The last blog: an endless list of female awesomeness | Matt Killeen

I’m super excited to welcome Matt Killeen, author of Orphan Monster Spy, to Pretty Books. Matt has been on an epic blog tour all about his female heroes and this is the final stop. I’m currently reading Orphan Monster Spy and loving it. It’s like The Book Thief meets Wolf By Wolf (two books I adore), with an awesome protagonist you can’t help but cheer on.

I’ve written 17 of these blogs, each a celebration of the female fictional and historical heroes who have influenced me and the characters of my debut novel. There was one exception, where I talked about the children of the modern day UK who still suffer as Sarah, the heroine of Orphan Monster Spy, suffered.

It was never meant as an exhaustive list, just those that have touched my life the most. But now I find myself with one blog left and I’ve barely scratched the surface. Of the fictional women that spring to mind, there’s the titular titian (& sometimes green) haired genius Anne (with an ‘E’) Shirley and her tragical and ultimately royally beautiful life, puffed sleeves and all. Then there are the heroines of Elizabeth Wein’s Young Flyers trilogy. I could have written about the plucky Rose Justice navigating the horrors of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, or Julie Beaufort-Stuart the SOE agent, suffering, confusing and defeating her Gestapo interrogation. I could write a book on the ways that the shadowless, shoeless September, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, is superior to the blinkered and imperialist Alice. I might even have attempted to introduce Bella Lind, the Captain of The Rockhopper from Alastair Reynolds’ Pushing Ice, who began as a glorified miner and through quiet determination became the basis for an intergalactic civilisation. Offred, Lyra, Arabel, Celie, Mildred Hubble, Anne Elliott…the list goes on.

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Mini Book Reviews / Turtles All the Way Down, Release & Goodbye, Perfect

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I found that reading Turtles All the Way Down was a bit like coming home. It’s been more than six years since I first read The Fault in Our Stars. I’d just started my first job in publishing and was quite new to reading contemporary YA (it was around my dystopia/post-apocalyptic obsession), but I was as excited as the rest of the interwebz. The buzz was a little quieter this time (maybe because today’s 16-year-olds would’ve only been 10-years-old when everyone was reading The Fault in Our Stars). But, either way, a new John Green novel was always going to be highly-anticipated.

John Green has a specific, super iconic writing style in YA fiction. His hyperintelligent teenagers, elaborate and meaningful metaphors, and philosophical thoughts about the universe made me feel warm and fuzzy; it was good to be back. I became incredibly absorbed in the story on my commute to work. Aza Holmes has anxiety and OCD, and often feels like she’s being drowned by her uncontrollable, spiralling thoughts. It’s something that John Green struggles with himself – as does much of the YA community – and felt very realistic and honest. Turtles All the Way Down is Aza’s story of being reunited with old childhood friend Davis (not David), on a mission to track down his missing, criminal billionaire father – yet we also feel Davis’s loneliness. He’s rich (super rich!) but incredibly lost and alone. I enjoyed getting to know Aza, Davis, and Aza’s best friend Daisy.

Turtles All the Way Down is a quiet story. It was enjoyable and emotional, watching two old friends come together despite their personal challenges, and I still hold the line “your now is not your forever” close to my heart.

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Release by Patrick Ness

I love that we get a new Patrick Ness novel every year – his upcoming book is And the Ocean Was Our Sky, if you’re wondering – but we never know exactly what we’re going to get. We never know what Patrick Ness will write next.

Release tells the powerful story of 17-year-old Adam Thorn. It’s an emotional, heartbreaking story – Adam’s gay and his super religious family don’t accept his sexuality at all. They’re so homophobic that I found it difficult to read a lot of the things they did and said to him. In contrast, he has an incredibly close relationship with his best friend Andrea. It’s a dream friendship: they can be themselves around each other and know that they’ll always be there for each other. Andrea’s pretty awesome.

As Release itself says, running parallel to Adam’s story: “all the while, weirdness approaches”. As Adam’s going about his (extremely difficult) day, we get a glimpse into another life: a meth addict-turned-queen and a faun. As a non-fantasy reader, I’ll be honest and say that I stopped reading these segments. I know, I know (I did the same with Fangirl, I’m sorry), but I adored Adam and wanted to continue on his emotional adventure, rather attempt to work out the message behind the magical realism.

Release takes us on a day of “confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope”. Wonderful.

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Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard

Sara Barnard is one of my auto-read authors. I don’t need to know what her next book will be about, I just know that I’ll be reading it – I’ve really enjoyed Beautiful Broken Things and A Quiet Kind of Thunder so far.

