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 reviews: great reads for Spring!

Since starting the New Year as a ‘commuter’ many friends ask me how can I stand it?! Thankfully as a reader, I now have a whole lot more time to read – the perfect activity when you’re stuck on a train, even when there’s delays or no seats! So here’s just three of the six great books I’ve read over the last two weeks (more review to come!):

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet by Jo Simmons

I can get a new brother? On the internet?’ Jonny muttered. `Oh sweet mangoes of heaven!’ Everyone has dreamed of being able to get rid of their brother or sister at one time or another – but for Jonny, the dream is about to become a reality with SiblingSwap.com! What could be better than someone awesome to replace Ted, Jonny’s obnoxious older brother. But finding the perfect brother isn’t easy, as Jonny discovers when Sibling Swap sends him a line of increasingly bizarre replacements: first a merboy, then a brother raised by meerkats, and then the ghost of Henry the Eighth! What’s coming next?! Suddenly old Ted isn’t looking so bad. But can Jonny ever get him back?

I’m sure many of us have been there – wishing we could somehow magically change our brother or sister who is driving us mad! But perhaps we haven’t all had our wish come true like Jonny. I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a brilliantly funny tale of getting more than you bargained for – especially when using the internet – and finding out the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With a thoroughly likeable hero in Jonny and a whole host of hilarious characters, readers will laugh out loud as Jonny works his way through the Sibling Swap replacements – none of whom quite live up to his expectations.  I particularly enjoyed Henry VII’s ghost as a potential new sibling!! Fast paced and full of gags (anyone heard of the Hanging Pants of Doom?!) and with fun, fantastic and lively illustrations, I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is a great read for middle grade children.  And with the added bonus of a positive message about not taking your sibling for granted, this could the answer to solving some of those sibling arguments!

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I Swapped My Brother on the Internet is published Bloomsbury.

Find out more www.bloomsbury.com and www.nathanreedillustration.com

A Taxonomy of Love by Rachael Allen

The moment Spencer meets Hope the summer before seventh g34227670rade, it’s . . . something at first sight. He knows she’s special, possibly even magical. The pair becomes fast friends, climbing trees and planning world travels. After years of being outshone by his older brother and teased because of his Tourette’s syndrome, Spencer finally feels like he belongs. But as Hope and Spencer get older and life gets messier, the clear label of “friend” gets messier, too. Through sibling feuds and family tragedies, new relationships and broken hearts, the two grow together and apart, and Spencer, an aspiring scientist, tries to map it all out using his trusty system of taxonomy. He wants to identify and classify their relationship, but in the end, he finds that life doesn’t always fit into easy-to-manage boxes, and it’s this messy complexity that makes life so rich and beautiful.

A totally enjoyable and at times very moving YA story of friendship, romance, love, family, teenage angst, loss and growing up.  A Taxonomy of Love covers a multitude of experiences reflecting the many and varied struggles that shape our lives.  Spencer is a brave character whose struggles with Tourette’s are well portrayed, creating instant empathy and giving the reader an insight into living with a neurological condition. I loved his use of taxonomy to try and make sense of things. Hope has a wonderful zest for life, which is abruptly altered by unexpected tragedy. Her subsequent self-destruct is painful to observe.   The ‘Will they? Won’t they? thread keeps you hooked – there is joy amidst the heartache and I loved the ending (no spoilers!). Through prose, letters and text conversations over six years, A Taxonomy of Love brings to life the relationship between the two protagonists, Spencer and Hope and their wider family relationships, creating people you care about, are rooting for and feel like you really know.

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A Taxonomy of Love is published by Abrams and Chronicle.

Find out more  rachaelallenwrites.blogspot.co.uk and www.abramsandchronicle.co.uk

 

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Eloise Undercover by Sarah Baker

The door to the library banged open. I looked around for a place to hide, but it was too late. An angry German voice barked an order. Boots clicked on the wooden floor of the corridor as he shouted at someone behind him. He there was a terrible silence. He was here.

