‘The Humans’ Is A Work of Vonnadorian Art

The Humans by Matt Haig

The Humans

Plot: 20/20 

Our hero, Professor Andrew Martin, is dead before the book even begins. As it turns out, though, he wasn’t a very nice man – as the alien imposter who now occupies his body discovers. Sent to Earth to destroy evidence that Andrew had solved a major mathematical problem – and the people who know about it,, the alien soon finds himself learning more about the professor, his family, and “the humans” than he ever expected. When he begins to fall for his own wife and son – who have no idea he’s not the real Andrew – the alien must choose between completing his mission and returning home or finding a new home right here on Earth.

The story is fantastic, interwoven with the impostor Andrew Martin’s voice who is challenged by the simplest, everyday tasks. Everything is a discovery and the journey is gradual. There’s tension, laughs and tragedy. It grips you from page one right to the end.

Narrative: 20/20

The narrative voice is sharp and consistent throughout. Everything about the new world is a new and tangible experience. The reader is in on the joke but the Vonnadorian doesn’t understand the culture in which he has been immersed. The gradual development of independent thought and emotion change the narrative voice, making it more intimate and vulnerable.

Character: 20/20

I love the impostor. Everything that comes out of his mouth his hilarious. Haig makes it difficult to immediately like him. The deceased Andrew’s wife and son, Gulliver, are great and the chemistry that’s created between the impostor and Andrew’s family adds another element to the journey, especially since we get to see his transformative power on the family unit. Vonnadorian humour:

  • “He was also quite rotund, as if he didn’t want to watch football but become one.”
  • “The lack of geometric imagination was startling. There was not as much as a decagon in sight. Though I didn notice that some of the buildings were larger and – relatively speaking – more ornately designed than others. Temples to the orgasm, I imagined.”

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

The writing, though told by an alien, is very human and touching. It’s funny as he comes to terms with the human race and the differences between species; tragic, at times; and ultimately, touching when we realize how much he has come to love the very people that he was tasked with killing:

“’Now,’ she said, ‘I would like to start by asking you something very simple. I’ve been wondering if you’ve been under any pressure recently?’ I was confused. What kind of pressure? Gravitational? Atmospheric? ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A lot. Everywhere, there is some kind of pressure.’ It seemed like the right answer.”

Setting: 10/10 

Haig sets the scene in Cambridge and we get a real sense of where we are through what what we see and hear. It’s not so much this that intrigues me as the other world – Vonnadoria. The comparisons to the other world pique our curiosity and tease it out without ever saying exactly what it is. Haig is able to conjure up an image of the impostor’s world with parameters and a new lexicon without us ever having to visit it in the story:

  • “I must say it was kind of a relief – given the dimensions of the room – to realise they knew what a circle was.”
  • “The sound was very melancholy somehow, like the bass rumble of a sleepy Bazadean.”
  • “’We’ve established that,’ the officer said, who kept his eyebrows low and close, like doona-birds in mating season.”
  • “I ate the vegetable stir-fry. It smelt like Bazadean body waste.”

Comparative Literature: 10/10

In a market flooded with vampires other paranormals, it’s nice to see an author tackle aliens thorough a playful lens. The closest comparison I can make is to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which I’m sure many people will have read. If you enjoyed that, then The Humans is right up your alley. Haig’s writing has carved him a deserving space on the YA shelves.

Overall Score: 100/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: This book is sharp and witty with a story that will play hockey with your emotions.

Books You May Also Like:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – if you liked the mix of humor with science fiction

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April 2, 2015 · 12:04 pm

‘My Heart and Other Black Holes’ Sucks You In

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

my heart

Plot: 20/20 

I think this is one of the most interesting takes that we can expect this year from YA. My Heart is a stunning debut that deals with suicide and depression and unlike many other books in the genre, it opens up a can of worms that actually spends time developing and giving the reader a sense of resolution and conclusion. It tells the story of a boy, Roman, and a girl, Aysel, who, both for very different reasons, are planning to commit suicide together but as Aysel and Roman share more of their broken lives with each other, Aysel starts to realize the gravity of her decision.  Can she sway Roman to her side or is he fated to die? The idea is dark and edgy and that’s actually what drew me to it. It’s definitely NOT for the faint-hearted.

Narration: 17/20

The narrative style is spot-on with Aysel describing her situation and capturing the essence of depression perfectly. I will say that it’s a bit inconsistent at times. We get lots of character-infused commentary but it comes in sparks:

The woman running the booth holds up one thin finger to indicate he scored a point. Thanks for that. We can count one. We’re suicidal, not innumerate.

I’d like to have seen it pushed a little bit more.

Character: 18/20

I like Aysel and I can understand why she’s doing what she’s doing. I don’t agree with it but I can understand her thinking. I want to shout at her and tell her to stop so I guess, Warga has done her job in getting me to connect to her protagonist and building an emphatic link, which is key to the subject matter. There’s a handful of characters to remember and recognise, making it easier to retain information and focus on Aysel and Roman. I like that the chemistry builds slowly between Aysel and Roman and it never gets overly clichéd. Roman’s reactions towards the end seem a bit forced when he’s with her. I’m not sure I buy into it or the language he uses but overall, no major character flaws.

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

Not much needs to be said. It’s written beautifully but if you need evidence:

  • “Sometimes I wonder if my heart is a black hole it’s so dense that there’s no room for light, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t suck me in.”
  • “I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention. Maybe that’s what love really boils down to – having someone who cares enough to pay attention so that you’re encouraged to travel and transfer, to make your potential energy spark into kinetic energy. Maybe all anyone ever needs is for someone to notice them, to observe them. And I notice Roman.
  • “Something inside me clicks. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life fiddling with a complicated combination only to discover I was toying with the wrong lock. And now, the vault inside of me that contains all of my secrets is swinging open and I feel this rush of blood swell in my chest.
  • “Something inside me sways like a rocking chair in an empty room – it’s both lonely and comfortable.”
  • “We both know a letter, a story, is inside, but right now neither one of us is brave enough to break the seal.”

Warga selects metaphors that are simple to grasp but reinforce Aysel’s characters; her black hole reference above perfectly sums up the way that she’s feeling and makes it easier for the reader to understand what Aysel is struggling with.

