Bookish Review: S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Published: 10 August 2017 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Thriller, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend. It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school..untitled

Review:¬†This is one of those books that has been marketed well – the cover was gorgeous whilst the blurb was tantalisingly simple. S.T.A.G.S started off well, the premise really intrigued me, it’s exactly the sort of mystery/thriller that would entice me – old private school dripping in privilege and thousands of years worth of history, and the misfits who couldn’t be more out of place. The writing style was pretty brilliant – the teaser first sentences at the beginning of the chapters were genius. But my favourite had to be the canny, wry asides peppered throughout the text – these cleverly acknowledged the frustration felt when characters respond in a silly way to something deeply obvious to the reader.¬†

Going back to the premise, the idea that people are so entrenched in traditionalism and conservatism that they take preservation to the very extremes is an interesting concept and one that was refreshing to see in a YA book. There were also some promising conversations between characters in the book covering issues like privilege, racism, proliferation of social media which rang true. We are surrounded by these issues on a daily basis and dialogue is absolutely integral to working through issues. I thought Bennett handled both sides of the argument really well – the marginalisation that some characters felt, as misplaced it might seem to some readers, was deftly portrayed.

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Buuuuut… I felt these messages were lost within a convoluted plot that required the suspension of major disbelief and took something plausible and made it unnecessarily into something much bigger. The ending felt really contrived to me. It was like the author was trying so hard to shoehorn in what may have been her favourite film/literary ending that she bent and twisted the story to pay homage to this. Don’t get me wrong, the references to the movies, from film noir to cult classics, to blockbusters was great and¬† I liked how the protagonist tied them into key scenes. I just didn’t think the references needed to be woven into the actual plot… you’ll see what I mean when you read the book!

One of the things I did enjoy was Bennett’s portrayal of the intricacies of life in the upper echelons of society! The details around the bloodsports, etiquette and traditions, as well as manor house life was brilliantly described and it was clearly very well-researched. However, at times it did feel like a disproportionate amount of page time was given to building the setting of Longcross, sacrificing character development in the process. it meant we didn’t get to¬†know¬†the main characters beyond the stock description given at the beginning to set the scene. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and bring myself to care too much about their predicaments, it all seemed a little too passive. It was a shame because I feel there was much more scope to¬†show the obvious differences between the characters social backgrounds rather than¬†tell us especially in such a setting.

I won’t go into the ending itself because #nospoilers but all in all I am disappointed in S.T.A.G.S because it started off really strong! It was different to most other YA thrillers in terms of the premise and setting but that wasn’t enough to convince me to suspend my disbelief at the ending. If you’re after a solid YA thriller with a great story and character development do check out One of Us is Lying ūüôā

Do you have any YA thriller recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

Bookish Event: YALC 2017 Top Ten :)

I went to my first every YALC this year!! YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention is part of London Film and ComicCon, has been running each year since 2014. So really it is a wonder I haven’t been already! Tbh I didn’t really know what to expect – I mean, I’d been fielding tips and suggestions from others who’d been before, had obsessively planned my schedule as soon as the programme had been released, and read blog posts on past event, but I still wasn’t sure what the whole thing would look like…

Turns out nothing could have prepped me for this three-day bonanza! This is just a snapshot of my YALC haul! I managed to catch up with awesome bookish people, buy yet-to-be-released books, meet my favourite authors, and somehow get some great ARCs and samplers, to name just a few things! There was so much going on during YALC that to avoid boring you with all of the (albeit wonderful!) detail, I’ve decided to sum up my first YALC by listing my Top Ten from the weekend ūüôā

