Wednesday, 18 January 2017

My dream book conference

Just before Christmas, I was contacted by Eventbrite, who asked if I'd be interested in taking part in their new project. If you haven't heard of Eventbrite, they're the largest self-service ticketing platform in the world that helps people find and plan events.
The project that I was invited to participate in was planning my dream book conference.

There are so many different authors and genres that it took me a very long time to decide what I would even want my conference to focus on, let alone who I'd invite! But after much deliberation, I decided that if I was going to host a book conference, I would host...

The majority of the most anticipated young adult books being published this year are from UK authors, so the UKYA scene deserves to have a light brightly shone upon it. 

For moderators, I'd definitely have to pick Lucy and Rachel, the hosts of #UKYAchat and #SundayYA respectively. I always join in with both of their chats on Twitter and never find myself bored, because they ask the most insightful questions.

Now, for the authors:
  • Sara Barnard
    'Beautiful Broken Things' was one of my favourite debuts of all time, but I'm now calling Sara's second novel, 'A Quiet Kind of Thunder', my favourite book of all time. OF ALL TIME. That's a big claim. 
  • Juno Dawson
    I loved 'All of the Above', and I can't wait for 'Margot and Me' to be released next week. Juno is transgender and has been sharing her journey in weekly columns for Glamour magazine, so she's definitely one of the most inspiring UKYA authors around.
  • Lisa Williamson
    'The Art of Being Normal' was another debut that I LOVED. I went along to a panel with Lisa and David Levithan, and I was blown away by the answers she was giving. Lisa's second novel, 'All About Mia', is being released at the beginning of February, and I'm sure there will be just as much to ask her when it's finally out.
  • Holly Bourne
    The Spinster Club trilogy has made feminism cool for the young generation, so inviting her along to participate in this conference would convert the entire room!
  • Sarah Crossan
    Sarah beat off stiff competition last year to win the YA Book Prize for her free verse story 'One'. She's releasing a new novel soon, along with...
  • Brian Conaghan
    , who recently won the Costa Children's Book Award, so it would be amazing to have both of these brilliant minds at the same event. 
I could go on, but I don't think you could fit many more authors in - particularly because I'd want all of them to talk for hours, which could make the conference overrun a little bit!

If you're thinking of planning an event, check out Eventbrite's conference management page. They've been used to organise TED talks in the past, so you can guarantee that they'll get the job done right.

If you were going to organise your dream book conference, what topic would you pick and who would you invite?

TOP FIVE WEDNESDAY: Top five Marmite books

(Top Five Wednesday was created by GingerReadsLainey. Find out more at the Goodreads group!)

Some books are like Marmite: you either love them, or you hate them. I'm a lot better at hating books than loving them, so this has been a very hard topic for me to choose titles for. I finally managed to narrow it down to five, though!

5) 'Divergent' by Veronica Roth
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I can understand why people hate the later books in the series, but when I read it I thought that 'Divergent' was flawless as a series opener. It can work as a standalone, but it also sets up an enigma that urges you to carry on with the rest of the books, the huge cast are interesting and varied and it stood out from other dystopians (which was hard, because at the time of its release dystopians were vastly over-saturated!). 

4) 'Animal Farm' by George Orwell
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I almost picked '1984', but I didn't love the entirety of that novel (you've got to admit there are some bits that drag!) but 'Animal Farm' was perfect from start to finish. I can understand people disagree with George Orwell's overly-political metaphors, but I think using animals is a genius way to evaluate humanity without obviously criticising.

3) 'The Catcher in the Rye' by J.D. Salinger
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I've read 'The Catcher in the Rye' twice, and though I didn't like it as much the second time as I did the first, I still really enjoyed it. A lot of people think it's utter trash, but I think it's a brilliant classic and can definitely be called one of the first YA novels. 

2) 'Looking For Alaska' by John Green
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I know a lot of people love 'Looking For Alaska', but most of the people I talk to say it's not their favourite John Green book. I thought 'Paper Towns' was okay but I absolutely hated 'The Fault In Our Stars', and I've had quite a few passionate arguments with people about why 'Looking For Alaska' is superior! 

