YA Review: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Title: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
Author: Suzanne Collins
Edition: Hardback
Rating: 5/5

A new Hunger Games book was always going to be high on my list, and I pre-ordered this from Waterstones to make sure I had it on publication day! I didn’t know much about it in advance, and I jumped into the story of the tenth Hunger Games without knowing what to expect.

It’s not as fast-paced as the Hunger Games trilogy, but the pace fits the theme of the book. The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes is told from the point of view of the teenaged Coriolanus Snow, later president of Panem. This book finds him in his final year of school, keeping up with assignments and trying to stay on the right side of the teachers who will decide his future. When he is offered the chance to act as a mentor to one of the tributes in the Hunger Games, he sees an opportunity to make his name.

This prequel to the trilogy fleshes out Snow’s backstory, and gives the reader an insight into the uncompromising character we know from the original books. Some aspects of his life are surprising, but everything that happens in the book adds context to his future career, and his political views. My copy includes an interview with the author, in which she explains the various political philosophies that shape the story. It is Snow’s philosophical education that forms the core of the book, with various teachers and friends representing different ways of thinking about human nature, power, and society. His exposure to these views, the conflict he feels, and his eventual alignment, are the point of the story.

But it’s not all conversation and philosophy. There’s plenty of personal danger, friendship, tragedy, scheming, and betrayal, and some heart-pounding moments that put the reader in the centre of the action. Snow is by no means a perfect student, a perfect friend, or a perfect mentor, and some of his decisions have dramatic, unexpected outcomes. The stakes are high throughout the book, and Snow’s determination to survive is the force that drives the story and the plot twists.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is not what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it. It offers an insight into the antagonist of the Hunger Games trilogy without making him entirely likeable, or letting him off the hook for the decisions he makes. It’s an interesting addition to the series, and it made me want to pick up the other books again. Definitely worth a read – but make sure you’ve read the Hunger Games trilogy first.

Have you read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes? What did you think of the Snow’s story? Did you like him more, or less, by the end of the book? 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: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder

Title: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Author: Holly Jackson
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

This was a fun read! A Cambridge-bound A-grade student chooses a local news story as the subject of her final school project. For five years, the residents of her small town have believed that a missing local girl was murdered by one of her classmates. The murderer was found dead a few days after her disappearance, so no one was ever put on trial, but it is common knowledge that Sal killed Andie, and no one questions the official account.

When Pip decides to investigate the deaths, she sets out to prove her theory that Sal is innocent, and that the murderer is still in town, hiding behind the accepted story. Despite warnings from her teachers, she approaches friends of the victim and the suspect, and discovers a complex web of deceit connecting an unlikely list of local residents. Before long, Pip is receiving threatening notes. Someone on her list wants to stop her investigation, confirming her theory and pushing her further into danger.

This is an exciting murder mystery story. The clues are in the text, but as each piece of evidence is revealed, the list of suspects keeps growing. Alibis unravel, chance encounters lead to important discoveries, and Pip takes greater and greater risks in her quest to uncover the truth.

Pip is an engaging protagonist. She’s clever enough to ask the right questions, spot the connections in the evidence, and cover her tracks. She’s also brave enough to keep investigating, even when the threats begin, and her bravery leads her into dangerous situations. Her friends are supportive, and even when they don’t know the details of her investigations, they’re on her side. There’s a fascinating cast of characters, from Pip’s supportive parents to the nastiest suspects, and the plot kept me guessing until the end.

If you enjoy the book, there is a sequel, and it’s definitely on my reading list!

Have you read A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder? What did you think of the story? Did you put the clues together before the end? 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.


Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YALC postponement

I’m so sorry to hear that YALC won’t be going ahead this year. It’s undoubtedly the right decision, but I’ll miss meeting readers and talking books and politics all day! Put July 23-25 2021 in your diaries instead – I’ll see you there! ❤️

Welcome to June!

It’s June, finally – and we’ve got new prices and a new author photo to celebrate!

The prices of our Kindle books are increasing from today. Battle Ground and False Flag have been 99p ($1.49) since we published them last year, and it’s time to move them to a fair market price. Darkest Hour, Fighting Back, Victory Day, and the Books 1-3 Box Set are also nudging up in price, in line with the rest of the books.

We’re refreshing our image across social media with a new author photo. Out with the green hair, and in with stars and planets!

Happy June – we’re hoping 2020 gets better from here.

Join Rachel for ‘Making Trouble’ at Today’s Virtual Book Fair!

Join Rachel TODAY at 4pm BST (11am EDT / 5pm CEST) on the Twitter Live Virtual Book Fair, when she will be reading sneak previews from the Battle Ground Series prequel Making Trouble, and running a LIVE Q&A!