  1. Catching up with bookish friends This was easily my favourite part of YALC. On the Friday, my little sister was my awesome wingwoman – she had an eye for the freebies, competitions and the most anticipated books on everyone’s lists. The weekend was spent with friends I’ve met through bookish events, namely Mary (@OhPandaEyes), Sally (@TheDarkDictator) and Xina (Xinahailey), YALC veterans who took me under their wing. Most of the holy grail ARCs that I managed to get my hands on were down to them knowing how and what to do – yay for bookish friends! ūüôā
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch¬†Let it be known that I saw Mr Cumberbatch five times on the Sunday alone, with my reactions varying from a high-pitched squeal from the first time to a “oh it’s Benedict again” by the last time – when I was even chill enough to take a decent photo!! We should’ve known it would be an interesting YALC when Ben made his debut whilst walking in on the now infamous Non Pratt head shave (for charity I hasten to add!!) He probably thought we were some weird cult. But then the fact he kept coming back suggests that he thought we were cool or just less crazy compared to the ComicCon floor (sadly, more likely).¬†
  3. Panel events The panel events at YALC were fabulous! I got to hear Taran Matharu, Samantha Shannon and others talk about what the science fiction & fantasy genre means to them. The Laini Taylor double whammy on the Saturday were definite highlights. The first was chaired by Kate Webber who is the most awesome and unapologetic fangirl ever! The second panel where Laini was joined by V.E. Schwab and Joanne Harris was easily my favourite though – I found it super interesting how huge authors like Taylor and Schwab credited Harry Potter and JK Rowling with their love of reading and writing.
  4. ARCs, ARCs, ARCs OK so as a newbie YALC-er, I didn’t realise how big a deal the ARC thing is… and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Because at times it was like a Hunger Games bloodbath when ARCs dropped. I’m happy with the books I managed to get my hands on – I think Zenith was my holy grail of the YALC ARC haul but I was careful to make sure I only went for ARCs that I was interested in and would read. I heard that the ARC rushes had become a bit of an issue in recent years with things getting a little too heated and competitive, and I could see why this was the case… Getting Zenith was an experience I’m not in any hurry to repeat!!¬†
  5. Author signings Being based in London definitely has its perks – one is that authors almost definitely pass through whilst promoting their books or at the “worst” case, you can often find signed copies. However, there is something about being at YALC, meeting your favourite authors having just been at their event, or even just on the floor whilst looking around because they are also big YA fans!! It’s sometimes easy to forget they’re just as human as the rest of us and have their own author idols to fangirl over. I managed to get books signed by Taran Matharu, Tanya Byrne, Ryan Graudin, Alison Goodman, Karen McManus and so many more!¬†
  6. Freebies¬†You can’t really talk about YALC without mentioning the obscene amount of freebies on offer!! I adore book-related merchandise so this was something of a dream come true. I loved the different badges, posters, bookmarks, totes, postcards and sweets that were given away. The totes were perhaps the most useful thing (shout out to Scholastic for a much wanted short-handled tote, a godsend for petite people like me!) and BKMRK were MVPs being one of few to give them out. They really came in handy when you realised you had bought more books than you had anticipated…
  7. Meeting new bookish friends Alongside catching up with old bookish friends, one of my favourite things about bookish events like this are the opportunity to meet new people! I’m pretty shy, but at YALC you know that everyone there highly likely already has one thing in common with you – YA books! And this genuinely makes all the difference. Some of the best tips I got over the course of the weekend on how to “do” YALC were from striking up conversations with people in queues with me. It was also great to be introduced to bookish friends of friends and sharing first YALC experiences with other newbies.
  8. Cheap books!!!¬†I mean this goes without saying because none of us will say no to cheap books. I’d heard that offers put on by the publishers were pretty hard to resist, especially for books that weren’t even released yet – The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and Alex & Eliza were easily my favourite purchases! I’d also been told that the Sunday was the day when prices hit rock bottom… but I had not anticipated just how literal this was! OH MY GOD. NEW books were ¬£1 by the end of YALC and I managed to snag some great bargains. If I hadn’t accumulated enough books already by the Sunday morning, the afternoon made damn well sure of it!¬†
  9. Sweet stuff¬†One of the most common suggestions I saw whilst voraciously perusing YALC top tips was to take your own food because convention food is overpriced and underwhelming at the same time. The publishers’ stands did take care of your sweet tooth though! The amount of free chocolate and sweets on offer ensured you had a continuous sugar rush. My favourite had to be Penguin’s lemonade stand which was promoting Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index.
  10. Aching shoulders and exhaustion (!) Ok fine so this wasn’t a top ten as such because seriously So. Much. Pain. but it’s part and parcel of the experience! Plus it indicated I’d gotten a good haul of stuff each day which made me pretty happy. Being in London meant I didn’t have to drag around a huge suitcase of books, but honestly I can see why this would actually make sense! I’m also glad I did the full three days because I got to experience the ARC frenzy on the Friday, the events bonanza on the Saturday and the rock-bottom prices on the Friday but it did leave me exhausted so maybe something to think about for next time!

