Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughrain // début leaps – and sticks the landing

Today on the blog, we’re taking to the trapeze with this début novel…

ftipsAuthor(s): Kelly McCaughrain
Publisher: Walker Books
Publication date: 1st March 2018
Genre: contemporary
upper MG, teen fiction
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: own
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Teenage twins Finch and Birdie Franconi are stars of the flying trapeze. Circus tricks are practically in their blood.

But when Birdie suffers a terrifying accident, Finch must team up with the geeky new kid, Hector, to create an all-boys double act and save the family circus school. Teetering on the high-wire that is school social hierarchy while juggling the demands of family, first love and facing up to who they are is a lot for two confused clowns to handle. Will their friendship, and the circus, survive?

Flying Tips for Flightless Birds was another of those pleasant surprises in my spring reading this year. It’s again from that spot between fiction for older children and for early teens (11-14s), making it particularly suited to those looking to take more steps into the YA section. There was a spate of circus books in YA in 2017, but they all seemed to have a supernatural – Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Pack by Kate Ormand – or dark thriller edge – Show Stopper by Hayley Barker, even Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield, which is also about a trapeze double act and a new acquaintance who alters two siblings’ lives – but with Flying Tips for Flightless Birds, Kelly McCaughrain manages to draw together both storytellers’ evident fascination with the circus and a much-needed lightness of touch.

When trapeze artists Finchley and Bridget Sullivan are in the air, they become Finch and Birdie Franconi, the latest in a long line of circus performers, including high wire walkers, barrel riders, jugglers (and one very health and safety conscious dad). While their ancestors flung themselves over Niagara Falls and travelled the world, their parents have opted to run a circus school just outside Belfast – though it still means having a mother who can tightrope walk, a little brother who wants to be a fire eater and a foul-mouthed grandmother, Lou, who used to walk across the ridges of roofs to freak out the neighbours.

Birdie and Finch have inherited a taste for daring. They dress flamboyantly and find themselves subconsciously juggling nearby objects during everyday conversation. But with Birdie starting to wonder if there could be life outside the circus and Finch struggling in her absence, they are believable. New boy Hector is enthusiastic but clumsy; at first the student of a reluctant Finch, his friendship becomes invaluable, and I really liked the exploration of their changing relationship. Elsewhere in the cast, there’s Freddie, known as Py (“Fire dancer, fire juggler – you name it, I’ll put lighter fluid on it”) and Janie, a foster kid and aerialist who’s so good at dangling from reams of silk she finds it calming.

McCaughrain’s prose is straightforward and fairly unshowy, though she conjures evocative details – the thrill of heights, the calluses on circus performers’ hands, even sitting in the safety net beneath the trapeze to get your breath back – and handles setting with subtlety, focusing on the circus warehouse as an adopted home for its eclectic residents. Finch’s narration cleverly interspersed with distinctive blog posts from Birdie, and there are moments of incisiveness (“Be that as it may” is “adult for ‘whatever'”; there’s “something lonely about an empty spotlight, like a big white hole in the world”). One of her major themes is what it means to stand out, but she also touches on things like found family and school struggles. She balances not-unrealistic elements of homophobia with quite a sweet coming-out story, too.

On the downside, there’s little urgency or pace to an already fairly standard plot, though it revolves around what you’d expect to be quite an urgent matter, that is, trying to save the circus school from closing. Some of the conflict gets resolved with very little action from the protagonists. I would’ve liked there to have been more actual trapeze scenes in the first half – we often hear more about it than see it take place – and there’s almost no character depth or development to Birdie and Finch’s other siblings, leaving them effectively faceless for the length of the book.

However, the most surprising feature of Flying Tips for Flightless Birds for me was its sense of humour. That was what kept me reading, whether it was in lively asides (“We’ve put a lot of effort into taming Jay, but we think it’s unfair to do it to more intelligent creatures”), mining humour from strife (“the only difference between a playground punch-up in Year Eight and one in Year Eleven is that everyone’s a bit taller and has better hair”), or quips in dialogue (Finch’s parents on marriage: “Ah, crap, I knew there was something we forgot to do.” “Do you think we should return all those gifts?”). It livened up the prose and turned this solid début into a really enjoyable one.


