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: Far From You by Tess Sharpe.

FarFromYouNine months. Two weeks. Six days.

That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered.

Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer – but can she track them down before they come for her?

I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in the months since I’ve seen it brought up in many conversations about publishing, diversity in publishing and just really good YA releases of 2014. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started to read, I always am when I’m picking up a much loved book, what if I was the one person who didn’t like it? I think I got about 2 or 3 chapters in to the book and realised I was already hooked, I took a brief pause to sigh with relief and then carried on reading. I only stopped reading twice, both times to refill my coffee mug!

The book has two narrative threads told in alternating chapters. There is the current timeline, beginning with Sophie’s release from rehab, and there is a flashback timeline that dances forwards and backwards over the previous few years adding detail and necessary history to all of the current goings on. This structure worked really well, both aspects of the story were equally strong. The thriller aspect of Sophie trying to investigate Mina’s murder plays out well, I didn’t suspect the eventual culprit but it felt like a believable outcome to me.

I liked Sophie from the outset. I found that I had an unwavering belief in what she was saying, and a real frustration with her parents who didn’t seem able to see past what others had told them. The fact they had sent her to rehab when she had not relapsed made me really sad, both for Sophie getting the lack of support she wanted and needed, and for her parents who must be in some state to be incapable of hearing the truth their daughter is telling them. I really appreciated the presence of Aunt Macy in Sophie’s life – she deserved an awesome adult who was in her corner unconditionally.

Sophie’s a well developed character, like all of the characters in the book she’s complex and messy with jagged edges and personal demons. Whilst I want to see all sorts of characters represented in fiction I have a personal investment in seeing characters who are dealing with disabilities and/or ongoing health issues. Sophie was in a car crash that nearly killed her (the first of two near death experiences in her fairly short life, the other being the catalysing event that results in Mina’s death) – she escaped with injuries affecting her leg and back, along with huge amounts of scarring. Her injuries are going to be with her for the rest of the life, she is in pain and has weakness that compromises her walking. She’s angry and bitter, and her former drug addiction is directly linked to the pain she’s in. I really appreciated how honestly Sophie’s experiences are dealt with, and the way that whilst they make up a significant part of her they aren’t the only thing about her. I also liked the way she used gardening as a therapeutic tool – this again felt very true to the character and her situation.

Whilst the book begins with Mina’s death we get to see the hole her absence has left in the lives of those closest to her, particularly her brother Trev and Sophie. She also plays a really prominent role in the flashback chapters – she was Sophie’s closest, dearest friend and played a significant part in her life. Through the strength of her presence I felt like I really got to know her, whilst not as well as I got to know Sophie still significantly more than I had expected to.

Relationships play a significant role in all aspects of this book, both romantic and platonic ones. There is an LGBT plot thread that is well executed, I don’t want to say to much about it as its brilliance is at least partly in how it plays out throughout the book. It’s not something I’ve seen played out often in YA fiction and it’s done in a really well thought out manner. There are a couple of sexual encounters – these are handled deftly, they don’t quite fade to black but are written in a careful and sensitive manner.

I love it when a book like Far From You comes along and reminds me just how brilliant realistic fiction can be. This is the kind of book that leaves you both wanting more and not wanting to go near another book for a while, instead just letting everything you’ve read sink in. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.

Far From You is published by Indigo in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [1]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts. Orion Children’s Books.
Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life.

This is the first book in a new series, Wings & Co, aimed at young readers. I thought it was a great read, it introduces the characters and the magical version of the world that the book’s set in really well. There’s enough adventure and excitement to balance out the scene setting, I think it’ll capture the imagination of most young readers. I love the illustrations included in the book, they really add to the experience. Emily is a wonderful lead character, I’ll be looking forward to reading about her adventures in the next book. A definite thumbs up from me.

Undone by Cat Clarke. Quercus.
A video appears online. And a boy jumps off a bridge. Jem is determined to avenge the death of Kai – her beloved best friend who was driven to desperation after being ‘outed’ by the popular crew at school. Transforming herself from introverted emo to in-crowd acceptable, Jem becomes part of the clique. She’s going to take down those responsible, one by one. But what if Kai was keeping secrets from Jem? Could her quest for revenge be directed at the wrong people? And can Jem find out what really happened before someone else gets hurt?

I was the lucky winner of Cat Clarke’s ARC giveaway, as soon as it arrived I knew I had to read it next. I read it cover to cover in an afternoon, it’s absolutely gripping and I had to know how it ended. Undone is a story of grief and loss, and of trying to find a way through it – in Jem’s case that’s exacting vengeance. The characters are so real, they’re insecure and self-focused and flawed making them seem to leap off the page. It’s a bold, wonderful book that packs a real emotional punch, a fantastic read.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. Strange Chemistry.
And finally a little bit of a cheat for the first week, I won’t make a habit of it – I reviewed this book for Book Angel Booktopia. You can read it here.

Book Review

Book Review : Pink by Lili Wilkinson.

“The pink jumper was glowing in my grey bedroom like a tiny bit of Dorothy’s Oz in boring black-and-white Kansas. Pink was for girls.”

Ava Simpson is trying on a whole new image. Stripping the black dye from her hair, leaving her uber-cool girlfriend, Chloe, behind.

Ava is quickly taken under the wing of perky, popular Alexis who insists that: a) she’s a perfect match for handsome Ethan; and b) she absolutely must audition for the school musical.

But while she’s busy trying to fit in – with Chloe, with Alexis and her Pastel friends, even with the misfits in the stage crew – Ava fails to notice that her shiny reinvented life is far more fragile than she imagined.

I’ve been hearing lots of good things about this YA book so I thought it was time I read it to see what all the fuss was about. Following Ava’s attempts to find out who she is and where she belongs in the very uncertain world of being a teenager, the book sucked me in within the first few pages and I found it hard to put down.

The plot of Pink really spoke to me. Ava’s struggle to be the person she thinks other people want her to be when everyone wants her to be something different, quickly leads her to living a triple life; a version for her parents and girlfriend, a version for the cool kids at her new school, and a version for the stage crew she ends up working with on the school musical. Understandably this all just complicates Ava’s life when deep down the question she’s really trying to find the answer to is “Who am I?”

I loved the character of Ava and found I could really identify with her. The teenage version of me was never cool enough to aspire to fit in with the cool and popular crowd, but I did spend a lot of time trying to be the person I thought everyone wanted to be. When Ava’s efforts went wrong and she ended up hurting people I really felt for her. Whilst the book is about Ava there is a whole cast of supporting characters who are brilliantly created. So many of the other teenagers in the book reminded me of people I was at high school with.

I found that I got wrapped up in the world of Pink really quickly. The way it’s written just jumps off the page, the dialogue is convincing and the humour is well written. I felt that it dealt really well with the issues it covered, they were treated realistically and factually with no judgement attached to any of them. I think this is a book I would really have appreciated reading when I was a teenager, though it still really resonated with me now.

Pink is published in paperback by Allen & Unwin in the UK priced £6.99