Bookish Review: The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin

Published: 10 August 2017 by Random House Children’s

Genre: Historical, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Russia, 1916. Nina Ivanovna’s world is in turmoil. Her only hope is to travel to St Petersburg, to escape the past and find a future. Stefan Kolodin is a medical student – young and idealistic, he wants change for Russia and its people. Amidst the chaos of a city in revolt, their lives collide. And a stormy relationship develops . . . full of passion and politics. But soon Nina is drawn in to the glamorous, lavish lives of the Russian royal family – where she begins to fall under the spell of their mysterious monk, Grigory Rasputin. The ruby-studded dagger he carries – beautiful and deadly – could save her and Stefan from a cursed life . . . or condemn them to it. untitled

Review: The Rasputin Dagger was my first historical YA in a while, and I was really craving a good one. Luckily it delivered! Theresa Breslin, a Carnegie Medal winner, is a heavyweight in YA historical fiction – her war romance novel Remembrance has remained unforgettable to this day. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing how she handled a slightly different, but nonetheless exciting, period of history.

A story is the most powerful weapon in the wide, wide world.

As a fully confessed history nerd (and history major!) when I pick up a historical novel, I’m after a faithful use of the setting and Breslin always seems to deliver on this front. I feel like often in YA a historical setting can be a little secondary to the plot – so you’ll have this brilliant setting but you never really scratch the surface beyond the usual mentions around dress, behaviours, location etc. In The Rasputin Dagger, however, you really get a sense of St. Petersburg and the lives of the people in the city. I found it totally immersive and got caught up in the daily hardships faced by the average Russian because of the war effort and the relatively untouched lives of the Imperial family.

The whole of Russia, and in particular our city, is like a huge barrel of gunpowder surrounded by desperate souls brandishing lighted tapers.

I adored the way politics was woven in, something which is often neglected or glossed over in YA books, seemingly because teens aren’t given enough credit for being interested/able to digest slightly ‘heavier’ topics (when hello Teen Vogue anyone?) In The Resputin Dagger, you get a real sense of the divisions in society, and the different ideologies at play – I thought it was clever how each of the characters seemed to represent a different point on the political spectrum but still be able to call each other friends and family. The characters were generally just great – Nina, our female protagonist, and Galena the housekeeper were fabulous female characters, resourceful and strong, and not at all content to sit back and watch their lives as they know it pretty much change before their eyes. I also really liked how understated and slow burn the romance was – there was absolutely no instalove here.

No on is taking me anywhere. I go where I please. I too am a bread-queue woman, and today I will join with my fellow women.

Breslin was also brilliant at portraying historical figures like Rasputin and the Imperial family – they were neither black nor white. Oftentimes with historical novels it seems there’s a tendency to sensationalise famous people in history. Instead, Breslin doesn’t get caught up in making characters ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but rather show them as they might have been, letting the reader make up their own mind. The same goes for the plot. I liked that The Rasputin Dagger stayed true to history and didn’t overly rely on the famous figures to drive the plot. Instead, you really get to know the main fictional characters and, because of their well-developed back stories, learn why they think and are the way they are.

A person with a book in their hands wields more power than the one who holds a gun.

One thing I have to say is that the blurb doesn’t seem all that faithful to the book itself in my opinion. The romance and supernatural/fantasy element is played up more in the blurb and made to seem like the focal points of this book. Instead, I found The Rasputin Dagger to be way more subtle and intricate, and it seems a shame that this isn’t reflected in the blurb. I loved how the supernatural curse element is woven throughout the book, more subtle and used more as a plot device for Nina to learn her history. Overall, I really enjoyed The Rasputin Dagger and think if you’re a historical YA fan or at all interested in this part of Russia history, this book will not disappoint!

What are your favourite historical YA books? If you have any recs, send them my way please! 🙂

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Bookish Travels: Istanbul Edition!

