What I Read in October

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that we are now more than halfway through the underrated month of November, and I am still yet to post my reviews of the books I read in October. I mean, here we are now! I’m doing it, look! It’s just been an extremely busy time for your fave (me). I’ve been zipping about the country – currently typing from Newcastle, of all places – and I started a new job, and there were fireworks a couple of weeks ago, and it’s practically Christmas… But I read loads of books in October, or so it feels. It’s only right that I have a shout about them.

51XJrxPGhvL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King – Obviously in a spooky kinda mood, and also buoyed by the hype for IT, I finally got round to reading this collection of short stories by the master of horror himself. I’m a longtime King fan, having read Gerald’s Game at far, far too early an age and becoming scarred/hooked for life. I feel I can barely give an objective review of anything by him, because (despite the subject matter) his prose is so cosy and familiar. As I was working weekdays beginning 10am, I would get up early and sit for an hour every morning reading the stories, which was something I should definitely do again; I really enjoyed dipping in and out of this collection. An eclectic and mostly excellent selection of short stories, tied together by King’s chatty introductions and the odd recurring motif (more than one character chokes on a bar of soap, for example). More than anything, there’s a palpable sense of how much fun the writer is having – he just really likes writing, and a lot of that enjoyment gets transferred to the reader. It gets a bit indulgent at times, but it’s hard to mind the whims of good old Steve.

41CAPCX8P5L._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_ON WRITING by Stephen King – I was planning on doing NaNoWriMo (don’t ask how it’s going…) so I thought I’d listen to this audiobook, having read the book many years ago. It’s intimate and charming having King literally talk directly to you. Despite being a reader of his for most of my reading life, I think this was the first time I’d heard his voice. The book itself is a classic! I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know, but then again, I have it before. The memoir bits are great, and I was utterly riveted by the account of the accident at the end of the book. Lots of the advice King gives on writing won’t be applicable to everyone, but it’s all solid commonsense stuff that can be adapted and adopted.

TB-Cover-High-ResTANGLEWEED AND BRINE by Deirdre Sullivan – This book is a work of art, and is rightfully appearing on lists of beautiful books of 2017. The illustrations are dark and divine – more pictures in books for older children, please! I loved Deirdre’s Needlework – reviewed here – so I was looking forward to her collection of fairytale retellings. The author weaves her magical tales of princesses we almost recognise with fearsome & dark poetry. Tales as old as time are twisted into something new: something scored with pain and power. The illustrations are gorgeous, singing and intricate alongside the terse prose. I wish, however, that I’d read this piece by piece rather than in one greedy gulp, as the density of the imagery benefits from time to digest. I’m sure they’d be great performance pieces, too, which is not to diminish their power as words on the page – they are just rich with drama and voice. In whatever format, these stories are brilliant.

23437156SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo – Kaz Brekker assembles an unlikely crew of thieves and villains to pull off an impossible heist and reap the reward of riches beyond imagination. This book has everything: intricate world-building, a diverse, bickering cast, high stakes, dizzyingly complex plotting. People have been telling me forever that I’d love it. And I think I’m about to get excommunicated from the YA community here, but… I didn’t love it. I can see that it’s good, and I can see why people like it, and I like the characters (Nina is my queeeeen) but it took me so long to read because something about it left me cold. I have no idea what! Answers on a postcard, please! A true case of “it’s not you, it’s me” and I would not hesitate to recommend it to others because it’s a good book. But, I mean, I’m not gonna read Crooked Kingdom.

35154365S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett – Accepted into elite boarding school St. Aidan the Great, Greer is finding it hard to get used to these pretentious people who don’t get her movie references. When school hottie and de facto king Henry de Warlencourt invites her to his country estate for a weekend of bloodsports, she is too curious (and excited) to heed the warning signs. It’s not just the deer that need to be afraid of huntin’… S.T.A.G.S is a huge amount of fun. It helps that it is exactly my sort of thing. I love morally questionable rich people, in fiction at least, and the aesthetic is utterly on point throughout. I was expecting it to be darker than it was – the stakes aren’t quite as high when you know the narrator survives to tell their story, and the “murder” wasn’t nearly morally ambiguous enough for me – but not every book, to my deep sadness, can be The Secret History, and this comes pretty close for a YA novel. Clever, dangerous, delightful.

