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Remember a time before Twilight? A time before vampires that sparkled?

Well, between 2001 and 2008, I worked as a full time bookseller specialising in a peculiar mixture of cookery, crime fiction and Children’s books. I loved the Young Adult section and loved getting lost in a world of romance, adventure and fantasy. I saw the Twilight phenomenon unfold in the U.K. and while I love vampire books I was somewhat offended when I saw this icon on livejournal ->

Yes, I know that there are a lot of vampire books being published right now, but we mustn’t forget the quality non-fang fiction that has come out of the Young Adult section over the years. So I thought I would share some of my favourites with you all.

STARGIRL – JERRY SPINELLI

She’s as magical as the desert sky, and as mysterious as her own name. Nobody knows who she is or where she’s from. But everyone loves her for being different. And, she captures Leo’s heart with just one smile. “Stargirl” is a classic of our time that celebrates being true to ourselves and the thrill of first love. It is a life-changing read that touches souls of all ages.

This book first came out in 2002, with a bright pink cover – great for girls, but considering that the book is actually written from a boy’s perspective I was glad to see that they introduced an alternative cover that wouldn’t scare teenage boys away. This is a sweet and beautiful story about acceptance. It’s subtle and has a naive simplicity to its tale that really captured my heart. I can not recommend this book enough.

WITCH CHILD – CELIA REES

When Mary sees her grandmother accused of witchcraft and hanged for the crime, she is silently hurried to safety by an unknown woman. The woman gives her tools to keep the record of her days – paper and ink. Mary is taken to a boat in Plymouth and from there sails to the New World where she hopes to make a new life among the pilgrims. But old superstitions die hard and soon Mary finds that she, like her grandmother, is the victim of ignorance and stupidity, and once more she faces important choices to ensure her survival. With a vividly evoked environment and characters skilfully and patiently drawn, this is a powerful literary achievement by Celia Rees that is utterly engrossing from start to finish.

Witch Child is page-turning Young Adult at its best. The diary construct used in this novel allows Celia Rees’ to get right to the heart of Mary. A great blend of history and fiction really brings the characters to life.

JUNK – MELVIN BURGESS

This is an uncompromising, compelling and true-to-life story of two teenagers drawn into the dangerous and destructive world of heroin addiction. This tour de force by an acclaimed and provocative writer should become a definitive teenage novel on this subject.

This book is still one of my favourite YA books that I’m too scared to read again! It’s not scary, but boy is it dark! The downward spiral that our two leads makes this book a tough and emotional read, but it’s totally worthy it! The voices of the main characters are perfect and the different POVs of the different chapters allow for a personal and intimate, yet well-round look at the whole story.

Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Connor’s parents want to be rid of him because he’s a troublemaker. Risa has no parents and is being unwound to cut orphanage costs. Lev’s unwinding has been planned since his birth as part of his family’s strict religion. Brought together by chance, and kept together through desperation, these three unlikely companions make a harrowing cross-country journey, knowing all the while that their lives are hanging in the balance. If they can survive until their eighteenth birthdays, they can’t be harmed. But when every piece of them, from their hands to their hearts, are wanted by a world gone mad, eighteen seems far, far away…Neal Shusterman challenges readers’ ideas about life – not just where it begins and where it ends, but what it truly means to be alive.

I read this a year and a bit ago and it’s by far my favourite of Neal Shusterman’s books. It’s a brilliant idea and the way that the alternate world is set up you could almost (almost!) see amputation and donors going to the next level… Twisted and dark, this book introduces some great characters alongside some really thought-provoking ethical themes.

to be continued…

And yes, I will be highlighting my favourite vampire books in the next few weeks as well!!

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The Truth about Melody Browne – Lisa Jewell

When she was nine years old, Melody Browne’s house burned down, taking every toy, every photograph, every item of clothing and old Christmas card with it. But not only did the fire destroy all her possessions, it took with it all her memories – Melody Browne can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. Now in her early thirties, Melody lives in a council flat in the middle of London with her seventeen-year-old son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody doesn’t mind, she’s better off on her own. She’s made a good life for herself and her son and she likes it that way. Until one night something extraordinary happens. Whilst attending a hypnotist show with her first date in years she faints – and when she comes round she starts to remember. At first her memories mean nothing to her but then slowly, day by day, she begins to piece together the real story of her childhood. Her journey takes her to the seaside town of Broadstairs, to oddly familiar houses in London backstreets and to meetings with strangers who love her like their own. But with every mystery she solves another one materialises, with every question she answers another appears. And Melody begins to wonder if she’ll ever know the truth about her past.

