Image

BOOK REVIEW: The Darkest Minds

The wonderful team over at BKMRK sent me a copy of this book to hold a reading thread of over on Twitter. I love doing reading threads, so to do one with a book I’d been thinking of reading for a little while was a great opportunity. I actually really enjoyed this book, and can’t wait to go and see the film adaptation!


Ruby is sixteen. She is dangerous. And she is alive. For now.

A mysterious disease has killed most of America’s children. Ruby might have survived, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse than a virus: frightening abilities they cannot control. Pressured by the government, Ruby’s parents send her to Thurmond, a brutal state rehabilitation camp, where she has learned to suppress her new power. But what if mastering it is a whole generation’s only chance for survival?


I haven’t read a dystopian book for a long time, so was a little worried when going into this book incase it turned out to be a carbon copy of many other dystopians. The Darkest Minds is actually quite a fresh and interesting take on the genre, and it was really intriguing seeing how brutal some of the powers were and how awful the government in the book was. The treatment the kids receive in the camps, especially Thurmond where it’s at its worst, is brutal and harsh. This just makes even more of an interesting story as it shows how twisted and corrupt the government are, and how they will stop at nothing.

The powers the kids get are the result of the disease, which either kills them off or leaves them with the powers. They’re split into colour categories: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green and Blue. The first three are considered the most dangerous, with the abilities to control fire, control minds and emotions, and to control electricity in that order. Blue is telekinesis, and Green is a heightened intelligence state. Ruby herself is categorised as an Orange, but manages to evade being shipped off with the other kids of her category and remains in hiding as a Green. When she’s broken out of Thurmond and eventually escapes with three other kids, she begins to understand her power a bit more.

It’s heartbreaking seeing Ruby battle with controlling her power. She’s able to peer into the memories of other people with a simple touch which, due to her lack of control, also gives her the ability to wipe their memories of her. We constantly see Ruby berate herself for nearly touching someone, and her movements become whiplash quick. She doesn’t want this power, which makes it even harder to try and get control.

The other characters were really enjoyable too; I was very fond of Chubs, whose determination to do right for his old friends is so sweet. He’s also the most rational one of the group, which was great as it gives the reader a character that isn’t hell bent on saving the world and is a rational voice of the group while still looking out for his friends. Chubs really does have a lot of heart. Zu is also a fantastic character. She’s completely silent, and also doesn’t have much control over her power so wears bright yellow rubber gloves so she doesn’t set off any electricity by touching anything. There were some lovely moments between her and Ruby, and really enabled them to bond in the middle of their shared nightmare. Liam wasn’t really a favourite of mine, he was really headstrong and got rather annoying at times, but I know that’s he’s there to be the love interest so that is probably why!

There are some really dark scenes in this book which was actually quite enjoyable; it put it more on the scale of a darker YA fiction. The idea of the different powers the teenagers have is so clever, and really proves the point that teenagers are a force to be reckoned with and can change the world from bad to better.

Final thoughts: A strong start to a brilliant dystopian series. 4/5

Advertisements
Image

BOOK REVIEW: What If It’s Us

I only put this book down 20 minutes before writing this review. I’ve never reviewed a book so quickly, but felt like I needed to put everything I felt about this down immediately. Huge thanks to Olivia over at Simon & Schuster for sending me this!


Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?


I’m not a fan of love-at-first-sight books, at all. Most of my favourite characters are born of anguish and darkness. But there was something about this book that tugged on my heartstrings and made me feel ever so romantic. It was so light, so fluffy, and just such a lovely read, because now I feel very, very happy now I’ve finished it.

What If It’s Us is a collaborative novel by best friend/bestselling duo Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli. They’re known for writing very different stories (Becky focuses on happy endings, while Adam writes like he’s burning your heart from your chest) but usually these books focus on LGBT+ characters – and this is no different. What If It’s Us follows the lives of Ben and Arthur after chance – or the universe – brings them together. They know there’s something pulling them together, but with Arthur only in New York for a month, and Ben still trying to get over his ex-boyfriend, things don’t look so promising. What follows is a love story with many ups and downs. They can’t seem to get it right, and even with the constant signs from the universe, things just aren’t being perfect. But they know that’s ok.

It was so lovely to see these two authors collaborate and to write such a sweet love story, and it was brilliant that things the other characters did were called out if they were wrong. Ben calls out Arthur on his stupid comment about ‘being white’, and in another chapter Arthur tears Ben a new one for being ridiculously late to absolutely everything. But it works, because the characters are striving to make the other person a better person. There are moments when the universe works for them, and moments where it works against them, but the boys are determined to see it through.

