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The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve.
'Delivered' is Sylvia Hehir's sequel to 'Deleted'. I haven't read the first book but I don't think that detracted one bit from my enjoyment of this absolute gem of a book. The title is so significant and clever, as it refers to both the birth of a child and the saving of family and personal relationships and maybe even a life. Our heroine, Frankie, hasn't seen her older sister, Keira, for over three years, after she walked out of the rather dysfunctional family home. She returns to her home area unexpectedly, obviously in need of a lot of help and support but Frankie has just arranged to gig with a band in Glasgow for a few weeks, along with her new partner, Alec. Keira refuses to have their parents involved, and, unable/unwilling to get out of her commitment to the band, Frankie leaves her sister and throws herself into Crazy George's struggle to get themselves heard and known. The story is very readable, exciting and completely engaging. It contains such a range of emotions and conditions, from panic, disappointment and addiction to affection, love and pure elation, with the atmosphere portrayed at the gigs and festivals electric and the ending hopeful. I would really love to read the first book in what I hope is to become at least a trilogy. Drena Irish, A LoveReading Ambassador
Ada Lovelace: Rebel. Genius. Visionary | At once a passionate portrait of a scientifically seminal young woman, and a fascinating account of the lives of well-to-women in the early 19th-century, I Ada lays bare the many faces of Ada Lovelace. Ada the inquisitive. Ada the adventuress. Ada the visionary genius who defied convention to become the world’s first computer programmer, the seeds of which are sown in this portrayal of her early life. Driven by drama and a spirit of affection, this is as lively as it is informative. Fathered by flamboyant, notorious Lord Byron, it’s perhaps no wonder how easily Ada slips “into the unbordered realms of the imagination” as a child living on her grandparents’ country estate. Ada thinks of him often, and wonders why her mother speaks little of him. But then, Ada’s relationship with her strict, distant mother is often strained. Ada’s flighty tendencies jar with Lady Byron’s more rigid intellectual outlook. But they’re both inspired by their Grand Tour of Europe - Lady Byron seizes an opportunity to research ideas for her progressive school, while Ada’s mind is opened to a world of possibilities. Back in England, Ada’s desires are constrained by societal conventions, though female thinkers and mathematicians are among her circle, and then she meets a revolutionary inventor whose work chimes with her own innovative scientific ideas…
Interest Age Teen Reading Age 9 | Tanya Landman’s storytelling skills shine bright in this potent re-telling of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Specially written to engage reluctant and dyslexic readers, this soars with passion, pinches with the pain of tragic love and brings Brontë’s commentary on social class to the fore. “It just wasn't in me to be the obedient, devoted daughter my father craved,” Cathy states near the start of her story, shortly before her father takes-in beggar boy Heathcliff, with whom she forms a soulful bond that will last a lifetime - and beyond. “The two of us together were bigger than the sky and freer than the wind”, she effuses. They’re wild, and united in their loathing of Cathy’s cruel brother who demotes Heathcliff from family member to servant (and later labourer) when their father dies. When Cathy agrees to marry a well-off suitor, hoping to use his wealth to free Heathcliff from the hellhole Wuthering Heights has become, misfortune after misfortune strikes. But theirs is a love that endures everything, and Landman’s re-telling does a remarkable job of conveying the conflicts and tragedy of the original.
August 2020 Book of the Month | Hot on the heels of Happy Girl Lucky comes this second book in Holly Smale’s The Valentines series – a wildly entertaining tale in which aspiring actress Faith seems to have it all, before realising she needs to shirk off the shackles of impossible standards and speak from her own script. Stunning and wealthy, with a mega-famous musician boyfriend – what more could a girl want? And coming from a line of talented actresses, Faith’s future as a major movie star is laid out before her like a red carpet. In her grandmother’s words, “You are a Valentine, darling…The entire world has been handed to you on a plate. All you have to do is not screw it up.” But, despite Faith’s privilege, not screwing up is an impossible task when - also in her grandmother’s words, “there is no intermission, Faith. For us, the curtains are always up.” Constantly in the public eye, everything Faith says or does is scrutinised, often wilfully misinterpreted and, when the truth isn’t juicy enough, the press invents their own. Desperate to keep everyone happy, Faith always says what’s she’s supposed to, but that backfires too: “The Daily Mail has once more referred to you as aloof and an Ice Queen. Darling, if you were a man, that would be a way of saying enigmatic. As a woman, it just means nightmare. You must try to come across as warmer. But not so warm that you look desperate, obviously.” Quite simply, Faith can’t win. What’s more, her auditions aren’t going well either, and it’s not long before everything starts to unravel. Faith’s journey really is an additive rollercoaster – she’s someone to root for, and all the characters are fabulously formed. Readers will truly love “I’ll-do-and-say-and-eat-what-I-want, when-I-want” Scarlett who offers Faith a life-changing sisterly hand. With the novel’s exposure of double standards - and impossible standards - seamlessly thread through the pacey plot, this is feminist fiction at its most thoughtful, thrilling and funny. Find out more as Holly Smale talks to us about her fabulous new trilogy!
