Tag: YA


Review – The Hate U Give

Posted 2 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give, Angie Thomas

I wasn’t sure if I’d like this one; contemporaries are often not really my thing, and it did seem a bit long and daunting. But everyone gave it such good reviews, and it really is topical — a window into a world I don’t really get, being British and honestly fairly sheltered. Sometimes it felt a little unbelievable because of that — so many shootings? Gangs? The danger that seemed to hover around Starr’s life all the time? I mean, I know about it in theory; I’ve followed the trials surrounding the deaths of Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown… But it still seems so far away and weird to me.

Actually, I’d like a British-Muslim version of this book, in the sense of one which explores that community and how it interacts with our police, etc. Not just the ones who went to a private school like me, but less privileged ones. It’d probably be eye-opening.

I liked that this book was fairly even-handed; although the cop who shoots Starr’s friend is obviously not the good guy, there are good cops as well, including Starr’s uncle, who part raised her before her dad got out of prison. I don’t quite get the people complaining this is completely anti-police; it’s not. It’s anti-the-system, the one in which police can get away with things like this — like shooting a brown kid on a traffic stop because he reached into the car slightly and his hairbrush looked like a gun.

I also enjoyed Starr’s family; not always perfect, with her dad having been to prison and her parents arguing — but always there for her. It explores their family dynamics, including Starr’s half-brother and his siblings, in a way which allows for them to be flawed while denying that they’re dysfunctional in the way some people see black families.

I’ve seen people complain, too, about Starr’s sense of drama. Come on, she’s a teenager. And while Hailey is a bit… overdone — you could predict what came out of her mouth because it was all of the stereotypes of people saying ‘I’m not racist, but…’ — she’s still realistic in that, well, I think we all know someone who acts like that. Who leans on stereotypes and then claims she can’t be racist because she has a black friend.

I found The Hate U Give pretty absorbing, and I think it’s a good portrayal of life in the kind of community it portrays — the kind of community Angie Thomas seems to know intimately. It does seem to contain a lot of things other people consider to be stereotypes, but I’m gonna trust that Angie Thomas probably knows better than I do.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – We Were Liars

Posted 5 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of We Were Liars by E. LockhartWe Were Liars, E. Lockhart

It’s been a while since I picked this up, encouraged by the rave reviews of some of my YA reading friends. It’s not in one of my primary genres, being arguably totally non-fantastical (depending on how you interpret one particular aspect of the story), and so I found myself putting it off. I’m also not usually a fan of stylistic choices like running sentences over several lines, as often used in this book, so once I realised that was a feature… well, I was put off.

In the end, I found it a compelling enough read; not, as I expected, my favourite sort of book, but well put together and giving tantalising hints all the way through, asking you to slowly assemble the pieces of the puzzle and figure out the plot. The exhortation to, “If anyone asks you how it ends, lie” is justified, though I like spoilers (and am conscious of that), so I checked reviews and went into it knowing what was up. That way, I got to see how the structure slowly unfolded the story.

The draw of the book is mostly the unreliable narrator and that mystery, though I can see people enjoying the style too — there are sometimes some very dramatic, vivid images from the narrator, violent metaphors which show the truth of what she’s feeling even though she outwardly smiles, lies and carries on. Sometimes that was a little too dramatic for my tastes.

Being out of my usual genre, I suspect that’s probably partly why I have a more lukewarm response to the book, but if it sounds interesting to you, it’s probably worth picking up and giving it a go. But I did find the stylistic stuff very annoying, just a warning… enjambment is for poetry, in my view. But I’m cranky that way.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Predator’s Gold

Posted 3 October, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Predator's Gold by Philip ReevePredator’s Gold, Philip Reeve

The second Hungry Cities book is the same sort of fun as the first, albeit with those dark moments of violence and horror (like horrible deaths, or people being unpleasant). It still follows Hester and Tom, but they’ve grown up a bit, and they have a place in the world as aviators. That is, until Pennyroyal comes aboard and spoils everything.

Realistic, and sad, is the portrayal of Hester being so afraid to lose Tom. She doesn’t believe anyone else will see past her scarred face to who she really is, and indeed, she’s not even that sure that who she really is is a person worthy of love. It does lead to some fairly horrible behaviour on her part, which though it makes sense with her characterisation, makes her difficult to sympathise with. After all, the appeal of Tom is that he believes that life should be fair, and Hester… really doesn’t hold with that.

