Spring Reads: Tackling the TBR Pile!

There have been many, MANY books I have wanted to buy, clutch, read, weep over, re-read and so forth over the past few months. But unfortunately I can’t read full-time so I’ve tackled my TBR pile book by book. And this is what I’ve found so far…

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HALF LOST by Sally Green – ***51+AoxKboxL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

I was really torn over this book. I think it’s quite a marmite book after such an incredible first and second book, which I personally felt was a shame, but I know that this is a series I won’t forget in a hurry! Those first two books especially were excellent, and I would encourage everyone who hasn’t read this series to go pick it up because I really did enjoy the first two books. Watching all these threads fly loose, tie together, and unravel again made for a really compelling read and I know that I’ll be reading whatever Sally Green writes next.

 

SOLITAIRE by Alice Oseman – *****

I ADORED this book. It was a book20618110 I took with me wherever I went so I could read more of it. In waiting rooms, while the kettle was boiling, in the world’s longest IKEA queue…
Solitaire grabbed me and I could NOT put it down! I loved the main character, Tori, and how she presents so many things about being a teenager that are not usually talked about (in my experience of teenage fiction). A teenager who doesn’t want to go off to university but doesn’t want to be rebelling and causing mayhem in the way the mysterious Solitaire group are… I particularly loved watching her friendships, and the way that Oseman presents a character who has friends but equally can seem like you have to have friends for friends’ sake – and who hasn’t felt like that as a teenager? I also liked the fact it was set at sixth form age, when teenagers are starting to have to figure out how they’re going to navigate the big wide world and how basically NOBODY PREPARES YOU FOR THIS. I would press this into the hands of anyone I meet and I cannot WAIT to read Radio Silence, her second novel.

 

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THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER by Melinda Salisbury – ****

This was a curiosity for me to begin with. I am, if nothing else, a vociferous reader of fantasy and LOVE anything that sounds of the style that this novel is. It was a slow burner; I read the first fifty or so pages over a night or two before going to bed and I could have put it down, but oh my oh my how wrong I would have been! We hit about page eighty and all of a sudden I was compelled to keep reading as new information, new characteristics and new motives started to rear their heads. My love for the characters increased a hundred fold in the space of about two chapters, and I finished it dying to read the sequel.

Which brings us nicely on to…

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THE SLEEPING PRINCE by Melinda Salisbury – *****

I don’t actually know how to talk about this book because there are so many plot twists I feel I can’t say anything without accidentally spoiler-ing at least a fraction of the story! Suffice to say that any fears I had of this being written from a new character’s perspective were allayed immediately. Errin was such an easy character to relate to, with obvious challenges facing her from the very beginning, that I read this all in one sitting and then sat up gazing into space in COMPLETE AND UTTER SHOCK because *SPOILER REDACTED* I got quite a few strange looks from the others in the cafe. But did they not just see the trauma I suffered at the hands of a novel?! This will leave you absolutely desperate for the third instalment of this series; I don’t know how I’m going to survive until next spring, when it is expected to hit bookshops. All I can say is… Brace yourself.

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And finally… CROW MOON by Anna McKerrow – ****

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This one was recommended by all the lovely people from #ukyachat ! Having read the Half Bad books, I was a little apprehensive about reading another ‘witch’ book, but I am very glad I read this one! It was such a different take on witches that I very quickly stopped being apprehensive about tropes or stereotypes. Sure, there were tarot cards and stuff, but the way McKerrow used these in her story made sure it was very different to any other ‘witch’ book I have read. The focus on the environment made things a lot more interesting in terms of the world it was set in, rather than being a modern city or a fantasy world (which are the two stories, apart from Discworld, where I have ever encountered witches in YA!). In places I found things a little slow going, and it did take me a little while to get into the wider plot of what was going on outside Greenworld, which is obviously where this series is headed, but nevertheless I have just picked up RED WITCH as my curiosity has been piqued as to what happens next! And I love Melz. Obv.

 

What books are on your TBR pile? What books should I read next? Leave a comment below!

Third Book Syndrome

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Book: Half Lost
Author: Sally Green
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published On: 31st March 2016
Other Books by Sally Green: Half Bad, Half Wild.

Blurb: The Alliance is losing the war, and their most critical weapon, seventeen-year-old witch Nathan Brynn, is losing his mind. Nathan’s tally of kills is rising, and yet he’s no closer to ending the tyrannical rule of the Council of White Witches in England. Nor is Nathan any closer to his personal goal: getting revenge on Annalise, the girl he once loved before she committed an unthinkable crime. An amulet protected by the extremely powerful witch Ledger could be the tool Nathan needs to save himself and the Alliance, but this amulet is not so easily acquired. And lately Nathan has started to suffer from visions: a vision of a golden moment when he dies, and of an endless line of Hunters, impossible to overcome. Gabriel, his closest companion, urges Nathan to run away with him, to start a peaceful life together. But even Gabriel’s love may not be enough to save Nathan from this war, or from the person he has become.

The third book in a trilogy is always a tricky one to master. Originally, I believed the second book to be the definer in whether a series sinks or swims, but in recent years that’s switched to the third book.

Given how much I adored Half Wild, you can understand how I approached Half Lost with both excitement and trepidation. The books so far have been so good, so gripping, and the end of Half Wild had me squealing incoherently. Would Half Lost live up to my hopeful expectations?

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What Is ‘Normal’?

