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REVIEW: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

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Catherine Doyle chose The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender as one of her favourite books to be read by our book club. I can definitely see why Cat chose this book as one of her favourites. Her novel Vendetta is all about family, and Ava Lavender is the ultimate family saga. The relationships between siblings and parents and children is what really resonates about this story – it keeps a very magical and surreal plot tied firmly into reality.

One of my favourite things about this book was the length of the timeline. The author isn’t afraid to go back to the very traces of the family history, long before the real plot happens, and the gamble works. The writing is so lovely that it carried the book and kept me reading, even without any payoff in sight. The plot doesn’t kick off of a long time, but when it does I felt like I’d earnt it. The emotions of the characters hit hard, because you’re so invested in their lives and family.

I love the detail and sheer attention to worldbuilding that clearly went into this story. It feels so lifelike that at times I forgot it was fiction and not an autobiography. That’s how real and true the magic feels.

It also has one of the most tragic endings I’ve ever read: I think it’s going to haunt me for a long time.

I wouldn’t say it’s one of my all-time favourites, because I tend to be drawn to plot-driven rather than character-driven stories; however it was a lovely read that I can see myself going back to in the future. It’s not really a YA, in my opinion. It covers so many characters from childhood to adulthood that it can be read by people of any age, and everyone will get something different out of it.

I reviewed The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender for my book club, The Whackademics. You can read the rest of the reviews by Alice Oseman, Catherine Doyle, Louise O’Neill and Sara Barnard here, and find out what our magical powers would be! 

REVIEW: Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

When I was a teenager, I didn’t read YA. I read ‘grown up’ books and thought YA was for kids. (Note that I’ve since seen the light, and I now read so much YA that I ended up writing it.) However, back when I was 11 or 12, one of the only exceptions to my uninformed ‘YA is for kids’ rule was His Dark Materials. It’s one of the first books I can remember finishing and immediately demanding that my mum buy me the next.

It’s the book I always think of when people talk about crossover YA: books that can be read by both adults and kids. Harry Potter is usually the obvious example of this, but I don’t think Northern Lights gets enough credit.It’s incredible to me that Pullman managed to write a book about such huge concepts – alternative universes, interdimensional travel, religion, war between races, heaven and earth, the creation of the universe – in a way that captivated the interest of both twelve year olds and adults alike. I can’t imagine how to even start explaining those kind of concepts to children, but Pullman pulls it off with flair and imagination.

His Dark Materials is a genuine epic, in every way, and that kind of huge and all-encompassing world building is something I try to encapsulate with my writing – a book shouldn’t just be about one thing, and Northern Lights is the perfect example of this, including everything from alcoholic bears to immortal witches to hares with hot air balloons to college professors. And that’s just the first book in the trilogy!

As a twelve year old, I was particularly taken with a character from The Amber Spyglass, Mary Malone, a protagonist who is a female physicist. She was a huge inspiration to me, and I probably wouldn’t be spouting hyperbole to say that she is one of the characters who encouraged me to go on to study Physics at university.

In fact, every book in the trilogy features vivid and realistic female characters, from the sharp and unfathomably brave Lyra to Mrs Coulter (strong female characters don’t have to be Good) to Serafina Pekkala. I can’t express how important this was to me growing up, and I’ve rarely come across another book which writes women so well, even after another decade of reading.

More than anything, I feel so lucky to have found this book at exactly the right age. If I’d read it for the first time now, at the grand old age of 22, it wouldn’t have had half the impact on me as it did at 12. Some books find you just when you need them, and Northern Lights was that book for me. It formed my opinions about literature, science, imagination, religion, and a huge number of other topics.

I wouldn’t be the person I am without it – I might not have even done the same degree course. It’s not often you can say that about a book. And for that, however many other books I read and consider my favourites, Northern Lights will always have a place in my heart.

I reviewed Northern Lights for my book club, The Whackademics. You can read the rest of the reviews by Alice Oseman, Catherine Doyle, Louise O’Neill and Sara Barnard here, and find out what our daemons would be!