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Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

‘The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang-a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love… and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns-and grudges-aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.’

These Violent Delights is a hugely enjoyable read based on the story of Romeo and Juliet, taking the components at the heart of Shakespeare’s play and transforming them into something fresh and new, while still maintaining connections with the story that inspired it. I teach Romeo and Juliet to classes every year and I never failed to smile when there was a very subtle (or even a more precise) reference to the dialogue of the play, for the writing is so elegant that it never once feels as if it is simply a new interpretation. The characters, though they may share names with or be styled after their Shakespearean counterparts, are entirely the novel’s own and are beautifully nuanced.

My favourite character has to be Juliette, who is not what one might expect from the character who shares her name in the play. This Juliette is not downtrodden or completely commanded by the men in her family, and there’s more than a slight sense that she could, if she chose, take control of the Scarlet Gang and no longer have to worry about her father’s influence. However, her life has been heavily controlled by concerns for her safety, which has left her feeling trapped between worlds and not entirely sure of her identity, at one turn resentful and at another defiant, angry for what she has lost and how she has had to adapt for the sake of others. Her world is controlled by perceived expectations and a determination not to risk looking weak, in-case her position as her father’s heir should continue to be threatened by her cousin Tyler. Though she has a good deal of freedom, her choices are ultimately not her own, governed by loyalty to her family and the set of rules by which they operate, and while there are moments where she appears viciously proud of who and what she is, there are far more where she resents what she has been made to become and despises how easily she adopts violence, guilt weighing heavy on her for a variety of reasons as she mourns her former self and all else that she has lost.

Her relationship with Roma is a difficult one, and in this instance is not the courtship akin to the play, but the long awaited aftermath of what might have happened had Romeo and Juliet been caught by their families before the events leading to their untimely deaths. This Roma and Juliette have previously been involved, before their loyalties and love were tested by the interference of families more interested in harming each other and gaining the upper hand than considering what’s best for their children (of course, they believe they truly are doing what is best). Now, she is determined not to love him, but understands that needs must and he can be useful to her investigation of the madness that driving people to take their own lives. It’s quite clear that their continued association is going to lead to more than their simply locating information, yet it isn’t a sweet and kind renewing of their affections, but a pairing full of distrust, regret and frustration, the two too embroiled in their rival gangs’ business and their own bitterness over losing how and who they used to be to make anything easy.

The madness stalking the city revolves around the appearance of a monster in the river and the appearance of insects that somehow influence people to attempt to tear out their own throats. Gong doesn’t shy away from using language that provokes a a flinch-worthy response when it comes to description of just how characters succumb to being robbed of all sense and forced to rip into their throats with no weapon but their own hands, which, combined with the idea of the insects and fleeting views of the monster, makes for a rather chilling sense of external evil that meshes well with the simmering tension between the gangs and other residents.

These Violent Delights is a fantastic read and by far the best and most convincing re-imagining of the Romeo and Juliet story that I’ve ever encountered. It’s out in the UK on November 17th! Thank you to Hodderscape for sending me an ARC!

Review: Brambles by Intisar Khanani

Review: Brambles by Intisar Khanani

‘In the kingdom of Adania, everyone knows what Princess Alyrra did to earn the court’s contempt, her mother’s disdain, and her brother’s hatred.

She betrayed her own.

Yet, the truth hides another story, one of honor and honesty, of a princess gambling her own life for another’s. It’s a tale of courage and consequences, and a choice that can never be undone.’

Brambles is a short story prequel to the events of ‘Thorn’, a review of which can be found here.

I loved Thorn and I’m looking forward to reading the next book set in this universe. Brambles is an excellent addition to the story and expansion of the events that are mentioned in the first novel and end up commanding a good deal of Alyrra’s fate. Her mother and brother are as awful here as they are in Thorn, subjecting her to emotional and physical abuse for being unwilling to play the game of politics as they do and set aside her moral compass, unable to comprehend how she might side with innocents in their employ rather than settle for being as vindictive as they and their more wealthy citizens are. What they see as weakness ultimately highlights how Alyrra is the best of them and a far fairer hand than the rest of her family, who are so fixated on the threat of their power being stolen from them that they exert it to a cruel extent to ensure that none will think to step out of line. I may have to re-read Thorn very soon!

