Friday, 31 July 2015

Books I'm Squeeing About in August

We're already at August and this year is just flying by. Luckily we've had lots of incredible books to keep us going over the last seven months and this month is now exception. There's a wonderful mix of contemporary and fantasy hitting out shelves that I cannot wait to get stuck into, and some books that I've already read and loved and can't wait to see what you guys make of them!
So without further ado, here are the books that I am squeeing about in August!

1st August - The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks
Annabelle Aster doesn’t bow to convention—not even that of space and time—which makes the 1890s Kansas wheat field that has appeared in her modern-day San Francisco garden easy to accept. Even more peculiar is Elsbeth, the truculent schoolmarm who sends Annie letters through the mysterious brass mailbox perched on the picket fence that now divides their two worlds.Annie and Elsbeth’s search for an explanation to the hiccup in the universe linking their homes leads to an unsettling discovery—and potential disaster for both of them. Together they must solve the mystery of what connects them before one of them is convicted of a murder that has yet to happen…and yet somehow already did.

This blurb was so brilliantly strange that it immediately caught my interest. Combine that with the mouthful of a title and whilst this wasn't my usual type of book, ever since Outlander I have been curious about reading more time travel books.

Keep an eye out for my review!
Pre-order this book on Amazon now!
Check back on August 14th for a guest post from Scott Wilbanks himself!

4th August - As Black as Ebony by Salla Simukka
After a harrowing summer in Prague, Lumikki Andersson is back in Finland at her prestigious art school, concentrating on graduation. She lands the lead role in the school’s modern-day adaptation of “Snow White” and finds herself facing a new distraction—Sampsa, the boy playing the role of the huntsman, who has an undeniable allure that makes Lumikki conflicted about what, and who, she wants.
As Lumikki starts falling into something more than just her role on stage, a shadow is cast over the production when she begins receiving creepily obsessive love notes. Lumikki can’t ignore the increasingly hostile tone of her admirer’s messages, and when the stalker threatens mass violence at the play’s premiere, Lumikki knows she must discover who is behind the menace and stop the person at all costs.
With a foe who has a heart as black as ebony, does Lumikki have any hope of saving those she loves?

I loved the first book in the series, a tragically under-rated and unknown book translated into English from Finnish and with a tense thrilling story at its heart. The second book didn't grab me in quite the same way and had a few issues with translation, but that didn't diminish my excitement for the final installment in the trilogy, which stormed along at a terrific rate and left me breathless with fear at points!
You can read my review here

Pre-order this book on Amazon now!

13th August - Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell
Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. 
But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.
Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince... but realizes she doesn't want a fairy tale happy ending after all.

A re-telling of Cinderella with a heroine who isn't just waiting for a Prince to sweep her off her feet and make everything better? A heroine who creates her own identity and empowers herself rather than relying on a man to do it for her? Sign me up, immediately. I can't wait to read this one!
Pre-order this book on Amazon now!

20th August - The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de BodardParis has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.
House Silverspires, previously the leader of those power games, lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.
Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen, a alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a resentful young man wielding spells from the Far East. They may be Silverspires’ salvation. They may be the architects of its last, irreversible fall…

This blurb was basically all I needed to have this book shoot straight onto my wishlist. I'm loving reading books set in France at the moment, and a war torn Paris with magic and warring houses?! This just ticks all of my bookish boxes and leaves me desperate to get my hands on it!
Pre-order this book on Amazon now!

25th August - Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman
Imagine a time when the gods turn a blind eye to the agony of men, when the last of the hellions roam the plains and evil stirs beyond the edges of the map. A time when cities burn, and in their ashes, empires rise.
Alexander, Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir, is on the brink of discovering his fated role in conquering the known world but finds himself drawn to newcomer Katerina, who must navigate the dark secrets of court life while hiding her own mission: kill the Queen. But Kat’s first love, Jacob, will go to unthinkable lengths to win her, even if it means competing for her heart with Hephaestion, a murderer sheltered by the prince. And far across the sea, Zofia, a Persian princess and Alexander’s unmet fiancée, wants to alter her destiny by seeking the famed and deadly Spirit Eaters.
Weaving fantasy with the salacious and fascinating details of real history, New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Herman reimagines the greatest emperor the world has ever known: Alexander the Great, in the first book of the Blood of Gods and Royals series.

Finally! The time has come! I have been excited about this book since the start of the year, and with a blurb like that can you really blame me? Brutal, brilliant and oh so exciting, I cannot wait to dig into this book.
Keep an eye out for my review later this month!
Pre-order this book on Amazon now!

27th August - One by Sarah Crossan
Tippi and Grace share everything—clothes, friends... even their body. Writing in free verse, Sarah Crossan tells the sensitive and moving story of conjoined twin sisters, which will find fans in readers of Gayle Forman, Jodi Picoult, and Jandy Nelson.
Tippi and Grace. Grace and Tippi. For them, it’s normal to step into the same skirt. To hook their arms around each other for balance. To fall asleep listening to the other breathing. To share. And to keep some things private. The two sixteen-year-old girls have two heads, two hearts, and each has two arms, but at the belly, they join. And they are happy, never wanting to risk the dangerous separation surgery.
But the girls’ body is beginning to fight against them. And soon they will have to face the impossible choice they have avoided for their entire lives.

