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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!

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

Blog Tour: Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

‘Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Morts they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In a fast and furious story full of the glamour and excesses, intrigue and deception of these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for Kat Dunn’s new YA book, Dangerous Remedy, which is a wonderful read from start to finish and one I didn’t want to put down.

The story follows Camille and the group she has assembled to free people from prison and help them escape certain death, her view that they are doing what they must to help ordinary citizens who have no hope of influencing a corrupt system or of evading their deaths once they are in custody. As the book opens, they have been paid to free and rescue a girl their client claims is his daughter, yet it soon becomes all too obvious that they have not been told the whole story, not about the mission or the girl herself, and so their plans must change while they attempt to figure out the truth and muddle through the ethics of the situation that they find themselves in.

One of the things I most enjoyed about Dangerous Remedy was the group dynamic and the fact that it’s never entirely clear one hundred percent what anyone’s motives truly are or what they might be willing to do to protect themselves and each other. Al is perhaps the most openly scathing of their work together and quite often cuts straight to the point, but it’s quite evident that his darker humour and sarcasm are methods that he uses to protect himself from the reality of what he has experienced and the hand that the world has dealt him. Ada believes that she is doing what she must for Camille and her friends, though knows full well that the secrets she keeps would be abhorrent to the girl she loves, while Camille herself seems to struggle with her own motives and what drives her.

The more magical elements of the story are reminiscent of Frankenstein in their execution, which I found quite suitable for a time in which science was often believed to be magic, and to meddle with what was considered beyond the realm of man was to invite certain doom (this also ties in nicely with the arguments against fate and choice being what determines the future). Olympe is much like the monster, created and turned into something others view as inhuman, with a power not entirely under her control and understanding of who she could be in the right circumstances – when not considered a ‘thing’ and treated as such – just beyond her reach. She has been dehumanised for so long that it would be easy for her to lash out, admitting that she does not remember what it is for people to be kind, and still, she tries, as all of Camille’s group do in their own way, to find a way to a better way.

I loved Camille and Ada and found the murky mix of their family’s pasts and elements that catch up with each of them to be some of the most engaging parts of the novel. Though they clearly love each other, how they feel about each other appears to differ, to the extent that Ada’s devotion and guilt leads her to turn towards Camille and what she can do to help her (even risking her hatred), while Camille seems to retreat inwards and fixate, not as confident in expressing sometimes uncertain feelings, instead taking refuge in action that she has not always thought through or considered the consequences of.

Dangerous Remedy was released in hardback on August 6th and is available from both online and high street book sellers! Thank you, Zephyr Books, for sending me a signed ARC and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up – LA Exchange by Katy Cannon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Switch Up: LA Exchange, which is the sequel to The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! You can read my review of this fun and brilliant read for young adult and middle grade alike here! This morning, I have a post from Katy titled Summer 2020: A Guide for Introverts!

As an introvert, I have to admit that, on paper, that sounds pretty great.

But over the last few months of lockdown, even us introverts have learned there’s a limit to how much we actually want to stay home alone.

Last summer, I wrote a guide to surviving summer as an introvert. It was based around the idea that summertime is fun time – it’s parties and outings and holidays with the family and days with friends. Except this year it kind of isn’t.

So I figure we need a new summer guide for introverts, to help us navigate this new, weird summer we have ahead of us.

Here are my top 5 tips for summer 2020:

Accept that things are weird.

As the lockdown eases and the world starts opening up again over the next few months, it’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security that things are getting back to normal. But they’re not, and it’s important to remember that – not just for our own physical health and safety (let’s not forget about social distancing now when we still desperately need it) but for our mental wellbeing too.

If we think that things are normal, we start telling ourselves that we should feel normal, too. But we’re actually still living through a hugely stressful time – one where our plans and expectations about the year have been tossed out of the window. Exams have been cancelled, schools closed, proms abandoned, birthdays celebrated without parties, holidays skipped and friends and family missed. Many of us have lost loved ones suddenly, and without a chance to say goodbye. And we’re all still living with a huge sense of uncertainty about what happens next. Will schools be open in September? Who knows. Can we go on holiday later in the year? Maybe. Will there be a vaccine? We hope so.

I don’t mention all this to stress you out, but because we’re all already stressed out. This stuff is stressful! Our bodies and minds are in a permanent state of uncertainty, and that takes its toll. So accept that things are weird, and be gentle on yourself. Do what you need to do to keep yourself balanced and well, and don’t feel bad about any of the stuff you need to say no to in order to get there.

Avoid Zoom Fatigue

One of the things you might need to say no to is your twentieth Zoom request of the week. While it’s important to stay in touch with friends and family on video calls, social media and so on, it’s just as important to take a break from it sometimes.

The rule is this: if you feel better and more energised after spending time talking to people, then that’s great! (Yes, I know that introverts usually recharge our energy by not talking to people, but even we like a bit of social interaction with the right people.) But if you feel drained and down after an online chat, then it’s not adding anything to your day.

