What I’ve Read / We Are Okay, Flight of a Starling & The Start of Me and You

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour is one of my new favourite authors. I adored Everything Leads to You when I read it this summer and now We Are Okay has swept me away. But the funny thing is, very little happens in We Are Okay in contrast to the drama and mystery of Everything Leads to You. It’s the quietest of quiet novels. Marin’s first year at a New York college is going by slowly and it’s the start of the winter break. She has barely spoken to anyone since she left home, miles away in California. But enough is enough. Marin’s best friend Mabel is visiting and so she finally needs to confront the loneliness that has taken hold of her. Nina LaCour does feelings really well, especially those that are difficult to describe: grief, loneliness, immense sadness. I also adored the relationship between Marin and Mabel, and even though we eventually find out what happened to Marin, it’s not the end game; we already know before we’re told. I can’t wait to read more from Nina!

‘I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.’

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Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

Rita and Lo are sisters and best friends. As an only child, I’m always fascinated to read about sibling relationships, the seemingly close bond that no friendship can quite match. The girls are part of the ‘greasepaint and glitter of the circus’, a setting that, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have usually chosen to read about. But I attended a panel that Lisa Heathfield was on and throughly enjoyed myself, so I delved into Flights of a Starling. What kept me hooked was the realistic way that Lisa portrays depression and suicidal thoughts. Lo begins to down beneath her poor mental health. She meets Dean and falls intensely in love. But Dean’s not a circus boy and will never be accepted by her family, and then Lo discovers even more devastating secrets, struggles to fit into her close-knit community… and begins to unravel, painfully and honestly.

I also own Lisa Heathfield’s two other books, Seed and Paper Butterflies, and I’m looking forward to picking them up!

‘We’re different, us and them.’

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The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Emery Lord is becoming one of my go-to authors for summery YA contemporaries. Paige is known as the girlfriend of the boy who died, and it’s time for her to return to the world as her own person. She’s mourned for Aaron and for the time they didn’t have together. She didn’t get the chance to know him as well as people think she did, and dreads people asking how she’s doing. Paige makes a plan: date, party, join, travel, and swim. Simple, right? As with most contemps, there’s a surprise romance: Max. Ryan is Paige’s crush, but Max is his nerdy cousin – and one of the lovely highlights of the story! And then there’s a tight-knit, realistic friendship between Paige, Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh. Romance + friendship = the perfect mix. I’m excited to get stuck into my final Emery Lord novel, Open Road Summer, until we get the sequel to Paige and Max’s story.

“Handing someone else the only set of keys to your happiness—it seemed like too much to part with, even for love.”

 

What I’ve Read / Exit West, This is Going to Hurt & Lily and the Octopus

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

As you can probably tell, I mainly read young adult fiction, not literary fiction. But Exit West was the first pick for my work’s new book club. Even though it’s not one I would’ve chosen for myself (it’s my first Man Booker-shortlisted book!), I was excited to try something new – and it paid off.

Tucked up in bed, I found myself whizzing through Exit West, not wanting to put it down. It’s about Saeed and Nadia, and how this young couple’s relationships begins and changes after they’re forced to flee their war-stricken homeland. I particularly loved Nadia’s character – she’s vivid, funny and surprising. Exit West, although mostly contemporary literature, has drops of magical realism – we read about mysterious doors that act as portals to new countries. As a group, we chatted a lot about the meaning of migration and borders, a timely and sensitive topic.

Exit West was a fantastic book club pick, I’d say.

“We are all migrants through time”.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Lives of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt is one of my favourite books of the year. If you’re all over book industry news, you’ll know that it just won the Non-Fiction Award and Readers Choice Award in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, and I’m sure they are the first of many accolades! I know that I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, young and old.

This is Going to Hurt is Adam Kay’s funny and timely memoir of a junior doctor. Now a writer for film and TV comedy, Adam turned his compulsory doctors’ notes into a book. It opened my eyes to what it’s like to be a junior doctor and I particularly enjoyed the audiobook – narrated by Adam himself!

