Book Spotlight | Guitar Girl by Sarra Manning

Fame never comes for free, and Molly’s about to find out what it costs.

Guitar Girl

Guitar Girl is one of my all time favourite YA books. An underrated classic.

Molly is a seventeen year old who, along with her friends Jane and Tara wants nothing more than to be noticed for something. Anything. Even if you’re as anxiety-ridden a teen as I was, that’s relatable. So they start a band, pick up a couple of rude and aloof boys on the way, and boom. Fame, success and Molly is suddenly, and increasingly reluctantly in the shoes of her grrrl rock icon, Ruby X. I was fourteen when this book came out and I’m pretty sure I was given a copy not long after it was released. Everyone knew my aesthetic, even then.

If you like YA and you haven’t read this book, I would thoroughly recommend it. Molly is badass and vulnerable in equal measure and her narrative is spiky and relatable and warm. It’s the dream of learning three chords on the guitar and changing the world, and the nightmare of losing control of everything you stand for. Plus there are mysterious terribly-behaved boys, the dangerous side of fame and excess, and a song about Hello Kitty. Every box ticked.

On that note, if you want a cool girl band singing songs about relatable shit, may I recommend “Hey Siri, Open Tinder” by Childbirth. You’re welcome.

Book Spotlight | I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

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I love Alice Oseman. Radio Silence and Solitaire are both books I wish I’d had when I was in high school. Instead of trying to look at them from the perspective of the current young adult audience, these books resonate with Younger Me in a big way, and it’s both heartbreaking and pretty therapeutic.

I Was Born For This is both completely different and exactly the same.

It’s the story of how pervasive and consuming pouring your heart and soul into something can be. A band, a TV show, a book…it’s an authentic look at how how important, and how destructive these things can be when they become everything. It’s also a testament to the friends and communities that build up around things can be to someone who’s lonely or struggling. It can save lives.

So why only four stars?

This didn’t resonate with me in the same way the previous two did, which is not a fault of the book. Most of my fandom adventures were solitary, borne of loneliness in school and mental illness, and I didn’t have anywhere near the experiences of Angel and Juliet. If I’d been more heavily involved? Hell yeah, I can see another version of me in this book.

Overall, not my favourite Alice Oseman book because it didn’t hit my buttons in the specific video-game-puzzle-solving order like the previous two, but still a gr8 book. Alice Oseman is one of the very best YA authors around, and I have absolutely no doubt that pretty much everyone who’s ever used the internet will see themselves in the pages.

Rating: ****

Book Spotlight | The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

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Do you ever read a book that you just know you’d have LOVED in high school? The Sun Is Also A Star is one of them. The journey of two teenagers over the course of one day, brought together by fate and rippling their way through New York City, it’s one of my. favourite reads so far this year

Normally the “instalove” trope is one of the things that makes me want to peel off my own face in frustration, but TSIAAS made it work, through science and poetry. It was the epitome of the heady, intense love of teenage years, when the world shrinks to the point of two people. It should have been tacky, but it wasn’t. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

There were a couple of scenes that I didn’t really enjoy, mainly because they seemed unrealistic to me and kind of pulled me out of it, but the rest of it was pretty spot on. Full of hope and joy and the real tugging sadness of growing up. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Shelve it under “Books I’d Give My Kids To Read”.

Plus Natasha listens to Nirvana and Soundgarden. MY GAL.

Rating: ****

Six for Sunday: Favourite Books People Never Seem To Know About.

MY DUDES. My time has come.

Six for Sunday is a weekly book meme hosted by Steph at Alittlebutalot. There are so many books that I never see getting any love, so strap in, I’m about to take you on a trip through six of them.

The Entire Pellinor Series – Alison Croggon

I found these books in a charity shop and have been heavily obsessed ever since. I love all of the characters, I love the plot, I love the setting, I love how heavily the arts influence the world and the lives of the people who live there and it’s just GLORIOUS.

Guitar Girl – Sarra Manning

Guitar Girl

This was one of my first, if not THE first YA book I ever owned, and I love it. My dream as a fourteen year old was to be in a band, despite having only the bare minimum of musical talent, so I lived vicariously through other mediums. Molly, the lead protagonist (and singer) of Guitar Girl writes songs about Hello Kitty and working a dead-end job and is pretty much a straight up BAMF. All the characters are so flawed and precious and it’ll break your heart and make you want to form a three-chord band. AND SO YOU SHOULD.

