Friday 30 September 2016

The Graces, Laure Eve

Pages: 415
Publisher: Faber
Release Date: 1st September 2016
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Other Titles by this Author: Fearsome Dreamer, The Illusionists

Meet the Graces

They were waiting for someone different.
All I had to do was show them that person was me.

Just like everybody else in her small town, River is obsessed with the Graces. Just like everybody else, she's been seduced by their wealth, their exclusivity, their beauty, and their glamour.

But unlike everybody else, River knows exactly what she’s doing.

Doesn’t she?

The YA world has been raving about ‘The Graces’ for goodness knows how long and I have to admit that I was a little intimidated by the hype, but boy did it live up to it!

Within only a couple of pages I was completely intrigued. ‘The Graces’ has that really nostalgic atmosphere of old school paranormal romance that was the backbone of YA for so long and it was such a lovely feeling. It did feel a little overwritten at first, a little try-hard, but I soon fell into the rhythm of the story and became swept up in the intrigue of the Graces.

A photo posted by Sophie (@solittletimeforbooks) on

All the time I wasn’t reading ‘The Graces’ I was dying to – it’s incredibly compelling. The mysteries got thicker, the atmosphere got closer and everything got darker, all leading to a twist that completely blew my mind. I was expecting a big twist, but that was still a serious wow. One of my smaller theories did turn out to be correct though which I was rather chuffed about that.

Every single character in this book is completely messed up. The Graces live in a bubble of privilege, overprotective parents and a strange intense relationship with each other. River’s family life is equally unusual, but at the opposite end of the spectrum and she’s desperate for love and acceptance. But all four of them take their messiness to unexpected levels.

Dark, compelling and shocking, ‘The Graces’ threw me for a loop. I can’t WAIT for book two!

Thanks to Faber for the review copy.

Sophie  

Thursday 29 September 2016

Mini-Reviews: Feminine Gospels, Physical & Hold Your Own

Feminine Gospels, Carol Ann Duffy
80|Picador|2010

Synopsis
In Feminine Gospels, Carol Ann Duffy draws on the historical, the archetypal, the biblical and the fantastical to create various visions – and revisions – of female beauty. Simultaneously stripping women bare and revealing them in all their guises and disguises, these poems tell tall stories as though they were true confessions, and spin modern myths from real women seen in every aspect – as bodies and corpses, writers and workers, shoppers and slimmers, fairytale royals or girls-next-door.

Mini-Review
I had incredibly high hopes for Feminine Gospels after loving Duffy’s poetry way back at GCSE, but I was actually a little disappointed. While I admired the poems, I never felt that I really knew what anything was about and I felt no emotional connection to any of the poems. As I've enjoyed Duffy in the past, I'm going to give another of her collections a go before I make my judgement as I do love the themes of re-written history, feminism and female strength in Feminine Gospels.

Physical, Andrew McMillan
64|Jonathan Cape|2015

Synopsis
Raw and urgent, these poems are hymns to the male body – to male friendship and male love – muscular, sometimes shocking, but always deeply moving. We are witness here to an almost religious celebration of flesh: a flesh vital with the vulnerability of love and loss, to desire and its departure. In an extraordinary blend of McMillan’s own colloquial Yorkshire rhythms with a sinewy, Metaphysical music and Thom Gunn’s torque and speed – ‘your kiss was deep enough to stand in’ – the poems in this first collection confront what it is to be a man and interrogate the very idea of masculinity. This is poetry where every instance of human connection, from the casual encounter to the intimate relationship, becomes redeemable and revelatory.

Mini-Review
I have mixed feelings about this collection. On one hand, I love the vivid emotion and the feel of the poems, but I also didn’t 100% get everything that Andrew McMillan was trying to say. But I think that’s a fault of my own – I need to remember that as long as I feel something about a collection then it’s mostly a success.

And I did feel for Physical. The poems themselves have no punctuation, instead relying on word and line spacing and it just gives the whole collection this sense of an uncontrolled outpouring of emotion and the way that maleness is explored in unlike anything I've read before. It’s unpretentious and honest and achingly, achingly sad. This is definitely a collection I can see myself re-reading, and one that I think will benefit from that.

