Bookish Review: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Published: March 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult

Series: The Dark Artifices (#1)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: In a secret world where half-angel warriors are sworn to fight demons, parabatai is a sacred word… Parabatai can be everything to each other—but they can never fall in love.

Emma Carstairs is a warrior, a Shadowhunter, and the best in her generation. She lives for battle. Shoulder to shoulder with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, she patrols the streets of Los Angeles… When the bodies of humans and faeries turn up murdered in the same way Emma’s parents were when she was a child, an uneasy alliance is formed. This is Emma’s chance for revenge – and Julian’s chance to get back his brother Mark, who is being held prisoner by the faerie Courts. All Emma, Mark, and Julian have to do is solve the murders within two weeks… and before the murderer targets them. Their search takes Emma from sea caves full of sorcery to a dark lottery where death is dispensed. And each clue she unravels uncovers more secrets… 

Review: This was my first read of 2017 so I had high hopes for it, wanting to start the year on a high. It was actually a book club read, and one that if I’m being totally honest would not have picked myself. I actually abandoned The Mortal Instruments part way through the third book because I just could not engage with the plot, couldn’t relate to the characters, and just did not care for what was going on. 

However, Lady Midnight was a very pleasant surprise! I’ll start with what was easily my favourite thing about Lady Midnight which is the story itself. Cassandra Clare has crafted a brilliant story. It was a solid mystery which moved along at a good pace and I liked how all the different story arcs and elements wove together at the end without leaving any glaring plot holes. Plus, a big bonus was the fact that there was no mahoosive cliffhanger to be found at the end – always a thumbs up from me. 🙂

What did you do, what could you do, when what threatened the ones you loved was something else you loved just as much?

I really liked how the mystery was the main plot line but it was woven with relatable issues like family, responsibilities, secrets etc. One of the reasons fantasy, especially high fantasy, is my favourite genres is because it is pure escapism – it’s totally removed from reality and lets you immerse yourself in a completely different world. For this reason, urban fantasy doesn’t usually appear to me but I found that wasn’t the case with Lady Midnight. The California setting was also a nice change to the New York setting of TMI. The world building was great, but I found it even more impressive as I was essentially relearning the whole Shadowhunter ‘verse and Clare really helped brush up on the TMI and TID series without coming across like a dry history lesson and regurgitation of the plot lines of previous books.

The characters also left an impression on me – I found them so fascinating! Julian’s multi-layered personality was refreshing compared to some of the ‘tortured soul’ 2D male characters you can come across in YA – frankly, Julian had way bigger fish to fry than nurturing his angst (although there is a tiny bit of that – it’s not YA without it!) i.e.playing father to his younger siblings. I loved how family was so important to him and a tangible part of him, his paternal instincts, and how many of his decisions revolves around being a father figure. The sacrifices he makes to keep his family together really made him across as a properly complex character to me.

When you were twelve years old and you were all that stood between your family and annihilation, you didn’t learn moderation.

Emma, on the other hand, was a little irritating in that she came across as priding herself on being sharp and on top of things but her obliviousness to a certain plotline was a bit much for me and had me rolling my eyes. But I loved the other characters! Again it was brilliant to see the same representation in LM as in TMI whether it was sexuality, autism, suicide or mental health. I also really liked how the secondary characters felt like fully formed characters – each one had a distinct personality and this was given quite a bit of page time rather than token nods. Mark and Ty were easily my favourite characters, struggling with their differences to ‘the norm’. 

My only criticism of Lady Midnight was the flowery and overly-descriptive writing Cassandra Clare seems to be fond of. The book was really long at 500+ pages and honestly I think she could easily have cut down by just removing repetitive descriptions. I got tired of hearing about how many different shades of yellow made up Emma’s blonde hair, how bodies look through what I assume must be completely translucent shirts, and dark and long eyelashes against sculpted cheekbones. Some of the metaphors and similes were also very overwrought and jarring that I often stopped to try and figure out what Clare was trying to get at. For example:

A pearlescent lightening of the water, as if white paint were spilling into the world through a crack in the sky.

Those slight annoyances aside, I really recommend Lady Midnight to anyone who wants original and interesting characters wrapped in a solid mystery. It goes without saying that this will go down well with fans of the Shadowhunter series and may convert others like me who gave up on TMI! I’m now eagerly awaiting the next installment!

Have you read Lady Midnight? What did you think? Is it better than The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices? Let me know your thoughts!!

