Book Review: In Real Life (Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang)

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

Publisher: Square Fish

Pages: 175

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer–a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

Review:

This is an interesting short read with gorgeous art and a well-intentioned message – I just think it tried to cover too much in a short space.

After a school visit from one of the organisers of Coarsegold Online, Anda starts playing the game with a group of female gamers. I enjoyed this aspect of the story: it touched on sexism and misogyny in gaming and Coarsegold offered a safe and welcoming space for female gamers. This was really interesting and was great for Anda’s character development.

We then get to the point of the story: Anda meets Raymond, a gold farmer in the game, who’s an overworked teenager in China in real life. Gold farmers in games are often from third world countries and they collect in-game items and valuable objects to sell to other players for real life money. Anda’s friends in the game point out how that’s not in the spirit of the game and they start targeting groups of gold farmers. However, when Anda speaks Raymond, she sees the terrible predicament he’s in: he needs this job to survive, not in the game but in real life.

Anda then decides she has to help him in some way. She tells Raymond that he and his friends should demand healthcare from their employer, which of course leads to him getting fired. Anda spreads a message among the other gold farmers to try and find Raymond, who turns up at the end and says he’s got a better a job now. And that’s basically it.

Everything felt a bit simplified when this is a complex issue. While I know there were good intentions there, I just don’t think it all came across well. Anda’s help came across more as some kind of white saviour complex and it only made matters worse for Raymond: nothing she did really helped him, though I see how she was changed for the better by meeting him and gaining some understanding of another country and culture.

On the plus side, there was a positive message about female gaming and feeling comfortable with yourself, and the art by Jen Wang is just fantastic. I think this book was too short to really explore all the issues it wanted to and it just wasn’t for me.

Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker (Jen Wang)

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

Publisher: First Second

Pages: 288

Release Date: February 13th 2018

Summary:

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

Review:

This was a really lovely, modern fairy tale with beautiful art and a great message about being yourself and accepting others.

Sebastian is a prince by day and Lady Crystallia by night. Frances is his new dressmaker who longs for her talent to be recognised, but this can’t happen while Sebastian’s passion for dresses stays secret.

This was a really cute story with important undertones. I loved the fun the two had designing dresses together, going to parties and just generally bonding. It was great to see a story that breaks gender norms and shows another side of life. In this book, clothes don’t have a gender, dresses aren’t just for girls and society has to learn to accept that. Sebastian loves getting dressed up and that’s all there is to it: no big deal.

The friendship that bloomed between Sebastian and Frances was really sweet and it was great to see their relationship grow and strain under the weight of their secrets. By the end of the book, you’re hoping they’ll sort out their differences and get together, and that society/Sebastian’s father will get over any issues they have with a prince wearing dresses.

The artwork is really stunning and I loved seeing Frances’ new creations and Sebastian transform as he wore them. The colour scheme is really beautiful and the character’s faces are so expressive you always know exactly what they’re thinking.

This a beautiful book with a fun story and great message that I hope a lot of people will read.

4

Book Review: Purple Hearts (Michael Grant)

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

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 480

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

It’s 1944, and it feels to everyone like the war will never end. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr and Rainiy Shulterman have all received accolades, been ‘heroes’, earned promotion – in short, they’ve all done ‘enough’ to allow them to leave this nightmare and go home. But they don’t.

D-Day, June 6th 1944. On that day, many still doubted the American soldier.

By June 7th no one did.

Review:

It doesn’t feel like long ago that I was first introduced to this series, and now I’ve read the final one. It’s been emotional!

Rainy, Rio and Frangie are all decorated war heroes now, but their battle is still raging on. Rainy is keen to see the war to an end after her torture in Italy, Rio is good at being a soldier and doesn’t know what she’d do if she went home, and Frangie wants to keep healing and helping her fellow soldiers.

All three girls are unrecognisable from the ones we started with, and I love that. Something like this really affects you as a person and it’s interesting to see how it’s affected each girl differently. To me, Rio changes the most: in this book she is so far from the sweet girl who left to fight a war that it starts to affect her realtionships. The tensions between her and Strand that started in the last book are ever present it was fascinating to see how that went down.

