The Arsonist by Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial/Penguin
Release Date: 22nd August 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Al-Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

WELL WASN’T THIS MOTHER-FLIPPIN’ AMAZING

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This book. Oh my gosh. After I finished the final page, I closed the book slowly and just sat there staring out of my window. I cannot believe that there are books that I’ve been waiting for for months, sat on my TBR pile physically and on Goodreads, and The Arsonist hasn’t been on any of them. Not even that, but I didn’t know it existed until I saw it on a table at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) and all I had to do was sign up to a newsletter and I would receive it for free.

I had the choice of any one of the books on the table, and yes, I may have chosen The Arsonist because of that pretty cover and because my friends’ also picked it up. But what was inside? WHY HADN’T I KNOWN ABOUT IT BEFORE?

The Arsonist is a story told through three perspectives that flow so well together, Molly, the girl with no friends, with a broken family with a father on death row and a burning idea that a mother didn’t kill herself and is actually in hiding, Pepper, a boy failing school and figuring out whether he cares or not (plus he’s got a hilarious seizure pug called Bertrand), and Ava, a young girl living in East Berlin in the 1980s, imprisoned behind the wall and away from the rest of the world.

I loved every single perspective in a different way, and it would be cruel to pick favourites. I loved Molly for her inquisitive mind, her determination, Pepper for his comedy gems, his willingness to go along for the adventure, and of course Ava for her harrowing life in East Berlin and the journey she took in search for freedom, right up until her death (this isn’t a spoiler it says it on the blurb, kids). Everything was gripping, everything, I hated putting this book down because I felt like I was wasting time doing other things.

I actually, for a short period of time, thought Ava Dreyman was a real person in history and a quick Google search found me back at The Arsonist’s Goodreads page, whoops.

This book comes out 22nd August. Please, if you’re looking for a new release that has intrigue, drama, adventure, incredible friendships, history, and a useless but lovable doggo, then read The Arsonist. What a treat.

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The Good, The Bad, & The Hilarious Parts Of YALC 2017

IT IS TIME TO TALK ABOUT YALC 2017.

This year, I made plans. Big plans. I booked a weekend ticket, I got time off work, I made plans to stay at a friend’s house during the event (she was on a Mediterranean cruise – poor her), and found online friends to spend time with. This year, I was killin’ it.

YALC 2017, despite attending for the last two years, has been a completely different experience than any other years I’ve been there. It was bigger, more crowded, and I felt so much more confident in myself where everyone I hung out with I had met over our love of books on the internet. I also happened to receive a lot of free books!

Here are the overwhelmingly good parts of YALC 2017.

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THE GOOD

The Talks

While only getting around to a few talks, the ones that I did watch were absolutely fantastic. I loved the genre-bending panel (and not just because V.E. Schwab was on it) but it really spoke to me. I often struggle with what category I want my stories to be in; I often worry about what will be marketable, what neat little boxes publishers and agents will want my idea to fit into in order to sell it. But this talk gave a bigger perspective: right what you love, change things up, don’t restrict yourself.

Another fantastic talk was In Conversation With Patrick Ness, which I had watched last year but mainly revolved around the release of the movie adaptation of A Monster Calls. This year was all about Release, Ness’ newest…release. A book I adored and read in about a day. He and Juno Dawson (who was a FANTASTIC chair and I honestly wouldn’t have minded if it was In Conversation with Juno Dawson and Patrick Ness) talked deeply about #ownvoices, about Patrick’s books, and writing from experience. It was incredible how Ness can stop for a second, think about his answer, and come up with most poetic thing I’ve ever heard. There’s a reason this guy’s a writer.

The Kindness of Strangers

I made a whole blog post about stumbling across some strangers who comforted me during my first few days at work, but YALC ended up being not only the kindness of strangers, but the generosity of strangers.

It’s news to no one that YALC 2017 was the year of rushing for arcs (which I talk about the negative side later on). People were poised at the ready, with Twitter on their phones and publishers’ accounts notifications on. It felt a little like The Hunger Games, however I had no ARC in mind that I was excited about getting. If I got some, then hey, I got some. When Story HQ dropped a three ARC giveaway, I was excited; one ARC wasn’t even professionally bound, it was that early of an ARC! I looked on the table and saw only a few left of a book called Blackbird. I wasn’t that interested, but hey ho I got one and I’ll be reading it soon enough. I looked up the other two that were being given away, and one was called City of Brass. When I read the synopsis, I was already hooked. A historical fantasy set in the Middle East. The final cover even had a silhouette of The Hagia Sophia. I got instant And I Darken/Now I Rise vibes, and needed it. While everyone at Story HQ was preoccupied with ARCs of Zenith, I thought maybe they had a few to giveaway, however, they informed me that they had 6 left.

