Blog Tour · Book Review

Blog Tour: Review of A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher.

I’m very pleased to be sharing my review of Susan Fletcher’s new book A Little in Love as one of two stops today on the blog tour. Please see the banner in the side bar for the list of other stops the book will making over the next couple of weeks.

ALILParis, 1832.
A street girl lies alone in the darkness, clutching a letter to her heart.

Eponine remembers being a child: her swing and the peach tree, and the baby brother she loved. Bt mostly she remembers being miserable. Taught to lie and cheat, and to hate the one girl, Cosette, who might have been her friend.

Now, at sixteen, the two girls meet again and Eponine has one more chance. But what is the price of friendship – the love of a boy?

I’m a huge fan of the musical version of Les Miserables, it’s right up there towards the top of my favourite musicals list. I’ve seen it a couple of times and have more than one cast recording on my iPod. The one thing I’ve never got to grips with though is Victor Hugo’s novel that first told the story. I started reading it years ago, put it down to read something else, picked it up and read a bit more and then repeated this sequence time and again until one time I just didn’t pick it up again. The dense, long sections of history were off-putting and so it remains my oldest unfinished read. When I received the information about A Little in Love I knew this was going to be different – a book focusing on the story of Eponine, one of my favourite characters, sounded right up my street.

It is no spoiler to say that Eponine’s story is a tragic one, the blurb from the back of the book does this for me and the prologue of the book confirms it. After the prologue the book jumps back to a much earlier time in Eponine’s life, back to her earliest memories of the hardship she was born into and the parents she had the misfortune of belonging to. Narrated by Eponine the book tracks through her memories bringing the reader right up to the point at which the prologue started. This is a really effective style for this story, the first person narrative makes everything feel so much more personal and significant.

I had found that I’d understood Eponine more from my unfinished reading of the original Les Miserables, reading this was an even better experience – it functions as such a close character study. I found that by the end of the book I loved Eponine even more, seeing how she struggles with the villainous nature of her family and how big her heart is made her even more endearing. Her sister, Azelma, acts as the other side of the coin – whilst Eponine fights to rebel against her upbringing Azelma is completely fine with joining the family’s criminal activities. I found the differences between them fascinating to read, though they made me so sad too.

I found that I flew through this book, even though I knew the bare bones of the story and knew exactly what was coming at the end I was so completely drawn into this version of events – it felt like a completely new tale. Being able to focus primarily on one of the many key characters in the Les Miserables story meant there was time and space to include so much detail, making this a beautifully rich reading experience.

One thing I cannot confidently comment on is how this book will work for readers entirely unfamiliar with Les Miserables in any of its forms. I feel like I’ve known the story for too long to be able to completely remove any knowledge of it from my mind. I do think though that this book will stand on its own really well, it’s such a well written, complete story.

This has been my first Susan Fletcher book. I really loved it and will definitely be looking out for other books by her in the future.

A Little in Love is published by Chicken House in the UK from 2nd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall.

ShadowOfTheWolfA world of gods and monsters. An elemental power, rising. This is Robin Hood, reborn, as he has never been seen before…

Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed, and will alter forever the legend of Robin Hood.

Robin Hood. I think we all have our personal connections to the legend of Robin Hood, to one of the many versions of it whether it involves talking foxes or men wearing tights. That this book promised to “alter forever the legend of Robin Hood” was enough to grab my attention, when it started getting excellent reviews from bloggers I really trust I knew I absolutely had to read it.

The opening sections of the book introduce Robin and Marian to us, and allow us to spend time with them in order to really get to know them. Twists and turns then pull the characters in different directions with only some overlap, it is here that the action begins to pick up, and then build and build. There’s no shortage of action within the book, it’s well paced and gripping. I think that the slightly slower, quieter, opening to the book works brilliantly well – I felt so connected to the characters as a result and cared so much about how each twist and turn affected them.

Whilst I enjoyed the opening sections of the book I did find myself wondering about the fantasy elements I’d been expecting. These don’t actually kick in until partway through the book, but when they do they’re utterly captivating. Seeing the way these elements grow and evolve throughout the book, and how they affect Robin in particular is fascinating. I think that however much I loved the characters (and believe me I did) it’s seeing how this continues to progress that has me most excited about the fact there are two more books to come.

I really enjoyed these versions of both Robin and Marian, both of them are really strong characters yet they have their flaws ensuring they feel very real. Robin is beset by challenges throughout the book, from being alone at such a young age to much more physical challenges later in the book. Despite all of these he remains focused and driven, he has his goal and keeps pushing at it when I think many would have given up. Marian is present through much of the book, though for large chunks this is through Robin’s drive to find her. When she is present on the page she’s a fascinating character, her presence of mind and planning skills in particular are admirable.

