Monday, 30 March 2015

Under My Skin by James Dawson

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 302
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: 1st of March 2015

Meet Molly Sue. Once she's under your skin there's no getting rid of her...

Seventeen-year-old Sally Feather is not exactly a rebel. Her super-conservative parents and her treatment at the hands of high school bullies means that Sally's about as shy and retiring as they come - but all that's about to change. Accidentally ending up in the seedier side of town one day, Sally finds herself mysteriously lured to an almost-hidden tattoo parlour - and once inside, Sally is quickly seduced by its charming owner, Rosita, and her talk of how having a secret tattoo can be as empowering as it is thrilling. Almost before she knows what she is doing, Sally selects sexy pin-up Molly Sue, and has her tattooed on her back - hoping that Molly Sue will inspire her to be as confident and popular as she is in her dreams.

But things quickly take a nightmareish turn. Almost immediately, Sally begins to hear voices in her head - or rather, one voice in particular: Molly Sue's. And she has no interest in staying quiet and being a good girl - in fact, she's mighty delighted to have a body to take charge of again. Sally slowly realises that she is unable to control Molly Sue... and before long she's going to find out the hard way what it truly means to have somebody 'under your skin'.

What I Have To Say 

I don't read many horror books, so I may be wrong, but I don't think that there are that many other horror writers that have the same sort of quirkiness to their writing and stories that James Dawson has. In this book you can see it clearly through Sally's friendship group and obviously Satanville (which I'm so a fan of now. I want to watch it!). It's the thing is probably going to make me end up reading Say Her Name too though it's going to traumatize me for at least a week. 

I could really see how Molly-Sue managed to play Sally so well at the start of the book. It made me really want a tattoo best friend (but um... without the horror stuff please!). Molly-Sue had character. At first I was worried she would be a bit of a cliché, but she was so much more than that. I absolutely loved her character. Though I did feel that the ending was a bit of a let down because of this. 

If you want a book with quirky characters and a cool plot and the awesomeness of sexy, psychopathic, Molly-Sue, then this would be a good choice. It's a fun read and only a little bit scary. Also, it has Satanville. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Event Report: Melinda Salisbury, Catherine Doyle and Lisa Williamson

Oxford Lit Fest: Part Two! 

A Summary of the Panel of Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Catherine Doyle - The Rising Stars of YA 

I was really looking forward to this panel as all the writers on this panel are fantastic and two of the books were ones I was highly anticipating even before they were released ( the third didn't disappoint in the slightest either!).

This panel was more guided with an interviewer talking to each of the authors in turn followed by a Q and A session from the audience. Each author also did a reading at the start of their turn.

Catherine Doyle

Catherine Doyle talked about her fantastic book Vendetta (which is a sort of Romeo and Juliet style tragic romance with a lot of hot Italian boys, mafia and death threats). She was asked her inspiration behind it and spoke about the movies she loves about the mafia and criminal underworld and how she wanted to add a touch of Disney style romance into it, albeit a rather ill-fated one.

There was also a lot about her American routes. She spoke of how she had set the novel in Chicago (partly because she didn't feel the mafia would fit into Ireland so easily), because her mother grew up and lives in Chicago and Doyle went to visit her a lot. She said that she drew a lot from her mother's personality and experiences and that her mother recognises herself a lot in the main character of the book. She also mentioned an anecdote of her mother tricking her into going into writing, by begging her to come to creative writing classes with her. (which is in the acknowledgements in Vendetta if anyone wants a fuller story). 

When asked about research, she spoke about her very incriminating internet history from researching the horrific mafia murders, but also how much research she did into beekeeping, which is a rather big part of the novel. She also spoke about watching movies related to the mafia and how she writes in a very filmic way so this fitted well with her writing style. 

She talked about the honey pot that is found in the first chapter of the book and how it was her father's idea to make it what it was (which is a bit of spoiler, so I'm not going to say explicitly, but if you've read the book, you know what I'm talking about.) 

Finally she talked about Persephone's name being from the Greek Myth and the parallels she drew with Romeo and Juliet and how it's all about crazy romanticism with a thread of darkness.  

