Review: A Darkness at the End (Dubh Linn #3) by Ruth Frances Long

A Darkness at the End
Ruth Frances Long
O’Brien Press, 2016 (YA)
The final installment of Ruth Frances Long’s Dubh Linn trilogy is gripping and dramatic. It opens with Izzy reeling from the loss of Jinx, and struggling with the gaps in her memory left by the storyteller’s book.  But with Holly more powerful and more ruthless than ever, and angels, fae and demons on the brink of all out war, Izzy must act now. The darkness is coming, and there is no escape…

I loved the third Dubh Linn book, I couldn’t put it down. For me, it was the most powerful of the books emotionally. Long does not pull her punches when describing Izzy and Jinx’s pain (yet, Izzy’s grief and trauma is handled very sensitively) and the body count is high in this book (one loss was particularly painful. If you’ve read the book you’ll know who I mean. Gulp.) I loved the development of characters like Dylan and Clodagh in this book, both are given greater roles in the plot and we get more of an insight into their minds.  I am impressed by how rounded all the characters are considering the vastness of the cast. There is a complexity to all of the characters, to how they handle magic and power, and to their histories. Izzy is a strong protagonist, but this is a series with many strong women. In Long’s magic system it is women, the matriarchs, who hold power. Brí and Silver are fantastic and memorable characters, and I was delighted to see the Morrigan make an appearance in the book (I loved all the hints about her earlier in the book too).

As always, Long makes excellent use of locations in Dublin – Marsh’s Library, the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, the National Gallery of Ireland and Glasnevin Cemetery all feature in this volume. She skillfully melds real Dublin and magical Dubh Linn, making excellent use of the history surrounding the locations. She writes about Dublin as a place of magic and story, making the (Irish) reader see their place in a new way. The final showdown, on Dalkey Island, was very dramatic and provided a suitably spectacular climax for the trilogy.

A Darkness at the End is a brilliant read, both heart-pounding and heartbreaking, and I look forward to re-reading the trilogy as a whole in the future.

Ruth Frances Long will be appearing at Octocon this weekend.

My interview with Ruth Frances Long following the publication of A Hollow in the Hills (Dubh Linn #2)

Review: Miraculous Miranda by Siobhán Parkinson

Image result for miraculous miranda
Miraculous Miranda
Siobhán Parkinson
Hodder Children’s Books (2016)
Miranda has a big imagination, and an inexhaustible curiosity about the world around her. She always wins Word of the Day at school, and she loves language and books. She writes stories about a fantasy land she has named Magnanimous, the capital of which is Splendifirous, a city with silver gates and giraffe guards. When Miranda’s writing seems to cause some small miracles, she wonders if she can create a miracle for her sister Gemma, who is seriously ill.

Miraculous Miranda is a simply marvellous book. Miranda herself is utterly charming, with her love of phrases like ‘that is the thing with life’ and her matter-of-fact approach to everything. Even the miracles are laid out in a table to be examined and classified. The family dynamics, particularly Miranda’s relationship with her grandmother, are handled with sensitivity and Parkinson creates a book that is both moving and funny.

It is also a very beautiful book, the illustrations by Karen Radford work beautifully with the story and the design and typesetting are appealing.

Parkinson has written a number of brilliant books for children and young adults (Sisters…No Way! and Something Invisible are two of my favourites) and with Miraculous Miranda she proves once again that she is one of Ireland’s best writers for young people.


Louisa (of Books Upstairs), Siobhán Parkinson and illustrator PJ Lynch at the launch of Miraculous Miranda

Review: As I Descended by Robin Talley


As I Descended 

Robin Talley

HarperTeen (2016) 


Delilah Dufrey is top student at Acheron Academy. She’s the most popular girl in school and a shoo in for the prestigious Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She is also the only thing preventing Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten’s dream future. Best friends, and secretly a couple, if Maria wins that prize it means they can go to college together. They want this future more than anything, and they are willing to do anything to achieve it. When they call on the spirits that haunt the school, a former planation, the feud becomes darker and deadlier than they could ever have imagined. But there is no turning back…

