Author Helen Scheuerer Q&A: “I’m 27, and I still love YA.”

Helen Scheuerer is the founding editor of Writer’s Edit and the author of Heart of Mist, out now! Heart of Mist is the first book in The Oremere Chronicles, an epic fantasy series from new imprint, Talem Press. You can find Heart of Mist on Amazon and Goodreads.


First off, a big congratulations to Helen on her debut! Heart of Mist is a fantastic book (you can read my starred review here) and I had the honour of interviewing Helen about her writing. We discuss the nitty gritty of her strong female characters, her inspiration for Heart of Mist, and what it means to be a YA author.

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Where did you find inspiration for strong female characters? 

Before Heart of Mist, I had a contract with a small publisher for a literary fiction novel. I think that novel was very much shaped by my creative writing degree where we were reading a lot of “serious” literature. The common theme in this literature was it was written by men about men from men’s perspectives.

From that, I fell into a rabbit hole where I thought “serious” literature had to be about men and if it was from a women’s perspective, it would be perceived as “chick-lit” or it wouldn’t be taken seriously. Which is why this literary fiction novel had parallel perspectives of a young boy and a man.

It was during the structural edits of this book that I started reading YA fantasy again, books like Throne of Glass, The Winner’s Curse, and The Queen of the Tearling. What they all had in common was a main strong female protagonist who was kicking butt and being awesome. I loved reading these stories. I started asking myself, “Why aren’t I writing what I love reading?” I was sick of writing about men for men.  I want to have fun while I was writing. I wanted to reach an audience I was invested in – young adult women. I wanted to be taken seriously, especially as a female author.

Who are your top 5 favourite female characters? 

While these ladies are not all the stereotype of strong, they are all unique and brilliant in their own way. I believe that you shouldn’t want or have to strip away femininity in order to be ‘strong’. You can have both.

  • Delilah Bard from A Darker Shade of Magic
  • Laia from Ember in the Ashes
  • Aelin Ashryver Galathynius/Celaena Sardothien  from Throne of Glass
  • Claire Fraser from Outlander
  • Molly Weasley from Harry Potter 

I’d like to do a comparison between Bleak and Henrietta. With consideration on the word ‘strong’, how did you craft these two very different women? 

When it came to Henri and Bleak, I was wary of the female warrior trope being associated with masculinity, and I didn’t want to have a strong female character who was masculine. Bleak isn’t particularly feminine, but she’s not your typical idea of strong. One of her strengths is her battle with her alcohol addiction.

Initially, these characters came to me with certain traits and blurry faces. It was during the revisions of my first draft that they started to form into more wholesome characters. I created mood and character boards for them on Pinterest, and while I wrote one perspective, I’d have their board up on a second monitor. Their boards had physical attributes, as well as aesthetics to give me a feel of them.

I had this really strong feeling about Henri, like she was abrasive. She’s hard around the edges. In contrast, Bleak was murky. With my visual aids, it really helped in developing them. Her alcohol addiction is a big part of her, and it’s a huge thing for a young character to deal with. I had to consider the consequences and withdrawal symptoms, diving into research on alcoholism. It was really interesting, and I used a particular case to shape how Bleak handled her withdrawal.

I wanted them to be independent and not be seeking out the ‘other half’ to themselves. Each of them is a whole person, and while they’re both so different, they’re similar in their inner strengths.

What was your inspiration for the Valian? 

When I was in year 12, we studied the Spartan society and one thing that always stood out to me was the fact that if a child wasn’t strong enough it got left out to die. The whole point of this was to try and weed out the weak, but what they didn’t realise was strength came in different ways.

Of course, the Amazons also inspired the Valian, so in essence, the Valian are a mash-up of the Amazons and the Spartans. It’s a society of women, run by women, with an attitude of ‘take no prisoners’.  But I didn’t want to put it on a pedestal and say ‘this is a perfect society’.

