Book Review: Knights of the Borrowed Dark/The Forever Court

Knights of the Borrowed Dark and The Forever Court are the first two books of Dave Rudden’s Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy. They came to me as one book via netgalley, so I’m going to review them both here. Spoiler alert: I loved both of them.

Denizen Hardwick is an orphan, and his life is, well, normal. Sure, in storybooks orphans are rescued from drudgery when they discover they are a wizard or a warrior or a prophesied king. But this is real life—orphans are just kids without parents. At least that’s what Denizen thought. . . .
            On a particularly dark night, the gates of Crosscaper Orphanage open to a car that almost growls with power. The car and the man in it retrieve Denizen with the promise of introducing him to a long-lost aunt. But on the ride into the city, they are attacked. Denizen soon learns that monsters can grow out of the shadows. And there is an ancient order of knights who keep them at bay. Denizen has a unique connection to these knights, but everything they tell him feels like a half-truth. If Denizen joins the order, is he fulfilling his destiny, or turning his back on everything his family did to keep him alive?

(Synopsis of Book One only)

Oh, it’s going to be hard to review these books without spoiling anything! The first thing I’m going to say is that they’re brilliant. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a MG series which completely understands the ‘chosen one’ trope and chooses to play with it. Denizen has grown up reading a rdiculous range of books, including a healthy number of SFF books. He knows he’s not special; he’s just another orphan whose parents died. He doesn’t even have anything to remember his parents by, like most of the other kids in the orphanage, so he harbours no grand ideas about his future. And then his future finds him, via a secret order of knights who protect our world from the shadows.

I really liked that the books are set in Dublin and rural Ireland. It’s easy to imagine the rugged, windswept crags and coastline that surrounds the orphanage, and it’s certainly a more unusual setting than in a lot of MG books. The background worldbuilding is also great – there’s a real sense of history to the secret war these knights are fighting. It is a little bit annoying that no-one will just sit Denizen down and explain what’s going on, but there are good enough in-world excuses that I can just about forgive Rudden for it. I also loved the parallel storyline playing out in the orphanage Denizen left behind. His best friend Simon is clever and sneaky, but he never forgets what he’s been through to survive, and he’s a good foil to Denizen. There is also a genuine sense of danger and realistic consequences to the action sequences, both on and off the page, and my heart was beating double time towards the ends of each book.

I thought all the characters were great. My particular favourites were Grey and Darcie (which possibly isn’t a surprise as they’re clearly Denizen’s favourites of his new friends too), but I really did love everyone and felt it was a shame that some of them were sidelined during The Forever Court. I hope we get to see more of them in book three. Every character had a purpose and a reason for existing beyond moving the story along. Despite sidelining some of my favourites, I did like the new characters we met in The Forever Court and I loved getting to learn more about the Tenebrous and the history of the fighting, although it didn’t quite hit the heights of Knights of the Borrowed Dark for me.

I was very glad I could move straight on to book two, and realising I now have to wait a year for book three was kind of agonising to be honest, because I’m desperate to know what happens next. Knights of the Borrowed Dark is a really fun, engaging (slightly scary) series, and I can’t recommend it enough to both children and adults.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark – 4.5/5

The Forever Court – 4/5

Copies of both books received from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Read in One Sitting

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I can’t believe it’s already a week since I did one of these! Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week’s theme is books you read in one sitting. There were a number of ways you could interpret the theme, but I’m going straight down the line on this one – these are my top ten books that I read in one go.

1. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

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2. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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3. All of the Above by Juno Dawson

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(It’s annoying me that this cover has the wrong name on – if I find the new cover, I’ll change it)

4. The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

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5. The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey

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6. Geek Girl by Holly Smale

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7. Soulless by Gail Carriger

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8. Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

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9. Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

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10. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

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I read a lot of books in one sitting, so that was incredibly difficult to narrow down! (That’s not even my favourite Harry Potter, but it is the one I’m most likely to read in one go.)

Which books have you read in one sitting? Do any of my choices feature on your own list? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Behind The Mask

In my continuing quest to get my Netgalley shelf looking a bit more respectable, the short story anthology Behind The Mask: A Superhero Anthology was the next book on my list. Admittedly, it was also a relatively recent request, because I could not resist the idea of a collection of short stories focused on superheroes when they’re out of uniform, but it’s still a book off the shelf and that’s all that counts!

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Behind the Mask is an exciting collection of short stories about the everyday lives of superheroes. Ranging from laugh-out-loud funny to deliciously dark, these stories are about the ordinary day-to-day challenges facing these extraordinary individuals growing up, growing old, relationships, parenting, coping with that age-old desire to fit in when, let’s face it, they don’t.

