Book Review: The Truth About Alice (Jennifer Mathieu)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books

Pages: 336

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Everyone knows Alice slept with two guys at one party.
But did you know Alice was sexting Brandon when he crashed his car?
It’s true. Ask ANYBODY.

Rumour has it that Alice Franklin is a slut. It’s written all over the ‘slut stall’ in the girls’ bathroom at Healy High for everyone to see. And after star quarterback Brandon Fitzsimmons dies in a car accident, the rumours start to spiral out of control.

In this remarkable novel, four Healy High students – the party girl, the car accident survivor, the ex best friend and the boy next door – tell all they know.

But exactly what is the truth about Alice? In the end there’s only one person to ask: Alice herself.

Review:

This was a really interesting book told from several different points of view. Everyone at school has an opinion about Alice and what a slut she is, but no one asks Alice what the truth is. Each of the narrators knows a rumour about Alice that isn’t true, but none of them will admit it to everyone else, so the rumours around Alice grow out of control.

The other characters in the book are just as stereotyped as Alice: the popular girl, the jock, the nerd and they all have their own secrets to hide, as well as their truths about Alice. I loved the way each of them started out sounding every bit the high school clique but the more you read, the more they become real, 3D characters and not cliches.

The split narrative worked really well in this book. It felt like a character study rather than a plot-driven story, with each person revealing a little more of themselves and Alice each time. They all had distinct voices and I loved the different perspective each one brought.

This book showed the reasons behind everyone’s lies and how that led to rumours and often cruel treatment of Alice. Although there’s definitely malice from some, others are just trying to fit in or cover up their own secrets. While that doesn’t excuse their behaviour, it humanises them and adds depths to this story.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on feminism and treatment of women lately and this was another that really set me thinking. I think it is essential reading for teenagers and will definitely be recommending it to everyone I can.

Book Review: She, Myself and I (Emma Young)

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

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Ever since Rosa’s nerve disease rendered her quadriplegic, she’s depended on her handsome, confident older brother to be her rock and her mirror. But when a doctor from Boston chooses her to be a candidate for an experimental brain transplant, she and her family move from London in search of a miracle. Sylvia—a girl from a small town in Massachusetts—is brain dead, and her parents have agreed to donate her body to give Rosa a new life. But when Rosa wakes from surgery, she can’t help but wonder, with increasing obsession, who Sylvia was and what her life was like. Her fascination with her new body and her desire to understand Sylvia prompt a road trip based on self-discovery… and a surprising new romance. But will Rosa be able to solve the dilemma of her identity?

Review:

This book had a really interesting premise and deals with themes of identity and what makes you, you.

Rosa has a nerve disease that means she is a quadriplegic, but is offered a new chance at life with an experimental brain transplant. But after the surgery Rosa questions who she really is and obsesses over Sylvia, the girl whose body she now has. She embarks on a journey to discover more about who Sylvia was and who Rosa is now.

There’s a great idea behind this book but I felt the pacing was a little slow for me. There’s a lot of Rosa questioning who she is and not a lot of action. I thought her approach to the new body was a bit strange. While I’ve never been in that situation so can’t say for sure, I feel like I’d be more excited about being able to walk again and less worried about not being myself anymore. But I suppose teenagers often struggle with their identity so it must be doubly hard when you don’t see your own face in the mirror.

Where this book really got to me was when Rosa met Sylvia’s father. I felt more for his position than for Rosa: I can’t imagine losing Little Moore, donating his body and then knowing he’s walking around out there, even if there’s someone else in his head. Knowing that his body is out there living and aging but he’s not my boy anymore is just painful.

There’s a romance story with Rosa and Joe, a reporter she meets outside the hospital. I liked his background story and could see how it linked in with Rosa, but I didn’t really feel the need for a love story in this. I thought Rosa’s relationship with her brother, Elliot, was a lot more interesting and would have liked her to take this journey of discovery with him instead.

Also, tiny pet peeve but as Rosa is supposed to be from England it annoyed me that she mentioned the ‘fall’ leaves a few times.

This was an interesting and thought-provoking book with a fascinating concept but a slow pace and little action dragged it down for me.

Book Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay (Laura Steven)

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 337

Release Date: March 8th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

Review:

This is one of those books which just clicked right away for me.

Izzy is an amazing narrator: she’s funny, she’s sensitive – in her own way – and she just reads like a teenage girl. I immediately connected with her and her life: the way she uses comedy to shield herself from things, the way family means more to her than throwing everything into a pipe dream. It’s odd to get that narrative in a book – usually, it’s all ‘follow your dreams’, no matter the consequences. I liked that Izzy had ambitions, but also at her core wanted to take care of her Grandma Betty, who’d worked really hard to look after Izzy after her parents died.

At a party one night, Izzy has sex with two boys, one who happens to be a local politician’s son, and someone takes pictures and suddenly everyone knows about it. While Izzy is called a slut and degraded at every opportunity, there’s little to no fall out for the boys involved. And, as Izzy says, that is the exact opposite of okay.

