Countdown to 7th May Blog Tour: Interview with Lucy Coats + GIVEAWAY

Today on the blog I’m really excited to have Lucy Coats as part of Jim’s Countdown to 7th May Blog Tour.
Lucy has written numerous books including picture books MG and YA fiction, but today we’re talking about her new YA book being released on 7th May: Cleo.

Cleo is a fast-paced re-imagining of Cleopatra’s life before she became the Pharaoh of legends. Check here for my review.

So, without further ado, here’s what Lucy had to say when I interviewed her about about Cleo
Hi Lucy, it’s great to have you here on my blog today. Your new book for young adults, Cleo tells the unknown story of Cleopatra, before she became the legendary figure that she is today. I’m going to kick off by asking you what made you want to tell that part of Cleopatra’s story?

 

About three years ago, I was reading a book about Cleopatra, and it occured to me that we know almost nothing about her life until she walks into recorded historical events as pharaoh. Basically, her early years are a great big hole in history – and there’s no greater gift to a writer than that.

Once I’d done a bit of digging, I found out Cleopatra had described herself as a living incarnation of the goddess Isis. Being a total mythology fanatic, that was the fact which lit a spark in my brain and made it start ticking away.

Writers always ask that ‘what if’ question – so I asked myself ‘what if Cleopatra really was helped to the throne by a goddess?’ Then I wondered how it would work to mix real history with a sprinkling of paranormal to explain how she became this amazing woman that we’re still talking about over two thousand years later? Her strong character must have been formed in that early part of her life – and immediately I had that thought, I was totally driven to tell that part of her story. The beginnings of Cleo were born in that moment.
How much of Cleo’s story is research based and how much was added in there by you?

 

That hole in history I just mentioned is pretty wide and deep. We don’t know exactly what year Cleo was born (maybe 60BC). We don’t even know for sure who her mother was either (possibly a concubine, a member of the pharaoh’s court – or maybe her own sister!). What IS certain is that her father was the pharaoh Ptolemy Auletes (the Flute Player), who got chucked out of Alexandria and exiled to Rome for spending too much money – and that she had three sisters (two of whom became pharaohs in place of their father), and two brothers.

So, to answer your question, there was a historical framework within which she existed – but no actual information about her. That gave a huge amount of leeway for me to imagine events in her life as I wanted them to happen. As long as I stuck to the known facts (and I researched her family and what they were up to at the time pretty intensively) then I was free to do more or less what I wanted to in terms of the story itself.
How did you find the voice for Cleo? It’s quite a bold step to give her such a modern-sounding voice – did you specifically want it that way or is that just how she came to you?

 

Thank goodness you asked – as I know a lot of people may be a bit puzzled by the way Cleo sounds. The thing is, we have no idea how the Ancient Egyptians would have talked, and I wasn’t ever going to write the book in formal court language!

When I started out, I was writing in third person. I got to twenty thousand words, and it was obvious to me that the voice wasn’t working at all. So I junked the whole thing and started again in first person. I could hear Cleo’s voice in my head right away – she just started talking to me like that, so I went with it.

As I was writing for teenagers, and Cleo is that age herself, I very much wanted her character to be accessible, to have the same sort of internal worries and fears about love and appearance and friendships that a modern teenager would have – except tuned to an Ancient Egyptian setting, obviously. I don’t think those very human concerns are things that change very much over the centuries.

You’re right, it was a bold step to give her a modern-sounding voice, and I know that may not be how everyone thinks Cleopatra would sound – but I really hope readers can get past that and understand that there IS no one definitive version of her. This is only my interpretation, and I stand by it proudly.

 

The setting for Cleo is obviously in Ancient Egypt – have you ever been to Egypt yourself? How much research did you have to do to recreate the places Cleo visits?

 

I have been to Egypt, but only to the Red Sea part, not the part where the book is set. I very much wanted to go back and sail down the Nile to get a proper feel for it, but sadly world events got in the way, and I was told it was too dangerous to do the kind of trip I was planning.

