Trial By Fire by Josephine Angelini Review (No Spoilers)

Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  
Title: Trial by Fire

Author: Josephine Angelini

Genre: Young Adult, Sci-Fi, Fantasy

Pages: 373

My Rating: 3.75/5

This world is trying to kill Lily Proctor. Her life-threatening allergies keep her from enjoying experiences that others in her hometown of Salem take for granted, which is why she is determined to enjoy her first high school party with her best friend and longtime crush, Tristan. But after a humiliating incident in front of half her graduating class, Lily wishes she could just disappear.

Suddenly, Lily is in a different Salem—one overrun with horrifying creatures and ruled by powerful women called Crucibles. Strongest and cruelest of them all is Lillian . . . Lily’s other self in this alternate universe.


What makes Lily weak at home is what makes her extraordinary in New Salem. In this confusing world, Lily is torn between responsibilities she can’t hope to shoulder alone and a love she never expected. 

This review has been one of the hardest I have ever had to write. I just don’t know what to say. I have never read a book about alternate worlds before and therefore, I have nothing to compare this book too. When I first heard about this book, I thought the concept sounded completely unique and that is one of the things that really stood out to me about this book. The overall theme was ‘alternate worlds’, and yet there were elements of science and even a few hints of comedy in there which I thought came together as a very eclectic mix.

Plot-wise, I could say that there is something in this book for everyone. There’s romance in there, you’ve got some science and some fantasy too, there’s also a strong sense of friendship and teamwork as well as a sense of war in this book which just adds to the overall individuality of the book. However, I have to say, I found the plot a little confusing at times with who was who and what was where and where we were. Sometimes I felt like we were just expected to know all of this without adequate introduction. Also, I didn’t appreciate the sudden introduction of multi perspective. I liked that we did get to see other peoples’ views and I feel the story would’ve lacked a lot if it were not for that, but I think a new chapter with the characters name at the top would have helped all the readers distinguish who’s perspective we were seeing the story from. For example, when this was first introduced- through Gideon’s perspective, I thought we were still reading from Lily’s point of view and found myself very confused through half of the first paragraph, and then, on realisation, had to go back and re-read over that same paragraph.

On the subject of chapters, there are only 15 chapters in the whole book. Now, I don’t know if this actually a notable observation on this book in particular, but for me, I find it so much easier to read a book if it has shorter chapters. This is probably why it took me so long to read this book and I almost found myself in a slump at the end of it. When a book has small chapters, I find that I want to keep reading and reading and I’ll feel so accomplished if I’ve read 5 chapters rather than just 1. However, this might just be my personal preference.

Now, moving onto characters. I think my favourite of the characters would have to be Rowan and I definitely ship Rowan and Lily together (none of this Lily and Tristan nonsense… Oh no…) I loved the way Rowan was at home anywhere no matter what and he would always manage to make it seem glamorous even though it really wasn’t. I don’t know exactly what it is that makes me like him more than Tristan but there’s just something, that’s usually what happens with love-triangles anyway. I have to admit though… Just before the middle, I was a little bit of a Tristan fan… God how embarrasing… I just couldn’t get over Tristan from the beginning and I can never fully trust him after that… But you have to read the book to find out what that is… Well… Despite the fact that I once had a small crush on Tristan and Rowan is my favourite characters, I wouldn’t put either of them on my fictional boyfriends list… Well, maybe Rowan? I haven’t thought about that much…

I should say a few words about the heroine, Lily Procter… I did really like Lily, and sometimes I found her to be really relatable and funny which is what I was hoping to see out of a character who has just been transported to an alternate world… However, sometimes I found her to be really annoying and she got into arguments for no reason in order to push the story forward. I also found that she just accepted everything from only being told once, like the idea that Lillian is evil which is a concept I didn’t grasp at all in the very beginning. One last thing I found confusing was the way Lily managed to master some of the most difficult magic straight away… This is making me doubt how powerful the magic is if someone can grasp it straight away based off pure, god-given talent. I found this unrealistic… Well, for magic.