42-Am-I-Normal-Yet-Front-coverBook: Am I Normal Yet?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne
Published on: 1st August 2015
Other Books by Holly Bourne: Soulmates (2013) and The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting (2014)

Blurb:
All Evie wants is to be normal. And now that she’s almost off her meds and at a new college where no one knows her as the-girl-who-went-nuts, there’s only one thing left to tick off her list… But relationships can mess with anyone’s head – something Evie’s new friends Amber and Lottie know only too well. The trouble is, if Evie won’t tell them her secrets, how can they stop her making a huge mistake?

I have just read the fabulousness that is Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne. I saw her speak at Sunday’s Mental Health panel at YALC and picked up her book not long after. I devoured it in one sitting and my reaction was fairly excited-flaily:

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I have all the feelings.

Well done, book-excitable me, for expressing your thoughts so coherently (I went back and RT’d a few more eloquent tweets on the subject – see my timeline.)

Now as I said on twitter, I don’t actually think I can review this book in the way I usually do, because – well, it was just so good I can’t actually think of any critique to level at it. I guarantee you that in six months’ time, I will still be pressing this recommendation on everyone I speak to.

Instead, this book got me thinking. Thinking about the term ‘normal’ and why there is such an enormous drive for everyone, especially teenagers, to fit into this category that doesn’t seem to have clear parameters, that seems to change more frequently than the weather. (hello? it’s August. And I’m in my JUMPERS). One of the main problems Evie tackles in this book is her demands on herself to be ‘normal’, whilst having no idea what ‘normal’ even means. Does it mean spending all your time fancying boys? Does it mean going to places and events you don’t really like just because everyone else is? Does it mean going and getting drunk off your face at a house party?

And most importantly: Does it mean doing everything you possibly can to hide the fact that you might be in some way different?

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All of our feelings on ‘banter’.

This is such a necessary read for teenagers, and in fact all readers of YA. It challenges the assumption that we all have to hide ourselves for fear of being labelled ‘mental’, a ‘freak’ or a ‘psycho’. The odd parts Bourne drops in about the history of psychiatry are really important in informing readers of where these stereotypes come from. She takes comments that are sadly ordinary – part of what she describes as ‘mental illnesses gone mainstream’ – and challenges them, reminding people that you aren’t OCD just because you like to be tidy, that you aren’t necessarily having a panic attack (you’re just nervous) and that being in a bad mood does not make you bipolar. I’m sure we can all think of occasions where we have heard or thought or said something similar and it is so important that we check what we are saying and don’t make such ignorant, demeaning comments. Especially for teenagers, where diagnoses (diagnosis?) and labels are used so freely as insults or, perhaps worse, as the dreaded ‘banter’.

It also brings feminism to the fore (yay, feminism!) and has Evie and her two friends Amber and Lottie form a ‘Spinster Club’, reclaiming terms like spinster that are used as slurs with no male equivalent. It’s the sort of thing I wish I’d read when I was younger, as I didn’t really learn anything about feminism until university. Most importantly, it makes it clear that feminism is all about EQUALITY. Not man-hating. EQUALITY. (A fact that sadly seems lost on vast quantities of the media). With this not necessarily being brought to the attention of teenagers in the classroom – compulsory PSHE and a decent syllabus, please – it’s in books like these where young people can learn about important issues and topics like those that Bourne discusses in this book. And, perhaps just as importantly, they can learn to combine their frustration with the humour that Bourne brings to the fore; one of my favourite parts is where they are laughing hysterically over the ridiculousness of having so many movies that fail the Bechdel Test.

It’s light-hearted, it’s serious, it deals with issues that must be talked about more and more in YA fiction. And that’s why I loved it.

5 Reasons You Must Read This Book:
1) Evie is HILARIOUS. Proof that you aren’t simply defined by your illness.
2) It’s a brilliant, clearly well-researched, portrayal of having a mental illness.
3) A Spinster Club talking about how the world is a hideously unequal place. In normal teenage words!
4) It’s an emotional depiction of friendships, relationships and how they all screw around with any teenage brain.
5) It challenges what it is to be ‘normal’.

YALC 2015! Saturday’s Exploits.

You’re probably thinking ‘Why the YALC post now? It’s been OVER A WEEK’. Well, life has been pretty manic since YALC and I’ve spent so long flailing like Kermit at all my nearest and dearest (and other persons besides!) that I haven’t actually managed to get my YALC feelings down into one cohesive blog post. I want to do some longer blog posts about one or two of my favourite panels (watch this space!) but for now, here’s my take on my first ever YALC.

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The Mime Order

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“Some revolutions change the world in a day. Others take decades or centuries or more, and others still never come to fruition. Mine began with a moment and a choice. Mine began with the blooming of a flower in a secret city on the border between worlds.
You’ll have to wait and see how it ends.
Welcome back to Scion.”

NB: This is a review of an ARC won in a giveaway by @say_shannon .
The hardback of The Mime Order is published on 27th January 2015 by Bloomsbury.
Warning: This review will contain mild spoilers for The Bone Season.
You can read The Bone Season and my review of it here.

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The Story So Far:
In The Bone Season we met Paige Mahoney: a young clairvoyant, a dreamwalker, working in the criminal underworld of Scion London. Kidnapped and taken to a prison camp in Sheol I, she was chosen by the mysterious Warden to be trained for purposes as yet unknown. But Paige was determined to break free and in The Mime Order we have returned to London, where she is suddenly a wanted fugitive, in hiding from her captors, many of her friends, and the all-seeing eye of Scion.