Of course the problem is that you might not know how you’re going to feel about that virtual meet up or online pub quiz until after its happened. But you know yourself better than anyone, and now we’re all more used to this kind of interaction, we can better predict how we’re going to feel. So take a look at your virtual social calendar – and don’t forget to include any actual garden meet ups or socially distanced walks with friends – and triage it.

What are the things you really don’t want to miss? Your best friend’s virtual birthday party, for instance, or a walk with a friend you haven’t seen in months? What are the ‘nice to do’ items – a weekly quiz on Facebook or a cup of tea in the garden with your aunt who lives round the corner? And what are the ‘can miss’ items? Maybe the weekly zoom call for your drama group where everyone talks over each other anyway, or yet another video call with that friend who is so bored she insists on calling everyone daily?

Make sure you have energy for the most important items by keeping space around them in your calendar for recharging. Fit in all the nice to do items you can manage around that space. And if that looks like a full week, save the can miss items for a quieter week.

It’s okay to flake out on the virtual socialising that you don’t have energy for. It’s maybe harder now we can’t claim other plans, but honestly? You can just say ‘I can’t tonight, but maybe next week?’ That’s okay. (It’s also okay to just say no, if you never want to do it!)

Protect your energy. You need it more than people on the other end of a video call.

Keep a fun list

It’s easy to find ourselves scrolling through our Instagram feed for hours, or at the whim of someone else’s schedule, especially since our actual schedules are kind of empty right now. The best way I’ve found to combat this is to make a fun list.

It’s exactly what it sounds like – a list of fun things to do. It’s a present from your past self to your future self.

So sit down one afternoon and write a list of things future you might enjoy doing. The only catch is that it has to be specific to be useful. When you’re slumped on the sofa feeling like you should do something but not sure what, you need explicit instructions from your past self.

So instead of ‘read a book,’ put ‘read the next book in the series I’m enjoying’ or the title of a book from your TBR. Instead of ‘bake’ put ‘bake chocolate chip cookies.’ You get the idea. And make sure that you have that next book available, and the ingredients on hand. That way, when you’re looking for something else to do, it’s easy to pick something and get started.

Journal

Taking time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings, as well as events going on around you, is always time well spent. It helps you process your emotions, and deal with them in a healthier way than bottling them all up. At times like this, when the world is a worrying place, just writing down how that makes you feel can really help your mood.

Including a gratitude list is also a great idea. Each day, jot down three things that you’re grateful for. It can be anything – from the rain stopping, to eating your favourite dinner, to your loved ones being in your life. Focussing on the good things in our lives helps us remember that the world isn’t all bad.

Recharge

Even now things are starting up again, Britain is still a quieter place than it has been in decades. Our calendars are empty of actual social events, and the number of places we can go is severely limited. As introverts, this gives us a little breathing room. Use it. Recharge your batteries, enjoy your space, make the most of the quiet.

One day, hopefully soon, the world will be back to normal again, maybe even better than before. And if we recharge now, we can celebrate with our loved ones without feeling overwhelmed when the time comes.

Thank you very much, Katy! I know there’s some advice here that I definitely need to take, particularly when it comes to over-saturating zoom/media/messages and realising it’s okay to take a step back and not be available all the time because it’s assumed we’re all available in lockdown.

The Switch Up: LA Exchange is out on June 25th and is the perfect summer read! Check out the other stops on the blog tour by visiting the blogs of the lovely people on the schedule below! Thank you Little Tiger and Stripes Books for the chance to take part in the tour!

Blog Tour: People Like Us by Louise Fein

Blog Tour: People Like Us by Louise Fein

Leipzig, 1930s Germany.

Hetty Heinrich is a perfect German child. Her father is an SS officer, her brother in the Luftwaffe, herself a member of the BDM. She believes resolutely in her country, and the man who runs it.

Until Walter changes everything. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, perfect in every way Walter. The boy who saved her life. A Jew.

Anti-semitism is growing by the day, and neighbours, friends and family members are turning on one another. As Hetty falls deeper in love with a man who is against all she has been taught, she begins to fight against her country, her family and herself. Hetty will have to risk everything to save Walter, even if it means sacrificing herself…’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for People Like Us by Louise Fein, and I have a review to share! I read this cover to cover in an evening and simply couldn’t put it down. People Like Us is a haunting look at the rise of nationalism and the use of propaganda to manipulate society, something that should not be easily dismissed as a thing of the past, especially given the recent surge in nationalism across Europe, and the media’s ever more intrusive presence in our daily lives.

As a young girl, Hetty is saved from drowning by one of her brother’s friends, an act for which she is forever grateful and leads to her trusting him and harbouring a secret affection for him as she grows. In these early years, the propaganda spread against the Jewish community has yet to truly take hold, and Walter is a friend of the family, often at her home and someone who she attends school with, making her infatuation something that does not seem to too great an issue – until Hitler’s ideology and campaign against the Jews begins to pervade society. At first, Hetty does not understand why Walter is suddenly at her house so often and why her brother seems to no longer consider him a friend, her comprehension of the changes occurring in society somewhat limited and blinded by an encouraged love for Hitler. However, a day in school, where Walter is declared to be Jewish, brings everything she thought she knew about and felt for him into question – and by extension everything that she has been taught and made to believe about her place in the world and what is happening to her country.

