Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Princess Mirror-Belle Collection by Julia Donaldson

Review by Jenny, age ten.

I have finished a book called The Princess Mirror-Belle Collection by Julia Donaldson. It was a good book and I enjoyed it. It’s about a little girl who finds out that her reflection in the mirror is a girl called Princess Mirror-Belle and is in a completely different world. They do loads of different things together, like going trick or treating and also going to the hospital. If I was that little girls Mom or brother and she told me that her reflection in the mirror was talking to her, I would definitely think she was mad . I would really recommend this book to a friend.  It would suit children 7 to 11, girls would probably like it more than boys.

Four Stars ****

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Paper Aeroplanes - Dawn O'Porter

Published: May 2013
Publisher: Hot Key
Pages: 261


It's the mid-1990s, and fifteen year-old Guernsey schoolgirls, Renée and Flo, are not really meant to be friends. Thoughtful, introspective and studious Flo couldn't be more different to ambitious, extroverted and sexually curious Renée. But Renée and Flo are united by loneliness and their dysfunctional families, and an intense bond is formed. Although there are obstacles to their friendship (namely Flo's jealous ex-best friend and Renée's growing infatuation with Flo's brother), fifteen is an age where anything can happen, where life stretches out before you, and when every betrayal feels like the end of the world. For Renée and Flo it is the time of their lives.

With graphic content and some scenes of a sexual nature, PAPER AEROPLANES is a gritty, poignant, often laugh-out-loud funny and powerful novel. It is an unforgettable snapshot of small-town adolescence and the heart-stopping power of female friendship.


I was forced to read Paper Aeroplanes by a friend of mine who absolutely adored it and was convinced I would too. She was partly right , I didn’t love it as much as she did, but I did really enjoy it. Paper Aeroplanes is Dawn O’Porter’s first novel, and I must say that she has got her writing career off to a flying start.  The book follows the lives of two teenage girls, Reneé and Flo, as they grow up on the the island of Guernsey in the nineties. While Paper Aeroplanes is a real bildungsroman, it’s not necessarily a teenage or YA book. I enjoyed it, being reasonably close to the girls’ age, but I think anyone who grew up in the nineties , or anyone who has ever been a teenaged girl ( as Caroline Flack nicely put it ) will love this book.

The first major thing I noticed in the book was Flo’s relationship with Sally. Flo is scared stiff of the domineering Sally, but doesn’t seem to realise that what they have isn’t a real friendship. Sally keeps Flo around for the sole purpose of putting her down and criticising her to make herself feel better. Their relationship is completely dysfunctional, but quite realistic. I feel like it is a relationship that many girls have once or twice in their life, but it never seems to be dealt with in any YA literature, and O’Porter deals with it very effectively here.

In contrast, the relationship between Flo and Reneé is a real one. Despite the fact it’s super important, I found that the way O’Porter portrayed the relationship a bit soppy, but I’m probably the only one who thinks that.

The book is filled with complex relationships, and Julian and Renee’s is just one of them. I’m extremely confused as to if Julian is taking advantage of Reneé or not. I finally came to the conclusion that O’Porter uses their relationship to highlight the fact that just because someone’s up for some sex stuff, doesn’t mean they’re up for or ready for ALL the sex stuff and that you still have to be careful.

We also see examples of how people deal with grief and loss. Renneé loses both of her parents, her mother dies of cancer and her father runs away to Spain leaving Reneé and her sister Nell with their grandparents. We can still see the after effects of her mother’s death years previously on the family and the way they are still struggling , all these years later, to come to terms with it.

On a lighter note, I loved the nineties stuff. As someone who grew up during the explosion of electronic media , mobile phones etc I found it really interesting to see the way teenagers interacted without all these things. I love that they throw paper aeroplane notes to each other, they use payphones and landlines to call each other, and the fashion they talk about being cool you wouldn’t be caught dead in now. I’m sure anyone who was around back then would enjoy this blast from the past.

Overall this is an extremely decent contemporary coming-of-age story and I would recommend everyone who wants an easy but fulfilling read, that is really hard to put down once you start reading.
Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Vivian Vs America - Katie Coyle ( Vivian Versus the Apocalypse)

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Published: September 2014
Pages: 272

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple has just travelled across the country, fended off roving bands of indoctrinated teenagers, re-evaluated everything she ever thought was true, and uncovered the dark secrets about the recent so-called 'Rapture' and the Church of America. And now, she must rescue her maybe-boyfriend Peter from the Church before the world is (supposedly) due to end, which is in less than three months. It's been a busy apocalypse so far.

