Title: Someone is Watching You Author: Tess James-Mackey Edition:Paperback ARC Rating:5/5
Warning: this book is addictive! I stayed up reading past midnight three nights in a row to reach the end and find out what happened to the characters. It would make a fantastic single-afternoon binge-read.
When Nia accepts a dare from her friends to explore an abandoned prison, she plans to sneak in, grab a couple of selfies, and get out. But before long her friends are demanding more evidence of her discoveries, and her efforts to demonstrate her bravery lead her further into the dark and dangerous building. Worse – her little sister has followed her inside, and it doesn’t take long for them both to be lost in the maze of corridors and cell blocks. Nia discovers more than she had bargained for as she searches for her sister, and desperately attempts to find her way out.
This is an absolutely gripping story, infused throughout with danger, fear, and a building sense of dread. The author creates an irresistably creepy setting for the action, ramping up the tension with mysterious events, text messages from the protagonist’s friends urging her to take greater and greater risks, and the panic of a phone battery running out at just the wrong moment. Add in Nia’s terror of losing her little sister, and the lengths she is willing to go to to prove herself to her friends, and you have the recipe for a perfect, nail-biting read.
Have you read Someone is Watching You? What did you think of Nia’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!
Someone is Watching You will be published on February 2nd. Thank you to Hodder for the ARC – I loved it!
YA review: Someone is Watching You cross-posted to GoodReads.
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Title: This Book Kills Author: Ravena Guron Edition:Kindle ARC Rating:4/5
Are you ready for the twists and turns of this gripping boarding-school murder mystery?
Jess Choudhary feels out of place in her very white, very rich boarding school. She’s there on a scholarship, and if she breaks the rules she won’t escape with a telling-off – unlike the paying rich kids, she’ll lose her funding and be sent home. Jess is determined to succeed, to stay out of trouble, and escape the attentions of the notorious Regia Club, the school’s mysterious secret society. But when one of the richest students in school is murdered, Jess finds herself at the centre of the investigation. Whoever killed Hugh Henry Van Boren used one of Jess’s short stories as their inspiration, and the crime scene matches her description perfectly. When Jess begins receiving death threats, she realises she needs to figure out who the murderer is before she loses her scholarship, takes the blame for murder – or becomes the next victim.
It’s a brilliant premise, and a great way to start a murder mystery. There are plenty of clues woven into the story, and a whole lot of red herrings and missing pieces for Jess and her friends to puzzle over. Jess is a perfect narrator – someone smart enough to figure out what happened to Hugh, but limited in her ability to investigate the murder. She can’t afford to break any rules, and she doesn’t have many friends among the privileged rich kids. No one is beyond suspicion – staff, students and outsiders all feature in her investigation, and she uncovers plenty of scandalous secrets about her classmates as she searches for the truth.
It’s an addictive read – I found it hard to put down, and the more confusing the clues became, the more determined I was to figure out the mystery. I didn’t guess whodunnit, even though I was convinced I had solved the murder, but the ending makes perfect sense when you get there. It’s a satisfying story with an intriguing and complex setting, and Jess is an interesting and engaging narrator. Perfect if you’re looking for a new bookish obsession!
Have you read This Book Kills? What did you think of the mystery? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
This Book Kills will be published on January 5th 2023.
YA review: This Book Kills cross-posted to GoodReads.
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Title: Her Dark Wings Author: Melinda Salisbury Edition:Paperback Rating:5/5
This wonderful YA retelling of the Persephone myth grabbed me from the first page and kept me reading right to the end. I loved the setting, the characters, the gorgeous writing style, and all the twists and turns of the story.
Seventeen-year-old Corey lives on an island, somewhere off the coast of the UK, in a world where the Greek gods still rule. The calendar is based around their festivals, and it is a temple, not a church, at the heart of island life. There are rumours that an entrance to the underworld can be seen just offshore if you look for it from the right spot, but no one has ever proved its existence.
