Chat · Young Adult Reviews

YALC Sampler Round-up

samplers

Quality Street, Roses, Celebrations, Heroes. Imagine a new chocolate selection was introduced. That’s how it feels to have a pile of samplers in my hands. These are the pre-releases the publishing industry wants me to know about. They’re all wrapped up in shiny covers, and I know I’m going to enjoy the pile in general, but I don’t know which sampler will be my special favourite. Here it is. My little taster of YALC, thanks to Rachy-Lou at Habitual Scribbler. 

 

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart –

Jules precision trains. Everything from her body to her memory is trained for victory. Since she witnessed the murder of her parents, Jules’s education has been overseen by the mysterious ‘woman in black’, who claims to want revenge for the murder. Now something has happened, something Jules wishes she could reverse. While hiding in Mexico, someone catches up with Jules and trails her when she escapes.

The pose is spare. While the language is simple, the hooks are dropped in exactly the right place. This is the kind of book which you start in the afternoon, and finish in the small hours.

Will I buy it?  Psychological drama isn’t my thing, but if blogging has taught be anything, it’s that you only learn about prose when you step outside your comfort zone.

 

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao –

Xifeng’s aunt Guma says the cards suggest Xifeng will have a life inside the Imperial Palace. Guma insists her niece will live at the Emperor’s side. When Xifeng shows interest in local boy Wei, Guma whips her into obedience. Wei says the cards are a curse. He offers Xifeng a life away from Guma: away from daily beatings. Xifeng wants to believe she could live at Wei’s side, but she is jealous of little Ning, the hired girl who could so easily steal Wei’s heart. There’s also the cards. The cards say Xifeng is destined for a different life…

Set in an East-Asian inspired fantasy world, this is a feast of description, from the silks and needlework, to the forest beyond the village. I love fairy-tale reinterpretations. This rewrites the story of the stepmother from Snow White. I want to know Xifeng’s future, and I want to know what becomes of Wei and Ning. Officially hooked.

 

Firelines by Cara Thurlbourn –

Once there were four cities. Then Mahg the Dissenter divided the fire stone which kept the cities in peace. Three of the cities fell to chaos. The city of Nhatu knew magick was the source of the problem. They built a wall, and made magick a punishable offence. Mahg destroyed the three other cities, and so the wise city of Nhatu became the one city.

So goes the history of Nhatu. Since Dad was convicted, Émi and her mother have lived in the Red Quarter, where people are forced to recite the history every day. Émi is not certain it is true. Émi is hiding secrets which could have her arrested, and sent to the convict camps at the edge of the wall. She also has a power which could take down the wall…

Gripped. Totally gripped. The world is believable, and I love the relationships between the characters, particularly between Émi and Nor. Nor has watched over Émi since she arrived in red quarter, and sees her potential. I also liked Tsam, Émi’s childhood friend who was promoted to the Gold Quarter.

I’m on the Firelines blog tour in September. Check back: I can’t wait to tell you more.

 

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. (Illustrated by Chris Priestly.)

Call me William. You won’t believe a word I say. My brother Shawn was shot dead the day before yesterday. The unspoken rules around here say nobody will speak up. It’s against the rules to cry. The rules say if someone you love is killed, you take revenge.

This is an unexpected favourite. Unexpected? I don’t do gritty urban violence. Psychological thrillers. Gun violence. Why did I love it? The story is told through prose poetry. The poems are free style. Apparently simple, they are deceptively clever. The story is made one point at a time. Feeling is conveyed not only through the words, but the shape of the poems, as in ‘I’ve Never Been’ where the poem splits down the middle to convey the sense of a chasm opening. The description which stuck with me was about grief being like a forced tooth extraction. After it happens, you can’t stop poking at the empty space with your tongue. It’s great to see prose poetry taken seriously in YA publishing.

 

Floored by Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood.

