YA Review: Rose, Interrupted

Title: Rose, Interrupted
Author: Patrice Lawrence
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Seventeen-year-old Rose is not at home in London. She’s used to the unbending, patriarchal rules of her tight-knit religious community, but when her family is excluded from the sect, she has to figure out the new rules by herself.

Rose embraces life outside the sect. She can finally read the books she wants to read, wear what she wants to wear, experiment with makeup, and hook up with boys. She has a plan for decommissioning herself from the expectations she has grown up with, and she launches into college and dating with enthusiasm. Her younger brother doesn’t share her desire to leave the rules behind, and in spite of surviving a horrific incident in the religious community, he desperately wants to return. It’s up to Rose to encourage him, and help him to adjust.

Throw in family complications, problems with meeting the rent, and Rose’s total inexperience of relationships; and the unwritten rules of a life of freedom, boyfriends, and smartphones threaten to trap Rose and her brother – and draw attention to the secretive community they left behind.

This is an emotional book. Rose and her brother are sympathetic and believable, and even when you’re shouting at the page, you know their decisions are based on innocence and naivety, and not malice. I found myself extremely frustrated with the adults around them, who either assumed that they understood the unwritten rules, or failed to offer them help when they asked. There’s an interesting message about power and manipulation, and how to recover your power if someone has abused your trust.

All the characters feel real – rounded, individual, and flawed – and most of them are simply doing their best in challenging situations. It would be easy to set up the other members of the sect as evil and dangerous, but even they are shown to be acting honourably according to their own rules. It’s a story about intentions, and unintended consequences; about finding yourself and your place in the world; and about navigating an unfamiliar culture without a rule book.

It’s a story about being human, and growing up, and learning how to fix your mistakes. It’s an emotional read, and it grabbed me and didn’t let me go. Definitely recommended.

Have you read Rose, Interrupted? What did you think of the book? Do you think you could survive in today’s world without understanding the rules? 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: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

Title: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Edition: Hardback
Rating: 5/5

At last – the sequel to ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’! Monty and Percy are back, but this time the narrator is Monty’s sister, Felicity. Readers first met Felicity in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, where she provided the no-nonsense, clear-headed balance to Monty’s reckless drinking, gambling, and womanising. Through her brother’s eyes, she was portrayed as a brave and intelligent travelling companion, always ready to ask the obvious questions, make sensible plans, and stitch up wounds without drama – including her own. She was a strong, inspiring character, hiding her interest in medical science so that she could continue to read and study without interruption, keen to avoid the finishing school her parents had lined up for her.

First-person Felicity is still strong, brave, and sensible, but in this book the reader sees inside her head. The bravery and determination are still there, but we also experience her insecurities, doubts, and disappointments. Telling the story from her point of view makes her at once more relatable and less together than she seemed in the first book. We don’t see someone getting on with something dangerous because it is the right thing to do – we see someone weighing up the options, acknowledging the danger and her fear, and then doing it anyway.

Felicity’s story is no less dramatic than Monty’s in Book One. She is desperate to earn a place at medical school, but as a woman in the eighteenth century she is automatically excluded. Undeterred, she reads medical texts disguised as romance novels, and petitions medical schools in Edinburgh and London without success. When she discovers that her childhood friend is about to marry one of her medical heroes, she travels to Stuttgart to attend the wedding and ask for a job. Of course things don’t go according to plan, and she soon finds herself breaking the law to protect her friend. On the run with two very different female companions, Felicity starts to challenge everything she has come to believe about femininity, strength, and survival.

Mackenzi Lee presents us with three models of female strength. Felicity, with her ambition, and her lack of interest in traditionally feminine social roles; the friend, whose survival depends on being the perfect society lady, throwing the best parties and wearing complicated fashionable clothes; and the headstrong Muslim travelling companion with a mysterious past and a disastrous disregard for the law. As all three women come to understand each other, and work together, they use their strengths to support each other – and to come up with a solution to the central plot point that would never have occurred to the men.

As with ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue’, there are strong fantastical elements to the story, but not enough to fully transform the rules and expectations of eighteenth century Europe. As in Book One, the characters challenge each other’s expectations of love, marriage, and relationships, and of what constitutes a successful and fulfilling life. This is an empowering book. Seeing inside Felicity’s thoughts and feelings brings extra dimensions to her character. She becomes more relatable, particularly for readers who might have been told that they are not a proper girl if they don’t enjoy stereotypically feminine activities, wear makeup, or dress in certain ways. But that’s not the only message of the book – Felicity also learns not to discount the girl in the party dress, or the girl in the headscarf, and to find her own way to reach her goals.