               Istanbul Souvenir & Book Haul

So I’ve been mulling this idea since my trip to Singapore back in March and I’ve decided to take the plunge! I’m starting a new feature here on Bookish At Heart: posts on ‘booksploring’ at home or abroad! I tend to either look up bookish places before travelling, or seek out bookstores when I’m visiting new places. For one thing, it’s a great way to get exposure to diverse books and also I just love how different book shops in different places can be! If a book is a window to another world, well then IMO a bookshop or library is a window into a country and its culture 🙂 So this feature will be a way to show off some of the bookish gems that can be found around the world, as well as (hopefully!) give you guys some ‘booksploring’ inspiration when travelling!

                              Topkapi Palace

I was in Istanbul during the August bank holiday – its a city I’ve been wanting to visit for years! The fusion of east and west, and the ridiculously long and colourful history has charmed me from the moment I first found out about Constantinople. It was beautifully hot whilst we were there and we squeezed in tonnes of culture, sightseeing and food (obv!) in the week we were there. One of the best things about Istanbul is that because of its mix of east and west, there are some solid English-language bookshops to be found!

        Stall at Sahaflar Carsisi book market

One of the first places we visited was Sahaflar Carsisi, the book market just outside the Grand Bazaar in the heart of the historic Sultanahmet area of Istanbul. If you’ve not heard of the Bazaar place before, it really needs to be seen to be believed! Similar to the souks in Marrakech, the Grand Bazaar is a hive of activity with around 600 streets of stalls selling all manner of things – it really is a treasure trove worthy of Aladdin’s cave. From souvenirs, to clothes, to ridiculously good fake handbags, you can get lost here for hours.

        Cat lounging on a book stall in Sahaflar                               Carsisi book market

Sahaflar Carsisi is a secondhand book bazaar made up of various stalls, with a pretty big range of books, both fiction and non-fiction. Whilst most of the books were Turkish, the vibe of this place is well worth detouring for, if not purely for the fact that this market has existed since Byzantine times!!! The shopkeepers are super chill, busy with chai and chatter, so you’re free to browse at your leisure. The best thing about this place though? The cats that you can often spot lounging or dozing literally atop the books on the stall – and no one seems to care. You can totally imagine that not much has changed in the hundreds of years Sahaflar Carsisi has been around 🙂

         Homer Book Shop near Istikal Street

On the northern side of Istanbul, where you can find more western shops and nightlife, we made a beeline for Homer Kitabevi. This bookshop is a gorgeous little oasis from the chaos of Istikal Street, the main shopping thoroughfare, which is just around the corner. Homer is set over three floors with endless shelves in nooks and crannies, and its super browsable too. It stocks English-language fiction and non-fiction, and whilst you’ll find books that you’ll be able to pick up in London or NYC, they also stock more specific Turkey-related titles in their history and literature sections. I saw plenty of Elif Shafak and Constantinople titles. But the gem that I managed to pick up was Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey by Ozge Samanci!

      Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey                                 by Ozge Samanci

I first saw this gorgeous graphic novel when I was in Singapore and was very tempted but opted for something else instead. My holiday to Istanbul wasn’t even booked then so clearly fate intervened and me buying it in Turkey was meant to be. Dare to Disappoint, told in graphic novel format, is a memoir of the author’s childhood in Turkey, and has received rave reviews. Samanci explores growing up amongst societal expectations, political happenings and friendship drama in a humorous way and I really cannot wait to read it! 

       Robinson Crusoe Book Shop near Istikal                                              Street

Our last stop was Robinson Crusoe, just a few doors down from Homer. It looks deceptively small from the outside, but is actually pretty big. The shelves go right up to the ceiling and they even have the ladders to go with it *heart eyes*. Robinson Crusoe has an impressively well-stocked comic book and graphic novel selection both in English and Turkish, as well as lots of non-fiction and fiction books. As I’d stocked up on something light already, here we bought Turkey: A Short History by Norman Stone. Although we’d learned quite a bit about the history of Turkey whilst doing tours and the cruise on the Bosphorus, you really can’t squeeze in the thousands of years of history that Turkey has to offer in a few days. I’m looking forward to diving in a deeper into the history, culture and traditions of this gorgeous country! 

