Lies Like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez – TheWriteReads Blog Tour

Lies Like Wildfire is the epitome of high-octane, fast-paced action, and was the absolute perfect binge-read. I struggled to put it down throughout, and when I wasn’t reading fervently, I was thinking about the characters and worrying about what would happen next. Needless to say, it’s a book that stays with you after finishing, too.

The group of teenagers the book follows—nicknamed the ‘monsters’—are joined at the hip, and would do anything for each other. When a scuffle between them leads to a lit match being dropped in a highly flammable area, the resulting wildfire sweeps through the local area and devastates their community. Then the burning question (excuse the pun) is raised: will everyone discover it was their fault?

Plot-wise, the investigation into the cause of the fire kept the story moving along at an incredibly fast pace. Amazingly, it wasn’t the only source of drama, though—the friendship group dynamics shifted as events unfolded and suspicions grew, and new problems came to light. The characters in the friendship group were all realistic and all had their own issues to contend with, which made for some fascinating changes in loyalties and motivations, and some cracking side plots that kept throwing me curveballs when I least expected it.

The protagonist, Hannah, was perhaps not the most likeable of characters, but this was of no detriment to the plot. Indeed, her often questionable decisions and fluctuating motivations meant that I, as a reader, was constantly left reeling as events unfolded. The investigation into the fire-starting teens felt high-stakes, because Hannah had so much to lose: not just because she’d be in trouble with the law, but because of how it was affecting her relationships with her father, the sheriff, and with her best friends—namely with Drummer, who she was desperately in love with. As far as narrators go, Hannah may not be the most mature of the characters, but boy, does she make for an unpredictable perspective.

The writing was to-the-point and not overly flowery, which worked perfectly with the pacing; there was a perfect ratio of action to streams of consciousness, so the reader is given time to breathe. Though, to be honest, I’m pretty certain I had heart palpitations every few pages, as I was so worried for the characters—I was kept on the edge of my metaphorical seat the whole way through, and I enjoyed every minute! I will absolutely be picking up Jennifer Lynn Alvarez’s next book; if it’s anything as rip-roaring and exciting as Lies Like Wildfire, then I can’t wait to read it!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Lies Like Wildfire is available for purchase from Waterstones and other bookshops from September 9th. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @PenguinPlatform for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

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@TheWriteReads Blog Tour Review: The Cousins by Karen M. McManus

If I’m ever recommending a crime book to a parent of a teen, or to someone who loves an unputdownable, twisty thriller, Karen M. McManus is always my go-to author. Often parents will come up to me in the bookshop I work at and say: ‘My daughter doesn’t usually read, but she’s obsessed with One of Us Is Lying’, or: ‘My son read all of Karen M. McManus’s books and is now hooked on thrillers, and has got his friends reading them too’. This is part of the beauty of her books: not only are they all incredibly well-written—without ever alienating reluctant readers, might I add—but they’re all downright addictive. Comparisons with bingeworthy Netflix dramas are definitely not unfounded; I defy anyone reading one of her books to not want to finish it in one sitting. Considering I made a conscious effort to hide myself away on lunch breaks so I could read it, and practically hissed at anyone who interrupted me, The Cousins is no exception to this rule.

MY GOD. If anyone thinks thrillers are becoming predictable, then point them in the direction of The Cousins, because I guarantee they will be floored by the twists. One of the things that McManus is best at is luring in her readers with ostensibly classic thriller concepts. In The Cousins, three cousins are invited to their grandmother’s home out of the blue, having never met her. Since their grandmother cast out her four children with a dramatic note reading ‘You know what you did’, the cousins are desperate to get to know her, and find out why she disowned her kin. As they attempt to get close to her, they get to know each other after years apart, and unearth secrets about each other, their parents, and their estranged grandmother.

If you think you can see where this is going, I guarantee you are wrong.

Part of the lure of The Cousins comes from the multiple perspectives. The three different narrators keep the plot fresh, and interestingly are not always the most reliable of storytellers. There’s something magnetic about her adolescent characters, who are never stereotyped or generalised in tropes used when writing about teenagers; they’re all resourceful and intelligent in their own ways, and are as well-rounded as any character in an adult thriller. I found myself as drawn to the relationship building between the three cousins—Milly, who takes no crap from anyone; sweet and perceptive Aubrey; and sarky, infuriating Jonah—as I was to the mystery. The side-characters are no exception; each are integral to the plot in their own way, and no cameo is wasted, which keeps you constantly guessing as to each person’s significance on the overall plot. What McManus also manages exceptionally well is a fine balance between character building and narrative progression; the twists and turns don’t start to come until mid-way through the book, but not a single page is wasted in building up the mystery and the colourful cast caught in the middle of it.

