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 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

PoPB: Noodle’s Knitting by Sheryl Webster & Caroline Pedler and Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves.

pairofpicturebooks
Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Noodle’s Knitting by Sheryl Webster & Caroline Pedler (illustrator). Little Tiger Press.
NoodleNoodle’s Knitting Noodle has ALWAYS wanted to knit. She even knows all the magic words:

“Knit one, purl one, knit two together!”

So when Noodle finds a ball of wool, she knits and knits and knits…

But soon Noodle knits herself into a very big pickle!

I’m convinced that Little Tiger Press is producing some of the cutest picture books going, Noodle’s Knitting is no exception to this. After spending months watching the farmer’s wife knit Noodle finally gets her chance to give it a go – she has a ball of beautiful purple wool, some Noodle sized knitting needles (trying saying that three times!) and away to go. Admittedly this cute book is a little low on story, but the story it does contain is lovely and has an ending that made me want to leap into the book!

The illustrations are as lovely as the story. They’re filled with beautiful colours, and I found myself wanting to find a ball of wool the exact same purple as Noodle’s – I’d love a scarf that colour! This book is a little bit different, it’s been enhanced with “soft-to-touch wool on every page”. This adds an extra element of interest to each page, I think little hands will love tracing the wool throughout the book. I loved the attention to detail with the knitting – I could clearly see the different stitches (Noodle’s scarf appears to be knitted in stocking stitch which has two distinct sides).

A cute read, perfect for the autumn!

Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves (illustrator). Bloomsbury.
MarmadukeMarmaduke isn’t like other dragons. He’s got big floppy ears, he’s orange and he doesn’t even fly! He can fly, but he won’t, because his wings… Well, they’re unusual.

But when Marmaduke embarks on a daring rescue mission, he has to make an important decision: will he keep his wings hidden, or will he dare to be different?

I love stories about dragons. I’m less keen on some of the princess related story tropes that often accompany dragons in stories, but it seems more and more books are trying to step away from these tropes. This book definitely tries it, first acknowledging the trope – the other dragons all protect princesses – and then showing a different story altogether featuring Marmaduke the very different dragon and Meg a very different princess. Marmaduke and Meg’s differences are carefully explored, along with everyone else’s reactions to them – this would produce some great discussion points in a nursery setting. I liked their story and I particularly liked its outcome.

The illustrations in this book are bold and colourful. They’re very attractive and appealing, I loved the contrast between Marmaduke and the rest of the dragons, and between Meg and the rest of the princess. I wouldn’t want to be a princess, but if I had to I’d want to be a princess like Meg! I’d also like a bedspread like hers, the bold colourful patchwork is beautiful.

This is a lovely addition to the dragon and princess story range. I’m very interested by the news that the author has another princess themed picture book coming out next year, The Three Princesses, it sounds like this one’s going even further to subvert the trope. It’s already on my list of books to look out for!

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

Book Review

PoPB: Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex and Mr Super Poopy Pants by Rebecca Elliott.

pairofpicturebooks
Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex (illustrator). Bloomsbury Books.
ChusDayChu is a little panda with a big sneeze.

When Chu sneezes, bad things happen.

Lucky there’s nothing sneezy near Chu today… Is there?

Uh-oh… Stand back everyone!

I read this lovely book as a cute, simple story, and immediately thought of how much fun it would be to read aloud to a group. It feels like the sort of book that would be a sure fire hit with any nursery age group – watching Chu go through his day avoiding sneezing before that sneeze finally appears is going to make most smile if not giggle or laugh. I enjoyed it, and then I spotted other reviews suggesting I may have missed something. It seems my reading of the book might have been a little simplistic, there is apparently a much deeper meaning with a political undertone. In fact, the more reviews I read the more different interpretations I can find of the text – many of them far more incisive than my feeling that it’s a cute story.

