Book Review

Mascots Go For Gold.

Last weekend at the Para Athletics I picked up a copy of the games' picture book Mascots Go For Gold, written by Paul Aldridge and illustrated by Ben Barter.

It features the mascots for both the World Para Athletics Championship and the World Athletics Championship as they enter into a relay race against some proper wrong uns. The story has plenty of twists and turns, there's always some new way that the baddies try to cheat their way to the win. It didn't always flow quite as well as I would have liked, but the story itself worked well. I'm really looking forward to sharing it with my friends' boys in a couple of weeks time when I next visit them and deliver their copy.

Book Review

Last Week in Books.

Today I thought I’d round up the books I read last week. There were 3 books, a mixture of adult crime and young adult contemporary novels that all delighted me in different ways.

Life or Death by Michael Robotham. Sphere. Out now.
This is a fantastic adult thriller about a man who escapes prison a day before his ten year sentence is up. The big question is why would someone escape prison, knowing that if they get caught they’ll end up serving a whole lot more time, when they only have a day to go. This is a fast paced, tense read that drops little hints and red herrings all of the way through. When the answer to the why is finally revealed it makes so much sense, but at the same time wasn’t something I’d particularly considered myself until that point. There are twists and turns all the way through, and unexpected reveals that made me audibly gasp.

Audie, the main character, is a fascinating, unlikely hero. I was also really drawn to many of the supporting characters – even those who I disliked strongly. I have to admit there was a moment when one of the very dislikeable characters did something awful and I considered putting the book down. I was so desperate to see this character get their comeuppance and so I continued and ended up feeling entirely satisfied. This is an unusual crime book considering it essentially comes after the prison part of the story, but it’s a definite new favourite of mine.

All of the Above by James Dawson. Hot Key Books. Out now.
I always enjoy the books that James Dawson writes and this is no exception. Set in a small seaside town, the story follows Toria as she starts in the sixth form having moved over the summer. This sort of move is always going to be hard, but for Toria the changes of moving somewhere much smaller and less cosmopolitan feel like it’s harder than it needs to be. She quickly finds herself accepted into the friendship group of the alternative kids, the ones who fit together because they don’t fit anywhere else.

This is a story about love; romantic love and platonic friendship love. It’s about finding your place and about the inevitability of change. There are so many aspects to this story, but nothing feels short-changed. The characters are imperfect and the relationships can be messy, but then life is imperfect and messy.

Threaded through this novel are poems written by Toria. I enjoyed their inclusion a lot, it felt sometimes as though they told the reader more about Toria than her own narration did. This feels like a different sort of book from the author, but a welcome progression.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp. Sourcebooks Fire. Out 5th January 2016
Oh my gosh this book! It’s hard to read and brilliant and gripping and emotional and relevant… and I really don’t know how I’m supposed to review it in a coherent manner. I finished it on Friday and have found my thoughts returning to it so many times already.

This Is Where It Ends begins on an ordinary day, at an ordinary American high school. The reader is introduced to the characters, and it’s all going very nicely until the main thrust of the plot kicks in. One angry teen has returned to the school to exact his revenge, and proceeds to begin his killing spree in a cold, calculating manner. The book is told in an almost minute by minute manner, moving between the characters we were introduced to in the opening – so we get to see the dreadful events unfold from a number of perspectives.

There is so much brilliance in this book. Its cast of main characters is well established, they’re diverse and representative and I found myself quickly entirely invested in them and downright panicked at the idea they were in such huge danger. When some of them made decisions that are admirable yet entirely terrifying I found myself struggling to turn the page and find out what happened next. The conclusions to the book are awful (you can’t expect anything different from a book about such an incident) and yet perfect – I found myself questioning some of them and each time came to the conclusion that they were exactly right.

This is a debut novel. It’s absolutely incredible and deserves to be the beginning of a very long career for Marieke Nijkamp.

My copies of all three books were all provided in for review consideration. All of the opinions expressed here are my own.

Book Review

September 2015 Reads.

September was a slower month for me, I was on holiday for the first part of it and so didn’t read anything. I read a total of 9 books, I’ll be rounding up 7 of them here. One of the remaining books is part of the same project I can’t talk about at the moment that I mentioned last month, and the other was The One by Kiera Cass – I’m planning on writing something about the series as a whole once I’ve read the final book.

Naked Heat by Richard Castle. Titan Books.
I really enjoyed the first Nikki Heat book so was keen to read another. I again really enjoyed this, reading it is a lot like watching an episode or two of Castle – the series it is based around. The characters in the book are clearly, as intended, reminiscent of the characters in the show so this feels like a good way of spending more time around them. A fun, easy read – I know I’m going to keep returning to this series, there are 7 books so far so I have plenty more to work through!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger. Hodder Children’s Books.
I’m reviewing these two books together as they’re companion novels, both set in the same Hamilton High. There is some overlap of characters, particularly with one main character from The DUFF being a sibling to one main character from Lying Out Loud but in good companion novel style both books stand alone really well.

Both books have strong casts of characters, both the main and supporting characters are well developed and feel very real. Something I loved about them both was the way that while there are romantic relationships in the book it is the exploration of friendship that feels more important and more central. Female friendship treated like this is something I want to see more of in books, so I’m glad to have found an author who does it so well!

These books don’t shy away from the challenges facing teenagers; self image, feelings of isolation and family problems to name but a few. Everything is dealt with carefully, and adds to the realistic feel of the books. I saw on Goodreads that in her profile Keplinger says “I write books for teenagers and strive to be honest and true-to-life”, I think both of these books are excellent evidence of this.

