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.

Alice Art B characters

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.

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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

dread nation

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.

Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

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Some books are worth celebrating. The Burning is such a book. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour because feminist narratives are something I feel strongly about. 

The Burning is about witch hunts historical and current. It is about a girl who moves escape her past but finds she can’t outrun her problems. Anna is the victim of social media shaming. To escape her feelings, she throws herself into a school project and finds out about Maggie, the victim of a 16th Century witch hunt.

The book is fantastic in every way and I am so pleased to share an extract with you. 

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Extract:

Hairbrush. Tampons. Toothbrush. Toothpaste.

The front door opens with a shudder and an ominous creak. Dark blue paint cracks and peels above a tarnished
brass knocker.
Deodorant. Watch. Shoes.
‘Come on,’ Mum pants, heaving two bulging suitcases over the threshold and into the dark hallway.
I’m a list-maker. Lists give me grip. You can hold onto a
list. Doesn’t matter what’s on it. Today it’s everything I had to remember to pack at the last minute. The things I couldn’t put in the car last night because I’d need them this morning. The list has been helping me to breathe. Like a spell to ward off evil. I’ve been chanting it under my breath since I woke up and I haven’t been able to stop. Because, as long as I keep repeating the things I need to remember, somehow I can distract myself. Pretend that I’m not really walking out of my bedroom for the last time. Not really stepping into a car loaded with everything we own. Not really driving past the
park where I fell off my bike for the first time. Not watching the swimming pool where I trained three nights a week disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Hairbrush.
Passing the chippy.
Tampons.
The library.
Toothbrush.
The pet shop where I bought my ill-fated iguana. RIP, Iggy Poppet.
Toothpaste.
But now we’re here. And even the list isn’t powerful enough to blot out the new house in front of me.
I hesitate. Somehow, stepping through the door will make it real. I look back to the car, parked a little way down the street, its doors standing open, more luggage and overstuffed bin bags threatening to spill out. Through the back window, I can see a tatty box labelled anna’s room: diaries, photographs, dad’s books.

Nothing left to go back to go back to anyway. I take a deep breath, adjust the bulky cat carrier under my arm and step inside.

The hallway has a musty smell, its whitewashed walls and wooden ceiling beams lit by one naked bulb. The removal van which whisked away most of our earthly belongings the night before we left has arrived before us and piles of labelled boxes teeter precariously on all sides. Mum’s already bustling through into the big, airy kitchen, which also serves as the living room. There’s one of those big Aga cookers radiating
warmth and our new brick-red sofa, still covered in protective
plastic sheets.

A massive old fireplace dominates the room, empty but framed by a handsome wooden mantelpiece. I empty my pockets, shoving my journey rubbish on top of it. Soggy
Costa cup. Crumpled crisp packet. Half a Mars bar. It looks a bit less imposing now.

Gently, I set down the cat carrier and one very grumpy black cat unfurls out of it like a puff of smoke, letting out an indignant yowl to tell me exactly what he thinks of being
cooped up in the car for so long.

‘Sorry, Cosmo,’ I whisper. I bend down to ruffle his soft fur with my fingertips, craving the comfort of his familiar warmth, but he turns tail with an angry hiss and disappears
through the kitchen window into the back garden. I sort of wish I could follow him.

I shrug off my jacket and half slump onto the crackling, plastic-covered sofa. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Mum warns.‘We’ve got hours of unpacking ahead of us and the car’s not
even empty yet.’

Suddenly the trees outside shake with a gust of wind, causing an eerie, shrieking moan that sounds like it came from the bones of the house itself. I try to sound sarcastic instead of freaked out. ‘Are you sure this place is fit for human habitation?’

We only looked round the house once on a rushed, blustery weekend at the end of March, driving up from home and haring round Scotland in a whirl, viewing five or six different properties a day, each less inspiring than the last. At the last minute, we squeezed in an extra stop in a tiny fishing village called St Monans, where Mum instantly fell in love with the quaint, crooked streets and peaceful old harbour lined with
pastel-coloured cottages.

 (From The Burning by Laura Bates.) 

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster). Thanks for my gifted copy of the book, and for supplying this extract as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Burning by Laura Bates

Blog Tour: The Burning by Laura Bates

theburning

Extract:

I start to read, not taking in the words at first, trying to trick my brain into thinking about something else. But before long I’m genuinely absorbed in the text.

