Young Adult Reviews

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

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Extract:

But because everything was so smooth, and easy, and obstacle-free, I didn’t even question what was going on, or realise I was skipping into the forest as innocently as Red Riding Hood in Hoodwinked. 

Pretty dumb, really. 

The first sniff I had that something dark was going on was when I got the second act of The Isle Of Dogs. 

(D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett. P74.) 

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Synopsis:

A year on from the events of the Justitium hunt and Greer is focused on getting top marks in her final exams to secure a place at Oxford. Drama students at S.T.A.G.s are responsible for putting on the end of year play, and Greer has taken the role of director. She isn’t certain on which play to perform until an old manuscript is pushed beneath her bedroom door. It is the first act of The Isle Of Dogs,  a work by Ben Jonson hasn’t been seen in over 400 years. It also contains some striking parallels to the social division she has witnessed at STAGS.

Her decision to cast the play puts her relationship with Shafeen on hold, but it may have wider consequences too. As further acts appear, the play leads Greer back towards the Order Of The Stag, and to the place she thought she would never visit: Longcross Hall.

But why does she still question whether Henry might be there? That particular ghost from her past was supposed to be laid to rest over a year ago …

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Review:

STAGS was a triumph of 2017 which both hit the awards list and gathered a legion of fans. My first words when I closed the book were ‘MA Bennett knows how to tell a story’. My second question was ‘Did she mean to write a five-act structure?’ (The author answered this during a Twitter chat. Yes, she did, and to tremendous effect.) When it was confirmed that MA Bennett was the penname of an established writer – and one who studied Shakespeare’s work at masters level – I was not in the least bit surprised.

The influence of historical writers on Bennett’s work comes to the front of the second story, as Greer stages the first playing of The Isle Of Dogs in over 400 years.

This real play saw Ben Jonson imprisoned and almost executed, and this fact is the basis for the events of D.O.G.S. MA Bennett imagines what might have caused Elizabeth the First to react so violently against Jonson’s work in a fictional version of the play. Greer receives this a single act at a time, pushed under her door by a mysterious stranger.

Every act draws her deeper into a world she thought she had left behind.

New characters keep the series fresh. The de Walencourt twins, Cass and Louis, are difficult to read – are they different to the rest of their family, or does the same privileged ambition run through their veins? Ty Morgan a complete star. She’s the new ‘outsider’ to the gilded world of S.T.A.G.S, but she’s sure as heck not going to be made an outsider by the established trio. Ty’s storyline challenges everything readers have come to expect from black characters in secondary roles. Think just about every half-term film from the late 90s or early 2000s. Think about the stereotype of the black best friend. Ty smashes that role to smithereens. There’s also a new staff member whose motives are hard to figure.

D.O.G.S did everything I hoped for. It wasn’t a repeat of S.T.A.G.S, but it built on the themes of social division and an ingrained class system and developed our knowledge about the Order Of The Stag. It brought back familiar locations but allowed us to explore them in new ways, and from new angles. D.O.G.S is as addictive and compelling as its predecessor. MA Bennett sure knows how to write stories which bite.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hoy Key Books for my gifted copy of D.O.G.S. Opinions my own.

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Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Reflections and rambles:

Summer arrived with mild and indifferent weather. WriteMentor got real as I reached halfway through a major redraft and realised I had no idea how to go forward. Talk about cresting a hill to find a mountain. My blogging and creating mojo has been low, although admitting this to people made me aware just how normal these moments are and how they are almost always signals that it is time for self-care.

Out came some old favourite novels and I was soon scribbling away about techniques I wanted to apply to my own work.

That’s June. Sounds underwhelming but sometimes we learn more from those months than we realise.

There was one special moment. I was standing in the front garden and noticed the wildflowers which spring up around this time. They were vibrating. Looking closer, I saw huge numbers of bees gathering pollen. Bee after bee after bee. With numbers of bees in crisis and the environment generally in crisis, it was lovely to see nature hanging on in there. If we allow the wild spaces to thrive, and replace what has been destroyed over the past decades, nature will come back.

What have you been up to this June? Literary or otherwise, I want to hear it.

