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Book Review: Dead Ends

Dead Ends by Erin Lange – Published July 3rd 2014 by Faber Faber (first published September 3rd 2013)

This is just going to be a brief review.
Erin Lange is a great author, with a really enjoyable style that makes her books easy to read.
This book follows a young boy named Dane, who makes a surprising friend; Billy. Dane is feared by the other kids at school due to his violent reputation. But Billy manages to use Dane is a way of deterring other bullies, leading to an unexpected friendship between the boys.
Their friendship involves a sort of deal, where Dane promises to help Billy find his father. But as Dane learns more about Billy’s past, he starts to wonder whether he’s doing the right thing.
Like I said, Lange’s writing is really easy to read. This story was surprisingly heart-warming, with a rather bittersweet ending. It tackled some serious issues that I think are so important for kids to learn about, too.
Overall, I’m giving this 3.5 to 4 stars out of 5.

Book Review: The Astonishing Colour of After

The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan – Published March 22nd 2018 by Orion Children’s Books

Another book I read almost four months ago now (oops!). I think it’s time to get this review written!

I was immediately drawn to this book when I read the blurb. Leigh is a young woman struggling to accept her mother’s suicide. She finds herself travelling to Taiwan to meet her mother’s parents, where Leigh discovers more about her mother and her family than she ever expected.

This book was written beautifully, with colours expressing emotion. Leigh is an artist and thus pretty much thinks in terms of colour. It’s also an amazing mix of real-life, sorrow and loss, and fantasy. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but Leigh is convinced her mother is visiting her even after her death, but in a very different form.

As well as all the emotions surrounding the loss of her mother, Leigh addresses the issues around being a “half-blood”. As a child of mixed-race parents myself, I found some of the things in this book incredibly relatable. But it wasn’t an overbearing part of the story though, which I thought was fantastic.

This was a really emotional book, fantastically written. It was sad but heart-warming. 5 stars; I loved it!

Book Review: Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl – Published February 4th 2010 by Penguin Books (first published December 1st 2009)

So I finally got round to reading this a little while back. I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie on TV, but never really knew what it was about. It is quite a romance-based story, but I enjoyed it more than I anticipated.
Again, I read this quite a while ago, so my review is only going to be short.
Ethan has nightmares where he loses someone – someone he’s never met before. And then one day she appears. She turns up at school, the niece of the creepy guy who lives in the creepy mansion. She’s not exactly normal herself, either. The other kids at school pick up on this immediately, and she becomes the centre of attention. And not the good kind.
I’m not going to tell you the whole plot, but it’s full of mystery and magic and a fair bit of romance. There’s even loss; there is one particular moment toward the end that I found particularly poetic. (If you read it, here’s a hint: it’s to do with Macon and rain.)
The ending in particular left me wanting to read on. I’m actually putting this series on my Christmas wish list! 4.5 stars.

Book Review: The Shadow Girl

First of all, I’d like to say a huge thank you to the author/publisher of this book for providing me with a free copy in return for my opinion. (I desperately searched through my emails so I could send a link but hopefully you see this anyway!)

The Shadow Girl by Misty Mount
Published March 2019 by Between the Lines Publishing

This is a young adult book, with 13-year-old Zylia as the protagonist. She’s a fair bit younger than me, which can sometimes impact my enjoyment of a book. However, I didn’t have too much of a problem with it in this case. Mount managed to capture the young girl’s voice fantastically – it was like being inside Zylia’s head – but with a dark, more mature undertone. In fact, I think this may actually be a little too dark for most 13-year-olds.

I was immediately reminded of All the Lonely People when I read this. Not in a bad way, though; it wasn’t too similar that it was boring or anything like that. I just found it interesting to note that the two shared a similar premise, based on fading out of existence due to basically being forgotten or erased.

There were a few important social issues sprinkled throughout this book which was a nice touch. Underage smoking and even bullying and self-esteem problems were the key ones I picked up. If a younger person were to read this, I think these are great topics for them to be educated on.

I did notice quite a lot of spelling mistakes and typos which was a shame. Editing can really make or break a book!

Overall, I did enjoy this. It started off a bit slow, coming to quite a big crescendo near the end. 3.5 to 4 stars.