Along with Robin and Marian, various other familiar characters from the Robin Hood legend make appearances in this story. Most notable of these are Will Scarlet and of course the Sheriff of Nottingham. This Sheriff is every bit as cruel and evil as we expect him to be and then some. This book does not shy away from the blood thirsty nature of this cruelty, there are some scenes that made my fairly cast iron stomach turn. That said, they fit the book perfectly and absolutely form a key part of the narrative.

Reading this book completely took over my day. I sat down with my copy first thing in the morning, planning to read a couple of chapters with my morning tea before getting on with all the things I’d planned. Next thing I knew my tea was cold, I’d read 100 pages and was mentally moving things off the day’s to do list to make sure I could finish reading that same day! I took a couple of shortish breaks when I wanted to let some of the book’s action sink in a little but each time was itching to pick the book up and get on with it!

This is a brave, bold re-telling of the Robin Hood story. I absolutely loved it, I’m going to spend the time waiting for the second book trying to persuade as many people as I can to read this one. Strongly recommended!

Shadow of the Wolf is published by David Fickling Books in the UK. My copy of the book is one that was passed on to me by another blogger, thank you Caroline!

Book Review

Book Review: Revenge of the Zeds by Stewart Ross.

RevengeOfTheZedsThe Soterion has been opened, but does it mean salvation or devastation?

A horrific mutation in human DNA has resulted in a world where no one lives beyond nineteen. Cyrus and the noble Constants have opened the Soterion vault containing the Long Dead’s secrets of science, art and possibly even the cure to the mutation.

First, Cyrus must teach the Constants to read. But those he calls friends are falling prey to the greed and power knowledge can bring. Meanwhile, the barbaric Zeds are massing against them, determined to take the Soterion for themselves and destroy everything the Constants have built.

I read The Soterion Mission when it was being published, chapter by chapter, by Fiction Express. I really enjoyed the world the book was set in, and became entirely invested in the characters and what was to happen to them. I was thrilled therefore when I heard that following The Soterion Mission being published in book format by Curious Fox there was to be a sequel, The Revenge of the Zeds. The title sounded ominous, the blurb backed this up – I couldn’t wait to get reading!

Revenge of the Zeds picks up from where The Soterion Mission left off, both in terms of plot and fierceness. By the end of the first chapter there’s been the conclusion of a trial, sentence passed and carried out, funerals and the discovery of Malik Timur’s fate by the Zeds. The book continues like this – it’s a pacy read with lots of action, most of it gory and bloodthirsty. Whilst it has all of the action going on it still has the quieter, more thoughtful moments – I really enjoyed seeing how the characters developed and related to one another.

I really liked the mix of familiar characters and new characters within the book. It was particularly nice to revisit favourites such as Cyrus and Sammy, and also Giv and Jamshid from the Zeds. I loved the addition of Malika Xsani – the head of a different tribe of Zeds with a very focused view of what success is and how to achieve it. The one thing I did find a little hard at times was remembering that all of these characters are under 19, they’re all young people. They don’t think like young people and they certainly don’t act like young people, this dystopian future has turned the young into the adults.

One of the things that really struck me when I was reading this book was what it had to say about knowledge. Knowledge is valuable, it is powerful, and it can be perceived differently by so many. Some want knowledge in order to be able to share it with others, to make things better. Others see knowledge either as something to be feared or as something to be kept to oneself in order to maintain a position of power and importance. The blurb references the idea that knowledge has a role to play in this book, it really does and in a really thought provoking manner.

This is a really good continuation of the story of the Constants and Zeds. Its conclusion is strong but cries out for another instalment. I am already wondering what’s going to happen next, there are so many things still unresolved!

Revenge of the Zeds is published by Curious Fox in the UK from 25th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets by J.A. Buckle.

imageFifteen year old Josh fantasizes about becoming a death metal guitarist complete with tattoos,piercings and hoards of adoring fans, but its not easy when his super strict mum won’t let him grow his hair or even wear black t-shirts! Luckily Josh has a way of coping with life’s setbacks; his diary; it’s only a diary, but it contains all Josh’s hopes,dreams and frustrations (not to mention great ideas for band names and song lyrics). There’s a lot he wants to get done before his 16th birthday, but things never turn out quite like he plans…

What Josh doesn’t know is that his mother also kept a diary, back about the time he was born, and a secret in there holds the key to Josh’s life becoming a whole lot more metal.

