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.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Book Review: Break The Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli

Break The Fall follows Rey - a gymnast hoping to be picked for the US Olympics team - as she tries to get gold in Tokyo. She's aware that this is going to be her last chance, with a painful back injury meaning that at just seventeen, she's reaching the end of her career, but with best friend Emma by her side, she's convinced she has a great shot at a medal. Then another team member, Dani, makes an accusation of sexual abuse against their coach, leading to a change in preparation, fracturing the team, and causing a scandal as the public, and the rest of the teammates, weigh in on whether they believe the accusation. Can the girls win gold despite everything?

From the summary there, I think this sounds like a heavier read than it actually is - and that's not meant to suggest it glosses over the important issues tackled. Rather, the book focuses firmly on the competition, and on the girls' determination not to let anything stand in the way of what they worked for. I loved the cameradarie between most of the girls - not just the US team, but also other competitors from different nations who came together to show Dani their support. It's wonderful to see them standing together and fighting for each other, despite their rivalry.

The competition scenes are brilliantly described and I was constantly holding my breath as Audrey, and others, stepped up to do their routines. They're also easy enough even for a relative rookie in watching gymnastics to follow. (I am that rookie!) The book builds to a breathtaking climax which kept me completely unsure how successful Rey was going to be.

In addition to the main focuses of the competitions and of the abuse allegation, there's a charming romance between Rey and childhood friend Leo, son of her new coach. This takes a back seat to everything else going on in her life but he's a supportive love interest and it's really great to see a budding relationship stay in the background rather than become the most important thing in a character's life - Rey is very clear that she's focusing on supporting her friends, and on going out and winning medals.

Oh, and lots of diverse representation here - Rey is biracial (Korean and white parents), as is Leo (Black and white parents), while Dani is Latinx and the rest of the gymnasts are from various racial backgrounds.

The perfect read for sports fans, or for anyone wanting to read a fiercely feminist book about a group of girls defying disruption to push for success.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Book Review: Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales

(Thanks Hachette for NetGalley approval for this one! Only Mostly Devastated is published in the UK on 5th March.) 

Only Mostly Devastated is about Ollie, who has a short holiday romance with a guy called Will who seems perfect - until he ghosts him. When Ollie finds out they're staying in North Carolina to be near his dying aunt, and he's transferring schools, it's a shock - but an even bigger one comes when he finds that Will is a classmate of his. Who's very much not out to his friends. With help from his new friends, can Ollie rekindle the spark they had? And with Will acting like something of an asshole, should he even want to? 

I've been desperate to read this one ever since I initially saw descriptions along the lines of "Grease, but with two guys in love" and WOW, it didn't disappoint! Ollie is a lovely main character, sweet and kind and generally - if not always - thoughtful and I loved the trio of girls he becomes friendly with, particularly Lara, who starts off antagonistic towards him but eventually becomes a trusted friend. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the family relationships; Ollie spends a lot of time looking after his two little cousins when his aunt is especially ill and they're wonderful characters, as are his parents and aunt and uncle. Sophia Gonzales pulls off an impressive feat here by weaving a really emotional storyline of Ollie's aunt's declining health, and the issues Will has with hiding his sexuality in a school where even generally kind-hearted teens are apt to make thoughtless comments about gay people, in with a delightful romance to make a funny and heart-warming book with real depth. I thought Will was a great love interest, by the way. He's a kind and sympathetic person but he's so worried about having his sexuality exposed that he can act in an obnoxious way; seeing the way he tries to deal with this fear really made me warm to him. 

I love Sophie Gonzales's writing style - it's fresh, really readable, and she makes all of her characters, and their hopes and fears, feel brilliantly alive. She also builds to a truly gorgeous climax which felt incredibly satisfying. Massively recommended as one of the strongest YA debuts I've read for ages, and one that I can definitely see myself rereading several times. (Also I have to give a shout-out to Jim Tierney's cover which is BEAUTIFUL.)

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Book Review: Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds by Annabelle Sami with illustrations by Daniela Sosa

(Thanks to Stripes for NetGalley approval to read this one!)

Agent Zaiba is about aspiring sleuth Zaiba, who admires her Aunty Fouzia, a professional detective, and wants to follow in her footsteps. When a celebrity's dog goes missing, followed by some diamonds disappearing, at her cousin's pre-wedding party in an exclusive hotel, she has the chance to save the day, along with her best friend Poppy and brother Ali. 

There are SO MANY great MG mystery series out there (Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens is my absolute favourite, Katherine Woodfine's books are glorious, and there's dozens more) that it can feel hard for a new one to stand out, but the writer/illustrator team of Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa definitely make this one do so. Sosa's full-page illustrations certainly have a real impact here - she's a stunning talented artist who I'm eager to see more from. And she makes a perfect pairing with a fabulous debut author who's created an excellent central character in the brave, resourceful, and determined Zaiba. 

It's great to see such strong representation of British-Asian characters here; I loved Zaiba's family - in particular her detective aunt, who's wonderfully supportive of her! Add in a beautifully-described Mehndi party - a setting which I've never seen before - a host of interesting supporting characters as suspects, and a clever plot which kept me guessing at the eventual solution, and this ranks up there with High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson as one of the top MG series starters of recent years. I especially loved the climactic scene, which is a standard going back to the Golden Age of detective stories, and is brilliantly handled here. 

Massively recommended, and I'm really excited for The Poison Plot, second in the series, coming this summmer!

