Book Review: The Mystery of the Painted Dragon (Katherine Woodfine)

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

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 339

Release Date: February 9th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

When a priceless painting is stolen, our dauntless heroines Sophie and Lil find themselves faced with forgery, trickery and deceit on all sides!

Be amazed as the brave duo pit their wits against this perilous puzzle! Marvel at their cunning plan to unmask the villain and prove themselves detectives to be reckoned with – no matter what dangers lie ahead . . .

It’s their most perilous adventure yet!

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Book Review: City of Saints and Thieves (Natalie C. Anderson)

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

Publisher: Oneworld Publications

Pages: 432

Release Date: July 6th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Street-thief Tina breaks in to the luxurious house where her mother was killed to steal from Mr. Greyhill and nail him for her mother’s murder. She is caught red-handed.

Saved by Mr. Greyhill’s gorgeous son, Michael, the pair set in motion a cascade of dangerous events that lead them deeper into the mystery, and reveal dark and shocking secrets from Tina’s past.

Tina and her mother fled the Congo years ago as refugees, trading the uncertain danger of their besieged village for a new, safer life in the bustling Kenyan metropolis. The corruption and politics of the Congo, and the gangster world of Sangui City, are behind Tina’s mother’s downfall. Is Tina tough enough to find the truth and bring the killer to justice?

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Book Review: S.T.A.G.S (M. A. Bennett)

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

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 402

Release Date: August 10th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

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Book Review: If Birds Fly Back (Carlie Sarosiak)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 352

Release Date: June 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Linny has been living life in black and white since her sister Grace ran away, and she’s scared that Grace might never come back. When Linny witnesses the return to Miami of a cult movie star long presumed dead, she is certain it’s a sign. Surely Álvaro Herrera, of all people, can tell her why people come back – and how to bring her sister home?

Sebastian has come to Miami seeking his father, a man whose name he’s only just learned. An aspiring astrophysicist, he can tell Linny how many galaxies there are, how much plutonium weighs and how likely she is to be struck by a meteorite. But none of the theories he knows are enough to answer his own questions about why his father abandoned him, and why it left him in pieces.

As Sebastian and Linny converge around the mystery of Álvaro’s disappearance – and return – their planets start to collide. Linny’s life is about to become technicolor, but finding the answers to her questions might mean losing everything that matters.

Review:

This was a lovely coming of age romance story about Linny, a girl whose sister has disappeared and Sebastian, a boy whose father has just reappeared. They work together to resolve the mystery of celebrity Álvaro Herrera’s disappearance and help each other with their own issues.

The book is dual narrative and both voices were perfect. I never stopped half way through a chapter, came back to it and wondered whose story I was reading. They were both very distinctive voices and characters and I adored each of them.

As well as the main story, each of Linny’s chapters start with notes from her book of people who have disappeared, and Sebastian’s start with a quote from A Brief Compendium of Astrophysical Curiosities. There’s also excerpts from a screenplay Linny has written to cope with her sister’s disappearance and it’s really beautiful.

The pair work really well together, both a little nerdy in their own way, both a bit uncomfortable in their own skins and both trying to deal with huge issues. It’s one of those relationships that just makes me want to squeeze them together until they realise how perfect they are.

The emotions in this book are raw and intense and you’ll get swept away in the wonderful relationship. This isn’t just a love story though: it’s about friendship, fathers, sisters and coping with grief and the unthinkable. I just know this is going to be a big hit and I can’t wait to see people falling in love with Linny and Sebastian.

4

Book Review: A Song for Ella Grey (David Almond)

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 276

Release Date: October 2nd 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

“I’m the one who’s left behind. I’m the one to tell the tale. I knew them both…knew how they lived and how they died.”

Claire is Ella Grey’s best friend. She’s there when the whirlwind arrives on the scene: catapulted into a North East landscape of gutted shipyards; of high arched bridges and ancient collapsed mines. She witnesses a love so dramatic it is as if her best friend has been captured and taken from her. But the loss of her friend to the arms of Orpheus is nothing compared to the loss she feels when Ella is taken from the world. This is her story – as she bears witness to a love so complete; so sure, that not even death can prove final.

Review:

A Song for Ella Grey is a contemporary retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice, a myth I’m vaguely familiar with. When the mysterious Orpheus appears on the beach, everyone is enchanted by him but it’s Ella Grey he falls for, and their whirlwind romance sets off a chain of events that will end in tragedy.

