Suspense and a world of world-building – the epic ‘An Ember in the Ashes’

AnEmberInTheAshes.pngYet another book that I’d heard rave reviews about and was forced to wait until I had time to be devoured by it.

Once again, not disappointed.

‘An Ember in the Ashes’ by Sabaa Tahir is an epic book. It has its occasional flaw, but the strength of the characters and the poetry of the writing is so much I just pushed those issues to the side and kept reading.

The characters are older (19 and 20) and the readership should reflect this. There is torture and an uncomfortable rape culture. But if you can stomach that, then the book is a gem.

Totally awesome bits…

  • Narrator changes
  • Real, 3D characters
  • Intricate world-building
  • Diversity and inclusivity

Let’s go through in more detail…

Continue reading

A total YA package – the clever and crisp ‘Spark’

SparkI’d heard a heap of good about this book, earning it a place in Swifty the caravan on my latest holiday.

I was not disappointed. This is classic YA.

It’s fab to see a debut book that is so polished. ‘Spark’ by Rachael Craw ticks all the YA boxes. Happily it does so without the sort of contrived staging that would drive me to make a list of all the ticks it ticks as I tick each off. If you get my drift.

…?

Anyhoo… Let’s look at what I think worked for this one.

What rocked?

  • Straight-into-it structure
  • Super-solid world-building
  • Intrigue with some good ol’ fashioned whodunnit
  • Off-limits romance.

Continue reading

Recommended reading for all teen girls – ‘Risk’

Risk.jpgReviewing this top-notch read has been a long time coming. And when I say long, I mean years.

I first heard about ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris before it was published. Here in West Oz, SCBWI have an annual event where we basically invite a few publishers over and then maroon them on a small island with us for several days.

Back in 2015 the publisher was from Random House. And she was talking up this book. If we wanted our YA to be published, she told us, this book was our benchmark.

The tantalising first chapter on the web hauled me in, but the book wasn’t out at the time. And somehow it just stayed on my TBR…

Until now.

My library recently bought a brand-spanking shiny new copy that jumped out and grabbed me as I wandered past the shelf. And approximately seven hours after checking it out, I was reviewing it.

Because this brilliant book dragged me in and held me.

It frightened me.

It made me cry.

And it made me consider internet restrictions for the teenager my daughter will become in less than a decade. May it be a very long eight years.

So, what was so great about it?

  • The balance between fear and reaction
  • The background knowledge of the author
  • The characters

Continue reading

A super start to a defo non-fairytale fairy series: ‘Valentine’

Valentine.jpgPhew! First semester is over, so it’s back to the (fun) books for me! I couldn’t resist reaching for a novel I’ve been aching to read since it first came out – ‘Valentine’ by Jodi McAlister.

Great cover (don’t you think??!), great premise. Four kids, all born on Valentine’s Day… but which one is the changeling? Add a dash of love-hate romance and you have the perfect recipe for YA enjoyment.

And so…?

This book does truckloads of stuff right. The characters and location feel so real. The start is amazing. All those midnight animals creeping around keep building the suspense.

And whoa… because if there aren’t at least two Valentines who can trace their lineage back to a bit of fairy magic, then I’m not a madcap children’s writer. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the next book to find out if I’m right. Continue reading

Graphic novel vs the original – ‘Twilight’

twilightgraphicnovel1.jpgWhen I browse the library shelves, I admit I don’t normally venture into the graphic novel section. I’ve read a few “pure” graphic novels, but basically I’m a read-the-words-and-make-my-own-picture kind of reader.

But graphic novels continue to be on the rise. So I decided to review one.

To make it more meaningful, I chose the Twilight volumes – I’ve already read the book. How do the graphic novels differ?

Twilight: The Graphic Novel is told over two volumes, based on the work of Stephanie Meyer, art and adaptation by Young Kim. (I couldn’t find a website to link to that I was certain was the correct Young Kim – so if anyone knows it, please tell me.)

First impressions?

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Fist-pump book quote – ‘Red Queen’

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Made by me using pablo

Considering the release of the third book in the Red Queen series was imminent (‘King’s Cage’ was released on Tuesday), I figured I ought to read the first and see what the fuss was all about. ‘Red Queen’ by Victoria Aveyard was a wildly successful debut. So how did she do it?

