Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Carry On

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savor his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest, and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he’ll be safe. Simon can’t even enjoy the fact that his roommate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can’t stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you’re the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savor anything.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story — but far, far more monsters. {Goodreads Summary}

"I meet his gaze and sneer. My arm is a steel band around his waist. "I choose you," I say. "Simon Snow, I choose you.”

Carry On is the third Rowell novel I have read and it's the first novel I've finished this year by an author I have read before (Tolstoy doesn't count as the end of War & Peace is still twelve hours of reading time away...) It's also the third novel I've read this year written from multiple perspectives. 

“Just when you think you're having a scene without Simon, he drops in to remind you that everyone else is a supporting character in his catastrophe.”

I had seen a lot of love for Carry On online before I started reading it, but when I started I was a little disappointed and began to wonder what the hype was about. Then I read the first Baz chapter, and I was hooked. 

“Everyone’s still gossiping about where he’s been. The most popular rumours are “dark coming-of-age ceremony that left him too marked up to be in public” and “Ibiza.” 

I loved Baz. His perspective on the story was brilliant and not at all what I was expecting from Simon's complaints (which I guess was the point, but it still took me by surprise). I loved his dry humour and most of the funniest lines in the novel were his, but so were the most intense and the most romantic.

“Sharing a room with the person you want most is like sharing a room with an open fire.

He's constantly drawing you in. And you're constantly stepping too close. And you know it's not good--that there is no good--that there's absolutely nothing that can ever come of it.
But you do it anyway. 
And then...
Well. Then you burn.”

There are so many subtle Harry Potter references and parallels that I was thinking about them even while I wasn't reading. I had lots of fun spotting them. I also loved the pop culture references Rowell included through her spells (her whole concept of magic was really unique and interesting) and kept getting songs stuck in my head as a result. Despite being written by an American author, Carry On felt very British, from the language to the Bacadri Breezer references. Rowell has also given new meaning to the word 'numpty'.

“The front seat is for people who've never been kidnapped by bloody numpties. Jesus Christ, Baz.” 

I've purposely not included my favourite quote from the book, even though it appears four or five times in the Goodreads quote section, because I think you have to read it in-situ to get the full effect. When it occurs, at the end of one of Baz's first chapters, it starts the novel on a whole other level of amazingness. 

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Why We Love... Kipper

Picture Book Review: Kipper

I was already quite familiar with Kipper before Kipper's Visitor came out for World Book Day, as my younger sister used to watch the TV show and we had a few of the books when she was younger. I was really excited to introduce my daughter to another Mick Inkpen series, after the success of Zoe and Beans and Kipper's Visitor was a great introduction. It's a very simple story, but also very funny and my daughter loves shouting 'honk' when prompted. 

We picked up Kipper's Beach Ball from the library and it's been an instant hit. I was worried that there would be too many words on some of the pages to hold her attention, but that hasn't been the case at all. She is mesmerised by Kipper, Tiger and their beach ball and happy to listen to every word.

The books were re-released with new covers a couple of years ago to celebrate Kipper's 25th birthday (it turns out Kipper is older than me!). Unfortunately you can't buy them as a collection at the moment, so I think we'll be sticking to library copies for now as the entire series would be quite an investment. I will, however, definitely be digging out my sister's old copy of Kipper's A to Z next time I'm visiting my parents. Our Kipper adventure will definitely be continuing!

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Forbidden Wish

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

When Aladdin discovers Zahra's jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn't seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra's very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes. 

But when the King of the Jinn offers Zahra a chance to be free of her lamp forever, she seizes the opportunity—only to discover she is falling in love with Aladdin. When saving herself means betraying him, Zahra must decide once and for all: is winning her freedom worth losing her heart?

As time unravels and her enemies close in, Zahra finds herself suspended between danger and desire in this dazzling retelling of Aladdin {Goodreads Summary}

"Oh, my naive thief. " I pause briefly to meet his gaze. "Love is rarely a choice.” 

