Blog Tour: The Loop and The Block

Hello, reader friends, thanks for joining me here today – it’s a very exciting day! You may or may not have heard of a new dystopian YA series that is said to rival The Hunger Games trilogy by Glasgow-based writer Ben Oliver. The second book in the The Loop trilogy, The Block, is out now – I hope you’re ready for the wild ride that this book is (you’re not). Join me for an exclusive Q&A with the author Ben Oliver who is talking character development, impossible odds, and TV adaptations!

Q: Ben, congratulations on your brilliant new book, The Block! All of The Loop’s readers are anticipating reading the sequel – what are they in for?!

Covers for The Loop and The Block

A: Thank you! The readers are in for even more excitement, terror, twists and turns (and maybe a few moments that will make them squirm!) I always try to make each book I write better than the one before, and with The Block that meant more intensity, more tension and more fast-pace action! It was so much fun to write. I’ve also introduced some new characters who I think the readers are going to love (especially a certain little drone).

Q: You live in bonnie Scotland – Glasgow, to be specific. How do you think that has affected your writing? Is there a Scottish writer that has inspired you?

A: There are so many Scottish writers that inspire me. I read very eclectically. Sci-Fi and speculative fiction are my favourite genres, but I love Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels, Iain Banks’s works, Muriel Spark, Val McDermid, and we try to claim George Orwell because he wrote 1984 while living in Scotland! Growing up in Scotland has definitely affected my writing. I think all writers are influenced by their environment, the people that surround them, the landscape around them, the history, myths and legends of their country. A lot of Sci-Fi writing is about looking back into history as well as forward to the future, and Scotland has a lot of history.

Q: The world of The Loop and The Block is so well structured and intense. What’s your world-building advice to any aspiring writers?

A: My idea of good world-building starts with seeing the world in which your story is set. For me, writing starts with watching the story unfold in my mind and then describing what I’m seeing (in some ways I’m writing the novelisation of the movie that plays in my head!). If you can visualise your world, it becomes more alive. The history of your world is also important, whether or not you include this history in the telling of your story doesn’t matter, it has to be there, it will make your world more rich and believable.

Q: I feel like I’ve been through so much with Luka (it’s been quite the ride)! How did his character come to you? Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

A: Luka was a character that arrived almost fully formed in my mind. I like Luka Kane a lot, although you wouldn’t think it after all I have put him through. My writing process doesn’t start with characters though, it starts with an idea that usually comes out of nowhere! This idea will sit at the back of my mind for a few months, developing and growing, and then I’ll sit down to write. Hopefully, at this point, all of the characters will sort of just arrive and introduce themselves (this sounds sort of crazy, but it’s the way it happens for me).

Q: You tackle a lot of difficult themes in your books, including physical and emotional torture. How do you bring those topics to a young audience?

A: A lot of my writing is inspired by the books I read when I was in high school. I think I borrowed almost every sci-fi book from the library! I loved the way I could get lost in books and escape for a while – in a lot of ways I’m trying to recapture the feelings I had back then. Those books never shied away from tough subject matter, and I appreciated that the writers didn’t talk down to me. I try to do the same. Plus, I have a strange fondness for being terrified! I like it! I used to read Stephen King books when I was too young and after everyone had gone to bed because I loved being scared, and there’s nothing scarier (to me) than the isolation and torture of the Loop.

Q: I know you’re an English teacher as well as a writer (talk about multi-tasking!). Have any of your students read your books? What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve received?

A: Yes, working as a teacher is such a brilliant (but exhausting) job, and it gives me loads of inspiration to write more. A lot of my students have read it. The most memorable reaction I’ve had is students bringing their copies into school to have them signed. Some have also asked to know what happens in the last two books, but I haven’t given away any secrets!

Q: There’s a TV show in the making with the producer of Black Mirror – wow! Congratulations! Can you share any well-kept secrets with us? On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you?

A: Thank you, it’s so amazing – the contract has been signed for months and I still can’t believe it – I don’t think it’ll ever fully sink in. Unfortunately it’s one of those things that I’m not allowed to talk about until things are official, but having something I’ve written turned into a TV show is right near the top of my author bucket list! There is no scale that can accurately measure my excitement levels!

Q: By now you are well-known for your cliffhangers! Can you give us a little taster of what to expect of the final novel the Loop trilogy? (I can’t wait!!!!!)

A: I can’t give too much away, but there will be more hellish imprisonment, more destruction, more action, and more impossible odds (plus characters living in a computer game, the return of flying cars, and a robotic sidekick named Apple-Moth). The middle book in a trilogy is famously difficult to write, but I had such a great time with this one, I just wanted to ramp up the stakes and the emotion to another level, and I think I’ve done that.

Thank you so much, Ben! What a brilliant Q&A.

Now, go get your copies of The Loop and The Block, and get reading!!! Don’t forget to let me know how you get on!

