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Somewhere Close to Happy by Lia Louis – Blog Tour Book Review

Book cover with letter

Synopsis

Lizzie James is happy.

She has a steady office job (with a steady stream of snacks), has had the same best friend since school, and she sees her family ever Thursday night for take-away and trashy TV, Lizzie likes her uncomplicated life.

Then a letter arrives one day from her first love, Roman. A letter dated the day he disappeared, 12 years before. As Lizzie uncovers the secrets of the letter, she discovers what really happened the year her life fell apart – and all avenues lead back to Roman.

Lizzie James thought she was happy, or somewhere close to happy, at least. Now she’s not so sure.

About the Author

Lia Louis is a writer from Hertfordshire where she lives with her partner and three young children. In 2015, she won ELLE magazine’s annual talent competition with her contemporary love letter, #RelationshipGoals. Lia’s fascination with letters doesn’t stop with her writing: she also has a varied collection of old letters which are a source of inspiration to her. Somewhere Close to Happy is her first novel. Lia can be found tweeting at @LisforLia.

What I Thought

This debut novel hit the sweet spot for me with a tender YA style first love and a gradual unpicking of a mystery later in life.

Lizzie thinks she’s moved on and moved past what happened when Roman disappeared but the delivery of his twelve year old letter opens those wounds and there’s only one way to heal them. She needs the truth.

Her best friend Priscilla has been with her since school, through her time at The Grove (the mental health unit where she met Roman), the year he left and now she’s the Sherlock to her Watson. I loved the female friendships in this book, most notably between Lizzie and Priscilla but also with Katie, her sister-in-law. There was one scene where Katie’s support had me fist pumping.

Of course Somewhere Close to Happy also represents the fauxships too, in all their agonising false niceties.

The novel flicks forward and back in time and this gradual unfurling of the story of first love and first loss is deftly handled, it had me so invested. I wanted to hug young Lizzie and young Roman in particular.

With hugely honest and accurate mental health portrayal, that comes from the author’s authentic experience. The experience of anxiety and panic pulses from the page. Also the hurt of one’s experience not being validated is raw and the, “she’s being a teenager”, “she’s just being awkward”, comments show how much more awareness is needed. The family relationships in this story are complex, some good (Hubble – sweet Hubble), some complex (Mum and Dad) and some downright 🤬 (Auntie who Shall be named – see what I did there!).

This story just feels so real, so bittersweet and the writing just had me hooked. I needed to know what happened. Lizzie goes on a journey, and the outcome is one of self understanding and growth. The moments when she quietly and calmly is able to state what she needs are powerful.

As a personal note there is something that happens with Priscilla (no spoilers) that I hope becomes Louis’ second novel, because I know this author has the sensitivity to write that empathetically. I’d also love to spend more time with these characters.

Trigger warning for mental health, suicide, drug addiction and abortion.

Somewhere Close to Happy is out on Thursday.

Thank you to Alex and Orion for the review copy #gifted for the purposes of an honest review. I loved it.

This review is part of a blog tour, do check out what everyone else thought on the other stops.

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Wicked Like a Wildfire – Lana Popović (2017 Debut Authors Bash)

I am pleased to be hosting an interview by author Lana Popović today. Her debut novel Wicked Like a Wildfire is a sumptuous fantasy that I received a copy of in Fairyloot this year. The writing is exquisite and I loved the female relationships in the story. It also includes LGBT+ rep, flowers and food!

Synopsis

All the women in Iris and Malina’s family have the unique magical ability or “gleam” to manipulate beauty. Iris sees flowers as fractals and turns her kaleidoscope visions into glasswork, while Malina interprets moods as music. But their mother has strict rules to keep their gifts a secret, even in their secluded sea-side town. Iris and Malina are not allowed to share their magic with anyone, and above all, they are forbidden from falling in love.

But when their mother is mysteriously attacked, the sisters will have to unearth the truth behind the quiet lives their mother has built for them. They will discover a wicked curse that haunts their family line—but will they find that the very magic that bonds them together is destined to tear them apart forever?

Interview with the author

Lana studied psychology and literature at Yale University, and law at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Emerson College Publishing and Writing program and works as a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman, specializing in YA.

Lana was born in Serbia and spent her childhood summers surrounded by the seaside and mountain magic of Montenegro. She now lives in Boston, subsisting largely on cake, eyeliner and aerial yoga. She can be found on twitter as @LanaPopovicLit.

Can you tell us the meaning behind the title?

The book’s original title was Hibiscus Daughter, based on the twin nicknames Iris and Malina’s mother gave her daughters when they were little. However, it’s kind of an unwieldy title (I had a friend who was convinced I was writing something called Seabiscuit’s Daughter for a while, and was astonished that I apparently loved horses so much I was writing young adult lit about them), and when we started kicking alternates around, Stolen Like a Kiss and Wicked Like a Wildfire emerged as the favorites. I personally love all the connotations of “wicked” and the archetypes, positive and negative, that come with it, and given all the fire imagery involved–it could be argued that Iris is a fiery character overall–”wildfire” became the frontrunner.

