Tag Archives: young adult

Witch Crag by Kate Cann

So here’s a problem with Witch Crag – there’s not enough book for the story. It’s odd, isn’t it? It’s as if there’s a massive story and huge character development crammed into too small a space so it can’t flourish properly. It’s like those tea flowers you buy all curled up and you have to drop into hot water to make them blossom. It’s a great story that hasn’t had the space to spread out properly.

Despite that, I really enjoyed it.

The blurb:

In a tribe where basic survival is the only priority, Kita must make a choice: to accept arranged marriages and being treated with less value then sheep, or escape and journey to the place that even the strongest men fear with their lives – Witch Crag.

But a common threat is facing the witches and sheepmen alike. The tribes must somehow overcome their prejudices and join together if they’re to win a war that threatens to destroy everything they hold as good.

I was given the proof of this one in a goody bag after the Summer Scream event at Foyles (which was ace), and I have no idea why I went for it first. It was one of those “I’ll just see what the first page is like” moments that slipped away and became two hours of being engrossed in the rather compelling scene-building that Cann very ably engages in for the first quarter of the book.

It’s an easy read, unsettling moments notwithstanding; Kita is dynamic and interesting to follow, though the other characters feel half-sketched for the most part. Arc, for instance, could have done with a bit more attitude in a scene or two more. Kita’s friends could have had just a touch more presence. Geegaw could have been coloured in a bit, made more vivid. There could have been more, really – more time in each place, more described, more filled in. It felt like we were skimming over a really detailed back story. Sometimes, that’s fine. It works. Our imaginations can fill in bits and pieces and make it feel more real. Other times, however, it just feels like we’re getting the bare bones of the story and it just feels distant and vague. Witch Crag leans towards the latter. It’s the sort of book I’d love to see a bunch of teens illustrate or write a bit of fanfic about, because there’s just such a strong feeling of there being more lurking beneath the surface. So much more. I did wonder how it would have felt if it had been written as an “adult” book, or aimed for a slightly older readership.

Arc was a particular highlight and lowlight. Towards the end everyone just seemed to stop being a character and started to become mouthpieces – little speeches sounding the same from every quarter about uniting against a common foe, doing what’s right. It got a bit preachy and Arc suffered in particular, seeming to become a completely different character in the last third of the book – not in a good-character-development kind of way, but in a way in which he became unrecognizable. It’s sort of lampshaded by Raff in a random comment, but it doesn’t feel like his arc (yes I know) makes much sense. It’s a shame, because he was one of the strongest elements of the tale. I would have loved to read it from his perspective. His character only really unravelled right at the end in the most rushed chapter – a shame, racing to a conclusion that didn’t need to be hurried and could have been open-ended in a way that tied in with the atmosphere of the book as a whole, but I get that a lot of readers want that kind of ending. I’m just annoying.

Otherwise, I loved it. I gave it four stars on Goodreads – it’s a good-hearted story which lets people change and mature and grow up, lets the main character be a girl but also strong, lets her rage and mope and whine and still be a hero, lets the love interest be a complete boy and yet seek comfort, and lets people both redeem themselves and strive to redeem others. It’s a book with an overly obvious message, which usually pisses me off in YA, but it’s done with charm and Kita is a bit of a marvel when it comes to YA main characters. It’s a great story to visualize and has a wonderful sinister undercurrent the entire way through that did make me fear for what Cann was building towards. When it’s out I know I’m going to be giving it to a couple of teenagers I know.

So yes, I’d recommend it whole-heartedly. There’s a tantalizing sense of what else could be revealed about that post-“Great Havoc” land and the people in it, and I wish Cann could have gone into more depth about the world and the history and the people and the characters and everything, but it’s a really good addition to the Dystopian YA genre, perfectly pitched to appeal to boys as much as girls. It’s one notch below The Hunger Games in my personal rankings, and two above Divergent, and I reckon it’s closer to The Knife Of Never Letting Go in tone than anything else I’ve read. So yes. I liked it.

MISTRY MONDAY! Generation Bad-Ass: A guest blog by Sarwat Chadda + COMPETITION!

Ladies and gentlemen, you are in for a TREAT. Well, TWO treats actually, because Mondays are horrendous and we need all the help we can get to make it through. Well, I am here to save your sanity, oh yes. Firstly, the estimable Sarwat Chadda, author of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress (remember how much I loved it?), has provided me with a suitably bad-ass guest post – and SECONDLY you can win a signed copy of the book! I’ll tell you more about that later. You’ve got to read this though, it will fill you with the bad-ass spirit you need to tackle this Monday head on.

