YA Review: Daisy Jacobs Saves the World

Title: Daisy Jacobs Saves the World
Author: Gary Hindhaugh
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

A fun book that contrasts a cosmic-scale alien threat with the daily life of an intelligent and feisty teenager. Daisy doesn’t expect to be the target for an alien invasion, and the alien inside her head doesn’t expect resistance to his plans. He’s not ready to navigate the complexities of school work, best friends, and family relationships – and Daisy is not about to let him destroy the world.

Daisy is a strong, funny character whose attitude and intelligence drive her resistance to the alien attack. Her friends, family, and teachers may be background characters, but they all feel real and three-dimensional. Her interactions with the alien range from comic misunderstandings to genuine fear, and their conversations are by turns funny, chilling, and heartwarming. The two central characters are strong enough to carry the plot as they explore their relationships with each other, and with the rest of the universe. The concept and setting might be straightforward, but the author uses the alien invasion scenario to examine Daisy’s life, attitudes, and values, and the result is an engaging celebration of a strong, intelligent, female protagonist. A quick, fun read with a surprisingly big heart.

Have you read Daisy Jacobs Saves the World? What did you think of the story? Was the book like anything you’ve read before? 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: An Abundance of Katherines

Title: An Abundance of Katherines
Author: John Green
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Every so often I need to find a new John Green book to read, to remind me how much I enjoy his writing. Several people have recommended An Abundance of Katherines to me, and I can see why.

Colin is heartbroken over the end of his relationship. He’s been dumped, again, by a girl named Katherine, again. In fact, it’s his nineteenth dumping by a girl named Katherine, and he’s wondering why this keeps happening. In an attempt to escape from his post-high-school misery, he heads off on a road trip with his best friend Hassan. Their plan to keep moving and discover themselves on the road quickly comes to a halt in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they both find work – and girls who are not named Katherine.

Colin is a former child prodigy, and throughout the book he attempts to build a single mathematical model that accurately describes all nineteen of his Katherine relationships. If the model works for his previous experiences of being dumped, he’s hoping it will predict the course of his future relationships. It’s a girl called Lindsey who helps him to perfect his model, as he explains the circumstances of every relationship and breakup.

This is a quirky, fun read that doesn’t sidestep the very real pain of being dumped – and being dumped repeatedly. Colin’s attempts to understand his experiences feel constructive and pointless at the same time. He’s used to being able to think his way through problems, and while building a mathematical model for his relationships feels like an effective coping mechanism, Colin struggles to see past this cerebral response to an emotional solution.

Colin is a relatable character. He’s a fundamentally good person, but he is plagued by the fear that he has wasted his childhood potential. He knows that being a childhood prodigy does not automatically guarantee a successful career. Adult geniuses were not necessarily outstanding as children, and intellectually brilliant children are no more likely to become adult geniuses than anyone else. It’s a tough situation, and his obsession with the mathematical model feels like a genuine and understandable reaction to his fears for the future as he graduates from high school.

There’s an engaging cast of supporting characters. Hassan embodies everything that Colin struggles to accept. He is happy to sit and watch daytime TV, and let life happen around him, while Colin spends considerable energy on being brilliant and earning the good grades he knows he deserves. He’s the easy-going best friend who highlights Colin’s highly strung approach to life. Lindsey and her friends provide the companionship Colin and Hassan need as they navigate the summer between school and college. Their relationships are complicated, and not entirely obvious to the outsiders. Lindsey’s mother is a high-powered businesswoman with a heart, and her employees and former employees shape the small-town community of Gutshot. Every character feels real, and it is a pleasure to spend time in their company.

John Green’s positive portrayal of characters experiencing mental health challenges (in this case a crisis of confidence and a fear of the future) are always engaging and sympathetic, and Colin is another wonderfully realistic example. Like his other books, this is a quick but haunting read. There may be an appendix explaining the mathematical theory behind Colin’s relationship model (and I love John Green for providing that!), but it is the emotional impact of the story that stays with you, long after you’ve turned the final page.