The blurb for Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets definitely piqued my interest – my younger brother spent most of his teenage years and then some in heavy metal bands so he sounded like a character that I would understand.

Josh is certainly an interesting character. He’s inwardly focused, speaks before thinking and often comes across as a little mean – completely by accident. I spent a while wondering whether I liked him or whether he was in fact a bit of an idiot. I ended up deciding that whilst he was a bit of an idiot he was a very likeable bit of an idiot who actually had the best of intentions. He cares for the people around him even if he struggles sometimes with showing this.

This book is funny. There’s a natural wit to it that comes from everyday life being funny. This doesn’t feel forced, and feels like we’re laughing with the characters rather than at them. There were times when I smiled as I read and there were times when I laughed out loud. The diary style format works really well, making the story zip along. There’s one major twist in the story that I barely saw coming, it worked well though and felt natural.

One issue I had with the book is that there are frequent occurrences of “f***” written out exactly like that. This pulled me out of the book every single time – I’m not sure why it was decided to include the word and star it out, it didn’t fit Josh and it had a detrimental effect on the reading experience. For me this wasn’t a satisfactory way to try and show a true teenager in all their sweariness, I think going for lesser curse words that didn’t need to be blanked out would have worked better for the book overall. I completely understand that this is a subject that frequently comes back round for debate – having now read a book where this stylistic choice has been made I know that to me it is not a satisfactory solution.

I liked this book a lot. I think it would make a very good pairing with Dave Cousins’ Waiting For Gonzo.

Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets is published by Curious Fox. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard.

ConquestEarth is no longer ours. It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilised yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun…

Whilst it is often the cover of a book that makes the initial grab for my attention, in this book’s case it was John Connolly’s name. Discovering that he’d co-written a new YA science fiction series was enough to make me want to read this book. If I’m being entirely honest it’s a good job the book had his name attached and a great synopsis – that cover art for the paperback version of the book does absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid.

I found the book a little hard to get into initially. The necessary world building is a little wordy, the first chapter feels a lot like that opening sequence found at the beginning of many sci fi movies or tv series (the ones that usually end up being a teacher telling a class their collective history). The world that Connolly and Ridyard have created is an alternative version of our own – in their version an alien race, the Illyri, invaded towards the beginning of the 21st century and the ensuing war has been fought ever since. The Illyri are now in charge, various shows of power and control have forced humanity’s surrender, but it’s an uneasy situation with the Resistance still fighting to regain the Earth from the Illyri’s control. The level of detail that is brought by the plot means that the world building and exposition comes into play throughout the book, I found that the further I got into the book the more seamless this felt – I was glad I’d persisted with the book, the first few chapters made me consider giving up a few times.

Much of this book centres around the power struggle between the Illyri and the Resistance, our main character Syl gets herself entirely embroiled in the battle and we see her personal struggles both for survival and with making sense of the world, she’s been kept away from much of it and taught solely from the Illyri point of view. Mixing with humans leaves here questioning some of what she’s been taught and realising there may be other perspectives to take into account. The book is told from a number of points of view, hers is our primary way into the world – as she learns so to do we the reader.

Syl’s human equivalent is Paul, an up and coming voice in the Resistance. They along with Syl’s best friend Ani and Paul’s younger brother Steven make up the central cast of characters. Around them is an extensive collection of supporting characters, there are many and at times this meant I found I wasn’t quite tracking who everyone was, and what each one meant to who. I’m not generally a fan of character lists at the beginning of books, I don’t want to have to flick back to remind myself who’s who, but in this case I could have done with one. I think perhaps the combination of all of the supporting characters plus all of the specific vocabulary that comes with an alien species may have been a little more information than I could hold in my head simultaneously.

All of that said, I did enjoy the book and once I’d settled into it I was completely invested in finding out what happened next. There’s peril littered throughout the book, at various times I expected to turn the page and find a bloodbath. I cared about the central characters, and about a couple of the supporting characters. Conversely there were other supporting characters I was willing to meet a sticky end, when this happened I was pretty much always satisfied (I could argue a case for a couple of them deserving more gruesome deaths).

There is a romantic element to this book, it draws of course on the forbidden love thing – over the course of the book the relationship between Syl and Paul develops a little and changes. I really liked the way this was gradual, I don’t have the same issues with so-called insta-love that a lot of readers do, but for these characters anything other than a slow, tentative closening would not have felt true to them or to the world in which they live.