Sorry this was a bad review, I just really had no idea what to write and I hope I wasn’t too harsh. I don’t like writing negative reviews…

Just a disclaimer, I definitely going to be continuing the series with the second book closer to the release of the final book in the trilogy.

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20613491-trial-by-fire?from_search=true&search_version=service

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An Interview With E.K Johnston

Hello, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? 
Hello! Thank you for asking. 🙂
I’m not really one of those “always wanted to be a writer” writers. I enjoy it a lot, and I have always written things, but I never thought it would be my profession. I thought I was going to be a university professor, teaching Near Eastern Archaeology, which is what I went to school for. I read a lot, and acquired a profound amount of seemingly random information in the process, and it turns out that this is also really useful when you’re a writer. I spent most of my school time reading about the Bronze and Iron age in the Near East (Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, and Palestine), and that’s really where the idea of A THOUSAND NIGHTS came from.
Your book A Thousand Nights is based off the classic A Thousand and One Nights- has that been a very influential story to you or is it simply a story you thought needed a bit of modernising? 
The Arabian Nights haven’t been all that influential to me, to be honest. As I said above, I specialized in the Bronze and Iron ages, and the date usually given to The Arabian Nights is much, much later. I did want to try my hand at a retelling, though, and I thought the frame story of The Arabian Nights, the story of Scheherazade herself, might be a good one to look at. She collected all the stories together, the way that Hans Christian Anderson or Charles Perrault or the Brothers Grimm would do later on in Europe, and she got to shape a culture as a result. But she also had a really horrifying marriage. She was forced into it, and her husband was a killer, even if it was by proxy. During the course of her “thousand and one nights”, she has children by him, and her younger sister is also brought into his harem. It always made me kind of uncomfortable that his turnaround at the end of The Arabian Nights was some sort of ‘happily ever after’. I wanted to see what I could do.
Then, one night at work, I thought to myself: Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to my village, looking for a wife.
Also, the idea of retelling A Thousand and One Nights has suddenly become very popular among Young Adult literature- were you aware of this sudden trend or was it a shock to you? What do you think separates this book from the others that have been released recently? 
I had no idea. I started writing NIGHTS back in 2012, so I was only just becoming aware of publishing in general. I think what sets NIGHTS apart is the time period I picked, i.e. the Middle Bronze Age (specifically the late MBA IIA, because archaeologists never met a hair they couldn’t split). I had a lot of limitations in terms of technology, but also in terms of concepts like colour or family relations. This allowed me to play a lot with language, which is one of my favourite things to do anyway. 
Exactly! The whole time period of ‘A Thousand Nights’ was one of my favourite aspects and I found it really easy to visualise it! When did you decide to become a writer? And then, what made you sit down and actually write something? 
I wrote fan fiction all through university (and, in hindsight, had been playing at fanfic since I was very small), but it wasn’t until 2009 when, finally free of term papers and my Master’s thesis, I tackled a novel. I wrote 85K for NaNoWriMo of that year, and never looked back.
That’s so fantastic! Hopefully when I’ve finished this years exams I can pick up a pen too! The whole appearance of the UK cover of your book is absolutely stunning- do you think that this adds to the desirability of this book and the whole overall experience?How do you think book covers affect the readers? 
It’s SO PRETTY.
(Sorry, I just got my copies in the mail yesterday, and I’m not over it yet.)
*ahem* I am really, really pleased with the design and packaging that PanMacmillan came up with. It’s beautiful and supremely detailed, and now that I’m holding my own copies, I can tell you that the paper is lovely too. I certainly love it, and hopefully everyone else will too.
I cannot wait to get my hands on my own finished copy because it s just so pretty! I’m still not over it either  and I found out ages ago! They are actually my favourite! You have your own blog yourself (which I will link down below.) Do you find it difficult balancing your writing career with your blog and your personal life too? 
FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK. I haven’t blogged on wordpress in a long time. Tumblr is just so much easier (though the archiving is not the best). But when I started blogging, I wasn’t writing as much. I mostly did book reviews, actually, and I rarely review things anymore. It’s a balance as much as anything else. Blogging is hard work, and I really admire people who do it, but I don’t think I’ll ever be very good at it.
I completely agree! Sometimes I find balancing my blog difficult around my school work (post to come) so it’s very helpful to find that others have the same problem! Finally, for any inspired young authors out there (including myself), do you have any advice or tips on how to best approach a writing career or just writing in general? 

