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One of our 2018 Books of the Year | As elegant and energising as a flute of fine champagne, this enchanting novel sees 17-year-old Cornish farmer’s daughter and aspiring writer Lou embrace the dizzy decadence of 1920’s aristocracy, with life-changing results. “You can learn an awful lot from books,” according to Lou, and it’s Lou’s love of books that first brings her into contact with the wealthy Cardew family and their “exotic creature” socialite friends. One night she steals across the causeway to empty Cardew House to savour the delights of the library and unexpectedly encounters charismatic Robert Cardew. Their first ablaze-with-banter meeting leaves Lou “hot and cross” but also piercing with “pleasure and longing”, for it’s given her a tantalising glimpse into another world. Then follows an invite from Robert’s fluttery sister, Cailtin, and a summer of extravagant parties opens up. Robert’s voluptuously glamorous fiancé and her “film-star handsome” brother have quite an impact, but it’s the Cardew siblings who weave their way into Lou’s heart. Exuberantly entertaining, breezily romantic and shimmering with the delicious anticipation of pastures new, this is jubilantly fine fiction in the vein of I Capture the Castle.
Cathy Cassidy has a talent for writing positive and life-affirming stories even though they’re about young people facing really difficult situations. Sami’s story is almost too sad to be told. He’s a refugee from Syria, and lost his father, mother and little sister in the Mediterranean as they tried to reach the safety of Europe. That story is told through the pages of his notebook, but it’s interspersed with the story of his life now, living in England with his aunt and uncle and playing in the band Lost and Found. The friendship of the other band members is the best healing possible, and he has a special friend in Lexie, star of the first book in this series. Sub-plots provide light relief, e.g. when Marley recruits tone-deaf Bobbi-Jo into the band convinced her record-producer dad will make them stars. It’s a lovely and very successful mix of music, friendships and the power that comes from kindness and compassion, and classic Cathy Cassidy.
June 2018 Debut of the Month | This ambitiously epic fantasy debut sees a captive princess rise from the ashes of her traumatic childhood to combat a cruel Kaiser. At the tender age of six Theodosia witnessed the brutal murder of her mother, the Queen of Flame and Fury. Now, ten years on, and backed deeper into a no-hope situation by the cruel Kaiser who’s forced her to live in a degraded state as the Ash Princess, Theodosia is driven to concoct a scheme to exact her revenge. With the assistance of a band of magical rebels she will seduce the Kaiser’s son and ruin him from within in order to reclaim the throne. While this motif is far from new, the writing is bold and fresh, and this promising debut sparkles with Theodosia’s drive and desire. But, while she’s a straight-talking, sharp-thinking young woman, her lively first-person narrative also reveals hidden fears, doubts and personal conflicts which, alongside the gory grimness of the political climate (slavery, brutal colonisation) and a backdrop of elemental gods, makes for a riveting reading experience that comes recommended for fans of Sarah J Maas and Victoria Aveyard.
Everyone loves a wedding, right? Especially when you’re Charlie and your beloved big sister is about to get hitched with all your siblings reunited for the big occasion. Focusing on this event is Charlie’s only source of stability right now, what with her parents selling the family home, her Mom’s long-running family-inspired comic strip ending after 25 years, and her having to make huge decisions about her future. It’s the end of an era every which way you look at it, so this weekend “had to be perfect. I would make sure of it,’ Charlie resolves. But, with so much outside her control, Charlie’s dream of a perfect wedding weekend is threatened by a succession of obstacles, errors and unexpected encounters, including an intense reunion with her long-time crush (cue a whole lot of complicated cuteness and deep and meaningful realisations). Alongside the humour, the daunting giddiness of being of the verge of everything changing is brilliantly evoked. Charlie has pushed aside making college decisions for months and instead been utterly preoccupied with the wedding. The million-dollar question is, as her best friend posits, “What happens when this weekend is over?” It’s by no means easy, but since she’s a thoughtful, resourceful young woman, “the one who came to help, who tried to make things work”, the one her siblings called when “they were in trouble”, Charlie realises that while the tides of change are strong, she’s strong enough to ride them out. She and her family will always be there for one another, and you never know what wonders await further out at sea. I adored the author’s The Unexpected Everything and this confirms her status as a mighty fine creator of exuberantly entertaining coming-of-age dramas with authentic emotional depth.