You ready to kick some ass? You better be!

Generation Bad-ass by Sarwat Chadda

Have you watched Game of Thrones? Beyond it being really rather awesome it stars Sean Bean. Now, I am a long time Bean fan, but he is something else entirely in GoT. Brooding with a quiet air of extreme menace his aquiline, classically handsome features of his youth have crumbled to a craggy, hard and brutal visage. He has become bad-ass.

History is made by bad-asses. Without the bad-ass gene, Napoleon would have remained a funny little man in a big hat. Genghis a lonely goat herder in Mongolia. Boudicca a quiet little housewife in East Anglia. Bad-ass is the difference between curling up in a ball and sobbing and going out there and burning your enemy’s cities to the ground, having their armies driven before you and having the smoke-swollen night filled with the lamentation of their women.

My first meeting with HarperCollins revolved around the nature of bad-ass. My editor and I were clear we were not going to produce a soft, sensitive hero who deep down, despite the tough bad-boy exterior is just a big softy looking for love. That was sick-bag territory than has been well explored by others. We wanted a guy who was going to wade chest deep in gore, rip out hearts and eat them whole. Raw.

But the question was, is one born bad-ass, or does one become bad-ass. It’s the nature v. Nurture argument. I felt it would be far more interesting in seeing how someone utterly normal, even a bit cowardly could, given the right (or wrong) incentives, can become bad-ass.

Think of it as an experiment on exactly how civilized are we. What would it take to go wild, brutal and barbaric? The first draft was written during last summer’s riots. I think that may have influenced the book.

Take a boy, 13 years old. He’s got a loving, supportive family life (no orphans, too easy). Never been hungry a day in his life. He’s not well off, but comfortable. Not the smartest boy in school, not the dumbest. He’s a bit plump, a bit unhealthy, a bit lazy. I called him Ash.

Then, slowly, strip that all away. Remove family. Take him out of his environment and put him in somewhere less…easy. Give him enemies. Not a couple of kids that just want to nick his mobile, but enemies who will kill him, his friends, his mother, father, sister and anyone who has even looked in his direction to get what they want. Enemies richer, smarter, older and far more ruthless than anyone you’ve ever known. And give them the home advantage.

Brutalize him. Now we all have those stories where the hero-in-the-making has his training sequence (usually a montage) with the wise and kindly mentor. Yawn. Give Ash a teacher who’s quite happy to beat him, starve him, imprison him and do all those truly nasty things absolutely essential in becoming the bad-ass he needs to be.

No breaks. No mornings off. No tea and sympathy. Hunt him, attack him, torture him. You either break him or he becomes bad-ass.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing about Ash. He’s my antidote to the nice-guy heroes that dominate mid-grade action. I loved it that he moaned and sweated and everything was hard for him, because isn’t that really what it’s like? When faced with challenges don’t we often complain that ‘life isn’t fair’ and hope the problems will sort themselves out or someone else will do it for us? Isn’t the first step in becoming any sort of hero, especially a bad-ass one, the realization it’s down to us and no-one else? There’s a lot of heart-ache and doubt, but that’s the heroes I love to read, the ones who despair but push and, sometimes, come through. Success is never for certain and perhaps just making it to the next day is victory enough. But that’s what being bad-ass is all about.


To win a copy of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress all you need to do is either retweet a link to this post or comment below before the 19th of April. Do both and you get entered into the draw for it TWICE! (UK only!)

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (4****/5)


This is a pacy, bloodthirsty, hugely entertaining teen zombie novel with an unconventional but tender love story at its heart. From the ruins of a cataclysmic ice-age a new society has emerged, based on Victorian customs. Nora Dearly, a feisty teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves her exclusive boarding school for the holidays to return home – only to be dragged into the night by the living dead. Luckily for her, this particular crack unit of zombies are good guys – sent to protect her from the real nasties roaming the countryside and zeroing in on major cities to swell their ranks. Nora must find a way to defeat the evil undead with help from Bram, a noble, sweet and surprisingly hot zombie boy for whom she starts to fall…

For all it’s riddled with issues, Dearly, Departed is a really fun read that’s so over the top it’s actually mesmerising – given half a chance it carries you with it all the way through a crazy mess of plot, rotting corpses, zombie street battles and undead romance. It’s like this book was written with a checklist in mind – what’s hot right now in SFF/YA lit? Let’s see!