I’m looking forward to Book Three in the Montague Siblings trilogy!

Have you read The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy? What did you think of the story? How much do you adore Felicity? 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: Foul is Fair

Title: Foul is Fair
Author: Hannah Capin
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

A revenge thriller for the #MeToo generation, this book is uncompromising. From the calculating actions of the abusers to the absolute destruction dealt out by the central character and her loyal friends, the plot is unwavering in its drive for payback and revenge.

The story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the paranoia, ambition, manipulation, and murder of the play are all here. Jade, the central character, takes the Lady Macbeth role, with her best friends taking on the roles of the witches. Working together, they manipulate the Lacrosse-playing rich boys who drug and assault Jade at a party, fracturing their friendships and ensuring that they turn against each other. The fear that someone in the group will expose their actions (Jade isn’t the first girl they have attacked together) pits the boys against each other, allowing Jade to orchestrate her revenge while keeping her hands mostly clean – at least as far as anyone outside the group would suspect.

The story – including the ending – is not a direct retelling of Macbeth, but there are nods to the play throughout the book. The best friends confront the boys with threats and prophecies, while keeping their identities hidden. Jade has her ‘out, damn spot‘ moment, and the Macbeth character finds himself entirely under her influence. There are uncanny elements to the story – unanticipated storms, spooky black birds – but it is a thoroughly modern burner phone that allows Jade and the witches to manipulate and threaten the boys and their friends via text message.

After the attack, Jade transfers to the boys’ expensive school, St Andrews, thus symbolically moving herself to Scotland and the world of the play. In an echo of Lady Macbeth’s ‘unsex me here / and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull / of direst cruelty‘ speech, Jade reinvents herself. She cuts her hair and dyes it black (the colour is called ‘Revenge’), changes school, and changes her name from ‘Elle’ to Jade. Her friends support her transformation, and there is no doubt that she uses it to steel herself and prepare for remorseless revenge on her attackers. The boys are named after characters from the play (Duncan, Malcolm, Banks, Duffy, Porter, and Mack), and Mack’s hilltop home is called ‘Inverness’.

As a protagonist, Jade is uncompromising and uncomfortable. Her actions are extreme, but as she relives the events of the party and the assault in chilling and fragmented flashbacks, they are also entirely understandable. The reader can relate to her determination to destroy the boys who tried to destroy her, and this makes for an uncomfortable read. I found myself cheering on murder and manipulation, always waiting for the boys to realise the danger they were in.

The attack itself is described with a very light touch. The reader has no doubt as to what happened to Jade, but her memories are reduced to flashbulb moments by the drugs the boys put in her drink.

This is a challenging book. I found my sympathies shifting between Jade and her friends, and the boys they were so easily and coldly destroying. It certainly delivers revenge, and the ambition and paranoia of Shakespeare’s story. It also asks the reader to sympathise with someone who deliberately makes herself ruthless and cold. As much as I wanted her to succeed, I ended up wondering whether her actions had finally destroyed her, even as she fought to assert her identity as a survivor, and an avenger, instead of a victim. It’s a powerful story, cleverly told, but definitely not a feel-good book.

Have you read Foul is Fair? What did you think of the story? What did you think about Jade, and the coven? And what about the boys? Where did your sympathies lie? 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: Night Swimming

Title: Night Swimming
Author: M T McGuire
Edition: eBook
Rating: 4/5

A short, mailing-list-exclusive introduction to the K’Barth stories by MT McGuire. Short enough to read in one sitting, but detailed enough to introduce the central character, the setting, and the humour of the series.

Night Swimming is a neat short story. It touches on some serious themes, but the author introduces the characters and the setting with humour and humanity. I’m a sucker for a well-imaged city, and Ning Dang Po has definitely joined my list of fictional places I’d like to visit, if only to witness the night-time view from the Bridge of Eternal Glory (you’ll have to read the story!). An engaging introduction to an intriguing series.

Have you read Night Swimming? What about the other books in the K’Barth series? 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: This Vicious Cure

Title: This Vicious Cure (Mortal Coil #3)
Author: Emily Suvada
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

The final book in the Mortal Coil trilogy. The action is back, the stakes are higher, and there’s a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. Emily Suvada brings us another breathless page-turner to conclude her innovative dystopian trilogy.

