Blog Tour: Stand By Me by Judi Curtin

Stand By Me is Judi Curtin’s second book about time-travelling pals Molly and Beth. Check out my review of their first adventure, Time After Timehere. I think Judi Curtin writes brilliantly about friendship, and this new book is no exception. I was delighted to be asked by O’Brien Press to take part in the blog tour.

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Judi Curtin

O’Brien Press (2017)

10+

In their second time-slip adventure, Molly and Beth find themselves back in the 1960s to help Graham, their favourite great uncle, fix a broken friendship from the past. Once more they must navigate a world that seems like a whole other planet, an era in which their phones are no help and the fashion and music are weird.  On their trip they learn more about Graham and his past, but also about the enduring strength and power of friendship.

Molly and Beth are very likeable characters (even if they tend to say ‘OMG’ an awful lot!), readers will root for them on their quest.  Stand By Me is an enjoyable and entertaining read, with a lot of warmth to it. As always in Judi Curtin’s work, friendship is a strong component and it is touching to see how the girls have stuck together and supported each other in tough times. The title is certainly an appropriate one!  I found the friendship with their uncle Graham lovely too, and it reminded me of my own close relationship with my great aunt.

I love the cover design by Rachel Corcoran, and how she used different elements of the story in her artwork. The bright colours make it stand out, and work well as a pair with the Time After Time cover.

Fans of Judi Curtin will love this new offering, and hopefully there will be more Molly and Beth adventures yet to come!

Check out the rest of the stops on the Stand By Me Blog Tour this week:

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Review: The Loneliest Girl of the Universe by Lauren James

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The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

Lauren James

Walker Books, September 2017

YA – Science Fiction

Romy Silvers is the commander of The Infinity, a spaceship travelling to a new planet on which Earth 2 will be established. She is also only 16 years old. A tragedy left her as the sole-surviving crew member, with full responsibility to steer the spaceship to its destination and secure the future of humanity. Romy is completely alone in space, she hasn’t had direct contact with another human in five years. Then, she learns that there is another ship, The Eternity, sent to help with the mission. It will catch up with her, she will have an ally. When she receives an email from the commander of the other ship, she finds an unexpected friend in J. They communicate by email, with lags of months as their messages travel through space, but even still Romy finds herself falling for J. Can you love someone you have never met, someone who is lightyears away? However, news of dramatic events on earth could affect their mission and the ghosts of the past that haunt Romy refuse to fade away…

Described as a ‘romantic thriller’ this is a gripping read that I struggled to put down. Romy is a well-developed character who readers will root for, and Lauren James shows the strain Romy’s mission puts on her in a very palpable way.  Her feelings – the trauma, the stress, the longing – come across strongly, and she is a believable and complex character. She is a very admirable heroine – she is strong and capable, because she has to be.

For someone like myself with little knowledge of physics, the aspects of how time works in space were a bit confusing but I soon got my head around it, and James did not include a lot of technical information, focusing instead of character and plot. This was a book I didn’t want to put down. It is a real page turner, and definitely one I will be recommending in the bookshop! Space travel really intrigues me, so if you have any recommendations of other books I should read please do leave them in the comments.

I received a proof copy of this book at the AmericYA panel event in Easons O’Connell Street.

Guest Post: Tangleweed and Brine Blog Tour

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I was utterly enchanted by Tangleweed and Brine, a collection of feminist fairytale retellings by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. The stories are dark and poetic, and focus strongly on the female experience, and the stunning illustrations tie the book into the rich tradition of lavish fairytale gift books recalling the work of Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke.  I will be posting a full review of the book next week.

I am delighted to have a piece from the author and illustrator about the Rapunzel retelling to share with you.

Tangleweed and Brine is published by Little Island Books and will be launched tonight in Easons on O’Connell St at 6pm.