Frangie’s parts were the ones where I really felt the horror of the war. The things she treated, the wounds she saw, it all hammered home how truly horrific war is. She had another tough time in this book, with a moment that brought tears to my eyes.

Rainy’s position as a Jew in Nazi-occupied lands is really interesting, especially as she starts to embrace her heritage more. As the war comes to a close and the awful concentration camps are revealed, you can really feel the personal connection Rainy has to them and how awful it is to see her people persecuted like that. It’s even more terrible reading some of the events and knowing how true to real life they are.

On a lighter note, we finally have the mysterious narrator revealed! This was a big moment for me, and it didn’t disappoint. There a few hints throughout which I picked up on so it wasn’t a complete surprise, but it felt very fitting.

I liked that the book didn’t just end when the war did, and we got to see a bit of the character’s lives afterward. There’s a great bit at the end with obituaries for the soldiers who die later of old age, so we get a little snippet of what they did after the war.

I’ve really loved this series and I’m sad it’s ended now. It’s such a simple idea, wondering what would happen if women fought in WWII, but it’s made for an exciting and fascinating trilogy which I’d really recommend you read.

4

Book Review: Goodbye, Perfect (Sara Barnard)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 384

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I? 

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

I do love Sara Barnard’s ability to create complex, compelling and realistic characters. She really is the queen of contemporary YA right now! I’ve loved her previous books and this one was no exception!

When Eden’s steady, dependable best friend Bonnie runs away with a teacher, Eden is left to pick up the pieces. Secretly in touch with Bonnie, Eden has to decide whether her friend really is as happy as she says she is, or if she should tell the police where the runaways are hiding.

This was such a fascinating read and I loved that it was from Eden’s point of view rather than Bonnie’s. If it had been Bonnie’s, it would have been similar to Me & Mr. J, which is a fantastic book but I don’t want to read a rehashing of that. Having it as Eden’s point of view gave a whole different message and feeling.

Bonnie drove me nuts in this. I definitely have a different perspective on this, being an adult rather than a teen, but I just thought what she did was really selfish. I’m not exactly blaming her, as she was obviously groomed by her teacher, but I felt it was really unfair to put pressure on Eden to keep her whereabouts a secret. While I understood Eden’s need to be loyal to Bonnie, I did want to scream at her that she wasn’t helping by keeping her secret.

I love that this is another book that focuses on family and friendship rather than teen romance. Sure, Eden has a boyfriend and they have some great moments together, but it isn’t about them. It’s refreshing to see a YA book where someone’s in a stable relationship and nothing goes wrong! I felt the book tried to steer clear of the usual tropes like this: it was also great to see sisters who are adopted and happy in their adoptive family.

My favourite parts were the ones with Valerie, Eden’s adoptive older sister who she’s struggled to bond with. While we see Valerie through Eden’s eyes – smart, perfect, dull – it’s easy to see why they haven’t got on, but as the book goes on it’s clear there’s more to Valerie than Eden’s first assessment. I loved their arguments as well as their bonding and I think Valerie was just an overall amazing character to read.

This is a powerful, emotional read which tackles some difficult topics really well. I thought it got the message right while being true to the teenage characters and not be being patronising. It’s another hit from Sara Barnard and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

4

Book Review: The Belles (Dhonielle Clayton)

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

Publisher: Gollancz

Pages: 448

Release Date: February 8th 2018

Summary (From Goodreads):

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review:

There was a lot of buzz about this book last year, so when I was offered a review copy I jumped at the chance to read it – and I’m so glad I did!

In Orléans everyone is born a Gris – with grey skin and red eyes and straw-like hair – and only the Belles can make them beautiful. Camellia wants to be the favourite Belle, selected to live in the palace and be Belle to the royal family, but she soon learns that it might not be all she hopes for.

This book reminded me a bit of The Selection. It had a lot a lot of beautiful dresses and people, lots of palace life and glamour. Unlike The Selection though, there was a lot more plot and intrigue going on. It was like everything I wanted The Selection to be, and then some.

