaded reading slump!  I used to try and force myself out of them but now I don't.  Instead, I re-read old favourites, listen to audio books or just watch TV until they pass.  In terms of confidence, I've never really worried about my ability to review but have worried about the lack of other content on the blog (particularly recently) and my declining presence in social media.  The closest I've come to giving up is during my illness last year so I put the blog on hiatus for three months.  We're now back and slowly, but surely, things are picking up again!

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?
I've kind of answered this above but in terms of getting back into it, I think the key is to not pressure myself. I'm relying more on my trusty contributors, Polka Dot Steph and Cannonball Jones, and generally not stressing. It seems to be working.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?
Don't sweat the small stuff.  Because ultimately, no matter how much time we spend on it, blogging is the small stuff. In my experience, slumps in both blogging and reading tend to come about when things are generally difficult.  Give yourself a break, eat some ice cream, watch some Outlander! All things pass, even reading slumps.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?
To quote Empire Records, "there are twenty-four usable hours in every day" (or something like that). I juggle a seven year old, a part time job, a freelance career and two courses of study as well as the blog, wine and a minor social life.  And I have no idea how I fit it in...  In seriousness, I prioritise.  I'd like to say that I'm super organised and plan everything but that would be extremely untrue. I'm going to go with sheer luck.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?
I'd like to see some proper data in terms of bloggers and the industry - this was brought up spectacularly badly by Anthony McGowan recently but while he was unquestionably rude his question was valid.  In a similar vein, I'd like to see less brouhaha.  The various scandals that sporadically erupt, valid or otherwise, make no one look good.

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?
Cut yourself some slack. I can think of lots and lots of things to say, but that's what it amounts to. If you stop pressuring yourself you'll eventually find that you feel less pressured.  God, no-one's going to put that on an inspiring quotes board, are they.  But you know what I mean..

Thank you so much Sya for coming and talking to us about your experiences blogging, it's so wonderful to hear from such a range of bloggers! If you haven't yet visited Sya's blog, do so, it is wonderful. You can also find her on twitter!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Author Q & A with M. J. Scott

Today I am incredibly excited to be hosting M J Scott, author of the upcoming fantasy novel 'The Shattered Court.' With a UK release date of April 28th we're counting down the final days until it hits the shelves, but to help tide us over until then M J Scott has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and her writing process.

For anyone who hasn’t yet heard about ‘The Shattered Court’ can you tell us a little bit more about it?
The Shattered Court is about Sophie Kendall, who is a royal witch who comes into power during a time when the court she is part of is attacked. Which means because she misses some of the normal rituals witches undergo, her power is unusual. And to some, dangerous.

What inspired you to write this story?
 My stories usually start with a character popping into my head out of nowhere. I can't remember exactly where I was but I suddenly had the image of this heroine who was bored out of her brain having a magic lesson when she didn't actually know if she had magic yet. So that was the seed of the idea.

How has the story evolved from the initial idea to the book readers can now delve into?
When I had the initial idea, I didn't know anything else about the world or who Sophie was. For me,  my world grows as I write scenes and have to stop and figure out the reasons behind the things about the world or the characters that pop into my head as I write and that in turn pushes the story. So it's kind of an iterative process. I try to keep writing forward but I usually have to go back and tweak things as I go. When I started the book, I didn't know a lot of what was going to happen. I vaguely knew what was going to happen between Sophie and Cameron and also what the initial political situation was but the detail comes as I write, so it's always a surprise. I often have an idea for the last scene of the book early on but for this one, I didn't until quite late in the draft. So I'm still learning about the world.

What was the hardest part of writing the novel?
Figuring out the last third or so of the book as I got stuck for a while and had a "this is never going to work" moment.

And the best/most rewarding?
It's always getting to the end and realizing that it did all work out. That and creating a whole world to play in.

Does anything particular stimulate your writing and creativity and do you have any set writing habits?
I try to write every day but don't always. I have a day job so my routine varies depending on whether or not I am having a day job day or not. I definitely need to make time to do other things and get out of the house to feed the creative side of the brain. For me the things that seem to refill the creative well are reading, watching TV and movies, taking pictures, doing crafty things like knitting or watercolors, cooking, listening to music, hanging out with my friends. Things that distract me while the subconscious can work away on the book.

Did you always know you wanted to write / what was the point that you realized this was something you really wanted to pursue?
I always loved books. Total bookworm. One of those kids who had to have books taken away from them and be shooed outside to play. I always wrote stories as a kid and loved English at school. But I grew up in a smallish country town and no one ever said "hey, be a writer as a job". So I pursued another career but in my twenties the urge to write kept coming back and eventually I thought I might as well write them down and see what happens. Turned out I still loved to write so I decided to get serious and try to get published. Which was a long process but I got there in the end.

