Book Review

Book Review: Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton.

StarringKittySometimes the greatest love stories happen behind the scenes…

Kitty’s keeping secrets. Like how she’s struggling to cope with her mum’s illness. And how she’s falling for the girl with the purpley-red hair… A fun film competition with her friends Sunny and Hannah seems like the perfect distraction. But then Dylan wants to be more than Kitty’s secret. Is Kitty ready to let her two worlds meet or will she risk losing Dylan forever?

Starring Kitty is the first in a new series about first love and friendship by much-loved teen author Keris Stainton.

I have known Keris for a long time now, quite a while before her debut novel Della Says OMG! was published. I’ve read and enjoyed each book that she has written, you can see my review of Jessie Hearts NYC. When I heard about her new series for Catnip Publishing, focusing on three friends who enter a film making competition, I thought it sounded wonderful. Starring Kitty is the first book in this series, and it completely lived up to my expectations.

Kitty, the star of this book, is 14. It’s hard enough being a teenager but she has other things to worry about. Firstly there’s her mum, she has Multiple Sclerosis and Kitty is trying to cope with how this has changed her family life. I thought the way this subject was covered was excellent, having a close family member with a chronic, disabling illness has such an impact and this was explored thoroughly and thoughtfully. I particularly liked that Kitty’s feelings are negative at times, I think this is really important.

The other major thing in Kitty’s life is her first, fledgling romance. We learn at the very beginning of the book that she has feelings for someone, but that someone is a girl not a boy. This aspect of the story is just lovely, it’s tentative and cute and everything first love should be. Kitty is still becoming confident in her own self and her own identity, this leads her to make some decisions about her relationship that we the reader can see are not for the best, but they feel entirely understandable.

Kitty is an excellent main character, I really loved her friendship with Sunny and Hannah. I’m very glad that this is a beginning of a series and that the subsequent books will be from their perspectives – I really want to get to know them even better. One of my favourite relationships in the book only features a couple of times, it’s between Kitty and her brother Tom who is away at university in London. I loved well written sibling relationships and theirs is wonderful.

The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is growing stronger and stronger at the moment. This is a great example of a diverse book, some of the characters happen to fall in to minority groups but they are never defined by these characteristics, instead being fully rounded and allowed to just be.

The next book in the series Spotlight on Sunny comes out next Spring, I can’t wait to read it!

Starring Kitty is published by Catnip Publishing in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.

TGoYaMOwen and Lucy are stuck in a life. As they await help, they start talking…

Though brief, the time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland they can’t shake the memory of the time they shared. Postcards cross the globe when they themselves can’t, as Owen and Lucy experience the joy – and pain – of first love.

As each makes their separate journey in search of home, they will discover that sometimes it is a person rather than a place that anchors you most in the world.

I absolutely love Jennifer E Smith’s books. I’ve previously reviewed The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and This Is What Happy Looks Like – both were the sort of books that made my heart feel like it was singing. The synopsis for this new book made me think I was in for another treat, what could be better than a romance blossoming out of being trapped in a lift?

This book is slightly different to the ones I’ve mentioned, with the romance element having more of a slow burn quality. It’s gorgeous and wonderful and I found myself entirely wrapped up in the characters and their lives very quickly. The first part of the book introduces us to our main characters, Lucy and Owen, first with them stuck in the lift and then with them working out how to spend the time whilst the power cut causing the blackout is resolved. Their lives then pull them apart physically, and to an extent emotionally – though never once did I believe that these distances wouldn’t be bridged (yes, I’m a hopeless romantic).

I love the way the author creates characters we can really care about, Lucy and Owen are no different. Both of them are quite isolated in their own way, Lucy because her parents spend much of their time travelling abroad, and Owen because his father is trying to work out how to make a life for them since the death of Owen’s mother. I found it interesting to see how both of these family circumstances were explored, they’re not just convenient plot devices to remove the adults from the book – whilst they may not be all that present the parents are definitely felt in this book and their far from uncommon situations are handled deftly and thoughtfully.

Travel in books is a sure fire winner for me, both Lucy and Owen spend part of the book travelling. I particularly enjoyed Owen’s travel in the USA – he visits a few places I haven’t seen in books before and I love getting to experience new places through the eyes of characters.

This is a highly satisfying read. I would say though that unless you’re the sort of reader who reads a few pages at a time and then puts a book down you’ll probably want to start this book at a time when you can read and read and read. This is not an easy book to walk away from, you’re so quickly drawn into it and don’t want to leave the characters for any longer than you must.