I’ve spent a LOT of time on research, though – I’m pretty obsessive about it, if truth be told, and have piles of books and a massive cache of weblinks to obscure writings on Ancient Egyptian life. Let’s not even get started about the time I’ve spent poring over maps of Alexandria, the Royal palace, the Nile and Google Earth-mapping the general topography of Egypt.

I wanted to make the settings as authentic as possible, so I went back to original sources where I could. Sometimes I had to stop myself, though. Researching is a bit like following a treasure trail – there’s always a new Fact of Great Usefulness to stumble across. I often have to give myself a shake and tell myself to get on with writing the damn book!

The gods and goddesses feature heavily in Cleo – did you always plan to make them a main part of your story?

 

Yes – myth geek that I am, that was always an essential element. The gods and goddesses got into every part of the Ancient Egyptians’ lives (and most certainly into their deaths, given the amazing household goods found in their graves, which they believed would go with them into the afterlife). I’ve just made them visible – to Cleo, at least – and able to act through their human intermediaries.

But I don’t believe in too much deus ex machina, so Cleo has to work things out on her own. She can’t rely on her patron goddess to fix things for her. It was important (and I hope character-building) for her to struggle to achieve what she needs to – and also that there be penalties for her straying off the path that has been set out for her. Power doesn’t come without price!
Cleo ends on one hefty cliffhanger – what made you decide to end her story there (for now)?

 

I know…I know☺. The answer is, Cleo had done what she needed to do for that particular bit of the story, and it just seemed the right place to stop. I’m mean like that <evil grin>. I’ve read so many books where I’m turning pages and shouting ‘Noooo! You CAN’T finish THERE!” at the writer – and for once I wanted the reader to shout at ME! Sorry (#notsorry).
What can we expect from the next installment in Cleo’s story? And when is it coming out?!

 

Well…it’s going to be called Chosen, and it’s coming in March 2016 (so not even a year to wait). I can’t tell you much, because *spoilers* but there’s going to be a lot of tension between Cleo and Khai (hot Librarian spy boy and the current love of her life, for those of you who’d like to know), an unexpected love story for Charm (Cleo’s best friend and body servant), and a meeting with someone who will feature largely in Cleo’s later life.

The setting moves away from Alexandria, and takes in the desert, the Great Green Sea (what the Ancient Egyptians called the Mediterranean) and Rome. Of course, there’s plenty of immortal action too. I’m just putting the final touches to the manuscript now, and I have to say, even I am very excited about it – and that’s having lived with it in my head for what seems like forever.
The cover for Cleo is really quite something (and actually one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place). Did you have much say on how that turned out? Is it how you imagined it would be or did you imagine something different?

 

A good cover is a treasure – and I’m so glad you like it. When I first saw it, my jaw literally dropped and I cried at its beauty (in a good way). The Orchard designer who worked on the book, Thy Bue, has done a stellar job, and I am so grateful to her. All I did was send my editor the Pinterest page I made for the book (you can see it here), and veto any pictures of pyramids – other than that, no input at all! I absolutely wasn’t expecting how it turned out – but I love it more than I can even tell you.  Luckily, everyone I’ve spoken to seems to feel the same way. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t like it.

A lot of your other stories are picture books/for younger readers – what made you want to try writing for an older audience?

 

I write for pretty much all ages – last year I had a picture book out, this year it’s four books in my new middle-grade Beasts of Olympus series, an early reader and Cleo. I guess that’s a bit unusual, but it all helps keep my writing brain active.

I’ve written one novel before, for the 9-12 age-group, but when the idea for Cleo came along I knew at once it was for an older audience. As I read a lot of YA (especially UKYA), it seemed like the right place for my writing to go, and I felt very comfortable doing it. 85,000 words is definitely a major commitment, though, and I do need much more thinking and planning time than for the younger books!
And here are my quick fire questions to round off with:
What are you reading at the moment?

 

I’m reading the proof of Stone Rider, a debut UKYA dystopian from David Hofmeyr which is coming in June. Absolutely loving it so far. It’s kind of Hunger Games meets Star Wars podracing meets The Road!
Favourite book as a child?