To view the live broadcast, you must be signed into Twitter or Periscope. Visit Rachel’s Twitter profile (@Rachel_Churcher) or Periscope page to start viewing, or follow her on Twitter before the event and receive a notification at the top of your Home screen when she starts broadcasting.

We’re looking forward to sharing Making Trouble with readers all over the world! Please come and say hi, and bring your questions …

Huge thanks to Our Own Write for organising the Virtual Book Fair. Indie authors rely on book fairs and events to meet you, the audience, and this a great opportunity for us to get together virtually. Visit the Virtual Book Fair site for the full schedule, and information on all the authors taking part.

YA Review: Venom (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #2)

Title: Venom
Author: Bex Hogan
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Marianne, the Viper, is married to Prince Torin, but after the wedding, nothing goes according to plan. Marianne finds herself on the run, finding enemies she didn’t know she had, and discovering which of her friends she can trust.

The sequel to ‘Viper’ begins with a beautiful wedding, but just when you think the story is about to take a break, and give the characters a chance to reflect, the action kicks off and doesn’t let up. Marianne is in trouble, relying on friends and strangers to keep her safe while she finds out more about the Western Isles, and the magic she spent time researching in book one. The temptation to learn more takes her back to the West, where her competing loyalties lead her into danger – and to some surprising discoveries.

There is plenty of action in ‘Venom’, and plenty of excitement. Marianne encounters politics, power, and temptation, along with friendship, and fear for the people she loves. Every decision she makes brings heavy consequences – and without a clear plan she makes mistakes, and hurts the people she hoped to help. She’s still a strong protagonist, but this is an emotional journey through deception, myth, and the loyalty of friends.

To say that the book ends on a cliffhanger would be an understatement. When you turn the final page, you’ll need comfort food, and a plan to survive until the release of book three in April 2021!

I can’t wait …

Have you read Viper and Venom? What did you think of the story? Did you prefer the adventures of the first book, or the darker action of the second? And what about that ending? 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.


Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

Buy signed paperbacks, direct from Taller Books!

We are very excited to announce that we’ve opened an Etsy store!

Here at Taller Books, we have boxes and boxes of paperbacks that we were planning to take to author events and conventions in 2020. We were looking forward to meeting you, our readers, talking about the Battle Ground Series, and signing books for you.

But 2020 turns out to be a horrible time to be selling paperbacks. All the events we’re planning to attend are likely to be cancelled, but we still want to get the books out there, signed and personalised for you. We don’t get to meet up on Etsy, but at least we can send you a signed copy – and hopefully we can meet at a future event!

When you place an order on Etsy, Rachel will sign paperbacks, personalised with your name, and we’ll post them to you. Secure payment is available via Etsy, and we’re aiming to ship every order within 3 days.

Paperbacks make great gifts (we’ll personalise for the name you send us). The Battle Ground Series is suitable for readers aged 13-103. Books 1-3 available now, while stocks last.

We look forward to sending you your signed books. Thank you for your support!

YA Review: Internment

Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Layla is a typical American teenager, sneaking out of the house to meet her boyfriend, and finding time to complete her homework. But Layla is a Muslim, and in her America, the President didn’t stop at banning people from certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the USA. Her father has lost his job as a university professor, her mother’s chiropractic clinic is running out of patients, and since ticking the ‘Muslim’ box on the national census, the family is on a government registry. Layla’s life is turned upside down when she and her parents are given ten minutes to pack and leave their home, and taken to an internment camp with other Muslim Americans.

While her parents decide to follow the rules and keep the family safe, Layla is outraged at her imprisonment in the camp. She and her friends are determined to fight back, and use social media and reporters to highlight their internment. Her frustration at her parents’ acceptance of the camp, and their fears that her activism will have consequences, pit them against one another when they need each other most.

But Layla’s actions and protests are dangerous, and the consequences are severe. She needs support from her friends inside the camp, and her boyfriend outside the camp, to make sure her internment makes it onto the national news. But Layla is nearly eighteen, and with adult protesters disappearing from the camp, she needs to attract the attention of the media before someone makes her disappear.

Internment tells an incredibly relevant and powerful story. The author describes the events as happening ‘fifteen minutes’ in the future, and points out that camps like these are already operating in the US for immigrants and immigrant children detained at the Mexican border. With Trump’s Muslim travel ban still in place, this level of discrimination does not feel too far-fetched, and that makes this book a terrifying glimpse into a very possible future.

Layla starts out as a risk-taking teenager, meeting her Jewish boyfriend after the curfew imposed to control protests against the government. When she finds herself being taken from her home, her journey into activism and resistance begins. Layla is a relatable protagonist, and her anger and frustration is entirely appropriate to the extreme events of the first few chapters. Her relationship with her parents is wonderful – her mother’s anger at her rash decisions is always tempered by her father’s calm words, and it is evident that their anger is driven by fear that something will happen to their daughter. Their decision to follow rules and not make trouble is entirely based on keeping Layla safe.