Setting: 10/10 

Warga’s language is sensory; she sets the scene through community, geographically and through the smells and tastes of her town:

  • “My car glides down Willis’ main drag. It’s full of painted Victorian-style houses that have been transformed into cutesy businesses – the Creamy Whip, an ice cream shop; the Fried Egg, a breakfast diner; Suds and Bubbles, a Laundromat.
  • “On certain days, you smell bourbon in the air, the sweet rye coming from a distillery that’s a few miles away, but today, I only smell mud and damp grass.”

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

For me, the best book on the theme of suicide is Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why. It’s beautifully dark and tragically haunting. You can almost hear Hannah’s ghostly voice ringing in your ears. Warga’s My Heart rivals this. She takes a different angle on the subject and plots it out perfectly. It adds something new to the genre and as readers, that’s exactly what we want.

Overall Score: 95/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: Dark, tragic and gripping –  one of the stand-out YA debuts of 2015.

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jas Asher – for another gripping story that will leave you in tears

Undone by Cat Clarke – a powerful story of revenge and suicide that will have you at the edge of your seat

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Me and Mr. J

Me and Mr. J by Rachel McIntyre

j

Plot: 20/20 

Lara, an upbeat girl, is a social outcast at school. Her only friend has deserted her, the bullying is getting worse and between this and family drama, Lara fixates on Mr. J – the only beacon of hope in her life.

I read twenty pages of this and I honestly thought, Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. I loved Smale’s Harriet Manners, that her story was infused with humour and a roller-coaster adventure of self-discovery. But when Lara’s iPod gets smashed, that changes everything. She’s spat on, she suffers verbal and physical abuse and somehow, she manages to find a glimmer of hope. The story is a realistic one that a lot of bullied kids will relate to; a story that’s equal parts dark and light with laughs and love. I can’t fault the plot. The idea isn’t original but the execution is fantastic.  

Narration: 20/20 

The narrative style is a diary format. It’s personal and the emotion flows of the pages and sucker punches you in the face. The intimate style makes the weight of the emotions and the emphatic connection (to Lara) makes it that much easier to laugh at the humour and persevere through the hideous bullying and all-round isolation both in her school and home life.

 Character: 20/20 

Lara is an incredibly likeable character who’s observations heightens the characters of those in her life. Take her Gran, for example. Lara makes her five a day and makes a follow-up quip about it being about her gin units rather than fruit and veg. Lara, herself, is fascinating. When Lara imagines her dream life with Emma, she paints an ideal picture but with some cracks – the windows rattle with the wind. It’s a further demonstration of Lara’s hopeful make-lemonade-with-lemons, make-the-best-o-what-you-have attitude. She dreams about a successful life in which she’ll repair her parent’s marriage and so on.

Here’s some of my favourite moments:

  • “My internal monologue went like this: Firstly, I don’t have any friends, not even Chloe. And secondly, FYI, Mum, Molly is a ‘nice girl’ in the same way Hitler was a ‘real sweetie’.”
  • “But then instead of staying quiet and walking off (sensible option), I carried on not alone digging my own grave, but picking the flowers, talking to the vicar and writing the eulogy (metaphorically speaking).”
  • “Bet Molly hasn’t told him she gets mega-minging cold sores though. (Cue advert voice: Herpes – the Valentine’s gift he’ll keep forever.)
  • “Molly whispering to a few of her fellow Slytherins.”
  • “Seriously, it’s the equivalent of trying to put a bonfire out with petrol.”
  • “Successfully disguising my own personal animosity, I pointed the fat bastard up the stairs.”
  • “Where do they recruit bus drivers? Jobs4knobs.com?”
  • “Mikaela is so dumb, her brain couldn’t find the right answer if you gave it a compass and a fifteen-minute head start.”

Quality of Writing: 20/20 

Lara’s witticisms are sharp and funny. McIntyre’s dramatisation of detail constantly  and consistently reflects Lara’s character (which few YA writers can manage):

“She was sitting behind a desk the size of Belgium.”

Setting: 10/10 

The story is set in Huddersfield. I’ve never been though it’s set up nicely. The detail is dramatized in the story. It’s easy to pick up the information and it’s reinforced subtly throughout with pound shop references and the like:

“This is Huddesfield, not Hollywood. You can’t wave a mascara wand and abracadabra, Lara’s the Prom Princess.”

Lara’s reference to the things she’ll be able to do when she turns sixteen firmly sets the story in the 2010s:

“And (according to the Gospel of Wikpedia) sell scrap metal. (Er, fab).”

Comparative Literature: 10/10

As I’ve already said, the story reminds me of Holly Smale’s Geek Girl. Smale’s character is arguably stronger, as much of a social outcast and we root for her because of the way she’s treated. The story is, as funny if not funnier but, and there is a huge BUT, McIntyre weaves a darker story that she lightens with moments of hope and laughter. Me and Mr. J matches the humour of Smale’s Geek Girl and the heart and hopefulness of Maya in Popular.

Overall Score: 100/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: A dark and sometimes difficult read, told by a character that demands your attention. A fantastic YA debut.

Books You May Also Like:

Geek Girl by Holly Smale – for another story of a social-misfit-turned-model with love and laughs along the way 

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen – for an honest, brave memoir delving into the meaning of popularity

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March 20, 2015 · 6:02 pm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

Hi all!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day wherever you are in the world 🙂

Just a quick reminder of some of the great Children’s and YA books that are out there by Irish authors before I pop to the pub for a cheeky Baileys! 😛

AL ARTEMIS COMMIT BRILLCS SKULL STRIPED UNSPOKEN WARP

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Paper Towns: Paper or Plastic?

Paper Towns by John Green

PaperTowns2009_6A

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot: 12/20

Quentin – Q – a teenage boy agrees, to help his childhood crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman, on an all-night road trip of revenge. Along the way, old feelings arise but in the morning, Margo has disappeared and in her wake, she’s left a breadcrumb trail of clues for Q to follow.

The plot is simple, like most of Green’s novels but here, it works. I love the revenge road-trip and how the events let the chemistry build between Q and Margo. I like the “paper towns” idea, how Green weaves it into his fictional story and gives the plot more depth and summed up perfectly by Margo:

“It’s a paper town. I mean look at it, Q: look at all those cul-de-sacs, those streets that turn in on themselves, all the houses that were built to fall apart. All those paper people living in their paper houses, burning the future to stay warm… All the things paper-thin and paper-frail. And all the people, too.”

