Goodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard


(Potential spoilers ahead! Be warned!)

Heading into every year I try to look at the books that are set to be published in the year ahead, and there’s always a list worth a small fortune that ends up being compiled as result. This, for rather obvious reasons, was one of the books at the top of my list. Having read Sara’s previous book A Quiet Kind of Thunder, a book which completely blew me away, I was very excited for this book too – rightly so, as it turned out!

Eden McKinley’s best friend Bonnie is a model student, consistently getting straight-As and on track to become Head Girl. But then she goes on the run with her secret boyfriend, the last person Eden would have expected. The police begin the search for her and Bonnie is worried knowing that she’s lost her best friend, physically and emotionally too, but best friends never tell, right?

Of course, whatever description I gave of the book there does it a complete injustice. To begin with, I found myself being reminded of ‘Me & Mr J’ by Rachel McIntyre on the basis that both focus on student-teacher relationships within the plot. What’s different about Goodbye, Perfect is that it’s taking a new dynamic – we’re seeing the relationship, however anyone else sees it within the book, from the impact that it has on people around her. This is really interesting. We get our whole sense of Bonnie’s character almost solely through how she interacts with the other characters within the book, and by the way, the use of systems like messaging within the book was perfect.

Speaking of impacts on other people, there’s a beautiful line about relationships that Connor says around halfway through the novel. It goes something like, “Being in a relationship means considering their whole lives, not just the part with you in it.” Connor and Eden’s relationship was one of the key highlights of the book for me. There’s always a certain beauty to reading romances written well, and for me their relationship was an absolutely essential component of the book, second to Bonnie’s disappearance to begin with, I doubt the book would have worked without the two being as close as they were. Valerie was right when she said Connor wasn’t quite like “other 16 year old boys.” This aspect of the novel is really hard to try and explain without spoiling, so my advice here is read the book and try and tell me it’s not one of the best fictional relationships you’ve ever read (alongside Steffi and Rhys’ from A Quiet Kind of Thunder of course!).

I do want to mention the ending. Again, I’m trying not to spoil the book, but whilst I’m not entirely convinced the book could have ended in any other way without doing the story justice, I’m a little sad we didn’t find out what happened to Bonnie post-Glasgow. That, of course, is representative of their then broken down relationship, but on a personal note I would have liked a little more detail of what happens. Then again, as the book points out, people and life aren’t always that straightforward!

I loved the book, and can’t recommend it enough to you. If you’re in need of a great YA book that genuinely will keep you coming back for more, look no further. On with book 4, Sara?!


Writing about real life (sort of) – Guest Post by Will Hill

Hello! Today it’s my turn on the YA Shot Blog Tour, and I’m very excited to welcome After the Fire author Will Hill to the blog to talk about writing about real life. I’ll leave it up to him to take centre stage from here!

My latest novel, After The Fire, was inspired by something that took place in Texas in 1993. Between February and April of that year, the American authorities (principally the FBI and ATF) laid siege to a rural compound owned by an extremist religious sect, the Branch Davidians, after a gunfight had erupted when they attempted to search the property. It ended in a fire that destroyed most of the compound and with more than eighty people dead, including the cult’s leader, David Koresh.

Footage of the fire and the final assault by the federal agencies was televised all over the world, and the incident – which became known as the Waco Siege – sparked huge debate in America over the authority of the US government, the freedom to practice religion, and the right to bear arms (swhich could – sadly – easily lead you to conclude that not a lot of progress has been made in the subsequent twenty-five years).

I was – and still am – fascinated by cults, and I had known for a long time that I wanted to write a story set inside one. When I was reminded of the Waco footage I had seen when I was a kid (after a visit to a museum in Washington, DC) the bones of what would eventually become After The Fire fell into place really quickly. But there was a problem. What happened in the Texas desert in 1993 was a terrible, defining moment in the lives of a great number of people, and many of the survivors who lived through it are still alive today. I could not reconcile myself with directly retelling the most traumatic event of their lives as entertainment.

There have (obviously) been tens of thousands of historical novels, and many of them have been based on hard subjects. The winner of last year’s Carnegie Medal (the brilliant Salt To The Sea by Ruta Sepetys) was based on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, in which more than nine thousand people perished. But Waco was only twenty-five years ago, and many of the people who survived it were children. Some have chosen to tell their stories in the years since, but many of them haven’t. And it was very clearly not my place to speak for them.

