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Profile for Mrs. B. S. Kemp > Reviews

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Reviews Written by
Mrs. B. S. Kemp "Beth Kemp" (Leicester, UK)

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Apple and Rain
Apple and Rain
by Sarah Crossan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing and emotional read, 22 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Apple and Rain (Paperback)
Every so often, one book will make you cross, make you cry and make you smile – and then you know it’s a winner. Apple and Rain is that book most recently for me. It’s an absorbing and emotional read which I simultaneously wanted to race through and linger over.

Here’s my initial speed-review on finishing:

Really loved this. There’s so much of value here. Firstly and most importantly: it’s a great story, well-told (without that, nothing else matters all that much…). Secondly, some interesting representational issues: non-typical families, working class/money issues. Thirdly, some great bookishness: an inspiring English teacher (gotta love that!), the power of poetry as a theme, libraries as a tool. What’s not to love?

I loved the quirky characters and had so much sympathy for (most of) them throughout the book. There were times I shed the odd tear, times I wanted to tell Apple she was making a mistake – and I always think that’s a positive sign of being really invested in a book.

Definitely recommended to fans of UKYA contemporaries: this is a great example.

Actually, on revisiting those initial comments, I don’t have much to add. You all know I hate spoilers, and almost everything I would want to go into detail about would be one. I will say that I suspect I read a different book as an adult to the one I might have found as a teenager (don’t you just love that about books?). I desperately wanted to hug Nana and slap Mum more than once (I’m pretty sure that’s no great spoiler) and I definitely loved the English teacher angle although I do feel that there isn’t time to be that kind of teacher now, so those kind of depictions are bitter-sweet for me… Anyway, this is all getting a bit personal.

This book is fabulous and I would absolutely recommend it. I think comfy-cosy-safe YA readers will enjoy it and warm to Apple, and YA readers with less-than-perfect lives will also appreciate another good contemporary story that doesn’t focus only on the shiny happy kids – something that I think UKYA does particularly well. Sarah Crossan is a great writer and this is a beautifully written book, which presents some challenging ideas wonderfully well. Read it – it’s out now from Bloomsbury (and was nominated for the Carnegie and the UKLA awards, so it’s not just me who thinks it’s good).

Read Me Like A Book
Read Me Like A Book
by Liz Kessler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fab LGBT coming out and coming of age story that any YA reader will enjoy, 4 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Read Me Like A Book (Hardcover)
I was really excited for this book and I am happy to say that not only was I not disappointed but blown away by its quiet brilliance.

As you probably already know (but just in case…), this is an LGBT+ coming of age story, focused on Ashleigh’s developing realisation that she has romantic feelings for her teacher, Miss Murray. It’s a story that Liz wrote years ago and recently dusted off and updated. A story whose time had come. It is an important story, adding to the representation of LGBT+ experience within YA, but above all else, it is a compelling story, well told – and for that reason, I would urge you to pick it up.

Here is my initial reaction:
Loved this fabulous coming-of-age tale. For anyone wondering: the beauty of the cover is absolutely matched by the beauty of the story inside. This is a sensitively told close-up view of a teenaged girl figuring out both herself and the world around her. Read Me Like a Book will (quite rightly) be on lots of LGBT recommended reading lists, but the central quandaries about identity, family and friends will be familiar to most if not all teens and former teens. Strongly recommended.

The plot revolves around Ashleigh’s life in her second year of sixth form and there are various complications with school, friends and family for her to negotiate, all while attempting to understand and deal with her own feelings. This is, in the end, a coming out story par excellance as this crucial part of Ashleigh’s growing up is explored thoroughly and set against a backdrop of other complications (just as it is in real life!). This means that there is plenty for any YA reader to relate to, regardless of specific orientation and experience.

