Tuesday, 31 May 2016

'We Are All Made of Molecules' review

'We Are All Made of Molecules' by Susan Nielsen
Review by Christopher Moore


Meet Stewart. He's geeky, gifted and sees things a bit differently to most people. His mum has died and he misses her all the more now he and Dad have moved in with Ashley and her mum. Meet Ashley. She's popular, cool and sees things very differently to her new family. Her dad has come out and moved out - but not far enough. And now she has to live with a freakazoid step-brother. Stewart can't quite fit in at his new school, and Ashley can't quite get used to her totally awkward home, which is now filled with some rather questionable decor. And things are about to get a whole lot more mixed up when these two very different people attract the attention of school hunk Jared...

Stewart, as the geeky step-brother, is weird but refreshing. His theory on molecules, his cat, Schrodinger, and his inability to socialise mark him out as easy to sympathise with. In contrast, Ashley comes across as an absolute brat. Although there is more to her than meets the eye, it's very hard for the reader to disregard her self-centred, often cruel behaviour throughout the novel. Both characters are presented to the reader in a way that has potential to go down the road of becoming caricatures but Nielsen masters character and delivers two protagonists that shatter expectations and reveal multi-faceted people. On a side note, I love that the story is set in Vancouver (such a beautiful city!).

The only downside was Stewart's (13) and Ashley's (14) ages. I mean, yes, it was a great read but the narrative tones for both characters felt much younger than they actually are; Ashley referring to Stewart as "Spewart" and a "freakazoid" (and Jared as a "hunk" too) and the way Stewart goes on in general. If I read the story blind, aside from his abnormal intelligence, I'd place Stewart at about nine-years-old. For me, Ashley never really redeemed herself and the fact that she hung out with someone that repeatedly degraded and disrespected her (Jared) really didn't help this. We Are All Made of Molecules had the potential to be a much grittier, 5* read but it fell short on characterisation. If you're looking for something to read by the pool or the beach, it's a funny, contemporary, summer read.

Rating: 4/5 Stars ★ ★ ★

Christopher Moore:

Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

#WhatIsNormal: 'The Art of Being Normal' review

'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
Review by Christopher Moore

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth - David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal - to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long ...

The Art of Being Normal is an incredibly thought-provoking book that looks at bullying, abuse and family but in particular, transgender life  territory that is seldom touched on in YA lit. Winner of the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016 (for Best Older Fiction Category), it doesn't take a rocket science to understand why. The book tells the story of two boys  Leo, who wants to be invisible, and David, who's hiding a secret. David is transgender and for as long as he can remember, he has wanted to be a girl. He struggles to tell his family, fearing their reactions. Bullied at school, through David's narrative, we learn to empathise and understand more about what it means to be transgender (for example, I never knew about the concept "to go stealth" or why it mattered but Williamson slips it in seamlessly to the story, entertaining, enlightening and educating the reader).

David and Leo are complete opposites and in other ways, they are so alike. Their narrative voices are completely different and a great contrast in the way the story is told. I love how David scopes out society in different ways; when he sees twins in a buggy, one wearing blue and the other pink, and remarking on the way society wants to fit you into a mould that you don't necessarily fit. Leo's thoughts are more inward, centred around his past, his family and the father he never knew. Essie and Felix are incredible characters too. They offeran interesting dynamic, infinite dollops of humour and as the self-labelled Non-Conformists, they are who they are unapologetically so.

I'm incredibly happy that The Art of Being Normal has done so well. It feels like the "what will the parents think?" concerns have gone out the window or, at the very least, are a less important factor in determining prize winners. It proves that you don't have to be transgender to read it and more so, it's a huge contribution to the LGBT canon. All that is required is an open mind. The novel raises the question of what it is to be normal and maybe there's no such thing as normal and if there is, it's fitting in line with a preconceived set of notions that we've passed down for decades, even centuries, and if that's the case, ignore them. Empower yourself and be who you want to be because normal is overrated. As a friend of mine once said: "do you, boo. Do you."

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★
Christopher Moore:
Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

This book will break you: 'Beautiful Broken Things' review

'Beautiful Broken Things' by Sara Barnard
Review by Christopher Moore

I was brave.
She was reckless
We were trouble.

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie - confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne's past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.