Instead, I drew from other cults that have believed in an imminent apocalypse and from those men (they’re almost always men) who have used fear and manipulation to control other people. I created a belief system distinct from any of those practiced by religious sects in real life, and nothing like the one practiced by hundreds of millions of Christians around the world.

I read everything I could find on Waco (including the US government report into the siege and the remarkable work of Dr. Bruce Perry, who treated the young Branch Davidian survivors) because if I was going to write something inspired by this dark, tragic moment in modern history, I needed to know as much as I possibly could about it. I couldn’t leave getting things right to chance.

So the end result is this: the Lord’s Legion are not the Branch Davidians, John Parsons is not David Koresh, and Moonbeam didn’t exist until I invented her. As I say in the author’s note at the end of the novel, After The Fire is a work of fiction. But like a great many stories, it came from something real, and it was vital – after deciding that this was a story I was going to tell – to treat that source material with the respect it deserves.

I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether or not I succeeded.

After the Fire is available now. 


Sorting The Fandom Characters into their Hogwarts Houses – Guest Post by Anna Day

9781910655672Hello! Today I welcome Anna Day, author of The Fandom, to the blog where she’s going to go through some of the characters from The Fandom and sort them into their respective Hogwarts houses! I’m really excited to share this with you, so I’ll let Anna get on with it!

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, so sorting my characters into houses was great fun. Most of them were pretty obvious, but I must confess, Violet had me logging onto Pottermore and answering as if I were her. (By the way, I would recommend this exercise for any writers in the process of character development. It really makes you think like your character, and you get to relive that trepidation of finding out all over again.)


As mentioned, I had to defer to the actual Sorting Hat when it came to Violet. She has a huge character arc, starting off a real shrinking violet, but ending up more courageous than Rose herself. For this reason, I toyed with placing her in Gryffindor, but the Sorting Hat spoke, and Violet is officially Hufflepuff. Which makes sense, cos her most consistent trait is loyalty.


Katie’s another Hufflepuff girl. Her grounded nature and unshakable loyalty means she can wear her badger crest with pride.


I sorted the ambitious and resourceful Alice into Slytherin a long time ago, there’s even a reference in The Fandom where she’s described as the Queen of Slytherin. But she isn’t all bad, and has a character arc which mirrors one of the best known Slytherins of all time: Snape. In the end, in spite of her ambition, Alice sacrifices everything for love. Disclaimer: I’m Slytherin and thus in denial that we’re all just a bunch of sods.


Nate is Ravenclaw to the core. As Rowena once said: ‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.’

Note the blinding absence of one of the houses. The deafening silence of the lion’s roar. I’m not quite sure how I managed to write a book without a Gryffindor. I’m going with the theory that each character has a substantial thread of lion running through them, as it’s courage and bravery which ultimately saves the day. Either that, or I’m still pissed I didn’t get into the same house as Harry!

The Fandom is out now, priced £7.99. Follow the conversation online using the tag #jointhefandom!    

2017 Roundup

Perhaps you’ll have noticed from my silence on the blog that 2017 wasn’t a particular good year for reading for me. I didn’t get anywhere near my Goodreads goal and also didn’t manage to succeed in the British Books Challenge goal either. I’m a little disappointed, especially when there were so many books released in 2017 that I wanted to read. But, over the last few weeks I’ve been seeing a lot of people say that they too weren’t too happy with how much they read during 2017 either. So, I thought, let’s put this into perspective and instead look at just a few of the amazing books which I did read in 2017 and look forward to what I could do better in 2018!


After hearing about it for the first time in December 2016, one of my standout booksfrom this year was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s such a standout novel, and I knew it would be from the moment I heard about it for the first time. It’s, as John Green on the cover suggests, stunning. I left the book feeling bowled over by how powerful it has the potential to be. I can’t really do it justice, even months after I read it, so I absolutely encourage you if you haven’t already got a copy, for whatever reason, make it one of the first books of 2018 you buy. You won’t regret it – I’d consider it essential reading for so many people.

john_green_turtles_all_the_way_down_book_coverOne of my more recent reads was, speaking of John Green, Turtles All The Way Down.We’ve waited a long time for a new book from John, and it’s finally here – the tale of Aza and her friendship with Davis, whose millionaire dad has gone on the run, leaving his whole estate behind to a tuatara. It’s classic John Green, with emotions everywhere, little trickles of philosophical insights scattered throughout the novel and characters who you leave feeling like you know them after finishing the book. Again, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy of this book. It’s really a heartwarming read.

