Sunday, 31 May 2015

May review

I have read a lot this month. I don't even know how it happened. It just did.

Books Read
In a dark, dark wood by Ruth Ware (5 stars)
Birdy by Jess Vallance (5 stars)
The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (5 stars)
Things I can't forget by Miranda Kenneally (4 stars)
Sophie Someone by Hayley Long (4 stars)
Almost Grace by Rosie Rowell (3 stars)
The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich (4 stars)
Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen (3 stars)
My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend by Eleanor Wood (4 stars)
The Crowham Martyrs by Jane McLoughlin (4 stars)
All my Secrets by Sophie McKenzie (3 stars)
My Name's Not Friday by Jon Walter (4 stars)
Night Owls by Jenn Bennett (5 stars)
Air by Lisa Glass (4 stars)
The sun in her eyes by Paige Toon (3 stars)
PS I still love you by Jenny Han (4 stars)
Everything leads to you by Nina LaCour (3 stars)
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine (4 stars)
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan (3 stars)
In another life by Laura Jarratt (4 stars)
Racing Savannah by Miranda Kenneally (3 stars)

Book of the Month

It has to be Night Owls by Jenn Bennett. I adored it and couldn't read it fast enough. Jack made me swoon.

Events attended
None sadly. Life / Work has been too busy

On the Blog

We are all made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
Liberty's Fire by Lydia Syson
The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Hardcourt
Suicide notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten
This is not a love story by Keren David
Read me like a book by Liz Kessler
Lottery Boy by Michael Byrne
Better Left Buried by Emma Haughton
Poppy in the Field by Mary Hooper
Demolition Dad by Phil Earle
The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Guest Posts / Blog Tours
Guest Post from the author of Chopstix
Interview with Lydia Syson
This is One Moment Cover Reveal
Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow Video

On June's TBR pile
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Did I Mention I Love You? by Estelle Maskame
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider
Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies
The Baby by Lisa Drakeford
How to by Bad by E Lockhart

Friday, 29 May 2015

Waterstones Book Club: The Opposite of Loneliness

Marina Keegan's star was on the rise when she graduated from Yale in May 2012. She had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. As her family, friends and classmates, deep in grief, joined to create a memorial service for Marina, her unforgettable last essay for the Yale Daily News, 'The Opposite of Loneliness', went viral, receiving more than 1.4 million hits. She had struck a chord. Even though she was just 22 when she died, Marina left behind a rich, expansive trove of prose that, like her title essay, captures the hope, uncertainty and possibility of her generation. The Opposite of Loneliness is an assemblage of Marina's essays and stories that articulates the universal struggle we all face as we work out what we aspire to be and how we can harness our talents to make an impact on the world.

My thoughts
I have mixed feelings about this book. In many ways it wasn't the book for me as I'm not sure I could particularly rave about any of the stories contained in the book. Don't get me wrong. The stories were interesting enough and showcased what sort of writer Marine could have become but being only short stories there wasn't enough for me to get my teeth into. The felt like samplers and that there was something lacking and more was needed to make them whole.

Therefore for me this book was a snapshot of the potential the writer had. You can see from the selection in there that Marina had a lot to say about current affairs and her stories and essays reflected that. The voice in some of her stories showed she had a real talent to capture the voice of a 20 something year old who had just finished college and about to embark on a journey into the real work. I've heard it said that it should be considered a YA book bit I don't think that is necessarily true because I think the essence of YA is to capture what it means to be a teenager which this book doesn't do.

So ultimately not really the book for me but interesting nonetheless and certainly worth a look particularly if you enjoy short story collections.

Buy your copy from Waterstones (who kindly sent me this book for free) here

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Demolition Dad by Phil Earle

This is the story of Jake Biggs and his dad, George. George spends all week knocking down buildings ... and all weekend knocking down wrestlers. He's the Demolition Man, and Jake couldn't be prouder. But when Jake hears about a pro-wrestling competition in the USA, and persuades his beloved dad to apply, things don't quite turn out the way he expected...

This is DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD in Spandex, a hilarious, warm-hearted story from a talented writer.

I love Phil Earle. Without a doubt he is one of the nicest guys in publishing and he knows his stuff when it comes to awesome books. No doubt this has translated to him writing awesome books of his own. Without exception I have adored all of his books and I was very excited about the prospect of reading this long before I was lucky enough to get a copy in my grubby little hands.