Regardless of whether this book is simply cute or in fact a political masterpiece, Adam Rex’s illustrations are stunning and the reason this simple story took me a very long time to read. Chu’s world is entirely inhabited by animals, there are 8 double or single full page illustrations that contain so much detail and so many animals that I found myself pouring over them for ages. There is a wonderful richness to the colours, my favourite illustrations are those within the circus tent – they’re filled with lovely purples and greens. Chu himself is lovely, I particularly liked his facial expressions when he’s trying so hard not to sneeze.

This is a book that seems to divide opinion. Either way I think it’s a book with great sharing potential and I will certainly be looking out for the next in the series, Chu’s First Day of School.

Mr Super Poopy Pants by Rebecca Elliott. Lion Children’s.
MSPPToby had been looking forward to all the adventures he would have with his new baby brother.

Instead, when he arrives, he just… poops. All the time.

How BORING. But then Toby realizes that his little brother’s pooping might have some SUPER advantages!

This book features Toby and Clemmie who’ve already featured in Just Because and Sometimes, based on the author’s own children, and new baby Benjamin. Whilst waiting for Benjamin to be be born Toby came up with all sorts of plans for the fun they could have, but he finds the reality is a little different – babies aren’t really quite up to superhero antics. The more he talks about Benjamin the more he realises that whilst he might not be exactly the sidekick he had in mind he’s pretty brilliant in his own way.

This book is funny, and cute, and entirely entertaining. I was absolutely loving it, then I reached the final page and have to admit that the last line made me absolutely melt from how adorable it was. It made what was already a brilliant book into a downright excellent one. The illustrations add to the warmth and humour of the book, my favourite has to be the page where Toby describes the first of his favourite of Benjamin’s poops – The Submarine Poop:

Art work taken from author's website here
Art work taken from author’s website {here}

I haven’t read the first two books featuring Toby and Clemmie, but they’re firmly on my list to track down. Clemmie was born with profound mental and physical disabilities, Just Because describes the relationship she and Toby share and Sometimes is about Clemmie’s trip to hospital. Seeing children with disabilities of all forms represented in children’s books is something I feel very strongly about so I’m pleased to discover these books exist and look forward to reading them.

Chu’s Day was borrowed from my local library. I was provided with a copy of Mr Super Poopy Pants for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Recent Reads.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

TwelveMinutesTwelve Minutes to Midnight by Christopher Edge. Nosy Crow.
Penelope Tredwell is the feisty thirteen-year-old heiress of the best selling magazine, The Penny Dreadful. Her masterly tales of the macabre are gripping Victorian Britain, even if no one knows she’s the real author. One day a letter she receives from the governor of the notorious Bedlam madhouse plunges her into an adventure more terrifying than anything she ever imagined…

This is a really good, atmospheric thriller aimed at the 10+ market. I found that I was drawn into the story really quickly, it’s written in such a way that you find yourself completely swept up by it. The Victorian setting, complete with gaslights and a public taste for ghost stories, works so well and really adds to the reading experience.

I really loved Penny, the lead character. She’s brilliant and plucky, and really smart. I found myself really rooting for her. The villains are well thought out, they could easily have felt like tired, pantomime characters but they’re written carefully to avoid this.

The book whips along really well, there’s no filler – everything contributes to the plot. I was a little unsure when it looked like everything was getting resolved partway through the book but delighted in the way the plot continued to develop. A really enjoyable read.

BeautifulLieA Beautiful Lie by Irfan Master. Bloomsbury UK.
An extraordinarily rich debut novel, set in India in 1947 at the time of Partition.

The main character is Bilal, a boy determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition – news that he knows will break his father’s heart. With great spirit and determination, and with the help of his good friends, Bilal persuades others to collude with him in this deception. All that Bilal wants is for his father to die in peace. But that means Bilal has a very complicated relationship with the truth…

Whilst on the surface this is a historical novel about the time of Partition, it’s really about friendship and family, and about love. The historical aspect of the book is done well, the descriptions used really bring this unfamiliar place and time to life for the reader, but it is the characters and their relationships that are the truly wonderful aspect of this book.

