Young Adult Reviews

Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

pulp

Extract:

Janet had never understood, not until she’d turned the thin brown pages of Dolores Wood’s novel, that other girls might feel the way she did. That a world existed outside the one she’d always known. 

(Pulp by Robin Talley. P36.) 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngSynopsis:

Washington DC.

1955: Janet Jones is in love and she has finally discovered a romance novel she can relate to. Reading Pulp fiction helps Janet to embrace her feelings for her friend Marie. Everything should be perfect, except it is practically a crime to be gay in 1955 DC. As Janet comes to terms with her feelings, she begins to write fiction of her own, but her writing puts both herself and her friend in danger.

2017: Abby Zimet’s family is falling apart and her relationship with Linh is over. As she struggles to deal with her feelings, Abby becomes more engrossed in her senior creative writing project: an attempt to write a subverted pulp novel. The more research she does, the more Abby longs to talk to author Marian Love.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

Sometimes a book just blows you away. Pulp did that to me.

It is a story about love, a story about prejudice and a story about writing. It is about a specific genre of fiction which emerged in reaction to prejudice faced by very real people who just wanted the freedom to love. It captures two time periods in the same city. Two generations of young adults forming their identities.

Both Abby and Janet discover pulp fiction for the first time, but they discover it in totally different eras. Pulp novels were often forced to show drastic endings which warned women off such ‘behaviour’ but these endings could be tacked on to narratives about genuine romance. To Janet in 1955, this is groundbreaking. It is the first time she has heard voices like her own. To Abby in 2017, these novels are in need of an update. I love how we see their contrasting reactions. We come to empathise with people who are living in a climate of censure and what it means to get around those restrictions and read something even partially like your own experience.

The story will speak to anyone who has come out or struggled to form their own identity, about how much comfort there is in fiction and in knowing that there are other people who feel the same way as ourselves.

As someone trying to bridge the gap between writing for myself as writing as a career, this story spoke to me in volumes. It showed so much about the writing process which a lot of people are often unaware of – how genres often conform to patterns, how writers both consciously and subconsciously emulate other writers, and how stories often begin with something from real life. It showed how much work it takes to get to one complete manuscript (hint: there’s a volume of work behind book one) and how authors sometimes wish they could revise their early novels.

A couple of reviews have suggested that this book is hard to follow. I’m going to dispute that although I understand how the reviewers came to that conclusion. Throughout both storylines there are extracts from other works – books read and written by Abby and Janet. Two of these feature heavily, to the point where you might try to follow the fictional characters’ stories. My advice? Don’t treat these as additional plotlines. They teach us so much about the characters we are investing in, the characters we are following, but don’t mistake them for additional stands of the plot.

Aside from that, I loved the characterisation. Abby is so set on one version of happily-ever-after but she grows and changes a lot over the course of the novel in a way which felt realistic. This is a strong narrative for older YA readers and one which lots of adults with relate to with hindsight.

If you love realistic and heartfelt contemporary novels or novels which celebrate all things literary, give Pulp a go. It’s one of the special ones.  

 

Thanks to Young Adult HQ and Nina Douglas PR for my copy of Pulp. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Advertisements
Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: January 2018

Young middle-grade round-up: January 2018

 

Bramble The Hedgehog by Jane Clarkebramblehedge

Bramble the Hedgehog has a wobbly tooth. Dr Kitty Cat’s advise is to eat lots of sticky food. When the little animals go to the funfair, Bramble embraces this advice. He eats lots of sticky sweets until he feels very poorly.

This is the latest title in a charming range which is perfect for children at the Squishy McFluff reading stage. The Dr Kitty Cat series incorporates pictures of real animals into the illustrations and is guaranteed to interest animal-lovers or to hook readers on cute factor alone.

The stories also include basic first aid and medical advice. I think this is a fantastic idea as too many people grow up unable to respond to basic first aid situations.

 

youngmg6

The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams 

Abi has always wanted a kitten, so she is really excited when Mum phones the rescue shelter. Unfortunately, the family lives on a main road where cats have been run over before. The shelter isn’t willing to house a cat there.

Then a deaf kitten arrives. Flower will never be able to go outside, so she is the perfect pet for Abi’s family … if they can only keep her indoors.

