Book Review: Love Song (Sophia Bennett)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Chicken House Books

Pages: 384

Release Date: April 7th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

A million girls would kill for the chance to meet The Point, but Nina’s not one of them.

She’s the new assistant to the lead singer’s diva fiancée, and she knows it’s going to suck. She quickly learns that being with the hottest band on the planet isn’t as easy as it looks: behind the scenes, the boys are on the verge of splitting up. Tasked with keeping an eye on four gorgeous but spoiled rock stars, Nina’s determined to stick it out – and not fall for any of them …

Review:

This was a lovely little read, and I can see it being one of those ‘feel good’ books of the summer.

Love Song reads a bit like a fan girl’s biggest daydream – only happening to the wrong person. Nina’s sister, Ariel, is a big fan of the band The Point, but it’s Nina who is chosen to be the new assistant to the lead singer’s fiance. While she may not be their biggest fan, she soon warms to them as she gets to know the band as people, rather than egotistical rock stars.

I’ve never really fallen in love with a boy band the way people seem to do today – One Direction for example – but I did see and understand the attraction through Nina and her sister’s eyes. This book appeals a lot to my inner teenager and I can see it being really successful, especially in today’s world of fan culture.

Nina is a great protagonist. Despite not being too enthralled with the boys to start with, even she has to admit they are gorgeous and talented and probably most girls dream boyfriends. But not hers, or not to start with at least, which, according to the band’s manager, makes her the perfect person to look after them. I loved how grounded Nina was: she didn’t really show off about her new position, even though it would have impressed/made everyone at school extremely jealous. She wasn’t after the boys for their fame or good looks or money, and she stood her ground when certain moral resolves were tested.

This is a real feel good read, filled with drama and surprises, and fulfills a daydream that most of us have had secretly at least once. It’s also a great example of ‘Happy YA’ – something talked about on Twitter recently – proof that not all YA is dark and disturbing. I’d definitely recommend picking this up if you want a book to make you smile and feel warm inside.

4

Book Review: Read Me Like a Book (Liz Kessler)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group

Pages: 297

Release Date: May 14th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ashleigh Walker is in love. You know the feeling – that intense, heart-racing, all-consuming emotion that can only come with first love. It’s enough to stop her worrying about bad grades at college. Enough to distract her from her parents’ marriage troubles. There’s just one thing bothering her . . .

Shouldn’t it be her boyfriend, Dylan, who makes her feel this way – not Miss Murray, her English teacher?

Review:

I don’t normally like stories that centre around coming out – while I recognise they’re important, especially in YA, as they can really help young people struggling with these issues, it’s just not the kind of story I normally go for. Saying that, this was a beautifully written story and I did enjoy reading it.

Ash is having a difficult time and it makes her a really sympathetic character. She’s having to make big decisions about her future, is struggling at college, her parent’s relationship is falling apart and she’s having boyfriend and best friend problems. Throw in some confusing feelings about a female teacher and it’s a wonder the poor girl doesn’t completely fall apart.

If all that sounds a little much or too depressing it really isn’t: Ash finds support and new friends throughout the book, and while everything doesn’t end on too much of a high note, it’s definitely not a bitter ending either. I felt hopeful for Ash at the end of it, and I think that’s an important result after all she goes through in the book. I was a little disappointed by one of the reactions of a character to her coming out though – I won’t spoil it and say which one – but I’d thought better of them and really hope they come round.

One thing I didn’t like was the fact that everyone – and I mean everyone – seemed to guess Ash was gay before she’d even had the thought cross her mind. When it happened with one character I could understand it, but there were so many who apparently knew and were waiting for her to come out, it just felt quite unrealistic.

While I wasn’t sure going in to this, I’m glad I gave it a go as it was a really enjoyable read, and I’d definitely like to check out more of Kessler’s books in future.

4

Body Image in Pregnancy

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while – mostly while I was pregnant, which has ended now but I think it’s still relevant, maybe even more so now.

During pregnancy, I was probably more confident with my body than I’ve ever felt. For once, I didn’t have to try and look thin, didn’t feel the need to suck my stomach in and make it look as flat as possible. And that felt really good.

I’ve battled with body image issues since I was 9 years old and decided I was fat (looking back I know I wasn’t, I was pretty stick thin, but I couldn’t see that at the time). At this age I was allowed to pack my own lunch for school, and I developed some bad eating habits and a terrible relationship with food – breakfast and dinner were avoided as much as possible without arousing parental suspicion, and my packed lunch was five oranges. I probably thought it was super healthy at the time.

