Mini Book Reviews / Eliza and Her Monsters, Moxie & Stargazing for Beginners

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters isn’t published over here and yet I’ve seen so many of my bookish friends rave about it on Twitter. I loved so many things: the slow romance (in a this-is-basically-a-friendship kind of way), the fandom chat, the discussion of online friendships vs. making new “real life” friends, the excellent family dynamic (Eliza’s parents actually play a huge role!), and the realistic portrayal of anxiety and depression, to name a few. I mean, Eliza attends a party in a bookshop for goodness sake. What’s not to like?

Eliza Mirk is shy in real life, but online she’s the super famous webcomic artist, LadyConstellation. And no one knows. But when Wallace joins her school and Eliza discovers he’s a huge fan, there’s a risk that her identity might be revealed… I finished Eliza and Her Monsters in two days (quick for me!). I hated having to put it down. Like all wonderful books, I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. I’m a child of the Internet and it will always mean something much deeper to me than to my parents and grandparents – and in that sense I related to Eliza, who is quite similar to teenage me.

Eliza and Her Monsters is Fangirl meets Radio Silence. I genuinely think if you loved them (as I did), you’ll love Eliza – I want more books like this! Francesca, please may we have a sequel with Eliza at college?

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Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie was one of last year’s most popular feminist YA novels. Viv Carter has had enough of how girls are treated at her school: the sexist dress codes, the harassment, the disgusting comments. Viv has always kept to herself, but now it’s time to recreate her mum’s Riot Grrl past – she designs a feminist zine and slowly begins to start a girl revolution.

At first, I couldn’t understand why Viv was so anxious about getting into trouble, but it’s easy to say that as an adult who knows that it isn’t the end of the world. And then I found myself getting angrier and angrier. At the boys, at the school, at the parents. Maybe I’m fortunate because I don’t think my school would’ve reacted the same way; I don’t think girls were targeted when it came to the dress code, and I like to think that they’d have dealt with sexual assault severely. But maybe I was oblivious. Maybe I didn’t see it because it didn’t happen to me.

Viv’s character development was fantastic. She never did anything out of character but was a different person by the end of the book. Moxie shows healthy, strong female friendships. It’s a brilliant book for teenagers, especially those who shy away from the word “feminist”. I want so many people to borrow Moxie off me!

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Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

Jenny McLachlan’s stories make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and Stargazing for Beginners was no different. From the lovely opening scene describing a young Meg sitting in a cardboard spaceship that her grandfather made her, I knew it was going to be a powerful story – I love YA novels featuring female characters with a passion for science.

15-year-old Meg is forced to grow up fast when her mother takes off on a somewhat charitable trip for ten days, leaving Meg to take care of her baby sister Elsa alone. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, she needs to work on her competition entry – the prize is a visit to the NASA headquarters. Meg. Must. Go.

Stargazing for Beginners is a stunning story. It’s exciting to see a teenage girl so determined to become an astronaut, fighting everyone who laughs at her ambition. I couldn’t help but feel angry at Meg’s mother. She’s selfish! And irresponsible, under the guise of being helpful. As for Meg’s grandfather, you can’t help but love him, even if he’s a little reckless. He encourages Meg to be a better version of herself, one who cares less about what people think and allows herself to shine.

Stargazing for Beginners even encouraged me to vote for Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman in space – in this poll of fantastically great women who made history.

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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


Moonrise
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.”

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

“I don’t think you can claim your entire face is your best feature. You’re meant to be a bit more discerning”.

I loved The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

LOVED IT.

Loved. It.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue wasn’t recommended to me per se. I had seen people raving about it on the interwebz. Last year, I really got into audiobooks. I enjoyed nothing more than closing my eyes every night and being read to. I had been borrowing audiobooks from my library for a few months and it is there that I discovered The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, narrated by Christian Coulson (who played 16-year-old Tom Riddle in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). I knew that many people loved it but I, a contemporary reader, was a little apprehensive… historical romance with pirates?! And yet, I’m so, so happy I gave it a chance.