Freya as a character is… I can understand her, but I don’t like her. The way she behaves for most of the book is just awful, and you can completely understand why Hester doesn’t like her — and you can’t really understand why anyone else does.

Overall, it’s a fun book and it expands the world, opening up obvious lines for future plots and filling in things round the edges. It’s just… slightly less fun because instead of moving toward a lighter characterisation for Hester, as Mortal Engines does, it kind of goes the other way and makes her less likeable again.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mortal Engines

Posted 29 September, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Mortal Engines by Philip ReeveMortal Engines, Philip Reeve

The first line of this book is just… how can you not want to read it? “It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.”

I tried not to concentrate too much on how this city-eat-city world would actually work — to what degree the cities were alive or just mechanised, the actual practicalities of Municipal Darwinism, etc. It’s a fun idea, and it’s more fun to just roll with it and enjoy the adventure. It is aimed at younger readers, but there’s a surprising amount of emotional impact here — not to mention some actual gore. People don’t survive, it’s messy, and there are shades of grey — Valentine’s done something despicable, but he loves his daughter, and is inspired by her to maybe change his mind… Hester’s driven by revenge, unpleasant to everyone, but she slowly develops.

I enjoyed it a lot, perhaps especially because it didn’t treat kids like idiots who can’t handle death and destruction. We know they can and do; just turn on the international news, if you’re in doubt. The end is not exactly a happy one, though it is one with hope for a future, and things aren’t neatly tied up. Disasters aren’t averted entirely. It’s also a fun world, and the pacing means it just races past.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Selection

Posted 4 April, 2016 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Selection by Kiera CassThe Selection, Kiera Cass

I didn’t expect to like The Selection, and I’m not sure any regulars here thought I would, but surprisingly, well… I kind of read it all in one go. It’s not a favourite or anything, but I found it very readable, and there were some points I definitely liked: the sensuality between Aspen and America, despite his rather sexist attitude of having to provide for her, for example. I didn’t like Aspen, but I liked the bond between them (if that makes sense), and I also liked that at the end of the book, America was ready to consider it and state that she would be doing herself a disservice if she just leapt into making a decision between Maxon and Aspen. Like.

Maxon is, well, too good to be true — considerate, friendly, hoping for romance, etc, etc, especially when you compare his behaviour to Aspen’s. It makes sense, though, and hopefully in later books he’s developed a bit more: I did enjoy the fact that he and America struck up a friendship, and that he relied upon her.

The other thing I liked was that, for the most part, the participants wished each other well and helped one another. There’s always a mean girl, of course, and there wouldn’t be much drama if there wasn’t a stumbling block like that. But the feeling of sisterhood that grows between the contestants is a nice touch.

I don’t know if I’ll read the other books. It may have been that I just read this at the right time, tired and wanting something easy! But I am a little curious, so I probably will. I’ve never been one for reality shows and soap operas, so it might not hold my attention if the drama builds up, but it’s fun enough from what I can see in The Selection.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Posted 13 September, 2015 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente

The whimsical nature of this is classically Valente; you can tell it was written by her, if you’re at all used to her style, but the style is less pronounced — it requires less concentration to be rewarding, to be enchanting. Which, given that it’s essentially a young adult book, makes sense. It’s still gorgeous, but more like cream and less like treacle.

It’s exactly as charming as the cover copy suggests. There’s a Wyvern who may or may not be the son of a library, there’s wild herds of bicycles, there’s witchery and magic and strange transformations. It’s Fairyland, as dangerous and bewitching as it should be, and not saccharine-sweet at all. It has a bit of the same tone as The Hobbit, with a definite narrator who has a personality and is telling the story direct to you, with the same lightness of touch (and much less moralising than, say, C.S. Lewis). I really like it when people are clever with their narrators, and this definitely worked for me.

There are, of course, deliberate parallels to folklore, but also to classic fantasy fiction — Narnia in particular, and it’s interesting that the main character of Fairyland has a father who is away at war, and so has that war background. Shades of the Pevensies, a little. And the antagonist’s issues, well, they seemed to me a direct commentary on the disappointments of leaving Narnia, never to return.

Rating: 4/5

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Reading and rereading

Posted 19 October, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 5 Comments

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.