Bookish Discussion: Cult YA Fantasy Series I’ve Yet to Read…

One of my top reading goals for 2017 is to focus on the YA fantasy genre (i.e. play catch up on the cult classics that I’ve totally bypassed…) The topic of this post will probably make you question my credibility as a YA blogger (*gulp* why did this seem like a good idea again?!) but I’m hoping the public humiliation will spur me on to actually reading these awesome series that I’ve been criminally neglecting. 🙂

This post actually came about after a delightful chat with a Waterstones bookseller (thanks Valentine!) I had gone to pick up the Fantastic Beasts Case but found myself accidentally-on-purpose skulking around the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section looking for the new Tearling book. Valentine and I got talking and we realised we had similar taste when it came to this genre and we fangirled about A Court of Mist and Fury, Ember in the Ashes and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. And then I realised how much I was missing when I noticed how many “cult classics” I’d not read… voila this post!

Reading for fun was put on hold during university (cruel reality unfortunately!) and clearly I was on hiatus during the most inopportune time – most of the series in this list, or at least the first book, were all published 2014 or earlier and all have now wrapped up. It’s interesting that I’ve not read lots of them already because YA fantasy is easily my favourite genre but I’ve found myself getting seduced by newer releases getting tonnes of hype that I’ve not been able to play catch up.

SO I’ve made it my mission to read (/make a start on…) these gems in 2017. I know I’m seriously missing out and my blogger rep might as well be in the gutter! Without further ado, in no particular order, my top ten cult YA fantasy series that I’ve not read (yet!)

  1. Graceling Realm by Kristin Cashore (2009-2012) – a read of this series is so overdue. It’s got a badass protagonist Graced with the skill to kill – what more could I ask for?!
  2. Penryn & the End of Days by Susan Ee (2013-2015) – angels?? Sign me up. This will fill the Daughter of Smoke and Bone shaped hole in my life.
  3. Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch (2014-2016) – a refugee training to be a warrior, unrequited love, magic and politics. Err yes please!
  4. Study by Maria V. Snyder (2006-2008) – I’ve no idea how this one slipped through the cracks – I’M SORRY! *repentant face* 
  5. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare (2010-2013) – I’m currently reading Lady Midnight so I’m really keen to go back and brush up on the Shadowhunter ‘verse with this series.
  6. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Steifvater (2012-2016) – this fully deserves to be in a list with “cult” and “YA” in the title. I’ve heard so much about this series and am familiar with the awesome fan art…
  7. Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima (2009-2012) – this was a recommendation from Valentine at Waterstones and once I’d read the blurb I was totally sold.
  8. Legend by Marie Lu (2011-2013) – the blurb of this one sounds amaaaazing! It’s one of the highest rated YA fantasies on Goodreads to boot.
  9. The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson (2014-2016) – the first book in this series is a book club read this year so I will absolutely be getting round to it. Yay!
  10. Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta (2010-2013) – this is one of those high fantasy classics so I’m really looking forward to ticking this one off my TBR list!

So a good mix of fantasy, paranormal/ supernatural and dystopia to keep things interesting. I figure I can make a dent in at least a few of these series this year!  

Do you also have a similar TBR guilty secret? Any on here that you also haven’t read? Or if you have, recs for which I should absolutely start with first?! Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

ARC Review: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

gallery-1473414254-florabankscoverreveal123The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Release Date: 12 January 2017 by Penguin Random House UK Children’s

Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Young Adult

Series: None (Standalone)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: 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 tumor 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 meet 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 arctic, 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.

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: The One Memory of Flora Banks has one of the most interesting premises I’ve come across and that blurb instantly hooked me so I was delighted when I managed to get my hands on an ARC copy.

First things first, this was a totally unique book in terms of premise, plot and protagonist. I have never read anything where the main character suffers from “anterograde amnesia” and The One Memory of Flora Banks really gave an insight into what it’s like to live with a chronic illness like that. Especially at the beginning of the book, we follow Flora as her memory “resets” several times in a day and it is so disconcerting to see her retracing the same steps over and over again. It really brought home how difficult simple things must be for Flora.

How can I have forgotten that I have amnesia? How, though, could I possibly remember?

And it is precisely that which makes the plot of the novel so much more compelling. Although I know the premise of a kiss/boy spurring Flora on to undertake a cross-continent journey has understandably rankled some readers, I thought it was less the kiss and more the profoundness of her recalling something. I’d like to think if it was any other memory, she’d react in the same way purely because of how rare it is for her to remember anything. It was heart breaking to see Flora deal with having a memory and her desperation in wanting to believe it an indicator that she is healing.

I check my hand. FLORA, it says, be brave.