This book is stunning. Beautiful, raw and simplistic prose, written in free verse and utterly engrossing, this is one of the best books I've read so far this year. It's an incredible story and Crossan has pared down the writing to the very bare bones needed, which makes the story even more powerful and engaging. I loved Tippi and Grace, I fell into their lives and their choices and crept through their thoughts and hopes and dreams. This is an incredible book, I cannot recommend it enough.
Keep an eye out for my review later this month!
Pre-order this book on Amazon now!

So there you have the books I can't wait to get my hands on this month. Are they any you think I've missed? Or books that I've popped onto your radar? Let me know in the comments below, and tell me what you're hoping to read!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: As Black as Ebony by Salla Simukka

Publication Date: August 4th 2015
Publisher: SkyScape/Amazon Publishing (Published in the UK by Hot Key Books)
Length: 151 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and SkyScape/Amazon Publishing for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

After a harrowing summer in Prague, Lumikki Andersson is back in Finland at her prestigious art school, concentrating on graduation. She lands the lead role in the school’s modern-day adaptation of “Snow White” and finds herself facing a new distraction—Sampsa, the boy playing the role of the huntsman, who has an undeniable allure that makes Lumikki conflicted about what, and who, she wants.
As Lumikki starts falling into something more than just her role on stage, a shadow is cast over the production when she begins receiving creepily obsessive love notes. Lumikki can’t ignore the increasingly hostile tone of her admirer’s messages, and when the stalker threatens mass violence at the play’s premiere, Lumikki knows she must discover who is behind the menace and stop the person at all costs.
With a foe who has a heart as black as ebony, does Lumikki have any hope of saving those she loves?

It’s a well-known fact that I absolutely loved the first book in this trilogy ‘As Red As Blood’. It was terrifying, engrossing, tense and brilliantly paced – the sort of book that you had to read in one nail biting sitting or risk losing your mind. Then I stormed straight through the second book, and whilst it didn’t pull me in in quite the same way as the first, it was filled with Simukka’s trade mark brevity and twisting plot threads and was still a fantastic read. So I was curious as to how the third book in the trilogy would finish Lumikki’s story off, and whether it would lean more towards the brilliance of the first book or continue in the same vein as the second.

Actually it ended up being somewhere in the middle. It had all of the terror and tension of the first book, but it felt a little too short, as though the climax happened far too soon, just as everything was building up nicely.

However, there was a lot that really worked well in this finale. The translation was much smoother for this book. All three books are set in Finland and the original language is Finnish, so the translation into English has been a little shaky at times in the first two books. There are still a couple of odd moments, but on the whole the overall feeling is a much smoother and more dynamic narrative that feels closer to how the original was written.

Simukka’s writing style is refreshing to read. She has a way with words, and a sparseness to her prose which cut the book down to the absolute minimum of fuss – like Lumikki herself. It draws you into the story and delivers emotional blows and reveals hidden depths that wouldn’t have been possible with a more verbose and flowery narrative. It’s sparse, and it works beautifully.

This book was also a lot more focussed, which definitely helped to hone the narrative. Whilst the first and second book had several interlocking narratives, with same narrators known to the reader and others hidden until the end, this book simply offered Lumikki’s and her unknown stalker. It meant that the story was a lot less confusing and we’re less distracted by being confused about different narrators who we’re unsure about.

My biggest problem was the length. All three books have been very short, but this is by far the shortest and as a result you get a wonderful build up but then a very sudden climax. ‘Hey look, here’s the stalker, and now they’ve been defeated, everyone go home.’ It just felt very abrupt, I wanted more. There had been such a deliciously terrifying build up, it just felt too sudden and out of the blue that it all came together and was resolved so quickly.

However despite that draw back, the book is still a fantastic read and a very satisfying conclusion to the series. You could easily read ‘As Red as Blood’ as a standalone book, but I have loved coming back to Lumikki over the course of the following two books and slowly unpacking her story and watching her piece herself and her life together. If you’re looking for a fast paced thriller, these are the books for you. Or if you fancy trying a YA book that breaks the trends and is set in Finland and translated into English then I recommend this even more. It was so refreshing to read something so wildly different from the usual YA fare, and this offered a more than satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Publication Date: March 27th 2014 (this edition)
Publisher: Egmont
Length: 239 pages

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS. 
While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

I’ve tried a few of David Levithan’s short stories and ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ and hadn’t gotten along with them at all, which meant that I wasn’t in any rush to pick up any other books by him. But then I got talking to a very good friend about how she absolutely adores some of his books and I thought I really ought to give him another go – enter ‘Two Boys Kissing’.

There is no way I’m actually going to be able to adequately put into words just how much I loved this book.
It’s told in one of the most unique ways I’ve ever seen a story narrated – by a Greek chorus of the gay men lost to AIDS. It’s quite an odd storytelling style to get used to, but it didn’t take me long to fall into the style and I now can’t imagine it being told in any other way. It meant that you were able to glimpse all of the characters’ lives easily, skipping from one to the next as easy as thought, and to be granted little pieces of wisdom and thoughts that otherwise would never have found their way into the story.

