Writing

Review: The Survival Game by Nicky Singer

Review: The Survival Game

This book wasn’t just enjoyable, it felt educational.

Everyone has heard about the plight of refugees but for many of us living a relatively cosy life in the West, myself included, it’s very hard to imagine what those fleeing horrific situations at home might be facing.

Mhairi is Scottish but has spent the last few years of her young life in the Sudan, where her parents worked, until global warming forces her northwards. North means freedom and life. The reader is dropped into her situation, when she has almost reached the safety of Scotland.

We find out, as Mhairi remembers, about the horrors she has faced. What happened to her family and to her friend Mohammed.

Seeing Mhairi come to care about a young boy she found alongside the way was beautiful.

Her character’s journey was one that reminded me about the importance of being kind, of not judging others before walking a mile in their shoes, and ultimately is one that I would recommend book clubs and teachers to utilise.

Mhairi’s experience shows how difficult reaching safety can be and while her story is fictional it really does pull at the heart strings.

By the heart-stopping ending, I was completely enthralled by the world that Singer has created. There were a few sections towards the end of the book, once it seemed like the immediate danger to Mhairi might be over, that felt a little slow but overall The Survival Game barely slows down for a moment.

A gripping and emotional read.

Thank you to Netgalley, Hachette Children’s Group and Hodder Children’s Books for the opportunity to read.

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Review: She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

Review: She Was the Quiet One

 

After the death of their mother, twins Bel and Rose are shipped off by their grandmother to an elite boarding school. Miles from anyone they know, faced with their grief, the two twins take different routes at coping with their new situation. Good girl Rose excels at the academic institution, while Bel finds friends amongst a bad crowd. Add in to the mix a schoolgirl competition relating to a male teacher, some badly executed pranks and things really are going south…

There was lots to love about this book. The contrast between the two sisters, while perhaps a little too big a difference, made for some great conflicts early on. I was totally on Rose’s side, by the way. I couldn’t find anything to redeem Bel’s perspective on the pranks. But her rebel persona was part of the point as it was what allowed some of the big drama to happen. I really felt for Sarah, Mr. Donovan’s husband, too. He was making ploys to become headteacher and all she really wanted was a happy life with her family. I could support that. At first she was a great dorm mother. She did have a tendency to deny the truth of a situation at times though!

The core mystery of this novel was which twin was murdered. There was a line in one of the police interviews (which I loved!) which gave a slight clue but really the murder victim could have been either of them. The mystery added a real buzz to the novel, keeping me reading on.

Sometimes the dialogue felt unrealistic. While reading on my Kindle i bookmarked quite a few different pages, almost all in the first half, where phrases were used that didn’t feel at all like how a teenager would speak. Some of the dialogue felt too formal and then other lines made sixteen year olds use what seemed like slightly dated phrases. I have to admit at one point that I had got the impression that the characters were seventeen or eighteen – then to be reminded that they had just turned sixteen was quite jarring. This issue dropped off almost completely later in the book. By the end I was racing through the pages without paying attention to the words themselves, just the story they contained, if that makes sense.

Campbell dealt with some very difficult issues sensitively and her portrayal of boarding school life felt quite realistic (apart from the scandal and murder, of course). A great fast-paced read!

Thank you to Netgalley and St Martin’s Press for the opportunity to read She Was the Quiet One.

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Writing

Review: The Possible World by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Review: The Possible World 

5/5

This book is quite simply magical!

Imagine the Fates weaving their tapestries, tying people together and cutting threads. The Possible World had some of that mystery about it, with the different lives of Leo, Clare and Lucy zigging and zagging closer together and then further apart. Finding out the ways that they are connected was a joy.

In a way, this novel felt like two novels interlaid with each other. First there is the story of Leo, the little boy who is the only possible witness to an unspeakable crime. For the first part of the book all I cared about was Leo. Was he going to be alright? What had caused him to be so quiet?

Then, gradually, something changed. As all of the characters grow on you they begin to feel very real. I would have quite happily read an entire novel about Lucy’s life in accident and emergency! I suppose some people might find the sections about her a little off topic, as the descriptions of the other cases she dealt with don’t fit so much into the overarching plot of the novel. I found though that it made her feel much more real. With less detail about her life she could have quite easily felt like a plot device designed to help sandwich together Clare and Leo.

By the second half of the novel it was Clare I cared about. Poor grouchy Clare. At first I had hated her. How miserable she seemed! Slowly, Schwarz worked her magic and Clare was transformed into the heroine. I really felt reminded that behind every grouchy or frustrated elderly person there is an entire lifetime of stories just waiting to be told.

Schwarz’s ability to bring together all of these threads into a compelling narrative was very impressive. The ending of the novel was so bittersweet but felt like the only possible ending.

I look forward to reading more from this immensely talented author soon! Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone and to Netgalley for the opportunity to read The Possible World.

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Reading Regularly

To Kill a Kingdom Review

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Review

First things first, wow.