As the companion of two rescue cats, this story warmed my heart. I know that animals are as much a part of the family as humans, and how very much we worry about them when they go outdoors. What I liked about this story was it made clear that the needs of our animal friends come above our own wants.

 

Shine – Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

Sara is so pleased to have got a place at Shine stage school, but her parents would have preferred her to go to a normal school. If her marks aren’t perfect by the end of term, she will not be able to carry on at Shine. 

An audition comes up for the stage version of Mary Poppins. It is a role Sara has always wanted, but can she beat competition from fellow pupil Lizebeth?

The second book in the Shine series looks at parental pressure and rivalry from fellow pupils. It also sees Sara befriend a boy. For most readers, this series will be wish-fulfillment, but it always shows the hard work which goes into forming a talent.

 

Star Friends – Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming 

The latest installment in the series picks up where the last book left off. Three of the four friends still don’t trust new girl Essie, but she and her Mum are starting to settle into the village. Essie’s Mum even sells her own anti-aging potion. 

Then all the adults in the village start acting like children, and it is up to the friends to work out why. 

I am a big fan of this series, with its slightly folksy and magical feel. It does scary antagonists in a way which is just scary enough for its young audience. It is also firmly grounded by reality. There is at least one day-to-day issue such as peer pressure or friendship problems in every story. Unlike many of the younger middle-grade stories, these are best read in order as one story runs into another.) 

 

hotelflamingoHotel Flamingo by Alex Milway

Anna arrives at Hotel Flamingo to find it in a state of disrepair. The Hotel hasn’t had a paying guest for years because it can’t compete with it’s rival, the Glitz. Anna thinks this is a great pity because Hotel Flamingo had a reputation for welcoming all animals. She thinks there is space on Animal Boulevard for a hotel which is friendly and welcoming. 

She assembles a team and they get to work. Can they restore the hotel to its former glory and bring sunshine back to Animal Boulevard before the hotel inspector shuts them down? 

A bright and cheery story suitable for the youngest of middle-grade readers. I love the vintage style glamour of the hotel. It reminded me of Tiana’s diner in The Princess And The Frog. This will raise lots of laughs as Anna and her team try to meet the needs of every animal (the cat wants a litter tray, for example, while the Flamingos need access to a swimming pool). 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger UK and Piccadilly Press for the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell

girlwithshark'steeth

Extract: 

The Wild deep is a real ocean. An sea within an sea. You dive deep to enter its gate at Vintertide, then swim to a place of waves and sky, icebergs and islands. It is home to many marvels, Minnow, stranger than you dare imagine. 

(The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth by Cerrie Burnell. P66.) BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Synopsis:

Minnow has grown up listening to stories about an enchanted ocean called The Wild Deep. When two men appear on Minnow’s boat and take her mother away, Minnow must journey across the seas in time to save her mother. The only way she might get to the Caribbean in time is to cross the Wild Deep.

With her new friend Raife by her side, Minnow sets off to find out the truth about the fairy tales and her own magical abilities.

BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

A magical underwater quest about a girl who belongs under the sea as equally as she belongs on land. If you love fantasy stories where characters discover their magical heritage, this one is for you. Minnow is a shark-tooth and her mother once played a special role in the Wild Deep. A role which led her to trouble.

I adore the setting – the magical ocean with its different gates and zones, and the boat which Minnow calls home.

Thumbs up for an antagonist who isn’t all bad – JahJah began as a boy who loved the ocean but he used that love to justify terrible actions. His brother Ely is even more complex – warning Minnow’s mum that Jah Jah is coming but doing nothing to prevent his actions. It is lovely to see a fantasy where the characters aren’t pure evil or pure good. They felt rounded and human and it made a believable world.

With growing awareness of the damage humans have caused to the oceans, this story couldn’t come at a better time. One of the themes explored is whether humans have a right to see the magic of the ocean. The story doesn’t condemn anyone for being enchanted by the corals and underwater treasures, but it shows how that love can quickly turn to greed. To a lack of awareness of our planet. This would be a lovely novel to start a discussion about our responsibility to the sea.

A strong adventure which hooked me from start to finish. This would be perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone’s stories, or for anyone who has ever dreamt of finding magic beneath the waves.  

