Friday, 24 April 2015

Beneath the Surface of Book Blogging with Sya from The Mountains of Instead

Today we have Sya who runs the wonderful blog 'The Mountains of Instead'! She lives in the north of Scotland and started blogging just over five years ago, primarily because she had a small child and felt that her brain was turning to mush.  Also because she had moved to a new town and knew no readers and desperately wanted to talk about books! On The Mountains of Instead, she and her trusty team read and review all genres but the blog remains primarily focused on Young Adult fiction.

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?
I had no idea that book blogs existed - they just weren't on my radar - until my daughter's father mentioned that I should start one.  At the time I was moaning about not having anyone to talk to about books and also not being able to afford to buy books any more (I was, and remain, a single parent) and he thought that I might be able to kill two birds with one stone.  I didn't believe him but started to do some research.  I came across The Crooked Shelf, a blog that no longer exists, that I loved and emailed Carla (the blogger) who gave me some great advice.  I then spent ages thinking about names and design ideas before finally getting started.  Within a two months I was part of a growing, passionate community and working with both publishers and authors.  It was a revelation.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?
I hope that my reviews encourage people to read the books, obviously, but also to think about them in an in-depth way.  I also hope that people enjoy reading the reviews I write for the sake of reading them!

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?
While I'm not as visible in the blogging community as I once was, for the first few years fellow bloggers, authors and publicists became a life line.  I was living a fairly isolated and isolating life alone with a small child and these lovely people made me feel both valued and relative.  The confidence I gained ultimately lead to me studying for a degree in English Literature and starting a new career in the library service.  In terms of more specific rewards, highlights have been Maggie Stiefvater naming my Raven Boys review as her favourite, interviewing Patrick Ness and being shortlisted for this years' UKYABA in the content category.

And the most frustrating?
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my TBR pile and struggle to choose what to read.  I was quite ill towards the end of last year and found it difficult to read at all, and impossible to review.  Oddly, this difficult period seems to have helped as I now don't pressure myself to read review books but rather pick up the books that I feel like reading. It's been hugely refreshing and while the blog is quieter than it used to be, publicists and readers have been really supportive.

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?
The dreaded reading slump!  I used to try and force myself out of them but now I don't.  Instead, I re-read old favourites, listen to audio books or just watch TV until they pass.  In terms of confidence, I've never really worried about my ability to review but have worried about the lack of other content on the blog (particularly recently) and my declining presence in social media.  The closest I've come to giving up is during my illness last year so I put the blog on hiatus for three months.  We're now back and slowly, but surely, things are picking up again!

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?
I've kind of answered this above but in terms of getting back into it, I think the key is to not pressure myself. I'm relying more on my trusty contributors, Polka Dot Steph and Cannonball Jones, and generally not stressing. It seems to be working.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?
Don't sweat the small stuff.  Because ultimately, no matter how much time we spend on it, blogging is the small stuff. In my experience, slumps in both blogging and reading tend to come about when things are generally difficult.  Give yourself a break, eat some ice cream, watch some Outlander! All things pass, even reading slumps.

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?
To quote Empire Records, "there are twenty-four usable hours in every day" (or something like that). I juggle a seven year old, a part time job, a freelance career and two courses of study as well as the blog, wine and a minor social life.  And I have no idea how I fit it in...  In seriousness, I prioritise.  I'd like to say that I'm super organised and plan everything but that would be extremely untrue. I'm going to go with sheer luck.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?
I'd like to see some proper data in terms of bloggers and the industry - this was brought up spectacularly badly by Anthony McGowan recently but while he was unquestionably rude his question was valid.  In a similar vein, I'd like to see less brouhaha.  The various scandals that sporadically erupt, valid or otherwise, make no one look good.

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?
Cut yourself some slack. I can think of lots and lots of things to say, but that's what it amounts to. If you stop pressuring yourself you'll eventually find that you feel less pressured.  God, no-one's going to put that on an inspiring quotes board, are they.  But you know what I mean..

Thank you so much Sya for coming and talking to us about your experiences blogging, it's so wonderful to hear from such a range of bloggers! If you haven't yet visited Sya's blog, do so, it is wonderful. You can also find her on twitter!

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Author Q & A with M. J. Scott

Today I am incredibly excited to be hosting M J Scott, author of the upcoming fantasy novel 'The Shattered Court.' With a UK release date of April 28th we're counting down the final days until it hits the shelves, but to help tide us over until then M J Scott has been kind enough to answer a few questions about the book and her writing process.

