One of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the gr...moreOne of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the grown up world. As a teen I desperately wanted to read books where the characters were on the same journey I was, other than the Sweet Valley University series I had to rely primarily on tv – seeing the characters from Buffy and Dawson’s Creek go to university answered lots of questions I had. When I heard about this book it sounded exactly the sort of book I’d wanted to read.
Roomies is the story of two teen girls in the summer before they start college. They are assigned as roommates and given each other’s contact details so they can get in touch before they meet face to face. The book starts with the arrival of this room assignment, and follows the girls through the summer as they email back and forth.
The book is about this exchange of emails and the gradual getting to know each other process but it’s about far more than that two. The chapters switch back and forward between Elizabeth, known as EB, and Lauren – each contains the next email in the conversation but also shows us what’s going on in their lives. Both girls come from different situations; different locations, different family structures, different dating experiences. At the same time many of their experiences are shared, they’re both trying to work out how to make this new start, how to deal with leaving behind everything they know, how to manage fledgling relationships that are soon going to be dealing with the added challenge of long distances.
Both girls’ personal situations have done a lot to shape the person they are. This reflection of the importance of family, but also reaching the stage where you start to wonder who you are outside of the context of your family unit plays out really well in this book and I think will be something that many teen readers will identify with. There’s a huge amount for the target audience to love about this book, the way it echoes the queries and worries many waiting to start university or college in particular. I found myself remembering the summer before I started university and how I felt, recognising myself in both characters.
I’ve already mentioned the fledgling relationships that play a part in this book. With these comes a fair amount of discussion of sex, and of when the time’s right for each of the girls to have sex. I’m always going to be a fan of books that discuss this, particularly when they discuss the idea that teens should wait until they personally feel ready. It’s really well done in Roomies, as is the discussion of whether the girls try and make long distance relationships work with boys they’ve only been with for a short while. I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that again I really liked the different resolutions to this – there is no right or wrong in these situations and seeing different paths given equal credit made me really happy.
I really, really liked this book. I do wish it had been around a long time ago, but regardless I’m really pleased it exists now. This is a book that should be on the shelves of school and sixth form libraries across the country.(less)
This is third book in Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series, I'd already read and loved the first two books Rule and Jet. I was really looking forward to...moreThis is third book in Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series, I'd already read and loved the first two books Rule and Jet. I was really looking forward to reading Rome, not so much for the very attractive male lead but instead for the very attractive female lead – Cora. I had enjoyed her so much in the first two books that I was looking forward to getting to see her take centre stage.
It was, as I expected, a complete delight to spend the time reading a book with Cora front and centre. She’s a really interesting character, and getting to see so much more of her lived up to all of my hopes. She’s tough and strong but has a vulnerable streak a mile wide. She sees herself as a protector of the group, her role managing the tattoo shop means she spends her working time looking after all of the boys whilst they work and she doesn’t stop when the working day is over. Seeing her stand up both for and to them makes her increasingly impressive throughout the series, in this book we get to understand how she fits into the shop and their lives, and how they all fit into hers. Understanding all of this made me love her even more.
Before this book even starts we’ve seen enough of Rome to know his decade spent serving his country have changed him, he’s done numerous tours of active duty and as a result seen and experienced things that have left their marks on him both literally and figuratively. There’s an author’s note at the beginning of the book that in writing Rome as a character she did not try to write him as “a portrait, in a generalized or documentary way” – I think she achieved this really well. There is no question that Rome felt very genuine as a character to me based on what I know of the experiences of former members of the armed forces. At the same time he never feels like a cookie cutter model – his personal difficulties are as a result of far more than his military service, he’s a complete product of his circumstances. I found that the more I read about him and the more I understood what was going on in his head the more I rooted for and liked him.
The relationship between Rome and Cora feels nearly as inevitable as the ones between Rule and Shaw, and Jet and Aiden did. The difference in this relationship though is that we can see how huge the potential stumbling blocks are. I found that I was really willing them to find their way through or around them, at times I did start to wonder whether they would be able to. They work really well together as a couple, and their more intimate scenes work just as well and are just as hot as any in this series.
