Review of Holding Up The Universe by Jennifer Niven

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I remember first reading Jennifer Niven’s All The Bright Places perhaps a year, maybe two years ago, and I loved it. It was one of my favourite books immediately, and Jennifer had a way of writing that was really special, for me personally anyway. I had no doubt that Jennifer would be back with a new book, and Holding Up The Universe is that book. I read it recently and I’m finally getting round to reviewing it!

For this book, I’m going to provide you with the blurb from Goodreads, because I think it describes this book the best.

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout, the girl once dubbed “America’s Fattest Teen.” But no one’s taken the time to look past her weight to get to know who she really is. Following her mom’s death, she’s been picking up the pieces in the privacy of her home, dealing with her heartbroken father and her own grief. Now, Libby’s ready: for high school, for new friends, for love, and for EVERY POSSIBILITY LIFE HAS TO OFFER. In that moment, I know the part I want to play here at MVB High. I want to be the girl who can do anything.
Everyone thinks they know Jack Masselin, too. Yes, he’s got swagger, but he’s also mastered the impossible art of giving people what they want, of fitting in. What no one knows is that Jack has a newly acquired secret: he can’t recognize faces. Even his own brothers are strangers to him. He’s the guy who can re-engineer and rebuild anything in new and bad-ass ways, but he can’t understand what’s going on with the inner workings of his brain. So he tells himself to play it cool: Be charming. Be hilarious. Don’t get too close to anyone.
Until he meets Libby. When the two get tangled up in a cruel high school game–which lands them in group counseling and community service–Libby and Jack are both pissed, and then surprised. Because the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. . . . Because sometimes when you meet someone, it changes the world, theirs and yours.

One thing that stood out in particular to me again in this book, which is common with All The Bright Places, is the characters and the level of detail paid to each individual character, their backstory, the hidden parts of the character that we get to see from reading in this book. I love this – one of the things I always love if I can see it is the ability to get to know the characters in a book. Jack and Libby, as well as being main characters, feel real when you read this book.

It’s also interesting to see that the romance that grows between two seemingly totally incompatible characters is a common theme across both books too, and I think this works too in Holding Up The Universe too.

The courage that Libby as a a character has is really inspiring at points to read about and I think that there are many emotions you’ll feel reading this book.

I really, really enjoyed this book. I took a long time to read it, mainly because a lot of my time has been consumed with exams recently, but this isn’t a comment on the quality of the book, more of a comment on my lack of time. I think this book is definitely worth your read, and I’m a little unsure of whether it will be a book everyone likes, but I liked it, and I think you will as well.

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Books I’m Looking Forward to in June

Hello! Welcome to a post where I share Books I’m Looking Forward to in June! I’m pretty sure I did this a while ago and had full intentions to make it a monthly feature, but I failed in that instance. However, I’m back and as I’m pre-writing and scheduling posts to go up before my exams begin (hello from the past!), I thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring the feature back!

So, as the title suggests, this a feature where I talk about some of the books set to be released in the month ahead and perhaps why you should be excited about them too!

Luckily, or unluckily if your TBR pile is as tall as mine and no amount of book culling will cut it down, June is really busy month for books. The first big day for books to be released is the 1st of the month, and plenty of great books are released then.

First up, Truth or Dare by Non Pratt, and I know I’m not alone with this! The blurb for this book best describes itself: “How far is too far when it comes to the people you love? Claire Casey hates being the centre of attention. But if it means getting Sef Malik to notice her, it’s a risk she’s happy to take. Sef is prepared to do anything to help his recently disabled brother. But this means putting Claire’s love – and life – on the line. Because when you’re willing to risk everything, what is there left to lose?” I (hopefully) will have a review of this book up at some point over June, so do watch out for that if you want my thoughts on the book, but I’m so excited for this one!

Kerry Drewery also has a new book called Day 7 coming out this month. This is a sequel to the dystopian thriller novel Cell 7 that came out a while ago, and I’m really looking forward to this book coming out too. This is definitely one to watch!

Plus, the amazing Lisa Heathfield also has a brand new book coming out this month. It’s called Flight Of A Starling, and it’s about sisters Rita and Lo, who are part of a trapeze act. They fly through the air on the trapeze and don’t stay still for long, until Lo meets a boy. Anyone who has ever read one of Lisa’s previous novels will know the absolute magic of her writing, so it should be really obvious why this is a book to be highly anticipated, and it comes out on the 29th June!

There are so many books coming out this month, so I couldn’t possibly list them all. But here’s just a few that I’m really excited for!

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

I remember back at YALC in 2016 that the cover for this book was revealed in front of a pretty big crowd at the Walker Books stand. This book has been highly anticipated by a lot of people (including me!) for a very long time now, but on the 5th January 2017 it officially came out here in the UK. I actually ran into Katherine at the Walker Christmas Event in December, and whilst I was particularly awkward in that conversation, Katherine is absolutely wonderful to meet and speak to. Does this translate into Wing Jones? Absolutely. 