The writing is absolutely stunning. I just ate up the descriptions: almost literally, as a lot of it made food comparisons and made me really hungry. It was quite description heavy sometimes but it meant I could really visualise this world of beauty and hidden darkness.

I felt the world was built really well, without being too info-dumpy or too vague on things. I was interested in learning how the Belles originated and how their powers worked, and this wasn’t dumped on the reader, but leaked out slowly. There are still some questions I have on how the Belles are born and I’m hoping they’ll be answered in the next book.

The villain of the book made me shudder at times with her sweet face and despicable actions. She was like every mean girl in a movie times a thousand and you will just love to hate her.

Behind the fast-paced plot and pretty faces lurks something much more sinister: a raw look at society’s obsession with beauty, our desire to conform to what other people say is beautiful, and the lengths we are willing to go to (because the Belle’s work comes with a price of pain). Deep down, everyone in Orléans is unhappy with who they truly are and for many this tale will feel familiar.

I raced through this book and will be raving about it to anyone I can. It’s beautiful and dangerous and I can’t wait for another book in this series.

Book Review: Zenith (Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings)

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

Publisher: Harlequin Teen

Pages: 534

Release Date: January 16th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she’s just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder‘s all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi’s past.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their ship or just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted.

Review:

I really enjoyed a few YA sci-fi last year (The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, Revenger) The description made me think of a female-based Firefly which sounded right up my street!

Androma Racella is known across the galaxy as the Bloody Baroness, an infamous mercenary who terrorises the skies with her band of girls. But to her friends she’s just their captain, their leader and a girl with a dark past. When familiar faces from Andi’s past demand she carry out a mission for them, the stakes are higher than any of them could realise.

This book took me a long time to read. It’s over 500 pages – I’m usually a quick reader but a lot of the time I didn’t want to pick this up. It’s not that it’s bad, so much as I wasn’t really that interested. The pacing seemed off and some things dragged while others went by too fast: the mission the book is about was almost over at the halfway mark, then there was a lot of feet dragging and then WHAM BAM the end.

The end was probably my favourite bit: I didn’t see the twist coming until late and enjoyed seeing everything unravel. It was a tense punch in the gut moment that I didn’t see how they could recover from, which was great. The worst part was realising this wasn’t going to be wrapped up in one book, when I just wanted to see how it would all end.

I didn’t really see the need for the different POV chapters. Valen’s few didn’t add much, nor did Lira’s, other than back story, and I could have done without Dex’s too. My favourite’s were probably the background one’s which built up the evil queen plot. The rest seemed unnecessary.

While I wanted to love this band of all girl space pirates, 50% of the crew were really underdeveloped. Gilly and Breck didn’t receive as much page time as the other and had next to no backstory: it felt like they were there just have enough people for a crew (I just had to search a ton of other reviews to find Breck’s name so she clearly made no impression on me). Lira was probably the most interesting. Her ‘passing out from emotions’ thing was brought up early on and very clearly going to be the cause of an accident later but she did seem to have a lot more character than the rest.

Then there was Andi. She just didn’t feel enough to be a main character for me. I liked the idea of the Bloody Baroness. I liked the idea of that all being an illusion. What I didn’t get was how Andi could be both these things: the murderess who laments every kill. Stop doing it then! Half the time it didn’t even feel like she needed to. And we couldn’t go a few pages without being reminded about her terrible past and the guilt she feels. It just felt a bit overkill.

The writing seemed odd at times too. Whilst some description was great, there were a lot of cliches and odd phrases that just didn’t make sense to me. The romance subplot was neither here nor there to me either: it wasn’t terrible but I don’t think it added anything new either.

I’ve actually criticised this a lot more than I thought I would, but overall I didn’t think it was a bad book. There was an interesting story there, behind the weird metaphors and similes and a few dull characters. Unfortunately, I think this one just wasn’t for me and I won’t be carrying on with the series.

