Young Adult Reviews

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo



My mother would deny me the heart of a prince, but the heart of a prince would be enough to erase any bad feelings between us. I could continue with my legacy, and the Queen would no longer have to worry about our kind being hunted. If I do this, we would both get what we want.

(To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo. PP. 50-51.) 


Lira has a heart for every year she has been alive. Every year on her birthday, she kills another prince and stashes their heart in her chest. When she saves a prince from being killed by a mermaid, Lira is transformed into a human in punishment. The only way to win back the trust of her mother, the Sea Queen, is to kill the Prince Elian and deliver his heart ahead of the Winter Solstice.

Prince Elian would rather be a captain than a king. He roams the seas in his ship, the Saad, killing sirens to rid the world of their threat. When he saves Lira from drowning, he knows there is more to her than meets the eye. Could she be the key to helping him destroy siren-kind for good? Can he trust her? Can she trust him? How many deals will Elian have to make before he can face the Sea Queen?birdReview:

To Kill A Kingdom imagines sirens and mermaids in all their bloody glory. It makes many references to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but you won’t find friendly fish and singing lobsters here. Instead there is murder, revenge and hate-to-love romance.

The story is told in a dual-narrative. Both Lira and Elian narrate. This worked well and allowed us to see the same kingdoms through different eyes. My favourite part was the world-building. There is a city made of gold, a ship where a teenage prince plays at being a captain and an ice-kingdom which perpetrates its own myths to ensure a loyal following. Sounds good? If you like fairy tales you will enjoy this for the world alone.

I enjoyed the plot, particularly Lira’s transformation from a girl who would do anything her mother wanted into a young woman who thinks people should give their respect freely. Although this was fantasy, it made some very serious comments about emotionally manipulative parents. It reminded me of The Sin Eater’s Daughter in this respect.

There is also an emphasis on finding your own people. Elian would rather pick his crew than be forced to live the life he was born into. This is one of those novels where even the minor characters feel totally real. There is Madrid, the only female pirate, and Kye the fiercely-protective friend who hates it when the prince writes him off as a body-guard. The crew are loyal to Elian, and slow to trust Lira. 

This is already proving popular, and I enjoyed it for the world alone. It is a strong first novel which makes a good interpretation of an existing fairy tale. I look forward to hearing more from Christo.


Thanks to Hot Key Books and Readers First for my copy. Opinions my own.


Young Adult Reviews

Review: Sal by Mick Kitson



Sal’s stepfather has been visiting her bedroom since she was ten. Now her little sister is the same age. When Robert threatens to do the same to Peppa, Sal kills him. She and Peppa escape to the forests of Galloway. They build a shelter, lay snares and live in the open like Bear Brylls.

Sal wants to stay with Peppa. To keep Peppa safe. Will the healing powers of nature and the kindness of their new friends be enough to help Sal and Peppa confront their situation?  A difficult but distinctive read which gives voice to people in society whose stories often go untold.birdReview:

It was clear from the outset that Sal would do anything for Peppa.  Her experiences make her determined to look after her little sister. The reader connects with her for this reason. Both voices felt realistic. Sal is constantly thinking about survival: wilderness techniques and hunting and surviving her ordinary life. Peppa likes words. Especially swear-words. Sal is a worrier while Peppa is a free-spirit.

The book begins after the inciting incident. This means the first section is told through flashbacks. It begins with the children in the wilderness. We build an understanding of why they are out there, and why they feel hunted.

At times I found there was too much additional information, especially the survival lectures and historical details. Although these created Sal’s voice, I felt I was wading through this information to get to the story. 

The ending achieved a good balance. It leaves the reader with hope but doesn’t make light of a terrible situation. This is an important story for and I hope it will help people to empathise with children in Sal’s situation. 


Thanks to Cannongate for sending an ARC. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Double Review: Sita Brahmachari

doublereviewbannerWorry Angels:

img_4310Lots has changed in Amy’s life. When Dad moves out, Amy and her mother move to a new area. Amy’s anxiety increases and she refuses to go to her new school. Then Grace intervenes. Grace runs the support-centre. It is nothing like school, nothing like secondary school. It is an art-house. A place of baking and gardening and artwork.

