Writing Corner: Tips on Getting An Agent From Writer Amy McCaw

Hi everyone! I totally meant to get this post up way before the end of the month (my bad, work has been super busy), but it’s still July, so better late that never I suppose! I’m really excited about today’s post, Amy was my secret sister for the #otspsecretsister project on Twitter, and she has an agent, Sandra Sawicka, so she very generously offered to write a post for you guys about how she found her agent. As someone who is currently going through the querying process, I hope you find Amy’s tips helpful and that it makes the process a little easier for you!

Agented authors will have such a range of stories about how they got there. These are my tips about how I got to that amazing meeting where I was offered representation.

Writing programs

I’d queried in the past and got some positive feedback, but it didn’t work out. This time around, I did my research and discovered Write Mentor. I got a place on their summer program and was paired with Marisa Noelle. She helped me to get my manuscript in shape and the program’s end date gave me lots of motivation to keep writing and editing.

There are lots of programs out there and I’m sure they could have similar outcomes, but Write Mentor definitely worked for me.

Critiques

Writing is so solitary that there’s plenty of room for self doubt to creep in, but finding my writing community helped me to keep my perspective. I met critique partners through Write Mentor, Twitter and at book events that are not only brilliant writers, but I also trust them to give honest, helpful feedback. Through them, I got advice on everything from pitching to that ever-painful synopsis.

There’s also the option to get paid critiques, and Lauren James gave incredibly astute, constructive feedback that really pushed me.

Pitching

I was terrified at the prospect of telling someone in person about my manuscript but I decided to prepare a pitch for the free agent sessions at YALC. I pitched every day and got some great feedback, but most importantly, on that very first pitch I met Sandra Sawicka, who ended up being my agent. The face-to-face contact showed that we clicked and I really felt her enthusiasm for my pitch.

Querying

Once Write Mentor was over, I started querying. Part of the process involved getting a synopsis and query letter ready to go, so then all that was left to do was to choose my agents.

If you don’t end up polishing your query with a mentor’s help, there are lots of great online resources. Writer’s Digest and Nathan Bransford’s blog were my go-to guides.

I used books such as The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to narrow down my choices, as well as the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter and Manuscript Wishlist website.

Once my research was done, I made a spreadsheet to track who I’d queried and their responses. I also kept notes about agents’ wish lists and preferences, which helped to personalise my queries.

I hope you’ve found this post useful! If you want to talk books or writing with me, you can find me on my blog at yaundermyskin.co.uk or on Twitter @yaundermyskin. Happy querying!

amy mccaw

Amy McCaw is a YA writer and blogger. She’s a fan of all things dark and spooky, and is currently working on her untitled Gothic YA mystery novel set in 1990s New Orleans.
 
Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her debut novel has elements of all of these. If Amy’s not at a book event or reading, she can usually be found scribbling away in her writing room, surrounded by movie memorabilia and an out-of-control signed books collection. Unsurprisingly, she’s a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and has gone to conventions to meet James Marsters more times than she cares to admit.
 
Amy also loves travelling and has a particular affinity for America. She’s visited 29 states, 13 Man Vs Food restaurants and many bookish locations, including the cities where Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Diaries were set.
 
If you want to talk with Amy about books or 90s movies, you can find her on Twitter.
 

Thank you Amy for that very insightful post! Fellow writers, do you have any other querying tips? Share your top tips in the comments.

If you are a writer, and you would like to a guest post for me, then please get in touch! I have spots open from August-December, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on my Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any writing related topic you want, and it’s not limited to just published or agented writers, all writers are welcome!

I’m hopefully going to have a review of Strange The Dreamer up over the weekend, so look out for that. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen with this feature next, as I don’t have anymore guest posts lined up, but if I don’t get anyone for August, then I’m going to be talking about writing second world fantasy vs writing fantasy set in our world and the pros and cons I’ve found of each, which should be quite a fun one!

 

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Top Ten Tuesday #222

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Hi everyone! I was at YALC this weekend with my friends, Hannah & Hannah (they are different Hannahs!) and I had the most amazing time, met so many of my favourite authors again, bought plenty of great books, lots of fun bookish swag and it was so nice to spend an entire weekend with my friends just fangirling about books. I’ve been on a bit of a post YALC comedown over the past couple of days though, it’s unfair that I spend the entire year waiting for it and then it seems to be over so fast!

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you all, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week is a Freebie, so I’ve decided to steer away from books for a week, and talk about one of my other favourite things: Podcasts. I only really started listening to podcasts in the last year, but in that time I’ve found so many great ones I love, and I wanted to share them with you today (it’s also kind of reading related since I listen a lot when I’m reading). So here we go, my Top Ten Podcasts I Love:

  1. The Hamilcast

AGH I LOVE THIS PODCAST SO MUCH. The host, Gillian Pensavalle is so warm and lovely, and has such a natural interviewing style and each week has a new guest from Hamilton, largely from Broadway, but also from the other companies, including a couple from the West End. I also love that she talks to the people who are involved backstage, I’ve learned so much about working in the theatre from this podcast and it’s just always such an insightful and fun hour.