    Turkey: A Short History by Norman Stone

Meanwhile, in terms of my holiday TBR, I kept it short and sweet! I read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James and adored it – check out my review here! Also made a start on Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais which was the perfect holiday read. So that’s a quick roundup of my ‘booksploring’ adventures in Istanbul! Let me know if you found this interesting or enjoyable – would love to hear your thoughts!

          Piglettes by Clementine Beauvais

How do you decide your holiday TBR? Have you stumbled across any must-visit bookish places whilst on holiday? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

Bookish Review: The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James

Published: 7 September 2017 by Walker Books

Genre: Sci-fi, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never met, never even spoken to – someone who is light years away? Romy Silvers is the only surviving crew-member of a spaceship travelling to a new planet, on a mission to establish a second home for humanity amongst the stars. Alone in space, she is the loneliest girl in the universe until she hears about a new ship which has launched from Earth – with a single passenger on board. A boy called J. Their only communication with each other is via email – and due to the distance between them, their messages take months to transmit across space. And yet Romy finds herself falling in love. But what does Romy really know about J? And what do the mysterious messages which have started arriving from Earth really mean? Sometimes, there’s something worse than being alone… untitled

Review: I managed to grab a copy of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe at YALC back in July. Honestly, it was no mean feat – every time the Waterstones got new stock of the book in (and we’re talking like a hundred copies!) they’d be sold out within minutes. Anyway, back on topic, this book was a superbly unexpected wild ride! I confess I did glance over some of the Goodreads reviews of The Loneliest Girl before I read it and lots of them said something along the lines of “the less you know going into this book, the better”. I have to say I wholeheartedly agree! This is one of those books that just cannot be pigeonholed into any one label, be it YA, sci-fi etc. So keeping the above advice in mind, this review will be unusually brief and will be spoiler free 🙂 

If I get ill, there will be no one to help me. No one to fix me if I break.

The setting of The Loneliest Girl is one of the most unique selling points – we’ve got a young girl captaining a ship, completely alone, in the far reaches of space. For one thing, titles do not get much more literal than that, and secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a premise like that in any YA sci-fi so major points already going in to The Loneliest Girl and it just gets better from there on out. James has taken a common setting of a spaceship and made it into something feels totally original. I loved how creative James was with the tech on board the Infinity – all of the attention to detail to explain how the spaceship could feasibly keep going made the whole book all the more realistic and immersive. I have to admit though that the light-speed transmission lags were totally lost on me…

Staring through the porthole, I watch the spiralling stars until I make myself dizzy.

The way Lauren James writes really does drive home just how alone Romy is. The casual references to things Romy has not experienced forced me to really consider just how isolated she is. It’s also told in first person and there are mundane “slice of life” details alongside the plot that you just become immersed in Romy’s life, as uneventful as it can be at points I still felt engrossed and totally invested. Films with a similar premise like Gravity and The Martian use all sorts of things like visual effects, body language and amazing scores to make the audience feel unsettled so I’m totally in awe of how James managed to put across the lonely and slightly creepy factor using just words! 

I’d like to have wild stories about my university days to tell my kids, someday. I’d like to have any anecdotes at all, actually.

I also enjoyed how James managed to weave in some really interesting ideas like the ethics around such a mission as well as mental health issues. Romy was a realistic character, struggling to cope, given the magnitude of her responsibilities and the trauma she has experienced. Heroism does not come naturally to her – she often rebels against her predicament, especially as she had no choice in it. Her naiveté is also totally realistic, there are points where she casually drops that she hasn’t been in physical contact with another human being in years, and so anything else would’ve felt unconvincing. Beyond that though, Romy is a really relatable character with her love of fictional characters and fanfic and I really found myself rooting for her throughout the book!

This voyage was never meant to be easy. It was meant to be important.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is a solid standalone (whoop!) book that you will not want to put down! It is totally unique and was a fresh take on YA romance/space/sci-fi novels. The plot has a hint of mystery and James did a great job of feeding the reader enough to keep you intrigued whilst also keeping you just enough in the dark that you feel this weird uneasiness as you read on. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to fans of all genres! The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is out tomorrow so be sure to grab a copy ASAP!

