Young Adult Reviews

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

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Extract:

But because everything was so smooth, and easy, and obstacle-free, I didn’t even question what was going on, or realise I was skipping into the forest as innocently as Red Riding Hood in Hoodwinked. 

Pretty dumb, really. 

The first sniff I had that something dark was going on was when I got the second act of The Isle Of Dogs. 

(D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett. P74.) 

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Synopsis:

A year on from the events of the Justitium hunt and Greer is focused on getting top marks in her final exams to secure a place at Oxford. Drama students at S.T.A.G.s are responsible for putting on the end of year play, and Greer has taken the role of director. She isn’t certain on which play to perform until an old manuscript is pushed beneath her bedroom door. It is the first act of The Isle Of Dogs,  a work by Ben Jonson hasn’t been seen in over 400 years. It also contains some striking parallels to the social division she has witnessed at STAGS.

Her decision to cast the play puts her relationship with Shafeen on hold, but it may have wider consequences too. As further acts appear, the play leads Greer back towards the Order Of The Stag, and to the place she thought she would never visit: Longcross Hall.

But why does she still question whether Henry might be there? That particular ghost from her past was supposed to be laid to rest over a year ago …

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Review:

STAGS was a triumph of 2017 which both hit the awards list and gathered a legion of fans. My first words when I closed the book were ‘MA Bennett knows how to tell a story’. My second question was ‘Did she mean to write a five-act structure?’ (The author answered this during a Twitter chat. Yes, she did, and to tremendous effect.) When it was confirmed that MA Bennett was the penname of an established writer – and one who studied Shakespeare’s work at masters level – I was not in the least bit surprised.

The influence of historical writers on Bennett’s work comes to the front of the second story, as Greer stages the first playing of The Isle Of Dogs in over 400 years.

This real play saw Ben Jonson imprisoned and almost executed, and this fact is the basis for the events of D.O.G.S. MA Bennett imagines what might have caused Elizabeth the First to react so violently against Jonson’s work in a fictional version of the play. Greer receives this a single act at a time, pushed under her door by a mysterious stranger.

Every act draws her deeper into a world she thought she had left behind.

New characters keep the series fresh. The de Walencourt twins, Cass and Louis, are difficult to read – are they different to the rest of their family, or does the same privileged ambition run through their veins? Ty Morgan a complete star. She’s the new ‘outsider’ to the gilded world of S.T.A.G.S, but she’s sure as heck not going to be made an outsider by the established trio. Ty’s storyline challenges everything readers have come to expect from black characters in secondary roles. Think just about every half-term film from the late 90s or early 2000s. Think about the stereotype of the black best friend. Ty smashes that role to smithereens. There’s also a new staff member whose motives are hard to figure.

D.O.G.S did everything I hoped for. It wasn’t a repeat of S.T.A.G.S, but it built on the themes of social division and an ingrained class system and developed our knowledge about the Order Of The Stag. It brought back familiar locations but allowed us to explore them in new ways, and from new angles. D.O.G.S is as addictive and compelling as its predecessor. MA Bennett sure knows how to write stories which bite.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hoy Key Books for my gifted copy of D.O.G.S. Opinions my own.

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Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

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Extract:

Each one was about the size of a small car. And they were clearly metallic – all hard edges and dull gleaming surfaces. Yet at the same time – these machines – they were so lifelike. They flew with an undulating motion, like that of a fly. Their wings were a greenish blur at their sides. Each had a pair of reddish orbs, like compound eyes. 

(Earth Swarm by Tim Hall. P82.) 

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Synopsis:

A swarm of killer drones has descended on London.

Hal Strider wishes his Dad had a little bit more family time. Like any time. But there’s been a lot going on at Starr-Strider Biomimetics, especially since Tony Daeger turned up. That’s when the secret plans began. When the drones attack London, leading to mass evacuation and widespread panic, Hal realises they were built by his father’s company. And now his Dad is nowhere to be found.

Hal and his sister Jess are determined to prove their father’s innocence and to save the city, but they are up against machines which never stop, police officers who don’t want to listen and seven million people in panic. They also have something which the person responsible really wants. Perhaps Hall can figure out the truth with the help of the incredible, free-flying girl Sky, but they are up against a deadly enemy and time is running out.

