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 Diviners by Libba Bray

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray


Series:
The Diviners (#1)
Shelved:
Young adult fiction (fantasy, historical, mystery, horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Challenge: Halloween TBR – #3

I’ve owned The Diviners for over 3 years and I finally picked it up as part of this year’s Halloween reads. Hurrah! I couldn’t wait to get stuck into this 1920s murder mystery. Evie O’Neill’s secret ability has led her from small-town Ohio to sparkling New York City, full of speakeasies and Ziegfield girls. She’s living with Uncle ‘Unc’ Will at the Museum of Creepy Crawlies when she befriends a whole host of alluring characters: Sam, Jericho, Mabel and Theta, all with their own credible histories and drawn by beautiful writing. Together they attempt to solve the murders before it’s too late.

The mystery of creepy Naughty John was certainly an experience. Libba Bray has an impressive ability to make it as eerie as possible – from our opening chapter, where we’re introduced to something terrible being unleashed, to the chilling points of view of the victims before they’re murdered. She presents New York as somewhere dark and dangerous, but also intriguing.  Although I’ve never been a superfan of 1920s America, it was difficult to resist. It was compelling and magical and sinister, with scary things lurking in the shadows. I couldn’t help but be drawn to it – by both the glamour and the grittiness.

The Diviners is wonderfully crafted, with incredible detail. We’re told so much about the time, the characters, and the mystery. The reader accompanies Evie and friends on their investigation into the gruesome, brutal murders occurring across the city, with links to religion and the occult. If I had any reservations at all, it would be that I’d have preferred the story to be ~200 pages shorter to tighten it up and make it a little more fast-paced, which appeals to me as a slow reader. But this extra time did mean that we got to delve into the characters’ complicated pasts. It enabled Libba Bray to bring 1920s New York City to life.

The Diviners is a stunning mystery that takes us back to the Roaring Twenties and the supernatural horrors found there. I’m looking forward to meeting new Diviners and a new mystery in Lair of Dreams.

Published: September 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) Atom (UK)
Pages: 592

Books On My TBR / HalloweenBooks On My TBR / Halloween

Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Book Review: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Series: Lockwood & Co. (#2)
Shelved: Children’s fiction (fantasy, paranormal – ghosts, mystery, horror)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Challenge: Halloween TBR – #2

I forgot how much I love Lockwood, George and Lucy. They’re one of my favourite trios in children’s fiction at the moment, rivalling the most famous of them all. Each character shines, from Lockwood’s inexplicable ability to act and think both like a teenage boy and an old man, George’s chaotic dedication to researching archives and consuming biscuits, and Lucy’s impressive intelligence and determination to solve even the most dangerous of cases and support her argumentative friends. She’s been working at Lockwood & Co. for a year now – and they’d be lost without her.

The Whispering Skull shares a lot less backstory than The Screaming Staircase because the reader is already familiar with the Problem and different types of ghosts, meaning we’re thrown straight into the mystery. This time, powerful supernatural artefacts across London have been stolen, and their warders brutally murdered. Lockwood & Co. have messed up yet another case and are feeling dejected after their triumph solving the mystery of the screaming staircase. That is, until they are called to investigate serious paranormal activity at Kensal Green Cemetery. A suspicious grave of a Victorian doctor has been discovered and inside it, a mirror made of bones with mysterious powers. It has been stolen in the night and it’s up to Lockwood & Co. to solve the case. They must reluctantly work alongside fellow detectives – the Fittes Agency – with a little healthy (and humiliating) competition. And with help from the mysterious whispering skull, housed in a jar in the Lockwood & Co. residence – one of the strongest characters in the book!

The Whispering Skull is a worthy sequel to The Screaming Staircase. It’s full of mystery, adventure, humour – and lots of ghosts! I loved getting to know the trio even more, especially the reserved Anthony Lockwood. I enjoyed watching Lucy’s crush on Lockwood develop, with tension that rivals young adult contemporary romance! It is such a fun series – with the character interactions being a memorable highlight – and I have heard that the third book, The Hollow Boy, is the best so far. I should probably pick it up soon, yes?