The Geography of You and Me is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle.

FamousInLoveShe fell in love with him in the books – now she has the chance to star opposite him in the film…

Paige doesn’t think she’s particularly special, but after getting the starring role in a massive film adaptation of the bestselling Locked trilogy, the rest of the world would disagree. Now she’s thrown into the spotlight, and into a world of gossip, rumour and deceit. The only people who know what she’s going through are her two male co-stars, and they can’t stand the sight of each other. Paige knows it’s a mistake to fall in love on the set of a movie, but days of on-screen romance and intensity start to change her mind. The question is, can she keep what happens behind the scenes a secret when the world is watching her every move?

This book feels really current and very relevant, it focuses on Paige a young actress who gets the lead role in the latest YA movie adaptation. She’s done lots of acting locally, but never dreams that she’s going to be successful at the open audition looking for an unknown actress.

The book opens with a prologue that’s set at some point in Paige’s future. She’s already a famous actress at this point but she suggests that all is not as it seems. The story then leaps back to just before she gets the role, and then follows her through the filming of the first movie in the trilogy (like most existing YA movie adaptations the fictional story is a trilogy with fantasy elements and two boys vying for the girl’s attention).

Paige narrates the book, this along with the use of the present tense makes the book feel fresh and draws the reader into Paige’s life. Paige struggles with the transition from regular teenager to lead actress in a film that matters so much to so many fans, whilst this is generally well done she does from time to time come across as unnecessarily angsty.

The author works hard to explain to the reader that Paige isn’t your typical teen, she doesn’t read gossip mags and is happiest hiding in her local bookshop reading screenplays. This is necessary so that when she meets Rainer and Jordan, the two male actors she’ll be filming with, that she doesn’t know anything about them, their pasts or the trouble there has been between them.

There is a section in the book where Paige reflects on her favourite film, one with a makeover reveal scene – she talks at length about how much she loved the way the character becomes beautiful. She experienced a similar sort of makeover and is entirely buoyed by how everyone reacts to her – it made me sad that she bought so firmly into the clothes and make up and image thing. I really wished that she could see how false this was – I didn’t feel like it fitted in with what we knew about Paige either.

Like the fictional YA book that is the focus of the movie being filmed, this book has a love triangle. This lacked some subtlety, the tensions between Rainer and Jordan left me thinking they were both lying and manipulating Paige at points in the book. The ending felt very abrupt, lots of things slotting into place in a very short space of time. I think this was meant to reflect the whirlwind nature of the press commitments for promoting a film, but it didn’t translate so well.

I had lots of quibbles with this book but I did enjoy reading it. It’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to return to, and I won’t be racing to read the subsequent books in the series or the novella of the fictional book being made into a film (yes, the author of this has written and released the book that features in this book under the pseudonym of the fictional author – there’s no easy way to write that). I will more than likely read the later books at some point, if only to find out where the prologue of this book fits. This could have been a great book, but sadly it’s execution just falls a little short of its concept.

Famous in Love is published by Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK from 23rd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene.

SeafrontTeaRoomsThe Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they’ve been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain’s best tea rooms. She knows she’s found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share? Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the ‘Seafront’, convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search. Together with another regular, Seraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems. But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind…

Sometimes you want a book that you can dive in to head first, a book you can become completely wrapped up in and ignore the world. The Seafront Tea Rooms is just such a book, a truly lovely gem of a read. I liked the sound of it from the synopsis – what could be nicer than a book about tea and cake? Upon reading it I discovered that as well as being full of mouth watering descriptions of afternoon teas galore it was also full of life and heart.

The book centres around three women, Kat, Charlie and Seraphine. Brought together early on in the book, the trio work together to research the piece Charlie is to write on the best tea rooms in Britain. They each have challenges going on in their lives, and each have a need for the sort of support that comes from the best of friendships. Watching the friendship grow between the three ladies was wonderful, and left me thinking about the similar sorts of friends I have in my own life. I think sometimes that in fiction friendship can be overlooked in favour of romance so it was nice to see friendship take such a central role here. I particularly liked that the main friendships were all new yet strong – sometimes we meet someone and click as friends instantly, length of friendship isn’t necessarily an indicator of strength of friendship.

