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Keeping Her Secret by Sarah Nicolas - Review

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Where did I get it? From Netgalley, thank you so much to Entangled Publishing for permitting me access.

What's it about? Riya Johnson is an openly bisexual volleyball player who is spending the summer between her junior year and her senior year at a summer camp in the mountains. When she arrives there she sees her old friends, twins Courtney and Colt, dancing and playing music. They haven't seen each other in four years, ever since Riya and Courtney kissed and Riya's family moved away shortly after. The two immediately get into a prank war with each other, but eventually realise that they really like each other and start a secret relationship. 

The setting at the summer camp is really nice and made this a lovely summer read for me. I liked the supporting cast - Colt is sweet, and Riya's new found friends Dee, Tiffany, Stefanie and Elise are gorgeously written too. There's a lot about female friendship in this novel that's really good and important for teenaged girls to read about. Riya and Courtney are both lovely characters, although Riya can be a little bit TOO perfect. I thought Courtney was wonderfully flawed.

I also really liked how most people reacted when Riya came out to them or when they found out that the girls were together. They reacted well, and like it wasn't a big deal. 

What age range is it for? 14+
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes - and yay! A bisexual main character! At the beginning of the novel Riya has a little flirtation with a boy called Trey. She is unapologetically bisexual. 
Courtney identifies as gay, and I really liked how she realised it. 
Are any main characters people of colour? Yes, Riya is mixed race but you don't find out her genetic make up until the very end of the novel, which I felt was a mistake. I also think that the author used terms like "caramel" a little too much. 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No and in fact this is something I'd have really liked to see. 
Is there any sex stuff? Very little, the girls don't do more than make out 
Are drugs mentioned or used? No, although there's some drunkenness
Is there any talk of death? No
Are there swear words? Not many. Trigger warning for homophobic slurs though. 
Would I recommend the book? Yes, I liked it. A very sweet, summery, girl/girl romance. 
How many stars? Seven out of ten. Very cute novel. 

As I Descended by Robin Talley - Review

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Where did I get it? From Netgalley, thank you so much to Harlequin UK Children's. This is out on September 6th. I'm three for three on Robin's books now, she is definitely one of my current favourite authors. 

What's it about? This is a modern retelling of Macbeth set in a private boarding school in Virginia. Maria and Lily are a couple in their last year of school. They want to go to Standford University together, but Maria needs to win the prestigious Kingsley Prize in order for that to happen. The thing standing in her way is Queen Bee Delilah, who gets high at the weekend. So Maria decides to sabotage her by drugging her the day before a drug test. 
The novel begins with Maria, Lily, and Maria's best friend Brandon using a ouija board. The spirits start to talk to Maria and the whole thing is incredibly creepy and atmospheric. There's loads of rumours about horrible things that have happened at the school and about the spirits that surround the place. Brandon begins to become
suspicious about Maria's involvement in what happened to Delilah and confides in his boyfriend Mateo. 
The novel changes perspective quite often which I liked because it meant the reader got lots of information that the others didn't know. I liked Maria, even though she's the "baddie" of the novel; she's Macbeth. I really liked Mateo, who's perspective we only get towards the end. A really tense, atmospheric, and cleverly done novel. 
What age range is it for? 15+.
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? Yes. I'll trigger warning for some homophobia, but mainly the queer characters are treated very well.
Are any main characters people of colour? Maria and Mateo are both Hispanic; it's mentioned a lot and is used as part of the narrative. I liked it. 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? Yes, Lily is disabled from an accident when she was younger and again it's mentioned a lot and is definitely part of her story. 
Is there any sex stuff? No, just some kissing and sharing of beds. 
Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, we see Delilah use oxycontin and then see her high when Maria drugs her. 
Is there any talk of death? Yes, it's sort of a central tenet. Some of it is quite gory. 
Are there swear words? Not many 
Would I recommend the book? Yes, totally. Robin has such a way with words and where her previous novels have been very realistic, this proves that she can move into the world of fantasy quite easily. I loved the setting and the main characters. 
How many stars? Eight out of ten, it's really good. 

Interview with Josie Demuth

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I recently read A Thousand Salt Kisses by Josie Demuth and was offered the opportunity to interview the author. As a writer myself I always like to ask writers about their process and stuff, so that's how my questions were slanted. Thank you so much to Josie for answering my questions!

