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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.

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Blog Tour: The Switch Up by Katy Cannon

Today is the final stop on the blog tour for the brilliant summer read The Switch Up by Katy Cannon! Read on for a synopsis and a fun game to help you see which of the main protagonists you are more like: Alice or Willa!

WILLA

Drama queen

Fashion guru

Spontaneous

Looks like Alice

ALICE

Bookworm

Allergic to fashion

Planner

Looks like Willa

LAX Departure Lounge. Two girls board the same flight to London as complete strangers. When the plane touches down, it’s the beginning of the craziest plan ever. Can Willa and Alice really swap lives for the summer?

Things are going to get complicated…

Alice and Willa may look very similar, but they are completely different in their attitudes to life and what they enjoy most. You can use the flowchart below to plan your dream holiday and follow a path to see which of them you are more like! Though they may be not so similar in many respects, they share the same good heart!

The Switch Up is a delightful read full of characters that are easy to love and journeys to found family and self-realisations. Alice and Willa’s paths may take them to very different locations, but each of their stories is just as significant as the other, as the two endeavour to make new discoveries about themselves through inhabiting each other’s lives, take steps towards dreams and the future, and expand their worlds. Family is what remains at the story’s core, and not only for Alice and Willa, but for others, such as Luca, one of the friends Alice makes during her stay in Italy. The impact of his fractured family life upon his attitude towards attachment to others is something that has stayed with me long after finishing the novel. The Switch Up is a fun and incredibly enjoyable read, seemingly lighthearted, yet it doesn’t shy away from addressing the important subjects, such as loss and separation. I loved it from start to finish and highly recommend picking up a copy!

Thank you to Stripes Books and Katy Cannon for inviting me to be part of the blog tour and for gifting me a copy of The Switch Up! If you’d like to let me know whether you’re more like Alice or Willa, you can tweet me or leave a comment on my Instagram, both @pythiareads!

Blog Tour: Enchantée by Gita Trelease

Blog Tour: Enchantée by Gita Trelease

‘Paris in 1789 is a labyrinth of twisted streets, filled with beggars, thieves, revolutionaries – and magicians…
When seventeen-year-old Camille is left orphaned, she has to provide for her frail sister and her volatile brother. In desperation, she survives by using the petty magic she learnt from her mother. But when her brother disappears Camille decides to pursue a richer, more dangerous mark: the glittering court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Using dark magic Camille transforms herself into the ‘Baroness de la Fontaine‘ and presents herself at the court of Versaille, where she soon finds herself swept up in a dizzying life of riches, finery and suitors. But Camille’s resentment of the rich is at odds with the allure of their glamour and excess, and she soon discovers that she’s not the only one leading a double life…’

As part of the Enchantée blog tour, today I have an extract from this magical YA novel and a review to share! Read on for the first chapter of Enchantée!

Paris, 1789

Yves Rencourt, the chandler’s apprentice, had lost his wig.

After the last customer left the shop, he searched through baskets of curling wicks and blocks of beeswax and teetering stacks of bills. Rien. It was nowhere to be found. And he needed the wig for tonight: he alone was to deliver candles for the Comte d’Astignac’s party, which would last until the sun came up. This was Yves’s chance to be noticed. To rise. And he didn’t want to show up wearing his own hair, looking ridiculous. He had to look promising. Like someone who could be Somebody.

At least his coat was good, he thought, as he lifted the dove-grey silk from its hook and shrugged it on. And voilà – there the damned wig was, its long white hair tied back with a black satin bow. He pulled the wig on and cocked an admiring eyebrow at his reflection in the window: he was no longer a tradesman’s apprentice. He was absolument parfait.

Into a canvas satchel he tucked his most precious candles, the ones he’d tinted the hazy apricots and violets of dawn. All he needed now was money for the carriage. From under the counter he heaved up the strongbox and lifted its lid to reveal a shining pile of coins: rivulets of gold louis and livres and tiny sous. Candles were good business. No matter how little bread there was, how few people bought snuffboxes or plumed hats, they all needed light. In the back, Maître Orland kept the cheap tallow candles that reeked of hooves. They sold more of those every day. But in the front of the shop, nestled in boxes and dangling from their wicks, were Yves’s own lovelies: wax candles, their colours like enchantments. A rose pink that made old women seem young; a watery grey that reminded him of the ocean. And one day soon – he hoped – he’d make candles for the queen.

