Tag Archives: young adult

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: Seraphina

seraphinaBook: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Series: Seraphina, Book 1

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Fantasy

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

Why is it that the books I really loved are always the hardest to review?

I usually try to keep my reviews balanced with the good and the bad, but it’s so difficult for books like “Seraphina” when there really isn’t anything to fault with it.

The dialogue was snappy, true-to-life and very quotable. The plot twists were great. The usual issues I get twitchy about (gender equality and representation of different sexualities and races) were comfortingly absent. As for the world building… oh boy, I could gush about the world building for hours.  Every aspect of this book is richly written, from the background religions and cultures to the draconian species.

“Seraphina” is set in a world where, after a massive war between humans and dragons, a shaky treaty has brought peace and dragons now walk among humans in almost-human bodies. But when a member of the royal family is murdered in a draconic style, Seraphina (court musician, secret half-dragon, and generally awesome young lady) decides to help the young Prince investigate and find the murderer before the treaty falls apart.

It’s no secret that I love dragons, and this book handles dragons with style and grace. You won’t ever mix up a dragon character with a human one. They’re inhuman even in their human disguises, lovers of maths, and they avoid our confusing human emotions at all costs along with pointless niceties like saying “hello” or “goodbye”.

If you like dragons, pick this book up. If you like flawless high fantasy, pick this up. This is definitely one of the best YA books to come out of 2012.

A review copy of this novel was provided by Random House in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Random House!

Emma Maree Reviews: Pandemonium

pandemoniumBook: Pandemonium (Delirium #2) by Lauren Oliver

Series: Delirium, Book #2

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Sci Fi/Dystopian/Romance

I’m pushing aside
the memory of my nightmare,
pushing aside thoughts of Alex,
pushing aside thoughts of Hana
and my old school,
push,
push,
push,
like Raven taught me to do.
The old life is dead.
But the old Lena is dead too.
I buried her.
I left her beyond a fence,
behind a wall of smoke and fame.
 
Lauren Oliver delivers an electrifying follow-up to her acclaimed New York Times bestseller, Delirium. This riveting, brilliant novel crackles with the fire of fierce defiance, forbidden romance, and the sparks of a revolution about to ignite.

I love that title, even though I always feel like it needs an exclamation. Pandemonium! It’s such a great word:

pandemonium [ˌpændɪˈməʊnɪəm]

n

1. wild confusion; uproar
2. a place of uproar and chaos

[coined by Milton to designate the capital of hell in Paradise Lost, from pan- + Greek daimōn demon]
pandemoniac , pandemonic [ˌpændɪˈmɒnɪk] adj

I’ve had a complicated relationship so far with Lauren Oliver. While I loved her debut, “Before I Fall”, and the concept of “Delirium”, the actual book left me flat due to it’s confusing ending.  I also get grumpy about the UK cover redesigns, though “Pandemonium” and upcoming final book “Requiem” have much nicer covers and I’ve actually grown to like them and how they fit in with the “Before I Fall” cover.

Thankfully, “Pandemonium” was full of pleasant surprises. It’s a much tighter-written and ambitious book than “Delirium” was, alternating between the past and the present as Lena adjusts to a hard, scraping-for-survival life in the unregulated Wilds outside the city (‘before’) and sneaks into New York City to tail the son of the president of Deliria-Free America, an organisation that viciously promotes the idea that love is a disease and the only safe humans are those ‘cured’ by a lobotomy-like procedure (‘after’).

Lena is a stronger person, even as she deals with her grief over “Delirium”‘s events realistically, and she’s a much more enjoyable character to follow this time round. Oliver also expands the world laid out in the previous novel, taken it from a sketched-out dystopia into a realistic future society with a lot of moral grey areas.

The scenery descriptions are nicely done, though occasionally repetitive (snow seems to crackle a lot in the Wilds), and the new characters introduced are varied and feel like they have a lot of depth to them. The two story lines also alternated nicely, with very little opportunity for confusion, up until the merging point which felt a bit unclearly defined.

