Posted in 2018, Reads of ..., Usborne

Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour: Matt Killeen’s female hero ‪@by_Matt_Killeen ‬ ‪@Usborne ‬

Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games


Contains Spoilers

Katniss Everdeen is a hero. It seems too obvious to mention. So successful has this character been in book and film form, so universal and ubiquitous has her effect been, that this blog might seem redundant. But leaving aside her personal influence on me – I’m a big fan, the kind of fan who collects dolls and first editions – she’s really a much more complex character than many “strong female” archetypes. Yes, she is strong and smart and gutsy but it is the root nature of that heroism that is worthy of note.

For a trilogy about a revolution, Katniss begins with no interest in starting one. That was never her intention. She was angry about lots of things, but the focus of that rage lay elsewhere. She was angry with her mother’s mental collapse, rather than explicitly angry at the system that allowed her father’s death. She has no love for the Hunger Games, but her only wish is to run away from it.

All Katniss wants to do is protect her sister, her de facto child. She doesn’t volunteer as Tribute with a view to winning or surviving. She believes that she is ending her life to save Prim’s. She isn’t aware of the power of her single-mindedness, or that her skill with the bow is a potential game-changer. The Tributes from District 12 die every single year – with one exception in 74 years, long before Katniss was born. Not for nothing is Haymitch an alcoholic mess. He’s helped send forty-six children to their deaths.

It isn’t that she doesn’t have a rebellious streak. The arrow aimed at the judges during training is a huge overreaction to being ignored. It isn’t a piece of calculation to up her score, although that is its effect. She snaps, as she does outside the hospital in District 8 before delivering a plot defining speech. But this anger is swiftly channelled into a will to survive. To get back to Prim.

She doesn’t begin to hate the Capitol, I mean really loathe its raison d’etre, until Rue is killed. Again, it’s her instinct to nurture – a traditionally “feminine” trait – that leads her to risk a loss. Rue is a surrogate for Prim and the Tribute’s murder is her sister’s death writ large. The funeral flowers are a direct act of rebellion, a funeral rite that interrupts the process of the games – her body cannot be collected while Katniss is there. This isn’t to bring down the Capitol, it’s to reassert some humanity. That, of course, is what makes it so dangerous. It’s interesting that the film chooses that moment to show a riot in District 11, the moment that she herself has crossed the Rubicon and become a threat.

The very second that she believes that both she and Peter can be saved she seeks him out, even though that makes her more vulnerable. She risks death again to get his medicine. Even the final moment with the nightlock, the moment that is the beginning of the end of Snow and the Capitol, does not come from a place of rebellion. She is not willing to kill, or have Peter die for her and he will not do the killing. The trick with the berries is just a way of saving both of them. The act of defiance that it represents is incidental.

When she meets the revolution – District 13 and its conspirators – she is suspicious from the off. For a start, it failed to protect all those she cared for. She suspects that, like every rebellion since the dawn of man, it will end in bloodshed and she’s right.

She only agrees to become the Mockingjay in return for promises of safety and rescue for those same people…and her sister’s cat.

The horrible irony by the end is that despite beginning the journey to save her sister, Prim dies as a result of rebel action. It isn’t that the Capitol – the Nazis or the Empire or whoever – shouldn’t be resisted, it’s just that warfare without compassion is temptingly effective and its cost cannot be calculated. Prioritising the ends, no matter the means, just proves President Snow right. This is a reality about conflict that is as true of World War Two as it is of the rebellion against the Capitol.

Katniss is a hero that changes her world because she cares, because she has an instinct to nurture. The skill with the bow, the determination, the righteous anger – attributes that could be described as male or masculine – are secondary. It is compassion that is the root of everything she does. It is why she is powerful.

Her final act – killing Coin – comes from that same place. She gives everything up at that moment, she can expect nothing but death. But there will be no more Hunger Games. The children of Panem, all of them, will be safe. It is the same deal that she made at the very start.

