Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Cover Reveal: Starless and Black... and the case of the perfect girl

So, that blogging comeback was all going so well, and then... 

(If my hair wasn't a complete mess having not been cut for months, this is where I'd insert a picture of me looking at the screen helplessly!)

I was starting to think I was done with this - I haven't read anything for ages, I have little motivation in general, and the state of the world is getting me down.

But just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in again...

They, in this case, being Allan Boroughs, superstar MG author. Allan's debut novel Ironheart and sequel Bloodstone are two of my favourite middle grade adventures for many years, with a stunning lead character, an outstanding supporting cast, and a fantastic plot for the series which marries incredible excitement to real heart and humour, building to a wonderful conclusion. I've spent 5 years desperately hoping for more from this outstanding author - so when he messaged me saying "Hey, want to do a cover reveal?" I was so thrilled I signed up without realising I'd committed to performing the Dance of the Seven Veils!

Sadly, a back injury has meant I can't keep that promise, BUT I can bring you an even better visual delight...

From the, frankly, jaw-droppingly talented Cheynne Edmonston, I can exclusively reveal the cover of Starless and Black... and the case of the perfect girl, being published by Faster-Than-Light Press on 1st June!

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books With Single Word Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl - huge thanks to her for hosting.

Stella by Helen Eve - One part Gossip Girl, one part Great Expectations, with a splash of Animal Farm, this school story has two fabulous narrators with excellent voices. I loved their changing friendship, and the character development throughout the book.

SLAY by Brittney Morris - Kiera has created a card-based VR MMORPG celebrating Black excellence and creating a community. But when a player is murdered in real life, racism accusations are made and a vicious troll attacks her, she has to fight to save what she's built.

Remix by Non Pratt - A stunning summer read perfect for fans of festivals and friendships, this dual narrative switches back and forth between the two leads - best friends - with lightning speed, but their voices are pitch-perfect and the story sings of music, love, flaws and forgiveness.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell - An incredibly lyrical book, with my favourite MG author's breathtaking language married to a clever plot, lots of excitement, and one of the most wonderful climaxes for a long, long time. This was an instant classic from the day it hit shelves, reminiscent of Noel Streatfeild.

Spellslinger by Sebastien DeCastell - One of the most successful ventures of an adult author into YA, a boy whose magic has disappeared tries to run a con to win his first ever mage's duel, but is found out - only to be rescued by a mysterious stranger. Exciting and hilarious with a brilliant wild west-flavoured world (and an AMAZING squirrel cat!)

Jackpot by Nic Stone - A poor Black girl who may have sold a lottery ticket worth over $100 million dollars teams up with a rich hacker with problems of his own to try and track down the purchaser. Sensationally strong chemistry between leads and great family relationships make this a must-read.

Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison - Staggeringly funny book about a girl and the boy she crushed on at school, who's oblivious to her, starting at the same university. As they bond during freshers week, they make other friends, but there's also a world of new experiences - not all of them great. 

Twerp by Mark Goldblatt - Persuaded by his English teacher to write about the thing which got him suspended from school, a young boy fills his journal with anything BUT topic he's meant to be addressing. The setting of Queens in the 1960s springs vividly to life and the novel tackles bullying, peer pressure, power and responsibility superbly.

Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis - Set in an alternate 19th century England called Angland, where only women can be politicians and - until recently - only men could be magicians, a rising political star visits the first ever school for female magic users to try and win back her fiancee - only for the two of them to be placed in danger.

Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu - An empowering story of feminism, fighting the patriarchy, and zine culture which handles intersectional feminism really brilliantly; a hard-hitting and a really entertaining read.

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Book Review: Jackpot by Nic Stone

Jackpot is about a teenage girl, Rico, who lives just above the poverty line and works as a gas store clerk to help her mother earn enough money to keep their heads above water. Between all the shifts she has to do, looking after her younger brother Jax when her mom's at work, and her mother's refusal to try for benefits, things aren't going well.

But then Rico sells a lottery ticket worth over $100 million dollars, and thinks she knows who bought it. She's determined to track down the kindly lady in the hope that she'll share just a little of her fortune - but needs help to do so. In steps hacker Zan, a super-rich and popular classmate of hers. Can the two hit the jackpot?