I love fairy tale retellings, which I guess is unsurprising since I've been working on some of my own. I also love Aladdin and One Thousand and One Nights, so I knew I was going to love The Forbidden Wish from the moment Khoury started posting about it on her facebook page. When I finally got to read it this month, it didn't disappoint. 

"As the poets say, stories are truth told through lies."

The Forbidden Wish is a story of magic, love and friendship. Friendship was so important in this novel and that was really great to see, especially since it is so often overlooked in YA. Zahra's friendship with Roshana was just as important to the plot as her relationship with Aladdin and the relationship Caspida (the princess) has with her handmaidens made them a formidable force. I would love to be a part of their gang. 

“There is only one thing more numerous than the stars,” I say, looking up to the heavens. “And that is the darkness that holds them.” 

The world Khoury creates was vivid, exotic and inviting. I hadn't read anything by her before, but I would definitely read more on the strength of The Forbidden Wish. 

“Because happiness itself is a mythical construct, a dream you humans tell yourselves to get through each day. It is the moon, and you, like the sun, pursue it relentlessly, chasing it around and around, getting nowhere.” 

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Why We Love... Blown Away

Picture Book Review: Blown Away

I first heard about Blown Away when it won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize last year. For some reason, the fact that it won the prize made me assume that I wouldn't enjoy it; I didn't want to read a stuffy 'critics choice' that was bound to be too artsy and clever for my lively toddler. I could not have been more wrong. 

When I saw Blown Away in the library, I decided we should give it a try. It was free to borrow, so we had nothing to lose in trying it. I am so pleased we did. Blown Away is brilliant. It's funny; it's easy to read aloud (it scans beautifully); and the pictures are adorable. As soon as I finished reading it, I turned back to the start and read it again. 

It's got the seal of approval from my toddler too - she's brought it over to me a number of times asking for the 'penguin story' (she's one and a half, so I'm translating here; what she actually says sounds a bit more like 'pen in stor', but it's enough for me to work out what she wants). Invariably, when I get to the end, she says 'again' and flicks back to the beginning. 

The moral behind this blog post is that picture book awards clearly know what they are talking about and I will never doubt them again. I'll be buying a copy of this year's winner, The Bear and the Piano, very soon!

Friday, 8 April 2016

A Writing Update

I haven't posted on of these in a while and it's long overdue. Here's what I'm up to, writing-wise, at the moment:

Mirrored Snow

Mirrored Snow is currently a featured story on Wattpad! I had so much fun writing this last year and it's great that it's now being shared with more people. 

Princess Charming

To celebrate Mirrored Snow making the featured list, I've started work on a companion short story called Princess Charming. It's a gender-reversal retelling of Cinderella and it's proving as much fun to write so far. Here's the synopsis: 

Every culture has its own version of Cinderella, whether it features glass slippers and fairy godmothers, or enchanted trees and magic fish, the love story endures and goodness is always rewarded. 
But in this story, Ella has been replaced by Elliot and her beloved prince is a princess severely lacking in charm. 
Elliot's step-father expects him to work from dawn until dusk, leaving him no time to miss the life of happiness and comfort he once knew. When the rest of his family are invited to a series of balls, held in honour of the Princess Charmaine's return from school, Elliot longs for a night off and the opportunity to reconnect with his childhood friend. But his step-father is busy plotting how his own son can win Charmaine's heart and doesn't want Elliot getting in the way. 
They will soon discover that Charmaine won't be easily charmed. She doesn't need a husband to rule by her side and she's going to use these balls to prove it. That is, until a friend from her past reappears and she discovers that falling in love doesn't have to mean losing control.

Amber & Ice

I think I might be on my fifth redraft now, although I'm losing count. More major plot changes being made, as well as more emphasis on explaining the tech and the way the world works. I'm really, really hoping to start querying agents about this later on in the year, although I need to come up with a new title first...

Thursday, 7 April 2016

April Books I'm Excited About

We're a week into April already and the April showers have come out in force. Do I need to go out in a rain coat, or sunglasses? Sandals or snow boots? Is the car going to be covered in blossom or frost? I wish the British weather would make up its mind! Until it does, I think I'll be safest tucked up indoors with some of the amazing books that are being published this month. These are the three I am looking forward to the most.

