Tag Archives: reviews

Emma Maree Reviews: Teeth

teeth

Book: Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy

Be careful what you believe in.

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life..

I’ve never read Hannah Moskowitz’s work before, though I’d heard great things about her contemporary writing. She’s also a regular contributor to the AbsoluteWrite forum’s YA sections (and an advocate of never holding back when it comes to language or content in YA — her post on ‘edgy YA’ is well worth a read).

So when I heard she had a fantasy novel coming out nicknamed the “magic gay fish” story, I added it straight onto my preorder list. I wanted to try out her work, and that nickname sounded like it would be strange, shameless and right up my street.

Hannah’s style is easy to read, dialogue-heavy and snappily paced. The dialogue feels very honest, which means very profane, and while some readers may find that off-putting I enjoy it. It makes for the most realistic teenage male narrator I’ve read in YA fiction.

There’s only a small cast of main characters in this story, and they’re all flawed and dysfunctional in one way or another. Rudy is a lonely boy, worrying about his future and his little brother, and Teeth is an ugly, angry fishboy who learned most of his words from the local fishermen and can barely construct a sentence without a f-bomb in it.

The secondary characters are less fleshed-out, which is a shame as I’d like to know more about some of the parents struggling on the island.

Trigger warning: There’s also some very frank, bleak scenes of repetitive sexual abuse. This whole book is dark to the extreme, and though the abuse is portrayed extremely negatively I think it would be just too difficult and depressing for some readers.

The ending really caught me off-guard. The twist that led to it was brilliant, completely shocking me, but the actual closing chapter left me feeling disappointed. I wanted more of a sense of closure, and instead I got quite an abrupt cut-off.

I think the ending is supposed to tie into the underlying metaphors and hidden meanings in the story, but I wasn’t reading this book for the metaphors about the environment or government — they were nice elements, but not what drove me to pick this book up. Also (and I fully acknowledge that this is an issue with my personal tastes and expectations as a reader, not the writer’s fault) I really wanted things to turn out differently.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the ending, I really loved Moskowitz’s style and her way with describing characters. I hope to check out her contemporary YA very soon.

This book was a personal purchase. I have no connection to the writer or publishers involved.

Emma Maree Reviews Batman: Year One


batmanyearoneBook:
Batman: Year One by Frank Miller (Writer), David Mazzucchelli (Illustrator), Richmond Lewis (Colorist)

Genre: Fiction/Graphic Novel/Comic Book/Superhero

From master storyteller Frank Miller (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, “Sin City”) comes the most incredible Batman story of all…and the inspiration for the worldwide smash-hit movie “Batman Begins!”

Lieutenant James Gordon takes up a new post in the crime-ridden and corrupt city of Gotham, while billionaire Bruce Wayne returns to the scene of his parents’ deaths, intent on avenging their memory. Each faces trials and challenges of their own, only for their lives to become irrevocably and potentially tragically intertwined…

This all-new, deluxe edition features new introductions by Miller and Mazzuchelli, pencils, promotional and unseen art, script pages and much more.

When DC decided to modernise their characters, they ran into a problem with Batman: his dark origin story already fitted the direction they were trying to go. Instead of redoing his origin story, they decided to fill in the blanks with Year One.

Year One tells the story of Bruce Wayne stepping back into Gotham City, finally ready to avenge his parents. It’s also the story of Gordon, not yet a commissioner, who takes a job in Gotham for the sake of his wife and learns just what it takes to be a cop in the world’s most corrupt city. Lastly, it’s the story of Selina, who realises she can escape her life as a Gotham prostitute for a much more fun career.

The included extras are some of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s cover art from the printed single-volume comics and previous collections of Year One, scripts, a short autobiographical comic by David Mazzucchelli with examples of his older work, and some examples of the colouring differences between the original comic and the printed collections. I’m particularly fond of the last two extras: the autobiographical story is a short and fun read, and the colouring comparisons really showcase what a great change the new colours make to the story.

 

Emma Maree Reviews: “Soul Eater”!


Maka is a Meister and Soul is her Weapon. As students at the Grim Reaper’s Death Weapon Meister Academy, their study habits couldn’t be more different. But in battle against the supernatural forces of evil, they’re a freakin’ lethal team.

That’s when Soul transforms – literally – into a razor-sharp scythe, and every defeated wicked soul he sucks down makes him more deadly. That’s when Maka unleashes the merciless slayer within, wielding her partner and dropping monsters. Seriously. Monsters. Like the witches, werewolves, and zombies that lurk in the shadows and feed on the souls of the innocent. Every freakish ghoul Maka and Soul take out strengthens their bond, and fighting alongside their fellow Meister/Weapon classmates, Maka and Soul are the world’s last line of defense against evil.