The Infinity Courts Buzzzzz Week: Q&A with Akemi Dawn Bowman

Lovely friends, one of my most anticipated reads of the year is almost here: The Infinity Courts by the always wonderful Akemi Dawn Bowman! I’m kicking off a week of fun, giveaways, and lots of extra treats for you all to get ready for this mind-boggling book’s release in April! Now, without further ado, let’s meet Akemi and her heroine Nami 😍

Scotland-based writer Akemi Dawn Bowman

Q: Akemi, congratulations on your very first Sci-Fi book, The Infinity Courts! Now, this book is a little different from your previous (equally brilliant, lovely, wonderful) publications, Starfish, Summer Bird Blue, and Harley in the Sky. Can you tell us a bit about your new book?

A: Thank you so much! I’ve been calling The Infinity Courts the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up of my heart, because it combines my love of magic, robots, and Jane Austen, and merges a fantasy world with a sci-fi concept. It’s about a teen who is murdered on her way to a party, and when she wakes up, she discovers the afterlife has been taken over by an artificial intelligence posing as a queen. Very early on, I pitched it as Terminator meets Downton Abbey, but I’ve also heard it described as “Siri/Alexa gone rogue!”

Q: Our heroine, Nami, dies trying to save someone else (talk about a role model – not that anyone should try and get shot…) and finds herself in Infinity, where people spend their afterlife. Nami has such strong convictions and morals – did you base her on someone or something specific? Most importantly, what’s her favourite ice cream flavour?

A: I have a big soft spot for Nami, because she tries so hard to do the “right” thing, but sometimes that’s not always a black and white answer. Life is messy, and death doesn’t change that—it just means she now has an eternity to figure out the gray area of morality, and what it truly means to be good. (Unless the queen of Infinity finds a way to eradicate human consciousness from the afterlife, that is. Dun dun dun.) So yes, in that sense, Nami is based on many of the confusing, multi-layered questions that I think a lot of people will face at some point in their lives. And her favorite flavor of ice cream is mint chocolate chip, for sentimental reasons!

Q: Now, I don’t want to give anything away but there may be a love interest or two in this book. Can you tell us (no spoilers!) a little bit about the relationships we’ll see in The Infinity Courts?

A: To avoid spoilers, let’s just say Nami finds herself getting to know two people from very different worlds, with very different motivations. The humans in this world are hunted, and the artificially intelligent Residents are very much in charge. They’re deadly and beautiful, and as Nami discovers, much, much more than just a computer program. I think Nami’s relationships in this book definitely force her to grapple with her morality in a big way. (Did I get away with that? Avoiding spoilers is hard!)

Q: Having read (and loved) your other books, I am always struck by the honest and *real* way your characters speak about their emotions and circumstances. When you were working on The Infinity Courts, did you find it easy to discover Nami’s voice, even though it is set in a completely different world? How did you get on with writing for a different audience?

A: Ahh thank you! That means so much. I’ve always been drawn to character-driven stories. Plots are great and everything, but if a character doesn’t feel real to me, it’s hard for me to care about their story. And I hope that translates beyond my contemporaries and into this sci-fi/fantasy book, too. Even though it takes place in the afterlife, Nami is still a person with complicated emotions and unresolved feelings. She tries and fails and tries again. And I think that’s very human, and very universal regardless of what a person’s world looks like. I think that helped me craft her voice for sure, and it made it less daunting to think about how I was writing for a completely different audience. Because I just got back to my roots of writing not just a story, but someone’s story.

Q: The question that is always asked of Sci-Fi and fantasy authors – what is your worldbuilding advice? Which Sci-Fi writers do you think have shaped your own writing?

A: I grew up reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which will always have a special place in my heart. They were the books that really inspired me to imagine myself in different worlds. But more recently, I’ve been blown away by some incredible fantasy lately where the worldbuilding is just next level. Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree was a masterpiece. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi completely swept me away with its lush storytelling and gorgeous setting. And Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto was just so exquisitely crafted. I think the writers who inspire me the most are the ones who fuel me with creativity because reading their words feels like I’m a part of something magical. I want to create something that gives that kind of magic to readers, too. As far as worldbuilding advice, I think it’s the same advice I’d give for crafting characters too, which is “don’t be afraid to find your own voice.” I think every writer brings something unique to the page. When you’re crafting a world, don’t just think about what it looks like—think about how your characters interact with it. What makes them love it, or hate it, or never want to leave? Everyone looks at their world differently. Embracing it as something subjective and ever-changing helps it become more than just a stage or a backdrop.

Q: On your website, your books come with content warnings. What’s your opinion on content or trigger warnings in books?

A: I think content warnings are necessary for a lot of people, and that’s the part I focus on. Many of us have things we prefer to avoid in media because it’s upsetting. I know a lot of people who don’t like animal deaths, or films about cancer, or books where a parent dies. To me, content warnings are simply a way to help readers decide if a book is right for them or not. The last thing I’d ever want to do is cause someone harm, even accidentally. And I think it could be really helpful to just make it a standard, publishing thing to include them in the back of the book. It would allow people who didn’t want spoilers of any kind to read without accidentally seeing anything, but readers who did need to look through content warnings would always know where to find them. Obviously I’m not the person making any of these big decisions, but I think something like this could be helpful for sure!

