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Category: Genre: YA Speculative Page 1 of 4

Review: The Cracks in the Kingdom, by Jaclyn Moriarty

cracksSometimes it is good to be given books you’ve not specifically requested. If I’d seen the first The Colours of Madeline book in a shop or a library, I would’ve picked it up due to Jaclyn Moriarty’s name, but likely put it back down again when I read the blurb and realised it was fantasy. If I’d done that, I’d have missed out on reading an amazing series.

The first novel, A Corner of White, was a lot of fun. ‘Quirky’ is the word that seemed the best way to describe it, and the reviews I’ve read show that I wasn’t the only person to feel that way. With The Cracks in the Kingdom, however, I think the series has developed into something much more than quirky. It’s moving and exciting and intriguing, and I often found myself torn between wanting to rush through the pages to find out what would happen next – and why – and wanting to take things slowly, so that I could really appreciate the language and Moriarty’s great grasp of both character and style.

Although The Cracks in the Kingdom is the second book of a trilogy, it didn’t feel incomplete. There are still things left unfinished and questions left unanswered, but I didn’t feel cheated, because it still read like a complete novel, with enough resolution to counter the loose threads. That said, I’m still going to be grabbing the next book as soon as I can get my hands on it – not only because I want to find out what happens, but also because I’m pretty certain that I’ll be guaranteed a jolly good read.

The Colours of Madeline is an excellent example of just how good YA can be when it breaks away from carbon-copy fads and finds its own voice and concept in the hands of a talented author. It’s nice to know that I don’t have to say goodbye to Cello just yet.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Cinder – Marissa Meyer

Cinder book coverFive Things I Loved About Cinder

1. It is set in a well-constructed and interesting future universe. Marissa Meyer has given thought to the history of her world and to how this history influences the present time and the fears and actions of those who inhabit it.

2. It uses the Cinderella fairytale as inspiration, not as a blueprint. Often, retellings are just that, with no real creativity or innovation involved. Here, you can see the elements of the original story, but they’re used in a way that feels authentic within the setting.

3. It has a strong female lead. Cinder has plenty of insecurities, but she just gets on with her life despite these and despite her less-than-wonderful living situation. She’s a talented mechanic, devoted to the people she cares about and selfless when it matters, rather than as her standard.

4. It’s entertaining and well-plotted. The pacing is good and there is a strong mix of characters who do not feel like unaltered archetypes. Better still, the romantic lead has a lot more going for him than his looks – and he treats Cinder with respect.

5. It’s about a CYBORG OMG. Cyborgs are essentially my science fiction thing.

Two Things I Didn’t Love About Cinder

1. It contains a “twist” that is readily apparent almost from the very beginning of the book. Regardless of whether Meyer wanted her readers to be aware of this before Cinder, I always feel a bit duped when the big reveal is something I’ve known all along.

2. It is not a fully-contained novel, but rather the first quarter of a complete story. This is my biggest gripe with Cinder. I know series are the big thing right now, but every novel within a series should be able to be read and enjoyed as a book in its own right. I didn’t feel that with Cinder. It’s good enough that I will read Scarlett anyway, but the lack of any closure is annoying nonetheless.

Review: The Duplicate – Helen Fitzgerald

The Duplicate book coverThe Duplicate was introduced to me as a story that had been inspired by Carrie and Frankenstein. With that first impression, I just had to read it! The author, Helen Fitzgerald, refers to it as her “short, dark, weird one” and I was pleased to find that both the literary references and the promise of weirdness were supported.

Although written for the young adult market, The Duplicate should prove equally pleasing to adult readers. What teenagers will consider an entertaining read, will likely provoke greater thought in an older audience. There are many ethical and philosophical questions raised here, albeit in a black and quirky manner, and the things that are left unsaid nonetheless stick with the reader for a while.

My introduction to Fitzgerald’s work was Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin, which wowed me with its understated style and ability to convey character and plot without shoving them in the reader’s face. The Duplicate goes even further, with much of the story being implied, rather than outwardly told, especially in the sections told from the perspective of Barbara. It’s a stylistic choice that I’m always a big fan of, and it works particularly well with the science fiction edge to the novel.

I think the key similarity to King’s Carrie lies, not in the depiction of an unpopular girl who is tormented by the popular crowd at school (because, let’s face it, that’s a common theme in YA and real life), but rather in Barbara herself. It’s easy to feel sympathy for her as a character, but also easy to dislike her. It’s not that she’s weird: that’s actually a mark in her favour. Rather, it’s her overwhelming determination to buy the favours of the very people who make her life hell, changing her appearance and losing her dignity in the process.

