The Sunday Post #1: An Exciting Week

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer in which I update you guys on what has been happening with the blog this week. Surprisingly, I actually have a lot to tell you as it was an exciting week for me and the blog.

Firstly, I went to my local library this week to see what new books they have in this month. There, I managed to pick up ‘The Big Lie’ by Julie Mayhew, ‘Under My Skin’ by Juno Dawson, ‘The Baby’ by Lisa Drakeford and ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats.

As always, when I have new books to read, I hurry to finish the one I am already reading, which for me was ‘Opal’ by Jennifer L Armentrout.

opal

Having finished that by Monday morning, I hurried on to read ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats. I loved this book so much and the excitement from the gripping plot did not end there. I had managed to arrange an interview with Lucy Coats herself via Twitter DMs! So, after powering through the book, I then wrote my questions, sent them to her and waited for her to respond.

Lucy’s responses were amazing, with everything I could have wanted; hints for her new book ‘Chosen’ and long paragraphs that enabled you and I to get to know her better. This was my first author interview and I was honoured to do it with Lucy Coats.

Not only this, but my request to read ‘Chosen’ on NetGalley was accepted! So now, I am currently reading it and thoroughly enjoying it. Expect to see a review of it coming soon!

I was incredibly happy how the review and interview were received, my most popular post by far! Then, I received an e-mail from Astor and Blue publishers, who are letting me read an advanced copy of ‘Those We Fear’ by Victoria Griffith, a paranormal thriller set to be published later this year. A review for this can be expected in April.

Lastly, yesterday I took much pleasure in posting my thoughts on Feminism in YA, which was great as I am passionate about both of these things.

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Feminism in Young Adult Fiction

Normally on this blog, I restrict myself to doing book reviews and tags. However, a few days ago I did my first author interview with Lucy Coats. I had never done one of these before and was honoured to do it. I thought that as I had done something that was new on the blog, why not continue the trend? So here I am, talking about two things of which I am passionate about: YA and feminism.

Yes, I call myself a feminist, but I will never claim to understand the suffering that women go through on a daily basis, just for being the gender that they are. I would say, however, that I am a man who respects women as I respect myself. I recognise the suffering of women, all around the world and I recognise that it is wrong and that things need to change.

I am white. I am a male. Both of these attributes, no matter how irrelevant they are to my intrinsic value, will mean I have a better life than any woman, whether she be white, black, gay, straight or anything else. I am gay. Yes, this leaves me open to prejudice, but I will still be treated better than a woman. I, because I am a man, will be favoured over women when applying for the top jobs. I am proud of the progress made within LGBT+ rights, but I am subsequently ashamed of the progress made in women’s rights in comparison.

Being sixteen, years old I would say that I have rather unusual views for boys my age, especially based on the ones I know. I am proud to have these views, but I found myself asking where these views had come from. At which point did I think the degradation of women was wrong? At which point did I realise that gender was not something that had to set us apart from human beings?

It was at this point that I realised that my current views and opinions had come from two places. Firstly, my foster mother has taught me a lot about respecting women. I also think a lot of respect I have for women comes for the respect I have for her. Secondly, I would say that I have learned a lot from literature, so was yet again left with the question of where did it all begin?

The ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series by Rick Riordan is a middle grade series, but, perhaps surprisingly, was the first time I could remember in which I was shown strong female characters. Specifically, Annabeth Chase was and is one of the most influential female characters for me. She was extremely clever, but also able to hold her own with the boys when it came to fighting. Never before when reading had I been able to look upon female and male characters and see them on an equal footing.

At the time, when I was around ten or eleven years old, I was just in it for the adventure and the action. I never once acknowledged the fact that the series included a strong female character. This was mainly due to the fact that I had not even thought about my own identity, let alone think about the differences between men and women and why they did or didn’t matter. In fact, it was not until I had thought about what to write in this post that I realised how big a role ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ had played in giving me the views I had today. If you have a child, boy or girl, between the ages of eight to fourteen or no matter how old you are, this series is a great read.

Now, you may be reading this post thinking that you have never even thought about feminism or if you yourself might be a feminist. You may be reading this and thinking “what is a feminist”?

