Young Adult Reviews

Review: One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

banneroneofus.jpgOOUIL

GUEST PICTURE: Huge thanks to Charlotte from CharlotteSomewhere.

breakbirdExtract:

Kinda pathetic, how Simon was our most trusted news source.

Officer Budapest looks at the rest of us. ‘But not you three?’ We all shake our heads again. ‘Did you ever worry about ending up on Simon’s app? Feel like you had something hanging over your heads, or anything like that?’

‘Not me,’ I say, but my voice isn’t as confident as I would have liked. I glace away from Officer Budapest and catch Addy and Bronwyn looking like polar opposites: Addy’s gone pale as a ghost, and Bronwyn’s flushed brick red. Nate watches them for a few seconds, then tilts his chair and looks at Officer Budapest.

‘Everybody’s got secrets,’ he says. ‘Right?’

(One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus. P37.)

breakbirdSynopsis:

Five students walk into detention. Four come out alive. Simon Kelleher, creator of schoolwide gossip app About That, is murdered. His epi-pen is missing, and the school epi-pen supply has disappeared.

The four students present at the time were Simon Kelleher’s next targets. There’s Yale hopeful Bronwyn, baseball star Cooper, prom Queen Addy and troublemaker Nate. All four were in detention because a mobile phone was planted in their bag. All four have secrets they would rather keep.

A Tumbler post from the murderer leaks reveals their secrets. Speculation spreads, from school to the local media, to worldwide interest. The four are brought together as they avoid dodge the media and insinuation, but always there is the question: which one of us is lying?

breakbirdReview:

A total page turner which kept me guessing until the last pages.

I love the conflict. Death turns Simon Kelleher into a saint, but lots of people were hurt by the things he wrote on About That. The story raises interesting questions about social media, and our constant obsession with other people’s lives. Do we have the right to know other people’s secrets? Is it right that anything and everything can become news?

My initial suspicions lay outside the group. I loved flagging up characters whose behaviour (as my favourite middle-grade detectives might say,) chimed a missing note. There’s Leah, who attempted suicide as a result of About That, who calls out people’s sympathies with Simon. Maeve, Bronwyn’s little sister, who knows a heck of a lot about Simon’s online presence. It was a great puzzle, spotting these characters, and weighing up their motives alongside the initial four.

The stories of the four suspects raised some great themes. Some would be total spoilers. Let’s stick with Nate, the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Nate’s father is an alcoholic. Nate’s on probation for drug dealing, but is he a bad kid, or does he just want to pay his father’s bills? The other suspects come from homes which range from comfortable to downright influential. When the finger is pointed, their parents jump in with lawyers and law suits and useful advice. Nate’s the obvious suspect, and he’s got nobody. This is a hugely topical theme. The wealthy America we see in the films is only one side of the story.

Bronwyn was my favourite character. The bright girl who appears to have it all is full of insecurities. She’s not beyond suspicion – she knows a heck of a lot about autopsy result timings, and she’s got PREVIOUS with Simon Kelleher. She’s also the only person who sees beyond Nate’s drug dealing, and she goes all out to help him. Her parents are both Yale graduates. Bronwyn could turn her back on Nate, but she would rather open everyone else’s eyes.

The ending? Could have been better, but the puzzle was A1. I was gripped from start to finish. It’s not the ending I wanted, but the book is so fantabulous I’ll let the ending slide.

Highly recommended. Be warned: once you pick it up, you won’t put it down.

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waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club by Alex Bell

 

61ftubj2b12l-_sx324_bo1204203200_Synopsis:

It sounded like a respectable and worthy enough death for an explorer – tumbling from an ice bridge to be impaled upon a mammoth tusk – but Stella really, really didn’t want that to happen, just the same.

Join Stella Starflake Pearl and her three fellow explorers as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages . . .

When Stella and three other junior explorers get separated from their expedition can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale?

 

  • Frozen Charlotte, Alex Bell’s first YA title, was a thriller which sent shivers down my spine. I still think of those Frozen Charlotte dolls. I hope Alex Bell’s Middle Grade adventure will be as vividly described.

