BBC Young Writer’s Award 2018 & short fiction extract from Tabitha Rubens

Hello all!

Apologies for the quiet over here — I’m currently typesetting and polishing up 3 of Cups Press’ second anthology On Bodies. But I’m popping back today because I get to share something really exciting with you.

As you may know, I’m really into short fiction. I’m always on the hunt for fresh new voices for anthologies I work on, and meaty new collections to dive into. In fact, I did a post at the end of last year detailing my favourites, and those I was really looking forward to.

As such, I’m particularly fond of the BBC National Short Story Awards as they always introduce me to new voices or names I’ve seen floating around that I’ve always thought “yes, I need to read their work”.  This year, the thirteenth year of the awards, was a pretty tremendous one, because there was an all-female shortlist line up, collated in this handy pocket-sized book.

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Alongside from the main award is my personal favourite, the BBC Young Writers Awards. Open to writers aged 14 to 18 years, this year they saw a whopping 962 entries! There is a huge wealth of talent and passion in our teen population, and this shortlist always demonstrates some of the best and brightest. This shortlist this year has been phenomenal — impassioned stories of mental health, loss, desperation, and a desire for change.

I have the immense pleasure of sharing with you today an extract from Oh Sister, Invisible by Tabitha Rubens, a 16 year old writer from Islington in London. Oh Sister, Invisible is a poetic story of helplessness as a sister watches her sibling struggle with anorexia. A story of grief, and of courage, it is intensely personal and conveys the unique power of writing to convey empathy an experience. 

As such, please be aware this excerpt references eating disorders.

 

 

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I was always sure my sister was woven from golden thread.

I was merely yarn.

She could stop the breeze with a fingertip and catch sunlight in her fists.

One warm summer night of a distant year, she dragged me from my bed and we climbed out of the bathroom window. With one hand on the drainpipe and the other gripping hers, I pulled myself after her and stretched out on the terracotta roof. We watched the fireflies circling the moon and decided what to be when we were grown.

June Solstice arrived and my sister filled my palms with honeysuckle flowers. She taught me to tease the string of nectar from the pale yellow petals and drop the sweet elixir onto my tongue. Dreams are made of such sweetness.

When the weather turned, and rain drummed across the ceiling, I’d play the piano so that I could hear her sing. My sister could sing as if the notes were alive; as though the crescendos were rushing through her blood and the symphonies reveling in scandalous secrets, unveiling their enigmas in a flurry of sound.

When my sister sung, the whole world stood still.

In mid-July joyful melodies filled the house: Italian love songs and the occasional musical ballad. But at the dawn of August, her preference diverged to tragedy, and her voice would waver in mourning, and break apart as she choked upon each accelerando. By September, her grief grew until she forced herself to settle on silence.

On Halloween I brushed her lips with indigo ink and plastered Titanium White over her prominent cheekbones. A skeletal silhouette stared back at me.

 

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The winner of the awards is announced on the 2nd of October at the awards ceremony, beamed right into your ears via Front Row on BBC Radio 4, and the winning story will be made available in full on the BBC Radio 1 website.

In the meantime, check out the other extracts here, available to read or listen to. You can find out more about the awards and follow them via Twitter using the #BBCYWA hashtag.

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The BBC Young Writers Award 2018 is in association with Cambridge University and First Story. First Story was started in 2008 by the writer William Fiennes (author of The Music Room and The Snow Geese) and former teacher Katie Waldegrave (author of The Poets’ Daughters) with the mission of changing lives through writing. First Story exists to bring talented, professional writers into secondary schools serving low-income communities to work with teachers and students to foster confidence, creativity and writing skills. Since 2008, First Story has run almost 400 residencies in schools, given 8000 students the chance to take part in weekly creative writing workshops, worked with 400 acclaimed authors and 500 teachers and librarians, published almost 400 anthologies, and enabled over 140,000 pieces of original student writing. More information here.

