The Beast is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale | 1 Minute Reviews & Giveaway!

Happy Halloween! I have a seriously creepy book for you, and I’m giving away a proof copy too at the end!

One night, Alys is unable to sleep and ventures outside, despite the warnings from her Mam and Dad. While standing in a field enjoying the quiet, she sees the Soul Eaters, mirrored twin sisters Angelica and Benedicta, floating through her village of Gwenith. Their chance encounter leaves the village’s children alive, as the Soul Eaters take the lives of all the adults.

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Rescued by travellers and rehomed with the puritanical people of the neighbouring village, the children of Gwenith are haunted by the Soul Eaters and the Beast. Who will the twin Soul Eaters come for next? Is the Beast all that he seems?

Meanwhile, Alys feels a darkness stirring within her. Angelica and Benedicta unlocked something inside her seven year old self, and as a teenager now she feels it spreading. Desperate to be good, she is terrified of the darkness within her. What is happening to Alys? When tragedy strikes, she must face herself, the forest and all that haunts her.

This is a hauntingly beautiful debut, a dark fairytale interspersed with nursery rhymes that turn you cold. As I was reading the book, I was reminded of The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy by Melinda Salisbury, particularly The Sleeping Prince, or even Maria Turtschaninoff’s novels Maresi and Naondel, as well as the more obvious comparisons of the works of The Brothers Grimm and gothic literature.

The theme of motherhood and birth is visited throughout the novel – Alys’ adopted mother is a healer-midwife whose secret medical practices would be deemed as witchcraft, and thus are practiced in the dark.

I really like van Arsdale’s use of the Welsh language throughout the novel, and I really want to know more about her use of it. I had to ask her why, of course.

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Unsurprisingly, the film rights to this book have already been snapped up.

This is 100% one of my favourite young adult fantasy books this year, particularly haunting and repeatedly nerve-wracking. The plot kept me guessing, worrying for the characters, and I was really impressed by the mythology of the world itself.

You can read an extract of the novel over on Hashtag Reads’ Tumblr here.

But, guess what pals! The lovely team at Hashtag Reads sent me a spare proof copy, with the eerie American cover, to give away to my UK & Ireland readers! I’ve got a Rafflecopter set up here – each step you do is an extra entry to the competition. I’ll announce a winner on Twitter and here on the 15th of November.

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Interested in getting a finished copy for yourself? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to Hashtag Reads for sending me both copies of the book!

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy | 1 Minute Reviews

Julie Murphy‘s second book, Dumplin’, was one of my absolute favourite young adult novels of 2016, and I had high hopes for her third novel, Ramona Blue. Murphy’s writing has proven to be thoughtful, with well crafted characters and good politics threaded through. I was very pleased to once again be bowled over by her work.

Now, do not be alarmed but this is not a slight novel for the average young adult contemporary, coming in at 400 pages altogether. But there’s a reason for that, and allow me to reassure you that the size is not indicative of filler.

This is a story that needs to be told slowly. This is a story of the grinding reality of inescapable poverty, the importance of both chosen and biological family, and the fluidity of human sexuality.

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Ramona lives in Eulogy, Mississippi, a town known for its summer holiday makers, who have shaped Ramona’s life as much as its permanent residents. The novel opens with her saying goodbye to her first girlfriend, Grace, as she and her family pack up ready to return to their home as the new school year approaches. Shortly after Grace leaves, Ramona’s childhood best friend and former summer visitor Freddie and his grandmother Agnes return to Eulogy to live permanently. Freddie and Ramona re-bond over a love of swimming and the shared pain of long distance relationships. But when that bond starts to head towards romantic feelings, Ramona begins to question everything about her identity.

Meanwhile, Ramona’s sister Hattie is pregnant with her boyfriend Tyler’s baby, and Tyler seems to have moved himself into the tiny trailer she shares with her sister and father. As a tall girl, things were feeling cramped to begin with…

Ramona Blue spans 10 months of her life as she struggles to balance her school life, her possible futures and her many part time jobs. Of all the young adult novels I’ve read, this one expertly relays the realities of being inescapably poor as a teenager, and having to take responsibilities far above your station as a child.

Murphy explores the complexities of LGBTQ+ identity and fluidity between labels with great care, creating a thoughtful, honest and open-hearted novel.

Ramona Blue is currently only available in hardback until late Spring 2018, but I really think it’s worth the money. Also the cover underneath the dust sheet is such a pleasing shade of cream.

Interested? Get it here!

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Thank you kindly to the team at Harper Collins, Balzer & Bray and the lovely Ammara at Harper Insider for sharing this copy with me.

Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell | 1 Minute Reviews

If I had one word to sum up this book, I’d probably go for “quippy”. I’ve not laughed out loud so frequently while reading a book for quite a while, probably not since Frogkisser by Garth Nix.

Kellen is a Jan’Tep, a sorcerer. Or at least he hopes to be by his sixteenth birthday. The only problem is he doesn’t appear to have any magical powers. His sister is set to be the most advanced sorcerer of their community, despite her youth, and with his father looking to be the net leader of the Jan’Tep, Kellen is feeling more than a little awkward about it.

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When Kellen wins a magical dual using his wits and no magic of his own, his place in the Jan’Tep society is questioned. But when a mysterious Argosi traveller named Ferius Parfax walks into his life, Kellen begins to consider that his home is not all what it seems.

With the mysteries of the Shadowblack curse, the murderous past of the Jan’Tep and the plight of the magicless Sha’Tep underclass, who Kellen is set to join, Spellslinger is a richly enjoyable novel. Kellen and his magical impotence makes a great story; you’re forever rooting for him to work out some way to best the others. He’s completely self deprecating, but aware of his own intelligence and strengths (up to a point, at least). He’s a very easy character to like, especially when his best friend and crush turn against him for his tricksy ways.

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Sebastien de Castell on the story behind Spellslinger, taken from his website

I’m completely in love with the mysterious wanderer Ferius Parfax and her mysterious pack of cards, some of which she uses as weapons. She’s a dry-wit, always with a cigarette in her mouth and a wisecrack on her tongue. Ferius and Kellen’s faithful squirrelcat/nekhek friend Reichis provide much of the sassy dialogue – his whole demeanor and voice in my head is so completely Rocket Raccoon.

Don’t believe me – listen to this excerpt from Kellen’s first interaction with Reichis.

I’m really looking forward to reading Kellen’s future adventures over the series, of which there appears to be five books in total. I think if you’re a fan of Pratchett, Bardugo, Schwaab, and Nix, you’re going to find a lot to like here.

Interested? Get it here in a beautiful paperback with sprayed red edges. The second outing, Shadowblack, has just been released in Hardback.

Also, if you sign up to the Sebastien de Castell Readers Club here, you get a free Spellslinger short story!

What to read next:

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman | 1 Minute Reviews

I love slightly melancholic books. There’s something wonderful about being wrapped up in bed with a warm drink reading a book that stirs an ache in your chest… perhaps that’s just me.

Stories with LGBTQ+ characters or themes get extra points from me. I have quite the stack of sad gay novellas to work my way around to. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Tin Man fits snugly into that extra-special category.

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Now, some might argue that revealing the relationship between Ellis and Michael going beyond the boundaries of platonic love is a spoiler, but given I have a whole list specifically of LGTBQ+ Ya books, I’m going to hazard that a fair few of you are here for discovering new queer reads. This is the second book this year with an incredibly vague blurb, which lists them as “inseparable”, that actually turns out to be a sad gay book, with Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End last taking up that mantle. I’ve yet to read Days Without End, but I bought it purely because the bookseller informed me it was a “secretly gay” book. He knew what I was after.

Anyway, back to Tin Man. Yes, it’s queer. Yes, it’s very sad. It’s actually probably one of the best books from the adult fiction section that I’ve read so far this year.

The story begins with the winning of a copy of Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers by Dora Judd, a somewhat formidable woman and mother of Ellis, who the novel follows from there on. We find Ellis as an forty-six year old man, depressed and working in a car plant, wondering where the years have gone. Through nonlinear narrative, we are introduced to the two people who mattered most to him, who both appear to have moved on – his wife Annie, and his childhood best friend Michael.

Through the discovery of a box of Michael’s diaries at his father’s house, Ellis uncovers Michael’s lost years. The years after Annie arrived, the years after their marriage, the years after their trip to France.

Winman’s novel takes us through the complexities of human sexuality, the history and friendships of Vincent van Gogh and the AIDs crisis in Britain of the late 1980s, all with a literary flair and considered gentleness. I’m completely in love with this sunny-covered, melancholic novel, and I think many of you will fall head over heels as well.

Interested? Get it here in hardback or preorder the paperback, due out in March 2018.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Katie V. E. Brown and Tinder Press for sharing this copy with me.

How I conquered my fear of poetry

Poetry was something I was a little afraid of when I was younger. I don’t think this emotion is particularly uncommon, especially in people who haven’t studied English Literature at University, or are from working class communities. What was that alignment about? What were the rules about rhyming? Is it only old white dead people who write poetry?

Despite this adulthood fear, I wasn’t afraid as a child. Rhymes? Sure, I was down with those. I can still quote much of Roald Dahl’s poems for children.