Flying Tips for Flightless Birds is unexpectedly funny, often enjoyable and, at its best, oddly moving. This is a début which juggles the sweet and the sombre, and is ideal for 11-14 readers. I’m intrigued to see what McCaughrain writes next. 



YA Shot Blog Tour // An Interview with Karen Gregory

Today on The Paper Alchemist, I’m playing host to YA Shot panellist Karen Gregory.

YA Shot is an author-run, one-day book festival for children and teens held in Uxbridge, London. Founded by Alexia Casale, the third annual YA Shot will be held on Saturday 14th April 2018. This year’s line-up feature authors such as Holly Bourne, Lauren James, Samantha Shannon, Katherine Webber, Chris Russell, Cecelia Vinesse,  Sita Brahmachari and more. You can find all the details on YA Shot (including the full list of panels) or buy tickets, whether for yourself or as a gift for young people from the local area, here.

As ever, my interview questions and mildly excitable contributions are in bold or occasionally [bracketed], while Karen’s answers are in plain text and marked KG. 

mb4ma8vv_400x400Karen Gregory is the author of YA novels Countless (Bloomsbury, 2017) is out now and Skylarks (Bloomsbury, forthcoming, May 2018). A graduate of Somerville College, Oxford, she’s a project manager by day who’s become adept at writing around the edges (strong coffee and a healthy disregard for housework help). She wrote her first story about a mouse called Bantra at the age of twelve, then put away the word processor until her first child was born when she was overtaken by the urge to write. She lives in Wiltshire with her family and is represented by Claire Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge & White.

A: We’ll start with one of my favourites: what drew you to YA?

KG: Great question! I think it was a mixture of several things. Your teenage years and early twenties are such a visceral time, when you’re encountering new things and learning how (and how not) to deal with them, while trying to figure out who you are and your place in the world. It’s such a rich area to explore. I don’t think those challenges necessarily go away as you get older; many people continue to struggle with big questions throughout their lives, so perhaps it’s also that which draws me to YA. And of course, there are so many brilliant YA authors out there, which I find massively inspiring!

Speaking of fellow YA authors, you’ll be chairing panellists Sara Barnard, Orlagh Collins and Tamsin Winter in talking literature and living well with mental illness at YA Shot. How did you get involved with the event? For readers who are unfamiliar, can you tell us more about it?yashotblogtourbanner1

KG: Sure! YA Shot is a day-long festival in Uxbridge, London, celebrating UK YA and Middle Grade fiction. It supports readers through partnerships between authors and local schools and libraries, includes the UKYA Blogger awards and runs blogger and vlogger workshops, and this year has a theme of human rights. I actually had tickets to go last year and then tonsillitis (my nemesis) intervened, so I was delighted to be invited to be one of around fifty authors taking part this year.

Like a lot of UKYA, your début novel Countless dealt with some serious issues and hard-hitting themes. Do you think YA writers have a duty of care to their readers in how they approach issue-driven stories?

KG: It’s a really tricky area. I do believe YA writers need to be mindful of their intended audience. At the same time, it’s important not to patronise readers and to recognise that awful things do happen in some young people’s lives. These stories need to be written too.

In terms of Countless in particular, given the subject matter I was concerned about the potential for the portrayal to be harmful to vulnerable people. I worked hard through the editing process to try and ensure there weren’t things in there which didn’t need to be for the story, for example specific numbers around weight and calories. I felt it was important to try and show the incredibly difficult emotions and thought processes around Hedda’s illness. I hope I got the balance right, but I’m always learning.

What did you hope teen readers would take from Countless when they’d turned over the last page?

KG: I’m going to sound incredibly cheesy here, but I guess I hoped readers would take away the sense that even for the most seemingly intractable problems, there is the possibility of change and hope that things can be different in the future. And that love, especially learning to love yourself, is a powerful and healing force.

Of course, for some authors it’s hard to turn over that last page on a book – are you the kind of writer who feels the book is done once you’ve finished writing or editing, or do you wish you’d done anything differently?