I thought this sounded wonderful and the cover was simply gorgeous. I’ve not read very much by David Almond but he has an excellent reputation and I had high hopes. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t wowed by it.

The writing is very stylistic, almost poetic and while in some places it was beautiful, in others it just felt confusing. It didn’t flow well for me: sometimes I wasn’t sure what was going on, and the odd way everyone spoke just brought me out of the story. Everything felt disconnected and I didn’t really feel emotionally invested in any of the characters. While Claire and Ella’s friendship was strong and lovely, everything else felt a little underdeveloped.

The story itself was kind of odd. It’s only a short book but it didn’t feel like a lot really happened. It felt like there was a lot of ‘we went to school, we worked hard, time passed’ etc and it just didn’t really do anything for me.

My favourite bit was when Orpheus went into the underworld. The pages were black with white writing on, the prose was carefully places across the page and the poetic style really worked there. It was definitely the highlight of the book.

Overall I don’t think this one was for me. I didn’t get on well with the style and just felt at a disconnect with the whole book. The writing is beautiful though, and different from most of the YA I’ve read, so if you’re looking for something unusual then give it a try.

3

Book Review: One of Us is Lying (Karen M. McManus)

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

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 300

Release Date: June 1st 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Pay close attention and you might solve this.
On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Review:

I loved the sound of this when I saw it on NetGalley. A dead classmate, fours suspects who were in the room when he died, each with their own secret to hide and own reason for maybe wanting him dead. What’s not to like?

I did really enjoy this one. The pace is a little slow: I was expecting fast paced revelations and action but instead, it was a bit more leisurely, with new secrets being leaked out bit by bit and lots of character and relationship developments.

Simon is a pretty unlikeable character right off the bat. He has an app which circulates gossip about fellow classmates. Sounds toxic enough, but he’s pretty much always right, so the school puts a lot of faith in his words. But he’s still not popular: people are just afraid of him. It means there’s a lot of people who could potentially wish him harm, aside from the four main suspects.

Of the four, Nate is the most suspect as he already has a criminal record. From just reading the summary I was expecting him to be the red herring and one of the girls to be the real culprit: the ‘brains’ or the ‘beauty’ as the least likely to first be suspected.

The books keeps you guessing a lot. As the police investigation unfolds, things surface from the past which makes you doubt each of the four in turn. There’s a pretty decent red herring in there who was my first suspect. When the first clue dropped about the real murderer I latched onto it and worked things out in my head, but that didn’t stop me enjoying the journey everyone else took to get there. It was a good twist and an original idea.

The characters in this book all develop and change as the situation takes it toll on them. I liked Addy’s transformation the best: she goes from probably the least likeable to one of the most and it was great to see her stand up for herself. The love story was quite sweet and I was rooting for them, even though that would probably be the last thing on my mind if I was being investigated for murder!

This was a really enjoyable book, a good slow burner with an interesting twist and great, believable characters. I’d recommend reading and seeing if you can guess the killer before the end!

4

Book Review: This Careless Life (Rachel McIntyre)

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

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 272

Release Date: June 1st 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Four best friends with perfect lives. A once in a lifetime opportunity. Who can resist the call of fame and fortune?

Liv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy are auditioning for a new reality TV show. Producer Cassandra has warned them the process might be tough, but they are excited and keen to get on with things, confident that they can handle anything.

But when Cass produces a photo of a body, everyone realises that they may have something to hide after all…

Review:

I’ve really enjoyed Rachel McIntyre’s last two books so going into a new one I had high expectations. And I wasn’t disappointed!

I didn’t know the inspirations for this book when I started reading it but, being a fan of the play, I saw the An Inspector Calls themes early on. I love the idea of doing a modern version of this for teens and I think it really worked.

Liv has got her friends Hetty, Jez and Duffy to audition for a new reality TV show. They all come from privileged backgrounds and they all have secrets they’re hiding. Producer Cassandra warns them that the audition process is tough and anything they’re hiding might come to light…

The book is really fast paced and I just wanted to keep reading. There was always a new little revelation that kept me turning the pages. The book’s loosely split into sections for each character as they face Cassandra and the camera for their audition.