 

Charles Kingsley’s The Heroes (Greek myths, of course!) and also The Secret Garden. i identified with that one because I was a quite lonely only child who spent a lot of time mooching around gardens.
Favourite writing drink and snack?

 

Either Earl Grey tea (no sugar and must be Williamson’s – I’m fussy about tea), or a pint glass of water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. Snacks are strawberry shortcake or chocolate (Maranon from Peru when I can get it – but any if not. Chocolate is a writing necessity).
5 desert island books?

 

J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the RIngs; Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea quintet; Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter; Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths; Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller series. Oops. That’s six *slaps own wrist*. You may have noticed I’m also a fantasy geek.
Favourite place to read?

 

In bed, snuggled under the duvet with a hot water bottle and a dog for company.
Any hidden talents?

 

I can roll my eyes in different directions (I don’t do it often because it’s been known to make people feel a bit sick).
What fictional world would you love to live in?

 

Ooh! What a great question. This is something I think about a lot, and I can never decide. Probably somewhere like Robin McKinley’s Damar, or Diana Wynne Jones’s Chrestomanci or Dark Lord of Derkholm worlds (I mean – griffin brothers and sisters. How cool is that?). I like the idea of a magical and quasi-historical ‘world next door but one’, which is what I have on my Twitter profile as the place I live. (I’d have to be one of the magic users, though – that kind of goes without saying). I also have my very own like-to-live-in world in my head, with bits stolen from all the books I love best. If only…

 


Massive thanks to Lucy for taking part today.

You can pre-order Cleo here and visit Lucy’s website here.

And now for something even more exciting (if you think you can handle more excitement!)

Lucy is very kindly giving away a copy of Cleo and an awesome Cleo mug to one lucky entrant of this giveaway. You can enter below via some of the usual means, plus a few Egyptian themed questions to spice things up a bit.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: The Year of the Rat (Clare Furniss)


23652426

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 352
Release Date: January 1st 2014
Summary (From Goodreads):

To Pearl, there’s nothing sweet about her premature half-sister, Rose. It was Rose that caused her mother’s death and Rose that turned her world upside down.

To Pearl, Rose is The Rat.
Achingly sad, yet refreshingly real, The Year of The Rat will make you laugh, cry and hold your loved ones a little bit tighter.

Review:

I don’t know why I keep reading these books about grief that make my heart ache so. But I do, and I’ve found yet another one that is beautifully written and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, despite expecting it to not be ‘my kinda thing’.

My favourite thing about this book was how raw and honest it felt. Pearl’s grief is ugly and she has thoughts that you wouldn’t ever tell anyone and that’s why it’s so important to read a book like this. Because no one is alone in these ugly thoughts, and it’s a relief to hear someone else having them.

I didn’t always like Pearl, but I always felt empathy for her, which I think was the important point. She did do some things which I struggled to understand, but I guess that’s what grief can do to you. I really wanted her to love her sister, and felt like she was warming towards her by the end, but I could see how difficult it would be, considering the situation.

The other characters in the book were all lovable in their own way, from Pearl’s step-dad who tried so hard to keep everything together, even as Pearl pushed him away, to her rather overbearing Grandmother who means well, and her dead mother who tries to make light of even the most serious of situations.

Although it’s very sad, this is also a really warming read. I think the best thing about it is that, by the end, Pear isn’t over her mother’s death. She’s ready to accept that she’s gone, but it doesn’t try and make out that everything is okay: it’s still only the beginning of a long and painful journey, but we’ve seen a tiny part of Pearl’s grief road.

My Verdict:




Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!




If you enjoyed this, you may also like The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson


Book Review: Cleo (Lucy Coats)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Orchard Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: May 7th 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Her precious mother is dead – and it isn’t an accident! The young Cleopatra – Pharaoh’s illegitimate daughter – must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis’s power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis’s power – on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot Librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo’s powerful destiny is about to unfold…

Gorgeous and evocative, this captivating new YA novel imagines the life of the teenage Cleopatra before she became the icon we think we know.

