Book of the Week, Children's books, Classics, Fantasy, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Howl’s Moving Castle

Two children’s books in a row as BotW? This is totally within the normal range of what I do and what you expect from me. And this is another book that I started during my weekend at boo conference and then got distracted away from by the purchase of more books at said book conference and then by other books on the kindle. So sue me!

cover of Howls Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle tells the story of Sophie, a teenage girl who is turned into an old lady by a witch while she is working in her family’s hat shop. One of the conditions of the curse is that she can’t tell people that she’s been cursed and Sophie doesn’t want her mother or sisters to see what’s happened to her, so she runs away to the hills, where she runs into the moving castle belonging to the Wizard Howl and makes it her new home in the hope that the curse can be lifted. Howl is a temperamental, vacillating young man who is on the run from something and only seems to do things that help himself but Calcifer, his fire demon promises to help her if she can help him with the curse that ties him to Howl. Also living in the castle is Michael, Howl’s apprentice, who, it turns out is in love with one of Sophie’s sisters. And so they move around the countryside, and Sophie tries to figure out how to get her old (young) body back.

That’s the short version of part of the story and doesn’t really do it justice. Before I read the story, I was actually worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I liked the film of the book which I saw in the cinema back in my high-cinema visiting university days. Now the two are the same basic story: about a teenager who is cursed to look like an old lady and who seeks help from the wizard with the moving castle, but beyond that there are a fair few differences. The movie has a design aesthetic that leads to some differences from the book and it is missing some of the subplots from the book, but it turns out I really liked them both.

I don’t often read the book after I’ve seen the movie, but this time it worked out really well. In fact, this is the opposite experience to what usually happens with me, books and movie adaptations – because quite often I really hate the movie versions of books I’ve loved, so maybe I need to do this more often?! There are a couple more books featuring Howl, which are now on my reading list – and I’m trying hard to work out if I read any Diana Wynne Jones books back when I was the right age for them because I really liked her writing and the style felt somewhat familiar to me.

I bought my copy of Howl’s Moving Castle on Kindle, but it’s also available on Kobo (and it’s 99p on both platforms at time of writing) and in paperback (from Amazon, Book Depository or places like Big Green Books) and audiobook. I think it should be easy enough to buy from a bookshop with a good sized children’s section (not a supermarket because it is no where near new) I suspect it will also be available at some libraries too. And if you haven’t seen the film, you really should watch it too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, reviews, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Yes. I know. I’m so far behind the curve it hurts.  This always happens.  You know this always happens. This is the problem with giant to-read backlog.  It’s the whole raison d’être for the blog.  Anyway.  As you will have seen yesterday, I read a lot of stuff on holiday last week, and I’ve already written about one of last week’s books, so that’ was ruled out.  And some of the other books that I read were out for this because of a) other posts I’ve got planned or b) not liking them enough to want to recommend them.  I’m honest like that.  But luckily, at the end of the week I found my copy of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda again and read it pretty much in one sitting, so I feel like I can genuinely make it a BotW.

cover of Love Simon

In case you’ve missed it somehow, this is the story of Simon Spier.  He’s sixteen and he knows he’s gay but he’s definitely not out at school.  But he’s got an email correspondence going with another boy at his school who is also in the same boat.  Simon doesn’t know who it is, and Blue doesn’t know who Simon is, but they’re getting on really well.  But when some of the email correspondence falls into the wrong hands, Simon finds himself the target of a blackmailer and on top of this, his friendship group starts to get really complicated.  How can Simon sort it all out?

In case you’ve missed it, this was recently turned into a film, under the title Love, Simon, and originally I was going to read this before the film came out.  Well we all know how well that’s turned out.  But having read the book, I can totally see why the film has struck a chord with people and got the almost universally positive reviews.  It’s a relatable, readable, page turner about a young man trying to navigate High School.  It’s a story we’ve heard before and which has always been my catnip.  The difference here is that the hero is gay and that’s not a story I’ve really seen done before.  And Becky Albertelli has done a great job for my money.  Obviously I’ve never been a gay teenage boy, but for me it captured the experience of being a teenager – how everything is life and death and how school is a complete minefield that has to be carefully navigated – but with an experience outside my own that I was really interested to read about.  I’m not a big YA reader, but would happily have read another 100 pages of it – and not just because it doesn’t involve teens killing each other or dying of cancer.

As previously mentioned, I’m way behind the curve, so you should be able to get a copy of Love, Simon anywhere – my copy is the movie tie in edition as you can see so watch out for the two different titles kicking around.  Try the supermarkets and the secondhand bookshops for sure.  The Kindle edition has also popped up as a Daily Deal more than once as well. And the DVD of the movie is out in August, so it’ll probably be popping up on the streaming services soon too. Albertelli has a sequel of sorts out now too – Leah on the Offbeat – which focuses on one of Simon’s friends and which I’ll definitely be looking out for.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, reviews, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Clean

Taking a break from the run of romance novels as Books of the Week to go for something completely different: Juno Dawson’s new YA novel Clean.  There were a couple of strong contenders for BotW, but this blew me away when I read it.  You will be hearing more of some of the other books from last week though – there’s one on there that’s not out in the UK yet that’s definitely going on one of my summer reading list posts at the very least.

