Sunday, 3 November 2019

Teenage Favourites of the Past: Making Out series by Katherine Applegate

I thought it would be fun to look back on and revisit some of the book series that I was obsessed with when I was a teenager. The books that I collected and read often featured the things that I was interested in at the time (cue ballet, horses and boys) and looking back, I can see how they tracked the different stages I went through growing up. I still have many of these books on my shelves now, although sadly, some have disappeared over the years to make way for others.

The first series that I'm going to feature is the Making Out series by Katherine Applegate which was published in 1995 onwards. Now when these first came out, they published one book a month. I can remember going into my local bookshop at the start of every month (and often sending my Mum) to buy the latest release. I was absolutely obsessed with these! There were 28 books in the series and I'm lucky enough to still have the complete set, which one of these days I will reread in full. I actually only recently discovered that Katherine Applegate only wrote the first 8 books in the series and the rest were written by a ghost-writer. I didn't notice any difference in writing style at all at the time.  
The series followed the lives of a group of teenagers living on Chatham Island off the coast of Maine. They are in their last year of high school before they begin College and take the ferry to school each day. I loved the setting of the books and from then on, I always pictured myself living within a close-knit community on a small island. It seemed so idyllic at the time.
The main character was called Zoey and much of the series centred around her on and off again relationship with a boy called Lucas. They were hands down my favourite couple and I rooted for them from the very beginning. Zoey was the epitome of everything that I thought I wanted to be. She was smart, funny, beautiful, obsessed with writing down quotes about life and love and kind to everyone around her. She seemed to have it all, although she does go through some pretty big stuff in the series.
There's also Nina who is Zoey's best friend. She always has a smart and witty retort ready and although she seems pretty tough on the outside, she's really quite insecure and vulnerable when you get past her defences. Nina has a thing for Zoey's brother Ben, although he's initially dating Claire, Nina's older sister.
You might be detecting a trend here! Everyone dates everyone else at one point or another. But hey, it's a small island!
Claire is super obsessed with the weather and can often be found on her widow's walk. She comes across as quite the Ice Queen and I can remember not always liking her very much.
Boy wise, as well as Ben who's blind and super hot bad boy Lucas, there's also local boy Jake. He and Zoey are a couple at the beginning of the series but it was always obvious to me that she should end up with Lucas instead.
Later on in the series, new characters are introduced including Kate, Aisha, Aaron and Christopher. Oh and bad girl Lara who I definitely did not like at all but had four books dedicated to her.   
The series actually dealt with some quite hard-hitting topics such as death, divorce, drug and alcohol abuse and the ups and downs of first love. It wasn't always happy sailing on Chatham Island.
This was (and actually still is) one of my favourite young-adult series. I believe the books have all gone out of print now but if you can get hold of it, then I would still heartily recommend it.  
Here's the complete list of books in the series:  

  1. Zoey Fools Around
2. Jake Finds Out
3. Nina Won't Tell
4. Ben's In Love
5. Claire Gets Caught
6. What Zoey Saw
7. Lucas Gets Hurt
8. Aisha Goes Wild
9. Zoey Plays Games
10. Nina Shapes Up
11. Ben Takes a Chance
12. Claire Can't Lose
13. Don't Tell Zoey
14. Aaron Lets Go
15. Who Loves Kate?
16. Lara Gets Even
17. Two-Timing Aisha
18. Zoey Speaks Out
19. Kate Finds Love
20. Never Trust Lara
21. Trouble with Aaron
22. Always Loving Zoey
23. Lara Gets Lucky
24. Now Zoey's Alone
25. Don't Forget Lara
26. Zoey's Broken Heart
27. Falling for Claire
28. Zoey Comes Home
Have you read the series? If so, I'd love to know what you thought of it? Who was your favourite character?

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Blog tour: Thirty by Christina Bradley

Publisher: Headline
Published: 22nd August 2019

Bella Edwards is a hot mess.

Days away from turning thirty, single, struggling to reconcile where she is with where she imagined she'd be by this point in her life, Bella has come to believe her entire future happiness is based on meeting 'The One'.

After an unfortunate encounter with a fortune teller, where it seems Bella's single fate is sealed, she hops on a plane from London to New York to seek the wisdom of her best friend who, in turn, presents Bella with a challenge: thirty dates in thirty days before Bella turns thirty.