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Helen’s novel, Heart of Mist.

Was the feminist tone throughout Heart of Mist intentional? 

Heart of Mist was a reaction of mine to a lot of conversations I was having when I was writing it, particularly with my girlfriends about how being a woman affects your everyday life differently to men. When you think about the subtle misogynistic things that women face on a daily basis, it’s incredibly difficult. So I suppose rather than intentional, it was just something that came naturally to the book.

What’s your opinion on sex in YA?

I don’t believe in glossing over stuff for young adults. It’s a time when young adults have a lot of firsts, so to have a book aimed at young adults about young adults for the most part and not include any sex, romance or feelings doesn’t do anybody any justice. I’m very much all for including those aspects in my writing. If a character presents those kinds of feelings then I’ll happily write about it.

Why do you want to write YA? 

All the books I’ve fallen head over heels for are in that genre. I also find the community to be so wonderful and great to be a part of. Everybody is supportive, everyone is talking and exploring. I’m 27 and I still love YA. Even though Heart of Mist is marketed as YA, everybody is welcome to enjoy the story.

Heart of Mist is the first book published from Talem Press, a fantasy imprint of Writer’s Edit. What’s really cool is Talem is latin for empower, which I think encompasses what I want a lot of our stories to be like. We want to be publishing works that empower young women. Give me more books about empowering young women. Reading about female experiences and talking about it with other people is what it’s about.


Helen is a YA fantasy author based in Sydney and has her own website here. She can also be found on Twitter and Instagram. You can purchase Heart of Mist from Talem Press or Amazon.

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Our Dark Duet // A Stunning Conclusion to the Duology

I picked up Our Dark Duet knowing I was in for a roller coaster.  This Savage Song was so exceptional and well-crafted that the sequel simply had to be equal, if not better. And I was not disappointed.

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab is a stunning and masterfully crafted narrative that left me breathless and gripping for the edge. This dark and brilliant tale has devastated me. I don’t know when I’ll be able to read another book.

Here’s how Victoria Schwab broke me.

The premise of monsters, both physical and mental, was incredible.

In a divided city ravaged by Corsai, Malachi and Sunai, it’s not just the monsters we are able to see that plague us. It’s the ones in our head as well, and I love how Schwab eloquently weaved the two together. The introduction of a new monster was thrilling and I loved how the creatures interacted with the world.

August Flynn and Kate Harker are my precious babies.

I won’t lie, I grew so attached to these two in This Savage Song and those fond feelings returned when I picked up Our Dark Duet. Six months isn’t a long time, but it drastically changes these two characters for different reasons and I enjoyed experiencing their growth. There are responsibilities and not enough time to contemplate how they will impact the humanity within them. I loved reading about these two equally: August and his struggle with embracing his dark self while questioning the human aspect of himself, and Kate growing stronger and deadlier with each monster she kills. They really are two amazing characters and it’s heartbreaking that this seems to be the last we’ll see of them.

The writing is dark, gritty and stunning.

There is a complexity to the world that Schwab has created, and while it’s never stated, it sits below the surface bubbling away. The monsters, the humans, the actions they take; it’s all wonderfully tied together and I did not imagine I would swept away so easily. Our Dark Duet makes you think about the line between monster and human, right and wrong, sinner and innocent, and what it truly means to be evil. The depth, the dark beauty and gritty details of Schwab’s writing simply needs to be experienced.

Basically, read this and feel the pain I am in now. 

 

Rating

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THE WORLD IS BREAKING. AND SO ARE THEY.

KATE HARKER isn’t afraid of monsters. She hunts them. And she’s good at it.

AUGUST FLYNN once yearned to be human. He has a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN.

THE MONSTERS ARE WINNING.

Kate will have to return to Verity. August will have to let her back in. And a new monster is waiting—one that feeds on chaos and brings out its victims’ inner demons.

Which will be harder to conquer: the monsters they face, or the monsters within?