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Double Book Review: Dread Nation and Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation is set in a world where the dead began to rise during the American Civil War, leading to the nation being changed forever - and to laws like the Native and Negro Education Act forcing certain children to go to combat schools to learn to put down the dead. Central character Jane McKeene, a star student - even if she's not a popular one with some of the teachers - is ready to finish her education there and return to her Kentucky home. But then she gets caught in a conspiracy and finds there may be worse things to deal with than the shamblers she's trained to defeat...

I recently reread this one in preparation for the sequel Deathless Divide and it's still one of my all-time favourite alternate history novels. The world is brought brilliantly to life by the talented Justina Ireland, the pacing is phenomenal and the central pairing - Jane and her rival-turned-reluctant ally, fellow pupil Katherine are a stunning duo, with a brilliant relationship that develops superbly over the course of the book. (Also great representation, Katherine is one of the few aro-ace characters I've seen in genre YA while Jane is a bisexual with a roving eye, although the book is light on anything more than flirtation for romance - there's far too many shamblers to try and put down, even when Jane's old flame Red Jack is around!)

It's a gripping plot with lots of thrilling action, and twists and turns that definitely kept me guessing, and a host of characters who Jane struggles to know whether or not to trust. It's also an incisive look at racism and the way that the people in charge are perfectly happy to use people they see as inferior to try and deal with the problem of the shamblers, although there are other white people who prove to be allies for Jane and Katherine. We also see the different experiences of Jane, who's dark skinned enough that her race is clear to all, and Katherine, who can pass for white and who Jane encourages to do so.

An exciting read which builds to a stunning and satisfying climax, this is a massive recommendation from me.

(Note for review of book 2 - I've tried to avoid spoilers as far as possible, but obviously I've had to give away a couple of things - like who's left alive!)

I'm fairly glad I didn't realise that rather than being purely from Jane's POV like the first book was, Deathless Divide is a dual narrative between Jane and rival-turned-friend Katherine. They're two of my absolute favourite characters in all of YA and I think that the knowledge they were both narrating would have made the long wait even more unbearable than it was!

Jane, Katherine, Red Jack and his sister are on a journey from early on in this book, with Jane trying to find her mother. But the shamblers are coming in ever-stronger groups, and some of them are behaving rather differently, while there are still human monsters who are just as much of a concern for our two heroines as the creatures they're so adept at fighting are.

I love that we got to read both POVs here and Katherine, like Jane, has a distinctive and wonderful voice. This shares lots with the first book - superb pacing, a great look at racism, and some exciting action scenes. However it also adds in more romance and even bigger twists, with a couple of scenes leaving my heart in my mouth. What's perhaps the best thing about the book, though, is the further development of the friendship between Katherine and Jane, which goes from strength to strength - Katherine is loyal to Jane but will call her out when she thinks she needs it, to the point of physically fighting her because she knows that Jane needs the adrenaline rush this will provide. They are a truly sensational team. There are also some fantastic new characters, in addition to several favourites from the first one returning. The villain here is a really memorable one, in particular. 

As a book, this is superb. As a duology, it's a strong contender for one of my favourite ever speculative series. The ending we get is a fantastic one, but it leaves open the potential for further adventures in this world in the future. Will we get them? I'm not sure, but I really hope we do!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Book Review: Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

(Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for giving me a copy of this at an event.)

Yes No Maybe So is about a Jewish guy, Jamie and a Muslim girl, Maya, who fall for each other during a summer campaigning for a local Democrat. It's a warm-hearted, funny and hopeful look at politics, crushes, cross-cultural relationships and resistance.

Both of the main characters here are going through tough times and are hugely sympathetic. Jamie's petrified of the speech he's been told he needs to make at his sister's upcoming bat mitzvah, while Maya is reeling from her parents deciding to undergo a trial separation, and the best friend she's so close to practically ignoring her to spend time getting ready for college. Their relationship develops really well; they start hanging out to campaign for their own reasons but it's a deep, deep bond between them which eventually forms as they find out more and more about each other and make sure they're helping each other to survive the bad stuff. There are also a host of great side characters - in particular Jamie's gran, a social media superstar for the campaign.

While the central romance is the main relationship in the story, I also liked the way the family ties in each case were developed, with Maya's parents' separation playing a big part, while Jamie's struggle to get past his nervousness at public speaking to give the speech his sister deserves shows how much he cares for her, and his disagreements with his cousin Gabe - the assistant campaign manager, who's significantly more forceful in his desperation for Rossum to win - show different approaches to activism really well.

I loved the way the story progressed towards the bat mitzvah and the election, both of which were superbly written. I was on the edge of my seat reading because I was so desperate for the candidate they were backing to get in. The political angle gave the story a really unique spin - it definitely set it aside from the vast majority of contemporaries, and in a US election year it's obviously hugely timely. Massively recommended; Becky Albertalli continues to be amazing and I'll definitely be looking for Aisha Saeed's books! 

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Book Review: Diary of a Confused Feminist by Kate Weston

(Slightly more spoilery than most of mine, just as a heads-up)

Diary of a Confused Feminist is about Kat, who's aiming to be a real feminist, get together with Hot Josh (unless wanting that makes her not a real feminist?) and become a journalist. But she seems to have a knack for getting into embarrassing incidents, her two best friends get boyfriends while she's still trying to seal the deal with Josh, Terrible Trudy is always furious with her and she can't shake the feeling she's not good enough for... well, all of this.