For, like himself, Marie Antoinette loved extraordinary things. Yves would make candles to suit her every fancy, candles she’d never even dreamed of. He’d be asked to make thousands because, in the endless rooms and halls of Versailles, candles were never lit twice.

From his coat pocket he pulled a leather purse and began to flick livres into the bag. Clink, clink, clink. But one coin made him pause. It was a louis d’or, seemingly no different from the others. Yet to someone who handled candles, always checking the soft wax for imperfections, it felt off. Holding it to the fading afternoon light, he saw nothing wrong. He put the gold coin between his teeth and bit it. It was as hard as any other. And yet. He found another louis and held one in each hand, weighing them. He closed his eyes. Yes – the one in his right hand was lighter. Still, who but a true craftsman such as himself would notice? He was about toss it back in the box when it twitched.

The louis d’or was moving.

Yves yelped and Aung it on to the counter. The coin spun in a tight circle and dropped flat. As it lay there, its edges began to ripple, like beeswax in a flame.

‘Mon Dieu,’ he muttered. What in God’s name was happening?

The louis twisted upon itself and flipped over. The king’s face with its curved nose had vanished, the familiar crown and shield too. And as Yves stared, the coin lost its roundness, thinning and separating until it looked like a bent harness buckle. He reached out a tentative finger to touch it.

It was a bent harness buckle.

With a cry, he reached for the strongbox. Mixed in with the coins was an ugly tin button, dented on one side, and a crooked piece of type, a letter Q. Worthless scraps of metal.

He remembered her exactly. He’d even flirted with her. Red hair, freckles across her sharp cheekbones. Hungry. Not that that excused it. How she’d done it he had no idea – but what a fool he was to take a gold louis from a girl in a threadbare cloak. If he hadn’t been dreaming of the figure he’d cut at the comte’s house, he would have thought twice. Idiot! Maître Orland was going to kill him.

He wrenched open the door and yelled into the crowded street.

‘Help! Police! We’ve been robbed!’

Enchantée is a wonderful novel that explores the distance between the world of the poor and that of the rich at the eve of the French Revolution, the world that Camille lives in one of an alternative history, for she and others are able to employ different forms of magic to make changes to the world around them to give themselves an advantage where they must. Camille is primarily not one of those who uses this ability frivolously, especially as it comes at a cost, the magic she has learnt from her late mother one that she is reluctant to use and initially not terribly secure in wielding, her main use of it to temporarily transform pieces of scrap metal into enough coins to feed her family. It’s when she discovers  other magics left behind by her mother that she realises the extent of what she could do and begins to use it – a glamoire – to enter the world of the aristocracy.

The thing I loved most about Enchantée was its magic system – or, more accurately, what was required of a person t make the magic work. Lots of novels that have characters exploiting magic have them doing so without showing any significant or long-lasting consequences of using their power, and it was interesting to see the possible side-effects of magic use explored in Camille’s story. This was one of many elements that was effective in conveying all that Camille is willing to do and sacrifice for her family, and the toll it takes on her both physically and on her perception of the world (and of herself and those around her) was one of the most poignant facets of the narrative. When she begins to use magic, she does so as a means to an end, but as she becomes accustomed to it? I doubt it is unintentional that magic and gambling are presented side by side.

Camille’s struggle with her brother to protect herself and Sophie, as well as to protect him from himself, is another of the threads of the story that works well to highlight just what addiction can and will do to people, and I found it interesting that this was also juxtaposed with her having to embrace a dangerous and addictive magic, since the impact that the alcohol has on Alain and the effect of prolonged magic use turn out to be rather similar. Just as Alain may have started out using alcohol to forget and to escape the world,  Camille at first resists and then embraces the magic regardless of its consequences, each of them witnessing their destructive effects and increasingly unable to draw away. Her struggle may be presented as one of necessity, yet there are undeniably moments when she is reluctant to stop. Alain is a detestable character in his actions, but both he and his sister end up embracing their escapist methods of choice.