Come Live Here and Be Loved

DEIRDRE SULLIVAN:

I wrote this story while thinking a lot about growth and earth and babies. Many of my friends had recently become mothers, and I admired them hugely but did not feel ready to take that step myself. It seemed so huge. To grow a life inside you. It still does. I’m nervous meeting new people at the best of times. In Ireland, our abortion laws are extremely restrictive, and many women are forced to carry babies, who will not survive outside the womb, to term. Carrying a wanted, loved baby inside you, but knowing you will never get to raise them, I can’t imagine how it breaks the heart.

Reading the stories from brave women who have shared their experience to advocate for others, combined with the physical and emotional miracle of seeing people I knew and loved make brand new people, was the seed that this Rapunzel grew from.

When I saw this illustration for the first time, it was a sketch. And I gasped. The witches mouth was a little more open and Karen had put the double row of teeth in. The cultivated wilderness of her magic garden, the husband helpfully gathering Campanula Rapunculus while the women sort things out amongst themselves, it was amazing to see what Karen saw when she read Come Live Here and Be Loved, and it was so similar to what I had envisioned myself, filtered through Karen’s aesthetic, that reminds me of Harry Clarke or Aubrey Beardsley, but is also all her own.

The fat blooming flowers surrounding the witch and the woman reflect the possibility. New life is growing, but not human life. The woman’s face is so tired and resigned. The witch’s is tender and inquiring. They both want the same thing, in the end.

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KAREN VAUGHAN:

This story was a joy to illustrate. The image came out almost fully formed on the first attempt which hardly ever happens. I wanted to show that moment of understanding and agreement between the two women while the husband busies himself with the task of harvesting the flowers.

There was a minor change made at the end that I think made a huge difference. In the rough sketch, the witch’s mouth was open and smiling, showing her double row of teeth. The more I looked at it, the more I felt it gave her a predatory look which was out of step with the character in the book. She seemed almost joyful in the face of the woman’s misfortune which didn’t feel quite right. The witch is very much of the natural world which isn’t cruel for pleasure or any other vindictive reason, it just is. There’s happiness in her face for sure, but it’s tempered with compassion for the woman who has to give up on her dream of bearing her own child.

Recent Reads

It’s been a while since I did a reading round up – here are four of the books I have been enjoying recently!

The Power – Naomi Alderman

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This year’s winner of the Baileys prize for women’s fiction, The Power is a feminist sci-fi novel which has been described as ‘a classic of the future.’ Set in a version of the future in which women have electric power, and can take down the patriarchy, the book engages with gender, politics and religion. It switches between narrators and is a pacy, gripping thriller. The frame narrative was a bit clunky (although I could see the tongue-in-cheek tone in it) and the end was confusing, but overall this was an exciting read and one I would definitely recommend to fans of Margaret Atwood.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

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This book has been on my TBR list for ages, and I am so glad I finally read it. It is a sharp, witty satire with memorable characters that had me laughing out loud at times, and very moved at others. This is an entertaining read with plenty of substance, Bernadette is a fantastic character, not one I will forget! I am looking forward to checking out Semple’s second book, Today Will Be Different.

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus

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‘The Breakfast Club with murder’ – a page-turning mystery with plenty of twists and turns. Five teens go into detention, four come out…I really enjoyed this YA debut. The four narrators have distinct voices and are well-rounded characters with very believable struggles and motives. While I did work out who the murderer was about half way through the book, there were still lots of surprises to keep me on my toes!

Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout

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Having loved My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible I decided it was high time I read Strout’s best-known novel, the Pulitzer-prize winning Olive Kitteridge. Strout creates compelling and thoughtful portraits of the various characters in this Maine community, covering a wide range of human experiences. My favourite chapter/story was ‘The Piano Player.’ A stunning novel, one I was thoroughly impressed and engaged by. I have heard very good things about the TV series, and will definitely be checking it out.

Currently reading:

Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson And Her Family's Feuds

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Reads of 2017 (so far)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by the lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish in which bloggers compile literary lists. This week’s theme is our top reads of 2017 thus far.

