Bookish Review: World Book Day 2016

    

World Book Day is exactly what is says on the tin – an annual celebration of books across the globe. A host of famous authors pen special short stories as part of the event and these WBD reads are short, sweet and cheap but always high quality.

For World Book Day 2016, two authors of YA Royalty, Rainbow Rowell and Juno Dawson, offered up the older reads and so you can imagine I was excited to get stuck in.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Published: February 2016 by Macmillan Kids UK

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Short Story

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

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I will literally read anything by HRH Rainbow Rowell – seriously she could write about watching paint dry and I would still devour it 😀 True to her style, Rowell’s Kindred Spirits took us on a fangirl journey that was just charming and adorkable.

Elena is a Star Wars fan. No, you don’t understand, if you broke Elena’s heart, Star Wars would spill out. So she decides to camp out at her local cinema for the new movie. Elena imagines a 3 days of glorious fangirling with people just as obsessed as her so she’s a little disappointed when the reality turns out to be a queue of two other people. However, over the course 3 days Elena finds that the bonds of fandom can overcome even the most awkward situation and lead to the discovery of the best kindred spirits…

Gosh this book was just so darned cute – like grinning-ear-to-ear cute. Kindred Spirits is infinitely quotable and relatable. I found myself laughing out loud at Elena’s mother’s response to her intent to camp out for the movie (“You don’t even know these men. They could be sexual predators.”) Also the whole Asian, petite, looking like a 12 year old? Yeah I could totally relate.

For a short story, the characters were wonderfully developed (skills, Ms Rowell *tips hat*). Troy was hilarious and so realistic whilst Gabe was brilliantly polite and genuine. I always appreciate how Rowell never makes her characters into caricatures when she writes about fangirling and fandom. Elena, Gabe and Troy covered the wide spectrum of different levels of obsession and helps us to realise that we should all be uniting rather than competing over who is a more devoted fan.

The ending was perfect – it was adorable and I really hope Elena and Gave get a full length novel of their own. I’d love to see their friendship and relationship play out as well as find out more about each of the characters and their back stories.  My final takeaway from this book? If you find a guy who can help you pee under fraught circumstances, he’s a keeper!

Spot the Difference by Juno Dawsom

Published: March 2016 by Hot Key Books

Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Short Story

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄

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It was fitting that the Queen of Teen would be penning one of the YA WBD offerings and I went into Spot the Difference with no idea about the issues it dealt with.

Avery, and her best friend, Lois are distinctly Z-list at Brecken Heath High where the social pyramid is pretty rigid and defined. relegated by Avery’s severe acne and Lois’s “funny little arm”, Avery’s life is pretty grim. That is until a miracle cure comes along which seems to improve both her skin and her social status. But Avery soon finds perfection isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…

Spot the Difference was very different to Kindred Spirits. It deals with the issue of acne and explores it really well. I found it totally original and, as far as I’m aware, a main stream YA book has yet to deal with the issue with the focus Dawson does in Spot the Difference. Acne is a really prevalent condition and one that affects many young people from their teens and sometimes even into adulthood and so that was by far the best thing about this book.

Plot-wise, yes, it was a little clichĂ©d with the popular crowd and the reject that pines to belong to said crowd, and the ending that was a nicely packaged “grass isn’t always greener” moral. But despite these misgivings I don’t think this was Dawson’s focus, rather the focus was more about Avery and how her life is defined by the condition of her skin. The broad cast of characters were pretty unremarkable and one-dimensional, mostly defined by their role as A-list or otherwise but I did find Avery’s character and the way she dealt with her issue realistic and well-written. None of us can say we wouldn’t at least consider “going over to the dark side” if we were in her position…

All in all, this is a really impressive go at dealing with an interesting and under-discussed issue in the space of 80 or so pages. Definitely a “realistic contemporary YA” book to read for the issue it discusses rather than for the plot because it’s absolutely worth the very short time it would take to read it.

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Bookish Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan

Published: April 2015 by Grand Central Publishing

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ♄ ♄

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The Royal We was a Book Club read and disclaimer up front: I don’t think this genre is generally up my street hence hence the rating. Nonetheless, I was slightly intrigued by the fact that the book is a fictionalised account of Kate and William’s story and was willing to have my initial impressions proven wrong.

