Mini Book Reviews: What If It’s Us, Wundersmith & Only Love Can Break Your Heart

What If It’s Us by Adam Silvera & Becky Albertalli

What If It’s Us is co-authored by two of YA contemporary’s favourite authors, Adam Silvera (History is All You Left Me & They Both Die at the End) and Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda), about two boys and their charming love story. Arthur and Ben first meet in a New York City post office. They’re both attracted to each other, but being rather awkward boys, they don’t swap numbers. And so the hunt is on to track each other down! 

I was lucky enough to attend Becky and Adam’s event in London for What If It’s Us and hear them talk about how much they loved working together, how the story came about, and why it was important for them to tell it. It was a really good event – plus it was filled with teenagers, which was lovely to see, as book events are often full of people from the publishing industry!

Arthur and Ben are completely adorable… as is their story. I enjoyed their dates (and do-over dates). What If It’s Us is not a plot-heavy book, but sometimes it’s just lovely to forget about the world and read about a cute relationship.

“I barely know him. I guess that is every relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.”

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I read Nevermoor earlier in the year and it became one of my all-time favourite books. I wanted to re-read Nevermoor before the sequel, and I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much (which happens sometimes) but it was just as fantastic and made me feel right at home. Morrigan Crow is a brilliantly lovable character and during my re-read, I related to her a lot. She frequently worries that she’s to blame, that she’s not good enough, and that people dislike her. I love that she’s a heroine with doubts and anxious thoughts, but she still does the thing anyway. Morrigan very much feels like a character who’s been shaped by their past. 

“Where is he? she muttered.”
“He’ll be here.”
“What if he doesn’t make it?”
“He’ll make it.”
“What if he doesn’t?”

In Wundersmith, Morrigan and her best friend Hawthorne are now proud scholars in the elite Wundrous Society, but the anxiety hasn’t left. Morrigan’s still coming to terms with being a Wundersmith, her ‘knack’ is classified, and not everyone’s supportive – even though she’s left the Republic, people are still scared of her. But Hawthorne and Jupiter will see to that! 

Wundersmith is full of magic, adventure and new faces, and I enjoyed it just as much as Nevermoor. It was sold as a planned trilogy, but I really hope there are many more books to come because it’s just getting started! 

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is the second novel by my friend and UKYA-er Katie Webber, who also wrote Wing Jones. Reiko’s older sister died a few years ago and she’s still struggling to come to terms with it – especially as she rarely talks about her sister, and certainly doesn’t tell people that she can still see and speak to her. When she becomes unlikely friends with Seth, she learns that there’s more than one way to break a heart.

Seth shares Reiko’s love for the desert – specifically in Palm Springs, Calinfornia – which is her favourite place to be; where she can be herself, and where she feels at home. Over the summer, Reiko and Seth enjoy many sunset-filled nights together amongst the sand and rocks, and they fall in love. I’ve never been to Palm Springs, but Katherine Webber describes it so vividly and beautifully.

I had assumed that Only Love Can Break Your Heart would be a cute and simple love story, but it’s much more complex. Should Reiko and Seth really be together, or do they just like the idea of each other? Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a colourful yet heart-breaking YA contemporary novel, and Reiko’s a great main character who’ll you find yourself rooting for.

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Mini Book Reviews / Nevermoor, Out of the Blue & I Was Born for This

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

I love, love, loved Nevermoor. I know every children’s book under the sun has been compared to Harry Potter, but in this case it’s accurate and very well-deserved.

Morrigan Crow has the unluckiest birthday of all – Eventide. She’s cursed and therefore blamed for everything, from hailstorms to heart attacks – and it means that on the next Eventide, her 11th birthday, she’ll die. But just before, a mysterious man called Jupiter North appears and whisks her away to the Deucalion Hotel in a magical city called Nevermoor, and it’s there that Morrigan learns all about the famous Wundrous Society (I so desperately want to be member, please).