51hBb2GmmKLTHE LITTLE STRANGER by Sarah Waters – In postwar Warwickshire, a country doctor is called to Hundreds Hall, a grand house he has admired since he was a child. The house is falling into decline. The family is, too: the war hit them hard, and their old way of life is increasingly endangered by the encroachment of the modern world. But the doctor is fascinated, even haunted by Hundreds Hall, and soon finds he cannot keep away. I loved this book, which is unsurprising given how much I love both Sarah Waters and ghost stories, and the fact that I’m from Warwickshire (well, the West Midlands. Depends who you ask) myself. It was critically acclaimed on release, but a brief scan of the Goodreads reviews indicates that a lot of people have a problem with the pacing. To those people I say, READ FASTER. I read it in a couple of sittings because I couldn’t put it down. Maybe it wouldn’t live up to a reread? But for now, it’s one of my favourite books of the year. Entirely absorbing, with an astonishingly intense sense of time and place. It’s a convincing psychological thriller, a portrait of class in a very particular time period, set in the very part of England I’m from. It’s also a creepy tale of the supernatural. Sarah Waters is brilliant at writing repressed sexual tension and her characters are all so clearly drawn. The pages turn under your hands with creeping inevitability, as the impending doom and quiet brilliance of the ending approaches…

61NFOD0P2AL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_LA BELLE SAUVAGE by Philip Pullman – I don’t need to explain this one, surely? One of the publishing events of the year, the book we’ve been waiting for for a decade, finally a new installment in the story of Lyra Belacqua! I’m going to risk excommunication again here and say I still don’t know how I feel about it. It’s darker and weirder than I expected, and the second half dragged, and I couldn’t quite work out who it was aimed at (though I know Pullman would say it wasn’t “aimed” at anybody). I still loved it, don’t get me wrong. It’s a joy to be back in that universe, Malcolm is adorable, and the villain is effectively terrifying. I just feel more ambivalent than you’re allowed to be about The Book of Dust. Please don’t fight me!!!

2s1980t07o4xTHE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED by Becky Albertalli – Molly has endured 26 unrequited crushes – 25 of which weren’t on Lin-Manuel Miranda – but she’s still waiting on her first kiss. Rejection is scary as heck! Her twin sister Cassie can’t relate, but suddenly there’s an extremely cute girl on Cassie’s radar. A cute girl who quickly becomes more than a crush, and now Cassie’s wrapped up in the overwhelmingness of new love, and Molly is more alone than ever. Alone but for the cute boys confusing her heart and her life, that is… I loved Albertalli’s debut, and this is in a similar lighthearted vein. Sadly, it just didn’t do it for me in the same way as Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It was very fun and sweet and I really liked the brilliant diverse cast, but it was a bit too predictable and the romance felt rushed to me. I’m glad it’s resonated with so many people, though – this is another case of not bad but not for me.

35495848GOODBYE, PERFECT by Sara Barnard – I was lucky enough to secure an advanced copy of my namesake’s newest – thanks My Kinda Book! I saved the best for last. I’m going to have to read again and review closer to the publication date, because this is Sara’s best book yet. Gripping, challenging, compulsive reading with believably spiky characters having believably messy relationships & all the heart you expect of a Barnard book. Sara is just genuinely a great writer & chronicler of the unique trials and triumphs that come with being an (extra)ordinary teenage girl. It’s really, really good, you guys.

 

*

Wow, that was a marathon post! THANKS FOR READING, if you’re still here. October was my big catch-up-with-my-Goodreads-challenge-cos-I’m-unemployed month. Less of a gigantic post next month, I suspect, but we’ll see. A delight to have you here! Let me know if any of my controversial opinions have shocked you to your core.

Advertisements

What I Read in September

Readers! Autumn is well and truly here, and I am frolicking delightedly in the rain and wind and leaves. Okay, to be entirely candid with you, I am currently in bed, looking out the window at the rain and wind and leaves. But it’s much the same effect.

More importantly, I have REMEMBERED HOW TO READ! Yes! In September, I read more than two books. Let’s take a look at them all, shall we?