I’m going to be honest, I was disappointed with Behind The Mask. Only a couple of the stories resonated with me – my favourite was probably Eggshells by Ziggy Schutz, about a young superhero who suffers a head injury and which explores the effects of that – and I certainly didn’t find any of them ‘laugh-out-loud funny’. However, I did like that there was a good variety of countries and cities represented, and I didn’t hate any of the stories.

I think this might be my shortest review ever, because I just don’t have that much to say about it. It was a nice idea that didn’t quite work for me. I must say though, that short stories rarely satisfy me. I always want to know more about the backstory, or what happens next, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Behind The Mask didn’t work for me. I’m sad that it didn’t though, because I’d been really looking forward to reading it.

3/5

ARC received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Unboxing: Illumicrate February 2017

I’ve been on a bit of a mission in the last few months, trying the different book subscription boxes that are currently available. I loved the Owlcrate that I bought, but being in the UK, this often works out expensively by the time postage is added on. It made sense to try a UK based box and Illumicrate was the first one I tried.

I really like getting boxes of surprises, and I especially liked this box, mostly because it had TWO books in it. The main book is Wintersong by S Jae Jones, which I’m excited to read (and so glad I didn’t buy it when I thought about it!), but there’s also a proof of Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, which definitely looks interesting. As I believe is normal with these boxes, there is also a signed bookplate, a letter from the author and a bookmark for Wintersong.

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I really liked the Bare Necessities pouch included with this quarter’s box. I love artwork that uses words, and I like the way I’m reminded of the song every time I look at it!

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The magnets. Oh, the magnets. If you’ve been paying attention you’ll know that I loved the Shades of Magic series by V E Schwab, so to have related items in this box made my day. I mean, Lila Bard right? Such a great character! I think these were my favourite items in the box.

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We also had a lip balm (which I have failed to photograph) but I must say this isn’t really my thung.  I do use lip balm, but I much prefer unflavoured ones and I didn’t really like the smell of this one. The Newt Scamander bookmark is cool, but again is something I’m unlikely to use much, mostly because I don’t want to lose it!

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The box also has a number of extra promotional items. I’m dying to read Flame in the Mist by Renee Adieh, so I’ll definitely be reading this sample!

I was very pleased with this Illumicrate and I think I’ll be continuing my subscription, especially as it’s only a quarterly box. There are some really nice items and although I didn’t appreciate all of them, I’m sure others did. I hope you can see the packing list clearly, so you can see where these fabulous things came from!

Do you subscribe to any boxes? Which ones would you recommend, or like to try? Let me know in the comments!

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Books On My Spring TBR

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and The Bookish in 2010. It’s been on hiatus for the last couple of weeks, but it’s back this week, and what better time to jump in than now? I’ve been meaning to create a spring TBR for a while now, so this gives me a good excuse! There are so many good books coming out in the next few months, it was hard to cut it down, but I’ve decided to do five upcoming releases and five older books currently waiting for me to read them. (Thanks to Kelly at Kelly’s Rambles for this idea!)

Five Upcoming Releases

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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2. The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas

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3. Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

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4. Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

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5. Release by Patrick Ness

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Five from my TBR Pile

1. Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

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2. The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

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3. Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

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4. This Beats Perfect by Rebecca Denton

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5. The Dark Days Pact by Alison Goodman

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Have you read any of these books? Whats on your TBR for spring? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: Strange the Dreamer

Oh. My. God. You know when all you’ve seen about a book is hype, hype and more hype, and you just think it can’t be as good as everyone says it is, so you’re a little wary of actually reading it? That’s kind of how I felt about finally getting the chance to read Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. It couldn’t really be as good as the hype was suggesting, could it? Well, yes. Yes it could. I adored this book from the very first page and now that I’ve finished it, I’m not really sure what to do with myself!

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The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around – and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance to lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries – including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

The writing in Strange the Dreamer is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever read. It’s incredibly evocative, and I could imagine everything about the world in vivid technicolour. It’s like reading a fairy tale for grown ups, which given the themes of the story, I can only imagine was deliberate. It works as a concept so well that I’m a little in awe of Taylor.

I fell in love with Lazlo almost immediately. We first meet him as a five year old orphan, unable to resist the temptation to continue playing in his imaginary version of the ‘Unseen City’ (he doesn’t like calling it Weep), even though he knows the monks who look after him will punish him. He grows up into a junior librarian who always has his nose stuck in a book – until he is given an opportunity he never expected in a million years, and he embarks on an adventure of a lifetime. Twenty year old Lazlo is like an alternative version of myself, which is possibly why I like him so much. *g* But he’s also loyal and generous and just wants to do the right thing, even if he knows it won’t necessarily be good for him, and I almost cheered when he joined the expedition to Weep because he deserved to be a part of it.

I don’t really want to talk about the plot, because I think it’s much better for everyone to go into this book almost blind, but the world-building is breathtaking and the characterisation of the whole cast is on point. There are characters who have been through some terrible things, and their PTSD (though it’s obviously not called that) is palpable in every scene.