Rima also comes to the support centre. She and her family were forced to flee their home in Syria and she has lots of difficult memories. Although she and Amy don’t speak the same language, they find ways to communicate their feelings and experiences.


A beautiful story which encourages empathy and friendship. Amy and Rima have very different experiences but both girls need help to express their emotions. I loved how Rima’s story didn’t overshadow Amy’s. In real life a lot of people would have written Amy off as a bit of a worrier. The story makes it clear that whatever our experiences we can use them to empathise with other people. Both girls learn to express themselves through art. Both girls need a bit of breathing space from the busy school environment.

Grace is a fantastic character. Her approach to life and learning will stay with you after you finish the story. Her pupils engage in art and day-to-day activities and Grace works academic learning into those activities (counting money for baking ingredients for example.)  It is lovely to see a book suggest that learning take more than one shape. Sometimes learning needs to be tailored to a pupil.

The other character I loved was Rima, the 23 year-old translator. I have said many times that YA often fails to give a realistic picture of life beyond university. If we believed YA books and films we would think that you either fall into a ready-made career or fail. Rima has finished her degree and needs more experience before she can start a career in translation. She is a volunteer translator. Both Worry Angels and Zebra Crossing Soul Song show realistic characters in their early 20s taking their first career steps. I want to shout from the rooftops about this! We need to see this more often.

Worry Angels is a lovely read and it is enhanced by Jane Ray’s beautiful illustrations.


 Zebra Crossing Soul Song:

zebracrossingLenny is resitting his A-Levels. He isn’t certain where he wants to go, or what he wants to be. His mind is stuck in the past. On the crossing and Otis, and what happened that day Otis lost it.

Otis was the crossing man. Lenny saw him everyday from nursery all the way to the end of school and they had a special bond. The new traffic lights can’t replace the interaction Lenny had with Otis – his songs and his life-lessons.

Lenny searches through his memories, seeking to understand what it was that made Otis loose his mind that day. He uncovers some valuable lessons about life and memory which help him to go forward.


Lenny is 19. YA often depicts people in their late teens as being impossibly grown-up and sorted. Zebra Crossing Soul Song was how shows a young person who still needs help and guidance from people more mature than himself. This is fantastic! Teenagers need to see themselves reflected in books. They need realistic role-models.

Lenny writes and records his own ‘soul songs’. Although they are written in simple language they capture complex thoughts and emotions. I hope this will encourage readers to write their own feelings in whatever words come. You don’t need an elaborate vocabulary to record your thoughts.

This is a fantastic book for encouraging empathy. Lenny feels left-behind. An ‘underachiever’. Someone not destined for much in life. Otis has a terrible sadness in his past. Lenny’s Dads feel that their relationship is judged by strangers. It is a wonderful book for getting into other people’s heads and imagining their lives.


Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke and Kirsten Lamb for my copies of Worry Angels and Zebra Crossing Soul Song. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Children Of Blood And Bone


They Killed My Mother. They Took Our Magic. Now We Rise. 

Everything changed the night Zélie’s mother was killed. The night magic was taken away. The Magi were killed and ever since their children have been treated as inferior citizens. Now Zélie has a chance to bring magic back. With the help of a runaway princess and a magic scroll, Zélie hopes to return magic to Orisha and fight the tyrant King who has killed so many people. Zélie and Princess Amari will have to outrun Prince Inan, who wants nothing more than to be the perfect son.

If the magic isn’t returned before the coming solstice it will not return for another hundred years. Zélie must survive the people who hunt her and overcome her own doubts to save her people from a lifetime of tyranny.birdReview:

Bought for a record-breaking seven figure sum with the film rights already sold, Children Of Blood And Bone has been hailed as the fantasy release of the year. I am here to tell you this is wrong. This is not the release of the year. It is the release of the decade.  

Zélie, Amari and Tzain want to return magic to Orisha. Inan wants to prove himself to his father the King. Both stories are set up so that we want to know the outcome. I love how we follow Inan’s internal struggle as he debates the cost of pleasing his father. He is a great example of a character who is blinkered. He has grown up hearing one version of events and it suits him to cling to those views even as the evidence mounts up in front of him.

