Book Review

Book Review: The Opposite of You by Lou Morgan

Published May 4th 2017 by Stripes Books.

34338745Goodreads Synopsis: Bex and her identical twin sister Naomi used to be close. They used to be able to finish each other’s sentences, used to know exactly what the other was thinking. They were a matching pair.
And then something changed.
But Bex didn’t even realise until it was too late. When Naomi walks out of the house the night before their last GCSE exam and doesn’t come back, Bex has to think hard about how to find her.
What happens next will force Bex to unpick their shared history and the memories, following Naomi’s trail through their family, their past and all the way to the blinding lights of the Hemisphere music festival. Everything she thought she knew is called into question.

My Review: It’s not every day that a book arrives at your doorstep with a blue wig… So needless to say, this had me very intrigued! I didn’t know very much about it before starting, but found that quite refreshing – and I enjoyed the story a lot.

The Opposite of You focuses on twins Naomi and Bex, who have grown apart at sixteen; Naomi becoming more rebellious and private about her social life. When Naomi goes missing, Bex has to piece together everything she (thinks she) knows about her sister to figure out what’s happened.

I was a little hesitant when I got into this, because the whole twin-minds thing is a bit of a trope in fiction! I really hoped this wouldn’t be too typical and predictable. However, the twin set-up is done really well. It’s a great take on the relationship between sisters and all of the ups and downs. Morgan really takes the time to delve into the different personalities of Naomi and Bex, which I really loved, especially Naomi’s alternate persona. I found myself being able to connect with the characters more than I thought for a relatively short read. Bex’s chemistry with a newfound friend pleased me because there was no forced romance. The focus remained on Naomi’s disappearance, which I was glad about.

What I think I loved most about this book was its structure! It seems a little strange, at first, flitting back and forth between Bex and Naomi in the present, then previous days, months and years. The narrative is structured really well and I loved the way the plot unfolded through different little hints and secret reveals. Some of the flashbacks to the twins’ past seem random, like the final one before the ending, but the symbolism is a really great touch once you pick up on it.

I do feel like the story ended quite abruptly – I wish there had just been a chapter or two, to explore Bex and Naomi’s relationship some more after the events of the music festival. Aside from that, though, I really can’t identify anything I’d change.

Overall, The Opposite of You is a fantastic read that will hook you in and not let you go until you’ve close the book. I ended up devouring the story over a couple of hours; it’s an addictive read! The characters are really well fleshed out. Although the concept of twins and an otherwordly connection may feel a bit overdone in books, Lou Morgan tells their story in a great, refreshing way. I certainly enjoyed this.

My Review:

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

Book Review

Book Review: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Published May 4th 2017 by Quercus.

26224552Goodreads Synopsis: Harper has tried to forget the past and fit in at expensive boarding school Duncraggan Academy. Her new group of friends are tight; the kind of girls who Harper knows have her back. But Harper can’t escape the guilt of her twin sister’s Jenna’s death, and her own part in it – and she knows no one else will ever really understand.
But new girl Kirsty seems to get Harper in ways she never expected. She has lost a sister too. Harper finally feels secure. She finally feels…loved. As if she can grow beyond the person she was when Jenna died.
Then Kirsty’s behaviour becomes more erratic. Why is her life a perfect mirror of Harper’s? And why is she so obsessed with Harper’s lost sister? Soon, Harper’s closeness with Kirsty begins to threaten her other relationships, and her own sense of identity.
How can Harper get back to the person she wants to be, and to the girls who mean the most to her?

My Review: I first heard about Girlhood at YALC last year, so I’ve been really excited about getting a copy for a while. Cat Clarke’s last three books were incredible, so I had high hopes for this one.

Girlhood takes place at a Scottish boarding school, where Harper has spent the time since her twin sister died. When a new girl joins Harper’s tightly knit group of friends, and seems to feel the same way as Harper, the group’s friendship is put to the test as dark secrets surface.

I really liked the set-up for the book. I haven’t read many books set in a boarding school and I feel like it set a really fitting tone for the story, isolating the girls so the main focus is on their relationship dynamics. It definitely added an eerie atmosphere to the story.

One of my favourite things about Girlhood is that the friendship group was refreshingly diverse. Hell yes for a bisexual protagonist! And a gay roommate! And a friendship group that isn’t all white! I think the characters all had a really interesting dynamic too. I wish that some had been explored further, such as Ama, but the story was still really engaging and I loved the protagonists and their chemistry.

I feel this book was quite different from Clarke’s previous ones, as it felt less suspenseful to me – but it was still an incredibly riveting read. I ended up devouring it in a day, pretty much in one sitting, because I was so eager to understand why Kirsty’s actions were obsessively mirrored Harper’s. I did predict part of the truth revealed at the end, but it was still such an engrossing story.

Overall, Girlhood is another exciting book from Cat Clarke that I definitely recommend reading. It’s a really captivating read, that had me intrigued form start to finish. It explores so many different themes, from family death to the complications of friendships when you’re a teenager. I feel like it’s quite different from some of Cat Clarke’s books, like Undone, but it’s still a fantastic read.

My Rating:

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

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.