Q: Now, The Infinity Courts has got a stunning cover (wow!) and a brilliant map that’s as beautiful as it is useful. Did you get to have your say about what needed to be included in both?The Infinity Courts cover

A: The cover was a total surprise, and I am so in love with it. The brilliant Casey Weldon did the art, and I literally gasped when I opened the email. And I did kind of nervously ask if there were any plans for a map early on, and sent in a very terrible, super embarrassing version I did in Microsoft paint, just to kind of show where everything should be located. A little while later, I found out my publisher had brought in the amazing Virginia Allyn, who does some of my most favorite book maps ever (honestly I’m still horrified she saw my paint version), and she ended up creating the most beautiful map in the world, with so much detail and thought and ahh, I just feel so, so lucky to have had such a powerhouse team behind all the design details.

Q: Not to give anything away (it’s so hard!!!) but that ending is WOW. I did not see it coming at all. Did you always plan to shock the readers like this (and, yes, I am definitely asking for personal reasons!)?

A: *insert evil villain laughter* I told my editor earlier on that if a reader ends up throwing the book across the room in protest, I will have done my job.

Q: What are you working on at the moment? Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming middle-grade debut, Generation Misfits?

A: Oh my goodness, that is a question. What am I working on? Is “everything and nothing” an answer? 2020 broke me, I’m not going to lie. I have so much work to do, and I have been juggling a million things behind the scenes. It’s been a really, really hard time to create anything, but I’m trying. I am currently on deadline for edits on The Infinity Courts sequel (!!!), and I’m also drafting my second middle-grade project which features a haunted house and an unsolved mystery. I also have three secret projects I’m not allowed to talk about yet, but two of them will probably be announced in the near future. Generation Misfits is the middle-grade novel that comes out before the ghost one—it’s a contemporary about kids who meet through a shared love of J-Pop and decide to start a band. It’s about found family, and the awkwardness of trying to make friends when you’re at a new school. I think out of all my books, this one feels the most like a hug (which you might be able to guess by the beautiful cover). It releases on June 29th, and I’m so looking forward to introducing Millie and Friends to readers!

Q: And, finally, what’s to come for The Infinity Courts and yourself up until publication in April (did I hear character art?!)?

A: Yes, character art is on the way! I am just going to be in a whirlwind of deadlines until April, trying to get as much writing done as I can. Hopefully it has the added benefit of keeping me distracted from pre-publication nerves! I am equal parts terrified and excited, but I can’t wait for readers to finally meet Nami and venture into the world of Infinity. This feels like a new chapter in my career for sure, and I am so ready for it.

Thank you so much, Akemi, for the insightful and exciting answers!

Now, if you’re as buzzed up as I am for The Infinity Courts, you can pre-order it here (or here for our UK pals)! I can’t wait for you all to meet and love Nami and her crew.

Yes, I am Still Going on about Addie LaRue so You May as well Pre-Order it Now

VE Schwab is a fabulous fantasy and YA writer but The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is completely unlike any of her other books. It’s lyrical and beautiful and melancholic and it made me laugh and cry and dream. If I had to describe the perfect setting for this book, it’d be in a park, early on a summer’s morning when the ground is still chilly and the grass is covered in dew, and you warm your hands on a cup of steaming coffee nestled in a thin scarf as you settle on a bench to devour Addie’s story… ANYWAY, I think I’m getting slightly sidetracked so let’s get back to the actual book (my apologies!).

Here are the Content Warnings for Addie LaRue:

  • Arranged/forced marriage
  • Threat of sexual assault
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Poverty and hunger

And the synopsis:
Addie has always known exactly what she wanted… and also what she didn’t want. Striking a deal with the devil to escape the prison of an unwanted marriage, Addie has had three centuries to adjust to the consequences, and yet it never gets easier. Everyone around her forgets her as soon as she leaves their sight (quite literally out of sight, out of mind!) – until she meets sweet bookseller Henry, and they engage in a wonderfully mundane (and heart-wrenching) romance. But not all is as it seems – namely, mundane may be the wrong choice of word here – and Addie is soon faced with even more difficult decisions…

I can’t stop gushing about how beautifully written this book is. It’s descriptive and visual and such a TREAT to both my reader’s as well as my English graduate’s heart. I have no doubt that, if Victoria wasn’t already well-established as a fantasy writer, Addie LaRue would be classed as literary fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a fantasy writer – it would just reach a completely new readership. And it’s not just the lyrical writing style that makes me want to push this book into the hands of those who may normally stick up their noses at fantasy books – the characters and theme of the book also add to its genre-defying appeal.

Addie’s life, from the moment she strikes that godforsaken deal, revolves around her desire to leave a mark in the world. With everyone forgetting her as soon as they exit the room, how is she ever supposed to make a difference in someone’s life? How can she, who walks the earth nigh-on invisibly, change history? The devil/evil spirit, often referred to as the darkness, does his best to prove Addie’s insignificance to her, and I found her struggle to realise how and why she matters not only relatable, but real. Don’t we all like to think we have left a legacy? Made someone’s life just a little bit better? Be remembered after we’re gone?

