Category Archives: Young adult fiction

Review of “You’ll Be the Death of Me” by Karen M McManus

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

I’ve really enjoyed Karen McManus’s other books, but this one didn’t quite live up to the others. The action basically takes place in a single day, which should give it pace and action, but it felt meandering and inconsequential.

It’s hard to care about characters who make such terrible decisions. For example they discover a dead body and rather than calling an ambulance/the police, they run away leading themselves into all sorts of unnecessary trouble.

The ending is also very strange, it ends very abruptly, so I imagine it is setting up a sequel, but there didn’t seem to be enough meat on the bones of the original story to warrant drawing it out any further.

Review of “Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell

Thanks to NetGalley and Pan MacMillan for the ARC of this book.

I have been trying to read this book for 6 years. I found it really hard to get into. The beginning reads like it’s picking up in the middle of a series and you haven’t started with the first book. You have to read about 40% of the book before the lead character even has a conversation with his love interest.

It was easier to read once Baz, the love interest, turned up. His point of view is more interesting than the lead, Simon. He is more self-aware and there is more action once he arrives.

It’s a shame because I thought ‘Eleanor and Park’ by the same author was perfection, so I know Rowell can write a beautiful, well contained, sublime love story but this book felt self-indulgent and rambling by comparison. I don’t think fantasy is her forte.

Audiobook review: The Island by C.L. Taylor

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins and HQ for the ARCs of this book. N.B. I read the first couple of chapters of the written copy and then switched to the audiobook.

‘The Island’ is a YA thriller which follows six teenagers on holiday in Thailand who are stranded on an island where their worst fears start to come true.

It feels a bit like Lord of the Flies mixed with The Beach. It’s a fun, fast-paced read with some exciting sections, but never really feels that high stakes or scary.

I loved the idea of this book. It could have been absolutely thrilling. I thought it was genius to gather a group of teenagers together who are friends because their parents met in their NCT class. This was a perfect setup because they would have known each other their whole lives but wouldn’t necessarily see each other regularly which could lead to distrust and misunderstandings.

Unfortunately, there is a fundamental flaw with the structure of the book. There are two narrators, one is in the first person and one is in the third person. This spoils the whole premise of the book because it signposts immediately who is the ‘villain’ of the piece. You immediately know there must be some information being held back or some kind of unreliable narration going on, otherwise both narrators would be written from the same perspective. It signposts that the danger is coming from within the group and narrows the potential of the storytelling.

I found the final reveal of what was going on completely obvious and unsurprising, despite the book’s attempt to make it an amazing twisty reveal. It completely fell flat for me. Possibly a teenager who has read fewer books would be less likely to spot this problem with the mechanics of the storytelling and would be blindsided by the ending, but I’d be surprised as I found the twist so heavily signposted.

The audiobook has two narrators. I thought the female narration was good but found the male narrator’s voice a bit grating, although he definitely sounded more like a teenager.

Review of ‘The Inheritance Games’ by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the ARC of this book.

I picked this book because its blurb compared it to ‘Knives Out’ so I thought it would be fun. The basic premise, rich man dies and leaves his estate to working class girl rather than his family, is the same but the plot diverges pretty quickly. This is not a quirky, fun whodunnit; it is an angsty YA whydunnit, trying to solve the puzzle of why he left his fortune to a stranger.

It’s an interesting concept, but, as it is YA, for me there is far too much “The boy with silver eyes is looking at me” and not enough “Excuse me, please could you explain exactly how this inheritance works?”. Seriously, why do all boys in YA fiction have to have silver, gold or green eyes? Have you ever met someone with silver eyes? What is wrong with brown?

The lead character, Avery, does not really have much agency, things happen to her and, even when she thinks she is making her own decisions, they turn out to be pre-ordained. I wanted her to be more inquisitive, less interested in the beautiful boys and more questioning about how her life as a billionaire would be. If I were left that amount of money at the cost of a whole family, I’m sure my first step would be to try to work things out with the family and assure them that I would make sure that they still got most of the money and we’re able to carry on living in their house. This doesn’t seem to cross Avery’s mind, she is entirely lacking in empathy because she has to be self-involved by virtue of being the lead character in a YA novel. She is a cipher for the reader who will inevitably imagine themselves in her position, maybe it didn’t work for me because I’m not a teenage girl and, if I were, maybe it would make sense to me that she chases the boys around rather than trying to nail down the practicalities of inheriting billions of dollars.