Review:

We used to holiday in Egypt when I was younger and it started a passion for all things Ancient Egyptian in me, so I was immediately drawn to this book (that and the gorgeous cover). I read something vaguely similar when I was a teen and I remember, much as I loved it as it fed my Egypt obsession, I struggled a bit with the voice – it was too formal and foreign for me and it was hard to connect with.

I found the opposite with Cleo. The voice and dialogue were modern and actually very relatable: I loved the way her and Charm called each other little names like ‘Princess of Pain’ and ‘Beater of Bruises’ – it’s just the kind of thing I do with my best friend. But because everything was so modern it was sometimes difficult to remember everything was happening in Ancient Egypt.

As I said, I have a great interest in Egypt and I even did a study on Cleopatra once (on if she deserved her reputation as a temptress – very interesting but in this story it’s probably a bit early for that reputation!) I thought I’d probably know how the story would go, but I was very wrong. Cleo isn’t really a re-telling of Cleopatra’s life, but a complete re-imagining of it.

I loved the idea of Cleo seeing the gods and being the Chosen of Isis. Hearing about the relationships between the gods and the effects this had on the country was really interesting, as were the little bits of history and lore dropped in. It never felt too preachy or info-dumpy, but there was enough to give you a rich sense of setting.

When it came to Cleo herself, I thought she was best at the end of the book. Much as she said she didn’t want to be a whiny princess, sometimes I found her to be just that. But when she was facing off with her sisters (though I did wish she’d stop calling them Evil Sow Sisters quite so much) she really came into her own. I’d love to see more of that: the political power play, dodging round what you really want to say. It was very dangerous and empowering and I loved seeing how she handled herself against them.

I thought the romance was a touch insta-love for my liking, but I’m also a massive romance cynic so it’s probably just me. I liked that Cleo knew him from before we start reading her story and would love to see more of a connection there. I hope there’s more story to come for her and Khai as I’d love to see their relationship build. But the relationship I really loved was Cleo and Charm’s: they’re the perfect best friends and Charm had me quite charmed (cheesy I know, sorry!)

The ending frustrated me, only because I wanted to see what happens next. Gotta love a good cliffhanger! Much as it annoyed me, I knew it was the right place to end. The tension and drama was unrelenting and it marked the end of the first part of Cleo’s journey, and I look forward to seeing where her adventure goes next.

4

Check here see my interview with Lucy Coats for the #CountdownYA event or here to see her guest post on where she writes for YAShot 2015

Top Five… Bad Book Habits

So this post has been a while in the making. I’ve been thinking about it since a #UKYAChat near the beginning of the year, where we talked about our bad bookish habits. I had a few stories then (mostly just me being careless, like when I lost several book pages into the Nile…) but I’ve been thinking about it more lately and noticing when I do bad things. 
So here are my Top Five Bad Book Habits:

5.
Not taking care of books

This book is sellotaped together and has several loose pages, rips and blemishes. But only because I love it so much and it’s been read so often.

I used to be super careful of my books and would freak out if a page got creased or the cover got a little scuffed. I’ve learned to let go a bit now, and some of my favourite books are the ones that are the most battered. It just shows they’ve been well read and well loved. 

4.
Not lending books


Ever. I can’t do it any more. I’m too worried that someone will ruin it, or never give it back. Every time someone mentions borrowing a book I will skilfully steer the conversation away until it’s forgotten. No one takes my books!

3.
Re-reading the same things

I can’t count how many times I’ve read this book. And I’m planning on doing it again soon…
All the time. Seriously, I spent the last few years going over and over the same books. In a way that’s nice, as there are some books that I think I could just love off forever. But I’ve been forcing myself to read new things this year, and I’ve discovered so many great books as a result of that.

2.
Judging books by their covers

21936988
How gorgeous is this cover?!
I did a post on this a while back. I know the saying goes not to judge a book by it’s cover, but if we weren’t meant to do that then what are covers for?! But still, it has got me in ‘trouble’ in the past, with gorgeous covers luring me in to a terrible story, and inconspicuous covers secretly containing genius stories.