Stranded in a city on the verge of complete panic, and faced with a society in an ever-increasing state of breakdown, Vivian and her friend Harp don't even know where to begin looking for Pete. But then a tip leads them to Los Angeles, and the somewhat unlikely location of the Chateau Marmont Hotel. Vivian must save the day - or she'll lose everything worth living for a second time...


Vivian Vs America is the sequel to Vivian Vs the Apocalypse, and it takes place right after the first one ends. Literally , right after, there is about 15 seconds between the end of the first book and the start of the second. Really it could have been one reasonably large book instead of two shortish ones, but it also works really well this way. Vivian’s story definitely follows two distinct arcs, and while I loved these books and I secretly wish there could be a third, I know that would be unnecessary and I would probably just give out about it. I feel like a lot of YA authors are pressured into drawing the stories out in order to fill a trilogy, and I’m glad Coyle wasn’t, because it worked a lot better as two books. Book one doesn’t have a review because I read it when I was supposed to be preparing for an interview ( which , if you’re interested, I didn’t get, darn you Katie Coyle !!!) and really didn’t have the time. But if I had written the review I would have given it four to four and a half stars, and Coyle definitely keeps up this standard in the second book.

One of my favourite things about this book is it if filled with strong female characters. Not ridiculous Lara Croft style ones, they reminded me more of the female characters in Harry Potter. Vivian is a fantastic protagonist , though she is fallible and sometimes makes mistakes, she has a good head on her shoulders and she always tries to do what is best. She is a perfect contrast to her best friend and partner in crime Harp, who is loud, overly confident and extremely eloquent and humourous. But the best thing about Viv and Harp is the support and loyalty they have for one another, they really do have a true friendship and they make a fantastic team. On the other hand, as great as Viv’s relationship is with Harp, her relationship with her mother Mara and her half sister, Winnie is a weird one. It is strained at first, but over the course of the narrative  we see it strengthen and develop.

Vivian is one of two books I’ve ever read that explores the idea of religion ( the other being The Life of Pi ). It’s a charged subject, one that few authors, especially YA ones, are willing to take on. Coyle presents religion as neither a bad nor a good thing, but it has the potential to cause harm, but also bring hope and comfort, depending on the intentions of those wielding the power. She also highlights how desperation and fear can cause people to do some terrible things. The whole book is also a damning indictment of the consumerist culture in the west, and she’s pretty much spot on with the whole thing. The angels use the apocalypse as a way to make money, so obviously once the rapture day comes and no one is raptured people are going to be suspicious. The plan that the Angels come up with to keep the apocalypse going is pretty clever, but their barefaced cheek is kind of unbelievable.

Throughout the novel, we see Vivian and Amanda clash heads over the issue of using violence to achieve their aims. Amanda is ruthless and she talks about sacrificing the lives of her militia in an offhand way, while Vivian is very apprehensive about the whole thing. She would much rather try to take down the church of America as peacefully as possible. I agree with Vivian, and this is where my love for Edie ties in . Edie is the most peaceful and thoughtful yet sharp witted character I have read about in a long time. She is so full of love and hope and is the perfect contrast to  the Church of America.

The only thing that annoyed me about the book was Viv and Peter’s relationship. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Peter and the two of the are super cute together, but that’s kind of the point. It kind of annoys me when girls in dystopian  novels get distracted by romance, because realistically if we were actually in that situation, you would be too scared to think about anything but survival. Also Vivian makes an insane out-of-character mistake that also functions as a major plot hole.
Overall I absolutely loved this book, it was a perfect conclusion to the story and I simply couldn’t put it down.

Five Stars *****

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Beloved - Toni Morrison

Published: 2005 ( first published 1987 )
Publisher: Vintage
Pages: 324


Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.


This will be more like a reaction piece than a review, because I’m not sure if I’m well experienced enough in literary criticism to do it justice. To summerise, I simultaneously loved and hated this book. As someone who spent most of 12 Years a Slave with my hands over my eyes, I found a lot of this book extremely difficult to read. Every time I picked it up, I dreaded reading it, and then couldn’t put it down when I had to. I found it both beautiful and horrifying, it was both peaceful and painful. The story and the characters are fascinating, but I had great difficulty reading it because of it’s nonlinear timeline and the language used. Morrison bounces back and forth and switches perspective a lot without warning, and I found that this made the story quite hard to follow, but I managed.

