Are You There God? It's Me Margaret is one of those books that fits into the 'teenage fiction' category – not quite 9-12, not quite young adult. Judy...moreAre You There God? It's Me Margaret is one of those books that fits into the 'teenage fiction' category – not quite 9-12, not quite young adult. Judy Blume is one of the authors who started writing about young teenagers, way before 'young adult' even existed. I cannot possibly write a 'review' of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret because it's one of those books that (at least, it felt like) everybody except me had read – it's a classic! But here's my thoughts on reading it as a 25-year-old girl who never got the opportunity to read it as an actual pre-teen. Yes, I'd never read a younger Judy Blume, I'm sorry! I only read Summer Sisters, her adult novel, last year. Published in 1970, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret seems to be Judy Blume's most famous novel and as she visited the UK a couple of months ago (I'll write the blogpost soon, I promise!), it seemed only right to pick this one up first.
Margaret Simon likes long hair, tuna fish, the smell of rain and things that are pink. At 11-years-old, she's just moved from busy NYC to the quiet suburbs of Farbrook, New Jersey, where she's faced with a whole bunch of awkward new firsts. I was surprised to see how relevant and current Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret still felt, but yet it's unsurprising because growing up is difficult, whether it's 1970 or 2000, when I turned eleven.
I can see how Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret would feel pretty life-changing to young girl growing up, unable to talk about the challenges of puberty and worries of getting your first period. (It's odd to think how controversial this was in the 1980s, when it became a 'banned book'). It's incredible to discover a book where the main character is going through something you're going through, something that you couldn't talk to other people about. I only had teen magazines! It reminded me of all the things I used to worry about as a 11 to 14-year-old and how the worrying doesn't stop, but the things you're worrying about just change. I enjoyed the realistic banter between Margaret and her new best friend (and neighbour) Nancy, and the challenges of dealing with Nancy's older brother Moose and his friend Evan (especially when you mix school gossip into the equation), plus seeing her deal with being torn between her parents and her Grandma.
I assumed Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret would be a religious novel, likely one of the reasons why I hadn't picked it up until now, because of the title and the fact that it's American (and the US edition emphasises this aspect of the storyline a little bit more), but how wrong I was! Margaret's parents are technically Catholic on one side and Jewish on the other, but neither actually follow a religion. Margaret is unsure what she believes in, so tries out both before she makes a choice (which she doesn't find easy), meanwhile talking to her own private God, instead of 'Dear Diary', about the trials and tribulations of being a young, new and uncertain.
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret is timeless in its ability to show young girls that they are not alone in their experiences. I love the new US editions of her books (check out the tagline: 'Growing up is tough. Period') – bringing them to fans of YA contemporary fiction (and contemporary romance), who may never have picked up Judy Blume before. I already have Forever, which will be my next Judy Blume!
A couple of weeks ago, I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to pick up Hi So Much. I'm not sure why as I hadn't even read the first book (or any...moreA couple of weeks ago, I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to pick up Hi So Much. I'm not sure why as I hadn't even read the first book (or any Laura Dockrill before!). It was just a feeling I had. I was in the mood to read a good, fun children's book, preferably illustrated, and so Hi So Much fit this spontaneous brief that I suddenly felt the need to fill. And it was the perfect choice! I was instantly catapulted into the world of an 11-year-old.
Hi So Much begins with: "I can't believe I have not even started this book and I'm already in trouble", so you know it's going to be great before you've even finished the first page. Even though this is the only Darcy Burdock book I've read, I can tell that the series hinges on the wonderful, realistic characters that Laura Dockrill has created – and they certainly hold their own throughout the story. Darcy Burdock, our bright protagonist, just leaps off the page. She's enthusiastic, quick-witted and imaginative, and does a fantastic job representing what children often go through in their everyday lives. Smart, wise and charismatic, she has a voice that leads you through her story.
Darcy is just about to start 'Big School' and is absolutely terrified. It's a perfectly normal experience that many people probably won't remember, but it resonated with me because my first day at secondary school is extremely vivid. I remember getting there really early (although I can't exactly remember why), spending a few hours walking around the playground, dreading my first class. I felt small and anxious and I just generally didn't like change. I liked my school uniform (and my new pencil case!), but I felt odd wearing it. It's been 14 years, but I remember it so well and I loved getting inside a 11-year-old's mind again. I would have really appreciated this book – and a protagonist like Darcy – when I started school.