Goodbye, Perfect is about 15-year-old Eden and how she deals with her best friend Bonnie running away with her boyfriend – especially as the boyfriend in question is their 30-year-old music teacher. The girls have very different personalities and yet remained close friends over the years. But Eden is forced to question their entire friendship and whether she even knew Bonnie at all.

Eden is such a fantastic, complex character – and a brilliant friend. Goodbye, Perfect isn’t just about Bonnie running away, but about the relationship that Eden has with other people: why it’s often tricky and fraught, and why she struggles to connect and let people in. It’s about Eden’s relationship with her sisters Valerie and Daisy, and how her being adopted has affected their closeness. Eden’s certainly a mighty and memorable protagonist.

Bonnie, on the other hand, is a Bad Friend. It was frustrating to see Eden take so much slack for her. As a 28-year-old, I wanted to drag Bonnie away and bring her back home, even if I could can see her reasons for getting into a relationship with an older man. I expected the teacher-student relationship to be slightly glamourised, as it can be elsewhere (I’ll admit, I’m a fan of Ezra from Pretty Little Liars), but Goodbye, Perfect brought us back to reality and made us think about the dangerous power dynamic, and why it’s such a problem.

Goodbye, Perfect is a story I worked my way through quickly – I really wanted to see how it ended. Can I have the next one now?!

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Mini Book Reviews / Moonrise, Second Best Friend & It Only Happens in the Movies

by Sarah Crossan

Whenever it comes up in conversations, I become super excited and go on and on about Sarah Crossan’s One. I read and fell in love with both the book and audiobook a few years ago. For anyone new to poetry (like myself), it’s a story that I always recommend – it allows you to read poetry whilst feeling like you’re reading a novel. Moonrise is Sarah Crossan’s newest story, also written in free verse, and another brilliantly poignant contemporary.

Even though it’s 2018, people are betrayed by the justice system every day. Set in Texas, Joe Moon’s older brother Ed is found guilty of murdering a police officer, even though he wasn’t near him at the time. No one believes his story – not even some of his own family – and he’s now on death row. Moonrise tells the story of the weeks leading up to Ed’s execution date, and the length Joe goes to get his brother’s story heard and Ed’s young life back.

Moonrise is incredibly heartbreaking – you can’t help but feel helpless for the characters, like a YA Prison Break. Joe and Ed’s story is tough to experience. You really want it to have a happy ending, but the sinking feeling in your stomach never leaves. Moonrise, about justice, class and family, will make you feel a lot.

“They think I hurt someone. 
But I didn’t. You hear?
Coz people are gonna be telling you
all kinds of lies.
I need you to know the truth.”

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Second Best Friend by Non Pratt

Second Best Friend is another brilliantly accessible and relatable contemporary story from YA favourite Non Pratt, all about female friendship, rivalry and self-confidence. The novella features Jade and Becky, best friends for years and partners in crime, but the girls’ friendship is put to the test when Jade’s ex-boyfriend leads Becky to believe that everyone thinks she’s the less talented, less pretty, less interesting of the pair. Jade is voted in as Party Leader ahead of the school’s General Election – a bold and unexpected move for Jade – and finds herself competing against her best friend, again. But this time, maybe she can actually win rather than come second?

As a teenager, and even now as an adult on social media, it’s difficult not to compare yourself to other people. As I browse Twitter and Instagram daily, it’s tough not to see people as more successful, more talented, and more attractive. But also with social media, you have no idea what’s going on in someone’s life outside of this shiny public bubble, and what’s actually going on inside their head, as Jade and Becky come to find out.

Second Best Friend is a short, fast-paced and believable story about two friends who are trying to discover who they are outside of each other. It was also fabulous to see teenagers excited to learn more and get involved with politics. As someone who’s in favour of the voting age being lowered to 16, it was a joy to see! For another wonderful novella about friendship from Non Pratt, give Unboxed a shot.

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It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne

I could read Holly Bourne’s novels all day, every day. It Only Happens in the Movies was my first book of the year (which was fitting because …And a Happy New Year was my first book of 2017!) and I adored it. It’s one of those books that I just wanted to tell everyone to read as soon as I finished it. It made me feel everything: excited, angry, upset, giddy.

Audrey is completely over romance and boys. Her parents’ relationship broke down a while ago but her mother’s been catatonic ever since, and Audrey’s still getting over her ex-boyfriend. To take her mind off everything (and to avoid going home), she begins working at a cute little indie movie theatre. As much as having to much that much homemade guacamole every day doesn’t sound very fun, it seems like the dream first job. And it’s here that she meets Harry. Harry’s… interesting. You know that he’s Not Good. Everyone tells Audrey that he’s Not Good… but you want it to work out, anyway. You want him to prove everyone wrong, especially as Audrey has to watch her ex-boyfriend with his new girlfriend and act like everything’s fine. It’s painful, and you constantly feel how difficult life is for Audrey right now. It Only Happens in the Movies features a really honest portrayal of heartbreak – not just jealousy, but the physical pain and unbearable sadness of it, so when Audrey falls for Harry, you want her to be happy.