And there absolutely will be a next time! I already cannot wait for YALC 2018. I’m looking forward to going with a bit of experience under my belt so I can relax and enjoy myself a little more.¬†

Have you been to YALC or a similar book convention? Any tips that you’ve collected that you would be lost without? Let me know in the comments below. ūüôā

ARC Bookish Review: A Change is Gonna Come by Various

A Change is Gonna Come by Various

Published: 10 August 2017 by Stripes Publishing

Genre: Diverse, Anthology, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla. Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman, and Phoebe Roy.

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Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: A Change is Gonna Come is a phenomenal landmark in YA fiction! The book is a collection of short stories and poems covering a range of genres, everything from dystopia, contemporary, realistic issues, historical, and surreal fantasy Рphew! And all written by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic authors, both published and debut. 

Whilst growing up I could never have dreamed of coming across a book that captures different stories written by people who looked like me or had a similar upbringing – case in point, 13-year-old me would never have thought I’d see an inner London borough in the title of a YA story (Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon in case you’re wondering). Each and every story in Change resonated with me in different ways. Ayisha Malik’s A Refuge¬†was fantastic in bringing a relevant and timely topic to a YA audience in such an accessible way, putting backstories to the nameless faces we often see in the news.

Homa was already climbing on top of a mound and overlooking the jungle as if she were there to conquer it.

I loved how the diversity of the authors reflected the diversity of the genres – there’s definitely something in here for everyone! Patrice Lawrence’s¬†The Clean Sweep read like a Black Mirror episode to me! It left my skin crawling with its dystopia feel but at the same time there was a lot of familiarity in the setting too. Aisha Busby’s Marionette Girl really took you into the character’s head and in a few short pages made me empathise with what can be a difficult and misunderstood illness – and she’s a debut author too!

The dark’s shifting around me. It’s crawling out of the walls.

We Who? and Fortune Favours the Bold were searing in their accuracy portraying racism and Islamaphobia. The backdrops of Brexit and terrorist attacks were so relevant and hopefully give a voice to what so many young people feel and go through.¬†We Who?, written by the legend Nikesh Shukla of¬†The Good Immigrant¬†fame, was really cleverly written to make it applicable to lots of people (you’ll see what I mean when you read it!) Meanwhile, it’s frightening how much I related to Yasmin Rahman’s protagonist in¬†Fortune – the idea that you’re on alert after every devastating attack, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I look forward to more from Rahman because she absolutely has a very bright future in publishing ahead!¬†

If people want the freedom to say and think what they want, you have the freedom to challenge them. It’s your duty.

I loved the exploration of identity in Hackney Moon and¬†Dear Asha.¬†I could really relate to Mary Bello’s character in¬†Dear Asha¬†– the idea of visiting a new place which is at once totally unfamiliar and at the same time an intrinsic part of you. Tanya Byrne’s approach in¬†Hackney Moon¬†was great in that it was not at all condescending – in fact, for me the message was that we often need to make mistakes and bad decisions before we figure out who we truly are and to be comfortable in our own skin. I was also blown away by Musa Okwonga’s¬†The Elders on the Wall. There were lines that I could relate to as a young person growing up feeling screwed over by the older generation.

“You youths can reach where we are if you toil,” // They say, pouring oil down that wall’s face.

