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

Book Review: Waiting for Gonzo by Dave Cousins.

WaitingForGonzoMeet Oz . . . he’s got a talent for trouble but his heart’s always in the right place (well, nearly always).

Uprooted from his friends and former life, Oz finds himself stranded in the sleepy village of Slowleigh. When a joke backfires on the first day at his new school, Oz attracts the attention of Isobel Skinner, the school psycho – but that’s just the beginning.

After causing an accident that puts his mum in hospital, Oz isn’t exactly popular at home either. His older sister’s no help, but then she’s got a problem of her own . . . one that’s growing bigger by the day.

Oz knows he’s got to put things right, but life isn’t that simple, especially when the only people still talking to you are a hobbit-obsessed kid and a voice in your own head!

I loved Dave Cousin’s debut novel 15 Days Without a Head so had very high hopes for this book. Within the first few pages I knew he’d done it again, creating a warm, funny and touching contemporary tale with great depth.

Oz, the main character of the book, is a brilliant character – I loved how his actions were almost always well intentioned, but had a habit of going wrong. I laughed as he made his way from one scrape to the next, in between wincing at some of the calamities he created.

One of the central relationships in the book is the one between Oz and his older sister Meg. Whilst they bicker and argue there is absolutely no mistaking the strength of their relationship, as an older sister who has always had a strong relationship with her younger brother I really loved this element of the book. Whilst our lives were never as complicated as Oz and Meg’s I could definitely see the similarities.

I hadn’t worked out the gist of the book from the blurb and so was surprised by the direction the book took, and indeed who the titular Gonzo was. This was all to the good, the potentially tricky subject matter was handled with skill – there’s no judgement, no wringing of hands, simply practical honesty and warmth.

Ryan, the hobbit-obsessed geek, who befriends Oz when no one else at school will was another favourite character of mine. I always love the addition of a geeky character who is there simply as part of the ensemble, rather than to be pointed at and laughed at, Ryan certainly had his part to play and reminded me at times of both myself and other geeky friends.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that I’m looking forward to recommending to other readers old and young alike.

Waiting for Gonzo is published by Oxford University Press.