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Month: January 2019

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Blog Tour: Kick the Moon

Today is my stop on the blog tour for the newly-released YA contemporary novel Kick the Moon! Continue reading for a synopsis of the story, a Q&A with its author, Muhammad Khan, and a review of this hard-hitting book!

‘Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSEs are looming and his teachers just won’t let up, his dad wants him to join the family business and his mates don’t care about any of it. There’s no space in Ilyas’ life to just be a teenager.

Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly Matthews, who is fed up with being pigeonholed as the good girl, and their friendship blows the social strata of high school wide open. But when Kelly catches the eye of one of the local bad boys, Imran, he decides to seduce her for a bet – and Ilyas is faced with losing the only person who understands him. Standing up to Imran puts Ilyas’ family at risk, but it’s time for him to be the superhero he draws in his comic-books, and go kick the moon.’

I was grateful to be able to ask Muhammad a question about the impact that teachers can have on the lives of their students and their role in helping to support and encourage them. Read on for his response!

Both Ilyas in Kick the Moon and Muzna in I Am Thunder have encouraging teachers. As a teacher yourself, what role do you think teachers have on the development of a young adult’s character and aspirations?

We all remember a good teacher. They sit somewhere between our parents and our friends. They occupy a special place where they educate us, give us advice, and help us achieve our dreams and goals. I think teachers are in a very privileged position with regards to helping shape a young person’s character and aspirations. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly! Sometimes all you need is that one teacher to believe in you to unlock your hidden talents and allow you to flourish.

Ultimately a good teacher’s job is to make sure you achieve your full potential and sometimes that involves some tough love. I remember struggling with a class who did not like maths. I tried to make it as fun as possible by teaching through games and stories but there was a lack of appreciation. I ended up having to make a lot of phone calls home and set detentions to ensure homework was done. It was exhausting! Then at the end of the year one of the students who gave me the most grief sheepishly came up to me to thank me for their grade. But the biggest surprise was when they apologised for giving me such a hard time!

Thank you very much for answering my question, Muhammad!

Kick the Moon is an amazing read, with dialogue that makes its characters come alive, words and mode of speaking ringing true and clear. It tackles issues such as identity, peer pressure, the code of toxic masculinity that impacts young men, respect for women and the impact that social media can have when it is misused. One detail I appreciated in particular is the clear statement and reminder to young adult readers that viewing and sharing inappropriate content that has been sent to them is in itself a crime and will have serious consequences, which is something that many may still be unaware of.

There are numerous instances in the novel where Ilyas is pressured into doing something by the men around him, primarily his peers, but also his father, who believes that his interests and behaviour, such as his love of drawing and reluctance to be involved in what are perceived to be ‘alpha male’ activities, are a weakness that needs to be corrected, ultimately driving him further into dangerous territory. As the book is written from Ilyas’ point of view, it is easy to empathise and feel sympathy for a boy who is respectful of women, has clear talent and passion (but lacks the confidence to embrace what he loves for the aforementioned reasons) and does his best to be a good son, yet finds this respect and good intentions returned by very few people in his life. The exploration of what it means ‘to be a man’ and what men expect of their peers – and what they will do to those who don’t meet their expectations – is something that I feel that we don’t see a good deal of in literature and media, at least not considered in the depth that it should be, and Kick the Moon is a novel that goes above and beyond to sensitively explore the impact of this culture on growing boys. As suggested in the story: content creators and distributors are as responsible as any other for the portrayal of men and women in media and the stereotypes that arise and impact children, and we need more of the media to address portrayals that encourage women to see each other as enemies, and men to feel forced into ‘alpha’ culture.

That Ilyas finds a friend in Kelly and she does not become simply his romantic interest is another of the elements of Kick the Moon that I loved. She is valued for her friendship, her intelligence and her courage, helping to debunk the myth presented to young people that boys and girls cannot be ‘just friends’. Other women in the novel, such as Ilyas’ mother and Ms Mughal are treated with the same respect in the narrative, if not always respected by men, their contributions to not only Ilyas’ life, but the lives of those around them (contrasted by Kelly’s mother, who may be trying to do the best for her daughter, yet doesn’t quite know how, much like Ilyas’ father) among those that have the greatest positive impact.

Kick the Moon is out now from Pan Macmillan and would make a brilliant addition to any home, library or classroom!

Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

‘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.’