6 LEFT.

It’s Saturday night, I’m thinking it’s worth a shot.

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And lo and behold, as I’m running out of options, SUNDAY MORNING SOMEBODY MESSAGES ME. This lovely person doesn’t even want to swap a book with me, she’s just going to straight up give me City of Brass.

I get to YALC, and I find her; she’s got a suitcase full of books, and just pulls out City of Brass like it’s no big deal and hands it to me. OH. MY GOD.

This happened multiple times throughout the weekend, where a girl had won a copy of A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris, my friend Anna’s favourite author. She had met the girl before she had won it, and had mentioned that she didn’t even know who Joanne M. Harris was, and so when we saw her later on, I beelined straight for her and was willing to swap for it. She brought it the next morning, wanting nothing in return, and I told Anna, who had a little cry of joy.

BOOKISH PEOPLE ARE GREAT.

The Queuing System

I was actually really pleased with the way in which *some* of the queues for author signings were handled this year. While last year I stood in a line for an hour to meet V.E. Schwab (which wasn’t so bad because I met one of my good friends, Kate!), this year it was first come first serve for a ticket with a specific number. When your number was called, you went in a queue of about 20 people. For Laini Taylor, I was 177. Bleh. But it meant that, when I knew they were at numbers 1-20, I could continue to wander around YALC and LFCC without worrying about losing my place. It was the same with Patrick Ness, where I grabbed a ticket despite not being sure about getting my stuff signed. My friend Anna suggested I take a ticket, because at least I have a place in the queue if I decide to get something signed. And I did! .

Granted, there were definitely some queues that were all over the place; people joining despite their number not being called, organizers not even knowing which authors would be popular (putting V.E. Schwab and Laini Taylor on at the same time…whose idea was that???), and queues snaking around publishers’ stalls and blocking them and other walkways. But overall, the queuing system has definitely improved since the last two years!

Meeting Bookish People!

Before I showed up, I knew YALC would be different. Not only was I attending with friends from Twitter, I also knew I would be meeting online people for the first time ever. Usually, I go to YALC with one friend from university, but since she was on that epic cruise, I took it into my hands to surround myself with new people.

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From left to right: Bex, Jess, Anna, Me, Liv, Kate

While I mostly stuck with Anna (@aliterarypotion) and Kate (@coffeeinonehandbookintheother), we ended up meeting a whole bunch of new people who I’d only known from Twitter including Katherine (@writinghideout), Bex (@MyShelfMySelf), Jess (@bookendingsendings), Liv (@Livescape), Vicky (@hunguponbooks), Christine (@weereader), and Nazy (@readinghijabsy)! It was great to be around people who were obsessed with books just as much as I am, especially ones in the same online communities as I am. It felt like we all kinda knew each other already!

THE BAD

Unfortunately, with all experiences, the bad parts can often feel like they overshadow the good and the hilarious. YALC, for the last few years, has been a major event in my calendar, and I hate to say that YALC 2017 has been the year of negative experiences and criticisms that I want to share as feedback to the organizers but also to future attendees as a warning of what to possibly expect in 2018 (if they haven’t sorted it already).

Publisher/Reader Power Imbalance

I could write a whole blog post just on this section. I have so many thoughts about the straight up lack of disrespect publishing representatives had for paying guests who were attending YALC. The event, while encompassing all the good stuff I mentioned earlier, can also be described as one big book marketing campaign. Publisher’s stands are there to promote and sell, and what better way to promote upcoming titles by creating buzz with limited advanced reading copies (ARCS) to lucky individuals who took the time to travel far and spend money to attend YALC. However, the process in which the representatives chose who got what, throughout the event, became more and more disrespectful and panic inducing.