Secrets are uncovered on practically every page, and as the story races to its dramatic conclusion, the events are scandalous, the characters’ actions are gloriously morally questionable, and the reveals are utterly wild. It’s an absolute rollercoaster, and I couldn’t think of a more fun and dramatic cast of characters to deliver all the punchlines and shocking truths.

A million comparisons with iconic authors and popular franchises could be drawn, but I honestly think McManus has created her own genre of thriller. With her wonderful characters and a plot that builds gradually before madly twisting and turning, her books are perfect reads for both die-hard thriller fans and for those getting started in the genre. I’m certain even the biggest McManus fans won’t be able to predict what will happen—I went into The Cousins suspicious of everything and trusting no one, and I still came out of it breathless and shocked.

The Cousins has solidified McManus’s status as a household name in YA, and now the book is out in the world, I know it will serve as a fabulous introduction for new readers in the genre, and thrill those who are already fans. Bring on book five!

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Cousins is available for purchase from Waterstones and other bookshops. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @PenguinPlatform for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

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Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest by Aisling Fowler – TheWriteReads Blog Tour Review

I thought I knew what to expect when I started to read Fireborn, but it really took me off guard. I read A Lot of middle-grade fantasy, so it’s always wonderfully refreshing to be introduced to a unique world and magic system – from the off, Fireborn was full of exciting worldbuilding, colourful characters and hierarchies, and a palpable sense of threat from an unexpected enemy. What really captured my heart, though, was the main character Twelve.

As Fireborn was wonderfully written—Aisling Fowler is a true talent—the story was rich with character detail, flashbacks, and internal monologues. Twelve is certainly not your average middle-grade heroine, and Fowler explores her character with unprecedented depth and insight. Twelve doesn’t just have a token traumatic past: she’s struggling daily with anger outbursts; she’s crushed with guilt; and she doesn’t know what it is to have friends, so is really quite lonely. Her character arc was the highlight of Fireborn for me; while some of her outbursts were understandable, she was occasionally cruel and volatile, but at no point did I ever dislike her as a character. There’s definitely a tendency of readers (or viewers, if we are considering TV shows and films) to dislike female characters who aren’t Mary Sues, which is antiquated to say the least—but I personally found Twelve’s sarky, cold humour and blasé attitude endearing. What I also loved is that she’s not automatically brave, as many sarcastic and hot-tempered characters are sometimes typecast. Her bravery came gradually to her, and she had to force it at times, which was always described in a gentle and relatable way to readers. Even as we were shown flashbacks to Twelve’s less pleasant memories, or to times where she was ashamed of her behaviour, you can’t help but feel for her, and will her to be better for the sake of all she’s set to gain.

Plot wise, Fireborn was perhaps a little slow to start, but by the time the characters’ quest was in full swing, I was completely hooked. When one of Twelve’s fellow Huntlings is taken captive by goblins, she takes it upon herself to rescue her, and is accosted by a giant stone guardian affectionately referred to as ‘Dog’, and two of her other Hunting Lodge cohort: Five and Six. Together, they make a fabulous team, even when they’re not getting along; you can’t help but enjoy their banter and begrudging teamwork as they’re facing off dastardly foes and befriending magical creatures along the way. I did laugh out loud at some of their interactions, if only because Twelve is so entertaining, and they carry the plot along beautifully.

One thing I will also mention is that there is an element of LGBTQ+ representation in Fireborn that was really lovely to read—to say in what capacity would be a spoiler to the plot, but it is worth mentioning given how rarely it appears in middle-grade fiction. I look forward to seeing how it is built upon in the rest of the series.

The structure of the world was hinted at sporadically as the plot progressed, which I usually find frustrates me, but it worked well alongside the gradual reveals of Twelve’s backstory; I got the impression that Book 2 would take place in the wider world, and that relationships between the ‘clans’ would be revealed in greater detail, as well as more lore being explained and introduced. As far as first books in series go, Fireborn was a wonderful introduction to a new magic system and a world of clan rivalries and relationships that greatly intrigued me, and have me looking forward to learning more about as the series progresses.

