Chasing the Stars – Malorie Blackman

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 21 April 2016 (UK)
Publisher: Penguin Random House (UK)
Genre: Young adult, science fiction, romance, Shakespeare re-tellings

How I read it: I bought it! (I also won 2 copies via GoodReads, but passed them on to friends.)

Get it at Amazon UK:  Chasing the Stars

This review was written in 2016 and originally appeared on the University of Southampton’s online media review site, The Edge.

Young adult sci-fi novel Chasing the Stars is the second work by Malorie Blackman to draw inspiration from a Shakespeare play. 2001’s Noughts & Crosses and its subsequent sequels alluded heavily to Romeo & Juliet with a heart-breaking tale of prejudice and forbidden love. Chasing the Stars taps into another of the Bard’s tragedies – this time Othello – and it has rather appropriately been released in 2016, coinciding with Shakespeare 400.

Olivia, better known as Vee, is a teenage girl travelling through space with her twin brother Aidan – they’re completely alone on the ship, after a mystery virus killed their parents and the rest of the crew three years ago. And far away on a small, lonely planet, a boy named Nathan is living with a community of survivors who have escaped slavery, but the Mazons, an alien race who claim the planet as their own, aren’t too happy about a bunch of humans intruding on their territory.

At first, Chasing the Stars barely resembles Othello at all. Some of the main characters are gender-flipped – Othello becomes Vee (Olivia), Desdemona becomes Nathan – and of course, there’s the fact that most of the story is set in space, on Vee’s ship. But after Nathan’s people are attacked and Vee rescues them, the love story begins and the similarities start to come through, with several memorable scenes coming across as almost identical to the play. Much like Othello, Chasing the Stars is about jealousy and the destruction it can cause, especially when applied to newly formed relationships – no matter how deeply in love the couple is. Vee and Nathan’s romance is a sweet, blissful whirlwind, but when a mystery killer starts bumping off the survivors on the ship and rumours start to fly, it soon becomes apparent just how fragile their relationship really is.

Chasing the Stars uses dual narration, so the reader gets to experience both Vee and Nathan’s thoughts as the plot develops, which emphasises just how damaging a lack of communication can be – seeing their internal thoughts, it’s easy to understand why these characters are acting and thinking the way they do, and they could totally sort things out if they would just talk to each other. Interestingly, the novel decides to look at the issue of classism instead of the racism prevalent in Othello; Nathan is often bothered that Vee might not think him good enough because he is an escaped ‘drone’ – a menial labourer and prisoner with no money or prospects, and this ultimately feeds into the drama.

Blackman sprinkles her story with pop-culture references and Shakespeare quotes, in case you forget who influenced this incredibly emotional and cinematic novel; although she takes liberties with the story line to surprise fans who are already familiar with Othello. Humanity is at loggerheads with the Mazons, resulting in some intense alien chase scenes, and while the romance is fast and fluffy, it’s understandable that the previously isolated Vee and the world-weary Nathan would gravitate towards each other so quickly – and Blackman doesn’t shy away from detailing the damaging consequences.

You don’t have to be familiar with the source material to appreciate Chasing the Stars, and even if you are, there’s still plenty to surprise you, since the final act is packed full of plot twists that will shake your understanding of the rest of the book. It’s a heavy tome at nearly 500 pages, but it never drags or drowns itself in sci-fi jargon. Although this novel was initially promoted as a standalone, there are enough threads left untied to lead into a sequel – which is appropriate as Blackman has since announced that it will be a trilogy. But for now, Chasing the Stars exists as a fresh yet familiar sci-fi take on a Shakespeare play; one that combines a murder mystery, aliens, stem-cell food dispensers and futuristic spacecrafts, but still manages to retain all the heart-wrenching drama that makes Othello such a powerful tragedy.

For fans of: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis, DEFY THE STARS by Claudia Gray, AS I DESCENDED by Robin Talley

The Gods of Love – Nicola Mostyn

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 1 February 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Piatkus (UK)
Genre: Fantasy

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from the publisher via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK:  The Gods of Love: Happily ever after is ancient history . . .

Meet Frida. Divorce lawyer, cynic and secret descendant of the immortal love god Eros. She’s about to have a really bad day . . .