1) The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
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No, I haven't read the gender swapped version of 'Twilight' that was released for the tenth anniversary, but I actually loved the series when I first read it. For someone who has always been terrified of finishing series, I was surprised when I managed to read all four of these fairly chunky books within a week. 
I've read a lot more since picking these up, and I have a feeling that I'll be a lot less affectionate towards them if/when I reread them, but I definitely can't see why people slate them as much as they do. 

I hope you enjoyed this Top Five Wednesday! Do you love or hate any of these books, or do you just feel ambivalent towards them?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

BLOG TOUR: 'Relativity' by Antonia Hayes

Welcome to my stop on the 'Relativity' blog tour! 
The wonderful Clara from Corsair contacted me way back in October inviting me to participate in this blog tour, and I've been looking forward to this day ever since. I know a lot of you won't have heard of 'Relativity' before, so I've made sure my review is completely spoiler free. 
Check out the synopsis below, then keep scrolling to read my review: 
Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.
His single mother, Claire, is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can't shield him for ever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.
Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father's absence from his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.
Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

'Before you hear any words, you can hear the panic.' 

The first chapter is the only chapter in the entire book set in the present tense. I found it quite jarring to start the novel and then have to readjust to the past tense, but it does the job - it makes the opening enigmatic and unforgettable.

Claire has been a single mother for the majority of Ethan's twelve years, and despite everything she does for him she knows he still wonders about his father. Mark had to leave them when Ethan was a baby, but Claire has concealed the truth from her son, hoping that she'll be able to save him from more pain.
Mark returns to Sydney after he receives phone call from his brother. His father John is dying of cancer and wants to see him. He's never had the best relationship with his dad, and he has plenty of reasons not to return to Sydney, but despite all of his apprehensions he gets on a flight, leaving his home in Kalgoorlie. When he sees John, he makes his last request known: he wants to see his grandson before he dies.
Mark contacts Claire, determined not to let his father down again. But Claire is adamant that it's a bad idea: she doesn't want Ethan to meet his grandfather when he's so ill because it'll cause unnecessary upset.
Ethan has enough going on in his life. He's being bullied at school, and when one of his ex-friends blames him for his father leaving he lashes out, knocking one of Will's teeth out and giving him a black eye. The school organises a meeting between Ethan and Claire and Will and his parents, and in this meeting Will's mother tells Ethan something that Claire has always concealed.
Ethan's father was sent to prison. He's a criminal.
Distraught, he runs out of the room, ignoring his mother's shouts to come back. He runs until he can't run anymore, and he only stops when he has a seizure, falling to the pavement under the baking Australian sun.
After running tests and observing Ethan, the doctor's come to the conclusion that the seizure was caused by a scar on his brain which he received from a non-accidental head injury as a baby. Ethan's confused: non-accidental head injury? What happened to him? But when he asks his mum he finds out that it was also referred to as Shaken Baby Syndrome, and it's the reason that his father was sent to jail.
With Mark still adamant that he didn't purposefully harm their baby, Claire is torn. Should she believe him, or should she believe the jury that decided he was guilty?

At points, 'Relativity' went completely over my head. Mark and Ethan both love physics, so much so that Ethan's doctor believes he might be a savant, able to see physics in action in the air around them. I do not have a scientific mind, meaning that there were huge swathes of this book that I was reading, rereading, puzzling over and having to completely ignore because I couldn't make head nor tail of the explanations or examples given. It doesn't always add to the story, and sometimes feels as though it's seguing into another physics-filled section for the sake of it, not to further the plot or develop the characters.
That being said, I think Antonia Hayes' writing is a dream. It's beautifully written, with a magical prose that weaves throughout the novel and takes your breath away. Despite the traumatic subject matter it's an uplifting story: Ethan thrives despite the hurdles he had to overcome early in his life while Claire shows that a single parent can raise a child as wonderfully as anyone else.
I'm not going to give too much away about the ending of the novel, but I can tell you that my favourite chapter was the penultimate chapter, 'Antimatter'. We jump back in time to the day that Claire finds out she's pregnant, and follow the couple chronologically through her pregnancy and Ethan's first four months of life, up until the day that he's admitted to hospital. I'd been dipping in and out of the book up until that point - it hadn't really gripped me, though I was enjoying it - but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page as the events unfolded.
Leaving such a huge chapter until the end of the book was a risky move, but it paid off. There's so much going on in this story: the will they/won't they nature of Claire and Mark's reunion, Ethan's desperation to build a relationship with his father, and his budding friendship with fellow seizure sufferer Alison. It's complex but not overwhelming. All of the characters are given their own chance to shine, and they all have such vastly different personalities (with the exception of Ethan and Mark's common interest in physics) that all of their individual stories are as interesting as the driving narrative of the main plot.

