Review: A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume

line-baume

Sara Baume

A Line Made by Walking 

Tramp Press (Ireland)/William Heinemann (UK) 2017

Literary Fiction

Art and sadness, which last forever.

Frankie, a 25 year old artist, seeks healing and comfort in rural Ireland. Living in her deceased grandmothers home, and trapped in the clutches of depression and anxiety, she struggles to find meaning and comfort in life. She reflects on her childhood, on how she couldn’t make urban life work, on being creative, on her poor mental health. Taking up photography again, she focuses on the natural world and turns to the catalogue of artworks in her head to try and make sense of her life. She begins a project of taking pictures of dead animals, and these photos are interspersed throughout the book.

This is a brilliant, lyrical book and I think it is even better than Baume’s prize-winning debut Spill Simmer Falter Wither. The references to artworks are woven brilliantly into the story, and there is a helpful index of all the works mentioned at the end. Frankie’s interpretations of the works are very interesting, and this way of testing her visual memory and linking her life to art works well in the book. At times this is a difficult read, so potent is Frankie’s pain and sense of being isolated and lost. It is a grim book, offering a searing insight into family relationships, what makes art, being an outsider and living with mental illness. Sara Baume is a brilliant new talent on the Irish literary scene, and this book is a work of art.

Many thanks to LoveReading for sending me a copy of this book to review!

Review: Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Am I Normal Yet?

Holly Bourne

Usborne, 2015

YA – Contemporary

Evie desperately wants to be ‘normal’. She is almost off her medication and is making a new start at college where no-one knows her past. She wants to be like any other sixteen-year-old girl – make friends, go to parties, maybe get a boyfriend. But relationships turn out to be much more complicated than she had anticipated, and when her compulsive urges starts to return, can she keep her illness a secret from her new friends?

I loved this book. Holly Bourne writes so well about mental health and feminism, and besides that it is just a really good read. Evie is a strong protagonist and Bourne lets us into her head and gives an idea of the experience of OCD in showing us Evie’s ‘good thoughts’ and ‘bad thoughts’. Seeing a character in recovery, and seeing how difficult recovery can be, is very important. Evie’s friends Amber and Lottie are also very likeable, and the three form a ‘spinster club’ where they discuss feminist ideas and think about what it is to be a girl. For teenage readers, these meetings will give a great introduction to feminism (or expand the knowledge they already have) but in a non-preachy manner. Older readers will nod along to Lottie’s explanations. Bourne has books about Amber and Lottie coming out in 2016 which I am very much looking forward to reading.

One of the (many) things I really enjoyed about this book is how it explores female friendships. There is romance (and a popular romantic trope is very nicely debunked) but the friendship between the three girls is really at the core of this book. Evie learns a lot about herself through her friendship with Amber and Lottie, and their conversations show Bourne really has an ear for dialogue. This is a book that made me laugh as well as tear up, and I know it is one I will be reading again. Bourne tackles some difficult and important issues really well in this book, while also creating a clever and fun read. One of my favourite books of the year.

I was delighted to hear Holly Bourne speak at DeptCon1 (a YA convention run by Easons in Dublin) so watch out for some blog posts about that during the week!

Review: The Wordsmith by Patricia Forde

Cover image from Little Island

Cover image from Little Island

The Wordsmith

Patricia Forde

Little Island, 2015 

Letta is the wordsmith’s apprentice. She creates word cards for the people of Ark, and helps her master collect and archive words.In Ark, language is restricted to 500 words, known as List. This has been decreed by John Noa, leader of Ark, who believes that language led to the downfall of humankind and the Melting. When Letta’s master disappears, she must take over his work and the responsibility that comes with it. However, Letta soon comes to question the society she has always known, and its suppression of language and culture.

The Wordsmith is a gripping dystopian read that will make the reader think about the role and importance of language in their own life. How many words do we need to survive, to communicate fully? Why does language matter? Letta is a strong protagonist who grows throughout the novel, as a a result of her interactions with Marlo, a Desecrator. The Desecrators live outside Ark, using the old language, playing music, and keeping hope and culture alive. World building is a real strength of this novel, the society is richly crafted and vividly described. The narrative is compelling, building up to a dramatic conclusion. The ending leaves some questions unanswered, a sequel would be very welcome!

