Friday, 29 May 2015

7 Reasons Kiki Sullivan's 'The Dolls' Is More Meh Than Magnificent

'The Dolls' by Kiki Sullivan
Review by Christopher Moore

Summary  (from Amazon):

When 17-year-old Eveny returns to the tiny Louisiana town where she was born, she discovers she is the powerful missing link in a trio of voodoo queens who have everyone under their spell. But they need her help. Because darkness is descending on Carrefour and even the Dolls' combined powers may not be enough to stop the killer in their midst.

1. Bland Characterisation

The most irritating thing about this book is the characters. They’re vapid caricatures with no distinguishing features. We’re introduced to Glory at the beginning of the story; the only character with a morsel of personality but what does the author do? Kill her off. Cheers for that.

Drew mentions that Pascal Auteuil looks like a model which prompted me to wonder, “wait, is Drew gay?” Spoiler: he’s not. Caleb “guns the engine” every time he leaves Eveny. He “half smiles” all the time (is only half of his jaw functional?). Electricity crackles between Eveny and Caleb. It always feels like “an eternity” between them. WARNING: You may need to brace yourself for possibly one of the most cringe descriptions in YA literature. Caleb has “ripped biceps, taut abs and caramel skin [that] sparkles with moonlight perspiration.”

2. Setting

The story is set near New Orleans, Louisiana, in a gated community known as Carrefour. It’s impossible to grasp any of the scenic details because the descriptions take us so out of the moment with lengthy descriptions that are difficult to absorb and pretty unmemorable. It does nothing for the story either. There’s no real evidence of any of the characters having Southern roots; no genuine attempt to infuse character with Southern accents or marry the characters with their culture.

3. Weird Descriptions

The basic physical descriptions irked me but what really sent me above and beyond boiling point was that everyone was beautiful and they all had caramel-coloured skin. Seriously? Are they clones? Caleb as the forbidden bad boy stereotype is predictable (are as his “half smiles”) and the clothes and character descriptions are formulaic and unimaginative.

4. The Hero

Eveny Cheval is the protagonist but she’s a web of mass contradictions. The same girl that detests the wealth of Chloe and Peregrine, who grew up with a fairly modest childhood, knows all about designer clothes? What? It’s not even the fact that she knows about Louboutins that bothers me; it’s more that the reader is being told that she’s an outsider and a bit of an outcast but she’s exactly like the Dolls. She predictably falls for Caleb, saying that he’s “insanely gorgeous”. She actually tells Caleb that he’s “sexy and intriguing”. Cringe. It's so difficult to feel anything for her.

5. The Dolls’ World

The magic was a bit lacking. The spells read like weak attempts at a Poetry 101 assignment. Furthermore, 75% of the story focuses on the ordinary. The story is less, one of magic, intrigue and murder, and more a narrative of high school drama.

6. Repetition

Eveny and the Dolls repeat the same stock phrases: 
  • Cute
  • Hot
  • Gross
  • Dorky
  • Muscular
  • Gorgeous
  • Handsome 
It comes across a bit Mills and Boon at times.

7. Clichés

  • The almost kiss 
  • The “Hey, girl” girl
  • The forbidden romance
  • The beautiful, bad boy (with “caramel” skin)
  • Forbidden love
  • The outcast hero

What adds insult to injury is that The Dolls is compared to Mean Girls which features a stronger story, far more interesting characters and quotable phrases ("stop trying to make fetch happen!").

This pretty much sums up my feelings on The Dolls.

Rating: 1/5 Stars  

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Author Interview: Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli’s much anticipated 'Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda' was published last month to global, critical acclaim. Becky is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, partial to Oreos (I should know, we’ve debated this on Twitter for days!) and has worked for seven years with gender non-conforming teens in Washington D.C.

Follow Becky on Twitter: @beckyalbertalli
Check out Becky's website here.

Buy 'Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda':
- Amazon
- Waterstones 
- Foyles

The Interview 

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

Thank you so much for interviewing me! I’m so happy to be a part of this.

For those that haven’t read Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, can you sum it up in 140 characters?