Overall, Fireborn was a highly enjoyable adventure, and I’m so looking forward to reading more about Twelve and her motley crew, and to recommending it to customers. There’s a lot of potential for unique worldbuilding and character development, and I don’t doubt that Fowler will deliver it; this is an incredibly accomplished debut, so she’s definitely an author I will look out for!

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Fireborn: Twelve and the Frozen Forest is available for pre-order from Waterstones and other bookshops, and is released on September 30th. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @HarperCollinsCh for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

Zed and the Cormorants by Clare Owen – Blog Tour Review with Arachne Press

I’ve always been drawn to Cornish fiction – partly due to the sheer volume of holidays to Cornwall I had in my childhood, and the love I have for the area, and also partly due to the fact that Cornwall is an incredibly atmospheric setting. Zed and the Cormorants has a simultaneously claustrophobic and magical setting in a Cornish town that fits the narrative beautifully, and satisfies my love for gothic Cornish fiction. This was undoubtedly my favourite element of the book, as it was beautifully and hauntingly delivered.

Having moved to Cornwall on a whim of her father, Zed is thrust into a small neighbourhood that contains an eclectic cast of charming characters, a beautiful natural surrounding area, and a bizarrely large number of cormorants: large black sea birds with long beaks and piercing eyes. The more Zed and her family get settled in, the more ominous the presence of these birds becomes, to the point where she’s constantly afraid they’ll attack her. This eerie behaviour prompts an obsession with the cormorants, and as her family’s luck worsens, Zed finds herself investigating the town’s past with the birds to see if there is a connection between the two. The result is an intriguing mystery full of atmosphere and magical realism, with the presence of the cormorants adding a sense of foreboding and danger that propels the narrative forward wonderfully, especially as things start to go wrong.

The family dynamic in Zed’s household is complex, and serves as an equally interesting storyline alongside the mystery. Zed has a lot to deal with at home: the abominable attitude of her sister, Amy, who is missing her toxic boyfriend; their mother’s fragile mental health; and their father’s questionable dedication to his newfound passion for baking. To make things worse, her best friend from her old home is acting distant – though striking up a friendship with local woman Cordelia does lesson the blow. As does befriending local girl Tamsin, especially as there begin to be suggestions their friendship could develop into something more. Each character is well-rounded and three-dimensional, and they all play their own role in helping Zed uncover the mystery of the cormorants, and provide some lovely moments of relief to the creepier sections. Zed herself is an endearing, smart protagonist; she certainly goes through a lot, but is courageous and kind-hearted at every turn, making her a delight to read about. The relationships she has with her family members are raw and realistic; the sibling camaraderie was a particular highlight, as in spite of the things Amy has been through, she is always there for her sister.

The overall atmosphere of the book is the star of the show, and I’ve been thinking about the creepy cormorants non-stop since finishing it. The Cornish folklore and mythology that the book quotes creates a genuine gothic tone that is hard to find in YA nowadays, and the quirky characters and unsettling, slow-build mystery add exciting layers to the tale. The writing is also incredibly accomplished; while the book is perfectly suited for the young end of YA, the writing style is so evocative that any fans of gothic fiction would appreciate it. Clare Owen is a very talented writer, and I’m so excited to see what she does next.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Zed and the Cormorants is out now, and available to buy here. Thank you to Arachne Press for the review copy.

Things to Do Before the End of the World by Emily Barr – TheWriteReads Blog Tour Review

“You know when you worry about everything all the time? Sometimes it turns out that it’s the thing you haven’t bothered to think about – the thing that’s too outlandish, even for you – that turns out to be the one thing that’s going to get you.”

As a disclaimer, I don’t usually read thrillers, because I’m both easily spooked and prone to getting so invested/stressed out by what I’m reading that I have to physically put the book down before I have a heart attack. Things to Do Before the End of the World was one such thriller, but MAN am I glad I read it, because WHAT. A. BOOK. I defy anyone to not be at least a bit freaked by the end – I finished it about a week ago, and I’ve been thinking about it almost non-stop since then.

