Young Adult Reviews

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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Young Adult Reviews

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

Burning Blog Tour (1)

Extract from The Burning by Laura Bates.

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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. 

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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)

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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

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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. 

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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

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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

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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.) 

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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.

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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.