There are romantic subplots running through the book, I found that whilst I could see where Kat and Charlie’s stories were going fairly quickly it was Seraphine’s that was the surprise. I don’t want to elaborate too much, the synopsis and material around the book have been careful to allow the reader to discover this for themselves so it would be wrong for me to not follow suit. That said I will say that it was a pleasant surprise and added a whole new layer of appreciation for this book. There’s a gorgeous epilogue that ties up all of the romantic elements of the book, it’s beautiful and made me shed more than a tear or two.

In addition to the three main characters this book has a strong collection of supporting characters. These are well created, I felt like I got to know and understand them. Charlie’s sister Pippa was one of the stand outs for me – she has a long journey to go on throughout the course of the book and I found I cared a lot about this. Kat’s son Leo is very lovely, he reminded me a lot of children I’ve known in the past – always a sign that a young character is well written. And finally I must mention Bagel the Beagle – what a great name for a dog!

I haven’t read all that many books aimed at adults recently, this book has absolutely reminded me that the grass is green on every side of publishing irrespective of target audience. This is the author’s second book, I’m now going to be making sure I read her debut The Vintage Teacup Club too.

The Seafront Tea Rooms is published by Sphere in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Shadowboxer by Tricia Sullivan.

ShadowboxerThai martial arts, international crime, celebrity and mythical creatures combine in this masterful new tale of two people facing incredible dangers, from award-winning author Tricia Sullivan.

Nothing she’s faced in the cage will prepare her…

Jade is a young mixed martial arts fighter. When she’s in the cage she dominates her opponents—but in real life she’s out of control.

After she has a confrontation with a Hollywood martial arts star that threatens her gym’s reputation, Jade’s coach sends her to a training camp in Thailand for an attitude adjustment. Hoping to discover herself, she instead uncovers a shocking conspiracy. In a world just beyond our own, a man is stealing the souls of children to try and live forever.

Every now and then I see a book talked about that hooks me instantly, I proceed to read it and love it, and then wonder how on earth I’m going to even attempt to review it. Shadowboxer is one of those books. I never realised I wanted a book about a female fighter as much as I did until I read this book and then it went and exceeded every expectation I didn’t even know I had.

Jade, our main character, is truly awesome. She’s tough talking, tough acting and this has the potential to get her into lots of trouble both inside the cage where she fights and outside it. She has huge potential as a fighter, but she’s angry. So angry, and this is putting that potential at risk – you can’t have a fighter with poor self control. She gets sent to Thailand to focus on training and that’s where the secondary plotline of the book really starts to twist around Jade’s story.

We have another great girl character you see, Mya. The first couple of times we meet her I must admit I was a little lost as to what was going on, there’s a strong mythology feel to her story and it didn’t relate to anything I knew. I had the gut feeling that I just needed to go with it though and this was absolutely right, the more I saw of Mya’s world the more I understood what was going on. Since reading the book I’ve discovered that the story around Mya in particular draws from Thai mythology – I definitely want to read more now and learn about these fascinating stories.

The plot is really exciting, I was warned that once I started reading I wasn’t going to want to stop – this was very accurate. There are plenty of twists and turns and unexpected reveals – there were a couple of things that became apparent about key characters that I really hadn’t expected, though they felt very true to the characters and what we knew about them. It’s really hard to talk about them because you really do need to discover them as you read, I’m looking forward to re-reading the book knowing what I now know.

This book has a really fresh feel to it. It is exciting, energetic and just down right brilliant. I find I can sometimes get a bit lost when reading written fight scenes but in this book there was absolutely no chance of that happening. They’re written really clearly and are very engaging – the author has martial arts experience and this shines through in the writing. The characters leap off the page, they’re well imagined and feel very real. There’s plenty of diversity represented within this book, many of the characters are from different ethnic backgrounds.

I absolutely loved this book, my only sadness was that it had to end. I think I could have read about Jade for a lot longer!

Shadowboxer is published by Ravenstone in the UK from 9th October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

MG Monday: Pea’s Book of Birthdays by Susie Day.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, Pea’s Book of Birthdays by Susie Day earns her turn in the spotlight.

PBoBIt’s Pea’s birthday, and all the family are gathered around to celebrate. But there’s one person missing – her dad. She has never known him, but is the story Mum always told her (the one about Dad being a pirate) really true? What is this mysterious Piratical Father doing now? So begins Pea’s quest to track down her dad once and for all . . .

This series of books featuring Pea Llewellyn is one of my absolute favourite series, regardless of target age. So much so that after I fell completely in love with Pea, her sisters and mum and all of the rest of the cast of characters in the first book I decided that I needed to not immediately read the next books in the series but instead space them out and savour each one. This weekend I finally picked up this, the third book in the series.

