September 30, 2014

Half Bad, Half Wild... and Half Lies (Sally Green sneak peaks)

Sally Green's Half Bad was the breakthrough book of the YA scene last year.  Beautifully written, haunting and unique it was an extraordinary debut.  So extraordinary, in fact that it holds the Guinness World Record for pre-publication translations and has now been sold in fifty languages around the world.

Half Bad tells the story of Nathan, a boy brought up in a world of black and white and one in which is is the only shade of grey. Oh, and they are all witches - but not quite as you've seen them before.  After meeting Marcus, his mysterious and somewhat frightening father, and receiving the three gifts that confirm him as a full adult witch, Nathan is still running from just about everyone. Half Wild, the second book in Green's trilogy, sees Nathan searches for his friend, Gabriel, and Annalise, the girl he loves, he desperately tries to control his Gift – before it controls him.

Intriguing stuff, indeed.  You can find our review of Half Bad here and if that isn't enough to tide you over you can now read the first chapter of Half Wild here.  Sadly, Half Wild won't be published until March 2015 but to tide you over further, Penguin have announced the publication of short story Half Lies:

"Set in the months before Half Bad, Half Lies takes the form of a diary written by Michele, the sister of Gabriel, Nathan’s Black witch friend.  Having fled Europe for Florida, Michele falls in love with a local White witch boy. There, she finds that the divide between the Black and White witch communities is just as dangerous as it was in the life she's left behind". 

Half Lies will be published across all digital formats on 13th November 2014.  Mark it in your diaries people, Green's writing is not to be missed!

September 26, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day: 17 Fred Savage

Everyone knows that Fred Savage hates kissing books:

Myself, I can live with them.  Me, I really can't stand... 
New Adult.

The tropes that repeat, ad nauseum, in NA titles are both predictable and troublesome.  There is usually a strong-willed female protagonist with a troubled past.  The troubled past almost always involves sex.  While she may be a virgin, she most certainly will have experienced sexual trauma of some sort.  In the rare exceptions, she has been physically or emotionally abused instead or as well of the afore mentioned trauma.  Either way, she has usually run off to a far distant university to escape and move on.  There, she will meet a young man. This young man will be hugely handsome but will instantly ring warning bells in her head because he will be charming but edgy, often renowned for either womanising or fighting (often both) and while she will try and stay away from him he will refuse to take no for an answer be it to a date or a kiss or a sleepover (a familiar scene in NA is when he insists that they can share a bed innocently and then grinds his erection into her at every opportunity). 

Later, our protagonist will fall for his insistent "charm" and he will proceed to fix all of her past woes.  Usually with his dick. The end.

There are a few exceptions in the genre, there are some decent love interests who demonstrate kindness and understanding but they usually have a secret that they lie about and the stories always have a murky backdrop of assault, rape or emotional manipulation. It's not great and it misses the opportunity to look at a truly interesting and complicated period of change.  So, Fred, I think it's worse than plain old kissing books.  I have only reviewed one NA book (although I read several, seeking anything decent) and you can find that review below (it's one of the better ones that I read on my travails through the genre, Beautiful Disaster as pictured above, is truly ghastly on just about every level).  Read the two recommended at the end - they are excellent and exactly what NA should really be.

The Secret of Ella and Micha - Jessica Sorensen

Ella and Micha have been friends forever, seeing each other through their difficult childhoods.  However, after a series of tragic events, Ella realises that she needs to leave her past behind and flees to college, leaving Micha behind with no idea of where she is or whether she will ever return.  While Micha has searched for her, suspended in place by the night she disappeared, Ella has spent the year reinventing herself but she can’t stay away forever and, come summer break, she finds herself returning to a house full of bad memories and the boy next door who won’t take no for an answer.

Ella is a character who will be quickly familiar to any readers of the newly minted New Adult genre.  Damaged by a past that involves both violence and neglect, she’s trying desperately to change her life.  Brittle, suspicious and fragile she’s also resourceful and smart – she got herself to college, made new friends, funded herself and seems to generally have her head screwed on the right way.  However, she’s clearly not come to terms with the events of her past and needs someone to help her do so.   So far, so NA protagonist.  And she really doesn’t get much more original.  The best that can be said for Ella is that she’s vaguely likeable and her character’s mental health is handled with a degree of care.  Her treatment of Micha is understandable, while selfish, and her reluctance to spend time with him a measure of her desire to escape a past she doesn’t really understand.

