Tag Archive | review

Best Books of 2016 – aka, I Am A Terrible Person

So firstly, I am ashamed, ASHAMED, of my lack of blogging since my Journey to Employment post – my only excuse being my employment. With how busy my first two months of work have been and keeping up with the PubInterns account, and attempting to have a social life, I just haven’t had the time or inclination to blog as much as I used to. SHAME CHLOE, SHAME.

But I’m making a quick return, and though I can’t promise my blogging will be better in 2017, at least I’m ending 2016 on a high note, with a run down of the best books I read this year (totally my opinion, probably not the mainstream or what everyone else thinks, but whatever, this is my blog, not theirs). Incidentally, I am currently reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and loving it!!!

No particular order, just wonderful books, and I can’t even remember all the books I read this year (there were lots okay) but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t? 

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. 

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

I loved this book, such a brilliant, humorous read, that made a difficult subject honest and real and entertaining without taking away from the severity of it. Shappi is a fantastic writer and this was definitely a stand out this year – Nina is a great character and I wish she was my friend.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

This is a book that I felt really and truly affected by after I read it. It has stuck with my long after I read it and I am itching to get my hands on Jennifer’s next book, Holding Up the Universe to enjoy her writing again. I wrote a longer but still ‘mini’ review of it here but to repeat the most important thing from that review – this book is not afraid of the hard stuff, of real life and unhappy endings. And that’s what makes it special.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way. 

Until that night . . . 

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.

This is the kind of book I just want to throw at people and force them to read it. Again, longer review here but in essence Louise O’Neill teaches a valuable lesson about the blurred lines between consent and rape, victim blaming, and the painful after effects of rape. What’s really quite special is that Emma is not a hugely likeable character but that still is no excuse for what happens to her.

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Controversially, I actually prefer Fangirl to Rowell’s more celebrated novel, Eleanor and Park. (I’ve done reviews of both here and here, and state why I prefer Fangirl in my E&P review.) I felt really connected to Cath as a character and really enjoyed seeing her different relationships: with Wren, with Reagan, with her parents, and with Levi. How each relationship added personality to Cath and developed her as a person was so great to read and I loved seeing her grow. However, this book is certainly not without its problems.

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.

It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

Such an interesting idea for a novel, and so well written. For a character whose body is constantly in flux, A manages to have such a complex and solid personality and development. My longer review is here and I have re-read it since then and still love it just as much. I love that it explores loss of identity in quite a bold way by actually having A lose their identity repeatedly.

They were the victims of separate massacres. Three strangers bound by similar traumas grouped together by the press.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

Is this cheating if it isn’t out until next year? Whatever, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy and devoured this novel. It was so well written and so great for a debut, I will encourage everyone to read it if they can next year! A total page-turner that keeps you guessing throughout. Definitely a must-read in 2017.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

You can see my longer review here and see that I do love Jandy Nelson as a writer and think she is so talented. What is great about I’ll Give You the Sun is that, like Fangirl, it understands that relationships other than romantic ones are so formative in your teenage years, especially ones between siblings. Also the dual narrative is absolutely brilliant – two different characters and two different timelines that manage to complement each other so well.

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I love, love, love this book! It’s such a clever idea by Laura Barnett and I wrote a nice long review of it here. It was such a gift to receive it as part of a competition I won, that I had no pre-conceived ideas of it and was allowed to fall in love with the purity of a great story and brilliant writing. This is a love story that goes beyond the norm. It’s one for the ages.

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

It’s no shock that this was on my must-read list this year and that it gained so many good reviews. It is superbly written, compelling and exciting. Clare Mackintosh does a brilliant job of keeping the reader’s attention and focus and the book zags in places where you expect it to zig which I love. I wrote a full review here and still maintain that it was the best thriller since Girl on the Train. 

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realizes, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

I just finished this last week and am so pleased to write a review of a book with NO ROMANTIC INTERESTS. This book passes the Bechdel test on so many levels and pages which gets all the applause. Caddy reminded me so much of me at 16 though without a Rosie or a Suzanne and it was so easy to see how she could get swept up in the danger of someone a little bit more exciting than her. It was a beautiful representation of life after a trauma, how tragedy affects the victim and damages them even after they are supposedly saved.

In this historic romance, young Elizabeth Bennet strives for love, independence and honesty in the vapid high society of 19th century England.