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The Mime Order:

The Bone Season was one of my favourite reads last summer, and it was with eager anticipation I awaited the chance to get my hands on it’s follow-up, The Mime Order. After the high-paced action in Sheol I, we are left hanging at the end of the novel with Paige, thrust into a train with Nick, and Warden vanishing before her eyes. They’ve left Sheol I, but we don’t know yet if they are safe. What is going to happen to Paige when she is flung back into Scion? And what will the Rephaim do about their escaped harvest?

What I loved about The Mime Order was that it picked up precisely where The Bone Season left off, and it felt like a very smooth continuation. Yes, there were occasional drops of information to remind us about what had come before, but none of the “summary of the last book in a few hundred words” that can happen at the start of books in a series (one of my pet peeves). What Paige knows of the world gradually broadens in The Mime Order in comparison with The Bone Season, but it feels very much like Shannon is carefully pushing the world further out within Paige’s control – she’s not going to be stood there overwhelmed by everything all being opened up to her at once. And I really enjoyed that. I find with some fantasy that there is that tendency to go “epic” really quickly, especially with a second book in a series, but the slow-burner effect created in the Bone Season series so far has been far more successful. It makes the projected seven books very realistic, as we are left to assume as readers that things will get bigger and grander. After all, we are yet to learn much about the world outside London, so who knows where that might lead?

As in The Bone Season, the setting is fantastically brought to life. This is a place the reader can explore as if it were here in front of us: no inconsistencies, no places where it feels anything other than fully realised. Much as we learnt our way around Oxford in The Bone Season, here we explore more and more of London and it becomes familiar to us as it is familiar to Paige. We get an idea of her knowledge of the city what life must have been like for her before her adventures in The Bone Season. We see the workings of Scion, of government controls, and what it must be to live in Scion London. And most of all we find out what life is like working for Jaxon Hall, and the workings of the syndicate, which previously we had only spent a little time on. The underworld that Shannon creates is fascinating reading as we discover how the mime-lords and mime-queens govern their territory out of sight of the increasingly authoritative Scion.

Paige grows as a character too: she avoids the trope of the “strong female character” (don’t get me started!) whilst simultaneously being an excellent protagonist. She has weaknesses, she has characteristics that sometimes land her in trouble, and she treads the line between “I will beat this” and “I’m about to die” very thinly indeed! She keeps us on our toes but in no respect pretends to be a flawless character. After everything she experienced in The Bone Season, there are plenty of fears and worries and unanswered questions that she has to deal with, but in London there aren’t people she can really speak to about what has happened. Warden is nowhere to be found, and Jaxon is hardly the first person Paige would trust. Watching these concerns manifest themselves in an environment where she is on the run from Scion and not necessarily trusted by those she has returned to in the syndicate is intriguing and tells us a lot about her character. I also liked how Shannon played out the repercussions from Paige’s relationship with Warden – it’s not a traditional situation, trying to find the man who was your ‘keeper’ in Oxford – as there were plenty of opportunities to jump down well-worn storylines and they were avoided. This has made the relationships impacted upon as a result of this feel far more realistic, and avoids the pitfalls of other YA novels where certain dynamics can then overrule the entire plot, to the detriment of the story.

I would have classed The Bone Season as adventure fantasy, but in The Mime Order we begin to stray far more into dystopian territory. It definitely doesn’t go all Hunger-Games on us, but naturally by being back in London, and being closer to Scion, we see more of the iron first of government taking action of the everyday lives of its citizens. The very existence of the underworld syndicate is testament to Scion’s determination to be rid of all clairvoyants, as are the introductions of yet more methods in The Mime Order by Scion to identify and exterminate its clairvoyant citizens. But with the focus on the syndicate, we see less of Scion than we might, which works well as it means we are still focused on Paige’s adventure. It hasn’t upscaled into dystopia rapidly in the way that books like Divergent have, which plough the characters straight into the massive, overwhelming, dystopian situation where only the big things have to matter and you don’t have time to explore how the little things interconnect. The Mime Order is very carefully weaving the web of Scion, strand by strand, and so far it’s going excellently.

And then, the ending. The ENDING! I am keeping this entirely spoiler-free, so suffice to say that it was unexpected and brilliant and I certainly couldn’t have called that! And I am now DYING to find out what happens in book three.

Which is exactly how it was supposed to feel at the end.

 

Things I liked about this book: The smooth continuation from The Bone Season; the setting (again); the balance of dystopia and adventure.

Things I was less keen on: These are only tiny things now, but I would have liked to have seen more of Nick and Zeke. While Paige’s relationship with Nick may not be the most important one to her now, as it was at the start of The Bone Season, he’s still a really interesting character and him and Zeke have a really interesting dynamic that I would love to see more of!

 

The Mime Order: 9.5/10 (because there is no such thing as a perfect book!)

 

If you liked this, try:

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Slated by Teri Terry
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Slade’s Children by Garth Nix
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

The Year In Books

So, it’s been a few months hiatus on the blog as I attempt to juggle working, reading, writing and blogging, but here is my roundup of the year – and a look forward to 2015!

 

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2014: The Year in Books.

