Book Review: The Death House (Sarah Pinborough)

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

Publisher: Gollancz

Pages: 288

Release Date: May 29th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Toby is a boy who has forgotten how to live.
Clara is a girl who was born to die.

Toby’s life was perfectly normal . . .
Taken from his family, Toby now lives in the Death House. Isolated from the outside world the inhabitants of are watched for any signs of a mysterious illness . . .

Clara was a girl who had everything. Adored by her friends and her family, her life was destined for greatness. Now, Clara is the newest resident of the Death House and she’s determined not to allow her life to end there.

This is Toby and Clara’s story.

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Book Review: Flame in the Mist (Renée Ahdieh)

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

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 402

Release Date: May 18th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

Review:

The description of this book reminded me a bit of Across the Nightingale Floor, which I loved as a teen, so I knew I had to read it.

When Mariko is ambushed on the way to her political arranged marriage and her guards and servants kills, she decides to disguise herself as a man and find out who tried to kill her, and why.

I really enjoyed this book at first but I found my attention waned about halfway through. It was still good, but it just wasn’t quite doing it for me: there was no ‘oh, the feels, stuff just happened and I read it and that was that.

Mariko was an interesting character. I do love reading about women trying to overcome the stereotypes and oppressions that are put on them because of their gender, especially in societies very different to the one I live in. I admired Mariko’s determination to prove her worth beyond a political marriage, but I did question the way she went about things a lot of the time.

She didn’t want to go home after being ambushed as there’d be questions about her maidenhood etc, so instead, she dresses as a man and hangs out with a group of men… how is that any better?! She constantly saying how smart she is and how she outwits everyone, but she rarely proves that with her actions – amongst the men of the Black Clan, she seems to be a bit out of her depth.

The twist at the end wasn’t particularly surprising and it didn’t really punch me in the stomach like I wanted it to. The romance was predictable and didn’t really do much for me either. Still, this was an enjoyable read and an interesting take on a Mulan style story.

3

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: When Dimple Met Rishi (Sandhya Menon)

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

Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton

Pages: 384

Release Date: May 30th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The arranged-marriage YA romcom you didn’t know you wanted or needed…

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI is a frothy, funny contemporary romance set at a coding convention in San Francisco over one exciting summer. Told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists, Dimple is fighting her family traditions while Rishi couldn’t be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents. Could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

Review:

This is one of the cutest romance books I’ve ever met. I just want to get Dimple and Rishi and smush their faces together. This book gave me so many gooey moments and genuine smiles and I fell in love with both characters.

Dimple feels she’s disappointing her parents by not wearing makeup and searching for a husband, but she has career aspirations that come first, and a summer coding camp might be the perfect way to kickstart her career. Rishi is an old head on young shoulders: he wants to marry, have children and please his parents. He’s happy to marry Dimple, the girl his parents have picked out for him, but she might have other ideas.

First off, it’s great to see diverse characters in YA, and these are now two of my favourites. I have a mega soft spot for Rishi: he made me laugh out loud a few times and I thought his gestures towards Dimple were so thoughtful and sweet. I loved the conflict Dimple had: would she be betraying herself if she fell for a boy, and one her parents hand picked no less? It was really thought provoking and the way it was resolved was perfect (I’ll say no more, no spoilers!)

This is the first Indian American romance I’ve read and I loved the way the culture was represented. Both characters had their religion and their origins but felt differently about it: Rishi loved talking to others about his culture while Dimple felt she didn’t really fit anywhere, in America or India. The mix of languages was cool to see too, and felt very natural: I grew up in a household that used a mix of English and Urdu and I saw similarities in some of the words used here, and learnt some new ones too!

To criticise, there were some pretty cheesy moments – mostly the way that Rishi talking about Dimple – and I felt the plot got a little predictable towards the end, though the ending was perfect. Still, who doesn’t like a huge dollop of cheese on their romance (that sounds gross now I’ve written it…) I thought the plot line with Celia was a little underdeveloped, but at the same time I wasn’t that bothered because I was too focussed on Dimple and Rishi.

People have been raving about this book for months so I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you it’s going to be the hit of the summer. It’s got the most adorable romance, and two strong, diverse and lovable characters that you won’t be able to help falling in love with. Do yourself a favour and buy this book.

Copy of an art exhibit

Book Review: i love this part (Tillie Walden)

Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing

Pages: 68

Release Date: November 13th 2015

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two girls in a small town in the USA kill time together as they try to get through their days at school.

They watch videos, share earbuds as they play each other songs and exchange their stories. In the process they form a deep connection and an unexpected relationship begins to develop.

Review:

This is my first review in a long time. With NaNoWriMo last month and going back to work, I’ve not had much time for reading or blogging. But I did find a few minutes to sit and read this little gem, which Nathan picked up for me at Thought Bubble this year.

