Top Ten Tuesday: My Winter TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature run by The Broke and the Bookish, combining the joys of books and lists. This week’s official topic is Favourite Reads of 2017 but as the year isn’t out yet, I’m putting that list on hold in case any of my December reads wow me. Instead, here’s a list I missed a couple of weeks ago – the Winter To Be Read List.

Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

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To my shame, I have never read the His Dark Materials trilogy. They have been on my TBR list for years, but with the recent release of La Belle Sauvage, I have decided the time is now.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls

Things a Bright Girl Can Do

Not only do I love Sally Nicholls’ work, but this book is about the suffragettes! Of course I want to read it! It’s received brilliant reviews, and I just know I am going to love it.

The Taste of Blue – Lydia Ruffles

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I was very intrigued by this book when I heard the author speak at DeptCon and I was delighted to receive a copy at my book club’s Christmas book swap.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr

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I loved Emily Barr’s gripping YA debut The One Memory of Flora Banks, so I have high hopes for this, her second YA novel. I received an ARC at DeptCon and am hoping to read it over the Christmas.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

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I mentioned Bonnets at Dawn in my post about podcasts, and it has inspired me to explore the work of Anne Bronte, the one Bronte sister I haven’t read anything by. It’s been a while since I’ve read a classic, so this will be a good change.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman

Tin Man

This book has received high praise from my bookselling colleagues, which definitely earned it a place on my TBR list. It sounds like a moving story of love and longing, and I love the cover.

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World – Lyndall Gordon

Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World

This book is right up my street – I really enjoyed Lyndall Gordon’s Emily Dickinson biography, and this subject is one that interests me greatly. I haven’t read anything by Olive Schreiner but I have read works by the other writers and know some of their biographies. It is one of my Christmas picks in the bookshop, and one I will be keen to read myself.

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green

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I am looking forward to reading John Green’s latest offering. It has had excellent reviews, and I like the sound of the plot. The main reason I haven’t bought it yet is that it is in hardback – pricier but also just more awkward to read/carry around!

Breathing Lessons – Anne Tyler

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Anne Tyler is another author who has been on my TBR list for some time now. I read Vinegar Girl, her adaptation of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, and wasn’t keen on it. However, I want to give her another chance and have always heard great things about Breathing Lessons!

Call Me By Your Name – André Aciman

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I saw the movie recently and loved it, so I am looking forward to checking out the book. I’d usually go for the book first, so it will be interesting to compare the two versions.

Let me know what’s on your TBR list, or if you have read any of these books.

 

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Review: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

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The Red Ribbon

Lucy Adlington

Hot Key Books, 2017

YA – Historical

When women arrive at Birchwood they are stripped of their clothes, their belongings and their dignity. They are given striped sacks to wear and wooden shoes, their hair shorn and their name replaced with a number. Those who are able are put to work, those who aren’t disappear. Fourteen-year-old Ella is a seamstress, but the workshop she works in is in Birkenau-Auschwitz and her clients are the guards, the wives of the officers and the commander.  Ella’s dresses are her key to extra bread and to items she can barter, but she is also creating couture for the enemy. And at any moment, she could be out of favour.

This is a compelling and moving read. The characters are complex and varied, and show us the different ways people survive, the ways they hold on to their sense of self. Ella, the protagonist, is often quite conflicted. Her best friend Rose is an idealistic dreamer, their boss Marta is a hard-edged fighter. There is also a guard, Carla, who strikes up a complicated friendship of sorts with Ella. Each character is fleshed out and interesting.

This book really made me think about the importance of clothing – in terms of identity, dignity and self-expression. As Ella says, clothes don’t seem trivial when you don’t have any, and are left vulnerable and frightened. Each section is given a different colour, which links to the mood and to material items in the story. The red ribbon of the title is key to the book – a symbol of hope, of wish for liberation and a happier future.

The book is well-researched, and features plenty of detail. I will definitely be checking out Adlington’s book, Stitches in Time, about fashion history.

With its memorable characters, emotional depth and historical detail, The Red Ribbon is an absorbing read. Highly recommended!