2. The Guilty Feminist

My friend turned me onto this podcast and it’s so awesome! It’s feminist comedy and I spend the entire time laughing, but also learning a lot from the guests and enjoying all the different topics. I’ve been lucky enough to get to go to two live shows, and meet Deborah for her book signing last year, I find her such an inspiring person and I love how she and all her guests are using comedy as a way of inspiring feminist activism!

3. Stuff You Missed In History Class

This podcast does what it says on the tin, each week, they talk about a different event or person from History, and they’re usually relatively short, about 30-40 mins, so I can often listen to more than one before I go to bed. There have been a LOT of different hosts for this one, and some of their voices are more tolerable than others, but generally I really enjoy the podcasts, the hosts know their stuff and it’s a great way of learning about history I might be less familiar with.

4. Myths and Legends

This was actually the first podcast I ever listened to, thanks to a recommendation from a friend. I’ve loved Greek myths ever since I was a kid, and each week, the host Jason Weizer shares a different myth or legend from around the world, some of which I am familiar with, but I’ve also heard some new ones since I started listening to this podcast, which is great. I especially enjoy the Greek myths (obviously) and also the Arthurian legends.

5. The Gender Knot

Kind of similar to The Guilty Feminist, in that it’s a gender based show, but this isn’t comedy, just straight discussion. The two hosts, Nas and Dan, talk about a different gender based issue each week and try to untangle it and come to some sort of conclusion. They’re also usually quite short, which makes them a great listen before bed.

6. GrownUpLand

Each week, the hosts of this podcast take a different issue related to adulthood, and they talk about it, have a challenge related to it and share different clips from BBC Radio 4 around the issue. It’s funny, and always quite a quick listen, the hour feels like it flies past, a great one for a commute.

7. The Miss Fisher Philes

My friend Nicola got me into Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries earlier this year, and she also got me into this podcast. The hosts Mary and Chandler are great, and each episode is them talking about an episode of Miss Fisher (they’ve actually almost finished the series), discussing the plot, costumes, characters, and occasionally the murder (though very rarely so I wouldn’t worry about spoilers). It’s definitely been a very fun addition to my podcast rotation.

8. Doing It! With Hannah Witton

I only got into Hannah Witton’s YouTube channel this year, but I really enjoy her videos when I get the chance to watch them, so when I heard that she had a new podcast, I decided to give it a try and I really enjoyed it. Each week she talks to a different guest about an issue related to sex and relationships, and it’s always a very insightful and informative conversation. Hannah has such an easy voice to listen to, and I’ve enjoyed all the episodes of this podcast that have been released since its launch at the end of May.

9. Talking Tudors

I’ve only listened to a couple of episodes of this one, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. Natalie Gruninger is a great host, and clearly knowledgeable about her topic, and whilst two historians talking could seem dry, I’ve found all the episodes I’ve listened to so far, really engaging and informative. I can’t wait to listen to more!

10. The B&N YA Podcast

I tend to kind of dip in and out of this one, as and when the guests interest me, but I’ve enjoyed it every time I have. Melissa Albert is a great host, and the guests (at least the ones I’ve listened to) are always great, it’s so lovely to get to hear authors talking about their books. My favourites so far have been Leigh Bardugo, Stephanie Garber and Laini Taylor.

So there we go, my favourite podcasts! Do we share any? Do you like listening to podcasts? Any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

I’m going to finally be putting up my July Writing Corner post tomorrow (I’m sorry guys, this month totally got away from me) and hopefully a review of Strange The Dreamer over the weekend, so keep an eye out for those!

YALC 2019 Recap (Day Two)

Yesterday, Day Two of YALC got off to a very early start. We decided that we wanted to get there early because we knew Victoria Schwab’s signing queue was going to be virtual tickets and we knew that the earlier we got there, the lower number we would be able to get. Of course, the best laid plans go awry, and we had quite a lot of stuff to get together, as we were all heading home after so despite wanting to get there for nine, we didn’t actually arrive until about 9.30. Thankfully, the queue was not very long, so we got in quite quickly.

We made a beeline for the VQ tickets, and got our tickets for Victoria Schwab, and Malorie Blackman later on. Sadly, apparently everyone at YALC was a really eager beaver, and we were like 280+ in the signing queue, so we were a bit worried because when we were in the same situation with Tomi Adeyemi last year, we didn’t get our books signed, but never fear that didn’t happen this year (more on that later). Whilst we were waiting Hannah grabbed us some beautiful Shades of Magic prints that were being given away by I think FairyLoot, which you’ll get to see at the end of this post.

