Friday, 26 February 2016

'A Fierce and Subtle Poison' by Samantha Mabry Review

'A Fierce and Subtle Poison' by Samantha Mabry
Review by Christopher Moore

In this stunning debut, legends collide with reality when a boy is swept into the magical, dangerous world of a girl filled with poison. Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl - Isabel, the one the senoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family's Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill. Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic.

When letters from Isabel begin mysteriously appearing in his room the same day his new girlfriend disappears, Lucas turns to Isabel for answers - and finds himself lured into her strange and enchanted world. But time is running out for the girl filled with poison, and the more entangled Lucas becomes with Isabel, the less certain he is of escaping with his own life.

It was the combination of title and cover that brought A Fierce and Subtle Poison to my attention on Net Galley. I read the synopsis and seriously, how could I not read it? It took a single page to hook me on its lyrical, magical prose that delights and excites. Though dissimilar in theme to E. Lockhart's We Were Liars, I couldn't help but feel echoes of its style in Mabry's work. It's very readable with the words painting a visceral and vivid picture in the mind.

I adore the Puerto Rican setting; a breath of fresh air from the city settings of so many YA stories. I swear, either Mabry has lived a significant period of her life in Puerto Rico or she researched it thoroughly and infused it seamlessly into her plot and characters. The protagonist is likable though I don't think he's the most interesting part of the story. Isabel is an incredible character; she's dark and dangerous, the monster that haunts the island but is she really? There's so much more to her and her story than meets the eye that will have you tearing through the pages into the early hours of the morning.

I don't want to spoilt the story for anyone so I'm going to park this review here. It's a sensational debut; a murder-mystery meets magical realism; a balance of light and dark. Not only is  it the best book I've read so far this year, it's one of the best I've read in the last twelve months. A must for fans of E. Lockhart's We Were Liars and Moira Fowley-Doyle's The Accident Season.

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.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Connor Franta: Work in Progress

'Work in Progress' by Connor Franta
Review by Sarah Nuttall

In this intimate memoir of life beyond the camera, Connor Franta shares the lessons he has learned on his journey from small-town boy to Internet sensation-so far. Here, Connor offers a look at his Midwestern upbringing as one of four children in the home and one of five in the classroom; his struggles with identity, body image, and sexuality in his teen years; and his decision to finally pursue his creative and artistic passions in his early twenties, setting up his thrilling career as a YouTube personality, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and tastemaker.
Exploring his past with insight and humour, his present with humility, and his future with hope, Connor reveals his private struggles while providing heartfelt words of wisdom for young adults. His words will resonate with anyone coming of age in the digital era, but at the core is a timeless message for people of all ages: don't be afraid to be yourself and to go after what you truly want. This full-colour collection includes photography and childhood clippings provided by Connor and is a must-have for anyone inspired by his journey. 


"I’m just a small-town kid. Trying to figure out my place in the big, wide world. I’ve only been around for twenty-two years, and there’s so much left for me to explore and learn."

Even those unfamiliar to vlogging or Youtube channels will have seen the rise in books written by internet personalities over the last year. From Zoella’s record-breaking debut novel Girl Online to Fleur De Force’s beauty book The Glam Guide, these diverse and exciting books are exceeding all expectations and appealing to a wide range of readers for different reasons. With loyal fan bases, some followings have their own language, nicknames and in-jokes with their respective vlogger, resulting in intense, pre-release speculation for cover reveals and a surge in pre-orders.

Connor Franta’s Work in Progress was no exception. As soon as the book was listed, there was immense interest; my small bookstore in a little northern town was receiving e-mails, phone calls and visits from customers eager to buy the book before it was out. Twitter enquiries came through at night when our store had closed. Unlike the other personalities that have released books so far, Connor’s is listed as a memoir and offers an insight into his extraordinary life. As vloggers are often criticised for portraying their lives through an adjusted lens, it was quite interesting that this was to be a more exploratory look at the phenomenon. As I was unfamiliar with Connor Franta's vlog, I wondered if I could engage with his book as a non-fan. I’m also lucky enough to work closely with my former branch, Waterstones Leeds, who were asked to host Connor’s UK tour. To say the staff were tremendously excited was an understatement; the event was hosted with the unadulterated joy of a child seeing fireworks for the first time. With six-hundred people in attendance, it was always going to be one of the most exciting events in the shop's history.