Darcy Burdock deals with the world around her (even though she also has a wonderfully supportive and loveable family) using creative writing, imagining all sorts of fantastical scenarios that Laura Dockrill inserts right into the main story. I loved Darcy's blunt honesty (in a way that only child can get away with). She doesn't have as many objections to saying 'I know it's bad, but I really hope I see lots of blood today' while visiting someone in hospital or enjoying the fact that someone's real name is actually Cyril Flakes – and teasing her little sister because she doesn't get the joke straight away.
Hi So Much is about the tumultuous, wondrous, but often traumatic, life of a 9-12 year old. It shows us (and actual children, of course!) that even if you're the youngest, smallest person in the room, your opinion still counts; that it's difficult, but not impossible, to stay friends with someone even when you're in different places; and that everyone spends Sunday dreading Monday, even though it's never as bad as Sunday pretends it will be. Hi So Much is full of lovely prose, snappy internal dialogue and witty illustrations and I'm looking forward to reading Darcy Burdock and the third book, Sorry About Me, published in July. Laura Dockrill knows what she's doing!
Thank you to the publishing for providing this book for review!
I attended a panel recently on children's classics. On the panel was Kate Saunders (children's author), Lucy Mangan (columnist and writer for the Guar...moreI attended a panel recently on children's classics. On the panel was Kate Saunders (children's author), Lucy Mangan (columnist and writer for the Guardian and Stylist) and Melissa Cox (children's buyer for Waterstones). Everyone on the panel spoke about how much they adored The Secret Garden and that it was the ultimate children's classic. How could I possibly ignore such praise? As I hadn't yet chosen my second classic of the year, it seemed right to go with The Secret Garden. I remembered watching the adaptation as a child – and loving it – but I'd never read the book.
The Secret Garden is actually less about the garden, to me as an adult, than it was to me as a child. As a child, the garden – this beautiful, safe place that no one else knew about – was the most desirable, exciting, magical place, but now, the story seems more about the three children that occupy Misselwaith Manor, particularly our protagonist, Mary. Mary comes over to England from India after cholera wipes out her parents and servants, leaving her an orphan. Mary is certainly disagreeable – spoiled, bratty and 'quite contrary' – until she realises that as the youngest and newest resident of this isolated mansion in the English countryside, she is going to have to learn to dress herself and feed herself instead of being waited on, and above all, amuse herself. Mary might be a wretched child to some people on the surface, but she's a little more complicated than that – she's a child who has never experienced love and so she's awfully lonely, as you can imagine. She's a tricky protagonist!
'People never like me and I never like people'.
The Secret Garden – Mary discovers, thanks to a friendly robin – is a special place, full of life and potential, which is just what the children have unknowingly been yearning for. The Secret Garden brings together the three lonely children: Mary, who has no close family and is not fond of people; Colin, who is so full of hatred, self-pity and anger, and who is not even sure whether his father loves him, but is certain that he is going to die; and Dickon, who although constantly has a bright and sunny disposition, prefers the company of animals to people, until he meets Mary.
The Secret Garden is charming and wonderfully written, full of the right amount of intrigue for children and tells the story of three very different children who you get to know well over the months, although you won't quite know whether you like two of them! I can understand why The Secret Garden is considered to be the epitome of children's literature and is still read and loved by many children today, even though it's over 100 years old. Although the story did not quite give me the same magical feeling as it did when I was a child, I became invested in its characters and hoped the ending was as happy as I remembered. I must re-watch the adaptation!
'I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.'
I first came across War Girls when my friend Jim asked me to be part of Countdown to 5th June – an epic month-long blog tour celebrating June releases...moreI first came across War Girls when my friend Jim asked me to be part of Countdown to 5th June – an epic month-long blog tour celebrating June releases – and I saw that it was one of the books published on that date. I had the opportunity to interview the lovely Sally Nicholls, author of Going Spare, as part of the tour, so definitely check that out!