Once we had got our VQ tickets, we headed over to the Orion booth as we’d heard they were doing a Ninth House ARC raffle throughout the day. It wasn’t quite time yet, so we wandered around for a bit, and came back for our raffle tickets at 10.

I was scrolling through Twitter after that and I found that the lovely Charnell (of Reviews From A Bookworm) had a spare VQ ticket for Victoria Schwab with a much lower number than mine and she very kindly gave it to me, which Hannah and I were both really grateful for, as we both desperately wanted to see her, and knew the higher number you had, the more chance the queue got cut off before it got to you.

We wandered around for a bit after that as we knew we wouldn’t be right away in the Victoria Schwab queue, and I got some great stuff from Illumicrate and Fable and Black, an amazing Priory art print, a Shades of Magic enamel pin for my bag and a Shades of Magic keyring. I also got a free ACOTAR mug with my purchase which was lovely, and got entered into the raffle for Ninth House, as well as their other proofs. Hannah (author Hannah, not blogger Hannah), also bought quite a few books, and I got two new ones, Ink, Iron and Glass and Thief of Lies. Hannah (BooksLifeandOtherOddities) got the two books from HarperCollins she’d wanted to buy the day before, Gentleman’s Guide and Fawkes (she couldn’t decide between that and Romanov and I said I liked Fawkes better).

Once we were done there, it was past time for us to get into the VE Schwab queue, as I’d been longer than I thought at Illumicrate and the queue moved quite quickly! We got in though, and had the happy surprise that Victoria was personalising one book, having been told prior to YALC that she wouldn’t be doing dedications. Since we were kind of sharing the VQ ticket, so we both got through early and didn’t have to come back when the numbers were in the 200s, I got two comics signed and Hannah got her copy of Vicious dedicated, which made her day. The queue was long, so we didn’t have much time with V, but I managed to tell her that Vengeful was going to be my next read, and that I was super excited. Apparently she’s had people either really loving it or really hating it, so I told her I’d tweet her what I thought when I was done (I’m sure I will really love it, I will not be tweeting her telling her I despised it! I started it today and I’m already enjoying it).

When we’d finished in Victoria’s queue, we decided it was time for lunch, but none of us had bought any because we’d come straight in to get VQ tickets, so we headed out to the Tesco across the road to buy lunch and then got back in using our stamps. We sat by the book swap to eat, and I got a chicken and bacon sandwich, a big bag of quavers and fruit. We also had more of Hannah’s cookie dough brownies.

We had some time to kill after lunch as our next signing wasn’t until four, so we wandered around for a bit longer. I was basically done book buying, but Hannah (author Hannah) had catching up to do, and boy did she, she ended up with a massive stack of great books. I wanted to go to the Samantha Shannon signing, and Hannah (blogger Hannah) wanted to go to the FairyLoot stand for a Caraval announcement at 1, so we went our separate ways for a bit.

Samantha’s queue was quite long, but Hannah brought me a cupcake from the FairyLoot stand, which was lovely, and I was glad I waited even if I didn’t have a book to sign this year, as she signed the Priory print that I bought from Illumicrate and I got to tell her how much I enjoyed Priory. Apparently she’s working on a companion which will have many more dragons, which I was very excited to hear about! Samantha is always so lovely, and it was great to get to see her as I didn’t think we’d be able to since her official signing was on Sunday (thanks Illumicrate for organising the Saturday one)!

By the time we’d done that, it was getting close to 2pm and Hannah (author Hannah) had quite a long journey home, so she wanted to get going. We got the obligatory picture of all of us on the YALC sign, and said our goodbyes before going our separate ways. We then headed over to the Karen McManus queue, where Hannah got her copy of One of Us Is Lying signed (I just waited, as I didn’t have anything for her to sign).

After that, Hannah and I really didn’t have that much to do, so we spent a lot of time sitting and chilling. Hannah won a copy of To Best The Boys from FairyLoot for telling them how many anniversaries they’d had (I’d told her it was 3) so she was very happy about that. I was only one number away from winning the Illumicrate raffle for Kingdom of Souls, so that was annoying! We spent a lot of time checking if we had won different raffles (we hadn’t, Hannah really wanted to win a copy of Slay, but even with three numbers we didn’t get there) and just sitting and chatting.

I tried in vain to find more bats for an Into The Crooked Place arc of my own, but didn’t find any, so I’ll just be sharing Hananh’s. It wasn’t a total waste though, watching bookworms frantically scouring a very large convention centre for plastic bats in hopes of winning an ARC was pretty darn funny.

When it hit 4, we were really just waiting for Malorie Blackman’s numbers to get to ours. We were getting a little cranky because we were quite tired, and only really had that left to go, we both had very little money (and space) so there was no more book buying and there wasn’t much else we wanted to do. We took up residence on some bean bags near the stand and kept periodically going back and forth to check if our numbers were up yet.

