Caragh O’Brien – Birthmarked I (2010)

Publication date: 2010

Pages: 362

Word count: 104491

Ages: YA

“Be good, Gaia,” Capt. Grey told her, his voice grave. She still refused to look at him, but she could feel the heated flush of anger again in her cheeks. “Cooperate with the guards. For your own sake,” he continued.

“Be good yourself, Captain,” she said bitterly. “If you know how.”

I’ve read Birthmarked ages ago and never got around reviewing it but it’s still very present because I liked it so much and loved how high the stakes were for the heroine. I don’t think it got the attention it deserved, possibly because Birthmarked, the first in the Birthmarked series, came out at a time when a lot of dystopian or post-apocalyptic YA novels came out.

Birthmarked is set three centuries in the future after natural disasters have turned the earth into an arid zone. It is set where Chicago used to be. It’s hot and dry and the country is divided into the ruling population, inside the wall, or Enclave, and those outside. Sixteen-year-old Gaia and her mother are both midwives, delivering a certain quota of babies to the Enclave. Until the day her parents are abducted and brought inside the wall, Gaia, doesn’t find anything wrong with the way she lives. But now, fearing her parents might never come back, she has to enter the secret city and try to save them. It soon becomes clear to her that the things they were told were not true and that this system is based on injustice and exploitation of people. And she finally finds out, why those babies are delivered to the Enclave.

I loved the book because of it’s strong, complex heroine. I also loved the descriptions of the Enclave. They are very vivid and the place reminded me of a medieval city. The story isn’t overly fast-paced but it’s very gripping. Gaia tries to stay undiscovered inside of the city walls but it’s almost impossible. As I said, the stakes are high. She knows her parents are accused of something and that they might be killed for it. I was wondering, whether or not the stakes would still be high at the end of book one and they are. The story has an end but there’s also a cliff hanger, which makes you want to pick up the next book and spend more time with this clever, courageous heroine. If my TBR piles weren’t so high, I would have finished the series already. Unfortunately though, they are, and so I’m not sure when I will return to the world of Birthmarked, which is a shame as it was an enjoyable first book.

“This is a Typical YA Ending”

Copyright -

This is just a quick post about something that’s been on my mind for a while. It’s sad that there are so many preconceived ideas about YA novels, ideas that show those who speak about them, very often haven’t read any.

I’m writing for adults, children and Young Adults and in one of my writer’s groups a fellow writer commented on one of my stories for adults. She found the ending was a bit too corny, a bit too much of a happy ending. I’m not saying she was wrong. I think she was right but she then went to add: “It’s a typical YA ending. But this is literary fiction.” I was so stunned, I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t in the mood. But it’s definitely not the first time that I hear this kind of comment.

In this post I only want to discuss one part of the comment – the ending. (The defence of the literary merits of YA literature deserve another, longer post.) I recently read two YA novels and they made me realize that the endings are one of the things I love about YA. And why do I love them so much? Precisely because they often aren’t neat or predictable and that’s how they manage to capture life’s complexity. I think, she may have mixed up YA books with romance novels, where there’s mostly a happy ending.

Unfortuntely, as far as preconceived ideas about YA novels go, it isn’t even the worst.

The book that I’ve read recently and that made me, realize once more, how fresh and unpredictable YA novels are – was an older book by Judy Blume – Tiger Eyes. It wouldn’t be a bad choice for someone who isn’t familiar with YA novels and definitely a great choice to get rid of some of the stereotypical views.

Of course, there are YA novels with happy endings. And that’s fine as well. But it’s not something that’s typical for YA.

What do you think?


Louise O’Neill: Asking For It (2015)


Publication date: 2015

Pages: 350

Word count: ?

Ages: YA

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.

What a book! I finished it a while ago but I’m still stunned. Sometimes you read a book and the topic shocks you. Then you read a book and the topic and your reaction shock you. This is what happened when I read Louise O’Neill’s brilliant novel Asking For It.

Asking For It is set in a small Irish town where everyone knows everyone. Eighteen-year-old Emma O’Donovan is the local beauty and most popular girl. There’s hardly a boy who can resist her and many girls want to be her friend. She loves to party, drinks, takes drugs and hooks up with random boys. You could say she’s pretty wild. One evening, like so often, she does drugs and has casual sex with a guy and then things get out of hands. The next afternoon, her parents find her asleep on the verandah with a serious sunburn and no idea what happened before and after she passed out. She’ll find out soon enough. Because someone filmed it and posted it on Facebook. Now she’s not popular anymore, she’s just a slut.

