Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Other Side Of Lost by Jessi Kirby

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Synopsis:

Mari is a social media star who appears to have it all – perfect body, perfect home and perfect life. As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Mari is more aware than ever of the thing that is missing. Her cousin Bri, who should also have been turning eighteen.

Mari shares her true feelings online – that she isn’t the flawless person she pretends to be. In the backlash, she set outs to follow the adventure Bri had planned before her death.

Mari hikes the John Muir trail and navigates her own feelings as she sets a new course for life.cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.pngReview:

A contemporary YA for a contemporary audience. I’m always up for books which promote an outdoor lifestyle and this one had such positive messages and a great vibe.

The online world can get a bit OTT. Mari’s certainly has. She plans her photos down to the smallest detail. It’s nothing to do with real life and everything to do with getting likes. Which isn’t the wrong way to live, btw, and the book doesn’t condemn social media altogether. Mari’s built a platform and gained useful skills along the way. She’s just fed up of the constant pressure. When she lets the mask slip and shows her more vulnerable side, she’s condemned for it. There is a huge pressure to create and stick to an image, particularly on Instagram which is Mari’s main platform and the story explores the effect this has on users like Mari.

I’ve seen reviews which describe Mari as shallow and selfish, but my reading was that she sunk herself deeper into this artificial world following the death of her cousin. There is pressure in the real world as well as in the virtual one. When we lose a loved one there can be huge pressure to keep up the pretence of doing fine. Social media is an obvious place to do this, where every picture and every post can be curated.

I enjoyed the trek itself, particularly the descriptions of the landscape. It’s the sort of book which makes you want to train up and get outside even if, like Mari, you have very little experience of the wilderness.

A relatable contemporary novel which encourages us to choose what matters in life while highlighting the pressures social media puts on today’s teenagers.

 

Thanks to Harper360 for my ARC of The Other Side Of Lost. Opinions my own.

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Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

 

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About Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. 

Rosie would spend every day and every hour with her boyfriend Jack, but due to a brain injury sustained when he was born, Jack finds it difficult to control his temper. After an incident at college, Jack goes away to learn some anger management techniques.

Rosie’s Dad says this is the last straw. He sees is as an opportunity to put an end to the relationship between Rosie and Jack. 

Rosie has other ideas. She may have Down’s Syndrome but she’s not going to let that define her and she’s not going to let her Dad treat her like a small child. Rosie leaves home in search of the boy she loves – even though people think girls like Rosie can’t survive a journey like that on their own. 

What makes Rosie Loves Jack special? Aside from Rosie’s voice, which is so distinctive, it will remain with you love after you close the book, I love the fact that the book confronts the fear and prejudice around people with neurological conditions, mental health problems, and additional needs. Jack certainly needs to learn to control his temper, but there are reasons why it is taking him longer to learn those behaviours than other people. Rosie’s Dad, like many people in the real world, judges Jack on one aspect of his condition and not on his whole personality. 

It is a deep irony that some people are more willing to forgive behaviour in those without additional needs. Everyone deserves the chance to grow. In the end, it is Rosie’s Dad who has to confront his own prejudice. 

Mel Darbon wrote this story because of the attitudes towards her brother. It is a sad fact that people with additional needs face a hard time – for example, only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full-time employment, and even fewer in a job which matches their abilities. People are more willing to overlook issues in those with strong communication skills than in those with a genuine need for empathy and patience. Statistics like this will not change unless, as a society, we decide to show more tolerance. 

The novel gives voice to a group who are not often heard. 

As part of the blog tour, we were asked to choose from a series of questions. Like many characters, Rosie and her father undergo big emotional changes. I have written about what it is like as a reader to follow a character through their story. 

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What is it like to follow a character’s emotional journey? 

What makes something a story instead of a lump of writing?  

There are many answers to this question, but it begins with the protagonist – the main character who drives the story. Once upon a time there was a person with a flawed world-view. This person wanted something very much. Something stood in their way. There you have the (very very) basics of a story. The result of this is, of course, that writers put their protagonists through the wringer. Before we get to the end of the story, we know the protagonist will have faced many challenges and we know they will have developed their world-view as a result.

