Monday, 26 June 2017

Cover Spotlight Monday: The Sin Eater's Daughter Trilogy by Melinda Salisbury

It's once again Monday which means its time for another cover spotlight to brighten up those Monday blues. Today I'm featuring The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy by Melinda Salisbury which has not one but three stunning covers!

If you're not aware of this series it's a powerful tale of war, revolution and magic; of long lost princes and fairytales. It is in my opinion one of the best fantasy series' out there, and it has three gorgeous matching covers I'm going to explore. Very minor spoilers ahead, though very general.

Book one is the story of Twylla Morvern, daughter of Loremere's Sin Eater, and Daunen Embodied. She carries poison on her skin through a ritual where she must drink poison. She is both feared and revered. Book two meanwhile introduces Errin Vastel, an apothecary and sibling to one of Twylla's guard in book one. What I love first and foremost is that the long running theme through the books - alchemy, its siblings and the natural ingredients it uses - is represented quite clearly on each cover. Book one for Twylla's poison, two for Errin's apothecary career, and three for the most important item that I won't spoil. The very essence of the books is so clearly shown, almost telling the reader that these are not lighthearted fantasy books (They really aren't), and that a dark tale (Very dark) lies beneath each albeit beautiful cover. With these covers, the reader can be under no false pretence of what the books entail.

I also love the detail of the lead characters trapped in the bottles, emphasising how they are almost bound, in one way or another, to these mystical properties around them, and also the fight they must endure to break free and win the war they are inherently part of. On further inspection I also realised the covers 'reveal' the main protagonist of each story.

Book two is Errin's story, shown by the girl being dark haired and surrounded by plant life, while 1 and 3 (though Errin does feature heavily in 3) are Twylla's, shown by her red hair and the streaks (1) and drops (3) of blood surrounding her. I thought that was a pretty cool way of keying the audience into each book's main POV.

I also love the colours used, both in the choice of colour but also their vibrancy. To me, the green of book 1 signifies poison, which the book utilises quite heavily, while the blue of 2 signifies blue sky - the parting of clouds - and therefore perhaps hope? Finally the gold-yellow of three signifies not just loyalty (As in Queen) but also victory. The vibrancy also highlights the rich story, world and prose beneath.

Lastly I love the font used for the titles, a rich cursive that I think represents the fantasy genre and 'royalty' aspects of the series, but also in the masterful stroke of each letter represents the equally masterful storytelling each book contains.

If you haven't read The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy, I really do urge you to do so.

As always, thanks for reading. I do hope you enjoyed my thoughts on these covers. Do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter with any thoughts.

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Saturday Series: YALC - My Reading List

Today for Saturday Series I'm still writing about YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention held in London at the end of July, and in this post I'm bringing you my reading list. These are the books by authors attending that I'm hoping to read in the next five weeks. Fingers crossed I get through them.

Genuine Fraud (E Lockhart)
Beautiful Broken Things (Barnard)
Riverkeep (Stewart)
Archived/Unbound (Schwab)
Rebel of the Sands (Hamilton)
Lorali (Dockrill)
The Graces (Eve)
The Rest of Us (Ness)
The Bone Season (Shannon)
Gilded Cage (Vic James)
7 Days of You (Vinesse)
Becoming Betty (Wood)
The Falconer (May)
Witches Kiss (Corr)
Truth or Dare (Pratt)
The Battlemage (Matharu)
Ariadnis (Martin)
Lobsters/Freshers (Ivision/Ellen)

It's maybe a little long... Maybe? Tee hee.

If you've got a YALC reading list do let us know in the comments below or @ me on Twitter!

Thanks for reading!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Saturday Series: YALC - Why Go?

In the first of a new series of posts, I'm writing about the UK's only YA convention. I'm of course talking about YALC - the Young Adult Literature Convention. I am in no way affiliated with the event, I'm just an avid YA reader and lover who adores attending this event and wants to spread some knowledge for those who may be unsure about going or are nervous about attending for the first time. This will be the third time I've attended but the first time I'll be attending for the whole weekend, so these posts are just as much for me as they are for you! I do hope you enjoy them!

First up, why is it worth going?

With over 100 authors attending you'd be mad to miss out on all the inclusive signings, panels and group sessions running over the three days. This year they have former attendees and YA faves such as Melinda Salisbury, Taran Matharu and Victoria Schwab, plus debut authors like Chris Russell (Songs About a Girl) and Anna Day (The Fandom), as well as the incomparable Laini Taylor!

If you're still unsure, there's also the wonderful publishers attending; selling a wide range of books from their backlists, and maybe a few sneaky early copies too! They also run competitions throughout the weekend, give away fab swag, and have snazzy tote bags to boot. You might even spot an odd ARC competition or two.

Not to mention that any YALC entry ticket includes access to LFCC, the UK's largest comic convention. They've got so many media stars and artists attending its unbelievable. Personally I'll be there for Richard Dean Anderson and Christopher Judge, but there's sure to be someone for everyone.

Lastly and most importantly, you'll be surrounded by people with the same interests - people who understand. Who knows, you might even leave with a few new friends?

It's the book event of the year - a geeky spectacular - that should not be missed. I'll be there. Will you?

Thanks for reading! Be sure to pop back next week for my YALC TBR!