Conversations with Friends – Sally Rooney

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Sally Rooney’s debut fully deserves all the praise it has been receiving. As in her excellent short stories – memorable characters, sharp observations and emotional complexity.

My Name is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

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I was late coming to this book, but have been enthusiastically recommending it to customers since reading it a couple of months ago. It is a quiet kind of a book, as much about what isn’t said as what is. I had the privilege of meeting Elizabeth Strout at the International Literature Festival Dublin where she was interviewed by Sinéad Gleeson.

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

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A book that fully lived up to the hype, Thomas’ debut has a strong voice and brings the Black Lives Matter movement vividly and emotionally to life for her readers without ever seeming preachy or like an issue book. I cannot wait to read her next book. Full review.

The Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

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An atmospheric book set between Istanbul and Oxford exploring the complexities of faith and God, and the grip the past can have on us. While I was a bit disappointed in the ending, the rest of the book was brilliant and thought provoking enough for it still to be one of my favourite books of the year.

Once and for All – Sarah Dessen

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I always love Sarah Dessen’s books, and this has been one of my favourites. Heartfelt, emotional and entertaining, this is a perfect summer read about wedding planning and love both lost and found.

A Line Made By Walking – Sara Baume

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A powerful book about art, nature and being human by a brilliant new Irish writer. I think it was even better than her debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Full review.

Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle

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I was utterly enchanted by this book – I loved the diverse cast of characters, the lyrical writing, and the magical elements. Full review coming soon!

The Space Between – Meg Grehan

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Meg Grehan’s debut is a beautifully tender verse novel, a story of recovery and bravery as well as love. It melted my heart. Full review.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged – Ayisha Malik

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My most recent read, and probably the funniest book I’ve read this year. Sofia Khan has been described as a Muslim Bridget Jones, and her voice is just as hilarious and distinctive. A truly entertaining read that also explores what it is like being a Muslim in British society.

The Wild Air – Rebecca Mascull

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The cover caught my eye, then the subject matter as Amelia Earhart is a hero of mine. This is a soaring novel about Della, a female pilot in the early days of aviation. I loved Della, and the book is rich in historical detail without leaving the reader overwhelmed with information. An emotional and engaging read.

Do post a link to your TTT below – I’m always looking for new reading recommendations!

Author Interview: Claire Hennessy (Like Other Girls)

I reviewed Claire Hennessy’s powerful new YA novel Like Other Girls recently, and was delighted to get the chance to chat to Claire about the book, her writing process, being an editor, and the joy of musicals.

Photo by Aisling Finn

Could you tell me about your writing routine? When and where do you write? Do you have any writing rituals?

I yearn for a proper writing routine but it really depends on what else I’m doing or working on at the time. For example, during the summer I teach on summer camps for teenagers, which means I might write in the evenings, whereas if I’m teaching a lot of evening classes then the writing tends to get done in the morning. It really depends on the stage the manuscript is at, too – when I’m in the middle of a first draft, getting new words down as often as possible (every weekday, hopefully) is really important, whereas when I’m revising I might think over things for weeks and then go and attack the manuscript again.

How do you find writing for teens as an adult, compared to writing for teens as a teen yourself?

I’m an adult? When did that happen?! I’m more wary of getting details wrong now, because I know that being a teenager today is different in certain ways – the endless encroaching presence of social media, for example – and I also try not to be preachy.

Do you think your work as an editor has changed how you approach your writing?

I am incredibly aware now of the importance of opening chapters, in a way that I wasn’t before – there are so many clichéd and tired ways to begin a story, and as an editor you really start to notice all the recurring and worn-out tropes. I actually overdid it slightly with Like Other Girls and had a scene that really belonged much later at the start, for dramatic purposes, but it didn’t quite work, so it got moved.

When in the process of writing Like Other Girls did you come up with the title?