1.
Skipping to the end

20957276
There’s so many last sentence cliffhangers in this book and I kept pre-reading them all


I do this all the time. Sometimes it’s the end of the book, and I can’t resist sneaking a peak at the last few sentences. But I’ve noticed recently that I do it more often than I thought, with the last sentence of a chapter. Especially on books that end with cliffhangers, like The Maze Runner series – every time the end of a chapter came up my eyes flicked there automatically. It’s like I have to spoil things for myself! 
Does anyone else have any bad book habits you’d like to get rid of, or have grown to love?


Book Review: Stardust (Neil Gaiman)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads

#RandomRead

Publisher: Headline Review

Pages: 194

Release Date: First published in 1988

Summary (From Goodreads):

One fateful night, Tristran promises his beloved that he will retrieve a fallen star for her from beyond the Wall that stands between their rural English town (called, appropriately, Wall) and the Faerie realm. No one ever ventures beyond the Wall except to attend an enchanted flea market that is held every nine years (and during which, unbeknownst to him, Tristran was conceived). But Tristran bravely sets out to fetch the fallen star and thus win the hand of his love.

Review:

I picked this book for Stacey as part of our Random Reads feature. I only really picked it because I wanted to read it, have been meaning to for a while, and thought this would be the good nudge along that I needed.

While as a whole I did enjoy this book, I found there was just something lacking in it for me.

I wasn’t really sure, going in, what age it was aimed at, and coming out I’m still not certain. Sometimes it read very much like a fairytale for younger readers, and then there was violence and sex which you wouldn’t really expect to find in a book for younger readers.

I struggled to get into it at first, as I just didn’t find the first few pages very gripping. It took me a while to warm up to the story, and just when I thought I was getting invested in the characters, I found they took a back seat as Tristan came into it as the main character. While this is quite common in fairy tales in general, I found here it just didn’t help me get into the story.

I loved the character of the Star: her grouchiness and snarky remarks to Tristan made me laugh and I liked how they both saved each other, rather than her being a typical damsel in distress. Their relationship grew very naturally as well, even if it was obvious what was going to happen.

There were so many tantalising bits of information dropped in that really helped to populate the Faerie realm and bring it to life. My only complaint there would be that I wanted to find more about their stories! I was especially intrigued by the squirrel searching for the Acorn of Truth.

I loved the witches and, again, wanted to find out more of their life and history than the glimpse we got. The thing that disappointed me was the climax, as I expected a little more of a showdown between the Star and the witch: the ending fell a little flat for me.

While I did enjoy this, I found it was too much like an extended, classic fairy tale. You know how when you read a Grimm tale (I’ve been doing a lot of that lately) and you get the story, you know what happened but you don’t really get a real sense of the characters? That’s how Stardust felt for me: I didn’t feel part of the story, I was very much on the outside, watching.

My Verdict:

3

You can pop over to Stacie’s blog and see her review here.

Book Review: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)

This review is part of Stacie and Maia’s Random Reads
#RandomReads

893136

Publisher: Black Swan
Pages: 560
Release Date: September 2005
Summary (From Goodreads):

HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES
Review:

I have a bit of a history with this book, which I will be posting about in my Random Reads discussion next week. I was pleased when Stacie chose it for me to read, as it’s been so long since I first read it that I can’t really remember what I thought of it.

For anyone who doesn’t know (and hasn’t read the summary above), one of the most interesting things about this book is its narrator. Rather than being narrated by Liesel, the protagonist, her story is told through the eyes of Death, who watches Liesel and visits her three times.

This is a really different quirk and Death’s narrative voice adds a lot to the story. The book is full of rich metaphors that I think work well because they’re told from the point of view of someone who isn’t human, or seeing things like us. Death notices colours a lot and describes things in a way we probably wouldn’t.

This is a good point and a bad one in my mind, as, while sometimes I think it creates a really beautiful picture of what’s happening, other times I feel like I’m trawling through metaphor after simile after metaphor. It all got a bit much after a while, and I sometimes found myself pausing to puzzle over what a metaphor actually meant, which brought me out of the story.

