Showing posts with label Book Reviews - YA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Reviews - YA. Show all posts

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Review: Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee and Susan McClelland

Every Falling Star is the first novel to bring the reality of North Korea to a Young Adult audience. It's the true story of boy brought up in relative comfort of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, when suddenly, and without explanation, he is thrown into a world of unimaginable poverty.

At first, he is told is that his family are going on vacation, only to find that the house they are staying in is basic to the extreme. It soon becomes clear that this isn't a vacation at all and their new life is fraught with danger. All he can work out is that his father, who had an important job in the military, has done something to warrant this punishment on his entire family.

At the age of 12, Sungju finds himself alone and has to rely on his wits and the support of a small gang of street kids to survive. He learns to fight and steal while trying to avoid arrest, imprisonment and the fear of execution.

Every Falling Star is an incredible tale of hardship, friendship and survival - how someone really determined can adapt to impossible circumstance, and the painful cost that entails. A horrifying eye opener to a world shrouded in secrecy. Highly recommended.

The Authors


Sungju Lee speaks across Europe, Asia, and North America about his experiences and about North Korean political social issues. He lives in South Korea but studies in England.

Susan McClelland’s first book, Bite of the Mango, was a worldwide sensation, published in more than 30 countries. She lives in Toronto, Canada.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Review: Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

Two's company, three's a crowd, and Mandy never quite fits in with two close friends Petra and Tina. Maybe it's this feeling of not quite being part of the gang that causes her to hang back while Petra and Tina go into the old house they are so drawn to. And maybe that's why Mandy is alive to remember events of the night when her two friends went missing. The story kicks off five years later when the house is finally demolished and Mandy sees something that turns the whole mystery on its head.

The three main characters are drawn well and the friction of the three-way relationships is spot on. I really enjoy realism and grit in YA fiction and this certainly delivers in that respect, and there are aspects of the thriller that really grabbed me. It certainly ticked a lot of boxes for me as a reader.

Moth Girls takes a while to get going, and for me, there was a lot of meat on the bones that could have been trimmed - in particular, Mandy's interest in boys at school and the Tommy vs Jon subplot. While I understand the importance of this, it just didn't grab me the way the relationship between the girls did. It felt like it was beefing the story out when all I really wanted was to get back to the main mystery.

The ending is rather subtle and so understated that on first reading, I thought it was a case of deus ex machina. Having looked at it again, I think it's rather clever, but can't help feeling than Anne Cassidy missed a trick - but maybe that's just my taste. Sometimes, a bit of harsh reality (as is the case with Moth Girls) can resonate at a deeper level than plot twists and shock tactics.

Overall, a very good mystery thriller. Great stuff.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz

Loved this book.

Generally speaking, it's not YA, but I've added the YA tag - more on that later.

For the most part, The Three is a book within a book, and then follows the story of the author to see the long term effects of having had that book published.

I'm going to keep this short to avoid spoilers, but the basic plot is that four planes crash on the same day. In three of the planes, there is a single survivor and each one is a child. Perfect ingredients for conspiracy theories.

What follows is a collection of interviews and transcribed chats, webchats and tweets. Sounds complicated, but the stories grab you tight and pull you in. Very, very readable. But what really takes it to the next level is that each voice is so individual - so take note if you're interested in writing, because this book is quite simply a master-class in controlling your writing style to fit different characters.

I particularly loved Chiyoko and Ryu's story. (This is the reason for the YA tag). Thanks to this, I have a new favourite emoticon: Orz - meant to look like a figure kneeling down and banging his head on the floor.

The book has had some negative reviews for the ending, but for me, it's the ending that made the book what it is. If you're a fan of the TV series LOST, you might remember how the ending caused a big stir, and a lot of people spitting their dummies out. Same thing here I suppose. Some people like their threads all nice and neat and tied up; others enjoy something a bit more unsettling, something that keeps your brain ticking after you close the book and creeps into your dreams. That's me. Right there.

Great book.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

This book won the Costa award, which makes sense: I felt like I needed coffee to get me through it!

Having said that, there is a lot that I enjoyed about The Lie Tree. Without giving spoilers, the plot has a wonderful touch of misdirection. I love it when magician hides their secrets in plain sight. Some of the imagery is incredible with beautifully written figurative prose. So I enjoyed the writing too - just not the story. 

The plot drags itself into life as Faith, the daughter of a "natural scientist" does little more than observe the actions of adults - after all, she's just a girl in a world where only men have sufficient brain capacity to understand science so there's not a great deal for her to do other than sneak a look at this, listen and feel sorry for herself.