I couldn’t stop thinking about Nevermoor. I’d go off to bed, wondering what thrilling twists awaited my return, falling asleep dreaming of the dangerous trials, and desperately rooting for Morrigan to earn her place in the society. Nevermoor is fantastically crafted. It captures your imagination and doesn’t let go until you’ve reached the last page. And accompanying the magical story is a sensational cast of characters, from Jupiter and his colleague Fen (a giant sarcastic cat, if you must know) to fellow children Hawthorne and Jack.

Nevermoor is one of the most fun, inventive and brilliantly written children’s books I’ve read, and I cannot wait to go on another adventure with our heroine in Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow. 

Out of the Blue by Sophie Cameron

A YA novel set in Edinburgh? Yes please! Edinburgh is one of my absolute favourite places. I’ve visited a few of times and recently took myself there on a solo holiday. I was grateful to Out of the Blue for taking me back.

Jaya and Rani set off to the city because their father’s chasing angels. 10 days after their mum died, angels fell from the sky, smashing down to Earth so fast that not one has survived. Until now. Jaya discovers one on Arthur’s Seat and brings her back to their rented flat, where she’s named Teacake. As someone who’s very particular about paranormal, I was wary! And yet the fallen angels plot line felt comfortable within the contemporary setting and storyline. Through Teacake, Jaya begins to explore her grief and make new connections, particularly with siblings Allie and Callum.

I adored the trio’s antics across the city as they learned more about each other – Allie is disabled and bisexual – and enjoyed seeing the relationship between Allie and Jaya become something more. Out of the Blue has a lot happening in such a short book, but at its core, it’s all about finding your place in this world.

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman

Alice Oseman’s I Was Born for This was one of my most anticipated books of the year – I adored Radio Silence and couldn’t wait to see what Alice came up with next.

Angel Rahimi is off to London (and a fancy part at that) to stay with her best friend Juliet from the interwebz. They have tickets to a meet and greet/gig for their favourite boy band of all time, The Ark aka Lister, Jimmy and Rowan. For Angel, there’s nothing more to life than The Ark. And her encyclopaedic knowledge of them rivals any fan’s. The book’s second point of view is from Jimmy. He’s constantly in the spotlight due to being a member of one of the world’s most famous bands, previously outed as being trans to the incredible support of his fans, and secretly suffers from severe anxiety. Both characters think they know what the other is like, until their lives unexpectedly collide…

I Was Born for This brilliantly weaves in someone vs. the idea of someone. Angel thinks she knows everything about the boys, but she can only know how they’re portrayed. And, as soon as she meets her bestie Juliet, their friendship dynamic isn’t quite how Angel imagined. As a huge music fan as a teenager – I blogged about music, went to monthly gigs, listened to music all morning/afternoon/evening, and even did my university dissertation on music and fandom – I resonated with I Was Born for This. I remember reading that blogpost by Josh from Paramore and questioning everything I thought about the band – it made me feel funny inside, and affected how I interpreted their album Brand New Eyes.

I probably don’t even need to tell you that the characters that Alice creates are honest, accurate and realistic. Alice does an absolutely brilliant job of writing about the teenage experience and making it read from someone who actually gets it because they’ve gone through it – from fandom to mental health. I Was Born for This is for anyone who’s ever been a fan.

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.”

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…

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.”

What I’ve Read: Life As We Knew It, Songs About a Girl & Roller Girl

What I've Read: Life As We Knew It, Songs About a Girl & Roller Girl
Here are three reviews of books I’ve read recently to get me get out of my reading slump – everything from survival stories to boyband lit and awesome girls doing sports!

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, narrated by Emily Bauer (Audiobook)

I first read Life As We Knew It five years ago when I couldn’t get enough of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. This time, I was looking for an audiobook to listen to on my commute and after a few failed attempts at reading paperbacks while squished on the train, a re-read seemed like the perfect choice!

I loved Life As We Knew It originally because it made me feel like I was surviving alongside Miranda after a meteor collides with the moon, altering the Earth’s climate, making it almost impossible to continue with life as it was. If anything, the audiobook was even more atmospheric. Miranda reading her diary aloud meant that I caught little bits of the story that I think I missed the first time – Emily Bauer has done a fantastic job at narrating the audiobook. It’s been 10 years since it was first published, but Life As We Knew It is still one of the few YA post-apocalyptic novels that had me thinking about it after I put it down.