If you are attending do feel free to comment below and let us know who you're excited to meet. Or feel free to @ me on Twitter if you have any questions!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Monday, 8 May 2017

Review: Lois Lane - Double Down

Having absolutely loved the first book, I was absolutely ecstatic when it came to reading the second. Big thanks to Curious Fox Books for the review copy!

Lois Lane has settled in to her new school. She has friends, for maybe the first time in her life. She has a job that challenges her. And her friendship is growing with SmallvilleGuy, her online maybe-more-than-a-friend. But when her friend Maddy’s twin collapses in a part of town she never should’ve been in, Lois finds herself embroiled in a dangerous mystery that brings her closer to the dirty underbelly of Metropolis.

When the story begins Lois has found her flow in her new life in Metropolis. Fresh off her win and major article in book one, she's even more determined to make it as a reporter and to uncover the truth surrounding her own strange past. With help from her friends and online 'not-boyfriend' SmallvilleGuy, she moves even further in her journey to do so.

Once again I loved Lois and SmallvilleGuy's relationship. Bond expands on everything we saw in book one, pushing them that bit closer together. But this time there's danger looming when the site they hold so dear - the paranormal site that brought them together - becomes under threat. Together they must work together to save it, and to possibly uncover more about Lois' own experience, and I absolutely adored their scenes together.

In this book we learn a bit more about Maddy as Bond introduces her twin sister Melody, who has a problem only Lois and co can solve. Despite being twins they have nothing in common and argue more than they agree. But it's through the case, through trying to save Melody from the mess she's gotten involved in, that the two sisters bond. It was a wonderful storyline that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as it pulled James into it also. This dual storyline expands more on James and his family life, which I was very happy about as it softens a lot of his sharp edges and gives us a way to understand and sympathise with him and his personality a lot more. The storyline was - as with the first case - highly intriguing and full of a lot of twists and turns that constantly pull the reader one way and then the other. It honestly kept me glued to the page.

I am a huge fan of DC Comics and specifically of Lois so I am ecstatic with Bond's series so far and cannot wait to read the third book in the series, out this month! I do highly recommend it to any fan of comics or mystery, or anyone who simply wants an enjoyable read. This series is not to be missed!

As always thanks for reading, and do feel free to leave me a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Review: Fix You by Carrie Elks

This is another 2016 review title that I failed to get to last year, and I do apologise for that. It's not my typical read - being an adult romance - but it's one I nonetheless enjoyed. Thanks to Corvus for my copy of the book. I do hope you all enjoy my review.

You've found the one, but what if life has other plans?
London, 31st December 1999
At a party to toast the new millennium, Hanna meets Richard. He is a gorgeous, wealthy New Yorker. She is a self-assured, beautiful Londoner with no interest in clean-cut American men. They are from different worlds and have nothing in common... except for their instant - and mutual - attraction to one another.
As the clocks chime midnight it is a new year and the beginning of a wonderful romance.
New York, 12th May 2012
Hanna, the girl who broke Richard's heart, walks into his Wall Street office - and back into his life - to reveal an explosive secret.
He was sure they were meant to be together forever, but she broke his heart so completely the last time, can he find a way to let her mend the pieces?

Fix You is a story of broken hearts and the journey to healing. It's a tale of love, loss and lies, and one of hidden truths. It's a romance, yes, but it's also a drama that unfolds over many years.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the non-linear narrative, by which I mean a lot of it is told in flashbacks and not always in chronological order. This technique not only played out the drama well but also created a lot of mystery and intrigue as to how the story would progress and its possible outcomes. It was highly enjoyable.

The story itself was packed full of tension and drama, and I'd certainly read Hanna and Richard's tale again. Their chemistry was wonderful and I was certainly rooting for them with every turn of the page. The ending was wholly satisfying and left me with a warm flutter in my stomach, whilst being glad the 'villain' got their comeuppance.

Hanna was a wonderful main character who, despite her faults, faced her misgivings and came out on top. I understood her, and her motivation, despite not always agreeing with her, which with the non-linear narrative really kept me hooked to every page. It was wonderful to follow through her story to the end.

Carrie Elks is clearly and author who knows romance, and has a great deal of talent for writing it. I'll certainly be checking out the rest of her work.

As always thanks for reading, and do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

If you know me, you know how much I love Becky Albertalli's work, therefore I couldn't wait to pick up and read her latest as soon as it was released.

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back. 
There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. 

Upside tells the story of Molly (The cousin of Abby from Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda) who overthinks and overanalyses to the point where she has a long list of crushes, but a non-existent one in terms of boyfriends. It's only when her twin sister, Cassie, gets a new girlfriend and - by extension - introduces Molly to Will that things start to get interesting. I'll be honest that I saw a lot of myself in Molly and that's one of the reasons I loved her so much. I too way overthink everything so it was nice to feel not so alone. I also loved her strength and tenacity, her determination to reach her goal. I also loved her body positivity. She may have felt shy or socially anxious but she never once used her weight as a reason to change. As Becky herself has pointed out, she doesn't lose anything. She is totally positive, true to herself, and I think that's a wonderful thing. As someone who could be deemed 'overweight', the body positivity reinforced in the story is just wonderful.

Cassie was a wonderful character also. I loved her relationship with Molly as well as her interactions with the other characters. She's strong and knows what she wants in life, but I also loved that she had her own moments of weakness which only built her character and strength further.

Will was a lovely character to play against Molly, a cheeky guy who knows how to have a good time. My favourite character however was Reid who was so adorably geeky and shy that I actually saw most of myself in him. Reid is quite easily me in another universe, and I just loved how his character played out and his own chemistry with Molly.