Corey is recovering from a devastating double betrayal. Her best friend Bree has stolen her boyfriend Ali, and on her small island it is impossible to avoid them and try to forget what happened. At the Autumn festival, she attempts to move on, but when Bree arrives with Ali she can’t help wishing her friend dead. When Bree drowns after Corey kisses a stranger, Corey can’t stop blaming herself.
As she looks for a way to bring Bree back, Corey experiences her own brush with death, the underworld, and the gods. Searching for answers, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery – and finds herself impossibly far from home.
Her Dark Wings is an empowered, modern take on the Persephone myth. Corey is far from being a helpless victim, and as she discovers more about herself she begins to understand her own powers and calling. The female relationships are perfectly described, from the Corey-and-Bree friendship and betrayal, through Corey’s heartwarming relationship with her stepmother, and the women she meets on her journey. It’s a coming-of-age story that doesn’t follow a predictable path, and I enjoyed every page.
Have you read Her Dark Wings? What did you think of Corey’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!
Title: The Agency For Scandal Author: Laura Wood Edition:Kindle Rating:5/5
Mystery, intrigue, danger, romance, and secret 19th century feminism come together in this gripping new book from Laura Wood. I’m not normally a romance reader (YA or otherwise), but I’ve loved every Laura Wood book I’ve picked up, and this one once again makes the grade.
Izzy is a self-confessed wallflower with a complicated life. Following the death of her father and the loss of his income she is battling to keep the family home and pay her brother’s school fees. Her bed-ridden mother has no idea that most of the servants have been laid off, and almost all the furniture sold. Izzy works hard to maintain the illusion of wealth and status for her family, keeping their secret from everyone – even her best friend.
But Izzy has another secret. Trained by her father before he died, she is an expert lock picker. No one her father worked for will hire a woman in his place, but her skills have caught the eye of a very secretive organisation. Izzy is an undercover agent for a group of exceptional women, whose mission is to defend other women, and put right the injustices of a system where wives are the property of their husbands, and women are not seen as equal to men.
The women are hired, Sherlock Holmes style, to investigate a puzzling case, and Izzy finds herself working with the Duke of Roxton – a man on whom she has a crush, but can only hope to admire from a distance. He’s a Duke, and she can barely support her family. As they work more closely together, Izzy finds herself falling for the Duke, but knows she can’t afford to develop feelings that cannot be reciprocated.
I loved this book. I loved the glittering parties and the dangerous exploits, and Izzy’s relationships with the people around her. I loved the undercover investigations, and the teams of women hiding in plain sight as they worked to right the wrongs of their society. I loved all the strong, capable women – especially Izzy, whose sensible approach to her feelings is balanced with a refreshingly bold attitude to the risks of her job. It’s an engaging story with a colourful cast of characters, and a highly sympathetic narrator. Come for the Bridgerton-style society intrigue, stay for the all-action feminist spycraft, and swoon over the wonderful romantic leads.
Have you read The Agency For Scandal? What did you think of Izzy’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!
The Agency for Scandal will be published on January 5th 2023.
Title: Young Eagle Rising Author: Ellie Joyce Edition:Kindle Rating:4/5
We’re thrilled to be taking part in the Young Eagle Rising Blog Tour! Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for including our review.
William Baxter is thirteen when he leaves Ireland with his family to begin a new life in the colonies of North America. He doesn’t want to go – in 1735, leaving on a ship means saying goodbye to everyone you leave behind, and he doesn’t want to leave his grandmother or his aunt.
The three-month voyage sees him learning new skills, making new friends among the passengers and crew, and deciding that he much prefers life on dry land. By the time the boat reaches Philadelphia, he is excited to begin his new adventure, and the family sets out in search of land to claim.
As their second winter approaches, the family is settled in their new life, harvesting crops and preparing for the cold weather. But a tragic misunderstanding with a native tribe leaves William alone, and determined to return to the life he knew in Ireland.