The Book…

…I Most Enjoyed: Graceling, by Kristen Cashore. Properly written, classic adventure fantasy novel. Exactly what I love about fantasy all wrapped up in one book. One I will re-read again and again.

…I Was Most Excited to Read: Clariel, by Garth Nix. I have loved the Old Kingdom books since I was very little, and the news that a prequel was on its way filled me with delight. Luckily I got my hands on it at Bath Kids’ Lit Fest, and devoured it shortly afterwards!

…That Made Me Bawl: Seeing as the usual suspect, Patrick Ness, hasn’t released a YA book this year, the title of book that made me bawl the most is going to be split between Maggot Moon, by Sally Gardner, and The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furniss. Both excellent reads, both tear-inducing. Read with tissues!

..That Made Me DESPERATE For The Sequel: Half Bad by Sally Green. White Witches versus Black Witches, with lots of darkness and disaster and conflict. I loved this book, and as soon as I finished it I wanted the next one! Roll on Half Wild

…I Would Recommend To A Friend: Maggot Moon, by Sally Gardner. A fresh take on dystopia, with an original voice, and while it may seem like it’s for younger readers, do not be fooled. This tale of a dystopian future can be as dark as the next – but this is a book that is simultaneously uplifting in great quantities. It shows that hope need not be forgotten or futile in a dystopia. It also comes in a dyslexic-friendly medium on e-readers.

…That I Am Never Ever EVER Going To Read Again: Allegiant, by Veronica Roth. Hands down the most infuriatingly written, frustrating, anti-climactic book I have ever had the misfortune of reading. It made me so angry that not only did I write a spoiler-free review, I then had to write a spoiler-FILLED review because I hadn’t been able to sufficiently verbalise my feelings.

…Everyone In The Whole Entire World Absolutely Must Must Must Read Because It Is The Bestest: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon. I’ve just finished my ARC and it was so completely brilliant and I am dying to read the next one! I have been flinging The Bone Season in to the hands of every person I know. And I’ll carry on doing just that with The Mime Order! Absolutely amazing.

 

The Best…

…New Author I Read: Sally Green. Her debut novel Half Bad was excellent, and I really did enjoy her work. There were a lot of good authors I read this year, some of whom are bursting from the seams of this yearly round-up (!), but Sally Green is one to watch out for in the future. Half Bad was one dazzling debut!

…New Series I Read: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Well-paced, well-written, well-plotted fantasy. I adore this series, and am not as apprehensive as I was about it being a SEVEN part series. Having just received The Mime Order, I am now practically squealing with delight. The more Scion, the better! I am only gutted that it’s another year or so until Bone Season 3 is released – but writers aren’t superhuman, so I shall just have to be patient…

…Recommendation I Received: The Bunker Diary, by Kevin Brooks. The story of a boy who is kidnapped and wakes up, alone, in a bunker underground. Gradually, he is joined by others, but they are just as confused and frightened, and it’s all they can do to stop it being every man for himself. An excellent thriller that hangs on to you for some time after you finish reading it.

…Book Event I Attended: This, without question, is Cornelia Funke at the Bath Kids Lit Fest. She was brilliant: eloquent, interesting, funny, and never lost sight of things. For an author that has been around for such a long time, she was very grounded and very normal, and fascinating to hear speak about her life, her books, her writing and her inspiration. She was so fabulous that me and the wonderful @Lucinda_Murray just stood and gawped at each other when she’d finished, so awed were we by her amazingness. And it was utterly deserved.

 

2015: The Year To Come!

The Book…

…I Am Most Excited About Being Written: Bone Season #3. See above re: The Bone Season and The Mime Order. They’re fabulous, they’re brilliant, and I can’t wait for more!

…I Am Most Excited About Being Released: The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. I have loved all of Ness’ YA books (Chaos Walking in particular) and the news that another is not far from release is very exciting!! It’s already been added to my summer reading list (release date: August 2015).

… Everyone Has Been Reading For Absolutely Ages So I’d Better Jump On The Bandwagon Already: Hunger Games. Yes, I really am this late to the party. In fairness, I have read the first one (all that time ago in my first ever blog post!) but what with all the films everyone keeps going on about it and although I have heard nothing good about the third one, I thought I’d give the second one a go. How bad can it be…?

…I Am FINALLY Going To Read: Now, my current TBR list is well over fifty, but here are a few books that I really am going to make sure I read this year: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini; The Secret History, by Donna Tartt; Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett; American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and the rest of Lord of the Rings (I’m on The Two Towers at the moment!) so then I can FINALLY WATCH THE FILMS.

 

The…

…Author I Am Going To Read More Of: Francis Hardinge. I read Cuckoo Song after I saw a few tweets about how good it was, and I wasn’t disappointed. Creepy, ethereal, and ever so slightly Coraline-esque, I thoroughly enjoyed Cuckoo Song and am definitely going to read more Francis Hardinge in future!

…Series I Am Halfway Through: The Falling Kingdoms series by Morgan Rhodes. It’s not very often I agree with the marketing, but it really is like reduced-down Game of Thrones for teenagers. Three warring kingdoms, with rebels, princesses and fighters, all quarreling over ruling every kingdom? Sounds very Thrones to me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first two, and the third is out in spring 2015.

 

And finally… the book you’ll still hear me banging on about this time next year is: The Bone Season series! My hands-down favourite of the year.

 

What books have you enjoyed reading in 2014? What’s on your to-read list for 2015? Any books you’d add to this list? Leave a comment! 🙂

Graceling

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“When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?”