There may be some gushing ahead.

Fifteen year old Wing Jones lives in 1990s Atlanta, and she’s often caught between two worlds, with one grandmother from Ghana and another from China. But tragedy strikes one day in the form of an accident that affects her brother, and it’s when this accident happens that Wing finds out she has a talent for running, a talent she never knew she had before. It “could bring her family everything it needs. It could also keep Wing from the one thing she wants.”

Let me start off by saying that there is so much praise for this book floating around the internet right now that I’m not sure I can contribute anything original to it at all because, as if there’s a reserve of praise in a bank somewhere, the funds seem to have been used up. I’m going to give it a go though, because this book definitely deserves all the praise it’s getting.

As you might expect, this book is incredible. As you might expect, it was the type of book that had me shaking it after reading it in sheer admiration at how brilliant it was. As you might expect, the story is as brilliant as everyone has said it is and as you might expect Wing is as amazing a character as you would expect.

This book did make me realise something else that I’d never really acknowledged before though as well.

I like a lot of books I read. I love a few of the books I read. This might be the same for other readers too, but there’s also that top category of books that keeps you gripped right until the very end, really quite desperate to read more. Not a lot of books are in this category, but Wing Jones definitely is for me.

The story plays out along a plotline that will keep you on the edge for so many characters. There’s an incident involving LaoLao towards the end that sticks out immediately to me, and I won’t spoil it or say what happens but I think many readers will know which part I’m talking about. The characters are incredible, as I’ve already said and will most likely continue to gush about in the future, and the attention to detail with this book will astound you as well.

The cover, for instance, was very positively received at YALC (I think it’s perfect) and there’s even the purple to pink sprayed edges on the book too.

Like I said, anything positive that could be said about this book has probably already been said. But, if you’re in two minds about reading this book, let me put it this way: Wing, her mother, her grandmothers, Aaron, Eliza and the team, they’ll all stick with you long after you read this book. Katherine’s really knocked it out the park with her debut novel. It’s slick, beautiful and may even remind you there’s always a silver lining to every situation.

And America: I know you haven’t got this book just yet, you’ve still got a few weeks to go, but if you’re reading, trust me. It’s well worth it.

A Quick Chat with Tracy Darnton

Tracy Darnton

At YALC this year, I got to speak to the winner of the Stripes YA Short Story Prize and had a quick chat with her about writing and the upcoming anthology of short stories, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, due to be released in aid of Crisis on the 22nd September, that she’s featured in. Here’s what she had to say!


Congratulations on winning the Stripes Prize! What was that like for you?

That was a really really lovely surprise, and what’s been fantastic about it is that it’s been like a little course in how to be an author, so I’ve had the experience of being edited, I’ve seen the book proofs, I’ve seen the book going off to be published, I’m going to see the launch, I’m here at YALC and I’m hearing all the talks and taking part of a workshop, so I’m getting an insight into what it’s like to be a published author.

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And you’re in the ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ anthology? 

That’s right. It’s fantastic, I can’t believe my name is on a little house next to all these famous writers, I’ve still got a bit of an imposter feeling about it, but I guess I’ll get used to it!

Are you looking to release your own book?

Since winning this prize, I’ve gone and got an agent, and I’ll be submitting manuscripts in September, so fingers crossed!

Plus you’re here at YALC this year as well!

Yes, I’m really enjoying YALC, I haven’t been before but I definitely want to come again next year. Maybe next time they’ll let me dress up as an elf (Charlie: Please do!) or Harry Potter, I’ve really enjoyed it all. I brought my teenage son on Friday as well and he really enjoyed it too.


It was really great to get to speak to Tracy at YALC this year! I’ll Be Home For Christmas is out on the 22nd September. 

An Interview with Manuela Salvi

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Earlier this year at YALC, I got the chance to speak to Manuela Salvi and speak to her about her book Girl Detached which has been translated and is here in the UK in September. Here’s what she had to say about her book!


Where did the idea for the book come from?

The book was published in Italy before being published in the UK, and the idea came from my publisher as I had published another young adult book about the mafia. That book sold very well, so I was asked to write something else, and they wanted something controversial, something very current and we decided together to write about the topic of prostitution and the grooming of girls, because the topics were in the media, so I decided to deal with these topics for that reason. Basically, it was my publisher’s idea!

They are very tough topics though…

They are. The research was very tough because I had to read a lot of books about girls who have prostituted themselves. A lot of the books were American or Canadian because journalists there are exploring this topic more perhaps than we are here in Europe, and there were a lot of stories about young girls, girls much younger than my main character, prostituting themselves for money. The research was very tough.

