Young Adult Reviews

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff

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Extract:

I am not alone. I have my family around me, and my friends. Marget and I see each other every day. But our friendship is no longer as effortless as it once was. When I talk about the First Mother and her three aspects, or about the Crone and her door, Marget listens politely for a while but soon starts gossiping with my mother about the neighbours or discussing the best remedy for nappy rash and colic with Náraes, who often comes to see us and brings the children. I am no longer one of them. I am an outsider. 

(Maresi Red Mantle. P61. Maria Turtschaninoff.) 

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Synopsis:

In a patriarchal world, the Red Abbey has always been the one haven where girls and women can learn. Now Maresi has left the Abbey. Although she could have stayed all her life, she chose to take her knowledge back into the outside world. She journeys back to her home in Rovas filled with ideas about opening a school and passing on all she has learned.

The people of Rovas live by tradition and superstition. Most people are happy to follow in their family’s footsteps, and few of the others have considered it could be otherwise. Maresi fails to pitch her ideas in a way which interests the village people.

Meanwhile, the rule of an oppressive Earl and his followers threatens peace and security in Rovas. People are losing their homes and girls and women are being targeted by soldiers.

Maresi wants to protect her people, but how can she when she is uncertain where she belongs?

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Review:

A feminist epic and compelling narrative which continues the story which began with Maresi. Although this is the third story in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel which tells a story from the time when the abbey is founded.

Anyone who is familiar with the series will be desperate for the next installment. You won’t be disappointed. Although the community which Maresi returns to is less overtly magical than the island and Abbey setting, there is, as Maresi herself discovers, more to her homeland than is apparent from the surface. The First Mother – the three-form goddess who unites the women and girls of the Abbey – is present here too, even if people’s understanding of Her takes a different form.

Maresi’s crisis goes deeper than her struggle to set up a school. Her story is told in epistolary form, through the letters she sends to her friends and superiors back at the Abbey. What initially seems like regular reports turn into something more like a lone member of a chat group firing off messages into the night. Maresi can’t stop writing. She misses the Abbey, where she so clearly belonged, and her failure to reintegrate into the community forms a large part of her personal crisis. Should she change to fit back in? Can she remain the educated young woman she became at the Abbey? Is anyone even interested in what she has to say? I found this character development interesting because, even though Maresi is brilliant in many ways, she still has her flaws. She considers herself to have outgrown her childhood home and fails at first to see what it still has to teach her.  

For the first time in her life, too, Maresi is grappling with romance. Given the brutal treatment she has seen in the past this is a complex area for her to face.

Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing is masterful. At all times it feels as if she is weaving a myriad of rich threads into a tapestry, and her prose is so beautiful that I read slowly just to enjoy the words. This book spans the generations, too, with a final section looking ahead to the choices Maresi makes in her elder years. The books have always dealt with rites of passage – birth, love and death – and their interconnectivity, but before now we have often seen them in a figurative way. In the rituals and beliefs of the island. This time they hit Maresi’s family straight on.

An extraordinary and complex novel. This series is rich and beautiful, examining the literal and figurative havens women find when confronted with a Patriarchal world. Prepare to cry alongside Maresi, but more than that, be prepared to grow as a result of reading her story.

 

Thanks to Pushkin Press for my gifted copy of Maresi Red Mantle. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Fork, The Witch, And The Worm by Christopher Paolini

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This is a book which many people have been waiting for. Eragon is one of those series which defines a childhood. The kind you remember sitting up at night to read in one go. Now this volume of short stories is here and it catches up with Eragon and Saphira for the first time since they took on the duty of training new dragon riders. 

Eragon’s new story is set a year from that final battle. He is trying to create the perfect home for the dragon riders but finds himself overwhelmed with a huge list of tasks and is afraid he will never get everything done on time. To take his mind off things he listens to three stories – one projected into his mind by the Umaroth, one written in a witch’s papers and one told by the Urgal. These are the three stories which give the book it’s title – The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm. 

This is a love letter to the existing trilogy and it will be a huge hit with existing fans. It brings back many favourite characters and races and it will delight the hardcore fans. It is also a lovely introduction to the trilogy. 

The format is interesting – really it is a book of three separate stories but we also follow Eragon as he listens to them. I liked the short sections where we returned to Eragon after each story because they encouraged the reader to be reflective and to consider the themes of the stories they had just heard. 

My favourite story is The Worm – the tale of a dragon who ravages farmland. After her family is killed in the raids, Ilgra swears she will be the one to take it down. She sets herself apart as a warrior and gets deeper and deeper into the quest she has set herself. This is a story of perspective – of being able to step back and back the right decision. It is also about revenge and how revenge can become all-consuming. I just loved the tone of the story too. It was pure fantasy and it was timeless. 

The stories come together as Eragon moves forward in his own ambitions. 

This is a lovely way back into the trilogy and I am determined to reread the orignial books. I liked the format because it gives us space to think about the role of stories in our lives, and how stories can give us a different perspective on our own problems. 

The Fork, The Witch and The Worm by Christopher Paolini is published by Penguin Random House Children’s and is out now.

Check out my Twitter page to find a giveaway. UK and Ireland only – ends 17.01.2019 at 11.59pm. 

 

 

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: 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.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Adult Reviews

Review: Jinxed by Amy McCulloch (Amy Alward)

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Extract:

I think about Companioneers Crescent, the road we would have moved into if my dad had not … disappeared. If I’d gotten into Profectus, I could have guaranteed a good life for Mum and myself. A big house. A good job for life. Life-long benefits. But once I graduate St Agnes I will have to leave Monchaville, or else get a Moncha job suitable for a beetle baku owner.

(Jinxed by Amy McCulloch.)  birdSynopsis:

Lacey Chu dreams of working for Moncha, the technology company responsible for creating baku. Baku are like pets, except they also function as a smart-phone. Nearly all employees at Moncha came through Profectus Academy. When Lacey receives a rejection it seems like the end of the world. She’ll be stuck at St Agnes school with a low-level baku. Her future is over.

Then Lacey finds and repairs a cat baku and her life starts to change. First she receives a notification that the rejection was a mistake. Lacey is off to Profectus with an extraordinary baku.

What is Jinx? Is he an ordinary robotic pet or does he have a secret? Could that secret endager everything Lacey has worked for?

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An action-packed adventure from the creators of The Potion Diary. Jinxed is the first book in an exciting new series. We’re all addicted to our smart-phones. Sometimes this comes at the expense of interaction with other people and with the world around us. Jinxed takes this truth and builds on it. What if someone found a way for our smart-phones to behave like real animal companions?

Profectus is a great setting. It is an anti-Hogwarts. Instead of arriving and finding the house where you belong, students at Profectus are constantly pitted against each other to prove themselves number one. This competitive environment and the elite nature of the school made some interesting commentary on social advantage. This theme is continued with the bakus – to achieve anything in life, people need a level 3 baku but this is out of reach on most salaries. I will be interested to see whether this theme returns later in the series because it has been set-up as something of an undercurrent to the main action.

Lacey is a believable character. Lots of her story centres around her conflict. She is so driven to achieve her single dream that it sometimes overshadows other areas of her life. Moving to a new school separates her from her long-time friend and school-life quickly takes over. Students at Profectus are forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement – they swear not to reveal anything they are taught about Moncha. There are secrets at Moncha which certain people would rather keep under wraps.

Jinx is nothing like other baku. He refuses to follow commands and is always ready with a smart answer. Some interesting questions are raised about artificial intelligence. At what point does simulated life become real life? That Jinx is a robotic cat is perfect – cats are independent-minded.

An excellent story and a wonderful start to a series. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK Children’s Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.