 

  • Unicorns and frost fairies? Outlaw hideouts? The thing I love best about Andersen’s The Snow Queen is the settings inspired by the four seasons. My favourite is the autumnal robber’s hideout, although I do love the Snow Queen’s palace with its magical mirror. It sounds as though The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club features equally magical settings.

 

  • September is upon us. I’m looking forward to some Autumn/Winter releases. I loved Winter Magic last year, with its varied depictions of Winter, and I’m ready for more winter magic. Goodbye beach books; hello hot chocolate and magical spells.

 

  • I want to know the purpose of Stella’s expedition, and whether she and her friends were lead off course. I want to know the stories of all those beings out on the ice, and if/how their stories intersect with Stella’s.

 

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club by Alex Bell

Faber & Faber

November 2017

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Snow-Angel by Lauren St John

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Synopsis:

Makena’s head is full of myth, legend and mountains. There’s not much snow in Kenya, so her father brings her some home from the mountains. It’s melted, but it is the most precious thing Makena owns. She dreams of being a mountaineer, and is thrilled when her mountain-guide father takes her on her first expedition. That is the first time she sees the fox, it’s whiskers white and glittery like snow.

Soon after, Makena’s parents go to the aid of Aunt Mary in Sierra Leone. They set off believing she has Malaria. It’s worse. Aunt Mary has ‘the Doomsday Germ’, the one scientists call Ebola. Frantic, Makena rings her parents’ mobile to find it has been sold. All the mobile phones on the stall came from people who have died of Ebola.

Makena’s search for a place to belong begins. Being homeless makes you invisible, but someone’s keeping an eye out for Makena. Her name is Diana, but people call her Snow because of her albino skin. Snow teaches Makena to see the wonders in every day. The two promise to be friends forever. Sometimes the slums have other ideas.

 

Review:

Lauren St John has clearly done her research. Whether we were in Kenya or Scotland, all the detail made me feel as if I was right there. I loved the comparison between the two countries, and how precious snow is to Makena. As well as being a lovely metaphor for her precious friendship, the idea of snow being almost mythological made it possible to imagine life in a warm climate.

Makena and Snow are great characters. Makena is quite rational, but wants to believe in miracles and fairytales. She’s a perfect friend for Snow, who searches every day for the beautiful things in live. Living in the slums only makes Snow more determined to appreciate small wonders. Snow wants to be a professional ballet dancer, and she refuses to give up on her dreams. There are some powerful messages in here, and it will make you reevaluate your own life.

There are some difficult themes, and you will reach for the tissues. I am glad Ebola has been recorded in a story – it is important for children to know these things happen in the world. What’s lovely is how none of the characters are drawn as victims: although the horrors of the slums aren’t shied away from, you don’t realise how much Makena has suffered until an aid worker comes in, and we see Makena through her eyes. None of the horrors Makena faces – from gang warfare, to famine, to the ‘reaper’ who snatches children from the slums – are shown gratuitously, or in a way which would upset young readers, but the fact these things happen is not shied away from or sugar-coated. Lauren St John has handled difficult themes in her writing before, and she always shows just enough to help her readers understand the situation.

 The parts of the story which take place in Scotland are beautiful, and I love how the fox links the two sections together. Lauren St John’s novels are brilliant for animal lovers, and this is no exception. When Makena loses all other hope, she turns to animals, and to her beloved mountains.

Short but sweet. Look no further if you want a book with a real heart this Christmas.

 

Huge thanks to Head of Zeus – Zephyr for access to an ARC via Netgalley.

Giveaway

GIVEAWAY and mini-reviews – Spy Toys: Out of Control blog tour

 

Spy Toys Banner5.png

Today it’s my stop on the fantastic Spy Toys: Out of Control blog tour. Here’s your chance to win both Spy Toys, and Spy Toys: Out of Control, thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. I’ve written a short review of each book, to tell you why it’s worth winning. 

Spy Toys

Spy Toys CoverA teddy bear whose hugs could crush a child. A doll with anger problems? A rogue security rabbit? Snaztactular Ultrafun make toys with a difference. Every toy is implanted with a robotic chip. When rejects Dan and Arabella escape with rogue security rabbit Flax, they are spotted by Aunty Roz at The Department of Secret Affairs.