For anyone who hasn’t yet heard about ‘The Shattered Court’ can you tell us a little bit more about it?
The Shattered Court is about Sophie Kendall, who is a royal witch who comes into power during a time when the court she is part of is attacked. Which means because she misses some of the normal rituals witches undergo, her power is unusual. And to some, dangerous.

What inspired you to write this story?
 My stories usually start with a character popping into my head out of nowhere. I can't remember exactly where I was but I suddenly had the image of this heroine who was bored out of her brain having a magic lesson when she didn't actually know if she had magic yet. So that was the seed of the idea.

How has the story evolved from the initial idea to the book readers can now delve into?
When I had the initial idea, I didn't know anything else about the world or who Sophie was. For me,  my world grows as I write scenes and have to stop and figure out the reasons behind the things about the world or the characters that pop into my head as I write and that in turn pushes the story. So it's kind of an iterative process. I try to keep writing forward but I usually have to go back and tweak things as I go. When I started the book, I didn't know a lot of what was going to happen. I vaguely knew what was going to happen between Sophie and Cameron and also what the initial political situation was but the detail comes as I write, so it's always a surprise. I often have an idea for the last scene of the book early on but for this one, I didn't until quite late in the draft. So I'm still learning about the world.

What was the hardest part of writing the novel?
Figuring out the last third or so of the book as I got stuck for a while and had a "this is never going to work" moment.

And the best/most rewarding?
It's always getting to the end and realizing that it did all work out. That and creating a whole world to play in.

Does anything particular stimulate your writing and creativity and do you have any set writing habits?
I try to write every day but don't always. I have a day job so my routine varies depending on whether or not I am having a day job day or not. I definitely need to make time to do other things and get out of the house to feed the creative side of the brain. For me the things that seem to refill the creative well are reading, watching TV and movies, taking pictures, doing crafty things like knitting or watercolors, cooking, listening to music, hanging out with my friends. Things that distract me while the subconscious can work away on the book.

Did you always know you wanted to write / what was the point that you realized this was something you really wanted to pursue?
I always loved books. Total bookworm. One of those kids who had to have books taken away from them and be shooed outside to play. I always wrote stories as a kid and loved English at school. But I grew up in a smallish country town and no one ever said "hey, be a writer as a job". So I pursued another career but in my twenties the urge to write kept coming back and eventually I thought I might as well write them down and see what happens. Turned out I still loved to write so I decided to get serious and try to get published. Which was a long process but I got there in the end.

What books and authors have inspired you?
I read a lot of fantasy and romance and always have with side trips off to history, mystery and sci fi. Most genres really, though not much horror. I get creeped out too easily for too much horror. Some of my favorite authors are Lois McMaster Bujold, Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Jennifer Crusie, Robin McKinley, Jacqueline Carey, Ilona Andrews, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Kelly Hunter, Kylie Scott and Deanna Raybourn. If you asked me for my top 5 fave books, the list would change a bit but near the top will always be Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett, A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold, Sunshine by Robin McKinley, Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruise and Scout's Progress by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. 

Are you able to give us any information on what you’re working on next?
Right now I'm writing one of my Melanie Scott books, which is a contemporary romance, the fifth in my New York Saints series. It's called Playing Fast and will be out next year. Other things are afoot but not that I can talk about just now.

And finally, any advice for inspiring writers out there?

Probably everyone says that but just keep writing. Write the books that you would want to read, in the genres that make you happy. Learn about writing too but most importantly just keep writing and going after your dream.

Thank you so much for stopping by and talking to us! Don't forget to pre-order 'The Shattered Court' in time for its release in the UK on April 28th and you can find M J Scott on twitter too!
Interested in the book? Check out the review I posted here.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: The Shattered Court by M. J. Scott

Publication Date: 28th April 2015
Publisher: Roc - Penguin Random House
Length: 336 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Mild spoilers contained below

Entangled in a court ruled by tradition and intrigue, a young witch must come to terms with newfound power and desire—and a choice between loyalty and survival.…
The royal witches of Anglion have bowed to tradition for centuries. If a woman of royal blood manifests powers, she is immediately bound by rites of marriage. She will serve her lord by practicing the tamer magics of the earth—ensuring good harvests and predicting the weather. Any magic more dangerous is forbidden.
Lady Sophia Kendall, thirty-second in line to the throne, is only days away from finding out if she will be blessed—or perhaps cursed—with magic. When a vicious attack by Anglion’s ancient enemies leaves the kingdom in chaos, Sophia is forced to flee the court. Her protector by happenstance is Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, a member of the royal guard, raised all his life to be fiercely loyal to the Crown.
Then Sophia’s powers manifest stronger than she ever imagined they would, and Cameron and she are inextricably linked in the process. As a witch unbound by marriage rites, Sophia is not only a threat to the established order of her country, but is also a weapon for those who seek to destroy it. Faced with old secrets and new truths, she must decide if she will fight for her country or succumb to the delicious temptation of power.

