UKYA Review: Read Me Like a Book by Liz Kessler

Beautiful inside and out.
Beautiful inside and out.

I was really excited for this book and I am happy to say that not only was I not disappointed but blown away by its quiet brilliance.

Liz Kessler is an author I have enjoyed reading before and knowing how important this novel is to her I was desperate to read it for myself.

As you probably already know (but just in case…), this is an LGBT+ coming of age story, focused on Ashleigh’s developing realisation that she has romantic feelings for her teacher, Miss Murray. It’s a story that Liz wrote years ago and recently dusted off and updated. A story whose time had come. It is an important story, adding to the representation of LGBT+ experience within YA, but above all else, it is a compelling story, well told – and for that reason, I would urge you to pick it up.

Here is my initial reaction:

Loved this fabulous coming-of-age tale. For anyone wondering: the beauty of the cover is absolutely matched by the beauty of the story inside. This is a sensitively told close-up view of a teenaged girl figuring out both herself and the world around her. Read Me Like a Book will (quite rightly) be on lots of LGBT recommended reading lists, but the central quandaries about identity, family and friends will be familiar to most if not all teens and former teens. Strongly recommended.

The plot revolves around Ashleigh’s life in her second year of sixth form and there are various complications with school, friends and family for her to negotiate, all while attempting to understand and deal with her own feelings. This is, in the end, a coming out story par excellance as this crucial part of Ashleigh’s growing up is explored thoroughly and set against a backdrop of other complications (just as it is in real life!). This means that there is plenty for any YA reader to relate to, regardless of specific orientation and experience.

Liz’s tight narration immerses us in Ashleigh’s experiences and thoughts, even while as outsiders we can often perceive things that she is not able to at that point. That’s always a sign of great writing, I think – when you’re willing the character to do the sensible thing or see the truth of something, even knowing full well that stories don’t work like that! I loved Ashleigh and found her easy to relate to and engage with, and I enjoyed the portrayals of her friends and family too. I also enjoyed (and found it unusual) that Ashleigh doesn’t actually realise herself that she is a lesbian initially, but just assumes she’s straight and has a relationship with a boy. I think this initial struggle with the very idea, and the uncertainty of your own sense of identity shifting are very well captured and add to the reader’s engagement with Ashleigh.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this beautiful book to readers of YA contemporaries, especially if you’re keen for a UK context.

Read Me Like a Book is out now from Indigo.

Opal Moonbaby and the fantastic new covers

The Opal Moonbaby series is one of our favourites for the Middle Grade set here at the Hearthfire and it’s so great to see them get a new lease of life with new titles and gorgeous new Tony Ross covers.

These novels cover several key themes of MG literature: friendship, fitting in and families, and they do so through the wonderfully quirky alien character of Opal Moonbaby, visitor from another planet. I recommend the series for readers of 8+, and particularly for girls who prefer feisty and funny to pink and sparkly.

Opal Moonbaby 1In the first novel, Martha has just decided that friends are more trouble than they are worth, and resigned to spend the summer just with her mother and brother, Robbie, when Opal Moonbaby arrives, intent on making a friend.

Martha is a brilliantly written character: easy to relate to and well-rounded. What’s impressive and effective about this debut is that the other characters are also efficiently drawn and clearly differentiated. Martha and her brother are good kids, shown through their concern for their mother and for Opal. Opal, of course, steals the show with her enormous personality and all-round craziness. Violet eyes? Silver hair? Lack of regard for rules and authority? How could we fail to fall for her?

The wackiness of Opal’s character and the overall unlikeliness of an alien arrival is countered by these characters who behave in realistic and understandable ways, allowing us to suspend disbelief and enter Opal’s world. The plot itself is also believable, and Martha’s issues with friends will be familiar to many readers. This aspect of the plot is the heart of the story and has a valuable message without being didactic or clumsy.

Overall, I loved the lightness of touch and general humour of this. I’m pleased to see there will be more and know my 8yo will love them. She’s a fan of Kes Gray’s Daisy chapter books and Joanna Nadin’s Penny Dreadful series, and this has a similar kind of warmth and voice (although those series create most of their wackiness through the first-person narration of their colourful main characters, while Opal Moonbaby is told in the third person).

