Young Adult Fiction

Book Review of The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

la belle sauvage

The long-awaited prequel to Phillip Pullman’s classic YA series, His Dark Materials is finally here. And fans of the original series will not be disappointed with not only a return to the world of the beloved main character Lyra Bellacqua, but a return to Lyra herself.

Just an infant, Lyra is still driving the narrative of La Belle Sauvage.  Hidden away with nuns, Lyra is already being pursued by a number of groups, and especially the real villain of this novel, Gerald Bonneville, a man so evil he torments and savages his own daemon (remember the charming quirk of this world is that each person expresses a part of their soul as a small animal).

The main character of this series though is Malcolm, a young boy who stumbles onto adventure whilst working in his parents’s pub.  Malcolm hears both about the existence of the hidden baby Lyra, and those pursuing her and takes an interest in her prospects.  This also leads him to connect with a group opposing the Magisterium – a rapidly growing group of religious zealots which we know take over the political landscape from His Dark Materials.  The closest relationship he forms is with Dr Hannah Relf, who reads Alethiometers.

Malcolm’s tender heart is captured by the baby, and when a flood occurs, he decides to take her to Oxford to seek sanctuary.  He is joined by Alice, a plucky girl he meets in the kitchens.

The two spend the second part of the novel hiding the baby from a variety of magical and non-magical foes.  This meanders a little, and feels a little like padding out the real story.  But all is clever and engaging.

A delightful return to a beloved magical world – it’s undoubtedly going to be popular with fans.  Pullman has given them more of what they want.


Book Review of Turtles All the Way Down

turtles.jpgDespite seeming hell-bent on ticking all the major boxes of YA Fiction, John Green still produces moving and heartfelt stories.

In each novel he tackles a topical issue facing young people – in the magnificent The Fault in Our Stars it was cancer.  In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, it was sexuality.  In Turtles All The Way Down, it is mental health and anxiety that he targets.

Aza is far from your typical teenager – obsessing about C Diff and germs that make it almost impossible for her to do normal things like eat lunch in the cafeteria, let alone kiss a boy.  But when Russell Pickett,  the millionaire father of an old camp friend goes missing, the quest for the reward will take her far from her comfort zone.

Together with her generally understanding best friend Daisy, Aza will begin to put the pieces together about Pickett’s disappearance.  However, putting together the pieces of her own story will be more difficult as her anxiety and compulsive behaviour become increasingly difficult to manage.

This started slow but i ended up binging the last hundred pages or so way too late into the night.  And that’s the sign of a pretty good read.  Fans won’t be disappointed.

Book Review of Release

Unknown-1Patrick Ness can write.  There is a real sensitivity to his stories both in their content and in the way they are written.

That beauty is evident in Release, his latest novel.  However, there is probably more here than needs to be.  There are two parallel storylines – one of Adam Thorne, a young man coming to terms with his sexuality and his romantic feelings for two men.  This is complicated by his religious upbringing; his father is a local pastor focussed on ensuring the family sets some kind of example in the local community.  They have been ignoring the signs of Adam’s sexuality for years.  Fortunately, Adam is surrounded by other friends whose love and support allow him to navigate some of these waters.

The other storyline involves a local girl who dies in tragic circumstances – a girl with a substance abuse problem and a violent boyfriend.  Her body is dumped in the lake where it joins with an ancient spirit to seek out the details of her death.  I’m not really sure of the purpose of this – it’s barely comprehensible and the Adam Thorne storyline is strong enough to stand alone without this.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has read this, to hear their take on the second storyline.

Book Review of Carve the Mark

carve the markVeronica Roth’s Divergent series was so incredibly popular, that publishing a new storyline, especially one markedly different, must elicit some angst – for the author and readers alike.  And while I haven’t read that many positive reviews of her latest offering Carve the Mark, I ended up really enjoying it.

Much less dystopian than Divergent,
is pure science fiction.  It concerns itself with two peoples who live on the same planet – the Shotet and the Thuvhe – but cannot live in harmony. The Thuvhe live quietly and peacefully while the Shotet pillage and scavenge, and violent existence best represented by their tradition of carving a mark on their own arms each time they take a life.