Whilst we were waiting, we noticed that Alwyn Hamilton’s signing queue had pretty much finished and since we’ve seen her every other year that we’ve been at YALC, and she didn’t have a large queue anymore, we decided to go over and say hi and get a picture. She was so lovely, she knows us by now (we’ve seen her every year for five years, always at YALC and always together!) and seemed really happy to see us. We told her that we had photos of us over the years at YALC, which she loved and that we were super excited for her new book, The Notorious Virtues. We got a picture and she signed our Notorious Virtues Invites (which apparently might get you something cool!) and it really perked us up, because at that point we were getting a bit cranky with waiting for Malorie Blackman’s queue.

We still had to wait, I think about another 40 minutes to an hour after that before we finally got to the front of Malorie’s queue. She was so lovely though, we thanked her for setting up YALC in the first place because it’s been such a huge part of our bookworm lives over the past five years and commiserated that we missed her rapping in Klingon because we weren’t there for the first year. I also said that Noughts and Crosses was my first YA book when I was 11 and that I was super excited for Crossfire and she thanked me and said that she hoped I wasn’t too scarred from it. We joked that we were still here, so it couldn’t have been that bad. It was lovely to meet her, we probably would have got a photo, but by that point, we were quite sweaty and gross and needed to get home, so we didn’t (one day!). We definitely understood why her line was taking so long when we got there, she really loves to chat to readers (which is awesome)!

When we were done with Malorie, we made a beeline for the exit pretty sharpish, as it was about 6 o’clock by that time and we both needed to make our trains home. We picked up my bag from the cloakroom, and staggered towards the exit, laden down under the weight of all our books.

We walked back to High Street Kensington station, and got the tube. Hannah got off earlier than me as her stop was direct, I had to change at Edgware Road, and then get another train to Kings Cross. Thankfully when I got there, my train was already waiting on the platform so I didn’t have to wait very long and I got home much earlier this year, about 8.15 which was nice!

I had another amazing year at YALC, and I cannot wait to go back again next year, it’s my favourite annual bookworm tradition!

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Us on the YALC sign

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Meeting VE Schwab (yes we are fangirls, can you tell?)

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Trying to win a copy of FairyLoot’s Finale (we didn’t, Hannah ended up buying one from Hodderscape).

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My signed Malorie Blackman book

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Signed comics!

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Saturday signed books

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Entire weekend haul

20190728_190951New addition to the VE Schwab merchandise

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Weekend swag

20190728_190859Shades of Magic print

20190728_190906Shades of Magic pin

IMG_20190727_221232_525Us with Alwyn Hamilton

20190728_190845Gorgeous Priory print signed by Samantha Shannon

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Hannah and I fulfilling our demigod dreams!

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Meeting Samantha Shannon!

So what do you think of the books I got? Any I should desperately prioritise? Anyone else been at YALC this wekeend? Did you have fun? Who was your favourite author to meet? Let me know in the comments, I’d love for the YALC fangirling to continue a little longer!

 

YALC 2019 Recap (Day One)

Hi everyone! If you haven’t seen me excitedly squealing about YALC for the last month or so, that’s okay, you haven’t missed much, just the usual business of fangirling excitedly about spending the weekend with my friends and meeting loads of authors and getting books signed and generally just adding many many books to my TBR. If you’re not familiar, YALC is the Young Adult Literature Convention, created by Malorie Blackman five years ago, when she was the Children’s Laureate, it’s the biggest convention for young adult readers in the UK, and it’s absolutely brilliant.

My YALC experience this year was a little different, as I usually go down on the Friday morning, since I don’t live very far out of London but this year, as my parents were already down in London, I went down on the Thursday night. I’m not going to lie, I was quite stressed out about getting down this year since a lot of trains were cancelled due to the hot weather. I spent the entire day at work obsessively checking the trains and getting increasingly more and more stressed as I saw all my trains getting cancelled. Thankfully, I managed to get out of work slightly early and get on a train to Brighton which stopped at St Pancras, otherwise I’m not sure what I would have done!

So on the Friday morning, as I was staying in Clapham Junction with my parents, I didn’t have far to go at all to get to YALC, I just got on an Overground train to Kensington Olympia, which was only about ten minutes and that was lovely, it took a lot of the usual stress out of the morning of YALC. I was a little confused when I got there as to which queue was which, as there were two, but after going to get my food from Tesco, I was directed to the one day queue. I had seen a much longer one but it turned out that was the queue for people with three day tickets.

Whilst I was waiting, Hannah (my friend, you might know her as Books, Life and Other Oddities) arrived, and the queue actually moved quite quickly because it was very short. We had our tickets scanned, and after a quick bag search, we headed up to the YALC floor. We made a beeline for the Waterstones where I bought a copy of Malorie Blackman’s new book, Crossfire. I then realised that I couldn’t find my phone, and panicked because I had literally just had it to use our tickets to get in. We retraced our steps and eventually went back downstairs and found it with the Showmasters staff on the front desk.