Book Review: I Am Thunder (Muhammad Khan)

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

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 25th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Fifteen-year-old Muzna Saleem, who dreams of being a writer, struggles with controlling parents who only care about her studying to be a doctor. Forced to move to a new school in South London after her best friend is shamed in a scandal, Muzna realizes that the bullies will follow her wherever she goes. But deciding to stand and face them instead of fighting her instinct to disappear is harder than it looks when there’s prejudice everywhere you turn. Until the gorgeous and confident Arif shows an interest in her, encouraging Muzna to explore her freedom.

But Arif is hiding his own secrets and, along with his brother Jameel, he begins to influence Muzna with their extreme view of the world. As her new freedom starts to disappear, Muzna is forced to question everything around her and make a terrible choice – keep quiet and betray herself, or speak out and betray her heart?

Review:

Muzna is a British Muslim who struggles with her controlling parents and their conflicting ideas on what it is to be Muslim, to be Pakistani, to be a good daughter. It’s hard to be herself when that’s not who they want her to be. So when the best looking boy in school takes an interest in her and encourages to express herself in new ways, she’s only too happy to oblige, until it seems she’s swapped one set of extreme views for another.

This is a really fascinating read, especially given the current climate. I liked the forward from the author, where he pondered on the real-life story of western girls being radicalised and wondered what made them drop their lives here to join the IS. This book explores the ways that extremists can radicalise impressionable and vulnerable teens.

I loved the point the book made about differentiating between culture and religion, as people so often confuse the two. Similarly, it really hammered home the point that Muslims aren’t terrorists and highlighted the way we’re led to believe this by the media etc. IS may claim to do things in the name of Islam, but Islam is a religion of peace and love, not terrorism, and those few are the ones we should be blaming, not a whole religion.

Muzna goes on a real journey throughout the book, from a quiet teenager who is constantly pushed around by classmates and family, to someone who is brave enough to stand up for what she knows is right, even when it’s so difficult to do.

The radicalisation plot line was great for its subtleties. It showed how someone like targets those who are impressionable and more likely to be swayed by stronger personalities and views. It’s done by playing on their religious views and ideals, twisting them and using propaganda to persuade them to another way of thinking. It’s easy to see how Muzna was initially swayed.

I wasn’t really into the way the teenagers spoke, but I’ll put that down to age (as I know this isn’t aimed at someone my age) and regional differences (I think this is probably how London teenagers speak, not the West Midlands ones I know!) I do worry that while slang can appeal to teenager readers now, it might alienate future ones as slang ages so fast. And this is a book that should be around for a long time as it has a very important message.

This a thought-provoking, intense read that can really educate people on the differences between religion, culture, and radicalisation – adults as well as teenagers! Definitely one to watch out for this year.

Book Review: Another Beginning (Lauren James)

Publisher: Walker Books

Pages: 55

Release Date: July 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

A short story set in the world of Lauren James’ Next Together series.

Featuring the much-loved protagonists Clove and Ella, Another Beginning is a companion story to The Last Beginning, set during the siege of Carlisle in 1745.

“Elenore Walker, ancient literature thief. It makes an odd sort of sense, actually,” Clove said.

Clove is working as a maid in the Finchley household while she spies on Katherine Finchley and Matthew Galloway. But her mission is briefly interrupted when fellow maid Ella persuades her to help steal a valuable historical document from the main defence in the city – the castle. The two girls embark on a risky adventure involving scaling castle walls and hiding in the most unlikely of places!

Review:

I do love Clove and Ella, so it was great to have a short story for the two of them. It just made me want to read The Last Beginning all over again!

The two are adorable together, as ever, and also up to mischief again. They’re definitely my favourite time-travelling queer couple and I think everyone should read The Last Beginning if you haven’t already.

This is a very quick read, just a short story that gives you another snippet of the two together, this time stealing a valuable historical document in 1745. I found I wasn’t overly bothered by what they were doing, especially as I couldn’t quite place it in the timeline of the series (my fault as I haven’t read The Last Beginning for a while) but I just enjoyed seeing the two of them play off each other.