Liz’s tight narration immerses us in Ashleigh’s experiences and thoughts, even while as outsiders we can often perceive things that she is not able to at that point. That’s always a sign of great writing, I think – when you’re willing the character to do the sensible thing or see the truth of something, even knowing full well that stories don’t work like that! I loved Ashleigh and found her easy to relate to and engage with, and I enjoyed the portrayals of her friends and family too. I also enjoyed (and found it unusual) that Ashleigh doesn’t actually realise herself that she is a lesbian initially, but just assumes she’s straight and has a relationship with a boy. I think this initial struggle with the very idea, and the uncertainty of your own sense of identity shifting are very well captured and add to the reader’s engagement with Ashleigh.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this beautiful book to readers of YA contemporaries, especially if you’re keen for a UK context.

Joe All Alone
Joe All Alone
by Joanna Nadin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Something for 11+ readers to get their teeth into, 16 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Joe All Alone (Paperback)
Joanna Nadin’s Joe All Alone focuses on 13 year old Joe, whose mother goes away on holiday for a week with her boyfriend (of whom Joe is not a fan), leaving him to look after himself. Relatively gritty from the start for the age group, this brilliantly executed story explores poverty, neglect and the complexities of family life.

I loved Joe and really got engaged in his adventures, willing him on and hoping for things to work out for him. The book introduces a range of vivid and interesting characters and something that I really admired about it was the way it successfully combines realism and hope. With a 13 year old protagonist, the book is clearly aimed at the MG set and I think it offers this age group the perfect blend of (at times) hard realism and hope in friendship and humanity generally. Painful at times but a rewarding and enjoyable read, I’m absolutely recommending this, particularly to those readers who often find themselves between the 9-12 and teen/YA shelves.

How to Fly with Broken Wings
How to Fly with Broken Wings
by Jane Elson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Bright, quirky and easy to engage with, 16 Jun. 2015
ane Elson’s How to Fly With Broken Wings is the story of 12 year old Willem, who has Asperger’s Syndrome (although I don’t think this is stated explicitly in the story). He is given a homework project to make two friends and this is the catalyst for the story, which becomes very big and quite complex, taking in bullying, gangs, teen relationships, a riot on the estate and a local hero who works to empower the estate kids and keep them out of trouble. With all that going on, the story is relatively far-fetched at times in that rosy, improbable, somewhat heavy on coincidence way that children’s lit can get away with, and that’s one of the reasons that this book feels younger to me than my other recommendation here.

Willem is an engaging character and swapping the narration between him and Sasha, a school mate who lives on his estate, is a great way of opening up the story and showing Willem from other perspectives. It’s easy to see from the outside how Willem’s views on everything don’t necessarily fit with everyone else’s and understanding his thought processes makes him even easier to root for. All in all, I’d recommend this for the average MG reader who’s looking for a bright contemporary story about friendship and identity.

Raising Steam: (Discworld novel 40) (Discworld series)
Raising Steam: (Discworld novel 40) (Discworld series)
Price: £3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Business as usual on the Disc, 26 April 2015
Raising Steam is the 40th Discworld novel and the 3rd to feature Moist Von Lipwig. If you haven’t read earlier novels, especially those featuring Moist or the Watch, you may find small spoilers in this review, for which I apologise, but when reviewing such a late-series title, it’s not really possible to avoid.

I found Raising Steam to be a brilliant example of many of the things I come to Discworld for. Unlike many fantasy series, the Discworld stories do not take place in a fixed, vaguely medieval setting; the Disc progresses, and Raising Steam is a perfect example of this. The core of the story is about the taming of steam and the introduction of locomotion – the brainchild of new character, Dick Simnel (although you may have noticed that his father, Ned Simnel, appears in Reaper Man – I didn’t at first, not having read that title for about 20 years). Naturally, the Patrician needs some element of control over such a technological advance, and so Moist becomes involved.

I loved Dick’s character and his relationship with his work – one that will be familiar to anyone who knows an engineer or spare-time tinkerer. The engine he creates and brings to Ankh Morpork to show what he can do is a superb example of Disc technology, with a kind of magic of its own.