the_loneliest_girlAnd, readers of the blog will know that I’m a massive fan of Lauren James’ books, and 2017 gave us a new one from her too; the absolutely incredible ‘The Loneliest Girl in the Universe.’ I was completely blown away by what seems like a completely unworkable concept, but in reality creates a phenomenal book that I guarantee you you’ll read in maybe a maximum of two sittings. I don’t think I want you to read just this book, I think I want you to go out and read Lauren’s back catalogue – if you’re new to YA or even sci-fi, as I wasn’t that big a fan of the genre before I read it, The Next Together is an amazing place to start for either category of books. Then read The Last Beginning and The Loneliest Girl. It’s well worth it.

Going forward into 2018, I’m setting a more moderate goal for myself on Goodreads and setting myself a goal of 20 books. I think that it’s far more achievable than the 50 I set myself last year, though I definitely would still like to beat it. I’m looking to diversify the books I read, and can’t wait to read all of the brand new voices which are arriving in YA this year. I’m going to give the British Books Challenge another go in 2018 as well – I’m a little sad that I didn’t manage to crack it last year, but I’m giving it a go this year as well. And I hope to blog a lot more in 2018 as well, so hopefully you’ll hear a lot more from me in weeks and months to come. I’m certainly looking forward to it.

What are your reading resolutions? Did you have a good 2017? What are you going to do differently in 2018? Let me know what you think in the comments! 

Culling Books

Every so often a bookworm is forced to take a good long look at their shelf and realise that actually, they have way too many books. Amber from The Mile Long Bookshelf wrote a great blog post that made me think, on New Year’s Day 2018 as I write this, the time had come to really cull my own book collection. I thought I’d write a quick little blog post just to sum up some thoughts on it.

In a nutshell, it’s actually quite difficult. You’re forced to look at a lot of books which you’ve either bought over the years or accrued in other means, and decide which ones you’re going to get rid of. In the end, I started using three key criterion to decide which ones I wanted to get rid of.

  • Am I ever likely to read this book again? If yes, keep it. If not, chuck it.
  • Have I got another copy of this book? For instance, I have two copies of The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I don’t need two, even though it’s a phenomenal book. So, unfortunately you have to be brutal and get rid of duplicate copies in order to make space for more wonderful stories. It’s nothing personal towards Jandy, you understand?
  • Did I actually enjoy this book? I’ve got quite a few books on my shelves which I haven’t actually enjoyed that much. This seems fairly self-explanatory – it’s impossible to love every single book that comes my way, so some it just makes sense to get rid of.

As someone with books sitting about in most places, I managed to get to a total of 61 books which I was prepared to get rid of (and 61 is a rather big total for me!), ready to create just a bit more space on my shelves. What to do with them though?

Well, in the past my go to option for books has been to give them either to a charity shop or to my local library, which is always happy to accept donations and rest assured there’s some books which I’ve culled which will be going there. There are websites which are willing to buy books you don’t want from you as well, and I’m shipping a few off to them as well to make space on my shelves too.

There are plenty more places which are willing to accept donations of books, and I’m sure local primary schools would be willing to accept as well, so this is where I refer you to Amber’s post, linked above, for a far more comprehensive look at how to do this properly. However, I will say I do in fact encourage book culling. You’ll look at your shelves afterwards and notice how much space you have now to welcome in brand new titles, and there are plenty coming this year that you’re going to want to give rightfully deserved space on your shelves.

And rest assured, you’ll be giving someone else the chance to enjoy the books that perhaps you either didn’t enjoy as much as you thought you would have or you loved and have extra copies of, so you’re prepared to cling on to one as your own and instead let others enjoy the same stories. Far better than allowing them to gather dust, right?

Are you culling any books at the moment? What are you planning on doing with them? Which books coming out this year are you prepared to give space to on your shelves? Let me know in the comments! 

Books I’m Looking Forward to in January 2018

Happy New Year’s Eve! I hope 2017 was a good year for you – the silence on my blog throughout this year has been due to exams and not being able to read for much of it. However, 2018 is a new year, so I hope to start as I mean to go on and begin blogging regularly again.