Book Review: The Darkest Bloom (Shadowscent #1)

The Darkest Bloom (Shadowscent #1) by P.M. Freestone – Paperback, 448 pages – Published February 7th 2019 by Scholastic

This was another book I picked up from the library at random. The cover was beautiful, and the idea of scent-based magic was certainly intriguing. While it was a decent book, it didn’t quite live up to my hopes and expectations, sadly.

Most of the book follows Rakel as she tries to make enough money to purchase a cure for her father’s Rot. She has an expert sense of smell, meaning she is a fantastic perfumer, distilling her own creations and experimenting with different methods. But she becomes the suspect for a horrendous crime that leaves the Prince in a coma, and so she flees.

Ash is the Shield of the Prince, and his best friend. He doesn’t believe Rakel is to blame, however, and believes she holds the key to curing him. So he runs away with her, searching for a place that may not exist, and hunting down valuable ingredients for a poison that nobody even knows about.

I found this book quite slow at the start. It just didn’t excite me. There was nothing wrong with it, but it just wasn’t right. However, towards the end there was a far more exciting plotline added, involving Ash. The cliffhanger ending left me actually wanting to read on.

While I didn’t love this, there were definitely some good aspects. It was unique for sure, and I do think there’s a lot of potential for the rest of the series. 3.5 stars!

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall – Paperback, 272 pages – Published July 7th 2016 by Chicken House

I picked this book up at my local library because I liked the cover. Then I read the quote on the front and knew I’d love it.

Agoraphobia is a horrific disorder. I’ve not found a single book about it before this one. While I myself don’t suffer from it, I do have anxiety and can relate to the main character, Norah, in so many ways.

The first thing I’m going to say about this is that it doesn’t overly romanticise the illness, which is so important. Yes, there are maybe a few aspects that aren’t incredibly accurate, but that’s always going to happen with works of fiction. Overall, I think this is a fantastic representation of Norah’s illnesses and how her life has been flipped upside down since her becoming ill.

I would have liked this to be less romantically-focused, though. Don’t get me wrong, the romance was lovely and I felt so happy for Norah. But I am a bit fed up of stories that portray romantic relationships as the ‘cure’ for mental illnesses.

As I mentioned above, I believe this depicts Norah’s behaviours and thoughts fantastically. I really related to her in a lot of ways, such as regarding her anxiety and panic attacks. Plus, her beliefs and emotions regarding her illness were very relatable; the guilt and shame of being a burden on others.

It was incredibly heart-warming to see Norah finally begin to make progress towards the end of the book. It was slow – which is how it is in real life. There is no magic, instant cure. It takes time and effort and a lot of pain.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. If it was less romantic, I may have given it a full 5 stars. As it is, I’m giving it 4.5 stars, and would definitely recommend it to others.

Book Review: As Far as the Stars

As Far as the Stars by Virginia Macgregor – Kindle Edition, 384 pages – Published April 18th 2019 by HQ Young Adult

This was another one of those books I read without knowing anything about. I knew the genre, and I’d seen the cover, but that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it this way, and so I’ll try not to spoil anything for potential readers.

The book is narrated by a teenage girl called Air, who is on her way to pick her brother Jude up from the airport. Their sister is about to get married, but Jude tends to mess things up so Air is trying to figure out where exactly he is. Their mother is getting worried about them turning up late, but Air is sure that it will work out – Jude always fixes things just in time.

When at the airport, Air meets Christopher. He’s waiting for his dad, who’s flight has been delayed. But then news comes in of the plane being missing, so Air decides to drive Christopher to his mum’s. The problem is, he hasn’t seen her for years.

Amongst all the confusion and stress and grief, Air and Christopher (and Jude’s dog) begin to enjoy each other’s company. They take several pit-stops along the road, despite the urgency of the situation, and actually find themselves having fun.