In a perfect world this would be a book that everyone would have to read, it really does hit home how appallingly cruel human beings can be to each other. I always thought I had a fair idea what had gone on in America during the times of slavery, but it turns out it was so much worse than I thought. I would definitely recommend this book to absolutely everyone as a must read, but if you’re the sort of person that was quite upset by films like 12 Years a Slave, maybe it might be best to skip this, because it is horrendously disturbing.

I know that Toni Morrison received the Nobel prize for literature the year this was published, so that might entitle this book to five stars off the bat. But personally, as a reader who finds high literature difficult to read, I’m going to give it four.
Don’t shoot me, it’s only an opinion.

Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Invisibility - Andrea Cremer and David Levithan

Publisher: Penguin
Published:May 7th 2013


A magical romance between a boy cursed with invisibility and the one girl who can see him, by New York Times bestselling authors Andrea Cremer and David Levithan.

Stephen is used to invisibility. He was born that way. Invisible. Cursed.
Elizabeth sometimes wishes for invisibility. When you’re invisible, no one can hurt you. So when her mother decides to move the family to New York City, Elizabeth is thrilled. It’s easy to blend in there.
Then Stephen and Elizabeth meet. To Stephen’s amazement, she can see him. And to Elizabeth’s amazement, she wants him to be able to see her—all of her. But as the two become closer, an invisible world gets in their way—a world of grudges and misfortunes, spells and curses. And once they’re thrust into this world, Elizabeth and Stephen must decide how deep they’re going to go—because the answer could mean the difference between love and death.


Invisibility is the second collaboration I have read by David Levithan, but the first I have read by Andrea Cremer. I was not disappointed by this book, I am a big fan of Levithan’s writing style and I’m looking forward to picking up something by Cremer.
The narrative is told through the dual perspectives of Stephen, the invisible boy, and Elizabeth, the tough arty girl who moves into his building. I don’t know if Cremer and Levithan took a perspective each( as in Will Grayson, Will Grayson ), or wrote the whole thing together, but whatever they did it worked. Both perspectives have really clear voice, and it was extremely easy to differentiate between the two of them. There was no flicking backwards and forwards to the start of the chapter to try and figure out who was speaking like I’ve had to do with so many other books.
I don’t know what I expected from this book, but for some reason I didn’t expect to find any magic in a book about an invisible boy. But this book quickly became quite heavy with fantasy, but the world is well introduced and the concepts are understandable. That being said, I much prefered the beginning of the book when the plot was more concerned with Stephen and Elizabeth’s relationship than the end of the book when it became quite bogged down with fantasy and magic.
As there always seems to be in Levithan’s books, one of the main characters is gay. This is NOT a critique , but rather an observation. I actually agree with Levithan that gay people are severely underrepresented in YA literature, and I applaud him for almost singlehandedly taking on the job of presenting us with some LGBTQ+ characters. I do feel however that the way he deals with it is a bit heavy handed and preachy, but maybe it has to be. It’s kind of  a shame that Levithan seems to be the only one writing about gay teenagers, but at least someone is doing it, and doing it quite well.
Levithan and Cremer also present the idea that the best way to punish a parent is to punish their child, that inflicting pain on their child will cause them more pain than you could ever inflict on them. This is a really interesting concept, something that I had never thought of , and something that every budding psychopath should note for future use.
The thing that docked all the stars from my final rating of this book is the ending. If you like satisfying endings, do not read this book. I’m not using satisfying as a euphemism for happy , because I don’t need endings that are happy, I need endings that feel like endings and not the set up to a sequel. Is this the first book of a series?? because that would make sense, but I have a feeling that this is a standalone book. This book lost two stars because when it ended I just sat there staring at the page thinking “if this is the end of the book I am going to be SOOOO mad”, but it was and I was so mad. That is why, despite the reasonably good review, this has gotten such a low star rating. Take it as a constructive criticism Cremer and Levithan, finish your books properly ;)

Objectively, this is probably about 3 stars, but personally it’s getting a 2 :(

Monday, 1 December 2014

Paper Towns - John Green

Published: 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury 
Pages: 305


Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life - dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge - he follows.

