August 2016 reads, Uncategorized

What’s A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

  • What’s A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Rating: * * * * *

Series: The Spinster Club #3Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 16.44.05.png

Publisher: Usborne

Publication Date: August 2016


1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender

2. Don’t call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)

3. Always try to keep it funny

4. Don’t let anything slide. Even when you start to break…

Lottie’s determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other ideas…

The Spinster Club series is one of my very favourites. We had Evie and Amber’s stories – now it’s the turn of their friend and aspiring Prime Minister Lottie, and her story is just as un-put-down-able and heart-warming as the other two were.

Feminism is a very important and very popular discussion point in YA fiction – there is a Twitter chat with the hashtag #FeminisminYA every Tuesday – and feminism is at the very heart of ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’. The novel tells the story of Lottie’s campaign to be an active feminist and to fight sexism by pointing out every case of sexism she notices – whether it’s in a store with the unfair cost of razors or ibuprofen for period pain or it’s in a restaurant with the waiter automatically handing over the bill to the man – for a month. Holly Bourne explores the consequences Lottie faces during her campaign, from taunts from boys at school who view her as ‘man-hating’ to being a source of irritation to insulted teachers when she points out sexism in their lessons. Lottie must overcome the difficulties, disappointments and costs associated with fighting boldly for a cause that not everyone agrees with or understands. At times over the novel’s course, Lottie really struggles to continue with her project. These sections are very moving and the reader is completely behind Lottie, urging her on all the way and feeling very proud and full of admiration whenever she pulls through a particularly difficult stage.

One of my favourite things about each of the books in this series has been the way that Holly Bourne is able to blend humour with poignancy and sensitivity. As I’ve mentioned, there are numerous very difficult and emotional time periods for Lottie in the novel, but there are also very funny sections of the novel – particularly in the dialogue – which will have you laughing at loud and will put a massive smile on your face. I’m especially thinking here of Lottie’s ‘banter’ with her cameraman Will.

I also really enjoyed and appreciated the fact that Lottie’s parents play an active role in this novel (as parents have in all the books in this trilogy in fact). This is different to many YA novels – particularly genres like fantasy and dystopia – in which the main characters are orphans or alternatively they have conveniently constantly-absent parents, so we fail to see the relationship between young adults and their parents/guardians , a relationship at the very centre of teenagers’ lives. Lottie’s parents are not particularly interested at the beginning in her feminist vlog – they worry it will affect her Cambridge application and her A-level grades – nor indeed is her mum happy when Lottie points out that the allotment of household chores in their house is sexist and her mum does everything while her dad relaxes after work. Lottie’s feminist campaign affects every sector of her life – both her school life and her home life.

I love the friendship between the three main characters in this series – Lottie, Evie and Amber – and the fact that, while all three characters have romantic relationships, their friendship is what is central to the series and what matters most to them. All these things that are sometimes overlooked in YA – parental relationships and friendships are often side-lined in favour of crushes and romances – are at the forefront of this series and it is fantastic to see them taking the focus, not least because partners come and go but parents and best friends are constant.  In this novel, we see the first major upset in the three Spinsters’ friendship and I thought this was very realistic and relatable.

And that leads me to another major point about this series – these are three of the most relatable books I have ever read. I can identify with so much in these novels – whether it’s a situation one of the main characters is in or whether it’s a thought, emotion or worry that they have. I see myself in them, and there is something very comforting about that – about knowing through an author’s writing that others feel the same as you and have the same thoughts. The first scene of the novel, for a start – where Lottie is verbally abused by men for wearing lipstick – is something I think that every girl can relate to. We have all, unfortunately, experienced this in some form. Lottie’s story is all of our stories.

To summarise, ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’ is a novel that should be on everyone’s shelves. It’s striking, memorable and impactful, the kind of book that stays in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page. It raises countless points about everyday sexism, points that it is crucial that we all recognise, discuss and fight against. Most importantly, this book left me, as I’m sure it will every reader, feeling inspired and empowered to act and to fight for the changes I want to see happen.



June 2016 Reads, Uncategorized

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

  • How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly BourneScreen Shot 2016-06-23 at 19.18.04.png

Rating: * * * * *

Series: #2 The Normal Series (coming after Am I Normal Yet?)

Publisher: Usborne

Publication Date: February 2016 (I didn’t read it until now because I knew that when I did I would be bursting for the next book! Luckily the next book comes out in a couple of months!)