His journey back to Philadelphia is full of adventure, culture shocks, and the engaging characters he turns to for help. His experiences teach him more about the New World as he comes into contact with settlers, explorers, slaves, cruel slave owners, native tribes, and the deceitful leaders of the Pennsylvania Colony.
William is an engaging and intelligent narrator with a distinctive voice, drawing the reader into the story with his vivid descriptions of people and events. The relationships he builds as he travels feel warm and respectful, reflecting his own personality. His confidence, resourcefulness, and willingness to learn allow him to overcome the difficulties he faces, and it is a joy to follow him on his journey.
Young Eagle Rising is an exciting story in the style of a classic boys’ adventure tale. There’s no romance, but plenty of genuine friendship, and most of the important characters are male. It reads like a YA Treasure Island, with the narrator piecing together the reality of his new home as he travels through it. While William’s initial contact with native people is violent, reflecting the racist and simplistic ‘Cowboys and Indians’ attitudes of the early settlers, the author is careful to present an alternative view through William’s experiences with the peaceful Lenape Nation later in the book.
As someone who has studied First Nation (Native American) experiences in North America, I appreciated this depiction. However, the story also features local tribes who are violent towards the Lenape, and their conflict is presented in very black-and-white terms. I found this surprising and uncomfortable in the context of William’s developing understanding, and I can’t help but think that this depiction might feel significantly racist to present-day members of the ‘enemy’ tribe.
It’s a small complaint, and overall the author is very careful to emphasise the complexity of life in the New World. History is often simplified and sanitised, but through his story William – and the reader – experience some of the subtleties, tragedies, and misunderstandings inherent in the aggressive colonisation of already occupied land. Reading this book in a class or book club would be an inspiring way to begin a conversation about colonialism, racism, slavery, and the way history is taught.
Four stars: recommended. A great friendship-based adventure story, but I can’t overlook the problematic depiction of some of the First Nation characters.
Have you read Young Eagle Rising? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!
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Check out the other reviews, appearing over the next few days.
What’s it about? Ireland 1735. Thirteen-year-old William Baxter has a grandmother with peculiar powers – so peculiar he believes she must be a witch. Taking this secret with him, he reluctantly sails with his family to the New World and the promise of a better life.
But Pennsylvania proves to be a savage, unforgiving place rife with warring tribes, slavery and dangerous animals. When William’s life suddenly takes a terrifying turn, he is thrust headlong into a battle for survival. Consumed with hatred for those responsible, he desperately wants to return to Ireland, but the coast is one hundred miles away and the trail runs through native territory. Alone and frightened, he sets out on what becomes the journey of a lifetime, determined to survive and have his revenge.
Young Eagle Rising is a coming-of-age story, a mix of fantasy, history, adventure and the enduring love of an old Irish witch.
Who is the author? Ellie Joyce was born and raised in Belfast. She holds an A.L.A.M. (Dip. Acting) from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She and her husband have four children and live in Leicestershire. Young Eagle Rising is her debut novel. See more at elliejoyceauthor.com.
Reluctant princess Alyrra is on her way to an arranged marriage in a neighbouring kingdom when she is given an unexpected chance to escape. Her mother expects her to involve herself in the politics and intrigues of her new home, and to happily marry a man she’s never met. Everything she’s heard about life in the foreign court leads her to believe that her safety there may not be guaranteed. When her identity is stolen by sorcery, she seizes the chance to disappear and live as one of the servants. She is given the job of helping to take care of the geese, and finds friends among the other servants.
But she makes enemies as well, and the woman who stole her identity is making the most of her new royal status. While Alyrra would be content to remain a goose girl, and make a home with her found family, her duties as the true princess weigh on her mind. When the imposter realises she needs Alyrra’s help to survive in her new role, the goose girl must decide which life she is willing to live, and what she is willing to give up to help her friends.