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Review Round-Up:

 

 

The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Spies In St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu. 

Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

When It Rains by Rassi Narika

There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña

The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

The Unworry Book by Alice James

Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum

 

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In other bookish news I … 

 

Watched the Mortal Engines film. 

The series I always wanted filmed and a bar of Dairy Milk Oreo. Happy night in. 

I had concerns about Peter Jackson as director (because the second Hobbit film is 2% derived from the book and 98% spinning it out. And even the road to Mordor can’t be that long) but the plot is relatively faithful to the original and any changes haven’t affected the pace. 

Every single character felt real to the story, especially Anna Fang and Shrike.

Tom and Hester look my age, and it took me until the end of the film to figure out that no, they really weren’t suggesting that actors close to thirty could play teens. In the original series, Tom and Hester are teenagers in the first book and adults in the remaining three. The film series cuts out the years between and presumably alters the timeline. 

The traction cities were everything I had ever dreamed of, and they way details from Old London [or London as we know it] have been incorporated into the great moving beast of a city is quite spectacular. Although I have wanted these films for more years than I can count, I am pleased they were delayed. Any attempt to create them with earlier CGI would have made them redundant pretty quickly.  

It is also a delight to see the books brought to a new generation of readers. 

 

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Bought a storage trolley for my review books.

In the immortal words of the Toy Story crew: NEW TOY.

 

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Just keep writing, just keep writing …

Dived into Writer’s HQ

At the very end of May, I had some exciting news. I was chosen for a Six Month Writer’s HQ bursary, which gives me access to online courses and writing forums.

I haven’t explored these as thoroughly as I would have expected, for various reasons, but I have logged in most evenings for a nose. Everything I’ve learned so far has helped my writing, and the material tells it like it is.  The team behind the courses understand that writing is a hard slog, that sometimes we just need to let it out, but at the end of the day, the only thing that makes it happen is maintained effort. And the odd biscuit.

I’m looking forward to getting into the serious business of working with Plotstormers and Plotstormers 2 to construct a new plot and to pull the two I have into the best shape possible.

 

What have you been up to this June? Any books stand out especially? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to link to your June round-up post or reflections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

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Extract:

The two sofas and coffee table had been pushed to one side and laid out in a pile on the floor was a crumpled bonnet, a waistcoat, a long and voluminous dress and a very large top hat. 

Cassie had clocked them at the exact moment Tabby had. ‘I’m not dressing up,’ she said, backing away. ‘No way. And my allegiance lies with the Brontë sisters and only the Brontë sisters. I won’t go messing about with Jane Austen.’ 

(The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie. P55.)  

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Synopsis:

Tabby may have left her hometown, but there’s no escaping Jess. Not when she’s still sending insults via Instagram and not when the bad memories are replaying in Tabby’s head.

Then Tabby sees a poster for a local teenage book club. Making new friends wasn’t top of Tabby’s agenda, but there’s something about Olivia, Cassie, Henry and Ed which draws Tabby back. Even with Cassie being awkward.

Maybe it’s the doughnuts, or banter, or the Jane Austen-themed dance parties. Or maybe it’s Henry himself, and the feeling that there’s something real.

When Jess starts targeting her new friends, Tabby is left with a choice – own up or keep everything which is going on a secret. And just hope that it stops.

The contemporary novel for bookish teenagers which everyone has been waiting for.

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Review:

Welcome to the Paper & Hearts Society – a space where teenagers can discuss books, graze on chocolate and basically not be afraid to be themselves. Many bookish teenagers dream of finding the place where they belong, and their people, and the great thing about the Paper & Hearts Society is it provides a model which could be replicated up and down the country. A notice in the library or school corridor. Some snacks, a wish list of themes and an agreement that all books are great books. Lucy Powrie, who has been part of the online community for many years, knows everything there is to know about helping bookworms to socialise.

Finally, there is a novel which shows bookworms as something more than readers. The characters in this story have places they want to go and friendships beyond their book group, which makes them perfect role-models for teenagers. Reader is too often shown as a personality type when all kinds of people love to pick up a book.

