Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Voices of YA#


#Voices of YA Tag!

Firstly I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Amy@AMagicalWorldOfWords for tagging me. Considering it was back in July, apologies that its taken me so long to answer!

Also thank you to Caitlin @QuillsandCoffee for coming up with the original Voices of YA# - those were some good questions :)

ABOUT THE WRITER

  1. What draws you to write  YA?

I think what I find exciting about YA is all the new experiences. Teenage years are usually when you have your first romance, first kiss… and normally when you take that first step into discovering who you are and what you are capable of. Catching these things in a story is thrilling and I love sharing these experiences alongside my characters. 

2) Describe your writing process. Do you like outlines and structure, or seeing where the story takes you?

I like to experiment with my writing, trying new methods when the old ones grow stale. However I always start a story with at least an image of the ending, and I only ever plot a couple of chapters in advance. These are like story beats - points I want to hit upon in each chapter - but the journey between the points is completely made up along the way.

However I find it very useful to work with a reward system. My favourite is something I discovered on V.E Schwab’s youtube channel. The star method :) Basically I give myself a star for every 1000 words I hit. The app WRITERS BLOCK is also incredibly useful to me, blocking off EVERYTHING until my word target is hit. You can find more info about it this post HERE.

3) How long have you been writing? Where are you in your journey?

I’m currently finishing up edits of my second book - A MG Fantasy which I will start querying to agents soon. Thankfully this book only took me a year to write. My previous a novel (A YA Fantasy that will never see the light of day) I worked on for nearly ten years! 

As you can imagine, like many first books it was dreadful, but that book taught me a lot about writing and showed me I could indeed, finishing writing a full length novel. Even now that novel will always have a warm place in my heart.

Otherwise I read a lot as a child. I remember though I was seven years old when I first tried my hand at writing something. It was 1997, my mum had brought us a computer that used the old dial-up broadband, and I recall sitting down and typing out a story about pirates. The main character had my name (although I swear the character was not me!) but I still have that first story… although it never was finished.

4) What do you need to write? Coffee? Music?

Thinking time - which usually requires silence or music without lyrics. Movie soundtracks or trailer scores are my usual go to. Otherwise I use a pen and paper for plotting, and will occasionally write a scene out long hand, but only when I’m stuck. Normally I write straight onto my laptop, and while a cup of tea or coffee isn't essential, it is a nice perk. 

However I sometimes also write at the gym. Between brutal sets of weight lifting, squats and whatever other torture my fitness-freak-boyfriend enjoys putting me thorough - I found I can escape the pain by thinking about the next few lines of my story. I’ll repeat them over and over in my head and as soon as I get a break, I jot them down on my phone to type up later. Although I do like running on the treadmill - that’s also good plotting time!

5) If you could offer up one piece of advice to another writer (other than “don’t give up”) what would it be?

Find a good critique partner! You’re usually too close to the story to see any faults or plot holes, plus a great critique partner will also cheer you on and help keep you accountable to writing!

I would also say read books on the craft. After I finished my ten year slog through book one, I took a break from writing to read every book on the craft I could find. It helped my writing immensely! Books with exercises are particularly helpful. For those writing children’s fiction, I would totally recommend THE MAGIC OF WORDS by Cheryl B. Klein. Also TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS AND OUTLINE by LIBBIE HAWKER is great for trying your hand at plotting.

ABOUT THE BOOKS

1) What book still has you reeling from it’s plot twist?

Sadly the only book that totally shocked me this year did so in a really negative way. And that was the ending to Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling Trilogy. I had loved those books so so much, but I absolutely detested the ending of the last book. It made the whole story so redundant and even months on, I’m still sore about it!

2) What books are you most anticipating for this year?

This is a really hard one, but a book that I'm super excited to pick up is Phillip Pullman's new one: THE BOOK OF DUST. I loved his dark materials series so much as a child, although I appreciated the books so much more after re-reading them as an adult. 