Have you read any books that surprised or blindsided you? Are you planning to read The Loneliest Girl in the Universe? Drop me a comment below 🙂

Bookish Review: S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

S.T.A.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Published: 10 August 2017 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Thriller, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend. It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school..untitled

Review: This is one of those books that has been marketed well – the cover was gorgeous whilst the blurb was tantalisingly simple. S.T.A.G.S started off well, the premise really intrigued me, it’s exactly the sort of mystery/thriller that would entice me – old private school dripping in privilege and thousands of years worth of history, and the misfits who couldn’t be more out of place. The writing style was pretty brilliant – the teaser first sentences at the beginning of the chapters were genius. But my favourite had to be the canny, wry asides peppered throughout the text – these cleverly acknowledged the frustration felt when characters respond in a silly way to something deeply obvious to the reader. 

Going back to the premise, the idea that people are so entrenched in traditionalism and conservatism that they take preservation to the very extremes is an interesting concept and one that was refreshing to see in a YA book. There were also some promising conversations between characters in the book covering issues like privilege, racism, proliferation of social media which rang true. We are surrounded by these issues on a daily basis and dialogue is absolutely integral to working through issues. I thought Bennett handled both sides of the argument really well – the marginalisation that some characters felt, as misplaced it might seem to some readers, was deftly portrayed.

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Buuuuut… I felt these messages were lost within a convoluted plot that required the suspension of major disbelief and took something plausible and made it unnecessarily into something much bigger. The ending felt really contrived to me. It was like the author was trying so hard to shoehorn in what may have been her favourite film/literary ending that she bent and twisted the story to pay homage to this. Don’t get me wrong, the references to the movies, from film noir to cult classics, to blockbusters was great and  I liked how the protagonist tied them into key scenes. I just didn’t think the references needed to be woven into the actual plot… you’ll see what I mean when you read the book!

One of the things I did enjoy was Bennett’s portrayal of the intricacies of life in the upper echelons of society! The details around the bloodsports, etiquette and traditions, as well as manor house life was brilliantly described and it was clearly very well-researched. However, at times it did feel like a disproportionate amount of page time was given to building the setting of Longcross, sacrificing character development in the process. it meant we didn’t get to know the main characters beyond the stock description given at the beginning to set the scene. I found it difficult to engage with the characters and bring myself to care too much about their predicaments, it all seemed a little too passive. It was a shame because I feel there was much more scope to show the obvious differences between the characters social backgrounds rather than tell us especially in such a setting.

I won’t go into the ending itself because #nospoilers but all in all I am disappointed in S.T.A.G.S because it started off really strong! It was different to most other YA thrillers in terms of the premise and setting but that wasn’t enough to convince me to suspend my disbelief at the ending. If you’re after a solid YA thriller with a great story and character development do check out One of Us is Lying 🙂

Do you have any YA thriller recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

Bookish Event: YALC 2017 Top Ten :)

I went to my first every YALC this year!! YALC, the Young Adult Literature Convention is part of London Film and ComicCon, has been running each year since 2014. So really it is a wonder I haven’t been already! Tbh I didn’t really know what to expect – I mean, I’d been fielding tips and suggestions from others who’d been before, had obsessively planned my schedule as soon as the programme had been released, and read blog posts on past event, but I still wasn’t sure what the whole thing would look like…

Turns out nothing could have prepped me for this three-day bonanza! This is just a snapshot of my YALC haul! I managed to catch up with awesome bookish people, buy yet-to-be-released books, meet my favourite authors, and somehow get some great ARCs and samplers, to name just a few things! There was so much going on during YALC that to avoid boring you with all of the (albeit wonderful!) detail, I’ve decided to sum up my first YALC by listing my Top Ten from the weekend 🙂

