Month: February 2016

Review: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Kindred Spirits
Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kindred Spirits is a stand-alone novella, written by Rainbow Rowell especially for World Book Day 2016. Kindred Spirits follows Elena, a huge Star Wars fan who dedicates an entire week to camping out waiting for the new movie, The Force Awakens. Expecting a crowd of hundreds, she’s disappointed to find a line of… three. Life in the cinema line isn’t as glamorous as she was expecting…

The cover is very similar to the cover of Fangirl and Carry On, and so initially I was expecting this book to be linked to those two books (which are linked themselves). Kindred Spirits is a completely stand-alone novella – so no need to read any of Rainbow’s other books to understand what’s going on.

My main issue with this book is that it will age very quickly. TFA came out 3 months ago, and this book already feels a little late. What I liked about Fangirl was that Rainbow took the Harry Potter phenomenon and made it her own, transforming that into Baz and Simon – it would have been fun to see that happen here too.

A short novella perfect for fans of Rainbow’s other works, but perhaps not the best introduction for new readers.
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Review: Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson

Spot the Difference
Spot the Difference by Juno Dawson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spot the Difference is a novella, written especially for World Book Day by Juno Dawson. SPD focuses on Avery, a year 10 girl with severe acne, who is getting severely bullied for it. When a new experimental drug becomes available, Avery’s skin clears up – and her social life blooms. Suddenly, she’s in the A-List, with a hot boyfriend and everything’s going well – except she’s neglecting her friends.

Spot the Difference has to be the first book I’ve read which tackles the very common affliction that is teenage acne. Many characters in YA are flawless, with perfect skin, at a perfect weight, and seemingly without any physical or mental illness or disability. SPD introduces a cast of outcasts and cool kids – with Avery’s friend Lois with an underdeveloped arm, while her other friend Jessica is overweight. This was a huge breath of fresh air, although I would love to see more YA novels where disabled and overweight characters are allowed to be ‘cool’.

Although I enjoyed the story and the overall moral – but I found the instant rocketship to popularity once Avery’s face had healed a little unrealistic. In reality, if one of your ‘flaws’ ceases to be, it’s much more likely bullies will find something else to bully you for.

There was a lot going on in this novella, and this story would have easily worked for a full novel – the characters were well-rounded and developed, and there’s a full story arc.

A fun short story read, that tackles some serious issues that haven’t yet been tackled with sufficiently in YA. Highly recommended (and only £1!)

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Review: Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan

Flirty Dancing
Flirty Dancing by Jenny McLachlan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flirty Dancing is a quick, fun read – made even more tempting by the fact that it was Apple’s (Free) book of the week on iBooks when I read it 😉

Bea Hogg is the shy schoolgirl, still dealing with the fallout of a friendship group explosion. When the dance competition Starwars comes to town, her best friend joins Pearl’s dance troupe (Pearl being her ex-best friend turned enemy). Bea’s nan suggests she learn to jive – with the school hottie, Ollie Matthews – who just so happens to be Pearl’s boyfriend.

Similar to Holly Bourne’s Normal series spends one book each focusing on one girl, Flirty Dancing is one of a quadrilogy – the other books focus on Kat, Betty and Pearl (“The Ladybirds”) who used to be friends but grew apart – I love these types of series and this is a really cool concept.

The characters were really well rounded and interesting – I loved Lulu (Bea’s dance teacher and Ollie’s sister), Nan and Emma (Bea’s little sister).

Overall, a fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously – with a new, invigorating voice. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

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Review: Seed by Lisa Heathfield

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, thank you so much to @ChelleyToy and @EMTeenFiction for this copy of Seed!

Seed is both the name of the book, and the name of the commune Pearl lives on. Secluded from society, the people of Seed worship Mother Nature, and the head of the commune, Papa S. The only time they interact with the outside world is when they sell their fruit and vegetable produce at the market. All the children born into Seed are the children of Seed, not knowing who gave birth to them. Pearl wants to find out who her mother is.

Tensions rise as new members arrive – Linda and her two children, Ellis and Sophie. Suddenly, Pearl knows she has to find out who her mother is…

We meet Pearl originally when she has just gotten her period (Yes! Periods in YA! Without a pregnancy in the next scene!) and is sent underground for a night. She’s naive and unaware of a lot of the goings on at Seed, and so we discover life for the women of Seed at the same time that Pearl does, at the age of 15. This involves discovering she is eligible to become Papa S’s ‘companion’, which she is eager to be.

This book is really good at leading you through the cult mentality, and the traditions and beliefs of Seed. Pearl is a believable character – she doesn’t give up her beliefs just because a newcomer enters the cult. Ellis is a little less so, and at times there a few too many characters for them all to be well developed. Papa S was a character who was particularly well done – a genuinely creepy figure who cast a shadow over every scene. There are some brilliant dramatic moments, and the ending was well executed.

One particularly subtle theme through the book was that Pearl never wondered who her father was – this makes the book (and the potential romances) particularly creepy.