The central friendship between Bilal and his three friends is warm and lovely, you get a real sense of the love between them. The reader sees the act of Partition through their eyes, and you can feel the growing helplessness they feel – their lives are irrevocably changed by this fight between grown ups, however much they wish they weren’t.

Similarly you really feel for Bilal and his mission to keep the news of Partition from his father. It is so thought provoking, I found myself wondering whether his actions were right and whether I would have done the same in his situation – I think this book would be an excellent choice for a reading group, there is so much to think about and discuss.

LilysShimmeringSpellLily’s Shimmering Spell (Stargirl Academy #1) by Vivian French. Walker Books.
Welcome to Stargirl Academy, the magical school in the clouds! Previously a rather old-fashioned establishment, it has been reopened by its head teacher to train children to be modern day fairy godmothers. The girls learn lots of spells – shimmering, starry, shining, sparkling, glittering and twinkling ones – which they use to fix problems and help people in trouble. For every successful mission they gain a star, and once they have six stars they will be fully qualified Stargirls!

I must begin by saying I have never read a book like this before. I usually avoid books that appear to be overtly pink and princessy, but lovely Hannah at Walker made such a great pitch for this book that I knew I had to give it a chance rather than pre-judging it. And I’m really glad I did.

This is a lovely book, I adored Lily, the character this first book focuses on, from the very beginning and really cared about what happened to her. She lives with her great aunt, a dreadful woman who treats her so badly, I spent the whole book wishing for her to get her comeuppance!

The Stargirl Academy itself seems like a really lovely place, I really liked the staff members that we meet in the first book – especially Fairy Mary McBee. The ethos I love too – the focus is on using the spells they learn to help other people, I think this adds a lot to the overall warmth of the book.

I think this series of books will be really popular, I know I’m a complete convert and will most definitely be reading the other five in the series – I need to know how the girls earn the rest of their stars!

My copy of Lily’s Shimmering Spell was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC – League of Strays by L B Schulman and Holes by Louis Sachar.

Another two books read bringing my totals to 10 books, 2,821 pages and 14 hours 15 minutes reading time.

League of Strays by L B Schulman. Amulet.
LeagueOfStraysWhen a mysterious note appears in Charlotte’s mailbox inviting her to join the League of Strays, she’s hopeful it will lead to making friends. What she discovers is a motley crew of loners and an alluring, manipulative ringleader named Kade. Kade convinces the group that they need one another both for friendship and to get back at the classmates and teachers who have betrayed them. But Kade has a bigger agenda. In addition to vandalizing their school and causing fights between other students, Kade’s real intention is a dangerous plot that will threaten lives and force Charlotte to choose between her loyalty to the League and her own conscience.

When I first saw the cover of this book I liked it, but as time went on and I thought longer about it I liked it less and less – particularly the rather sinister appearance of the hold the boy has the girl in. This turned out to pretty much mirror my reading experience, I started off thinking the book was okay but the more and more I read the less comfortable I was with what I was reading.

The theme of the plot is revenge, this group of outcasts are all drawn together to exact revenge on the individuals who have wronged them most. Unfortunately this means the group stoop to the level of, and generally even lower than, the bullies who they’re out to get. I’m completely uncomfortable with the suggestion this is an appropriate way to act, and then we come on to the characters.

The five central characters, these outcasts, are all sadly rather stereotyped. I found I couldn’t identify with them, and I certainly couldn’t support their actions. Kade, the ringleader and lead male character is deeply disturbing, even more disturbing is the way the three girls all accept his dangerous behaviour with two of them both developing feelings for him – not the kind of relationship I want to see in any book.

I did read to the end of the book, I needed to see how it ended and whether there was anything to redeem the book. By getting to the end I think I can see what the author was aiming for (and I’ve since read a few blog posts by her that back this up) but for me it just did not work. Not one I’ll be putting on my library shelves.

