Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating:★★★★★

This is one of my most anticipated 2017 releases, and – God – did it deliver! This book is both important for its message and the subject matter that it represents, and also really, really good. Starr’s voice is strong and unique, all of the characters are fleshed out so they feel real, and the story grips you by the heartstrings right from the start.

Starr is 16 years old when she witnesses her best friend Khalil get shot by a police officer after being pulled over. In the weeks that follow, she must battle not only with her own grief, her guilt, her fear for her safety and those around her, but also with the police investigation, with the media spotlight, with protestors fighting for justice for Khalil, and with those who think that Khalil deserved it. Starr knows that what happened was wrong, but speaking out comes with its own struggles.

Books like THUG are one of my favourite things about YA books. Angie Thomas addresses a current, pressing and very divisive issue in a way that makes it feel real to readers. Angie Thomas said in an interview that she has heard from readers who are from white supremacist backgrounds feeling touched by this novel, and it’s easy to see why. Starr, as both a protagonist and a narrator, is superb. Angie’s writing makes Starr’s feelings so clear to the reader, from the shock after Khalil’s death, to her sorrow and grief, her fear for her own safety at multiple times during the book, her guilt over being afraid to speak up, and her anger that fuels her fight for justice. The book brilliantly balances all of the different aspects of the story: the plot, the characters, and the message. All three parts complement and support each other perfectly, amplifying each other so that the book all but knocks you over as you read it. Angie Thomas takes an issue that many people will only be used to hearing about in headlines and news reports, and makes it human.

Starr is a brilliant narrator and protagonist. Her voice is clear, honest, and funny, although it is probably more accurate to say that there are two Starrs at the beginning of this novel. There is the Starr that lives in Garden Heights, a poor neighbourhood with its gangs, drugs, and shootings, but also its friendly neighbours, her dad’s shop, her family and her friends. There is also the Starr who attends the fancy, mostly white private school in the suburbs, who is cool simply because she is black, but who can’t be too ‘black’ or she’ll be seen as a thug. This separation of her identity is something that we see Starr grapple with a lot, and it adds a lot of layers to her as a character. She doesn’t tell her friends that she knew Khalil, and her friends don’t visit her at her house.

It was a great strength of the book that its characters where multifaceted and weren’t always completely sure what to think. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a police officer himself, and he admits that he let his friends convince him that maybe Khalil deserved it even though he knew him, an even though it could have just as easily been his niece, and Starr has to deal with the guilt of knowing she was too ashamed to tell her friends the truth about Khalil. I found it interesting to see how her experiences have ramifications for all areas of her life, making her question her friends more, and even question whether she is betraying herself and her friends by having a white boyfriend. For lack of a better way to say it, the characters in this novel are not black and white, and their personal challenges add another layer to a story that is already excellent.

Overall, I don’t hesitate to say that I think THUG should be recommended reading for everyone. This book is both fantastic and important. It addresses racism in various forms, from institutional racism to the hidden racism of Starr’s school friends who prefer to ignore the problem, but it also shows brilliant characters, beautiful relationships, whether it’s those in Starr’s family, her friendships, or that of her and her boyfriend.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Girls Can’t Hit – T.S. Easton Review

 

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Expected publication: April 20th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wow! I wasn’t really in the mood for reading anything because I’ve been so busy with school work, but I chose this book because it was one of the shorter ones on my reading list. I’m so glad that I did, because this book really cheered up the last few dreary days, and even when I was exhausted at the end of a day of studying, I still wanted to stay up hours into the night to finish it!

Girls Can’t Hit is about a young girl called Fleur Waters who joins a local boxing club on a whim, initially just seeking to get fit, but then gets swept away by love for it. Soon, she is exercising everyday, eager to bulk up, watching every boxing film under the sun and videos of female boxers online for inspiration. There are some battles along the way, though. Boxing clashes with Date Night with her boyfriend, Saturday trips with her best friends, her over-protective mother is seriously against it, and the boxing club is struggling and might have to close down. Fleur has to not only fight in the ring, but also outside of it.

I absolutely loved Fleur. From the beginning, she just leaps right off the page and I think T.S. Easton has done a really good job at capturing a funny and smart character without making it feel cheesy or overdone. I also loved her determination and strength – not of the physical kind, although that was exciting to see too. I was really impressed and inspired by her sticking with the club even though she was the only girl to begin with and much more unfit than the other guys, something which I don’t think I would have been able to do, and her resilience in her training. I also loved how she stuck by her guns outside of the club as well, repeating to everyone who challenged her and told her that maybe boxing wasn’t a good idea that she loved it and would keep training.