Claire says it best herself:
"Relativity isn't just about space or time." 
If you have a science brain (unlike me!) you'll be blown away by this book, but even without that I still have to give it a solid 4 stars. I haven't read anything like 'Relativity' before, and though the subject of Shaken Baby Syndrome is distressing, it was fascinating to read about it from both sides of the argument: the accused and the accuser.
I'm definitely going to keep an eye on Antonia Hayes - if her debut is written this beautifully, her writing is only going to get stronger with every novel she releases.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten more books that need Goodreads love

(Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and The Bookish!)

We've all been there. You absolutely LOVE a book, and want to talk about it with EVERYONE... But no one else has heard of it. All of the reviews on Goodreads are 'meh' at best.
I've had that more times than I can count. I get really excited about a novel, and find that no one knows who the author is and hasn't taken a chance on the book. I wrote about this back in July, but I've now found another ten titles that I've rated 4 or 5 stars, but have less than 200 reviews in total on Goodreads (I don't have enough 4/5 star titles to talk about that still have less than 100!)

10) 'The ReArranged Life' by Annika Sharma - 137 reviews
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Nithya falls in love with James, and needs to decide whether to choose him or her family, culture and traditions. An #ownvoices novel that deals with a huge topic. 

9) 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' - 137 reviews
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I'm disappointed that this UKYA anthology doesn't have more reviews, because it's stuffed to the brim with most of my favourite authors, including: Lisa Williamson, Juno Dawson, Cat Clarke, and Holly Bourne. Plus for every book sold £1 was donated to Crisis, helping the homeless over Christmas. 

8) 'Untaken' by J.E. Anckorn - 124 reviews
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An alien invasion. If you liked 'The 5th Wave', you'll enjoy this one. 

7) 'Hour of Mischief' by Aimee Hyndman - 123 reviews
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If you want to read a strong female character and crave positive representations of people with disabilities, Janet Redstone - the one-armed protagonist of 'Hour of Mischief' - will be your new best friend. 

6) 'Hello Me, It's You' - 121 reviews
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I haven't mentioned the majority of non-fiction books that I've read, because a lot of them have minuscule amounts of reviews because they're niche. However, I highly recommend 'Hello Me, It's You'. It's a collection of letters from people to their teenage selves, giving them advice and ensuring them that things do get better. 

5) 'Being a Girl' by Hayley Long - 111 reviews
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This collaboration between Hayley Long and Gemma Correll is a must-read for all girls. I'm 20, and even I learnt things reading this book!

4) 'Born of Treasure' by Jordan Elizabeth - 56 reviews
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The second book in Jordan Elizabeth's steampunk series, the Treasure Chronicles definitely deserve more attention than they're currently receiving. 

3) 'Runners and Riders' by Jordan Elizabeth - 27 reviews
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I wrongly assumed this Treasure Chronicles spin-off was a novella, so receiving a full-length book was a surprise!

2) 'Daughter of Glass' by Vicki Keire - 27 reviews
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I read 'Daughter of Glass' two years ago, and I can't remember the foggiest thing about what went on in the story. However, I rated it four stars, which means it must have been a worthwhile read!

1) 'Wondrous' by Travis M. Riddle - 12 reviews
'Wondrous' has only been out for a couple of weeks, which explains why it has such a low amount of ratings, but I loved this story of a nine-year-old who gets transported to another world and has to find his way home. 

I hope you liked this Ten Top Tuesday! Which books have you read that are completely underrated?

