Tag Archives: romance

UKYA Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Wing Jones, Katherine Webber, (Walker, Jan 5th 2017)

Genres in the mix: contemporary, magic realism, romance

Age target: YA

Story basicsFor fans of David Levithan, Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.

I’ve been looking forward to this one for months. The cover was revealed at YALC last July and there had been chatter about it before then. All this hype made me slightly apprehensive about reading it, as it can be hard for books to live up to it (especially, for me, for contemporaries which so often rely heavily on romance – personal taste, but that’s not my favourite thing and a book which offers only/solely that is not going to satisfy). Anyway, Wing Jones does NOT disappoint – it’s a fabulous, diverse family drama told with a light touch which offers plenty of warmth and even some humour.

The emotional ride: dramatic and, at times, unrelenting. This is not a ‘quiet’ book, but one full of passion and emotion. It drags you through a range of emotions with poor Wing as she deals with tragedy, family, school and trying to just be fifteen. However at no point does it feel manipulative or gratuitous and there is often humour in amongst the drama.

Narrative style: Wing’s first person narrative is lyrical and beautiful, and we are easily drawn into her imaginative and metaphorical thought process.

Supporting cast: I feel that characterisation is a strength of this book, but I particularly loved Wing’s two grannies, LaoLao and Granny Dee. They often brought warmth and humour to the story.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: the diverse make-up of the book’s cast is fantastic for addressing the narrow range of representation offered by the set GCSE curriculum. I’d love to offer this as part of KS3 or on a ‘reading for pleasure’ list to KS4 to offset the set texts. There are also plenty of SMSC opportunities: bullying, poverty, culture (especially biracial heritage) and Wing herself is a great example of resilience and could therefore be discussed in relation to learning power/four Rs and growth mindset. The writing itself is also beautiful and descriptive, often using metaphor.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Wing Jones is out now in the UK from Walker Books.

This is my first British Books Challenge review for 2017 – and what a brilliant choice of book! I’m also counting this for the Diverse Reads Challenge, as Wing’s dual heritage is important in the story.

UKYA Review: Haunt Me by Liz Kessler

haunt-meHaunt Me, Liz Kessler, (Orion, Oct 2016)

Genres in the mix: paranormal/magical realism, some themes in common with contemporary genres

Age target: YA

Story basics: (taken from Goodreads):

Joe wakes up from a deep sleep to see his family leave in a removals van. Where they’ve gone, he has no idea. Erin moves house and instantly feels at home in her new room. Even if it appears she isn’t the only one living in it. Bit by bit, Erin and Joe discover that they have somehow found a way across the ultimate divide – life and death. Bound by their backgrounds, a love of poetry and their growing feelings for each other, they are determined to find a way to be together.

Joe’s brother, Olly, never cared much for poetry. He was always too busy being king of the school – but that all changed when Joe died. And when an encounter in the school corridor brings him face to face with Erin, he realises how different things really are – including the kind of girl he falls for.

Two brothers. Two choices. Will Erin’s decision destroy her completely, or can she save herself before she is lost forever?

Review-in-a-tweet: Gorgeous dual narrative tale exploring Erin and Joe’s developing relationship as Erin seeks to rebuild her reality after a crisis and Joe comes to terms with his own death.

The emotional ride: Complicated! Erin’s inner life is complex already, as she has plenty to handle without Joe’s appearance in her life. And Joe is no simple catalyst either, but a fully rounded character with a full set of problems of his own. This is a perfectly nuanced and emotionally satisfying read, which just happens to use the concept of one character being a ghost to further complicate matters.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: mental health issues, bullying, some key ‘what would you do’ moral discussion moments present themselves – this would be lovely for a school book group

Supporting cast: I’ve already indicated the characterisation is a strength of this book – that does not only go for the two leads. There are so many great characters here! I loved Erin’s mum and had a lot of sympathy for her (perhaps as a parent of teens myself), trying to do the right thing but not always quite managing that, as parents in stories must not. Olly and Erin’s classmates are also beautifully drawn to do more than just fill out the story.

Overall, a definite recommendation from me. Quite lovely.

For more on Liz, check out her website or see her Twitter feed.  Her last YA novel, Read Me Like a Book, is reviewed on my site here.

Hearthfire rating: 8/10 Sizzling

Haunt Me is out now in the UK from Orion, who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and please note that I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend. (There is only so much time in the world and So Many Books!)

UKYA review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

Rose3Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall, (out now from Chicken House)

Genres in the mix: contemporary

Age target: YA

Story basics: Norah has agoraphobia and OCD and only leaves her house for therapy. She only experiences the outside world through her windows with pink panes (the rose glass alluded to in the fantastic title – love the pun on ‘tinted’ with its implications of staining -) and longs for normality. The arrival of new neighbours, especially Luke, who is her age and interacts with her, intensifies this longing.