I just finished watching all four seasons of “Soul Eater”. I try to pick up lessons from anything I enjoy that I can apply to my creative life, and Soul Eater was a powerful lesson in both great visual character designs and engaging, unique character personalities.

The main characters all have their stereotypes (Maka is a hard-working student with an angry streak and absentee parents, Black Star is a self-centred orphan with a ego the size of the moon, Death the Kid is a perfectionist with crippling OCD) but there’s sides to their personalities that unfold as the story progresses and gives them real depth. Plus, the story has a powerful underlying message about being able to accept your friends, despite how different they might be to you.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cB8_YMEO5Q[/youtube]

This is Soul Eater, eating a soul. (Credit to Aomineche on Tumblr)

It also gained a lot of points by having a central relationship between a girl and a guy, both best friends and fiercely protective over each other, without resorting to romance. I felt like the ‘bromance’ worked out better for the anime and made their relationship feel much more powerful.

So if you’re looking for a new anime, you can do worse than this sweet anime and it’s gorgeously designed world. The storyline isn’t anything to write home about, with a lot of recap and a few loose ends that never get tied up, but it does the job and the world of the DWMA is beautiful and fascinating.

 

Books in the Post: September

Because time isn’t always on my side when it comes to reading books and writing reviews, here’s a list of some of the awesome books I’ve bought or been sent recently.

Above, we’ve got:

A red moleskine sketchbook: These hardy, reliable things are what I use to jot down writing ideas when away from my PC. This one’s a present to myself because I’ve filled up my black one. This was purchased by myself.

“What’s Left of Me” by Kat Zhang: This was a prize for winning the contest over at Once Upon a Bookcase! Can’t wait to read this.

“On The Day I Died”: A short story collection, just in time for Halloween. This copy was unsolicited, sent by Random House.

“Witch Crag” by Kate Cann: Another unsolicited book, sent by Scholastic. Absolutely gorgeous cover.

“Noughts & Crosses” series by Malorie Blackman: I requested these books (recently updated with new covers) from Random House and I can’t wait to start reading them! Did you hear the drama over the racism in the “Save the Pearls” book? N&C has a similar concept, but executed properly.

“Tiger’s Destiny” by Colleen Houck: Unsolicited copy sent by Scholastic. I have the whole series of these, and their cover art is fantastic, but for some reason I haven’t picked them up to read yet…

I’ve also had a very e-heavy month, buying all the following for myself:

“Mockingbird” by Chuck Wendig, “Zoo City” by Lauren Beukes, “Empire State” by Adam Christopher and “The Alchemist of Souls” by Anne Lyle: Angry Robot’s e-book store had a buy-one-get-one-free offer on, which I gleefully took advantage of to tick a few books off my to-buy list.

“Angel Dust” by Sarah Mussi: I have a publisher-crush on Hot Key Books (and Angry Robot, in case you didn’t notice) so I’ve been picking up a lot of their work to read. These is a great urban fantasy novel set in the heart of London.

“The God Engines” by John Scalzi. One day I will get round to reading a Scalzi novel. One day.

“Leviathan” Series by Scott Westerfeld. Lots of fun, I need to get round to writing a proper review of this trilogy.

Emma Maree Reviews: Dear Agent

Book: Dear Agent by Nicola Morgan

Genre: Non-Fiction/Writing Advice

You’ve written the best book you can and you believe there are readers for it, but how do you persuade an agent or publisher to take it on? The first thing they will see is your letter or email and this short document must sell your book, make it stand out from the crowd, make it (and you) desirable.

Dear Agent contains detailed expert advice, covering the best structure for your letter, what to put in (and what to leave out), the answers to the questions writers ask, and all the horrible mistakes to avoid. Make your book stand out for all the right reasons.

This is a sister book to Write A Great Synopsis, but this time the focus is on UK-style covering letters to help you net a UK agent. UK covering letters are a lot more laid back than US queries (by which I mean you won’t get instantly rejected dun dun duuun if it’s not perfect) but they’re still important enough to stress writers out.

“Dear Agent” is a short, sweet, and to-the-point read that covers all the important questions, such as should I mention multiple books, being rejected, my pets, or that my mum liked it…

It also pays special attention to the tricky bits: that dreaded hook, how to write the bio section even if nothing very interesting has happened to you, and how to inject a bit of personality into the letter. It covers both fiction and non-fiction, multiple Points of View, and other sticky situations that can make the thought of summing it up in a letter more nerve-wracking than it needs to be.