Surely one for fans of Jandy Nelson and Rainbow Rowell, this smart coming-of-age story reels with romance, life lessons and big questions about finding your way. Seventeen-year-olds Reagan and Dee are “friends for infinity”, but they’re also opposites: “In a fairytale, she’d play the good fairy. I’d be the evil witch’s screwup step cousin”, Reagan remarks with characteristic wryness. While Reagan has a history of bad girl behaviour (underage drinking, court appearances and picking bad boys), Dee is a country music superstar who “acts either thirty years old, like a composed professional” or, when she’s with Reagan, “like a twelve year old”. But this summer Reagan plans to get her life back on track as she joins Dee’s first major headline tour. With both girls trying to get over broken relationships, this summer road-trip is a fresh start for them both, but their plans are immediately tainted when a magazine runs a salacious story about Dee. Enter Matt Finch, Dee’s wholesome label-mate. He’s invited to join her tour as a ploy to shift press attention from the alleged “scandal” to speculation that there might be something between him and Dee. The truth is, it’s Reagan who falls for Matt, with his understated handsomeness and a straight-talking vibe she totally relates to. As their romance ignites with electrifying passion, there’s a rocky road ahead for all three as further salacious allegations are made and various mounting pressures threaten friendships and burgeoning romance. The music tour set-up makes this an entertaining escapist page-turner, with the relatable real-life conundrums and dramas providing thought-provoking profundity – the essential ingredients of a rollicking summer read.
This story begins in a spiritual retreat. 17 year old Nora is there to recover from an accident and promises readers she will describe the chain of events that brought her there. It will, she says, be a true story, before immediately admitting that she hasn’t always told the truth. This is putting it mildly: Nora’s whole life is a series of lies and deceptions. She has a library of stories to explain her father’s death for example, and in an early incident in the story orchestrates the sacking of a young art teacher. A skilful and convincing liar, Nora has always got what pretty much what she wants. When she meets the Ingram family, a theatrical dynasty, the part in a new film seems within her reach. But in Bel Ingram, wild, reckless and ruthless, has Nora finally met her match? Nora is a fascinating character who will have readers completely in thrall, while her ‘true story’ is full of shocks and surprises. Intelligent, gripping, highly original.
One of our 2018 Books of the Year | In a Nutshell: Summer of romance, revelations, friendship and feuds Stars collide and sparks fly in this electrifying story of a wildly unforgettable summer. Thought-provoking, funny and flooded with energy, this is contemporary YA at it’s finest. After discovering an unpleasant revelation about her dad, astronomy buff Zorie agrees to go on a glamping trip organised by a drifting friend. The trip goes hideously wrong when the group is expelled from the fancy site and wind up setting up camp out in the bear-ridden wilderness. Matters further disintegrate when Zorie and Lennon, her former best friend and sometime boyfriend, are left alone in the wilds with no transport, and a whole lot of frazzled history between them. Add to this a family feud, unvoiced anger and raging hormones, and the stage is set for an explosive story that’s played-out against a majestic wilderness backdrop. There’s something majestic about Lennon too - his thoughtfulness, his respect for the wild, his respect for Zorie, who also had me hooked from the off. She’s genuine, witty, knows who she is and deals with life’s challenges with strength and maturity. Both she and Lennon kick off clichés and well-worn tropes at every turn, and I relished every moment of their story. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Fractured families | First love | Fresh starts | 16-year-old Holly feels like an outsider, except when she’s swimming at her local pool: “Under the surface, deep in the blue-lit water, nobody can see me. There’s nobody to judge the clothes I wear, or the way my hair frizzles”. It’s at the pool she meets Ed, who’s “not like the boys at school who are either geeky or cocky and smart-arsed and think they’re all that. He’s different”. While romantic feelings, evoked in all their dizzying wonder, swell poolside, at home the seas are stormier. Struggling with depression, Holly’s mum has “become so inward-looking that she hasn’t a clue what I do with my time”. But as Holly’s home-life begins to brighten, Ed reveals that he’s grappling with a serious domestic situation of his own. Warm-hearted, highly readable and romantic, with the bleaker elements of both teenagers’ lives handled with a sensitive lightness of touch, readers will undoubtedly root for Holly and Ed to find their happy ever after. ~ Joanne Owen