I liked how all of the other plot lines weaved into the overall story of Fleur’s growth. Her friends and boyfriend compete for her time, and she has to learn how to balance boxing with her relationships, and that maybe sometimes the two are just incompatible. I loved her friends, especially Blossom, whose feminist rants I wanted to applaud, and Pip, whose clumsiness was so funny I laughed out loud a couple of times. I also loved how we saw boxing eventually help her to strengthen her relationships, as her friends and family started to appreciate who she was and the things that she enjoyed doing, and even helped her to make great new friendships in her club with people she might not have ever met otherwise.

I’m sometimes apprehensive about teen novels being describes as “Feminist” stories, because I usually find them to be trying too hard, but this novel definitely deserves the title. Apart from seeing Fleur train in the boxing ring, and stand by her new hobby outside of it, I loved the storyline about her helping to attract more women to the boxing club, which was struggling to make enough money. It was good to see not only a storyline about girls in sport but also a message that your activism can be anything, maybe it can be protesting with placards like Blossom, or helping out with local cause that you care about.

Overall, Girls Can’t Hit was super fun to read and I definitely recommend it to other lovers of YA. I loved all of the characters and especially Fleur’s personal journey as well as the growth in her relationships, and Easton’s writing made it so easy to step into her head and enjoy the story. This is a great girl power story, and also a great book about sports – hell, even I was googling local boxing clubs!

For fans of: Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

The Changeling – Helen Falconer Review

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Rating:★

I was so looking forward to this book! A fantasy about teenagers caught up in the world of Irish folklore sounded right up my street as I’m obsessed with Ireland, but this book just fell flat for me. The writing and the story felt clunky and rushed, and before I was even halfway through, I was rushing to get to the end.

Aoife is an ordinary teenager growing up in the Irish countryside, but one day, she spots an infant girl running through the fields alone. Concerned for her, Aoife runs after the girl to help her, but loses track of her, instead running to a bog. She dives in, convinced that the girl is drowning, but the girl is nowhere to be found. Aoife returns home, and everything seems to be normal. Except that it’s not. Suddenly, strange things are happening around Aoife. For one, she has superhuman speed, and on top of that, the ghostly girl appears to her in the middle of the night, and her parents seem afraid of her. When she confronts them, they finally tell her the truth. She isn’t their daughter, but rather, she is a changeling brought to them by the fairies, who stole away their real baby daughter. Aoife is swept away into the world of the fairies, and she must decide whether to find her way back, or stay.

I was very intrigued to learn more about Irish folklore as it has always interested me. One thing that I did like about this book was the mixing of these ancient stories with a modern setting. However, the story itself felt forced rather than subtle. Things just happened without any warning, as though the characters were being hit by divine inspiration. For example, Aoife’s parents tell her the whole story about the changelings for no reason other than that she found some baby photos that they said had been lost. Similarly, later on, Aoife, out of nowhere, wonders if she can fly, and goes ahead to just do it. There was no sense of mystery or tension in the plot, no sense of the characters having to stumble through difficulties or feel lost. Any mystery or challenge didn’t last for long, because either Aoife or the other characters would just have a gut feeling about what they had to do, which I felt was a bit of a cop-out.

This issue with the plot made everything else about the novel fall flat for me. I couldn’t get into it at all because everything felt too orchestrated by the author, rather than feeling like an authentic story. I couldn’t appreciate the characters fully because I felt like I never really saw them struggling with anything, even though they showed potential at the beginning. Aoife seems like a good friend and a clever girl, but she always knew what to do. I was intrigued by the other changelings who weren’t aware at the way time was passing in the ‘real’ world, but we never saw them realise this, so they didn’t experience any big changes. The descriptive passages were good, but I wish that Falconer had been able to create atmosphere in the way she did here, in other sections. Yes, she could describe beautiful landscapes well and showed her creativity, but I would have also loved to have read scenes with suspense and fear, rather than only being able to appreciate the passages that were just describing landscapes. I love descriptions, but I would rather have no description and interesting plot and characters.