3) What is your favourite quote from YA lit?

A quote that always stuck with me was from Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. All I know is that if I ever have children, I’m sharing this advice with them:

“I don't know many rules to live by,' he'd said. 'But here's one. It's simple. Don't put anything unnecessary into yourself. No poisons or chemicals, no fumes or smoke or alcohol, no sharp objects, no inessential needles--drug or tattoo--and...no inessential penises either.'

'Inessential penises?' Karou had repeated, delighted with the phrase in spite of her grief. 'Is there any such thing as an essential one?'

'When an essential one comes along, you'll know,' he'd replied.” 

4) What book do you most hope will have a movie adaption?

I’m probably picking a cliche but I would love to see any of Sarah J Maas’ books adapted to film. The same with Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. I feel there just aren't enough High Fantasy movies and I. WANT. MORE!


ABOUT THE TAG#

Rules:

- Thank the person who tagged you 
-Link to the original creator  
- Answer the questions 
- Tag at LEAST two other YA writers/bloggers


Friday, 3 November 2017

October in Review

Park in Warsaw - Poland

October In Review

October has been a truly wonderful month for me. While I haven't done much blogging - nor near as much reading as usual - I have been off exploring new places and simply basking in the Autumn glow. 

This Months Highlights:

AUTUMN - This is the first time I’ve experienced a real autumn in almost five years. When I lived in China, Summer reigned nine months of the year, winter the other three. There wasn't much of a transition between them, so being back in England has been blissful. The darkening nights, the sunset colours (So many colours!) and the ground littered with acorns and horse-chestnuts … It’s so magical! And while I’m sure I sound like special maple leaf to you guys, I will never take another spring or autumn for granted again.

NEW BEGINNINGS -  At the start of October my grandmother turned 88. A week later she made the decision to leave her house, and move into a care home. She is literally the BRAVEST person I know. 

Watching her sort through all her possessions, each one a  treasured memory, was heartbreaking, but for all the things she said goodbye too, she just tapped her head and said, “Everything is up here.” Then she tapped her heart, “And everyone I care about is in here.” 

Starting over in a new place at her age is daunting, but no challenge seems to much for my grandmother. I just wanted to give her a shout out today, because I hope one day I can be half as brave as her.

POLAND - Yes, I’m travelling again. Its fantastic being back on the road. I’m also thrilled after 3.5 months to be reunited with my partner in crime (aka - the boyfriend) who was off being superman in Canada. Nothing makes you realise how much you love someone until circumstances demand you apart! ... although I forgot how much he hogs the the blankets.

But Poland is amazing! So far we have consumed so many pirogies (Polish Dumplings), lots of goulash and the most amazing pancakes I’ve had in a good long while. Then there have been some amazing parks - an unexpected snow day during one hike - all followed by the best hot chocolate EVER that I found in Krakow.

I'll be doing a post on my Polish adventures later in the week for anyone who is interested. 

But now its November... and we are in Hungary, Budapest :)

Books Read:

  1. Hysteria by Lily Blake (Reign #2) ***
  2. Stolen Songbird by Danielle .L. Jensen ***
  3. The Songbird’s Overture by Danielle .L. Jensen **
  4. A Most Magical Girl by Karen Foxlee **
  5. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo ***** (Loved Loved Loved!)
  6. Water’s Wrath by Elise Kova *** 
  7. Crystal Crowned by Elise Kova ****
  8. One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake ****


POSTS

And that warps up October!

How is life for the rest of you? I hope you had a brilliant month too. Anything special in store for November? And good luck for anyone tackling NaNoWriMo this year!


Saturday, 28 October 2017

Flame in the Mist - Book Review


Flame in the Mist - Book Review
Renee Ahdieh
YA Fantasy
UK Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Synopsis:

The only daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has always known she’d been raised for one purpose and one purpose only: to marry. Never mind her cunning, which rivals that of her own twin brother, Kenshin, or her skills as an accomplished alchemist. Since Mariko was not born a boy, her fate was sealed the moment she drew her first breath.