In comparison, Rowena is likeable, surprisingly well-adjusted and, well, normal. The build-up of tension during her section of The Duplicate is very cleverly done, to the point of me being on the edge of my seat expecting a ghastly murder to eventuate at any moment! Sometimes I find dual protagonists unnecessary and a little irritating, but here they are used authentically, and I think Rowena’s voice forms a positive contrast to that of Barbara. I don’t think the book would have been nearly as effective if it had been told solely from the latter’s perspective.

The Duplicate is a clever, engrossing story, with a concept that I loved. The ending is fantastic, and my imagination is still running wild, thinking about what happened after the final page. A quick read, but an enjoyable one.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Every Other Day – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Every Other Day book coverEvery Other Day is the very best kind of escapist reading: the type that doesn’t require you to check your feminism – and brain – at the door. Sure, there are a few things here that ask the reader to suspend disbelief for a moment, but it’s paranormal fiction, and it’s no more than you’d expect.

The first thing that struck me about Every Other Day was the fact that this isn’t a novel set in the future. Instead, it’s a present-day alternate universe, with most things left unchanged from what we know. The big difference is that preternatural creatures have been a known part of the world since Darwin’s famous voyage. Our introduction to the book’s protagonist, Kali, sees her hunting hellhounds, and creatures such as dragons, basilisks and zombies also play their role in the novel. I found this AU very clever, and enjoyed it as a change from the usual paranormal settings.

Kali is great. She’s not entirely human herself, and doesn’t understand why or what she is, but that doesn’t stop her from doing her best to keep the true humans around her safe. She’s accused of having a hero complex, and that’s very much the case, but it’s always refreshing to have a female protagonist who’s strong and independent, even if the latter quality does tend to irritate her new-found friends.

Speaking of those friends, Skylar and Bethany add two more fantastic female characters to the mix. Bethany is popular and seems to be your typical mean girl at the beginning of the book, while Skylar is an outcast, who is “a little bit psychic”. Kali resists their offers of help but they pay little attention, meaning that Every Other Day boasts a cast of three likeable, active and three-dimensional female leads. If you’ve read a lot of teen paranormal fiction, you’ll know how big a deal that is.

In another move away from the standard, there is a complete lack of love triangles, controlling boyfriends or, indeed, anything but the slightest hint of romance in Every Other Day. This is not a paranormal romance. It’s straightforward paranormal fiction, with an action-filled plot and pleasing sides of character development, growing friendships and family dysfunction. And it does it well.

My only gripe with Every Other Day was the fact that I found it a little hard to get into, initially. Once the setting-up chapters were over, however, and the main plot began, I had no more reservations. Every Other Day is enjoyable, creative and packs an emotional punch. Recommended for fans of Buffy and strong female leads.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Fated – Alyson Noël

Fated book coverThe Cover:
It’s gorgeous. I love the yellow background, which is quite unusual, and the sepia toning used for the photo of Daire. The way her hair evolves into the flock of ravens is graphically attractive and a great hint at the novel’s content. I’m loving the font, as well.

The Protagonist:
I liked Daire, even if I have no idea how to pronounce her name. (Then again, this is the same for most of the characters in Fated. What is it about paranormal YA and names I’ve never heard of?) I think that Noël did a good job of giving reason for Daire’s independence and flexibility. Most teenagers would be completely thrown by the revelations that Daire has to quickly take on board, but her background travelling the world means that she is used to change and instability. I also appreciate the fact that Daire is the character whose powers form the focus of Fated. So often with paranormal romance, it’s all about the boy being special, and it’s always nice to have a protagonist who is powerful in her own right.

The Antagonist:
I get the impression that we’ll be seeing a lot more of Cade in further novels. In Fated, he’s a little two dimensional. We know he’s dangerous, because everyone tells Daire that he is, but we don’t really see much of his power. I did, however, appreciate that there was no hint of a love triangle involving Cade and his twin, Dace – at least from Daire’s point of view.

The Love Interest:
Fated falls into the instalove category of paranormals, unfortunately. Daire and Dace’s attraction is fated before they even meet, and so there is no slow build-up to romance in the novel, or even to friendship. Dace himself is a likeable character, however, and I think he’ll be a big hit with young readers. There’s a slight Jacob Black feel to him, with his Native American heritage and long black hair, which I’m sure will go down well! I appreciate the fact that he’s nothing but kind to Daire and her loved ones – no creepy YA boyfriend syndrome here. In this first novel, his and Daire’s connection is largely physical, which meant that I found it a little wanting in the depth department. I did, however, appreciate the fact that there was no moral judgement attached to Daire’s sexual urges.