Beautiful Broken Things is one of those books that comes around once or twice a year and doesn't just tell an addictive story but rather, it makes you feel every ounce of pain, laughter, sadness and fear. Suzanne is a wild card, who I adore her, and changes everything. What's great about Suzanne is not so much what happened to her, it's the way it's portrayed in every moment. Abuse affects mental health and the consequences of that abuse are clear in her character. So many authors explore these issues but they disappear as quickly as they appear; suiting a need rather than spotlighting an important issue. Barnard gives a true representation of mental health, ensuring it encompasses the the sensitivity it demands.

It's a thought-provoking, lingering story of power and female friendship. The main characters are all girls. The males are background characters. They might be interesting in other circumstances but it's Caddy, Suzanne and Rosie that make the story. It's their story and in terms of friendship, it's one of the best stories I've read. It doesn't dwell on bitchy, gossip types. It doesn't centre around cosmetic surfaces. It doesn't trivialise friendship. It's a three-way friendship that is equal parts love and sisterhood; a see-sawing power dynamic between three striking characters. 

Reasons you should read Beautiful Broken Things:

  • A book title that excites you (and one that sums up the story beautifully);
  • A B-E-A-utiful cover - seriously though, tell me you don't want this bad boy (girl?) sitting on your shelf;
  • Characters that leap off the pages and into your hearts;
  • A story that will live in your head and your heart for years to come;
  • It covers some really important and sensitive issues but it doesn't detract from the Brighton setting, the memorable characters and the pulse-pounding story;
  • Did I mention it's se in Brighton? BRIGHTON;
  • It will break and destroy you;
  • It will make you laugh out loud and possibly cry;
  • It's my joint favourite 2016 read so far this year (along with Lisa Heathfield's Paper Butterflies).

I can already see this on the Carnegie and Waterstones Children's Book Prize shortlists for 2017. Do you really need anymore convincing? Get a copy, devour it and tweet me and Sara your thoughts.

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★

Christopher Moore:

Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

Friday, 20 May 2016

'Caramel Heart' blog tour: E. R. Murray interview

About Elizabeth:

E. R. (Elizabeth Rose) Murray lives in West Cork where she writes, fishes and grows her own vegetables. Caramel Hearts is her first book for young adults. Her debut novel for children aged 10–12, The Book of Learning – Nine Lives (Mercier Press) was chosen as the 2016 Dublin UNESCO City of Literature Citywide Read for Children. Elizabeth has poetry and short fiction published in journals across the UK and Ireland. Caramel Hearts is Elizabeth's sophomore novel - available from all good bookstores now.

1. Can you sum up Caramel Hearts in a tweet?

#CaramelHearts – a coming of age tale about family, friendship, betrayal, addiction, & hope, with real cake recipes!

2. What was the writing process like for you?

I wrote Caramel Hearts at a difficult time – my first book had received plenty of interest, but no book deal, so I made the decision to shelve it and write something else, something completely different. This was Caramel Hearts. Liv Bloom had been talking to me for a while, and I was compelled to write her story. I could feel her spiralling and I needed to give her a voice – but I was pretty frustrated at the time and disappointed that I hadn’t managed to secure a deal. 

I knew the book was going to look at the effects of addiction and would contain a handwritten cookbook, but other than that, I wrote the first draft blind. I always write my first drafts organically, without any plotting or planning or editing, otherwise it kills the story for me and I lose interest. I also always write my first drafts in a month. Usually 65K words; I like losing myself in the intensity, then coming back to shape and sluice it later. 

During the first draft stage, all felt great, but when I got to the editing stage, I suddenly found that I was completely torn up with worry over whether I’d be able to get it published. I’ve always been driven, so I still worked away at the manuscript, but these were pretty toxic conditions to be writing under. I realised that I had to let go; I had to stop focusing on the end result and enjoy the actual process. As soon as I managed this, I fell in love with writing all over again and the story flowed. 

3. Who is your favourite character?

 I actually really like Sarah. She’s quiet and unassuming, but she’s Liv’s rock. Sometimes, the strength of the quieter people around us gets overlooked, but I think Sarah shines through in this story. 

4. Why did you choose to write from Liv’s point of view?

This was always Liv’s story, but I’m so glad you asked this because originally, I wrote Caramel Hearts in third person and I got it so, so wrong. I was about six drafts in when I realised; the plot worked and the characters were well developed, but there was something about the voice that wasn’t quite right. I decided to experiment and rewrite the first couple of chapters in first person. This doesn’t come naturally to me – I prefer to write in third or second person - but it was the right thing to do. My agent agreed, and so I rewrote the whole book in first person. It was a real challenge but it was also magic! Liv’s voice was much stronger and everything came together the way that I had hoped. 

