a pair of reviews // even more magical realism

22317526Author(s): Cathryn Constable
Publisher:
 Chicken House Books
Publication date: 5 January 2017
Category: children’s
Genre(s): magical realism
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: ARC
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

When Livy is accepted at Temple College – a school for the very brightest, and the oldest in London – no one is more surprised than she is. Though she’s always felt different, she doesn’t seem to quite fit in at Temple College, either.

Recently, Livy has become more and more drawn to the roof of the school, climbing fearlessly among its towering stone angels, where she can be alone, and has the strangest desire to fly. But her behaviour has been noticed by others, for whom the ability to defy gravity is magic which could be a possible reality… and involves a secret they’ll do anything to discover.

Five years after the release of her much-lauded children’s fiction début The Wolf Princess, Cathryn Constable follows up with a novel full of things to like: mysterious adventures, crumbling but atmospheric old buildings, hints of potions, concoctions and alchemy, tantalising tendrils of magic. Plain, uncomplicated prose accommodates moments of wonder and almost lyrical description – and perhaps could have accommodated a little more of it – in a story which unfolds like the ripple of billowing fabric in the wind.

Thrust into a school where stone Sentinels perch on the roof and the history of its founder seems to lurk wherever she goes, Livy is struggling to fit in and deal with the loss of her childhood best friend. The timelessness of traditional school stories, embodied here by the centuries-old Temple College with its stiff uniforms, stained glass windows and soaring towers, is tempered by the occasional nod to modernity and, more successfully, the presence of Livy’s family, especially little brother Tom. Constable’s skill works best when displaying Livy’s explorations, Tom’s boundless energy and one of the mysterious relics of Temple College’s eerie past.

Constable tackles some fairly serious themes in the book, but unfortunately there’s not quite enough time spent on the most pressing of them to say they’ve been adequately explored. As ever with novels aimed solidly in the middle of the children’s fiction section, the characters aren’t exactly realistic (including the secondary cast of children themselves), but then that’s not the point. I’d recommend Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers more readily, but there are plenty of discoveries, secrets and flights of fancy to fill the adventure.

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Fans of Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Girl of Ink and Stars will find atmospheric though not ground-breaking fare with Cathryn Constable’s The White Tower. Straightforward and, at its best, suitably elegant. 

33782743Author(s): Nigel McDowell
Publisher:
 Hot Key Books
Publication date: 9 March 2017
Category: children’s
Genre(s): magical realism, historical fiction
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: ARC
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Luke Mountfathom is the son of Lord and Lady Mountfathom, keepers of a great House where the wrong door could take you to a far away land and strange animals appear to stalk the grounds at midnight. The house is his home – but it is also the headquarters of the Driochta, a magic-weaving group of poets, artists, politicians and activists charged with keeping the peace across the land. They have many powers – have mastered Mirror-Predicting and Smoke-Summoning and Storm-Breaching – and a final ability: that of Mogrifying; taking on a unique animal form.

But Luke’s idyllic existence at Mountfathom appears in danger. Word reaches them of a people with a wish for independence, a rising discontent and scenes of violence that even the Driochta cannot control. But what seems like a  quest for freedom involves a greater darkness than the rebels can know – and it draws Luke’s irretrievably into the fight. And when things quickly spin out of control for the Driochta, it is up to Luke, his cat Morrigan and his best friend Killian to worm out the heart of the evil in their land. 

For fans of Debi Gliori, Dave Rudden and Moira Fowley-Doyle, The House of Mountfathom is as eclectic as such a multifarious description would suggest: its melting pot of magical realism, historical fiction and action adventure is close to boiling over, it’s so stuffed. It’s got spells, shapeshifters, soldiers, servants, poets, priceless treasures, tradition, rebellion, wallpaper that comes alive, orchards, inexplicable powers, political tensions, class struggle, and room upon room of strange and wondrous workings. All that’s missing is the kitchen sink, and even then I’m sure Mountfathom has one somewhere.