This book is a hard hitting one, and I personally think it is going to shock people. Do you think your book is one that needs to be read?

I don’t know, because I’m the writer so my feelings on the book are different from that of the reader’s. For me, it is not as controversial because I think young readers are exposed to sex all the time in the media, so I’m not sure that this book can be defined as shocking. It’s just honest, and it explores the topics in a very natural way because I don’t believe in taboos.

But it is a bit of taboo what you’ve discussed in your book. Would you like your book to be used to help break down taboos?

I would love that. When I decided to become a children’s writer, my main aim was to break down taboos. I’ve always hated taboos and people that used to say to me, “You are a girl, you should behave like this,” or, “You are a girl, so you can’t do this.”

I would like to meet young readers because in Italy I visit schools all the time and I would like to meet young readers to discuss this topic together because I think young readers sometimes can need adults who are not scared to talk about things, to deal with things because as adults we are models, so if we are scared how can we help young people not be scared about these topics as well?

I think young readers are exposed to sex all the time in the media, so I’m not sure that this book can be defined as shocking.

 

Girl Detached comes out here in September. How excited are you? 

I’m very excited because at the beginning when I set out to get this book published here in the UK, I thought it was impossible. But I tried it anyway, because I’m a dreamer. I really thought that it wasn’t possible.

Why did you believe that it wouldn’t be possible? Did you think no publisher would take it on?

Yes, because it’s in translation. I think I’m the first Italian writer to have a book translated and published here in the UK, perhaps there are a few colleagues of mine as well, but it isn’t common. When I said in Italy, “OK, I’m going to the UK and I’m trying to get this book published there,” they laughed and said, “You’re crazy. It’s not possible.”

But now who’s laughing…

*laughs* Yes! It’s exciting, but it’s scary at the same time.

So when the book comes out, what would you like readers to take away from your book?

I don’t believe in lessons. I believe that readers should take from books whatever they want or need. But, I believe in positive endings, I believe in hope, maybe because I was a teenager between the eighties and the nineties and hope was the thing. We believed in the future, we believed that if you try you can do it, that if you insist you succeed. Today is different, there are more uncertainties and the future sometimes is kind of foggy for young people. That’s why I believe in positive endings because I think everyone can be a hero of their own life. If something is negative, you can turn it around and make it a positive thing for your life.

So, it’s always about choice. That’s my message in every book I write. It’s not a lesson, it’s just a suggestion. You can do it!

Did you draw anything in this book from your own life experiences?

Not my own life, no. Of course, there’s something that I experienced or remember from my teenage years, because I’m the writer! But, this book comes mainly from research and then the name of the character comes from an air hostess, because I liked her name! It didn’t take long to write it at all, the research was much longer.

Would you like to see more translated fiction come to the UK? Are we missing out?

I think that international literature is an opportunity for everyone. I think you are missing something, because there is some very good literature from, for example, Scandinavia or France. They can be controversial when they write. It would be nice to share more literature. We read a lot of English and American books in Italy, so it would be nice to exchange experiences.

We definitely have a very strong UKYA community with some great titles.

Yes, and it’s good literature, so it’s not a problem, but maybe internationality is a good thing because literature is about experiencing other people’s lives. If you only read English people’s lives, you’re only getting one experience, but if you read about someone from another country, it can be more inspiring. You can know the world!

Plus, if you don’t have money and can’t travel, this way you can just read and explore the world!

How many books have you had published in Italy?

About 20!

But this is your first one here?

Yes.

As an experienced author, what tips would you give to aspiring writers or even anyone who wants to learn a new language?

My tips…

First of all, you should be reading a lot because you need to know what other writers are writing, but I think sometimes that when beginners start to write something, they are more influenced by their own readings and their own visual experiences, like TV programmes or movie narratives, so when you write you are influenced by all those inputs. So, if you try to forget a little bit about all those things, and try to explore your own originality a little bit more, that’s the point in being a writer. We all can be conditioned by stereotypes or things we just assume are that way. Because you’re used to it, it’s all you know. Try to be more open. Be ready to discard the things you don’t need. Don’t discard everything of course, but discard a little bit to try and be more open because literature is an adventure.

You are an explorer when you write. If you have baggage that is too heavy, it’s going to make it more difficult to write!


Thank you so much to Manuela for speaking to me at YALC, and thanks to Nina for setting up the interview at YALC as well!

Girl Detached is out in the UK on the 6th September 2016.

10 Questions, 140 Characters With Lauren James

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Where did you get the idea for The Next Together from?

I started writing about a reincarnated couple in English lessons at school aged 16, so I don’t know where the idea first came from! #destiny

Do you enjoy writing from historical and futuristic perspectives?