As always though one of the things I love most about Becky's books is her commitment to diversity and representation. Like Simon, Upside features a wonderfully diverse cast, and personally I loved the LGBT elements of the books. Cassie herself is a lesbian, while her and Molly's mothers are Lesbian and Bisexual themselves. Cassie's girlfriend is also pansexual. It's wonderfully refreshing to see accurate representation in YA which can sometimes be hard to find.

Overall The Upside of Unrequited was a story I absolutely enjoyed, loved and admired. I almost sobbed when I finished it, it was that good. I absolutely urge everyone to read it, award it a more than well deserved 5 stars, and cannot wait for the next instalment.

Have you read Upside? What did you think?

As always thanks for reading and do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Monday, 1 May 2017

ARC Review: Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

I absolutely adored this book. 100% truly adored it. Thoughtful representation of LGBT+ sexualities wrapped up in a thought provoking yet entertaining story that also tackles issues of feminism and gender equality. Big thanks to ACBYA for the ARC.

It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theatre world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight.

Then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped ... revered ... all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

Jordan/Julian was a wonderful main character for so many reasons. Within the first few chapters she's presented with a seemingly impossible challenge and yet she comes up with an ingenious solution. Her last chance to chase what she wants. To chase her dreams. But it's not at all an easy road. In disguising herself as a boy, Jordan discovers things about the world she'd seemingly before never given a lot of thought to. I'll speak more about representation below, but I loved how the author was very sensitive of the character's situation, in respect of the LGBT community. The character notes how uncomfortable the situation is, even if it's her last hope, and how she feels she may be 'stepping on the toes of' transgender people and their identity. I can't speak from personal experience in this matter, but I did feel as if the author had researched and used sensitivity readers, and was aware to not offend/hurt (or at least try to) any of her readers. So far, I've seen no reviews or comments to the contrary.

Isaac was an adorable, if not a little cocky, character, who was sensitive and understanding where needed. His own past and trauma shaped his character in a way where he could be understood by and in turn understand Jordan. I would have liked a little more in the way of their interactions about their family lives, but I loved the chemistry none the less.

Trav too was a wonderful character, and quite possibly my favourite. I saw a lot of myself in Trav - his anxiety and perfectionism, and sometimes brash attitude. He has a lot on his plate but he deals with it so maturely. His story didn't seem to get a final resolution, though I was still happy enough with the end, but I would have liked to see him achieve the personal recognition he deserved.

The other characters were also well thought out, though again the ending seemed a little rushed in terms of resolution. Some of the relationships were hinted at but never resolved, which I would have liked to see.

The story was magnificent. Hooking me to the very first page with Jordan's situation, yet then keeping me hooked with so many twists and turns and the wonderful cast of characters, it truly was a joy to read, especially for a musical theatre fan such as myself.

I want to give special mention to the representation, sensitivity and other aspects of the book that I thought were well executed. As mentioned above there is a fair amount of indirect transexual representation, which 'impersonally' seemed to be sensitive and thought provoking, though I do think it would have been good for the author to have actually included a few trans characters. There's also Bi representation, which personally was wonderful to see. Some of the character's comments did seem a little off hand at first but it quickly becomes apparent that she is discovering her own sexuality and is unsure how she feels or how she is meant to feel. Finally I loved the section of the book where Jordan is unfortunately surprised by her period and has to struggle through it disguised as a boy. Not the easiest thing to deal with!

Overall this was a wonderful, entertaining book with a lot of thought provoking aspects and positive LGBT and female representation. I would urge everyone to read it and award it four stars.

As always, thanks for reading and do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Saturday, 29 April 2017

ARC Review: How to Stage a Catastrophe by Rebecca Donnelly

The wonderful team at Curious Fox Books sent me a copy of How to Stage a Catastrophe in exchange for an honest review, and I thank them as I wholly enjoyed it. My review is however not influenced and is my own opinion.

The Juicebox Theater is Sid’s favorite place in the whole world. He can’t let it close. When regular fundraisers don’t work, his entrepreneurial best friend Folly steps in. With help from a couple of other theater kids, they come up with a plan that isn’t exactly extortion but might just be a total catastrophe.

As soon as I heard about this book I knew I needed to read it. As a lover of musical theatre I couldn't wait to read it, so I cracked open the spine not long after it arrived. I certainly wasn't dissapointed.
Sidney is our hero, the director of this play. He's curious and creative, and loves being at The Juicebox Theatre, so it's no wonder that he does his best to save it from closure. He sets up and narrates this wonderful tale but does so in a personal, often hilarious manner that really pulls the reader in. We're rooting for him, wanting him to win, as we follow him through the story.

Folly is Sydney's best friend, and - in play terms - the joker of the tale. A business man of sorts, it's actually his actions that drive a lot of the tale forward, whilst also providing a lot of the tale's humor. He was a wonderful character and probably my favourite simply for his one liners and anecdotes from the mind of his hero Zap Zapper.

May is Sydney's sister and is a sort of antagonistic force driving Sydney and Folly further forward, but in a good way. She has her own storyline which I won't spoil (it's part of the mystery!) but she too was a wonderful character.

The story was hectic and exciting, twists and turns pulling in every which way. A few times I did wonder how the resolution was going to play out and I was pleasantly surprised. It was certainly an enjoyable read that I recommend to anyone who enjoys theatre. 5 stars!