The novel is populated by a vast array of characters, naturally named things like Findlater and Vane-Temple, theirs is an eccentricity in keeping with the most bizarre elements of the world concocted around them. The book never lingers too long on any of them which leaves some a little flat – the most interesting, like Lord and Lady Mountfathom, seem like they have oodles more to add than Luke’s viewpoint allows for. By far the most striking feature of the book, however, is the writing style. Its distinctive, choppy prose is forceful but evocative: jewel-like visuals and precise metaphors lurk in lopped off sentences and juddering lists. This may wear a little thin after fifty pages or so and a rather confusing narrative will occasionally not so much challenge readers as baffle them – more focused description and fewer jumpy paragraphs would give the storytelling a necessary steadying – but the story is strong.

The addition of historical fiction has some mixed results: on the one hand it’s a unique and bold decision, but on the other it can be a little jarring when the transition doesn’t quite work. However, this unusually complex pursuit of the genre – for example the fact that the Mountfathoms are aristocracy occupying a complicated position in historical events – is emblematic of an ability, aided by flashes of humour and lightning-quick points of reference, to appeal to an audience of children and adults alike.

The final novel by late writer Nigel McDowell, The House of Mountfathom’s shines best in its playful use of magic and wonder. It deploys magic spells and creations with reckless abandon. The impossible lopes about the House and its rolling grounds with the self-assured freedom of pure childlike imagination. There are streaks of dark to the book’s villains and themes, but it’s the fantastic and strange that the young fan will re-read this book for.

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An inventive and sometimes dark caper told in playful, idiosyncratic language, The House of Mountfathom is a vivid children’s novel, overflowing with magic and the fantastic. Pacy and chaotic, its meld of magical-realism-historical-adventure can seem a little overbusy, but has moments of real punch. 

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Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle // a fitting finale for a tale of feuds, fisticuffs and forbidden love

Author: Catherine Doyle25059637
Publisher:
 Chicken House
Publication date: 5 January 2017
Category: YA
Genre(s): contemporary, crime
Series or standalone?: series (#3)
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

A dangerous feud rages on the streets of Chicago.

Protected by an infamous mafia family, Sophie is living a lie, pretending to lead a normal life while shadowed by the threat of violence and retribution. But the deceit can’t last for ever. Her heart belongs to someone she can’t have and her past makes her the prime target of a rival family. Dragged into the criminal underworld, there’s a part of her that wants revenge, but is she willing to pay the price – can she really be a mafiosa?

The highly anticipated conclusion to Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series comes complete with a gorgeous cover, an action-packed plot and plenty of drama. Caught in a blood war she never asked for, Sophie finds herself trapped in a bitter rivalry with deadly consequences. Betrayal can come from unexpected places, and she must be on her guard if she wants to last long in the brutal criminal world which has claimed her as its own. After the shocking events of Vendetta and Inferno, the stakes for Sophie are higher and riskier than ever.

Dark, edgy and sensational, the is a finale readers will love. It’s pacy, full of plot and even throws up some last-minute shocks and surprises. The twists – one of which I did guess way back during book two – really keep you reading and I sped through it. This is contemporary-crime-romance-thriller all rolled into one: it’s got a touch of Gabrielle Zevin’s ice-cool All These Things I’ve Done and a shade of V.E. Schwab’s bloodthirsty This Savage Song,  but there really is nothing else like it on the UKYA shelf. I’d recommend a trigger or content warning for this finale as the violent Falcone-Marino blood feud threatens to lay waste to Chicago’s innocent and guilty alike, but if you have the stomach for it, the pacing and tension are undoubtedly gripping.

The Falcone boys are back, of course, and with a rival Mafia clan baying for blood, tensions are high in the household. All five of them get ample time on the page, but their family obligations are never far away. Nic sees Sophie as the mafiosa she could be: ruthless, furious, out for vengeance. Luca longs for a life free of feuds and bloodshed, where he and Sophie might stand a chance at a future. There is crowd-pleasing forbidden romance here and there’s a particular scene of stargazing fans are sure to lap up, though in a series which takes realism with a pinch of salt from the outset, it’s occasionally a little stylised. It’s in the pursuit of clearer character that Doyle really makes her mark; in these moments of clarity – whether it’s with poetry, one-on-one conversation, much-needed light relief, realizations of what characters are or are not capable of – improvements in writing style show.

The breakout star of Mafiosa for me, however, was Sophie’s light-hearted, deeply loyal best friend Millie. It’s been said that Blood for Blood would make for ideal Netflix Original series material, and I have to agree – it’s thrilling, dramatic, and super stylish – but the friendship between Millie and Sophie may be my favourite part of Mafiosa. After two books where their friendship was prominent but sometimes flat, it finally, feels natural: their dialogue is funny, silly and serious, their bond warm and strong, their love story in some ways more important than any other in the trilogy.