I was approved on NetGalley for this (Thanks, BKMRK!) and picked it up without knowing more than the very basics about it. I was expecting something lighter, given Kate Weston's past as a stand-up comedian, but a lot of this is dealing with heavy topics - in particular Kat's anxiety. I was REALLY impressed with the way Kat's mental health issues are dealt with here. Her friends and family are behind her, she gets a fab therapist, and there's a couple of relatively detailed scenes set when she's doing CBT. These felt really realistic and well-written; it's definitely up there with Am I Normal Yet? and The Rest Of Us Just Live Here as a book I'd highly recommend people read to get an idea of what people with anxiety and depression face. I also really liked most of the relationships in the book - Kat's three-way friendship feels realistic, perhaps especially when it's going through problems, while her gay best friend is lovely and her parents like to tease their children but are incredibly supportive once they find out about how badly Kat is struggling. I also thought the relationship she has with her younger brother, who annoys her, felt very real. My only major gripe is that Trudy feels like a very one-dimensional character, for nearly the entire book - she's horrifically awful, and while this does get Kat thinking about if it's okay to dislike another girl if they're mean to you, she was just TOO nasty for me to like the portrayal much.

Kat's struggles with trying to be a really good feminist, though, are very well-portrayed and thought-provoking, and I love the references to people who inspire her - both modern writers and historical figures. It's also cool to see lots of discussions of periods and feminine hygiene products (and I especially liked the range of responses from the various guys in how mature they were in their reactions here.)

Having said early on that it deals with some tough stuff, I should point out that there is a lot of humour running through it as well, going right from the start as the girls have an abortive event to show their support for #TimesUp, and building to a hilarious climax which had me laughing out loud. This is a definite recommendation and I'm hoping for more books from Kate Weston after this strong debut.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Twelve FFFebruary Recommendations

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

I haven’t done much for #ffFebruary (hosted by Imi and Ellie at Beyond A Bookshelf) but today seemed like a good day to throw some recs in for Top Ten Tuesday.

Love in Revolution by BR Collins - An incredible love story between two girls falling for each other during a revolution in an unnamed Basque country. It's a wonderful central pairing and a completely gripping story, with one of the most stunning endings I've ever read. 

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin – Gorgeous historical fiction set in 1926 which sees a 16-year-old girl sent to a lake resort to stay with her father’s cousin and her daughter. Garnet wants to watch birds and visit an amusement park, but her uptight guardian isn’t keen. Then she takes a job in a hat shop, meets a beautiful flapper, and sees a different path in life from the one her parents had laid out for her. 

Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton – Super-sweet MG about a girl who’s trying to deal with her mother’s illness and enters a film competition with her best friends, only to get distracted by a stunning girl with purpley-red hair. As always from Keris, a warm and charming read with brilliant characters.

Under The Lights by Dahlia Adler – It’s taken me an hour to write this post so far, and about 45 minutes of that has been constantly changing which Dahlia Adler book I want to include out of UTL and Out On Good Behavior (spoiler: BOTH!) I’m sticking to one per author so I’ll count this one, about Korean-American sitcom actress Vanessa falling for her new handler, because the central relationship is so breathtakingly great, and co-narrator Josh – supposed bad boy discovering an unexpected heart – is an outstanding character too. 

Out On Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler – Screw it, let’s go top 12 and ditch the one per author rule I was kind of sticking to. This book, third in Dahlia’s fabulous Radleigh University NA series, sees pansexual playgirl Frankie Bellisario fall hard for Republican mayor’s daughter Samara Kazarian. Frankie’s worried she’s not the right girl for the not yet out Samara, and wants the relationship to be abstinent and secret for 30 days, but with chemistry this hot is that a rule they can stick to? Like UTL, works perfectly well as a stand-alone (although why would you not want to read EVERYTHING Dahlia’s written?!)

Everything Leads To You by Nina LaCour – Beautiful romance between two girls, a light and sweet Hollywood-set story with a fabulous cast of characters. I loved the lead character’s job as a set designer for an indie film, and this is such a fantastic feel-good read. It’s a gorgeous story of family, films and romance and I absolutely adore it. 

Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis – Third – and best yet! - in the Harwood Spellbook series, I am a huge fan of the world-building in this wonderful setting where politicians are traditionally women and magicians are nearly always men; more irrational and impulsive. As much as I love Cassandra Harwood and Wrexham in the earlier books in the series, this pairing – aspiring politician Caroline and Juliana, one of the first women to study magic – are a really adorable couple and it’s great to see them get their own book.

Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan - Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous contemporary with one of my very favourite romances ever and a fantastic ensemble cast. Leila - an Iranian-American girl falling for the new girl in school - is such a lovely character, I adore her classmates and I'm glad the romance doesn't stop her spending time with friends and making new ones, and the interactions with her family and the wider community are really interesting. A stunning read!

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi – The perfect love story for all of us who realised Paris and Rory were the best match in Gilmore Girls, this brilliant YA contemporary rom-com-inspired novel about two girls who’ve been at each other’s throats for years finally acknowledging their attraction while working on a film is an amazing dual perspective story. Two of my favourite MCs for ages.

We Set The Dark On Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia – After leaving a school where women are trained to be either skilled political wives or beautiful mothers to the children of powerful men – who take one of each – Dani, one of the former kind, gets what seems like a dream partner in the shape of a man tipped to be future president. But a resistance group wants her to spy for them, her new husband seems to have a dark side, and his other wife is proving incredibly alluring. This is super-exciting and incredibly hot. Sequel We Unleash The Merciless Storm is one of my most-wanted of 2020.