Holes by Louis Sachar. Bloomsbury.
HolesStanley Yelnat’s family has a history of bad luck, so he isn’t too surprised when a miscarriage of justice sends him to a boys’ juvenile detention centre. At Camp Green Lake the boys must dig a hole a day, five feet deep, five feet across, in the dried up lake bed. The Warden claims the labour is character building, but it is a lie. Stanley must dig up the truth.

Holes is one of those books that has lurked on my “so guilty I haven’t read it” list for far too long so I knew it was going to be one of my choices this weekend. Now I’ve read it, I only wish I’d read it sooner, and then re-read it and re-read it. What a pleasing read it is, looking at the long list of awards it won I can’t say I’m remotely surprised.

The main plot following Stanley and his trials and tribulations at the juvenile work camp combined with the minor historical plot featuring Kissing Kate Barlow work so well together. I was completely gripped and felt completely invested in what was happening.

I loved every minute of this reading experience, I’ll be urging anyone I know who hasn’t read this book to give it a go.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: Skinny by Donna Cooner and Fracture by Megan Miranda.

I’ve finished reading my first two books for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. I’ve logged 2 hours 25 minutes reading, and have read a total of 560 pages.

Skinny by Donna Cooner. Electric Monkey.
SkinnyEver Davies is fifteen years old and dangerously overweight. She was named for the fairytales her mother loved so much, but feels sure that “happily ever after” was never written for her. Until, one day, she decides to take drastic action. Changing on the outside is one thing – but silencing Skinny is the hardest task of all.

Skinny is the story of Ever, a teenager who is massively overweight and emotionally vulnerable. Ever’s personal demons have taken on a being all of their own, Skinny is the voice inside her head, castigating her and putting into words what she imagines everyone is thinking about her. It’s when the abuse from Skinny gets to fever pitch that Ever takes the decision to have gastric band surgery, every diet and exercise plan she’s tried has failed, this seems like the only option.

The book is well researched, the author herself talks briefly in the acknowledgements at the end of the book about her own experience having gastric band surgery. This book is no endorsement for such major surgery, it tries hard to show it in a balanced way – it isn’t a magic wand, and there are downsides to it along with the benefits. The overall message of the book is positive and supportive, but it keeps away from turning into a fairytale like the ones that are talked about throughout the book.

I found I could really identify with Ever, as times she comes across in quite a challenging manner but I felt she was well created and I could completely understand why she behaved as she did. My favourite character though was Rat, he completely stole my heart.

Fracture by Megan Miranda. Bloomsbury.
FractureBy the time 17-year-old Delaney Maxwell is pulled out of the icy waters of a frozen lake, her heart has stopped beating. She is officially dead. Then Delaney starts breathing… The doctors are mystified. But Delaney knows something is very wrong, even though outwardly she has completely recovered.

Pulled by sensations she can’t control, Delaney now finds herself drawn to the dying. Is her brain predicting death or causing it? Then Delaney meets Troy Varga. Is Troy a kindred spirit who somehow understands her weird and frightening gift? Or are his motives chillingly more sinister…
This was such an interesting read, I don’t know that I could put a label onto it – it fits into so many different categories. At its very essence it’s a book about life and death, about what makes us human and about how we relate to one another. From the opening line “The first time I died, I didn’t see God.” it had me in its grips and I couldn’t read it fast enough (a good choice for this weekend’s challenge).

Delaney doesn’t really understand what’s happening to her. She understands that she fell through the ice, and that she died for 11 minutes. She understands that she shouldn’t have survived, and that she certainly should be as well as she is – she sees the images of her brain scan and how damaged it is. What she doesn’t understand is why shy didn’t die, and why she’s now feeling just that little bit disconnected from the world. This sense of unease and confusion works really well to bring the reader into the book, we’re as confused by what’s going on as she is, and we keep reading to find out the answers she’s looking for.

