Book Review: Lilah May’s Manic Days by Vanessa Curtis

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Book

Published: 5th January 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Genre: Contemporary, Junior Fiction

Recommended Reading Age: 11+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Lilah May used to be angry. VERY angry. But not any more. She’s got her temper – and her life – back under control. Or has she? Things with her best friend, Bindi, are going from bad to worse. The whereabouts of her brother Jay is still a mystery. And gorgeous Adam Carter is still out of reach. Groo! Can Lilah sort out her family, her friendship and her love life? Or is her anger about to reach all new levels? 

Two years ago, Lilah’s older brother, Jay, ran away after she caught him taking drugs. Since then, no one’s heard from him or knows where he is. Eaten up with guilt and worry, with her parents not coping well and her now ex-best friend dating the boy she likes, Lilah’s struggling to keep her anger until control again. Suddenly Jay comes home after sleeping rough on the streets, but it’s not quite a happy reunion she always imagined it would be. Continue reading

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Book Review: When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Published: 26th Arpil 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 5.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

What’s in a name, Shakespeare? I’ll tell you: Everything. Rosaline knows that she and Rob are destined to be together. Rose has been waiting for years for Rob to kiss her—and when he finally does, it’s perfect. But then Juliet moves back to town. Juliet, who used to be Rose’s best friend. Juliet, who now inexplicably hates her. Juliet, who is gorgeous, vindictive, and a little bit crazy…and who has set her sights on Rob. He doesn’t even stand a chance.     Rose is devastated over losing Rob to Juliet. This is not how the story was supposed to go. And when rumors start swirling about Juliet’s instability, her neediness, and her threats of suicide, Rose starts to fear not only for Rob’s heart, but also for his life. Because Shakespeare may have gotten the story wrong, but we all still know how it ends….

When I first heard about this book I was quite intrigued with the idea of telling the story of Romeo and Juliet from Rosaline’s point of view. The girl before the girl. So I was a little disappointed when I started reading and realised that this was actually a contemporary novel, based on the famous play.

For one thing, the little we know of the original Rosaline was that she rejected Romeo (I’ve always doubted she was the first girl Romeo had proclaimed his undying love to) and Romeo laments her rejection. He isn’t too happy about the fact that she’s taken a vow of chastity either.

Poor boy. Continue reading

Book Review: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Published: 11th October 2011

First Published: 28th April 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Genre: Contemporary,  YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

CHARLIE DUSKIN loves music, and she knows she’s good at it. But she only sings when she’s alone, on the moonlit porch or in the back room at Old Gus’s Secondhand Record and CD Store. Charlie’s mom and grandmother have both died, and this summer she’s visiting her grandpa in the country, surrounded by ghosts and grieving family, and serving burgers to the local kids at the milk bar. She’s got her iPod, her guitar, and all her recording equipment, but she wants more: A friend. A dad who notices her. The chance to show Dave Robbie that she’s not entirely unspectacular.

ROSE BUTLER lives next door to Charlie’s grandfather and spends her days watching cars pass on the freeway and hanging out with her troublemaker boyfriend. She loves Luke but can’t wait to leave their small country town. And she’s figured out a way: she’s won a scholarship to a science school in the city, and now she has to convince her parents to let her go. This is where Charlie comes in. Charlie, who lives in the city, and whom Rose has ignored for years. Charlie, who just might be Rose’s ticket out.

I don’t want to say too much about this book, other than please pick this one up the next time you’re looking for an unassuming, quiet contemporary. With some writers you just know that when you sit down to read one of their books you’ll be left contented and with a smile on your face.

While I didn’t like A Little Wanting Song as much as Graffiti Moon, Cath Crowley has definitely become one of those writers for me. Continue reading

Book Review: Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Publisher: David Fickling Books

Published: 29th April 2010

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Genre: Contemporary,  YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 6.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It’s her To Do Before I Die list. And number one is Sex. Released from the constraints of ‘normal’ life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa’s feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa’s time finally runs out.

I almost feel like it’s wrong to say I didn’t really like this book, or to admit that I simply didn’t care for the main character. Tessa is sixteen and her cancer treatments have finally stopped working. She’s dying. And she isn’t handling it all that well. Continue reading

Book Review: This Is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

First Published: 2nd February 2012 (expected)

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 16+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Everyone says that Caro is bad …but Jamie can’t help himself. He thinks of her night and day and can’t believe that she wants to be his girlfriend. Gorgeous, impulsive and unconventional, she is totally different to all the other girls he knows. His sister, Martha, hates her. Jamie doesn’t know why, but there’s no way he’s going to take any notice of her warnings to stay away from Caro. But as Jamie falls deeper and deeper under her spell, he realises there is more to Caro – much more. There are the times when she disappears and doesn’t get in touch, the small scars on her wrists, her talk about revolutions and taking action, not to mention the rumours he hears about the other men in her life. And then always in the background there is Rob, Jamie’s older brother, back from Afghanistan and traumatized after having his leg smashed to bits there. Jamie wants to help him, but Rob seems to be living in a world of his own and is increasingly difficult to reach. With Caro, the summer should have been perfect …but that isn’t how things work out in real life, and Jamie is going to find out the hard way.’