I was a little worried about writing this review, as this is one of those books where I feel there’s probably so much more to it that I haven’t got, and I’ll just sound stupid when I review it. But oh well, I’m doing it anyway!

This is a short coming of age love story between two girls in a small USA town. The sparse dialogue tells the story succinctly and also makes it kind of haunting. The art is simple and stunning and stays with you when you’ve finished reading. The two girls appear as giants at first, towering over buildings and mountains as they are consumed by their developing feelings for each other. As their relationship gets more complicated, the world shrinks around them.

This was a really quick read, but one I can see myself returning to lots. It’s amazing how heart breaking something can be in just a few pages and sentences. I look forward to reading more of Walden’s work.

4

Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star (Nicola Yoon)

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

Publisher: Corgi Childrens

Pages: 384

Release Date: November 1st 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Review:

I loved Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and was excited to read her latest book. I didn’t have any idea what it was going into it but it turned out to be a cutesy romance with some more serious undertones on identity and immigration.

The story follows Natasha, whose family is about to be deported back to Jamaica and Daniel, who has an interview for a university his parents want him to go to. Chance throws them together but is there’s a romance that is destined forever, or destined for failure?

I’m not usually one for romance stories, and this one was sickly sweet sometimes, but I couldn’t help enjoy this one. While Daniel believes in true love and meant-to-be, Natasha is a girl of my own heart and cynical about the whole thing.

The story mainly alternates between Natasha and Daniel’s points of view, but also has the odd aside from more background characters: the feelings of security guard at an office who wants to commit suicide, the regrets of Natasha’s father, a history of Daniel’s brother. These little flavours of other people were a great way to explore other events and characters, as the story takes place over one day.

With Natasha’s family due to be deported the next day, it seems as if there’s no chance for the two to ever have a relationship, even as they fall for each other. I was worried the whole thing was going to be resolved nicely and the two would live happily ever after: while I kind of wanted that for them as they were so sweet, I’m cynical and don’t like insta-love and perfect romance stories like that, so I was glad when a lot of obstacles were thrown their way. I won’t spoil it but I was satisfied with how things turned out.

Diversity is a hot topic at the moment and it was refreshing to read a story that wasn’t about two middle class white people. We see the casual racism that’s thrown at them – Natasha feels pressure to have her hair chemically straightened as Afro hair isn’t ‘good hair’. The issues of identity and immigration are really fascinating as well. Natasha was born in Jamaica but grew up in America: America is her home and she feels no connection with her place of birth. She was brought there illegally by her parents and is being forced to leave due to her father’s mistake. There’s a frustration in the helplessness of a young person who can’t control her own fate.

This was a bittersweet love story that I really enjoyed. It was good to read a romance story from a perspective that isn’t white/middleclass and can educate me about cultures I don’t know much about. It’s another hit from Nicola Yoon and I’d really recommend it.

4

Book Review: Tell Us Something True (Dana Reinhardt)

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

Publisher: Rock the Boat

Pages: 208

Release Date: July 20th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old River doesn’t know what to do with himself when Penny, the girl he adores, breaks up with him. He lives in LA, where nobody walks anywhere, and Penny was his ride; he never bothered getting a license. He’s stuck. He’s desperate. Okay . . . he’s got to learn to drive.

But first, he does the unthinkable—he starts walking. He stumbles upon a support group for teens with various addictions. He fakes his way into the meetings, and begins to connect with the other kids, especially an amazing girl. River wants to tell the truth, but he can’t stop lying, and his tangle of deception may unravel before he learns how to handle the most potent drug of all: true love.

Review:

I’ve not been reading as much lately but when I started this book I really didn’t want to put it down. The voice in it is spot on and you can’t help but fall in love a bit with River, even as he makes mistake after mistake.

The story starts when River is dumped by long term girlfriend Penny and he feels as if his life is over. When he sees a sign for a ‘Second Chance’ he jumps at it and finds himself in a support group for troubled teens. When he realises that these kids have real problems – eating disorders, drug addiction etc – he fakes a marijuana addiction, continues to go to the meetings and quickly falls in love with a girl there.

I was a bit torn on how I felt about River and his problems sometimes. Obviously when put up against the teens at the support group his problems seem like nothing. But I think things like this are relative – there’s always someone going through something worse than you, but your problem is always going to feel like the worst thing in the world, because you’re the one going through it.

River made a lot of mistakes as the book went along, and I cringed at each lie that made his story go deeper and that I knew would eventually have to be confessed in the end. That kind of thing actually makes me really anxious. I hate confrontation so I dread that bit when they get discovered! River managed to turn things around though, with a lot of apologising and making up, and I was glad things turned out okay for him. There was a bit of a twist, of kinds, which I saw coming miles away and kind of can’t believe River didn’t, but it’s all explained in his own kind of selfishness so I forgave that.