Opal Moonbaby 3

Martha and Robbie are again at the centre of the story in the second book, with Opal zooming in to upend their world. This time, Opal must fit in as an earth girl, including going to school – and there is also the threat of other aliens, Mercurials, on the horizon. As in the first book, Opal is hilarious in her misunderstandings and enormous enthusiasm for everything earthly, while Martha at times despairs at her lack of awareness of how much she stands out.
As with the first novel, this is genuinely funny (without resorting to poo/pants jokes) and sweet at the same time. Opal’s determination to fit in and her blithe lack of understanding – while being absolutely convinced she’s doing everything right – make for a hilariously entertaining story. I would have liked to see more of Garnet, Opal’s Mingle (I’m sure all readers must have fallen in love with him in the first book), but he is here and still just as wonderful.
There is a lovely story about friendship in here, as Opal and Martha cope with more people being introduced into Opal’s circle and Robbie has his own subplot on a friendship theme. The book also includes an exciting build up to a climax with the potential threats to Opal’s safety and the success of her mission. You might also enjoy this fab and non-spoilery guest post from Maudie Smith about Opal going to school.

Opal Moonbaby 2This book concludes the series beautifully and I would strongly recommend it to any child of 8+. I love the gentle way it incorporates Martha’s worries about her mother’s new relationship – a well-tackled common challenge for children – as well as developing Opal and Martha’s relationship. Finally, I was happy to see Garnet (Opal’s pet mingle) playing a bigger role in this book than the last one. We’re massive Garnet fans in this house!
All three Opal Moonbaby books with new covers and illustrations are out now from Orion Children’s Books and are highly recommended as great summer reads.

Speed Reviews: Recent UKMG Contemporary Recommendations

Today, I’m sharing two recent contemporaries for the MG audience which both have male protagonists, are set on/around UK housing estates and have friends and family as themes. However, they are different in tone and will appeal to different ends of the MG age spectrum.

how to fly with broken wingsJane Elson’s How to Fly With Broken Wings is the story of 12 year old Willem, who has Asperger’s Syndrome (although I don’t think this is stated explicitly in the story). He is given a homework project to make two friends and this is the catalyst for the story, which becomes very big and quite complex, taking in bullying, gangs, teen relationships, a riot on the estate and a local hero who works to empower the estate kids and keep them out of trouble. With all that going on, the story is relatively far-fetched at times in that rosy, improbable, somewhat heavy on coincidence way that children’s lit can get away with, and that’s one of the reasons that this book feels younger to me than my other recommendation here.

Willem is an engaging character and swapping the narration between him and Sasha, a school mate who lives on his estate, is a great way of opening up the story and showing Willem from other perspectives. It’s easy to see from the outside how Willem’s views on everything don’t necessarily fit with everyone else’s and understanding his thought processes makes him even easier to root for. All in all, I’d recommend this for the average MG reader who’s looking for a bright contemporary story about friendship and identity.

Joe All AloneJoanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone focuses on 13 year old Joe, whose mother goes away on holiday for a week with her boyfriend (of whom Joe is not a fan), leaving him to look after himself. Grittier from the start than Elson’s book, this brilliantly executed story explores poverty, neglect and the complexities of family life.

I loved Joe and really got engaged in his adventures, willing him on and hoping for things to work out for him. The book introduces a range of vivid and interesting characters and something that I really admired about it was the way it successfully combines realism and hope. With a 13 year old protagonist, the book is clearly aimed at the MG set and I think it offers this age group the perfect blend of (at times) hard realism and hope in friendship and humanity generally. Painful at times but a rewarding and enjoyable read, I’m absolutely recommending this, particularly to those readers who often find themselves between the 9-12 and teen/YA shelves.

How to Fly with Broken Wings is out now from Hodder Children’s Books; Joe All Alone is out now from Hachette. I am grateful to have received review copies via NetGalley.

May’s Reading Log

It’s time for the monthly round-up! These posts help keep track of the reading challenges I’m doing this year and also give a quick shout-out for all the books I’ve been reading (not just those I review).