Demolition dad is utterly charming and has real heart to the story, something I have long since come to expect from a Phil Earle book. I adored the story of Jake and his Dad for a variety of reasons.

Firstly the relationship between Jake and his Dad is utterly adorable. I loved seeing the bond between them and seeing that positive father and son relationship.  It is clear that Jake's hero is his dad and this is a driving force of the story. The last book I read with such a strong father son bond was Danny the Champion of the World and I can see exactly why Demolition Dad has been compared to it.

The story itself is laugh out loud funny. There were so many times when I laughed out loud whilst reading this book and I loved that it did that for me.

I also loved that underneath all the laughs and funny bits that the story had real depth to it which was thoughtful and poignant. I won't go into too much detail about what happens but it really did make me think and feel for the main characters and the situations they found themselves facing.

A really charming tale about the bond between a boy and his father. I can't recommend it highly enough and cannot wait to get a finished copy with the illustrations in all their glory.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Blog Tour: The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow

Today I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow. Today I have a video about Katherine's inspiration for writing her book.

After the death of her father genteel young lady Miss Sophie Taylor must seek employment.  She’s thrilled to join the staff at Sinclair’s, the most beautiful department store in London – and consequently – the whole world.  There she enters a world of bonbons, hats, perfumes and Mystery around every corner. 

Working at Sinclair’s, Sophie makes lots of new friends: glamorous aspiring actress, Lil, serial paper obsessed Billy, and Joe – who is on the run from underworld criminals.

When the priceless Clockwork Sparrow is stolen from Sinclair’s grand opening exhibition, it is up to Sophie and her friends to bring the Dastardly villains to justice…

Check out the rest of the blog tour
Friday 22nd May – Tales of Yesterday
Saturday 23rd May – Library Mice
Monday 25th May – YA Yeah Yeah
Tuesday 26th May – Overflowing Library
Wednesday 27th May – Middle Grade Strikes Back
Thursday 28th May – Winged Reviews
 Friday 29th May – Snuggling on the Sofa
Saturday 30th May – YA Shot

Monday, 25 May 2015

Can't wait to read

Another month. Another pile of books I can't wait to read.

The next together by Lauren James

How many times can you lose the person you love?

Teenagers Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again. Each time their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated.

But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace?

Maybe the next together will be different

I must admit I know very little about this book but mostly just want it for the cover.

In another life by Laura Jarratt

American sisters Hannah and Jenny Tooley have spent their lives dreaming of flying to the UK and visiting all the places their English mother has told them about. But Jenny’s dream turns to a nightmare when she vanishes without a trace.

Hannah and her father arrive in England to a big police investigation. As Hannah gets to know some of Jenny’s friends and acquaintances, she realises that her sister is up to her neck in something – and the mysterious text messages she’s receiving bear this out. She is particularly drawn to Harry and, against her better judgement, begins to fall in love.

And then Jenny’s body is found…

I love Laura Jarratt's books. This one sounds awesome. 

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are taking a holiday through Europe on the world-famous Orient Express. From the moment the girls step aboard, it's clear that each of their fellow first-class passengers has something to hide. Even more intriguing: rumour has it that there is a spy in their midst.

Then, during dinner, there is a bloodcurdling scream from inside one of the cabins. When the door is broken down, a passenger is found murdered, her stunning ruby necklace gone. But the killer is nowhere to be seen - almost as if they had vanished into thin air.

Daisy and Hazel are faced with their first ever locked-room mystery - and with competition from several other sleuths, who are just as determined to crack the case as they are

I loved the first two books in this series and cannot wait for this. 

The Dark Light by Julia Bell

'Ten minutes to midnight!' Jonathan shouts over the sound of the blazing fire. Sparks rise into the sky and mingle with the stars. 'Only ten minutes!' Bevins says, falling down on his knees. 'So it begins.'

Rebekah has lived on the island her whole life, and it's only now that she's starting to wonder what she might experience outside her strict religious community. Alex has been sent to the island to escape her dark past, and through her eyes it's a dark and sinister place. Thrown together by chance, Rebekah and Alex strike up an unlikely friendship and it's together that they attempt to break free of their worlds and make a world of their own. But when a kiss between the girls is witnessed by an islander there is no escape they can make - the Rapture is coming for them all.

