Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

The Paper & Hearts Society – Lucy Powrie

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that any book lover is in want of a good book will always find one in a library.”

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Blurb: “Tabby Brown is tired of trying to fit in. She doesn’t want to go to parties – in fact, she would much rather snuggle up on the sofa with her favourite book. It’s like she hasn’t found her people. Then Tabby joins a club that promises to celebrate books. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING – especially when making new friends brings out an AWKWARD BUZZING feeling all over her body.”

Trigger warning: panic attacks

Lucy Powrie is a booktuber who talks about YA and classic literature. I’ve always found her so eloquent in the way she expresses her love of books and her dedication to the Twitter chat #UKYA, which she created, has been a joy to witness. NOw, at nineteen years old, she’s published her first book.

It’s almost stereotypical to say, but a book club is an experience I wish I’d had growing up. I didn’t have many friends who read for pleasure, let alone ones that were willing to talk for hours on end about characters. As the tagline says, “find your people”, and Tabby does just that. She stumbles across a book club at her new school called The Paper & Hearts Society and feels like she is validated for her love of various books, even if they are different to her peers. An aspect I really loved about this story was that every single person in this group is a different book that they love from Harry Potter, to Game Of Thrones, to the classics and that is accepted and appreciated by the others, even if they don’t like those stories at all.

Social media is explored in some ways I’ve never seen before. When Tabby’s friend requests are accepted by her new friends and she is allowed access to their online platforms, it feels like she has been given permission to see a private side of them; the inner workings of their mind. It’s something that I’d never really thought about. Of course, the negative side of the internet is shown as a big sub plot of the book is the fact that Tabby’s ex-friend, Jess, is bullying her online. It’s suffocating and horrible and shows just how easy it is to attempt to ruin someone’s life from afar under an anonymous name. It causes severe anxiety in Tabby, affects her relationships with her new friends, and causes panic attacks.

Periods get a mention and I loved how there were references to both tampons and pads to show the different tools for tackling mother nature. It’s nice to see this make a more common appearance in YA contemporaries.

The Paper & Hearts Society also has the character Olivia come out as demisexual and explain what it means. It’s a lovely little moment and a chance to educate readers on a type of sexuality they may not be as familiar with.

The real star is the narrator of the audiobook, Imogen Heap, who did a wonderful job of bringing the story to life. I’d love to read more books narrated by her.

The only problem I had is that I just didn’t really gel with the story as much as I thought I might and found myself having to restart chapters again because I wasn’t really paying attention, so it took a bit of time to really  But overall, The Paper And Society is a dream for anyone in desperate need of a group of people who love books just as much as they do.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

“You may have been perfectly designed but there is always room for improvement.”

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Blurb: “In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim. Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.”

Having read Louise O’Neill’s more recent book Asking For It, I sort of knew what to expect when going into her debut. O’Neill has become well known for her activism regarding women’s issues from her weekly columns at the Irish Examiner, to her outspoken manner online, and of course her books; where she tackles topics most would rather avoid.

Only Ever Yours tells the story of a world in which the use of birth control to maintain the “perfect body” has led to women being created rather than born naturally. The girls are put into schools where they are trained to believe that their looks and rankings will dictate their futures. There are three roles available after graduation: companion, concubines and chastities. Of course, everyone wants to be a companion to one of the rich, attractive men – known as Inheritants – who will make their choice at the ceremony.

This is not a pleasant read. To describe it as a “brilliant book that everyone should read” (which it is) almost feels like missing the point of the narrative. From the outset that is something unsettling and if you are struggling with weight issues or an eating disorder it is best to wait until you are in a very good place before reading it – which is what I did. There is overwhelming sense that something bad is going to happen if any of the characters step out of line and there were many occasions where I was holding my breath as if that would help the story in some way. I don’t normally pay attention to quotes from other authors on books as those opinions never tend to sway me towards buying a book, but Jeanette Winterson says that “O’Neill writes with a scalpel” and honestly, that could not be more true.

I did find the world confusing at first as you’re thrown in the deep end to follow Freida who is in her final year, preparing for the ceremony. The characters around her are the embodiment of everything we would deem wrong from society and their views are amplified throughout, creating a sense of disorientation when you see the extreme lengths some girls will go to in order to keep their rankings up. While pitched as a strong relationship between Freida and Isabel, their friendship is fraught for most of the book as Isabel appears to let herself go and doesn’t get punished for her actions; instead she is simply removed from the rankings. The reason for which sets your mind into the worst possible outcomes for her. The chastities in charge refer to the girls by numbers, but the girls themselves call each other by names which made it difficult to understand the intended purpose: they are stripped of their names but seem to retain them at the same time.

