Thursday, 7 June 2012

Blog Tour Stop: Shift by Em Bailey **Review & Guest Post**

Shift by Em Bailey
Series: None
Pages: 448
Publisher: Egmont
Release date: 7th May 2012
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones

Add it to Goodreads
Thanks to Egmont UK for my copy of the book

Goodreads synopsis:
Olive Corbett is not crazy. Not anymore.
She obediently takes her meds and stays under the radar at school. After "the incident," Olive just wants to avoid any more trouble, so she knows the smartest thing is to stay clear of the new girl who is rumored to have quite the creepy past. But there’s no avoiding Miranda Vaile. As mousy Miranda edges her way into the popular group, right up to the side of queen bee Katie – and pushes the others right out – only Olive seems to notice that something strange is going on. Something almost . . . parasitic. Either Olive is losing her grip on reality, or Miranda Vaile is stealing Katie’s life.

But who would ever believe crazy Olive, the girl who has a habit of letting her imagination run away with her? And what if Olive is the next target?
A chilling psychological thriller that tears through themes of identity, loss, and toxic friendship, Shift will leave readers guessing until the final pages.

Shift was, at least for me, a fairly confusing novel in a couple of ways. However, both of these ways are positive, if that makes any sense.
The first confusing thing about the book is the genre. It masquerades itself as a kind of YA contemporary fiction, but it definitely has a strong fantastical feel to it. I say 'fantastical' and not 'fantasy' because we can't be sure whether what we're looking at it reality or not - hardly anything is entirely straightforward or clear-cut in this novel, and where it may seem as though what we are being presented with is straight out of a fantasy story, we have to remember that the narrator isn't exactly a completely reliable one all the way through, and she often sees a twisted version of reality. Confused? Intrigued? I hope you are!
Olive is the unreliable narrator. It does appear, at first, as though she is reliable, but I quickly learnt that perhaps she doesn't see things in the same way as others do, and I began to wonder even more what 'the incident' was. This is something Olive refers to a lot, but we don't find out what it is until much later on in the novel, but we know that it's something important - something that changed who she was entirely.
This unreliability means that not everything is as it seems in the book, and this is a really great device! It definitely keeps the reader reader gripped, on their toes and actively engaged in trying to work out what is happening, pretty much all the way through. It also gives the book a really unique feel, and in a way, the confusion that the narration causes, gives us an insight into Olive's mind, and allows us to have a deeper understanding of how she thinks.

I absolutely adored Olive's character. She's not only what I would describe as very individual, but also quirky and incredibly feisty. Even though she's aware that her life is not what it used to be, she's constantly fighting with herself, forcing herself not to let it get her down and to carry on in a way that's a close to normal as possible. She even creates her own personal little haven in her bedroom - she lines the wall with rugs and covers the room in cushions, creating her very own 'fortune seller's tent', a place where, for some reason, she felt very comfortable visiting. Here, she lies down and listens to her favourite band, Luxe, to stay calm and happy. A fortune seller's tent in your bedroom sounds like quite a cool and creative idea, and it definitely sounds cosy and quirky.
Despite all of this though, I was hoping that she would show a little more self-confidence, and eventually she did begin to, so I wasn't entirely disappointed in this. Close to the beginning of the novel, new guy, Lachlan, begins to show an interest in her, but Olive is convinced (to the point of paranoia) that he wouldn't be nice to her for the sake of just wanting to talk to her, and that it must be some kind of prank set up by her ex-best friend, Katie - the popular girl.
I can see why she would hold this belief at the beginning, and it is apparent that Olive has a lot of mental hurdles to overcome at first, but I wished that she had begun to overcome this properly, much sooner. She did show signs of believing that Lachlan was genuine, but then she'd revert back to her regular, old, paranoid self. I just wish we'd seen a little more development in this, earlier on.
This didn't go on forever though, as I said, so it's okay!

I don't think however, that Olive was my favourite character. I'd definitely have to go with the 'evil' antagonist, Miranda, for that one. She was just such a diverse and cunning character, and she had such an air of mystery about her, that I couldn't help but fall under her spell, just as the other characters in the book did! I also love that she wasn't fully explained, even at the end of the novel - was she just a misguided, lonely girl, attempting to imitate those around her to fit in, or was she something ultimately more sinister? We'll never know!

If I had to try and pick out a couple of downsides to this novel, they would be very minor points, but I feel that mentioning them would be beneficial. The first of these is that I did find the novel a little difficult to get into. I say 'little' because this wasn't a huge problem, and it wasn't the hardest novel to get into. It was a small hurdle that lasted only about 40 pages. I'm not entirely sure that I can pinpoint a reason for it being so difficult to get into - maybe it was that the novel just had a sense of something a bit weird about it, and because of that, it was just a little unsettling? Who knows...? This is only a minor point though, and wasn't a big problem at all.
The second thing that I think would have been an improvement to the book would be a little more of a sense of setting. Later on in the novel, this didn't matter so much, but at the beginning, I did find myself wondering where on Earth it was set. I know that the author is Australian, but lives in Germany, however, the book didn't feel like it was set in either of these places - it could have been anywhere in the world really - and whereas this may be seen as a good thing, I kind of wanted to know where I was in the world with it.
Like I said though, neither of these were massive problems, and once I was further into the novel, they weren't problems at all. I think they do kind of explain why a star was knocked off the rating though - it just didn't quite have the 'wow-factor', for me.