  1. Catching up with bookish friends This was easily my favourite part of YALC. On the Friday, my little sister was my awesome wingwoman – she had an eye for the freebies, competitions and the most anticipated books on everyone’s lists. The weekend was spent with friends I’ve met through bookish events, namely Mary (@OhPandaEyes), Sally (@TheDarkDictator) and Xina (Xinahailey), YALC veterans who took me under their wing. Most of the holy grail ARCs that I managed to get my hands on were down to them knowing how and what to do – yay for bookish friends! 🙂
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch Let it be known that I saw Mr Cumberbatch five times on the Sunday alone, with my reactions varying from a high-pitched squeal from the first time to a “oh it’s Benedict again” by the last time – when I was even chill enough to take a decent photo!! We should’ve known it would be an interesting YALC when Ben made his debut whilst walking in on the now infamous Non Pratt head shave (for charity I hasten to add!!) He probably thought we were some weird cult. But then the fact he kept coming back suggests that he thought we were cool or just less crazy compared to the ComicCon floor (sadly, more likely). 
  3. Panel events The panel events at YALC were fabulous! I got to hear Taran Matharu, Samantha Shannon and others talk about what the science fiction & fantasy genre means to them. The Laini Taylor double whammy on the Saturday were definite highlights. The first was chaired by Kate Webber who is the most awesome and unapologetic fangirl ever! The second panel where Laini was joined by V.E. Schwab and Joanne Harris was easily my favourite though – I found it super interesting how huge authors like Taylor and Schwab credited Harry Potter and JK Rowling with their love of reading and writing.
  4. ARCs, ARCs, ARCs OK so as a newbie YALC-er, I didn’t realise how big a deal the ARC thing is… and it didn’t take me long to figure it out. Because at times it was like a Hunger Games bloodbath when ARCs dropped. I’m happy with the books I managed to get my hands on – I think Zenith was my holy grail of the YALC ARC haul but I was careful to make sure I only went for ARCs that I was interested in and would read. I heard that the ARC rushes had become a bit of an issue in recent years with things getting a little too heated and competitive, and I could see why this was the case… Getting Zenith was an experience I’m not in any hurry to repeat!! 
  5. Author signings Being based in London definitely has its perks – one is that authors almost definitely pass through whilst promoting their books or at the “worst” case, you can often find signed copies. However, there is something about being at YALC, meeting your favourite authors having just been at their event, or even just on the floor whilst looking around because they are also big YA fans!! It’s sometimes easy to forget they’re just as human as the rest of us and have their own author idols to fangirl over. I managed to get books signed by Taran Matharu, Tanya Byrne, Ryan Graudin, Alison Goodman, Karen McManus and so many more! 
  6. Freebies You can’t really talk about YALC without mentioning the obscene amount of freebies on offer!! I adore book-related merchandise so this was something of a dream come true. I loved the different badges, posters, bookmarks, totes, postcards and sweets that were given away. The totes were perhaps the most useful thing (shout out to Scholastic for a much wanted short-handled tote, a godsend for petite people like me!) and BKMRK were MVPs being one of few to give them out. They really came in handy when you realised you had bought more books than you had anticipated…
  7. Meeting new bookish friends Alongside catching up with old bookish friends, one of my favourite things about bookish events like this are the opportunity to meet new people! I’m pretty shy, but at YALC you know that everyone there highly likely already has one thing in common with you – YA books! And this genuinely makes all the difference. Some of the best tips I got over the course of the weekend on how to “do” YALC were from striking up conversations with people in queues with me. It was also great to be introduced to bookish friends of friends and sharing first YALC experiences with other newbies.
  8. Cheap books!!! I mean this goes without saying because none of us will say no to cheap books. I’d heard that offers put on by the publishers were pretty hard to resist, especially for books that weren’t even released yet – The Loneliest Girl in the Universe and Alex & Eliza were easily my favourite purchases! I’d also been told that the Sunday was the day when prices hit rock bottom… but I had not anticipated just how literal this was! OH MY GOD. NEW books were £1 by the end of YALC and I managed to snag some great bargains. If I hadn’t accumulated enough books already by the Sunday morning, the afternoon made damn well sure of it! 
  9. Sweet stuff One of the most common suggestions I saw whilst voraciously perusing YALC top tips was to take your own food because convention food is overpriced and underwhelming at the same time. The publishers’ stands did take care of your sweet tooth though! The amount of free chocolate and sweets on offer ensured you had a continuous sugar rush. My favourite had to be Penguin’s lemonade stand which was promoting Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index.
  10. Aching shoulders and exhaustion (!) Ok fine so this wasn’t a top ten as such because seriously So. Much. Pain. but it’s part and parcel of the experience! Plus it indicated I’d gotten a good haul of stuff each day which made me pretty happy. Being in London meant I didn’t have to drag around a huge suitcase of books, but honestly I can see why this would actually make sense! I’m also glad I did the full three days because I got to experience the ARC frenzy on the Friday, the events bonanza on the Saturday and the rock-bottom prices on the Friday but it did leave me exhausted so maybe something to think about for next time!