41+8QKIn4uL._AA300_THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt – Back in August, I spent 30+ gleeful hours listening to one of my favourite novels, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. “Golly, what am I to do with myself and my Audible account after that?!” I thought. The answer was obvious: listen to another of my favourite novels. I love love love The Secret History. Narrator Richard is a working-class California boy who decides to attend a small college across the country on a whim. There he encounters a group of weird, if stylish, kids who he for some reason becomes obsessed with: affable twins Charles and Camilla, mysteriously attractive redhead Francis Abernathy, braying loudmouth Bunny, and the aloof genius and leader of the pack, Henry Winter. He finds his way into their group, and has a marvellous time studying Greek and Latin and drinking too much, but there is something they are hiding from him… (Murder. It’s murder.) The prose is languid, hypnotic, beguiling; the characters are all desperately terrible people and I am awfully fond of the lot of them; the whole story is fuelled by repressed sexuality and reverence for beauty. It is the perfect campus novel. It’s also, although your mileage may vary on this, really funny. Bunny’s essay on metahemoralism literally made me laugh out loud. As I said, I love all these characters and think about them a lot. They are all just so… fascinating. You end up seduced by them all as much as Richard is, despite the fact that if you take a step back it’s immediately obvious that they are all Really Awful. On a semi-related note, it is also important to me that you all acknowledge Richard Papen is bisexual. Obviously, I love to give everything the queerest reading possible, but Richard is so attracted to Francis and so in denial about it. Anyway, The Secret History! Even better this time around, which is a relief because I’ve been citing it as a fave based on a single reading. Now I can confirm: definite fave, still great.

CkWQYnGXIAAzGXKTHE WITCH’S KISS by Katharine and Elizabeth Corr – This enjoyable YA fantasy centres around Merry, grumpy teen and reluctant witch. A spate of knife attacks in Merry’s town has everyone on edge, but surely it has nothing to do with magic, or the dreams she’s been having? Merry finds herself embroiled in the family prophecy, fated to end a centuries-old curse – but she is going to have to kill. Before that, though, she’ll need to learn to control her power, not to mention her heart… I really liked Merry as a heroine: she is flawed and has made mistakes in the past. She’s a little selfish, but it’s refreshing to meet a Chosen One who isn’t nobly self-sacrificing from the off. It’s also a nice change to have a sporty heroine – there’s nothing wrong with bookish-teen-saves-the-day, but Merry actually has extracurricular interests and fencing skills! I also liked her relationship with her brother Leo, who is definitely the standout supporting character. I would have swapped some of the modern timeline for more Anglo-Saxon stuff, but The Witch’s Kiss is overall good fun, especially in the last act where things start kicking off.

Ayobami-Adebayo-Stay-With-MeSTAY WITH ME by Ayòbámi Adébáyò – Yejide is a childless woman, a tragedy in Nigerian society. Her community insists that the barrenness of her marriage must be her own fault, and so she goes to extremes to try to get pregnant. Her relationship with her husband, Akin, undergoes profound strain as they suffer through all the many things that can go wrong when we decide to bring new life into the world. The children she does manage to bear have sickle cell disease, and childlessness becomes child loss. Grief takes its toll, and we begin the novel with Yejide alone. This beautiful, heartbreaking novel was nominated for the Bailey’s Prize, which I usually shadow but did a useless job of this year. I’m glad I read this one, though. 1980s Nigeria is vividly evoked, peopled by lively, warm characters. Stay With Me is a book resonant with love and life, for all that it is a story of grief.

61MCE0p1hwL._SL375_LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders – And speaking of stories of grief… President Lincoln buries his young son, dead of a fever, but returns at night to hold his body and to remember him. However, Lincoln is not alone. His appearance – and his son, Willie’s – is of great interest to many in the graveyard. These are the souls stuck in the bardo, unable to move on as they are yet to accept their state or learn from their mistakes in that previous place. As the night draws on, this Greek chorus of ghosts narrates a strange sequence of events, as well as sharing their own troubles and obsessions. First of all, the audiobook cast is FANTASTIC. I think the listening experience is very different from the average audiobook and I would recommend it highly. I liked this strange book a lot. It’s a bizarre, virtuosic performance of a novel, incredibly moving, original and memorable. There are many images of the afterlife that will stick with me for a while. It’s a powerful meditation on life, death, and grief, the persistence of the human spirit. It’s also a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, and it moved me to tears pretty much constantly.

9781910411599-464x708THE SPACE BETWEEN by Meg Grehan – This debut published by the brilliant Little Island Books is a novel in free verse about Beth, who has decided on a year of solitude, and Alice, who crashes into her world with freckles and sundresses and a dog called Mouse. It’s a sensitively told and lovely story, mostly light but touching on some heavy topics. The format allows the reader complete intimacy with Beth’s thoughts, which are often difficult to read, but if her anxiety is intense then so, too, is the gentle blossoming of her love for Alice, for Mouse, and for the potential of the world outside her front door. Quirky, sweet, and beautiful.