Hold Your Own, Kate Tempest
108|Picador|2014

Synopsis
Kate Tempest’s first full-length collection for Picador is an ambitious, mmulti-voiced work based around the mythical figure of Tiresias, this four-part work follows him through his transformations from child, man and woman to blind prophet; through this structure, Tempest holds up a mirror to contemporary life in a direct and provocative way rarely associated with poetry. A vastly popular and accomplished performance poet, Tempest commands a huge and dedicated following on the performance and rap circuit.

Mini-Review
Taking inspiration from the ancient myth of Tierias, Hold Your Own talks about everything we experience in life via a sharp, observant and modern eye and it’s completely brilliant. There is so much power in Tempest’s words and ideas and themes, lots on sexuality, feminism, school and society that sucker punch you with its simple truth. This is a collection I’ll be reading and re-reading over the years, I just know it. I now have a desperate need to read everything Kate Tempest has ever written. Beautiful.

Sophie 

Tuesday 27 September 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: The Pearl


Originally published in 1947 by The Viking Press

My edition: The new YA Originals paperback from Penguin.

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
This is actually a title that I didn’t know about until I was offered the chance to review a few of the YA Originals.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I read Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ way back in Year 9 and I hated it. Completely and utterly. It’s been around 10 years since then and I figured it was about time I gave him another shot.

WHAT Makes It a Classic
‘The Pearl’ is a fable about the evils of greed and the danger of the poor rising up and threatening the status quo.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I’m just going to come out and say it: I really didn’t like ‘The Pearl’. In fact, if it had been any longer that it's 115 pages I wouldn’t have finished it.

Kino is a poor Mexican pearl diver who finds the Pearl of the World - huge pearl worth thousands. Kino is blinded to the threat and danger of the pearl by the promise and glory of what it can achieve for him.

As I mentioned, this novel is a fable and it felt very heavy handed. The story and writing was very simplified, the message obvious and verging on preachy and I hated the oppressive feel of the message behind Kino’s story. But aside from that, I found it kind of boring. Being a fable, the general direction of the story and the journey of the characters was expected and there were no real surprises in the narrative.


One of the things that I remember not liking about ‘Of Mice and Men’ is that the character of Curley’s Wife is just his wife – she doesn’t even have a name. She’s a device without a personality, agency or depth, and I found the same problem with Kino’s wife Juana. She is simply there to function as a conscience to Kino, to refute his ideas about the pearl and she is constantly derived and squashed down by her husband. It made me ragey and lose all sympathy I had for Kino and his plight.

It's safe to say that John Steinbeck isn’t for me and I won't be giving him another try.

WILL It Stay a Classic
Probably. Steinbeck is seen as a master of American literature and he continues to be studied across English classrooms. Poor kids.

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Honestly, I’m really not sure. Unless you’re a fan of Steinbeck already, I don’t really recommend ‘The Pearl’.

Sophie 

Monday 26 September 2016

Series Review: Ruby Oliver by E Lockhart

Series: Ruby Oliver
Author: E Lockhart
Books in Series: The Boyfriend List, The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, Real Live Boyfriends


What’s it all about?
Ruby Oliver is fifteen and has a shrink. But before you make up your mind about her, you should know that she has had a pretty awful (and eventful) past ten days. She has: lost her boyfriend (#13 on the boyfriend list), lost her best friend, lost all her other friends, did something suspicious with a boy (#10), did something advanced with a boy (#15), had an argument with a boy (#14), drank her first beer (someone handed it to her), got caught by her mom (ag!), had a panic attack (scary), lost a lacrosse game, failed a math test, hurt Meghan's feelings, became a social outcast, and had graffiti written about her in the girls' bathroom. But don't worry, Ruby lives to tell the tale. Through a special assignment to list all the boys she's ever had the slightest, little, any-kind-of-anything with, comes an unfortunate series of events that would be enough to send any girl in a panic.

The Verdict:

The Boyfriend List
I first read the first two books in this series when they were originally published in the UK back in 2007-ish but the last two never made it over here. Hearing that the whole series is being re-released by Hot Key Books this summer made my day!