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You may recognise the above quote from Beyoncé’s song ‘***Flawless’, but the person she sample in the song is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and is heralded as one of the most prominent voices in feminism right now. The above quote defines feminism as a movement that seeks equal opportunities fro both genders. One of the most common misconceptions about feminism and feminists is that they only want rights for women. This is simply not true. It is people misunderstanding feminism that has led to the creation of groups such as ‘Meninists’ and words such as ‘Feminazi’. It is so, so important that feminism is presented correctly in every media and this is where books have a big role to play.

After making the step up to young adult fiction  at the age of fourteen, I finally realised that gender discrimination was wrong. The understanding that I currently have about what women go through every day and of feminism itself comes from reading young adult novels. An example of some great books that deal with feminism and the struggle of women are shown below.

Both the authors above, Holly Bourne and Louise O’Neill, write about the issue of feminism in their YA novels. I have not yet read any books by Louise, but am going to begin reading ‘Only Ever Yours’ on Monday. However, I have read and enjoyed all the Holly Bourne novelsm except her latest, ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ When I asked her on Twitter, Holly was kind enough to share her view on feminism in 140 characters or less:

“Feminism is the answer to the undeniable fact that half the human race is routinely sh*t on.”

Holly Bourne’s novel ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ was a somewhat life changing experience for me. The main thing that I took from it was the Bechdel test. To pass the Bechdel test a film, book or TV show has to include a conversation between women that has nothing to do with men. While researching I was shocked to discover how many of my favourite films failed the test. You can see the list here and you can read my review of Holly Bourne’s ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ here.

Another important thing in YA literature would have to be the inclusion of intergender friendships that do not turn into anything more than that. The obvious choice for this would be Harry and Hermione from the’Harry Potter’ series by J.K. Rowling. The assumption that a girl who is close friends for a boy must have romantic feelings for said boy is ridiculous and ludicrous. These friendships are something I love to see in novels of any kind.

Thank you very much for reading my post on feminism in YA. This is something I feel very strongly about, so a lot of effort went into this. Also, a huge thanks to Holly Bourne for her quote and amazing books.

Review of ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats + Exclusive Interview with Lucy Coats!

cleo

Title: Cleo

Author: Lucy Coats

Publisher: Orchard Books

Publication Date: May 7, 2015

Pages:384

Blurb via Amazon: Her precious mother is dead – and it isn’t an accident! The young Cleopatra – Pharaoh’s illegitimate daughter – must flee the royal palace at Alexandria or die too. As her evil half-sisters usurp the throne, Cleo finds sanctuary at the sacred temple of Isis, where years later she becomes initiated into the secret Sisters of the Living Knot. But now Isis’s power is failing, Egypt is in danger, and Cleo must prove her loyalty to her goddess by returning to the Alexandria she hates. She must seek out the hidden map which is the key to returning Isis’s power – on pain of death. But will she be able to evade her horrible sisters? And will she find dreamy Khai, the über-hot Librarian boy she met as she fled Alexandria years before? Cleo’s powerful destiny is about to unfold…

Gorgeous and evocative, this captivating new YA novel imagines the life of the teenage Cleopatra before she became the icon we think we know.


 

Review of ‘Cleo’

Firstly, the cover of ‘Cleo’, immediately strikes me with a sense of glamour, the read popping out against the black, white and gold. It speaks to me of Egypt and makes me automatically excited to read it.

The setting of Ancient Egypt is one of my favourites whether it be in terms of the history, culture or the mythology. Lucy Coats managed to teach me new things about all of these while I was reading Cleo, so my reading experience was not only brilliant, but educational too. It is clear to me that Lucy knows her stuff. What I love most about this setting is the clashing of brutal history and ornate glamour. The incorporation of magic, although there is not a structured system, is a nice subtle touch that helps to beautifully combine history and mythology together. Lucy really does tell the story of Cleopatra like we’ve never heard it before.