The Supporting Cast:
I enjoyed Paloma, but my favourite minor character was definitely Chay. I’d love to see more discussion of their relationship in future novels. Xotichl was likeable, although I don’t understand including a character name that you know people won’t be able to pronounce, and I was intrigued by Lita. I think Jennika, Daire’s mother, would have bothered me more if I didn’t know her backstory and a little about the place she comes from with her decisions, but as it was, I actually thought she was a well-crafted character.

The Plot:
Fated is the first book in a series, which means that there is a lot of setting up to be found in the first couple of hundred pages. I’ve read other reviews from people who haven’t been able to make it past this section of the book to the action, and I can understand why. It felt like there was an awful lot of waiting around before things actually started to happen. That said, Noël has come up with an interesting concept, and it will be interesting to see where she goes with it. By the end of the novel, the reader is still left with a lot of questions about what Daire is and how she will have to use her new-found powers. When it comes to a series, I think it’s generally unfair to judge the first book too harshly for having a slow start, because all of that exposition has to happen somewhere. I did find myself wishing, however, that there had been a little more of a pay off for the long introduction when the meat of the story finally began.

The Writing:
Noël’s writing style was actually the thing I struggled most with while reading Fated. She uses sentence fragments. A lot of fragments. Building on previous sentences. Adding information. Rarely using grammar as it was intended.

See what I did there? Look, I’m a big fan of learning the rules of grammar and then using this knowledge to break the rules here and there in order to add interest to your writing. I think there comes a point, though, where this kind of thing can become distracting and, with Fated, I was constantly pulled out of the story by the lack of proper sentence structure. I enjoy an occasional sentence fragment, and use them for pacing and emphasis myself. When it reaches the point, however, where a half-page paragraph consists of one initial sentence followed solely by fragments, it just doesn’t work for me. Others may well consider it stylistically brilliant.

The Verdict:
Fated is sure to find its place in the current YA paranormal market. I think there’s still a large demand for this kind of story and, while there is nothing very new about Fated, it is this that is likely to ensure it becomes a hit with its intended demographic. I personally struggled with Noël’s writing style and a plot that failed to ignite a spark of excitement in me, but I believe that Fated will do well and will amass many fans – not all of whom will be in it solely for Dace!

Review: Storm – Brigid Kemmerer

Storm book coverI was really interested in getting my hands on Storm after reading some of the early reviews that have been posted. A lot of people have been saying that it’s a paranormal novel for teens that doesn’t feel exactly the same as the rest, and that had me intrigued. I usually enjoy paranormal aspects in fiction a lot; what I don’t like is the current fad for books that feel so very similar once you get past the shallow differences like character names and location.

Luckily, the reviewers were right. Storm does feel different. Largely, it’s because the romance here is always secondary to the action. But it’s also because of the interesting premise and the great characters than Brigid Kemmerer has created. The Merrick brothers have the potential to be huge, and rightfully so, because they’re the highlight of the book.

Putting the paranormal element (ha!) aside, I was actually reminded a little of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders when reading this book. There’s the same feeling of kinship and desperation with the boys and, of course, the family situation is also similar. I think most readers will come out of reading Storm with a favourite brother – and possibly a second favourite as well. (For me? Nick, with Michael in second place.) I loved how their interactions felt real. They fight like family and love like family, and that’s such a hard thing to capture. They’re not always likeable, but they’re never dull or one-dimensional.

It’s hard for me to describe my feelings about the novel’s protagonist, Becca, without giving away a lot of the plot. I liked that she’s caring, and that she’s strong in a quiet sort of way that forms a nice contrast to the strength of Hunter and the Merrick boys. I particularly liked that the book opens with her saving the male character, rather than it being the other way around. I think her fears and insecurities and her self-blame are all understandable and realistic, although I would have liked the victim blaming to be rebutted a little more strongly in the book.

Kemmerer’s clever concept of the elemental powers and affinities is also very well developed. Readers will come away from Storm with a sheepish urge to try to manipulate the elements themselves, because there is something so close to believable in the way it is explained. The pacing of the novel joins with this great premise and makes it extremely difficult to put down. It’s engaging and often exciting and a very enjoyable read.

One key aspect of Storm disappointed me, however, and it is one sense in which it is not so different from the glut of paranormal romances in the teen market. I am noticing a disturbing growing trend for authors to introduce rape and attempted rape as plot points intended only to allow a male character to rescue a female protagonist. In Storm, the attempted rape scene is particularly harrowing, and could prove very triggering to a lot of readers. It’s a lazy and disconcerting plotting practice and I believe that most authors are better than it, so I wish they would prove that fact by showing that a boy is kind or devoted in another way. Overall, I’m ambivalent about the presentation of female sexuality in this novel, so I hope that the rest of the trilogy turns that ambivalence to a more positive feeling.

