Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Year After You by Nina de Pass

year after you

Extract:

In the dimly lit room, my scar is all the more acute: a jagged, burgundy line from wrist to elbow; a reminder that I am here, and I was there. This I will have to cover at all costs. 

(From The Year After You by Nina de Pass. P19.)

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Synopsis:

Nine months ago, Cara was involved in a car crash which killed her best friend.

As a last resort to deal with Cara’s PTSD, her mother sends her across the Atlantic to a boarding school in Switzerland. Hope Hall is nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Alps. It also has a reputation for taking in ‘lost causes’. Nobody at Hope knows Cara’s past, and she intended to keep it that way.

Although she has built barriers around herself and clung to her old life, she makes new friends, such as her roommate Ren and the enigmatic Hector. The closer she gets to these new friends, the more she reveals about herself. Is Cara ready to accept that what happened is in the past and allow herself a chance at the future?

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Review:

A deep and beautifully-written look at the challenges faced in the months after traumatic injury.

Cara’s injuries have healed but she is struggling with the rest of it. How her life appears to have begun again after the crash. That she has a scar on her arm to remind her of how much she went through and how relatively little she suffered compared to others. How telling other people what happened means facing judgment. Including her own.

Other reviewers have suggested Cara is a liar. Straight out, I’m going to challenge this. She’s not a liar. She’s certainly struggling to face things. Traumatic incidents shake your memory. For months and months. Little pieces come back at a time. The human brain is an extraordinary vessel which blocks what it cannot cope with. This allows it to concentrate on physical recovery. The downside is that, as memories drip back in, they must be confronted and processed.

Hope Hall is supposed to be a new start, but how can she ever start over when she is carrying so much emotional baggage?

Slowly Cara decides that she doesn’t want to push her new friends away. But to do that she must fully come to terms with what happened.

Alongside Cara’s experiences, the book examines mental health prejudice generally. Cara faces this early on, when one of the boys at school kicks up a fuss at the inclusion of someone who might be dangerous. Later on, we meet a character who thinks sweeping mental health incidents under the rug makes a better impression on society.

I love that this book was properly researched. It shows every emotion and experience connected to traumatic injury, including other people’s reactions. It is also beautifully written, and it is impossible not to fall in love with the setting. Think the modern-day Chalet School. For the very privileged. Think a boarding school where ice-skating is on the agenda.

There is a reason everyone is talking about this book. It is insightful and beautifully-written and unafraid to challenge prejudice and misconceptions. A huge achievement from a debut author.

 

Thanks to Ink Road for sending my copy of The Year After You as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

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Young Adult Reviews

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Review: Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

Empress

Extract:

Frustration cut a bitter path across Taro’s chest. His lips tugged into a sneer. ‘So you hope to be an Empress? You wish for the prince to fall in love with you, and to wear pretty gowns, and to live in luxury for the rest of your life?’

Mari sighed. ‘It is disappointing how little you think of the opposite sex.’ 

Taro grunted. ‘I know the prince. He does not like to be considered some prize to be won.’ 

‘Women are regarded that way all the time,’ Mari said. ‘And just so you know, I have no desire to be Empress.’ 

(Empress Of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. P104.) 

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Synopsis:

Survive the palace’s enchanted seasonal rooms – Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – and marry the prince. Only one girl will get through. The rest die. The contest is held once every generation, and every girl is eligible to apply. Mari has trained for it all her life. The only problem is that as a yōkai she is not eligible to apply. The emperor is determined to see all yōkai destroyed.

Her path collides with that of Taro, the young prince who is determined to be something more than a prize. Taro spends his days making beautiful creatures from metal, and he questions his father’s hard line on yōkai. It seems that Mari and Taro are destined to be together.

At the same time, half- yōkai Akira joins up with the revolution as a way to watch over Mari.

A human, a yōkai and an outcast. The fate of the world rests in their hands.

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Review:

It was the world which drew me to this book. The idea of rooms themed to the seasons which are designed to kill. Sentimental portrays of the seasons abound, and we forget that the quickest and most silent killer in our world is exposure. This story describes the seasons in a way which makes them beautiful and deadly. 