When a handsome but clearly delusional man named Dan bursts into Frida’s office and insists that she is fated to save the world, she has him ejected faster than you can say ‘prenup’.

But a creepy meeting, a demon or three and one attempted kidnapping later, Frida is beginning to face the inconvenient truth: Dan is in fact The Oracle, the gods of Greek mythology are real and Frida herself appears to be everyone’s only hope.

The world is doomed.

The first non-YA title to be reviewed on my blog! But never fear, YA lovers – I think you’ll enjoy this one.

While I found THE GODS OF LOVE to be a little formulaic in its structure (it plays into a lot of common tropes of “chosen one” fantasy – so if you read a lot of YA, like I do, you’ll recognise these immediately) I didn’t think this was a bad thing. Frida has a fresh, funny voice and handles everything with snark and sarcasm, which made even the most familiar tropes and plot twists feel refreshing. The best comparison I can make is an older, female Percy Jackson – right down to the witty narration and twists on Greek mythology. Think Rick Riordan meets Sophie Kinsella and you’re pretty much there.

All the best bits of Greek myths are here – Frida encounters Medusa, Charon, the Minotaur, Hades and Persephone on her journey. There’s a good dollop of romance, some pacy, high-stakes action, and a whole host of colourful characters. Mostyn keeps the reader on their toes, continuously changing the game so Frida never knows who to trust. It’s a fluffy and thrilling romp through Greek mythology, with an unwitting young lawyer at the centre of it all – fans of both urban fantasy and chick-lit will need to get their hands on this.

If you want a light, fun fantasy read to get you through the dull winter months, THE GODS OF LOVE will fill that hole for you.

For fans of: PERCY JACKSON AND THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan, STARCROSSED by Josephine Angelini, GODS BEHAVING BADLY by Marie Phillips

To Kill a Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 6 March 2018 (UK + USA)
Publisher: Hot Key Books (UK), Feiwel Friends (USA)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from the publisher via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK:  To Kill a Kingdom

Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most – a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever. 

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavoury hobby – it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good. But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

Wow! This was AWESOME. It’s so rare to find well-developed second-world fantasy YA standalones – but this book managed to deliver a great story, three-dimensional characters and excellent world-building all within one single novel.

TO KILL A KINGDOM, to sum up, is a dark fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid with sirens. And they’re FRIGHTENING sirens, who lure humans with their beautiful voices…and then rip their hearts out. Definitely bloodier than just drowning them! Lira is a cutthroat siren who is so feared that among humans she has become known as the Prince’s Bane – so named for her way of killing princes for their hearts every year in her birth month.

The plot is recognisable in places from the original fairytale, but Christo manages to keep it fresh, combining several legends and tales in a clever way – I loved the spin that Lira doesn’t lose the ability to speak like the Little Mermaid does, instead she loses her siren voice. She can no longer charm humans with her magical song – she has to now rely on her own wits and lies.

The book is split in two, with alternating chapters narrated by Lira and Elian. Both characters are interesting, deeply developed and had brilliant chemistry – and it’s a gradual, changing relationship that felt honest and real. The assortment of characters who populate the underwater kingdom of Keto and Elian’s ship are also charming – I particularly loved Lira’s relationship with her cousin. The Sea Queen is an excellent villain, and her complex relationship with Lira – who is her daughter – is fascinating to read.

With beautiful narration, lush descriptions of the fantasy kingdoms, and original spins on mermaid and siren lore (Jeez, those mermen though?? YUCK), TO KILL A KINGDOM is a must-read for anyone who loves fairytale-inspired high fantasy – especially if you’re not looking to get sucked into a series right now!

For fans of: HEARTLESS by Marissa Meyer, THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE by Heidi Heilig, A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES by Sarah J. Maas

 

Big Bones – Laura Dockrill

Image result for big bones laura dockrill

Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 8 March 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Hot Key Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from the publisher via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK: Big Bones

A heart-warming teen story from the unique voice of Laura Dockrill, about Bluebelle, aka BB, aka Big Bones – a sixteen-year-old girl encouraged to tackle her weight even though she’s perfectly happy, thank you, and getting on with her life and in love with food. Then a tragedy in the family forces BB to find a new relationship with her body and herself.

I really enjoyed Laura Dockrill’s other Hot Key title, LORALI, and so was keen to read her newest YA novel – which is BIG BONES! It’s very different to LORALI but also still manages to capture so much of what made that book enjoyable.