“Love is so painful, how could you ever wish it on anybody? And love is so essential, how could you ever stand in its way?” 

It also has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. Whilst from the blurb you would assume the story would focus on Harry & Craig, I loved that actually all of the boys are given time to develop and we see a very equal amount of all of them.

This is a beautiful story, a tough story, a story that made me cry and filled me with love and hope. It is a story I think everyone should read, that should be studied in school and given to friends and family for Christmas. It is a story that utterly wrecked me emotionally, but left me feeling so, so glad that I read it.

It is a book that I know I’m going to need to go back and re-visit. It was so incredibly written that I kept finding passages I want to go back and re-read, sections that I know would have even more impact the second time around, and whole swathes that were just so beautifully written it brought me to tears.
It is a book that demands attention – that demands to be felt. Stunning, unique and utterly brilliant.

“We do not start as dust. We do not end as dust. We make more than dust. That’s all we ask of you. Make more than dust.”

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Publication Date: July 3rd 2015 (paperback)
Publisher: Orion
Length: 308 pages

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

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble; it has been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn't expect him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts...
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

So the first Rainbow Rowell book I ever read was ‘Eleanor & Park’ and whilst I enjoyed it, it didn’t hit me in quite the same way as a lot of other people I know who loved it. So I wasn’t in any huge rush to pick up any of her other books, they were always on the ‘yeah, I’ll get to it at some point’ pile. And then I had a long train journey back home and Landline was on my kindle and I thought I should really try it and see.

Reading Landline was like being hit by a truck in the feels. On finishing it I was actually glad that I hadn’t read it before now, as I don’t think that it would have resonated with me in quite the same way. Having waited until now, when I’m coming up to my first wedding anniversary, it struck a lot of chords inside me. I may not have kids yet, or a high pressure job in tv and been married for 17 years, but I do have that fear. That worry that maybe love isn’t enough, and it was both heart-breaking and uplifting to read Georgie and Neal’s story and to see them battle through the little things and the big things together, because they loved each other and couldn’t imagine life without the other.

The writing is poetic and beautiful and orchestrated to perfection to provide maximum impact when reading. I fell into the story, into their lives and their memories and their love for each other and at times felt like I was buoyed by it and others like I was drowning. It is gut wrenching and stunning. Funny and tragic. Magical and utterly mundane. It gives you the insights into young Georgie who is full of certainty and love and determination and juxtaposes her against older Georgie who is worn and tired and desperately trying to juggle all of the balls at once and keeps missing.

"You don't know when you are twenty-three. You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten—in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems."

I genuinely couldn’t see how this could end. Obviously I was hoping for hope and happiness, but I just wasn’t sure. I was filled with as much desperation, bewilderment and uncertainty as Georgie was as she remembered and re-remembered and tried to work out what to do. I stumbled off the train after reading and fell into my Husband’s arms, desperate for comfort and reassurance, I was so invested into Georgie’s story.

In short, this book is beautiful. A gorgeous melding of magic and reality, of hope and loss, but most importantly of love in all its many shapes and guises. I fell in love with Georgie and I fell in love with Landline and I think I may have just fallen for Rainbow. Now I’m itching to get into every other book she’s written, but I think Landline will always hold a special place in my heart, and be a book that I come back to over and over again for the little pieces of humour and wisdom and hope folded delicately into the prose.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Review: The Lost and The Found by Cat Clarke

Publication Date: July 2nd 2015
Publisher: Quercus
Length: 441 pages

Huge thanks to Quercus for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

When six-year-old Laurel Logan was abducted, the only witness was her younger sister. Faith’s childhood was dominated by Laurel’s disappearance – from her parents’ broken marriage and the constant media attention to dealing with so-called friends who only ever wanted to talk about her sister. 
Thirteen years later, a young woman is found in the garden of the Logans’ old house, disorientated and clutching the teddy bear Laurel was last seen with. Laurel is home at last, safe and sound. Faith always dreamed of getting her sister back, without ever truly believing it would happen. But a disturbing series of events leaves Faith increasingly isolated and paranoid, and before long she begins to wonder if everything that’s lost can be found again…

This book is addictive. I stormed through it in one day, and it only took me that long because I had to go out for the afternoon. I loved it and I was drawn in completely.

I loved Faith. So much of the story hinges on her, we’re right there in her head for all of it, and she’s such a likeable character. I empathised with her, her struggle to try and adjust to having her big sister she never really knew back. The jealousy and frustration and anger and how she tamps everything down and tries so hard to be a good sibling. She’s so human, so warm and generous and frustrated at how her hand has been dealt and I loved her.

It’s a fascinating story, the complexities of the relationships are the driving force behind it and I really loved seeing how each of the characters interacted with each other, how they came to terms with the adjustments and adapted.
I particularly loved Michel and Faith’s relationship with him. So often in fiction (particularly young adult) relationships with parents are made bad or non-existent and step-parents are basically the big bads that come in and ruin everything. So it was really refreshing to not only see a good and healthy relationship between a parent and child, but for that relationship to be with a step-parent. Michel was so caring of Faith, always there for her to lean on, to talk to, and ended up almost as her anchor. It was a far better relationship than either of those Faith had with her biological parents. It was just such a wonderful story thread, and really made the story for me. Add in the fact that Michel and Faith’s father were gay and it was such a wonderfully modern family and interesting to see the dynamics and shifts between them all as they tried to make everything work.