Naturally, a young man and a young woman from each culture are thrown together and fall in love.  But its a little more complicated than that.  This is a galaxy with two particularly interesting features. Firstly, oracles make the fates of important people public – and this causes political manipulation to attempt to challenge or protect fate.  The second, is the energy source known as the ‘current’ which flows around them all, and gifts each inhabitant with a particular ‘currentgift’. Cyra, our Juliet character, can make others feel pain, but the cost is that she lives in constant pain herself.  Akos, kidnapped from Thuvhe by Cyra’s brother as he was fated to serve them, is gifted with the ability to block the currentgifts of others – and thus relieve Cyra’s constant pain.  Eventually they come to mean something more to each other than forced companions and Cyra is forced to confront her brother – a violent dictator – and take a stand for the rights of others.

There’s more to the story than this, including the brother of Akos who becomes a willing oracle to the Shotet and an underground rebellion.  Overall, I thought this was a well-realised fictional world with interesting moral quandaries and the beginning of a tasty story.  Definitely worth a look.

Book Review of Good Me, Bad Me

The premise of Ali Land’s Good Me, Bad Me is one that intrigues.good me bad me

Annie, now known as Milly in the foster system is the key witness in her mother’s trial.  She was a serial killer of small children and since Annie was a child, she has been groomed to be complicit in these crimes, taught how to manipulate and gain trust.  Taught to make those who oppose her pay.  Taught to please by following in her mother’s footsteps.

Then the boy taken to the ‘playroom’ was one that was known to her.  And Annie decided to go to the police.  Too late to save the ninth and final boy though.

Now as Milly, she must try to begin again.  Fostered by a counsellor, her home is a mixture of care and therapy.  And Milly must decide which version of herself she is going to nurture as her new life begins to take shape.  She must make new friends.  She must hide her identity even though a woman with the same face as hers is on every TV screen and the cover of every newspaper.  She must deal with the bullying of her stepsister.  But how is she to do this when her every instinct tells her to lie and manipulate and make those who oppose her pay?

But if she wants to stay in her new life, with her new family, she cannot show any of these traits.  So which version of herself will win?

A great holiday read – engaging and fast-paced.  The ending disappointed me a little, but this didn’t take away from an absorbing reading experience.

Delighted Book Review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

untitledI’m way behind on this delightful little foray back into the world of Harry Potter, which has been out for months now.

Despite the playscript format – which admittedly I am reasonably used to reading otherwise may have impacted upon my enjoyment – The Cursed Child feels very true to the voice and spirit of the Harry Potter novels and the world in which it is set.  It is the chapter we needed to have – how on Earth do you grow up as a son of the most famous wizard who ever lived?

For Albus Severus Potter – the only Potter ever sorted into Slytherin – it has not been easy.  He doesn’t feel that he fits into his father’s legacy.  Instead, he is best friends with a Malfoy – who also feels the burden of his father’s previous actions.

When Albus decides to take action to be his own man and correct what he thinks are some of his father’s wrongs, he very nearly brings the wizarding world that we know and love to its knees.

It was delightful to visit our old friends again – seeing how successful Hermione has become and how haunted Harry still is by his past. Only the portrayal of Ron is somewhat disappointing, emphasizing only parts of his character and minimising his contribution to the original seven novels.

The new characters are wonderful too – and I could not have felt more at home in reading this play than if Rowling had done all the work herself.  I devoured this.

Book Review of The Fate of the Tearling

This Erika Johansen series began with huge promise, but failed to quite meet the mark towardsFate2.jpg the end.  While still an entertaining read, the excitement of the first book about the original characters and the promise of secrets revealed never quite panned out.

Although, there is still a lot to like about this book.  The ending is unexpected and somewhat original. After the storming of the second book, our hero Kelsea does – in general – become the person we hoped she would, and generally ends the series worthy of our admiration.  Plenty goes on and you won’t be bored.

However, the key secrets of the series are never really explained, and too many antagonists or too easily dispensed with or explained away.  It feels like Johansen changed directions somewhere after the first book, and we are still trying to find the connection even up to the end of the third.

I hear she is planning some more books set within this world from the perspective of other characters. I’m interested enough to have a look – especially if Mace or the Red Queen are set to be focal points – but not enough to be hanging on the edge of my seat.  A shame.