Micha, sadly, is also all too familiar.  When Ella returns he is understandably angry and hurt, as well as worried.  This could have been a great way to create a sympathetic, conflicted character but instead Micha reacts by turning into the rapidly emerging stereotypical male of the genre.  In order to get the attention of a girl whom he knows to be deeply damaged, he flirts with people in front of her, climbs unbidden into her bed (sadly another well-worn scenario in the world of NA), slides his hand up her skirt in public and states that he “has to have her”, seeming to truly believe that his moronic, testosterone fuelled claim on her will somehow ease her troubled past.  What a PRINCE!  In the few chapters in which Micha manages to get his mind away from his nethers, he actually comes across as quite a nice, thoughtful guy and later does address Ella’s long-standing intimacy issues but it’s too little, too late.  To be honest, the fact that he recognises that she has intimacy issues at all only sheds an even nastier light on his possessive, pushy behaviour.

The Secret of Ella and Micha is frustrating in that it has the potential to be so much more.  The issues raised are interesting, the family dynamics curious and the gorgeous best friend, desperately worried for his neighbour should be breath-takingly romantic.  But this is New Adult, people, and so rather than focus on the aforementioned plot points, The Secret of Ella and Micha focuses largely on sex.  Now sex scenes are fun, hell, more books should have them, but New Adult as a genre seems to use sex instead of storyline, regularly mixing it into stories in which the girls are damaged and the boys are lined up to convince them that therapy won’t work as well as a good dicking.  Certainly, consensual sex has a role in these storylines, with Ella and Micha it certainly represents her starting to overcome some issues, but the way in which the men in NA push their desire onto the women is, quite frankly, a bit icky – I don’t care how gorgeous they are. 

This isn’t the first NA book that has disappointed me. I keep reading the genre in the hope that one will appear that will illustrate to actual New Adults (whatever they are) that the start of your adult life isn’t necessarily filled with trauma and sexual manipulation.  Thus far, the best New Adult books I’ve read haven’t been published under that particular genre label but rather remained in the YA bracket.  Both Where She Went by Gayle Forman and Lovely, Dark and Deep by Amy McNamara look at issues surrounding a troubled past and an uncertain future, both feature protagonists in their late teens/early twenties and both feature sex; both, critically, handle it all far better than anything on the NA shelves, including, sadly,The Secret of Ella and Micha.

FYA Photo-a-Day: 17 Do Not Read In Public

This one was easy:

...because of all the feelings.  And the tears.

Hazel Grace is dying. She’s been dying for quite a while from the cancerous tumours submerging her tired lungs and she is quietly resigned to the end of her personal story. This doesn’t stop her from getting a bit depressed (an understandable side effect, as she so succinctly puts it, of dying) and, some years after her initial diagnosis of fatality, she finds herself attending a support group for cancer kids.  It’s not really her bag but she gets through each session exchanging silent cynicisms with one-eyed Isaac.  Until the day that Isaac turns up with a friend, cancer-free Augustus Waters, who sweeps into Hazel’s life on one leg, a wave of bad video games and an overwhelming lust for life.  He quickly inveigles his way into Hazel’s one great passion, the book An Imperial Affliction, and her desire to find out what happens after the last page.  

Hazel is a character who jumps of the page and is far from the atypical Young Cancer Sufferer of other books.  Partly, this is due to the fact that she has no hope of survival.  From the day she was first diagnosed she has known that her illness was terminal and it is only due to a wonder that she continues to live at all.  Additionally, Hazel does not Live Every Day As Though It Were Her Last.  Rather, she watches a lot of America’s Top Model.  She doesn’t feel the need to do great things but rather wishes to leave as few ripples as possible.  She’s OK with her fate, she really is, but she’s not so sure about the fate of those left behind.  Never more clearly is this seen than in her fascination with An Imperial Affliction and particularly in her desperation to know what happens to its protagonist’s mother.  Hazel is fascinating and massively sympathetic without ever really engendering pity.  She’s simply a unique and marvellous creation.

Augustus is less likely to watch life from the side lines.  Having survived a pretty survivable cancer almost intact he is desperate to make his mark.  He doesn’t know how he’s going to do it, but he’s driven to affect the world in a way that Hazel is not.  He seems to be constantly searching for meaning and the way in which he latches on to An Imperial Affliction and its ideas is unsurprising. To say more about Augustus would detract from the pleasure you will find in reading him for yourself so suffice to say that he is a character of utter luminosity, he shall be left for you to discover alone.  The list of additional characters is small yet they strong.  From the minor (hilariously tragic and testicle-less Patrick) to the major (Isaac, eyeless and lovelorn) to the vital (every parent in the book) they are beautifully realised.  Particularly mention, however, must go to Van Houten, a man introduced largely through the excerpts of his book, An Imperial Affliction. He is a tour de force of belligerent insanity and searing truth.

