Review: Invictus by Ryan Graudin

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Because we’re just going to be shouting about how incredible this book was from now until the end of time, we thought instead of writing a review that would be 100% incoherent, we’d shuffle our thoughts into a Reasons To Read Invictus. So, without further ado, let’s get into it!

  1. PACING
    Invictus is heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat fast, but at the same time it has slow moments for you to savour things like the tentative conversations between the couples. There was not one moment where I thought, ‘this needs to speed up’ or ‘wait, I’ve lost what’s happening.’ It’s literally crafted to perfection so you’ll never want to put it down!
  2. FOUND FAMILIES
    If you’re a fan of The Heroes of Olympus series, or Six of Crows, basically anything where a group of kids have to come together and save the world/steal some stuff, then you’re going to love this book. Invictus has the wholesomeness of the Percy Jackson series and wicked sense of the Grishaverse. With some strong Firefly and Doctor Who vibes as well, but that just comes with the sci-fi territory. (Side-note for other influences: the recent Star Trek films. The prologue is very Star Trek opening realness, and I was living for it.)
  3. MIND BOGGLING REVEALS
    OH MAN. The twists and turns in this story were off the scale good. Like, I didn’t see any of them coming. It’s really not something you can put together yourself, and even when I thought I had a one-up on the characters, I really didn’t. I’d like to think than Ryan thought of the ways a reader could construe things and then was like ‘haha nope! They’re not going to guess this!
  4. ROMANCE
    There are two main romances. You’d got Far and Priya, and Imogen and Gram. The first are the most true-love destiny pairing you’ve read since Percy and Annabeth. They communicate and it’s pretty glorious. And even though they’re young, they’re really serious about their feelings which is so joyful to read. As for Imogen and Gram, they don’t communicate and that’s the best thing too. Like, unrequited love that isn’t actually unrequited has got to be everyone’s favourite relationship dynamic ever right? It’s like love/hate but with more angst and emotional tension rather than sexual tension. Basically, it pulls on your heart strings and turned me into a puddle of love and tears. The romances aren’t over done, they’re secondary to the action plot, but they’re pivotal to the adventure so, sign me up!
  5. ACCOMPLISHED WRITING
    It literally blows my mind that Ryan Graudin came up with both Wolf By Wolf (a stunningly original idea) and Invictus. Seriously, one person should not be allowed to be this clever at plotting books. Everything I’ve read by Ryan has been different, but all her books have the same tone and beautiful crafting. I need Ryan to run a webinar on plotting, for sure!

Also, thought we’d give a shoutout to our friends Carys, Kate and Lily who we buddy read this book with. It was super fun to discuss it with them, so maybe another pro of this book is that it’s great for a book club pick – there’s a lot of talk about!

So, obviously, Invictus is getting 5 stars from us! I so wish this was the first in a larger series, but it’s also such a rewarding standalone (and you don’t get many sic-fi ones!) that it’s perfect on it’s own! We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

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Review: Unblemished and Unraveling by Sara Ella

*Note: We received these books from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

UNBLEMISHED

I knew before going into Sara Ella’s series that it was going to give me ‘Once Upon a Time’ vibes. I’d heard Sara talk about ‘Unblemished’ on her YouTube channel (where she’s done an excellent series about getting it published!) and so had some idea of what to expect.

A girl called Eliyana wakes up one day to find that the world isn’t what it seemed. With her mother’s death looming over her, suddenly everyone in her life has a different role in another world on the other side of the Reflection. This world is like a fairy tale, with queens, kings, magic and villains that are out to get Eliyana because of the large birthmark on her face.

I don’t feel like I can explain the plot more than that because from 20% into the story, you’re constantly introduced to new characters and concepts, all with the own names like the Kiss of Accord and Callings and…well, there are too many to list. The world building is intense and so is the backstory. The queen was having an affair, the king has an evil brother, Eliyana might be related to one of her love interests, she’s claimed for good, she’s claimed for evil…it was all very classic if you’re used to fairy tale worlds, but it was a lot to take on board, nevertheless. I found it difficult to find my feet with this story because every time I thought I grasped something, there’d be a new thing to learn.

