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Book Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Book Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan


Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Two Boys Kissing is my second solo book written by David Levithan. I first read Every Day last October and I was blown away by the unique writing style and profound storyline. I mentioned that David Levithan’s writing can take a little getting used to because it’s extremely ‘profound, deep and meaningful’. It’s the same for Two Boys Kissing, so it did take me half the book to become completely absorbed in the story and for me to stop getting distracted by rhetorical devices that David Levithan uses. It’s certainly not a complaint, I’m just not used to it. It’s very ‘literary’, I should say. I tend to not have to think about literary technique and instead just take it for granted. But David Levithan’s work makes you really think about what is being said and how, so it’s a very different reading experience and one that is quite rewarding.

Two Boys Kissing is narrated by a generation of gay men who died from AIDS, who look upon the teenagers who are struggling with the same conflicts that they had to go through as teenagers, but in a very different time. It’s a distinct voice and a compelling way of telling a story that ‘hits home’ and puts Two Boys Kissing into context. And, although it shouldn’t need to be explained, makes us realise even more why these issues are important to talk about and publish Two Boys Kissing is inspired by college students Matty Daley and Bobby Cancielo, who kissed for thirty-two hours to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss, although the details of Two Boys Kissing is not based on their story.

Craig and Harry are no longer a couple, but they’re determined to support each other in their record-breaking attempt – and attempt to take stand – after a boy they know, Tariq, is beaten up by a homophobic gang. But Two Boys Kissing doesn’t just focus on these two boys, but the wider LGBT community and concerns, such as Avery, who is a boy born in a girl’s body and Cooper, whose parents refuse to accept him, nearly pushing him over the edge. In Two Boys Kissing, each character’s story is powerful and troubling, but delicately tackled. David Levithan does not generalise what it is like to be a boy who is gay, but shows us how much of a concern it is that young people today, in all sorts of situations, still cannot be accepted for who they are and who they choose to love. We have come far – during David Levithan’s Every Day event, where he also read a passage from Two Boys Kissing, he said he wouldn’t have been able to write it ten years ago – but we’ve not come far enough.

It should, I hope, be obvious why Two Boys Kissing is needed, for those who cannot accept that some people are gay and for the gay teenagers – and adults – who need to know it’s okay. It’s one of the first LGBT novels that I’ve read, I’m sorry to say, and the whole way through I couldn’t help but feel like it’s a very special story that other people need to read. I thoroughly enjoyed each characters’ story, however painful and difficult, and became invested in their future – I wanted to find out where they ended up. I also thought it was interesting to see the reactions from other people – the secondary characters – from those who were supportive and those not so much. I know that some people might find Two Boys Kissing preachy, but it’s something that I think people ought to be preachy about, rather than ignoring it or accepting society as it is, and accepting that other people might not feel the same way. It isn’t acceptable.

I said I wasn’t going to read Boy Meets Boy next when I reviewed Every Day, and I didn’t get round to it, but I definitely want to even more now!

 

Published: 21st August 2013 (US) 27th March 2014 (UK)
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (US) Electric Monkey (UK)
Pages: 243

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Why YA? With Malorie Blackman @ London Book Fair 2014

Photo via @BookTrust

Photo via @Booktrust

I attended the London Book Fair again this year – my fourth time! I attended first back in 2011 as a publishing intern and did not make the most of it, but since then, I’ve made sure to attend all the wonderful seminars they have on offer. I blogged about New Adult last year and Growing Up Too Soon the year before that. This year, one of my favourite seminars was Why YA?, in which Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2013-2015 Malorie Blackman talked about why she will be focusing on promoting reading to teens and young adults during her laureateship. Also on the panel was Melissa Cox, children’s buyer for Waterstones and one of my favourite people in the book industry, and Jonathan Douglas, Director for National Literacy Trust, who did a brilliant job as chairperson.

I had never heard Malorie Blackman speak before, despite having read her books and as an actual teenager, so I was really looking forward to it and it ended up being a highlight of the fair – I can see why so many people were excited about her being appointed as Children’s Laureate last year. But on with the seminar!

I have no idea how this blogpost is going to work as I’m just typing up the notes I was furiously scribbling down (I wanted to make a note of everything as it was all so wonderful, passionate and genuine – by everyone on the panel), so here we go… I haven’t always specific who said what, so I’m sorry about that!

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Top Ten / #UKYA On My TBR

It’s UKYA Day today, organised by the lovely Lucy, who is encouraging everyone to write a blogpost to celebrate. Check out #ukyaday to see what other people are shouting about! If it isn’t immediately obvious, UKYA is young adult fiction written by authors who either were born or live in the UK. I am on my 25th book of the year and I noticed this week that only ONE book, Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher, counted as UKYA. I know, I know. It’s pretty shocking and shameful. (Although, I have read seven children’s books by British authors). I thought I’d make up for it by writing about ten UKYA books that are on my bookshelves or my Kindle, but haven’t yet been read.

Top Ten / #UKYA On My TBRPhysical Books

Slated by Teri Terry is one I was drawn to because I thought it had a stunning cover that was different to all of the other young adult science fiction covers out there when it was published in 2012. As all three books have now been published, I think it’s about time I pick this one up! Kyla’s memory has been erased, her personality wiped blank, her memories lost for ever. She’s been Slated.

