Young Adult Reviews

Review – Like Other Girls by Claire Hennessy

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Extract:

At lunch time I take out my phone to message Justin, but the words won’t come. I don’t want him to know that I have to play a boy. It feels weird. Like it will make him interrogate his relationship with me, and wonder if it because my legs are too hairy, or my jaw is too square.  

This is what happens when you don’t spend all your time researching how to do your make-up in such a way that makes you look beautiful but also makes you look sufficiently ‘natural’ that you won’t be marched to down to the nearest sink to wash it all off. If you want to be believed as a girl on stage, that’s what you need to do. 

Synopsis:

Lauren’s not like other girls. She notices gender division, which the other girls at St Agnes’s seem oblivious to. She also fancies people she’s ‘not supposed to’ … like some of the girls in her school … Lauren loves musicals, but this year is different – not only has she been given a chorus part, she is supposed to be one of the ‘boyfriends’. She can’t even laugh about it with her best friend Steph … or is it Evan? Since the incident during the summer holidays, they have not been speaking. Evan isn’t having an easy time of it either. Not only do his teachers refuse to acknowledge his chosen gender until his mother gives consent, he has been cast as a ‘perfect young lady’.

Q Club used to be the place where Lauren and Evan could express their feelings. Now Evan whispers in the corner with Marc, Lauren finds other ways to escape her feelings. When life spirals out of control, Lauren is forced to decide …  should she keep quiet ‘like other girls’?

 

Review:

This book was all about voice. No – there was more to it than that, but I must start with the character’s voice. Lauren is hilarious, and vulnerable and opinionated. She’s perceptive about the wider world, and issues of gender division, yet totally blinkered when it comes to other people’s feelings. If other people don’t react the way she wants them to, she can’t cope. She makes me laugh and cry at the same time. When I read her narration, she’s ALIVE in my head, and she is a real teenager.

Claire Hennessy reminds me how painful it was to be fifteen years old – so far from adulthood, yet experiencing very adult emotions and situations. Both the friendships and the school … politics … felt real, as if the book had been written from transcripts of teenagers. The novel also brought to life the effect social media has on teenagers. Lauren alternately has a second life and personality on social media, and an extension of her real life, which makes it difficult at times to switch off from her problems.

Feminism is a big topic in current YA, and frankly it is long overdue. What I love about Hennessy’s take is how rooted it is in a contemporary teenager’s perceptions. There are times when Lauren feels she is the only person who notices how unequal the world is for women. I also like how openly the book speaks about periods – it challenges the idea that women should keep quiet about the issues which affect their bodies. Sexuality, too, is a big theme. Many of the characters feel pressured because of the assumption that heterosexual is the ‘default’ sexuality. What I find realistic is the different identities the characters take in front of different people. It felt less simplistic than a story of sudden transformation. 

Don’t this this is all agenda – I was in hysterics from the first chapter, where Lauren sends up the ridiculousness of her conservative all-girls school, and teenagehood in general. I cared about the friendships, and the family relationships. I cared about Lauren so much I had tears in my eyes. What the novel shows is these ‘issues’ are not subjects we should hide away, and examine in ‘appropriate places’. For many women, this is life.

Hot Key Books

Page Count: 280

 

I received my copy from a Readers First prize draw. This does not affect the honesty of my review. Many thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy.

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

First Line Fridays – 12.05.2017

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First lines Friday is a meme hosted by Wandering Words. It is approach a book with preconceptions – never mind the cover, we all form opinions about genres and age-ranges, authors’ previous works and publishing formats.

First line Friday takes all that away, and start with what matters: the words. 

 

“Alice Silver had never met anyone who had killed before, but that all changed the day Dorothy Grimes walked past the window of Alice’s favourite coffee shop. “

Scroll down to see which book this is from. 

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The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

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What happens when a tale with real magic, that was supposed to be finished, never was? This is a story about one of those stories . . .

Midge loves riddles, his cat, Twitch, and – most of all – stories. Especially because he’s grown up being read to by his sister Alice, a brilliant writer.

When Alice goes missing and a talking cat turns up in her bedroom, Midge searches Alice’s stories for a clue. Soon he discovers that her secret book, The Museum of Unfinished Stories, is much more than just a story. In fact, he finds two of its characters wandering around town.