Emma’s first reaction is to suck it up and forget all about it but people tell her she has to report what happened as rape. From the moment, the word is said and charges are made, things go even further downhill for Emma. The ending was a real shocker but realistic.

It’s a sad and sobering story and the way it is told is so powerful and eye-opening because of Louise O’Neill’s choice of main protagonist. If Emma was just a beautiful, wild girl, it wouldn’t have had such an impact on me. I would have felt sorry for her and sided with her but Emma isn’t a likable character. On the contrary. She’s possibly the most obnoxious character I’ve ever come across. She’s narcissistic and has to be the center of attention all the time. She loves to steal other girls’ boyfriends or seduce the boys they fancy. She’s also jealous and downright nasty, mean, and offensive. Since she’s the first person narrator we get to know her very well. She’s a real piece of work.

At first I didn’t understand O’Neill’s choice of character but when I noticed my reaction, I got it. I’m ashamed to admit but my first thought was – she really had it coming. That gave me pause and I had to ask myself “seriously – because she’s unlikable she deserved what happened?” and that’s when I had to say – no, of course not. Nobody deserves something like this. And nobody is asking for it. And that’s when I began to admire Louise O’Neill’s choice because it shows what an explosive topic this is. What horrible reactions victims might have to face. It’s easy to feel empathy with a likable girl – wild or quiet – but obnoxious girls like Emma deserve understanding and support as well. Emma is a 21st century girl. In some ways she’s maybe an exaggeration, but in many other ways she’s not. Many Teenage girls drink, party, do drugs, and have casual sex but that doesn’t mean they are asking for being abused and raped. And they certainly don’t deserve it.

Asking For It looks at important aspects of the discussion around rape. Just because a girl/boy, woman/man was drunk or unconscious that doesn’t mean it’s not rape. Dressing in a provocative way, doesn’t mean someone wants to be touched  . . . It’s appalling that these things still need to be said. The idea that they are punished for behaving the wrong way is so deep-rooted that some women don’t even dare calling what happened to them rape. The book also shows how easily society turns against the victim.

Asking For It is powerful. The writing is strong and tight. Emma’s voice is so distinct, I could still hear her after I finished the book. The bragging Emma and the one that was shamed and humiliated. Sadly, Asking For It is an important book. We need books like this. They raise awareness, offer food for thought and topics for discussions. Documentaries like The Hunting Ground show all too well how real “rape culture” is.

This review first appeared on my blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

Dana Reinhardt: We Are the Goldens (2014)

We Are the Goldens

Publication date: 2014

Pages: 198

Word count: ?

Ages: YA

Last year I read my first Dana Reinhardt novel (The Summer I Learned to Fly) and liked it a great deal. The story was cute, the characters lovable but what I liked the most was the tone and the voice.

I knew I would read another of her novels very soon and when I saw We Are The Goldens at the book shop, I had to get it.

Freshman Nell and her best friend Felix can hardly wait to go to Nell’s older sister’s school. Like her sister, Layla, she’ll be joining the varsity soccer team. The two sisters are very close. Nell worships Layla and thinks of them as one person – Nellayla. But as soon as Nell and Felix join Layla at her school, Layla begins to change. Like most of the girls she seems taken with her art teacher, a cool, edgy guy. Because he’s young, good-looking, and accessible, many rumours circulate. Everybody thinks he’s having affairs with his students. When Layla withdraws more and more and doesn’t share anything with Nell, Nell gets frantic. Is it possible Layla hides something from her? Something as big as an affair with a teacher? When Nell finally finds out what it is, she struggles to understand Layla and earn her trust.

While observing Layla takes up a lot of Nell’s time, she has also got to figure out a lot of things for herself. Falling in love with the wrong guy is just one of them.

We Are the Goldens is told in second person, as if the narrator, Nell, was speaking directly to her older sister Layla. Second person is a difficult point of view. It’s not easy to pull it off but Dana Reinhardt really made this work. It gives the book a very intimate feel, which I enjoyed. I also loved Nell’s voice. It’s a likable, gentle voice.

To be entirely honest, We Are the Goldens was a bit of a mixed bag. I really loved Nell’s part of the story. When she focussed on herself, her love life, her best friend Felix, going to a new school, her hopes and dreams. Nell and Felix are an adorable couple. He stands by her, no matter what. But what I didn’t like is the obsessive nature of Nell’s feelings for her sister. I found that a bit unhealthy.