I was a tad worried that I wouldn’t like Ruby as much, but I worried for nothing – The Boyfriend List was just as brilliant at 24 as it was at 14/15! I'd forgotten about the footnotes that pepper Ruby’s story, but I love them. Sometimes they can be annoying, but they worked brilliantly well in Roo’s story. This must have been one of the first times I ever encountered anxiety and panic attacks in YA and I love how it’s handled – with humour, normalcy and positivity. Ruby’s misadventures are hilarious and charming and I’m so looking forward to getting back to her already.

Btw, Team Noel. 100%.

The Boy Book
When The Boy Book kicks off Roo has a total of two friends, but she does have a cool job at the zoo and a driver’s license.

At the beginning of every chapter we get an excerpt from The Boy Book and Ruby’s serious skill at relating moments in her life to movies throughout. I felt like I really started remembering so many of things I'd forgotten about Roo in the many years since reading these for the first time and I just feel head over heels for her again: her encyclopaedic movie knowledge, her love of mystery novels and vintage clothes, her tendency to treat animals like people and her capability for serious ridiculousness. I love her.

Still Team Noel.

The Treasure Map of Boys
Oh, Noel, you have SO let me down.

We get a hefty dose of boy and friend problems in Roo’s third adventure, and a whole lot of changing allegiance on my part. A lot of The Boy Book was about the natural changing of friendship groups as you get older and that continued into The Treasure Map of Boys.

I thought that I liked Nora. She came back to Roo, even though she had a little wobble, and stayed loyal, but in this book we realised how wrong we were about her. She’s just as selfish as Roo is (hello, teenagers) and she doesn’t really understand Roo at all. Plus she was totally unfair with the Noel debacle and I think Roo’s better off without her. And maybe even Noel too. He had so much promise, but he really let himself down by not trusting Roo and buying into the gossip and Roo’s ‘reputation’. In sweeps Hutch. Could I be switching my allegiance…

(I am so glad Roo finally told Jackson where to go in The Treasure Map of Boys. It was a long time coming and I genuinely cheered out loud as Roo finally realised what a jerk he is.)

Real Live Boyfriends
It’s Ruby’s senior year. Her and Noel are thoroughly in love, she’s got solid ways of preventing her panic attacks and it all seems to be going well. Until her grandmother dies, sending her dad into a spiral; her mum gets crazier than usual and after a trip to NYC, Noel seems to have lost interest. Life is never quiet for Ruby.

Real Live Boyfriends definitely took a more serious turn that the previous books, but it still kept the humour and charm I've come to love and expect from this series. And in the background there was always boy drama, but for the first time I felt like Roo actually knew what she wanted and what she deserved from the boys in her life which was a bit of a revelation. She's still 100% Ruby, but she grew up a lot in this final instalment.

Watching her explore the questions of love, friendship and popularity that she's struggled with during the whole series through the documentary she as making for her college applications really showed that off and it even made me feel a bit emosh.

Overall

I loved this series even more the second time around than I did the first and I’m so happy Hot Key Books have reprinted them all so I finally got to see Ruby’s story through to the end. It’s fun, charming, silly and also has a surprising amount of depth. I'd recommend it to every fan of contemporary YA – brilliant.


Sophie 

Friday 23 September 2016

My Lady Jane, Brodi Ashton; Jodi Meadows; Cynthia Hand

Pages: 416
Publisher: Walker
Release Date: 1st September 2016
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

A comical, fantastical and witty re-imagining of the Tudor world, perfect for fans of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Lady Jane Grey, sixteen, is about to be married to a total stranger - and caught up in an insidious plan to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But that’s the least of Jane’s problems. She's about to become Queen of England. Like that could go wrong.

I couldn’t have loved My Lady Jane any more than I did – sass, wit, humour and a whole lot of fun. Perfect!

This is an alternative history that’s really quite alternative. We follow Kind Edward IV and Lady Jane Grey along the recorded path (sort of) for a while, but when we diverge, we really diverge. I loved the twist Ashton, Meadows and Hand put on the story, especially how strong their presence at the narrators was – it could have come across as really heavy handed but I loved it.