Monday, 16 January 2017

COVER REVEAL: 'True North' by L.E. Sterling

I read 'True Born' back in April, and I loved it. I'd fallen out of love with the idea of dystopians, because they all seem to regurgitate the same plot, making them predictable and bland, but 'True Born' revitalised my love for the genre. As soon as I finished it, I was adding the sequel to my Want To Read list, desperate to continue on with Lucy and Margot's story.

So when an email popped into my inbox last night asking me if I'd like to be involved in the cover reveal for the second novel in the series, 'True North', I jumped at the chance. I seriously don't think I've ever responded to an email that quickly!

Keep scrolling down to see the cover, and then look below for a synopsis of what is going to happy to the Fox twins next...

Abandoned by her family in Plague-ridden Dominion City, eighteen-year-old Lucy Fox has no choice but to rely upon the kindness of the True Borns, a renegade group of genetically enhanced humans, to save her twin sister, Margot. But Nolan Storm, their mysterious leader, has his own agenda. When Storm backtracks on his promise to rescue Margot, Lucy takes her fate into her own hands and sets off for Russia with her True Born bodyguard and maybe-something-more, the lethal yet beautiful Jared Price. In Russia, there's been whispered rumors of Plague Cure.
While Lucy fights her magnetic attraction to Jared, anxious that his loyalty to Storm will hurt her chances of finding her sister, they quickly discover that not all is as it appears... and discovering the secrets contained in the Fox sisters' blood before they wind up dead is just the beginning. 
As they say in Dominion, sometimes it's not you... it's your DNA.  
I can't put into words how much I love this cover. I'm ecstatic that it matches the cover for the first book, because so many series have been getting redesigned halfway through and that's a huge pet peeve of mine. 
The thing that really grabs me is that byline. "It's not you... it's your DNA." Having studied psychology, I've always been fascinated by reductionist theories that you can't change who you are at a fundamental level, and if that's going to be dealt with in this book I know I'm going to adore it.

'True North' is set to be released on April 4th. If you're like me and you can't wait to continue on with the story, order a copy today!

About the author:

L.E Sterling had an early obsession with sci-fi, fantasy and romance to which she remained faithful even through an M.A. in Creative Writing and a PhD in English Literature - where she completed a thesis on magical representation. She is the author of two previous novels, the cult hit YA novel 'The Originals' (under pen name L.E. Vollick), dubbed "The Catcher in the Rye of a new generation" by one reviewer, and the urban fantasy 'Pluto's Gate'. 

Originally hailing from Parry Sound, Ontario, L.E. spent most of her summers roaming across Canada in a van with her father, a hippie musician, and her brothers and an occasional stray mutt - inspiring her writing career. She currently lives in Toronto, Ontario. 

BLOG TOUR: 'Frostblood' by Elly Blake

I'm beyond excited to welcome you to my stop on the Frostblood Blog Tour! 

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of 'Frostblood' way back in July, at the Chapter 5 Proof Party. I'm only halfway through, because I decided to wait until closer to the release date to actually pick it up (yes, I'm a moron, I'm aware!) so I haven't got a review for you just yet - sorry! That's what you get when you spontaneously decide to apply to university and you have to put reading on the back burner for a few days...