Review-in-a-tweet: Fantastic portrayal of mental ill health with well-rounded and easy-to-care about characters on all sides.

The emotional ride: Not exactly smooth! But then, that is as it should be with a book with such themes. At the same time, I at no times felt annoyingly/clumsily manipulated as I have done when reading some other mental health-themed teen books. There is no glorification/romanticisation of Norah’s condition and, however the summary/blurb may lead you to think so, it’s no straightforward ‘romance saves the day’ plot, either – that would be an unjust simplification and Louise Gornall is too smart and honest for that.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: mental health issues – how they are handled in society, how they are/can be written about/presented in art/culture/media, why we shouldn’t equate OCD with liking tidiness etc (perfect opportunity to discuss/show the crippling nature of the actual condition).

Plotting and pacing: the beautifully lyrical style may be a little slow for impatient readers/those who prefer action-packed books, but I loved it and feel Gornall should be applauded for pulling off a novel set almost entirely in one house. There is a great attention to detail, which naturally fits with Norah’s narrative style and personality.

 

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is out now in the UK from Chicken House, who provided me with a review copy.

Accepting a review copy does not affect my view of a book and I only finish and review books that I feel able to recommend.

YA Review: This Song Is (Not) For You by Laura Nowlin

this song is not for youThis Song Is (Not) For you, Laura Nowlin, (Sourcebooks, Jan 2016)

Genres in the mix: Contemporary

Age target: YA

Summary from GoodreadsBandmate, best friend or boyfriend? For Ramona, one choice could mean losing them all.

Ramona and Sam are best friends. She fell for him the moment they met, but their friendship is just too important for her to mess up. Sam loves April, but he would never expect her to feel the same way–she’s too quirky and cool for someone like him. Together, they have a band, and put all of their feelings for each other into music.

Then Ramona and Sam meet Tom. He’s their band’s missing piece, and before Ramona knows it, she’s falling for him. But she hasn’t fallen out of love with Sam either.

How can she be true to her feelings without breaking up the band?

Reasons to read:

  • It’s a great presentation of how passionate and earnest musical teens can be.
  • The relationships are beautifully depicted.
  • It includes asexual representation, effectively done, without medicalising it like I’ve seen elsewhere (e.g. pairing it with anorexia or making it part of wider sensory issues in autism; it’s simply presented as a valid and existing sexuality, as it should be).

Narrative style: Three-way split narration, which allows clear access to the three main characters’ thoughts and feelings. Their voices are all distinct and clearly drawn. I loved them all and it was very easy to be sucked into their world and their dramas and ache for them.

Hearthfire rating: 9/10 A scorcher!

YA Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands, Alwyn Hamilton, (Faber & Faber, February 2016)

Genres in thRebel of the Sandse mix: Fantasy, Western Adventure

Age target: YA

Goodreads summary: “Tell me that and we’ll go. Right now. Save ourselves and leave this place to burn. Tell me that’s how you want your story to go and we’ll write it straight across the sand.”

Dustwalk is Amani’s home. The desert sand is in her bones. But she wants to escape. More than a want. A need.

Then a foreigner with no name turns up to save her life, and with him the chance to run. But to where? The desert plains are full of danger. Sand and blood are swirling, and the Sultan’s enemies are on the rise.

Review-in-a-tweet: Heady, beautifully written adventure combining romanticism of the 1001 Nights with Western genre’s witticisms and wisecracks. Recommended.

Hot buttons/classroom opportunities: Diverse representations aplenty, good underlying message about ethnicity and ‘blood purity’. Plenty of opportunities for moral dilemma-type discussions and a definite sub-theme about truth and deception that could be exploited in a school/college reading group situation.

Narrative style: Strong first-person voice with plenty of wit. Past tense.

Plotting and pacing: Lots of tension and action. Although I said it was beautifully written, please don’t read that as ‘slow’ – this is no ‘nothing happens’ novel! The story is pacey and gripping, but well-balanced with descriptions of exotic (and sometimes terrifying) desert landscapes.

Main character: I loved Amani. A cross-dressing girl to escape her fate is always going to attract my attention, and that level of ‘go-getting’ is apparent throughout, even though this is clearly a world in which her gender is a limitation (at least in others’ eyes). Her sass is also part of her charm, and it’s great that she has this skill in shooting. That said, she does also have weaknesses, which makes her a more realistic character. It’s very easy to root for her!

Supporting cast: There are some great supporting roles in this novel. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’m not going into specifics, but it is worth pointing out that Alwyn Hamilton has created some fantastic secondary characters with depth, who I’m hoping to see a lot more of in the second and third books in the series.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Literary Lonely Hearts: are you a match for I’ll Give You The Sun?

I'll give you the sunLiterary Lonely Hearts

Soulful semi-mystic seeks fan of YA contemporaries for meaningful conversations about art, the many forms of love and the true self. Must be willing to invest emotionally and maybe shed the odd tear.