The magic and sense of humour in My Lady Jane could easily have become ridiculous, but it definitely erred on the side of brilliantly ridiculous for me. I laughed aloud on nearly every page and I was always surprised by what happened next. I did find that it really brought out my inner history nerd and I often found myself googling what really happened and researching bits and bobs that caught my interest. I now know two versions of Jane, Edward and G’s stories – and I definitely prefer this one.

My Lady Jane has jumped straight to my 2016 favourites and I’m really, really hoping these three write together again very soon. Please?

Thanks to Walker for the review copy.

Sophie 

Thursday 22 September 2016

Twitter is exhausting me

I'm starting to find Twitter exhausting.

I follow hundreds of intelligent, switched-on, political, and passionate people, and sometimes that just gets a bit too much.

It can feel like a constant tug of war – ‘If you don’t speak up then you’re part of the problem!’ vs ‘Don’t speak, just listen – this hasn’t anything to do with you.’ I often feel like every time I log in I’ll have to war with myself and everyone else, even though I've only ever had to deal with trolls a handful of times.

I want to be informed. I think it’s important I'm part of these conversations. It’s important to me that I stay part of the book world. But every time I scroll through my feed something else has happened that everyone (rightfully) rallies against and it becomes exhausting.

I even feel nervous writing this because of the potential for offence and retaliation. That’s not right, that’s not a healthy way to approach my blog and the community I love.  

The easy option is to stay away from Twitter, but my job is about 30% tweeting so that’s not an option. Do I delete the app from my phone? Cull the wonderful people on my feed?

What do I do?


Sophie 

Tuesday 20 September 2016

9 Thoughts About Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners Trilogy

This series is a lot less intense than the Mistborn series – it’s fun, fast-paced and easy to enjoy.

Steelheart felt a little similar in the trajectory of the plot to The Final Empire – a ragtag band of misfits plot to take down a tyrannical leader.

Book two, Firefight, is a little less brilliant than book one. It feels a bit similar to Steelheart and the plot is a little less engaging.

But book three steps it straight back up again. I was immediately sucked back into David’s world within only a few chapters of Calamity.

I love the tone of David’s narration. It’s chatty, easy, conversational and SO easy to connect with. Everything is immediate.

David’s ridiculous metaphors are consistently awful and they inject regular humour into some serious drama and action.

The love story between David and Megan is always there, but it never takes over. It’s sweet, affectionate banter in the background; an angst in the beginning; and a motivation to survive. So adorable.

What a twist about Calamity at the end of Calamity! I wasn’t expecting that at all and I loved it.

Macleod Andrews who reads this series is the perfect audiobook narrator. He gets David brilliantly and I love the pep and optimism that’s always there. He’s so brilliant that I would deliberately seek out more audiobooks read by him.

What should I read next in my adventures through Brandon Sanderson’s world? I’m thinking Warbreaker…

Sophie

Monday 19 September 2016

Blog Tour: Natasha Farrant on Jane Austen and Fashion

As part of the Grand Tour for Natasha Farrant's brilliant Pride and Prejudice retelling, Lydia, Natasha Farrant is telling us all about fashion in Austen's time. 


I have on loan, for the purpose of promoting LYDIA, an exquisite bonnet of soft gold straw, trimmed with green ostrich feathers, artificial berries and three different kinds of ribbons.  Small crowned and wide peaked, the glow of the straw gives a soft sheen to my skin.  The weight of the thing makes me stand a little straighter.  The bow beneath my chin has a feminine coyness, the feathers lend glamour, the fruit a touch of playfulness.  Hidden several miles behind the brim, I feel at once demure and flirtatious, empowered and restrained. To wear an (imitation) Regency bonnet raises complicated emotions. Rather like slipping on a pair of impossibly high heels or having a manicure or wearing a push-up bra, it changes both the way you feel about yourself and the way you behave.

