Young Adult Reviews

Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

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Extract:

Time is standing still. It has become trapped inside an eighth of a second like a luna moth inside a mason jar. There is a way out, of course. There is one means by which the moth can escape and time can fly irrevocably free. Each of you must vote during the last three minutes of every wake. You must choose the single person among you who will survive.

(Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. P31.)

birdSynopsis:

Bee hasn’t spoken to her best friends since her boyfriend’s death a year before. Now she is ready to face them. On the night she confronts them, she and her friends are in a car crash. They are transported to a Neverworld Wake – a strange dimension where pockets of time repeat themselves. A sinister man known as the keeper tells the friends that only one of them can return to life. There must be a consensus about who that person should be.

Trapped in a strange reality, Bee and her friends hash over what happened the year before as each tries to figure out ways to manipulate the Neverworld Wake.

birdReview:

Imagine The Secret History, throw in some physics and add a Hunger-Games style survival contest. That’s Neverworld Wake. If it sounds like an odd combination, just you wait. It doesn’t just work. It sucks you in and keeps hold of you until you’re on the final page.

If physics and alternate realities aren’t your thing, don’t be put off. The Neverworld mirrors the characters’ lives, so most of the locations from the real world feature in the story. Essentially the world enables the characters to move about in time and space. This allows them to solve a case which has been written off as a suicide. 

There are two major questions throughout the novel:

1.) what happened to Jim Mason – rich kid, musical genius and Bee’s boyfriend?

2.) which of the five friends will return from the Neverworld Wake?

Like Bee, the reader is not quite certain who to trust. The mystery is layered and complex. As soon as one question is answered, two more are posed. This kept me turning the pages because I wanted to reach the moment where all became apparent.

I read Marisha Pessl’s debut when I was seventeen and I remember being totally hooked. The book was not branded as YA, but I have always wondered if it would be rebranded. It is one of the novels I remember best from my teens. It kept me hooked with its mix of insanely wealthy characters and unsolved mystery.

I recommend this to readers of mystery novels and to people who like worlds which are slightly dark and edgy. I’m pleased to see Pessl working in YA and look forward to reading more of her work.

 

 

 

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Young Adult Reviews

Review: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Extract:

Hard as I try, I just can’t imagine a world where the next few months working with Callie aren’t miserable. Maybe Callie isn’t the biggest bully in school, but she is not what I would call nice either. 

(Puddin’ by Julie Murphy.) 

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Synopsis:

Millie Michalchuck has spent every summer at Daisy Ranch fat camp. This year will be different. There is a job at her uncle’s gym, her secret crush and she is determined to make it to broadcast journalism camp

 Callie Reyes lives for the Shamrocks, the school dance team. She wants to get to nationals with her team and doesn’t care what she has to do to get there. Millie and Callie have nothing in common. So they think. An act of retribution brings the girls together and they find they have more in common than they thought.

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Review:

A feisty, chatty read full of friendship and attitude. Confession: I haven’t read Dumplin’. It was one of those books everybody was talking about last year, but I never got around to adding it to my pile. Puddin’ is the companion novel, but it works well as a standalone. So well that I am going to put Dumplin’ on order and I have a chart counting down to the film release. So what is the fuss all about?

The first thing I can say is Puddin’ is totally relatable. It is about finding out who our friends are and making choices for ourselves. It also challenges the American High School stereotypes. Sure, at its heart it is about a pretty girl and a smart one, but instead of making them polar-opposites it shows that both have vulnerabilities and flaws. Both girls are regularly judged on their appearance. People write Millie off because she is fat – her word – and everybody assumes Callie is stupid because she is pretty. This shared revelation brings the girls closer.

The other storyline I loved was about Millie’s friend Amanda. Amanda comes out as biromantic ace (that’s someone who is asexual but crushes on both genders.) How refreshing to see a character on the asexual spectrum beginning a relationship. Amanda explains that she knows her sexuality the same way as any straight person knows. Asexuality is the last big unknown in LGBTQA+ and huge numbers of misconceptions still exist.  It is wonderful to see this representation, and three cheers for Millie who accepts and supports her friend.

Friendship, girl-power and chasing your dreams. I have mega-love for this book and look forward to reading Dumplin’.