 

Cashore’s novel Graceling is exactly what a fantasy novel should be – a tight plot, fantastic characters who you travel the novel’s landscapes with, and whose journey is constantly one of fascination and interest.

Our protagonist is Katsa, niece to King Randa, who is Graced with killing. She is a master assassin, used on missions to kill those that the King needs killing. But Katsa has also formed her own council of companions, and after they discover a kidnapping, the mystery only starts to increase – and Katsa is the one who decides to figure it out.

One of the strongest parts of Graceling is the characters. Especially in stories with long journeys, characters have to be brilliant to keep you engaged with the lesser action. Katsa is very distinctive very quickly and while some may think that Katsa’s manner fills the trope of ‘feisty female character’, I think Cashore has armed her much better than that. To me, having a ‘feisty’ character is only a problem if the character is two dimensional and that is their only distinguishing feature. Katsa has a depth to her character that continues to grow and change as the novel goes on: from the girl whose Grace is manipulated by her uncle to someone who realises what she wants and goes about getting it. For Katsa it’s a fight for her independence and she is surrounded by a wonderful supporting cast. Her friends at Randa’s court are engaging, and Helda is a particularly well-worked contrast – especially given she’s the only real female friend Katsa has. Katsa’s fighting grace has not gained her many female friends in the court and we sympathise with her loneliness when nobody wants to go near her when they hear of her Grace. The culture of her uncle’s Kingdom towards Graced children never feels too info-dump-y, and is always linked back to Katsa. The part I admire especially about Cashore’s characterisation is that every character feels vivid and real, and like they have their own fascinating stories to tell – even minor characters, some of whom might not even be named beyond ‘innkeeper’! They really are alive instantly as people, which must be very difficult to do; to bring life into even the most minor characters is a rare occurrence, I’ve found. It’s this that I think helps Cashore’s prose run so beautifully – characters who might only show the tip of their iceberg feel like there is a whole iceberg underneath that might have a story hidden inside. The even greater skill is keeping the iceberg submerged if it’s not needed; fantasy can occasionally show every detail just because it can – but these details should work for their place on the page.

And then the journey itself, the well-peddled trope of many a fantasy novel. It’s filled with many conversations and a lot of Katsa’s thought process but because of the nature of it (no spoilers!) that’s actually entirely relevant and necessary, as well as giving us the luxury of delving further into Katsa’s character. The fact she rides at breakneck speed doesn’t hurt either! There is not excess detail which is helped by Katsa’s practical way of thinking. If there’s a rabbit to be skinned, she doesn’t waste time telling us what it feels like. It’s a rabbit, it’s cooking, and she’s off getting on with something else. It offers a good pace to the whole novel that never wavers, which works really well. It means we’re not left twiddling our thumbs during any point of the journey. Nobody is hanging around in this story!

The other thing I loved about this is that at no point does Katsa either become reliant on one of her many male friends and colleagues, or throw away her story for the sake of a love interest. She says she’s not interested in marriage or babies, and the reaction within the novel isn’t one of “oh well maybe she’ll have changed by the end of the novel INSERT MALE INTEREST HERE”. I love that about it, and that it doesn’t ever say that Katsa is somehow wrong or crazy for not wanting to become a wife and mother. Without being too “and this is my opinion!”, Cashore explores Katsa’s opinion but doesn’t question it, which I think isn’t done enough when female characters go against their expected eventual roles, once they’ve finished gallivanting around whatever country in whatever story needs saving. And that’s shown as okay and there’s not a song and dance made about the fact that Katsa rejects the traditional roles the society of the novel has decided to hand down to her.

Other readers may consider Cashore’s writing sparse in terms of description, but I find it an excellent example of ‘less is more’. Cashore (and Katsa!) don’t waste words, and this is something that makes Graceling such a resounding success for me. Because it doesn’t waste words, the story is constantly ticking over and the reader, while not feeling rushed, doesn’t have chance to lose interest in any particularly descriptive passages, for example. No scene feels like it could be lost, as it all contributes to the overall plot arc. It’s a style of writing that I am both a great admirer of and greatly envious of at the same time!

Katsa’s story is one I absolutely adored, and one I’ll certainly return to. It reminded me of a cross between the Books of Pellinor and Magician’s Guild, two of my three all-time favourite series, and I don’t think I can pay it a greater compliment than that. I’ll be re-reading this many times in the future.

Things I liked about this book: The pace, the characterisation, the plotting… everything!

Things I was less keen on: If I was being indulgent I’d say it could have been longer, but only because I was sad when it was over and I wanted it to just keep going!

 

Graceling: 9.5/10 (I hear the sequels are EVEN BETTER :O )

 

If you liked this, try:
The Gift by Alison Croggon
The Magician’s Guild by Trudi Canavan
Sabriel by Garth Nix
The Forging of the Sword by Mark Robson

Follow me on twitter @unexploredbooks

Adventures at Bath Kids Lit Fest

Over the last few weekends I have been making regular sojourns to Bath to attend a multitude of events as part of their Children’s Literature Festival (check out #bathkidslitfest on twitter). Here is a summary of the amazing events I went to, featuring some of my favourite authors. Thanks to everyone at Bath Festivals for putting together such an awesome programme – I only wish I could have attended more events! Here’s to next year being just as fabulous as this one.