I received an ARC of Brambles from Netgalley and the publisher.

Blog Tour: The Key to Fear by Kristin Cast

Blog Tour: The Key to Fear by Kristin Cast

‘Elodie obeys The Key. Elodie obeys the rules. Elodie trusts in the system. At least, Elodie used to…

Aiden is a rebel. Aiden doesn’t do what he’s told. Aiden just wants to be free. Aiden is on his last chance…

After a pandemic wiped out most of the human race, The Key took power. The Key dictate the rules. They govern in order to keep people safe. But as Elodie and Aiden begin to discover there is another side to The Key, they realise not everything is as it seems.

Rather than playing protector, The Key are playing God.’

The Key to Fear is a rather frighteningly relevant book that explores what the world (or, in this case, a particular section of the world) could be like in the wake of a global pandemic. After the Cerberus virus has decimated the world’s population, the society built on what remains is now ruled by the Key, who decide everything from work assignments (decided in citizens’ teen years), to what everyone eats, which is no longer proper meals. People are forbidden to touch and are told repeatedly throughout their day, in one way or another, that this is for the sake of their future health, and all are encouraged (expected…) to activate a shield that keeps them separate from others whenever they go outside. The Key to Fear is written from multiple points of view, but, for the sake of this review, I’m going to be sticking with Elodie and what the reader sees of the world through her.

One of its most interesting aspects is an almost complete reliance on technology and virtual reality for communication and leisure activities, which could all too easily become our future, pandemic aside. Elodie and much of the rest of the cast use virtual reality to ‘meet up’ with each other and find it rather strange when they ever get together to do activities in the ‘real’. While VR offers them the opportunity to experience places and activities that they might otherwise never get the chance to, Elodie herself believes it to be a rather empty and lifeless way of seeing the world, knowing full-well that she is physically always in a safe place and can’t be hurt or die in VR. However, this has become the norm, and it would seem that socialising in general has suffered for it, as, though Elodie doesn’t appear to much enjoy the company of others, there’s little evidence to suggest young people have much interaction with one or two people outside their family. While I think it’s evident that people have found virtual meetups for work and other aspects of their lives quite a poor and increasingly frustrating substitute for actual interaction during the pandemic we’re living through, that we were more and more using technology to communicate instead of meeting up and going outside before the pandemic happened has been clear in the rising damage to mental health that things such as social media are causing, and not only to young people. In this respect, were/are we really as distant from Elodie’s reality as we would like to think?

On the subject of family, if Elodie’s is anything like the norm, the Cerberus virus has had a huge impact on familial interaction. It’s stated that children are no longer created in the usual way, for that would involve human contact, and are instead grown in labs and sent home with a ‘carebot’ to look after them for the first four years of their lives. Given that the first four years are crucial to a child’s social and emotional development, that there is a vast distance between Elodie and her overly critical, self-obsessed and outright emotionally abusive mother is not surprising, even taking into consideration that her mother plainly doesn’t know how to treat her with affection or see her as anything other than imperfect. It would seem more that families are now a collection of people who are genetically related living together in the same house, rather than what we would hope for today. People are matched by the Key with someone deemed appropriate for them, and it’s implied that to reject that match is to be socially outcast.

Despite knowing she shouldn’t, Elodie has literature that she hasn’t handed over to the Key, in which she reads about human behaviour that she has never seen or experienced, such as romance and adventure. Though she has a match and keeps trying to convince herself that she is in love with him, she knows that she isn’t, particularly as he seems as judgemental as her mother and blindly faithful to what the Key wishes without questioning a thing (oh, and he takes great pleasure in violence). It’s what she reads in her books that helps her to identify that her feelings for him are not what she wants them to be – even if the romance she reads is somewhat over the top – and that what she experiences with Aiden is much closer to an actual human connection…

The Key to Fear was released on November 5th and is available from booksellers across the country. Current times make it a particularly haunting read, especially as regards the impact of politics, technology and corporations on our lives, and I look forward to reading future instalments. Thank you, Head of Zeus, for sending me a copy and inviting me to be part of the blog tour. Check out the tour schedule below to see the other stops!