{published 19th April}

Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her pot-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor.

When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. Scarlett never considers what might happen if they were to find out what she truly thinks about them...until a dramatic series of events exposes a very different reality than Scarlett's stories, forever transforming her approach to relationships—both online and off. {Goodreads Summary}

Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here is a novel about a girl who starts writing fan fiction about her CLASSMATES. It's an idea so brilliant I sort of wish I'd had it while I was at school. I think this is going to be really funny and I can't wait to start reading it. 

The Rose and The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
 {published 26th April}

In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse—one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid's empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner caught between loyalties to people she loves. But she refuses to be a pawn and devises a plan.

While her father, Jahandar, continues to play with magical forces he doesn't yet understand, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love. {goodreads summary}

I think I gushed about The Wraith and The Dawn enough in my review for it to come as no surprise that I am very, very excited for the sequel. I'm not really sure where this story is going to go next, but I'm hoping for more magical elements, as well as romance, of course.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
{published 26th April}

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father's kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran's queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar's wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire...

But Akaran has its own secrets -- thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most. . .including herself. {goodreads summary}

Bustle described this as "a loose interpretation of the Cupid and Psyche tale woven into Hindu mythology" and the Classics geek in me wanted to pre-order it immediately. Chokshi's Pinterest board for the novel is really pretty too.

Happy reading everyone!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Six of Crows

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone... A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.  A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first. {Goodreads summary}

“Six people, but a thousand ways this insane plan could go wrong.”

Following my initial disappointment that All of the Above wasn't told from multiple perspectives, it was great to be able to move onto one that was! Six of Crows follows the adventures of a crew of criminal masterminds in the making, written from the perspective of five of them. The varying perspectives gave the novel a unique and exciting twist, and I was never disappointed when they switched as they were equally interesting. I'm not entirely sure why the sixth member didn't get chapters of his own (I spent most of the novel expecting him to die at any moment as a result!)  

“Kaz leaned back. "What's the easiest way to steal a man's wallet?"

"Knife to the throat?" asked Inej.
"Gun to the back?" said Jesper.
"Poison in his cup?" suggested Nina.
"You're all horrible," said Matthias.” 

When I started Six of Crows, I didn't actually realise that it was a companion novel to a trilogy; I'm not sure how, but Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy has managed to completely pass me by, but that's something I plan on correcting very soon. However, I would definitely say that you don't need to have read the previous series to enjoy Six of Crows; the world building is so fantastic that I never felt as though I was missing information or back story.

“How are you finding our country?” “It’s a magical place,” Nina gushed. If you like ice and more ice.”

The writing in this novel is beautiful. Spending a lot of time in GCSE English lessons means that my brain is subconsciously on a constant lookout for 'literary techniques' and there is some beautifully constructed imagery in this book:

“The heat of the incinerator wrapped around Inej like a living thing, a desert dragon in his den, hiding from the ice, waiting for her. She knew her body’s limits, and she knew she had no more to give. She’d made a bad wager. It was as simple as that. The autumn leaf might cling to its branch, but it was already dead. The only question was when it would fall.” 

I could definitely write a PEEL point on the imagery in that paragraph. But literary analysis aside, it's just so nice to read. 

"Being angry at Kaz for being ruthless is like being angry at a stove for being hot. You know what he is.” 

“The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true.” 

One of my favourite things about Six of Crows was the relationships between the different characters. Not just romantic ones, but friendships and, with a melting pot of different personalities and beliefs, the tensions. I particularly loved the arguments. 

“It's not natural for women to fight."

"It's not natural for someone to be as stupid as he is tall, and yet there you stand.” 

Trying to narrow down quote options for this review was really hard. I could have posted a review entirely made up of my favourite quotes, but at that point, you may as well just go and read the book. 

Go on. You really, really should. 

"Well, we've managed to get ourselves locked into the most secure prison in the world. We're either geniuses or the dumbest sons of bitches to ever breathe air.”