John Green has gone out of his way to avoid the tropes so often seen in Cancer Books (to the point where his characters witheringly decry the stereotypes throughout); apart from anything else, The Fault in our Stars is extremely funny.  Even in its saddest moments, Green is able to surprise you with a scene that will have you crying with laughter.  But not just laughter.  Lest we forget, this is a book about a dying girl and if it doesn’t have you in floods of tears at least once then, quite frankly, you should consider the fact that you may not actually have a soul.  Particularly moving are the portrayals of parents who deal constantly with the prospective loss of their only child.  Hazel’s father is especially heart-breaking as a man prone to tears and reading this book as a parent was particularly difficult.  The writing is, as one might expect from Green, excellent be it describing children leaping from bone to bone or petals strewn on water.

The Fault in our Stars is by far the most accomplished book yet from King of the Internets, Green.  While all of his previous work has been impressive, there has been a tendency on his part to use his super-smart teen protagonists as a mouthpiece for what you have to assume are Big Ideas that have been rattling around his own conciousness.  It’s always worked but has always left me with the suspicion that I’m really reading John Green being John Green (which, admittedly, is massively enjoyable).  However, in TFIOS, he avoids this almost entirely.  Hazel is his first female protagonist and he’s given her a fantastically strong, utterly unique, narrative voice.  Yes, her and Gus are very bright and yes, they have a lot of deeply philosophical thoughts on the world but John Green saves the real existentialism for Van Houten and An Imperial Affliction, a book I very much hope he actually writes one day.  

This is a book that feels like it should carry some sort of message in its worthy pages, but I don’t know it if does other than whatever the individual reader takes from it.  Green is clearly a man who Thinks Deeply and would like us all Think Deep Thoughts.  Well, mad props, Mr Green, you got me.  On finishing The Fault in our Stars, I wiped away my tears and stepped outside to observe the universe wondering if it, in turn, observed me but above all awed at the ineffable elegance of it all. I hope that, on finishing this extraordinary book, you do too. 

This review was first posted on The Mountains of Instead in 2013.

September 16, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 16: Drink of Choice. And no, it's surprisingly not gin.

...because who doesn't like a nice cup of tea.  Makes the world a better place.

FYA Photo-a-day: 13, 14, 15.

Favourite reading spot

When the weather is nice, I like to take a cup of coffee and my book and wonder down to the end of my street where there is a nice bench and a handy wall and the sea. And don't think for a minute I don't know how lucky I am...

Best Cover

I couldn't choose.  But at the moment I like these.  In fact, a lot of the covers that I like involve red, black and white.  You can find ten of my favourites here.

Worst Cover

I mean, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.  Just before the release of the final book in this series, I was sent the first five and challenged by a publicist to read and review them in two weeks.  I did.  But I didn't bloody read them in public.  Everything about this cover is wrong; the colours, the composition and most of all the MASSIVE FACES.  I hate faces on covers - I feel like it robs me of the chance to see the characters in my head as I learn what they look like.  But, in this case, that is beside the point as it is shit on a hundred different levels.  Since release, the VA books have all had cover re-designs and now look a lot more palatable.  Which is good, as they are actually a lot of fun and now you can have fun reading them in front of people, too.

September 12, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 12: A Powerful Quote

Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life—and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding. (Goodreads)

The Sky Is Everywhere is a beautiful book both in terms of Jandy Nelson's gorgeous writing and visually. It is printed in lovely blue ink which and there are handwritten poems scrawled throughout its pages, photographed on paper cups, candy wrappers, bits of newspaper, bark and bathroom tiles among other things (all in full colour). I spent a good half hour just leafing through my copy when it first arrived – it was like a beautifully wrapped present. On getting over my sheer delight at getting an object d'art when all I'd been expecting was a book, my first thoughts were that the publishers must have thought it was some story if they put such a lot into the book design, as I don't imagine it was cheap to produce. Luckily for them, they were right.