Aside from anything else, this is pure bookish escapism. From Harry Potter marathon nights to Jane Austen Dance Parties and a road trip around bookish landmarks of the UK, this will give teenage bookworms great ideas for things to do, and it is a mega-nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up with a copy of Ariel in their school bag. Or Rebecca. Or Great Expectations.

Tabby’s personal storyline spoke volumes to me and will be a comfort to socially-awkward teenagers. At the start of the novel, Tabby is desperate to be worthy of her old friend Jess’s time, even though Jess has been unkind and manipulative. Tabby’s desperation leads her to say things she doesn’t mean in a bid to live up to Jess’s standards. Then Tabby meets people who treat her as a friend and suddenly her real personality shines through. It can be difficult as a teenager to accept that being liked isn’t about meeting someone else’s standards. The story nails the teenage emotional experience, which is hardly surprising given the author was a teenager throughout the writing process.

A brilliant YA novel which reinforces a sense of belonging and opens a whole world of books to read and places to visit. Lucy Powrie writes with gentle humour and empathy towards her characters and references literature as though she is talking about old friends. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and cheering on the Paper & Hearts Society as it grows.

 

Check out Lucy Powrie’s BookTube channel  and blog 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

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Extract:

Between the twine and hair are fingernail cuttings. 

This must be one of Laila’s spells. 

Even though I don’t believe in magic, it’s difficult not to connect this horrible thing with the strange way she died. It feels like Laila doomed herself, accidentally cursed herself, and died. 

(The Wickerlight by Mary Watson. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

Living in Kilshamble was supposed to bring Zara’s family back together after her parents came close to divorce. Instead, with the death of her sister Laila, it tore them apart.

Zara isn’t buying that her sister’s death was an accident. Not when she was obsessed with all things magic. Not when there’s a strange conflict in the village between rival groups, a conflict which regularly escalates to violence.

Investigating Laila’s death brings Zara into contact with David, the troubled boy who isn’t beyond redemption. David’s family are searching for a lost family heirloom which holds far more than a sentimental value?

Is it possible Laila’s quest for magic took her out of her depth? As Zara searches for answers, she finds herself drawn dangerously close to the conflict between two rival magical groups: judges and augers.

A compelling mystery novel and companion to The Wren Hunt.

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Review:

Thriller meets folklore in the second book of this extraordinary series. Imagine a world where Earth magic still exists in hidden pockets. There are two different approaches, one which is elemental and practiced by Augers, another which relies on order and is practiced by Judges. The factions who practice these related magics are part of a centuries-long civil war which centres on the Irish village of Kilshamble. This much was established in book one. Starting off two months after the events of The Wren Hunt, this story changes the camera angle to see the village through the eyes of an incomer and non-magical inhabitant.

Unlike her late sister Laila, Zara’s never believed in magic. Following in her sister’s footsteps brings her into contact with the augers and judges and puts her own life in danger. It also brings her closer to David – the Judge boy who is supposed to kill and injure on his father’s orders.

Think Capulets and Montagues in a Celtic setting. It is brooding and teenage and at the same time, these teenagers have never had a chance to be children. They’ve been shaped for war since birth.

The question of which faction killed Laila and why relates to the events of The Wren Hunt. Snippets from Laila’s diary head every other chapter and lead to a climax in a way which kept me up into the small hours. It was wonderful to read a thriller which linked into a wider fantasy plot. This merging of genres opens new ways of telling stories and Kilshamble is a setting which is at once filled with magic and grounded in the everyday.

Alongside the story of Judges and Augers is the story of Zara’s family. Her father has been caught having affairs, and Zara desperately wants her family to stay together. They’ve already undergone one huge change, moving to Kilshamble, and she’s afraid that if her parents divorce she will have to South Africa with her mother. Despite everything which has happened, Zara wants to remain in Kilshamble. The magic her sister loved is rich here and this is where Zara feels close to Laila. This is a story of grief, change and moving into new stages of life. Both Zara and David know what they want already, but owning it is another question.

Having read The Wickerlight, I am desperate to return to The Wren Hunt and to remind myself of some of the contexts of the magical dispute. Everything which takes place in these books feels as though it is grounded in something deeper, something centuries-old, as if a seed planted many years ago has grown into twisting thorns. I look forward to continuing the story when the next book comes.