It was when I was close to finishing the manuscript, and we already had a synopsis for the book before that, so it was quite late. But we agreed on it very quickly, which was brilliant.

Like Other Girls is a book that makes readers angry (to quote the wonderful Marian Keyes, it is a book that ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’), which books make you angry?

Oooh. Anything about feminism makes me angry at the world, for obvious reasons, and then I get angry at books for pulling cheap stunts or having twists that don’t quite work.

To my delight, musicals play a big role in Like Other Girls. What is your favourite musical, and your favourite song from a musical?

WICKED! And ‘For Good’. I just love the fact that it has two female leads, and that the love story isn’t everything, and that it’s basically set in a magical boarding school at the start. It’s very different from the book, of course, which is much darker and twistier.

I feel that the inclusion of newspaper articles and other media references really reflected what it is like being a young woman in Ireland at the moment, and also showed how Lauren’s story is one that happens every day, to many women. Was this aspect of the book there from the start?

I  didn’t necessarily know I was going to include newspaper articles but I was conscious that I’d probably be addressing what the narrative is around reproductive rights in Ireland, as well as how such issues are handled in popular culture. And then as it went on, it seemed to make sense to include actual articles (and sadly the media continues to offer up many examples to work with…)

Like Other Girls is a book that confronts and explores real experiences and problems without turning into the dreaded ‘issue novel.’ What do you think is the importance of books and other art forms in exploring issues we are facing today?

Thank you, that is very kind of you to say! I did worry hugely about this turning into a big rant, which a novel shouldn’t be, and I was aware in certain chapters that I needed to go back and make things about the characters rather than The Issues. What stories are wonderful for is creating empathy – seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and learning to understand each other a little bit better. So much cruelty and ugliness in the world comes from a capacity to dehumanise certain groups of people, and empathy is the cure for that.

As both an editor and a reader, what would you like to see more of in YA?

More funny books for teenagers that still manage to deal with serious issues. More books set outside of the UK and the USA. More books featuring protagonists with disabilities, chronic illness, etc. And, as ever, more boarding school novels.

What are your favourite YA reads of 2017 so far?

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer completely blew me away. I absolutely adored Moira Fowley-Doyle’s The Spellbook of the Lost and Found. We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan was, predictably, brilliant. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give lived up to the hype. And Sara Zarr’s Gem & Dixie is amazing.

Top Ten Most Anticipated Reads for the Rest of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme run by the lovely ladies of The Broke and the Bookish bringing together two of my favourite things – books and lists. This week’s topic is the ten books we are most excited to get our hands on during the rest of 2017.

Listed in order of release…

Spellbook of the Lost and Found – Moira Fowley Doyle (Corgi, 1st June)

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I adored Moira Fowley Doyle’s magical debut, The Accident Season, and have been eagerly anticipating this book. The author has described it on Twitter as a ‘weird little book about poteen & patron saints, tattoos & rusty keys, secrets & magic, longing & lost things’ and I am sure I will be enthralled by her beautiful writing once more. Launch in Eason O’Connell St on June 2nd.

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus (Penguin, 1st June)

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This sounds like a tense and thrilling read, and I do love a good mystery!

Once and for All – Sarah Dessen (Penguin, 6th June)

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What better to read in summer than a Sarah Dessen book? No more needs to be said.

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon (Hodder, 13th July)

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A YA romance told from alternating perspectives of two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married. It’s been getting great reviews, and I’m trying to read more diverse YA.

The Guggenheim Mystery – Robin Stevens (Penguin Random House, August)

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This is the sequel to Siobhan Dowd’s fantastic book The London Eye Mystery. Dowd was a brilliant talent – Bog Child is an incredible book – and Stevens is a wonderful choice to continue on this story. I look forward to seeing what she does with it, and to re-reading The London Eye Mystery in preparation!

Genuine Fraud – E. Lockhart (Hot Key Books, 5th September)

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When I got a proof copy of this through the bookshop my excitement was uncontainable. So far Lockhart’s voice is as sharp and intriguing as ever.