The second world war setting, along with Death narration, brings something very ominous to the story. You know vaguely where it’s going to go – not in a predictable way, just in a ‘Oh no, awful things are going to happen’ kind of way. It also creates characters that you can’t help but love in that difficult position. A favourite for me is Hans, Liesel’s adoptive Papa who comforts her in her nightmares, teaches her to read and disagrees with the Nazi party, even as he tries to placate them to keep his family safe. It’s a complicated situation, one impossible to win really, but he tries so hard to do the right thing.

Liesel herself is a great protagonist – strong, smart, and ultimately flawed in a way that makes her relatable. Sometimes she says awful thing because she is unhappy, she does or doesn’t do things she regrets, and that just makes her all the more loveable.

I sometimes found the language a little jarring – often people will say something in German, and then the translation is given too, as if they said that as well. This probably annoys me because I speak German so it was like reading the same phrase/similar thing twice, but when the majority of dialogue is in English it did feel a bit odd.

The ending is a really bitter sweet one. Which is how I often say I like my endings, although this one has a lot more for the bitter and a lot less of the sweet. But there’s something about it that makes me not want to describe it as wholly sad. But you shall have to read and judge for yourself, I don’t want to spoil anything here!

This is a really beautiful book and you can see why it appeals to adults and younger readers alike, and why it is so internationally read. Reading after such a long time has been like reading it for the first time and I can safely say now it is definitely a book I enjoy, just a little heavy handed with the metaphors for me.

My Verdict:


Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

Check out Stacie’s review of The Book Thief here

Top 10 UKYA Life Affirming Reads – #UKYADAY

Today, April 12th, has been coined UKYA Day by Lucy at Queen of Contemporary. There’s a ton of web-based events happening which anyone can join in with (schedule here) so there’s plenty for everyone to get involved with.
Us bloggers have been asked to do our own posts on UKYA and, after much debate (and a failed acrostic poem – too many As and Ys!) I have decided to do my Top 10 UKYA Life Affirming Reads.
Life Affirming Reads to me, are ones that change you, books that, once you’ve read, you can’t imagine never having read them. Some of mine are recent reads that I think everyone should have a go at, others are old favourites of mine that I don’t want to be forgotten (and would also like to talk to about with people, so if you’ve read them then please chat with me!)
These are numbered 1-10 but they’re not in a particular order. I can’t do that with favourite books, it changes on an almost daily basis!
1
8621462
Patrick Ness

I could have chosen any number of Ness’ books: he really is one of my favourite authors, but I settled on this one. Partly because it’s really two authors: Ness who wrote it, and Siobhan Dowd, whose idea it was and who sadly died before she could write it. It also has a number of beautiful quotes about stories which I find inspiring.
Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” 
2
21805717
Louise O’Neill

Not only was this book the winner of the first ever YA book prize, it was completely unputdownable (yes, that is a word – now at least) and unlike anything I’d ever read. I really think it’s one of those books that everyone needs to read – but especially young girls. The world O’Neill has created may be a more exaggerated version of our future, but it really highlights the way women and girls are treated and mistreated in our society.
3

2833638

Song Quest
Katherine Roberts


I loved the whole Echorium Sequence but the first was easily my favourite. I think if this was released today it would do so well: it’s such a rich, well developed fantasy world with really strong female characters. I’d love to see people reading it again, because I really think it’s one that stands the test of time (it’s not really old, just published in 1999). I loved that I read this when I was around 10, and when my sister got to that age (9 years later) she read it and loved it too.

4

23711685

Seed
Lisa Heathfield


I loved the story of Seed and am so excited for it to come out and everyone to read it. But what I loved most about it was the language: it’s just really beautiful. The way Pearl, the narrator, sees and describes the world around her is so evocative and fresh, just thinking about it makes me want to read it all over again.

5

23058402

The Art of Being Normal
Lisa Williamson


This is the first book I’ve read where the two P.O.V characters are transgender, and I hope it’s the first of many. The need for diverse books is higher than ever right now, and it’s so important that this happens in our YA: young people need to see all sides of society, not just the ones they grow up in, and where better to do this in a book?