This is such a current topic, with talks about revenge porn, consent and feminism featuring prominently in the media at the moment. My favourite thing about it was that Izzy constantly affirms to herself that she did nothing wrong. Despite everyone’s opinions about it – and everyone is more than ready to share those opinions – there’s nothing wrong with being a girl and enjoying sex and having sex with multiple partners. If that’s what you want to do, as long as you’re safe about it, that should be fine. It’s fine when we talk about guys doing it. So why is it that when a girl does it, she’s branded a slut and told she should kill herself?

This book happily sits alongside some of my favourite feminist young adult books, including The Spinster Trilogy by Holly Bourne as well as books that deal with consent and treatment of girls, like Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. It’s the kind of book I want to give to my teenage sisters, to inspire them and empower them, because that’s how I felt reading this book. I would have loved this as a teenager.

It’s not all empowerment though – for a funny book, there are some seriously dark and sad moments in this. Even though Izzy tries to hold her head high and let things wash over her, it’s hard when you’re the target of so much hate. I wanted to cry a few times throughout the book because I just felt so bad for Izzy.

There’s also some interesting bits on the ‘friend zone’ and ‘nice guy’ syndrome. You know the type: the ones who have been nice to you, listened to you moan about other boys and been there for you, then suddenly decide that means they’re entitled to your love. It’s interesting the way the nice guy in the story is portrayed, as you can see in his head he is doing things right by Izzy, but from her point of view it’s insulting and creepy and just ruining their friendship. It’s not something I’ve seen in a book before and it’s a great way of pointing out to teens as something to look out for. Remember, you don’t owe guys anything, no matter how ‘nice’ they’ve been to you!

Overall this was just a really fantastic read. It can be uncomfortable and upsetting at points, but sometimes I think the best books are. It will really make you think, make you laugh, and hopefully you’ll come away from it feeling as inspired and empowered as I did.


Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: Brightstorm (Vashti Hardy)

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

Publisher: Scholastic

Pages: 352

Release Date: March 1st 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Twins Arthur and Maudie receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father died in a failed attempt to reach South Polaris. Not only that, but he has been accused of trying to steal fuel from his competitors before he died! The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to help crew a new exploration attempt in the hope of learning the truth and salvaging their family’s reputation. As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. But will Arthur and Maudie find the answers they seek?

Review:

This was a fantastic middle-grade story, jam-packed full of action and adventure, family and friends and flying machines!

When Arthur and Maudie’s father is reported dead on a mission, after supposedly stealing fuel from another explorer, they set out to complete his mission and clear his name.

I loved the pace of this story. So much happened in such a short space of time: it moved quickly from one thing to the next, not lingering too long on anything so even the sad moments aren’t sad for too long.

There’s a great host of characters, not least of which are the twins. Arthur is desperate to prove he is useful on the ship, despite having only one arm, and to clear his father’s name, so much so that he sometimes doesn’t think before he acts. I loved how smart and practical Maudie was, and how supportive she was of her brother.Their captain, Harriet Culpepper, is an amazing leader, and there’s a villain that’ll make your toes curl too.

I also want to shout out to the amazing cover – it’s so beautiful I could stare at it all day. I’m sure a lot of people will pick it up off the shelves based on its looks alone, and they won’t be disappointed by what’s inside!

This is such a fun book with a host of quirky characters and non-stop action and adventure from start to finish. Get this for the young readers in your life and let them join Arthur and Maudie on the adventure of a lifetime!

4

Book Review: Secrets of a Teenage Heiress (Katy Birchall)

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

Publisher: Egmont Publishing

Pages: 320

Release Date: January 11th 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Flick’s family have owned The Royale – one of London’s most prestigious hotels – for generations. But Flick isn’t that interested. She is interested in the newest guest – superstar celebrity Skylar Chase, and Sky’s mega-famous group of friends, including dreamy YouTube star, Ethan Duke. But just as Flick gets the chance to join their glittering squad, she gets grounded following an unfortunate incident involving a prince, a wardrobe and a selfie stick (it could have happened to anyone!). With only her Instagram star pet dachshund, Fritz, for company, will Flick find a way to escape The Royale and join the fame game?

Review:

Flick lives in Hotel Royale, London’s most prestigious hotel, and where pop sensation Skylar Chase is staying. Against the odds, Flick gets the chance to hang out with Skylar and her celebrity friends, just as she gets grounded.

I was craving an easy and fun read and I knew this wouldn’t let me down. Like Katy Birchall’s It Girl series, this was funny and happy and packed full of jokes and fun friendships.

I wasn’t too keen on Flick at first. She’s a bit spoilt and entitled and bratty and some of the things she said really annoyed me, especially the way she treated some of the hotel workers: I’ve been in that kind of job and I would not have liked a girl like her! Luckily she grows throughout the book and comes to realise how much work goes into running the hotel.

Flick really came into her own at the end when she put together a special event for Skylar, organising the whole thing and using her newfound knowledge of the hotel and staff to make things run smoothly. It really showed how much she’d changed and grown.

I really liked Cal and his relationship with Flick, even if she did mistreat him a lot. He felt real, while Flick often had her head in the clouds. Grace was another wonderful character, a true friend to Flick when she needed it and just a good laugh overall. Also loved the little mentions of Anna and her family from the IT Girl series!

This was a really fun read with a lot of character growth and I’m interested to see where Flick will go next. I passed the book on to my eleven-year-old cousin, who read it in two days and loved it. This is a perfect fun read for young teens.

4

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.