I’m not exaggerating when I say Emily Barr’s writing gets under your skin in this book. In Things to Do, an environmental catastrophe nicknamed ‘the Creep’ is imminent; the air on planet Earth will become unbreathable, and all life on the planet will suffocate. Humanity is given less than a year to live. It’s perhaps easier than usual to picture what this catastrophe could look like in real life, given the year we’ve had, but even this scale of terminal judgement is difficult to imagine. Barr paints an eerily convincing picture of this future that is fascinating in a very morbid way. Often the best part of a dystopian book is the way the author sets up and describes the nature of the dystopia and how it came about, but here, the Creep is simply a backdrop to a bigger picture and a dramatic plotline. Having said this, though, it’s constantly present and cannot be ignored; if anything, the further through the book you get, the more the Creep weighs on you as it begins to inch closer. As the world heats up in the book, so does the tension, to the point where the atmosphere is almost cloying, but in the best possible way as far as pace goes.

The Creep provides an organic sense of foreboding throughout, so the pace constantly seems to be picking up, even when the characters are acting normally. There are so many plot threads that are foreshadowed and interspersed throughout, so by the end, my pulse was racing, my palms were sweating, and at one point, I genuinely had to put the book down and exhale slowly because I might actually pass out. This book is a self-contained, slow-building adrenaline rush, and lends itself wonderfully to binge-reading. I read it in two sittings: one substantially calmer, even when feeling slightly perturbed, and the other in a frenzy as I realised I wouldn’t be able to rest until I’d finished it.

Protagonist Olivia is down-to-Earth and relatable in her shyness. As much as she is desperate to push herself out of her comfort zone and go after the girl she likes, go to the parties everyone else her age does, etc, she still finds herself struggling and holding back. Olivia is not an extraordinarily brave person – or even overly unique in the ‘classic YA protagonist’ sense – but I don’t think she’s meant to be; she’s just someone trying to live what she believes to be the last few months of her life to the fullest. That alone makes the book hit you where it hurts, because it’s all too easy to imagine yourself in Olivia’s position. The introduction of the Creep into her life agitates her for obvious reasons, but also kickstarts a determination to push herself out of her comfort zone. Enter cousin Natasha, who appears out of the blue to help Olivia do exactly that. From this point onwards, the plot shoots off in a variety of unpredictable directions; to say more would risk dropping spoilers, but rest assured, this book is full of dramatic and emotional bombshells.

One week on from reading it, and I’ve not entirely recovered. I picked up a rom-com within minutes of finishing it as a way of calming myself down – just to give you an indication of the book’s intensity! I cannot recommend it highly enough: whether you’re a fan of realistic climate change fiction, slow-building psychological thrillers, or just want a fabulous book to binge-read under the covers with a torch at 2am (but only if you really want to creep yourself out), Things to Do Before the End of the World is an excellent read.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Things to Do Before the End of the World is available for purchase from Waterstones and other bookshops from May 13th. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @PenguinPlatform for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli – TheWriteReads Blog Tour Review

Now I’m already a big fan of Becky Albertalli (who isn’t?!), but Kate in Waiting is just so effortlessly wonderful that it’s officially up there on a pedestal with my favourite YA romances. With endearingly lovely characters, genuine, realistic interactions, and a lively narrator, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this book.

The age-old love triangle dynamic has been done to death, so it’s nothing short of miraculous that Albertalli’s take is fresh and original. Best friends Kate and Andy both fall rather comically in love with dreamy, talented, adorkable Matt, and their friendship is thrown on the rails when he moves to their school and they realise that they actually stand a chance of being with him. Of course, only one of them could realistically manage this, so they make a pact: to be happy for the other person No Matter What Happens. Cue the drama (literally). The musical production all three teens are performing in provides the perfect backdrop not only for tensions to heighten, but also for the reader to have some fun, because the characters are exactly that: they are just So. Much. Fun.

I ended up simultaneously rooting for both (and neither, because they don’t need no man) Kate and Andy, because their friendship was just outrageously adorable and genuine. There is a tragic shortage of well-written and realistic friendship arcs in YA that don’t revolve around miscommunication and fall-outs, so Kate and Andy were an absolute joy to read about. They get each other in the way that best friends should – and when there is miscommunication, it’s short-lived, and all either character cares about is the other’s feelings, regardless of the romantic situation. There’s an endearing co-dependent, Will and Grace closeness to their friendship that makes you care more about their friendship than their romantic prospects, which I think was entirely the point, and I have a lot of time for it. No part of the friendship’s plot was contrived or unnecessary – every thought running through Kate’s head and every action she took was understandable, relatable, and made you love her even more. Plus, I adored all the side characters and their individual relationships, which is undoubtedly one of Albertalli’s strong points, given the success of her Simonverse characters. So Kate in Waiting gets a big thumbs-up from me in that department; I would leap at the chance to read more books about Kate, Andy, Matt, Noah, Brandy, Raina, etc. etc.