Queens Of Geek by Jen Wilde – A gorgeous, super lovely story about three friends at a convention. This features an m/f best friends to lovers romance, and an f/f celebrity one, both of which are utterly charming. It also has lots of really great rep – especially of autism – while the setting is brilliantly portrayed. This is near the top of my ‘comfort reads’ pile as a really heart-warming read.

The Lady’s Guide To Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite – Adult historical romance in which a girl, mourning the death of her father and the marriage of her female long-term best friend and lover to a man, takes a job translating a scientific text for a recently-widowed countess. The pair fall hard for each other, and the romance here is sizzling, while it’s also a brilliantly feminist read which shines a light on overlooked women in STEM and the importance of the arts. 

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Book Review: My Type On Paper by Chloe Seager

(Many thanks to Scholastic for sending me a copy of this book for review consideration!)

My Type On Paper is about Maya, who gets dumped by her boyfriend just before he was meant to be taking her on a fabulous holiday abroad to mark their last summer before uni. Devastated by the break-up, Maya reluctantly takes a job working with her two best friends at a local beach resort. But when three new guys appear, all of whom seem like her perfect type in different ways, could her summer be more romantic than she'd dreamed of?

I'm a huge fan of light, fun contemporary YA reads and Chloe Seager's previous books, Editing Emma and The Friendship Fails of Emma Nash, are two of my favourites of the genre. I had high hopes for this one and it definitely lived up to them.  Maya is a fab protagonist, and I loved the way her character changed through the book as she threw herself into new experiences. The various relationships - with the three dreamy boys, her two best friends, her dad, and of course the dog who belongs to one of the love interests (because how can you NOT love a dog who dances to Taylor Swift?!) are all well-written and believable.

Chloe's writing is breezy and always draws me in quickly. She captures the setting perfectly and I love how well-paced the book is, there's so many hilarious things happening. In many ways it reminded me of Candy Harper's Have A Little Faith and its two sequels (high praise from me; that's still my favourite ever contemporary YA series!) There are a few real stand-out scences which made me laugh out loud, with Maya's three first dates with the different guys all being really fantastic, as was the party in which things came to a head, providing a perfect climax.

I loved that the book is a great example of a teenager try out new things and experiences but also learning to work out what she really wants and what the most valuable things are to her in a relationship, while another strong theme is the support family members can give to you at difficult times.

Overall, this is a heartwarming and sweet read with lots of laughs which I'd definitely recommend to everyone who likes YA contemporary, particularly if they're fans of fun characters and moreish writing.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Reading Recap: January 2020

I blasted through my year-long reading slump in style in January, averaging a book a day. This was partly due to more spare time than I’d had for a bit, but mainly down to two things – my use of the “ten by twenty” idea to help me focus more, and an amazingly good streak of picking books that I was really keen to read. One of my favourite things, looking back, was seeing just how many of the books I read featured characters with really strong passions for their interests. Starting off with The Lady’s Guide To Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Avon Impulse), which has a main character struggling to break into the male-dominated world of science in early 19th century England, and a female love interest for her who is starting to see that her embroidery can be considered art, and going through to Kate Weston’s Diary of a Confused Feminist, (Hodder Children's) with a lead who is doing her best to be a good feminist while not always being 100% sure what one looks like, there were so many examples of great characters with hobbies and career plans they cared about deeply. Others in this vein were Keira, the VR game designer heroine of Brittney Morris’s SLAY (Hodder Children's), Olympic hopeful gymnast Audrey in Jennifer Iacopelli’s superb Break The Fall (Hodder Children's), young mom Emoni in Elizabeth Acevedo’s gloriously lyrical With The Fire On High (Hot Key) – taking culinary arts and trying to transform her talent at food preparation into a career – and aspiring film director Rachel and potential future doctor Sana in Aminah Mae Safi’s Tell Me How You Really Feel (Feiwel &Friends), the whip-smart rom-com for anyone who realises Paris was BY FAR the best match for Rory in Gilmore Girls.

Another really interesting theme that ran through many of my reads was the conflict between expectations – whether they were a character’s own or that of their family – and what they really wanted. Tell Me How You Really Feel starts with Sana deliberately pulling a risky move in an important interview because she needs to try and find out for herself whether being a doctor is the right career for her, Loveboat, Taipei (Simon and Schuster) by Abigail Hing Wen sees another girl expected to become a doctor try to figure out how to chase her passion for dancing, and adult romance The Truth of Things by Tasha L Harrison (Dirtyscribbler Press) has a wonderful female lead who has a good job as a press photographer but is more passionate about her side hustle, shooting weddings. Then there’s Cassandra Harwood in Snowspelled (Five Fathoms Press) and Thornbound (Five Fathoms Press) by Stephanie Burgis, supported by her family but having defied the expectations of an entire nation (the alternate history Angland) to become the first female magician, only to lose her powers. And family played a hugely important role in so many of my reads last month – I loved the support MC Kat got from hers in Diary of a Confused Feminist, especially as they realised how badly she was struggling with her mental health. (On a side note, I was so grateful for the clear, positive portrayal of therapy in this book, a brilliant depiction which shows teens that there are ways to deal with issues such as anxiety.) Then there’s the fabulous group of sisters who replace the Bennets in Ibi Zoboi’s wonderfully engaging Pride and Prejudice remix, Pride (Harper Collins), and Max Kowalski and the sisters he’s trying so hard to protect in Susie Day’s gorgeous MG Max Kowalski Didn’t Mean It (Penguin), which sees their father get into some trouble and disappear and Max decamp the entire family to Wales in a desperate attempt to sort out their money worries by stealing from a dragon’s hoard. Two more relationships between sisters which I loved are those in SLAY and in Sharna Jackson’s High Rise Mystery (Knights Of), as detectives Nik and Norva – ‘NSquared’ – investigate a mysterious death at the block of flats they live in. Oh, and I couldn’t talk about family without mentioning Agent Zaiba – definitely a character who I’m excited to read more about – and her Aunt Fouzia, a detective who’s a role model for her in Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Missing Diamonds (Stripes), first in a brand new series for MG readers. Annabelle Sami brings her characters – including some interesting suspects – to life wonderfully and Daniela Sosa provides truly gorgeous art; an outstanding pairing of author and illustrator.

