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28 February 2019

The Wrap Up - F/F February Reads

I can't believe that FFFebruaryReads, hosted by Imi Reviews Books and faerieontheshelf, is already finished, and now what am I going to do with myself?

At the beginning of the month I mapped out my plans and set out a TBR, then I posted an update around half way through where I showed how clearly I had deviated from the TBR I'd set out (not sorry). I had so much fun with this reading challenge, and I wish I'd read more for it.

FF February Reads Finished

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker (audiobook)
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (audiobook)
Romancing The Inventor by Gail Carriger (audiobook)
A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook)

FF February Reads I Didn't Get To

In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Pulp by Robin Talley
The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown

It took me a whole month to read an ebook novella, so there was no way I was ever going to manage In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard and The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown, so I'm a little sad.

If I count books more than once then I completed the entire bingo board, but if just count each book once I still managed to complete two lines so yay go me.

F/F February Reads Bingo board

I never did manage to catch up with the photo challenge (boo for being ill) but I loved seeing everyone's pictures and naturally my TBR grew considerably.

What's your next FF Read?

25 February 2019

Q&A With Bali Rai

Bali Rai is a phenomenal writer, one who I have been a fan of since I was just 12. If you haven't read (Un)arranged Marriage or Rani & Sukh then go now and get them.

His latest, Stay a Little Longer, is with Barrington Stoke so it's dyslexia friendly and super-readable. It made me cry a fair bit, it's really one to tug on your heartstrings.

When I heard that he would be on a panel at University of Central Lancashire BA in Publishing's Northern Young Adult Literature Festival I jumped at the opportunity to ask him some questions. 

Q&A with Bali Rai

Can you describe Stay A Little Longer in five words?
Shared depression, unexpected friendship, hope.

What inspires your writing?
The biggest inspiration is real British lives. I’ve always wanted to write about and to explore the lives of everyday British people. Whether it’s a new story, a political situation, or simply a family drama that I’ve witnessed, I try to use real world characters in my stories, and was inspired to do so by my hero, Sue Townsend. I once said that Sue wrote about the next-door neighbours, and that’s what I do, I suppose. Although I also love writing more imaginative and fantastical stories too.

I’m also heavily influenced by other writers, and by film and TV drama too. Basically, any story, in any format, that makes me think and creates an emotional response. You can add music and even art to that list, too. I think of myself as a human being who explores the voices of other human beings, often those whose stories haven’t been properly heard.

Which of your characters would you most like to sit down and have a cuppa with?
That’s a tough question! I love Nanny, from my book The Crew, so he’d be on that list. Also, both Gurnam and Aman from Stay A Little Longer. There’s so much more to both of their lives, and I’d love to find out more, if that makes sense? I’d like to meet several others too, and in essence every character I write is someone I’d love to have a chat with. So, I’m taking the cheats way out of this question and saying all of them!

What is your favourite thing about writing for teens?
I’ve always maintained that I write about teens, rather than for them. And I do that because the books I wanted to read as a teenager, about regular everyday British people (and certainly BAME people) were few and far between. My hope was to do my bit to rectify that situation.

I also love that teens are so openminded and have not succumbed to the cynicism of adult life. There’s a freshness, a newness, about the way teens view the world and their emotions, and I like to explore that. I had a very tough time as a teenager, coping with losing my father to illness, poverty, and often long bouts of crippling self-doubt and depression. It’s not something I talk about much in public, but I explore it through my teenage characters.

Are you a planner or a pantser?
I should say planner, but that would be a huge lie! I’m very much a pantser – everything is last minute, hurried, with lots of apologetic emails about deadlines missed etc… I do work better under pressure, however. I tend to produce better writing and be more engaged with a character’s voice. It’s not always ideal, if I’m honest, but I’ve always been that way. Just don’t tell my editors!

What is your favourite thing about writing?
I love doing research, I love planning a character’s emotional story arc, and I love the feeling of placing bright shiny new words onto a blank page, and for them to start singing to me. It sounds very ‘la-di-dah’, I know, but writing is very organic for me. It’s a process that happens or it doesn’t. And when it does happen, it’s always fun. The only bit I don’t like so much is third or fourth stages of editing. That becomes tiresome very quickly. And cutting words often feels like an act of vandalism. I’m usually very attached to my words – even if an editor isn’t. The problem is that most editors are amazing and clever, and they’re right.