And that’s your lot for September. Check back at the end of October to see what more delights I’ve been reading. (They might be… SpOoOoOoKy!)

Quick news notes: I’m in an anthology of essays on bisexuality, which has been fully funded (hurrah!) but you can pledge for another 13 hours (sPoOkY) here. I’m at #DeptCon3 in Dublin next weekend, which I feel Strangely Nervous about – I don’t fly very often, and I think the last time I flew solo might’ve been 2012! Also, what the heck is Ireland? I’ll be darned if I know, but I guess I’m about to find out. Finally, you should check out my Instagram where I’m posting something ~autumnal~ every day this month because OCTOBER, WOOHOO!

What I Read in July & August

It’s been a difficult summer for me and books. For the me/books relationship. This is due to a number of factors, all of which are my dissertation. In the run-up to YALC, I had such lofty goals of reading books by ALL THE AUTHORS, so I could meet them and have a knowledgeable chat about the themes of their works, the obvious influence of so-and-so upon their hallowed prose stylings. Wandering into the green room, I would spy an author and declare myself an avid shipper of X and Y, despite those plot shenanigans I had definitely read all about!

I read literally one book in July. A NEW LOW. But it was a brilliant book.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-16-at-11.37.29NEEDLEWORK by Deirdre Sullivan – At a slight 224 pages, Needlework wields more power than its size might lead you to suspect. It is dense with pain and beauty, often difficult to read because of the subject matter, but the fluent writing and Ces’ direct voice pull the reader inexorably along, no matter how hard the going gets. I sometimes take photos of jokes in books so I can send them to my friends, but Needlework had me taking pictures of pages because they had distilled something so true and personal I felt the words reverberate in my bones. I didn’t send those pictures to anyone. This book is not for everyone, but if you can bear the intimacy and discomfort, it will make a lasting impact.

And now for my August reads:

23571040155_037db0a201_oJONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke – How can I review Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell? I listened to 32 hours of it, over the course of several weeks, and I literally wept at the ending not because it was sad but because I was already grieving the characters I had spent so long with. An alternative history fantasy set in an England that has long known magic and fairies, but where both have been dormant for a long time before the eponymous magicians revive the practice and generally cause a stir, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one of those novels you could happily live in. It is peopled with characters who are utterly convincing as individuals with histories and motivations of their own, from Jonathan Strange himself to Mr Norrell’s servant’s cat. Some readers find the level of detail Clarke goes to tedious – this is a novel with footnotes, and plenty of them – but I would happily spend another 32 hours at least finding out what everyone’s been up to, right down to what Childermass had for breakfast yesterday. It bears mentioning that Jonathan Strange is my number one, my top book totty, the babeliest of all magicians and indeed all men the fictional world has to offer. He is sometimes a bit annoying, and most of the plot could have been resolved in moments if he ever paid any attention to his wife, but he is also really hot. I’m still slightly cross he wasn’t ginger in the TV series, but he is always ginger in my heart. This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is all narrated in third person as a deadpan, uncannily accurate pastiche of 18th century novels you probably read at school, with the elaborate detail and footnotes and occasional cameos from figures such as Wellington and Lord Byron making it convincing as a history. This same deadpan, bedtime story narrator voice makes the brief flashes of violence and horror all the more jarring; alongside the genteel society comedy of manners is a dark, veiled world of unpredictable magic and terrible consequences. Clarke also draws our attention to the oppressed of the society she depicts; the story is ostensibly about Messrs Strange and Norrell, but of the many subplots, one of the most significant and interesting is that of Stephen Black, butler to Lord Pole, black man in Regency era England, and, according to at least one fairy, the future king of England. The ferocity of Lady Pole’s rage is also something to behold; her entire life is centred around the whims of men, and she is REALLY ANGRY about it. I’ve started to realise how often I’m drawn to historical fiction for the rich, detailed sort of prose that often comes along with it, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell fits the bill. I frankly love few books more than this one.

T IS FOR TREE by Greg Fowler – I received a copy of this book from Ink Road, so I could feature it for the blog tour – check out the post here!