Shock horror but I hadn’t actually read Pride and Prejudice until this year. But then I found myself addicted to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which if you haven’t watched you really really need to) and decided it was about time I actually read the most famous novel in the English language. Plus, now that I knew the story from LBD, I would be able to keep track of what was going on and focus more on Austen’s words. And I have to say, I totally understand why it’s so popular and beloved (aside from Colin Firth coming out of a lake sopping wet). It is a great narrative, with the original boss bitch Lizzie Bennet and a brilliant representation of 19th century high society.


So, what were your top books of 2016? Any recommendations?

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Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes & Between You and Me – Lisa Hall: Comparative Review

Doing something a little different with the blog this week! I recently read two books that I thought were quite similar in premise: a domestic abuse story, so I decided to do a comparative review of the two (even though at this stage, I’m still not really sure which I preferred).

The two books in question are Into the Darkest Corner (IDC) by Elizabeth Haynes and Between You and Me (BYM) by Lisa Hall, and they are terribly difficult to review without giving spoilers away, which I will aim to do.

Blurbs 

Into the Darkest Corner

Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

Between You and Me

They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…

Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts.


What I like about both books is that they have a compelling dual narrative; IDC uses a dual-time narrative, whilst BYM has a dual-persepective narrative. I think this keeps the reader on their toes and keeps the story engaging at all times.

I felt that the abuser in IDC was more frightening and more cleverly crafted, making them more believable and making the story more gripping and powerful. In BYM I felt that the abuser was more of a caricature of what an abuser should be and thus less subtly dangerous.

Both novels had a really solid and engaging ending, which kept the pages turning and kept me focused until the end. BYM‘s ending had me stop for a moment and made me go back and re-read some of the novel to see if I could get my head around it, whilst IDC‘s ending felt a little more satisfying.

I think the premise of BYM was incredibly clever and very well written, to the point that I fully believed what the author intended and was shocked by the ending.

However, overall, I feel that IDC was much better written with more interesting and complex characters and secondary storylines.

I would definitely recommend reading both these books (and Between You and Me is only 99p on Kindle at the moment) and then you can make your own comparisons and decisions on which you prefer.

I think the whole concept of abusive relationship fiction is so gripping and really allows for a deep look into the psychology of characters. What I particularly like about IDC is that through the dual-time narrative it showed the aftermath of abuse on a formerly outgoing, extroverted character, which was a really nice comparison.

So do read these books and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster in each, and when you get to the end, do come back here and let me know what you think!

The Fever – Megan Abbott

“Chloë, why haven’t you done a book review in FOREVER??”

Well readers, the fact is I’ve been super busy (even though it doesn’t feel like it because I am still uNEmployED) and kept reading and not reviewing. But I am here and I am ready to review.

The Fever by Megan Abbott was the very last book I read on holiday (which was 2 months ago now, bad Chloë bad Chloë) but since I hadn’t finished it by the time I got home, I didn’t include it in my holiday reads. It is now completed and ready to be reviewed.

And my Amazon account just reminded me that I bought it on the 30th of November last year. LAST YEAR. But at least I read it, right?

Deenie, Gabby and Lise are best friends – a tight girl-unit negotiating their way through the troubled waters of their teens, a world of sex, secrets and intense relationships.

When first Lise then Gabby falls prey to a mysterious illness, hysteria sweeps their school and, as more girls succumb, Deenie finds herself an outsider, baffled by the terrifying illness and scared that it could all be because of something she has done.

Suffering with Deenie are her dad and her brother, both protective of Deenie, but each with secrets of their own . . .

This was a really interesting read for me. It was quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before, but definitely had elements of The Crucible by Arthur Miller which is one of my favourite plays.

I love the idea of the mass hysteria sweeping a school and girls becoming more and more agitated by the idea of this unknown disease, all the while with parents pointing fingers and become accusatory.

For me, I actually found Deenie (the protagonist) the least interesting character; whilst I was so intrigued to know what was causing the illness, I found the parents and the other girls far more developed and interesting characters, particularly Gabby and Deenie’s brother, Eli.

The many different theories for the cause of the illness are the centre of the novel, from the mysterious dirty lake that has plagued the town for years, to the HPV vaccine administered to the girls. All these proposed theories highlight the hysterical nature of word-of-mouth, rumour, and parental anxiety. As the characters latch onto the various theories, Abbott reveals a commentary not about illness and disease, but about reaction and fear.

Ultimately, though the premise was very strong, I felt that the conclusion of the story was a little disappointing and by the time I had finished the book, I didn’t really care that much about what happened.

