Blogging Resolutions // Spring Update

Today on The Paper Alchemist, I’m checking in with my blogging resolutions for the year!

“…but Arianne,” you whisper, “we didn’t see a post about New Year’s blogging resolutions….”

AHEM. This may be true. But in my defence, I had drafted one! The timing simply didn’t work out, so I’ve decided to up-cycle the post with a spring and autumn check-in, framing my summer check-in with my most anticipated reads of 2018 (you can read that list here, or see how I got on with one of the books from that list, Makiia Lucier’s Isle of Blood and Stone, here!) Without any further ado…

1. Do more interviews. I am rocking this resolution, ngl. Regular interviews were one of the things I felt was lacking on the blog in 2017, but so far in 2018, I’ve interviewed Sophia Bennett, Karen Gregory (as part of the YA Shot blog tour), Jenny McLachlan and Lauren James!

2. Read more five-star books. Having only given one five star review rating (for Jenny McLachlan’s Truly, Wildly, Deeplyso far this year – oops! – it’s clear that I really need to work on this one! But note that I said ‘read’ and not ‘give’ more five stars – I’m not one for too much hype, so this resolution means choosing to spend time on reading for pleasure and picking up books I really think I’ll love, including backlist titles and re-reads.

3. Write more concise reviews. An ongoing battle! I say ‘concise’ as I’m not trying to write ‘short’ reviews, just effective ones. It’s important to me that I’m constantly trying to improve on my blog, and finding the most precise way to articulate my thoughts on a book really appeals to me from a critical standpoint. I’m super pleased with the length of my reviews so far this year – most have been somewhere in between the length of Lauren James’ The Loneliest Girl In The Universe and Sara Barnard’s Goodbye, Perfect – though I’m still always tempted to talk about EVERYTHING I love about a book!

4. Comment more on other blogs. I think I’m doing okay on this one! I’ve definitely upped my blog commenting this spring – it’s good to let other bloggers know when you’ve enjoyed their posts!

5. Come up with at least one original feature. It may seem that this resolution has fallen flat as a pancake, but I actually have two original features in the works! I’ll be trialling both soon.

Did you make any blogging resolutions this year? How have you fared with them? Let me know down in comments!

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I’m Back + Top Ten Books of 2017

Look! It is I, returned to the world of saying effusive things about fictional escapades after an unexpected sojourn! And I come bearing gifts: my favourite books of 2017!

I read so many amazing books last year, it’s been almost impossible to choose favourites – but I have persevered and whittled it down to a top ten. (Some of the best books I read last year were actually ones I caught up on reading many years after they’d originally been published, but in the interests of not being here for three thousand words of flailing, I’ve kept this list to books published in 2017.)

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

I adored this book. I adored it in so many ways I’m just going to point you in the direction of my pre-release review, because it has ALL THE FEELS. “Romantic, expressive, warm and true, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is an irresistible second novel. It is achingly happy. It reminded me what five star books feel like: shiny, sparkling, and memorable.”

The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

While Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers remains my personal favourite of her books, The Explorer is a marvellous addition to her repertoire of historical fiction. Vibrant, accomplished and often clever, The Explorer is a good old-fashioned adventure story. Rundell’s prose is terrifically appealing, and it’s little wonder that this book went on to win the children’s Costa. The writing is by turns clever and challenging, tongue-in-cheek and touching (“Love is so terrifying. It is less like rainbows and butterflies and more like jumping on to the back of a moving dragon”).

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Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

This is Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s best book yet, and hands down the best YA-but-set-at-the-first-months-of-university book out there at the moment. “Told in fast-paced alternate narration, Freshers is a tale of mayhem, mishaps, miscommunication and inexplicable amounts of tea, written with typical Ellen and Ivison aplomb. Messy, outrageous and down-to-earth, it’s full of chaotic charm. A vibrant array of characters populate the pages, and the friendships are particularly brilliant. What’s more, it’s sharp, candid, and outrageously, unashamedly funny.”