{Goodreads}

Heart of Mist // A magical fantasy debut

I am a goddamn sucker for YA fantasy. It’s so much easier to read than epic fantasies and I can actually relax rather than crease the space between my brows for eternity. So when I picked up Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer, I didn’t put it down. There is a genuine magical quality that flutters from the pages and I was enchanted from the very beginning.

Here is why Heart of Mist is a must-read.

The characters are so realistic and incredibly written.

I absolutely hate it in fantasy when a hero/heroine seems to be unable to do no wrong. It’s different in Heart of Mist; they have flaws, problems, internal struggles and ambitions. While I adored Bleak and Henrietta’s sections, I found Dimitri’s perspective to be intriguing and unique to the story line. It’s also hard to pull off multiple perspectives, yet each character was given enough time to unravel themselves before us.

Also, I love how Bleak and Henrietta are strong female characters but with different versions of strong. What makes these characters so realistic is the fact their feminity is not stripped away to make way for their strength; it’s a part of them and they bring a new perspective to strong on the table.

The world-building is simply brilliant.

Despite not having a map when I read this (the map will be included in the official release), I wasn’t lost in regards to where the book was taking me. In terms of lore, history and magic, it’s clearly communicated how this world works with a little bit of mystery to keep your interest. The intricacy of the magic and political system was also fascinating.

You know it’s a good book when magic feels real.

I don’t know what it is about Helen’s writing, but everything felt immersive and magical. From the Valian keep to the castle to the sea, there is a quality to her writing that will have you hooked from the very beginning. The magic in this world is unqiue and I love how it plays a part in the protagonists’ lives in a multitude of ways.

Overall, Heart of Mist is captivating in its world-building and brilliant character development. Helen is a true master at weaving together magic, mystery, passion and politics in her standout debut.

Rating

 

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It is on sale now! Go and put this on your TBR!

 

 

#TheReadingQuest Sign Up Post & TBR

Hi everyone! I am so freaking excited because I’m signing up for #TheReadingQuest! This is a video-game based reading challenge created by Aentee @Read at Midnight and oh my lord, isn’t this just the best thing ever? The lovely graphics are done by the one and only CW @Read, Think, Ponder and what a fantastic job she’s done. I’m in love with her work.

The quest is running from August 13th to September 10th, which in all honesty isn’t a lot of time considering I’ve been reading at the pace of a sloth. But hey, I believe in myself.

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So without further ado, because I love to procrastinate, here is my TBR for #TheReadingQuest.

1. A book that has a TV/movie adaption

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For this I’m going with The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. After watching the TV series, I figured it’d be appropriate to read the book considering it’s so well regarded.

2. A fairy tale retelling

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I’ll be reading Scarlet by Marissa Meyer. This is the second book in the Lunar Chronicles and after reading Cinder last year, I feel like I need to give the series a chance and continue it.

3. A book with striking typography

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I mean, I have to read A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab. Just look at that typography.

4. A book translated from another language

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Since I don’t own too many, I’ll be reading The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I never finished it when I started it a few years ago, so it’ll be good to get back into it.

5. A banned book

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For this category I’ll be reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Side Quest: Grind

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I hope to read Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. The cover is stunning and I’ve heard such amazing things about it.

 

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo // A Down-to-Earth Retelling of The Monkey King

A demon invasion is no excuse for bad grades. 

^

This tagline speaks to me on a whole new level!

Welcome to another book review by moi and it will be on the one and only, The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C Yee. Genie Lo is a self-disciplined and rather tough Chinese American who is looking to finish high school and go to college when demons invade her quiet town. Now, she’s caught in a supernatural mess of fighting them off, training with the Monkey King, and conversing with ancient Chinese gods, which all seems to be ruining her chances of college prep.