I’m very happy with how “Pandemonium” turned out. While a lot of middle trilogy books can be weak and plotless, “Pandemonium” is miles stronger than “Delirium” and restored my faith in Lauren Oliver’s writing. I’ll be looking forward to reading and reviewing “Requiem” closer to its March release date.

I bought a copy of this novel myself for personal reading, but I’ll note that Hodder & Stoughton have previously provided me with review copies of “Delirium” and “Requiem” in exchange for honest reviews.

Emma Maree Reviews: Code Name Verity

Book: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein 

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Historical

I have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.

That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.

He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.

We are a sensational team.

I picked this book up due to the massive (and I mean MASSIVE) hype it’s had around the Internet. And for the first third of the book, I was convinced it just wan’t for me. It was slow and languous, and often needlessly confusing. I was fighting the urge to mark this down as ‘Did Not Finish’ and move on.

But I was determined to find out just what was so good about this book. I read on. And I got hooked.

The climatic half of this book is amazing. It’s sensational. I just wish I’d be warned about that beginning so I knew to keep on plodding through.

But oh my, that second half. This is a meticulously crafted story, with a razor sharp eye for dialogue and historical details. I’m very glad I finished reading it.

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: Shiver

Book: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Series: The Wolves of Mercy Falls

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult/Paranormal Romance

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can’t seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human… until the cold makes him shift back again.

Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It’s her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

One thing that surprised me about Shiver was that I really liked the protagonist, Grace. She’s a beautiful blonde, oblivious to her own good looks – but she’s also clearly, visibly smart, and not just because she talks about reading books. She knows Sam’s a werewolf about three chapters in, she works out what happened to a recently changed ‘victim’ on her own, she even works out a few of Sam’s secrets before he gathers up the guts to tell her. After reading so many YA romances with female leads that leave me wanting to scream at the stupid girls, this was such a refreshing change – and the surprises didn’t stop there.

There’s no drawn-out waiting for Sam to ‘reveal’ his supernatural secret – she works it out, the story moves on. After so many books with drawn-out “Say what you are.” “Vampire”-style reveals, slow-to-happen first kisses that shake the heavens, and heavy hints to mysteries that main characters can’t work out, it all feels very fresh. I don’t have any problem with these tropes (I like working out the mysteries, and slow lead-ups to first kisses can be done well) but it’s nice to have something different.

I also love the way Stiefvater does chapters – they’re scenes, as long or short as they need to be, swapping between characters with a temperature reading to hint at the ever-so-important outside temperature during the chapters. The short scenes add a lot to the pacing, and they help the story to zip-along even in the mundane day-to-day moments.

There are a few slower moments in this book – family drama, school drama, day-to-day life. It gives the book a nice touch of reality, but it can slow down the pacing a bit. About half-way through the story I got a little tired of the constant romantic drama and wanted some action – this is a werewolf story, damn it, give me epic wolf fight scenes or even just ominous confrontations.

In the end, the slower pacing was all that stopped me making that jump from enjoying this book to loving it. I really wanted more action, but this series’ is focussed on the romance first, then the characters, and the action last of all. I went into it with the wrong expectations, but if it’s a paranormal romance you’re after, this book will tick all of your boxes.

Emma Maree Reviews: “Boys Don’t Cry” by Malorie Blackman

Choosing character names is a struggle for me, but it’s clear author Malorie Blackman has some naming skills. The two main characters of her latest novel “Boys Don’t Cry” are Dante, whose story revolves around being left holding his newborn baby after his girlfriend skips town, has a younger brother named Adam, an openly gay black teenager that Dante’s friends hate.

Dante and Adam. Those are fantastic names. The Christian origin, the dichotomy of it – Adam being the son of God, residing in Heaven, Dante being a famous bard who went down into the depths of Hell in search of his love. Religion isn’t mentioned in the book, but the symbolism here – the opposite meanings – rings true. Dante and Adam are close as brothers, especially when they’re in the house around each other, but they disagree on a lot of things and argue often.

But this story is about a lot more than the two brothers. When Dante is sitting waiting for his A-Level result, his ex-girlfriend appears at the door with a baby she claims is his. Then she disappears, leaving him holding the baby and facing the fact that he might be about to lose everything – a promising university education, his social life, and his current girlfriend Colette.