Bookstagram Tour: The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls

Bookstagram Tour: The Silent Stars Go By by Sally Nicholls

‘Seventeen-year-old Margot Allan was a respectable vicar’s daughter and madly in love with her fiance Harry. But when Harry was reported Missing in Action from the Western Front, and Margot realised she was expecting his child, there was only one solution she and her family could think of in order to keep that respectability. She gave up James, her baby son, to be adopted by her parents and brought up as her younger brother.

Now two years later the whole family is gathering at the vicarage for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking for Margot being so close to James but unable to tell him who he really is. But on top of that, Harry is also back in the village.

Released from captivity in Germany and recuperated from illness, he’s come home and wants answers. Why has Margot seemingly broken off their engagement and not replied to his letters? Margot knows she owes him an explanation. But can she really tell him the truth about James?’

The Silent Stars Go By is a wonderful read that I enjoyed immensely. It’s very good at using little details of the time period to create atmosphere and evoke the time in which it is set, and it was so fun to read through it and open all the little parcels that the publisher had included. I read it cover to cover in one go and was quite sad when I reached the end of it, as it’s a beautifully transportive book that manages to pack a real punch in the issues that it examines.

Margot’s history is revealed through looks into the not so distant past while she’s visiting home for Christmas, where her young son is being raised by her parents as her little brother so that she (and they) can avoid the ‘shame’ of her being an unwed mother, after her fiancé is considered to be lost to the war. The Silent Stars Go By looks at her changed relationship with her family and her struggle to accept the decision she has made, watching her son believe that someone else is his mother and prefer her presence to her own. This is further compounded by the fact that her former fiancé is very much alive, leading her to entertain ideas of a future where she can reclaim her son and marry to legitimise him, only she doesn’t quite know how to share her secret with those it would impact most.

The novel not only considers Margot’s struggle, but that of other women in similar positions, who have had children out of wedlock and are inevitably going to be judged by a society that does not accept relationships outside of marriage, dooming them to be pushed to the fringes of their communities and struggle to support themselves (and their children, if they keep them). There are flashbacks to a maternity home, where other women are not as ‘fortunate’ as Margot and have been abandoned by their families either permanently or until such a time as they return home without their babies. Decisions are made without the consent of these young women, their children taken away and given to other families, and Margot attempts to reason with herself that she will at least get to see her son grow up and not have to wonder about his life, even if that means enduring the pain of keeping her secret and not getting to have the relationship with him that she would prefer. Margot often thinks about different paths she could take to reclaiming her child, trying to reason with herself that she can make things right if she can just go about it in the correct way, yet she slowly comes to the realisation that what she wants most of all may not be what is best for her son or for her family, who may have committed to raising him to avoid condemnation, but have forged bonds with him that are far, far from being merely out of obligation.

The impact of the war is hinted at in the behaviour of Margot’s brother, Stephen, who displays symptoms of PTSD and is having great difficultly integrating back into a society that simply doesn’t understand the effect that the fighting has had on its soldiers. His parents are unable to comprehend his behaviour and grow angry that he can’t hold down a job and doesn’t care to, not knowing the trauma that he has experienced and how it has changed him. This echoes the experience of many soldiers who returned from the war, who received next to no support and were often left bereft of home and work, as those around them were unable (and sometimes judgementally unwilling) to understand what they had been through and the lasting impact of the war on their behaviour and ability to function as they had before.

The Silent Stars Go by is a novel that takes on a range of heavy emotional material and examines a post-war world in a sensitive and compassionate way that promises hope in a world that has changed and may never be the same, and may never be the perfect ideal, but will be a life worth living again. Thank you, Andersen Press and Kaleidoscopic Tours for the book package and the chance to be part of the tour!

Review: Tales From the Forest by Emily Hibbs & Erin Brown

Review: Tales From the Forest by Emily Hibbs & Erin Brown

Tales From the Forest is a delightful collection of stories based around animals and nature, covering a wide variety of creatures that is bound to include those that children know of or have seen, while introducing some that they may not be as familiar with. It is divided into four sections to cover the seasons, with animals often chosen for each season to allow for opportunities to teach something about that particular animal’s behaviour or life cycle that is unique to them.

