YA Review: The Girls I’ve Been

Title: The Girls I’ve Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Edition: Paperback ARC
Rating: 5/5

Probably my favourite read of the last twelve months, this book has everything. A fast-paced, thrilling plot; interesting, engaging characters; a clever and intriguing back story for the protagonist; and some genuine, how-are-they-going-to-get-out-of-this peril.

The setup is simple. Nora is seventeen. She’s spent most of her life helping her con-artist mother to target rich criminal men in a succession of scams, but now she’s trying to live a normal life with her sister. By page two of the book she finds herself held hostage in a bank heist, along with her best friend (and ex-boyfriend) Wes, and her new girlfriend Iris. She’s used to running cons with her mother in charge, and there’s always a plan and an escape route – but there’s no plan for escaping from the bank, and nothing in place to protect the people she cares about.

The bank heist turns into a battle of wits between the men with guns, and Nora and her friends. There’s a running tally at the start of each chapter of the plans that have worked or failed, and a list of the items they’ve collected that might help them, building the tension as the story progresses. Running alongside the chapters set in the bank are flashback chapters detailing the scams Nora has taken part in, and the girls she’s had to become to con the targets.

Nora’s experiences as the smiling Rebecca, demure Samantha, religious Hayley, smart Katie, and athletic Ashley have taught her how to read other people, how to understand what they want, and how to manipulate them. They have also taught her to be brave, daring, and protective of her friends. If she can figure out what the bank raiders are looking for, maybe she can save herself and the other hostages.

There isn’t a wrong step or a weak chapter in this book. The danger keeps coming – both in the bank chapters and the flashbacks – and Nora needs all her experiences and determination to stay calm, and look for a way out. Without the flashback chapters, the bank heist would be an exciting story. Without the bank heist, Nora’s backstory would be harrowing and traumatic. Bringing the two plotlines together is a genius move, keeping the reader’s attention on Nora while the hostage situation plays out around her. Both plots are utterly gripping, and together they build Nora’s complex character, explaining who she is and how she got there.

I loved every minute of this book, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m going to be recommending it everywhere!

The Girls I’ve Been will be published on January 26th. Thank you to Hachette for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Girls I’ve Been? What did you think of the story? Did you find yourself sympathising with Nora? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: When The World Was Ours

Title: When The World Was Ours
Author: Liz Kessler
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 3/5

I’m not sure how to review this book, which follows three friends during the Second World War. Leo, Max, and Elsa live in Vienna, and when the book opens in 1936 they have no idea how the next few years will change their lives and their relationships. Leo and Elsa come from Jewish families, while Max’s father is a high-ranking Nazi officer. The book guides the reader through the slow process of dehumanisation of the Jewish characters, alongside an ordinary boy’s journey into fascism. There’s nothing new here if you’ve seen ‘Schindler’s List’ and read around the subject, and I was disappointed that I didn’t feel more connected to these characters as they grew up, and grew apart.

The protagonists are nine years old at the beginning of the novel, and Leo and Elsa’s first-person narration understandably feels more like a mid-grade story than a YA novel. I hoped that their voices would change and develop as the story moved through the next nine years, but the language remained at the mid-grade level even while describing the horrors of the Holocaust. It is an odd juxtaposition, reading graphic scenes about concentration camps and the Hitler Youth, spelled out with such simple words. It might help some readers to identify with the characters, and keep them connected to the three happy children from the first chapter, but I found it alienating and lacking in emotional impact. Leo’s story is based on a real-life event, which I found genuinely moving when the author explained this at the start of the book. However, when this was translated into a fictional setting, I couldn’t connect with the characters at all.

It is possible that this approach will work well for a YA audience coming to the subject for the first time. The characters feel young throughout the story, even when terrible things are happening, which gives them an innocence and a connection to younger readers that I may have missed. The book doesn’t shy away from showing the inhumanity of the Nazi regime – there is a content warning at the start – and maybe this is the right way to tell these stories. Knowing the subject of the book, I wanted to be moved. I wanted to feel something for the characters, and understand how it felt to have their lives transformed over such a short time. I was disappointed, but I can see that for a younger audience this could be a very powerful read.