Six teenagers are thrown together in one situation. There’s Dawson, whose career as a child star ended when he hit puberty. Kaitlyn whose dreams of being a beautician ended when she became visually impaired. Sasha who goes unnoticed. Hugo, the politician’s son who thinks the non-wealthy are lazy coasters who deserve what they get. Velvet, who feels like a fraud because she comes from a working-class town. Then there’s Joe, the bright boy whose school and family have no higher aspiration for him than factory supervisor. Each day is told from seven perspectives, with an overarching third person narrator filling in the details.

Seven narrators? Sounded a bit much to me, but I trusted those author names. How good is this? What do you mean, I have to wait eleven months? It is difficult to do this justice in a short piece, but every voice is compelling, and it is possible to empathise with every perspective, (yup, even Hugo, the spoilt, sexist snob. He is awful, but I got a sense of the bright boy who was always written off as ‘so-and-so’s son’. He’s a total Draco Malfoy. He’s lived in this insulated little world, with no sense of how unusual his family wealth is.) There is a definite theme of social division, and it’s great to see the North/South divide highlighted in YA fiction.

 

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha lures dragons with forbidden stories. As a child, Asha caused the most powerful dragon in Firgard to storm the village. Since then she has been known as Iskari (the lifetaker). Her role as a dragon hunter saved her from punishment.

 Cousin Safire says Asha hunts to avoid thoughts of her betrothal. Asha doesn’t want to marry the cruel commandant, but there seems to be no way out…

Some interesting discussion about our perceptions of a ‘hero’. In the old stories, female Iskari is the villain, and male Namesara the hero. In the current day, Asha slays dragons under the name of Iskari. I love the exploration of gender in a fantasy setting. The fairy tales remind me of Ink by Alice Broadway – there is great exploration of how words and characters shift and change over time.  

 

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

Once Orïsha was place of magick. The night the magick disappeared, people rounded on and killed the Maji. Their children were branded ‘diviners’. Since that day, diviners have been treated as second class citizens. The dark skin which used to be a source of pride can now get them killed. Trained in the art of the staff, Źelie has a chance to defend herself, and to bring the magick back to Orïsha.

The diviners are a distinct group of people I can’t get out of my mind. What a fabulous world. This is a great interpretation of magic. Like Rowling, Adeyemi explores racial supremacy through the inheritance of magical blood. I can’t wait to see this in a different setting.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

BeyondtheBrightSea.jpg

Extract:

I looked at my arms. They were the same colour Osh made by mixing purple and yellow, blue and orange, red and green. 

I wondered what people on those other islands looked like. Maybe I was a real islander after all. Just not an Elizabeth islander. Except I was here, on the Elizabeths, regardless of where else I might belong.

‘Lots of people here come from other places, right?’ I said. 

‘What, here? Penikese? I just told you they did Crow.’ 

‘I didn’t mean just here,’ I said. 

(Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. P63.) 

 

Synopsis:

Crow lives with Osh. She supposes they both had other names once, but Osh is the name she has always called him, and Crow is the name he chose when she swept up on the sea. Crow wants to know who she was before Osh. Who put a baby in a boat, and trusted the waves to take that baby to a safer home? Her only clues are the ring which Osh found alongside her, and letter. Most of its words are smudged.

Most people on the Elizabeth Islands won’t come near Crow, in case she comes from the leprosy colony which used to be on Penikese. It seems as good a place as any for Crow to start her search. Crow’s not the only person taking interest in Penikese. Why does that strange man keep visiting the island, and why is he carrying a shovel?

There’s more than one secret buried on Penikese. 

 

Review:

The world is beautifully described and the characters are well introduced. Osh has secrets he wants to forget. Crow has a past she wants to learn. Miss Maggie is the third important character. I love Miss Maggie. She’s so patient with Osh, who accepts her presence but closes himself to her friendship and affections. A sub-plot is also set up: Captain Kidd hid some of his treasure in the Elizabeth Islands.

There is a point in every novel where the plot ‘bites’. It is possible to reel in huge amounts of information from the set-up. At the point where there plot bit, Crow decided to search Penikese for information about babies born on the island, and the villain’s interest in the island became apparent.