Each story is roughly five pages long and in a clear type of a good size that makes it easy for children to trace their progress along a line with a finger or a reading aid, or to follow along with an adult reading to them. The length of the stories makes them ideal for those who are moving from picture books with only a few lines of text to something more challenging, while still maintaining those familiar features, for each story has pages in a different colour, bearing illustrations around the edges and at least one full-page picture to go with each tale. The stories themselves contain words that young readers would be familiar with and introduces more complex and nature-specific vocabulary, particularly when unique animal behaviours and features are reached. At the end of each one, there’s a rhyme that teaches and reminds children about what is unique and special about each animal, the rhyming scheme something that makes it fun to recite and doubles as an aid to remembering what they’ve learned.

The illustrations are beautiful and accompany each tale with a full-page image of the animal(s) in the story, referencing moments from the narrative. They’re a gorgeous mix of watercolour and pencil images, the details picked out in the latter and creating great depth and texture, especially when it comes to the animals themselves – it’s almost as if you can feel the different in texture between the boar’s fur and that of the mouse. The pages of the stories are edged with bits and pieces from the creatures’ habitats, and sometimes even contain full backgrounds and additional pictures of the animal that is the focus of the story. I’ve tried time and again to decide on an absolute favourite picture from the book, but I can never choose just one!

Tales From the Forest would make a lovely book to read with children at bedtime and to inspire greater confidence in reading. With Christmas approaching, it’s something that would make an ideal gift for nature-loving younger family members, and is an appealing and pleasingly put together book with a lovely cover and end-pages. Thank you, Little Tiger Books, for sending me a copy!

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

‘When Addie La Rue makes a pact with the devil, she trades her soul for immortality. But there’s always a price – the devil takes away her place in the world, cursing her to be forgotten by everyone.

Addie flees her tiny home town in 18th-Century France, beginning a journey that takes her across the world, learning to live a life where no one remembers her and everything she owns is lost and broken. Existing only as a muse for artists throughout history, she learns to fall in love anew every single day.

Her only companion on this journey is her dark devil with hypnotic green eyes, who visits her each year on the anniversary of their deal. Alone in the world, Addie has no choice but to confront him, to understand him, maybe to beat him.

Until one day, in a second hand bookshop in Manhattan, Addie meets someone who remembers her. Suddenly thrust back into a real, normal life, Addie realises she can’t escape her fate forever.’

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a beautifully written book that I simply couldn’t put down. I particularly enjoy stories that exploit the idea of parts of the narrative happening in different time periods and, in this case, it was especially well done and never without clear purpose, focusing on the significant events that shape Addie and how her deal with the devil unfolds. How time is visited and runs over the course of the story is one of its strongest features, in my opinion, and it was often that I found myself preferring the glimpses into the past to the present day passages.

This isn’t to say that that which happens in the present day isn’t full of stunning writing, particularly its look at how Addie has left her mark through the years, despite being unable to impact the world around her as she wishes. My biggest issue here is with the pacing, for it feels as if the collection of characters the Addie meets are, in-fact, the forgettable ones (I still wonder if this is deliberate and further commentary on the nature of memory and belonging) and I found myself wanting to skip ahead to spend less time with them. Her love interest is an intriguing and engaging character in himself, but the people around him less so, which, again, I wonder if there is the possibility of it being playing with the idea of what he desires and the irony of it being his friends who are as he feels. It’s well into the story that readers finally meet him, which means that a lot of the reveals towards the end of the novel are rather rushed and are details I would have happily read much, much more about it.

Addie’s relationship with the devil is one of the details that has a good deal of late reveals, though remains one of, if not the most engaging facet of the story. Addie herself doesn’t appear to change much in terms of personality or temperament, and ultimately with only herself and the devil for company, this is quite understandable, since it is arguably the people around us who influence us the most (this is perhaps most evident in the book’s conclusion, when it becomes very clear who she has been learning from). Instead, Addie focuses on learning and accumulating knowledge, which is maybe the best decision she could have made in terms of her sanity, literature being a way for her to experience vicariously what she never will.

A fantastic read, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of those books that feels as if it is a dream, the prose lyrical and haunting. Highly recommended.

I received a digital e-ARC from Netgalley and the publisher.

 

Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

Review: Shine by Jessica Jung

‘What would you give for a chance to live your dreams? For seventeen-year-old Korean American Rachel Kim, the answer is almost everything. Six years ago, she was recruited by DB Entertainment – one of Seoul’s largest K-pop labels, known for churning out some of the world’s most popular stars. The rules are simple: Train 24/7. Be perfect. Don’t date. Easy right?

