Review: The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman by Jackie French
Released: 1st August 2016
Published by: HarperCollins
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 288
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
THE DIARY OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, GENTLEMAN is part comedy, part love story, the threads of Shakespeare's life drawn from his plays. Could the world's greatest writer truly put down his pen forever to become a gentleman?

He was a boy who escaped small town life to be the most acclaimed playwright of the land. A lover whose sonnets still sing 400 years later; a glover's apprentice who became a gentleman. But was he happy with his new riches? Who was the woman he truly loved?

The world knows the name of William Shakespeare. This book reveals the man - lover, son and poet. Based on new documentary evidence, as well as textual examination of his plays, this fascinating book gives a tantalising glimpse at what might have been: the other hands that helped craft those plays, the secrets that must ever be hidden but - just possibly - may now be told.Ages 12+

Who was this man who enraptured audiences with a single sentence? How did he come to dazzle with such wit and mastery of language? Why have his plays endured and been celebrated for generations?

Who was William Shakespeare?

These are the questions which Jackie French has done so well in attempting to answer with this novel. Told through a series of diary entries from 1615-1616, we are given a glimpse into the person who is perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of English literature. This book is a true eye-opener, one which definitely brings Shakespeare into a different light - not just as a name on a page, but a living being with an eventful story to tell.

Few men have had so many lives as I. I have been glove-maker, player, playwright, gentleman. I have played kings and ghosts. I have been a lover too, on the stage and off of it.

We tend to focus so much on his works, analysing each line of a play and delving into the motivation of its characters - but often skim over the life of the playwright himself. What I love about this work is that Jackie French has artfully woven in segments of Hamlet, and his sonnets for example, into a story which is personal and compelling. There is insight provided into how those famous lines and phrases came to be, through his own experiences and journey towards forging the future he truly wanted. Background into his childhood, first love and family settlement enrich this tale in a way which is accessible to teens, and anyone with an interest in what made this legendary individual so renowned.

But words can no more leave me than stars can sail from the sky. Words whisper wicked wit through dinner's gossip that Stratford's fools would blink at. words dance my firefly mind to blazes every night, come laughing at me in my dreams, tempting me like a mistress who powders her bosom white. I can no more live without my words than forgo my meat and bread.

The writing style itself lends well to the historical period which the book is set in, making everything more realistic. French has evoked Shaksepeare's voice with her own wordsmith artistry, where each page will draw you in and make you empathise with the characters. The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman is definitely an alluring portal into the past, told in a manner which couldn't be more fitting.

So many lives. So many words. Kings die, but words upon the page live after those who write them. 


The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman is perfect for Jackie French fans who have read her other similar titles I Am Juliet and Ophelia: Queen of Denmark. It is a novel which reveals much about Shakespeare you probably didn't know, but will most certainly be fascinated by.

Aussie YA Blog Hop! - A celebration of #LoveOzYA

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Aussie YA Blog Hop Banner

The Aussie YA Bloggers are hosting this hop to showcase some of our favourite pieces of #LoveOzYA and why our local writer talent is pretty amazing. Jeann @ Happy Indulgence kicked off the festivities on Monday, and there will be more people's posts to check out at the end of this one. There will also be a twitter chat at 6pm this Sunday 14th August so stay tuned! Read on to find out about some of my personal top picks and feel free to share some of your own recommendations as well. 

1. What you love about Aussie YA

While it's always fun to read books set overseas and in any number of exotic locations, Aussie YA has its own merit in depicting the places which I know and can easily call to mind. Aside from the comfort of a familiar location, I've always found that books by Australian authors have a particular 'edge' to them. In a contemporary it might mean picking up on the nuances of current sociocultural issues, whereas in a thriller or dystopian it could be taking a whole new spin on a concept that is completely unique from the big international bestsellers which we hear about so often. To me Aussie YA is fresh, thought provoking and pushes the envelope to stand out from the crowd in the best possible way. 

2. Favourite Aussie YA Authors

Well this is going to be hard to narrow down, so let's just go with a list....
Next to the author are the books of theirs I've read and would definitely recommend!