This is in large part thanks to some quite spectacular writing. Breathtaking and beautiful, Jandy Nelson's prose billows out of the book in huge, overwhelming waves. It should be too much, but it's not. Lennie's grief for sister Bailey is not a quiet one and screams out of her in a vicious waterfall of loss, yearning, desire and love because Lennie is not dead – she is very, very much alive. While in the very depths of mourning, Lennie finds herself drawn towards Bailey's boyfriend Toby and a whirlwind of tears, lust and raw need ensues. This could have been distasteful, but instead it is gut-wrenchingly sad. Simultaneously, a new boy enters Lennie's life in the shape of Joe Fontaine – gentle, kind, happy and above all, able to offer Lennie solace and escape as someone who knew her only after Bailey's death. The narrative follows Lennie as she moves back and forth between light and shade, Toby and Joe. I am sure that many profound things have been said about sex and death and I'm not going to try and be clever about it. In The Sky Is Everywhere sex is portrayed as life-affirming in the most literal way. Toby and Lennie's desire makes them feel alive when nothing else does and in doing so makes them feel closer to Bailey, despite the horrendous guilt that it also brings. Lennie's desire and love for Joe is also life-affirming in the truer, more existential sense. He makes her feel healthy, strong, happy and hopeful. More than anything, while Toby makes Lennie feel real in that she feels close to Bailey, Joe allows her to be true to herself and therefore feel truly alive.

For me, everything in The Sky Is Everywhere is gloriously, vividly alive. The only thing dead in the book is Bailey and perhaps the sad shadow that is Toby – a character made two-dimensional in his grief only scraping a reprieve towards the last few pages. Creaking trees, magical roses, music, tears and magnificent smiles jump off the page and it is impossible not to rejoice in the sheer vividness of Lennie's everyday life. Be it what lifts you up or what tethers you down, Jandy Nelson reminds us that it is all life and is there to be embraced and above all, lived.

On a final and somewhat lighter note, I would personally very much like to have a set of Fontaine brothers. They could live in my closet. I would take them out whenever I felt sad and they would make me feel better and save on my electricity bills.

Bat. Bat. Bat. 


All That Glitters (Review: The Jewel by Amy Ewing)

22586252The Jewel
Amy Ewing
Walker 2014

Violet Lasting is about to become Lot 197, a child-bearing commodity for the wealthy of her city who reside in the glittering confines of the Jewel.  Previously ruled by four houses and now by an Elector and Electress, it has long been known that the Jewel is barren – or at least that children borne by the elite don’t always turn out as planned – and the ladies of the district now use surrogates from the poorer parts of the city.  Violet is such a surrogate.  Sold, by a significant amount to the Duchess of the Lake, she finds herself surrounded by beauty, wealth, cruelty and death.  Destined to carry the child of a woman who plots to bring down the very society she inhabits, Violet finds herself lost, if not entirely alone…

The world that Amy Ewing has created in her debut novel is a small yet striking one, although it brings little that seems truly unique.  The glittering castles and concerts halls, combined with the many Duchesses, Countesses and Ladies bring to mind a corrupted Wonderland (not at all dissimilar to the one created by Frank Beddor in The Looking Glass Wars) while the outer districts, inhabited as they are by scruffy children and the indentured poor bring to mind the streets of Victorian London.  It’s not a bad juxtaposition, although hardly original with the Jewel itself being of far more interest than the muddy streets of the common folk.  Still, most of the action takes place in the home of the Duchess with Violet spending only enough time outside the walls to understand that things are not as pretty as they might appear.

Violet herself is likable enough.  She is clearly uncomfortable with her lot in life and shows admirable backbone when faced with the conniving coldness of the Duchess of the Lake yet she lacks passion.  She is keen to escape the story that fate has written for her but does little bar sit around and wait to be rescued.  When she meets Ash, a young man whose lot in life is as steeped in exploitative servitude as her own, she is believably swept up by her feelings, having had nothing to do with boys previous to her arrival in the Jewel. Ash is also very readable, not to mention a bit more interesting than Violet thanks to his own back story, but their relationship develops over half a dozen short scenes into what can only be described as the dreaded instalove.

The relationship that actually keeps The Jewel alive is that between Violet and The Duchess.  The Duchess is a marvelous creation and by the end of the book has emerged as a multi-faceted villain who readers will both love to hate but occasionally find themselves pitying. The scenes between the two women spark with mutual contempt and bitterness.  It is in these scenes that Amy Ewing’s writing comes alive and they kept me reading to the last page.  Another arresting character is Lucien and I sincerely hope that the small amount of back story pertaining to his character is not all we get.

The Jewel is not an unimpressive debut, it flows well and the writing is compelling enough but it suffers a little from style over content.  The descriptions of the glorious homes, verdant gardens and beautiful music overwhelm a plot in which very little actually happens.  As in Lauren De Stefano’s Wither, the relationship that Violet finds herself in seems to be there for the sake of having a love interest and felt forced, despite the attractively troubled Ash.  Additionally, the strange powers that Violet and her fellow surrogates seem to possess are so vaguely described that they become almost an irritation.