The late eighteenth century saw a fashion explosion in Britain. Gone were the stiff brocades and uncomfortable hoops of previous eras. The Victorian constraints have not yet made their appearance.  Regency fashion is all about the “athletic”, neo-Grecian figure – high waisted, flowing, promoting ease of movement for activities such as walking and dancing.  This was a time of increased global trading links which brought in new fabrics and designs.  A rising middle-class had money and leisure on its hands, improving roads and communication links spread ideas and goods.  The first fashion periodicals appeared.  Ribbons and feathers, turbans and bonnets, muslins and military jackets – it was a time of experimentation and excess (and see the attached illustration for a risqué satire of the new fashion of ditching underwear under flimsy dresses.

This passage about the trimming of hats, from one of Austen’s letters to her sister Cassandra, gives us a clue as to her thoughts on all this:

“Flowers are very much worn, and Fruit is still more the thing.  Eliz. Has a bunch of Strawberries, and I have seen Grapes, Cherries, Plumbs and Apricots – There are likewise Almonds & raisins, French plumbs and Tamarinds at the Grocers, but I have never seen any of them in hats (-) I cannot help thinking that it is more natural to have flowers grow out of the head than fruit.”

From this and other letters, it’s clear that she found the world of high fashion absurd, but we know also that she enjoyed it.  Her letters are full of references to stockings she has bought, caps she has trimmed, and her determination to keep up with the latest trends (for example, in the wearing of long sleeves for dinner).  Austen uses this duality – embracing fashion, while remaining conscious of its absurdities – to inform us about her characters. As a general rule, while it is entirely right for a person to be well turned out, an over-interest in fashion soon becomes a shorthand for ridicule. We know, for example, that Lizzy Bennet spends longer than usual getting ready for the Netherfield ball, that Jane Fairfax is elegant, that Fanny Price dresses with modesty and correct propriety, but are told little else about their dress.    Mrs Elton in Emma, on the other hand, speaks at length of her “horror of being overtrimmed”.  Isabella Morland longs for a “coquelicot ribboned” hat. The first thing Mrs Bennet does with visitors from out of town in make them tell her all about the latest fashions.  Poor Lydia is forever trimming bonnets. Excessive interest in fashion, it is implied, is always a hallmark for intellectual inferiority.


If Austen were alive today, I imagine she would be investing in timeless classical pieces in the House of Fraser sales, with good brogues and a well-cut coat, personalised with cleverly tied scarves and discreet jewellery.  She would use own brand face creams and maybe a little mascara and expensive perfume on special occasions, and she would always be appropriately dressed. I would be very nervous to approach her unless I too were dressed exactly right: nothing pulled un-ironed out of the basket, no uncombed hair or chipped nail varnish or old T-shirt.  No frumpiness, but no ostentation either.  Jeans, maybe, but not ripped, and definitely with a jacket, and squeaky clean trainers.

It is not a coincidence that my Lydia and indeed her female nemesis, Theo de Fombelle, are obsessed with clothes. Lydia’s obsession is an indication, as in Austen’s novels, of her frivolous nature, though also of her sense of fun and experimentation. Theo’s is more complicated: she has understood the obsession of her era with fashion, and plans to use it to her advantage. In both cases, fashion, as Austen understood so well, is a highly charged thing – frivolous and fun, but also deeply revealing of character.

Thank you so much, Natasha! You can read my review of the fantastic 'Lydia' right here and make sure to check out the rest of the Grand Tour! 

Sophie

Friday 16 September 2016

Lydia, Natasha Farrant

Pages: 352
Publisher: Chicken House
Release Date: 1st September 2016
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Other Titles by this Author: The Things We Did For Love, After Iris, Flora in Love, All About Pumpkin, Time for Jas

A spirited, witty and fresh reimagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Lydia is the youngest Bennet sister and she's sick of country life – instead of sewing and reading, she longs for adventure. When a red-coated garrison arrives in Merryton, Lydia’s life turns upside down. As she falls for dashing Wickham, she’s swept into a whirlwind social circle and deposited in a seaside town, Brighton. Sea-bathing, promenades and scandal await – and a pair of intriguing twins. Can Lydia find out what she really wants – and can she get it?

I’ve had a bit of a Pride and Prejudice year with my first re-read since I was 17 and Curtis Sittenfeld’s brilliant Eligible, and Lydia was the perfect addition.