  • Zombies – CHECK! with a whole new spin on this which was REALLY appreciated
  • Forbidden romance – CHECK! with bits falling off (I loved Bram, I couldn’t even hate him for the blatant name thing, he’s such a sweetheart)
  • Dystopia – CHECK! only it was literally overkill to have so much apocalypse infodumped on us. Utterly crazy.
  • Steampunk – CHECK! except not the steampunk of the Soulless books or anything, it’s more faux-Victoriana, which was really awkward in most places because it’s been shoe-horned in and doesn’t feel right at all. Except I didn’t mind it past the first few chapters. It stops grating once you just assume it’s a technologically advanced Victorian age. There’s a wonderful idea about the Punks and their tech however, which I’d love to read more of in any future books.
So, yes, it’s an attention-grabbing conglomeration of ideas, you know?

Fans of dystopias and zombies will get more of a kick out of this than romance fans – and people who enjoy well-rendered characters who are willing to get stuck in and be pro-active will enjoy this too. It’s all lampshaded of course, with every time a girl-character acts in a way which does not suit her upbringing everyone notices it and points it out. The romance feels a bit unconvincing but I loved Bram and Nora was far from annoying so, again, I didn’t mind. Once things had clicked it felt much more believable.

It’s not structured very well, however; the viewpoints are a mess and only partially feel like they’re distinct voices, but I had so much fun reading this that I didn’t really care – I can totally understand why people didn’t get into or didn’t like this book, because you need to suspend disbelief from a very high place to even get into the setting of Dearly, Departed, let alone the basic premise. It was such tremendous fun and completely different in tone and style and painted in such vivid colours that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Seriously. Against my better judgement and everything.

It’s the most emphatically emphatic dystopian teen zombie romance you’ll ever see, and worth reading if you feel like going for an enjoyably deranged but hugely entertaining book. And yes, the horror elements were fun too. Strongly recommended if you like your YA to have a bit of backbone, decaying romance and a strong edge of dark humour to it. Anyone who liked it and wants MOAR! zombie love – Warm Bodies is your next port of call. Doesn’t have anywhere near the structural problems or the odd dialogue that DD does, and as a horror it’s a much stronger piece of work.

It isn’t, however, as much of a weird-ass dystopian teen zombie romance. With airships. Dearly, Departed has that down.

All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Not too hot on the cover, but great eye make-up!

All These Things I’ve Done starts off so strong I’m almost surprised, having finished it, that it’s the same book as the one I’ve put down. Somewhere along the line it veers off course of being a grim, guilty-until-proven-innocent tale of Anya and her family in a chocolate-less and coffee-banning dystopian future New York and becomes something soft-focused and audience-pleasing without being actually satisfying, given the opening.

Here’s the write-up:

Sixteen year-old Anya’s parents have been murdered because her father was the head of a notorious underworld gang. Now she is determined to keep herself and her siblings away from that world. But her father’s relatives aren’t so keen to let them go. When Anya’s violent ex-boyfriend is poisoned with contaminated chocolate – chocolate that is produced illegally by Anya’s criminal family – she is arrested for attempted murder. Disconcertingly, it is the new D.A. in town who releases her from jail, but her freedom comes with conditions. The D.A. is the father of Win, a boy at school to whom Anya feels irresistibly drawn. Win’s father won’t risk having his political ambitions jeopardised by his son seeing a member of a crime family. She is to stay away with him. Anya knows she risks her freedom and the safety of her brother and sister by seeing Win again. Neither the D.A. nor the underworld will allow it. But the feeling between them is so strong that she may be unable to resist him…

For all I want to complain about the course Zevin takes with the narrative, having it wander off into a teeny No Man’s Land where major plot points feel like they’ve been put on hiatus for no clear reason, I want to be clear – I loved the premise for this book, and still do. Anya is a pretty solid, somewhat noble character who demonstrates strength and intelligence and great affection and love for those close to her while still being clear-eyed and a great viewpoint to read from. The concept of a world where chocolate and coffee are banned, water’s pretty much as valuable as oil and paper’s rare is such a great concept it had me reeling with mental images of a dystopian Prohibition. If anything, it’s worth reading just for that.

It’s not without problems. There really could be more colouring in of the outlines Zevin sketches of the society Anya and her family are living in as the bare bones of what we’re given are tantalizing and she’s clearly a skilled enough writer to make something really bright and original with it. There’s no explanation for most of it other than the understanding the reader brings to the book about energy and water crises, and it’s really crazy trying to make sense of alcohol being around but coffee being a no-no. And why is chocolate okay in Europe but not in the US? I have so many questions, which on one hand is really frustrating as there could have been more background to this to make the setting stronger, but also it’s probably a good sign that I was engaged enough with it to want to know more.