If it’s not obvious already, there really is something for everyone in A Change is Gonna Come. I’m so thankful of the contributing authors for writing such strong voices and stories, for Stripes Publishing getting behind such a worthy cause, and the YA community for being such a welcoming place that an anthology of this sort doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. If you are at all interested in supporting and reading diverse books, or just understanding the world through the eyes of people from a different walk of life,¬†A Change is Gonna Come¬†will not disappoint! The book is out on 10 August so pick up a copy ASAP ūüôā

Do you have any diverse book recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review:¬†I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially¬†Code Name Verity,¬†her wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty.¬†The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of¬†Code Name Verity¬†but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief¬†is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me ūüôā

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief¬†is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise:¬†the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller. ¬†

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief¬†definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief¬†could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had¬†more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief¬†was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you!¬†The Pearl Thief¬†is out on 4 May in the US and UK.¬†Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC ūüôā

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Published: March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton UK

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around‚ÄĒand Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he‚Äôs been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries‚ÄĒincluding the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo‚Äôs dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real? Welcome to Weep.¬†

Review: Every so often a book will come along that makes you think “wow, I wish I could write something like that!” and¬†Strange the Dreamer¬†about sums that category up. I got the gorgeous hardcover through FairyLoot (whooo!) and savoured the whole reading experience, especially as I’d recently met Laini Taylor during her UK tour (blog post on that here!) They hype was strong with this was from way back in 2016 and so I had high hopes… needless to say¬†Strange¬†delivered and then some ūüôā

Stolen name, stolen sky. Stolen children, stolen years.

I want to start with Lazlo because *hearts* – but not in the Rhysand way (I’m sure you all know what that means…) Lazlo was so likeable and a character you couldn’t help but root for. I spent most of the book just wanting the world for Lazlo because he hella deserved it. It’s not often you get such a pure character that doesn’t also come across as a little too sugary, but Ms Taylor got it bang on with Lazlo, he was earnest yes, but very genuine. Sarai was another strong character – I loved how principled she was even though she had every right to be bitter, being punished for something that was before her time.¬†The secondary characters were also great, interesting and complex but I felt like we didn’t see enough of them! Thyon and Calixte, Sparrow and Feral, Azareen and Eril-Fane clearly all have their own back stories and parts to play so I’m hoping we get to see more of them in the next and final book.

But dreams were a different matter. He was Strange the Dreamer. This was his realm, and there were no limits here.

Interestingly, during the event, Laini mentioned that Strange the Dreamer¬†doesn’t have a villain – and while initially , I thought maybe I didn’t agree entirely, the beauty of this book is how it makes you re-examine concepts like good and evil, right and wrong, hero and villain. Nothing about the conundrum in¬†Strange¬†is clear cut black and white – Laini said she wanted to tackle the aftermath of war and whether forgiveness and healing can overcome violence and vengeance and I am in awe of how she handled this, through complex characters and flawless worldbuilding. Unfairly, YA seems to often have a rep for being about fluffy romances and high school drama, but then books like Strange¬†knock misconceptions like that out of the park, especially as you can draw parallels between this fantasy story and many things going on in the world today.¬†

Vengeance… if you really feel it – then you speak it like it’s a still-beating heart clenched in your fist and there’s blood running down you arm, dripping off your elbow, and you can’t let go.

So yes needless to say, I completely fell in love with the story in Strange the Dreamer, it was totally original and Laini had me on tenterhooks the whole time – I could not have seen that ending coming or much of the book at all. At the signing event, Laini described the book as a love letter to fantasy fans and it really is!¬†Strange the Dreamer¬†is all about the beauty of¬†dreams, the strength of imagination, and the wonder of love and evil. The story was woven well, and it all came together brilliantly at the end. One thing I did appreciate was that although Strange¬†is the first in a duology, the ending didn’t feel like a cop out, it was very much the end of one story and the beginning of another.¬†¬†

For what was a person but the sum of all the scraps of their memory and experience: a finite set of components with an infinite array of expressions.

