Friday, 28 February 2014

The Worst Girlfriend in the World - Sarra Manning

Published: May 1st 2014, Atom
Pages: 344 pages, paperback proof
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Proof kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Alice Jenkins is the worst girlfriend in the world according to the many, many boys who've shimmied up lampposts and shoplifted from New Look to impress her, only to be dumped when she gets bored of them. Alice has a very low boredom threshold. 

But she never gets bored with Franny, her best friend since they met at nursery school. Friends are for ever. Ain't nothing going to come between them. Girls rule, boys drool is their motto. Well, it's Alice's motto, Franny doesn't have much time for boys; they're all totes immature and only interested in one thing.

But then there's Louis Allen, lead singer of The Desperadoes, the best band in Merrycliffe-on-sea (though that could be because they're the only band in Merrycliffe-on-sea). He's a tousle-haired, skinny-jeaned, sultry-eyed manchild, the closest thing that Franny's ever seen to the hipsters that she's read about on the internet and she's been crushing on him HARD for the last three years.

She's never worked up the courage to actually speak to him but she's sure on some deeper level that goes beyond mere words, Louis absolutely knows that she's his soulmate. He just doesn't know that he knows it yet. It's why he cops off with so many other girls.

So, when Alice, bored with callow youths, sets her sights on Louis it threatens to tear the girls' friendship apart, even though they're better than fighting over a boy.

They strike a devil's deal - may the best girl win. Best friends become bitter rivals and everything comes to an explosive conclusion on their first trip to London.

Can true friendship conquer all?

My review:

Story: Well, if anybody knows how to put a spin on the slightly tired 'two friends after one guy' story it's Sarra Manning. 

Franny has been holding out for the 'right' guy, who she's convinced is Louis Allen, lead singer of the only band in her small, insignificant hometown. Her lifelong best friend, Alice, is commonly known as the worst girlfriend in the world. She strings guys along, steals them from other girls and promptly dumps them as soon as she gets bored. 

When Alice gets jealous of the new friends Franny makes on her college course she decides to set her sights on Louis and, well, you can imagine that that doesn't go down too well with our protagonist, Franny. The girls decide to form an bet to see who can ensnare Louis first and, once the rules are drawn up, it's game on between the two besties. Or should that be former besties?

As the story develops we learn about Franny's troubled home life, which was handled beautifully and sensitively. Huge props to Manning for tackling this largely unexplored issue; the situation with Franny's mum isn't something I've really come across in YA before and I love the way it was handled.

Writing: As always, Manning's writing is first class and she's absolutely at the top of her game in The Worst Girlfriend in the World. The dialogue is sharp, funny and wholly British and the whole cast of characters are electric and hilarious.

This one reminds me more of Diary of a Crush than any of Manning's other books and it was so wonderful to be reminded of my favourite teen book. There's art and music and fashion everywhere and Franny and Alice's hopelessly attempts to look cool in a town that will never appreciate them reminded me only too much of my teen years. Saturday night spent in a sticky-floored local club, followed by cheesy chips and a long walk home? Check. Been there, done that, probably vomited on the T-shirt. Man, I love this book.

Characters: Franny and Alice's friendship is truly tested when Franny heads off to college on her own and slowly (but surely) makes a few new friends on her course. Franny knows that nobody could replace Alice but Alice, terrified of losing her only friend, acts out in the only way she knows how, by stealing the one guy Franny has ever been interested in.

With friends like that, eh? However, there's a lot more to it than that and, while Alice definitely has her moments, I couldn't help but warm to her and understood why Franny found it so difficult to question their friendship.

Franny is a brilliant role model for teenagers - she knows what she wants, she aims high and she's determined to turn her dreams into reality, however difficult they might be to achieve. Her focus is on her, not on looking good or getting attention from guys, well, except Louis of course, but then no one's perfect.

Final thoughts: ...And she's done it again! The undisputed Queen of YA (and my personal favourite UKYA author) has smashed it with The Worst Girlfriend in the World. It's brilliant. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Anything to Have You - Paige Harbison

Published: February 1st 2014, Harlequin Teen
Pages: 303 pages, paperback proof
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Proof kindly sent for review by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads): Nothing should come between best friends, not even boys. ESPECIALLY not boys.

Natalie and Brooke have had each other's backs forever. Natalie is the quiet one, college bound and happy to stay home and watch old movies. Brooke is the movie—the life of every party, the girl everyone wants to be.