I loved reading about Flora’s coping mechanisms. I could vividly imagine her with her arms scribbled on and her house with things to trigger her memory of who she is. Flora’s voice is so captivating, her thoughts, fears, and dreams really jump off the page. I found it inspiring how candid Flora is about her memory loss and how she’s both naive and brave at the same time – she doesn’t let her chronic illness and constant reminders that she shouldn’t try to function alone stop her from going after Drake and the truth. 

This is how my journey will begin. One thing at a time.

The story itself kept me intrigued, wanting to know why she’d remembered the kiss and what would happen when she found Drake. The setting of Svalbard was brilliant – Barr really excelled at using the desolate landscape to draw comparisons with Flora’s state of mind. The other characters were intriguing in how they dealt with Flora’s amnesia, especially how they must adapt to her forgetfulness. For 90% of the book though we are “alone” with Flora seeing things through her eyes so you’re always wondering how much of a reliable narrator she is.

He does not know me, or he would never ask what I did yesterday. People tell me what I did yesterday: they do not ask.

For me, the book picked up the pace in the last quarter of the book and I was riveted by the last few chapters! However, it felt like it ended rather abruptly – I actually would’ve liked to see more development and the aftermath of what happens in those last few chapters. Without giving away spoilers, I’m also a little disappointed at how some things were explained away rather easily when they seemed to me to be pivotal parts of the narrative and plot.

Despite these few niggles though, The One Memory of Flora Banks is great if you’re after a good slow-burn thriller with a compelling narrator and story or if you’re interested in a good YA exploration of living with a chronic illness. I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything and Eileen Cook’s With Malice. This book was Barr’s first foray into YA but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for her other offerings. The One Memory of Flora Banks is out next week on Thursday 12 January!

Are you looking forward to The One Memory of Flora Banks? Are you a big fan of mystery/thrillers? Any recs for great YA similar to TOMoFB? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!

Bookish Discussion: 2017 Book & Blog Resolutions!

So… it’s 2017! We made it somehow (and without losing David Attenborough thank goodness!) I have high hopes for 2017, in terms of reading, blogging and generally it just not being the shit show that was “the year that must not be spoken of”. As tradition dictates, I’ve put together ten goals that I would love to achieve this year…

1. First things first, the all important reading challenge! I’ve kept it pretty low again this year (aiming to read 30 books minimum) as I’ve found it helps any challenge-related anxiety. Plus there’s nothing stopping you from increasing the challenge as you go along – in fact it’s really satisfying to keep surpassing your goal compared to the mad reading spree in December… you all know what I’m talking about. 😉

2. Related to the reading challenge, I’ve decided to incentivise my reading – not that I need it but for a good cause! I’ve pledged to put £1 in a jar for every book I finish with the idea being that I donate it to a reading-related charity at the end of the year. Reading is already such a pleasure for me that I’d love to be able to share my love of books with those less fortunate and this seems a perfect way to go about it.

TBR Jar

My Reading Jar – this year will be holding £££s!

3. This blog is a labour of love but I’m the first to admit that sometimes I can’t give it the attention it deserves. This year I want to become a better blogger by making sure I carry on posting regularly but also more specifically, diversify the number of memes I take part in and blog hop more so I can find more bloggers to fangirl about YA lit with – after all, bookish conversations are the best conversations.

4. I’ve met this loveliest people this year through a variety of mediums – my blog, on Twitter and Instagram, and finally bookish events! I’ve had amazing conversations from standing in book signing queues and over social media and every single one has put a huge smile on my face. I want to make sure I keep connecting with people over a shared love of books be they old or new friends. 🙂

5. One of my biggest book-related aims this year is to finally make it to YALC! For the last two years running I’ve been abroad that pesky last week of July but no more (at least not this year!) I’ve heard so many positive things about it that I feel like I’m sorely missing out. I’m actually considering going all three days as it’s my first YALC – any tips though, send them my way! 

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Hoping YALC will help me add to my collection of signed books!

6. #6 is one of those things I’ve wanted to do for a long time but never seem to get around to doing – a giveaway! I’ve seen some brilliant giveaways hosted by other bloggers and Instagrammers and would like to do multiple giveaways this year so I can share books that I love, recommend or am looking forward to.

7. I’m pledging to be more active on social media this year especially Instagram because seriously bookstagram is my happy place! I only joined recently but everyone is so lovely and welcoming. I’m not creative in the slightest but I really love how imaginative you can be with bookish photos and I’m addicted to scrolling through my feed! 