If you’ve enjoyed the series then do give this a read – if not then catch up on the series and get on this one!

4

Book Review: Bad Girls with Perfect Faces (Lynn Weingarten)

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

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 294

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (From Goodreads):

No one is good enough for Xavier. Not according to Sasha, his best friend. There’s nothing Sasha wouldn’t do to protect Xavier from getting hurt, especially by his cheating ex Ivy, who’s suddenly slithered back into the picture. Worried that Xavier is ready to forgive and forget, Sasha decides to do a little catfishing. She poses as a hot guy online, to prove cheaters never change.

But Sasha’s plan goes wrong fast, and soon the lies lead down a path from which there’s no return . . .

Review:

This is my first book read in 2018 (although I did start a bit in 2017) and I really raced through it. Something about it kept me turning the pages even when I knew I should be going to bed.

Sasha is secretly in love with her best friend, Xazier, and when his heart-breaker ex-girlfriend Ivy comes back on the scene, she realises how far she’ll go to protect him.

This book is in two parts, a before and an after. The before gives the background of Sasha and Xavier’s relationship, and Xavier and Ivy’s relationship. It keeps hinting at something bad that’s going to come, and although I guessed a little about what that might be, I had no idea how events would play out in the ‘after’ section.

I loved Sasha and Xavier’s relationship. I’ve been there myself, with a best friend who’s so perfect with you that it turns into something more (spoiler alert, I married him 🙂 ) They felt so close to becoming a couple, and I could really feel Sasha’s longing for that, until Ivy walked back into their lives and spoiled things.

Ivy felt like a more realistic portrayal of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Sure, she’s cute and quirky and makes you see things differently – but she’s also unpredictable, hurtful and vanishes without a word sometimes. I didn’t really like her, although I wouldn’t wish what happened to her on anyone either!

I won’t say too much on the ‘after’ part for fear of spoilers, but safe to say things did not go the way I expected. Lynn Weingarten is the queen of unexpected twists and I really enjoyed the rollercoaster she took me on this time. If you’re looking to kick off the New Year with a fast-paced mystery then this is for you!

Book Review: Final 7 (Kerry Drewery)

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

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Pages: 224

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Martha and Isaac have escaped, but are now on the run – the government has branded them rebels and a danger to the public. Despite the rewards being offered for turning them in, Martha and her friends are safe in The Rises, the area of the city full of the poor and the powerless. But then the Prime Minister orders a wall to be built around The Rises. Is it for the the safety or the poor – or is it to imprison them? Martha needs to act, and to act fast, in a tale of breathtaking treachery that reaches right to the heart of government…

 

Review:

It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was reading and reviewing  Day 7 and it’s weird to think this great series has come to an end now.

Final 7 picks up straight after the previous book, with Martha and an unconscious Isaac being driven to safety by a mysterious woman. Martha and her friends are blamed for the bombing at the Justice Building and are labelled the Rises 7. The media portrays them as a terrorist group and the government use this to further the separation between those in the city and those in the Rises by building a wall around the Rises.

The public believe Martha to be in prison so she spends a lot of this book sneaking around and in various disguises. Eve is arrested and taken to Old Bailey, which serves as a new death row with a historical twist. The chapters from her point of view were really grim and showed how badly the prisoners were treated. There’s a scene with her which I won’t go into because of spoilers, but it really brought a tear to my eye.

Max struggles to find his way in this book as he realises how far he will go to save his mum from death row. Martha faces a similar dilemma as she discovers which of her friends she can’t trust, and which of her enemies she can form alliances with.

The climax is intense and surprising and it kept me on the edge of my seat. I didn’t see any of it coming but I loved the way things turned out for everyone. My favourite part was definitely the aftermath when we see how the future might look for Martha, her friends and the whole of England. Have they really won, or have they traded one bad position for another? I’d love another book to find out!

This is a fascinating, extreme dystopian about corruption, privacy and the influence of the media. Although it seems a far cry from the system we have today, Drewery makes you question where we might be heading…

If you like a tense mystery-thriller with really compelling characters then I urge you to give this series a go.

4