The Big Lie by Julia Mayhew. Hot Key Books.
A startling coming-of-age novel set in a contemporary Nazi England.
That was the line that drew me to this book – the concept of that setting felt huge. This is a brilliant piece of speculative fiction that has left me feeling so happy that there are authors out there trying things and getting them so right.

This book is harsh and bleak, and at times incredibly disturbing – I found I was entirely gripped by it from start to end. The main character, Jessika, is brilliantly challenging to read, she’s been brought up by an ultra loyal father and has almost been brainwashed into believing in everything she’s been told. At times you wonder how she can be so clueless, but then this only goes to reinforce the themes of the book. A really brilliant read with huge potential for discussion and further thinking.

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell. Arrow.
This is a wonderful book from Lisa Jewell, but then I’ve never not enjoyed anything I’ve read that she’s written. This is a story told in two historical timelines, it tells the story of Arlette which is set in the 1920s and it tells the story of Betty which is set in the 1990s.

Betty was Arlette’s granddaughter, following Arlette’s death she strikes out on her own and moves to London in pursuit of finding her own path and at the same time finding the mysterious Clara Pickle named in Arlette’s will. Both storylines are captivating and wind around each other beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the moments where something happening in one story provided a lightbulb moment for the other story – each time I was even more eager to read on and discover whether what I thought I’d realised was correct. This book made me laugh and cry and for the time it took me to read it, transported me to two former versions of London and allowed me to explore for a while.

One by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury.
Okay, hands up, I must admit that the very words verse novel have in the past been enough to have me moving away from a book very rapidly. I’ve heard wonderful things about them, but there was something that just put me off the idea of actually reading one. The buzz around this book though was enough to convince me to give it a go, and very quickly I realised I’ve been missing out on some really good books.

This is a story about conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. They’ve spent all of their lives sheltered as much as possible from the cruelness of the world at large, they’ve been home schooled and protected. When the money for their home schooling runs out they have to go to school, which is naturally terrifying. I found it really interesting that we were seeing their experiences through Grace’s eyes so we get her perspective on things along with what she tells us of what she knows of Tippi’s perspective.

This is a beautiful book about sisterhood, about friendship and about personal identity. The flow of the narrative works so well for the story, I think it would have been a very different book if it’d been written a different way – I dare say it would have lost a lot of the connection for the reader. I’m a definite convert to verse novels thanks to this, I’ll be picking up Sarah Crossan’s previous two as my next ones for sure.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Walker Books.
This is a story about not being the Chosen One. It’s a story about being ordinary and about wanting to just make it through high school without getting involved in any of the drama going on, and it’s brilliant.

Mikey is our main character, he and his friends make for a wonderful group – the sort of friendship group teen me would have read about and wanted to run away and join. Each of the members of this group has their own, ordinary (within the context of the Indie kids as the Chosen Ones are referred to), life challenges to deal with – things like parents who are more engaged with their careers than their children, teen romance, passing finals. Most of them have additional things to deal with too, issues around mental health problems and sexuality are all dealt with brilliantly in this book, but still all of this is part of their normal which makes for an excellent contemporary read as the main thrust of the book. And, just in case you are worried about what the Chosen Ones are up to, each chapter opens with a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids are doing which brings in an excellent urban fantasy thread before the focus returns immediately to our ordinary characters and their lives. The balance is perfectly found, resulting in a book I already can’t wait to re-read.

An unusual book? Pretty much. A must read? Absolutely, definitely.

Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 3.

The third and final part of my July and August reading catch up.

The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt. Usborne Books
There is not enough YA fiction set in Wales. Or fiction as a whole for that matter. This is a lovely, contemporary YA story set in Wales that includes some main characters who speak fluent Welsh – it was already onto a good thing with me before I got reading. This is a road trip story, the three main characters are close friends but all struggling with something at the moment. They escape the realities of their lives for a few days and get back to basics, road tripping and camping.

One of the central themes of this is the realisation that the adults in your life are flawed, fallible beings. All three of the main characters have difficulties in the relationships with their parents and this is dealt with really well within the book.

There is a romantic element to this book, I wasn’t sure about it to begin with but ended up really enjoying it. This is an excellent debut, another author to add to my watch out for list.

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Hot Key Books.
When I first heard Keris mention this book I knew it was something I wanted to read – I’ve long bemoaned the lack of decent stories set post sixth form and the wave of New Adult that promised to fill that gap certainly did not deliver. This is a great story filled with warmth about Anna as she moves to Liverpool to take up a role in a theatre. She’d been on the university path like her friends but a work placement made her realise that maybe this wasn’t the right path for her at this time. This in itself was something I loved, I think it’s really good to see narratives that involve alternatives to university for young adults.

Anna’s story has a secondary thread to it, she is a vlogger and we see her tell her story to her subscribers, and their comments to each video. This storytelling technique is really interesting, seeing telling her viewers what’s been going on rather than experiencing it alongside her works really well. There’s also a nice reflection on privacy and social media that clearly illustrates a point without coming off as prescriptive.

I enjoyed this book immensely and hope it brings along more books set in this time of life – there’s so much potential for stories about this life transition so let’s see more of them!