It’s 1944 in Nazi-Occupied France.  Eloise’s world is in turmoil and her father is missing. In a world at war who can she trust? What secrets will she discover in the search for her father?

Eloise Undercover is a thrilling middle grade tale of survival, daring deeds and above all, hope in dark times. Living under Nazi occupation brings with it the stark realities of the war; these are dealt with in an age appropriate way, whilst not being made light of. The story features the fantastic location of Maison de Noyer from Sarah Baker’s previous novel Through the Mirror Door (see my review here) which I thought really clever; I love the idea of a house experiencing so much history through the ages. Twelve year old Eloise is a wonderful heroine who has a huge amount of courage and determination. With her father and friends gone, Eloise’s grandmother Amma is the only person left to care for her; but Amma has secrets of her own. Once Eloise uncovers the truth behind her father’s disappearance – that he was in fact part of the resistance – she insists she too can help fight against the Nazis and the adventures begin in earnest. With edge-of-your-seat action, clever plot twists and a cast of characters who embody both the brave and cruel sides of war, Eloise Undercover is a really great read, bringing history to life and reminding us of the importance of hope, trust and friendship.

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Eloise Undercover is published by Catnip Publishing.

Find out more www.bysarahbaker.com and www.bouncemarketing.co.uk

With thanks to Bloomsbury, Abrams and Chronicle and Catnip for sending me these books to review.

YA Book launch: Nikki Sheehan & Lisa Heathfield

On Wednesday evening I found myself eagerly awaiting the train to London, hoping it wouldn’t be late.  Thankfully it wasn’t – Southern Rail were running on time!!

I was going to Waterstones Clapham to celebrate the launch of two books – one I know well, one I haven’t read.  Goodnight, Boy is a brilliant YA novel from Nikki Sheehan (you can read my review here).  Flight of a Starling is Lisa Heathfield’s third YA novel and if her previous offerings are anything to go by, it’s sure to be brilliant.  Incidentally both books have gorgeous covers!

It’s always such a nice kind of event to be invited to and I felt privileged to join family, friends, book-ish folk (blook bloggers, agents, publicists) and of course the authors in celebrating.  After some delicious Prosecco had been consumed, the speeches began, with congratulations from the editors at Rock the Boat (Nikki Sheehan) and Egmont (Lisa Heathfield).  Nikki and Lisa then went on to thank their families, friends, publishers and other members of the book circle, including fellow authors who were there to help celebrate.

Writing a book is a lengthy process and then within minutes of release it takes on a life of it’s own which must be an amazing – and scary – feeling for an author.  It was lovely listening to both authors describe who had supported them and helped them produce these wonderful books.   Nikki spoke about the people who had been instrumental in her being a writer including her sons: ‘Without them there would be no point in writing’.  Yes that did bring a tear to my eye, especially as I’m a mother of sons too.

Lisa mentioned that she used to be a teacher and that two of her ‘pupils’ were there whom she thanked.  As it happened they were standing next to me, and I was so excited by this I had to speak to them.  It turns out they still call her ‘miss’ – old habits – and even though it was about nineteen years ago they still keep in touch.  I was excited because working in a school as I do, you can have such a positive influence on children’s lives (or not) and clearly Lisa had been an inspiration to these girls, now grown-up women.  That they were there to support her and clearly felt very emotional about this book, was wonderful to see.

Clutching both the books, I got back on the train with the nice warm feeling that comes after being at one of these events.  I love books.

For more information visit www.nikkisheehan.co.uk and www.egmont.co.uk

New review: Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

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Nikki Sheehan has written fantastic books for middle grade children including Swan Boy recently nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2017.  Her new novel, Goodnight, Boy, is her first for Young Adults and written in both prose and verse and is published by Rock the Boat.

Goodnight, Boy by Nikki Sheehan

The kennel has been JC’s home ever since his new adoptive father locked him inside. For hours on end, JC sits and tells his dog Boy how he came to this country: his family, the orphanage and the Haitian earthquake that swept everything away.

