‘Dear Evan Hansen’ by Val Emmich

(I was very kindly sent a proof of this book by Penguin ahead of it’s release. My opinions haven’t been affected though.)

I first learned about the story of Dear Evan Hansen last summer, and I can’t tell you how I stumbled across the story, but I found myself listening to Ben Platt’s performance of Waving Through A Window on ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ and I was hooked and have been hooked ever since, for so many reasons. It’s a powerful story that I’m so happy is now in book form (and coming to the West End next summer!).

If you aren’t familiar with the story, Evan Hansen is a 17 year old high school student who has a hard time connecting with the world around him. On the advice of his therapist, he begins to write himself letters everyday. ‘Dear Evan Hansen, Today is going to be a good day and here’s why…’ When he prints off one of these letters at school one day, Connor Murphy takes it and pockets it. What ensues is a lie that was never meant to happen, but may have given Evan a shot at what he’s always wanted – a chance to fit in.

There’s a reason this story resonates with so many people, because at its very core it is a story of acceptance. There are countless people who will feel a connection, on some level, with Evan and feel like their story is being heard, and that’s incredible. Although I’ve never seen the musical, I did find myself placing the songs from the soundtrack as I went along. And although I can’t comment on how well Val wrote the novel, I felt a huge connection with it either way.

It’s a book that will genuinely leave you gripped, no matter which kind of books you usually read. You’ll be hanging on by a thread as you try to find out what is happening throughout the story, and even if you know (vaguely) what is about to happen, you’ll still feel it – I can attest to that. It’s a book that packs an emotional punch, and you should not underestimate it – it’s certainly not a heavy read, but you should be prepared for just how much of a rollercoaster it is.

Fans of any kind of YA novel will find themselves in this book, and I really mean any novel – it’s required reading for anyone and everyone. If you can’t, like me, go and see the musical, please read the book. It’s a story that deserves a place in the world today and a story that deserves to be heard.

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I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

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(This book was sent to me for review, but my opinions haven’t been affected in any way!)

This particular review is long overdue, but I hope it’s worth it!

Angel Rahimi cares about The Ark a lot. So much so that care is probably an understatement. She’s a fully paid up member of The Ark fandom, and decides to go to a gig in London with an internet friend she’s known for years, but has never met in real life. Jimmy Kaga-Ricci is a member of The Ark, and owes a great deal of his life to being part of the band. What a shame that much of his life is up in the air at the moment. And yet, Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly pushed into each other’s lives, facing what reality and the world could offer them with.

Readers of anything I’ve written before on Alice Oseman’s books will know that I really, really like Alice’s style of writing. She writes incredibly relatable books with stories you can get behind and characters you really connect with emotionally. All characters, though for me especially Jimmy, give us a lot to think about and chew over when we consider real world implications of the issues drawn upon in the book, like mental health or internet friends – it’s one of the only books I’ve read where the idea of friends online having equal status to those in person comes up as a topic. It brings together lots of people from lots of different backgrounds, and it’s a hugely fun book to read on the whole. I was certainly gripped.

If you’re a fan of Alice’s previous books, you’ll love this. It’s a fun, action-filled book about a boy band but not about a boy band. Really a great read for anyone searching for a great YA read – in fact, I’d suggest it’s a great book for anyone looking to start reading YA too! And as I’ve said about Alice’s books before, I can’t wait for the next one!

I Was Born For This #YAPlaylist

Hello! Today I have a really exciting post to share with you all – it’s my turn on the I Was Born For This #YAPlaylist blog tour.

If you’re anything like me, music is hugely important in your day to day life, whether you’re listening to music at home, at work, in the car or on the train to work, wherever it’s hugely important. So, to celebrate the release of Alice’s fantastic new book following star band ‘The Ark,’ YA bloggers from across the internet are sharing songs that Alice has picked for the playlist that fit with the book and adding one ourselves too. So, here we go!

Alice, for my stop on the tour, has chosen Burnished Bronze by Labyrinth Ear, and here’s why!

This was one of the first songs I put in the I Was Born for This playlist! I’m not sure how closely the lyrics really relate to IWBFT, but it was the image of ‘burnished bronze’ that made me put it on the playlist. It made me think of The Ark’s beautiful life being ‘burnished’ – polished over and over so it shines – at the expense of the happiness of the band boys. Something, something, metaphor. Either way, it’s a lovely song, and the electronic vibes fit perfectly into the playlist!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/7anBm6BhrYLVIHfrmi5ah0

So, now I think it’s my turn to share a song from a band or artist I love at the moment as well! This is especially difficult because I love a lot of music at the moment but I think I’ll stick to a favourite of a while now – Swim by Fickle Friends. 

This song is a really catchy, feel good song which I heard for the first time about last year, and I remember thinking it was a great song especially for the summer. I also think the band are really underrated and if you haven’t heard of them I certainly think you should know of them! In a way, it might even remind you of the main characters from I Was Born For This as well. Take a listen and see what you think!

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/3ed180hoyUcF6wVqOqmm3O

Thank you to Alice for stopping by today, take a listen to all the other songs from the #YAplaylist and stay tuned to find out what other songs are making their way to that playlist.