After that little fiasco, we got VQ signing tickets at the table for all the signings we wanted to go to that day (they were giving out tickets for all the authors at the beginning of the day as a precaution) and then headed over to the Agents Arena for the pitching workshop. I’d want to get to YALC by 11 on Friday, specifically so I could go to that workshop, but I didn’t find it as useful as I’d hoped? Most of the advice was pretty similar to the talk from last year, and the agent spoke quite quietly so I couldn’t really hear her. Still it was good to know that I’m on the right track with my submission letters and that there’s nothing I’m doing wrong there.

We had a while after the agent’s talk, as our first signing wasn’t until two, so we wandered around the stalls for a bit. I bought a couple of books from the HarperCollins store, Sherwood for me, and a book for a friend as well. Hannah spotted a couple of HarperCollins books that she wanted too, but decided to come back later for them, as she didn’t want to carry them around all day (fair enough!). I also bought Gina Martin’s Be The Change, as that’s a book I’ve been wanting to read, I think what she did with her upskirting law is so awesome and I’m super excited to read it.

After wandering for a bit, we both decided that we were hungry and that it was time for lunch, Hannah had brought food from home and I’d got a meal deal from Tesco. Hannah had also brought Cookie Dough brownies, which were delicious. We had lunch right near the book swap and Hannah had brought some old books to swap, so she found several more from the book swap that she wanted. I didn’t have any this year, as I left most of my unwanted proofs in Scotland (and to be honest, probably could not have fit many more books in my bag!).

When we were done with lunch, we saw an announcement that Hot Key Books had hidden bats around the centre, and to win an ARC of Into The Crooked Place, Alexandra Christo’s new book, which Hannah and I were both really excited about. We don’t usually do well at these kinds of things, but Hannah spotted a bat on the YALC sign, so she won the ARC! I did try to find a second one, but sadly, I was beaten to it (we really want to know where they hid that fifth bat because we couldn’t find it anywhere!) and Hannah is going to lend me Into The Crooked Place when she’s done!

After that we honestly just milled about for a while, all the authors we wanted to see on the Friday were in the afternoon, our first signing wasn’t until 3, so we had the luxury of being able to be quite chilled about what we did. We confused a lot of people by sitting on the tables next to the workshop area, but it was quite nice to have somewhere to sit that wasn’t the floor! Hannah bought Enchantee from My Kinda Book, as I’d been telling her since January how good it was and she’d been desperate for a copy (I couldn’t lend her one, as I got it from Netgalley) and she also got the Grisha trilogy from BKMRK. I saw two of the books that I’d bought at Foyles the week before and could have got at YALC for cheaper, which was annoying (and have since seen someone post a picture of the third in their YALC haul) but oh well, at least I saved the bag space!

Our first signing of the day was at 3, and it was Laura Steven. We had relatively early tickets in her signing queue, so it didn’t take long before we got through. I got A Girl Called Shameless signed, and Hannah got her sampler of Laura’s upcoming book, The Love Hypothesis. You’d think we’d speak to authors about their books, and we did a little, we commiserated about everyone having a Danny, and she told us an awkward story about her “Danny” that didn’t make it into the book but we mostly fangirled about her dog, Obi! She didn’t seem to mind though. She’s such a lovely person, I hope I get to see her at another event when her new book comes out.

Once we were done with Laura’s queue, we had a bit more time before our next signings (Derek Landy and Eoin Colfer) so we just chilled for a bit again, it was nice not to be running from one signing to the next like we had been in previous years, and it gave us some time to rest our feet. We had relatively early tickets in Derek’s queue, so we didn’t have to wait all that long after his panel before we could go over to the signing queue. I definitely felt like the queues were handled better this year, my only complaint was that in previous years, they had a little whiteboard which showed what numbers they were at in the virtual queues, so you didn’t have to be constantly asking (but I’ll get to that more in my post for tomorrow).

As always, Derek was awesome and so funny. I told him that I’d read Bedlam since the last time we met, and that I really enjoyed it. He asked us if we had any questions, but honestly, I didn’t have any that weren’t spoilery and Hannah isn’t caught up on the new series yet, so I couldn’t really ask any (though he seemed to quite enjoy teasing Hannah about revealing potential spoilers). I did ask if he knew how many books there were going to be in this new arc and apparently he does but isn’t allowed to share yet and Hannah was very pleased to find out that Vex is in Bedlam. We also got our annual awkward photo with Derek to add to our growing collection.

Once we were done with Derek, we made it over to Eoin’s queue, and thankfully we had quite low numbers for that queue as well so we didn’t have to wait too long for that queue either. Hannah and I both read Artemis Fowl when we were teenagers and are really excited for the film, so it was really cool to get to meet Eoin. Only I had a book to sign though, because Hannah had lost her copy (which I bought her for her birthday when we were in school) but it did mean that she had a good story to tell Eoin!