I won’t give too much detail here (as this kind of post gets long really quickly) – just a quick summary of each book read and some stats. The book titles link to their Goodreads pages for more info.

May is another busy work month, meaning that once again, I haven’t read as much as I’d like. Again, though, I’m grateful to have read some fabulous titles.

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Read Me Like a BookLiz Kessler, Orion, 2015, YA contemporary

Absolutely gorgeous coming-of-age tale about identity, first love and friends. A really important book without being ‘worthy’ or overbearing.

The Looking Glass HouseVanessa Tait, Corvus, 2015, adult historical

I was slightly disappointed in this Victorian novel centred on the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell, but fans of Jane Austen and similar ‘manners’ stories are likely to enjoy it. Approaches its topic through the character of the Liddell children’s somewhat difficult governess.

Why Am I Scared of Everything?, Bethany Straker, Skyhorse, 2015, adult humour

A quick read, offering short self-deprecating scenarios of fearfulness in the face of the everyday. Great cartoons, well-written and voicey narratives and the occasional inspirational quote. Well worth a read if you  are (or know someone) of a nervous disposition and in need of a laugh!

read:

Not so much achieved this month (although my coursework mark sheets might beg to differ…)

UKYA/UKMG titles: Read Me Like a Book

own book: Why am I So Scared of Everything?

Plans for next month

To get a bit more read, obviously! Blogging may still be a bit patchy for the next few weeks, as we plough through exam season. Thank goodness for books as a break!

April’s Reading Log

It’s time for the monthly round-up! These posts help keep track of the reading challenges I’m doing this year and also give a quick shout-out for all the books I’ve been reading (not just those I review).

I won’t give too much detail here (as this kind of post gets long really quickly) – just a quick summary of each book read and some stats. The book titles link to their Goodreads pages for more info.

Can’t you just tell that April is a very heavy coursework month? Only 4 books managed this month. Thankfully, they were all corkers!

Apr reads

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli, Penguin, 2015, YA contemporary

Gorgeous coming-out novel with a central mystery: who is Blue, the gay guy that Simon has been flirting with by email under the pseudonym Jacques? They both know they share the same school (they first began emailing over the school gossip tumblr) but they’re also both careful not to share too much personally identifiable info. The result is a beautifully-rendered classic romance with many a modern twist.

Raising Steam, Terry Pratchett, Corgi, 2014, adult comic fantasy

Can’t believe this is the 40th Discworld novel (and yes, I have read them all) – while at the same time, I feel like I know it so so well. This novel brings together some of my favourite Pratchett themes (diversity/multiculturalism and modernity, specifically exploring the relationship between these and fundamentalism), and features many best-loved characters, including Moist Von Lipwig, Adora Belle Dearheart and Sam Vimes.

Remix, Non Pratt, Walker, 2015, YA contemporary

I loved this soooo much – think it will be one of the top books of the year. Two best friends, aged 16, at a music festival, with plenty of boy-, friend- and music-related shenanigans. This excellent read made me realise how weird it is that so few YA books are about friendship, when it’s such an important aspect of teen life.

Joe All Alone, Joanna Nadin, Little, Brown, 2015, MG contemporary

Gorgeous read exploring what happens when 13-yr old Joe’s Mum and her boyfriend go off to Spain, leaving him on his own for a week. Presenting poverty, neglect and other social issues without flinching, yet managing to do so with warmth and humour, this is an excellent read which tugs at the heartstrings without ever feeling heavy.

Challenges Progress this month – books read:

Not so much achieved this month (although my coursework mark sheets might beg to differ…)

UKYA/UKMG titles: Remix, Joe All Alone.

own book: Raising Steam

Reviews published this month:

Full reviews: Raising Steam

Mini reviews: The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Crow Moon, The Night Itself, Banished

eligible for British Books Challenge: Raising Steam

Plans for next month

To get a bit more read, obviously! Things should slow for me a little workwise during May but then will pick up again in June for exam season, so it’ll be a bit patchy for the next few weeks. Thank goodness for books as a break!

Gorgeous Goodies with Heart #2: The GOOD Box

You may remember me posting about the lovely The GOOD Box people before: ethical and socially conscious goodies in a delightful package. Well, here is their second delivery – quite different to the first, showcasing different ethical businesses and products and themed around Springtime.