As I Descended is a queer retelling of Macbeth set in a haunted boarding school. It’s such a clever reworking of the play – using the power structures of the school, the spirits as the witches – but readers with no knowledge of Macbeth could enjoy it as a brilliant book in its own right. I loved seeing how Talley reworked the plot, and how quotes were used as chapter titles. The cast is diverse in terms of race and sexuality, and many of the roles have been gender swapped. Talley engages with her characters’ identities and with their different life experiences – some are open about their sexuality, some more conflicted. She treats Lily’s disability in a sensitive manner, and really shows how much she struggles. Most of all, it was just so creepy. There are some scenes that will be staying with me for a long time. Not one to read late at night!

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.


Author Interview: Natasha Farrant

I loved Natasha Farrant’s book Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice and was delighted to get to ask some questions about her research, her writing and all things Austen.


Who is your favourite Bennet sister, and why?

Lydia, always, because she has so much energy and is so much fun. I know she can be awful, but the way I see her, she is driven by her determination not to get left behind by her perfect older sisters, and I find that touching.  I also love Mary: there’s a lot of both Mary and Lydia in me, I think.  Lydia is the teenage rebel, and Mary is the book geek!

Which Jane Austen novel is your favourite?

Emma. I think it’s her most polished work. It has more fully rounded characters than earlier novels, and the decision to have such a thoroughly unreliable main character is clever, funny and thought-provoking.

What inspired you to write about Lydia Bennet?

Actually, I was invited to do it by my publishers, following a conversation about Pride and Prejudice.  The moment they suggested it, I just knew I had to.  Lydia’s story is so pivotal to Pride and Prejudice, and yet we know so little about her, or what happens to her. When Chicken House (my publishers) suggested it, it honestly felt like Lydia herself was inside my head, saying “At LAST! MY side of things!” From then on, she wouldn’t let me go.

What did the research process for Lydia involve?

Re-reading ALL of Austen. Re-reading Clare Tomalin’s amazing biography of Austen, as well as lots of learned and interested books about Austen’s times – the politics, the fashion, the mores.  Spending time in Brighton museums, reading up about the early history of Brighton as a resort.  Lying on Brighton beach, picturing to myself what it must have been like…

Do you have any fascinating facts about the Regency period that you could share with us?

They were crazy about fashion, and this fashion occasionally took strange forms.  For example, they (briefly) had a sort of corset which lifted the breasts, then divided them so that they pointed outwards! I still laugh every time I think of that..

How did you find the process of weaving your own characters and ideas into Austen’s original story?

Fascinating.  The first part of the book takes place entirely in “Austen time and place”, referring to events that happen in Pride and Prejudice.  The temptation to adapt Austen’s novel to my purposes was always there, but I wanted to be very respectful of the original, and so I had to adapt my story instead.  It felt easier once Lydia was away in Brighton.  Even though there was a timeline to respect, I could be freer with my own story. As to Lydia herself, there were a few difficult moments: she felt like she was my character from the beginning, and I loved her from the very start, but there are a couple of moments in Pride and Prejudice where she is really obnoxious, and I had to work quite hard to reconcile that with my Lydia.

What is your favourite Pride & Prejudice adaptation? (I am a BBC fan myself, but I also love more experimental adaptations like the Lizzie Bennet Diaries)

The BBC adaptation, every time.

You wrote diary entries for this book, and film scripts for After Iris. Do you enjoy writing in different formats, and is there a particular format you would like to explore?

I actually don’t want to write a diary again for a very long time… It’s a really interesting format, but it’s difficult too, because you are limited not only to one character’s viewpoint, but also to what they might say about themselves.  That said, I’m currently working on a third person narrative, and I’ve grown so used to the first person that I find myself longing for that narrower viewpoint!

Sibling dynamics are very important in your books, is this something that has always interested you? Do you have siblings yourself?

I have three siblings, two sisters and a brother. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of big families, how the position within the family affects personality development.  And I like feeling part of a tribe.  I have lots of cousins too.  We’re in touch all the time, even though we live across different countries and continents.

Do you have any writing rituals?