These problems carried on, on and off until around my second/third year of university, when I became a lot more comfortable, with myself as well as my body. I’d still have little wobbles and off days, but my feelings about myself and food were a lot more healthy.

Pregnancy also went a long way to fixing these issues. Because suddenly food wasn’t the enemy and it wasn’t just about me: I was eating healthily for my baby, and any weight gain or stomach showing was also for my baby. And I loved it.

As someone who’s been sensitive about weight and image, some of the jokes that come with being pregnant could touch nerves at times. There’s constant “Oo you’re getting a bit chubby” comments and “Who ate all the pies?” jokes. But I learned to join in and took it all in my stride. Because I was healthy and happy and was growing a little baby inside me.

But now it’s post-pregnancy and I can feel some of the old concerns coming back.

There seems to be so much pressure on women to suddenly spring back into their pre-pregnancy body as if nothing ever happened. A big culprit of this is probably the celebrity cases we’ve seen where they’re back to being super skinny a week after giving birth. That must take a lot of hard work, and I admire them for it. But it’s not my priority right now to work out for hours every day. I don’t have the time, I have a newborn to look after.

I think seeing celebrities achieve this gives people an unrealistic expectation of the post birth body. A recent example of this came from Giovanna Fletcher, whose ‘mummy tummy’ was mocked by a stranger less than two weeks after she gave birth. Her response was perfect. It’s no one’s business how she, or any new mum looks, right after birth or any time after really. And that tummy has done amazing things over the last nine months, and should be admired, not shamed.

Still, I know that kind of thing is easy to say and not as easy to practice sometimes. I haven’t been working out or dieting since giving birth. I try to go for walks and eat healthily, because I’m breastfeeding and I still need to look after my body for my baby’s sake. But I know there’s part of me that’s worried about seeing friends and going back to work and having a ‘mummy tummy’. None of my friend’s have had children yet, and they’re all pretty slim, and I hate the idea of being the ‘bigger’ one. Most of the women at work have amazing figures, though I probably couldn’t compete with them pre-pregnancy anyway!

The thing is, these are pressures I’m putting on myself based on what other people think. Or even what I assume they think, because no one has said anything bad about how look right now – I’m just preempting it. But I’m quite happy with how my body looks right now. I don’t mind the little tummy or the stretch marks on it. And I know my partner loves how I look, and he’s the only person who ever sees me naked, so surely only his opinion matters for anything, after my own?

I think that’s what I want to concentrate on for now. I’m happy with myself, and that’s the main thing, and I want to hold on to that feeling. And if anything, whether it’s my own insecurities or other people’s comments make me feel bad about how I look, I know I can look at my son and know it’s all been worth it for him.

Book Review: Radio Silence (Alice Oseman)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Pages: 400

Release Date: February 25th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past…
She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

It’s only by facing up to your fears that you can overcome them. And it’s only by being your true self that you can find happiness.

Frances is going to need every bit of courage she has.

Review:

This was such a good read! I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it so much, and I was most pleasantly surprised.

I think what stood out most was the voice of our narrator, Frances. It was so real, I could fully believe she was an actual person talking to me and not just a character on the page. A lot of this is helped by modern references – talking about The Office and Tumblr etc, and I wonder if that will have an effect on its lastability (these references could be well out of date in a couple of years). That’s not really important, just something I was musing on.

There’s a great sense of diversity in this book, racially and sexually, and I love the fact that that’s not the point of the book: it’s not about being bisexual or mixed race, it just there in the characters, as this book reflects real life and the diversity you find there every day.

I really appreciated the lack of romance in this book. Frances states herself that it’s not that kind of book, she’s not going to fall in love with Aled, and I respected that. It would have been a different, more predictable book if she had, and I don’t think I would have liked it as much.

The themes of finding yourself and becoming comfortable in your own skin are typical ones to be found in YA, but it’s handled really skillfully here. I felt like I could relate to the situations facing the characters really well, despite no longer being in that kind of position myself: it just rang true with my teenage years, and I wish I’d had this book to read back then.

One of the most important messages in this book is to do with education and choices for your future. With two younger sisters in secondary school at the moment, I’ve seen the kind of stress they can be put under: I’ve seen my 15 year old sister in pieces over a test, because if she failed then she’d fail her A levels and not get into university and not get a good job. It’s horrible to see someone so young worrying about that kind of thing, but that’s what young people face these days. There’s an expectation now to go to university: we were taught in school that it was the path that would get you the best job. This book explores the idea that university isn’t for everyone, and not having a degree or good grades doesn’t mean you won’t get a good job.