Torn was Cat Clarke’s second novel. Can you believe I’ve never read a Cat Clarke book? She is one of the most popular and prolific UKYA authors. I also own Entangled and Undone. Alice King isn’t expecting the holiday of a lifetime when she sets off with her classmates on a trip to the Scottish wilderness, but she’s not exactly prepared for an experience beyond her darkest nightmares…

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan is a book I acquired back when Waterstones was still running its 3 for 2 offer. My mum had picked out two books and she let me choose the third – I was instantly drawn to the poetic and intriguing title. Gwenni is all too familiar with the taunts of her peers and fields them with equanimity beyond her years. She knows she can no more change her nature than stop the sun from rising. And when a neighbour goes missing, Gwenni turns amateur sleuth, determined to solve the mystery of his disappearance, set in Wales in the 1950s.

Have a Little Faith by Candy Harper is a book that I wouldn’t have normally picked out on my own, but it’s received immense praise from fellow bloggers and so I’m looking forward to tucking in, especially when I’m in the mood for a fun contemporary story. Year Ten has just begun and I’m already in trouble.

American Savage by Matt Whyman is the sequel to The Savages, which I read and loved last summer. Here’s a snippet from my review: Matt Whyman’s The Savages is brilliantly executed and truly unique. It’s dark humour at its best and I cannot imagine I’ll ever come across a book like it again. I devoured it. Is it wrong that it made me hungry? It’s wrong, isn’t it?

Top Ten / #UKYA On My TBReBooks

Breathing Underwater by Julia Green is a UKYA novel that I thought I’d give a little nudge as I never see anyone talk about it, even though it was published five years ago now. Freya has come to visit her grandparents who live on a remote island. Last year she visited them with her brother – but last year he died alone in a boating accident.

Half Bad by Sally Green is one I can’t believe I haven’t read yet – it’s pretty high up on ‘to read soon or else’ list! It’s so popular all over the world that I keep forgetting it’s UKYA and not an import from the US. Half Bad is a début novel about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman is the latest novel by the Queen of UKYA! I have only read Noughts & Crosses, but I really need to read more of her work. Years after a violent war destroyed much of the world, Kaspar has grown up in a society based on peace and harmony. But beyond the city walls, a vicious band of rebels are plotting to tear this peace apart.

She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick sounds beautiful and powerful. I think it’ll be very different to what I usually read. Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind.

The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud seems to be categorised as both children’s and young adult. As I haven’t yet read it, I couldn’t possibly say. But either way, I have read fantastic reviews. Set in a city stalked by spectres, The Screaming Staircase is the first in a chilling new series full of suspense, humour and truly terrifying ghosts.

If only I had more time…

Do you have any UKYA books that have been sitting unread on your shelves?

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Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classics Challenge #2)

Book Review: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Classics Challenge #2)


Shelved: Children’s fiction (classic)
Rating: ★★★★
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #2
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I attended a panel recently on children’s classics. On the panel was Kate Saunders (children’s author), Lucy Mangan (columnist and writer for the Guardian and Stylist) and Melissa Cox (children’s buyer for Waterstones). Everyone on the panel spoke about how much they adored The Secret Garden and that it was the ultimate children’s classic. How could I possibly ignore such praise? As I hadn’t yet chosen my second classic of the year, it seemed right to go with The Secret Garden. I remembered watching the adaptation as a child – and loving it – but I’d never read the book.

The Secret Garden is actually less about the garden, to me as an adult, than it was to me as a child. As a child, the garden – this beautiful, safe place that no one else knew about – was the most desirable, exciting, magical place, but now, the story seems more about the three children that occupy Misselwaith Manor, particularly our protagonist, Mary. Mary comes over to England from India after cholera wipes out her parents and servants, leaving her an orphan. Mary is certainly disagreeable – spoiled, bratty and ‘quite contrary’ – until she realises that as the youngest and newest resident of this isolated mansion in the English countryside, she is going to have to learn to dress herself and feed herself instead of being waited on, and above all, amuse herself. Mary might be a wretched child to some people on the surface, but she’s a little more complicated than that – she’s a child who has never experienced love and so she’s awfully lonely, as you can imagine. She’s a tricky protagonist!

‘People never like me and I never like people’.

Original 1911 Cover

Original 1911 Cover

The Secret Garden – Mary discovers, thanks to a friendly robin – is a special place, full of life and potential, which is just what the children have unknowingly been yearning for. The Secret Garden brings together the three lonely children: Mary, who has no close family and is not fond of people; Colin, who is so full of hatred, self-pity and anger, and who is not even sure whether his father loves him, but is certain that he is going to die; and Dickon, who although constantly has a bright and sunny disposition, prefers the company of animals to people, until he meets Mary.

The Secret Garden is charming and wonderfully written, full of the right amount of intrigue for children and tells the story of three very different children who you get to know well over the months, although you won’t quite know whether you like two of them! I can understand why The Secret Garden is considered to be the epitome of children’s literature and is still read and loved by many children today, even though it’s over 100 years old. Although the story did not quite give me the same magical feeling as it did when I was a child, I became invested in its characters and hoped the ending was as happy as I remembered. I must re-watch the adaptation!

‘I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.’

Have you signed up to the 2014 Classics Challenge?

Published: 1911
Publisher: Heinemann, but edition pictured published 2012 by Vintage
Pages: 384

The Secret Garden

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Book Review: Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Book Review: Just One Day & Just One Year by Gayle Forman

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

I really do not know why it took me so long to read Just One Year and Just One Day. Just One Day appeared to be my sort of YA contemporary novel: romance + travel + heartache. Allyson Healey is on a school trip to England when she meets Willem De Ruiter, a charming Dutch boy, starring in an underground performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Allyson knows there’s something between them – although she is not quite sure if it’s genuine – and so she does something out of the ordinary and embarks on a spontaneous journey. Allyson and Willem jump on the Eurostar and head to Paris for the day, even though Allyson will have to be on a plane home in a few days. She does not speak French, she’s never been to the city before, and she is hopeless at reading maps, so she leaves it up to Willem to show her the beauty of the city. Until he disappears and she’s left stranded.