When his adoptive mother Melanie rescues him, life starts to feel normal again. Until JC does something bad, something that upset his new father so much that he and Boy are banished to the kennel. But as his new father gets sicker, JC realizes they have to find a way out. And so begins a stunning story of a boy, a dog and their journey to freedom.

Told in a mixture of verse and prose, Goodnight, Boy describes a life that no child should ever have to live.  Rescued from the streets of Haiti by a Haitian-American Doctor, Melanie, and taken back to the US to start a new life, JC finds himself yet again being dealt the hand of injustice with no idea when he will escape.  Stuck in the kennel with his dog Boy, it is through ‘conversation’ with Boy that JC shares his life story and we hear of the traumas he has experienced. Stolen from his family at a young age, thrown in an orphanage to be sold, enduring disease and totally unwanted; it is more than most could ever survive.  How unfair that JC now finds himself stuck in a nightmare again and with his new ‘mother’ Melanie seemingly disappeared.  Kept a prisoner by his ‘adoptive’ father, it’s impossible to know how or when he’ll escape.  But his relationship with Boy, who provides companionship, keeps JC from being completely alone.

Goodnight, Boy is quite an incredible, poignant story. The strength of the writing is demonstrated by the empathy you feel whilst reading; it’s achingly real. With pacing that gives time for moments of reflection and to draw breath, and with the mix of verse and prose Goodnight, Boy is like nothing you’ve ever read before.  There are moments of humour and the relationship between JC and Boy is utterly endearing.  You can’t help but feel JC’s sharing is actually a kind of emotional healing for him – even if he is stuck in a dog kennel.  As he talks, he works his way through the horrors of his life but also reflects on those moments of hope that have given him courage.  JC’s stream-of-consciousness show the complex nature of love, family life and remind us of the turmoil of natural disasters and the extreme poverty many people live in. His resilience is a lesson to us all. How does one boy survive such terrible times?  If you come from nothing, then there’s everything to hope for. And with a little bit of hope, perhaps anything is possible. A fantastic YA novel.

For more information visit www.nikkisheehan.co.uk/

New review: A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Sometimes you read a book and when you reach the final page, you realise the story has found its way into your soul.  Heart-wrenching, beautiful and so well written A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias is undoubtedly one of those stories and stays with you long after the final page.

It is the fourth book written by Sarah; a YA novel published by Troika Books. Her first job after leaving Oxford university was with the BBC where she was involved in a documentary called The Nazi Hunter, based on the life and work of Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor who spent much of his life tracking down war criminals. A Berlin exhibition, Hitler and the Germans, Nation and Crime, further inspired her to research the wartime persecution of the Romani people, and to write A Berlin Love Song.

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A Berlin Love Song by Sarah Matthias

Max is a German schoolboy, when he first meets Lili, a trapeze artist from a travelling circus that performs every year in Berlin.  Lili is a Romani and her life and customs are very different from those of Max and his family. Their friendship turns into love, but love between a German and a Romani is definitely forbidden. As Max is conscripted into the SS and war tears them apart, can their love survive?

The story starts in present day, where Max, now an old man, is finally writing down his precious memories from long ago.  We are drawn into a narrative telling the tale of how he, an ordinary German boy, and Lili, a beautiful Romani girl, fall in love.  Theirs is a love that is a meeting of souls; a love that cannot be ignored; “a kind of madness”.  Alongside this, we are shown the impending doom of the rise of the Nazis; the impact the looming war has on everyday life and ultimately how families are ripped apart. Max’s father refuses to conform to the Hitler regime; Lili’s father won’t acknowledge the threat posed by the Nazis to the Roma.  But with the persecution of many groups identified as “gypsy scum” along with the Jews, and with the terrible punishment for those Germans refusing to respond to Hitler’s call, both Max and Lili’s families have no choice but to face the unavoidable.  It is clear that Max and Lili will be unable to choose which ‘side’ they are on; their paths are inevitable.