What books and authors have inspired you?
I read a lot of fantasy and romance and always have with side trips off to history, mystery and sci fi. Most genres really, though not much horror. I get creeped out too easily for too much horror. Some of my favorite authors are Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Jennifer Crusie, Robin McKinley, Jacqueline Carey, Ilona Andrews, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Kelly Hunter, Kylie Scott and Deanna Raybourn. If you asked me for my top 5 fave books, the list would change a bit but near the top will always be Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett, A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, Sunshine by Robin McKinley, Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruise and Scout's Progress by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. 

Are you able to give us any information on what you’re working on next?
Right now I'm writing one of my Melanie Scott books, which is a contemporary romance, the fifth in my New York Saints series. It's called Playing Fast and will be out next year. Other things are afoot but not that I can talk about just now.

And finally, any advice for inspiring writers out there?

Probably everyone says that but just keep writing. Write the books that you would want to read, in the genres that make you happy. Learn about writing too but most importantly just keep writing and going after your dream.

Thank you so much for stopping by and talking to us! Don't forget to pre-order 'The Shattered Court' in time for its release in the UK on April 28th and you can find M J Scott on twitter too!
Interested in the book? Check out the review I posted here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: The Shattered Court by M. J. Scott

Publication Date: 28th April 2015
Publisher: Roc - Penguin Random House
Length: 336 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Mild spoilers contained below

Entangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with newfound power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…
The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.
Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.
Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.

This novel was one I was incredible excited about ever since it first cropped up on Goodreads. However it ended up being a slightly mixed read for me. There were elements that I loved, but sadly there were also parts that really didn’t work, so whilst I did enjoy the book it didn’t rate as highly as I was hoping it would.

I enjoyed the fantasy world, and on the whole the world building was really good although there are a lot of gaps to be filled in as the series progresses. The idea of the royal witches, the shake up to the court, the intrigue and underhand dealings in a royal setting are all things I love in novels and I thought were brought into the plot to heighten the tension incredibly well. I also loved elements of the romance, although there were aspects that were not quite as strong that I will go into further detail on in a moment.

It was a quick read, drawing me into the story and immediately shaking things up and launching into a rapidly thickening plot, and as a light romance book with magical undertones and a side serving of court life I really loved it. However I was expecting more from the blurb and this is where the problems start to creep in.

The novel felt like it was trying to be too many things, and go in too many directions at once, and as a result feels as though none of the aspects are more than touched upon. It couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be a romance, or a court intrigue, or a tale about witches and as a result feels like it touches on each aspect but doesn’t fully develop them. It doesn’t really feel like the stakes are particularly high or the emotional impact or consequences are particularly real.

The pacing is a little off in places, particularly for the first third of the novel. Whilst it is important that Sophie and Cam are separated from the castle for the events that shape the story to unfold, it feels implausible and slows the tempo of the novel right down. Their travels round the countryside sadly do not make for the most fascinating reading.

The romance as well was slightly mixed. There was no real development of feeling between Cam and Sophie. They go from near strangers to acting as though they have been together for years with no real in-between. I would have loved to see more of a build-up and development between them. However their feelings towards each other really drove the latter part of the novel and I am looking forward to seeing more of them as a partnership in the second novel. However do be wary of some of the language used, particularly in the sex scenes, as it isn’t language readers would normally expect in a fantasy novel. If you’re familiar with modern romances it won’t be quite as jarring, but I was quite surprised at some of the language as it really threw me out of the fantasy setting and wasn’t in keeping with the language used in the rest of the novel.

It felt like the ideas were there for this – a love story in a land where nefarious dealings are happening and witches, particularly royal witches are powerful tools of the court – however none of them were brought to full fruition. The groundwork for the second book has been well laid though, and I’m very interested to see where the second books takes us.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Top Ten All Time Favourite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by the wonderful folks over at The Broke & the Bookish

This week is a tough one. Like really crazy tough, because there are so many authors that are favourites. Those who have written incredible series and bring out book after book of wonderfulness, and those who have written a single standalone that stays with you. And there are some who maybe their books aren't in your top favourites, but they are such wonderful kind and fabulous people that they sneak in anyway. They all deserve recognition and that makes it incredibly hard to narrow it down to just ten.
But I'm going to try... So here, in no particular order are my top ten all time favourite authors.

Deanna Raybourn
I finished reading a Gail Carriger book and went on Amazon to see if they could recommend me anything similar and 'Silent in the Grave' the first book in the Lady Julia series popped up. I devoured it (and the following two books) in record time and so began a love affair with Deanna Raybourn's books that I have never looked back from. I know that if Raybourn has written it, it is going to be supberb. She has the rare and dangerous gift of being able to create wonderfully real characters and put them into worlds so real you can almost taste them. When I dive into one of her books I know I am going to be immersed in an incredible story with wonderful and evocative writing. She researches so thoroughly that every story feels as though it is real and as though you are truly stepping into the country and time period depicted. No matter the story, Raybourn's books will always be a favourite and her a favourite author.

Maggie Stiefvater
I came to Maggie late, discovering her only with the publication of 'The Scorpio Races'. Nothing I have read comes close to what Maggie does with her tales. They are full of subtle magics, incredible characters and books that pull you in and make you fall in love until they become a part of you. 'The Scorpio Races' and then 'The Raven Cycle' are utterly stunning books, ones that always take my breath away. I am utterly in awe and cannot even put into words how incredible these books and Maggie's writing is. I adore them, and I couldn't ever do without them.