Not so much. As the dark scandals of an industry bent on controlling and commodifying beautiful girls begin to bubble up, Rachel wonders if she’s strong enough to be a winner, or if she’ll end up crushed … Especially when she begins to develop feelings for K-pop star and DB golden boy Jason Lee. It’s not just that he’s charming, sexy and ridiculously talented. He’s also the first person who really understands how badly she wants her star to rise.’

What I love reading even more than fantasy novels are books that look at our relationship with the media and the impact it can have on people’s lives. That, and the fact that I loved K-Pop when I was a teenager, and Shine swiftly became one of the books of 2020 that I desperately wanted to read, so thank you very much to Electric Monkey for sending me an ARC for review!

Shine follows Rachel, a Korean American girl in her late teens whose family have relocated to Seoul, ostensibly so that she can try to make it in the world of K-Pop, after being signed by DB Entertainment. However, Rachel’s experience of that world is notably different to those that she is working with and who are ultimately her rivals, for her mother requires her to attend school during the week and only train with DB at the weekends, something that Rachel quite bitterly resents and sees as something that is only putting her at a disadvantage – and, at seventeen, she doesn’t have much time left to be selected as a member of the next girl group to debut.

One of the novel’s focuses is on just how much of their trainee’s lives DB Entertainment (and, we are led to assume, not so fictional companies) has complete control over. This obsession with their trainees’ weight, appearance and behaviour spills over into every aspect of their lives, to the point where it seems that the trainees are unable to think or act without fear of how the company will react and how it might punish them – and their potential careers – for any slight mistake, no matter how unintentional. DB Entertainment’s fixation on controlling every aspect of everyone’s lives opens up the potential for sabotage in a world of fierce competition, something that Rachel experiences more than once over the course of the narrative, but a particular incident early on, in which she is drugged by a rival, is the most serious and isn’t quite resolved, so I hope that we get to see it addressed in more detail at some point in Bright, the follow-up scheduled for October 2021. What’s most troubling about the company’s attitude to those in their employ is that they don’t seem to understand that they should be those in their care too. The girls are worked to exhaustion and constantly encouraged to see each other as competition, thus stripping them of any support system that they might be able to build in the stressful environment in which they work. There seem to be no boundaries as to what rivals might do in terms of sabotage, from invasions of privacy to exploiting family members, which leaves the trainees essentially isolated in their efforts to pursue their chosen career.

Rachel’s romantic interest, Jason Lee, is a somewhat conflicting character. There are times when he truly seems as if he could be a nice person, such as during his interaction with Rachel’s sister, but he remains so oblivious about who and what he is – being one of the company’s biggest successes – that his behaviour is often contemptable and makes it quite obvious that he shouldn’t be trusted, even if Rachel herself doesn’t quite see it. And yet, just as the reader may have made up their mind about him, there are instances where he seems to redeem himself, only to then ultimately undermine his acts of decency. It’s easy to see, especially in a world where no-one can be trusted, how Rachel can never quite decide whether he is ever not acting a part or under the company’s spell.

Shine is a ridiculously enjoyable read and a sharp look at the darker world that exists beneath the glossy surface that K-Pop presents. One of the things it does well is avoid falling into predictive narratives with the relationships that Rachel forms, swerving away from easy redemption arcs and quick forgiveness to highlight that there is no quick fix in an environment where you are constantly monitored and your life – and your decisions – aren’t your own. It develops an effective contrast between the bright and vivid performances for camera, and the pain and confusion beneath, while continuing to bring to the forefront why Rachel is putting herself through the grueling routine demanded of her: that she loves to sing and loves K-Pop, no matter what.

Out on October 15th, Shine is so fun that I didn’t want it to end! I was checking to see if there was a sequel long before I’d finished, as I was afraid I was reading too quickly and wasn’t ready for it to be over. A delightful book!

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

‘In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the three Eastwood sisters join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote – and perhaps not even to live – the sisters must delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.’

I adored The Ten Thousand Doors of January, particularly because Harrow has such a brilliant understanding of the cadence of language and the rhythm of words, and how to use them to devastating effect, and so I should have known that The Once and Future Witches was not going to be a book that I could ‘just read a couple of chapters’ of and put down. I read through at least two thirds of the novel in one go, and it’s one of those reads that surfacing from involves the return to reality being incredibly jarring.