Lydia is a character that I've never fully got on board with, either in adaptations, the book itself or the many re-tellings and re-imaginings I've read over the years, until Lydia. I finally got her. She stopped being the annoying younger Bennet sister who caused trouble and put her sisters’ futures into jeopardy and become someone unjustly disregarded by everyone as silly and left out by her older sisters. Lydia became likeable and sympathetic and it’s made me want to re-read Pride and Prejudice again with that new perspective.

As Lydia wrote of her adventures and related the parts of Jane and Lizzie’s stories that I’m so familiar with I got little buzzes of happiness, but I was eventually overcome with curiosity as to how this new dynamic to Lydia’s story would incorporate with what I knew. I loved seeing Brighton – a city I’m very familiar with – come to life in the late 18th century and the reflections of what was happening back in Longbourn, but it was even nicer to see Lydia grow and change during her time by the sea. I really loved the spin that was put on that time that we never really saw in the original novel.

Natasha Farrant took a few takes on Austen that we’d actually discussed in the past and made them strong features of the novel which I really liked. Mrs Bennet’s hysteric need to marry her daughters was out of fear of them ending up destitute – she’s not entirely silly; Wickham’s motives, though wrong, were understandable; and the fact that marriage really was all about money in Austen’s time – Jane and Lizzie were incredibly lucky to love the rich men they married.  

But most of all, I loved that Lydia’s ending felt so different to P&P – it felt worthy of the character I fell in love with during this novel. Marrying Wickham almost seemed like a punishment for her actions in Austen’s book, something that would inevitably end in unhappiness, but Lydia got her happy ending in Lydia which was really lovely to see. I finished this book with a great big smile on my face and you really can’t ask for more than that.

Lydia is a fresh, affectionate and respectful take on Pride and Prejudice and really manages to keep Austen’s original at its heart.  

Sophie 

Tuesday 13 September 2016

#2016ClassicsChallenge: Middlemarch


Originally published in 1871-2 by William Blackwood and Sons

My edition: the ridiculously pretty Penguin Clothbound Classic, though I did listen to around a third of the novel on audio

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
Middlemarch is, once again, a novel that I don’t remember not knowing about. It’s a title banded around as the epitome of the sprawling Victorian novel, the hugely intimidating classic that you’ll never read and one of the most important books in English literature.

WHY I Chose to Read It
I came across Bex from Ninja Book Swap/An Armchair by the Sea announcing on Twitter that she would be hosting a 6-week Middlemarch readalong (you can look back on our thoughts with #EliotAlong) and I spontaneously decided to join in! I knew it would be unlikely I would get around to reading it on my own so I ordered a copy of the book and got ready to join in!

WHAT Makes It a Classic
Middlemarch is often regarded to be one of the finest pieces of English literature and was a favourite of Virginia Woolf’s who in 1919 said it was “one of the few English novels written for grown-up people”. It’s praised for its intelligence, characters, themes and social awareness.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Middlemarch is a long, involved and complicated novel, or it feels like it at first. There are a lot of characters to meet and learning how they are connected and the complex relationships between the inhabitants of Middlemarch is daunting, but once you’re in, you’re in.

Though we spend time with a lot of characters over the course of the novel, we mostly focus on Dorothea (naïve, young, beautiful), Rosamund (rich, beautiful and shallow), Mr Causabon (a mean, selfish Reverend), Fred Vincy (charming, fumbling and a gambler) Ladislaw (intelligent, romantic and idealistic) and Lydgate (a doctor with revolutionary ideas).

Over the course of the novel we see them question, succeed, fail, love, hate, marry and grieve. Middlemarch is definitely the broadest look at rural Victorian life I've ever read and it was fascinating to see the scope extend beyond the upper echelons of society into the middle and lower classes across all professions, especially looking at the women in those situations.

George Eliot was an early feminist and it’s obvious from the get go. Dorothea and Rosamund are incredibly complex characters, and honest ones too. Neither woman is always likable, always admirable or always hated which is a common pitfall in the novels of this period, in my opinion. Marriage is explored extensively and it was so good to finally see beyond the proposal of marriages built on superficial appreciations and chaperoned meetings when you’re trying to impress. I think the only other time I've come across this is in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Watching the male characters, particularly Causabon and Lydgate, fully realise that their wives are people with opinions, feelings and ideas is a wonderful thing, but also a sad one.