That’s not to say that education isn’t important, or that university is bad. I went myself for an undergraduate and Masters degree, loved every moment of it and wouldn’t change a thing. But that path isn’t for everyone, and this book highlights this and the need to offer other options to people who maybe aren’t as academically focussed.

Slight rambly tangent there, but basically this book is awesome, and a perfect read for 13-18 year olds especially who are having to decide there futures right now.

4

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (Shirley Jackson)

Publisher: Penguin Classics Deluxe

Pages: 160

Release Date: First published in 1962

Summary:

Merricat Blackwood lives on the family estate with her sister Constance and her Uncle Julian. Not long ago there were seven Blackwoods—until a fatal dose of arsenic found its way into the sugar bowl one terrible night. Acquitted of the murders, Constance has returned home, where Merricat protects her from the curiosity and hostility of the villagers. Their days pass in happy isolation until cousin Charles appears. Only Merricat can see the danger, and she must act swiftly to keep Constance from his grasp.

Review:

I wanted this book basically because of the creepy looking front cover (seriously, it’s hauntingly beautiful) and the intriguing title. I didn’t really have a clue what it was about or know anything about the author, but I was very excited when the in-laws got it me for Christmas.

This is an odd little book – I’m not really sure how else to describe it. It did take me a little while to get into it. It’s quite slow to start as it builds up the character of Merricat and her relationship with the villagers. Merricat is a rather creepy narrator, almost addictive in her voice: the more you read of her, the more you get wrapped up in her strange little world of ritual and magic and childishness until you are completely absorbed by her. Then it doesn’t matter what terrible things she says or does – how the villagers deserve to die, or destroying someone’s possessions – because you are on her side completely.

This is a different kind of horror story for me, one based in subtleness rather ghosts and bumps in the night. It comes in Merricat’s words and the way Uncle Julian recounts every detail of ‘that night’, the way the three are stuck in their routines and the way the villagers chant their creepy nursery rhyme at them and torment them as their world falls apart. I imagine this isn’t to everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for a bit of a different classic to read then I’d recommend giving this one a try.

4

Book Review: Stargirl (Jerry Spinelli)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group

Pages: 186

Release Date: June 20th 2000

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the day she arrives at quiet Mica High in a burst of color and sound, hallways hum “Stargirl.” She captures Leo Borlock’s heart with one smile. She sparks a school-spirit revolution with one cheer. The students of Mica High are enchanted. Until they are not. Leo urges her to become the very thing that can destroy her – normal.

Review:

This was an odd little book ,and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it to be honest.

On first impressions, Stargirl seemed like a classic Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I wasn’t really keen on her: she felt very much like a character rather than a person. I grew accustomed to it as the story went on, but it did all feel a little hard to swallow to be honest. She was a little too ‘out-there’ and it did make it hard to connect with her. On the other hand, Leo felt like a very real teenager and I could understand his reactions and the pressures he felt to fit in, especially in high school.

I liked that things didn’t really work out for Stargirl, and I think that’s what made the book more enjoyable for me. If she was a true MPDG she would have taught the whole school to sing and everyone would have been changed forever because of her and her kooky ways. Although there is a little element of this towards the end, most of the story is her struggling to fit in, as no one will accept her the way she is: she’s just too different.

When Leo tries to change Stargirl to help her fit in, you know it’s not going to work out well, and you feel bad for both of them: for him that he feels insecure and self conscious enough to need her to be more ‘normal’ and for her that, despite her best efforts, she’s not accepted anyway.

This was a quick, strange read but I did enjoy it, and I’ll probably pick up the sequel at some point too.

4

Why I Read YA

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on this for a while, as it is something I think about a lot. In terms of traditional target audience, I’m not really what YA is typically aiming at: I’m 24 years old for a start, which is a little more adult than young adult now I think!

Still, YA is the majority of what I read – as in it’s almost everything, with the occasional MG or adult book thrown in. I don’t really get hung up on reading it any more, like I might have in the past. I know who I am and what I enjoy, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me I’m too old to read what I’m reading, or that I should read ‘adult’ or ‘proper’ books (their words, not mine!)

