Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M McManus

I was excited when I realised that this novel was hitting the bookshops this year. I had really enjoyed ‘One of Us is Lying’, so could not wait to see what thrilling intrigue there was going to be amongst the pages of this tale.

Stories like this can be difficult to write blog posts about as I do not want to spoil this book for anybody, so I will do my best to share my thoughts.

The small town of Echo Ridge has been the scene of two crimes involving the disappearance of teenage girls, although the crimes have been several years apart. When Ellery and Ezra end up with their grandmother, another disappearance occurs and Ellery’s true crime-loving side leads her to carry out her own investigation – although some mysteries she solves are not the ones she expects.

The is edge-of-your-seat stuff right up until the final line. McManus weaves the tale with mystery and intrigue. You are drawn into it all and you really do want to know what will happen next. Especially as the cast of characters are almost a collection of red herrings in themselves. One minute, like Ellery, you may have one suspect in mind only to be completely thrown off. As with ‘One of Us is Lying’, it is a gripping read; a great one for thriller fans.

Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

I can not thank HayleyFromHome enough for sharing this book with me. This novel has to be one of the loveliest stories I have ever read and every moment has been pure joy.

I did break the golden rule as a bookworm and watch the film first (well I was on a long-haul flight). However, this has not taken away from the enjoyment of the book because the film is just as enjoyable.

This is the kind of YA fiction that world needs. Simon is a typical teenager, struggling a little with his place in the world as he deals with his identity. We follow Simon on his journey as he comes out to his friends and family – and gets to know the mysterious ‘Blue’.

The whole story is beautifully written – alternating between the standard narrative and the email exchanges between Simon and ‘Blue’. It is such an ordinary yet important tale for the modern world and, in fact, it is a shame that this is not the kind of novel that hit popular YA audiences sooner.

What struck me about this book, and comes from the title, is what really is the normal agenda? Who decides what is ‘normal’? (A question Simon and Blue discuss).

This novel, for me is a modern classic – one I want to share with everybody (just like the film). So, thank you again, HayleyFromHome, for sharing it with me this festive season.

Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

This is the third Lisa Heathfield novel that I have read this year. Again, I was surprised by the book, different again from the previous two, but still a compelling read.

This novel focuses on the lives of a group of travellers who tour with the Circus, and especially on the sisters Lo and Rita. Great to read another novel with strong female characters. I would consider this a coming of age novel, as it really tackles the complex fabric of relationships for both girls: their relationship, family relationships and romantic relationships. For Lo, everything seems difficult as she has fallen for a boy outside the trusted Circus circle and she is having to carry an additional secret that is almost suffocating her and her existence. Rita, despite her odd moments, feels that tradition of their family carries more weight than it seems to for Lo.

However, one moment for Lo will change life forever – for everyone. Despite it all, it may even bring everyone closer than ever before.

This was not as tense to read as ‘Seed’ and ‘Paper Butterflies’; although it is still full of emotions and difficult ideas, it is a little more gentle on the reader. I still finished it while continuing to think about it as the last word is fading.

I am grateful to the Twitterverse and Bookstagram for introducing me to these fascinating YA novels and, in turn, I have been able to share them with other readers.

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

A bold statement, but this could be one of my books of the year. Although, not a new book, Lisa Heathfield is a new author to me, this year, and – my word – she has struck a chord with me.

Just like ‘Seed’, ‘Paper Butterflies’ was a real surprise! This book does not tackle an easy subject, and I actually found the first few pages difficult to read, but once the context is in place, you can not leave June’s journey. You become a real part of June’s story as she grows up on each page. You root for her relationship with the unusually named ‘Blister’. We all learn that difference is good and happiness can be there for everyone to find and enjoy. However, the absolutely traumatic twist to the tale will break your heart. I struggled to put the book down before we reached the twist but, once we were at ‘After’, for every chapter I just had to know the outcome.

I can not spoil this book for anyone who wants to read it because it really is an experience not just a story. However, my biggest life lesson (and what really hit a nerve as a teacher) is you know the battles people are fighting or what really happens behind closed doors. My heart broke continuously for the beautiful June but I hope her story will educate all those who read this novel to become so much more aware of the world around them. After all, not everyone is brave enough to ask for help. And, that sometimes we are truly surprised by those around us!

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

I was lucky enough to win a fabulous little book giveaway from Chelley of Tales of Yesterday.  ‘Seed’ was the first of the novels I decided to read. I went into this book blind; I had no idea what to expect, I did not even read the blurb as I decided I just wanted to jump straight in and give this novel a go.