One of our 2018 Books of the Year | May 2018 Debut of the Month | Picture this. You’re an honors student with a top university in your sights. You work hard, and you follow your mother’s advice to always put your best foot forward. So how come, when you help a friend in need, you’re man-handled by the police and arrested? How come the cops tell you that they “know your kind...Just couldn’t resist the pretty white girl who’s locked her keys in her car, could ya?” As Yale-bound African American Justyce knows only too well, “things aren’t as equal as folks say they are”. At every turn he’s caught between worlds: a white classmate attributes his success to positive discrimination, while he’s accused of being a race traitor by some of his black peers. He airs this elemental conundrum with SJ, his debate partner: “white people hold most positions of authority in this country. How do I deal with the fact that I DO need them to get ahead without feeling like I’m turning my back on my own people?” And what’s he supposed to do when he falls for SJ and his mama’s dead against him dating a white girl? As the compelling, gut-wrenching story unfolds, Justyce writes a journal to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. to work through his thoughts, vent his frustrations and to ask what Dr King would do in his situation. Then a tragedy strikes that threatens to disarm Justyce’s pledge to do as Martin would do. Important, timely and unforgettable, this powerful exposé of racism, injustice and the injuriousness of profiling articulates the persistent everyday battles faced by thousands of kids in Justyce’s shoes with scorching lucidity. Quite simply, everyone must read this poignant punch-packer of a debut.
***Recommended for 16+ due to content. Book of the Month for May 2018 | Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018 |In a Nutshell: love, truth and the power of release | A gripping, soulful novel about a life-changing day, which will surely change the lives of those who read it. "Where on earth had this day come from? And where was it headed?" remarks 17 year-old Adam as a single day unfurls wave after wave of shattering disruption: first a revelation from his brother, next an ultimatum from his foul boss, then a destabilising announcement from his beloved best friend. And alongside Adam's unraveling, there’s the mesmerising narrative of the ghost of a murdered girl who’s risen from a lake in search of release. Partly modeled on two of the author’s most admired books (Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever), with this remarkable novel Ness once again demonstrates his profound understanding of the complexities of being a young adult, and of the human condition more generally. Adam’s story is pinpricked with truly nerve-touching moments, perhaps most poignantly between him and the overbearing father he fears coming-out to. At one point his dad reveals that he wishes Adam could be honest with him, and then Adam begins to let go. While revealing truths can be excruciatingly painful, doing so might also bring refreshing, life-affirming release. Heartbreaking, intense and acutely honest, this novel casts a subtle spell of hope. ~ Joanne Owen
Brimming with coming-of-age dilemmas, romance and tonnes of transformative on-the-road experiences, this is an ideal summer read for fans of friendship-driven contemporary YA. Introverted history fanatic Abby has had it with feeling abandoned, what with Mom having left the family home and best friend Riya leaving their Californian hometown for Berlin. Moreover, she and Riya parted on bad terms and life hasn’t been the same since. But now, thanks to Riya’s grandmother, they have an opportunity to fix their fractured friendship during a two-week trip around Europe. Being chaperoned by Riya’s cousin is initially annoying, but he and Abby find themselves bonding while things run less smoothly for her and Riya. Matters come to a head in Edinburgh when Riya’s secret is revealed, and the eruptions they experience in Iceland aren’t only of a volcanic nature… “Funny how life has a few of those visible moments, where you can actually see someone turn a corner,” Abby observes, which captures the heart of this novel. Growing up can suck - people evolve, they move, they move on, but that doesn’t mean a friendship has to end, and it doesn’t mean you’re left behind.