A spectacular new Sci-Fi series suited to fans of Mortal Engines. 

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Review:

Everyone remembers where they were the day the drones struck.

Although the drones themselves are the stuff of Sci-Fi, the story is made relatable by the atmosphere. A historical news story is breaking, like 9/11 or days after Princess Diana died. The drone attack marks a transition in recent human history. The mass exodus, too, feels very much news footage from recent years although the setting is changed. Now it is Londoners whose homes are under siege. Earth Swarm is the sort of story which asks the reader to face big questions. What would it take to provoke such movement of people in the West? Should Capitalism and the quest for money put humanity at risk?

It is also a compelling adventure.

Even at the start, before we see the drones, Hal Strider’s life seems pretty exciting. He’s a trained pilot whose flying skills would be the envy of most adults. The range of aircraft and gadgets made me think of Thunderbirds. This story begins with a wealthy boy and his techy toys. Hal’s character goes far deeper than that, and his desperate longing to spend more time with his Dad will be relatable to young readers whose parents have no choice but to work overtime.

The drones themselves are like something from a horror film. There are masses of them and nobody knows who is at the controls or what their agenda is. Short passages at the end of some chapters offer the reader a drones-eye view of the action and drip feed information about what the drones are capable of. This increased my anticipation as I was reading the main action because my knowledge of what the drones could do felt incomplete, but I was given enough each time to feel that they were hiding some pretty mega technology.

And it turns out the clue is in the name. SWARM. Emphasis on the WAR.

This is a fast-paced adventure with high stakes, and I am delighted to see a children’s book centered around drone technology. Not so long ago, drones brought UK airports to a halt and raised big questions about how such basic air technology was able to invade the airspace. In my opinion, there are so many grey areas about drones which have yet to be explored, and these grey areas are the perfect place to find stories.

While this is aimed at a teen or older middle-grade audience, it has crossover appeal and huge potential to evolve into a series. The story explores the lengths to which people will go for personal gain, and how increasingly-sophisticated technology is putting us at risk from these individuals. It is also a fast-paced and convincing adventure.

The drones have arrived. Could they be our downfall?

 

Thanks to David Fickling Books for my copy of Earth Swarm. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Review: The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

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Extract:

The two sofas and coffee table had been pushed to one side and laid out in a pile on the floor was a crumpled bonnet, a waistcoat, a long and voluminous dress and a very large top hat. 

Cassie had clocked them at the exact moment Tabby had. ‘I’m not dressing up,’ she said, backing away. ‘No way. And my allegiance lies with the Brontë sisters and only the Brontë sisters. I won’t go messing about with Jane Austen.’ 

(The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie. P55.)  

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Synopsis:

Tabby may have left her hometown, but there’s no escaping Jess. Not when she’s still sending insults via Instagram and not when the bad memories are replaying in Tabby’s head.

Then Tabby sees a poster for a local teenage book club. Making new friends wasn’t top of Tabby’s agenda, but there’s something about Olivia, Cassie, Henry and Ed which draws Tabby back. Even with Cassie being awkward.

Maybe it’s the doughnuts, or banter, or the Jane Austen-themed dance parties. Or maybe it’s Henry himself, and the feeling that there’s something real.

When Jess starts targeting her new friends, Tabby is left with a choice – own up or keep everything which is going on a secret. And just hope that it stops.

The contemporary novel for bookish teenagers which everyone has been waiting for.

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Review:

Welcome to the Paper & Hearts Society – a space where teenagers can discuss books, graze on chocolate and basically not be afraid to be themselves. Many bookish teenagers dream of finding the place where they belong, and their people, and the great thing about the Paper & Hearts Society is it provides a model which could be replicated up and down the country. A notice in the library or school corridor. Some snacks, a wish list of themes and an agreement that all books are great books. Lucy Powrie, who has been part of the online community for many years, knows everything there is to know about helping bookworms to socialise.

Finally, there is a novel which shows bookworms as something more than readers. The characters in this story have places they want to go and friendships beyond their book group, which makes them perfect role-models for teenagers. Reader is too often shown as a personality type when all kinds of people love to pick up a book.