Goodreads Synopsis: Amber, Evie and Lottie: three girls facing down tough issues with the combined powers of friendship, feminism and cheesy snacks. Both hilarious and heart-rending, this is Amber’s story of how painful – and exhilarating – love can be, following on from Evie’s story in Am I Normal Yet?

All Amber wants is a little bit of love. Her mum has never been the caring type, even before she moved to California, got remarried and had a personality transplant. But Amber’s hoping that spending the summer with her can change all that.

And then there’s prom king Kyle, the guy all the girls want. Can he really be interested in anti-cheerleader Amber? Even with best friends Evie and Lottie’s advice, there’s no escaping the fact: love is hard.

‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and indeed one of the best and most relatable books I’ve ever read. Holly Bourne understands perfectly the ups and downs, wishes and worries, of being a 21st century teenager. This makes her books very readable and means that it is very easy to identify with and sympathise with the main characters. ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is heartfelt and honest, with some very funny scenes that put a huge smile on your face – like the scene where Amber has to try to row a kayak and Amber’s reaction to her mother’s boyfriend’s summer camp’s replacement of Slytherin with Dumbledore’s army (Although, as a Harry Potter fan, I could totally see where Amber was coming from – who would do that and think it was ok?!) – but also with some very moving and powerful scenes between Amber and her estranged mother, who started a new life in America and left her daughter behind.

One of my favourite aspects of this book and this series is the inclusion of feminism, with Amber and her two best friends Evie and Lottie’s Spinster Club meetings. In this novel, because Amber’s in the USA, their meetings take place in Skype and unfortunately Amber is left out of the all-important accompanying cheesy snacks! (I would recommend having some cheesy snacks next to you as you read this as you will get a craving for them!) I love Lottie’s enthusiasm when she talks through her ideas about feminism – she bursts to life in the novel with her bubbly, eager and energetic nature and her enthusiasm is infectious. The scenes in this series with the Spinster Club meetings always leave me feeling very inspired, not only to join a club like this, but to do things like the Bechdel test and to fight for equality. I think that a book has to be very powerful and skilfully written to leave you feeling inspired and empowered in this way.

I also really enjoy the fact that although when you read the title ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ you immediately think of romantic love, the book presents other types of love with equal focus. There’s the love that Amber has for her mother, which she finds very difficult because at times it does not seem like it’s reciprocated by her mother – when she arrives in the US, she sees that her mother keeps her picture not in her own bedroom, but in the spare room, and this makes Amber feel like a discarded spare part. The use of first person makes Amber’s feelings and disappointment very palpable and makes you empathise greatly with her. We discover more about Amber and her mother’s relationship as Amber recalls what used to happen before her mother left England and her mother’s struggles with alcoholism. The final scene between Amber and her mother is very moving, powerful and satisfying.

Additionally, there’s the love and bond between friends, not just between Amber, Evie and Lottie, but also the friends that Amber makes on camp. I think it’s really important that books put focus on friendships as well as romances, and Holly Bourne does this very successfully. My favourite of the friends Amber makes is Whinnie, who is a faithful and caring friend to Amber. She shares Amber’s good-humour and also has a very interesting life philosophy based on Winnie the Pooh. Their friendship seems very natural.

The romantic relationship in the novel is also very well done. Although on the surface Kyle and Amber may not seem to have much in common, underneath they do and they really connect to each other. It’s clear that Kyle really values Amber and appreciates and is entertained by her good-humour. I really like the fact that although they both like each other, that doesn’t mean that their relationship is totally smooth-sailing.

I love how the heading between sections changes for the last section into a positive; it’s a lovely touch and makes the novel ultimately very uplifting.

Overall, ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ is a fantastic addition to YA and if you haven’t read it, you definitely should! I think that if I had to choose one series to recommend to all other teenagers, it would be the Normal series, and that Holly Bourne is one of the most important YA writers out there, with her exploration of key issues like feminism, mental health and relationships. Her books are very relatable and blend humour and patches of light-heartedness with more serious and emotional sections perfectly.

‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’, Lottie’s story, comes out in August and I can’t wait!






Favourite Novels of 2015, Uncategorized

15 Books I Loved in 2015 – First Five

IMG_22272015 was a fantastic year of books! Here are reviews for five of my fifteen favourite books from last year: Saint Anything, Ink and Bone, Vendetta, The Potion Diaries, and Am I Normal Yet? 

Feel free to post your favourites and any recommendations from last year or for the new year in the comments!

  • Saint Anything, Sarah Dessen

My rating:  * * * * * 

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: May 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Peyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?

Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.’

I am a huge fan of Sarah Dessen novels, and I was very excited to read her latest one. I loved Saint Anything  and would definitely rate it as one of my favourites of Dessen’s novels, along with ‘The Truth About Forever’, ‘Just Listen’ and ‘Along For the Ride.’

Sydney, the protagonist of Saint Anything, feels invisible, and the novel is her journey from feeling that she lacks any kind of identity and is overshadowed by her brother, to finding a loyal group of friends, coming to terms with the actions committed by her brother, Peyton, and finding herself.

I love Layla, Sydney’s vivid and energetic friend. She brings  wonderful humour to the novel, with her gift of 50 root beer lollipops to Sydney, her verdicts on French Fries from different sources and systematic process for applying condiments to them, and her gobsmacked amazement at the studio in Sydney’s house.

I also really enjoy the fact that a recurring theme throughout the novel is Sydney’s ability to make predictions about people from their pizza orders. She helps out Layla’s brother, Mac, with the orders, and always manages to successfully guess the purchasers.

Dessen’s novels are always thought-provoking, with a reflective quality to the prose. One of my favourite quotes from the novel is from a scene where Sydney is with Mac, and she comments on the way he never throws anything away, and Mac replies:

‘”There’s no shame in trying to make stuff work, is how I see it. It’s better than just accepting the broken.”I wanted to say he was lucky he even had a choice. That for most of us, once something was busted, it was game over. I would have loved to know how it felt, just once, to have something fall apart and see options instead of endings.’

Sydney is a figure who you attach to straight away, because the difficulties she faces in feeling invisible are ones felt by all teenagers at some point. Like all Dessen protagonists, at the close of the novel, she feels like an old friend. Her story is moving and also dark at times, but it is ultimately hugely uplifting and one with great heart.


  • Ink and Bone, Rachel Caine

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 The Great Library series

Publisher: Allison and Busby

Publication date: July 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…’

I was so excited to find this book. During a reading slump I was looking up my favourite authors, checking if they had any books coming out. I went on Rachel Caine’s website and saw that she was writing a new novel….and that it was due out on July 7th. And this was on July 6th! And I had no idea it was coming out so I didn’t have a long wait! I rushed to get it on July 7th, and was hooked from then on.

The prologue is an absolutely gripping introduction to the novel. In it, the young Jess, the protagonist, who is illegally smuggling a book to give to a private owner, discovers just how corrupt his society is, and the selfish greed that people have for knowledge. The sight that he witnesses is one which he will never forget, and it ignites his appreciation for novels and his commitment to protecting them.

The world building in this novel is first class. The setting has a 1984- feel to it of constantly being observed, with the automaton lions and their ever-watchful eyes, the London Garda, and the formidable force of the Library.

Additionally, I really like the fact that between chapters there are notes, decrees or letters from and to Archivists, Obscurists, and Linguas, from across the centuries, which build up the sense of the Library as a sinister being, and those at the forefront of it as manipulative, controlling and dangerous. Tension builds throughout the novel, through the main plot, and also through these letters.

The novel is packed with fantastic characters, from Jess, a protagonist who you automatically root for, his inventive best friend, Thomas, and his initially aggressive roommate, Dario, to Morgan, a mysterious latecomer to the Library, and Wolfe, the fierce mentor to the Scholars.

The final chapters of novel are really tense and climactic, with Jess’ decision about Morgan, the Postulants’ positions for the next year being revealed, and the appearance of the Artifex.

I am hugely excited for more of Jess’ story in Book 2!

  • Vendetta, Catherine Doyle

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Blood for Blood series

Publisher: Chicken House

Publication date: February 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.With a fierce rivalry raging between two warring families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. An epic debut set outside modern-day Chicago.

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself falling into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.’

This book is awesome!

A great strength of Vendetta is that you can visualise everything. Doyle gives the perfect amount of description of the settings, the characters, and the situations in the novel so that it captures your imagination. The publisher’s note at the beginning of the book compares it to a movie and he is absolutely right. This is especially true of the scene where Luca pulls up and interrupts Sophie and Nic in his car, of the basketball game scenes, and of the final scenes, but the whole book is like watching a TV thriller.

YA romantic thrillers can sometimes be cliché, but Vendetta is not because it’s so well written. There is romance but there is also constant tension and many twists and turns throughout the novel.  I really like the idea of the jar of honey mentioned in the beginning and its later significance.