One of the worst things to see in the story is how Hetty is brainwashed by propaganda and indoctrinated into an increasingly disturbing belief system, not least of which is her belief that Hitler is a god-figure, the picture in her bedroom treated as an idol that she prays to and imagines as a father figure that she feels she must obey and would be disappointed in her if she fails him in any way. As the Nazi ideology progressively invades almost every facet of her life, Hetty is encouraged more and more to believe as they do, unable to escape the onslaught that claims more and more of those around her, in turn influencing her own behaviour. At first, there is much she doesn’t understand about why she is being encouraged to treat others differently, and the moment that she bows to the pressure of her peers and the weight of the beliefs she is being forced to comply with is utterly awful and finds her openly mocking and behaving in a thoroughly offensive manner to some of her Jewish neighbours. In her youth, Hetty’s belief in the propaganda spread by the Nazis is only encouraged by her father’s status within the order – how can the awful suggestions spread by the Nazis be bad when the father she loves believes them? And when her mother and brother support them too? And when her friends all want to participate in the clubs and societies created for children?

The scene I have to say that I found most horrifying and uncomfortable to read is the moment where the teacher of Hetty’s class brings a Jewish girl and boy to the front of the class and spends time detailing everything about them that he believes makes them inferior to his own ‘pure’ German race. The worst of it is knowing that this sort of thing did happen, and both children are thoroughly dehumanised and treated like animals in-front of peers who are encouraged by someone who is supposed to be a ‘responsible’ adult to demean them and consider them sub-human. They are singled out solely based on their faith and painted as an entirely different species, not considered worthy of basic human decency and kindness, and assessed like livestock. Hetty is disturbed by what the teacher chooses to do, yet she is also shocked at the fact that Walter – who is blonde and blue eyed – is one of the people that she is being taught to despise and look down on, both because he doesn’t physically meet the ‘specifications’ she is being told to look out for, and because she believes that he cannot possibly be capable of all that she is being told the Jews are and are doing.

I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I mean to avoid discussing specific points in the latter half of the narrative, but I do want to speak for a moment about the structure of the novel and the use of time. People Like Us doesn’t focus on any one particular year in the rise of the Third Reich, but lingers on formative instances of Hetty’s childhood and her life as a young woman, spending months in different years across a decade. The pacing and structure created by this use of time is incredibly effective in demonstrating the gradual stranglehold of Hitler’s ideology and its effects on the attitude, beliefs and behaviour of German society, the time spent with the characters long enough in each moment to get to know them, while simultaneously being broad enough over all to demonstrate the alterations in their behaviour and the impact that the world they are living in has on who they are.

Thank you, Head of Zeus, for the ARC of People Like Us, and for the opportunity to be part of the tour!

Bookstagram Tour: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

Bookstagram Tour: Incendiary by Zoraida Córdova

‘An epic tale of love and revenge set in a world inspired by Inquisition-era Spain pits the magical Moria against a terrifying royal authority bent on their destruction.

When the royal family of Selvina sets out to destroy magic through a grand and terrible inquisition, magic warrior-thief Renata – trained in the art of stealing memories-seeks to kill the prince, leader of the King’s Justice, only to learn through powerful memories that he may be the greatest illusion of them all … and that the fate of all magic now lies in her hands.’

Today is day three of the Bookstagram Tour for the brilliant new YA book, Incendiary, by Zoraida Córdova, and I have a review to share that focuses on my favourite features of the novel: memory, manipulation and the mind.

Incendiary follows Renata, who works as a rebel spy against the crown that used to use her for its own means, and has the ability to steal memories from others, both in a way that can be used to aide those suffering from painful recollections, and in a manner that can be absolutely devastating to the person whose mind she touches. Her people, the Moria, have been all but wiped out, something that she has had a hand in and means that many in the rebel network are unwilling to trust or forgive her, but Renata is determined to prove herself as a member of the Whispers, to protect those she has grown to care for and to whom she believes she owes a debt. Unfortunately for her, this leads her on a path back to the life she thought she had been freed from, and a need to play a game that, in her youth, she was unaware she was a part of.

What I found most interesting about Incendiary was the way in which it deals with the concepts of conditioning and guilt. Mendez plays at being a father to Renata when she is young, attempting to ease his own hurts by treating her in a way that he sees as kind and carries the additional merit of conditioning her to trust him and believe that what she is doing serves a good and true purpose. He uses the innocence of her youth against her own people, claiming that the use of her powers for his own intent is only ‘lessons’ and giving her rewards when she is unwittingly successful in finding new information and eliminating threats to the crown, making her believe that she is being good and useful by way of bribes of sweets and affection. Renata has locked much of the worst of this, and her own childhood, away, and of all that she has ever done is something that she cannot make peace with, even knowing how she was manipulated and that a child in her situation could not possibly hope to understand the broader picture of what was happening or resist as she wishes she had done. Mendez’s treatment and exploitation of the child she was is disturbing, only his own potential gains considered and not Renata as an actual human being. He may supposedly treat her ‘kindly’, praise her and make sure that she has a comfortable life, but he is ultimately using her as a weapon – an object – without any consideration of how she may grow to feel about what she is doing. Had he managed to keep her, I imagine his intention would have been to keep her in a state of perpetual ignorance by ensuring she has nothing to concern her or anything to want for.