The characters were all clearly flawed: they all came from money, were all a bit selfish and insecure in their own ways and they all had a secret they were hiding. As the story progressed they were forced to think about what they had done, not just in terms of how it could affect them if it got out, but how it had affected the people they hurt.

I wasn’t sure the last chapter was really needed: it explained a little bit more about where Cassandra came from but I preferred the mystery of her just coming and going.

It’s hard to say too much without spoiling key plot details so I think I’ll leave it at that. If you know An Inspector Calls then this is an interesting new take: if you don’t then this modern YA version could introduce you to the classic play. Either way, give it a read – it’s sure to intrigue you and I really recommend it.

4

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher)

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

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 288

Release Date: June 1st 2009

Summary (from Goodreads):

You can’t stop the future. You can’t rewind the past. The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school one day to find a mysterious box with his name on it, outside his front door. Inside he discovers a series of cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush. Only, she committed suicide two weeks earlier. On the first tape, Hannah explains that there are 13 reasons why she did what she did – and Clay is one of them.

If he listens, Clay will find out how he made the list – what he hears will change his life forever.

Review:

Thirteen Reasons Why is everywhere at the moment: the new TV show on Netflix has made it spread all over Twitter and into the news as well. So when this popped up on Netgalley I decided to see what the fuss was about.

I’m really conflicted about this one. I’ve been watching the series on Netflix around the same time so some of that is probably going to bleed into this review.

I think my problem with this book – and the show too – is how cool Hannah comes across. I know a lot of people have said it glamourises suicide and I tend to agree. Hannah has made herself immortal by recording her life story and forces others to listen to it after her suicide. I think it makes it sound like an attractive option to impressionable young people, rather than the last desperate act of an unhappy girl.

I also hate the fact that Hannah does this at all. Yes, she does acknowledge that ultimately it was her choice to end her life. But sending out tapes saying everyone on there is a reason she died is pretty cruel, especially to Clay. I understand that people need to be held accountable for their actions and to understand how everything they do can affect someone, but I felt this was a selfish way to get her message across. It’s a bit ‘eye for an eye’ – you ruined my life so now I’m going to ruin yours.

So I had some pretty big problems with the plot and theme of the book. But I also didn’t really like the format. I’m not sure the tapes really worked. I kept wondering how Hannah recorded them: did she write everything down and plan what she was going to say beforehand? Or did she just do everything off the top of her head? Either way, it just didn’t read naturally to me: it as too stylistic and that brought me out of the story.

I also didn’t feel like the present day story was particularly interesting. In fact, I could basically have done without it. It was more distracting than enlightening to have the occasional interruptions from Clay. I don’t feel they added much to the story: if they were needed, I think there should have been more happening than Clay just walking around listening to tapes.

This has all been pretty negative so far but I’ve still given three stars, mostly because it kept me reading. I did want to know what happened to Hannah and what all her reasons were, even if I didn’t agree with what she was doing. The book also made some interesting points on the treatment of women’s bodies: a small, seemingly insignificant (to other people anyway) action sets off a chain of events that turns Hannah’s body into a commodity to be talked about and used by others. There’s an important message there but I think some of it got lost in everything else. I feel the book was kind of style over substance, with the idea of using the tapes coming before everything else.

3

Book Review: The Fallen Children (David Owen)

Publisher: Atom

Pages: 240

Release Date: May 4th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Young people on the Midwich Estate don’t have much hope for their futures. Keisha has lived there her whole life, and has been working hard to escape it; others have just accepted their lot.

But change is coming…

One night everyone inside Midwich Tower falls mysteriously unconscious in one inexplicable ‘Nightout’. No one can explain what happened during those lost hours, but soon afterwards Keisha and three other girls find they’re pregnant – and the babies are growing at an alarming rate.

As the news spreads around the tower its residents turn against them and the situation spirals toward violence. Keisha’s life unravels as she realises that the pregnancy may not have just ruined her hopes for the future: she might be mother to the end of the world.

Review:

I haven’t bought many books lately (I have such a backlog to get through as it is) but whenever I heard about this one on Twitter I knew I had to get it.

I didn’t realise where it took its inspiration from (The Cuckoos of Midwich/The Village of the Damned) until my partner watched the latter and told me I should write a book telling the story from the women’s point of view. The next day I went out and bought The Fallen Children and realised David Owen had already beaten me to it – and done a hell of a job.