As always, progress on the Disc is challenged – in this case by grags, traditionalist, fundamentalist dwarfs who oppose Ankh Morpork’s melting pot of races and are suspicious of technology. Adora Belle is featured both in her role as Moist’s wife, but also as manager of the Clacks, since the grags are committing terrorism by burning down Clacks towers.

One of my favourite things about the Discworld is its very clear messages about diversity (again, relatively unusual in the fantasy genre where women often function as eye candy and ‘exotic foreigners’ are the limit of racial diversity) and this is very firmly reasserted here with the increasing integration of goblins into Ankh Morpork’s modernist society. At the same time, the grags and the ideas of radicalisation and tradition are a means of raising disquieting questions about the demands of diversity and the extent to which identities are lost/replaced/evolving in mixed society.

Anyway, I could blather on all day about things I loved about this book (and I haven’t even mentioned the brilliant humour!). Suffice it to say that this is a very fine latest episode for the Moist and Guards strands of the series in particular. If you’re already a Discworld reader, definitely read it. If you’re new to the series, there’s a great guide to the various strands here (there’s a chart to follow if you scroll down). Personally, the Witches are my very favourite, but I’ve enjoyed each and every one of the Discworld novels. I genuinely think Discworld has something for everyone.

The Crow Moon Series: Crow Moon: Book 1
The Crow Moon Series: Crow Moon: Book 1
by Anna McKerrow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dystopia with a twist or post-urban fantasy - great genre-blending read!, 20 April 2015
This is a really contemporary fantasy, combining dystopian themes with eco concerns and the idea of magic. Protagonist Danny lives in the Greenworld, conceived as a Pagan utopia and consisting of Devon and Cornwall. Everywhere else is the Redworld, where capitalism, individualism and hate seem to be the ruling forces. Initially, Danny is sceptical about all this Pagan stuff, despite his Mum being an important witch, and is focused almost exclusively on chasing girls.

One of the things I love about this novel is Danny. He’s very representative of teen boys in terms of their sex drive, something you don’t often see in YA novels. At times this tendency to be shallow and self-centred made me frustrated with him, but in a way that enhanced my reading because I was willing him to do better and notice what he needed to. I was certainly highly engaged in reading this book and will absolutely be reading the next in the series.

The Sin Eater's Daughter (Sin Eaters Daughter Trilogy 1)
The Sin Eater's Daughter (Sin Eaters Daughter Trilogy 1)
by Melinda Salisbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it! Great choice for YA fantasy fans., 20 April 2015
A classical high fantasy in many ways, this novel introduces the character of Twylla, who has been taken from her family and installed in the palace as an incarnation of the goddess Daunen. Like all deities, she is treated with a healthy dose of fear, due to her poisonous skin (only those with royal blood can touch her and live). Although the novel is clearly set in a traditional high-fantasy medieval-style society, the writing is very contemporary and the narrative style is very engaging and accessible. This is not a novel that requires a glossary or for you to keep checking who’s who due to all the names being unfamiliar.

Twylla is a well-rounded character, reacting realistically to her bizarre life. I really enjoyed the ending of this one and was not initially sure whether there was going to be a sequel. As regular visitors here will know, I am not a fan of open/cliffhanger endings, and I am pleased to say that this closes like a standalone, but I definitely want to see more of Twylla.

Jessica's Ghost
Jessica's Ghost
by Andrew Norriss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.68

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light of touch and yet rich in depth - fantastic read for 9+, 28 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Jessica's Ghost (Hardcover)
Light of touch and yet rich in depth, this novel explores issues from fitting in to depression and even suicide through a perfectly pitched story for the 9-12 audience.

I really enjoyed this and would absolutely recommend it to children in the target age range. The story and the characters are charming and quirky; I loved Francis particularly but they are all really well realised. It’s the best kind of ‘misfits’ book, and perfect for this age group when kids are busily sorting out whether and where they fit with their peers. Without being didactic or dogmatic, the book has a clear message of self-acceptance which will be valuable for many children to absorb.

