reviews

Mini Reviews #1

I’ve fallen a little behind with reviews lately, and instead of letting them pile up, I thought I’d do some brief reviews, bundled up into one handy post.

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So many books, so little time.

Let’s go!

1. FLOORED – Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Burne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 3/5 (Good)

Release Date: 10 July 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Macmillan (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary

How I read it: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: Floored

When they got in the lift, they were strangers (though didn’t that guy used to be on TV?): Sasha, who is desperately trying to deliver a parcel; Hugo, who knows he’s the best-looking guy in the lift and is eyeing up Velvet, who knows what that look means when you hear her name and it doesn’t match the way she looks, or the way she talks; Dawson, who was on TV, but isn’t as good-looking as he was a few years ago and is desperately hoping no one recognizes him; Kaitlyn, who’s losing her sight but won’t admit it, and who used to have a poster of Dawson on her bedroom wall, and Joe, who shouldn’t be here at all, but who wants to be here the most.

And one more person, who will bring them together again on the same day every year.

I had high expectations for FLOORED – I love Melinda Salisbury, Sara Barnard and Holly Bourne’s works, and I’ve enjoyed books by Non Pratt and Lisa Williamson – but this book didn’t quite hit the mark for me. It’s written incredibly well style-wise – I can’t fault the voices! – but I think it suffered from having seven POVs (including the narrator) AND time-skips. This meant that certain things felt underdeveloped, and parts of the plot felt rushed. It’s a decent contemporary read, and every character’s voice feels authentic (I feel a bit flummoxed in that I can’t actually tell who wrote which part!). I’d recommend it if you’re a fan of any of the credited authors’ previous works.

2. FRIENDSHIP FAILS OF EMMA NASH – Chloe Seagar

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 9 August 2018 (UK)
Publisher: HQ Young Adult (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary

How I read it: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: Friendship Fails of Emma Nash

Emma Nash is back….and determined to work out the world of friendships and relationships once and for all (…ish).

Now she’s in the sixth form, Emma’s expecting life to be a breeze but when her best friend Steph suddenly has a boyfriend who she’s spending more time with Emma’s not sure what to do with herself.

So Emma’s got a mission in mind: making new friends. Signing up for the school fashion show seems like the perfect opportunity. Although soon, through a series of mishaps that are absolutely not Emma’s fault (well, sort of), her world is teetering on the edge of disaster again.

Would going back to creating a life for herself online reaaaaaallllyyy be so bad?

The fresh and funny sequel to last year’s hilarious EDITING EMMA, FRIENDSHIP FAILS OF EMMA NASH picks up where the previous book left off as Emma continues pursuing her fashion design dreams, and embarks on a quest to expand her social circle. The book delves into the topics of slut-shaming and internet bullying with a careful hand (and plenty of belly laughs) and I thought Emma’s attempts at making friends were particularly humorous! If you enjoyed the first book you’ll definitely love this one – more of the same relatable humour and timely feminist themes make this a great choice for a holiday read (you’ll be cackling on the beach!).

3. EVE OF MAN – Giovanna & Tom Fletcher

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Image result for white pentagram – 1/5 (Not for me)

Release Date: 31 May 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Penguin Random House (UK)
Genre: Young adult, dystopian

How I read it: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: Eve of Man: Eve of Man Trilogy, Book 1

AGAINST ALL ODDS, SHE SURVIVED.
THE FIRST GIRL BORN IN FIFTY YEARS.
THEY CALLED HER EVE . . .

All her life Eve has been kept away from the opposite sex. Kept from the truth of her past.

But at sixteen it’s time for Eve to face her destiny. Three potential males have been selected for her. The future of humanity is in her hands. She’s always accepted her fate.

Until she meets Bram.

Eve wants control over her life. She wants freedom.

But how do you choose between love and the future of the human race?

I like a bit of dystopian YA, don’t get me wrong (I was a massive HUNGER GAMES fan when it was a big thing) but in 2018 I expect the genre to be doing something different in order to stay fresh. EVE OF MAN did not do that. It felt really bland and I was sure I’d read similar stuff before – I’m convinced that if an unknown author had pitched this, it wouldn’t have been published, because it feels like the kind of thing that was big in 2012 (i.e. not current, and not very original). The hook of Eve being the only girl born in 50 years was really underused – the book hints at deeper conversations of gender and queer identity but quickly skims over them (there’s no mention of transgender people or intersex people either). It would have been WAY more interesting if it didn’t fall into the heteronormative romance tropes, but sadly it was just underwhelming in every sense. The characters felt like atypical dystopian YA protagonists without much to make them unique (Eve is special and beautiful, etc.) and it was really quite forgettable.