The publishers created an environment of hostility and aggression as they tweeted out challenges or even just ‘we have five copies! first come first serve!’ which meant hoards of people stampeding into others and causing a ruckus. They made up challenges off the top of their heads, including making people run to their stall and lie on the ground for no reason, or refusing to tell people what they were giving away at what time, forcing people to constantly refresh their Twitter feeds or even just loiter around their stalls for two hours. A rep from one publisher in particular had the audacity to yell “Dance monkeys! Dance!” when they got a crowd of people to wave their hands in the air to win some books. Some publishers couldn’t even be bothered to put a proper queuing system in place and a number of people suffered panic attacks from being crushed in sudden surges of people, many of whom had no idea what was going on. Publishers didn’t tell us how many arcs they had and didn’t count people in order to send people away, instead people queued for ages only to be disappointed. All the running also meant that many attendees with physical and mobility difficulties did not have a chance at receiving any freebies.

The publisher stands had too much power; they exploited the excitement and passion of many teenage readers by making them literally do anything they wanted for a book, and injuring people in the process. Story HQ and Hodderscape were particularly horrific; Hodderscape making people do stupid things in the 30 seconds they’d tweeted about it, while Story HQ just refused to be organised and caused panic attacks and took no responsibility for the crowds of people blocking other stalls.

While I’m naming and shaming, I also should be naming and congratulating. Penguin Platform did their arc giveaways a little differently, and instead offered raffle tickets to win arcs, and also hid arcs in certain places without tweeting about it, meaning if you stumbled upon an arc, you got it. There were no crowds, there was no mass hysteria. BKMRK (previously Books with Bite) and Chicken House also did a good job by announcing giveaways an hour before, letting people arrive on their own time and also directing queue flow, providing enough arcs for a good portion of people (about 150 a day).

Free stuff is fun. Feeling like the ant under the boot of a publisher is not.

Seating and Layout

If you’re a YALC veteran, it’s a normal occurrence to find yourself standing around or finding decent floor space, but as the convention gets bigger, gets more popular, I am surprised by the lack of seating, especially when there was so much empty space with no signing tables or publishers stalls. Yes, there were lots of seats in the panel area, but you couldn’t have a proper chat with your mates or just a place to read because there was a talk going on right in front of you. There is a cafe, but it’s small and often crowded, and there’s a bean bag area which, if you have mobility issues, you’ll probably have trouble getting out of them once you’ve fallen in (I didn’t even try out of fear). I saw a lot of attendees this year with crutches, walking sticks and wheelchairs, so a place with tables and chairs just to take a breather would have really helped many.

THE HILARIOUS

Laini Taylor Signing

This is probably a mixture of hilarious and heartbreaking. Hilarious now, but kind of heartbreaking at the time. It was no lie that Laini Taylor’s signing queue was going to be one big thing that would last for hours. I managed to snag the prized position of person 177 in queue, and was left to my own devices until my number was called. It would be a while.

Strange The Dreamer is not a small book. The whole of Saturday I had this thing in my bag, on my back, weighing me down. I loved Strange The Dreamer, so much more than I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and I was thrilled that I would be meeting Laini Taylor for the first time and I could tell her how much I fell in love with Lazlo Strange (what a puppy!!). We walked, we shopped, we sat around waiting for City of Brass ARCS to drop (they didn’t…despite telling me that they would at some point. You’ve already read my annoyance with Story HQ you know what I’m on about), until eventually, my and my friends’ numbers were called.

Due to the fantastic member of staff in charge of Laini’s queue, we were only stood there for about ten minutes before finally meeting Laini. I immediately forgot about the two hours I’d had to kill before my number actually being called, and was ready to meet an author I had only just begun to appreciate.

When she opens my book…and sees her signature already there.

“Oh, I’ve already signed this.”

“….what.”

“Did you buy this from Waterstones?”

“Umm, yeah.”

“Oh I pre-signed those. Have you read the book?”

“Yes! I loved it!”

“Oh dear, maybe you forgot you bought a signed one then :). Here, I’ll personalize it.”

“Thanks.”

And that was the end of my two hour wait and a 12 hour carrying of an already signed Strange The Dreamer. What an idiot.

Non Pratt Head shave

I feel like, if you attended YALC and maybe if you didn’t, you know what I’m going to talk about. I’ve watched vlogs and read other blog posts about it and people asking each other ‘where were you during the Non-Pratt head shave?’. I was pretty damn close to Non, but on the farther side of where the ‘incident’ happened, and so saw practically nothing but people jumping out of their chairs and screaming and cheering.

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“what cult ritual nonsense is this??”

 

Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch walked in on us all chanting ‘SHAVE! SHAVE!’ as an author had her head shaved on stage. There is nothing that I can say that hasn’t already been said, but it was damn hilarious.