9781910655672To start off, I thought I’d bring back an old format I used a while ago and start talking about the books I’m looking forward to in January, and I’ll start by talking about The Fandom by Anna Day. This book is one that I know is hotly anticipated. Back in March, The Bookseller reported that The Fandom became Chicken House’s fastest ever selling international rights title. The story focuses on Violet, who arrives at Comic Con in cosplay and ready to be part of her fandom in real life, for The Gallow’s Dance – a major movie franchise. A freak accident at Comic Con however puts her in the heart of The Gallow’s Dance, so she must take her place within the story and play her role. This is undoubtedly a really exciting book, out on the 4th January, and I’m happy to say Anna will be joining me right here on the blog for the blog tour – see the sidebar for the details of all the stops!


Next, let’s talk about I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan, already making waves within

the YA community. It tells the story of Muzna Saleem, who dreams of becoming a novelist, though her parents would prefer it if she became a doctor and married “a cousin from Pakistan.” Then, Arif Malik, the “high school hottie,” takes an interest in her. To continue quoting the blurb, because I couldn’t do it justice; “As Arif begins to lead Muzna down a dark path, she faces a terrible choice: keep quiet and betray her beliefs, or speak up and betray her heart?” I’m really excited about this one from a new voice in YA, out on the 25th January 2018 from Macmillan.


Readers of the blog might know that I love the works of Non Pratt, and I’m pleased to say that with a New Year comes a new book from her too – her second with Barrington Stoke.

This one’s called Second Best Friend, and it features inseparable best friends Jade and Becky, yet a spiteful comment is made about Jade by her ex, forcing her to see that she has always been second best in everything. Then, there’s a school election, giving her a chance to see just how far she’ll go to be better than her best friend. Non Pratt is a familiar and amazing voice within YA, and if you’ve read her previous Barrington Stoke title, Unboxed, you’ll know that you’re not wrong to expect great things from this book as well.


Finally, for this list at least, it’s the finale to the series by Kerry Drewery that’s included Day 7 and Cell 7 – Final 7 arrives on the 11th January, and this one picks up with Martha and Isaac now on the run, with the government branding them both rebels and a danger to the public. Described as “heartstopping,” this is definitely not one to miss in January.

As always, there are so many amazing books to be expected in January from so many amazing authors. This list is just a few picks of mine, but definitely go out there and tell me any I’ve missed that need to be on my list

(Release dates are UK only.)

Review: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green


It’s been a while since I last reviewed a book, and that’s almost entirely down to a reading slump that I fell into. A few weeks ago however, I found myself in that all too familiar state of finding a book being released soon, deciding I have to have it, then pre-ordering it immediately. It just so happens this time, the book on the other end of the webpage was Turtles All The Way Down by John Green. I can’t have been the only one to recognise the origin of the title, and wondering in what, almost entirely abstract way Green would manage to weave such an idea into the book; a book about a girl suffering with OCD reuniting with an old friend who happens to be the son of a millionaire on the run who has left his entire estate to a tuatara alongside her friend who together try and find the missing millionaire. How were you going to weave in a concept about Earth and it lying on the tops of many turtles all stacked on top of one another?

I can’t judge for that unfortunately. Trust me – read it and the reference is appropriately in there, so do go and find it for yourselves. What I do know is that this book felt somewhat different from John Green’s previous novels. Those who know me as a reader specifically well enough will know that The Fault In Our Stars was the first YA novel I ever read, and it’s like a gateway to the rest of the genre. I loved it. Make no mistake – Turtles is distinctly John Green, with philosophical insights littered from the get-go that make you suddenly question your very existence (I remember an insight from Aza where she reminds herself that there are bacteria within her gut that digest her food for her and can tell her brain what to do, so whether or not she actually is digesting her food and whether her thoughts are her own – it’s stuck with me several days after finishing the book!) and characters who are linked in some way who happen to fall into a romance. It makes it sound like I’m calling the book a cliché, which in a way I suppose I am, but the best kind of cliché.

I do know from watching John’s videos online that he’s been able to tie in personal experiences of his own into the writing of this book, which I think makes the book more insightful. Experiences vary vastly when it comes to things like mental illnesses, which for me personally made the book more interesting.

I appreciated the use of the romance between Aza and Davis as being a focal point of the story, though not the only one and certainly not the main focal point of the story – it’s not the only time you see a story arc emerge within the novel. There are several parallel stories which, although sounds odd, works perfectly, though I won’t say more through fear of spoiling the book for those who haven’t read it.

It’s been a while since John Green wrote his last book, but I’m very happy he’s back. I enjoyed Turtles All The Way Down – as you may have guessed from what I’ve written above, it’s not my favourite John Green novel, but it’s still a worthy read in any and every case.