Aside from anything else, this is pure bookish escapism. From Harry Potter marathon nights to Jane Austen Dance Parties and a road trip around bookish landmarks of the UK, this will give teenage bookworms great ideas for things to do, and it is a mega-nostalgia trip for anyone who grew up with a copy of Ariel in their school bag. Or Rebecca. Or Great Expectations.

Tabby’s personal storyline spoke volumes to me and will be a comfort to socially-awkward teenagers. At the start of the novel, Tabby is desperate to be worthy of her old friend Jess’s time, even though Jess has been unkind and manipulative. Tabby’s desperation leads her to say things she doesn’t mean in a bid to live up to Jess’s standards. Then Tabby meets people who treat her as a friend and suddenly her real personality shines through. It can be difficult as a teenager to accept that being liked isn’t about meeting someone else’s standards. The story nails the teenage emotional experience, which is hardly surprising given the author was a teenager throughout the writing process.

A brilliant YA novel which reinforces a sense of belonging and opens a whole world of books to read and places to visit. Lucy Powrie writes with gentle humour and empathy towards her characters and references literature as though she is talking about old friends. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and cheering on the Paper & Hearts Society as it grows.

 

Check out Lucy Powrie’s BookTube channel  and blog 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

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Extract:

Between the twine and hair are fingernail cuttings. 

This must be one of Laila’s spells. 

Even though I don’t believe in magic, it’s difficult not to connect this horrible thing with the strange way she died. It feels like Laila doomed herself, accidentally cursed herself, and died. 

(The Wickerlight by Mary Watson. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

Living in Kilshamble was supposed to bring Zara’s family back together after her parents came close to divorce. Instead, with the death of her sister Laila, it tore them apart.

Zara isn’t buying that her sister’s death was an accident. Not when she was obsessed with all things magic. Not when there’s a strange conflict in the village between rival groups, a conflict which regularly escalates to violence.

Investigating Laila’s death brings Zara into contact with David, the troubled boy who isn’t beyond redemption. David’s family are searching for a lost family heirloom which holds far more than a sentimental value?

Is it possible Laila’s quest for magic took her out of her depth? As Zara searches for answers, she finds herself drawn dangerously close to the conflict between two rival magical groups: judges and augers.

A compelling mystery novel and companion to The Wren Hunt.

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Review:

Thriller meets folklore in the second book of this extraordinary series. Imagine a world where Earth magic still exists in hidden pockets. There are two different approaches, one which is elemental and practiced by Augers, another which relies on order and is practiced by Judges. The factions who practice these related magics are part of a centuries-long civil war which centres on the Irish village of Kilshamble. This much was established in book one. Starting off two months after the events of The Wren Hunt, this story changes the camera angle to see the village through the eyes of an incomer and non-magical inhabitant.

Unlike her late sister Laila, Zara’s never believed in magic. Following in her sister’s footsteps brings her into contact with the augers and judges and puts her own life in danger. It also brings her closer to David – the Judge boy who is supposed to kill and injure on his father’s orders.

Think Capulets and Montagues in a Celtic setting. It is brooding and teenage and at the same time, these teenagers have never had a chance to be children. They’ve been shaped for war since birth.

The question of which faction killed Laila and why relates to the events of The Wren Hunt. Snippets from Laila’s diary head every other chapter and lead to a climax in a way which kept me up into the small hours. It was wonderful to read a thriller which linked into a wider fantasy plot. This merging of genres opens new ways of telling stories and Kilshamble is a setting which is at once filled with magic and grounded in the everyday.

Alongside the story of Judges and Augers is the story of Zara’s family. Her father has been caught having affairs, and Zara desperately wants her family to stay together. They’ve already undergone one huge change, moving to Kilshamble, and she’s afraid that if her parents divorce she will have to South Africa with her mother. Despite everything which has happened, Zara wants to remain in Kilshamble. The magic her sister loved is rich here and this is where Zara feels close to Laila. This is a story of grief, change and moving into new stages of life. Both Zara and David know what they want already, but owning it is another question.

Having read The Wickerlight, I am desperate to return to The Wren Hunt and to remind myself of some of the contexts of the magical dispute. Everything which takes place in these books feels as though it is grounded in something deeper, something centuries-old, as if a seed planted many years ago has grown into twisting thorns. I look forward to continuing the story when the next book comes.

A story of a feud and the young people who grow as a result of the battles. It is a haunting tale which will remain on your mind long after you close the pages.

