Mini Book Reviews / Orphan Monster Spy, The Exact Opposite of Okay & Becoming Betty

Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen

I love the tagline ‘A teenage spy. A Nazi boarding school. The performance of a lifetime.’ and was gripped by Orphan Monster Spy from the start.

Orphan Monster Spy begins with 15-year-old Sarah, on the run from the government following her mother’s death. She meets a mysterious spy and persuades him to let her work alongside him, certain that her mother’s acting tuition will pay off – and he does. Her high-stakes mission is to infiltrate the Rothenstadt Academy as ‘Ursula Haller’, befriend the daughter of a scientist, and steal the blueprints for a bomb that could take out an entire city in one fell swoop. Because Sarah is Jewish – and also blonde and blue-eyed – she experiences terror from both sides, from fascist soldiers to cut-throat students.

Sarah is a brave, intelligent and quick-witted teenager, whose story gave me the same thrill that Wolf by Wolf did. As a reader, it’s exciting to be one of the chosen few to know the protagonist’s real identity. On her journey, she meets the Captain, close friend Mauser, who has more strength than she knows, and popular Elsa, whose life isn’t all that it appears, amongst many terrifying characters. Orphan Monster Spy is one of my favourite books of the year so far – super exciting, dark and intense story. Pick it up even if you’re usually not a fan of historical fiction!

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

18-year-old Izzy parties, drinks, dances and… sleeps with a boy. But that’s her business. Until a slut-shaming website is set up and she becomes the centre of a national scandal because the boy in question is a politician’s son. Thankfully, Izzy doesn’t have to deal with it alone. I adored Izzy’s friendship with her best friend Ajita and her wonderful and close relationship with her grandmother. It was also refreshing to see Izzy build a rapport with her supportive teachers, who encourage her to pursue her dream of being a comic writer. I loved Lauren Steven’s exploration of life as a teenager today – and it’s not always pretty.

Izzy gets up to mischief more than once and that was great to see. She may not make the ‘best’ choices, but this doesn’t mean she deserves to be judged and abused as a result. Izzy could’ve been a stereotypical ‘innocent’ and ‘perfect’ character to make it easier for us to feel sorry for her, but she’s not. No one is.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a feminist, hilarious and topical UKYA novel set in the US, covering everything from online bullying to revenge porn.

Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood

16-year-old Elizabeth aka Lizzie is nervous on her first day of sixth form college, wondering how she’s going to make friends, watching the cooler girls fit in easily like they’ve been there the whole time. But luckily she meets super cool Viv and they become instant best friends – even though she already has two perfectly excellent friends at her old school. Viv decides that Lizzie is to join her band and voilà, Betty is born. But is that who she really is?

Becoming Betty is set against the colourful and quirky backdrop of The Lanes in Brighton. I love reading books set here as I went to the University of Sussex and lived just outside of Brighton for three years. It’s easy to be jealous of Viv – who lives in her own flat with her boyfriend – but being friends with Viv isn’t all that great for Lizzie. I constantly wanted to shake her and shout “stop listening to Viv!”, but Betty has to make that decision on her own.

Becoming Betty is a fun snapshot into the drama-filled lives of two music-loving sixth formers. I need more feel good UKYA in my life!

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.

What I’ve Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom

What I've Read / Beautiful Broken Things, Head Over Heels & The Ballroom
Here are three reviews of books I’ve read recently!

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

If you’re looking for books about female friendship, Beautiful Broken Things is an excellent place to start. It has one of the most honest accounts of friendship I’ve read so far. It tackles that intense feeling experienced when one of your best friends becomes better friends with someone else and what it’s like to see your friendship falling away – and not knowing what to do about it.
Caddy and Rosie are super close until new girl Suzanne comes along. She’s interesting and fun and beautiful. Caddy is suspicious of her until she finds out something from Suzanne’s past that no one else knows. As Suzanne opens up, Caddy finds herself drawn to this fascinating person who’s so different to herself – more daring, more fun, more exciting.

Beautiful Broken Things is difficult to read at times – Suzanne’s mental health and the things she’s experienced are horrendous. And at times it’s tricky to like Caddy as a character, with her comparably easy life of private school and zero Significant Life Events. And yet there are many people out there who haven’t had something traumatic happen to them but struggle through life all the same; feeling the pressure of society, parental expectation and their own self-criticism. Beautiful Broken Things shows what happens when Caddy and Suzanne are convinced they need each other – and who’s to say they don’t?

Head Over Heels & Sunny Side Up by Holly Smale

Oh, what fun it is to see Harriet Manners again! Every time I pick up a new Geek Girl story, I’m transported to a happy place.

Head Over Heels is the fifth book in the series the perfect mix of modelling and the equally as eventful world of Harriet Manners. Team JINTH (Jasper, India, Nat, Toby and Harriet) have it down: they frequently meet at their favourite coffee shop (and have allocated seats) and have pre-planned sleepovers (Harriet has the schedule written up). Harriet’s had a difficult time making close friends up until now and so it was great to see her in this dynamic, even though it’s not as easy as she might think. And it was lovely to greet the supporting characters we know so well and love, from Wilber (even if he isn’t completely himself lately) and Richard (ever the quirky parent) to Rin (still kawaii) and baby sister Tabitha (and potential future model). I had a brilliant time reading Harriet’s fifth adventure – this time set in beautiful, colourful India – and didn’t want it to end.

But Sunny Side Up helped fill the spot nicely, with Harriet on a trip to Paris Fashion Week. I read it after Head Over Heels, but it actually takes place before the fifth book (a little tip!). It’s a short, sweet and fabulous summer novella, with more stunning outfits and hilarious antics. I also enjoyed the extra short: we get to see the first time Lion Boy meets Harriet, from his point of view. I’m ready for you, book six!