I'm a huge fan of Nic Stone's, having loved Odd One Out and Dear Martin, but in many ways this actually surpassed the high expectations I had for it. Rico and Zan are an absolutely wonderful pairing; one of my favourites for years in YA. She's easy to cheer on because she's trying so hard in an awful situation to support her family, and Jax is adorable - the sibling relationship here is another excellent one. I also thought her issues with her mom were really well-done, with her mom's tendency to want to get treats and things for them clashing with Rico's fear of spending money they couldn't afford. (I'm far more similar to her mom in this case - I have little impulse control - but given the dire state of their finances and their lack of health insurance, it was easy to see how frustrating this was. Meanwhile, Zan clearly cares deeply for Rico and despite his family's riches has problems of his own. I thought the way he treated Jax was really sweet. Zan's friends Jess - who's a popular girl, but lives in the same building as Rico and has her own money worries - and her boyfriend Finesse are well-developed supporting characters as well, as are Rico's boss at the gas station and one of her regular customers.

In addition to the majority of the narrative, told from Rico's POV, there are interludes from inanimate objects - the ticket itself, a pile of bills, Zan's sheets, and many others. They're quirky but they do a really good job in developing character and letting us know things Rico couldn't know herself.

The two main plot strands are the quest for the jackpot-winning ticket, and the developing "will they, won't they" romance, both of which are well-handled and kept me guessing, building up to a great climax. The book also does a fantastic job of dealing with lots of heavy themes including the struggle to survive in poverty, class differences, parental expectations, making tough decisions, planning for the future and moral dilemmas. 

As great as Dear Martin and Odd One Out were, this is my favourite of Nic Stone's books, a massive recommendation - and I'm so excited for her upcoming MG with Knights Of, Clean Getaway!

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Book Review: Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann

Run, Rebel is a verse novel about Amber, a British Asian girl who's a keen runner whose father is abusive and is about to make her give up the sport because it's immodest. As she reads about revolutions in history lessons, they inspire her to push for a rebellion of her own, helping her mother to stand up to her father and breaking free from the life he wants for her of quiet submission and an arranged marriage like her sister.

Wow, wow, wow. This is an explosive debut from an incredibly talented poet who brings Amber brilliantly and brutally to life. It's a tough read because of the situation she's in, but between an especially supportive teacher and the other women in her family - I LOVE the relationships she has with her mother and her sister - there's also hope in this beautiful book. Manjeet Mann's poetic writing style is impactful and the sparseness of the verse on some pages really helps her well-chosen words hit home. Her pacing of the novel is brilliant and builds up to a superb, highly rewarding climax.

I also thought Amber herself was an exceptionally well-rounded character. She's a heroine in the way she stands up to her father and pushes for change but there are times when she's not a likeable person, doing some nasty things herself. Her flaws humanise her and make her one of the best main characters I've read recently.

Massively recommended, I hope this finds a ton of readers and leads to many more books from Manjeet Mann.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Book Review: This Is Kind Of An Epic Love Story by Kacen Callender

This Is Kind Of An Epic Love Story follows Nathan Bird, who no longer believes in happy endings. His mother certainly didn’t get one – she’s still grieving the death of his father years ago, causing her to be overprotective of Nathan. And his relationship with Florence, his bff-turned-girlfriend-turned-unrequited love interest, didn’t get one. She found a girl she preferred to him, and Nathan’s trapped trying not to let her see he still loves her. And his friendship with Oliver James Hernandez, many years ago, didn’t get one either. Inseparable as kids, one rash act ended everything between them and Ollie moved away.

But now Ollie’s back. Looking gorgeous, and wanting to be friends with Bird again. Could he FINALLY get a happy ending this time?

Oh, wow. I’ve heard lots of praise for this one but nothing prepared for quite how gloriously, messily wonderful it would be. Callender creates one of the most complicated but brilliantly portrayed friendship groups I’ve read about in ages – Bird is still in love with Flo, who thinks of him as her best friend. Ashley, the other girl in their group, is crushing hard on their other male friend Gideon, who seems to be completely unaware of this. And the addition of Ollie means that things get even more complicated. Throughout the book, they argue, they give each other advice – some of it good, much of it bad – and they angst over each other. It feels so fantastically realistic and even though there are times when most of them – Bird especially – are hugely frustrating characters they are amazingly well-rounded ones.

In addition to the really strong friendship group, there’s a wonderful portrayal of a grieving family. Bird and his mom are left at home when older sister Becca moves to Chicago, with Bird planning on leaving soon (perhaps sooner than his mom realises) and his mom having to face up to the fact that she’ll be left alone. Her protectiveness of him, and concern clearly triggered by the loss of his father, is a really strong thread and Bird’s gradual assertion of more independence is superb.

The main storyline of the book, though, is the tension and romance between Bird and Ollie, and the chemistry between them is incredible. They’re a couple I desperately wanted to end up together, even when Bird was self-sabotaging himself, because it’s so clear to see WHY he’s finding it hard to see a positive future for himself.

