Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Extinction Trials by S.M. Wilson

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Extract:

‘How do we really know what the dinosaurs are like? Maybe they’re not all horrible people-eating monsters, maybe some of them are fine. How do we actually know? Maybe this is the only way we’ll ever get to find out … ‘

(The Extinction Trials by SM Wilson. P100.)

birdSynopsis:

Earthasia is out of resources, and the population keeps growing. The Stipulators want humans to colonise Pilora. To make it safe for habitation, they want to wipe out the dinosaurs who live there with a genetic illness. First they need dinosaur DNA.

Rewards are offered: a lifetime of food and healthcare for the team who bring back the most dinosaur eggs. Lincoln needs those rewards for his dying sister. Stormchaser wants to know the truth about Piloria and the dinosaurs. She has reason to believe the dinosaurs may be more intelligent than the Stipulators admit. Storm and Lincoln quickly become a team, but can they afford to get too close? Anything could tear them apart.

birdReview:

A roaring adventure, and a great political dystopia. The Extinction Trials is a fast-paced adventure which looks at the true cost of damaging the natural world.

I’m pleased to see dinosaurs in YA fiction. Dinosaurs are a staple of the Under 7s literary landscape, but for some reason they become ‘geeky’ somewhere between here and the teenage years. The Extinction Trials proves this doen’t have to be so, using dinosaurs to look at overpopulation, and our attitude towards the natural world. It is the perfect setting for this story. We automatically link dinosaurs with extinction, the threat which faces the characters. 

The themes are similar to The Hunger Games, but I thought The Extinction Trials was better written (and I don’t underestimate THG. It is a great series.) The theme of overpopulation remains present throughout the story, and all the main characters have clear motivation for their actions. I like the conflict between Storm and Lincoln’s motives – Lincoln says family comes first, but Storm wants to do what is right for the world. Fear about what will happen to those closest to us is often a driving motive in not supporting change. Whether we are talking about banning animal testing on medications, or solutions to overpopulation, many of us find it difficult to see past our loved ones. The conflict ensures we follow both characters like hawks to see whether one betrays the other.

The book says a lot about the difference in life quality between the few and the many. It shows an extreme, where some people have food and health care, while others share a bed in shifts and do the hard labour without enough to eat. This feels disturbingly close to the real world, and I hope it encourages teenagers to empathise with those less fortunate than themselves. The way the Stipulators treat other lives as expendable and worthless is eerily close to current political attitudes. 

The Extinction Trials is going to be massive. It is addictive, well-paced and it is highly relevant to our world. Grab a copy ASAP and join the adventure. I warn you, you’ll be left wanting more.

 

Louise Nettleton

 

 

 

 

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Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones

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New starts are difficult. When Caro and her Mum move to a new house, they start with a blank canvas. New home, new neighbours, new friends. At first Caro is afraid, but then she meets the Snow Lion. They play together until Caro is settled into the neighbourhood.

img_4784I love how the house reflects Caro’s situation. When they arrive, its walls are white and its rooms bare. As they meet people and get settled, they add colour to the walls. There is a lovely scene where Caro’s new friends are invited to help paint the walls. Meeting people may seem scary at first, but friendship and company bring colour to our lives. 

The Snow Lion himself is slightly ethereal, in a way which reminds me of Raymond Briggs’s characters. The Snow Lion is not here to stay. Lions belong outdoors, but they might pay a visit to give us courage. That doesn’t mean he won’t be close-by. Throughout the book the Lion can be spotted in the clouds, and snow. This makes a lovely hide-and-seek game for young readers, and also suggests that courage is always on the edge of fear. 

img_4788No adults are shown in the illustrations, and Mum is the only adult mentioned. This is a child’s eye view of the world. Mum is there to help and instruct. Otherwise the things of note are other children, animals and play. It shows a very young person’s world in a very realistic way, and it reminded me what it was really like to be knee-high. 

I am a huge fan of Richard Jones’s art, and am delighted to see the nature books he has produced which will be released in 2018. His style is understated and mature, but also gentle and warm. The contrast between the fear in the narrative and the warmth in his illustrations is striking. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Stationery

Stationery – Notebook Round-up

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Stationery is a big love. I converted to stationery love eighteen months ago, after a writing course. The author running the course has a routine. It involves taking items out of his pencil-case one at a time and sharing them with the group. The ink pen. The chunky pencil. I became mesmerised. All these years I had used a refill pad and a Biro. The next day I went out and stocked up on notebooks. This was a big change for the girl who believed there was no point ruining paper with her left-handed scrawl. 