I first came across Intisar Khanani and her books at the #AtHomeYALC online event in 2021. She gave a talk entitled ‘Three Tips for Writing Mighty Girls’ (which you can find on the YALC YouTube page), and introduced me to the concept of the Heroine’s Journey as a structure for storytelling. This book follows that structure, instead of the more recognisable Hero’s Journey, and I really enjoyed the differences in pace and theme.
Alyrra is a ‘mighty girl’, but not because she’s a kick-ass protagonist or a solo heroine. Her strength lies in her moral compass, and in the connections she makes with the people around her. Before long in her role as goose girl, she has surrounded herself with friends among the servants, but also in the wider community. She defends herself from people who threaten her, but she also negotiates co-operation between characters who would otherwise draw their weapons on sight. It’s a powerful characterisation, and the author explores the story of this more emotional, co-operative protagonist while making sure there is plenty of action, peril, and heartache to keep the pages turning.
And the pages do keep turning. From the initial setup to the conclusion, the author keeps us guessing. What will Alyrra do? How will she react to danger and threats – to herself and her friends, and to her family and kingdom? You won’t find the beats of the standard Hero’s Journey here, but you will find an alternative way to tell a story, to empathise with a heroine, and to bring all the threads together at the end.
Full marks to Hot Key Books, whose back-cover summing up of the story in four words reads ‘Betrayal, Injustice, Sorcery, Geese’. They’re not wrong, but I’d add ‘A Mighty Girl’ to the list. Definitely worth a read.
Have you read Thorn? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the heroine’s journey structure? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
Title: Rule of Wolves Author: Leigh Bardugo Edition:Paperback Rating:5/5
Even more Grishaverse! Even more Nikolai! Even more Zoya! Even more Nina!
I’m so happy that the paperback edition of ‘Rule of Wolves’ has finally arrived, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to read the end of the story that began in ‘King of Scars’.
The poison of The Fold is spreading, throughout Ravka and beyond. No one can predict where the blight will strike, leaving cursed dust in its shadow and wiping out crops, towns, and people. The Fjerdan army is massing on the northern border, and the queen of Shu Han is plotting her own moves against Ravka. Threats to the King and his people are growing, and Nikolai has few places to turn for support.
This book follows the fallout from the events of ‘King of Scars’. Nikolai and Zoya are constantly on the move, calming unrest in Ravka, directing troops on the front lines, and seeking diplomatic solutions to their disastrous situation. A mission to Shu Han attempts to minimise the threat from the queen, and Nina’s undercover work in Fjerda becomes more dangerous as she finds herself entangled with the Crown Prince and the inner workings of the Ice Court.
Where the first book developed each character’s story, focusing on Nikolai’s attempts to keep his curse concealed, and to forge a political partnership to protect Ravka, ‘Rule of Wolves’ is a much more strategic book. Reading it is like watching a very clever game of chess, as each country and player seeks to out-manoeuvre their neighbours, and find a way to increase their power and influence in the world. It’s a nail-biting plot, with constant twists and surprises – including a moment when I couldn’t decide whether to cry or throw the book at the wall, and a moment of air-punching brilliance near the end.
I loved the relationship between Nikolai and Zoya, struggling to keep their feelings hidden for the sake of Ravka, and each other. The roles of King and General ask so much from the characters, and their bravery and constant self-denial was heartbreaking to read. Yes, Nikolai is still my book boyfriend. I adore him – his quick wit, his refusal to give up hope, his acceptance of his role, and his sincere but impossible feelings for Zoya. He’s a wonderful character, and I hope we see more of him in future Grishaverse books.
While the plot is shaped by political decisons, there are plenty of fantastic action sequences, and several heart-stopping events that keep the pages turning. I loved the story (in spite of the book-throwing and tears), and the ending, while unexpected, is big enough and bold enough to complete the duology – while setting up for a new story, which I can’t wait to read!
I have adored all the Grishaverse novels, and I’m already wondering what happens next.
Have you read Rule of Wolves? What did you think of the story? 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!