After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always an enigma, has now become a mystery. But Q soon learns that there are clues - and they're for him. Urged down a disconnected path, the closer Q gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.


Paper Towns is John Green's third book for young adult readers, and in my opinion has many parallels to his first book, Looking for Alaska. The protagonist of the book is Q,    
a culturally stunted sort-of looser in his final year at high school. The similarities between Pudge, the narrator of  Looking for Alaska are staggering. Both characters are fairly plain, lacking culturally ( but both develop a love for poetry and the insight and meaning it can give life) and of course they are both madly in love with an extremely unrealistic and unbelievably cool girl. Because these characters are painfully boring to begin with, it does leave massive room to grow, which  Q does, in leaps and bounds over the course of the novel. 

The aforementioned "cool girl" in Paper Towns is Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q's next door neighbour , undisputed queen bee of the school and a unfathomable mystery. While Margo is an excellent character and is intrinsic to the plot and the message of the novel, there's something about her that annoys me, and she reminds me of Alaska, a lot.

On the other hand I love Ben and Radar. Ben is a guy that loves prom! Not exactly realistic but still fascinating to watch .Finally  I really loved the whole concept of the novel. Margo disappears and leaves Q a treasure trail of clues to find her. 

Overall I loved this novel and would recommend it to anyone who likes John Green's work or any young adult fiction.

Four Stars ****

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Requiem - Lauren Oliver (#3 Delerium)

Published: 5 March 2013
Publisher: Hodder and Staughton Ltd


Now an active member of the resistance, Lena has transformed. The nascent rebellion that was underway in Pandemonium has ignited into an all-out revolution in Requiem, and Lena is at the center of the fight. After rescuing Julian from a death sentence, Lena and her friends fled to the Wilds. But the Wilds are no longer a safe haven. Pockets of rebellion have opened throughout the country, and the government cannot deny the existence of Invalids. Regulators infiltrate the borderlands to stamp out the rebels.

As Lena navigates the increasingly dangerous terrain of the Wilds, her best friend, Hana, lives a safe, loveless life in Portland as the fiancée of the young mayor. Requiem is told from both Lena and Hana's points of view. They live side by side in a world that divides them until, at last, their stories converge.


Requiem is the third and final installment in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy. This review WILL contain spoilers for the previous two books as I don’t think it is possible not to. I read this book directly after Pandemonium, and while I don’t think this is essential, I would definitely recommend marathoning them if you can get your hands on all three copies. There will be spoilers from here on in so don’t read any further if you haven’t read the first two.

First of all, I would like to address the unnecessary love triangle between Lena, Julian and Alex. All during Pandemonium I kept thinking “This is great, she’s getting over Alex, she’s moving on”, but no. Suddenly Alex appears back from the dead and creates a totally unnecessary love triangle just to annoy me. I tried my best to come up a reason that Oliver would use such a cheap plot device, but I can’t. I feel vaguely insulted, because I thought this book had more substance to it than other dystopian YA novels, and it generally does, except for this one little thing.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved the relationship between Lena and her mother, and it was definitely my favourite relationship in the book. The emotions that that relationship inspired in me are just too much to articulate. There’s an absolutely beautiful scene between Lena and her mother that can’t make up for the time stolen from both of them, but it almost does.

While Pandemonium was told by dual timelines, Requiem is told from two different points of view, Lena’s and Hana’s. Hana’s point of view was extremely interesting. Through her eyes we see how cities like Portland are being affected by the the invalids and the rebellion. Hana has gotten the cure, and while it does affect her, it hasn’t entirely worked. She still misses Lena, even though she isn’t supposed to, and she still finds the behaviour of the cureds strange. Although Hana has been cured and is supposed to be conforming into society, she still sympathises with the rebels and the poorer residents of Portland. Throughout the book we see Hana struggle with these emotions( that she isn’t even supposed to have). Eventually towards the end of the novel Hana and Lena reunite, and I definitely did not expect what happened....

One of the most interesting characters in the novel is definitely Fred Hargrave, Hana’s fiancé. At the beginning of the novel he is elected mayor of Portland, and while at first he seems to be a regular politician, we soon see that he is more than we expected.