Nice stationery makes the first seconds of a task pleasurable. It is an investment in yourself. It says you believe your thoughts have worth. A year and a half on and I have a notebook draw. Yep. A draw filled with unused notebooks. Decadent, but I promise you it has motivates me to create. his Christmas I received four notebooks, and I would love to share them with you. 

birdLinton Tweed

img_4811Linton Tweed is best known for its connections with Coco Channel. It is the fabric she used for her skirts. The business is in my region, and there is an outlet shop which sells everything from cushions to clothes, notebooks to off-cuts of material. 

Everything about this notebook feels luxurious, from the tweed cover to the ribbon bookmark. I might have stroked the cover a couple of times. It is irresistible. If I wasn’t so chronically left-handed I would learn calligraphy and pair this with an ink-pen. 

 

Peter Pan Moleskine (picture from Moleskine – mine is wrapped!) peter-pan-cleverness-5_grande

This was on my Christmas wishlist. I saw it in the Moleskine shop, but chose a sensible set of three A4 books for the same price. You can imagine how much I love the person who bought this for me. 

The cover is perfect for writers and content creators. Everything we make comes from our own minds, and we should start every session certain that we have the ability to think and produce. The notebook comes with the signature Moleskine elastic band, and has ruled pages. 

 

img_4812Moomin Notepad

As regular readers know, I love everything Moomin. img_4815The Moomin shop in Convent Garden is one of my favourite London haunts. Moomins are my little bit of hygge. Just looking at them makes me feel safe and warm. 

 The pad comes with its own little pencil. I love the contrasting pink of the pencil to the notebook’s blue cover. The bottom of the pages shows a row of Moomin characters off on an adventure, and the inside covers are decorated with Moomin characters. This is the perfect notepad for lists and day-to-day notes. I might use it for to-do lists. How could I say no to a boring job with a Moomin to comfort me?

*sent by Riot Comms. Opinions my own. 

 

 

Paperchase Dogs Notebookimg_4819

Some people buy sweets. I go to Paperchase. Kid in a candy store doesn’t cover it. Paperchase falls perfectly between affordable and luxury. It is the White Stuff of stationery. 

I’m #teamcat, but I love dogs too. The art captures the personalities of the different dogs in Hairy Mclairy fashion, and I love the contrast between the line drawings and the splashes of bold colour. I can see myself carrying this in my bag in case I need to jot something down, or taking it to events to keep notes. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Do you hoard stationery? Tell me about your favourite notebooks below!

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Begin, End, Begin – A #LoveOzYA Anthology

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Begin, End, Begin was established as a result of the #loveOZYA community, a social media group who promote everything there is to love about Australian YA. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak are two of the best YA books I’ve ever read, but without a large range available in most British shops, it takes the internet to promote titles between countries.

It is a great anthology of short stories. Lots of the stories pick up on the pressure young people are under to achieve in a world which seems to offer little in return. I was pleased to find stories about first jobs and post-school choices – this is something I think British YA is lacking. In every other age-band it is commonly understood that young people want to read about the near future, as well as the things which reflect their current age. There are stories here about balancing school with a part time job, about university choices and how difficult it can be to move away from the life you have always known.

I would love to hear what some teenage readers think about the anthology. Did you feel it reflected your concerns?

In one sense it was nice not to recognise the author names because I read blind. I didn’t know whether an author was a debut author, a major award-winner or a midlist staple. I read the words alone. Having read these stories, I am keen to read novels bythe featured authors, and to explore the breadth of Aussie YA. Here are some short reviews of my favourite stories:birdOne Small Step by  Annie Kaufman

 The first child born on a Mars colony has been featured on social media since birth. Every step of her life has been watched, and it is no different now she is making her choice about university. Zaida’s parents want her to accept Harvard so they can share the good news with their audience on Earth, but is that what Zaida wants? There is someone back on Mars she would like to stay for.

This story shows a problem which has only faced the current generation of kids – social media parenting. Do we have a right to put our child’s life on the internet? At what age should someone decide for themselves? These are new questions, and it is good to see conversation directed at the people who matter most: the young people who have grown up in a time of social media.