Given the intense cliffhanger at the end of This Cruel Design, there’s not a lot I can say about this book without dropping spoilers! The fight against the deadly virus continues, with genehackers and scientists working to perfect a vaccine or a cure. But the ability to manipulate DNA comes with unintended consequences, and raises moral questions that threaten to ignite a devastating war.

There’s a strong cast of characters, some familiar locations, and we finally learn the truth behind Catarina’s father’s experiments. This is a satisfying conclusion to an action-packed, fast-paced rollercoaster of a series.

Have you read the Mortal Coil trilogy? What did you think of the final 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: The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky

Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Edition: Hardback
Rating: 5/5

Short, sweet, and really rather lovely, this is the continuation of the story of Monty and Percy, which begins in The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

After the adventures of their European Grand Tour, Monty and Percy are finally on the same page – and staying in a beautiful house on a romantic beach, with the ever-practical Felicity taking an interest in their love lives.

But Percy has never slept with anyone before, and Monty has never slept with anyone he cares about. Getting lucky might prove more difficult than it sounds.

Mackenzi Lee’s wonderful characters from The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue are back, their personalities and frustrations leaping from the page. This progression of their story is real, awkward, and relatable, picking up on the importance of consent, communication, and openness in intimate relationships. This isn’t an empty Happy Ever After, but it takes an unfiltered look at how you might get there.

I loved meeting Monty, Percy, and Felicity again, and it was wonderful to follow the development of their relationships. The hardback edition of the novella is expensive, but absolutely gorgeous, and I’m glad I splashed out. A lovely, short, and rewarding read.

Have you read The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky? What did you think of the story? How much do you love Monty and Percy? 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: Crooked Kingdom

Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

With the second book in the Six of Crows Duology, we’re back in Ketterdam for the fallout from the events of Book One. It’s hard to review this instalment without giving away spoilers for both books, so I’ll keep my comments as general as possible!

Like Six of Crows, this is an intense read. Complex, long, and full of twists, the plot is exciting and never predictable. There are some extremely perilous moments, and some reveals that had me catching my breath. As the action heats up, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger as the point of view jumps to another character and another thread in the story. This is a serious page-turner!

As the story intensifies, so do the relationships between the characters. Everyone has a history, and everyone has secrets, complicating their abilities to form friendships and romantic attachments. The friendships that are formed are that much stronger for overcoming these obstacles, and the romances are that much more fragile and dangerous.

Family is a strong theme in Crooked Kingdom, with parents, siblings, and children acting as incentives, protectors, and obstacles for the central characters. This is a more introspective book, examining relationships between and beyond the main characters, and digging deeper into their home territory.

The central characters feel more developed in this follow-up story. This is partly because the reader has met and followed them through a dangerous adventure in Six of Crows, but also because they are asked to step up their commitment to each other, and to their cause. Everything feels more dangerous, and more personal, than in the first book. This is partly the result of working more closely together, but also the result of working in their home city. The city almost feels like another character in the story, and another member of the gang.

Ketterdam, the setting for the first part of Six of Crows, feels more real and more developed in Crooked Kingdom. The city, with its gangs, merchants, and districts of rich and poor, is one of the stars of this book. The world-building is fantastic – I could smell the canals and the sea, and feel the wind on the rooftops. I could sense the difference between the gangland areas and the respectable districts, and feel the fear and awareness of the characters as they navigated the streets and canals.

I found the third-person past-tense narration distancing in the first book, but I found it less of a problem in the sequel. This is partly because of the intensity of the story and the setting, and partly because reading both so quickly in succession gave me time to adjust to the author’s writing style.

I gave Six of Crows four stars, but I’m very happy to give Crooked Kingdom a five-star rating. The unpredictable plot, the constant danger and tension in the story, the more rounded characters, the cliffhangers, and the incredibly vivid setting, all came together to produce an emotional, immediate reading experience. This is a highly satisfying conclusion to the duology, and one that stayed with me after the last page turned. If you like your fantasy dark, and your world-building strong, head to Ketterdam and allow yourself to be drawn into the story. You’re in for a treat.

Have you read Crooked Kingdom? What about the other books in the GrishaVerse? What did you think of the story, and the setting? 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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Wishing Shelf Award Finalist!