Writing about real life (sort of) – Guest Post by Will Hill

Hello! Today it’s my turn on the YA Shot Blog Tour, and I’m very excited to welcome After the Fire author Will Hill to the blog to talk about writing about real life. I’ll leave it up to him to take centre stage from here!


My latest novel, After The Fire, was inspired by something that took place in Texas in 1993. Between February and April of that year, the American authorities (principally the FBI and ATF) laid siege to a rural compound owned by an extremist religious sect, the Branch Davidians, after a gunfight had erupted when they attempted to search the property. It ended in a fire that destroyed most of the compound and with more than eighty people dead, including the cult’s leader, David Koresh.

Footage of the fire and the final assault by the federal agencies was televised all over the world, and the incident – which became known as the Waco Siege – sparked huge debate in America over the authority of the US government, the freedom to practice religion, and the right to bear arms (swhich could – sadly – easily lead you to conclude that not a lot of progress has been made in the subsequent twenty-five years).

I was – and still am – fascinated by cults, and I had known for a long time that I wanted to write a story set inside one. When I was reminded of the Waco footage I had seen when I was a kid (after a visit to a museum in Washington, DC) the bones of what would eventually become After The Fire fell into place really quickly. But there was a problem. What happened in the Texas desert in 1993 was a terrible, defining moment in the lives of a great number of people, and many of the survivors who lived through it are still alive today. I could not reconcile myself with directly retelling the most traumatic event of their lives as entertainment.

There have (obviously) been tens of thousands of historical novels, and many of them have been based on hard subjects. The winner of last year’s Carnegie Medal (the brilliant Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys) was based on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, in which more than nine thousand people perished. But Waco was only twenty-five years ago, and many of the people who survived it were children. Some have chosen to tell their stories in the years since, but many of them haven’t. And it was very clearly not my place to speak for them.

Instead, I drew from other cults that have believed in an imminent apocalypse and from those men (they’re almost always men) who have used fear and manipulation to control other people. I created a belief system distinct from any of those practiced by religious sects in real life, and nothing like the one practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

I read everything I could find on Waco (including the US government report into the siege and the remarkable work of Dr. Bruce Perry, who treated the young Branch Davidian survivors) because if I was going to write something inspired by this dark, tragic moment in modern history, I needed to know as much as I possibly could about it. I couldn’t leave getting things right to chance.

So the end result is this: the Lord’s Legion are not the Branch Davidians, John Parsons is not David Koresh, and Moonbeam didn’t exist until I invented her. As I say in the author’s note at the end of the novel, After The Fire is a work of fiction. But like a great many stories, it came from something real, and it was vital – after deciding that this was a story I was going to tell – to treat that source material with the respect it deserves.

I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether or not I succeeded.

After the Fire is available now. 

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Sorting The Fandom Characters into their Hogwarts Houses – Guest Post by Anna Day

9781910655672Hello! Today I welcome Anna Day, author of The Fandom, to the blog where she’s going to go through some of the characters from The Fandom and sort them into their respective Hogwarts houses! I’m really excited to share this with you, so I’ll let Anna get on with it!


I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, so sorting my characters into houses was great fun. Most of them were pretty obvious, but I must confess, Violet had me logging onto Pottermore and answering as if I were her. (By the way, I would recommend this exercise for any writers in the process of character development. It really makes you think like your character, and you get to relive that trepidation of finding out all over again.)

Violet

As mentioned, I had to defer to the actual Sorting Hat when it came to Violet. She has a huge character arc, starting off a real shrinking violet, but ending up more courageous than Rose herself. For this reason, I toyed with placing her in Gryffindor, but the Sorting Hat spoke, and Violet is officially Hufflepuff. Which makes sense, cos her most consistent trait is loyalty.

Katie

Katie’s another Hufflepuff girl. Her grounded nature and unshakable loyalty means she can wear her badger crest with pride.

Alice

I sorted the ambitious and resourceful Alice into Slytherin a long time ago, there’s even a reference in The Fandom where she’s described as the Queen of Slytherin. But she isn’t all bad, and has a character arc which mirrors one of the best known Slytherins of all time: Snape. In the end, in spite of her ambition, Alice sacrifices everything for love. Disclaimer: I’m Slytherin and thus in denial that we’re all just a bunch of sods.

Nate

Nate is Ravenclaw to the core. As Rowena once said: ‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.’

Note the blinding absence of one of the houses. The deafening silence of the lion’s roar. I’m not quite sure how I managed to write a book without a Gryffindor. I’m going with the theory that each character has a substantial thread of lion running through them, as it’s courage and bravery which ultimately saves the day. Either that, or I’m still pissed I didn’t get into the same house as Harry!

The Fandom is out now, priced £7.99. Follow the conversation online using the tag #jointhefandom!    