Strange the Dreamer has catapulted right to the top of my best books of 2017 list (and I’ve read some truly amazing books already this year). It’s going to take some doing to dislodge it in the next nine months too. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or just gorgeous world-building and prose, you NEED to put this book on your TBR.

5/5

ARC received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Caraval

Caraval, by Stephanie Garber, is another book I read a while ago so please forgive me if this review isn’t very detailed (again). I fully intended to review it immediately, but life got in the way, and here we are three weeks later.

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Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Welcome, welcome to Caraval―Stephanie Garber’s sweeping tale of two sisters who escape their ruthless father when they enter the dangerous intrigue of a legendary game.

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

First things first, Hodder and Stoughton pulled out all the stops on Caraval in the UK. The cover is gorgeous anyway, but lift the dustjacket and there are five different designs (a dress, a rose, a circus tent, a clock and a top hat) embossed in gold on the hardcover. Mine had the rose, but the clock is my favourite, and the one I would have chosen if I hadn’t ordered my copy online. I don’t have the room to have multiple copies of books, but Caraval sorely tempted me!

Secondly, if you’re a fan of mysterious, handsome male characters, you will love this book. I fell in love with Julian almost immediately, even though I was fairly sure he was going to turn out to be a scoundrel (I won’t tell you if I was right or not *g*). The chemistry between him and Scarlett felt like it was hot enough to burn the page. I was rooting for them as a couple straight away and even if I’d liked nothing else about the book, I’d have kept reading for that potential romance.

Fortunately, I did like almost everything else in the book. Caraval is magical. I was expecting more of a circus setting, and that’s not what I got – Caraval is a game set up in a small town that’s dfferent every year, so there are inns to stay in,  a theatre building, bridges to cross and catacombs to explore and it sounded fascinating. I’d love to visit (though probably as a observer!). I would have liked to see more of Tella, but the other characters we meet are interesting, and I liked the way information was gradually revealed. Scarlett could be a bit annoying, but her trust issues were understandable given her upbringing, and it was clear her priority at all times was her sister. They had a wonderful relationship and I loved that they looked after each other.

I really enjoyed reading Caraval and would definitely recommend it. I’m looking forward to the sequel!

Have you read Caraval? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!

4/5

Book Review: History Is All You Left Me

This is likely to be quite a short review, as I read History Is All You Left Me (henceforth to be known as HIAYLM because life’s too short to be typing that title out in full!) a little while ago now, and have read a number of books since then, so the chances of me remembering what I wanted to say are small. *g*

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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about HIAYLM, by Adam Silvera, for a while so I was excited when I saw an early copy out in the wild and picked it up immediately. I think it might have been a little too hyped for me though, as it didn’t quite live up to everything I’d heard.

That said, it really is beautifully written. There’s a lyrical quality to the writing and the entire book is suffused with grief  – you can practically feel it coming off the pages, and I ached for what Griffin (and Jackson) had lost. I also keep catching myself thinking about the story and the characters, and it was that that pushed the rating up. I think my main problem was that I didn’t particularly like Griffin. The way he treated the people around him was terrible, and only so much can be excused by grief and his OCD. But there was good character growth, and I loved the sections set in the past as we see Griffin, Theo and Wade’s friendship progress and become something more. I also loved the families – Theo’s, trying desperately to deal with losing him; Griffin’s, trying desperately to understand what he’s going through and both of them in the history sections being open and understanding about Griffin and Theo’s burgeoning relationship. I liked the structure too, although I found myself looking forward to reading about the past more than the present.

HIAYLM is a very good book, but I do think it’s been spoiled slightly by the hype. I wanted to love it, and I didn’t (and it also took me a relatively long time to read), and I’m quite interested to know if I’d have felt differently if I’d gone into it blind.

Have you read HIAYLM? If so, what did you think?

4/5

Book Review: A Quiet Kind Of Thunder

A Quiet Kind of Thunder has been on my tbr pile since it came out in January. I loved Sara Barnard’s first book, Beautiful Broken Things, which was a fantastic look at a female friendship group, so I’ve been looking forward to AQKOT for a while. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn’t a lightning strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life – she’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I really enjoyed AKQOT. The romance between Steff and Rhys developed in such a normal way – yes, she realises he’s attractive almost immediately, but it takes longer for actual feelings to develop – and it’s so cute, although Rhys’s insistence on being able to look after Steffi could get a bit grating (but it was also dealt with within the story, so that’s a minor point for me). I think it’s also important to note here that there is no ‘love cures anxiety’ storyline here. Steffi is getting better throughout the book but she knows it’s because of a confluence of things (one of which happens to be that she is gaining in confidence because she has someone who believes in her), and not because she now has a boyfriend. I really, *really* liked that that was made clear in the text, having read more than one YA book where love cures all mental health issues.

