What I’ve Read / The Girl’s Guide to Summer, Sunkissed & Piglettes

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The Girl’s Guide to Summer by Sarah Mlynowski

Yesssss. I am loving all the summery travel stories that 2017 has thrown at us. I went from accepting that I’ll never get to go on holiday to constantly thinking about my next trip, even taking my first solo holiday this year. In The Girl’s Guide to Summer (titled I See London, I See France in the US), 19-year-old best friends Sydney and Leela are off on a once-in-a-lifetime European adventure, visiting England, France, Italy, Switzerland, just to name a few.

I live in Europe, but I’ve never been on an interrailing adventure. I’ve never even considered it. In The Girl’s Guide... the two friends have it all planned out… until spontaneity takes hold and the girls jump from train to train, heading to another country when the moment takes them. (Come to think of it, it seems like the perfect road trip for someone who gets car sick…). I particularly loved experiencing London through Sydney and Leela’s eyes (and may have shouted at them a few times when they forgot to get travel money and didn’t check when they could check into a hostel. *headdesk*). I also enjoyed reading about the places I’ve never been to.

With such freedom – and only a few weeks – comes exhaustion and drama. I constantly feared for Leena and Sydney’s friendship! Ex-boyfriends, new boyfriends, tense friendships… The Girl’s Guide to Summer has it all.

The Girl’s Guide to Summer is a super fun contemporary read for travellers and wannabe travellers!

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Sunkissed by Jenny McLachlan

In May, I took the plunge and flew off on my first solo trip to Stockholm, Sweden. I adored this beautiful, watery country so much that I couldn’t wait to pick up Jenny McLachlan’s summery read, set on the fictional island of Stråla in Sweden’s archipelago. It is simultaneously Kat’s worst nightmare and my absolute dream. Best. Punishment. Ever. But I admit that no hot showers, no wifi, and no friends would be a shock to the system – and it certainly is for Kat!

And then Kat meets Leo. Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “girl meets boy and everything is right in the world” kind of story – Kat’s just happy to meet someone her own age. She’s stranded on the most boring island ever for the entire summer, missing her friends back home and her creature comforts. She’s little superficial, immature and petulant… but I couldn’t help but fall in love with her in Sunkissed. Kat meets a whole host of quirky characters so different to everyone back home, from her carefree aunt Frida to a confident young girl called Nanna. Leo also plays his part in showing Kat that she can do more – and enjoy more – than she thought she could…

Jenny McLachlan’s novels are so breezy and fun – I’ll be picking up Love Bomb and Stargazing for Beginners as soon as I can.

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Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais

Aaaand the last of my summer road trip reads is Piglettes. I loved the Sesame Seade series, a hilarious and smart middle grade mystery trilogy from Clémentine Beauvais. Piglettes shows us (as if we didn’t already know) that Clém has a unique voice in fiction. This is her first YA novel, translated into English (by herself, I might add) from her 2015 French novel, Les Petites Reines.

Piglettes takes us on an unlikely adventure with three witty, quirky and smart protagonists, like the ones featured in her younger fiction. But now Clém’s used her writing powers to create a YA read that you won’t feel like you’ve read before.

Mireille, Astrid and Hakima have been voted the three ugliest girls in their school. Awful, right? If it were me, I’d hide under my duvet forever, but these new friends band together and take matters into their own hands. From bullies and bicycles to periods and politicians, you never know what to expect next in Piglettes. The girls set off (slowly) on their bikes to Paris with a plan to crash a garden party at the Elysee Palace on 14th July. This bonkers adventure attracts interest from the French press and a wave of support on social media, leaving you cheering for the Piglettes.

Piglettes is a light-hearted, funny romp through France with a serious edge: girls, you should do what you think is right, even if everyone is telling you that you can’t. I couldn’t get enough of the below line, which I read over and over…

“I don’t understand why you insist on calling yourselves Three Little Piglettes,” Mum groans. “It’s a horrible name.”

“We’ll make it beautiful, you’ll see. Or better, we’ll make it powerful.”

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What I’ve Read / Freshers, Love & Gelato, & And Then We Ran

Freshers by Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison

Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison are two of my favourite YA authors and are among the funniest, loveliest people in UKYA. With Freshers, Lucy and Tom show that you can write YA about 18-year-olds and you can set in university, and it is not this mythical New Adult category. University stories are rare in UKYA – and I’d love to see more!