Renata’s issues with her own memories and those of her dealing with the recollections of others may be rooted in the fantasy elements of the story and in the use of her powers, but I enjoyed the broader look at the concept of memory itself and what it means to us. It was when studying Classical literature and philosophies that I remember first being asked to consider memory in a less trustworthy way than I had before, in that it cannot be denied that what we think we remember is ultimately not, in-fact, exactly what happened, for what we recall is coloured by the experiences we have had since that moment. Not only that, but what we believe to have happened or think we know is influenced by the world around us and what we are encouraged to think. I liked that there is something of this in Renata’s struggles, her understanding of what she sees never quite trustworthy because of a more magical manipulation, but also because she has been treated a particular way and told certain things. Not only this, but there is the all too human element of inadvertently trying to shield herself from her own painful memories.

I loved the idea of the Moria and their gifts, and that we get to see how they use the different powers of their minds to protect each other and to go on the offensive when necessary, including how they might work together and complement each other to achieve a goal. For me, this feature of the story was particularly interesting because it is imperative that the Whispers work together, yet the gifts that they have open up a whole realm of potential for mistrust, as when you have people who can steal your memories, fool your eyes and manipulate your feelings among you, how can you ever trust that what you’re experiencing is real? Each of their gifts has the potential to be used for healing and for hindering, and it’s entirely down to the whims of the gifted person as to what it becomes. Having magical powers of some variety is not uncommon in YA literature, but I felt that how they should or should not be used was particularly well explored in Incendiary, perhaps because our minds are something that we most fear someone manipulating.

Incendiary was released yesterday! Thank you, Hodderscape, for the ARC, finished copy, and the opportunity to be part of today’s event!

Blog Tour: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

Blog Tour: Rules for Being a Girl by Candace Bushnell & Katie Cotugno

‘Marin has always been good at navigating these unspoken guidelines. A star student and editor of the school paper, she dreams of getting into Brown University. Marin’s future seems bright―and her young, charismatic English teacher, Mr. Beckett, is always quick to admire her writing and talk books with her.

But when “Bex” takes things too far and comes on to Marin, she’s shocked and horrified. Had she somehow led him on? Was it her fault?

When Marin works up the courage to tell the administration what happened, no one believes her. She’s forced to face Bex in class every day. Except now, he has an axe to grind.

But Marin isn’t about to back down. She uses the school newspaper to fight back and she starts a feminist book club at school. She finds allies in the most unexpected people, like “slutty” Gray Kendall, who she’d always dismissed as just another lacrosse bro. As things heat up at school and in her personal life, Marin must figure out how to take back the power and write her own rules.’

The Rules for Being a Girl blog tour starts today and I have a review of this brilliant book to share! I’m also running a giveaway for a copy on my Instagram (@pythiareads), which you can access using the Instagram feed on the right!

I read Rules for Being a Girl cover to cover in one go and was both glad to see in print something that so accurately depicts and addresses the different rules that women have to live by, compared to the male experience of the world, and saddened by just how much of how Marin feels is identifiable as how women are made to feel every day, and how we are made to adapt our behaviour and change to make ourselves more acceptable. When looking at literature and media in general, there is simply so much produced that only perpetuates the idea that women are only important insofar as how they respond and are useful to men (see the ‘female, dispensable sidekick’). Much of the problem here lies with how, historically, men have had command of society and thus able to decide what, in terms of art and literature, is acceptable; an issue that continues to run rampant in the production of a popular media that is largely under male control. In short: young women need more books such as Rules for Being a Girl: books written by women, that tell them that they are not alone and that the ‘rules’ need rewriting.

As a teacher, I found Beckett’s behaviour particularly disturbing and spent much of the novel feeling rather nauseated by his behaviour and wishing for Marin (and every other student, really) to get as much distance from him as possible. His behaviour is utterly despicable, especially given his position of power and what should be a responsibility for Marin’s wellbeing, and while I wanted to believe his school would permanently remove him from his role (as they should), it also felt that his being believed innocent – as an adult male in a position of responsibility, compared to Marin being young, female and therefore assumed to be creative with the truth – was inevitable. If I were to ask, I’m not sure that I could find a single woman that I know who hasn’t, at one time or another, had a man’s word or understanding believed to be better than hers simply because he’s a man. Marin’s initial reluctance to report his behaviour only serves to highlight the fear that women live with every day, that to speak out is to be branded a liar and to have their own reliability and reputation tarnished for calling someone out for something unacceptable; to ultimately be made a target. And this is exactly what happens to her, horrifyingly (but not surprisingly) with the full encouragement of a man who bears responsibility for her safety in the school environment.