As you can probably tell, I fell in love with Addie’s character – she is determined, and witty, and makes mistakes and then takes ownership of them. She is warm and loving, brave, and apparently attracts cats that usually despise any and all human beings. I desperately want her to be my friend, to go to art exhibitions, get hot coffee and fresh croissants, and find tattered copies of The Iliad in second-hand bookshops. You’d never have a dull day with Addie because she makes the most of every minute.

And then there’s Henry. Henry, whose parents and siblings are notoriously disappointed in him, who ended up working in (or, more like, running) a bookshop when he quit university, who gets dumped for being too sweet, too attached, for having bad days. I think Henry embodies the struggles many readers face (or maybe that’s just me, in which case – ignore): he feels too much, cares too much, and the world won’t allow him to be as he is. He’s relatable on that account, but even more so because he is a bookseller! Although I have just quit my bookseller job (for even more exciting career updates), you never quite leave being a bookseller behind. There’s one quote in particular that really struck a cord with me:

Henry would rather be a story-keeper than a story-teller.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (ARC), VE Schwab

Now, let me tell you why I love this quote so much: I graduated this summer with an English literature degree, and the amount of people who assume that this degree comes with some sort of mandatory creative writing talent… Don’t get me wrong – many of my classmates did write. Personally, I have neither the skill nor the will (oh, it rhymes!) to write. I want to work in publishing, to work with books, because I love stories and I get excited and I want to bring the best, the most important tales to readers everywhere. And that’s exactly what I see in this quote. (I’m very VERY tempted to get a related tattoo.)

So you see, Addie LaRue really spoke to me. It’s quite the emotional journey so you better prepare! And I hope you’ll love it as much as I do when it is published on 6th October (I may have pre-ordered two copies already…)!

Illuminae meets The Host in Akemi Dawn Bowman’s The Infinity Courts

If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know I love Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books. She writes beautiful contemporary YA titles that you need to read if you haven’t already! Starfish may be my favourite but Summer Bird Blue and Harley in the Sky aren’t far behind. I’ve been lucky enough to read a manuscript of Akemi’s very first Sci-Fi book titled The Infinity Courts (which you may remember from the cover reveal), and boy oh BOY are we all in for an amazing ride!

As always, we’ll start off with Content Warnings for the book:

  • (Violent) Death
  • Loss/Grief
  • Torture

A quick synopsis:
Imagine a world where death doesn’t equal the end… When Nami is on her way to see her long-term best friend and new boyfriend Finn at a party, she never expected she would die. However, when she wakes up in the afterlife ruled by the rogue AI Ophelia, she finds herself in a world of war between the so-called Residents and the humans who refused to give up their consciousness to become servants. The afterlife, known as Infinity, is separated into four courts ruled by four princes – and Nami finds herself entangled in a complicated relationship with Prince Caelan of Victory who seems at odds with the mysterious (and very!) moody Gil. Now Nami has to fight for more than just her own heart…

When Akemi told me about The Infinity Courts at an event last year, I could tell this book was going to be amazing! Akemi’s writing is sensitive and beautiful, and brings a different tone to Sci-Fi that I adore. It’s like Illuminae (rogue AI! People fighting for control! Tension!) meets The Host (alien species trying to take over! Hidden residency of a resistance with lots of close-knit relationships! Heartbreak!) but with an ending that’ll blow your mind!

Nami is our heroine (although she isn’t one, according to herself) who can walk amongst the Residents undetected and therefore becomes the resistance’s greatest asset. What I really loved about her is her strong sense of morals. I don’t know about you guys but I am a bit of an idealist and I loved seeing Nami question the leaders of the group, and even her enemies, to make them see why their ways are wrong. Her morality is super important towards the end of the book (THAT ENDING!!!) and I’d love to see more characters like her in Sci-Fi books.

Infinity is a world of the future mixed with the past – people wear old-fashioned ballgowns, ride on equestrian Daylings (these horse-like creatures are one of my favourite parts of this book! So much magic, and I am forever a horse girl at heart) but they also have futuristic weapons and gadgets. Because the Residents can’t dream and can only replicate creativity, it falls to the humans to create art while the Residents admire and even envy them. The Infinity Courts is full of binaries – new and old, magic and mundane, beautiful and tragic. This place will suck you in with its festivities and grandness, and tear your heart to pieces with betrayal and loss.

I can’t recommend this book enough! It’s available for pre-order in the US as well as through BookDepository. And if you find it hard to wait until 6th April 2021, you better pick up one of Akemi‘s other books!

🌘Cover Reveal🌒 The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

The wonderful, brilliant Akemi Dawn Bowman is treating us to her very first sci-fi novel, The Infinity Courts. As a special bonus to us readers, her street team are revealing the final cover (it’s so beautiful I cried!) piece by piece over the next week. Head over to my instagram story to find out where to find the next pieces, and make sure to follow Akemi. Plus you’re in with a chance to win a copy of the book 😍

Want to win a copy of The Infinity Courts?!

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I am in love with Akemi’s beautiful, sensitive writing. The only thing that could make me love her books even more is a SFF book – and it’ll be here soon.

Here it is again!

