New review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X has been on my TBR shelf for some time – I should have read it straightaway.  In a word it is brilliant. The author Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City and her poetry is infused with Dominican bolero and her beloved city’s tough grit. With over twelve years of performance experience, she has delivered talks, won multiple poetry slam awards and featured in many international publications.  This is her debut novel and it will have you holding your breath, crying and cheering all at the same time. A really moving and uplifting read.

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The Poet X By Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara has always kept her words to herself. When it comes to standing her ground in her Harlem neighbourhood, she lets her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has secrets – her feelings for a boy in her bio class, and the notebook full of poems that she keeps under her bed. And a slam poetry club that will pull those secrets into the spotlight. Because in spite of a world that might not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to stay silent.

Xiomara Batista has not had the easiest childhood. Born late to Catholic parents who thought they couldn’t have children, she and her twin brother are seen as gifts from God and as such her mother remains fervently thankful to this day.  Attending daily mass, regular confession and preparing for confirmation are all part of the norm for Xiomara. As an attractive young woman, Xiomara receives a lot of unwanted attention and her mother, Mami, persistently reminds her of the sin this can lead to.  Xiomara’s father is not around and when he is, he doesn’t have much to say. Whilst her very intelligent brother attends a private school, Xiomara goes to the local Harlem high school, where drug abuse and gang culture are standard. She takes refuge in words – she may fight with her fists but the real battles with herself, her uncertainties about her faith, her parents and her feelings about a forbidden romance take place on the pages of her precious notebook.  With her twin struggling with his own secrets and her best friend too devoutly religious to help, Xiomara finally sees her words for the way out they truly are – especially when a new English teacher invites her to a Spoken Word Poetry Club.

The 357 pages of this book flew by and short of life’s necessities interrupting I read it in one go. Written entirely in verse, I found myself clutching it and rushing for my train so I could hurry up and get back into Xiomara’s world.  She is one of the most absorbing characters I’ve ever read – her voice is loud and clear and her words thought-provoking, powerful, tender, true.  A coming-of-age story like no other, you are completely drawn into Xiomara’s thoughts; you can feel her pain, her fears, her hopes, her joy at discovering and recognising the pangs of first love. With each passing day, Xiomara’s relationships with those around her become more complicated. Poetry enables her to truly express herself and find the determination to explore who she really is whilst dealing with the oppression of those who are supposed to love her the most, but show it the least. I would have quite happily screamed at her mother for being so ridiculously lacking in love, so blinded is she by her faith.  This story is not without complexity but it touches on so many things a teenager trying to find their identity might feel (in fact so many things we all sometimes feel) and each verse generates real emotion. Acceptance, kindness, home, laughter, friendship, faith, teaching, discipline, passion, self-belief; love has many faces and this story powerfully explores them all. The Poet X is absolutely one of the best YA books I’ve read – an empowering story, it’s no surprise it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone should read it.

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Find out more at www.acevedowrites.com.

With thanks to Egmont for sending me this book to review.

Book of the Month: A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

book of the monthWhen this book arrived through the letterbox on a cold, damp, dreary morning some months ago it was like the promise of summer lit up the room! A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood, published by Scholastic is the perfect summer read for Book of the Month. Laura Wood is the winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing and is the author of four novels in the middles grade Poppy Pym series.  This is her debut YA novel and what a fabulous way to start writing for teens!

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Gorgeous inside and out, A Sky Painted Gold brings to life a decadent, glorious time of innocence, coming of age and finding love. Centred on seventeen-year-old Lou, the story begins with a discarded apple, a beautiful empty old house, new arrivals and innocent hopes for adventure! Lou is an aspiring writer with a large family. Her eldest soon-to-be-married sister is her confidante and best friend, but change is on its way. With the arrival of the owners of the empty house, the famous Cardew family, Louisa takes her first invited steps, not just across to the old house, but into the discovery of romance and the glittering world of the wealthy. Celebrations and cocktails galore and glamorous new acquaintances all conspire to turn Lou’s head – and her heart. Who wouldn’t fall in love with stunning surroundings, fabulous parties and beautiful people? But this story wouldn’t be as thrilling without the dark secrets it holds and family ties that threaten to overwhelm. The more Lou becomes involved in this world of glamour that so entices her, the harder these secrets are to ignore.

I absolutely loved this story. Beautifully described, I was drawn to the world created with its heady summer celebrations, the hint of love and the potential heartbreak. With a wonderful cast of characters and a story line that spans an array of relationships, you felt every moment and every dance! I loved Lou’s relationship with her family; her desire to be a writer and the love at the heart of this novel. Echoes of Gatsby run throughout and the picture created of summertime in the 1920s is gorgeous. The perfect summer read, A Sky Painted Gold will light up your bookshelf!