The things which make them malfunction as toys make them epic spies.

Escaped robotic mascot Rusty Flumptrunk is bent on revenge. He plans to kidnap the prime minister’s son Sam. Dan and his friends are assigned to the case. They pose as Sam’s toys, and keep guard. Will they be able to remove the threat posed by Rusty Flumptrunk so Sam can lead a normal life?

The world is brilliantly imagined – Powers has really thought about what would be different in a world full of high tech. robots. The humour is well-pitched to both child and adult readers: important at this stage when children read aloud with their parents. The chapters are short, and there is plenty of action to reward newly confident readers.

I love how Dan and his friends must face up to their fears. Dan is certain he will crush any child he comes near. Initially, he is certain he won’t be able to resist hugs, and is afraid to bond with Sam. As the adventure progresses, Dan begins to wonder whether he has more control over his strength than he realises.

Sam’s Dad is too busy to play with him, and he wants Sam to toughen up. The idea about ‘tough’ boys is a great starting point for discussing gender stereotype. Sam demonstrates bravery during the adventure, and would be a great example of a character who shows his emotions despite being brave.

 

Spy Toys: Out of Control

Out of Control CoverThe toys are back in town. Based at their new address, with several successful missions under their belts, the Spy Toys are faced with an unknown opponent. Someone has stolen information from Dr Potty’s computer. Dr Potty is a computer scientist at Snaztacular Ultrafun. His computer contains the codes for every Snaztacular Ultrafun toy. He’s the God of the robotic world.

Dan and Flax track down Jade Jigsaw – another rogue toy, with a grude against the toy company who made her a reject. Meanwhile, Arabella sets up base in Chloe Potty’s bedroom. It’s a dangerous place for toy. Chloe has a reputation for toy destruction, as John the unicorn’s crumpled horn can attest. Arabella’s task is to examine the computer … if she can get past fashion doll Gemma …

I love how we learn more about the wider world of robotic toys. The trio aren’t the only spy toys, nor are they the only toys to escape the Snaztacular factory. We see how rogue toys have handled their escape into the world differently, and how they cope with rejection by Snaztacular in different ways.

Snaztacular Ultrafun is a seriously CREEPY company. Not dangerous, off-the-bedtime-list creepy. Think Roald Dahl – young readers are blissfully unaware of how creepy Wonka is as he merrily teaches children lessons by pushing them into vats of chocolate and turning them into blueberries. Snaztacular have questionable ethics with regard to artificial intelligence. They are in it for money only. This kept me turning the pages, and I look forward to the third book. I am interested to learn more about this strange factory.

As in book one, the antagonists have wonderful backstory. Powers is great at world and character building, and I love how many possible fates he has thought of for robotic toys.

 

GIVEAWAY:

Here’s your chance to WIN and enjoy both Spy Toys and Spy Toys: Out of Control. To enter, tell me one toy you would like to see with a life of its own, and how this would make it more interesting.

RULES:

  • Giveaway open to UK and Ireland only
  • Competition is open until Sunday 3rd September
  • Decision of Louise at BookMurmuration is final. No correspondence will be entered into.
  • Winner will need to email their address, or send it via direct mail on Twitter. Details will be given when a winner is chosen.

 

Best of luck!

 

Chat

Chat – Blogwide Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Books

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Confiscated books…?

 

Regardless of whether your book is for life, some treatment is unnecessarily cruel. If I could do a job which didn’t exist, it would be Book Protection Officer. It is my theory that any remaining overpriced second-hand book emporiums serves this function. We all know the owners make their money in antiquarian titles. In the meantime, they house as many books as they can stuff into their shop without incurring the wrath of health and safety. (Don’t get me started on health and safety police. They’re deep in my Room 101. Somebody might fall? Guess what, folks, they really might.)  It is fun to believe those shops function as a front for book protection. They didn’t buy those tatty paperbacks. They confiscated them.

