Book-review post!

Read mostly in springtime… YA(ish).

Cathy Cassidy – The Chocolate Box Girls: Coco Caramel
The fourth book in this series about a group of sisters focuses on animal-mad Coco, while still giving us plenty of information about the other characters. One of the things I like is getting to see how problems aren’t necessarily immediately solved in Cassidy’s world (we see, for example, Summer still dealing with her eating disorder and how this affects the entire family, along with Honey’s ongoing dramas), as well as that sense of feeling slightly out of step with your peers. Coco is more concerned with saving the world than boys and hairstyles and makeup, and even when she finds a boy who shares her passion for horses, it doesn’t quite become a romance.

Cat Clarke – A Kiss In The Dark
I am not entirely crazy about this book, though it does many of the things I love about Cat Clarke’s other books – namely, have teenagers who lie and deceive and are in many ways (horribly realistically) awful to one another. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just note that the pretense that fuels most of the first half of the book feels implausible, and the events of the second half left me feeling uncomfortable. A novel I expected to love much more than I did.

Paige Harbison – Anything To Have You
Two best friends fight over the same guy. In alternating sections, they relate the events both before and after a night that changes everything – the night that Natalie hooks up with Brooke’s boyfriend and ends up pregnant. This is another one that I wasn’t crazy about – Brooke is presented as so unpleasant that it’s clear we should be rooting for Natalie, which leeches some of the drama out of this (why can’t they both be decent humans and have this be a little more complicated?), and Aiden is presented as this prize of a guy when actually his behaviour isn’t that decent at all. Liked the themes, not crazy about the execution, basically.

Abbi Glines – The Vincent Boys
Oh, ‘new adult’, you do wear me down a bit. This is one of the key NA titles cited in all those articles about the field, and it’s… fine. Nice. A nice story with some moderately sexy bits about a girl who likes a guy who’s the cousin of her actual boyfriend, and about small-town ideas about people and their families.

Non Pratt – Trouble
Apparently I went on some kind of books-about-teenagers-having-sex spree around this time? Hmm. Anyway. This debut novel handles a situation I haven’t seen much in YA fiction before – what happens when you’re the new, male friend of the girl who gets pregnant? The novel switches between Hannah, known for being ‘easy’, and Aaron, the new boy at school with a secret of his own and a sense that he needs to redeem himself as a good guy, as they become friends and Aaron decides to step up and claim to be her baby’s father. The real father – Hannah’s stepbrother – is staying silent. This book has an awful lot going for it, and the one thing that did kind of spoil it for me – and this is spoilertastic, sorry – is the reveal that actually Hannah hadn’t slept with anyone before her stepbrother, thus saving her from being ‘a slut’ or something, I suppose, and teaching us all a valuable lesson about not listening to rumours (instead of saying something about how it’s actually okay for girls to like sex). It’s certainly worth reading – great writing and voice and characterisation – but that missed opportunity hit me hard.

Book-review post!

Now to catch up on those books for grown-ups…

Leanne Waters – My Secret Life
I’d been meaning to read this memoir of bulimia for ages, and finally got around to it. Leanne Waters’s book is honest and reflective, even though there are times where the analysis gets a little much (English student brain, I think) and where I’d have loved more specifics on day-to-day experiences and the chronology of events. There are lines and sections that are just shockingly real and painful, particularly in relation to self image, and overall it’s a good addition to the wide range of books out there about eating disorders. Will particularly appeal to an Irish audience.

Mary Grehan – Love Is The Easy Bit
If I remember correctly, Eimear Ryan told me to read this because it was dark and depressing and had screwed-up women in it, even though the cover veers towards the softer side of things. Sylvia, the main character, is a depressed artist living out her ordinary life, struggling with being a wife and mother. A return home – minus the husband – forces her to confront some truths about her past and present, including a family history of suicide. I liked this a lot.

Liz Nugent – Unravelling Oliver
Very much enjoyed this multi-voice novel, trying to explain how the respectable middle-aged Oliver – a bestselling children’s book author, for goodness’ sake! – became the kind of monster that could beat his wife so viciously he’d leave her in a coma. There’s a lot, a LOT, of ‘telling’ here, but it works well – these characters have reasons to tell their stories and to reflect on Oliver, whose past is full of secrets and hauntings. And plenty of commentary on Irish society both then and now, while it’s at it. Do read.