The characters are so wonderfully different that I don’t really know who my favourite was. I’m leaning towards Ben but Arthur was so sweet. The characters are quite clear to tell who is written by who, and there are definitely some subtle references to their other books which was nice. I loved reading a book that’s so fresh and in the moment, especially with some nods to Instagram dramas and favourite memes. There are scenes that show that it’s not all perfect, even when you’re happy. There’s also some fantastic representation in here too, with a great mix of teenagers from different economic backgrounds, religions, skin tones and sexualities. I think that’s what I love most about books like this; they’re real in what they represent with the characters.

What If It’s Us is a beautiful story about first big loves and first big heartbreaks. It’s a book that definitely reminds the reader to live every single moment as if it were their last, and to cherish moments we have with our loved ones – as things could easily change in a heartbeat. It’s a book that cherishes the teenage ups and downs of life in a summer break. If this book doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will.

Final thought: 100% wholehearted happiness in book form. 5/5

Image

#KazDoesYALC

YALC sign-1.JPG

This weekend saw the arrival of YALC – the Young Adult Literature Convention, held every year above the London Film & Comic Con. It’s a convention where book lovers can meet authors, attend book signings, win exclusive early copies of books and much more. There are workshops to attend, activities held by publishers and, most importantly, books to buy! Publishers will set up their stalls and will often have the books discounted from their original price, so you’ll be able to save a few coins on book buying!

This year, we went for the whole three days, which I won’t do again purely because it was so exhausting and Olympia is a bit of a trek to get to! Three days of travelling does take a bit of a toll! I’ll be writing another post about my YALC experience as a whole, but for now I wanted to focus on the Saturday as this is the day I wore my Kaz Brekker cosplay.

If you know me (I hope you do, cos you’re following my blog…) you will know how much I love Six of Crows. Like HUGE FAN LEVELS of love. I’d been toying with the idea of a Kaz cosplay for a little while, and thought it would be perfect to do this at YALC where he’s a known character. With the help of best friend Stacey, we – or rather she – got planning. While I got together clothes – seriously Kaz, wear something suitable for Summer next time – she planned out how to create the cane and style my hair. I found a resin crow skull from Etsy, Stacey showed me the right hair products to buy, and we spent about two hours crafting his cane and a further hour practising my hairstyle. All to make sure that on the day, everything was perfect!

When the second day of YALC came, I was so thrilled with the results of my cosplay. Stacey excelled with my hair (which didn’t budge all day!) and I very much thought I looked the part! The only thing that had to change was the gloves. I know they’re a huge part of Kaz, but it was so so hot that my hands weren’t able to cope being in the gloves for more than five minutes! There’s a picture below of my full cosplay!

DjNci8WX0AYPjcR

It was tons of fun walking around YALC as Kaz. Aside from one girl saying that I would be perfect if I just wore the gloves, I had nothing but positive reactions of the outfit! I made a habit of stopping in front of friends without announcing myself and seeing the surprise as they took in my outfit was gold. The majority of the awe was of the cane, especially the uniqueness of the feathers – although I did lose one of my favourite feathers early in the day. A wonderful friend of mine, Helen, also cosplayed as Wylan, and we had loads of fun terrifying authors near the green room as we had some photos taken. She put tons of work into her outfit, especially the amazing embroidered collar!

IMG_4346

If you want to follow my candid shots through the day, Stacey very helpfully created a hashtagged thread, #KazDoesYALC! It follows my entire day of Kaz, from early travels to home on the train. You can check it out below:

Imagine my surprise when I get home on Sunday night, unpack my bag of books, clothes and the many candles I seemed to acquire through the day, and my phone lights up with a Twitter notification. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary as I’d been getting lots of likes on one of the Kaz photos I’d put up in the day. When I checked the actual notification, I nearly fell over. Leigh Bardugo herself (YES), had retweeted the picture of my cosplay and added the words “This is perfection.”. She also commented on the picture of me and Helen, calling us the ‘best Dregs’. I won’t lie, I had a total fangirl moment over this. To be acknowledged by one of my favourite authors is absolutely huge, and I was over the moon.

Leigh

IMG_4410

Of course, this made my entire weekend so much more amazing than it already was. I had a bit of a squeal on the phone to Helen about it, and then started considering my plans for a Kaz cosplay next year…

Oh yes. Kaz will be back. He isn’t going anywhere…

DjMrUT2WsAAbz_w.jpg

Image

All Reading is Reading

The other week, I completed my Goodreads goal. I managed to read 50 books, which I thought at the beginning of the year was an achievable one, and halfway through 2018 I made it! I’m thrilled that I managed to reach the goal.