I picked up Just One Day and incorrectly assumed that Willem would leave Allyson – we know he leaves from the start – shortly towards the end of the story, after we’ve spent nearly the entire length of the book with the happy couple, but no. It happens much sooner than that, which makes for a much more interesting and emotionally complex novel.

Just One Day really just shows us the briefest of romances. We can see how both Allyson and Willem get caught up in the moment, in what they mean to each other and what the city means to them. Allyson is a little like me – she plays it safe and often holds back, so I do understand the urge to do something drastic, like get away for a while and live life as if it was a movie – but Just One Day doesn’t let us go in that direction. In reality, it’s not romantic and life isn’t a movie and no, an inspiring movie score will not suddenly start to play.

Just One Year

Rating: ★★★

After Willem leaves, we realise that the story is actually more about Allyson herself and the struggle she’s had with control over her own life and her own happiness, which is brilliantly done and told with honesty and conviction. I love Anna and the French Kiss. I think it’s cute and wonderful and perfect, and at first I thought Just One Day was fairly similar, but it’s not that version of Paris that we see. I love that Just One Day goes in a different direction. Willem is cultured, elusive, spontaneous and an experienced traveller – the opposite of Allyson – but Just One Day is not really about him, which is why Just One Year did not quite live up to my expectations.

Just One Year is from Willem’s point of view and continues from the moment that he is found after he leaves Allyson and disappears. I really was interested in and curious about his life and his story, but I cared more about Allyson as a character. Willem, although showing bursts of determination and evidence of painful emotions over his short relationship with Allyson and lack of knowledge where she might be now, did not seem to care about her as much or seem as deeply affected by the fact that he might never see her again. In Just One Day, I enjoyed his personality, but in Just One Year, I thought his searches were pitiful and kept waiting for him to take control. Yet he has his own issues to deal with, so perhaps Allyson and Willem have too much on their minds to be a couple. But don’t get me wrong, I loved finding out more about Willem’s family and why he struggles to make connections with people. I may not have given either book five stars, but they both left me with a lot to feel and a lot to think about.

If you’re looking for a young adult romance, I’d say that although it’s certainly part of the story and it’s bittersweet, Just One Year and Just One Day are about the trials and tribulations of self-discovery more than anything else. I loved that they are companion novels, rather than sequels, and would love to see this separate yet dual narrative appear more in young adult literature. It goes to show that one perspective cannot truly give us the whole story.

Just One Day
Published: 8th January 2013 (US) 10th January 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Speak (US) Random House Children’s Publishers (UK)
Pages: 384

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Behold the Pretty Books!

Behold the Pretty Books!

Here are the books I acquired over the past two weeks or so!

Ouran High School Host Club (Vol. 1) by Bisco Hatori
War Girls by Various
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St. John
The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Moss
Writing in the Sand by Helen Brandom
Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Sun Catcher by Sheila Rance
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda by Margaret Atwood, illustrated by Dusan Petricic
Glaze by Kim Curran (eBook)
Remembrance by Theresa Breslin (eBook)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never dipped my toe into the world of manga, so I thought I’d check out Ouran High School Host Club, which was recommended by Priscilla and I’ve reserved Fruits Basket at the library. I’m also participating in @countdownya, which is an epic month-long blog tour with some really brilliant authors whose books are being published on 5th June. I will be interviewing Sally Nicholls, whose story appears in War Girls. I think it’s important that children and teenagers are still educated about World War I and II. War Girls tackles a fascinating part of history – the women who were directly involved in the First World War and the women who stayed behind, left to live among poverty, fear and grief. I also downloaded a digital review copy of Remembrance, about the impact that the First World War has on a group of friends and their Scottish village.

I visited a friend’s workplace recently and there were free copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude available, a modern classic I’ve never read, so I thought it’d be suitable for my 2014 Classics Challenge. I also received my copies of Dead Man’s Cove and Glaze for a book club that I’ve just joined with a bunch of friends, plus a copy of Writing in the Sand – a début UKYA contemporary novel – for review.

Yesterday, I headed to The Chocolate Festival with Daphne, Debbie and Faye. After the festival, we met up with Jim and headed to Children’s Bookshop near Angel, where every book is £1. I visited the shop earlier in the day and planned to come back and purchase Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl, but someone beat me to it. Gah! But I did pick up The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece, which sounds like a delightful old-fashioned children’s mystery series. (If I enjoy it, I’ll purchase all 14 books!) and Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, which is a fun picture book for all ages. I had no idea Margaret Atwood wrote picture books!

And lastly, I went out for drinks with fellow lovers of young adult literature and took home Back to Blackbrick and Sun Catcher, two beautiful fantasy children’s books.

I know you saw me mention the world ‘chocolate’ earlier, so here’s a little peek at what I bought at the festival, from salted butterscotch and ginger fudge to mixed chocolates and peanut butter brownies, plus Daphne was lovely give me Hotel Chocolat goodies – rose & violet crèmes plus peppermint & cocoa tea – for my birthday last month.

The Chocolate FestivalBut back to the books…

Behold the Pretty Books!

