Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

dread nation

Extract:

His words are mild ; his tone is not. And what he says unlocks some long-buried memory. Just like that, I’m no longer in the lecture hall but back at Rose Hill Plantation, watching as the major slowly uncoils his horsewhip from its hook. 

This ain’t your place, girl. You run back inside ‘fore you’re next. 

(Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. P76.)

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Synopsis:

Jane McKeene is nearing the end of her training at Miss Preston’s School Of Combat. Since the shamblers first rose on the battlefields of the American Civil War, a programme has been in place to train young black people in the combat skills necessary to keep them at bay.

Jane was born to a white mother and longs to find her way home. Instead, she is sent far away to a Western outpost where she uncovers terrible secrets. It seems not all the monsters are undead.

A zombie story with a political message about the consequences of ignorance and division.

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a5861.png

Review:

At last, a zombie novel which challenges the reader’s intelligence and makes a statement about the current political climate.

The shamblers (what a great word for zombies) are terrifying. They are unashamedly gory and bear a close resemblance to their living forms, roaming the world in ragged clothes.

They are not the only antagonists.

The Survivalists Party puts out propaganda about non-white people’s links to the shamblers and attempts to save themselves by building a wall. You would have to have spent the past two years with your head in the sand if you can’t spot similarities to political events in modern America.

Jane is a feisty and unapologetic heroine whose ideas about combat are often three steps ahead of her elders. She is forced to fight the zombies against her will, and at the same time she is faced with a climate which views her as something less than a person. As well as being an alternative history which builds on very real events, the book speaks out about the experiences faced by black people at the hands of the countries, politicians and neighbours.

If it sounds bleak, remember that this book is giving voice to experiences which have been white-washed out of history. Own voices fantasy brings lived experiences to a mainstream audience, and the world will be a richer place for having these voices in print.

A zombie novel like none I have read before. It proves that zombie stories can be about more than cheap thrills and that the most real horror is the systematic oppression faced by groups in society.

 

Thanks to Titan Books for my gifted copy of Dread Nation. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

theburning

Some books are worth celebrating. The Burning is such a book. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the blog tour because feminist narratives are something I feel strongly about. 

The Burning is about witch hunts historical and current. It is about a girl who moves escape her past but finds she can’t outrun her problems. Anna is the victim of social media shaming. To escape her feelings, she throws herself into a school project and finds out about Maggie, the victim of a 16th Century witch hunt.

The book is fantastic in every way and I am so pleased to share an extract with you. 

cropped-bbd35e74-4b7a-46ca-8f8f-0e29fc08a586.png

Extract:

Hairbrush. Tampons. Toothbrush. Toothpaste.

The front door opens with a shudder and an ominous creak. Dark blue paint cracks and peels above a tarnished
brass knocker.
Deodorant. Watch. Shoes.
‘Come on,’ Mum pants, heaving two bulging suitcases over the threshold and into the dark hallway.
I’m a list-maker. Lists give me grip. You can hold onto a
list. Doesn’t matter what’s on it. Today it’s everything I had to remember to pack at the last minute. The things I couldn’t put in the car last night because I’d need them this morning. The list has been helping me to breathe. Like a spell to ward off evil. I’ve been chanting it under my breath since I woke up and I haven’t been able to stop. Because, as long as I keep repeating the things I need to remember, somehow I can distract myself. Pretend that I’m not really walking out of my bedroom for the last time. Not really stepping into a car loaded with everything we own. Not really driving past the
park where I fell off my bike for the first time. Not watching the swimming pool where I trained three nights a week disappear in the rear-view mirror.

Hairbrush.
Passing the chippy.
Tampons.
The library.
Toothbrush.
The pet shop where I bought my ill-fated iguana. RIP, Iggy Poppet.
Toothpaste.
But now we’re here. And even the list isn’t powerful enough to blot out the new house in front of me.
I hesitate. Somehow, stepping through the door will make it real. I look back to the car, parked a little way down the street, its doors standing open, more luggage and overstuffed bin bags threatening to spill out. Through the back window, I can see a tatty box labelled anna’s room: diaries, photographs, dad’s books.