This novel was one I was incredible excited about ever since it first cropped up on Goodreads. However it ended up being a slightly mixed read for me. There were elements that I loved, but sadly there were also parts that really didn’t work, so whilst I did enjoy the book it didn’t rate as highly as I was hoping it would.

I enjoyed the fantasy world, and on the whole the world building was really good although there are a lot of gaps to be filled in as the series progresses. The idea of the royal witches, the shake up to the court, the intrigue and underhand dealings in a royal setting are all things I love in novels and I thought were brought into the plot to heighten the tension incredibly well. I also loved elements of the romance, although there were aspects that were not quite as strong that I will go into further detail on in a moment.

It was a quick read, drawing me into the story and immediately shaking things up and launching into a rapidly thickening plot, and as a light romance book with magical undertones and a side serving of court life I really loved it. However I was expecting more from the blurb and this is where the problems start to creep in.

The novel felt like it was trying to be too many things, and go in too many directions at once, and as a result feels as though none of the aspects are more than touched upon. It couldn’t quite decide if it wanted to be a romance, or a court intrigue, or a tale about witches and as a result feels like it touches on each aspect but doesn’t fully develop them. It doesn’t really feel like the stakes are particularly high or the emotional impact or consequences are particularly real.

The pacing is a little off in places, particularly for the first third of the novel. Whilst it is important that Sophie and Cam are separated from the castle for the events that shape the story to unfold, it feels implausible and slows the tempo of the novel right down. Their travels round the countryside sadly do not make for the most fascinating reading.

The romance as well was slightly mixed. There was no real development of feeling between Cam and Sophie. They go from near strangers to acting as though they have been together for years with no real in-between. I would have loved to see more of a build-up and development between them. However their feelings towards each other really drove the latter part of the novel and I am looking forward to seeing more of them as a partnership in the second novel. However do be wary of some of the language used, particularly in the sex scenes, as it isn’t language readers would normally expect in a fantasy novel. If you’re familiar with modern romances it won’t be quite as jarring, but I was quite surprised at some of the language as it really threw me out of the fantasy setting and wasn’t in keeping with the language used in the rest of the novel.

It felt like the ideas were there for this – a love story in a land where nefarious dealings are happening and witches, particularly royal witches are powerful tools of the court – however none of them were brought to full fruition. The groundwork for the second book has been well laid though, and I’m very interested to see where the second books takes us.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Top Ten All Time Favourite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by the wonderful folks over at The Broke & the Bookish

This week is a tough one. Like really crazy tough, because there are so many authors that are favourites. Those who have written incredible series and bring out book after book of wonderfulness, and those who have written a single standalone that stays with you. And there are some who maybe their books aren't in your top favourites, but they are such wonderful kind and fabulous people that they sneak in anyway. They all deserve recognition and that makes it incredibly hard to narrow it down to just ten.
But I'm going to try... So here, in no particular order are my top ten all time favourite authors.

Deanna Raybourn
I finished reading a Gail Carriger book and went on Amazon to see if they could recommend me anything similar and 'Silent in the Grave' the first book in the Lady Julia series popped up. I devoured it (and the following two books) in record time and so began a love affair with Deanna Raybourn's books that I have never looked back from. I know that if Raybourn has written it, it is going to be supberb. She has the rare and dangerous gift of being able to create wonderfully real characters and put them into worlds so real you can almost taste them. When I dive into one of her books I know I am going to be immersed in an incredible story with wonderful and evocative writing. She researches so thoroughly that every story feels as though it is real and as though you are truly stepping into the country and time period depicted. No matter the story, Raybourn's books will always be a favourite and her a favourite author.

Maggie Stiefvater
I came to Maggie late, discovering her only with the publication of 'The Scorpio Races'. Nothing I have read comes close to what Maggie does with her tales. They are full of subtle magics, incredible characters and books that pull you in and make you fall in love until they become a part of you. 'The Scorpio Races' and then 'The Raven Cycle' are utterly stunning books, ones that always take my breath away. I am utterly in awe and cannot even put into words how incredible these books and Maggie's writing is. I adore them, and I couldn't ever do without them.