I started this book with high expectations after hearing amazing things about it. It did not disappoint. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is incredibly funny, action-packed and you need to read this if you love Chinese folklore. It’s a modern retelling of Journey to the West set in contemporary society (which offers many moments of comedy in itself) and I feel like a lot of Chinese readers will thoroughly enjoy this. As a kid, I watched the live-action adaptions of Journey to the Westbut for those unfamiliar with the story there is enough explanation throughout the novel that will bring you up to speed in no time.

So, where do I even begin to describe how fantastic this book is?

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Genie Lo is the angry teen protagonist we need.

All Genie wants to is get into a prestigious college and ace her classes. She’s an overachiever, has a lot of spunk and is such a nerd. She’s realistic, relatable and entertaining. She’s also got a lot of anger towards a few things (heck, I was an angry teen) but it doesn’t border onto teen angst. She’s also quite conscious of her Asian heritage, often making comments about the differences between her family and Western/American culture; while it adds a break from the battles and banter, it also offers an interesting insight into how some Chinese-American teenagers view their lives.

It is laced with light comedy and action.

When the goofy and rather strange Quentin introduces himself to Genie, it doesn’t end well. But as their stories reveal they have a long history together, it brings a novel’s worth of wicked banter, fighting demons, talking to Chinese gods and getting to know each other.

Genie’s best friend Yunie provided some of the best dialogue I’ve read ever – she is certainly a force to be reckoned with. I also loved the touch of family dynamics, something I found added a genuine quality to Genie and her relationship with her mother and father. Rather than just having her parents as background noise, they are involved and shape Genie into who she is.

I adored the blooming relationship between Quentin and Genie. Both of them offer such hilarious and refreshing perspectives, which is absolutely brilliant. And when they paired with Genie, they make a hilarious dynamic duo. There’s also a lot of gaming and tech references which is A+.

The writing is absolutely brilliant.

How is this a debut novel? The writing is so easy to follow and down-to-earth. Yee balances the novel’s battles with demons (yaoguai) with discussion of Genie’s family history and her relationship with her best friend, Yunie. Oh, and chatting to the Goddess of Mercy.

So what are you waiting for? If you love mythology, action and light romance, pick this up. It’s engaging, exhilarating and downright hilarious. Just read it.

Rating

 

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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Netgallery in exchange for an honest review. 

The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer // The Ultimate Chick-Flick Read

You know those books you gobble up in an afternoon and you’re left feeling all these emotions with no idea what to do with them? That was me with The Intern. I was flying to Tasmania and remembered I had an e-book of The Intern by Gabrielle Tozer on my phone and I’m so glad I did.

It’s addictive and hilarious, no matter how many times the protagonist, Josie, embarrasses herself. Gabrielle Tozer cleverly writes humour, conflict, loveable characters, and the behind-the- scenes of a glam magazine where the cutthroat nature of journalism is seen; and this is all through the eyes of a university student who is just trying to be the one of the best writers out there.

Here are my thoughts on The Intern, a book that sits between Devil Wears Prada and The Princess Diaries, making it the ultimate chick-flick read.

Josie is a relatable and sometimes awkward character. 

Our protagonist Josie Browning is honestly a magnet for awkward situations and reading these gave me a huge case of second-hand embarrassment, mostly because the way she reacts to things is probably how I would react.

“I’d already slapped one person this week, and if I didn’t leave the cafe in the next five seconds, I was about to boost that to two.”

I related to her on such a spiritual level; she’s determined yet soft, she’s an over-achiever, loves praise, and feels dejected when she’s not the best. Tozer accurately captures the struggles of being an over-achiever and the devastation of failure that comes with it, something I feel like a few young adults will be able to relate to.

The focus on family is brilliant. 

I love it when YA has a focus on family and the complexities within the relationships. I feel like Tozer did a fantastic job at writing the dynamics within Josie’s family: Her sister, Kat, is headstrong and hot-tempered, which is a stark contrast to her mum, a kind and soft-natured woman who demonstrates the same determination as her daughters. Their interactions are authentic and the struggles they endure are heart-breaking and warming.