But every tale has its villains – and with them leaping off the page, Midge, Gypsy and Piper must use all their wits and cunning to work out how the story ends and find Alice. If they fail, a more sinister finale threatens them all . . .


 

I read The Other Alice over Christmas, and think I may reread at some point this year to write a review. Think Inkheart –  a writer goes missing, and her brother finds her characters have taken on a life of their own. I loved Midge’s perspective, and I loved the fact Alice’s characters were not 2D tropes – their quests were as important as Alice and Midge’s.

 

Thanks to Wandering Words for hosting, and for the banner and arrow image.

Uncategorized

Waiting on Wednesday – Witch Born by Nicholas Bowling

 

witchborn-667x1024Synopsis (from Chicken House website)

It’s 1577. Queen Elizabeth I has imprisoned scheming Mary Queen of Scots, and Alyce’s mother is burned at the stake for witchcraft. Alyce kills the witchfinder and flees to London – but the chase isn’t over yet. As she discovers her own dark magic, powerful political forces are on her trail. She can’t help but wonder: why is she so important? Soon she finds herself deep in a secret battle between rival queens, the fate of England resting on her shoulders …

A dark, twisty and thrillingly original Elizabethan fantasy, exploring true history through a fantasy lens. 

 

Why I can’t Wait:

 

  • This is a fascinating era of history. I’ve read a lot of non-fiction about this time period, but it all began with my Phillipa Gregory filled teens.
  • Persecution is a big theme at the moment, and witch hunts are an example of history we do not want to repeat. This looks like it might use the past to explore themes which are particularly relevant to the present.
  • Fantasy is such a great way to explore big themes. This looks like it might be similar to the work of Marcus Sedgwick and Frances Hardinge, and frankly I can’t get enough of either author’s work.
  • The cover??! Just look at it. The problem will be how I stop looking, when I finally get my paws on it.

 

Witchborn by Nicholas Bowling

September 2017

Chicken House Books

 

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Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Thank you for hosting.

Uncategorized · Young Adult Reviews

Review – Spellslinger by Sebastian de Castell

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Extract:

‘The second trial comes to an end and you have failed it,’ she said, without a trace of sympathy in her voice. ‘Now you fear you will fail the third as well.’

‘How can I create a spell using two disciplines when I can’t break even one of my bands.’

‘I told you once before; do not ask questions to which you already know the answer.’

‘Then … it’s over. My sixteenth birthday is in a few days. I’m never going to be a mage. I’m going to be a Sha’Tep.’

I felt myself becoming dizzy, as if just saying the words had drained the strength from my limbs. Mer’esan held my arms. ‘You will never be a Jan’Tep mage like your father and mother. Whether you become a Sha’Tep servant like your Uncle is up to you.’

(Spellslinger – Sebastian de Castell. P163.)

 

Synopsis:

Kellan is at the start of his mage trials. Pass, and he will become a Jan’Tep mage, and help rule society. Fail, and he will become a Sha’Tep servant. Kellan’s magic has faded, and he has four weeks to get it back. Otherwise, he is destined to a life of servitude.

Enter Ferius Parfax, and the most interesting deck of cards since Wonderland. Ferius says she is an Argosi traveller. Everybody else reckons she is a Daroman spy, sent to influence the forthcoming election of the new Clan Prince.

In Jan’Tep society, family strength is more important than individual strength. With the election fought between Kellan’s father, and scheming Ra’meth, Kellan is the card everybody is trying to play right. There is only one problem – Kellan may have no magic, but he has a great talent in thinking for himself.

Challenged by Ferius Parfax to look for his own answers, and the three-hundred year-old Dowager Magus to ask the right questions, Kellan uncovers some uncomfortable truths about his society, and decides who he wants to be.

 

Review:

To decide who he wants to be, Kellan must learn about the people around him. Does he get any say? At the start, he believes his future as a Sha’Tep servant is inevitable. The book explores the degree to which individual decisions can be made when society seems to prescribe our roles. Ferius Parfax enters Kellan’s life as the ultimate outsider, and shows him the wider picture.

