First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, for accepting my request to read and review The Prison Healer via NetGalley. The Prison Healer is a predictable yet gripping YA fantasy novel. This book follows Kiva, the titular …
It’s been a few weeks since we uploaded our YA Book Prize 2021 shortlist reading vlog and discussion videos, so it’s about time I actually reviewed each of the ten shortlisted titles. I’m going to do these alphabetically, so feel free to scroll down if there’s a specific review you’re looking for! I have reviewed a couple of these titles previously: I will share my reread thoughts with you, but I will also put a link to my original review if you’d like to check that out as well.
Without further ado, let’s talk about this year’s #YA10.
And the Stars Were Burning Brightly by Danielle Jawando – 4.5 stars
I first discussed And the Stars Were Burning Brightly in a #10in20 review post during Blogtober. My thoughts on And the Stars Were Burning Brightly didn’t change much upon rereading it, so I won’t spend too long talking about it with you today.
This is an impactful debut novel which tackles the subject of cyberbullying. I think it’s a brave subject for a debut novel, and is one which Jawando is highly passionate about. She shares in an author’s note at the end of the story that Al’s tale is loosely based on the bullying which she experienced earlier in her life. I think it’s very inspiring that she’s taking such a horrific experience and trying to do good with it.
That being said, something about the eventual reveal doesn’t ring true with me. I can’t go into details without ruining the plot of the story, but it’s something which I had a problem with the first time I read the story, and still didn’t like the second time around (even if I could understand the inclusion a bit more). That’s the only thing stopping me from giving this story 5 stars, but I’ll definitely be carrying on with the second book in the series when it’s finally announced.
A Snowfall of Silver by Laura Wood – 5 stars
Why did no one tell me that A Snowfall of Silver was the companion novel to Laura Wood’s A Sky Painted Gold? I loved that book when I read it as part of the YA Book Prize shortlist back in 2019, and if I’d known A Snowfall of Silver was a companion novel I would have picked it up as soon as it was released.
A Snowfall of Silver stands out from the rest of the books on the shortlist because it’s very cosy. The story follows a girl called Freya as she runs away from her home in Cornwall, heading to London to become a star. Freya gets an in with a theatre troupe quite easily, and soon finds herself travelling around the country as part of the wardrobe department.
This was one of my favourite books on the shortlist, because it was a refreshing palate cleanser after some of the heavier issue-based novels. That being said, it still had a great moral about following your dreams and not being afraid to change the direction you’re aiming in if something better suited to you comes along.
Reading it on one of the hottest days of spring was an interesting choice, as it features a heck of a lot of snow (and an overnight stay in one of the theatres when the troupe gets snowed in!), but even though it wasn’t a seasonal read I still loved it. I’m probably going to end up rereading it towards Christmas, because I read it quite quickly and I would like to be able to savour Freya’s story.
A Snowfall of Silver wasn’t my winner, but it has made me extremely excited to read Laura Wood’s Under a Dancing Star.
Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle – 3 stars
As someone who doesn’t read a lot of historical fiction, I knew I was going to struggle with Alex Wheatle’s Cane Warriors. Set in 1760, this novel fictionalises the events of Tacky’s War (also known as Tacky’s Rebellion): a slave uprising in Jamaica which lasted for three months.
However, I struggled with this one for unexpected reasons. My main issue with Cane Warriors is that it feels incomplete. The novel follows a boy called Moa, who is the youngest member of the slaves involved in Tacky’s rebellion. The story starts the night before the uprising begins, and ends when the rebellion ends, intensely focusing on the events which occurred in those three months. This means that the reader only meets Tacky after the rebellion has started, making it hard to understand how he has persuaded his companions to follow him, or to see what an inspirational leader he is.
Meanwhile, the ending feels unfinished. Although the rebellion is over, it feels as though Moa’s story is only just starting. I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if we had a bit more build up at the beginning, and followed Moa further.
That being said, the breakneck pacing did make it impossible to put this book down, and I did read it in a sitting. It’s under 200 pages, so if you’re looking for a historical YA novel which focuses on a lesser known event in history, this will be the perfect book for you.