Title: Escape From B-Movie Hell Author: MT McGuire Edition:Paperback Rating:5/5
What do you do when your best friend tells you he’s an alien, proves it, and then disappears? Student Andi Turbot heads to her next lecture, then home to heat up some leftovers for dinner. She doesn’t expect to meet more aliens in her kitchen, or to find herself transported to their ship, abducted, and subjected to a telepathic interrogation. Finding out about the impending destruction of the earth is not what she had in mind for the evening – and neither is discovering she’s a powerful telepath.
On the plus side, she is reunited with her friend – only now he looks a bit like a lobster with seven long eye stalks and a coating of slimy goo. His human form was a telepathic projection, and his Gamalian form will take a bit of getting used to. As will the task ahead – escaping from the brig of a Gamalian ship, avoiding capture, and saving the world.
I read this book in one sitting. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. Everything I love about MT McGuire’s writing is here – humour, action, brilliant and imaginative world-building, and an absolutely compassionate approach to the question of what it means to be human, and what it takes to do the right thing. It’s a beautiful balance of laughter, friendship, loyalty and bravery, and recognising that no one is all bad, and no one is all good. There are bad guys and good guys, but plenty of shades of grey, and the author has a keen eye for the comedic moments when two cultures – and two species – meet. The action scenes are vivid and immersive, and the tension towards the climax of the story had me absolutely on the edge of my seat.
Andi is a refreshing character. She’s studying Art Restoration and Museum Studies, but in her spare time she’s a stand-up comedian. Her take on the events of the book is always coloured with humour and compassion, alongside a genuine fear for the safety of the Earth. Her friend Eric is the kind of being you’d want to go on an adventure with. Reliable, brave, and always willing to listen to Andi’s suggestions, he’s both a companion and protector, and her guide to the weirder aspects of Gamalian culture. I particularly enjoyed the character development of Doge Sneeb, a really interesting alien bad guy whose backstory develops in unexpected ways over the course of the book.
This is a proper B-movie romp with giant aliens, a constantly twisting plot, and a very satisfying conclusion. Great fun to read, and a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden.
Escape From B-Movie Hell is published as adult SciFi, but is suitable for a YA audience.
Have you read Escape From B-Movie Hell? What did you think of Andi’s story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
Title: If You Still Recognise Me Author: Cynthia So Edition:Paperback Rating:4/5
This is a lovely, quiet, undramatic LGBTQ+ romance full of friendship, family relationships, and the dangers of coming out to people who might not understand.
Elsie is finishing her A-level exams, and looking forward to a summer of freedom and adventure before university. She has plans to go on holiday with her best friend Ritika, and she’s looking forward to new issues of her favourite comic, Eden Recoiling. She has a secret long-distance crush on Ada, who writes Eden Recoiling fan fiction, but Elsie is in Oxford, and Ada is in New York, so a relationship is probably out of the question.
But Elsie’s plans for the summer are forced to change when her grandmother flies in from Hong Kong to stay, following the death of her grandfather. Her parents expect her to stay at home with their guest during the week, and to find a weekend job before she plans her holiday. Elsie hasn’t come out to her family, and she knows that her grandmother’s traditional attitudes would probably not include acceptance of her sexuality. She hasn’t seen her grandmother for eight years, and as she keeps her company she starts to uncover the prejudices, family secrets, and a clash of cultures that have forced her family apart. When an old friend from Hong Kong arrives back in her life, Elsie finds herself questioning all her relationships – friends, family, and romantic interests.
The book follows Elsie as she spends time getting to know her old friend again, discovering the secrets her family has been hiding, and attempting to solve a puzzle that she hopes will impress Ada. In pursuit of the truth about her family, and the solution to Ada’s mystery, Elsie and her friends meet a series of gay characters at every stage of life, most of whom are refreshingly happy and settled in their identities. While she doesn’t feel comfortable being open about her sexuality at home, these characters provide her with inspiring role models for the next stages of her own life, and help her to make decisions about her relationships.