One of my favourite things about The Priory of the Orange tree were the elements of different mythologies that are woven through the book. Truth be told, there are a great number of things that I loved about the novel, but the unravelling of the past that has become myth and legend – and the different interpretation of said myth and legend, according to different peoples and beliefs – was my favourite thing to read about and I was thrilled to see that so much of the story hinged on a past that has become legend and must be seen through to ultimately aid those who believe in it. Some of the scenes I most enjoyed involved key characters questioning what they had been raised to believe in and what it meant not only for their position, but for their understanding of themselves and the lives of their people.

Of the characters in the story, I found Sabran and Ead to be the most engaging, with Sabran possibly being the one I became the most attached to. It is perhaps Sabran who goes on one of the most complex journeys, her position one that is tied into the religion at the heart of her nation, everything from her blood to her faith to her role in society in question over the course of the novel, all while she struggles with what is expected of her. The idea of what is all too often considered women’s ‘role’ in society is excellently examined over the course of The Priory of the Orange Tree, including the language that is used to label women who don’t ‘conform’ to society’s general perceptions and expectations. Sabran does her best to be and do what her queendom needs of her, even when it is clear that what they want from her is not what she wishes, and the contrast of who she is in public and who she is behind closed doors – as the reader gradually gets to know her better – is another of the things I loved most about the book.

Not only does The Priory of the Orange Tree have copious amounts of mythology, but it also includes dragons! The differing perceptions of dragons and the roles they play in the lands of the East and West are another of the novel’s strengths, those among the antagonists of the West (and the whole world) being delightfully evil and fully steeped in the magic of the story. The descriptions of the dragons of the East and West make them vivid creatures and characters and at no point minor players in the story, those that threaten Sabran’s queendom painted so strikingly that there is no doubting the damage and harm that they stand to unleash across the world.

Another of the brilliant things about the novel is its portrayal of a wide range of inclusive relationships, one of those at the heart of the story being between two women. I’m so pleased to see relationships of all kinds being portrayed more and more both in fantasy and YA books in ways that put love and affection before anything else and don’t linger too long on how the relationship will be perceived by others in the world in which the story is set. While we unfortunately don’t live in a society that is as accepting as it should be, to have more focus in literature on the relationships themselves and not a world apt to judge presents some hope for a future in which ours is the same.

The Priory of The Orange Tree is out in late February from Bloomsbury! With its amazing world-building, diverse range of characters and relationships, and vivid, engaging prose, it’s a fantastic read and one that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

Review: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

Review: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy

‘When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.’

I’m a huge fan of retellings of myths and legends, and Once & Future is quite possibly the best that I’ve read in a long time, for the manner in which it approaches the story doesn’t just take characters and put them in a different era or setting, but threads its narrative all the way back to the original, using the idea of reincarnation (something else I love stories about) and ongoing ‘cycles’ of the story to explore different outcomes in different times, which have impacted important figures in the narrative and affect the decisions they make in the cycle that they find themselves in.

Ari is the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur and from a planet that has been sealed away from the rest of the galaxy by the Mercer Company, who make it their business to make sure that people and planets are completely dependent on them for everything that they need and are unable to escape their influence without severe consequences, the concept of today’s consumer society expanded upon in a frightening and worryingly real manner. Ari has so far managed to stay under the radar, thanks firstly to her adoptive mothers and then largely to her brother, until her curiosity gets the better of her and leads to an incident in which she unwittingly finds Excalibur, awakening Merlin, who has more than a handful of his own troubles to deal with, among which numbers Morgana. And so begins the ‘cycle’, wherein it is Merlin’s job to ensure Ari’s safety, undertake her training and attempt to have her unite all peoples. Which happens to be exactly what Mercer does not want.

The society presented in Once & Future is one that accepts the spectrum of sexuality and gender without question, which, to my mind, is one of the strongest elements of the story and the universe created. More than one character is known to have had – or have – relationships with more than one gender, whether sexual or otherwise, and the inclusion of asexuality and gender fluidity is something that we don’t see enough of in YA fiction (or fiction in general). Ari and Gwen’s relationship is one of my favourites in all that I’ve read over the past few years and is something that I hope to see explored further in future instalments. I really want to say a lot about these two, but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone, so I’ll have to settle for saying that both of them are wonderfully clever, stubborn, flawed and fallible, and I adore them.