We know that Adam was a doctor for six years and left after ‘a devastating experience’ on his ward. After we realise how tough it is to be a junior doctor, and after we’re told about the impossible demands that are placed on them, we discover what forced Adam to leave the profession he worked hard to be a part of – and having this context made it even more of a tragedy.

This is Going to Hurt is hilarious, honest and heart-breaking, and makes me want to fight for the NHS even more – but not in its current form. I read another review that said don’t read it until you’ve had a baby – and I now know why! As a woman, Adam’s field of expertise (obstetrics and gynaecology) is particularly relevant to me, so that was especially interesting. Even so, This is Going to Hurt is a must read for everyone.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley and narrated by Michael Urie

I’m on a real audiobook kick at the moment. I love listening to them on long journeys, or before going to sleep. I needed a new one and randomly picked Lily and the Octopus because I adored the cover – I’ve developed a recent love of pups, dachshunds in particularly.

‘This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. For Ted Flask, that someone special is his ageing companion Lily, who happens to be a dog’.

I began listening to Lily and found one half of our protagonists, Ted Flask, overly dramatic and sentimental. I’m not a fan of quirky books, and this was a little too quirky for me: Ted notices one day that Lily has a tumour on the side of her head and he refers to it as a ‘octopus’. But, as the story goes on, and we discover how Ted ended up becoming best friends with this excitable puppy, I started to become attached to Lily as much as as her owner was. I also really enjoyed Lily’s speech in the story – the audiobook probably made it funnier!

Lily and the Octopus, as I now know, is not just about loving, and the impending loss of, a beloved pet, but about depression, loneliness and relationship breakups. It’s a moving read, especially if you have your own fur baby. (And I love Lily!).

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What I’ve Read / Wonder, The Bookshop Girl & The Girl of Ink and Stars

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder has been popular since it was published in 2012. I started to feel like the only one in the world who hadn’t read it it… so I finally picked it up. Wonder, as I’m sure you know, is about 10-year-old August. Auggie just wants to be normal, but his facial abnormality means that starting middle school is more difficult for him than it is for other children.

As well as Auggie, we get to hear his story from several people in his life: Olivia (Auggie’s sister), Jack and Summer (Auggie’s friends), Justin (Olivia’s boyfriend) and Miranda (Olivia’s friend). Wonder is difficult and painful to read at times – we all know how cruel schoolchildren can be, and I marvelled in August’s courage to face them. Wonder is an uplifting story about overcoming those bullies. At times, it read to me like a novel written for adults, such as Emma Donoghue’s Room, although I know that children all over the world have loved Auggie’s story.

If there’s one thing I took away from Wonder it’s that we should all be a little kinder than is necessary. I’ll be heading to the cinema to watch the adaptation this winter!

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

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The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop & Ashley King

The Bookshop Girl is a bonkers story. Property Jones is so-called because she was discovered as a five-year-old in the lost property section of a bookshop and adopted by the bookish Jones family. Property loves books. She really does. But she’s hiding a secret: she cannot read.

One day, the Jones family win a prize draw to run the famous Montgomery Book Emporium. With the help of an extremely grumpy and oddball cat, the Jones family must solve a dastardly mystery or lose everything – books an’ all.

I adore stories that feature books, bookshops and booksellers… and The Bookshop Girl has them all. I loved the quirky Montgomery Book Emporium: the world’s first mechanical bookshop. It’s a magical place, containing hordes of rooms filled with books. To browse the bookshop, just press the levers and rooms loop round like a Ferris wheel, with each one decorated appropriately. The Room of Space Adventures, for example, is ‘painted all over in deep indigo, speckled with twinkling lights’. Delightful.

It’s also apparent that I am Property Jones, since I accidentally dress like her…

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The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I picked up The Girl of Ink and Stars after it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. I don’t normally read middle grade fantasy, but The Girl of Ink and Stars is an enchanting, magical adventure and is stunningly written (plus the book itself is pretty, too!).

The Girl of Ink & Stars follows Isabelle Riosse – a cartographer’s daughter – as she goes on a treacherous journey to rescue her best friend, Lupe. Lupe has disappeared into the island’s Forgotten Territories and because of her father’s teachings, Isabelle is well-versed in reading the stars and maps, and so is Lupe’s best chance of being found.

