Middle Grade Reviews · teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

Blog tour: Earth Swarm by Tim Hall.

earth swarm by tim hall

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.

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Monthly Wrap Up

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Monthly Round-Up: June 2019

Reflections and rambles:

Summer arrived with mild and indifferent weather. WriteMentor got real as I reached halfway through a major redraft and realised I had no idea how to go forward. Talk about cresting a hill to find a mountain. My blogging and creating mojo has been low, although admitting this to people made me aware just how normal these moments are and how they are almost always signals that it is time for self-care.

Out came some old favourite novels and I was soon scribbling away about techniques I wanted to apply to my own work.

That’s June. Sounds underwhelming but sometimes we learn more from those months than we realise.

There was one special moment. I was standing in the front garden and noticed the wildflowers which spring up around this time. They were vibrating. Looking closer, I saw huge numbers of bees gathering pollen. Bee after bee after bee. With numbers of bees in crisis and the environment generally in crisis, it was lovely to see nature hanging on in there. If we allow the wild spaces to thrive, and replace what has been destroyed over the past decades, nature will come back.

What have you been up to this June? Literary or otherwise, I want to hear it.

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Review Round-Up:

 

 

The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

The Paper & Hearts Society by Lucy Powrie

Spies In St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine

Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone

The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu. 

Milton The Mighty by Emma Read

When It Rains by Rassi Narika

There’s A Spider In My Soup by Megan Brewis

The Only Way Is Badger by Stella J Jones and Carmen Saldaña

The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

The Unworry Book by Alice James

Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum

 

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In other bookish news I … 

 

Watched the Mortal Engines film. 

The series I always wanted filmed and a bar of Dairy Milk Oreo. Happy night in. 

I had concerns about Peter Jackson as director (because the second Hobbit film is 2% derived from the book and 98% spinning it out. And even the road to Mordor can’t be that long) but the plot is relatively faithful to the original and any changes haven’t affected the pace. 

Every single character felt real to the story, especially Anna Fang and Shrike.

Tom and Hester look my age, and it took me until the end of the film to figure out that no, they really weren’t suggesting that actors close to thirty could play teens. In the original series, Tom and Hester are teenagers in the first book and adults in the remaining three. The film series cuts out the years between and presumably alters the timeline. 

The traction cities were everything I had ever dreamed of, and they way details from Old London [or London as we know it] have been incorporated into the great moving beast of a city is quite spectacular. Although I have wanted these films for more years than I can count, I am pleased they were delayed. Any attempt to create them with earlier CGI would have made them redundant pretty quickly.  

It is also a delight to see the books brought to a new generation of readers. 

 

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Bought a storage trolley for my review books.

In the immortal words of the Toy Story crew: NEW TOY.

 

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Just keep writing, just keep writing …

Dived into Writer’s HQ

At the very end of May, I had some exciting news. I was chosen for a Six Month Writer’s HQ bursary, which gives me access to online courses and writing forums.

I haven’t explored these as thoroughly as I would have expected, for various reasons, but I have logged in most evenings for a nose. Everything I’ve learned so far has helped my writing, and the material tells it like it is.  The team behind the courses understand that writing is a hard slog, that sometimes we just need to let it out, but at the end of the day, the only thing that makes it happen is maintained effort. And the odd biscuit.

I’m looking forward to getting into the serious business of working with Plotstormers and Plotstormers 2 to construct a new plot and to pull the two I have into the best shape possible.

 

What have you been up to this June? Any books stand out especially? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to link to your June round-up post or reflections.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

teen

Review: To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

Review: To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

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Extract:

Here’s an even worse part. They want us to get to know each other and become close like sisters (or maybe even twins because we’re the same age?) because it’s possible we might become a “family”.

(To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan & Meg Wolitzer. P9.)

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Avery is a bookworm and serial worrier from New York. Bett is a surfer and carefree spirit form California. Both are usually the centre of their dads’ lives, so when those dads meet at a conference, Bett tracks down Avery’s school email to propose that drastic action should be taken.

The dads are two-steps ahead. While they go off on a motorcycle tour of China, they have booked Bett and Avery into the same summer camp. To their surprise, they form the sisterly-bond their dads had hoped for and are all set to live happily-ever-after as a new family.

Things don’t go quite so to plan for their Dads. Determined not to part, Bett and Avery set off on the summer adventure of a lifetime and discover the true extent of family and friendship.

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Review:

The Parent Trap has been given a timely and brilliant makeover in this story of two girls from opposite sides of America. I am delighted to see a nod to the classic story. The Lindsay Lohan version was a staple when I was growing up, and there was a particular age (maybe 9 – 13ish) where I thought it was the most impossibly cool thing on the planet.

I have to admit that Bett and Avery have a heck of a lot more character. Bett isn’t a rule-breaker so much as a rule-maker. She makes her own rules. She is a good judge of her own limits (for example, as a proficient diver she is quite happy to jump from a zipwire into a lake) but less so of how her example will endanger others. Avery is superficially polite, but she worries to the point of driving everyone around her up the wall. Their characters are so individual that I can tell you exactly who they are even now I’ve finished the story.

The story is told through a series of letters and emails. Many of the emails are sent between Bett and Avery, but there are also messages from their dad’s, from Bett’s grandmother and from other characters they meet along the way. Although it takes a little keeping up with who is sending each message, it is worth the effort as it creates a totally rounded picture of each character.

This is a great one for the teen market. As a guideline ‘teen’ covers readers aged 10-14. What I liked about this story was it didn’t try to be YA for eleven-year-olds. It respects its audience exactly at the stage they are and tells a great contemporary story.

Grab a packet of marshmallows and some biscuits, get the smores made and get to know this great cast of characters. Whether you are a night owl like Avery or a Dogfish like Bett, you will relate to this story of friendship and family bonds.

 

Thanks to Egmont for my gifted copy of To Night Owl From Dogfish. Opinions remain my own.

blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Kim Curran’s ‘Slay’ Playlist

All about Slay:

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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!