Thursday 23 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'Dry' by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman (****)

Hey guys, and happy Thursday! Today I am happy to be bringing you another book review, this time Dry by father and son duo Neal and Jarrod Shusterman. I have read the first two books of the Arc of a Scythe trilogy and am eagerly (note: chomping at the bit) awaiting the final book - so I was super excited to hear about this book.

Also - a father and son writing a book together! How cool is that?!

I was kindly sent Dry by Walker Books in exchange for an honest review :)

Dry is a powerful, suspensful, rip-roaring novel that is terrifingly too close to reality. California's water has run out. The 'Tap-out' is here. It started slowly at first - short showers, no sprinklers, no overindulgence. Now indulgence is a thing of the past. The water is gone, and Alyssa finds herself suddenly with the responsibility of her and her brother's lives, when her parents leave in search of water, and don't come back. It is on their journey that Alyssa sees for herself what desperation can do to humanity, and how hard it is to remain humane.

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

This story really put things into perspective for me. The idea having something we need so much, yet take so much for granted, suddenly being taken away... it was sometimes too hard to read about. Make sure you read this book with a tall cold glass of water! It is undeniable that Shusterman is a master storyteller, and now it is clear that his son holds the same power! Everything from the plot to the characterisation was perfectly crafted, alongside the undertone that we as the readers should take everything in this book very seriously. We are holding onto our planet by a thread. Everything is dangling on a knife edge. If we don't protect our planet, it will no longer continue to protect us.

I loved Alyssa, and felt like she was a very realistic depiction of a teenage girl. I have read reviews where readers have criticised her for 'making poor choices' and... what? I would like to see what these people would do if they were in the same position. I, for one, would not have survived as long as Alyssa, Garrett, Kelton and Jacqui. I thought this group had such a great dynamic and all the intricacies in the group were so well described. I think the different narratives definitely added to this - it was really interesting to read about their different reactions to the horror that they were faced with. The authors did a particularly good job (as Shusterman does with Scythe) at showcasing the various moral difficulties to the reader, and revealing the philosophical aspects. 

Alyssa and Jacqui were by far my favourite characters, and I found their 'frenemyship' facinating. Shusterman is really good at writing female characters. The dialogue was characteristically Shusterman-sharp, and the plot brilliantly fast-paced. As I could have expected, there was a plot twist near the ending, and everything ended up coming together in a way better than I could have expected.

Once again, Shusterman has proven his mastery in storytelling, and now we know that his son can step up to the plate as well! I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for them...

Check out Neal Shusterman here:

Until next time :)

Monday 20 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'Chinglish' by Sue Cheung (****)

Hey guys, and happy Monday! Today I am very excited to be reviewing an excellent book I read over Easter (please excuse my late blogging, it's been a hectic couple of months!) But this past weekend was the first calm weekend in a while, and what better way to spend it than blogging! 

This year has seen the UKYA industry thinking a lot about #ownvoices and diversity in its books. It's something I'm really passionate about, and there are so many books I have on my TBR and wishlist that are written by and champion BAME voices. I want to make a conscious effort to diversify the books I read, not only because these books are bloody brilliant regardless, but because it's so important to familiarise yourself with different cultures and backgrounds to your own.

Along these lines, I was super stoked to receive a review copy of Chinglish by Sue Cheung, kindly gifted to me by Andersen Press. This book sounded so interesting and I couldn't wait to read it, and I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. Chinglish follows Jo Kwan and her new life in Coventry - it's 1984, and Jo is growing up in a crazy world with her crazy family. Her brother was sent to live with her grandparents (Jo doesn't know why), and that's not the only thing that's bothering her. This was meant to be a new start, but her family's new flat is right above the Chinese takeaway her parents run. Jo's new school has it's fair share of bullies, but her art classes keep her sane. Can Jo achieve her dreams even when it feels like everything is getting in her way?

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

It is difficult trying to talk in our family cos: 
a) Grandparents don’t speak English at all
b) Mum hardly speaks any English
c) Me, Bonny and Simon hardly speak Chinese
d) Dad speaks Chinese and good English – but doesn’t like talking
In other words, we all have to cobble together tiny bits of English and Chinese into a rubbish new language I call 'Chinglish'. It is very awkward. 

Jo Kwan is a teenager growing up in 1980s Coventry with her annoying little sister, too-cool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents. But unlike the other kids at her new school or her posh cousins, Jo lives above her parents' Chinese takeaway. And things can be tough – whether it's unruly customers or the snotty popular girls who bully Jo for being different. Even when she does find a BFF who actually likes Jo for herself, she still has to contend with her erratic dad's behaviour. All Jo dreams of is breaking free and forging a career as an artist.