The Impossible Knife of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson is my hero. Speak is a book I bang the drum for at every opportunity, but The Impossible Knife of Memory is a brilliant book. It’s the story of Hayley and her war veteran father who suffers from PTSD and traumatic flashbacks, and the struggle as they move back to their home town after a nomadic life. LHA’s books are always so authentic, and her characters so acerbic and vulnerable and Hayley is no different.

What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows – Nora Raleigh Baskin

What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows

Nora Raleigh Baskin is also a QUEEN and one of the staples of my early YA reading. WEGEMK is a book about a young girl who has grown up with her father and older brother and is desperate for a stepmother so she has someone to teach her the things that all the other girls learn from their mothers. It’s a gorgeous wee book about friendship and growing up as a girl and finding out who you are. I loved it when I was eleven and I love it now.

Dogger – Shirley Hughes

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This is a book that very few people seem to remember. I loved Dogger when I was really young, although it BROKE MY HEART because I was an overly sensitive child. Thank god it has a happy ending.

Based on the name people seem to assume that I’m making this book up but I’m not. Promise.

If Only They Could Talk – James Herriot

if only they could talk

I basically swallowed these whole as a child. I’m pretty sure everyone will have heard of James Herriot, but I’m not sure how many people have read his books. They’re incredibly sweet, a glorious trip through the Yorkshire countryside, and they’re so hysterically clever and witty that I challenge you read this without at least cracking a smile.

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I’m now in the mood to read all of these again. Except maybe Dogger. Probably not going to pull Dogger out on the train.

What books haven’t I heard of that I should have? Please open my eyes.

Book Spotlight | The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

A soc has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. 

The Outsiders

The Outsiders is widely accepted as the first ever “proper” Young Adult book. It was published at a time when books for young adults were, as author S.E. Hinton says, “Mary Jane wants to go to the prom with the football hero and ends up with the boy next door and has a good time anyway.”. Or horse books.

It’s the story of a gang of “greasers”, who have a long-running rivalry with the “Socials” or “Socs” – who’re essentially the jocks in this scenario. Think Grease, but with fewer cars and lots of drama and bloody fighting instead of pink ladies and singing. Hinton was sixteen years old when she wrote it. Respect to her. When I was sixteen I could barely get out of bed and she wrote a friggin’ classic.

The Outsiders has been banned in a number of schools because it portrays gang violence, underage smoking and drinking and a bunch of other “sensitive stuff”. Ironically, Hinton points out in the edition of the book that I have that “every teenager feels that adults have no idea what’s going on”. GEE.

Banning books is dumb. Books like this can open up discussions and give young people an avenue to feel like they have a voice, instead of feeling adrift. Hinton was a teenager when she wrote The Outsiders, articulating the gritty, grubby, very real issues she was seeing in her school and neighbourhood. More than a few of these are still relevant today.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Rating: *****

Book Spotlight | Far From The Tree by Robin Benway

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

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I think USYA gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. There’s a bit of a vibe that UKYA is a gritty, honest, dirt-under-the-fingernails look at what it’s like to be a teenager, while USYA is more like…902010 or something, with main characters played by 30 year olds that look nothing like anyone we went to school with.

As someone whose entire YA education came in the form of books sent over to me by my Auntie Fee from New York, I take issue with this. While I could slam a list onto the table, let’s look at something I read recently, courtesy of the March Wildest Dreams book box.

Far From The Tree is the story of three siblings, all given up for adoption by their mother, who find each other in their teenage years. Each of them has a different set of circumstances and background. They team up to find their birth mother, and in the process must find out where they fit into the world.

While they find each other at particularly difficult times in their lives – teenage pregnancy, the foster care and adoption system, relationship problems, family break-up and mental health are all big players in this store – the plot mainly centres on their growing relationships with each other. I hate the word “heartwarming” because it makes me cringe so hard I want to chew my own knuckles off, but it is. It’s well written, and the characters are defined by their relationships with each other, rather than their circumstances, which is nice.

I’d 100% recommend this to any young person – fifteen year old me would have binged through it. It wouldn’t have been one of my favourites (I didn’t cry like everyone else seemed to, but then I am a robot) but I can appreciate a book about finding your place in the world as much as anyone.

Rating: ***

 

Book Spotlight | Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Jandy Nelson meets Friday Night Lights: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.

wing jones

Oh, Wing Jones. For months you sat on my bookshelf, a purchase from the Edinburgh Book Festival, a signed copy I fell upon the same way I did my first bowl of mashed potatoes when I had norovirus.