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Isn’t that felt strawberry brooch cute? It’s from Amica Accessories, who work with fair trade felt from Nepal and the Phillipines.

The Pineapple and Cashew bar from Tropical Wholefoods (fair trade and both environmentally and socially responsible) was delicious – definitely recommended!

The beeswax candle is handmade in the UK using Dorset beeswax.

The seedballs caused a lot of excitement here. These little clay balls contain wildflower seeds and compost, protected by the clay and a little chili powder. You don’t ‘plant’ them as such, more just chuck them on a patch of ground (like, say, in the back corner of your garden where the dogs have done for the grass) and the clay will release the seeds when they’ve got moist enough.

Seedball is run by Project Maya, a non-profit eco-social enterprise founded by scientists, working to build a global network of urban sustainability reserves. 40% of all Seedball profits are directly used to fund these ‘Maya Reserves‘ and also to run ‘Maya Campaigns‘, which aim to help make the world a better, happier, and more sustainable place. (seedball.co.uk)

These particular seeds are apparently a bee-friendly mix, so there’s an awful lot of good in those little balls!

As with the first box, there are also Team GOOD goodies: stickers with cheery quotations promoting kindness and positivity. Yay for Team GOOD!

If you want to know more about Team GOOD, their website has some nice ideas and information on it and one-off boxes are available now, with a subscription service due to launch very soon.

Review of Raising Steam for the #TerryPratchettBlogTour

I’ve been reading Discworld since around 1991, when I was a sixth former, and it’s been a big part of my life ever since. My Dad, sister, brother-in-law and husband are all also big Discworld fans and we’ve even been to a couple of conventions/events. My elder daughter has read the Tiffany Aching YA series and plans to start reading the ‘grown-up’ ones this summer after GCSEs, and my 11 yr old is loving The Wee Free Men, the first YA title, reading as I write.

This post forms part of the Terry Pratchett Blog Tour, organised by Viv at Serendipity Reviews in tribute to one of the UK’s best-loved authors. The brilliant blog tour banner (to the left) was designed by Matt at Teen Librarian.

Raising SteamRaising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and the 3rd to feature Moist Von Lipwig. If you haven’t read earlier novels, especially those featuring Moist or the Watch, you may find small spoilers in this review, for which I apologise, but when reviewing such a late-series title, it’s not really possible to avoid.

I found Raising Steam to be a brilliant example of many of the things I come to Discworld for. Unlike many fantasy series, the Discworld stories do not take place in a fixed, vaguely medieval setting; the Disc progresses, and Raising Steam is a perfect example of this. The core of the story is about the taming of steam and the introduction of locomotion – the brainchild of new character, Dick Simnel (although you may have noticed that his father, Ned Simnel, appears in Reaper Man – I didn’t at first, not having read that title for about 20 years).  Naturally, the Patrician needs some element of control over such a technological advance, and so Moist becomes involved.

I loved Dick’s character and his relationship with his work – one that will be familiar to anyone who knows an engineer or spare-time tinkerer. The engine he creates and brings to Ankh Morpork to show what he can do is a superb example of Disc technology, with a kind of magic of its own.

As always, progress on the Disc is challenged – in this case by grags, traditionalist, fundamentalist dwarfs who oppose Ankh Morpork’s melting pot of races and are suspicious of technology. Adora Belle is featured both in her role as Moist’s wife, but also as manager of the Clacks, since the grags are committing terrorism by burning down Clacks towers.

One of my favourite things about the Discworld is its very clear messages about diversity (again, relatively unusual in the fantasy genre where women often function as eye candy and ‘exotic foreigners’ are the limit of racial diversity) and this is very firmly reasserted here with the increasing integration of goblins into Ankh Morpork’s modernist society. At the same time, the grags and the ideas of radicalisation and tradition are a means of raising disquieting questions about the demands of diversity and the extent to which identities are lost/replaced/evolving in mixed society.