Explore the stars with Kate Ling | Q&A and Giveaway!

We are continuing along the space theme this week, this time focussing on Kate Ling.

I have long been a fan of Kate Ling’s work. Her trilogy, the Ventura saga, explore space through mental health problems, new planets, sentient coral, passionate romances, chronic illnesses, post-apocalyptic Wales and the adventure of escaping the life you were born into. Her main characters, Seren and Bea, are both complex girls who know what they want in life, and hang anyone gets in their way — which makes sense, given they are related.

The third book The Truth of Different Skies, which is also technically a prequel to the previous two, was released earlier this year and I thought it was a great time to ask Kate some questions and give you guys the opportunity to win shiny new copies of all three books.

If you’re going to YALC this weekend, come join Kate’s workshop at 3pm on Friday workshop “Written in the Stars”, which will explore her love of space in fun and creative ways.

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What inspired the Ventura Saga?

I’ve always enjoyed writing love stories, and I feel like you do a better job writing what you enjoy.  So these books were always going to be about love. The sci-fi setting came from my love of all things sci-fi, and my enthusiasm for space and science in general (all of my top five movies are sci-fi).  But I’ve also always been kind-of obsessed with the real SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) program, and what would happen if they do actually make a discovery. How would humanity possibly make a journey that would take centuries?  And that’s when I started thinking about what it would be like to be born in the middle of a mission like that; to be born to die, all without leaving the ship. Wouldn’t that be depressing? So I think the idea of Seren struggling with her mental health was common sense, and also addressing the fact that we ALL struggle with our mental health at some time in one way or another was something I cared about.  This is when it seemed like everything was coming together, particularly when I began to contrast the passion and heat of first love with the cold and dark of space, and the restriction and sterility of the Ventura regime.

What was the process of designing not only the Ventura but the way of life on board like?  Is there anything about the Ventura that didn’t make it to the page that you can share?

Great question! It ended up being more complicated than I originally anticipated, that’s for sure.  It came into my head quite organically at first but, once I had my publishing deal and a great editor, she pointed out any little inconsistencies or things I hadn’t explained properly.  This meant I had to go back to the drawing board and draw maps (I did cross sections, floor plans, the works – and it turns out I’m a terrible cartographer, despite being married to a geography teacher!).  Then I had to do some sums – working out numbers, population graphs, drawing diagrams – basically thinking my way logically through the breeding program, the work assignments, all the things that would make the system onboard work.  I enlisted the help of a physics teacher I know with a couple of technicalities but I’m not sure I ever got my head round them (artificial gravity being one example!). One thing that never made it to the page was the economic system on board. It was actually a student at the school I work in who helped me figure this out, but in the end my editor felt we didn’t need it.

Who has been your favourite character to write: Seren or Bea?  Which other character would you love to write a POV from?

Hey, another great question!  I loved writing Seren because she’s so cynical and brutally honest – she always says what she thinks – and yet at the same time so sensitive and vulnerable.  As I said before, her mental health issues are something dear to my heart, and also something I have experience of, so she was a character I felt I needed to write.

But I also love Bea. She’s Seren’s great grandmother, and in many ways they’re similar.  Ultimately their stories are mirror images of each other, but they’re both just looking for a way out of the lives they’re trapped in.  What I love about Bea is that she has so many obstacles but she doesn’t let any of them stop her. She suffers from an invisible illness, which is again something I have personal experience of and really wanted to write about. Both of my heroines are raw and real and flawed and they don’t always do what’s right – just like real people. I missed Seren so much when I first started writing from Bea’s perspective – but then, in a way, I felt like Bea came to life even more so for me.

One character I would love to write from the POV of is Ezra, a major character in my first and second books.  He just has this great, sarcastic, dry wit and his voice was always so vivid to me. He also revealed himself, as much to my surprise as anyone’s, to have hidden depths and be far more complex than he first appeared.  Those are the best kinds of characters.