The plot is very fast paced in my opinion and we are thrown in at the deep end. It didn’t take me long to find my feet and soon I was away on the adventure with Cleo and Charm. This high octane tempo is pretty much maintained the whole way through and I never felt tired of it! I was happy with the way the plot developed, intricately weaved with the mythological side of things. However, I would have loved to have seen a few more twists and turns. There was quite a lot left unanswered at the end and this only makes me more excited to read ‘Chosen’ (review coming soon). I especially enjoyed the ‘four years earlier’ section, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t have to wait until a novella was released to read Cleo’s origin story. Thanks Lucy!

All the characters in the book were unique in their own way and they came together to create a great dynamic within the book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Sometimes with characters, they just don’t click and then you end up with a book full of strained dialogue. This was not the case in ‘Cleo’. I especially thought that the relationship between Charm and Cleo was good and a key element to the story. Although Cleo could be a bit whiny at times, I genuinely liked her and how she seemed to be realistically human. The romance between Khai and Cleo started out as an ‘eye roll couple’, but later I changed my mind and grew to like them. I feel as if emotions were meant to play a bigger role in the book than they did and that the sense of adventure got in the way at times.

If you haven’t already , you should definitely read ‘Cleo’ and I look forward to reading the sequel ‘Chosen’ very soon. Without further ado, I award 4 out of 5 stars to ‘Cleo’ by Lucy Coats.

Read on for an exclusive How To Read Books interview with Lucy Coats herself!


About Lucy Coats

lucy

Lucy Coats writes for children of all ages. Her first picture book was published in 1991, and in 2004 she was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Prize for ‘Atticus the Storyteller’s 100 Greek Myths’. Lucy read her first book of Greek myths at the age of seven, and has been hooked on stories of all kinds ever since.

Lucy lives in rural Northamptonshire and writes looking out over green fields full of sheep. She has a deskdog called Hero who generally lies between her screen and keyboard and is very good at encouraging Lucy when the writing is going slowly. Lucy has a website at http://lucycoats.com. She also has a Facebook Author page at http://tinyurl.com/lucycoatsfacebook and a Twitter page at http://www.twitter.com/lucycoats which she visits strictly during coffee breaks, as well as being on Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram.

Lucy also teaches regular Masterclasses on How to Write for Children at The Guardian and writes for Publishing Talk and Mslexia magazine.

[Adapted from Amazon]


Exclusive Interview With Lucy Coats, Author of Cleo

As well as having the pleasure of reading ‘Cleo’, Lucy Coats was nice enough to grace us with her presence here on the How To Read Books blog. Thanks so much to Lucy for taking part in my first author interview!

Dan: Lucy, you are a fan of mythology, something we can tell from Cleo. Why do you like mythology so much?

Lucy: I’ve been obsessed with mythology since I was about 7 and my granny gave me 2 books of Greek myths. I loved the idea of a world where the gods interact with humans directly (as they do so much in the Iliad and Odyssey), and I guess that eventually fed directly into the idea of the Egyptian gods being involved in Cleo’s life. I think all those mythological stories are like the roots of a culture. Only by understanding them can you begin to understand the top growth of the culture itself.

D: Another thing we can tell from reading Cleo is that you really know your stuff, whether it be in terms of the history or the mythology. How much research did you do when writing the book?

L: Oh, the research! I LOVE research, and can get lost for hours following interesting (and sometimes irrelevant) clues which ‘might just help the book’ *ahem*. I did a mass of research for these two books, because, although there is a strong fantasy element, I wanted the actual history to be as correct as I could make it. I went back to original sources in translation where I could (and there aren’t that many) – all the descriptions of things like feasts and decor are taken from actual reports of Egypt from around that time. For the second book it was much the same (though I had that original bank of knowledge to call on). What I’m proudest of, though, is my Roman detective work. I needed to find where the house of Pompeius Magnus was (because Cleo’s dad lived next door to him), and by piecing together information from various sources, I actually managed it!

D: Something we see a lot of in YA novels is something called ‘instantaneous love’ or ‘insta-love’. In your opinion, would you consider Khai and Cleo’s love to be ‘insta-love’?