But there’s a point where everything important about the plot just seems to go on holiday and then it flounders. It’s frustrating, so frustrating, because the plot begins to pull itself back together before the end but the momentum is such it just doesn’t correct itself in time. In fact, I thought it was a bit transparent what’s been going on, but even that didn’t annoy me because I was just so relieved we were back to what the beginning of the book had been about. The romance angle felt thin, bookended as it was between the real movements of plot as it were. It felt rushed and crammed in a bit, and Win is just not convincing at all. Anya falters here a bit too – a bit of omg boy! overcomes those familial instincts of hers, which goes against what we’ve come to expect of her.

All told, All These Things I’ve Done is a book I would definitely recommend, though it does feel like a good concept washed out. It’s more about the characters than the dystopia. I’ll definitely read the next in the series in the hope that it’ll answer some of those pesky questions, and now Zevin’s certainly on my list of authors to investigate further! I just wish it hadn’t meandered so totally from the plot and felt so detached from the setting – otherwise it’d be a great read.

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda

I gave up on trying to write this review properly very early on. See if you can tell.

I wish the Skulduggery covers were as good.

There are three things that I seriously love always and forever and they are mythology, Indiana Jones and Skulduggery Pleasant. I mean, there’s a lot more than that, but those three things are entirely relevant to this thing here now that I am writing. Because Oh My God if you like any of those three things then Ash Mistry is a most satisfactory reading experience. And here I mean “satisfactory” to mean what cats feel when they rub up against a scratching post or when someone gives you a head massage or when you find a book that is so exactly what you’d have liked to read aged nine, damn it all. It’s not your ordinary garden variety sort-of-okay-but-nothing-special “satisfactory”. I mean oh does it satisfy.

So here’s the run down on Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress:

Ash Mistry hates India. Which is a problem since his uncle has brought him and his annoying younger sister Lucky there to take up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage. But Ash immediately suspects something is very wrong with the eccentric millionaire. Soon, Ash finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Savage’s masterplan – the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept Ravana, the demon king, at bay for four millennia…

There is also this note on the back of the proof:

One slightly geeky boy from our time…


From which you can get a pretty strong sense of the book’s style, and if this fails to move you then we really have some problems. Or, you. You really have some problems.

For some reason I’ve seen this being recommended as a “book for boys”. What poppycock is that. I can categorically state that I as a nine-year-old girl who liked dolls and flowery things would have eaten this up and then some, so I assume there will be a swarm of girls out there who will also happily devour this like a demon crocodile (hello book reference shoe-horned in there, how you doin’?). It’s got bloodshed and violence with a liberal amount of gore and gets really dramatic and traumatic, and all of it is brilliantly done. Some children enjoy reading about massive murderous demons who maim and kill just to entertain themselves, and the heroes who have to buck up and save the world despite all sorts of nastiness trying to ruin their day. Some adults enjoy that too, and here I point to myself, and feel no shame at all because I am well beyond that point these days.

I’m finding it hard to distill exactly what I liked most about it down to a few sentences (this is probably clear). It was so very exciting and different – none of the usual Greek, Roman, Egyptian or Norse gods here, but demons and monsters from Indian mythology, in a rich, colourfully described version of India which was absolutely wonderful to read and I could have happily read double as much of the descriptions.* I really loved the writing. I loved how vivid it all was – everything from the descriptions of Varanasi itself, the people, the physical landscape to the gory bits, the adrenaline-pumping bits, the honestly really sad and distressing bits – hell, I was along for the ride, and the plot was twisty like a nice twisty water slide. It never got bogged down in detail but kept ripping along at a good old pace and that kind of writing is always a favourite.

And to top it all off it’s funny. Sister Spooky describes it as “Buffy with a dash of Big Bang Theory” which really isn’t far off the mark, but I’d throw in Indiana Jones and a bit of Skulduggery Pleasant in there too. I giggled quite a lot while reading this. On the bus too, which was highly embarrassing, but could not be helped.

I liked Ash and his sister Lucky a great deal and their interactions were wonderful. My sister is an actual annoyance, whereas Ash gets off lightly with Lucky, who doesn’t seem like a bad sort of sibling. Thinking about their page-time together, I really like that we see Ash is a proper hero from practically the first page.