As always feel free to leave me a comment below, or @ me on Twitter, and thanks for reading!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

ARC Review: Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Have you ever wanted to read a book that is so powerful, so engaging, that by the time you turn that last page and close the back cover, you're dizzy and restless? If so, then this is that book. Big thanks to Hodder for the ARC.

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever. What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving? The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

Strange the Dreamer was a whirlwind of adventure and intrigue that left me grasping for more as it ended. A story of epic proportions combined with beautiful imagery, it was simply amazing. But then, what else did we expect from Laini Taylor?

Weep was a gorgeous setting for the story, and Laini described it in such a way that really made me feel like I was there. The imagery was so vivid and intense it was like watching it on the screen (but of course better) and it hooked me right to every single page. Laini's writing style is truly a gift.

Lazlo was an amazing hero and I really don't see how anyone could not root for him. A true dreamer, he has such a wonderful imagination that also really pulls you into the story, delivering a tale of hope and dreams, but also a tale of wonder and discovery as Lazlo finds out who he is and where he belongs. His strength and courage were unmatched and his desire to save those he cared for was inspiring. A true hero for the history books.

Sarai was my favourite character for so many reasons. Her strength and courage to were fierce but more so was her ability to love and to forgive. Her journey through the story brought tears to my eyes and I'm so excited to see where she goes and what happens next.

The other characters were also fabulous, each in their own way. Eril-Fane and Thyon especially were wonderful as warrior and nemesis, respectively, but what I loved was that they each had their own reasoning and motivation behind their actions, both of which could be understood and sympathized with.
The story as I say was a whirlwind, and I am so excited for the next book. I can scarcely wait. Strange the Dreamer is an epic 5* read and I really do urge everyone to pick it up if they get chance. I'm sure you won't regret it.

As always thanks for reading, and do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Sunday, 23 April 2017

ARC Review: The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop

I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of this golden nugget of MG fiction from the wonderful team at Scholastic, for which they have my thanks. My review is however in no way influenced, and I do hope you enjoy it.

This story is about a little girl named Property Jones, so-called because she was left in the lost property cupboard of a bookshop when she was five years old. Property loves living in the bookshop, but she has a whopper of a secret... she can't actually read! So Property doesn't see the newspaper article announcing the chance to win the Montgomery Book Emporium, the biggest and most magnificent bookshop in the world! When her family win the competition, Property finds herself moving to the Emporium, a magical place filled with floor upon floor of books and a very bad-tempered cat. But all is not at it seems at the Emporium and soon Property Jones finds herself in a whole heap of trouble.

Property Jones lives in a bookstore. If that simple sentence doesn't make you want to read it, then I'm not sure what will. After all, isn't that every bookworm's dream? She got her name from being placed by her adopted brother in the lost property cupboard years ago. Now she, her brother, and their mother live in the bookstore they own, where they work, but they're struggling to make ends meet.. Help seems to come from an unlikely source when they win the world famous Montgomery book emporium in a competition, but since when is anything that easy? The adventure that unfolds before them is equal parts perilous as it is enchanting.

What I loved most about The Bookshop Girl was the setting. As I said before it's pretty much every bookworm's dream to live in a bookstore, but Bishop takes our imagination and fantasy to a whole new level with the emporium. Akin to something from a Rohl Dahl tale, the emporium is almost the book version of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, It's amazing, and the wondrous descriptions only make it easier to picture this wonderland in your mind's eye. Set in London I also really feel the author captured the hubbub and bustle of the famed capital, grounding the story with a firm realism so that it's almost like the events depicted could happen to any of us.

What I've seen of the illustrations (They weren't included with the proof) enhance the story that much further. Bright and bold they depict this wonderful fantasy in a manner so beautiful, for children and adults alike, whilst still leaving room for our own imagination.

Most importantly however was property, who was an amazing heroine to follow. Bright, strong and fearless, she defied the odds and showed just how much she would do and how far as she would go for her family. She overcame overwhelming challenges for a young person to face, and came out on top better for it. She faced her own fears and insecurities, proving not only her strength but just how much family means to all of us, and how much we can rely and count on them. Her story was a joy to follow and was one that will resonate with people of all ages.

Lastly I'd like to make a note of the author's portrayal of Property's illiteracy. She dealt with the subject in a sensitive, educational manner, all whilst showing the impact of familial support in both physical and emotional development.

The Bookshop Girl is a 5* read I would recommend to everyone, but especially to Middle Grade ages which are the book's intended audience. Powerful and educational in many ways, including in the importance of books themselves, whilst still wholly entertaining, it was a wonderful read. I cannot wait to see what the author produces next.

Have you read The Bookshop Girl? As always feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter, and thanks for reading!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Friday, 21 April 2017

ARC Review: The Island At The End Of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Like The Girl of Ink and Stars, The Island at the End of Everything is another stand alone MG novel from the wonderful Kiran Millwood Hargrave. Big thanks to Jazz Bartlett and Chicken House Books for the review copy, though this in no way affects my review. Minor spoiler below in relation to a sensitivity issue I felt needed to be raised, but other than that this review is spoiler free. I hope you enjoy it.