Then there’s found family, always a favourite theme for me. As Max and his sisters run away to Wales, they’re greeted by a wonderful pair of gay parents and their adoptive son, who fall for the claim that their father is ill in bed and help the children take care of themselves. In Geekerella (Quirk Books) by Ashley Poston, meanwhile – a fabulous love letter to fandoms – main character Elle doesn’t get on well with her stepmother and stepsisters (what Cinderella-based character would?!) but quickly finds a fairy godmother-type named Sage, a colleague at work who she starts to grow close to, and is supported by Sage’s mother as well. I loved Break The Fall partly because of the way in which gymnasts who are rivals – and who never forget this, all being desperate to win gold – nevertheless come together to support each other, both within and across teams.And then there’s the community which builds up as the families of the victims of the Magpie Man start to support each other in Vincent Ralph’s super-tense thriller Are You Watching? (Penguin)

Are You Watching? kept me glued to its pages for the entire time I was reading it; Ralph’s short chapters and tremendous pacing make it a brilliant read building to a superb climax – one of many in the month. Diary of a Confused Feminist, as well as the aforementioned excellent mental health rep, is an entertaining read with lots of laughs and the climactic scene is absolutely hilarious. Other endings I really loved included a massively tense face-off in SLAY, the wonderfully-described competition sequences in Break The Fall and the main character’s take on one of my favourite tropes in the first Agent Zaiba book. Then there's Anna and her friends teaming up to fight back against the slut-shaming which runs through society in The Burning (Simon & Schuster) – Laura Bates’s powerful YA debut, about a girl moving to Scotland to try and escape a dark incident from her past, which somehow follows her there, and the parallel historical story of a girl accused of being a witch – and Maya finally deciding which guy to go for in My Type on Paper (Scholastic), Chloe Seager’s latest hilarious contemporary read, which sees three very different guys appear as if by magic just after she's answered a magazine questionnaire about what she wants in a boy. Oh, and how could I not mention A Throne of Swans? (Hot Key) Katharine and Elizabeth Corr pull off a stunning ending to their fantasy, set in a world where the nobility can change shape into giant birds, which manages to provide a satisfying conclusion to the novel while doing a terrific job of setting up the other book in the duology - but do we really have to wait a year for it?!

Going back to Maya’s decision, I loved that she not only had more than one love interest in MTOP, but also that they were aware of each other and there was a recognition that it’s perfectly fine to be considering your options when you’ve just met someone. Lots of other great romances as well for me last month – for adult reads, I’ve already mentioned The Truth of Things (m/f) and The Lady’s Guide To Celestial Mechanics (f/f) as being brilliant books; both of them had superb couples I really got behind, as did Farrah Rochon’s Huddle With Me Tonight (Wandering Road Press), about an NFL player turned restaurant owner and cookbook writer, and a book reviewer who slams his first release. The pair start by butting heads but quickly find themselves falling for each other and I thought it was a great portrayal of a couple realising they’d misjudged each other fairly early on in the book. Speaking about a couple initially at odds who then find themselves having very different feelings for each other, The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan, with Serena Barton demanding compensation from the duke who got her sacked but having to deal with his right-hand man, Hugo Marshall - nicknamed The Wolf of Clermont - was a stunning read which has me definitely wanting to read more from her. (thankfully, there are a LOT of other books available from her; she's a massively prolific author!) My reread of Snowspelled, and first read of sequel Thornbound, convinced me that Cassandra and her love interest Wrexham, are one of my favourite pairings ever – two people who would clearly die for each other, but are stubborn enough that sparks fly when they disagree on the best way to do something. (And while I wasn’t planning on mentioning February reads in this post, the central f/f couple in Moontangled, third in the Harwood Chronicles, is another wonderful one.)