I arrived quite early to the event. I wasn’t surprised to see fans queuing outside; this happens on many occasions even if the celebrity isn’t going to be in the building for hours, however, never this many, so soon. The atmosphere was electric as fans jostled together to queue and see Connor when he arrived, pressed together so closely we would weave through them opening windows, offering water and sweets trying to make sure they were comfortable. I spoke to many of his fans on the day and the excitement and happiness was overwhelming. Fans screamed his name, some were unable to speak through tears of joys and others, so incredibly elated that they came back to thank the store for hosting the event. At one point, I opened a window to screams and cheers on the top floor upon sight of my arm. The day did leave one firm impression that this book had resonated with so many people for a reason and with my own signed copy, I went away and read the book that evening.

So, a little history about Connor Franta: as I mentioned above, he’s an internet personality, best known for his Youtube channel where he discusses and reflects on issues and thoughts on the world. Connor started posting videos in his teens and has grown up on camera with the videos representing his growth from a boy into a young man, from puberty to adulthood. Connor’s videos vary from nipple piercings to living alone and sexual comments from fans to coming-out; quite a broad range of topics varying from the mundane to the heartfelt. This is the tone of the book that details his entire childhood up until now and gives you a fascinating insight into his world. As a non-fan, I found the earlier part of his memoir (focusing on his childhood) particularly sweet but it was similar to looking through a friend’s baby album. The hospital pictures are cute; you find out their first word, you laugh at them screaming whilst having their first bath but then, it’s a chorus of first-day-of-term school pictures and annual nativity scenes. To a fan though, I think it is incredibly exciting to read about the personal moments and memories of someone you aspire to. Fortunately, we soon arrive at Connor's high school years and the memoir switches gear. Suddenly it’s incredibly moving, interesting, honest and relatable. The Connor personality from the videos shines through and I was eager to learn more about him and the life lessons he’s learned.

Although Youtubing may seem like an easy way to success there are hundreds of Youtube channels, personalities and videos and its Connor’s personality and engaging force that has made him stand out from the crowd. In his memoir Connor encourages his fans to learn, understand and accept themselves. To embrace new experiences as opportunities and grow: it’s a powerful message and to the majority of his fans are in an age bracket where this is a struggle as they mature and strive for independence. It is a message that will hopefully resonate and inspire. For those who don’t read ‘celebrity’ memoirs, you may not be fully convinced to pick up Work in Progress, however, it touches upon subjects that many YA fans will appreciate like learning to accept yourself, diversity and honesty. I really enjoyed getting to know Connor and I’d be interested to see if he puts pen to paper again as I think he might be a good story-teller as well as his many vlogging and non-vlogging-related ventures..

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Sarah Nuttall

Sarah is an active contributor for the YAfictionados blog site. She has written posts for the Waterstones blog and has worked as a bookseller (for 9 years), a Children's bookseller (for 6 years) and is now a manager at her local bookstore. Needless to say, Sarah is a valued member of the YAfictionados team - a true Children's and YA literature expert. Follow on Sarah on Twitter: @CapturingSarah.

Friday, 5 February 2016

'How Not to Disappear' Sets the Bar for YA in 2016

'How Not to Disappear' by Clare Furniss
Review by Chris


Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody.
Hattie's summer isn't going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to 'find himself' and Kat is in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum's wedding. Oh, and she's also just discovered that she's pregnant with Reuben's baby.
Then Gloria, Hattie's great-aunt who no one even knew existed, comes crashing into her life. Gloria's fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery - Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her past before they are erased from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future.
Non Pratt's Trouble meets Thelma and Louise with a touch of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey. Clare Furniss' remarkable How Not To Disappear is an emotional rollercoaster of a novel that will make you laugh and break your heart.


There is so much to love about this story: the relationship between Hattie and her great-aunt, the exploration of her rollercoaster relationship with her best friend Reuben, how she grows, develops and deals with her pregnancy, the physical journey (echoed in the mental and emotional journeys Hattie and Gloria undergo) and Hattie's twin siblings. And Gloria - let's not forget Gloria and her gin slings.
At first, I found the story to be a little bit slow but once it gets going, once Hattie meets Gloria, the story really begins and the characters jump off the page with so much life and warmth. I don't want to divulge too much but there's plenty in here with the pregnancy, Gloria's story and Hattie's only family. If you're going to pick up one YA book this Spring, make it How Not to Disappear.
Furniss played my heartstrings; at times, with a bow but more often, with a hacksaw. I'll never be the same again. I can't recommend this story enough. Comfortably falling into the category of #diverseYA (for its exploration of mental health and the often under-represented third generation-first generation relationship among other issues), this story will emotionally sucker-punch you over and over again and it's chock full of compelling characters. If Furniss was worried about one-off success (with The Year of the Rat), she need not fear; How Not to Disappear is, without doubt, a 2016 YA highlight.

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.