One of the themes in the book, as in most dystopian fiction, is freedom. While Lena is technically free, she is not even remotely happy most of the time, and she freely admits this. As in many other dystopian books, Oliver explores the idea that freedom is the choice to be unhappy and free, and that no one thing can make us happy.As in Pandemonium, this book contains an awful lot of violence. Through the rebels, Oliver discusses whether the violence carried out by the invalids is worth it to achieve their aims. Oliver also explores the fragility of our society. Through the Waterbury camp, we see the lengths that people are willing to go to when they become desperate.

I would recommend this book to anyone who liked the first two. Unlike most YA series, this is actually a really satisfying ending to a very interesting premise, and it definitely didn’t feel like Oliver was stretching the story into three books for a bit of cash. I would recommend marathoning this series if you can get your hands on all three books together.

Four Stars ****

(And once again, a fabulous book talk from the equally fabulous Polandbannasbook, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver (#2 Delirium Trilogy)

Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date:28 February 2012

The eagerly anticipated sequel to the international bestseller DELIRIUM. Unflinching, heartbreaking and totally addictive, this novel will push your emotions to the limit. 

Lena's been to the very edge. She's questioned love and the life-changing and agonising choices that come with it. She's made her decision. But can she survive the consequences? PANDEMONIUM is the explosive sequel to the critically acclaimed and bestselling DELIRIUM.


Pandemonium is the second book in the Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver, so don’t read this review if you haven’t read the first book. This novel follows our protagonist Lean as she escapes the dystopian society of Portland in a new America where Love had been declared a disease and must be cured.

The narrative picks up when Lena first escapes to the wilds, but also as Lena begins a mission for the rebels in New York. I found this dual timeline quite confusing for a while and it took me far too long to cop on to what was going on. However once I did catch on, I found this technique to be really interesting and effective, and as we reached the point when the two timelines met the tension and excitement grew dramatically. It was extremely interesting to watch Lena go about as a rebel agent, without knowing exactly how she got there before the very end. It was also an extremely effective way of contrasting the two Lena’s in the book, and because of this we see just how much stronger and self contained Lena is after spending some time in the wilds, compared to how weak she is just after leaving Portland. It’s safe to say Lena has been irreversibly witnesses in the wilds. Eventually Oliver gives up on the dual timeline towards the end of the book and concentrates on the now , but not before completely filling us in on what happened before Lena got to New York.

The most interesting relationships in this novel are those between Raven and Lena, and Lena and Julian. There are direct comparisons that can be made between these relationships. When Lena first makes it to the wilds it is Raven who takes her under her wing ( no pun intended) and introduces her to the way of life outside the fence. The same goes for Julian and Lena , except this time it is Lena who guides Julian in this new world. Here, parallels can also be drawn between Alex and Lena’s relationship in Delirium,as Lena opens Julian’s eyes to the world Alex once introduced her to. However, there are definite contrasts between Lena’s relationships with both Alex and Julian.  Alex is definitely the more dominant confident partner in that relationship. He is the one who tells Lena about the wilds and how love is not a disease but something that should be protected and celebrated. Lena is inexperienced and scared, very like Julian. In that case Lena is the one who teaches Julian about the world outside the fence and the true nature of this terrifying ‘disease’.  Just as Lena depended on Alex, Julian depends on her.

Up until now, our only contact with the Wilds has been through Alex’s stories and Lena’s imaginings. However, in Pandemonium we are fully immersed in the world of the wilds, and it is nothing like Lena expected it. Instead of being free, Lena and the other invalids are slaves to the seasons, food supplies and disease. There new found freedom provides little comfort, are there is a direct contrast between the different hardships that can be found in Portland and the Wilds.

As is to be expected, there is a lot of death in this dystopian rebellion story. But I was surprised by the form death takes in this book. Instead of people dying under gunfire or in explosions (like they probably would in the movie version of this book), most of the characters die from starvation or disease, which I found heartbreaking. I’m not going to lie, I cried on the train , in public, when a certain character died. There is something soul destroying to watch a character die in the wilds from an illness that could easily have been cured if they had the proper medicine.
In this book, as in Delirium , we see how love has been robbed by the cure. One of the most touching moments in the book was when Raven tells Lena about the sacrifices she has made for Blue, the young girl who lives with the rebels. And to contrast that , the story that Julian tells Lena about his father is one of the most horrifying and shows the deep and terrible impact the cure has on family bonds.