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Robot for a Day

Posted 18 October, 2013 by Nikki in General / 2 Comments

Once upon a time, or back in July anyway, Angry Robot posted a competition they were holding, in celebration of the company’s fourth birthday. Entering was simple: come up with three words to describe the company, and email them in. The prize was amazing (or I’m easily pleased): twelve books, either dead tree or on a Nook, and for the UK winner, a day at the Angry Robot office, learning about everything they do and getting some input into an acquisitions meeting, etc — all expenses paid. I sent in my three words (daring / quality / addictive) and forgot about it, expecting nothing.

You have probably already guessed that the UK winner was me, although I seem to have been the last to know. I actually found out from Dan of Shelf Inflicted, who sent me a GR message after seeing the post announcing the winners. I won’t give you a play by play of all the emails exchanged to get me there, but on 15th October, I made my way to Nottingham to meet the Angry Robot crew (guided by Lee Harris’ excellent directions, without which I would probably have taken one look at Nottingham and turned tail to run away).

If you don’t know much about the company, suffice it to say that they’re a mostly UK-based company who have a reputation for publishing different, daring, interesting stories in SF/F. They’ve also expanded with the Strange Chemistry (YA) and Exhibit A (crime) imprints. They put out an amazing number of books, and give the impression of being willing to take chances, even on debut authors. I am always willing to pick up something Angry Robot have put out: it may not be my cup of tea, in the end, but nonetheless they’re usually good stories, professionally edited, and an important factor for me, available DRM-free as ebooks.

Having found the place, I was introduced to everyone who was there — Marc Gascoigne, founder of Angry Robot; Lee Harris, senior editor; Amanda Rutter, editor of the Strange Chemistry books; and Leah Woods, intern. I proceeded to make an excellent impression by announcing, when asked if the office was as I expected, that it was quite like the pest control office I worked in once, only there were fewer pests and more books.

But really, it’s an ordinary office, except that it’s piled high with books, and decorated by print-outs of the cover art of upcoming books. Naturally, I felt right at home. They’d even set up an email account for me for the day, which I used to exchange mostly silly emails with various other members of the company (hi Emlyn! I had no trouble rebooting them all in the end…). And my partner, just so that I got the opportunity to email from a “work” address for once…

Anyway, I did actually do work, I promise. It isn’t all fun, games, and weird gifs of giraffes (thanks Leah).

Bizarre GIF of a two-legged giraffeAhem.

The morning mostly consisted of me updating the website with quotes from reviews, while everyone else did what I presume was work. I did also get to play around with writing a blurb for Adam Christopher’s new book, Hang Wire. After that was the promised pub lunch, where I once more distinguished myself by ordering nachos and ending up with sour cream, salsa and guacamole all over my face. Everyone else was much more refined, though Amanda did nearly dip her sausage butty into her gin and tonic…

The most exciting part was, of course, still to come: the acquisitions meeting, attended by most of the Angry Robot staff (some in the room with us, some on the phone). There were three books under discussion, about which I can’t really say too much: what I found most interesting was seeing the pros and cons for each book being weighed up. I think a lot of people have ideas about how this process goes — a bunch of white males around a table deciding people’s future based on what will “sell”. Well, of course there was discussion of that, and whether it fit with the company’s existing books, but it really honestly did focus on the merits of the book in question. Stop being so cynical, everyone!

The lovely thing was when the book I most favoured was agreed upon by most of us and the decision to acquire it made. I don’t know if everyone else at the table (metaphorically) had this in mind as strongly as I did, but I couldn’t help but think of how the author would feel when their agent let them know. And I can’t wait to see their book come out. I think I can at least say that it looks to be very fun, with strong female characters. I will definitely talk more about it here when I can.

After that, Lee had to go and Leah started loading me up with books. I’d been pondering for days what twelve I’d pick, given the choice. Well, here’s some idea…

Photo of the Bibliophibian surrounded by books

Loaded up with books

I ended up with a round fifty, plus an audiobook (Chris F. Holm’s The Wrong Goodbye, as I am an enormous fan — the copies you see in the image above are my dead tree copies, but I already had ebook copies!) and a bookmark, along with several Angry Robot carrier bags in which to carry them. With those and my backpack, I made it back to the station and travelled on home, where my dad met me on the platform with a long-suffering look…

My family, by the way, are now convinced that Angry Robot books should both employ and publish me. On learning that I don’t currently have any decent manuscript, my grandmother informed me I should just write one then.

Workin’ on it, Grandma. Working on it.

(This post was written for Shelf Inflicted at Dan’s request — thanks for the offer of hosting it, Dan! It will be posted there as well as right here.)

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