I can’t review a book in the Marked Men series without talking at least a little about the rest of the characters. Firstly I must mention how great it was to see how the characters I’d already come to love and care for continue to develop in this book – both those who’ve had their time in the limelight and those who haven’t yet had the chance to star in a book. There is one plot thread in particular that began in Rule that makes a lot of progress in this book and I loved how it played out. The set up for the next book in the series, Nash is threaded throughout this book and again I felt it worked really well. In addition to the core group of characters I really enjoyed the couple of newer characters, Asa who has made an appearance before but in this book really starts to find his place, and Brite who is completely new to the book. I enjoyed both characters immensely and am pleased to see that Asa will get his turn to lead a book sometime next year!
This book isn’t quite like the previous two. It took me a little while to work out why this was, it follows the same basic structure as the other books in the series but has a slightly different feel. I think it’s because Rome himself is not an intrinsic part of the core group of characters, Cora is. In the previous two books it has been the male characters, Rule and Jet, who’ve been part of the tightly knit group of friends and the female characters, Shaw and Ayden, who’ve been the new additions. Did this mean reading the book was a different experience? Yes. Did I enjoy it any less as a result? Absolutely not. This is another brilliant addition to the Marked Men series – I think there’s no question that this is going to be one of my favourite series of 2014.(less)
I loved the last book of Liz Kessler’s that I read, time slip adventure North of Nowhere. When I heard that her new middle grade novel was going to fe...moreI loved the last book of Liz Kessler’s that I read, time slip adventure North of Nowhere. When I heard that her new middle grade novel was going to feature superpowers I was really excited, I always feel like I’m not reading enough novels featuring characters with superpowers.
The story is narrated by Jessica. She’s a lovely character, she’s comes across in a very engaging, chatty manner. Her friendship with Izzy is really well written, they’re quite different personality types but there is a real depth to their friendship that is very believable and appealing. I was impressed by the way they approached exploring Jessica’s new power of invisibility – whilst her mastery of it may have felt slightly easy I really appreciated them taking a logical approach to it rather than panicking. (I’m not sure I could be so calm at 30-something let alone 13!)
A key part of any story dealing with superpowers is of course explaining how / why the person with the new powers has them. I liked the way the explanation of this unfolded over the course of the book and the science behind it. With any such story there was to be a willingness on the part of the reader to accept the rules of science being bent a little (like the way Doctor Who fans across the world accepted the explanation of time as being a “big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.”) I found the science between the superpowers to be well considered and I had no problem at all believing it, if anything I’d say it made more sense than many of the equivalent explanations I’ve come across in recent years.
Throughout the course of the book a few other teenagers join Jessica and Izzy in their quest to understand the new superpowers. They all worked really well, I liked the way the group slowly came together and learnt to look past their initial impressions of each other. The ending of the book in particular was highly satisfying in terms of the group dynamic.
This book is just downright cool. It’s fun and fast and I really enjoyed reading it. I think it could work well as a read alike for Cathy Hopkins’ Love at Second Sight. I also think it would be a perfect book companion to popular CBBC show Wizards vs Aliens – something else I love.(less)
**spoiler alert** I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in...more**spoiler alert** I was drawn to this book first by that gorgeous cover and then by the blurb. When it first came out the reviews were glowing, and in the months since I’ve seen it brought up in many conversations about publishing, diversity in publishing and just really good YA releases of 2014. I must admit that I was a little apprehensive when I started to read, I always am when I’m picking up a much loved book, what if I was the one person who didn’t like it? I think I got about 2 or 3 chapters in to the book and realised I was already hooked, I took a brief pause to sigh with relief and then carried on reading. I only stopped reading twice, both times to refill my coffee mug!
The book has two narrative threads told in alternating chapters. There is the current timeline, beginning with Sophie’s release from rehab, and there is a flashback timeline that dances forwards and backwards over the previous few years adding detail and necessary history to all of the current goings on. This structure worked really well, both aspects of the story were equally strong. The thriller aspect of Sophie trying to investigate Mina’s murder plays out well, I didn’t suspect the eventual culprit but it felt like a believable outcome to me.
I liked Sophie from the outset. I found that I had an unwavering belief in what she was saying, and a real frustration with her parents who didn’t seem able to see past what others had told them. The fact they had sent her to rehab when she had not relapsed made me really sad, both for Sophie getting the lack of support she wanted and needed, and for her parents who must be in some state to be incapable of hearing the truth their daughter is telling them. I really appreciated the presence of Aunt Macy in Sophie’s life – she deserved an awesome adult who was in her corner unconditionally.