SIMON is a nerdy, gay email love story that sounds like Elliott Smith and tastes like Oreos.

I know you’re a huge supporter for the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ initiative for children and teens. Did Simon Vs arise from this need or was it a story you had inside you?

I am definitely a huge fan and supporter of the WNDB initiative, though that’s not the reason I wrote Simon (I was actually already past copyedits when the WNDB movement entered the scene). This is absolutely a story I had inside me.

Your background is in Clinical Psychology and I know you’ve worked with non-gender non-conforming teens for seven years. Has this impacted Simon’s story?

I’m sure it has, but it’s hard to say how! I was so inspired by the awesome, beautiful kids I worked with, but I’m also really careful not to use any confidential information in my writing. So, Simon’s story is one hundred percent fiction, except the parts that were lifted directly from my high school journals.

When I read Simon, I got echoes of Stephen Chbosky, David Levithan and possibly John Green. Is it an accurate statement that these writers influenced the book? How difficult was it for you to carve a space for Simon’s voice within the genre?

That is so flattering – those are three of my favorites! But it really is hard for me to trace my influences. I never sat down and attempted to emulate any other writer, and I doubt I could have accomplished that anyway. But maybe my love for these authors helped inform my style? It’s hard to explain, but I never consciously tried to carve a space for Simon’s voice. I just created this character who felt very real to me, and I tried to stay faithful to the direction he took me.

What made you choose a male narrator? 

Simon sort of showed up in my head fully formed. He was always a boy, always named Simon, always an Elliott Smith fan, always an Oreo eater. I didn’t have any difficulty connecting with Simon as a narrator, even though he’s a boy. I think he’s Simon first and a male second.

How has the reaction to the book been from readers? Have you any stories you can share?

It’s been very surreal – mostly wonderful, but entirely strange. As a psychologist, I had basically no online footprint, and I kept my personal life very private. Suddenly, my entire life feels very public, and the internet is full of people discussing this story that feels deeply personal to me. That can be hard, but it’s also incredibly special and gratifying. So many people have reached out to me via email or social media, and it’s so magical to hear that this book I wrote has actually touched people’s lives. Of course, there’s also an entire contingent of people who think I don’t know that Tumblr is just called “Tumblr.” You guys, I freaking know. STOP THINKING I’M A DORK. (I think this is how my dad feels, like, all the time.)

How did you find the writing-to-publication process? 

For me, it was a bit of a fairy tale. Things happened really quickly for this book. I queried my agent a week after I met him at a conference. He offered representation five days later, and he sold my book four days after I signed with him. Since then, there have been ups and downs, but my teams at The Bent Agency, HarperCollins, Penguin, and my other foreign publishers have been over-the-top incredible. I feel really lucky.

Do you have any unusual or strange habits while writing? 

It’s hard to say what’s unusual! I tend to write in pajamas, and I never, use a desk (always my bed or the couch). I edit compulsively as I go along. I get distracted easily by social media. I require a lot of chocolate. I think these things are pretty common, probably.

Your style of writing is equally accessible to teens and adults. Did you envision Simon Vs having such universal appeal?

That’s so nice to say! I’m thrilled that the book has resonated with both teens and adults. I had no idea what to expect, honestly. I just sort of wrote a book I would want to read, and I guess I also wrote something the teen version of me would want to read. I actually think I liked the same kinds of stories back then, so maybe that’s part of it!

I feel as though you could have pushed the homophobic abuse further in the novel. What made you hold back?

It’s funny - I didn’t feel like I held back at all! I think for a story set in 2014 and 2015, so much of the peer reactions depend on the particular context and environment. In Simon’s case, there was some very real bullying and humiliation, but much of the focus was on the micro-aggressions he experienced. Some teens have it much worse, unfortunately, but some have a much easier time than Simon. Interestingly, you’re not the first person who has wondered if I held back – but I’ve had just as many people express disbelief that things could still actually be as difficult as I portrayed them. It’s all about the experiences the reader brings to the table. 