Adventure. Friendship. To me, that’s what sums up the sparkly The Girl of Ink and Stars. I adored the realistic and intense friendship between Isabella and Lupe, but I struggled occasionally with all the magic and mystic because it’s quite outside my usual genre. Even so, Kiran’s beautiful writing kept me going – I needed to know whether Lupe would be found!

“Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.”

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What I’ve Read / Everything Leads to You, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe & Editing Emma

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Everything Leads to You was the last of my summer reads and I chose it over We Are Okay, a story that sounds a lot sadder and darker – I’ll save it for autumn!

I finished Everything Leads to You a couple of weeks ago and I still remember how film aspect of the storyline made me feel. I adored it. I love the idea of being a set designer like Emi, our talented protagonist, and Nina LaCour tackles every little detail. She enables the reader to really understand and picture the work that goes into set design, why it’s such an important part of making a film, and how fun it can be. Emi is incredibly passionate about her future career, but Nina doesn’t just show us the glamorous side. We also see the boring, frustrating side of the industry, from being a lowly intern and not feeling good enough to browsing hundreds of sofas to find the one.

Emi and her best friend Charlotte come across a mysterious letter penned by a movie legend after browsing his estate sale, which leads them eventually to a girl called Ava, and a summer to remember. Everything Leads to You is one of the few novels I’ve read that features LGBT+ characters but isn’t about being LGBT. It’s an important part of the storyline, of course – and there’s a super sweet romance – but it’s not the main part of the story. It’s all about Emi and Charlotte’s determination to uncover the story of the letter and a girl who discovers her past.

Everything Leads to You is one of my favourite novels of the year so far – beautiful, cinematic and a joy to read. It lives up to its stunning cover, that’s for sure. 🎥

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The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Even though The Loneliest Girl in the Universe isn’t out until September, I had to pick it up because people wouldn’t stop talking about it. I’m rubbish at resisting hype and I just had to see what magic Lauren James created this time.

I love a good space story and The Loneliest Girl in the Universe made me realise how much more YA sci-fi I need to discover. I obviously do not read/watch enough because I had to engage Lauren in a lengthy conversation about how time works. *facepalm* (Thank you so much, Lauren!). Romy Silvers is left as the young Commander of her ship after her entire crew perishes. But she’s also a normal teenage girl. She bakes, she writes fan fiction and she’s really good at maths. Romy has an essential job ahead of her: travel to another planet and create a new home for the human race. She’s all alone in space – and so literally is the loneliest girl in the universe – until she receives an email from a new ship that has just launched from Earth. It’s a boy called J, and he’s coming to meet her.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe throws up a lot of surprises. Romy’s journey on the ship is at times both exhilarating and fascinating, and terrifying and isolated. But it’s all Romy knows. It’s best you go into the story without knowing much at all… go on, it’s a long journey! 💫

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Editing Emma: The Secret Blog of a Nearly Proper Person by Chloe Seager

Editing Emma features the word ‘masturbation’ more than any other book I’ve read. It’s crazy, if you think about it, because most of what I read is contemporary YA. The genre is supposed to be realistic. It’s supposed to tell stories of what it’s like to be a teenager: school, friends, heartbreak, family and everything in between, so you think there’d be more talk of sex. Go you, Chloe.

When 16-year-old Emma is ‘ghosted’ by the boy she is ‘dating’ (they were dating, right?! She didn’t just imagine it?!), she creates a private blog to write about the life and thoughts of this new heartbroken-but-refuses-t0-be-defeated Emma. It’s the perfect way to document the positive changes she’s making in her life, from finding a boyfriend who will treat her right to stalking Leo’s social media profiles. Wait, no, she’s definitely meant to be stopping that.

Editing Emma is a super fun and hilarious quick read, perfect for the social media generation. As much as I adore the interwebz – and it’s a huge part of my life – it was also brilliant and refreshing to see Emma rediscover her passion for fashion design after she’s grounded and left with no access to the internet. (Chloe actually wrote an excellent post for me on social media and anxiety). We could all do with taking a break from our screens once in a while, and Emma Nash shows us it can be done.