Elspeth Hart and the Perilous Voyage by Sarah Forbes. Stripes Publishing.
I read and reviewed the first Elspeth Hart book earlier this year over at Middle Grade Strikes Back. I loved it, and particularly liked that the ending was setting up the next story. I’m very glad to say that this, that next story, picks up the action straight away and continues it brilliantly. The characters have left the school that provided the setting for book 1 and spend much of this book on board a luxury liner. These close quarters again make for plenty of near misses and tense moments, I couldn’t read fast enough. This is an excellent second instalment to Elspeth’s story – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football by Dave Cousins. Oxford University Press.
I always enjoy Dave Cousins’ books, they never fail to entertain and make me laugh. Charlie Merrick’s Misfits is no exception to this. Pitched at a slightly younger audience than Cousins’ previous books this is an illustrated tale of a football team made up less than stellar players. It has a lot to say about friendship, about teamwork and about learning what the important things in life are. I enjoyed it hugely, it made me laugh, it made me wince as I could see characters make bad decisions, and it made me really root for this team of misfits. There’s already a second book in this series, I expect to be reading it sooner rather than later!

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. Random House Children’s Publishing.
When this book was published I remember reading lots of reviews and thinking it was a book I really wanted to read. Then, at NineWorlds I had the fortune of meeting Sarah and immediately bought my copy of the book. It took me a few days to read, something which is quite unusual with how fast I read, but I found myself wanting to savour every word (plus I got too emotionally invested to continue reading it in public on my commute!)

This book tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager who has been diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Sora is dying, his condition is progressing faster than he or anyone wants and this book is him telling his story. We get to know his family, see him trying to make sense of his ever changing new normal, and see him make new friends. This book is a challenging read, but I know I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. I’m going to be recommending this book far and wide.

Demon Road by Derek Landy. HarperCollins Children’s Books
I haven’t read anything by Derek Landy before (yes I do intend to catch up with Skullduggery Pleasant, even more so since I enjoyed this book so much) so I went into this book knowing nothing more than the synopsis. The idea of a teen girl suddenly discovering her demon heritage and having to go on the run sounded good to me and the book really didn’t disappoint.

This is a fast witty book with a good share of action and gore. It’s tone and style is evocative of many of the tv shows I love, both those showing now (things like Supernatural) and those no longer on our screens (Buffy seems like the obvious link to make). I think this book would be an easy sell to many teen readers and probably many grown up ones too. The characters are brilliant, I fell in love with main character Amber pretty much straight away and am thrilled that this is only the first part of her adventures.

Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 2.

Day two of my catch up with the books I read in July and August.

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton. Bantam Press.
I’ve read a few of Sharon Bolton’s earlier books and really enjoyed them so I jumped at the chance to read her newest. Set on the Falkland Islands, the book follows three former friends as the community is torn apart when a child goes missing. The plot has bucket loads of tension, I found I spent most of the time wondering who to believe – at various points I decided I didn’t believe a single one of the characters!

I loved the Falkland Islands setting of the book, I’m always keen to explore new places through literature and this book certainly allows you to do that. Sharon Bolton’s writing really evokes a sense of the place, I feel now that if I ever visited I would feel like I was returning rather than being there for the first time. This is yet another excellent book from this author, she’s so consistently good!

Stitch Head: The Beast of Grubbers Nubbin by Guy Bass. Stripes Publishing.
This is the 5th book about Stitch Head, I hadn’t read any of the previous ones but hoped it wouldn’t matter. Essentially it didn’t, the story is told in such a way that you understand that these characters have spent time together already but you can follow this plot completely without knowing what happened. I think I would have got even more from the reading experience with prior knowledge but that just means I’m going to have to catch up and re-read – I’m glad to spend more time in the world of these books!

The story itself is fun and fast-paced, Stitch Head and his fellow are playing host to a group of children who they rescued in a previous book. There’s a monster about however and they all start to suspect each other. The book is illustrated by Pete Williamson, his art adds a lot to the reading experience. I enjoyed the resolution of the story, it worked really well and left me keen for the next story.

A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
This book has an interesting premise, when Kelsey’s identical twin sister is killed in an accident can’t bring herself to break the news to her sister’s boyfriend who is currently serving in the armed forces. Instead she pretends to be her sister and finds herself falling deeper into the lie she is spinning. I was intrigued by the idea of the story but wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy the way it played out. Many of the fears I had for the plot were unfounded, it works pretty well though I did feel the resolution to the story came a little quickly and easily.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. Bloomsbury Children’s.
I really loved this book. It’s incredibly atmospheric, it reminded me a little of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child which I also loved. The book is written in such a way that really evokes the setting, I felt like I was actually walking alongside the characters for much of the story.

The book is set against the backdrop of early communist Russia, something I studied a little in my GCSE History lessons but don’t feel I know a lot about. This didn’t matter, the necessary aspects of Russia at that time were woven easily into the story and I never found myself wondering about anything. I loved Feodora, the main character, she’s a great blend of tough and vulnerable – the sort of character you’d happily spend time around. The wolves that are under her care are also wonderful characters, they’re so distinct and as fully realised as the human characters

I haven’t yet read Rooftoppers, this author’s previous book which won the Waterstones children’s book prize 2014 but based on how much I loved this I know I need to read it sooner rather than later.

Almost Grace by Rosie Rowell. Hot Key Books.
I have really mixed feelings about this book. There were aspects I loved, particularly the South African setting and the idea of the group of friends going away together for a holiday after finishing their education. I didn’t however enjoy much of the main character’s storyline, particularly her relationship with . This doesn’t seem like the healthiest of relationships and at times I just felt a bit uncomfortable reading.

My overarching feeling at the end of the book was that I wanted to read other YA books set in countries I don’t usually see in books. This in itself makes me realise this book was a bit of a miss for me.