I met Julia at a blogger event and heard about this book and have been waiting for it ever since. 

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton

Counting Stars, set in a shared house in Liverpool, promises to be FRIENDS meets FRESH MEAT for young adult readers and showcases Keris's story telling charm, vibrant characters and wonderful observances of the exhilarations and setbacks of young adult life.

I love Keris's books. I cannot wait for this. 

I knew you were trouble by Paige Toon

Life as the undercover daughter of a rock god isn't going to be easy. How will Jessie adjust to her old boring life again after spending her summer living it up with her dad in LA? With tough decisions ahead (and not just choosing between two hot boys), can she cope juggling her two very different lives?
Summer may be over, but Jessie's story is just beginning…

I cannot wait for this. I love Paige's books and the book that came before this one.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Poppy in the field by Mary Hooper

When Poppy learns that the love of her life, Freddie de Vere, is to marry someone else, she knows her heart will break. Devastated, she volunteers her nursing skills overseas to take her away from the painful reminders at home. But things are about to get much worse for Poppy. The journey to the hospital in Flanders is full of horrors, and when she arrives it is to find a spiteful ward Sister and unfriendly nurses. Despite her loneliness and homesickness, the dangers of frontline warfare soon make her forget her own troubles and Poppy finds that comfort for a broken heart can be found in the most unexpected places.

Brilliantly researched and inspired by real-life events, big and small, Poppy in the Field is a story about the forgotten bravery of women on the front line, told through the eyes of a young woman determined to play her part.

I have been looking forward to this book since I finished Poppy last year. I've always enjoyed Mary Hooper's book because I know that the history is going to be well researched and interesting and the story is going to be exciting and engaging. This book was no exception.

Poppy in the field picks up straight after where Poppy left off. Poppy has been left devastated. The man she has been seeing has married someone else and she has decided to cope by throwing herself into her work and requested to be sent abroad to work nearer to the frontline to help the soldiers wounded in the war.

I loved the detail given in this book about the work Poppy undertakes as a VAD. I love teaching this period in history and am fascinated by medical history and the role that women played in the war which is often forgotten. This book gives really good insight into all of those things and I really loved it for that.
As well as the historical detail I loved Poppy's story. I won't say too much but when she transfers to France she find things tough but I loved how things worked out. That's not to say things bounce along in a straight forward manner because they certainly don't and I must admit several things that happened left me chocked up in their realism making you really understand the horror of the first world war.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Cover Reveal: This is one moment by Mila Gray

The steamy, romantic follow-up to Come Back to Me
A forbidden romance.

A wounded Marine who thinks he's beyond saving.

A girl who's determined to prove him wrong.

Didi Monroe's waited her whole life for the type of romance you see in the movies, so when Hollywood heartthrob Zac Ridgemont sweeps her off her feet, Didi believes she might finally have met the one.

While Zac's away filming for the summer, Didi begins her internship at a military hospital in California. There, she meets wounded Marine Noel Walker. Frustrated on the outside and broken on the inside, Walker's a pain-in-the-ass patient who refuses all help.

Yet Didi can't help but be drawn to him, and though he's strictly out of bounds it soon becomes impossible to ignore the sparks flying between them.

As the attraction simmers into dangerous territory, Didi finds herself falling hard for a man she knows is going to break her heart. Because Walker doesn't believe in love or happy ever afters. So what possible future can there be?

Then tragedy hits, shattering both their worlds, and Didi is forced to choose between fighting for love or merely falling for the illusion of it.

From Mila Gray, author of the bestselling romance Come Back To Me, comes a devastatingly beautiful, compelling and sexy story about the meaning of love and the heartbreak of loss.
“A captivating, heartfelt and sexy romance about the power of a love that won't let go” - Liz Bankes, author of Irresistible

“A perfect, heartwrenching love story” - Weaving Pages

“The sexiest, most romantic book I've ever read . . . I couldn't put it down” - Becky Wicks, author of Before He Was Famous

“This book was just PERFECTION and I cannot recommend it enough!” -
About The Author
Mila Gray is the pseudonym for author Sarah Alderson. Having spent most of her life in London, Sarah quit her job in the non profit sector in 2009 and took off on a round the world trip with her husband and tutu-wearing daughter on a mission to find a new place to call home. She now lives in Bali.
She is the author of YA novels Hunting Lila and Losing Lila, as well as a further four novels and several short stories.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Better Left Buried by Emma Haughton

Brother dead.
Best friend missing.
House ransacked.
Stalked by a stranger.
Attacked in the street...