Kristin Cashore
The first time I read Graceling I disliked it. Then I waited a few years and read it again and fell in love, followed swiftly by Fire and Bitterblue and all three rocketed straight up into all time favourite books. For some reason reading Graceling for the first time I was in completely the wrong frame of mind, and I am so, so glad that I went back and re-read it because I cannot imagine not having these three books in my life. I listen to the audiobooks regularly (currently my go-to audiobook is Fire) and also go and check out Kristin's blog. Her blog is a fascinating mix of writing and editing and random things and pretty pictures and I love hearing each update from her corner of the world. I'm eagerly awaiting her follow up book to The Seven Kingdoms series, but in the mean time I more than love checking out the blog posts and re-reading these favourites.
Sarah Rees Brennan
I first found Sarah's work when she was writing Harry Potter fan-fiction. And it was brilliant. It was witty and sarcastic and brilliant and fleshed out characters in whole new ways and introduced me to this idea that writing could be fun. Then she went to do an MA in Creative Writing and I couldn't believe it. The idea of studying writing at uni had never crossed my mind before that point and she introduced me to the idea that maybe I could write. And then she got her books published and she blew me away all over again with how incredibly wonderful her writing was. It was everything I had fallen in love with all those years ago when I read her fan fic, but polished, refined and with her own incredible characters and plots. Her writing is incredible, it remains some of the funniest and most bittersweet and her characters are some of the most complex. But as well as all that she will always be the person who showed me that achieving my dream of writing was actually possible, and I will always remember that.

Tamora PierceI first discovered Pierce's books when I was 11 and desperately seeking any sort of distraction from the books in the school library. None of them were particularly great and then I discovered Alanna in The Song of the Lioness Quartet and I fell in love. Pierce's books always have magic in them and they always feature fantastic characters. Strong women who aren't afraid to fight for what they want and be who they were meant to be, regardless of what society thinks they should do. And strong men who are loyal and kind and aren't afraid to show weakness, frailty, or love. I got lost in these books, I wished I could live in these books, and I still love going back and re-reading them to this day. They are wonderful and full of such brilliant depths of imagination and that is what makes her one of my favourite authors.

J. K. Rowling
Do I really need to say anything? Like pretty much every other Potter fan, I fell in love with Harry and Ron and Hermione and never looked back. Rowling created a world I wanted to live in, Hogwarts is somewhere I can never wait to return to, and I was one of the lucky generation who grew up with Harry. With each new book I was older, so was he, and the world got darker and more dangerous as we explored it. Rowling did the extrordinary, she created a world that bridges language and country. Everyone who has fallen in love with Hogwarts is connected by these books and the love of reading they inspired, and I adore her for that.

Neil Gaiman
If Tamora Pierce introduced me to fantasy as a child, Neil Gaiman introduced
me to a whole new breed of fantasty as an adult. Gaiman's books are incredible with such vivid and terrifying imagination filling each page. I started with Neverwhere and fell in love with London, moved on to Stardust and found a whole new type of fairytale with heroines who swore and hero's who weren't really hero's at all to start with, and moved onto American Gods and wept from the sheer brilliance and scope of the story. Gaiman's stories in turn delight and terrify and he is such a kind and generous author, both with his stories and his time. If you ever get the chance to go to a talk of his, I highly recommend it.
Julia Quinn
Quinn introduced me to the idea of romance and true love. I mean I'd discovered it in fairytales and other such things, but this was my first foray into true romance and I loved it. Quinn's stories are always fresh and funny, brilliantly written and featuring wonderful characters. She reminds me again and again that happily ever after's are indeed possible and that true love really does exist, even when the world is a terrible place I know that Quinn will provide a ray of sunshine and I love her and her books for that.

Jasper Fforde
I was a precocious reader as a child, and as a result I found a lot of books and authors that I didn't fully appreciate until revisiting them when I was a bit older. Jasper Fforde is one of those authors, and whilst I loved him when I was younger, his books are utterly fantastic reading them as an adult. They are brilliantly imaginative, twisted and hilarious. His debut novel 'The Eyre Affair' plays with tropes and expectations so brilliantly, and I adore his haphazard and genius thought process that produces such ingenious books.
Gail Carriger
My first dip into steampunk, Gail's covers grabbed my attention and her witty and sharp writing kept me entertained for hours. She is still my favourite steampunk author and if I want a melodrama of manners with tea, pesto, vampires and werewolves she is my go to author I love - and she has the most awesome blog and twitter presence. There's always something new and exciting to see if you go on her blog or follow her and I love seeing the strange, weird and wonderful things that pop up. 