Nothing left to go back to go back to anyway. I take a deep breath, adjust the bulky cat carrier under my arm and step inside.

The hallway has a musty smell, its whitewashed walls and wooden ceiling beams lit by one naked bulb. The removal van which whisked away most of our earthly belongings the night before we left has arrived before us and piles of labelled boxes teeter precariously on all sides. Mum’s already bustling through into the big, airy kitchen, which also serves as the living room. There’s one of those big Aga cookers radiating
warmth and our new brick-red sofa, still covered in protective
plastic sheets.

A massive old fireplace dominates the room, empty but framed by a handsome wooden mantelpiece. I empty my pockets, shoving my journey rubbish on top of it. Soggy
Costa cup. Crumpled crisp packet. Half a Mars bar. It looks a bit less imposing now.

Gently, I set down the cat carrier and one very grumpy black cat unfurls out of it like a puff of smoke, letting out an indignant yowl to tell me exactly what he thinks of being
cooped up in the car for so long.

‘Sorry, Cosmo,’ I whisper. I bend down to ruffle his soft fur with my fingertips, craving the comfort of his familiar warmth, but he turns tail with an angry hiss and disappears
through the kitchen window into the back garden. I sort of wish I could follow him.

I shrug off my jacket and half slump onto the crackling, plastic-covered sofa. ‘Don’t even think about it!’ Mum warns.‘We’ve got hours of unpacking ahead of us and the car’s not
even empty yet.’

Suddenly the trees outside shake with a gust of wind, causing an eerie, shrieking moan that sounds like it came from the bones of the house itself. I try to sound sarcastic instead of freaked out. ‘Are you sure this place is fit for human habitation?’

We only looked round the house once on a rushed, blustery weekend at the end of March, driving up from home and haring round Scotland in a whirl, viewing five or six different properties a day, each less inspiring than the last. At the last minute, we squeezed in an extra stop in a tiny fishing village called St Monans, where Mum instantly fell in love with the quaint, crooked streets and peaceful old harbour lined with
pastel-coloured cottages.

 (From The Burning by Laura Bates.) 

 

The Burning by Laura Bates is out now (paperback £7.99, Simon & Schuster). Thanks for my gifted copy of the book, and for supplying this extract as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Floored (collaborative)

img_6104

Review – Floored (Collaborative)

Synopsis: 

The swot. The fraud. The dutiful daughter. The child star. The fangirl. The asshole. Six teenagers are at the scene when a man collapses in a lift. None of them have the skills necessary to save his life. Although the teenagers come from totally different worlds – and have different aspirations – they recognise the significance of the moment and keep in touch via social media.

The group meets every year on the anniversary of the man’s death. Romances are formed and broken, lives change and change again and the group becomes a larger part of their lives with every passing year.

One Day meets YA-literature in this explosive collaboration.

birdReview:

Floored is one of the most highly anticipated UKYA novel of the year. Written between seven YA authors, the question buzzing around the bookish community is which author wrote which character? Six characters and a narrator. We know that it is one author to one voice. The rest is secret. The buzz this has caused is publicity-gold.

The story follows a group of young people across five years. They come from different walks of life but they discover similarities as well as differences. 

One of the things I liked about Floored was its current-day themes. In the wake of Brexit social divisions have become more apparent. Politicians and national publications fail to understand anyone outside the metropolitan elite. Floored captures these attitudes and gives them faces. Joe, who wants to distance himself from the town where aspiration means becoming a supervisor. Hugo, who thinks people without money are lazy scroungers. Floored is a book of its time and it challenges its readers to see past those divisions. 

To clarify – this is not a political book. It is not about Brexit or Trump or left VS right. It is a book about people. It is about young people in Britain today.