Lazare’s story and place in society is another of the effective elements of the story. Of mixed-race heritage, the majority of the aristocracy of France refuse to accept him as one of them and see past their racism, leaving him adrift and unable to feel secure in the world, walking among people who might have to acknowledge him because of his family, but then only make derogatory comments about having to acknowledge him at all. If one of the book’s themes is that of being trapped between worlds, Lazare’s narrative is surely one of those most sympathetic.

Trelease’s writing is truly beautiful and I most enjoyed the passages involving the glamoire and the dress. For those – like me – who need a little help understanding the French included in the novel, there is a helpful list of translations at the back of the book!

Enchantée was released in the UK on the 21st of February from Pan Macmillan and is available in paperback in bookstores now! Thank you to Pan Macmillan for the gifted ARC and inviting me to be part of this blog tour!

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the newly-released YA contemporary novel Kick the Moon! Continue reading for a synopsis of the story, a Q&A with its author, Muhammad Khan, and a review of this hard-hitting book!

‘Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSEs are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.

Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.’

As a teacher, I was grateful to be able to ask Muhammad a question about the impact that teachers can have on the lives of their students and their role in helping to support and encourage them. Read on for his response!

Both Ilyas in Kick the Moon and Muzna in I Am Thunder have encouraging teachers. As a teacher yourself, what role do you think teachers have on the development of a young adult’s character and aspirations?

We all remember a good teacher. They sit somewhere between our parents and our friends. They occupy a special place where they educate us, give us advice, and help us achieve our dreams and goals. I think teachers are in a very privileged position with regards to helping shape a young person’s character and aspirations. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly! Sometimes all you need is that one teacher to believe in you to unlock your hidden talents and allow you to flourish.

Ultimately a good teacher’s job is to make sure you achieve your full potential and sometimes that involves some tough love. I remember struggling with a class who did not like maths. I tried to make it as fun as possible by teaching through games and stories but there was a lack of appreciation. I ended up having to make a lot of phone calls home and set detentions to ensure homework was done. It was exhausting! Then at the end of the year one of the students who gave me the most grief sheepishly came up to me to thank me for their grade. But the biggest surprise was when they apologised for giving me such a hard time!

Thank you very much for answering my question, Muhammad!

Kick the Moon is an amazing read, with dialogue that makes its characters come alive, words and mode of speaking ringing true and clear. It tackles issues such as identity, peer pressure, the code of toxic masculinity that impacts young men, respect for women and the impact that social media can have when it is misused. One detail I appreciated in particular is the clear statement and reminder to young adult readers that viewing and sharing inappropriate content that has been sent to them is in itself a crime and will have serious consequences, which is something that many may still be unaware of.

There are numerous instances in the novel where Ilyas is pressured into doing something by the men around him, primarily his peers, but also his father, who believes that his interests and behaviour, such as his love of drawing and reluctance to be involved in what are perceived to be ‘alpha male’ activities, are a weakness that needs to be corrected, ultimately driving him further into dangerous territory. As the book is written from Ilyas’ point of view, it is easy to empathise and feel sympathy for a boy who is respectful of women, has clear talent and passion (but lacks the confidence to embrace what he loves for the aforementioned reasons) and does his best to be a good son, yet finds this respect and good intentions returned by very few people in his life. The exploration of what it means ‘to be a man’ and what men expect of their peers – and what they will do to those who don’t meet their expectations – is something that I feel that we don’t see a good deal of in literature and media, at least not considered in the depth that it should be, and Kick the Moon is a novel that goes above and beyond to sensitively explore the impact of this culture on growing boys. As suggested in the story: content creators and distributors are as responsible as any other for the portrayal of men and women in media and the stereotypes that arise and impact children, and we need more of the media to address portrayals that encourage women to see each other as enemies, and men to feel forced into ‘alpha’ culture.