6

714902

Noughts and Crosses
Malorie Blackman


Malorie Blackman is just the Queen of YA to me. I saw her talk at the Birmingham Literature Festival last year and she was an absolute inspiration. Listening to her talk was just like a dream. She’s so open and honest and talked a lot about racism which she faced when she was younger, which I found really shocking. Her Noughts and Crosses book was an obsession of mine when I was younger, and another book I just think everyone needs to read. 

7

34501

A Hat Full of Sky
Terry Pratchett


Terry Pratchett is another where I could choose any number of his books. I’ve chosen this one because it was the first I read, and the one that introduced me to his writing and to Discworld. I aim to read a lot more of his work this year and know that, even though he’s not with us any more his work will live on for much longer.

8

23357071

Frozen Charlotte
Alex Bell

This book was the first I read in the Red Eye and it opened my eyes to a whole new world: that of YA horror. I’d read the usual Goosebumps and Point Horror when I was younger, but hadn’t found anything I could enjoy as an older reader. The series has been of a high quality so far, but this was by far the best for me, and it started a new hunger in me for YA horror.

9

His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman.
His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman


I don’t think you can talk about UKYA without mentioning Philip Pullman and this incredible trilogy. It celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, with some beautiful new editions released and some great readalongs and giveaways in the blogging world. Lyra was such an inspiration to me growing up, I think she’s a character everyone needs to experience.

10

585264

The Borrible Trilogy
Michael de Larrabeiti


This is one of those books that no one I know has read, and it’s one of my all time favourites (if you’ve read it please tell me!) The second book in this trilogy was removed from my auntie’s school’s library for being ‘inappropriate’ (minor swearing) and she passed it on to me. I fell in love with it instantly, but I think the life changing moment for me was when I found out now only was there a book before it, but a sequel too. It’s an oldish book but one I think anyone could still enjoy today, and I’d love to see people reading it.

Wishing everyone a very happy UKYA DAY!

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal (Lisa Williamson)


Publisher: David Fickling Books

Pages: 368

Release Date: January 1st 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

Review:

There was such a hype around this book this year, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it. In my defence, I guess it’s not really my type of thing – my usual diet is fantasy and sci-fi – but I’ve been branching out a lot this year and trying to get in a variety of books.

This book hits the spot on so many levels. I love the diversity of the characters: some are expected, given the nature of the book, but it’s just so refreshing to see a variety of people in a story, as you would in real life.

It’s easy to connect to David: he’s so brave and, despite everything that comes at him, he still manages, for the most part, to stay cheery. I was rooting for him from the beginning and spent most of the book praying that his parents would accept him and the people at school wouldn’t be mean to him. Although I guess there’d be little story there if everything went like that…

Leo is a great contrast to David, yet still manages to remain likeable. I loved the fact that I had no idea what Leo’s secret was: it came as a complete surprise to me, which could be me being a bit slow on the uptake, and on hindsight I felt it should have been obvious, but I love the fact it wasn’t.

I worried sometimes that it was veering into the cheesy, especially with the ‘alternative ball’ at the end, but any time I thought that it snapped me back with a cold dose of reality. The only character I didn’t get on too well with was Alicia – she sometimes felt a little manic pixie dream girl – but she did redeem herself towards the end.

There were a few really emotional moments, especially when David ‘came out’ as it were, to his parents. It got me teary eyed on the bus to work. I like how nothing really felt sugar-coated: things don’t always work out well, people aren’t always going to be accepting of these situations, but there will always be people who support and love you, and you have to do what’s right for you.

A little personal tangent…

This book made me reflect a lot on a friend I had at university. I made friends with James* in my second year, and when James became Lily** the next year we stayed the same, and for me, nothing really felt different. But this book made me think about how hard that must have been for her. While we had a group of friends who were all very accepting, I know she had problems with other people who were not so nice, and I hate the idea that any of them made her feel the way David does sometimes in this book.

Back to the book.

There’s a hype about this book for a reason, and it’s not just because it’s on a subject that not many people seem willing to talk about, especially not in YA fiction. It’s also beautifully written with honest, fragile characters that can teach us a lot about how we treat other people, whatever gender they identify with.