I loved Ferius Parfax. She’s a non-stereotypical female, (straight-talking, smoke-blowing, free-thinking,) but she also has a story. We only start to understand this at the end of the story. With five more novels due in the series, I hope we will learn more about Ferius’s history. Ferius was not the only interesting female character. There’s Nephenia, who puts up with male prejudice to earn her name as a mage, and Kellan’s sister Shalla, the most powerful of all the initiates. Shalla is treated as a kind of substitute-son by her parents. With Kellan’s magic weakened, their hope is placed in Shalla’s strength. Will Shalla reject Kellan, as their father rejected his Sha’Tep brother? Shalla is a character to watch.

The other fascinating character is the Dowager Magus, wife of the late Clan Prince. If Ferius teaches Kellan to look for the answers, the Dowager Magus challenges him to ask the relevant questions. Her character forms a sub-plot, the final scene of which is beautiful.

The world is fascinating. We learn about the different societies mainly in relation to the Jan’Tep, and the Oases which is the source of Jan’Tep magic, but there is enough detail to give us a clear picture of the difference between the societies, and to whet our appetite for the coming novels. I love the fact the history of relations between the different societies was used to inform us about each society’s present condition. De Castell has a clear sense of how a society is not ‘static’ – there is so much more beneath the surface of the present day.

If I used a star rating system, I would give Spellslinger five of the shiniest stars. Fantasy is my comfort zone, as is YA fiction with themes of political injustice, but Spellslinger said something about that theme which I have not heard before, and the story is a real page turner. Each character is on their own journey, and the relations between the characters change with new revelations. It is also beautifully written – De Castell writes the kind of sentence you say out loud to savour, and makes great use of telling description.

Don’t be put off by the fact this is the first in a large series. The adventure may start here, but as a stand-alone, the novel has a satisfying resolution. True magic.

 

I won my copy in a  Readers First draw. This does not affect the honesty of my review. Many thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy.

 

Hot Key Books

Page Count: 396

Young Adult Reviews

Review – One Silver Summer by Rachel Hickman

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Extract:

Alex had never met a girl like her. Loads of girls giggled, then stared, or were loud and horsey, or perfectly cool like plum, but she, Sass, seemed to have a way of knocking him off -balance, then making him feel … good about it. If he took her fishing, he might end up happy just rowing in circles. So natural, he could almost believe she didn’t recognise him. How was that possible, given who he was?

 

Synopsis:

Alex runs home to Cornwall – his parents’ divorce has hit the tabloids, and his Grandmother’s Cornish estate is the only place Alex feels able to hide. There he meets Sass.

Sass’s mother was killed in a car crash. Sass has moved from her native Brooklyn, to live with the uncle she never knew. Like Alex, she heads outdoors to take refuge from her feelings. The young couple bond over shared admiration of the silver mare, Bo.

Initially wary, Alex allows his feelings for Sass to develop. She is not the kind of girl his family would like him to marry, but the eyes of the world are on Alex, waiting for a juicy love story. At least … the eyes of the gossip columnists, who know how to exploit a young person’s feelings to get the story they are after ….

Will Sass ever stand a chance with Alex, or can their relationship only ever be confined to one silver summer?

 

Review:

It is difficult to talk about One Silver Summer in any depth without a spoiler. Not a major spoiler; there is something about Alex we learn a fifth of the way into the narrative. He is Prince of England. I guessed – the story is not about William or Harry, but the theme of press intrusion reminded me of things they have spoken out about. The storyline about Alex’s parents, too, is deliciously Di and Charles, right down to the Queen sloping off to Balmoral. Personally, I find the story more interesting in light of its real-life influences. The portrayal of Alex’s mother, Seraphina, is particularly interesting if she is a counterpart to Princess Diana. Seraphina – and don’t you love the name? An angel? – is superficially delicate, but knows how to work the press to her advantage. If she is a counterpart to Princess Diana, Seraphina challenges the angelic image popularised after Diana’s death.

The discussion of press intrusion is long overdue in YA, particularly when such major findings have been made. Again, it is the real-life aspect which works for me – how might it have been become ‘fair game’ to the tabloids at the age of 16? Why might a Prince like Alex prefer a girl with windswept hair to a Lady on the upper-class social circuit?

The most interesting character is Alex’s maternal Grandmother Helena. While the rest of his family are either busy with their own lives, or constructing an image for him to present to society, Helena wants what is best for him. She weighs up her ill-fated wartime romance alongside the reality of popular opinion, neither prejudiced towards Sass nor oblivious to the attention such a relationship might attract.