The Jewel is the first in a trilogy and while it is certainly flawed there is a lot to encourage readers to return for book two, not least curiosity about Violet’s fate the promise of more from the Duchess of the Lake.   Amy Ewing has the start of a very good story in The Jewel , it’s just a shame that she took a whole book to outline the bare bones.  Here in The Mountains of Instead, we recommend this title to those who enjoyed Eve by Anna Carey  or De Stefano’s Chemical Garden series, The Jewel has potential to be better than both but reaches nowhere near the dizzy heights of The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood), which it has been compared to and which, if you enjoyed this, you should really pick up next.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The Jewel is available now. Thank you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this title to review.

September 11, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 11: Fictional Love (a special addition for Shona and the YAckers)

Sebastian Scott from the Sadler's Wells series by Lorna Hill

A long time ago, back when the Mountains of Instead were mere hillocks, I wrote a post about the attractiveness of men who play music. I listed my favourites, or at least the ones that would have had me swooning as a teen. You can find them here and they are a lovely lot, but number one was Sebastian.  And still is. This is why:

I first read the Sadler's Wells books when I was about nine. I was really into ballet, and that is what they focus on so I was happy (there are also a lot of horses featured, but you can't have everything). Sebastian doesn't appear in all of the books, just the first two where he plays antagonist and love interest to heroine Veronica. Sebastian is smart, wickedly so and is absolutely driven by his music. He cannot live without it, or Veronica, for whom he plays while she dances (usually in some swoony outdoor setting). He is hot – all dark hair, piercing blue eyes, slightly northern accent and long piano-player fingers. He is also a bit of a bad boy – in that he can be a bit cruel, his humour sarcastic and his judgements final. Importantly, he has some issues involving family and being chucked out of his ancestral home. For years he was all I looked for in a boy – it is no coincidence that my first serious boyfriend was an immensely talented, hugely sarcastic, slightly broken piano player. And just as Sebastian informed my choices in men then, I suspect he still does. If further proof be needed, read again that description and then feast your eyes:

It can be NO COINCIDENCE.  Not only is Sebastian the reason that I am no longer a ballet dancer but still a pianist, I have been casting him in ALL THE BOOKS ever since.  The first cut clearly, in this case, is absolutely the deepest.  Sebastian – you got me at an impressionable age, and my heart remains with you....

September 10, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 10 - TEABS!

TEABS - for the uninitiated, The End of an Awesome Book syndrome or the end of book blues.  You know the ones... those times where you finish a book that has been so wonderful or which has emotionally slain you so badly that you wonder about for a week or two, listlessly picking books up and setting them down again because NO BOOK WILL EVER EVER SPEAK TO YOU IN THE SAME WAY EVER AGAIN.  Those.

This was an easy choice:

He's a bad man, that Mr. Ness.  With his stories and his characters and all THE FEELINGS.  Each of the Chaos Walking books gave me terrible TEABS. And the short story he produced recently didn't help.  You can find reviews of The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men by clicking on the links.  Read them - they are truly extraordinary - but don't say I didn't warn you.

September 09, 2014

The 5th Wave (our review, again, because of terrible embargoes and INFINITE SEA)

One of our top reads of last year, was The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.  Clearly, it made the top of several lists as it is now being adapted for film and the sequel has been embargoed until its release date next weeks. As we can't, therefore, review The Infinite Sea yet (much as we would really, really like to) we thought we'd share again our thoughts on The 5th Wave.

The Infinite Sea (The Fifth Wave #2)

The 5th Wave
Rick Yancey
Penguin 2013

Humanity is dying, under attack from an unknown enemy who is killing them in wave after wave of horror and blood.  The 1stwave took out electricity, communications, the backbone of today’s society; the 2nd wave decimates coasts and cities all over the world; the 3rd wave comes in the form of plague, killing billions and the 4th wave see’s the few who are left running for their lives, unsure of who to trust.  Now the world awaits the 5th wave even as the strange mothership looms above the earth waiting, ominous and silent.  Cassie finds herself alone in the woods, for all she knows, the last human on earth, running from sharp shooters, staying alive out of pure determination to keep a promise that may prove to be unkeepable.  At her lowest ebb, she meets Evan who has been living quietly since losing everything.  Evan is kind, capable and willing to do anything for Cassie, including help her keep her promise but Cassie remains scared, suspicious and sure that whatever the 5th Wave is, she’s better of facing it alone.