Amihan lives on Culion Island, where some of the inhabitants - including her mother - have leprosy. Ami loves her home - with its blue seas and lush forests, Culion is all she has ever known. But the arrival of malicious government official Mr Zamora changes her world forever: islanders untouched by sickness are forced to leave. Banished across the sea, she's desperate to return, and finds a strange and fragile hope in a colony of butterflies. Can they lead her home before it's too late?

The Island at the End of Everything is very much Amman's book. It is her story and her drive that pushes each scene forward, the force behind the action. That said, underlying Ami's story - what essentially drives her - is the main theme of the story, and its key messages.

Acceptance. Respect. Care. Love. Family. Kindness. Friendship.

Essentially, this book is about accepting the differences between us all, whatever they may be, and treating each other as we wish to be treated. It is a universally important message, one that should be adopted by everyone, but the author writes in such a way that the message is not 'preaching' or 'cloying'. It is simply there, and it is beautiful. Furthermore the book educates the wider population about an affliction that affected so many people but is not known in such detail by all, myself included. Again this is not done in an overaggressive way though, as if it were nonfiction, it is simply a part of the story; a tale which educates.

The author's writing is wondrous, crafting an engaging tale whilst subconsciously educating. She crafts a rich, vibrant world that pulls you in and refuses to let go, for which some of the visual images described are simply incredible. It was a world I never wanted to leave. Magical in every way.

Ami was a wonderful main character to follow. Her strength in adversity from the very first page was inspiring, right until the last. The friends she made were equally as powerful, in their own right, but it was Ami's courage that kept me hooked.

The ending meanwhile was beautifully written, bringing a tear to my eye, but that's all I'll say about that.

In essence, it is a beautiful tale that intrigues, inspires and informs.

My only point for review (it's not really a negative, more a disagreement) would be regarding two sections of dialogue, in the last few pages of the book, regarding the 'villain' character Mr Zamora. Minor spoilers below, and possible triggering discussion.

Throughout the book Mr Zamora is shown to have a severe dislike of Culion's inhabitants, the Touched and their families, stemming from a need to stay clean. It is apparent to be so severe that in one scene he scrubs his hands raw until they bleed. In my opinion he exhibits some symptoms of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, though symptoms can vary); a mental health disorder which can range from mild to severe in those who suffer from it. I'm not going to go into the hows and whys too much, but it is a misunderstood condition that is often made light of, to the detriment of those who suffer from it.

In the closing pages of the book Ami notes:

"By all accounts he lived in a prison of his own making in the end. His sickness got worse and worse - it was punishment enough I think." - Page 234.

"He did not have a life even a quarter as good as mine had already been." - Page 234.

As someone who suffers from OCD, I found both sections of dialogue hurtful. While I can understand the character's position, and therefore author's intention, and certainly do not condone Mr Zamora's actions, I found the choice of words somewhat insensitive. I understand that the character is insinuating that Mr Zamora felt the consequences of his actions more clearly than anyone else  could have caused, that he atoned for them despite the heroes being unable to bring him to justice, therefore providing a sense of closure to the story, but I do think it could have been worded better. To have his condition, and therefore perhaps OCD, referred to as a 'prison', 'sickness' and 'punishment' and to have it insinuated that the character didn't lead a full life because of his affliction, is hurtful, especially when reading a book where the key messages are compassion and an acceptance of difference.

That said, I have seen no similar discussion so I may be the only one who feels this way. This is, as with all reviews, my opinion. Having spoken gratefully with the author via Twitter, she has explained that while it may seem similar to OCD, Mr Zamora actually suffers from mysophobia, which she too suffered from. The choice of words are personal to how she felt though she understands how they could be seen as hurtful. It's a genuine misunderstanding, a difference in interpretation, and was never meant to be seen as damaging. You can find the full thread from this morning here, and I'm so grateful to Kiran for explaining and understanding; she truly is a wonderful author and human being.

I still award The Island at the End of Everything a 4* rating, as everything else was wonderful. Marvellous. Breathtaking. Kiran Millwood Hargrave is a wonderfully talented writer and I am excited to see what she brings out next.

Thanks for reading my review, and as always do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: Newsies - The Broadway Movie

I love musical theatre. I love the swell of voices, the stomp of feet, the rhythm that builds to a crescendo. I love musicals that whisk me away and don't let go until the curtain falls, and Newsies was just that.

Set in New York City at the turn of the century and based on a true story, Newsies is the rousing tale of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy and leader of a ragged band of teenaged 'newsies,' who dreams only of a better life far from the hardship of the streets. But when publishing titans Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst raise distribution prices at the newsboys' expense, Jack finds a cause to fight for and rallies newsies from across the city to strike and take a stand for what's right.

One Sunday in February I got the opportunity to see the filmed Broadway show of Newsies, staring original cast members Jeremy Jordan, Kara Lindsay, Ben Fankhauser and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, in the cinema. Simply put, it was incredible.

The show itself is a rousing story with riveting numbers that nearly almost had me on my feet in the cinema, dancing along. The story is powerful, moving and really tells a story that can easily be translated into situations today. Newsies is a story of power under adversity, wholly relatable, and yet is fun and engaging at the same time. It is a show that both teaches and entertains.

The production itself is mesmerising, with only 5 or 6 main set-pieces that are moved and moulded to fit each scene so efficiently it's as if they're dancing themselves. It truly makes you feel like you're in New York, and with no fade outs between scenes, effortlessly keeps you engaged in the story.