A year abroad at the University of Oxford has American Rebecca Porter finding adventure and romance – with the future King of England no less. Prince Nicholas lives across the hall from Bex and before long she is swept up in his eccentric group of friends, his undeniable charm and the unbelievable royal lifestyle. But as is the way with fairy tales, the path of true love is not without its obstacles and Bex finds herself thrust in the spotlight and caught up in the whirlwind of fancy parties, the tabloid press and the persistent paparazzi. And that’s not to mention the drama that her twin Lacey, Nick’s brother Prince Freddie and the couple’s respective families add into the mix. Before long Bex finds herself in the middle of a royal scandal and at risk of losing the life and love that she has sacrificed everything for…

The authors of the book run the successful fashion and celebrity blog Go Fug Yourself so it was interesting to read a book where the baddies are essentially the invasive tabloid press and bloggers who dig up the ultimate dirt on celebrities and light the kindle that propels scandals into the open. Cocks and Morgan are clearly very well acquainted with this journalistic style and are pleasantly critical of the harmful consequences it can have for and on the subjects of tabloid gossip. It was refreshing that the book was sympathetic to Bex’s experience of the rabid paparazzi even as Cocks and Morgan owe their success to this kind of journalism and showed a level of self-awareness that I could appreciate.

However, when it comes to the actual story, I wasn’t particularly invested from the get go. It is closely based on Kate & Wills story (besides the obvious and glaring differences like the fact that Bex is American, they’re at Oxford rather than St. Andrews, and Nick’s mother is alive and kicking) and so it didn’t feel like anything new was being offered about the famous courtship. The characters felt a little bland and one-dimensional with each having one dominant personality trait that underlined their inclusion in the book – Gaz as the comic foil, Celia as the stalwart best friend, Lady Bollocks as the classic stuck up posh girl later turned ally, Freddie as the playboy prince, Lacy as the spoiled twin desperate to share Bex’s limelight. The tropes meant that you could almost see the story play out without reading even half of the book.

It also felt like the book could’ve been much, MUCH shorter without detracting from the main plot. A lot of the drama felt contrived and unnecessary while many of the chapters and events felt like filler material before we got to the climax – so much so that it was a bit of a slog to get through the 300 or so pages in the middle and still feel invested in the characters and their respective stories. One thing that irritated me was the introduction of some heavy topics such as mental illness and sexuality which I initially applauded but promptly realised they were essentially plot devices brought on stage to further Bex and Nick’s relationship and then it was exit stage left. I definitely think these issues could have been developed with a bit more attention and respect. The twist at the end whilst interesting came too late to reinvigorate my interest and by then I was just on the home stretch looking forward to finishing it.

I think people who are fans of gossip sites or even the history/”behind the scenes” of the Royal family might enjoy The Royal We more than I did and as I said up front this really wasn’t my cup of tea to begin with.  But despite this, even though I was willing to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong, Cocks and Morgan didn’t put forward a new spin on this well-known story to gauge much interest on my part 😩

Bookish Review: The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

Published: January 2016 by Walker Books

GenreHistorical, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

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UGH just look at that cover! Gorgeous Lady Helen, Broody Lord Carlston – seriously just gimme! I’d not read any of Alison Goodman’s previous novels but the cover (more about that later…) and blurb definitely grabbed me. Also I’m a massive historical fiction fan, and the society/debutante Regency sub-genre has always intrigued me so this really was a no-brainer.

Orphan Lady Helen Wrexhall has a ÂŁ40,000 inheritance but the appeal of this is tempered by the rumour that her mother was a traitor to the Crown. After the disappearance of her housemaid and on the cusp of her debut into Society she finds herself thrust into the world of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club and finds out her unusual story is even stranger than she could possible have imagined. And to top it off the mysterious (and deliciously handsome) Lord Carlston seems to be the only person who can help… Lady Helen sets out to understand her destiny but juggling societal expectations and the inusufferable Lord Carlston soon proves way more than she can handle and it’s not long before Lady Helen finds herself in over her head.