Would you ever write a sequel to the story? If you had to write and explore the story of one character, which character would it be and why?

I don’t know that I could ever write a direct sequel, because I can’t bear to introduce conflict into the Simon/Blue relationship. I think if I ever wrote a sequel from another character’s perspective, it would be Leah. I don’t think her story wraps up entirely when Simon’s does.

You’re on Mars and you realise that you only have 48-hours of oxygen left in your canisters. You reach for your emergency kit filled with five books (apparently, there was a food shortage and you’ve lost communication with Earth). What five books are they?

Well, my emergency kit actually contains my kindle, pre-loaded with ALL of my books, so I can put off making this decision as long as possible. Why, yes, I was the kid who would have asked the genie for more wishes.

I’d just like to conclude by saying that Simon Vs is the kind of novel I would have loved to have read at school when I was bullied. I am twenty-four and gay. It’s such an easy read and it has a very insightful message and approach. So, I guess what I’m asking you to do is, go back in time to 2004, write and publish Simon. That’s not a lot to ask surely? Seriously though, Simon Vs the Homosapiens Agenda is my favourite debut of 2015 so far and your success is well-deserved. I wish you all the best and I hope that you continue to write.

That is so incredibly nice, and it means the world to me. Thank you so much!

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

YA: From Book To Film

2014 saw the cinematic debuts of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first in James Dashner’s Maze Runner series and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Not to mention the first instalment of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay, the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy. No doubt, a strong year for YA in film but what about 2015? What can we expect from the next 12 months in YA-based films?

1. Insurgent

Author: Veronica Roth

UK Release Date: 19th March 2015
US Release date: 20th March 2015

Yes, March 2015 saw the global release of the follow-up to Divergent, with Shailene Woodley reprising her role as the self-sacrificing Tris, alongside love interest Theo James and antagonist Cate Blanchett. Divergent fever continues as the worldwide box office earnings totalled $275m on a production budget of $110m.

2. Seventh Son

Author: Joseph Delaney

UK Release Date: 27th March 2015
US Release Date: 6th February 2015

Also known as The Spook’s Apprentice, this story has been in the pipeline for quite a number of years. It finally debuted on the big screen earlier this year. Strong performances from Jeff Bridges as the Spook, Ben Barnes as Tom Ward (with memorable performances in C. S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian and Dorian Gray) and Julianne Moore as Mother Malkin weren't enough to propel the film into strong profit. A production budget of $95m yielded a disappointing $111m at the worldwide box office. It's difficult to say just why the film underperformed but its UK and European release coinciding with Insurgent's release certainly wouldn't have helped.

3. Paper Towns

Author: John Green

UK Release Date: 24th July 2015
US Release Date: 21st August 2015

Quentin Jacobsen (Q) has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life, he follows, though the closer he gets, the less Q sees the enigmatic girl he thought he knew. John Green’s work is no stranger to the big screen. With The Fault in Our Stars grossing over $300 million with a shoestring budget reported to be between $12-$16 million, the fate of this movie is a bit of a no-brainer. With supermodel Cara Delevingne playing Margo, this looks set to be another cinematic hit – and yet another addition to John Green’s endless list of accolades and achievements.

4. Fallen

Author: Lauren Kate

UK Release Date: Unknown
US Release Date: 2015

This one is an interesting one. I didn’t particularly like the book and as angel lore goes, there are much, MUCH better books out there. Having said that, Scott Hicks directed it and he seems to have done a decent job with Nicholas Sparks’ The Lucky One (starring Zac Efron). Luce is sent to a reform school where she finds herself drawn to a strange, mysterious boy, Daniel, unaware of the secrets he’s hiding. With some fresh-faced talent from Addison Timlin, Jeremy Irvine and Harrison Gilbertson respectively playing Lucinda (Luce), Daniel Grigori and Cam, they certainly look the part but time (Lord knows how long as they haven’t finalized the release date) will tell if this will be a hit or miss at the box office. To give you an idea of the popularity of these books, check out this short, book trailer here.