The actual dancers meanwhile are simply phenomenal. Quite clearly some of the best in the world, their talent and dedication is clear to see and a joy to behold. They give the story an undeniable pulse and weave the scenes together seamlessly with such ease and grace.

The soundtrack being composed by Alan Menken was always going to be phenomenal, but I was surprised how so. Raw, passionate ballads such as Santa Fe mixed so easily with the broad strong chorus numbers (The World Will Know) to balance so beautifully. Newsies is certainly a treat for the ears as well as the eyes; no mean feat and certainly punctuated by the wonderful vocals of the chorus but - moreover - the main cast.

Kara Lindsay was a new talent to me, but her voice is phenomenal. Though I loved her character Katherine's duets with Jeremy Jordan's Jack, it was her solo (Watch What Happens) that really proved her talent on-screen.

Ben Fankhauser and Andrew Keenan-Bolger were also new voices, but they add such a wonderful dynamic to the cast in both character and their unique vocals. Fankhauser shone in 'Seize the Day' while Bolger's new (Not on the original Broadway cast recording) solo 'Letter from the Refuge' brought tears to my eyes.

The voice that was most surprising and delightful however was the one belonging to Jeremy Jordan. Being a fan of Supergirl he was not a new talent to me and was partially how I found out about the movie, but if you've seen Supergirl you may agree that Jordan's Winn doesn't look like he could burst into song. To suddenly realise Jordan's musical background and see him singing was as I say surprising, but he is not only a phenomenal actor but singer too. His raw, passionate portrayal of Jack was wholly engaging, while his voice only succeed in drawing the audience in further. His rendition of Santa Fe was unyielding in ferocity and emotion, his New York dialect flawless. It's pretty obvious why he was nominated for a Tony in 2012 for the role, just as it's obvious why Newsies itself won the Tony for Best Choreography that year.

Simply put, the show is flawless.

If you haven't seen Newsies I really do urge you to watch it if/when it comes out on download/DVD. A highly recommended 5* evening of pure entertainment.

As always, thanks for reading and do feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Monday, 10 April 2017

Review: Lois Lane Fallout by Gwenda Bond

I bought this book a while ago, being a huge fan of Lois Lane, but it was only when Curious Fox Books kindly sent me book two - Double Down - to review that I got around to reading it. Wow. Don't I wish I'd read it sooner? The start to a fabulous series that really does Lois justice. I hope you enjoy my review.

Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over—and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won’t be that easy. A group known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They’re messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it’s all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy.

The story starts with Lois being forced to attend yet another new school by her father General Lane. We quite quickly see a rebellious streak in Lois that, if you go by portrayals such as in Lois & Clark, we're unused to. For me though I enjoyed her rebellious nature as it brought another side to this already strong character. Lois tames her flame - though only slightly - and turns it to more productive uses however when Perry White visits and states he wants her on his team of reporters.

From there, the story picks up a lot of speed. Lois uncovers a dastardly plot in one of the school's classes and vows to save her new friend from its wicked claws. If she makes the front page at the same time, all the better.

I loved Lois' vivacity and fire, her strength in the face of danger, and her determination to do the right thing. I loved her friends, each one so well crafted to not only compliment the story but to compliment Lois herself. They all punctuated a vibrant world full of capers - and quite possibly aliens - and simply made each and every page.

Bond's writing was flawless, capturing Lois' spirit and yet making her her own. If I didn't love Lois before, I would now. As it is, I love her even more. Fallout is definitely a 5* read I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of Lois, comics, or just a wonderfully strong female MC.

Have you read Fallout? As always do feel free to leave me a comment below or @ me on Twitter, and thanks for reading!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

10 Reasons to Read Lois Lane

In anticipation of the release of Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond, published by Curious Fox Books and Switch Press, I thought I'd highlight my Top Ten Reasons for reading the first two books; Fallout and Double Down. I hope you enjoy. My thanks to Curious Fox for Double Down and I cannot wait for Triple Threat.

1) Lois Lane - Such an iconic, powerful female character. Need I say more?

2) Lois in high school - What's the worst that could happen?

3) General Lane - Cracking down on Lois' 'trouble making' habits, even her father is a formidable foe.

4) Clark on IM - What could be cuter? Especially with pictures of baby calf Nelly Bly.

5) Secret (Or not so) Identities - SmallvilleGuy and SkepticGirl1. Truth's going to win out, right?

6) Creepy Capers - Mind controlling games, clones, and UFO sightings. Lois and co have their work cut out.

7) Teen Reporting - What's better than teen reporting in the basement of the planet? Especially if Lois cracks her front page story.

8) Perry - And who could be a better boss for the future reporters in training?

9) Lois is bad-ass - We all know this, but it's definitely worth mentioning.

10) Gwenda Bond - A talented author who takes Lois to a whole new level. What could be better?

Have you read Fallout and Double Down? As always, do feel free to leave me a comment below, or @ me on Twitter, and thanks for reading!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Monday, 27 March 2017

Review: How To Stuff Up Christmas by Rosie Blake

Okay so this is actually a review book from Christmas 2015 and I totally apologise to both publisher and author for my extreme lateness. I wasn't feeling very Christmassy that season, and 2016 was honestly a bad year for which I'm now just trying to catch up on my reviewing. It may be late but I do hope you enjoy my review of this gorgeous 5 star book.

'Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you've found an intimate picture of another woman on your fiance's phone... 
Eve is heartbroken after discovering her fiance is cheating on her. Being surrounded by the joys of Christmas is more than Eve can bear, so she chooses to avoid the festivities by spending Christmas alone on a houseboat in Pangbourne. Eve gets an unexpected seasonal surprise when handsome local vet Greg comes to her rescue one day, and continues to visit Eve's boat on a mission to transform her from Kitchen Disaster Zone to Culinary Queen. 
But where does Greg keep disappearing to? What does Eve's best friend Daisy know that she isn't telling? And why is there an angry goose stalking Eve's boat?

This book was perfect in so many ways. For one it features a strong female lead who may or may not know what she wants but does know she can get it. Though a part of her does feel anxiety at the prospect of her new single life - and though her temporary move is part of her 'running away' - she nonetheless faces her doubts and carves a new life for herself amongst the lush countryside. Though she may occasionally stumble, she faces many challenges head on and comes out stronger in the end. Eve was a perfect heroine to follow and I loved her journey.

Second, the book had the perfect amount of romance and drama. Neither was too heavy, allowing Eve's character to shine throughout, but the drama worked well in pushing the narrative along, even creating an air of mystery around Greg and around who Eve's ex fiancé cheated on her with. The dual POV's also heightened the drama in an entertaining way, showing the truth to scenes where one character may have 'gotten the wrong end of the stick' so to speak. The romance was swoon-worthy - a true Christmas treat - without overpowering Eve's progress and strength as an independent woman.

The Christmas elements - specifically the setting - were absolutely gorgeous, and my favourite part was the little Christmas market Greg and Eve enjoy, as I honestly love attending myself. Despite not feeling wholly jovial, the book succeeded in bringing out my seasonal joy.

Last but not least, it was funny - almost crazy at times, in a way that makes you laugh out loud. I won't spoil anything, but lets just say I won't ever look at geese in the same way again. Also Marmite, who is probably the best fictional dog you'll ever meet.

How To Stuff Up Christmas was a fabulous seasonal read by an equally fabulous author, and one I do highly recommend. I'll definitely be re-reading next December, for sure.

As always, thanks for reading, and do feel free to leave me a comment below or @ me on Twitter.

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Monday, 20 March 2017

Event Recap: What Makes A Girl Strong?

On January 31st I was able to see four amazing authors at the Waterstones in Liverpool 1; Melinda Salisbury, Catherine Doyle, Katherine Webber and Sara Barnard. It was an amazing event and I hope you enjoy my recap of it.

The theme of the evening was 'what makes a gets strong?' and being that these authors have all written amazing books with strong, central female characters, it was obviously going to be an intense evening. With a mostly female audience, these four authors spoke about their writing process, personal quirks and - of course - what typifies great female characters in YA.

One of my favourite questions of the night was how each of the authors got into writing and I personally loved Cat Doyle's response. She told us hat she had always wanted to write but didn't think it was something she could pursue but it was thanks to her mum asking Cat to join her on a writing course, masquerading it as something she wanted to do, that really got her started. I thought it was great partly because it shows to me that being strong isn't always about taking a leap, it's sometimes being strong enough to accept help when and where it's due.

My favourite moment of the night of course belonged to Melinda Salisbury who recalled us with the tale of how The Sin Eater's Daughter came to be, with her singing in the shower and then being horrified of the prospect of being forced to sing day in and day out, as well as her research - slash - fascination of Sin Eating. Thus a star trilogy was born.

I also adored meeting all four during the signing afterwards. Though it was of course my fourth time meeting Mel, it was just a pleasure as always. I had been lucky enough to buy an early copy of The Scarecrow Queen (Review here) that night which she was happy to sign, and I got a hug before I - as always - rambled about how much I love her books.

Meeting Cat Doyle for the first time was a dream. I was heartened that she knew me from Twitter but also that I finally got the chance to tell her in person how much I loved her books and - more importantly - how much I love Gino. She was so lovely, and is a fellow Ravenclaw! You can find my review of her latest book, Mafiosa, here.

I also got to meet Sara Barnard and Katherine Webber for the first time, and they were both so amazing. Sara's A Quiet Kind of Thunder has helped so much with my own anxiety, and I was able to get a trainer-selfie with Katherine which was so neat.

Overall it was a fabulous evening and one I shall not soon forget. Thanks team at Waterstones Liverpool 1 and of course the lovely authors!

Thanks for reading, and as always feel free to leave a comment below or @ me on Twitter!

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Sunday, 19 March 2017

ARC Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

I am a huge fan of fairytale retellings and Heartless was no exception. Big thanks to the team at MyKindaBook and MacMillan for the ARC, and I hope you enjoy my review!

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.

Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

The story of Heartless follows Cath, daughter of the Marquess of Rock Turtle Cove, who is to marry the King of Hearts. Yet the King is a silly fool in a court that is even worse. Cath has no desire to marry him, and then Jest comes along, and everything changes.

Cath was a fantastic heroine - as Meyer's MC's always have been - but what I loved most was her tenacity and vivaciousness. Her desire to hold on to her dream, despite all the challenges, was a true inspiration anyone could and should learn from. I loved the cheeky and mysterious Jest, whose presence was ever a joy, and whose slow burn romance with Cath was to aspire to. Definitely another addition to the list of book boyfriends.

I especially loved the other characters who populated this world, from Hatter and Haigha to turtle and the lion, who all brought a true life to the world and filled it with so much joy and love. Each one was carefully crafted, that I could see.

