Non-Fiction · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

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Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all. 

No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers. 

Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before: 

 

  • It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.) 

 

  • It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong. 

 

  • The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised. 

 

Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them. 

I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin. 

All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author. 

 

Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.

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Young Adult Reviews

Review: Viper by Bex Hogan

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Synopsis:

Marianne has trained all her life to become the next Viper, the captain who defends the twelve isles from the seas. She has reckoned without the brutality of the current Viper, her father. Together with his crew, the fearsome Snakes, he is terrorising the land.

When she reaches her eighteenth birthday, Marianne’s life is in danger. Her only option is to flee the ship, learn the extent of her father’s corruption and fight to defend her land.

Hunted and haunted, Marianne loses everything in order to claim her destiny.

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Review:

This is a story about one girl – her past, her future, and the battles she must fight to protect the people in her kingdom. As fearsome and capable as any of the Snakes, Marianne’s father would prefer her to marry a prince than take up her title. Set in a world of fighter ships and castles, land and sea, this is set to be a huge hit.

As the first book in the series, this gave us an oversight of the land and a grasp of its political structure. My favourite part was somewhere around the middle where we learned a huge amount of backstory (no spoilers) about the world. Like fantasy books with extensive geography? This one is for you.  

The themes are dark. Marianne’s father is manipulative and cruel and the book is about the people who are unable to live their lives safely while their rulers allow such tyranny to continue. There are some pretty gory moments which will be popular with people who like realistic pirate novels .Think horrendous punishments and sieges and blood-thirsty revenge.

I loved the gradual release of backstory which gave context to the events of the novel, and the complex relationships between some of the characters. Forget straight and boring friendships. As a reader I was never quite certain who I could trust, which heightened the tension and made me care more for Marianne. 

A must for readers of fantasy YA and a brilliant new world to explore.

 

Thanks to Orion Children’s Books for my proof copy of Viper. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

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Extract:

Our hatred of the Riki was written onto our bones. Breathed in us by Sigr. What had started as a quarrel between the Gods had turned into a hunger for revenge – a blood feud.

(Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young. PP98 – 99.)

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Synopsis:

There are two options in battle – honour or death. 

Eeylyn is a warrior from the Asha clan. She is trained to fight their sworn enemy, the Riki clan, and believes this is the life for her until she sees the impossible. Her brother, who supposedly died five years ago, is fighting with the enemy. At first she believes her brother’s spirit was sent to watch over her by Sigr, but then she sees her brother Iri again and knows that he has betrayed her family and her clan. 

Eeylyn is taken prisoner by the Riki and is forced to wait out winter in the mountains. There she learns about her brother’s new life and his connections to the Riki. 

When a common enemy comes to attack, an enemy who was believed to be a legend, the two clans must unite if they are to survive. 

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Review:

A story of loyalty, family and the extent to which we should define ourself by a common belief. 

Eelyn grows up learning certain things. That the God Sigr has decreed that the Asha tribe must fight the Riki. That the Riki is the sworn enemy, that they are totally different people and that failing to kill them in battle goes against personal honour. She has also been told that her brother is dead. When this turns out not to be true, it sets off a chain of events which causes Asha to question the other things she has always believed. 

It was lovely to read a warrior story which was not all about battle. There are certainly fights and raids, but this is a coming of age narrative. Eeyln’s quest is about defining herself as an individual and where that puts her in the wider scheme of society. 

I loved the relationship between Fiske and Iri. This is not a romantic relationship, but it has a special definition which made me think about the way different cultures across history have found words for different types of bond. All kinds of relationships are valid and it is easy to slip into the way of thinking that only easily defined friendships, love affairs, etc are worthy of acknowledgment. 

The plot is straightforward but the themes and the bonds between the characters gave it depth, and it flowed so well that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Young writes a great action scene, filled with emotion as well as action. 

A clan-war fantasy with themes which are relevant to the modern day. 

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Sky In The Deep. Opinions my own.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

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Extract:

what’s the point of God giving me life

If I can’t live it as my own? 

 

Why does listening to his commandments

mean I need to shut down my own voice?

 

(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.

It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.

Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?

A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.

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Review:

This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.

Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.

There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.

I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.

I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.

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Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.

 

 

blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Alice Oseman on Illustrating ‘Penguins’

While I’ve been drawing my own characters and comics for years, I’d never tried illustrating someone else’s story until Proud. I was so excited to be invited to illustrate one of the many incredible stories in Juno Dawson’s LGBTQ+ anthology and was even more excited to discover I’d be illustrating Simon James Green’s story, ‘Penguins’, having read and loved Simon’s Noah Can’t Even duology.

The first thing I did was read Simon’s story without thinking too much about how I’d illustrate it. I, of course, loved it! After that, I read it again, this time much more carefully, thinking about which parts would make a good illustration and what sorts of images could properly express the feelings of the story. It’s such a sweet, romantic, adorkable story that I quickly decided that I had to draw the two main characters, Cam and Aaron, and I knew that would suit my own strengths too, as my artwork is mostly characters and cartoons.