Eight Pieces of Silva by Patrice Lawrence – 4 stars
Eight Pieces of Silva follows Becks, whose sister Silva goes missing after their parents fly off on their honeymoon. Becks is annoyed – Silva is supposed to be looking after her, not disappearing without a trace and refusing to pick up her phone. To get to the bottom of where her sister has gone, Becks is forced to venture into Silva’s room – strictly forbidden territory – where she finds a mishmash of clues which help her unravel the mystery behind Silva’s odd behaviour throughout the past few months.
I’ve read all of Patrice Lawrence’s novels so far, but something always stops me from absolutely loving them. In the case of Eight Pieces of Silva, it’s an unsatisfactory ending which could have had a much bigger impact. I loved the first half of this novel and was unable to put it down, because it reads like a murder mystery (without a dead body). If you’re a fan of Truly, Devious or A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, this is definitely one you should pick up. However, the ending just fell flat and was more a fade to black than an explosive resolution.
That being said, I do love the fact that Patrice Lawrence always gives her characters such vibrant and memorable personalities. Becks is a lesbian and she’s obsessed with Black Panther and K-Pop: the passion she feels for her fandoms is so easy to relate to, and I was thrown back to my own teenage days filled with posters covering my walls.
Good Girl, Bad Blood by Holly Jackson – 4.5 stars
This was my second time reading Good Girl, Bad Blood, and I enjoyed it even more second time around. I wasn’t sure if that would be the case, because this is a mystery novel and I could remember quite a lot about the way the story played out, but it was fun to spot the subtle breadcrumbs being dropped very early in the book.
If A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder wasn’t so brilliant, Good Girl, Bad Blood would have probably been a 5 star read. As it was, I decided to settle for 4.5 stars because it’s just not quite as powerful as the first novel in the series. That being said, I loved the way that Holly Jackson foreshadowed the plot for book two during the first installment in the series. It makes me excited to see how things will play out in the final book in the trilogy, As Good As Dead, when it’s published in August.
It’s not possible to say much about this one without ruining the events of book one, but I will say that if you’ve read the first book and you’re currently sleeping on the sequel, hurry up and grab a copy!
The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff – 2 stars
The Great Godden was the book on the shortlist which I felt most apprehensive about reading. Unfortunately, my misgivings proved correct, as this was my least favourite book on the entire YA Book Prize shortlist. In fact, I’m wondering whether 2 stars might have been too generous of a rating for this novel.
The concept of The Great Godden is a clever one. The book is narrated by an unnamed, genderless character, who shares the story of their summer holiday being rudely crashed by the Godden brothers – grandsons of Hollywood royalty – and the upheaval that occurs.
However, I just didn’t buy the fact that the main character’s gender was supposed to be open to interpretation. Some of the ways that they speak – particularly the fat-shaming, derogatory comments directed towards their sister – feel like ones which would only come from a female viewpoint. Meanwhile, the protagonist’s parents call them “Darling” at multiple points and this also doesn’t feel masculine in the slightest. I might be wrong, as it is all open to interpretation. However, having read this with my partner, he said that he didn’t believe that the portrayal was remotely masculine either, which detracted from the androgynous, gender non-specific narrative.
As I mentioned, there is also a lot of casual fat-shaming in this novel, which was highly unnecessary. There’s also the use of a biphobic trope – one of my least favourite tropes of all time – and that was the final nail in the coffin for my enjoyment of this novel.
Even though I didn’t enjoy The Great Godden, I still think it might end up becoming a modern classic. The way that is it written feels as though it’s crossing the bridge between YA and literary fiction, and I can imagine this one appealing to both teen and adult readers alike. This is the end of the road for my relationship with Meg Rosoff: this is the third of her books that I’ve read and I haven’t enjoyed any of them, so I won’t be picking up any more in the future.
Hold Back the Tide by Melinda Salisbury – 5 stars
Hold Back the Tide was the winner of our personal YA Book Prize award, because both Sean and I absolutely loved it.
Melinda Salisbury’s first standalone YA novel is set in the Scottish highlands during an unspecified time in history, and it’s captivating. When the story begins we meet Alva, who shares her rules for living with a murderer: certainly one way to kick off your book with a bang!
