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#DiverseYA and the YAfictionados

Hi guys!

 

I haven’t posted in some time. I’m really sorry about that but I will be re-branding this blog in November on BlogSpot and I will actively booktube too.

 

I’ve been working really hard on the @YAfictionados Twitter and blog which can be found here. Check it out! As always, you can find yours truly @yablooker. We have some amazing interviews with authors such as Rachel McIntyre, Lisa Heathfield, Michael Grant, Louise O’Neill and more! We also have guest posts from authors, reviews and do giveaways from time to time so exciting stuff going on there (and hopefully on my updated yablooker blog soon).

 

This evening, we are launching our new Diversity Series which will look at LGBT issues in YA. The host account is @YAfictionados and will use #DiverseYA so chat with us and connect with fellow book lovers and authors. The Twitter chat will begin at 7.30pm GMT.

 

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Happy Reading,

Chris

🙂

P.S. Remember that we not only NEED diverse books but we DESERVE diverse books!!! We deserve to see OUR generation in OUR books. Let’s break the mould.

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September 10, 2015 · 4:48 pm

‘Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda’ Flies The Flag For Diversity

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

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Plot: 17/20                                              

On a microscopic level, it’s a story about a teenage boy “coming out”, not just to his friends and his family but to the world. When we zoom out, we see that it’s so much more than that. It’s about life and love; friendship and family; and ultimately, the unbreakable bonds that connect us as homo sapiens. The scene where Simon tells us that the story has very little to do with him and more to do with the people in his life really sums up the premise of the novel beautifully. When Simon is blackmailed by a classmate, he must help him if he wants to keep his sexuality a secret. Meanwhile, there’s Blue; a guy that Simon falls madly in love with and will do anything to protect. It’s a funny story, chronicling the ups and downs of everyday, teenage life. My only critique is that the author makes the identity of Blue all too predictable and so it takes some of the magic out of it for me. I think Albertalli could have also pushed the story a bit further in ways but overall, the plot is great and we’re finally starting to see the emergence of LGBT YA as a mainstream genre with universal appeal.

Narration: 18/20

Simon’s narration is generally spot-on. There are times when his perspective feels a bit stilted and generic, particularly at the beginning of the novel. Words like “freaking”/“fucking”/“fuckstorm”/“holy box of awkwardness”/“goober”/“goddamn”/“hell” make him come across as a bit of a caricature but luckily, he straddles the line so carefully that for the most part, it’s not an issue but when it is an issue, it’s like being hit by an eighty-miles-an-hour wind in December. Still, you can’t take away from the humorous narrative voice:

“So maybe it’s the winter air of maybe it’s soccer boy calves, but after everything that’s happened today, I’m actually in a pretty decent mood.”

Character: 18/20

There’s a lively cast of characters and even better, there’s tension and chemistry between them. The Leah-Abby-Nick triangle affects the other characters. Nick is great as the quiet musician. We see different sides to Marty; both vulnerability and a funnier, goofier side. We see the evolution of Simon’s character from start to finish. I particularly liked Simon’s sisters, Norah and Alice and the scene where Simon is grounded and, wanting to speak to Leah, he makes a deal with his Mom to allow her supervised access to his Facebook account. Seriously? They’re freaking hilarious! Simon has some really clever, witty lines too:

“‘The blondest circle of hell.’”

Quality of Writing: 20/20

Albertalli’s writing lulls you into the story with her easy, understated style. She demonstrates a powerful grasp of the English language while still staying true to what her character would do and say:

  • “So when the school day ends, and nothing extraordinary has happened, it’s a tiny heartbreak. It’s like eleven o’clock on the night of your birthday, when you realize no one’s throwing you a surprise party after all.”
  • “A couple of the girls put some junk in my hair to make it messy, which is basically like putting high heels on a giraffe.”
  • “And cranking Sufjan Stevens at top volume doesn’t solve anything, why is probably why people don’t crank Sufjan Stevens. My stomach is apparently on a spin cycle.”

Setting: 10/10

The story is set in Shady Creek and most of the action takes places at Creekwater High. Albertalli captures the physical settings perfectly but she adds another layer in her references to pop music (Tegan and Sara and Justin Bieber), specific locations (Chick-Fil-A) and gaming (Assassin’s Creed). Furthermore, the e-mails intrigue the reader and these, along with the Tumblr, lends the story a credible modernity.