Anyway, I could blather on all day about things I loved about this book (and I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant humour!). Suffice it to say that this is a very fine latest episode for the Moist and Guards strands of the series in particular. If you’re already a Discworld reader, definitely read it. If you’re new to the series, there’s a great guide to the various strands here (there’s a chart to follow if you scroll down). Personally, the Witches are my very favourite, but I’ve enjoyed each and every one of the Discworld novels. I genuinely think Discworld has something for everyone.

Speed Reviews (5-star UKYA Fantasy Edition)

Today in my speed reviews series, I’ve got two brilliant UKYA fantasy novels for you. Both are recently published, both open trilogies and, although their plots and characters are quite different, they both exemplify great world-building and plotting. And since I can’t resist it, I’ll also be linking to a couple of other fab UKYA fantasies that I’ve reviewed previously. I rate all books in this post 5 stars on Goodreads (“It was amazing”), as I feel they all represent top-quality examples of their sub-genres.

jkt_9780545810623.pdfThe Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

is one of 2015’s big UKYA novels. A classical high fantasy in many ways, this novel introduces the character of Twylla, who has been taken from her family and installed in the palace as an incarnation of the goddess Daunen. Like all deities, she is treated with a healthy dose of fear, due to her poisonous skin (only those with royal blood can touch her and live). Although the novel is clearly set in a traditional high-fantasy medieval-style society, the writing is very contemporary and the narrative style is very engaging and accessible. This is not a novel that requires a glossary or for you to keep checking who’s who due to all the names being unfamiliar.

Twylla is a well-rounded character, reacting realistically to her bizarre life. I really enjoyed the ending of this one and was not initially sure whether there was going to be a sequel. As regular visitors here will know, I am not a fan of open/cliffhanger endings, and I am pleased to say that this closes like a standalone, but I definitely want to see more of Twylla.

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter is out now from Scholastic.

crow moonCrow Moon by Anna McKerrow

is another of 2015’s big UKYA releases. This is a much more contemporary fantasy, combining dystopian themes with the idea of magic. Protagonist Danny lives in the Greenworld, conceived as a Pagan utopia and consisting of Devon and Cornwall. Everywhere else is the Redworld, where capitalism, individualism and hate seem to be the ruling forces. Initially, Danny is sceptical about all this Pagan stuff, despite his Mum being an important witch, and is focused almost exclusively on chasing girls.

One of the things I love about this novel is Danny. He’s very representative of teen boys in terms of their sex drive, something  you don’t often see in YA novels. At times this tendency to be shallow and self-centred made me frustrated with him, but in a way that enhanced my reading because I was willing him to do better and notice what he needed to. I was certainly highly engaged in reading this book and will absolutely be reading the next in the series.

Crow Moon is out now from Quercus.

While I’m on the subject of 5-star UKYA fantasy, here are a couple more recommendations for you. Both of these are also trilogy-openers, and in both cases the second book is also now out (and equally good).

the night itselfThe Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

is an urban fantasy combining elements of Japanese folklore into a contemporary London setting. Her characters, plot and settings all contribute to a greater diversity in YA novels, and if any of the following appeal, you should definitely give this a go: a mysterious inherited sword, huge good-versus-evil battles, gorgeous toying-with-reader-emotions romance, fabulous fox spirits. Check my original review for more info.

banishedBanished by Liz de Jager

kicks off her urban fantasy trilogy focusing on a fae world. Her hero, Kit, is easily one of the most compelling YA protagonists I’ve read, and the world-building and use of folklore are superb. Read this one for lots of action, brilliantly-realised characters, a healthy dollop of snark and cynicism and (yes, I’m saying it) hot boys. Check my original review for more info.

The True Face Curriculum by Siobhan Curham

true faceSiobhan Curham is on a mission to help teens find their true selves, with her fabulous book True Face, which came out last week. I’m so happy to have her guest posting here at the Hearthfire today.

I asked her what her dream curriculum would look like (and I so wish we could implement this in schools right now – it looks brilliant!).

One thing that baffles me about the education system is that it’s so geared towards preparing us for our adult lives: cramming our heads full of knowledge, training us to pass exams, providing us with qualifications, and yet no time, or very little, is spent looking at who we actually are. Instead of tailoring education to fit the unique needs and talents of the individual, we’re forced to squeeze ourselves into a ‘one size fits all’ system. Only it doesn’t fit all at all.