I loved Wolf Hollow. I read it in a sitting. Regardless, I had one major issue with the story. An issue serious enough for me to discount it as my possible favourite for the Carnegie. Betty was brilliantly constructed, but the message disturbed me. ‘Some people are bad through and through’? It’s a small step between this and throwing stones. Beyond the Bright Sea isn’t so damning of its villain, but nor is it particularly interested in his character. SPOILER:  I expected the villain to be linked to the main plot, the story of Crow’s birth. Instead, he is only part of the subplot. His intentions aren’t particularly relevant. He’s a greedy guy, and not a very nice one.

The best thing about the novel was the relationships between Crow, Osh and Miss Maggie. Wherever they’ve come from, they’ve found their family. Osh will fight for his right to live quietly on the islands. Wolk is brilliant at one line summaries. A sentence or two which ties up an event, and makes comment on a wider issue. My favourite is the observation about who people who aren’t willing to touch a door-knob opened by Crow – who doesn’t have leprosy, but might have been born on Penikese – are willing to dig up the island once they stand to gain from it.  It is these observations which will stick with me, alongside the island setting.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Towns

Synopsis (from GoodReads) –

61xijy9q4blMorrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate

 

Why I can’t wait to read The Trials of Morrigan Crow:

  • Morrigan Crow is blamed for all Misfortune. This reminds me of Peg O’Nell, the ghost said to haunts Waddow Hall in Lancashire, (no idea whether anybody told the Girl Guide Association when they took the property over.) Having listened to songs about Peg O’Nell, it will be lovely to read a book which thinks about what it might be like to be the person blamed for all misfortune, and what sort of trouble might come of it.

 

  • It’s folksy. This is a continuation of my first thought. It is lovely to see more books which either draw on folk legend, or have a folksy atmosphere. Previous authors who have done this well include Alan Garner, Marcus Sedgwick and Michelle Harrison. 

 

  • The Wundrous Society trials set a specific objective. If Morrigan Crow fails, she will have to go back and confront her fears. I have a hunch that Morrigan will learn something about herself in Nevermoor which she will take back to her old life. I am intrigued about Morrigan’s connection to Nevermoor. Is there a past connection she is unaware of?

 

  • Nevermoor and The Wundrous Society remind me of the quirky worlds of Sibeal Pounder. I like it when a magical world isn’t what we typically expect of magic. The front cover of the US edition shows people floating beneath umbrellas. I have a feeling the world will be a quirky, original take on magic.

 

  • The book has been sold in multiple regions, everybody’s talking about it on Twitter, and it looks set to be all round wonderful. What can I say? I’m excited. 

 

 

The Trials of Morrigan Crow

October 2017

Orion Publishing (UK)

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

BeforeIFall

Extract:

I read once that you get déjà vu when the two halves of your brain process things are different speed: the right hand half a few second before the left, or vice versa. Science is probably my worst subject, so I didn’t understand the whole article, but that would explain the weird double feeling it leaves you with, like the whole world is splitting in half – or you are.  

That’s the way I feel, at least: like there’s a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which. 

The thing about déjà vu is it has always passed really quickly – thiry seconds, a minute at most. 

But this doesn’t pass.

Everything is the same: Eileen Cho squealing over her roses in first period and Samara Phillips leaning over and crooning, ‘he must really love you.’ I pass the same people in the halls at the same time. Aaron Stern spills his coffee all over the hallway again, and Carol Lin starts screaming at him again.

Even her words are the same, ‘Were you dropped on your head one too many times or something?’ I have to admit it is pretty funny, even the second time around. Even when I feel like I’m crazy. Even when I feel like I could scream.

Even weirder are the little blips and wrinkles, the things that have shifted around.

(Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. P66.) 