Have you read An Abundance of Katherines? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the mathematical elements? 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: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)

Title: Vulture (Isles of Storm and Sorrow #3)
Author: Bex Hogan
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting for the final book in the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series for a year, and after the extreme cliffhanger at the end of Book Two I couldn’t wait to get started!

Viper (Book One) sets up Marianne’s story and introduces us to the politics and magic of the Eastern Isles. Venom (Book Two) explores the consequences of Marianne’s actions, and sends her into danger as she travels across the Western Isles. In Vulture, familiar characters from East and West are brought together as Marianne seeks to protect the Twelve Isles from a dark magical threat.

It’s a breathtaking story. The action is non-stop as Marianne discovers the limits of her abilities, and the temptations of the magic she has learned on her journeys. This isn’t a black-and-white finale to the series, but an exploration of power, and how too much power brings temptation, corruption, and destruction. The first-person narration gives the reader a clear insight into the battle Marianne must fight within herself to control her hard-won abilities. It is refreshing and exhilerating to follow her story as she is repeatedly tempted towards revenge instead of justice. It is wonderful to see how much she has grown throughout the series, and how the strength she discovered in Viper has developed into the ability to change the world. How she uses that ability, and the changes she chooses to make, are always in question, keeping the reader and the supporting characters constantly on edge, right until the final pages.

It is wonderful to see characters from the previous books coming together to save the Twelve Isles and support Marianne – although some characters are more welcome than others. The author doesn’t give anyone an easy ride – there are twists, shocks, and surprises that test the strongest of Marianne’s companions, and tempt her to lose control of herself and her abilities. As in the previous books, no characters are safe from pain and tragedy, and everyone faces mortal danger. Be prepared for heartbreak – Bex Hogan doesn’t take prisoners!

This is an exciting, exhilarating, and thoughtful conclusion to the series, which highlights the strong relationships between the wide cast of characters, and gives Marianne the chance to grow and find her place in the world of the Twelve Isles. If you haven’t read the series yet, what are you waiting for?

Have you read Vulture? What did you think of the Isles of Storm and Sorrow series? 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: I Know When You’re Going to Die

Title: I Know When You’re Going to Die
Author: Michael J Bowler
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Michael J Bowler’s tightly paced thriller begins with a gift. Leo is volunteering at homeless shelter, when one of the men gives him the power to see someone’s death when he looks into their eyes. The old man tells him to make wise choices, assures Leo that he’s the right person to take on this gift, and then dies, leaving Leo without guidance or advice. I would call this book ‘wholesome teen horror’ – and I realise I’m going to have to explain myself!

Leo is a shy rich kid in a school of rich students. He never looks anyone in the eye, so it takes effort to test his gift for the first time. His best friend Juan Carlos (J.C.) encourages him to look into the eyes of strangers on the street and in shops, testing his visions and trying to decide whether Leo can really see what he claims to see. The proof arrives uncomfortably quickly, and the boys must decide what to do with the information Leo has discovered. Can they stop a murder, or could getting involved be the trigger for a deadly shooting? When Leo accidentally looks into his friend’s eyes, they need to work together to uncover the circumstances of J.C.’s death, and find out whether they can prevent it.

There are plenty of twists and scares as the story progresses, and the two boys come up with a plan. With their friend Laura, fellow victim of the school bully, they piece together a way to keep J.C. safe, while setting a trap for the would-be killer. The climax of the story is exciting and scary, and with the identity of the killer in doubt, the friends must work together to protect each other and figure out who they need protection from.

So that’s the horror part – there’s a supernatural gift, genuine peril, and a haunted house – but what about the wholesome aspect of the story? Throughout the book, Leo, J.C. and Laura all demonstrate ideal behaviours, and their actions are contrasted with bullies, emotionally absent parents, a school principle who blames them for being bullied, kids who are more interested in partying than helping their community, and with the various killers and would-be killers Leo uncovers with his gift. They support each other, they defend each other from bullying, and they build strong relationships without any sexual overtones (Laura has a girlfriend, and Leo and J.C. have a strong, trusting friendship). The ending is emotional, putting their actions, and Leo’s ability, into a larger context, and there are consequences for the bad guys.

