Book Review

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Blog Tour · Guest Post

And Then We Ran Blog Tour: Katy Cannon’s life in photos

I’m super excited to be sharing a guest post with you today, from Katy Cannon! Her latest book, And Then We Ran, is released this week. One of the reasons I enjoyed it was there’s an emphasis on photography, as the protagonist is trying to pursue her goal of becoming a photographer after she realises she has a talent for capturing photos of people in the moment. So, here’s Katy with twelve photos from her life up until writing!


Sometimes, I think that I remember events more from the photos of them than my actual, admittedly slightly dodgy, memory. Of course, that’s part of the joy of photos – they enable you to relive precious moments over and over.

My latest book, And Then We Ran, is peppered with photos throughout. The heroine, Megan, plans to leave home and become a professional photographer – if she can just pull off the craziest scheme of her life to make it happen. You know how it is: one thing leads to another, and suddenly you’re eloping to Gretna Green with your childhood best friend.

When life gets really interesting, it’s important to take time to remember the details. And that’s where photos can really help.

So, here’s the story of my life, in twelve photos.

1. I was born out in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where my Dad was working at the time. (That’s him, burying a friend on the beach for my amusement.) Apparently I really liked to dip sausages in the sand to eat them, and chasing cockroaches down the corridors of our building.

2. We moved home to Britain when I was a toddler, settling in Surrey, but visiting our family in Wales often – especially for Christmas! Christmas is truly the MOST wonderful time of the year in my family, and we celebrate it extensively. Here I am, in my Christmas finest, with my three older cousins.

3. When I was eight, we moved home to Wales again in order to be closer to family, just before my youngest brother was born. Because the house we were supposed to be buying fell through, we ended up living with my grandparents (at their home, known as HQ) for a full year before moving into our new house. Here I am with both my brothers, outside our new home, sorting through boxes of books we’d been storing in the garage.

4. Moving home to Wales meant we got to spend a lot more time with our family – even after we moved out of HQ!. Here I am (in the alarmingly bright coral dress on the end) at my maternal grandparents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. We like a celebration in my family, and fifty years of marriage is a very good reason, after all.

5. I finally left Wales again to go to university in Lancaster – which I loved. This photo was taken at my twenty first birthday celebrations, with my university housemate – who is now my daughter’s godmother and a lifelong friend.

6. My friends continue to be huge influences in my life. Many of my closest friends I met in school or sixth form, and I’m lucky to still have them around today. These are the sort of friends you can call and say, “This might sound crazy, but I’ve got an idea,” and know they’ll generally go along with it – or talk you out of it if it’s downright stupid. Everyone needs friends like mine. This photo was taken on one of our Boxing Day walks (we’re up to fifteen now, I think). It’s a tradition that every Boxing Day (or thereabouts) whoever is still home for Christmas (and can’t come up with a good excuse) has to tramp around Erddig Park in whatever weather Wales in December decides to throw at us. We always follow the same route (one year we tried to do it in reverse and ended up in a mud pit. We don’t talk about it) and end up at the same pub, for a very large – and well deserved – lunch.

7. Even after I left Wales, I still consider myself firmly Welsh, and adore everything about the country. And since I’m also a bit obsessed with history, that means I love castles more than almost anything. This photo was taken on one of many, many holidays I’ve spent in Pembrokeshire (where a lot of And Then We Ran is set) at Carew Castle. (It’s a great castle, definitely in my top ten. Yes, I have a top ten of castles. Doesn’t everyone?)

8. In fact, my husband even proposed to me up a hill, at a Welsh castle. (Dinas Bran – well, the desolate ruins of – in Llangollen. In December. In minus 4 temperatures.) We got married at home in Wales the following November. Here we are with the best man. I’m laughing because my heels are sinking into the mud. Also I was ridiculously happy.

9. And then, over the next ten years, we had two kids. Here they are, in a picture perfect family portrait of the sort every mother hopes for. Oh well, at least it’s realistic.

10. Okay, okay, here’s a slightly better one. If you ignore the fact that my son as just thrown up on my hand. (These are seriously the best family portraits I have.)

11. Being a writer has basically been my ambition since I was a child, and the fact that I actually get to write books for a living still astonishes me daily. I think this photo captures the moment that sank in properly for the first time. Here I am, at the Hay Festival in 2014, signing copies of my first YA novel for people who actually wanted to read it and not just because they were related to me. It was a pretty intense moment for me. (Also, after this, my daughter and I went back to the Green Room where she proceeded to sing songs from Frozen at Benedict Cumberbatch for half an hour while he tried to learn his lines. On the off chance he ever reads this blog, I feel I should apologise.)

