Happy Things #3

I’m currently away with work so I didn’t think I was going to manage to post this week, but happily I’ve been left alone for a bit and have a working internet connection, so I thought I’d better make the most of it.

Unfortunately, this week has been as rubbish as the last and so I only have one happy thing to post, but it’s a doozy.

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My happiest thing by far last week was the BBC following through on the implied promise they’d been making all season, and cast Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor in Doctor Who. I’ll admit, I was absolutely convinced they would go for their usual ‘safe’ choice (and I also know that this is only a teeny step forward and casting a WoC would have been an even better choice), but they surprised me and I screamed with happiness. Also, Jodie Whittaker is awesome and I love her.

So there you have my one happy thing from the last week. (OK, this is a lie. I was also happy that #UKYAChat was back after a hiatus and it was glorious, but it also took place when I’d just got back from a funeral, so I wasn’t in the best headspace.) What made you happy this week? Are you as chuffed as I am that we have a female Doctor? Let me know in the comments!

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Book Review: Blackwing

Blackwing by Ed McDonald has been gathering a fair amount of hype in the last few months. A debut released on the 27th July, it’s epic fantasy in the tradition of grimdark, and the proof copies are just magnificent – so when Stevie Finegan at Gollancz offered some out to bloggers, I jumped at the chance. And you know what? It deserves the hype.

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It’s been a while since I read an epic fantasy, but Blackwing was the perfect book to get back into the genre. The worldbuilding is stunning – I was able to vividly picture The Misery and Valengrad, as well as the various heroes and villains, and I’m not sure I’ve ever come across as creepy a bad guy as the Darling. There’s plenty of blood and guts too, and the very real consequences of the war being fought are clear. I also loved the idea of the Nameless Ones, and the way they’ve mostly abandoned the general populace, just when they need them most.

The plot rockets along and is full of surprises. There’s a definite Game of Thrones-y sense that you don’t want to get too attached to any of the characters, because there’s a higher than average chance they’re not going to last very long. It did take me a little while to get into, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. I had plenty of things I needed to be doing last Sunday, but not one of them actually got done, for which I entirely blame Ed McDonald for writing such an addictive book!

The real strength of Blackwing, though, is in the characters. Galharrow is a bit of a bastard, yes, but it’s born of the things he has done and witnessed. I loved the hints of his past with Ezabeth, and how it affects his present. I especially loved his relationships with Nenn and Tnota – this is a group who have been through thick and thin together, and it shows in their every interaction. Nenn will call Galharrow on his bullshit, but trust him when it counts, and he will do the same for her, and I loved that you could see that came from their experiences together, without it needing to be explicitly said. They’re a fantastic group of characters, and I’m hoping it’s not too long before I get to meet them again.

In short, if you are a fan of epic fantasy (or, y’know, books in general), you need to read this book. It’s a stunning debut novel and it absolutely deserves the hype it’s been getting.

4.5/5

ARC received from Gollancz in exchange for an honest review. Thanks Stevie!

June Wrap-Up

I’m aware that this is rather late. We are nearly halfway through July after all, but life has, sadly, been getting in the way again. I didn’t want to miss another month’s wrap-up though so here we are.

June Reading

I only read 8 books in June, which is definitely a disappointment. It wasn’t helped by having a different bedtime book to my daytime book, but I really wanted to read my lovely new house edition of Harry Potter! Anyway, this month’s books were:

Three of them I read in one day, so it really wasn’t a good reading month. At least I managed some reviews? And while I may not have managed a great quantity, I really enjoyed all of those books, so the quality was great! I haven’t managed any great progress on my YALC TBR though, so I am rapidly revising which authors I need to see at the end of the month. Two of those books were from Netgalley though, and two others were review copies, so I’m happy with that, if nothing else.

June Book Haul

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So normally this is where I would have taken a picture of all the books I acquired in June but, er, it turns out I can’t remember which ones they were. Oops. The books above are the ones I already had photos of, but there are about three weeks’ worth not shown! Two of them are review copies, which I’m really pleased about, and that set of Alison Croggan books were a prize in a twitter competition from Walker Books, which I was amazed to win. I haven’t had a chance to start them yet, but they look awesome!