She takes a more active role in the second half and pulls off some really cool scenes. The boat, the cave... and I especially liked the bag of rats. But it just wasn’t enough. She had no presence, no voice, and I found myself constantly checking how much longer I had in each chapter. 

As for the ending... With such strong, gothic undertones I was hoping for something more, something dark and as haunting and original as the idea of the tree itself. I felt a bit let down. There's nothing bad here, just nothing that made me really love it.


Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Review: Station Eleven by Emily St.John Mandel

For the next three reviews, I'm going to look at three post apocalyptic novels. The first is Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I'll hold my hands up here - it was the cover that grabbed me. Simply beautiful. But the story pulled me in too, so I'm glad the cover did its magic

I mean this in a light-hearted way when I describe it as The Stand for the Twitter generation. When a novel starts with a virus bringing civilisation to its knees, it's hard not to make a comparison - and the similarity doesn't end there.

Station Eleven follows the trail of the Travelling Symphony, a small troupe travelling the land fifteen years after society's collapse, performing music and Shakespeare to scattered, surviving towns. Having left two of their group behind, they return to that same town to find the place overrun and under the violent control of the self proclaimed Prophet. Later, discovering a stowaway, they realise The Prophet is going to make sure to hunt them down and take back what is his.

This is where I come back to The Stand. The Prophet certainly comes across similar to Randall Flagg, and I could feel the tension building towards a major confrontation. A fantastic build up. Unfortunately, the showdown was a let down and over far too quickly.

That aside, I would still recommend Station Eleven for the fact that I love the idea that in a post apocalyptic world, there will still be people who see the value in entertainment. The troupe's caravan has a quote, taken from Star Trek, emblazoned on its side: "Because survival is insufficient."

I've tagged this post under YA reviews because, to me, it just feels like YA. It's an entertaining, quite mesmerising novel, and despite not being generally recognised as horror, Station Eleven made the shortlist for the 2015 August Derleth Award.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Review: The Rats by James Herbert

When I was about fourteen, I was on the metro, travelling to Newcastle. This was a regular way to spend Saturdays - I usally wandered about on my own. On this day, just as we were heading into a tunnel, an older kid nearby suddenly said to the lads with him, 'This is just like that bit in The Rats,' and began telling a scene where a tube train ground to a halt in the darkness of a tunned and went into gory detail about what happened next. I was hooked, and when the metro stopped, I went directly to a book shop. The only problem was that I had no money, so I had to read a few pages in one shop, go on to the next and read a few more pages then. Luckily, back then there were lots of books shops in Newcastle city centre.

It's good to see The Rats is still going. The story is simple: giant rats kill loads of people. The mystery is where the rats have come from, but it doesn't really get deeper than that; most of the attraction was the way in which the victims die (like I said, I was fourteen). It got me hooked on James Herbert (I had already read The Fog, thanks to my English teacher slagging it off as sick drivel - cheers for that).

James Herbert calmed his style down in later years, but despite this essentially being an adult horror, I've included the YA tag in this review because it was a teen that recommended it, I was a teen when I read it, and most of my friends got into James Herbert around the same time - partially because I'd written him a letter telling him what my English teacher had said. I've still go the reply.

Shortly before he died, James Herbert sent me a good luck message following the publication of CLASH. He's one writer I would have loved to have met in person.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Review: Fat Kid Rules the World

I want to start this new batch of reviews/recommendations with the book that really changed what YA meant for me.

Fat Kid... opens with Troy, who is so fed up with the way he looks that he's contemplating suicide. Troy isn't just fat, he's morbidly obese and his self esteem is through the floor. Curt, on the other hand, is so skinny he looks malnourished but oozes confidence and flair. He sees something in Troy that other people don't and decides he's the man to be the drummer in his band. The fact that Troy can't play drums doesn't seem to matter, and is pretty reflective on Curt's outlook on life - obstacles are just things to overcome. As the boys' friendship develops, we learn more about Curt, the kind of problems he has to endure, and why he is the way he is.

I want to point out that Fat Kid... is not an "issue" book. Yes, it's about self esteem and finding the real you, but it never feels like it's trying to spoon feed you some politically correct message. It's just a damn fine book. Secondly, it's thirteen years since I first read this. Now, I read books all of the time, and sometimes I look at a book I read just a few weeks back can't remember a thing about it. Fat Kid Rules the World has stayed with me.