Donal Ryan – The Spinning Heart
I probably don’t need to tell anyone to read this one – it’s been hyped up so much – but I did like it, though I thought the second-last story does some odd things to the overall flavour of this book. This is a not-quite novel, a collection of interrelated short stories about a small Irish town screwed over by the recession – very modern, very of the moment, and the voices are terrific. I did feel perhaps there were slightly too many characters’ voices given – some of them end up sounding quite similar – and a few less would have let this feel more like a novel and less disjointed – but I did enjoy reading it.

Jojo Moyes – The One Plus One
Love Jojo Moyes and her latest is excellent – the tale of two strangers thrust together on a car journey to take a gifted girl to the maths competition that could let her attend a better school and change her future forever. Jess is a tough single mother, while Ed is a privileged businessman who doesn’t entirely get what it’s like to be broke. There’s a lot of spot-on stuff here about class and money – it adds a lot to this book, which is as much about family and ambition as it is a love story. A smooth and satisfying read.

Helen Walsh – The Lemon Grove
Jenn’s stepdaughter Emma has brought her new boyfriend on holidays to Mallorca, creating even more a schism in a family filled with fractures. The focus in many reviews has been about the attraction and sex between Jenn and this boy – which is nicely handled, it must be said – but the real story of this book is the tension between Emma and Jenn. Emma’s just becoming a sexual being, and rejecting all of Jenn’s mothering instincts, and Greg, Emma’s father, is utterly clueless about the dynamics here. Gorgeous, clear writing makes this a most pleasing read.

Book-review post!

Very behind on my book reviewing altogether! These were read months ago. YAish.

Laurie Halse Anderson – The Impossible Knife of Memory
Eighteen-year-old Hayley’s life is focused on her father, a war veteran whose PTSD affects every aspect of their lives. Now they’re settled, no longer on the road, she has a shot at a normal life – particularly when she meets Finn, one of the good guys. This is a honest, unflinching (it’s Laurie Halse Anderson, so, y’know, that should go without saying) look at the effects of war on families, and the stresses of being a teenager in a home where you’re never quite safe.

Polly Johnson – Stones
Coo’s older brother has recently died of alcoholism, so naturally she starts hanging out with a homeless alcoholic. This is a really interesting – and often depressing – teen read; there are no easy answers and the look at a grieving family and the complexities of friendship is well done.

Viv Daniels – One & Only
Diana Peterfreund’s New Adult alter ego focuses on Tess, a smart and ambitious future scientist whose mother has been the mistress of a powerful man for many years. At college she discovers that she has a half-sister – who’s dating the boy from summer camp Tess can’t forget, and who seems to be unable to forget her. This all sounds a bit soapy, and it is in parts (there’s an illness subplot, and money and power issues) but the characterisation is strong and there’s enough nuance there to make it interesting. Certainly one of the more rounded NA titles out there.

Sally Nicholls – Close Your Pretty Eyes
Olivia is convinced she’s bad and evil – so when she goes to a new foster home, it’s no surprise that sooner or later the badness will come out. She’s convinced that the old Victorian lady who used to live in the house is haunting her, the scary woman who murdered all the babies. This is not quite a ghost story – it’s a fairly heartbreaking (gosh, Sally Nicholls, who’d have thunk it… oh wait) tale of a girl traumatised by the care system. I wanted to hug Olivia. There’s some hope, but no easy answers here. Great voice, terrific writing.

Ann M Martin – Family Tree #3: Best Kept Secret
Historical book number three! Dana’s daughter Francie struggles with dyslexia and with the secret about the scary man in her neighbourhood – a plot point I wish had been developed more. I’m still very much enjoying seeing the dynamics of this family play out, though – the heroines of the previous book along with supporting characters remain part of this world, and it’s fascinating to see how the family develops over the years.