“Step away from the camembert.”

The romance is so cute, but a little rushed. 

The naivety in Josie in romance is so genuine, it threw me through a time loop to when I had this insane crush on someone. Tozer captured those tingles and butterfly sensations that come with being smitten perfectly. While I wish I was more attached to James as character, I like that Josie is more focused on her personal life such as the internship and family than the romance.

The story feels like it scratches the surface of deeper issues.

There are mentions and explorations of mental health, body image, financial difficulties and broken families within this novel, and because our protagonist is only eighteen, I feel like The Intern is just giving us a taste of what Josie is coming to terms with, but not actually dealing with. There was so much I wanted to know, but I only got a glimpse of it and I wanted it to dig deeper.

Overall, The Intern is quirky, engaging and an enjoyable read. It’s easy to devour and filled with moments of hilarity and drama that will keep you satisfied till the very end.

 

Rating

 

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Josie Browning dreams of having it all. 

A stellar academic record, an amazing career in journalism – and for her current crush to realise she actually exists. The only problem? Josie can’t get through twenty-four hours 

without embarrassing her sister Kat or her best friend Angel, let alone herself.

Josie’s luck changes though when she lands an internship at the glossy fashion magazine Sash. A coveted columnist job is up for grabs, but Josie’s got some tough competition in the form of two other interns. Battle lines are drawn and Josie quickly learns that the magazine industry is far from easy, especially under the reign of powerful editor, Rae Swanson. 

From the lows of coffee-fetching and working 10-hour days, to the highs of mingling with celebrities, scoring endless free beauty products (plus falling for her cousin’s seriously gorgeous flatmate James) this is one year Josie will never forget.

{Goodreads}

Book Review: Wings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell

Wings Unseen by Rebecca Gomez Farrell sounded quite intriguing. Fantasy is a genre I tend to orbit around and I was keen to be immersed in a new fantasy world. I did enjoy some parts of the book and I though the magic was pretty cool, but overall I was rather disappointed.

First off, the aspects of magic and religion were interesting.

I enjoyed Farrell’s ideas of a female god and the forces of magic working together in this society she’s created. However, there was a lack of context or explanation when necessary. I understand that in fantasy we’re usually left to fill in the gaps ourselves, but these gaps were too wide and it was hard for me to comprehend what was happening in some moments. I did enjoy the use of magic towards the end of the book more so.

The characters have specific voices, which was great in guiding the story across three perspectives.

Wings Unseen features three voices: Janto, the heir to the throne; Serra, the prince’s betrothed; and Vesperi, the daughter of a Meduan lord. I had a lot of hope for these characters considering the trials they were about to face, but there were inconsistencies with their development and I found the short and quick shifts between them to be jarring. Their development was better towards the end though, and I particularly liked reading Serra’s perspective. Also, a couple of the plot directions and changing relationships added an element of surprise I enjoyed.

The lack of world-building and descriptions was frustrating.

It could be because there was no map, but I found this world to be completely messy and confusing. There wasn’t much in regards to orienting the reader with the land, or longer descriptions about the Meduans, the Lanserim and the other races. The politics between these countries was also left to the imagination.

Basically, this book is in need of further polishing as quite a few sections were convoluted. I had to reread many sections to fully understand what was occurring simply because sentences were too long or descriptions were confusing. An example of a description I questioned is: “Uzziel waved the club so lustily that he drooled.”

Furthermore, the opening chapter simply does not work. It will either turn readers away or leave them confused. Upon reading, it felt like walking into the middle of Game of Thrones season 2 and being expected to know the politics, relationships and issues within the world. Also, it is marketed to young adults, yet some sections feel like they were closer to New Adult, whereas other parts catered to more Middle Grade. It was all over the place and I found it difficult to pinpoint the audience.