...And Sarah has no idea why.

She never knew her brother was hiding a dark secret when he died. But now his reckless actions have led the wolves to her door. And the only way out is to run.

A tense, unnerving thriller that will set your heart racing, from the author of NOW YOU SEE ME

I read Now you see me last year and enjoyed it a lot. As a consequence I was really looking forward to this book.

Better left buried was a fast paced thriller which engaged me throughout. I did enjoy finding out more about the story as it unraveled but sometimes didn't always feel the connection with the main character in order to get completely invested in it.

All in all a book I did enjoy but not necessarily not one I was totally hooked on.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Lottery Boy by Michael Byrne

A fast-moving and gripping thriller with a powerful emotional engagement; this is a young boy’s story of loss and unbearable hope as he survives on London’s streets.
Reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, this contemporary adventure story set on the streets of London follows a boy whose luck is about to change. Since his mother's death, Bully has lost his old life. Living rough with his dog, Jack, he can’t imagine his future. But one day, in the last birthday card she ever gave him, he finds a winning lottery ticket, a last gift from his mum that suddenly offers such hope. If only he can get to his prize on time. Life is not that simple. Bully’s struggle to survive has just got a whole lot harder. They’re after him on the streets, everyone wants a piece of him. And even if he does claim all that money, will he really be winning what he needs the most?

Lottery boy is the story of Bully and his dog Jack. Bully is one of those lost kids who society ignores. His mother is dead and his step father isn't bothered. He feels like no one left cares for him and decides to leave home, go to London and take his chances on the street. As luck would have it whilst on the street he comes across a lottery ticket given as a gift to him by his dead mother worth millions but can't claim it himself and needs to find someone he can trust to claim it for him without stealing from him and he isn't quite sure if anyone he knows actually fits the bill. I wanted to scoop up Bully and look after him.

For me this story is about the relationship between a boy and his dog. I loved the relationship and bond the two have between them. I'd happily read an entire series of the adventures Bully and Jack because the two of them together are utterly charming.

Once the story gets going the trouble Bully finds himself in is nail biting. Untrustworthy characters find out about the winning and are after him. The chase that follows is cinematic and showcase London and its landmarks gloriously.

Definitely a book I would recommend and well worth checking out.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Read me like a book by Liz Kessler

Ashleigh Walker is in love. You know the feeling - that intense, heart-racing, all-consuming emotion that can only come with first love. It's enough to stop her worrying about bad grades at college. Enough to distract her from her parents' marriage troubles. There's just one thing bothering her . . .

Shouldn't it be her boyfriend, Dylan, who makes her feel this way - not Miss Murray, her English teacher?

I have been looking forward to this book for a long while because it sounded like it would tackle ideas around teenage sexuality in a thoughtful and considered way .

This story is the coming out story of Ashleigh. Ashleigh has been having a tough time at home as she's living with her parents as their marriage falls apart. As a result she's struggling and feeling a bit lost.

I like that the coming out part of this story comes as a surprise to even the main character and out of nowhere. Ashleigh assumes she is straight and as a consequence starts a new relationship with a boy. She only questions it when things with him don't go well when he starts treating her poorly, things go wrong and find herself turning to her new English teacher for help when it all gets too much. The attraction she suddenly finds she has to Miss Murrary comes out of nowhere and suddenly opens Ashleigh's eyes to what she actually wants in life and from a relationship. I liked what this book had to say about how Ashleigh came to realise she was gay and how those around her reacted in a range of ways and that Asheligh just had to decide to focus on those who supported her and ignore the views of those who did not.

The only thing that niggled me slightly with this book was the whole "oh we knew you were gay" reaction Ashleigh got from several people. It just niggled me that they clearly 'knew' when Ashleigh had no idea herself. It says something about stereotypes which I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with.

Apart from that niggle I thought it was an important and thoughtful book and a welcome addition to the YA market.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

This is not a love story by Keren David

Kitty dreams of a beautiful life, but that's impossible in suburban London where her family is haunted by her father's unexpected death. So when her mum suggests moving to Amsterdam to try a new life, Kitty doesn't take much persuading. Will this be her opportunity to make her life picture perfect?