I spent a couple of days trying out some sketches. I highlighted the parts of the story that revealed little bits about the boys’ physical appearances, but mostly I was left to my imagination, so I tried to capture their personalities – Cam’s awkwardness and Aaron’s shyness!

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After that, I sketched out a couple of composition ideas. I knew I wanted to create a comic page, as that’s what I love drawing above all things, and I had decided that I wanted to draw the kiss at the end of the story, as that was my favourite part, and I suspected would be many readers’ favourite part.

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Once I’d decided on my final composition, I got to work drawing it with my graphics tablet into Photoshop. I spent a few days working on it and I’m so happy with the result. And it’s incredibly exciting to see my illustration in a book!

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A huge thanks to Alice Oseman for your time and for sharing your sketches.

Many thanks to Charlie from Stripes Publishing for arranging this opportunity as part of a promotional blog tour.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton.

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton.

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Extract:

Resistance comes in many forms and alliances take many shapes. Sometimes it’s all fire and storms, cutting of the heads of important people. Other times it’s slow, a crack forming in a glass, inching forward sliver by sliver, spreading out across the entire surface.

(The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton. P146.)

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Synopsis:

Only the Belles hold the power to make a person beautiful.

Now they are on the run. Princess Sophia has seized the throne and is offering a reward for the successful return of the Belles. She sees them not as people but as property belonging to the kingdom.

The only hope the Belles have is to find the rightful heir Princess Charlotte and return her to the throne. Otherwise they will never be truly free.

A rebel group called the Iron Ladies extends their support. Their mission is the same, to return Charlotte to the throne, but their views about beauty are very different.

What cost will it take for the Belles to find freedom?

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Review:

Beauty has a price, and some would seek to own it.

 The Belles introduced us to Princess Sophia, who was set on being the most beautiful of all and didn’t care what the price was to anyone else. As an antagonist I find her interesting because her character poses questions. If beauty is a commodity, can one person have an unjust share? There are clear messages about class division which are applicable to the modern day. Should we judge people on their appearance when some can afford to alter it so very much more than others?

The Everlasting Rose gives us more background to the Belles. Camille learns something about herself, something which puts her in more danger than any of the others. As she searches for answers, she discovers more about the origin of herself and her sisters. I love the whole concept of the Belles, and how beautifully the story is told as if they are almost myth but not quite.

Like many second books, the rebellion is growing, and we are introduced to new factions and fighters. The Belle join forces with a group who are against the concept of beauty altogether because they share a common aim. This compromise and the opposing views make for good drama as the rebellion builds.

The world is very much as I remembered it. Behind every pocket of beauty – every flower, every tiny pet, every teahouse – lies some darker fact. The book encourages us not to take everything at face value, especially not the things we crave.

A strong second book which will keep you turning the pages. I was glad to be back in the world of The Belles and impressed by how much depth Dhonielle Clayton can put into a single description. A story of rebellion which has beauty and ugliness in equal measures.

 

Thanks to Victor Gollancz LTD for my gifted copy of The Everlasting Rose. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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Extract:

His words are mild ; his tone is not. And what he says unlocks some long-buried memory. Just like that, I’m no longer in the lecture hall but back at Rose Hill Plantation, watching as the major slowly uncoils his horsewhip from its hook. 

This ain’t your place, girl. You run back inside ‘fore you’re next. 

(Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. P76.)

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Synopsis:

Jane McKeene is nearing the end of her training at Miss Preston’s School Of Combat. Since the shamblers first rose on the battlefields of the American Civil War, a programme has been in place to train young black people in the combat skills necessary to keep them at bay.

Jane was born to a white mother and longs to find her way home. Instead, she is sent far away to a Western outpost where she uncovers terrible secrets. It seems not all the monsters are undead.

A zombie story with a political message about the consequences of ignorance and division.

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Review:

At last, a zombie novel which challenges the reader’s intelligence and makes a statement about the current political climate.

The shamblers (what a great word for zombies) are terrifying. They are unashamedly gory and bear a close resemblance to their living forms, roaming the world in ragged clothes.

They are not the only antagonists.

The Survivalists Party puts out propaganda about non-white people’s links to the shamblers and attempts to save themselves by building a wall. You would have to have spent the past two years with your head in the sand if you can’t spot similarities to political events in modern America.

Jane is a feisty and unapologetic heroine whose ideas about combat are often three steps ahead of her elders. She is forced to fight the zombies against her will, and at the same time she is faced with a climate which views her as something less than a person. As well as being an alternative history which builds on very real events, the book speaks out about the experiences faced by black people at the hands of the countries, politicians and neighbours.

If it sounds bleak, remember that this book is giving voice to experiences which have been white-washed out of history. Own voices fantasy brings lived experiences to a mainstream audience, and the world will be a richer place for having these voices in print.

A zombie novel like none I have read before. It proves that zombie stories can be about more than cheap thrills and that the most real horror is the systematic oppression faced by groups in society.

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Dread Nation. Opinions my own.