The musical and drama elements of the book were so gloriously Disney Channel that it took me back to memories of my own secondary school musical productions. I have no idea if Albertalli was a theatre kid herself, but you would genuinely believe she was based on how much the book sings with love and passion for the stage. It made me want to jump back in time and belt out questionable versions of Oliver! songs as part of a significantly more talented chorus, which, if I’m being perfectly honest, were highlights of my time at school. I think, though, regardless of whether you’ve had the same experience, the drama elements of Kate in Waiting are just utterly joyous, and just add to the enthusiasm and fun of the book.

As far as narrators go, Kate is incredibly relatable, if only because she’s used to being an understudy in life. She’s forever felt like a side character in other people’s lives and love stories, which is undoubtably a feeling readers will have experienced before; in this sense, it’s lovely when you get to see Kate succeed, as it feels much more like a personal victory for life’s underdogs. She’s also very personable, compassionate, and puts her friends first – basically, it’s impossible not to like her!

Overall, I just had an absolute blast reading this book. Albertalli is such an accomplished writer, and her characterisations and storylines are immensely satisfying, so it’s escapist fun at its finest. Amongst the pacy plot and witty character interactions, though, the book is interspersed with some genuinely lovely passages about love, friendship, and living in the moment; it had me looking back on my school years with a fondness I haven’t done in a while. I’d recommend Kate in Waiting to anyone who loves a solid, character-driven book with friendship at the heart of the story.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Kate in Waiting is available for purchase from Waterstones and other bookshops. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @PenguinPlatform for the advance copy, and @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

@TheWriteReads Blog Tour Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

You would think that middle-grade—or 9-12—fantasy is a genre that must be increasingly difficult to be unique in. There already exists a wealth of gorgeously-written, imaginative works that children and adults alike are enraptured by; from staples such as the works of Tolkien, and the Chronicles of Narnia, to the exciting modern worlds of Nevermoor, Percy Jackson, and The Wizards of Once. That’s part of the beauty of the publishing world at the moment: there are so many exciting magical stories to be told—and if Amari and the Night Brothers is anything to go by, the sky’s the limit for the genre.

The story follows Amari, whose desperation to find her missing brother results in her discovering an entire supernatural world hidden in plain sight, and undergoing trials to get into her brother’s workplace: the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. B.B. Alston has meticulously and often wittily woven this world into our own, with the Bureau instigating Men-In-Black-esque memory wipes for any human who witnesses supernatural happenings, and large-scale cover-ups for historical events such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, where, naturally, peace-brokering aliens assisted. Humour aside, though, the world is so richly-imagined, and there are some gorgeous passages of description. Indeed, as the reader watches Amari discover this world, her quest is sometimes given the back seat so the reader can partake in her amazement.

In this sense, Amari and the Night Brothers is one of those books that is written to be a movie. When I say this, I don’t mean that it’s better-suited for the screen. Simply put, it’s a story that is incredibly rich in visuals, with descriptions of magical acts and moments that take your breath away as a reader; one can only imagine how beautifully some of these scenes would translate to the screen. One early scene that stuck with me was Amari witnessing the International Railways of Atlantis beneath the ocean:

‘For as far as I can see the ocean lights up, like it’s trying to outshine the starry night above. The whole world becomes a light show, just for me.’

Now you try telling me you don’t picture a gorgeous, sweeping shot of the sea lit up with beams of light, while a wide-eyed young girl looks on in wonder. Yep. Cue the John Williams soundtrack. The book is full of gems like this passage, and getting goosebumps from reading something like this so early on in the book (page 19!) made me realise I was reading something really special.

Another highlight of the book is Amari herself. Before starting the book, I was really struck by Alston’s note to readers where he admits he initially wrote her as a ‘typical middle-grade protagonist, a wise-cracking white kid’. But when writing, he found ‘Amari’s annoyed voice would remind [him] that this was her story’. I think it’s easy for a lot of people—myself included—to take for granted that our stories were told in the books we grew up reading. Taking this into consideration, every mention of Amari’s background or race or experience hit that little bit harder, including this passage in particular:

‘“People are going to form opinions and say nasty things about you based on nothing more than what you are. You sure you’re prepared for that?”