This book is FUNNY. Warning: do NOT read on public transport. I got to a certain scene which involved ducks, a dog bowl, and an upset stomach, and made a horribly loud snorting noise on my commuter train. If you like the kind of humour of books like THE CONFESSIONS OF GEORGIA NICOLSON series, this will definitely be for you.

Bluebelle is body positive and a food lover – the descriptions of food in this book were so good I was getting hungry while I read it (definitely don’t read this book on an empty stomach, either). I enjoyed that it wasn’t a “diet” book – there’s nowhere where Bluebelle starves herself (there’s a point where she can’t make herself eat because she feels depressed, but that’s about it), but decides to “better” herself through exercising. She eats well throughout the whole book!

Another highlight: the romance in this is adorable! It’s not at the forefront of the book – Bluebelle has a lot of stuff to deal with in this novel – but it’s present, and well-developed, and entirely cute. The relationships with her sister, parents, coworkers and best friend are also all really well-drawn, with realistic dialogue and deep characterisation. And lots of descriptions of food. Tasty food. Mmm.

Damn, I made myself hungry again.

For fans of: ANGUS, THONGS AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by Louise Rennison, EDITING EMMA by Chloe Seagar

Savage Island – Bryony Pearce

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 3/5 (Good)

Release Date: 5 April 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Stripes Publishing (UK)
Genre: Young adult, horror, thriller

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from the publisher via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK: Savage Island (Red Eye)

When reclusive millionaire Marcus Gold announces that he’s going to be staging an “Iron Teen” competition on his private island in the Outer Hebrides, teenagers Ben, Lizzie, Will, Grady and Carmen sign up – the prize is £1 million pounds … each. But when the competition begins, the group begin to regret their decision. Other teams are hunting their competitors and attacking them for body parts. Can the friends stick together under such extreme pressure to survive? When lives are at stake, you find out who you can really trust…

SAVAGE ISLAND is a new title from Stripes Publishing’s Red Eye selection of horror novels for teens – I’ve never read a Red Eye title before (I own FROZEN CHARLOTTE by Alex Bell, but I haven’t got round to it yet). It follows a group of teens who go to a remote island for a competition, only for the contest to take a dark turn.

I’ve seen the “friends go to a remote island and bad stuff happens” plot done quite a bit (Scooby Doo, anyone?) so was hoping for something a bit different with this one. And honestly, it surprised me – I was expecting a straight-up slasher, but this is more of a psychological horror, running on high stakes and tension rather than gore and shocks. The use of flashbacks was also well done, and Pierce expertly shows the effects of psychological abuse on Ben and Will – this was probably one of my favourite parts of the book.

Unfortunately, I found the novel fell apart by the end – a shame, as it was exceeding my expectations until the last chapter or so. I’m extremely picky with horror and thrillers so it may be more just personal preference, but I didn’t find the revelations to be particularly shocking.

Psychopathy plays a large part in the book, and honestly…I wasn’t very keen on its portrayal in the novel. It’s an extremely rare occurrence and is still largely misunderstood by most people – I initially thought the book was subverting common misconceptions about it, but then it changed tack and fell back into cliches again.

Overall, SAVAGE ISLAND is a quick read and plays up the tension and pace very well, but doesn’t really manage to do much new with the genre. If you want an easy horror read with some good character development, I’d recommend picking this up.

For fans of: S.T.A.G.S. by M.K. Bennett, LYING ABOUT LAST SUMMER by Sue Wallman, CRUEL SUMMER by Juno Dawson

The Belles – Dhonielle Clayton

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 6 February 2018 (USA), 8 February 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (USA), Gollancz (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, dystopian

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from the publisher via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK:  The Belles

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. 

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

THE BELLES is all that is great about fantastical dystopian YA – grittiness and horror wrapped in layers of glitter and silk. I really loved this original premise, and how Clayton juxtaposes the beauty of makeup and fine clothes and elegantly styled hair with the reality of how they are achieved – I had to take a second to pause when reading about how Camellia straightened a girl’s nose, I thought I was going to barf! It’s THAT effective.