Back to YA, and there’s no question that Sana and Rachel – who’ve been at odds for years at school, ever since Rachel took Sana’s attempt at asking her out to be a mean joke rather than realising it was sincere, but get thrown together by a teacher setting them an assignment – were my absolute favourite couple. Another f/f couple, the very different princesses thrown together in an arranged marriage after Adale’s brother, who Esofi was originally expected to marry, passed away suddenly and tragically, made The Queen of Ieflaria (NineStar Press) by Effie Calvin a delightful fantasy read and I’m excited to continue with the series. In addition, I loved that the world-building here made the vast majority of people pan – always great to see a fantasy world which isn’t heteronormative! A third YA couple who I really enjoyed were Jewish boy Jamie and Muslim girl Maya in Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed's Yes No Maybe So (Simon and Schuster), a fantastic contemporary which saw the pair of them canvas for a local politician while falling for each other. The slow-burn romance here is super-cute and it's an outstanding read - and a very timely one given there's a US election this year. Another couple who meet through politics - this time in an NA book are trans intern Kieran and grouchy Seth in Coffee Boy (NineStar Press), by Austin Chant. This is a wonderful read; I love the chemistry between the pair as Kieran realises that Seth has a crush on his painfully straight boss, but in turn starts to crush on him. And back to YA, the anthology All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout The Ages (HQ Young Adult), edited by Saundra Mitchell,has so many fabulous pairings! Dahlia Adler's two girls mourning the death of Kurt Cobain, Shaun David Hutchinson's pair of gay magician's assistants, and Anna-Marie McLemore's bruja heroine and trans lover are perhaps my three favourite couples but there are so many amazing ones; it was also a great way to find new authors with pretty much every story being very good, and many being incredible.

What were your favourites last month? Did you find any themes which kept recurring?

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads

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

(I limited the choices to stuff I own - including NetGalley copies - to try and narrow it down a little!)

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland - I just got this today (because, really, how could anyone who loved Dread Nation as much as I did NOT go out and get the sequel on release day?!) and it's top of my TBR pile, of course. The first book about Jane McKeene, badass heroine in a world where zombies rose during the US Civil War. I've deliberately not looked at descriptions for this one because I want to be as surprised as possible but I KNOW that wherever Jane and rival-turned-friend Kate are, there'll be an incredibly entertaining read.

Spellswept by Stephanie Burgis - This is the prequel to Stephanie Burgis's Harwood Chronicles series of novellas, the third of which (Moontangled) came out yesterday. All three of them which I've read so far are fabulous reads and I'm certain this will be too; I've never read a book or story by Stephanie that's anything less than amazing, while her world-building for this series - an alternate historical England where all politicians are women, and all magicians have traditionally been men, a situation that's slowly starting to change - is exceptionally good.

The Wolf of Oren-Yaro by KS Villoso - Fadwa over at Word Wonders, who has exquisite taste in books, tweeted praising this for being brilliant, particularly focusing on twists, turns, scheming and character depth, all of which are things I adore. And who WOULDN'T expect the series opener for something called Chronicles of the Bitch Queen to be amazing?!

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn - Okay, I've technically read this fabulous story, a French Revolution-set story about an incredible band of outcasts rescuing people from the guillotine, but it was a very early draft, not long after I met Kat for the first time. I devoured it over two days - Christmas Eve and Christmas Day - and even in a fairly rough form, it was one of the best books I've read in years. Kat assures me it's improved since then and while I'm finding that slightly hard to believe because of how damn awesome it already was, I will take her word for it. I'm trying to hold of until nearer release day but really doubt I'll manage to do so!

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert - Lots of people praising this one hard, including people living with chronic pain who are saying very positive things about the rep in this romance. I'm always looking to try new romance authors and Talia Hibbert has a fantastic reputation so it's high time I tried her.

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore - Anna-Marie is an author I've constantly heard praised and I spent ages meaning to try them out, but the beautiful writing that's drawn so many fans to them is something that I have to be in the right mood to read. Thankfully, I LOVED their story Roja in the Saundra Mitchell anthology All Out and it has me super-excited to read one of their full length novels; I've had The Weight of Feathers for a while because circuses, travelling shows and the like are always fun to read about.

As Kismet Would Have It by Sandhya Menon - Sandhya Menon is consistently awesome and while I've read, and loved, all of her novels, it's a sign of how out of the loop I was last year that I didn't realise she'd released this novella, reuniting us with the title characters of When Dimple Met Rishi as they disagree on the idea of marriage. I loved these two MCs so it's great to be about to read more from them.

I'll Catch You by Farrah Rochon - Farrah Rochon's Huddle With Me Tonight is one of the hottest romances I've read so far this year, with an awesome pair of main characters, so I'm excited to read the second in the New York Sabers series. This one follows troublemaker Cedric Reeves as he's dropped by his agent and is convinced by Payton Mosely - a woman struggling to be taken seriously in a heavily male-dominated profession - to join her. It sounds like sparks will definitely fly!

Winterborne Home For Vengeance and Valour by Ally Carter - Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series is one of my absolute favourite YA series of all time, getting better and better with each book. This new middle grade, about five orphans trying to protect a mysterious billionaire who most people think is dead, sounds really fabulous.

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales - I love Grease, so am totally up for a retelling of it, and making it a boy-on-boy romance is a fantastic idea. I know a few people who've read this and they've all said that it's a brilliant book, so I was incredibly happy to be approved for it on NetGalley.

Monday, 3 February 2020

Book Review: SLAY by Brittney Morris

Honors student Kiera Johnson - along with her sister Steph, one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy - is hard-working, helpful, and hiding a big secret. She's the developer of SLAY, an card-based VR MMORPG for Black people which she created after being sickened by the racism she faced playing similar games. In her virtual world, as Emerald, she's beloved by other SLAYers, and she's proud of the work she's put into making a space to celebrate Black excellence. Then a SLAYer misses an important match, only to be found dead in real life, and the game is all over the news - with white people screaming about how racist it is not to let them play, and a troll bullying SLAYers and taunting Kiera. Can she deal with being under attack from what seems like all sides?