However, all is not as it seems. Hold Back the Tide quickly develops into a supernatural mystery with a unique creature the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
The first 100-150 pages are unputdownable, so make sure not to start this book before bedtime or you’ll be in for a very late night. In fact, try and put aside a decent chunk of time to get through this one, because Alva’s haunting story will hook its claws into your heart and you won’t be able to concentrate on anything else before you know how the story finishes. It takes a lot for a book to make me cry, but I was blubbing at the end of this one.
If you’re a fan of atmospheric YA mysteries such as those by Shea Ernshaw, Melinda Salisbury will quickly become your new favourite author.
Loveless by Alice Oseman – 4 stars
This was my second time reading Loveless by Alice Oseman, and I enjoyed it more second time around. Although it wasn’t my personal YA Book Prize winner – you’ll hear about that book in just a second – I was convinced that Loveless was going to win, and it deserved the prize more than any of the other books on this shortlist.
Alice Oseman’s fourth full-length novel tells the story of Georgia, who is getting ready to go to university. Georgia has never been in a relationship, and she starts to fixate on this after being mocked at a party for having never been kissed. Georgia’s convinced that she’s going to find true love when she goes to university, but it doesn’t take long for her to realise that that might not be her dream after all.
Loveless is the first YA novel I’ve read which openly discusses terms like asexual and aromantic on the page. Georgia’s investigation into her sexuality is bound to help a lot of teenage readers, whether those who are asexual or aromantic or those who have friends who identify with either of those sexualities. Oseman’s novel does a great job of normalising a sexuality which is still misunderstood. In fact, the first International Asexuality Day was celebrated on April 6th THIS YEAR! That, more than anything, shows how essential Loveless is.
I did have some issues with Loveless (primarily that the university setting doesn’t feel authentic, and I wanted that aspect of Georgia’s life to be fleshed out a little bit more), but I appreciate this book and will be recommending it to everyone for a long time. I’m just hoping that this signals a change in mindset and that more asexual characters will be seen on the page soon.
Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter – 5 stars
Melt My Heart by Bethany Rutter was my personal YA Book Prize winner. This book tells the story of Lily Rose, a girl who isn’t ashamed of the fact that she’s fat and wishes society would stop judging her for her size when she’s happy as she is. This isn’t helped by the fact that her skinny identical twin Daisy is constantly commenting on her own weight. How is Lily meant to ignore Daisy’s comments when they’re identical in everything but size?
Lily accidentally gets into a relationship with the boy Daisy’s been crushing on all summer. However, her relationship with Cal doesn’t give her the intense butterflies and swooning feelings she’d been expecting. Is that just because she’s hyped up the idea of a relationship in her mind, or because Cal might not be the one for her after all?
The bisexual representation in Melt My Heart is stunning. I also loved the discussions surrounding higher education: whether you should go to university just because it’s what everyone else is doing, or whether you should take a risk and forge a path which will suit you better. It’s so nice to have a character turn around and say, “Hey, actually, university might not be right for me!”, especially after reading Loveless (which is set at a university) and Good Girl, Bad Blood (as Pip discusses heading off to university in September). Not going to university is a legitimate choice, and it’s the choice which I made. If I’d read this book when I was younger, I would have felt a lot more confident about my decision!
Melt My Heart is a new favourite of mine, and I’m looking forward to reading Bethany Rutter’s No Big Deal soon.
Wranglestone by Darren Charlton – 3 stars
Last, but certainly not least, we have Darren Charlton’s debut novel, Wranglestone.
Wranglestone is a post-apocalyptic novel centred around a group of survivors who live out on islands in the middle of a lake. The lake offers a great natural defence during the summer months, but when the lake starts to freeze the Dead are able to walk across it, and safety becomes a distant memory…
Unfortunately, protagonist Peter is extremely naive, and he accidentally endangers the lives of his fellow Lake-Landers when he puts his trust in a stranger. The leaders come down hard on Peter, deciding that he needs to grow up and start contributing more to their community fast. Thankfully ranger Cooper is on hand to help, and it doesn’t take long for their friendship to develop into a romantic relationship.