The pressure to decide your future at a young age is also well portrayed. Why does everyone think Zaida should know what she wants now? Where do we get this misconception that everyone picks one path? Young people are afraid to stray from the traditional route of school-university-career, but in reality most lives don’t work that way. What happens when you hate your course? When you want to do a job unrelated to your qualifications? When you relocate for love to a place which makes your job unviable? Young people need to know that these hurdles are normal, and life is less predictable than it can seem.

 

 

I Can See The Ending by Will Kostakis

Adam can see the future. He plots it on post-it notes every time he sees something new. He knows his friend’s kitten won’t survive, and he knows he will one day divorce the girl he wants to date. Should he date her, knowing how it ends?

A story which reminds us life won’t always be smooth. Things which have taken years to build can end in a moment. Should we give up before we hurt ourselves, or enter with realistic expectations?

Adam and Nina work in a shopping-centre food court, and Adam thinks he is losing hours because he has hit 18 and must be paid a higher salary. It was nice to see the dull, disappointing reality of youth depicted alongside the romance. Life isn’t all successes and late-night parties, and it is good for young readers to know that saving money in a boring job is where lots of things start.

 

 

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson

Meg would follow Oona anywhere. When Oona sent a note into circulation, saying it would predict her future love, Meg stole it. She couldn’t risk Oona choosing someone else. Meg follows Oona to the Witch Queen to learn their destiny.

A lyrical story about letting other people make their own choices. This reminded me of David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey. Both have vibes of Orpheus and Eurydice, and both are about girls who love another girl so much they would follow her to the end of the world.

 

 

Last Night At Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks

 Bowie’s brother King is about to travel the world, and Bowie wants to be part of his last night in town. She loves King, and the friends he has made even though so many people don’t bother to get to know him because he uses sign language.

The descriptions of sign language were fascinating, and I loved how the characters’ names all made expressive signs. Bowie is a great protagonist – she loves maths, and there were lots of maths in-jokes. It was lovely to see a story where interest in maths is celebrated.

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Harper 360 for my copy. Opinions remain my own.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Goose Road by Rowena House

bannergooseroadwowSynopsis [from Walker Books]:

dsdal0cx4aigff0France 1916. Angélique Lacroix is haymaking when the postman delivers the news: her father is dead, killed on a distant battlefield. She makes herself a promise: the farm will remain exactly the same until her beloved older brother comes home from the Front. “I think of it like a magical spell. If I can stop time, if nothing ever changes, then maybe he won’t change either.” But a storm ruins the harvest, her mother falls ill and then the requisition appears… In a last-ditch attempt to save the farm from bankruptcy, Angélique embarks on a journey across France with her brother’s flock of magnificent Toulouse geese.birdWhy I can’t wait to read The Goose Road:

  • I live near the Solway Firth. For six months of the year, we share the land with both pink-footed and barnacle geese. They fly over my home twice a day in great formations. We hear them before we see them. I go to the window every time. Geese are part of my life and landscape, and I understand how their presence can form a special part of a life. I want the book for this reason alone.

 

  • The mixture of WW1 history, family story and agriculture sounds like Morpurgo’s work, and it is a combination I can’t read too many times. It is the story of who we were not so long ago, and it is the closest to hearing our great-grandparents’ voices most of us will come. These are stories we have heard recycled, but never first-hand. A fictional voice helps us to relate to history.

 

  • The history of the home front is as interesting as the war itself. This is where life went on against the odds. There are stories of courage and survival here as much as there are on the battlefield. 

 

  • Conflict: the character vows to hold on to the farm until her brother returns. Immediately the narrative offers a challenge. Will Angélique’s brother return? I know I’ll hold my breath until the last pages to find out. 

 

The Goose Road by Rowena House

Walker Books UK

April 2018

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

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Extract:

‘Arty, we can hardly traverse three continents without a sky-ship.’ 

‘There’s always a way, Maud. We could go to the Geographical Society and show them the locket.’ 

She paused for a moment then looked at him doubtfully. ‘They’ll need some convincing it means something. They don’t exactly think much of the Brightstorm name.’

(Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy.) birdSynopsis:

Arthur and Maudie’s life is turned upside down when their father dies on an expedition to reach South Polaris. Not only do they lose their father, they lose everything they have ever known. Their father is accused of stealing fuel from competitor Eudora Vane. As this breaks the Explorer’s code, his house and assets revert to The Geographical Society.

