YA Review: My Teeth in Your Heart

Title: My Teeth in Your Heart
Author: Joanna Nadin
Edition:
Kindle ARC
Rating:
5/5

My Teeth in Your Heart

Another Netgalley ARC from UCLan Publishing, and another surprising, smart YA romance with compelling characters and plenty of emotional depth. I was hooked from the first page, and the story only became more gripping as the author built up the stories of Billy and Anna, two women in the same family, finding first love fifty years apart.

But there’s so much more to the story. The book opens in 1975 with Anna, 17 and accidentally pregnant. She had been aiming for good A-level results and a place at Cambridge, but instead she’s dealing with her mother’s disapproval – and there’s no way she can go to university now.

In 2024, Anna’s granddaughter Billy is studying for her A-levels, but spending time when she should be in class hooking up with a boy she can’t tell anyone about, because he has a girlfriend, and because her best friend has a crush on him.

Their stories are told in parallel, with alternating chapters. We learn that, until the summer of 1974, Anna had lived in Cyprus – a good, academic girl in the ex-pat community. She spent her time studying, swimming with her fashionable friend Nancy, and at her secret job in a bookshop. Her parents wouldn’t approve of her working – and certainly not alongside the Cypriot boy she’s falling in love with. With the threat of invasion growing, Anna is torn between her safe ex-pat life, and the lives of the local families who have nowhere to escape to. We follow Anna through the summer of 1974 as she discovers her independence and makes choices that will transform her life, and the lives of the people around her.

Meanwhile, Billy’s discovery of her grandmother’s diary gives her an insight into her grandparents’ lives, and a family history she hadn’t suspected. Anna had lost contact with her Cypriot friends after the Turkish invasion, and a 2024 trip to Cyprus gives Billy and her mother the chance to piece together the events of 1974, and to discover their own shared history.

This is a truly wonderful story. The characters are beautifully drawn and absolutely real as they live through terrifying events and face impossible choices in 1974, and follow in those footsteps in 2024. The dual narration is brilliantly handled, and provides a framework for the author to reveal the full story slowly, with maximum impact for the characters and the reader.

I adored this book. Emotional, relatable, intriguing and unpredictable – absolutely a five-star read.

My Teeth in Your Heart will be published on July 4th. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read My Teeth in Your Heart? What did you love about it – the characters, the story, the settings? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: My Teeth in Your Heart cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Exiled

Title: The Exiled
Author: Sarah Daniels
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: The Exiled

I absolutely loved The Stranded when I read an ARC last year, and waiting a whole year to read the sequel was tough! I rushed out and bought The Exiled on launch day, and jumped straight back in to the dystopian plot.

To recap: refugees from a war-ravaged Europe have been stuck at sea for more than forty years, confined to the cruise ships that were supposed to bring them to safety. A fractured US refuses permission for them to come ashore, fearful of the weaponised virus that might lie dormant in the bloodstream of everyone on board.

I don’t want to give too much away, but after the events of The Stranded, protagonist Esther’s hopes for a better life are fading. Leaving her cruise ship – the Arcadia – and making it to the Federated States was supposed to be her ticket to freedom, but the refugee camp isn’t where she hoped to end up. She’s exchanged shipboard anarchy for land-based oppression and gang rivalry, her parents and friends are missing, and she’s wanted by the Federated States.

Narration is shared between Esther, Nik (her sister’s former boyfriend), Meg (a girl from the Arcadia), and Janek, this book’s utterly delicious baddie. I thought Hadley, the sadistic administrator of the Arcadia in The Stranded was a fantastically nasty antagonist, but Janek is even better. Unlike Hadley, she’s in a position of power in the Federated States, with the means and motive to punish the refugees and prove her loyalty to the president. As Janek’s efforts provoke support for rebellion in the camp, Esther finds herself in even greater danger. Unsure of who she can trust, she is pushed into taking risks she has been desperately trying to avoid.

It’s another twisty plot, with heartbreak and bravery, adventure and betrayal, and a constant feeling of being on the edge of disaster. I absolutely loved it.