The book has two major twists. To write about them would totally spoil the book, so let’s just say, I wasn’t too keen on the second twist. Or rather on what Nell did. The twist was actually surprising and made the book come together. One thing’s for sure, it’s the kind of ending, one would like to discuss.

While I didn’t love this book as much as The Summer I Learned to Fly and do have a couple of reservations, I still enjoyed it and can’t wait to read another of Dana Reinhardt’s books.

Lois Lowry: The Giver (1993)

The Giver

Publication date: 1993

Pages: 180

Word count: 43,617

Ages: MG 4 – 8

I wanted to read Lois Lowry’s The Giver for ages. Not only because it was a Newbery Medal winner but because it has become one of the great MG classics and has even been made into a movie.

The Giver was written at a time when dystopian novels were not as common as today and so I was particularly curious to see how it would compare.

I must say, I enjoyed reading it but found it very short. One of the central questions is resolved but a lot is still open at the end of the book. That’s not surprising as it’s the first in a series.

The central character is eleven-year-old Jonas, who lives with his mother, father, and younger sister. We soon learn that they are not his biological parents, nor is his sister his biological sister. Families like we know them do not exist. There are chosen women who give birth to children, and the family units, composed of a man and a woman, chosen for each other by the elders of the society, can request one of these children.

The first half of the novel introduces us to Jonas’ world. At first the reader thinks that it’s more perfect than our world. There are no conflicts, no pain, no overpopulation, no struggles. Old people are cared for until they are released. People are assigned wives/husbands and jobs. Each year the kids are granted something new, learn something new. The twelfth birthday is a milestone and Jonas is just about to turn twelve. It’s the most important birthday because this is when the children are told what kind of jobs they will have. They will spend the next years in training and then, until their old age, they will keep the same profession. All the children are, understandably, nervous. Jonas is no exception. The birthday ceremonies are huge and everyone participates.

The way this book is told, everything prepares the reader for a big bang. We know that Jonas will probably not be assigned an ordinary job but something special. It would spoil the book completely if I said more. Just this much – because of his special assignment, Jonas gets to look beyond the surface of his world and learns what the ominous word “released” means. He discovers that his world is far from perfect and that stability and peace come at a high price.

As is often the case with books like this, it’s hard to say meaningful things without spoiling the book. But I hope I made you curious and you’ll pick this up. It’s well-told, suspenseful, and very thought-provoking. It addresses so many topics, topics that are common in dystopian novels, but also topics and challenges our contemporary society faces. I’m really glad I finally read it and can’t wait to watch the movie. Will I pick up the next in the series? I’m not sure. Although I liked it, I found it a bit dry.

Alice Hoffman: Nightbird (2015)

Hoffman Nightbird Book Cover

Publication date: 2015

Pages: 199

Word count: 40,777

Ages: MG 8 – 12

I’ve always been a huge fan of Alice Hoffman’s novels for adults but so far I’ve never read any of her books for children. Nightbird was the first. What a lovely, lovely book. I still pick it up and reread passages. I loved the setting, the rich, evocative descriptions. And the story. It is one of those books I didn’t want to end.

Twig lives with her beautiful mother in Sidwell, Massachusetts. They live in a farmhouse, outside of the village, where they grow pink apples. Her mother is a baker who is famous for her pink apple pies and lavender honey butter. Twig and her mother are outsiders in the small town. By choice. They are hiding a secret. A long, long time ago their family was cursed by a witch who lived in Mourning Dove cottage. The cottage has been abandoned until this summer when Julia and Agate and their parents move in. Twig’s mother doesn’t want Twig to become friends with the girls, who are about her age, but Twig’s been lonely for too long. She disregards the warning and, unintentionally, sets in motion a course of events that endanger her family and reveal their secret.

The lovely description and story would have been enough for me to love this book but the many wonderful messages made me love it even more. It explores the fate of outsiders, the “making” of monsters and the importance of preserving our flora and fauna.

To give you an idea of the lovely writing, here’s a passage from pages 47/48:

Instead of walking home on the road, where the Hall girls might catch up with me, I went through the Montgomery Woods. People said there were still bears in Sidwell, but I’d never run across one. I had spied raccoons and skunks and foxes, and I’d run across moles, which were shyer than I was, and boisterous turkeys. I must have looked like a twig to them, too, because they all ignored me.

Even though the Montgomerys had bought a huge section of the woods, aside from the old estate where they vacationed sometimes, it was still wilderness all around, no different than it had been hundreds of years earlier. Streams of lemony-yellow sunlight drifted in between the branches. There were ferns and swamp cabbage growing in the boggy places, stretches of watery land that were so darkly green they looked black. I found some bushes with thin fairy branches filled with wild raspberries that had ripened early. I picked some to bring home to James, and kept them in my pockets on the way back. I made a loop-deloop around the owl nesting grounds.