And the ending? Oh wow, the ending. It is a fitting finale. This is a spoiler-free zone, but I will say it’s the kind that will have you glancing at the dwindling page count, wondering how on earth Doyle’s going to get the characters out of this one…

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Dark, dangerous and twisted, there’s a sense of fervour to Catherine Doyle’s Mafiosa: full of ferocious feuds, fistfights, masquerade balls, murder, chases, poetry, sweeping romance, murder, inauspiciously interrupted kisses, climactic showdowns and more murder, this finale brings to a dramatic end one of the most unusual series in recent YA.  I’m intrigued to see what Doyle writes next. 

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a pair of reviews // Vendetta and Inferno by Catherine Doyle

As some of you may know, Catherine Doyle’s Mafiosa (the final book in her Blood for Blood trilogy) comes out VERY SOON, so I thought I’d do a quick recap-review of Vendetta and Inferno before reviewing the finale! Both of these are adapted from my pre-release reviews, which you can read here. Enjoy!

24638201Vendetta by Catherine Doyle
Publisher:
Chicken House Books
Publication date: January 1st 2015
Genre:  
contemporary, crime
Category:
YA

When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself drawn into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. But with a fierce rivalry raging between two warring crime families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

Thrilling, explosive and dangerous, Vendetta is young adult fiction’s answer to The Godfather. Its pastel cover design may have you thinking this is just another love story, but Vendetta is complex, brutal even, with a plot that twists and turns like a skater on an ice rink. Throw in a mystery and a forbidden romance, and it’s no wonder Catherine Doyle is being hailed as an original new voice in teen fiction.

The writing in the book is seriously good. It’s super stylish: detailed yet straightforward, illustrative yet practical. It catches your attention but more importantly, it holds your attention. I saw some of the twists coming, but the adventure itself is undeniably addictive. If you can stick with the early chapters, you’re in for a real treat. Vendetta is just the injection of adrenaline recent UKYA needed.

Set on the outskirts of Chicago, it feels American without becoming overbearing. It pays homage to iconic gangster movies of the 20th century, but make no mistake, it has its feet firmly planted in the present day. The characters at the core of the story, Sophie and Nic, are incredibly human, and it keeps you reading. Sophie is a narrator I can see a lot of readers identifying with, while of Nic’s four brothers, Luca seems already to have won hearts and left fans swooning. Sophie’s best friend Millie is also tremendous fun, but even more than that, she feels real. All too often best friends in YA are flat or forced to fit tropes, but I can’t wait to see more of her in the later books.

However, it would be wrong to say Vendetta features the most realistic of romances, as most people would (and should!) run a mile the second they realize their potential suitor was actually a member of one of the most notorious Mafia dynasties on the block — and that’s not even starting on the link between horrors of Sophie’s past and that of the Falcones, either. When I say there’s brutality in this book, I mean there is a lot of brutality in this book. Bloodshed for the Falcone brothers is not only normal, but compulsory, and unfortunately, heroine Sophie is not immune to the danger of that reality. I don’t usually advocate age ratings on books, but I’d probably recommend this one for readers aged 14+.

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If you’re searching for a début that doesn’t hold back, look no further than this explosive tale of forbidden love, thrilling danger and Italians swearing great storytelling. Fiercely original, page-turning and well-written. 

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Inferno by Catherine Doyle
Publisher:
Chicken House Books
Publication date: January 7th 2016 
Genre:  
contemporary, crime
Category:
YA

Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series.

Sophie’s life has been turned upside-down, and she’s determined to set things right. Nic won’t give up on their love, but it’s Luca’s knife she clutches for comfort. Then another Mafia  clan spoils the fragile peace – and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie’s in deeper than ever.

Catherine Doyle’s début novel was a real statement: a full-throttle collision of first love, family ties and ferocious blood feuds, written with surprising skill and remarkable confidence. Inferno has a different feel. It’s darker, edgier and more dangerous. This time, the skill is as sharp as a knife, and the confidence comes armed to the teeth.