8. I’m part of a YA book club already but my job has me travelling quite a bit and my attendance can be sketchy at the best of times. I’ve joined another one recently, so this year one of my goals is to be a better book club member. I’ve met some wonderful people already, read books that I wouldn’t normally have picked up and had brilliant, in-depth discussions about YA lit and I want to put more effort towards it this year

Goodies from my YA book club xmas books swap!

Goodies from my YA book club annual xmas book swap!

9. In terms of tackling my TBR, this year I’m going to focus on the fantasy genre – from reading the cult classics of Graceling Realm and The Lumatere Chronicles series to the newer Shades of Magic and Queen of the Tearling series. There’ll be a blog post about these soon where my shameful neglect of this genre will be laid bare… I’m also keen to explore more diverse fiction – 2017 is looking to be the best year yet for this genre!

10. Finally, in December I received my first YA subscription box and was totally blown away by the quality! After much deliberation (I actually created a spreadsheet comparing prices, product etc. to compare!) I settled on Fairy Loot because the fantasy themed box meant it couldn’t possibly disappoint. Suffice to say it didn’t and I now want to try out some of the other sub boxes available. 

So that’s all of my 2017 bookish and blogging resolutions – here’s to achieving at least a few of them!

Do you have any bookish/blogging resolutions? How’s your Goodreads Challenge looking? Any resolutions from last year that you’re giving another go? Let me know in the comments below!

Bookish Review: Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Night Owls by Jenn Bennett

Published: August 2015 by Simon & Schuster

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive, and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in her family’s closet tear them apart?

Review: I read Night Owls (or The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, as it’s known in the US) for my book club but actually think it would’ve been a title I’d have picked up of my own volition. The blurb sounded really promising and as I’ve been knee-deep in fantasy these past few weeks some contemporary YA romance was looking very appealing!

Night Owls was a distinctly average book for me – a mix of good and not-so-great things. One thing that hooked me was the artist vibe which I found really interesting – I’m not in any way creative at all, and so I find myself in awe of anyone with even a hint of creative talent. I liked how diverse Jack and Bex’s artistic interests were. I had no idea cadaver drawing was even a thing and I liked that despite how male-dominated that particular field is, Bex was the one interested in it and actually it pushed her to get her talent recognised. 

Jack’s graffiti was also interesting because it wasn’t your usual pre-pubescent gang tagging nor was it subversive political & social commentary art a la Banksy. It felt more personal and I liked how he chose his words and his canvases and what we learn about his motives for doing something so risky as we go along. 

Some other things that really stuck out to me were the portrayal of Bex’s family unit. I liked how close Bex, her mother, and her brother were and how realistic the single parent family setup was. Bennett does not shy away from reality and the difficulties including how both Bex and her brother had to step up and help out for them to get by. The family drama Bex experiences was also interesting to see play out especially the motives behind each character’s actions and how this impacts on the others. 

Night Owls was also surprisingly sex-positive. What really struck me was how candid Bex is about her disappointing sexual experiences so far and never feels nor is made to feel ashamed of her experience. The conversations around sex between different characters were healthy and I liked how Bennett does not use LGBT representation as a plot device.

One of the downsides for me was that many of the other characters just did not feel fleshed out enough. Even Jack who is the love interest fell a little flat for me because we were seeing it all from Bex’s swooning perspective. There was a lot of physical descriptions and I just couldn’t see the ‘person’ beyond the manic pixie dream boy aesthetic he had going on. The issues that were framed as his ‘flaws’ felt a bit of a sham to me because it wasn’t directly to do with him/his personality and felt a bit of an inconvenient cop-out that kept Jack pretty damn perfect. 

Also, the drama wasn’t the most difficult to guess or follow but it was frustrating that Bex seemed a little too slow at joining the dots, enough that when the reveals came and she was blindsided, the reaction was more facepalm and cringeworthy than anything else. The drama and obstacles to Bex and Jack skipping off into the sunset also didn’t feel very problematic to me and seemed rather easily resolved with a nice neat bow at the end.

Overall, Night Owls was a nice quick read, which didn’t stretch out the drama unnecessarily, it was easy to get behind the romance between Jack and Bex and cheer them on. But ultimately it’s not the most memorable YA contemporary romance I’ve read and didn’t offer anything new or particularly exciting for me to remember it long after I’ve read it.

Have you read Night Owls? What did you think? What are your thoughts on differently named titles in different countries/regions? Let me know your thoughts!!