The blurb on my copy of the book says this is a ‘tense, romantic thriller’ – but I wouldn’t agree. There’s not too much tension until at least halfway through the book, and no real blinding romance (which I don’t think is a bad thing).

This is a brilliant debut YA novel, although, again, like a lot of YA, this book stands alone well. I look forward to Lisa Heathfield’s other books, which will include the sequel to Seed.

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Annalise x

Review: Rebel of the Sands

Rebel of the Sands
Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first thing to say about Rebel of the Sands is that the cover is really, really beautiful. It’s eye-catching in blue and gold, and one of the best covers I’ve seen in a long time.

Rebel of the Sands follows Amani, a girl, dressed as a boy, trying to get out of her hometown, Dustwalk, to escape her uncle and travel to the city to live with her aunt (who she has never met). To leave, she needs money, and so she enters a shooting tournament. There she meets a foreigner, Jin, who will change her life forever…

Rebel of the Sands is unlike any other book I’ve read. It’s a Western, set in a desert, with mythical creatures and magic and the ilk. Each scene is so unbelievably clear, it’s like watching a film in book form. Amani is independent, rebellious, and determined to get what she wants, and that means going against what female characters often do, which is drop everything for the first attractive man they set eyes on. She’s decisive, self-preserving and a bit of a badass.

The setting is unusual for a YA novel, and as such is new and exciting, with different challenges than we normally see for fantasy characters and worlds. The characters are diverse, and, yet again unusual for a YA novel, I didn’t imagine these characters as white. The names and setting are like the Middle East on Earth, somewhere not very many novels are set. Hamilton thus brings a different dynamic to YA fantasy, one that I hope other authors will pick up on – not every fantasy needs to be set in a counterpart to the Western world.

I loved the feminist aspect, and the romance didn’t feel forced or unexpected. Action is definitely the forefront of this book, and Rebel shows that you don’t need a big dramatic romance in a good book – the other plot arcs can really carry a book. There were also some brilliant twists that I wasn’t expecting, but that made sense in hindsight – a sign of a good book.

Rebel has got a lot of brilliant reviews, but it fell a little short of 5 stars for me. I would have liked the characters to have been a little more developed (I think that perhaps too many characters are introduced too quickly). The book also felt like it dragged a little – although at 358 pages, this is more due to the style that to actual length. High octane action movies often have little plot spread over 2 hours – Rebel feels at times like a 4/5/6 hour action movie (depending on how long it takes you to read the book!). There are many more events in the novel than there would be in a film, and that takes some getting used to.

A promising and original YA debut, I’m hoping for many more beautiful covers (and stories) to come!

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Review: How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

How Hard Can Love Be?
How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How Hard Can Love Be? is the second book in the Normal trilogy/ Spinster Club Series) by Holly Bourne.

HHCLB follows the story of Amber, a 17-year-old sixth-form student who heads off to California for a summer working at a summer camp for children. There is a twist however – the camp is run by her recovering alcoholic mother and stepfather, who abandoned her with her father and stepfamily, and who she hasn’t seen for two years. As Amber faces the prospect that she may never truly get along with her mother, she also starts to fall for your typical all-American Prom King god-in-boy-form, Kyle – despite her head telling her not to.

HHCLB is quite different in theme to Am I Normal Yet? (review here), the first book in the series. AINY followed Evie, Amber’s best friend, and her battle with OCD and anxiety. I really enjoyed the family setup here – parents are often weirdly absent in YA, and here their explanation for being absent is dealt with in a way that has obviously impacted on the character and her behaviour. Her mother and stepfather are well rounded and important parts of the story, a feature which rarely appears in YA (when your parents are often a huge part of your life!).

Many of the supporting characters are fleshed out with back stories and interesting traits, and the characters and the situations they get into feel realistic and logical. Not everything in YA romance has to be sparkles and rainbows, and Amber has to face some tough decisions and situations herself, but they never feel unrealistic.

It should be noted that this book has content that is ‘not suitable for younger readers’ – there’s at least discussion of drinking and sex, which is unusual and refreshing in young adult literature. Many characters in YA don’t even think about drinking or having sex, at least until the last book of the series (quite the polar opposite of real life!).

I love the format of the series – I’ve read way way too many YA books which were obviously written as a standalone and then unnaturally forced into a series. Here, each book could be read as a standalone, but they fit together beautifully – there’s no need to read the first book (although you definitely should, because it’s great!) to understand what’s going on. Holly traverses the line between standalone and series here so well – three books that are (almost certainly) wonderful that can be read alone or as a set.

As with AINY, there are ‘Situations Destined to Fail’ pages at the beginning with each chapter, which are a fun break and eases the read. Bourne’s writing is wonderful, and even though the book is nearly 500 pages long, I read this in a few days.

I love love love love love this series, and if there’s one YA novel you have to read this February, it should be How Hard Can Love Be? I can’t wait for the third book to come out.

