YA Review: The Haunting of Tyrese Walker

Title: The Haunting of Tyrese Walker
Author: JP Rose
Edition:
Paperback (Paper Orange Book Box)
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: The Haunting of Tyrese Walker

Another excellent book from the Paper Orange UKYA Book Box! I’m not usually a horror fan, but this book drew me in – great characters, great setting, and just the right level of creepy.

Fourteen-year-old Tyrese has just lost his father, and his death is still too painful to think about. His mother takes him to Jamaica for the summer to stay with his paternal grandmother and his fourteen-year-old cousin, Marvin. Sleep deprived, grieving, hot, and homesick, Tyrese struggles to adapt. When his grandmother asks him to scatter rice around her house to keep away evil spirits, he can’t see the point. But when inexplicable things start to happen around him, he begins to doubt everything he believes in. Are the spirits real, or is he losing his mind?

With Ellie, a visiting American teenager, Tyrese and Marvin explore the mountains and forests around their grandmother’s house. What begins as an idyllic summer holiday quickly takes a dark turn, as Tyrese’s unsettling experiences start to affect the people around him. There is a growing sense of danger as the story progresses, and Tyrese is never sure whether the things he is seeing are real. Ellie and Marvin confirm some of his experiences, but the reader is left wondering whether his fear is justified, or whether he really is losing his grip on sanity.

The reveal and the finale are excellent, and the mounting dread pays off in the final scenes. My complaint with a lot of horror is that the fear is either an overreaction, or that the Big Bad is too big and too bad for the story. This ending is just right.

This is a book about fear of the unexplained, and the folly of meddling with forces beyond the characters’ understanding. It is also a story about friendship, family, and coming to terms with overwhelming grief. It’s a clever use of the setting and the plot, and the result is a gripping page-turner of a novel. An excellent read.

Have you read The Haunting of Tyrese Walker? What did you think of Tyrese’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!

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YA Review: Finding Folkshore

Title: Finding Folkshore
Author: Rachel Faturoti
Edition:
Paperback (Paper Orange Book Box)
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: Finding Folkshore

I do love a ‘secret London’ story (Neverwhere, Rivers of London), so it was great to find a YA take on the hidden city idea.

Fola is an A-grade scholarship student, studying subjects that will get her into medical school and please her Nigerian family. But Fola has a secret – she’d much rather study photography and film. Her GCSE Media Studies teacher invites her to enter a short film competition, but she knows her parents wouldn’t understand.

On her way home on the tube, Fola finds herself travelling beyond the end of the line. The Victoria Line train continues past Brixton, and she finds herself in Folkshore – a hidden part of London filled with fairytale characters, talking animals, and magic. But as an outsider, she’s not allowed in Folkshore, and she can’t access the train again to take her home. The police are looking for her, and she must rely on the kindness of strangers to survive.

Something is wrong in Folkshore. Residents are disappearing, shops and buildings are being mysteriously remodelled, and the magic is fading. Fola finds herself working with her new friends to find out what is happening to their home, and looking for a way to return to hers. Can her unique skills help save Folkshore? And can Fola return to her family?

Finding Folkshore is a fun read. There’s a large cast of colourful characters, from Fola’s exuberant Nigerian family to the magical residents of Folkshore. Following Fola into the hidden city means that we discover the existence of Folkshore as she does, and uncover the corruption alongside her and her new friends. She brings a sense of wonder to the story, and a need to understand where she is, and what is happening to the magic. Her adventure also gives her the chance to reassess what is important to her, what she really needs to worry about, and what she wants to do – if she can ever return home.

The book is a blend of ‘finding yourself’ YA, magical realism, and the excitement of the hidden city. I was cheering at the end!

Have you read Finding Folkshore? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: The Cats We Meet Along the Way

Title: The Cats We Meet Along the Way
Author: Nadia Mikail
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: The Cats We Meet Along the Way

What a lovely, gentle, moving book!