5. Maze Runner: Scorch Trials

Author: James Dashner

UK Release Date: 18th September 2015
US Release Date: 18th September 2015

The Scorch Trials follows Thomas and Teresa (and their band of maze survivors) as they face new challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape. On a modest production budget of $34million, The Maze Runner managed to gross just over $340 million worldwide and with filmgoers still hungry for more action-adventure dystopia (just look at the successes of The Hunger Games and Divergent), we can look forward to another riveting instalment with Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario reprising their roles as Thomas and Teresa.


6. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Author: Suzanne Collins

UK Release Date: 20th November 2015
US Release Date: 20th November 2015

I still haven’t seen the first instalment. I know, I know, but I’ve been busy. Anyway, the first film in the two-part ending grossed over $750 million, cinema-goers will flock (do filmgoers flock?) to the cinema to see Jennifer Lawrence reprise her role as Katniss (alongside stellar performances from co-stars Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and the late Philip Seymour Hoffmann) and conclude her war on the Capitol.

7. The 5th Wave

Author: Rick Yancey

UK Release Date: 15th January 2016
US Release Date: 29th January 2016

16-year-old Cassie Sullivan tries to survive in a world devastated by four waves of an alien invasion that has already decimated the human population and knocked mankind back to the Stone Age. The 5th Wave approaches and fulfilling a promise to her brother, Cassie is determined to discover what the 5th Wave holds. I don’t really like alien films. I enjoyed Pittacus Lore’s I Am Number Four up until the aliens showed up. So, why did I include it? Although it falls just outside of 2015, it’s still relevant to book sales especially with the Christmas period one month before. My interest in this film can be boiled down to three words: Chloë Grace Moretz. Having starred in Kick-Ass, the Carrie reboot and her tear-jerking performance as Mia Hall in Gayle Forman’s best-selling If I Stay, you might now see why this has piqued my interest. The film adaptation also stars Live Schreiber (Salt, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Nick Robinson (Melissa & Joey, Jurassic World). If the budget reflects the potential, I think this will kill at the box office, especially in January when kids and adults have grown weary of Christmas films. I anticipate it holding appeal for male and female filmgoers.


* * *

I know that readers are always at odds with film adaptations of their favourite books. They don’t want to see Hollywood versions of stories that were special to them. While I agree and strongly share this sentiment, I love that it increases book sales and if even one thousand people buy the book after watching the film, that's one thousand more people that have the chance to discover and share the world that I already love. More than this, it might lead those readers to other books by that author or within that genre so in my eyes, it's a positive (unless, of course, it's the film adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief which is not only unforgivable, it's CRIMINAL!).

So what are your thoughts? Do you like YA film adaptations? What is your favourite YA book to film adaptation? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet us @YAfictionados.

***All statistics and figures were correct at time of blog publication***

Monday, 25 May 2015

'All My Secrets'/'Second Chance Summer' Giveaway


****Competition Closed****

We're giving away two copies of Morgan Matson's Second Chance Summer and two advance copies of Sophie McKenzie's All My Secrets courtesy of Simon & Schuster. All My Secrets doesn't officially release until the 2nd July so for all you Sophie McKenzie fans out there, here's what you have to do:

Follow our Twitter account @YAfictionados

Hashtag your YA-related tweets with #YAfictionados. Hashtag conversations of new YA releases, news or even your favourite YA reads
    There's no limit on how many times you can enter so hashtag as often as you want and don't forget to follow us. Winners will be announced on Friday 29th May at 12pm and 1pm.
***Please note that this competition is only open to residents in the U.K. and Northern Ireland***

Me & Mr J by Rachel McIntyre - Not Your Average Teacher-Student Relationship Tale

Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre
Review by Georgina Howlett

First Published in the UK: January 2015
UK Publisher: Electric Monkey (Egmont UK)

Summary (from Amazon): Sixteen-year-old Lara finds her soulmate. There’s just one problem – he’s her teacher. Lara’s life is far from perfect, but being an upbeat kind of person she saves her venting for her diary. It’s the only place she can let out her true feelings about the family dramas and hideous bullying she has to face every day.