Overall, this book was very disappointing for me. I expected there to be a magical sense of wonder, fear, and mystery, but I didn’t get it at all. This was very nearly a book that I  didn’t finish, but I had been looking forward so much to reading about Irish folklore that I was determined to finish it.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Traitor to the Throne – Alwyn Hamilton Review

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Taken from @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating:★★★★★

Why did I put this book off for so long? Was it the 500+ pages? Was it the possibility of Sagging Middle Syndrome? Did I just want to avoid having to wait so long for the next book? Probably a mix of the three. Whatever it was, I am so glad that I finally got around to reading Traitor to the Throne. I loved the first book (read my review here), and this one continued with the exciting plot and characters, and sets up the series for an explosive ending that I am already buzzing to read.

This book picks up some time after Rebel of the Sands. Amani has been with Prince Ahmed’s rebellion for a while now, but near the start of the book she is captured and taken to the Sultan’s palace where she is kept as a prisoner in his harem, bound to the Sultan who wants to use her Demji powers for himself. Amani decides to use her position to her advantage and begins spying on the Sultan, trying to learn as much as she can for the Rebellion, but this is a treacherous game. If it is discovered that she is a rebel, the punishment would be severe, not only for her but for her friends, and the Sultan knows exactly how to manipulate her.

The new setting means that the story takes a completely different tone. While Rebel of the Sands felt to me a bit like playing Temple Run – running and jumping and fighting at 100 mph – Traitor to the Throne is a much more slow burn story. It is politics and scheming and power plays. It is backstabbing and turncoats and disguises. Who is Amani’s ally and who is her enemy? We’re never quite sure. We see a different side to Amani in this novel because we get to see her planning her moves and making her own way. She no longer has a team of rebels at her side – she doesn’t even have Jin, and to make matters worse, the Sultan knows exactly how to control a Demji. With pieces of iron under her skin, Amani is cut off from her magic, and she can do nothing but obey all of the Sultan’s orders. She is bound to the very man who she is fighting to overthrow, and a slip of the tongue could reveal everything. While I found the first few chapters difficult to get into, once I remembered who all of the characters were and got used to the slight time jump between Rebel and Traitor, I got used to the harem setting and loved it.

I also loved all of the new characters that we got to meet in the harem. The characters in the rebellion are all very bold and bright, with magical powers and/or strong personalities that clash and make themselves known. In the harem, everything is more subtle, and I loved this shift. In Rebel, it was easy for Amani to know who she could be herself around, but in the harem she doesn’t have that luxury. I loved the atmosphere of the harem as this sort of miniature realm ruled by the politics of the Sultim’s wives. I also loved the Sultan’s character and found him a lot of fun. I’m glad that he wasn’t obviously evil, and even Amani begins to question her alliance. She spends time with him and listens to the reasons behind his decisions, his motivations and goals, and begins to doubt whether Ahmed, for all his good intentions, can really be a ruler. I always enjoy seeing this sort of moral ambiguity and find it so much more interesting than a villain who shows no humanity. I also loved the changes we see in Amani over the course of this novel. She begins to make her own decisions, plotting her own moves, and stepping up to take the lead when it seems like the rebellion may crumble. I actually felt a surge of pride at  her becoming a leader in her own right, and I can’t wait to see what other changes we see in her in the final instalment of the trilogy.

Traitor to the Throne isn’t just an interesting setting though, there was a great plot as well. As I said, this novel’s plot is a lot more slow burn than the first, and for much of the novel, you are just getting bits and pieces of information without really knowing where it’s going, but Hamilton’s writing, the setting and characters mean that you don’t get bored or feel lost. There is a real sense of mystery and suspense, and you know that something is building. When the action finally does kick off towards the end of the novel, it is intense. I loved the clashing of the rebellion with the harem, and the rebellion finally becoming ‘mainstream’ so that it poses a direct threat to the Sultan. Without spoiling the end of the novel, the final chapters of Traitor to the Throne are filled with so much action, plot twists and shocks that I didn’t really know what to do with myself  by the time I finished.