I definitely seem to be in the minority by not absolutely loving Wranglestone. I found the setting atmospheric, and loved the idea of these islands which are a haven of safety in the warmer months but are completely different during the winter. I also really cared about the characters of both Peter and Cooper, and found the development of their relationship to be very authentic.
Sadly, something about the writing style just didn’t work for me. At times Wranglestone reads as more of a teen book because of Peter’s naivety. However, there are also overly long sentences and convoluted descriptions which feel as though they’re edging into the literary fiction genre. It is a strange contrast, and it consistently threw me out of the story, causing me to reread sections over and over again to fully understand what was going on.
Even though I had problems with certain aspects of Charlton’s writing style, I’m still looking forward to reading the sequel, Timberdark, when it publishes next year.
And that’s it for this year’s #YA10. This was a very strong shortlist, and possibly my favourite overall. I’m already looking forward to making my 2022 predictions: with so many 2020 releases pushed back which are finally being released this summer, there are a some stellar UKYA releases arriving within the next few months.
If you’ve read the YA Book Prize 2021 shortlist, let me know your personal winner down in the comments.
Thank you for checking out these reviews, and I’ll see tomorrow for another Top Ten Tuesday!
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, for accepting my request to read and review this title via NetGalley. In the Ravenous Dark is an ambitious standalone fantasy novel focused on life, death and love. Rovan has …
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Wildfire for accepting my request to read and review this book via NetGalley.
The best way to describe The Perfect Girlfriend is ‘a wild ride’. This adult thriller novel follows a woman called Juliette, who decides to become an air hostess. One simple thing has inspired her to begin a new career: her ex-boyfriend, Nate, is one of the pilots she’ll be working with.
Juliette knows she’s the perfect girlfriend, she just needs to remind Nate of how magical their relationship was. He accused her of being too intense, so she plays it cool and doesn’t let him know that she’s working for the airline until she’s already been employed for a few months. Surely he’ll see how easy and breezy she is if she’s been working at his airline for that long without approaching him? Nate asked for space, and Juliette is giving him that.
However, Juliette has many more tricks up her sleeve to ensure that her and Nate are together forever. Becoming an air hostess is simply step one in a much bigger plan…
The first half of The Perfect Girlfriend is slow. Because Juliette is watching Nate from a distance for so long the story meanders into ruminations on their relationship, making the pace slow and giving the plot no propulsion. It’s interesting reading more about the life of an air hostess – particularly because I’ve read a review on Goodreads from someone with knowledge of the vocation who says that it’s well-researched and highly accurate – but once you’ve read about one international flight, it gets a bit repetitive.
Things take a huge turn around the 50% mark, and the second half of the novel is impossible to put down. I went from struggling to read a chapter a day to finishing the entire book in a night, despite the fact that it meant I was up until the early hours of the morning. I just couldn’t resist finding out what happened next.
Sadly, the events that occur are a bit disappointing. There’s ‘wild’, and then there’s a thriller like this one, which is so extreme it just becomes silly. It reminded me of the Sweetpea series by C.J. Skuse, so if you loved Rhiannon’s story you’ll become obsessed with Juliette, but I found those novels a bit too bizarre at times.
I won’t go into details because I don’t want to ruin this story, but I can tell you that I didn’t guess anything that happened. Normally I struggle with thrillers because I find them too predictable, but this one was completely out of left field. If the pacing had been consistent I would have rated it a bit higher, but as it is this is a solid three stars.
I hope you enjoyed this review of The Perfect Girlfriend. Thank you so much for visiting The Bumbling Blogger!
See you soon,
I’ve finally finished Sword in the Stars, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the two books in the Once & Future duology. I’ve already discussed Once & Future over on my Booktube channel, so make sure to check that out as well if you haven’t already!
Before we start, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Rock the Boat, for accepting my request to read and review both books in the Once & Future duology via NetGalley.
The Once & Future duology follows a girl called Ari, who discovers she’s the 42nd reincarnation of King Arthur. Arthur has been caught in a seemingly endless cycle. His soul gets reborn, he discovers Excalibur and frees the sword from the stone, and then he gets tracked down by a Merlin who is growing rapidly and inexplicably younger. When Merlin tracks down Ari he thinks the universe is playing a joke on him. How can his Arthur have been reincarnated as a woman? But Merlin learns not to underestimate Ari when she becomes determined to break the cycle, saving her people from an evil corporation called Mercer and freeing Merlin from his impending childhood.