War Girls is a collection of nine short stories that tackle a fascinating part of history – the women who were directly involved in the First World War and the women who stayed behind, left to live among poverty, fear and grief. I find that although there's plenty of young adult (and children's) literature on the Second World War, there's not as much on the First, so I think it's fantastic that publishers haven't given up on bringing this still relevant piece of history to young people. War Girls' authors include Adèle Geras, Melvin Burgess, Berlie Doherty, Mary Hooper, Anne Fine, Matt Whyman, Theresa Breslin, Sally Nicholls, and Rowena House – an incredible array of talent – and it provides something a little different for the centenary of the First World War, which began 100 years ago in July 1914.
I've mentioned before that my relationship with short stories is a strained one, but surprisingly for me, I enjoyed every story in War Girls. They are all wonderfully diverse, well-written and each tell a different side of the First World War. We think of certain images when we think of the World War I, but it's easy to forget that there was no universal experience except for grief and loss. War Girls delves into the lives of all very different women of varied backgrounds and who occupy different places on the social hierarchy, from the farmer girl who will do everything she can to stop her land being taken – and what this has to do with the Spanish Flu – to 16-year-old who begins her new job – when women weren't previously encouraged to – as a waitress on London's Strand, only to discover that she has a much bigger job to do. We meet Merle and Grace as they fight for the right to be taken seriously and a woman who has nothing else to lose amidst the Battle of Gallipoli.
If you've yet to read much young adult literature on the First World War – or if you're in the mood to head back to the past – pick up War Girls this July!
Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!
After reading and thoroughly enjoying Suite Scarlett, I was very much looking forward to picking up Maureen Johnson's other novels, so I went for The...moreAfter reading and thoroughly enjoying Suite Scarlett, I was very much looking forward to picking up Maureen Johnson's other novels, so I went for The Key to the Golden Firebird, which is very much in the same vein as Suite Scarlett. Maureen Johnson has a brilliant way of showing just how complicated family dynamics can be. The Key to the Golden Firebird starts with describing the heart-warming, close relationship that the Gold sisters have with their father, but then he dies from a sudden heart-attack. I knew then that this was another Maureen Johnson novel that isn't as it first appears.
May is desperate to learn to drive, but not because she wants an expensive car to show off to her friends – her mum is working all hours to pay the bills, her sister Brooks is hardly ever there, and her younger sister Palmer is going through some issues of her own. May is feeling hopeless until her neighbour Pete offers to lend a hand.
The Key to the Golden Firebird is told through the eyes of each of the sisters and you get a real glimpse onto their world - how they see their life, their relationships, the way they deal with brief, and how their personalities shine through. Although I had a particular affinity for May, as we're introduced to her first, I ended up growing quite close to Brooks and Palmer. It wouldn't be YA contemporary without a little bit of romance and in this charming novel we have Pete, the boy next door. We go from seeing him as the enemy – as he was when the Gold sisters were younger – to rooting for him and May, but how does it end? You'll need to brush aside your prejudices and pick up these to brilliant young adult books to see!
Dead Man's Cove was the first book chosen for my monthly book club. I had been wanting to read it for a while because it sounded like a perfect middle...moreDead Man's Cove was the first book chosen for my monthly book club. I had been wanting to read it for a while because it sounded like a perfect middle grade adventure and mystery in the vein of Enid Blyton, plus the cover is stunning! Dead Man's Cove is the first story in the Laura Marlin Mysteries series, following 11-year-old Laura as she works on becoming an ace detective, inspired by her favourite fictional detective Matt Walker. Laura is living in Sylvan Meadow's Children's Home when she is discovered by her uncle, Calvin Redfern, and taken to live in St Ives, Cornwall, where her detective skills are about to be put to use.
Middle grade mysteries are among my favourite books to read because they're so much fun and Dead Man's Cove certainly isn't short of mysteries to figure out. Why is the cove so dangerous? Is Tariq, the shopkeeper's quiet son, who he appears to be? Why is the housekeeper, Mrs Webb, so mean? Does her uncle really work in the fisheries? And what does Laura have to do to find her place in St Ives? Dead Man's Cove was (to my delight!) much more complicated and darker than expected, but it also leaves you nostalgic for a childhood you (likely) never had, full of breakfast by the sea, accompanied by a loyal Siberian Husky named Skye, roaming sand the 'colour of a Labrador puppy'. It made me miss living by the sea while I was at university, waking up to seagulls every morning.