Moonrise – Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury, 7th September)

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Sarah Crossan is queen of the verse novel, and of strong voices. One is one of my favourite YA books and so deserving of the many awards it has won. I am sure this book, about a boy whose brother is on death row, will be as moving and poignant as her other books.

The Break – Marian Keyes (Penguin, 7th September)

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Marian Keyes’ novels blend comedy and drama with memorable characters and note perfect dialogue. I only came to her books a couple of years ago, and I flew through them. I know I will love this!

It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne (Usborne, 1st October)

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While I will miss the Spinster Club girls, I am very much looking forward to Holly Bourne’s next YA venture!

Tangleweed and Brine – Deirdre Sullivan (Little Island, October)

Tangleweed and Brine will be a collection of feminist fairytale retellings, illustrated by Karen Vaughan. Her Rumpelstiltskin story was previewed on online Irish design journal Make Believe and gives an idea of how dark and magical the book will be.

 

Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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Like Other Girls

Claire Hennessy

Hot Key Books (2017)

YA, Contemporary

Like Other Girls is the story of Lauren, a 16-year-old bisexual girl grappling with the sometimes harsh realities of being a young woman in contemporary Irish society. Lauren is struggling with her identity – with the expectations of perfect femininity espoused by her all girls school, with dismissive attitudes towards bisexuality she finds even within the LGBTQIA community, and with her relationships, particularly with her boyfriend and the best friend she is still somewhat in love with. Then, she finds out she is pregnant. Readers familiar with Irish law will know the implications of this for Lauren, as she journeys alone to England for an abortion.

Lauren is a complex protagonist, and one in an incredibly difficult situation. She makes some bad choices, and Hennessy doesn’t shy away from showing Lauren’s darker and more ‘problematic’ (to use a much discussed word) thoughts. At times this can make for uncomfortable reading, particularly when Lauren is dealing with a close friend (whom she still has feelings for) coming out as transgender, or considering the degree of privilege you have as a cisgender woman in a country that denies women bodily autonomy. I do wish some of Lauren’s attitudes had been challenged a bit more, the transphobia in the book did make me uncomfortable, however her friend Ellie does call her out and at the end of the book there is a sense of Lauren growing as a person. Besides, in other ways Lauren’s flaws are a strength of the book and part of the way it pushes back against the pressure on girls to always be perfect.

Hennessy’s book is incredibly timely and will make readers angry. She uses articles very similar to those Irish readers will have encountered over the last few years, and a chilling scene in which her protagonist is given misleading and false information at a ‘counselling’ service. It evokes a very true-to-life sense of what it is like to be female in a country in which you don’t have bodily autonomy, in which abortion is illegal, and in which girls and women like Lauren must travel to the UK every single day for a medical procedure that should be available safely and legally in their home country. The trauma Lauren goes through makes the book painful to read, and shows how damaging the lack of access to abortion in Ireland is. Acclaimed Irish writer Marian Keyes has said that this book ‘all but quivers with righteous anger’, and I think its readers will too.

Like Other Girls tackles a number of very sensitive topics without falling into that dangerous trap of becoming an issue novel, without moralising or preaching, and without demonising its protagonist or giving her an unrealistic ‘happily-ever-after’ type ending. It is also a funny book, filled with pop culture and musical references, and with a strong, snarky voice at its centre. It also has a fantastic cover – it’s a label! for a book about labels! – designed by Leo Nickolls.

To sum up – Like Other Girls is a fierce, feminist book that while not an easy read, is an important one. We need stories like Lauren’s, and we need to repeal the eighth amendment.

Like Other Girls will be launched tonight, May 25th, in Dept 51 at Eason O’Connell Street at 6pm.

Review: The Forever Court by Dave Rudden

I have been eagerly awaiting this, the second book in the Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy, and am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thanks to the lovely folks at Puffin Books for sending me a copy to review!