Events

I only went to one event this month, which was Juno Dawson on the tour for her latest book, The Gender Games. It was a really good event, and I always love listening to Juno talk, but unfortunately I was streaming with cold and wasn’t at my best. I was supposed to also be going to an event in Manchester, but it was cancelled.

Looking Ahead

Obviously the main event in July is YALC, which starts on the 28th. I am so looking forward to this it is unbelievable. The schedule was released last Friday, so I know the panels and signings I want to go to – now I just need to work out how I’m going to manage it! Reading wise, I’m going to concentrate on my YALC TBR. I’m currently re-reading Prisoner of Azkaban, so I’ll finish that and put the Potter re-read on hold until after YALC. Netgalley books are also going to have to wait! On the 17th August I’ll be taking part in my second blog tour, for T is for Tree, so keep an eye out for that review (the book, btw, looks absolutely gorgeous, and you can find out more about it and read a sample on the Ink Roads website).

How was your June? What have you got planned for July? Let me know in the comments!

 

Happy Things #2

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Last week was an absolute stinker in many ways, and as a result my mental health took a nosedive and a lot of things went to the wall. Including the blog. I’m fairly certain that there are reviews that now won’t get written, but sometimes you have to take a step back to process. However, I’ve decided the best way to put all that behind me is to concentrate on the positives, so it’s time for the happy things of the last two weeks.

Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, with some of my favourite members of the New Adventures company. A weekend in London. Angels in America, which was fantastic. Meeting Andrew Garfield and Russell Tovey (among others). A long walk in the sunshine. Excellent books. The biggest, most needed cup of tea in the world, provided by someone who didn’t need to be asked. Listening to Matt Haig talk about How to Stop Time. Book club and excellent people. My dad’s birthday. Family barbecue. Fab book post. A day spent reading. Three hours in Starbucks talking books and Doctor Who. A phone call with my best friend. An empty office at work. Finding out my favourite character is returning to a TV show. Spider-Man: Homecoming.

What’s made you happy recently? Let me know in the comments!

The YALC Survival Guide

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As Top Ten Tuesday is on hiatus this week, and it’s been announced that the YALC schedule will be released on Friday, I thought now might be a good time to do a YALC survival guide. I know that some of you are going for the first time this year, so I hope you find this useful! (I also highly recommend reading this post by Amber over at The Mile Long Bookshelf, which she wrote before last year’s YALC, especially if you suffer from anxiety.)

1. Stay hydrated

YALC takes place at the end of July, and it tends to be hot. There is air-conditioning on site, but there are a lot of people there and it’s not always effective. You’re going to need to be drinking water regularly, or you’re going to do yourself damage. And I do mean water – caffeinated drinks aren’t going to help. This is really the most important tip I can give you, and is true of any con you might go to. It’s remarkably easy to forget!

2. Plan

There’s a lot going on at YALC, so you’re going to want to take advantage of these few weeks with the schedule to work out how you’re going to best use your time. Related to this…

3. Accept you’re not going to be able to do everything

Seriously. Come to terms with that now, and your time at YALC will be a lot pleasanter! It is impossible to make it to every signing, panel and workshop. Usually how it works is there’ll be a panel, and then straight after that, the panellists will go to their signing tables and sign for around 90 minutes (well, it’s scheduled for about 90 minutes. Some go on much longer). In the course of that 90 minutes, the next panel will start. If you were in the first panel, you’re not going to be at the front of the signing queue for any of those authors, let alone all of them, so you’re probably going to miss at least some of the next panel, and so it goes on. Last year I missed a panel I really wanted to see because I messed up and was still in Patrick Ness’s signing line. This did mean I was right at the front of V E Schwab’s line though. The big name authors like Ness, Schwab, Laini Taylor, E Lockhart and probably Ryan Graudin are going to have HUGE queues, and you need to take that into account when you plan.