Along the way, Merlin and Ari find themselves gathering friends who correspond with other key players in the Arthurian legend. Ari’s friend Lam is easily identifiable as Lamarack, while their brother Val is Percival. Merlin’s relief at Ari avoiding Arthur’s legendary heartbreak is short-lived when she reconnects with old flame Gwen, but it comes as no surprise when their love story doesn’t progress smoothly.
Once & Future pleasantly surprised me. My relationship with Arthurian retellings is a fraught one; I’ve despised some of the Arthurian retellings I’ve read, while Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn became a new favourite earlier in the year. Blending medieval elements with a sci-fi setting could have been a disaster, but I enjoyed the first novel in this series a lot. The cast of characters had a lot to do with my enjoyment of the novel. It’s a diverse cast, featuring asexual, pansexual, gay, genderfluid and trans rep, as well as a demiguy (and that’s just the rep I can remember off of the top of my head!). All of the characters were well-crafted, and even though it was a big cast of characters they all felt necessary.
I was disappointed by the bad guy, as the Mercer Administrator doesn’t get much time on the page. The idea of the faceless corporation was more intimidating, but giving the company a leader and making him bland lowered the stakes in this story dramatically.
I will admit that I found it difficult to get into the story at the start. During the first few chapters we follow Ari before she discovers Excalibur, which means there’s no Merlin and no dual perspective. These chapters are the slowest in the entire book, and it takes a while to get the plot moving. I was tempted to DNF the book during this section, but I’m glad that I pushed through it because it really paid off. If you’re looking to read a novel which is fast-paced straight out of the gate, don’t reach for this one just yet!
My favourite section of Once & Future occurs about halfway through the story, when Ari is separated from her friends and they believe that she’s dead. I loved the exploration of grief and the way that different people respond to loss in different ways, and I thought Capetta and McCarthy did a great job of delving into the subject (albeit briefly).
I also really appreciated the conversation between the gang and Merlin when he misgenders Lam. Lam identifies as fluid and uses they/them pronouns, but Merlin explains that he’s used to presuming people’s pronouns based off of the way that they look. The gang correct him, but they forgive him for his mistake and Merlin does his best to prioritise using correct pronouns throughout the rest of the series. It’s a simple conversation to be had, but when so many people still don’t understand terms like genderfluid or non-binary, a small conversation like this can go a long way towards fostering acceptance and understanding.
Having given Once & Future four stars, I was excited to continue the series and see how it all wrapped up in Sword in the Stars. There will be spoilers for events which occur towards the end of book one, so look away now if you haven’t finished the first installment yet!
At the end of Once & Future, Ari and the gang have to make the decision to travel through time to the first Arthurian cycle, back in the days of Camelot. Merlin is still growing rapidly younger, Gwen is pregnant, and Ari’s brother Kay is dead (along with the Mercer Administrator, who has already been replaced).
I was hoping that Sword in the Stars wouldn’t spend too long back in Camelot, but unfortunately they remain there for around half of the book. This slows the pacing down dramatically. It also rips away everything I loved about the first book, because instead of flying around space and exploring the universe – key elements in any sci-fi novel – the book turns into a traditional fantasy, with horseback riding, swordfights and knights galore. I wouldn’t have minded this if I’d been expecting it, but the reason I picked up Once & Future in the first place was because I wanted to read an unconventional Arthurian retelling. Instead, Sword in the Stars gives us a gender swapped Lancelot and a whole load of timeywimey nonsense.
This book thinks it’s smarter than it is. There are lots of concerns about the events of the past changing the events in the future, but even cautious Merlin throws out all of his worries and decides to buddy up with his Old Merlin self in the attempt to fix his backward aging. The justification for all of this is that the gang brought a book of MercersNotes (basically CliffsNotes) about the Arthurian legends back in time with them, so they know they’ve gone wrong if pages start disappearing from the book, giving them ample opportunity to quickly correct the course of the timeline. While I liked that idea, I’m not sure if it would be a foolproof way of ensuring nothing changed, and it hurts my head to think about the implications.