Benedict Cumberbatch Madness

In fact, Benny-C made so many appearances that weekend that it was getting kind of annoying. The door he would enter the floor from and the door to his green room were so far from each other that he continually had to walk the whole length of YALC with bodyguards that kept multiplying each time I saw him. I understand why his green room was upstairs at YALC; if you left YALC and went into LFCC, the place was PACKED and people were no doubt expecting Benny-C. For us, we were just happy to see him for a minute and then continued to get excited about books. Our floor was a safe floor, and the worst he got was a few of us sprinting to get good pictures of him. He even walked past people and said hello and asked how they were. What a lovely chap.

And that was my YALC 2017! I had such a fantastic time, met new people, got a shit ton of books, and even spotted a few celebrities. I’m still on a little YALC high and have been scrolling through Twitter looking for blog posts and vlogs so if you’ve posted, let me know!

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Meeting Your Fave: Author Interactions and Book Signings

2016 marked the second year I attended YALC, or the Young Adult Literature Convention, based in the London Film And Comic Con in London. Yeah, I’ll just stick to saying YALC.

2016 also marked the first year I’d be going to YALC to get books signed by my favourite authors. Last year I had the luck of nabbing a spot at a talk in a Waterstones with Leigh Bardugo and getting my copy of Six of Crows signed, but this year there’d be panel and crowds and queues.

While I’m not one to get excited about celebrities and want pictures and signed things with their faces on, there’s something special about your favourite books being signed by the authors who wrote them.

I often see a signed book as a ‘thank you for writing this loveliness’ with the response of ‘thank you for believing in me and my words’, along with a smitten of ‘thank you for helping me pay my rent and buy food’, but before the end result comes author interaction.

Author interaction is very similar to an interaction with anyone where you know them but they do not know you; often through media or a seemingly ‘elevated platform’. Examples include Youtubers, actors, and singers. Youtubers are a most recent phenomenon, with meetups and meet and greets and anything where you have to queue to meet another human who has no idea who you are but you cry because they bring you so much pleasure.

 

At 23, I don’t really cry at the presence of other people. At 23, I do get excited when I meet other people who bring me so much pleasure, people who have also mastered and make a living out of a craft that I so aspire to master and earn a living out of. It’s inspiring, it’s admirable.

I met three of my favourite authors this year and all were absolutely lovely, humble, and friendly. However, when you’re stood in a queue for over an hour to meet another human for 30 seconds to smile and squiggle their name on your book, you get to thinking about interactions and the weirdness of them.

First of all, I decided that I would not get a picture with any of the authors I interacted with. This might seem stupid, and it’s totally subjective. When I met V.E. Schwab, wizard of the written word, I said to the girl, Kate, in front of me, that I felt weird getting a photo.

“I guess you’ll have the memory of meeting her.” Kate said, who was most definitely getting a photo. And she was right, to me, the memory was enough. But at the same time, I felt oddly uncomfortable already that I had to queue to meet a person who hadn’t the foggiest who I was, but for me to then ask for V.E. Schwab to have her picture taken with a random ass person who queued to meet her?? 

I admire the authors who write the books I love so much. They’re talented and their stories deserve to be read. But there’s something strange to me about being in a similar situation with an author as when I’m 5 and with Mickey Mouse.

I also decided that the definition of you know them but they do not know you will be something I live by. Despite having a fairly large online presence and continuously talking to other bloggers and publishers and authors, when I end up meeting said author in a setting such as a book signing, I just cannot possibly assume that they know me.

And while I don’t think you should take my advice when it comes to not getting a picture (you do what you feel is comfortable/appropriate at the time), I would say this; assuming they don’t know or recognize you is a lot easier to handle than “They know who I am because I speak to them on Twitter occasionally.” and then you get to the front of the queue and while they’re lovely and grateful…no, they do not know you, and you can’t muster up the courage (or dignity) to say “Remember me? From Twitter? It’s @hollieeblog. What do you mean you talk to hundreds of people a day?”

Because they do. They talk to a lot of people on Twitter.

You may be lovely to them and they’re lovely back, but there’s a big difference between being polite and actively DM’ing you to meet up (or something else entirely fantastical).

In a more roundabout way which doesn’t involve copious amount of text, here are the bullet points:

  • Do what you feel is comfortable in each situation. They are obviously happy to meet you and sign your merch and have your picture taken.
  • Queuing to meet another human is weird. Asking for a picture with said human is weirder (for me).
  • Authors probably don’t know who you are. If they do, I’m sure they would say. Assume they don’t, despite all those retweets. At least then it’s a pleasant surprise if they do know you!
  • Queues are often long and apparently excellent thinking time.