Freshers, narrated by Luke and Phoebe, captures the first year of university excellently. Both Luke and Phoebe’s experiences as first years are quite different to mine – let’s just say that university wasn’t exactly the best three years of my life – but it was great to read about (particularly the Quidditch society!), and I know it’ll be similar to lots of teenagers’ experiences. I loved the friendship dynamics and wish I’d made those sorts of intense, close friendships during my first few months away from home. I was a little sceptical about Luke (as I told Tom at one of his events), but grew to love him – and Phoebe was just brilliant. They’re two of the most realistic teenage characters I’ve come across (as we’ve all come to expect from Lucy and Tom!).

Freshers was as hilarious as you might expect from our duo, yet it covers serious topics that are vital to talk about at university, from sexual harassment on campus and one-night stands to ‘laddish’ behaviour and homesickness. I wish I had Freshers to read at university. It’s one of my favourite books of the year so far!

“He’s tall and fit and he knows about grammar and Quidditch and murder. He’s literally the perfect man.”

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Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I love reading YA novels set in Italy (one of the countries I must go back to soon). I recently read One Italian Summer and it was so fun picking up another one, this time set in beautiful Florence.

Lina is suffering from terrible grief, forced to move from America to Italy because her mother passed away. She’s off to live with a father she’s never met in a country she’s never been to. Once she gets there, Lina’s not convinced she can stay in Florence (as pretty as it is). Her best friend is at home, she barely knows her father, and what even is prosciutto, gelato and a Margherita pizza (Americans, really?!). Once she starts to explore, she meets Italian-American Ren and is introduced to a whole host of Italian friends who love her straight away, and maybe, just maybe, she can start to call this place home.

Love & Gelato is Lina’s story, but it’s also her mother’s. I really enjoyed reading her mother’s diary, from when she was studying in Florence in her 20s, until she left after becoming pregnant with Lina. I did guess the plot twist quite early on, but it didn’t stop me from enjoying each characters’ journey, from the sweet romance between Lina and Ren – although I mostly loved how they became best friends – to Lina’s father, Howard, who is also super lovely. Howard made Lina feel welcome, from thoughtfully redecorating her bedroom to taking her out to his favourite pizza place.

A sweet story about love, family and secrets, Love & Gelato has made me want to jump on a plane to Tuscany…

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And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon

And Then We Ran wasn’t quite the summer road trip story I expected. It’s set in rainy, wintry Pembrokeshire, in the south west of Wales.

Megan and Elliot feel suffocated by their small beach town. Megan’s sister died not so long ago and Elliot’s given up on his future. Together, they embark on an adventure to take control of their lives – a road trip to Scotland’s Gretna Green to get married (of course), with plans to move to London and follow their dreams.

Megan and Elliot are flawed and flaky teenagers, and that made them fun to read about. Megan wasn’t exactly prepared for her big adventure – she’s spontaneous and decides to move to the capital to be a photographer, even though she doesn’t know what a career in photography involves. Meanwhile, Elliot is too busy being a Bad Boyfriend to work out exactly what he wants to do. But who, as a teenager, knew exactly what they’d be doing in their 20s?

I can understand how frustrating Megan’s parents were for her – constantly pressuring her to go to university, refusing to accept that their daughter might be happier taking another path. I’m lucky – my family never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do, but Megan has to constantly push back. Even so, I know what it’s like to feel compelled to run away and start a new life – I nearly did a gap year in Australia for this reason! – and so, then, And Then We Ran starts to make sense.

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What I’ve Read / When Dimple Met Rishi

I cannot resist hype. I get really bad FOMO (I blame Twitter and Instagram) and so when I popped into a bookshop and saw When Dimple Met Rishi on a curated table, I couldn’t help but take it home with me. It had been all over the Twittersphere and so I had to see what I was missing out on. I already downloaded the eBook for review, but it’s just not the same, y’know? I love the cover, which shows a happy Dimple enjoying her iced coffee, and it looked like the perfect summer read – just what I wanted.

Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi is described as an “arranged married romcom”, about Dimple, whose aim in life is to go to university, get away from her traditional Indian parents and take over the tech world, and Rishi – handsome, rich, sensible – who signs up to coding camp in San Francisco to meet his proposed partner. But Dimple has no idea about any of this and is not quite ready to meet her I.I.H. (Ideal Indian Husband). Cue tipping coffee all over Rishi when he comes up to her for the first time and says “hello, future wife”. Let the romance begin!