The 5th Wave has multiple narratives but Cassie remains at the heart of the story.  She’s something else, a girl honed by bloodshed and loss into an almost frightening automaton with a singular focus.  Her narrative takes the form of journal entries and she rages at her supposed reader even while confiding her deepest fears.  While she is undoubtedly kick-ass, she’s also reeling from the events that have overtaken the human race and her own personal existence.  She lacks understanding of the bigger picture – it seems that almost everyone does – but her focus on her small part of it is unfailing, even as she finds herself injured and alone in the snow.  Her interactions with the mysterious Evan are fraught with both longing and mistrust.  Cassie has been alone for a long time when she meets him, yet she’s also seen and done some awful things and is deeply suspicious of anyone and everyone.  Evan, for his part, doesn’t help much, remaining taciturn about the details of his past even as he cares for Cassie with real affection.  Both are intriguing characters and as their stories intertwine they become increasingly hard to predict while remaining tentatively likable.  Cassie, in particular, is always compelling.

In addition to Cassie there are three additional narratives.  One is that of Private Zombie, a young man, shell-shocked and sick who ends up recruited to the fight against the Others (as they have become known, clearly the military were big fans ofLost).  Realising that he has the opportunity to take up arms against those who took away life as he once knew it, Zombie slowly transitions from a thoughtful and relatively gentle boy into a hardened soldier, a person which even he himself is unsure of.  The third narrative is that of another recruit, Private Nugget (these names all make sense on reading), an impossible soldier who clings to Zombie in a way not encouraged by their seniors.  Nugget’s voice is more than a little heart-breaking but his character is nothing short of inspiring even though he gets less page-time than the rest.  The final narrative appears only once or twice and is from the point of view of a character who was once human but who has become distinctly Other.  Yet their humanity remains, causing confusion, pain and ultimately becoming the crux of the entire story and these small sections of the book are both eerie and moving.

The 5th Wave is a bit of a triumph in terms of its careful construction and gripping storytelling.  The waves are described from different viewpoints, in which Yancey creates a horrifying world that he continues to expand upon throughout the book while adding in additional layers and levels (most effective in the sections that focus on Zombie’s training) of trust, lies, truth and doublespeak.  His core plot is incredibly strong but this first book (The 5th Wave is the start of a series) focusses largely on world building with readers only truly discovering the nature of the 5th wave at the books climax.  And what a climax it is, full of twists, turns and breath taking action.  Good Sci-Fi is rarely seen in YA, particularly recently (with only Beth Revis’s Across The Universe immediately springing to mind) and it’s a pleasure to find such a well written example of the genre.  The 5th Wave is utterly compelling and impossible to put down (I stayed up well into the night in order to read it in one sitting) and should be added to your wish lists straight away.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. The 5th Wave is available now and The Infinite Sea will be published on September 16th. If you REALLY CANNOT WAIT until then, check out #BePrepared over on Twitter and whet your Alien-ocalypse appetite.

FYA Photo-a-Day 9: Most Anticipated... and why I love The Raven Cycle

When having to choose my favourite series, for day whatever it was in the last week, The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater was the first series that came to mind.  The thing is, it isn't finished and it just didn't seem fair to let an unfinished symphony win over the many series that I have finished and loved.  Ask me again in about a year, however, and I have no doubt that The Raven Cycle will have replaced all of the rest.

I've thought long and hard as to why I have been so entirely won over by Stiefvater's story of psychics, dead kings, dreamed of ravens and ley lines and I think I've hit on the answer.  It's not the characters, although with them she has taken worn silhouettes - Angry Boy, Kooky Girl, Rich Kid, Poor Kid, Dead Kid, all of which we've seen again and again in YA literature - and woven them into characters of real depth, originality and pathos.  Nor it is entirely the story line itself, although a good quest never did anyone any harm.  It isn't quite the world that she has created in both Monmouth Manufacturing, 300 Fox Way or Aglionby, although said world is as addictive as any of the beautifully drawn characters. No, these aspects are all quite brilliant (and you can read more about them in my reviews of both The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves) but they are not what I think of first, when I think of The Raven Cycle.  No, what immediately comes to my mind... is Cabeswater.

As a child I adored stories like The Secret World of Polly Flint (Helen Cresswell) and The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo, which I've already written about this week.  They contained hidden, magical worlds that both enchanted and frightened me. Similarly, Maggie Stiefvater has taken the old and the new, the ancient, the modern and the disconcerting to create Cabeswater, a wondrous and terrible well of strangeness, beauty and sacrifice. A place of impossible pools, talking trees, dark visions and old bones, she has placed Cabeswater at the heart of her story imbuing it with an air of magical unreality that spills across the pages of each book turning her contemporary setting into one that seems to exist out of time.  Cabeswater binds her story together, allowing the characters and their stories to come to life around it.  It is Polly's forest and Gwyn's mountain and every murksome yet miraculous dream you've ever had.  And it's out there, waiting, for you to pick up Blue Lily Lily Blue and return. Which you can't do, unfortunately, until the 21st of October.