So there you have my top ten favourite authors. Can you manage to pick only ten of your favourites? If so tell me in the comments below! You can also check out interviews with Deanna Raybourn, Sarah Rees Brennan & Gail Carriger in the author interviews tab at the top of the page.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Becky from Becky's Babble

For our second Beneath the Surface of Blogging guest post, I am very excited to introduce Becky, a 20 year old cat obsessed psychology student who loves books. She's relatively new to blogging, but is slowly expanding and reaching more people. You can check out her blog Becky's Babble and also follow her on twitter, add her on goodreads and follow her on instagram!

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?

I actually had a youtube channel at first, but I wasn't very good at it, I was shy in-front of the camera as well as self conscious, but I still wanted to get my views out there, I wanted to write about the kind of things I searched the internet for, the reviews, the makeup swatches, the random little psychology nuggets, so I thought to myself, why not write a blog! And that's how it all started really!

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?

I just hope that my posts help people with their decisions. Whether it be if they should buy a certain book, or try out a certain make up brand. I want my posts to help people and more importantly I want them to enjoy reading! I also hope to make lots of friends, which I have already started to! :D

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?

When people comment saying "Your review made me want to buy this" or "your review made me add this to my tbr" it just makes me think that its worth while, that people do care about others opinions and they want to know whether you think something is worth reading or buying. As well as making new friends from it.

And the most frustrating?
When people use your blog as a means to advertise. I don't mind if someone leaves a comment and then has a link to their blog at the bottom, but I don't want the comment to purely be "Check out my blog!" or "Check this out!" it frustrates me because it makes me feel like they haven't bothered to read my content and have just used it to advertise for free! Hence why I've now turned on comment moderation!

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?

Slumps happen to me all the time, because for university I have to read scientific journals for hours upon hours I just get tired of reading and just find it hard to pick a book up. So, whenever I feel this way, I either pick up a short book or pick up a book I've really really been looking forward to! And I do often feel like I'm not good enough, especially when I'll have spent hours on a post and it gets barely any views, or I go on a blog and they have loads of followers and have been doing it for less amount of time than me, but I just think, I'm writing my blog to get my view out there and I know I wouldnt be happy to write a post that I wasn't proud of. So if even one person reads it, or one person gets something out of it, I'm happy with that!

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?

Yes actually, when I had piles of university work, it always gets in the way! But I got back into it when I had a full day free, I was ahead of all my work, I wasn't doing anything so I just sat there and scheduled posts for the day, I was inspired, I planned out what was going up and when (because I'm an organisational geek) and I just wrote, I've caught up with them now though so I really need to get back on it!

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?

Take your time, I know that reading slumps can be hard and you feel bad for not writing reviews, but you don't have to always write reviews! You can write TBR posts, places you want to visit, hauls, stuff you are waiting to be released, so just take your time with the slump, don't force anything because you won't enjoy the book as much as you might've done if you hadn't forced it!

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?

I have to say, it can be hard. But If you just designate a day of the week where you write your blog posts for the week and schedule them then you're all set, some people schedule posts for a whole month or maybe even longer! I just do a week at a time so I'm not being entirely lazy and I'm still getting involved.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?

I'd like to see older bloggers helping out newer bloggers more. My blog is only 8 months old (well I've had it for a while but hadn't posted anything until 8 months ago) and if anyone wants to get into blogging or is new to blogging and they ask me questions, I'm more than happy to answer them. I also love when blogs to guest posts (like yourself ;)) because if gives a chance to share the love and share the blogging websites!

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?

Don't worry about it. You should write your posts for you, you should be happy and enjoy what you're doing because if you don't, what's the point?

Thank you so much Becky for taking the time out to come over and talk to us about blogging! And don't forget to check out her blog Becky's Babble and also follow her on twitter!

Friday, 17 April 2015

Beneath the Surface of Blogging with Nicole from YA Interrobang

Today I am very excited to welcome Nicole from YA Interrobang for the very first Beneath the Surface feature! Nicole has been blogging for ten years both at YA Interrobang and WORD for Teens, is a bookseller and author assistant and somehow still manages to find the time to blog and talk about YA books and authors!
Thank you so much Nicole for coming over!

How did you start blogging, were there any blogs you followed that got you thinking this was something you wanted to do?