In Amsterdam she meets moody, unpredictable Ethan, and clever, troubled Theo. Two enigmatic boys, who each harbour their own secrets. In a beautiful city and far from home, Kitty finds herself falling in love for the first time.

But will love be everything she expected? And will anyone's heart survive?

I have been a fan of Keren David for a while. Her stories are always really engaging and I oten find myself reading them in one sitting because I can't put them down. This book was no exception.

I loved This is not a love story from the first page. for a variety of reasons.

Firstly it is one of those books that has made me to want to book a trip to the place where it is set for a holiday. This book is set in Amsterdam focusing particularly at the many British people that have made it their home. It describes Amsterdam as a really fascinating and beautiful city which I really want to go and explore now.

I loved the story of Kitty. Kitty is 16 and just moved to Amsterdam for a new start with her mother. From the first page you really feel for her. She has had it tough over the past few months and is in a really fragile state and going to Amsterdam really gives her a new lease of life and a chance to find out more about who she is without her past hanging over her.

This story has a bit of a love triangle thing going on without being the real focus of the book and I enjoyed that whilst it was part of the story it wasn't the be all and end all of the story. I also enjoyed that the love triangle wasn't a straight forward and featured a bisexual character. To my mind more diverse characters are so needed in YA fiction as role models for teens to tackle unhelpful stereotypes. The story itself had me hooked and I needed to know what was going to happen next.

All in all an awesome read which I would thoroughly recommend.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Suicide notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Gone Girl meets 13 Reasons Why in this stylish, sexy, and atmospheric story about friendship packed with twists and turns that will leave you breathless.

They say Delia burned herself to death in her stepfather’s shed. They say it was suicide.

But June doesn't believe it.

June and Delia used to be closer than anything. Best friends in that way that comes before everyone else before guys, before family. It was like being in love, but more. They had a billion secrets, tying them together like thin silk cords.

But one night a year ago, everything changed. June, Delia, and June's boyfriend Ryan were just having a little fun. Their good time got out of hand. And in the cold blue light of morning, June knew only this and things would never be the same again.

And now, a year later, Delia is dead. June is certain she was murdered. And she owes it to her to find out the truth which is far more complicated than she ever could have imagined.

Sexy, dark, and atmospheric, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls will keep you guessing until the very last page.

I almost don't want to review this book because it was so awesome and I think the reason why I was so blown away with this book because I knew very little about this book going into it.

This book is awesome. It keeps you guessing from the first page until the last about what has actually happened and whether Delia actually committed suicide or not. I found myself absolutely hooked and the ending absolutely blew me away.

This books is compared to Gone girl and thirteen reasons why but having read both I actually think this book is far far superior.

Friday, 8 May 2015

The last summer of us by Maggie Hardcourt

Limpet, Steffan and Jared. Three best friends crammed into a clapped-out rust bucket of a car on a whirlwind road trip to forget their troubles and see out the end of the summer. But no matter how far they drive, they can’t escape the hidden secrets and slow-burning romance that could upset the balance of their friendship – perhaps forever.

The Last Summer of Us is a brilliant contemporary read which I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the summery feel of the story. I loved seeing the friendship between the three and the bittersweet feeling I got as I read it as you knew that this part of the three main characters lives was about to end.

I loved the story of the three friends as they embark on a road trip in a rusty old banger to give each of them time away from their different problems and to spend their last summer together. I really enjoyed seeing how their trip brought to the surface all the different things they had been worrying about underneath it all and gave them an opportunity to address all those things they had been ignoring.

I loved all the characters and the way they interacted together. It was really nice to see a really strong friendship between the three and look at the way in which they relied on each other and then considering the impact it would have once the summer was over. For me I really enjoyed getting under Limpet's skin over the course of the trip. She is at a stage in her life where is really struggling. She is coming to terms with her mother's death and dealing with all the gossip surrounding it. Add to this the fact that her father is also a mess and one of her best friends is about to leave and she is in a real state. Over the course of the story and the trip as her story comes out it is really telling about how much she has dealt with.

Special mention has to go to the fact I loved that this was UKYA not set in England. I loved that the story was set in Wales and seeing the feel that then have to the story.