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

But somewhere between basically memorising these poems out of love as a child to being in my mid-20s, poetry and I got a little disconnected.

In A-Level English, I had a really battered copy of Seamus Heaney’s poetry about the peat bog bodies and while I loved it, I did feel surprised that you could actually write poetry about things, even preserved bodies. This was also back when I didn’t know that working in books was a job normal people could do, and figured it was a role bestowed from on high like a knighthood or celebrity status.

Moving forward a few years and once I’d fallen back in love with reading, I started questioning everything I thought about poetry. Part of this was inspired by reading every single book from Maya Angelou’s biography series and learning from her that, actually, you really can just read poetry. Heck, I met two of my best friends in the poetry section of Foyle’s (granted, we had opted to meet there before an event, because it would be quiet).

So my friends, this post is dedicated to you, those who are also nervous about poetry, and I’ll start you off with a few collections that I have thoroughly enjoyed. Though, as I do, I must strongly recommend you read Ella Risbridger’s new series on poetry, in which she contextualises beautiful words and will introduce you to a number of poets that you might not have tried yet.

There are a few good places to begin, or at least, they were where I began.

Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 11.45.42One of the most popular first stops on the poetry adventure right now is rupi kaur’s instagram and her first collection milk and honey. There’s something accessible, borderline non-threatening, about kaur’s poetry, which I feel is why she’s been so popular with teenagers in recent years. Make no mistake, I don’t mean the content is bland or pallid; kaur breaks and remakes you in the course of reading, spanning the start and subsequent escape of abusive relationships into healing, and forming new connections with people. Her words are powerful, ferocious and erotic. I cried a lot, expect to do the same. kaur has also released another collection this week, the sun and her flowers, which I have yet to read.

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Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you will have come across Beyonce’s album Lemonade, and you may have heard some of the spoken word poetry within it. Those words come from Warsan Shire, a Somali poet based in London, whose first collection Teaching My Mother to Give Birth opens with a quote from Audre Lorde – “Mother, loosen my tongue or adorn me with a lighter burden”. This collection is beautiful, powerful and only £4. Given poetry collections can be a little on the pricier side of similarly sized books, I do consider this a bargain. You can also listen to some of her poetry on her Bandcamp here.

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Another popular book at the moment is Amanda Lovelace‘s first poetry collection The Princess Saves Herself in This One, shortlisted for the Costa Prize for poetry this year. Like rupi kaur, Lovelace’s short poems are brimming with rage, fury, love, passion. Grief and abuse at the hands of close family are topics tackled with personal experience in Lovelace’s collection. It left me breathless.

I consider these three collections not necessarily the same but certainly related, a theme of grief and passion, rioting against patriarchy. If you like their work and want to tackle some larger collections, may I recommend these by Maya Angelou and Audre Lorde.

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I can also strongly recommend the new series of Penguin Modern Poets, which has introduced me to 15 poets I might not have known beforehand. The first collection, If I’m Scared We Can’t Win, contains work from the wonderful Emily Berry, Sophie Collins and Anne Carson, whose event at the London Review Bookshop I went to earlier this week, where she performed a 40 minute long poem about being the sky; I never thought I’d see myself as someone who not only went to that sort of event but loved it. This is a good way to feel your way into the world of poetry, to understand whose voices you like and whose collections you might want to explore further. It can be quite a gamble to spend money on a collection of poems by one poet you then realise you hate, whereas here they feature three different poets per book.

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Carnegie Medal winning collection One by Sarah Crossan was one of my favourite books in 2016. I read it all on in one go, a story of twins told in sequential free verse poems that tell the story of their battle against poverty and stigma of being different. It is so astoundingly beautiful and devastating, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. It deserves all the awards it has been getting. Thank you kindly to Bloomsbury Kids who sent me this copy while I was a bookseller.

Did you know children’s author Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a poet? Well, now you do. I recently came across her collection Last March, which was produced in collaboration with the Scott Polar Research Institute to mark the centenary of Captain Scott’s final expedition to the South Pole. This stunning collection transports you to the final mission, amongst the chill and desperation and determination to succeed. You can read an excerpt here.

There we have it – some avenues for you to start down, exploring the written word in its various guises and formats. What poetry collections have you read recently? Which ones are you going to start with? Let me know in the comments!

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett | 1 Minute Reads

You know how sometimes you start a book and 20 pages in you’re like oh hey I know exactly where this book is going and then suddenly it’s 3am and you’ve finished it and you’re really emotional?

No?

Well that’s what happened to me with Alex, Approximately.

