Mini Book Reviews / Skylarks, The Astonishing Colour of After & From Twinkle, With Love

Skylarks by Karen Gregory

Joni is constantly worried about money. Her dad is unable to work due to disability, her family’s about to be evicted, and she might have to give up her job volunteering at the school library. Joni’s life goes in an unexpected direction when she meets Annabel, a fellow volunteer. Skylarks is about these two girls – one working class and poor, and one posh and rich – and their new relationship.

Skylarks sees Joni battling between doing what she feels right and what her family think she should do. Her entire family are hugely present throughout the story and in Joni’s life (much to her distress!), which I love because it’s not something we often see in YA, which is often full of deceased and absent parents.

Annabel and Joni are both adorable, and the relationship storyline also doesn’t go in the direction you might expect. I never felt like I was reading about characters, but real people. There was a lot of push and pull between the characters. Both girls have their faults, and it was lovely watching them work each other out as well as simply get to know each other. Skylarks also shouts about all the great things that teenagers experience and fight for: same-sex relationships, tolerance and open-mindedness, volunteering and political activism.

Skylarks isn’t a coming out story, but a beautiful tale of coming together.

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The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

After her mother commits suicide, Leigh travels to Taiwan with her father. Before they leave, she meets a curious bird – and is convinced it is her mother.

Leigh is such a fantastic character. She’s passionate about art and although she draws in black and white, colour is hugely important to her. Like a non-medical synesthesia, Leigh thinks and feels in colour. Leigh’s passion for art is tied to her friendship/romance with Axel. They kissed before Leigh left and now she can’t face talking to or seeing him again. I loved discovering more about their relationship.

The Astonishing Colour of After is mostly set in Taiwan. Leigh discovers more about her family, their culture, and learns Taiwanese. This is a story where magical realism is key. The flashbacks were fascinating and beautiful, and it’s as much the story of Leigh’s grandmother and parents as it is of Leigh. There’s also an exploration of mental illness that I haven’t yet seen in YA. Leigh’s mother has depression, and it just is. That can be the hardest thing of all for people to understand – Leigh’s mother couldn’t see a way out.

I discovered a lot to love about The Astonishing Colour of After. It’s a novel that I’ve been telling everyone to pick up, including people who don’t usually read YA!

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From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon

I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, so I couldn’t wait to read From Twinkle, With Love.

Like one of my favourite YA novels, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Twinkle starts chatting with a boy via email who says he’s in love with her, and she cannot help but try to figure out who it is. And then there’s the romance between Twinkle and Sahil, the nerdy twin brother of her current crush. Will she pick Sahil, his brother, or the mystery boy?!

I enjoyed Twinkle’s passion for film, especially for her favourite female film-makers, and the story is told through letters that she writes to them. I would’ve preferred a narration like Dimple, but I did enjoy that this was a huge part of the story, and would’ve loved to see even more film fangirling – I loved seeing Sahil and Twinkle shop for film costumes!

In From Twinkle, With Love, we meet a lot of teenagers from Twinkle’s school. Maddie’s a half awesome best friend, half Mean Girl. As for Sahil, on one hand he’s delightful and the best boyfriend and on the other, he’s in love with the idea of Twinkle – the girl he’s made up in his head – more than Twinkle herself. There’s a lot of drama in Twinkle’s world!

I devoured From Twinkle, With Love in two sittings and I may have shed a tear at the end… !

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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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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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