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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Non-Fiction · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

Review: Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? by Ally Carter

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Have a novel manuscript? Have a few scraps of writing with no idea where to start? Whether you are a regular writer or someone just setting out, Ally Carter has said it all. 

No theory book will make you a writer, this is true, but everybody needs to learn the craft, and everybody needs to learn from experienced writers. 

Part theory book, part reflective autobiography on the writing life, this is the book which has been missing from the creative writing shelves. I don’t say that lightly. With people who have barely finished their first story penning advice, it might seem like a saturated market. As somebody who has spent the past couple of years working seriously on her writing craft, I can tell you from experience that this book does two or three things which I haven’t found before: 

 

  • It introduces the basic theory in one volume. Certainly, there are books which talk about more than one element of story craft, especially screenwriting books, but they tend to be of more use with a couple of manuscripts completed. Ally Carter’s novel is a lovely refresher for practicing writers, but it is also accessible to the total novice. (For the sake of simplicity I am using the terms ‘novice’ and ‘practicing’ to differentiate between people who have never completed a story and people who are not yet published but have drafted enough to be familiar with the most common theories.) 

 

  • It combines theory with the kind of down to earth, pragmatic advice previously found on YouTube. There are some things only time will teach a writer. Like how a novel takes the best part of a thousand hours. Minimum. Like that the first novel-sized thing you write probably won’t be novel-shaped, the first story you write probably won’t be agented, and the first thing you have agented won’t necessarily be published. Like how one person’s process is entirely different to another person’s. Often novice writers don’t want to hear these things. It breaks every myth they have ever heard (about inspiration, for example, or gifted people) and it can set their goals back by years. However, learning from more experienced writers is liberating. It is quite often the moment where people realise they aren’t doing anything wrong. 

 

  • The voice is pitched at teens – in the most non-patronising, realistic and totally brilliant way. This is the book I needed at 17 when I tried to write but had no idea how to turn my scrappy ideas into novels. As an adult reader, I found the book accessible and handy, but it would have meant the world to me as a teenager to find a book by an author whose name I recognised. 

 

Examples are drawn from Ally Carter’s career, and from the experience of guest writers. While most of these were American YA authors, plenty has been published to huge success in the UK and their names will be familiar to voracious readers. Regardless of this, hearing from multiple authors on the same subject gives a wider lens to each answer. Creative writing books to often claim to have the answer. This book encourages the reader to find a way of working which suits them. 

I would recommend this to any writer starting out, to practicing and emerging writers who need a gentle reminder that it doesn’t all happen at once, and especially to young people who would like to know where to begin. 

All the theory, expertise and gentle encouragement you ever needed to get going. A fantastic book about creative writing from a successful Young Adult author. 

 

Thanks to Orchard Books for my gifted copy of Dear Ally, How Do I Write A Book? Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Viper by Bex Hogan

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Synopsis:

Marianne has trained all her life to become the next Viper, the captain who defends the twelve isles from the seas. She has reckoned without the brutality of the current Viper, her father. Together with his crew, the fearsome Snakes, he is terrorising the land.

When she reaches her eighteenth birthday, Marianne’s life is in danger. Her only option is to flee the ship, learn the extent of her father’s corruption and fight to defend her land.

Hunted and haunted, Marianne loses everything in order to claim her destiny.

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Review:

This is a story about one girl – her past, her future, and the battles she must fight to protect the people in her kingdom. As fearsome and capable as any of the Snakes, Marianne’s father would prefer her to marry a prince than take up her title. Set in a world of fighter ships and castles, land and sea, this is set to be a huge hit.

As the first book in the series, this gave us an oversight of the land and a grasp of its political structure. My favourite part was somewhere around the middle where we learned a huge amount of backstory (no spoilers) about the world. Like fantasy books with extensive geography? This one is for you.  

The themes are dark. Marianne’s father is manipulative and cruel and the book is about the people who are unable to live their lives safely while their rulers allow such tyranny to continue. There are some pretty gory moments which will be popular with people who like realistic pirate novels .Think horrendous punishments and sieges and blood-thirsty revenge.

I loved the gradual release of backstory which gave context to the events of the novel, and the complex relationships between some of the characters. Forget straight and boring friendships. As a reader I was never quite certain who I could trust, which heightened the tension and made me care more for Marianne. 

A must for readers of fantasy YA and a brilliant new world to explore.