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Certainly one of the most talked-about books of the year, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow is a dazzling children’s fantasy début. It spills over with inexplicable and varied magic simply because it can. Because it’s fun. There’s a logic and yet an immense expressiveness to it. There are rooms that redecorate themselves for different occupants; carriages built like nimble metallic spiders; shadows that can wander on their own. Violinists who pickpocket entire audiences while playing; a clock with a sky for its face. Fireblossom trees and mesmerists and snowhounds and a gigantic talking cat.  I’m not yet sure if it’s going to nab a place in literary memory the same way that its go-to comparison, Harry Potter, has, but it’s still an enjoyable series opener.

Girls Can’t Hit by T.S. Easton

This is a 2017 book I wish had been talked about more! Girls Can’t Hit was a surprises of last year’s spring reading for me. Satisfying and clever, this is funny, feel-good, affectionately feminist teen fiction featuring great friendships, marvellous tone and a sporting twist. Easton manages to make you want to keep reading even if the sport in question, boxing, isn’t one you like (as in my case) as it follows teenager Fleur go from reluctant new recruit to unexpectedly empowered young person. I picked up several more of Easton’s books after reading this one.

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White

The only sequel on this list, Now I Rise is the second book in Kiersten White’s genderbent Vlad the Impaler retelling. This is compelling, effective and demanding alternate history with a vicious female lead, increasingly developed characterisation and a rich choice of setting. Much of this book follows Lada’s brother Radu at the siege of Constantinople in the mid-fifteenth century, and I was pleased to see this sequel living up, but appearing distinct, to its predecessor And I Darken. 

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

This is technically an adult book, but I’ll allow it as Schwab’s Darker Shade of Magic series is a great crossover for fans of young adult fantasy looking to read more adult fiction. Schwab’s practical, vivid prose, well-developed lead characters and strong sense of plot make for some memorable storytelling. A Conjuring of Light was a satisfying trilogy finale, but it’s since been announced that she will return to this fictional world with another trilogy, and I, like many fans, am so excited to read it.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

The Names They Gave Us is a considered and highly engaging exploration of the summer one confident but somewhat sheltered teenager’s world is turned upside down surprises and endears at every turn. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, and it’s perhaps not as memorable as some of the other books I read in 2017, but this character-driven contemporary delivers on plot as well as premise. It’s warm and heartfelt, but also serious, thoughtful and, occasionally, heartbreaking.

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Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Bittersweet yet charming, Wing Jones is big-hearted, cinematic, satisfyingly driven YA. It has a top-notch, surprisingly swoony romance and vivid running scenes as embattled biracial teenager Wing takes to the track in 1990s Atlanta. Rather like a runner finding their form, when the book hits its stride, it simply glides.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

A hefty, mesmerising tome of a fantasy novel, Strange the Dreamer is the first in a duology full of things to like: librarians, desert quests, mythical cities, some flashes of wit and description, and… odd blue-skinned alien-demigod beings…? It is perhaps a little unnecessarily long, but it’s the first Laini Taylor book I’ve really enjoyed, and I’ll be reading the sequel.

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BONUS ROUND: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman*

Oh, you knew it was coming. Philip Pullman’s long-awaited return to Lyra’s Oxford via the Book of Dust finally began last year (the rumour mill was such that it had actually been one of my most anticipated books of 2016 before publication was confirmed). This dramatic, often dark tale is balanced by an endearing protagonist in the shape of Macolm Polstead. And of course, The Secret Commonwealth, in which Lyra will go from baby to young adult, is slated for this year, so we get even more daemons and alethiometers and chases and unnecessary literariness and DAEMONS.

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What did you think of these 2017 releases? What were your favourite books of 2017?

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Re-imagining Books As… Podcasts!

Today on The Paper Alchemist, I’m looking at some books (mostly YA) that would make amazing podcasts  (and describing them in detail, because of course. WE NEED THE JUICY DETAILS. Alternatively, feel free to see them as radio plays. I get very into this).