Overall, Wings Unseen has an interesting story that would benefit from more descriptions about the world itself and polishing of the text so it’s more comprehensive for the reader. Farrell has created some really cool characters and I would love to see them fleshed out more and given longer sections for us as readers to settle in. The use of magic and religion was also fascinating and it would be great to see this with some more explanation or context.

Rating

the literary casanova flower.5/ 5.

 

Disclaimer: Netgalley gave me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

To end a civil war, Lansera’s King Turyn relinquished a quarter of his kingdom to create Medua, exiling all who would honor greed over valor to this new realm on the other side of the mountains. The Meduans and Lanserim hav34649841e maintained an uneasy truce for two generations, but their ways of life are as compatible as oil and water.

When Vesperi, a Meduan noblewoman, kills a Lanserim spy with a lick of her silver flame, she hopes the powerful display of magic will convince her father to name her as his heir. She doesn’t know the act will draw the eye of the tyrannical Guj, Medua’s leader, or that the spy was the brother of Serrafina Gavenstone, the fiancee of Turyn’s grandson, Prince Janto. As Janto sets out for an annual competition on the mysterious island of Braven, Serra accepts an invitation to study with the religious Brotherhood, hoping for somewhere to grieve her brother’s murder in peace. What she finds instead is a horror that threatens both countries, devouring all living things and leaving husks of skin in its wake.

To defeat it, Janto and Serra must learn to work together with the only person who possesses the magic that can: the beautiful Vesperi, whom no one knows murdered Serra’s brother. An ultimate rejection plunges Vesperi forward toward their shared destiny, with the powerful Guj on her heels and the menacing beating of unseen wings all about.

{Goodreads}

Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag

1. Best Book You’ve Read So Far in 2017

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor.

I know I’m so late to reading this trilogy, but holy moly it is amazing. Daughter of Smoke and Bone was mind-blowing. The world-building, character development, the tension and romance and family elements. It was simply incredible.

 

2. Best Sequel You’ve Read So Far in 2017

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Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. Talk about an amazing sequel to Illuminae. I didn’t think they could beat it, and then they did and blew me away again. I can’t.

I have a review for Gemina you can check out here.

 

3. New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But You Want To

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. But I need to finish Lady Midnight first (I am so sorry, forgive me for not reading it yet) and I’ve been so busy I kind of forgot about it.

4. Most Anticipated Release for The Second Half of the Year

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff. I mean, Nevernight was insane af. I need to know what happens to Mia.

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5. Biggest Disappointment

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas.

Now before you hate on me, this book had the biggest hype of all time and I’m just gonna say it: it was a disappointment. I almost DNF’d this because I was so frustrated with it. It felt rushed, there wasn’t much tension anymore and this looming war that was meant to be a major aspect of the trilogy didn’t quite feel so devastating as it should have. And the ending, I mean. Need I say more?

 

6. Biggest Surprise

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. I wasn’t sold by the blurb but decided to give the book a go and it’s one of my favourite YA contemporaries of all time, if not the best.

You can check out my review for this stellar book here.

7. Favourite New Author (Debut or New to You)

Laini Taylor. She is magical! I adore her writing style and the world she created in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy (which I am only halfway through).

8. Newest Fictional Crush

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I adore Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone. She’s independent, cynical, sassy, has peacock blue hair and is an artist. Marry me.

9. Newest Favourite Character

It has to be AIDAN from the Illuminae Files. I simply love AIDAN to pieces. As an AI, I never thought I would be so attached to it (I don’t know whether AIDAN requires a pronoun?) and his sections in both books were A+. This is a new level of fictional love for characters when they’re technically not human.

 

10. Book That Made You Cry

The Upside of Unrequited. Have you ever seen me ugly cry? That was me with this book.

 

11. Book That Made You Happy

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde. I loved the convention setting, the characters, the romances and friendships and ultimate fangirling. It was brilliant.

My review for this baby is here.