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reviews

[Review] Scythe – Neal Shusterman

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 22 November 2016 (USA), 1 February 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (USA), Walker Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, dystopian

How I read it: I bought it!

Get it at Amazon UK: Scythe (Arc of a Scythe)

In a world where disease, war and crime have been eliminated, the only way to die is to be randomly killed (“gleaned”) by professional Scythes. Citra and Rowan are teenagers who have been selected to be Scythes’ apprentices, and despite wanting nothing to do with the vocation, they must learn the art of killing and understand the necessity of what they do.

Only one of them will be chosen as a Scythe’s apprentice and as Citra and Rowan come up against a terrifyingly corrupt Scythedom, it becomes clear that the winning apprentice’s first task will be to glean the loser.

Yooo, this was a pretty cool book. I’ve never read anything by Neal Shusterman before, though I was familiar with the name (I have UNWIND on my Kindle) and SCYTHE looked intriguing enough to me to plop it into my online shopping basket.

The first thing I would say is that I actually disagree a LOT with Maggie Stiefvater’s HUNGER GAMES comparison on the cover – I’m still not sure whether I’d actually place SCYTHE in the dystopian genre. MidMerica, the futuristic America where Citra and Rowan live, has very little in common with Panem – it’s basically a utopia where sickness has been defeated, and everyone has access to all the information they could ever want thanks to a gigantic sentient “cloud” system called the Thunderhead. It doesn’t actually sound like a bad place to live – but it’s the fact that it’s a utopia that actually causes problems. Eliminating illness and being able to revive people from being “deadish” (get hit by a car? Doesn’t matter, you won’t die – you’ll just get revived later) means that the human population is growing faster and faster – this is where Scythes come in.

Scythes are professional “gleaners” – which is basically a nice word for killing people. They select random people for “gleaning”, in order to keep the population under control. They’re not supposed to show bias, but each Scythe clearly has their own way of doing things – some, for example, refuse to re-use a weapon to glean people, some glean many people at once, some one at a time, etc. Citra and Rowan are two teenagers – one from a loving family, one who feels ignored and forgotten – who are selected by a Scythe to become apprentices, but no Scythe has ever taken two apprentices at once before. They know that only one of them will be chosen to become a proper Scythe at the end of their training, but then a spanner is thrown into the works when they’re told that the winner will have to glean the loser – and it soon becomes apparent that something is rotten in the Scythedom…

Despite being about professional killers, SCYTHE is a bit of a slow burn, which is why I didn’t really like the HUNGER GAMES comparison – there’s also a lot of talk about ethics and the state of the world. While gleaning might sound awful, it’s an interesting thing to think about – it’s made clear in the book that despite Scythes gleaning hundreds of people each every year, the mortality rate is still hugely reduced from the “Age of Mortality” (i.e. the present day, which is their past). It’s also seen as necessary – while THE HUNGER GAMES is based around a corrupt society that tortures its less privileged citizens for its own entertainment, SCYTHE is about a utopia that is trying to address a problem with a morally grey solution – only for someone to try and corrupt that solution.

Citra and Rowan didn’t immediately hook me as characters – I’ll admit that it was the concept and worldbuilding that gripped me first – but over the course of the book I became a lot more invested in their stories. They’re thrown together when chosen as apprentices, only to be wrenched apart from each other later on – but they still maintain a connection. The best characters for me were actually the Scythes themselves – Scythe Faraday (who picks Citra and Rowan as apprentices) and Scythe Curie (a Scythe infamous for gleaning the President) were my two favourites, and I was glad to see the book delve into their backstories during the second half. I also really enjoyed the little extracts from Scythe journals that precluded each chapter – it was an excellent way of expanding the world as well as giving us a look into the minds of the Scythes.

If you like dystopian/utopian fiction that is big on the ethical questions and is a bit of a slow burn, then SCYTHE is for you – it’s not a fast-paced, action-packed book, which is why I don’t love THE HUNGER GAMES comparison. It’s quite dark in places, but it’s nice to see an example of a future that isn’t TOTALLY a crapsack world – most people have pretty normal lives. The book does make suggestions that immortality isn’t great – people fall out of love, stop creating art and stop trying to learn because of the lack of fear of death. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s all worth it.