But the relationship between Faith and Laurel is the most fascinating of all. I loved the complexity of it, the power struggle even though they both get along so well. The constantly evolving relationship and its pitfalls. It’s brilliantly written and I was completely engrossed.

It’s also fascinating to see the portrayal of the media and the role they play. How they can both help and hinder in all of the situations that arise, and how each of the family members reacts to them.

Unfortunately the twist was obvious right from the get go (I think I just have a trust complex and I don’t trust anything that seems happy…) however that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the story, and when the twist comes to light the resolution and details following it work really well and really turn the story from something I expected into something brilliant.

If you’ve read and enjoyed ‘Emmy & Oliver’ you’ll love this one too. It’s different and a bit darker, but the same themes and ideas are being explored and it’s fascinating to see two stories tackling the same subject matter in two such different ways.

This is an engrossing and brilliant book, one that I couldn’t put down. It’s a tale that surprised me when I thought I had it pegged, and offered a deliciously woven narrative from a really fantastic heroine.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

YALC Panel Breakdown

It's been a whole week since the last day of YALC, and I don't know about you guys but I'm missing it hugely. So much fun, so many amazing authors and bloggers! So many fantastic panels!

So I decided to commiserate this first week of no YALC excitement to look forward to, by recapping the panels I went to last weekend. Click on the panel name to be taken straight to the hashtag I used for each panel where you'll find my tweets, plus some others!

Friday 17th July 
Apocalypse Now Panel
Gemma Malley talking to Virginia Bergin, Francesca Haig, Marie Rutkoski, Teri Terry and Moira Young.
A chance to talk about the rise and popularity of dystopia in young adult fiction
- None of the others really set out to write dystopian novels, and some of them don't even really consider their books to be dystopian. For example Marie Rutkoski considers her books to be more a human fantasy story.
- When asked if they consider dystopia to be a genre or a tool, all the authors were unanimous in thinking of/and using it as a tool.
- Some don't particularly like being labelled as dystopian, as it alienates a whole group of readers that might otherwise pick it up. "as soon as you put a label on a book it alienates a whole lot of people who would otherwise love it"
"Maybe book genres are like Harry Potter houses, but you can fit them into more than one house" - Marie Rutkoski
- Virginia Bergin really wants to see the rise of social media and the ease of communication be tackled in future dystopian novels, and to see how that develops along with the development of all the electronics and social media sites we use in day to day life.
- When asked about the 'strong female character' that seems to come hand in hand with most dystopian novels, there was a fantastic discussion from all panelists about the fact that women can often be repressed, the ones that people never expect as much of, so it's wonderful as a writer to be able to write characters that are strong and rise up against the oppression.

Saturday 18th July
Shadowhunters Panel
Cassandra Clare & Sarah Rees Brennan

The Shadowhunters panel was full of fun and brilliant lines, so my notes and tweets from this panel were mostly just highly entertaining quotes. It's always fantastic to see Sarah and Cassie together as they bounce off each other to provide a truly hilarious conversation.
There was quite a bit of talk about the new Shadowhunters tv series. Cassie has been on set and loved it, there are lots of bloopers and amusing things happening behind the scenes. She also said that that the actors are approaching the characters in a very different way so that the tv show will be a very different beast to the film.

Sunday 19th July
Bringing Sexy Back Panel
James Dawson talking to Non Pratt, Louise O'Neill, Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

This panel was in turns hilarious and thought provoking and an utterly brilliant start to my final day at YALC.
- All the authors felt that sex is still a big deal in books, and it should be discussed more honestly, not sanitized
- Films make sex a graphic visual thing, whereas books give the emotional side which is really important
- All the authors have drawn on their own experiences to try and make the sex scenes in their books honest and real
- Non Pratt commented that she writes what she feels 14 year old Non would want to read.
- When asked about her novels and her inspiration, Louise O'Neill explains that she is trying to talk about a culture that actively supports casual sexual assault and make people aware of it with her writing
- All the authors agree that female friendship is incredible important, even more so than romantic love. In a world where the media is constantly pitting women against each other it's important to depict healthy, honest, real relationships between girls and women.
- "Friendships last a lifetime, romance less so. It's so important to see more friendships." - Non Pratt
- Despite the fact that sex is something that is being talked about more in fiction, it's still a big taboo to talk about not having sex. All panelists agree that there should be more representation of asexual characters, and Louise O'Neill says that in her next book there will in fact be a prominent asexual character.
- Non Pratt talks about how even in the darkest parts of YA fiction, there is still hope and optimism.
- All panelists agree that we have to stop categorizing girls as 'good' or 'bad', where the bad girls are slut shamed and the good girls never do anything wrong. Life is not that black or white, we need to start seeing fleshed out more rounded characters that encompass all of these things.
- James Dawson really wants to see boys doing more than holding hands in future books. He wants proper representation for gay men in fiction.