Oh no no no no no no no, or My Review of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

The excitement for the Hunger Games prequel was huge – returning to Panem to learn Mag’s story, or Finnick’s, or Chaff’s… That would have been incredible. But when the announcement came that the novel was focusing on Coriolanus Snow as our new ‘hero’ (I still shudder thinking about the Entertainment Weekly report), many of us were sceptical, to say the least. Some tried to argue that Hunger Games enthusiasts should wait to read the book before making a judgement as Collins was sure to pull off some amazing feat of giving us important insights into the most hateful person in Panem… and here is why they were wrong.

I’ll start off by saying that I found the original trilogy so important. I wrote a whole dissertation on it. I passed these books along to my mother, who loved them so much, she gave them to my grandma who also loved them. So much of my youth has been spent reading and re-reading the trilogy over and over again. I even made it through all the films! But I was left sorely disappointed by this novel…

TWs (for the book, but some are discussed in this review): violent/wilful murder, death of children, starvation, mutilation of corpses, enforced sex work.

From the get-go, I struggled with the narrator. It’s a long stretch for Collins to expect us to sympathise with Coriolanus Snow, knowing what he goes on to do in Katniss’s story. This is the man who forced Katniss into a fake engagement, who poisened his political adversaries, who barricaded himself into a mansion behind a group of children. He is responsible not only for the death of hundreds of children in the Games, but also for the death of the victors’ loved ones, like Haymitch’s, when the victors in any way undermined the Capitol’s absolute rule. This man has brought so much terror and pain on so many people. Please excuse me for not jumping at the opportunity to read about Coryo’s petty problems during his youth.

And, really, we know people in the districts quite literally starve to death while there’s an overabundance of food in the Capitol. People in the districts get shot for deviating the slightest bit from Capitol protocol. Rue tells us about a child with mental health issues getting murdered for keeping some night vision goggles to play with them. By comparison, the Snows having to wear second-hand clothing seems rather trivial. Yes, they have financial issues and eat a lot of cabbage soup as a result, yet they still have a way of filling their bellies. Katniss didn’t, for months on end. Watched her little sister wither away while her mother was in a stupor. And all of this is on Snow and the way he rules the country.

This book focuses on the transformation from the Hunger Games as a punishment in the early years to a death spectacle with mandatory viewing after Snow gets involved. This transformation, however, didn’t add anything to my understanding of Panem or the Games. We already knew the Capitol citizens were sponsoring tributes to enhace their chances of winning in the betting – the fact that this strategy was introduced at some point is a given. Much of this book seemed to be about name dropping (wait until you find out how Tigris fits into all of this!) and references to the original trilogy (so many songs, so many mentions of things catching fire, and mockingjays, and katniss) that it felt like skillful fanfiction rather than worldbuilding by the author. A whole list of quotes from Romantic philosphers introduces the reader to the book, and Collins states in the Reader’s Guide (included in some exclusive editions) that she wanted to explore ideas on human nature – and I would argue that she failed to do so.

Let’s be honest – a lot of aspects of The Hunger Games trilogy are problematic, from stereotypes surrounding PoC to complete erasure of LGBT+ characters (depending on where you place Katniss on this). Children’s publishing was less diverse 10 years ago (and still has a long way to go) so this could have been Collins’s chance to show that her writing’s developed alongside the publishing world… And she did attempt to, in the tiniest mention of one of the Covey girls having a girlfriend. Are you feeling underwhelmed, too? Instead, we got the sob-story of a privileged white man who – oh no – has to earn his acceptance into university, to become a dictator. *sigh*

The romance in this book is not the least bit convincing. Without wanting to give anything away, it is extremely inconsistent, with both sides seeming to constantly change their minds, back and forth, until it all blows up in their faces. That they could trust each other in the first place is unbelievable, and it shows a lack of awareness on the author’s part that she would even follow down this line. Particularly the ending to this relationship is incredibly disturbing, but, really, so is the romance in its entirety. Every time Snow claimed that this young woman was his and no one else’s, I despaired just a little more. I thought we’d left behind romanticising abusive, possessive relationships in YA in 2013. Alas, we have not. It makes me grateful for the non-romance between Katniss and Peeta because Snow’s story is a disaster on so many levels.

What’s also a disaster is the privileged Capitol mindset we get crammed down our throats the entire novel. Let me give you an example: it is suggested that someone from the districts may have participated in sex work in order to stay alive. Rather than sympathising with their situation and feeling empathy towards the person taking a hardship upon themselves to keep their family alive, Snow acts disgusted that anyone could stoop this low. This, my friends, is a huge problem in our society. Making prostitution a taboo and degrating sex workers, rather than offer alternatives to those who want out and protection and safety to those who don’t, leaves a lot of people in such a vulnerable place. When Snow, however, hears that someone who is close to him in the Capitol may have worked as a sex worker to survive, he feels empathy for them. Now here is what really gets me. I am to believe that the man who sold children into sex traficking – Finnick would have been 15 or 16 when he started being handed around the Capitol for the President’s benefit – sympathises with someone who went through a period in their lives where they had to sell their bodies, and then goes on to use this exact thing to their advantage? I’m sorry, Suzanne, you lost me here. The entire book sees the Capitol mentors flicking back and forth between wanting the district children to survive, and just trying for a good reputation for mentoring them successfully (as you can guess, the latter wins out for almost all of them). I will say that the storytelling got slightly better in the third part of the book but overall I just wish I had never read it. I went in with low expectations, and was still disappointed.

