Tag: YA

Review – This is Kind of an Epic Love Story

Posted November 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story by Kacen CallenderThis is Kind of An Epic Love Story, Kacen Callender

This book is very much YA, which I expected, so it was a nice choice when I didn’t feel like I had much focus, and it proved to be a really quick read. What drew me to it was that the love interest, Ollie, is deaf and uses sign language, and I read from reviews that the narrative explains the signs a couple of times and then expects you to remember them. I’m not super visual, so I thought that might be tricky, but I definitely wanted to see how it worked out.

The main character and narrator, Nate, isn’t deaf, but he learned some sign from Ollie when they were younger. Ollie moved away — and left their friendship rather broken-off, as it ended with Nate trying to kiss Ollie and Ollie running the heck away — but now he’s back, just as Nate’s broken up with his best friend, Flo. Ollie’s still trying to make a long-distance relationship work, but Nate can’t help but hope they can pick things back up again…

The sign language thing was really well done; even if you’re not great at actually picking up and remembering the signs, the context does tell you what’s happening, without repeatedly translating the same signs over and over. It also avoids translating directly from sign to English, though it supplements the signs it describes by the boys typing messages to each other via their phones.

The teenage web of friendships are all pretty well done, too; I could totally believe in Flo and Nate’s awkwardness with each other, and their slow feeling out of the new boundaries, and I believed in their little group of friends. It’s mostly sort of sketched in, but the sketch works.

I found Nate’s repeated fatalism rather grating, in some ways — every time something doesn’t go his way in some tiny way, he just gives up on it… but that’s kind of the point of the story, so you have to bear with it a bit. I thought Flo and Nate’s friendship was sweet, for all its ups and downs; Ollie’s probably too good for Nate, but maybe Nate’s starting to learn, at the end…

I found myself kinda wrong-footed by the total lack of homophobia anywhere in the book. I don’t know how representative of a teen experience it is now, but my teens were completely swallowed by the homophobia of other kids and people around me. Sure, that’s 12 years ago, and in a conservative sort of school which only let girls start to attend a couple of years before I joined the school… But it felt very weird to read a book where homophobia was just not a problem. I know why some authors prefer to do it — and I’d like to think maybe it is people’s experience now — but it was really pretty odd to be reading a certain sort of YA, expecting it at every turn of the page, and just… not finding it. Not a bad weird! Just weird.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Pet

Posted June 18, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Cover of Pet by Akwaeke EmeziPet, Akwaeke Emezi

Pet takes place in the utopian city of Lucille. They’ve rooted out all the evil at their core: the violent policemen, the corrupt politicians, the liars and abusers… It wasn’t easy, and those who had to hunt for the evil in their midst had to do terrible things, but now there are no monsters in Lucille. Jam has been raised in this world, and is shocked when a spatter of her blood combines with a painting made by her mother and calls forth a monster which calls itself Pet and says there is a monster in Lucille, in the home of her dearest friend. Worse, it says she has to help it hunt down that monster.

It’s hard to put a finger on quite where Pet sits, though it’s labelled as YA: Jam feels rather young, despite the fact that she’s older than fifteen. I suspect that’s partly because of her naïveté, though. I don’t know how old I was when I first understood that children around me were being abused by family members, but I can’t have been more than ten. The idea of children being able to be that naïve is a pretty shocking one from that perspective: of course they wouldn’t have to grow up as fast. Of course they could have space to figure out their way through their lives.

So despite how young it feels in that way, YA is probably fair — especially because of the things Jam discovers while she’s on the hunt with Pet.

I really enjoyed the different kinds of representation here: there’s a family with three parents, one of whom is non-binary; Jam is trans; Jam prefers not to vocalise and uses signs and alternative ways to communicate; race feels unimportant to the world but is clearly signalled to the reader (with Jam’s afro, learning to do her hair in cornrows, etc — not to mention the cover)…

And as for the story… It feels simplistic, but there’s a lot of stuff to untangle. I enjoyed Jam’s friendship with Redemption, and the easy way they help each other, make each other better, and figure out their way around their problems. The relationships between Bitter and Aloe, Jam’s parents, and within Redemption’s family as well, have that feel to it as well. A world where people communicate and figure things out — and yes, are awful to each other sometimes, but figure things out as well. And there’s the whole issue of the monsters in Lucille, which people don’t want to see: we’ve done the work, they say. The work’s been done, there are no monsters.

There are always monsters, and we can’t pretend we’ve got rid of them for good, no matter how righteous we are, no matter how we purge and purge. We always have to be ready to listen, to accept that we could have been wrong.

Pet does a lot in a very short space, and it’s very worth a read at this particular moment in time especially. It has the simplicity of a fable or a parable, but within that simplicity is a hell of an idea to have to wrestle with.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Seafarer’s Kiss

Posted June 3, 2018 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Seafarer's Kiss by Julia EmberThe Seafarer’s Kiss, Julia Ember

This one sounds pretty exciting: queer retelling of The Little Mermaid, with Ursula as the heroine, including a Norse warrior girl and visits from the god Loki. There was a lot to like about this: I enjoyed the strength of Ersel’s relationship with her mother, and the complicatedness of her relationship with her friend. Loki’s character is also rather enjoyable: they’re genderfluid, and a true trickster: you’re never quite sure what they want and why.

Ultimately, it did feel a little thin to me at times, though, and the general background of misogyny and nastiness toward the female merpeople was a little unbearable to read. Not that I’d expected pure sunshine and puppies, but I wasn’t quite ready for the torture and enforced pregnancies, etc, etc. I could’ve done with more development of the relationship between Ersel and Ragna, too: it started well, but I found myself wondering how well they really knew each other at all, how likely it would be for their bond to actually be stable and lasting, given all the differences between them and the slenderness of their acquaintance.

So, an interesting retelling, but not in the end my thing.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Hate U Give

Posted July 2, 2017 by Nicky 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 October 5, 2016 by Nicky 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 October 3, 2016 by Nicky 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 September 29, 2016 by Nicky 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 April 4, 2016 by Nicky 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 September 13, 2015 by Nicky 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 October 19, 2013 by Nicky 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).


#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.


#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.


#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.


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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