  • Australian YA historical fiction at its finest...Jackie French - Too many books to list here - all of them are fantastic!
  • For cute contemporaries with the 'warm and fuzzies' that will make you smile...Tara Eglington - How to Keep A Boy From Kissing You/How to Convince a Boy to Kiss You/ My Best Friend is a Goddess
  • Challenging stereotypes and keeping it real...Sarah Ayoub - Hate is Such a Strong Word/The Yearbook Committee
  • Laugh-out-loud shenanigans - it's impossible to not love Josie...Gabrielle Tozer - The Intern/Faking It
  • Thrillers with tantalising twists and turns...Rebecca James - Beautiful Malice/Sweet Damage/Cooper Bartholomew is Dead
  • Essential reading about the dangers which lurk online...Fleur Ferris - Risk
  • Tackling sexist subcultures while being fierce, fiesty and feminist...Kirsty Eagar - Summer Skin
  • Take your pick from 1930's gangsters or a 10 year old psychopath (either way, you can't go wrong)...Justine Larbalestier - Razorhurst/My Sister Rosa
  • Fantastic futuristic novels that left me on the edge of my seat...Jessica Shirvington - Disruption/Corruption
  • Code-cracking, computer-hacking and SO MUCH SUSPENSE...Rose Foster - The Industry
  • 5 gold stars for both of these - out of this world...Amie Kaufman - co-author of The Starbound Trilogy/Illuminae
  • Super intense, and unlike *anything* I have ever read before...Kathryn Barker - In The Skin of a Monster
  • 'Unputdownable' is in this book's DNA... Rachael Craw - Spark/Stray/Shield

3. The Aussie YA book you grew up with

Aside from Jackie French novels which I've always adored, I also remember enjoying books from Ursula Dubosarsky. Even though The Word Spy was non fiction it was perfect for a budding word-nerd.


4. Favourite Aussie YA book released in 2016

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar

Refreshing, dynamic and it sure packs a punch. More thoughts on it and why you need to read it are here

5. Aussie YA debut you are looking forward to

Yellow by Megan Jacobson
So many other Aussie bloggers have been singing this book's praises, and the hint of magical realism intrigues me...

6. Favourite Aussie YA series

The Rosie Black Chronicles by Lara Morgan
Perth 500 years into the future, with a strong female protagonist, all the action you need and twists at every corner. These books have been a favourite of mine for years now, and they're always something I can go back to if I'm in a reading slump. Equinox was so good I started and finished it on the same afternoon it came in the mail! 

7. Unexpected YA surprise

I went into In The Skin of a Monster not really knowing what to expect...and it surprised me in the best possible way. Surreal and moving. 

8. Aussie YA book you always recommend to others

A Waltz for Matilda by Jackie French
I've mentioned how good this book is on many occasions here, but why not say it again? It's a beautiful story about coming of age, resilience and finding independence at the cusp of Australia's Federation.

9. An Aussie YA book on your TBR

Shadows by Paula Weston
I've had this book on my shelf for far too long without it being read...maybe I just haven't been in a YA paranormal mood? Even so, I know I definitely want to read it one day - have any of you loved it and the series in general?

10. Recommend your favourite Aussie YA Bloggers!

Ummm...all of them! Honestly every blogger in this wonderful community of ours brings something special to the group and their passion for Aussie YA. Here are just a few:

And the list of amazing people goes on!

{Blog Tour} Review & Author Interview: Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray

Friday, 5 August 2016

Caramel Hearts by E.R. Murray
Released: 22nd May 2016
Published by: Alma Books
Genre: YA Contemporary
Source: Publisher
Pages: 339
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Goodreads | QBD | Book Depository
Liv Bloom's life is even more complicated than that of your average fourteen-year-old: her father walked out on the family when she was young, her mother is in a recovery centre for alcoholics, and her older sister is struggling to step into Mum's shoes. The only person she can turn to is her best friend Sarah, who gets out of scrapes at school and is a constant source of advice and companionship. One day Liv discovers a book of recipes written in her mum's handwriting, which sets her off on a journey towards self-discovery and reconciliation - but a theft, a love rivalry and a school bully are just some of the many obstacles on the way.

Structured around real cake recipes, Caramel Hearts is a coming-of-age novel about love, disappointment and hope, and discovering the true value of friends and family, no matter how dysfunctional they are 
Thank you to Bloomsbury Australia for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Food, friends, fights, family and finding out how to be true to yourself...that's how I'd describe Caramel Hearts in a nutshell. This is a book that has a recipe for success as a YA contemporary - well developed characters within a plot which isn't completely predictable and takes a bite out of some very real issues facing many teens today. 

Even if you don't normally read with snacks nearby, with all the delicious treats which this book has recipes for throughout its pages - you'll definitely want some. What's special in this instance is that they actually do serve a purpose and are fundamental to the storyline. One of my favourite quotes is from this one for Rocky Road:

Because life isn't always straightforward, you need a few treats to remind you that there's still goodness in the world. Make when you're worried, give with love and enjoy with a happy heart.

They symbolise her mother's dreams before she became an alcoholic, and it was endearing to see how Liv found solace in this new hobby; even if it had its own set of challenges. In short, a book with a food focus? I'm in and sold on this one. 