Film Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Release Date: 1 January 2017 (UK) 

Genre: Fantasy, Drama

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Synopsis: 12-year-old Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with far more than other boys his age. His beloved and devoted mother (Felicity Jones) is ill. He has little in common with his imperious grandmother (Sigourney Weaver). His father (Toby Kebbell) has resettled thousands of miles away. But Conor finds a most unlikly ally when the Monster (portrayed by Liam Neeson) in performance-capture and voiceover) appears at his bedroom window one night. Ancient, wild, and relentless, the Monster guides Coner on a journey of courage, faith, and truth that powerfully fuses imagination and reality. (Official Website)

Review: I was invited to a preview of A Monster Calls earlier this week and was blown away by so many things in this movie! The film is based on the novel by Patrick Ness, author of bestselling Chaos Walking Trilogy. Interestingly, the idea for the novel actually belongs to Siobhan Dowd, author of classic YA books Bog Child and A Swift Pure Cry. After Dowd’s untimely death, Patrick stepped in and finished the book with credits to her idea.

I have to start with the acting. I was so so impressed by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. He portrayed the anguish of a teen trying to survive school and family woes whilst dealing with his mother’s terminal illness.I was totally struck by MacDougall’s raw talent and cannot wait to see him in more things – I predict a solid rise to fame for him. 🙂 This movie has a stellar cast of big names joining MacDougall including Felicity Jones who plays her character with such grace and poise, Sigourney Weaver as the stern but beleaguered grandmother, and Liam Neeson as the Monster. They were all phenomenal in their roles, their performances, especially Jones’s, was understated and just worked. Because of the way the film was directed by J.A. Bayona, (The Orphanage) at times I completely forgot they were acting because they fully became their characters.

And if you need to break things, then, by God, you break them.

The novel is known for its exploration of some pretty heavy themes like illness, grief, divorce and bullying. But my absolute favorite is how it explores the grey areas of morality – how sometimes people can be both good and bad and the book does this without ever coming across as patronising. This is what I think made the novel such a winner amongst people of all ages in the first place – it truly is an important idea for all of us to understand and I think it is so bravely tackled by Ness in A Monster Calls. Although the book deals with these difficult issues the movie handles it deftly and beautifully – it was neither heavy-handed nor did it shy away from reality, exactly like in the book.  

I love how imagination is such a big part of this movie and it really takes you back to a time when you were younger and thought was pretty unrestricted. I felt *all* of the emotions during this movie – it was heartbreaking, charming, moving and magical and so many more things all at the same time. I loved how although it is a fantasy, the thing that I took from it was an exploration of what it means to be human and inherently complex.

Of course you are afraid, but you will make it through, for this is why you called me…

The original novel has a brilliant illustrated version with illustrations by Jim Kay. Bayona does justice to the messages in the novel and made them resonate on a grander scheme by bringing the beautiful illustrations to life in such a visual way through stunning watercolour. I was totally mesmerised during these scenes, and I found it reminiscent of the Tales of Beedle the Bard scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows film – easily one of my favourite bits in the entire film series. The cinematography in this movie is done so well that at times I forgot I was in a cinema watching with lots of other people because I’d become totally immersed in the drama on screen! 

This is one of those movies that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it! I’ve given it 5 stars – it’s a faithful adaptation and doesn’t try to overdo the drama just because it’s on the big screen. All of the actors give solid performances and I would recommend it just for the visual smorgasboard it offers alone! 

Are you planning to watch A Monster Calls? Have you read the original novel by Patrick Ness? What bits are you most looking forward to seeing on screen? Drop me a comment below!

Bookish Event: Sarah Crossan & Tanya Landman Signing


Bloomsbury hosted a book event with two Carnegie Medal winning authors: Sarah Crossan of One fame and Tanya Landman, author of Buffalo Soldier. Landman was named winner in 2015 and Crossan in 2016. The CILIP Carnegie Medals are the older and most prestigious children’s book awards in the UK.

An interesting thing both books have in common is that they are written by women and fall into the diverse fiction genre dealing with issues such as disability and race. One follows conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi, as they deal with growing up and the difficulties of their unique situation in beautiful and lyrical verse form. Meanwhile, Buffalo Soldier follows Charlie as she disguises herself as a man in order to join the American Civil War. 

I have to confess that I’ve not consciously read diverse fiction but this year with the shitshow that is 2016, and thanks to Twitter, I’ve become more aware of the importance of publishing and reading such books. This was one of the reasons why I really wanted to go to this event. Both Sarah Crossan and Tanya Landman published their books before 2016 and have been on the scene and writing for some time. I was curious about what made them write about the topics they explore in their books at a time when diversity in fiction wasn’t as championed as it is now.

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Chaired by journalist Harriet Minter, the event was fascinating and I’ll do the usual Q&A summary for you guys.