I wasn’t sure quite how I would feel about the change of tone and setting in Traitor to the Throne. I had enjoyed the action of Rebel so much that I wasn’t sure if Amani and the story would feel the same in the more political setting, but there was nothing to fear. I had so much fun reading Traitor to the Throne, and Hamilton has really set up the series for an exciting ending.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

A Quiet Kind of Thunder – Sara Barnard Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Continuing on my 2017 trend of reading more YA contemporary novels than I ever have before in my life, I chose to read A Quiet Sort of Thunder, hoping to find a blend between sweet romance and something more substantial. This book definitely delivers. Not only does Thunder have wonderful characters and relationships at its centre, but it also brilliantly represents and brings attention to the experiences of people who find it difficult to communicate or communicate in different ways. Although I found that the story lagged at times, I definitely learned a lot reading this novel and it made me want to keep learning.

Steffi Brons has selective mutism and severe anxiety, and has done for most of her life. She can only speak around certain persons close to her, and is mostly invisible to those around her. But when she meets Rhys, who is deaf, she finds that communicating with him is easier than with anyone else. With BSL, it doesn’t matter if Steffi doesn’t speak, but even without any pressure to speak, Steffi is finding her voice, and the confidence to use it.

Sara Barnard’s representation of Steffi’s anxieties and selective mutism were both interesting and moving. As someone who has experienced severe shyness and anxiety, I could relate to Steffi’s fears and concerns about interacting with people in public. While I had heard of selective mutism, I had never seen it explored in so much detail. You can really tell that Sara did in-depth research when writing this novel, and I felt like her writing really helps you to get into Steffi’s head. There were some really moving passages that broke my heart, and I was rooting for Steffi the whole way through as she continued on her journey to confidence in herself. I also loved that, despite the main characters rarely speaking out loud, this didn’t hinder the story at all. They sign to each other and their ‘speech’ is told in bold rather than quotation marks, and there was greater focus on facial expressions and body language than in many other novels, which I really enjoyed. I also loved the BSL diagrams, in both the inside covers of the book, the chapter beginnings, and littered throughout the text.

My main concern about this novel was that it would fall into the cliche of a new love interest ‘healing’ the main character’s ‘ailment’. I was worried that Rhys would be the reason for Steffi finding her voice, and I would have hated that. In fact, there are several reasons for Steffi becoming more confident. She is taking new medication, which she is keeping a secret, she is seeing a therapist, and she also has great, supportive, people around her. I loved that Sara found a subtle balance between these things, meaning that there isn’t one single cure for Steffi, but rather a combination of factors that help her to push herself to her limits. Neither one works without the others, they all help her to take steps forward, and I really loved the important role that not only Rhys, but her friend Tem and her family play in helping her. One of my favourite moments was when Steffi, in an emergency, has to find help in a place that she has never been before. She not only deals with a panic attack, but then several of her fears, from talking to strangers to making phone calls, all while thinking that she is failing for being nervous. Sara does a really good job at helping you to get into Steffi’s state of mind and understanding her point of view, leading to a really insightful reading experience.

At times I did feel like the novel didn’t develop much in plot outside of the central relationship between Rhys and Steffi, but the novel was well written and interesting enough to not make this a huge deal. It wasn’t that Steffi didn’t have any goals in the novel, because she did – being able to speak – but I would have liked for there to have been a more specific goal. Perhaps a particular challenge or a goal that she was focused on throughout the novel. There is her desire to go to university, but this is quite vague and in the background of the novel, being mentioned a few times but not central to her thoughts. However, even without this, we do still get to see Steffi’s development and journey throughout the novel and see how she copes in different difficult situations. The fact that Sara’s writing helps you to relate to the character so much means that you can deal with the novel not being more plot-driven, and the fact that I cared for the character meant that I didn’t mind just reading her thoughts.

Overall, this book was incredibly well written, insightful and respectful. The characters are  relatable and their experiences are moving. It is filled with important insights into anxiety, deafness, and other difficulties that people may have in communicating and makes you much more aware of the challenges that people may face.This is a great balance between stories based on Steffi’s relationships, whether with Rhys, her best friend Tem, or her family members, and the challenges that she faces outside of those relationships.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Unconventional – Maggie Harcourt Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★

Continuing the recent trend of YA contemporary books convincing me that I’m wrong when I say I don’t really enjoy YA contemporary books, Unconventional is one of the most enjoyable reads in a while. It was fun, light, and made me swoon. I loved the characters, the romance, and the convention setting. It’s a book for people who like books, so I fell right into it.