Told in diary entries and doodles, Jo's brilliantly funny observations about life, family and char siu make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.

Chinglish is one of the best #ownvoices stories out there in UKYA right now. Chinglish was belly-achingly funny, heartbreaking, tender and unflinchingly honest all at the same time. I couldn't put it down; I cared deeply for Jo, and loved hearing about her life through her diary entries (often accompanied by wonderful sketches). From the 2011 consensus 0.7% of people living in England and Wales are chinese, but I feel like the British Chinese are astonishingly under-represented in books, movies and TV (particularly YA!) So Chinglish was a really interesting read for me, and it was great reading about this perspective. 

Jo was a great protagonist and the way she presented her life was extraordinarily and vibrantly detailed - from the descriptions of her eccentric family (and various animal lunacy, including exploding goats) to 1980s Coventry. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with her sister, Bonny, and her friend Gurdeep whose parents run the corner shop. I also adored Tina, because who doesn't need a friend like her?! 

Chinglish is an unapologetically honest account based on the author's own life, and this is perhaps why the story is told so well. It opened my eyes up to a world very different from my own, and this just goes to show why it's so great to champion diversity in books. This novel had everything in it - characters that jumped off the pages, heartache, humour and a good sprinkling of reality - this is life as real as it gets. There are plenty of upsetting moments, but I was so relieved about the way the book ended.

I'm really excited to see what Sue Cheung does next - Chinglish like a tall glass of water, and is exactly what the UKYA genre so desperately needs right now. 

Until next time :)

Friday 3 May 2019

MR TODD BLOG TOUR | 'Mr Todd's Reckoning' by Iain Maitland | The Simple Reason Why It's Easy To Write Evil Characters...

Hey guys, and happy Friday! Today I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mr Todd's Reckoning, a brand new book by Iain Maitland. This book promises to be delightfully creepy and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat! Back in 2017 I read and adored Sweet William which is another crime thriller by the same author, and this book promises to be just as tense and electrifying!

Check out the blurb here...

Norman Bates is alive and well… He's living just next door

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.

The father Mr Todd is at his wits’ end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home... with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.

The son Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?

The unholy spirit in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.

And I am very excited to have Iain Maitland himself on my blog today to talk about why it's easy to write evil characters, and why as a reader it's easier to sympathise with them than you might expect... 

I write dark literary thrillers that feature evil characters – Raymond Orrey in Sweet William, Mr Todd in Mr Todd’s Reckoning and a serial killer in Gayther & Carrie (the first in my detective series out early next year).

The books go to some dark places not just physically - into cellars and forests and other creepy locations - but also deep into the minds of the characters themselves. You get to share their thoughts and feelings, actions and reactions – you experience the journey that they take into mayhem and murder.

Now this might disturb some readers – but it doesn’t faze me at all. That’s because none of these characters see themselves as evil. In fact, if you were to ask them, they’d all see themselves as good, decent people. 

Raymond Orrey in Sweet William just wants to snatch his son back from foster parents and run away to the South Of France to live happily ever after. He thinks he’s the best dad in the world. He’d do anything – just anything – for his little boy.

Mr Todd has a clearly defined view of what’s right and what’s wrong in this world. He sees himself as a good guy and it’s those around him who are bad people. Everything he’s done – and is going to do – can be justified.  

It’s the same with the serial killer in Gayther & Carrie. He culls - as he views it – bad men; the baddest men of all. In fact, he considers himself a hero, someone who is on a mission to rid the world of these ‘baddest of bad men’.

That’s the thing, you see – what you and I might see as evil might be viewed quite differently from inside someone else’s head. And that makes it relatively easy to write – it’s just a matter of rationalising what they think and do as being perfectly normal. 

Take Raymond Orrey from Sweet William for example – he’s just escaped from a psychiatric unit to go and find his toddler son who’s being looked after by what he believes are cruel and uncaring foster parents. What will he do if those parents get in his way? What would you do if you thought your child was suffering? 
It’s the same with the serial killer in Gayther & Carrie 1 – he knows bad men who do bad things to children. No-one else seems to be doing anything. Nobody else seems to care. They seem to be turning a blind eye. He – alone – can stop this. Should he save the children? What would you do – turn away?

Mr Todd is an intelligent, thoughtful and reasoning man. As the book starts, I rather think that you will like him, sympathise with his situation and empathise with his feelings. Of course, that may change as the book progresses into the darkest places. You may by the end perceive him to be evil personified. But he doesn’t and that, perhaps, is the most frightening thing of all.

Thank you so much, Iain, for appearing on my blog!

Make sure you guys check out the rest of the spots on the blog tour <3

Buy Mr Todd's Reckoning here:

Check out Iain Maitland here:

Check out my review for Sweet William here

Until next time :)