Once & Future has just enough exposition for the reader to quickly grasp the elements of the universe in which the story is set, particularly from Merlin’s side of things, without information overload or giving away too much. It strikes an effective balance between action and character development, never leaving any one character out of the narrative for so long that they become insignificant. There always seems to be something happening, which is good in terms of keeping a decent pace, though it also sometimes requires a little reading back to make sure all the threads of the narrative are clear. One of the many things that Once & Future does very well is make it easy to empathise with its characters and quickly grow to care for them. Though the universe that Ari and co live in has many elements that are much more ideal than our own, there is also much that’s identifiable about our own world, such as how the Mercer company chooses to treat and manipulate multiple peoples, its discriminatory and frankly abhorrent behaviour highlighting worrying truths about the world in which we live and how the future threatens to be.

I absolutely loved Once & Future and just couldn’t put it down, to the extent that I truly resented any interruptions to my reading! Thank you so much to Rock the Boat for sending me a copy! If you’d like to pick up a copy of Once & Future (and I highly recommend that you do), it hits the shelves in March this year!

Review: Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P. M. Freestone

Review: Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom by P. M. Freestone

‘In the empire of Aramtesh, scent has power.

When disaster strikes and the crown prince lies poisoned, long suppressed rivalries threaten to blow the empire apart.

It’s up to a poor village girl with a talent for fragrances and the prince’s loyal bodyguard to find an antidote.

To succeed, the unlikely pair must uncover secrets – cryptic, ancient tales as well as buried truths from their own pasts – in an adventure that will ignite your senses.’

One of the many things that I loved about Shadowscent is that the journey that the reader may think Rakel is going to undertake early in the novel – or at least the journey that Rakel wants to begin – is not the one that she ultimately ends up going on. The adventure that circumstance has her travel along is one that is much more vast, dangerous and vital to unlocking the secrets of not only her history, but those of characters she works most closely with and her world as a whole. She is engaging and intriguing as a main character, her upbringing and current situation one that forces her to project a more arrogant and confident front than her true self to ensure survival, and while the paths of many YA characters have them learning to embrace their gifts/talents and gaining that sharper edge, hers is a more nuanced one that sees her learning more about people and how she interacts with those around her, while embracing a talent that she already has that confidence in.

Political intrigue is something that I’m always pleased to find in a novel, for it opens up the opportunity to consider ethics and what a variety of viewpoints see as right and wrong. That Nisai does not have the ‘typical’ mindset expected of him by many of those who surround the ruling family presents the chance to explore the behaviour that conflict and subjugation of peoples invites of humanity compared to the effect of diplomacy, empathy and a more scholarly evaluation of various situations, which also allows for the analysis of why the latter are unfortunately so often seen as ‘weaker’ ways of dealing with matters. Nisai’s approach to the lands and peoples that he will one day rule is one that sees him perceived as lacking in strength, leading some to try and force him to embrace what their idea of leadership and masculinity is – with varying impacts.

Ash’s story is perhaps the one that is revealed the most slowly, owing to the fact that he is the one who stands to lose the most by having the truth revealed or even dwelling on it for too long. I don’t wish to reveal spoilers, so I will say little about his history, but his strength of character is shown in his dedication primarily to Nisai and his duty – that is, not to his job, but to the protection of his friend and others that he grows to care for.

The writing itself is a beautiful in its sensory nature, its particular strengths in scent (as suggested by the title), colour and the creation of a tactile nature of usually intangible things. The world-building is another of Shadowscent’s strengths, in that the journey across different lands that Rakel and Ash undertake is one painted vividly in the locations that they visit – and for what they visit them – and doesn’t feel like a flitting from place to place. The scent-based system of power and its place in the world is a fantastic take on a magic system and ultimately very compelling, in that it ties the reader to the story in a way that is familiar and through the experience of scent in a way that cannot be achieved solely with description of magic and otherworldly powers. The use of mythology and its own world-based history is another huge selling point for me: I adore stories that let me go back to my Classicist/Egyptologist roots.

Thank you to Scholastic UK for my copy of Shadowscent: The Darkest Bloom! The book is out in the UK in February 2019 and presently set for an autumn release in the US. If you love fantasy and are looking for a unique twist on magic systems and a tale with adventure, mystery and characters driven by what lurks in their pasts, Shadowscent is the book for you.