I write long-hand, in Moleskine notebooks. I’ve tried other notebooks, as part of cost-cutting exercises, but they’re a false economy because if it’s not Moleskine, I can’t write.  I tend to write best in cafes, in the mornings, and I always listen to the same music: Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no3 and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

What are you working on at the moment?

A children’s adventure story I describe as Pippi Longstocking meets Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.

Many thanks to Natasha Farrant for her brilliant answers, and to Nina Douglas for arranging the interview.

Author Interview: Judi Curtin

Lovely author Judi Curtin kindly answered my questions about her new book Time After Time, her 80s favourites and writing.

Judi TAT

How did you find the experience of writing a standalone book after writing series like Friends Forever, Eva and Alice & Megan?

That’s an embarrassing question – all of my series started off as standalone books. While writing though, I become connected to my characters and am reluctant to let them go. (Story of my life!) Also, I’m a bit of a pushover, so when young readers ask to hear more about a character, I’m happy to oblige. So even though Time after Time began life as a standalone, that’s not going to last. (I suppose every oldest child in a family started off as an only child.)

Do you write longhand, or on the computer?

Always on the computer. I’m not sure how I’d manage without features like copy/paste and find/replace. (Very useful when I change a character’s name halfway through a book or when I realise that someone’s piercing blue eyes are too cliched.) Back in the day, I used to jot down notes on the back of envelopes, if the muse hit while I was away from home. Nowadays though, sudden inspirations are recorded on my phone.

Where is your favourite place to write?

In my dreams I’d be writing in a purpose-built studio in my imaginary garden, with a babbling brook outside, and the scent of sweet-peas wafting in on the warm air. In reality, I always write on my desktop computer, which sits in the corner of my kitchen/living/dining room. (Fortunately I’m usually the only one in my house during the day.)

Where did the idea for  come from?

It started with watching my own children as young teenagers, and realising that they had no concept of what my life was like when I was their age. That moved me to thinking about girls going back to meet their young parents. The story really took off when I thought what that encounter would mean to a girl who had never known her mother at all.

Your Friends Forever series also feature time travel. So, of all your books, which time travel adventure would you go on?

It’s hard to feel a personal connection with events like the Titanic sinking, or the volcano in Pompeii, so I’d love to emulate Molly and Beth and go back to a time when my parents or grandparents were young. I’ve seen fleeting glimpses in old photographs, but I’d love to really be there, to live their lives for a brief time, to ask them about stuff.

Quickfire 80s questions:

I’m going to cheat a bit here, and give double answers to some of the questions.

  • Favourite 80s movie – two extremes – Airplane and Jean de Florette.
  • favourite 80s song –  Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen (But I have to give a special mention to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper)
  • favourite 80s fashion – Nothing specific, but I loved the bright colours. Today’s fashions can be a bit too monochromatic for me. (Good taste is highly over-rated.)
  • what you would miss most if you travelled back in time to the 80s – My smartphone. I was not an early adopter, but now I get edgy if the battery drops below 50%
  • something from the 80s you wish was still around – I struggled with this question, so have to give the vain answer – I’d love to have the skin I had in the 1980’s – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Little Women is mentioned in Time After Time – which March sister is your favourite?

Jo – no question about it. But I guess that’s the answer all authors give?

There are some very moving scenes in Time After Time, did you find them difficult to write?

Yes. I try to put a lot of humour into my books, but most of them have a serious theme buried underneath. The story of Beth and her mum is probably the saddest I’ve ever written, and there may be a few tearstains on my dusty old keyboard. By the time I came to write the saddest scenes, I was emotionally connected to Beth, and I could almost feel her pain.

Which of your characters are you most like?

The books definitely aren’t autobiographical, but Megan and I would have a lot in common. I was a quiet, timid child, and often chose louder, braver girls like Alice as my friends. (But if you ask my children this question, they would say I’m most like Megan’s crazy mum.)

What are you writing now?

I’m already destroying Time After Time’s only-child status – I’m heading for the last edit of Fast Forward, a special World Book Day book featuring Molly and Beth on another time-travelling adventure.