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Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, mystery)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

When I found out that E. Lockhart was writing a new book, I was all over it, not because I had read any of her novels – they were all on my wishlist – but because I knew that she was hailed to be one of the most impressive writers of YA contemporary. And then when I found out that We Were Liars was a YA contemporary mystery story, I was sold.

You have probably already heard about We Were Liars. You’ve seen the praise, seen people raving about and gasping over the ending, and have been unable to avoid the hype; it’s everywhere. But I’d like you to forget about that for a few minutes, as someone whose reading experience can be greatly affected by hype, as it was in this case. I originally added We Were Liars to my wishlist because it just sounded like my sort of book – and there are things to love about it aside from the reveal. If a good book rests on purely having a good ending, it isn’t really a good book at all. Do not try to guess the truth as you’re reading; just enjoy being taken away to a private island to bask in the heat of the sun, the sound of the waves, and the privilege of wealth and aristocracy. Meet the Sinclairs.We Were Liars

We Were Liars is beautifully and poetically written. I am not familiar with E. Lockhart’s style, but I thought it was incredibly unique. It’s simple, but each sentence doesn’t have one meaning, but possibly two or three. It really makes you think about what you have just read, constantly questioning. We Were Liars is the sort of book I love to read if I want to be taken away from London to somewhere so very different, where I can imaging sitting on a beach in the warmth, watching the sea, eating vats of homemade ice cream and drinking fresh lemonade. It’s not my life, but it’s real for 17-year old Cadence Sinclair Eastman – also known as Cady – whose family lives, in the summer at least, on an island on the coast of Massachusetts – my favourite kind of setting for young adult contemporary. Cady plays with her fellow Liars, cousins Mirren and Johnny plus romantic interest, Gat, and grows up alongside them. We Were Liars is fuelled by complex relationships that lean on as much as what’s unsaid as is said, yet it’s sometimes hard to feel sorry for these rich, beautiful, privileged people who let old traditions govern their way of life. But you’re unable to stop reading, wanting to spend more time with the family even though you cannot imagine what it’s like to be any one of them.

E. Lockhart keeps you drawn in and hooked on the story with her vivid yet dreamy prose, not unlike Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca or Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, sometimes a little Gothic and often very literary. It plays with notions of class and racism among fraught family and romantic relationships, accidents and the truth. We Were Liars is beautiful, smart and will leave you questioning whether privilege itself is an illusion. But as I said, don’t read it just for the mystery and the ending, but the impressive writing, intangible characters and the joy of imagining yourself getting lost in one of the four beautiful homes. I wish I’d read it before the hype, but it’s still one of the most impressive novels I’ve read so far this year.

Immerse yourself into the world of the Liars on Tumblr and read the first nine chapters.

Published: 13th May 2014 (US) 15th May 2014 (UK
Publisher: Delacorte Press (US) Hot Key Books (UK)
Pages: 240
Source: Thank you to the publisher for providing this book for review!

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On Pretty Books in March

I love reading other bloggers’ monthly wrap-up posts. I’ll admit, I don’t check Bloglovin’ every day – or even every week – so these posts encourage me to read more blogposts because they’re all linked to in one place! Here’s what was on Pretty Books in March.

Okay, this year really needs to stop going so fast. I feel like it’s nearly 2015 and I’m not quite ready for that. Again, I didn’t read as many books as I hoped to this month (Goodreads tells me I’m five books behind schedule, but I’m hoping to finish two more this weekend).

Books Read in March
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
Just One Year by Gayle Forman
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett*
The BFG by Roald Dahl*

I have read 20/100 books so far this year!

The BFG

Favourite Book Read in March
I only gave one book 5* last month – The BFG by Roald Dahl, although I really enjoyed all of the books I read and gave the majority of them 4*. I finally got the chance to read Skulduggery Pleasant, which is one I wouldn’t have picked up on my own before, but I really like it. I became curious after seeing loads of my friends talking about it on Twitter. But The BFG was just wonderful. I had an inkling I’d love it as I’m familiar with the animation (which I really wanted to re-watch, but I only own it on VHS!), but I wasn’t 100% sure as it seems like it’s one of the more whimsical stories. I adored both Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant! I shall post my thoughts once I’ve read two more Roald Dahl books. I’m thinking that The Witches might be next, but we’ll see. I’m also happy that I read two more classics towards my challenge. I have no idea which one I’ll pick this month! I expect it’ll be fiction rather than children’s though.

On Pretty Books in February
Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)
Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)
Book Reviews: Suite Scarlett & The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson
Book Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
Books for Book Lovers: In Pictures

Sesame Seade

Currently Reading
I’ve just finished Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, which I thought was beautiful and thought-provoking. I’ve just started Gargoyles Gone AWOL, sequel to Sleuth on Skates (my favourite book last month), and then I’ll read the third book, Scam on the Cam. They’re just what I need this weekend.

April Radar

On My Radar
Some of my friends set up a book club called #aryaclub (Adults Read YA, plus a fun Game of Thrones reference as a bonus) and this month we’ll be reading both Glaze by Kim Curran and Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St. John. I also thought I’d give shojo manga a shot, so I ordered Ouran High School Host Club (recommended by Priscilla) and added Fruits Basket and Cardcaptor Sakura to my wishlist. I don’t believe I’ve read manga before, so it should be interesting!