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the_loneliest_girlThe Loneliest Girl In The Universe by Lauren James

Commander Romy Silvers is the loneliest girl in the universe: the only crewmember of the spaceship Infinity, travelling to a distant planet on a mission to establish a new colony, Earth II. Then she learns that a new ship, The Eternity, has been launched and will join her – and on it is a single passenger named J. Their messages take months to transfer across the vast expanse of space, but Romy holds on to the hope that when J arrives, everything will be different. If she can keep her increasingly eerie ship running that long… 

This is such an obvious candidate for a podcast adaptation! A single viewpoint character, an ear-catching premise, a distinct setting, a twisty plot, escalating narrative tension, ominous thriller overtones. It’s a relatively compact book, so a well-planned series of 17-22 minute episodes would keep it short and sharp. It could be in the form of Romy’s captain’s or ship’s log, with sections of her fanfic for the fictional TV show Loch & Ness used to break up segments. Throw in some suitably sci-fi background noises and occasional guest voice actors to vary the sonic landscape, and you’d have a super-cool narrative podcast. It’d probably be totally creepy, but some of the most talked-about podcasts are dark or mysterious (*coughs* Welcome to Night Vale).

Side note: I’ve talked extensively about how much I like The Next Together (time travel! Epistolary additions! “Said the actress to the bishop”! Hot Tom!) and The Last Beginning (More time travel! LGBT lady protagonists! Hot DILF Tom!!). While either could work as a podcast, albeit quite a complex and busy one given the multiple time periods, from a more straightforward stylistic standpoint The Loneliest Girl In The Universe unfortunately fits the medium better. Also I SUPPOSE one can’t put the Finchley-Galloway-Sutcliffes (unless there is a collective noun for an extended family of rule-breaking gay time travellers that will have to be their name okay I don’t make the rules) in every feature. In the meantime though you can read more about them here, or here, or here…

30370281Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

The messiest choice on this list by far! I reviewed Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s third book Freshers before it released earlier this year (you can read the review here) and it was amazing – clever, vibrant, outrageous, incredibly funny. I’d definitely read a sequel, or in the absence of one, listen to a podcast adaptation.

The Freshers podcast could be framed as a university radio show, ostensibly hosted by one of the more sensible characters like Josh or someone totally outgoing and eclectic like Frankie (ohmygod, imagine her music choices) but actually hijacked by the entire friend group. It would include lots of chat, campus news, a slot for the Quidditch society, and salubrious amounts of gossip. Negin would be the deadpan, sarcastic one, speaking only when it’s effective. Rita would put in disclaimers to stop them being sued for libel, but be an unsurprisingly good contributor. Bowl-Cut Mary would wish she’d thought of it first and try to get on this wildly popular campus radio show (really, the first cool thing they’ve had on in years). 25-minute podcast episodes would cut in and out of the much longer in-world radio show (fading back in after ‘songs’ etc.), with some choice backstage scenes of plot where, most importantly, Josh and Phoebe finally talk about their OBVIOUS feelings!! There’d be lots of tea and laughter and quickfire dialogue and general awesomeness.

17199504The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

I’d like to see more fantasy podcasts given a chance! I’ve chosen Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season because it’s alternate timeline SFF, with some recognisable elements – the London setting, the general concept of clairvoyance – rather than high or epic fantasy, which might need more of a leap on the part of listeners. There was supposed to be a movie of this series but I haven’t heard anything about it in ages, so maybe a podcast would be a more successful medium! Episodes would be twenty minutes to half an hour, with that slightly mysterious, unsettling feel and evocative background soundscapes, like crowds or echoing tunnels. It would, of course, feature members of SciLo’s unnatural population, and would be as much about the more interesting elements of its world as about plot. Side characters might take take more prominence – one might even helm it (is there an order of clairvoyant to do purely with sound?) – than they do in the series, which is told almost exclusively from Paige Mahoney’s perspective. Think stories from or about London’s spirits, its different types of clairvoyants, its shadiest corners and ongoing rivalries – and every now and then, a hint at the shifting allegiances and events of the ongoing books.

The idea of a podcast or radio show in SciLo is also quite subversive – it’d be an insight into stories or an underworld the reader or listener knows is forbidden in the world of the books. And, oh wow, I’ve just realised if he thought he could get away with it, Jaxon Hall would absolutely showboat his way into a radio show like this. Like Potterwatch, only completely insufferable. Well, isn’t that delightful.

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The Spinster Club
trilogy by Holly Bourne
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Rather than just a book-to-podcast adaptation taking listeners from reworked versions of Am I Normal Yet? and its sequels, what strikes me as interesting podcast material here is the post-series years. Evie, Amber and Lottie, still frustrated with not seeing each other much several months after the events of And A Happy New Year? decide to make a commitment to record a friendship-and-feminism podcast every month so they have an inescapable excuse to hang out. Plot progression mostly involves behind-the-scenes moments, updates on who’s dating and who’s hating, Lottie’s political ascension and the steady exploration of the girls’ lives as twenty-somethings.