Between Fantasy & Reality Panel
James Smythe talking to Ben Aaranovitch, Amy Alward, Sally Green, Frances Hardinge and Melinda Salisbury

-All the panelists felt that it's important to really ground the book in reality before they start to add in the magical elements, be it putting in real places or working on the characters and setting and any historical details before adding in the magic stuff.
-All of the panelists work very heavily with historical elements, bringing them into their own work, resulting in lots of research to get everything as correct as possible.
- The way Ben Aaronovitch sees it, you could write a story that's realistic or you could write a story that's realistic but with added magical explosions, and for him the magical explosions are infinitely more fun.
-Ben Aaronovitch got a lot of his ideas from simply taking the idea of what if and applying it to police procedures. For example, how can you lock up a werewolf without infringing on either his human rights or animal cruelty?
Troubled Teens Panel
Gemma Malley talking to Kevin Brooks, Moira Fowley-Doyle, Clare Furniss, Sarah Pinborough and Jenny Valentine

- Readers like to find themselves in books, and a lot of the darker things that happen in books will have happened to the readers. It's important not to censor and decide what is and isn't right, because you can't censor real life.
- However it isn't all darkness, Jenny Valentine feels that the darker books are as much about the light as the darkness.
"You have to go to the depths of the dark to see the light at the end of the tunnel." 
- Hope isn't the same thing as a happy ending, and hope is the most important thing to find in fiction. And contrary to a happy ending, hope doesn't have to come at the end of the story.
- All the panelists agreed that whilst they may have been labelled as 'issue' books, they aren't. They are books about life that deal with lots of different elements of living, and it's not what you write about but how you write it that is the most important thing.
- "The darker side of things are much more powerfully emotional than the lighter side of things." - Kevin Brooks

LGBT in YA Panel
James Dawson, Liz Kessler, Den Patrick and Lisa Williamson

- All the panelists agreed that these are incredible accelerated times we're living in at the moment, where a sudden surge of movement is occurring in regards to LGBT rights etc and that that is being reflected in fiction. 
- It's a positive feedback loop, the more people that come out, the more diversity we see in fiction.
- "Sexual attraction is sexual attraction, it doesn't matter which bits are involved." James Dawson
- It's so important that before anything else, before any classes or lessons taught in schools, that people who identify as LGBTQ are safe and protected, and feel safe and protected. Otherwise there is no point to any of it.

Unfortunately I was so engrossed in the panel (it was one of the best panels of the weekend) that I didn't make nearly as many notes as for the other panels, so I highly recommend checking out other twitter feeds for comments about the panel. The @YALC_UK twitter feed will have re-tweeted a lot of the tweets that came up during the panel and I really recommend checking them out!

So there you have it, my notes and links to my tweets for each of the panels I sat in on over the weekend. They were really quite fantastic, and I'm gutted I wasn't able to make it to more of them, but there were so many fantastic things happening throughout the weekend that it was impossible to get to everything. 
Were any of you there for the YALC weekend, and if so which was your favourite panel to listen to? And how are you coping with the lack of YALC this week?
Those of you who weren't able to make it, I'd love to know which panels you most wish you'd been able to go to - let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Rosy Rec's Fire by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore's three novels 'Graceling', 'Fire' and 'Bitterblue' are three of my favourites when it comes to fantasy. Cashore has a gift when it comes to incredible storytelling, complex characters and wonderful setting and in no book is it as obvious as 'Fire' which holds a very special place in my heart and is a book I return to again and again.

What's it about?
Fire is a monster - not a strange thing in the Dells which is a land filled with monsters, but she is the only human monster and with that comes power.
The Dells is a land on the brink of war and Fire must choose how to wield her power and how to help save the land she loves, learning about herself and her abilities along the way. 

Why I love it:
Because Fire is extraordinary. She is one of my favourite heroines because she is fiercely loyal and independent and isn't afraid to stand up for herself. But also because she is not physically strong, she is flawed, she is so afraid of becoming her Father that she shies away from her power and lets that fear dictate her life and her choices for so long.
She is such a wonderful mix of contradictions, as all of Cashore's heroines are. She is beautiful but hates her beauty and does her level best to crush it as much as possible. She is not physically strong but has a mental strength that enables her to control or influence almost anyone. She desperately wants to be a mother but destroys any chance of that so she cannot be weak and tempted at a later point. She is complex and wonderful and so breathtakingly real that by the end of the book you ache for her. You want to sweep her up and make everything alright. I adore Fire.

It is also an incredibly important novel because the things that Fire experiences are things that woman everywhere experience on a daily basis. The harassment and abuse, the unwanted attention and embarrassment. It is amplified to reflect her amplified beauty, but they are all things that women deal with. My husband was slightly dismissive at first on reading, and then horrified that women do have to deal with harassment so frequently, and whilst on the whole it is not as vile and awful as some of what Fire deals with, it is still hard. It really opened his eyes and will do for many men, giving a window onto something that is largely dismissed, which I think is incredibly important.

Add to that Cashore's truly beautiful prose and you have a truly wonderful combination. One that I revisit time and time again, both in its original form and the audiobook read by Emma Powell who reads all three audio's for this series. Powell is fantastic, with a wonderful voice and an ability to vividly bring to life each character so clearly you know instantly who is speaking. 