*I’m using fake names

** Apparently from Harry Potter…

My Verdict:


4

Book Review: Seed (Lisa Heathfield)

*I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 352

Release Date: April 16th 2015

Summary (From Goodreads):

Fifteen-year-old Pearl has lived her whole life protected within the small community at Seed, where they worship Nature and idolise their leader, Papa S. When some outsiders arrive, everything changes. Pearl experiences feelings that she never knew existed and begins to realise that there is darkness at the heart of Seed. A darkness from which she must escape, before it’s too late.

Review:

This is a simply stunning debut novel from Lisa Heathfield and I am itching to read the sequel.

I’ve not read a novel about a cult community like this one, but I have watched some films on the subject and read a lot around real life situations (Jonestown was the most recent one I looked up and it was very sad/scary to see how someone can control people like that).

If I were to start off with a criticism, it would probably be that the format for Seed is a little predictable. You know from the beginning that the perfect community they live in is going to slowly unwind, that Papa S is not going to be the merciful and blessed leader he pretends to be, and that someone from outside their community will convince the protagonist that not all is as it seems.

That may be a formula for novels like this (according to others, anyway) but it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of this at all. I raced through it: the prose is beautiful, full of little phrases and comments that really show Pearl’s sheltered life and how she relates everything to Nature.

I really connected with the characters. Pearl is great and I like that she didn’t sell out her lifestyle straight away: even when evidence is being presented to her, she only starts to doubt gradually, which felt natural as it would take a lot to really convince someone that everything they believe is a lie. I really felt everything she felt: her love for Papa S and Elizabeth, her confusion over Ellis and her complete belief in Nature and Seed.

The book could be quite disturbing in places, but it’s all very subtle and hinted at, rather than being explicit. The idea of Papa S’ Companion creeped me out, especially when it looked like Pearl might be next. The relationship between Kate and Kindred John also made me feel uncomfortable. Everything was enough to give me an idea of what was going on and make me doubt the perfection of Seed, but without making anything too awkward or upsetting.

The pace was fairly slow, which worked perfectly. It gave time to build the world and characters and meant that when the action started, it hit hard and fast and left you reeling.

This is a beautiful first novel and Heathfield’s prose weaves a truly magical and convincing world. The sequel in 2016 cannot come fast enough.

My Verdict:
4

Check out my soundtrack for Seed here

Book Review: You Against Me (Jenny Downham)

8720917

Publisher: Electric Monkey
Pages: 413
Release Date: December 2nd 2010
Summary (From Goodreads):

If someone hurts your sister and you’re any kind of man, you seek revenge, right?

If your brother’s accused of a terrible crime but says he didn’t do it, you defend him, don’t you?
When Mikey’s sister claims a boy assaulted her, his world begins to fall apart.
When Ellie’s brother is charged with the offence, her world begins to unravel.
When Mikey and Ellie meet, two worlds collide.

Review:

I picked up this book in hardcover at Waterstones for £1, which is crazy as it’s such a good book!

It’s a really interesting concept and one I struggled to pick a side on at first. It really is impossible. 

We start off with Mikey and his family, where we see the effect the assault is having on all of them. My sympathies immediately went out to Karen and her family and I didn’t think that could change.

Switch sides to Ellie as her brother comes out on bail. Once on her side, I couldn’t bring myself to believe Tom was guilty. Ellie couldn’t match that crime to her brother – the one who saved her from a vicious dog and took and interest in her and her friends – and neither could I. I did feel less invested in the rest of her family though. Her father was distant and throughout the book seemed much more interested in his son than his daughter. I also felt awkward at the idea of them having a party for Tom’s bail: I understood them showing they had nothing to be ashamed of but it still felt insensitive.

I didn’t see how Ellie and Mikey’s relationship could ever really develop: it was very much a case of Romeo & Juliet, a situation with impossible opposition from the two families. But I liked how they ended up drawn to each other, despite everything.

I don’t want to say too much else because it’s hard without giving away the plot. So I’ll just end by wrapping up and saying that this is a tense, emotional read that works beautifully told from two opposing perspectives. Give it a read!

My Verdict:




Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!