Though 'dysfunctional families' are a facet of many YA novels, I found the sibling relationship between Hatty and Liv especially touching. Since their mother is in rehabilitation, Hatty has sacrificed many of her own aspirations to take care of her sister, and though they definitely had their share of fights (what siblings don't?), it was heartwarming to see how their bond prevailed. As a protagonist Liv was quite complex and faced moral dilemmas relating to how to react against a bully and your friends, when does a lie go too far, and how to eventually make things right. All of these issues are ones which teens will be able to identify with to some extent, and E.R. Murray managed to weave them in without coming across as 'preachy'. I also liked how the story emphasised that everyone has a backstory and reasons behind why they may act out or want to be the 'Queen B', and that putting the people you care about most first can be the best remedy of all. 


Caramel Hearts embodies all the characteristics which its title suggests. Sweet yet chewy, this is a contemporary that leaves food for thought that will soften your heart.

Author Interview with E.R. Murray

1. Part of what makes Caramel Hearts so unique and endearing are the actual recipes scattered throughout which Liv tries to replicate. How did they come to find a place in the story?

The initial idea of adding recipes came to me when I was wandering around London, thinking about the main character, Liv. She had been bugging me for some time and I wanted to tell her story; I knew she needed a voice, and some hope, but I couldn’t figure out what she needed to make it happen. I was cutting through an alleyway in Greenwich, where part of the novel is set, and I got an amazing whiff of warm bagels. It was then that I realised Liv needed cake; something to focus on that gave her a chance to be good at something, but also something accessible that could link to her mum. 

The idea of the handwritten cookbook came straight away, but it wasn’t until I visited the National Library of Ireland to view some beautiful 17th century cookbooks that I realised how integral the recipes were to the story; these old cookbooks each had an amazing voice, with ingredients like ‘frosted plums picked by moonlight’ and I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I realised how powerful the recipes could be for Caramel Hearts, how they could structure and convey the story. 

2. On that note, do you have a favourite recipe in the book? (Understandably, it would be hard to choose since they all seem delicious!)

My favourite is probably the simplest, the peanut butter fudge chunks – but I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so I add sea salt to mine to give it an edge. I realise most people prefer sugary treats, however, so I left the salt out of the recipe in the book. 

3. I love how the book explores the complex bond between sisters which may not always be perfect, but so significant in the lives of your characters. What are your favourite aspects of Liv and Hattie's personalities?

It might sound weird, but I feel really proud of them as sisters. They’ve been through so much, but you get a real sense of how solid their relationship is. They’re not perfect and they frequently clash, but you can tell that they’re each other’s rock, and that they truly love and respect each other deep down. Liv and Hatty actually really like each other for who they are, not just because they’re related. Hatty is the most reliable, but I like Liv’s spark; I think they complement each other perfectly – and that they know that too.

4. Absent parents, bullying and changing friendship dynamics are all very real and relevant issues which also feature in the novel. What are some important messages you hope teens will be able to take away from Caramel Hearts?

Rather than a message, I want people to come away from Caramel Hearts feeling like they’ve read a really good story. But I do hope the story resonates with anyone experiencing any of these issues – and that they come away feeling like they’re not alone. I grew up in a family affected by addiction and I remember how isolating it was – I often felt completely alone, even in a room full of friends. I didn’t want, or know how, to talk about the situation at home, so instead I turned the anger towards myself and hoped it might go away. It didn’t of course, and those periods of isolation took a long time to overcome. 

I would also like people to come away feeling that there is always hope; and however small, hope is power. In a dysfunctional situation, it’s the only weapon we have. No matter how hard we try, we can never change the people around us, but we can take responsibility for ourselves and even the smallest action can set off a positive chain of events that improve our lives.

5. What are some of the best pieces of advice you received while writing this book, and that you'd pass on to other aspiring authors out there?

I’m very lucky living in Ireland because you get to meet lots of authors; it’s such a great community and we’re all really supportive of each other, so I’ve had plenty of advice and support along the way. I guess the most important advice is to turn up every day – there’s no point talking about writing, you have to get on with it. A book won’t write itself. As you advance in your career, you might take days off, but writing every day is a great way to make it part of your daily routine so you miss it when you don’t get chance. This helps you improve your craft, but also to stay motivated. 

I’d say my ultimate piece of advice is to never give up. If you do, you have zero chance of getting published. But keep going and the odds are in your favour. In my experience, around 80% of the people that started out around the same time as me, those that kept going, have agents or book deals or books on the shelves. Dedication and determination are key ingredients – and I really believe that with some grit and sticking power, you’ll get there. 

6. After this wonderful novel, can you give us any hints on what you may be working on next?

Thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate them. I have The Book of Shadows – Nine Lives Trilogy 2 launching in Ireland and the UK in September this year, and I’m currently writing the final piece of the puzzle, The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3. Once that has been delivered to my publishers, I’m going to play with short stories as I’ve been missing them, and I’ll have to decide on a new book. I have three first drafts waiting, impatiently calling – I’ll just have to see which shouts loudest and longest.