KG: I’m a ‘prise it out of my hands’ sort of writer! There are always things I want to change and it can be really hard to let something go. However, there comes a point in revising and editing where you’ve taken the book as far as you can. I try to remind myself that as long as I know I’ve put in as much work as I could and written the best book I’m capable of, then in the end that has to be enough. Eventually you need to let the book go, or you’d never write anything else!

If you had name three of your favourite YA books from the last year, what would they be and why?25310356

KG: Argh, this is a very cruel question as I read so much amazing YA last year! I think I’d choose We Come Apart, by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan. It’s about Nicu, a recent immigrant to the UK from Romania, and Jess, who is from a chaotic and disadvantaged background. I loved their story, which is told in alternating perspectives and in beautiful free verse. Jess in particular has really stayed with me since I read the book.

[A: I’ll second this recommendation – you can read my review of this bittersweet book here on the blog!]

KG: I also loved Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows. It’s a slight cheat as I got it for Christmas and actually read it this year, but it was a 2017 release so I think it counts. Set during the English Civil War, it’s a mixture of historical fiction, magical realism and mystery. Hardinge has one of the most unique voices out there and this book completely sucked me in.

I’m thirdly going to pick a book which is technically MG, but can be read by all ages: Tamsin Winter’s Being Miss Nobody. Main character Rosalind has selective mutism, and the book follows her as she struggles to literally and metaphorically find her voice during her first year at secondary school. It’s an incredibly warm book with a big heart – it had me crying towards the end.

dv_sgdsumaavf-qAnd finally, what can readers expect from you next? Can you tell us anything about your new book?

KG: Yes – I’ve got a new book out in May called Skylarks, which is about figuring out how to stand up for what you believe in and looks at social justice, the poverty gap and activism. It’s set in a fictionalised area of the Marlborough Downs and the occasional real skylark does make an appearance! I so enjoyed writing it and I’m really looking forward to sharing Joni and Annabel’s love story.

The YA Shot Blog Tour runs from 1st March to 12th April. be sure to check out the other stops, which will feature author interviews, guest posts, giveaways and other delightful stuff!


Truly, Wildly, Deeply by Jenny McLachlan // friendly, funny teen fiction

Today on the blog, I’m talking about one of the surprises on my reading list this spring!

36178510Author(s): Jenny McLachlan
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication date: 8th March 2018
Category: teen fiction
Genre(s): contemporary
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: I received a NetGalley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes taken from this copy may be subject to changes in final editions.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Annie is sixteen and starting sixth form. No more school, no more uniform, a chance to make friends – it’s the start of a new adventure. A shot at freedom. Freedom matters to Annie, who has cerebral palsy. She’s had to work hard to get the world to see her for who she is. 

Then she meets Fabian. He’s six foot two, Polish and a passionate believer in…well, just about everything, but most of all in Annie. And in good old-fashioned romance. The moment Fab sees Annie, he declares she must be his girl, but Annie doesn’t want to be anyone’s anything. At least, that’s what she tells herself – until a rift makes her realise a grand gesture may be needed to repair their friendship… and maybe something more?

Hold onto your hats. Ir’a about to get uncharacteristically praise-worthy in here, because Jenny McLachlan’s Truly, Wildly, Deeply is probably her best book yet. I’d read her jive-tastic début Flirty Dancing and her most recent book Stargazing for Beginners but I hadn’t heard much about this latest contemporary before I started reading, so to find between the pages a standalone so warm and witty was quite a delight. I was surprised by the engrossing story, the focus on friendships, the sweet romance, and the engaging voice.

Truly, Wildly, Deeply’s narrator Annie is candid and fiercely independent. She’s an occasional troublemaker (“I did get a lot of detentions. I blame this on my fiery Mediterranean temperament”) but her heart’s usually in the right place. She makes for a perceptive narrator (“there’s a lot of Big Laughing going on – heads thrown back, cackles, the type of laughter that seems designed to make you feel left out”). You’ll be rooting for her the whole way.