Women who were thought to have broken vital societal rules of behaviour, or to have sinned against God and the church, were punished in a wide variety of different ways. Some punishments were designed to curb particular habits or behaviours, others to shame and humiliate.

 

(The Burning by Laura Bates. P142.)

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 Synopsis:

Anna has left her old life behind. The move to Scotland is supposed to be a new start, so she can make friends and go to school safely and live without prejudice. Then the rumours start up again.

A false social media profile brings an old photograph back to light. One Anna never intended to make public in the first place. Now she faces everything from quiet judgment to harassment to outright hatred.

At the same time, she researches the story of another girl for her school project. A girl who lived hundreds of years ago and was judged by her society after catching the attention of a young lord.

Witch hunts past and present are called out in this strong, compelling novel by the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project.

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Review:

Feminism is about giving women equal rights to men. The right to have our morals judged on our actions and not our skirt-length. The right to equal pay. To be called by our names instead of endearments from total strangers. If you support those things, it doesn’t matter whether you call it equality, feminism, gender rights, just-plain-humanity or any other name. This is about men and women. This is about human rights.

This vehement anger and derision continually shown towards people searching for equality illustrate why these books are vital. The next generation deserves a world in people are not divided the second they are born.

The focus of the story is on witch hunts. Anna’s school project brings her into contact with the story of Maggie, a girl who was shamed by her society after forced intercourse with a young lord. Maggie’s story is told in haunting scenes which are brought vividly into the reader’s mind. There is no doubt that everything which happens to Maggie is horrific. This forces the reader to confront the similarities between Maggie and Anna’s stories. Although Anna isn’t subjected to the same physical tortures, she too is shunned by her society after someone abuses her trust and makes public the details of her private life.

What shook me was the way this behaviour extended to the adults in Anna’s life. Not only did they fail to challenge the teenagers who destroyed Anna’s reputation and security, but they set an example for young people to follow. Beyond the witch hunts are casual comments about skirt length and women in sport and gossip about the latest shock relationship. The way women criticise their appearance and abilities as a social norm. This is perhaps the most important theme of the book. Our messages go beyond words. It is all very well telling girls they are free to wear whatever they like, but what happens when they are shamed for their choices?

The story also shows that it can be difficult for young people to know where to turn. Facebook and other social media sites currently have policies which make it easy for people to create fake profiles and post incriminating pictures which are often Photoshopped. In the real world, it can be difficult to get help when you are in a situation where people are claiming you have done something wrong. The story calls out such social gaslighting and makes it clear that having a sex life is never wrong, and that the person in the wrong is the one who shares those details without consent. Although there can be great social pressure, we all need to raise awareness of gaslighting because the only way to end it is for everyone to stand together.

The conclusion shows us quite plainly that there is no running from widespread behaviour. So long as society acts as though gender inequalities are acceptable, it won’t be possible for young people to escape those attitudes.

The Exact Opposite Of Okay got people talking last year and The Burning continues the conversation. It honours the voices which have contributed to the Everyday Sexism Project and gives readers an alternative way to respond to gaslighting and social witch hunts. The historical elements remind us that these behaviours are centuries-old and will not change until we change our own responses. A fearless feminist YA novel which we should all shout about.

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster).

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK for my gifted copy of The Burning. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Year After You by Nina de Pass

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Extract:

In the dimly lit room, my scar is all the more acute: a jagged, burgundy line from wrist to elbow; a reminder that I am here, and I was there. This I will have to cover at all costs. 

(From The Year After You by Nina de Pass. P19.)

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Synopsis:

Nine months ago, Cara was involved in a car crash which killed her best friend.

As a last resort to deal with Cara’s PTSD, her mother sends her across the Atlantic to a boarding school in Switzerland. Hope Hall is nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Alps. It also has a reputation for taking in ‘lost causes’. Nobody at Hope knows Cara’s past, and she intended to keep it that way.

Although she has built barriers around herself and clung to her old life, she makes new friends, such as her roommate Ren and the enigmatic Hector. The closer she gets to these new friends, the more she reveals about herself. Is Cara ready to accept that what happened is in the past and allow herself a chance at the future?