I am interested to hear your thoughts on this book!

Why The Furies Was Nothing Like I Expected, Yet Everything I Wanted

… and more.

Welcome! Good to see you. I hope your week’s been alright.

Today, I am going to tell you why The Furies by Katie Lowe is exactly what you need in your life right now. Yes, really! It was recommended to me as being similar to Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House (which I am obsessed with) by several people. Now, they are similar but also so different – I like to think The Furies is the British answer to Leigh’s masterwork. They’re both beautiful. *sigh*

First up: TWs (for the book): death, murder, grief, sexual assault, neglect, abusive parents, death of an animal. Please take care of yourself. My DMs are always open.

Quick synopsis: Violet’s life is turned upside down when her father and sister die unexpectedly. Stuck in a house full of memories with a mother who is always there but not there, she starts her final year at a new school – and is immediately drawn to wonderfully reckless Robin and her friends Alex and Grace. When art teacher Annabel invites Vivi to secret classes on the witchy, gruesome past of Elm Hollow Academy, things start to get otherworldly… Or should I say underworldly?

What immediately struck me about this book is the writing. Katie has a beautifully descriptive style that makes even the mundanest of places seem magical. I wish I could dip into Vivi’s world, go for a coffee at the International Coffee Company, drop by the wych elm, attend a class at Elm Hollow Academy… The setting is both utterly familiar and, at the same time, awe-inspiring. The literary trip to this small British town is made all the more exciting by the current travel ban. Just use your imagination!

‘You’d kill to be one of them,’ the cover tells us, setting the tone for a story of powerful friendships and sapphic relationships. Really, it looked like a YA title to me at first glance, the slogan speaking of teen angst, maybe peer pressure, written across the faces of four young women/adolescents. However, the novel itself is told retrospectively so Vivi walks us through the events from an adult’s perspective. It provides a bit of distance from the (sometimes horrifying!) events of The Furies and makes it accessible to all kinds of readers. That’s why – I believe – you’ll find it in adult section in your local indie.

I was immediately fire and flame (a German phrase for passionate feelings) for the classical references in this book. Annabel teaches the four girls about ancient heroines in a misguided attempt to inspire feminist ideals – with rather heavy consequences. The tale that she most relies on is Medea’s. Medea, in Euripides’s version at least, kills her sons in revenge, after her lover Jason leaves her to marry a rich woman. She then rides off on a carriage drawn by dragons (the style!) and so became the embodiment of the naturally evil witch. In this interpretation, however, people tend to forget that she gave up her home and betrayed her family for Jason who cruelly abandons her. She’s been turned into a symbol of radical feminism in recent times, becoming the original ‘nasty woman’. You can sort of see how her story can be twisted into a lesson on why women have to stick up for one another, no matter what, right? And the girls take this lesson to heart on more than one occasion.

The character we need to speak about is the one and only Robin. There is something so vibrantly alive about her that appeals to Violet who was surrounded by death for an entire year before she attends Elm Hollow. Robin is the epitomy of youth – reckless, bold, arrogant, rebellious, self-righteous. There is a beauty to her conviction that she’s invincible (although I would starkly advise against following strange, drunken men home under any circumstances!). At times, I wasn’t quite sure whether to love or loathe her – she initiates most of the foolish activities the four girls participate in – but Vivi’s admiration (and stronger feelings) for her redheaded friend are infectious (in a positive way – not like a pandemic). I’ve never met (or read!) anyone quite like her.

Now to my favourite part of the book… Violet starts her story with the death of a nameless girl, sitting on a set of swings, no obvious cause of death. The mystery of this death stays with the reader throughout the entire novel, until the events finally unfold. And yet, even when all is over, we still don’t know exactly what happened! I have four theories on the potential cause of death, one less likely than the next, and I just want to DM Katie Lowe (her Twitter and instagram are fantastic!) to quiz her on this. The not knowing adds to the story’s conclusion, I think, because it doesn’t matter how it happened. What matters is that it did happen. Someone died, and the other characters are left to deal with this tragedy. Or, in some cases, not deal with it but instead be plagued by the ghosts of the past for the rest of their lives …

Without wanting to spoil the ending (you can read it yourself, eh?), I appreciate the way the narrator eases us out of the disturbing tale so so much. There is no dramatic heartache, no tearing at hair and crying, no screaming at the top of their lungs. Instead, we learn that some characters obsess over the events for years and years to come. Their entire lives evolve around them, never letting them forget what happened. And that, to me, is more powerful than any momentary show of grief could be. It’s also the perfect conclusion to an understated telling of a powerful story that will stay with me for a long time to come.

Just as I’ve bothered anyone I know about reading Ninth House, I will now recommend The Furies to every person I talk to! If you’ve read it, drop me a message so we can discuss – I have so many theories.