YES!! But having loads of historical periods in my first ever novel wasn’t a great plan – it was hard enough to write without the research!

How did you come up with the characters, Katherine and Matthew?

Kate and Matt were inspired by…….myself! I think any character has to have a facet of the writer’s personality to feel genuine and real.

Which is easier for you: characters or plot?

ALWAYS plot! I develop characters around the knowledge of what they’re going to do in the book – the kind of person who would do that stuff.

What does all the reaction towards The Next Together mean to you?

It’s a daily kind of awe, esp when people tell me they’ve reread the book. Then I get this feeling of shock, like “They really DID like it!”

Who are your writing inspirations?

Maggie Stiefvater. Sarah Waters. Susanna Clarke. Zen Cho. e lockhart. P G Wodehouse. Shirley Jackson. Neil Gaiman. Phillip Pullman. LOADS.

What’s next for you?

The Last Beginning is released on Oct 6th. I will also have a big announcement about future books then too...but for now my lips are sealed!

Any tips for aspiring writers?

Write for yourself. Always. The book that you are desperate to read. Always put it in a drawer for 6 weeks and reread it before querying it.

Is there anything you find you need whilst writing, or do you have a specific process?

I NEED my music. I can’t get into the book without songs to set the tone. Also the perfect chair, temperature, snack, coffee, nap, laptop..!

Be honest; how difficult was it to answer these questions in 140 characters or less?

I made it extra hard by making every answer EXACTLY 140 characters, which was a true challenge. It was a lot of fun, but….never again, ha!

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Lauren James was born in 1992, and graduated in 2014 from the University of Nottingham, UK, where she studied Chemistry and Physics.
She sold the rights to her first novel The Next Together, a Young Adult science fiction romance, when she was 21. It has been translated into five languages worldwide and is out now with Walker Books in the UK and Australia, and will also be published by Sky Pony Press in the USA. It was described by The Bookseller as ‘funny, romantic and compulsively readable’. It was also longlisted for the Branford Boase Award, a prize given to recognise an outstanding novel by a first time writer. Lauren lives in the West Midlands and is an Arts Council grant recipient.

Her other novels include The Last Beginning, the epic conclusion to The Next Together about love, destiny and time travel. A short story set in the world of The Next Together series, Another Together, is also available as a free eBook.

You can find her on Twitter at @Lauren_E_James or her websitehttp://www.laurenejames.co.uk.

Louise Gornall’s Dream Literary Dinner Party

Louise Gornall

Hello! For my stop on the Under Rose Tainted Skies blog tour, Louise shares with us who she’d like at her dream dinner party, and how she’d like it planned out as well! Read on to find out… 

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The second writing a blog post about a literary-themed dinner party came up, I was in. My imagination began ticking, and honestly, I had the thing planned out in mere minutes. It was like picturing your perfect wedding, but better because books!

So, my dream literary dinner party would be directed by Tim Burton. I don’t know if that’s a thing, but we’re making it a thing. It would be, candlelit, in a gothic library, with a chequered floor, goblets, vases full of book-page roses, and antique furniture. We’d be eating Italian; garlic mushrooms, garlic bread, pasta, and biscotti because yum!

And now, the guest list. I read that first paragraph out loud to my twin sister, so she’ll be there. She’s pretty insistent about this, but she loves books so… I know this is a literary dinner party, but we gotta have music, right? Right. I’m glad we agree, which is why Freddie Mercury, and David Bowie will both have to be there. We could definitely talk these two into giving us a tune. Well, it would be rude not to.

My list of contemp YA authors alone is currently at 35, so let’s cap this at 12, including me, my twin, and our two musical geniuses. So, first of all, Courtney Summers, Jandy Nelson, Malorie Blackman, and Harper Lee. I’m trying to mix contemp with classic because just wow. (This dinner party might have to include breakfast, as well as lunch, and stretch for the entire week.) I’d love to split a cheesy garlic bread with the likes of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Emily Brontë. I want to share an espresso with Thomas de Quincey, and talk renaissance poetry with Claude Mckay. Oops! That’s 13, and I haven’t even gotten round to inviting any of my author friends, like, debut contemp writer, Laurie Flynn, or Suzanne Van Rooyen who has written some amazing contemp, SF, and Fantasy…oh, and Tolkien… how cool would it be to have a chat with him about his Lord of The Rings vision…??

You know what? I need to stop. This is getting out of control. Way out of control, I-might-need-to-go-and-write-me-some-literary-dinner-party-fiction out of control. Well, I’ve got to see how it ends!

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Under Rose Tainted Skies is out now from all good bookshops across the UK. I highly recommend you read it, it’s an amazing book (I reviewed it here)! Thank you to Louise for writing this wonderful guest post, and make sure you check out all the other blog tour stops, which you can find from the blog tour banner on the left!