This sounded like a really unique idea for a book and Brittney Morris definitely delivers that. I love the care that's gone into creating the world of SLAY, with every card a nod to Black culture and history - the love that both the main character and the author clearly have for the subject of each and every one of the cards shines through. A+ world building for sure! I also really liked most of the characters; Kiera's a great main character who's done an incredible job of creating this world and now has to deal with the possible ramifications, while her more hot-headed sister Steph is wonderful and I love the way the relationship between the pair of them changes throughout the book. Another major relationship is with her co-mod for the game, who she initially knows only by a username, but finds out more about as the novel progresses; I really liked this one too. In addition, the relationship between the two sisters and their parents, who are relaxed about boys but strict about spending time as a family together, and hugely supportive, is a very well-portrayed one and they're more present than many YA parents are. It's also intriguing to compare Keira, who has built the SLAY community for Black people but who has white friends, with her boyfriend Malcolm, who hates video games and is far more anti-white than she is, constantly reading in an attempt to decolonise himself. 

I thought that for the most part, the book was very well-paced - indeed, my one of my complaints was an incredibly strange one for me; it felt slightly too short if anything! We got to see a few one-off chapters from the POV of other SLAYers and I'd have been really interested in either seeing a few more of them, or returning to those POVs later in the book as well. In addition, while the book builds to an superbly exciting climax, the resolution after the climax feels kind of rushed. My other complaint is VERY spoilery so I'll try and be vague; I felt that as jaw-dropping as the climactic scene was, a major part of it didn't quite work for me in the context of the story. 

Despite these slight misgivings, this is so exciting that it's a definite recommendation. I love Morris's action-packed writing style and I'm super-excited to see what she does next.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Black History Month - 20 Recommended Authors

I wanted to do something for Black History Month so thought I'd put together a list of recommendations. Before I start, this is a list of 20 Black authors whose works I think are outstanding. It is NOT meant to be a ‘best of’ or anything because my knowledge isn’t good enough, and my tastes change regularly – but I think there if you’re a fan of romance novels, YA, or MG books, you should definitely find some books here you like!

Elizabeth Acevedo – Elizabeth Acevedo’s lyrical The Poet X, about a girl dealing with family tension by writing slam poetry, is a glorious verse novel, perhaps the best I’ve ever read. Her next book, With The Fire On High, about a teenage mom taking a culinary arts course to try and channel her natural talent for cooking into building a future for herself and her daughter, is in prose this time but is just as exquisitely written. Drop everything if you get the chance to read either of them!

Kwame Alexander – Kwame Alexander’s poetry is phenomenal, I’ve read three of his sports verse novels – Booked, The Rebound and The Crossover - and each one of them has been fabulous. With so few words, he creates compelling characters and situations and brings them brilliantly to life. He's incredibly talented.

Tanya Byrne – Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise, told by a young girl in a Young Offenders’ Institute after committing a terrible crime, was a scintillating debut which was one of the best YA books of the last decade for me. Follow up Follow Me Down was another excellent read, dark and atmospheric like its predecessor, looking at a Nigerian girl who makes a close friend when she comes to boarding school in Britain only for the friendship to be devastated as they both fall for the same guy, and for her friend to disappear. Upcoming Afterlove, about a girl who dies and becomes a Grim Reaper, and is determined to see the girl who was her first love once more, sounds fantastic as well.

Camryn Garrett – I’ve been following Camryn Garrett for several years on Twitter and it’s always been clear from reading anything she’s written that she has huge potential as an author. Her debut Full Disclosure, about a bisexual girl with HIV who’s falling in love with a guy but receiving threatening notes telling her to break it off or have her condition exposed, absolutely fulfils that potential. I love the relationship MC Simone has with her two dads while the musical theatre backdrop (she’s directing a controversial school production of Rent) is awesome, and love interest Miles is awesome. An excellent debut which has me hugely excited for more from her.

Tasha L Harrison – Tasha Harrison’s The Truth of Things is a stunning adult romance with a fantastic central pairing (photographer and the kind-hearted, idealistic cop she falls for) and sizzling chemistry. The story takes a gut-wrenching turn which I wasn’t expecting, making the last 25% or so a tough read but well worth it. The sequel to this one is another that’s high up my TBR pile.

Justina Ireland – Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation features one of the most brilliantly created settings I’ve ever read, an alternate history where zombies rose to interrupt the American Civil War. Central character Jane McKeene, a student at Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls, discovers a conspiracy and tries to get to the bottom of it. Tons of awesome action scenes here while I love the friendship/rivalry between Jane and fellow student Katherine. (And YAY, great ace rep!)

This is about to be my next read as I’m desperate to reread it before the sequel, Deathless Divide, comes out in just a couple of days! Deathless Divide is definitely one of my most-anticipated novels of the year and I’m so excited to get to it.

Sharna Jackson – Sharna Jackson’s debut High Rise Mystery is a brilliant MG mystery featuring an awesome pair of detectives – two Black sisters – investigating a death in their block of flats to try and clear their father’s name. This is a fabulous first novel; I love the setting of high-rise The Tri, and the inhabitants who Sharna Jackson brings to life so vividly. Upcoming sequel Mic Drop should be brilliant.

Tiffany D Jackson – Tiffany D Jackson’s Allegedly features one of the most memorable protagonists in years, a teenage girl who was convicted of killing a child at the age of just 9 who is trying to clear her name to stop her unborn baby from being taken away from her. This has an incredible main character and is a really tense read, which kept me guessing all along. Her other books Monday’s Not Coming and Let Me Hear A Rhyme also sound great.