When I chose this book, I think I was expecting something else. My previous knowledge of Lisa Jewell was Ralph’s Party, a sweet romantic comedy about flatmates. Lisa Jewell has certainly grown up over the years and THE TRUTH ABOUT MELODY BROWNE proves it! This book is an emotional rollercoaster that really took me by surprise. The subject matter got extremely dark at times, and I am not afraid to say that I shed a tear or two more than once during this book, but overall I was left with what I think is an inspirational and overall uplifting tale about the family that you, and the life you live creates, as opposed to the one you were both into.

The format of the book and the way that the story unfolded was what I both loved and what I was confused by. Melody’s history is revealed to the reader via flashbacks told from Melody’s perspective as a child. This bought an endearing naivety to the description of some truly devastating events, however I was somewhat confused as to what Melody, as an adult was remembering for herself, and which flashbacks were for the reader alone. That being said, this didn’t distract me for too long as the story-telling and how the flashbacks were constructed kept me enthralled throughout.

The relationship between Melody and Ken was so beautiful. I loved that while others didn’t understand it, the two of them had this connection that was just so normal to the both of them. I also commend Lisa Jewell for retaining Melody’s innocence. This may seem strange if you haven’t yet read the book, but with everything that happened to her and her family, the story could have taken a more sinister path very easily and for me that would have felt a little predictable. Lisa took the story in a different direction and in doing so, she created a truly astonishing read that shocked me and uplifted me all in one.

I would most definitely recommend this book, in fact I already have 🙂

Great for fans of Ceceila Ahern.

What did you think of the book?

MY SINGLE FRIEND – Jane Costello

At 28, Lucy is doing well for herself. She’s got a great job in PR, her boss loves her, and her best girlfriends Dominique and Erin think she’s great. More important than anyone’s opinion is that of her flatmate, and oldest friend in the world, Henry. For twenty years they’ve been inseparable: beauty and the geek. Henry thinks the world of Lucy. So why does she feel the need to lie outrageously on dates? From rock-climbing to Chekov: when it comes to prospective boyfriends, Lucy is compelled to embellish her C.V. with unlikely porkies that always backfire – with hilarious results. Henry can’t understand it. Lucy is so loveable: why can’t she just be herself? But when Lucy turns the spotlight on Henry, he wishes he’d never brought it up. With a penchant for jumpers and NHS-style specs, Lucy decides that Henry is in need of a makeover – big time. Enlisting the help of Dom and Erin, it’s not long before the girls have Henry out of the flat, and into the Topman changing rooms. A new haircut, contact lenses, a flirting master-class from Dom …poor Henry doesn’t know what’s hit him. But nothing can prepare them for the surprise results! Before long, Lucy realises that their lives will never be the same again.

Now, I’ve read all of Jane’s books and I must say that her writing style and characterisation never falters. I was slightly worried when I read the premise of this book as I personally don’t believe that looks make the person, so the idea that Lucy sees Henry in a whole new light after he ruffles his hair and whips off his glasses didn’t sit well with me. However, Jane’s story telling skills proved me wrong. By going into the characters’ history and by writing the most wonderfully natural, casual and easy friendship between Lucy and Henry, Jane Costello took the characters away from the cliche and wrote a fantastic, and more importantly believable, read that I devoured!

You could say that the book has two main strands; you have Henry and his makeover, and you have Lucy and her work life. The PR office that Lucy worked in was full of the banter and politics that anyone who has worked in that environment can relate to and I liked how the two strands of the novel interwined (as work and play inevitably do), but there was also a smaller plot line that I particularly enjoyed and I want have liked to have seen more of and that was Lucy’s relationship with her family. The brother and sister dynamic was superbly written and the squabbling was hilarious! Lucy’s parents were different from many of the other ‘parents’ I’ve read in other books. Her mother’s dry, quick wit and sarcasm, made her somewhat unconventional, and in turn, made her one of my favourite characters in the book.

Jane Costello is known for her humour, and My Single Friend doesn’t disappoint. I love how she sets up these fantastically cringeworthy moments! I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but it’s a classic and you won’t know it’s happening until you’re screaming at the page in horror!

I think that with Jane’s third book, she’s really carving a niche for herself in romcom fiction. I loved reading My Single Friend and would definitely recommend it to fans of Sophie Kinsella and Wendy Holden.

What did you think of MY SINGLE FRIEND?

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My Single FriendBreaking DawnStill Thinking of YouBetrayedMarkedThe Truth About Melody Browne

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