I can’t believe I had solid gold sitting in my living room since last summer.

I don’t throw the word “perfect” around a lot, but as someone who’s an aspiring YA author, when I eventually manage to string enough words together to constitute a book, god I hope it’s even half as good as Wing Jones. It’s perfect. It’s got everything: romance, drama, an overcoming the odds story, loveable characters from all walks of life. Wing has to overcome adversity on a phenomenal scale, whether it’s the tragedy that strikes her family or her own personal tribulations, and she does it in such a very human very that turns into something else entirely. You feel Wing’s exhilaration in every single line on every page.

It’s a story about finding who you are and what you love and how it can free you, and I wish I’d had it when I was in school. This should find its way into the hands of every young person.

Plus Wing’s grandparents are my favourite and I would windmill slam money down for a book where they go on adventures with each other.

Rating: *****

Book Review | The Fandom by Anna Day

Cosplay ready, Violet and her friends are at Comic-Con.

They can’t wait to meet the fandom of mega movie, The Gallows Dance. What they’re not expecting is to be catapulted by freak accident into their favourite world – for real. Fuelled by love, guilt and fear, can the friends put the plot back on track and get out? The fate of the story is in their hands …

A fast-paced, genre-flipping YA fantasy adventure from a brand new author, writing in homage to the best YA fiction.

the fandom

As a solid fandom-goer from my very early teens, I knew I was going to read The Fandom before I’d even read the synopsis. Such was my excitement that I dispatched my mother to Blackwell’s in Edinburgh to pick it up for me. Thanks Ma.

The Fandom is a book I’d loved to have written for a hundred different things, a story set inside a world that’s been lived in through fanfiction and YouTube videos and hyperactive conversations. It’s a hot plot twist in what has the potential to be a dystopian story all on its own, with characters you’re never sure you can trust and a really grubby, grimy setting.

I loved the fact that even in the middle of peril Violet et al were still fangirling at recognising moments from canon, and discovering new things in the fabric of their favourite story, which is 100% what I’d be doing in her situation. In fact, I spent a lot of the time while I was reading it thinking about how well I’d do if I was sucked into the world of some of my fandoms, and the answer was almost universally “be picked off in about five minutes”. Still, I can dream.

Overall, 4/5 stars – I’m going to stop reading hype for books because it taints the way I read them, and nine times out of ten I end up being disappointed. But I really liked The Fandom, and I loved the idea of fandom becoming reality and vice versa, and my heart was left bereft. I won’t spoil it by saying why – if you want to weep with me, find me on Twitter and let’s hook up.

Oh, and Katie’s insults. Speaking right to my soul, girl.

Rating: ****

Book Review | The Gilded Cage by Vic James

In modern-day Britain, magic users control everything: wealth, politics, power – and you. If you’re not one of the ultimate one-percenters – the magical elite – you owe them ten years of service.

Do those years when you’re old, and you’ll never get through them.

Do them young, and you’ll never get over them.

This is the darkly decadent world of Gilded Cage. In its glittering milieu move the all-powerful Jardines and the everyday Hadleys. The families have only one thing in common: Each has three children. But their destinies entwine when one family enters the service of the other. They will all discover whether any magic is more powerful than the human spirit.

Have a quick ten years. . . .

gilded cage

Free books are my jam (thanks to Sarah from Sarah Withers Blogs for the heads up that this was the iBooks free book of the week) but I don’t expect very much. Which means I’m pleasantly surprised when I become actively invested in them.

The Gilded Cage reminded me in a lot of ways of the Doctor Who episode Turn Left – a dark, alternate parallel of our own world. For most of the characters I either wanted to put them in my pocket to keep them safe or push them off a cliff, but in a chunky number of cases I’m not sure which. There’s magic and rebellion and some REALLY dark politics – for real,  some of the reviews I’ve seen cite the political aspects of the book as a reason they DNF’d it, but take it from someone who will windmill slam a book closed if it gets political and turgid: it’s not anywhere near that bad. Vic James makes it enough to be interesting without it being a slog.

Solid 4/5 stars, with the missing star purely because at some points I didn’t quite jam with the style of writing and the romantic subplot did absolutely nothing for me – but that’s not really the fault of the book, and I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

Rating: ****

Top Ten Tuesday: Love Freebie!