The question I chose to answer for the blog tour related specifically to these turning-points – the moment when the protagonist grows and changes as a result of their experience. How does it feel, as a reader, to follow these emotional journeys?

If we connect with a character – and particularly if we identify with their flaw – it can feel as if we have walked a thousand miles in their shoes. As if we were part of the journey and have undergone the same transformation. We may not have gone to wizard-school or crossed the seas, may not have been called up for the Hunger Games or trained a dragon but we can undergo the same learning journey as the character. This is why fiction is an important part of life and why it is the greatest teacher of empathy. It takes us to places we are unlikely to reach to help us change our worldview.

Reaching a turning-point in the story is an almost-spiritual moment. Whether this is the first book we have ever read or the six-thousand and fourth, we know it is coming.  The character has been pushed to their lowest ebb and we know this is the moment where they will have to confront their attitudes. As readers, we come in one step ahead of the protagonist, and there can be a great satisfaction in turning the page and seeing a character come to the same realisation.

Then comes the action-sequence. The moment where the protagonist lifts their head and walks to face their final challenge. This is a moment of empowerment for the reader, too, because we see that internal changes can result in proactive changes in life. If the character’s situation can change as a result of their growth, maybe we can change our own lives too. Maybe we change the world for others.

This is why I struggle to understand when people talk about fiction as if it is a form of light entertainment or a hobby which should be saved for the weekend. Fiction is empowering and it teaches us more about the world than our day-to-day lives ever can. Fiction gives us new approaches and it helps us to believe we can make a change.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing LTD for my copy of Rosie Loves Jack. 

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. 

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Extract:

‘Take it, Yumenko-chan,’ Master Isao ordered, and held it out to me. ‘It must not fall into the hands of the demons. You must keep it safe at all costs.’ Another boom rattled the beams overhead, and one of the monks behind us drew in a sharp breath. Master Isao’s gaze never wavered from mine. ‘Take the scroll,’ he said again, ‘and leave this place. Run, and don’t look back.’ 

(Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. P96.) 

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Synopsis:

Every millennium, the great Kami Dragon will rise again to the one who summons him and grant one wish. Such is the dragon’s power that the scroll containing the words needed to summon him was torn in three. The pieces are guarded because if they fell into the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.

Yumenko was raised by the monks of the Silent Winds temple. There she was taught to guard her true nature, for Yuemnko is half-kitsune and her fox-like magic could lead her astray. When the temple is burned and the monks killed, Yumenko is charged with guarding their greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll.

Kage is a demon-hunter and member of the shadow clan. He is charged with retrieving the scroll at any cost. When he meets Yumenko, the pair form an alliance, but each is hiding a secret from the other.

As darkness rises around them the pair hunt for the next piece of the scroll.

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A classic quest-narrative meets a rich and detailed world, with characters so real you will feel as if you have walked alongside them. Shadow Of The Fox was like seeing anime in novel form.

The story is a duel-narrative – chapters alternate between Yumenko and Kage’s narration. The result is that we see the same world and situation through different eyes, and we’re waiting for a moment when the pair come to a joint resolution.

What I enjoyed most was the influence of Japanese mythology, in particular how Yumenko’s kitsune side means she is drawn towards nature. She’s aware of other shape-shifters. Of tree-spirits and wind witches. This world of magic and warriors hooked me in and I would love to read the myths which inspired the setting. We also learn something about Japanese culture, particularly the social customs.

There are different threats in this world. The main threat comes from a wonderful antagonist, Lady Satomi, and her connection with the demonic forces. Minor threats come from other mythological characters who serve to get in the way of the main quest. Lady Satomi is the perfect antagonist because she believes what she is doing is right and proper. She’s also decidedly creepy, the sort of baddie who comes into your head in the small hours.