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of The Girl With The Shark’s Teeth. Opinions my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

truthaboutmartians

Extract:

That’s when Dibs pokes his head in between us. ‘I think you’re brave, too.’ He smiles with his big beaver teeth. ‘Way braver than those girls in the movies who are always screaming and carrying on. You’re not screaming and carrying on or nothing and those Martians could zap us with their ray pistols or probe our brains with their mind-control mechanisms at any minute. That says brave to me. No doubt about it.’ 

(The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage. P116.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Milo wishes he had the same courage as his big brother Obie. The brother who died over a year ago. Milo is still grieving. On top of that, he wishes he could help his friend Dibs. Dib’s father is under a dark cloud and he regularly locks Dibs out of the house.  

Then a flying saucer crash-lands in the local area.

Milo and his friends investigate the crash and Milo learns that superheroes need more than super strength. They need superhuman hearts.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

Milo lives in a small town near Roswell in the 1940s. The Truth About Martians is based on a real-life event which happened in 1947. An army Air Force base announced that a flying saucer had been recovered. The story made major news around the world. Soon after, the US government announced that the saucer had in fact been a weather balloon. Conspiracy theories abounded and it makes prime material for fiction.

This is a story about life beyond our borders. Beyond our known experience. It is also a touching look at grief and living with loss.

What I loved about the story was the friendships. Milo and Dibs have a friendship founded firmly on comic books and their shared sweet-tooth. Their wider social group includes two boys they like-don’t-like, and Gracie. Milo may have a crush on Gracie, but she is determined to do the same things as the boys. The friendship group and child-sized world (do you remember when someone’s house marked the boundaries of your known existence?) felt real and the constant banter between Milo and Dibs reminded me of how intense childhood best-friendships could be.

The story is a great one for breaking gender stereotypes. As well as Gracie’s determination to be an active and adventurous person, Milo has to get over his idea of one type of bravery. These themes are being seen more often as writers seek to help children break any stereotypes about what gender means.  

Think ET with added friendship and conspiracy. This really captured how it felt to live at a time when attention was turning to space and it would make a lovely introduction to that era.

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
 
 
Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 
blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Kim Curran’s ‘Slay’ Playlist

All about Slay:

slay

Synopsis:

They’re world famous, epic musicians and recognised as the cutest boy band on the planet. Conner, JD, Niv, Tom and Zek make up Slay. They are also demon killers. 

When Milly has the demon-encounter of a lifetime, the last thing she expects is help from a boyband. She finds herself on the road with the guys, hunting demons including the sinister Mourdant who has a plan to take over humankind. 

Can they figure out his plan in time to stop him? 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Introduction: 

With Slay 2: On Tour hitting the shelves, I was delighted to have the chance to catch up on the first novel. My blogger friends had told me it’s a good story. What they didn’t tell me was how totally epic this book is. 

Slay takes a familiar narrative – evil dude with evil plan searches for object of all doom – and tells the story in a way that feels totally fresh.

As a mid-millennial, I grew up in the boy band era. Boyzone, N Sync, Busted, McFly, that other one, thingummy. Busted aside, I wasn’t a fan, but it is nice to see a teen book which acknowledges the importance of manufactured bands in young lives. Love them or hate them they are part of the landscape. Slay shows the ups and downs of life as a mega-star, but it also puts a twist on the whole thing. The only reason the band exists is as a front for the demon-hunting. 

The demons are scary, but the plot is fantasy rather than horror. It strikes the right balance in a way which reminded me of films like The Little Vampire and Casper The Friendly Ghost. The setting is a little more modern, with boys who create vlog diaries for their fans, but it has the same timeless appeal. 

Kim Curran kindly shared the playlist she created when she wrote Slay, and I am delighted to share it with you. (Note: I remember Busted: The Year 3000 on repeat.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Slay playlist by Kim Curran 

I can write anywhere: in my office at home, on the sofa, in cafes even on the bus. But I really struggle to write in silence. Music is an essential part of the process for me. So, whenever I set out to write a book, I always create a new playlist to write to. That way, as soon as I put it on, I’m sucked straight into the world!

My Slay playlist (or slaylist if you will) is entirely taken up by boy bands!

Kim Curran’s Ultimate Boy Band playlisthttps://open.spotify.com/user/kimecurran/playlist/0BZTOczZZCMSgCyyo2cQoO

http://bit.ly/UltimateSLAY

To hear Kim’s Slay: on Tour playlist, checkout Golden Books Girls’ stop on the Slay: On Tour Blog Tour!