It's not just the mystery that is so wonderful, but also the colourful, vivid and distinct characters. You'll have an opinion on all of them, especially Laura Marlin herself, who is an incredibly passionate, intelligent and brave young girl. Luckily, her uncle Calvin knows she's responsible and gives Laura the space to explore, although he's not so sure that she should be rushing to pick her career so quickly... Mrs Crabtree, Laura's nosy neighbour is hilarious and a brilliant addition to the story, and Mr. Mukhtar, Tariq's father, is suspicious and untrustworthy. But when you're just an 11-year-old, it's difficult to get people to believe you.
Dead Man's Cove is a delightful, nostalgic mystery that'll make you remember the time you pretended to be Harriet the Spy, trying to figure out the puzzle in front of you, and in this modern children's detective story, you'll join Laura as she tries to find a place in her new home. I've already read the World Book Day short story, The Midnight Picnic, and can't wait to start the second book, Kidnap in the Caribbean. Just wonderful!
'They came for her at 6.47am. Laura made a note of the time because she'd been waiting for this moment for eleven years, one month and five days and she wanted always to remember it - the hour her life began.'
It had been a while since I picked up a Maureen Johnson book. I last read 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star back in 2011 and so I th...moreIt had been a while since I picked up a Maureen Johnson book. I last read 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star back in 2011 and so I thought it was about time to try some of her earlier young adult contemporary novels, since they were newly published in the UK. I was under the impression that they were nearer the fluffy end of contemporary – not that there's anything wrong with that, I just usually go for either 'really sad' or 'witty and really cute' – but what I found was that I'd just been guilty of having judged a book by its cover. Suite Scarlett is one of the most enjoyable young adult contemporary novels I've read so far – incredibly fun, very quick-witted, with a dash of romance, but also an emotional, complicated side.
It's finally summer! 15-year-old Scarlett Martin's top priority is getting a job so she can actually afford to have fun with her friends this year. Well, that's what she thought, until her family breaks the news that they're running out of money and need her to work in their fancy Art Deco hotel, the Hopewell, over the entire summer. Scarlett's frustrated, but knows that her family comes first, even if they can be incredibly frustrating sometimes, what with her brother's inability to obtain a permanent acting job, her old sister's annoying preppy boyfriend and little sister's incessant complaining. It's a full house and Maureen Johnson shows us that perfection isn't all it appears to be (even though I have wondered what it must be like to run a hotel since seeing Gilmore Girls Lorelai's beautiful inn). Scarlett is mature for her age, witty and intelligent, and is an enjoyable protagonist to spend time with. She lives up to the challenge when feisty, eccentric Mrs Amberson comes to stay, hires Scarlett as her assistant, and embarks on a mission to save both Hamlet and the Hopewell at the same time... As if that wasn't enough to keep Scarlett busy, her brother's colleague catches her eye, but it's not all smooth-sailing there, either.
Suite Scarlett is a fast-paced, brilliantly written and well thought-out contemporary novel to add to your wishlist! It taught me not to judge a book by its cover – the emotional exploration of Scarlett's relationship with her siblings was just wonderful – and I wish I didn't have to wait for the sequel to be published in the UK...
Please note that this book is also called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in the US!
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry was loaned to me by a colleague w...morePlease note that this book is also called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in the US!
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry was loaned to me by a colleague who thought I'd enjoy it because it had been compared to The Book Thief. As soon as I saw what it was about – a disgruntled, unhappy man; an independent bookshop; a stolen rare copy of Edgar Allen Poe's Tamerlane; and a baby among the book stacks – I straight away added it to my list of 25 Books for Book Lovers.
If you're reading this review, you're likely a fellow book blogger, or publisher, or librarian, or bookseller. If so, you'll appreciate that The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry takes complete hold of the book industry and illuminates it for everyone else to see (sometimes with brutal honesty!), such as sales reps, ARCs, author events, young adult fiction (let's just say that A.J. Fikry is not exactly a fan) and the snobbish attitude that we've all come across from those who judge other people's reading preferences. A.J. Fikry probably would not have wanted to be friends with me, what with him preferring literary short stories and me preferring children's literature. He is not perfect, despite his bookishness, which is a fascinating change as book lovers are often portrayed as the heroes in literature. He is, instead, rude, old-fashioned and pretentious, but that is not to say that we're meant to despise him! A.J. actually has a good reason for why he is so reclusive and bitter – his wife, whose idea it was to open up Island Books on Alice Island, died – and so he is lonely and understandably angry at humanity – that is, until baby Maya mysteriously appears!