Was The Truth Of Different Skies always planned to be the third book?

I always knew I would write this part of the story.  What’s strange is that one of the first starting points when The Loneliness of Distant Beings was first coming together in my mind, was those one-way missions to Mars they were recruiting for. I heard about them on the news and found myself wondering who would ever sign up for such a thing – going off into the unknown, into space, and never returning. I had even written the beginning of a first draft from that perspective before, suddenly and unbidden, Seren popped into my mind – a girl born right in the middle of a several hundred year mission she hadn’t signed up to and would never see the end of.  Maybe it just felt right to start the journey with her, in the middle, with no context, in order to feel the way she does about it. But seeing it through the eyes of a recruit was something I always knew I would do. One reviewer recently mentioned the fact that, while quite a lot of books are set on space missions, relatively few address the recruitment stage, and it felt fresh and exciting when I was writing it, so I hope that comes across.

While the first two books are set in space, The Truth Of Different Skies is mostly set in Wales and Spain.  What made you choose these two countries?

Seren was always linked to Wales (her name means ‘star’ in Welsh) so I knew I would give her origins there, but I also feel like it’s a place that doesn’t get written about as often as it should. The Ventura was built and owned by a Spanish company so I always felt La Verdad (the space facility where they discovered the signal and from which they recruit for the mission) should be based there.  The behind-the-scenes reasons for these settings are that I am married to a Welshman and so have spent a lot of time there, and that I live in Spain. I love both places and loved reading a lot about what their futures might look like, as well as extrapolating my own theories.  I loved taking what I know and love about their landscapes and societies now and turning them into something new. I have taken the very road trip in the book several times so I knew it was something I could really make lift off the page, in terms of the sights and sounds and sensations of that journey.

I always like to ask writers if their characters look like anyone famous (or just a random face from Pinterest).  Do any of your characters have famous faces, or people you’d hope would play them in a movie?

I get asked this a lot and the truth is I’ve never quite found anyone to match the faces I have in my head.  I like to think that’s because the perfect people are as yet undiscovered! They would have to be pretty young (and therefore probably unknown) but I feel so sure that my books would make awesome movies that I hope I live to see the day that they do.  In an ideal world scenario, I’d love Andrea Arnold to make it – she’s such an exciting director.

What I do tend to borrow from a little is real life.  A fair few of my characters share certain characteristics with people I know, or have known.  My husband gets mad when he spots his own physical traits in my love interests, but I always point out he should feel flattered to be my muse.  Taylor Swift had Harry Styles, and I have him.

One thing I love about the Ventura saga is that there’s always something you as the author hold back until late in the book (when usually I tweet at you going !?!?!?!?!).  Does the twist come early in the writing for you, or as you go?

I adore good twists in books I read and films I watch, so I always hope to come up with a great one myself. The truth is that with those moments in all three books, I only came up with them as I went.  Weirdly they seemed to be brought about by the characters themselves in a way. In each case I began writing and seeing the way the characters interact and it suddenly became clear that they were heading towards surprising everybody, by doing this interesting, unpredictable thing.  That sounds hokey I know, but it’s true.

Will we see more from the Ventura saga?  What are you working on at the moment?

So many people have asked me now whether I will write more Ventura books and the truth is I do have ideas for several more, so we’ll see.  I hadn’t planned to. I feel there’s a completeness to the trilogy – a symmetry – but there’s also so many new directions that would be interesting to explore within the world of it, so I wouldn’t rule it out completely.

At the moment I am working on something new and I was about to say completely different, but then I realized that wasn’t quite the case.  Love stories, or at least emotive stories about human beings, are always at the forefront of what I do, but I do tend to slide into sci-fi settings, or at least somewhat other-worldly contexts, and I think that is set to continue.

What has been the biggest influence on your life as a writer?