In starting her feminist book club, Marin begins to see that to make assumptions about others, based on thing such as rumour and appearance, is as wrong as the assumptions that are being made about her. It also begins to challenge her about her own views and encourages her to examine the nuances of her beliefs and those of those around her to find a way to not only engage in measured debate with others (without jumping to conclusions), but create common ground and take a genuine interest in the lives of those she has previously not taken into much consideration. Together, the group starts to examine what feminism is and challenge the preconceptions that go hand in hand with the term, while learning not to assume who can and cannot be a feminist. As she gets to know Gray better, Marin is met with the struggle of deciding when she feels it’s appropriate to let him stand up for her without it feeling as if she is being undermined, or whether she can show affection and support him while still remaining a feminist.

Rules for Being a Girl is an excellent and thought-provoking read about the imbalances that continue to exist in a society that likes to tell itself that equality of the sexes exists. In a world that says women’s rights have improved a great deal, is it not time to consider that that subjective elements of equality in particular spheres are not, in-fact, the progress that we need most? Claiming that equality is here does not make it so. Nor does getting defensive when challenged about it.

Thank you, My Kinda Book, for the proof copy of Rules for Being a Girl and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Check out the tour schedule below for when to visit the lovely bloggers involved!

Blog Tour: Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy

Blog Tour: Sofa Surfer by Malcolm Duffy

‘15-year-old Tyler’s teenage angst turns to outright rebellion when his family leave London for a new life in Yorkshire. He’s angry with his parents about the upheaval and furious at losing his home. With only the dog to confide in, Tyler has no idea that a chance meeting with a skinny girl called Spider will lead him into a world he never even knew existed. Spider is sofa surfing and Tyler finds himself spinning a tangled web of lies in his efforts to help her escape her world of fear and insecurity.

Sofa Surfer shows how empathy and action can help those without a home to go to. As with his widely praised debut Me Mam. Me Dad. Me., Malcolm Duffy finds humour and heart even in dire situations. Relevant, warm and rewarding Sofa Surfer is about what happens when going home isn’t an option.’

Today is my stop on the Sofa Surfer blog tour and I have a review of this brilliant new release that looks at what it means to be young and homeless in today’s world and challenges dangerous assumptions of blame and the perception that to be homeless is to have done something wrong – or, worse, to deserve it. It’s recommended for children aged 12+ and, in my opinion, would make an excellent class reader for Year 8 and/or 9, and could be tied into wider PSHE studies and any work that schools do with homeless charities in terms of raising awareness and fundraising.

Sofa Surfer is written from the point of fifteen year old Tyler, who finds himself uprooted from London and unwillingly made to start over in Yorkshire, where he grows increasingly despondent and reliant on his memories of London to comfort him in his changed world. For Tyler, the move is the worst possible thing that could have happened to him, as it has removed him from his friends and all that he finds familiar, and at the beginning of the novel he is almost entirely fixated on how bad a place the world is for him, his behaviour towards Spider and his lack of understanding of why she cannot pay him the full amount for her swimming lessons (he does not think to enquire as to what her life is like, only loses his temper on one particular occasion) something that makes him appear selfish and preoccupied with his own comfort and needs, which is something that I think we can all find ourselves guilty of when it comes to not always getting what we want. However, Tyler is young and has had very little reason to consider much beyond his own bubble, belonging to a family of decent means, with an income that ensures he has never gone hungry or truly lacked for anything he needs. He might be short on things he wants, but his relationship with Spider soon begins to educate him as to the difference between necessity and that which he would like to have, and while has limited options with which to help her, his efforts seem far more mature than those of any of the adults in the story.

For me, one of the key features of the narrative is the perception of homelessness that is all too often bandied about. In this case, Tyler’s parents are initially unwilling to understand Spider’s situation, and upon learning that their son has seen someone who is homeless, his father declares it to be ‘self-inflicted’. Their attitudes do change over the course of the narrative, and his mum makes some attempts to be helpful in a way that makes her feel that she has tried, but their reaction when they discover that Spider has been in their house is as if there’s been an infestation that needs cleaning out. Both of them fail to see Spider as human and, ultimately, as a child who needs help. They are very protective of their own son, yet they cannot see that Spider is a young person – someone else’s daughter – who needs help and support, which is unfortunately the case with many instances of homelessness. In a similar vein, the girl who targets Tyler to be her new boyfriend, Michele, immediately decides that Spider is only seeking attention when evidence of her mental health issues surfaces, dismissive and judgemental in her efforts to keep him to herself and focused on her. The relationship between Tyler and Michele also serves to highlight other issues, such as manipulation in relationships, pressure to engage in sexual activity, and minors posting and sharing unsuitable material online.