Thursday Trio: Podcasts I Love

Thursday Trio is a new feature I am trying out on this blog, to get back into the swing of things here. And what better to start with than podcasts, my new love in life. As ever, I’m a bit late to the party but these are my three favourite podcasts that I am listening to at the moment/have listened to recently. Listed in the order I discovered them.

Witch Please

Witch, Please

A podcast that combines Harry Potter and feminist scholarship? Yes please! Co-hosted by Canadian academics Marcelle Kosman and Hannah McGregor this is a highly entertaining podcast that will make you reconsider various aspects of the books and films. It is both smart and laugh-out-loud funny, and also makes excellent use of sound effects. The first season covers all the books and movies, and also extras such as the Lego computer game and the world of Harry Potter merchandising or book design. The second season focused on fandom and fan culture, and included the Warner Brothers studio tour and Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On. I eagerly anticipate season three!

Secret Feminist Agenda

Secret Feminist Agenda

I came to this podcast through Witch Please, as it is hosted by Hannah McGregor. It is a weekly podcast with a different guest each week covering such diverse topics as astrology, Doctor Who, fashion and body positivity, all with a feminist bent. The reading lists provided each week are very interesting and have led me to some fascinating articles. The discussions are stimulating and have certainly expanded my feminism. Also, Kaarina’s self-care corner is a cosy hug of a segment. Sadly this podcast is also on hiatus at the moment!

Bonnets at Dawn

I am currently listening to, and loving, this podcast. It pitches Jane Austen against the Bronte sisters. Lauren Burke (Team Austen) and Hannah Chapman (Team Bronte) have episodes such as Darcy vs Heathcliff and Steventon vs Haworth. I have learnt a lot about Austen and the Brontes, and it is also a very enjoyable listen. I am glad to have plenty of episodes ahead of me! (For now I remain Team Austen, although Wuthering Heights is a brilliant book)

Happy listening!

Review: Tangleweed & Brine by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

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Tangleweed and Brine

Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Karen Vaughan

Little Island Books (2017)

YA/Crossover

Old stories new, you’ll venture where you will

Tangleweed and Brine is a collection of 13 witchy fairytale retellings.  The book is divided in two, each element of the title being one half. The Tangleweed stories are earthier and filled with ash, while the Brine tales are infused with water. The elemental nature of the stories reflects the way that fairy tales connect to the very core of our being. This collection is no exception, filled as it is with darkness and light, pain and pleasure, fear and longing. Dark, beguiling and feminist, these are haunting tales that will linger in the reader’s memory, stories that reward multiple readings. Sullivan focuses on the female experience in her tales – she allows the reader enter deeply into the minds of her characters, and does not deny the darker elements of these tales.

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Ash Pale illustration by Karen Vaughan

This is illustrator Karen Vaughan’s first book, and she is definitely one to watch. Her intricate pen-and-ink illustrations catch the tone of the tales perfectly, and add an extra layer of richness to the book. Her work shows the influence of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, in a way which ties the collection into the long tradition of illustrated fairytale books, yet she has a style of her own. I particularly like how her illustrations, like the tales themselves, make room for other types of bodies in the fairy tales. This book is not filled with dainty perfect princesses, but with women who would be considered too tall, too fat, too small or altogether too much for such tales.

She wasn’t soft threads woven into silk, but thick rough cables pulsing like muscles on the chests of fishermen. Functional.

There is a strong focus on bodily experience, on being a woman. On the body as functional and a source of power, on the body as a trap.

You like your arms that make things, grow things, mend.

Beauty and a womb. That’s all you are.

There are no quick fixes, fairy godmothers or happily-ever-afters in these stories. The endings are often ambiguous and unsettling. The heroines must rely on their own courage and resources. Some tales will resonate with readers, some will empower them, some will linger on long after reading.

With its poetic and beguiling prose, it is easy to become tangled up in Tangleweed and Brine. This is a book to savour and to treasure, beautifully written, illustrated and designed.

 

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)

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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:

StandByMeBlogTourSept2017

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

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

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

Space Between

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.