Here’s my list of sanctionable behaviour. Turns out I would incur a few santions myself … but sssh. I want that second hand emporium, or at least that pile of confiscated books.

 

Mistaking book for coffee mat. Dad, you’re a repeat offender, although never with my books. You did it to that story I kindly printed out when I was 8 ½, and yep, I still remember. Sanction: warning.

Spine Wreakers. I covered my feelings about spine wreakers in my article on  bookish anxiety. Spine wreaking is out. Sanction: retraining – I’m lenient. Many people are unaware that books can be opened gently. Take part in the programme and I’ll remove your warning. Repeat offenders banned for life.

Cheesecake, custard and a book – I have previous. Yep, with actual cheesecake. Food and drink are banned in my ‘library’ due to the sheer number of books. Sanction – fine. I’ve sorted books in a charity shop. I know where food induced incidents can lead, and trust me, it ain’t pretty.

Loo Librarian – do you stash books down the side of the loo? I’m sure you’re a lovely and fully-rounded human being. Even so, you’re advised to skip to the next item. I have strong feelings about this. Disgusting. Totally disgusting. Fine and Life Long Ban. That advert with the guy in his Y-fronts should be pulled. It encourages reckless behaviour towards books.

Over-revision – just how many notes do you need to make in your totally unreadable handwriting? Do you remember any of this? Will it pull you through the exam better than a well-organised notebook and a readable text? Caution. Firm caution… and possibly a cup of tea. Some people need to calm it with the biro.

Bananarama (aka left in a locker alongside a banana. All term. Leads to terrific degrees of mould.) – now, before you confiscate my book collection, let me tell you. It was a violin certificate. Nobody has ever, in the intervening years, asked to see my Grade 3 violin certificate. Sanction – *hums* Up there with the loo library, but don’t mention the violin certificate when I come knocking.

Beached – Appropriately, it was Sara Taylors The Shore which got crumpled and sandy. Couldn’t have picked a better title. I was miffed, because I wanted to read it ahead of its publication. Divine book. Sanction – Are you kidding? Reading on the beach in a joy and a right, and I’ve done it too many times to count. We’ll print some awareness posters about caring for books during the summer period. Maybe an informative luggage label.

Boomerang – it was Stendhal’s life of Napoleon, and thankfully it didn’t fly back. The essay was overdue, I knew nothing about the era at that point, and I switched moudles… I would devour the same module now, but uncertain I’d think any more of Stendhal. Sanction – whatever it is, there’s a loophole for set books.

 

 

Guest Post · Middle Grade Reviews

Guest Post – Amy from GoldenBooksGirl reviews Quest by Aarhus 39

Some blogging friends are there for celebrations, comiserations and totally random conversations. Amy from GoldenBooksGirl is one of those people. Earlier this summer, we agreed to joint-read Quest at a point when Amy could get near her local library. It’s been a great experience to share a short story collection. 

Quest is the Middle Grade anthology from the Aarhus 39. If you’re not up to speed, Odyssey and Quest were published to coincide with the International Children’s Literature Hay Festival, which takes place in October 2017. Every story is centered around a journey. 

Amy took the first half off the book. It’s great to host her reviews – thank you Amy for your time and wonderful thoughts. 

Aarhus

QUEST REVIEWS

Beware Low-Flying Girls by Katherine Rundell

This story is about Odile, a girl with a coat which gives her the power to fly, as she has to face mosnters who prey on her deepest fear (that her grandfather doesn`t love her). Rundell`s writing is as beautiful and distinctive as ever, the world of this story felt vivid and all-encompassing and I also really liked the illustrations. I did find the ending a little rushed but overall this was a solid and heartwarming opening to the collection.

Peeva is a Tone Deaf Cat by Anna Woltz

The 2nd in the collections is about Eva, who feels like a misfit in her family and decides that she must have been switched at birth. Eva`s voice was instantly engaging, and I really enjoyed her narration throughout. I loved the journey Eva goes on, and Tommy, the boy she meets on it. The plotline involving Tommy`s mum was very moving and I also adored the ending.