Meeting Troy and finding out that he too is drawn to the dying, and that he too was in a coma is an interesting development in the plot. I found I was uneasy about him from the very start, the creeping sense of dread his presence caused kept me on the edge of my seat and the conclusion of the story really made me stop and think.

In a similar way to Skinny I found that I liked Delaney but again it was her close friend Decker that I really loved. He provided some much needed stability in the story both for me as the reader and for Delaney.

I’ve discovered that there will be a companion novel / sequel to Vengeance out next year. I’m already looking forward to revisiting these characters.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [6]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby. Bloomsbury Childrens.
I liked the way this book throws you right into the action from the very beginning, the reader is introduced to the main character – teen paparazzo Jo – as she tries to get photographs of teen heartthrob Ned. I found that I liked Jo straight away, and then as the book progressed there was more and more to like. When she’s sent undercover to try and get highly private pictures of Ned at a rehab retreat her dilemma over whether she can bring herself to invade his privacy for the amount of money being offered feels genuine and draws the reader in.

I often find books where one character is hiding a pretty big secret from the other really stressful to read. There was a small part of this book that had me feeling a bit stressed but the way the plot is handled and evolves meant that I found myself really enjoying it. There’s a lovely blend of humorous moments and more thoughtful moments, the latter in particular may well leave readers thinking about our current celebrity culture and its cost.

Catching Jordan by Miranda Kenneally. Sourcebooks Fire.
I absolutely loved this book. I expected it would be one that I would really enjoy, I’m a huge sports fan so the idea of a book about a female quarterback trying to lead her high school team to the championship final sounded like something I’d really enjoy. I was hooked within the first chapter and I didn’t put it down until I’d read the final page. The plot is wonderful, yes it’s a story about high school football but it’s also a story about friendship, about love, and about family.

I loved Jordan and found that I could really identify with her, despite the fact I’d never been remotely sporty let alone so entirely sport driven. The various team mates who played significant parts in the book all made me smile, they really came across well as a group of friends who all cared for and supported each other. I found myself wishing I was part of their social circle! I have a feeling that when I’m deciding on my top ten reads of the year this book may well make the cut.

Love at Second Sight by Cathy Hopkins. Simon & Schuster UK.
I hadn’t read anything by Cathy Hopkins before but I knew lovely Liz from My Favourite Books is a big fan so when she offered me a copy of this to read I snapped it up. I have to admit that before I started reading I wasn’t 100% sure about it, the plot surrounds a teen girl being told by a clairvoyant that her true love from a former life is someone she knows in this life so she has a second chance of love with him. I needn’t have been concerned though, the plot is well constructed and really works.

Jo, the main character, is a lovely character. She’s a little bit different to a lot of the girls who get to take centre stage in YA fiction and I found this refreshing. Her friendship with Effy and Tash is lovely, I particularly liked the way that they complemented one another without having to agree on everything. I also liked the focus on genealogy within the plot, it was good to see it described well.

I enjoyed this read so much that I already have my next Cathy Hopkins on reserve at my local library.

Sammy Feral’s Diaries of Weird by Eleanor Hawken. Quercus.
This book is a lovely, quick, funny read that I’m sure middle grade readers will love. Written in diary form this is a really entertaining read about a boy whose family are all turned into werewolves at the zoo they run. After discovering his family’s misfortune Sammy is desperate to find a cure and to get them all back to normal. He’s helped along in his quest by the mysterious Donny and Red, a team of cryptozoologists who arrive at just the right time.

There are plenty of laughs in this book along with some moments that I’m sure the target audience will be appropriately scared by. I think this book has a lot of potential as a read aloud book, I can imagine a group listening very attentively to it. There are plans for a second book in this series, I’m looking forward to it already.

Book Review

Book Review : Breathing Underwater by Julia Green.