Comparative Literature: 9/10

The writing is very reminiscent of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Is it an original story? Not necessarily but Albertalli infuses the story with a modernity that Alex Sanchez’s and much of David Levithan’s works seem to lack. It’s s standout in its genre and something that will have universal appeal; it’s a story that will reach out to many teens, regardless of sexuality. Personally, I give Albertalli two-thumbs-up for managing for making something that could have been extremely niche, so universal.

Overall Score: 92/100

Rate it or Slate it?

Rate it: The words are the wrapping paper, the characters are the gift and somewhere in between lie the kernels of truth of the everyday life.

Books You May Also Like:

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan – for an LGBT story infused with character and humor

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger – a funny LGBT story that explores the sexuality and the social minefield

Rainbow Boys by David Sanchez – a coming-of-age story about three boys, their secrets and betrayals

The Perks of Being a Wallflower for that same easy readability

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan – for a story about two different Will Graysons that encompasses hope, serendipity and love

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April 10, 2015 · 7:53 am

‘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

Me and Mr. J

Me and Mr. J by Rachel McIntyre

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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

Paper Towns: Paper or Plastic?

Paper Towns by John Green

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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

‘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

Gayle Forman Strikes Gold With ‘I Was Here’

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Plot: 20/20

When Cody’s best friend, Meg, takes her own life, Cody is left with a hole that she’s unable to fill. She is consumed by her friend’s death. In a nutshell: the beginning hooks you; the middle won’t let you go and the ending will have you waiting with bated breath to see how it all goes down. The plot is P-E-R-F-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Narration: 20/20

Cody narrates the story, feeding us little bits about Meg and her life while simultaneously chronicling her own grief and how she processes it. I love the personality we get with Cody’s voice and what’s more, I feel like I’m reading a journal, something so real and tangible like I was there when it unfolded. It’s nothing short of a beautiful, authentic narrative and here’s one of my favourite moments:

“I used to spend so much time at Meg’s house that I could tell what kind of mood Sue was in by what I smelled when I walked through the door. Butter meant baking, which meant she was melancholy and needed cheering. Spicy meant she was happy and making hot Mexican food, for Joe, even though it hurt her stomach. Popcorn meant that she was in bed, in the dark, not cooking anything, and Meg and Scottie were left to their own devices…”

Character: 20/20

Cody carries the story and that’s OK. Her voice is so strong and it sticks with you long after you read it. Ben is spot-on as the romantic element though he doesn’t come off as unnecessary. He feels like a central part of the story. Alice, Stoner Richard, Scottie, the Garcias – Forman knows how to craft and create characters that fit in perfectly with her world.

Quality of Writing: 20/20

I devoured this book. It’s a compulsive read. I loved everything about this book but especially, that the sentences Forman strings together are quotable and memorable:

Setting: 10/10

Forman anchors the reader in physical places like Tacoma, Washington but also manages to infuse them with personality and captures a communal atmosphere that it resonates with this reader

Comparative Literature: 10/10

When I first read the synopsis, I wondered if it was just another author jumping on the suicide bandwagon (much like what’s happened to dystopian fiction in recent years). But I was wrong. This is an emotional and striking story about the search for redemption. Cody is as strong (if not, a stronger,) narrator than John Green’s Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars. The plot is a lot more sound too. It grips you and takes you on Cody’s rollercoaster journey in the way Jay Asher does in 13 Reasons Why. It goes beyond just being a story of suicide, instead looking at redemption, much in the way Cat Clarke’s Undone does, with revenge. I Was Here is poignant and tragic. It will make you laugh and possibly make you cry but one thing’s for sure, this story will stick with you. Having recently read If I Stay and Where She Went, this might be Forman’s best work; a sheer master class in storytelling. A must-read for 2015.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • Cody brings the story to life, building on the present and telling us about her past with a dry, sarcastic personality
  • An expertly-woven world with a real sense of community
  • A story with layers that does not focus solely on suicide and deals with this issue instead of dismissing it like so many other YA novels

Overall Score: 100/100

Books You May Also Like:

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher – a haunting story of a young girl’s suicide, told through tapes to the thirteen people that led her to her fate