There’s a love triangle – not between prince and guard, but guard and guard, which was kind of cool. Both boys felt a little one dimensional for me, and their love for Eliyana was too many words and not enough actions. For the first book, that is. The love triangle only gets more intense with the marriage proposal at the end…

UNRAVELING

And (a week later) having read the second book, I can confirm that the love triangle 100% ramps up as El has to decide which of the boys she likes best, while they fight to gain her affections. Oh, and one becomes evil. No big deal. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic and one that will bring the biggest resolve to the final book. As for who’s side I’m on, I’m not sure. Both guys have proved themselves. Ky is more stand-offish and Joshua is The Sweet One but who knows how the tables will turn.

With another quest, pirates and fairy tales, Unraveling is again a lot to take in but there’s always something go on to make you want to read just one more chapter. It’s also neat that the chapter titles are lyrics from ‘I See The Light’ from Tangled. (And the book title is the opposite of Tangled…mind blown.)

If you like fairy tales, love battles and adventures to different lands that seems way more familiar than you think, this series is definitely worth checking out!

Review: Another Place by Matthew Crow

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

I’ve been putting off writing this review for the last week because I just wanted to sit with this book for a while. I remember reading Matthew Crow’s debut, In Bloom, a few years back – it was one of the first books I took out from my sixth form library, and it didn’t make a massive impression on me. It was another teen cancer story in a wave of the same kind, like the UK’s answer to The Fault in Our Stars. By comparison, Another Place is so much more unique and places Matthew Crow’s name among authors to watch in the future!

Another Place tells the story of Claudette who’s just come home after being in recovery from severe depression. She’s welcomed by the news that one of the girls she was closer to than the world things, Sarah, has gone missing. Over the next couple of weeks, Claudette takes it upon herself to investigate Sarah’s disappearance, getting wrapped up in the more criminal side of town as she’s digs further and further into what was really going on.

I was intrigued by this from the very first moment. Disappearances are one of my favourite things to happen in YA and I’m a huge fan of any kind of mystery. But, what I thought I’d love it for wasn’t actually the strongest reason for my high rating. It was the nuanced relationships between characters and the portrayal of a small town gang that felt so authentic and threatening. Usually, when I read about misfits or loners, the characters come across as types – people that are more words than actions. In Another Place I was genuinely convinced that Sarah and Claudette, by default, shouldn’t be messing with these people.

My favourite relationship was between Claudette and her father’s long term partner. It was amazing to see a relationship that’s normally presented as terse, with the ‘ugh, you’re not my mum’ mentality be flipped on it’s head. She actually cared for Claudette and Claudette let her, realising that a secondary mother figure isn’t something to be afraid of, but something wonderful instead. More of this, please.

Split into four or five part, Another Place is hard to put down as more things get revealed about the mystery and as circumstances get increasingly sinister. The elements of backstory and flashbacks to Sarah and Claudette’s relationship before her hospitalisation were in sharp focus compared to the rest of the book, standing out as pivotal to the book.

I can’t speak for the accuracy of representation of Claudette’s depression, but it was definitely complex and explored as opposed to something that was part of her, unspoken. Overall, Another Place was a surprisingly gripping read, and definitely something I’d recommend if you’re a fan of mysteries, and the gritty real-life side of YA.

Review: A Change Is Gonna Come by 12 BAME Authors!

*Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

We’ve been hearing non-stop buzz about this book since Stripes Publishing’s first YA Blogger event in February. Now, it’s finally here and we couldn’t be more excited to see the final product getting so much love and attention! If you didn’t know A Change is Gonna Come is an anthology of short stories and poems based on the theme of change, all written by black and minority ethic authors. There are some big names, like Patrice Lawrence and Ayisha Malik, but also some debut authors getting their first break!