I started blogging ten years ago. I was 13 and never really talked, except when it was about books - and I read a lot of books. My mother finally had enough of venting to her about whatever I happened to be reading at the time, so she turned to me and said, "Why don't you start a blog?" It didn't stop me from talking about books - I think I talked about them even more - but it certainly got me involved in the book blogging community. When I joined, it was so long ago that I didn't even know most other blogs. I just stumbled accidentally across them and got involved in the community. The longer I stayed in the community, the more I realized that, while there were plenty of review sites, there wasn't a blog where people could go and just learn about YA books and news. That's how I went from reviewing at WORD for Teens for seven years to running YA Interrobang for the past three.

What do you hope you achieve through your blogging?

The only things I want to achieve are to create a) a safe, awesome space for people to discuss books where b) they can find awesome new books they like.

What are the most rewarding parts of it for you?

There is nothing more satisfying then getting a message about how something you said about a book inspired people to pick it up. It's why I love my job as a bookseller and why I love social media; I can force my favorite books on people and watch them fall in love with it! Like These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. Which you all should read. Right now.

And the most frustrating?
There's been a lot of discussion of the darker sides of the blogosphere lately, and not just in terms of how hard it is to maintain a blog. There are many people out there who fear posting negative reviews or sharing their opinion if it's against a well-loved author. The community should be a safe place to have intense discussions, even if they are critical of certain authors and their words; nobody should have to fear sharing their opinion, especially if it's calling somebody out on something hurtful that they've said. I've been fighting really hard to voice my opinions and stand up for the things I believe in, but I know it's hard for so many other people, and that's frustrating. 

Have you had reading slumps/insecurities/times when you felt you weren't good enough and wanted to quit, and how did you pull yourself out of them?

During the last year or two of running my review blog WORD for Teens, I was having a really hard time putting up content. I went from having a blog post a day  to one a week or less, and it was because I didn't have the time for the site. I was in my junior and senior years of college, interning, running a club and trying to balance a social life and sleep with running the site. It helped to refocus my goals and figure out what I loved doing and why I loved doing it. That's where YA Interrobang came into play - while I still love talking critically about books, I wanted to focus more on authors and fun things and not the review side, because it took a lot of energy out of me that I didn't have. Shifting my focus back onto the things I was passionate about really helped, and without the pressure, I'm reading way more books!

Have you taken a break from blogging at any point and if so how did you get back into it?

It's been ten years and I've never taken a break. I'm a monster.

Any tips for dealing with the self imposed guilt that comes with a blogging and reading slump?

Understand that this is YOUR blog. You can do with it what you want. If that means posting once a week or twice a day, or if that means only reviewing a certain type of book, that's okay. It's your zone. Don't let other people pressure you that there's a 'right' way to blog. Whatever works for you is the best way to blog.
As for reading slumps - most of the time, slumps come with the pressure to read certain books. One of the decisions I made very early on when reviewing was that I was only going to request books I was really passionate about, and that I was going to read whatever I wanted to read at any given time. Forcing yourself to read a book just to meet a deadline means you're not going to like that book as well as if you gravitated towards it naturally. Read what you want to read.
And side tip - a lot of bloggers end up with huge, huge stacks of books. Cull those piles! If you go through your to-read pile and don't recognize a title or remember what's it's about, get rid of it. You didn't want to read it enough to remember. Recycle the ARCs and donate the rest to a local hospital or library or women's shelter. Sometimes just getting rid of that physical pile lessens the burden!

How do you manage to juggle life outside books and blogging?

I sold my soul to Satan for excellent time management. It hasn't let me down.
Honestly, the best thing to do is to keep a good schedule and to make sure you're building in time for yourself. I work as a bookseller, an author's assistant and run YA Interrobang, and I still make sure to build in time every day for three meals and a little exercise and enough sleep. If you're killing yourself to do everything, it's not worth it. Your health has to come first.

The key, for me, is to know your limits and know just how much time you're willing to spend on things. I sacrifice a lot of free time to work on YA Interrobang, and I do it because I'm passionate about it - and that's good! But having that schedule helps. I have days blocked off in the calendar where I made plans to visit friends or hang out with my sister, and I give myself little tasks each day that force me away from the computer and doing something else.
Pro-tip: if you're working for long periods of time at your computer, set an alarm so you have to get up and walk around every 50 minutes. No matter what you're doing, get up and move. It's so helpful for your frame of mind and for your body.

The blogging world is constantly evolving, any changes you'd like to see start to happen?