The Best Book You’ll Ever Read

We all know the feeling: waiting for reading updates in suspenseful impatience when a friend picks up a book you recommended – the hope they will feel at home in the fictional world, love the characters, appreciate the writing. And when they DO, you can discuss all of our thoughts/emotions/theories with them! It’s the best bonding experience, right?

This morning, a uni friend of mine finished reading my favourite book, and she LOVED it! She gave it a rating of 20/10, and we spent ages discussing lots of aspects of the novel; I’m so happy! This book is, of course, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, a book I got so obsessed with, I got the snake on the cover tattooed on my arm. Now let me tell you why I am obsessed – and why it’ll be the best book you’ll ever read.

First things first: TWs (for the book, not this post): sexual assault (including that of a minor), drug abuse, murder, death/grief. If I’ve forgotten anything, do please let me know. This novel isn’t an easy read, and I always stress that people should only pick it up if they’re in the right head space for it. Take care of yourself, first and foremost.

Quick synopsis: Alex Stern is a rather unusual Yale freshman – she was raised by her hippie mum in Los Angeles (Alex’s full name is Galaxy Stern, a fact she’d rather keep hidden), she dropped out of school early, and was the sole survivor at a murder scene. Now she’s been offered a scholarship for a prestigious ivy league university – why? Alex doesn’t know herself – that could turn her life around. Caught in a world of magic and secret societies, Alex faces the ghosts of her past and future in an attempt to control the dark forces at Yale university.

The first thing I love about this book is the setting. Leigh Bardugo herself went to Yale and it’s easy to tell she has a lot of affection for the campus. At the same time, I relate so much to Alex’s feeling out of place amongst the historical buildings and the libraries of New Haven bursting with academic knowledge. Like her, I started my degree when I was 20 which is slightly older than most freshers. I felt as inadequate as Alex when I first entered my uni’s library with its thousands of academic texts, so different from the place where I grew up: picking up a novel was equated to being a nerd, and being cool was valued more highly than smartness. Alex is also self-conscious about her (many) tattoos – some of which are snakes, hence the cover – and when asked if she’s embarrassed about them, she replies that she is – sometimes. It’s a statement I find so accurate because, even though I love all of my tattoos and they represent a part of myself, I am always aware that people judge me for them. I know that there are social circles where they’re deemed inappropriate, where I’d be considered lesser for them. Like myself, Alex loves her tattoos but also knows they set her apart from the privileged student body of Yale, as they are a representation of her past.

One of the most accurate descriptions of uni life is Alex picking English lit courses because she thinks they’ll be easy… and then finds herself struggling so much with the assigned studying outside of class. Who hasn’t fallen down the rabbit hole and chosen a poem for their assignment because it’s short, and then realised they have nothing to say about it because… it’s so short?! It makes me laugh every time I think about it – I’ve been there, Alex. More than once.

What really gets me about this book, though, is the subplot between Alex and her (more than) friend, Hellie. Alex idolises Hellie and finds in her a light in what would otherwise be a very dark time in her life (living with an abusive boyfriend who sells her to his friends and keeps her on drugs, estranged from her mother and any friends she had before…). I have no doubt that Alex had more affection for Hellie than friendship, whether she knew it or not. Theirs is a relationship founded in desperation, but also hope, comfort, and love. And that’s what makes losing her so much more painful. It always strikes me how detached Alex becomes from everyone around her, following the events at Ground Zero, and here’s why: ‘I let you die. To save myself, I let you die. That is the danger in keeping company with survivors.’ (Whom she is talking to, you will find out if you read the book!)

That’s the one thing Alex undeniably is: a survivor. She has lived through the unthinkable, so she will do anything to protect her own interests. It’s what makes her an unusual and intriguing protagonist: a lot of her actions are morally ambiguous and yet I can’t fault her for any of them. The world has made her what she is – independent, ruthless, ready to strike. And yet she becomes friends with her flatmates Lauren and Mercy, and even the oh-so-perfect Darlington grows attached to her. Her status as both a self-reliant survivor and a protective friend keeps the reader on their toes as we never know what to expect from her.

For me, I guess, this was a right time, right place read. Towards the end of last year, I wasn’t doing so well (hell, the entire year was a complete disaster for me), and I burned a lot of bridges. That’s why I identified with many of the emotions in this book (if, luckily, none of the actual events) and found inspiration in Alex’s resilience. There’s something so raw about Alex’s pain that resonated with me at the time (and still does) so I will always keep Ninth House close to my heart. I don’t know if it’s strange to say but I find this book a comfort read, even if it’s anything but comfortable.

Now, if you haven’t picked up this 20/10 read, what are you waiting for??? And if you have, let’s chat! I want to hear ALL of your thoughts!

Peeta and Matthias: the same character, just with different upbringings

Okay, hear me out!

I’ll explain why I believe that Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games is essentially the same character as Matthias Helvar in Six of Crows, the only difference being their upbringing. This post definitely won’t turn into the ramblings of a madwoman who’s recently re-read both series and spent most of that time sobbing into her pillow and has had too much caffeine today and then also had some chocolate fudge cake so there’s the sugar rush as well… But that’s definitely not fuelling what’s to come… Anyway – please expect spoilers for both series, so if you’ve been living under a YA rock and haven’t read either series yet, there’s no helping you.