There was a lot I really, really liked about AQKOT but I have to mention the sex scene, whcih might just be the most realistic ‘first time’ I’ve ever read. It’s awkward and embarrassing, and neither of them is quite sure they’re doing it right, and it was wonderful to read. I also really liked Steffi working to overcome her anxiety herself, even while dealing with lots of things that were worrying her, I loved Tem, her best friend, unafraid to call Steffi on her crap, I loved Steffi’s dad and stepmum, and her mum and stepdad and half-sister, and I loved Rhys’s family too, and their easy acceptance of Steffi into their fold. I’m not sure how I feel about Rhys. As I said above, he’s a little bit over protective, and that could be quite annoying, but I did love how cute he was with Steffi.

Overall, I felt a sense of satisfaction at having read an excellent book. However, I should probably point out that I am neither deaf nor a selective mute, so I can’t really comment on how Barnard deals with characters who are. It seems very well done to me, and there are certainly references to ableism within the book (Steffi notices how most people don’t take account of Rhys’s deafness and there are mentions of her being bullied prevously for not speaking, for example), but I’m aware that people who do identify as one or both of those may differ. I’d be interested in hearing what people think of the representation here, so do leave a comment below!

4.5/5

Celebrating International Women’s Day

As you may know, 8th March is International Women’s Day, the day on which almost every woman on social media (and quite a lot of the men) are repeatedly asked the question ‘But when is International Men’s Day?’ by the sort of people who can’t cope with the concept of celebrating women. (It’s November 19th if you’re wondering.) It’s also, obviously, a day on which to celebrate the achievements of women, and as such, I thought I would write a post about those female authors who have made me the reader I am today.

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As I suspect is the case with many people my age, Enid Blyton is the first author I remember reading. I loved her books when I was small (and not so small, I must admit), and would always search them out in the library and in bookshops on those rare occasions when I had money to spend on books. Yes, as an author she is problematic, but she was also very much of her time, and I genuinely don’t believe I would have been the voracious reader I became if it weren’t for Enid Blyton. The Enchanted Wood and its sequels were books I went back to again and again as a child, and I longed for similar adventures.

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Elinor M Brent-Dyer may just be the author who has had most influence on me, even though she died ten years before I was even born. Without the Chalet School books I would have missed out on meeting so many friends, and I almost certainly wouldn’t have the online presence I do. (I’d probably have a lot more money though *g*) I graduated to the Chalet School books from Malory Towers when I was about 8, put them away when I was about 13 and rediscovered them at 23. I still love them now, another 14 years on. The first book in the series, The School at the Chalet was published in 1924, and the series grew to 58 books by the time of Brent-Dyer’s death in 1969 (the last was published posthumously in 1970). My favourite book is The Chalet School in Exile, in which the school, established in Austria, falls foul of the Anschluss and is forced to flee to Guernsey, a choice of location I imagine EBD almost immediately regretted as Guernsey was itself occupied by the Nazis. The books were constantly in print for a staggeringly long time for old-fashioned school stories, but that’s testament to how enjoyable they are.

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Which girl growing up in the 1980s and 90s didn’t read Judy Blume? Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret was the first Judy Blume book I read, when I was about 11, and it was my first introduction to all sorts of topics, from periods to masturbation! I was lucky enough to meet Judy when she was touring her latest adult book a couple of years ago, and I was overjoyed.

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I moved on to fantasy books from Judy Blume pretty quickly, but almost all the authors I read (and came across!) were male. Aurian by Maggie Furey was an exception, and I loved it. The story of a young woman discovering her power and the lengths others would go to to possess it, Aurian and its sequels were possibly the first books I read where a woman saved the world.

And then we’re going to come bang up to date, because I want to talk about some of the amazing women writing today. I am constantly in awe of the sheer quality of writing in YA, and the way in which they all inspire young people. There are young adults who have formed Spinster Clubs based on Holly Bourne’s books. Juno Dawson is one of the most vocal activists for LGBT rights that I know (and the amount of crap she gets for it daily is unbelievable) and inspires young people to do the same. Amani in Rebel of the Sands is as kickass a heroine as you’ll ever want to meet. Sara Barnard’s books are about having the power to change yourself, without relying on other people. V E Schwab’s Lila and Kate aren’t taking any shit from anyone. Louise O’Neill writes about disturbing, difficult topics and gives a voice to young women who haven’t always been listened to. I haven’t read The Hate U Give yet, but my understanding is it gives a voice to disenfranchised young adults. Every single author in the collage above inspires their readers in some way, whether that’s to go off and write, to think about how they treat other people, to believe in themselves or simply to live their best life, and that is something that deserves to be celebrated.

Which female authors have inspired you? Which books would you recommend for International Women’s Day? Let me know in the comments!