Posted in 2018, ARC, Reads of ..., Usborne

Book Review: Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killen


Sarah has played many roles. Dutiful daughter. Talented gymnast. Persecuted Jew. Lost orphan. But now she faces her most challenging role of all. Now she must become the very thing she hates. For the only way she can survive as a spy at a boarding school for the cream of Nazi society is to become a monster like them. A monster who can destroy them.

Discover the girl who can beat Bond and Bourne at their own game, in this utterly addictive thriller from a jaw-dropping new talent.

Sarah and the Captain are two strong figures within this novel. Sarah has a flawed balance between bravery and naivety that could only be brought about from the time in which the book is set. There’s an empathy readers will have with the orphaned teen in a war-torn Berlin.
Sarah is given a new name and a new role to play, which allows her to come into contact with enemies of her own age. There are a number of characters readers will meet during Sarah’s mission, but it will be Mouse that you will take to your heart.
The Captain does take a back seat for most of the story, but he is an interesting character that I wish I’d gotten to know more. He has a mystery surrounding his character that will leave any reader begging for a sequel.
I cannot do the plot justice without spoiling it. So, all I will say is that it is a well written historical war story that will not let you catch your breath for a second. The second act takes place in a boarding school setting, that will forever change your ideologies of an education away from home.
The ending is haunting is the current climate. It doesn’t shy away from the brutalities of life outside of the war and the pressures of family. It seeps through slowly, but the reveal still hits you like a brick.
I have so much respect for Matt Killen. He has written such a strong female protagonist that is flawed and impassioned; layered within a story that it firmly placed within a researched history. Matt proves, with this one novel, that you don’t always have to stay within your comfort zone and write what you know.
It a compelling and emotion-fuelled read, that works well as a standalone. However, I’m hoping Matt has at least another story waiting for fans who will be undoubtedly begging once they read that final chapter.

Posted in 2018, Book reviews, Reads of ...

Robin Hood’s Dawn- Extract

Chapter 6:  The Earl of Sherwood Forest

25 August 1188, Sherwood Forest

Forcing himself to redirect his thoughts away from Marian’s perilous circumstances, Robin returned to his scrutiny of Gisborne’s weapon.  He frowned at the sword and mumbled, “Interesting.”

“What is it, Lord Robin?” inquired Much.

Robin revealed, “This sword is quite distinctive.”

Will leaned closer for a better view.  “It looks like any other sword, except for all those marks on the blade.”

Robin inspected the extravagant weapon as he described it.  “This is an excellent sword, equal to the one I carry.  It’s unlikely that a landless knight like Gisborne would own such a weapon, although sometimes a wealthy noble will award a superior sword to his favorite squire on the occasion of his knighthood, especially if the knight will be tasked with guarding the lord.”

Much felt confused. “Gisborne is Argentan’s captain; he was probably his squire too.  Why does the quality of this sword surprise you?”

Robin countered, “Much, do you remember the Barony of Argentan from our travels through Normandy?” At the quick shake of Much’s head, he disclosed, “Well, I remember it.  Argentan is not prosperous; it is small and insignificant.  I wonder how Baron de Argentan could afford to give such an expensive weapon to his captain.”

Rising, the three men strolled to a nearby spot brightened by a shaft of light, and Robin held the blade where the sun’s rays could illuminate its elaborate designs.  He continued to study it as Will and Much watched.

Much commented, “Those marks look like letters.”

An amazed Will stared at Much.  “You can read?”

Much’s ruddy complexion darkened slightly in self-consciousness.  “I can read a little.  I was allowed to listen to Lord Robin’s lessons, and his tutor kindly taught me many things.”

Robin pointed to the elegant etching on the blade.  “Notice these two lions – I saw something similar on Argentan’s ring.  Above the lions is a rising sun, and below them is a peculiar inscription.”

Much squinted at the blade and grumbled in frustration.  “I know my reading is not as well-practiced as yours, but I cannot decipher any of those words.”

Robin smiled affectionately at his friend.  “Be at ease, Much.  It is not English; it is written in Latin.  I’ve seen this style of inscribed sword in the past, but typically they are engraved with prayers, such as ‘In the Name of the Father.’”