Challenge accepted, Bella embarks on a crazy road trip across America to San Francisco, with one clear objective: to find 'The One' and prove the fortune teller wrong. What ensues is a raucous adventure of dating, love, and - most importantly - self-discovery.

'Thirty' by Christine Bradley is a fun, contemporary romance with moments of comedy that often had me giggling out loud. A thoroughly enjoyable read, this is the perfect book to put a smile on your face.

The story follows nearly-thirty singleton Bella who one day realises that she is isn't living the life she always dreamt of. She hasn't found 'The One', all her friends are getting married and settling down and she feels left behind. After an encounter with a fortune-teller, Bella decides that she is going to fly to New York to see her best friend and that is when the fun really begins. She has a new mission: thirty days in thirty days before she hits 30.

Bella is such a funny, crazy heroine and she carried the story brilliantly. I really warmed to her as I got further into the story and I couldn't believe some of the things that happened to her. Each one of her dates is recounted in a letter to her friend Esther which means she is extremely honest about her experiences (some good and some truly awful). But I loved the way she began to throw herself into the challenge. I really did laugh out loud (and cringe) at some of the dates she ends up going on and they were great fun to read about.

Bella meets all sorts of men on her journey, exploring romance in many different forms but more importantly she learns about herself and what she truly wants. She finally embraces the single life and has time to explore her own passions and the things that make her happy. She is such a wonderfully well written character that you can't help but cheer for her as she gets herself into some hilarious situations.  

I absolutely adored the fact that the story was set in America and that Bella gets to visit my favourite city, New York. She also goes on an epic US road trip, travelling to many of the states that are on my travel bucket list. This was the perfect setting for the story and meant that I enjoyed reading it even more than I was expecting to.

If you love rom-coms then this is definitely the book for you. Funny, witty and warm-hearted, I can promise that 'Thirty' will not disappoint.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Review: Under a Dancing Star by Laura Wood

Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 4th July 2019

In grey, 1930s England, Bea has grown up kicking against the conventions of the time, all the while knowing that she will one day have to marry someone her parents choose - someone rich enough to keep the family estate alive. But she longs for so much more - for adventure, excitement, travel, and maybe even romance.

When she gets the chance to spend the summer in Italy with her bohemian uncle and his fiancée, a whole world is opened up to Bea - a world that includes Ben, a cocky young artist who just happens to be infuriatingly handsome too. Sparks fly between the quick-witted pair until one night, under the stars, a challenge is set: can Bea and Ben put aside their teasing and have the perfect summer romance?

With their new friends gleefully setting the rules for their fling, Bea and Ben can agree on one thing at least: they absolutely, positively will not, cannot fall in love...

One of my biggest passions is Shakespeare. I studied many of his plays as part of my Literature degree, I have rows and rows of books about him and his works and I'm a long-time member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's a lifelong dream to see all of his plays performed on the stage. I've also seen every film adaptation I've ever been able to get my hands on and read every retelling that I've ever heard about.

My three favourite plays are 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Hamlet' and 'Much Ado About Nothing', so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered that Laura Woods was writing a prequel to 'Much Ado'. The story explores the period of time when Beatrice and Benedick first meet in sunny Italy. It's 1933, Bea is abroad without her parents for the first time and sent to stay with her Uncle Leo and Cousin Hero. It's set to be the perfect summer with the opportunity for Bea to explore who she is outside of the confines of Langton Hall and to escape the expectations of her parents who want her to settle down and marry. Bea is a dream character. I loved her from the moment she was first introduced. She is extremely quick and witty, she is warm and open and engages easily with everyone around her and she has a passion for science and natural history which is quite infectious. Laura Wood took all the traits which make Shakespeare's Beatrice such a popular character and developed them in such a way that I felt I was getting to know her afresh and adored her even more than I did already.

As anyone who has read the play or seen the iconic film version with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson will know, sparks fly between Beatrice and Benedick. It was so interesting to see their early relationship explored and to literally feel the crackle of electricity between the two of them. Ben is some what of a ladies man. Gifted with good looks and charm, he is used to the opposite sex falling for him. His first meeting with Bea is one of my favourite parts of the book, as she, quite literally, is the one to knock him off his feet for a change. The romance that develops between them is perfectly written. It's slow burning, tender and very, very real. It's not all smooth sailing and they share a good deal of lively banter but there is also great depth to their feelings and they open up to each other in a way that neither has ever done before.