I don’t buy the whole, Margo-leaves-and-the-school-goes-to-hell scenario. It makes it sound like she’s the glue that holds everything together and she’s not. She’s not even missed when she’s missing. Jasper Hanson suddenly turns into a bully with her disappearance – WTF? In the countdown hours of their road trip, Q documents that he’s sleeping (“I sleep”) but how could you do this if you’re asleep. I’m splitting hairs but it doesn’t make sense. Overall, the story is building towards something but it never really gets there. The conclusion deflates the tension and the mystery and completely punctures the story.

Narration: 13/20

The first-person narrative style is intimate. I prefer it to third-person in these sorts of stories that encompass social issues like depression, suicide, alcoholism, sexuality, racism and so on. The narrative voice works well in all of Green’s stories though I feel at times that the voice breaks down in parts and reminds me of someone much older rather than a teenage boy that’s a bit mature for his age. With the company he keeps, we still have to believe he’s a teenage boy at heart and not a man in his late-twenties. The voice is also inconsistent, particularly in the middle and concluding parts.

Character: 8/20

The most defining characteristic of Ben is his use of the word “honeybunnies” which grates on your nerves every few pages. The most memorable part of Radar’s character is his name. There’s not a whole lot of depth to the characters in the story, with the excpetion of Margo (and maybe Q but only for the initial part of the story when he’s with Margo) I love Margo. Again, she’s like Alaska in Looking for Alaska. She’s like the Sun and the other characters are planets and minor stars orbiting around. She is sharp and funny, cute but cunning:

  • “”[B]ut with the Vaseline, you want the one that’s bigger than your fist. There’s like a Baby  Vaseline, then there’s a Mommy Vaseline, and then there’s a big fat  Daddy of a Vaseline, and that’s the one you want. If they don’t have that, then, get like, three of the Mommies.””
  • “”We’re not going to break anything. Don’t think of it as breaking into SeaWorld. Think of it as visiting SeaWorld in the middle of the night for free.””
  • “”Ninjas don’t splash other ninjas,” Margo complained.

             “The true ninja doesn’t make a splash at all.”

             “Ooh, touché.”

A wildcard through and through though it has to be said, she’s a clone of Alaska in Looking for Alaska. She’s the driving force of the story and her involvement raises the stakes, the risk and ultimately, the excitement for the reader. The other characters are fine, all a bit same-same both in the story and in Green’s other novels. Margo is the measure for characterization. Compared to her, the other characters seem a bit flat and one-dimensional:

  • “I wrote on the corner of my notebook: Compared to those freshmen, I spent the  morning in a field of rainbows frolicking with puppies.
  • “Radar nudged me with one of the beer cups. “Look at our Ben! He’s some sort of autistic savant when it comes to keg stands.”” Apparently, the characters are as eloquent when they’re drunk as when they’re stone cold sober. Interesting.

Q could easily be replaced by Looking for Alaska‘s Miles or An Abundance of Katherines‘ Colin. Green does clone-characterization like no other.

Quality of Writing: 10/20

I like the writing and the quips aren’t all cringe-tastic. It annoys me that the contractions that are used (it’s, instead of it is; I’d, instead of I would) aren’t carried the whole way through the story. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not but it raises the question of consistency. The language is a bit OTT in places. Some of the phrases are questionable and Green has a tendency to spoon-feed the reader. Information overkill.

Setting: 10/10

Green’s dramatization of detail and scene-setting is incredible and what’s more, it doesn’t take us out of the moment. I’ve been to Orlando five times and the descriptions of Sea World and International Drive and the references to alligators are spot-on, anchoring the story in a particular place.

Comparative Literature: 5/10

The story is an improvement on Looking for Alaska and I much prefer Margo to Alaska. I do feel as though Green can’t write different characters in the way other authors can. His ideas differ but essentially, his characters all fall under the same, small umbrella. Gayle Forman demonstrates versatility and evolution of character between If I Stay (Mia) and I Was Here (Cody). Green shares similar problems to Stephen Chbosky’s Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Where Charlie reads as being much younger (due to his spontaneous crying), Q reads as being considerably older. The Orlando setting is concrete and the dramatization of scenic and communal detail cannot be faulted much like Forman’s Washington setting in I Was Here.

Overall Score: 58/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: Despite the sameness between Green’s titles, Margo is the element of “dark play” that increase the risk and raises the stakes. If you haven’t read any of Green’s titles before, I would suggest this one as a starting and finishing point.

Books You May Also Like:

I Was Here by Gayle Forman – delves deeper into the suicide theme and delivers on story and character

Looking for Alaska by John Green – though not as executed as well as Paper Towns, this story is a good read and the narrative-countdown technique piques the reader’s interest

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky – an interesting story with themes of abuse and mental health delivered more subtly than the two, previous recommended reads

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March 12, 2015 · 8:23 am

Thursday Morning Thought: Is the Book Industry Championing Diversity in YA in the UK?

It’s all well and good to shout it from the rooftops that “we need more diversity” in Young Adult Lit. but it’s another thing entirely to DO SOMETHING about it. I’ve compiled a list of most of the most YA and Children’s book prizes (only one of these is aimed primarily at YA though the Waterstone’s Children Book Prize does include a “best book for teens” category):

  1. The YA Book Prize
  2. The Booktrust Best Book Award
  3. The CILIP Carnegie Medal
  4. The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
  5. The Red House Children’s Book Award
  6. The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize
  7. UKLA Book Awards
  8. Costa Children’s Book Award
  9. Blue Peter Book Awards
  10. National Children’s Book of the Year Award
  11. Waterstone’s Children Book Prize

While this list is non-exhaustive, I don’t think YA is fairly represented. The YA Book Prize is a fantastic achievement but it highlights a small selection of YA titles when, what I think we need, is a selection that promotes diversity. I’m not asking for an exclusive award for LGBT YA or the representation of African-American/Asian/Native American/Mixed Race (etc.) characters in literature. I want diversity in YA books to be championed; books that reach the twelve-year-old boy who’s being bullied for the color of his skin; books that will help the sixteen-year-old girl to understand that liking other girls is not a bad thing; books that will show children with dyslexia that the hero that saves the world might not be able to read and/or write but he can save the world just as well as any sparkle-in-the-sun, 6-pack vampire or the pretty blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Caucasian wonder. No, it’s not good enough to include diversity in the background and say “job done”. We desperately need new voices, untapped themes, developing and current social problems and illnesses that affect different teens. I’m not talking about niche publishing per se. It can still carry universal appeal. Teens that aren’t directly affected can help understand more about a classmate, a friend, a neighbor, a family member that has the illness. It’s simply about promoting diversity.