 

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YALC 2016 Survival Guide

So, you’re going to the Young Adult Literature Convention this year. First of all, I’m glad you decided to take this step. Not only is the convention fantastic, it’s a nice ray of sunshine on the shit storm that is 2016.

I’ve only ever been to YALC once, but since talking to others online and getting the experience of being an absolute newbie, I wanted to share tips and helpful advice about going to the most bookish event in the country. Whether it’s your first time or you’ve been before, it’s nice to know a few things to prepare yourself, as well as to help yourself while you’re there.

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It sounds like a no brainer, but you’ll be surprised at how many people over pack and end up lugging every single thing they own around four floors of nerdiness. You have to remember that not only are you taking books to get signed, you’re also going to be coming away with a lot more books then you started with. Not to mention YALC is a part of Comic-Con, where there’s three more floors of stuff to buy; Pop Vinyl figures, art prints, plushies, stationary, there’s everything. Make sure you have a backpack along with a totebag or two so the books can’t get easily damaged by all your merch!

If you can’t pack light, YALC offers locker facilities for (I think) £1 a day.

SNACKS AND DRINKS

I want you to think about this, Comic-Con is the biggest nerd convention in the U.K…it’s going to be busy. And while the convention space is big, it’s going to be hot and it’s not going to have enough resources for everyone. Having at least one bottle of water will be good for your health and for your wallet. YALC is the quietest floor and it’s very easy to find a place to sit and recuperate. There’s also a small cafe, however in my experience, I found the food expensive and lacking in variety. I was hungry for most of last year, and I waited in a queue for forty minutes to get an overpriced chocolate muffin. TAKE A LUNCH.

WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking and shuffling, so it’s best to wear shoes that don’t rub and don’t have heels. I mean, if you’re cosplaying and used to it, then by all means, where those 6 inch stilettos! But for me, I found nice breathable trainers or comfortable flats were the best at getting around. While there are seats available, you will be walking up and downstairs a lot.

GETTING IN

Last year was a bit of a disaster getting into the actual venue for me. While I got the knack of the trains and the tube, I didn’t really think about the queuing situation once we’d got there. Note that there are multiple entrances to get into Comic-Con depending on what ticket you have. No matter which ticket, you can still get into the YALC section of the convention. However, if you have the YALC priority pass, you can go through a ~special~ entrance that takes you straight into YALC from Hammersmith Road. Try not to get caught up in any other queue; it happened to me and I ended up queuing around the whole building for an hour when I could have just gone through one door and got in. Some of the stewards didn’t even know what YALC was and didn’t help us at all, so make sure you get to that entrance and keep shoving the ticket in people’s faces to prove you can come in!

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This only applies if you’re planning on buying things. Comic-Con can be considered one big shop, and unfortunately, not a lot of the stalls take card. There are numerous cash points on each floors, but all charge you a rate for taking money out. While it doesn’t seem so bad at the time, the amount of times you’ll need to take cash out will add up the charges. This also includes stalls that DO take cards as their card machines will also charge you. I would suggest taking cash just so you at least have some money on you. If you want to take a lot, split it into different areas so, if you do get pick pocketed, they won’t be able to take the whole thing e.g. some in your wallet, some in your bra, some in your shoe e.t.c. This might seem a bit far fetched; everyone is generally lovely and don’t go to YALC especially to commit crime, but making sure you’re not out of pocket is always a sensible idea.

SAY HELLO!

If you’re like me and you live on the internet, you’re bound to see people you talk to on here. Considering all we’re going off is our Twitter icons (which my grandmother said looks nothing like me ???), use #Yalcselfie on the day so people know what you look like! It’s great for when you’re going on your own and you’re a little nervous. Speaking of, I’ll be at YALC on my own on Friday so make sure to find my #Yalcselfie and COME SAY HELLO TO ME.

And that my lovelies is my YALC 2016 Survival Guide! If you’re going, I hope you have a fantastic time and it’s as super and smooth as you can possibly make it. This list is purely on the experiences I’ve had in the past, and considering I don’t suffer from anxiety and am a bit of an extrovert sometimes, there may be things that I’ve missed out on that may apply to you.

Amber over at The Mile Long Bookshelf wrote a post about visiting YALC while you have anxiety and highlights a few points that may help you too!

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