I will admit, I was surprised by the setting – it does not spoil it to mention that it is set among a cult – and therefore it does go on to tackle all the issues that come with such a life. It also skillfully weaves in an ongoing mystery for our heroine Pearl – who is she really? It is a fascinating study of human nature and could encourage us to contemplate that ever-present question – nature versus nurture. The characters with different backgrounds certainly have very different perspectives of the lives that are led inside ‘Seed’ and on the ‘Outside’. The strength that comes with knowledge could be the only thing that could cause Papa S’ kingdom to fall.

I have to admit that, at odd moments, the novel could be a little uncomfortable to read. There is a simple suggestion made about the experiences of those young people of ‘Seed’, but this does not take away from the desire to find out hoe the book will conclude. You certainly do become invested in some of the characters and develop a thorough dislike for others, which also encourages you keep reading.

I am glad to have discovered the work of Lisa Heathfield and I look forward to seeing where the other novels take me.

Have you ever been surprised by the setting of a novel?

The Hate U Give (THUG) by Angie Thomas

So, I am a little late at picking up a copy of this novel but this is certainly a case of better late than never. Recently the winner of ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize’, and it really is a deserving winner.

I am not sure I can do this title justice in a blog post. There is so much in this novel that deserves praise and recognition that I honestly do not think I have the skill to comment on it all. However, I am going to do my best to share my thoughts on ‘THUG’.

However, first it is another novel with a fantastic female lead in Starr. She may not have an easy ride for a whole load of different reasons but she is someone that you can imagine wanting to be friends with. You root for her from the word go; even if you don’t always agree with some of her actions, you can certainly understand them.

In fact, this whole novel is probably an important lesson for us all. Angie Thomas was inspired to write this because of the #Blacklivesmatter campaign and really shows us why we should use the voice we have been given to speak out for what we believe in. After all, our voice is our most powerful weapon. This is an incredibly thought-provoking book and is essential reading for all of us.

I really do not want to spoil this novel for anyone who has not read it, because it is such a powerful book. However, I will say that it is an emotional page-turner which will probably make you take a long, hard look at the world we live in and some of the actions we witness on a day-to-day basis.

So, whenever I am asked for a book recommendation this will be top of the list. If you haven’t read it, go out and find a copy and dedicate some time to Starr and her friends and family. They might all teach you thing or two.

One by Sarah Crossan

One had caught my eye many times when I was book shopping. It has a stunning and intriguing cover with two faces so close together and similar that they could almost be the same person – and never has a novel had a cover that demonstrates the story so perfectly but without spoiling any of the beauty of the novel. I have finally read this beautiful tale thanks to my book buddy Hayley, from Hayley from Home (anyone would think we are both avid readers), as she popped some lovely book post to me recently.

I am not sure that I can do this book the justice it deserves as I, of course, can not reveal any spoilers, but I really do want to share my thoughts on this novel. I will share that this book has the beautiful Grace and Tippi at the centre; two such different characters, but they share so much being conjoined twins. This story is beautifully written and presented, to convey to the reader all of the emotion of the story, not only for the two girls, but for those that they encounter on their path through life. Despite their unusual situation, they have one desire, to be able to have the same experiences as others of their age, they find happiness and friendship with Yasmeen (another girl who has always faced life a little differently to others) and Jon. However, despite this opportunity, they are constantly reminded that they are not like everyone else, and how will they ever tackle falling in love and accepting that they can be loved for who they are?

Despite the obvious focus this novel has on the girls, there is also an examination of the impact that their situation has on the family. Another struggle that the girls must face, as they feel an element of guilt as elements of home life appear to unravel, in some aspects obviously and in other ways slightly hidden from sight.

As we begin to reach the conclusion of the novel, there is a twist. You know it is coming to some extent, but maybe you do not expect it to happen in the way it does. You are so invested in this novel by the end, thanks to the beautiful writing of Sarah Crossan, that to be honest you are left wanting more. Although, I think this novel will stay with you long after you read the last word and you will be imaging your own next step for the characters.

This post may not have done this book justice – the only thing that will is you picking it up and reading it yourself. Have you read any Sarah Crossan novels? What should I read next?

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

So, if you read the posts regularly, you will know that Hayley (Hayley from Home) rather enjoy sharing books, and ‘Eleanor and Park’ was another gem that she passed my way.

I had no idea what to expect from this book, as it was not one that I had been particular aware of – but that is all part of the fun of sharing books, because it always takes you on a new adventure. This novel was one that I struggled to put down because I just wanted to find out more and more about Eleanor and Park. This is a book where the characters are really the most important aspect, possibly even more important than the tale itself, as they are the tale.