I think Abbott really could’ve ramped it up further, like in The Crucible and had the accusations be more dramatic, isolating and incriminating, which would have amplified the theme of female sexuality and the way in which it stigmatises young girls, which if I’m not mistaken, was a key concept of her novel.

It was interesting how Abbott made it relevant for the 21st century, including technology to transmit the drama, but again, this could’ve been emphasised even further.

I do believe Abbott is a strong writer and I am intrigued to read her other works, but for me, this novel didn’t live up to the excitement the blurb stirred in me.

 

 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – The Review #KeepTheSecrets

THIS IS NOT SPOILER FREE. I REPEAT, NOT SPOILER FREE. IF YOU HAVEN’T READ CURSED CHILD, TURN BACK NOW. (and then come back later)

I’m in a difficult place with this review. There are so many wonderful things about Cursed Child and a few not so wonderful things, and above all, I really think it needs to be seen on stage to truly appreciate it and I currently have no idea where I will be next week, never mind next year, when the current tickets are selling for. (You can buy them here if you are interested).

I’m going to try and break it down, and bear in mind that this is my childhood and it’s Jo’s world, we just get to read it.

The General Complaints 

  1. It’s too difficult to read as a script 

Just no. It’s not. You knew it was a script when you pre-ordered it. It says on the cover ‘Special Edition Rehearsal Script’. You knew it was a play in the West End, so what on earth would make you think it’s a novel??

It’s not too hard to read and you can quite easily forget that it’s a script, and if it helps (which I certainly think it does when reading a play) read it aloud.

2. It’s not what I was expecting 

No, and it wasn’t what I was expecting either. But cast your mind back to getting Deathly Hallows in 2007 and your expectations for that. Did any of us expect Hedwig to die? Or Dobby? Or FRED?? Did we expect Snape to be the good guy all along? Did we expect half the things that Jo wrote?

No. But you just have to trust in Jo’s ideas. After all, in 2007 she was the only one who knew what happened 19 years later. We’re just beyond lucky that she chose to share it with us.

3. It reads too much like Fanfiction 

Okay, this I agree with in part. It does feel like its something that ‘iluvRonmione96’ might have conjured up to satisfy their cravings for more of HP. But maybe that’s because reading it in script form doesn’t allow it to fully shine through the way a performance would. I really and truly think that the real magic lies in the spectacle.

Which leads me nicely to…

My Complaints 

  1. Who the hell is Delphi Diggory?? 

Okay, I know that the story needed a BIG BAD so we could have a BIG BATTLE and a BIG ENDING. But Delphi Diggory/Love-child of Voldemort and Bellatrix feels just a little bit ridiculous. When it was revealed that she was Voldemort’s child and there was another prophecy, I just felt a little bit like ‘rly????’.

I trust in Jo completely, and I support this. And I especially support the finding of the Time-Turner and going back in Time, because it’s a really nice way to pay homage to the original series. And we all know that story can work because we’ve seen AVPS.

But there are other ways she could’ve brought it full-circle, by ending it at Godric’s Hollow in 1981. Of course, she couldn’t totally rip off AVPS because that’s plagiarism and very very wrong. But I would’ve liked to see another Death Eater, maybe Rowle or Nott, trying to influence Scorpius, and going back to 1981 to Kill Harry (gasps).

That would’ve made more sense to me, and no need for Delphi Diggory, the most un-Mary Sue Mary Sue. (Does anyone know what the name is of a completely negative Mary Sue, whose purpose is to be the bad guy?)

2. Where are all the other children? Where are all the other characters? 

Seriously, this play needed more Rose. She’s barely in it! Hugo Granger-Weasley doesn’t even seem to exist. And where o where is Teddy Lupin? He could’ve sorted all this trouble out.

If this is a play about the Next Gen, we could’ve seen more of James Potter Jr., Rose Granger-Weasley and Lily Potter Jr.

And we could’ve seen Sirius in the past. And we could’ve seen Professor Longbottom. SERIOUSLY.

Let’s continue shall we?

Things I liked that other people probably didn’t 

1. Emphasis on Ronmione 

This lovely little script proves that Ronmione just make sense. So all you Harry/Hermione shippers, just get over yourselves. They didn’t have an affair in the future, it is and always will be Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny.

2. Albus is in Slytherin! 

Yep. Loved it. For a moment you think ‘But that doesn’t make sense, generations of Weasleys have been in Gryffindor and Harry Potter is the greatest Gryffindor since Dumbledore, how can his and Ginny’s son be a Slytherin?’