Risa Rodil

On Pretty Books the Tumblr
I discovered Risa Rodil’s wonderful Tumblr, where she posts her amazing art and typography posters, like this one illustrating one of my favourite quotes from The Fault in Our Stars. I posted the news that Bloomsbury UK are publishing new Harry Potter covers later this year, that The Maze Runner trailer was finally released, and a video showing this awesome pop-up guide to Westeros. I also love these inspiring quotes from children’s literature. I was glad to see that blogpost on 25 Books for Book Lovers also seemed to go down quite well on Tumblr!

Beyond the Books
It was my birthday last month and my family and I headed to Canterbury for the day. I’d never been before, but it’s so pretty and actually quite close to London, so I definitely want to go back. We spent most of our time sitting/walking around in the sun, at Canterbury Cathedral or on the riverboat tours. As expected, I got a few lovely bookish presents for my birthday, including National Book Tokens and Tired of London, Tired of Life. I also received chocolate, Veronica Mars Seasons 2-3 and lots of lovely Lush products. I also treated myself to the Game of Thrones Seasons 1-3 box set as I want to re-watch them all while S4 is on.

At work, we’ve all been preparing for the London Book Fair next week, which I always enjoy. I work for a small company so it’s helpful to walk around the fair, seeing what all the other publishers are doing, and attending seminars. At the beginning of the month, I went to the theatre with Caitlin to see The Final Revelation of Sherlock Holmes, which I actually quite enjoyed! I had no idea as to whether I would because I only know Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock…

I also went to Drink, Shop, Do with Jim, Caitlin, Debbie and Daphne as it was their Speakeasy night, with readings from wonderful authors: James Dawson, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Tom Pollock, Tom Easton and Sophie Lovett. It was a fun night involving baby otters with hats on and an overturned bin in Whitechapel… And I also went to a panel on children’s classics, which was brilliant and I’m hoping I’ll be able to type up my notes for a blogpost at some point!

Tell me about your month!

You can also sign up to receive a monthly email containing a selection of posts from Pretty Books on Tumblr and WordPress!

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Top Ten / Books That Got Me Searching for More Middle Grade

Top Ten / Books That Got Me Searching for More Middle Grade

I participate in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week the theme is Top Ten “Gateway” Books/Authors into My Reading Journey. I picked ten books that got me searching online and in bookshops for more middle grade novels.

If you look at my sidebar, you’ll see that I’ve written around 21 reviews of children’s fiction and 117 reviews of young adult fiction. Isn’t that a little odd for someone who’d quite happily say that they loved children’s books? I delved more into the world of children’s books over the past year and I don’t think I’m ever turning back. It was one of my New Year’s Bookish Resolutions to read more middle grade and I’d love for other bloggers, if they normally stick to YA, to see what they’re missing.

Here are five (okay, ten) books that I loved and made me realise how wonderful middle grade – where parents are not absent and romance does not dominate – could be, particularly contemporary/realistic, mystery and stories with accompanying illustrations, and five fantastic-sounding middle grade novels that are currently at the top of my ‘to read pile’.

Top Ten / Books That Got Me Searching for More Middle Grade

Read

Liar & Spy and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead for two wonderful middle grade mysteries by one of my (newly) favourite middle grade authors.

Sleuth on Skates (Sesame Seade #1) by Clémentine Beauvais, illustrated by Sarah Horne, is a fantastic contemporary mystery with a smart and witty young protagonist. I own the next two in the series and because I loved the first so much, I’m saving them for a cosy weekend when I can devour them in one go. (I couldn’t take a photo of the first book as my colleague is borrowing it!).

Matilda, Esio Trot, The Twits and The BFG by Roald Dahl have been, for me, an exciting journey into some of the most famous stories in children’s literature. I am currently working my way through my Roald Dahl box set and have enjoyed all four stories that I’ve read so far, with my favourite being Matilda, followed by The BFG.

Eight Keys and Love Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur are two heartbreaking stories about family and grief that truly understand the experiences that some children go through.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne is a wonderful novel that shares a very important part of our history (WWI), tough to read at times but incredibly rewarding.

Top Ten / Books That Got Me Searching for More Middle Grade

Reading Soon

Dead Man’s Cove (Laura Marlin Mysteries #1) by Lauren St. John is a beautiful (really, the cover is among my favourites) middle grade mystery and adventure that I’ll be reading this month for #aryaclub with my friends.

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells & Wong #1) by Robin Stevens is a middle grade mystery + boarding school + 1930s story, about Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, that I’m struggling to think of anything more perfect than…

Smart by Kim Slater is about detective Kieran Woods, who is master of observation and knows all the tricks of the trade, and his attempt to solve the murder of a homeless man.

A Room Full of Chocolate by Jane Elson is an emotional story about Grace’s experience of brief and bullying, until she is no longer alone when she meets the wild Megan and her pig, Claude.

The Secret Hen House Theatre by Helen Peters is lovely children’s story about young Hannah, who finds an old hen house and decides to turn it into a secret theatre, and when her farm is threatened, she plans to save it.

I could’ve added so many more to this list, such as Liesl & Po, Bird, Dandelion Clocks, The Forbidden Library, Wonder, Girl with a White Dog, Goth Girl, Rooftoppers, Fire Spell, Anthem For Jackson Dawes… If you read more young adult than middle grade fiction, why not give one of these a shot?

Which middle grade novels have you enjoyed?

Top Ten / Books That Got Me Searching for More Middle Grade

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Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)I posted February & March Book Haul (Part 1) last week, where I shared the books I bought over the past two months, but here are the books I received for review, books received as gifts and books I borrowed.