I know that I didn’t do this book justice. It sometimes happens when I like a book a great deal. I just can’t find the right words to convey how much I love it. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who loves an uplifting, warm, magical tale, told by a gentle, endearing character.


Fire by Kristin Cashore (2009)


Published by Dial Books in 2009

460 pages

112,634 words

Ages YA 

Did you ever shy away from reading another book by an author because you loved his or her first so much? That’s what happened after I read Kristin Cashore’s Graceling in 2008. I loved it so much that I didn’t read any of the sequels although I purchased the books as soon as they came out. Now, seven years after Fire came out, I finally picked it up. Was I disappointed? No and yes. I liked it a great deal but I didn’t love it as much as I loved Graceling. 

Fire is the story of Fire, the last human monster. A young woman so beautiful that she makes men do crazy things. But that isn’t Fire’s only striking feature. Like every monster, she can manipulate people’s thoughts. Fire lives in the kingdom Dell. A kingdom that is threatened by war. At the beginning of the novel, Fire is summoned to the court. With her ability to manipulate and read minds, she should question spies and help king Nash and his siblings Clara and Brigan, to detect the plans of their enemies. Fire is reluctant at first. She doesn’t use her power against people’s will but then she accepts and leaves her best friend and lover, Archer, behind and follows Brigan and his troops back to the king’s city.

Fire is a story of treachery and war. Courage and cowardice. Hope and despair. It’s suspenseful and well-plotted but that wasn’t what I liked about it. I loved the images Kristin Cashore evokes with her words. The monsters are such a great idea. The animals have the most striking fur. Golden or green cats with purple dots. Colorful mice and rats. Even bugs. I would definitely love to have a monster cat. There are also very dangerous red, yellow, and green raptors. Fire’s hair is – of course – fire-red. Monster’s love eating monster meat that’s why Fire is always in danger of being attacked by raptors. But they also attack other humans and are a constant threat. I could see these creatures, see the world they inhabit. Cashore is really a evocative writer and it was a joy to “see” her world.

I loved Fire. She is strong and true to herself. There are two love stories, one that’s about to end and a new one and both show that Fire chooses freely. No man can chain her. Another trait I loved is her love for animals. There are some wonderful animal characters in this story. Especially Fire’s horses and one small dog. Fire is a positive character but that doesn’t mean, she doesn’t have a darker side. She’s complex and quite often it takes her a while to act because she has to explore her heart. Before she isn’t sure that she only does what she wants and thinks is right, she won’t budge. I loved that Fire’s monstrosity and beauty allowed Cashore to explore topics as different as gender, relationships between men and women, having children or not – and all the topics tied to this like contraception, abortion, sterilisation – and many others.

I’m not entirely sure that one can call Graceling, Fire and Bitterblue a trilogy. They are set in the same realm but one could easily read only one of them. They do stand alone. As far as I know, Bitterblue, does bring the two first together. There are a few open questions in Fire, or rather we suspect that we might see a few things taken up again, so I would assume, Bitterblue isn’t in the same way a standalone. Be it as it may, I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m pretty certain, it will not take me another seven years before I do so.

Have you read any of the three “Graceling Realm” books? Which is your favourite?

Welcome to Whispers From the Story Forest


Like every avid reader, I started reading as a child and still remember many of the books I read back then. Unlike many others I stopped reading children’s books when I was barely thirteen and didn’t return to them until later. I accidentally came across a post on Tom’s Midnight Garden and was tempted to read the book. Shortly after that I read Thirteen Reasons Why and it blew me away. I loved both books so much that they rekindled a long-forgotten passion – children’s books and books for YA. While I come to these books as an enthusiastic reader, I also come to them as a writer. Already when I was reading children’s books as a kid, I started writing for children. At first it was a way to cheer myself up, later it became a vocation and something that enriched my writing for adults.

I have completed two books for children, one is the first in a chapter book series for children aged 5+, the other one a MG novel. Both are currently making the rounds of agents and publishing houses.

Since last year, I felt the urge to give this passion a home. While I still write about and review books for adults on my blog Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, I will  write about reading and writing books for children and young adults on Whispers From The Story Forest.

You will find different posts on this blog—reviews, musings on KidLit, writing advice and prompts, news from other countries, resources for KidLit writers and much more.

I hope you’ll join me on my  journey.