Do you write anything other than prose? What is your favourite form?

I also like to write articles for various publications, including a news and culture magazine that I run. I love both these forms of writing but I suppose I do find fiction a bit lighter and more free, if that makes sense. There are no huge constraints on fiction, and you don’t have to nervously fact check everything. Haha.

Do you write for adults as well as young people? Why/why not?

Yes, I love to write for all!

How did you get into writing for young people?

It came about through Wattpad. It is an amazing website that mixes storytelling with social media. I realised quite quickly that the main readership here was younger adults, and so I adapted my book for them. It was originally going to be a little grittier and more mature, but I’m honestly really glad it turned out the way it did!

What’s great about it? What’s bad about it?

Nothing is bad about it, but what’s been great is revisiting all those teenage emotions. It is a really fun, exciting time, but also you can get a little too swept up in things if you’re not careful - especially when one meets a hot stranger out at sea, right?

What are some of your favourite YA books? Are they like yours?

Well, I absolutely love True Blood, and found that inspiring.

What’s your favourite novel – if you HAD to choose?

‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Huseini always come to mind.  It was such an amazing but heart-breaking story about women in Afghanistan over recent decades. And no – the name for the Salt Kisses books did not come from this book! Haha. They are definitely two very different stories.

I found the setting in A Thousand Salt Kisses really intriguing – where did you get your inspiration?

Thank you so much! My main inspiration for the whole series was from the setting itself! I visited the mystical Westcountry where the books are set. Many a mermaid is said to be spotted from its cliffs, and you can see why! It also has a real new-agey vibe to it, which is in keeping with the books.

Crystal and Llyr were both really lovely characters – where did they come from?

Thank you, again! I think Crystal is a mixture of people I know – and just basically a typical young London girl. Llyr is also bits and pieces of various people. I took those bits and pieces and tried to make the perfect package!

Why did you make Llyr a merman? Where did his family history and kingdom come from?

I was just really interested in the idea of an underwater colony, and what that all represents. It probably is the only place on the planet where you can truly escape the human world, although of course the mers in the book are still affected by our actions. So that was why I wanted him to be mer.  The mer in the books originate from a Celtic tribe of humans cursed by a witch to the seas.  The kingdoms and family history are all revealed in the later books.

I liked the portrayal of Crystal’s Dad’s environmental concerns and felt this was a non-threatening way of introducing issues like this to younger readers. Was this intentional?

Yes, it was. These are issues very close to my heart!

What are you working on now? 

I am working on the second book ‘A Thousand Salt Kisses Later’, due out in September, and also a bunch of articles for my mag, also due out in September. So life is crazy busy right now!

The Boy Who Killed Grant Parker by Kat Spears - Review

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Where did I get it? From Netgalley, thank you so much to St Martin's Press for granting my access.

What's it about? Luke Grayson has just moved to Ashland, Tennessee to live with his Baptist preacher dad for his senior year of high school. He has lived his whole life in Washington DC but his mum wants him to get to know his dad a bit, so he finds himself the novelty at school in a tiny town. He meets Delilah, who's dad is the police chief and who takes an immediate dislike to him. At school he meets Penny, a popular girl who's boyfriend, Grant Parker, is the star football player. Grant starts to bully Luke and play pranks on him and eventually the two have a stand off in the garage where Luke works. 
Luke is a really likeable character, he's very flawed and human. Everyone else isn't drawn as well, and I wish there'd been more interaction between Luke and his dad (and maybe even some thawing of their relationship). 
What age range is it for? 14+, it's quite tame. 
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No
Are any main characters people of colour? No, I'm guessing there aren't many people of colour in a town like Ashland. 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? Some, it's done with a fade to black and there's little description though. 
Are drugs mentioned or used? Yes, there's some stuff about what Luke has used before at parties.
Is there any talk of death? Yes, but it's not explicit
Are there swear words? Yes a few. 
Would I recommend the book? Yes, I liked it well enough, even though I thought it was quite short and would have liked more of it. Luke is a really engaging character. 
How many stars? Six out of ten. I liked it. 

