Review: I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

I’ve been following Alice Oseman’s books since her debut, Solitaire, and I’m a fan of her very modern and diverse YA. I interviewed Alice Oseman when Radio Silence was released, check out the interview here and my reviews of Solitaire and Radio Silence.

The publisher sent me a copy of this book in exchange for a review, the opinions expressed below are honest and my own.

36536433

Angel Rahimi is obsessed with The Ark, the boy band who are taking the world by storm. The Ark are her world – she reads fanfiction about them, tweets about them and makes up theories about their relationships. She has travelled to London to meet her friend Juliet, who she knows through the online fandom, in person for the first time. Together, they are going to actually get to meet The Ark, who they refer to as ‘our boys’.

For Jimmy Kaga-Ricci, one of the boys in The Ark, their rise to fame has been less than dazzling. He loves playing music with Rowan and Lister, but the media frenzy has his anxiety spiralling out of control. His band mates aren’t faring too well either – Lister is drinking too much, and Rowan’s relationship is showing the strain. Is the major new contract they are about to sign a blessing or a curse?

Told in alternating chapters from Angel and Jimmy’s points of view, this is a wonderfully diverse exploration of fandom, friendship, mental health and self worth. It is an entertaining read, and Oseman’s care to represent her protagonists’ experiences authentically and sensitively really shows. With a hijabi teenage girl and a gay transgender boy at its centre, this book is diverse but in a way that is far from tokenistic. Neither character is defined by their faith, sexuality or gender but are rounded and well developed, although I felt the complexities of Angel’s relationship with herself could have been explored more. Jimmy’s anxiety and paranoia is almost painful to read, and I really feel we got into his head. I didn’t feel as much of a connection to Angel.

I loved how I Was Born For This engages with fandom and fan culture, and the intensity of love and passion fans can have. For this, and its queer representation, this is definitely a book I would recommend. Radio Silence remains my favourite of Oseman’s books though!

 

Advertisements

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

33795549

The Immortalists

Chloe Benjamin

Tinder Press, 2018

Fiction

 

If you knew the day you were going to die, how would you chose to live?

1969, New York. On an unbearably hot summer’s day the four Gold children seek their destinies. The strange fortune-teller they have heard so many rumours about them predicts the date each child will die on, knowledge that will completely change them and their lives. Simon escapes the bonds of the family business, running to San Francisco to live and love freely. Klara pursues her passion for magic, becoming a performer in glitzy Las Vegas. Daniel decides the fates of others through his work as an army doctor. Varya turns to science and logic to try and gain control. They must all live with their prophecy, whether they decide to defy it or believe it.

I was intrigued by this book’s tagline (quoted above), and the story definitely didn’t disappoint. The span the book covers is impressive, and I felt Benjamin really captured the different periods and places her characters inhabit. Each sibling was a complex character with an interesting story, although Klara’s story was the one I enjoyed the most. I liked the magic (bordering on magical realism) in her tale, her hope and her dreams, and the way it explores sexism. Varya was the character I related to the most. The book invites readers to question how people change (or if they can. As the fortune teller tells Varya ‘most people don’t’) and what role we play in our own fate.

The Immortalists also explores family dynamics well – how they all react to the loss of their father, how close Simon and Klara are but how Simon becomes estranged from his other siblings, how growing up can change relationships. It is an emotional read that shows how these connections can be supportive or fraught, and how we can lack understanding even of those closest to us.

This is a gripping novel about life, death, love and what it means to be alive.

Review: The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington

35681404

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!

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

T&B Cover High Res

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.

Ash-Pale

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.

35962513Stand By Me

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:

StandByMeBlogTourSept2017

Review: The Loneliest Girl of the Universe by Lauren James

32601841

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.

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

33871762

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

32887579

‘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

7934095

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

Review: Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

32860070

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.

31194576

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.