A Berlin Love Song is a beautiful love story and a brilliant but terrible reflection of the ‘forgotten holocaust’ – the persecution of the Roma and Sinti people during World War 2. The thread of love that runs through the narrative keeps hope alive and whilst the inevitability of the war unfolds, we see that even the most physically broken of people survive in spirit. The stark realities of war are portrayed through the eyes of Max and Lili and through the very different experiences of their families.  It never ceases to fill me with horror the atrocities that took place in World War 2 and the characters are so real in this story, it feels like a true to life account.

Thankfully there are moments throughout that restore your faith in humanity.  The Roma people are beautifully brought to life – the colour, the freedom, the music and above all the spirit of the people leap off the page.  Added to this the wonderful descriptions of Lili’s home and livelihood, Circus Petalo, it is no wonder Max falls for her.  Set alongside the stifling household of his own family, Lili is a breath of fresh air.  Max’s household have very different opinions about Hitler and the Nazis; the claustrophobia and the fear of this situation are palpable and there is a sense Max finds an escape through his love for Lili. Meanwhile, the threats to Lili’s family grow ever closer and the sense of foreboding increases in intensity with every page.

A Berlin Love Song is well-paced and the juxtaposition of the romance alongside the complexities of war keep the reader captivated throughout.  Whilst desperately sad in places, the story holds the joy of love and the strength found in family at its heart. A very appropriate metaphor for our time.

Find out more at www.troikabooks.com or www.sarahmatthias.co.uk.

Thanks to Troika Books for sending me this book to review.

 

 

 

 

New Review: Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

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Hayley Barker’s debut YA novel Show Stopper will be published by Scholastic on 1st June 2017.  An English teacher and huge YA fiction fan, Hayley says being published is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to her! She was inspired to write Show Stopper by her fears about the growing wave of crime and animosity against minority groups in England.

Show Stopper by Hayley Barker

A dazzling, high-octane read filled with death-defying acrobatics, circus crowds with an appetite for disaster, and two forbidden teenage lovers trying to escape the shackles of their very different lives. Set in a near-future England where the poorest people in the land must watch their children be taken by a travelling circus – to perform at the mercy of hungry lions, sabotaged high wires and a demonic ringmaster. The ruling class visit the circus as an escape from their structured, high-achieving lives – pure entertainment with a bloodthirsty edge. Ben, the teenage son of a draconian government minister, visits the circus for the first time and falls instantly in love with Hoshiko, a young performer. They come from harshly different worlds – but must join together to escape the circus and put an end to its brutal sport.

Living in a dystopian future set in the UK, Ben is a Pure and the son of one the most powerful families in the ruling class; his mother being the Dreg Control Minister. The Dregs are outcasts – immigrants who over the last 100 years have now become so reviled they are like slaves.  Controlled by the Pures, it is the Dregs and their children who provide a never ending, and often needed, supply of performers for the deadly circus.  Ben is not like his mother or the rest of his family and hates having to ‘keep up appearances’. Through his relationship with the family housekeeper who herself is a Dreg, Ben begins to see the pain and anguish they suffer.  When he finally gets to see the deadly circus with his own eyes, he realises the full extent of the horror before him and cannot stop himself from trying to save Hoshiko and escape from a life of almost totalitarian control.

A story with much to admire, Show Stopper is a roller-coaster ride told from the points of view of the two central characters, who both have to draw on all their bravery and strength to succeed.  Ben’s mother is horrible and you do feel great sympathy for him. It is no surprise he falls for the beautiful but fierce Hoshiko, who herself lacks security of her real family, with only her fellow performers to rely on.  There are parallels between Ben and Hoshiko’s very different lives; they both crave the love of their families, suffer at the hands of bullies and have to ‘perform’ for various audiences.  Although the penalty for Hoshiko is far more severe if she fails…. Show Stopper makes knife-throwing in an ordinary circus look like a walk in the park and with the positively evil Ringmaster in charge, there are plenty edge-of-your-seat moments!