I loved everything about the pairing of Bea and Ben which isn't always perfect but they fit together in a such a way that just feels right.

There are some other interesting characters in the book, including writer Ursula and her brother Klaus, Uncle Leo's fiancée Filomena and Lili and Gert, who are part of Ben's family. Each in their own way, teaches Bea something that helps to shape her as a person and opens the way for her to explore a new future of her own choosing.

'Under a Dancing Star' was a glorious book which I will definitely be re-reading many times over. The magical setting of 1930's Italy at the Villa Di Stelle, the heady heat and freedom of the summer, and the swoony romance between Bea and Ben which left me wanting to see so much more of the two of them. This is a dream of a story which is my absolute favourite ever take on a Shakespeare play. Congratulations Laura Wood. You nailed it. 

If you have enjoyed reading this review and would like to buy the book, please consider purchasing via my affiliate link from Amazon.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Blog tour: Invisible in a Bright Light by Sally Gardner

Today I'm taking part in the blog tour for Sally Gardner's latest book, 'Invisible in a Bright Light'. This is Sally's eagerly-anticipated return to middle grade, 14 years since the award-winning 'I, Coriander'. She is back with 'a pitch-perfect story about a crystal chandelier that splinters into a thousand pieces, a girl abandoned as a baby on the steps of an opera house and a dangerous game called the Reckoning.'

Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 17th October 2019

It is 1870: opening night at the Royal Opera House in a freezing city by the sea, where a huge, crystal chandelier in the shape of a galleon sparkles magically with the light of 750 candles.

Celeste, a theatre rat, wakes up in a costume basket from what she hopes is a bad dream, to find that everyone at the theatre where she works thinks she is someone else.

When the chandelier falls, she is haunted by a strange girl who claims to know Celeste's past and why she must risk playing a game called the Reckoning to try to save the people she loves.  

'Invisible in a Bright Light' by Sally Gardner is a beautifully packaged hardback, enticingly designed with colourful eye-catching images, flecked with touches of gold. It's a lovely book to hold in your hands and would make an even better present to give to someone.

I'm a big fan of Sally's writing and I was very excited about her latest middle-grade offering. The opening foreword made me think of The Phantom of the Opera with an incredible chandelier, situated in an Opera House and hints at fairy tales and enchantments. I thought the first chapter was extremely captivating and definitely made me want to delve deeper into the book. It features a young girl called Celeste who is playing a game with a strange man in an emerald suit, only she doesn't know any of the rules or how to play. Although I was puzzled about the rows of people who are being kept in a cave deep under the sea, I was also intrigued and fascinated. I wanted to know more which is always the best way to start reading a book.

Celeste wakes up to find herself in the Royal Opera House where everyone she encounters seems to think she is someone else. She has vague and hazy memories of a different life, where she is happy and free but nothing really seems to make sense to her. That is almost how it feels to the reader too. I know I was a little confused at times and felt like some things were a bit foggy but this was actually  a good thing because it made me sympathise and identify more with Celeste and her struggle to find out the truth about who she is and what has happened to her.   

As the plot unfolds, there are some wonderfully colourful characters in the book to enjoy meeting and lots of secrets to uncover. I loved the sense of magic and wonder that is woven throughout and the sense that nothing is beyond the realms of possibility. There really is so much to enjoy in 'Invisible in a Bright Light' and this is a story that I think will appeal to both middle-grade, as well as older readers.

You can never go wrong with a Sally Gardner book and this was a real treat to read from start to finish.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Review: October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson

Publisher: Scribe
Published: 8th June 2017


Vega Gillberg is 16 years old when the police come knocking on the door looking for her older brother, Jakob. Vega hasn’t heard from him in days, but she has to find him before the police do. Jakob was involved in a terrible crime. What no one knows is that Vega was there, too.

In the rural Swedish community where the Gillbergs live, life is tough, the people are even tougher, and old feuds never die. As Vega sets out to find her brother, she must survive a series of threatening encounters in a deadly landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s dealing with the longing she feels for a boy that she has sworn to forget, and the mixed-up feelings she has for her brother’s best friend.

During a damp, raw week in October, the door to the adult world swings open, and Vega realises that once she has crossed the threshold there is no turning back.

This book is translated from the Swedish original text by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Reading it felt like delving into a short crime novella with an intriguing mystery to solve which lay at the heart of the story. It is set in a small rural Swedish community where everyone knows everyone. This creates a suffocating and stifling atmosphere. People have secrets but these secrets are hard to keep hidden. 