By the time we were done with Eoin, we had to head off pretty sharpish, as I think it was just after five, and we had dinner plans with Zoe and Hannah (our other friend who came to YALC with us yesterday). They both got a bit annoyed at us, because it took us a while to get across London in peak time traffic, but we got there eventually!

After Hannah gave us a tour of her work and we picked up her phone charger, we headed off for dinner at Conchigilia, this lovely Italian place that we really like. I had a delicious pizza, as did Zoe and the two Hannahs both had pasta. It was great to get to catch up with Zoe as I haven’t seen her in a while, and the other Hannah as well and we had a really lovely meal.

Once we’d finished dinner, we headed our separate ways from Oxford Circus, the two Hannahs and I back to Clapham Junction and Zoe back home. All in all, it was a really great first day of YALC and we were all very excited for the Saturday!

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Us with Derek Landy!

20190728_191326My Friday signed books

20190728_191401My Friday Book Haul

20190728_191417My signed Laura Steven

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My signed Artemis Fowl

20190728_191434One of my signed Skulduggery books (I only need two more signed now and then I have the full set!).

 

Top Ten Tuesday #221

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Hi everyone! It’s YALC week and I’m so excited, I’ll be at YALC Friday and Saturday with my friends, Hannah and Hannah (yes they are both Hannahs!), so if you see us, come say hi. None of us bite, and we all love talking to friendly bookish people. YALC is always my favourite weekend of the year, and I’ve got two days off work to go to it, so I fully intend to make the most of it and come home with loads of great books to add to my never ending TBR pile.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you guys, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week we’re talking about Settings I’d Like To See More Of, which I thought would be hard because honestly a lot of the settings I like are already used a lot, but I managed to find ten quite easily! So here we go:

  1. Non US Settings

Okay so this one is kind of vague, but I would really love to find more books that are set outside the US, or to be honest, even the UK (much as I love reading books set closer to home). There is an entire world out there, so many different countries to explore and I would love it if there were more books set in countries with non-Western cultures (and preferably written by authors from those countries).

2. Libraries

There are probably a lot more books out there set in libraries than I have actually read, but I’d still love to read more of them, I think magical libraries would be a great place to set books, and before you all ask, yes, Sorcery of Thorns is on my TBR.

3. Tudor Era England (especially in fantasies)

WHY DO PEOPLE NOT USE THE TUDOR ERA MORE? Mysteries, historical, fantasies, there are so many different options for stories set in that era and I really, really want to see them. Since reading Fawkes, I’ve been dying for something similar but with the Tudors. Think Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots but with magic? It would be spectacular!

4. Underground caves/tunnels

This might be a particularly niche/narcissistic one, considering that they are two settings that I’ve used in my own WIPs, but I’m throwing them in there anyway! I think there’s something very creepy and magical about dark caves and underground tunnels and they would be perfect settings for fantasies or maybe even paranormal stories.

5. Universities

Yes, I’m banging the “we need more University stories” drum again, who’s surprised? I think Universities have a plethora of different options for stories, contemporary set ones, magical Universities (we have magic boarding schools, why not Unis?), paranormal, I think you could fit pretty much any story in this setting and I’d love to see it used more.

6. Scotland

I’m honestly surprised Scotland doesn’t get used more in books? You’ve obviously got the big ones like Outlander, but I’d love to see more, as a setting, I feel like it could fit a variety of genres, there’s so much versatility in the Scottish landscape and I’d just love to read more books set there, especially fantasies, it’s not used nearly enough for fantasies!

7. Lesser known fairytales/myths/legends

Fairytale retellings tend to stick to the tried and trusted few: Cinderella, Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid etc and I’d love to see a bit more range in terms of the fairytales that get retellings, I’d love to see more non-Western stories being retold, obviously by authors from those cultures, African, Asian, Native American, Latinx, there are so many places with myths, legends or fairytales to be retold and I’d love to see that.

8. Ancient Greece

No, I’m not talking about modern retellings of Greek myths here, I’m talking books set in actual Ancient Greece. I loved The Roman Mysteries series when I was younger, about child detectives in Ancient Rome and I’d love to see something similar but with Ancient Greece, I think Ancient Greek teens having adventures could be so much fun.

9. Deserts

I really loved the desert setting in Rebel of The Sands, it was almost a character of its own and I would love to see more books set in that kind of environment, I think it poses a lot of fun challenges for characters and just provides a brilliant backdrop for stories.

10. Ships

This is my not so subtle way of saying I want more pirate stories! In all seriousness though, I think being stuck on a ship on an adventure at sea can provide such fun character dynamics (see VE Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light for a great example) especially if your characters don’t all like each other or have pent up sexual tension!