Through the tangled identity struggles of authentic characters you’ll truly care about, Alice Oseman’s Loveless extends an understanding hand to aromantic asexuals (people who experience little-to-no romantic or sexual attraction, also known as aro-ace) while guiding all readers through fears of being alone and dealing with the pressure to hook up. Moreover, it’s a thoroughly entertaining, gripping page-turner that shows finding happiness isn’t dependent on romantic love. Georgia is desperate to experience her first kiss before she and her two best friends head to Durham University. After being made to feel “weird” and “disgusting” when she confesses to her peers that she’s never kissed anyone, Georgia seizes an opportunity to snog the one and only crush she’s ever had. When this goes spectacularly wrong in a scene that sizzles with tension and scorching comic timing, it hits her that “I hadn’t ever fancied anyone,” that the reality of kissing and romance “disgusts me.” But still she resolves to “try harder. I wanted forever love. I didn’t want to be loveless.” At Durham, while still struggling to find love, Georgia finds new friends in her outwardly confident, sexually active roommate, and Sunil, president of her college’s LBGTQ society. Sunil’s compassion and personal experiences help her discover who she is, to realise that she’s not alone in not feeling sexual or romantic attraction. Georgia’s journey to discovery is far from smooth, though, with many friendship-threatening, edge-of-your-seat errors made along the way.
July 2020 Book of the Month | With characteristic vision and grace Meg Rosoff has done it again in this exquisite novel that merits a place alongside I Capture the Castle, Bonjour Tristesse and The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) for its coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence excellence. Though contemporary, it feels timeless and elementally affecting, much like the Great Godden’s impact on the family whose story it tells. With an idyllic seaside summer stretching ahead, the tingling anticipation of The Great Godden’s unnamed teenage narrator is deliciously palpable: “This year is going to be the best ever: the best weather, the best food, the best fun. The actors assembled, the summer begins.” But there are still two more actors to take to the stage - enter the Godden brothers in a shiny black car. The narrator’s older sister Mattie is immediately smitten by magnetic, handsome, self-assured Kit: “She was desperate to lose her virginity, and what sort of person would say no to Mattie? Surely not some movie star’s kid, fresh off the plane?” Though Mattie is certainly attractive, it’s obvious that charmer Kit has the upper hand of any situation, but might he also be a trouble-maker, as his curt, less-of-a-looker brother warns? Such wonderings underpin some of this novel’s essence. With the stage fully set and summer speeding towards the climax of a wedding, it poses fundamental questions about motivation, and the nature of agency, of lust, of the desire to be seen for who you are. Quivering with unease, passion and paranoia, it also reveals how past experiences engrave themselves upon us, creating fault-lines that may crack and cause future ructions. Sophisticated, seductive and smoothly readable, this is a summer story par excellence, and a coming-of-age tale for all times.
June 2020 Debut of the Month | Falling in love, riding out change, figuring out what you want to do with your life – Ciara Smyth’s pitch perfect debut simmers with romance and deep-rooted dilemmas, delivered through witty dialogue and affecting emotional detail. Seventeen-year-old Saoirse (pronounced ‘Seer-sha’- be sure to get it right) is on the cusp of crossing the Irish Sea to read history at Oxford. Except she’s not sure she wants to go. She has more than enough on her plate dealing with her dad’s remarriage, getting over breaking-up with her girlfriend, and coming to terms with her mum’s debilitating illness. She just wants to spend her summer watching horror movies and kissing girls – no strings attached. To that end, Saoirse goes to a mate’s end-of-exams party and gets it on with his cousin Ruby. Irresistibly drawn to Ruby’s good looks and good heart, Saoirse accepts her challenge to embark on a summer romance with all the serious bits left out, in finest romcom tradition. But, as Ruby sagely points out, “the thing about the falling in love montage…is that when it’s over, the characters have fallen in love”. Super smart and funny (“If you are a girl inclined to deface school property, may I suggest the classic penis and balls, as you will avoid suspicion due to stereotyping”), Saoirse is a lead fans of contemporary YA will love and root for - flaws and all - and her journey is a thoroughly entertaining, thought-provoking rollercoaster ride.