Gargoyles Gone AWOL by Clémentine Beauvais
Scam on the Cam by Clémentine Beauvais
By Any Other Name by Laura Jarratt
Severed Heads, Broken Hearts by Robyn Scheider
The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Boys Don’t Knit by T.S. Easton
The Madness by Alison Rattle
The End of the World as We Know It by Iva-Marie Palmer
Little Women by Louisa May Allcott
Tired of London, Tired of Life: One Thing to Do a Day in London by Tom Jones

I have lovely friends who gave me a few books. Cait gave me Gargoyles Gone AWOL and Scam on the Cam as I loved Sleuth on Skates – I cannot wait to snuggle up with a blanket one Sunday and devour them both. Jim gave me By Any Other Name and Severed Heads, Broken Hearts (also known as The Beginning of Everything in the US), two YA contemporary novels that had been on my wishlist.

I received Don’t Look Back (YA thriller), Boys Don’t Knit (humour/contemporary), The Madness (YA historical) and The End of the World as We Know It (YA science fiction/humour) for review and they all sound fantastic. I heard T.S. Easton read from Boys Don’t Knit recently and it was very enjoyable and very funny. I also love this GIF of the American cover for Don’t Look Back:

Don't Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A colleague gave me a beautiful copy of Little Women, which hopefully I’ll get to read this year, and I borrowed The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry from another colleague, which I included in 25 Books for Book Lovers. I cannot wait to get stuck in as I love books about books. And lastly, it’s my birthday today (I’m writing this in advance!) and I received Tired of London, Tired of Life because I love exploring London. It’s perfect timing too as I don’t really enjoy walking around London in the winter!

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)And I downloaded a few digital review copies as per usual…

Poppy by Mary Hooper
Don’t Even Think About It by Sarah Mlynowski
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
Smart by Kim Slater
Half Bad by Sally Green
Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu

I’m probably most excited about Half Bad (I need to see what everyone’s talking about!) and Murder Most Unladylike (1930s + boarding school + mystery = perfection), but they all sound like just my sort of thing. Don’t Even Think About It, Say What You Will (also known as Amy & Matthew) and Life by Committee are three YA contemporary novels and Smart is a contemporary middle grade mystery while Poppy is Mary Hooper’s latest novel, set during the First World War.

I’ve also been to another blogger event, this time at Hot Key Books, so I’ll post links to write-ups below when my fellow bloggers post them, so you can see which books we were told about and given!

Hot Key Books
A Day Dreamer’s Thoughts (and video)
Luna’s Little Library

And last, but not least, here’s some pretty photos of books…

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 2)
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Book Reviews: Suite Scarlett & The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson

Book Reviews: Suite Scarlett & The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson


Shelved:
Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Series: Scarlett (#1)
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Published: 1st May 2008 (US) 7th Nov 2013 (UK)

It had been a while since I picked up a Maureen Johnson book. I last read 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Name of the Star back in 2011 and so I thought it was about time to try some of her earlier young adult contemporary novels, since they were newly published in the UK. I was under the impression that they were nearer the fluffy end of contemporary – not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just usually go for either ‘really sad’ or ‘witty and really cute’ – but what I found was that I’d just been guilty of having judged a book by its cover. Suite Scarlett is one of the most enjoyable young adult contemporary novels I’ve read so far – incredibly fun, very quick-witted, with a dash of romance, but also an emotional, complicated side.

It’s finally summer! 15-year-old Scarlett Martin’s top priority is getting a job so she can actually afford to have fun with her friends this year. Well, that’s what she thought, until her family breaks the news that they’re running out of money and need her to work in their fancy Art Deco hotel, the Hopewell, over the entire summer. Scarlett’s frustrated, but knows that her family comes first, even if they can be incredibly frustrating sometimes, what with her brother’s inability to obtain a permanent acting job, her old sister’s annoying preppy boyfriend and little sister’s incessant complaining. It’s a full house and Maureen Johnson shows us that perfection isn’t all it appears to be (even though I have wondered what it must be like to run a hotel since seeing Gilmore Girls Lorelai’s beautiful inn). Scarlett is mature for her age, witty and intelligent, and is an enjoyable protagonist to spend time with. She lives up to the challenge when feisty, eccentric Mrs Amberson comes to stay, hires Scarlett as her assistant, and embarks on a mission to save both Hamlet and the Hopewell at the same time… As if that wasn’t enough to keep Scarlett busy, her brother’s colleague catches her eye, but it’s not all smooth-sailing there, either.

Suite Scarlett is a fast-paced, brilliantly written and well thought-out contemporary novel to add to your wishlist! It taught me not to judge a book by its cover – the emotional exploration of Scarlett’s relationship with her siblings was just wonderful – and I wish I didn’t have to wait for the sequel to be published in the UK…

Book Reviews: Suite Scarlett & The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson



Rating: ★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads
Published: 1st Jan 2004 (US) 4th July 2013 (UK)

After reading and thoroughly enjoying Suite Scarlett, I was very much looking forward to picking up Maureen Johnson’s other novels, so I went for The Key to the Golden Firebird, which is very much in the same vein as Suite Scarlett. Maureen Johnson has a brilliant way of showing just how complicated family dynamics can be. The Key to the Golden Firebird starts with describing the heart-warming, close relationship that the Gold sisters have with their father, but then he dies from a sudden heart-attack. I knew then that this was another Maureen Johnson novel that isn’t as it first appears.

May is desperate to learn to drive, but not because she wants an expensive car to show off to her friends – her mum is working all hours to pay the bills, her sister Brooks is hardly ever there, and her younger sister Palmer is going through some issues of her own. May is feeling hopeless until her neighbour Pete offers to lend a hand.