2017 Roundup

Perhaps you’ll have noticed from my silence on the blog that 2017 wasn’t a particular good year for reading for me. I didn’t get anywhere near my Goodreads goal and also didn’t manage to succeed in the British Books Challenge goal either. I’m a little disappointed, especially when there were so many books released in 2017 that I wanted to read. But, over the last few weeks I’ve been seeing a lot of people say that they too weren’t too happy with how much they read during 2017 either. So, I thought, let’s put this into perspective and instead look at just a few of the amazing books which I did read in 2017 and look forward to what I could do better in 2018!

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After hearing about it for the first time in December 2016, one of my standout booksfrom this year was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s such a standout novel, and I knew it would be from the moment I heard about it for the first time. It’s, as John Green on the cover suggests, stunning. I left the book feeling bowled over by how powerful it has the potential to be. I can’t really do it justice, even months after I read it, so I absolutely encourage you if you haven’t already got a copy, for whatever reason, make it one of the first books of 2018 you buy. You won’t regret it – I’d consider it essential reading for so many people.

john_green_turtles_all_the_way_down_book_coverOne of my more recent reads was, speaking of John Green, Turtles All The Way Down.We’ve waited a long time for a new book from John, and it’s finally here – the tale of Aza and her friendship with Davis, whose millionaire dad has gone on the run, leaving his whole estate behind to a tuatara. It’s classic John Green, with emotions everywhere, little trickles of philosophical insights scattered throughout the novel and characters who you leave feeling like you know them after finishing the book. Again, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of this book. It’s really a heartwarming read.

the_loneliest_girlAnd, readers of the blog will know that I’m a massive fan of Lauren James’ books, and 2017 gave us a new one from her too; the absolutely incredible ‘The Loneliest Girl in the Universe.’ I was completely blown away by what seems like a completely unworkable concept, but in reality creates a phenomenal book that I guarantee you you’ll read in maybe a maximum of two sittings. I don’t think I want you to read just this book, I think I want you to go out and read Lauren’s back catalogue – if you’re new to YA or even sci-fi, as I wasn’t that big a fan of the genre before I read it, The Next Together is an amazing place to start for either category of books. Then read The Last Beginning and The Loneliest Girl. It’s well worth it.

Going forward into 2018, I’m setting a more moderate goal for myself on Goodreads and setting myself a goal of 20 books. I think that it’s far more achievable than the 50 I set myself last year, though I definitely would still like to beat it. I’m looking to diversify the books I read, and can’t wait to read all of the brand new voices which are arriving in YA this year. I’m going to give the British Books Challenge another go in 2018 as well – I’m a little sad that I didn’t manage to crack it last year, but I’m giving it a go this year as well. And I hope to blog a lot more in 2018 as well, so hopefully you’ll hear a lot more from me in weeks and months to come. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

What are your reading resolutions? Did you have a good 2017? What are you going to do differently in 2018? Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Culling Books

Every so often a bookworm is forced to take a good long look at their shelf and realise that actually, they have way too many books. Amber from The Mile Long Bookshelf wrote a great blog post that made me think, on New Year’s Day 2018 as I write this, the time had come to really cull my own book collection. I thought I’d write a quick little blog post just to sum up some thoughts on it.

In a nutshell, it’s actually quite difficult. You’re forced to look at a lot of books which you’ve either bought over the years or accrued in other means, and decide which ones you’re going to get rid of. In the end, I started using three key criterion to decide which ones I wanted to get rid of.

  • Am I ever likely to read this book again? If yes, keep it. If not, chuck it.
  • Have I got another copy of this book? For instance, I have two copies of The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I don’t need two, even though it’s a phenomenal book. So, unfortunately you have to be brutal and get rid of duplicate copies in order to make space for more wonderful stories. It’s nothing personal towards Jandy, you understand?
  • Did I actually enjoy this book? I’ve got quite a few books on my shelves which I haven’t actually enjoyed that much. This seems fairly self-explanatory – it’s impossible to love every single book that comes my way, so some it just makes sense to get rid of.

As someone with books sitting about in most places, I managed to get to a total of 61 books which I was prepared to get rid of (and 61 is a rather big total for me!), ready to create just a bit more space on my shelves. What to do with them though?

Well, in the past my go to option for books has been to give them either to a charity shop or to my local library, which is always happy to accept donations and rest assured there’s some books which I’ve culled which will be going there. There are websites which are willing to buy books you don’t want from you as well, and I’m shipping a few off to them as well to make space on my shelves too.

There are plenty more places which are willing to accept donations of books, and I’m sure local primary schools would be willing to accept as well, so this is where I refer you to Amber’s post, linked above, for a far more comprehensive look at how to do this properly. However, I will say I do in fact encourage book culling. You’ll look at your shelves afterwards and notice how much space you have now to welcome in brand new titles, and there are plenty coming this year that you’re going to want to give rightfully deserved space on your shelves.

And rest assured, you’ll be giving someone else the chance to enjoy the books that perhaps you either didn’t enjoy as much as you thought you would have or you loved and have extra copies of, so you’re prepared to cling on to one as your own and instead let others enjoy the same stories. Far better than allowing them to gather dust, right?

Are you culling any books at the moment? What are you planning on doing with them? Which books coming out this year are you prepared to give space to on your shelves? Let me know in the comments!