I actually knew nothing about Unconventional when I picked it up, but I had seen some bloggers raving about it on social media, but this book is about a girl who runs conventions (clever title alert!). Lexi Angelo lives, breathes and eats conventions. Her dad has been planning them for years, and she loves being his trusty assistant. Every year, the pair of them, along with other similar convention families that she has grown up with, put on convention after convention, and when the season is over, they plan for the next. When Lexi reads the yet to be released fantasy novel Piecekeepers, she knows that it’s going to be the next big thing. She tells her dad that they have to get the author, Haydn Swift, as a guest at their next convention. Little does she know however, that her and Haydn Swift have met before, and it wasn’t good. But Haydn is more than he seems. Over the course of the convention season, Lexi and Haydn meet several times, and during late night conversations and emails, she realises that Haydn is just one side of him. The real man, Aiden, is shy, and kind, and funny. Can she get to grips with Aiden’s two lives, and can she let go of her own perfectly scheduled life?

The best things about this book were the characters and the setting. I loved the convention setting, and the fact that the book is set almost exclusively during conventions. I also felt like the setting brought Lexi’s character to life as we see her at work. We see her running around, solving problems, ordering people around via walkie-talkie. Lexi is great at her job, and I really enjoyed seeing a YA protagonist at work like this. The other convention kids were also so much fun. Cosplaying Samira, Bede, and Nadiya always provided some humour to make a scene more fun, and I liked seeing really healthy friendships between kids who have grown up together There was no cliched friend backstabbing, or falling out, these guys know each other inside and out, and they love each other – even if they do argue about who is going to handle the registration desk.

The relationship between Aiden and Lexi was also a lot of fun to read. This novel is not a story with twisting plots or surprises, it is predictable, but it is also sweet. Aiden and Lexi start off on the wrong foot, and then we see them getting to know each other over the course of the next few conventions, and I really enjoyed these scenes. They were like something straight out of a romcom, filled with teasing and playing, and getting accidentally locked in rooms together. I had no problem with the predictability of this story, because the writing is light and funny, but I did find it hard to relate to Lexi’s anxieties when it came to the relationship. I felt like I would have liked a bigger ‘problem’ to come between Aiden and Lexi, because to be honest, I just didn’t see the problem. Lexi worries that Haydn is so different to Aiden, but I didn’t understand why she couldn’t just accept that he had a public persona when he was ‘working’. When the pair finally did have a fight towards the end of the novel, I was excited to see the fallout and the reunion, but I didn’t feel like this was really addressed. The resolution to the problem was sort of skimmed over too much in my opinion, as if the book was racing towards its romantic end without ironing out the story first.

Although I have said that the story is a fun, light, and predictable read, I was also quite moved by Lexi’s personal story. Lexi loves conventions, and she’s good at them, but over the course of the novel she has to accept that maybe her world is bigger than just conventions. I liked her realisation that there was so much more that she could try and see, but I would have liked to have seen a little more of her future, or at least more of a conclusion as I felt like her epiphany was a bit general and open-ended. I also would have liked to have learned a bit more about her time at school. There are quite a few hints that Lexi doesn’t manage to balance school and conventions very well and that she feels like a bit of an outcast. Although I understand that her ‘normal’ life is quite separate from conventions, it would have been nice to have seen a teensy bit. Especially considering that the novel is set between spring and autumn,  I was at least expecting to see a mention of the exams that a sixth form student would be sitting in that time. It felt a bit odd, for a novel with teenage characters that felt so real, so just skim over something that is such a big part of your life at that age.

Overall though, Unconventional was so much fun. I felt like some aspects of the story and Lexi’s life were only dealt with superficially, but that doesn’t mean that the book isn’t a hell of a lot of fun. I laughed out loud at several points reading this book, and swooned – along with Lexi. After all, who doesn’t want to fall in love with a young, dashing author with great hair?

 

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak Review

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Expected publication: June 27th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book blew me away! I was excited to read this because I had heard quite a bit about it on the grapevine (the grapevine being Twitter) but I was a little worried that it would be too corny for me, a little too: quirky characters + quirky situation = major eyerolls. In reality, this book was so moving, with beautiful writing and beautiful stories.

If Birds Fly Back is about two characters, Linny and Sebastian, drawn together by the return of prolific Miami writer Alvaro Herrera, who disappeared three years prior. Linny wants to know why Alvaro returned, in the hopes that it might help her figure out how to bring her sister, who has run away, back home. Sebastian has grown up not knowing who his father is, and now he’s looking for answers. Over the course of the summer, the pair of them try to get the answers they need from Alvaro, but while they may not get the answers that they were looking for, they discover much, much more.