This isn’t the kind of book where you fall in love with the characters and follow their story because you care about what happens to them. This is more of a psychological glimpse into some very real, very flawed characters. This Is Not Forgiveness focuses around war, terrorism, extremism, loyalty and love. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is compelling.

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Book Review: Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Published: 2nd June 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Genre: Historical, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Zarita is used to basking in the pampered lifestyle being the only daughter of the town magistrate affords; she is free to roam the town as she likes, consort with the son of a nobleman and spend her days studying the arts. Saulo’s family have fallen on hard times, and when his father is hanged for an assault on Zarita he did not commit and Saulo is hauled off to be a slave at sea, Saulo swears revenge. But when Zarita’s mother dies in childbirth, and the formidable and frightening Inquisition arrives in the area, a curtain of suspicion and brutality comes down on her old life for good. Saulo may believe that Zarita is his sworn enemy, but in a time when the whole of Spain is in turmoil, are him and Zarita each other’s only hope of survival?’

Prisoner of the Inquisition is good choice for those who enjoy historical fiction. It’s rich in detail and Breslin really captures the atmosphere of the time, the religion, the politics, the ins and outs of everyday life, as well as life at sea in the 1400’s.  Continue reading

Book Review: Lie by Caroline Bock

Publisher: St Martin’s Griffin

Published: 30th August 2011

Format: e-book

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Everybody knows, nobody’s talking. . . .

Seventeen-year-old Skylar Thompson is being questioned by the police. Her boyfriend, Jimmy, stands accused of brutally assaulting two young El Salvadoran immigrants from a neighboring town, and she’s the prime witness. Skylar is keeping quiet about what she’s seen, but how long can she keep it up?’

LIE is a very hard book to read and review. It does what it sets out to do, which is tell the story of a violent hate crime and does it extremely well. But if you asked me whether I actually enjoyed reading it – I’d probably have to say no. Continue reading

Book Review: You Are My Only by Beth Kephart

Publisher: Egmont USA

Published: 25th October 2011

Format: e-book

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Emmy Rane is married at nineteen, a mother by twenty. Trapped in a life with a husband she no longer loves, Baby is her only joy. Then one sunny day in September, Emmy takes a few fateful steps away from her baby and returns to find her missing. All that is left behind is a yellow sock.

Fourteen years later, Sophie, a homeschooled, reclusive teenage girl is forced to move frequently and abruptly from place to place, perpetually running from what her mother calls the “No Good.” One afternoon, Sophie breaks the rules, ventures out, and meets Joey and his two aunts. It is this loving family that gives Sophie the courage to look into her past. What she discovers changes her world forever. . . .’

I almost didn’t read this one. I found the opening chapters, especially Emmy’s, very awkward. It takes a while to settle into the rhythm of Kephart’s writing. But the overwhelming good reviews urged me to keep going and I’m so glad that I did.

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Book Review: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Publisher: Puffin

First Published: 22nd March 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 344

Genre: Historical, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 14+

Rating: 7.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘One night fifteen-year-old Lina, her mother and young brother are hauled from their home by Soviet guards, thrown into cattle cars and sent away. They are being deported to Siberia. An unimaginable and harrowing journey has begun. Lina doesn’t know if she’ll ever see her father or her friends again. But she refuses to give up hope.

Lina hopes for her family. For her country. For her future. For love – first love, with the boy she barely knows but knows she does not want to lose… will hope keep Lina alive?’

It took me a while to get round to reading this, partly because I knew it would probably be an emotional reading experience and I had to be in the right state of mind. Between Shades of Gray is one of those books I have barely heard a bad review or comment on, and its reputation is well deserved. This is a very moving book, that brings to light the atrocities committed by the Soviets, on par with the Germans during the second world war. So why the slightly lower rating?

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Illustrator Spotlight: Jim Kay

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A recently published YA book that deserves an award for both the story and the illustrations is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This is all-round storytelling at it’s very best. Once read, it’s almost impossible to imagine experiencing this book without the illustrations.

I’ve always been drawn to darker, edgier illustration and I’ve always particularly loved the texture and markings that come from traditional printmaking. The composition, energy and use of space in these drawings is stunning, but I personally find it is the use of shadows and lighting that really makes these. Continue reading