How important was the setting of Montenegro to the story? You went back to visit, what elements of your visit made it into the book?

Montenegro, and specifically Cattaro (Kotor) and the mountain town of Zabljak, were such integral elements that they evolved into something close to characters. Cattaro is an ancient place, full of stunning imagery, iconic monasteries, and delicious food (the importance of which should never be underestimated), and I wanted to breathe some of the magic I felt there during my childhood summers into the book. All the places Iris and Malina visit, and the relics they see, are entirely real, and even their home is based on the little summer house my grandparents owned there.

In the acknowledgements you mention tweaking local stories and legends. Which one most inspired you?

I love the story behind the tapestry sewed by Jacinta Kunic-Mijovic, which is kept at Our Lady of the Rocks, a sailor’s votice shrine in the tiny fisherman’s city of Perast. The story goes that this sailor’s wife loved her husband so much that she wove an elaborate madonna and child tapestry while he was gone at sea–for 25 whole years, using silver and gold threads, and eventually her own hair. Towards the end, she went blind, and her husband never did come home to her. The fierce love, sacrifice, and ultimate tragedy of that story is woven throughout the sisters’ tale.

The female relationships in WlaW are so complex and imperfect. Which of the relationships was the most difficult to write, and the easiest?

I don’t have a sister myself, so writing a twin sister relationship was a challenging and fulfilling exercise in exploring how two women so closely entwined might relate to each other, both positively and destructively–so while it was technically the most difficult, it was also the most emotionally rewarding for me. I both adore and am heartbroken by fraught mother-daughter relationships (fortunately, not from personal experience!), so Jasmina and Iris’s thorny, almost abusive relationship was the easiest and also the most painful.

Your presentation of witchcraft seems quite unique. Can you explain what is meant by the terms Gleam and also ‘eating the moon’?

The gleam is the form of magic passed down through the girls’ ancient bloodline–the gift/curse of manipulating magic for the purpose of creating seductive beauty. Iris “blooms” gorgeous, fireworks-like fractals out of flowers, Malina sings others’ emotions in triple harmony, and their mother bakes scenery into decadent desserts. Of course, the potential of the gleam in embodying will and agency goes far beyond just making things pretty, as they later discover.

“Eating the moon” is a sweet, fairytale phrase the girls’ mother uses while the twins are little and she’s still training them, to describe the heightened experience of using the gleam together, as their own little coven.

You personify Death, make Beauty a gift or a curse and Love is explored in its pure and corrupted forms. What drew you to explore these three abstracts this way?

Personifying abstract concepts or turning them on their head is an easy way to delve more deeply into how we feel about these massive forces that hold such sway over our lives. Unfortunately, beauty is still a form of currency and power for women growing up in our world, and I wanted to dig into that intellectually while also inviting the reader to simply enjoy its many forms in a sensory way, through evoking enticing scents, tastes, and sights. As to Death, well, I believe it fascinates us all, especially when encountered in something like human form–something closer to what we can understand.

And love, while it may seem like an overused young adult trope, is what most of us build our lives around. I couldn’t imagine a story without it at the center, in all its many forms.

Nature, particularly flowers play a huge part in the story. Are you green-fingered. What flower is your favourite and why?

I wish I were! Alas, so far, my little globe of succulents is about the only plant I’ve ever had that hasn’t died a gory death. I’d love a little garden in the future, so maybe one of my new year’s resolutions will be to learn how to stop killing plants.

Morning glories are my favorite flower–and also my most elaborate tattoo. Their color is so dramatic (purple is also my favorite color), and that pale starburst at the center always makes me think of the divine.

With it being so close to Christmas what do you think Iris and Malina would get each other? And what gift do you least like to receive?

The girls don’t have much to spend on each other–and Christmas isn’t a particularly gift-oriented holiday in Eastern Europe–but they might exchange little tokens of affection; maybe Iris finds the perfect kitschy little locket for Malina at the open air market, while Malina teams up with Luka to buy Iris a rare flower.

The only kind of gift I don’t especially enjoy receiving is a certificate or coupon for something, because I’m eight years old in my soul, and I love the ceremony of gleefully tearing open wrapping paper and opening boxes.

Huge thanks to Lana for an excellent interview. Wicked Like a Wildfire and the conclusion to the duology Fierce Like a Firestorm will be our next year. For US readers only there is a giveaway (a copy of the book and swag pack of a bookmark and a perfume sample). To enter share a link to this interview on twitter tagging in @LanaPopvicLit and @kirstyes and tell us in what way you are Wicked Like a Wildfire. I’ll randomly select a winner on Boxing Day.

Check out the debut author bash schedule here.

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