Book review: The Truth And Lies of Ella Black

the truth and lies of ella black by emily barrElla Black is a good girl, to the point of boring. She studies hard, she keeps her head down and the craziest thing she’s ever done is dye her hair purple. But the reason she’s so good is that she has an alter-ego – the violent, destructive Bella. The first time Bella makes an appearance she does something so shocking I almost dropped the book and it’s clear why Ella needs to keep on the straight and narrow and keep Bella under control.

But then one day her parents collect her from school early and, without explaining why, fly her to Rio de Janeiro. There Ella learns the truth about herself – a truth which unleashes Bella in all her crazed glory and that means her safe, comfortable life has gone forever…

That’s the setup for The Truth And Lies of Ella Black, by Emily Barr – who specialises in weaving travel and exotic locations into gripping plots. This is her second novel for young adults (I also loved The One Memory Of Flora Banks last year) and I know fans are going to love it.

Teenage me loves Ella’s longing for adventure… adult me loves the dark suspense

Whenever I read a YA novel there are actually two people reading. There’s me – the not-so-young adult writer and book fanatic, and then there’s teenage me holed up in my pretentious looking bedroom waiting for the day when something will happen to change my life forever too.

teenage me sitting at my desk with lots of books in the background and my pet dog jack photobombing me

Teen me in my bookish bedroom being photobombed by my collie, Jack.

Most of the time the books I love now aren’t the same as the books I loved then. I never wanted to read about girls like me, going to school and worrying about friendships and boys – I had enough of that in my day to day life. I wanted fairytale romance and pure escapism. These days I like my stories grittier, my characters more flawed. But Ella Black appeals to both versions of me.

What Emily Barr does so well is create a sense of escapism – for teens desperate to explore the world her description of the beaches, streets and favelas of Rio is compelling and addictive – like Ella you want to find out what’s around the corner. Teenage me loves Ella and identifies with her longing for adventure – adult me loves the dark suspense over what Bella will do next and the slow creeping realisation of what her secret really is. All of me wants to book a ticket to Brazil, like, RIGHT NOW.

It’s a thriller, a coming of age novel with a splash of South American colour a slice of romance and added zombie parades. Teenagers of all ages will long to dive in.

The Truth And Lies of Ella Black by Emily Barr is out now

I’m doing NaNoWriMo!

Last year I attempted to do National Novel Writing Month properly for the first time. I cleared my schedule, I did some preliminary work on plotting. I told my friends and family and any bugger who wanted to hear about it on Facebook. As November approached, I was ready.

NaNo-2015-Participant-Badge-Large-SquareThen on 31st October my little boy got ill. And we were in hospital for three weeks. It was a terrifying, horrible time which involved sleeping on a camp bed next to his cot, listening to machines beeping. Some people would find it helpful to have something else – a novel – to focus on. I found it impossible. I just couldn’t concentrate – all the emotional highs and lows has been drained out of me by the time he’d gone to sleep. A few times I stayed up using the glow of my screen as the only source of light and I wrote. But I can’t say I produced anything amazing. By the end of the month I’d written about 3,000 words.

This year I had no intention of doing it. I had too much on. Money to earn, commissions to chase. What if the nipper got sick again? Let’s face it, producing 50,000 words in a month wasn’t realistic.

And then on the afternoon of 1st November I got a message from a friend to say she was doing it and I thought, sod it. Life is always going to be busy. There’s always going to be money to earn, commissions to chase (I hope) and kids are always going to get poorly – although hopefully never that sick again.

I thought, sod it. Life is always going to be busy

I had made no preparations, my characters were floundering, the storyline petered out. I had lost the plot. In fact I wasn’t even sure I wanted to finish the book. It felt like a meal that I’d been pushing around on the plate so long that it was no longer appetising.

Still, I sent my friend a message to say I was in. I set myself a new goal – 1,000 words a day should be quite enough for a YA novel as I was already 26,000 words in anyway.

Now I’m seven days in and results are mixed. On the minus side, I’m waaay short of my target. Because guess what, the little dude was ill for one of those days and a massive handful for two more of them. But on the other hand I’ve found a missing link which I think will give one of my characters the storyline she needs. And I feel like I’m back into it. I’m doing good things.

So I’m going to check in every week throughout the month, let you know how I’m doing. But only quickly, because I’m writing.

Book review: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

TifAni can’t wait to marry her cookie-cutter Perfect Boyfriend. So why is it that, in the very first scene of Luckiest Girl Alive she is fantasising about stabbing him with their carefully chosen designer wedding cutlery?

It could be because – whisper it – she can be a bit of a cow. In fact, there is lots that will irritate you about TiFani FaNelli. Her snobbery, which blends beautifully with her inverted snobbery; her snarky asides about perfectly nice people and not least her heartfelt belief that size 12 is fat. Even reading her name grates – did the caps lock button keep getting stuck when they made out her birth certificate?

But TiFani is not a heroine, she’s a person. Sometimes she’s a pain in the arse, other times she’s sweet, compassionate and funny – like many real people are. And it’s the compelling reality of the character that is making Jessica Knoll’s novel one of the big word-of-mouth hits of this year.

TiFani is not a heroine, she’s a person.

Back at High School TifAni made a few mistakes. She hung out with the wrong people, she got a crush on the wrong boy and set in motion a chain of events which affected the whole school and still haunt her 10 years on. The wedding has become her way of showing she’s moved on, that she is no longer TifAni but has reinvented herself as Ani Harrison – successful writer on a glossy magazine, wearer of designer clothes and WASP in training. But as Madonna could tell you, reinventions are rarely permanent and don’t really fool anyone. As the wedding gets closer she’s forced to confront what happen to her in the past, and things start to unravel…

Luckiest Girl Cover resizeSo chances are you won’t love TifAni. But you’ll sit up all night reading to find out what happened to her, whether she’ll get the wedding she deserves and who she decides to be in the end.

When I was a kid I loved Cinderella heroines. I loved the idea that if you were a good person and kept doing the right thing eventually someone would notice and give you a big sparkly tiara and a fancy title. And most of us have never fallen out of love with that idea (otherwise who would have bought Fifty Shades of Grey, ever?) But in the past few years there’s been a bit of an awakening. A desire for real three dimensional characters who we will love, warts, neuroses and all.

That’s how we ended up with Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck character, and Eliza Kennedy’s sexy debut novel I Take You which features yet another driven New York heroine trying to balance love with her unfortunate casual sex habit. Bluebirds do not alight on these women’s shoulders when they get dressed in the morning. They do not sing about how a dream is a wish your heart makes. But they take us to new, entertaining places where women are fully formed human beings with layered, complicated lives. And with women like that, you never know what will happen next.

Luckiest Girl Alive is out in hardback now