An obvious comparison to make is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood because they both deal with government control of women’s bodies, but it’s important to note the very big differences. In Only Ever Yours birth control is seen as a good thing, to stop pregnancy ruining your bodies (meanwhile Handmaid’s sees birth control as a bad thing) and in Handmaid’s there is a sense of hope that things could really change. There is none of that in Only Ever Yours. It is a dark, terrifying insight into what our world could be like if we don’t start tackling important issues.

I can only salute Louise O’Neill for her fantastic efforts… even if she does scare me a bit.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Wrong Chords – Christine Hurley Deriso

“Sticking music in front of me is like putting a map in the face of a driver who already knows the way.”

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Blurb: “Scarlett Stiles is desperate for a change of scenery after her older brother, Liam, dies of a drug overdose. But spending the summer with her grandfather wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Luckily, Scarlett finds something to keep her busy–a local rock band looking for a guitarist. Even though playing guitar has been hard since Liam died, Scarlett can’t pass on an opportunity like this, and she can’t take her eyes off the band’s hot lead singer either. Is real happiness just around the corner? Or will she always be haunted by her brother’s death?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The story follows a girl called Scarlett who goes to stay with her Grandfather for the summer, following the death of her brother. She gets a job as a lifeguard, focuses on her upcoming college enrolment and tries to get on with life as normal. Through an almost unfortunate event, Scarlett meets a boy called Zach and learns that he is in a band. After his fellow bandmates learn of her talents on vocals and with a guitar, she is quickly asked to join.

At its heart this is a tale about grief. While it has been a few months, Scarlett is still deeply affected by the loss of her brother; and it doesn’t help when the real cause of his death is shielded from outsiders. Music is her connection to Liam as he taught her how to play guitar and she has shied away from the instrument since his death. What I loved is seeing Scarlett channel her feelings back into music. When she joins the band, memories are shared of times when she bonded with her brother through melodies.

While I enjoyed reading everything to do with the band and their performances, I found it hard to connect because I feel like it’s something that needed the visuals I struggled to conjure up enough of an image in my mind of the scenes in motion.

At the start I really didn’t like the Grandfather but as the story progressed I started to see the softer side to him and grew to really appreciate his relationship with Scarlet.

A must for music and romance lovers, and anyone wishing it was summer!

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Posted in Non-Fiction, review

Feel Good 101 – Emma Blackery

“If you’re able to take away just one thing for this book that gives you the confidence to make a decision that benefits your life, then I’m glad to have written it.”

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Blurb: “In Feel Good 101, YouTube’s most outspoken star Emma Blackery is finally putting pen to paper to (over)share all her hard-learned life lessons. From standing up to bullies and bad bosses to embracing body confidence and making peace with her brain, Emma speaks with her trademark honesty about the issues she’s faced – including her struggles with anxiety and depression. This is the book Emma wishes she’d had growing up . . . and she’s written it for you”

I have always been skeptical of books written by YouTubers; especially when many of them are life stories written by people the same age as me. When Emma made a video expressing her distaste for a number of YouTubers signing book deals, it was a relief to see a big content creator breaking what had almost become a norm. Which made it an even bigger shock when she took a U-Turn a few months later and announced that she was writing a book.

Feel Good 101 started off as a series on Emma’s channel offering advice on various topics affecting young people, so it seemed only natural for that it to expand into a full book. Emma covers everything you can think of from school, music, mental health, dealing with failure, being bullied and the bully, and of course how she started her channel. It’s very similar to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s book All I Know Now in the sense that rather than attempting to be a self-help book (as Emma frequently makes it clear throughout, this book alone will not solve your problems), each segment is backed up by real life experiences. Emma doesn’t claim to have all of the answers and it’s that flawed, human element that makes this book a pleasure to read.

At first I was unsure whether to pick this up; for the reasons stated earlier. But when I heard there was an audiobook, I decided to use my audible credit. If you’re yet to buy Feel Good 101, I highly recommend the audiobook because it was like listening to one long video and held my attention a lot more than I think reading the book would have because you’re hearing Emma read her story. Oh, and there’s the additional bonus of an interview with YA author Holly Bourne if you opt for the audiobook.

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Posted in review, young adult

Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Another secret of the universe: sometimes pain was like a storm that comes out of nowhere. The clearest summer could end in a downpour, could end in lightning and thunder.”

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Blurb: “Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime.”

I’m a firm believer that you can learn a lot about someone by their favourite books. After all, they are favourites for a reason. For a few years I’ve watched a booktuber by the name of renontheroad whose favourite book is this one. Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe is not short of its critical acclaim with four in total including the Stonewall Book Award for LGBT fiction and the Michael L. Printz Award.