So, at just seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to meet her betrothed, a man she did not choose, for the very first time. But the journey is cut short when Mariko’s convoy is viciously attacked by the Black Clan, a dangerous group of bandits who’ve been hired to kill Mariko before she reaches the palace.

The lone survivor, Mariko narrowly escapes to the woods, where she plots her revenge. Dressed as a peasant boy, she sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and hunt down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she’s within their ranks though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love - a love that will force her to question everything she’s ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Review:

I enjoyed this book, but didn't really see it as the big “Mulan” retelling many have labelled it as. Not only is the story set in Japan, but the pages carry hints of mythology, dashes of fantasy and a nice slow-burn romance. I will most definitely be reading the next book.

Mariko knows her greatest weapon is her mind. Yet being born a girl, she grimly accepts her fate to marry and remain silent like any good future empress should. But when her carriage is attacked and Mariko left for dead, she rises from the ashes and sets out to find the men responsible for her supposed demise.

Disguising herself as a boy, she succeeds in infiltrating the enemy camp, but there she discovers more than just her family’s best kept secret. For the first time Mariko’s opinions are valued, and she learns there is more to these thugs and thieves then she could ever have imagined. Now Mariko must choose between following her heart… or protecting her family from the man she loves…

I enjoyed this story, but it was slow to start and took me a few chapters to sink into. It wasn't until I was nearly a third of the way through that I became really invested in the story, but after that point the pacing really picked up and I devoured the rest in a night.

And boy does this book pack it all. Samurai, Ninja, Demons, Magic, Emperors, Betrayals… the list goes on and on. These elements were creatively woven together to produce some great imagery that made for a winding tale dotted with hidden twists and surprises. 

However in terms of world building, I occasionally struggled to keep track of all the politics and reasons behind who was fighting who and for what reason. The same with the magic system. I didn't fully grasp the mechanics of it, especially since the magic exploded into the story nearer the end of the book. However I’m sure this will be explained more in book 2. Yet despite these few gripes, I still really enjoyed this book. The descriptions were detailed and the prose flowed very smoothly. 

As for the characters, I think many girls will relate to the heroine, Mariko. While not physically strong, she was in no way a helpless maiden. She put effort into learning new skills, while calling on her other, hard-won abilities to ensure her own survival. 

Having said that, another gripe I had was that we spent the first half of the book hearing (generally from Mariko herself) about just how clever she was, but we didn't really get to see her sharp mind put to use until near the end. I often found myself questioning her decisions throughout the story, but then again, the plot was often fuelled by her choices which led to the story’s progression.

Romance also has a part, but it’s a back burner to the main plot. However the unexpected love adds extra conflict and intrigue to the plot and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops. 

The Black Clan were also a very diverse group of characters, and I really hope in the next book we get to dip more into their backstories. I’m also intrigued to see the fates of everyone else mentioned. The ending wove in plenty of new subplots which I’m sure will expand the world and perhaps even add in a few more POVs to the story. 

All in all - FLAME IN THE MIST was a nice read. While I’m not thirsting for the next book, I’m definitely hooked enough to pick it up. I’m also very much in love with this cover! It's gorgeous!

3 stars!

What were you’re thoughts on this book?


Thursday, 12 October 2017

The One Memory of Flora Banks - Book Review


The One Memory of Flora Banks
Emily Barr
YA Contemporary 
UK Publisher: Penguin

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumour that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town.

Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind. And sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meets him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. 

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake.

But from the moment she arrives in the artic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home. 

Review:

The One Memory of Flora Banks is a very accurate title for this book. It sums the story up neatly, and I loved the protagonists unusual voice - childlike, but with flashes of the woman trying to fight through. A most intriguing story. 

Flora is seventeen, and she has kissed a boy. Yet the true shock of this tale is, she remembers it.