The characters in this novel were brilliantly written. I felt like I knew both Linny and Sebastian so well, and I always wanted to know Alvaro more, just like they did. Both Linny and Sebastian are smart, funny, a little shy, but mostly, they’re lost. Linny is desperate to bring her sister home, and she doesn’t have the guts to break her parents’ hearts by telling them that she doesn’t want to be a doctor, she wants to make movies. Meanwhile, Sebastian is also struggling with figuring out who he is. He thinks that meeting his father will help him to solve it, just like Linny thinks that finding her sister will put her back together. They come together in their missions to fix themselves, and when they do, it’s wonderful.

Sorosiak is really good at writing lovey-dovey scenes – I mean, really good. I was swooning. The relationship between Linny and Sebastian was the perfect balance of friendship and romance for me. I was worried at one point that this would be an instal-love situation, where from one moment to the next, suddenly the characters are in love with each other, but really there was so much more to their relationship. They’re helping each other out, comforting each other, having fun, sharing secrets and mainly, helping each other to free themselves. None of the scenes felt bland, or sickly sweet, but they were the ideal mix of fun, emotion, and romance. Whether the pair are sharing a moment in a ball pit, awkwardly watching a movie, or hiding out in a closet, it always felt fun to read the development of the novel’s main romance. Sorosiak really captures the characters’ different feelings, whether its having a crush, falling in love, grief, or something as simple as feeling like you’re going to melt from the intense summer heat.

My favourite thing about the book was probably the split narration between Linny and Sebastian. They had distinct narrative voices, and I liked that they occasionally made sarcastic jokes so that it felt a little like a diary, but not often enough that it felt too much like the author was trying to make a conscious effort to make the characters look ≈cool≈. It was just enough to make them feel real. I also really liked the little details that give you some more insight into their state of mind, so with Linny, each chapter begins with a section of her notes on disappearances and reappearances, and ends with a section from a screenplay that she is writing about being abandoned. Sebastian’s chapters are littered with quotes from the science book that he is reading, and his own notes on theories. This really captures their struggles of feeling lost and abandoned, but also their particular interests and how they deal with their feelings. They’re both looking for explanations, but Linny is looking for it in stories, and Sebastian in science.

This book was absolutely marvellous. I was really impressed with it. I’m a little shocked to be saying this, because I never really thought anybody could reach these heights, but I recommend this to anyone who has read and enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s books. I got the same vibes as I do reading Jandy’s books, the same gentle balance of great characters, great romance, great stories and great writing. This is a perfect book for anyone who likes YA contemporary, and even if you don’t read young adult books, If Birds Fly Back still a wonderful story of love and loss and finding yourself.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★

This book caught my eye because, well, because I’m pretty sure you can’t be into YA at the moment without having caught wind of Nicola Yoon’s novels. Both of them have been huge hits, and this novel Everything, Everything has even been made into a movie starring Amandla Sandberg. I just had to read this book and see what the fuss was about, and I get it. I really do. I read this book in less than a day, and if I hadn’t had things to do, I would have read it in one sitting. Madeline is captivating, and the story, and Nicola Yoon’s writing, swallowed me whole.

Madeline is 18 years old, but she spends every day cooped up in her completely clean, safe, cocoon of a house. Why? She has a condition called SCID, which means that she is effectively allergic to the world. One step outside, and something could trigger all sorts of horrible reactions. The world is literally out to kill her. Madeline is content with her life, which consists solely of her mother, her nurse Carla, her Skype tutors, and her books – that is, until a family move in next door. Olly is energetic, running up walls and jumping onto the roof; he is kind, protecting his mother from his abusive father; he is funny, communicating with Madeline by mimed conversations through the window and then through online messages. However, the more Madeline gets to interact with the outside world, the more she wants to be in it, and she has to decide whether life is better lived safely, or fully.

Madeline is such a wonderful main character and her voice is so strong that you feel like you know her. I love the way that Nicola Yoon has various different types of chapter in the book, so that you get a sense for different sides of Madeline. Some of the chapters were simple retellings of what is happening, while others were computer screenshots, or  diagrams, maps or IM conversations. These broke up the structure of the novel in a really fun way, because events that were perhaps more ordinary, like Madeline buying an entirely new wardrobe, could be put across to the reader quickly with a drawing. Others really got across the emotion that Madeline is feeling, whether it is the dream that is described in writing in the form of a spiral, or a map of her broken heart. They also bring you closer to Madeline in that you feel like you are reading her personal journal, seeing the doodles that she makes for her eyes only.