Well. Look at Sirius Black. Defied his parentage didn’t he?

And here is the ultimate, definitive proof that not all Gryffindors are good and not all Slytherins are bad. The lines of House Sorting aren’t always clear. Gryffindors can be smart and ambitious as well as brave. And Slytherins can be brave and loyal as well as cunning. Pettigrew and Snape are our Original Canon examples and Albus and Scorpius are our New Gen examples.

Jo has always been adamant that good and bad aren’t as clear as people think: Dumbledore did some awful things in his time and Draco was not always terrible.

Albus being in Slytherin keeps this narrative alive and proves that being Harry and Ginny’s son doesn’t mean he isn’t his own person.

3. Ron as Comic Relief 

Anyone who thinks that just because Ron went through all the struggles of his teenager-dom means he must have changed by middle-age is just wrong. These characters might be 20 years older but they are still inherently themselves. Ron is still loyal and humorous just as Hermione is brilliant and strong-willed and Harry is the hero. Plus, now Ron’s a Dad so he’s bound to be even funnier and in an even more embarrassing way. Ron Granger-Weasley is peak Dad Jokes.

yay dad jokes

Other things I liked 

1. Albus/Scorpius relationship 

Anyone who didn’t love this (Scorbus? Is that what we’re calling it? I approve) is just being ridiculous. It’s Harry/Ron all over again except with less jealousy and more homoeroticism. I’ve always said that the most important relationships in Harry Potter are the friendships, and Jo continues this in Cursed Child. Yes, I see the homosexual undertones as well as you do. But to be fair, the boys are 14 and might not be comfortable expressing their love for each other yet.

Let it flow, what will be will be. And all those people that were crying for Rose/Scorpius at the end of Deathly Hallows (you know who you are, I’ve seen the fanfics), got a little bit of what they were hoping for. Though I’m sure a solid 80% have jumped ship to the Good Ship Scorbus now.

2. Scorpius himself 

Scorpius is such a loser. I LOVE IT. Malfoy thought he was all that and a bag of chips, but his son is a total loser. Which proves that people are made not born. In a world where being a Malfoy isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, Scorpius ended up at the bottom of the food chain. But he still managed to be a hero.

Scorpius is the Neville of Cursed Child. And we all know how great Nevilles are.

3. The characters are not perfect 

Because Jo’s characters never are. Those people who are complaining that (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, LOOK AWAY NOW, IN FACT WHY ARE YOU STILL READING???) Harry told Albus that he wished Albus wasn’t his son are forgetting that Harry is one of the most imperfect characters in literature. He often gets in rages and says things he doesn’t mean. He is an angry and impulsive character. Remember all those times he screamed at Ron and Hermione? His best friends? His only family? That horrible way he spoke to Lupin, when he said he’d be ashamed of him if he were Lupin’s son.

This actually makes sense for Harry, especially because he allows himself to get wound up so easily. This is the boy that was so wound up by Malfoy that he went off on a midnight mission round Hogwarts aged 11 and nearly got eaten by Fluffy.

Of course his own son is going to push his buttons. But part of Harry Potter is about owning your mistakes and correcting them. Which he does. Parent/child relationships aren’t always easy and they are rarely perfect. And in a Next-Gen story which is about this kind of relationship, Jo deals with it ideally.

Also, Rose is a little bitch at times and really needs to sort her act out. But again, not perfect. Lord knows Hermione could be a bitch at times, especially to the ones she loved. Poor Ron never got over the bird attack.

4. Its themes and heart are true to the Harry Potter narrative 

At its core Cursed Child deals with what it means to be a hero. Or the son-of-a-hero. Or the son-of-an-evil-little-shit.  Throughout Harry Potter Harry dealt with the pressure of being James and Lily’s son, the Chosen One. Here, Albus deals with the pressure of being Harry’s son.

The lines of good and evil are blurred, just like in Harry Potter and always, always, in HP love was the heart of the narrative. And Cursed Child maintains these themes and ideas until the end.

Also this bit:

Harry Potter in a nutshell.

Even post-Voldemort (2020 PV) Harry still has the burden of being the Chosen One, and in one single line Jo encapsulates what it means to be Harry Potter.

Reading it I was like:


So who is the Cursed Child? 

I know sources say that the Cursed Child is Albus, but I think arguments can be made that the Cursed Child could be Harry, Albus, or Scorpius.

All three were burdened with names and expectations that they felt they couldn’t live up to. They never asked to be a Potter or a Malfoy or the Chosen One.