A story of a feud and the young people who grow as a result of the battles. It is a haunting tale which will remain on your mind long after you close the pages.

 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted copy of The Wickerlight. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

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Extract:

I could have bought another bag of candyfloss with my last pound instead of wasting it on this massive disappointment. I shook my head, beating myself up about how Wonderland gets you every single time, like everyone who walks in has ‘sucker’ written on their foreheads.

(Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green. P51.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Socially awkward teenager Alex is used to life being disappointing and he’s resigned himself to another summer of total nothing. Then he gets a job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland, and makes friends with the kids who work there. He even develops a crush on a boy with the perfect dimples – a boy who is horribly in love with a girl.

Mysterious and threatening notes start appearing around Wonderland, a park which is already under the shadow of debtors. Alex and his friends Ben and Efia start vow to save Wonderland and to bring it into the 21st Century.

Who could be guilty of the notes? Will Alex ever get a boyfriend or is he a lost cause? A hilarious contemporary novel which follows one summer in the life of a teenager.

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Review:

Roll up, roll up for another summer of boredom in a run-down seaside town. At least, that’s what Alex is expecting, but putting himself out there and making friends leads him into an adventure. Albeit an adventure which involves a tatty flamingo suit, a banged head and chasing after another hopelessly unavailable boy.

Alex is the socially awkward kid most bookworms relate to – or remember being. He’s painfully aware of his every mistake, every blunder, and he lives in fear of the next social slip-up. It was lovely to see a book which really explored how it feels to navigate the world in this constant state of fret. Too many YA characters appear impossibly sorted. We’re rooting for Alex to have his moment, but more than that we want him to find the right guy.

The arcade mystery was great fun, with a wide cast of characters who could have been responsible. As equally as I wanted Alex to get his guy, I hoped Wonderland would be saved. Wonderland is very much like Alex. Quirky, mildly embarrassing, and sometimes perceived as ridiculous but a place which has brought many people great happiness. Why would anybody want another identical development, even if it is sleek and attractive?

It is difficult to talk about the mystery solution without too many spoilers, except that it fits too perfectly with the rest of the story. There’s more too it than that, though, and Alex comes away happier and more confident which seemed like the most important thing.

A wonderful summer read which shows how friendship and excitement can be found in the least wonderous of places. Add this to your reading pile and prepare for a wave of nostalgia. Being a teen sucked, but wasn’t it magical? Another hit from talented writer Simon James Green.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Alex In Wonderland. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

blog tour

Blog Tour: Kingsbane by Claire Legrand

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About Kingsbane. 

Sun Queen Rielle is touring the kingdom when a request for help arrives from a neighbouring kingdom. Upon investigation, it turns out Rielle is the only person who can help. The Gate which keeps most of the angels at bay is falling. To repair it, Rielle must collect the hidden castings of the saints who constructed the gate. The castings are hidden across the kingdom.

She must also overcome the temptations of angel Corien.

Centuries later, Sun Queen Eliana fears corruption and becoming another Rielle. Eliana is supposed to be humanity’s saviour, yet she is the daughter of the woman who put the world in peril. As Eliana grapples with her identity, her friend Navi is in increasing danger. Her transformation into a crawler is progressing.

Eliana learns of a way to help Navi, but she will only be able to do it if she takes ownership of her powers.

Kingsbane second book in an epic fantasy trilogy. Think big world, big plot and a huge number of questions.

As in the first book, the story is told in a dual narrative. Rielle lives in a time of magic. The angels who have been held at bay are breaking through into the world. Rielle is succumbing to the temptations of the Angel Corien and her actions will lead to downfall.

Eliana lives centuries later when magic is viewed as a myth and Angels are in control of the world. Without any spoilers, her mother’s legacy is such that Eliana is uncertain whether she can be the person to save the world. 

The worldbuilding is as complex and believable as any fantasy I’ve read and I love Eliana’s unique perspective. Living in a time when the story of Rielle is a legend, you would think Eliana has an advantage, but her personal backstory and ties leave her unable to see past that legacy. 