And for publishers, think of the endless opportunities; the new channels to market; the publicity that such a prize could generate. A story that touches on LGBT issues or race could be sold directly to schools, introduce talks at the Southbank Centre by the authors to tackle bullying in conjunction with schools. Publicity can be garnered from LGBT media, newspapers, social media accounts, newspapers, blogs, TV channels (etc.). Think global and as my Publishing MA lecturer once said: “think laterally”.

I’ve never announced this publicly, and I don’t know why I’m doing it now, but I have FAP – a form of genetic polyposis (FAP) that causes daily discomfort, pain amongst other, less attractive symptoms that I won’t remark on here. I had to have my large intestine completely removed when I was 13 to buy more time and a further two major surgeries when I was 17 and 18. I don’t want or expect a pity party. I’m all the stronger for it. I came out as “gay” when I was 19 and my illness has been a sore point, my illness obviously having a huge impact on my life. I would have liked to have discovered David Levithan’s work (and the work of similar authors) earlier when I was denying who I was on a daily basis. LGBT YA shouldn’t be placed in – what was once then – a very dusty, LGBT section (homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993 in the Republic of Ireland and as a deeply Catholic country, not as progressive about sexuality). It would have helped me to understand myself better. There is no YA story that I’ve discovered about anyone that has gone through what I went through and I don’t blame them. With books like The Fault in Our Stars and Before I Die though, there are new perspectives and themes starting to emerge and who knows, maybe one day, maybe myself or another polyposis sufferer might write that book.

New forms.

New voices.

New stories.

We need all of these to broaden our sphere of diversity. As Malorie Blackman, Children’s Laureate 2013-15 said: “[i]If everyone is white or Caucasian, it is just not accurate and it’s a very odd thing to do when we live in a multi-cultural society.” And she didn’t just mean with regard to race. I heard her speak at the London Book Fair 2014 lat year and she’s certainly championing diversity and not simply race as some trolls have slated her for on Twitter.

The potential opportunities are only starting to be tapped in certain areas of certain areas but the book industry has a long way to go. Can we create about the adventures of an Indian child for example? Can we print it in dual languages and cater for two markets; a market that English-language publishers in the UK seem not to have investigated, perhaps because the Big 5 are known for avoiding what has come to be identified as avoidable risk.

These are just my thoughts. If you feel differently, if you feel that I am wrong, I welcome any and all to a healthy debate either here, or on Twitter.

Final note: I’m happy to see LGBT books starting to take centre-stage this year:

More Happy None of the Above Simon Vs Tiny Cooper UnspeakableHalf Wild

#WeNeedDiverseBooksUK

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15 YA Spring Titles to Sink Your Teeth Into (***May Contain Nuts***)

Here are my YA picks for Spring 2015. I’ve tried my best to order them in the way I think the general reader would want to read them with a touch of subjectivitiy. If you have any feedback, comment below. Enjoy!

**Note that all covers used are the UK covers**

1. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

UK Release Date: 7th April 2015

US Release Date: 7th April 2015

Plot:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Hype:

North American rights were pre-empted by Balzer & Bray within three days of the manuscript being submitted and the story has the book trade buzzing. The author, Becky Albertalli, is a clinical psychologist and spent seven years working with a support group for gender-nonconforming children in the US. Penguin have also bought rights for her second novel.

Ideal for fans of: David Levithan and Stephen Chbosky

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/19547856-simon-vs-the-homo-sapiens-agenda?ac=1#

2. Under My Skin by James Dawson

Under My Skin
UK Release Date: 5th March 2015

US Release Date: N/A

Plot:

Seventeen-year-old Sally Feather is not exactly a rebel. Her super-conservative parents and her treatment at the hands of high school bullies means that Sally’s about as shy and retiring as they come – but all that’s about to change. Accidentally ending up in the seedier side of town one day, Sally finds herself mysteriously lured to an almost-hidden tattoo parlour – and once inside, Sally is quickly seduced by its charming owner, Rosita, and her talk of how having a secret tattoo can be as empowering as it is thrilling. Almost before she knows what she is doing, Sally selects sexy pin-up Molly Sue, and has her tattooed on her back – hoping that Molly Sue will inspire her to be as confident and popular as she is in her dreams.

But things quickly take a nightmareish turn. Almost immediately, Sally begins to hear voices in her head – or rather, one voice in particular: Molly Sue’s. And she has no interest in staying quiet and being a good girl – in fact, she’s mighty delighted to have a body to take charge of again. Sally slowly realizes that she is unable to control Molly Sue… and before long she’s going to find out the hard way what it truly means to have somebody ‘under your skin’

Hype:

Another story from 2014’s Queen of Teen. Dawson established himself last year with titles such as Say Her Name and This Book is Gay and his Number One gal-pal, Conchita Wurst. His latest offering, no doubt, offers a new and interesting twist delivered in classic Dawson-esque style. What’s that? You don’t follow? Then, I guess you need to pre-order Under My Skin. Now. Of course now. I’ll just wait…

Ideal for fans of: Kendare Blake and Alyxandra Harvey

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23058143-under-my-skin?from_search=true

3. The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan

The Dolls
UK Release Date: 1st March 2015

US Release Date: 2nd September 2014

Plot:

Eveny Cheval just moved back to Louisiana after spending her childhood in New York with her aunt Bea. Eveny hasn’t seen her hometown since her mother’s suicide fourteen years ago, and her memories couldn’t have prepared her for what she encounters. Because pristine, perfectly manicured Carrefour has a dark side full of intrigue, betrayal, and lies—and Eveny quickly finds herself at the center of it all.

Enter Peregrine Marceau, Chloe St. Pierre, and their group of rich, sexy friends known as the Dolls. From sipping champagne at lunch to hooking up with the hottest boys, Peregrine and Chloe have everything—including an explanation for what’s going on in Carrefour. And Eveny doesn’t trust them one bit.