The story is told from multiple perspectives. I might enjoy this if it were limited to Alex and Sass, but there are times when character-development is delayed due to the deluge of voices. Upper-class opportunist Plum Benoist narrates, as does gossip columnist Cressida Slater, and stable girl Amy. And Helena, and Uncle David  … The effect of this is none of these characters develop very much, and some storylines are left unresolved. Uncle David makes a major revelation at the end of the book, but we never see Sass’s reaction. As dramatic irony, I would like it earlier in the book. Otherwise, why not show the conversation between Sass and David? Why are we left only with David’s musings?

Worth a read for the portrayal of press intrusion. As a romance, I would have liked more space for the main characters to develop. 

 

Old Barn Books

Page Count: 263

I received my copy from Old Barn Books, as a result of a Goodreads giveaway. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

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Extract:

I screamed, yanked the curtains back together and ran from the room. There was no way I was going back in there. No way I was staying in this flat. I would wake Anna and make her take me back to London, back to my own home, right now, this minute.

As I ran through the doorway I had the weirdest sensation. For a moment, I felt as though I ceased to exist. It was as though my body had dissolved into thin air.

Then, as the door slammed shut behind me, the sensation faded and I felt solid and whole again. It must have been some sort of fainting-fit, I thought, only without the toppling over part.

But something felt different. My clothes felt different. I looked down …

 

Synopsis:

Mum’s gone to Venice on her honeymoon with Marcus. Not only has Evie been left behind, she has been forced to stay with the godmother she has never met, who lives in a totally ancient house devoid of all Mod-Cons. Evie can’t imagine anything more unfair. Modern childhood is tough … right?

There is a message scratched on to her window. Apparently, some girl was locked in the room and forced to give up her baby. When the clock strikes midnight, a ghost appears at the same window and begs Evie to help. Evie runs from the room … into 1814.

Life as a housemaid in 1814 is tough, but if Sophia Fane is anything to go by, it isn’t much better being a lady. Sophia’s father wants her to marry Mr Ellerdale with all his land and money, but Sophia is in love with Robbie the gardener. Is this the same Sophia Fane who died alone in Evie’s bedroom? Can Evie change the course of history? What can she learn from living as a housemaid?

 

Review:

I love timeslip. I’ve read so many, my expectations are high. Evie’s Ghost is wonderful – an old school timeslip reminiscent of Charlotte Sometimes and Tom’s Midnight Garden, brought up to date with a thoroughly modern character and issues relevant to the moment. Although the structure was familiar – midnight chimes, protagonist goes back to change the past – the themes and character development made this a different story to any I have read before.

The main themes are rights – rights for women, and rights for children. The other main theme is social division. Evie’s Ghost is a timely reminder that rights are fought for and easily lost, especially when other people stand to gain from the removal of those rights. This is a big theme for a Middle Grade audience, but Peters handles it well. In the same way Lauren St John introduced the concept of Human Trafficking in Dead Man’s Cove, there is just enough ‘issue’ and plenty of story. Readers are given something to ponder, but in terms of the story there is always a reassuring sense that Evie is on the case. For these characters at least, things may be put right.

What I love most is Evie’s development as a character. At the start of the story she cannot imagine any deeper injustice than being left out of a trip to Venice. When she first hears what happened to Sophia, it is something she cannot comprehend. Something she thinks has no bearing on modern life and modern problems. Gradually, she empathises with the people she meets in the 1800s, and eventually reconsiders her own life as a result of her experiences. If I found Evie’s development interesting, I think the nicest character is Polly. Her gentle acceptance of her lot in life made an interesting contrast to Evie’s total indignation.

The setting is brought to life with emphasis on change. Evie constantly uses words which were not in circulation and takes pleasure in the countryside undisturbed by the sound of traffic. I love how this gives a sense of time’s progression. The time period is well chosen, as a time of social upheaval and immense poverty.

If you are looking to expand your reading following Evie’s Ghost, Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal makes regular mention of the impoverished people who came to Dove Cottage, and sometimes elaborates on the reasons behind their situation. 

 

Nosy Crow

Page Count – 283