Clayton’s lavish descriptions of the land of Orléans – its fashions, its citizens, its cuisine – all really bring the fantasy world to life. I got the inexplicable urge to go for afternoon tea, just because of this book. All those details about the little cakes and chocolate – don’t read this book on an empty stomach. I’m serious. *Crams sweets into mouth*.

My only real qualm with the book is that it feels a bit too long to me, but that’s probably just a personal thing. I also wasn’t a fan of Auguste – there was a lot of chemistry between him and Camellia, and I enjoyed the development of their relationship, but I found him to be a little irritating. Again, that’s probably just me!

AND! I WANT! A TEACUP! DRAGON!

So if you are looking for a unique dystopian fantasy with rich world-building, beautiful descriptions and a touch of horror, THE BELLES might just be for you. I’m definitely going to be reading the next book in the series!

For fans of: WICKED LIKE A WILDFIRE by Lana Popović, WITHER by Lauren DeStefano

Out of the Blue – Sophie Cameron

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 22 March 2018 (UK), 15 May 2018 (USA)
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (UK), Roaring Brook Press (USA)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, fantasy, LGBT

How I read it: I got an eBook proof from Macmillan via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK:  Out of the Blue

When angels start falling from the sky, it seems like the world is ending. For most people it doesn’t. But for Jaya the world ended when her mother died, two weeks before the first angel fell.

Smashing down to earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted, not a single one has survived and, as the world goes angel crazy, Jaya’s father uproots the family to Edinburgh, intent on catching one alive. But Jaya can’t stand his obsession and, struggling to make sense of her mother’s sudden death and her own role on that fateful day, she’s determined to stay out of it. Then something extraordinary happens: an angel lands right at Jaya’s feet, and it’s alive.

Oh. My. God.

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I’ve been raving about this book IRL for months, so this review shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me – I read the proof of this book last year and I already know it’s going to be one of my favourite 2018 releases.

So how do I love this book? Let me count the ways:

Firstly: THE CONCEPT. Angels falling from the sky? Heck yes, I am here for this fantastical, mysterious weirdness.

Secondly: ADORABLE F/F RELATIONSHIP. My bisexual heart is crying.

Thirdly: The diversity. Jaya is biracial and a lesbian. Another main character is disabled and bisexual. I love it.

Fourthly (is that a word?): TEACAKE. I LOVE HER. I don’t want to spoil too much but when you read it, you’ll understand. She is so freaking cute.

Fifthly (Also doesn’t look like a real word): The story is a beautiful and sad exploration of grief, and I was pretty much bawling by the end of it. It may have a fantastical concept, but this book handles recovery after the death of a loved one in such a realistic, touching way.

I also really enjoyed the book’s take on how the world would react to an extraordinary event such as angels falling from the sky – it really manages to remind us of how greedy humans can be, and how terror can so easily become hate. I could see everything playing out exactly how Cameron describes it – with angel feathers becoming extremely valuable to the point that people will do anything to get and sell them, for example.

So please get your paws on this book if you like any of the following things: angels, f/f romances, mystery, dystopian fantasy, Edinburgh, or all of the above.

This is a stunning debut from Sophie Cameron and I can’t wait to see more from her.

For fans of: LORALI by Laura Dockrill, ANGELFALL by Susan Ee

Orphan Monster Spy – Matt Killeen

Image result for orphan monster spy Image result for orphan monster spy

Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 8 March 2018 (UK), 20 March 2018 (USA)
Publisher: Usborne (UK), Viking Books for Young Readers (USA)
Genre: Young adult, historical

How I read it: I was lucky enough to get a proof copy at Deptcon 2017!

Get it at Amazon UK: Orphan, Monster, Spy

After her mother is shot at a checkpoint, fifteen-year-old Sarah – blonde, blue-eyed, and Jewish – finds herself on the run from a government that wants to see every person like her dead. Then Sarah meets a mysterious man with an ambiguous accent, a suspiciously bare apartment, and a lockbox full of weapons. He’s a spy, and he needs Sarah to become one, too, to pull off a mission he can’t attempt on his own: infiltrate a boarding school attended by the daughters of top Nazi brass, befriend the daughter of a key scientist, and steal the blueprints to a bomb that could destroy the cities of Western Europe. With years of training from her actress mother in the art of impersonation, Sarah thinks she’s ready. But nothing prepares her for her cutthroat schoolmates, and soon she finds herself in a battle for survival unlike any she’d ever imagined.