Freshers-website-678x1024FRESHERS by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison – I completely adore everything Tom & Lucy write. This book is hilarious and true, and makes me nostalgic for a freshers experience I never even really had. You finish reading with the sense that you’ve just had a rollercoaster of a time with your best mates. I’m a bit disappointed that I won’t get to see them again next term. The relationships are as ever absolutely spot on – I love the awkward romances Tom and Lucy write, but also that it’s the highs and lows of the friendships that really get me invested. Friendship is VISCERAL and VITAL and A BIG TERRIBLE MESS. Also: you’ll laugh a lot, out loud, in public. Don’t be embarrassed – everyone who’s read this book has done the same thing, and you’re probably still less embarrassing than most of the characters.

A_Change_is_Gonna_ComeA CHANGE IS GONNA COME (Anthology) – It took me an embarrassingly long time to read this but I’m so glad I finally did! a change is gonna come is important & necessary in bringing together underrepresented voices in YA lit but it’s also actually, genuinely brilliant. such a staggering variety of stories that pretty much all made me cry for very different reasons. it’s difficult to pick favourites – there’s honestly not a bum note – but I particularly enjoyed Tanya Byrne’s HACKNEY MOON about queer identity, love, and finding your tribe, Nikesh Shukla’s WE WHO? about post-Brexit racism infecting years of friendship, Yasmin Rahman’s story of facing down Islamophobia and making friends along the way FORTUNE FAVOURS THE BOLD and Aisha Bushby’s intimate and heartbreaking MARIONETTE GIRL. That’s a full third of the book. I could go on. Thank goodness for the team at Stripes, who are changing the game with their publishing committed to levelling the playing field. Hopefully in the near future we won’t need anthologies like this, but if they’re all as good as A Change Is Gonna Come, we’ll keep publishing them anyway.

What I Read in April

I read four books in April. To be fair, one of them was 666 pages long, and I also snuck in a cheeky reread, but that’s still a pretty poor showing. Now my classes are over and most of my deadlines are long and gone, perhaps I can do better in May?

Girl-of-Ink-Stars-newTHE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood Hargrave – Confession: I started reading this just after it was published in January 2016 and I didn’t really take to it, so I returned it to the library. After it was awarded the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, I decided to give it another go. I think this is truly a case of “it’s not you, it’s me” – plenty of people whose opinions I respect absolutely loved it, but I found myself reluctant to return to Joya every time I put on my headphones (audiobook, natch). Maybe I’m just not used to reading middle grade?

32613366THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas – In a nutshell: YA and the Black Lives Matter movement, but also so much more. I’ve nothing to say about this book that hasn’t been said before by people far more qualified and eloquent than me. Suffice it to say that The Hate U Give deserves to top the New York Times bestseller list a zillion times over. Reading this book made my heart feel bigger and my mind feel wider. It’s absolutely stunning. Angry and alive, but surprisingly tender and often laugh-out-loud funny. And the voice! Starr and her friends and family are absolutely wonderful, and this book is important, nay, VITAL. Angie Thomas’ brilliance is radiant and her success is inspiring. The Hate U Give is unforgettable.

a-conjuring-of-light-1A CONJURING OF LIGHT by V.E. Schwab – The final instalment of Schwab’s excellent Shades of Magic trilogy. I think it suffers a little from last-in-the-series syndrome, in that it is reeeaaally long with all the loose ends it has to tie up. I don’t mind spending a while in this universe, with these characters, but it wasn’t until the latter third of the book that I found myself letting my coffee go cold, anxiously turning pages. There was a surprising amount of backstory crammed in, and though that was necessary for characters like the king and queen, I found Holland’s flashbacks overlong. I’m glad he got the sympathy and spotlight he deserves, but I didn’t enjoy squinting at full pages of italics. Despite all this, I really thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don’t read very much fantasy, but Schwab’s Londons are completely enthralling, and the magic system is one of the most interesting I’ve encountered. ACOL is 100% worth it just for three Antari in the same room.

419OgK6BE2L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_GIRLHOOD by Cat Clarke – This book is out today and you should buy it! It’s a queer boarding school story with themes of identity, friendship, and obsession. I think you’ll like it; I did, as you can read here.

And that’s your lot! Sorry about that. I’ve already read one book this month, and I’m hoping to finish six more, so there might be more to blog about in a few weeks. See you then!