When the reader meets the Eastwood sisters, they are not exactly on the best of terms and habour resentments towards each other and the connection between them that they cannot ignore. What becomes apparent very quickly is that much of this ill-feeling is born of guilt and, over the course of the novel, it becomes clearer and clearer that what they blame themselves for are not things that were truly within their power. That they have all fled their home for various reasons only emphasises the claustrophobic nature of an upbringing in a society that attempted to stifle them in almost every way, men intent on punishing any suggestion that a girl should be anything but an obedient and silent wife and mother. In finding themselves and each other, the sisters slowly return to their old understanding that it is only together that they are going to survive and bring back what has been all but lost.

The magic in The Once and Future Witches isn’t of your typical ‘fantasy’ variety, where there are no limits to a power that can do anything at all. It’s grounded in the reality of its setting and in literature; in the way words are crafted and handed down through generations. It doesn’t suggest that this power to heal and help and protect is exclusive to a specific bloodline or excludes anyone. It’s a magic that can belong to everyone and fights against the stereotypical images and ideas about witches that were born in ancient history, when sorceresses were no longer celebrated and started to be depicted as dangerous, unpredictable and ugly simply because men could not tolerate the idea of powerful (’emotional and reckless’) women. It laments what we lose to history by force, spells and ideas hidden in common rhymes and literature now assumed to be ‘just’ stories. As the story unfolds, the characters reclaim what has been lost to them; what they’ve been forced to hide and what has been taken and all but destroyed, and in taking back one kind of power also get to reclaim parts of themselves that they’ve felt they have to suppress and conceal.

I loved the suggestion that women’s clothing no longer has half the number of pockets as men’s because it would be dangerous to let women have pockets in which they could keep bits and pieces to cast spells, and thus keep any attempts at wielding power out in the open and easily preventable. It’s an idea that feels a little too real and not out of the realms of fantasy, because, at this point in history, what ideas and methods have not been used (or aren’t being used) to keep women from having power, even over their own bodies? It feels like so small a thing to have changed, yet so believable that it could have such a huge impact. What woman hasn’t lamented the absence of pockets? Is there a more believable reason not ostensibly related to fashion for why our clothes hardly ever have functional pockets? I honestly haven’t been able to not think about this every time I realise the dress I’ve worn to work inevitably doesn’t even have a pocket for my keys/lanyard/ID.

The Once and Future Witches is out October 13th, from Orbit Books, who very kindly sent me a proof for review (thank you!). This is one of my favourite books of the year so far: a fantasy story that isn’t entirely a fantasy; a historical novel that screams so much of what is still wrong with modern society; a reminder of the importance of our histories and what we may have unwittingly forgotten.

Review: Hide-and-Seek History – The Egyptians

Review: Hide-and-Seek History – The Egyptians

Having studied Egyptology before going into teaching, when I saw this book I knew that I had to get a look at it!

Hide-and-Seek History: The Egyptians is an absolutely beautiful book for young children that looks at the Ancient Egyptian civilisation and what archaeology is and what it involves. Every page contains a series of flaps blended seamlessly into the rich and vivid illustrations, which can be pulled to reveal more information about different aspects of culture and history. Something I think is particularly engaging about how the book has been constructed is that sometimes there are further flaps to reveal beneath the initial one, making the discovery of more details like the process of archaeological excavation and uncovering different layers of history.

The illustrations in the book are wonderfully bright and full of warm colour palettes that make the world within cheery and welcoming. My favourite is the section about the Gods, which is a lovely amber and purple twilight spread with flaps that children can pull to reveal information about many of the Gods, the range that has been selected one that includes the more common ones that students might learn about in early schooling, and some of the less so, offering up broader information and adding further opportunities for learning and discovering.

I particularly appreciated that the language chosen to convey some thoughts and ideas about Egypt makes it clear that there is not always one interpretation of what we have discovered, and so encourages children to enquire further. The written details are clear and do not use overly simple vocabulary, affording chances for readers to expand their understanding of subject specific terms and how words can be used in different contexts. The writing also makes sure to include women, men, and both historical and modern scholars in its references, and strikes a balance in its illustrations and areas of culture covered to make sure it doesn’t solely look at spheres of life for one particular gender.