And when you combine this with the pressure from the media and society to look and act and think in a certain way, it’s all too easy to lose sight of our true selves before we’ve even left school. Then, when we do leave, we can end up in jobs and relationships and lives that make us feel unhappy and uncomfortable because they just don’t fit.

Losing sight of my true self when I was a teenager caused me to drop out of uni and end up in a job that I hated. It took me years before I regained the confidence and clarity to remember who I truly was and follow my true calling as a writer.

So, if I could give school curriculums a TRUE FACE make-over, here’s what I would do…

Finding Out Who You Truly Are

There would be regular sessions designed to help students identify who they truly are. They would frequently be asked questions such as: What are your passions? What are your talents? What are your strengths? so that their academic education could be adapted accordingly to ensure that they shine.

Feeling Good About Your True Self

Building on the findings from the previous section, I would help students feel good about their own unique talents and characteristics and strengths – even if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. Especially if they didn’t match those deemed the most aspirational by society. The world desperately needs more free-thinking, free-spirited people. It does not need any more reality TV stars.

Having a Healthy Body Image

To counteract the air-brushed images we’re constantly being bombarded with by magazines and the media, students would be taught that true beauty exists within all of us. And that to live our best, most fulfilling lives, we need to eat for vitality, exercise for fun and revel in our so-called ‘imperfections’.

Turning Wounds into Wisdom

Students would also be given the tools to turn any painful experiences into lessons to live their life by. Turning wounds into wisdom is one of the most freeing things you can do in life and absolutely vital for happiness during the teenage years.

Overcoming Your Inner Voice of Doom

During the school years you can often become plagued by your ‘inner voice of doom’ – the voice in your head that tells you that you’re just not good enough, popular enough, attractive enough, clever enough. I would provide students with simple techniques to counteract this inner voice and encourage them to create an inner voice that is way more supportive.

Making and Being True Friends

There are few things more depressing than reading the statistics about bullying in schools, so a substantial part of the True Face Curriculum would be focused on creating a culture of encouragement and support. There would be regular Random Acts of Kindness days and mentorship schemes.

Mindfulness Techniques

With anxiety, self-harming and depression amongst young people all massively on the rise, there would be regular lessons in basic mindfulness techniques so that students would have the tools to help themselves when life gets tough.

Studies are showing that meditation has a transformative effect in the classroom and on students’ lives, so I would make this a daily practice.

Finding Your True Calling

Lots of time would be spent studying inspirational women and girls from all walks of life and all different professions. So that when teenage girls are surveyed about what they want to do when they leave school 70% don’t reply ‘be famous’ (as they did in a recent poll). My goal would be to have 100% answer that they want to in some way create, adventure, pioneer and explore.

Although I might not be in charge of the curriculum (and writing this post has made me really wish that I was!) all of these subjects are covered in TRUE FACE and my talks and workshops for schools.

You can find out more over at the TRUE FACE website.

See what I mean? How much more meaningful could school be with Siobhan in charge? Thank you so much, Siobhan, for visiting the Hearthfire today. If you have or are a teen and like the sound of these ideas, I would strongly recommend grabbing a copy of True Face.

March’s Reading Log

It’s time for the monthly round-up! These posts help keep track of the reading challenges I’m doing this year and also give a quick shout-out for all the books I’ve been reading (not just those I review).

I won’t give too much detail here (as this kind of post gets long really quickly) – just a quick summary of each book read and some stats. The book titles link to their Goodreads pages for more info.

Mar reads

The Sin Eater’s DaughterMelinda Salisbury, Scholastic, 2015, YA fantasy

Loved this well-crafted fantasy focusing on Twylla, taken from her family as the incarnation of the Gods’ daughter, Daunen Embodied. She can kill by touch with the poison that seeps out of her skin, yet miraculously leaves her unharmed. A great start to a new trilogy, with a satisfying conclusion to this phase of the story.