L: The knotty question of insta-love is something which has come up a lot. The thing is, I don’t actually think Cleo and Khai qualify. She meets him when she’s 10 in the library – he’s kind to this lonely, geeky princess, and then she bumps into him when she’s running away from her sisters. At a time in her life which is pretty terrible, he reminds her of a place where she was happy. Of course she’s going to remember him (and fantasise over him)! And then, over the next four years, Isis makes them walk in each other’s dreams. Although it’s not gone into in great detail, those four years of true dreams are very intense(!). So although they’re not physically together, they are pretty set up for romance when they actually do meet. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear enough, and if so, that’s my fault. Or, possibly, we can blame it all on a scheming goddess…as you’ll see in CHOSEN, the course of true love doesn’t exactly run smooth!

D: The setting of Cleo, ancient Egypt, is one of my personal favourites. As an author, what is your favourite time period and location to write about?

L: Well, I love Ancient Egypt too. It’s been a joy to explore it in my writing and I still feel very close to it. I think it’s probably fair to say that I feel most comfortable writing about the far distant past – Ancient Greece is another place I love. But I also like the fantasy territory of what Diana Wynne Jones might have called ‘the world next door but one’. That’s essentially our world, but with magic. I’m probably never going to write straight, gritty realism, that’s for sure!

D: This question might be a bit cruel, but which character is your favourite and which did you most enjoy writing?

L: Oh you ARE cruel! By the end of the two books, my favourite character in both senses was still Cleo. She was always a strong voice in my head, she often didn’t do what I wanted her to – and writing and tracking her growth as a person was something I loved doing (though she caused me a lot of headaches). I know I took a risk writing her with such a modern voice – but I wanted her to be accessible to readers.

D: Destiny and kismet play a big role in Cleo, so do you believe in these things personally?

L: I do believe in fate – but in the sense that our fate is in our own hands. We make choices for ourselves and write our own destinies by doing so. But I do think that occasionally a lucky and unexpected chance comes along. If we seize it and make the most of it, it can change our lives. Where that comes from I can’t say – but I can never shake the superstitious feeling in my Celtic blood that something inexplicable and strange is at work when that happens. Mostly though, it’s down to hard work, and hoping you’re in the right place at the right time.

D: Personality wise, which character in Cleo would you say you were most like?

L: Ooh! Nobody has ever asked me this before. I find it quite easy to answer, though. Charm is the one I’m most like, though she’s definitely only a part of me and not in any way a carbon copy. I tend to take care of people a lot, and I am the Queen of Nicknames. There’s a lot more than that to Charm, though, and what happens to her definitely casts a shadow on her sunny character. There are some more interesting developments for her in CHOSEN, so you may be surprised.

D: To any aspiring writers out there could you spread some writing wisdom?

L: What I always say is this: apply bum to seat and get the words down on paper. That’s the only way you’ll finish a book. And also: read widely – anything and everything – but read with a critical eye. Train yourself to notice what works and what doesn’t and ask yourself why that is. It will feed back into your own writing and improve it.

D: We are all excited to read the upcoming sequel to Cleo, Chosen, and see how the story continues. Was delving back into Cleo’s world a difficult process, or did you find it easy?

L: I am mega-excited that CHOSEN is out next month too. Writing a second book always has its problems, but I welcomed the chance to go into Cleo’s world again and introduce new characters and places. Of course, that meant taking me out of the comfort zone of Alexandria (which I knew so well by then) and haring off down the Nile to places like Crocodilopolis (such a great name – how could I resist?) and then into the desert proper and across the Mediterranean. Once I got going and had done all my research, I did find it quite easy. I have a permanent, film-like landscape playing in my head when I write, and I could actually see everything that was going on.

D: Finally, what can readers expect to read in Chosen? Any juicy exclusives welcome!

L: Well, no spoilers, but… There will be a new love-interest (not saying who for). There will be another famous character from history appearing – but the reaction to him won’t be what you think it might. I’ve indulged my love of murder and the undead, and of writing blood splatter and guts. My favourite new character literally somersaults onto the pages of the book. That’s all I’m saying and I hope you’re intrigued!

D: Thank you so much for doing this interview Lucy, it’s an honour.

L: Thanks so much for having me on the blog – great questions, and such fun to answer!