12. And, I’m pleased to say, the joy of being a writer doesn’t get old. Here I am in Southend-on-Sea just a month or so ago, having photos taken by my publisher for the promotion of And Then We Ran. Plus they let me play on the tuppenny falls while we were there. Is it any wonder I look so happy?

 

Book Review

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve seen so many articles, tweets, Tumblr posts about acts of police brutality against African Americans in the US, I’ve lost count of the amount of names I’ve seen listed. It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be happening. And it’s difficult to raise awareness about it, beyond sharing something on social media – so I really want to share this book as widely as I can.

Published 6th April 2017 by Walker Books UK. 

32613366Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.


My Review: I was so eager to read this, from the minute I learned what it was about. The Hate U Give is focused on Starr, a girl my age, who is in the car with her childhood friend when he’s killed by a police officer who had no reason at all to shoot. Grieving Starr is thrown into the most difficult situation, where she has to decide whether to stay silent or to speak out, even if it puts her life at risk.

What happens to Starr’s friend, Khalil, is frighteningly similar to so many deaths I’ve read about – and it’s frightening to think that this happens regularly. It really opened my eyes to the situation of prejudice and racism in America, as before I was aware but not aware enough, as most people sadly are.

The story is heartbreaking, and might be difficult for some to read as it touches on so many relevant themes today – but that’s why this book has to be read. It’s unflinchingly powerful and brave.

The narrative is compelling, and I grew to really love Starr throughout the novel – it’s told in her very realistic voice. She’s torn between what to do, because remaining silent about what she witnessed and raising her voice. She’s also torn between two different ‘lives’ she’s living: her hometown and the mostly-white populated private school she attends. Starr lives with so much internal conflict, and I really empathised with her because I can imagine so many people are in the same situations.

I became really attached to Starr’s family, and Thomas writes so much detail into each character that I can’t stop thinking about them. Starr’s father is one particularly well developed, unforgettable character – an ex-convict who found his way out of gang culture, determined to protect his children and also build up his life with the store he now owns. There’s something about all of the characters that’s incredibly inspiring – their stories stay with you for a long time.

The best thing about The Hate U Give is how unapologetic and real it is. I’m really excited to see how it translates into a visual story, too! The movie rights have been sold, with Amandla Stenberg to star – which is the most incredible news. I really hope this book, and a movie in the future, helps to raise awareness. Not only is this a captivating story – it’s a powerful and unforgettable message about an ongoing issue.

Overall, I obviously recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially if you’re not very informed on current events in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s the most memorable and moving book you’ll read this year.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Hate U Give from the publisher, via Lovereading4kids, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Waking in Time by Angie Stanton

Published March 1st 2017 by Curious Fox Books.

27919161Goodreads Synopsis: Still mourning the loss of her beloved grandmother and shaken by her mysterious, dying request to “find the baby,” Abbi has just arrived at UW Madison for her freshman year. But on her second day, she wakes up to a different world: 1983. That is just the first stop on Abbi’s journey backward through time. Will is a charming college freshman from 1927 who travels forward through time. When Abbi and Will meet in the middle, love adds another complication to their lives. Communicating across time through a buried time capsule, they try to decode the mystery of their travel, find the lost baby, and plead with their champion, a kindly physics professor, to help them find each other again … even though the professor gets younger each time Abbi meets him. This page-turning story full of romance, twists, and delightful details about campus life then and now will stay with readers long after the book’s satisfying end.


My Review: Being a massive Doctor Who fan, I love anything time-travel based, but I read sadly little of this kind of thing. So when this arrived, I was super excited about it! Waking in Time has such an intriguing premise, and a beautiful cover to match.

I really did adore the concept for the book – Abbi, the protagonist, moves into college whilst still grieving for her grandmother. After falling asleep in her dorm bed, she wakes in the wrong year. And it keeps happening – but are the dates she’s travelling to connected, and why is she the one travelling?

It’s a brilliant idea, and executed pretty well. I really enjoyed how Stanton sets up each new decade Abbi appears in, with all of the cultural references and the changes in settings. I loved envisioning it. The story unfolds really cleverly, as Abbi’s time travel is linked to a huge event that ties lots of aspects of her life together. I felt her frustration as travelling backwards, where the people she knows know less about the story, whilst she’s starting the piece together the mystery – and was really eager to see how the mystery unfolded. It was such a strange ending, one I definitely didn’t see coming!