Annie’s on something of a mission to make new friends for sixth form, and finds Hilary, Jim, Oli and Mal – and of course, there’s Jackson, who once fell down a badger’s sett and shares Annie’s penchant for a bit of mischief (from Jackson’s early introduction you might expect him to become the love interest, but he’s in relationship with someone very sophisticated called Amelia, and Annie’s friendship with Jackson is still seen as valuable). McLachlan goes out of her way to focus on positive teenage friendships and I liked that. You can’t help but love considerate, larger-than-life Fab, either. And he is so kind. There is a great deal of active kindness in this book.


There is, of course, a will-they-won’t-they ploy between Annie and Fabian. Fab’s directness helps give it some pace; he’s a grand gestures, fresh flowers and declared feelings kind of boy. The explanation that Annie is hesitant to allow herself to be in a relationship because she perceives it as somehow negating her hard-won independence in believable. Annie and Fab are teenagers figuring out a teenage relationship – the self-searching, the giddy feelings, the mishaps and crossed wires – through friendship and shared interests and navigating trust.

There are just so many enjoyable details to the story: the different kinds of families and cultural identities, the blackberry picking, the wedding. Stand-out secondary characters include Fabian’s extended family and Annie’s mum, who is supportive but is seen to have her own life (and great taste in television, ahem, Poldark). Best of all, Truly, Wildly, Deeply is very funny. It’s some of the funniest kidlit I’ve read since reading Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s or T.S. Easton’s books, and I definitely wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud so much while reading it. The prose itself is unshowy, but shines with the sometimes howlingly sharp humour of a writer who has really stepped up to the task of merging cheerful, chaste teen fiction with YA’s penchant for tongue-in-cheek observation.


I had a few quibbles – there’s no real plot, deeper exploration of themes could have been included, and Fabian’s character arc could have been fleshed out more – but sometimes a light-hearted, one-sitting teen read is just what you’re looking for. The story actually reminded me of Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan’s We Come Apart, but much happier?Annie’s disability is also fully accounted for throughout the book, from articulation of her own feelings toward disability and her identity as a wheelchair user, to things like her fatigue and the personal trainer who helps her work on her muscles. McLachlan includes the realities of everyday discrimination, such as Annie being refused access to a designated wheelchair space on public transport. Truly, Wildly, Deeply may be aimed at 11-14s, but it has the potential to appeal to readers across teen and YA fiction.


Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison’s Never Evers meets Sara Barnard’s A Quiet Kind of Thunder in Jenny McLachlan’s upbeat, laugh-out-loud Truly, Wildly, Deeply. I’m giving it five stars because it achieves what it sets out to do: it’s enjoyable, clever, friendly teen fiction with just a hint of its big sister, young adult. Highly recommended.


a pair of reviews // Night Owls by Jenn Bennett and Second Best Friend by Non Pratt

It’s a veritable contemporary YA extravaganza on the blog today!

25327818Author(s): Jenn Bennett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 13th August 2017
Source: Library
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Meeting Jack on San Francisco’s night bus turns Beatrix’s world upside down. Jack is charming, attractive, and one of San Francisco’s most wanted graffiti artists – and he makes Beatrix wonder if art can be more than the medical drawing she’s confined herself to. 

By night and on city rooftops, Beatrix and Jack get to know each other – and each other’s secrets. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in her family’s closet tear them apart?

Page-turning and often charming, I was surprised by how much I liked this contemporary standalone. I hadn’t heard much about Night Owls before I started reading, and I had to start and re-start reading it a couple of times before it really hooked me, but once it did I flew through it. Bennett’s writing style is straightforward, neat and fast.

Thrown together in a San Francisco of slick city streets and trendy yoga studios, Jack and Bex – a  rebellious, enigmatic graffiti artist grappling with his wealthy family’s secrets and a single-minded aspiring medical illustrator, daughter of a single mom – make an unlikely but believable pair. Their romance, which is to an extent built on friendly verbal sparring, features some miscommunication (or lack of communication), but also has considerable stretches of swoon, and there is frank communication about relevant teenage experiences like sex. Bennett’s finest achievement, however, is to conjure an almost sweeping sense of artistry and passion from two unexpected, and very different, types of art.