All in all a perfect road trip story which is full of heart. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Liberty's Fire by Lydia Syson

Paris, 1871. Four young people will rewrite their destinies. Paris is in revolt. After months of siege at the hands of the Prussians, a wind of change is blowing through the city, bringing with it murmurs of a new revolution. Alone and poverty-stricken, sixteen-year-old Zephyrine is quickly lured in by the ideals of the city's radical new government, and she finds herself swept away by its promises of freedom, hope, equality and rights for women. But she is about to fall in love for a second time, following a fateful encounter with a young violinist. Anatole's passion for his music is soon swiftly matched only by his passion for this fierce and magnificent girl. He comes to believe in Zephyrine's new politics - but his friends are not so sure. Opera-singer Marie and photographer Jules have desires of their own, and the harsh reality of life under the Commune is not quite as enticing for them as it seems to be for Anatole and Zephyrine. And when the violent reality of revolution comes crashing down at all their feet, can they face the danger together - or will they be forced to choose where their hearts really lie?

I was incredibly excited to hear about this book being released. I've loved Lydia's previous books because she writes my sort of historical fiction. Her books are always well researched with a brilliant attention to detail without being dry and detracting from the story. Liberty's Fire is no exception.

Liberty's Fire is the story of the Paris Commune. Previous to reading this book I knew nothing about this part of European history despite having a degree in Modern European History and I was utterly fascinated to find out about it.

I enjoyed this book for several reasons. I loved the two main characters Zephyrine and Anatole and seeing their relationship blossom over the course of the book. I was rooting for them for the first page. I also loved the secondary characters especially Jules as he was a really intriguing character.

I also loved finding out more about the Paris Commune. It is such an interesting part of history and I am so pleased I found out more about it. My inner history geek now wants to know more.

All in all a fascinating read which I thoroughly enjoyed because of the historical detail and awesome story.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

We are all made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Meet Stewart. He’s geeky, gifted and sees things a bit differently to most people. His mum has died and he misses her all the more now he and Dad have moved in with Ashley and her mum.

Meet Ashley. She’s popular, cool and sees things very differently to her new family. Her dad has come out and moved out – but not far enough. And now she has to live with a freakazoid step-brother.

Stewart can’t quite fit in at his new school, and Ashley can’t quite get used to her totally awkward home, which is now filled with some rather questionable decor. And things are about to get a whole lot more mixed up when these two very different people attract the attention of school hunk Jared. . .

This book was recommended to me by Phil Earle and as per usual he was right and I adored it.

The book is split between two narrators. Very popular Ashley and very geeky Stewart whose worlds collide when their parents get together. Seeing their differing reactions to the change in their life is brilliant and I loved seeing the contrast between Stewart's scientific and logical brain and Ashley's illogical drama queen one.

For me the story was full of heart and I loved the message it had. The story surrounding Ashley's recently out gay father was really touching and thoughtful and the way in which the bullying of Stewart by Ashley's not nice boyfriend was resolved by the end of the book was incredibly heartwarming.

All in all a book I adored entirely.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Countdown to the 7th May: Interview with Lydia Syson

1) To start off could you tell us a bit more about your latest book Liberty's Fire?

Think Les Mis; then fast-forward nearly forty years to 1871.  The French capital’s been transformed by developers, there’s been a disastrous war with Prussia, and the divisions between rich and poor are wider than ever. Enough is enough for the people of Paris. Liberty’s Fire is about a group of young people caught up in a revolution that quickly turns to civil war.  Zéphyrine once made artificial flowers for fancy dressmakers.  Now she’s sewing sandbags with her friend Rose and working in a soupkitchen. They’re both hoping that the Commune, newly elected to offer Paris a radical alternative, will change everyone’s lives for the better.

But Zéphyrine is torn.  Anatole, a gorgeous young violinist at the Théâtre Lyrique, has opened her eyes to a luxurious new world. When he in turn is swept up by both Zéphyrine and her passionate politics, where does that leave Jules, a rich American photographer who is secretly in love with Anatole? Meanwhile their friend Marie, an ambitious opera singer, is desperate for word of her brother, a soldier in the French army now massing outside Paris.  She’s horrified by the actions of the Commune.

The barricades are rising once more.  The call to arms rings through the city.  Can the Commune – and more to the point our characters – possibly survive?