Well, I guess other writers that I read and love are what influence me to a certain extent.  The close-up, voicey, first person narrative style that I have was really influenced by reading Kerouac and Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis as a young teen.  The more contemporary and YA writers that I read continue to help me improve my own structuring and plotting and inspire me.

The TV and movies that I love (always dark in tone, often sci-fi) also feed into my writing, which I always feel is very filmic.  Battlestar Galactica has a lot to answer for in giving me the atmosphere of Ventura!

But mostly it’s life that lends me its beauty. I’ve been lucky enough to travel widely.  I’ve lived in Australia, Africa, Latin America and now continental Europe. I’ve left everything and everyone I know behind several times to journey into the unknown… and I think you can see that influence strongly in the themes I choose to write about.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m still recovering from how much I loved Melinda Salisbury’s STATE OF SORROW and Alice Oseman’s I Was Born For This, so I’ve been on a break from YA for a month or so.  I just finished The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, which I thought was just staggering in its scale and skill, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, which was truly a tour a de force.

What book are you most looking forward to in 2018?

I’m already anticipating Rainbow Rowell’s Wayward Son (even though it’s still a couple of years away!) because I loved Carry On more than words can say.  But a book we should all be looking forward to in 2018 is The Light Between Us by Katie Khan. I’m lucky enough to be reading it right now, as I got it on Net Galley, and it is just as gripping and surprising and unpredictable as her first (Hold Back the Stars).  I love Katie’s books because they’re right up my alley – human and moving and complex contemporary within an inventive sci-fi context.

You can read my reviews of each of Kate’s books here.

The Loneliness of Distant Beings

The Glow of Fallen Stars

The Truth of Different Skies

And now! Time for a giveaway! Enter HERE.

I will draw a winner at 9pm on Thursday the 26th of July, and if the winner is going to YALC I will hand them their copies at Kate’s workshop on the Friday. Else I can pop them in the post (in which case it will be UK only).

*sings* Space Books… I always wanted you to read some good Space Books (intergalactic yiiiikes) | Reading Round Up

I’m sorry but every time I went to write this post, that song came into my head. It is a problem.

Recently, I’ve had a real glut of space books. Sci-fi is a genre I do not read enough of considering my childhood diet of Star Trek and this planets interactive learning game I was absolutely obsessed with. Helpfully, while I was musing this, several arrived on my doorstep within a few days of each other. Three of four of these are mid series books (don’t worry, no spoilers here) but I hope that encourages you that several books deep, I’m still enjoying them!

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Firstly, I need to tell you about The Truth of Different Skies by Kate Ling. Ling previously authored The Loneliness of Distant Beings, followed by The Glow of Fallen Stars which followed Seren and the crew of the Ventura several generations deep into their space colonisation mission. The Truth of Different Skies takes us back into the Ventura’s past to the recruitment on Earth, and one girl called Bea, trapped in poverty, unrequited love and sickness in Wales. Seizing the chance to change her life, Bea travels to Spain to sign up for the mission, accompanied by her stepbrother and the boy she loves. It is the story of opportunity, of adventure and escape, fleeing a dying world to find a future for humanity at the other end of a beacon that reached Earth the day she was born. Technically a prequel to the other books of the Ventura Saga, this book works as a standalone and I think would be as good a place to start as The Loneliness of Distant Beings. With typical Ling twists and turns, my heart was repeatedly battered. This is Ling’s best novel yet and I’m eagerly anticipating more from her.

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Following on from the beginnings of a journey into space, it only makes sense for me to tell you about what happens at the end of that mission.  I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of Record of a Spaceborn Few, the third book from Wayfarer’s Saga author Becky Chambers. This book follows the people of the Exodus Fleet, one of the original colonisation missions from Earth, now a living relic amidst the colourful universe they call home. Told through the perspectives of six characters and the blog posts of Guh’lolean the Harmagian, the novel leads you through the uncertain future of the fleet through old and new eyes. When the immediate purpose of exploration is over, where does that leave the crew? And when disaster strikes in the fleet, everything they know about their way of life is tested; how can they move forward?