So, basically, although there were a couple of little niggly bits which always happen in the first books of new series, I really liked it. Really really. I want more, and soon, because Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress was a really good, bloody, horrible, hilarious, warm-hearted read and I reckon the youth need more of that kind of thing.

Also you should totally read Sarwat Chadda’s blog post “Introducing Ash Mistry” because I have said so and I’m very persuasive.


*I was reading it on a London bus and at one point I got all pissy because the bus stopped and I had to get off and when the book was open I was in a tremendously exciting exotic place with snake demons and ancient lost languages and decadent parties with grotesque villains, but when I looked up I was at the wrong end of Oxford Street in the rain next to a drunk couple arguing about umbrellas. Did Not Want.

Switched by Amanda Hocking

The YA cover has purple butterflies, but I like this one more.

With her first book Switched described by Lauren Oliver in the NY Times as “The Princess Diaries” meets “Twilight”, and having sold over a million copies as a self-published author before switching to the more traditional publishing process, Amanda Hocking is a totally a hot topic now. Everyone’s talking about how the internet will change publishing as we know it – and Hocking’s name is wound up in that discussion to the extent that it’s easy to overlook the creative output that made her name. Selling a million ebooks of a work you’ve written, edited and designed the cover of yourself is no mean feat, after all. So, as I said in my earlier post, I was very interested to try her work.

I enjoyed Switched. It’s a very uncomplicated state of affairs: I read it really fast, had some issues with a few aspects, but it was enjoyable and diverting enough for me to have a positive overall view of it. It’s a book that settles into the Kelley Armstrong and Richelle Mead pantheon of authorship while being fresh enough for general teen audiences, and I recommend it heartily to anyone who liked those authors, but it does bother me a little that there’s a rather wonderful concept that isn’t developed more and better. It felt like an idea that was churned out too fast and needed more crafting before it was unleashed on the readership. It’s slightly inconsistent (more than one person’s pointed out how one moment she doesn’t like chocolate but the next loves it, which is so minor but jolts you out of the story) and a little uneven, with writing that doesn’t tell you much about the world because it’s painted in very broad strokes that leaves you to fill in the details yourself. Fancy clothes are left to your imagination, as are conversations where everything is completely glossed over. It’s not exactly wonderful writing, but I was okay with it; much as I’m the sort of person who loves gorgeous, rich, decadent writing, sometimes it’s nice to have things left vague, though it would have been better to have more detail about the larger Trylle community and Wendy’s dealings with Rhiannon, Rhys and the rest, as it would have added a lot to the world and Wendy herself.

One thing that’s divided opinion – Wendy. A few people have expressed dislike, which is entirely understandable, but it is so refreshing to have the first person perspective of a bit of a bitch in a YA book and to have her aware of it. She isn’t exactly nice, but nice is boring, and funnily enough she’s a convincing teenager-type compared to the usual. I was a bit taken by her attitude and her awareness of what her family goes through to make her happy and yet and yet she’s so ungiving and selfish, aware of being so, and feels guilt for it. She’s a perfect base level for some good, juicy character development – the sort of satisfying development full of tears and tantrums and embarrassments and little delights. It doesn’t quite happen in the book, but it’s hinted at in a slightly tangled way. I can’t say I liked her, but she was interesting, different and promising. The Anti-Bella, if you will.

On that note, one aspect that struck a hollow note was the romance. It was too swift, shallow, no real connection happened – in fact, I was more sold on the (unintended) romantic tension with another guy towards the end who had so much more texture to his character than the love interest and was in his own right an absolutely excellent creation. For readers specifically interested in it, it might be a satisfactory sort of love plot, but only satisfactory – I wasn’t reading the book for the romance though, so I wasn’t so very unhappy about it.

Despite all the issues, it’s worth reading If You Like That Kind Of Book. This book won’t bring more fans to urban fantasy/paranormal romance/teen fantasy/whatever we’re calling it this month, but it will satisfy some of the readers who are already there. Probably the most telling point is this: while it wasn’t an amazing read, and though there were niggling, bothersome problems, the world Hocking created was interesting enough for me to definitely intend to pick up the next book in the trilogy.

The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

I’ve been thoroughly addicted to one trilogy in particular for the past few months and I am going to go all enthusiastic at you, internet, so be ready for this. It’s a young adult trilogy and I feel absolutely no shame in admitting it because it’s bloody fantastic and I wish more adults would read it because it’s stupidly, brilliantly, explosively good. I’ve tried to read it as slowly as I could to savour the characters and the plot but it hasn’t felt like long enough. Oh you guys you guys YOU GUYS I am sitting here doing hearts with my hands at the screen in trying to put into words how much I’ve loved reading this.