Sharp, sensational and utterly addictive, Inferno plunges headfirst into a story overflowing with drama. Bound by omerta and lucky to be alive, Sophie is seeing the dark side of Cedar Hill everywhere she goes, and with a rival Mafia clan baying for blood and a feud stirring once more, the secrets of the Falcone family threaten to leave carnage in their wake. There is romance in the book, but it definitely takes a backseat to thrilling chases and heart-pounding discoveries. Luca may be hot and Nic may be the boy who first caught her eye, but with danger lurking in every shadow, first and foremost I think I ship Sophie with survival!

Best friend Millie is the only character in the book with any common sense, bringing much-needed light relief to an otherwise heavy drama with her resourcefulness and humour, while the introduction of secondary characters is handled well. The Falcone brothers are still great characters, but they’re terrible people. This series isn’t about loveable rogues or even moral ambiguity. Much has been made of Vendetta’s star-crossed romance and sizzling quintet of Mafia brothers, but as ever there is more than meets the eye to this story. There’s a sense that Doyle’s focus has shifted to revealing characters – for better or worse – for who and what they really are.  The world of the book is sick and twisted, and the characters do some pretty unforgivable things; it really isn’t for the faint of heart. You’d think the trilogy couldn’t possibly get any more explosive than this, but Doyle will undoubtedly ratchet up the tension for the series finale.

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Dark, defiant and utterly engaging, Inferno is an electric, unputdownable read. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Sopranos (with the emphasis on The Sopranos) and not for the faint of heart: it reads like a gut-punch and remains one of the most unique YA series on the shelf.

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DECK THE HALLS WITH BELLS OF HOLLY (BOURNE): books to give as Christmas gifts this year

We all know the drill: it’s getting closer to Christmas, and you’re wondering if you can swap out the traditional novelty mug and socks for something a little more…conducive to your their book addiction. Or maybe you’re still doing the bookworm’s good work in trying to convince friends and family of the wonders of books in the first place (moment of silence for all those still struggling with this quest). Or maybe you don’t celebrate but just want an excuse to peruse the shelves for hours give birthday or seasonal presents anyway. But what to choose?! To shed some light on the matter, I thought I’d take you through some YA and kidlit perfect for that hard-to-please reader in your life…(even if it’s yourself)

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THE CONTEMPORARY CONTINGENT

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne: I figured we should just get this out of the way first since it’s one of my favourite books to recommend and it’s kind of amazing. Heartfelt, raw and real, it’s the opening book in a trilogy about teens Evie, Lottie and Amber as they tackle friendship, feminism, and feeling less alone in the world. Focused on Evie, this book is also a great introduction to some of the best handling of mental health YA has to offer. It’s not always an easy read, but it’s chatty, accessible and honest. Fabulous.

Love Song by Sophia Bennett: Love Song is warm, feel-good and so well-written. It’s about unexpected allegiances, fractured friendships, new experiences, good food, great songs and of course, a boyband. (If you’re not aware of the #boybandlit phenomenon, check out this post for all the details). i don’t even have the words to describe how fantastic it is, only that it’s one of Sophia Bennett’s best books. It’s full of drama, gorgeously tender moments (I personally love the scene where Jamie sings to heroine Nina’s sister Ariel) and, of course, music.

London Belongs to Us by Sarra Manning: this is a book I’ll be giving as a gift this year, because it is brilliant. Fun, fresh, fast and full of joy, it’s a dizzying whirlwind of a book, pulling you in from start to finish. You can read my full (and much more eloquent) review here for more on its fierce female characters, grumpy French boys and glorious sense of humour.

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SCI-FI THAT’S NOT STAR WARS

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers: adult fiction! OH MY BLOG?! A rare sight indeed. But then The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet is exceptional in many ways: a refreshing, episodic, detailed, diverse, non-dystopian space opera, it is sci-fi filled with colourful characters, rich cultures, thematic exploration and of course the occasional raising of stakes. Perfect for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a little more drama thrown in. Another one I’ll be giving as a gift this Christmas.

The Last Beginning by Lauren James: Time travel! Starcrossed romance! Knitting! This is the story of Clove, a teenager investigating the sudden disappearance of two scientists, Katherine Finchley and Matt Galloway sixteen years before. There are multiple timelines, cool secondary characters in the shape of ex-hacker Tom and snarky computer Spart, and epistolary additions like letters, emails, extracts, doodles, transcripts and powerpoints which keep book both visual and interesting. Although it is a sequel so you should probably pick up its predecessor The Next Together as well. (You can read my reviews for both books here.)