This book is the first in a trilogy, it ends not so much with a cliffhanger but more a situation where the various characters the reader has come to care about are pushed in directions that seem hard to reconcile. I have absolutely no idea where the plot of this series is going to go, so many new paths seem to be opening up alongside the number of plot threads not yet resolved. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books and discovering what on earth is going to happen in the long run.

This is a good book, but sadly not a great one. I’m hoping that with much of the world building done the rest of the trilogy will reach the greatness I’d hoped for from this book.

Conquest is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Roomies by Sara Zarr &Tara Altebrando.

RoomiesIt’s time to meet your new roomie.

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

One of the things I always want to see more of in YA is the transition to university or the world of work, that first step that teens take into the grown up world. As a teen I desperately wanted to read books where the characters were on the same journey I was, other than the Sweet Valley University series I had to rely primarily on tv – seeing the characters from Buffy and Dawson’s Creek go to university answered lots of questions I had. When I heard about this book it sounded exactly the sort of book I’d wanted to read.

Roomies is the story of two teen girls in the summer before they start college. They are assigned as roommates and given each other’s contact details so they can get in touch before they meet face to face. The book starts with the arrival of this room assignment, and follows the girls through the summer as they email back and forth.

The book is about this exchange of emails and the gradual getting to know each other process but it’s about far more than that two. The chapters switch back and forward between Elizabeth, known as EB, and Lauren – each contains the next email in the conversation but also shows us what’s going on in their lives. Both girls come from different situations; different locations, different family structures, different dating experiences. At the same time many of their experiences are shared, they’re both trying to work out how to make this new start, how to deal with leaving behind everything they know, how to manage fledgling relationships that are soon going to be dealing with the added challenge of long distances.

Both girls’ personal situations have done a lot to shape the person they are. This reflection of the importance of family, but also reaching the stage where you start to wonder who you are outside of the context of your family unit plays out really well in this book and I think will be something that many teen readers will identify with. There’s a huge amount for the target audience to love about this book, the way it echoes the queries and worries many waiting to start university or college in particular. I found myself remembering the summer before I started university and how I felt, recognising myself in both characters.

I’ve already mentioned the fledgling relationships that play a part in this book. With these comes a fair amount of discussion of sex, and of when the time’s right for each of the girls to have sex. I’m always going to be a fan of books that discuss this, particularly when they discuss the idea that teens should wait until they personally feel ready. It’s really well done in Roomies, as is the discussion of whether the girls try and make long distance relationships work with boys they’ve only been with for a short while. I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that again I really liked the different resolutions to this – there is no right or wrong in these situations and seeing different paths given equal credit made me really happy.

I really, really liked this book. I do wish it had been around a long time ago, but regardless I’m really pleased it exists now. This is a book that should be on the shelves of school and sixth form libraries across the country.

Roomies is published by Hodder in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo.

RuinAndRisingThe capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

This is the third book in the Grisha trilogy, I reviewed the second book Siege and Storm here. This is not going to be the longest or most detailed review – being the final part of a triolgy a lot of the book is action filled or just needs to be discovered by the reader for themselves. I went into this book knowing barely anything about it and was pleased I did, I don’t want to stop anyone else having the same experience.

Ruin and Rising opens with a prologue that sets the scene really well, before jumping back to show us where our main characters now are. The book begins just a little after the end of Siege and Storm allowing the characters to gather themselves a little – I felt that this played out well, it was close enough that I didn’t feel like I’d missed seeing anything I’d have wanted to see but moved on enough that the plot could get going again quickly. It had been nearly a year since I’d last visited the world of the Grisha, I was pleased with how easy it was to fall back into it. There are some really big plot elements that need to be concluded, these are all dealt with over the course of the book with only minimal new significant plot elements introduced. I liked this, and was almost always pleased with how things played out.

One of the central elements of this book is the relationship between Alina, our heroine, and various other characters. Since getting to the end of this book I’ve discovered quite a lot of readers are unhappy with how some of these relationships worked out – I have to say that I personally don’t agree with these readers. I think it’s really interesting that lots of people can read the same series and all take something completely different from it, it’s impossible to say that any way of thinking is right or wrong – it’s such an individual thing. All I can say for sure is that I was very content with the way the various relationships were resolved, it worked absolutely right for me.

The world that Leigh Bardugo has created for this trilogy is an interesting, rich one. I loved getting to know more and more about it with each book. I’m really pleased that her next pair of books are going to be set in the same world (see the story here), I certainly want to spend more time there!

Ruin and Rising is published by Indigo in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.