So there we go, the Settings I’d Like To See More Of. Do we share any? What settings did you have on your list this week? Have you read any books with these settings, if so share them!

Next week’s topic is a Freebie, and I’m going to be talking about My Top Ten Favourite Podcasts, so you can all get a glimpse into what I listen to every week.

I’m going to be posting all about YALC 2019 on the blog at the end of this week, and beginning of next week, so keep a look out for my annual recap posts!

The Priory of The Orange Tree Review (Audiobook)

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Book: The Priory of The Orange Tree

Author: Samantha Shannon

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Liyah Summers

Bechdel Test: PASS-There are numerous conversations between named female characters in this book about things other than men.

Today’s review is going to be a little different, as it’s the first audiobook review I’ve ever done on my blog. My relationship with audiobooks has been a bit strange, as I loved them when I was a kid and used to listen to them on cassette tapes (YES I KNOW IT MAKES ME SEEM OLD. It was actually truly horrifying reading this book and realising I’m pretty much exactly between the ages of Ead and Tane) but as I got older, for some reason I fell out of love with them and it’s not until now I’ve tried them again. I really enjoyed the experience though, I’m already reading my second one (The Diviners by Libba Bray for anyone wondering) and I definitely see this becoming a regular thing.

I actually bought the hardcover of this book, and had it signed by Samantha, which I’m glad I did because this book is all kinds of gorgeous but from a purely practical standpoint, I realised reading it in that format was never going to work, I read on the bus, that book is massive whereas my phone…..easily transportable and always on me. So I got Audible and chose this as my first read.

I was so excited for this one, and it was, well it was good but perhaps not quite worth the hype. I did love the world, and enjoyed the characters, but the plot moved too slowly for my taste and I found the sprawling cast quite confusing, especially in the first part of the book. I did warm up to it as time went on, and ended up enjoying it quite a lot, but the ending kind of ruined things for me as it was incredibly anti-climactic. Here is a short synopsis of the book:

A world divided.
A queendom without an heir.
An ancient enemy awakens.

The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I suppose since this is an audiobook, I should probably start with the narrator, as that’s a pretty large component! I really enjoyed Liyah Summers’ performance, I thought she did a great job and I found her voice very relaxing to listen to, but I had an issue with how she did characters’ accents. I found that whilst the four main characters had very distinct voices, there were a lot of secondary characters who had similar accents and that kind of confused me. When Tane was speaking to her friend Susa, I couldn’t follow the conversation because they both sounded the same! I know it’s hard when people are from the same place and should have similar accents, but more differentiation would have been nice.

Samantha Shannon’s writing was gorgeous, it really immersed you in the world, and though I can’t picture everything in my head like some people do (I’m planning on talking more about this in a future discussion post) her words really made me feel like I could be there. She has such a way with words, and though she does have a tendency to be a bit verbose sometimes, I do love her writing. I also really loved the humour in her dialogue, I noticed that a lot more with this book than I did in The Bone Season.

The pacing was probably my biggest problem with this book. The first two parts, and much of the third part are incredibly slow, they are all really just set up for the rest of the book. I understand why this was needed because obviously this is a sprawling fantasy world and it takes a while to introduce but then we were left with the problem that the last three parts felt incredibly rushed, because Shannon had to fit the rest of the story in. Honestly I felt like this book was much longer than it really needed to be, if the beginning parts had been trimmed a little, and the end parts expanded, I reckon the story might have been slightly better paced.

The characters I generally liked, but I did have some issues with them. I found it quite difficult to connect to any of them to start off with, just because there were SO MANY (there are four narrators and numerous other supporting characters) and I felt like the narration somewhat kept you at arms length? This did change through the book and I found myself connecting to the characters more, but I initially found it difficult because I honestly couldn’t remember who was who! I also found that the deaths where they occurred didn’t have much impact because the cast was so big, it was hard to care about everyone!

My personal favourites were Ead and Niclays, I felt like the two of them went through the biggest journey over the course of the book and I was most invested in what happened to them. I also really loved Sabran and wished she’d had a POV, I found I could relate quite strongly to her feelings about motherhood (having never had the desire for children myself) and her desire not to be reduced to simply her ability to reproduce. Tane I found it hard to connect to start off with, she felt kind of aloof and distant but as her story started to intertwine more with the others, I enjoyed her parts more. Loth was a sweetie, but I wasn’t sure that in the end he added as much to the book as all the others? The biggest issue with all the characters was that the stories felt very separate for much of the book, and it took far too long for all of them to merge, so for a while it was hard to see how everything was going to connect.

Ead and Sabran’s story was definitely my favourite part of the book, Ead gets the lion’s share of the POV space anyway, and I found their story the most interesting, there’s so much intrigue and drama in their parts.