My advice is: you do you. There will be a lot of people who say things like “write every day!” or “never us adverbs!”, and I think that works most of the time, but the important thing is to play to your own strengths and find your own rhythms. Also, respect that every book is different, and so is every person trying to write one. And maybe read the first 100 pages of David Eddings’s RIVAN CODEX, because it sort of breaks down how to THINK about Fantasy, even if you’re not going to write it the way he did.

Thank you so much for the advice! I will look into that book and read it thoroughly! Your advice has been so helpful!

Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview, it was lovely talking to you!

My Review: https://yourbestbookpal.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/a-thousand-nights-by-e-k-johnston-review-no-spoilers/

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21524446-a-thousand-nights

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa Review (No Spoilers)

Thank you so much Pan Macmillan Publishers for sending me a press release copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Fans of the Impossible Life

Author: Kate Scelsa

Genre: Yound Adult, LGBT, Contemporary.

Pages: 336

Release Date: September 8 2015

My Rating: 4.5/5

A girl, her gay best friend, and the boy who’s in love with both of them.
Fans of the Impossible Life is the story of love, loss, growing up and the magic – and terror – of finding friends who truly see the person you are and the person you’re trying to become. It’s a story about rituals and love, and of those transformative friendships that burn hot and change you, but might not last.
SEBBY seems to carry sunlight around with him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and his best friend Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.
MIRA is starting over at St. Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.
JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at St. Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.
As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.

The overall premise of this book, I have to say, confused me no end. Before I started this book, I thought I would have trouble remembering which character was which and how I would distinguish each from each other. I also thought that there wasn’t anywhere to go… From the blurb I thought that a really interesting setting had been made but there was no situation to throw at the characters that had been so delicately crafted.

I have never been happier to be wrong. As soon as I opened the book, I found myself hooked on the story and the characters. The characters were definitely the most interesting element of the whole story- I loved each and every one of them individually and together in different ways because they were just so diverse!

So, you’ve got your goody-goody nerd Jeremy who is so shy because of an event that happened at his school resulting in him being bullied. At the beginning of the book he is unsure about his sexuality but with two dads taking care of him, he knows that he will be respected whichever way he decides to go.

Then you have Mira. A depressed, lonely girl who finds light in the form of her best friend Sebby. With a strict parental structure at home, Mira finds her parents constant praise for her elder sister a real annoyance as her family make it quite clear they believe she’s odd. Mira is a very interesting character and she is more complex than you realise at first glance. When you think you know everything about Mira- think again.

And finally, you have the beautiful Sebby who is outright gay and leader of a seemingly simple life. However, Sebby has so many secrets that you begin to wonder how he goes around with such a happy attitude. Sebby would probably be my favourite of the three if I really had to pick because he is the reason that this book stands out against so many other YA contemporaries. He is strong and yet weak the same time and the little strength he possesses, he only projects while he’s around the people who he believes need it more than him.

When the three main characters are together, their lives are so different from when they are apart and I really appreciated having both sides of their stories. Particularly with Sebby, you begin to realise, as you go further through the story, that you really don’t know a thing about their past and it’s a really emotional moment when you find out how they came to be the way they are. The plot line is, at times, a bit random, but I think that really encapsulates how broken and fragile everyone is- giving them the excuse that they should live for the moment. This book really shows the characters emotions in the harshest lights possible and Kate Scelsa really isn’t afraid to throw rocks at her characters- like really big boulders, huge huge rocks!