 

Goodreads’ Summary:

From the author of The Sky Is Every­where, a radiant novel that will leave you laughing and crying – all at once. For fans of John Green, Gayle Forman and Lauren Oliver. Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

My reaction:

Gorgeous, lyrical writing which really suits the ‘arty’ subject matter. I loved getting to know this wacky family and their circle. The dual narrative works really well, with each twin getting to share a different slice of their story (Noah at 13-14, Jude at 16). This is a really effective way of increasing tension and mystery, as you can’t help wondering how they get from one (metaphorical/emotional) place to another. Wholeheartedly recommended for fans of contemporary YA, family dramas and stories with an arty angle. Also pleasingly diverse with different kinds of love (gay, straight, familial etc) all represented.

Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

If you enjoyed Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, you will love this cracking wrap-up to a brilliant YA fantasy trilogy.

If you haven’t yet started the trilogy, don’t read this review – even the blurb has spoilers for the earlier books – instead, head over here to my review of book 1 (formerly known as The Gathering Dark in the UK, then changed to match the US title when the movie rights sold.)

ruin and rising raag

 

ruin and risingThe capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

Here’s my initial ‘review’ on closing the book (fangirly gush more like..): What an amazing ride the Grisha series has been! Brilliant, classic high fantasy on one hand and yet unique and unpredictable on the other. So many twists that I did not in the slightest see coming, and which developed or resolved situations perfectly. Genius storytelling revealing complete mastery of poor defenceless reader emotions as well as fabulous world-building and skillful character development. Such a satisfying ending too – no mean feat to pull off, but she did it. If you’re hesitating to finish this trilogy for fear it could let you down, stop messing about right now and get on with it 🙂

I have little to add to this really (and am trying to allow myself to write shorter reviews these days anyway). I am quite picky abut endings; I like things to be completed (except in a few cases where the whole narrative has been about gaps and unreliability – that’s a different thing, but cheating and not telling me what happens, that I tend not to forgive). Although not an ending I could have predicted until I was right on top of it, Ruin and Rising closes the trilogy perfectly, leaving me (and, no doubt, many other Grisha fans) satisfied and grateful.

As with the earlier Grisha books, I enjoyed reading from Alina’s viewpoint and seeing her character development, as well as that of the other characters around her. I also think that it is a real gift to be able to enjoy a great, sweeping romance set against the backdrop of an epic fantasy without my feminist sensibilities being prickled. Yes, there is a (gorgeous) romance thread, but that is neither the point of the plot nor Alina’s priority. She struggles with her feelings, which are often conflicted, (and tested most cruelly) but this is ultimately a ‘chosen one’ type quest and her responsibilities as hero are far more important than her personal feelings. Love is not an end in itself but a part of the complexity of her life, which feels right. I said something similar about the start of this trilogy, and it is definitely an important aspect of the series for me which has been maintained throughout.

Clearly, I am absolutely recommending this series and was delighted to hear the news that Leigh Bardugo has signed with Indigo for more novels, which will also be set in the Grishaverse.

Review: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue SeaFaded Gatsby glamour and thrilling gothic horror meet in this gorgeously told, terrifying and dreamy YA romance.

You stop fearing the devil when you’re holding his hand…

Nothing much exciting rolls through Violet White’s sleepy, seaside town…until River West comes along. River rents the guesthouse behind Violet’s crumbling estate, and as eerie, grim things start to happen, Violet begins to wonder about the boy living in her backyard. Is River just a crooked-smiling liar with pretty eyes and a mysterious past? Violet’s grandmother always warned her about the Devil, but she never said he could be a dark-haired boy who likes coffee and who kisses you in a cemetery… Violet’s already so knee-deep in love, she can’t see straight. And that’s just how River likes it.

I found this Gothic ‘old south’ novel deliciously creepy and, at times, outright scary. There are plot twists that I absolutely did not see coming and I enjoyed the many key Gothic ingredients. I enjoyed the ‘out of time’ feeling April Tucholke created, while at the same time making the location completely specific and easily imagined. It reminded me of other stuff I’ve read that harks back to the South’s heydays like Tennessee Williams. This is a skilful debut weaving Gothic elements with a lightness of touch.

The characterisation in the novel is convincing and it is easy to root for Violet. River I found I was more ambivalent about (perfectly correct for a good Gothic). The few other fleshed-out characters were also compelling, while the tight focus on Vi and her conflicted emotions contributes to the novel’s emotional intensity.

Another Gothic trope that is well executed here is the setting and more specifically the big old house that becomes practically a character. In this case, it is known as Citizen, Vi’s crumbling ancestral home. I enjoyed the visceral descriptions that really brought it to life and made it easy to see Vi’s deep connection to it.

Overall I really enjoyed this and would definitely recommend it to YA readers who enjoy the Gothic and/or beautiful writing with a generous helping of creepiness.

Out on 3rd April from Faber and Faber. My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.