Cover of CLEAN by Juno Dawson

Clean is the story of Lexi Volkov, the socialite daughter of a Russian hotel millionaire who definitely isn’t hooked on hard drugs and really doesn’t need to be in rehab.  Or at least that’s what she’d thinks.  She’s been checked into an exclusive treatment centre by her brother after nearly overdosing and the book follows her as she works her way through her treatment.  This is a Young Adult book, but it is dealing with a properly adult subject matter and in a very upfront way and realistic way.  I think this is one for the older end of the YA market – probably over 14 – maybe a bit older – although I was definitely reading stuff like this by GCSE sort of stage.  I found this so readable that I wanted to keep going – but had to take a break or two because it is a lot to take in and deal with.

Lexi is a brilliant character – at the start she is very abrasive and incredibly hard to like – and that’s by design I think.  It’s her addictions and the selfishness of the addict speaking rather than her real personality.  I only really started to like her about two thirds of the way through – may be later – and started really wanting her to succeed but even then she had her moments.  The book is also packed with interesting characters and great representation.  I don’t have any experience of inpatient treatment, but the book felt like was based on fact and reality – even if sometimes I wondered if there shouldn’t be some more staff around.  But then a bit of artistic licence is definitely allowable, and anyway as I’ve said – I don’t know anything about the reality of an expensive private rehab facility. I did have a few other minor quibbles and thought the ending was really clever – but I can’t say much more about any of that without spoiling things and breaking my rules about that sort of thing.

What I will say though is that this probably needs a trigger warning for pretty much everything – and not just for the drug taking and drug addiction.  As I said earlier, it’s definitely for the older end of the YA market, and I needed to take breaks while reading this.  But then as I’m a massive wimp who often doesn’t read books like this because they’re too dark for me, that’s probably not surprising.

I got my copy of Clean via NetGalley, but it’s out now and available in all the usual formats – Kindle and Kobo (and only £2.99 at time of writing) as well as paperback from all the usual sources.  I’d also expect to be able to find this fairly easily in an actual bookshop and may be even the supermarkets..  I’ve got another of Dawson’s earlier YA books sitting on the TBR shelf along with her non-fiction adult book The Gender Games and this has made me thing that I really need to get to them sooner rather than later.

Adventure, Young Adult

Book of the Week: A Spy in the House

This is quite a short post this week, because I’ve been busy with those #Noirville entries, but what could be more up my street than a Victorian-set adventure mystery with a feisty teen girl as a heroine? Not a lot, and that’s why Y S Lee’s A Spy in the House is this week’s BotW pick!

Paperback copy of the Agency

Mary Quinn is rescued from the gallows by a school for girls that’s actually cover for a female spy agency.  At 17 she gets her chance to prove herself when she’s sent to help with an investigation by taking a job as a paid companion to the daughter of a shipping magnate. Once she’s in the house though she ends up getting more involved than she’s meant to and soon she may be in over her head. On top of all this, there are secrets in Mary’s past which seem like they may be linked to the mystery.

Mary is an interesting and feisty heroine and the story is fast-paced and exciting. I think this is aimed at a YA audience and it would make a great next step for teens who’ve outgrown (or want the next step) from the Wells and Wong series or the Sinclair mysteries and who aren’t quite  ready for full on-adult mysteries yet. This has a developing love interest, but nothing too full on or adult-contenty if you know what I mean.

This is the first in a series and I’ll definitely be looking out for the others.  You should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual sources (like Big Green Bookshop)- and it’s available on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

children's books, Series I love, Young Adult

Recommendsday: The Geek Girl series

While I was on my holly-bobs I read the last in the Geek Girl series by Holly Smale.  I think I suggested the series a couple of years ago as a YA Christmas book idea, but now the last book is out, it seemed like a good time to give the series a proper (if quick) mention.

The titular Geek Girl is Harriet Manners, nerd and fact fan who ends up getting scouted by a modelling agent after going to the Clothes Show Live with her fashion-mad best friend.  What ensues across the six books (I’ve read all bar book 5) and several novellas is a fish-out-of-water story as she tries to navigate her way through the modelling world.  And it’s a lot of fun.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about Harriet tripping (literally) her way through the fashion world and going to school at the same time.