I love Zélie and Amari. Zélie is a fighter. She is stubborn and resilient and everything she has suffered has made her determined to stand up for her people. Despite this she is not a cardboard cut out ‘tough-girl’. She fears for her brother and her father. She mourns her mother. She has doubts and fears and these make her feel real. Amari defies everyone’s expectations of a princess and she is motivated by the death of the girl she loved. She makes a strong contrast with her brother but she loves him too. Adeyemi clearly understands that human relationships are complex.   

The message of the story is loud and clear. People will only remain persecuted for so long before they rise. People remember how their ancestors have suffered. It is in their blood and bone. Zélie’s own magic allows her to see spirits. This allowed us to see vividly the past atrocities which King Saran has committed.

Orisha is a spectacular world of spirits and magical objects and large cats. I love how Adeyemi has drawn on African mythology to create her world and I will definitely read some of these stories. It is a world I want to know more about, and to see reflected in more YA. The characters feel like real people, like people I have met. I cared so much about their choices and the outcome of their stories.

The Maji in Orisha are divided into clans. Healers and Cancers cure or create disease. Tiders work with water. Connectors with mind, spirit and dreams. As with Hogwarts houses and the factions of Divergent, this offers an immediate sense of identification and belonging. (I’ve narrowed it to Connector or Grounder.) I can imagine people celebrating their clan identity and I can’t wait to see how people interpret these clans.

Rise and celebrate this masterpiece of YA fiction. It is a work of magic and was clearly written by a master storyteller.


Huge thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Orphan Monster Spy by Matt Killeen


orphan monster spy


Nazi Germany. Sarah is left an orphan when her mother is shot at a road block. Sarah puts her trust in a British Spy and agrees to play a vital part in his mission. She goes undercover as a German schoolgirl and attempts to befriend the daughter of an eminent scientist.

Sarah negotiates cruel teachers and school-girl bullies, all the while working to get herself and the Captain into the scientist’s house. Trapped in a world of lies Sarah does what she must to survive, but will she ever be protected by the adults around her?

A fast-moving thriller which poses deep questions about the rise of fascism.


Sarah will do anything to survive, even become the thing she hates. A dumb monster. The theme which affected me most was how ‘ordinary’ people’s behaviour allows the rise of fascism. The Captain makes a comment about the rise of the Nazis which is particularly pertinent in the modern day. A few years ago the Nazi party was just a few angry men in a beer hall. Although this is set in WW2 the themes it talks about are relevant today.  

Sarah’s relationship with her mother was clearly unhappy and this drives her to act. To prove herself. It is possibly also the reason she bonds with Captain. She is willing to trust anyone who will stay with her but isn’t necessarily the best judge of who to trust. The Captain has secrets of his own and there are things he doesn’t tell Sarah about her mission. I cared very much about Sarah and wanted her to find a safe place and someone she trusts. Her friendship with Maus is touching because Maus is someone Sarah forms a genuine bond with.   

The novel does a brilliant job of showing ways children might have been affected by the Nazi regime. Sarah lives in fear for her life. The school bullies have been brainwashed into believing things the regime says are true. Maus barely meets the standards set by the school. The novel clearly explores how fascism benefits some by taking from others.

A dark and compelling thriller which will keep readers hooked. If you like high-stakes thrillers this will keep you turning the pages.

Check out all the stops on the Orphan Monster Spy Blog Tour:


Young Adult Reviews

Review: Flying Tips For Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain




Finch and Birdie Franconi are from a circus family. Now the family business is in trouble, it is up to the twins to save it with their flying trapeze act. The twins are also a double-act at school. It has never mattered to Finch that everybody calls him a freak, because he and Birdie have always done their own thing.

When Birdie suffers a terrible accident, Finch must find a new double-act if he is going to save the family circus school. Can Finch overcome his feelings about school and new-boy Hector? Will he ever get over James Keane? Can Hector’s Dad accept the son he has?

A warm and witty YA novel about sexuality and identity.


This novel is as good as Meg Rosoff at her finest. A fresh and honest look at teenage life, and explored issues of sexuality and identity.