A photo posted by Sophie (@solittletimeforbooks) on

But Eliot didn’t just delve into the psyches of the female characters, she let us truly get to know the men too. Causabon is basically an arse and I hated him – selfish, manipulative, immovable – I pitied Dorothea so very much. The way the men interacted with women once they truly knew them was super interesting, especially when faced with a woman being right and the man being wrong. The dynamics between the sexes in Middlemarch is something that could be discussed for weeks and still only scratch the surface. But what I loved most about the male characters was as aspect of Will Ladislaw’s tale: he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. It’s reassuring to know that feeling isn’t a new one. Too often in the Victorian novels I’ve read so there’s no discussion about career aspirations, what the men want from their lives (other than the heroine) and I really enjoyed watching that aspect of Will’s story unfold.

The struggle of finding someone to happily spend your life with also feels like a modern one, but once again, Eliot brought the 1830s in to my world and the world of my family and friends with the universal struggles of marriage, love and friendship. It was almost humbling to see how little people have changed in nearly 200 years and, quite frankly, it made me rather grateful that I'm a woman in 2016 rather than 1830.

After over 800 pages, I felt I knew these characters very, very well. Some I grew to hate and some I grew to love, but I won’t be forgetting any of them any time soon. This novel is daunting, it’s complicated and some bits are a tad dry, but it is so worth a read. I thoroughly enjoyed Middlemarch and I'm beyond glad I got to experience it.

WILL It Stay a Classic
100%. Only last year it was voted by critics and scholars as number one in the BBC’s poll of ‘The 100 Greatest British Novels’!

WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of Elizabeth Gaskell, particularly North and South.
- If you’re interested in what happens after the proposal and wedding in 19th century classics.
- People who like the idea of Dickens and his books, but don’t actually like them.

Sophie 

Monday 12 September 2016

YA Shot Blog Tour: A Q&A with Harriet Reuter Hapgood

The completely marvelous YA Shot team have set up an epic blog tour to celebrate the epic event taking place in October. It's run and led by authors, pairing schools and libraries for free author events. It's incredible. 

As part of the tour I was lucky enough to get to do a Q&A with the brilliantly lovely Harriet Reuter Hapgood, author of The Square Root of Summer'.

1. Gottie’s grief over Grey is intense and so palpable. Did you make yourself upset at any point during writing the novel?
Sometimes. One of the very first scenes I wrote was Gottie in the hospital after Grey’s stroke, him dying. I had no idea then what exactly I was writing, and where that would slot in as a puzzle piece. And that was written instinctively, and pretty much from life – my grandmother had a huge stroke a few years ago, and hospitals are just the worst. I was also going through some other pretty tough life stuff for a couple of years too, which I don’t talk about because it involves other people’s stories and privacy, but if you know me you can read between the lines of the book and see why the grief is so intense. And I definitely channelled all the bad and poured it into the page and got myself in a tizz a lot. Of course, other times I made myself upset because writing is hard! I definitely remember crying over the book not because of an emotional scene, but because the stupid words weren’t working!

2. The Square Root of Summer is rather full on with the physics. Are you a physics whizz or did you get confused as well?
I stopped studying maths and physics at GCSE – and I’m a summer baby, so I was 15. And started writing the book 16 years later, so...not a physics whizz, no. I didn’t find it remotely confusing, though, and I’m FASCINATED by people saying it is! Maths is really just a language. Think of the numbers and mathematics as the grammar and punctuation, and the physics theories as the literature. It’s just stories – black holes, wormholes, time travel, quantum… Once you let go of trying to solve it all, it becomes easier – like poetry. You don’t have to know the answer. Honestly, if I can understand it – and I literally have a degree in Dawson’s Creek, which tells you where I’m at brain-wise – anyone can.