This book is my favourite of the year so far and I have a sneaky feeling that it might retain that position until December 31st!

It’s incredible. Definitely not what I was expecting when I started reading either.

The novel follows a prince and a siren as they try and achieve their competing goals: the death of the prince and the death of the siren. Of course, as they get to know each other, things start to change. One of the best aspects of this book was its dual narrative, although some of the changes in narrator were slightly confusing. Usually books with two narrators put me off but this time, though Lira was my favourite, I enjoyed both sides to the story.

Every other mermaid/siren book I’ve read has turned the stuff of legend into weak-willed characters. Not To Kill A Kingdom. Even when she is forced onto land, Lira can certainly not be called weak. The depth of the characterisation in this book was wonderful. I would have happily read hundreds of pages more about their journey together.

For me, the one weakness of this book lay also in its strengths. The author knew when the story was told and the book ends accordingly. It was almost a little too abrupt, the ending, as I wanted to know more about what comes next. How all of the characters react to new situations and changes to their lives.

Although, of course, leaving you wanting more is a sign of a very good book indeed!

Having flown through this book in an evening, I’m excited to read this author’s next books. Thank you to NetGalley and Bonnier Zaffre for the opportunity to read To Kill A Kingdom.

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Everything is Lies by Helen Callaghan Review

Everything is Lies by Helen Callaghan
Review

Having loved Helen Callaghan’s first book, I jumped at the chance to read this one. The twists and turns made for a great evening spent guessing what would happen to mother (in the past) and daughter (in the present).

Everything is Lies was a book that grew on me while I read it.

I loved the opening chapters, but then found the introduction of the notebooks a little jarring, before the novel regained my full attention and had me flipping through the pages by the end. At first I just wanted to hear about Sophia’s life, as her mother was already dead, but by the end I cared just as much about both characters. The twist was very well done and I didn’t predict it until very near the end, which made the close of the novel much more enjoyable.

There were a few times when the difference between the privileged lives of some of the characters distanced me a little from the novel, but overall this was a fantastic reading experience. The cult aspect of the book was a lot different from what I was expecting going into reading, which made for a nice change from some of the more predictable books I’ve read recently.

Looking forward to reading this author’s next book!

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest feedback, thank you to NetGalley and Penguin U.K. for the opportunity to read this book.

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Reading Regularly

To Kill a Kingdom Review

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
Review

First things first, wow.

This book is my favourite of the year so far and I have a sneaky feeling that it might retain that position until December 31st!

It’s incredible. Definitely not what I was expecting when I started reading either.

The novel follows a prince and a siren as they try and achieve their competing goals: the death of the prince and the death of the siren. Of course, as they get to know each other, things start to change. One of the best aspects of this book was its dual narrative, although some of the changes in narrator were slightly confusing. Usually books with two narrators put me off but this time, though Lira was my favourite, I enjoyed both sides to the story.

Every other mermaid/siren book I’ve read has turned the stuff of legend into weak-willed characters. Not To Kill A Kingdom. Even when she is forced onto land, Lira can certainly not be called weak. The depth of the characterisation in this book was wonderful. I would have happily read hundreds of pages more about their journey together.

For me, the one weakness of this book lay also in its strengths. The author knew when the story was told and the book ends accordingly. It was almost a little too abrupt, the ending, as I wanted to know more about what comes next. How all of the characters react to new situations and changes to their lives.

Although, of course, leaving you wanting more is a sign of a very good book indeed!

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Writing

The Taste of Blue Light Review

The Taste of Blue Light follows the journey of a young woman called Lux, an Artist at an elite British boarding school. Unlike most books featuring boarding schools, this book seemed to transcend the class divide. Lux wasn’t a girl with a life so distanced from most ordinary people’s as to be impossible to understand. The struggles she faced could affect any one of us.

The prose is hauntingly beautiful. This is a book to be savoured rather than devoured. I bookmarked so many different pages to re-read the words later that I might have to invest in a paper copy to fold down the corners.

I admire Ruffles’ ability to track back in time and really take on the voice of an eighteen year old struggling to find herself. I’ve scarcely before read YA that felt so real. I also appreciated the sense of extension beyond the boundaries that YA usually sticks too.

The central mystery of The Taste of Blue Light, what will keep you reading through the slower chapters, is what happened after the party. The truth was not what I was expecting at all. When it came, suddenly and brutally with the force of a thousand tiny shocks, I was lost for words. In my head I had constructed a narrative of how I thought this book was going to go, how everything was going to end. What happened at the party. But what I found was nothing like what I had expected.

After the big reveal, things changed pretty quickly. The reasons for all of Lux’s symptoms clear, there was something lost in the last chapters of the book. The mystery gone, it seemed as if the story was meandering towards the end of the track slowly once again. But I loved Lux, her friends and the boys she cared about, so I couldn’t stop reading on to see if everything was going to be alright. Beautiful and haunting, this book is one of my unexpected favourites of the year so far. A must!