Ladies and gentlemen, adults and young adults and everyone in between, I present to you:

My copies are white, but ho hum

My copies are white, but ho hum

The Chaos Walking trilogy.

You must have heard of this because lots of other people over the months have looked at me when I have mentioned this and done similar heart motions with their hands as we try to communicate our love for these books in a language that FAILS because we have no NOISE.* This is a thing, a thing that is popular and the winner of awards (but not nearly enough). I will now try to explain why I love this. I fail at this on the shop floor a lot because the concept’s a bit ?! but all the best concepts ARE a bit ?!, especially in the sci fi/fantastical/speculative fiction categories, so this should not put you off, no it should not!

The first book, The Knife Of Never Letting Go, has a terrible title but was one of the most excruciatingly brilliant reading experiences of my life because I usually hate present tense first person books but Mr. Patrick Ness did something genius with this and I fell in love with Todd and his totally realistic attitude that made him feel like a real person on the other side of the page. It’s oddly abrupt, the style that Ness uses for this trilogy, but it works and gives the story such a cinematic and exciting quality that it had me tearing through the book because oh my god they were in such danger and there were things happening, big horrible world-changing things

And at any moment –

Something terrible could happen –

Someone might get hurt –

And oh but you care for those characters** –

It’s an exhausting way to read a book, you know. Bloody awesome, if you’ll excuse my language, but exhausting. You feel like you’ve run all the way through those gut-wrenchingly tough battle scenes and emotional arguments with Todd and the others and it’s just so, so visceral and true and tangible and even though it should start having less impact the further through the trilogy you go, it doesn’t, because the tension remains racked up and you’re never quite sure who’s going to make it and who isn’t.

But what’s it about, I hear you ask? Here’s the blurb from Knife:

This is an unflinching novel about the impossible choices of growing up, by an award-winning writer. Imagine you’re the only boy in a town of men. And you can hear everything they think. And they can hear everything you think. Imagine you don’t fit in with their plans… Todd Hewitt is just one month away from the birthday that will make him a man. But his town has been keeping secrets from him. Secrets that are going to force him to run…

Which, you know, doesn’t tell you much. Some of the joy of this series comes from the mystery of it, the whys and the wherefores and uncovering the secrets along with Todd and his marvellous, marvellous dog Manchee. So I shall not say more, but it’s wonderfully intricate and dark and as psychological as it is otherworldly (not supernatural, no). And it’s TOTALLY an adult-suitable book. TOTALLY. It fires me up something fierce that I can’t really stock it in my sci fi section in the shop, because it’s easily as strong as everything else there. I love the messages Ness has bound up with the characters and their choices and the relationships and it’s just so good I actually hugged the books when I finished them, yes I did.

I love it more than the Hunger Games books, which have adult covers and are sold in the general fiction section like the Harry Potter books. I love it a lot more. I cried with sadness and relief while reading Chaos Walking, not so much during the Hunger Games, although both deal with the cruelty of adults to children and their fellow living creatures so if you found the Hunger Games as addictive as I did, you will get on so well with Chaos Walking. It’s The Chrysalids meets The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn meets a whole new level of originality and freshness that just sets itself apart from so much else that’s out there.

Adults, read this, it is tremendous and if I’d read this as a child I feel like I would’ve been a better person.

And you know, the books are not perfect, but I have Strong Feelings in favour of Chaos Walking and this is totally not a review, this is something more like an enthusiastic hand-waving flail of delight from someone who has no vested interest in this, just a massive surge of affection for a trilogy that moved me so much it was like Ness was just tugging my heartstrings like an expert puppeteer. And now it’s over. I have no more of it to read. I want to start it for the first time again. Argh. ARGH.


So, yes. I quite enjoyed that.


*I am the Circle and the Circle is me.

**And animals. Boy colt? SUBMIT.

Maureen Johnson’s ‘The Name Of The Star’

The Name of the Star (Shades of London, #1)The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The day Louisiana teenager Rory Deveaux arrives in London marks a memorable occasion. For Rory, it’s the start of a new life at a London boarding school. But for many, this will be remembered as the day a series of brutal murders broke out across the city, gruesome crimes mimicking the horrific Jack the Ripper in the autumn of 1888. 

Soon “Rippermania” takes hold of modern-day London, and the police are left with few leads and no witnesses. Except one. Rory spotted the man police now believe to be the prime suspect. But she is the only one who saw him. Even her roommate, who was with her at the time, didn’t notice the mysterious man. So why can only Rory see him? And more urgently, why has Rory become his next target? In this edge-of-your-seat thriller, full of suspense, humor, and romance, Rory will learn the truth about the secret ghost police of London and discover her own shocking abilities.

Aside from some slightly jarring scenes at the beginning involving the school (for one thing the school seems massively out-of-place and oddly run from the perspective of a Londoner who went to a similarly posh London school) this was a fantastic book that I ripped (sorry) through in ONE EVENING. It is great stuff. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good supernatural-tinged romp – though the central character feels oddly vague and insubstantial at times she is a marvellous vehicle for the reader and really comes into her own by the rather tense climax. I respected her and enjoyed her company by the end, and there’s no higher praise than that for a first person narrative.

I won’t rehash the plot, but suffice to say it isn’t a simple Jack the Ripper retelling, nor is it trying to give us a new view of the historical murders – it’s an original plot and concept using very popular tropes (the Ripper murders, the “otherness” of London, young adult genre, secret groups operating with the government) that still feels fresh, even to the point of freaking me out about the murders even after reading much more gory and bloody (and excellent) books like Alan Moore‘s From Hell and Kim Newman‘s Anno Dracula. A true testament to how, sometimes, less can be more. (Also I read this at night, when all of this is 200% freakier than during daylight hours, I know this through SCIENCE.)

I’d recommend this book to people who enjoy London in fiction, tense YA crime/thrillers, who enjoy Torchwood-like groups waging secret wars against the nasty unknown, or who simply want a solid, swift read that though it begins slowly and a bit oddly warms up tremendously once the (gory and unsettling (I feel a lack of sleep looming tonight)) murders begin. I’ve seen a few comments complaining about the ending, but I thought it was very well done and wrapped up a crackling, entertaining and at times spine-tingling read with a tantalizing suggestion of what Johnson has in her clearly devious and brilliant mind.

Can’t wait to read more.

Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I have a natural antipathy to Romeo & Juliet type narratives. There’s something unbearably angsty and teeny and undercooked about a lot of them, something immature about the approach and the build-up and the type of characters involved. When I studied the play at school it made so much sense when the teacher told us Juliet was supposed to be a young teenager – as a fourteen-year-old studying it, I just sat there and thought, “Yes, this is exactly the kind of stupid angsty romance people my age would think is twoo wuv”. Oh hormones, you have so much to answer for!

Twilight obviously didn’t help matters much. In fact I dislike Romeo & Juliet enough to avoid any such stories on the basis that the concept just doesn’t work for me – Twilight failed catastrophically on such a number of levels that the R&J similarities passed me by until yesterday when I picked up Laini Taylor’s new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and suddenly everything was cast in a new light.

Karou is an art student living in Prague. She has blue hair and a beautiful, annoying ex-boyfriend and a best friend with a sense of humour and a love for puppetry. Karou has a feeling that she is somehow incomplete, but no matter; she’s a busy girl. She studies her art, charming her friends with graphic stories of animal hybrid monsters in her art books. And then she runs errands for Brimstone, one of those very animal hybrid monsters her friends think she’s made up, collecting teeth for him; why does he want teeth? She doesn’t know. His shop is accessed by doors all over the world, and she travels everywhere for him – Morocco, Paris, St Petersburg, everywhere. And then the black handprints start appearing on the doors, left by devastatingly beautiful golden strangers. And, you know, THINGS OCCUR.

I have a new daydream: I imagine a world wherein this book came first, before Twilight. Where this book got the attention of the world’s teenage girls before vampiric stalker-boys became the Big Thing. Where beautiful writing lightly spun with dramatic, heavy moments, so rich in description I’m sitting here flicking through it just slightly dizzy with delight at the prospect of picking just one quotation to show you to back this up (I can’t, there’s too much!). It’s gorgeous all the way through, you guys. Gorgeous! It’s incredibly vivid, tactile writing, something that latches on to you from the very first chapter in which Karou is walking through Prague and encounters her ex-boyfriend and instead of just recounting this in prose, Taylor throws all these subtle yet jolting descriptions at us, wrapping us up in Karou’s physical senses like you’d wrap a child up in a scarf. It’s ridiculous how tangible she makes these angelic and demonic entities sound, describing fur and horns and lips and hair with such sensuousness that it’s almost like this book’s trying to seduce us. Trying? Not trying. Did. It’s seductive. It seduced me, and I’m delighted to say so.

