Mini Review: Counting Stars

Counting Stars

Counting Stars is the first of Keris Stainton’s books that I’ve read and I really, really, REALLY enjoyed it!

Anna’s finally ready to be a ‘proper’ grown-up. She couldn’t be more excited about her big move to Liverpool, and she’s determined to bring more of her super-confident online alter-ego, Anna Sparks, with her. 

But her new life is also a little overwhelming.  Anna’s job quickly falls through, and then she realises that although her new friends are great, they’re also a little mixed-up…and it’s not long before Anna starts using her blog to talk about her experiences, from the hilarious to the ridiculous to the little-bit-scary. But when Anna spills a bigger secret than she can handle, suddenly the consequences are all too real.

Counting Stars is the perfect example of fabulous contemporary YA: it’s rude, funny, heartwarming, heartbreaking, captivating, and completely embracing of late-teens/early twenties culture. Anna is the main character – although this isn’t told in first-person – and her friends make up a full and interesting cast of secondary characters. I really enjoyed that all of the characters feel rounded and as a result this is such an easy read.

Despite there being a main character, there are multiple storylines touching upon issues from all of the characters perspectives. Keris has done a marvellous job of interweaving all of these narratives into an exciting story that feels very real and true to life. The use of third person narrative makes this book really quirky – the only book I can think to compare this to is the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, although these are aimed at a slightly older audience.

Something that I really love about Counting Stars is the variety of characters and that each of their sexualities and attitudes towards sex is celebrated. Gay relationships, casual sex and being a virgin are all issues explored sensitively and in a manner that, rightfully, suggests that all of these are normal. I especially liked that Anna isn’t shamed for being a virgin because so often YA focusses on normalising teens who have sex, sometimes to the point of suggesting that all teenagers are and should be having sex.

It’s unusual to find a YA novel that covers family, friends, secrets, university, money, moving out, growing-up, independence, relationships and sex, death and careers as sensitively and brilliantly as Counting Stars does. I really, really recommend this book to anyone looking for something super-duper to read!

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Independent Bookshop Week Tag

Facebook_IBW_851x315This week is Independent Bookshop Week and to celebrate I thought I’d join in with the IBW tag!

1. What book is currently in your bag?
At the moment I’m reading SMART by Kim Slater which isn’t a brand new (published in 2014) but is so fantastic. I’m really enjoying it so far and would definitely recommend it to people who love Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time as the main character in this is just as likeable.

2. What’s the last great book you read?
Almost everything I’ve read this year has been great (with the exception of The Neva Star which I read very late one night and didn’t really understand so deserves a second read) but the last book I read was Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan and that was utterly amazing. I mainly stick to contemporary YA and rarely read thrillers but this combined both genres so brilliantly and had my heart pounding all the way through.

3. What book have you gifted the most?
All of my friends and family have very different reading tastes so I don’t think I’ve ever given the same book twice!

4. What’s your favourite independent bookshop?
Wenlock Books (and not just because I work there!)

5. What’s been your favourite book recommended by a bookseller?
Anna (owner of Wenlock Books) chose A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler as the Random Reading Group choice for January and I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautiful (and tiny) book about a man who has lived his whole life in a remote village in the Alps and modern life is starting to reach him. It’s the kind of book that makes you long for simplicity and fresh air.

6. What’s your favourite bookshop memory?
All of Books Are My Bag day 2015 was completely magical and the customers, authors, publishers and bloggers present proved just how special independent bookshops are.

7. What do bookshops mean to you? What do you love about them?
To me, bookshops (especially Wenlock Books) mean comfort and warmth. I’ve spent the last almost-six years growing up in a bookshop and discovering who I am and what I believe in through the power of reading. I love that bookshops can be both the most exciting and busy and bouncy places but also the most calm and peaceful and gentle. I love that you can always find a corner to hide away in but that there are always likeminded people willing to share their recommendations with you.

8. What are the books that made you? Which books have most affected or influenced you? 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the first book that I re-read and was the book that proved to me that people don’t have to be defined by their conditions or illnesses. It’s not a story of Asperger’s, it’s a story about Christopher who happens to have Asperger’s and to 12 year old me that was really important.

Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman was the book that gave me the confidence to say ‘yes, I’m a feminist’ because until I read it I truly believed that feminism was for man-haters. It also gave me the confidence to embrace me exactly how I am.