“Do you know what it says?” asked Will.

Robin replied, “I can translate it, even though the letters are crowded together.  It says, ‘From Shadows to Glory:  I am Immortal, and My Kingdom Awaits.’”  He harrumphed grimly, flustered by the unexpected phrase.  He lowered the sword from the patch of sunlight as he became lost in his thoughts.

Robin blew out an exasperated breath. “Argentan mentioned shadows, but he was speaking in riddles.  I must think on this more.  For now, I will keep this sword; I want Gisborne to know that I have it.”

Following Much and Will back to the campfire, Robin plotted Marian’s rescue.


Posted in 2018, Barrington Stoke, Book reviews, Bookshelf, Non Pratt, Ramblings, Reads of ...

Book Review: Second Best Friend by @NonPratt

Description: Stunning novella by a hot talent in YA, in a gorgeous collectable edition. Jade and Becky have always been best friends; inseparable and often indistinguishable. But when a spiteful comment from an awful ex pushes Jade to the edge, she begins to see that she has always been second best in everything. When the school election offers her the chance to finally be number one, Jade learns just how far she is willing to go to be better than her closest friend. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+

Buy it here


There are so many characters to empathise with. The protagonist, Jade is wonderfully messed up in that way that we all are and there are some fears that she has that I face even now. Becky’s past comes back to haunt her in a way everyone will relate to.

Then there’s Nick. I’m in love with Nick and I wish I had him in my life. He’s perhaps my favourite of them all. He is true to himself and someone I’d respect completely.


The plot is fast paced and emotionally charged. However, a lot is packed into 137 pages. From the first page, dominos are put in place ready for the topple as the book reaches its close.


Non’s writing has always been clean, character driven and emotive. Second Best Friend is no exception. Not going to lie, I do prefer her longer novels but I hang onto every word and even then, it’s not enough. So yes, I’m greedy, I have questions and I’m not quite ready to leave these characters.

However, Non must be commended for what she is trying to achieve here. Both this and her previous Novella are accessible to many, including those who perhaps have lost their love of reading.

Posted in 2017, Book clubs, Ramblings, Reads of ..., The British Book Challenge, Usborne



HG: Which character, if any, did you relate to?

SMW: It has to be heroine, Storm.  She’s angry and feels abandoned, and I felt that as I wrote her.  But Storm has a big heart and a strong sense of ethics and I hope that comes through.

HG: If you were to enter the trials, what would your motivation be?

SMW: Food!  I will admit to being a complete food lover.  I’m not particularly sporty.  The chances of me completing any of the trials is less than slim, but, if you were waving chocolate at me I would probably have a go.

HG: Comparisons to books like Hunger Games and Jurassic park are inevitable despite your book’s unique storytelling and plot. Are comparisons something you embrace as a writer?

SMW: I am so flattered by those comparisons.  Nowadays people only think of the Jurassic Park film, but the book by Michael Crichton is fabulous, so atmospheric and I hope I’ve captured a little of that in mine.  As for the Hunger Games, I read all those books, I loved the fight-to-the-death element.  So, yes, I’m happy with comparisons!

HG: You are able to write with two distinct voices for both of your main characters; was there a process behind this? 

SMW: No.  I’m very methodical.  I just wrote it in alternate chapters. I found it easy as both characters have very different motivations.

HG: Who would survive longer in the Trials; Katniss Everdeen or Alan Grant?

SMW: Nope!  That’s completely unfair.  You can’t make me choose between them.  Can I go for Chris Pratt’s character in Jurassic World instead please? Owen Grady looks like he could survive just about anything with that twinkling smile.  Can I be controversial though and say I might send a raptor after the heroine…

HG: Going to go all Sherlock on you now. If you were to give your fans three, individual and unrelated, words as clues for the next book, what would they be?

SMW: The title of the next book would have to be one of them: (TO BE REVEALED this weekend on #SundayYA!) It speaks volumes!

The other two I would choose are mystery and surprise.  They’re going to venture into some unexplored territory and get a few shocks along the way!