Thanks to Judi Curtin for her great answers, I look forward to reading Molly and Beth’s next adventure. If you’re in Dublin tomorrow, be sure to check out the Time After Time launch:

TAT Launch

Review: Time After Time by Judi Curtin


Time After Time

Judi Curtin

O’Brien Press, 2016

Best friends Molly and Beth think their lives are complicated when their families move in together, but things are about to get even weirder…When they leave a strange shop via a back door they find themselves caught in the past. It’s like a whole different world – their phones don’t work, their ripped jeans are odd and the music is awful. Then they realise their parents are teenagers now, and decide to track them down. For Beth this is an amazing chance to meet the mother who died when she was only a baby. But the journey may be more difficult than the girls expected…

I think Time After Time is Judi Curtin’s best book yet. She writes sensitively about family dynamics, friendship and loss. There are some very moving scenes towards the end of the book when Beth meets her mother, and I may have shed a few tears. These scenes are beautifully written, and so full of feeling.  The book is also humorous as the girls navigate the world of their parents’ youth, getting into many scrapes along the way. Molly and Beth are likeable heroines, and Judi Curtin certainly throws many obstacles in their way! Both entertaining and emotional, Time After Time has heart and is sure to be a winner with Judi Curtin’s many fans. Just remember to have tissues at the ready as time after time (ha!) this book will make you well up.

Interview with Judi Curtin coming Wednesday 7th September!

TAT Launch.png

Review: Lydia by Natasha Farrant


Cover image from Goodreads

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride & Prejudice

Natasha Farrant

Chicken House (2016)

Fifteen year old Lydia Bennet thinks a journal is an awfully dull birthday present. She lives in ‘the Depths of the English countryside where nothing EVER happens.’ However, Lydia’s world is soon to become a lot more exciting with the arrival of the militia in Meryton, and a handsome nobleman courting her eldest sister. When she is given the chance to go to Brighton, at last Lydia has the chance to show her family that she isn’t the flighty, stupid creature they think she is. She will show them what Lydia Bennet is made of.

Natasha Farrant brings Lydia Bennet to exuberant, energetic life. She makes her quite a modern young lady – one who resents the limitations put on women of her time. Her love of dancing and dramatics remains, but we also see Lydia as someone who longs to be taken seriously, and not be a mere source of amusement (or embarrassment). With Lydia’s trip to Brighton, Farrant introduces an original subplot with memorable and exotic characters. Of course, I particularly enjoyed her nod to That Scene from the BBC Pride & Prejudice adaptation.

Farrant’s attention to detail in terms of clothing and customs is impressive (her descriptions of the bathing machines were brilliant) and she creates a book that is respectful of Austen while being an entertaining read in its own right.  The diary format is very effective, Lydia’s voice is earnest and lively. Lydia brings a welcome feminist slant to Austen’s work and takes a fresh look at one of Pride & Prejudice’s less likeable characters.

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids.


Review: What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne


What’s a Girl Gotta Do?

Holly Bourne

Usborne (2016), YA Contemporary

This feminist is READY to declare war on the patriarchy.

In the third book of Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy*, Lottie, the fiercest of the trio, goes on a feminist crusade to call out every instance of sexism she sees for a whole month. After being sexually harrassed on her way to college, Lottie decides that enough is enough and she is going to take a stand, against every sexist song, poster and comment. Lottie is strong, but she doesn’t realise just how difficult her task may be…

I didn’t think I could love Holly Bourne any more than I already did, and then she wrote What’s a Girl Gotta Do?  Her writing is so strong, she perfectly captures the sense of frustration that comes with dealing with sexism. As Lottie says:

I’m not psychic, I’m just highly experienced in sexual harrassment, like pretty much every other girl on this earth who dares to walk places.

The things Lottie calls out (razors costing more because they’re pink, the lack of female writers on the school curriculum, depictions of women in advertising) may seem small, but as she observes they all contribute to a culture of objectification. Just as Lottie opens her fellow students’ eyes to the sexism around them, I think Bourne will awaken feminist sensibilities in her teen (and older) readers.