It's beginning to shift towards this now, but I'd love to see more bloggers embracing feminism and calling out problematic content and problematic problems. We saw a huge backlash when people critiqued Andrew Smith for his comments (, and that seemed silly to me - you can like problematic authors and problematic books while still critiquing them and championing for better. (I'm the world's biggest Dragonriders of Pern fan; trust me, I know all about loving problematic books.) It's okay to say "I loved this book, but it's representation of this was awful, and this is how it could have been better." It's not an attack - it's about making the world and books the best they can be.
And you can review books and love books and critique them this way - the ladies at Stacked and The Book Smugglers do it all of the time, and they do it amazingly. I'd love, love, love to see more reviews like theirs. 

Any advice for new and old bloggers alike, particularly if they are going through a down slump at the moment?
Take a break. Cull your reading piles. Figure out what makes you happy and blog about that. This is YOUR space. You can do with it what YOU want. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Thank you again Nicole for coming and talking to us! Some awesome advice and some wonderful insights!
If you haven't yet checked out YA Interrobang, do so, it is a fabulous site with an amazing mix of news and reviews and interest posts.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Review: The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

Publication Date: 28th April 2015
Publisher: Atom
Length: 361 pages

Huge thanks to Netgalley for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

I have heard a huge amount of buzz for this book since January, so when it came up on Netgalley I jumped at the chance to read it. After all, that blurb just screams read me and it had me intrigued in all the right ways. Let’s start with the superficial – that blurb and that cover. (Both the US and UK covers are gorgeous for this one.) Admittedly some of the most gorgeous covers hide terrible books, but this one lived up to all the promise the exterior provides. And then some.

This is a stunning debut novel from Grey, weaving a fast paced and brilliant story with a fantastic heroine at its heart. I fell in love with Echo; her sass, her vulnerability, her determination, and her independence. I felt a fierce need to love and protect her that I haven’t felt since reading ‘Scarlet’ by A. C. Gaughen.

The writing is beautiful. At times quiet and haunting and others fast paced and filled with wit. The dialogue is fantastic and the way the characters banter with each other is brilliant. I felt like I was sitting eating pastries with old friends and drinking tea – there is a feeling of being allowed into an exclusive gang of awesome people and I loved watching Rowan, Echo and Ivy interact with each other.

The romances were deftly handled. There is a tendency to sigh and roll your eyes when you see another eons old being falling for a teenage girl, but whilst that frustrates me in most books I felt that here it was handled well. I believed the attraction and the feelings and I got goosebumps right along with Echo. There are also some intriguing secondary romances which I cheered about and am eagerly waiting to see how they unfold in the second book.

There are comparisons that can be made to any number of YA novels, but particularly the ‘Daughter of Smoke & Bone’ trilogy by Laini Taylor. However Grey takes those similarities and puts her own mark on the story and makes it entirely her own. If you went down a checklist and marked them off then they would sound similar in some ways, but I really recommend reading the book before passing judgement. I adored Taylor’s series and I adore Grey’s – there is no either or, and it is definitely not so similar as to be frustrating. I saw a couple of the twists coming, but then Grey puts her own spin on it and suddenly you’re back in unfamiliar territory and I love being surprised by a book.

This is an incredible debut. It more than deserves all the attention it has garnered so far and I cannot wait to see it take off fully when it is released at the end of the month. It is a beautiful story full of action and daring, fights and romance, and beautiful quiet moments that force you to slow down and appreciate the still hush of the breath before the plunge. I adored it and I cannot recommend it enough.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Publication Date: March 10th 2015
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Length: 608 pages

Warning: Spoilers for the book are contained in this review.

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways. 
As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?

I absolutely adored ‘Seraphina’ when it was first released. It was the one and only time I have actually marked down pages in a book because the quotes were so unbearably beautiful and I wanted to go back to them. It was a truly stunning debut, with a fresh and incredibly imaginative story at its heart and was filled with prose that was so lyrical and beautiful that at points it reduced me to tears. I could not wait to get my hands on the sequel, and I waited (bereft and impatient) for the next few years until finally, in March this year it was released.

However whilst the last quarter of the novel lifted the story up to virtually a three star read, the first three quarters were not anything like the standard I was expecting. Maybe I went in with unattainable standards having loved the first book so much, but I ended up feeling sorely disappointed by this second part of the duology. I feel that a lot could have been resolved by turning it into a trilogy and allowing more space for the story to breathe. It felt like too many storylines were being rushed through and not enough time spent developing them, and too many characters that we knew and loved from the first book were pushed to the side-lines and were mere bit players in this conclusion.