Finally, what are you working on now? What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m working on several junior fiction or middle grade ideas, including one about giant armed chickens. I’m also beginning to get my head around a new YA or teen novel idea, after a few years where I haven’t written one. My personal life has been very hectic with lots of changes and I’m just beginning to get back on track. I’m also very keen on writing a sprawling fantasy epic, based on the reality of colonial conquest, but with added magic etc… It’s not something I’m known for, but it does tie in with my writing as a youngster and my reading too. I’ve been operating in slow motion for a few years and I’m now back up to speed, my creativity is flowing again. Watch this space (I hope!).

Northern YA Lit Fest

Northern YA Literary Festival

University of Central Lancashire, in association with their new BA in Publishing, are hosting The Northern Young Adult Literature Festival on Saturday 16th March 2019 at UCLan's Greenbank Building in Preston. Doors open at 9:45am, with the events staggered throughout the day. Best of all, it's free!

Bali Rai will be part of the Inclusiveness in YA panel, with Non Pratt, A.J. Hartley and Mel Darbon, chaired by Aimée Felone one of the co-founders of Knights Of, discussing inclusiveness in YA, and the importance of seeing the world though different eyes.

Inclusiveness in YA panel NYA Lit Fest

22 February 2019

A Steamy Night With Mr One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart *AD Gifted

Mills & Boon sent me a free review copy of Mr One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart.

There is something rather indulgent about running a bath, pouring in some bubbles, lighting and candle, and popping some fizz. I love to take a little extra time around once a month to truly relax for as long as possible and lose myself in a wild romance. It's like the ultimate form of self care, some truly Me Time. And Mills & Boon's Dare series is definitely wild.

For my most recent steamy night in with a romance, I knew it had to be the latest Dare book, Mr One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart.

 A Steamy Night With Mr One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart

I ran a super hot bath, poured in my favourite Scottish Fine Soaps Company bubble bath, lit a Flickerink candle (appropriately smelling of pink fizz) and popped open a bottle of Mosacto Rosé. Then I lay back, picked up Mr One-Night Stand by Rachael Stewart and escaped into heaven for a couple of hours.

It was fantastic, I loved the power dynamic between the couple. Jennifer was very much in control most of the time. She is bloody hot and she knows it *fans self* but she is also very aware of Marcus and the effect she has on him. She is sexy and confident and smart, she knows what she wants and yeah, she's going to get it.

The blurb of this one led me to think that a lot less was going to happen than what actually did - and so it was a very pleasant surprise to read the full story. I liked the way it all panned out, I liked the lust and the steadily growing feelings, the way that the story was so much more than I expected.

I know it's Mills & Boon and it's romance, and that Dare is the most erotic of all of their series, but wow. Mr One-Night Stand is seriously sexy, steamy, and sensual. It's sex positive and feminist and it is definitely one of my favourite romances because of that. It's a book I will definitely reread, and an author I will definitely seek out more of.

I wish that I'd had the foresight to have the ingredients for a vodka martini ready at hand, as I was certainly craving one after the first chapter. I did end up snacking on olives though.

Add to Goodreads

One night only. 
Just think of the possibilities…

The second she sees Mr Oh-So-Delicious, Jennifer Hayes knows she needs one night of crazy. No names, no strings, no rules.

Except that Jennifer's naughty one-nighter is actually Marcus Wright - her new business partner!

Now they're mixing business with all kinds of pleasure.

But when it comes to falling in love her sexy Mr Wright is either Mr Wrong or the best mistake of her life…


18 February 2019

Five Favourite Quotes from The Year After You by Nina de Pass *AD Gifted

Ink Road Books sent me a free review copy of The Year After You by Nina de Pass. But it's a book that shot into my favourite books and now oops I have four copies and I've read it twice three times. It's such a gorgeous read and I wish so badly it was available as an audiobook so I could play it on loop.

The Year After You is beautifully written, and honestly a bit haunting. Every time I've read it I've stopped and read some parts out loud. It's a book that begs to be read again and again, that needs to be heard.

The Year After You by Nina de Pass cover

Today I'm sharing my five favourite quotes.

She holds a hand up to stop me. "You're privileged, Cara. Don't confuse luck with circumstance - they are not the same thing.”

I'm surprised to find that here, I may have finally found a place where I imagine myself surviving.

I make myself a promise: this time round, I will fight like hell. This time round, despite what will inevitably come after, I will be honest.

There are two types of lies; I know this now, and I knew it then. Yet, somewhere along the line, I chose to lose sight of the difference.

"People always hurt the people they care about." Her mouth transforms into a pitying smile. "That's why it hurts so much."

Hopefully these quotes will convince you to read The Year After You, but if you need another push then check out my fangirling review.