Layla makes friends in the camp, and between them they find ways to peacefully protest their internment. Their actions are inspiring – they use resistance instead of violence, and they find clever ways to avoid the constant surveillance. Their use of social media is inspired (and very, very brave), and their determination to stand together while the Camp Director tries to divide them along ethnic lines is wonderful.

This is an uncomfortable and uplifting story. Layla and her friends are inspiring protagonists, but life in the camp isn’t fair, and they are not protected from the consequences of their actions. The author references the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, and models the camp on the Japanese-American experience, as well as on the model concentration camp established by the Nazis at Theresienstadt. Nothing in the book feels impossible, and while Muslim Americans are not subject to internment today, the author makes us feel as if it could happen, and soon.

Internment is a political story with a strong message and an inspiring protagonist. It is not a comfortable read, but it is relevant and frightening. It is a warning, and a call to arms to resist discrimination, to notice what is happening around you, and to stand together with neighbours of all colours and faiths. Highly recommended.

Have you read Internment? What did you think of the story? Were you inspired by Layla and her friends? 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.


Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YA Review: A Heart So Fierce and Broken (Cursebreakers #2)

Title: A Heart So Fierce and Broken
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

I enjoyed A Curse So Dark and Lonely, the first book in the Cursebreakers trilogy, but I loved A Heart So Fierce and Broken. This is the middle book of a trilogy – a notoriously difficult book to write – and it is more compelling, more interesting, and less predictable than the first.

The first book explored the story of Beauty and the Beast, following Prince Rhen of Emberfall; Grey, the Commander of the Royal Guard; and Harper, the girl Grey kidnaps from Washington DC in an attempt to break the curse. It was an intense story, centred on Harper, Rhen, and the royal palace, and constrained by its fairytale inspiration. The second book leaves the expectations and conventions of the fairytale behind, and explodes onto the page with new point-of-view characters, new settings, and hook that takes the story in an exciting new direction.

Maybe it’s because fantasy isn’t my favourite genre, or perhaps it’s the in-depth insight into the wider world of Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, but I found myself drawn into this book from the beginning. There’s less of a reliance on magic and curses, and more on the mistakes the characters make, and their tangled motivations and allegiances. It’s a political story instead of a fairytale, and I loved every twist and turn of the plot.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of Grey, who stood with Rhen through the years of his curse, and Lia Mara, daughter of the queen of Syhl Shallow. Syhl Shallow needs to conquer or ally with Emberfall, and the threat of invasion hangs over all the characters – royal families, soldiers, and citizens. The stakes are high, the fear feels real, and small actions have devastating consequences.

I loved seeing Emberfall and Syhl Shallow from Grey’s point of view. His familiarity with his own country is contrasted strongly with his impressions of its neighbour – its buildings, its people, and its queen. Lia Mara’s chapters give the reader a refreshing outsider’s view of Grey and some of the other characters from the first book, helping to build them into rounded, relatable people. The world is carefully described, highlighting the differences and similarities between Syhl Shallow and Emberfall, and between the palaces and streets in both countries.

It is a joy to follow the characters as they try to negotiate and manipulate for the outcomes they need. There are strong themes of duty, family, and friendship running through the book, and the story works best when these threads collide. The twists of the plot ensure that this happens often, pitching characters, siblings, and rulers against each other, each one working for their own version of a greater good.

This is a clever book, with a shocking and engaging finale, followed by a tantalizing setup for the third instalment in the series. I can’t believe I have to wait until January to find out how this ends!

Have you read A Heart So Fierce and Broken? What did you think of the story? Do you prefer the fairytale retelling of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, or the political twists of this book? 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.


Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

Join Rachel at Today’s Virtual Book Fair!

Join Rachel TODAY at 2pm BST (9am EDT / 3pm CEST) on the Twitter Live Virtual Book Fair, when she will be reading sneak previews from Battle Ground and False Flag, and running a LIVE Q&A!

To view the live broadcast, you must be signed into Twitter or Periscope. Visit Rachel’s Twitter profile (@Rachel_Churcher) or Periscope page to start viewing, or follow her on Twitter before the event and receive a notification at the top of your Home screen when she starts broadcasting.

We’re looking forward to sharing exciting sections of both books with readers all over the world! Please come and say hi, and bring your questions …

Huge thanks to Our Own Write for organising the Virtual Book Fair. Indie authors rely on book fairs and events to meet you, the audience, and this a great opportunity for us to get together virtually.

Stick around after Rachel’s session to hear readings from a range of authors and a range of genres, including our friend and neighbour MT McGuire at 2.30pm!