But after murder strikes and Eveny discovers that everything she believes about herself, her family, and her life is a lie, she must turn to the Dolls for answers. Something’s wrong in paradise, and it’s up to Eveny, Chloe, and Peregrine to save Carrefour and make it right

Hype:

Though I’ve yet to read them, I admire an author who supports her stories with e-novellas, short stories and, in Sullivan’s case, e-episodes. It allows for the expansion and development of the world. I think the premise is an interesting one. I’m a sucker for paranormal and fantasy stories. Sullivan had me at murder!

Ideal for fans of: Kendare Blake and Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Links:

Link to a free chapter of the book and six free e-episodes: http://www.usborne.com/catalogue/book/1~EB~E14~8884/the-dolls.aspx

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18249114-the-dolls?ac=1

4. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black Holes

UK Release Date: 12th February 2015

US Release Date: 10th February 2015

Plot:

I’m getting higher and higher and I feel the swing set creak. ‘Be careful,’ he says. ‘Why?’ I’m not thinking about being careful. I’m thinking about one last push, of letting go, of flying, and of falling. ‘You aren’t allowed to die without me,’ he whispers.

Aysel and Roman are practically strangers, but they’ve been drawn into an unthinkable partnership. In a month’s time, they plan to commit suicide – together. Aysel knows why she wants to die: being the daughter of a murderer doesn’t equal normal, well-adjusted teenager. But she can’t figure out why handsome, popular Roman wants to end it all…and why he’s even more determined than she is. With the deadline getting closer, something starts to grow between Aysel and Roman – a feeling she never thought she would experience. It seems there might be something to live for, after all – but is Aysel in so deep she can’t turn back?

Hype: This feels a bit like a re-visioned Romeo and Juliet. I love reading something different. I think it will appeal to teens and twenty-teens because of the way it deals with a real social issue but uses it as the means for two people to come together and fall in love. High hopes for this one.

Ideal for fans of: Jay Asher and Cat Clarke

Links:

Goodreads: http://www.bookdepository.com/My-Heart-Other-Black-Holes-Jasmine-Warga/9781444791532

5. Soulprint by Megan Miranda

Soulprint

UK Release Date: 12th February 2015

US Release Date: 3rd February 2015

Plot:

Alina Chase has spent her entire life in confinement. With the science of soul-printing now a reality, she is ‘protected’ for her own safety – and the safety of others – because her soul has done terrible things …or so she’s told. When Alina finally breaks out of prison, helped by a group of people with unclear motives, she begins to uncover clues left by her past life that only she can decipher. And she may not be as innocent as she once believed. Can Alina change her future, or is she fated to repeat her past and face the consequences?

Hype: I love the mystery behind this; the obliviousness of the main character’s actions that obscure whether she’ll be the hero or a sort of anti-hero. What is soul-printing? And what has Alina done that’s so bad?

Ideal for fans of: Sophie Kenzie

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22392926-soulprint?from_search=true

6. Geek Drama by Holly Smale

Geek Drama

UK Release Date: 26th February 2015

US Release Date: 26th February 2015

Plot:

“My name is Harriet Manners, and I am a geek.”

Harriet Manners knows that the hottest observed place on earth is Furnace Creek in Death Valley. She knows that dolphins shed the top layer of their skin every two hours. And she knows just how badly auditions can go, especially when you’re a model. But she has no idea how to get herself out of the extreme embarrassment of the school play or what to do when arch-nemesis Alexa decides it’s the perfect opportunity to humiliate her…Can GEEK GIRL survive the bright lights of the stage?

Hype:

A hilarious World Book Day GEEK GIRL novella by award-winning, bestselling author Holly Smale. I love this. Seriously, I’m 24 and I don’t care. Holly Smale is a genius. Harriet comes alive in the pages and I literally LOL on the bus (which is worrying when you’re pressed up against sweaty armpits at the peak time rush!).

Ideal for fans of: Lousie Rennison and James Dawson

Links:

http://www.bookdepository.com/Geek-Drama-50-Book-Pack-Holly-Smale/9780008113483

7. Half Wild by Sally Green

Half Wild

UK Release Date: 26th March 2015

US Release Date: 24th March 2015

Plot:

“You will have a powerful Gift, but it’s how you use it that will show you to be good or bad.”

After finally meeting his elusive father, Marcus, and receiving the three gifts that confirm him as a full adult witch, Nathan is still on the run. He needs to find his friend Gabriel and rescue Annalise, now a prisoner of the powerful Black witch Mercury. Most of all he needs to learn how to control his Gift – a strange, wild new power that threatens to overwhelm him.

Meanwhile, Soul O’Brien has seized control of the Council of White Witches and is expanding his war against Black witches into Europe. In response, an unprecedented alliance has formed between Black and White witches determined to resist him. Drawn into the rebellion by the enigmatic Black witch Van Dal, Nathan finds himself fighting alongside both old friends and old enemies. But can all the rebels be trusted, or is Nathan walking into a trap?

Hype:

Sally Green’s Half Bad debut saw a boy in a cage at Manchester Piccadilly and the book itself gave witches a face-lift (arguably, literally) and experimented with first- and second-person narrative styles. This is certainly one to look out for. No doubt, we’ll see it in bookshop windows very soon.

Ideal for fans of: Rachel Hawkins and Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20814989-half-wild?from_search=true

8. The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough

The Game of Love and Death

UK Release Date: 2nd April 2015

US Release Date: 28th April 2015

Plot:

Flora and Henry were born a few blocks from each other, innocent of the forces that might keep a white boy and an African American girl apart; years later they meet again and their mutual love of music sparks an even more powerful connection. But what Flora and Henry don’t know is that they are pawns in a game played by the eternal adversaries Love and Death, here brilliantly re-imagined as two extremely sympathetic and fascinating characters. Can their hearts and their wills overcome not only their earthly circumstances, but forces that have battled throughout history?

Hype:

This has the potential to be amazing. I can’t add anything else, without sullying the plot, other than saying I love reading about diverse characters in YA Lit. I hope it’s a dual narrative and offers credible accounts from both characters.

Ideal for fans of: Jenny Downham and Gayle Forman

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20308537-the-game-of-love-and-death?from_search=true

9. The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

The Sin Eater's Daughter

UK Release Date: 5th February 2015

US Release Date: 24th February 2015

Plot:

Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she’s engaged to the prince, Twylla isn’t exactly a member of the court. She’s the executioner. As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month she’s taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla’s fatal touch, avoids her company. But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he’s able to look past Twylla’s executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla’s been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen. However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla’s problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?