3. Tell me a little bit about your debut year. Has it been as you expected? Anything unexpected or surprising?

Oh, man. I had zero expectations, I knew nothing. There's a ton online about how to write a book, there's no preparation for "how to be an author, publicly". And it has been intense! I spent years happily writing this book ALONE in my CAVE and working as a sub-editor on magazines, which is the journalist equivalent of being in a cave, then suddenly I was in a spotlight! I went on two US book tours and one UK one, so in a very short timespan I learned how to read from my book in front of an audience without throwing up… Not to wear a short skirt if the stage is raised… How to sign my very long name quite quickly… It’s all been wonderful and whirlwindy and wild. The most unexpected moment was climbing on top of the Flatiron Building in New York, barefoot, while slightly tipsy with my editor… But the best part is getting super-intense long emails from readers, it's just pure joy.

4. What’s your favourite read of 2016 so far?

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, The Serpent King by Jeff Zenter, and Kill the Boy Band by Goldy Moldavsky. I have three favourites and I would save them all from a fire.



5. Can you tell me anything about book two?
Um… It’s currently untitled and I’m on a last-ditch draft to get it to my agent by the end of September. It’s another contemporary-ish standalone YA, this one a dual POV about three friends in their final year of high school in an idyllic California small town – think a west coast Stars Hollow meets Buffy. And plays with my favourite YA/teen TV tropes: boys next door, love triangles, core friendship groups, ridiculous whimsy. The main romance is between two girls, and it’s really about self-perception and destiny vs self-determination. There’s magic, gelato, a cat (of course), ghosts, memories, kissing, the ocean, grimoires, a diner – and everything is not as it seems…

6. If you don’t mind, I’d love to see a snap of your TBR!
I wish I could show you! All my books – including TBR! – are at my parents’ house because I live in a damp hovel in Brighton undergoing major renovations. My writing space is a folding garden table! And I don’t read YA while I’m writing YA, so… Some books on my TBR though are: 'The Graces' by Laure Eve, 'Super Awkward' by Beth Garrod, 'The First Time She Drowned' by Kerry Kletter, 'Girl In Pieces' by Kathleen Glasgow, and 'Girls in the Moon' by Janet McNally. Lots of YA, lots of debuts, lots of female writers.

Buy your tickets for YA Shot right here

Thank you so much to Harriet, Bea and Chelle for organising all this. 

Sophie

Thursday 8 September 2016

Blog Tour: Super Awkward, Beth Garrod

Pages: 405
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 1st September
Edition: UK paperback, review copy

I, Bella Fisher, am absolutely winning at failing at life.

1. I once got my tongue stuck to a box of Calippos in a supermarket.
2. I accidentally called my Geography teacher Mum. Twice. He wasn’t impressed.
3. I’m a geek. And not in a geek-chic kind of way, but in a secretly-caring-about-failing-maths-and-science way.
4. I always fail maths and science.

So it figures that when I meet the fittest boy in the world, Zac, I’m doing solo star jumps. While dressed up as a cereal box…

Now I've got to somehow persuade Zac to come to prom with me – while avoiding my evil ex and dealing with a secret so mega-awks I want to Ctrl-Z my brain.

What could go wrong?
Oh yeah, that’s right. Absolutely everything.

Super Awkward is a brilliantly funny, charming and addictive debut – I thoroughly enjoyed it. Beth Garrod is a great new voice in UKYA.

Bella is a heroine hard not to love and everything about her story feels fresh and authentic. Her phone is the centre of her world, being dragged to a caravan park in Wales is a crime against her and her mum’s hippy attitude is basically the most embarrassing thing to happen to her. She’s very real. I really loved the way she messed around with language – her smushing words together and making up strange acronyms was very reminiscent of Georgia Nicolson for me.

The friendship between Bella, Rachel and Tegan felt like the friendships I knew at 15 (and still have at 24). They bickered and fought and made mistakes, but they were still loyal to each other even when they weren’t speaking. They have moments of real seriousness and real silliness – it was the perfect balance. Bella, Rachel and Tegan have the kind of friendship that I reckon could go the distance and that’s really lovely to see in YA and quite frankly, I’d like to pluck them out of the book and be the fourth person in the group please and thank you.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

Thanks to Scholastic for the review copy.

Sophie