I love the cover – designed by Steve Simpson – and the use of word cards at the start of each chapter. It is a beautifully designed and written book, highly recommended for readers aged 11+

Review: Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski

I enjoyed Sarah Mlynowski’s character Mel in How To Be Bad, and I picked Don’t Even Think About It up at the How To Be Bad event in Easons O’Connell St when it was recommended by E. Lockhart.

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

Don’t Even Think About It

Sarah Mlynowski

Orchard Books, 2014

YA Contemporary

A routine flu vaccination has unforeseen consequences for the students of homeroom 10B – they develop powers of telepathy. They can communicate with each other through their thoughts, but they can also read the minds of everyone around them. This is both brilliant – they can cheat on tests – and terrible – they learn more about their parents than they ever wanted to know. They know what their best friends and crushes think of them, they can read their teachers’ minds. Can they keep their secrets hidden from their classmates? And how will they use their newfound powers?

This is an entertaining and thought-provoking novel, which makes the reader think about how they would use such powers, and what thoughts they would rather keep hidden. Mlynowski has created a memorable cast of characters (Olivia who suffers with social anxiety and hypochondria was particularly well written) and puts them through plenty of drama. While having over 20 students affected by this vaccine makes for a large number of characters, the ones Mlynowski focuses on have interesting and varied experiences as ‘Espies.’ Olivia gains confidence from her new powers. Cooper discovers some terrible truths about his girlfriend Mackenzie, and about his parents’ relationship. Pi, sick of always coming second in class, decides to use her powers to become extraordinary. Mlynowski developed her characters well throughout the book, one in particular surprised me.

This is a fun read – watch out for the reference to an E. Lockhart book! I’m looking forward to reading the sequel – Think Twice – which has not been released yet.

Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

Cover image from Goodreads

Cover image from Goodreads

My Heart and Other Black Holes

Jasmine Warga

Hodder, 2015

Aysel and Roman met in an unlikely way – they are suicide partners. They connected through a website called Smooth Passages; their aim is to ensure each other goes through with the jump. Aysel is living in the shadow of her father’s horrific crime, afraid the same darkness lives within her. Deeply depressed, she can’t bear to go on. Roman is wracked with guilt about his little sister’s death, and sees suicide as the only solution. Neither wants a flake as their partner, but as they get to know each other better Aysel becomes less determined to go through with the plan…

Jasmine Warga’s debut novel is an emotional and powerful read. Aysel and Roman are strong characters – both flawed and in many ways broken, but also both very likeable. Aysel is passionate about physics. Roman is a talented artist. The connection between them is brilliant, as Roman says, they have chemistry. The minor characters in the book are also memorable, and the family dynamics are believable. There are some very emotional scenes as the characters (and the readers) realise what they will be leaving behind.

The novel is told from Aysel’s point of view, and her descriptions of her sadness are absolutely heart wrenching: ‘Sometimes I wonder if my heart is like a black hole – it’s so dense that there’s no room for light, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still suck me in.’ She describes her depression as a black slug in her stomach, weighing her down and eating up all her feelings. This is an important read. It gives an insight into depression, and emphasises that ‘there is nothing beautiful or glamorous or endearing about sadness.’

This is a striking debut, which I would highly recommend. It is one of the most moving books I have read, definitely a new favourite. I am looking forward to reading Jasmine Warga’s next book.

Originally reviewed for LoveReading.