However, I do have an exclusive - and very hot - excerpt for you!
When Becca invited me to be a part of this tour, there was only one question: would I choose fire, or would I choose ice?
Well, I HATE the cold, so I had to pick fire. Read on for a firey excerpt from 'Frostblood'...
I offered my hand to the fire. Sparks leaped from the hearth and settled onto my fingers, heat drawn to heat, and glittered like molten gems against my skin. With my free hand, I pulled a bucket of melting snow closer and edged forward on my knees, ready to douse myself if the sparks flared into something much larger.
Which is exactly what I intended.
Winter solstice was six weeks away, but my village, high in the mountains, was already blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Grandmother used to say that the true test of a Fireblood's gift was in the cold. But she died before she could show me more than the most rudimentary of lessons, and Mother had made me promise never to practice at all. 
It was a promise I couldn't keep. If the king's soldiers discovered me, wasn't it better to know how to wield my heat? I closed my eyes and focused on my heart, willing the gathering warmth to surge upward and out the way Grandmother had taught me. If I did it right, the bright sparks on my hand would burst into tiny flames.
Come on, little wisp, where are you?
After years of being told to tamp down my fire, keep it hidden, make it invisible, I struggled each time I tried to find it. But there it was, a small, churning tendril. I coaxed it forward, a reluctant thread that grew a little, then a little more.
That's it. I held my breath, afraid to break the spell.
A gust of frigid air whipped my hair across my face. The sparks on my fingers died, and the wisp darted back into my heart.
Mother slammed the door and shoved the quilt back against the crack at the bottom, a deep shiver shaking her fine-boned frame under her cloak. "It's wicked out there. I'm chilled to the bone."
Seeing her tremble, I finally scooted to the side, revealing the hearth. "I thought you were delivering a baby."
"It wasn't time yet." Her eyes widened at the tall flames, then narrowed.
I shrugged, my excitement wilting. "It was so cold."
"Ruby, you were practicing." The tone of disappointment was familiar. "If even one person sees what you're doing, just one, they could alert the king's soldiers. With the summer being so wet, and the grains running out, people will do anything to survive, including taking a reward-"
"I know. You don't have to tell me again."
"Then why are you doing this? It's bad enough when you're not trying to use your gift." She waved her hand at a pile of half-burned rags. Scorch marks still stained the floor.
My cheeks warmed. "I'm sorry I lost my temper the other day. Again. But tonight I could almost control the flame."
She shook her head in a tense movement that told me there was no use pleading. I wrapped my arms around myself and rocked gently. Finally, her wind-chapped fingers reached out slowly to take a lock of my hair, which she always said was lucky to be black and not red like some Firebloods'. My skin might be a little too sun-kissed for a child of the North, but people didn't look closely in this sleepy village, where no one had powers, frost or fire. 
"I understand that your gift is a part of you," she said softly. "But I lie awake at night worrying. How can we keep your secret if you insist on using your fire, even when you know it can spiral out of control?"
It was the same question she'd asked over and over during the past few months, when I'd decided to start practicing with my gift. And I replied with the same answer. "How will I learn to control it if I never use it? And if we're not safe here, why don't we go somewhere safe?"
Tell me that excerpt didn't grip you, and I'll tell you you're a liar! Even though this feels like it must come some way into the story, it's actually the first few pages of the book, and it makes it impossible to stop reading. Talk about a strong opening!
One thing I can say about 'Frostblood' is that it's very difficult to put down, so don't do what I did. Make sure you put aside a chunk of time when you decide to pick it up, because you won't want to stop turning the pages until you find out exactly what happens to Ruby. This is one of those books where you'll keep saying "just one more chapter" until you realise it's the middle of the night and you've almost read the entire book.

I hope you enjoyed my stop on the 'Frostblood' blog tour! Make sure to visit the other bloggers involved in the tour this week, and then run out and buy a copy of this novel. You definitely won't regret it.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' by Sara Barnard

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*This review will contain spoilers!*

First things first, I need to say a huge thank you to Macmillan Children's Books, for accepting my request to view this title on NetGalley, and to NetGalley for the service that they provide.
'Here are three separate but similar things: shyness, introversion and social anxiety. You can be one, two or all three of these things simultaneously. A lot of the time people think they're all the same thing but that's just not true.'

'Millie Gerdavey cheated on her boyfriend again.'
This opening sentence made me think this book was going in a COMPLETELY different direction.
I hadn't read the blurb beforehand - something I normally do - because I knew I was going to enjoy the book. 'Beautiful Broken Things' was one of my favourite debuts of last year, and I've been highly anticipating reading more of Sara's writing since I read her first release way back in March.