The mystery element is really just backdrop for a love triangle which goes nowhere because it is clearly setup for a sequel. So the ending is fairly unsatisfying. In addition, there’s a twist right at the end which I’d guessed was going to happen when I was about halfway through the book, so I was also frustrated not to read the resolution of that plot-line. Love triangles are a staple of YA fiction, but I’m not sure why they are so popular, if the lead heroine doesn’t have the presence of mind to know which of the perfect men drooling over her is the one she actually wants, then probably neither is the right one for her.

This is an easy read, with lots of YA tropes and a fun mystery at its centre, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential and would be more satisfying if were a standalone book with a firm resolution and not the beginning of a series with a strung out messy love triangle.

Review of ‘Crossfire’ by Malorie Blackman

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC of this book.

I loved the first few books in the Noughts and Crosses series, especially the first. However, after reading this, I wish that Malorie Blackman had stopped after the initial trilogy. I was really disappointed.

I did not realise when I started reading this book that it was part of a new series rather than a standalone book, if I had known, I may have paused before reading this. It does the most frustrating thing that books in a series can do; it builds up the background, the plot and the characters slowly and just as you are beginning to get interested in the characters and the plot feels like it has actually got started, it just stops with a ‘to be concluded’. It’s like reading half a book and then just stopping. There is no conclusion, no satisfaction.

I don’t mind reading a book in a series if at the end of a book there are a few loose ends for future books to deal with but this book simply stops, there is no resolution to any of the plot strands. It feels like one book has been divided in two just to sell more books and make more money.

In addition to the ending, I didn’t feel like the rest of the book lived up to Blackman’s previous books in this series. I found it hard to care about characters I had previously liked such as Sephy and Callie and I really didn’t care for the new young characters like Troy and Libby. I’ve seen lots of reviews describing this book as a searing indictment of today’s society and the current political situation in Britain and America, but I just didn’t see that. It felt muddled, all the characters are really flawed and I couldn’t really tell what point the book was trying to make. Maybe if I’d got to read the second half of the story, it would have been clearer, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I think the swapping of the races so that black people are the dominant race, which worked so effectively in the earlier books adds nothing to this book, and actually serves to confuse who we should be rooting for.

If you are planning to read this, I’d probably wait until the next book comes out to avoid the frustration of the ending.

Review of ‘The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Thanks to NetGalley and Egmont Publishing for the ARC of this book.

I read the first book in this series, ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ a few years ago. I didn’t remember much about it, other than I thought it was OK.  It had a pleasant, if unlikely, book-themed Christmassy romance and I absolutely loved the cover, which is beautiful, perfect for the book and so much better than the sequel’s cover (see above for the contrast). I’m pretty partial to a Christmas-themed romance so I thought I’d give the sequel a whirl.

Unfortunately, this book is not great. It falls into the trap of so many unnecessary romance sequels in that it has to create some drama/conflict between the protagonists but doesn’t want to destroy their relationship or make either fall out of love or do anything bad, so the drama comes from miscommunication. If the two leads just sat down and had an honest, candid conversation, they would realise they are both completely on the same page. That’s one of the most frustrating premises to read and is too thin to sustain a whole book.

The one thing this book does do well is to highlight how as you get older Christmas begins to lose its magic and starts to remind you of the passage of time and the people who are missing from the celebrations. This is obviously true but not really the feeling you are hoping to get from a cosy YA Christmas romance book. You want the magic and escapism. These are missing from most of the book as for the majority of the time Lily, one of the main protagonists, is thoroughly depressed about her life. She mopes and mopes and mopes; moping white, rich, privileged teenagers with loving families has to be one of the most boring thing to read about. Your life is not that bad! You have enough money and influence to organise a private skating rink party with a hot chocolate caterer and ice dancers at a day’s notice a couple of days before Christmas, for goodness sake! Ridiculous.

This book is sadly lacking in sparkle and won’t do much to put you in the Christmas mood.

Review of ‘One Of Us is Lying’ by Karen M. McManus

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for the ARC of this book.

This book is a blast! I had so much fun reading it. I was so worried when it started with 5 stereotyped teens entering detention that it would be a dismal, unnecessary retelling of ‘The Breakfast Club’; but then one of the kids dies and immediately I knew I was in safe hands.