Then it happens—one crazy night that Natalie can't remember and Brooke's boyfriend, Aiden, can't forget. Suddenly there's a question mark in Natalie and Brooke's friendship that tests everything they thought they knew about each other and has both girls discovering what true friendship really means.

My review:

Story: Well, you guys know I'm a huge fan of Paige Harbison's books. I've said before that sitting down to read her newest offering is like sitting down to have a fat glass of wine and a big catch up with an old friend and, after reading Anything to Have You, I completely stand by that statement.

When I first started reading Anything to Have You I thought I was going to get a fun, light-hearted contemporary YA story about boys and love and house parties. And that is what I got, at first, but in the second half of the novel things take an abrupt turn for the darker and see the main characters' lives spiral completely out of control, leading to a climax that completely shocked me.

Anything to Have You has a hell of a lot more to it than the first couple of chapters suggest. The beginning is a blast to read but I love how multi-faceted and complex the real story was; it tackled numerous issues but wasn't too heavy-handed about it. I'm not going to mention them all because of spoilers but Harbison deals with some tough issues in a sensitive and entertaining way. Bravo!

Writing: As is always the case with Harbison's books, the writing is snappy, sassy and sharp. Brooke's one liners are pure evil and her chapters are full of wit and snark. Excellent. Natalie is the calmer of the pair and the difference in the two girls' voices is great - with dual narrative it's so easy for me to lose my way and get confused about who's talking but that didn't happen at all in Anything to Have You.

The dialogue is the book's strength, with the tight cast of characters bouncing off of each other on each and every page. With in jokes, pop culture references and more teen slang than a fifteen year old's Instagram feed, Anything to Have You had me laughing out loud at the sheer outlandishness of the dialogue, Brook's in particular.

Characters: Is there anybody else who writes loveable bitches as well as Paige Harbison? Nah, I don't think so. Brook is the ultimate mean party girl and I loved her, naturally. Our protagonist, and her counterpart, Natalie, is much more reserved and known as a 'good girl', but this doesn't make her boring, as Natalie has her own secrets...

While the 'party girl and her best friend' double act could easily become a cliche, Harbison makes both of the girls fully realised characters, who never feel stereotypical. Their friendship was flawed and real and heartbreaking; I loved the roller coaster the girls go on throughout the novel and, while the love story is important, it's the girls' friendship that's the real focus here, and rightly so.

Aiden, our main man candy, is delicious. Sensitive, Southern and downright sexy, he's a dreamboat and a half and it's no wonder the two girls are both drawn to him. Managing to be a conventional 'hottie' without falling into the 'pretty but blah' trap so many male leads do, he's definitely a character I'll remember for a long time, which I think is always the case with the characters Harbison creates. She's so relevant it hurts and all of this shines through in her writing.

Final thoughts: Well, that makes a hat trick. If you haven't read Harbison's first two novels then why the devil not? Do it for me, go on.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Trouble - Non Pratt

Published: March 6th 2014, Walker Books
Pages: 384 pages, paperback
Series/standalone?: Standalone
Acquired: Kindly lent to me by the lovely Caroline from Big Book Little Book

Summary (from Goodreads): A boy. A girl. A bump. Trouble.

Hannah’s smart and funny ... she’s also fifteen and pregnant. Aaron is new at school and doesn’t want to attract attention. So why does he offer to be the pretend dad to Hannah’s unborn baby? 

Growing up can be trouble but that’s how you find out what really matters.

Story: Teenage pregnancy - obviously a big deal. But how to make it stand out from every other teenage pregnancy novel? Well, debut author Non Pratt has done just that, as Trouble transcends the 'teenage pregnancy' story and gives us a funny, poignant, hopeful novel about Hannah and her struggle with life, love and, of course, a growing bump.
Writing: Everything about Trouble feels fresh and current - particularly the language the characters use. I didn't feel as though I was reading a book - I felt as though I was there in the park with Hannah as she watched her classmates getting drunk and pairing off around her. Pratt's voices are so clear and so defined that you don't feel as though you're reading about strangers, you feel as though you're talking to a friend about their problems and that makes for such a memorable reading experience. I feel as though I know these teenagers; they aren't just kids in a book, they're perfect echoes of my friends, my old classmates, myself. The language, the speech patterns, the quick witted comebacks - it's all spot on.
Characters: Hannah is the perfect representation of a wayward teen who wants to act like an adult without any of the responsibility that comes with it. We see her go on such a journey throughout Trouble and it's lovely to see her character grow and develop as her story arc progresses. She's a really good example of how to create a flawed character who is utterly loveable, rather than a 2D heroine who is so perfect it's sickening. What teenager doesn't have a bit of an attitude? It's great to see a novel focusing on a teenager who has a bit of a naughty streak and heads down the pub to get drunk with boys - it makes a nice change from the 'quirky' characters we so often see teens represented as.
Katie, Hannah's best friend at the beginning of the book, had a particularly interesting story and my mind changed about her so often throughout the book - she really provoked a reaction out of me, which is a real testament to Pratt's strong writing and storytelling skills. I'm not going to talk too much about Katie, for fear of spoilers, but sheesh, with friends like that…