Kage is a complex character. He has been taught not to bond with others or to show emotions and holds ideas about the perfect warrior, but his instinct is always to protect Yumenko. Kage is also occasionally influenced by the sword he carries – a sword with demonic powers. His storyline is about the conflict between what he has been made and his inner-nature and I hope his inner-nature wins out by the end of the trilogy.

The ancient magic and high-stakes quest make this novel unputdownable. I would love to investigate Julie Kagawa’s backlist and I look forward to continuing the series.

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas PR and HQ Stories for my copy of Shadow Of The Fox. Opinions my own.

 

If you like quest narratives, check out The Cradle Of All The Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan. 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Soulbinder by Sebastien De Castell

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Extract:

Reichis was a mean little cuss, but he was my buisness partner. He’d saved my life a dozen times because that’s how it worked between us: we’d fight, and argue and insult each other, but when the chips went down, he was there for me. Always. Now I had to find a way to be there for him. 

(Soulbinder by Sebastien De Castell. P47.)

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Synopsis:

Kellen is searching for the mysterious Ebony Abbey. Legend says it shelters people with the shadowblack, people who would otherwise by killed by a world which fears them. During the search, Kellen is split from his loyal sidekick Reichis.

Meeting a community of shadowblacks brings Kellen closer to the shadow-magic than he has ever come before and# being apart from the world gives Kellen a space to think about the betrayal he has suffered at the hands of his family.

Kellen searches for his identity in this fourth installment of the Spellslinger series. 

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Review:

Regular readers know I am a big fan of the Spellslinger series. The first book was published shortly after I started my blog and it was a firm favourite. The non-conformity and magical kingdoms were always going to be a hit, but added to that was an epic cast of characters. Four books in and I am still caught up in Kellan’s adventures.

This review assumes you are familiar with the series. Although I will do my best not to include spoilers – if you haven’t read book one I recommend this is where you start.

Soulbinder is where Kellan confronts his own experiences and decides how to go forward. It is also the first book where he has been apart from his friends – mentor Ferius and familiar Reichis. This separation forces Kellan to choose what is most important to him. Unfortunately, once he’s made that choice, he is up against two groups of people with their own agendas.

This is a world where many people define themselves by their society, by their race. As someone who has abandoned his hometown, Kellan is an outlaw but he has never fully embraced a new label. Is he an Argosi? A Shadowblack? Has he always been a Jan’Tep, no matter how hard he runs from it?

The Ebony Abbey is one of those settings you will remember for a lifetime. It should be a sanctuary and a place of scholarship – a place where the shadow magic is not only accepted but studied. Unfortunately, as Kellan knows from experience, where there is magic there is someone willing to use it to their own end. 

As in the previous books, old faces mixed with new and we were introduced to another great cast of characters. This time we meet a community of people who, like Kellan, have the shadowblack. It was interesting to see the different ways people responded to the same thing. Until now, we have been familiar with Kellan’s reaction, but after reading Soulbinder I felt as if I had a broader perspective.

I’m looking forward to Queenslayer in 2019 and to the conclusion of the series next autumn. It will be a pleasure to read the series from start to finish and to remind myself how Kellan had developed and grown. These books just get better and better.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy of Soulbinder. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth

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Review: The Light Between Worlds by Laura Weymouth. 

 

Synopsis:

One minute the three siblings were huddling in the bomb shelter. The next they had been called out of this world to serve as Kings and Queens in a woodland realm.

The Hapwell siblings – Evelyn, Phillipa and Jamie – had an experience like no other. They spent years in another world, growing into young adults, except when they returned to their own world they found their adventure had taken no time at all. They were children once more.

Five years on from that experience, the siblings are divided, most particularly Phillipa and Evelyn. Elder sister Phillipa would rather pretend it never happened. She was never comfortable in the Woodlands and always wanted to return home. For Evelyn, the Woodlands is sanctuary and home. She won’t be happy unless she finds a way to return.

A fantasy which shows the flip-side of adventures in other worlds.

