‘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!

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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!

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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!    

Books I’m Looking Forward to in January 2018

Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope 2017 was a good year for you – the silence on my blog throughout this year has been due to exams and not being able to read for much of it. However, 2018 is a new year, so I hope to start as I mean to go on and begin blogging regularly again.

9781910655672To start off, I thought I’d bring back an old format I used a while ago and start talking about the books I’m looking forward to in January, and I’ll start by talking about The Fandom by Anna Day. This book is one that I know is hotly anticipated. Back in March, The Bookseller reported that The Fandom became Chicken House’s fastest ever selling international rights title. The story focuses on Violet, who arrives at Comic Con in cosplay and ready to be part of her fandom in real life, for The Gallow’s Dance – a major movie franchise. A freak accident at Comic Con however puts her in the heart of The Gallow’s Dance, so she must take her place within the story and play her role. This is undoubtedly a really exciting book, out on the 4th January, and I’m happy to say Anna will be joining me right here on the blog for the blog tour – see the sidebar for the details of all the stops!

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Next, let’s talk about I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, already making waves within

the YA community. It tells the story of Muzna Saleem, who dreams of becoming a novelist, though her parents would prefer it if she became a doctor and married “a cousin from Pakistan.” Then, Arif Malik, the “high school hottie,” takes an interest in her. To continue quoting the blurb, because I couldn’t do it justice; “As Arif begins to lead Muzna down a dark path, she faces a terrible choice: keep quiet and betray her beliefs, or speak up and betray her heart?” I’m really excited about this one from a new voice in YA, out on the 25th January 2018 from Macmillan.

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Readers of the blog might know that I love the works of Non Pratt, and I’m pleased to say that with a New Year comes a new book from her too – her second with Barrington Stoke.

This one’s called Second Best Friend, and it features inseparable best friends Jade and Becky, yet a spiteful comment is made about Jade by her ex, forcing her to see that she has always been second best in everything. Then, there’s a school election, giving her a chance to see just how far she’ll go to be better than her best friend. Non Pratt is a familiar and amazing voice within YA, and if you’ve read her previous Barrington Stoke title, Unboxed, you’ll know that you’re not wrong to expect great things from this book as well.

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Finally, for this list at least, it’s the finale to the series by Kerry Drewery that’s included Day 7 and Cell 7 – Final 7 arrives on the 11th January, and this one picks up with Martha and Isaac now on the run, with the government branding them both rebels and a danger to the public. Described as “heartstopping,” this is definitely not one to miss in January.

As always, there are so many amazing books to be expected in January from so many amazing authors. This list is just a few picks of mine, but definitely go out there and tell me any I’ve missed that need to be on my list

(Release dates are UK only.)

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

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It’s been a while since I last reviewed a book, and that’s almost entirely down to a reading slump that I fell into. A few weeks ago however, I found myself in that all too familiar state of finding a book being released soon, deciding I have to have it, then pre-ordering it immediately. It just so happens this time, the book on the other end of the webpage was Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I can’t have been the only one to recognise the origin of the title, and wondering in what, almost entirely abstract way Green would manage to weave such an idea into the book; a book about a girl suffering with OCD reuniting with an old friend who happens to be the son of a millionaire on the run who has left his entire estate to a tuatara alongside her friend who together try and find the missing millionaire. How were you going to weave in a concept about Earth and it lying on the tops of many turtles all stacked on top of one another?

I can’t judge for that unfortunately. Trust me – read it and the reference is appropriately in there, so do go and find it for yourselves. What I do know is that this book felt somewhat different from John Green’s previous novels. Those who know me as a reader specifically well enough will know that The Fault In Our Stars was the first YA novel I ever read, and it’s like a gateway to the rest of the genre. I loved it. Make no mistake – Turtles is distinctly John Green, with philosophical insights littered from the get-go that make you suddenly question your very existence (I remember an insight from Aza where she reminds herself that there are bacteria within her gut that digest her food for her and can tell her brain what to do, so whether or not she actually is digesting her food and whether her thoughts are her own – it’s stuck with me several days after finishing the book!) and characters who are linked in some way who happen to fall into a romance. It makes it sound like I’m calling the book a cliché, which in a way I suppose I am, but the best kind of cliché.

I do know from watching John’s videos online that he’s been able to tie in personal experiences of his own into the writing of this book, which I think makes the book more insightful. Experiences vary vastly when it comes to things like mental illnesses, which for me personally made the book more interesting.

I appreciated the use of the romance between Aza and Davis as being a focal point of the story, though not the only one and certainly not the main focal point of the story – it’s not the only time you see a story arc emerge within the novel. There are several parallel stories which, although sounds odd, works perfectly, though I won’t say more through fear of spoiling the book for those who haven’t read it.

It’s been a while since John Green wrote his last book, but I’m very happy he’s back. I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down – as you may have guessed from what I’ve written above, it’s not my favourite John Green novel, but it’s still a worthy read in any and every case.