The end of the novel was fantastic, full of emotion. It was resolved beautifully with the epilogue. However, I did have a few issues throughout the majority of the book. Firstly, I found it to be a bit repetitious. Air went over the same thoughts several times, which made sense in some cases as she was anxious and scared, but happened a little too much for my liking. I also found her to be a little too dramatic; for example, when Christopher finally told her about his dad, she got incredibly upset. I don’t really understand why. It wasn’t Christopher’s fault. It didn’t change anything. If anything, she should have felt more sympathetic for him.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

I also noticed quite a few typos and missing words, but that may just have been because I have a review copy and not the final publication.
Overall, I’m giving this 4 stars. The ending really made the book for me.

Book Review: All The Lonely People

All The Lonely People by David Owen – eBook, 320 pages – Published January 10th 2019 by Atom

This was quite different to how I anticipated it to be. In a good way, I think.

The protagonist is Kat, and young feminist who loves Doctor Backwash and the YouTuber Tinker. As a fan of Tinker, Kat becomes the victim of a lot of online abuse. Slowly, she has to delete her entire online presence, including her YouTube account and her personal, custom-designed website. For so long, the online communities have been the only place she really felt she belonged. Now it was all gone.

And so was she.

The ‘fade’ that Kat experiences is very interesting. Suddenly nobody remembers her. Except one of the boys responsible for her disappearance, Wesley. He’s determined to find out what happened. Even if it’s just to alleviate his own overwhelming guilt.

There are a lot of important messages throughout this book, mostly about feminism and masculinity. The theme of sexism and abuse is huge. I did feel like it was maybe a bit exaggerated in places, but actually it does happen like that, sadly.

Kat also finds herself building a vital relationship during the fade, with another girl who is fading. Safa was one of a group of people, called ‘the lonely people’, who actively tried to fade. Like Kat, she is all but forgotten by the rest of the world.

The magic realism was great. It really felt like this was possible, if rather improbable. It was intriguing and exciting, especially when Kat discovers that a extremely sexist YouTuber is planning something bad. How is she going to stop him when no one can even see her?

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

I really enjoyed this book. It had emotional moments, funny moments, and plenty of endearing moments. Wesley is a problematic character but he learns from his mistakes, and definitely grows more mature throughout the book. I’m giving this 4 to 4.5 stars.

TRILOGY Review: The Firebird Chronicles

The Firebird Chronicles is a children’s/young adult fantasy series following two young Apprentice Adventurers, Scoop and Fletcher.

Rise of the Shadow Stealers (The Firebird Chronicles #1) by Daniel Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published January 25th 2013 by Our Street Books

The first book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, follows the confused youngsters as they make sense of their surroundings. Neither has any memories of who they are or where they come from, and with the help of their mentor, the Yarnbard, they slowly piece together the story of their past.

Throughout the book, Scoop and Fletcher are held back by Grizelda, an evil old woman who’s determined to take control of the land. They are set monumental tasks by the mysterious Storyteller – the creator and controller of the world they live in. Grizelda desperately tries to prevent them from succeeding at every turn.

My immediate reaction to this book was that I was too old for it. I always emphasise the fact that children’s books can still be good books, enjoyed by any reader. This was, in all honesty, not fantastic. The plot wasn’t bad, and it wasn’t exactly hard to read, but the writing wasn’t particularly outstanding and there were tons of grammatical errors. One recurring mistake I noticed was the misuse of “passed” and “past”. Little things like that really affect how professional a book feels, or how immature the writing comes across.

2.5 stars for this book. The plot was okay, but the characters and speech were overly childish and didn’t feel authentic.

The Nemesis Charm (The Firebird Chronicles #2) by Daniel Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published May 27th 2016 by Our Street Books

The second instalment of this series is The Nemesis Charm. While this book had similar issues with character development, speech and grammar, I found it slightly better than the predecessor.

After rediscovering their identities, Scoop and Fletcher have settled into their lives and begun building a relationship with their parents. But of course, this calm does not remain for long. Soon, citizens are falling ill with a mysterious sleeping disease, the Storyteller’s Princess among them. Yet again, Scoop and Fletcher are tasked with saving everyone.

Grizelda continues to fight them at every step, while raising her own army and attempting to take control of the world (again). Scoop and Fletcher find themselves travelling with a Dark Pirate towards the Threshold, the Uncrossable Boundary to a mysterious world beyond.

There is also a whole other side to their story – the real Storyteller, if you will. A girl in Leeds called Libby, who is continuing the story her missing mother began.