And there absolutely will be a next time! I already cannot wait for YALC 2018. I’m looking forward to going with a bit of experience under my belt so I can relax and enjoy myself a little more. 

Have you been to YALC or a similar book convention? Any tips that you’ve collected that you would be lost without? Let me know in the comments below. 🙂

ARC Bookish Review: A Change is Gonna Come by Various

A Change is Gonna Come by Various

Published: 10 August 2017 by Stripes Publishing

Genre: Diverse, Anthology, Young Adult

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 

Goodreads | Book Depository

Synopsis from Goodreads: Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla. Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman, and Phoebe Roy.

untitled

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: A Change is Gonna Come is a phenomenal landmark in YA fiction! The book is a collection of short stories and poems covering a range of genres, everything from dystopia, contemporary, realistic issues, historical, and surreal fantasy – phew! And all written by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic authors, both published and debut. 

Whilst growing up I could never have dreamed of coming across a book that captures different stories written by people who looked like me or had a similar upbringing – case in point, 13-year-old me would never have thought I’d see an inner London borough in the title of a YA story (Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon in case you’re wondering). Each and every story in Change resonated with me in different ways. Ayisha Malik’s A Refuge was fantastic in bringing a relevant and timely topic to a YA audience in such an accessible way, putting backstories to the nameless faces we often see in the news.

Homa was already climbing on top of a mound and overlooking the jungle as if she were there to conquer it.

I loved how the diversity of the authors reflected the diversity of the genres – there’s definitely something in here for everyone! Patrice Lawrence’s The Clean Sweep read like a Black Mirror episode to me! It left my skin crawling with its dystopia feel but at the same time there was a lot of familiarity in the setting too. Aisha Busby’s Marionette Girl really took you into the character’s head and in a few short pages made me empathise with what can be a difficult and misunderstood illness – and she’s a debut author too!

The dark’s shifting around me. It’s crawling out of the walls.

We Who? and Fortune Favours the Bold were searing in their accuracy portraying racism and Islamaphobia. The backdrops of Brexit and terrorist attacks were so relevant and hopefully give a voice to what so many young people feel and go through. We Who?, written by the legend Nikesh Shukla of The Good Immigrant fame, was really cleverly written to make it applicable to lots of people (you’ll see what I mean when you read it!) Meanwhile, it’s frightening how much I related to Yasmin Rahman’s protagonist in Fortune – the idea that you’re on alert after every devastating attack, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I look forward to more from Rahman because she absolutely has a very bright future in publishing ahead! 

If people want the freedom to say and think what they want, you have the freedom to challenge them. It’s your duty.

I loved the exploration of identity in Hackney Moon and Dear Asha. I could really relate to Mary Bello’s character in Dear Asha – the idea of visiting a new place which is at once totally unfamiliar and at the same time an intrinsic part of you. Tanya Byrne’s approach in Hackney Moon was great in that it was not at all condescending – in fact, for me the message was that we often need to make mistakes and bad decisions before we figure out who we truly are and to be comfortable in our own skin. I was also blown away by Musa Okwonga’s The Elders on the Wall. There were lines that I could relate to as a young person growing up feeling screwed over by the older generation.

“You youths can reach where we are if you toil,” // They say, pouring oil down that wall’s face.