Lottie is the moderator and leader with the schedule and microphones, Evie is the researcher and referee, and Amber is the riotous one who inadvertently gets quoted in all the soundbytes. A shaky start devolves into lots of laughter, cheesy wotsits and Amber yelling about taking down the patriarchy while accidentally snorting her drink out of her nose. There are regular features such as ‘Feminist Ladies We Love’, ‘An American Boyfriend Chips In Where He’s Not Wanted; or, The Token Bloke’ and eventually ‘Agony Aunties (And Other Annoying Relatives)’ in which they attempt to give advice in response to a chosen listener letter, deferring to areas of expertise or experience or, sometimes hilariously, trying to tag-team an answer. Episodes are fifty minutes to an hour depending on how many times someone falls (or gets pushed) off their chair howling.

This is just me describing the perfect podcast now, isn’t it. TL;DR: SOMEONE MAKE THIS PLEASE I NEED MORE SPINSTER CLUB IN MY LIFE.

Would you like to see YA books turned into podcasts? What books would you pick? Do you have any podcast recommendations? Leave a comment down below!

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YA I’d Like To See: Irish YA Edition (with bonus gifs!)

Today on the blog, I talk the kind of books I’d like to see from Irish YA! If you’re looking for recommendations from the existing selection, I have just the post from earlier this year. You may also have seen my ‘YA I’d  Like To See: Historical Fiction’ post last autumn, but if not, you can check it out here.

If Ireland has a YA ‘scene’ (that is, consistent new releases and a recognisable sense of community among readers) it’s relatively new – some estimates might even frame it as a twenty-first century phenomenon, though teen fiction for Irish teenagers has been around longer. Either way Irish YA is still in its early years: there are milestones it hasn’t reached, genres it hasn’t mastered, breakthroughs it hasn’t awoken to yet. This can be frustrating when you’re faced with a shelf full of books you’ve already thumbed through (seriously, I pity anyone who’s reading schedule depends on Irish YA alone, ’cause it would be SPARSE), but it does leave room for potential. So what would I like to see from Irish YA? Well…

First up: badass teen girl characters. Badass female characters are a high priority in all of my books-I-want-to-see posts. YA is a medium where teen girl characters, like real teen girls, can be as complex, active, flawed, fully-rounded people. As the same can’t be said for other types of media, the least YA can do is strive to provide a space where the interests of enthusiastic, smart, varied teen girls are valued and celebrated.

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More inclusive contemporaries. Contemporary is one of Irish YA’s go-to genres, but it would be cool  to see it include more diversity of perspective and experience! This could be incidental – where a character happens to be black, for example, because black people exist too, to paraphrase Amandla Stenberg – or more central to the plot – as with Peadar O’Guilín’s The Call, which is a horror novel but whose protagonist Nessa is both kickass and a disabled survivor of polio. Books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon and When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon have rocketed through the blogosphere (and the NYT bestseller list). Books by UKYA BAME authors (try saying that ten times fast) have been all over awards like the YA Book Prize, the Costa and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Irish publishers might be missing a trick here.

Slick, cinematic genre additions. I’m talking out-there, eye-catching concepts. Catherine Doyle’s dark, action packed Mafia trilogy, full of feuds, fisticuffs and forbidden love is a memorable example, and it even busts some of the stereotypes it embraces. Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl remains a brilliant, wise-cracking sci-fi fantasy. Bombastic, confident genre pieces are a mainstay of MG – why not YA, too?

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Contemporary travel. YA where teens travel, explore, live abroad or look for a summer fling has had enduring appeal, not least in Stephanie Perkins’ near-perfect Anna and the French Kiss. It can be totally cheesy, but even Irish YA taking on a more international vibe – including challenges, obstacles, homesickness – would be awesome.

Books with a stylistic twist. Verse novels, non-linear narration, interesting typography, mixed epistolary formats with texts and emails and postcards and illustrations. Meg Grehan’s verse novel The Space Between is a good example of this in recent Irish YA, while Deirdre Sullivan’s collection of dark feminist fairytales Tangleweed and Brine is also one to keep an eye on. I WANT MORE OF THEM.