Melinda Salisbury

Melinda "What a Badass"  Salisbury spoke about her book The Sin Eater's Daughter (which I adore). 

Again the first thing she was asked was about the inspiration behind it. Which ended in a hilarious anecdote of how she was singing in the shower and the acoustics in her bathroom made her sound amazing. She said that she started thinking she was so amazing that she could go pro. Which got her thinking about what would happen if someone had a wonderful singing voice which was turned around and changed into the most horrible thing imaginable. 

After that she spoke of how much she traveled and liked to travel and how she based a lot of the setting of The Sin Eater's Daughter on Norway and Iceland and took a lot of influence from the culture of Scandinavia and their honesty- how they don't put on much airs and graces. Although a few of her characters do, put on airs, this can be seen pretty clearly in the book. 

She talked about her upbringing on a council estate and how it led her to be quite afraid of wanting and dreaming. She didn't think she could ever be a writer. But she spoke about a bleak time in her life when she didn't have anything to look forward to but the final Harry Potter book and how the book inspired her to get on with her life. How if Harry could defeat lord Voldemort, she could do something with her life. 

After that she talked about getting her work published. How she wrote The Sin Eater's Daughter while she was trying to get something else published and therefore had a bit of luck when an agent asked if she had anything else and she had something to give.

Finally she talked about the flowers in her novel and how she learnt a lot about them from her grandmother. She was taught a lot about flower meanings and uses from an early age, but how her grandmother liked the darker uses of flowers, which inspired a lot of the poisons in The Sin Eater's Daughter. 

Lisa Williamson

Lisa Williamson, author of the ground breaking The Art of Being Normal, a story about transgender teens, was the final one to talk. 

She spoke a lot about her work temping with the NHS, working with transgender teens and being allowed to sit in on group support sessions. which helped her understand a lot about how it is to be transgender. She said that it made her look around and see that there wasn't that much written about being transgender and wanted to tell their story. She also mentioned that she wanted it to be a very British story. 

When asked about whether it was difficult to put herself inside the head of a teenager, she said that she didn't feel that different from when she was a teenager.  Catherine put in that teenage emotions are more heightened but much the same as adults and Melinda gave the advice to not shut yourself off from new experiences. 

Lisa spoke of her writing technique and how she often imagined her scenes as little plays and acted them out so that they're easier in her head to write. 

One of the main aims she wanted with The Art of Being Normal was to make it a positive book, even if it's painful along the way. She spoke a lot about the feedback she'd gotten from young trans people and how the book has helped them and how they've been happy to see themselves in a book. 


There were so many great questions that it seems wrong not to include them at all, but as this has been such a long post already, I don't want to include them all. So here are some of my favourites (paraphrased as my note taking ability isn't good enough to write down everything). 

Catherine and Melinda were asked: Their heroines weren't the typical kind who are there to be liked, was that intentional? 

Melinda:  Found she was getting tired of the go getting heroine types and wanted to show a person she would have emphasized with when she was younger. She wanted to write about a young naive girl who has to learn how to get power.  

Catherine: Wanted someone who wasn't amazingly talented, someone normal and a little naive who had to learn about herself and those around her.  She also strongly wanted Sophie to be a product of her environment. 

The authors were asked about their experience of publishing. 

Catherine: Is getting a lot of feedback from readers, some of which are threatening emails from people who are invested in characters relationships and want her to have things go certain ways. She was also surprised by how long publishing a book takes.  

Lisa: Leo has become a sex symbol for some of her readers and she's excited that her characters are getting a life outside the book. She enjoyed being edited and having her book become more of a team effort than just something she did on her own. She liked seeing the book actual book.  

Melinda: Feels really freaked out by it all and doesn't really know what to do about it. 

All three were asked if they had any particular writing processes. 

Melinda: Pajamas (This was her exact answer, she answered immediately after the question was asked. ) 

Lisa: Dresses in regular clothing, but not really the sort of thing that she would be comfortable going out in. Said she often dressed in weird combinations when writing. She also said she is trying to write her next book in sequence as The Art of Being Normal was written out of sequence and had to be fitted together. 