Told from a rare single father point of view, Dante has to figure out how to be a dad – from changing nappies to worrying about whether it is really his kid. His dad helps him out using his own experience as a single parent – but the help is in true-to-life ‘dad’ form, with lots of grumbling about what a bloody idiot he is for getting into this mess in the first place.

I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this story, but Dante’s strong voice pulled me into the story. He’s very British, and very honest and real – he sounds like a typical English teen guy, it’s great. It’s also a very honest story – it doesn’t skim over any of the harsh realities of being a teen parent. Dante’s friends stop calling round to visit, his girlfriend doesn’t want anything to do with him, his guy friends mock him when they’re not busy taunting his brother.

Author Malorie Blackman

The story unfolds at a quick pace, with chapters from Dante’s point of view showing the child-rearing side of life, and Adam’s chapters showing some of the darker sides of Dante’s circle of friends. By the end of the story, the viciousness of Dante’s friends shows its true colours and has horrible consequences.

The ending left me wanting more – it was realistically done, but I really wanted karma to be served. I also wish they’d mentioned the families skin colour more – the only obvious mention about Dante being black was towards the end. You could argue that this is clever – the ambiguous cover and narrative mean any young guy can relate to the story – but personally I wish this was stated clearly and proudly from the start.

It’s been a long time since I read Malorie Blackman (as a kid I poured over stories like “Hacker” and “Pig-Heart Boy” in my Primary School library), and I’m glad to see she’s as brilliant a writer as ever.

Maybe I should get around to finally giving her “Noughts & Crosses” series a look…

A review copy of this book was provided by Random House.

“Fallen” Book Review

fallensmall

“Fallen” by Lauren Kate
Release Date: 8th December 2009 (US), 17th December 2009 (UK)
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Doubleday (Random House Children’s Books)

If you’re going to judge a book by it’s cover, then “Fallen” is great – a black-haired, pale girl in a black dress stands against a blue-lit forest. Aiming straight for the gothic-at-heart, the large curving font for the title makes it look a lot like an Evanescence cover. That’s not a bad thing –  it’s eyes catching.

Then there’s the back cover blurb. If you’ve just finished that guilt-ridden-but-enjoyable binge of every recent vampire book within reach, searching for a way to fill the hole left by the end of the “Twilight” series, it’ll be all you need to read before taking the book to the counter and continuing your paranormal romance spree. The endorsement by P.C. Cast – author of the “House of Night” series – doesn’t hurt either.

SOME ANGELS ARE DESTINED TO FALL.

Instant. Intense. Weirdly familiar . . .

The moment Luce looks at Daniel she knows she has never felt like this before. Except that she can’t shake the feeling that she has. And with him – a boy she doesn’t ever remember setting eyes on.

Will her attempt to find out why enlighten her – or destroy her?

Dangerously exciting and darkly romantic, FALLEN is a thrilling story about forbidden love.

“Fallen”‘s main girl is Lucinda Price, a mouthful of a name thankfully shortened to simply Luce. A boy mysterious burned to death while with her, so she’s been packed off to the fantastically gothic Sword & Cross reform school, complete with ever-present CCTV, barbed wire, overgrown vegetation, a full Olympic swimming pool inside a church and a military graveyard where you get to spend detention cleaning up old marble statues. It’s set in the marsh covered side of Savannah, Georgia, but the city itself is never really explored because reform school pupils aren’t supposed to just nip to the shops.

Luce focuses her attention on the gorgeous and alluring Daniel Grigori, but as soon as they make eye contact he flips her off. Charming. There to pick up the gauntlet, however, is the smooth-talking and charming Cam.

They are some of the first of “Fallen”‘s large cast, including the ‘wacky’ and rebellious Arriane, a blunt girl with horrible scars across the back of her neck; the much moodier will-break-your-face-with-her-New-Rocks punk kid Molly; chubby Penn, who always wears multiple layers and has access to everyone’s confidential files and dreadlocked smuggler Roland who handles getting contraband items into the school.