September 08, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 6/7/8. Because Weekend.

As a quick refresher, I'm taking part in Forever Young Adult's Photo-a-Day September.  It's a lot of fun and you can find out more about it here.

Day 6
My Shelves

These are not all of my shelves, nor all of my books.  This makes me both happy and slightly concerned.  But mainly happy.

Day 7
My Bookmark

I don't use bookmarks - I just remember the page number.  In fact, I don't even really do that.  I have the ability to pick up the book and open it where I last stopped reading.  I'd attribute this to good spacial awareness but I don't have any.  So I will instead just attribute it to MAGIC.

Day 8
Most Read

 “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

That is my favourite first line of all time.  It is the start of a compelling and disturbing story that twists and weaves through the choppy morality of ambiguous friendships, college excess, twisted philosophy, wealth, murk and murder.  It's quite brilliant and I have re-read it at least yearly since first picking it up ten years ago.  And after taking this picture today, I started it all over again.  It's still good.

September 05, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 5: Favourite Author

I have many, many, many favourite authors.  Many.  I literally couldn't choose just one on the merit of books alone so I have instead chosen Maggie Stiefvater because she made me a car to match the one in her book. And I am apparently quite materialistic and like gifts. 

Also, her books are really quite good and she has excellent taste in music.  So not a bad choice, all in all.

FYA-Photo-a-Day 4: Favourite Series

This was quite hard.  I like a lot of series and Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness was a very close contender but in the end, I've returned to the Old Kingdom more over the years.  Below are my thoughts on Sabriel, the first in the series, first written for Hot Key Books to celebrate the forthcoming release of Clariel (published this October) - a long awaited prequel.  You can find out more about the Old Kingdom, Garth Nix and his characters at Hot Key's Old Kingdom website, here.

Many years ago, I was headed to a remote part of Scotland for a romantic, wintery get-a-way with a boyfriend.  As the weather was forecast to be terrible, I thought I should take a few books.  Just previously, I had been loaned three fantasy books by a close friend: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen by Garth Nix. On a dark and stormy night, in front of a roaring fire, I picked up Sabriel.  And my boyfriend didn’t speak to me for a week. I quickly discovered, as will you, that I couldn’t put it down.  Nor Lirael.  Nor Abhorsen.

They are, in short compellingly original and completely unforgettable. Moving between the 1940′s-esq New Kingdom of the south and the wildly different Old Kingdom of the north, Garth Nix has created a world that is unique. Separated by a heavily guarded wall, these two lands co-exist largely in a state of ignorance bar the family of Sabriel. A young woman, Sabriel is the last in the line of the Abhorsens, necromancers who walk the line between life and death sending some souls forward, through the rivers and gates of the afterlife while preventing many more from returning, maintaining a balance necessary for the survival of both kingdoms.  Yet all is not well, with a great evil lurking just under the tide line, and Sabriel finds herself at the forefront of a burgeoning war that will span generations.

As Sabriel travels the hinterland between life and death, Nix trades on both new and old mythology to create a frightening yet alluring world. Half dead things roam a land held together by a corrupted yet beautiful magic; women see the future from a distant glacier and a centuries old hero hangs frozen and forgotten on the bow of a boat. Creatures of great power (and not a little menace) masquerade as small, acerbic cats, mysterious spheres emanate a terrible danger and the world south of the Wall continues in an Enid Blyton-like dance of denial and creeping fog. It is really quite something. 

For lovers of good fantasy, the Old Kingdom trilogy is an absolute must and for those who aren’t too sure about myth and magic, well, it is so much more than the sum of its parts.  At heart a story identity, the value of family and the importance of never forgetting the past regardless of the horrors it may hold, this trilogy is one that I have returned to again and again and enjoyed more each time.  So pick up Sabriel, and have the other two sitting right next to you because you won’t want to stop once you have started – just make sure you don’t have company, they won’t thank you for it.

September 04, 2014

FYA Photo-a-Day 3 - Currently Reading

So, I'm currently reading...

...and it's really, very good.  I'm reading it a lot more slowly than I expected to as my daughter took one look at the title and demanded that I read it aloud to her.  So I'm stuck on a chapter a night, which is pretty frustrating.