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Amelia’s Kitchen Candles made their own special marbled candle for Record of a Spaceborn Few, which you can buy here!

I fell in love with this book, though it did take me a little over half the book to understand where it was going, as from the outset the multi-POV characters don’t feel particularly connected — though of course Chambers guides you there and suddenly I found myself crying late in the book. If you find yourself thinking this, do stick with it. Following on from the intensely emotional A Closed and Common Orbit, the quietness of Spaceborn Few seems almost jarring in a way, but this is not a bad thing. One of the strengths of Chambers’ series is how flexible she is with tone and story, literally giving us a whole universe to explore along with her. As with her previous books, Spaceborn Few is a standalone book within the Wayfarer’s universe, and could feasibly be the point you start at, though I personally think reading them in order (A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet followed by A Closed and Common Orbit, then Spaceborn) works best. Record of a Spaceborn Few publishes on the 24th of July and you can preorder your copy below.

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Moving towards the more action-packed end of the space books selection for you today is Defy the Worlds by Claudia Gray, the sequel to Defy the Stars. You may recognise Gray from several Star Wars books, so you can trust that she really does know how to write a space epic. Defy the Worlds continues the action, with Abel and Noemi now split apart from each other. When Burton Mansfield captures Noemi (after she flees Genesis to search for a cure for a deadly plague), Abel finally comes face-to-face with his creator after a race through the stars. Where I felt the first book questioned morality and human nature, Defy the Worlds considers more the power of wealth and privilege, and what people will do to keep themselves alive… No matter the gruesome costs. This is another thrilling story of belonging, family and falling in love, and I’m absolutely dying for the final book in the trilogy.

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If any of these have tickled your fancy, let me also recommend some others in the back list, such as Katie Khan’s Hold Back the Stars, a brilliant utopian novel of falling-through-space-to-our-deaths-with-the-love-of-my-life that will make you bawl, or Malorie Blackman’s gender-swapped Othello in Space, Chasing the Stars. Or Lauren James’ short but punchy and incredibly eerie The Loneliest Girl in the Universe. If you fancy something incredibly brutal, may I recommend Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, a Battle Royale in space as a working class man infiltrates the ruling class to bring them down from inside.

What’s your favourite space book?

Thank you kindly to Hot Key Books and Readers First for sending me Defy the Worlds, to Hodder Books for sending me Record of a Spaceborn Few and to Hachette Childrens for sending me The Truth of Different Skies.

Please note all Book Depository links are affiliate links, in which I earn a small commission for the sale.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone | 1 Minute Reviews

Sometimes, I pick up a book and instantly get a good feeling from it. It’s a specific sort of hum, as though the book is whispering that yes, you should absolutely read me.

I got this feeling from Dear Martin, a book which went on to completely exceeded all my expectations.

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Dear Martin opens with Justyce McAllister, a teenage honour student and debate team champion, finding his on-and-off girlfriend indisposed and tries to help. Of course, none of his credentials matters to the white police officer who sees a young black man with a white woman, finding Justyce in handcuffs.

Frustrated with endemic racism in society and racial profiling by the police, Justyce looks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers, choosing to write him letters that pepper the book.

But this first brush with the law is not the last, and when Justyce goes driving one day with his best friend Manny, they find their lives threatened by a white off-duty cop.

I read Dear Martin in one sitting, only stopping briefly to get a drink. It is a powerhouse of a novel; do not be fooled by its diminutive stature. From the get-go, my heart raced along with this furious book. Dear Martin illustrates how small decisions can later haunt you, especially when you are a young black man living in the America of today.

Justyce himself is a compelling, charming character, easy to support even when you can see he is making potentially dangerous choices. The rest of the cast are believable and interesting characters, resolving for a great and heartbreaking story.