As if that isn’t cool enough, the anthology also has diverse characters too, representing lesbian and non-binary identities, as well as OCD.

We thought we’d share our thoughts on our favourite stories!

Hackney Moon by Tanya Burne tells the story of Esther and her best friend Sam who pulls away when their peers taunt them for being lesbians.

The narration style is really unique, with a sort of direct address but not from either of the main characters, so it’s got this almost fairy-tale vibe! We loved the dialogue particularly, and the friendship group is one we would love a companion series about!

We Who? by Nikesh Shukla (*our absolute favourite*) is set after the UK vote Leave, and the main character struggles when his best friend starts to post harmful new stories, which expose that they have incredibly different political views that become destructive to their friendship.

It was quite a shock when ‘Leave’ was announced as the decision the UK had made regarding our position in the EU, and it upset so many people that this story is probably the most powerful and relatable in the whole collection. It’s difficult to watch the people around you, who you previously trusted and loved, repeating ideologies that are damaging and down right untrue. The disconnect you experience to those you once considered friends when something like this exposes your fundamental and uncompromising differences, is something I think we’re more likely to experience in this political climate. And not just in the UK, but the world.

Iridescent Adolescent by Phoebe Roy about a girl who sprouts feathers and longs to be hollow.

We adored the writing style of this story, it was magical and mystical. It’s not often that I connect to writing that is poetic in this way, but it also had some real down-to-earth moments that made it a lot – not relatable, per say, but something along those lines. It felt like a fresh take on the ‘Change’ theme, and was a real gem among other contemporary stories.

Dear Asha by Mary Bello is about Asha who’s mother recently died and so she goes to Nigeria to connect with her remaining family. She then hears some pretty dramatic news about her father that throws everything into a new light.

We really loved the setting in this and the emphasis on Nigeria culture. It was so cool that although being of that descent, Asha wasn’t really connected to it, and so witnessing her get in touch with her roots was great. This was also a short story that had a lot going, so could easily have been made into a full length novel!

A Refugee by Ayisha Malik is about a girl who is forced to volunteer at the a refugee camp by her parents and develops a strong friendship with one of the girls there, Homa.

This was such a powerful story about different experiences and how we need to open our eyes to the hardships of other people and help out where we can. The fact that Ayisha Malik managed to write such intense character development in such a short story was astounding!

Fortune Favours the Bold by Yasmin Rahman is mostly about a Muslim girl who decides to start wearing a headscarf, which splits her apart from her twin sister and also means she’s subjected to more religious prejudice.

Again, we loved the storytelling. It was a very accomplished short story, and the character had a great sense of voice. We’re really excited to see what Yasmin Rahman will produce next, because I hope she becomes a new big name for YA fiction. After this, I predict she will be a new auto-buy author, and to feel that strongly about an author’s capability to continually make me feel SO MANY THINGS just speaks to how wonderful this very short glimpse of her writing was.

Overall, A Change Is Gonna Come is a really powerful anthology that It think everyone needs to read. It exposes some fresh talent, whose careers I can’t wait to follow, and raises the voices of those who are underrepresented in the best way possible.

Review: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine

Because this gorgeous purple book is the last book in The Sinclair’s Mysteries series, I don’t want to say too much about what goes on. Instead, I thought I’d give you five reasons to read the series if you haven’t already so you can get to this glorious finale that really delivers on everything you want from a mystery and conclusion. Historical Setting

1. Historical Setting!

The Sinclair’s Mysteries all take place in the 20th century, and while 1910 may not sound that long ago, it’s been over 100 years since departments stores like Sinclair’s first opened. It’s the time of the suffragette movement, the attitude of which definitely plays into our main female characters. It’s a time of fancy, where going to the shops was an event and there’s something so pleasant about the luxury of it all that makes me want to just fall through the pages. If you’ve got a soft spot for atmospheric setting, this series is perfect. (The Midnight Peacock also takes place around Christmas and New Year, so the setting is ten times more delightful and festive than usual!)