At first, this seems like many YA novels. A savvy girl, a sensitive prince and a brooding boy in the shadows. Do not be fooled. The book shows these roles for the stereotypes they are. Mari, Taro and Akira’s character go so much deeper than their surfaces. Each has an agenda and their story places out against the changing face of an empire.

 This is feminism for people of all genders. It crushes the myths we have been told about love and relationships and the differences between men and women. 

The main story is interspersed with a story of the Gods, which echoes the shifting attitudes the main characters experience towards this theme. After finishing the novel, I went back over this sub-plot and took so much more in than I did the first time around.

I enjoyed another YA novel about yōkai last year and was pleased that Empress Of All Seasons explores that mythology in more detail. One of the best things about reading books from all cultures is learning about different myths and customs. Although shapeshifters exist in Western myths, it is interesting to see different interpretations of their nature. I hope to read more fantasy inspired by world cultures. 

A real page-turner and a setting which will haunt you long after you finish reading. I look forward to reading more from Emiko Jean.

 

Thanks to Gollancz for my gifted copy of Empress Of All Seasons. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan

whiteout

Extract:

Something was out there, waiting. Something that had brought Hanna back here, after all she had been through. Something terrible. 

Hanna stole one last glance at the valley far below, then turned back towards the hotel, wondering if tonight she might finally learn answers to the questions that had haunted her for as far back as she could remember. 

(Whiteout by Gabriel Dylan. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

A group of young people is at a ski resort in the Alps. For Charlie it is an escape from a difficult home. For Tara it is a low-budget alternative to the life she thinks she deserves. To Hanna it is an income. When a storm cuts them off from the rest of the world, they realise there is more outside than wind and snow.

Then they find the blood and the massacre begins.

A quest to survive begins and the different personalities in the group clash as different people assert their own ideas. Who will survive and how will it change their lives?

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Review:

If you’ve enjoyed the recent spate of novels with Breakfast Club style casts such as Floored or One Of Us Is Lying, you’re in for a treat. Here we have the spoiled girl, the boy with a criminal past, the tough-cookie and a whole cast of strong personalities thrown into a story of mayhem and survival. There are monsters out there in the snow and they’re not afraid to feed on humans.

What made this book for me was the characters. Each character is so realistic that I felt as I had been introduced to living, breathing people. The tensions between the characters are real. Conflict and friction are created by the events which happen the characters’ different reactions. Most memorable to me was ‘bad boy’ Charlie who is more responsible and reflective than many of his peers. The book never resorts to stereotypes but shows that we are deeper than the image we like to project.

In terms of horror – there is blood. There are monsters which feast on human flesh. You can be certain there is a certain level of gore. It never felt overdone. As someone who prefers subtle, folksy horror, I thought this would be a departure from my comfort zone, but the action is well-paced and there is a big emphasis on the people thrust into that situation. Be warned though: the body count is high.

The climax is haunting and it will fill you with adrenaline. Secrets have been kept in the mountains and horror has thrived.

Instead of pinning down what the horror is early and categorising it (zombie-attack, vampire plague …) there is a strong sense of the unknown and the unknowable. This keeps the tension up and we ask those questions alongside the characters. A gripping story and an author I will look out for in the future.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of Whiteout. Opinions my own.

 

   

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Pulp by Robin Talley

pulp

Extract:

Janet had never understood, not until she’d turned the thin brown pages of Dolores Wood’s novel, that other girls might feel the way she did. That a world existed outside the one she’d always known. 

(Pulp by Robin Talley. P36.) 

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Washington DC.

1955: Janet Jones is in love and she has finally discovered a romance novel she can relate to. Reading Pulp fiction helps Janet to embrace her feelings for her friend Marie. Everything should be perfect, except it is practically a crime to be gay in 1955 DC. As Janet comes to terms with her feelings, she begins to write fiction of her own, but her writing puts both herself and her friend in danger.

2017: Abby Zimet’s family is falling apart and her relationship with Linh is over. As she struggles to deal with her feelings, Abby becomes more engrossed in her senior creative writing project: an attempt to write a subverted pulp novel. The more research she does, the more Abby longs to talk to author Marian Love.

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Sometimes a book just blows you away. Pulp did that to me.