Hype:

I got an advance copy of this last year at the London Book Fair and I have to say, it’s a damn good read with twists, romance, betrayal and action galore. The cover looks amazing and Melinda (from what I’ve gathered, tweeting her back and forth) is absolutely lovely.

Ideal for fans of: Ideal for fans of: Maria V. Snyder and Philip Pullman

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22536448-the-sin-eater-s-daughter?from_search=true

10. The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith

The Alex Crow

UK Release Date: 26th February 2015

US Release Date: 10th March 2015

Plot:

Ariel, the sole survivor of an attack on his village in the Middle East is ‘rescued’ from the horrific madness of war in his homeland by an American soldier and sent to live with a family in suburban Virginia. And yet, to Ariel, this new life with a genetic scientist father and resentful brother, Max, is as confusing and bizarre as the life he just left. Things get even weirder when Ariel and Max are sent to an all-boys summer camp in the forest for tech detox. Intense, funny and fierce friendships are formed. And all the time the scientific tinkerings of the boys’ father into genetics and our very existence are creeping up on them in their wooden cabin, second by painful second…

Hype:

The story is an interesting one (much like the rest, he says). The follow-up to Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle – I think we can expect another great read. I also heard that the book fairies left copies at London (underground) tube stations this morning.

Ideal for fans of: Markus Zusak and Sally Gardner

Links:

Goodreads: http://www.bookdepository.com/Alex-Crow-Andrew-Smith/9781405273428

11. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

I'll Give You The Sun

UK Release Date: 2nd April 2015

US Release Date: 16th September 2014

Plot:

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

Hype:

This one is described as “a radiant novel that will leave you laughing and crying” so obviously, I had to include it. I would have placed it higher except that A.) it’s a tough quarter for YA and B.) it echoes Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and that worries me a little. If it’s too similar, it will show but still, a potential good read.

Ideal for fans of: Karen Joy Fowler and John Green

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20820994-i-ll-give-you-the-sun?from_search=true

12. Unspeakable by Abbie Rushton

Unspeakable

UK Release Date: 5th February 2015

US Release Date: 5th February 2015

Plot:

Megan doesn’t speak. She hasn’t spoken in months.

Pushing away the people she cares about is just a small price to pay. Because there are things locked inside Megan’s head – things that are screaming to be heard – that she cannot, must not, let out.

Then Jasmine starts at school: bubbly, beautiful, talkative Jasmine. And for reasons Megan can’t quite understand, life starts to look a bit brighter.

Megan would love to speak again, and it seems like Jasmine might be the answer. But if she finds her voice, will she lose everything else?

Hype: This has echoes of Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me so I’ll just wait and see. It seems to offer some diversity (LGBT) and again, we need more diverse voices in YA, so that, along with the plot (and the John Green style cover) places this at the #12 spot.

Ideal for fans of: Tess Sharpe and David Levithan

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22103725-unspeakable

13. The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey

The Girl At Midnight

UK Release Date: 28th April 2015

US Release Date: 28th April 2015

Plot:

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known. Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants …and how to take it. But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

Hype: I love fantasy escapism. This looks like just the ticket. World-building and story; all we can do now is hope for character and distinct narration and Melissa Grey is on to a winner.

Ideal for fans of: Leslye Walton and Marcus Sedgwick

Links:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20345202-the-girl-at-midnight?from_search=true

14. Killing the Dead by Marcus Sedgwick

Killing

UK Release Date: 5th March 2015

US Release Date: N/A

Plot:

Set in a girls’ boarding school in Massachusetts a haunting and sinister story YA story for World Book Day from prize-winning author Marcus Sedgwick. 1963. Foxgrove School near Stockbridge, Massachusetts. One of the oldest and finest academies in the country – but what really goes on behind closed doors? Nathaniel Drake, the new young English teacher, Isobel Milewski, the quiet girl who loved to draw spirals, her fingers stained with green ink, Jack Lewis, who lent Isobel books – just words, just ink on paper, Margot Leya, the girl with those eyes – who are they, what part have they played in killing the dead? Follow the dark, dark path Into the dark, dark woods To the dark, dark bridge By the dark, dark water. Linger. Let the ghosts of heaven tell their story

Hype: A stylish and creepy story for World Book Day from the award-winning author of She is Not Invisible. Cheap and cheerful: what more could you want?

Ideal for fans of: Kendare Blake and Alyxandra Harvey

Links:

No Goodreads link available.

Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/killing-the-dead/marcus-sedgwick/9781780622392

15. The Prey by Tom Isbell

The Prey

UK Release Date: 12th March 2015

US Release Date: 20th January 2015

Plot:

In the Republic of the True America, it’s always hunting season. Riveting action, intense romance, and gripping emotion make this fast-paced adventure a standout debut. After a radiation blast burned most of the Earth to a crisp, the new government established settlement camps for the survivors. At one such camp, Book and the other ‘LTs’ are eager to graduate as part of the Rite. Until they learn the dark truth: ‘LTs’ doesn’t stand for lieutenant but for ‘Less Thans’, feared by society and raised to be hunted for sport.

Together with the sisters, Hope and Faith, twin girls who’ve suffered their own haunting fate, they join forces to seek the safety of the fabled New Territory. As Book and Hope lead their quest for freedom, these teens must find the best in themselves to fight the worst in their enemies. But as they are pursued by sadistic hunters, secrets are revealed, allegiances are made, and lives are threatened.

Hype:

We had The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and now, we have The Prey. There’s been a lot of talk about this one over at Team HC (HarperCollins – the publisher). It seems to be aimed at adults (marketed by the Harper Voyager – sci-fi/fantasy imprint) though it will be probably also resonate with a teen audience. Dystopian fiction has been exhausted in recent years (with big screen adaptations and book market saturation), this holds promise though I worry it could come off like The Hunger Games fan fiction.

Ideal for fans of: Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth

Links:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22061971-the-prey?from_search=true

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Rejected

River Ram Press #InspireWriters #InspireReaders

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I’ve gotten a few rejections this week, and they always suck. They suck even when people tell me how many times JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer got their million-dollar manuscripts turned down (not that I’m writing anything like Harry Potter or Twilight, but you get the point), and they suck even when I read motivational quotes on Literary Rejections until I finally feel like writing again.