14 February 2019

The Half Way Point - F/F February Reads

We're now half way through FFFebruaryReads, as hosted by Imi Reviews Books and faerieontheshelf so head over to take a peek at what it's all about and if you want to join in late.

At the beginning of the month I mapped out my plans and set out a TBR, so how am I doing?

FF February Reads Finished

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker (audiobook)
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (audiobook)
Romancing The Inventor by Gail Carriger (audiobook)

FF February Reads Currently Reading

A Hidden Hope by Laura Ambrose
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (audiobook)

FF February Reads TBR (still)

In The Vanishers’ Palace by Aliette de Bodard
Pulp by Robin Talley
The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown

So yeah, I deviated from my TBR in a pretty big way (Tipping The Velvet is almost 500 pages) and I still have a lot to tackle! A Hidden Hope was actually the first book I picked up for FF February Reads, and despite being only 77 pages I'm still working my way through it. Ebooks trigger migraines so I'm having to take it slow, but I'm really enjoying it.

With my bingo, some of the books I've already read count for more than one square. I don't know if any of the books I've already read are own voices, and I don't want to dig in to someone's life to find out so I'm not going to tick off that square.

F/F February Reads bingo card

I fell a bit behind with the photo challenge, but I'm going to work on catching up over the next few days and sharing what I'm reading.

F/F February Reads photo challenge

What's your most recent FF Read?

11 February 2019

Book Review: Apple of My Eye by Claire Allan *AD Gifted

Avon Books sent me a free review copy of Apple of My Eye by Claire Allan.

When I needed something to read on the train, this was the first from my TBR that I picked up - it was going to be two relatively short journeys and at a little over 300 pages I knew that Apple of My Eye was pretty much the perfect length. Only, I accidentally read it almost all of it on the outward journey, as I couldn't put it down. It was excellent!

Apple of My Eye by Claire Allan coverAdd to Goodreads button
When a mysterious note arrives for six months pregnant Dr Eliana Hughes, she begins to doubt every aspect of her life – from her mixed feelings about motherhood to her marriage to Martin, who has become distant in recent months.

As the person behind the note escalates their campaign to out Eli’s husband as a cheat, she finds herself unable to trust even her own instincts, and as pressure builds, she makes a mistake that jeopardises her entire future.

Elsewhere, someone is watching. Someone who desperately wants a baby to call their own and will go to any lengths to become a mother – and stay a mother… 

Source: Review copy.

5 Word Review: Family, secrets, love, lies, danger.

I knew from the moment that I picked this book up that I was going to enjoy it. The very first chapter hooked me in, and I didn't want to put it down. It's definitely gripping.

I loved the way the narrative switched between Eliana and Louise (with an occasional view from Angela), how both perspectives were explored. I think that Louise was actually my favourite to read, she had an extra layer of complexity brought on by her duplicity as a character, her desperation for a baby to love. But I also felt so much for Eliana, I was so empathetic towards her. I cared about what was going to happen, my heart broke with hers.

It wasn't until just before the reveal that I even guessed what it would be, I was pleased that this book kept me guessing. It's a pretty tense read, I was always wondering who was behind it all, if it was even the same person behind everything that was happening or if there were other parties involved.

I couldn't get enough of the writing style so I am now going back and reading the author's other psychological thriller, Her Name Was Rose. I'd definitely recommend this for people who are fans of psychological and domestic thrillers.

07 February 2019

Book Review: The Year After You by Nina de Pass *AD Gifted

Ink Road Books sent me a free review copy of The Year After You by Nina de Pass.

This book. This book absolutely blew me away and I had so many feels while reading it. The Year After You by Nina de Pass tells a story that is complicated and a little bit messy, and I fell in love with it all. It left me speechless and aching for more.

The Year After You by Nina de Pass coverAdd to Goodreads button
New Years’ Eve, San Francisco. The most promising party of the year ends in a tragic accident. Cara survives. Her best friend Georgina doesn’t.

Nine months later, Cara is struggling, consumed by guilt and grief. Her mum decides a Swiss boarding school will be the fresh start Cara needs. But Cara knows that swapping sunshine for snow won’t make a blind bit of difference. Georgina is gone, and nothing will bring her back.

Up in the Alps, Cara’s old life feels a million miles away. At Hope Hall, nobody knows about her past. And she intends to keep it that way. But classmates Ren and Hector have other ideas. Cara tries to keep her distance, but she’s drawn to the offbeat, straight-talking Hector, who understands her grief better than anyone. Her new friends are determined to break down the walls she has so carefully built up. And, despite it all, Cara wants them to. 