5. When you think of Liv, what words do you associate with her?

Great question! Creative, lost, loyal, willing, means well, sensitive and trying (in all senses of the word).

6. How do you think your perception of Liv will differ from your readers?

We all assess and make judgements about people all of the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not, and our reactions are so personal, determined by our own experiences, that I expect all kinds of reactions to Liv - and the other characters also. I expect that from all my books. Every time a person reads a book, it’s a completely unique experience that will never be replicated – that’s what I love so much about reading. 

7. It’s no secret that Liv’s mum is an alcoholic. Was it a concern featuring this in Caramel Hearts?

Addiction was always central to the story. I wanted to explore the impact of addiction on a family unit as it’s much more common than people may assume and affects so many lives on a day to day basis. In Caramel Hearts, we’re talking about an alcohol addiction, but there are so many types of addiction and on so many levels; the common denominator, however, is the damaging fissures that it causes among family and friends. I wanted to create a story that resonated with anyone who has been affected by addiction – I wanted it to be realistic but to also have hope. 

8. Were you worried that readers would write her off as an alcoholic instead of taking each page as it comes?

People often do judge addicts by their addiction so this may well happen. However, I’m hoping that readers will be able to see the different elements of her character, understand where the cracks surfaced and see how a person might descend into addiction. Maybe they’ll even look at a person with addiction in a different light afterwards? Good people can make bad choices and as a result, cause harm to those around them. Sometimes they get stuck. Some will break free, while others will never manage it. I’ve seen both many times in my own life. However, I’m a strong believer that we’re all responsible for our own actions and our choices; that even if we get lost, we can find our way if we choose. That’s what all the characters in this book have to learn in one way or another. 

9. Sarah is meek and shy, but she has a fire in her. Do you feel she’s the moral compass of the story, in a way? 

Sarah is certainly Liv’s rock. She’s the grounding force. She has a completely different background – though not without its own challenges – but she deals with it better because she has a much clearer sense of who she is and what she believes in. 

10. How do you see Hatty and with the absence of their mum, how does this shape their relationship?

Hatty is at an important stage in her life – a life she has worked hard for and earned – but her freedom and choices have been taken away. She should be concentrating on finishing her education, but she has a strong sense of duty towards her younger sister and, because of her mum’s addiction, has been forced to step into mum’s shoes. Hatty is the one that keeps things balanced within the family, that smoothes things over – but by the time we meet her in the book, she’s exhausted and struggling with the responsibilities she’s been burdened with. Hatty has reached that point where she’s trying her best to cope, but with everything spiralling out of control, she also knows she’s out of her depth and there’s no-one she can really turn to. 


11. Why include the recipes? What do they contribute to the identity of Liv and her mum? 

As I delved into the character of Liv and got to understand her a bit better, I knew she really needed something that gave her a chance to shine. The handwritten cookbook was originally in the story to a much lesser extent, but they soon took on a more central role, almost characters in their own right. The recipes work on a few different levels. They are weaved into the story, reflecting Liv’s emotional state and circumstances, but they also give an insight into the mum that we don’t see; the mum that Harriet is still trying to believe in and that Liv barely remembers but longs for. 

12. How would you sum up Madeline aka Mad Dog?

Oh, this one is a tricky character. She’s completely unpleasant but really, she is lonely and angry and this translates into being a rough, mean bully. There’s a real edge to her; the kind of person that you would always be nervous around, and that knows this so uses it to her advantage. 

13. Was it important to show layers to her character?

People have so many layers and I think that sometimes we forget this; we expect everyone else to accept our own quirks and nuances, while being overly sensitive to those of others. So I think it’s always important to show the different layers of a character, otherwise they become flat or turn into a caricature. Mad Dog is not a nice character, but people’s circumstances and experiences do affect their behaviour, so I wanted to explore this. Again, it’s all about taking responsibility for our own actions and reactions; about having the strength to overcome challenges, however huge, or repeat the pattern. I don’t expect people to like Mad Dog but I do think they’ll understand why she behaves the way she does, even if they don’t agree with it.

14. Tell us about Jack. How do you see him in this story?

Jack? Oh, he’s a bad kisser – but we’ll try not to hold that against him! Actually, Jack has been through tough times but he’s come out on the other side. He began to make bad choices, but pulled himself around and as a result, he’s much more grounded and confident than his peers. 