 

Thanks to Orion Children’s Books for my proof copy of Viper. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

Blog Tour: Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young

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Extract:

Our hatred of the Riki was written onto our bones. Breathed in us by Sigr. What had started as a quarrel between the Gods had turned into a hunger for revenge – a blood feud.

(Sky In The Deep by Adrienne Young. PP98 – 99.)

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Synopsis:

There are two options in battle – honour or death. 

Eeylyn is a warrior from the Asha clan. She is trained to fight their sworn enemy, the Riki clan, and believes this is the life for her until she sees the impossible. Her brother, who supposedly died five years ago, is fighting with the enemy. At first she believes her brother’s spirit was sent to watch over her by Sigr, but then she sees her brother Iri again and knows that he has betrayed her family and her clan. 

Eeylyn is taken prisoner by the Riki and is forced to wait out winter in the mountains. There she learns about her brother’s new life and his connections to the Riki. 

When a common enemy comes to attack, an enemy who was believed to be a legend, the two clans must unite if they are to survive. 

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Review:

A story of loyalty, family and the extent to which we should define ourself by a common belief. 

Eelyn grows up learning certain things. That the God Sigr has decreed that the Asha tribe must fight the Riki. That the Riki is the sworn enemy, that they are totally different people and that failing to kill them in battle goes against personal honour. She has also been told that her brother is dead. When this turns out not to be true, it sets off a chain of events which causes Asha to question the other things she has always believed. 

It was lovely to read a warrior story which was not all about battle. There are certainly fights and raids, but this is a coming of age narrative. Eeyln’s quest is about defining herself as an individual and where that puts her in the wider scheme of society. 

I loved the relationship between Fiske and Iri. This is not a romantic relationship, but it has a special definition which made me think about the way different cultures across history have found words for different types of bond. All kinds of relationships are valid and it is easy to slip into the way of thinking that only easily defined friendships, love affairs, etc are worthy of acknowledgment. 

The plot is straightforward but the themes and the bonds between the characters gave it depth, and it flowed so well that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Young writes a great action scene, filled with emotion as well as action. 

A clan-war fantasy with themes which are relevant to the modern day. 

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Sky In The Deep. Opinions my own.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Awards 2019).

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Extract:

what’s the point of God giving me life

If I can’t live it as my own? 

 

Why does listening to his commandments

mean I need to shut down my own voice?

 

(The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Xiomara knows what is expected of her. Get confirmed, hide the body that attracts male attention and become a nun. These are her Mum’s wishes. The only problem is Xiomara doesn’t believe in God.

It’s not a thought she can voice. Instead, Xiomara turns to the notebook her brother bought her for her birthday and fills it with poetry. She records her deepest thoughts about religion, and her mother, and the cute boy who she is paired with for lab work in school.

Secrets can only be kept for so long. Will Xiomara renounce everything she believes, or will she free her voice from the pages of her notebook?

A strong coming of age novel written in prose poetry.

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Review:

This is a story about religion, feminism, and freedom of speech. It is also about the defining moments in our youth which shape our views on big issues. It is a story about love, and friendship and finding our own voice.

Xiomara is a memorable character because she refuses to conform to the values she sees around her. She may have been raised by regular church-goers and brought up to think that girls should be ashamed of their bodies, but internally she challenges everything she hears. She’s also a rebel. The girl who comes back with grazed knuckles. I loved her because she shows that girls can gain reputations for fighting and speaking out. There is a greater pressure on girls to stay in line than there is on boys, and while I have never seen a book that suggests fighting is the answer, it is important to show growing people that it is something we might go through and overcome.

There is a huge amount of discussion about how religion views and treats women. While I respect that people have positive experiences too, I also believe it is important to acknowledge how religious attitudes which were prevalent in the past have filtered into society. Have you ever heard people who allege to support gender equality commenting on the length of a woman’s skirt or how much flesh she is ‘showing’? These attitudes may not be scripture for everyone, but they remain commonplace. Xiomara quietly challenges these views, and her questioning allows the reader to open themselves to other views.

I can’t review this book without talking about the rise and rise of prose poetry. Three books on the Carnegie shortlist of eight are coming of age prose poetry novels. The form is accessible, but it also offers a huge depth. There is something more to each section every time you reread. Maybe it appeals to a generation who are used to online performance. It puts the protagonist’s voice and their internal experiences right at the front.

I raced through this because I was so caught up in Xiomara’s experiences that I couldn’t leave the story unresolved. A brilliant story which puts its character at the front and through her speaks for a generation.

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Thanks to Riot Comms and Egmont UK LTD for my gifted copy of The Poet X. Opinions my own.