I smile a little. Am I prepared for that? It’s kind of like how being a Black kid from the projects makes Mr Jenson feel the need to watch me close every time I come in his store. Or how surprised my scholarship interviewers were that I could speak so well. People assume stuff about you based on things you can’t change about yourself. So I just do my best to prove them wrong, to be the person they’re not expecting. Amari Peters, changing minds one person at a time.’

If that’s not a positive message to young girls like Amari, I don’t know what is. Amari is intelligent, passionate, and determined in everything she does, and most of all she is loving—her love for her brother drives her in her mission, and also forces her to see what he believes: that she is capable of anything. I really rooted for Amari—she does not have an easy time of it, but she is more powerful and resilient than she gives herself credit for. She also makes some wonderfully supportive friends over the course of the book; the side characters are excellently drawn, and all have their place in the plot.

In terms of plot, I genuinely couldn’t fault this book. At no point could I predict what would happen next—it’s full of red herrings and unanswered questions, but it never leaves you guessing for too long. I was well and truly hooked on all the mysteries and the twists and turns, and was very satisfied—and shocked!—by the resolution. There isn’t much I can say without giving things away; the plot I’ve mentioned barely scratches the surface! But alongside the authentic, exciting characters, and the admirable, feisty protagonist, the main thing to take away from this book is that it’s a wonderful, richly-imagined fantasy adventure brimming with magic and heart. You can tell how much thought has gone into Amari and the Night Brothers, and I don’t doubt that the following books in the series will deliver as book 1 has. I can’t wait for Amari to take the middle-grade world by storm in 2021.

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Amari and the Night Brothers will be released on January 21, 2021. I would like to thank @TheWriteReads and @Egmont for the advance copy, and to @TheWriteReads On Tour for including me in their blog tour.

Review: Hollowpox – Jessica Townsend

Returning to the world of Nevermoor is like coming home.

There are few book series that can boast they’re the literary equivalent of being curled up in fluffy socks with a hot drink by the fireplace on a cold day, but for me, the Nevermoor series embodies exactly that. There’s something so comforting about the wonder (or wunder, if we’re being technical) of a world where absolutely anything can happen, and where you care about the fate of every single loveable character. Plus, you just can’t beat the feeling of glee this series can give you when Morrigan succeeds at something, or the relief when Jupiter finally shows up in a sticky situation, or the excited trepidation when you learn about a new (and probably incredibly dangerous) part of Nevermoor.

Yeah, you could say I enjoy reading Jessica Townsend’s books.

While arguably darker than the previous two—particularly in light of the accidental similarity between the events in the book and… whatever the heck is going on in 2020—Hollowpox is no exception to the above. Equal parts exhilarating, heart-wrenching, and riveting, the book juggles plot threads with ease, leaving the reader constantly guessing at what might happen next, keeping you hooked to the point where stopping reading feels borderline sacrilege. It never leaves you completely in the dark, though; it’s too clever a book for that. Everything is significant, and every action has consequences—this is a spoiler-free review, but let’s just say that Morrigan learns this lesson more than most.

The Hollowpox virus plays a far more political role in the narrative than I anticipated, but in a positive way—it didn’t seem too close to home! That said, the way characters respond to the virus and what it means for both Wunimals and humans is startingly well-observed, which only adds to the authenticity of the plot and the series as a whole. The trope of children rolling their eyes at adults handling situations poorly and taking things into their own hands certainly comes into play, but at great cost to Morrigan’s sanity, which was difficult but deeply interesting to read.

I admire Morrigan greatly as a character, mostly because she spends a lot of the time being kept in the dark about things by people who think they know better, and she still manages to stay determined to fix things. It’s been satisfying throughout the series to see her grow as she’s realised that adults don’t always know better, and that sometimes the best judge of her own self-worth is herself. Especially when said adults realise they’re in the wrong. (I swear I’m not constantly bitter at the Society Elders. Except I am. Constantly.) Despite this, even Morrigan doesn’t always make the right decisions in Hollowpox. She has every reason to be morally ambiguous based on the adults that have failed her; the inherent unpredictability of the book lends itself to this wonderfully. While reading, I never knew what Morrigan is going to do next, and this was a constant source of fascination for me.