I really love the idea of updating this story to make it reflect challenges young people face today. There’s an introduction by the author that had me loving the book before I even started it. I don’t really fall into the young person/16-25 category anymore but I am part of the millennial generation and we do get a bad rep. I’m sick of being told we don’t work hard enough or it’s our fault we can’t buy houses because we buy too many avocados, and any of the other ridiculous things that come up.

Rant over, on to the book.

We see the story from several points of view: Keisha, Morris and Siobhan in the first half, and Keisha, Morris and Maida in the second. It was interesting to see the different ways they all reacted to the unexpected pregnancies, especially the girls. While Keisha and Siobhan feel violated over what happened to them and how they’ve lost control of their lives, Olivia is torn because she always wanted a child and Maida feels she is part of something special. I think I’m more on Keisha and Siobhan’s side, but it was good to get a different perspective on things.

Morris, on the other hand, takes it all in his stride, after the initial shock. I found it odd how much he wanted to play happy families and ignore how and where these babies came from. His character frustrated me so much: sometimes he was so sweet and I knew he was trying hard to do what’s best, and other times his actions made me want to scream at him. I found Maida’s story one of the most interesting, especially after the children are born. She’s the one who really appreciates their powers, loves them and believes they’re special.

While I appreciated the message, I thought it was delivered a little heavy handedly sometimes, with a lot of speeches and ‘moments’ towards the end. But it does make you think about the expectations put on you, and that you put on others. I loved the diverse range of characters and felt it really reflected, in a positive way, a part of society that is often looked down upon. The sci-fi element of the book is tense and keeps you reading but it’s the reflections on real life that really hit home.

I loved this book and I hope you’ll read it and love it too. As an added piece of awesomeness, it’s available in over 360 different colours and they’re all beautiful.

4

Book Review: The Opposite of You (Lou Morgan)

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

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 224

Release Date: May 4th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Bex and her identical twin sister Naomi used to be close. They used to be able to finish each other’s sentences, used to know exactly what the other was thinking. They were a matching pair.

And then something changed.

But Bex didn’t even realise until it was too late. When Naomi walks out of the house the night before their last GCSE exam and doesn’t come back, Bex has to think hard about how to find her.

What happens next will force Bex to unpick their shared history and the memories, following Naomi’s trail through their family, their past and all the way to the blinding lights of the Hemisphere music festival. Everything she thought she knew is called into question.

With her worries dismissed by their parents and ignored by her friends (and with Naomi’s friends nowhere to be found) the only person Bex can trust is a stranger – Josh – as she tries to piece together a picture of the person she thought she shared everything with. Naomi’s been leading another life, one Bex doesn’t recognize… and it’s led her straight into the path of Max: someone else who is not what they appear.

As Bex chases Naomi, she realizes it isn’t just whether she can find her twin: it’s whether she knows her at all.

And whether she still wants to.

Review:

Bex and Naomi are identical twins who’ve grown up to have very different personalities: Bex has friends, wants to be an artist and is the good twin, while Naomi is constantly getting in trouble and her life seems to be a bit of a mystery. When she disappears the day of their last GCSE exam, Bex delves into Naomi’s secrets to try and find her before she gets herself into too much trouble.

This was a really interesting little book. It felt very short and I did wish there was more of it, especially towards the end, when everything felt a bit crammed in there. It’s told from dual perspective of each twin, with memories from their past in there too.

Naomi was the ‘bad twin’ who fought with their parents and always seemed to get into trouble. I wasn’t particularly keen on her at first but as the book went on and her character developed I began really sympathise with her, although she made some really dumb decisions in the book and sometimes I just wanted to shake her! She struggles to find her identity, something we all go through in our teen years, but made doubly hard when you feel your twin slipping away from you.

I loved the exploration of the connection between the twins and how this was leaked out through their memories of their childhood. It was great how Bex rediscovered this with the reader – it worked well with the plot rather than feeling contrived. She realises that she may have pushed her twin away without realising it, even though in her mind at first it was Naomi who started rejecting her first. It was interesting to see their different points of view and the way they viewed the same memories.

This is a really fast paced book that you’ll definitely fly through. I found it more of a character piece than plot driven and I really loved getting to know the twins. I hope you will too!

4