This book definitely lives up to its name, it is packed with action and emotion and the characters are pretty good too. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the first one. Oliver, unlike many authors , successfully keeps up momentum in her second book. Oliver’s writing is beautiful and it flows making the book incredibly easy to read and I had a hard time putting it down once it had started.

(Also look at that cover !! That cover is BEAUTIFUL !!)

Four Stars ****

(This is a really good book talk I found on YouTube. Once again do NOT watch this if you haven't read the book because there WILL be SPOILERS.)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Infinite Sky - C.J. Flood

Publisher: 1/6/2013
Published: Simon and Schuster UK


When Iris' mum leaves home, her brother, Sam, goes off the rails and her dad is left trying to hold it all together. So when a family of travellers sets up camp illegally in front of their farm, its the catalyst for a stand-off that can only end in disaster. But to Iris it's an adventure. She secretly strikes up a friendship with the gypsy boy, Trick, and discovers home can be something as simple as a carved out circle in a field of corn... 


I had heard so much about Infinite Sky from numerous different booktubers, so I was delighted when I managed to pick up a copy up from the library. In her novel, Flood deals with Irish travellers in a very unusual way. As the story begins travellers move into the field beside beside our protagonist Iris’ house, just as her mother moves away, and her life is never the same again.

One of the strongest and most interesting aspects of the novel is the broad range of characters presented by Flood. None of the characters conform to our preconceived ideas of these characters. Iris is a pretty unique protagonist. I would consider this a YA novel, but Iris is not the typical age of a YA protagonist. Iris is about fourteen or fifteen, and she greatly reminded me of Melon, the protagonist in Red Ink by Julie Mayhew. Except that Iris is a bit of a flat character, without the individuality and unique voice that made me love Melon

The book begins with the excellent premise that someone Iris loves is going to be killed by someone else she loves. Now I don’t know about you, but this was enough to hook me. This prologue kept me intrigued all the way thought the book until the actual event, even if I had figured out what would happen long before it did. Conversely, I’m not sure if the plot would have been enough to hold my attention without this bombshell at the beginning. It kind of moseys along before picking up right before the very end, so I’m glad I stuck it out, but I can’t help but feel that Flood told us the end to keep us interested, you know… like the way the do in Revenge.

The plot of this novel reflects real life as there is undeniable and destructive tension between Iris’ family and the travellers that move into the field beside their house. The travellers do not live up to society’s expectations of them, and turn out to be pretty decent people. More decent, in fact, than Iris’ own family. As Iris’ friendship with Trick grows , she becomes more and more torn between her loyalty to and love for her family and her disgust for their actions. Iris is so young and it was quite painful to watch her agonise over this very serious issue that no young girl should have to deal with.

Travellers are presented in quite an open minded and unbiased way in this novel. As I sort of grew up with travellers and went to school with quite a few I was extremely familiar with traveller culture, so while the way travellers are presented in the novel is different to the way they usually are in the media, I wasn’t too surprised. I imagine it would be a hugely enlightening read if you were unfamiliar with traveler culture , and it will definitely open your mind to this group of people.

There are a few interesting characters in this novel including Sam, Iris’ brother , Iris’ mother and Iris’ best friend (Mattie? I think, I’m going to go with Mattie, I didn’t write her name in my notes and it’s been a while… ). Sam is definitely an interesting character, but not a likeable character. He had the potential to be likeable, when Iris reminisces back to the time before her mother left we see glimpses of a much better Sam. He is definitely the most complex character and my feelings for him fluctuated between feeling sorry for him and being truly aggravated by him. Iris’ mother is also pretty interesting. To me, she embodies the debate whether or not a parent’s primary responsibility is to their children, and how much can parents let a broken marriage affect the children of the relationship. Iris’ best friend Mattie (correct me if I’m wrong) is a massive pain in the ass, and reminded me of Chick from Red Ink ( again ), so watch out for her.

Overall this was a pretty solid novel and it was no chore to read it. Objectively it was really good, but for some reason it didn’t click with me. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who who enjoys YA contemporary with a bit of bite and doesn’t mind shedding a few tears.
Objectively : Four Stars ****
Personally : Three and a half stars

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Red Ink - Julie Mayhew


When her mother is knocked down and killed by a London bus, fifteen-year-old Melon Fouraki is left with no family worth mentioning. Her mother, Maria, never did introduce Melon to a 'living, breathing' father. The indomitable Auntie Aphrodite, meanwhile, is hundreds of miles away on a farm in Crete, and is unlikely to be jumping on a plane and coming to East Finchley anytime soon. But at least Melon has 'The Story'. 'The Story' is the Fourakis family fairytale. A story is something. RED INK is a powerful coming-of-age tale about superstition, denial and family myth.