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Magic. Okay, so this has been done before. But there are so many possibilities with magical realism, mythology, portal fantasy, fairies, witchiness – whether that’s Irish-set or with expanded horizons. It’s a difficult genre to pull off, but when it’s good it’s fabul- oh, screw it, this is just me asking for more Moïra Fowley-Doyle books, isn’t it?

More complicated, fandom-worthy high fantasy. Fantasy is one of YA’s shining achievements. So many recent fantasy titles have been huge hits – Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Wrath and the Dawn by Reneé Ahdieh, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, I could go on – and I’d love to see a fresh Irish-penned series up there with the best of them. I want to fangirl over plot twists and eagerly await new installments! I want to overuse capslock in reviews and get invested in fandom theories! I want to be this gif of Joey from FRIENDS about it, basically.

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Less… I’m usually hesitant to include ‘less of’ in posts like this, because I’m a firm believer in trying to expand, rather than narrow, the vocal range of YA. But I will say that less historical fiction and less dystopia would be great, as Irish historical fiction is quite oversaturated (and dare I say it, predictable) while dystopia as a trend just doesn’t appeal to teens anymore. If you want readers to sit up and take notice, you have to be bringing something brilliant or new to the table.

Better covers. I struggle to think of an Irish teen fiction cover that’s really blown me away of late. The Space Between comes close, or maybe Sarah Crossan’s books, but still. Covers make or break a book, you guys, and there’s nothing worse than an underwhelming one. Bright colours, polished graphic design, striking typography, illustrations that make you do a double take – they’re SO important, I actually wrote an entire post about it. Irish YA needs to step up its game here.

MORE HAPPINESS. As much as I do my best to support and talk about it, the tone of Irish YA can be a bit of a miseryfest? I think it’s because seriousness sells – it’s literary, it’s what publishers are familiar with, it’s award-worthy, it comes with a handy list of default adjectives like ‘shocking’ and ‘important’. But it does a disservice to teens and readers, because we also deserve books that are optimistic and relevant and complicated. The teenagers I know are – hold onto your hats – complex, funny, messy, capable, proactive, ridiculous, even, dare I say it, occasionally happy. What’s more, it’s really tricky to write books which are warm or hopeful and heartbreaking and thematic (see Jandy Nelson, Sara Barnard, Clare Furniss, David Levithan, Emery Lord, Lisa Williamson), and perhaps even harder to write books which are laugh-out-loud funny. I’d like to see Irish YA challenging itself to bringing a little more light to teenage books.

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What about you? What are your favourite books by Irish authors? What would you like to see more of in YA?

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book tag // Smashing and Dashing Character Awards

Well hello there! Following several weeks in which ALL OF THE BOOKS WERE RELEASED (ALL OF THEM), I’ve decided on a quick, fun post for today in the shape of the Smashing and Dashing Character Awards book tag (you can tell it was created by Cait at Paper Fury just by the title). It’s based mostly on books I’ve read in the last twelve months, with a few surprises here and there.

1. MOST RELATABLE CHARACTER
Kell from V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic saga. Great taste in coats, likes shiny things, just wants A Break

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2. MOST PURE AND PRECIOUS ANIMAL COMPANION
Rita from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. Loyal, sleepy and suitably miffed when her owner hangs around with other dogs. (And there are multiple dogs in this book.)

3. FIERCEST FIGHTER
I’m taking this literally for a simpler answer, so Amani from Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, though most of Sarah J. Maas’ characters are up there too.

4. MOST AMAZING SIDEKICK
I’ve just now realized I don’t really read books with sidekicks in…?! I suppose I prefer more equal dynamics? And find books in genres where a sidekick would be traditionally likely – superhero stories, sci-fi – have to be amazing to stick with me. In recent reads, the lion and dragon in Katherine Webber’s Wing Jones spring to mind.

5. ONE YOU’RE SURPRISED YOU LOVED
Dean from Unboxed by Non Pratt. We have been reliably informed that Dean is essentially Unboxed’s equivalent to Wolfgang from Sense8, and yet here we all are. WHY DOES ANYONE LOVE DEAN?! WHY DO I?? I’m so confused.