All of the voices are distinctive. I particularly enjoyed the introduction, where we saw how each character had become entrenched in one way of thinking. Joe wants to escape his hometown. Sasha wants her father’s approval. Hugo doesn’t want anything to change – he just wants to trog through the system until he too has a high-flying job. I loved how the characters bounced off one-another, changing each other’s outlook and self-perception. 

I have said for years that UKYA needs more books aimed at the oldest end of its (target/marketing) audience. This gap seems to have been noticed and Floored is one of the books which fills that space. It looks at the transition from teenager to young adulthood and the different routes journeys people take. 

Did I have strong feelings about the relationships in the novel? I was more interested in the friendships and the trajectories of the individual characters. Dawson’s relationships interested me most because they were so much a part of his self-discovery.

A story about young people redefining themselves. Redefining each-other. I recommend this if you enjoy character-driven fiction or contemporary stories with a large cast.

Uncategorized

Review: Rebound by Kwame Alexander

reboundbanner

img_6209

Extract: 

‘Hoop kings SOAR
in kicks with wings.
Game so sweet
it’s like bee stings.’

(Rebound by Kwame Alexander.) 

birdSynopsis:

1988. Charlie Bell is trying to cope with the loss of his Dad, but he finds it difficult to express his emotions. When he gets into trouble following the wrong crowd, Charlie is sent to spend the summer with his grandparents. He is introduced to a routine of hard work, and respect … and basketball.

Charlie is a legend on the court. Can he stay out of trouble long enough to make something of his talent?

birdReview:

Kwame Alexander’s prose poetry novels have been one of my favourite discoveries of 2018. I picked them up at the Andersen blogger event earlier this year, and I haven’t stopped raving about them since. The poetry has a huge emotional depth. Prose poetry proves that one line can say more than a whole chapter.

Charlie Bell is the dad in The Crossover. Rebound is the story of his childhood, and how he came to play basketball. I felt as if I was right there with Charlie, following his ups and downs. He’s not a bad kid but he doesn’t know how to resume life after losing his dad. He would rather bottle his emotions up and isolate himself. This is making him vulnerable to trouble.  

Rebound is perfect for people who think they don’t like reading. The second-by-second account of basketball games will prove popular with sports fans, as will Alexander’s sports-based metaphors. Charlie is a relatable protagonist and the book has a strong supporting cast. Some of the poems are told through comic strips, which should engage fans of graphic novels.

The story is a prequel to The Crossover but the two can be read in any order. Having read The Crossover, I loved the extra information this gave us about Charlie Bell’s life, and I found the ending particularly poignant. If I had to recommend a reading order, I would suggest reading The Crossover first.

Another winner from Kwame Alexander. Be warned – buy multiple copies because you will want to share this with everyone.

 

Thanks to Andersen Press for my copy of Rebound. Opinions my own.

 

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Seven series I need to finish

There is something to be said for a good standalone. Or a trilogy. I am likely to finish a trilogy unless I don’t enjoy the first book, but it takes a compelling world and premise to keep me through seven or eight books. 

My unfinished series seem to fall into roughly two categories – 

  • Dystopian books popularised after The Hunger Games (which, tbh, seem to be languishing on my shelves)
  • Middle-Grade detective books (which I can’t wait to read, but haven’t got through yet) 

Do you notice any trends in your unfinished fiction? Do you plan to finish any of the unread series on your shelves? Let me know in the comments below. Leave your TTT links and I will get back to you ASAP. 

bird

Tomorrow When The War Began by John Marsden

Of all the dystopian books on my shelves, these are the ones I am most likely to finish. This is an Australian YA series written in the 1990s. It was republished and turned into a film in the wake of The Hunger Games. War breaks out. A group of teenagers who were camping when their town was rounded up form a rebellion. 

I am sorry I didn’t finish this back in 2010. It was a good series to read at 21, when I was closer in age to the 18-year-old protagonists. Read these outdoors on a hot summer’s afternoon. 

 

Divergent by Veronica Roth

We all know our factions, we have strong feelings about Tris and Four, but how many of us finished the Divergent trilogy? I read Divergent before it was published in the UK, ran to the bookshop the day Insurgent was released … then never finished it.