The Egyptians will be on shelves on October 1st 2020 and would make a wonderful birthday or Christmas present for a child with an interest in history and ancient civilisations! Thank you, Little Tiger Books, for sending me a copy for review!

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

Blog Tour: Boy Queen by George Lester

‘Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to University, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realizes there might be a different, more sequinned path for him…

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the brilliant new YA release, Boy Queen, by George Lester, and I have a review to share! I read this book from cover to cover without putting it down and loved the story – I particularly think that it deserves a spot in and some attention from school libraries, especially with its look at first relationships, identity, and the anxiety and pressures surrounding the end of secondary schooling.

Boy Queen follows Robin, who is in his last year of sixth form and has applied to drama schools as his next step towards his chosen career, his days occupied by school and extra classes in dance and the theatre arts, the latter something he devotes his time to in an effort to ace the rigorous exams that drama schools require their applicants to pass to earn a place on their courses of study. Unfortunately for Robin, he doesn’t manage to secure a place at drama school, leaving him adrift and unsure of what his next steps are, certain that going to university like some of his friends isn’t for him, even the prospect of applying again next year something that the knock to his confidence initially finds him unable to truly contemplate. Robin is presented as a young man who works hard and wants to dedicate himself to his craft, his confidence a seemingly fragile thing that fluctuates with his sense of self-worth, which is impacted by his experiences with the outside world’s reaction to his sexuality and how he presents himself. When what he has worked so hard for becomes an impossibility in the short term (which should not be downplayed, especially given the pressure that young people face to know their paths and follow them immediately at the end of schooling), he finds himself adrift, his future daunting and uncertain, and his parting from his closest friends and support network inevitable. On his eighteenth birthday, he visits Entity, a club where he gets to see drag artists live for the first time, allowing drag to make the jump from something he has experienced on-screen and at a distance, to something he realises he has the opportunity to take a much more active interest in.

The relationships in Boy Queen are a huge part of the story and, though there are lots that I’d like to talk about, I’m going to focus on two of them. However, I do want to say that I loved the found family features with Robin and his circle of friends, and with the drag artists that he gets to know, such as Kaye, who take him in as one of their own, not just to protect him, but also to teach and to challenge what preconceptions he has about drag and sexuality. The most supportive influence in Robin’s life is his mother, who accepts her son for who he is, while seeking to protect her child from a world that she knows is largely not as accepting as the friends he has found, and wants to keep him safe from the negative influences who will judge him and attempt to make him feel bad for being who he is. Though Robin clearly loves his mum, in his frustration and growing worry over his future he often fails to see all that she does for him, at one point accusing her of never being around, while not understanding that she is rarely home because she is working to make sure that she can pay for everything he needs to embrace his dreams. There are some things that they take for granted about each other that are challenged by Robin’s shifting evermore from child to adult, a time that is proving stressful for the both of them, yet, ultimately, his mother is his biggest fan, certain in the good heart of the son she has raised, and that he has the talent to be whatever he wishes to be.

Robin’s relationship with Connor throws up all sorts of warning signs early on for the reader, from Connor’s reluctance to acknowledge Robin in public, to his insistence that nobody find out that they’re a supposed item (I hesitate to say that they are a couple). While these things are easy for the audience to pick up on, that their relationship is one in which Robin is manipulated and emotionally wounded on more than one occasion is far less clear to him, not only because he wants to be loved, but because he believes he understands the reasons that Connor cannot be as open as he is and has many of the same fears of the consequences of expressing his sexuality. It takes Robin time and support to realise that Connor’s attitude toward him is not acceptable for someone who claims to care for him, and to stop supplying excuses for him to reason away his behaviour, both because he wants to believe better of Connor and because he has convinced himself that he may not be deserving of love and affection; that losing Connor – in whatever way he is willing to be with him – might mean the end of any chance he has at love and he would be foolish to throw it away. Further layers to his experiences with Connor are uncovered as the novel unfolds, the nature of these revelations well-structured within the overall arc of the story and Robin’s realisations about their relationship as he begins to grow into a new confidence in himself.

Boy Queen was released on August 6th and is available on shelves now! Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for the ARC and the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!