6. BEST SASSMASTERlbtu4

Sunny from London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning. Sunny isn’t the most obviously sassy of people, but her narration is filled with sarcasm and humour (you can read more about her in my review here!).

7. BEST ANTI-HERO AND MORALLY GREY GRAPE

Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. Everyone’s favourite anti-hero/villain with excellent cheekbone structure.

8. BEST WORST VILLAIN TO HATE
I was really surprised by how well-written the villain in Timekeeper by Tara Sim was.

9. TRULY ASTOUNDING WORST YA PARENTS
The parents from Cuckoo by Keren David. THE WORST. So terrible in fact, that I won’t even waste word-count on them (but I did review the book here).

10. TRULY ASTOUNDING BEST YA PARENTS

Tom and Jen from The Last Beginning by Lauren James. Okay, so thankfully I have been reading more YA with positive parental relationships recently (which makes a change from the usual, you know, blasé attitude to keeping on eye on whether your children are out SAVING THE WORLD or something) so this one had a few contenders. I’ve chosen ex-hacker Tom and bisexual scientist Jen because they’re very present parents for adopted daughter Clove. Oh, and there’s an alternate universe where Tom is still hot as ever but is also an underground rebel with a motorbike.

11. TOOT TOOT BEST SHIP OF THEM ALL
Amber and Kyle from How Hard Can Love Be? or Steffi and Rhys from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard because I, an epic fantasy fan, ship them more than most contemporaries usually inspire me to! (For said epic fantasy ship, see the deliciously angst-ridden Elide/Lorcan storyline in Empire of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas.)

12. THE MOST IN NEED OF PROTECTION
Jonah from When We Collided by Emery Lord. Poor Jonah. He is so busy and tired and just needs a hug.

13. MOST BORING AS A BARNACLE
Etta and Nathaniel from Passenger by Alexandra Bracken. I tried so hard to get into this book but three-quarters of the way it was still SO BORING. The pace dragged and the characters are so bland??

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14. BEST LITTLE ROYAL
If we’re talking contemporary royals, then Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries: Royal Wedding, or if we’re talking high fantasy, Elide from Empire of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas, who yes okay is more aristocracy than royal in a world full of royals, but SHE IS PRECIOUS AND I LOVE HER.

15. VERY SURPRISED YOU’RE STILL ALIVE
Everyone in Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy. Honestly, how this woman can bear to leave even one or two characters alive for her fans. THERE’S A REASON SHE HAS TO HAVE A NEW CAST IN EVERY BOOK, Y’ALL.

16. BEST AT HORRIBLE DECISION MAKING
Maya from The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. This book…is full of so many bad (and badly explained) decisions??

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17. CUTEST DORK
Matt from The Next Together/The Last Beginning by Lauren James. Matt is such a dork and it is adorable. At one point he wanted to be a farmer. Swept off his feet by exuberant scientist girlfriend/wife/reincarnated soulmate (it’s complicated) Kate, their romance is one of humour, respect, warmth and science shenanigans.

18. CLEVEREST LITTLE HELLION

Lada from And I Darken by Kiersten White. Lada is pure wrath, but she’s smart with it – a keen strategist and ruthless 15th-century leader.

19. MOST IN NEED OF A NAP
Kell from A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. Just Let Him Rest.

20. WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT YOU
Meg from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard (can you tell I love this book y/y). Friendly, vivacious, spirited Meg Callifryn makes far too few appearances in this contemporary standalone. I DEMAND A SPIN-OFF.

Feel free to consider yourself tagged if you so wish!