And then a shining light comes out of the darkness – the new young and MALE teacher, Mr Jagger. The one person who takes Lara seriously and notices her potential. The one person who is kind to her. The one person who she falls madly and hopelessly in love with. The one person who cannot love her back … can he?

Review (WARNING: some spoilers)

I received Me and Mr J directly from Electric Monkey/Egmont, the publisher, due to the fact that Chris works there and I mentioned my interest in reviewing the book. I have always held very strong opinions about teacher-student relationships, and I have to say, this book didn't disappoint me when I read it.

First and foremost, the book deals with a LOT of complex issues besides the central teacher-student relationship plot. Bullying, blackmail, physical intimidation, family issues... You name it, this book covers it at least in some aspect. In many ways, this made it a difficult book to read in places, as the similarities certainly to my own experiences were very much there. However, McIntyre's flawless and simple writing style meant that in real time, it only took me a matter of hours to finish. I just couldn't stop reading it - it was both enjoyable and gripping, and made me think a lot about my own past, and therefore I can't fault her on the writing front; she did an excellent job of reeling me as the reader in and then maintaining my interest.

As the central plot, the teacher-student relationship had a lot of depth to it, making it very interesting and convincing to read. The book shows just how easy it is for both young students and young/newer teachers to fall into the trap of getting involved in a teacher-student relationship, and I think that this is ultimately one of the best messages that can be taken from the book. The media, especially in widely-publicised cases such as that of Jeremy Forrest (the maths teacher who fled to France with his fifteen-year-old student), often criminalise teachers to an extent where it is very difficult to sympathise with them at all or not blame them entirely for what occurred; Me and Mr J I feel showed a relationship that was more equal and level than that, and showed it for what it is often felt to be by the participants, rather than the onlookers who can often manipulate the facts. I commend McIntyre for not completely portraying Mr Jagger (the teacher in the book) as an evil and manipulative character, as it would be very easy to do so.

In this respect, I felt Mr Jagger's characterisation to be thoroughly convincing - quite a few of the NQT teachers I have met share both some  professional and personal aspects with him. Equally, Lara as the protagonist was very accurate; being a teenager myself still, the incidents of bullying and teasing I find very familiar and upsetting, as it was not long ago that I, too, was suffering from similar things. In addition, I confess that I am guilty of doing some of the things she did with regard to my own past teacher crushes - the number of relatable actions within the book that I found were actually quite disturbing, and showing my friends, they just raised their eyebrows and asked if I had secretly written the book. (I didn't, Rachel obviously did - not secretly, either.)

The only real issue that I had with the book was its ending, and this is due to my own desire for (practically) every relationship I read about to succeed, and little else. The 'little else' was the inevitably predictable outcome; I haven't read a book yet about a teacher-student relationship that succeeds, or that tells a success story - which do happen in many cases in real life. In this sense the book was slightly disappointing, but overall, I thoroughly loved it and would highly recommend it to all fans of YA - in particular those who love relationship stories, school-oriented stories, and quick, easy reads.
Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Georgina Howlett

Georgina Howlett is one of the co-founders of the YA Fictionados, joining with Chris to make the idea a reality. She is best-known for her BookTube channel BritishBiblioholic, her book blog BritishBiblioholic Reads Books, and for stalking Derek Landy on a regular basis.

Follow Georgina on Twitter: @thereaderrunt
Find Georgina on Goodreads: Georgina Howlett

Author Interview: Rachel McIntyre

Rachel McIntyre is a debut YA author, whose book, Me and Mr J, was published at the end of January this year by Egmont UK. We are very lucky to have Rachel as our first interviewee, and also her interview with us as our first post on the YA Fictionados!

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @RachintheFax
Find Rachel on Facebook: Rachel McIntyre Author

Buy Me and Mr J:

- Amazon

The Interview

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us.

You’re very welcome, thanks for having me!

For those that haven’t read Me and Mr J, can you sum it up in 140 characters?

Unhappy diary-writing teenager with GSOH is bullied and falls for naïve teacher.