Sophie’s a well developed character, like all of the characters in the book she’s complex and messy with jagged edges and personal demons. Whilst I want to see all sorts of characters represented in fiction I have a personal investment in seeing characters who are dealing with disabilities and/or ongoing health issues. Sophie was in a car crash that nearly killed her (the first of two near death experiences in her fairly short life, the other being the catalysing event that results in Mina’s death) – she escaped with injuries affecting her leg and back, along with huge amounts of scarring. Her injuries are going to be with her for the rest of the life, she is in pain and has weakness that compromises her walking. She’s angry and bitter, and her former drug addiction is directly linked to the pain she’s in. I really appreciated how honestly Sophie’s experiences are dealt with, and the way that whilst they make up a significant part of her they aren’t the only thing about her. I also liked the way she used gardening as a therapeutic tool – this again felt very true to the character and her situation.
Whilst the book begins with Mina’s death we get to see the hole her absence has left in the lives of those closest to her, particularly her brother Trev and Sophie. She also plays a really prominent role in the flashback chapters – she was Sophie’s closest, dearest friend and played a significant part in her life. Through the strength of her presence I felt like I really got to know her, whilst not as well as I got to know Sophie still significantly more than I had expected to.
Relationships play a significant role in all aspects of this book, both romantic and platonic ones. There is an LGBT plot thread that is well executed, I don’t want to say to much about it as its brilliance is at least partly in how it plays out throughout the book. It’s not something I’ve seen played out often in YA fiction and it’s done in a really well thought out manner. There are a couple of sexual encounters – these are handled deftly, they don’t quite fade to black but are written in a careful and sensitive manner.
I love it when a book like Far From You comes along and reminds me just how brilliant realistic fiction can be. This is the kind of book that leaves you both wanting more and not wanting to go near another book for a while, instead just letting everything you’ve read sink in. I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.(less)
Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown a...moreMalorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses books were for me, like so many others, some of the first young adult fiction I read as an adult. I was blown away by them and passed my copies to others so that they too could read their brilliance. For whatever reason I hadn’t read any more of her books, I kept hearing great things about Boys Don’t Cry so I grabbed it when I saw it at my local library. Eventually I sat down to read it and devoured it in one slightly emotional sitting, and then kicked myself hard for not reading it sooner.
Boys Don’t Cry is Dante’s story, he is a bright teen waiting for the uni results that mean he can go away to university and pursue his dreams of becoming a journalist. His life is turned upside down by the discovery that he fathered a child, and is now entirely responsible for that child. At the same time Boys Don’t Cry is Adam’s story – he gets nearly half of the narrative duties – he’s the younger brother, his heart is set on a career in the performing arts and he’s openly gay even if his brother and father don’t outwardly do or say anything to acknowledge it.
Both boys are under a lot of emotional pressure, they feel the absence of their dead mother keenly, and whilst their father is trying his best to bring them up there are significant cracks in his relationship with them both. The addition of the baby into their family unit pushes the relationships even further, at times this made for painful reading – I found I could understand everyone’s perspective, there truly was no right or wrong between Dante, Adam and their father.
Dante’s reactions to his rapidly changing future feel both harsh and entirely genuine. Discovering he has a child and becoming responsible for her has a dramatic impact on his life in every way imaginable, I found myself wondering how I would have reacted to a similar thing at his age, it felt too big to even begin to consider. I realised as I was nearing the end of the book that we never hear about the Dantes of the world – there must be young single fathers out there, I can’t remember ever hearing about one though.
Adam’s story was somewhat unexpected in that I didn’t expect him to have such a strong presence or narrative within the book. He gets his own storyline, though it twists in and out of Dante’s, whilst this works well there were times when it almost felt like there was a little too much going on – I guess it’s that age old age of it never raining but pouring. I found that I could see relatively early on within his story where it was going, I was willing myself to be wrong but was proven right.
The final section of the book in particular has some beautiful, touching moments. I spent the last few chapters in a completely heightened state of emotions. The conclusions felt very true to the characters and the plot, and I closed the book feeling incredibly glad for the opportunity to read such a book. It deals with some huge issues but never feels like an “issues” book. It is instead a book about the value of communication and the power of family and of love. I have seen mention of a companion novel coming at some point, telling the story of baby Emma’s mother Melanie – I’ll certainly be reading this book far more quickly.(less)
I’ve been a big fan of Dorothy Koomson for a long time now, I’m always so excited by her new books. There are certain things I’ve come to expect from...moreI’ve been a big fan of Dorothy Koomson for a long time now, I’m always so excited by her new books. There are certain things I’ve come to expect from her books; characters to root for, emotional plotlines that keep me glued to my seat until I’ve finished reading them, skilful use of different time periods. The Flavours of Love delivers on all three counts.