Editing Emma has been recommended to friends who have been ghosted by complete dicks, friends who have a love/hate relationship with social media, and friends who appreciate such frank discussions of sex. Which is most of us, to be fair. 👩‍💻

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What I’ve Read / The Girl’s Guide to Summer, Sunkissed & Piglettes

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The Girl’s Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

Yesssss. I am loving all the summery travel stories that 2017 has thrown at us. I went from accepting that I’ll never get to go on holiday to constantly thinking about my next trip, even taking my first solo holiday this year. In The Girl’s Guide to Summer (titled I See London, I See France in the US), 19-year-old best friends Sydney and Leela are off on a once-in-a-lifetime European adventure, visiting England, France, Italy, Switzerland, just to name a few.

I live in Europe, but I’ve never been on an interrailing adventure. I’ve never even considered it. In The Girl’s Guide... the two friends have it all planned out… until spontaneity takes hold and the girls jump from train to train, heading to another country when the moment takes them. (Come to think of it, it seems like the perfect road trip for someone who gets car sick…). I particularly loved experiencing London through Sydney and Leela’s eyes (and may have shouted at them a few times when they forgot to get travel money and didn’t check when they could check into a hostel. *headdesk*). I also enjoyed reading about the places I’ve never been to.

With such freedom – and only a few weeks – comes exhaustion and drama. I constantly feared for Leena and Sydney’s friendship! Ex-boyfriends, new boyfriends, tense friendships… The Girl’s Guide to Summer has it all.

The Girl’s Guide to Summer is a super fun contemporary read for travellers and wannabe travellers!

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Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan

In May, I took the plunge and flew off on my first solo trip to Stockholm, Sweden. I adored this beautiful, watery country so much that I couldn’t wait to pick up Jenny McLachlan’s summery read, set on the fictional island of Stråla in Sweden’s archipelago. It is simultaneously Kat’s worst nightmare and my absolute dream. Best. Punishment. Ever. But I admit that no hot showers, no wifi, and no friends would be a shock to the system – and it certainly is for Kat!

And then Kat meets Leo. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “girl meets boy and everything is right in the world” kind of story – Kat’s just happy to meet someone her own age. She’s stranded on the most boring island ever for the entire summer, missing her friends back home and her creature comforts. She’s little superficial, immature and petulant… but I couldn’t help but fall in love with her in Sunkissed. Kat meets a whole host of quirky characters so different to everyone back home, from her carefree aunt Frida to a confident young girl called Nanna. Leo also plays his part in showing Kat that she can do more – and enjoy more – than she thought she could…

Jenny McLachlan’s novels are so breezy and fun – I’ll be picking up Love Bomb and Stargazing for Beginners as soon as I can.

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Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

Aaaand the last of my summer road trip reads is Piglettes. I loved the Sesame Seade series, a hilarious and smart middle grade mystery trilogy from Clémentine Beauvais. Piglettes shows us (as if we didn’t already know) that Clém has a unique voice in fiction. This is her first YA novel, translated into English (by herself, I might add) from her 2015 French novel, Les Petites Reines.

Piglettes takes us on an unlikely adventure with three witty, quirky and smart protagonists, like the ones featured in her younger fiction. But now Clém’s used her writing powers to create a YA read that you won’t feel like you’ve read before.

Mireille, Astrid and Hakima have been voted the three ugliest girls in their school. Awful, right? If it were me, I’d hide under my duvet forever, but these new friends band together and take matters into their own hands. From bullies and bicycles to periods and politicians, you never know what to expect next in Piglettes. The girls set off (slowly) on their bikes to Paris with a plan to crash a garden party at the Elysee Palace on 14th July. This bonkers adventure attracts interest from the French press and a wave of support on social media, leaving you cheering for the Piglettes.

Piglettes is a light-hearted, funny romp through France with a serious edge: girls, you should do what you think is right, even if everyone is telling you that you can’t. I couldn’t get enough of the below line, which I read over and over…

“I don’t understand why you insist on calling yourselves Three Little Piglettes,” Mum groans. “It’s a horrible name.”

“We’ll make it beautiful, you’ll see. Or better, we’ll make it powerful.”

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