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner: you know the upcoming Jennifer Lawrence/Chris Pratt movie, Passengers? This is a little bit like that, except YA got it first and oh, the luxury spaceliner in question has just crashlanded from hyperspace onto a nearby planet. Apparently alone, teenagers Lilac – wealthy, privileged, whip-smart – and Tarver – a cynical war hero who came from nothing and, when Icarus crashes, apparently still has nothing – must rely on each other for their very survival. It’s alternately narrated, has an epic romance, and is just generally FULL of feels.

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FIERCE HIGH FANTASY

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: a lush, lyrical take on mythology and royalty, The Star-Touched Queen is fantasy of a slower kind. It dials things down a notch when it comes to pace and plot, but if you’re looking for world-building and a game of choice and chance that becomes steadily deadlier, then this diverse NYT bestseller may be for you.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: another technically-adult book, this is classy, classic fantasy, full of magical Londons and many-sided coats. Cut-throat almost-pirate Lila Bard steals something dangerous from Kell, brother of the prince of Red London, without realizing he’s an Antari – someone born with the ability to travel between worlds otherwise cut off from each other. Throw in waiting enemies, treacherous deceptions and poisoned power, and it’s a rich, compact opener to a trilogy.

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas: Throne of Glass is the ULTIMATE high fantasy series in recent YA. If you (or the person you’re buying for) love vast, sprawling sagas with thrilling quests, deadly secrets and just a dash of magic, and you haven’t read it yet, then you need to get on that STAT. Now’s the perfect time to get started, too, as the final book in the series releases next year (though I’m going to include the cover for the third book here because it’s fab).

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and finally: FICTION FOR THOSE PESKY KIDS

Winter Magic edited by Abi Elphinstone: a more recent release, this is a short story collection featuring contributions from award-winning children’s authors like Emma Carroll, Michelle Magorian, Piers Torday, Lauren St. John and Katherine Woodfine. And it it’s a book with a Christmassy winter theme! Its varied, vivid stories should have something for everyone and would make a great gift for eager young readers this year.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell: elegant, extraordinary and full of adventure, Rooftoppers is already being considered a classic of children’s literature, and it was only released three years ago. If you haven’t read it yet, then I urge you to pick this one up, as it’s such a great book. It sees heroine Sophie escape to Paris as she searches for her long-lost mother with only the information contained on the cello case she was found in as a baby to go on, and recounts her acquaintance with the rooftoppers, street urchins who live beneath the night sky. There’s a magical quality to the book even though it isn’t strictly magical, and Rundell’s prose has moments of pure brilliance.

Never Evers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison: ideal for readers nearing YA but with one foot still in middle grade fiction, this is a tale of early teen chaos and bashful charm. Never Evers has all the drama and disaster of classic light-hearted teen fiction – think Louise Rennison or Karen McCombie – with the added pandemonium of a school trip and ski slopes. It’s a landslide (or should that be avalanche?) of shenanigans: snow sport disasters, failed flirtations, new friendships, hidden ballet, igloo building, French popstars… oh, and the smuggling of a live hamster across several international borders. It’s mayhem, misunderstandings and mischief – and full of snow, too!

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So there you have it: your guide to YA and children’s books ideal for gift-giving this Christmas! (Or just for treating yourself). What’s the best book you’ve ever been given – or the worst?! Are your favourites among these recommendations?

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Most Anticipated Reads of 2017

It’s that time of year again: time to look briefly away from the fabulous YA releases of 2016 and indulge in a sordid affair with the novels of 2017 which have been catching our eye from across the room for months. I’ve stuck with ten (ish) here, but there are SO MANY to look forward to, it’s a wonder I could even decide…

Throne of Glass #6 by Sarah J. Maas

Okay, so this one was easy. The final installment of Sarah J. Maas’ legendary Throne of Glass series, this book doesn’t even have a title yet and I am SO EXCITED FOR IT. Empire of Storms was so full of twists and revelations it’s beyond words. It left everyone reeling – readers and characters alike – and I cannot wait to find out what happens next, let alone how Maas is going to wrap up what has become not just an epic but an extraordinary feat of female-led high fantasy in YA.

Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

I was so delighted when I heard the premise for Sarah Dessen’s next project. The concept reads like such a burst of joy. Like a delicious, glossy romantic comedy you’d turn to when you need to feel better (or eat several gallons of ice cream), with the added promise of the exceptional heart and depth and detail only a contemporary novel can bring. Weddings, family, a healthy dose of cynicism, happily-ever-afters and Dessen’s penchant for including past characters make this one to look out for. Oh, I have been WAITING for a book like this in YA.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The actual details of Strange the Dreamer – Taylor’s first big project after Daughter of Smoke and Bone – have until recently been a closely guarded secret. Whispers of a scholar who loves fairytales, a city bereft of its name, the mysteries of otherworldly creatures and a love letter to fantasy have, however, put this duology opener on my radar, and it certainly has me intrigued. I didn’t love Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but hopefully this will be more up my alley.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

If you’re looking for recent releases in classy, classic magic-and-knives-and-treachery fantasy fiction, Shades of Magic is the series you’re looking for. Full of adventure, allegiances, betrayals, bloodlust, princes, pirates, magical Londons and stylish coats, the final book in the trilogy promises to raise the stakes, answer burning questions and break hearts, probably in absolutely unequal measure.

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We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

A verse novel and a collaboration, We Come Apart raced up my most anticipated list after I attended Crossan and Conaghan’s first event for the book. They have a great rapport and talked about the book in a really vivid way. Perhaps most importantly, the extract we heard was fantastic. It tells the story of tough Jess and kind-hearted Nicu, two teenagers from very different backgrounds who find unexpected friendship with each other.

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson

I’ve actually already read a sampler of this, and it was amazing. Sixteen-year-old Mia is a middle child, sandwiched between Cambridge-bound Grace (‘Mother Teresa in a blazer’) and future Olympian Audrey (a swimmer otherwise known as Nemo). Constantly overshadowed by her high-achieving siblings, Mia’s grown used to being pushed aside, taking solace in selfies, parties and the knowledge that she probably more friends than her sisters put together, anyway. But when Grace drops a bombshell (and to Mia’s horror, goes unpunished), the family’s lives will be turned upside down over one unforgettable summer. Messy, relatable and full of wit, All About Mia could be a glorious addition to contemporary YA.

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Freshers by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to laugh-out-loud humour and realistic UKYA. They’re brilliant in interviews, too. After a hilarious, unashamed older YA début in Lobsters and younger YA novel Never Evers, they’re turning their attention to the antics of university freshers, and whatever trouble their characters get into, it’ll definitely be interesting…

Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

I really liked Alwyn Hamilton’s first book, and with a perennial habit of not picking up second books in trilogies, I’m hoping this one will be worth following up with! Hamilton’s badass heroine Amani inhabits a world of magic, rebellion, danger, and of course, love interests like the enigmatic Jin. Traitor to the Throne promises even more twists, turns and tenacity, and I’m excited to see where the story goes next.

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen was lavish, mythical and vivid, though its uneven plot and pacing meant it stopped short of being a favourite for me. This companion novel, however, shouldn’t face the same problems as it picks up with a warrior princess, an unlikely ally, and a fight for survival in battle-scarred kingdom. Readers will recognise heroes Gauri and Vikram as secondary characters from Chokshi’s début, and I’m interested to see how their story intertwines. I’m looking for more action, a tighter plot, and more of the myths which made the first book so nearly brilliant.

Long May She Reign by Rhiannon Thomas

My interest was piqued by the sound of this book as soon as it was announced. A royal tale of conspiracy, intrigue and unexpected inheritance, it seems quite different from many of my other most anticipated YA novels of 2017, pitched so far as an apparent edgy semi-fantasy mystery of sorts. It certainly has one of the most unusual premises of this list, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!