I was most affected by Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It which I think everyone should read.

9. What book do you recommend readers gift for Father’s Day?
I think I should perhaps have done this tag last week…

We had a customer in on Saturday who bought lots of children’s picture flats with daddy characters to give to her husband from her child. I thought that was a really lovely idea and was a nice alternative to buying the same Father’s Day bestseller as everyone else.

10. What book is currently at the top of your TBR pile?
The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood and The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness are both at the top of my list!

Book Review: Eden Summer

Eden SummerEden Summer is Liz Flanagan’s debut novel and is a pacy and exciting contemporary YA!

It starts like any other day for Jess – get up, draw on eyeliner, cover up tattoos and head to school. But soon it’s clear this is no ordinary day, because Jess’s best friend, Eden, isn’t at school . . . she’s gone missing.

Jess knows she must do everything in her power to find Eden before the unthinkable happens.

So Jess decides to retrace the summer she and Eden have just spent together. But looking back means digging up all their buried secrets, and she starts to question everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about …

There are so many aspects of this book that Liz deserves praise for but what stood out most for me is the main character. Jess is a goth and I am so pleased that Liz wrote her as such. Growing up, goths were always seen as being weird and at school would often sit in small groups along with anyone else who was a bit different as they were targets of abuse.

On TV and in books that unpleasantness towards goths always continued, with the strange girl at school being obvious by her black eyeliner and red hair. I’ve never read anything where the goth stereotype is addressed and I think Liz does an amazing job of showing that Jess is just like anyone else, that she shares the same ambitions and fears as any other teenage girl. She’s not defined or governed by her appearance and I think that’s really, really important.

Eden Summer is quite unusual in that it’s both character and plot driven, and both aspects are fantastic. In the first couple of chapters we’re introduced to a handful characters that could all be suspects in the case of Eden’s disappearance and Liz so cleverly makes the reader believe that everyone is guilty. The small details that are given about each character made my mind race thinking up motives and alibis before I’d even reached chapter two and I sped through the book in no time at all – if I had enough time this would have been a one-sit read.

The plot is really mysterious and thrilling which is definitely helped by the back and forth style that it’s written in. The search for Eden takes place over the course of one day but the story is broken up with flashbacks to key moments from the past year of Eden’s life helping to unravel the reasons behind her disappearance. ‘I decided that the day-long structure interspersed with flashbacks might work for this story, again for drama and drive. I visualised it like a clock face in the end!

Much of Jess’ time spent searching for Eden takes place with her running on rocky and uneven hills which left me almost breathless so I really like the clock face analogy as a way of describing the race against time to find Eden. Also as time begins to run out for Jess, you’ll find yourself inching closer towards the edge of your seat with a dry mouth and pounding heart – honestly, it’s the most fearful I’ve ever felt whilst reading a book!

Eden Summer is an incredibly powerful book that deals with awful issues in the most honest and sincere manner. So much of the story is heartbreaking and yet I never lost hope in the characters because the overwhelming theme throughout is love. Liz has clearly written this from the heart and I think it’s important that she cites her inspiration for the writing about a missing teenager as, ‘partly because, as a parent, it’s my worst nightmare. Partly because in narrative terms it creates instant drive and drama. Partly for personal reasons – because I was missing my best friend who’d recently died, and so that atmosphere of loss felt like somewhere I wanted to go.

The sincerity of Eden Sumer continues beyond the subject matter into the detailed descriptions throughout, ‘I felt I owed it to the story to go as far as I could with it, to be as emotionally faithful to the difficult parts as possible, and I really believe that the heart of this book comes from the fact that it’s set in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. ‘It’s based on a version of my home town, somewhere I love very deeply, somewhere I grew up and where I live now. I like that I have overlapping memories of the town, as a child, a teenager, as an adult.

I cannot recommend Eden Summer highly enough to everyone- it is truly fantastic. There are few books that keep me thinking about them for days after finishing but this is definitely going to stay with me for a very long time. I hope that Liz continues to write more YA fiction in the future, but until then, I hope that Eden Summer is nominated for as many awards as possible!


Eden Summer will be published on July 7th by David Fickling Books.
A HUGE thank you to David Fickling Books for sending me a proof copy and to Liz Flanagan for answering my questions.

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies

Under-Rose-Tainted-Skies-Under Rose-Tainted Skies is Louise Gornall’s debut novel and tells the story of 17 year old Norah and her life with agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.