Over on my Twitter, someone questioned whether I’d cheated my goal because I’d recently read some manga volumes, and that they shouldn’t count. Unfortunately this is a mindset I see far too often – not only on Twitter, but at work too. Lots of kids will be told that reading a comic book or preferring Tom Gates to Little Women isn’t real reading. I’m so tired of hearing that mindset, so would like to take an opportunity to tell you…

ALL READING IS READING

You read that right! All reading is reading. Whether you’re reading a comic book issue, a volume of manga, a hefty graphic novel, or even listening to an audio book – HOORAY! You’re reading!

Stories are so wonderfully accessible these days, with e-Readers enabling people to take many books with them at once and audio subscription services allowing downloads of audio books. It becomes a strange form of elitism when somebody says that reading a comic book or listening to an audio book “isn’t real reading”. That view is so sad, because these readers are also accessing their stories – just in a different way to the standard paperback format.

Consider that graphic novels and manga are huge works of art as well as written story. The considerable amount of time and art that goes into these books is stunning: line work, lettering, backgrounds, colouring, character design. This is all tied together with the story too, and many artists have worked on the project to get it to the standard you see when you pick it up from the shelf. Graphic novels are a portal into the artists passions and their art, just like a book from your favourite authors would be.

If you find yourself thinking this thought when you see a friend enjoying an audio book, or a kid reading the latest Batman issue, catch yourself. Because you could very well put somebody off reading altogether. Instead, encourage them! Ask them to recommend you an audio book they enjoyed, or a graphic novel they love. I know many people who enjoyed the audio book of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice & Virtue over reading the book, and I’m happy that lots of people got to access such a brilliant story in a different way.

If you’re still not convinced, please check out Sabrina, the graphic novel which is the first of its kind to be featured in the longlist of the Man Booker prize. This is a huge achievement, and really opens up graphic novels for readers who may have not known about the stories they hold.

If you want some graphic novel recommendations, let me know in the comments about what you’d like to read! I’d love to recommend you some excellent ones!

Image

Why Publishing Needs to Change

Picture the scene. You’re a kid, about to head into a bookshop. You’re excited because you LOVE reading and want to find a brand new book to read and love. But you can’t find many books that reflect how you look. Every book you look at seems to have a character that doesn’t look like you. This is how the situation is today for a lot of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) children. The worst thing? It’s 2018. Times have changed. So why the heck hasn’t publishing?

A recent study published by the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education shows that in 2017, only 1% of books published featured a main character of a different ethnic origin to white. It also discovered that of the 9115 children’s books published in the UK in the same year, only 391 of these contained a BAME character. This statistic is, quite frankly, appalling. It’s also not shocking.

As a bookseller, I can see firsthand how damaging this is for children. Parents often come in asking for books with black protagonists, and of the small selection we have in, they’ve most likely read them all. As we can only hold titles that have, of course, been published, this leaves many parents frustrated and disappointed. However, ask me to recommend a book with a white protagonist? I wouldn’t be able to stop, as there is an overwhelming amount of them. It’s completely unfair. When books come in with black or mixed race characters portrayed on the cover, I latch onto them! They are the rare gems. Now this doesn’t mean that books don’t exist – they do. But try reading every single one and find one that’s really reflective of the current generation. You’re going to struggle.

Publishing has started the conversation of diversity but there hasn’t been enough done at all to reflect these conversations. Picture books are getting there, and teenage books are seeing a slow trickle of excellent books with BAME main characters – we have authors like Adam Silvera, Tomi Adeyemi and Angie Thomas to thank for such wonderful books – but the middle grade books are barely there. How can children feel confident and comfortable with their reading if they never see themselves portrayed in books? I’ve heard people complain about this, saying ‘We shouldn’t see race in books anyway!’. I’m afraid that we should see race in books. Because if we don’t, it alienates readers of different ethnicities.

I’ve grown up loving books. I tended to push aside the uncomfortable confusion of not seeing a mixed race girl with curly hair grace the pages of books, but it always bothered me. I know I’m not alone in this either. Talking to a friend on Twitter, it’s obvious that he also felt alienated as a reader and this statistic has disgusted him. You can read Joel’s thoughts here over on his Twitter. As an aspiring author, the 1% statistic pushes people like Joel away from the UK publishing industry. “As a UK BAME writer, I don’t feel like I want to get published here because it feels that the UK isn’t open to diversity nor inclusion.” . With publishing as limited as it is with BAME stories, it’s hardly surprising that many authors would feel the same as Joel, and would search elsewhere for an agent when pitching stories.