As the expedition to South Polaris failed, the prize fund still stands. The twins do not believe their father stole the fuel, so they join competitor Harriet Culpepper on her ship the Aurora. They set out on an adventure, but there are secrets along the way which others would rather they did not find.

birdReview:

Take to the skies with this fantastic Middle Grade adventure. Brightstorm has airships, secrets and a villain to rival Cruella deVill. I had high hopes from the description, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first chapter is perfect – it showed me the sort of book I would be reading, and left me asking questions about the world and about the twins’ situation.

Arthur and Maudie are great characters. Their relationship teaches us valuable lessons about family. Is family the bloodline we are born into, or the people around us who we love? It was interesting reading about twin main characters – Arthur felt like the main protagonist, but Maudie also developed over the story. There is a great moment where she says what she thinks for the first time.

The Geographical Society is a fantastic setting, which shows the disadvantages of class-based society. It is an institution built on tradition – it is narrow-minded and it fails to support social mobility. There are old families and there are new blood explorers. The usual route to becoming an explorer is to be born into a family of explorers. It is important for children to form their beliefs away form the prejudice of adults, and the world-building in Brightstorm supports this.

I love the idea of sapient animals – animals whose intelligence is recognised to be close to that of a human. The presence of intelligent animals reminded me of the daemons in His Dark Materials, and there is a fantastic plot twist which I didn’t see coming regarding a sapient animal.

Lots of people have praised the disability representation, and rightly so. Arthur is a character like any other in the adventure, and his arm is mentioned, but not studied. The things which define him are his interests, emotions and experiences. This is the kind of representation which is so desperately needed. Children need to see all kinds of people as part of their world, and as people they might meet and interact with.

If you like middle grade adventure, you need to read this. Hardy is a strong debut author and a wonderful new voice. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

 

Huge thanks to Vashti Hardy and Scholastic UK for my ARC. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman

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Extract:

The stag pawed the earth in alarm.

‘Someone is working dark magic near the star friends.’

The owl nodded gravely, ‘I’m afraid it appears to be as we suspected. Two shades have already been defeated by the Star Animals and their friends. But now more trouble is coming their way.’

(Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman. P7.)

birdSynopsis:

The Star Friends have faced trouble from dark magic before, but they always come through with their magical animal friends at their sides. This time they are uncertain. The girls fall out among themselves. Will they ever work together again?

Meanwhile mean old Mrs Crooks is acting suspiciously, and her garden gnomes look exactly like one which hid the dark magic shades on a previous occasion. Could Mrs Crooks be responsible for the casting the shades?

A story about friendship and overcoming fear.birdReview: 

Secret Spell is part of a series aimed at younger midde-grade readers. Four girls develop their magical powers with the help of their star friends – magical animals. Their friendship and magical powers grow alongside each other, but they come up against dark magic known as shades. These are feel-good books for newly confident readers. The fantasy element is not overwhelming – there is plenty of day-to-day life which grounds the story in a familiar world.

I liked the setting. The small village is safe for the girls to explore alone, meaning they go out into the woods and visit their neighbours without adults tagging alone. As someone who lives in a village, it is lovely to see this world represented in children’s fiction. It sounds quaint, but these places and childhoods still exist!

The main message of the novel was not to let fear cloud your perceptions. I liked the depth of the message – it explored how fear causes havoc if we fail to recognise and overcome it. This is a big lesson at a young age, and an important one. 

The novel shows the stresses and fears of modern childhood. The girls frequently find it difficult to arrange meetings due to their hectic schedules of clubs and tuition and music practice. Lottie is under particular stress as she is expected to pass a scholarship exam. This was a realistic portrayal of modern childhood, and it shows the price some children pay for these privileges. 

The story is nice as a stand-alone, but there are references to other Star Friends books. For this reason it might be better to start with book one, but I can see fans of the series enjoying the books in random order once they are familiar with the story. I loved The Sleepover Club as a comfort read when I was young, and I can see this series taking a similar place in on a child’s bookshelf. It would be easy for a child to imagine the Star Friends as their own friends, and great fun could be had making adventures and stories up to about these characters. Lucy Fleming’s Illustrations complete the book. They are fresh and modern and give both the animals and the friends wide-eyed appeal. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Stripes Books for my review copy. Opinions remain my own.