 

Louise Nettleton

Have you read Dumplin’? Who would your dream cast be for the film? Let me know in the comments below.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor

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Synopsis:

A young boy lies brain-dead. The press are having a field-day, linking his story to a bestselling YA author and the gatherings she held at her Long Island home. Three teenagers sell conflicting stories to the press as each of them tries to unravel the events of the past month to make sense of what happened to Jonah, and their friendship with writer Fatima Ro.birdReview:

Your next binge-read. Think One Of Us Is Lying, throw in some observation of human psychology and three conflicting opinions. All Of This Is True brings the epistolary novel right up to date, with interviews, recordings, group chats and emails.

Who was Jonah before he came to prestigious private school Graham? What happened between the four teenagers and bestselling author Fatima Ro? Why is Jonah brain-dead? These questions are set up early on and I promise you won’t stop reading until you have the full picture.

This story is interspersed with extracts from Fatima Ro’s novel The Absolution Of Brady Stevenson. By the end of the story, Brady feels as real as any of the other characters. The result is we feel we know Jonah. This raises some interesting debates. It is difficult to discuss this in any detail without spoilers, but whatever we feel about Brady, we know nothing about Jonah. If we draw a conclusion from fiction, should we necessarily apply it to real life? This is one of the questions posed by the novel. 

Did Fatima Ro use the teens? My mind isn’t made up. She certainly didn’t think through the possible consequences if Jonah was identified. More interestingly, the media which vilify her is keen to profit from the same story, to the extent that the overarching voice in this narrative is not Jonah, or Miri, or Penny or Soleil or Fatima (who, incidentally, is barely more than a teen herself.) It is the voice of the interviewers.

A fast-paced and intriguing read. I recommend reading in as few sittings as possible to keep track of the different voices, and to allow the story to build.

 

Thanks to Lucinda for organising the blog tour. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Cold Bath Street by AJ Hartley

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Extract:

The Leech did not just kill the living. It had a use for the dead as well, a purpose both strange and terrible which was suited only to ghosts, a purpose beside which dying seemed like nothing. 

(Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley. P27.) birdSynopsis:

9.22pm. Preston Oldcorn is walking home from Scouts when a cold hand plunges into his chest. He finds himself stuck in a sort-of limbo world. Preston is merely dead, not most sincerely dead.

The same thing that threatened him in life is hunting the souls of young people in the afterlife. Preston must go through the local history of his home town and solve the mysteries of the afterlife before the shadow takes his soul. To do so, he must brave the scariest parts of town – Cold Bath Street and the Miley tunnel.birdReview:

A compelling ghost-story, and a love song to the Preston of the author’s youth.

This kept me turning the pages into the night. I loved Preston’s afterlife and his interactions with the other young people who had lost their lives. He meets characters from the ghost-stories of his childhood – the Bannister Doll and a squadron of Roman Centurions, as well as the more recently dead like his new friend Roarer.

Preston starts out as a brooding youth. He is cross that his parents won’t let him buy a leather jacket, cross that they make him go to Scouts and partake in other ‘wholesome’ activities. I love how his feelings change over the course of the story. There are strong messages about boys acting tough to cover their fear. Boys feeling the need to hide their emotions. Lots of recent YA has centred on girls and gender-equality, and it is lovely to find one which focuses on boys.

There are two interesting characters in the living world who deserve a mention. The first is Tracey, the girl who Preston haunts. I loved the dynamic between Tracey and Preston. The second is Nora Mcintyre, the church caretaker who has a particular connection to the dead of Preston. I was particularly intrigued by Nora. There is a brilliant twist in her story which is revealed in the final chapters.

The rule of thumb with YA is to write about the current time. Although I am not a teenager, and can’t talk for the teenage readership, I think Cold Bath Street proves that a good story can be set in any place and time. Preston’s cultural references are different from those of today’s youth, but his tedium at being young and lacking agency in his own life will be familiar to many. I loved the metaphor of being stuck in 9.22pm. Neither day nor night, child nor adult.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I have strong feelings about the ending. This didn’t spoil my reading at all – I love the final battle and the answer to the mystery. The part I want to talk about is the result. As this is only the final three pages, it doesn’t affect my recommendation in the slightest, but I would love to talk about this if you have read the book.

This is the first YA Novel from UCLAN Publishing. If they continue to publish stories at this standard, they are one to watch out for. 