There’s nothing forced about these encounters, and the positive attitudes provide a wonderful counterbalance to the rejection she fears at home. Elsie is a warm and relatable character – she’s passionate about the Eden Recoiling comic and fandom, and the people she meets who share her enthusiasm. She grumbles about the changes to her plans for the summer, and surprises herself as she spends time with her grandmother and learns more about her. Ritika is a great best friend. She’s excited for Elsie as she discovers more about herself and her relationships, and she’s not afraid to point out when Elsie is wrong. Elsie’s parents are strict but supportive, and I loved the moment when Elsie discovers her mother’s love of manga, and they begin to bond over their shared interest.
If You Still Recognise Me is a gentle coming-of-age novel with an LGBTQ+ protagonist and a positive supporting cast. The author infuses the story with the luxury and hopefulness of a summer of freedom before the characters move away from home and start new lives at university. Reading it is like finding a new friend who loves the things you love, and discovering a new way to see yourself in the world. It’s a perfect summer read.
Have you read If You Still Recognise Me? What did you think of Elsie’s story? Did the ending surprise you? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
First published in 1996, Junk caused outrage with its candid depiction of heroin use in a book written for teenagers. A recent BBC radio interview with the author prompted me to order the 25th anniversary edition of the book, and find out what the fuss was about.
Set in the mid-eighties, Junk tells the story of two fourteen-year-olds who run away from home. Tar is escaping a violent father and an alcoholic, manipulative mother. Gemma wants to get away from her repressive, disciplinarian parents. When Tar makes his way to Bristol, he finds a group of people living on the margins of society. They find vacant houses to open as squats for homeless people to live in, and after sleeping rough for a couple of weeks, Tar moves in to their latest squatted property.
With somewhere safe to run to, Gemma gets away and joins Tar in Bristol. While he is happy to have found a new support network, she is excited to explore the freedom of her new home. Tar is a sensible runaway. He’s looking for the stability he’s never had, and he sets out to help the squatters, decorate his room, and contribute as much as he can to their community. But Gemma wants more. She’s had enough of obedience and rule-following, and when she meets a new group of friends at a party she is won over by their dreamy, otherworldly attitude to life.
As she is gradually drawn in to their circle, she begins to accept their heroin habit as part of what she loves about them. She tries the drug, with their assurances that she doesn’t need to be addicted, and their encouragement that she can stop at any time. She draws Tar in to the group, and introduces him to the habit.
Burgess is very honest. He makes sure the reader understands why his characters choose to take heroin. He describes the effect on Tar as feeling all the pain of his experiences floating away. He doesn’t experience a high, but he loses the pain he’s been carrying with him. For a fourteen-year-old boy escaping domestic violence, finding something that takes away the hurt he’s carrying feels miraculous.
The book charts their continued experiences with the drug, and their constant reassurances to themselves and each other that they can stop at any time. Their struggles when they try to kick the habit are heartbreaking, and again Burgess doesn’t pull his punches. The slow build up of addiction, the risks they take, and the things they are willing to do make money for drugs make for a hard read. We spend half the book getting to know these vulnerable, lonely young people, only to witness their understandable transformation into characters whose only motivation is their next hit.
I won’t spoil the story, and I’m not sure what I thought of the ending, but whatever controversy the book continues to cause, it should be on everyone’s reading list. Burgess uses his contrasting characters and multiple narrators to explore the attractions as well as the destructive side of addiction. He stays true to his teenage leads, and even when the story deals with their darkest experiences, it never feels like a lecture. Everything in these pages feels real, authentic, and possible – and very far from moralising or preaching. It is genuinely heartbreaking to watch two young people go through everything that happens in the story, and I badly wanted everything to work out for them in the end.
It’s not an easy read, but it is a great place to start a conversation about drugs, addiction, and personal responsibility. The review quote on the front of my paperback says ‘everyone should read Junk‘. I definitely agree.
Have you read Junk? What did you think of the story? Did you sympathise with any of 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!