Crow Moon, Anna McKerrow, Quercus, 2015, YA fantasy

A brilliant read that I lapped up quickly and now have to wait a year for the sequel to. Set in the Greenworld, a pagan haven version of contemporary Cornwall and Devon, the novel focuses on a crisis for protagonist Danny, never really much of a believer in the pagan ways. Another trilogy-opener which concludes the initial story well. Definitely recommended for fantasy and/or dystopia fans.

Starring Kitty, Keris Stainton, Catnip, 2014, MG contemporary

Gorgeous MG/younger YA romance focusing on Kitty’s difficulties balancing friendship and first (same-sex) love against the backdrop of a film competition. This is the first in a series, each of which will focus on a different friend in the group – a great concept for exploring the contemporary world in detail. It’s also a brilliantly-executed example of how to ‘do’ diversity with great, relatable stories. Spotlight on Sunny, the second in the series is also out now and once my youngest has finished with it, I’ll be grabbing that too!

Jessica’s Ghost, Andrew Norriss, David Fickling, 2015, MG contemporary

This book really surprised me. Billed as a MG  ‘friendship’ novel, it tackles mental health issues and raises the idea of suicide without alienating or frightening the target age group. I’ll be astonished if this isn’t on prize shortlists next year but please don’t be put off by the ‘worthiness’ I’m implying here.  most importantly, I really enjoyed it – it’s a great read.

Marly’s Ghost, David Levithan, Egmont, 2015, YA contemporary

This Valentine-themed reworking of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol makes a fabulous read. I loved the fidelity to the original in many small details, rendered with a hefty dose of creativity and originality. My reading of it was definitely enhanced by knowledge of the Dickens, but I’m sure it would still be a greatly satisfying contemporary read without that.

How to Fly with Broken Wings, Jane Elmore, Hodder Children’s, 2015, MG contemporary

I greatly enjoyed this gentle contemporary about finding out who you are and what matters, set on a London housing estate during a series of riots. Dual narration from the points of view of Willem, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and Sasha, whose boyfriend bullies Willem. Definitely recommended for around 9+.

The Testimony of the Hanged Man, Ann Granger, Headline, 2015, adult crime

This is the fifth in the series, but the first I’d read. I had no trouble following it and am definitely interested in reading more in the series. It’s great to read a Victorian London-set mystery with dual narration from the Police Inspector MC and also his wife, who does her own investigation. A relatively gentle crime and a mystery to enjoy.

Nightbird, Alice Hoffman, Simon & Schuster, 2015, MG fantasy

I’d loved other Hoffman novels (for adults) which I’d read and found this both really true to form – focused on families, identities within families, and magic – and beautifully rendered for the younger age group. A great read for 9+ fans of contemporary stories with a touch of magic.

Bomb, Sarah Mussi, Hodder Children’s, 2015, YA thriller

I enjoyed this pacey thriller with relentless danger and breathless narrative style. It’s absolutely recognisably Sarah Mussi – if you liked Siege and/or Riot, you’ll like this too. If you haven’t tried her before, read her for a high action, high stakes political thriller.

True Face, Siobhan Curham, 2015, Faber and Faber, YA self-help

I haven’t read a self-help book for teens before but am thoroughly impressed with this one. Focused on living an authentic life and ignoring unhelpful and potentially damaging media messages, this book leads teen readers through a series of exercises to rediscover their own interests and feelings, and to bring their own desires to the forefront of their lives. I’m definitely recommending this empowering read to girls of 13+.

Challenges Progress this month – books read:

UKYA/UKMG titles: The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Crow Moon, Starring Kitty, Jessica’s Ghost, How to Fly with Broken Wings, Bomb

own book: The Sin Eater’s Daughter, Crow Moon, Starring Kitty

TBR-escapee: Testimony of the Hanged Man

Reviews published this month:

Full reviews: The Sky Is Everywhere, Jessica’s Ghost

eligible for British Books Challenge: Jessica’s Ghost

eligible for Dive Into Diversity ChallengeJessica’s Ghost (representation of mental health)

Plans for next month

To review more! March has been very busy for me and, although I’ve managed to tuck away a good few reads, this hasn’t translated into many reviews – yet. This is something I definitely plan to remedy in April.

Personal blog: mostly bookish, plus some dogs, feminism and whatever else occurs.