Henry (aka Monty) and Percy – our two boys, the absolute heart and soul of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – are among my favourite characters of 2017, if not ever. Monty is being punished by his strict, disapproving father. Despite attending posh English boarding schools, he’s enjoyed himself rather too much lately and so is being sent on a Grand Tour of Europe – alongside his best friend Percy and younger sister Felicity – to learn how to be a proper gentleman. Monty has been absolutely forbidden to drink, gamble, party and engage with boys, but he makes no (honest) promises. He has an odd talent for getting into trouble, only Monty, Percy and Felicity get into more than they bargained for – and become embroiled in a manhunt across Europe, from Paris to Rome.

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“We’re not courting trouble,” I say. “Flirting with it, at most.” 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue has one of the most realistic, heartbreaking and lovely instances of unrequited love that I’ve come across in YA. Monty has been in love with Percy forever – how could he not be? – but he doesn’t like to admit it. And besides, Percy isn’t even interested in boys, so it would ruin their friendship. It’s best kept to himself, and it’s not like there aren’t many other beautiful people around. As the story goes on and we discover more about Monty’s past and family, we begin to understand who he is, why he’s so reckless, and why he uses humour as a defence mechanism – and whether he really does have it in him to become more gentlemanly.

I don’t often giggle whilst reading books but The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is genuinely hilarious. It’s so, so fun. Monty is absolutely brilliant – Christian’s narration was spot on – and Percy is lovely and Felicity is awesome. And put them together? They’re a fantastic pirate-fighting trio. I know a lot of books are said to be funny, but I laughed out loud so many times whilst listening to Monty – and not even just because of all the sex and swearing.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a much-needed read for so many reasons: LGBT romance, interracial relationships, challenging racism, politically active women in a period of history that ignored them, plus the wonderful characters, exciting shenanigans and humorous repartee. I’m going to buy myself a copy when the companion novel, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – narrated by Felicity, featuring travel, (more) pirates and a science girl gang – is out.

Read it! Listen to it!

“Just thinking about all that blood.” I nearly shudder. “Doesn’t it make you a bit squeamish?”
“Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood,” she replies.

Mini Book Reviews / They Both Die at the End, Secrets of a Teenage Heiress & The Fallen Children

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

History is All You Left Me was one of my favourite books of 2017, so I eagerly put They Both Die at the End on my January TBR. And I completely adored it. I have become a huge fan of Adam Silvera’s writing.

As with History is All You Left Me, I loved the two protagonists – Mateo and Rufus – as well as the incredibly inventive story. The teenagers arrange to meet after receiving a call from Death Cast informing them that today’s the day they will die. They’re not told how they’ll die, or when, but it’ll definitely be today. Mateo struggles to deal with this announcement. His father’s in a coma and Mateo doesn’t want to cause pain to his best friend, while Rufus is busy punching his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. Not wanting to be alone on their final day, they reach out via an app called Last Friend, and thus begins the last opportunity to live their life to the full.

They Both Die at the End takes place over an emotional 24 hours. Although it’s set over such a short time, the pacing is perfect. It moves swiftly – you’re constantly aware that time is running out for our two boys – and yet it never, ever feels hurried or rushed. Over the day, we get to know Mateo and Rufus and I was constantly on edge, wondering what would really happen at the end. They Both Die at the End has such a fascinating concept: What would you do if you got a phone call saying you would die within the next 24 hours? It’s paralysing even to think about, and yet I couldn’t stop. I thoroughly enjoyed going on a journey with this unlikely pair and discovering more about this alternate universe.

Adam Silvera has definitely made it onto my auto-buy list! They Both Die at the End might end up being one of my favourite books of the year, too.

“I truly believe we should live our lives as soon as possible and to the best of our abilities, because unlike the characters in this book, I don’t know how much time I have left in this universe. And neither do you. So don’t wait too long to become who you want to be – the clock is ticking.”

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