Review: Weightless by Sarah Bannan

Weightless

Cover image from Goodreads

Weightless

Sarah Bannan

Bloomsbury, 2015

Adamsville, Alabama is a small town. Everyone knows each other, they have for years. Then, one sweltering summer’s day, Carolyn Lessing arrives in town. New, beautiful and talented, Carolyn enthralls everyone in Adams High. They look on her Facebook page, trying to find out as much as they can about her past. She is watched constantly, everyone is intrigued by this mysterious newcomer who suddenly makes it onto the Adams High Hot List. Rumours about her fly about the school. But soon the gossip takes a darker turn and Carolyn’s perfect facade begins to crack…

Told in the first person plural (we) Sarah Bannan’s debut novel is utterly compelling. The novel is told from the point of view of a group of girls hovering on the edge of the popular crowd, who watch Carolyn’s fall from popularity and her downward spiral into despair. The effect of the narration is chorus-like, and implicates the reader as one of those silent watchers. The novel is interspersed with texts, Facebook posts, letters and school reports showing both the role of social media in bullying and the attitude the school takes to the various incidents.

This is not an easy book to read, Bannan doesn’t pull back from showing the harshness of the bullying and the destructive impact it has on Carolyn. Bannan shows the pressure on all the girls in the book to keep up with the in-crowd and the gossip. But the attacks on Carolyn – from others and herself – are described in detail by the narrators, who are enthralled by the unfolding drama. There is a real sense of surveillance as Carolyn’s outfits are discussed, her actions filmed, photographed or discussed via text or Facebook.

Weightless is a chilling read, reminiscent of recent tragedies, that will make the reader question their own culpability as a bystander to bullying and that shows vividly the how bullying operates in the digital age. I think the UK cover is excellent – the little cursor on the girl’s face reflecting the role of social media in the book, and the image itself the pervasive pressure on Carolyn and the other girls to appear perfect. This book has crossover appeal, for both adult and YA audiences. Gripping, horrifying and unforgettable.

Review: Remix by Non Pratt

Non Pratt’s debut novel Trouble has been a huge success, shortlisted for the inaugural YA Book Prize. Her second book, Remix, is ‘a novel about boys, bands and best mates.’

Image from Goodreads.

Image from Goodreads.

Remix

Non Pratt

Walker Books, June 2015

YA – Contemporary

Best friends Kaz and Ruby are off to Remix music festival for the weekend. The two friends think they know everything about each other, but neither has been completely honest about their ex-boyfriend. Kaz is still heartbroken after her beloved boyfriend Tom dumped her, and she hasn’t told Ruby that he will be at the festival too. Everyone thinks Ruby is so over her ex Stu, but he isn’t that easy to forget. During a weekend of music, energy and stars; their friendship is tested by the dramatic events that unfold.

Remix switches between Kaz and Ruby’s point of view, sometimes their respective sections are quite short which can make the text a bit choppy. However, overall I liked the alternating voices, and felt both protagonists were likeable and relatable. While Kaz as the quiet, sensitive friend who is a talented musician was a bit stereotypical, I liked how Pratt developed her character throughout the novel. Similarly, brash and outgoing Ruby becomes more vulnerable throughout the book. By the end of the book, both characters had grown, but some problems were still left unresolved.

There is also a cast of memorable supporting characters who add greatly to the novel. Pratt’s characters felt very real – they make some stupid decisions, they have fun, they fight, and they care deeply about each other. I liked that while this book deals with romance, at its core is Kaz and Ruby’s friendship. Remix shows how friendships change as people grow.

One of Pratt’s strength is dialogue, and this is part of what makes the book so readable. She also creates a great festival atmosphere, capturing the excitement and the power of music. The buzzing festival is an interesting setting for a story that is fun and entertaining, but also very moving and emotional.

Trouble is high on my TBR list, thanks to LoveReading4Kids for sending me a copy of Remix to review. Check out the other reviewer’s thoughts on Remix here.

Review: Oliver and the Seawigs by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre will be appearing at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in Dún Laoghaire tomorrow and over the weekend. I am very excited for their event tomorrow, I think they make a great team!

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Oliver and the Seawigs

Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Oxford, 2013

Adventure/Comedy 5+

This is a fantastically fun book about a young explorer named Oliver, who sets off on a wild adventure when his parents disappear. Along the way Oliver meets Iris, a short-sighted mermaid with a very unique singing voice, Cliff, a wandering island, and Mr Culpeper, a grumpy albatross. Together they must help Cliff prepare for the seawig competition (at which the Rambling Isles show off the wigs made from the objects they have found on their travels), and rescue Oliver’s explorer parents.