Final mention goes to the EX-QUI-SITE writing in Strange the Dreamer. I fell in love with Laini’s writing when I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone¬†and¬†Strange¬† does not disappoint – in fact I think it’s miles better if that’s even possible. I found myself highlighting vast swathes of the book and conjuring up the most fantastical images of Lazlo’s world. Laini really does have a gift stringing together ordinary words in the most extraordinary way and hearing her talk about it at the event was beyond brilliant.¬†If gorgeously written fantasy is right up your street, but Strange the Dreamer isn’t already on your shelves/kindle/TBR you must go and get it now! I promise you won’t regret it ūüôā

Every colour was deeper, richer than the real, and there were so many of them. If the weaver of the world itself had kept the snipped ends of every thread she’d ever used, her basket might look something like this.

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Did you manage to meet Laini during her UK tour? Let me know in the comments below!!

Bookish Event: Strange the Dreamer Signing

9 April will henceforth be known as the day that I MET LAINI TAYLOR!!! *hyperventilates* So ahem yes¬†I’d started Strange the Dreamer before the event – it came with the April Fairy Loot subscription box (yay!) but I knew there was no way I’d finish in time to meet Laini. And anyway, I wanted to savour the book because the way she writes is beyond beautiful that you just can’t rush it!¬†

Laini landed in the UK on Sunday and went straight to her Waterstones Piccadilly Strange the Dreamer launch event. Katie Webber, who is a self-confessed Laini Taylor fangirl, was chairing the event so it was guaranteed to be a good event – and it was.The event was totally sold out so as per usual, doing a recap for those who couldn’t make it and won’t be able to catch Laini on her tour of the UK.¬†Right, now onto the actual event and questions!

1. Katie started by asking how Laini got into writing, her inspiration and how she came to write Daughter of Smoke & Bone. 

Laini said that she’d always enjoyed world-building and found it came naturally to her, more so than storytelling. She ended up attending a writing workshop and was advised by the teacher to keep writing because “she was the real deal” – Laini said naturally that meant she did the exact opposite for ten years… art school! She explained that it was YA fantasy that bought her back to writing – specifically The Golden Compass and Sabriel. Reading these books she said she found her voice, and even though it was difficult, rediscovering fantasy made her the writer she is today.¬†

2. The second questions was one that a few of us were probably intrigued about Рwhere did Laini get the idea of Strange the Dreamer?

Laini said where with Daughter of Smoke & Bone¬†the characters and concept came fully alive and formed to her, the idea for¬†Strange the Dreamer¬†was in her mind for ages, and it was actually the first book she sold on proposal (where publishers buy the book based on an idea rather than a query/manuscript). Laini explained she had the idea of the muse of nightmares, and orphans of gods for a while and actually wrote the first 30 chapters of the first draft from Sarai’s perspective and with Lazlo as the love interest. It was only when she wrote from Lazlo’s POV that she realised it worked and he became the hero of the story!¬†Fun fact: ‘Strange the Dreamer’ was actually the name of his chapter initially.

3. Katie then asked about romance and how Laini writes love stories in her books – something I’m sure we all appreciate ūüėȬ†

Laini started off saying that romance was one of her favourite things about stories – and something not to be ashamed of. She explained that love is something that speaks to everyone, it’s elemental and resonates in some way or another with readers and that genres, especially romance and fantasy, create an instant connection with readers. Laini then said she has a rather lewd way of explaining this connection – called the ‘myth hole’ ūüôā She explained that its a part of us that yearns for stories of myths and legend and fantasy. Strange the Dreamer¬†and specifically the character of Laszlo who adores fairytales, was a love letter to fantasy readers.¬†

4. Katie next mentioned that Laini’s books deal with good and evil and asked whether that was a theme she consciously explores in her books.¬†

Laini explained that we are all a product of our circumstances and that the question of whether harm done to us can be undone¬†really fascinates her. Whilst the¬†Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy is set during a war, in¬†Strange the Dreamer¬†Laini wanted to explore the aftermath of war, and the concepts of forgiveness, healing and whether it’s possible to not react to the violence of our circumstances. Laini also said that the ‘evil ante’ in YA and books generally was too high that she didn’t want to compete and create a¬†villain so evil that it continued to up the ante – instead she decided that the villain in Strange the Dreamer¬†would be dead already. She summed up the book as a less Disney-esque plot which culminates in killing the villain, and a more Miyazaki-esque plot driven by ‘saving’ the villain instead.