Remix by Non Pratt. Walker Books.
Trouble was one of my favourite books last year so my hopes for this book were high. It definitely lived up to them, it’s another brilliant, realistic YA read, this time set at a music festival. Told in dual narrative best friends Kaz and Ruby are off for a weekend of music and fun, but the unexpected presence of the two boys who’ve broken their hearts puts an unexpected spin on things.

I’m a huge fan of books with multiple narratives providing this is done well, Non really, really does it well. The voices are distinct and the perspectives wind brilliantly around one another. On top of this the characters behave in an entirely believable manner, poor decisions and all, and are allowed to be teens which is just brilliant. I loved this book and I know that my music obsessed teen self would have probably loved it even more.

The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day. Red Fox.
I absolutely love Susie Day’s series of books featuring Pea so I was really excited when it was announced that she was going to be writing a companion novel that focused on Sam and Sammie who lived next door. Sam and Sammie are boy and girl twins who are very different, they have different interests, different personalities and different challenges facing them. With a school residential trip looming these challenges become all important – how can Sam tackle some of the adventurous activities when he’s so scared of heights and how can Sammie share a room when no one can see how good a best friend she could be?

At the same time that the twins are preparing for their trip their mums also seem to be keeping secrets, and Mum K is writing her book about child development based on bring the twins up. This adds further layers to the story, most entertainingly the excerpts from the book that come complete with corrections by Sammie. The way each of the individual plotlines plays out and wraps round the others is brilliant, this is such an excellent addition to the series of books focusing on Pea and her family.

I’ve commented before about how brilliant Susie writes books featuring diverse characters. This book is no exception to that, characters differences are acknowledged and included and happen to just be. This whole series should be an automatic inclusion in school libraries as far as I’m concerned.

Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 1.

The first part of this week’s catch up on the books I read in July and August.

Reasonable Force by C.T. Sullivan. Pegasus Publishing.
This book is a debut novel published by an independent publisher and therefore something that would generally pass beneath my radar. I was approached for a review however and the book sounded interesting to me, so I duly received a copy and got reading.

There are a number of plotlines within this book, they’re well balanced and directly affect one another so that as something changes for one character you find yourself wondering what impact that’s going to have on the other characters. The initial event, where Nick kills an intruder and Nathan advises him on how to cover it up, throws up some interesting discussion about how much force is reasonable in a burglary (hence the book title), but the ever evolving situation means that the plot moves further away from this as time goes on.

There was a lot to enjoy about this book, as I say there were some interesting thinking points, and I found I liked some of the characters. One thing that didn’t work well for me was the character of Mel, Nick’s wife. She doesn’t get the same attention or development as the other characters, instead existing as a convenient (and unfortunate) plot device on a couple of occasions – there was a point where she suddenly made a statement about religious beliefs that had a significant impact on the plot, this came out of nowhere and also didn’t appear to then be applied consistently for the remainder of the book.

The overall flow of the book worked well. There is a real tension in Nick’s plotline in particular, I found myself getting quite anxious on his behalf – I was definitely invested in his story and was satisfied with the overall ending of the book.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Tor.
Before reading Uprooted all I had seen about it was glowing praise. It almost started to become a little intimidating as a prospective reader, what if I was The One who didn’t like it. Eventually I decided I needed to just dive in and hope for the best.

This book is every bit as good as everyone had said! I was immediately drawn into the world created by the author, a world of magic and wonder, and of an evil wood determined to wreak havoc and misery. It begins with the choosing, an event that happens every ten years when the Dragon – an aging wizard who acts as guardian to the people living in the villages surrounding his tower home – chooses another young girl and whisks her away to said tower for ten years. When Agnieszka is unexpectedly chosen her life is instantly turned upside down.

There is something very sympathetic about Agnieszka, the reader is straight away drawn to her cause – I think because of the downright unfairness of what is happening to her. This is good because as the plot develops Agnieszka becomes, rightly, obstinate and focused and this feels right rather than petulant as it may have done if the reader didn’t care about her story this way. I loved her as a character and I loved reading her story.

For Holly by Tanya Byrne. Headline.
This book is wonderful. It’s a slow burner that draws you deeper and deeper into the characters’ lives, pulling you into their world and making you entirely invested in what happens to them. I read it over a couple of days and whenever I wasn’t reading I was thinking about the book and wanting to get back to reading it. Typical of a book from this author this book is twisty and tugs you emotionally – I loved the way I kept thinking I had worked out what was behind the story and then quickly realised I still wasn’t right.

One thing I really liked about this book was its structure. The story is told in a non-linear manner, the jumps in time are seamless and work brilliantly. On top of this the story is a continual stream and whilst initially I found this a bit unusual (I’m very much a read to the end of the chapter type of reader) the more I read the more I loved it and the more I felt it served the story well. This is a stunning book, definitely one of my best of 2015.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. Random House Children’s Publishing.
This is a fantastic debut novel with a truly brilliant concept – Cara and her family suffer dreadful accidents for a month each year, serious accidents that involve hospital visits and necessitate the removal of anything potentially dangerous from the home. The story follows the characters as they enter this year’s accident season and explore both what is happening to them and why it might be happening.

This is a really difficult book to review as the twists and turns and reveals are so deftly handled and I desperately don’t want to give even the tiniest hint away. I really recommend this book, I’m looking forward to re-reading it with the knowledge I picked up while I read it for the first time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten. Electric Monkey.
Some books start great and then lose something along the way, sadly for me this was one of those books. The book begins by introducing us to the main characters in what appears to be a fairly standard contemporary novel. Part way through big twists and reveals change the course of the book and this for me was where I found myself disconnecting from what I was reading. I don’t mind big reveals or twists if they feel like they’ve been coming all along but in this book they just don’t work that way unfortunately and I found the more I read the less I was actually invested in what was happening.

