blog tour

Blog Tour: Seeing Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

About The Deathless Girls: 

deathless girlsThey say the thirst of blood is like a madness – they must sate it. Even with their own kin.

On the eve of her divining, the day she’ll discover her fate, seventeen-year-old Lil and her twin sister Kizzy are captured and enslaved by the cruel Boyar Valcar, taken far away from their beloved traveller community.

Forced to work in the harsh and unwelcoming castle kitchens, Lil is comforted when she meets Mira, a fellow slave who she feels drawn to in a way she doesn’t understand. But she also learns about the Dragon, a mysterious and terrifying figure of myth and legend who takes girls as gifts.

They may not have had their divining day, but the girls will still discover their fate…

(Synopsis from Hachette Children’s) 

 

I was honoured to be invited to take part in the blog tour for The Deathless Girls, and I knew instantly what I wanted to write about. Having seen Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd together at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I wanted to share their words with you. 

Although I will write a full review of The Deathless Girls in a seperate post, I thought it would be nice to reflect on how the event informed my reading of the story. 

 

Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Amber Lee Dodd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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Amber Lee Dodd (left) and Kiran Millwood Hargrave at the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2019. [Photograph taken from KMH’s Twitter Feed. Thanks to both authors for permission.] 
‘I read books,’ said award-winning author Kiran Millwood Hargrave, speaking on 24.08.2019 at the 2019 Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Amber Lee Dodd, ‘because nothing much happened in suburbia.’

This not only earned an appreciative laugh from the adults in the audience, it was a sentiment I could relate to. Growing up in Outer London, there was a grey age. Younger children had to be looked after, and so got regular visits to Epping Forest and local parks and even into the city. Failing that, there was soft-play. Between twelve and sixteen or so, we were old enough to entertain themselves but not so big to go on real adventures. The creativity which came out of my friendship group at that age was never matched at any other time. Boredom allowed us to retreat into our dreams.

Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s books conjure dreams of magical places. Of lands covered in snow, and faraway islands with magic volcanoes. Amber Lee Dodd’s stories are set on Scottish Islands, although she referenced her childhood on the South East Cost as an inspiration for some of the details.

Rather than the high fantasy which has become popular in the post Harry Potter generation, Millwood Hargrave’s books centre around folklore and fairy tales. There is something about them which seems to hark back to the very roots of storytelling. It would be as wonderful to share them aloud and listen to the rhythm of her words as to read them from cover to cover. Although I have yet to read Amber Lee Dodd’s story, this seems to be another thing the two writers have in common. I was drawn right in by her introduction, in which a child undergoes a ritual visit to a magic rock which happens to every islander on their 11th birthday.

Neither author writes about magic which can be learned. Rather, there is magic in their worlds, and deep inside their characters.

According to Millwood Hargrave, these are some of the first details she learns about a story. As well as learning enough about a setting for her readers to be able to ‘relate to the world’ she finds ways to ‘let magic in’. It is interesting to relate this to her second novel, The Island At The End Of Everything, which is purely historical. It could be said that the traditions and details which some people experience more richly than others are an everyday sort of beauty, although this is only my own interpretation.

Both authors were aware of their young audience and generous with help and advice on starting stories. Neither plans stories in detail – Amber Lee Dodd spoke of finding her characters’ voices and imagining where they might be by the end. Kiran Millwood Hargrave goes in with no idea where the story will end but spoke of the power of images to generate ideas.

They agreed that good writing comes out of the bad and encouraged aspiring writers not to be afraid.

I was touched when they offered the microphone to children in the audience not only to ask questions but to answer one. Participants had different ideas about what made a great introduction, from taking the time to introduce a character to making a world real with sensory details. Millwood Hargrave likes to jump straight in with as little explanation as possible, while Amber Lee Dodd believed a good first chapter helped the reader to hear a character’s voice.

The two authors were well paired. Their work explores similar themes, but their approach to writing was slightly different. The conversation between them was a reminder that stories are, first and foremost, about people and places, and that time spent understanding character or setting is part of the creative process.

What about The Deathless Girls, the novel due out in September which I have been invited to talk about as part of this blog tour?

My reading of The Deathless Girls is richer for having listened to its creator. Although the event focused on Millwood Hargrave’s middle-grade output, I can see in The Deathless Girls the same respect and love for place and tradition. Her characters come to life through their actions and responses to different situations.

Before the end of the first chapter, I felt as if I had fallen into a new world. This deep immersion in a story, so easy to find as a bored child, is harder to discover as adults, but when we do, it leaves a little part of itself behind with us so that we always remember the story.

That is what makes Kiran Millwood Hargrave a true storyteller.

 

Thanks to edpr for inviting me to write about The Deathless Girls as part of a promotional blog tour, and for my copy of the book. Opinions about the story remain my own.

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.

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.