 

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Unfortunately I haven’t got a picture with Marcus too – but he was there, honest!

Sally Green and Marcus Sedgwick

I had booked in to this event entirely to see Sally Green, whose debut novel Half Bad I read over the summer and subsequently raved about here on the blog. I’ve dipped in and out of Marcus Sedgwick books for years, and I find them a mixed bag, but I was looking forward to hear what he had to say. Both were very interesting panellists, with a good contrast between the two: after all, Green’s novel is her debut and Sedgwick has been writing for years. We opened with Sally Green (Marcus was stuck in traffic!) who talked all about the premise behind Half Bad and the main character, Nathan: “Once I had Nathan, the rest was easy”. The host, Gill McLay, asked lots of very good questions that opened the conversation right up, especially as we had such interesting yet contrasting authors.

The section of the panel dedicated to research was the one I found the most amusing and fascinating! Marcus Sedgwick told us all about when he went to visit derelict lunatic asylums in North America (now there’s a tale!) among various other things, and it was really interesting to hear about how he approaches research for books (“It’s much easier to do research than to actually write!”). Sally Green, on the other hand, said that she does considerably less work – about “ten minutes” on witch research, and the rest is filled in with imagination, and a little help from google! It was great to see how two different authors approach the process, but with equally successful results. The one particular part that stood out to me was when discussing the violence in their books. I’ve not read Marcus Sedgwick’s current book, The Ghosts of Heaven, but Half Bad certainly has some very harrowing scenes. But, as Marcus so fantastically put it: “If you have to plumb the depths of human badness, that’s what you do”, and Sally told us that you’ve “got to make it right, and make it believable and justifiable”. I’ve found, as a reader, that this is the case in their books and there are plenty of YA books that spring to mind that deal with this topic very well and make it really powerful in their stories. They then touched briefly on what YA means as a genre – something that David Almond, Mal Peet and Melvin Burgess are talking about at a panel here, on 5th October.

 

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Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie take questions, chaired by John McLay.

 

Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie

This panel was an absolute hoot, as well as being fantastically interesting. Garth Nix and Joe Abercrombie entertained us without hesitation for at least an hour, whilst being interesting and insightful about writing for young people. One of the first topics of discussion was about starting as a writer. Garth Nix said “I think I started as a writer because I started as a reader” (something that I think can be easily forgotten by some), and Joe Abercrombie said it was because he had time [between his jobs as a freelance tv editor] and thought he’d better do something that “wasn’t 100% playing video games”, and that “what [he] was writing wasn’t nearly half as bad as he was expecting”. Apparently writing brings gaming down to a more conservative 90% of his time!

Both are established fantasy writers, and there were plenty of questions on the genre. Nix voiced his concerns over popular fantasy: “There was a phase of ‘all children’s fantasy should be like Harry Potter’, and now I think we’ve got the same thing with Game of Thrones”, and Abercrombie says that “the whole categorisation is about how it is sold, and nothing to do with the book at all”. This led on to some very interesting discussion (much like with Green and Sedgwick) about the category of YA. YA was described as “a subset of adult, not a subset of children” (GN) and Abercrombie said “I just wrote the books I wanted to read when I was fourteen or fifteen years old”. I found this really interesting as they considered where YA had come from, the prevalence of YA now, and the effect of trends. After all, Nix wrote Slade’s Children which is a dystopia novel – far before dystopia became popular! The general consensus was trends will come and go, and it’s hopeless to try and fit in with them – if you get lucky, you get lucky, something I agree with wholeheartedly! This went on to discuss the process of writing and we had readings from both authors. I am only gutted that Abercrombie’s book Half a King is currently only out in hardback, and so I couldn’t purchase it on the day. (Both space and money prevent me buying hardbacks now unless they are titles I have been desperate to get my hands on from my mental list of all-time favourite authors. I will, however, be getting my copy as soon as the paperback is released!) This was a very interesting panel and had us laughing all the way – thanks to Nix and Abercrombie. A great time! I also got an early copy of Clariel (squeeeee!) which I’ll review here just as soon as I’ve finished reading it!

 

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David Almond and Cornelia Funke responding to questions from the audience.

Cornelia Funke and David Almond

And oh my goodness me, how I wish there were more people in the world like Cornelia Funke. Her event with David Almond was simply superlative, and my personal highlight of everything I saw at the festival. I couldn’t type fast enough to note down all the brilliant, amazing things that were being said, and me and my friend who attended were lost for words at the end. (We mainly gawped at each other to express our general disbelief at all the awesome we had just heard). Personally I’ve only read Inkheart, but many of her others like Dragon Rider and Reckless have been on my to-read list for years – which says something about my to-read list! I absolutely adore Inkheart, and at today’s talk we were clearly in the presence of someone who values the importance of an amazing library – as well as every person in the room of course! There were so many things discussed, I’ll pick my highlights from the event:

“I went to the library and came back with piles of treasure”
Much time was rightly spent discussing the importance of libraries in helping young people become voracious readers. Cornelia Funke described her trips home from the library as above – as while they may not have had lots of books at home, they all went to the library regularly when she was growing up. A question later on asked Cornelia if this love of libraries and books meant that she was Maggie, the heroine of Inkheart – to which the reply was that writers all put parts of themselves in characters, and “I have that relationship with my father because he took me to the library all the time”. And of course there is nothing more magical than stories coming to life! As Funke put it: “There are so many vast realities in this world that you should explore as man of these as possible”. Who could disagree with that?!