NK Jemisin – Starting to feel like I’m the only SFF fan reading diversely who HASN’T read The Fifth Season, which is a fairly major oversight, but Jemisin’s first two series – The Inheritance Trilogy and the Dreamblood Duology are favourites of mine thanks to her gorgeous prose and wonderful world-building. Upcoming novel The City We Became, about the six avatars of New York trying to fight an ancient evil, also looks like it should be brilliant.

Cat Johnson – Cat has been writing amazingly great UKYA for ages, she’s definitely one of the first UKYA authors I’d recommend to someone who wanted to read brilliant historical fiction. Her Sawbones/Blade and Bone duology is a fantastic pair of novels about an apprentice to a London surgeon who gets mixed up in a disturbing series of events including grave-robbing and body-switching, while The Curious Case of Lady Caraboo is a wonderful story of a girl taken in by a wealthy family who think that she’s a princess from a far-off land.

Patrice Lawrence – Patrice burst onto the scene with the YA Prize/Waterstones Prize for Older Readers-winning Orangeboy, a stunning story of a boy caught up in the criminal underworld which blew me away with its realistic characters and superb dialogue. Following it up with Indigo Donut, about a girl growing up in the care system, and Rose, Interrupted, about a family newly free from a strict religious sect, confirmed her place as a rising star of UKYA.

Jason Reynolds – Jason Reynolds, multi-award winning author, poet, and the newly-appointed National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, probably needs little introduction. I was thrilled when Knights Of signed up his Track series – the first of which, Ghost, is a superb gritty MG about a young boy living in poverty who is trying to outrun his past, and ends up on a track team. Hard-hitting and raw, but with some lovely moments of triumph, this is a stunner of a series starter and I’m excited to read the rest.

Jewell Parker Rhodes – Rhodes’s 2018 MG novel, Ghost Boys, was featured in my top ten stand-alone books of the last decade (along with The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Mama Can’t Raise No Man by Robyn Travis, who both appear later in this list.) The story – about a 12-year-old boy shot dead after waving a toy gun, who meets Emmett Till as a ghost and learns how racism has affected Black boys through the ages – is incredibly powerful; a hard-hitting tragedy.

Na’ima B Robert – Na’ima B Robert’s Black Sheep is a phenomenal contemporary read, a Romeo and Juliet style story about badman Dwayne and Misha, the high-flying daughter of a local councillor. The pair fall in love, despite the disapproval of Misha’s mother, and Misha makes Dwayne want to be a better person. Two breathtaking voices here, with Dwayne’s words in particular blowing me away as they ‘dance and jive and shimmy’.

Farrah Rochon – I’ve been meaning to read Farrah Rochon, often described as one of the best active Black romance writers, for ages since getting heavily into romance last year. The wait was absolutely worth it as I devoured the first in her New York Sabers series, Huddle With Me Tonight. It’s a steamy read with a wonderful couple, an NFL player opening a restaurant for the sister who brought him up and the blogger who savages his cookbook leading to a rivalry which quickly turns into a heated romance.

Nic Stone – Nic Stone’s Dear Martin is another hard-hitting book about police brutality, with a main character writing to Martin Luther King to try and make sense of what he’s going through, while she showed her range by following up with Odd One Out, a slow burn love triangle about two girls and a guy as they try to figure out their feelings for each other. I love the way that the author looks with care at teens questioning their sexualities here and all three mains are amazing characters, leaving me desperately wanting all of them to find happiness. Clean Getaway, her upcoming MG, sounds fabulous also.

Angie Thomas - The Hate U Give is one of the most powerful novels I’ve read in the my life, a hugely hard-hitting book dealing with police brutality and its aftermath featuring an incredible MC learning to use her voice. I’m still waiting to read On The Come Up, partly because sometimes I struggle with having ridiculously high expectations for the second book from an author whose first I’ve absolutely loved, but everything I’ve heard about it says it’s another excellent read.

Robyn Travis – Robyn Travis’s debut novel, Mama Can’t Raise No Man, is a breathtaking debut novel told in letters between a young Black man in prison and his friends and family (with a few court transcripts.) The voice of every character is amazingly strong, while the book is an entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, and always deeply thought-provoking story of Black masculinity, injustice, life in prison and on the streets, and of being the child of a single mother. It builds to an incredible climax - a truly superb read.

Alex Wheatle – Alex Wheatle’s books about life on the fictional Crongton estate – 4 novels, starting with Liccle Bit, and novella Kerb Stain Boys – are superb reads with fabulous dialogue that really lifts them above many other contemporaries. He creates memorable characters and his plotting is outstanding. He is also an established – and acclaimed – writer for adults.

Ibi Zoboi – Ibi Zoboi’s own voices novel American Street about a young Haitian immigrant moving in with her aunt and cousins after her mother is unexpectedly detained by authorities is a gorgeously written vodou culture-infused coming of age story. Her Pride and Prejudice-inspired Pride is a fabulous rewrite with a wonderful setting of a neighbourhood undergoing gentrification. She’s so good that she’s quickly becoming an auto-buy author for me.

Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé – I had to give a 21st spot to someone I hadn’t read because Faridah is a 2021 debut and I’m so excited for Ace of Spades! She’s someone I’ve been following on Twitter for a while and she’s really knowledgeable about YA, which is always a very promising sign for a debut. Usborne described Ace of Spades as “an explosive high-school thriller that delves deep into the heart of institutionalised racism”, which sounds stunning. (Also, her agent Hannah Sheppard has PHENOMENALLY good taste in books!)