Young Adult Reviews

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

Review: D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett

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Extract:

But because everything was so smooth, and easy, and obstacle-free, I didn’t even question what was going on, or realise I was skipping into the forest as innocently as Red Riding Hood in Hoodwinked. 

Pretty dumb, really. 

The first sniff I had that something dark was going on was when I got the second act of The Isle Of Dogs. 

(D.O.G.S by M.A. Bennett. P74.) 

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Synopsis:

A year on from the events of the Justitium hunt and Greer is focused on getting top marks in her final exams to secure a place at Oxford. Drama students at S.T.A.G.s are responsible for putting on the end of year play, and Greer has taken the role of director. She isn’t certain on which play to perform until an old manuscript is pushed beneath her bedroom door. It is the first act of The Isle Of Dogs,  a work by Ben Jonson hasn’t been seen in over 400 years. It also contains some striking parallels to the social division she has witnessed at STAGS.

Her decision to cast the play puts her relationship with Shafeen on hold, but it may have wider consequences too. As further acts appear, the play leads Greer back towards the Order Of The Stag, and to the place she thought she would never visit: Longcross Hall.

But why does she still question whether Henry might be there? That particular ghost from her past was supposed to be laid to rest over a year ago …

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Review:

STAGS was a triumph of 2017 which both hit the awards list and gathered a legion of fans. My first words when I closed the book were ‘MA Bennett knows how to tell a story’. My second question was ‘Did she mean to write a five-act structure?’ (The author answered this during a Twitter chat. Yes, she did, and to tremendous effect.) When it was confirmed that MA Bennett was the penname of an established writer – and one who studied Shakespeare’s work at masters level – I was not in the least bit surprised.

The influence of historical writers on Bennett’s work comes to the front of the second story, as Greer stages the first playing of The Isle Of Dogs in over 400 years.

This real play saw Ben Jonson imprisoned and almost executed, and this fact is the basis for the events of D.O.G.S. MA Bennett imagines what might have caused Elizabeth the First to react so violently against Jonson’s work in a fictional version of the play. Greer receives this a single act at a time, pushed under her door by a mysterious stranger.

Every act draws her deeper into a world she thought she had left behind.

New characters keep the series fresh. The de Walencourt twins, Cass and Louis, are difficult to read – are they different to the rest of their family, or does the same privileged ambition run through their veins? Ty Morgan a complete star. She’s the new ‘outsider’ to the gilded world of S.T.A.G.S, but she’s sure as heck not going to be made an outsider by the established trio. Ty’s storyline challenges everything readers have come to expect from black characters in secondary roles. Think just about every half-term film from the late 90s or early 2000s. Think about the stereotype of the black best friend. Ty smashes that role to smithereens. There’s also a new staff member whose motives are hard to figure.

D.O.G.S did everything I hoped for. It wasn’t a repeat of S.T.A.G.S, but it built on the themes of social division and an ingrained class system and developed our knowledge about the Order Of The Stag. It brought back familiar locations but allowed us to explore them in new ways, and from new angles. D.O.G.S is as addictive and compelling as its predecessor. MA Bennett sure knows how to write stories which bite.

 

Thanks to Readers First and Hoy Key Books for my gifted copy of D.O.G.S. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

Review: The Wicker Light by Mary Watson

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Extract:

Between the twine and hair are fingernail cuttings. 

This must be one of Laila’s spells. 

Even though I don’t believe in magic, it’s difficult not to connect this horrible thing with the strange way she died. It feels like Laila doomed herself, accidentally cursed herself, and died. 

(The Wickerlight by Mary Watson. P63.) 

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Synopsis:

Living in Kilshamble was supposed to bring Zara’s family back together after her parents came close to divorce. Instead, with the death of her sister Laila, it tore them apart.

Zara isn’t buying that her sister’s death was an accident. Not when she was obsessed with all things magic. Not when there’s a strange conflict in the village between rival groups, a conflict which regularly escalates to violence.

Investigating Laila’s death brings Zara into contact with David, the troubled boy who isn’t beyond redemption. David’s family are searching for a lost family heirloom which holds far more than a sentimental value?

Is it possible Laila’s quest for magic took her out of her depth? As Zara searches for answers, she finds herself drawn dangerously close to the conflict between two rival magical groups: judges and augers.

A compelling mystery novel and companion to The Wren Hunt.

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Review:

Thriller meets folklore in the second book of this extraordinary series. Imagine a world where Earth magic still exists in hidden pockets. There are two different approaches, one which is elemental and practiced by Augers, another which relies on order and is practiced by Judges. The factions who practice these related magics are part of a centuries-long civil war which centres on the Irish village of Kilshamble. This much was established in book one. Starting off two months after the events of The Wren Hunt, this story changes the camera angle to see the village through the eyes of an incomer and non-magical inhabitant.

Unlike her late sister Laila, Zara’s never believed in magic. Following in her sister’s footsteps brings her into contact with the augers and judges and puts her own life in danger. It also brings her closer to David – the Judge boy who is supposed to kill and injure on his father’s orders.

Think Capulets and Montagues in a Celtic setting. It is brooding and teenage and at the same time, these teenagers have never had a chance to be children. They’ve been shaped for war since birth.

The question of which faction killed Laila and why relates to the events of The Wren Hunt. Snippets from Laila’s diary head every other chapter and lead to a climax in a way which kept me up into the small hours. It was wonderful to read a thriller which linked into a wider fantasy plot. This merging of genres opens new ways of telling stories and Kilshamble is a setting which is at once filled with magic and grounded in the everyday.

Alongside the story of Judges and Augers is the story of Zara’s family. Her father has been caught having affairs, and Zara desperately wants her family to stay together. They’ve already undergone one huge change, moving to Kilshamble, and she’s afraid that if her parents divorce she will have to South Africa with her mother. Despite everything which has happened, Zara wants to remain in Kilshamble. The magic her sister loved is rich here and this is where Zara feels close to Laila. This is a story of grief, change and moving into new stages of life. Both Zara and David know what they want already, but owning it is another question.

Having read The Wickerlight, I am desperate to return to The Wren Hunt and to remind myself of some of the contexts of the magical dispute. Everything which takes place in these books feels as though it is grounded in something deeper, something centuries-old, as if a seed planted many years ago has grown into twisting thorns. I look forward to continuing the story when the next book comes.

A story of a feud and the young people who grow as a result of the battles. It is a haunting tale which will remain on your mind long after you close the pages.

 

Thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for my gifted copy of The Wickerlight. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge

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Synopsis: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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