I LOVED that the female characters all had so much agency. Ead, Sabran and Tane are all leaders in their own lives, they’re not treated as any lesser for being women and that was one of my favourite things about this book, fantasy worlds don’t HAVE to be misogynistic guys. Ead, Sabran and Tane are all respected for their skills and power and they drive the story forward just as much, if not more than the men do. I also loved that all the characters lived in some range of morally grey, except perhaps Loth (actual cinnamon roll), especially Niclays. I also loved that the Queendom of Inys was a matriarchy, because I feel like that is way, way too rare in books!

It was fabulous how much platonic relationships were centred in this book! Loth has two female friends who are completely platonic (Ead and Sabran) and there are rumours about him being in love with both of them, but they are just friends. Friendships are so important to all the characters in this book which I loved because so often that is ignored in favour of romance.

The world-building is obviously incredible, it’s clear how much research Samantha Shannon has put into this book, and the cultural touchstones she has used (Elizabethan England, Japan etc) are clear whilst still feeling fresh, and I loved seeing an Elizabethan inspired fantasy world as I feel like it’s not a very common one. The world she has created is so lush and detailed, and you really feel like you could just fall into it. I was a little confused though because obviously the audiobook didn’t have the map, so I had no frame of reference for where all the places were! The magic system with the fire and starlight was pretty cool, though I actually would have liked a little more magic, for a fantasy, I felt this one was very magic-lite. Same with the dragons, I loved them when they were in there, but I would have loved to have seen more of them.

There were plenty of twists and turns through the story, a few of which I saw coming, but there are definitely enough surprises to keep it interesting. There were a few parts towards the end though where it felt like there were a lot of conveniences, there were SO MANY near death experiences and everyone magically ends up fine, and they didn’t really seem to struggle to achieve what they needed to, which somewhat lowered the “end of the world” stakes.

I loved that this book was LGBTQ+ and racially diverse, it’s such a great thing to see in a book and racism and homophobia aren’t things that exist in Shannon’s world which is wonderful. There is a main f/f romance which is beautiful and slow burn and I really loved. There’s also a gay romance between two older characters which I loved as I think that’s not something you get to see often.

The religious politics were very interesting, I find that fantasy books tend to stray away from religion so it was cool how big of a part of this world that was, and how much religious differences impacted the relations between the world. I did find that the sudden religious tolerance of some of the characters at the end of the book was a bit unbelievable, given how much of the book was spent with the characters at odds over them. Honestly the speed at which many things happened at the end of the book was a bit ridiculous and that all comes back to the pacing issues I mentioned earlier.

The ending I found incredibly anticlimactic. The whole book builds up to this big battle which is ultimately disappointing and though most of the characters stories are wrapped up well, Tane’s is left on kind of a weird note, which I’ll be honest kind of ruined the end of the story for me because everything else was wrapped up so well.

Overall, I did enjoy this book, the writing and the worldbuilding were great, but the characters and pacing did leave something to be desired. However I still enjoyed the story enough to want more in this world, so I hope we do get more, because I have questions!

My Rating: 3.5/5

My next review will be of my July #RockMyTBR book, Strange The Dreamer, by Laini Taylor.

Book Vs Movie: Between Shades of Gray/Ashes In The Snow

Hi all! This is the second of my new monthly feature where I compare books to their movie adaptations and decide which one of them is better. This month, I’m going to be talking about Between Shades of Gray and it’s movie adaptation, Ashes In The Snow, since it seemed like a timely one to talk about because the film was released this week in the UK and I just watched it last night. I read the book about four years ago now, but luckily I did review it on here, so it will be much easier to remember my thoughts.

Book Thoughts:

Between Shades of Gray

I really loved this book when I read it four years ago, I liked that it was something a little bit different for a WWII story, so often they focus on the atrocities of Hitler and what happened under Stalin’s regime gets somewhat forgotten, and I love learning about parts of History that I don’t know much about. I loved the characters and I thought Ruta Sepetys’ writing was beautiful. If you’d like to read my more detailed thoughts, the review is here:

https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/between-shades-of-grey-review/

Ashes in the Snow.jpg

This film is really harrowing, I cried multiple times throughout, as I did with the book. I thought Bel Powley was a brilliant Lina and Martin Wallstrom did a great job as Kretsky, in fact all of the actors really captured the emotions of the film. I will say that I felt like the book felt more hopeful than the film did, even in her darkest moments, Lina still holds out hope that things will be better, which I didn’t feel so much in the film and the ending was very different from the book, but on the whole, the film was very true to the book and captured the story wonderfully.

Movie or Book Judgement:

Book, but honestly both are really great, I think I just loved the writing in the book so much that it edges it for me. I would definitely recommend the film too though!

I’m going to be back with another Book Vs Movie post next month, where I’m going to be talking about The Hunger Games, one of my favourite books! In the meantime, I should have a review of my latest read, Priory of The Orange Tree up tomorrow.