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

I’ve always been slightly fascinated by asylums – how easy it is to get committed, how difficult it is to get out, what defines mental illness and the blurry line between “sane” and “insane”. Asylums are a common appearance in horror stories, but they were a genuine horror for the people who had to stay in them.

The Ballroom is set in Sharston, an asylum located on the edge of the Yorkshire moors in the early 1900s. We hear from John Mulligan and Ella Fay – who meet and dance in the asylum’s elegant ballroom, a privilege provided to well-behaved patients – and Charles Fuller, a doctor who writes and researches the eugenics movement. Charles proposes that music therapy can improve the lives of patients, or the “feeble-minded” – until the reader begins to believe that Charles may be the only one who truly belongs at Sharston.

The Ballroom is incredibly compelling and one of the few adult novels I’ve had the chance to read this year. John and Ella’s developing romance is heartbreaking, as is the life of Clem, a bookish friend that Ella in her dorm. Eerie, bleak historical fiction that somehow still manages to leave you hoping.

What I’ve Read / Iron to Iron, Love and Other Alien Experiences & Another Together

Mini Reviews
I have mini reviews of three eBooks for you today!

Iron to Iron by Ryan Graudin

Wolf By Wolf was one of my favourite books of last year so I absolutely had to download Iron to Iron, a novella that takes place before the events of the first book.

Iron to Iron is narrated by Luka Lowe as he tries to figure out newcomer to the world famous Axis Race, Felix Wolfe – Adele Wolfe in disguise. Even though we already know the outcome of the dangerous motorbike race, the relationship between Luka and Adele is still a little bit of a mystery, so it was great to get to know them both better (since Adele is rather… occupied in Wolf By Wolf). It’s still just as tense as ever and I’d really love to re-read Wolf By Wolf, to see whether the novella has affected how I see Luka. It was a great way to whet my appetite before the highly anticipated sequel, Blood For Blood. It’s definitely worth reading if you loved the first book.

Love and Other Alien Experiences by Kerry Winfry

I had wanted to read fellow YA blogger Kerry’s novel for a while and so when I was in a reading slump, whereby I could only read fun contemporary young adult novels, it seemed like a perfect choice.

Mallory Sullivan has suffered from severe anxiety and agoraphobia since her father left without warning. She hasn’t left her house in weeks and is humiliated when her classmates pick her to be on the school prom committee. Because high school is cruel, they start the #stayathome hashtag and she desperately tries not to follow the nasty things they tweet about her. As a lover of all things paranormal, she instead finds solace in talking to her friend (or is he more than that?) BeamMeUp on the We Are Not Alone online community.

Even though Mallory feels alone, her brother Lincoln, best friend Jenni, and the neighbourly Kirkpatrick boys are also there to help. Even with their support, it’s tough to see how judgemental people, especially your own family, can be. Mallory feels like she’s the town “freak”, but she’s a fantastic, intelligent character with a lot of wit and sarcasm (a Sullivan family trait) and a surprising talent for flirting. It’s the characters that bring this story to life (but the puppies help, too). Even though it may seem serious, the characters’ conversations and relationships are light and fun – something which helps Mallory more than she thought. Love and Other Alien Experiences will be available in print next spring and you’ll definitely want to pick it up!

Another Together by Lauren James

If wonderfully written historical romance and time-travelling sound like your cup of tea, then The Next Together should be on your wishlist. Another Together is a standalone short story set in the same world. It’s 1940 and war is upon us. Kitty and Matthew, codebreakers at the famous Bletchley Park, are determined to solve a different kind of puzzle – a murder has taken place and the investigation isn’t all as it seems.

Another Together is a sweet story that provides a more insight into the relationship of one of 2015’s favourite literary couples, set during a time that’s always fascinated me. It’s over super quick, but it’s a little bit of fun to get you ready for the companion novel, The Last Beginning. Let the reincarnation romance continue!

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

Book Review: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit


Shelved: Young adult fiction (historical)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Anna and the Swallow Man is stunning. It’s the first thing you’ll notice about the book – the captivating cover accompanied by instantly beautiful writing. It is among the few literary young adult novels I’ve read and it won’t be the last.

Anna and the Swallow Man retells a story we’ve heard a million times; one that needs to continue to be told, and it makes you feel like you’re hearing it for the first time. You feel the sadness and anger and confusion that our young protagonist feels, seeing the world change through her own eyes.

7-year-old Anna is incredibly close to her father – master of languages and lover of people – until, on the brink of World War II, he leaves her with a friend and never returns. As Anna worryingly waits for her father, she stumbles upon the Swallow Man – or you could say that he stumbles upon her. He’s a mysterious fellow who’s just as talented in linguistics as her father. She trusts him, because there is no one else left to trust, and they set off on what will be a never-ending journey for the pair.

As it’s a huge part of the story, the importance and significance of language constantly came through. Anna and her new friend are fluent in many languages: Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish, French – and even Bird. It is entwined with their identities. And Gavriel Savit shows how their identities can – and need – to change in these troubled times. Along their journey, they make a friend, dodge terrifying soldiers, and always manage to keep on walking. They never stop teaching each other about the world, using colourful imagery to describe why Germans, Polish, and Russians struggle to coexist.

Anna and the Swallow Man is a poignant story, but also at times hopeful and optimistic. If you love young adult or adult historical fiction and want to pick up something a little bit different, Anna and the Swalllow Man is for you.

“A friend is not someone to whom you give the things you need when the world is at war. A friend is someone to whom you give the things that you need when the world is at peace.”

Published: January 2016
Publisher:  Bodley Head (UK) Knopf Books for Young Readers (US)
Pages: 240
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!