I remember reading a few books about models back in my early teen years, but they were all about beautiful and glamorous 18 year olds with backstabbing and bitchy tendencies. This is much more fun. Harriet isn’t the most popular or the prettiest at school and she didn’t ever think about being a model. But she’s ended up doing it and is trying to be as good at it as she is at school – but with a lot of gaps in her fashion education. This does have some bitching and backstabbing, but Harriet is never the one doing it. Or at least she never starts it!

I’d say these are bottom end of YA territory – perfect for the very top end of primary school or early secondary school. Or overgrown kids like me. 

I got Geek Girl 6 via NetGalley, but I’ve bought myself a couple of the others on Kindle or in actual books before. You should be able to track them down fairly easily – I bought one of mine in Tesco.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Our Own Private Universe

I had trouble picking my Book of the Week this week for various reasons, and I’m sorry that this post is a bit short.  Anyway, this week’s BotW is Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley.  I read this last week, and while bits of it didn’t work for me (of which more below) it’s a story that I haven’t read before (maybe I haven’t been looking in the right places!) and that needs to be represented more in fiction – particularly YA fiction.

I  like the UK cover but the US hardcover one is possibly braver.
15-year-old Aki is bi-sexual, but so far she’s only told her best friend Lori.  She’s off to Mexico for the summer with her church youth group and the pair have a plan to start getting out there and living an interesting life.  At the camp, Aki meets Christa and the two have a connection.  But it’s not easy trying to navigate your first relationship with everyone watching you – especially if you’re trying to keep it quiet.  And how do you know if it’s love anyway?

There was a lot about this that I liked.  It’s a diverse (in every way) queer coming of age story that (spoiler alert) doesn’t end in deaths and disownment.  But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of angst, because there is.  In fact that was my main gripe with the book – that at times Aki just went too far over my whining teenager limit and there was a lot of petty drama that I could have done without.  But I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing – so it may work much better for the target market of angsty teenagers than it does for me!

But although it’s not perfect, stories like this need to be told and need to be out there.  And the world needs more happy YA love stories (or at least I do!)- whether they’re F/F, M/M or M/F.

My copy came from NetGalley, but Our Our Private Universe is available in paperback from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo. 

Book of the Week, Children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Judith Teaches

Gosh this was so hard this week.  My favourite book I read last week was one I read to review for Novelicious (which is returning to the internets in full force very shortly) and my rules dictate that I can’t make that my book of the week here as well.  My second favourite book of last week was the second Corinna Chapman book – and my rules dictate that I can’t pick that because I picked that series last week.  So after that it’s not so much Book of the Week as Book I Quite Liked of the Week.  And that’s not really in the spirit of the thing.  I was prepared to cheat if I managed to finish one of the books I had on the go on Monday morning, but I didn’t so I couldn’t justify that either.

So what I’ve decided to do is write about Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allen – which I read last week and which interests me on a few levels.  Judith Teaches was part of a series of career books for girls published by Bodley Head in the 50s.  Various different authors wrote the books which each feature a different career suitable for young ladies to do before they got married (and had to give up working to look after their husbands).  Other titles in the series cover jobs like floristry, farming and modelling as well as some  becoming a doctor or being a veterinary student.

Judith Teaches by Mabel Esther Allan
My newly reissued paperback copy of Judith Teaches. Check out the retro!

Judith Teaches covers the first year of the teaching of Judith and her friend Bronwen who get jobs at a secondary modern school straight out of training college.  They have a friend who is already teaching at the same school who they share a flat with, and although the book mostly focuses on Judith you hear about the other girls lives as well.  The three are clearly Nice Well Brought Up Grammar School/Boarding School girls who have a bit of a culture shock with the pupils at their new school (dirty! desperate to leave school to go work in the factory! not interested in reading! can’t spell!) and some of these sections feel very of their time.  But it does cover the potential ups and downs of teaching in a way that would have given the school girls that it was aimed at a realistic look at what they might be letting themselves in for – not all the children will be clever, not all the other teachers will be friendly, it will be stressful and tiring and you won’t be able to please everyone – in a way that you don’t get in boarding school books (which as regular readers will know Mabel Esther Allen also wrote along with my beloved Drina books).

I don’t think I knowingly read a career book as a child – unless Shirley Flight, Air Hostess counts – as the only ones I ever remember seeing were about nursing and that only interested me (as a weekend job, while being a teacher during the week) for a few days when I was about 6, so I’m not sure how representative this is of the genre, but Judith Teaches gave me several interested hours of reading – and a few wry smiles.  It also made me realise how far the world has come for women in 50 years.  After all, no one’s going to expect me to give up my job if I get married and I don’t think anyone would think I’m over the hill yet.  There’s still a long way to go – but I like to hope that my sort-of-nieces who are at primary school today won’t need a book to tell them that they could be a doctor if they wanted to.

Anyway, Judith Teaches has just been republished by Girls Gone By if you’re geeky like me and want to have a peruse for yourself.

Happy reading!