 

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens 

I am working my way through this series at the moment. It is a middle-grade mystery series which is particularly addictive. The clues are spelled out by the fictional detectives in a way which enables the reader to work through the puzzle. 

 

Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I remember this dystopia being well-written. It was set in an unusual world and there were some interesting sibling relationships. 

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

This was another US hit which I heard about ahead of the UK release. I liked the concept of building a story around vintage photographs. The story itself didn’t hook me. I’ve read better timeslip novels. I would love to see the Tim Burton adaptation, however, because I can’t think of a better director-novel pairing. 

 

Ruby Redfort by Lauren Child

Ruby Redfort is recruited by top-secret agency SPECTRUM to help them break a secret code. The first book turned into an amazing action-adventure. I would love to return to this series. 

 

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Uglies is centered around a brilliant premise. It is set in a world where everyone is operated on to become beautiful at the age of 16. The world is divided between uglies and pretties. A young girl realises there is more to this set-up than meets the eye, and the further she investigates, the more lies and corruption she finds. I enjoyed Uglies and Pretties, but by Specials, I found the plot a bit melodramatic and difficult to believe. I should return and finish the series because I would like to know how the story ends. 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

neverworldwake

img_5943

Extract:

Time is standing still. It has become trapped inside an eighth of a second like a luna moth inside a mason jar. There is a way out, of course. There is one means by which the moth can escape and time can fly irrevocably free. Each of you must vote during the last three minutes of every wake. You must choose the single person among you who will survive.

(Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. P31.)

birdSynopsis:

Bee hasn’t spoken to her best friends since her boyfriend’s death a year before. Now she is ready to face them. On the night she confronts them, she and her friends are in a car crash. They are transported to a Neverworld Wake – a strange dimension where pockets of time repeat themselves. A sinister man known as the keeper tells the friends that only one of them can return to life. There must be a consensus about who that person should be.

Trapped in a strange reality, Bee and her friends hash over what happened the year before as each tries to figure out ways to manipulate the Neverworld Wake.

birdReview:

Imagine The Secret History, throw in some physics and add a Hunger-Games style survival contest. That’s Neverworld Wake. If it sounds like an odd combination, just you wait. It doesn’t just work. It sucks you in and keeps hold of you until you’re on the final page.

If physics and alternate realities aren’t your thing, don’t be put off. The Neverworld mirrors the characters’ lives, so most of the locations from the real world feature in the story. Essentially the world enables the characters to move about in time and space. This allows them to solve a case which has been written off as a suicide. 

There are two major questions throughout the novel:

1.) what happened to Jim Mason – rich kid, musical genius and Bee’s boyfriend?

2.) which of the five friends will return from the Neverworld Wake?

Like Bee, the reader is not quite certain who to trust. The mystery is layered and complex. As soon as one question is answered, two more are posed. This kept me turning the pages because I wanted to reach the moment where all became apparent.

I read Marisha Pessl’s debut when I was seventeen and I remember being totally hooked. The book was not branded as YA, but I have always wondered if it would be rebranded. It is one of the novels I remember best from my teens. It kept me hooked with its mix of insanely wealthy characters and unsolved mystery.

I recommend this to readers of mystery novels and to people who like worlds which are slightly dark and edgy. I’m pleased to see Pessl working in YA and look forward to reading more of her work.

 

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

puddinbannerimg_5293-1

Extract:

Hard as I try, I just can’t imagine a world where the next few months working with Callie aren’t miserable. Maybe Callie isn’t the biggest bully in school, but she is not what I would call nice either. 