I also really enjoyed the relationship between Madeline and Olly. I loved the contrast between Olly and Madeline, and the fact that he in a way, symbolises everything that Madeline is missing outside. He wears all black to her all white, and while she is trapped inside her house, he is running around and practicing parkour. At the same time, he didn’t feel like a YA love interest cliche. He wasn’t a bad boy, he wasn’t cruel, he wasn’t a John Green quirky nerd. He felt as real as she did, and I never found myself wondering what was so special about Olly. He was genuinely nice. I also liked that although both of the characters come from very different family backgrounds, they both have to face the same challenge of finding a way to be free of their family’s control, and the idea that love can trap you as well as free you. This might seem a little vague, but I promise you, if you read this book you will see what I mean. This novel doesn’t portray love as being simple, and for such a short book, I think Nicola Yoon really explores the nature of love in all its forms really well, from Madeline’s controlling mother, acting out of love and trying to protect her daughter, to Olly’s mother who can’t find it in her to take herself out of a dangerous situation.

My only issue with this book was that I felt like the plot twist – without revealing anything spoiler-y – was a cop-out. All of the problems facing Madeline were solved with a flick of Yoon’s wrist, and the consequences of this plot twist didn’t felt properly dealt with enough. To be honest though, this was annoying, but it didn’t ruin the book for me. My favourite parts of the novel were the characters and their relationship, and this wasn’t really dampened by the weak plot. If Nicola Yoon had explored the various revelations made in a more nuanced way, this book would have been a 5-star read.

Overall, this book had so many wonderful aspects. I really recommend this if you are looking for a short and sweet read, whether you typically read YA or not, this is a brilliant and entertaining novel, and I can’t wait to read more of Nicola Yoon’s work.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy

The Scarecrow Queen – Melinda Salisbury Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

Rating: ★★★★★

Wow! I can’t believe that this trilogy has already reached its conclusion. The Scarecrow Queen was such a fun read that I powered through, and is a really satisfying conclusion to the series. I feel like this series has been such a journey. After a rocky start with The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I grew to really enjoy this series while reading The Sleeping Prince, and this book was absolutely brilliant! I’m gutted that the trilogy is over, and hoping and praying that Melinda decides to return to these characters soon!

Beware, this is a review for the third and final book in the series so, while there are no spoilers for The Scarecrow Queen, there may be some for the first two books in the series. 

One of my favourite things about this book was that the plot progressed steadily, and unlike some other books that deal with wars and revolutions, we don’t have to deal with huge amounts of information, politics, or military tactics that can be hard to trudge through. Salisbury instead switched perspective from Twylla and Errin, the two narrators of the series so far, and uses time jumps so that you get to read the best parts of each story, and skip the long, drawn-out process of planning a revolution, which, although I do enjoy reading, I was glad to have a bit of a break from. However, this doesn’t mean that the plot was too simple at all, just that it was clear to understand, which makes it all the better. You’re never confused, or distracted from the story because you’ve forgotten what the characters are doing or what they’re planning, and so you’re never bored. There are still plot twists and surprises, mysteries and questions that you’re dying to find out the answer to, but things move quickly, which is refreshing. Apart from this, The Scarecrow Queen offers a genuinely satisfying conclusion to the story, and Melinda Salisbury ties together all the loose ends about the different aspects of the story, and yet the ending leaves me wanting so much more – in a good way! I don’t want to let these characters go, and I really hope that we see more of them.