You could even say that Delphi was the Cursed Child.

Maybe Jo herself is the Cursed one, because she’ll never satisfy everyone.

Jo, John, and Jack’s story isn’t by any means perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being nostalgic, complex, and iconic.

I, for one, am just grateful that Jo gifted us with the Eight Story and a play that will hopefully run for many years on the West End, a play which is ‘easily the most wizard piece of theatre to hit the West End in years’.

I think it needs to be seen to be believed.

So I just need to get my hands on some tickets.

Oh, and I totally cried at the end. It was just beautifully heartfelt and emotional at the end. I’m positive there will be buckets in the theatre.

And remember: #KeepTheSecrets

 

#YALC Weekend! – – Top 10 YA Reads

It’s #YALC Weekend this weekend!

I’m not going (unfortunately) but the whole concept of YALC is super exciting to me, firstly because I love YA fiction and secondly because when I did my first bout of work experience we were preparing for the first ever YALC which I loved!

So as my own personal tiny contribution to this year’s YALC, I’m going to count down my top 10 YA reads (and trust me there could be fierce competition) with some honourable mentions below. These are in no particular order, but feel free to fight it out in the comments below.

1. The Fault in Our Stars – John Green 

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.

This book is the single biggest reason why YA books should not and cannot be dismissed as something lesser or only for young adults. John Green’s writing is so ridiculously powerful and clever and important that I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone. And I would recommend you read it twice, because you get so much more out of it the second time, noticing the nuances and brilliance in Green’s writing. When people ask me ‘Why do you love YA so much?’ this is the book I will throw in their faces.

2. Elsewhere – Gabrielle Zevin 

Liz is killed in a hit a run accident and her ‘life’ takes a very unexpected turn. At nearly sixteen she knows she will never get married, never have children, and perhaps never fall in love. But in Elsewhere all things carry on almost as they did on earth except that the inhabitants get younger, dogs and humans can communicate (at last) new relationships are formed and old ones sadly interrupted on earth are renewed.

A criminally underrated book in my humble opinion. I’m still devastated I can’t find my copy anywhere because I love love love this book. It’s such a thoughtful and deep book, with a really interesting concept and quite complex themes. It’s kind of a YA version of Mitch Albom’s Five People You Meet in Heaven but for me was a lot more uplifting and cathartic. The writing is simple and pleasant but the Benjamin Button style narrative really packs a punch and leaves you with a poignant sense of the importance of life, relationships and redemption.

3. Before I Fall – Lauren Oliver 

They say ‘live every day as if it’s your last’ – but you never actually think it’s going to be. At least I didn’t. 

The thing is, you don’t get to know when it happens. You don’t remember to tell your family that you love them or – in my case – remember to say goodbye to them at all. 

But what if, like me, you could live your last day over and over again? Could you make it perfect? If your whole life flashed before your eyes, would you have no regrets? Or are there some things you’d want to change…?

Whoops, another book about death. But totally different concept. Reliving that last day over and over again, it’s kind of magical and beautiful and offers another view on introspection. Sam is allowed to see herself through other peoples’ eyes and her Groundhog Day reveals the most intimate things about her life: the people that matter, the people whose lives she has affected whether inadvertently or intentionally, and the very core of her being. Even if Sam can’t change her own destiny, maybe she can change the fate of the people who will live beyond her. Lauren Oliver is basically a genius writer and if you only know her for Delirium you’re seriously missing out on this brilliance.

4. All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven 

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them.

But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

I have reviewed this book before on this site, which you can read here. What I really love about this book is that it does not shy away from the difficult stuff: the depression, the anxiety, the painful parts of life that do exist, and exist quite painfully and almost heightened for young adults. There is so much more pressure on young adults than adult adults really realise and the burdens carried by young adults can often become too much. But in a book that can be so heartbreaking and dark, the characters are some of the most vivid and alive characters I’ve ever read. I think Theodore Finch has rightly taken his place as a YA hero alongside Peeta Mellark, Augustus Waters, and Etienne St. Clair.

5. Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell 

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, and a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Another book I have previously reviewed, with another boy that I totally fell in love with. It’s a total coming-of-age story about how growing up and growing apart can sometimes be the hardest part of ageing. Rainbow Rowell is a completely brilliant writer who just gets how to be a young adult, and what I really like about this book is that it’s not set in high school. Because sometimes we do have our first loves and first get to know ourselves at university. Not everything in a young adult’s life happens in high school. She’s created really vivid and loveable characters that exist on and off the page because they’re understandable and relatable. I’d love to read what happens next in Cath and Levi’s story, even though I know the demand is more for Simon and Baz.