Lottie has her moments of triumph, but she also has to deal with trolls, or the realisation of just how much work there is to do in the struggle for gender equality. Bourne shows how difficult it can be to strive for what you believe in, and how fatigue and frustration can set in. Lottie ultimately decides that she has to fight for what is right, but the pressure her project puts on her is clear. Lottie is a confident and powerful character, but we also see her vulnerabilities in this book, and she sees the error in some of her behaviour. I liked that Bourne made a point about everyone having to deal with problems in their own way.

This book (and indeed, the whole series) deals with some tricky topics but never in a preachy way. Bourne’s writing is humorous and entertaining. What’s a Girl Gotta Do? is  really funny. Lottie’s project is called ‘The Vagilante Project’ and has the fantastic tagline ‘Letting the cat lady out of the bag.’ The friendship between the girls is brilliantly written and I like that Bourne also shows the strains that can come into friendships. She creates relationships that are credible and complex. I liked the romance element of the book, and (slightly spoilery) Evie and Oli getting together made me extremely happy.

Lottie is ambitious and fiery, she wants to be prime minister and make a change in the world:

 …someone has to be prime minister. Why can’t it be me? I am smart enough. I am strong enough. And I really, honestly want to take this shitty world we live in and use whatever strength, intellect and passion I have to leave it a little better off than when I found it. I don’t just want to complain about the world, I want to change it.

A truly brilliant conclusion to one of the best YA trilogies out there at the moment. I only wish Bourne’s fierce feminist books had been around when I was a teenager!

* While this book does refer to events from Am I Normal Yet? and How Hard Can Love Be? I think it also works as a stand alone.

Here I am being excited about What’s a Girl Gotta Do?, and about seeing Holly Bourne at DeptCon2 in October!






Interview: Alice Oseman (Solitaire, Radio Silence)

I was delighted to interview Alice Oseman, author of Solitaire and Radio Silence. Her two YA novels have been praised for their authentic teenage characters, she was a teenager herself when Solitaire was published. I loved Radio Silence (review here) and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast, the focus on friendship, and the way the podcast was integrated into the novel.
We chatted about fandoms, the internet, Alice’s writing process and more…
Alice Oseman
When writing, do you begin with a character, a scene or a plot idea?
Definitely with character! My plots change all the time but as soon as I have an idea for a character, they stay with me the whole way through.
Do you plan a lot, or dive straight into the story?
I plan in extreme detail! I need to know precisely what I’m doing and where I’m going before I start to write.
What was the main thing you learned from writing Solitaire?
That’s such a difficult question – I learnt so much! One of the main things was probably how to use subtext.

Cover image from Goodreads

You have written a couple of Solitaire novellas. Who would you revisit from Radio Silence?
I would LOVE to write some Radio Silence novellas. I’d most like to write one about Daniel.
The internet plays a big role in both of your books and you also use a lot of pop culture references. Often writers are warned off putting in too many contemporary references as it ages the book, however it can make a book very much of its time. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t try to hide from the idea that my books are very much ‘of their time’. I aim for as much realism as I can in my writing – I love trying to completely represent the world that I live in right now. And I very much enjoy reading books that are ‘of their time’ – books written in the eighties and nineties and early 2000s. Hopefully, in the future, people will enjoy reading what the world was like in 2016!
There is a huge YA community on the internet now. Was has been your experience of this?
I’ve been a big part of the YA community on Twitter for quite a while! I find it a little stressful and intense, but ultimately, it’s amazing to see such a huge community of people all coming together in their love of books. That can only be a good thing.
Radio Silence has a really diverse cast of characters. When did you become aware of a need for diversity in YA at the moment?
Some time between Solitaire’s publication and starting to write Radio Silence. I read loads about it online and started to understand how important it was that I use my privileged position to do some good for others. Nowadays, it’s very very important to me, and although I’m nowhere near perfect and still learning so much more, I will always want to have diverse casts in my books.