The story follows a Mexican-American boy called Aristotle who lives in El Paso in the eighties. He is obsessed with the world and everything it has to offer; he wants to know all the secrets of the universe. Struggling to adapt to life without his brother – who is shunned by the family – the endless possibilities of the future and finding his identity and footing in the world. Aristotle meets a boy called Dante at a swimming pool and their friendship blossoms from there.

This book is a slow burn and more about taking the time to reflect on the small things in life. Meaning plays a very big role in the story as it’s something that Aristotle is constantly searching for. While it felt almost tedious, it could be said that the sluggish pace is reflective of real life; not everything is eventful all the time. Another aspect of the story that incorporates this is the romance. Like most real-life relationships it slowly builds up and, as the story is narrated from Aristotle’s point of view, there aren’t any real indications of his feelings for Dante apart from him speaking more often about him. He doesn’t really notice and process his feelings until it’s pointed out to him.

The writing style is poetic but borders almost on pretentious at times. Aristotle is so fascinated by the world and almost resentful of Dante at times by how satisfied he is with his life.

I listened to the audiobook version because it was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda and I think this took away from my enjoyment. As a narrator, he didn’t do a good enough job of differentiating between the voices so it was hard to tell which was speech and Aristotle’s internal thoughts. I wonder if I might have had a better experience by reading the book rather than listening to it.

A book that held a lot of promise but was ultimately a let-down for me.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Another Place – Matthew Crow

“I wrote my goal for the summer. A goal I would only share with those whose involvement helped my mission. The last secret between me and my friend I had known only at night. That summer I would find Sarah Banks.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Claudette Flint is coming home from hospital after an escalating depression left her unable to cope. Released into the care of her dad, she faces the daunting task of piecing herself back together. She may look unchanged; but everything’s different. The same could be said about her seaside hometown: this close-knit community seems to be unspooling in the wake of the sudden disappearance of one of her schoolmates, Sarah.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

The story follows a teenage girl called Claudette who returns home after a hospital stay for her mental illness and learns that her fellow classmate, Sarah, has gone missing. As part of her recovery, Claudette’s therapist has instructed her to set herself goals, no matter how small. Claudette decides her goal for the summer is to find Sarah.

Another Place fell very short for me. I expected it to be a great mystery novel but it was packed full of characters and subplots that I didn’t really care about, which made it hard to connect to anything. The way that Claudette talks about Sarah made it seem like they were best friends but in fact they were minor acquaintances. It fell quickly into “John Green manic pixie dream girl” territory and that just pulled me out of the story even more.

The book does have some redeeming factor and one of those is handling of mental illness. Claudette has a wonderful father who does his best to stand up and support his daughter which encourages Claudette to open up. Even when unsure of how to act upon her return, he doesn’t shut himself off from her and it was a perfect example of a supportive relationship that may encourage those struggling to open up to their own family members.

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Posted in contemporary, poetry, review, young adult

Moonrise – Sarah Crossan

“People are gonna be telling you all kinds of
Lies.
I need you to know the truth.”

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Blurb: “Joe hasn’t seen his brother for ten years, and it’s for the most brutal of reasons. Ed is on death row. But now Ed’s execution date has been set, and Joe is determined to spend those last weeks with him, no matter what other people think.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Joe’s life was turned upside down when he received a phone call revealing that his brother, Ed, was going to prison on a murder charge. The family happens to live in a state where the death penalty is a punishment and when Ed’s execution date is confirmed, Joe struggles even more.

Sticking to her usual unique style, Moonrise is another free verse novel from Sarah Crossan. The use of this format to tell the story creates a simplicity that really hits you in the gut. The story doesn’t rely on fancy metaphors or deep imagery to make the reader feel something (though I want to express that using metaphors/imagery is not a bad thing either). It just further highlights Crossan’s talents.

The story is told through snapshots in time. The reader gets an insight into Joe’s childhood and memories with his brother as the execution fate draws closer. This, along with the writing format, makes it impossible not to feel something.

This is a heart-wrenching read tackling the idea of how to cope with losing a loved one.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Hufflepuff Edition) – J.K.Rowling

“He’ll be famous – a legend – I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future – there will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name!”

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Blurb: “Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

As part of the Potter generation, it only seems fitting that I re-read at least one book from the series every year and as this year marks the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, it only felt more prevalent. There are not enough words to fully convey what this this world and its characters mean to me but I’m sure any potterhead out there will be able to relate.

I try to avoid buying different copies of the same book unless it’s a rare occasion and this was certainly one of them: as part of the celebrations, brand new editions were rolled out, both in hardback or paperback, styled specifically for each of the four Hogwarts houses. Being an unapologetic Hufflepuff, it’s obvious which one I went for. Unlike other anniversary editions I’ve purchased, this one was definitely worth the money. There’s addition material from Rowling talking about the history of the Hufflepuff house, information that the common room along with the house ghost, head of house and noteable Hufflepuff characters from the universe.