30287713The Forever Court (Knights of the Borrowed Dark #2)

Dave Rudden

Puffin Books (2017)

Fantasy, 10+

Denizen Hardwick is getting used to his new life, as much as anyone can get used to a world of magic and shadowy monsters, that is. He is training hard to become a Knight, and struggling to control the swirling mass of magic in his mind. The fire wants to find a way out, but Denizen must remember the Cost that comes with using his powers, a price paid in iron. Then, the Knights of the Borrowed Dark are summoned to a meeting of the Forever Court, the higher powers among the monstrous Tenebrae. For Denizen this also means seeing Mercy, the Endless King’s daughter, for the first time since he saved her (and the world) and confronting his feelings for her…

With the same mixture of beautiful writing, exciting plot and strong characters that made me love Knights of the Borrowed Dark, this was a gripping and exciting read. I have a lot of love for Denizen, Rudden’s anxious bookish protagonist, and his voice (not to mention his repertoire of frowns) was even stronger in this sequel. I also feel that the relationship between Denizen and Vivian was explored very well in this book, the complexities for both of them in being reunited and trying to deal with their complicated past. The characters in the book are all nuanced and multi layered, and I enjoyed getting to know them better here.

The romance between Denizen and Mercy was sweet and endearingly awkward. Their interactions, and Simon and Denizen’s banter lightened the mood of the book which certainly has its dark and creepy moments.

Rudden’s language is lyrical, and there were many times where I stopped just to admire the way he phrases things. Things like:

Not beautiful in the way a human could be beautiful – no, this was a sparse and terrible kind of beauty, a beauty like that of the island, the kind of beauty that wanted you dead.

Or:

Dublin, however, was a liar of a city.

 I love reading books set in places I know, and it’s great seeing familiar parts of Dublin in the KOTBD books. There are some fantastic scenes in this book set in the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, as can be seen on the cover. Large scale fight scenes such as the one in the Long Room show Rudden’s skillful writing of exciting action sequences, but he is equally adept at conveying Denizen’s more contemplative and conflicted moments. My one criticism was that I found myself getting confused with the who’s who of the Croit family at times. However, overall this was an exciting read and a very satisfying sequel.

As there is quite a bit of darkness in these books, as a bookseller I would tend to recommend them for readers aged 10/11+ but teens and adults will also enjoy this gripping and beautifully told fantasy adventure.

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

I love Patrick Ness’ writing and think he is one of the best YA writers working at the moment. I was delighted to receive an ARC of his latest book, Release, from LoveReading4Kids to review.

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Release

Patrick Ness

Walker Books (May 2017)

YA

Taking place over a single Saturday in summer, Release is the story of a day that will change seventeen-year-old Adam Thorn’s life forever. He feels trapped in his devoutly religious family, his crappy job, his mixed up personal life…he learns to escape and be able to really live. Meanwhile, across town, someone else is having an extraordinary day of their own…

Ness has stated that Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever influenced this book. The opening line is a nod to Mrs Dalloway, as is the one-day structure and some of the style. I think Release is most akin to Forever in its frankness and openness about sexuality and teenage life, arguably it could be seen as an LGBTQ Forever, or a modern day Forever. However, the nods are subtle and the reader does not need to be familiar with these texts. Release is unmistakeably a Patrick Ness book and showcases the power of his writing and the depth of his characters. Personally, I much preferred the Adam Thorn storyline to the supernatural/ghost story, and was found myself keen to get back to this when the narrative switched.

The book is set over a single day, this structure lends it an intensity and gives the reader a sense of being at a pivotal moment in Adam Thorn’s life, of the tumult and change of adolescence, in a powerful, poignant punch of a book. This book is one that will stay with me, and Adam is an incredibly well-drawn character.

Raw, powerful and moving, this is a book that draws the reader in, one they won’t want to be released from. Fans of Patrick Ness will not be disappointed.