In the words of Goodreads:

From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare comes a riveting new series that defies what you think you know about the world of magic. From two bestselling superstars, a dazzling and magical middle-grade collaboration centering on the students of the Magisterium, an academy for those with a propensity toward magic. In this first book, a new student comes to the Magisterium against his will -- is it because he is destined to be a powerful magician, or is the truth more twisted than that? It's a journey that will thrill you, surprise you, and make you wonder about the clear-cut distinction usually made between good and evil.

This is a pretty nice blurb but the book is more than the sum of the above parts.  The writing is seamless, the cast diverse and the characterisation rather winning.  The Iron Trial, indeed the whole Magisterium series, is going to draw many, many comparisons to a certain other boy wizard and his adventures which is a bit unfair, to be honest, as it's entirely its own thing.  Saying that, for those of you with a Harry Potter shaped hole in your life - snap up The Iron Trial when it appears in book shops next week.

September 02, 2014

Uncomfortably Numb (review: Dangerous Boys by Abigail Haas)

Dangerous Boys

Abigail Haas
Simon and Schuster 2014

A half-built house; a knife; a girl; two brothers.  That’s how it ends and also how, for Chloe, it all begins.  When Ethan Reznick sauntered into her life with his easy smile and laid back attitude he was exactly what Chloe needed.  An escape from her parents’ divorce, her mother’s depression and the dawning realisation that she might never escape from her dead-end job in her dead-end town.  Yet even with Ethan by her side, Chloe craves something more and when his brother – the charming, blunt, disconcerting Olly – shows up in town she starts to wonder if the brother she’s not with might be able to offer her a little more than the brother she is.

It says a lot about a book when, just 48 hours after reading it, you can’t remember the name of the protagonist.  This is largely, in the case of Dangerous Boys, due to the protagonist being pretty forgettable. Chloe is a fairly familiar character.  For as long as she can remember she’s wanted to leave her small town for the bright lights of college and when her plans are derailed she feels resentful, disillusioned and pretty sorry for herself.  It’s all very understandable, especially as she spends a lot of her time looking after a parent who has clearly had a nervous breakdown yet it’s hard to feel any real sympathy for her. This is not because she is self-serving or disdainful (although she often is), nor because she uses Ethan as a comfort blanket, despite knowing it’s unfair (although she does) or even because she hovers ever closer to Oliver, despite her ties to his brother (guilty again) but rather because she is just very poorly written.  Her character is neither one thing nor the other and while this may have been intentional, it oddly imbues her with an air of crashing predictability and no originality whatsoever.

The boys are also cardboard cut-outs.  The fresh faced boy next door and the sly yet oh-so-attractive bad boy.  Ethan is likable throughout but has no depth and Oliver is cartoonish in his obvious villainy.  Seriously, if he’d burst into evil cackles of laughter, while ominously stroking a white cat at any point, I would not have been surprised.  Other characters in the story include the boys’ mother, who clearly has concerns about her offspring, a kindly Sherriff and Chloe’s own mother whose personality and illness are carelessly written as an utterly unilluminating plot device.

The structure, pace and plotting of Dangerous Boys leave much to be desired.  Chloe’s narrative segues between the present – where things have clearly gone Very Wrong – and the past, where things began.  In the present one boy is gravely injured and the other boy is missing.  Haas clearly wishes readers to ponder the mystery of which boy lies in the hospital bed but sadly it is entirely obvious from almost the first page.  As the story unfolds, there are points at which is has potential to become interesting but Haas instead rushes it towards a conclusion which is, to be fair, pretty weird.  Chloe’s final actions, thoughts and words come on the back of such poor characterisation as to be nonsensical. This review is based on an early advance copy of the book and, for the first time, I actually wondered if I was reading a version that had yet to be finished.  I’ve stated before my love of ambiguity in endings – it can be a brave and effective choice – but only if your story has the strength to hold it up.

What makes Dangerous Boys so disappointing is that it follows the brilliantly compelling Dangerous Girls.  The latter was almost impossible to put down, unpredictable and carried with it an air of strange reality, informed as it so clearly was by the Amanda Knox case.  Abigail Haas seemed to have emerged as one of a new generation of teen writers keen to embrace the legacy of Point Horror.  And perhaps she will return to form with her next book.  In the meant time, those Point Horror fans among you should give this one a miss.  Pick up Dangerous Girls, or anything by Gretchen McNeil or James Dawson but leave these Boys and their confusingly dull protagonist a miss.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Dangerous Boys is available now. Thank you to the publisher, via Edelweiss, for providing us with a copy of this title to review.