Having dealt with the family’s move to London in Pea’s Book of Best Friends and then deciding what you want to be in the future in Pea’s Book of Dreams, this time Pea’s focus is more on personal identity and knowing who you are and where you come from. Pea has never known her father, all she knows is where her mum met him and that he left shortly after she was born. Knowing that he is out there somewhere, and reminders about family leave her wondering about him and wanting to track him down. The book takes place over the month of May when Pea and her sisters and mum all have their birthdays, Pea’s is latest in May and she shares it with her mum so what better opportunity to try and track down the mystery Ewan McGregor (no, not that one).

One of the things I adore about Pea is that she’s such a thinking girl. She’s a budding writer, always creating characters and plot lines, and when she’s not doing this she has a tendency to overthink her current situation. In this book trying to choose a birthday party theme that is sufficiently “mature and sophisticated” proves really hard, she doesn’t really feel grown up but feels like she ought to. Pea is so much the kind of young person I was, I know I would have loved reading about her when I was similarly aged (pretty much like I do now). Life is full of anxieties, even when you’re young, and seeing them dealt with in such a reassuring manner is just brilliant.

The family dynamic between Pea, her sisters and mum is just brilliant. So too is the dynamic of the Paget-Skidelskys who live next door, and then the relationships between both families. I would have loved to have good friends living next door like this. I particularly like Pea’s friendship with Sam One, I always like seeing girl boy friendships in the books I read.

One thing I must highlight is the ease with which Susie writes diverse characters. This whole series of books is filled with them, all included seamlessly and naturally. Their differences are acknowledged but not dwelt on, they’re simply presented as the way of things which is of course what they are. This series is one that should be held up of an example to show that it can be done!

I loved how funny this book was at the same that it was covering some really important issues. The blend of the drama and comedy of real life works really well and results in a hugely readable book that is appealing and very lovable. The whole series is like this, and that’s why I love it so much and find myself recommending it as often as I can. The next book in the series is Pea’s Book of Holidays which includes a visit to Corfe Castle (inspiration to Enid Blyton) – I wonder how long I will be able to resist it? Not long I wouldn’t think!

Pea’s Book of Birthdays is published by Red Fox in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Book Review: Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets by J.A. Buckle.

imageFifteen year old Josh fantasizes about becoming a death metal guitarist complete with tattoos,piercings and hoards of adoring fans, but its not easy when his super strict mum won’t let him grow his hair or even wear black t-shirts! Luckily Josh has a way of coping with life’s setbacks; his diary; it’s only a diary, but it contains all Josh’s hopes,dreams and frustrations (not to mention great ideas for band names and song lyrics). There’s a lot he wants to get done before his 16th birthday, but things never turn out quite like he plans…

What Josh doesn’t know is that his mother also kept a diary, back about the time he was born, and a secret in there holds the key to Josh’s life becoming a whole lot more metal.

The blurb for Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets definitely piqued my interest – my younger brother spent most of his teenage years and then some in heavy metal bands so he sounded like a character that I would understand.

Josh is certainly an interesting character. He’s inwardly focused, speaks before thinking and often comes across as a little mean – completely by accident. I spent a while wondering whether I liked him or whether he was in fact a bit of an idiot. I ended up deciding that whilst he was a bit of an idiot he was a very likeable bit of an idiot who actually had the best of intentions. He cares for the people around him even if he struggles sometimes with showing this.

This book is funny. There’s a natural wit to it that comes from everyday life being funny. This doesn’t feel forced, and feels like we’re laughing with the characters rather than at them. There were times when I smiled as I read and there were times when I laughed out loud. The diary style format works really well, making the story zip along. There’s one major twist in the story that I barely saw coming, it worked well though and felt natural.

One issue I had with the book is that there are frequent occurrences of “f***” written out exactly like that. This pulled me out of the book every single time – I’m not sure why it was decided to include the word and star it out, it didn’t fit Josh and it had a detrimental effect on the reading experience. For me this wasn’t a satisfactory way to try and show a true teenager in all their sweariness, I think going for lesser curse words that didn’t need to be blanked out would have worked better for the book overall. I completely understand that this is a subject that frequently comes back round for debate – having now read a book where this stylistic choice has been made I know that to me it is not a satisfactory solution.

I liked this book a lot. I think it would make a very good pairing with Dave Cousins’ Waiting For Gonzo.

Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets is published by Curious Fox. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.