Bennett’s reveal of Jack’s motive and treatment of serious mental illness could have been better handled, and there’s a touch of ick factor to descriptions of Bex’s medical illustrations. The resolution relies on a suspicious number of characters existing only to offer to splash a considerable amount of money around, like very privileged guardian angels. The story needed more fleshed-out friendships and while Beatrix’s brother brings his boyfriend home to meet his family in one particularly memorable scene, the book as a whole perhaps isn’t the most memorable YA fiction.


Set in slick San Francisco, this arty contemporary has faults but also a rich seam of swoon. For fans of Lydia Ruffles and Susane Colasanti.

352228491Author(s): Non Pratt 
Barrington Stoke
Publication date:
15th January 2018
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Jade and Becky are best friends. But when Jade’s ex lets on that everyone thinks Becky is better than she is – at everything – Jade finds herself noticing just how often she comes second to her friend. 

When Jade is voted party leader ahead of her school’s mock general election only to discover she’ll be up against Becky, she sees it as a chance to prove herself. Surely if there’s one thing she can win, it’s this election – even if it means losing her best friend.

Second Best Friend is Non Pratt’s second novel for Barrington Stoke, a specialist publisher for readers with dyslexia, after 2016’s successful Unboxed. This standalone comes with the same colour-adjusted paper, clear font and novella length, but Barrington Stoke books are about more than just physically adjusting for reading difficulties – they’re a reminder that teenagers with dyslexia are interested in the same kind of content that fills the rest of the UKYA shelf. For this reason, Second Best Friend is full of school pressures, jealousy, drinking, and rapidly escalating sexual antics in utility rooms.

Like Unboxed – in which a group of teenagers return to their old school to open a time capsule – Second Best Friend has a straightforward premise: Jade and Becky find themselves facing off in their school’s mock election, and Jade, feeling insecure and always in Becky’s shadow, is determined to do whatever it takes to win. This plot is carried throughout and provides an undeniable sense of narrative drive. There’s plenty for readers to recognise, from politics and sibling rivalry to the drudgery of homework and the strange sense of competition that can overtake a school full of naive teenagers with nothing better to do.

Pratt packs Second Best Friend with real teen concerns and a veritable maelstrom of seesawing emotions. I liked the casual mention of Becky’s two mothers and even at a brisk pace, there’s a suitable denouement – though the ending is rather abrupt, and I noticed slight sense of simplicity to the story in a way I haven’t with some other Barrington Stoke titles. This may be down to the fact that the premise didn’t entirely click for me. I’ve been really enjoying seeing much-needed positive female friendship in YA – think Sara Barnard’s A Quiet Kind of Thunder, or Pratt’s own Remix – and to see it reduced to jealousy and insecurity, mostly through the interference of a boy, without enough narrative space for deeper exploration or resolution here was a bit of shame. However, to Pratt’s credit, she tackles her themes with aplomb.


Non Pratt’s second Barrington Stoke novella does exactly what it says on the tin: it provides user-friendly, utterly teenage drama with a thematic twist. 


Most Anticipated Reads of 2018

Today on the blog, I’m talking my most anticipated reads of 2018! There are SO MANY books to choose from I don’t know how I’ve done it. You may notice that it excludes some key titles – like Goodbye, Perfect by the fabulous Sara Barnard or the much talked-about The Fandom by Anna Day – but it’s primarily because I’ve already read them! So these are in (no particular order) the 2018 books I’ve yet to read but am totally intrigued by. You can my corresponding 2017 list here and check-in posts on my progress through that list here. 

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Of course. I can’t wait to read more from Lyra’s world of daemons, alethiometers and strange adventures – and this time, the heroine herself will finally be appearing. The Book of Dust’s opening novel, La Belle Sauvage, was as expected a big hit last year, and it introduced an endearing new protagonist, Malcolm. It’s still Lyra, however, that many readers like myself remember this series for.