To those unaware, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is the first book in a seven-part series following an orphan boy called Harry who learns that he is wizard. He is taken away from his evil aunt and uncle to a magic school called Hogwarts where he quickly learns that he is famous.

The wonderful thing about this series is that, no matter how many times I read it, I always come back to it and discover something new or I’m reminded of things I’ve forgotten. I fall head-over-heels in love with this book every time I read it. While not my favourite out of the whole series, it’s impossible to deny the creativity and craft that went into this book and it paved the way for a growth of characters and a worldwide phenomenon.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a truly magical story that continues to teach the importance of making your own choices and the value of friendship. A lesson everyone can benefit from.

I may need to launch into an entire series re-read now.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, non fiction, review

Happy Mum, Happy Baby – Giovanna Fletcher

“Our words affect others – we can use them to strengthen or to belittle and crush. I know what I want mine to do.”

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Blurb: “Being a mum is an incredible journey, a remarkable experience that changes how we look, how we feel, who we are. As mothers we are strong, protective, proud. We feel a love like no other. But being a parent can be hard too. It challenges us physically, mentally, emotionally. There are the days where just managing to fit a shower in amidst the endless feeding, entertaining young children and surviving on a lack of sleep feels like an achievement. With so many people ready to offer ‘advice’ on the best way to parent, it can feel like you are getting it all wrong.”

Like many my age, I know Giovanna because of her connection to McFly band member Tom Fletcher. As she set up her own YouTube channel and I started watching, I came to love Giovanna as her own person. I have read all of her fiction books and loved every single one of them. But when she announced she was writing a new book about pregnancy and motherhood, I found myself hesitant.

I am not interested in children. That’s not to say I don’t like them; my cousin has children and I absolutely adore them. I just don’t want children myself. So I decided that this book wasn’t for me and that was ok. I’ve started using Audible again and was looking for something new to listen to and came across Happy Mum, Happy Baby and indulged because it’s narrated by Giovanna. It’s the best decision I could have made. The book mimics Giovanna’s voice entirely and listening to it felt like I was having one long coffee and a chat with her.

As things are in the online world, it’s easy to get a skewed sense of reality. While a parent may seem to be having lots of fun playing around in the garden, the people on the outside won’t see the temper tantrum that same child had just five minutes later – something Giovanna touches on a lot in her YouTube series “mumdays.” She also shares more personal stories within her book along with discussing everything from coming off the pill and how her body changed, to her aversion to breast feeding and how that changed once she had a children herself, to the obvious one… giving birth. I found it really interesting to learn about hypnobirthing which is the technique she used to bring both of her children into the world. She tackles the idea of waiting to announce a pregnancy – typically at the three month mark – and how that can have its own negativity because you then have no one to comfort you if things do go wrong. She discusses at length the negative comments she’s received both online and in person, along with how strangers would suddenly feel the need to express their unsolicited thoughts on her body.

Overall I found this to be an insightful, interesting and frankly hilarious at times read.

Even if you don’t think you want children in the future, book is definitely worth checking out.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

One Of Us Is Lying – Karen M. Mcmanus

“Is everybody in it together, or is somebody pulling the strings? Who’s the puppet master and who’s the puppet? I’ll give you a hint to get you started: everyone is lying.”

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Blurb: “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”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

When a group of teenagers from different social groups end up in detention together, they think nothing could possibly get worse. Until Simon, the school gossip, dies an hour later. As the only people in room when it happened, the group become persons of interest. Who is telling the truth? And who is lying?

The initial start of this book feels very much like The Breakfast Club and I worried  that the story would feel too similar but once the driving force of the plot –Simon’s death – kicks in, it started to move away for that and grew to become its own story. While the unexpected death shakes the school, leading to threatening tumblr posts and a media frenzy, One of Us Is Lying is more about the characters. The use of multiple perspectives allows the reader an insight into each of the character’s lives and does a really good job of breaking down preconceived ideas we have of people based on how they appear from the outside.

Personally I’ve been having a lot of problem with plot-length in books this year and One of Us Is Lying is one of those. In a “who done it” type of story it’s hard to get the balance between the investigation elements and the getting-to-know-the-characters element and, for me, there was too much of the latter. But I think a lot of that played into the fact that apart from Bronwyn (who I could really relate to), I didn’t really connect to any of the characters enough to want to know more about their lives outside of the school walls. Which was more fault of me than the book itself.

The big reveal was underwhelming and I’ve seen a lot of other reviewers express their concerns about it.

This one just wasn’t for me.

 

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