The book is split up into multiple narrative structures — from the straight prose, to play script style narrative particularly during classroom discussions and the aforementioned letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This mix of style is really interesting, and from an educational point of view, represents a great opportunity to introduce young people to a varied narrative, along with such a politically timely, important story.

Where The Hate U Give followed Starr as she started a movement, Dear Martin follows Justyce as he desperately tries to get by and deal with the dangers life keeps throwing at him. Both are essential reading and compliment each other well.

If you want to know more about Dear Martin from Nic Stone herself, check out this video below from Adam Silvera’s YouTube Channel:

On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Nic Stone also gave the following talk at a Community College in America, which I think is a great introduction to her as an author and the political background of black rights that feeds into Dear Martin.

Mark out a few hours, sit yourself down and prepare for an intense reading experience.  Dear Martin is a poignant, politically charged, heart racing novel that is an absolute must read for 2018.

And, if you head over to my Twitter, you’ll find me giving a copy away!

Get your copy here:

UK (Hive) // International (Book Depository)

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Nic Stone and the team at Simon & Schuster Kids for sending a copy to me, and allowing me on the Dear Martin blog tour. Go check out some of the other stops on the tour!

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New releases from Walker Books to look forward to

Since my blog and poor internet connection conspired to swallow this post in the recent past, this is two weeks later than it was supposed to be. But ho hum, technology full of weasels can only get me down for so long. I was very lucky to get a spot at the Walker Books young adult preview evening for 2018. You might have caught my live tweets during the evening, but I thought I’d go into more detail here about the books in order of release date.

Settle down, because this is a multi-media presentation including several high quality book trailers. Fancy. Okay let’s go!

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First up was How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, pitched as Mean Girls meets The Craft. The Salem witch trials takes the centre stage in this teen drama, plus creepiness and swoony romances and I am extremely here for this. We were reliably informed that it includes an inconveniently attractive ghost. Here’s the summary:

Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

Also it has a book trailer with surprisingly high production value, which is wild; you can watch it here. I’m fully expecting to enjoy this, based on my deep love for The Graces by Laure Eve. You can find out more about Adriana Mather herself in this intro video.

Buy How to Hang a Witch: Hive // Book Depository

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Next up was Scythe by Neal Shusterman; digital networks in place of government control life except death, which is in the hands of Scythes. The only way to die is to be gleaned by a trained Scythe. When two teenagers are chosen to be apprentice Scythes, they learn that their final task will a fight to the death. This sounds absolutely wild. I’m really lucky that Walker Books sent me a copy of this after the event, and it turns out this is the start of a series, with Thunderhead coming out in August. My immediate vibe from this is it would be really enjoyed by fans of The Bone Season or perhaps Gilded Cage. And look, another book trailer!

Buy Scythe: Hive // Book Depository

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Landscape with Invisible Hand from M. T. Anderson continues the sci-fi theme but, slightly unusually for YA, is a novella. The story follows benevolent invasions by aliens like granite coffee tables, mixed with a lot of strange humour and explores art truth and colonisation. After the invasion goes south and Adam is left poor, he and his girlfriend Chloe decide to create a pay-to-watch tv show of 1950s style dates.

Buy Landscape with Invisible Hand: Hive // Book Depository

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We’re also being treated to some cute recovers this year! To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy and film deal, Walker have released these stunning completely black covers. I’ve not read this series yet (I know, I know) and I’m so glad I get to start with these stunners now.

The Knife of Letting Go: Hive // Book Depository

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Walker have also started releasing the Magnus Bane short stories by Cassandra Clare in these cute little individual hardbacks. So far they’ve released The Midnight Heir and The Course of True Love is out this month. They’re a really cute size, pocket sized really, and would make a great gift for Cassie Clare fans. I only just started reading her books last year, but beautiful queer Magnus is basically the reason I read them.

All of those are already out, so now it’s time to get hyped for the future releases!