The Key to the Golden Firebird is told through the eyes of each of the sisters and you get a real glimpse onto their world – how they see their life, their relationships, the way they deal with brief, and how their personalities shine through. Although I had a particular affinity for May, as we’re introduced to her first, I ended up growing quite close to Brooks and Palmer. It wouldn’t be YA contemporary without a little bit of romance and in this charming novel we have Pete, the boy next door. We go from seeing him as the enemy – as he was when the Gold sisters were younger – to rooting for him and May, but how does it end? You’ll need to brush aside your prejudices and pick up these to brilliant young adult books to see!

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Book Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Book Review: Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Shelved: Young adult fiction (contemporary, romance)
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: Hive
More: Goodreads

Ketchup Clouds is a book that had been loitering around my wishlist for while, even though I didn’t really know what it was about (ketchup?!) so, because my curiosity got the better of me, I finally checked it out of the library. I wasn’t too sure what to expect, but I didn’t expect to fall in love with it straight away. Ketchup Clouds is one of those books that makes me tell everyone I know about it (of course, everyone already knew about it since it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2013, but that doesn’t stop me), and tweet about it, and talk about how wonderful the sprayed edges are. I read a lot books – although not nearly as many as some of you! – and I find that it’s quite rare for a book to consume me in such a way, yet it’s what readers are always looking for.

I like to like characters, but Zoe, our protagonist (and that isn’t even her real name – we find that out much later in the book) is pretty unlikeable, I’d say, in the way that if you’re a teenager, you’re not much a fan of fellow teenagers. She’s selfish and self-centred and tactless, yet that doesn’t seem to stop the reader from wanting the story to end in her favour. But I’ll start at the beginning. Zoe is fifteen and a murderer – she tells us this so it must be true. She is overwhelmed with the guilt that comes with causing the death of somebody close to you and she cannot possibly tell anyone the truth aside from Mr. S. Harris. Stuart Harris is an inmate on death row in Texas, who Zoe begins sending letters to because she needs someone to relate to, someone who has already been what she has been through. But what has she been through? Ketchup Clouds does not tell us this vital piece of information straight away, for Zoe is an unreliable narrator, and instead we must, piece by piece, work out what Zoe has really done. All we know is that it involves death, two brothers, and a whole bunch of secrets and lies.

Ketchup Clouds is superb storytelling and a novel that encapsulates beautiful writing. As I have said, it draws you in straight away and doesn’t let go until you are finally given some answers. We have an inkling early on about what might happen, but we keep wondering whether it might change if we don’t think about it too much. Zoe is difficult to feel sorry for, after she makes shockingly bad decision after bad decision, yet I still wanted to prevent the immense anguish caused by two very different brothers. And Zoe isn’t only preoccupied by romance and relationships for she’s having a difficult time at home. Why won’t her mother let her see her dying Grandfather? Why is one sister so awful to another sister, who is deaf? Why don’t her parents notice her slipping out at night to write these confessional letters? Annabel Pitcher tackles the nature of guilt just wonderfully and expertly – how we deal with it, why we feel it and what we can do about it. I wish I could say more, but the beauty of reading Ketchup Clouds comes with finding out for yourself how it ends, perhaps throwing in little judgements, accusations and guesses along the way, but never quite knowing until the last page. If My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is just as brilliant, it looks like Annabel Pitcher will become one of my favourite authors!

I wish my review could do this book justice – it’s my own fault for waiting over a month since I finished the book to review it. It’s quite frustrating as Ketchup Clouds deserves so much more, but all I can say is read it.

Published: 27th December 2012 (UK) 12th November 2013 (US)
Publisher: Indigo, Orion (UK) Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US)
Pages: 320

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Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)

Here’s a bunch of books I purchased over the past two months. I’ve had to split this book haul into two parts because otherwise I’d have taken a ton of photos! Come back next week to see the books I acquired through other means (sounds ominous, but it’s not…!).

The Midnight Picnic: A Laura Marlin Mystery by Lauren St. John
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth
Trouble by Non Pratt
If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch
Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
Resistance by Owen Sheers
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I went on a bit of a book-buying spree this month. I bought Trouble, If You Find Me and Rooftoppers on World Book Day from Waterstones Islington. I have already read Trouble, but I wanted to own a lovely finished copy. If you love YA contemporary, you’ll want to read this one. If You Find Me and Rooftoppers are both shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Prize, so I thought I’d give them a shot as they’ve both received immense praise from reviewers and booksellers.

I went to Waterstones Gower Street yesterday, which I think is my favourite Waterstones (it’s old and like a maze), and I bought The Midnight Picnic. It wasone of the £1 World Book Day stories and Dead Man’s Cove is the first in the series, which I really want to read – it’s a children’s Famous Five-type mystery series. I also adore the covers – they’re just perfect. I then bought Girl with a White Dog as there’s been a bit of an online buzz about it. It was published this month and Jim in particular has been pushing it onto everyone! I’m not one to be left out of the loop, so I thought I’d buy it as it’s my sort of middle grade novel, about a little girl who starts learning about Nazi Germany at school. I also picked up The Remains of the Day as it’s been on my wishlist for a while. It totally counts as a modern classic, right? And because you all know how much I love Vintage Children’s Classics, I purchased The Secret Garden to read as part of my 2014 Classics Challenge and add to my collection. I’m really enjoying it so far and it’s made me get out the movie!