2. Female Friendship!

The story is mostly routed in the relationship between Sophie and Lil. They have entirely different personalities, Sophie being from a slightly poorer background and more reserved, Lil being a gorgeous model who oozes confidence. The girls work together at the store (and at solving mysteries) and always have each other’s backs. I can’t wait for their spin off!

3. Diversity!

While Sophie and Lil, along with Billy and Joe, make up the core members of the mystery solving crew, but as the books go on more secondary characters get added (my fave being Leo from The Painted Dragon). They have repeated appearances and are never forgotten about. There’s representation of the Chinese community in Mei and Song, and Leo is disabled. It’s the perfect example of what all middle grade stories should be striving for.

4. Mysteries! 

Why is this only number 4 when it’s the most important part of the plot? Well, I’m so jazzed about everything else, the actual body of the books slipped my mind…I’d read about these characters if they were just baking cakes, let alone solving crime. I’m a sucker for a good mystery, especially ones that play across a whole series. It makes the finishing of each book feel so rewarding.

5. The covers + extras!

I know that you should never judge a book by its cover, (it’s the inside that counts!) but aren’t these covers gorgeous? The jewel tones work perfectly together and with each silhouette, you get a real sense of what’s going on in each book. There are also some really beautiful end papers and illustrations at the beginning of each part which I love, love, love. Additionally, there are always letters and invitations inserted into the narrative to keep things interesting.

I hope I’ve convinced you enough to read The Sinclair’s Mysteries, especially The Midnight Peacock because the pay off is just SO great. The world expands as Sophie learns more about what happened to her parents and how the Baron might not be the only suspicious member of the secret society. It’s no doubt my favourite in the series, earning 4 stars. I can’t wait to see what Katherine Woodfine does with these characters next!

Series Review: No Virgin and No Shame by Anne Cassidy

*Note: We received ‘No Shame’ from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

NO VIRGIN

Stacey Woods has been raped and this is her story. She lays out the circumstances that led to the horrific event and what happened immediately after. The story is unassuming at first, but tinged with something terrible that you can’t avoid thinking about on every page.

It’s powerful and important, with a positive message about seeking the support from friends, family and charities that specialise in helping rape victims. (The ending is particularly supportive, delivering the most hopeful speech when Stacey phones the Rape Crisis Centre.)

Obviously, every rape that you read about, fictional or real, is terrible, but ‘No Virgin’ certainly isn’t as harrowing and dark as the books of Louise O’Neill or ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. I’d really recommend picking up this series if you’re interested in exploring these themes and how they’re portrayed in YA, without being too heavy. ‘No Virgin’ is the perfect stepping stone for a dialogue about sexual assault and the effects it has on the victim.

NO SHAME

The companion is all about the court trial Stacey is convinced by in order to get justice. There’s further exploration into the way rape cases are perceived by the media/jury/eyes of the law. It’s actual terrible, and made my blood boil on so many occasions but it’s the sad reality for most cases. Reading ‘No Shame’ will hopefully open everyone’s eyes to the injustice of it all, and the wrongly placed blame and encourage people to get angry about the way court works.

If you enjoyed the third season of ‘Broadchurch’ or shows like ‘How To Get Away With Murder’, this is for you. The court room drama is real, but so are the effects on the defendants.

I really liked the discussion of ripple effects of rape cases and just how many individuals are harmed. As more and more women stepped forward, the more likely justice was to get served.

Again, by the conclusion, ‘No Shame’ is another powerful tale about speaking out against sexual violence and getting the support that one deserves. Both stories felt like two halves of the same whole, so while they can easily be read as two stand-alones, I’d really recommend both. (I mean, they’re under 200 pages each, so really, it’s one reasonably sized book put together!) Overall, it’s a hard-hitting, raw series perfect for lighting a fire in anyone who reads it to fight for justice.