2) The history you cover in this book is covering an area in history I knew nothing about despite having a degree in Modern European History. Can you tell me why you decided to write this particular time in history and specifically about the Paris Commune.

You’re not alone!  This was a big hole in my knowledge too! But everything seemed to lead me towards the Commune.  At the launch of A World Between Us, my YA novel set during the Spanish Civil War, we sang a song called the Internationale, which I’d sung at my grandparents’ funerals:  ‘Arise, ye starvelings from your slumbers!  Arise, ye prisoners of want!’  It was composed at the fall of the Paris Commune, and united the International Brigaders in Spain because in the 1930s it was familiar to workers all over the world.  Sometimes they sang it in many different languages at once.  Then I discovered that in the 1890s my great-great grandmother had taught at a school in London run by a revolutionary heroine of the Commune, Louise Michel.  Michel was an extraordinary character – she appears in Liberty’s Fire – and she had two International Brigade battalions named after her.  Finally, I went to the film of Les Mis with my daughter.  As we came out, I overheard people talking about ‘the French Revolution’ – as if there had only been one – at which point I decided that I really had to write a Paris Commune novel.  Passion, idealism and barricades are such a great combination.  As soon as I began research proper, I was hooked. The title came to me straight away, and it’s the only book I’ve ever written which has kept its title from beginning to end.

3) How did you go about researching for this book?

One thing always leads to another, and the detective work is all part of the fun. From general histories and academic journals, I was led to memoirs, both pro and anti. It quickly became clear how many people hadn’t survived to tell their side of the story, or hadn’t had the education to make this possible. Working-class voices are hard to hear in history! I often wished my French was better.  I read lots of novels by French and English writers set in Paris around that period or directly about the Siege of Paris and the Commune – a time known as France’s ‘terrible year’.  Maps and photographs played a big part in my research too, but most important of all were a couple of pavement-pounding trips to Paris.  Some days I spent in far-flung museums and archives, looking at everything from ratbones to banners, others I wandered and wondered. 

One of the last battles of the ‘Bloody Week’ that brought the Commune to an end - the French army entered Paris and slaughtered thousands - was fought at the cemetery of Père Lachaise.  Oscar Wilde’s grave is not far from the memorial wall where many Communards were executed, and this helped me see the character of Jules more clearly, and the importance of idea of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’.  Homosexuality wasn’t technically illegal in France, as it was in England, where it only stopped being a capital offence in 1860, but police used other laws to persecute gay men.  I thought a lot about the figure of the flâneur, aimlessly strolling through the modern city, watching the world go by, and also about spectacle (lots of nineteenth-century accounts treat the Commune as a kind of theatrical experience), and I read widely about the sexual politics of the time.  Women were heavily involved in the Commune. And I listened to music and found out about photography.  

I’d hate anyone to be put off by the amount of research I did – which, I should gratefully say, was largely funded by an Arts Council Grant – because the whole point of doing it was to create the right atmosphere and feel and narrative for a work of fiction. I just want the reader to be swept up in the story.

4) Historical fiction needs a good balance of accurate historical fact and interesting story to make me want to pick it up and sometimes I find in some historical fiction one is sacrificed for the other whereas you seem to get the balance right. How do you make sure your stories are exciting and engaging whilst still staying true to the period of history being covered?

Thank you very much!  I certainly make every effort to keep the ‘story’ in history in every way, and I really hate the idea of history as mere ‘backdrop’.  The revision process is particularly important.  That’s when you tend to spot any dangerous drifting out of novel-writing and into a lecture. As you’ll have gathered, I do a ridiculous amount of research, but ironically I think the more an author does, the less it tends to stick out.  So my characters and narrative always spring from real historical events and are woven round a completely accurate chronology, rather than fighting against it. To be honest, I find the times I’ve written about so exciting and engaging in themselves, it’s not hard to stay true to them.  And if I’ve sown a few seeds, and anyone wants to find out more about the history, there’s a full guide to my research sources on my website

5) Are you already working on another book? Or do you have ideas about what you'd like to work on next?

I’m at the very early stages of a new novel for Hot Key books called Blackbird Island.  I don’t want to say too much right now, but it’s set in the Pacific, also in the late nineteenth century, and this time I’ve plundered my partner’s family history for inspiration.  Writers can be terrible thieves.