The language is raw and honest. It doesn't hold back, but isn't OTT either, allowing both characters come across as genuine without becoming parodies.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Review: Brock, by Anthony McGowan

I love Barrington Stoke. I love the feel of the paper, the dyslexia-friendly yellow tint, the left justification, gaps between paragraphs... but best of all, I love that they give reluctant readers, or kids who have trouble reading, bloody good stories. Stories you can really get your teeth into. Stories that the author could so easily hold back, expand and release as a "proper" novel.

But sometimes a novella really packs a punch.  

Brock, by Anthony McGowan is like that. From the author of Henry Tumour and The Knife That Killed Me, Brock tells the story of Nicky, who has a tough enough life with a mother gone, a dad on bail and an older brother who has such special needs, he's little more than a child. Things take a turn when they are dragged along to witness the horrific, senseless killing of a wild animal. But when Nicky saves something from the destruction the other kids have caused, his and his brother's lives are changed forever.

Brock is about as lean as you can get, using simple, effective language to keep a great pace while maintaining atmosphere, tension, action, empathy... look, it's just brilliant, right. It's one of those books that might help kids who hate books, realise that some books are all right. And that's good enough for five stars from me.




Saturday, 6 April 2013

Moon Bear: Review

A few weeks ago, I had never heard of moon bears, or bear farming. My first thoughts was, who would farm bears anyway? And why? The answer is utterly abhorrent, and is the base for this powerful, horrible, brilliant novel by Gill Lewis.

Moon Bear is the story of a Tam, a boy whose family is moved, without choice, from their mountain village so the area can be cleared of forest. They are given a new home, but after his father is blown to bits by a hidden landmine, Tam is given a job in the city in the hope of making money for his family.

Tam has never seen a bear farm, and he's shocked by the way the bears are kept, living their entire lives in cages so small they can barely turn around. The cages are up on legs so that waste and urine falls directly to the floor. Tam's job is to clean up beneath the cages, avoiding the swipes of any bears strong enough to attack. Moon bears are a large black bear with a moon-like crescent of white on their chest, hence the name.

A small bear farm, where the bears spend their entire lives.
The reason they are kept like this is Bear Bile. In many parts of Asia, bile from the gall bladder of a bear is considered a powerful medicine, believed to cure anything from a cold to cancer.

Tam witnesses the procedure of the bile being removed, and how the bears are sedated, but not so much that they can't feel the pain of a needle as The Doctor tries to locate the gall bladder and syphon off the bile.

Bear bile - believed to be the cure for... everything!
Things become much more difficult for Tam when a bear cub is delivered to the farm. Tam nurses the cub back to health, and promises, against the odds, that he will find a way to get free and return himself and the bear back to the mountains.

Moon Bear doesn't hold back, without being gratuitous. The language is simple, yet colourful - a deceptively lean style that pulls the reader along. More importantly, it doesn't play to the audience for sympathy, but earns the reader's emotions through honesty, cruelty and hope.

Highly recommended.



Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Review: Irresistible by Liz Bankes

This is is right out of my comfort zone, being teen chick-lit, and normally I'd never even pick it up, but that's the advantage of meeting the author.

I first met Liz Bankes at an event for Arabesque at Foyles Bookshop, London. Liz was there as a blogger. What I didn't realise was that Liz was also in the process of nailing a job as an Editorial Assistant to an amazing indie publisher. (Catnip!)

We met up again at the FCBG conference where I discovered she is also an author. So I grabbed a copy of Irresistible, but stupidly forgot to get Liz to sign it (doh!). Actually, I came away with loads of books, so I thought I might do a few reviews. Here's the first...

Irresistible is a 1st person YA romance with a sprinkling of black humour. Mia gets a job at a right posh restaurant/club/castle type thing. The sort of place that has £1000 bottles of wine in it's cellar, secret passageways in the walls and gardens to get lost in. Posh! Now, bearing in mind that I'm totally unqualified to review chick-lit, let's put this into terms I understand. Love triangle: Mia, Dan and Jamie. Dan works in the kitchen. Simple, safe. Jamie is the son of the owner, spoilt, good looking and an utter twat.

Erm... I really enjoyed it, probably because what Liz does well is create a believable, likeable, fallible baddie. Jamie is arrogant, controlling and destructive. At first, he comes across as all-powerful and completely condescending, but bit by bit, the power struggle shows signs of shifting and that he might possibly develop some level of respect for another human being, to the point where Mia has him eating out of her thighs hands. Actually, that joke isn't far fetched. I found it very interesting to see how far YA chick-lit goes. At the start, we are given a hint that Jamie can give orgasms just by kissing. At some point, the author had to deliver on that one. Ding dong!