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Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughran has been on my radar for the last few months, simply because queer romance is what I’ve been waiting for in the recent trend of circus themed books. Twins Birdie and Finch Franconi are stars of the trapeze in their family circus, but when Birdie has an accident, Hector Hazzard joins Finch to form a boy-only double-act to save the business. And of course, emotions happen.Set in Northern Ireland and discusses homophobic bullying, alongside trying to save the family business and discovering secrets. Excited for some queer romance, lads. My hands were shaking a little when I found this in my bag because it sounds so great.

Preorder (publishes 1st March): Hive // Book Depository

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Next is a book I’ve not heard a lot about yet, but am excited to read. The Goose Road by Rowena House is set in 1916 in France. When Angélique hears news of her father’s death on the frontlines, she promises to keep her family farm running until her brother returns from the war. But in order to keep the promise, she will have to journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. The Bookseller have described it as “Gorgeous historical novel … An impressive debut with a tenacious heroine.”

Preorder here (publishes 5th April): Hive // Book Depository

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Slightly dodgy picture of the screen but this is the UK cover

Coming in May ready for to be your poolside read is The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson. Originally published in the US, The Wonder of Us follows two best friends, recently separated when one family moves to Germany, who reunite to travel Europe… though they’re pretty mad at each other right now. This immediately makes me think of Keris Stainton’s One Italian Summer and Remix by Non Pratt.

Preorder here (releases May): Hive // Book Depository

I did a shriek when the next book got announced — no cover art to share just yet as it’s too far in the future — but the sequel to Girl Out of Water is FINALLY coming this summer. I absolutely loved Nat Luurtesma‘s first novel about Lou, a former swimmer who coaches a team of boys in synchronised swimming for a national tv competition. Lou Out of Luck follows Lou and her family struggling with poverty while she works through her first relationship. Luurtesma’s writing is hilarious and heartfelt, and I am really happy to see more working-class characters in literature.

Preorder here (releases June): Hive // Book Depository

I had the real joy of snagging a ticket to Angie Thomas’ appearance in London next month, where I hope she’ll talk more about her next book, On the Come Up. Thomas’ second novel returns to Garden Heights with a story about an up and coming teen rapper.

Preorder here (releases June): Hive // Book Depository

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And finally, the last book we got to hear about I have already demolished. White Rabbit Red Wolf is a thriller about spies, maths and mental health, from YA author and mental health advocate Tom Pollock. You can read my review of this exciting, brilliant book here.

Preorder here (releases 7th June): Hive // Book Depository

Thank you to Walker for hosting such a wonderful night and providing us with books, drinks and good food — never before have I eaten a spherical chicken kiev, what an experience.

Which books are you looking forward to most?

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton | 1 Minute Reviews

This is technically a review of a re-read, mixed up with my feelings from the first time round. Deep in the drafts section of this blog was the remnants of a mini review from when I was a bookseller and would habitually upload a few lines to Waterstones.com.

The final book of the Rebel trilogy, Hero of the Fall, has been published and the other night while near-meltdown, exhausted from packing copies of books from our Kickstarter, I had a desire to read something I knew. I never used to re-read books until a few years back, realising a special joy that comes from it, especially in the noticing. You notice a lot more.

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I certainly have noticed a lot more in this re-read of Rebel, and it truly has made me fall in love even more with Amani’s story.

Amani is a girl of the desert, whip-smart and sharp shooting, and desperate to get out of Deadshot, lest she stay and become her uncle’s next wife. Deadshot, a town in the grimly-named Last County is devoid of magic, sick with iron from the mines and factories, and a perfect place to waste a life way. Once a place where First Beings roamed, it is now a desert in more ways than one.

In order to escape her future as it stands, Amani enters a shooting competition, disguised as a man who is given the nickname the Blue-Eyed Bandit. The contest is rigged and in a blaze of gunfire and actual fire, she and her mysterious competitor The Eastern Snake escape with their lives. When the same man appears in her shop the next day hiding from the army, Amani is sucked into a world of adventure and rebellion, magic and Princes.