Catherine: Was very shocked by the fact that writing could be done out of sequence as she can't see how it could work. She said she had to write chronologically. She didn't mention how she dresses when writing. 

Event Report: Jack Gantos and Phil Earle

Oxford Lit Fest: Part One

A Summery of the Talks Given by Jack Gantos and Phil Earle

On Saturday, I went down to Oxford to meet up with a couple of bloggers to go to see some of the panels at the Oxford Lit Fest. The first one I went to was a hilariously funny panel from Jack Gantos and Phil Earle.

Jack Gantos

First on the stage was Jack Gantos, the author of (among other things) the successful children's book series Joey Pigza.

He spoke a lot about story and structure, starting off talking about his childhood and children's literature.

There was a slide show to accompany him with many pictures from his childhood as well as the books that inspired him as a child, speaking about how you can see with children's books how it is much easier for children to empathize with the characters.

He talked about how he likes to write out things by hand and how he organises them as he goes along. That writers have to constantly think about two things at once, what you want to write and where you want to place it.

There were pictures on the slide show that he had drawn when he was young. Maps of his neighbourhood and childhood home with lots of detail about things that happened. One thing that caught my eye the most was a picture of a cockroach in the kitchen that was labeled and named. He talked about how Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzhugh) was a major inspiration for his childhood self as she was the first character he had seen that carried a journal. After reading the book, he started spying on his own neighbourhood and family, resulting in the maps and drawings.

As many authors do, he mentioned how he writes hundreds of rewrites. He also mentioned that structure is very important to him as a writer.

I think the most interesting part of his talk for me was about his Joey Pigza series, a series about a child with ADHD told from the point of the child. He spoke about how he knew a real child with ADHD who inspired him to write the series then went on to speak about how he felt that originally writing it in third person was minimalising the child to to a problem child and how in first person it made him feel a lot more comfortable with what he was writing. He spoke of how he liked the feedback he got from the Joey Pigza series was not only from children with ADHD but that the series had inspired empathy in children who had classmates with ADHD who might before have not been so understanding.

He finished by talking about his new book Dead End in Norvelt, which is based on his childhood home. He spoke a lot about history but about how you experience empathy, the different sides of stories and historical events. He talked about a dead end sign in his town and how you should question why it's a dead end and not just take it for granted.

Phil Earle

Phil Earle took the stage next. He had a hard act to follow but rose to the occasion wonderfully with his stories about how when he was young he absolutely didn't want to be a writer or ever read at all. He blamed it a lot on the sorts of books he was given to read in school (which were classics), which he didn't relate too. He spoke a lot of how he wanted to be a footballer.

 He started out reading comics and graphics novels, especially Batman and found that it gave him a lot of confidence in reading. He mentioned how upset it makes him when he goes into schools and finds that the children are not allowed to read graphic novels in reading times.

While working at a bookshop, he was transferred to the children's department where he was given books to read such as Skellig (David Almond) , Holes (Louis Sachar)  and the Joey Pigza (see above). He felt that these books, especially Joey Pigza gave him "permission to write". They made him feel that he could actually write something good enough to be published.

"Stories surround us" was one thing that he spoke a lot about. And he talked about various places that stories can come from, such as music, books and newspapers.

He talked a lot about a story he read in the metro that gave him the inspiration for the Superhero book he is writing. The story was about a man called "Parallel Parking Man" who helps people park their cars while dressed in a towel, a hat and swimming goggles (which he dressed his adorable daughter up to look like as a demonstration).

He finished his talk by saying the thing he felt summed up writing the most was that when writing he could be anyone he wants to be.


It has to be said that there weren't many questions on this panel, and when there were, I have to admit that there weren't many that really interested me. But the one I have to comment on was about Young Adult literature. It caused a fascinating discussion between the authors about the differences between American YA and UKYA and how American YA is doing so much better because there is a separate section in the bookshop for Young Adults, where as a lot of British shops have it lumped together with the children's books (which could make it embarrassing for the  teenagers going to buy books). Maybe our bookshops need to take note of this? 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


I am so sorry for my recent patchiness on reviews, I've been getting a lot of illnesses lately and I've been tired and stressed out. And since I have an exam next week which is going to freak out/ tire me even more, I've decided on an official hiatus.