6. Hopeless – Colleen Hoover 

Sky meets Dean Holder, a guy with a promiscuous reputation that rivals her own. From their very first encounter, he terrifies and captivates her. Something about him sparks memories of her deeply troubled past, a time she’s tried so hard to bury. Though Sky is determined to stay far away from him, his unwavering pursuit and enigmatic smile break down her defences and the intensity of their relationship grows. But the mysterious Holder has been keeping secrets of his own, and once they are revealed, Sky is changed forever and her ability to trust may be a casualty of the truth. 

Only by courageously facing the stark revelations can Sky and Holder hope to heal their emotional scars and find a way to live and love without boundaries. 

I know not everyone loves this story and it certainly does have its problematic moments; however, again, I enjoyed this book because it deals with intense and difficult themes that do exist in life such as trust, heightened emotions and damaged pasts. It also has an element of mystery in it as the reader explores Sky’s life and history, which she doesn’t fully understand. Even my mum loved it, which is proof that YA doesn’t always mean YA. The relationship between Sky and Holder is so deep and so moving that I challenge you to not read this in one sitting. Because I know I would’ve found that impossible. It’s a story that can be read over and over again and still be brilliant.

7. Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger 

Holden Caulfield is a seventeen- year-old dropout who has just been kicked out of his fourth school. Navigating his way through the challenges of growing up, Holden dissects the ‘phony’ aspects of society, and the ‘phonies’ themselves: the headmaster whose affability depends on the wealth of the parents, his roommate who scores with girls using sickly-sweet affection.

You might argue that this book isn’t YA, but to me, it is the quintessential YA novel. A novel (previously reviewed here) that deals with issues related to growing up such as identity, loss, alienation, and the desperate attempt to keep the young innocent. Again, like TFIOS, it’s a book that must be read twice to really get the most of out it, in order to really understand Holden and the desperate loneliness and pain of a teenager who could easily be dismissed as cynical and pessimistic. But the reality is that Holden is only pessimistic because life has let him down. I still think this novel is as relevant today as it was in post-war USA, because when we read novels like All The Bright Places that deal with depression and pain, they’re reminiscent of Salinger’s earlier work, but without (forgive me) Salinger’s depth and complexity of writing.

8. Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins 

Anna is less than thrilled to be shipped off to boarding school in Paris, leaving a fledgling romance behind – until she meets Etienne St Clair. Smart, charming, beautiful, Etienne has it all… including a girlfriend. But in the City of Light, wishes have a way of coming true. Will a year of romantic near-misses end with a longed-for French kiss?

I love this book. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT. It’s an easy read full of love, light, humour, and French cinematic bliss. And it doesn’t hurt that Etienne St. Clair is dream boyfriend material. Anna is just a really relatable character that doesn’t take herself massively seriously, and Stephanie Perkins perfectly captures the agony of having a crush on someone else’s boyfriend and not being able to do anything about it. It’s light, it’s fluffy, and it won’t break your heart. So yeah, this makes my top ten purely for being gorgeous. (And no, I’m not just talking about Etienne).

9. Every Day – David Levithan 

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

My previous review of this novel is available here. And as I checked that review for comparisons with this, I realised I was about to start this one in exactly the same way. But it’s true, this is a genius idea for a novel. Levithan uses a new and exciting concept to analyse themes that do appear frequently in YA novels: identity, human emotions and relationships, and of course, love. But how can you love someone when you don’t know who they’ll be the next day. My heart broke for Rhiannon and A because theirs is a love story that literally has the world against it. With each new body A inhabits, Levithan has a chance to explore new characters and new nuances, like depression, homosexuality, self-loathing, sibling relationships, themes that often appear in YA but here are touched on and explored in an interesting way because they only last for a beat whilst A inhabits that body. It’s a hugely unique and impressive work that I truly recommend.

10. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart 

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

SUCH a complex and challenging book. Combining the privileged world of Gossip Girl and 90210 where actions seem to have no consequences, with the hostile suffocation of Lord of the Flies and the summer that seemed to destroy everything. E. Lockhart is a brilliant writer who writes about love and relationships and privilege with a wise and thoughtful view. The Liars’ story is captivating and enthralling which keeps momentum until the end and explores with depth the impact of tragedy on teenagers.