Finch Franconi’s safe place is circus school. He feels out of place everywhere else, especially at secondary school where he falls prey to the taunting comments of people like Kitty and James. Since an incident of bullying in his first year, Finch has orchestrated his own ‘act’. He dresses to be different, gives snarky remarks and generally acts as if he is a cut above his class mates. My heart bled for Finch, because I was exactly like him as a teenager. His issues didn’t come from nowhere. He has a really grotty time at school between the comments and the people refusing to spend a minute with him, but his reaction is to withdraw. To assume anybody who approaches him is against him. Kelly McCaughrain’s depiction of school life is so observant it is like watching footage from a hidden camera. She picks up on the way kids feel and how this affects their behaviour.

Circus School is the only place where a lot of the characters feel safe. We know from page one that it is under threat, and this keeps us turning the pages. There is a second question set up early on: will Finch get together with Hector? Finch isn’t exactly in denial about his sexuality, but he has issues with being open about it. Hector’s Dad is another obstacle between the boys. Where Finch’s parents are more relaxed about his sexuality than he is, Hector’s Dad doesn’t want him to make life difficult for himself.

Birdie sets up a blog toattract more people to Circus School. She schedules lots of posts before her accident. It is lovely to see a YA book where kids have a regular social media presence. Lots of teens on Twitter have said this is something they feel is too often left out of YA because it is not part of life adults want to depict. They have talked about social media being a large part of their lives. Like Editing Emma, Flying Tips For Flightless Birds picks up on the way people express themselves through blogging and social media.

This book is so lovely and warm and humorous. Finch can be deprecating but he is witty and observant and I laughed so many times just because something was a perfect representation of life. This is the book I needed when I was fifteen and it is one I will reread for the sheer joy.


Huge thanks to Walker YA and Kelly McCaughrain for my ARC of Flying Tips For Flightless Birds. Check back on Saturday when I will publish a Q and A with the lovely Kelly McCaughrain.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Spare And Found Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin



‘…as long as they think we’re moving along, making cakes, everything’s fine. Smoke and mirrors, you know. Day job stuff. Down here’s where the real work is.’

(Spare And Lost Parts by Sarah Maria Griffin. P168.)


Nell’s city was devastated by an epidemic. Survivors are missing body parts. Nell’s father is the famed scientist who engineered the biomechanical limbs which changed everybody’s lives. Now Nell is coming up to adulthood, it is time for her to announce her contribution and enter society. There is pressure on her to live up to her father’s great name. If she fails to contribute, she will be sent to the pasture to live with her gran in a place free of technology.

When Nell finds a lost mannequin hand, she has a great idea. She could build a companion, an android, who will understand her completely. Is the world ready to accept the technology it rejected 100 years ago? The further Nell goes with her plan, the more she learns about her city, and her father’s past, and the plans of other young people. Nell is not the only one hiding secrets.


A gripping and beautiful Frankinstein narrative for our times. Like all great dystopias, Spare And Found Parts made me question contemporary society – the pressure to achieve in the workplace, and our relationship with technology. I found the history of Nell’s society believable. The world has fallen out of love with technology, and divisions have formed over how to rebuild society.

Nell is a great character. She feels like an outsider because while most people have biomechanical limbs, she is the only person whose insides have been replaced with technology. Lots of people are afraid of her, because they hear the ticking of her mechanical heart. Nell finds it difficult to relate to people, and part of the reason she begins her project is to build someone who understands her. She is a flawed character, but she grows and develops, and I was interested in her from the set-up.

I love the relationship between Nell and Oliver Kelly. It isn’t black or white – Nell can’t stand Oliver’s attention, can’t stand his constant interest and his refusal to accept that his feelings are not reciprocated, but he is still the person Nell goes to for advice. He has his own ideas about how to make the world a better place, and is dedicated to his project. It is difficult to say much more without spoilers, but I love what this book says about young people whose passions lie outside their everyday roles.

I love this book. It is a Frankenstein for our age, and it reflects the concerns of younger people today. It is a story about revolutions, and the time shortly before a revolution when average people take their frustration and use it to search for solutions. If you love YA, dystopia or just a great narrative you need this on your shelves.


Huge thanks to Titan Books for my copy of Spare And Found Parts. Opinions my own.