4. Don’t overdo it

Take breaks. Remember to eat. There are places within Olympia where you can buy food, but they’re expensive, so I recommend taking something with you. There are small supermarkets in the vicinity, and a bigger Tesco in Hammersmith tube station, but remember that everyone else probably has the same idea, so they sell out of stuff quickly. If you feel ill, or that you’re running out of cope, tell someone. Everyone’s really friendly, and they’ll help you. I nearly fainted at one point last year, and the people manning the Electric Monkey stand were lovely to me when I asked if I could sit down there.

5. Follow the publishers on twitter/instagram

There are always a ton of publisher stands, and they do regular giveaways. The best way to find out about these is to follow their social media accounts. I don’t use instagram, so I can’t help you there, but some twitter accounts you might find useful are: @HQYoungAdult@BooksWithBiteUK@WalkerBooksYA/@WalkerBooksUK@Chapter5Books@EMTeenFiction (Electric Monkey), @HotKeyBooks. There are others, but these are a start.

6. Take cash

All those publisher stands? They sell books, often at a discount. Although a lot of them have card machines, they rely on the wifi at Olympia and it’s not great, especially when there are thousands of people trying to use it at the same time. There are also cash machines on site, but again, remember there are a lot of people who’ll be wanting to use them and they *will* run out of money, so bring what you want to spend in cash. This will also stop you accidentally bankrupting yourself, which I very almost did two years ago. Not my finest hour! It’s also worth bearing in mind though that the publishers won’t be selling books of the authors officially attending – those you have to buy from the Waterstones stand, and they won’t have any offers on them.

7. Take a break

I know, I know. I already mentioned this in number 4, but it’s really important. A day at YALC is EXHAUSTING. If you’re doing more than one day, imagine what you’re going to feel like by Sunday. You need to take breaks. There’s a lovely chill-out area with beanbags, deckchairs and books, so take advantage of it. You can also leave the site and come back in if you need some fresh air. I know you’re probably thinking that there’s no way you’ll have time to do that, but seriously, make time. It’s worth it.

8. Don’t be afraid to approach people

I’m a bit wary of saying this, because it’s not true of all authors, but many of them are perfectly happy to be approached as they’re wandering the convention. I’m not saying pounce on them with your entire collection of their books, but if you want to say hi and have a bit of a fangirl/boy at them, many of them won’t mind. A lot of authors are there as fans as well as professionally, and they understand. At the same time, *please* be aware of their need for a break and personal space too, and if they make it clear they are not up for being approached, respect that.

9. Work out in advance how you’re going to carry your books

Each time I’ve been to YALC, I’ve come back with a lot of books. And I mean a LOT. Mostly I’ve carried them around with me in tote bags (it’s a publishing event; you will be overwhelmed by tote bags!) but that’s not great for my shoulders or my back. Two years ago I ended up having to get the bus back to Euston – which took about 2 hours because of Friday rush hour – because I could not possibly carry those books to the tube station. It’s definitely something to think about – and remember that if you’re coming from a distance, you also have to get those books home with you. I know, terrifying isn’t it?

10. Talk to people

Everyone at YALC is a fan like you. You will find people you can squee with while you’re queuing to meet your favourite author, people you can argue passionately with about who you ship, people who love the same things you do. But only if you talk to them. I know it’s scary, but I’ve honestly met some great people at YALC, and the advent of social media (god, I sound so old) means you can keep in touch with them so easily. Last year, I met someone in the queue to get in, who turned out to live half an hour away from me. We’ve been to at least five local book signings together in the last year. The last day at YALC last year, I met the lovely Alice while queuing for a signing, and I’m looking forward to seeing her again this year. It’s worth making the effort to start up a conversation, although again, respect people’s personal boundaries.

11. Have fun!

Yeah, nothing to add to this one, just enjoy yourself.

I hope that’s a little bit helpful to those of you going to YALC this year. This will be my fourth year, and I really do love it. If you think I’ve missed anything out, or you have questions, please let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books I’ve Read in 2017 So Far

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week’s theme is best books read in 2017 so far. I feel I’ve been very lucky in the books I’ve read so far this year, so I might struggle to choose ten! In no particular order then.