When The World Was Ours will be published on January 21st. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read When The World Was Ours? What did you think of the story? Did you find yourself connecting with the characters? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Lore

Title: Lore
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 4/5

The gods of ancient Greece walking the streets of Manhattan, a seven-day Hunger-Games style fight to the death, and the descendants of Greek heroes warring against each other to harness the powers of the gods – this book has all the ingredients of a gripping urban fantasy, and I couldn’t put it down.

Lore is the last survivor of the House of Perseus. She’s opted out of the fighting between rival families, and she’s trying to live a normal life in present-day New York City. But Zeus is punishing the gods, sending them into the mortal world once every seven years to kill or be killed, and Lore is about to find herself dragged back into the fighting.

For one week every seven years, the gods can be killed, and their killer takes on their powers. All the families want a god on their side, so everyone is hunting, and everyone is hunted. The author doesn’t pull her punches – this is a violent book with plenty of blood and gore. The stakes are high, for the gods and the hunters, and Lore’s involvement puts her in serious danger.

She’s a great protagonist. Strong, intelligent, and fiercely protective of the family she’s built for herself. When we first meet her, she’s fighting in an illegal underground boxing match, finding the weakness in her male opponent, pushing her advantage, and playing to the crowd who are betting on the result. Her strength is physical as well as emotional, which gives her the advantage she needs. As a teenage girl surviving alone, the other houses have discounted her from the fight, and she’s going to need all her strength to prove them wrong.

She has the support of her best friend Miles, who knows nothing about her background. Add in her childhood training with the House of Achilles, a mysterious benefactor, an injured god, and the return of someone she thought was dead, and Lore’s plans to survive the week take a dangerous turn. The story unfolds alongside flashback chapters, filling in important details as necessary.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the plot isn’t always clear. Lore and her group of supporters make plans to trap gods and trick their rivals, but the story feels repetitive as plan after plan is thrown off-course by the warring factions. It’s not always clear what they are trying to achieve, and why they make their decisions. The complexity of the setup can be off-putting at times. Trying to remember which characters are allied with which families and which gods is not always easy, and while there is a list of people and their affiliations, it’s at the end of the book, so I didn’t notice until I had finished reading!

It’s an exciting, constantly moving story. I’m a fan of urban fantasy, and this ticks all the boxes: supernatural fights in recognisable New York locations, high stakes, a reluctant hero, and real danger for the characters and the residents of the city. It’s an inventive idea and an engaging story. Definitely worth a read.

Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read Lore? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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Happy New Year!

Image: Vladislav Murashko / Pexels.com

Happy New Year from Taller Books!

It feels great to say goodbye to 2020, and there is plenty to look forward to in 2021! We’ll be publishing a tie-in novel in the Battle Ground Series, and a book of Battle Ground short fiction. We’re close to a final draft for both books, and we’ll be putting together a publishing schedule over the next few weeks.

We’ll be reading and reviewing more YA books this year! You’ll find all our reviews here on the blog, and cross-posted to Goodreads.

We’re really excited to bring you new books and new reviews! Watch this space – we’ll keep you up to date with our plans and our reading.

If there’s a YA book we should be looking out for in 2021, let us know and we’ll try to review it!

Here’s hoping that 2021 is a better year for all of us. ❤️

Happy Christmas!

Happy Christmas from Taller Books!

We know Christmas is going to be strange this year, but we hope you manage to find joy and warmth and light. We hope that you and yours are safe and well, and that the book-shaped presents under the tree are all for you. 😄

A friend sent Rachel this Christmas sweater, and it is perfect. She’ll be wearing it all day, on Zoom calls with friends and family, and hopefully making people smile.

Wherever you are, and whoever you’re with, very best wishes for a wonderful day! 🎄📚❤️

(If you’re on our mailing list, check your inbox for an exclusive Christmas gift! If you’d like to join our mailing list, head to freebook.tallerbooks.com)

YA Review: Black Ice

Title: Black Ice
Author: Julia Blake
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Buckle up – this one’s a wild ride! Think you know the story of Snow White? Think again. This adventurous fairytale retelling begins with the attempted murder of Princess Snow, heir to the throne of House White, and builds the drama from there. Instead of seven dwarves, the protagonist’s companions are the last seven survivors of the Dwarvian people, living in secret in the Great Forest. There’s a steampunk theme to the story, but technology, and the magic that powers it, is forbidden in the Kingdom of House White – a rule enforced by the powerful Contratulum. Princess Snow is the only person standing between the Contratulum and absolute power, and she’s going to need all the help she can get to claim the throne.