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married, and Charlie can’t wait – for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend – one final chance to fill their house with love and laughter – before her home is sold and everything changes, but will her plans go without a hitch? The regulation contemporary rom-com choice featuring weddings, families, distractingly cute love interests and inevitable chaos, Save the Date meshes the glossy appeal of Sarah Dessen’s Once and For All with the knowledge of how much I liked Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected EverythingReally looking forward to this potential summer delight.


Theatrical by Maggie Harcourt

Maggie Harcourt created one of the best surprises of my 2017 reading with the fun and fandom-filled Unconventional, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for this next standalone. It tells the story of seventeen-year-old Hope Parker, who has always dreamed about a career in the theatre – not on the stage, but behind it as part of the crew – and the chaos that ensues during a production with a badly-behaved lead actor, fans camped out at stage door, and an usher Hope can’t get out of her head. If Harcourt can make this standard premise shine, it could be a fabulous contemporary read.

Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

The fabulous Katherine Webber’s YA début Wing Jones was swoony and sporty, big-hearted and bittersweet. Katie’s next book will technically be a collaboration with husband Kevin – the opening book in a series for readers age 6+, Sam Wu Is Not Afraid of Ghosts. Only Love Can Break Your Heart releases in August, and is described as a contemporary “full of desert adventures, late night drives, moonlit discoveries and sunlit magical moments” – and there are slices of prose in Wing Jones that make think Webber has exactly the ability to make these surreal surrounds work in her favour.  I first got all the goss on this book more than TWO YEARS AGO, so I’m particularly intrigued to see how it turned out.

Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton

I know this is already out but my TBR is long, okay?! I’ve really enjoyed Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands books – these action-packed fantasy adventures have held some great twists, pacy plots and a strong sequel in Traitor to the Throne. It’s always pleasing to find a trilogy you want to see through until the final book, and the stakes are certainly high for Amani Al’Hiza. She must rally her skeleton crew for a rescue mission through the unforgiving desert, watching those she loves lay their lives on the line against mythical ghouls and enemy soldiers, to a place that, according to maps, doesn’t exist – and save the rebellion they began all that time ago when she left her dead-end desert town for the mirage of a better future.


Throne of Glass #7 by Sarah J. Maas

My most anticipated reads of 2017 included what we believed would be the final Throne of Glass novel, but that book’s release date was pushed back in favour of a spin-off Chaol novella that had somehow become a full-length book marketed as part of the larger series? The twists and revelations of Empire of Storms feel as if they happened decades ago at this point, but as this series has been such a feat in female-led high fantasy in YA – it certainly inspired a renewed cascade of female protagonists in the genre – I’ll definitely be sticking with it to see how it ends.

Bright We Burn by Kiersten White

Another trilogy closer, this historical fiction finale will see the series come far from its genderbent Vlad the Impaler beginnings. White has opened up  rich alternate history world of ruthlessness and power plays stretching from Lada’s iron-willed rule of Wallachia to the luxurious courts of Constantinople. I was surprised by how much I liked And I Darken and particularly by how engaging Radu’s sections were in Now I Rise. This final confrontation between an increasingly powerful lead trio will undoubtedly be dramatic.

Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier

Many of my most anticipated reads every year are, naturally, sequels or standalones from authors I know can deliver solid story and enjoyable prose. In the interests of adding a new-to-me author to this list, I’ve chosen the award-winning Makiia Lucier’s début in historical fantasy, Isle of Blood and Stone. Nineteen-year-old Elias is a royal explorer, a skilled mapmaker, and the new king of del Mar’s oldest friend. He’;s about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime with an expedition into uncharted waters, but when the long ago story of del Mar’s lost boy princes re-emerges in the shape of two maps bearing hidden riddles, he finds himself sucked into a world of secrets and danger.


Floored by Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood

I love a good ensemble cast, and seven different writers voicing seven different characters is about as much of an ensemble as you can get in YA! There are some serious YA credentials here – I absolutely love Sara Barnard’s A Quiet Kind of Thunder and Non Pratt’s Remix, found Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series hilarious and so biting, was surprised by Lisa Williamson’s All About Mia, and can’t wait to see fantasy trilogy alum Melinda Salisbury turn her hand to contemporary. Floored follows seven teenagers thrown together in unexpected ways, and could be one of the most unique UKYA contemporaries of the year.


