YA Review: The Agency For Scandal

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.

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: If You Still Recognise Me

Title: If You Still Recognise Me
Author: Cynthia So
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So

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!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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Romance v. Friendship

It’s the Romance v. Friendship poll!

Do you like your YA Dystopia with a dash of romance? Maybe the romance is the point, and the story is all about getting your favourite characters together.

Or do you prefer stories based on die-for-each-other friendships? Maybe you enjoy an ensemble cast – groups of friends helping each other – or perhaps a strong central relationship that has nothing to do with romantic love?

We’d love to know what you think!

Romance or Friendship in YA Dystopia?

Give me all the romance!
It’s good to have a love interest as part of the story.
I don’t mind, as long as the story is exciting.
Die-for-each-other friends all the way!
It depends on the story (tell us more in the comments!).

Created with Quiz Maker

Of course, the Battle Ground Series is based around strong friendships. There’s some romance (mostly off-camera), but the survival of the central characters depends on a group of friends who look out for each other. Bex and Dan would die for each other, but their relationship is not romantic. Toph’s story begins with a romance, but he quickly finds himself fighting back against the society that destroys his relationship.

YA literature, and YA Dystopia in particular, is about growing up, challenging yourself, and finding out who you are. The characters might do this with a love interest at their side – or in their sights – or with friends they can trust.

Which do you prefer? And what’s your favourite example?

Friendship v. Romance

Let’s talk about friendship v. romance in dystopian fiction. Which do you prefer?

The Battle Ground Series is deliberately friendship based, centred around a lives-on-the-line-for-each-other male/female friendship. These are teenagers, fighting for their country and their lives – and they’re not taking time out to look for romance. They’re busy surviving, dodging soldiers and bullets, trying to be brave, and keeping each other safe.

Did we mention Book One is FREE today? Grab your Kindle edition now!

YA Review: Believe Me (Shatter Me Novella)

Title: Believe Me
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

When I finished Imagine Me, I predicted that Tahereh Mafi would write another novella to tie up the loose ends that explode in the final chapter, and happily I was right. I also predicted that it would be narrated by Kenji, best friend to the series protagonist Juliette – but on this prediction I was wrong.

Deliciously, the entire novella is narrated by Warner, offering the reader a vivid insight into his relationship with Juliette. It also highlights his resistance to building friendships with the people they worked with to survive the rest of the series, and his own dark assessment of his value to the other characters.

Believe Me has everything we need to feel a sense of closure for the Shatter Me series. Warner’s devotion to Juliette, and his ambivalence to everyone else in their compound. The struggle to bring about a sense of normality in a dramatically changing world. Juliette’s ability to bring people together, and the support she inspires in the people around her. And of course the romantic and very sexy scenes we have come to expect from this series.

It might be a short book, but it is full of big feelings – disappointment, jealousy, surprise and devotion. Warner’s journey is tough, but the author teases us with the possibility that his infuriating inability to connect with the people around him could be redeemed by his adoration for Juliette. The Bad Boy of the series tells us that he would do anything to make sure Juliette is safe and happy, and as he frequently wobbled in his resolve, I found myself willing him to demonstrate that she was genuinely the centre of his world. Warner and Juliette’s relationship might not be a healthy romance, but it is absolutely a convincing one. This is a frustrating, rewarding, emotional, and fitting end to the series.

Have you read Believe Me? What did you think of Warner’s narration? 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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YA Review: Dumplin’

Title: Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and I’m so glad I picked it up. As a plus-size non-beauty-queen I could relate to every part of this story – the body positivity, the doubts, and the level of attitude needed to put yourself out there and take part in a competition that was always intended to exclude you.

Willowdean is the plus-size daughter of a former beauty queen. Her mother organises the local beauty pageant every year, but she can’t bring herself to accept her daughter’s looks and choices, constantly dropping hints about losing weight. When Willowdean and her friends realise there is nothing in the pageant rules to stop them from taking part, they club together and support each other in their bid for the title of Miss Teen Blue Bonnet.

I loved Willowdean – I loved her body positivity, and her drive to include everyone in the pageant. I even enjoyed the romance (YA contemporary romance is not my comfort zone!), and I completely understood Willow’s doubts when someone she finds attractive shows an interest in her. The two potential love interests were both interesting characters, and as Willow experienced dating both of them her reactions felt real and her confusion entirely justified.

Willow is also grieving the loss of her aunt – the only person in her family who accepted her as she is. As she discovers more about her aunt’s life, the different threads of the story begin to overlap. Best friends, romance, Dolly Parton, beauty queens, and support from unexpected places combine to form a strong, relatable plot with a few surprising twists and turns on the way to the night of the pageant.

By the end, I was cheering for Willow and her friends, but it was less about winning the pageant, and more about being loud, proud, and showing people who you really are. I think this is a must-read, whether or not you have beauty queen aspirations. It’s a neat, engaging story with a believable cast of characters, and an uncompromisingly positive outlook. I loved it.

Have you read Dumplin‘? What did you think of Willowdean’s story? Of all the wonderful characters, who was your favourite? 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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