Honourable Mentions: 

SO HERE’S MORE GREAT BOOKS.

The following three are honourable because I just couldn’t fit them in the top 10: 

  1. I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson
  2. Delirium – Lauren Oliver (the first book is great, but the series does go downhill afterwards)
  3. Paper Towns – John Green

The final three are honourable because I don’t truly believe they can be counted as YA, even though they may at first have been marketed for younger audiences: 

  1. The Harry Potter Series – J.K. Rowling
  2. Asking For It – Louise O’Neill
  3. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

THERE YOU HAVE IT.

Thoughts? Feelings?

Share below!

Mini Reads Vol. V

And we’re back. With another round of Mini Reads, I’m about to recap the final five books I read on my summer holiday this year (which was almost a month ago now – that’s crazy!!). So without further ado…

1. For One More Day – Mitch Albom 

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This is a great novel, and Mitch Albom is certainly a brilliant writer. He has such skill with language and crafting sentences that his words lift off the page and his characters and their relationships seem to come alive.

The novel is primarily about Chick and his relationship with his mother, Posey. In the fleeting moments between life and death, Chick is granted ‘one more day’ with Posey and sees his life through her eyes.

It was a great read and the way Mitch delves into character study and personal analysis is beautiful. However, by the end of the novel I couldn’t help but feel that it was incredibly similar to another of his brilliant novels: The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I felt that the premises were very much alike: man dies or nearly dies and revisits his past through the eyes of other people in his life. This was very much another story separate to the one told in The Five People but the concept was nearly identical.

Though I really enjoyed reading For One More Day, ever since I read it, this thought has stuck with me. I would still recommend reading it, purely for his brilliant development of character and depth of character, but if you’re looking for a new plot, you’re in the wrong place.

2. I’ll Give You The Sun – Jandy Nelson

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Firstly, I love Jandy Nelson as an author. I think her writing is so brilliant and beautiful and she captures living as a teenager, whilst allowing her characters to be so mature and whole at the same time.

The novel tells the story of twins Noah and Jude and how their once indestructible twin-bond is shattered by complexities and tragedies. What I loved most about the novel is the dual narrative (anyone who knows me knows I love a dual narrative) but Nelson really steps up her game with this one. The novel is told in part by Noah aged 13 and the other half by Jude aged 16. And brilliantly, though both narratives take place three years apart, they help each other to tell the story, they make the other better, they enhance the narrative as a whole.

This is a masterpiece of a novel. For one that is supposedly YA, it has so much depth and thoughtfulness of character – which I suppose proves just how important YA is in literature and how it shouldn’t be dismissed so easily. It is a story of grief, relationships, and finding yourself when your identity has been taken from you.

If you like Jandy Nelson (or haven’t heard of her – shame on you – but like REALLY GOOD YA – think John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han), then you won’t be disappointed.

3. The Life and Death of Sophie Stark – Anna North 

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I loved the premise of this book. The life of an enigmatic and mysterious filmmaker told not by her, but by those most important in her life: her lover, her brother, her husband, her college crush, her producer, all interweaved with the critic who followed her career from the start.

The story of an unforgettable antiheroine is developed and unpacked by a series of characters who see her through their eyes, and the only way Sophie’s own thoughts and ideas are revealed are through her films.

This is a story of a woman who is admired and unattainable: she is a grungy, broken, artistic Daisy Buchanan – the green light. Whilst Sophie’s filmmaking focus is on observing other people and other lives, this novel observes her and her life.

It is a startlingly unique novel, brilliantly presented. Like Albom’s character studies, North perfectly captures the importance of relationships: seeing one remarkable character through various unforgotten eyes. This is a deeper and more painful depiction of character though, and North does it superbly. I really recommend this novel to anyone looking for a moving, unmissable and truly poignant view of a life through vignettes.

4. Lola and the Boy Next Door – Stephanie Perkins

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If you loved Anna and the French Kiss (which I did) then you won’t be disappointed with Lola and the Boy Next Door. It tells a similar (if a little predictable) love story of Lola, whose life is going along perfectly with her rocker boyfriend Max, until her former crush Cricket Bell moves back in next door.

I found Lola harder to relate to than Anna, mostly because I think I have more similarities to Anna than Lola, and I think I preferred Etienne to Cricket. Perhaps it was also the excitement and glamour of Paris that made Anna and the French Kiss superior for me (I was on my own Study Abroad when I read it) but I still thoroughly enjoyed Lola’s story. It built to a crescendo at the end which was extremely satisfying and it made me want to read Isla and the Happy Ever After, so I guess Stephanie Perkins did her job!