“It was a hurting tune, resigned, a cry of heartache for all in the world that fell apart. As ash rose black against the brilliant sky, Fire's fiddle cried out for the dead, and for the living who stay behind to say goodbye.” 

Who should read it?
Everyone. For fans of Cashore's other works this is a definite must as I personally feel that this is the best of all her novels. My husband looked dubious when I handed it to him to read, but he soon became completely immersed in Fire's world and she opened his eyes to so many things women face that he had never really considered. It is a wonderful novel that anyone can enjoy and take something away from.

Read this if you liked:
Graceling & Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce
The Girl of Fire & Thorns by Rae Carson

You can read my full review here

Friday, 24 July 2015

Review: The Piano Man Project by Kat French

Publication Date: July 30th 2015
Publisher: Harper Collins UK/Avon
Length: 400 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and Harper Collins UK/Avon for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

A delightfully romantic, heartwarming read for everyone who’s ever looked for The One and found someone better.
You: kind, piano-playing sex god
Me: hopelessly romantic charity shop manager
Honeysuckle Jones has a problem, and her best friends Nell and Tash are on a mission to help her solve it. She needs a man – a caring, intelligent, funny man. But most importantly, a man who’s good with his hands…

Luckily Honey’s new neighbour – moody, antisocial ex-chef Hal – fails on almost every count. Even though the chemistry between them is electric, he’s obviously wrong for her in every way.
But when Honey discovers the devastating reason for his moods she decides to give him another chance. And discovers that the best songs aren’t always in tune…

It’s summer time and I always need a few good chick-lits to curl up and read when it gets warmer, and that blurb had me more than a little bit intrigued.
The book starts with one of the most attention grabbing scenes I’ve read in a long time. Honey and her two best friends in a sex shop, discussing vibrators and sex. This is not a book that holds back, and you’re thrust in (no pun intended) right from the very first sentence.

I wasn’t initially convinced, I mean yes the book had my attention, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be good. But ‘The Piano Man Project’ ended up surprising me until by the end I was thoroughly invested and more than a little bit emotional.

Honey and Hal are fantastic together. The banter is brilliant and I frequently found myself laughing out loud. Add to that their chemistry and that alone would be enough to make this a good book. But it had so much more depth to it. It tackles sex, the culture and emphasis on orgasm. It tackles the plight of the residents of the home, the problematic attitude that so many have about sweeping the elderly under the rug and forgetting the things they have done for us with their youth. It has strong and brilliant friendships between Honey and her two best friends, plus the friendships Honey has developed with the residents of the home. There was so much to this book that it stopped being ‘just a romance’ from only a handful of pages in.

Whilst the relationship developing between Hal and Honey was fantastic, and the side story of the search for an elusive piano man was amusing/cringeworthy at points, the real show stealer for me was the story thread about trying to save the home. I loved watching Honey come out of her shell and start to really put herself out there and speak up for these residents. I loved the protests and the humour that came through above the fear in those moments. I loved the quiet determination throughout, but I particularly loved the crowning glory, the giant protest at the end where everything comes to a head. I was so emotional by that point reading the speeches from Honey, and the support from all of the other characters that I was actually in tears on the train whilst reading. I was so drawn into the narrative and invested with these characters and their lives.

My only issue was with some of Hal’s character points. I got that he had to be grumpy and abrasive, but there were several points where the way he was treating Honey was just too awful to really then sell the romance. I could have done with his terribleness being toned down a little bit so that I wasn’t constantly questioning why Honey was falling for him. It was decidedly problematic at several points. That said I loved the slow build-up of their relationship. The kisses, the cooking, the dinner and talking through the door. It was brilliantly done. I loved that we had a hero who wasn’t the norm. Kat really embraced the challenge of having Hal be blind, and I loved seeing how he dealt with that, the emotional and physical problems, how he tried to deal with it and the fall-out from that. It added more unexpected depths that I truly wasn’t expecting and surprised me in the best possible way.

This whole book surprised me. I was expecting a light romance and instead I got a romance with some much deeper themes underlying it. It was emotional, and poignant and utterly brilliant. I was swept away with this story and loved spending time with Honey. This is definitely one that I’m going to come back to again and again.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review: Paperweight by Meg Haston

Publication Date: July 2nd 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Length: 304 pages

Huge thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Struggling to deal with her brother's death and a past she refuses to confront, Stevie knows she has problems. But she's still furious about the fact that she's been packed off to a health clinic, in the middle of nowhere, where mobile phones are banned and communication with the outside world is strictly by permission only. The regimented and obtrusive nature of the clinic and its staff is torture to the deeply private, obstinate Stevie - and don't even get her started on the other 'inmates'. All she wants is to be left alone...
But as Stevie is about to find out, life is full of surprises. And she will prove herself stronger than she knows - even when her past finally catches her up in the most shocking and brutal way possible.

This is an incredibly tough book to read, and also a very triggering book if you’ve ever suffered from or are currently suffering from an eating disorder. However it was also a really important book to read, so despite how hard and triggering I was finding it, I persevered because Stevie and her story was something that needed to be heard.