 

Thanks to UCLAN Publishing and Hazel Holmes for my copy of Cold Bath Street. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.

Round-Up · Young Adult Reviews

Round-Up: 6 wonderful historical YA titles

 

I’m loving historical YA right now. Books take me to places I can’t visit, from the smoggy streets of Victorian London to the dining room of an inter-war mansion. I love films too, but scenes can be fleeting. Only a book gives me the time I need to savour the details.  They also help us to empathise with people from the past. 

There is a great selection of historical YA right now. I thought I would share some of these titles with you. bird

Unveiling Venus by Sophia Bennett

Mary is no longer a maid. Hiding behind her alter-ego of Persephone Lavelle, she becomes a muse to painters and a regular at the high society events of Victorian London. 

When her identity is exposed, Mary flees to Venice with her friend Kitty. There she encounters a man who offers her the world – at the cost of her friendship with Kitty.

Unveiling Venus continues the story started in Following Ophelia. I love the continuation of Persephone’s story, and how the story focuses so much on her friendship with Kitty. Sophia Bennett’s world-building is sublime. If you’re looking for historical fiction which takes you right into an era, put this series high on your list. 

 

Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Olivia was born in the workhouse and raised on the streets of London. When she is taken in by a wealthy uncle, she finds it hard to leave behind her thieving ways. She also refuses to forget the children living in London’s streets and slums. 

Olivia meets Jack, the boy once known as the Artful Dodger. Jack too has risen to higher places. He sees it as an opportunity to rob the people of high society. 

The pair must decide whether to turn their backs on their comfortable lives in favour of love. 

This is on my TBR. I am interested to see a retelling of Oliva Twist with a female protagonist. I hope there will be some interesting heist scenes before the lead pair figure out what they want in life. 

 

The Goose Road by Rowena House

 

1916. 14 year-old Angélique poromises to keep the family farm running until her brother returns from the war. To keep her promise, she will have to embark on a journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. 

I’ve been looking forward to The Goose Road for months now, and have it on good authority that it is the sort of book that you want to last forever. The idea of a young girl travelling with a flock of geese stuck with me. Maybe it is because I live in an area where migratory geese winter. They fly over the house twice a day for half a year, and I stop what I am doing to look up every singe time. 

 

The Mermaid by Christina Henry

News of a mermaid who lives on shore reaches P.T. Barnum, showman extraordinaire. The mermaid becomes part of his museum. Leaving the museum may be harder than leaving the sea ever was. 

P.T. Barnum was a real-life figure. His story was recently told in The Greatest Showman On Earth. I am interested to see how Christina Henry portrays him. It sounds as if this story focuses on the unheard voices of the people in Barnum’s ‘museum’.  

 

The Electrical Venus by Julie Mayhew

Mim and Alex have been raised in a traveling show. Money is tight and Mim is afraid she will be thrown out on to the street. Mim and Alex start plotting to overcome their problems, a plot which is interrupted by the arrival of Dr Sebastian Fox. Fox uses electricity to give Mim a new identity. He bills her as the girl whose kisses are truly electrifying. Now Mim is in the spotlight as men queue up to buy one of her electrifying kisses. 

I adore books set in Circuses and performing communities. This book shows history in its gory reality. Think poverty and guts and stench. This makes an interesting juxtaposition with Alex and Mim’s story of love and self-discovery. 

I found the narrative a bit unusual. It is told in alternating sections, some of which are addressed to animals – a parrot and a pig. This made more sense when I found out the story originated as a radio play. It took me a little while to get used to the unusual voice. 

 

A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood

Aspiring writer Lou has always wondered about the grand house which has stood empty for years. When the owners arrive home for the summer, Lou is swept into a world of cocktail-parties and glamour beyond her dreams. As she grows closer to the Cardews, she becomes aware of a darkness at the heart of the family. 

This is on my TBR. I’ve been looking forward to it for ages. As a teenager I loved big house stories. Anything with a Du Maurier vibe and I was there. I’m looking forward to reading A Sky Painted Gold. This is one my younger self would have adored. 

 

Do you have any favourite historical fiction? What is on your TBR? Let me know in the comments below

Louise Nettleton

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Charmcaster by Sebastien DeCastell

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Extract:

While Ferius is a master of trickery, and Rechis is two furry feet of sharp teeth, claws and a total disregard for the consequences of violence, I’ve got one and only one skill that matters in a situation like this: a piece of breath magic that relies on quick hands and the twin powders I keep in the pouches on either side of my belt. 