The closer Cara grows to Hector, the more Georgina slips away. Embracing life at Hope Hall means letting go of the past; of her memories of that fatal New Year’s Eve. But Cara is quite sure she doesn’t deserve a second chance.

Source: Review Copy

5 Word Review: Friendship, grief, blame, second-chances, forgiveness.

Content Warning: Grief, PTSD, homophobia

This book. This glorious, gorgeous book. It broke my heart and lifted my soul and I really don't think I can put in to words how much I loved it.

I think I'll start with the setting. I am a sucker for boarding school settings, the way that everything is so much more intense in close quarters, how relationships run at a different pace, the family-like quality of the people around you even (especially) if you don't like them or like them more than you think you should. And The Year After You absolutely excelled at manipulating the setting into emphasising the story. All at once the place is remote and lonely, crowded and loud, passions were heightened and everything held a new level of drama.

Hope Hall is like a motley collection of broken people finding themselves and learning to love themselves. It's a place full of hope and a little expectation, with support networks and an incredible view and I want to go there please.

The Year After You has the most amazing characters too. I loved Cara, even if I did find her frustrating at times. She is absolutely an unreliable narrator, and it is done in the best way. I absolutely adored her, but I wanted to give her a huge hug and a good shake and tell her to be honest all at the same time. I emphasised so much with her, and I loved the journey she took within herself between the pages. I felt her fear, her pain, her anger. She is open minded yet guarded, honest yet always lying. She is so incredibly complex and I love her dearly for it.

I loved Ren and her loyalty. She's a soft lesbian Hufflepuff, and honestly so relatable. I want to give her a squish and thank her for being amazing. She doesn't have the easiest time at Hope Hall due, lets be honest, to shitty people. And at times she can be a bit shitty because of it but I don't blame her because Same.

When it comes to the boys in the story, I actually have a lot of time for them both. They're juggling secrets, staying loyal, looking out for each other. They care, and they show that they care. They love their friends and they show that. And sure the road might get a little bumpy, but doesn't it always?

I loved the fake relationships, the half truths, the slow burn, the steady revelations. The Year After You is like the perfect YA novel.

And the writing itself, oh my. Excellent characters, excellent setting, excellent plot, excellent writing. I will absolutely read anything and everything this author writes next. I loved the expression on the pages, I picked out so many quotes. So. Many. Enough that I'll be sharing my top ten after the blog tour. It's lush and expressive, and full of feeling.

Honestly, The Year After You by Nina de Pass is marvellous. It was my first read of the year, and over 20 books in is still my favourite. It will take a lot to knock this beauty off the top spot (I don't think that'll happen).

"People always hurt the people they care about." Her mouth transforms into a pitying smile. "That's why it hurts so much."

The Year After You by Nina de Pass blog tour banner

06 February 2019

RSC's Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Royal Newcastle

It has been years since I have seen an RSC performance as it has been so long since they toured up proper North. Around ten years in fact, as the last I saw was The Taming of the Shrew when I was still in college. But when this tour was announced I bought two tickets within ten minutes because I was going and no one was going to stop me, even if I didn't know who would be coming with me. Romeo and Juliet is actually one of my least favourite of the Bard's plays, but I wasn't going to pass up seeing RSC.

RSC's Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Royal Newcastle

With my quick clicking, I had managed to get us great seats in the middle of the front row of the Grand Circle. Go me. And who did I take? My best friend and fellow Shakespeare fan, who accompanied me all those years ago for The Taming of the Shrew. Ahead of the evening we were excited, and wondering what we'd experience. I purposely hadn't looked out anything about the performance beforehand as I wanted it to be a surprise.

We arrived about fifteen minutes ahead of the performance and ordered our drinks for the interval - the man who served us was kind enough to reserve us two seats at a table for the interval, which is excellent as I'm not so good at standing.

RSC's Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Royal Newcastle

We had to do the squeeze and shuffle to our seats, which is always a little extra awkward when you're trying not to topple over the balcony. This was our fault for leaving it quite late for getting to our seats.

I think that perhaps the theatre had some techinical issues, as when the performance started it was without any announcement or warning, there were still people making their way to their seats, chatting, taking pictures, and the lights weren't even dimmed. It was the same at the interval, only a little more rushed as even more people were yet to take their seats, and the rush led to an increased amount of phones going off during the second part and distracting from the performance.

The performance was energetic and electric and a little bit eclectic. I loved the contemporary take and the gender flipped Mercutio was amazing. The live band in the party scene was unexpected, the clever stage tricks and lighting on such a bare stage blew me away.