 

12. Favourite Book to Movie Adapation You Saw This Year

Do reruns of Harry Potter count? Because I have seen no book to movie adaptions this year yet.

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13. Favourite Review You Wrote This Year

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. It was such a fun book, full of laughter and adorable moments, so my excitement for it really translated in my review. You can check it out here.

14. Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought So Far this Year (Or Received)

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber. I mean, that cover is divine.

15. What Books Do You Need to Read by the End of the Year?

Ahahahaha, I feel like this is such a looming question. I can imagine this voice in my head saying, “You need to read all these by December 31 or you have failed.”

Anyway, the books I’m hoping to read by the end of the year are:

  • Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare.
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly.
  • Windwitch by Sarah Dennard.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.
  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.
  • Half a King by Joe Abercrombie.
  • Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield.
  • Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor.
  • The Gentlemen Bastard trilogy by Scott Lynch.

 

If you want to do this tag, do it! I’d love to see what your mid year freak outs are!

My Day at All Day YA #SydneyWritersFestival

With a light nip in the air, the doors to the Riverside Theatres opened. The foyer was buzzing with activity, people from all genders and ages smiling and gathering; a bookselling table was crowded with eager buyers. Tickets were being pulled from book bags as a sound resonated through the building like a school bell. It was time for the first events of The Sydney Writer’s Festival‘s All Day YA program.

Young adult has always been a go-to genre of mine and to have a whole day dedicated to it was simply incredible. Having expanded their program this year, All Day YA hosted ten events with two running parallel to each other and was convened by Catriona Feeney.

All Day YA

Seated in the Love OZ YA Anthology: Begin, End, Begin panel, the theatre was filled with excited voices and subtle tweeting. Run by Danielle Binks, the panel featured Amie Kaufman, Will Kostakis, Jaclyn Moriarty and Gabrielle Tozer, all of whom are brilliant YA Australian writers and offered a lot of insight into the Aussie literature community and the development of the #LoveOzYA hashtag. What started as a meeting of authors in a small restaurant in Melbourne has now started a movement promoting Aussie YA works.

With engaging discussion on diversity, queer content, explosions in space and the importance of literature for young adults, it was an energetic and hilarious panel.

Keeping Company: Characters Across a Series offered an excellent insight into the creation of characters and how they adapt across a long period of time. Run by Catriona Feeney, the authors in discussion were James Bradley, Amie Kaufman, Garth Nix and Lynette Noni whose books range from fantasy to sci-fi to dystopia. What is it that actually keeps characters going across books?

It depends on the author; sometimes there’s a lot of thought involved like questionnaires, casting actors and writing childhoods, or the characters come mostly formed and the author simply fills in the pieces. Lynette trusts in her characters to tell the story and take her through the motions, and James believes you need to know things about them that makes them real, even if it’s not nice. Not all characters will be loved either; one person’s favourite may be someone else’s most disliked for different reasons.

On the topic of side characters, they’re are incredibly important to the story. It’s those interactions that sometimes define pivotal moments throughout a series. Amie gave a lovely analogy about side characters being like seasoning, they’re good in certain amounts without overwhelming the story.

The More than Meets the Eye: Diversity in YA Fiction panel led an eye-opening discussion on the portrayal of diverse Australian teenagers in literature. Mediated by journalist and author Sarah Ayoub, she was joined by writers Randa Abdel-Fattah, Erin Gough and Will Kostakis to talk from personal experience about their sense of identity, the issues within writing diversity in YA and what is it like to be pigeonholed.

Randa kicked off the conversation by stating that as a minority, it is a calling to humanise those who are not represented. As a Muslim woman, she has often been in situations where she’s had to humanise her religion.

On the other hand, Will spoke about the conflict between being a Greek and gay, finding it hard to understand why one is okay to talk about over the other. He found a lot of backlash from Christian schools on his book The Sidekicks which featured a gay character, and has since sought to understand his clash of identities where only one is accepted by society, placing Will in his pigeonhole as a Greek writer.