The biggest problem for me was the pacing of this novel. As I’ve said it felt like it could have easily been two books and allowed the story to fully breathe. As it was, parts that really could have been culled were allowed to strangle the interesting plot points and the first three quarters of the novel dragged terribly. The dragon war that was about to kick off at the end of Seraphina was pushed to the side in favour of Seraphina travelling the lands and trying to gather together the other half dragon’s she has seen in her mind. Whilst it was wonderful meeting them all, to flesh out these characters and see how they responded to this idea of there being more of them, to see how the different cultures treated them and their individual gifts, far too much time was spent in a very samey pattern. Seraphina would travel, she would search, she would find them (remarkably easily) something would go wrong, they wouldn’t come with her. Whilst this wasn’t always the case, that pattern was very much a staple for a good portion of the book, and whilst the different cultures and lands were fascinating there was too much of Seraphina’s own self-pity and wallowing for the reader to fully enjoy it. The novel felt so bleak and depressing – a stark contrast to the high stakes and tension of the first book.

Everything felt like it was going wrong, they didn’t seem able to catch any luck at all, and that was in part due to Seraphina’s own attitude. It was great to watch her develop and attempt to come to terms with her unrealistic expectations and the actual reality, but too much of the book was spent with her despairing and not taking action when she could do. She didn’t seem to have any agency, she couldn’t work out any problem without help and whilst help is always a good thing it became a little too unrealistic when she (and everyone else) is suddenly saved by Pandowdy at the end. I didn’t feel like she learned anything, like she was able to take control of her life in any real way. I kept waiting for her to piece things together and to find a way to save everyone, but she didn’t. It felt thoroughly disappointing. Which I hated given how much I was looking forward to this book.

So much of what made Seraphina herself was missing – the music that made up so much of the first book was barely present. The strong, independent and fearless woman was gone, replaced with a hollow shell filled with misery and loneliness.

The romance was also a big problem for me. I loved the intense yearning and build up that was achieved between Seraphina and Kiggs in the first book, and I was expecting more of it, but instead I ended up hating the relationship. Where was the subdued and quiet passion? Where was the intensity of feeling and meeting of like minds that made me fall in love with these two in the first place? It was lacking in so many ways. There wasn’t enough time devoted to them, the relationship and Kiggs himself was swept under the rug, and what moments the two stole together made me turn on the relationship. It stopped being a sweeping love and felt as though Kiggs was hiding Seraphina and she in turn was a jealous mistress. It soured the relationship for me and made me feel like I couldn’t want them to be together. That is resolved somewhat with the revelation at the end about Selda’s own feelings, and that could have switched things into something truly glorious and brilliant, but it lacked conviction. All the important discussions and scenes where the three of them try and work out this tangled relationship were kept from the reader, we were supposed to just take it that they were making it work, which felt cheap and frustrating. I wanted Selda’s feelings to be made clearer throughout, for both her and Kiggs to play a bigger role in the novel instead of being relegated to the side-lines and for the conversations where they build this relationship between them to be open to the reader.

There were also a lot of incongruous elements that really didn’t work with the world building that had already occurred. I loved the Quig and Dragon devices we were introduced to in the first book, but suddenly there were new devices all over the place doing increasingly modern things, particularly once Seraphina reached Lab Four. They were out of place – GPS, phone and computer technology that didn’t fit in with the rest of the world and jarred me straight out of the story.

These things aside there were a lot of things that I did love about the book. The meeting of all of the half dragons, although it felt that what they endured was really horrific and not adequately dealt with in the story. It was painful to see Seraphina’s dream of being with them all shattered so horribly.
I also loved the different cultures, the quirks, the dress, the foods, the religion, I thought the world building was fantastic. When Seraphina returns home however the story seems to really pull into its own and whilst there are still issues, it felt infinitely more like the story I had been anticipating to follow the first book. I also really loved the revelations about the saints and how that threw so many things into question, it was a brilliant twist and I found that whole story thread really fascinating.

I missed the lyrical prose that I fell in love with in the first book, and I missed the characters that were barely graced with any time at all. This is sadly an example of a book that could not live up to the brilliance of its predecessor. I’m glad I read it, it’s wonderful to have some closure on the story and to see where Hartman wanted to take these characters for the second half of their journey. However I feel bereft for the story this might have been. It felt like it was pushed and forced to fit this ideal of a single other book, and unfortunately that stifled a lot of what I loved about the first one, leaving me with a pale imitation of the world and characters that I fell in love with in ‘Seraphina’. It truly felt as though Hartman lost the focus and path that she laid out in the first book, and the second book is an odd tangled mess of stories and ideas, some carried through, others discarded, leaving the reader feeling utterly heart sick over the book they never read.