15. And lastly, what came first: the story or the characters? And how did it evolve from there? 

The character Liv Bloom was talking to me for a while before I ever started writing this book, but I also knew that her story was around addiction. At first, I thought she might be the one with the addiction, but as I delved deeper I realised it was someone close to her – her mum. The story evolved through Liv; she had a really strong voice and even though it didn’t come through properly until I switched to first person narrative, she always propelled the story forward. I didn’t expect the food to feature so strongly, but this was a natural progression and the recipes became integral to the story, because they were so important to Liv – and you always have to make decisions that are right for the story.

Caramel Hearts is available now from all good bookstores.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

'The Bombs That Brought Us Together' Review

'The Bombs That Brought us Together' by Brian Conaghan
Review by Christopher Moore


Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don't want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town's rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There's a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy. Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will ...
Perfect for readers of Patrick Ness, John Boyne and Malorie Blackman.

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is an incredible story that chronicles the tensions between Old Country and Little Town but more closely, the relationship between Charlie and Pav. At its core, it's a story of friendship but it explores politics, prejudice, oppression, survival and war from a child's perspective. Conaghan's sophomore novel is a powerful story and one of my favourite books of 2016.

The story starts out with Charlie wanting to teach Pav to speak in Little Town lingo as his accent marks him out as different; as a deserter. He and his family move onto Charlie's street. Charlie wants to get some chairs and a table, leading him to the Big Man, a man who pulls a lot of the strings in Little Town and despises Old Country. He helps Charlie but at a price and it's this that really gets the story rolling and pin-balls it to a nail-biting conclusion.

Charlie and Pav's friendship is beautiful and we get flashes of humour mixed in with the bleak circumstances that the citizens of Little Town find themselves in. There's a few twists thrown in to heighten the suspense and really pull you into Little Town. I think it will be a story that will divide readers; those that like it will absolutely LOVE it. Whether it's for you or not, everyone must surely agree that this a story that's beautifully told with characters that feel real and a fictional world, created with such fine details, and echoes ours closely. It's a story that will make you laugh, smile, bite your nails to stubs and maybe even make you cry (and that cover!). This book will make you feel. Prepare yourself.

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is a powerful read that hits quite close to home with current issues and makes themes like survival, politics and war accessible to a younger audience. Undoubtedly, it's a novel that's destined for the Carnegie Medal shortlist 2017.

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★
Christopher Moore:
Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

I'm So Starstruck: 'Star Struck' Review

'Star Struck' by Jenny MacLachlan
Review by Christopher Moore


Following on from Flirty Dancing, Love Bomb and Sunkissed, Jenny McLachlan's next book is perfect for fans of Geek Girl and Louise Rennison.

A spotlight shines down on the two of us and everyone drifts into the shadows...Pearl is destined to be the star of this year's school musical. Being the lead is all she wants - especially as it means kissing super-hot Jake Flower.

Then a new girl walks into the audition...Hoshi can sing, she's an amazing dancer and she's seriously cute. Before Pearl knows it, she's stolen her part, her friends and Jake's attention! But this girl doesn't know who she's messing with. Pearl's used to battling every day and she's not going down without a fight. Sparks are going to fly!


Star Struck is the last in the Ladybirds series. I should probably point out now that I haven’t read the others but that didn’t take away from my reading enjoyment.

If I’m being honest, I thought that Pearl was an absolute cow. She came across as a complete rhymes-with-witch but I get it. MacLachan crafts her characters on two levels; their characteristics and outer appearance and their internalised problems like Pearl's home life where we get to see her softer, more vulnerable side. So yes, on the outside, Pearl isn’t a very nice person but when we get a 360 view of her life, we begin to understand the complexities that drive her and make her act the way she does.

Domestic abuse haunts her home life. Pearl has to lock her bedroom door to prevent her brother from invading her personal space and finding new ways to torture her. There were parts where I was actually scared for Pearl; where I experienced her panic and fear as if there were some sort of fictional-real-world, psychic link tethering us together.

I don’t think the book covers do justice to the stories. When I picked it up, I wanted to put it down again because the cover gave the impression that this was going to be a girly, all-frills kind of book when it’s more than that. It’s a book that touches on some really strong issues like abuse and there's a nice surprise towards the end. Pearl, as the narrator, is funny and cruel but she demands your attention and makes you want to read her story.

Is this the best book I’ve ever read? No. Is this a book I’d recommend? Certainly. It’s an ideal beach read. The only drawback for me was the way the abuse was handled; I don’t feel like there was any sense of resolution and for younger readers, that’s a bit dangerous, hence why I knocked off a star.

Rating: 4/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★
Christopher Moore:
Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-five year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.