The book also focused on the characters and their journeys as individuals, which I loved to read. Both Twylla and Errin are in completely different situations than we’ve seen them in before, and I liked that the book didn’t get bogged down with technical details so that we could really see the individual characters’ stories. I have always liked Errin’s character, her determination and resolve, but it’s Twylla who I really loved in this book. Although I didn’t really take to her in The Sin Eater’s Daughter, I couldn’t get enough of her in this book, and now I can see properly the full journey that she has gone through, which makes her even more interesting. In this book, Twylla is leading the fight against Aurek, The Sleeping Prince, so we see her having to do something that she isn’t very used to – leading people and making decisions. I loved that we saw her training to fight, which is miles away from the dainty Daunen Embodied from the first book, but even more than that, I loved that we saw her reaching for what she wants, and it was great to see her go from being indecisive and scared to knowing exactly what she wants. I also really loved the relationship between the main characters and the way that we see them engaging with characters that we haven’t seen before. I particularly enjoyed the relationships between Twylla, Errin, and Merek. For a while, I suspected a cliche love triangle, but Salisbury made it so much more interesting. Each of the characters shares a genuine friendship and camaraderie with each of the others that was so wonderful to see. Romance played a part in the book for several characters, but it wasn’t cliche, and it didn’t overpower the main storyline or the characters’ individual development.

Finally, more than in the previous books, I found Melinda Salisbury’s writing to be a real pleasure to read. I’ve found it to be quite simple at times, which is not a bad thing necessarily, but isn’t always my style. However in this book, I feel like she really managed to evoke atmosphere and emotion through her writing in a way that I hadn’t really felt in the previous two novels. A perfect example is the initial chapters that show us Errin’s imprisonment with Aurek. These were so creepy that they made my skin crawl, and I loved the way that Salisbury didn’t use the character’s names, which made it feel even scarier. There were more descriptions in this book than in the previous books, which I loved, and more in-depth insight into the characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Overall, I’m quite surprised that I’ve given this 5 stars. It wasn’t even until I sat down to write this review that I realised that there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about this book, but then, every book in this series has surprised me in some way. I’m so glad that I stuck with this series. I felt like there as so much more to tell about the world and the characters after The Sin Eater’s Daughter, and I was thankfully proved right. This series was so much fun to read, and I definitely recommend it to anybody who is a fan of YA fantasy!

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell Review

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Rating: ★★★

I struggled quite a lot with coming to a conclusion about how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I liked that the characters felt real and different to the typical YA contemporary protagonist, but I also am not a big fan of novels that have romance as its main storyline and I didn’t feel like this book’s writing was enough to my tastes for me to be really swept away by it. I didn’t really feel that fuzzy warmth that you look to feel from a love story, but I enjoyed the characters’ families and their storylines.

Eleanor & Park is about the titular characters and their relationship. Eleanor has just moved back in with her mother, siblings and her mother’s abusive husband, so she’s new to the school. To make things worse, she dresses all wrong, and she’s overweight (Rainbow Rowell wrote a really interesting comment piece on this here). Park is half-Korean, loves bands and comic books and lives with both parents and his brother in domestic bliss. While you can’t judge a book called Eleanor & Park for being predictable for focusing on the relationship between Eleanor and Park, I just felt like the actual development of the relationship was boring, and it wasn’t until the very end of the novel that I actually felt emotionally affected by the book. While I’m not a fan of romance novels, I do usually enjoy YA contemporaries enough to get past this. However, in this novel, I didn’t feel like there was enough emotion in the writing and I didn’t once come away feeling butterflies in my stomach. It simply felt like I was reading two characters back and forth, reading their actions and speech, and the emotion behind the actions just wasn’t strong enough for me. While it was clear that this relationship was a sincere and sweet relationship, I just would have really loved to feel it more strongly.

On the other hand, I loved the strong role that each of the characters’ families play in the book. YA books often relegate parents to the background of characters’ storylines, which I personally find unrealistic – after all, I see my parents everyday, and I don’t understand how you could ever take me without my family. In this novel however, both families feature heavily, not only in providing context for the central relationship but actually contributing to the plot of the novel. I liked the contrast between the two families, as Park’s family is so loving compared to Eleanor’s. I also think that, while I didn’t think Rowell’s writing really succeeded in making me care a lot about the romance storyline, I did feel really strongly with regard to Eleanor’s home setting. It didn’t feel sensationalised in the way that abusive family dynamics can be made to feel in media, instead, Rowell made the tension in the household clear, even if there was no direct violence. There are scenes where Eleanor’s step-father isn’t even scene, and you can still feel his oppressive presence.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. I think that I would have loved the novel if the writing had been a bit more to my liking, perhaps less simple and conversational in tone and more descriptive about the characters’ emotions. This was a good book, but I just don’t think it was the right book for me, and sometimes that just happens. I know that other people love this book, so if you like YA contemporary, or sweet romances, definitely give this book a try and tell me what you think!