For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths…

 

I’ve only read one other book with an agoraphobic character and even though it was really good, it doesn’t compare at all to this. Under Rose-Tainted Skies is the most fantastic and honest book about mental health that I’ve read, and I can’t thank Louise enough for writing something so truthful.

The main character in this book is seventeen year old Norah who lives in California with her mum. Norah has suffered from agoraphobia for 3 years and consequently has had to leave her school and friends behind, leaving her feeling incredibly lonely and isolated from the world outside of her house.

In 2013 I became agoraphobic after being unwell and I cannot tell you how comforting Under Rose-Tainted Skies was to read. Reading my own experience told so truthfully was reassuring and also quite freeing. I’ve actually never spoken to someone else is person who has also suffered from agoraphobia but after reading this it felt like I had. “Rose actually started off as a sort of diary entry. Some illegible ramblings on a page. I suffer from agoraphobia myself, and was getting frustrated with my stagnant situation.

I think what I like most about Under Rose-Tainted Skies is how realistically Norah’s condition is depicted within the storyline. This so easily could have ended up a bit fantastical with Norah suddenly waking up one day and deciding that she can do anything for love and that the last 3 years of isolation were all worth it because now she’s in LOVE! But in reality people don’t fall in love overnight and even if they did, love isn’t a magical healer that can rid a person of a serious illness. Under Rose-Tainted Skies has been written responsibly and as a result will challenge every person who reads this to think about how they perceive mental illness.

There are many scenes in Under Rose-Tainted Skies that I think will be really revealing for people who have very little knowledge of agoraphobia. Often you hear it described as something where people don’t want to go outside but it’s so much bigger, so much more complex than that and Louise does an AMAZING job of including every bit of the condition without losing the distinction between Norah and her illness. Louise is the perfect author for this book because she didn’t start writing to shock or change the YA playing field, it was simply an outlet for her pain.

Norah is also a really strong character which I think is important because mental illness is too often seen as being synonymous with weakness. The descriptions of Norah’s treatment are fantastic too as they really do justice to the lengthy and exhausting efforts that are needed to begin to reverse the effects of mental health conditions. “I was getting super down at seeing the same four or five Mental Health behaviours explained away with fresh air and a better diet. Like mental health isn’t complex and multifaceted, like I (and thousands of people just like me) hadn’t been working our butts off to feel better. Pretty soon this story started unfolding and I included everything, I wanted it to be like, “Here! Read this and then tell us we’ll feel better after swapping out Mac&Cheese for a salad.”

Under Rose-Tainted Skies is a brilliant story filled with so much heart, truth and love. Whether you’ve suffered from agoraphobia or not this is an important story that I really, truly recommend to everyone.

Under Rose-Tainted Skies will be published on July 7th by Chicken House.
Thank you so much to Chicken House for sending me a proof copy.

Huge thank yous to Louise for answering my questions ❤
Louise’s blog: https://bookishblurb.com

Mini Review: Highly Illogical Behaviour

Highly Illogical BehaviourHighly Illogical Behaviour is a dual perspective novel about two teenagers; Lisa a grade A student who desperately wants to leave home and study psychology, and Solomon, an agoraphobe who hasn’t left his house in 3 years.

To be accepted onto the second-best course in America Lisa must write an essay on how mental health has affected her life, and to fulfil this she tracks down and befriends Solomon, a boy who used to go to her school before he took all his clothes off and jumped in a fountain.

I’ve read quite a few books that are told using dual perspective although this is the first I’ve read that uses 3rd person narrative. This story is told in a really quirky manner and I think it certainly benefited from the slightly detached style. The 3rd person narrative kept it bouncy and a wonderfully unique insight into each character.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was the unusual choice of mental health issue. I’ve read so many books that feature characters with depression or general anxiety and it was so nice to read about agoraphobia as it’s a condition that I have suffered with. John Corey Whaley has a really good understanding of how agoraphobia works and was able to write about Solomon and his condition without ever slipping into sob story territory. As is everyone who suffers from agoraphobia, Solomon is the victim of a disease but is absolutely not defined by it, and I really liked that his character is interesting and bright.

I enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading American YA. It’s very well written, the characters are believable and I love that LGBT, mental health, family issues and school pressures are all themes that have been woven in so well. For me, the only thing lacking was that it left me feeling content rather than wanting more, although I’m sure that many people would be completely fine with that!