We are so excited to announce that Battle Ground is one of the finalists for the 2019 Wishing Shelf Book Awards!

YA readers in eight schools in the UK read the book, and marked it higher than 30/40 with reference to its style, theme, editing, and cover.

A huge THANK YOU to all the Wishing Shelf readers who gave such wonderful feedback on the book – we’re so pleased you enjoyed the story!

Battle Ground (Book One of the Battle Ground series) is available in paperback and Kindle editions, and is free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

YA Review: Six of Crows

Title: Six of Crows
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Six outcasts, a lot of money, and a dangerous plan come together in Leigh Bardugo’s thrilling fantasy heist story. Set in Ketterdam, a city based loosely on 18th century Holland, the beginning of the book introduces the characters, the mission, and the Grisha – practitioners of specific types of magic kept as indentured servants by rich merchants. As the plot moves forward, the backstories of the characters are introduced in flashbacks and storytelling, and the world beyond Ketterdam is revealed.

There’s a lot going on in this book! We learn about the politics of Ketterdam, from the gangs on the streets to the the Merchant Council that runs the city. There’s the recruitment of the team for the jailbreak and the heist, the backstories of the characters, the journey to their target, and the histories of the relationships between the members of the team. There’s the single-minded determination of the group’s leader, and the constant questioning of loyalties and motivations. For YA, it’s a complex and relatively long book, and it demands – and repays – close and attentive reading.

The characters are well-drawn and distinctive, with their own secrets and grudges, and reasons for joining the team. The plot is detailed and interesting, with enough twists to keep the reader guessing all the way to the end. The world is beautifully imagined, with constrasting countries and cultures adding danger and tension to the story.

I enjoyed the book, and I enjoyed the adventure, but I didn’t connect with the characters as much as I wanted to. The book is written in third person past tense, and I found myself wanting some first-person narration, to really feel as if I was under the skin of the person I was reading about. The author head-hops, with each chapter told from the point of view of one of the characters, and while this is essential to the story, I found the lack of a first-person connection distracted me and distanced me from the more exciting parts of the book. That’s a personal preference, though, and this story is told with skill, depth, and sympathy for the central characters.

It’s a neat, complex, and satisfying story, and the ending sets the scene for the second book. Luckily it’s already on my shelf …

Have you read Six of Crows? What about the other books in the GrishaVerse? 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: With the Fire on High

Title: With the Fire on High
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Emoni is Seventeen. She juggles school and work with taking care of her two-year-old daughter, and while she doesn’t feel supported by the father of her child or his family, she has her grandmother on her side. Emoni’s passion is cooking, and she dreams of being a chef. When she cooks, people fall in love with her food, and they swear she adds a touch of magic. Her dishes bring back wonderful memories for the people who eat them, and often move them to tears.

When a Culinary Arts course starts running at her school, Emoni signs up, but the discipline of the professional kitchen threatens to stifle her creativity. Will a class trip to Spain being her closer to her dreams, or will her friendship with the new student in the class distrct her from her responsibilities – and her talents?

This is an inspiring story. Emoni has many reasons to give up on her dreams – from the judgement of her classmates during her pregnancy to the demands of raising a child while studying and working to help pay the rent on her grandmother’s apartment, and the reality of learning to be a professional chef. She already knows she can cook, but she fails assignments because she adapts and improves the recipes. The teacher wants her to learn the basic rules, and doesn’t give her credit for her talent. Anyone with a gift for creative subjects will understand Emoni’s frustration with her teacher, and with the restrictions of a structured course. She is being asked to become a beginner in a subject at which she already excels, and while there are good reasons for learning the rules, it feels liek a rejection of her abilities.

I understood. I cried. I laughed with Emoni and her friends, and I smiled when her family showed their support. Emoni is a wonderful character – determined to own her responsibilites, determined not to be ashamed of her daughter, and utterly determined to follow her dreams. It’s a rollercoaster story, and there isn’t a neat, happy ending, but Emoni’s confidence and determination carry her through her challenges.

There’s a lot of love in this book: Emoni’s emotionally charged recipes; her tough, supportive grandmother; her best friend who knows exactly what to say; her love for her daughter; and her relationship with her own absent father. There’s love for culture and heritage, for food and traditions, and for community and family and friends. It’s a feel-good read with depth and spice – just like Emoni’s cooking.

Have you read With the Fire on High? 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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