It’s a teen murder mystery set in an American high school with really likeable characters and a sweet unbelievable romance. My favourite element was the transformation of the character Addy from clingy girlfriend to independent girl who realises it’s better to be alone that be with a man who won’t let you be yourself.

I guessed two thirds of the solution to the crime but there was one element I didn’t see coming. I really enjoyed the whole book and would love to read more by this author. 

Review of ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

It was Mother’s Day in the UK yesterday. My Mother’s Day treat was to spend the whole day pretending I’m not the mother of a one year old and to snuggle down and read a whole book in one sitting which I haven’t managed to do since I was in the hospital waiting for my daughter to be born.

In honour of this momentous occasion, I picked a book by the same author, Rainbow Rowell, as Ireland in the hospital. Last year it was ‘Attachments’, this time it was ‘Fangirl’. From experience of her writing. I knew it would an easy, light, enjoyable read that I’d be able to get into and through quickly. I also wanted to read it because one of the characters is called Wren, which is my daughter’s name, although it turned out that that character was a bit of a cow.

‘Fangirl’ is the story of twins Cath and Wren, who start university together. They’ve always been close but Wren wants to strike out on her own, leaving the more introverted twin Cath feeling nervous and scared about finding her place at university on her own. Cath is obsessed by a Harry Potter style series for which she writes fan fiction. Gradually she makes friends, falls in love and discovers that real life can be as rewarding as her fantasy world.

I enjoyed this book, particularly the beginning. I’m very introverted so I found Cath very relatable. However, I felt like the story lost a bit of momentum once Wren got a love interest; Levi was a bit too good to be true and I wasn’t really convinced by their relationship. He is so much more mature than Cath, and she is still such a child I found their relationship a bit creepy even though he is always the perfect gentleman. Also, I was disappointed that the character of Nick wasn’t explored more, I found him more interesting than Cath home life drama with her parents.

It’s a sweet book, but not quite as emotionally punchy and gripping as ‘Eleanor and Park’ which is definitely Rowell’s best book so far. I also didn’t really enjoy reading the sections of fan fiction and excerpts from the fantasy series which Cath is obsessed by. They felt a bit like padding and not all that well written. It’s interesting that Rowell’s latest book ‘Carry On’ is set in that world, I’m going to read it but I find it hard to imagine it working very well based on the bits of the story interspersed through this book.

Review of ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’by Jennifer E Smith

imageThanks to NetGalley, Bookbridgr and Headline for the ARC of this book.

‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ follows high school sweethearts Aidan and Clare on their last night before leaving to go to university on opposite coasts of America. They revisit places which have been significant to their relationship as they try to come to a decision about whether to stay together or split up.

I really enjoyed this as a concept for a book. It’s a dilemma which thousands of kids have to go through every year but about which I don’t recall reading before.

I did find that for two teenagers the characters had a little more prescience than I would expect. They understood how unlikely they would be to make it as a couple and the damage they could do to their relationship and their college experience by trying to stay together. I’m not sure teenagers are that thoughtful, I remember starting uni and there were loads of girls who arrived with boyfriends at home and within the first month only one of these couples were still together.

However, I do think the book captures the pain and confusion of this situation perfectly. The staying up all night talking things through is exactly what happens in these situations. I went through something similar with my then boyfriend now husband before leaving to study in America for a year in 1999 and this brought all those memories back.

Overall, I found this a sweet, enjoyable read which benefited from a simple concept and sparse narration.

Review of ‘Apple and Rain’ by Sarah Crossan

Apple and RainThanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the ARC of this book.

This book is marketed as YA fiction, but I think it reads a bit younger. The writing is simple and the storyline is familiar and formulaic. I think you would need to be as young and naive as the lead character Apple not to know exactly how the story is going to pan out,

Apple was abandoned by her mother when she was 2. Her mother turns up ten years later and Apple moves in with her after pining for her all these years, only to discover that she is not everything that Apple had hoped and dreamed.

The book is jam packed with tropes from these sorts of books and films; the disinterested father who has moved on with a new wife, the feckless parent, the surprise sibling, the older crush who is actually a let down, the boy next door love interest,  the inspiring teacher. It’s thoroughly unoriginal and predictable but adequately well written and will probably work for its target audience of 11-12 year old girls who haven’t read or watched this story premise a million times before.