The teachers are a little bit more negatively portrayed – the kind-hearted, motherly librarian (who classes are so boring); the history teacher who’s not too bad a bloke when not lecturing his (bored) class; the manly female teacher and ‘warden’ Randy and a strict and cold gym teacher.

The first half of the story revolves around Luce adapting to this school and its pupils, having a bad-run in with Molly and feeling inexplicably attracted to Daniel even though his words to her mostly consist of  lines like “Go away”, “Don’t talk to me” and “You are not my friend”. Luce’s obsession doesn’t go away, though, and in typical teenage girl fashion she proceeds to stalk him and have Penn go through his files while she tries to explain to them that she knows she’s seen him somewhere before. Wait, did I say typical teenage girl fashion? I meant typical teenage girl in a school full of unstable reform kids behavior.  At least nobody’s been horribly burnt to death yet.

While my tongue is firmly in-cheek there, despite the slightly creepiness of it, Fallen’s target audience knows what it is to be head-over-heels with a guy so Luce’s longing will be alien to none of them. For older readers, she’s difficult to relate to with her single-minded focus on that one hot guy but as “Twilight” has already shown us, teenage girls just get it. At least she’s not climbing in his window to watch him sleep, right?

While she’s obsessing over Daniel, Cam is desperately trying to get in Luce’s pants and what was once charming and sweet is quickly getting creepy and desperate. As Daniel begins to soften and meet Luce off-campus, still trying to convince her she’s being silly and delusional because they’ve never met, Cam’s forced advances become a quick-trigger for a fist-fight.

There’s a dramatic rescue that rings true to “Twilight”‘s ‘saved from death by being crushed by a large object’ scene, replacing the car with something a bit more symbolic. There’s also another big fire where someone is horribly burnt to death, but they were too undeveloped for me to care very much.

Aside from those above scenes, though, the first half of the book is in need of some editing. Lauren Kate’s prose is clean and easy-to-read, but without enough action and conflict the endless repetition of stalking Daniel, being rejected by him, leading Cam on despite being a bit repulsed by him, and then crawling back to Daniel afterwards gets tiring. The long, eventless build-up didn’t work in Stephenie Meyer’s work and it doesn’t work here. As this is an advanced copy I was reading, with a bit of luck the editor will take a harsh hand with it before final release.

Lauren’s character development is also flawed – while Arriane, Penn and Cam are both varied and exciting characters, Lucinda and Daniel fall flat. Daniel’s constantly mean for no good reason, and despite Luce’s swooning over his looks and her mysterious attraction most girls would write him off as an ass and move on.

Luce isn’t much better – while she starts off promising with her past as a possible-arsonist-and-manslaughterer, her single-minded fixation on Daniel over any of her friends and cruel leading on of Cam makes her difficult to like. She’s better than Bella Swan, but still too passive. At one point she’s facing her own death and just lies back and thinks about how pretty Daniel is instead of trying to avoid it.

I think Lauren Kate knows she’s far from perfect though – possibly acting as her mouthpiece, one character says about Luce: “you’re nothing more than you appear to be: a stupid, selfish, ignorant, spoiled little girl who thinks the world lives or dies on whether she gets to go out with some good-looking boy at school”

Author Lauren Kate

Author Lauren Kate

The truth if, whether the distinguished readers among us like it or not, most teenage girls are exactly like that. They are going to love it.

The first book in a four book series, the story ends with some cliffhanger set-up for the second book “Torment”, due out September 2010. While its pacing is flawed and it’s main character difficult to love, Lauren Kate shows a lot of promise with world-building and her beautiful settings, along with memorable and likeable side-characters. With some work on developing Luce, and an increase in pace now that introductions are over, the series has a definite potential to progress into something very good.

Until then, young girls are going to love it anyway.

Rating: 3/5 – As the start of a series this dark romance has potential.
Other Books By This Author: The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove.
For Fans of: Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight”, P.C. Cast’s “The House of Night”, Becca Fitzpatrick’s “Hush, Hush”,

An advance copy was provided for this review by Random House.  The work may change before final print.

You can also check out a review of the sequel to “Fallen”, “Torment“, or read my review of Lauren Kate’s novel “The Betrayal of Natalie Hargrove“!