Although the story is dark, there are strong romances and friendships which keep us invested in the characters. 

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Giveaway:

Thanks to the lovely people at Midas PR, I have a copy of Kingsbane to giveaway. Check out my Twitter page for more information. UK and Ireland only. Giveaway ends at 11.59pm 28.05.2019. 

 

Thanks to Midas PR for my ARC of Kingsbane. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

blog tour · Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Blog Tour: Q&A with Kathryn Evans, author of Beauty Sleep.

Blog Tour: Q&A with Kathryn Evans, author of Beauty Sleep

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About Beauty Sleep

What happens when you wake up and find that forty years have passed? Do all sleeping beauties live happily ever after?

9781474954877-beauty-sleep-fc-wipIt was supposed to be the perfect solution. Laura was dying. The only chance to save her was to freeze her until medical science progressed enough for her to be cured. 

How would it really feel to wake up and find that forty years have passed? Laura not only deals with the trauma of building a new life. She is left with the mystery of her old one. 

If teenagers being frozen in time sounds like the stuff of sci-fi, you’ve missed the news stories about cryonics. It is now possible – for a large fee – for a body or a brain to be preserved until such time as the condition which killed it can be cured. There is no evidence that this will be certain. However, in 2016, a teenage girl’s dying wishes to have her body preserved made headlines. 

These kind of news stories open up a whole series of ‘what ifs’ which lead to stories. What if a girl in a similar situation didn’t know who she had been? What if some of her family were still alive? 

The questions raised about the ethics of the companies offering these services also provide rich material for storytellers.

I was delighted to be offered an opportunity to ask Kathryn Evans some questions and her answers have made me desperate to finish the book. Thanks to Kathryn for your time, and to Jessica at Usbourne for arranging this opportunity. 

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Q&A with Kathryn Evans

Was your story inspired more by Sleeping Beauty or by scientific progress?

I guess its scientific progress – I wanted to tell a story that looked at how change in modern life impacts on young people. By having Laura traverse two time periods while she was still a teenager, I was able to do that in a unique way. Cryogenics and the Sleeping Beauty story are just an obvious fit to me.

 

 How did you research Laura’s experience of returning to society forty years from when she went to sleep?

Have any real-life experiences come close to this? I did a lot of research into amnesia but there really wasn’t anything comparable to Laura’s experience. There are stories about people recovering from comas but their lives after the miracle of recovery are rarely documented in the public sphere. I used my own experience of the 1980’s and projected how I’d feel if I hadn’t lived through all the changes that have happened but was suddenly presented with them.

 

How do you imagine being a teenager at the point of going to sleep would shape Laura’s experience?

As a teenager, you expect to have your whole life ahead of you and suddenly, that door closes, and you don’t have any idea if you’ll survive beyond the next hour. It was so sad writing those scenes – not just because of Laura’s fears for herself but her for her little brother too. The one thing she did have was hope – hope that they’d be woken up. As she says, it was that, or die.

 

Fairy tales often have a darker element to the story. What is the darker side of Beauty Sleep?

Without any spoilers? That’s a hard one to answer – let’s just say I thought a lot about how good citizens could stand by in a holocaust and watch their friends and neighbours be victimised. About how we can ignore the harm that comes to others for our own benefit as long as we don’t have to see it in front of us. About how easily we learn to ignore the suffering of others if it’s an inconvenience to us.

 

With the chance to live again, Laura loses her old life. How much of our identity is formed by the people and places around us?

It’s everything – she’s suddenly rootless but she learns that to throw down new roots and that some of those tap into memories. Memory is a powerful way to hold onto people you’ve physically lost.

 

Aside from personal things like family and friends, what would you miss most if you woke up in the future? 

Aside from friends and family, it would depend on the world I woke up in. In a world without books, it would be books. In a world ravaged by disease, it’d be antibiotics. In a world with a climate damaged beyond repair it would be balmy spring days and birds singing and polar bears on ice caps. This is the problem with asking a writer a ‘what if’ kind of question, my brain is now in overdrive!

 

Q&A arranged as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions my own. Thanks to Usborne Books for arranging this and for sending a copy of the book.