One of my other absolute favourite tropes is that of found family, the representation of which in Hollowpox certainly doesn’t disappoint. We see more of Morrigan’s friends in the Unit—and of some of their families—and we spend lots of time at with her supportive and dysfunctional Deucalion family, who are as delightful as ever. She’s given opportunities to think about what family means to her, and this makes for some utterly lovely and really quite profound passages. I’d also like to take this opportunity to do a shout out to Jupiter, who—when present—continues to be the best eccentric, dangerously optimistic, magical guardian/surrogate father in modern children’s fiction. His every appearance is glee epitomised (I defy you to not giggle when he stamps on his hat in frustration) and he continues to be a wonderful role model to Morrigan. In summary: I love him.

There is, of course, one particularly negative role model who lurks in the background of Hollowpox—but the part Mr Squall plays is far from predictable. In this sense, the plot truly had some jaw-dropping moments, along with a scattering of heartbreak, and some immensely satisfying scenes; but there was not one moment when I could predict what was coming next, nor could I guess who would play which role in the story. I defy you to read it and not be constantly surprised and entertained by the curveballs Townsend throws at readers.

Ultimately, though, alongside the surprises and entertainment, Hollowpox is a book that will make you want to curl up in bed and read into the early hours of the morning. It’s a world worth savouring, and one I honestly cannot wait to return to in Book 4.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’d like to thank 5 Get Bookish from @HachetteKids for the reading copy.

August YA Haul

Naturally, as a bookseller with a dangerously good work discount, the rate at which I acquire books is something I need to closely monitor. Let’s just say my New Year’s Resolution policy of buying one book for every six I read kind of went out of the window when a certain pandemic hit, and even after acquiring books at an alarming rate over lockdown, at the first given opportunity this month, I went ballistic in Waterstones and second-hand bookshops. Despite many YA releases being unfortunately pushed back to next year (I’m looking at you, Gilded Ones – though if anything it’ll give me time to read and review my ARC!), the selection of releases this summer has been incredible, and has made the chaos of the real world infinitely more bearable.

We Are Bound by Stars – Kesia Lupo
Having loved We Are Blood and Thunder, the second I saw this arrive at work I snapped up a copy (pretty sure one of my colleagues would have fought me for it if I hadn’t been quick!). The world that Kesia Lupo has created is definitely the highlight of this series; her writing is wonderfully descriptive, and the attention to detail in the worldbuilding means it is both impressive and incredibly authentic. Let’s just say that if you like a fantasy book with a good map and religious/magical systems, this series has it ALL. The plot in Book 1 was a slow-burner, meaning the two protagonists in were both well-developed and explored by the time the drama kicked up a notch, so I’m looking forward to getting to know new characters with different roles, as well as learning more about this spellbinding fantasy world.

Heartbreak Boys – Simon James Green
Simon James Green has been an increasingly popular voice in the LGBTQ+ romance genre, and having jumped aboard the Adam Silvera train a couple of years ago, and adoring Hideous Beauty by William Hussey, I knew it was high time I gave one of Simon’s books a go to add to my mlm repertoire. The concept of Heartbreak Boys completely stole my heart – fake dating? Summer road trip romance? This could be the fanfiction-concept-turned-novel that I’ve needed my whole life.

Nick and Charlie – Alice Oseman
I am genuinely not exaggerating when I say that Heartstopper is the single most adorable series I’ve read; Charlie and Nick’s relationship is pure, wholesome, and ultimately healthy, which is both refreshing and a goddamn godsend, as it makes the perfect comfort read. This novella is no exception – hence why I may or may not have read it almost immediately after purchasing. Oops. There is a healthy dose of angst in this, though it’s nothing that the purest couple in the world can’t face if they tackle it together.

Cinderella is Dead – Kalynn Bayron
This book could very easily have sold me with the gorgeous cover alone, but its concept of a dark Cinderella retelling/continuation with a badass female protagonist, LGBTQ+ romance, and a twisty plot means it is essentially my dream book. Plus, I’m a sucker for own-voices fantasy; this looks to be a fabulous addition to the 2020 own-voices hall of fame.

You Should See Me in a Crown – Leah Johnson
I was over the MOON to hear that this book bagged the title of the first ever YA pick for Reese’s Book Club, as it just sounds like an utter delight. I’m taking this one with me on holiday, as it’s been hailed as warm, genuinely funny, and uplifting, with an adorable romance and endearing protagonist. Girl running for prom queen to earn a college scholarship and accidentally falling for the girl she’s competing against? Say no more. I’m in.