The world is ending. An asteroid will wipe out everyone and everything in a few months, but people are still living their lives. What else is there to do? In Malaysia, Aisha was planning a life – studying medicine in Edinburgh, getting married and settling down with her boyfriend Walter, having children and naming them for her late father and uncle. But her world is smaller now, and she has to accept that these things will never happen.

But there are unresolved pieces to her family’s story, and Aisha wants to understand what made her mother abandon their home when Aisha’s father died, and what happened to her older sister, June. Aisha’s mother hasn’t dealt with the grief of losing her husband, choosing instead to run away and start again without him. June left home three years ago, and no one has heard from her since.

In the days they have left, Aisha, her mother, Walter and his parents, and a stray cat named Fleabag head out on a road trip to come to terms with the past, and look for June.

Aisha and Walter are a lovely couple, and it is heartbreaking to realise – along with Aisha – that there will never be an ending to their story. They won’t get to live the life they imagined, and whatever hopes they had will end with the asteroid.

But this isn’t a depressing story. Instead of focusing on the tragedy, the author connects with the tiny details of her characters’ lives, showing us the grief that shaped Aisha and her family, as well as the simple pleasures of living one day at a time. Despite the apocalyptic setting, this manages to be a story about connection, breaking down barriers, and understanding what really matters. With all the grief, unspoken anger, and coming to terms with the end of the world, this ends up being a story about hope – the kind of book that you close at the end and with a happy sigh.

The Cats We Meet Along the Way won the 2023 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, and it deserves the recognition.

Have you read The Cats We Meet Along the Way? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: What If It’s Us?

Title: What If It’s Us?
Author: Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
3.5/5

YA Review: What If It's Us?

This is a sweet YA LGBTQ+ romance with possibly the best meet-cute I’ve ever read! Arthur and Ben meet in a post office in New York. Ben is posting a box of belongings back to his ex-boyfriend, and Arthur can’t resist saying hi. Ben lives in New York, and Arthur is only in the city for the summer, as an intern at his mother’s high-powered law firm. When the meet-cute ends (spectacularly!) without an exchange of contact details, Arthur decides to track Ben down. In a city the size of New York, how is he going to make contact?

What follows is a wonderfully realistic story. Disastrous dates, romantic plans gone wrong, and touchingly clumsy attempts at intimacy as Ben tries to move on from heartbreak, and Arthur navigates a relationship with his first boyfriend. Both boys have best friends who involve themselves in their romantic planning, and bring relationship dramas of their own to the story.

There’s a maturity about the book that reminds me of Forever by Judy Blume. Despite the amazing meet-cute and all the attempts at a successful date, there is no sense of a pre-destined future for Arthur and Ben. Throughout the book they are aware that Arthur will leave New York at the end of the summer, and this is not presented as a tragedy or a cause for heartbreak.

This is a sex-positive story, while being refreshingly messy and rejecting the idea of a perfect relationship. It doesn’t push the idea of an ideal partner, or a forever love-match, but allows the characters to enjoy the time they have together.

And what if it is going to work longer term? At least the boys understand that romance isn’t all hearts and flowers, and relationships require effort from both sides. A refreshingly down-to-earth story, and a romance without exaggerated drama.

Have you read What If It’s Us? What did you think of Arthur and Ben? Did their story feel real to 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!

YA review: What If It’s Us? cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Final Rising (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #4)

Title: The Final Rising (Tomorrow’s Ancestors #4)
Author: AE Warren
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: The Final Rising

The finale of the Tomorrow’s Ancestors series is here, and it’s time to turn turn the rigid society ruled by genetically enhanced humans upside down!

In the previous books, we learned about the genetic engineering used to produce superior versions of humans, as well as bringing back extinct species, including Neanderthals. Unenhanced humans are held responsible for the historic damage to the planet and forced to make reparations, while the elite use their genetic knowledge and upgrades to hold onto power. Elise, an unenhanced Sapien, works with the Neanderthals in the Museum of Evolution, where they live in zoo-like conditions with no knowledge of the contemporary world.