HG: Normally, this sort of book would have readers clambering for your back catalogue of books. Being your debut novel, everyone will be a little disappointed and be itching for that sequel. What 3 books would you recommend while they wait?

SMW: One I’ve already mentioned Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.  Love, love, love it.

The other two are YA.  Warcross by Marie Lu and Invictus by Ryan Graudin.  Read both of these books this year and just loved them.

Sign up for the Usborne YA newsletter here for information about upcoming releases and the extract release for the second Extinction Trials book.

Posted in 2017, Book reviews, Han, Orion, Ramblings, Reads of ...

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Release date: 21.9.2017

Description: Time is running out . . .

Farway McCarthy was born outside of time. With nowhere to call home and nothing to anchor him to the present, Far captains a crew on a dangerous mission into the past.

When he collides with Eliot – a mysterious, secretive girl, whose very appearance raises questions about time itself – Far immediately distrusts her.

But he must take a leap of faith, following Eliot on a race against time, if he is to protect everything he’s ever loved from disappearing forever . . .

Buy here:


Far and Eliot are the most interesting of the group. I don’t find them relatable, but they’re certainly likeable. Far isn’t as much of a hot head as you first expect; he’s Harry Potter but lacking the ignorance of his upbringing.


It’s a wonderful time travelling plot, that doesn’t fall into the trappings that some other books fall into. It has a feeling of the tv show Timeless about it, but it quickly diverts from the individual cases of time travel to a much larger story.


It’s a solid novel, written in third person and doesn’t hold back on the action. It has a delightful way of incorporating swear words that reminds me of Eion Colfer’s Artemis Fowl.

I personally could have done with it being about 100 pages shorter, but I was having to drown out Christmas TV and my father’s chatter so I was pulled out of it a fair bit.

Posted in 2017, ARC, Han, MacMillian Kids UK, Net Galley, Reads of ...

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron #bookreview #hanreview @MacmillanKidsUK

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron #bookreview #hanreview @MacmillanKidsUK Release date: 22.03.18


From Goodreads: Sometimes, I imagine alternate endings to the story: last-minute miracles, touches of magic. I picture how things might have gone, if I wasn’t there. If I’d left just a few minutes later. If I hadn’t been alone. It doesn’t make any difference. One way or another, the crash always comes.

Ten days after Jaya Mackenzie’s mum dies, angels start falling from the sky. Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single one has survived.

Hysteria mounting with every Being that drops, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand this obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it.

When her best friend disappears and her father’s mania spirals, things hit rock bottom and it’s at that moment something extraordinary happens: An angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive. Finally she is forced to acknowledge just how significant these celestial beings are.

Set against the backdrop of the frenzied Edinburgh festival, OUT OF THE BLUE tackles questions of grief and guilt and fear over who we really are. But it’s also about love and acceptance and finding your place in this world as angels drop out of another.

Buy it here

My first thoughts

It’s ET meets I am Traitor in this wonderfully thrilling story. I couldn’t put it down.

The Characters

I love Jaya. She is headstrong, wonderfully moral and self assured. This is quite possibly the first LGBTQ+ main character who knows what and who she is and therefore doesn’t divert some of the plot with that exploration. Plus, it’s wonderful to just have a character who happens to be gay and her sexuality have no direct impact upon the plot.

The angel that falls is wonderful and while unable to vocalise her pain, confusion she is able to communicate. I’ll leave the name for you to discover, but it’s a delight and reflective of her innocent charm.

The Plot

The plot is perfectly woven out of a teen thriller nursing an injured angel back to health and a commentary upon religious belief and how we respond to the end of the world.

The sub plot looks at cults that can arise in such situations and the people who join them. It comments upon the challenges people face when drawn in without considering a way out.

It’s a well developed plot that has a balance between humour and tense drama. Something that will keep you up at night; if you start it, you won’t stop till its finished.

The Writing

It’s clear storytelling and third person narrative gives the story a film-like quality. It’s demonstrated best as the action heats up in the later section of the book. It’s a perfect read and I’d gladly welcome a sequel.