1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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3. Release by Patrick Ness

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4. A Conjuring of Light by V E Schwab

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5. The Scarecrow Queen by Melinda Salisbury

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6. All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

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7. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

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8. Forever Geek by Holly Smale

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9. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

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10. Shattered Minds by Laura Lam

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Oof, that was hard to narrow down! All five star reads, which pleases me greatly. What are the best books you’ve read this year? Are any of mine on your list? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Devil’s Poetry

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Today is my spot on the blog tour for The Devil’s Poetry by Louise Cole, and I was thrilled when Faye asked me if I wanted to participate because the book sounded right up my alley!

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Questions are dangerous but answers can be deadly.

Callie’s world will be lost to war – unless she can unlock the magic of an ancient manuscript. She and her friends will be sent to the front line. Many of them won’t come back. When a secret order tells her she can bring peace by reading from a book, it seems an easy solution – too easy. Callie soon finds herself hunted, trapped between desperate allies and diabolical enemies. The Order is every bit as ruthless as the paranormal Cadaveri.

Callie can only trust two people – her best friend and her ex-marine bodyguard. And they are on different sides. She must decide: how far will she go to stop a war?

Dare she read this book? What’s the price – and who pays it?

Commended in the Yeovil Prize 2016, this is an action-packed blend of adventure, fantasy and love story.

How cool is it to have a book where the hero’s superpower is reading? I loved the concept of The Devil’s Poetry because the idea of being able to change the world by reading a book is actually pretty empowering, if a little scary. I’m not sure I’d want that much responsibility, and I liked that Callie, our heroine, felt the same way. She wanted to consider all the information before making the decision, and I loved that she was relatively sensible about being thrust into an adventure.

The Devil’s Poetry is set in the near future, and therefore the world looks very familiar. The war that Callie needs to stop seems a realistic one, and it certainly added to the power of the book for me. Callie’s world is our world a few wrong steps in the future and that definitely gave the whole concept some extra heft.

There was a lot to like about The Devil’s Poetry. The scenes where we first meet the Cadaveri, and realise who they’re after, are exhilarating, as are the scenes at the end. I loved that we got the point of view of Cyrus, the leader of this particular band of Cadaveri, too, as it raised questions about who the good and bad guys actually were – there’s clearly a history there that hasn’t been fully disclosed yet, and while I’m disappointed it wasn’t in this book, I’m intrigued by it nevertheless. In fact, I liked all the points of view we got, as it gave a nicely rounded feel to the narrative, and also let us in on what was happening elsewhere. I loved Amber, who goes above and beyond the duties of a best friend time and again, and I even quite liked Ella. Callie herself is a strong, independent character who’s also not afraid of showing that she’s, well, afraid, and confused. I was never particularly convinced by her romance with Jace though, which was a shame (and honestly might be down to the fact he was introduced as a teaching assistant in the school she attended and teacher/student relationships squick me).

The Devil’s Poetry is an interesting book, with some very strong features. I would have liked to see more of the history of the Order and the Cadaveri, and there are some events which should definitely leave Callie much more traumatised than she is, but overall I enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel.

The Devil’s Poetry was published on the 13th June by Kindle Press and is available to buy here. Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour in the banner below!

3/5

I received a copy of the ebook from Faye Rogers in exchange for an honest review

About the author

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Louise Cole has spent her life reading and writing. And very occasionally gardening. Sometimes she reads as she gardens. She can be seen walking her dogs around North Yorkshire – she’s the one with a couple of cocker spaniels and a Kindle. She read English at Oxford – read being the operative word – and hasn’t stopped reading since.

In her day-job she is an award-winning journalist, a former business magazine editor and director of a media agency. She writes about business but mainly the business of moving things around: transport, logistics, trucks, ships, and people.

Her fiction includes short stories, young adult thrillers, and other stuff which is still cooking.

Her YA and kids’ fiction is represented by Greenhouse Literary Agency and she is also published on Amazon as one of the Marisa Hayworth triumvirate.

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Happy Birthday Harry Potter

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Twenty years ago today, a little book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published and somehow changed the world. I was 17 when it came out, far too old to be taking any notice of children’s books, so it was another three years before I read it at the insistence of my friend. The first four books were published at that point; I read them six times that year.

