Books mentioned and mini-reviews:
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I had heard lots of cool things about this and was really excited to read it and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s about a girl who is unexpectedly selected by the local wizard to live in his tower for ten years and ends up learning how to use magic and fighting to save her people from the evil, magical wood. I really enjoyed it, especially when it gets into the nation’s politics!
(Just to note I am aware of the criticism of Naomi Novik’s latest book, I filmed this video in early September and edited it last week so it was too late to mention it. I will mention what’s been said when I do my September Illumicrate unboxing as it is the featured book in that box.)
Truth or Dare by Non Pratt (I was sent a proof copy of this ages ago by Walker Books but I had a finished copy thanks to it being in an Illumicrate box so I read that)
I really really enjoyed this YA novel about a boy and a girl who team up to create a YouTube channel where they play truth or dare to raise money to keep the boy’s brother in a specialist hospital. It tackles guilt, good intentions, naivety and romance, exploring the prices we pay for love.
I really liked the way the tension was built up, it makes it very gripping, even though it’s not a thriller, and the moral ambiguity of several of the characters, plus the split narrative (halfway through you flip the book over!) means that you don’t know how bad things might get for the character.
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber
Another lovely YA novel, this one follows Reiko, who has never come to terms with her older sister’s death and feels under immense pressure to live up to the potential they both had. When she meets a boy in the desert, he seems to be the perfect escape – but it turns out that he’s not the perfect boy she wanted, and neither is Reiko the perfect girl… a moving, powerful read.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My second book by this author and the second in a month! I think I preferred it to Uprooted, as it follows multiple characters and there is much more cultural detail about the worlds in the book, both mortal and magical. The main character is a young Jewish woman who, frustrated by her father’s inability to properly provide for them and stand up for himself, takes on his job as a moneylender. Her family becomes prosperous but then she draws the attention of the Staryk – cold creatures from an equally cold land who crave gold and offer cruel rewards…
Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I finally gave in and read this very cute romance novel about the president of the USA’s son falling in love with a prince of the UK! But I found myself more interested in the political aspects! What does that say about me…second time this month I was been all about the politics of a novel and not so fussed about the romance! Don’t get me wrong, it was still very nice (though I think personally I prefer romances with at least one woman protagonist), but I was just really into how the politics impacted their relationship and the consequences for the two nations.
It reminded me a lot of Christmas At The Palace by Jeevani Charika which I think was also inspired by the relationship between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, only in Christmas At The Palace, the protagonist, Kumari, is a Yorkshire A&E GP with Sri Lankan parents and as it’s set in the UK, the impact of their relationship on the country and the dynamics of the royal family is explored much more.
Emma Hearts LA by Keris Stainton
This is a lovely romance for younger YA readers with an amazing holiday feel, even though it’s a permanent move for the main character! Emma, her sister and her mum move to LA, where Emma picks up her friendship with a boy she used to know in the UK and starts dating the lead actor in a hit TV show. I loved all the details about the location – they go on a celebrity tour, wander around TV sets and check out different restaurants and cafes. It made me desperately long to see it all with my own eyes!
Becoming Betty by Eleanor Wood
Continuing on the UKYA train, I read the much-anticipated (at least by me) follow-up to My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend. Becoming Betty is about a girl called Lizzy who decides to reinvent herself when she starts college, with new clothes and a new best friend, Viv, who is super cool and almost immediately asks her to be in her band and play bass. Trouble is Lizzy has never played bass before! But when she does start playing bass
she discovers that she really loves it.
What she doesn’t love is Viv because Viv may be cool but she is not kind. I thought this was brilliant – the way that it captured that feeling of wanting to reinvent yourself and be more cool was spot on. I used to fantasize all the time about reinventing myself when I was at school and I wasn’t brave enough to do that!
The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn (review copy from NetGalley)
A rare adult book! I went to a online talk with the author and I thought this sounded fab so I went straight onto NetGalley and requested it! It follows Dawn, a homeless woman troubled by her past, and Grace, the manager of the homeless shelter who offers her a room. It’s a really sweet but haunting book based on the author’s own experience of working at homeless shelters, full of lots of details about people living on the streets, with a real mix of personalities and characters.
Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais (free copy from YA Book Prize launch goodie bag)
I loved this so much. I cannot overstate how much I adored this book. It’s about Mireille, winner of her school’s “Pig Pageant”, a pretty grim excuse for online bullying set up by a horrible boy. Mireille has won the pageant for the past three years and is kind of over it, but then the second-place winner, Astrid, who is new to the school, turns up at her house, devastated. After Mireille cheers her up, they decide to go and comfort the third-place winner, Hakima, as she’s only in Year 8.
Two things happen: one, Mireille falls instantly in love with Hakima’s brother, Kader, who she refers to as the Sun for the rest of the book. Two, all three girls realise they have something other than the Pig Pageant in common – the desire to gatecrash the President of France’s garden party in July.
Naturally, they decide to cycle together to Paris, fund their trip by selling sausages, and get a lot of media attention along the way! It was funny, it was heartwarming, it was full of delicious food – perfect!
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Seized with the desire for more livres français, I hurried to my bookcases and searched for more, putting my UKYA reading project on pause. No and Me was published as literary fiction by Bloomsbury but there’s no reason why it couldn’t have been published as YA instead.
It’s about Lou, a really clever teenager with a very dysfunctional family. Her sister died years ago and her mother has been a recluse ever since, barely noticing Lou, leaving her father to be the sole breadwinner. Lou is painfully lonely, so it’s no surprise that she latches on to No, a homeless girl she interviews for a school project.
Lou decides that she will help No, persuading her parents to take her in. But the system is stacked against No, and Lou finds herself fighting a losing battle to save her friend. It’s sad, moving and powerful.