“You cannot change the world? Yes you can! They just don’t want you to… because if you can, why didn’t they?”
I think this quote really neatly summed up the essence of what Cornelia brought across in her event. Time and again we came back to the idea of books opening up new worlds and opening our eyes, and showing us that things can be different, things might be different, and showing us how change can happen. Not didactically, but by encouraging readers to “listen more carefully” to the world around them. And, Funke argued, fantasy does this very well, as “it makes the world so much more meaningful and makes you understand… When you cannot imagine another world, you won’t change this one.” And what did she consider the role of writers to be in perhaps politically motivating young people? “We [writers] cannot be missionaries, so we have to ask the questions when the world around us pretends to know the answers”. I don’t think anyone could have wiped the beam off my face when I heard that!

“I have such a longing to own a dragon – I would even let go of the TARDIS for the dragon and that is saying something!”
This stemmed from an excellent audience question, which was if a spaceship were to arrive above the Guildhall and drop Cornelia on a desert island, what book would she bring with her? Her first response: “Well first of all, I would change the spaceship for a TARDIS, complete with the 11th Doctor!”, which went down a hit with kids and adults alike! (Her book of choice was The Once and Future King, by TH White, if you were wondering). This brought us on to where the idea for Dragon Rider came from. Apparently, from a dog! We were told that the white dragon on the cover looked suspiciously like a certain canine Cornelia owned… Needless to say I am now even more intrigued to begin Dragon Rider than before. She also read from Fearless, and her performance was excellent. There were different voices, different characters, all brought to life with her reading. I am very excited to pick up the first Mirrorworld book!

“Life should not always be happy, and life teaches us, in darkness, lessons… We [as writers] learn to make gold from the dark.”
Something that has cropped up time and again at events like this and when discussing where writers get their ideas from, and the opinion that writers must have had some kind of traumatic childhood to draw on ideas like this is one that has frequented Q&As. The opinion on this panel was that sadly some authors have experienced a trauma in their childhood, but this is by no means the majority of authors or indeed necessary to be able to write stories. Cornelia said that “there are pains in many moments that don’t have to be these ‘traumas’ and we have to learn to see them”. It was an interesting discussion about what ‘trauma’ implies and how this could possibly affect the writing process in different ways.

 

Overall,  I had a wonderful two weekends at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival, and I look forward to other fantastic events like these in the future! While at the festival I also attended Now We Are Ten!, which I discuss over on my writing blog – check it out!

 

Sally Green is a debut YA author, whose novel Half Bad has been a fantastic hit with readers. She is currently working on the sequel, Half Wild.

Marcus Sedgwick is a seasoned writer of both YA and adult fiction. His latest novel, The Ghosts of Heaven, follows four separate characters from different eras of history. He is famous for novels such as My Sword Hand is Singing, The Foreshadowing, and The Book of Dead Days.

Garth Nix has written over 20 novels for young readers, including the popular Sabriel series. His latest book, Clariel, is a prequel to that series. He is currently working on another Old Kingdom book which takes place after the ending of Abhorsen.

Joe Abercrombie has largely written for adults, including books such as The First Law series. His latest series is written for YA readers. The first book, Half a King, is out now.

Cornelia Funke is a popular childrens/YA author, whose work includes the popular Inkheart series, books such as Dragon Rider and her current project, the Mirrorworld series. She was born and grew up in Germany but now lives in LA, when not travelling around the world.

David Almond is a writer of popular children’s books such as Skellig and My Name is Mina. He is a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and Guest Artistic Director of the Bath Children’s Literature Festival.

 

Two Boys Kissing

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“…he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before, and a little more welcoming to the idea that all people are, in fact, born equal, no matter who they kiss or screw, no matter what dreams they have or love they give.”

 

This is my second foray into a David Leviathan book, having read Every Day a few months ago. I’ve heard lots of good things about this author and while Every Day didn’t blow me away, I was more than happy to give another of his novels a go.

Two Boys Kissing  is a novel about four sets of characters: Craig and Harry, going for the world record for longest kiss; Avery and Ryan, who have just met; Peter and Neil, long-term boyfriends; and Connor, who is alone and unhappy with what life has thrown his way. This is a lot of characters to fit into one story, and you could definitely end up reading one thread and skipping others. For me, the most compelling were Craig and Harry, who form the epicentre of the story and whose story runs through the storylines of all of the others. The others orbit around this main thread, some more successfully than others. In some ways they work in two pairs: Craig and Harry, with Peter and Neil, form one pair; Avery and Ryan, and Connor’s storyline, form another pair. But Craig and Harry’ story is so dominant, we hear very little from Peter and Neil – they are just there, living. That may well be the point, but it also feels slightly like they are an afterthought which is a shame, because Neil especially has stuff of his own going on which I think was worth dwelling on for longer. Avery and Ryan’s storyline was very bright and I enjoyed that part greatly, combining the excitement of meeting someone for the first time with the more negative elements of being seriously threatened and harassed because they are gay. Connor, on the other hand, is a spiral of negativity, in a horrible position where he has to keep his sexuality secret apart from during the night online when nobody else can see.