It is a story about love, a story about prejudice and a story about writing. It is about a specific genre of fiction which emerged in reaction to prejudice faced by very real people who just wanted the freedom to love. It captures two time periods in the same city. Two generations of young adults forming their identities.

Both Abby and Janet discover pulp fiction for the first time, but they discover it in totally different eras. Pulp novels were often forced to show drastic endings which warned women off such ‘behaviour’ but these endings could be tacked on to narratives about genuine romance. To Janet in 1955, this is groundbreaking. It is the first time she has heard voices like her own. To Abby in 2017, these novels are in need of an update. I love how we see their contrasting reactions. We come to empathise with people who are living in a climate of censure and what it means to get around those restrictions and read something even partially like your own experience.

The story will speak to anyone who has come out or struggled to form their own identity, about how much comfort there is in fiction and in knowing that there are other people who feel the same way as ourselves.

As someone trying to bridge the gap between writing for myself as writing as a career, this story spoke to me in volumes. It showed so much about the writing process which a lot of people are often unaware of – how genres often conform to patterns, how writers both consciously and subconsciously emulate other writers, and how stories often begin with something from real life. It showed how much work it takes to get to one complete manuscript (hint: there’s a volume of work behind book one) and how authors sometimes wish they could revise their early novels.

A couple of reviews have suggested that this book is hard to follow. I’m going to dispute that although I understand how the reviewers came to that conclusion. Throughout both storylines there are extracts from other works – books read and written by Abby and Janet. Two of these feature heavily, to the point where you might try to follow the fictional characters’ stories. My advice? Don’t treat these as additional plotlines. They teach us so much about the characters we are investing in, the characters we are following, but don’t mistake them for additional stands of the plot.

Aside from that, I loved the characterisation. Abby is so set on one version of happily-ever-after but she grows and changes a lot over the course of the novel in a way which felt realistic. This is a strong narrative for older YA readers and one which lots of adults will relate to with hindsight.

If you love realistic and heartfelt contemporary novels or novels which celebrate all things literary, give Pulp a go. It’s one of the special ones.  

 

Thanks to Young Adult HQ and Nina Douglas PR for my copy of Pulp. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Kim Curran’s ‘Slay’ Playlist

All about Slay:

slay

Synopsis:

They’re world famous, epic musicians and recognised as the cutest boy band on the planet. Conner, JD, Niv, Tom and Zek make up Slay. They are also demon killers. 

When Milly has the demon-encounter of a lifetime, the last thing she expects is help from a boyband. She finds herself on the road with the guys, hunting demons including the sinister Mourdant who has a plan to take over humankind. 

Can they figure out his plan in time to stop him? 

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Introduction: 

With Slay 2: On Tour hitting the shelves, I was delighted to have the chance to catch up on the first novel. My blogger friends had told me it’s a good story. What they didn’t tell me was how totally epic this book is. 

Slay takes a familiar narrative – evil dude with evil plan searches for object of all doom – and tells the story in a way that feels totally fresh.

As a mid-millennial, I grew up in the boy band era. Boyzone, N Sync, Busted, McFly, that other one, thingummy. Busted aside, I wasn’t a fan, but it is nice to see a teen book which acknowledges the importance of manufactured bands in young lives. Love them or hate them they are part of the landscape. Slay shows the ups and downs of life as a mega-star, but it also puts a twist on the whole thing. The only reason the band exists is as a front for the demon-hunting. 

The demons are scary, but the plot is fantasy rather than horror. It strikes the right balance in a way which reminded me of films like The Little Vampire and Casper The Friendly Ghost. The setting is a little more modern, with boys who create vlog diaries for their fans, but it has the same timeless appeal. 

Kim Curran kindly shared the playlist she created when she wrote Slay, and I am delighted to share it with you. (Note: I remember Busted: The Year 3000 on repeat.)

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Slay playlist by Kim Curran 

I can write anywhere: in my office at home, on the sofa, in cafes even on the bus. But I really struggle to write in silence. Music is an essential part of the process for me. So, whenever I set out to write a book, I always create a new playlist to write to. That way, as soon as I put it on, I’m sucked straight into the world!

My Slay playlist (or slaylist if you will) is entirely taken up by boy bands!