Freya has come to visit her grandparents who live on a remote island. Last year she visited them with her brother – but last year her brother died alone in a boating accident. Whilst back on the island, Freya finds a way, with the calming presence of her grandparents and the gentle care and attention of the people around her, to adjust to the fact that her brother has gone, and that life – and love – are still vibrantly in the air. A perfect coming of age for any young girl just tipping into teenhood.

I read Julia Green’s Drawing With Light a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, so I was really looking forward to reading Breathing Underwater. I have a real liking for books set on islands, I blame Enid Blyton, so I had pretty high hopes for this book.

The book tells the story of Freya, she’s grieving for her brother Joe who died last year and whilst she’s trying her hardest to come to terms with his loss she has a nagging feeling that all is not as it seemed with his death. She tries to pursue these thoughts at the same time that she finds a way to carry on without Joe. She makes friends with a group of teenagers who are all staying at the camp site on the island, which allows for some lovely scenes that made me wish I was there with them.

The story is split between the current day and flashbacks to the previous year when Joe was still alive. I really liked this as it meant we got to know Joe through Freya’s eyes at least, and we could understand why she’s so driven to find out what happened to him. I’m not always a fan of stories told this way, but I think in this book it worked really well and added a lot to the story.

I liked Freya a lot, I found that I was really drawn to her and cared about her. I liked the way that whilst she was focussed on trying to find out what had happened to Joe she kept her concerns for everyone else at the forefront.

Both this book and Drawing With Light are beautifully written books, they’re quiet and contained but deal with pretty significant issues. I love the way that Green manages to show that adults are flawed humans too, quite often it as teenagers that we realise this about our parents.

This was such a lovely read, I see that Julia Green has a new book Bringing The Summer out later this year, I’ve got it on my wishlist already.

Breathing Underwater is published in paperback by Bloomsbury in the UK.

Book Review

Book Review : Paper Towns by John Green.

Who is the real Margo? Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs into his life – dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge – he follows. After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. She has disappeared. Q soon learns that there are clues in her disappearance …and they are for him. Trailing Margo’s disconnected path across the USA, the closer Q gets, the less sure he is of who he is looking for.

I managed to exist for a lot of years as a geek without knowing about the Nerdfighters, but thankfully the lovely Clover from Fluttering Butterflies introduced me to them and I’ve been subscribed to their YouTube channel ever since. It was only a few weeks later that I realised that I had John Green’s book Paper Towns on my Kindle waiting for my attention, based on how much I was enjoying his vlogs I had high expectations for the book.

I spent most of the time reading the book with a huge grin on my face, I’m sure this may have been a little alarming for my fellow train passengers! There is so much to enjoy in this book, I think it’s the most fun I’ve had reading a book for some time.

I loved the way that as the reader I was completely caught up in Q’s telling of the story. I found that like him I was a little confused with what was happening to start with, but then as everything came clear with what Margo wants I shared in his delight with events. I think this worked really well because it meant that when Margo disappeared I really cared about what had happened to her and was invested in finding out how the book was going to play out.

The friendship between Q, Ben and Radar was brilliant, there is a scene when they’re playing computer games that made me put my Kindle down for a few minutes until I’d stopped laughing. The road trip that they end up undertaking is one of the funniest things I’ve read, and what’s so good is that it’s written in such a way that you almost feel like you’re in the minivan with them.

Whilst this book is brilliant, and funny it’s clever too. Green brings in the poetry of Walt Whitman, and the concept of paper towns, and makes them seamless parts of the plot. I learned about paper towns in one of my Archives lectures last year, I wish I’d read this book before that lecture as I would have had quite a bit to say on the topic!

I had high hopes for this book and it lived up to them all. I loved the way the book was written, I could almost hear John Green reading it. I’m already looking forward to reading his other books, I feel pretty confidant there’s so much more fun waiting for me.

Paper Towns is published in paperback by Bloomsbury in the UK priced £6.99