At the start of the book Saffron and her family are grieving for their dead husband and father, the opening chapter throws the reader straight into the story with the family being hit by yet another life changing bombshell before jumping back to the time when Saffron first met her husband Joel. I liked this a lot, introducing him through flashbacks so quickly meant that he felt like a vital character despite the fact that in the contemporary storyline he’s present only as a memory.
There are so many different facets to this story. It is a thriller, with Joel’s killer making increasing contact with Saffron and becoming increasingly disturbing. At the same time it’s a quiet story about grief and working out how to carry on when it’s the hardest thing to even imagine yourself doing. And then it’s about family and how your relationships change and reform after they get pulled and tested in the hardest of circumstances. Reading it, no single facet felt more than the others, they’re deftly balanced and woven around one another.
I really felt for Saffron and her children Phoebe and Zane. All of them do things that are hard to read about, the distance you have as a reader means you can see implications more easily and understand the potential ramifications of actions. I found Saffron particularly difficult to read at times, some of the things she felt and said were so familiar to me it was like looking in a mirror. This ultimately only made me feel more connected to her and more invested in what was going to happen to her – something I’ve found before with the lead characters in other books by the author (I remember in particular being amazed by how similar Ceri in The Cupid Effect was to me).
This is not a book with a neat ending tied in a pretty bow, and it’s brilliant because of this. The plot aspects that need a concrete resolution get one, and this is very satisfying. Many of the plot elements don’t require endings, they simply require progress and this again is exactly what they get. The characters are works in progress, like we all are as humans, rather than the ending being one that is neat and finished it is one that holds potential and hope for the characters – I closed the book feeling like they were all going to get there in time.
This is another excellent book by Dorothy Koomson, I’m already looking forward to the next one!(less)
The first couple of chapters of this book quickly draw you into the somewhat unusual version of our world that provides its setting. It feels like a w...moreThe first couple of chapters of this book quickly draw you into the somewhat unusual version of our world that provides its setting. It feels like a world where health and safety fears really have taken over – every element of life in the small town of Barrow is governed by a risk averse attitude. I was immediately drawn into Owen’s story, feeling very sorry for him and the new friends he was making as the impact of all of the safety rules became increasingly clear.
The book very much feels like it’s a cautionary tale, we all know the age old wisdom that the more you tell someone they can’t have or do something the more they want to do exactly the opposite. It’s no wonder therefore that Owen and his friends come together with a wish to rebel and to go and chase one of the tornados responsible for so many of the restrictions placed upon them.
The description of this book as hilarious, thought-provoking, highly original is spot on. There were definite laugh out loud moments but there were just as many, if not more, moments that left the reader with something to think about. Considering perceptions is a real theme running throughout the book – there are characters that are being seen one, perhaps flawed, way by the characters but we the reader can perhaps see them a little more clearly as we’re seeing them from a distance.
Owen’s group of friends are a wonderfully mixed bunch, seeing how they come together in spite of their differences was lovely. Their first meeting in particular was brilliant, I found myself thinking back to the wonderful groups from the many Enid Blyton books I read as a child. I liked as well the way that the group of characters included a person of colour and person with a disability without either of these things defining the character – something I hope we’re going to be seeing more and more of in children’s literature.
There are some pretty big twists and turns as the book progresses, a couple of times I was pleasantly surprised by the direction that the book took. The ending left me thinking for a long time, I’ll certainly be interested to hear how younger readers get on with it. I do think it’s a very fitting ending but I also think it’s likely to be one that might need some discussion – I imagine like anything this will vary from reader to reader but is worth considering if you’re giving the book to someone.
I haven’t read Ross Montgomery’s first book Alex, the Dog and the Unopenable Door but on the strength of this book it’s definitely earned a place on my books to read list.(less)
Contemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’...moreContemporary YA is one of my absolute favourite age band / genre match ups, as much of a geek as I am this is always my default book selection when I’m not sure what I want to read. Epistolary fiction is another of my great loves, so this book sounded like it would suit my reading tastes very well when I first heard about it.