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Writing

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I’m writing this in the early evening of 1st January 2018, having recently discovered that I have a slight allergy to one of Lush’s most exciting-looking bath bombs. 2017 was an interesting year, with far more important and interesting discoveries than that one of course.

Way back, in 2015 I think it was, I made my New Year resolution to write every day of the year. I didn’t make the resolution,nor did the project I was working on then bare any fruit. I think this year, what with all of the other things going on in my life, I’m going to make some different writing related promises to myself.

Write with abandon, as if no-one else is watching

At least at first anyway! When it comes to editing, that’s a different story…

Try and dedicate time every day to something writing related.

I’d say ideally an hour but we all know how time gets away from you. Reading a book on a subject related to my current project, writing, plotting, they’ll all count. I don’t want this to be the year I allow my writing to go fallow. Back in March I promised myself this year dedicated wholly to writing, but my course didn’t work out how I’d hoped so that’s no longer the case. But I still want to develop and build myself as a writer this year.

Learn when to let a project go

This is a big one for me. I have a horrible tendency to only let go once I’ve burned through a query list and totally burned myself out on a project. I need to remember that putting something away doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. With Robot Dreams, I queried only sparingly as I realised that the amendments made to make the story a realistic proposition would take a long time and effort, and my love for the story is kind of… gone now. I know what happens to Nikei and Ada. Their story is told, for me. If I ever go back, and I might, I anticipate it being a long way off.

THESE HOLLOW STARS is my new project, for which I’m trying a different approach. One centred on the inter-relationship between characters and plot, rather than looking at them separately.

I’ll be back soon, of course, and will let you know how my resolutions are going. But for now, all that is left to say is:

Happy New Year!!

Emma xox.

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On The Eve of a New Year

Hello!

I have been rather absent this year as a whole, I know. It’s been an interesting one, packed full of changes. I’ve graduated from the degree I was sometimes sure would never end, found myself at another university after one part of me promised I would never study academically again.

I was all set for a Creative Writing degree…. but three weeks into the course I reached the sudden realisation that I wasn’t happy. The books we were reading didn’t interest me, the late evenings arriving home made me tired, the atmosphere wasn’t what I’d been hoping it would. I’d hoped for a focus on plotting and narrative structures but that wasn’t what I found.

I’m proud of myself that I made the decision to switch courses when it was still possible. I’m proud of myself that I found great friends, who make it possible to enjoy university a lot more than I did on a day to day basis back in Durham. I’m proud of myself for securing plans for my future, way beyond this year, and making them possible.

On my new course I’m learning Latin, something I’ve wanted to do for a while. At Durham I felt so keenly the divide between those that had been educated privately and those that happened and despite the effort involved, I’m excited to be finally closing one of the important gaps I see in my knowledge.

More relevant to this blog than anything else, I am proud of myself that I think I have finally managed to let ROBOT DREAMS go. It was a novel that was born in the stress and loneliness of the Easter vacation of my second year, sitting in a single bed typing in the cold, typing my way to happiness for a time.

For a while I thought it was the book of my heart, just like SOULLESS when I was a child. But the more I think about it, I”m realising that just like THE GIRL WITH A THOUSAND FACES it was born out of a specific moment in my life that has now come to pass.

I can’t thank the two wonderful agents who gave me feedback on the partial manuscripts of ROBOT DREAMS enough for their guidance, which helped me realise that the work it would take to mould the novel into something great was no longer what was best for me.

So. New beginnings. I’m about 3000 words into the outline of a brand new novel, whose characters feel almost impossibly real. I’m sitting at home with my kitty snoring beside me and later today I’m going to my grandparents’ house to celebrate the New Year.

At times 2017 has been hard. Very hard. THere’s been laughter and tears and I feel like a completely different person to who I was just a year ago.

Am I where I thought I would be today? Physically yes, but as a person perhaps not. The journey is never what you expect.

Here’s to 2018. I hope it’s a good year for you and yours.

Happy New Year!

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Writing

The Red Ribbon Review

It’s been a busy few months…

Surprisingly, starting my Masters wasn’t quite how I expected it to be (more on that later, perhaps!) but I did manage to read more than in an equivalent term at Durham so every cloud has a silver lining. Now, on to the review…

The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington (a November read)
This book was simply incredible. When I started reading, I could only vaguely remember that this book had something to do with the horrors of the Holocaust, as told from the perspective of a young woman (I had seen it recommended online and then the book had been in my TBR pile for a while). 

The Red Ribbon follows the heartwrenching journey of a young lady who uses her sewing skills to help her survive the horrors of the concentration camp she nicknames ‘Birchwood’. I’ve previously read novels set during this period before, such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but this one really spoke to me.

Everything that Ella experienced felt real. As if I were reading the inner most feelings of a girl going through one of the worst experiences imaginable. Ella, the main character of this novel, is fictional but her journey brought me one step closer to understanding the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkeneau (as much as anyone who has never experienced such suffering ever could).

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