Despite this, I really did enjoy Storm a lot. I love the Merrick brothers and the premise and the way that the plot kept me guessing from start to finish. I’m glad that there isn’t a whole year to wait until the next book, because I want to read more about this universe a lot sooner than that!

Warning: Includes an attempted rape, as discussed above.

Review: Fallen – Lauren Kate

Fallen book coverThis is going to be an interesting review, because I have enormously mixed feelings about this book. You have been warned!

Most people who are involved in the young adult book scene have at least heard of the Fallen books by Lauren Kate. I escaped the phenomenon for a while, but finally stumbled upon a copy of the first book in the series, Fallen, at my local library and decided that it was time for me to see what the fuss is about – and to decide for myself whether I fell into the pro- or anti-Fallen crowd. The verdict? I’m not really in either.

I think there’s a good book here. Unfortunately, it’s hidden beneath about two hundred pages worth of unnecessary writing and obscured by a surprising lack of explanation about why characters are the way they are and why events happen the way they do. It makes me wonder a little about what the original manuscript for Fallen looked like, because the final product reads like it could have used a good editor.

Don’t get me wrong. There are things to like about Fallen. Despite being an absolute brick of a book, it reads quite quickly, and whenever I picked it up, I happily read a good chunk of it before putting it back down. I also really enjoyed Arriane and Gabbe as characters. I’m always up for a book set in a boarding school – although I was disappointed that the exciting reform school element didn’t pay off for me – and I thought that Kate managed to evoke a very good sense of place in the novel. Although it annoyed me a little that things weren’t explained as well as they should have been, I nonetheless came away from Fallen feeling genuinely curious about the premise and I would probably pick up the second book in the series if I found it in the local library.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that I didn’t like, as well. I’m never a fan of insta-love, and the fated nature of Daniel and Luce’s attraction didn’t do enough to change my feelings on that trope. I thought Luce, Daniel and Cam were all very flat as characters, and that Penn could have been better developed into someone the reader could care more deeply about. Most of all, though, I feel like Fallen is missing an awful lot of WHY. Things kept happening, and there never seemed to be much of a reason given for them. Why do Luce and Daniel always fall in love without any real interaction or commonality? Why is a reform school filled with fallen angels? Why does everyone immediately flock to Luce the moment she starts school? You get the idea.

In the end, I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time reading all 452 pages of Fallen. It didn’t change my life, but it was a pleasant enough read – and I’ll quite probably end up reading Torment as well, if only in the hope of finding a few answers for the questions that Fallen left me with.

Review: Never Have I Ever – Sara Shepard

Never Have I Ever book coverWith Never Have I Ever, her second instalment in her The Lying Game series, Sara Shepard keeps the positives of the first book and cuts many of the negatives, leaving us with a better book overall. While I enjoyed The Lying Game, its sequel really drew me in and I think I’d now have to call myself a fan of the series.

All of the characters from the first book return for the second, but the big difference here is that the Twitter Twins, Lili and Gabby, play a much bigger role. Initially very annoying, they slowly become more likeable as the novel progresses, much as Laurel and Madeline continue to develop and become more-rounded characters. (Charlotte, in contrast, seems to slip into the background.) Most of all, however, Sutton seems to come into her own in Never Have I Ever. With the back-story out of the way, her strong voice is able to take over, so we find her cheering Emma on and groaning at her mistakes and truly feeling like a real character. Although it’s interesting to see Emma becoming a little more like her twin as the series progresses, it’s Sutton who seems to have the most room for character growth.

Once again, the mystery is at the forefront of the novel, and much of the plot is concerned with the identification of new suspects, along with a few new threatening situations that Emma finds herself in. While there’s certainly a formula to these books, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to watch it play out, even if we do work out the truth long before Emma and Sutton do! Shepard manages to keep the suspense high throughout the novel, which makes this a page turner and a surprisingly quick read.

My only real criticism of Never Have I Ever is that there were a couple of inconsistencies with the continuity. For instance, Emma uses Sutton’s iPhone at a point where it was still confiscated by her parents and, towards the end of the book, Sutton looks at Emma despite earlier stating that she can only see the world through Emma’s eyes. While such mistakes tend to draw the reader out of the action temporarily, however, they don’t detract from one’s overall enjoyment of the book.

Never Have I Ever was a lot of fun and its mystery well and truly has me hooked by this point. I’m definitely looking forward to reading Two Truths and a Lie.