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Iris

This is a wonderful book, filled with wacky characters like the Sarcastic Seaweed, and the pesky sea monkeys.The illustrations work perfectly with the text – adding to the comic feel and bringing the imaginative seawigs to life. There are plenty of hidden details in the images for readers to find. The layouts are dynamic and exciting, and there is a fantastic map at the end of the book. It is clear that both Reeve and McIntyre had a lot of fun with this story, which makes for a very entertaining read. Plucky young Oliver’s exciting adventure is one to return to again and again. Highly recommended for young (and old!) readers who enjoy a good adventure story, and a good laugh.

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Sarcastic Seaweed

But watch out for the sea monkeys!

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Review: Still Falling by Sheena Wilkinson

A big thank you to Little Island for sending me a copy of Still Falling to review. I’m a big fan of Sheena Wilkinson’s gritty YA novels Taking Flight and Grounded, and her new book did not disappoint.

Still Falling

Sheena Wilkinson

Little Island, 2015

YA, Contemporary

Luke has epilepsy, on his first day at a new school he has an attack. Esther is shy and lonely, but Luke makes her feel special. She quickly falls for him, and he can’t help but fall for her too. But things couldn’t be more complicated. Esther’s family don’t approve of Luke, and she feels he’s hiding something from her. When tragedy strikes, and Luke can’t escape his past, will they make it through together?

Sheena Wilkinson’s previous novels have proven that she’s not afraid to tackle hard-hitting and dark subjects. Still Falling is no exception, and as always the issues she addresses are handled in a realistic yet sensitive way. The novel alternates between Luke and Esther’s point of view, enabling the reader to connect with both characters. They are both credible characters – flawed but likeable – and their story is a very memorable one. They grow as the novel progresses, and I think this line from the blurb describes the book beautifully: ‘A story about the struggle it can be to love someone who doesn’t love themselves – and why it’s worth it.’

This is a compelling story and one which will stay with me for a long time. Highly recommended for older teens and adults who are fans of contemporary YA that doesn’t shy away from tough topics.

Still Falling will be launched in No Alibis bookshop in Belfast on March 10th and in Books Upstairs in Dublin on March 12th.

Review: All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I really loved this book, I’ve read it twice already and I know it’s one I will return to in the future 🙂 This is Jennifer Niven’s first YA book, and it has been getting a great response from readers.

All The Bright Places

All The Bright Places

Jennifer Niven

Penguin, 2015

YA (Contemporary)

Violet is counting down the days until graduation. Finch is counting the days he can stay ‘Awake’, out of the deep depression that leaves him helpless. Violet is popular, Finch is seen as a freak. They meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school. They talk each other down, and thus begins an unlikely friendship that slowly develops into something more.

Both Violet and Finch are strong, believable characters. Violet is depressed following the death of her sister Eleanor in a car accident the year before. With Finch’s help she learns to stop fearing the world around her. Finch is a more complex character, eccentric and unpredictable.  He is bipolar, but the novel resists labels. As Finch says ‘They explain people away as illnesses’.  Both Finch and Violet are troubled, but there is much more to them than their problems. Finch reinvents himself as a myriad of different characters and is a talented musician, Violet is a writer who ran a popular website with her sister.

The novel’s title is a reference to Dr Seuss’ The Places You’ll Go and Niven references a number of books, Virginia Woolf’s Waves. This is an honest and beautifully written book, and the characters feel very real. It is an emotional read which is both moving and uplifting. It is a book about noticing the good in everything around you, all the bright places there waiting to be discovered. A book that I will certainly be reading again and again.

Some of my favourite quotes from All The Bright Places:

“You are all the colours in one, at full brightness.”

“She is oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous. The same elements that are inside the rest of us, but I can’t help thinking she’s more than that and she’s got other elements going on that no one’s ever heard of, ones that make her stand apart from everyone else.”

“sometimes there’s beauty in the tough words – it’s all in how you read them.”

Originally reviewed for LoveReading4Kids, check out the other reviewers’ opinions on All The Bright Places here.