You really get inside Lara’s head. How did you prepare for that? And what made you choose a diary-style narrative structure?

Lara’s voice happened after reading a lot of Heat back issues and watching a lot of teen oriented TV. I tried to picture a girl trying to survive some pretty rotten experiences and wanted to make her resilient, not a pushover. Humour is a great defensive mechanism. The diary form seemed a natural extension of trying to create an authentic voice, particularly as all the events happen so quickly. In German, the book is called Shooting Star Hours and I think that picks up on the pace. Events escalate very quickly.

Were there any books, in particular, that influenced or shaped the story?

I’ve always loved Louise Rennison’s quirky heroines, so her books were an influence. Although Me and Mr J is obviously much, much darker.

Lara’s experiences are very intimate. Did you draw on any personal experiences?

Yes. My dad died quite young so the recovery and happy ending for the dad in the book was a way of re-writing his story, I guess. Lara’s dad is very similar to mine in a lot of ways; he had similar issues.

The bullying is all based on real events I have heard about or witnessed first-hand. For example, the hair-on-fire episode genuinely happened to my friend and Lara’s red hair comes from her too. The cyberbullying idea came from some training I had when I was a teacher, plus stories from students.

The school set-up is like mine too. I went to an independent all girls’ school with a boys’ school across the road. Although the girls were much, much nicer than Molly and her gang!

What message do you want readers to take from Lara’s story?

If you have to keep a relationship secret, it’s probably not going to have a happy ever after. Also, no matter what bullies threaten you with, you always need to speak up.

How did you find the writing-to-publication process?

Quite straightforward, really. “Me and Mr J” was my first go at writing fiction. I got an agent and a deal fairly quickly and I still have to pinch myself when I think about it. Especially with it being Egmont, such an amazing brand to be associated with.

Do you have any unusual or strange habits while writing?

I can’t have any noise, I need silence. I’m within easy striking distance of the fridge and the Nespresso machine so constantly fighting distraction there. I read a lot of it out loud; I think many writers do that. But rituals to call the muse etc. ? Unfortunately, it’s just me and my PC. When I get really in to something, I can spend hours and hours immersed in it, which I love. My family gets a bit neglected, though. Sometimes I start writing at about 10.30 pm and finish at 3 or 4 am because I like the peace!

The story is quite a controversial one. What made you want to explore student-teacher relations? And have you received much backlash from doing so?

I don’t think I realised how divisive it was going to be! I wanted to write about it because it’s a contemporary issue, rarely out of the headlines and I wanted to explore how it could happen. I think what I’ve realised is that you can’t please everyone. Some people think it’s disgusting to write about it full stop. While others- and this was the big surprise to me- think it’s not disgusting enough.

I’m not a big fan of steamy fiction, so wasn’t aware there’s a whole saucy student/teacher genre. I was expecting the “it’s disgusting”, narrow-minded take on it; the “where’s the smut?” reaction was more of a shock! And there’s been much, much more of the latter. And people who want a traditional romantic ending. But that’s kind of missing the point of it being a children’s book...

I guess it’s a topic that invites a variety of responses.

We know you have a three-book deal with Egmont UK. What’s next? We know it’s probably confidential right now but can you give the readers an idea of what themes it will explore?

Yes, finished number two. It’s relationship-focused and has a 16 year old narrator. But it’s much less controversial and much less heavy than Me and Mr J.

Number 3 is in the pipeline…

You’re on Mars (because that’s what authors do, right?) and you realise that you only have 48-hours of oxygen left in your canisters. You reach for your emergency kit filled with five books (apparently, there was a food shortage and you’ve lost communication with Earth). What five books are they?

1. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
2. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor
3. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
4. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
5. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

This would probably change on a day to day basis, but they’re books I love that I want to re-read one day. Not sure I could manage the lot in 48 hours, some whoppers there, but I’d give it a go. Try to take my mind off my imminent demise.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. We, at YAfictionados, wish you all the best with the book and your writing career.

That’s very nice of you! Thank you and hope all goes well with the new blog.