When Flora was ten, she suffered a trauma to her brain. Unable to make new memories, she must rely heavily of her trusted notebook to tell her who she is, and any important events that have happened. But that all changes when she remembers kissing her best-friend’s boyfriend on the beach. Convinced love is the cure she is looking for, Flora sets off on a journey to find the boy that can bring back her memories, and give her the fairytale ending she deserves...

Both the beginning and end of this book really wowed me, although parts of the middle dragged on a bit and I found myself impatient for something to happen. However Flora’s journey to Svalbard, the sheer bravery and determination behind it, really moved me. It showed she was so much more than the tragic, parent-dependent girl everyone labeled her as. 

Flora’s character is awesome in her simplicity. A rather unreliable narrator, the reader is caught up in her world, knowing only what Flora herself chooses to remember. This leads to some nice twists later on in the story, and given Flora’s chosen optimism, makes for a pretty positive read. 

However I both love/hated the repetition of information. In many ways, Flora’s constant rehash of events was annoying, yet at the same time, it really ties you to the realities of her life. It also helps you sympathise with the less-Flora-friendly decisions made by some of the other characters, because despite her childlike innocence, Flora’s condition does require a lot of patience from the people around her. 

At the same time, I admired the glimpses we got of grown-up Flora, that are mixed in with her ten year old self. While Flora accepts her situation, she understands she is no longer a little girl - although she often forgets this face - and most importantly WANTS her own life and independence. 

The ending also had me tearing up. I love how Flora’s brother - a character we never actually meet - could have such a huge sway on the story. It really packed and parcelled the ending with a nice shiny bow. I can’t wait to read more of Emily Barr’s work.

3 stars.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Aug & Sep in Review


August & September In Review

So summer is officially over! I’m actually super excited because not only is Autumn my favourite time of the year, but it’s also when I’m most productive. I actually got ahead of myself and started a lot of projects early… 

Here are my highlights for the last two months!

DISCOVERIES!

  • Hotel Chocolat make chocolate tea! That’s right, CHOCOLATE TEA! Which has now become a daily part of my life! The peppermint and chile versions are now my reward for hitting word count goals, and as the long nights begin, they also make me feel really festive :)

  • I didn't think anything could top this, until I ventured to the food festival in York last week. After getting lost, I stumbled across York Cocoa House and all I can say is… dark chocolate flakes with a hint of peppermint… that is heaven in a cup!

  • Then I found Marzipan Coffee!

TRAVELS

  • Truthfully the marzipan coffee wasn't a new discovery, but since I haven't drank any since I was fourteen (Almost 14 years in itself) it certainly counts as a re-discovery :) You can find it in Germany - where at the start of September, I spent a beautiful week visiting my aunt and uncle. Now I’m looking forward to going back in December for the Christmas markets!

  • Otherwise aside from a couple of long (wet) weekends caravanning in Scotland, I had a self-imposed writing retreat up at my family’s cottage in Alnwick. And on the 17th of October I will be meeting my other-half in POLAND for some wintery adventures :)

PROJECTS

  • Patchwork Blanket! So when I about six, my grandmother taught me to knit, but it wasn't a skill I ever put to any use. However I’ve always wanted to make myself a patchwork blanket and this year I decided it was time I do it. I’m about 18 squares into the 36 I need but so far its coming together quite nicely.

  • I’ve also been knitting scarves - they make excellent Christmas presents - and I’ve just finished scarf number two. I was using Sirdar Aura Chunky yarn because not only is it super soft, but the colours are stunning!