When I was still a teenager (though admittedly late teens) I had people asking when I’d grow out of reading teenage fiction (I didn’t really have the YA phrase when I was a teen) and when I’d start reading adult books. I didn’t really understand why they’d ask that – I was a teenager, it made sense to me that I’d be reading teenage books. And adult fiction just didn’t really appeal to me. I read a couple here and there, but they were few and far between and had to be something really special to grab my attention.

When I finally stopped being a teen, I didn’t stop reading YA. I did still get asked if I had grown out of it, but I knew the answer now: I wasn’t going to grow out of it. These were the books I enjoyed and wanted to read, so that’s what I was going to stick to. YA books have incredible themes that aren’t just relevant to teenagers, they have characters that I still feel I really connect to, even if they’re not really my age any more, and they just seem to have a creative freedom and ‘anything goes’ feel that I don’t get (personally) from adult fiction.

I find it odd that sometimes YA books have ‘adult’ covers brought out, as I have no problem being seen reading YA books in public, but I can’t really complain about them if it gets more people reading YA.

I’d love to know what you love about reading YA, whether you’re a teenager or more on the adult side like me 😉

Book Review: Ms Marvel, Vol 1, No Normal (G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona)

Publisher: Marvel

Pages: 120

Release Date: October 30th 2014

Summary:

Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City — until she’s suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! When Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them, as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to bear? Kamala has no idea, either. But she’s comin’ for you, Jersey!

Review:

As soon as I heard about this I knew I had to read it: it just sounded so different from any superhero comic I’ve read before. I was not disappointed.

I loved everything about Kamala. She was such a relatable character, with some of the traits we expect of a superhero – her comedic attitude and self doubt all felt pretty familiar – but also a lot that we don’t normally get. Kamala’s religion is new to me in superhero comics, as I’ve not come across a hero protagonist before. I really enjoyed this perspective, and it was so great to see more diversity in a graphic novel. I’m a firm believer in being able to see yourself and relate to characters in books, and I realise this comes easier to me than others, as a white, middle class is female. But I did grow up in a Muslim household and I loved some of the little touches in Kamala’s household that felt familiar to me. I also liked the fact that my sisters, who are British Muslims, would probably able to relate to Kamala more than your typical white superhero.

Another thing I loved was the lack of sexualisation of Kamala. So many female super heroes are all about the tight, sexy costumes and being drawn stick thin with huge boobs, and that just wasn’t present in this book. It’s another thing that makes Kamala more relatable: she’s just a normal girl, albeit with super powers. She has the same body hang ups and worries as any other girl her age. She’s also a huge superhero nerd, which I adored: I loved her writing Avengers fanfic and hoping to meet them.

Story line wise, this was a good introduction to the new Ms Marvel: it sets up Kamala’s character well and begins to introduce who I can assume will be her main antagonist: the Inventor. It all felt a little like it was over too fast, so I’m really looking forward to the next installment.

For negatives, I’d comment on the art style: while most of the time it looked great, there were a few times in big group or long shots where the details on people’s faces was really simplified. I’ve seen this in a few graphic novels lately and it just feels a bit lazy and looks really odd. I also worried that Kamala’s family were all a bit stereotypical: a devout Muslim brother and strict Muslim parents, but I guess that was part of the driving point of her story, and hopefully they’ll flesh out a bit in later issues.

Overall I really enjoyed reading this: it’s not like any superhero story I’ve read and I can’t wait to see where her story goes.

4

Book Review: Forbidden (Tabitha Suzuma)

Publisher: Definitions

Pages: 432

Release Date: May 27th 2010

Summary:

She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But… they are brother and sister.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

 

Review:

Around this time last year I read an extract of Forbidden in Love Hurts and was really intrigued by it. It’s a pretty brave topic to write, especially for YA, and I really wanted to know how the relationship developed and how the story would end.

I can’t ever imagine feeling that a sexual relationship between siblings is right, and I liked that this book didn’t shy away from the wrongness of their actions, or try to romanticise it: they were aware that what they were doing was wrong, and eventually had to face the consequences of their actions. But I felt that their difficult home life probably led to their feelings and made it more understandable.

Lochan and Maya are basically parents to their 3 younger siblings: their mother is irresponsible, often drunk and, as the book progresses, increasingly absent. As well as the usual teenage stresses of school and friendships to deal with, Lochan and Maya have to get their siblings to school, cook, clean, put the kids to bed and worry about bills and being found out by social services. It’s a dysfunctional family that puts so much pressure on them and forces them to act as adults, each falling into a mother/father role.