In terms of the ‘darker’ content, I am so impressed with how this is handled: it didn’t feel inappropriate, heavy or awkward at all and I would have no hesitation sharing this book with children regardless of their existing understanding of depression and suicide. Sometimes a book featuring issues is clearly intended for those already in the know, while others may be most suitable for those on the outside of an issue. In this case, I think neither is true and would happily use it to introduce the topic, or recommend it to a child who I knew to be struggling.

Overall, I hope it’s clear that I definitely recommend this one!

The Sky Is Everywhere
The Sky Is Everywhere
by Jandy Nelson
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Gorgeous and oddly romantic YA novel about grief and starting over, 18 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Sky Is Everywhere (Paperback)
The Sky Is Everywhere is a gorgeous contemporary read, in which Lennie struggles to deal with the loss of her older sister, Bailey, alongside handling normal 17-year-old things like school and boys.

My initial reaction:

Gorgeous and oddly romantic YA novel about grief and starting over. A book about a 17 year old girl mourning her sister, where said girl finds herself in a love triangle may sound crass but it’s actually wonderful. The family is quirky in a way that reminded me of Sarah Addison Allen’s books (although there is less sense of magic being real here) and which ensured real depth and interest to the characters. I thought the portrayal of Lennie’s grief was fantastic in its rhythms and depths, and I also loved her artistic side: a clarinettist, she’s also a compulsive writer who adores Wuthering Heights. Well worth a read – beautifully-written and definitely something to sink into for a bit.

I am absolutely recommending this. It’s a real treat of a read: emotional without ever being mawkish or sentimental.

The plot is well-constructed and drives the book on, while the characterisation is a real strength. This is definitely character-led fiction, where you are rooting for the characters and despairing at their mistakes and misfortunes.

I know some Goodreads reviews have criticised the idea that Lennie would be concerned with boys/romance/love while mourning her sister, but I would argue that that is exactly what makes this realistic. Other stuff doesn’t just stop while we grieve, and that’s part of what makes grieving difficult and confusing – goodness knows how much worse that confusion is if you have to grieve someone as close as a sister in your teenage years! Jandy Nelson has captured this complexity of emotion beautifully, I feel (and it’s hardly as though Lennie goes blithely about her days without guilt for having feelings besides grief).

So, the key factors which I enjoyed were: Lennie’s poetry, strewn all over town and simultaneously actually worth reading and realistic as teen poetry; Lennie’s offbeat family; the treatment of grief, love and romance. This was a lovely, lyrical read which I greatly enjoyed and would definitely recommend to fans of YA contemporaries.

The Weight of Souls
The Weight of Souls
by Bryony Pearce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual YA urban fantasy, 2 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Weight of Souls (Hardcover)
The Weight of Souls by Bryony Pearce is YA urban fantasy with a brilliantly original premise and a very cool, outsider-type hero. It’s also great to see a main character of Asian origin.

Taylor Oh, aged 16, bears a curse passed to her from her mother. If the ghost of a murder victim touches her, she gets a black mark on her hand which gradually darkens while she finds their murderer to pass on the mark. If she fails, she will be dragged into the Darkness in their place. The novel follows her on the mission to find out who killed Justin, one of the ‘cool kids’ (who bully her) from school. And as if that weren’t twisty enough, she is lead into various dangers as she seeks out a mysterious society with plenty of conspiracy, as well as dealing with her feelings about Justin and his allies.

I really enjoyed this, particularly for its strong MC and its usage of Egyptian mythology, which makes a nice change. It is also unusual to see parental involvement – although her mother is dead, her father is actively involved in the story as an interesting counterpoint: he does not believe in the curse and focuses on the appearance of the dark marks as a physical disease. This adds yet another conflict for poor Taylor to deal with, as well as a dash of realism (surely if you could see ghosts, people around you would struggle to believe you?)

All in all, this is a book which is definitely worth picking up. It’s a solid UK urban fantasy (strong MC, great premise, twisty plot) which combines various unusual aspects (Asian MC, Egyptian mythology, conspiracy theories, parental involvement) with strong writing.

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