RSC's Romeo & Juliet - Theatre Royal Newcastle

Charlotte Josephine did the most incredible job as Mercutio and their vibrant performance, even in the background, meant that I couldn't take my eyes off them when they were on stage. The character was sexy and daring and refreshing, and I loved how different it felt. This wasn't the masculine norm, it was challenging the perceptions of femininity and role of girls in Shakespeare. 

Romeo and Juliet was a wonderful performance, full of energy and punchy deliveries. It was an absolute delight, and mesmerising to the end.

There are still tickets left at The Theatre Royal and if I wasn't so broke right now I would absolutely be going again myself. It was amazing. A slight shame about the venue issues and I wish there had been better contingencies in place for this.

04 February 2019

Book Review: A Version of the Truth by B P Walter *AD Gifted

Avon Books sent me a free review copy of A Version of the Truth by B P Walter.

This book was actually really difficult to review. A Version of the Truth by B P Walter is a difficult book to read because of the content, but I do believe it's quite an important story, and very timely.

A Version of the Truth by B P Walter coverAdd to Goodreads button
We all see what we want to see…

2019: Julianne is preparing a family dinner when her son comes to her and says he’s found something on his iPad. Something so terrible, it will turn Julianne’s world into a nightmare and make her question everything about her marriage and what type of man her husband is or is pretending to be.

1990: Holly is a fresher student at Oxford University. Out of her depth and nervous about her surroundings, she falls into an uneasy friendship with a group of older students from the upper echelons of society and begins to develop feelings for one in particular. He’s confident, quiet, attractive and seems to like her too. But as the year progresses, her friends’ behaviour grows steadily more disconcerting and Holly begins to realise she might just be a disposable pawn in a very sinister game.

A devastating secret has simmered beneath the surface for over twenty-five years. Now it’s time to discover the truth. But what if you’re afraid of what you might find? 

Amazon UK | Amazon US

Source: Review Copy

5 Word Review: Family, corruption, power, lies, privilege.

Content warning: rape, sexual assault, abuse, coercion, homophobia, racism.

Well, this is a difficult one. On the one hand it was excellently written and I'll definitely read more from the author, on the other it's dark AF and hard to read because of the content.

The narrative very slowly dropped hints, almost drip feeding the true horror and extent of what happens. This was a little frustrating at times but it really built up the atmosphere and the sense of foreboding.

I loved the dual narrative and they way it switched from past to present. The two voices, Julianne and Holly, were so very different, as were the characters themselves. I liked how the story explores how we can even hide the truth from ourselves, lie to ourselves about what we see and experience.

But then there was the contents of the story itself, and it made for an incredibly dark read. I had to put it down often, step away, even read something completely different for a while. Take a look at those content warnings and know that it's often very graphically described. It almost felt voyeuristic at times, which I didn't like, but I think some of this was down to Holly watching people so much.

Overall I think this is a profoundly important and timely book, but one that is definitely not for everyone and should come with a content warning. And I felt that the ending could have had more of a resolution and the repercussions of what was done. It's dark and it's serious and it's disconcerting and it's scary.

01 February 2019

January Bookish Wrap Up

I've been wanting to start doing proper wrap ups for years, but I've never really took the plunge and done one. New year, new start, new feature! Time for me to pledge to do a wrap up every month. Wish me luck.

January Bookish Wrap Up

January Bookish Wrap Up

So how did I get on in January? Well, it turns out that betrayal and a broken heart make for excellent reading motivation, and I managed to finish a mammoth 17 books. And no, they weren't even all novellas and short stories and extra chapters.

Books Read: 17
Pages Read: 5,815

Books I Read

The Year After You by Nina de Pass (gifted)
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
Theatre of Cruelty by Terry Pratchett
Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth Durst (DNF)
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo
Men At Arms by Terry Pratchett
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
Stay A Little Longer by Bali Rai (gifted)
A Version of the Truth by BP Walter (gifted)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Forbidden Night with the Warrior by Michelle Willingham

Books I Added To My Shelf

All The Lonely People by David Owen
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
Circle of Shadows by Evelyn Skye
We Are Blood And Thunder by Kesia Lupo (gifted)
Mr One Night Stand by Rachael Stewart (gifted)
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
The Colour of Shadows by Phyllida Shrimpton (giveaway win)
Pulp by Robin Talley
Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P.M. Freestone
The Familiars by Stacey Halls (giveaway win)

Books I'm Currently Reading

All The Lonely People by David Owen
King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Book Events I Attended

None ☹

What did you read in January?
What are you reading now?