The story is recounted solely through written communications, some are between real people – Elizabeth and her mother communicate frequently by notes left for one another, whereas some are from imaginary committees or groups either berating or praising Elizabeth for the way she’s living her life. This structure works well to tell the story, there’s always a risk with epistolary fiction that it can leave the reader feeling a little short changed – letters can sometimes only scratch the very surface of a story resulting in a more shallow read. This book completely avoids that, I think the reasons for this are two fold. The first is the imaginary organisations’ letters – Elizabeth’s personality and feelings about herself and her identity become increasingly clear through these letters, I felt that I really got to understand her through them. The second is the letters Elizabeth and her new penfriend Christina share. The fact they are complete strangers means that they are incredibly honest in their letters to one another which gives a surprising depth to their relationship.
Elizabeth reminded me so much of myself as a teen, and if I’m completely honest as a younger adult too. There is much discussion about with it means to be a true teenager, I know I spent all of my teenage years feeling somewhat deficient as the things that motivated and interested me were very different to most of my peers. I think this would have been a really important book to me as a teen, seeing someone expressing the same sorts of thoughts and feelings would have been a real comfort. I’m sure there are so many teens out there who feel this way, I hope they find this book and enjoy being able to see themselves within its pages.
Christina’s story is also one that I found myself very invested in, and appreciated the deft way it was handled. During the book Christina experiences questions about her relationship, about sex and intimacy. I wasn’t expecting this book to deal with any such issues and the fact it did and did so very well added a lot to the book. The open nature of her letter writing to Elizabeth worked really well for this.
This book is funny, and sweet, and smart all at the same time. It feels very realistic and the various characters jump off the page. It’s the first in a set of books all set within the high schools attended by Elizabeth and Christina, I thoroughly enjoyed this one so have every intention of reading the rest. I am really grateful to lovely author Kaz Mahoney who told me about this author, she’s definitely a new favourite!(less)
I loved Dave Cousin’s debut novel 15 Days Without a Head so had very high hopes for this book. Within the first few pages I knew he’d done it again, c...moreI loved Dave Cousin’s debut novel 15 Days Without a Head so had very high hopes for this book. Within the first few pages I knew he’d done it again, creating a warm, funny and touching contemporary tale with great depth.
Oz, the main character of the book, is a brilliant character – I loved how his actions were almost always well intentioned, but had a habit of going wrong. I laughed as he made his way from one scrape to the next, in between wincing at some of the calamities he created.
One of the central relationships in the book is the one between Oz and his older sister Meg. Whilst they bicker and argue there is absolutely no mistaking the strength of their relationship, as an older sister who has always had a strong relationship with her younger brother I really loved this element of the book. Whilst our lives were never as complicated as Oz and Meg’s I could definitely see the similarities.
I hadn’t worked out the gist of the book from the blurb and so was surprised by the direction the book took, and indeed who the titular Gonzo was. This was all to the good, the potentially tricky subject matter was handled with skill – there’s no judgement, no wringing of hands, simply practical honesty and warmth.
Ryan, the hobbit-obsessed geek, who befriends Oz when no one else at school will was another favourite character of mine. I always love the addition of a geeky character who is there simply as part of the ensemble, rather than to be pointed at and laughed at, Ryan certainly had his part to play and reminded me at times of both myself and other geeky friends.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that I’m looking forward to recommending to other readers old and young alike.(less)
This is the first of the companion novels to Pushing the Limits, it focuses on Beth - Noah's friend and housemate and introduces Ryan, a baseball star...moreThis is the first of the companion novels to Pushing the Limits, it focuses on Beth - Noah's friend and housemate and introduces Ryan, a baseball star in the making.
I have to admit, when I read about the dare element of this book I was really worried. I generally find that books with secrets like this leave me so stressed out as I read, and so I end up not really enjoying the book. I was so pleased to find that this part of the plot didn't play out as I'd expected it to, and so I could just enjoy the reading experience.
The majority of this book is set at a different school, in a different town, to Pushing the Limits so there's a whole new lot of characters to get to know. Beth makes numerous trips back home though, giving us time to catch up with Echo and Noah, and with Isaiah.
This isn't a perfect book, but the writing is so good that I was completely swept away by the reading experience and can happily overlook things that might have been gripes in a weaker book. I'm completely in love with this series, I think it's the closest a series of books have got to making me feel the way watching Friday Night Lights did.(less)