One of the most effective things about this novel for me, though, was that not everything was fully explained or resolved at the end of the novel - yes, the main plot kind of came to a well-rounded end, but there were a lot of things about it that were left hanging (for example, the truth about Miranda was never revealed, as I've already mentioned), and this meant that the mystery remained, even after the last page was turned.
I finished this book a couple of weeks ago, and I still think about it, trying to decide what I personally thought was the truth of it all. This is what makes the book so memorable, I think - you get hooked into it, wanting to find the answers and solve the mystery, but you're only given perhaps 3/4 of them, leaving you with unanswered questions, and forcing you to make up your own mind. I think the book is going to stick with me for a very long time.

I definitely recommend this book to all fans of YA contemporary, but also to fans of mysteries - you guys will have such fun trying to work out the truth of this one.
It's a really great read, and I definitely recommend putting it on your wishlist!

We're very lucky, here at Pen to Paper, to have the wonderful Em Bailey come over and  talk to us for a little while, as part of the Shift blog tour, with Egmont UK.
She has very kindly written us a guest post, all about her top tips to any aspiring writers out there!
So, without further interruption, I'll leave you in her capable hands!

Do you have any tips for someone starting out as a writer?
Obviously, what works for some writers won't work for others but here are a few things which have worked for me.

1. Set yourself some goals. Everyone always tells you that to be a writer you have to write, preferably on a daily basis. I personally find it hard to write simply for the sake of writing – it feels a bit pointless and contrived. My solution when I was starting out was to enter every writing competition I came across and submit stories to small press publications. The good thing about this is that it instantly gives you some parameters – a word length, perhaps a theme or topic and, most importantly, a deadline. For me, a project can drift on forever unless I have some kind of time constraint.

2. Start a blog. This is a good way to get into the habit of regular writing and it means that your work is out there in the public arena. Getting feedback via comments is great because it makes you feel like your writing has a purpose and an audience. Then of course there are the many examples of bloggers who have been offered book deals as a direct result of their blogs – although this is probably more true of non-fiction projects than fiction ones.

3. Keep your eyes open for writing opportunities – no matter what they are. Book or film reviews for online journals, letters to the local newspaper, funny anecdotes for the 'cute kid' page in a women's magazine – yes, I've done all of these. Why not? It's all good practice and sometimes you even get paid.

4. Join a writers’ group or swap stories with another writer. Receiving feedback can be a little alarming at first – especially when it's critical - but it's also essential for improving your writing. Reading other people's work helps you clarify and articulate what works in a piece of writing, what doesn't work, and why. Being in a writers’ group also made me realise how much better a story can become once it’s redrafted after feedback. I don't think I've ever redrafted a story without it improving dramatically as a result.

5. 'Pitch' your ideas to anyone who will listen. When I'm in the early stages of writing something I work through the plot by describing it to someone. This helps me figure out what is working and where the ‘holes’ are. It also is useful for making you realise when you should abandon or radically change an idea – if your listener says 'that sounds exactly the same as a novel I read recently,' for instance. I try to find someone who is a patient listener… or I wait until we're on a long car trip so they can’t escape.

6. Read broadly, not just in the genre that personally interests in. If you only read books about alien zombie-slayers then the chances are your own alien zombie-slayer book will end up being much the same as all the others. But if you read eighteenth century French romances, imagine what an original slant this could bring to your work.

7. And my final tip (which is also possibly the hardest): stick with it!


Muzz05 said...

that was a very in depth review. I know they give an outline of the story on the back of the book, but this is much better. I look forward to reading the book and checking out bad girl Miranda. Thanks.

Chocolate Chunky Munkie said...

Great review Dani and a very interesting guest post xx

Sam said...

Great review and guest post! Shift sounds like a really intriguing book and I'm eager to give it a go soon. I love that there's an element of mystery to it all. :)

Megan @ Books and Teacups said...

Great review, Dani! This book really does look so interesting. Awesome guest post, too - very useful! xx

M said...

Very useful review. I like confusing and unreliable narrators; not so keen on loose threads; like the sound of contemporary and mystery mix. This novel sounds quite good.

kimba88 said...

Great review...this sounds different and i am glad you like the protagonist. Its good to know it took you a little while to get into it.

Lisa Richards/alterlisa said...

Wow! New book for me. Thanks for the review, excuse me while I dash off to add to my wishlist.

Neyra said...

This is interesting, I've seen this book around, and wasn't sure what to think of it! >.< But I am intrigued now, and I definitely want to know what this "incident" is and to learn about Miranda! Great REview Dani :)

Jaime Lester said...

I just finished Shift, and Wow! I am still trying to process my feelings about it. I liked it, I hated it, I got so mad at it... It sent me on a roller coaster ride, that is for sure. I am glad that you enjoyed it, and I am not the only one who was a little confused at times! THanks for the review!

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