The circus is a great setting for a story and the narrative brilliantly captures the atmosphere and excitement – as well the danger and fear. The cast of circus characters are well imagined and you feel great empathy for all of them having to perform in such frightening circumstances.  The scenario of the Pures letting their hair down, transforming into a baying mob and watching the ‘dregs’ of society perform to the death is sadly quite believable, even if somewhat extreme. With some gruesome scenes bringing a definite flavour of horror to this novel, it’s not for the faint-hearted. However, the author succeeds in highlighting the potential ramifications if the increasing hate and prejudice that is embedded in some parts of our society is not addressed. I’d recommend Show Stopper for YA readers who enjoy a thrilling, dark, romance. Watch out for evil Ringmaster!

Follow Hayley on Twitter @HayleyABarkerFind out more at www.scholastic.co.uk. Read my interview with Hayley here. With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

New review: Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Danielle Younge-Ullman a novelist, playwright and freelance writer who has always had a passion for books, language and storytelling. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is published by Scholastic and is Danielle’s second YA novel.

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Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

Ingrid doesn’t belong on a hard-core wilderness trek with a bunch of ‘at risk youth’. She only agreed to come so that her mother would let her attend her dream school.  But as the group journeys further into the wilderness, the past becomes impossible to avoid. Maybe she does belong here after all.

Ingrid has always been her singing sensation mother’s number one fan.  Margot-Sophia Lalonde was an opera singer on the brink of superstardom, when her career was halted abruptly and their lives fell apart.  Ingrid has been picking up the pieces ever since; but maybe now it’s her turn to shine.  With the realisation of her dreams on the horizon, Ingrid’s mother only agrees to let Ingrid complete her senior year in a school of her choice IF she goes on a trek through the wilderness.  Ingrid finds herself in the middle of nowhere and very quickly realises it’s not what she expected. Instead of a beautiful tree-lined campsite, Ingrid finds herself wading knee deep in mud, trekking through waves of mosquitos and trying to avoid the searching questions of the camp counsellors. What was her mother thinking? How could she make her spend even one day in the company of such delinquents? She’s not the one with the problem…is she?

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is a great title, for an equally great story. With a bittersweet humour running throughout, it explores the experiences of a teenage girl who has had to face more than her fair share of troubles.  The story is told through journal entry letters written from Ingrid to her mother, alongside a narrative focusing on the events that brought Ingrid to this point in her life. Ingrid’s experiences of adjusting from a nomadic upbringing and the consequent fallout resulting in her mother’s depression, have given her more determination than perhaps even she realises.  Ingrid’s dry wit and resolve shines through, even when she’s right at the end of her rope. We follow Ingrid’s emotional journey of self-discovery, meeting those individuals who have had significant impact on her past; the repercussions of which she still feels.  We also meet her fellow campmates all of whom have a story to share that will help Ingrid better understand herself. A huge amount of research must have gone into this book to make each character so believable.

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined is truly well-observed and I particularly enjoyed Ingrid’s often humorous descriptions of the daily nightmare of the trek. I had nothing but sympathy for her having to hike in soaking wet clothes, being bitten to death and deal with the ‘circle’ sessions around the campfire.  This extended to huge empathy when you discover what she has been dealing with. I found her mother at times infuriating, but also felt desperately sad for her and could completely relate to her desire to protect her child.  Many will relate to Ingrid’s relationships with her school friends, her first love and her responses to the dilemmas she faces. But perhaps most poignant was how the story demonstrated that we all create facades around ourselves for self-preservation; to try and control life. If we admit to ourselves and others that everything is not ‘fine’, we can then face our past and our biggest fears and in doing so, we can move forward.  A great read for all young people.

Find out more at www.danielleyoungeullman.com and follow Danielle on Twitter . With thanks to Scholastic for my copy of Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined.  You can read my interview with Danielle here.