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Honourable mentions (because okay, I have to keep the wordcount down but who can leave any most-anticipated list at just ten?!): Wing Jones by Katherine Webber (about a girl juggling family, friends, heritage, and a new-found passion for athletics), The Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moira Fowley-Doyle (The Accident Season was one of the best YA novels to come out of Ireland last year and I can’t wait to see Fowley-Doyle’s fierce, spellbinding, original work on the shelf again), A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard (an irresistible, deeply real love story I’ve actually read already but shhh, it can totally be a fave of this year and next) Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer (a high fantasy Sleeping Beauty retelling about curses,sisters and a kingdom on the brink, though I don’t know if it’s being published in the UK) and Now I Rise by Kiersten White (the sequel to And I Darken, White’s incredible genderbent alternate history about Lada the Impaler, my review of which you can read here).

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And so must end my brief fling with the most thrilling reads of 2017 – for now. Although, I’ve just noticed I may have to do another post just for débuts…

What books are you most looking forward to reading next year? Did any appear on this list? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below!

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The Secret Cooking Club by Laurel Remington // WARNING: READ THIS BOOK WITH CAKE NEARBY

31311603Author: Laurel Remington
Publisher: Chicken House Books
Publication date: 4 August 2016
Genre: contemporary
Category: MG
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: won
Find on Goodreads

Twelve-year-old Scarlett is the star and victim of her mum’s popular blog. The butt of school jokes, she’s eager to stay out of the spotlight. But one evening, she finds a gorgeous kitchen in the house next door which has been left empty by an elderly neighbour in hospital. As Scarlett bakes, she begins to discover new friends and forms the Secret Cooking Club. But can baking really help fix her family or her search for a mysterious secret ingredient? And will her new hobby stay secret for long?

The Secret Cooking Club is fun, straightforward stuff. It’s not quite the Great British Bake Off in book form (I’ll give you a second here to collect yourself in the wake of the apparent demise of the cosy, pun-filled format we all know and love), but that doesn’t stop it trying. In mixing protagonist Scarlett’s discovery of her passion for old-fashioned homemade recipes with the modernity of her mother’s role as a ‘mummy blogger’, it’s easy to see why the book ticked many of the marketable boxes from 2015’s Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition.

Scarlett’s hobbies, school disasters and most embarrassing moments have all been revealed to the masses in the pursuit of fame. But while her mum obliviously spills the beans to the amusement and sympathy of fans, Scarlett struggles with teasing at the hands of classmates and former friends. Then she stumbles upon her next door neighbour’s magnificent kitchen and special recipe book, and she finally has something to call her own again. This book’s plot is fairly predictable, but I was surprised by its keen observation of what a life where every mistake is up for grabs – on social media, on camera, in print – does to kids. Knowing that her every move could potentially end up on her mum’s blog, Scarlett’s become fearful of humiliation, quitting many of her afterschool activities and feeling that only by doing and saying nothing can she escape infamy at home and in the classroom. Her self-confidence, like her connection with elderly neighbour Mrs Simpson, must be built over time.

The Secret Cooking Club is by no means a classic, but it’s a quick, clearly written début. It’s uncomplicated, relatively harmless – Scarlett, while occasionally trespassing and leaving tea towels on the hob, is the kind of character who has apparently avoided the rat race of early teen snapchat politics and still gets excited about the prospect of holding a boy’s hand – and on the whole jolly. The villains have names like Mr Kruffs and Gretchen and serious themes are presented simply, but its bright, colourful cover will leap from the shelf for parents of 9-12s seeking unchallenging, innocent reads. There are descriptions of cakes and tasty treats which will see plenty of young readers eager for, if not the multi-hour effort of cooking, then at least the resulting delights.

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Straightforward and full of baking montages, The Secret Cooking Club, though far from a classicis fun, easy-to-read kidlit.

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Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall // short, serious YA (and some Wonder Woman fangirling…?)

29566743Author: Louise Gornall
Publisher: Chicken House Books
Publication date: 7 July 2016
Category: YA
Genre: contemporary
Series or standalone?: Standalone
Source: I was kindly sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Every day Norah wakes up in a quiet house on a quiet street, and every day she prepares for battle with the combined forces of agoraphobia and OCD. Years of struggling with illnesses that seem much stronger than she is have left her weary and increasingly resigned to the confines of a life where the sky is a glimpse through a window and the world is always out of reach.

When groceries are left out on her porch, Norah can’t step out to get them. Struggling to snag the bags with a stick, she meets Luke. The sweet, funny boy next door just caught her fishing for groceries, because of course he did. And just like that: Norah has a crush. But love can be tricky even when your life can fit the rose-tinted lenses of a Hollywood romance – and what about when it can’t?