When he leans the extent of the problems that have led to Spider becoming homeless (I don’t want to elaborate further and spoil the story!), Tyler’s immediate response is empathy and a desire to help her in what ways he can. In this, he learns that his own ‘suffering’ is not truly something that is the end of the world for him: it’s upsetting, yes, but he still has everything that he needs to lead what is, for him, a ‘normal’ life. His understanding of her situation is furthered by a firsthand experience of it, in which he learns that to live on the streets is, amongst other awful things, to fear for your life. At this stage, he is already completely committed to supporting Spider, but I feel that the moral for the reader is that it shouldn’t take an experience of life on the streets for anyone to empathise with another human being. Tyler’s experience is used to highlight the realities of homelessness to young readers and is a very effective feature of the story that will hopefully open the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with the struggles of young and old alike on the streets. One of the most positive things about the story is that Tyler’s parents do learn that their attitudes are not as they should be; that their perception of their being ‘understanding’ is more limited than they would like to think, and that sometimes what we see as helping is not all that we could truly do.

I highly recommend Sofa Surfer as an engaging read for teens and one that teachers should look to for potential to include in their English curriculum as a unit for KS3. Thank you, Zephyr Books, for the copy of Sofa Surfer and the chance to take part in the blog tour!

Check out the banner below for the previous and next stops on the tour!

Blog Tour: Follow me, Like Me by Charlotte Seager

Blog Tour: Follow me, Like Me by Charlotte Seager

‘When sixteen-year-old Chloe replies to a DM from a gorgeous stranger, she has no idea what she’s inviting into her life. As her online fan becomes increasingly obsessive, her real life starts to come apart at the seams and Chloe realizes she needs to find a way to stop him before things spiral out of control.

Misfit Amber’s online obsession with her personal trainer begins to creep into the real world. But when she hears a terrible rumor about him, she drops everything to try and prove his innocence – even if it means compromising her own.

In Follow Me, Like Me by Charlotte Seager, Amber and Chloe might find that the truth is much harder to swallow than the lies.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the new YA thriller, Follow Me, Like Me by Charlotte Seager and I’m here with a review and a post from Charlotte about writing thrillers for young adults!

Writing Thrillers for Young Adults

When writing a thriller, you’re always trying to keep the reader guessing. Teasing just enough information through the story to keep the reader intrigued and the characters on edge.

There can also be difficult – and frightening – scenes to write. In Follow Me, Like Me one of the main characters, Chloe, is sexually assaulted, which was the pivotal point for her losing confidence and beginning to doubt herself. I was particularly keen to show how the use of derogatory words and phrases by men can change and shape the behaviour of young women.

There’s also a thread of coercive control throughout the novel. It can be easy for romantic relationships which at first appear fun and escapist to slip into something more insidious. 

One idea that I wanted to deconstruct throughout the novel was the concept of the ‘nice guy’ who calls you twenty times a day and is always ‘there for you’ so deserves your attention. No one deserves your attention if you don’t want to give it, regardless of how nice they’re acting. If you’ve asked someone to leave you alone and they persist, this behaviour can then slip into disrespecting boundaries and – at the extreme end – stalking. All under the guise of being a ‘nice guy’ who is protective.

One of the challenges to writing thrillers is capturing the right balance of drama and sensitivity to the topic you’re covering. You want the story to feel as realistic as possible. In Follow Me, Like Me I was also keen to weave in the social implications of new technologies, looking at the ways people can use platforms like social media to feed their obsessions and addictions. 

Ultimately, writing a thriller is about putting a quirk of life under the microscope – and using this magnified lens to teach us all something new.

Thank you, Charlotte!

Follow Me, Like Me is a novel that highlights how much social media has become a core component of interacting and socialising for young people, to the extent that there is little escape from the expectations and judgements of others. Both Amber and Chloe use various social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Whatsapp, not only to communicate with their friends, but to keep tabs on what they are doing and to compare their lives to their own, the latter of which has been shown to have a hugely negative impact on the self-esteem of school students in particular (and adults). Chloe falls into the trap of using social media to seek attention for other reasons that have impacted her life, making connections that become increasingly dangerous and frightening for her, while Amber exploits the same technology in her blind quest to prove to herself that the boy she likes is a good man, demonstrating some of the same features of behaviour (and worse) that Chloe finds threatening. Each of the girls has to, unfortunately, learn through experience that how obsessively they use social media has a negative impact on their lives, including putting them in physical danger, let alone the emotional strain, and while it is common knowledge that these kinds of interactions occur every day, the more the novel continued, the more I found myself wishing that more children were better educated about what the effect the online world can have.

Another theme running through the story that I found particularly relevant to women (not only young adults) today is, as mentioned by Charlotte, how they are perceived by the male gaze and what negative behaviours are demonstrated towards women when men don’t get what they want. Derogatory terms are thrown at Chloe when she does not behave as Sven wishes, the words used ones that tend not to have a male equivalent, drawing to attention the double standards of society (I would say modern society, but this goes back many hundreds of years) and how women are expected to modify their behaviour for fear of the male reaction. Chloe does nothing to warrant such language being used, and Sven’s interpretation of a traumatising incident that occurs early in the novel is an especially worrying example of male expectations and arrogance, and while she does make mistakes in the handling of her online interactions and security, much of it is innocently done and shows a lack of understanding of what she is doing.