Sister, Sister by Jess Bright. Oxford University Press.
This book grabbed my attention with its title – there was an American tv show with the same title back in the 1990s. When I read the synopsis, that the book was about a girl who suddenly discovers a whole family she doesn’t know that includes a half-sister who is seriously ill I was really intrigued to see how the story would work, particularly for the tween audience it appeared to be aimed at. Very quickly after I started reading I became impressed – this continued for the entirety of the book.

Willow, the main character, was easy to identify with – particularly with her love of writing. I clearly remember how much I loved reading about characters who liked to write too, this book would have been a very easy sell to younger me. I thought she was a very real character, she reacts to the situations she’s experiencing in what feels like a very genuine manner – her life is turned upside down and at times she doesn’t handle it brilliantly, I like it when authors allow characters to be real. There are strong themes in this book of friendship and of family, and of the overlap between the two. This is a debut novel and an accomplished one at that, Jess has revealed the cover of her new book this week – based on the synopsis I’m already looking forward to it!

Homecoming Ranch by Julia London. Montlake Romance.
I’m a long time fan of contemporary romance, if I see one that has some reference to a ranch in the title or blurb chances are I’ll be clicking buy before I’ve stopped to think about it. This was one such purchase.

The book is not narrated by one of the main characters but instead one of the supporting cast. This seemed like an interesting choice, it didn’t necessarily always make that much sense as a choice but I found that I quickly forgot about this most of the time while I was reading.

The main plot focuses on Madeleine and Luke, she is one of three half sisters who’ve recently inherited the ranch in question and he is one of the family whose home it used to be. They naturally butt heads immediately, and continue to do so for much of the book. They both have other things going on in their lives – this makes their story work even better and makes them more rounded characters. I enjoyed this book and am glad that there are follow up books featuring the other sisters – I think they’ll be automatic purchases too!

Blogging · Book Review

Is this thing still on?

Ever get that feeling there’s something you’ve forgotten to do?

remembrall

I spent a few weeks feeling a lot like Neville, I knew there was something outstanding but was so wrapped up in work that I couldn’t quite work it out. Finally the penny dropped, I completely missed my July reads round up post. Whoops! I realised this as I was getting ready to go on holiday for 10 days and so decided once I was back I’d do a grand round up for July and August together – this week is the week! Wednesday to Friday will see three posts which wrap up all of the books I’ve read through the summer months. I’ll add the links to this post over the weekend so it’ll become a landing page for the 20 or so books I’ll be reviewing.

For the first time this year I’m not reviewing every book I read. I read 4 books for something I’m not currently able to talk about (the post wrapping up September will contain the fifth and final one of these). I also re-read the first 3 Harry Potter books but there will be a post about these once I’ve finished the series. And finally, I started Kiera Cass’ The Selection series, reading the first 2 books in the quadrilogy. Again expect to hear about these once I’ve finished the series.

In a look at what I’ve learned from this moment I’ve already started writing my September reads post so hopefully I’ll keep this up and get it posted at the very end of September rather than a month later!

Book Review · Monthly Round Ups

June 2015 Reads.

Look at how organised I am! We’re only a few days into July and here I am with my June reads round up post all written and published. I’ve got one book that is unfinished so that will roll over to my next round up.

In June I read a total of 10 books. There was a bit of a mixture, a couple of adult books alongside lots of YA. and a few different genres and time settings. One book in particular left me scratching my head, it took me a couple of weeks to even work out what star rating to give it on Goodreads and you’ll see that my review is still on the rambling side (some of my thoughts are impossible to discuss without being spoilery – if you want to discuss this book though feel free to email, I’d love to talk more about it). I’m still thinking about it though so maybe I’ll come back to it in the coming weeks for an expanded post.

Code Red Lipstick (Jessica Cole: Model Spy #1) by Sarah Sky. Scholastic
This book was so much fun! I actually found myself stopping a couple of times to take in how much I was enjoying reading it. It’s the story of Jessica, a teen model who happens to also be the daughter of a former MI6 spy. Her father has had to retire, he has MS and is unable to do everything he formerly did, but instead he works privately and Jessica helps out when she’s needed to. When he goes missing in highly suspicious circumstances she puts all the skills she’s learned from him, and from modelling, to work as she tries to find him and solve the case that seems to have landed him in hot water. This makes for a fast-paced, highly entertaining read – I loved seeing how Jessica brought together the seemingly disparate parts of her life together. She’s a great character, I like the way she has these unusual skills but is still very normal and real feeling – I think young readers will really identify with her.

Anything to Have You by Paige Harbison. MIRA Ink.
I enjoyed this book well enough but I could only say that I liked it, i was far from loving it. It’s a story about friends who are very different, one quiet and studious, the other outgoing and fun. The quieter one suddenly decides to cut loose a little, there’s a party and shenanigans and then the cat is firmly amongst the pigeons. I think this book is supposed to work on the basis that you’re in the dark like the characters but I’m afraid I could see what was going on and what had happened and so the reveals didn’t work and I just got a bit irritated. This isn’t a bad book, it’s just a bit non-descript and didn’t do much for me.

The Memory Hit by Carla Spradbery. Hodder Children’s Books.
I started reading this book on my way to work on morning and got completely sucked in to it. Around lunchtime I realised I’d been feeling low level worry all morning, which was odd as the day was all running very smoothly. Eventually the realisation hit – I’d been fretting about the characters and what was going to happen to them!