REVIEW: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Cat Clarke’s latest was sold to me as “queer Malory Towers with a dash of Single White Female.” Honestly, they had me at “queer”, but the rest of the pitch is intriguing too – a psychological thriller set at a boarding school? Sign. Me. Up.

Girlhood opens with a midnight feast, and it only gets better from there. Our narrator is Harper, newly rich and living under the shadow of her twin sister’s death. At the exclusive Duncraggan Academy, she has a tight-knit group of pals, including her best friend, roommate Rowan. Boarding school is like a sleepover with your besties every day, and this is their last year together before university and the real world outside the Academy’s walls. It’s shaping up to be a year to remember even before the new girl, Kirsty, joins the group. Harper and Kirsty have so much in common, naturally they become fast friends – but this new addition to the group threatens to throw off the whole dynamic, and Harper soon finds herself having to make unexpected choices, with the formerly solid bonds of friendship looking ever more fragile…

I read this book in one sitting. It’s as intense a page-turner as anything I’ve ever read, with the emotional stakes deeply compelling. It’s also intensely unsettling. Clarke digs deep into the relationships between these girls to create a psychological thriller where the worst thing that can happen is for them not to be friends any more. For any teenager, friendship is vital social currency, but in boarding school, it’s your whole life. Imagine eating every meal, sitting in every class, even sharing a bedroom with the same person every day. Now imagine what it’s like when that person isn’t talking to you any more. The claustrophobic setting is skilfully evoked, and although Harper isn’t blameless, the way disagreements escalate into feuds when you are living in each other’s pockets made me positively vibrate with sympathy for her.

The relationship between Harper and Rowan is one of my favourite things in the book. Rowan is a great best friend: she’s funny, loyal, and cares a lot about dental hygiene. Like Harper, she’s queer (she began QueerSoc at Duncraggan!) and although it’s refreshing to see two queer characters who are just friends, if there aren’t dozens of Harper/Rowan fics on the internet soon, I will be disappointed. Their relationship is so supportive, it makes it all the more disorienting when it is threatened with being taken away. Along with these sharply drawn relationships, there is a background story about Harper’s twin, Jenna, and her death resulting from an eating disorder. This serious subject is navigated sensitively by the author, but it’s wrenching to see how the disease has shattered the family, and particularly Harper’s struggle with survivor’s guilt. It’s worth remembering that Harper has always been one of a pair: after Jenna there’s Rowan, and when Kirsty comes along it’s second nature for Harper to seek the other half of her whole, intensifying the already acute nature of teenage girl friendship.

Girlhood‘s bright pink cover is scattered with burnt matches. When Kirsty is left in the dark, she doesn’t use a single match, because she has a torch. She doesn’t need to make her own light in the dark: Harper has given her light. In the face of Harper’s indifference, Kirsty is desperate to rekindle their friendship, and so she tries until something catches. But in the closed environment of boarding school, rumours and lies spread faster than a forest fire, and Harper soon finds herself in danger of suffocation.

At the end – when the fires have burnt down – the girls rise from the ashes. Despite the darkness of grief and deceit, it’s ultimately a hopeful book. It’s a coming of age story that reminds you healing is slow and difficult, but possible. Love helps, love hopes, and there is nothing like the love between teenage girls. Girlhood: complicated. Girlhood: highly recommended!

I need to read Cat Clarke’s (gorgeously rejacketed) back catalogue immediately. Any recommendations, anyone?

REVIEW: How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

Thanks for joining me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the fourth of my reviews. I originally planned to have them up, week by week, in order but real life has intervened! Adds a wee bit of excitement and mystery, I suppose.

Copy of ASTRONOMY 101

The long, lazy summer holidays are some of the best days of a teenager’s life, right? Not so for Hattie; not only has she been abandoned by her best friends, she’s pregnant by one of them. As if the rest of her family’s drama wasn’t enough… Cue the sudden appearance on the scene by Gloria, surprise great-aunt, and the friend Hattie desperately needs right now. Gloria is in the early stages of dementia, but she’s fierce, funny, and ready for a road trip. So off they go, to confront and to share a past and future.

I read this book last year, and wrote on Goodreads:

A beautiful, generously heartfelt novel, and that great rarity – a UKYA roadtrip story! The book is peppered throughout with laugh-out-loud lines, and peopled by characters charming and lively enough to elevate HOW NOT TO DISAPPEAR above the standard YA contemporary. There are some wonderful female friendships and a welcome focus on functional, if non-traditional family relationships. Moving and full of wisdom, with an appealing narrator and a unique sense of humour.