“Why should publishing change?” I hear you ask! As a society, especially in the UK (and definitely in London), we are hugely lucky to have such diversity. We have the ability to learn about different heritages and open our minds to all ethnicities, religions and much more. Look at the people you know, and see how diverse they are. Why shouldn’t the book industry reflect how diverse we are? Books are for everyone, and the range of titles should show that. If you’re walking around in London and see so many diverse walks of life, you should be able to see that in the books you read too.

Unfortunately, the world at the moment is full of anger. Racism floods the internet and people are uncomfortable to be themselves for fear of backlash. This alienates people so much, and many readers will want to find comfort in a book that doesn’t alienate them further. This is hard to do when there’s no book for them. This alienation can stick for a long time too, and can make readers lose faith in books. It closes the door of reading for many, when the door should be wide open. But not only is making reading diverse good for different ethnicities, it’s also good for white readers. It opens up many different perspectives and walks of life for readers who wouldn’t have ever experienced them before. It changes and educates how children can look at the world, and when there’s a diverse cast of characters in their books it makes them feel more comfortable. Reading can be an educational tool for white readers when choosing a book with black characters. It allows kids to be more receptive and understanding of the world around them, and also helps them develop a much more open mind.

Publishers need to stop talking about including diverse voices and start actually acting on the conversation. Publish diverse stories. Publish own voices. Let readers see themselves in books, because all children should feel welcome in an activity they love.

 

Image

BOOK REVIEW: SHADOW & BONE

Holy shit, I didn’t think it would be possible for me to love this book as much as I did. Of course, the huge Crows fan that I am, I didn’t realise there were another set of books before SOC before getting halfway through the book. I got copies for Christmas, but never got around to reading them. The other week I was invited to the BKMRK event to celebrate some new summer titles, including the new cover releases of the Grishaverse trilogy! Of course that meant I HAD to read them, as having two lots of the same books on the favourites shelf just wouldn’t do!


Alina Starkov is a soldier. When her regiment is attacked whilst crossing the Shadow Fold – a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters – Alina unleashes dormant magic not even she knew she possessed.

Now Alina will enter a lavish world of royalty and intrigue as she trains with the Grisha – her country’s magical military elite – and falls under the spell of their notorious leader, the Darkling. He believes Alina can summon a force capable of destroying the Shadow Fold and reuniting their war-ravaged country, but only if she can master her untamed gift. But as Alina unlocks the secrets of her past, she will make a dangerous discovery that could threaten all she loves and the very future of a nation.


I absolutely loved the dynamic of this book. I can see why some people say that it’s best to read this series before delving into Six Of Crows, as you get introduced to the world of the Grisha, how elite they are, what sort of powers they have and what they can control. However it’s not a requirement to read them first, as I didn’t and still had fair understanding of what happens.

Shadow & Bone is an excellent first instalment to what I’m hoping will be an exciting and gripping trilogy. Alina is a soldier, and has grown up with Mal knowing of the existence of Grisha and the knowledge of their mysterious leader, The Darkling. Now as a teenager, she is a solider preparing to cross what’s known as The Fold, a terrifying rip in the land inhabited by disturbing creatures and dark shadows. The Fold prevents people from crossing to other places, and was created by a previous Darkling. During their voyage, they are ambushed by these creatures and Alina unleashes an almighty wave of magic, magic that has lay dormant in her veins for years. Now seen as the Sun Summoner with the power to cut through darkness with blinding light, she is whisked away by The Darkling to train and grow stronger while he remains mysterious…

Leigh Bardugo crafts worlds so, so well. Instantly in this book, you are transported immediately to these settings with ease; the terrifying darkness of the Fold, the grandeur of Os Alta, even the bitter cold of Tsibeya. These places are unlikely to leave you after you finish the book, as their descriptions are so finely put together they leave lasting impressions on the reader. Put these with the beautiful map at the beginning of the book and you know exactly where the characters are travelling to, and how long it takes as well.

I really enjoyed the characters in this book too. Alina, although a bit whiny at times, grew on me as I read on. She had witty one liners, and was very much your typical teen character who’s had the weight of the world’s problems shoved on her shoulders and told to deal with them. It made her choices as a character interesting, as they would leave me waiting to see what impact she would have on her surroundings. Mal is also a main character, although he comes into the story properly again about midway. He’s a sweet and loyal character, and is a skilled tracker within the army.