Kim Curran’s Ultimate Boy Band playlisthttps://open.spotify.com/user/kimecurran/playlist/0BZTOczZZCMSgCyyo2cQoO

http://bit.ly/UltimateSLAY

To hear Kim’s Slay: on Tour playlist, checkout Golden Books Girls’ stop on the Slay: On Tour Blog Tour!

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Fork, The Witch, And The Worm by Christopher Paolini

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This is a book which many people have been waiting for. Eragon is one of those series which defines a childhood. The kind you remember sitting up at night to read in one go. Now this volume of short stories is here and it catches up with Eragon and Saphira for the first time since they took on the duty of training new dragon riders. 

Eragon’s new story is set a year from that final battle. He is trying to create the perfect home for the dragon riders but finds himself overwhelmed with a huge list of tasks and is afraid he will never get everything done on time. To take his mind off things he listens to three stories – one projected into his mind by the Umaroth, one written in a witch’s papers and one told by the Urgal. These are the three stories which give the book it’s title – The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm. 

This is a love letter to the existing trilogy and it will be a huge hit with existing fans. It brings back many favourite characters and races and it will delight the hardcore fans. It is also a lovely introduction to the trilogy. 

The format is interesting – really it is a book of three separate stories but we also follow Eragon as he listens to them. I liked the short sections where we returned to Eragon after each story because they encouraged the reader to be reflective and to consider the themes of the stories they had just heard. 

My favourite story is The Worm – the tale of a dragon who ravages farmland. After her family is killed in the raids, Ilgra swears she will be the one to take it down. She sets herself apart as a warrior and gets deeper and deeper into the quest she has set herself. This is a story of perspective – of being able to step back and back the right decision. It is also about revenge and how revenge can become all-consuming. I just loved the tone of the story too. It was pure fantasy and it was timeless. 

The stories come together as Eragon moves forward in his own ambitions. 

This is a lovely way back into the trilogy and I am determined to reread the orignial books. I liked the format because it gives us space to think about the role of stories in our lives, and how stories can give us a different perspective on our own problems. 

The Fork, The Witch and The Worm by Christopher Paolini is published by Penguin Random House Children’s and is out now.

Check out my Twitter page to find a giveaway. UK and Ireland only – ends 17.01.2019 at 11.59pm. 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

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Synopsis: 

Martha knows there are secrets in her family and she is also able to learn things about a person’s past by brushing their clothes. Martha travels to Skjebne in Norway after rising concerns about her grandmother. She finds Mormor dead and a strange boy hiding inside the cabin.

As things grow increasingly spooky, Martha learns about the skeletons in the family closet and the secrets of the twisted tree in the garden.BBD35E74-4B7A-46CA-8F8F-0E29FC08A586Review:

An atmospheric and folksy thriller set against the Norwegian climate. Think gnarled tree branches and sharp claws and souls threatening to engulf the earth.

I read this story very quickly on a dark winter’s evening. It sounds like a cliché but it really is one of those books which demands that you get cozy and see the tale through. Rachel Burge’s descriptive writing is so strong that you can almost feel the cold Norweigan air as you read her sentences. If you enjoy books which hook you on setting alone, this one is for you.

There is a sense that Martha’s life is stagnant. She hasn’t moved on from the accident which left her blind in one eye, while her mother has never embraced the family secrets. As the story opens there is a sense that something has to shift. I love how Martha unpicks things and then embraces the changes which need to happen.

This is in many ways a story about trauma-recovery. Martha is still haunted by the events of her accident and the scars on her face are a daily reminder of what happened. She is acutely aware of people’s reactions to her face and builds a new sense of self based partly on those reactions. Martha’s is fascinated with her scars, and she divides her life into pre and post-trauma as if her accident is a turning point. These observations about trauma recovery show that the character was well developed. Real human beings are not a set of traits – they are also about reactions.  

The tree itself is almost a character. Without any spoilers, it is centuries old and it is at the heart of the story. I always enjoy stories based on folklore and mythology, and I loved the backstory about the tree.

This is the perfect story for the dark nights which will come before spring and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys thrillers which are atmospheric rather than gory. A beautiful and haunting tale.