The main character, Vega Gillberg, is sixteen years old. At the beginning of the book she is being questioned by the police about the whereabouts of her older brother Jakob. As the plot begins to unfold, it’s clear that Vega knows that someone has committed a dreadful crime. However, she is not certain of who was involved and why, so she begins to try to connect all the dots. I enjoyed the air of mystery which the story stirred up and like Vega, I was kept guessing until the very end.     

What I did find hard about the book was that I didn’t particularly feel that any of the characters were very likeable. While I enjoyed following the threads of Vega’s quest to uncover the truth, I didn’t connect with her as the central character and so I struggled with some parts of the book which were quite introspective.  

Overall, I thought that ‘October is the Coldest Month’ was a chilling and atmospheric YA crime story. It spends time looking at the role of women and how they are treated by men. Vega has to deal with her feelings towards the men in her life: Uncle Dan, brother Jakob and local boy Tom. Many of the men in the novel are menacing and don’t always turn out to be how they first appear. This adds a nice air of danger to the story, as it’s hard to know who can be trusted.

Although this book wasn’t as good as some other YA crime novels that come to mind, it was still a quick and enjoyable read with an unexpected and surprising finale.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Blog tour: Hey, Sherlock! by Simon Mason

I'm hosting today's stop on the 'Hey, Sherlock!' blog tour. I'm delighted to have a fantastic guest post from author Simon Mason to share with you all. 

"In March 2012 I decided to try to write a crime novel featuring a teenager.

Why crime? Because of the interest: it’s obvious that human beings are deeply interested in wrong-doing. Also because of the story-telling: the best crime novels exemplify what I call ‘the ancient art of literary hypnosis’ – as practiced by other writers interested in crime such as Homer, Dostoevsky and Stephen King – that mesmerizing story-telling which will not let you go. I admire it very much, and I wanted to try it myself.

Why teenager? Of all the astonishing things in the world – the 2012 Olympics, say, or Triple Heart Bypass, the Chrysler Building or Trump – teenagers are the most astonishing. Human exploding devices bursting out into the world in great starbursts of attitude and inventiveness and fantasy and humour.

Why Garvie Smith? My mother, who is a therapist, would have something to say about the fact that a polite, unassuming, modest, conforming sort of person such as myself should have been drawn to the phenomenally lazy, spectacularly rude and often frankly infuriating Garvie Smith.

(Luckily she’s registered blind and hasn’t read the books.)

Actually, the idea for a super-bright, super-lazy, super-infuriating boy came from a friend of my son. I don’t mean he gave me the idea, I mean he was the idea. Between the ages of thirteen and nineteen he really did nothing at all. But he was probably the smartest person I’ve ever met.

It occurred to me that super-bright, super-lazy sixteen-year-old boys – the sort who can’t be arsed to do anything, who wag off school and slouch down to the kiddies playground to pass round a spiff and almost-empty half bottle of Glenn’s vodka – are very well represented in life but not in literature. They’re not great role models, it’ true. They’re anti-heroes.

But my hunch was that, actually, we relish anti-heroes – we positively cheer them on in their bad behaviour. Let’s face it: the word is full of stupid figures of authority, and who hasn’t wanted to tell them to their face that they’re stupid? Who hasn’t fantasised about just not bothering to do that interminably boring piece of work assigned to us some humourless superior? Who hasn’t wanted to tune out quite large parts of the world from time to time?

And I also had a hunch that if a very bright, very lazy boy got interested in something – a murder, for instance – he might just prove to be a little bit brilliant in working out what the police weren’t able to. Although he might arse it up completely for the official police effort, the case might get solved.

So Garvie Smith slouched into my imagination, and – upright, unbending, humourless – along came DI Raminder Singh too, the Sikh detective unfortunate enough to be the ‘official police effort’. Well, I feel sorry for him.

And in this way I arrived at my own variation on the classic detective duo (Holmes and Watson, Starsky and Hutch, Morse and Lewis): Garvie and Singh, a difficult teenager and an uptight Sikh.
What could possibly go wrong?"

Hey Sherlock blog tour banner

'Hey, Sherlock' is out now, published in the UK by David Fickling Books. Don't forget to check out all of the other stops on the blog tour and come back soon to read my review of the book.
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