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Review:

A deep and beautifully-written look at the challenges faced in the months after traumatic injury.

Cara’s injuries have healed but she is struggling with the rest of it. How her life appears to have begun again after the crash. That she has a scar on her arm to remind her of how much she went through and how relatively little she suffered compared to others. How telling other people what happened means facing judgment. Including her own.

Other reviewers have suggested Cara is a liar. Straight out, I’m going to challenge this. She’s not a liar. She’s certainly struggling to face things. Traumatic incidents shake your memory. For months and months. Little pieces come back at a time. The human brain is an extraordinary vessel which blocks what it cannot cope with. This allows it to concentrate on physical recovery. The downside is that, as memories drip back in, they must be confronted and processed.

Hope Hall is supposed to be a new start, but how can she ever start over when she is carrying so much emotional baggage?

Slowly Cara decides that she doesn’t want to push her new friends away. But to do that she must fully come to terms with what happened.

Alongside Cara’s experiences, the book examines mental health prejudice generally. Cara faces this early on, when one of the boys at school kicks up a fuss at the inclusion of someone who might be dangerous. Later on, we meet a character who thinks sweeping mental health incidents under the rug makes a better impression on society.

I love that this book was properly researched. It shows every emotion and experience connected to traumatic injury, including other people’s reactions. It is also beautifully written, and it is impossible not to fall in love with the setting. Think the modern-day Chalet School. For the very privileged. Think a boarding school where ice-skating is on the agenda.

There is a reason everyone is talking about this book. It is insightful and beautifully-written and unafraid to challenge prejudice and misconceptions. A huge achievement from a debut author.

 

Thanks to Ink Road for sending my copy of The Year After You as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress

Extract:

Frustration cut a bitter path across Taro’s chest. His lips tugged into a sneer. ‘So you hope to be an Empress? You wish for the prince to fall in love with you, and to wear pretty gowns, and to live in luxury for the rest of your life?’

Mari sighed. ‘It is disappointing how little you think of the opposite sex.’ 

Taro grunted. ‘I know the prince. He does not like to be considered some prize to be won.’ 

‘Women are regarded that way all the time,’ Mari said. ‘And just so you know, I have no desire to be Empress.’ 

(Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. P104.) 

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Synopsis:

Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – and marry the prince. Only one girl will get through. The rest die. The contest is held once every generation, and every girl is eligible to apply. Mari has trained for it all her life. The only problem is that as a yōkai she is not eligible to apply. The emperor is determined to see all yōkai destroyed.

Her path collides with that of Taro, the young prince who is determined to be something more than a prize. Taro spends his days making beautiful creatures from metal, and he questions his father’s hard line on yōkai. It seems that Mari and Taro are destined to be together.

At the same time, half- yōkai Akira joins up with the revolution as a way to watch over Mari.

A human, a yōkai and an outcast. The fate of the world rests in their hands.

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Review:

It was the world which drew me to this book. The idea of rooms themed to the seasons which are designed to kill. Sentimental portrays of the seasons abound, and we forget that the quickest and most silent killer in our world is exposure. This story describes the seasons in a way which makes them beautiful and deadly. 

At first, this seems like many YA novels. A savvy girl, a sensitive prince and a brooding boy in the shadows. Do not be fooled. The book shows these roles for the stereotypes they are. Mari, Taro and Akira’s character go so much deeper than their surfaces. Each has an agenda and their story places out against the changing face of an empire.

 This is feminism for people of all genders. It crushes the myths we have been told about love and relationships and the differences between men and women. 

The main story is interspersed with a story of the Gods, which echoes the shifting attitudes the main characters experience towards this theme. After finishing the novel, I went back over this sub-plot and took so much more in than I did the first time around.

I enjoyed another YA novel about yōkai last year and was pleased that Empress Of All Seasons explores that mythology in more detail. One of the best things about reading books from all cultures is learning about different myths and customs. Although shapeshifters exist in Western myths, it is interesting to see different interpretations of their nature. I hope to read more fantasy inspired by world cultures. 

A real page-turner and a setting which will haunt you long after you finish reading. I look forward to reading more from Emiko Jean.

 

Thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy of Empress Of All Seasons. Opinions my own.