This is an exciting story. Michael J Bowler is a screenwriter as well as a novelist, and as I read the action sequences I could easily imagine them playing out on a movie screen. I loved the premise of Leo’s power, and the mysterious man who chooses him to receive it. The tension between Leo’s vision of J.C.’s death and their attempts to understand and prevent it keeps the pages turning. I enjoyed getting to know the characters, and the positive representation of young people helping their communities and giving up their time to help others. There’s a strong moral steer in this book, but it doesn’t feel preachy. The engaging story presents the relatable characters as role models without making them perfect, providing a balance with the genuinely scary elements of the book. If thrilling cinematic wholesome teen horror appeals to you, this is a great place to start!

Have you read I Know When You’re Going to Die? What did you think of the story? What would you do if you had Leo’s power? 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: Concrete Rose

Title: Concrete Rose
Author: Angie Thomas
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

This is Angie Thomas’s third book set in Garden Heights, and a prequel to the outstanding The Hate U Give. The story jumps back eighteen years to follow the father of the narrator of The Hate U Give as a seventeen-year-old high-school student. He’s also a drug dealer and member of the King Lords gang, trying to help his mother pay the bills while his father is in prison. With a setup like this, Marverick’s story might sound predictable, but Angie Thomas takes the book in an unexpected direction.

Within the first couple of chapters, a DNA test reveals that Maverick’s friend’s three-month-old baby is actually his. Maverick has to grow up fast, support his child, and make responsible decisions about his life. He has to learn how to take care of a baby, and decide whether to turn his back on the gang, or reply on them for the drug money and protection his family needs.

If you’re expecting a gangland tragedy, or a morality tale, that’s not where the author takes us. Instead, she gives us the messy, real world of a seventeen year old trying to do the right thing, in a community that expects him to take on his father’s role as a leader of the King Lords. Staying in the gang is a dangerous choice, but leaving the King Lords alive is almost impossible. Maverick must navigate the responsibilities of being a father alongside his obligations to the gang.

Through the story and the actions of the characters, Angie Thomas challenges stereotypical perceptions of manhood, and what ‘being a man’ means for people like Maverick in communities like Garden Heights. Through Maverick’s decisions, she explores assumptions about strength, weakness, loyalty, and love in the context of individual lives, families, and the wider community. It’s an engaging story, with characters who feel completely real – flawed, human, and doing their best in the situations they find themselves in.

The book is written in Maverick’s distinctive voice, and the dialect of Garden Heights draws the reader into his first-person, present tense narration. It’s another clever challenge to stereotypical portrayals of black gang members – Maverick proves himself to be intelligent and caring, while telling his story in words many readers will associate with violent films and toxic masculinity.

In Concrete Rose Angie Thomas has created a complex and engaging story, exploring the loyalties and expectations of a young black man as his life is transformed by fatherhood. She challenges readers to re-examine their expectations and prejudices, and to see her characters as people, not statistics. If you’ve read The Hate U Give, this is a wonderful insight into the character of Starr’s father, and how he earned his place in the community of Garden Heights. It’s a challenging and rewarding read.

Have you read Concrete Rose? What did you think of Maverick’s 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: A Snowfall of Silver

Title: A Snowfall of Silver
Author: Laura Wood
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Laura Wood’s A Sky Painted Gold was one of my favourite books of 2018, and I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. A Sky Painted Gold followed sixteen-year-old Lou as she made friends with the wealthy Londoners who spent the summer of 1929 in her small Cornish village. The book dealt with the culture clash between the Great-Gatsby-inspired parties and decadence of the visitors, the sleepy village, and Lou’s large and eccentric family. Lou’s experiences give her the opportunity to move to London and pursue her dream of becoming a writer, leaving her family behind. A Snowfall Of Silver follows Lou’s younger sister Freya as, inspired by Lou, she makes her own journey to London to follow her dream of becoming an actress.