Elise and several Neanderthals have escaped from the Museums, and have been living in hiding with other Sapiens who are unhappy with their controlled society. After the disastrous events of The Fourth Species, book three in the series, her companions set about finding a space place to build their own society, outside the influence of the genetically enhanced ruling classes.

The key characters from the previous books are back, working together to protect their community, but there’s a spy in their settlement and nothing they are working for is safe. Elise and her friends must decide who to trust, and what to risk for their safety and eventual freedom.

It’s another exciting instalment in the series, and (without spoiling anything!) a satisfying ending to the story.

Have you read the Tomorrow’s Ancestors 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!

YA review: The Final Rising cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: How Far We’ve Come

Title: How Far We’ve Come
Author: Joyce Efia Harmer
Edition:
Kindle ARC
Rating:
4/5

Cover of How Far We've Come by Joyce Efia Harmer

Obah is a slave on a Barbados plantation in 1834. Jacob is a descendant of a slave-owning family, determined to atone for the crimes of his ancestors. When Jacob finds a way to time travel to Obah’s plantation, he seizes his chance to give her a life of freedom in present-day Somerset. But Jacob has underestimated Obah’s experiences on the plantation and the culture shock she encounters in twenty-first century England, and Obah has discovers that the two teenagers are more closely connected than she realised.

It’s an interesting premise for a story. Obah is a perfect protagonist to take on the injustices of life on the plantation, and to recognise the problems of present-day society from her unique viewpoint. She’s intelligent and determined, but she knows how to keep herself safe and obey the rules that govern her life, both in Barbados and in the UK.

The supporting characters, and Obah’s relationships with them, give the book its page-turning pace. In Barbados she works in the kitchens, and directly for the wife of the owner. Her mother escaped from the plantation when Obah was young, and Obah has built her own family among the slaves. With them, she finds warmth and community while she navigates constant danger from the owner and his overseer, and the whims of the owner’s wife and daughter. The author doesn’t romanticise life on the plantation, and the reader is not spared the horrific experiences Obah and her found family share. There is no gratuitous detail, but the matter-of-fact reactions of the slaves to their punishments and hardships is more heartbreaking than any over-dramatised anger or confrontation. The unending injustice and cruelty is harrowing to read.

In England, Obah slowly learns to trust Jacob and his mother and sister. It takes time for her to understand that she is not expected to work or take care of them, and to understand the expectations of modern-day society on her. She sees injustices that they, as a wealthy white family, do not, and it is this that drives the twenty-first century sections of the story.

There are all sorts of issues with writing a novel like this. Avoiding the White Saviour trope, and the obvious difficulties both characters will experience as they are displaced from their homes, feels extremely important to making this story work in 2023. Both characters learn about themselves, their societies, and their prejudices, and come to see the power Obah has over her life, if she can work out how to use it. I’m not completely convinced that the author has fully avoided all the issues with the setup, but the story structure is neat and the characters engaging. It definitely gives the reader plenty to think about.

How Far We’ve Come is published in paperback today! Thank you to the publisher for the ARC copy.

Have you read How Far We’ve Come? What did you think of the story? Do you think the author handled the difficult theme well? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

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YA Review: Mage Quest

Title: Mage Quest
Author: Julia Blake
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: Mage Quest

The sequel to Erinsmore is here! Book Two of the Erinsmore Chronicles brings new characters, old friends, and three spirited dragons.

It’s been six years since Ruby returned from Erinsmore, leaving her sister Cassie behind. When she eventually finds a portal and takes the opportunity to slip between worlds, she inadvertently brings thirteen-year-old Finley with her. Twenty years have passed in Erinsmore. Everyone she left behind has aged without her, and she’s surprised to discover that she is aunt to a seventeen-year-old princess (and heir to the throne), and her twin brother.

