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Optimist and aspiring actress Willa is the privileged daughter of separated actor parents. Her plans to spend summer in London are scuppered when her parents decide to ship her off to rural Italy to stay with an aunt she’s never met, which is what brings her to LA airport and into contact with Alice... Glass-half-empty-Alice has lost her mum and her marine biologist dad is sending her to stay with his new girlfriend in London, the prospect of which fills her with horror. When the girls meet in the airport lounge, they’re envious of each other’s summers. Alice would love to visit Italy to fulfill a dream of her mum’s, while Willa is desperate to attend a London theatre course. While Willa and Alice live worlds apart, they look remarkably alike and so they switch identities to experience a summer holiday like no other. With slip-ups and suspicions aroused from the off, the fast-paced escapist action escalates into a flurry of comic capers and cute crushes, plus there are plenty of heart-melting moments too. Alice gets to visit the worry-purging waterfall her mum never saw, while Willa reassesses her ambitions, and both find new friendships.
June 2019 Book of the Month | Cleverly and playfully-formed, this is a sophisticated, thought-provoking novel of love, heartbreak and second chances. Eugene and Tatiana are 27 and 24. They’re both unsettled by a fortuitous encounter on the Paris Metro ten years after they last met, and the significance of the moment is made potently clear when the omniscient narrator interjects, “Look how shaken they are to see each other again. Look at their eyes”. Throughout, the all-knowing narrator directs readers’ responses in this way, introducing episodes with foreshadowing commentaries that tell us what to watch out for. It’s the narrator who announces “it’s time to go back about ten years into the past, back where it all began.” And so we’re presented with the origin of their connection, when Tatiana was a self-conscious bookish fourteen-year-old, and Eugene was the enigmatic, pessimistic seventeen-year-old friend of her older sister’s boyfriend. The narrative slips between the frisson of their re-acquaintance and the tragedy that struck their teenage years. In some ways, reading this is like observing an intense play. In others, it’s like being granted access to Eugene and Tatiana’s innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires through their impassioned soliloquies. In every way, it’s a unique and emotionally honest portrait of the grip and ache of young love.
Eighteen-year-old Birdie is fanatical about mystery and crime fiction, a world in which she immersed herself while being brought up by her strict grandparents following the death of her mom. Birdie’s perception of detectives reveals much about her own aspirations and personality: “Detectives were cool, calm, and capable. They were usually loners, helping people from a distance...underdogs that people miscalculated.” Now, following the death of her gran and with the support of her mom’s fabulously flamboyant best friend, Birdie tries to find her own way in the world by taking a summer job as a night clerk at a glamorous historic hotel. It’s here that she forms a swoon-some, life-changing relationship with Daniel, the hotel’s handsome, hearing-impaired night driver, as they try to solve a real-life mystery involving a guest. Then, alongside the edge-of-your-seat twists and turns of their investigation, and their fast-blossoming, fated romance, it turns out that Daniel is harbouring secrets of his own. Underpinned by relatable real-life complications and curveballs aplenty, this engaging feast of young adult fiction fizzes with multiple mysteries and the jittery joys of first love. Head here to discover the author’s previous novels, which come equally recommended for their compassionate championing of offbeat, authentic young adult characters.
May 2019 Debut of the Month | Reader, prepare for your heart to quicken, pound and swell with love, for this is a truly intoxicating tale of friendship, romance, seizing special moments and being willing to do anything – anything – for the people you love. Jack King - one of the most authentic and charming characters to have stepped off a YA page - and his best-friends-since-childhood Franny and Jillian are on the brink of a new chapter in their lives, picking out colleges, planning their careers, while having fun hanging out. And then Jack meets Kate at a party and falls for her big-time. They’re soul-mates who bond over their love of cereal until, all too soon, Kate dies. But this tragic event turns out to be the beginning of their story, for Kate’s death flips Jack back in time and he meets her again, as if for the first time, with Kate sensing that she knows him from somewhere: “The way you look at me. Like we’ve been doing it our whole lives.” Jack sets about trying to change the course of history, firstly so Kate doesn’t die, and then also to swerve bad stuff away from his friends. But, in classic time travel tradition, this has dangerous effects. Cue Jack wryly referencing Back to the Future and Groundhog Day while up to his neck in serious complications. Take away the pulse-quickening time travel element and you’d still have a novel heated by much heart and humour. With it, this is a firework of urgent, impactful YA fiction, a book that’s ablaze with tough choices and all kinds of love. Throughout there’s a whole lot of heart-melting cuteness - the trio’s friendship, the sweet relationship between Franny and Jillian, Jack’s parents’ perfect marriage. The plot progression and developments revealed through the various play-outs of the past are brain-flippingly smart, with twists wending through to Jack’s desperate need for “one more re-set to undo this tragedy”. Reader, I cried on the bus.
Following the four March sisters for a year, and narrated by candid, clumsy Jo, the story begins at a time of great upheaval for the March family. Dad is working away as a humanist minister in war-torn Syria, Mum has recently lost her job as a social worker and, consequently, they’ve had to move house. Sensitive, shy Beth just wants “Daddy to come home”. Fashion mad Meg is frustrated by not being able to buy new clothes, while trying to figure out what to do with her future. Sharp-tongued, artistic Amy constantly bickers with Jo, who’s doggedly determined to become a novelist. Despite their own troubles, the family volunteer at a centre for Middle Eastern refugees on Christmas Day. It’s here Jo meets Lateef, a refugee who’s been adopted by a wealthy lawyer, and she immediately senses that he’s “going to be my best friend in the whole world”. In fact, he becomes close to the entire family as they ride a rollercoaster of worries and coming-of-age revelations alongside a whole lot of love and friendship. Written in a highly accessible style, this affectionate update re-maps the personalities, aspirations and uncertainties of the original March sisters to create a new landscape of their lives, one that’s suffused in the spirit of the original and a contemporary freshness as it explores the timeless themes of sibling strains and solidarity, and feeling a sense of home.