That Ilyas finds a friend in Kelly and she does not become simply his romantic interest is another of the elements of Kick the Moon that I loved. She is valued for her friendship, her intelligence and her courage, helping to debunk the myth presented to young people that boys and girls cannot be ‘just friends’. Other women in the novel, such as Ilyas’ mother and Ms Mughal are treated with the same respect in the narrative, if not always respected by men, their contributions to not only Ilyas’ life, but the lives of those around them (contrasted by Kelly’s mother, who may be trying to do the best for her daughter, yet doesn’t quite know how, much like Ilyas’ father) among those that have the greatest positive impact.

Kick the Moon is out now from Pan Macmillan and would make a brilliant addition to any home, library or classroom! You can check out my Instagram (pythiareads) for a giveaway for a copy of this brilliant book! Click the Kick the Moon picture in my Instagram feed in the right sidebar to go directly to the post!

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

Blog Tour: Miss Marley

 

Today is my stop on the Miss Marley blog tour and I’m here to share a review of this fantastic prequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

‘Orphans Clara and Jacob Marley live by their wits, scavenging for scraps in the poorest alleyways of London, in the shadow of the workhouse. Every night, Jake promises his little sister ‘tomorrow will be better’ and when the chance to escape poverty comes their way, he seizes it despite the terrible price.

And so Jacob Marley is set on a path that leads to his infamous partnership with Ebenezer Scrooge. As Jacob builds a fortress of wealth to keep the world out, only Clara can warn him of the hideous fate that awaits him if he refuses to let love and kindness into his heart…’

I teach A Christmas Carol as part of the English Literature GCSE syllabus and so Dickens’ work is one that I’ve read on many occasions and continued to enjoy each and every time. Miss Marley is a simply delightful addition to the story of Jacob Marley, whose unfortunate fate is addressed in A Christmas Carol as a warning and teaching tool for his business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge. In this captivating prequel, the reader is introduced to Miss Clara Belle Marley, Jacob’s younger sister, the story one that follows their rise from destitute street children on the brink of perishing to Jacob’s partnership in a money lending firm.

A Christmas Carol is a story that many will have encountered in one form or another, the tale one that it is all but impossible to consider the Christmas season without. And yet, despite knowledge of the events of Dickens’ novella, such is the attachment that Lafaye and Mascull draw the reader into having to both Clara and Jacob that it becomes a matter of hoping that his fate can be altered and that he will not make the mistakes that we all know he will fall prey to. Jacob Marley may be the epitome of all that a good and honest man is warned against in A Christmas Carol, yet the character created in Miss Marley to share this fate is not, at first, the cold and soulless creature that he eventually becomes. That the reader feels sympathy for Jacob and wishes for the circumstances of his later life to be averted is one of the novel’s great triumphs and may make one pause to consider whether it is the right man who is ultimately saved, such a believable addition to the story as it is.

Clara Marley is a different sort of soul than her brother, though has the advantage of being the younger sibling, often saving her conscience from dealing directly with much of what he eventually chooses to (though she is the one who initially orchestrates and carries out their money lending). She is more kind and generous than Jacob, yet shares the same kind of steel in her beliefs, her moral compass much less apt to be misdirected than his. Through her, much as with the three spirits of A Christmas Carol, the reader sees the true extent of poverty’s impact in the Victorian era, her sympathy for her fellow man directly contrasted with her brother’s growing lack of interest in the people behind the numbers.

Miss Marley is a wonderful tale that perfectly manages to capture the same magic that has made A Christmas Carol part of the Christmas tradition. Clara is a brave, endearing and much needed female voice who demonstrates warmth and intelligence in equal measure, her presence one that that brings heart to a previously male dominated story. While Dickens’ lack of female voices and presentation of Mrs Cratchit may be perceived to be a thinly veiled slight towards women, Clara’s spirit and determination bring a breath of fresh air to the canon. This isn’t to say that it is a ‘modern’ twist, but a reminder that women have always been clever and capable, no matter the perception of the Victorian male gaze.