The heir to Erinsmore’s throne is expected to find the mage who will be her lifelong companion and guide. Most heirs discover their mages early in life, but the princess has never felt the presence of hers. She will be using the traditional tour of the kingdom when she turns eighteen to search for her companion.

With their eighteenth birthday only days after Ruby’s arrival, the twins invite their aunt and her accidental companion to join them on their quest. The plan is to visit every major settlement, and for the princess to meet her future subjects. With the help of Lord Merric, Protector of the Royal Children, three awe-inspiring dragons, and a mysterious healer named Xem, the group sets out to tour the kingdom, and search for the heir’s mage.

But something is rotten in Erinsmore. Evil is rising, and strange and frightening creatures are terrorising the people. The quest becomes more dangerous, and the evil forces stronger, as the group travels north. Working together, can they track down and defeat the dark forces – and will the quest lead the princess to her mage?

This is a long-awaited and exciting return to the world of Erinsmore. While Ruby is older and wiser, and thrilled to see her sister again, thirteen-year-old Finley provides the sense of wonder as the newcomer to a place where magic and dragons are real. The reader rediscovers Erinsmore with Ruby, while seeing everything for the first time with Finley. It’s a great way to balance the wonder of the magical world with Ruby’s six-year exile and her wish to return.

When Ruby and Finley have found their feet and been welcomed into the castle, the story takes off (literally, on the backs of dragons), and the quest begins. Strange creatures, evil pirates, hidden mermaids and mysterious dark forces lie in wait for our characters, and they must work together to keep each other out of danger.

It’s a gripping story. The tension builds as the group draws closer to the dark power infecting Erinsmore, while the princess’s search for her mage brings unexpected leads and crushing dead ends. I was on the edge of my seat as the end of the book approached. I won’t spoil the story, but it grows more emotional and more exciting as the pages turn.

Julia Blake has written another fast-paced, engrossing novel that drags the reader in and begs to be read in one sitting. Dive in for a fantastic tour of Erinsmore, a mystery that builds as the story progresses, and just the right mix of romance, danger, friendship, and action.

You’ve waited long enough. It’s time to go back to Erinsmore.

The Mage Quest ebook will be published on May 16th, and the gorgeous illustrated paperback is available now. Thank you to the author for the ARC copy.

Have you read Erinsmore and Mage Quest? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: Mage Quest cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Songs You’ve Never Heard

Title: The Songs You’ve Never Heard
Author: Becky Jerams and Ellie Wyatt
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

How much did I love this book? Just thinking about it is making me smile. A musical in book form is such a clever idea, and the authors have created a warm, emotional story accompanied by an album of the original music from the novel. I loved the entire experience!

Meg McCarthy is thoroughly sick of being the younger sister to musical superstar Caspar, especially when he’s home for the summer, trying and failing to write songs for his second album. Every conversation seems to revolve around her famous brother – at home, at school, and at her embarrassing summer job serving frozen yoghurt to tourists. She’s learned not to expect genuine friendship – everyone wants to use her to get close to Caspar. So when she meets aspiring singer-songwriter Alana at work, she expects more of the same.

But Meg has a secret. She’s been writing and recording her own songs for years, and keeping them hidden from everyone around her. The only person she shares them with is an online contact, but she’s too scared to admit to him who she is in real life. When Alana convinces her to share her music, the two girls begin working together, pooling their talents and writing songs as a duo. Meg isn’t ready to share their songs, and when their work is leaked online she finds herself overwhelmed as she tries to manage the consequences.

Meg is a highly relatable character. She’s used to living in the shadow of a successful older brother, and she has understandably had enough of trying to be friends with people who only want access to him. Her attitude might be aggressive, but I completely understood her need to be seen as an individual, and not an extension of Caspar’s identity. When she meets Alana – larger than life, bubbly, open and enthusiastic – she struggles to understand her new colleague. Their developing connection was a joy to read, and I loved following their journey as they shared their music and friendship.