Following on the thread of identity, Erin Gough said, “I don’t wake up and look in the mirror and say ‘Hey, look, it’s Gay Erin’ … okay sometimes I do.” The inability for writers to not only write about diverse characters but be diverse themselves is a dilemma slowly being addressed.

Talking Tough Topics with Jennifer Niven saw a shift in the room as the heavy issues were dived into. Jennifer was gentle and respectful as discussion moved from relationships, suicide, mental health, body image and dysfunctional families.

She expressed her belief that young adults go through a tough time during their teens with issues that are sometimes not represented in literature. With characters like Libby, Finch, Violet and Jack from her novels, she sought to not only write their story, but address these issues in a way for young adults to understand.

“All of the novels I’ve written are stories I wanted to read,” she said. We can only hope that Jennifer dives further into these topics in her upcoming novels.

This year’s YA program was a success! With a variety of authors, publishers, publicists and editors, the conversations were endless and engaging. The Sydney Writer’s Festival has done a brilliant job at celebrating Australian and international YA stories, leaving us exhilarated and warm-hearted.

Originally published at Chattr

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda // A Brilliant Coming-of-Age Story

I’m late to the bandwagon on this one. This book is being made into a movie while I was still fumbling around with the first 20 pages. Nevertheless, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli is quirky, down-to-earth and I found myself smiling the whole time I was reading it. My cheeks hurt, yo. I’m warm and fuzzy from Simon and Blue, and my face is hurting and it is beautiful. This book is a-freaking-dorable and it is a must-read for all YA fans.

Here is why I fell in love with this adorable book.

Simon is sooooo lovable.

What is brilliant about Simon is while he had moments of teen angst, they weren’t bogged down or too intense. In fact, he is a light and jovial character who loves hugs, bad jokes and Harry Potter. Like Albertalli’s newer novel, the protagonist is realistic and lovable. He’s also an overthinker and so relatable. Plus he loves Oreos (and who doesn’t love Oreos?)

Epic friendships everywhere!

Simon has a real tight-knit group of friends: the ones from his childhood Nick and Leah, as well as a new bubbly addition, Abby. They have their moments of tension and arguments, but not every friendship is smooth sailing. The book also showcases these platonic friendships and yes, girls and guys can be friends without having romantic feelings for each other. Simon is supportive of his friends, and loves them for who they are.

I also liked Simon’s siblings, Alice and Nora, and how close they are as siblings. The fact there were healthy and loving relationships in his home life with his parents and siblings added a dynamic to the story that was heartwarming (and a family that watches reality TV together stays together).

The coming-of-age elements were excellent.

Here we have a protagonist who is gay and not portrayed as flamboyant or any other stereotype. He is portrayed as he is: a funny, lowkey popular kid with great friends and an online romance slowly blooming. I liked how we get to know Simon as himself, not who he sexually prefers. The commentary about identity, diversity and sexuality were well said and suited the story, and it added a maturity to Simon (and Blue) that I felt like it needed.

I died over how cute the romance was.

I totally understand online friendships. One of my best friends is from America and while we didn’t reveal our identities for a while, we’re going on nearly 8 (or 9?) years of friendship without having met IRL. So when Simon was in the midst of emailing a cute wordsmith who goes to his school but won’t reveal his identity, yo, I get it. It did annoy me a couple of times when things were tense over their identities, but despite that I loved the email format of the relationship and Blue’s grammatical prowess. The flirting is killer cute and the way Simon and Blue slowly opened up to each other was just beautiful.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is filled with great helpings of humour, realistic and wonderful characters, a powerful love for Oreos and understanding what it is like to be yourself.

Rating

 

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What are your thoughts?

Have you read Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda? Do you have a healthy obsession with Oreos? Have you read books with a gay protagonist and found it realistic? Leave a comment down below with your thoughts.

 

19547856Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

{Goodreads}