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Have you read this book? What did you think? Comment below or tweet me at @AnnaliseBooks 🙂

Annalise x

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was recommended to read this book by #SundayYA, during a twitter conversation about disability in YA. I’m planning on reading more books which feature disability, so if you’ve got any recommendations, send them my way!

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins, and at sixteen years old, are much older than they were expected to live. As the medical bills money worries pile up, their parents can’t afford to home school them anymore, and they must adjust to starting high school (and the real world).

The book is written in free verse, which is unlike any other book I’ve read before. With only a few words on each page, I sped through this book in about two hours. While I did really enjoy the book, the format has both good and bad sides. The book is easy and quick to read, and I felt the emotional parts of the book were emphasised through the format. However, speeding through the book meant it felt like it lacked some depth for me. Tippi and Grace’s day-to-day lives aren’t really explored in too much detail, which is something I would have liked to see.

The book is also written from the perspective of Grace, which I liked, although maybe a dual POV would have felt more natural.

I loved the family, if only because they were dysfunctional, with their own problems and lives. The characters felt fleshed out and realistic, and I enjoyed the side stories following the other characters. I felt the problems facing conjoined twins were explored in a satisfying, although predictable way.

The reason I can’t give this book 5 stars is simply because there’s no real resolution. Like a lot of YA books I’ve read recently, it comes to this great crescendo, and then the last few pages are just confusion. More epilogues please! That being said, the ending was really well done (except for the confirmation of what actually happened).

I’m really looking forward to reading more books that tackle disability in an interesting way, and this book certainly does that.

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Have you read this book or another about disability? What did you think? Tweet me at @AnnaliseBooks or comment below!


Annalise x

Review: Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson


Mind Your Head is the kind of book which makes me want to invent time-travel just so I could go back and hand out copies to 14-year-old me and friends. It’s the kind of book I’m recommending to all of my friends now, even though I’m older than the target audience. And it’s the kind of book which may even save a life.

After some wonderful Twitter chats concerning Disability (#SundayYA) and Mental Health (#UKYAChat), I wished I could read a book which would guide me through the different terms and types of mental illness. Weirdly enough, I realised I already knew of one – Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson. After nipping down to my local bookshop, I devoured the book in one night – and felt more educated as a consequence.

Mind Your Head is a book I think teenagers have been crying out for. It’s non-fiction, written in a friendly and funny way, with fun illustrations and personal anecdotes throughout. It reminded me of a Horrible Science book (which I loved when I was younger) – it’s fun, informative, and you forget that you’re actually learning.

We all have mental health – you really don’t need to be diagnosed with a disorder to read this book.

When I was a teenager, I didn’t think much at all about mental health. I knew of a few girls who suffered from panic attacks in lessons, but I didn’t understand anything about them. As with all teenage girls, I was very conscious about my weight, and I did get bullied a bit. I also read a lot, watched a lot of TV – which I think helped as I navigated through exams, exams, more exams and an incredible amount of friendship drama. I probably wouldn’t have though I needed this book – but there’s something for everyone. Everyone’s bullied or been bullied (often both). Everyone’s felt sad or anxious or nervous. Everyone’s experienced some kind of emotion.

When I got to university (still a teenager, but an older one), mental health became a much bigger deal. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say all of my best friends have mental health issues of some flavour – I have close friends battling depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm… you name it, I know someone who has experience with it. Reading this book helped with understanding my friends (some of whom do not like to discuss their issues) and my own mental health. Did my friends problems start at 18? Some of them did, but most of them came to university with years of mental health issues under their belts. It wasn’t that my friends when I was at school didn’t have mental health problems, it was more that it wasn’t talked about.

Books like Mind Your Head make mental health easier to talk about. It’s easier to talk about what you read in a book than open up about your own feelings sometimes.

  • Highlights for me:
    Mentioning that the first doctor you see might not be the right one for you – in my experience, this applies to all health problems. You’ll be much more likely to get healthier (both mentally and physically) if you can get on with your doctor and get the help you need.
  • Support – it’s acknowledged that support comes from different places. It doesn’t have to be from a doctor or therapist, it can be as simple as talking to friends and family or reading.
  • There’s a really great section on academic success. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at a top university (such as my own), mental illness is of epidemic proportions – and academic success is a huge source of stress for teenagers (and students of all ages).

TL;DR: This book is bloody brilliant, and I want to walk around handing out free copies (but unfortunately I probably can’t afford to do that).

Annalise x

P.S. I would love to see a similar book discussing things that affect teenage girls in more detail – periods, pregnancy, masturbation (I spent most of my teenage years convinced I had miraculously conceived) – and when to go to the doctor. Being taught about idealised biology (as an example, I was taught that every woman has a 28 day cycle – and I didn’t, so that was a source of stress and worry) can do some harm as well as good. What this books really excels in is being honest and talking about what is normal and what isn’t, and I think this would apply really well to other topics.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Comment below or tweet me at @AnnaliseBooks 🙂