Synopsis:

Sam doesn’t believe in that whole ‘life flashing before your eyes’ thing. Still, if she’d known she was going to die today, she would have expected to see her triumphs. The really important stuff: all the parties, and all the times she got drunk. The moment Rob asked her out. Instead she sees Vicky Hamlin’s expression, right after everybody told her she was fat. Not what Sam would have chosen.

Then again, she didn’t choose to die in a car crash, or to relive her final day over and over.  

Every time it starts the same. The flash of white light, the falling. Then the alarm clock rings, and it’s Cupid Day again. Cupid Day is a big day at Thomas Jefferson High. The number of roses delivered to you throughout the day is a sign of your popularity. Sam’s popular. She used to be one of the unpopular kids, then she learnt how to dress, and how to stick by the right people. How to laugh at the wrong ones. She figures that’s just how it is.

Everything else about the day differs with each rewind. Sam sees different perspectives, and learns all the different places her actions could have lead. She also finds out things she didn’t see the first time, like what Juliet Sykes did after everybody turned on her at that party. Like how even Lindsay doesn’t do things for no reason at all.

A great narrative on bullying, mental health and collective responsibility.

 

Review: 

 OK, I’m totally late to the party, but how addictive is Before I Fall? Superficially, it sounds complicated, until you realise Sam’s emotional narrative forms the structure. The genius is in the multi-faceted day. Sam’s final day changes with every retell, but every change puts a new perspective on Day 1. Every day *could* have been the first day. We’re in multi-dimensional reality territory and I love it.

The days are underpinned by recurring events – the alarm clock. A scrum for the last parking space. The delivery of a rose from childhood friend Kent. Whichever variation of the day we are in, this repetition gives the day a time frame.

Occasional italicised paragraphs interrupt the story. This make clear that Sam narrates from wherever she is suspended. When the first day sets Sam’s character up as a shallow, thoughtless and cruel, it is clear from the italicised text that she acknowledges how wrong she got that first day. She also offers a challenge to the reader: How different am I from you?

As Juliet Sykes’s story unfolds, it becomes clear Sam’s initial challenge relates to every single reader. A brilliant one-liner encapsulates the novel: ‘We are all the Hangman’. The teenagers who scream abuse at Juliet on day one didn’t make individual decisions to bully her. Sam needs to learn this. Sam spends a whole day blaming Lindsay, but it makes no difference to Juliet’s outcome. This is an important way of thinking about suicide prevention. It isn’t about one person in one moment. We are interconnected.  

Oliver’s characters are brilliantly depicted. She’s the writer who can nail down a butterfly by writing it on to the page. When I related to a character, I didn’t feel I was reading something knew; I felt Oliver was telling me to myself in ways I couldn’t have recognised. 

I loved Kent. I’m not usually such a sucker for the-boy-we’re-supposed-to-like. Kent represents the values Sam needs to rediscover. On Day One, Sam can’t understand how Kent can be happy when he’s unpopular. Slowly, she comes to terms with the idea that there’s more to life than this strange system of social judgement. When she’s ready to see Kent for who he is, and not for his social status, she finds there is a lot to like.

Treatment of Sam’s friendship group was sympathetic. I never thought I’d find myself sticking up for Queen Bees, but I was pleased their friendship wasn’t written off by the narrative. Lindsay may be a bully, but Sam doesn’t think she is any less of a person. Given the theme of collective responsibility, this was important. It was also truer to life. Too many similar narratives show the bully left behind by the reformed, without any consideration of the years of friendship behind them. 

Before I Fall is now available on Netflix. If you’ve joined the modern era and subscribed, let me know whether it lives up to expectations. Meanwhile, I’ll get hold of some more Lauren Oliver. The best thing about being late to the party? It’s in full swing. There’s a stack of books waiting to be bought.

 

Huge thanks to Chapter 5/Hodder Books for my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Cats · Chat

Caturday – Meet Maisie and Willow

Every Saturday, my Twitter feed is full of felines. Half the world puts up a picture of their cat. Why not? It’s Caturday?

Every day is Caturday in my house. We love cats. I’ve had cats since I was born. My life’s ambition is to become mad cat person. Sorry guys. Cats are just nicer than humans. What can I say?