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is on the theme of “love”, with no restrictions…so for fun I thought I’d find someone I loved and get ten books THEY loved. As Sean and I had a weekend in Derby where he was unable to escape my wheedling, I took the opportunity to make him my special guest.

me and sean

I bent the rules a little and let him pick full series instead of a books in some cases, because he was angsting about it and let’s face it – we all know that pain.

This, therefore, is Sean’s Top Ten Tuesday – his favourite books (or book series) of all time.

White Wolf – David Gemmell

white wolf

“I was recommended both White Wolf and Legend by David Gemmell by a friend at university – whilst both are brilliant, the character of Skilgannon reminded me a lot of Drizzt Do’Urden from Baldur’s Gate, one of my favourite games I played as a kid. The quality of the character development of Skillgannon from start to finish is amazing, and I would recommend picking it up if you haven’t yet.”

Legend – David Gemmell

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“While I grew to prefer Skilgannon as a character (compared to Druss in this book), Legend is still a brilliant book with one of the best battle scenes I have ever read.”

The Empire Trilogy – Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

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“Feist is probably more well known for the Riftwar Saga book Magician than this duet with Wurts. The depth of the individual characters and the world’s political atmosphere is something very akin to Game of Thrones and having a female protagonist is awesome. The experiences Mara goes through from book to book gripped me and I already want to go back and experience them again.”

Gameplayers – Stephen Bowkett

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(This is the book that I tracked down and bought for Sean for Christmas – find out more about that here! – Kirsty)

“Out of all of the books on the list, Gameplayers is probably the least technically well written – but it still appeals to me, pure because of the nostalgia. I first read the book when I was around the same age as the characters and found myself going through lots of similar experiences that John went through. It also led me to loving RPG games and trying to play Dungeons & Dragons with people when I could. I’m still trying to D&D today!”

Riftwar Saga – Raymond E. Feist

magician

“My grandad Adrian knows of my love of high fantasy and one night in 2005, while my family were visiting, he asked if I had read Raymond E Feist’s Magician. I said no, and that weekend we went out and I got a copy. Before I had travelled home, I had read the entire book, and already bought Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon on Amazon. From there I was hooked on Feist. Whilst Kirsty has issues getting into High Fantasy, i love losing myself in 6 pages picturing the fjord around me.”

(This is one of my biggest bugbears with high fantasy – yes I’m sure that’s a pretty hill and you’ve described it wonderfully and I know that the setting in a lot of stories is a character in its own right but come on.)

The Two Towers – JRR Tolkien

the two towers

“I’ve always favoured the Two Towers in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Events of Helms Deep and since the first book is primarily two chapters of Tom Bombadil and lots of character development and Frodo whining, i found it to be the perfect balance of building up to the events of the third book and having enough context to keep me gripped.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – JK Rowling

azkaban

“It’s time to admit it, Sirius Black is a man-crush i had throughout Prisoner of Azkaban similar to those man-crushes people supposedly had on Keifer Sutherland when he did 24. Things just kicked off straight from the start in this book, and its always been my favourite in the series.”

Talon of the Silverhawk – Raymond E. Feist

silverhawk

“Talon of the Silverhawk was the final Feist book I really enjoyed – I finished the full Conclave of Shadows saga, but as I got through each book I started to find them harder to read. There are three books that Feist wrote that I’d love to see as a film or series and those are the three in this list. Talon was just sufficiently distancing from the ever present story surrounding Pug and I enjoyed the aspect of how Talon grows from the start of the book.”

The Hunger Games trilogy

hunger games

“The first non-High Fantasy book/series on this list! i picked them up before I had a long weekend from work, and by the time I had to go back all three books were finished. Out of the three, the second book was my favourite. The games like a clock was just such a cool system that I have to give a nod to it.”

The Goosebumps series

goosebumps

“The Goosebumps books my brother’s, but I read them all as I grew up. They are aimed at young teens, so obviously the writing style is focused at that, and they aren’t the type of book I’d be looking to go back and read now as i’m in my mid 20’s (mumble mumble…. 29) but I wanted to capture my full reading history on this list. These were essentially an introduction to reading for me, and they mean a lot to me.

SEAN’S HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Narnia – C.S Lewis

Death of a Salesman – Arthur Miller

Romance of the Three Kingdoms – Luo Guanzhong

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In case it’s not obvious, I’m marrying a big fantasy nerd. Thanks Sean!