Steffi has selective mutism. Well, calling it that makes it sound like her silence is a choice, but often it's completely the opposite. She wants to speak, but 'words fizz up on [her] tongue, then dissolve into nothing'. 
Rhys is the new boy at school, and he's deaf. He's good a lip-reading, but prefers to speak using BSL (British Sign Language). 
Steffi knows some BSL - her uncle decided it was worth a shot, to see if it would get her talking again - so they get introduced on the first day of school. Steffi doesn't have anyone else, because her best friend Tem went to college to study sports science rather than staying on at their sixth form, but her and Rhys strike up a fast friendship. He's patient with her, not afraid to slow down and simplify his signing so that she can follow the conversation and learn more of his language.
Soon enough, their friendship becomes more. Steffi has never had a boyfriend before, and when she's not fighting with her anxiety she's the happiest she's ever been. 
But this is the year she's supposed to be proving that she can make it on her own. If she can't show a marked improvement in her communication, her parents have told her that she can't apply to university like she wants to. Having Rhys makes her feel more confident than she's ever been before, but her mother worries that she might be using him as a safety net. 
Steffi is determined to show everyone - including herself - that she can learn to cope with her anxiety and get on with her life. Whether that'll be with or without Rhys, only time will tell. 

I'd like to tell you a story.
Last April, I turned 20. The night before, I went to see Funeral For a Friend in Cardiff. The night before that, I was seeing Bring Me The Horizon at the Royal Albert Hall. I spent the majority of my birthday with my girlfriend, walking around the countryside and talking for hours. I almost cried when she gave me presents, because they showed exactly how well she knew me, and I was struck by how much she cared about me. The night of my birthday, I went out for a wonderful meal with my mum and my grandad, and the restaurant played both 'The Fox' by Ylvis and Weird Al Yankovic's 'eBay'.
No part of the weekend could have been better.
Then the day after my birthday happened.
I woke up, and I felt as though I had a lump in my throat. It was an effort to get out of bed, the weight of the world pressing against my chest and leaving me trapped there. After a couple of hours of wallowing I summoned up some energy and made my way downstairs, but as soon as I saw my family I started crying.
I didn't stop crying the entire day. I couldn't explain why; I could hardly speak because I was blubbering, hyperventilating and internally berating myself. What was wrong with me? Why did I have to ruin one of the happiest weekends of my life by having the worst day I could ever remember experiencing?
Why couldn't I just be happy like a regular person? 
Steffi has a birthday party, which goes amazingly. She spends the day with her family, Tem and Rhys, and nothing could possible be better. But when she goes to bed she has a debilitating panic attack. She's awake until the early hours of the morning, worrying about losing all of the people around her and never having another wonderful day like that again.
As you can see, I related to this book.
When my counsellor told me I had anxiety, I laughed her off. I wasn't anxious, I had the same worries as everyone else! Everyone gets on the bus and starts panicking about the potential of missing their stop. Everyone worries about their friends and family dying.
Everyone worries, but some people worry more than others. Seeing pieces of myself in Steffi at multiple points during 'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' has helped me realise that I should have listened to my counsellor, and it has made me more determined than ever to focus on self-care and the state of my mental health.

I loved everything about this novel.
The relationship between Steffi and Rhys is adorable, but more importantly than that it's realistic. There's no kissing in unrealistic places, just a simple make-out session under the glare of a streetlight. Their first time isn't perfect - in fact, Steffi's happy to admit that the second time was much better than the first! These aren't scenes out of a movie; these are scenes out of real life. Reading their interactions made me miss my boyfriend, but it also made me feel beyond grateful to have someone who I feel this strongly about. If you've ever taken anyone you love for granted, this book will remind you just how special they are to you.
Sara Barnard doesn't gloss over the less attractive parts of being a teenager. Steffi and Rhys both make mistakes - particularly when she sends him the Youtube link to a song and doesn't consider his inability to hear! - but that's a part of being human. Steffi argues with Tem, because even lifelong best friendships have fault lines. There's the usual tension between Steffi and her parents, but with an unusual family dynamic: Steffi's mum and dad have both remarried but remain civil, and Steffi's stepbrother, Clarke, died a few years ago.
Nothing in this book is perfect, which is what makes the story itself so faultless. I could list every scene here, do a page-by-page breakdown of all of the action and why I loved it so much, or you can just go and read it yourself.
I don't need to justify why you'll love this book, because you're going to. It's impossible not to think of this as one of the best young adult novels ever written.

This is my favourite book of all time.
Thank you so much, Sara, for writing such a beautiful book. 
'A Quiet Kind of Thunder' is a book that's helped me understand myself more, a book that's shining a light on the struggles of the deaf community, a book that shows that you can do anything that you put your mind to. 
Yes, it's a love story. 
But it's so much more than that.