 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted copy of The Wickerlight. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

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Extract:

I could have bought another bag of candyfloss with my last pound instead of wasting it on this massive disappointment. I shook my head, beating myself up about how Wonderland gets you every single time, like everyone who walks in has ‘sucker’ written on their foreheads.

(Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green. P51.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Socially awkward teenager Alex is used to life being disappointing and he’s resigned himself to another summer of total nothing. Then he gets a job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland, and makes friends with the kids who work there. He even develops a crush on a boy with the perfect dimples – a boy who is horribly in love with a girl.

Mysterious and threatening notes start appearing around Wonderland, a park which is already under the shadow of debtors. Alex and his friends Ben and Efia start vow to save Wonderland and to bring it into the 21st Century.

Who could be guilty of the notes? Will Alex ever get a boyfriend or is he a lost cause? A hilarious contemporary novel which follows one summer in the life of a teenager.

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Review:

Roll up, roll up for another summer of boredom in a run-down seaside town. At least, that’s what Alex is expecting, but putting himself out there and making friends leads him into an adventure. Albeit an adventure which involves a tatty flamingo suit, a banged head and chasing after another hopelessly unavailable boy.

Alex is the socially awkward kid most bookworms relate to – or remember being. He’s painfully aware of his every mistake, every blunder, and he lives in fear of the next social slip-up. It was lovely to see a book which really explored how it feels to navigate the world in this constant state of fret. Too many YA characters appear impossibly sorted. We’re rooting for Alex to have his moment, but more than that we want him to find the right guy.

The arcade mystery was great fun, with a wide cast of characters who could have been responsible. As equally as I wanted Alex to get his guy, I hoped Wonderland would be saved. Wonderland is very much like Alex. Quirky, mildly embarrassing, and sometimes perceived as ridiculous but a place which has brought many people great happiness. Why would anybody want another identical development, even if it is sleek and attractive?

It is difficult to talk about the mystery solution without too many spoilers, except that it fits too perfectly with the rest of the story. There’s more too it than that, though, and Alex comes away happier and more confident which seemed like the most important thing.

A wonderful summer read which shows how friendship and excitement can be found in the least wonderous of places. Add this to your reading pile and prepare for a wave of nostalgia. Being a teen sucked, but wasn’t it magical? Another hit from talented writer Simon James Green.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Alex In Wonderland. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

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Extract:

I know what she means. Rescuing Lady MacBeth simply shone a light on a much bigger problem. And the worst part is we’re in the wrong … not only did we steal a chicken, we released three hundred more. What if we were seen? Claire will not hesitate to destroy us.

(The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher. P53.)

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Synopsis:

Molly’s life should be simple.

Instead her mother is moping in the attic and dating Gary ‘The Hulk’, her sister Polly is engaged to a boy with an IQ to rival a gnat and nothing is getting repaired because money is tight. Now her chicken companions have been sold to the shoddy local farm.

When Molly and her friend Tess rescue one of the chickens, they accidentally set hundreds of other chickens free. Then drama queen Claire Kelly doctors some video footage to make out the chickens were stolen in a wilful act of chicken hate crime.

Together with her friends and supporters, Molly sets out to prove the conditions on the farm are unacceptable. But will life ever be as mundane as it should be in a quiet area of rural Ireland?

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Review:

Cold Comfort Farm meets a rural Irish childhood. With added social media. This is the sweetest teen novel I have read in ages, and possibly the funniest. It shares the same charm and biting wit as the classic novel but throws in the sort of dysfunction and family changes faced by many teenagers today. And chickens. A whole load of chickens.

 Molly Darling is in many ways my teenage self. The kid who watches everything from one step back and keeps a running satirical commentary. She’s fond of the outdoors, less fond of people and happy to hide among the family book towers. Her wit and strong desire for peace and normality make her an easily relatable character.

 Unfortunately, she’s faced not only with the changes and dramas in her family (like her eighteen-year-old sister’s insistence that she will marry the latest boyfriend) but also with the challenges of social media, in the form of blogger-supreme Claire Kelly.