(Puddin’ by Julie Murphy.) 

bird

Synopsis:

Millie Michalchuck has spent every summer at Daisy Ranch fat camp. This year will be different. There is a job at her uncle’s gym, her secret crush and she is determined to make it to broadcast journalism camp

 Callie Reyes lives for the Shamrocks, the school dance team. She wants to get to nationals with her team and doesn’t care what she has to do to get there. Millie and Callie have nothing in common. So they think. An act of retribution brings the girls together and they find they have more in common than they thought.

bird

Review:

A feisty, chatty read full of friendship and attitude. Confession: I haven’t read Dumplin’. It was one of those books everybody was talking about last year, but I never got around to adding it to my pile. Puddin’ is the companion novel, but it works well as a standalone. So well that I am going to put Dumplin’ on order and I have a chart counting down to the film release. So what is the fuss all about?

The first thing I can say is Puddin’ is totally relatable. It is about finding out who our friends are and making choices for ourselves. It also challenges the American High School stereotypes. Sure, at its heart it is about a pretty girl and a smart one, but instead of making them polar-opposites it shows that both have vulnerabilities and flaws. Both girls are regularly judged on their appearance. People write Millie off because she is fat – her word – and everybody assumes Callie is stupid because she is pretty. This shared revelation brings the girls closer.

The other storyline I loved was about Millie’s friend Amanda. Amanda comes out as biromantic ace (that’s someone who is asexual but crushes on both genders.) How refreshing to see a character on the asexual spectrum beginning a relationship. Amanda explains that she knows her sexuality the same way as any straight person knows. Asexuality is the last big unknown in LGBTQA+ and huge numbers of misconceptions still exist.  It is wonderful to see this representation, and three cheers for Millie who accepts and supports her friend.

Friendship, girl-power and chasing your dreams. I have mega-love for this book and look forward to reading Dumplin’.

 

Louise Nettleton

Have you read Dumplin’? Who would your dream cast be for the film? Let me know in the comments below.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor

all of this is true banner

Synopsis:

A young boy lies brain-dead. The press are having a field-day, linking his story to a bestselling YA author and the gatherings she held at her Long Island home. Three teenagers sell conflicting stories to the press as each of them tries to unravel the events of the past month to make sense of what happened to Jonah, and their friendship with writer Fatima Ro.birdReview:

Your next binge-read. Think One Of Us Is Lying, throw in some observation of human psychology and three conflicting opinions. All Of This Is True brings the epistolary novel right up to date, with interviews, recordings, group chats and emails.

Who was Jonah before he came to prestigious private school Graham? What happened between the four teenagers and bestselling author Fatima Ro? Why is Jonah brain-dead? These questions are set up early on and I promise you won’t stop reading until you have the full picture.

This story is interspersed with extracts from Fatima Ro’s novel The Absolution Of Brady Stevenson. By the end of the story, Brady feels as real as any of the other characters. The result is we feel we know Jonah. This raises some interesting debates. It is difficult to discuss this in any detail without spoilers, but whatever we feel about Brady, we know nothing about Jonah. If we draw a conclusion from fiction, should we necessarily apply it to real life? This is one of the questions posed by the novel. 

Did Fatima Ro use the teens? My mind isn’t made up. She certainly didn’t think through the possible consequences if Jonah was identified. More interestingly, the media which vilify her is keen to profit from the same story, to the extent that the overarching voice in this narrative is not Jonah, or Miri, or Penny or Soleil or Fatima (who, incidentally, is barely more than a teen herself.) It is the voice of the interviewers.

A fast-paced and intriguing read. I recommend reading in as few sittings as possible to keep track of the different voices, and to allow the story to build.

 

Thanks to Lucinda for organising the blog tour. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Cold Bath Street by AJ Hartley

cold bath street

Extract:

The Leech did not just kill the living. It had a use for the dead as well, a purpose both strange and terrible which was suited only to ghosts, a purpose beside which dying seemed like nothing. 

(Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley. P27.) birdSynopsis:

9.22pm. Preston Oldcorn is walking home from Scouts when a cold hand plunges into his chest. He finds himself stuck in a sort-of limbo world. Preston is merely dead, not most sincerely dead.