The writing was simple yet perfectly suited to the tone of the book and made me feel for the characters and really connect with them- particularly in tough situations. This book had me laughing out loud through the most of it and then, by the end, I was sobbing unexpectedly because I hadn’t realised how deeply I connected with the characters. I really visualised everything well and there was never a moment where I was confused or wondering where something had come from or who something was. Judging what I just said, you could say that this book is easy reading, and at times it really does feel like it, but when it gets to the times when taboo subjects are mentioned- you realise how wonderfully clever this book is to make such and awkward topic so fun and light-hearted (for the most part) to read about!

I highly, highly recommend Fans of the Impossible Life to anyone interested in contemporaries and anyone who is looking for something a bit different. You will not be disappointed. A real laugh-out-loud, tear-jerker this one! What a journey!

Goodreads link- https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25965908-fans-of-the-impossible-life

An Interview With Lisa Williamson

Hey everybody!

Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing the lovely Lisa Williamson, author of The Art of Being Normal.

Hi Lisa, welcome to my blog it is a pleasure having you here!

Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born in Nottingham in 1980. My mum worked in a shop and my dad was a plumber. I have big sister who is now a nurse. I was a really shy kid and loved to draw and make up stories. When I got a bit older, I became a little less shy and got really into drama and through my teens I did loads of school plays and amateur dramatic productions. When I was 19 I moved down to London and did a degree in drama. I’ve worked as an actor ever since, appearing in plays, musicals and TV commercials. About eight years ago I realised I was craving an creative outlet I had a bit more control over and started writing again and rediscovering my passion for telling stories.
Funny, that is just like me! I am also really interested in my drama and have shows on the go all the time but I still crave to explore my creative writing side a bit more too! The trouble is, I never know what to write about…What is your inspiration for writing?
It could be anything – an article online, a snippet of conversation I overhear in the street, a memory that pops into my head – inspiration is everywhere (I try to carry a notebook with me at all times). I usually start out with a character and then try to put them into as many tricky situations as possible. I like to throw rocks at my characters!
That’s always the best way to write, I find! Sometimes I love to feel just as stuck as my character to before I find a way out of the situation I’ve created for them!What inspired you to write The Art of Being Normal?
 
In 2010, I got a job working as an administrator at The Gender Identity Development Service (an NHS service offering talking therapies for under-18s struggling with their gender identity). It was just meant to be a temporary thing between acting jobs but I ended up staying for two years! As part of the role I typed up notes from all the individual therapy sessions and heard all these incredible stories – happy, sad, painful, triumphant. I was writing something else at the time and it took a while for it to dawn on me that I had some incredibly rich source material at my finger tips and should perhaps be writing about that instead! I set about looking for fiction featuring trans protagonists and found very little. It quickly became very clear young trans people were massively under-represented in the arts and media, and I became very committed to doing something about it if I possibly could. I observed several group therapy sessions for trans teens, all of whom were as engaging and complicated and individual as any great YA hero or heroine. Collectively they inspired me to create a character who was struggling with their gender identity but not defined by it. They also inspired the tone of the book. Although several of the young people were having a really tough time, there was always so much joy and positivity and energy in the room at these sessions. I didn’t want TAOBN to feel like an ‘issue’ book or heavy or gloomy in any way. Although there are painful moments, there are also moments of magic. I wanted the book to have light and shade, and for the downs to be balanced with real ups, just like real life. 
 