Soar into space with this glorious love story of alien folk, from the creators of The Gruffalo and Stick Man. The Smeds (who are red) never mix with the Smoos (who are blue). So when a young Smed and Smoo fall in love, their families strongly disapprove. But peace is restored and love conquers all in this happiest of love stories. There’s even a gorgeous purple baby to celebrate! With fabulous rhymes and breathtaking illustrations, this book is literally out of this world! From the creators of The Gruffalo, Stick Man and ZOG, which have all been made into animated films shown on BBC1 Zog and the Flying Doctors animation will be shown on BBC1 December 2020.
Exploring the all-consuming throes of love, malicious secondary school social politics, sexual abuse, and how difficult coming out can be, William Hussey’s Hideous Beauty is a top-notch YA thriller with hard-hitting emotional resonance. Forced by social media exposure to come out earlier than planned, Dylan and his gregarious boyfriend Ellis reveal their relationship to the world in spectacular style at a school dance: “Okay, Dylan, this is it. No going back. The closet door is firmly barred behind you, chained and bolted. No re-entry, no refunds. It’s gay all the way from here on out.” Riding high after an unexpectedly jubilant response to their revelation, tragedy strikes when they leave the party - Ellis becomes angry and their car plunges into a lake. While Dylan is rescued, Ellis drowns, leaving Dylan wracked with grief and guilt: “I deserve the pain. I deserve the crazy. I deserve a messed-up hand. No one’s taking these things away from me.” Set on trying to “find out who pulled me out of that car and why they left Ellis to drown”, it’s not long before Dylan stomps into a viper’s nest, uncovering jaw-dropping truths that set him - and readers – reeling. With his family less than supportive, at least best friend Mike remains at Dylan’s side, even though he’s undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia. Gripping, moving and unflinchingly honest, this is a fiercely affecting novel, told through the cleverly interwoven collision of two timelines.
I really liked this book. Boyfriend troubles are not new but mobile phone problems help to make matters worse. Hence the title, Deleted. This is more than just a girl with boyfriend issues, her best friend telling her not to go near a new boy in the village - how much more will happen to Dee? The plot thickens and thus begins a mystery. I love the illustration on the front cover and I thought that the whole story was well written, from an author I am now going to seek out. This is a great young adult book. Jane Brown, A LoveReading4Kids Ambassador
June 2020 Debut of the Month | At seventeen, Brooklyn hipster Cal is a successful social media journalist accustomed to living in the public eye, with a whopping 435,000 followers on the FlashFame app. But even Cal isn’t ready for the unforgiving media storm he’s thrust into when his pilot dad is shortlisted for NASA’s Orpheus mission to Mars. Initially dead against leaving Brooklyn, Cal begins to wonder whether “maybe Clear Lake, Texas, has a story out there just waiting for me to uncover.” And then there’s handsome Leon, one of the other “Astrokids”, who’s set his heart pounding before they’ve even met. On arrival, and immediately thrust into the spotlight by StarWatch reality TV show, Cal finds himself “admitting I like our new home, even this town”, which in turn “feels like I’m abandoning my old life.” Maybe this is down to his contradictory nature - Cal is anything but a straightforward teenager. He doesn’t think like one. He doesn’t speak like one. Indeed, his thought processes and dialogue can seem out of kilter with his age. He needs everything just-so, but at the same acts impulsively. For example, he can’t stop himself from broadcasting news about his dad to his followers, which - as predicted - results in him facing the wrath of StarWatch. Cal’s settling-in has a lot to do with his rollercoaster romance with Leon. It’s starts out with the thrust of a rocket launch (“This crush is strong. This crush is too powerful. This crush will be the end of me”), and then comes a crash to earth alongside tragedy striking the mission. In the aftermath of this, Cal finds himself working to expose Starwatch’s agenda, both to clear his name and save the mission, and the truths revealed sure ain’t pretty. Covering mental health issues (via Leon’s depression and Cal’s mom’s anxiety) alongside a whirlwind coming-of-age gay love story, The Gravity of Us is an entertaining YA debut that gives many underrepresented folk a chance to see themselves on the page, with the added kick of space exploration and media ruthlessness.
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