Maybe I’ve finally read too much dystopian YA (<gasp> is that even possible?)… or hey, maybe it’s simply the answer as to how she did it, but ‘Red Queen’ seemed to conveniently tick all the plot boxes that come up when you compare other successful dystopians. In my head I’ve got a list like this:

Dystopian YA a la ‘Hunger Games’, ‘The Selection’ and ‘Divergent’

  • Poor girl
  • Boy at home who likes her
  • Whisked into new world
  • Gets to dress up
  • Becomes famous
  • Is strong/special
  • New world boy falls in love with her
  • There’s a rebellion
  • She gets involved
  • Love triangle
  • Open ending

And now I can include ‘Red Queen’ as another bestseller with these tropes. Except it’s got a love square-ish-kind-of-thing going on rather than a plain old boring triangle.  Continue reading

Because there are different ways to be awesome – ‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’

restofus-342x513Maybe it’s a book-nerd thing, but I really loved how this book both pokes fun at, and pays homage to, the mighty Chosen One trope. I loved the nuances, I loved the giggles and I even loved the confusion.

Confusion…? What are you talking about Heather? Good books don’t confuse you! Except sometimes they do…

‘The Rest of Us Just Live Here’ by Patrick Ness had me scratching my head. Thankfully not nits (can you even catch them from a book?). Perhaps not even confusion, so much as mystery. I couldn’t get a complete handle on the world. Because I had too much of a handle on the world.

When was it set? Where?

Because everything seemed to be about now and about our normal world. Except for the blue lights and the zombies and the adults that don’t remember. Are they metaphors or are they real? Are they both? And… aaaah!

Must!

Keep!

Reading! Continue reading

Answer the call – ‘The Shark Caller’

TheSharkCaller.jpg

This has been on my TBR since before it was even published… and it did not disappoint! A clever melding of belief and reality, loss and discovery, fantasy and contemporary, it lured me in and held me. It’s been a while since I’ve read magic realism, and I sank back into it like a comfy couch.

‘The Shark Caller’ by Dianne Wolfer is a Young Adult novel that can easily suit Middle-grade readers as well. As in, no sex, drugs, angst or other decidedly YA-only markers.

‘The Shark Caller’ has a funky set-up that I loved, interspersing main character Izzy’s narrative with the POV of a shark (mako). The latter is beautifully set out on the page, not so much chapters as poetry and art. In fact, the whole book is beautiful.

It has a suite of diverse characters, and interweaves Tok Pisin with English so you get immersed in the setting of Papua New Guinea.

It’s fresh, it’s different.

I’m a fan. Continue reading

A hug from the hope spreader – ‘Sorta like a rock star’

slarsI’d been crying for at least an hour. My husband peered at me over the ever-growing mountain of used tissues. ‘Why do you read books if they’re this bad?’

‘It’s not bad,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s really, really good.’

And it is. ‘Sorta like a rock star’ by Matthew Quick will give you a hug (because Amber loves hugs), tear your heart apart with anxious little doggy teeth while you’re looking the other way, and then knit it back together. But it won’t be quite the same.

I was recommended this book by an author friend. I was expecting hope and light. Sure, I got that, but I also got some unexpected, wrenching dark. There is depth and harshness and reality that make the hope that much more powerful.

Hence the tissues…

If you have trigger issues around depression, this might not be the book for you. Otherwise, read on…

So what makes this book so enthralling? Continue reading

Fist-pump book quote – ‘Vampire Academy’

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Made by be using pablo :o)

It’s about this point of the book that uber-hot Dimitri starts thinking Rose has a valid reason to be worried about Lissa. And it’s now we realise the same thing, too… I think it’s a pivotal moment.

Hence a fist-pump book quote! Go Rose!!

vampire-academy‘Vampire Academy’ by Richelle Mead is fun and enthralling. I avoided it for a while (the cover) (more vampires? really?) (and yeah, that cover…) but then a free book came my way. I read it, and finally I understood the hype. Action, kick-ass-ness (if that isn’t a word, it should be), strong world-building and romantic tension.

I’ll add a warning – this book involves cutting, I found those parts confronting. But they’re not in there for no reason, and they’re not glamourised.

Oh, and the cover. I’m almost embarrassed to have it on my bookshelf. But the book is fab, so I don’t care. There’s this saying about books and their covers, you might have heard it…

:o) Read on, people.

Heather