 The plot centres around Claire’s exaggerated claims, which she backs by editing different video clips together to prove the truth. This is a form of bullying which has become more common in recent years, with the rising interest in video editing. The cruelty is twofold – firstly that any viewpoint can be pushed with a bit of clever editing, and secondly that it can take one point and twist it into gold. In the story, a girl sneaking into a barn to rescue her pet chicken is made to look like a hardened criminal. Zoom in on a face and put the voice from one clip over another and presto. You can claim anything.

 Alvy Carragher calls this behaviour out by pitting antagonist Claire against a group of kids who genuinely have good hearts. Claire knows she has an audience and she knows what she is doing. I rooted shamelessly for Molly and her friends in their search for justice and kindness.

 This is a countryside book in many ways. Chickens are kept as pets and found dead at the side of the road. Although Molly’s vegan friends are persistent in their cause, there’s no shying away from why farm animals are kept. It is also a book about small communities, family life and people who work tirelessly for very little profit.

 I will be shouting from the rooftops about this one. It has just the right blend of heart, humour, and social commentary to make it last and, while Molly would probably prefer a quiet life, I hope it gets the noise it deserves.

 

 Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my gifted copy of The Cantankerous Molly Darling. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

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Extract:

I am not alone. I have my family around me, and my friends. Marget and I see each other every day. But our friendship is no longer as effortless as it once was. When I talk about the First Mother and her three aspects, or about the Crone and her door, Marget listens politely for a while but soon starts gossiping with my mother about the neighbours or discussing the best remedy for nappy rash and colic with Náraes, who often comes to see us and brings the children. I am no longer one of them. I am an outsider. 

(Maresi Red Mantle. P61. Maria Turtschaninoff.) 

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Synopsis:

In a patriarchal world, the Red Abbey has always been the one haven where girls and women can learn. Now Maresi has left the Abbey. Although she could have stayed all her life, she chose to take her knowledge back into the outside world. She journeys back to her home in Rovas filled with ideas about opening a school and passing on all she has learned.

The people of Rovas live by tradition and superstition. Most people are happy to follow in their family’s footsteps, and few of the others have considered it could be otherwise. Maresi fails to pitch her ideas in a way which interests the village people.

Meanwhile, the rule of an oppressive Earl and his followers threatens peace and security in Rovas. People are losing their homes and girls and women are being targeted by soldiers.

Maresi wants to protect her people, but how can she when she is uncertain where she belongs?

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Review:

A feminist epic and compelling narrative which continues the story which began with Maresi. Although this is the third story in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel which tells a story from the time when the abbey is founded.

Anyone who is familiar with the series will be desperate for the next installment. You won’t be disappointed. Although the community which Maresi returns to is less overtly magical than the island and Abbey setting, there is, as Maresi herself discovers, more to her homeland than is apparent from the surface. The First Mother – the three-form goddess who unites the women and girls of the Abbey – is present here too, even if people’s understanding of Her takes a different form.

Maresi’s crisis goes deeper than her struggle to set up a school. Her story is told in epistolary form, through the letters she sends to her friends and superiors back at the Abbey. What initially seems like regular reports turn into something more like a lone member of a chat group firing off messages into the night. Maresi can’t stop writing. She misses the Abbey, where she so clearly belonged, and her failure to reintegrate into the community forms a large part of her personal crisis. Should she change to fit back in? Can she remain the educated young woman she became at the Abbey? Is anyone even interested in what she has to say? I found this character development interesting because, even though Maresi is brilliant in many ways, she still has her flaws. She considers herself to have outgrown her childhood home and fails at first to see what it still has to teach her.  

For the first time in her life, too, Maresi is grappling with romance. Given the brutal treatment she has seen in the past this is a complex area for her to face.

Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing is masterful. At all times it feels as if she is weaving a myriad of rich threads into a tapestry, and her prose is so beautiful that I read slowly just to enjoy the words. This book spans the generations, too, with a final section looking ahead to the choices Maresi makes in her elder years. The books have always dealt with rites of passage – birth, love and death – and their interconnectivity, but before now we have often seen them in a figurative way. In the rituals and beliefs of the island. This time they hit Maresi’s family straight on.

An extraordinary and complex novel. This series is rich and beautiful, examining the literal and figurative havens women find when confronted with a Patriarchal world. Prepare to cry alongside Maresi, but more than that, be prepared to grow as a result of reading her story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my gifted copy of Maresi Red Mantle. Opinions my own.