The setting of Regency London is almost a character in and of itself in The Dark Days Club. I loved the rich description of everything from the attire of the nobility, the atmospheric London setting, and the strict rules and conventions that governed Regency society. Goodman’s detail is so immersive and as a born-and-bred Londoner many of the street names and parks were familiar to me. I really enjoyed imagining places like Piccadilly, Cheapside and Vauxhall with hackney carriages trundling down them and street peddlers on every corner. The references to real historical figures and events also helped to ground the book and made it so much more evocative of the era. There’s an Author’s Note at the end explaining the extensive research Goodman undertook in writing the book and it really shows. My favourite had to be the detail about Lady Helen’s wardrobe (seriously lush!) and the different rules of engagement between men and women (who knew ungloved hands could be so intimate?)

Lady Helen was a great character – she was spunky but at the same time sheltered and unsure of all the changes that were happening to and around her. I loved following the character’s progress as she finds out about The Dark Days Club and her place in it, and watching her transformation from a skeptical girl condemned to her lot in life as a Lady to the confident girl who makes her own decisions . The relationship between her and her lady’s maid, Darby, was a really wonderful portrayal of female relationships and they passed the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Lord Carlston was oh so swoonworthy – one of the reasons why I much prefer the UK cover over others 😉 He’s a complex character with lots of secrets and I’m looking forward to learning more about him in the next installment. I cheered on Lady Helen’s suspicion of Lord Carlston and reluctance to immediately and naively look to him for answers and appreciated that Goodman made the romance between the two veeery slow-burning (the tension between the two was so thick that by the end I was all for a bit of classic YA insta-love resolution)

I thought the fantasy element was really original and interesting. Goodman goes to a lot of effort to world-build but I felt that sometimes the explanations were a bit dense and also lots of the rules around the demons were conditional e.g. certain things would only happen during a full moon or if a demon had been feeding. I found it was an effort to recall all of these conditions/details and assimilate them with the events as they were happening. Nonetheless, the concept was refreshing and as it is the first book, the dense explanations are perhaps understandable and expected – another reason why I’m looking forward to the next in series!

The Dark Days Club was a great mix of fantasy, history and romance with classic YA heroes and heroines and I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Infernal Devices or The Diviners series where the fantasy element and the rich historical background blend together really well. I would probably recommend this for the beautiful detail of Regency London alone and think anyone even vaguely interested in the era would find it enjoyable!

Bookish Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

Published: February 2016 by Faber & Faber

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄

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I’m part of the same YA book club as Alwyn Hamilton so Rebel of the Sands has been on my radar for some time. Billed as the “Arabian Nights meets the Wild West”, this novel is the first in a new trilogy and one that sounded really different and exciting.

Amani dreams of having a greater purpose in life and is desperate to leave behind her bitter extended family, who took her in after she was orphaned, and the dead-end desert town that she has grown up in. A talented gunslinger, she’s hoping it’s enough to get her to the capital city of Miraji where she can be free from the constraints of small town life. Her plans are however derailed by the arrival of a foreigner in town who awakens Amani’s desires (romantic and adventurous!) and the two are flung together for survival. But this stranger has secrets of his own and it is not long before Amani finds herself wound up in his mysterious mission and his mesmerizing eyes…

This book was simply delicious. I was really looking forward to reading a novel in an Arabian Nights setting and Rebel of the Sands did not disappoint. Hamilton’s world-building and attention to detail is great and the setting was at once recognisable, familiar enough to ground readers, but different enough to keep it fresh and intriguing. I loved the references to the Djinni fairy tales and the exploration of the spiritual aspect of life in the desert, such as the origins of the world and ideas behind right and wrong. At times, I’ll admit I found it difficult to keep up with the wider world – there were other cities, nations, and political alliances pretty important to the story that I had to make an effort to keep straight but it wasn’t impossible.

Amani was a wonderful character to get to know and follow as she found the world opening up in front of her. She is the ultimate heroine fighting against societal constraints and I loved that she was a balance of bold and loyal but self-critical and unsure – a very realistic 17-year-old. Her smart mouth gave way to some pretty epic lines and made her so badass and impossible not to like. Jinn was also a delight, mysterious but compelling and you can totally understand why Amani found it difficult to abandon him at various points.