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Review:

The Light Between Worlds has been on my radar for months. What I was most excited about was the parallels between this story and Narnia, and the commentary which Weymouth makes on the Pevensie siblings. I wasn’t disappointed. As well as being a touching story about mental health, trauma, and healing, the book re-examines the experience of going into a portal world and returning to exactly the same point in time. I cannot do this review justice without referencing another series of books –some of the most famous books in children’s literature. I am talking about The Chronicles Of Narnia by CS Lewis.  

The Hapwell siblings – the characters in Weymouth’s novel – experience something so similar to the Pevensie siblings that it is Narnia in all but name. Woodland realm, ongoing war, omniscient-but-slightly-hands-off God – tick, tick and tick. These similarities work for me because I think Weymouth has offered significant commentary on a common trope in children’s literature.

In the Narnia books, most of the children return to this world as loyal subjects of Aslan, ready to answer his next call. The exception to this is Susan Pevensie, who returns first reluctantly, then not at all. In the final book, it emerges that Susan grows older to deny her whole experience. She is derided for this choice as someone shallow and ignorant. The Light Between Worlds examines in greater depth what Susan might have been feeling and challenges the original evaluation.

Evelyn Hapwell – like Lucy Pevensie – is at home in the Woodlands. Her heart belongs to the Woodlands and her only thought it Cervus’s next call. A call which isn’t coming. While she may be true to her heart and her own values, Evelyn is also unwell. She has never recovered from her forced return our world.

Phillipa, meanwhile, is determined to hide her experience and make a life in this world. The difference in opinions has divided the sisters.

The narrative is split in two – we hear first from Evelyn, then Phillipa. This form is unusual for YA but allows us to consider both stories, and re-evaluate Evelyn’s experience after seeing it through Phillipa’s eyes. Both characters feel real and I think this is because of our close view of their internal lives.

A story which is worth reading on its own merits, but doubly-interesting for the commentary it makes on a famous trope. This book is sure to provoke discussion and make us think deeper about how fantasy-experiences would really affect our characters.  

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Book Of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

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Extract:

There was no refusing this man. Malcolm led him out of the Terrace Room and along the corridor, and out onto the terrace before his father could see them. He closed the door very quietly behind them and found the garden brilliantly lit by the clearest full moon there’d been for months. It felt as if they were being lit by a floodlight.

“Did you say there was someone pursuing you?” said Malcolm quietly.

“Yes. There’s someone watching the bridge. Is there any other way across the river?”

“There’s my canoe. It’s down this way, sir. Let’s get off the terrace before anyone sees us.”

(The Book Of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman. P186 – 187.) 

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Synopsis:

Malcolm lives in his parents’ pub in Godstow, where he helps with the customers and works on his canoe, La Belle Sauvage.

One night, Malcolm finds a message which puts him in touch with a resistance spy. When he agrees to keep her updated on the things he sees, Malcolm becomes aware of the powers that dictate the world around him.

The Magisterium holds power over all and it operates through different branches. The Constitutional Court Of Discipline is in charge of surveillance and discipline, while another branch goes into schools and persuades children to turn on their family and neighbours. 

Then there is Lord Asriel, clearly on the run, and there is Mrs Coulter with the evil demon, and the man named Coram. All these people are asking about one thing – a baby called Lyra who resides at the priory near to the inn.

With a storm brewing, and different sides all taking an interest in Lyra, Malcolm vows to be her protector and do what it takes to deliver her to safety.

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Set ten years before the events of His Dark Materials and featuring characters from the original trilogy, La Belle Sauvage has to be one of the most anticipated books in the history of children’s publishing. It tells the story of Lyra’s early childhood but centres on a new protagonist, Malcolm Polstead who takes it upon himself to watch out for Lyra.

Although the story is set in Lyra’s world, it features a far-smaller geographical area – the riverbanks of and around Oxford. The most interesting aspect of this was the magic specific to the location – it is a place of fairies and enchantment which draws directly on the English canon. The location, although ostensibly set close to our time-period, is more reminiscent of the Oxford known by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. This can be explained by the fact that Lyra’s world is not our world but at times comes across as nostalgic.