This book plunged me deep into Meg’s life, and immersed me in her experiences and feelings. I was completely hooked, and invested in her hopes, dreams, and disasters. Her relationship with her brother felt real and raw, and her musical partnership with Alana was joyful and exciting. Half way through the book I realised that I needed to hear the songs, rather than simply reading the lyrics, and I downloaded the album. Hearing Caspar sing for the first time was absolutely thrilling, and listening to songs from Meg and Alana added so much to the experience of the story.

Definitely a five-star read, and a five-star idea. I adored it.

Have you read The Songs You’ve Never Heard? And have you listened to the songs? What did you think of Meg’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!

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YA Review: Loveboat, Taipei

Title: Loveboat, Taipei
Author: Abigail Hing Wen
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

YA Review: Loveboat, Taipei

I loved this book! YA romance is not my usual go-to genre, but occasionally a book catches my eye and I discover something wonderful.

Ever Wong is a Chinese-American high-school student, following her parents’ wishes and applying to medical schools when she’d rather train as a dancer. But her parents don’t see dance as a career, and her family has sacrificed their home and culture to give her an American childhood and a future in the US. It is Ever’s search for her own path, and her determination to make her own decisions and mistakes, that drew me into her story.

Ever is sent to Taiwan, to take part in a summer-school cultural education programme before she heads to medical school. She’s expecting a rigid timetable of language classes and educational trips around Taipei, but when she arrives she sees a chance to discover who she is when her strict parents are not around to control her. She makes a list of the rules she has to follow at home, and sets about breaking them. There are boys, nightclubs, photo shoots and dance classes, love triangles, new best friends, and betrayal and heartbreak as she figures out how to be an independent adult.

But this isn’t just a story about first love and teenage mistakes. At the core of the book is Ever’s determination to find her purpose, and prove that she can build a career doing what she loves. I adored following her efforts to become a dancer, and fight for the future she wanted for herself.

Loveboat, Taipei is an intelligent, emotional and heartwarming story. The romance element drives the plot, but Ever’s journey of self-discovery and rebellion forms the heart of the novel. The tension mounts as the story progresses, and Ever begins to resign herself to years of medical training and a life she doesn’t want. I didn’t predict the ending, but I was punching the air. This is a life-affirming novel with a highly relatable protagonist, and one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Have you read Loveboat, Taipei? What did you think of the Ever’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!

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YA Review: The Undying Tower

Title: The Undying Tower
Author: Melissa Welliver
Edition:
Paperback (Paper Orange Book Box)
Rating:
4/5

YA Review: The Undying Tower

I found this book spookily familiar (in a good way, I should stress!). When William Gibson described walking out of the cinema because Blade Runner looked too much like the inside of his own forehead, I thought I understood – and then I read The Undying Tower. Stop me when you see it: a girl in a dystopian future UK, who has no connection to the conflict between the authoritarian government and the rebels, is drawn into the fight against her will. There are public executions, rebels in hiding, and people risking their lives to fight back. There’s a camp full of teenagers being trained and tested, with strict sanctions for anyone breaking the rules. Our heroine attempts to find out what is going on behind the scenes, only to discover a truth so awful she decides to break out with her friends.

None of this is a criticism, at all! I really enjoyed The Undying Tower – the future-UK setting, the worldbuilding, the characters, and the plot. I enjoyed the parallels between Melissa Welliver’s book and my own YA series, and it was refreshing to read another author’s take on a dystopian future UK. The twist is different, and there’s a lot more riding on the escape attempt in The Undying Tower, which made the final chapters absolutely gripping. This is the first in a trilogy, and I enjoyed the way the ending flipped the story round, opening up interesting possibilities for the rest of the series.

This book has confirmed that I’m a fan of UK-based dystopian stories. If you enjoyed the Battle Ground Series, this would be a great next read.

Have you read The Undying Tower? What did you think of the British dystopian setting? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: The Undying Tower cross-posted to GoodReads.


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