1. Harriet started off asking Sarah why she chose to write One in verse? Sarah said that she initially started writing the book in prose but that it wasn’t working. However, once she started to write in verse she realised it came more naturally. Sarah said what she particularly liked about this method was that it gives a snapshot of the characters’ lives and story and likened verse to photographs whereas prose was more like a movie. 

2. Harriet said that one of the things she’d noticed was that the two books explored the theme of a special bond between characters and asked the authors to shed more light on it. Sarah said she’d met conjoined sisters whilst researching for the book and initially the plan was to explore how romance for one sister might affect their lives. But during her research she found that many conjoined twins were perfectly happy as they were and it was this bond of sisterhood that she wanted to do justice. In Buffalo Soldiers Tanya explores the bond between Charlie and her horse Abe. Her motivation was her own love of horses whilst growing up (and which saw her competing right up until she was an adult!) and that she wanted to portray the solace that people can find in their pets and animals and show the unwritten language of communication these bonds rely on

3. Harriet then asked Tanya to elaborate more on the fascinating topic of Buffalo Soldier and why she’d felt compelled to write a YA book on it. Tanya said that once she found out about the Buffalo Soldiers she realised it was a piece of history that was missing from conventional accounts of the war. She said she wanted to put back the people and events that had been erased e.g. women and minorities and explore why these women had to go to such lengths to contribute to the war effort in the way they wanted to.

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4. Harriet then asked about Tanya and Sarah’s experience of writing diverse fiction. Tanya said she had received flak for another of her books I Am Apache but not Buffalo Soldier but that there was reluctance from US publishers to release the book because of potential accusations of cultural appropriation. Tanya said that she wholeheartedly agrees that writers can write what they want so long as they do it empathetically but that they cannot switch that empathy off as soon as an author of color says they’re having trouble getting published because this is a real and genuine problem in the publishing industry. Sarah echoed that her US publishers weren’t keen on having conjoined twins depicted on the cover because it was too graphic. Both authors agreed that brutal issues and history cannot and should not be hidden – often children do not register these difficult issues and are not affected by them in the way an adult may be. 

5. Last question was the usual tips for budding writers! Sarah recommended only writing if you feel compelled to and not for external nourishment or approval because that will never be enough to see you through the hideously long night and editing process. Tanya agreed and added that published authors shouldn’t frequent reviews of their books on Goodreads (a common refrain from many an author!) 

Have you read One or Buffalo Soldiers? Are you also new to diverse fiction or a veteran of the genre? Any recs for awesome diverse YA books?? Let me know in the comments below!

Waiting on Wednesday: The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

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

We are in for a treat with YA releases in 2017 so there’ll be a few of these coming up in the next few months. 😀 One book that I’m really looking forward to is The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman! It is the second book in the Lady Helen series and is released in the UK and US in January 2017.

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The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

Publication Date: 26 January 2017 by Walker Books UK 

Genre: Historical, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult

Series: Lady Helen (book #2)

Synopsis: June 1812. Just weeks after her catastrophic coming-out ball, Lady Helen Wrexhall—now disowned by her uncle—is a full member of the demon-hunting Dark Days Club. Her mentor, Lord Carlston, has arranged for Helen to spend the summer season in Brighton so that he can train her new Reclaimer powers. However, the long-term effects of Carlston’s Reclaimer work have taken hold, and his sanity is beginning to slip. At the same time, Carlston’s Dark Days Club colleague and nemesis will stop at nothing to bring Helen over to his side—and the Duke of Selburn is determined to marry her. The stakes are even higher for Helen as she struggles to become the warrior that everyone expects her to be. (Goodreads)

Why I’m looking forward to it: First of all how beautiful is that cover?! I love that Walker have stayed with the original theme (pet peeve of mine is when the covers change mid-series grr!) As much as I adore Lord Carlston, I love love love that Lady Helen gets the cover all to herself in this one (feminism ftw!) and hope this hints at a badass Lady Helen in this installment!

I read the first book earlier this year (review here) and loved it. I’m a big fan of historical YA anyway but I wasn’t sure about the fantasy element. I needn’t have worried though as I loved everything about The Dark Days Club. The characters were brilliant, and Lord Carlston was dreamy. The plot was riveting and the whole thing flowed brillianty from start to climactic finish and left me wanting more after the last page… enter The Dark Days Pact.

In this installment we follow Lady Helen as she furthers her training with Lord Carlston as a fully fledged member of the Dark Days Club. We saw Helen make some pretty momentous decisions and so it will be really great to watch her continue to break conventions of Victorian society and really come into her own as a bona-fide demon hunter. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the encounters between Lady Helen and Lord Carlston go now that he’s mentoring her whilst at the same time dealing with his own problems. Finally, the Duke of Selburn’s agenda promises to ramp up the drama even further and I’m so excited to see how it all plays out before the final book in the series is released in 2018!