Blood Moon – Lucy Cuthew
I’ve read more verse novels in the last year than I have in my entire life, and I think it’s fair to say I’m addicted. Sarah Crossan’s Toffee, Dean Atta’s The Black Flamingo, and Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X and Clap When You Land were all wonderful, and the fact they were written in verse added whole new dimensions to the characters and narratives. The concept of Blood Moon alone – a girl getting her period during her first time having sex, and the culture of shaming and taboo surrounding the topic – would’ve convinced me to read, particularly as I’m all in favour of sex-positive, feminist books from the likes of Holly Bourne, Laura Steven, and Laura Bates. But the fact Blood Moon is written in verse fascinates me; based on reviews, I don’t doubt that Cuthew’s verse will move and educate me in ways that prose perhaps couldn’t.

REVIEW: Loveless – Alice Oseman

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I can tell you with some confidence that reacting with a pterodactyl-style screech to receiving a review copy of a book is not something I do very often. It seemed, however, to be a justified reaction when I realised I’d been accepted for Loveless, as not only was it one of my most anticipated reads of the year, but it is on basically every YA reader’s Must Buy Immediately Upon Release list (and if it isn’t, it totally should be). It came as no surprise to me that Loveless lived up to all the expectations I had for it, and in many ways, surpassed them.

As someone who is a couple of years younger than Alice Oseman, I usually feel a level of kinship with the characters, prose style, and sense of humour in her books, as she is incredible at capturing the typical thoughts and mannerisms of a standard millennial/Gen-Zer. (That’s not just because she makes a Princess and the Frog reference, though it definitely helps.) The fact that it’s written in a language I’m intimately familiar with makes her writing that much more enjoyable for me; that said, the humour and references in Loveless that make it so relatable are never overdone or forced, so would not be alienating to anyone of a different generation. If anything, the style just makes the story that much more fun and authenticthe characters aren’t pretentious or unrealistic in the way they speak or act, and are all ultimately down to earth people with believable problems. The drama taking place is therefore all well thought through, plausible, and a comforting level of predictable. Though that doesn’t mean the book doesn’t twist and turn, and pack several punches as it does so.

The friendships in Loveless, both established and new, were really just the icing on the cake. Pip, Jason, Rooney and Sunil are all absolute delights, and I have a feeling readers will latch onto them as enthusiastically as I have. The true testament to how likeable these characters are, however, is how upsetting it is when there are misunderstandings. No friendship groups are without their ups and downs, and there is certainly no shortage of drama; overwhelmingly, though, their interactions are light, fast-paced, and believable. Plus, the level of banter between certain characters is something to behold. This is a spoiler-free review, so I won’t name names, but let’s just say some characters almost put Beatrice and Benedick of Much Ado About Nothing to shame.

It’s very easy to get attached to Oseman’s characters, as they’re all so quirky, funny, and refreshingly three-dimensionalbut the protagonist, Georgia, really is a character that I was rooting for every single step of the way. She doesn’t have an easy job of figuring out her sexuality, and Oseman has done an amazing job of sensitively showing how isolating Georgia finds it. Whether or not you’re aware of the exact definitions of aromanticism and asexuality, I think any reader will learn a lot while following Georgia’s journey; I have learned far more about the spectrum of asexuality in Loveless than I have in googling sessions or on social media. The criticisms Oseman makes of society romanticising romance itself are also fascinating, and it’s not until she draws it to your attention how this can affect aro-ace peopleand how people thus perceive their sexualitythat you realise how damaging it can be. If we consider the target audience for this book, it really provides hope that this could one day help a questioning teen, educate someone who is unfamiliar with the labels, or even someone who wants to know more. In this sense, Loveless ultimately drives home the importance of LGBTQ+ education and visibility, not to mention how fundamental it is to have LGBTQ+ communities and safe spaces in places like universities. Georgia’s turmoil is hard to read, and you really feel for her, but as she discovers the answers she had originally been denied, and finds support in her friendships and university communities, I’d defy any reader to not be weeping happily.

So, taking all this into consideration, Loveless is a pretty remarkable book. I sincerely hope it becomes a staple in LGBTQ+ YA, and also that it encourages even more aro-ace representation in the romance genre. And, as always, I look forward to seeing what Oseman does next – needless to say, I am counting down the days until Nick and Charlie, though a sequel or novella for the Loveless characters is definitely something I’m hoping for in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I would like to thank HarperCollins for the eARC on Netgalley.

Loveless is released on July 9th. 

 

 

 

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