For fans of: THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton, SLATED by Teri Terry, BLAME by Simon Mayo

reviews

[Review] Sea Witch – Sarah Henning

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 31 July 2018 (USA/UK)
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (USA), HarperCollins Children’s Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, historical

How I read it: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: Sea Witch

Everyone knows what happens in the end.
A mermaid, a prince, a true love’s kiss.
But before that young siren’s tale, there were three friends.
One feared, one royal, and one already dead.

~~~~~~~~~~

Ever since her best friend, Anna, drowned, Evie has been an outcast in her small fishing town. A freak. A curse. A witch. 

A girl with an uncanny resemblance to Anna appears offshore and, though the girl denies it, Evie is convinced that her best friend actually survived. That her own magic wasn’t so powerless after all. And, as the two girls catch the eyes—and hearts—of two charming princes, Evie believes that she might finally have a chance at her own happily ever after.

But her new friend has secrets of her own. She can’t stay in Havnestad, or on two legs, unless Evie finds a way to help her. Now Evie will do anything to save her friend’s humanity, along with her prince’s heart—harnessing the power of her magic, her ocean, and her love until she discovers, too late, the truth of her bargain. 

The rise of Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic villainness is a heart-wrenching story of friendship, betrayal, and a girl pushed beyond her limits—to become a monster.

I love fairytale retellings that make you feel like you’re reading something completely fresh and new, and SEA WITCH does just that – it’s a gorgeous re-imagining of The Little Mermaid, from the point of view of the sea witch that cursed her.

If you’ve read my other reviews you’ll have noticed that I also read (and loved) Alexandra Christo’s TO KILL A KINGDOM, which is another YA retelling of this fairytale. My initial worry with SEA WITCH was that it would be too similar, but it’s not at all – however, if you loved TO KILL A KINGDOM, I would definitely recommend this too. MERMAIDS! DEATH! DANGEROUS GIRLS!

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The Little Mermaid was my favourite Disney Princess movie as a kid. I have not changed a bit.

SEA WITCH is set in 1800s Denmark (the home of Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote the tale we’re all familiar with), and as this is the olden days and people were a tad more superstitious than they are now, Evie (our future Sea Witch) is forced to hide her own witch powers. She is the daughter of the Royal Fisherman and a close friend of Prince Niklas, and she’s also having a sort-of fling with Niklas’ charmingly roguish cousin, Prince Iker.

Sounds like a nice cosy set-up, right? However, Evie is holding on to a lot of pain – years before the story’s events, her best friend Anna drowned while she, Evie and Niklas were at the beach. Anna’s body was never recovered, and Evie still mourns the loss of her friend, believing her to be gone forever – until one day she sees a familiar face through a porthole…

I loved the twisting mystery of this book – is Annemette really Anna, returned from the dead? Is she all that she appears to be? How does Evie turn from a quiet, witchy girl who dearly loves her friends into the powerful sea sorceress who steals the voice of a mermaid? All these questions are answered, but not quite in the way you might expect. SEA WITCH keeps the reader on their toes – several times I felt like I could predict what was going to happen next, only to be proved wrong. I was glad to see that I was proved wrong in some cases – I was initially worried that Evie and Annemette would be pitted against each other for Niklas’ attention, but was relieved to see that the drama came from elsewhere, and that the girls’ friendship was given just as much attention (if not more) than the romantic threads. It’s their story that is the focus, which I loved.

Did I mention there are mermaids? MERMAIDS ARE GREAT. Reading this book was like sinking into a warm bath of childhood nostalgia – I loved the Disney franchise and Saban’s Adventures of the Little Mermaid. I need more deadly mermaids. Sassy mermaids. Kick-ass mermaids. They don’t have to be romantic and cutesy and drippy. Books like this prove that, and take me back to watching Ariel and Marina go on adventures and get into trouble.

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More of this, please.

Magic is carefully woven into the historical setting, and I loved the idea that witches and mermaids exist in SEA WITCH’s Denmark, but are hidden away – even Evie, who knows magic exists, isn’t sure if mermaids are real. I also liked that the romance was a bit messy (even more so than the original story!) with a bit of a love square going on between Annemette, Niklas, Evie and Iker – this may be a fairytale retelling, but this isn’t a fairytale romance…

If you love mermaid stories with a bit of darkness, or historical fantasy with witches, or doomed romances with death and danger, then SEA WITCH is for you. If this and TO KILL A KINGDOM are anything to go by, then mermaid YA is very much in, and I can’t wait for my next mermaid read!

For fans of: TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo, LORALI by Laura Dockrill, HEARTLESS by Marissa Meyer

reviews

[Review] The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 1 May 2018 (USA/UK)
Publisher: Harper Voyager (USA/UK)
Genre: Adult fiction, fantasy, grimdark

How I read it: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: The Poppy War

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.

I initially heard about THE POPPY WAR because of a lot of discussion on Twitter over whether the book was to be considered adult or young adult fiction. I requested a copy from NetGalley, because whether it was adult or YA, it sounded great – epic fantasy inspired by Chinese history with a female protagonist using shamanic powers and fighting in a war – very up my street! I’m also madly envious that the author is younger than me…*grumbles and returns to own manuscript*

I’m going to put it simply – this book, in my opinion anyway, is adult fiction. The second half is incredibly dark and I’ve seen that a lot of people find it disturbing, and it’s very long (over 500 pages) – it’s really rare to find a YA debut (even in fantasy) that is quite as long and complex as this. Not to say YA can’t be complex – but publishers definitely seem to prefer YA to be very tightly written with not as much room for worldbuilding as adult fantasy affords. However, if you do love epic fantasy YA and accept that the content may be triggering (there are too many awful things to list – sexual assault, mutilation, drug abuse, self-harm, and many more) – then you’ll likely enjoy this. The actual writing style feels very YA in tone (Rin is a teenager too), but the subject matter and scope of the book is very much adult. You have been warned!

I went into this without much knowledge of Chinese history, but this doesn’t matter. Kuang doesn’t make assumptions on the behalf of the reader and carefully details the world of Nikan – it’s one of the most realistic fantasy settings I’ve read in a long time, helped by just how massive it feels – the land is divided into “provinces” that are named for the animals of the Chinese zodiac.

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A nice happy GIF, because stuff’s about to get dark real quick.

The first half of the book is where I think the YA confusion comes in – it’s a bit Potter-esque, with Rin getting into a special military school where she eventually learns to use shamanic powers. It felt very familiar in this regard, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s a good way of helping the reader learn about the world. However, the threads of darkness are already there from the beginning – it’s quickly made clear that opium addiction is a serious problem in the land, and Rin’s method of getting herself to focus on her studies is to burn herself. And this is in the LIGHT section of the book. We haven’t even got to the actual war yet.

The second half of the book is where the action really kicks off, as Rin becomes involved in the third Poppy War. A common flaw I find with a lot of fantasy is that it isn’t gruesome enough – people are mowed down in wars, but it’s all very bloodless, faceless carnage, that doesn’t properly display the true horror of war. Let me assure you right now, THE POPPY WAR does *not* have that problem. What happened to the civilians that Rin and her cohorts discover were overrun by the enemy is truly horrendous – you’ll need a strong stomach for this part. I did hear before I read the book that a lot of the awful scenes were inspired by the Rape of Nanking, a truly horrific event that occurred during the second Sino-Japanese war when Japanese soldiers invaded China. I saw that Kuang said that she found this section of the book to be incredibly difficult to write, and I can understand why. It would be gruesome enough, but the knowledge that it’s based on true events makes it even worse, and adds an extra layer to the horror.

I was predicting a romance thread (there’s a couple of hints towards it) but was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t evolve into anything – the relationships Rin forges with the other soldiers and her teacher feel strong and real enough that I don’t think any romance was actually necessary. Altan was one of my favourite characters – I’m a big fan of strong, broody guys with lots of power and tortured pasts, and seeing him and Rin grow to know and understand each other better was great.

Rin herself is a great character who I quickly became invested in – from the beginning she’s shown to have a strong resolve, as she studies hard in the face of discrimination in order to get into the best military school in Nikan. I don’t mind “chosen one” fantasy, but it was refreshing to see Rin get into the school entirely based on her own hard work and talent (even though what she did to herself to keep focus was awful!) rather than have it handed to her on a plate because of heritage. Her character arc of learning the power and struggling with it while enduring the horrors of war was great to watch – at one point she is forced to make a horrendous choice which has massive, earth-shattering consequences for both her and Nikan. I love flawed heroines!! Give me more!!