Kristin Cashore
The first time I read Graceling I disliked it. Then I waited a few years and read it again and fell in love, followed swiftly by Fire and Bitterblue and all three rocketed straight up into all time favourite books. For some reason reading Graceling for the first time I was in completely the wrong frame of mind, and I am so, so glad that I went back and re-read it because I cannot imagine not having these three books in my life. I listen to the audiobooks regularly (currently my go-to audiobook is Fire) and also go and check out Kristin's blog. Her blog is a fascinating mix of writing and editing and random things and pretty pictures and I love hearing each update from her corner of the world. I'm eagerly awaiting her follow up book to The Seven Kingdoms series, but in the mean time I more than love checking out the blog posts and re-reading these favourites.
Sarah Rees Brennan
I first found Sarah's work when she was writing Harry Potter fan-fiction. And it was brilliant. It was witty and sarcastic and brilliant and fleshed out characters in whole new ways and introduced me to this idea that writing could be fun. Then she went to do an MA in Creative Writing and I couldn't believe it. The idea of studying writing at uni had never crossed my mind before that point and she introduced me to the idea that maybe I could write. And then she got her books published and she blew me away all over again with how incredibly wonderful her writing was. It was everything I had fallen in love with all those years ago when I read her fan fic, but polished, refined and with her own incredible characters and plots. Her writing is incredible, it remains some of the funniest and most bittersweet and her characters are some of the most complex. But as well as all that she will always be the person who showed me that achieving my dream of writing was actually possible, and I will always remember that.

Tamora PierceI first discovered Pierce's books when I was 11 and desperately seeking any sort of distraction from the books in the school library. None of them were particularly great and then I discovered Alanna in The Song of the Lioness Quartet and I fell in love. Pierce's books always have magic in them and they always feature fantastic characters. Strong women who aren't afraid to fight for what they want and be who they were meant to be, regardless of what society thinks they should do. And strong men who are loyal and kind and aren't afraid to show weakness, frailty, or love. I got lost in these books, I wished I could live in these books, and I still love going back and re-reading them to this day. They are wonderful and full of such brilliant depths of imagination and that is what makes her one of my favourite authors.

J. K. Rowling
Do I really need to say anything? Like pretty much every other Potter fan, I fell in love with Harry and Ron and Hermione and never looked back. Rowling created a world I wanted to live in, Hogwarts is somewhere I can never wait to return to, and I was one of the lucky generation who grew up with Harry. With each new book I was older, so was he, and the world got darker and more dangerous as we explored it. Rowling did the extrordinary, she created a world that bridges language and country. Everyone who has fallen in love with Hogwarts is connected by these books and the love of reading they inspired, and I adore her for that.

Neil Gaiman
If Tamora Pierce introduced me to fantasy as a child, Neil Gaiman introduced
me to a whole new breed of fantasty as an adult. Gaiman's books are incredible with such vivid and terrifying imagination filling each page. I started with Neverwhere and fell in love with London, moved on to Stardust and found a whole new type of fairytale with heroines who swore and hero's who weren't really hero's at all to start with, and moved onto American Gods and wept from the sheer brilliance and scope of the story. Gaiman's stories in turn delight and terrify and he is such a kind and generous author, both with his stories and his time. If you ever get the chance to go to a talk of his, I highly recommend it.
Julia Quinn
Quinn introduced me to the idea of romance and true love. I mean I'd discovered it in fairytales and other such things, but this was my first foray into true romance and I loved it. Quinn's stories are always fresh and funny, brilliantly written and featuring wonderful characters. She reminds me again and again that happily ever after's are indeed possible and that true love really does exist, even when the world is a terrible place I know that Quinn will provide a ray of sunshine and I love her and her books for that.

Jasper Fforde
I was a precocious reader as a child, and as a result I found a lot of books and authors that I didn't fully appreciate until revisiting them when I was a bit older. Jasper Fforde is one of those authors, and whilst I loved him when I was younger, his books are utterly fantastic reading them as an adult. They are brilliantly imaginative, twisted and hilarious. His debut novel 'The Eyre Affair' plays with tropes and expectations so brilliantly, and I adore his haphazard and genius thought process that produces such ingenious books.
Gail Carriger
My first dip into steampunk, Gail's covers grabbed my attention and her witty and sharp writing kept me entertained for hours. She is still my favourite steampunk author and if I want a melodrama of manners with tea, pesto, vampires and werewolves she is my go to author I love - and she has the most awesome blog and twitter presence. There's always something new and exciting to see if you go on her blog or follow her and I love seeing the strange, weird and wonderful things that pop up. 

So there you have my top ten favourite authors. Can you manage to pick only ten of your favourites? If so tell me in the comments below! You can also check out interviews with Deanna Raybourn, Sarah Rees Brennan & Gail Carriger in the author interviews tab at the top of the page.