YA author playlist

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I came across this Buzzfeed article where YA authors chose their favourite summer songs. There's loads of really excellent authors contained in it and some fantastic songs. I especially love Boys of Summer (both the Don Henley version and the Ataris' cover) and think it's one of those songs that has novels contained within it. Novels about escaping small town America with your friends and having friends as chosen family and stuff like that. A good example of that type of novel would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower which I first read aged 24, I wish I'd been 15 when I read it.

I recently started work on a new manuscript, inspired in part by the song I'm going to share below. My main character is from a small seaside town and has just dropped out of university, so she decides to go to New York to meet her dad, who she's never known. He's been living in the punk squats and playing in punk bands, but he's no longer there. She is loaned a Lincoln Continental to drive to where he's supposed to be living. On the way she meets a girl with sailor tattoos, and falls in love.

I love the potential in a new manuscript, all the words yet to be written. I've been working on editing something, which is boring and painful when I have to cut things, but I'm about ready to move to something new... A roadtrip novel. Enjoy the song!

Young Adult Lit Con 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Even though I said last year that I wanted to go to YALC for the whole weekend, I just wasn't sure if I'd be able to withstand it, so I just went on the Sunday. I went with two friends this year which was really lovely and also incredibly helpful for queuing!

We got the train on Saturday afternoon and got into Kings Cross, where we ate at Prezzo and had the rudest waiter ever (I've written a letter of complaint), but nice food. Then we got the tube to Earl's Court. I stayed near there last year and it was ideally placed from the Olympia, The hotel we stayed at wasn't the most luxurious, but it was cheap and it did the job. Mostly!

On Sunday morning we had planned to get a taxi to the Olympia but due to a cycling event they weren't available, so instead we went back to Earl's Court station and went just one stop to the Olympia stop in Kensington. You come out of the station and the Olympia is RIGHT THERE. We walked round the corner to the YALC entrance, got our wristbands, and went in.

Sam decided to go into the LFCC hall to look at the merchandise, so she headed there. Stacey wanted to orient herself, so she and I split up. I went into the first panel, which was New Voices in YA. I had planned to buy The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory, so I went to the Waterstones stall after the panel and bought that and The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood. I queued to get both books signed, and Rhian also gave me a poster!

Rhian Ivory

Harriet Reuter Hapgood

This is definitely going on my wall

And so is this, isn't it so gorgeous?

After this, I went to sit in the reading area for a while, and also wandered round some of the stalls. I had prepaped this year and had a wheeled suitcase with me with loads of space for books. I also signed up for the agent 1-2-1s which I did last year and which I felt a hundred times more prepared for this year, especially since my MA novel is finished!

At noon, Stacey and I both went into the panel featuring Frances Hardinge, Philip Reeve and Tanya Landman. It was really interesting and they were all fascinating to listen to. Afterwards, I bought Rail Head by Philip Reeve and I'd taken The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge to get signed. Stacey and I queued for quite a while in Frances' queue, but it was worth it! In the queue I met Kiran who wrote The Girl of Ink and Stars which I've got on Kindle, she was an absolute sweetheart too. 

Frances Hardinge drew geese 

Philip Reeve drew... Death? Himself? I'm not sure. I LOVED Mortal Engines so I'm hoping to like this, too

At 1pm it was time for the 1-2-1s so I headed there and was in the 2nd lot to be seen. I managed to speak to one of my preferred agents and she was lovely so I'll definitely be submitting my novel to her to see what she thinks. 

Sam watched the panel on Morally Complicated YA, but Stacey and I had missed the beginning so we decided to join the queue for Louise O'Neill. It was already quite long. We had lunch and made some friends in the queue. I had also already spoken to Michelle of Tales of Yesterday and Luna from Luna's Little Library (who I have a mutual good friend with and who I met briefly last year) and I can confirm they were both lovely too. 

Louise was really nice, and we had a good conversation about The Handmaid's Tale, which Only Ever Yours is supposed to be like. 

I may read this next!

By this point, the queue for Maggie Stiefvater's signing had already started, and got long, and Stacey had already managed to secure me a ticket for my place in the queue. I made the decision to not go into the panel, and I don't regret it. I think they're available to watch online so I will do that at my leisure as I'd love to see what Maggie had to say. 