I got strong Inkheart vibes from this series. The main difference was that this seemed a whole lot more immature, and amateurish, honestly. There were still so many mistakes, and Grizelda really felt like a typical children’s villain. I think this is supposed to be ‘cheesy’ and predictable to a certain extent, as it is playing on the idea of stories and heroes and so on, but it was hard to take it seriously at times.

2.5 to 3 stars for the second Firebird Chronicles book. It was alright, clever and exciting, but still had its faults.

Through the Uncrossable Boundary (The Firebird Chronicles #3) by Danial Ingram-Brown – eBook, Published November 30th 2018 by Our Street Books

The final book in this trilogy is called Through the Uncrossable Boundary. I think you can guess what that means.

In my opinion, this was the strongest book of the three. Again, it still had a fair few errors, but it was unpredictable and unique. Everything was finally explained in full, and the ending was tidy and satisfying. There was loss and heartbreak, and massive revelations.

Basically, Fletcher and Scoop end up in our world. While this is a little predictable, and some of the following events may be a little cheesy, I think it was quite good. It was a nice ending to the trilogy.

Thank you to the author/publisher for accepting my request to read and review this book

3 stars for the final book.

Book Review: Paper Bag Mask

A huge thanks to Hidden Gems for providing me with a copy of this book in return for my review!

This book is about a prank. Kind of. Not really. It’s complicated.

AP student Redmond Fairweather steals the whomper.

Ok, so the ‘whomper’ is this little wooden sword his AP History teacher, Mr. Street, uses as a prop in class. There’s nothing particularly special about it – the origin is different every time Mr. Street is asked about it – but he seems strangely fond of it. And when Redmond sees Mr. Street handing a suspicious little bag full of powder to a student, he decides that Mr. Street deserves a little pain.

And then Redmond, Alice and Deep (his two best (and only) friends) are making a ransom video, wearing paper bags over their heads to disguise their identity.

He didn’t plan it. He actually meant to give it back almost immediately, but then the exremely popular (and hot) Elodia Cruz confronts him about it, telling him he must not return the whomper. It turns out that Redmond isn’t the only one getting weird vibes from his teacher – there are rumours of past interactions with students, not to mention how his current wife was originally a student where Mr. Street was working as a TA.

Bit by bit, Elodia and Red (as Elodia calls him now) gather a team, including members of the school’s most popular band. Red and Alice start dating, Deep is clearly falling for the singer of the band, and Elodia is shocked at how much she realises she likes Red. It’s all very, very exciting.

Then the plan escalates. They decide to steal the giant whomper (a paper-mache debut to the original built by a past class, measuring about ten whole feet). And then, naturally, there’s another ransom video. And finally, Red tells Elodia what he saw happen between Mr. Street and Jasmine (the girl who received the bag of drugs, who also happens to be Elodia’s best friend). Linked with the rumours of the ‘White Whale’, a teacher distributing drugs through a network of students, the gang decide to out Mr. Street. Publicly.

They post all the videos online, including a final one where they destroy the whomper for good, and out Mr. Street as the White Whale. It becomes really quite messy. There are police involved, Alice and Red’s relationship is on the line, and they’re even interviewed on national television. Red thinks this is it, he’s finally been seen, he’s liked by the other students. And then it gets worse. And worse. And worse.

This was a super enjoyable book! It was set in high school (I think the students are around 17, so that’s the equivalent to Sixth Form here in the UK), so it was aimed at a slightly older audience than a lot of other YA books. It had a great sense of humour throughout, and an informal, ‘chatty’ kind of vibe. But there was a lot of more important stuff, deeper topics like drugs and even abuse being broached. And of course, there was the typical kid-messing-up-big-time followed by kid-finding-his-true-self aspect that pretty much all coming of age novels have.

I did notice a few tiny mistakes with grammar, simple typos and such, as well as a few instances where double punctuation has been used. This may have been purposeful, to give that whole teen voice, but I thought it just looked incorrect/immature/unprofessional.

Overall, I really did like this. I found myself feeling genuinely embarrassed on Redmond’s behalf, and although I could see where he was going so wrong at times, I couldn’t help but read on and see what happened. 4.5 stars!