This is the ultimate forbidden love story that makes others look weak in comparison: warring families, different races, even teachers and students – they’re all nothing compared to loving your sibling, as no one sees that as right. It’s difficult to read about, and even though I knew what they were doing was wrong, I did have a lot of sympathy for their feelings and the impossibility of their situation.

I wasn’t sure how Suzuma was going to end things: I didn’t think it would be right to allow them to end up together but an odd part of me didn’t want things to end tragically either. They weren’t bad people, just in a difficult situation, but I knew there was no way they could end up happy. I won’t spoil the ending but it was a little heartbreaking.

This is a difficult read about a taboo subject that may not be to everyone’s tastes. I’ve seen lots of reviews from teen readers with siblings who say it made them feel uncomfortable, which is understandable. Still, it’s unlike anything I’ve read before and I’d definitely recommend it.

4

Book Review: Crush (Eve Ainsworth)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 336

Release Date: March 3rd 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Love hurts … but should it hurt this much? Reeling from her mum’s sudden departure, Anna finds the comfort she needs in her blossoming relationship with Will. He’s handsome and loving, everything Anna has always dreamt of. He’s also moody and unpredictable, pushing her away from her friends, her music. He wants her to be his and his alone. He wants her to be perfect. Anna’s world is closing in. But threatening everything is a dark secret that not even Will can control… Eve Ainsworth’s gripping second novel is a pitch-perfect exploration of love at its most powerful, addictive and destructive.

Review:

This book was such an easy read and I just flew through it. The characters are perfectly written and feel so real, and I think that’s where Eve Ainsworth’s strengths lie. Even the ‘villain’ of the story was just so human, when he could easily have just been the evil and controlling boyfriend, and that’s what really made it for me.

The relationship is an ideal one at first, almost fairy tale like. Anna is just your average girl, and Will is older, cooler and super cute. I can just imagine being in that position and not knowing why this person would even speak to me, let alone take a genuine interest in me. It’s easy to see how Anna gets sucked in.

The relationship develops badly, but it’s not always clear, especially as we see things from Anna’s point of view. It’s subtle things that might now seem so bad on their own, but all add up to make a sinister and controlling relationship: his insistence that she wears her hair down, his comments about her eating and weight that seem caring but are actually manipulative, and the way he slowly isolates her from her friends. Okay, when I say it all like that it does sound awful, but it’s all done so slowly and sneakily, you can see why Anna doesn’t suddenly turn round and dump him for being a jerk.

In between chapters, things are flipped round and we see Will writing to an unknown person. This is where we learn a little more about him, so he’s not just a villain, but an actual person too. He has a difficult home life and some mysteries in his past and while this doesn’t excuse his behaviour, you can see how it leads to it, and perhaps understand him a little better.

The climax was perfectly written: dramatic, but not overly so, and things were so tense I just didn’t want to put it down. I probably read a little too fast because I needed to know what was going to happen – next time I’ll try to take it a little slower!

I’ve heard great things about 7 Days, Eve Ainsworth’s debut novel last year, and reading Crush has reminded me that I really need to read that first book too. I love the way the dual perspective gives an insight into both sides of the story and allows you to see different sides of each character too. Ainsworth’s characters are so realistic you’ll feel like you’ve met them, and I can’t wait to read 7 Days and whatever she has in store for us next!

4

You can buy Crush by Eve Ainsworth here

Or why not add it to Goodreads here

Author Information

23

Eve Ainsworth has worked extensively in Child Protection and pastoral care roles, supporting teenagers with emotional and behavioural issues. Her debut novel Seven Days was released in 2015 and has been nominated for a string of awards including the Carnegie Medal. Her second novel, Crush, is out March 2016. She lives in West Sussex. @EveAinsworth

Website: http://eveainsworth.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EveAinsworth

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6574712.Eve_Ainsworth

Tour Schedule

Catch up with rest of the Crush blog tour using the links below:

CRUSH-BLOG-TOUR-03

 Monday 7th March

Snuggling on the Sofa

Bookish Outsider

Tuesday 8th March

The Bibliophile Chronicles

Ali the Dragon Slayer

 Wednesday 9th March

Tales of Yesterday

Literary-ly Obssessed

Thursday 10th March

Writing from the Tub

Serendipity Reviews

Friday 11th March

Eat Read Glam

Mia in Narnia

Saturday 12th March

The Book Moo

An Awful Lot of Reading

Sunday 13th March

Maia and a Little Moore

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