There’s a lot of YA around where the protagonist has serious problems, falls in love and that solves everything. I thought this book might be going the same way but it’s much more sensible than that, and I really appreciate it. River grows a lot in this short book and part of it is realising that he doesn’t need a girl to complete himself, that it’s okay to deal with your problems on your own and a partner isn’t going to solve everything for you.

This was a really fun read with such a great cast of characters. I had a real soft spot for River’s sister, who is just adorable. This is a definite must read and the perfect short book for a fun summer read.

4

Book Review: How Hard Can Love Be? (Holly Bourne)

Publisher: Usborne

Pages: 480

Release Date: February 1st 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.

Review:

I had to read this straight after reading Am I Normal Yet? as I enjoyed the first book so very much.

This time it’s Amber’s turn to tell her story, and while I did grow to love her more as the book went on, I really missed Evie at first as I grew really attached to her in the previous book.

Amber has a very different set of problems to Evie – she craves love, whether it’s from her alcoholic mother, her dad who is preoccupied with his new wife and evil step-son, or the hot Prom King at the American camp she’s working at this summer.

As the title suggests, love isn’t always straight forward and Amber struggles with it over the summer. Her mother avoids all confrontation and talking about the past and constantly puts other things above Amber. Kyle might be an All American Cliche but he’s also the first boy who’s actually shown Amber any interest, but he also sends confusing messages and she doesn’t know what to think.

I enjoyed the feminism aspect of this book. In the previous book Amber often berated Lottie and Evie for their constant boy talk, but as she falls for one herself she realises what a minefield it can be. It can feel conflicting sometimes, to call yourself a feminist yet have movie style giggly/moaning conversations about boys. The Harry Potter references really made me want to re-read the series again and I loved how it linked in with relationship with her mother. The hopelessness of Amber and Kyle’s relationship also got me hard: I’m not saying it’s impossible to last but a relationship is so hard to maintain when you’re in completely different countries. I could see why Amber guarded herself so much.

The strained relationship with Amber’s mum did come to a fairly nice conclusion but I really disliked her through a lot of the book. I felt more understanding after she opened up about her alcoholism but for most of the book I just wanted to scream “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE HER?!” But as someone who hasn’t ever struggled with addiction like that I can’t even pretend to understand her problems. There was another event at the end of the book which I was a bit concerned about, as Amber’s behaviour got pretty reckless in my eyes (no spoilers!) and I was worried about endorsing that kind of behaviour, but I think it was resolved in a satisfactory way.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Evie’s story but it was still a fantastic book. I know the third book is out shortly and I’m dying to get my hands on Lottie’s story as it sounds incredible <3

4

Book Review: Consumed (Abbie Rushton)

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

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

Pages: 352

Release Date: April 5th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

Myla used to love spending long, hot days on the beach with her sister, Asha. Until the day Asha was taken from her and the sun went out. Forever.

That was two years ago. Myla hasn’t been down to the beach – or even left the house – since. Crippling agoraphobia and panic attacks keep her locked inside a nightmare of the day she can never forget. Her main contact with the outside world is online – until she meets Jamie.

Jamie is new in town and also struggles with things most people find easy. Nobody gets why it’s so hard for him to eat. But, like Myla, Jamie is trapped by his fears and feels anxious, awkward and alone.

Gradually the pair begin to trust each other. Are they willing to reveal their secrets – and risk discovering the truth? Or will they let their pasts consume them for good…

Review:

There were some things I really liked about this book, but other bits that I really struggled with, which kind of spoilt my enjoyment a little.

I liked the mystery element, wondering who murdered Asha and what their motivations were. I managed to guess the person after a couple of obvious clues about half way through, but I didn’t mind as it was still interesting to see the characters work it out and understand how and why it had all happened.

I also liked the main characters. It was great to see a male protagonist with an eating disorder, and I think it’s the first I’ve come across in a book before. That’s really important to me, as I think too often eating disorders are seen as a ‘girls problem’ which just isn’t true. Myla was also a great protagonist. I loved that she was a blogger and a baker. It was interesting to see the effect of the loss of her sister had on her and her family and the different ways which they dealt with it.

The relationship between Jamie and Myla developed nicely in some respects. I liked that they didn’t love each other at first sight – or even like each other really. But neither had anyone else to turn to and circumstance forced them together, which meant a nice little romance developed between them.

What I didn’t like, however, was the was they each helped to ‘cure’ each other’s mental illnesses. Very early on in the relationship, Jamie encourages Myla to leave the house, and she seems willing to do it for him, a guy she barely knows. I know she wanted to get out for herself too, but it just felt a little corny/unbelievable that this basic stranger could come along and get her out the front door when her family and professionals had been unable to. Similarly, it made me cringe to see her trying to make him eat, though I think his recovery was a little slower and more believable.

So I had my problems with how some of the issues were dealt with, but I think that could just be how I interpreted things – you might read it differently. It’s still a well written and interesting book, and a quick and easy read.

3

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