If it’s not obvious already, there really is something for everyone in A Change is Gonna Come. I’m so thankful of the contributing authors for writing such strong voices and stories, for Stripes Publishing getting behind such a worthy cause, and the YA community for being such a welcoming place that an anthology of this sort doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. If you are at all interested in supporting and reading diverse books, or just understanding the world through the eyes of people from a different walk of life, A Change is Gonna Come will not disappoint! The book is out on 10 August so pick up a copy ASAP 🙂

Do you have any diverse book recs? Let me know in the comments below!!

ARC Review: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

Published: 4 May 2017 by Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical, Mystery

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2

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Synopsis from Goodreads: When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation. Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

Disclaimer: I was given an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not in any way influence my views on the book.

Review: I have been eyeing up Ms Wein’s books for some time now especially Code Name Verityher wartime book that I’m told portrays the endurance of friendship during times of difficulty. The Pear Thief is actually billed as a prequel of Code Name Verity but it can definitely be read as a standalone which is what I did.

The Pearl Thief is set in rural Scotland and honestly this book made me fall head over heels with the landscape because Wein’s descriptive language and setting was so evocative. I will confess that there were quite a few words that were totally new to a born and bred Londoner like me (burn – which I think is Gaelic for ‘fresh water’ for example) so some of the descriptions weren’t the easiest for me to visualise but despite this I was able to get an idea of the gorgeous highlands and grand country house that Lady Julia lived in – testament to Wein’s writing definitely! I will say though, this is one of those books where a map at the beginning would have done wonders and perhaps a glossary for idiots like me 🙂

The river has a voice that doesn’t die. It is as inhuman and ancient as starlight.

Lady Julia our protagonist was an interesting character. I didn’t immediately take to her but she grew on me as the book went on. I liked how adventurous and gutsy she was and willing to be open-minded and experimental even if society frowned upon it. Her friendship and dynamic with Ellen was easily my favourite – it was complex and a lovely surprise in a historical YA book! There was quite a cast of secondary characters but as The Pearl Thief is told from the Julia’s perspective, I felt we didn’t get to delve into their personalities as much as I’d have liked to – especially the McEwens and Mary who stood out.

Wein wove in societal issues like discrimination against the traveller community, rape and poverty in a really subtle way and gave an insight into what life was like in rural Scotland during that period of history. The discrimination theme was eerily timely and a little frightening how many parallels I could draw between Britain in the 1930s and 2017! One of the unique things about The Pearl Thief was the premise: the Strathfearn family estate being sold to private developers – a part of history that is oft-overlooked. The sexier Downton Abbey-esque era definitely gets more attention and so it was intereting to see a teenager dealing with a drastic change of fortune. I enjoyed seeing Lady Julia rise above her title and circumstances and discover her privilege but also we’re not all that different – be it Lady or traveller.  

They were the ‘dirty bold sleekit tinkers’. They were not dirty, did not appear to be all that bold, and it remained to be seen how sneaky they were. In fact, I was floored by the girl’s beauty.

The mystery and plot of The Pearl Thief definitely kept me guessing. I managed to figure out some of it right towards the end but was still pleasantly surprised at the reveal. I loved that the mystery had a solid story behind it, the pearls were given significance and a history which made it all the more interesting. However, I felt the pacing of The Pearl Thief could’ve been better. I definitely think the book could either have been shorter and punchier or instead just gone the whole hog and had more detail about the other characters – instead it was somewhere down the middle and had me at times just wanting to return to the central mystery.

Besides some minor issues, The Pearl Thief was a solid historical YA with a unique setting not often found in young adult lit. Wein’s descriptive language really added authenticity and the mystery was good whodunnit that kept you guessing. If you’re after something with a great heroine like Pullman’s classic Sally Lockhart series or Y. S. Lee’s brilliant The Agency series this one’s for you! The Pearl Thief is out on 4 May in the US and UK. Thanks again to Bloomsbury for the ARC 🙂

Are you planning to read The Pearl Thief? Or have some other brilliant YA historical/mystery recs? Let me know in the comments below!