Have you read The Dark Days Club? What books are you most looking forward to? Drop me a comment below!

ARC Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Published: February 2017 by Macmillan Children’s Books

Genre: Retelling, Romance, Young Adult

Series: None (Standalone)

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

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

Review: I’d been salivating after Heartless ever since I’d heard of it. I am *the* biggest fan of the Lunar Chronicles because Marissa Meyer just hit the nail on the head with every book. I honestly cannot find fault with any of the books (which is the case even for some of my other favourite series) and would read them again in a heartbeat. Since I was wooed by Meyer’s fairytale retellings, I knew I had to get my hands on Heartless.

So first things first, I loved that this was the Queen of Hearts origin story because it totally throws you off-kilter! I wasn’t expecting to warm to Catherine as much as I did, because obv she’s the villain in Alice in Wonderland, but how can you not?! The poor girl has simple dreams: she just wants to open a bakery with her best friend and not be on the receiving end of the King of Heart’s affection. Alongside Catherine, there were the usual beloved cast of characters in Alice in Wonderland but also some original ones too. 

I liked the mix of canon and original material; it made it refreshing rather than feeling like just a rehashing of the Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland which can sometimes be the case with retellings. Marissa did an awesome job in balancing the two – she stayed loyal to the world Lewis Carroll created with nods to things like the wacky croquet, tea parties, and the references that had me squealing, whilst also giving us quirky new characters and a mystery that keeps you turning the pages. She even managed to weave in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven which is just genius! 

The thing that really got me with Heartless was the knowledge of how this story plays out. I mean we all know the Queen of Hearts becomes a beheading-happy monarch so it’s pretty bleak trying not to get your hopes up or sail that ship into the sunset. Although I did figure out the mystery pretty early on, it was still a joy/painful to see it unfold. You actually want to cheer Catherine on as we follow her transformation into the Queen of Hearts – kind of like Disney’s Maleficent and a would-be heroine wronged into villainy.

The only thing that niggled a bit was the pacing hence the teeny .5 star deduction. The first ¾ of the book concentrated mostly on Catherine’s romantic and entrepreneurial troubles and her indecisiveness on how to deal with both of these issues. Having said that though, it is understandable considering Catherine is massively stifled by societal and parental expectations (ugh her mother!) But because of this, much of the action and revelations happen in the last quarter and felt a little rushed to me. I would’ve loved more details on the back stories of the various characters, old and new, as well as the wider ‘verse which is hinted throughout! 

Overall though Heartless was an immersing read, it was recognisably Wonderland but not stiflingly overdone, more an homage to Carroll’s genius with references sprinkled throughout the book… Which brings me on to the fact that this book should come with a warning on the cover – beware: serious cravings for delicious sweet treats will be aroused in reading this book. The descriptions of lovely desserts had me drooling! 

SO in case it wasn’t already clear, Marissa Meyer has done it again with Heartless! Fans of The Lunar Chronicles you are in for a treat! Whilst those just after a solid classic or fairy tale retelling, in the vein of Renee Ahdieh or Rosamund Hodge’s books, should be shifting Heartless to the top of your TBR list. 🙂

Are you looking forward to Heartless? Did you also adore the Lunar Chronicles? Any retelling recs you’re dying to shout about? Drop me your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Bookish Event: Jennifer Niven & Holly Bourne Signing

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Jennifer Niven, the New York Times bestselling author of All the Bright Places is in town at the moment promoting her newest release, Holding up the Universe. I got to hear her chat to Holly Bourne on everything from oddest fan experiences to the upcoming movie when she dropped by Waterstones last week. Holly was also promoting her new book, the finale to The Spinster Club series And a Happy New Year…?, but she was chairing the event and so we got to see her calling the shots and Jennifer in the hot seat. 

The questions were brilliant and as with all my event blog posts, I’ll summarise some of my favourite Q&As.

1. Holly started off with some quick fire questions, the first of which, and absolutely the most important question ever: which Hogwarts house is Jennifer in? Jennifer said she’d taken the official Pottermore quiz recently and had been sorted into Ravenclaw at which there was a squeal of delight from Holly, a fellow and enthusiastic Ravenclaw!

2. Second quick fire question: what was the book that was life changing or most memorable for Jennifer growing up? Jennifer immediately answered with Judy Blume’s Forever – she said it was the book that you would hide under your bed so your mum wouldn’t find it. Blume’s books resonated with her because they were about girls similar to her and her friends and they inspired Jennifer to want to write similarly relatable books when she was older. 