This is a heartwarming story of friendship, family and love, and I think it will be adored by loads of YA readers when it’s published on 26th June. If you like the sound of this, I’d also recommend You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan which is published at the beginning of June.

Thank you to Faber & Faber for my proof copy!

Mini Review: You Know Me Well

You Know Me Well is a dual perspective LGBT+ story about teenagers Kate and Mark and the love lives that they are desperate to have.

You Know Me Well

Who knows you well? Your best friend? Your boyfriend or girlfriend? A stranger you meet on a crazy night? No one, really? 

Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed. That is until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night.

Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

I really enjoyed this book and think that Nina and David did a fantastic job of writing a story about love, with friendship taking centre stage. Both Kate and Mark’s stories could so easily have stood alone as teen-romances and yet combining the two to create a book about friendship is what makes this so special. As both characters are gay it’s made very clear that Kate and Mark will not have any romantic storylines together and I really, really liked that. The friendship that was presented was real and raw, and felt more true than many that I’ve read before.

There are lots of ‘coming of age’ topics explored in this book as well as friendship. First love, self worth in and out of relationships, independence, identity, and university are all touched on which I thought was wonderful as every reader regardless of their sexual identity can relate to You Know Me Well.

This is a very diverse book and features a whole spectrum of LGBT+ characters. All of the main characters are gay and the overall cast is made up of people of all identities, all of whom are celebrating being themselves at San Francisco Pride. I also particularly like that LGBT stereotypes were challenged – Mark is on the baseball team, and it’s revealed that the flamboyancy of another gay character was an act put on for work.

You Know Me Well is a celebration of LGBT+ culture and is an absolute pleasure to read. All aspects of LGBT+ life are explored and issues including stigma and abuse are touched upon in a sensitive but powerful manner. I much preferred this to Will Grayson, Will Grayson (the only other story by David that I’ve read, and he wrote this with John Green) and would definitely read another story by David and Nina in the future. I thoroughly recommend this to anyone looking for a story about friendships and first love!

You Know Me Well will be published by Macmillan Children’s Books on June 2nd – thank you to Beatrice at the Federation of Children’s Book Groups conference for my proof copy!

Mini Review: Seed

Lisa Heathfield’s debut novel tells the story of 15 year old Pearl’s life in a cult called Seed.

SeedSeed loves you. Seed will never let you go.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl has lived her whole life protected within the small community at Seed, where they worship Nature and idolise their leader, Papa S.

When some outsiders arrive, everything changes. Pearl experiences feelings that she never knew existed and begins to realise that there is darkness at the heart of Seed. A darkness from which she must escape, before it’s too late.

Seed begins with Pearl discovering that she’s started her period and as a result, being taken to an underground chamber in the forest where she’s left alone by candlelight so that she can be cleansed.

In return for obliging, Nature will bless her with a healthy womb, something which the women at Seed consider to be the most precious gift. I loved that Lisa started the book by presenting a really shocking version of something so ordinary as it’s clear by the way that Pearl is treated for starting her period that Seed is a very dark and frightening place.

There are many themes touched on in Seed but the most prominent, and I think most important, is the role that women play in the community. Hierarchy at Seed is strictly observed with Papa S as leader, Kindred Smith and Kindred John in second tier, the women in 3rd, and the children at the bottom.

The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Ever Yours are 2 of my favourite books, and I was glad to see that Seed explores many of the same themes; from the complete lack of power balance between the men and women, to Papa S taking his pick of the grown women at Seed to be his next sexual partner. Just like Margaret Atwood and Louise O’Neill, Lisa very cleverly presents a frightening world where a woman’s sole purpose is to please a man – cleaning, cooking, child rearing, and sex are all expected from the females at Seed.

Power is explored further through the belief in Seed as a cult. Papa S acts as the leader and translator between Nature and Seed, passing on what members believe are Nature’s wishes and punishing people as Nature demands. I particularly liked reading about Pearl beginning to question the truth in Nature and Papa S’s motives, and think that Lisa portrayed Pearl’s fear and unease very well.

I really, really enjoyed Seed and I’m so glad that Ally chose it as her bookclub read for February as I probably wouldn’t have read it otherwise! I really highly recommend this to anyone looking for a strong feminist novel that combines dystopian themes with a contemporary setting.