That’s such a fantastic inspiration to get! Just shows that it can come from anywhere. That must have been so interesting to learn about! You are completely right with the tone of the book. I really enjoyed reading about such a taboo subject in such a normal sounding way, if that makes sense… The amount of joy in the book made it stand out against most of the other YA contemporaries out there that tend to opt for the sadder route. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To keep writing, take risks and touch as many as people as possible through my books. I’d also LOVE to see a film version of TAOBN. That would be awesome!
A film would be so fantastic! It would really bring the book up and give it a whole new meaning as well as bringing a generally taboo subject out into the open and into the light. It could really teach us all and I think it would be a great laugh as well! Your characters are by far the most hilarious they can be and I really appreciate that. Give us an insight into your main characters. What do they do that is so special?
TAOBN is told from the point of view of two main characters – David and Leo, and I love them both! David is 14 and is starting to realise the desire to be female he’s had since a small child is not going away (if anything it’s getting worse). Despite his distress at his changing body, David is upbeat, kind and brave. Leo is 15, a grumpy loner, and the new kid at school. Having transferred from his old school under mysterious circumstances, he’s keen to keep his head down and avoid getting close to any of his new classmates. He certainly doesn’t bargain on falling for the most gorgeous girl in year 11. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms and they impact on one another’s lives in ways neither of them anticipate.
I loved all of the different situations you chuck your characters into, I think it gives them a real depth which you don’t normally see in YA contemporaries. How do you write? Full-time or part-time? Every day or three times a week? Do you have a structured plan for your writing?
I’m lucky enough to write more-or-less full-time. I continue to act in TV commercials but as the shoots tend to be quite short, the work fits round my writing really well. I work at home but occasionally venture out to work in a cafe or library for a change of scenery. I try to write every day if I can and have no set finish time. If it’s going well, I’ll work until my boyfriend makes me stop and eat something! I always intend to plan but invariably the plan falls apart the moment I sit down to write (my characters tend to be pretty bossy about what they want to happen and I regularly sit down to write one scene and it turns into something entirely different).
I should probably create a schedule for my writing too! I usually use my writing as a procrastination tool for when I have GCSE’s to work on! Tell us about your book covers. They represent the book in such a strong way.
I absolutely love the cover for TAOBN. The illustration is by Alice Todd, a young graphic illustrator based in Brighton. When my publishers sent me over her initial ideas, I was so chuffed! I love that she’s created such an iconic image and am thrilled we’re sticking with it for the paperback edition (out in January).
I love how deep a meaning they give to the book without you even realising- I didn’t realise how powerful the image was until I’d finished the book. What is the hardest thing about writing?
The days when it doesn’t come naturally and you start to feel like a fraud! Writing can be a very lonely profession and self doubt can creep in. That’s where the amazing UK YA community comes in. Over the past year I’ve connected with loads of fellow authors and taken advantage of their wisdom and experience, as well as made some great new friends.
Did you ever get Writer’s Block? If so, do you have any tips?
Yes! Sometimes you just need to get away from your desk – go for a walk, go to the gym, watch a film – just do something different and let your thoughts untangle themselves in their own way and at their own speed. Other times though, you need to battle through and just get words down on the page. I suffer from perfectionism and often feel I can’t move forwards until what I’ve already written feels polished, which incidentally is a really silly way to write! I’m trying to get better at being brave and not caring about writing badly. As someone very wise once said, you can’t edit an empty page. Free writes are a great way of getting into the right mindset to write.
Do you have any advice for inspired authors out there?
Write as much as you can (even if it’s just a few lines per day). Writing is a muscle and like any skill, you need to put the practice in to get better. I kept a diary growing up and it was a great way of getting used to expressing myself on the page. If you’re worried about it being found, set up a dedicated email address and email yourself instead (this is what I do). I would also recommend reading as widely as possible. I learn so much about plotting and characters from reading other books. Occasionally it’s intimidating when you read something amazing, but mostly I just find it really inspiring to read wonderful books. Another great advice I was recently given was to create tension but taking things away from your main character. I’ve tried it on my latest protagonist and it completely works. As I said earlier, I like to throw rocks at my characters! Finally, be true to yourself and the story to have to tell and follow your instincts.
How can readers find out more about you and your books?
Follow me on twitter (@lisa_letters) or visit my website – www.lisawilliamsonauthor.com. You can also find out more info via my publishers – http://www.davidficklingbooks.com
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with me, it was lovely to speak to you!