As with every time travel story, there are inevitably some strange things that don’t quite add up, and some things that seemed a little too convenient. But the main thing I couldn’t really get on with in this book was the love story, between Abbi and Will – without giving anything away, he’s the other time traveller she encounters. They’re travelling in opposite directions, but are in love, and I just… nope. No thanks. I didn’t really understand it, and the romance seemed a little forced and it didn’t have a clear connection to the rest of the plot. The two characters become infatuated with one another within a few meetings, and I just didn’t understand why!

However, I didn’t have a problem with the protagonist, and I adored how the story is strongly centred around her grandma – the plot plays out really cleverly. It’s so hard to talk about without spoiling it, so I’ll just say that it’s really intricate and in-depth, which I loved.

Overall, Waking in Time is certainly a must if you’re into complex mysteries. It certainly wasn’t what I’d expected. To me, some events seemed a little too convenient or forced, but then again – the book plays with the idea of fate and history, so I guess it’s quite cleverly done! It’s certainly a fun read you can become completely absorbed in.


My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Waking in Time from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Fish boy by Chloe Daykin

Published February 28th 2017 by Faber & Faber.

32490590Goodreads Synopsis: Billy is a lonely boy. He’s obsessed with swimming in the sea, which is where he goes to wash his problems far, far away. Thanks to his mum’s mystery illness, his dad has been forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, so Billy locks himself away with David Attenborough films, and ponders the magic of nature. Meanwhile at school, bullies mercilessly seize on Billy’s ‘otherness’ and make his life as miserable as possible – but then new boy Patrick Green, with “fingers like steel, strength of a bear”, joins Billy’s class. And when a mackerel swims up to Billy’s face, blows bubbles into his Vista Clear Mask goggles and says: Fish Boy – Billy’s whole world changes.


My Review: A lot of people know I’m totally one to judge a book by its cover – this is a prime example! I loved the gorgeous cover artwork for this book, and it intrigued me about the story – so I eagerly requested to review it. I’m really glad I did – it’s nice to dip back into Middle Grade fiction again, and this was great.

Fish Boy follows Billy, a boy estranged from other children his age, who bully him. Between that and his mother’s illness, his only solace is swimming in the sea – and that’s where he meets the fish that starts talking to him, which opens him up to a strange new world with his new friend.

What I found really unique, and perhaps the best bit about Fish Boy, is the ambiguity of the whole story. Is it literal – does Billy really find talking fish, who talk to him and seemingly become his new friends? Or is Billy’s surreal swimming experience his brain’s coping mechanism; a distraction from the world around him? I really loved trying to read between the lines of this book. It’s a very layered story, and that’s why I think readers of all ages can enjoy it – they can take away whatever message they want.

Fish Boy combines some heartbreaking, relatable issues with a touch of magical realism that makes for a very unique story. It touches on bullying, how it feels to be different, and also the experience of having a parent who is ill, and what that entails for your family. I found it really touching and moving in places, particularly with the family themes. I loved the close family Daykin has constructed at the centre of this book – they’re wonderful to read about.

Billy’s voice is strong and authentic, and I really enjoyed his perspective while reading. I think it was especially a great narrative to explore family issues through. The friendship between the protagonist and a later character, Patrick, is very bizarre and entertaining – their dynamic was really fun and something that I’m sure readers will adore.

Fish Boy is a bizarre book. There is no avoiding that. It did take me a few pages to get into it, and I can’t say I was a hundred percent engaged in it the whole way through. It’s incredibly weird at points! A couple of things didn’t make much sense to me – it took me a lot of thought after reading to understand what the magical fish thing was about – but I do think it’s still a book with a lot of appeal to those who like similar things – who says that strange is a bad thing?

Overall, I definitely recommend this, especially to middle grade readers who are looking to read something new, with echoes of David Almond and Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls (except this one is a bit less sad!). Fish Boy, albeit a bizarre story, is imaginative and incredibly original. It touches on themes of family, friendship and what it means to be human, with just the right amount of surrealism.

My Rating:

three

I received a copy of Fish Boy from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Published 5th January 2017 by Walker Books.

25909375Goodreads Synopsis: 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.


My Review: This book has been gaining so much attention pre-publication – I first picked up some postcards at YALC last year, and was immediately excited even if it wasn’t being published for half a year. When a review copy arrived, I was so eager to start it! This was my last read of 2016 and I couldn’t have picked a better one.