  • Blackberries! There seems to have been an abundance of blackberries around my local area this year so I’ve made jars upon jars of jam. Blackberry Jam, Apple and Blackberry Jam… plus several mason jars of blackberry liqueur. Yum Yum :)

  • Editing my MG Fantasy - After two months distance the time for editing (or in my case, seriously slicing and dicing my word count) has begun. I’m currently onto chapter four and have ditched just over 2500 words so far… which means I still need to cut about 18,000 more! Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Books Read in August:

  1. The Next Together by Lauren James (BB) ****
  2. Missing Arabella by Kathryn Siebel ***
  3. The Nearest Faraway Place by Hayley Long (BB)  *****
  4. The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (BB) ****
  5. Air Awakens by Elise Kova ***
  6. Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle ****
  7. Fire Falling by Elise Kova ***
  8. Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott **
  9. The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (BB) ****
  10. The Secrets of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange (BB) *****
  11. Heist Society by Ally Carter ***
  12. The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy  ****

Books Read in September:

  1. A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan ****
  2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik *****
  3. The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington (BB) ****
  4. Earth’s End by Elise Kova ***
  5. Secrets in Death by J.D Robb ***
  6. Aurabel by Laura Dockrill (BB) ***
  7. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh ***
  8. Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis (BB) ***
  9. Darkness Rises by Lily Blake (Reign Novella) *** 
  10. The Prophecy by Lily Blake (Reign) ***
  11. The Haunting by Lily Blake (Reign Novella) ***

POSTS



How is life treating the rest of you? Any adventures of your own last month?
X

Thursday, 21 September 2017

The Red Ribbon - Book Review


The Red Ribbon

Lucy Adlington

YA Historical 

UK Publisher: Hot Key Books

Synopsis:

As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz.

Every dress Ella makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival. 

Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive.

Review:

I teared up so many times through the course of this story. A few times with happiness, but so often at the cruelty and injustice the prisoners suffered. However despite the grimness, hope flowed - a hidden undercurrent - through each and every page. THE RED RIBBON is a spectacular work of fiction, woven with shocking truths to form an incredibly emotional read. Warning: do not attempt to read without some tissues nearby!

Ella’s identity is gone. Snatched from her family, denied a name and any worldly possessions, she has become a stripey. Just another number in a roll-call of black and white uniforms. But unlike many in the Auschwitz work camp, Ella is determined to survive.

A skilled dressmaker, Ella claws her way into the tailors workshop - a better job than most - but with over ten thousand new arrivals everyday, no position is safe. In Auschwitz, everyone is replaceable. Now Ella must make a moral choice: help others and risk death, or help herself and risk losing her humanity… 

I had a hard time putting this book down. Anxious over which characters would and wouldn't survive, I devoured this story overnight. It is a tactfully told, haunting tale that somehow brings to life the horrors suffered, but without going into graphic detail. Steeped in emotion, this book really questions what it is to be human. 

Ella is strong protagonist. I loved how she assigned her fellow prisoners animal-titles, referring to them as a bear, or hedgehog, squirrel or shrew. It instantly opened up their personalities in a single line of description. But what caught me about Ella, is that from the get go, she knows she can’t be a mouse if she is to survive. 

In contrast to Ella is Rose. Generous, positive and kind, Rose signifies what every person hopes they would be in a time of crisis. Her friendship, I believe, kept Ella from becoming one of the darker characters who looked out only for themselves. However without Ella pushing Rose to be a little selfish at times, Rose would have been swallowed by the more bloodthirsty creatures. 

A line near the end of the books said something like, their came a point when all the mice, squirrels and ducklings were gone. Only the predators remained. This was in reference to the prisoners, and it broke my heart. 

Overall this is a real shades of grey story. Set in a place where you can’t judge who to trust, the book is written with a complexity where morals can’t be simplified into either good or bad. Even the prison guards couldn't be truly hated. 

I think  however the real beauty of this story was how it didn't focus on one group. It didn't zero in on any one race, religion or political belief. Instead it encompassed them as a whole, telling everyones story. In doing so, this book did a fantastic job of putting me, the reader, in that prison camp. Because Ella lacked description, and was stripped to very base of what it is to be human, her character will resonate with all. 

A truly unforgettable read. 5 stars!


Talk to me 

Have any you read this book? How do you feel about war stories as a whole? I must admit they aren't generally my thing, but this book really blew me away!