I loved the characters that populated this fantastical world, but it was the world itself that consistently held my attention. Elements taken from the original book have been spun and woven into an original masterpiece that harks back to Lewis Carroll's tale but more than holds its own. Mystical, magical, Meyer holds your attention from the very first page and refuses to let go until the last, immersing you in a world you almost feel you belong in, making it all the more difficult to close that back cover. It was truly a joy to experience.

My only very minor disappointment was that I could see the final twist coming, though I'll admit it was still a sort of shock when I finally read it. Overall Heartless was a wonderful, exciting retelling that had me happily turning page after page, laughing and crying with the characters, before finally letting it close with a satisfied sigh. A highly recommended 4* read.

What are your thoughts on Heartless? Is it in your TBR? As always let me know in the comments below or @ me on Twitter, and thanks for reading.

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Interview With The Author: Moondust's Gemma Fowler

Today I have a very special post to share with you all. It's one I'm very excited about and that I absolutely loved arranging, for a book I adored. Today I am thankful to be able to bring you an interview with debut author Gemma Fowler, regarding her first novel, Moondust. I really do hope you enjoy it.

A miracle energy source, Lumite, has been discovered on the moon. The dark days of future Earth - torn apart by war and energy crisis - finally appear to be over. Aggie is the violet-eyed poster girl for the mining company, Lunar Inc, persuaded to campaign for a hopeful new future. But a chance meeting with one of the prisoner-miners, the darkly attractive Danny, changes her mind about everything she knows about her world ...

Gemma Fowler is the author of Moondust, out now, priced £6.99.

Find out more about Moondust here or follow Gemma on Twitter.

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. When you're not writing, what books do you like to read? Any favourites? 

When it comes to writing, I’m all about the future and space, but my favourite books to read are always in the fantasy genre. Robin Hobb is my number one, followed very closely by Neil Gaiman (American Gods is my all time favourite book). Their worlds are so rich I never want to leave them. I’ve missed more tube stops because of those two than I can count!

2) When did you know you wanted to be an author?

It was a dream ever since I was at school, but back then the idea of writing something as long as a novel just seemed impossible. I had loads of ideas and I wrote all the time, but I just didn’t have the patience to turn them into proper stories. I also think I hadn’t had the right idea yet, I was desperate to write a fantasy story, but I couldn’t ever think of anything original. 

3) How did the story of Moondust come to be? From where did you draw your inspiration or research?

I had an idea about a world without power, where a tech dependent society had to learn to survive in the darkness. It kind of all spiraled out of control from there!

I have this theory that a good idea never leaves you alone. Moondust was nagging me in the back of my mind for months before I did anything about it. I had a setting, I had an ending, and I had a girl with red hair and violet eyes, the rest came out slowly over about 7 years.

4) I would say that the main message in Moondust is really about the environment; about not taking the earth (or moon) for granted. Would you say that was the main message you wanted to get across to readers? Is it something you're personally passionate about?

I think it’s really good that people are taking that message out of the book.
It’s definitely something I wanted to get readers thinking about. I love exploring the moral challenges the future poses to us all, as individuals and as a planet. Technology is wonderful and exciting and liberating, but we need to be prepared for the effects that it’ll have on us as a society and as a planet.

5) Who is your favorite character? Or, if that's too hard, what was your favorite scene or element to write?

Oh wow, how can you choose between your characters! Obviously Aggie’s my girl, I see the world of the United Earth through her (violet) eyes. Danny is based on every crush and imaginary boyfriend I dreamt up when I was a teenager, and Seb is the guyfriend I wish I’d hung out with. Basically I love them all, though Celeste, the AI, was probably the most interesting character to write.

I love a bit of world building. Before I think of anything else, I think of the way the world feels, to me and to the characters. The United Earth and the Lunar Inc. base always felt bright and colourful, despite being in space. I would always start with that feeling when I was writing a new scene, and it would always lead me to interesting new ideas and places.

6) The book features quite varied 'space-food'. Where did the inspiration for these come from, and what's your favorite flavor of frozen custard?

I’m passionate about snacks. It obviously shows! I think snacks and food in general are a great insight into a society. On the Lunar Inc. base, the food is abundant and varied, but ultimately quite fake and false.

When I was at school (in the olden days before the internet) there was a trend for freeze-dried ‘space food’ that came in silver packets. I think they still sell them in the Science Museum. I always thought the idea of something rehydrating in your mouth was kind of cool!

Frozen custard is a real thing! I tried it when I drove Route 66 with my boyfriend a few years ago and it blew my mind. They served it to us upside down, to prove how thick the mixture was, it felt kind of spacey and strange and I knew I had to get it into the book!

My favourite flavor would be Chocolate Meteor Mudslide (triple choc custard with cookie dough meteor’s mixed in), and maybe a drizzle of salted caramel sauce! Heaven!

7) Describe the book in one word, and yourself in one word.

Colourful and colourful. Ha!

A big thank you goes out to Gemma for answering all of my questions and her fabulous answers. I also want to thank Jasmine Bartlett for allowing me to take part in the promotion for Moondust, for arranging this interview, and also to her and Chicken House Books for the lovely ARC of Moondust; I truly adored it. You can find more about Gemma and Moondust here, or visit the Chicken House Books website here.

Please do feel free to comment below or @ me on Twitter with any comments or thoughts you have about the interview or Moondust, and as always thank you for reading.

Holly @The_Arts_Shelf