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What’s this? YA recommendations for fans of Gilmore Girls?! YAAAAS

Today on the blog, we’re talking three of my favourite things: YA, great TV, and awesome lady characters. With just a few weeks to go until everyone’s favourite fictional mother-daughter besties Lorelai and Rory are reunited in Stars Hollow via Netflix, I thought I’d share a few reads to fill the Gilmore Girls-shaped hole in your life while you await the series’ return…

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7182579Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

In the inimitable Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, academically ambitious teenager Auden works her way into our hearts as her usual composure begins to crumble under the combined pressure of big dreams, family relationships – there’s her force-of-nature single mother, an unexpected visit to her father, a stepmother she’s determined not to like and to top it all off her newborn half sister, Thisbe – and an unexpected break-up. Throw in a small close-knit town, the uncertainty of changing friendships and the possibility of romance, and this book makes for a classic contemporary with more than a touch of Gilmore Girls to it. Ooh, now even I’m feeling ike I need a re-read…

256003Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

Simple, straightforward and often heartbreaking, Life on the Refrigerator Door is the story of a mother-relationship told entirely through post-it notes and letters left on, you guessed it, their refrigerator door. It doesn’t have as much of an ensemble cast feel but catches you right from the start as a character study. The epistolary format makes for quick reading – ideal for slipping in when you’re short of time (or in the final few days before binge-watching, as the case may be). You may want to make sure you have tissues on hand first, though, as this one’s quite (read: very) bittersweet.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

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A fairly recent release (so new, in fact, that you can read my review here), The Unexpected Everything is big on friendships and on heroine Andie’s struggle to rediscover the warmth and closeness she once had with her now-distant politician single father. Focused, independent Andie has been on a path to med school for most of her life, but a summer full of surprises – including the last-minute offer of a dog walking job and running into sweet, bookish Clark – leads her to wonder what she really wants from life. In a list replete with beachside contemporaries, you may be pleased to note that with The Unexpected Everything there’s not a beach in sight: just a strictly-landlocked town full of familiar hangouts, friendship dramas, and some very endearing (if overly enthusiastic) dogs.

25663637When We Collided by Emery Lord

Emery Lord’s exuberant When We Collided is a book about family, fierce love and good food, set in a small beach town where teenager Vivi, recently arrived alongside her artist mother, meets local boy Jonah, who is struggling to balance running his parents’ restaurant and looking after his younger siblings with, well, actually getting the chance to be a teenager. It’s full of delicious details and there’s also exploration of themes like mental illness (which is rarely depicted so carefully or complexly on television) and how love – and help – can come from unexpected places.

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17307145Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

For a book more evocative of a Stars Hollow winter, Tamara Ireland Stone’s Time Between Us, with its snowy Chicago backdrop and cosy bookshop setting, should do the trick It’s a little older than some of the other titles on this list, but not much, and it’s still worth reading.  It’s led by a teenager who has a solid relationship with their family, and if you’re looking for a twist on the contemporary offerings elsewhere in this list, there’s the minor complication of the romance being influenced by, er, time travel to keep you entertained.

13625734This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Cheerful, captivating and easy to enjoy, Jennifer E. Smith brings a rich but straightforward style to this love story between Ellie, a girl who has spent most of her life in a small town and Graham, the boy whose accidental email sparked a friendship which has become so much more for both of them. There’s just one problem: he’s a teenage heartthrob, an actor surrounded by everyone except the one person he longs to see. Meanwhile, the knowledge that Ellie’s famous father is in no hurry to let the press or his family remember the scandalous affair which left her mother heartbroken has given her aversion to the limelight. Ellie’s close bond with her mom, affection for her hometown and dreams of being a writer give the book a splendidly Gilmore Girls feel.

And there you have it: six books to get you through the weeks until Lorelai and Rory’s return. Are any of these books among your favourites? Do you have any recommendations that fit the bill? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!

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LOYALTY, LOVE AND LAUGHTER: favourite female friendships in YA

Gasp! What is this I see before me?! A discussion post, you say? And it’s time to talk about FEMALE FRIENDSHIPS?! Yay!

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I love YA about positive female friendships. I’m a fan of romance and adventures and time travel and historical fiction and all those great things too, but books that do justice to friendship stand out – and what better way to celebrate than by talking about a few of my favourites?

21472663Kaz and Ruby from Remix by Non Pratt

I adore this book. It’s fast, fizzy and fierce, full of music and boy drama and festival shenanigans. But mostly, it’s full of the fantastic friendship between best mates Kaz and Ruby. They have their ups and downs but they love each other, and what’s more, they’re brilliantly funny. Genuine, positive, messy teen friendship is extraordinary. It’s laughter and affection and mistakes and support and as much silliness as seriousness, and Remix comes closest, perhaps of any YA I’ve read, to showing how heartfelt and laugh-out-loud ridiculous it can be. (It helps that the rest of the book is magnificent, too. Definitely worth reading.)