Have you read The Stranded and The Exiled? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy reading the baddies’ chapters as much as the good guys? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: The Exiled cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

Title: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love
Author: Lex Croucher
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love

Arthur and Princess Gwendoline have known each other all their lives. They were betrothed at birth in a bid to unite Gwen’s family (her father is the King of England) and Art’s, and while they have only seen each other during Art’s short visits to Camelot, the only thing they can safely say is that they truly hate each other.

Gwen feels the pressure from her family to be the perfect princess – to turn up to events, to dress and behave appropriately, and never to risk her reputation, or that of her father. Art is everything she detests – a habitually drunk young man who delights in provoking her, staying out all night, and spending his days lounging about and nursing his inevitable hangover. To Art, Gwen is uptight and judgemental, and he has no idea of the expectations she struggles with every day.

To prepare for their wedding, Art arrives at Camelot with his friend and manservant Sidney, who promptly falls for Gwen’s Lady in Waiting. Before long, Gwen discovers Art kissing a stable boy, and Art uncovers Gwen’s diary, complete with wistful passages about Lady Bridget Leclair, England’s only female knight. As much as they hate each other, Gwen and Art agree to keep each other’s secrets, and grow into allies as the book progresses. But Art and Gwen are not the only people affected by their forbidden feelings. As Art finds himself falling for Gabriel, Gwen’s older brother and heir to the throne, and Gwen’s relationship with Bridget develops, they need to decide what to do about their wedding – and the rest of their lives.

What can I say about this book? I loved every moment! Gwen, Art, and Sidney are beautifully written, strong-willed and witty, and their constant banter and snark sparkles on the page. Lady Bridget is a tough young woman, competing alone in the man’s world of tournaments and fighting, where she is not welcome. Her bravery, independence, determination and loyalty make her the perfect fit for Gwen, who finds her own life of formality and etiquette suffocating. Gabriel is the bookish older brother, fiercely intelligent and never happier than when he’s studying in Camelot’s library – and definitely not ready to be king.

While the early stages of the book are immensely enjoyable, with verbal sparks flying every time Gwen and Art are forced to spend time together, their relationship matures as the story progresses. Their banter becomes less about one-upping each other, and more about navigating the political expectations around their marriage. There’s a tense build-up as their secret relationships develop, and an exciting finale where I genuinely feared for everyone’s safety.

I loved the pseudo-Arthurian setting, in a country where King Arthur and his knights are revered historical figures, and Camelot is still the seat of power. The castle and the town are vividly imagined, and every step along the corridors and the streets feels completely real. Gwen’s restricted life contrasts beautifully with Bridget’s dare-devil adventures, and of course the book addresses homophobia and the process of finding out who you are – and what to do about it.

Come for the inconvenient arranged marriage trope, be drawn in by the constant smile-raising banter, and stay for the genuine against-the-odds love stories. An unequivocal five stars from me.

Have you read Gwen and Art Are Not In Love? What did you think of their story? Did the characters grab you as much as they grabbed me? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: Gwen and Art Are Not In Love cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Independent Study (The Testing #2)

Title: Independent Study (The Testing #2)
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Book two of The Testing Trilogy sees Cia and the other survivors enrolled in the Early Studies programme, designed to prepare them for their final training. Based on their performance in the Early Studies exam, each student is admitted to one of the five university departments and given the chance to help rebuild their post-war society. But this is a YA dystopia, so of course the author gives us more tests, and more danger for the characters to survive before they can concentrate on their studies.

A series of harrowing induction challenges gives Cia and her new classmates the chance to demonstrate their leadership abilities, teamwork, and survival skills. Once again the students must decide who to trust, and who to protect, in an increasingly political competition. There are revelations about other students, about the testing regime, and the consequences of failure. When Cia attracts the attention of those in power, she finds herself having to choose between concentrating on her studies, and attempting to uncover the secrets at the heart of government.

While the first book in the series pitched Cia and her classmates against each other, Independent Study concentrates more on Cia’s attempts to find people she can trust – in the induction challenges, at the university, and in government – and on her suspicions about the system they are trapped in. It’s a page-turning story, and a solid mid-trilogy novel, building gradually towards a finale in book three.