Helena Close – The Clever One
Maeve’s the clever one in her family – not that it means much. Her sister’s in trouble, involved with a boy who’s up to no good (to put it mildly), but no one wants to interfere or make a fuss. It’s up to her to concoct a scheme, regardless of how badly it might go. This is set in Limerick, and is fairly bleak at points, but the dialect is authentic and the situations realistic (if depressing). I’d certainly be interested to see another YA from Helena Close (this was originally published as an adult novel and then repackaged, with a bright pink cover that belies the darkness of the subject matter).

Green Ribbons and other things

It’s Green Ribbon month this May, which is a campaign going to get people talking about mental health – something we’re particularly woeful at in Ireland.

There are many thoughts I have on this issue, but honestly, other people on the internet have said much smarter and more eloquent things, so instead please have this selection of links:

And also, because I am a bookish sort, this selection of books (the first three are memoirs and the last four are YA novels):

  • Prozac Nation – Elizabeth Wurtzel
  • Girl Interrupted – Susanna Kaysen
  • The Devil Within – Stephanie Merritt
  • The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married – Marian Keyes
  • The Mystery of Mercy Close – Marian Keyes
  • Get Well Soon – Julie Halpern
  • It’s Kind Of A Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
  • Wintergirls – Laurie Halse Anderson
  • I don’t want to be crazy – Samantha Schutz

(edit: it’s worth noting that reading about mental illness isn’t always the best thing for those prone to it – some of the above titles, like Prozac Nation and Wintergirls, are pretty intense and may be triggering.)

And finally, because I know many of the resources lists that turn up on Tumblr and such like are very very US-centric, a list of Irish mental health resources:

  • Aware – support for depression
  • Headstrong – the national organisation for youth mental health
  • Pieta House – support for self-harm and suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  • ReachOut – mental health support for young people
  • Samaritans – support helpline
  • BodyWhys – support for eating disorders
  • Shine – rights for those with mental ill health
  • Console – suicide prevention and support for those affected by suicide
  • See Change – tackling the stigma around mental health issues

Eagerly anticipating…

Some upcoming YA titles that I am squeeful about – join me in the land of adding things to wishlists!

I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson
I adored, adored, adored Jandy Nelson’s first book, The Sky is Everywhere, so really looking forward to her second book, out late this year. It’s about twins and is likely to have angst.

We Were Liars – E Lockhart
I know many people have read early copies of this and good for them, but I have yet to, so shhh. What I will say that is that it sounds very cool, very nifty, and I am looking forward to reading it.

prImperfect – Deirdre Sullivan
Dee is a super writer and also a marvellous friend, and I’m really looking forward to her third Primrose book which will be quirky and warm and funny and tear-jerky. (I already know bits of it are but have not read whole thing yet. So yes. To watch out for.)

Isla and the Happily Ever After – Stephanie Perkins
I love how Stephanie Perkins writes romance and the small moments between characters – it’s really well done. And hoping for a return to the boarding school setting of her first novel, which I recently reread for bookclub purposes.

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill
This has been described as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale meets Heat magazine’ and basically I want to read this so very very much.

My True Love Gave To Me – Stephanie Perkins (ed)
Collection of holiday-themed short stories from many fabulous writers, including David Levithan, Rainbow Rowell, Kelly Link, Ally Carter and Gayle Forman. What’s not to love?

Bleed Like Me – Christa Desir
I adored Christa Desir’s first novel (in an achey, painful way) and her second book looks at self-harm. Joy! (Angst.)

Apple and Rain – Sarah Crossan
Another contemporary book from the lovely Sarah Crossan, about mothers and daughters.

Chocolate Box Girls: Sweet Honey – Cathy Cassidy
The final book in this series looks at troubled (and troublemaker) Honey and I am so worried about her and really hope she gets things sorted out. Out this summer.

Shiny new book!

seeds_of_liberty So yes! Poolbeg’s new Hands On History series – stories for 9+ focusing on particular historical events – has hit shelves. Or at least its first two titles have. Patricia Murphy’s book, The Easter Rising 1916 – Molly’s Diary, was released last month, and this month sees the release of my own Seeds of Liberty, three stories focusing on the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the United Irish rebellion of 1798.

I’ve blogged over at Gobblefunked about studying and writing history, and talked over at writing.ie about trying new things writing-wise and what I’ve learned about historical fiction. Go take a read!