The last time I felt like this about writing it was either Guy Gavriel Kay or Jacqueline Carey‘s Kushiel’s Dart sequence. I can’t remember. But oh, Taylor made me fancy a man who doesn’t smile or joke, and that takes extremely good writing. It even made me like a girl with blue hair who spent the first third of the book looking like an unfortunate Mary Sue type character – but somewhere along the way I began to care, and quite liked her. She does little things that make her mean (the eyebrows) but manages not to be unlikable, nor too perfect to believe in. The vital issue with Twilight, to my mind, was the absence of humour and banter. Well, Karou and Zuzana had a lovely friendship, and even the unsmiling man tries a few jokes. There’s a levity to it which makes the central story that much more affecting – you can’t have a plot built on tragedy and not have it celebrate life and indulge in humour and humanity.

Oh guys I’m not even going to say anything more. I just loved it. It was like the best European folk tales wrapped up in angels and demons and TEETH oh god the teeth.

Apparently the next one is due out next year. You have a year to read this before I start getting shouty. You won’t like me when I’m shouty.

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

Sixteen-year-old Alison has been sectioned in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found, and Alison’s condition is proving difficult to diagnose. Alison herself can’t explain what happened: one minute she was fighting with Tori – the next she disintegrated. Into nothing. But that’s impossible. Right?
– from amazon.co.uk

The front of the proof copy of this book says “EVERYTHING YOU BELIEVE IS WRONG” which is quite a statement to make but the concept was interesting enough to overcome my immediate sense of ?! upon seeing the tagline. It is well worth reading, guys. Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson. Well worth it for reasons above and beyond the very soft science fiction concept.

Firstly, if you’ve ever heard of synaesthesia then you’re ahead of the protagonist, which is a slight drag, but for YA readers unlikely to be a problem. Our protagonist is sixteen-year-old Alison who exists in a chaotic swirl of colours and tastes and sounds and she’s ridiculously sensitive to everything around her. She starts the story waking up in a hospital and it’s a slow, foggy beginning to the book, just like Alison’s wakening; it’s really not the strongest part of the book. It doesn’t quite set a tone, Alison comes across as being SO sensitive and squishy and fragile that there’s nothing to her but her confusion and that she’s involved in the disappearance of the perfect, popular but hated Tori. It improves as it goes on, quite a bit, but throughout I found Alison difficult to like and difficult to feel anything for. I suppose it works in a way to suggest that Alison MIGHT be totally insane, but canny readers are going to be totally aware that this isn’t really an option given that she’s the main character.

That said, RJ Anderson uses the synaesthesia beautifully and the writing is, at times, gorgeous. It stretched credulity a little later in the plot but it’s done with completely effective language and that near-poetic resonant edge to it. It’s an excellent treatment of a very weird and curious condition and I’d urge people to read this book just to enjoy the mad variety of ways very simple things are described, colours as tastes and emotions and so on, even in the chapter titles.

Faraday’s sessions with Alison, where he informs her of her synaesthesia and various other moments, are good scenes. He never seems like there’s anything solid to him so I have to say he didn’t really interest me very much (also what is this thing about his eye colour, that sort of thing would alarm me greatly!) but the twists served to build character ginormously well and I was well impressed with RJ Anderson’s ingenuity in everything from providing us with a very well-rendered and dynamically populated mental institute to the climactic part of the plot. The soft science fiction aspects are well-handled and though I’ve seen reviews saying that they feel out-of-place and jarring with the rest of the story, I feel that it all actually serves to make it stronger, building on the developing characters and plot, and I found the ending pretty much pitch-perfect.

The main thing that I really heart about this book is Tori and the manner in which Alison, who’s had to put up with a relentlessly intense multi-dimensional world for so long, comes to realize that there’s more than one dimension to people as well. It’s a wonderful way to approach it, something everyone struggles with because we’re all trapped as unreliable narrators – and in this case it’s very convoluted. I’ve always got a strong distaste for stories with the perfect prissy blonde cheerleader type who acts horrible and is horrible and has no redeeming qualities simply because she’s a stereotypical female villain; people like that simply don’t exist and the idea that it’s okay to hate these people (like it’s okay to hate Slytherins!) really pisses me off. Ultraviolet sidesteps this travesty of a concept and makes it into something far more interesting, deep and worthwhile. Although Alison and Faraday were lacklustre to me, it was a merry read, well-written, at times ingenious, and very pleasantly diverting.

Thanks to @NotRollerGirl for the book!  ALSO check out the excellent review by Jessie over at Bibliophile Anonymous!

Buy on Amazon.co.uk