A suspenseful historical YA debut inspired by the true story of an all-female bomber unit in Russia during World War II. World War II has erupted in Valka's homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She's a pilot-and a good one-so she eagerly joins an all-female bomber regiment. Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German targets is something else entirely. The raids are dangerous, but as Valka watches her fellow pilots putting everything on the line in the face of treachery, she learns the true meaning of bravery. As the war intensifies, though, and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home. Inspired by the true story of a famous all-female Russian bomber regiment, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, of learning to fight for yourself, and of the perils of a world at war.
December 2018 Book of the Month | | I relished the first two books in this series (The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact) and this final Bath-set instalment is a fittingly thrilling feast of fantastical foe-fighting and illicit liaisons. Spirited Lady Helen might be in the throes of finalising her wedding plans, but she has far greater matters to attend to, such as defeating the Grand Deceiver. Alongside the high-stakes, high-octane action, the delicious duplicity of Helen’s double-life existence further flavours this novel with edge and intrigue. While “her aunt and uncle, along with the rest of society, were under the impression that she had spent the last six months enjoying the delights of Brighton and Bath”, Helen had, in fact, been engaged in “killing murderers, and becoming one half of the Grand Reclaimer with Lord Carlston” as a member of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club. Talking of whom, Helen’s relationship with Carlston is a frisson-fuelled delight, thronging with “will they? Won’t they?” tension. Wildly inventive, and driven by the vitalities and conflicts of an engaging heroine, this trilogy is a magnificent melange of history, fantasy and heart-pounding passion.
November 2018 Book of the Month | One of our 2018 Books of the Year | A stunningly original ocean adventure by a one-of-a-kind author whose work defies convention and abounds with a purity of ideas and execution. Kel was “always running away from something”, seeking escape “from the world she inhabited within and the world that bullied her from the outside”. She’s a swamper, born oceans apart from the wealthy tower people who live in the same Cornish coastal community. She’s also an unforgettable heroine, a girl with danger in her eyes, a baby to care for and “a stupid heart that beat wrong and was shaped wrong and had wrongness stretched clean through it”. Kel “didn’t want what the tower people had; she only wanted two things, a heart she could rely on and freedom from kin”, which is why she kidnaps Rose, the daughter of a cargo ship captain. Kel plans to use her ill-gotten gains to travel to South America to have a heart operation, because in the UK “swamp folk don’t get operations”. Aboard the ship Kel tracks down Rose and forces her to board a smaller vessel, soon running into trouble when the engine fails amidst scenes of devastation on the mainland. Steering clear of well-worn clichés, Carthew’s stories cut to the heart of human experience, often portraying and championing life’s underdogs and outsiders. What a thrilling, thought-provoking novel this is, brimming with perilous encounters, and the rawness of real-life relationships.
This perfect little package (a cute clothbound hardback sprinkled with glittery goodness) comprises two festive-themed stories that are packed with heart, wrapped in hope and perfectly embellished with Simini Blocker’s warm and witty illustrations. Set over several New Year Eves, the opener Midnights tells the tense “Will they? Won’t they?” story of best buddies Mags and Noel, whose lives are on the giddy brink of change. Kindred Spirits, originally published as a World Book Day book, is a funny tale of a friendship struck up between Star Wars fanatics sleeping outside a cinema before a new movie opens. Certainly a must-read for Rowell fans, this short and satisfying treat is also perfect for introducing newbies to her unique talent for creating believable characters and writing romance with real-life authenticity.
October 2018 Book of the Month | Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | One of our 2018 Books of the Year | A heartfelt, hard-hitting, super-readable novella about the life-affirming, life-saving friendship that blossoms between a young teenager and her 59 year-old neighbour. All sweet-hearted Aman wanted was for her dad to stay a little longer, but he died before she had chance to read her special letter to him. While grappling with grief, she’s bullied by a bunch of older kids, but thankfully new neighbour Gurnam intervenes to scare them off. While Aman sees Gurnam as her “personal superhero”, she notices a sadness about him, but he won’t reveal the cause of his pain. The truth is revealed with poignant, page-turning urgency, leading to a shocking finale that sees Aman grasp a second vital chance to read her love-filled letter. There’s so much humanity and soul in this short gem of a story. While the content is YA, this is written for those with a reading age of 8+, in a lucid, gripping style that tells it like it is and gets to the core of the characters’ hearts. I relished every word.
This seminal exploration of mental health begins with an explosion. Olive is on the edge, unable to cope with the volume of noise and people in the world: “I hate humans. I hate that they’re everywhere. But the human I hate most is me”. After a disturbing episode during her dad’s birthday celebrations, she agrees to attend Camp Reset, “the country’s first residential camp for brain wellness”, where young clients are given therapy and encouraged to identify their core beliefs in a plush country setting. Olive knows what her core belief is - “I’m a bad person” - and so a key to her healing will be to switch that into “I am a good person who tries my best.” While struggling with this, and inspired by the “suicide algorithm” the Camp Reset doctors have devised, Olive is struck by her own idea for a cure. She’s a compelling, creative fireball of a character and, though her condition is complex and her journey often dark, she’s also frequently entertaining. After enlisting the help of introverted maths-lover Lewis, it’s not long before Olive’s idea evolves into a wildly big-scale project. Unflinchingly honest and empathetic, this intense novel demonstrates the primary importance of kindness and compassion, that it’s never a persons fault that they’re unwell, and just how essential self-care is. Ladies and Gents, I give you one of the year’s most important YA novels - an engaging and thought-provoking book with tremendous value. Holly Bourne has done it again.