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When Dimple Met Rishi is the perfect YA contemporary read, for me. I struggle to enjoy contemporary romance if both characters aren’t super likeable, but Dimple and Rishi are perfect. (They’re not perfect people, but they’re my kind of characters). They’re geeky, albeit in different ways. They’re both smart, funny, talented and interesting. And you know what? They’re lovely. I admired Rishi’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of his Indian heritage, and Dimple’s determination to go her own way: she doesn’t know if she wants to get married, ever. But she knows she has the ability to be among the top coders, she wants to create an app that makes a difference, and she’s willing to work hard to do it. Both Dimple and Rishi are fiercely protective of the path they’ve chosen for themselves – and it was also heartening to see them question it, because life is still up in the air at seventeen.

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I guarantee you’ll fall in love with When Dimple Met Rishi before the end of the first chapter. After a few pages, I knew I was going to love this story. It was wonderful to get that excited, fluttery feeling that comes with discovering something new – and wanting to tell everyone about it. I loved that the story was infused with Indian culture. Being introduced to Dimple’s mum was a pure joy, even if she’s super intimidating and often frustrating. I also loved seeing a girl who was passionate about STEM subjects and a boy who was passionate about art.

When Dimple Met Rishi has made it onto my favourites shelf. It made me happy and that’s what I’m here for, quite frankly.

“Oh no, you go ahead,” he said jovially. “Our brains need a break from all the unchecked, casual misogyny.” 

What I’ve Read / We Come Apart, The One Memory of Flora Banks & Unconventional

What I've Read / We Come Apart, The One Memory of Flora Banks & Unconventional
Here are reviews of three books I’ve read this year!

 

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

One is one of my favourite novels ever (seriously, read it). Like One, We Come Apart is told in free verse but, unlike One, we’re introduced to two narrators. Jess’s home life is tough and Nicu recently emigrated from Romania. When they’re both arrested for theft, Jess and Nicu become unlikely companions. And Jess’s friends – who throw racist remarks and abuse at Nicu – won’t let them forget it.

We Come Apart is very current. It’s not about bullying or racism or abuse – it’s about Jess and Nicu – but we see how these affect the two teenagers’ lives. We Come Apart is also incredibly sweet. I love books about friends and We Come Apart sees a close friendship develop at different rates. Nicu wants to know more about Jess once he first sets eyes on her whereas Jess needs a little more convincing about Nicu. Due to the free verse and the book’s length, the story is fast-moving and we quickly become wrapped up in the lives of these two underdogs.

If a dual-perspective, in my opinion, is done well, we should be able to tell who’s speaking without checking. In We Come Apart, there’s no need for character headings; it’s always easy to tell Nicu’s passionate broken English apart from Jess’s indignant thoughts. I loved switching between them seamlessly. Poignant, beautiful and captivating, We Come Apart is a short hit straight to the heart.

Credit: Visit Norway

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr

Svalbard, Norway. It’s somewhere I’ve never been, but somewhere that’s been etched in my mind ever since reading The One Memory of Flora Banks.

17-year-old Flora suffers from anterograde amnesia, meaning she’s lost the ability to create new memories. She doesn’t know she’s 17. She doesn’t know her address. And she doesn’t know that her best friend’s boyfriend kissed her. Except that she does, this time. Flora is determined to find out how this one boy managed to unlock her memory and so sets off alone to the Arctic.

Whilst reading Flora Banks, I constantly felt the chill of lost memories. But I perhaps wanted a little bit more from the mystery itself. I understood why Flora was so desperate to cling onto this boy – it’s the first time she’s able to remember something since the damage to her brain – but I was also resistant because Drake is a severely unlikeable character. And yet Drake moving abroad meant that Flora was able to embark on a journey for herself, meeting fascinating people along the way. If you enjoyed Elizabeth is Missing, why not give Flora Banks a shot?

 

Unconventional by Maggie Harcourt

If you want the UKYA Fangirl, here it is. Unconventional is pure fun. Lexi Angelo has assisted her Dad with the running of popular film and comic book conventions ever since she can remember. And she’s pretty good at what she does. But debut author Aidan Green doesn’t think so. He’s rude and sarcastic and has made fun of Lexi’s clipboard several times. So why does she find herself falling for him?