The set-up of Under Rose-Tainted Skies may be simple – it tells the story of a girl, a boy, and the agoraphobia which throws a bit of a spanner in the works when it comes to conventional romance – but it’s also nuanced. Short, serious and just sweet enough to temper its heavy subject matter, Under Rose-Tainted Skies will undoubtedly please readers calling for more young adult fiction which tackles teen mental health head-on.

Stepping back to look at the story as whole, you’ll also find (in no particular order): red lipstick, passed notes, inconvenient birds, fumbled French, bad movies, and one unusual protagonist. Whatever kind of narrator you were expecting for Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Norah probably isn’t it. Frank, fearful, foul-mouthed and morbid, she won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but she’ll have readers rooting for her faster than they expect. Blunt, arresting and distinctive, Norah’s voice is not confined.

The romance between Norah and Luke, in contrast, is quite sweet. There’s a lightness to it which lifts the prose long enough to keep you reading, but it doesn’t go unblemished by the seriousness of Norah’s situation. Luke is kind, funny, and while he makes mistakes, he cares about her – though I definitely felt like there was a touch of that scene in the new Wonder Woman where a curious and wide-eyed Gal Gadot sees Chris Pine on the beach and is like, “This is the first man I have ever seen, yes, good, I like him, I shall not kick his ass today, I will keep him” to the way the Norah falls in love with essentially the first teenage boy she claps eyes on.

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(Sidenote: I am more excited for the Wonder Woman movie than is probably warranted, that line in the trailer “what I do is not up to you” I NEARLY FELL OVER it’s amazing)

But then maybe Norah is as strong as Wonder Woman, too: Norah, after all, has the persistent ability to contend with a brain which often works against her. There’s exploration of a teenage relationship in which serious issues and boundaries have to be dealt with early on, and while it’s tame in terms of content, that’s sort of the point. Under Rose-Tainted Skies strives to show a relationship in which two teenagers care about each other while scaling back the usual step-by-step of contemporary romance to fit its heroine’s needs. It’s a book that makes you cheer when they get to hold hands – for Luke and Norah, it’s a real triumph.

And in a move that will delight many with an interest in mental health-focused teen fiction, this book states pretty emphatically that love does not cure mental illness. Luke is Norah’s light in the dark, but he’s not a knight in shining armour, swooping in to show that mental illness can be fixed with a bit of starcrossed love or the quirk of an expressive, sculpted eyebrow.

The story may even have benefited for a little more of Luke, as it’s cast is more short film than blockbuster-sized. Norah and her mother are close and she has a positive relationship with her therapist which just about counterbalances what can come across as the book’s harsh judgement of other female characters. The writing style still needs work, as it relies on uninspired plot contrivances, the ending is rushed and poorly explored, and in a not-uncommon occurrence for a début, the plot is as simplistic as its structure. It lacks the warmth of polished, get-stuck-into-it contemporaries like Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door or Holly Bourne’s How Hard Can Love Be? It’s set in America though there’s no particular reason for it to be. It requires a trigger warning (self-harm) and it’s not always the most enjoyable of reads given its heavy theme.

Of course, it’s no secret that the best thing in, and perhaps the point of, this book is its raw, honest approach to mental health. It’s the reason it’s being recommended, the reason it’s being read. Much of what can be said about Under Rose-Tainted Skies’ approach to mental health has already been said, but it’s still worth mentioning. Norah’s distinctive voice and validated perspective aside, it notes her worries about medication and therapy and how an emotionally healthy support system – without caveats, without take-backs, without impatience disguised by tolerance – can be invaluable. There’s an unexpected physicality to the prose, specifically in the case of its emphasis on Norah’s awareness of her body and of how what many would assume is a purely psychological experience is in fact a highly physical one. Descriptions of place and colour may be a little lacklustre, but more internal descriptions, like those in which Norah relates what her agoraphobia kicking in does to her legs or limbs or brain, are visceral and incredibly specific. Descriptions of her body’s reactions to fear are more suggestive of a relentless mind-body rugby match than anything else. It’s not perfect, but it’s stark, unflinching stuff.

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A sensitive and defiant portrayal of a teenage girl’s complex relationship with the world, her brain and the boy who makes her wonder if she’ll ever be able to navigate both.

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