And lastly, I spontaneously bought The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks after reading We Were Liars (review coming soon!). E. Lockhart is hailed as one of the best writers of YA contemporary, so I wanted to finally read her most popular novel. And I bought Resistance because the pretty cover attracted my attention and because it’s a ‘beautifully written and powerful story set during an imagined occupation of Britain by Nazi Germany in World War II’.

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)I also purchased some eBooks…

Take Me Home by Daniela Sacerdoti
Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah
A Boy Called Hope by Lara Williamson
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

I’m one of those people who downloaded The Shock of the Fall just after it won the Costa, sorry not sorry. I bought it back in January, but I forgot to include it last time. A Boy Called Hope is a beautiful middle grade novel that I had been following via social media and I also bought Firefly Lane, about two friends growing up in the 1970s – and Kristin Hannah’s most popular novel – as well as Take Me Home, because I already have Daniela Sacerdoti’s other novel, Watch Over Me.

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week! edit: Here it is!

Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)Behold the Pretty Books! / February & March Book Haul (Part 1)

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Books for Book Lovers: In Pictures

I posted 25 Books for Book Lovers earlier this month, but I wanted an excuse to take some pretty pictures of books that I already owned for Tumblr. Unfortunately, I don’t own all 25 books (and some are eBooks), but here’s some photos of the ones that I do have. You can head over to the original post to read more about the books, or I’ve put them in a handy list – including The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I missed off last time – at the end of this post.

Books for Book Lovers: In PicturesBooks for Book Lovers: In PicturesBooks for Book Lovers: In Pictures Continue Reading »

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On Pretty Books in February

I love reading other bloggers’ monthly wrap-up posts. I’ll admit, I don’t check Bloglovin’ every day – or even every week – so these posts encourage me to read more blogposts because they’re all linked to in one place! Here’s what was on Pretty Books in February.

February went fast. I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, but I gave nearly all of the books I did read five stars. I finally got to re-read The Book Thief. I had been worried about reading it (for years, honestly!) because it’s one of my favourite books. It would’ve been awful if I didn’t feel the same way about it, but I probably appreciated it even more, especially Markus Zusak’s beautiful writing. I’ll hopefully get to write a review as well as post my thoughts on the adaptation this month.

Books Read in February
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Sleuth on Skates by Clémentine Beauvais
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (re-read)
Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher
Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

I have read 13/100 books so far this year! I also read most of Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy, but I only finished it yesterday, so I cannot count this in February!

Book Review: Sleuth on Skates by Clémentine Beauvais

Favourite Book(s) Read in February
Okay, so I can’t really pick my favourite book ever, The Book Thief, so I’ll pick Sleuth on Skates. I really enjoyed all of the books I read this month, but Sleuth on Skates was the most fun. It’s an ingeniously complex and inventive children’s novel – with excellent foreshadowing! – and with a brilliant young protagonist at the forefront. I cannot wait to pick up the sequel, Gargoyles Gone AWOL, which I already have. I could easily pick them all, though.

On Pretty Books in February
Book Review: Trouble by Non Pratt
Book Review: Sleuth on Skates by Clementine Beauvais
Book Review: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Book Review: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Currently Reading
I’ve just started reading three books at the same time, which probably isn’t wise. I’m reading The Key to the Golden Firebird, A Boy Called Hope and Rock War. I must start reading one book at a time!

On Pretty Books in February

On My Radar
I was loaned The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, a book about books, by a colleague, so I can’t wait to get stuck into that. I also need to read two of the most highly anticipated young adult novels this year: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and Half Bad by Sally Green. I also have my last two library books to read: Just One Day and Just One Year by Gayle Forman.

On Pretty Books the Tumblr
I finally updated my list of young adult dystopian novels, but I’ve not added many new ones to it since I rarely read the genre these days, so if you think I’m missing any, let me know! I’m hoping my love for it will be rekindled at some point. I was also delighted to reveal the cover for The Illusionists by Laure Eve, the sequel to Fearsome Dreamer. I found this wonderful teapot, which I may have to buy once the owner of the shop is back… It also has a matching teacup and saucer!

I also posted a few favourite quotes from some of the books I read recently:

Mom. She always says to look at the big picture. How all of the little things don’t matter in the long run. I know that Mom is right about the big picture. But Dad is right too: Life is really just a bunch of nows, one after the other. The dots matter. – Rebecca Stead, Liar & Spy

If there are as many connections in your brain as there are stars in the universe, why ask for superpowers? – Clémentine Beauvais, Sleuth on Skates

For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. – Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a Half

Beyond the Books
I had a group of friends over for #VeronicaMarsathon, where we tried to watch season one of Veronica Mars for sixteen hours straight. We managed about twelve hours, which I don’t think is too bad. I’m really quite enjoying it; I need to finish watching the season though! I also went to the launch of Rock War by Robert Muchamore, which was at the Lockside Lounge in Camden, and went to see The Book Thief on the day of release. I went to one of my favourite tea rooms, Yumchaa, with a group of friends followed by a spending spree at Waterstones Gower Street, since there was a 20% off sale on all books (and you can see the books I bought in my book haul). I also went to see Taylor Swift twice at the O2 – I can’t believe it’s been nearly three years since I last saw her live. I’m a superfan, in case you’ve not guessed. I’ve been neglecting Netflix last month, which I really shouldn’t do because I’m actually paying for it now, but I did watch Restless, about a teenage girl who has cancer – very obviously quite suitable if you’re a fan of TFiOS. Next up might be Pretty in Pink.

Tell me about your month!

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