Unconventional is adorable. I’ve attended YALC at LFCC (London Film and Comic Con) and volunteered at London Comic Con, and so could picture the busy, sweaty and geeky atmosphere of conventions. As soon as we meet our teenage duo Lexi and Aidan (aka Haydn Swift), we can see there’s going to be something between them. But that’s because they’d also make pretty excellent friends. They play off each other really well and I adored their conversations (and many arguments). I also enjoyed seeing the complicated father/daughter relationship. Lexi’s frustratingly under-appreciated by her frantic and somewhat intimidating father, who’s in the middle of planning his wedding. I desperately wanted Lexi to stand up to her Dad but it was great to see a parent feature so prominently in a YA story.

Unconventional is super sweet and lots of a fun – stupendous a love letter to UKYA fandom. I sort of want Lexi’s life.

(Plus, I squealed upon seeing my authory friends, Non Pratt and Mel Salisbury, mentioned in the story!).

…And a little bonus:

 

100 Hugs by Chris Riddell

Thank you to my housemate, Charlie, for gifting me this lovely book to cheer me up! It’s exactly what it says: Chris Riddell has sketched 100 different hugs, accompanied by poignant literary quotes. Perfect for when you’re in need a hug yourself.

What I’ve Read / The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily, What Light & I’ll Be Home for Christmas

What I've Read / The Twelve Days of Dash Lily, What Light & I'll Be Home for Christmas
Here’s what I thought of three festive books I picked up over Christmas!

The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily by David Levithan & Rachel Cohn

Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is one of my favourite YA festive novels. I’ve read it three times, over Christmas 2011, 2013 and 2016, so I was elated to discover that there would be a sequel.

Dash & Lily
The Twelve Days of Dash & Lily
is sadder, more melancholy than its predecessor. Lily’s grandfather is sick and she’s unable to appreciate her favourite season. For this new Lily, there’s no magical Christmas tree and no festive reindeer skirt. She is depressed and grieving, insecure about both her relationship with Dash and her place in the world. It was tough to see Lily going through such a hard time – quite different to the bouncing, positive and enthusiastic girl we’ve all come to know and love – but it was important to see a different side to her. And that goes for Dash, too. He joins forces with her older brother to cheer Lily up. It was lovely to see his romantic and thoughtful side (even though he can be a bit clueless at times!).

I cannot say that I preferred the sequel to Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares – it didn’t fill me with as much festive glee as the first book did, but it was an unexpectedly complicated journey for the two teenagers. Even though it can be read as a standalone, I’d suggest reading the books in order to get the full experience of how Dash and Lily came to be.

Books On My TBR / Winter

What Light by Jay Asher

What Light is a contemporary story set on a Californian Christmas tree farm, a setting that has intrigued me ever since I discovered that Taylor Swift grew up on one in Pennsylvania (because I know you’re all dying to know that). As it’s set in California, I had to keep reminding myself that the weather probably wasn’t as cold and frosty and picturesque as I was imagining. I’ve seen The OC. I should know better.

Sierra has spent her life living in California for the Christmas season and the rest of her time in Oregon. She’s away from her East Coast friends and back with her other best friend, Heather. And she meets Caleb, who buys Christmas trees for impoverished families and has a family secret that she’s desperate to unravel. As someone who has small friendship groups, it was interesting to see how Sierra was torn between them. (Although I wish she had spent more time with Heather, who only gets to see her a month out of the year!). Caleb was really sweet and I enjoyed his banter with Sierra about peppermint mochas.

What Light is a cute, quick read if you’re looking for something Christmassy!

Behold the Pretty Books! / August Book Haul

I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Various

As I’ve said many times before, I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but I was curious about I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Festive YA is a favourite of mine – and I’m happy to report that I’ll Be Home for Christmas is the best collection I’ve read so far!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas features many of my favourite authors – Lisa Williamson, Holly Bourne, Non Pratt and more – all writing about the theme of ‘home’, with each copy of the book sold supporting the charity Crisis. Because there’s so many to talk about, I’ll pick out four favourites.

Cat Clarke’s Family You Choose – a super cute story about Effie, hiding from her family and discovering a whole new one in the process (plus delicious food) and Lisa Williamson’s Routes and Wings – a bleak story about Lauren, who travels around East London on buses, keeping her homelessness a secret from colleagues. I also enjoyed Juno Dawson’s Homo for Christmas – the cheeky and surprising story about Duncan, who is on his way home to tell his mother that he’s gay – and Tracy Darnton’s The Letter – a short but poignant story of Amber, who is living in care. Tracy was the winner of the short story competition and I’m looking forward to her first full novel in 2018!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas is a wonderfully diverse collection of stories and one that I’m sure to return to year after year.

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