Review: Forgotten – Cat Patrick

Forgotten book coverForgotten is based around a paranormal premise – that protagonist London can only remember forwards, instead of backwards like normal people – but nonetheless reads a lot more like contemporary fiction a lot of the time. London’s memory issues are always central, but there’s also a strong focus on family, romance and the mystery surrounding why London is the way she is.

With a protagonist who cannot remember anything about her past, Forgotten could have easily felt a little distancing, but Cat Patrick made the clever decision to keep London’s personality strong and constant, despite her needing to rely upon notes to feel her way in the world. I would have liked it if London had a few more people around her from her age group, as her complete reliance upon Luke for peer interaction isn’t very healthy, but I do understand that her condition would naturally make it hard for her to maintain many friendships. London is confident, interesting and empathetic – its just a pity she succumbs to Bad YA Name syndrome. London Lane? Oh dear.

Although I’d have liked to see London possess a few more friends, there’s no denying the fact that Patrick has written an extremely likeable love interest in Luke. He’s extremely supportive of London in all of her ventures (and moods!) and seems not to mind the quirks that stem from her memory issues. He’s definitely right up there on the list of non-creepy YA boyfriends. If only that list were a lot longer!

The most important and interesting thing about Forgotten, of course, is the novel’s premise. Patrick has both come up with a great concept and managed to maintain it in a reasonably believable manner, despite the logistical nightmares involved in working out how to allow London to function near-normally in the world. I like that some aspects of London’s abilities are left a little undefined, so that the reader is able to decide for themselves whether things are exactly as London believes them to be.

Towards the end of the novel, things start to be revealed at an increasingly rapid pace, which meant that I was left feeling a little like I could have done with an additional fifty pages worth of book! Some of these revelations were better signposted and supported than others, emphasising the abruptness of the conclusion. Certainly, there is a lot of room here for a sequel, although the absolute ending of Forgotten works well and the book exists comfortably as a stand-alone offering.

Forgotten has a great premise and an interesting mystery and should appeal to paranormal and contemporary fans alike.

Review: Drawn – Marie Lamba

drawnRecently moved from America, due to her father finding work at a prestigious English school, Michelle feels rather out of place in her new castle town home. When she first starts drawing a handsome guy in historical attire, she thinks nothing of it. But then a strange encounter at the castle makes her question whether the man in her drawings is truly a figment of her imagination – and draws her into the long-ago events that set into place the social structure still governing the modern day town.

Marie Lamba has proven herself to be a very proficient author of realistic young adult fiction, with her first novel, What I Meant… being published by Random House in 2007 and its sequel, Over My Head being much enjoyed by me when I reviewed it for my blog last year. I was intrigued, therefore, to discover that her next offering would be a paranormal offerings. There are no vampires or werewolves here, however. Instead, Drawn explores a connection across the centuries with a romantic interest who appears in Michelle’s life like a ghost from the distant past.

Michelle is a likeable protagonist, whom readers should find it very easy to identify with. Her isolation in her new home makes her immediately sympathetic and her determination to ensure Christopher’s safety is admirable. More importantly, she doesn’t fall into that all-too-common paranormal trap of losing herself in order to be with her love interest. She is willing to make sacrifices for Christopher, but will not stand for too many of his dated ideas about women.

Indeed, the best thing about Christopher, in my opinion, was the fact that he isn’t just a modern character in historical dress. He does not react to Michelle like someone from her own era and nor is his behaviour modern – especially when it comes to modesty! Lamba prevents him from ever seeming boorish, however, even at his most unrefined, which makes Michelle’s feelings for him believable – and will probably ensure he earns a lot of reader fans as well.

For me, however, the most fascinating character was William, son of the town’s most influential man. His depiction had so many different facets to it and his nature was so complex that I couldn’t help but be intrigued by him. He’s never entirely likeable – but that’s rather the point! In contrast, I wished that we had seen a little more of Constance. I found her character very interesting and a good foil to William and I would have liked to see how things worked out for her.

With a little help from Back To The Future, Drawn looks at the troubles associated with time travel to the past, in terms of changing the present, but also deals with the difficulties of a a romance where the two lovers’ worlds and lives are not just separated by states or oceans, but rather by time itself. While I thought that the novel’s ending was possibly a little too perfect (or perhaps that should just be enormously lucky!), I enjoyed the way that Lamba presented Michelle’s struggle to balance family ties and romantic love and thought her conclusions were very appropriate.

A clever and enjoyable paranormal romance with a love affair that fans of the genre are sure to swoon over.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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