Follow Me, Like Me is out now from Pan Macmillan and would make an excellent class reader to tie in with PSHE lessons about the dangers of social media and how to use it responsibly. Thank you, Pan Macmillan, for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour, and thank you very much, Charlotte, for your insights into writing YA thrillers!

Blog Tour: Followers by Megan Angelo

Blog Tour: Followers by Megan Angelo

‘When everyone is watching you can run, but you can’t hide…

2051. Marlow and her mother, Floss, have been handpicked to live their lives on camera, in the closed community of Constellation.

Unlike her mother, who adores the spotlight, Marlow hates having her every move judged by a national audience.

But she isn’t brave enough to escape until she discovers a shattering secret about her birth.

Now she must unravel the truth around her own history in a terrifying race against time…’

Today is my stop on the Followers blog tour! Followers is a fantastically haunting look at the rise of social media (and the media in general) and the power it has gained over our lives, a present day not so dissimilar to our own contrasted with a future where the internet and media companies have a stranglehold on people’s thoughts, feelings and motivations, to the extent where an entire community, Constellation, has been created for entertainment purposes and to satisfy the needs of particular individuals to be in the spotlight. Marlow has been raised in this closed community, less by her parents and more by the company in charge of Constellation, which, as she ages, claims more and more control over her life, from keeping her heavily medicated, to deciding who she will marry and have children with, including when she will have children as part of her ‘storyline’. It’s as this latest plot point in her scripted life starts to unfold that Marlow decides that enough is enough, the secrets that come to light ones that drive her to seek the truth of who she is and what the world has become.

The 2015 timeline that alternates with Marlow’s 2051 life in Constellation follows two young women, Orla and Florence (Floss), who set out to use social media to become ‘famous’. Each of the girls has a dream of their own that they have been pursuing, but gaining little traction with, and while Orla in particular deludes herself into believing that she is making steps towards her dream of being a published author as she travels further and further down the road of media stardom, they both throw themselves blindly and disturbingly enthusiastically into exploiting the tools at their disposal to create their ‘best lives’ for the public to see and consume, while concealing the reality of it and leaving behind their better intentions. Having been working for a women’s online magazine, Orla uses the skills she has been employing to create her rather vacuous ‘articles’ and manipulate public opinion to turn Floss into a popular influencer, taking control of her Instagram and Twitter while using the platform of the brand she works for to gather further attention. From here, they work on further catapulting her into the public consciousness, culminating in a reality TV show and near constant attention from adoring fans of all ages, which ultimately does not end well. The ambiguity of the medium of online communication is highlighted in a horrific incident that paints none of the characters in a positive light, for their focus becomes not grief or regret, but how to stop their fall from fame and grace.

The most unsettling elements of the narrative are ultimately those that shine a light on the ways that social media has created a desire for attention within society that brands and various facets of the media can then exploit. None of the characters in Followers are creative because they wish to be, for their own enjoyment, or able to leave behind the notion of public opinion: they create content with the audience’s reaction in mind and with the intention of eliciting a particular response, and spend their lives focused on presenting everything in their world as something that should be aspired to, in order to gain more attention. They are obsessed with maintaining their celebrity, likes, follows and clicks, unable to disconnect from social media – something that becomes an all the more threatening feature of people’s lives by the time that Marlow is acting out a scripted life in Constellation. The fact that this hyper-fixation and all its pitfalls is presented as fiction while at the same moment being very much not fictional makes for an often uncomfortable and highly relevant read, for there is very little in Marlow’s 2051 that the world is not necessarily on the cusp of attempting. Given that the media has managed to get its claws into our everyday lives, from home hubs, advertising and reality TV, to our use of social media and its influence on what we may choose to purchase and participate in, that someone reading Followers would not recognise some feature of their own lives in the narrative is, I believe, highly unlikely.

Followers is a disquieting study of our relationship with the media and what stands to happen to individuality, truth and creativity if we fail to continue to inform ourselves of the power of language, presentation and the material that we consume on a daily basis. If we do not question what we are shown and our own response to it, we stand to continue walking down some dangerous paths. I thoroughly enjoyed this read and highly recommend it as a look into a frighteningly believable future.

Followers was released on January 9th from HQ Stories (Harper Collins) and is available in bookshops now. Thank you to HQ Stories for sending me a copy for review and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Blog Tour: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

Blog Tour: The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg

‘Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species–formerly extinct–roam free.

Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time… love.

But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty–and what it truly means to be human.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the newly-released YA sci-fi/thriller The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg! Read on for an extract from the book and a review of what is one of my favourite reads of the year!

1

THE DECEMBER OF THE LESSER CHAMELEON
ONE HOUR AFTER THE MURDER

The room where they at last found him was so cold they wondered at first if he had frozen to death. Face as white as snow, skin as cold as frost, lips as blue as ice. His expression seemed, to the police, perfectly peaceful. As if he had passed away in the middle of a very lovely dream.
Except for the blood.
Blood always tells its own story.