The dialogue, too, is punchy and I love the way that Doyle intersperses bits of Italian for the scenes with the brothers. I enjoy the way that each of the five brothers has a distinctive personality and the way that they act around each other is also really interesting. Valentino’s speech about masks is a stand out:

‘This life is so complex that we rarely get to be the people we are truly meant to be. Instead, we wear masks and put up walls to keep from dealing with the fear of rejection, the feeling of regret, the very fear that someone may not love us for who were are deep in our core, that they might not understand the things that drive us. I want to study the realness of life, not the gloss. There is beauty everywhere; even in the dark, there is light, and that is the rarest kind of all.’ 

However, most of all, I love Luca and his complicated relationship with the heroine, Sophie. Their notes to each other later on in the book are adorable. I really hope there’s lots of Luca in the second book!

I would definitely recommend Vendetta and the great news is….it’s less than a month until the sequel, Inferno, is out! I cannot wait!

  • The Potion Diaries, Amy Alward

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Potion 

Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Publication date: July 2015

Goodreads synopsis: ‘When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.’

This novel is the perfect summer read: witty, charming, and creative!

The parts from Evelyn’s – the Princess of Nova, who has fallen in love with herself- POV are hilarious, especially her awe at first glimpsing her own reflection:

‘She’s over there, by the mirror. I can just about spy her out of the corner of my eye. My god, she is so beautiful. I should go over to her. I should say hello.’

The novel is also action-packed. The main protagonist, Sam, faces confrontations with a crone mermaid, the evil magician and royal family member Emilia Thoth, and even an abominable, after joining the Wilde Hunt, and there are no dull moments in the novel.

I also really like the inclusion of social media, as although it’s a huge part of the modern world, it isn’t a part of as many YA books as I would think it would be. The use of social media site ‘Connect’ in The Potion Diaries builds tension as different participants check in ready to fly to find ingredients, and adds to the competitive nature of the Hunt.

The Hunt is a battle between corporations, like ZoroAster, which manufacture synthetic ingredients on a large scale, and family-run businesses, like the Kemis’, who use the ancient art of potion making. This parallels a very real problem in our society – that of big businesses thriving at the expense of smaller ones.

I love following Sam’s discoveries of the different ingredients, the highs and lows of her time in the Hunt, and her journey to different countries to find elusive parts of the potion – the novel is full of adventure.  The last ingredient is particularly inventive.

Overall, The Potion Diaries is a refreshing novel which is huge amounts of fun to read, and I would definitely recommend it for holiday reading.

  • Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne 

My rating:  * * * * * 

Series: #1 Normal Series

Publisher: Usborne 

Publication date: August 2015

Goodreads synopsis: All Evie wants is to be normal. She’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the girl-who-went-crazy. She’s even going to parties and making friends. There’s only one thing left to tick off her list…

But relationships are messy – especially relationships with teenage guys. They can make any girl feel like they’re going mad. And if Evie can’t even tell her new friends Amber and Lottie the truth about herself, how will she cope when she falls in love?

This novel is a must-read. It’s witty, honest, sensitive and heartfelt, and deals with important topics such as mental health and how it’s viewed, feminism, and relationships.

I absolutely love the friendship between Evie, Amber and Lottie, and the humourous conversations that they have together. They each have distinctive personalities but fit together perfectly and are constantly entertained in each other’s company. It’s the ultimate friendship. Even when Evie is suffering at home, with them she is always laughing. 

I also really want to join their Spinster Club! What a great idea. ‘We can reinvent the word ‘spinster’, make it the complete opposite of what it means? Like ‘young’ and ‘independent’ and ‘strong’? Their enthusiasm in making the group is tangible, and passes over to the reader, inspiring them, too. Additionally, being in that group with Amber and Lottie makes means, for Evie, that, ‘For the first time ever in my life, I felt strong.’ Her friendship with Amber and Lottie empowers her

The structuring of the novel is also really effective, with the excerpts from Evie’s recovery diary, inputs of ‘bad’ and ‘good’ thoughts, text messages, and the subheadings, such as, ‘How to Wash Your Hands – The Evie Way’.  

Over the course of the book, through following her journey, you grow close to Evie and feel a connection with her. She is such a vivid protagonist, with a character you instantly warm to and feel for. The question she poses, ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ is one which all teenagers ask themselves at some point. 

This book underlines the seriousness of mental health issues, and  challenges the stigmas and assumptions that people make about them. I think, therefore, that this novel is not only an enjoyable read, but a highly relevant one.