While the books share some themes and characters, A Snowfall Of Silver is a much more energetic and fast-paced story. Eighteen-year-old Freya is an engaging narrator – she is determined where Lou was cautious, and jumps in to new situations with enthusiasm where Lou took time to consider her decisions. In her pursuit of a career on the stage, she is theatrical. She is not afraid to make demands, she holds people to their promises, and she throws herself entirely into her new life. She is determined to take advantage of every opportunity she finds for herself, and she wants to grow up, find success, and enjoy her experiences.

Her attitude makes for a gripping read. When she is offered a job as the wardrobe assistant to a touring theatre company, she wastes no time in getting to know the actors and the support staff, and heading away with them on a national tour. She dreams of joining the cast, but contents herself with becoming an essential member of the company. When both the leading lady and the understudy are unable to perform, Freya is the only logical replacement – but what will happen when she makes her first appearance in front of a paying audience?

As Freya, with all her energy and confidence, stepped onto the stage, my heart was in my mouth. As a reader, I felt as if I knew her, and I understood how important this moment was. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that the outcome is not straightforward, and not what I was expecting. Alongside her experiences in the theatre, we follow Freya’s attempts to build relationships and fall in love. Between the possible romance and the dreamed-of stardom, Freya’s journey is full of emotional highs and disappointments (although she never lets the disappointments crush her enthusiasm).

Like A Sky Painted Gold, this story is full of moments of wonder and beauty. While Lou enjoyed incredible parties and sophisticated conversation in Cornwall, Freya immerses herself in a world of famous actors and directors, eccentric theatrical personalities, and stunning costumes. She never loses her sense of magic as the curtain rises for another performance, and she enjoys her backstage adventures as she spends time with the rest of the company. As in the first book, there are some gorgeous, unforgettable moments, including the snowstorm that traps the company in a tiny theatre where they have to stay overnight, and the candlelit dinner party they hold on the stage, dressed in exotic costumes from the storeroom. Everything is beautifully described, and Freya’s sense of wonder allows the reader to join her in experiencing the excitement, and understanding the emotional connection she feels to the stage, and to the people around her.

In creating Freya, Lou, and their family, the author deliberately set out to present siblings with contrasting temperaments and aspirations. Alice, the oldest sister, couldn’t wait to get married and start a family. Lou’s dreams of writing, encouraged by her parents, bought her to London. Freya’s dreams of performing on stage have shaped her life in Cornwall and given her the confidence to throw herself into every opportunity she can find. A Sky Painted Gold and A Snowfall Of Silver are shaped by their very different narrators, but they share a family resemblance. Freya’s story includes an inspiring message about following your dreams and demanding a place in the world – but it isn’t the message I was expecting. This isn’t a success story by numbers – it feels much more real and possible than a fairy tale about acting. It is a book shaped by its wonderful, irrepressible narrator and her supportive family, and once again I loved it.

Have you read A Snowfall of Silver? What did you think of Freya, and her 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: The White Darkness

Title: The White Darkness
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

What can I say about this book? Right from the start, the author casts a spell and draws the reader in. As the story develops, and an ordinary British schoolgirl finds herself on an increasingly strange trip to Antarctica, everything that happens feels entirely real, and absolutely possible. It’s an amazing achievement, given the extreme events of the story. The first-person narrative is immersive and convincing, and Sym’s level-headed storytelling keeps the reader hooked and entirely accepting of all the plot’s twists and surprises.

We also fear for Sym’s safety, as the uncle who brings her to the Antarctic becomes more and more obsessed with proving an unlikely scientific theory. As they travel together Sym begins to question his motives, and his role in her family’s story. As the conditions around her grow more extreme, Sym remains grounded and reliable, taking everything that happens in her stride however dangerous her surroundings become.

Sym has a secret, and it is the key to the book. She’s deaf, but she hears the voice of Captain Oates in her head – Titus Oates of ‘I am just going outside and I may be some time’ fame. Her narration is full of conversations with the long-dead explorer, and their relationship is wonderful – warm, truthful, and frequently heartbreaking as he reminds her of his death in an Antarctic blizzard.