If you’re new to the submission process, or trying out the UK system for the first time after submitting in the US, then this is a great starting point. Authors who’ve been submitting in the UK or US will already be familiar with a lot of the advice, but the tips are still useful no matter how long you’ve been wading in the query trenches.

Emma Maree Reviews: The Raven Boys

Book: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvate

Series: The Raven Cycle, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy

After receiving the advanced review copy of this book, I had a flick through the
first pages to get a glimpse of what I had to look forward to. Then I abandoned
the other books I was reading (sorry, Insurgent) and kept reading.

This book is the peak of Maggie’s writing so far: beautiful scenery, fast-paced
scenes, smooth action, and above all… the characters. She’s always been a strong
character writer, but The Raven Boys takes this all to a new level.

Every one of the characters is a crucial, fascinating part of the story. There’s
level-headed psychic’s daughter Blue and The Raven Boys, a motley crew of
private school students and best friends: obsessive researcher and richest of the
rich Gansey; trailer park kid on a scholarship Adam, Irish hot-blooded scrapper
Ronan and smudge-faced loner Noah.

I adored all of these kids, and I kept on loving them straight through. They made
this story for me: their voices, their backstories, and how flesh-and-blood-and-
bones real they felt. I read this book for them, and for their world (a strange, off-
kilter place that keeps on getting stranger as the story continues).

It also gave me some of the best fighting advice I’ve ever gotten from a novel, on
how to throw a good hook:

Hit with your body, not just your fist.

Look where you’re punching.

Elbow at ninety degrees.

Don’t think about how much it will hurt.

I told you. Don’t think about how much it will hurt.

But I do need to have a brief, spoiler-free word about the ending: I hated it. Everything was ticking along smoothly, action and adventure and rapid page turning, and then it ended. Right when everything was at it’s
most exciting it veered to a halt and started hastily trying to wrap up even though exciting things were still going on.

I know The Raven Boys is supposed to be part of a series, but I still feel
like I’ve been left asking a million and one questions and the book is blatantly
ignoring them all and I’m a little disappointed by that.

….But I’m still going to buy the next book.

This review was based on an advanced review copy supplied by Scholastic. Some parts of the story may
change in the final novel.

Emma Maree Reviews: Blood and Feathers

Today, for their Road Trip Wednesday question for bloggers, YA Highway asked: What’s the best book you’ve read this August?

Well, read on to find out all about it…

 

Book: Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan

Series: Blood and Feathers , Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Adult/Urban Fantasy (IMO, it’s perfectly suitable as YA crossover fiction too)

Alice isn’t having the best of days. She was late for work, she missed her bus, and now she’s getting rained on. What she doesn’t know is that her day’s about to get worse: the epic, grand-scale kind of worse that comes from the arrival of two angels who claim everything about her life is a lie.

The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; the age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. If the balance is to be restored, the angels must act – or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.

That’s where Alice comes in. Hunted by the Fallen and guided by Mallory – a disgraced angel with a drinking problem and a whole load of secrets – Alice will learn the truth about her own history… and why the angels want to send her to hell.

What do the Fallen want from her? How does Mallory know so much about her past? What is it the angels are hiding – and can she trust either side?

If you’re familiar with my novel Rebel Against Heaven you might guess that this story is very, very up my street. And you’d be  very, very right.

I preordered this book on the spot after reading that description, waited impatiently for it to arrive, then brought it with me from Nairn, to Inverness, to Stornoway and all the way back beforepassing it on to my dad.

The hierarchy laid out in Lou Morgan’s universe is gloriously detailed, with angels split into choirs under each Archangel with powers related to their choir. As a lady who’s spent far too much time with her nose in books about angelic mythology, the amount of effort put into Blood & Feather’s worldbuilding was great to see.

I had trouble empathising with the leading lady, Alice. She seemed to make a lot of decisions without even hinting at her motivations beforehand, leaving me to follow behind her in the dark without a clue what she was up to. But the other characters more than made up for this. The flawed angels are a world apart from their biblical counterparts, with kind-hearted but battle-hardened alcoholic Mallory, a disgraced angel, being the closest to human while cold, aloof angel Gwyn is his apathetic opposite.  The conversations between Alice and the angels were sharp and witty, keeping the story going at a great pace.

I loved the world created here, and I’m excited to see where else Lou Morgan takes this story in the sequel.