(Charmcaster by Sebastien De Castell. P10.) 

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Synopsis: 

Kellen, Ferius and Rechis are back for their third adventure. They make their way to Gitabria, a city of inventors and innovators, where a mechanical bird is about to cause huge problems. 

Both Kellen and Ferius are confronted with old faces from the past, and all word of the Jan’Tep indicates war. 

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Review:

Spellslinger is my favourite fantasy series. It follows a band of outlaws who have fallen on the wrong side of a magical dictatorship. Kellen, Ferius, and Rechis are back for their third adventure. This time they meet an old friend, visit a city of innovation and go on the hunt of a mechanical bird which might change the fate of the world. 

Charmcaster was an unputdownable as books one and two. I was pleased to see Neph return. In book one she was a side-character with little agency, but in Charmcaster she has a voice of her own, and she is something of a legend. I love the characters are developing across the series. Ferius’s backstory is an interesting strand, and I was pleased to learn more about her life and about the Argosi way. 

Now we are three books in, and war is on the horizon. We are learning more about the different cultures in the world, and about their motives and plans. The Jan’Tep are gaining power, but their society is built on flawed values. I’m not certain from the ending of book 3 where the next story is going, but that is one of the things I love about this series. De Castell is brilliant at setting up an adventure whilst throwing the reader completely off-trail.

My favourite thing about the series is the main characters. They are the kind of characters who remain in the reader’s head beyond the story. Now we are three books in, the bond between the key characters has been established. I love the dynamic between Ferius, Kellen, and Rechis. Although they are not sentimental about each other on the surface, they have each other’s backs. 

Witty, fast-paced and slightly subversive. Like the best YA books, these question the status-quo. The characters may not be successful by the conventions of their society, but they follow their own path and live good lives. 

These are must-reads. The countdown to book four begins. 

 

Thanks to ReadersFirst and Hot Key Books for my copy of Charmcaster. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: How To Write A Love Story By Katy Cannon

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Extract: 

… against all my usual instincts, I found myself wanting to know more about him. 

I shook my head and hurried to class. This was absolutely not the time to suddenly develop an interest in random boys. 

Not when I had a whole love story to create on paper.

(How To Write A Love Story by Katy Canon. P53.) 

birdSynopsis:

Tilly has always wanted to be an author like her gran, bestselling romance novelist Bea Frost.

Gran asks Tilly to write the start of her next novel. Tilly is delighted, but there is only one problem. She has never been on a single date. Luckily new boy Zach has caught Tilly’s attention.

Can she learn enough about romance in time to meet Gran’s deadline?
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Review:

A cute contemporary YA story about romance and writing and literary communities. This story totally won my heart.

Tilly is caught out by her grandmother. Tilly rewrote the ending to Gran’s book when she was in hospital.  Now Gran wants Tilly to write a novel. I love the references to writing – to novel-structure and idea-gathering and YA tropes.

Tilly finds plotting her own story to be totally different to working from Gran’s notes. The main problem is that she had no idea what it feels like to fall in love or to be kissed. Luckily there is a cute new boy in school, and Tilly reckons if she can just experience love she will overcome her plotting issues. Turns out falling in love is nothing like a romance novel. Cue awkward dates, love-triangle and a load of self-discover

Tilly’s gran Bea is a great character. She marries on a regular basis and buys new hats for every writing crisis. She’s a total diva, but she is also there for Tilly. She leads by advice and not by example. She also has a dedicated group of super-fans called The Queen Beas. I love this nod to fandoms, and the relationships people can form with books.

I love Tilly’s development as a writer. She sets out to write Gran’s next book, but learns about herself along the way, until she is able to question what kind of story she wants to write. There are some positive messages for aspiring writers – it is hard work, but knowing why you want to tell a particular story is a good start.

The love story made me smile. Tilly sets herself up to enact the ideal romance but soon learns that life is more complicated. I was pleased with the outcome (which I saw coming, but I cheered all the same.) As a result of her endeavors, Tilly is able to rethink what she wants from a relationship.

An intelligent YA romance, which is also a love-story to literary fandoms. Put this at the top of your summer reading pile.

 

Louise Nettleton

Check out all the stops on the tour:

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