Mini Review: 36 Questions That Changed My Mind About You by Vicki Grant

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

’36 Questions…’ is the story of Hildy and Paul who decide to take part in a PhD student’s experiment about falling in love. They are to ask each other – you guessed it – 36 questions in order to get to know more about each other and potentially find that romantic spark. Whenever the pair are talking to one another, they don’t know the other’s full identity and it’s written in interrogation interview format. (If you’re curious to what the 36 questions are and what to know to see what the conversations might be like, here they are.)

I found the dialogue between Hildy and Paul to be extremely predictable. It was like blah, blah, joke, getting offended, blah, blah, presumption about personality/upbringing/past relationships. This happened 36 times as they cycled through all the questions, so it’s safe to assume I got bored.

There were important things going on in the background, like Paul’s trauma with his mother, but the only thing that was lingered on was the pair’s supposed banter with one another that was all very one note. I was trying to read between the lines of their conversation and see when exactly they ‘fell in love’ but couldn’t pinpoint what made the change and so I wasn’t at all invested in the couple when they inevitably got together.

I’ve also read a few books recently, like Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index and Letters to the Lost that deal with the good girl/bad guy trope so complexly, so to see the personality types pared down to their most basic rom/com form was disappointing.

Unfortunately, this book was not for me, and I probably should have stopped reading it sooner like a few other people on Goodreads. BUT, if you like fast reads with different formats, and silly rom/coms that cheer you up whilst you’re reading, then I’m sure you’ll find ’36 Questions…’ quirky and cute.

Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Right, so I hated ‘The Infernal Devices’ series by Cassandra Clare, but I do tend to enjoy YA historical fiction, so I was torn between ‘eww not demons again’ and ‘yes please this sounds like 100% my thing.’ I found after reading, that I would recommend, nay, highly recommend, ‘The Dark Days Club’ both to those that hated TID and those who loved it. If you loved TID then you will fall in love with the characters exactly as you did in Clare’s work, and if you ate it, then you can better appreciate the historical accuracy and tone.

Continue reading “Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman”

Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins

Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Everyone has known that Stephanie Perkins was writing a slasher/horror for the last two years. Now I finally have my hands on it, and boy was it…different to what I was expecting. After being known for Anna and the French Kiss and other lovey-dovey titles, I thought Stephanie Perkins would be really stepping outside her comfort zone. Turns out There’s Someone Inside Your House managed to have about five deaths, but still be 98% romance. And when I say romance, I mean carnal teenage ‘relationship’ because there was no romance to be seen. So let’s talk about it… Continue reading “Review: There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins”

Moonrise by Sarah Crossan

Every verse novel of Sarah Crossan’s has been getting better and better and this is no exception. She just picks the absolute best characters to write about and tells stories you don’t normally hear that mean you can’t put the book down until it’s done.

Moonrise tells the story of Joe, who’s brother, Ed, is on death row. He hasn’t seen him in ten years, and now that he’s been given a death date, he decides to move to Texas for the opportunity to reconnect with him, and get the truth about what happened the day he was arrested.

What I loved about the story was how unassuming it was. It could have been from Ed’s perspective, and been a huge mystery like The Life of David Gale, that film with Kevin Spacey and Kate Winslet. Instead, with the focus on Joe, there’s a stronger emphasis on strength and family and needing support. If you want to get angry about the justice system, watch the film instead, because while it does get mentioned, trying to save Ed is never at the heart of the book, it’s more about both brothers coming to terms with his fate.

My favourite moments of the book were Ed’s letters to Joe – the last one definitely had me tearing up – and when Nell turned up in Joe’s life because it was such a sweet and real relationship against a harsh reality that offered Joe some escape.

While the prospect of counting down the days until your brother dies sounds morbid, Moonrise strikes the perfect balance between touching and melancholy, never fully dipping into complete sadness, but never letting you forget that life is unfair sometimes.

Succinct and moving, I’m giving Moonrise 4 stars, and it’s definitely going to be something I’m thinking about for months to come!