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.