Webber’s debut centres around Wing, a high schooler in 1995 America, who deals with a recent family disaster by taking up running – which she’s surprisingly talented at. Running becomes Wing’s coping method, but it also turns into an opportunity for her to support her family.

Even though books about sports aren’t exactly my thing, I became so swept up in this – because it’s about so much more than Wing’s running. The story is a profound blend of tragedy, hope, family and determination. I adored it. At many points, the plot was completely unexpected. It deals with some heartbreaking issues – a member of Wing’s family is hospitalised, and the reason for it causes people to resent the Joneses, and plunges them into a difficult situation. It felt frighteningly real, as though I was in the situation myself.

What I enjoyed the most about Wing Jones was how diverse its characters were – I don’t think any of the main characters were white, and there’s a really sweet same sex relationship between two minor characters. A large issue Wing’s dealing with is bullying, from a resentful student who insults her because she is mixed race, with Chinese and African-American descent. Wing’s identity plays a huge part in her life, as she lives with both her grandmothers, and I loved how the story talked about this in great detail, exploring the grandmother’s characters as well as Wing’s. The family felt so real three-dimensional and I became so attached!

I can tell that Wing Jones is going to be a hugely talked about, well-loved book, because it just has all of the right things. It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read something so heartfelt, poignant and emotional – and witty in all the right places. I’m not 100% sure on how I feel about the ending – it’s satisfying, but I did wish there had been even more of a build up to it, if that makes sense.

Overall, I definitely recommend you read Wing Jones asap, because it’s truly a wonderful story no matter what your reading tastes are. You’ll fall in love with the characters, with the unforgettable family, and you’ll be rooting for Wing the whole way through as she discovers her talent. It’s incredibly sad in places, but so uplifting too.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of Wing Jones from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review

Book Review: The Deviants by CJ Skuse

Published 22nd September 2016 by Mira INK.

23126437Goodreads Synopsis: the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.
Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.
When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

My Review: I didn’t know a huge amount about this book, and hadn’t read any of CJ’s books before, and needed something to read for fun instead of for studying – so I chose this from my TBR pile on a whim! I’m very glad I did, and I don’t think I’ve raced through a book so quickly in a long time. The Deviants had me entirely engrossed, and left a mark on me.

Firstly, the characters: we’re introduced to them all in strange, different ways. These five inseparable children have all grown apart after Max’s older sister’s death, but they unexpectedly find themselves joining together again, under dark circumstances, to begin wreaking revenge on those who have hurt them. All of the characters were visible so clearly in my mind – Skuse goes into such detail with all of their backstories, and as a result I don’t think I could forget any of them any time soon. I became really attached.

I really liked the way that the story is told! All of the chapters are told from the perspective of Ella, whose personality I was most attached to – I sympathised with her so much. Each chapter ends with a question that feeds into the next part of the story, and they feel like interrogation questions, leading up a completely unexpected ending. The questions at the end of each chapter were definitely what kept me hooked – I wanted to read on; discover the truth; see who was asking them (AND WOAH I DID NOT EXPECT IT OH MY GOODNESS).

The Deviants felt quite bizarre at first, then a little creepy – then it spiralled into an incredibly dark and horrific story. Every turn was completely unexpected – there are subtle, clever hints throughout the plot, but I could not have possibly predicted where the book ended. I was on the verge of tears the whole way through the book, and I literally couldn’t hold it in for the last 30 pages!

A warning to those who want to read this, though – The Deviants is incredibly dark, and quite traumatic in places. It was much more grim than I thought it could be, and I think it could be quite sensitive for some readers – without giving anything away, there’s prominent themes of abuse and violence. However, if it’s something you can read, I do definitely recommend it – it’s rare to find a book that discusses its main theme so vividly, without sugar-coating it. It’s devastating in places, and hard to read, but I think that’s what makes it important.

Overall, The Deviants was much darker and sinister than I predicted, and its vivid approach to some sensitive topics can make it a hard to read in places. However, it can’t be doubted that it’s an incredible, incredible book. It was really eye opening to read about such terrifying events that still happen to so many people every day, and these characters and their stories will never really leave me. This is a very hard-hitting book, which will definitely make you think and it can be really upsetting – but at the same time, it’s important, and I really do recommend it to those who can read similar things.

My Rating:

four

I received a copy of The Deviants from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.