“Well, I make that one murder victim, one police interrogation and one conversation with a ghost,” George said. “Now that’s what I call a busy evening.” Lockwood nodded. “To think some people just watch television.”


Published: September 2014
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers (UK) Disney Hyperion (US)
Pages: 496
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

Books On My TBR / Halloween

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Book Review: Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Shelved: Young adult fiction (graphic novel, fantasy, horror, short stories)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’

I was in a bit of a reading slump (it happens to all of us!) and wanted super quick read to get me back into the reading spirit. I picked up one of the graphic novels I bought recently, Through the Woods, and read it in my garden in one sitting, lazing about in the sunshine. As it happens, it was the perfect juxtaposition. I couldn’t have handled reading Through the Woods in the winter – it’s chilling!

Through the Woods delivers five beautifully dark stories written and illustrated by the very talented Emily Carroll. It is gloriously enchanting from the very beginning. As I’m writing this, I cannot stop peeking at the front cover every so often – the typography, the vivid colours, and the little blue figure walking into the woods. It captures your imagination before you’ve even begun.

I delved into Through the Woods not quite knowing what to expect and was greeted with five stories quite unlike each other. Some evoke memories of Grimm’s fairy tales and some feel more contemporary, more Gaiman-esque, but each is elevated by the haunting illustrations. In the (very few) graphic novels I’ve read, the illustrations are consisted throughout, but Emily Carroll adapts her style to fit the tone of each story. A favourite of mine is Our Neighbor’s House – a creepy yet gorgeous story that feels classic – and the eerie A Lady’s Hands Are Cold. As the stories are left open-ended, the reading experience very much depends on how the reader interprets the tales.

Through the Woods is a wonderful graphic novel – and one where the story telling easily matches the illustrations in quality. I haven’t decided whether I’m brave enough to lend it out…

Published: 15th July 2015 (US) 7th May 2015 (UK)
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (US) Faber & Faber (UK)
Pages: 128

Behold the Pretty Books! / May Book HaulBehold the Pretty Books! / May Book Haul

 

Book Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Book Review: The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Shelved: Adult fiction (horror, science fiction)
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

The Girl with All the Gifts was another book I bought because everyone was raving about it. (I promise I don’t just read books everyone else loves, but I do hate missing out!). It’s a positive sign that I read it shortly after buying because it usually takes months to years before I finally get around to reading a particular book from my teetering bookshelves. I purposely avoided knowing too much about The Girl with All the Gifts before starting, although I don’t think this is necessary to enjoy the story because you find out all you need to know pretty quickly. It’s littered with bold statements all over the cover, including ‘the most original thriller you will read this year’. I think this rests one particular aspect of the story: Melanie.

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Before you begin the book, this is all we know about Melanie. We know she’ll be the main focus of the story, but I didn’t quite understand how invested I’d become in her character. To put it simply, she’s a curious, intelligent 10-year-old girl who love stories and learning, especially Greek Mythology, particularly when accompanied by her favourite teacher, Miss Justineau. But Melanie doesn’t live in a normal world where young girls can enjoy going to school and reading books. It’s a future, alternate United Kingdom where most of the population has been destroyed and the rest are hidden away, attempting to protect themselves.

Yet, although I have not read many horror novels, The Girl with All the Gifts feels different. Our five characters – Melaine, Miss Helen Justineau, Sergeant Eddie Parks, Dr. Caroline Caldwell and Private Kieran Gallagher – are all trying to survive, but have very different views on the best ways of survival. It’s now a world where ethics are the least of everyone’s worries, which is why it’s a common theme throughout the novel. And that throws up all sorts of problems for our five survivors.

The Girl With all the Gifts is wonderfully thrilling and cinematic – full of believable science, emotion and fear. I was particularly taken by a scene where the team come across a car full of thousands of pounds rolled up. They comment on the ridiculousness of it – at the thought of someone treasuring these pieces of paper that no longer matter – and throw all the money like confetti all around them. Can you imagine living in this world? It’s easy to imagine the apocalypse as either gruesome or comical, but what about the in-between? The Girl With all the Gifts provides us with a horror story that isn’t black and white. Read it. See if you feel the same.

Published: 14th January 2014 (UK) 10th June 2014 (US)
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 512