Let me just make a note here: this is the first thing I read after reading the first volume of MAUS and watching the last few episodes of Band of Brothers, so I’m on a bit of a WWII kick at the moment. However, I was feeling quite depressed after both of those works (both of them are quite graphic in their depiction of Jewish suffering under the Nazis, which would be enough of a downer for most people but I’m also of Jewish heritage so that added a personal edge to the horror) and so ORPHAN MONSTER SPY cheered me up a lot – but not because it’s a cheery book. Far from it. But its main character is a Jewish girl who gets to kick a lot of ass, and be sneaky, and scam a bunch of Nazis.

(Her name also being Sarah had nothing to do with my feelings towards this book, obviously.)

The first obvious thing about this book is the depth of the research – its depiction of Nazi Germany is incredibly realistic and harrowing. The attention to detail is amazing, but I never found the descriptions to drag or turn into info-dumps. Despite the huge amount of information woven into the story, it remains a pacy, thrilling narrative.

Sarah herself is an excellent heroine – this girl is BOLD. She’s flawed and not afraid to be violent when the situation warrants it, and her mother has taught her how to be a perfect little actress – making her the ideal candidate for this spy job. She’s strong mostly because of her wits, and her ability to think fast on her feet, rattling off lies easily to keep one step ahead of the SS. The man who she meets – the Captain – is just as flawed as she is, but the relationship formed between him and Sarah feels familial and real as their bond grows.

This is a fast, intense book with some outright horrifying scenes – I’d approach this book with caution if you find scenes of sexual assault to be triggering – but ultimately it’s a thrilling read that will keep you gripped. And after some, uh, clangers of YA novels depicting Jewish characters in Nazi Germany, it was a relief to find that ORPHAN MONSTER SPY approaches the subject with respect and care.

For fans of: CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein, WOLF BY WOLF by Ryan Graudin, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

The Exact Opposite of Okay – Laura Steven

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram – 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 8 March 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Electric Monkey (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary

How I read it: I swiped a proof copy from Debbie over at Snuggling on Sofa!

Get it at Amazon UK: The Exact Opposite of Okay

Izzy O’Neill is an aspiring comic, an impoverished orphan, and a Slut Extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s what the malicious website flying round the school says. Izzy can try all she wants to laugh it off – after all, her sex life, her terms – but when pictures emerge of her doing the dirty with a politician’s son, her life suddenly becomes the centre of a national scandal. Izzy’s never been ashamed of herself before, and she’s not going to start now. But keeping her head up will take everything she has…

The time is right for THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF OKAY – with the #MeToo movement going strong and an influx of media produced by female creators, this book feels current, timely and lays out some important messages.

The main one? Slut-shaming SUCKS. (And so-called “nice guys” will never not be completely gross.)

I have to admit, the book caught me a little off-guard – Laura Steven is British but the book is set in America, which took me by surprise. But ultimately I think that it works, and there’s enough convincing American slang to pull it off. (Obviously I’m British, and once my creative writing tutor had to tell me to stop using “I went to the shop” instead of “I went to the store” when I was trying to write an American narrator, so maybe I’m not the best judge, but whatever.)

So besides the excellent feminist message, what else does this book have going for it?

Well, first off – Izzy is hilarious. The topic may be serious but she’s clever and quippy and making jokes like there’s no tomorrow. I think this is welcome, as it reinforces that a girl isn’t just defined by her sexuality – she can be a clown, too.

Secondly – it isn’t just feminism and slut-shaming that’s handled well. There’s some discussion of race, of friendship, of LGBT issues – all worked in naturally and respectfully. Izzy is a white girl with her own problems but she quickly finds out that she’s got plenty of privilege too.

Thirdly – God, the guys in this. That ONE PARTICULAR GUY is basically the human incarnation of r/niceguys. I admire Izzy’s resolve for not punching him in the groin, frankly.

THE VERDICT:

Funny, fresh and feminist young adult fiction with an important message and side-splitting narration. An easy read about a difficult topic, handled with humour and class.

For fans of: AM I NORMAL YET? by Holly Bourne, MOXIE by Jenifer Mathieu, ASKING FOR IT by Louise O’Neill