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Bailey and Alex are best friends, but there’s definitely more to it than that, an undeniable chemistry. The only problem? Well, they’ve never met and only talk online in a film buff forum. When Bailey moves to California to live with her dad, she winds up in the exact same town that Alex lives; can she use her detective skills to find and surprise him before the big film festival? Or will that excessively hot surfer boy keep getting in the way.

Okay so when I said I guessed the result of this You Got Mail book within the first few pages, I wasn’t lying. I realised who Alex was. I did a full on look to camera Jim face. I thought, eh, who cares, I’ll fairly engaged with it. I looked through GoodReads and saw stacks of reviews saying yeah you guessed it, read it anyway!

I’m so so glad I kept going. Thing is, dear readers, I really think that the Alex and Bailey plot is the least important bit. Alex, Approximately is such a bloody nice book that left me full of happy emotions, immensely satisfied despite it being literally 3 in the morning.

But don’t brush this off as a particularly shallow book –  the plot covers heroin addiction, disability through work, complex post traumatic stress disorder, medicine marijuana, survivor guilt, estranged families, guns and shark attacks without ever feeling preachy or off kilter.Absolutely filled to the brim with film references, this really is a tribute to screwball romantic cinema. It has a hot Polynesian love interest boy who is just a dick then wonderful!

I can’t really talk about this book without squeeing so please read this review while visualising me flapping my hands, squealing and jumping up and down around you. This book is such absolute joy – pick it up! Don’t skip out on it because of some transparency, or you’ll miss the wealth of depth and nuance this wonderful story has to offer. A perfect swoony romance.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending me this book. They know exactly what I love.

What Sunny Saw in the Flames by Nnedi Okorafor | 1 Minute Reviews

Okay, I hate to make this comparison because it makes me sound like a kids novel blurb from about 15 years ago, but allow me to introduce you to a Nigerian equivalent of the Harry Potter series written by Nnedi Okorafor. Yes, really.

And guys, it’s great.

Nnedi Okorafor, a writer who consistently blows me away, finally seems to be breaking into the mainstream consciousness. Her books used to always be difficult to find in the UK, and it was only in the last few years that I started seeing The Book of Phoenix in bookshops. When I read Who Fears Death, Okorafor’s fantastic novel that is being adapted by HBO, a few years back, it was near impossible to find in a bookshop, though since the announcement I’m pleased to see it pop up in a few big ones in London. It’s also just been announced in the last two days that she will be heading up a new Black Panther arc.

Who Fears Death is a stunning story following a young girl who discovers she has magical powers linked to her birthright. It is a brutal, harrowing novel that confronts rape, war and colonisation – you can read the first chapter here.

What Sunny Saw in the Flames, also known as Akata Witch in the US, shares a lot of parallels with Who Fears Death. An outsider girl discovers that she has magic intrinsically linked to her skin, her body, and sets out with a band of friends to take down a Big Bad. But please do not think that my reductionist comparison is in anyway indicative of either novel’s quality – it’s not, and they’re both astonishingly both.

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Twelve year old Sunny is albino, an American transplanted in Aba, Nigeria, determined to play football with the best of them but feeling disconnected. That is until she sees the end of the world in the flames of a candle which sets her off on a journey of magic and adventure. Thanks to her new friends ChiChi, Orlu and Sasha, Sunny discovers her place as one of the Leopard People, an international group of magical people. But things take a turn for the dark, when the plucky group discover that someone is murdering children of the Leopard people; can they discover the killer in their midst?

The Harry Potter comparison really does hold up – intrepid young characters, one of whom is new to the world; a big bad; a whole community of magic right before our eyes. The world of the Leopard People is intricate and ripe for exploration throughout this new series. The system of magic and gatekeeping of particular knowledge is fascinating.

But this series is more than its comparisons to predecessors, and you’d be underestimating this book if that’s all you took from this. This mature fantasy novel tackles bullying, racism and police brutality in America, and yet the world remains deeply rooted in West African mythology. The first book doesn’t bring us too close to the mystery murderer, more focussing on the world of the Leopard People, their customs and just how much there is for the teenagers to learn in order to stop the Big Bad.

While this has been marketed partly as a YA, it is also suitable for the upper range of a Middle Grade audience, like the works of Pullman or Millwood Hargrave, though there is a particularly gruesome scene near the end.

I cannot recommend the works of Nnedi Okorafor enough, and if you’re looking for a new magical series to sink your teeth into, the Akata/Sunny books are a perfect place to start. I’m incredibly excited to follow the characters – especially frustratingly too clever for her own good ChiChi – through their adventure to save the Leopard People, and maybe even the world.

Interested? Get it here for the Cassava Republic version. The sequel Sunny and the Mysteries of Osisi will be published in 2018.

What to read next: