reviews

[Review] Dangerous Remedy – Kat Dunn

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: 6 August 2020 (UK)
Publisher: Zephyr (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy, historical

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?

In these dangerous days, no one can be trusted, everyone is to be feared. As Camille learns the truth, she’s forced to choose between loyalty to those she loves and the future.

It’s my stop on the DANGEROUS REMEDY blog tour! I haven’t been posting (or reading) much this year so the blog’s been a bit silent, but I had to take part in the tour for this book!

I’m a big proponent for more UKYA fantasy novels, especially from debut authors, so I was very excited to see Zephyr launching this historical fantasy trilogy as a lead title this year. Of course I had to buy one of the fancy hardbacks from Illumicrate (it’s so pretty!) and keep it alongside my proof. (I was very lucky in that I got to read this novel a bit earlier than most people, but of course when I got my ARC I had to read it again…and will probably read it AGAIN soon…)

DANGEROUS REMEDY follows the Battalion des Mortes, a group of young people who have the risky job of saving people from the guillotine – the group is led by Camille, a girl with a secret aristocratic past, who is in love with scientist Ada. While I am all about my French action girlfriends, I have to say that the real scene-stealer was Al, another member of the gang who a) is sassy b) is gay and c) spends most of the first chapter like he’s about to barf over the side of the hot-air-balloon basket. I was also a big fan of the mysterious Olympe, the latest person that the gang have saved – why is she sewn into her dress? Why does she wear a mysterious mask? Why do both sides want to get to her?

I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, as I find a lot of it to be too dense and slow for my taste, but that wasn’t an issue here – Kat Dunn has a real skill in peppering the action with just enough detail to give you a clear picture of the setting and events, but without dragging the pace. I know next to nothing about France, or French, or anything to do with Paris (despite visiting several times) except that they have some nice buildings and tunnels of bones and also macarons are tasty. But that didn’t matter when reading this book as the descriptions are so vivid and clear – something I find super important when there’s so much going on and the characters are flitting from place to place (there’s a lot of that, especially as characters get separated and we switch back and forth between Camille and Ada’s POV).

I was so happy to see great bisexual, lesbian and gay rep in it too (Camille is bisexual, Ada is a lesbian and Al is gay) – something I definitely want to see more of in UKYA fantasy, and DANGEROUS REMEDY delivered on that front by keeping me thoroughly invested in Camille and Ada’s relationship, especially when a spanner is thrown into the works in the form of Camille’s charming ex-fiancé James. The romantic arc was well-balanced with the action-packed main plot, and intersected in certain ways I wasn’t expecting (I am usually good at predicting things in YA novels, but I was out-witted this time…).

If you are looking for a cinematic, fast-paced fantasy with plenty of twists, DANGEROUS REMEDY offers all of that with a diverse cast of characters and a nice helping of romance (love to see already established romantic relationships in YA!). The book is the first in a trilogy, and while most of the action wraps up well, it’s definitely left open in some ways for the sequel – I’m excited to see what happens to the gang next!

For fans of: ENCHANTEÉ by Gita Trelease, SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo, THE GILDED WOLVES by Roshani Chokshi

reviews

[Review] Venom (Isles of Storm & Sorrow #2) – Bex Hogan

Venom: Book 2 (Isles of Storm and Sorrow) by [Hogan, Bex]

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: 16 April 2020 (UK)
Publisher: Orion (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

How I read it: I pinched my friend’s ARC.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR VIPER (ISLES OF STORM & SORROW #1).

Marianne is now the Viper, but her hopes for peace in the Eastern Isles are being frustrated. The corrupt King remains on the throne, bandits are proving hard to stop and Marianne is not sure who among her crew she can truly trust.

For the islands to prosper, the invisible bond that once existed uniting land and sea must be reinstated. There’s only one way that can happen – the return of magic. To do that Marianne must put aside all her fears: she must return to her roots, the Western Isles, and call on the power that runs in her blood.

She must become a Mage.

Only then, can she possibly command the army needed to finally take down the King.

VIPER was one of my favourite releases of 2019, so I was super excited to get to nab this early copy of the sequel VENOM from one of my friends – I’m so happy to let you all know that it’s just as good as the first book and completely avoids second-book syndrome.

The sequel picks up where VIPER left off – Marianne has learned the truth about her heritage and defeated the man she once believed was her father, taking his place as the Viper of the seas. And her first order of business is to marry her friend and ally Prince Torin to combine their powers as Viper and royalty – although of course neither of them are massively keen on this idea, being in love with other people.

But of course, this is ISLES OF STORM & SORROW – reluctant marriage is basically small potatoes compared to the rest of the suffering Marianne goes through, and we are quickly reminded of this when something terrible happens in the opening chapters, and Marianne finds herself once more on the run. And it’s on this journey that she finds herself once more turning to her dormant magic for help, and wondering if the way to save herself and end the struggles of the isles is for her to harness her power by becoming a Mage.

VENOM is just as bloody and unforgiving as its predecessor, but something I really do appreciate about these books is that dead characters are not forgotten. Marianne continues to mourn the loss of her closest friend and guardian, Grace, as well as the family that took her in during her first escape from Adler – these deaths happened in the first book, and a lot of stuff happens in this series, but it’s satisfying to see how the losses have left a mark on Marianne. Characters are cut down left and right but their effect on Marianne is still felt long after they have died, which means that every loss still carries an emotional weight. The deaths are shocking, but they have lasting effects besides surprising the reader. There is also one major character who does not appear on-page for most of the book despite still being alive, but their absence is still often reflected on by Marianne, reassuring us that they have not been forgotten about.

Marianne continues to grow in power and influence over the course of VENOM – she’s learned that she is the last direct descendant of the ancient Western royal family, she has magic in her blood, and of course, she’s the Viper. Despite being one of the most powerful characters in the book, having all these titles and abilities comes with its own host of problems – her new position as Viper is causing rifts between her and her love interest Bronn, her magic is creating more problems than solving them, she can’t find a Mage to teach her how to use her powers, and she isn’t even sure if she actually wants to take the throne of the Western Isles.

I love seeing protagonists give in a little to their dark side, and Marianne has plenty of moments where she is tempted by power. Her magic, which she tries to use to help people, also sometimes has side effects that she can’t control, with terrifying results. It’s a reminder that even though Marianne has all these titles and responsibilities, at the end of it all, she’s still just a teenager who doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing, and at times is at the mercy of her own emotions and lust for power. It’s not hard to imagine her going full Daenerys later on, so it will be interesting to see how that develops in the third book.

Just as with VIPER, VENOM is an action-packed, breakneck adventure across the seas and the Western and Eastern Isles, fraught with danger and even higher stakes. VENOM even manages to top the white-hot-chains-burning-flesh scene in VIPER in terms of sheer nastiness with something particularly horrible towards the climax – prepare thy stomachs! I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever read a YA fantasy with a heroine who suffers quite as much as Marianne does – if we swapped places I think I would have laid down and given up after about five pages of the first book. I just kind of want to give her a blanket and some chocolate because the crap she goes through is intense. Without being too spoilery, over the course of two books she’s witnessed the horrible deaths of several friends, had skin melted off with chains, been knocked around and punched and stabbed by various people including the man she believed to be her father, accused of crimes she didn’t commit, forced to spend most of her life at sea despite hating water, fallen from boats/out of buildings, had some of her fingernails ripped off, been imprisoned and starved, been betrayed by people she trusts, and that’s not even going into what happens to her towards the end of VENOM. BRB, starting a petition to give Marianne a break.

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This is how I imagine Bex approaches writing Marianne.

The novel is quick-moving and barely pauses in its narrative pace, but at the same time manages to paint the different environments of the islands in vibrant detail – I loved the introduction of snow mares in particular, a magical race of horses that have a strange affinity with Marianne – and imbues new and old characters with memorable traits. My favourite character had to be Rayvn, one of the women Marianne meets about halfway through the book – she’s the grumpy goth girlfriend that I need in my life.

(On that note, there’s also a very sweet f/f relationship between two secondary characters which was lovely to see!)

The book ends on such a wham note that my mouth genuinely fell open while reading it – waiting for the final instalment is going to be a struggle. If you enjoyed the first book, you’ll love this one – it’s more of the same vivid, cinematic writing but with new struggles and trials for Marianne as she desperately tries to harness her powers and come to terms with her own destiny.

I am completely loving this series so far and can’t wait to find out how it all ends, although I have a feeling it’s not going to be a neat and tidy happy ending…

For fans of: SHADOW & BONE by Leigh Bardugo, SNOW LIKE ASHES by Sara Raasch, CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE by Tomi Adeyemi

 

reviews

[Review] Dark River – Rym Kechacha

Image result for dark river rym kechacha

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

Release Date: 24 February 2020 (UK)
Publisher: Unsung Stories (UK)
Genre: Adult fiction, dystopian, historical

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Doggerland, 6200 BC. As rivers rise, young mother Shaye follows her family to a sacred oak grove, hoping that an ancient ritual will save their way of life.

London, AD 2156. In a city ravaged by the rising Thames, Shante hopes for a visa that will allow her to flee with her four-year-old son to the more prosperous north.

Two mothers, more than 8,000 years apart, struggle to save their children from a bleak future as the odds stack against them. At the sacred oak grove, Shaye faces a revelation that cuts to the core of who she is; in the wilderness of the edgelands, Shante finds herself unprepared for the challenges and dangers that surround them at every turn. As Shaye and Shante desperately try to hold their families together in the face of disaster, these two young mothers uncover a terrifying truth: that it is impossible to protect the ones they love.

I haven’t reviewed anything for a while as I’ve been working on my own writing, but when Unsung Stories sent me an email about this upcoming title, the blurb made me want to read it immediately. And I’m glad to say I really enjoyed DARK RIVER – it’s probably my favourite Unsung Stories title that I’ve read so far.

DARK RIVER is split between two close POVs – one of Shaye, a woman in ancient Britain at the end of the Ice Age, and Shante, a woman in a future Britain which is seeing its capital city slowly swallowed by the rising Thames. Both women must journey from their homes with a sister and young son in the hope of reuniting with a lover and finding a safe refuge from the floodwaters. Their stories at times mirror each other, with the chapters alternating between the two and lending to a sense of deja vu as one character experiences something similar to the other, even though they are thousands of years apart.

Something that really struck me about DARK RIVER was how atmospheric it was – the landscapes of a past and future Britain are painted in rich, clammy, dirty detail. Shaye’s trek from Doggerland (a now submerged piece of land that once connected Britain and France) is hounded by the rising rivers, whereas Shante’s journey from London to the north is thrown into disarray when what should have been a smooth train trip is interrupted by danger. Shante, her son and sister are forced out into the edgelands, at the mercy of a burning sun and a sky that refuses to rain. I thought Shante’s trip was especially uncomfortable to imagine – sticky, filthy heat tinged with anxiety as food dwindles and portable devices cannot pick up signals.

It is a timely book that confronts both the reality of climate change and the tribulations of motherhood and sacrifice – both women hope to reunite with their son’s fathers at the end of their journeys and give their children a better life in a place not threatened by rising water. While Shaye’s world is one that faces the effects of natural climate change, Shante’s is one suffering the consequences of a slow, man-made apocalypse. I was struck by the descriptions of London slowly being swallowed by the river that divides it, with mentions of the Underground being completely flooded, and the tiny space in which Shante’s family is forced to live (and I thought my London flat was small…).

Despite being speculative fiction, the entire book is imbued with a gritty realism and doesn’t actually take any unbelievable leaps with the truth – it’s far too easy to imagine that a future Britain will look the way it does in this book, with walled cities forcing outsiders to acquire visas before they can enter (think about how London is already a bubble compared to the rest of Britain, exaggerate it, and apply it other cities such as Manchester and Bristol), and the river Thames, which already requires a gateway to stop it bursting its banks, finally reclaiming the land for the water. While little historical truth about the Britain and Doggerland of the past is known, Kechacha still manages to make the land feel both familiar and alien at once.

What I appreciated about this book is that both Shaye and Shante feel like women that anybody could know – neither of them are particularly skilled or special, and must rely on their own strength and hope to protect their children. They are victims of ecological change, but despite the unknowns of their journeys (Shaye doesn’t know for certain if her lover is still alive and waiting for her, while Shante knows that without rain she and her sister and son will die of thirst), they keep moving on, driven by their love for their children – and it’s that love which must hope to stand against the forces of nature.

DARK RIVER is an incredibly atmospheric, emotionally draining and yet completely gripping novel with a bit of a gut-punch of an ending. It forces us to confront the fact that even though humans have wandered these lands for thousands of years, nature doesn’t really care about us, and it’s the connections we have to each other that we must rely on in the end.

reviews

[Review] The Shamer’s Daughter – Lena Kaaberbøl

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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: 4 July 2019 (UK)
Publisher: Pushkin Press (UK)
Genre: Fantasy, middle grade

How I read it: I received a free finished copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Dina has unwillingly inherited her mother’s gift: the ability to elicit shamed confessions simply by looking into someone’s eyes. To Dina, however, these powers are not a gift but a curse. Surrounded by fear and hostility, she longs for simple friendship.

But when her mother is called to Dunark Castle to uncover the truth about a bloody triple murder, Dina must come to terms with her power–or let her mother fall prey to the vicious and revolting dragons of Dunark.

I don’t read a huge amount of middle grade fiction but when I was offered a chance to review this title, the blurb sold me with its promise of MURDER and DRAGONS. I was pleased to find that this book actually skews to older middle grade and I think fans of young adult fantasy will find much to enjoy here.

Pushkin Press have re-released The Shamer Chronicles series in the UK with fancy new shiny foil covers (the original book came out in 2000). It’s a Danish fantasy quartet, translated to English by the author, and is so popular in Denmark that it actually spawned a live-action movie in 2015.

Dina is a Shamer like her mother – a person with the power to reveal others’ darkest secrets just by looking into their eyes. It’s a power that has made her decidedly unpopular in her village, and all Dina really wants is a friend – but no-one will get too close to a girl who can see everything bad that they’ve ever done. Dina’s mother is one day called to Dunark Castle so her power can be used to retrieve evidence in a murder case, and a little while later the messenger returns, this time requesting Dina to also accompany him to the castle. When Dina arrives, she is faced with dragons in the courtyard, a young man who can’t remember how he ended up with blood on his hands, and a mystery that is shrouded in conspiracy.

This book is only 200 pages and I tore through it quite quickly. Dina has sour, snarky narration (probably because she has no friends) and a quite matter-of-fact attitude to everything, which adds for some humour. I would have liked a little more concrete description of the world – it seems quite generic-fantasy-lite and not particularly distinctive – but it’s so pacy and plot-driven that this wasn’t a big issue.

I was quite surprised by how quickly the mystery of the murder is solved, but this isn’t a problem at all, because uncovering the truth leads to so much more drama and conflict that the book never slows down. The main villain (I won’t name them because of spoilers) is very effective and shown to be a skilled manipulator and a very dangerous individual who drinks dragon blood. As you do. The dragons themselves are great – they’re actually quite wild and savage despite being tied up like horses, and every scene with them is wraught with danger and tension. I kind of wanted to see more of them!

As is typical of middle grade fantasy, there’s no romance thread here, but the relationships that Dina forms with the characters she meets while in Dunark do have a significant emotional impact on our protagonist, who has never had a real, non-familial friend in her life. My personal favourite character was Nico, the young man who is being tried for a triple murder, and I was a bit shocked (and amused) by how much he was said to be drinking throughout the book – I wouldn’t think alcoholism would be a trait given to a major character in a middle grade novel but I guess it is European (just kidding). There’s also a few gendered slurs in the book (“slut” and “whore” being two used), so while there are no strong curse words like you might find in YA, the inclusion of them (and all the drinking references and bloody scenes) definitely places this at the upper end of middle grade, pretty much on the very blurred line between it and YA.

I’d recommend this one for fans of YA fantasy who want something quick to read between all their massive tomes, or for readers aged 10-12 who want something a bit darker and more complex but aren’t quite ready for YA yet.

For fans of: THE DOOMSPELL by Cliff McNish, THE APPRENTICE WITCH by James Nicol, THE GIRL OF INK AND STARS by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

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The Importance of GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE and LGBT+ Fantasy YA

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It’s my stop on the GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE blog tour for the UK paperback release of this gorgeous book! If you’ve read my review or seen my Twitter posts you’ll know I’m a huge fan of this novel already – I have eight copies of it (the UK hardback, the UK trade paperback, the Barnes & Noble special edition, the Fairyloot special edition, the Owlcrate special edition, the UK ARC, the US ARC (kindly gifted to me by Natasha for my collection!) and now the UK standard paperback (thank you Hodder & Stoughton for the gifted copy!).

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Here’s an old pic! (Missing the US ARC and the new UK paperback)

(I haven’t got any copies of GIRLS OF STORM AND SHADOW yet despite ARCs starting to fly around, but I do have a sampler that I nabbed from CymeraFest and I am SO READY FOR THE SEQUEL!)

I was intending to share a post with some of my favourite quotes from the book, but then this happened the other day:

*Rolls up sleeves*

So due to crappy homophobic reviews still plaguing my favourite books (another of my faves, LAST BUS TO EVERLAND by Sophie Cameron, was recently criticised in an Amazon review for an “unrealistic number of gays” despite the book being about magic doors to another world…), I am going to have a waffle on about the importance of GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE and  LGBT+ fantasy YA books, especially to wlw like myself *waves in bisexual woman*.

(For this next part, I’m just going to put a content warning here for discussion of rape and sexual assault, homophobia, and mental illness.)

So here we go!

I don’t read a lot of contemporary YA, which is where a lot of the diversity push in YA has been happening, especially in the UK where I live (the UKYA fantasy market is…lacking). It’s not that contemporary fiction is bad, but as someone who actively seeks out YA books with LGBT+ and mentally ill characters like me, it becomes tiring very quickly when the bulk of the selection involve real-world homophobia or accounts of going to the psych and taking medication. I KNOW what these things feel like, I’ve experienced them. For me personally, I don’t want to keep reading that over and over again – these stories are massively important and I see their value (especially to readers who feel lonely in their experiences, or readers who want to broaden their horizons and read about people with vastly different lives), but I personally cannot keep bombarding myself with the same things that I already go through in my personal life. Sometimes I just want to forget about being scared to come out to family members, I want to forget about my next therapy appointment, I want to forget about the crap going on in the real world that is making me feel actively more awful every day. I read fantasy for escapism, and to go on adventures and explore new worlds and dream about magic. That’s just my preference. These books should definitely continue being published, and we need more of them, but we also need more diversity in genre.

This is where GIRLS comes in.

GIRLS OF PAPER AND FIRE is the fantasy YA that I was searching for for SO long. It’s dark and there’s trauma and there’s oppression and there’s a twisting plot and there’s violence. I love fantasy YA that’s on the grittier side – I want death, and I want to feel fearful for the protagonist, and I want high stakes. GIRLS gives me that: the story follows Lei, a “Paper Girl” (a member of the lowest caste in society) who must serve as a concubine to the Demon King. She doesn’t have a choice in this – she must serve, as must all the other girls, and to disobey or prove disloyal to the King could end in danger. But soon she grows close to Wren, another Paper Girl, and her feelings begin to complicate the situation even further.

I, like a lot of women, have experienced sexual assault. GIRLS does feature it (though most of it occurs off-page) but it’s handled incredibly sensitively and respectfully, unlike many adult fantasy works that have lost me because of their dedication to featuring rape scenes for mere shock value. One of the absolute last things I wanted to read were scenes of lesbians undergoing “corrective” rape, which is a sickening thing that has happened throughout history in heteronormative societies. GIRLS avoids that. Despite the horrors that the characters experience, they are never related to their sexuality. We see other same-sex couples in the story that are just part of the world, their sexuality never questioned. The story could easily have been tweaked a bit to have Wren be a guy (perhaps a guard in the palace) with virtually no plot changes and it’s the fact that it would be that easy that makes GIRLS such a triumph. It presents this f/f relationship as normal and healthy and romantic, because it is. It was such a breath of fresh air, especially in a story that is already dark and could easily have decided to incorporate real-world homophobia too. But it didn’t, and because of that we got to concentrate on the fantasy drama, and the fight against the King, and a gorgeous romance.

I’m white, and therefore do not have the range to talk about what this book means for LGBT+ WOC (especially East Asian WOC), but from the responses I’ve seen on Twitter and so on I can see how much this book has meant to people. I’ve also seen a flurry of YA fantasy books with f/f romances being announced/pushed in the past year since GIRLS released and hit the NYT list, so the impact of it is already being felt across the industry (and YES I am buying and reading them all and YES I am totally crediting GIRLS for a lot of this).

As someone in the query trenches with their own f/f YA fantasy book (and in the middle of trying to draft another), this is so encouraging, as GIRLS has proved that despite the naysayers like the publishers who wanted to make changes, or the Amazon reviewers bashing it for including a lesbian romance, people WILL buy it. There is an audience for it – people who want to read beautiful fantasy YA books with f/f romances that are treated just the same as m/f ones. People do want fantasy books with settings that go beyond generic medieval Europe.  People do want books that treat the topic of sexual assault with the respectful hand it deserves rather than copy-pasted rape scenes that add nothing to the plot except shock value. People do want books about “lesbian teen concubines with no special powers and just the inner strength of their personality”.

I mean, I know I do.

reviews

[Review] Last Bus to Everland – Sophie Cameron

Image result for last bus to everland Image result for last bus to everland

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: 16 May 2019 (UK), 18 June 2019 (USA)
Publisher: Macmillan (UK), Roaring Brook (USA)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, fantasy

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

Brody Fair feels like nobody gets him: not his overworked parents, not his genius older brother, and definitely not the girls in the projects set on making his life miserable. Then he meets Nico, an art student who takes Brody to Everland, a “knock-off Narnia” that opens its door at 11:21pm each Thursday for Nico and his band of present-day misfits and miscreants.

Here Brody finds his tribe and a weekly respite from a world where he feels out of place. But when the doors to Everland begin to disappear, Brody is forced to make a decision: He can say goodbye to Everland and to Nico, or stay there and risk never seeing his family again.

I absolutely adored Sophie Cameron’s debut novel OUT OF THE BLUE to the point that I’d rank it among my favourite books ever, so I was so excited to get my hands on her next book, which I was delighted to see was also a) gay and b) more of the fantasy-tinged contemporary that worked so well for her debut.

LAST BUS TO EVERLAND is different from OUT OF THE BLUE in that it’s a portal fantasy – protagonist Brody Fair is taken to Everland, a place which can only be reached by a certain door at a certain time on a certain day. It’s in Everland where Brody finds his escape from the bullying by his classmates, the financial struggles of his family, and his feelings of inferiority when it comes to his older, genius brother. It’s also the place where he gets to spend time with Nico – a beautiful, artistic boy who also seems to have a mass of his own problems.

As someone who is a maladaptive daydreamer, this book rang very true for me in that it’s ultimately about how Brody, Nico and the other people who visit Everland (there are specific doors in locations all over the world) use it as an escape from their real life. It’s a dreamlike world where time seems to stand still – days spent in Everland are mere minutes in the real world – where the visitors are free to do whatever they please with no responsibilities or problems. Everyone eventually experiences a “pull” back to the doors, nudging them to return to reality, although some visitors to Everland outright reject the pull, and choose to stay there forever.

But as you can imagine, this escapism soon turns into a problem when the doors begin to vanish one by one, and you can only return to the real world through the door you entered – meaning that if your door vanishes, you’re stuck there forever.

As a maladaptive daydreamer, I’ve found that my own “visiting another world” has had negative effects on my day-to-day life. While it has its own positives – it helps with my anxiety, and I’ve used the concepts and characters I’ve dreamed up in my writing occasionally – it is also an obstacle to me living my life, as I end up spending too much time in my dream world and neglecting responsibilities. This is much like the effect that Everland has on its visitors – while it’s fun and offers a reprieve from real-life problems, it’s ultimately just a way to ignore the struggles that real life bring. As Brody becomes enamored with Everland (and Nico), he finds himself drifting through life each week until he can return – ignoring the concerns of his parents, his older brother’s own personal struggles, and even the disordered eating habits of his best friend. It’s only when a spanner is thrown into the works in the form of disappearing doors that makes Brody jolt out of his routine and have to really face his own issues.

Sophie’s writing is just as beautiful as it was in OUT OF THE BLUE, and LAST BUS TO EVERLAND offers more of the gorgeous fantasy-tinged, soft LGBT+ contemporary that I fell in love with in her debut.

For fans of: THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END by Adam Silvera, RELEASE by Patrick Ness, TEETH by Hannah Moskowitz

reviews

[Review] The Furies – Katie Lowe

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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: 2 May 2019 (UK), 8 October 2019 (USA)
Publisher: HarperCollins (UK), St. Martin’s Press (USA)
Genre: Adult fiction, thriller

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

After an accident involving her Dad and sister, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town, which has an unpleasant history as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet quickly finds herself invited to become the fourth member of an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by their charismatic art teacher, Annabel.

While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals – warning the girls off the topic, describing it as little more than mythology – the girls start to believe that magic is real, and that they can harness it. But when the body of a former member of the society – Robin’s best friend, with whom Violet shares an uncanny resemblance – is found dead on campus nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.

The opening image of THE FURIES is a striking and poignant one: the body of a teenage girl sits on a swing, dressed in white. How did she get there? How did she die? This is the story of how she ended up in that state…

THE FURIES is a novel tailor-made for those who devour dark, witchy thrillers like THE GRACES, but I’d say it’s adult rather than YA (it’s being published as adult). It has definite crossover appeal, though, and I can see any fans of witchcraft-infused mysteries snapping this up quickly.

The novel is narrated through the voice of Violet, a teenage girl who has lost her father and sister in a terrible accident. She joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private school in coastal town which has its own dark history involving witchcraft and murder. Violet is soon absorbed into a small society formed of three other girls and her art teacher, Annabel – and together they study the classics and arts and literature. What starts as an exclusive and advanced study group soon becomes something more twisted – despite Annabel’s warnings, the four girls become convinced that magic exists, and that they can control it. These beliefs have deadly results.

Violet and Robin are fairly intriguing characters, though they felt very familiar – Violet, as the new girl, has a past swamped in sadness, and Robin is exciting and dangerous to her. I felt Grace and Alex – the other two members of the group – were a bit flat in comparison and so it didn’t really feel like they were a “four”. It was more like the book was about Violet and Robin, while Grace and Alex were just sort of there to fill out the rest of the group. I think this book was definitely an example of concept over characters – the witchy, thrilling atmosphere was what kept me going, not any attachment to the figures of the story.

I really enjoyed watching the girls sink further and further into their beliefs that they had power, and must use that power to commit vengeance on the men who deserved punishment. The suspense grows with every chapter, and when the inevitable climax is reached, I found myself both satisfied and in quiet horror. The references to images of witchcraft and female power and toxicity were carefully woven through the narrative, expertly invoking images of witches taking their revenge for centuries of female oppression.

The language of THE FURIES is lyrical and flowery, and it’s for this reason I would place this book into the adult fiction category. It has a very “literary” quality to it – the prose wanders at times in a stream of consciousness and the plot can be quite slow-moving on occasion. I feel that had it been YA, it would have been a little more pacy, and a bit shorter. However, if you loved books like THE GRACES and GIRLS ON FIRE, and appreciate some delicate language, then you should pick this one up.

reviews

[Review] Fated – Teri Terry

40126081

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

Release Date: 7 March 2019 (UK)
Publisher: Orchard Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, dystopian

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

Sam’s cosy life as daughter of the Deputy Prime Minister is about to end. These are turbulent times. Borders have closed and protests are turning violent. The government blames the country’s youth, and is cracking down hard. Mobile phones are blocked, gatherings are banned and dissent is brutally crushed.

Sam is torn between family loyalty and doing what is right. when she meets Ava and Lucas her mind is made up.

One girl, one choice. She can make a difference: she must. Even if her life – and her heart – are on the line … 

This review contains spoilers for the SLATED trilogy – if you haven’t read that series, I’d suggest coming back to this review once you have.

FATED is the prequel to the SLATED trilogy, a dystopian UKYA series that I tore through back in 2013. Set in a near-future Britain where the borders are closed and the country is in chaos, FATED gives us a bit of background on how Kyra from SLATED’s world comes about – through the eyes of her mother Sam, and the scientist and developer of the Slating technique, Ava.

FATED takes place before the Slating technology used to rehabilitate young criminals is invented, so it’s a bit less sci-fi than the original series. It’s more politics-driven, and the narrative is split between Sam (the teenage daughter of the deputy prime minister) and Ava, her tutor, whose family has been torn apart by the xenophobic border laws.

When I read SLATED back in 2013, it was quite fanciful to think that the UK would leave the EU (which is one of the catalysts for the way Kyra’s Britain has developed) but now it’s February 2019 and the country is barrelling towards Brexit and this series becomes more timely and important than ever before.

Teri Terry manages to recapture a lot of what made SLATED so engaging and enticing – it’s a twisty, pacy thriller underneath the dystopian packaging, with realistic and flawed protagonists and a lot of emotional depth. The plausibility of it all makes it even more terrifying – in removing the sci-fi aspect of SLATED, everything becomes even more horrifyingly possible. Teenagers have their phones monitored, hoax riots and protests are staged, violent incidents become ever more widespread and the political sphere is rife with conspiracy, lies and fearmongering. We get to see this society from two different angles – through the eyes of Sam, who lives a privileged and sheltered life as the daughter of the deputy prime minister (who may be hiding his own agenda and secrets) and through Ava, Sam’s decidedly less privileged tutor whose family has felt the worst effects of the border laws put in place to “protect” the British public. Though their experiences are wildly different, the two are drawn to each other and into danger as Sam slowly begins to uncover the truth about her father’s plans and the reality behind the riots and the violence shaking the UK.

I already knew how Sam and Ava’s story ends – you find out in the SLATED trilogy, so it’s an inevitable case of prequelitis – but it still broke my heart. I can’t remember the exact specifics of the original books (it’s been a while since I read them) but I’m pretty sure that Sam and Ava’s relationship tips into the romantic rather than just platonic, although it’s not very explicit on the page (the love stuff is…kind of interrupted by the chaos happening around them). I wasn’t too sure what to think about this, as I am always eager to see more f/f representation on the page – for what it’s worth, I think Sam and Ava are excellently written and deeply complex characters but I maybe would have liked one specifically explicit moment to confirm their romantic feelings. I do understand that Terry was boxed in by the already existing canon of the SLATED series (Ava explains to Kyra what her relationship was like with her mother) so couldn’t really change much, but I can dream.

If you loved the SLATED series, you won’t be disappointed with FATED – it’s a great bonus story that expands the world and manages to divulge some important messages about British society today. A chillingly plausible dystopian world.

For fans of: CELL 7 by Kerry Drewery, BLAME by Simon Mayo, NOUGHTS & CROSSES by Malorie Blackman

reviews

[Review] Viper (Isles of Storm & Sorrow #1) – Bex Hogan

Image result for viper bex hogan

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: 18 April 2019 (UK)
Publisher: Orion (UK)
Genre: Young adult, fantasy

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

Seventeen-year-old Marianne is fated to one day become the Viper, defender of the Twelve Isles.

But the reigning Viper stands in her way. Corrupt and merciless, he prowls the seas in his warship, killing with impunity, leaving only pain and suffering in his wake.

He’s the most dangerous man on the ocean . . . and he is Marianne’s father.

She was born to protect the islands. But can she fight for them if it means losing her family, her home, the boy she loves – and perhaps even her life?

I am SO excited about UKYA fantasy this year – I feel like YA fantasy is really overlooked in British publishing, which is bizarre when you think about how a) this is the country that birthed Harry Potter and b) American YA fantasy authors such as Sarah J. Maas, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Leigh Bardugo, Tomi Adeyemi etc. are hugely popular here to the point that they have events with hundreds of attendees. But I’m really hoping that’s beginning to change – I’m desperate to see more YA fantasy from UK authors, especially by BAME and queer authors.

So, naturally, I got very excited at the news that Orion were publishing a new UKYA fantasy trilogy from debut author Bex Hogan, and requested a proof as soon as I could. I mean, PIRATES! And look at that gorgeous cover! I’m so glad to say that it lived up to my expectations and I tore through it in a matter of hours.

VIPER is the first book in the ISLES OF STORM AND SORROW trilogy, and follows Marianne, a young woman who is the daughter of the Viper – a man who serves the king by defending the Twelve Isles, although “defending” isn’t exactly the right word when he seems to spend more of his time attacking and plundering the innocents…

Naturally, Marianne isn’t a fan of her father’s methods or motivations, and she’s regularly humiliated by him in front of the ship’s crew for daring to show mercy or empathy towards his victims. She’s supposed to be taking over from him one day, but she’s not convinced it’s the right path for her. When her doubts come to a head, it’s time for her to escape the life she’s known on her father’s ship and take her freedom into her own hands.

VIPER is a fast-paced, bloody story which is wraught with danger and action, but there’s also time for a well-developed friendship between Marianne and Grace – another member of the ship’s crew. I was pleased to see this as I sometimes find that platonic female relationships in fantasy YA can feel tacked on in comparison to the romance, but the friendship is strong with plenty of ups and downs and complications.

THE ROMANCE. It was a little predictable but managed to swerve neatly past a love triangle (which I don’t really mind, though I appreciate it when authors don’t use the simple “girl caught between two guys” because it’s so overdone at this point), and was a sweet slow-burn with a lovely pay-off. It didn’t overtake the main plot, which I appreciated – it actually helped feed into Marianne’s own reservations about how to handle the crew of the Maiden.

I quickly became attached to Marianne. She’s the victim of a ton of emotional and physical abuse by her father and some of the crew and yet remains empathetic and caring – my heart broke for her several times, as she becomes quickly attached to people who show her kindness, only to see them cruelly snatched from her. She’s both scared and intrigued by the power within her – she wants to learn healing, and it seems that she may possess magic, but every time she gets close to learning more, she’s halted in her tracks. It’s a really sad story of a girl who just wants freedom from her abusive situation and wants to understand herself and find peace, but she never can – not with her father and his crew chasing her across the seas until she can be punished for daring to leave.

I really loved the world of VIPER – most of the action takes place at sea, but we also get to visit several of the islands of the kingdom. Marianne’s first adventure alone takes her to an isle covered in flowers – the soft beauty of it contrasts horrifically with the violence that takes place later. All of the isles have their own cultures and trades and I’m excited to see more of them in the sequels. The Eastern and Western isles have been divided for years, with Mages rumoured to be living in the West, and water-raptors dwelling in the ocean that divides them. The water-raptors are fantastic sea monsters – I really loved the scenes where we got to see them in action!

VIPER is an immensely fun, swashbuckling story with a crew of diverse characters (there’s a sweet and sad queer romance between two characters that I loved) and plenty of action and bloody danger. The details of the world really make it stand out – from the crew of the Maiden being known as fierce warriors called Snakes, and the distinct features of the Twelve Isles, and even touches like the horrific binding ceremony Marianne goes through when she’s forcibly betrothed in the early chapters (it involves white-hot chains and burning flesh). It’s a vivid, pacy read that will appeal to anyone who enjoys action-packed YA fantasy stories with pirates, kickass girls, sea monsters, slow-burn romances and lush worlds. I’m so excited to read the rest of the series, and I can’t wait for this to hit shelves and show everyone that UKYA fantasy kicks ass too.

For fans of: SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo, SNOW LIKE ASHES by Sara Raasch, THRONE OF GLASS by Sarah J. Maas

reviews

[Review] All The Lonely People – David Owen

Image result for all the lonely people david owen

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

Release Date: 10 January 2019 (UK)
Publisher: Atom Books (UK)
Genre: Young adult, contemporary, science fiction

How I read it: I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Get it at Amazon UK: All The Lonely People

Everyone tells Kat that her online personality – confident, funny, opinionated – isn’t her true self. Kat knows otherwise. The internet is her only way to cope with a bad day, chat with friends who get all her references, make someone laugh. But when she becomes the target of an alt-right trolling campaign, she feels she has no option but to Escape, Delete, Disappear.

With her social media shut down, her website erased, her entire online identity void, Kat feels she has cut away her very core: without her virtual self, who is she?

She brought it on herself. Or so Wesley keeps telling himself as he dismantles Kat’s world. It’s different, seeing one of his victims in real life and not inside a computer screen – but he’s in too far to back out now.

As soon as Kat disappears from the online world, her physical body begins to fade and while everybody else forgets that she exists, Wesley realises he is the only one left who remembers her. Overcome by remorse for what he has done, Wesley resolves to stop her disappearing completely. It might just be the only way to save himself.

My stop on the ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE blog tour! As part of this tour, all bloggers were asked:

How has the internet made your life better and how has it made it worse?

Better? The friends I’ve made. I wouldn’t have met so many lovely people without Twitter or Tumblr. I’ve managed to talk to people on the other side of the world and form relationships without leaving my room. Many of those people I’ve gone on to meet in real life, so it’s not like those connections only exist online.

Worse? I think it’s made me even more anxious. I don’t think human beings are designed to be able to deal with the amount of information the internet bombards us with every day, and the past two years have been especially bad, what with the political drama of Trump and Brexit. It’s definitely taken a toll on my mental health.

Onto the review!

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE is David Owen’s third novel, and I was glad to see that just like his previous two books, this is another contemporary-based story with a touch of weirdness. In my opinion, it’s also his most timely and important novel to date, and I think it does a great job of discussing some pressing and relevant issues.

Kat is the target of an alt-right online campaign. She’s forced to delete her website after being subjected to attacks by Wesley and his friends. And then something strange starts to happen – she begins to disappear. Literally disappear.

It’s not the first time this has happened – other people have “faded” in the same way that Kat has, and have been forgotten by their loved ones. Kat is terrified of fading away entirely, and finds a group – The Lonely People – who are fading too. Meanwhile, Wesley – one of her tormentors – wonders if he’s gone too far this time, and soon finds clues about what’s happening to Kat.

David Owen does something with this book that I think is incredibly difficult for many authors to do correctly – he humanises Wesley, but he never justifies his actions, or redeems him. Wesley takes steps to undo what he’s done to Kat – but he’s never praised for this. His saving Kat isn’t making him a hero – it’s just what he should be doing. He should never have attacked her online in the first place. He can’t be a hero, because he’s the one who caused her pain and problems in the beginning. He’s got a family, he’s three-dimensional, and he has friends and people he loves – but those things don’t make him the good guy. They make him a person. And the horrible thing we have to face as a society is just that: alt-right trolls are people. They’re not two-dimensional cartoon villains solely defined by their racism and misogyny. If they were, they’d be a lot easier to stamp out and defeat. They’re real people with families and friends and social lives and hobbies and passions, and there’s a really wide range of reasons why they end up joining these groups. This book does a great job of humanising an alt-right troll, of making him feel real and letting us see what motivates him, but never justifies what he is doing, makes excuses for it, or redeems him. Wesley’s actions are condemned, and no passes are given. Kat is the one who needs a happy ending, not him.

There’s a sweet, slightly romantic thread in this book between Kat and another victim of the “Fade” – I won’t go into it too much for spoilers’ sake, but I’ve seen some misleading reviews saying that she gets saved by a boy. She doesn’t. NOTHING happens romantically between Kat and Wesley (would YOU fall for the boy who forced you to delete your website after trolling you with photoshopped porn and hateful messages?). The romance is fairly minor in this book (I actually thought it was the platonic nature of the relationship that was given more attention and was more important to the plot – Kat doesn’t really have any friends to begin with) so I definitely didn’t think it was a case of romance saving the day. It’s more about connections in general, like friendships and family, and romance comes under that umbrella too – but it’s not any more important than any other kind of love.

The ending of the book is hopeful – it’s not happy for everyone, but some characters, uh, get what they deserve. The novel is critical of social media without bashing it, and forces us to think more about how we present ourselves online. Are we pretending to be happy when we’re really just lonely? Are we lashing out in anger because we don’t fit in? It reminds us that people’s real life personas don’t always match the faces on social media, and sometimes we don’t know who’s being more honest – the individual standing in front of us, or the profile on our computer screen.

For fans of: RADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE by Jennifer Mathieu, HATE LIST by Jennifer Brown