But lets discuss The Darkling. He’s also another main character, but one that I had so much trouble with. At first glance, The Darkling is trying to right the wrongs of his ancestors, and is trying to bring out the best in Alina. There is a bit of romance bubbling under the surface, and I began to wonder whether Alina would be left to choose between Mal – who she has loved since they were young – or The Darkling, who is every bit the Tall Dark and Handsome stranger. As the book continues, things about The Darkling’s past begin to surface through the shroud of secrecy he keeps himself so guarded with, and you start to understand that he’s quite dark, disturbing and dangerous… Although knowing this, it just makes me even more excited to get properly into the next book in the series, Siege & Storm.

Final thought: A dark, intriguing and exciting start to the Grishaverse. 5/5

Image

BOOK REVIEW: Theatrical

Summer is here! It’s been really sunny here in the UK lately, meaning I’ve had lots of time to read in the sunshine. I ended up re-reading lots of manga during my time off work, but also picked up a new book that was very kindly sent to me by the lovely people at Usborne. Theatrical is Maggie Harcourt’s latest book, and after loving her first YA title Unconventional, I knew I’d love this one too.


Hope is happiest out of the spotlight working backstage at her local theatre, so she can’t believe her luck when she lands a top internship on a major show. However, with a Hollywood star cast in the lead, and his young understudy upstaging Hope’s heart, she soon wishes life would stick to the script.
Hope has to prove she’s got what it takes. But with a big secret and so much buzz around the show, it isn’t long before she finds herself centre stage…


So this was such a sweet easy-going read, something that’s been nice to use as a break from heavy fantasy and magic (as much as I love those types of books!). It follows the story of Hope Parker, who is the daughter of famous designer Miriam Parker, and as obsessed with the theatre as her mum. Rather than being interested in the fashions and costume, Hope is far more preoccupied helping on the sidelines as stage management. She works part-time at her local theatre, but is determined to one day work at one of the well-known ones. When an interview for an internship goes in her favour, Hope wonders whether she’s been thrown into the deep end with the sudden responsibility as duty stage management. Suddenly there’s a lot more people to take care of and control, including stroppy Hollywood star Tommy Knight, his studious and handsome understudy Luke, and a whole host of crew members who want to make sure she truly belongs.

The pacing of this book is really gripping, as straight away you are thrown into how hectic Hope’s life becomes: making tea for the entire cast and crew while following a strict list, juggling ten tasks at once, and even dealing with groups of fans waiting at the door just to get a glimpse of Tommy. It’s hectic, it’s busy and it’s…fun. Hope has so much fun learning about the theatre, and how important her role becomes in pulling the show together. She makes new friends, falls in love with the theatre and a boy, and watches the show grow from stumbling line rehearsals to a smooth, full product. It’s well paced, the writing in terms of detailing the theatre is intricate and well researched – Maggie Harcourt has said in her little author Q&A at the back of the book that she visits the theatre quite a lot, and this love and passion definitely bleeds into the story.

Hope is a determined character, desperate to be out of the shadow of her mother, and wanting to carve her own path on her own. Unfortunately for Hope, things do go a little wrong with this type of thinking, especially when she tries to shoulder all the responsibility while also trying to hide the truth from her mum. It’s interesting to see Hope’s struggle as things get harder and harder to hide, but while also trying not to be the person who only gets the job because of her parents. Hope doesn’t want to be “Miriam Parker’s daughter” in these situations, she just wants to be “Hope”. She thrives to be seen as individual, and to earn her place behind the scenes. As things get closer to opening night, it becomes harder for her to keep things under her control.

The romance in the book was sweet – it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t instant, and the two characters had definite feelings for each other without coming across as one sided or dull. It was a new, budding romance, with the characters admitting to each other they had feelings, and sharing moments together to build that relationship rather than coming across as a bit too shallow.

I also loved how this book linked to the previous one, Unconventional. The two aren’t continuous as they’re standalone books, but there are some references through Theatrical that make the two books have crossover. The whole theatre production is based on the book Piecekeepers, a book within this book which has the same sort of fan following as Harry Potter. There are cameo appearances from some favourite characters of the previous novel too, and fans will be pleasantly pleased to see who it is, as I was very excited when I got to that page.

Final thought: A lovely, sweet story, full of theatrical heart. 4.5/5