Stevie is not a likeable person. She’s hard and aggressive and not meant to be likeable, but despite all that you feel for her. In some cases you’ll be able to understand, to empathise with the things she’s doing and the ways she is feeling. She is not meant to be a cuddly person you instantly get on with, she is meant to be someone who has had terrible things happen and is suffering and lashing out in the only way that she knows how. Her arc and growth is tremendous, you can watch the shifts start to happen as she begins to talk to people, to refer to them by name, to understand what has happened, to let go of the guilt and to start to want to get better.

It’s definitely a story driven by character, there isn’t much in the way of plot, and for some people that will be frustrating, but for me it worked really well. I may not have liked Stevie a lot of the time, but I was definitely invested and engaged. I wanted to learn more, to see how she would respond in these situations, to see her perception of herself and the world begin to change.

The girls surrounding Stevie are just as fascinating. We don’t learn a huge amount about them, because Stevie herself is not interested or doesn’t feel like she can ask or talk, but what glimpses we do get help to paint a vivid picture of life with an eating disorder and the struggle to recovery.

I absolutely loved Stevie’s relationship with Shrink/Anna. I loved that it was a portrayal of a psychologist that was actually good and helpful, rather than making her out to be unfeeling or horrid, or any of the other usual portrayals in YA fiction. It was a breath of fresh air to see such a human person in this position and I loved this book for daring to allow Anna to be human.

The one thing that I was frustrated about is that whilst it is touched upon briefly, the majority of the focus is left on people who develop an eating disorder due to traumatic circumstances or events. Only one of the girls has an eating disorder for no discernible reason, and whilst it was really good that it is brought up and touched upon that it is almost worse in some ways to not be able to label and understand why you have this problem and how you’re not sure how to get better from it, I could have done with more time being spent on that issue. We see a lot from the other girls who have had trauma that has resulted in the disorder, but not really enough from the flip side.

“But we are a group of girls so overwhelmed by our mere existence that it’s almost paralyzing, the idea of dealing with the ‘big picture’ issues. It’s the reason we got this way to begin with. The reason a single caloric unit takes on such importance, the reason the pound becomes our currency of worth. These are things we can manage.”

This is a hard book, but an important one. One that casts an unflinching gaze on eating disorders – the hierarchy, the rituals, the warped sense of self. It is a book that needs to be read, needs to have more people understanding, and one that offers a mirror for those who have suffered, or are suffering from an eating disorder. One that shows that you are not alone. That you do not need to let it consume you. That there is hope.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Cover Reveal: Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan

So everyone who has ever met me knows that I adore Sarah Rees Brennan and absolutely love her books. They are genius I tell you! Funny, heart breaking, soul destroyingly good.

Which means that I get crazily excited whenever she has a new book coming out, before I even know anything about it, and the craziness levels go through the roof as soon as information starts trickling through...

And today people we have information. Glorious information in the form of an article from Entertainment Weekly (fancy!) gifting us with a cover reveal and excerpt from Sarah's upcoming novel 'Tell The Wind and Fire'.

It's quite a different cover from the ones previously seen on Sarah's books, more the style of the 'Team Human' cover (Sarah's collaborative novel with Justine Larbalestier) than any of Sarah's individual works.
It's dark, it's edgy, and it has whipped my excitement into a fever pitch.

Check out the article at EW (link above) to see the cover in all its glory, and to read the excerpt (which is absolutely brilliant). And let me know what you think of the cover in the comments below. Me personally, I cannot wait for next spring, and to get a copy of this into my little grabby hands.

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees Brennan
Expected Publication: April 5th 2016

Tell the Wind & Fire is about a young girl called Lucie who lives in a New York very different from the New York we know: the city is torn between two very different kinds of magic, and Lucie’s own family was torn apart years ago by that conflict. Lucie wears magic rings and carries a burden of guilt she can’t share with anyone.
The light in her life is her sweetheart boyfriend Ethan, but it turns out Ethan has a secret too: a soulless doppelganger created by dark magic, who has to conceal the face identical to Ethan’s with a hood fastened by a collar nobody but a Light magician with magical rings can take off… and who introduces himself to both of them by, for reasons nobody can understand, saving Ethan’s life…

YALC 2015 Wrap Up

One thousand two hundred and twelve miles is quite a large round trip, but when it comes to the Young Adult Literature Convention, no distance is too great to make sure I was there.

I'm now back in insanely hot Lyon (the brief respite to English weather has completely wrecked any sort of tolerance for the heat that I'd built up...) and feeling the come down that only happens when you've been looking forward to something for so long, and had such a fantastic time during it. In short, YALC was fab.

It was a much larger area than last year, taking up three quarters of the second floor of the Olympia (the last quarter was filled with the gaming section) and split up so there were partitioned off areas for the panels, workshops and agents corner. As well as lots of publishers stalls, and reading and signing areas. It all felt much more spaced out (which was definitely a good thing on the Saturday when it got really busy!) and offered plenty of space for everyone to join in with anything they chose to.

The panels were in turn hilarious and thought provoking, the workshops interesting, the plethora of authors and bloggers and book lovers thoroughly overwhelming and brilliant. To be surrounded by so many people who genuinely love books is always a thrilling experience, and it was wonderful to share book recs and get excited about authors.