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Find out more at www.lauraclarewood.com . 

Thank you to Scholastic for sending me a proof copy of this book to review.

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BLOG TOUR: The Truth About Lies by Tracy Darnton

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I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for the fantastic debut The Truth About Lies thriller by Tracy Darnton, from Stripes Publishing.

tracy-darntonTracy won the Stripes YA Short Story Prize in 2016, run in partnership with The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize.  Her story The Letter was published in the short story anthology I’ll Be Home for Christmas.  This is her first novel and I can assure you it is a gripping, brilliant read full of suspense,exploring the issues around memory and what happens when everything you do is built on lies.  Tracy joins the blog today with a very special guest post- welcome to the blog Tracy!

Unforgettable memory tips from The Truth About Lies

“I’ve always been interested in memory and writing my YA thriller The Truth About Lies was a great opportunity to explore it further. I can still remember the poems I learnt by heart when stuck at home with measles, the sickly smell of Impulse body spray from my teenage bedroom and definitely the shock of a near accident age 11. Why do I remember those things but not where I left my keys this morning?

In writing the book I became obsessed with all the little memory techniques that you can use to improve your powers of retrieval. I wove some of them into the book by using memory games as chapter headings. These hold their own clues or hints as to what has happened in the past.

I use the teacher character Mr Desai to set memory tasks too. He quickly learns all the students’ names using a classic technique of association. Give it a go: Imagine you’ve just met my character Dan at a party. Picture him with a famous Dan – Daniel Radcliffe maybe – sitting on his shoulders. Now ‘put’ Dan in a judo suit as dan is a ranking in martial arts.

To help further, add some emotion or general silliness – Dan Radcliffe blowing you kisses or raspberries – and how you would feel about that. And boom – Dan will be very impressed that you remember who he is next time you meet (though he won’t realise the role played by Daniel Radcliffe and some kisses).

Mr Desai teaches a memory palace or loci technique, placing items to remember along the route they know well around Dartmeet College. Making the images as whacky as possible helps to engrain them.

Lastly, the class develop their own mnemonics, for instance taking the first letters of something they need to remember to make a new word or phrase like BIDMAS in maths or Richard of York gave battle in vain. I dragged myself through theory for piano with a huge set of mnemonics. But, spoiler alert, Jess receives a rather sinister one tacked to her noticeboard…

The Truth About Lies conveys some of my fascination with how we can improve our memory. Don’t forget to try it.”

 

The Truth About Lies will be published by Stripes today! You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton #thetruthaboutlies

With thanks to Stripes Publishing for inviting me to participate in the blog tour and sending me a review copy of this book. 

Check out the rest of the blog tour at these brilliant blogs!

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New review: Sleeper by J D Fennell

This novel had been sat on my to be read pile for some time so I’m glad I finally read it. It’s definitely one to recommend; an edge-of-your seat thriller set in wartime London with plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing.

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Sleeper by J D Fennell

Sixteen-year-old Will Starling is pulled from the sea with no memory of his past. In his blazer is a strange notebook with a bullet lodged inside it: a bullet meant for him. As London prepares for the Blitz, Will soon finds himself pursued by vicious agents and a ruthless killer known as the Pastor. All of them want Will’s notebook and will do anything to get it.

Sleeper is a fantastic gripping read set in World War 2 and featuring a brave hero, Will, who has lost his memory.  The reader is shown the precursor to this memory loss and then follows Will on his journey desperately trying to rediscover who he really is.  Fraught with danger and deception and villains at every corner,  Sleeper is a roller-coaster ride through the streets of wartime London. At every turn Will loses those who want to help him to ruthless killers – in particular the evil Pastor; a quite horrible character! Will follows the only clue he has and ends up at a school for young Mi5 agents in training.

But even then he is not safe and only as he escapes yet another attack does Will find a true ally in the shape of Anna. With her help he begins to understand who he really is and the mission he must complete in order to save, not just himself and Anna, but the whole of London from the Nazis. I enjoyed the wide cast of characters and never knowing quite who was on Will’s side. Weaving history with magical realism and a spy thriller narrative, the story has plenty of fantastic action sequences.  Sleeper has deservedly been nominated for the Amazing Book Awards and I wish the author every success with this fantastic debut novel.

Sleeper is published by the Dome Press. With thanks to The Dome Press for sending me this book to review.