This is a gritty read, set in our world though with added memory boosting drugs. The main characters get caught up in the underworld of dealers and gangland bosses, quickly you realise that you don’t know who you and can trust and you don’t fully know what has happened between these characters before the events of the book. This adds to the intrigue and the reading experience. The book is tense and twisty, the final sequences in particular are unexpected but fit what’s come before so well. I really enjoyed Carla Spradbery’s debut The 100 Society, having followed it up with this she’s fast becoming one of authors to watch out for.

The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine. Egmont.
This is a lovely, historical middle grade novel set in a Selfridges-esque department store. Sophie, our main character, is going to be working as a shop girl in the millinery department in this brand new store. Quickly though sinister things begin to happen and she, along with her new friends, get drawn into a world of mystery. This is a real throwback of a book, it’s evocative of the stories I loved when I was young and this made it all the more enjoyable to read. The mystery element is well done, there are moments of real peril and suspense that had me on the edge of my seat. What I loved most of all was the friendship element of this book, from Sophie who has found herself having to adapt to life as an orphan who lost her fine lifestyle alongside her parents, to Lilian who is working as a model in the shop while trying to make it as an actress, Billy who loves nothing more than hiding with a good mystery to read and then Joe who’s fallen into bad ways but is desperate to go good again. The four have not met before the events of the book but they come together so well and form wonderful friendships. This is the first book in a series, sign me up now for book 2 please!

Car-Jacked by Ali Sparkes. OUP Children’s Books.
I have always had mixed experiences with Ali Sparkes’ books, there have been some that I’ve loved and some that have left me underwhelmed. I liked the sound of the premise of this book and I’m really pleased that it falls into the camp of love. This book follows the misfortunes of Jack, a child genius, who is accidentally kidnapped when his parents’ car is stolen from the forecourt of a petrol station. The car-jacker, Ross, has unwittingly got far more than he bargained for, and seeing how he and Jack both cope with the situation they find themselves in makes for a really good story. I got very invested in both character’s stories – there were many laughs along the way and also a few tears. My only slight misgiving was in the characterisation of Jack’s mother, she’s an over-protective, over-invested mother who has focused her everything on Jack and his genius and this makes her come across in a manner that is very hard to take. Jack’s upbringing has a definite impact on the plot so I understand why she’s written the way she is I just wonder if maybe she isn’t a little over-done. That said this is a minor quibble in an overall excellent book.

Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books.
This book, well I still can’t make my mind up about it. It’s set in a modern residential setting for children and teens with an incurable form of tuberculosis. We arrive with Lane, a straight A overachiever with the next decade or two of his life planned out. He is our way in to this odd world, we learn about it alongside him and see how it changes him. His development is interesting, while it feels understandable at the same time it had me wanting to roll my eyes periodically. The ending of the book is, as I’m starting to come to expect from books about sick teens, complete with its huge emotionally charged, tear-jerking moments. Well, I could see that’s what they were supposed to be and a quick scan of Goodreads’ reviews of this book suggests that this is the impact they had on most readers. For me however they left me cold, they were entirely unnecessary and if anything verging on the manipulative. I think my overall feeling about this book was that I was let down, seeing illness portrayed in fiction is something I feel strongly about and I had high hopes for this book but sadly they were unmet.

Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell. Jo Fletcher Books.
After reading the first book in this series, Traitor’s Blade, and falling completely in love just last month I was planning on waiting a little before reading this second book. Then I spotted it on NetGalley and found myself compelled to request a review copy, and then start reading it almost immediately. I suspect some magic at work!

This book picks up shortly after the ending of Traitor’s Blade, and continues to follow the Greatcoats as they first regroup and then begin the new fights that have come as a result of what has gone before. One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the character development, characters are given the opportunity to breathe and grow and evolve – not always for the better. I loved seeing how some of the characters changed, this never goes against the flow of the book no matter how hard the changes may be to accept. The humour that comes in the relationships between the characters continues as does the more touching side of these friendships. This book brought me to tears on numerous occasions, I felt so deeply involved with the plot and the characters. There are a number of take your breath away moments, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of this series throwing surprises at me. This is a brilliant continuation of the story of the Greatcoats, my only sadness is that I now have to wait until next year for the next instalment!

Blueprints by Barbara Delinksy. Piatkus.
I nearly gave up on this book. I got a little way in to it and one character in particular was getting me so wound up that I considered stopping reading because I wasn’t sure I could bear to read much more. Then a huge shift happens in the story and from this point on I got far more invested in what I was reading and ended up really enjoying the book. The story is, on the surface, about a mother and daughter who co-host a home improvement show based around their family firm and the difficulties they face when TV bosses decide the mother might be too old to host. It’s really about so much more, it’s about family and relationships, it’s about finding happiness and about being true to yourself. I’m really glad I stuck with it.

Thirteen Days of Midnight by Leo Hunt. Orchard Books.
Luke gets the sudden news that his estranged father, a world famous paranormal expert, has died and that he must go and meet his father’s lawyer. Upon meeting the strange lawyer he discovers he’s inherited a huge amount of money, and signs away merrily on each document the lawyer tells him he must sign in order to get said money. Soon after strange things start happening and it’s not long before Luke’s life is turned upside down as he discovers he’s also inherited his father’s collection of ghosts. I must say I haven’t read many paranormal thrillers like this one, and this makes me sad. There’s a great creepiness to this story, it left me so unnerved at times that I had to have a second book on the go that I could switch to – books don’t often get under my skin in this way. The world the author has built makes sense(something I value in books set in other worlds), and while its certainly not one I’d want to experience in person I’m happy that the book has a somewhat open ending that feels like we could easily revisit for a second story. This is an accomplished debut novel, Leo Hunt is going on my ones to watch list.

Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Macmillan Children’s Books.
I truly believe you can never go wrong when you pick up a book by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It doesn’t matter the specific subject matter of the plot, it’s going to be written brilliantly and leave you entirely satisfied. Millions is no different. It is the story of brothers Damian and Anthony, they’ve recently moved following the death of their mother, and are trying to find their feet again. They’re slightly unusual children, Damian is obsessed with saints and Anthony with economics, when they “acquire” a hold all full of pounds sterling that will soon be obsolete (the version of England in this book is one where the pound was exchanged for the euro) they decide to spend it all before it can’t be used any more. This certainly helps their social standing but brings its own problems as the money belonged to someone and that someone wants it back. This story is warm and thought-provoking, there were little moments that were touched upon so lightly but actually revealed a real depth to the characters and their situation. This isn’t necessarily as funny as some of the other books I’ve read by this author (that’s not to say it isn’t funny, it definitely has some funny bits) but it’s just as enjoyable.

My copies of The Memory Hit, The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, Car-Jacked, Extraordinary Means, The Knight’s Shadow, Blueprints and 13 Days of Midnight were all provided in for review consideration. All of the opinions expressed here are my own

Book Review

May Reads – Part 2

Time for the second half of my reviews of the books I read in May. The first six books were reviewed here.

The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs. Quirk Books.
The first I heard about this book was when the poster containing Sam Maggs’ fangirl manifesto appeared online. A strong call to arms for geek girls everywhere I knew this book would be something I would want to read. The reading experience was a little different to the one I was expecting, I think mainly because I couldn’t quite fit myself into the target audience – much of the book seems to be pitched at newcomers which is brilliant, though it meant there was little new for me to discover. There were moments though that felt geared more towards me, and I didn’t mind at all reading the introductions to different aspects of geekdom – I think I just wanted a bit more. It was certainly nice to read sections and find myself nodding along as I remembered experiences of my own. One thing I would caution prospective readers is that the book talks mainly with an American focus, the publisher and author are American and so you might find yourself falling in love with the sound of a convention and then discovering getting there would involve a transatlantic flight (yes, I’m speaking from experience here).

A Coach Trip Adventure: My Life by Brendan Sheerin. Michael O’Mara Books.
I have been a fan of the tv series Coach Trip since it first started so when I saw that tour guide Brendan Sheerin had released an autobiography I thought there’d probably be a lot in it that I’d find interesting. I was pleased that it didn’t just focus on his time with the series but instead covered his life before tv beckoned – it was nice to get to know more about him and his life as a whole. In terms of talking about the tv series the book was published in 2011 so it only covers the first few series, I found that I quickly remembered the contestants and incidents Brendan talked about – I just wish that the book had been reissued with an update, at least for the digital copy. Brendan’s voice shines through with this book, he had me laughing and crying at different points.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Vintage.
This book was recommended to me back in December by a bookseller friend who’d received an early advance copy. The premise sounded so good and the wait to get hold of a copy seemed endless. Eventually though I got a copy via NetGalley for review and put it top of my holiday reading list. This book is a complete love letter to books and to reading and to readers everywhere. It made me smile, made me remember reading experiences of my own and most of all reminded me of the power books hold in my life. The cast of small town dwelling characters that the author has created are wonderful, I felt as though I was moving among them as I read – they’re so vivid. This book is a translation which is something that I’ve not always got on with very well but reading this book was an easy, seamless experience that’s got me rethinking how I feel towards translations. A book about reading that’s changed my own reading? Can’t get much better than that!

The Accidental Prime Minister by Tom McLaughlin. OUP Children’s Books.
This book made me laugh. It made me laugh a lot, but it also made me think a lot. It’s got a great premise, a young boy, Joe, challenges the prime minister in public, it’s filmed and uploaded to YouTube where it goes viral. Soon enough Joe is taking the reins as prime minister and finding that being in the spotlight is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. I enjoyed seeing politics through Joe’s young eyes, his take is clearly a somewhat simplistic one but it did leave me wondering whether parts of Joe’s might not be a welcome addition. A quick, highly entertaining read with the potential to provoke brilliant discussions amongst its young readers.

The Vintage Cinema Club by Jane Linfoot. Harper Impulse.
I must admit that I judged this book by its title and expected it to be about a club watching vintage films. It’s not, it is instead about a group of women who run a vintage shop inside a classic cinema, and about how they pull together when its future is threatened. I absolutely loved this book, I always enjoy books about groups of women, seeing their friendships and how they support one another and this book was no exception. I was quickly drawn into their lives, I liked the fact that they made decisions that weren’t necessarily the good or best ones, but they were the right ones in the time – I do like characters who are at least a little fallible. My only sadness is that the book is a work of fiction and that this wonderful sounding shop is not around for me to visit – my bank balance is probably pretty grateful of this fact!

Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry. Mira INK.
I’m a huge Katie McGarry fan, I’ve loved every book in her Pushing the Limits series so I was keen to try this, the first title in a new series. The fact it involved a motorcycle club upped the interest for me, I’ve been watching Sons of Anarchy for the last few years but until now hadn’t seen an MC featured in a young adult book. I was interested by the way it was established early on that this MC is a law-abiding one – this distinguished it from the ones I’m used to seeing on tv and made me interested to discover what the differences were. The very inclusion of an MC makes this book have problematic elements – like the ones on tv this club is shown to have some pretty poor attitudes towards women and I decided early on that I was going to accept that this was a world with rules I didn’t like.