I can’t do this book justice in a short review. It is a wonderful, magical story told by a down-to-earth narrator who speaks to a dead man in her head. It is an absurd but entirely convincing journey into the unique landscape of Antarctica. It is like nothing I have read before, and I adored it. Five stars.

Have you read The White Darkness? What did you think 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 Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers #3)

Title: A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers #3)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

I’ve been waiting for the third book in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker trilogy, and A Vow So Bold and Deadly did not disappoint. Following the story of Harper and Prince Rhen in the first book (reviewed here), and the story of Grey and Lia Mara in the second book (reviewed here), the third instalment pieced together chapters from all four characters to narrate the climax of the series.

War is coming to Emberfall and Syhl Shallow, with Rhen and Grey on opposite sides. The prize is the crown of Emberfall, and while both sides are willing to fight, everyone is looking for a peaceful solution. The story follows the leaders of both countries as they try and fail to make peace – between Rhen and Grey, and within their borders. Shifting loyalties, civil unrest, and futile attempts at diplomacy keep the characters and the reader guessing right to the end. It’s an exciting, engaging story, revisiting the people and relationships of the previous books, and pushing them towards a war no one wants to fight.

I don’t want to give away spoilers, but I enjoyed this exciting and fitting end to the trilogy. If you haven’t read the series, what are you waiting for? Start with A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and introduce yourself to Rhen, Grey, and Harper, and the curse they must break to survive.

Have you read the Cursebreakers series? 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: Fangirl

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

This is another YA novel I should have read ages ago! The setup for Fangirl is very clever. Cath is starting her first year of university. She’s shy, socially awkward, and she’d rather stay in her room and write fan fiction than go to parties. Her twin sister Wren embraces the social side of college, and the two find themselves drifting apart.

Here’s the clever part – when she’s not completing assignments, Cath is one of the most popular authors of fan fiction for the Simon Snow books – a fictional series about a boy attending a school for magicians. She ships the main characters, changes their relationships with each other and with their fellow students – and she has thousands of fans. She’s writing her own version of the eighth and final book in the series, and she needs to post all her chapters on the fan fiction website before the official final book is published. Personal disasters, family emergencies, and college deadlines have to take second place to her creative project – but not everyone appreciates her devotion to Simon and Baz. Fangirl, and the extracts from Cath’s fan fiction included on the book, proved so popular that Rainbow Rowell went on to write full versions of Cath’s fan novels – Carry On and Wayward Son. It was fun to read the novel that started the series, and produced addictive fan fiction for books that don’t exist.

Just as the fictional fan fiction plays games with the reader’s expectations, Fangirl takes its characters in some unexpected directions. A story that could have followed a straightforward ‘shy girl writes books, makes mistakes with boys’ plot instead explores friendships, exploitative relationships, unconventional families, addiction, mental illness, and a wonderful moment of revenge. Definitely not what I was expecting, Fangirl plays with YA tropes, fandom, and storytelling to produce an emotional story, and – accidentally – an entirely new fandom. Carry on, Simon and Baz!

Have you read Fangirl? What did you think of the story? And what about the fan fiction extracts? 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: Ruin and Rising

Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Shadow and Bone, Book One of the trilogy, is reviewed here, and Siege and Storm, Book Two, is reviewed here.

After the cliffhanger at the end of Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising begins with Alina and her allies taking the chance to stop, breathe, and regroup. The future of Ravka is far from settled, and several factions are fighting for power – and looking for Alina.

This is another big story, and another gripping adventure in the beautifully drawn landscape of Ravka. Alina and the Darkling have unfinished business, but ending the fight for the future of their country will take sacrifice, and Alina’s choices will determine what happens to everyone within its borders. There are dangerous quests, surprise plot twists, punishment, pain, and deception – alongside the teamwork, loyalty, and friendship of Alina and her supporters. The trilogy ends with several unexpected twists, but the conclusion is dramatic and hard-won.

This is a satisfying final instalment in an exciting series, and I’m thrilled that the author has written more books in the Grishaverse. The King of Scars, Rule of Wolves, The Language of Thorns and The Lives of Saints are all on my TBR!

Have you read Ruin and Rising? What did you think of the story? What about the 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.


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