Honourable mentions:

A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens: I finally caught up with Robin Stevens’ terrific Murder Most Unladylike books in 2017 – you can read my quick reviews of all of them here! I can’t wait to see where Daisy and Hazel go next in these delightfully written, old-school mystery adventures.

Pages and Co. by Anna James: At last, a début for this list – and children’s fiction, too! I’ve been making more room on the blog for children’s books like Tom Easton’s hilarious Our House, Jessica Townsend’s magical Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow and Katherine Rundell’s Costa-winning The Explorer. I’m pretty sure Pages and Co was originally slated for a 2017 release, but then the details all went a bit quiet. If this story of a girl who discovers book characters coming to life in her grandparents’ bookshop does indeed release this year, it could be terrific.

What books are you looking forward to reading in 2018?


Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard // surprisingly nimble and skin-scrapingly pointed

35495848Author(s): Sara Barnard
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication date: 8th February 2018
Category: YA
Genre(s): contemporary
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the ‘boyfriend’ is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend – not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts…

After soaring once more into my YA favourites with the gorgeous, expressive A Quiet Kind of Thunder, Sara Barnard’s third book delves deep into the bittersweet side of friendship touched upon in her début Beautiful Broken Things in the latest addition to her contemporary repertoireThis standalone’s straightforward writing style and readable length are true to form, but there are also some fresh details, from protagonist Eden’s unexpected love for gardens and growing things to clever character descriptions through quick-fire lists.

A brief stint as a wild child has left Eden McKinley with a moral compass that only occasionally needs to be prodded into better alignment. She is earthy and mouthy and loyal and blinkered in believable but significant ways, particularly when it comes to her best friend Bonnie. A deliberate contrast to Barnard’s previous heroines – caring but sheltered Caddy and sweet but painfully anxious Steffi – she’s a character readers will find themselves rooting for even amid her mistakes. In fact, this may be Barnard’s best book yet in terms of down-to-earth, individuated characters. Eden’s adoptive parents Bob and Carolyn are kind but firm and a tricky relationship with older sister Valerie is pleasingly explored. In a novel which dexterously balances a variety of relationships, the established romance between Eden and boyfriend Connor is a warm, supportive and healthy one. These family and relationship dynamics were my favourite part of the novel.

Barnard improves in some way with every book she writes. Goodbye, Perfect is easily her most thematic book and it is with unprecedented clarity that she takes on the deconstruction of perfection, as Eden comes to realise that the people around her all have faults and unseen depths. Straight-laced Valerie isn’t quite the unbending, unapproachable figure she had imagined her to be; all-round boffin Bonnie hid her insecurities with disastrous consequences. Barnard takes care to note the realistic immaturity of her teenagers, whether it’s Bonnie’s lack of common sense or Eden’s misguided belief that loyalty is in this case more important than her friend’s safety. There are notable subplots and back-stories involving adoption, identity and young carers, too.

Barnard’s writing is by turns nimble, engaging, funny, and skin-scrapingly pointed. A now-experienced hand makes a largely character-driven plot solidly gripping – I raced through the book in one sitting – which is perhaps helped by a short, intense timeline and strong character scenes. The book’s structure is somewhat jumpy early on, and the heavy issues which make up much of its conflict, while carefully handled may put some readers off. I would’ve liked more warmth and richness to the exploration of Eden’s feelings towards her family. I probably prefer A Quiet Kind of Thunder, but then I really did adore that book, and I still hugely enjoyed Goodbye, Perfect. Barnard’s next project will be collaborative YA effort Floored, but I’m already intrigued to see where she goes with her next solo novel.


Sara Barnard’s most thematic novel yet features realistic characterisation, a solidly engaging plot, and dextrous handling of relationships. Goodbye, Perfect is by turns warm and gut-wrenching, unputdownable and assured. 


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.


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.


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.


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.


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