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, ARC, Reads of ...

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

When I had the offer of reading a Mills and Boon novel I was flooded with so many emotions. I honestly didn’t know what to expect other than my own ideas I’d built up. I saw them as the romantic, adult version of Point Horror that I was reading as my nan raced through novel after novel. She borrowed from her local library and had a little symbol she would put on the inside back cover so she would never take the same book twice. It wasn’t only her; the books where covered in a variety of tag marks from literary borrowers.
I also knew my mum to partake from time to time; choosing to own hers outright. I’m gutted to say that I didn’t give them a second thought before passing them to a charity shop when she died a decade ago. The remorse has come from reading this novel, The Duchess Deal. A well written, passionate story with some wonderful characters.

Emma is an independent character who is living below her social class through mysterious circumstances. She is able to hold her own and is perfect agreement, on the most part, with her playmate, Ash. While I struggle to empathise with such a character and am jealous of her being swept off her feet, I did enjoy her spirit and fire when it came to dealing with her husband of convenience.
Ash, on the other hand, I fell in love with him right away. Self-loathing nobleman, a bit of gruff with a dash of elegance. I could see why Emma only needed a little nudging to agree to the match. It’s hard not to like this sort of character who seems to have everything, but is humbled through circumstance. Move over Mr Darcy and Mr Grey, there’s a new swoon worthy man on the shelf.

A plot such as this; a marriage of convenience may come across as farfetched in less abled writer’s hands, this plot is wonderfully fun and light-hearted. The time in which it has been set helps to establish the motives behind the convenience and the isolated insights into the couple’s thinking gives the romance its spring.
Obviously, there are obstacles the characters have to overcome as well as ensuring we see that there is chemistry between the two. It’s all done with precision and epic timing. I did find the ending a little rushed, but that is only my own sadness that the story had to end.

Tessa has a charm that brings this tale to life. She is able to pass between the Duke and Duchess’ view point with a delicate ease. The intimate sections of the story never feel forced or gratuitous; instead they flow organically into the plot and allow for comfortable, enjoyable reading.

Posted in 2018, ARC, Net Galley, Reads of ...

The Truth about Alice by @jenmathieu

About the book: Rumour has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the ‘slut stall’ in the girls’ bathroom at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumours start to spiral out of control.
In this remarkable novel, four Healy High students – the party girl, the car accident survivor, the ex best friend and the boy next door – tell all they know.
But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.
The story is told from the point of view of four students at the High School. They are separate enough to not contaminate the narrative and question any of the storytellers.
There is, however one overlap. Alice herself. Each narrator is almost a point on a compass, take one on it’s own and you’re a little lost as to how you feel about the focus. Put them together, and you have a full picture.
The picture I’m given of Alice is one that I like. She is my favourite character. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t get her narration of the events that occur, but she certainly is the person I want to get to know more.
The plot and tone of this book fits well with novels like Asking For It, One of Us is Lying and Thirteen Reasons Why. Rumours have been spread around the small town and the book picks up weeks after the party in which the incident is to have happened. What would have ordinarily been a burn book-esque rumour has escalated at the death of one of the people involved.
The novel uses four bystander’s perspectives to unpack everything that happens; from the incident itself to the aftermath. Along the way, the characters reveal more about themselves than Alice, including their motives for any part they may have to play in her banishment from almost every social circle.
It’s a tense mystery that keeps Alice at arm’s length, which only adds to the chilling lesson to be learnt. From an outsider, it’s easy to say we’d help Alice and we’d see through the social politics. I for one know, I wouldn’t be that brave.

Jennifer Mathieu’s writing is on point. She has an ability to keep a mystery while keeping her characters open and vulnerable. The ability to tell the story of Alice, without her being the storyteller is simply genius.
It was Mathieu’s UK debut, Moxie that gave me back my love of reading. She has a way of telling a bold and impassioned story that helps you question the treatment of others. The Truth about Alice, if I can be so bold, is even better than Moxie. It’s a story that builds upon the necessity of books like Thirteen Reasons Why and Asking For It, but allows the reader to look at the after effects from another perspective.

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.

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