The thing I struggled with in this book was the narrative. Connor’s story, for example, could have been a short story all on its own. The whole book reads like multiple in-world short stories combined into a novel. On top of this, Leviathan uses a narrative “we”, which seems to speak both for the reader and for his generation of gay young men. I found this odd to read, especially initially, as I felt it meant we never got our teeth into the stories and the characters properly. I wanted the distance that the “we” perspective gave to be reduced, because otherwise the narrative feels to me like camera directions from a movie, panning across everything but never really zooming in for long enough for us to focus on specific characters in detail. I discussed this with others who’ve read the book, and it seems to be a polarising element – some love it, and some don’t. I feel closer to the latter – I prefer to be able to really get into specific stories, and I’ve never been keen on short stories as a form.

That said, there is a lot of characterisation done well in this: Connor’s character develops rapidly, although negatively, and we see him much more clearly as a result of events that he’s put through. We get a clear view of Craig and Harry, although as they are the main element of this story, it’s hardly surprising. The situation of being trapped by having to break the world record, surrounded by what happens to them from their friends, family, the press, the public, and the others in this story, gives us a real view into them as people which I don’t think we get as strongly from any of the other characters, apart from Connor right near the end. Avery and Ryan’s characters stand quite clearly, helped I think by the fact that they are new to each other as well.

I wish I could write more about this book, but I feel like as we never quite get into the characters, and that these do at heart feel like combined short stories, that there is very little more to discuss. I’m glad I read it, but it’s not a narrative style that I can get along with. If there’s one that goes into more detail with character etc I’ll more than happily try it though!

 

Things I liked about this book: The main story strand of Craig and Harry trying to break the world record. We are given a real sense of their community and what their lives are like, compared to the other characters.

Things I was less keen on were: The narrative style. It never got its teeth into particular stories, instead settling for scanning across many threads.

 

Two Boys Kissing: 6/10

If you liked this, you might like:
Every Day by David Leviathan
Paper Towns by John Green
More Than This by Patrick Ness

 

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Maggot Moon

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“There are train-track thinkers,” says Hector, “then there’s you, Standish, a breeze in the park of imagination.”

This has been on my to-read list for quite some time, after having a glowing recommendation from a colleague. I’d also heard excellent things about the e-book version, which is designed specifically to be dyslexia-friendly. It won the Carnegie last year, and I can certainly see why.

Maggot Moon is an adventure/dystopia led by a young boy called Standish Treadwell, who lives in Zone Seven with his grandad. We’re unclear initially how they came to be here, but know that everything is done “for the Motherland”. The dystopia element of the dictator-style government seems quite far away from every day, but is still hangs in the background through Standish’s every day life. The short and sharp chapters made a pleasant change from other YA offerings and gave a jigsaw-like feeling to our building up a picture of the world. This worked well in terms of building up Standish’s voice, but didn’t always give us a clear way in to the world. We know something is up, but we don’t exactly know what. This lack of knowledge makes Standish’s voice authentic, as there’s only so much a young boy would know, apart from that life is pretty rubbish and there’s no hope of improvement. What I loved about this book was that we don’t ever have the narrative zoom out to give us the super-wide context. We have what Standish knows, and nothing more. It makes Standish’s voice very realistic; we don’t even have hints of the author’s hand in the crafting of his voice. It’s so realistic that even when horrific things are happening, Standish has very little reaction. Because this is normal for life in Zone Seven.

The brilliant thing about this story is that it’s not a dystopia in the popularised Hunger Games way. It’s a dystopia in the way that I remember dystopias being before we got told what the word for it was. I think in the current climate of dystopia, if it’s not spelt out as the whole world and what’s happening in wider society and here is the horrible thing that is happening to the population, it might not be considered of that genre. This would probably classically fit into more of an adventure category. But we have the characteristics of a dystopia: a government ruling with an iron fist, controlling the media and the population and under totalitarian rule where there doesn’t seem to be any hope left. And we have a main character who, somehow, ends up retaliating in some way, no matter how large or small. However, it’s mostly retaliating in a huge way (think Hunger Games and Divergent) and Standish doesn’t respond in a massive way. He is very quiet, very subtle, and uses people’s perceptions of him to enable him to achieve what he wants.

It’s a book about a dyslexic boy who is told he is ‘impure’ but doesn’t let it weaken him. He uses this as his strength to play against the system for his little victory that he wants – to find his friend Hector. It’s got very clear themes of friendship and adventure and determination, and those aren’t ones that traditionally dovetail with popular dystopia, in my view. But these things are the things that make Maggot Moon so strong. In many ways it reminded me of Wonder, as it’s a book about someone not letting a disability or weakness define them. I like to think that most YA is about not letting things define you, but teens are reading these books in a context when the media is barraging them with negative ideas of the ‘right’ way to look and the ‘right’ way to think and the ‘right’ way to treat other people. Apart from Wonder, I don’t have a book spring to mind that I’ve read that has a main character with a form of disability – be that physical, learning, etc. And it’s so hugely important that we have books out there for teenagers that reassure them. We read books to find ourselves in them, and I don’t think YA always does that. It is very good, but could go even further. And Standish, to me, is someone who does this.

Things I liked about this book were: The fantastic characterisation. Standish’s voice is very strong and guides us with real authenticity through the novel.

Things I was less keen on were: The distancing at the start. It took me a good fifty pages to fit together the jigsaw of Standish’s context.

 

Maggot Moon: 8.5/10

 

If you liked this, you might like:

Wonder by RJ Palacio
Slade’s Children by Garth Nix
The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Wind Singer by William Nicholson

 

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