The same thing that threatened him in life is hunting the souls of young people in the afterlife. Preston must go through the local history of his home town and solve the mysteries of the afterlife before the shadow takes his soul. To do so, he must brave the scariest parts of town – Cold Bath Street and the Miley tunnel.birdReview:

A compelling ghost-story, and a love song to the Preston of the author’s youth.

This kept me turning the pages into the night. I loved Preston’s afterlife and his interactions with the other young people who had lost their lives. He meets characters from the ghost-stories of his childhood – the Bannister Doll and a squadron of Roman Centurions, as well as the more recently dead like his new friend Roarer.

Preston starts out as a brooding youth. He is cross that his parents won’t let him buy a leather jacket, cross that they make him go to Scouts and partake in other ‘wholesome’ activities. I love how his feelings change over the course of the story. There are strong messages about boys acting tough to cover their fear. Boys feeling the need to hide their emotions. Lots of recent YA has centred on girls and gender-equality, and it is lovely to find one which focuses on boys.

There are two interesting characters in the living world who deserve a mention. The first is Tracey, the girl who Preston haunts. I loved the dynamic between Tracey and Preston. The second is Nora Mcintyre, the church caretaker who has a particular connection to the dead of Preston. I was particularly intrigued by Nora. There is a brilliant twist in her story which is revealed in the final chapters.

The rule of thumb with YA is to write about the current time. Although I am not a teenager, and can’t talk for the teenage readership, I think Cold Bath Street proves that a good story can be set in any place and time. Preston’s cultural references are different from those of today’s youth, but his tedium at being young and lacking agency in his own life will be familiar to many. I loved the metaphor of being stuck in 9.22pm. Neither day nor night, child nor adult.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I have strong feelings about the ending. This didn’t spoil my reading at all – I love the final battle and the answer to the mystery. The part I want to talk about is the result. As this is only the final three pages, it doesn’t affect my recommendation in the slightest, but I would love to talk about this if you have read the book.

This is the first YA Novel from UCLAN Publishing. If they continue to publish stories at this standard, they are one to watch out for. 

 

Thanks to UCLAN Publishing and Hazel Holmes for my copy of Cold Bath Street. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

51zujlmmr9l-_sx324_bo1204203200_Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A dark and gorgeously drawn standalone YA fantasy about a band of mercenary girls in search of female glory.

Frey, Ovie, Juniper, and Runa are the Boneless Mercies—girls hired to kill quickly, quietly, and mercifully. But Frey is weary of the death trade and, having been raised on the heroic sagas of her people, dreams of a bigger life.

When she hears of an unstoppable monster ravaging a nearby town, Frey decides this is the Mercies’ one chance out. The fame and fortune of bringing down such a beast would ensure a new future for all the Mercies. In fact, her actions may change the story arc of women everywhere.

Full of fierce girls, bloodlust, tenuous alliances, and unapologetic quests for glory, this elegantly spun tale challenges the power of storytelling—and who gets to be the storyteller. Perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater, V.E. Schwab, and Heidi Heilig. birdWhy I can’t wait to read The Boneless Mercies

  • This has been described as feminist Beowulf. I love folk stories, but if there is one thing I noticed as a child it was the lack of female warriors. (Interesting fact – my name means ‘female warrior’. I figure we have always existed.) I never wanted to be the princess who was rescued from the tower. I wanted to be on horseback with a bow and arrow. 
  • I want to know about ‘the heroic sagas of her people’. I love books which examine the formative role of stories. Books which show how stories become part of a national consciousness. Current favourites include Ink by Alice Broadway and The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli. 
  • I am interested to know how a group of girls ended up in ‘the death trade’. This promises to be a fantastical take on patriarchal society and I’m totally up for it. 
  • Perfect for fans of Heidi Heilig. I adored Heidi Heilig’s narrative about a time-traveling ship and a girl who wants to be a captain. It wasn’t a straight fantasy, or a straight adventure, but a happy mix of the two. I hope The Boneless Mercies has the same blend of magic and excitement. 

 

The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Simon And Schuster UK (UK)

October 2018