If you like epic, military fantasy YA, you’ll enjoy this – though be warned that it is VERY DARK. There is a reason I keep seeing the word “grimdark” being paired with this book, and that is because it is BLEAK. Make sure you have some chocolate to help you through the second half of the book, and maybe a nice blanket, and some kitten pictures for afterwards.

THE POPPY WAR is a welcome addition to the adult fantasy genre, and it’s refreshing to see another title that’s not just based off historical Europe – the depth and scale of Nikan, as well as the inspired, careful references to Chinese and Japanese history and culture, makes THE POPPY WAR a must-read for anyone who considers themselves a fan of epic fantasy.

reviews

[Review] Garrison Girl (An Attack on Titan Novel) – Rachel Aaron

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 4/5 (Great!)

Release Date: 7 August 2018 (USA)
Publisher: Quirk Books (USA)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, horror

How I read it: I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: Garrison Girl (Attack on Titan)

With the last vestige of the human race threatened by unstoppable carnivorous giants, a brave young woman decides to defy her wealthy family and join the military to fight against humanity’s enemies. But Rosalie Dumarque soon finds out that bloody sword fights with monsters aren’t the only dangers faced by the Wall Rose Garrison. Can she earn the trust of her fellow soldiers, stand up to a corrupt authority, navigate a forbidden romance…and cut her way out of a titan’s throat?

I used to be a big fan of the anime and manga series Attack on Titan and still enjoy it to an extent (I really need to catch up…) so I was pleasantly surprised to see a tie-in YA novel being released from Quirk Books. So bear in mind that this review is coming from someone already familiar with the source material! (If you haven’t watched the anime, the first season is on Netflix UK, so I would recommend it if you like the sound of this book.)

Attack on Titan is set in kind of an alternate historical version of our world, where most humans have been devoured by Titans – humanoid giants with a taste for flesh. Humans retreated behind three massive concentric walls – Wall Maria, Wall Rose and Wall Sina – and lived this way for a century, before the appearance of one “Colossal” Titan caused the fall of the outermost wall, Wall Maria, and led to more slaughter.

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A handy visual.

The anime series – and this book, which is set during the first season – picks up five years after the fall of Wall Maria. Garrison Girl is about Rosalie Dumarque, a rich girl who wants to join the garrison who patrol the Wall Rose and keep an eye out for Titans. It’s kind of your standard “I don’t want to get married and do my duty” rebellious princess trope, but it works quite well here – mainly because it differentiates from the series, which focuses on a bunch of kids from the outer walls rather than the rich centre.

It’s a very trope-y book. There’s the grumpy male lead who at first looks down on the “spoiled princess” Rosalie – and I’d mark for spoilers if it wasn’t so obvious what was going to happen. Forbidden romance, anyone? However, even though it’s completely predictable, it’s very sweet, and ends up tying directly into the overreaching plot, causing drama all round. As if man-eating giants weren’t enough to worry about!

Don’t worry, it’s not romance all the time. There’s plenty of Titan-fighting (including one particularly visceral scene where Rosalie ends up in a Titan’s mouth) and it soon becomes apparent that a conspiracy is afoot.

For fans of the show, there’s a nice Eren Yeager cameo – that’s all I’m going to say! But if you haven’t watched the anime or read the manga, you’ll still be able to enjoy this – Rachel Aaron does a great job explaining the world of the Titans and describing their horrifying forms in detail. There’s something uncanny-valley about the weirdly proportioned Titans in the show, and she manages to translate this into text form. Everything is explained well – I don’t think the author left out any of the basics.

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While predictable in many ways, this was a very enjoyable read and the world of Attack on Titan translates very well to YA fiction – honestly, the show is about a bunch of teenagers fighting monsters, and I’ve read plenty of YA books that are just as graphic in their gore and horror! I was glad it didn’t cross over too much with the events of the series (one scene in particular near the end will be recognisable to fans of the show) and focused on brand new characters, allowing Aaron to expand the world a little bit and give us a different view of what’s happening within the walls. The romance will appeal to anyone who likes that “bickering turns to kissing” trope (I definitely do) and the cast features some fun new characters – the other members of Rosalie and Jax’s team add some much-needed humour to the dark story.

If you’ve read or watched Attack on Titan, you’ll likely enjoy this (if you don’t mind a bit more romance than the show/comic). If you’re a fan of YA fantasy with a sprinkle of horror (those Titans are GROSS) then this should be right up your street – I don’t think it matters if you’re not familiar with the source material. It seems to be setting up for a sequel, so I look forward to more Attack on Titan YA!

For fans of: DREAD NATION by Justina Ireland, THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas, THE CALL by Peadar Ó Guilín

reviews

[Review] Dread Nation – Justina Ireland

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 5/5 (Loved it!)

Release Date: 3 April 2018 (USA)
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (USA)
Genre: Young adult, historical, horror, fantasy

How I read it: I bought it!

Get it at Amazon UK:  Dread Nation

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems. 

I’ve been waiting a little while to write this review because it’s been hard to articulate my feelings – basically, I love it THAT much. This book has so much stuff that I love – zombies, conspiracy, alternate history, an ass-kicking female lead, friendships, plot twists…

I love zombies. Unfortunately so many zombie stories I’ve read or watched have disappointed me in some way – it’s like I love the concept of a zombie story more than the execution. DREAD NATION manages to do what so many zombie stories fail at – balancing zombie action with interesting, complex characters and a twisting, intriguing plot.

I wish The Walking Dead would remember how to do that…

Zombies themselves aren’t enough to make a story awesome. As I said before, I love alternate history, and DREAD NATION runs on it – it’s an alternate post-Civil War America, where the war was interrupted by the dead rising. Years later, black and Native children are sent to “schools” where they are trained in the arts of stopping zombies – and this is what has happened to Jane. She’s a pro zombie-ass-kicker but still faces the racism of 19th-century America. This creates the perfect storm for drama in this novel – there’s zombies ripping people to shreds left and right, but the threat of being turned into a member of the living dead isn’t enough for white people to stop being racist.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Jane and her classmate Katherine, who is lighter-skinned than Jane and can pass for white. At first I assumed it was going to be a straight-up rivalry where the more practical Jane clashes with the pretty, polished Katherine, but it ended up being a lot more complicated than that, and I was glad to see a strong female bond.

The mystery!! People are disappearing without a trace – there’s no blood left at the scenes of their disappearances, so it can’t be zombies, right? Soon Jane becomes aware that the undead isn’t the only thing she has to worry about…

And, wow. DREAD NATION features a GREAT twist that rides pretty much solely on the reader’s assumptions – but it involves an issue that’s already been discussed in the book, so it’s extremely clever and doesn’t feel like an ass pull. I was caught out by it! Just…don’t assume you know everything about Jane. I loved the flashes into her life growing up, too – the relationship with her mother, the tragedy involving the twins – all of this helped to flesh Jane out. I loved that she was practical and had a messy romantic/sexual life and still had all this vulnerability, especially when it came to the matter of her mother – Jane clearly is putting on a brave face when she goes months without a letter from home, but you can tell just how important the issue is to her.

I’ve seen a little criticism over how Jane’s sexuality is handled – she’s pretty clearly attracted to men, but makes a comment about kissing girls – and how it doesn’t “count” as bi rep. Erm, you know bisexual people don’t have to be exactly half attracted to men and half to women, right? That’s not how it works. I’ve been attracted to more men than I have women in my life, and I’m still bi. So, take it from a bi person – I didn’t find this problematic in the slightest; in fact, I wish more characters were bi without it being a big deal! Give me more bi characters that don’t need to make a song and dance about their sexuality, because hey, we aren’t unicorns, we’re just regular people. Jane’s story isn’t ABOUT her sexuality, it’s just a part of who she is.

Image result for bisexual gif
IT’S A GREAT YEAR FOR BI REP IN YA, PEOPLE.

(I have it on good authority that the asexual rep is great too.)

I loved Justina Ireland’s previous novel PROMISE OF SHADOWS (and I have VENGEANCE BOUND still to read!) and I’m happy to say that I think DREAD NATION is even better – and I gave PROMISE OF SHADOWS five stars! It’s a perfect mix of zombie action, intriguing mystery, and discussion of race – I can’t believe this hasn’t got a UK deal yet (luckily I’ve spied imported copies in at least four Waterstones locations, and it’s available on Amazon UK, so at least we can get hold of it here!). This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can’t wait for the next one.

For fans of: CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi, THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman, THE BELLES by Dhonielle Clayton, STALKING JACK THE RIPPER by Kerri Maniscalco

reviews

[Review] The Island – M.A. Bennett

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Image result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagramImage result for white pentagram– 3/5 (Good)

Release Date: 9 August 2018 (UK)
Publisher: Hot Key Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary

How I read it: I received a free ARC from Hot Key Books via NetGalley!

Get it at Amazon UK:  The Island

Link is a fish out of water. Newly arrived from America, he is finding it hard to settle into the venerable and prestigious Osney School. Who knew there could be so many strange traditions to understand? And what kind of school ranks its students by how fast they can run round the school quad – however ancient that quad may be? When Link runs the slowest time in years, he immediately becomes the butt of every school joke. And some students are determined to make his life more miserable than others…

When a school summer trip is offered, Link can think of nothing worse than spending voluntary time with his worst tormentors. But when his parents say he can only leave Osney School – forever – if he goes on the trip, Link decides to endure it for the ultimate prize. But this particular trip will require a very special sort of endurance. The saying goes ‘No man is an island’ – but what if on that island is a group of teenagers, none of whom particularly like each other? When oppressive heat, hunger and thirst start to bite, everyone’s true colours will be revealed. Let the battle commence…

I quite enjoyed M.A. Bennett’s YA debut S.T.A.G.S. so decided to request this on NetGalley – don’t be fooled by the cover though (I was, briefly), as although the author has said she’s working on a sequel, this isn’t it. This is a standalone novel that doesn’t share any characters or plot with S.T.A.G.S.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t let the problems I had with S.T.A.G.S. slide with THE ISLAND, as I’d brushed them off as YA debut teething issues (and as THE ISLAND is a sophomore effort, I hoped it would be an improvement). First off, the main issue I had was a massive backstory info-dump at the beginning. The book is supposed to be about kids on an island – and this is apparent on the first page – but almost the entire first quarter of the story is Link’s backstory. It’s fairly interesting but I felt like it could have been done differently – perhaps sprinkled in rather than dumped all at the beginning? I was wondering when the island was actually going to be featured. This is really similar to how S.T.A.G.S. is structured as we also get a massive backstory info-dump at the beginning of it. It’s irritating because it’s drilled into aspiring authors that too much exposition slows down the pace – I want to get to the actual plot!

Secondly (and this is another issue I had with S.T.A.G.S.) was that the teenagers didn’t feel like teenagers. I don’t know if this is because I didn’t go to a private school (both books are about students at very posh, old-fashioned schools) and so feels alien to me, but I did have an issue with the “cliques” that the characters seemed to fall into (does anyone really identify as “emo” any more? I did, but that was in 2008…). Link makes a big deal about how he’s a “nerd” and apparently this is a negative thing in the eyes of his schoolmates, which would be fine if this was set in the 90s or early 00s. Now, it just feels bizarre and dated.

Image result for nerds mainstream
The Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest movie right now. Nerds are IN.

Link isn’t written to be likeable – he’s kind of a dick, and gets worse before he gets better – this was actually quite a refreshing take, as Link is the one who is bullied initially. One of the best parts of the book is the character development he goes through – his experience on the island ends up being a massive learning curve for him, and he’s regularly called out by the others for his dickish behaviour. The other characters are fairly interesting too, and Link especially ends up becoming a subversion of his archetype – he becomes the “alpha male” on the island, treating the girls like crap, and pushing the others around to serve him. It’s not a character arc I’ve seen much in YA, and it was interesting to see it play out.

I was relieved that this wasn’t a straight-up Lord of the Flies adaptation – it takes the idea of kids stranded on an island when their plane goes down, but that’s about it. There’s a huge amount of high school drama and a mystery involving two “gonads” that the kids find on the island – these aren’t normal fruits. I was glad to see that the story was unpredictable in this sense – the fact that the group was about half female also changed the dynamics a bit, and helped make the plot a little more surprising and tense. It’s a fairly fast read (once you’re over the hurdle of the backstory dump) and the dialogue is snappy and flows well.

But then, there was another problem that was identical to S.T.A.G.S. – the ending that went on FOREVER. A great long-winded explanation of everything that had happened and extra stuff added in that felt tacked-on like an afterthought. I just wanted the book to finish. I found the epilogue scene to be a bit too neat and tidy and kind of silly to the point I laughed, and I don’t think that was the intention…

If you enjoyed S.T.A.G.S., then you’ll like this too – if you had the same problems with it that I did, then you’ll probably feel the same way about THE ISLAND. It’s a quick, easy read with a lot of drama, and a good choice for a summer read.

For fans of: BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT by Iva-Marie Palmer