If you’re a hopeless romantic and looking for a great read about agonising teen love, then this is definitely the novel for you. Perkins knows perfectly how to capture that pain of confusing crushes, especially when you’re meant to like one boy but can’t help your feelings for another. It was also brilliant to have Anna and Etienne as secondary characters, meaning their story is never too far away. Gotta get my hands on the next one now!

5. Every Day – David Levithan 

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What a genius idea for a book. Each morning, A wakes up in a new body, with no warning or idea whose body it will be. And A is used to this, it’s always been this way. So A follows the rules: don’t get involved, don’t get attached, and don’t interfere.

And that’s all been fine, until the day A wakes up in Justin’s body and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon.

It’s a brilliant, brilliant concept that analyses human emotions at their most basic. From here, I will refer to A as a male, though there’s no clarity on ‘his’ gender throughout the book, I always imagined him as male. David Leviathan is absolutely gifted at understanding relationships and feelings and personal identity crises. And in this novel, he does it perfectly.

He gets you rooting for A and for Rhiannon and hoping that, even though it’s almost impossible, one day they can be together. It’s a story of love and loss and heartache, perfectly normal for young love, that coincides with the tragedy of instability and loss of identity, which is a typical YA theme that is dealt with so ingeniously and so originally.

Because it’s not only A’s story, it’s Rhiannon’s story, and Justin’s story, and every body that A inhabits, you get a glimpse into what so many different teenagers lives are like.

It’s an absolutely fascinating read and I do really recommend it. In fact, I might just have to read it again it was that good.


So those are the last of my holiday reads! I’ve now finished The Fever as well, so I’ll be writing about that soon. Let me know if you’ve read any of these books in the comments below.

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

I have been desperate to read Asking For It by Louise O’Neill for a long time, but unfortunately it’s currently £8.99 (ON KINDLE AS WELL?!!) on Amazon, and I just can’t afford that right now. Maybe for my holiday. So when Only Ever Yours was down to 99p, I took advantage of having at least one Louise O’Neill book in my library.

The book is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. Confession, I’ve not actually read The Handmaid’s Tale, but I know it’s a dystopian fiction. Mean Girls, however, I know well.

O’Neill’s novel is set in a near-future society in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful. For the girls left behind, they are left as concubines or chastities (teachers, with bald heads).

frieda and isabel (without capitalisation, because women are not even worth that much) have always been highly ranked, but when their final school year starts and isabel begins to spiral and gain weight, frieda is left with no-one to turn to and a desperation to become a companion that supersedes everything else, even her longest friendship.

It’s an interesting novel and highly disturbing, right from the outset. The idea of a school where girls are programmed to rate each other and focus only on their looks, surrounded by bald-headed teachers who tell them that they must always be happy and never be fat is frankly disconcerting. Then, once you get involved with frieda and her story and life, her own personal downward spiral is haunting and terrifying.

I don’t think I have ever felt more sorry for a character than frieda and, though I knew it unlikely, I was so desperate for her to get her happy ending because reading her unravelling was just so painful. I suppose this reflects O’Neill’s prowess as a writer.

Meanwhile, isabel is repeatedly noted as ‘special’ – she doesn’t have a number like the other ‘eves’ and is excused things that the other eves would never be permitted to do. Perhaps her mystery is one of the most compelling, yet her ending is the most rushed.

The divide between the sexes is highlighted even further by their names: the girls are all named after great beauties of our day – frieda (Pinto), isabel (Lucas), megan (I can only assume Fox?) and cara (Delevingne?), whilst their future husbands are named after great thinkers, the highest ranked being (of course), Darwin.

It is such a shocking and disconcerting novel, far more disturbing than other dystopian novels of our time, that made me feel really, truly uncomfortable. However, for me, the ending needed a little more clarity and resolution. I suppose maybe I wanted more for freida (which for her story was not possible) but as a protagonist, I felt she needed a more satisfactory (if not pleasant) ending.

It’s a sickening book, let’s be honest here, but it is fantastically written and extremely compelling. It’s impossible to like because it’s so intolerable to read and I felt uncomfortable for at least the last third of the novel. It’s terribly bleak speculative fiction of what our society could become if we allow it to progress in the way we are: with such focus on looks and perfection, are we girls looking forward to a life where we can only be satisfactory as companions or concubines?

Only Ever Yours is published by riverrun.