Available in hardback, eBook, and audio download, Miss Marley is on sale now and the perfect Christmas read. Thank you, HQ stories, for inviting me to be part of this tour!

Check out the other stops on the tour below!

Blog Tour: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Blog Tour: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot for freedom with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

Today is my stop on the Ash Princess UK blog tour and I’m here to explore the concept of the YA heroine and how the fantastic lead (and other female characters) of this brilliant novel takes the common tropes and turns them on their heads. The following contains broad references to the events in the narrative, but no specific spoilers.

Whether we like it or not, the stereotypical YA heroine is usually considered so because she is ‘different’ to all the other girls and willing to pick up a sword or wield her magic in violent and fantastical ways that manage to earn her the respect of the men in her narrative – and often manage to earn her our respect too. It is not uncommon for these female characters to have physical strengths and powers that make them stand out from other women to an almost unbelievable extent, their focus often being considered the equal of the men in the novel.

Here’s where Ash Princess and its female cast are different in refreshing and engaging ways. Is Theodosia a rebel? Yes. Is she a heroine? I think it’s important at this point to consider the difference between a character being malicious and them doing unpleasant things in terms of whether or not a reader is apt to consider them to be a hero. To be truly malicious, Theodosia would surely have to have no discernible conscience or negative reaction to the necessary steps that she takes in an effort to put her people on the path to freedom. And she does have a conscience. There are several points in the narrative where she could ensure that she and only she is safe, or where she could give in to escape her life of misery. But Theodosia has more pressing matters to attend to. She sees the bigger picture. She’s learnt and studied and considered her situation as she’s grown up at the feet of her oppressors and she uses the most important weapon at her disposal: her mind.

It’s clear that Theo has had to learn fast to survive, first analysing the behaviour of those around her and then creating the character of ‘Thora’, taking the name she’s been given to strip her of her identity and building a persona that supplies the right responses for the right person to enable her to survive, to the extent that she often feels that the Thora character has taken over. She manages to deceive a wide range of people with this act, tailoring her behaviour so that they don’t believe her to be truly capable of what she must do. To some, her actions may seem callous, particularly as regards Cress, who considers her her ‘heart’s sister’, but Theodosia has endured years of beatings and humiliation at the hands of people just like her. This is not to say that she never seems to regret her actions, for she does. She knows the difference between right and wrong, but also that some actions are born of necessity. Theodosia has more than her own feelings to consider; she has the survival of an entire people on her shoulders.

Theodosia’s power comes from her ability to manipulate others and make sacrifices in the hope of one day being able to help many more people than solely herself and those she knows personally and holds dear. Given how she reacts to some of her actions, it could easily be argued that she is not, at heart, a manipulative soul, but that her situation not only as rebel, but as rebel leader, demands it of her. Just because she doesn’t wield a physical weapon or use what magic she could to flatten her enemies, it doesn’t make her any less of a heroine. Hers is a more artful and subtle form of rebellion: one that stands to cost her much more than many other YA heroines suffer for their bold demonstrations of unstoppable power.

The rest of Ash Princess’s female cast all break the mould in similar fashions to Theodosia herself. I could write for several thousand words about the women in this novel, but I’ll try to contain myself to this paragraph. The majority of named female characters in Ash Princess carry out small acts of rebellion, some with far-reaching consequences. From the Kaiserin’s warnings to Theodosia, to young Cress’s misguided attempt to make her new friend look ready for battle, each of these women is a cleverly crafted blend of heart and intellect that makes them increasingly unique in the YA market. They are not driven solely by their feelings and they are not written to have ‘admired’ male characteristics in female form, but they are human and have learned how to live in a world where none of them has exactly what they would wish.

If you haven’t ordered yourself a copy of Ash Princess yet, I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this nuanced YA read as soon as possible. If you’re looking for a rebel (and a heroine) with a set of morals they’re willing to test, a sharp intellect and a heart of fire, Theodosia is the one whose story you’re going to want to watch out for over the next few years.

Ash Princess is released in the UK on the 14th June 2018, published by Pan Macmillan.