I wandered round a bit and bought more books. Lots of publishers had deals on - 3 for £10, 2 for £10 and a free t-shirt, and even 5 for £10 which I took advantage of. Stacey is a teacher and picked up lots of samples for her classroom, and we both got free tote bags which are always good! We had made a base camp near the Maggie queue, and left things with Sam, who had bought lots of film merch and Star Wars fudge! 

I forgot to go to the Penguin stall and buy Blame by Simon Mayo, because I'm an idiot, but I'll definitely pick it up soon. Eventually it was time for my number in the Maggie queue (and I was lucky, I was high up) and I queued and queued and queued but EVENTUALLY I met Maggie and she was lovely and all was well. 

See how all the rest of the signings had finished?!

I took this copy of Blue Lily, Lily Blue as I borrowed the Dream Thieves and I only have the Raven Boys on Kindle, so it was the first paper copy I have! 

Here's the tote bags I got

Kiran was saying that her next book will probably have a similar cover, which is good news as it's beautiful

There were five different tote bags on this stall, I chose this one without knowing anything about her girls or the book, simply because I liked Sadie's hair! I will look into the books for sure.

By this point I was exhausted. It was around 4.30 and although there were other things happening, we had all had enough so we headed out and back to the tube station. The tube back to Earl's Court was really busy, and then we managed to get separated. Sam and I found each other but couldn't get hold of Stacey, so headed back to Kings Cross as that's where we all knew we were headed. I was really worried but was telling myself that Stacey is a grown woman and would be fine! We spoke to her at Kings Cross and decided to eat at Carluccio's over in St Pancras, and all met up there, thankfully!

Food and service were both really good at Carluccio's, and we still had time to wander around Kings Cross for a while before getting our train back to Wakefield at 8pm. We pulled in just after 10pm and Lee was there to meet me, bless him. I was very tired but very happy - it was a good day!

And here on Monday morning are alllll the books I bought, all seventeen of them!

I am so excited for Under Rose Tainted Skies, Girl <3 Girl, and If I Was Your Girl. The others are more of me taking a chance, but I bet I'll love them too. 

Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen - Review

Friday, August 5, 2016

Where did I get it? From Netgalley, thank you to Penguin Random House Children's Books for granting me it. It is out in October. 

What's it about? Ambrose is twelve and lives in Vancouver with his mum, who's a lecturer. They've moved around quite a lot and she's very over protective, partly because Ambrose's dad died very suddenly before Ambrose was born, and partly because Ambrose has a very severe peanut allergy. Ambrose isn't fitting in very well at school, and three bullies slip a peanut into his sandwich which lands him in hospital. Ambrose's mum decides to pull him out of school and switches to lecturing at nights. Meanwhile, their landlords' son, Cosmo, is out of prison and Ambrose strikes up an unlikely friendship with him over their shared love of Scrabble. Cosmo and Ambrose join a Scrabble tournament club without Mum's approval. 
There's also the landlords themselves, who are really lovely characters, and Amanda, meaning that this novel has both really good main characters and supporting characters. 
It reminded me a lot of Wonder and Ambrose reminded me a lot of Auggie. He was a little bit of an outsider and wore "weird" clothes and asked too many questions. I loved the clothing details, actually! I liked Ambrose a lot and I liked Cosmo and Ambrose's mum. 
What age range is it for? 11+.
Are any main characters LGBTQ+? No
Are any main characters people of colour? No - the Economopoulous' are Greek though and I felt like there was a nice portrayal of this - especially of the food! 
Are any main characters disabled either mentally or physically? No
Is there any sex stuff? Very little, although Ambrose is a typical boy going through puberty...
Are drugs mentioned or used? They're mentioned 
Is there any talk of death? A little bit about Ambrose's dad, yes
Are there swear words? Yes, a few, although quite a lot of them are censored. 
Would I recommend the book? Yes, completely. I loved it, I loved all the characters and how so much happened. I loved the relationship between Ambrose and Cosmo - you were definitely on their side. If you've got a reluctant reader of around 12 years old, I'd definitely see how they get on with this book. 
How many stars? Ten out of ten. It is a stunning example of Middle Grade literature and deserves to do amazingly. 

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