Christina and Elizabeth from Feeling Sorry For Celia/Emily, Cass and Lydia from The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

I couldn’t pick just one friendship here! These books are so underrated. There are some great friendships in Jaclyn Moriarty’s Ashbury/Brookfield novels, particularly in Feeling Sorry for Celia, which shows teenager Elizabeth dealing with the fallout from the actions of her unreliable best friend and unexpectedly finding a healthier, more equal dynamic thanks a school pen pal assignment.

By the time Emily, Cass and Lydia – close friends facing the pressure of exams, personal dramas and the legacy of the mysterious Ashbury-Brookfield Pen Pal Project, in which they like students before them are required to write letters to students at a local school reputed to be a haven for criminals, biker gangs, drop-outs etc – take the helm, the series has totally won you over. Told in epistolary format, whether that’s letters, emails, diaries, notes, exam answers, vandalised school noticeboards or the titular secret assignments, Moriarty gives a fantastically immediate voice to her characters and to the trials and tribulations of teen friendship. The Year of Secret Assignments (also known as Finding Cassie Crazy) is perhaps the quirkiest (and only occasionally the most ludicrous) of a loosely-connected quartet, showcasing a friendship bound by loyalty and written with entirely self-aware humour.

25437747Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne from Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

A love story without a romance, Beautiful Broken Things is a heartwarming, heartbreaking début with female friendship explored on every page,  first with the long-established best friendship of Caddy and Rosie, and then with the added complication of newcomer Suzanne as she arrives in blustery, beachy Brighton. But you probably know that, since this is another one I find myself recommending over and over again. It may be one of the best books not just featuring but about teen girl friendship released this year. I liked the book so much I actually reviewed it twice, which you can check out here and here. The book sees friendship really being put to the test (with time for baking macarons and midnight escapades in between, natch) but while their mistakes and actions have consequences, Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne care about each other. It’s a great example of platonic relationships which can be just as compelling as romantic ones when done well in fiction.

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Nonie, Edie, Jenny and Crow from Threads by Sophia Bennett

Sophia Bennett’s gloriously lively first book won the Times/Chicken House competition – and it did it with a story about teen girls and the friendship which sees them feeling like they can take on the world, whether that’s by using their talents for fashion (Nonie, Crow), by stepping into the sometimes overwhelming world of acting (Jenny) or by fostering ambitions to save the planet (Edie). And against a backdrop of books which appear to echo messages to teen girls that they should put up with toxic friendships or struggle in the social minefield of teenager-hood without anyone they can trust or depend on, the straightforward but sincere friendship in books like Threads is important. This being YA, things don’t always go smoothly for them, but it’s tremendously fun; light as a Victoria sponge and flowing in talkative, jam-packed style.

Evie, Lottie and Amber from The Spinster Club trilogy by Holly Bourne

I know, I know, I wax lyrical about Am I Normal Yet? and its sequels all the time. But they’re just so good! Here, Holly Bourne takes on airbrushed ideas of female friendship and replaces them with something far more real: a deep, garrulous, comical bond between three girls who boost each other up and help each other when they’re dow29740718n. Lottie, Amber and Evie celebrate each other’s successes, no matter how small, and can talk about things like mental health, relationships and feminism with confidence, knowing their girls have got their back.

I’ve read too many books where female friendships are disingenuous or lacking in depth; books where teenagers passed off as friends essentially don’t even like each other. This trilogy shines a stark light on YA novels past with flimsy loyalties and poorly-drawn female characters. This trio’s well-written, good-natured friendship is a reminder to other YA (and to readers) that if a relationship is filled with copious amounts of competition, envy and cattiness – often influenced by a misogynistic culture that can’t seem to wrap its head around the fact that women might actually like and rely on each other in ways which can’t be summed up in conversations entirely centred on their latest conquests – then it is not a friendship. Evie, Lottie and Amber really set the bar high for female friendship in future UKYA. There’s a Spinster Club novella being released later this year, too!

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So there you have it: five of the most fabulous female friendships in young adult fiction. Do any of your favourite characters appear on this list? Are there any books about YA friendship you just can’t help but recommend?

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