3. Final quick fire questions: who is your book boyfriend? Jennifer couldn’t resist answering with Finch (and who could blame her or disagree?!), but she did say if she had to choose a character that wasn’t hers she would choose Simon from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.

4. Now down to the serious questions, in Holding up the Universe, the male protagonist, Jack, suffers from Prosopagnosia, or “face blindness” – what made Jennifer choose to focus on that? Jennifer said she has two family members diagnosed with it and had been aware of it and fascinated by it for some time. Once she asked one of her cousins how he overcame it and he said he recognises people by “the things that count” – the things they like about a person rather than physical attributes and Jennifer thought “wouldn’t that be great? If we could see beyond the way people look when we meet them?” And that was something she wanted to explore. 

5. In both All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe, Jennifer writes from a male and female perspective – what was the reason for that? Jennifer said she likes knowing what the boy thinks – in romance stories, you often have the girl painting a swoony portrait of their crush and you always wonder what is going through the boy’s head. She’d never written in dual narration before All the Bright Places, but found she really liked it and so did the same with Holding up the Universe. Jennifer shared that her editor casually mentioned that she didn’t always have to write in dual narrative which was her way of saying “don’t do it for her current book” so her current manuscript is single PoV!

6. One thing Holly said she’d noticed was the theme of grief present in Jennifer’s books – was that consciously or unconsciously done? Jennifer answered that she’s unfortunately lost a lot of people close to her, including her mother who was always the first to read her completed manuscripts, so grief is a big part of her life. She said rather than carry around the baggage, she finds channeling it into her writing helps – after all if she’s going to be sad and cry about things, her readers sure as her are too. 🙂

Holly said she’d been lucky in that she hadn’t experienced much grief in her life but one event that did stick with her was the death of her hamster. She arranged a back yard funeral complete with Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On blasting on the boombox (aww!) What she mistook as her parents’ profound grief and shuddering tears was actually them trying to keep from laughing out loud!

7. A question we’ve probably all been curious about: does Jennifer often get asked about the ending to AtBP? Jennifer said she gets so many questions about the ending to AtBP, often is accused of breaking hearts (“It’s OK I didn’t need my heart anyway”) and regularly asked for a happier ending. SO… she has now actually written an alternate ending! Holly said she liked the ending and thought it was fitting because it shared the very honest message that love cannot fix mental health (agreed!)

8. What have been some of Jennifer’s strangest fan experiences? The strangest presents she’s been given related to her books were All the Bright Places themed flip-flops! She was also wearing a gorgeous ring, given to her by a fan who I actually met at the event (OhPandaEyes btw in case you were wondering – check her out on Etsy)! Jennifer also said that as her love for Supernatural and Jared Padalecki is well-known she gets lots of themed goodies made by fans and tagged in posts to the guys. She went to Supernatural con recently and finally met JP who thought she looked familiar – Jennifer said she was thinking “yup, probably because my fans tag you in millions of tweets to me”. 🙂

Holly chipped in and shared that her love for Keanu Reeves is also well-known amongst her fans. When KR was recently in London her Twitter blew up with notifications telling her about it. Now she knows that if her Twitter notifications go through the roof it’s not because she’s won some award but because KR is doing something interesting! 

9. Time for a controversial question: UK YA vs US YA? Holly asked this question because she basically wanted Jennifer to repeat her comments on this topic made in the green room before they emerged for the event (haha!) Jennifer admitted she prefers UK YA, notwithstanding some of her favourite American YA authors like David Levithan and Jandy Nelson, over US YA. She said she finds the latter to be increasingly self-conscious and a bit restrictive whereas UK YA is much braver and has more freedom.

10. Holly finished up by asking a question we were all dying for answers to: can Jennifer share any gossip about the upcoming movie adaptation of All the Bright Places? Jennifer apologised and said she couldn’t say much but that she had submitted the latest draft of the screenplay a week ago and that there’s probably one more draft remaining before it’s the version that will be used for actually shooting the movie! Elle Fanning has been attached to the project for two years and Jennifer said they are starting to look into casting Finch – apparently a shortlist of mostly British guys (eek!) and ran them past Elle whose first opinion was always very professional (commenting on their great acting abilities) and only then would the teenage girl kick in (commenting on how cute the actors were) which is just adorable!

Have you read either All the Bright Places or Holding up the Universe? Any casting choices in mind for Finch? What did you think of her answers? Let me know in the comments below!