If I Stay by Gayle Forman – a good read though it’s easier to gel with Cody as a narrator than with Mia

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – the story of a terminal, cancer patient and her newfound lease on life

Undone by Cat Clarke – a tragic story of a teenager’s suicide and his friend’s quest for vengeance against those who caused it

 

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January 16, 2015 · 12:11 pm

‘Captive’ Captivates The Reader

Captive by A.J. Grainger

9781471122927

Plot: 20/20

Captive tells the story of sixteen-year-old, Robyn Elizabeth Knollys-Green, the Prime Minister’s daughter. Kidnapped and held hostage by a mysterious yet seemingly gentle boy, she discovers some dark truths that threaten to change everything she’s ever known. Grainger knows how to ratchet up the tension. We get just enough insight into Robyn’s family and life to before she’s kidnapped quite early on in the story; a great contrast in establishing what and who she has lost. The tension accumulates gradually like a rising wave, demanding the reader’s attention. It’s a breath of fresh air in a market that has become dominated in recent years with vampires, dystopia and fantasy.

Narration: 20/20

Robyn, as the first person-narrator, is in direct harmony with the story. Her thoughts, her feelings, her perceptions; they all need to be felt first-hand versus the loss of  the closeness to Robyn and her emotions that would be lost in third-person. Her narration sets her tone and her age. We experience her resentment of her father’s position and the discord within her family as if we were there. When she’s being held captive, we see a development in her character, the desire to survive; that one element that keeps her fighting. We get, in ways a more resilient Robyn, but also a more vulnerable narrator.

Character: 17/20

While I like the narrative technique, I did feel like we were getting 80% of Robyn. I thought Grainger could have cranked the dial up to 100% and pushed it further.

“If looking like a boiled sweet were in this season, Michael would be right on trend.”

We get some great sharp descriptions that illuminate Robyn’s character though I wanted more. I wanted there to be no doubt in my mind who Robyn is before she’s kidnapped. What Grainger does sensationally though, is to capture the intricate little details -the traumas, the heightened awareness to pain and sensation, to her senses, her perception of her kidnappers and her environments – beautifully. She crafts Feather, Scar and Talon through their gestures and tones of voice.

Quality of Writing: 18/20

The writing veers dangerously into that area of excessive detail. Sometimes, it just needs to be snipped a bit to get to the point. Aside, from that, the story is told in poetic detail. I love tht Grainger changes it up and the first page of the story is perfect:

“Paris. The coldest winter in thirty years. The shivering limbs of trees pierce the deadened sky in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Ice clings to the abdomen of the Eiffel Tower. My father’s blood is a vivid stain on the white-laced pavement outside the hotel. In the distance, the sirens scream, but they are too far away.”

I love how Grainger personifies the trees and the Eiffel Tower and then, in direct contrast, distorts them with the striking image of Robyn’s father bleeding in the snow.

One of my favourite lines:

“‘Words are a powerful weapon. A single word can change a destiny. You wouldn’t waste a bullet – or a nuclear warhead. Don’t waste a word.'”

Setting: 10/10

After the incident in Paris, we are placed at Number 10 Downing Street, an iconic address that most, if not all, will be familiar with. Grainger’s descriptions are so vivid that one might think she lived there at a point in time. The accuracy of the real-life Downing Street furnishings is irrelevant if she can make the reader believe it.  When they go to visit their grandparents, the journey they take anchors us in Central London, giving non-Londers all that they need to set up the scene and picture the River Thames, Westminster Abbey and Parliament.

Comparative Literature: 10/10

I haven’t read anything quite like this. I’ve read stories where characters are kidnapped or taken hostage but never a story where we get to witness a character’s physical, mental and psychological trauma. It’s fresh and new; a story that deserves to be told.

NOW, to Skip to the GOOD BIT:

  • A fast-paced, rollercoaster ride of deception, survival and love
  • Poetic detail that will anchor you in the moment
  • A protagonist that the reader will empathize with

Overall Score: 95/100

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January 8, 2015 · 8:59 am

A Belated Happy New Year To All

A belated Happy New Year and a huge THANK YOU to all my followers on here 🙂 I hope you enjoy my Captive blog post. A minimum of five blog posts each month in 2015! Follow me on Twitter @YAblooker

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January 8, 2015 · 8:59 am