Another thing I really loved about the story was the setting in a place where people were respectful of each other's sexuality. None of the conflict here is based around homophobia or people having to hide who they are and it’s wonderful to read a book with several characters of different orientations who don’t have to deal with bullying or prejudice because of them.

Overall, this is an absolutely huge recommendation – it’s one of the best books I’ve read in what’s been an amazing reading year for me so far, and high up there with my favourite contemporaries ever. Superb, and I can’t wait to read more from Kacen Callender!

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Book Review: Like A Love Story by Abdi Nazemian

Like A Love Story follows a trio of teens in New York at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Reza is newly arrive to the US from Toronto, and has a new stepfather and stepbrother. He's gay but struggling to come to terms with this, especially as he's fearful of HIV.

He meets a boy he immediately falls for, Art - an out and proud teen who's keen to join in protests advocating for better treatment for AIDS victims alongside his best friend Judy's uncle Stephen, who has the disease himself. But in turn, Judy falls for Reza and he tries to make a relationship with her work, despite his chemistry with Art.

I stumbled on this having read a summary online, but without seeing any reviews. Despite expecting the topic to be a moving one, I'm not sure anything could have prepared me for just what an emotional read this was - Abdi Nazemian creates an incredibly strong quartet of central characters (the three teens and Stephen, with narration split between the trio and a set of note cards about gay culture written by Stephen.)

The voices of all three are stunning, and very different. Reza is a sweet guy with internalised homophobia who's desperately trying to do what he considers to be the right thing; Art is justly furious at society, and his parents, for the lack of effort people are putting into trying to find treatment for AIDS, and Judy is staunchly supportive of her uncle; the loving bond between them is excellent.

The 80s setting is brilliantly described, bringing to life the climate of fear for HIV and AIDS-sufferers at the time, but also showing the supportive network Stephen has around him and the way the older people look out for the teens. (And the influence that Madonna has, as a gay culture icon who all three teens find inspiration from, is perfect!) I thought the families issues were exceptionally well-described here, with Reza's stepfather being a particularly interesting character and his brilliant but rebellious older sister having a great relationship with him.

It's a real tearjerker - the only book so far this year to make me cry hard - which never downplays the awfulness of Stephen's situation, and which shows the hard fight that LGBTQ+ people have always had to go through to get the freedoms they deserve, but it's an ultimately hopeful novel, which looks at friendship, forgiveness, romance and grief.

A new favourite contemporary for me, this is one I'll be recommending a LOT and makes Abdi Nazemian an auto-buy author.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Book Review: Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter

Huge thanks to Hachette Children's for NetGalley approval for this! 

April accidentally sets fire to a museum and ends up living at the Winterborne house with fellow orphans Colin, Sadie, Tim, and Violet. They’re cared for by Ms Nelson and butler Smithers, who are still mourning the loss of Gabriel Winterborne, missing for nearly 10 years and about to be declared legally dead by his uncle Evert.
So when April finds Gabriel hiding out in the house, it’s something of a surprise, to say the least.
This drew me in from the opening few chapters, which pretty much explode onto the page. We have fake claimants to be Gabriel, a mysterious key that April was left by her mother which has a crest matching the Winterborne crest, and then the fire leading to a mysterious figure saving her. A really fabulous way to start a book!
April is one of my favourite MG heroines ever; in some way’s she’s similar to Cammie from author Ally Carter’s outstanding Gallagher Girls YA series – she’s smart, resourceful, brave and determined. However, in other ways she’s a very different character – brash, bold, and reckless. Teaming her up with Gabriel Winterborne (who is in many ways Batman, rich as heck and with a burning thirst for revenge) is a perfect match (although Gabriel himself probably wouldn’t agree with this!) and the supporting cast are fabulous, particularly inventor Sadie who creates hilarious contraptions which don’t always (or even often) work as planned.
The book is jam-packed with great action sequences, zipping along at a breath-taking pace, but there’s also lots of wonderful quieter moments between characters, and I really loved the way so many strong relationships were developed, especially between Gabriel and the orphans. It builds to a phenomenally exciting heist as a climax, brilliantly tense and full of great moments.
Ally Carter’s writing style feels perfect for MG. Obviously, I’m glad she started out writing YA as if she hadn’t we’d have potentially missed out on some incredible books, including the Gallagher Girls series which is one of my favourites of the last decade. But she makes the switch here superbly and I really hope that she’s going to be writing a ton more for this age range – preferably in this series, because it feels like there’s a huge amount of great opportunities set up by the ending to this book!
Absolutely massive recommendation for fans of fun, exciting action.