Cover image from Goodreads

You’ve spoken about the We Need Diverse Books campaign in interviews, and I was wondering which diverse YA books you would recommend?
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz is one of my personal all-time favourites.
Fan culture is also important in your work. What fandoms are you part of? What has it been like seeing fanart/fanfiction for Solitaire and Radio Silence?
I’m very aware of fandoms, though I’m not sure how many I can really say I’m a part of! I know a huge amount about fandom simply from being on the internet for so long and being immersed in fandom spaces, but despite being a huge lurker online, I’m not a very active participant in many fandom spaces. I will say that I’m very knowledgable about the YouTube fandom, and lived through the huge uprising of the Glee fandom and the Sherlock fandom. And seeing fanart/fanfic for my books is one of the most exciting things I see as an author! It’s an honour that someone enjoyed my works so much that they were inspired to create something of their own.
You’re an artist, and I was wondering if you draw/use a lot of visuals when you write?
I do! I draw my characters a lot – it really helps me to visualise them and understand them better.
One of my favourite things about Radio Silence was that it had friendship at its core. Do you feel there is too much ‘insta love’ in YA at the moment (particularly heterosexual insta love)?
Absolutely, and I find it very frustrating, undoubtedly because it’s quite unrealistic. I understand why people enjoy reading insta-love – people want to believe in true love, after all! – but I’m tired of it, and I enjoy writing something different. I think friendships and other types of relationships are just as important as romances.
The characters in Radio Silence are about to go to university. I feel that characters approaching/in university are underrepresented in YA (Fangirl is a brilliant book and an exception to this). Why did you choose to have older protagonists in this Radio Silence?
I specifically wanted to write about the process of leaving school and going to university in Radio Silence, and I felt the best way to do this would be through characters about to make that change. It’s a time of great emotional upheaval, and I wish it was written about more!
Can you tell us anything about your next book?
My next book is about boyband fandoms, fame, obsession, and, as usual, the existential pain of being alive.
A big thank you to Alice Oseman for her wonderful answers, and I am looking forward to her next book!

Blog Tour Review: Things We Know by Heart by Jessi Kirby

Thanks to Harper Teen for inviting me to take part in the Things We Know by Heart Blog Tour and for sending me a copy of the book to review! The full schedule for the blog tour can be seen beneath my review.


Things We Know by Heart

Jessi Kirby

Harper Teen (2016)

YA Contemporary

Quinn Sullivan lost the love of her life when her boyfriend Trent was killed in an accident. It has been 400 days, and Trent’s loss is as painful as ever. She thinks that if she can find the recipient of Trent’s donated heart she might find some closure. Recipients of his other organs responded to her letters, but not the boy who received his heart. She only wants to see Colton Thomas; she never intended to meet him, and she certainly never intended to fall for him. But can she ever be with him, when he reminds her so much of her loss?

This is a poignant story about grief and learning to live again. Both Quinn and Colton have their struggles and secrets, and both characters are nuanced and well drawn. Quinn goes on a real journey in this book, learning about herself and learning to love life again.  She embarks on a tentative relationship with Colton, taking it one good day at a time. Their relationship can be summed up by this Emerson quote referenced in the book: ‘Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.’Kirby writes places beautifully, the locations Quinn and Colton visit sparkle off the page.

Sunlight streams in through the opening at the mist that hangs in the air aglow, illuminating each tiny water droplet. All around us the water catches the sunlight and throws it against the walls of the cavern, waving and dancing.

The Things We Know by Heart is as much about family as it is about romance. I loved Quinn’s outspoken grandmother, and her feisty sister. These secondary characters had stories of their own, and were interesting and believable. The relationships within the family are well developed throughout the book. We how the tragedy has impacted upon the rest of the family, and how they all support each other. However, Kirby also explores how Quinn and Colton need independence from their families, how all the support can become smothering. The family dynamics were my favourite part of the book.

This love story is not a conventional one, and there are some ethical questions around it. However I will not deny that it was very cute, and I was rooting for them. The end was a bit rushed for my liking, but this is certainly an enjoyable summer romance.

I love the cover design by Erin Fitzsimmons, with the pattern of hearts in the background, and the scribbly black loveheart in the title.

Banner Things We Know by Heart