Even a year later, I remember the experience of reading this book fondly. It really is lovely, which is not to say that it sugarcoats any of the difficult subjects it tackles; on the contrary, through the dual narratives it digs deep into the prejudice faced by pregnant women who aren’t the right kind of mother according to society’s mores. The characters are really strong, and I loved that Hattie writes a good email – her narration in all formats is likeable, mature but not unrealistically so, and very much alive. You know she’d be an excellent pal.

Much like Unbecoming from last year’s shortlist, with which it shares the themes of intergenerational relationships, family history, and dementia, How Not to Disappear is a novel with broad appeal. I would readily recommend it to anybody who likes books that warm the cockles of their heart. (Though you had better be ready to shed a few tears, too.) And, as I said above – it’s a road trip story! There’s something very appealing about characters going on a literal journey that mirrors their internal journeys, and being the little island that we are, there are precious few road trips in UKYA. This novel makes me believe in a future for rich, well-rounded characters driving around and having emotional epiphanies. There’s a trend I could get behind.

REVIEW: Chasing the Stars by Malorie Blackman

It’s YA Book Prize time again! My favourite time of the year – in terms of this blog, anyway. Prepare to join me on an odyssey through the #YA10. I’ll be brutally honest about what I love and what I don’t enjoy so much about the ten books deemed worthy contenders for the only prize dedicated to UKYA. This is the second of my reviews (with the first yet to come… don’t ask, it’s all timey-wimey shenanigans.)

ASTRONOMY 101

Olivia Sindall is the teenage captain of a ship hurtling through space back to Earth. A virus has wiped out the rest of the crew, including her family – except for her brother, Aidan. It’s a pretty lonely existence, until one day they intercept a distress signal coming from an uninhabited planet in enemy territory. Vee’s life collides with Nathan’s, and nothing will ever be the same again. The confines of a spaceship are the perfect environment for love to flourish… or to suffocate. Surrounded by rumours and a spate of suspicious accidents, jealousy starts to rear its ugly head.

Othello in space – by Malorie Blackman – sounds like everything a YA nerd could want, right? Whether Chasing the Stars is a retelling or merely inspired by the Bard is up for debate. It has been a little while since I last read/saw Othello, and my literary criticism is not rigorous enough for me to have sought it out for purposes of this review, and therefore I may have missed some nods to the play in the book. Vee and Nathan are obviously Othello and Desdemona, with Aidan playing the role of Iago. Iago’s famously inscrutable motivation is rather cleverly explained here; I cannot elaborate for fear of spoilers, but I enjoyed Blackman’s addition to the canon of interpretations of Iago’s psychology.

There is a whole diverse cast of characters surrounding Nathan and Vee – so many, in fact, that they quickly become interchangeable. Nobody gets very development except for the two narrators, although I did like Commander Linedecker, Nathan’s forthright and authoritative mother (Brabantio, of course). The first person dual narration creates a claustrophobic vibe and allows us to get inside the motivations behind Vee and Nathan’s often frankly baffling actions. However, the very short chapters mean that the POV often changes several times within the same scene, which didn’t really work for me.

I am glad that the sexual content in the book is not demurely skimmed over. For the reader to believe in Vee and Nathan’s dizzyingly intense romance, we have to believe they are attracted to each other. They’re young and have been isolated for so long, it would be unrealistic for them not to want to jump each other’s bones. Especially considering that they’re married. Their romance is the central part of the book, at the expense of the sci-fi element – a shame in my eyes, because what we do get to see of the futuristic world is intriguing enough.

There are some things I liked about this book, but I only managed to finish it because I was shadowing the YA Book Prize. It was easier going in the back half, where the plot picked up a little, but most of the book is flat characters delivering cringe-worthily clunky dialogue. (Seriously, here’s an example: “And weren’t those the words from a poem used in the late twentieth-century film Dead Poets Society starring Robin Williams?” Just trying saying that sentence out loud.) Nathan and Vee’s chemistry was not convincing enough for me to get swept up in their romance, or to ignore the fact that Nathan’s idea of consent is sketchy at best. I really wanted to like Chasing the Stars, and I hope other readers get something out of it, but I think I’ll stick to Noughts & Crosses, and/or the actual works of William Shakespeare. (Though I still need to read Hagseed, Margaret Atwood’s spin on The Tempest!)