The Girl With No Name by Aline Sax

I really struggled with this story. I wasn`t a big fan of the narrative style, and I disliked the main character Nelle. I thought the plot (her disliking her name and wanting a new one) was quite silly and insignificant, especially when compared to some of the other stories in the collection. It did, however, feature the best literal journey as Nelle travels through her town and meets several different people who all try to help her, although it was quite slow paced and long winded. The other thing that I thought was quite about this story was the sweet message by the end. All in all, I don`t think this one was for me.

Mr Nobody by Laura Dockrill

I`ll tell the truth here; I considered skipping this story. I didn`t like Darcy Burdock, and I went in looking for reasons to dislike this story too. But it charmed me completely, and even made me cry. It`s the story of Oliver, a boy who has to let go of his imaginary friend as he starts secondary school, and it`s hugely touching. It had perfect pacing, a really sweet main character (I also liked his family), and it has a twist in that Mr Nobody may not actually be all that imaginary…

Hands down my favourite of the collection.

Pipounette`s House by Ludovic Flamant

While the imagery used in the opening paragraphs grabbed my attention, I struggled to understand this story as it developed. It`s about Pipounette, a woman who`s husband built her a house full of wonders just before he died, and her exploring it with her nephews. As I said, the story didn`t really make sense to me but I did empathise with Pipounette as a character and I thought it had a sweet ending. I also loved the illustrations.

The Roof by Nataly E. Savina

Sadly this story didn`t appeal to me either. I can`t even give a summary of what happens as I couldn`t really follow it. I had no attachment to the main character and nothing about this interested me. I especially disliked the random flashbacks to things the character had done with their grandparents; I think this was the main reason I struggled with this story so much as it was incredibly jarring.

A Trip To Town- Maria Parr

 Even though nothing really happens in this story, I enjoyed it a lot. It`s quite hard to explain, but it`s a story about the love between a grandmother and her grandchild, and a story that means a lot to both of them. The writing style had the cosy feeling that Enid Blyton always evokes in me, and I think it was a major part of why I liked this so much. Even though it was short, and didn`t properly fit with the theme of `journey`, this was one of my favourites.

The Great Book Escape

This was a super fun story. I liked the main character Sigrun as I felt she really challenged the stereotype that librarians are quiet and dull, as she goes on a journey to find books for her library. While I liked this idea more than the actual execution of it I still enjoyed the writing style and I thought the ending was very sweet.

 

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday: A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris

61ngg1dg9sl-_sx332_bo1204203200_Synopsis (from amazon.co.uk):

I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.
(The Child Ballads, 295)

So begins a beautiful tale of love, loss and revenge. Following the seasons, A Pocketful of Crowsbalances youth and age, wisdom and passion and draws on nature and folklore to weave a stunning modern mythology around a nameless wild girl.

Only love could draw her into the world of named, tamed things. And it seems only revenge will be powerful enough to let her escape.

 

Why I can’t wait to read A Pocketful of Crows:

  • Steeleye Span sung the song on Rocket Cottage (1976). My love of folk music made me increasingly aware of the Child ballads. For children they ain’t – the songs were collected in the 1800s by Francis James Child. Think faeries and unfaithful lovers and vengeful spirits.

 

  • A faerie in the human word? Sold. I love the interpretation of humans as tamed things. We live in a world of rules and order, yet we’re damaging the world on an unprecedented scale. There’s not a huge amount to go on in the synopsis, so this is my interpretation, but I’m already interested in the potential conflicts.

 

  • The doctor said he haid a broken heart /Without me he would die

The persona in the rhyme is unashamedly vengeful. Are we going to side with the persona? If so, I want to know what the antagonist has done. Something huge must happen, if the reader is going to side with someone bent of revenge.

 

  • I read several Joanne Harris books as a teenager. My favourites are Gentleman and Players and Chocolat. Both books have a dark undertone. In Chocolat, it makes the world seem more magical than it initially appears. In Gentleman and Players, it becomes a threat. I can’t wait to see how this tone translates into something gothic.

 

  • It’s the folklore again, but crows are a favourite motif. What can I say?

 

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne Harris

Gollancz

October 2017