Because it’s Holly Bourne, of course there’s also much-needed discussion about sexism and sex, feminism and periods, and the (frustratingly unrealistic) representation of love in movies. What else could you want from a YA contemporary romance?!

“No one ever tells you how much heartbreak physically hurts. How it literally feels like you’ve been kicked down the stairs. How you can’t swallow. How every muscle aches. How your heart lurches inside you like it’s been poisoned. Nobody tells you that.”

Added to My Bookshelves: January

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In January, I received some surprise review copies: White Rabbit, Red WolfFar From the Tree (on my current TBR!), Tender, and Not If I Save You First. I also received Secrets of a Teenage Heiress – such a fun young teen novel (with a sausage dog!), see my review here. Also through my letterbox, I got Neal Shusterman’s newest YA, Scythe – set in a world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery – and A Thousand Perfect Notes, a contemporary novel written by popular blogger Cait @ Paper Fury.

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My (now-ex!) housemate Charlie moved out at the end of the month and had to sadly cull a lot of her books… she wanted them to go to a good home, so I picked out Movie Night, The Fire Sermon and Truly, Wildly, Deeply. I’m especially looking forward to Jenny McLachlan’s – I’m loving her books lately.

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Because a few US novels had been on my wishlist for a while, I also treated myself. I bought Adam Silvera’s More Happy Than Not because I adored They Both Die at the End and History is All You Left Me. And I’d seen a lot of buzz about Eliza and Her Monsters, so ordered it at the same time. I absolutely adored it – it’s one of my favourite books of the year so far, a mix of Fangirl and Radio Silence. From work, I took home Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow. I’m reading it now and enjoying it so much that I don’t want it to end – I want the sequel already. I haven’t read a middle grade story for a while, so thank you to everyone who told me about it! ☂ It’s such a cosy story, reminiscent of Harry Potter.

Have you read any of these books?

10 Books Everyone Loves That I Haven’t Read (Yet)

I saw Lucy’s (The Book Belle) video and I thought it’d be fun to share ten books that everyone’s read and raved about, but I haven’t read yet… my TBR pile is so ridiculously big!

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. Ready Player One is out in cinemas at the end of March and the book will be spoiled for me if I don’t read it first. I bought a copy exactly four years ago – everyone was reading this sci-fi novel and even now, half a million Goodreads ratings later, people still rave about it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt 

I guess this is a modern classic now, right? It sounds perfect for me – mystery, university setting, drama!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

On my bookshelves you’ll find both Life After Life and A God in Ruins. I’ve not read a book by Kate Atkinson and this feels like the best one to start with. I’m intrigued by the premise: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

I’ve just finished The Sun and Her Flowers and cannot wait to read Milk and Honey. I’m not normally one for poetry, but I found that I could relate to many of her poems, especially about friendship and loneliness. I’ve seen this all over the interwebz for the past few months.

Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Again, fantasy isn’t a genre I usually seek out, but I’ve been to a few of V.E. Schwab’s panels and thoroughly enjoyed them – she seems like a lovely person and we share a love of Edinburgh. As a Londoner, I’m excited to check out the Shades of Magic series and discover four parallel Londons.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart 

I’ve read We Were Liars and have five more E. Lockhart novels to read – and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is one of them. A boarding school, secret societies and feminism? Yes please!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

I bought my copy for the first ever Books Are My Bag campaign in 2013. It’s another one that has been adapted this year, so I better get my skates on! When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone  

Abi is one of my favourite middle grade authors… but I haven’t read any of her books yet! I went through a phase of reading younger fiction a little while ago. I haven’t read much recently, but The Dreamsnatcher is high on my middle grade TBR.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Matt Haig’s popular non-fiction book was added to my bookshelves last year and I really ought to read it soon. It’s one of my aims (although not one I wrote down) to read and talk about mental health a bit more.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Yet another fantasy novel on my TBR! As a fantasy newbie, surely V.E. Schwab and Leigh Bardugo are the best to start with? (I’ve already read S.J. Maas!). I began the audiobook last year but found it difficult to stay focused, so I need to pick it up again – perhaps a readalong?!

Have you read any of these? 

(I also blogged about ten popular books on my TBR nearly 3 years ago and guess who still hasn’t read most of them?).