Okay, so, the obvious aside – two muscly white dudes with blond hair – the very first thing that connects our two friends is their devotion to their baes (do people still use that word? Oh well, consider me old-fashioned… or a time-traveller from 2012). Time and time again, Peeta and Matthias prove their undying affections to the lovely ladies in their lives (I was going to go with ‘badass queens’ but I am partial to an alliteration). No one’s disapproval (Gale vs Zoya, as the no.1 enemies of our star-crossed OTPs, though Snow and Jarl Brum are close runner-ups) will end their dedication to staying with their chosen ones (no, this is not a Harry Potter reference).

One thing I appreciate about these two relationships is that they’ve moved away from the typical toxic and controlling boyfriend scheme we see too often in YA books (hey, Edward, I hear you’re making a comeback). Not once does Matthias question Nina on her work in The White Rose or tell her she can’t do something or shouldn’t risk herself just because she’s a girl/young woman (which one is more appropriate? I never know). And while Peeta is hurt when he realises that Katniss considers their relationship an act for the cameras in Catching Fire, he always prioritises her well-being and happiness over his own sorrow. Many a YA hero could learn something here (like human decency, eh, Darkling?). And, indeed, both of these boys provide the moral standards for their communities. How often do Katniss and Haymitch remark on Peeta being so much better than them? How often do the dregs look to Matthias to chastise them for immoral behaviour? You get my drift.

Now here’s the catch: Peeta, bless him, grew up in relative comfort, at least for District 12, and he always had enough bread (pita bread, anyone?) and a warm house to come home to; he had friends at school, participated in extracurricular activities, like competitive wrestling. I am in no way implying he didn’t struggle as we know his mother hit him, and of course he lives in a country that happily sends him off to die for a reality TV show. However, Matthias never had any of the security provided by a real home. He was taken in by Jarl Brum after his family were killed by Grisha, and he didn’t fit in with the other boys training to be drüskelle, or witch hunters. The only way to be accepted by the people he spend every day with was to adopt their hateful mindset. And as much as we’d like to think we’re on a moral high ground and wouldn’t have fallen for those fear-mongering anti-Grisha stories… History has shown just how easy it is to brainwash children and turn them into soldiers, especially when there are personal grounds for hatred of the Other. On top of this, we also see Peeta being manipulated and drugged into hating and strangling Katniss (SO SIMILAR to the scene of in Hellgate, where Matthias attempts to kill Nina, right?). Their characters highlight that even the most moral person can be turned into a pawn in someone else’s hateful games.

One more thing these boys share is that they’re hugely underappreciated by fandoms. Peeta is just so purely GOOD and caring and loving and nourishing that I don’t know why he’s not on top of every single bookish boyfriend list (okay, right after Jem Carstairs, maybe. Oh and Finnick is great too!). Similarly, Matthias gets so much hate and I absolutely understand the problems with him as a drüskelle but does book Twitter just ignore that Crooked Kingdom exists…? That’s what I call a character arc, people! Luckily, Peeta doesn’t share Matthias’s fate, and both stay true to their (good) nature until the very end… *quiet sob*

That’s all we seem to have time for today, but I’d love to hear your opinions. I’ll go lie down for now, and dream of the Shadow and Bone trailer…

Nice to meet you!


I’m new to the book blogger world so I’ll just introduce myself.

My name is Fine [Fee-na] – it’s a German name and tricky to pronounce but it’s FINE – and I live (and love) in bonnie Scotland. Oh, the beautiful dog in the picture is my grandparents’ Leonberger Maly – I think of her as the canine version of me as we’re both always up to no good.

I handed in the final assignments for my English literature degree two days ago and I’m dying to get stuck into book blogging! I’ve got a small but well-loved bookstagram page as well as a Twitter account so I am no stranger to the book web and I’m excited to become part of the blogging community!

A bit about me… I turned 25 last week, I have four guinea pigs, a cockatiel, and a budgie, and I had carrots and peas on my homemade pizza last night. Hey, don’t knock it til you try it! It’s the best pizza topping.

I love to read YA and fantasy, with Leigh Bardugo, Cassandra Clare, and Laini Taylor on the top of my auto-buy list. All of my pets are named after book characters, some from Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the Shadowhunter Chronicles, but I dream of owning a floofy white guinea pig so I can name it Matthias and give it all the love. Some of my all-time favourite characters are Jem Carstairs (The Infernal Devices) and Nina Zenik (Six of Crows), so expect to hear a LOT about them (sorry in advance!).

When I’m not reading or working (in a bookshop and a supermarket), I listen to music almost non-stop. Bastille, Ed Sheeran, and Mumford and Sons are my jam. I also love going to the cinema, and my favourite film is Crimson Peak (and that’s only partly because of Tom Hiddleston). I like to get tattoos based on music, books, and films I enjoy, but I am a wimp so I spend most of the time at the tattoo studio pulling pained faces.

And I think that’s it about me! I’m having some vegan pie now, so I gotta go but it’s been an absolute pleasure to meet you!

Until then!

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