I was too old by then for Harry Potter to change my life in any significant way. I didn’t spend my childhood waiting for my Hogwarts letter. I didn’t learn how to let my imagination run wild – Blyton and Lewis had taught me that many years earlier. But what it did was this: Harry Potter made it cool to read children’s books, even if you were an adult. I think it’s fair to say that without that little revelation, I wouldn’t be here posting this today. We still get judged for it by small-minded people, of course we do, but there are more of us than there are of them.

And that, of course, is the other thing Harry brought me – a community. One of the greatest experiences of my life was sitting down with a group of fellow fans in the Palace Theatre just over a year ago. The atmosphere in that theatre was electric, because everyone was already a fan. I can open a conversation with anyone in the YA community by asking them who their favourite Harry Potter character is, or which House they belong to, and they will know exactly what I mean.

So thank you J. K. Rowling for writing down that story that popped into your head on a random train journey, and thank you Bloomsbury for publishing it. I may have been late to the party but I’m definitely here to stay.

Now please excuse me. I’m off to read my Hufflepuff House edition of Philosopher’s Stone.

 

Things That Made Me Happy This Week

So the lovely Grace at Almost Amazing Grace yesterday challenged other bloggers to post about what’s made them happy this week. It sounded like a good, positive thing to do, so here goes.

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Reading four brilliant YA books. Being unexpectedly affected by a film. Dinner out, by myself. My period arriving unexpectedly and making so much sense of how I’d been feeling. Payday finally arriving. Eating more healthily and sticking to it (mostly). Discovering how to use photo editing software on my phone. Awesome post. Finding a bookshop with the IBW Harry Potter 20th anniversary bag. Stumbling across Makefest Liverpool and getting crafty. The atmosphere at the Mersey River Festival and Armed Forces Day. Wandering around my favourite part of my favourite place in the world.

There were more there than I thought there’d be to be honest. This week hasn’t been great, but yesterday was amazing. I love living in Liverpool! I can’t promise I’ll do this every week but I’ll try to do it occasionally.

What’s made you happy this week? Let me know in the comments, or link me to a blog post!

My Summer TBR

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So it’s taken me so long to write this post that I’ve actually read 3.5 books off this list already. All of them have been great too, which is not helping me narrow down what I want to take to YALC! Because yes, my summer TBR is my YALC TBR, which at last count potentially had 35 books on it. Yeah. Even I think I’m being optimistic there.

But not to fear! I was organised when I made my list and there are three categories on it. The first is books by faves that I know I’ll want signed (so Our Dark Duet, Traitor to the Throne and Blood for Blood for example) and they’re at the bottom of the TBR. If I get to them, great, but they’ll be in my suitcase anyway so no rush.

The second category is books I own but haven’t read yet. The idea of this list is to decide if I like them enough to keep them. If I’m keeping them, I’ll want to take them to be signed. This is the priority category – I don’t want to miss authors that I’ll end up regretting.

The third category is books I’d like to read but haven’t bought yet. I think we all have lists like that, don’t we? *g* I’ll pick them up in dribs and drabs over the next few weeks, but I probably won’t mind too much if I don’t manage them.

The List

Books I’m definitely taking

  • Our Dark Duet
  • Traitor to the Throne
  • The Other Half of Happiness
  • False Hearts
  • The Dark Days Pact
  • Blood for Blood

Books I own but haven’t read

  • Crongton Knights
  • The Weight of Water
  • Runemark
  • Songs About A Girl
  • The Pearl Thief
  • Frozen Charkotte
  • The Royal Tour
  • Troublemakers
  • Smoke
  • Another Place
  • The Call
  • The Girl In Between
  • Dear Charlie
  • The Summoner series
  • The Name of the Blade series
  • One Of Us Is Lying

Books I’m interested in

  • Indigo Donut
  • After the Fire
  • Needlework
  • Becoming Betty
  • Showstopper
  • And Then We Ran
  • Spellbook of the Lost and Found
  • If Birds Fly Back
  • Noah Can’t Even

So that’s my TBR for the next 6 weeks (ish). What’s yours like? Are you going to YALC this year? If so, do you know which authors you’d like to meet? Let me know in the comments!