Emma Maree Reviews: Blacksad (A Silent Hell)

Book: Blacksad: A Silent Hell (collected, translated volume 2), written by Juan Díaz Canales and illustrated by Juanjo Guarnido

Genre: Graphic Novels/Comics/Noir/Crime

Detective John Blacksad returns, with a new case that takes him to a 1950s New Orleans filled with hot jazz and cold-blooded murder! Hired to discover the fate of a celebrated pianist, Blacksad finds his most dangerous mystery yet in the midst of drugs, voodoo, the rollicking atmosphere of Mardi Gras, and the dark underbelly that it hides!

This is possibly Juanjo Guarnido’s finest artwork so far, following his black cat detective to sunny New Orleans and featuring a stunning Mardi Gras parade sequence.

However, the storytelling seems to fall flatter than the last collectio. Flashbacks are handled clumsily with almost no indication that we’re in a different timeline, and there’s less bite to the story: Blacksad has no personal connection to the people involved, and there’s less of the serious political themes of the last volume.

This collection contains one full issue of Blacksad, two two-page short stories, and a bucketload of notes from the artist about why he colours his panels the way he does. The art explanations are fun for a while, but I can only read so much about the comic’s art theory before getting tired of it. After the packed-to-the-brim first Blacksad collection this is a little disappointing, but perhaps that’s only because I was expecting another three collected issues.

Emma Maree Reviews: Heart-Shaped Bruise

Book: Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Psychological/Crime Fiction

They say I’m evil. The police. The newspapers. The girls from school who shake their heads on the six o’clock news and say they always knew there was something not quite right about me. And everyone believes it. Including you. But you don’t know. You don’t know who I used to be.

Who I could have been.

Awaiting trial at Archway Young Offenders Institution, Emily Koll is going to tell her side of the story for the first time.

“Heart-Shaped Bruise” is the diary of young criminal Emily Koll, written from her prison — a young offender’s institute in England.

This book has some balls: we’ve got a hard-to-categorise story (is it crime? mystery? psychological? contemporary?) with a hard-to-like protagonist who’s in jail for something horrible. It’s a daring book, and I love it.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to relate to Emily, who’s bitter about her imprisonment, difficult to talk to, and cold to her fellow inmates. But how can I not like a girl who talks about her grief like this:

“It was like a blackness that crept into the corners of my life until everything was grey and dirty. My insides felt burned out, like if you cut me open, all you would find would be smoke. No heart. No bones. There was nothing left, just the anger.”

I spent my time reading it and highlighting lines that resonated: Yes, Emily, I know that blackness. I know your pain. Your betrayal. Your black, unstoppable fury. If I’m being honest, I think it’s difficult to be a woman and not know exactly how she feels. She makes it so easy to understand her story.

Even though what Emily does might be unimaginable to some of us, the pain she goes through to reach that breaking point is something most of us can relate to.

If you’ve ever tried to write an unlikable character, it’s worth picking up this book as an example of how to do it right without losing your character’s edge.

Emma Maree Reviews: The Knife of Never Letting Go

Book: The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Series: Chaos Walking, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci Fi/Dystopian

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

If you’re a reader: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart. This is a fast-paced story, with a vivid dystopian world, plenty of action and dangling plot reveals galore to keep you reading even when you want to give Todd a good kick in the shins.

“You’re tearing me *apart*, Patrick Ness!”

If you’re a writer: prepare to have your heartstrings torn apart, and your writer-brain given a good education. Want to know how to make a difficult-to-like (ignorant, bull-headed prejudiced, angry) character loveable? Want to know how to write a convincing male character, from teenage mood swings to some words being misspelled cuz he ain’t had much of an educayshun? Want to know how to reveal information slowly without frustrating your readers? Step right up and get reading.

There are so many secrets in this story that you want to find out the answer to. You know the secrets are there because Todd is constantly doubting and second-guessing his info and other characters are fighting not to spill the beans.

So Ness keeps feeding you important information, big shocking reveals, while putting obstacles in the way to stop you finding out the whole picture all at once. For instance: in a world where everyone can hear your thoughts, knowing too much is a liability so a lot of info is kept from Todd so that it can’t be overheard.  And a lot of the important  info is in a book Todd carries everywhere, but he’s illiterate and too proud and defensive to admit he can’t read it.

Patrick has an impressively strong grasp of how to withhold information without it feeling forced or unrealistic, and how to ‘drip-feed’ important information to the readers without overwhelming them.

Either way: This is an interesting and dark dystopian that breaks out of the genre box and takes a lot of risks. While these risks (the misspelled narration, the constant dangling of plot info in front of your face) might lose it a few fans, it’ll earn Patrick Ness many, many more.

I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel, though after the emotional throat-punch that was this book I might have to take a break in-between.