2

POST-TRIAL INTERVIEW
[00:01:03–00:02:54]

DR. FOSTER: Are you comfortable?
ANA: My wrist hurts.
DR. FOSTER: Security felt the cuff was necessary. I hope you can understand.
ANA: [Silence.]
DR. FOSTER: Do you need anything before we begin?
ANA: Can I have some water?
DR. FOSTER: Certainly. [Into microphone.] Can I get a glass of H2O in here, please? Six ounces, no more. Thank you. [To Ana.] That’ll just be a minute.
ANA: Thank you.
DR. FOSTER: Of course. It’s the least we can do.
ANA: That’s true.
DR. FOSTER: It’s been a long time since our last interview.
ANA: Four hundred and eighty-one days.
DR. FOSTER: How are you feeling?
ANA: Like this interview should be over.
DR. FOSTER: One last time, Ana. Then I promise, we’ll let you rest.
ANA: I thought I was done answering questions.
DR. FOSTER: We still need your help.
ANA: Why should I help you? After everything you’ve done?
DR. FOSTER: Because it’s the right thing to do.
ANA: Don’t you mean, because I don’t have a choice?
DR. FOSTER: How would you like to see your sisters? They’ve missed you. Maybe after we finish here I could arrange a visit. Kaia. Zara. Or maybe Zel? Would you like that?
ANA: [Quietly.] What if I want to see Nia? What about Eve?
DR. FOSTER: [Silence.] Ana, you know that’s not possible.
ANA: Why don’t you just ask me whatever it is you want to ask me? I’m not in the mood for your games.
DR. FOSTER: My games?
ANA: You’re smirking. What’s so funny?
DR. FOSTER: I’ll tell you in a minute. But first, there’s one thing I still haven’t figured out.
ANA: I’m listening.
DR. FOSTER: What did you do with the body, Ana?

The Kingdom is a particularly clever novel not just in its structure and exploitation of different formats, but in its use of language and the connotations and foreshadowing that it sets up. Ana is a Fantasist, a half-human, half-android princess figure whose job it is to enhance the experience of visitors to The Kingdom, the theme park that she and her Fantasist ‘sisters’ have been created for. For Ana and her sisters, The Kingdom is their entire world and they know next to nothing about the world beyond the ‘gate’ – only that it is a terrible place and they must be grateful that their creators love them and keep them safe by regulating almost every moment of their existence. For the reader, there are early warning signs that Ana’s life and The Kingdom are not what they seem, from the Fantasists being restrained at night, to their sharing of knowledge of spots where their network signals drop and they can spend moments un-monitored, and while Ana seems particularly quick to understand the depth of some pieces of her life, there are a great many that it takes her time to comprehend the full meaning of.

As well as the Fantasists, The Kingdom is also home to other half-biological, half-technological creations that are, by turn, considered to be real, living creatures when it comes to entertainment, yet not so when it comes to efficiency or any failures. It is claimed that they cannot feel pain, but they exhibit the ability to both feel physical and emotional hurts among other ‘malfunctions’ that begin to make Ana wonder about the parallels between her existence and theirs, especially in seeing that her empathy towards them is not matched by others. The treatment of the Fantasists and The Kingdom’s other creations is an often uncomfortable look at what we consider to be fully ‘alive’ or human and the excuses that society often offers up as a reason to behave in ways that in no way demonstrate the better side of humanity. That we are more and more becoming used to having what we wish available as we want it, when we want it – something the true cost of which is something we seem to rarely like to consider – is another aspect of our lives highlighted by the behaviour of the visitors and creators of The Kingdom.

One of the most haunting elements of the narrative that has stuck with me is the behaviour of Kaia, one of Anna’s sisters and said to be one of the older Fantasist models, which invites others to suggest that her “hardware is defective” and that she is inferior to the rest of them, for she primarily relies upon the Kingdom script and often speaks in platitudes and pretty clichés. However, there are many moments when Kaia demonstrates more awareness of the reality of her surroundings that the rest of the Fantasists, particularly early in the novel during an incident in which she steps in to protect Ana and reveals a much darker side to what she and some of the other Fantasists may be having to endure. That Kaia speaks in pretty sayings becomes more disturbing as the story progresses, her reliance on them seeming to be more and more a defence mechanism against what she has endured and cannot protest or fight against. Kaia is by no means the only one of the Fantasists who suffers through the darker underworld of their existence, as each of them seem to hold fragments of understanding – and, in Nia’s case, much more than that – but it takes their learning to ask questions of and actually trust each other beyond what they are told they must feel for their sisters to begin to identify the awful reality of it.

The Kingdom is a very well-paced and both thrilling and immersive read, and there is so much more I would like to talk about, particularly of its feminist elements and Nia and Eve’s stories, but having enjoyed the book so much myself, I don’t want to spoil these threads of the story for anyone! The Kingdom was released in the UK on July 11th from Pan Macmillan! I’d like to thank the publisher for inviting me to be part of this blog tour and for sending me an ARC of the novel for review.