The Dwarvians are engineers with magic in their blood. They are masters of forbidden technology – and they know how to build airships. Snow might stand a chance after all …

This is a fairytale with a difference: kick-ass female leads, dark family secrets, evil plots, a dose of magic, a sprinkling of romance, fabulous parties – and epic airship battles. Hold on to your corsets and goggles, and prepare to fight for House White!

Black Ice is published as adult fantasy, but it is suitable for a YA audience.

Have you read Black Ice? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Darkness, Be My Friend

Title: Darkness, Be My Friend
Author: John Marsden
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Book Four in the Tomorrow series continues the story of seventeen-year-old Ellie and her friends as they strike back against a foreign invasion of Australia. This time they have help from the New Zealand army, but they quickly learn that their new friends can’t guarantee their success, or their safety.

I adore the Tomorrow series. I love Ellie’s narration. I love the characters, and the setting. I love the relationships between the school-friends-turned-fighters, and the way they develop through each book. I love the bravery of the teenagers, and their creativity in standing up to the people who have invaded their country, their town, and their homes.

Hiding out in the bush and launching guerrilla attacks is the only way for Ellie and her team to resist the invasion, but sneaking into their heavily guarded town, even under the cover of darkness, is far from safe. Darkness, Be My Friend brings the group into increasingly dangerous situations, with revelations about the state of the town, the strategic importance of the airfield, and the fates of their families. Expect heart-stopping scenes, real danger, and adrenaline-pumping excitement as the teenager’s daring plans meet the reality of strangers in their homes, and enemy soldiers on the streets.

There are obvious parallels between these books and my own Battle Ground Series, but I only started reading the Tomorrow series after my books had been written. I love reading John Marsden’s take on teenagers as reluctant fighters, and the characters’ practical approach to making a difference against the invading forces. There are three more books in the series, and I’m trying to decide whether I want to binge-read them all now, or save them so that I don’t have to say goodbye to Ellie too soon!

Have you read the Tomorrow series? What did you think of Darkness Be My Friend? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Deeplight

Title: Deeplight
Author: Francis Hardinge
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Fourteen-year-old orphans Hark and Jelt scrape a living on the streets of Lady’s Crave, one of the islands of The Myriad. Life on the islands used to be dominated by the gods – giant sea monsters who swallowed ships and fought each other in the surrounding waters. But the gods are dead, and their bodies yield powers beyond the imaginations of the islanders. Hunting for godware is a dangerous profession, and when Jelt convinces Hark to help him dive to search for fragments they can sell, their lives are changed forever by their discoveries.

‘Deeplight’ is a gripping adventure story, set in a world that feels real and dangerous. Hark is a believable protagonist, and it is easy to sympathise with his dilemmas. He wants to build a better life for himself, but he can’t resist being drawn again and again into his best friend’s risky schemes. Hark and Jelt have been each other’s families for so long that Hark finds it impossible to walk away, and both boys pay the price for his decisions. Add in an engaging cast of supporting characters – ageing priests, ruthless gangs, strong women, and a genius scientist with questionable morals – and you have the ingredients for a nail-biting story. Part fantasy, part dark folklore, and part atmospheric horror, the book delivers chilling revelations, surprising plot twists, and touching moments of friendship, along with a spine-tingling sense of wonder.

A highlight of the book is the treatment of its deaf characters. Loss of hearing is a common injury among the Myriad’s under-sea scavengers, and deaf islanders are honoured for their bravery. Many of the characters in the book speak using sign language, and their status means that hearing characters learn the signs in order to communicate with them. Sign language is presented as a standard method of communication, and while characters from different islands are described as having regional accents, the signs also have regional variations. The author consulted members of the National Deaf Children’s Society, and the result is a diverse, inclusive narrative where no one feels like a token character, the use of sign language is seen as a strength and an honour, and everyone is important to the story.

Have you read Deeplight? What was your favourite part of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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