Sarah Rees Brennan
being awesome
And the authors! So many incredible authors were in attendance, both for panels/signings/workshops and just because they loved books. There were plenty of star struck moments for me! It was also awesome to hear more from authors that I didn't know well or hadn't yet come across and to get excited for books that hadn't piqued my interest before. I have such a long list of books that I cannot wait to read as a result of this weekend.

Standout authors were (of course) Sarah Rees Brennan, you made my weekend with your spoilers about Angela and Holly and chatting about how nice guys don't finish at all, they end up on a stone slab...
Moira Fowley-Doyle signing
So lovely to meet the wonderful Moira Fowley-Doyle after shrieking about how brilliant 'The Accident Season' is to EVERYONE who will listen. And Marie Rutkoski, after my binge read of the first two books in the Winner's Series earlier this year. Also Non Pratt, casually selling books on the Waterstones stand and signing my copy of Remix was a surreal and brilliant end to the weekend. Making an utter idiot of myself in front of Alexia Casale when confusing her with Laura Dockrill on the first day after three hours sleep and a whole heap of jetlag... Meeting Marieke Nijkamp whose novel 'This is Where it Ends' is next up on my kindle and I cannot wait to read. And Sarah Benwell who valiantly made it through half of the weekend whilst insanely ill, surviving on cups of tea and book love.
It was the kind of weekend where you end up in turns star struck and then having a perfectly normal conversation with authors whose work you have loved and admired - the very best kind of weekend.

Michelle, Andrew and I
with added dinosaur impressions
Then there were the bloggers! So many awesome bloggers and not enough time to spend with each of you! Sophie from 'So Many Books, So Little Time', Michelle from 'The Book Club Forum/Sitting on a Cornflake', Faye from 'A Daydreamer's Thoughts', Sally from 'The Dark Dictator', Viv from 'Serendipity Reviews', Hannah from 'Luna's Little Library', Daphne from 'Winged Reviews', Virginie from 'La Chouett', Michelle from 'Tales of Yesterday' and the awesome Mara who has impeccable taste in books!
Plus so many others who really helped make the weekend something extraordinary.

It was fantastic to have a mini Bookish Brits gathering and to see Michelle, Andrew and Julianne. It's not the same seeing you on youtube and it was fantastic to meet up, film, take pictures and generally get bookishly excited. Also huge congrats to Andrew on not throwing up in his shoes and doing a wonderful panel, Book Blogging for Beginners on Sunday!
Tired but happy: Laurie & I

And of course, the most important person this weekend for me was the awesome Laurie who let me steal half the duvet, kept me in coffee, and kept me (in)sane when the sleep deprivation became too much. Mooching around getting excited about books, going to signings and panels, and sneaking downstairs to get excited about funkopops and cosplay made this weekend a truly spectacular affair.

YALC is still a very young endeavour, and for an event only in its second year it's a fantastic achievement. However it's obvious that with the level of popularity and support it's gaining that it's going to be something that continues to evolve and grow, and here are four things that I would love to see happen at the next YALC.

  1. More panels/Smaller panels. The space that we had for panels this year was huge, which meant that due to slightly dodgy microphones, if you weren't sat near the front you missed a lot of what was being said. I'd love to see smaller panels but more of them.
    One of the Comic Con floors
  2. Bloggers as Press. Downstairs in London Film Comic Con the press have access to events, to do interviews and to take pictures. I would love to see something similar being adapted for bloggers. In a way bloggers are like the press of the bookish world, their reach is huge, and it would be awesome for some of them to be able to take pictures and videos of events, run some panels (similar to this year) and to have access to a quieter spot to interview authors. It was fantastic to have the two panels on book blogging this year with book bloggers running them, and I would love to see that expanded on over the next few years.
  3. Getting the word out to more people. The number of people that were surprised and then dismayed to hear about the event this weekend because they had no idea that it was happening was staggering. I think that it's partly because the event is only in its second year, but I would love to see more in the run up to the weekend, not just on twitter, to get the word out so that more people are aware that such an incredible event is happening.
  4. Microphones for workshops. I only made it to one workshop because the panels were so brilliant and I sadly have yet to clone myself and be in two places at once... However the workshop space, whilst partitioned off, was right next to the signing area which was loud. Add in to that the frequent speaker announcements for the entirety of the con, and the noise from the panels and it was a nightmare trying to hear anything, even though it was a relatively small space. I would love to see the workshops given a little bit more space and help (E.g. microphones) so that the people running them, and any participants reading out work can actually be heard by the rest of the people taking part.
If you weren't able to make it, then don't forget to look out for all the videos going up on the Bookish Brits youtube channel. (Mine will be up on Friday!) Also check out my twitter, as I was live tweeting every panel I went to:
Apocalypse Now Panel
Shadowhunters Panel
Bringing Sexy Back Panel
Between Fantasy & Reality Panel
Troubled Teens Panel
LGBT in YA Panel
Plus my instagram (#RosyGoestoYALC) for pictures of the panels, some authors, books and bloggers!
But for now, it's time to nap, read all the awesome books I picked up, and start counting down the days until the next YALC. I hope to see as many of you as possible there next year!