I picked up a copy of Red Ink by Julie Mayhew in the library after it was recommended to me by a friend. This isn’t a very high profile book. It was sent to my friend, who also writes a book blog, by Hot Key books , and she couldn’t give it more praise. And after reading it neither could I. I didn’t know what I was getting into with Red Ink, and I could not expect the effect it would have on me. It is without a doubt the best contemporary YA novel I have ever read.

The novel follows Melon, a fourteen/ fifteen year old girl in the time leading up to and after her mother’s sudden and unexpected death. The novel is definitely a coming of age story, and Melon under gos some of the best character development I’ve ever read in a YA contemporary novel. Melon begins the novel as a child, and by the time it ends she is a young woman. Melon develops and grows so much over the course of the novel, and it seems very intimate to see her become a strong, independent, wise, young woman. I identified quite a bit with Melon. Although she was younger then me , we have the same dark, cynical sense of humour and the same insecurities. She is without a doubt one of my favourite characters , not because she reminds me of myself, but because she is so real. She isn't one of those martyred YA heroines, who is perfect except for their insecurities about their height or weight, who is actually so pretty when some boy tells her to take her glasses off. Melon is strong and flawed, and I am so full of admiration for her resilience but also her reliance. Melon felt like if she were real, we would be best friends, and what more could you want in a protagonist.

There are a few very interesting relationships in this novel, the first being Melon’s relationship with her best friend Chuck. In a nutshell, Melon’s mother doesn’t approve of her relationship, and Melon can’t really figure out why, but it becomes apparent before long. An even more interesting relationship is that of Melon and her mother’s boyfriend Paul. Everyone is surprised by this particular relationship, the social workers are suspicious and even Melon doesn’t understand it. But Melon and Paul are family, even if they are an odd sort of family, and through them Mayhew effectively conveys the idea that family comes in all shapes and sizes.

The central theme in this book is loss of innocence and the idea that both Melon and her mother Maria grow up too quickly. It was quite difficult to watch Melon’s childhood be taken away from her because of her mother’s death, and the same goes for her mother when she falls pregnant with Melon at the age of fourteen. The novel also, obviously enough, deals with the theme of death and how we come to terms with the death of a loved one. This is one of the most accurate depictions of grief and loss I’ve ever read, and I felt a deep sense of sympathy with Melon as she struggles to come to terms with her mothers death.  

The story has an intentional and very effective fairytale quality which I absolutely loved. The narrative is punctuated by the story ( The Story ) Maria tells Melon, about her childhood in Greece, Melon’s father and how Maria came to London. The story is told in third person and narrated like a fairytale, which gave it a mysterious quality which greatly contrasted with the gritty realism of the rest of the novel. Through this “fairy tale”, Mayhew deals with the idea of truth, and how we bend and manipulate it in order to protect our loved ones, ( I hope that’s not a spoiler).

Red Ink also deals with the highly controversial and current topic of body image. It is safe to say that Melon, like most teenage girls, does not have a positive body image. She constantly compares herself to her mother and her peers, something we are told not to do, but we do it anyway. One of the best extracts of prose I have ever read about this topic was in this novel. It was when Melon ( and Mayhew of course ) finally put into words what I had felt all through my teen years. We know it is unhealthy to pick out flaws in ourselves, and unkind to do do in others. But we can’t help ourselves and sometimes the only way to feel better about our flat chest or big thighs is to pick out and criticise someone elses frizzy hair or muffin top. It’s not good, but it is a part of the teenage mindset, and I feel Mayhew really hit the nail on the head in this paragraph. (It’s p.169 if you have the same copy as me.)

I have a few tiny problems to pedantically complain about for a second. The novel is very slow to begin with, and it didn’t hold my attention to begin with. It took me a good few tries to settle into it. Similarly, the plot is told in a non linear fashion, flashing backward and forward around the death of Melon’s mother. I found that this made it very difficult to follow the plot, especially because Melon’s character changes so much over the course of the story that it sometimes felt that there were two different characters narrating.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking read and I highly recommend it to lovers of YA contemporary books. You will not regret reading this!!

Five Stars *****