This was easily my favourite question and answer from Laini – made even better by the fact that she mentioned that it was telling that the #1 and #2 books on the NYT Bestsellers list atm are The Hate U Give and Strange the Dreamer respectively – books that discuss violence, stereotyping and society, important topics of discussion¬†in today’s world.

5. Katie then asked¬†how Laini manages to write so beautifully (something we all agree with I’m sure!) Katie asked whether it was in the editing or if it actually flowed that way when writing.¬†

Laini confessed that her writing almost never flows, beyond the few shining parts in each book. Laini explained that she has to love the writing process every step of the way and so she often writes scene by scene, which often means lots of drafts until the heart of that scene clicks. She said that whilst she loves crafting sentences and, like world-building finds its easier, books are not so easy! Laini also mentioned that she weaves the world building with the plot and tries not to do to much up front anymore.

6. One of the Q&A questions was the usual writing tips – I’m always¬†curious about the different answers authors have for this question ūüôā

Laini’s first piece of advice was to get into the habit of completing works in progress even if it’s short, and to do this by coming up with a narrative arc and concluding it. If you have writer’s block, she suggested instead of coming up with two or three plot development options, come up with 10 or 20 including wild and wacky ones just to get the creative juices flowing and make you feel less restricted. Katie piped up that Laini has a blog Not For Robots where she’s shared lots of writing tips – so definitely check that out if you’re interested!

6. Final question was would Laini explicitly go back to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone (eep!)

We were all on the edge of our seats when Katie asked the question we were all dying to know the answer to. Laini basically made all of our lives by answering, yes with the way the trilogy ended, she thought it was ready for a return to the world of Daughter of Smoke & Bone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Have you read Strange the Dreamer? Are you a long-time fan of Laini and her Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy?? Let me know in the comments below!

Waiting on Wednesday: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which puts the spotlight on eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

Publication Date: 2 May 2017 by Bloomsbury 

Genre: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses (book #3)

Synopsis: Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit-and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords-and hunt for allies in unexpected places. In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.¬†(Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it:¬†I’ve tried to keep it spoiler free but read at your peril! Right, so¬†I’d be surprised if this upcoming release isn’t on most YA readers and bloggers’ TBR lists! Anyone who has read A Court of Thorns and Roses¬†and¬†A Court of Mist and Fury¬†will be on tenterhooks to find out what happens when Feyre returns to the Spring Court after all that happened during ACoMaF. I read¬†A Court of Mist and Fury¬†as soon as it came out last year (review here). I basically devoured it and it went straight to the top of my favourite YA fantasy series.

The Inner Circle – Rhysand, Mor, Cassian, Amren, and Azriel – was easily one of my highlights in AcoMaF. The characters were in-depth, distinct and the dynamincs between each was killer and had me wanting an Inner Circle of my own *sigh* so I’m definitely looking forward to the return of Mor’s cutting one-liners and Azriel’s broodiness. I’ m also super duper nervous about the ships that I’ve come to adore and it’s got me worrying about¬†which of my ships will be endgame!¬†

In AcoTaR¬†and AcoMaF, Ms Maas also teased some of the wider world – the different Courts, the history of Prythian, and of course¬†the motives of the King of Hybern so I’m really looking forward to finally (hopefully!) getting some long-awaited cameos from the other High Lords as well as some answers to my million burning quetions! The world building in ACoMaF¬†in particular was phenomenal so I’m sure Sarah will not disappoint in this installment ūüôā

I love that this book sees Feyre taking charge of her destiny, she’s really evolved as a character so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when she returns to the Spring Court and how things play out with some familiar faces (can’t say I’m not looking forward to more Lucien… hehe) Plus, with this being the final book in the series, I can’t wait to see how the final battle goes, I’m hoping it brings the whole of Prythian together and we get to see a certain character¬†get the recognition he deserves…

Have you read A Court of Mist and Fury? What books are you most looking forward to this month? Drop me a comment below!