Final thoughts: I don't know how, but Trouble managed to surpass the ridiculously high expectations I had of it. Pratt's debut is an absolute winner.

Friday, 14 February 2014

First Names Announced for UKYA Lit Convention

Big names announced for UK’s first Young Adult Literature Convention

Waterstones Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman and the London Film and Comic Convention are pleased to announce an initial list of authors who will be appearing at the UK’s first ever Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC). Among them are bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant author and self-confessed movie buff Derek Landy, double Carnegie Medal winning Patrick Ness, and Red House Book Award winner Sophie Mackenzie. Also on the bill is previous Booktrust Online Writer in Residence Matt Haig, 24 year old debut Natasha Ngan, publisher-turned-author Ruth Warburton and bestselling horror writer Darren Shan. Completing the list announced today is Being a Boyauthor James Dawson, and of course Malorie Blackman herself. Further names, as well as days and times of authors’ appearances will be announced in due course.

YALC will form a highlight of Malorie Blackman’s campaign as the Waterstones Children’s Laureate. It will take place at the London Film and Comic Con (LFCC), at Earl’s Court, London on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 July 2014. YALC will bring together all the UK’s YA publishers to provide a host of author events in a dedicated Book Zone, with talks, workshops, signings, a book sales area and publisher stands promoting new and upcoming titles. Blackman will act as a curator for the two-day convention, uniting authors and publishers throughout the UK community. 2014’s YALC event will be the first time a large scale public convention around YA books has taken place in the UK, and its setting among the fans of cultish film and TV will set books at the heart of entertainment for teens and young people.
The full list of names announced today:
·         Malorie Blackman
·         James Dawson
·         Matt Haig
·         Derek Landy
·         Sophie McKenzie
·         Patrick Ness
·         Natasha Ngan
·         Darren Shan
·         Ruth Warburton

More names will be announced as they are confirmed. For more information about the London Film and Comic Con, visit their website here: http://www.londonfilmandcomiccon.com/ and follow @YALC_UK on Twitter for all the YALC news!
(Press release courtesy of Booktrust)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A Weekend Away and a Writing Update

So I've had a little blogging break! It's lovely sometimes, isn't it, to just switch off for a bit and recharge your batteries? I think we all need it every once in a while and I certainly recharged mine in a big way last weekend.

I headed off to a gorgeous cottage in Wiltshire for a long weekend with my writing group, which is made up of three of my best friends in the whole world. We spent three awesome days writing, gossiping, eating, drinking and, most of all, laughing until our faces hurt. It was brilliant and absolutely what I needed.

I'm just over 12,000 words through the first draft of my latest novel so I'm just coming out of that honeymoon period that so often accompanies the first 10k. I'm into the flow of the story, I'm getting to know my characters really well and it's all working rather nicely. Long may it continue, I say! I'm setting myself a deadline of March 31st for finishing the first draft, which I think is perfect. It'll keep the pressure on me but it's definitely doable - 50,000 words in seven weeks, piece of cake.

Maybe. Possibly.

We'll see.

Monday, 3 February 2014

February Reading List

*Insert generic 'didn't January go fast?' comment*
I know it's a cliche but it really did; seems like just a minute ago I was hoovering up Viscount biscuits and drinking too much Baileys.
Anyway, today I wanted to let you guys know which books are on my hit list for February. I'm really loving the look of the books I've picked out for this month; after reading a fair bit of darker stuff at the beginning of the year I've decided to go a little more light-hearted for Feb: enter Sarra Manning, Paige Toon and Rainbow Rowell. I have to hold my hands up and say I haven't read any Rainbow Rowell yet. I know, right? I feel like I'm the only YA lover in the world who hasn't, so I've decided to rectify that!
So, in all its splendour, here is my February reading list:

Isn't it a beaut? Have you read any of these yet? If so, let me know what you thought!