The story itself does feel like the sort of thing I’ve come to accept from Katie McGarry. It’s told in dual narrative, has a burgeoning romance between a girl and boy from opposite sides of the tracks, and plenty of drama along the way. I found that I didn’t love the characters quite as much as I had for previous books, mainly because I found Emily a little harder to take to. I enjoyed Oz a lot and was very invested in his story, I just wish I’d felt equally invested in Emily’s. I’ll certainly pick up the next book in this series – there’s enough about the world to make me look forward to revisiting it.

Book Review

May 2015 Reads – Part 1.

Time for me to round up the books I read in May and share my thoughts on them. I read lots in May, I spent the last week of the month on holiday which allowed me a bit more reading time. I finished 12 books in total, though I read about 85% of another at the end of the month but didn’t finish it until 1st June so I’m being good and not counting it as a May finish. I’m splitting the round up into two posts with six books in each so here’s part 1.

Wait for You by J. Lynn. Harper.
I really don’t read many New Adult books, when I do they tend to be ones I’ve had recommended. This was an author recommendation rather than a specific book one, luckily it still worked out well. The book centres around the growing relationship between the two main characters, Avery and Cam, they both have difficult things in their past and the reader is drawn in to rooting for their development both as individuals and a pair. I must mention that Cam having a pet tortoise called Raphael brought in an extra thing for me to love about the book.

Joe All Alone by Joanna Nadin. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
By the time I started reading this book the online buzz was already building well, this of course meant that my expectations were really high. I was very pleased with how well they were met, this is a really good book. Joe has been left home alone while his mother is on holiday with her boyfriend, to begin with he manages well (particularly when you consider he’s just 13) but as the days go on the challenges he faces just grow and grow. This book is the sort of book that gets under your skin, it’s absolutely brilliant but I found that for days and days after I finished reading it I was still thinking about Joe and his life. This book made me laugh out loud and it made me sob, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth. Balzer + Bray.
This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and years but have just never got around to. I found it a really interesting reading experience, I thought I knew what it was about but it turned out what I knew about the book didn’t happen until a good way through the book so there was a lot to come first. I enjoyed this book a lot, though there were times when I wished the book would just get on with it. I found this to be a fairly slow paced and wordy book, whether part of that was down to my inaccurate expectations of it I’m not sure. I also found I didn’t entirely connect with Cameron herself, I think this again may be due to the wordy nature of the book. I realise this all sounds a bit negative, which is not how I felt about the book – as I say I did enjoy it a lot, I just didn’t love it the way I expected to.

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot. Macmillan Children’s Books.
I haven’t read many of the Princess Diaries books but I’ve loved the ones I’ve read. When I saw that Meg Cabot was writing a new series linked to them I was really excited for it, when I started reading this first book in the series my excitement just grew and grew. I loved this book, it’s funny and cute and just downright lovely. The princess in question is Olivia, her mother died and her father is absent so she lives with her aunt and uncle and cousins. When she discovers there’s more to her family tree than she realises we get to experience her joy and excitement first hand – I found reading this I smiled so much my cheeks actually ached a little. Familiar faces from the Princess Diaries return along with a whole host of new characters, I can’t wait for the next book so that I can spend more time in Genovia and more importantly with Olivia.

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Indigo.
I’m not actually sure where to start with reviewing this book. It’s brilliant, and I loved it, and I’m not entirely sure how to be suitably eloquent about this. This is a fantasy ya filled with fae but at the same time its contemporary setting is filled with the characters’ personal lives and interactions, being a teenager is hard enough without having to navigate all of the rules of the fae. I really liked the setting of this book, the fae are known and a part of the fabric of Fairfold and so this means there was no need for some of the secrecy that can come with fantasy books that mix the real world and some sort of other world. There is of course secrecy, and hiding activity from adults – what good fantasy adventure doesn’t have some sneaking around – but this is allowed to be more story specific because of the town’s knowledge of the fae. I loved the characters and their relationships, I was completely drawn into their lives and found that as the peril was increasing so too was my worry for them. This book was a real contrast to the other Holly Black book I’ve read (The Coldest Town in Coldtown) but I loved it just as much.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell. Jo Fletcher Books.
This book was recommended to me separately by two friends, I’d fallen out of the habit of reading adult fantasy and they both knew that this was a book I may have missed but needed to read. They were both absolutely right, within the first chapter I was in love with this book and these feelings only grew over the time I was reading it. It’s the sort of book that sucks you right in, I found I was really resentful of the times when I had to put it down and do other things. This fantasy world has magic and some fantastical creatures, it also has a hugely corrupt political system with Dukes over throwing Kings and it is the aftermath of these struggles which provide the backdrop for the book. Our focus for the book is Falcio, one of the remaining Greatcoats – a group who had served the King travelling far and wide to uphold the law. Named for the magnificent coats that they wear, the Greatcoats were effectively disbanded during the Dukes’ victory and now Falcio and his close friends Brasti and Kest are in the wind. This central friendship is wonderful, the closeness of the bond that they share leaps off the page and is one of my many favourite things about the book. There’s so much action in this book, so many brilliantly written fight sequences, and then at the same time some truly beautiful quieter moments. There are also some twists that I didn’t see coming – it absolutely felt like everything I’d known about the book had been ripped away but at the same time felt entirely right to the plot, in hindsight nothing came out of nowhere. This book is truly brilliant, the sequel Knight’s Shadow has been published already and is waiting on my Kindle for me, and then there are two more books planned in the series.

My copies of Joe All Alone, From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess and The Darkest Part of the Forest were all provided for review. All opinions expressed are my own.