Greg Daugherty said “Rejected pieces aren’t failures; unwritten pieces are” and Bo Bennett reminded us that “A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”

Still, I think most writers would have to agree with Isaac Asimov’s metaphor that “Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil.”

In any part of life, rejection sucks, but how we choose to respond to it is what really reveals our character. I made a goal last…

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‘Conspiracy Girl’ Needs To Be Left On The Shelf

Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

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Plot: 6/20

Nic Preston’s family were murdered in the famous Cooper case. The murderers walked free and Nic’s starting a new life. Two years later and someone comes to her home; someone who wants her dead. The two seem linked but Nic is after one thing alone: survival. The plot is strong and fast-paced, though interrupted with poor word choices, repetitious language and clichéd metaphors. I don’t buy Finn as the romantic love interest. It’s a deterrent from the main story, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if it felt like it had a place in the story. The truth is, it’s poorly executed, like a block of new apartments without a foundation.

Alderson holds all the cards but she throws them down too early. The story turns into a clichéd nightmare, most, if not all, of which you could guess. The only good thing about sub-standard YA books like this are that they provide a measure by which the really good ones shine bright.

Nic tells us, verbatim, at one point, that Finn leaves her standing, swaying inches from an open flame. What’s wrong with him? When Goz is hurt, Nic screams for him yet she abandons him one page later with little consolation. There’s no evidence of any protective measures either by Agents Corbell or Ziv at the safehouse. They don’t seem to perform any checks and they don’t immediately confiscate her phone so they can’t be tracked through her signal. I’m not a federal agent and even I know this.

Narration: 5/20

Finn’s initial narrative appears, at first, to be quite technical, though on closer inspection, his narrative is bland with the technical reinforcement of an Introduction to Computers 101 graduate. Alderson quickly diverts attention from what seems to be a lack of technical know-how to Finn’s criminal and charitable accomplishments. Finn’s perspective is feminine, maybe more so than Nic’s and just as bland. It’s obvious in the language that his narrative was penned by a female author (nothing wrong with this if (A) it sounds like a guy or (B) you wanted him to read like a fifteen-year-old fangirl). He notices the maitre d’s bleached-white smile at his favourite steakhouse, how Nic’s hair fans out over the bed and how he wants to brush it away from her cheeks, how her hair hangs loose… Grow a pair.

At one point, he talks about not being able to forget the first time he met Nic but instead, starts rambling on about the FBI and his regrets. Logic missed the first turn in this ink-and-paper car crash.

When Nic thinks back to her mother’s and stepsister’s murders, we get some dialogue between the murderers. There’s nothing indicative of their South African roots (which a true storyteller would have achieved) but that’s not what bothers me so much. It’s the cartoony-villain caricature that they emanate that makes it impossible to take them seriously.

And then we come to Finn’s narration (*shudders* – prepare yourself!):

  • “She [Maggie] looks like an angry, little leprechaun.” No, just no.
  • “She [Nic] swallows drily before continuing…” How does Finn know this? Has he had an out-of-body experience?

And then we have Nic’s narrative (even worse, if that’s possible):

  • “He’s still trying not to grin.” How does Nic know this? Is she suddenly telepathic?
  • Nic reads like a manual on how to repair Boeing engines (though this is insulting to Boeing): “’Well, from what you just told me,’ I say, ‘and from what I already know about you, I don’t doubt that you lied and somehow found a way to cheat the system, depriving the rightful Snapple winner of their deserved prize.And I also don’t doubt that in your mind you can probably find a way to justify it.”’ Does this sound like a teenage girl you’ve ever met? Just saying.

Two things that worked well in Nic’s narrative were a handful of descriptions (“drool hanging like viscous vines from his teeth…”) and her Big Brother reference which helps to anchor the story in a particular place. Her commentary on Finn is occasionally interesting too:

“A mix of contradictory thoughts and feelings rushes through me; disgust that he thinks it’s OK to hook up with the delivery girl, annoyance that women seem to just offer themselves up to him like hot slices of pizza…”

I don’t see why we need to hear Finn’s voice, especially when it’s as bland as Nic’s. They spend 90% of the story in each other’s company. A dual narrative works best when the characters are separated for the majority of the story (and it also helps when both voices don’t sound the same).

Character: 5/20

Nic and Finn are clichéd to the nines. They have that whole regurgitated, predictable relationship developing when really, there isn’t grounds for this. They’re being hunted by assassins but he comments on the swish of her hair and her scent. She comments on Finn’s sculpted body and his strong arms. Goz is the only one with a bit of personality. Maggie is a decent character though I think we should be able to see more of the strong, independent, feminine side of her character throughout.

Finn and Nic, in general, irritated me in a way that no character has irritated me since A Shade of Vampire:

  • “It doesn’t actually taste that bad, if you can get past the texture, which reminds me of rubbery intestines.” How does she know what intestines taste like? (Nic)
  • “I can’t stop my gaze from falling to his chest. He’s seriously ripped.” You HATE him. You think he was responsible for the injustice of your family’s murder. What the hell? (Nic)

I’m not convinces the maitre d would grab Finn’s thigh either. If she was that aggressive, any normal person wouldn’t return to the steakhouse. I mean, she practically stalks him to his house and he seems to have some awareness of this. What I don’t get is why he still went all those times? Find somewhere new for God’s sake. Not. Buying. What. You’re. Selling.

There were odd glimpses of hope for both characters sprinkled sparingly (unfortunately) throughout the story:

  • “In which case it’s no holds barred and they better have good health insurance.” (Finn)
  • “One girl freaked out and left, thinking I was some kind of serial killer and that it was a refrigeration unit where I was storing dismembered bodies. She’d obviously been watching too much Dexter. Another girl asked, with a little too much eagerness, if it was my red room of pain. She’d obviously been reading too much Fifty Shades.”

More of this and less of the Mills and Boon content (the beefy guy, the hard slabs of muscle and the ripped body) might have helped this read more like Gone Girl and less like a PG version of Fifty Shades.

Quality of Writing: 4/20

Lazy and repetitious word choices: “gaze”, “stare”, the raising of eyebrows, the rolling of eyes; everyone is “smiling” in this fairytale thriller and Finn constantly and consistently “grins”; a caricature male, YA lead if ever there was one. Nic’s heart is always “hammering” and “beating wildly”. Nic drops in Dr. Phipps, her therapist, quite subtly. Kudos for that.