Songs About a Girl by Chris Russell

I was introduced to Songs About a Girl at a blogger event at Hachette Towers, and this is where we also got to meet the fabulous author, Chris Russell, who’s an utter delight and self-confessed fanboy. He’s in a band himself – The Lightyears – and has previously written for a One Direction fansite, so is in a perfect position to write about the world of music.

I assumed Songs About a Girl would be told from the point of view of Fire&Lights – a hot new boyband – but it’s actually the incredible Charlie Bloom we get to hear from. 15-year-old Charlie is invited to be the band’s photographer after Olly, one of the band members, comes across her photos. Charlie’s a refreshing protagonist who’s simultaneously unaffected by the boy’s popularity and intrigued by their music and complicated friendship. Plus she’s being targeted on social media by jealous Fire&Lights fans; has discovered a baffling secret about her mother, who passed away; and is stuck between frontman Gabe and bandmate Olly and their curious conflict. (I prefer Yuki myself!).

Songs About a Girl was a fun story to read over the summer and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my new friend Charlie in the sequel next year.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Oh, I loved Roller Girl. I came across it during a shopping trip at Gosh! Comics with my friend Daphne and one glance at the cover me it was the graphic novel for me! Roller Girl is the heartwarming tale of friendship and roller derby over one summer, beautifully written and illustrated by Victoria Jamieson. It perfectly captures what it’s like to be growing up when you’re not a child, but not quite a teenager.

Astrid is 12-years-old and does everything with her best friend Nicole – until Astrid signs up for roller derby and Nicole starts making new friends at ballet. I wish there were more contemporary graphic novels because it’s a wonderful, underrated format for them. Not only do we get a fantastic story, but are able to experience visually the pain, frustration and heartbreak of real life.

I love coming-of-age stories and in Roller Girl, we get everything from realistic confrontations with parents to what it feels like to be the worst at something you so desperately want to conquer. I also learned a lot about roller derby and feel like I got bruises from just reading about it – ouch!

George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #5)

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Classic #5)

Shelved: Classic (children’s, humour)
Published: 1981
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics – #5
Buy: Foyles
More: Goodreads

This is my fifth post for the 2016 Classics Challenge – sign up and join 450+ other people in reading one classic each month.

George is alone in the house with Grandma. The most horrid, grizzly old grunion of a grandma ever. She needs something stronger than her usual medicine to cure her grouchiness. A special grandma medicine, a remedy for everything. And George knows just what to put into it. Grandma’s in for the surprise of her life—and so is George, when he sees the results of his mixture!

WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I wasn’t aware of George’s Marvellous Medicine until I bought my beautiful Roald Dahl box set three years ago. I’ve been slowly (obviously!) making my way through it and it was George’s time.

George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake (Classic #5)WHY I Chose to Read It
Much like with Agatha Christie, it was time for my annual dose of Dahl.

WHAT Makes It A Classic
It’s one of Roald Dahl’s lesser-known novels – a short and eccentric story about what happens when you get a taste of your own medicine.

WHAT I Thought of This Classic
George’s Marvellous Medicine was super fun! What happens when an 8-year-old boy tries to kill his horrible old grandma (who he believes is a witch) with a home-made concoction? Chaos!

Most of the story is made up of George brewing his inventive medicine, throwing in anti-freeze, horse tranquillizers, engine oil and much more. I enjoyed seeing what George was going to add next – and I couldn’t help feeling a little terrified! If you did drink his medicine, it would almost certainly kill you. But it was fun seeing what happened when George tried to replicate his potion… including his grandma turning into a really tall chicken. It’s not my favourite Roald Dahl so far, but it was short and sweet.

“Never grow up…always down.”

WILL It Stay A Classic
I’m sure Roald Dahl’s stories will be read for many years to come!

WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who have only read Roald Dahl’s most popular books. People who love short, quirky stories.