Maise and Willow came to us in October, from Eden Animal Rescue. I would like to make Maisie and Willow more of a presence on my blog. Frankly, they help write the pieces. Maisie’s rolling about at my feet as I type. They deserve some of the credit. Today I’m going to introduce you to their personalities bookish style. Which books sum them up?

 

Maisie (Maisie Moomintroll, Maisius, McDaisie) : maisie

Favourite Place: curled up on a chair.

Hobbies: Sunbathing, butterfly hunting, opening cupboard doors (then hiding in said cupboard until everyone is worried sick). 

  • Six Dinner Sid – Maisie lives for her food. She sometimes patrols around her food bowl for an hour and half before tea. Maisie is also clever enough to come up with a Sid-like scheme. She would love to fed six times over.
  •  Augustus Gloop, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Is that mean? Maisie isn’t a nincompoop, but she’s definitely on the chubby side. Like Gloop, she lives for food, and not only food. Maisie is obsessed with Dreamies. For the non-feline acquainted, these are the tid-bits which come in brightly coloured packets. Maisie likes these so much, we have to buy the mega-pack. Maisie likes these so much, she parks herself in the porch when it’s clear we are going out, and refuses to go back into the house until the Dreamie bribe is offered.
  •  The Gumbie Cat (Old Possum’s) Our Lucy was also a Gumbie, so we’re well acquainted with them. Gumbies are superficially gentle, passive creatures. Don’t be fooled. If they want to train you up, they will spring into action.

 

Willow (Willoughby-Woo, Beanie) :willow

Favourite Place: field behind the house

Hobbies: Hunting, Hunting String, Hunting Toes. 

  • Diary of a Killer Cat – ‘for pity’s sake I’m a cat’. That’s Willow. This week we’ve had three live shrews and two dead ones. We don’t count the butterflies.
  • Jekyll and Hyde – I confess, I’ve not read the novel. Willow has a Jekyll and Hyde complex. Her killer cat ego is complimented by her sweet nature. Willow doesn’t do cuddles – she burrows. Under blankets, up your cardigan sleeve. When she is burrowing, she purrs a special squeaky purr. It becomes difficult to believe her rodent head-count.
Middle Grade Reviews

Review: School for Skylarks by Sam Angus

SchoolforSkylarks

Extract:

Great Aunt Ada’s house was so far proving most unusual, and Lyla began to look forward to telling Mop all about the things that happened in it. One thing though was a little disappointing, and that was the matter of Old Alfred the armadillo not being alive. So, because she did in fact hope there might be others, she asked, ‘Are there any live armadillos in your house, Great Aunt Ada?’

‘No … oh dear, you see there’s only Old Alfred who was a very dear companion, like Solomon – very constant, very dependable. That’s what you want: constancy and dependability. These are the things you need in those you chose to love, don’t you think? No point at all in wasting time in those who are not constant in their love for you.’

The Person Lyla loved most was Mop, so she thought about Mop, and then, though she didn’t know what to make of Aunt Ada’s words, found that they were discomfiting and somehow causing her toast to stick in her mouth a little.

 

Synopsis:

Lyla hasn’t seen her father for years. Not since he left Lyla’s mother, Mop. It was all over the papers when he left Mop for another woman. Now he thinks it is acceptable to kidnap Lyla in the middle of the night, and take her to Great Aunt Ada’s. Lyla won’t stand for it.

Furlongs is a strange house. Great Aunt Ada works on her inventions, while the butler Solomon keeps things ticking along. Who would feed the stuffed armadillo without Solomon? Lyla is adamant she won’t be staying long, and devises various escape plans. She volunteers Furlongs for the war effort, but her plan goes horribly wrong. Instead of filling the house with soliders, the war office send a school full of girls.

Lyla is not only stuck at Furlongs. For the first time in her life, she interacts with girls her age and goes to school. She would like to be friends with rebellious Cat, but doesn’t know how to go about it.