Anyway, moving on... there is a lot of humour in this book - well timed and well delivered, but not enough to make it a comic novel. After speaking to Liz in person, I get the feeling that she's got a lot more to offer in this vein, so if laugh-out-loud, embarrassing, gut churning rom-com is your thing, then Liz Bankes is an author to be watched.



Saturday, 25 September 2010

Review: Revolver

Revolverby Marcus Sedgewick

The year is 1910. Fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson sits in a cabin in the Arctic Circle. Next to him lies the frozen corpse of his father. His sister and step-mother have gone for help, leaving Sig alone… until there’s a knock at the door.

The visitor calls himself Wolff. He’s big, imposing, terrifying, and by his side is the butt of a revolver. He claims he has unfinished business, and bit by bit we get a picture of what his relationship with Sig’s father was, and how he really died.

But Wolff isn’t the only one with a gun. Sig knows that in the storeroom, in a box on a shelf, there is another. As Wolff’s demands for justice intensify, Sig can’t think of anything else but his father’s gun and whether or not he can get it in time.

Revolver is an intensely gripping, claustrophobic thriller. It’s a short, uncluttered novel, making the pages fly by, but the story is deep enough to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

One thing I hate in novels is the feeling that I’m being spoon-fed internet research, that the writer is just regurgitating stuff he’s read elsewhere. This doesn’t happen in Revolver. The setting of the novel, the crushing cold of the world outside and isolation are given with minimal, but perfect details, making the world completely believable. I was very interested to read the author’s notes, that he actually went to Northern Sweden to feel the cold for himself as well as learning how to handle and fire a Colt revolver. These real life experiences pepper the novel with a genuine authority that really brings the scenes, the mood and the terror to life.

All in all, one of the best YA novels I’ve read.



The year is 1910. Fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson sits in a cabin in the Arctic Circle. Next to him lies the frozen corpse of his father. His sister and step-mother have gone for help, leaving Sig alone… until there’s a knock at the door.


The visitor calls himself Wolff. He’s big and cold and terrifying, and by his side is the butt of a revolver. He claims he has unfinished business, and bit by bit we get a picture of what his relationship with Sig’s father was, and how he really died. But Wolff isn’t the only one with a gun. Sig knows that in the storeroom, in a box on a shelf, there is another. As Wolff’s demands for justice intensify, Sig can’t think of anything else but his father’s gun

and whether or not he can get it in time.


Revolver is an intensely gripping, claustrophobic thriller. It’s a short, uncluttered novel, making the pages fly by, but the story is deep enough to stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.


One thing I hate in novels is the feeling that I’m being spoon-fed internet research, that the writer is just regurgitating stuff he’s read elsewhere. This doesn’t happen in Revolver. The setting of the novel, the crushing cold of the world outside and isolation are given with minimal, but perfect details, making the world completely believable. I was very interested to read the author’s notes, that he actually went to Northern Sweden to feel the cold for himself as well as learning how to handle and fire a Colt revolver. These real life experiences pepper the novel with a genuine authority that really bring the scenes, the mood and the terror to life.


All in all, one of the best YA novels I’ve read.


Friday, 28 May 2010

Review: The Knife That Killed Me

The Knife That Killed Meby Anthony McGowan

It was clear in Chapter Two where this novel was going, but I think that was intentional. It’s a bit like a crime novel where you’re presented with a corpse, so you know someone was murdered, but you climb aboard to find out why; you know the outcome, but you want to know the how and why. This is like that. You buy into the ride.
And it’s a pretty damn good ride.

Unfortunately, like the best rides, it’s over just a little too quick, but it leaves you wanting more. There is an incredibly fresh feeling to the writing that makes the voice of Paul come across as genuine, and a similar underbelly of black humour to Henry Tumour.

The other characters are great and Anthony McGowan has pushed the boundaries in order to make his baddy, Roth, something more than a cardboard bully. How he does this... well, that’s for the reader to find out. It certainly made me sit up and think, ‘Oh, he’s never going to go that far!’ Brilliant.

As for Shane – the mysterious, cool, confident leader of the nerdy goth/freaks (his words, not mine!). I felt a bit short changed. I wanted to read more, especially when hit with a scene of Shane self harming. That was enough to crack the too-good-to-be-true image that Paul had built up, giving him a shadow that I really wanted to explore. But, maybe a sprinkling of pepper is better than a coat.

Overall, good, strong teen fiction. A little too short, but still worth 5 stars.



Colin Mulhern