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Gruffalo 20th anniversary edition

img_8040

A gruffalo? What’s a gruffalo? 

Well, you should know by now because this year marks the 20th anniversary of The Gruffalo. Alongside Harry Potter, The Gruffalo is one of the best-known books of our generation. And what’s remarkable about that is it shows the power of great storytelling and strong illustration. 

img_7943This edition features some extras, which makes it worth buying for old fans as well as being a little bit special for the next generation. There is an information section about how the book came together, a section which teaches us how to say ‘Gruffalo’ is multiple languages, a quiz, some ideas about hosting a play and the words to the Gruffalo song. 

The sections about the story and the illustration were my favourite. I was delighted to read that the story was inspired by an old tale about a girl who tricks a tiger. What I love about Donaldson’s work more than anything is you can see her knowledge of plot. The way her stories are set-up and resolved is a delight and it is no wonder they have captivated audiences around the world. 

The dust jacket also doubles up as a play scene. Take it off, set it up and press out the puppets which are included in the book. (NB. I recommend that an adult does this. It is perfectly safe for children but the puppets can tear. Take extra care with details like mouse’s tail.) I love this idea because I am all children learning that story goes beyond words on a page. I think young children have a very instinctive understanding of this and that they will enjoy taking the characters from The Gruffalo into whole new adventures. 

As for the story itself – it is timeless. I can see two readings to the story, one more subversive than the other. The is that an innocent mouse is saved from a hoard of animals and monsters by his quick thinking. The second reading is more subversive. Mouse starts off as a liar, but he’s not so good at it. If he carries on this way we know he will eventually get caught out and eaten. When the Gruffalo comes along, we think the game is up. Mouse, however, defies all expectations. He tells a new story with such flourish and bravado that he sees off all his predators. The second reading of the story says that if you are going to tell a lie, you’ll need to tell it well. I think this is one of the huge attractions of the story and one which is too often forgotten. The very best characters in children’s fiction aren’t the innocent ones. They are the witty ones. The ones who escape on their own cunning. 

Now is a great time to buy a copy of The Gruffalo and this edition will appeal to fans old and new. Twenty years is nothing. This one will be around in a hundred and twenty.

 

Thanks to Macmillain Children’s UK for my copy of The Gruffalo. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Fork, The Witch, And The Worm by Christopher Paolini

img_7828

This is a book which many people have been waiting for. Eragon is one of those series which defines a childhood. The kind you remember sitting up at night to read in one go. Now this volume of short stories is here and it catches up with Eragon and Saphira for the first time since they took on the duty of training new dragon riders. 

Eragon’s new story is set a year from that final battle. He is trying to create the perfect home for the dragon riders but finds himself overwhelmed with a huge list of tasks and is afraid he will never get everything done on time. To take his mind off things he listens to three stories – one projected into his mind by the Umaroth, one written in a witch’s papers and one told by the Urgal. These are the three stories which give the book it’s title – The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm. 

This is a love letter to the existing trilogy and it will be a huge hit with existing fans. It brings back many favourite characters and races and it will delight the hardcore fans. It is also a lovely introduction to the trilogy. 

The format is interesting – really it is a book of three separate stories but we also follow Eragon as he listens to them. I liked the short sections where we returned to Eragon after each story because they encouraged the reader to be reflective and to consider the themes of the stories they had just heard. 

My favourite story is The Worm – the tale of a dragon who ravages farmland. After her family is killed in the raids, Ilgra swears she will be the one to take it down. She sets herself apart as a warrior and gets deeper and deeper into the quest she has set herself. This is a story of perspective – of being able to step back and back the right decision. It is also about revenge and how revenge can become all-consuming. I just loved the tone of the story too. It was pure fantasy and it was timeless. 

The stories come together as Eragon moves forward in his own ambitions. 

This is a lovely way back into the trilogy and I am determined to reread the orignial books. I liked the format because it gives us space to think about the role of stories in our lives, and how stories can give us a different perspective on our own problems. 

The Fork, The Witch and The Worm by Christopher Paolini is published by Penguin Random House Children’s and is out now.

Check out my Twitter page to find a giveaway. UK and Ireland only – ends 17.01.2019 at 11.59pm.