Lyla refuses to read her father’s letters. She wants Mop to write, wants Mop to send the presents the other mother sends. Surely Mop won’t leave Lyla at Furlongs?

 

Review:

A touch Eva Ibbotson, a touch Dick King-Smith. Sam Angus’s gentle prose and eccentric characters brought tears to my eyes.

Lyla is a great protagonist. She gets things wrong. We know she’s getting things wrong, but we still root for her. Lyla is so desperate for a display of affection from her mother, it is difficult not to want a happy resolution. This kept me reading. I wanted to know how Lyla would adapt to life at Furlongs.

Great Aunt Ada is the kind of eccentric aunt who only turns up in children’s fiction. Lyla needs somewhere to stay, and conveniently there is a Great Aunt who lives in a mansion. Well … you wait until you read about Furlongs. I’m all for settings which reflect the readers’ lives, but dream worthy settings have their merits. Furlongs is heavenly, with it’s strange bedrooms and homemade fireworks. And animals! A ferret here, a horse there. Angus doesn’t run away with her setting. This isn’t nostalgia for jolly-old-Britannia. Angus uses her setting to explore themes which are relevant regardless of social background.

I love Lyla and Cat’s friendship. Cat is a great character, who proves that sometimes rebels have the right ideas. Less concerned with social appearances than her peers, Cat empathises with Lyla, and never gives up on their friendship.

Lyla’s desperation for Mop’s love is handled sensitively. Lyla’s feelings take centre-stage, but Mop’s perspective opens discussion about gender-equality. Do we expect the same of mothers as fathers? Do we judge mothers and fathers equally?

The book spans six years. This is quite a time period for a short book. One advantage is the snippets of information about World War Two which are fed into the narrative. Receiving this information alongside fictional characters gives a sense of how news might have been received at the time, and how much damage had been done to communities and countries by the time it came. Father’s letters are delightful. They made me want to search out real correspondence from soldiers – although I may invest heavily in tissues before I do so.

 

Have you read any of Sam Angus’s work? Which of her novels should I read next? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday: A Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Synopsis (from Bloomsbury Website)

9781408872758Valor is under arrest for the attempted murder of the crown prince. Her parents are outcasts from the royal court, her sister is banished for theft of a national treasure, and now Valor has been sentenced to life imprisonment at Demidova, a prison built from stone and ice.

But that’s exactly where she wants to be. For her sister was sent there too, and Valor embarks on an epic plan to break her out from the inside.

No one has escaped from Demidova in over three hundred years, and if Valor is to succeed she will need all of her strength, courage and love. If the plan fails, she faces a chilling fate worse than any prison …

 

Why I can’t wait to read A Prisoner of Ice and Snow:

 

  • A chilling fate? From the way this is written, it sounds like a hint. Might Valor be turned to ice? This sounds a bit like the White Witch turning people to stone. I love Narnia as much as the next person, and think The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a great book. I also want to know more about the reign of Jadis at the White Witch. LWW picks up her story at the end of her rule. There must have been so many great stories from the preceeding years which we were never told. (See – bookworms talk as if stories are real.)

 

  • This new wave of ice settings? We’re seeing stories planned in the wake of Frozen. The tots who twirled around in Princess Elsa dresses are now Tweens, and their ice-magic is growing up with them. Reading the opening chapter of APoIaS, we have a glittering ice palace, hot chocolate vendors and even a Queen Ana. What’s changed is the stories. The stakes are higher, the situations are more interesting.

 

  • I hope to see some folksy touches. Ice worlds are difficult to bring to life. The Trolls and their ancient books of magic made Frozen. The first thing everybody remembers about Narnia is the fauns and talking animals. I am interested to see what makes Lauren’s ice kingdom unique.

 

  • Amy of GoldenBooksGirl is on the blog tour, and she raved about this book. Amy has impeccable taste in MG fiction. I can’t wait to see what got her so excited.

 

A Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Bloomsbury Fiction

September 2017