Cia continues to be an interesting and engaging narrator. To begin with she is focused on survival, and on figuring out how to bring herself and her team through every test. As she discovers more about the testing regime and the different factions in the government, she begins to take risks in pursuit of justice, and as a reader I was cheering her on. There are some heart-pounding moments, and some chapters where I found myself shouting at Cia’s decisions, or gasping out loud at their results.

I’m fully invested in the story, and I’ve already downloaded book three!

Have you read The Testing Trilogy? What did you think of Cia’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: The Testing

Title: The Testing
Author: Joelle Charbonneau
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

This book has everything you’d expect from a YA Dystopian novel, and it hits each beat perfectly. Teenagers taken from their homes to be tested for the next stage of their lives. Danger, manipulation, and cruelty at the hands of the authorities. A competition where success means a chance at an education, and failure means death. A glimpse of corruption and rebellion behind the scenes of the testing process, and a friends-to-lovers romance along the way.

The story takes place in a world almost destroyed by war and climate disasters. Isolated colonies are established by a central government to reclaim land from the poisons of war and the climate crisis. Teenagers with high test scores at their colony schools are selected to compete for a place at the university where they will be trained to become the leaders of the future. Cia’s colony hasn’t sent a candidate for testing in years, so it is a surprise when she is chosen along with three of her classmates. The testing proves to be more difficult – and more deadly – than anything the colonists had imagined, and Cia and her friends must work together to survive.

But there’s a twist, revealed early in the novel, which adds an extra dimension to the testing, and to Cia’s developing relationship with her school friend. With failure punished by death, and candidates encouraged to eliminate their competitors, Cia realises that she must hide what she knows from the authorities, and act extremely carefully at every stage of the process.

Cia is a sympathetic, brave, and intelligent protagonist. She quickly learns to be observant, to think beyond the tasks in front of her, and to conceal her knowledge from everyone who might use it against her. Her relationships with the other candidates develop throughout the novel as she finds herself constantly guessing who she can trust, who might help her, and who might prefer to see her fail. The other characters are well drawn and believable, and the friends-to-lovers romance feels natural in the context of the story.

The world-building is fantastic, with each location carefully described. The history and geography of the post-war continent builds throughout the book, and nothing feels forced or out of place. When I reached the end I ordered book two in the series and started reading immediately – I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next!

Have you read The Testing? What did you think of the story? Would you have succeeded in Cia’s place? 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: Slay

Title: Slay
Author: Brittney Morris
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Seventeen-year-old Kiera has top grades, a great boyfriend – and Slay, a massively popular online game that she coded herself. While her friends and family know all about the grades, as well as her boyfriend and their plan to go to college together, no one in her real life knows about the game. She has an in-game friend who helps her to manage and develop the game-play, but she hides her online identity from everyone else in her life.

And there’s a twist. Slay is a role-playing duelling game with an extensive virtual world, designed to be a celebration of Black culture. Kiera’s own experiences of racial abuse and systemic racism in other online environments inspired her to create a safe space for Black gamers. Entry is by invitation, intended only for Black players around the world – and Slay has half a million of them.

When a young player is murdered for his in-game currency, everything Kiera has built begins to fall apart. There are threats of lawsuits against Slay, and when the story hits the news, Kiera finds herself accused of racism for excluding non-Black players from her game. The more Slay is in the headlines, the more certain she is that she must hide her involvement from everyone she knows.

I loved this book. I loved the joyous celebration of Black culture, in everything from the duelling cards to the players’ costumes and the virtual environment Kiera built. I loved the central characters, and their contrasting views on how to be Black and proud in the USA today. And I loved Kiera – her intelligence, her friendships, and her commitment to the game that brought so many people together. I followed her through the highs and lows of the story, feeling her heartbreak at the attacks on her creation, and punching the air with her victories. The in-game duelling scenes were exciting, and the descriptions of the players and the settings were wonderful. As the threats closed in, I couldn’t put the book down – and I couldn’t guess what would happen next.

I’m giving a very well-deserved five stars for this exciting and inspiring YA novel. Highly recommended!

Have you read Slay? What did you think of the story? And what about Kiera – were you on her side? 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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