My next review will be on Monday the 30th of March unless I somehow have a sudden burst of energy before then.

I hope all my lovely readers are well and I'll be back in a few weeks.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Fish Out of Water by Natalie Whipple

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Thanks so much to Hot Key books for providing me with this copy to review!

Pages: 322
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: 5th of February 2015

Mika Arlington was supposed to spend the summer after her junior year shadowing her marine biologist parents at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but when her estranged grandmother randomly shows up on the doorstep one day, those plans are derailed. Because Grandma Betty isn't here to play nice—she is cranky, intolerant of Mika's mixed-race-couple parents, and oh yeah she has Alzheimer's and is out of money.  While Mika's family would rather not deal with Grandma Betty, they don't have much choice. And despite Mika's protests, she is roped into caring for a person that seems impossible to have compassion for. And if that wasn't hard enough, Mika must train the new guy at her pet shop job who wants to be anywhere else, and help a friend through her own family crisis. Something's gotta a give, but whichever ball Mika drops means losing someone she loves. Not exactly a recipe for Best Summer Ever—or is it?

What I Have to Say 

Just a warning, the character in this book is a little self-centred and often needs reminding that her friends need her. So if you don't like books about real teenagers and are looking for a book that portrays them as perfect little adults, look away from here. If however you like more realistic teenagers then actually Mika is a good example of one. She gets caught up in her own problems a lot, but is very, very caring when it comes to her friends and relatives problems (even when caring for them involves a little curry theft).

I love the way she changes as well, especially when it comes to Betty. How she learns how to ignore a little bit of racism because she knows that it's not Betty's fault and mostly just the Alzheimer's speaking. It's an interesting thing to explore and though I'm not usually drawn to books about Alzheimer's, I'm really happy I read this because I found it quite enlightening. 

This book was so wonderful when it came to diversity. Not only is the main character half Japanese, she also has an Indian friend, who's issues with different cultural concepts are explored as one of the main subplots. Actually, so much happened in this book that I'm not sure how they fit it into under 400 pages! There were so many different threads and so many things being explored that it was amazing to read, if a little overwhelming at times. 

And I loved Mika's obsession with goldfish. They are very much an under-rated animal. 

If you're looking for a good contemporary, this is a good one to pick. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

My thanks go to Hot Key Books for providing me with this review copy.

Pages: 374
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: 5th of February 2015
Other Books in the Series: The Name of the Star
                                         The Madness Underneath

Grieving, shaken, and feeling very much alone, Rory's life as a member of the Shades of London has changed irrevocably. It's only been a matter of hours since Stephen was taken from her, possibly for ever. Her classmate Charlotte is still missing, kidnapped by the same people who tried to take Rory. Rory is no longer a schoolgirl haplessly involved in the dealings of a secret government unit. She is their weapon in a matter of life and death.

With hardly a moment to think for herself, Rory is back to work. Charlotte must be found -- as must Stephen, if he is even out there. Lines must be drawn and forces rallied. Something is brewing under London, something bigger and much more dangerous than what has come before. The Shadow Cabinet holds the key to everything, and it is up to Rory to unravel its mysteries before time runs out...

What I Have To Say 

I read The Madness Underneath while I was on a reading slump and that accounts for the fact that I didn't enjoy it as much, I think. And the fact that I could barely remember what happened when picking up this on (although how could I forget something like that!). Luckily, I very quickly remembered everything. In fact, it was really, really easy to get back into. 

This book was, although not possibly as good as The Name of the Star, was more what I had expected. It has the quirkiness of all Maureen Johnson's books along with such tension and thrilling plot that I really enjoyed with The Name of the Star. The characters are as good and quirky as ever, including the new edition, Freddie, though there's something about her that I'm not really warming to. I'm not sure what though. 

All in all, I really am glad that it was just the reading slump and not The Madness Underneath that I didn't like as this book has proved that the series is still right on track and has reminded me of all the good bits from The Madness Underneath. 

I know I say this in a lot of my reviews, but that's because it's true. I can't wait for the next book!