Rebel of the Sands is an absolute riot of a ride through the tropes of the Wild West, juxtaposed against legends of the Djinni and creatures straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.

Amani herself is more gunpowder than girl, quick thinking, brash and brutal, just like the desert she was raised in. I completely buy into her passionate romance with Jin, and especially love the cast of characters introduced fairly late-game in the novel — no spoilers, but you’ll see why I don’t go into detail when you get there.

This is an exciting, fast-paced adventure of escaping brutality, fighting for good and falling in love. I especially recommend reading them back-to-back for the full Amani experience, so you can appreciate her growth, the adventure and the many curve-balls Hamilton throws at you through the series.

Get it here:

Hive (UK) // Book Depository (Int)

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The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden | 1 Minute Reviews

Now, I know that Spring is immediately around the corner and we’re all begging for some sunshine but I’m going to encourage you to take a step back, think of the deepest winter colds and dive into The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. The first in a new series, this novel is the quintessential wintry fairytale set in medieval rural northern Russia.

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Vasalisa Petrovna (Vasya) is the daughter of a farmer and a woman who hears the call of the forest, who knows her last act will be bringing Vasya into the world. Strong and brave, Vasya regularly visits the dangerous forest, converses with the house-spirits, rides like the wind and tries to defy the limited expectations thrust upon her. Raised on the stories of housekeeper Dunya, told by the warmth of the oven, Vasya soon realises that these tales are not fiction, but very much real. And she can feel the rising darkness in the forest.

As new characters enter Vasya’s life — her stepmother Anna, her new sister Irina, the preacher from Moscow — she must fight to stay true to herself and protect the forest that she loves and fears

Ahhh I loved this book so much. It’s just the perfect intersection of folklore and whimsy and danger and brilliance. This is my favourite kind of novel, a blend of tidbits of history mixed with folk legends added to an original, exciting story.

Arden’s descriptive and lyrical prose constructs a fascinating, rich world and the harsh realities of Lesnaya Zemlya, which you can read more about on Penguin’s blog.

The story is itself is a slow burn, following Vasya as she grows into a young woman facing marriage and the fears and mistakes of the adults around her. Arden successfully builds tension with every new mention of the waning house-spirits and the ice-blue eyes and the mysterious stranger in Moscow; it creeps upon you like frost up a window pane.

I really enjoyed the terse relationship between Vasya and Father Konstantin Nikonovich, both so determined that their understanding of the world is correct. Despite him playing a sort of antagonist role alongside Vasya’s stepmother Anna, I ended up having a lot of sympathy for this man so completely out of his depth in poverty and the harsh winter

This is marketed as a literary fantasy in the general fiction or possibly SFF sections of bookshops, but I think it would be readily enjoyed by fantasy young adult fans (and for the sake of gift giving, I can’t think of any content unsuitable for teens).

Also, Arden has helpfully included a glossary in the back, which I urge you to glance over before you start reading.

I strongly recommend you pick this book up, especially those of you currently enjoying a Spring snowfall as it is a book that begs to be read in the dark of the night before an open fire while snow falls outside. I was very delayed in getting round to it, having been bought it for my birthday by my wonderful friend Grace. Don’t be like me, don’t wait, especially if you also live for chilling fairytales and brave intuitive girls, because this is the book you need to be reading right now.

Once you’ve read The Bear and the Nightingale, pop back here and read the prologue Katherine wrote about Marina that didn’t make the final cut — however she advises you actually read the book first due to spoilers!

The second book, The Girl in the Tower, is published in hardback on the 25th January so you’ll be able to swoop from one to the other and commiserate with me as we wait for the next instalment of the Winternight saga.

Get it here: UK (Hive) / International (Book Depository)

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