Eleanor is the quirky new girl in town; nothing about her conforms to the teenage ‘norm’, and this brings her to attention of Park, who has also not really been sure if he fits into the ‘norm’ that everyone expects him to. However, there is so much in Eleanor’s life that almost prevents her from being the ‘norm’ even if she wanted to, and creates barriers that she struggles to knock down.

The relationship that blossoms between Eleanor and Park is romantic and grounded in comic books and music – but becomes so much more. I do not like to write posts that are spoilers, and I am not about to change that now, but this book has one of the most wonderful last lines of any novel I have ever read. The fact it is so open to interpretation means that this novel will stay with you long after you have read the final words – as you find yourself trying to create the ending for characters that you wanted, or accepting that maybe it was not meant to be the ending you had always imagined.

This really is a tale about falling in love for the first time – the all-encompassing love that becomes the only thing that really matters, whatever the situation.

I enjoyed the style of this novel as it flitted between the thoughts of our two central characters. This kept the pace of the story going and allowed you to feel like you were really getting to know the characters. I am keen to read more titles by Rainbow Rowell and I am thankful that, through the shared love of reading, another new author has been brought to my attention to be added to the ever-growing ‘to be read’ pile.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The ever-fabulous and dedicated bookworm Hayley, of Hayley From Home, sent me the novel ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’. She told me that she hoped I would enjoy it because she knew a number of people had not given it the best reviews. So, immediately I knew it had to go to the top of my to-be-read pile, because I was intrigued, as I had only ever heard great things about Patrick Ness novels. I had also been a huge fan of ‘A Monster Calls’ when I had read it a few years back.

Before I started this novel, I did not read anything about it; I had no idea of the genre or the concept of the tale, so I knew I would be reading it without any predefined ideas. As I picked it up and saw that each chapter had quite an introduction, I was curious about the need for it and as I moved through the novel I loved the fact that these introductions were another story, that of the Indie kids, unfolding as we followed the adventures of the main characters. Now, at moments, I was not sure I fully understood the tale; it took me a little while to get my head around the fact that the title actually makes it very clear that we are following those that ‘just live here’, as all sorts of strange goings-on are happening all around them.

The interesting concept for me was the actual desire of the main characters to really want an ‘ordinary’ life; for example, the desire for the main character Mikey to be with the girl he believes he is in love with and make it to his high school graduation, and be able to leave the town for college with his best friend. He does not want any drama to take over and he certainly does not want his high school blown up again. Although, he is also fighting his own demons, even if they are not zombies with blue eyes. However, as the story unfolds, I really enjoyed the exploration of ‘ordinary’ – are any of us ordinary, or are we all on our own extraordinary adventure that is our life?

Something that really struck me with this novel was the care and empathy with which Patrick Ness tackled some very sensitive issues. The one that really struck me was the lead character Mikey and his sister dealing with the idea that they are ‘messed up’ or ‘broken’ by their personal issues and how over-protective that makes them of their ‘normal’ younger sister and, in turn, of each other.

This is a fabulous coming of age novel that really gripped me from the moment I started reading it. I am really keen to find some more Patrick Ness novels to read now, because I have been impressed by this and ‘A Monster Calls’.

Have you read any Patrick Ness novels? Are there any more you would recommend?

 

Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

October was an exciting month for YA fans because John Green’s newest novel was published. Like many fans, I ensured that I purchased a copy and, from that moment, it was topic of conversation with so many other book lovers.

Now, I know it is November, but my ‘to be read’ pile is always growing and I have a strict one-book-at-a-time rule, so I got this title a little later than I would have liked at the beginning of November. I was hooked from the first page because not only is John Green a wonderful storyteller but the characters that he creates are always so engaging and so real. I may no longer be a teenager but I can still relate to some of these characters and the experiences that they go through. He also tackles issues that are part of our everyday lives but sometimes are considered taboo or simply are too difficult for some people to talk about. A novel is a chance for people not only to escape, but also to gain experience and grow as individuals.

The central theme in this novel is mental health. It is a sensitive but engaging exploration of not just how the issues can impact one individual but those around them. A moment that really struck a chord for me is when the central character, Aza, realised that she was a character in her best friend’s Star Wars fan fiction. As she saw herself there, she has a real moment of reflection about herself and how others view her. It goes on to be a wonderful turning point for her, even if it is not the easiest moment for her to handle.

There is so much in this novel and I do not want to spoil the full tale for anybody. All I will say is that if you are a John Green fan, and even if you are not, this is a wonderful book to read, especially with all the positive attention that mental health is finally getting in today’s world.