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, much to my surprise, is not really about what books can do for people, but what people can do for each other – it's a wonderful, touching tale of a close community on an isolated island. Yet the fact that the book industry is such an important part of the story is the reason I am giving it five stars. I want to run out and buy my own copy; I adore the cover and I want to be able to look back through it and mark my favourite quotes. Luckily my fellow Goodreads users have started adding some too:
“Do you like Moby Dick," he asks. "I hate it," she says. "And I don't say that about many things. Teachers assign it, and parents are happy because their kids are reading something of 'quality'. But it's forcing kids to read books like that that make them think they hate reading.”
You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: "What is your favourite book?"
At the start of each chapter, we see A.J. Fikry recall his personal thoughts about certain books, which is a wonderful addition that highlights just how personal choosing, reading and recommending a book is. The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry, aside from the bookishness, is about how one man deals with the arrival of a baby, who arrives with nothing but a note saying that he should take care of her. It's his time to step up, be responsible and take control, something that he's managed to avoid so far, since the only person he's had to take care of is himself, and he hasn't managed to do that very well so far either. It's about his sister-in-law, who is struggling to step away, a focused young sales rep and a charming police chief. It's a sweet story and one I'll be telling my blogger and publisher friends to pick up for a while yet. Now, which bookshop shall I purchase my copy from?!
If Don't Even Think About It was a movie, it would be the sort of teen movie that you would watch curled up on a Sunday afternoon (preferably with sna...moreIf Don't Even Think About It was a movie, it would be the sort of teen movie that you would watch curled up on a Sunday afternoon (preferably with snacks and friends), a bit of contemporary + science fiction lite mixed with The Breakfast Club + Gossip Girl. I wasn't having a brilliant week when I began reading and it turned out to be the perfect antidote. I started it on the way to work and finished it that evening, so if you want to just forget everything and delve into a fun, light-hearted and witty story, this could be what you're looking for!
It's time for Class 10B to get their flu jabs. No big deal, right? Wrong. It starts with Mackenzie thinking she's going crazy, but then the whole class start develop telepathy, a kind of extrasensory perception (ESP). Awesome! But for 10B, life is about to get much trickier to navigate. We like to think that we want everyone to be honest with us. To tell us what we really look like in our favourite outfit. Or if we're being embarrassing or stupid or annoying. But do we really? Now everyone knows that Mackenzie cheated on her boyfriend Cooper, that Tess has a crush on her best friend Teddy – and that he's in love with someone else – and that Nurse Carmichael used to be a stripper. It's light. It's hot pink. And it's full of high school drama. You won't like all the 'ESPies', but you'll revel in the fact that you've now joined their exclusive club.
Don't Even Think About It is narrated by the chorus of ESPies after they've had a chance to spend more time as telepathic teenagers, which would have taken time to get used to if I hadn't recently read David Levithan's Two Boys Kissing. In fact, it worked really well and it was easy to see how the group of classmates became 'we'. And it's only just getting started as this is the first in the series. I loved reading the characters' reactions to their new-found talent – and each others' – plus reactions from those who were fortunate – or unfortunate, depending on how you see it – not to be able to hear everyone's thoughts. Imagine watching two people who aren't even friends stare at each other meaningfully, in silence, for no apparent reason. And as someone who struggled with shyness in school, it was refreshing to see one of the characters use her telepathy to overcome it. One of the reasons for shyness is the anxiety caused by not knowing what's going to come next or how people are going to react. What if that was removed? Olivia, one of the Class 10B students, is constantly worried about what other people think of her, when in fact they're not even thinking about her at all. She now always knows what's coming next and can change her behaviour accordingly, so she never messes up, and she was one of the most interesting characters to follow as the classmates attempt to figure out how to live in a world without secrets.
Don't Even Think About It is a sunny young adult contemporary novel with a fun science fiction twist that'll get you thinking about how difficult it is not to think.
Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!