This aside, there are two other language issues that prevented me from getting lost in the story –

(1) Weird word choices:

“My heart is flying in my chest.”

“I turn the corner on my street and take a glance over my shoulder.” (Why not just glance?)

“a creaking noise from somewhere in the apartment makes us both freeze…” Well, duh! We know it’s inside the apartment. You spent needless pages telling us about it.

“a waft of perfume”

(2) Distancing language:

“Sleep has its arms wrapped tightly around me and its pulling me down.”

“All of a sudden my attention flies back to the door.” Poor choice of words and the focus is on “attention” which distances us from Nic.

“I can tell she’s walking fast by the clipped tone she’s employing.” Do I really need to comment on this?

Setting: 5/10

The setting isn’t too clear. At first, I thought it was North America and then, maybe England, with all the British references. It took me a while to get to grips with the fact that she’s British, living in L.A. There really needs to be more subtle references to indicate this throughout. The mix of American and British references is jarring. My main issue comes with the description, particularly in Vermont, where Nic describes every detail. The writing demonstrates a clear inability to dramatize any of the locations’ details.

Comparative Literature: 2/10

It lacks the intrigue and mystery of S. J. Watson’s Before I go to Sleep. It lacks the natural romance and tension of A.J. Grainger’s Captive. It lacks the characterization of Anna Dressed in Blood. There’s nothing original or different in this story. Clichéd characters and writing style, bland, narrative voices though a decent concept but one whose delivery is poor.

Overall Score: 27/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Slate it: Conspiracy Girl feels like it was written by someone who took a one-hour, dodgy online Creative Writing course. Usually, I pass along decent reads to my best friend and fellow bookworm but I’d be embarrassed to give this book to a charity shop. There was so much more I could have commented on; like how Nic and Finn read younger than they’re meant to be or the information dumps throughout – not to mention the for-the-reader’s-benefit passages. Avoid at all costs.

Books You May Also Like:

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake – a powerful, well-executed story that encompasses horror, terror and mystery

Before I go to Sleep by S. J. Watsonthough it’s not YA, it does have an interesting premise; a woman with amnesia struggles to remember her life but as she remembers, she realise that everything may not be as it appears

Captive by A. J. Grainger – this is everything that Conspiracy Girl could have been; high on thrills, tension and suspense with a sprinkling of romance

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February 9, 2015 · 12:58 pm

‘The Age Of Miracles’ Is Upon Us

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

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Plot: 12/20

An ordinary girl. An ordinary boy. An invisible catastrophe.

When the Earth’s rotation starts to slow, longer days and nights are the least of the world’s worries as the Earth, as they know it, irrevocably changes. In the chaos, Julia and Seth find their very own unknown. I should start by saying that I generally hate end-of-the-world/apocalypse/eco-disaster books. I read the synopsis and dread the thoughts of reading them but this one surprised me. Cleverly crafted, the Earth’s rotation might be the driving force of the book but it’s the effects it has on Julia and her community that are foregrounded. The “slowing” feels unnecessary though and the ending is unsatisfying. The story focuses on the breakdown of relationships and coming together (in other instances) but the ending does not deal with the can of worms it opens. Furthermore, I feel as though an explanation of why scientists didn’t see this coming might have given the premise more weight.

Narration: 16/20

Julia narrates the story, framing it in an adolescent’s viewpoint, describing everything in poetic detail and relaying the events proceeding the first news broadcast. I love her observations and perception of her changing world:

  • “I heard the click and creak of the liquor cabinet, the clinking of ice in a glass.”
  • “Bouquets of fine wrinkles fanned out from her eyes.”

She exhibits flashes of humour:

  • “There was a lot to learn about the care of hair and skin. There was a proper way to hold a cigarette. A girl wasn’t born knowing how to give a handjob.”

She can ratchet up the tension:

  • “We were driving a silver station wagon, although the police report would later describe it as blue.”

Despite all of these good points, I feel as though Julia could have demonstrated more of her character in her observations. In a crowded market, the narration is sharp but with a character infusion, it could have really set it apart from the competition.

Character: 14/20

I like the cast of characters. Julia’s voice, like many of the others, definitely could have been pushed even further. She’s an observer; something of a fly-on-the-wall but I feel as though she could be much more. I find the mother and father believable. I’m particularly intrigued by the father. He seems to be one thing one minute, but he changes dramatically when the “slowing” occurs.

Quality of Writing: 18/20

The writing is beautiful and evocative. There’s not much more to say except maybe give a few examples:

  • “I missed Hanna like a phantom limb.”
  • “Every morning officials announced the minutes gained overnight, like raindrops collected in pans.”

Setting: 10/10

Set in a suburb in California, it’s the subtle ways that Walker shows this that make it an easy read:

“A familiar breeze was blowing in from the direction of the sea… The eucalyptus trees were fluttering like sea anemones in the wind…”

And how Walker weaves the evolution of Julia’s world into the everyday relationships and happenings of her community. We get an image of the fairgrounds and in particular, the description of the Ferris wheel stands out, its last remaining bucket likened to the last red leave before autumn.

Comparative Literature: 6/10

It’s difficult to compare this to other YA books as it’s a more subtle story, combining a dystopian element with romance, relationships and human nature. The dystopian element is simplistic but it works for this story that it comes across as wholly unnecessary. It lacks the complexity of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. The dystopian elements of these stories are pivotal to their plots. That’s not really the case with The Age of Miracles. It’s the breakdown of relations and the exploration of human behaviour that fascinates me and the “slowing” serves as nothing more than a backdrop that is never properly dealt with.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Funny and gripping observations that ratchet up the tension
  • An interesting dystopian concept though one that does not deal with the can of worms that it opens
  • An coming-of-age story that contrasts the coming together of family with the breakdown of relationships

Overall Score: 76/100

Books You May Also Like:

Wonder by R. J. Palacio – a heart-warming story with memorable characters that will resonate with a universal audience

Gone by Michael Grant – the disappearance of adults and development of supernatural powers sets the backdrop for this story about struggle, loyalty and friendship

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a story about community and the struggles and secrets that threaten it

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January 28, 2015 · 12:37 pm