Amani’s desperation and need to get away was beautifully explored and was reflected in the barren and vast surroundings of desert that she has been grown up in. At the same time her growing attachment to Jinn felt natural too. It brings to mind the saying that home isn’t a place but a person. I was supper happy that there wasn’t instalove – she totally poisons him at one point in order to put her need to escape first (atta girl!) There were some stereotypical romantic moments  e.g. burning touches and overwhelming ~feelings~ but I can forgive Amani those because 1. Jinn is hot and 2. She is so busy being badass the rest of the time that she is totally entitled to some twitterpation 😉

The pacing in the book was just right and the balance between action and explanation was strong throughout. And the overarching plot was super intriguing that I’m eagerly anticipating the next installment. I read this with half a mind to the fact that it was the first in a trilogy and would most likely spend the majority world building, and setting up the plot for the rest of the trilogy so I was pleasantly surprised when the book finished with a satisfying climax and ending of its own with no cliffhanger in sight.

If you’re at all interested in far-flung exotic lands with badass heroines, yummy love interests and the promise of rebellion, you will not be let down by Rebel of the Sands.

Bookish Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

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Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Series: Anna and the French Kiss

Published: September 29th 2011 by Dutton Books

Genre: Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ♄ ♄ ♄ ♄ ♡

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I was excited about reading Lola and the Boy Next Door having read the awesome Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss which is easily in my Top 10 favourite YA books. I was looking forward to more relatable protagonists and swoonworthy romantic interests and Lola certainly did not disappoint.

Lola Nolan is a girl who has life sorted. She is happily dating her boyfriend Max, who just so happens to be a few years older and a sexy rocker to boot, and busy cultivating her outrageous and original sense of style. Her only concerns are bringing her parents around to accepting Max and creating the ultimate costume for her winter formal. At least that is until her old (and incredibly gorgeous!) neighbour, Cricket Bell, waltzes back into her life reawakening old feelings and memories Lola thought she had long since buried. Soon Lola finds herself juggling her jealous boyfriend Max, her crazy family life and of course her confusing relationship with Cricket Bell. It isn’t long before she realises that some feelings refuse to be silenced so easily…

Although Lola is the second in the Anna and the French Kiss series, it did not feel like a rehash of Anna. Lola is very different personality-wise to Anna and I found that really refreshing. Lola is louder and more confident but just as lovable. And she had an awesome sense of style that made me want to be more experimental myself. Check out this snippet for an idea of her wacky outfits:

“Today I’m a strawberry. A sweet red dress from the fifties, a long necklace of tiny black beads, and a dark green wig cut into a severe Louise Brooks bob.”

Lola’s narrative is incredibly honest and forthright and I loved that about her (“I’m encouraging him. And I can’t stop.”). Some of her confessional thoughts about Cricket are downright hilarious and very realistic (“Don’t stare at his body. Do NOT stare at his body.”) Most importantly, Lola is portrayed with flaws which made me warm to her a lot and I think this is something that sets the book apart from some other YA fiction where the female protagonists have a tendency to be just a little too perfect.

Cricket was very genuine and it was adorable how considerate he was of Lola’s wishes even when her actions may have been contradictory. It was hard not to fall for him – he was incredibly romantic and reliable. Stephanie Perkins dealt with unconventional relationships wonderfully in Lola and showed that being different is never a bad thing, whether it’s your family structure or your dress sense that doesn’t conform to convention. I loved loved loved Lola’s parents and her relationship with them whilst her friendship with Lindsey was a great portrayal of how opposites attract.

One thing I absolutely adore about Stephanie Perkins’ writing is how much location practically becomes a character in its own right in her novels. I plan to visit Paris again soon and do it as Anna and St. Clair did it and now I want to do the same with San Francisco. I found myself googling the Castro and the Haight to get a better idea of what they were like although Perkins’ descriptions were wonderfully detailed.

Finally, for anyone who goes into this having read Anna, you my friend are in for a treat. Their cameos and dialogue are so wonderfully SQUEEE that they had me grinning from ear to ear. It was nice to get a little insight into how their relationship was progressing! I would totally recommend this book to anyone who likes a funny, lighthearted contemporary romance that you could read in one sitting.

Have you read Lola and the Boy Next Door? Or do you have a brilliantly eclectic dress sense like Lola? Sound off in the comments below 🙂