I had some wild and wacky theories about the direction that the second book could take, and basically all of them came true. However, a lot of them were so farfetched that they were barely foreshadowed in the first novel. Contrasting the mystery of the first book with the extremely heavy-handed foreshadowing at the beginning of this installment, a lot of the intrigue about what’s going to happen later in the story is taken away.
My main gripe with Sword in the Stars is that it feels preachy. While Once & Future was diverse and inclusive it didn’t make it too much of a focal point because humanity had progressed enough to be accepting of a variety of sexualities and gender identities, but the return to Camelot makes Capetta and McCarthy really hammer home how dramatically humanity has shifted towards an inclusive mindset. Lam makes the first GSA as evidence that there were queer folk back in medieval times but they weren’t able to be out. While I have no doubts that this was true, surely Lam creating that GSA would change the society into being more open and inclusive, changing history – and therefore the future – in a pretty dramatic way?
The problem is, the people who need to read these statements aren’t the people who will be reading the second novel in an extremely diverse series. If these conversations had been had in the first book – along with the discussion about Lam’s pronouns – they might have had a huge impact, but the people who would benefit from reading discussions like these aren’t likely to pick up the second book in the series if they already had issues with the diversity and representation in the first.
Along with this complaint, there are some smaller issues which also hampered my enjoyment of this story. Ari makes a huge deal about not presuming people’s pronouns, but she does the same thing to a character in Camelot when she sees that they aren’t wearing a dress. Yes, they end up confirming that they identify as trans, but using they/them pronouns until that conversation would have felt more natural to Ari’s character.
There’s also a conversation between Ari and Gwen which left a very bitter taste in my mouth, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it throughout the second half of the novel. Gwen keeps referring to her baby as a girl because she doesn’t want to be responsible for giving birth to the legendary Mordred, who famously kills his father, Arthur. When the baby is born with male genitalia, Gwen muses that the baby might still end up being trans or fluid. I have a huge problem with gender reveal parties because I think the obsession with a child’s gender becomes more important than the fact that they’re healthy.
I can understand the context behind the comment, because if the child does end up being Mordred Gwen becomes directly responsible for both Arthur’s downfall and the start of the cycle that they’ve all been dragged into. However, the fact that this discussion occurs when the baby is less than a couple of hours old – having just been born in a lake in medieval times with no kind of midwives or healthcare personnel around – you’d think Gwen would be more interested in the baby’s health and wellbeing, rather than the possibility of them changing their gender identity later in life. It’s only a small moment, but it really destroyed my enjoyment of the book, and I lost a lot of respect for Gwen’s character because of this comment. Up until that point, she had been my favourite!
In all honesty, I should have DNFed Sword in the Stars. Yes, I struggled to read the first half of Once & Future, but once I got into the flow of the story it was a joy to read and I found myself looking forward to picking it up and re-immersing myself in this world and these characters. However, Sword in the Stars was a chore from beginning to end. It might have been worth the struggle if I’d liked the way the story ended, but it all seemed too convenient.
I ended up giving Sword in the Stars two stars, because I loved this cast of characters and when they finally got back into their time the story did get marginally more satisfactory, but unfortunately this wasn’t the five star I’d been hoping for.
All in all, the Once & Future duology has a stunning first installment, but things fall apart in the second book. I wonder whether this would have been better if the two books had been combined to make one long story, as it might have forced Capetta and McCarthy to cut down some of the slower sections and maintain the quick pace which I enjoyed throughout the first book.
I’ve read one of Cory McCarthy’s novels before – You Were Here – and it was a five star read for me, so I will consider reading more of their work in the future, but I’m starting to think Arthurian retellings just aren’t for me.
Thank you for reading this review. If you’ve read the Once & Future duology and would like to share your thoughts on it, feel free to leave them down in the comments!
See you soon,
First things first, I’d like to say a huge thank you to Muswell Press for sending me an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and unbiased review. Louise Soraya Black’s second novel, The Water Garden, was not at all what I …