Malcolm is a likeable character – he’s a nice boy who is handy to have around in a crisis. He questions what he is told when other children around him accept blindly the words of the Magisterium and he never takes what he sees at face value. I liked the parts of the story which focused on the new characters – at times it felt like they were new players in the same story, but this added a new depth to the original conflict.

I first read the original trilogy when I was nine and have read it at different points in my life. The books of the original trilogy have grown with me – I see more in them at every read, but at the same time I wish I could recapture that first reading which was so much about the adventure and the magic of the world. Reading La Belle Sauvage, although I was aware of the conflict between church and resistance, I recaptured that childish wonder as I was caught up in the descriptions of the chase downriver. At times it is less important to know why things are happening than to simply enjoy the journey.

I love the illustrations – the line-drawings suit the story and bring to life the riverbank landscape.

Described by Pullman as an ‘equal’ rather than a prequel or a sequel, the first book in the trilogy certainly gains depth with an understanding of the original books but I don’t think it is necessary to have read them to enjoy La Belle Sauvage. I look forward to seeing where the trilogy goes next – with the events of the next book take place after the events of the original trilogy, I am interested to find out what draws the series together.

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and David Fickling Books for my copy of La Belle Sauvage. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash by Chloe Seager

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Extract:

How is it possible that just because Steph’s busy and Faith’s away, I have no one left?! Literally no one. How pathetic is that?! How do I only have two friends in the entire globe?! The entire globe of nearly eight billion people? TWO? Out of EIGHT BILLION?

Is that normal??!!

I’m Robinson Crusoe, sitting out on a tiny island all by myself. And no one’s coming to rescue me. 

(From The Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash by Chloe Seager.) 

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Emma’s given up on love but all her friends are in relationships. Suddenly Emma isn’t sure what to do with herself and she misses the old dynamic of her friendships. This puts her on a mission to make new best friends. 

The school fashion show seems like the perfect opportunity to meet new people.

The result is a series of hilarious situations and mishaps. Emma is back online and she is unafraid to share all. 

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Review:

Editing Emma was one of my surprise hits of 2017. By surprise, I don’t mean there was any reason the book shouldn’t have been fab. I mean I wasn’t certain it would be for me. I was late the party with contemporary YA and had just discovered what it fabulous genre it is when I read Editing Emma. The book had a distinctive, chatty voice and the characters stayed with me long after I opened the book. It reminded me what it was really like to be the teenager and its themes about online identity were totally up to date. 

Guess what? The sequel is fab too.

Lots of seventeen and eighteen-year-olds have to confront shifts in their friendship groups. Partners come and go, groups expand and reshape as young people move into sixth-form and there is the great big end-of-school looming over everything. That’s what is happening to Emma Nash. She may have sorted out her own love life but with her friends in relationships, she’s feeling pretty lonely. 

So Emma logs back online. 

I love how these stories explore the role of the internet in modern friendship groups. This is something which – until the past couple of years – wasn’t acknowledged in YA. It was like the unspoken taboo. Teens had a whole world online but people were afraid to encourage it. It is great to see books which honestly reflect how teenagers use the internet. Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash covers everything from trawling through profiles of people we vaguely know to awkward emails to how it can feel when the internet turns nasty. 

This book is also upfront about the things teenagers really talk about. Periods. Sex. This book is unafraid to visit the supposedly-taboo topics. Emma is unafraid to share everything – and I mean everything. She’s like that real girl you knew as a teenager who would give you regular updates on bra-size and period flow. The reader is reminded that these subjects are totally normal and hopefully this will give them confidence to have open conversations and challenge stereotypes. 

Another hit. Laugh, cry and nod your head in recognition. Emma is every-girl and she is your new fictional BFF. 

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas PR and HQ Stories for my copy of The Friendship Fails Of Emma Nash. Opinions my own.