Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)


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Publisher: Indigo
Pages: 272
Release Date: January 13th 2015
Summary (From Goodreads):

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.
Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.
At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.
Until one day, he does…
As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?


Review:
I received this book through a giveaway run by Daphne at Winged Reviews so massive thanks to her.

I’ve been on a bit of a fairytale rampage lately and this was more than satisfying. I’d heard a lot about it and was certainly not disappointed.

This books takes a lot of familiar fairytale creatures and myths and places them in the modern world, where humans live alongside the Folk, albeit not always happily. It’s amazing to see the juxtaposition of the modern and Folk worlds: the image of the Prince sleeping in his coffin made of tears while teenagers get drunk and make out around him just sang to me. It was great to see the way the two worlds blended and how the strange creatures and happenings weren’t just explained away, but (mostly) accepted as magical.

The characterisation in this book was brilliant. From the first chapter I identified so much with Hazel and was more than happy to follow her story along. It was easy to see how the secrets grew between her and her brother Ben, even though I kept yelling at them to ‘fess up and get it over with. But we all know how hard it can be to tell the truth after lying for so long…

One of the things that drew me to the book was the diversity I’d heard talked about: in the beginning, both Hazel and Ben are in love with the sleeping Prince. I loved their different relationships with the Prince but most of all I loved how normal it was: it wasn’t a big deal that a boy loved another boy, it was just there and it was normal and that’s how it should be! (Labouring the point there but I love diverse books that aren’t solely about being diverse).


I thought the world building worked wonderfully, and loved the different bits of mythology that was dropped in, some which I recognised and others which I now want to read more about. The monster of the forest was truly creepy – the words it spoke really chilled me – and the action sequences were heart pounding and intense.

This is my first venture into Holly Black’s writing and I’m already lining up more of her books to read. This is a magical read with action, romance and plenty of shocks and surprises littered throughout. A definite one to read this year.

My Verdict:



Ahaha I love this book, you should totally read it!

If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Top Five… Female Protagonists

In honour of International Women’s Day last week, I’ve decided this week’s Top Five will be dedicated to my favourite and most inspirational women in YA fiction. There’s a lot to choose from so this was a particularly hard one to narrow down!

5.

Rachel (Animorph series)
K. A. Applegate
Rachel is the ultimate tough girl/Xena: Warrior Princess. She finds herself one of Earth’s last hopes in a secret invasion and she kicks butt. I love the darker side of her character as she revels in the violence and danger, but also the vulnerabilities she can show and the fierce love she has for her sisters.
4.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
J. K. Rowling
Not only is Hermione brave and has a good hand in saving the wizarding world, she is smart with it and saves Harry and Ron’s skins plenty of times along their journey. She’s passionate about charitable causes (remember the Elf Liberation Front?) and she knows who she is, even if others don’t like it.
3.
Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games series)
Suzanne Collins
She’s become a bit of an idol lately (helped by the amazing portrayal by Jennifer Lawrence). She’s strong, brave and makes the ultimate sacrifice to save her little sister. She heads a revolution and manages to go through atrocities without becoming a monster herself.
2.

Rialle (The Echorium Sequence)
Katherine Roberts
I’ve always loved Rialle, and one of the things I love most is how vulnerable she is and how she grows in the first book. She might cry easily and be afraid a lot but that doesn’t mean she’s not a strong women, and it doesn’t stop her from saving her friends. She risks herself to stop her home and friends being destroyed and you can’t help but love her.
And the winner is…
1.
Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman
Lyra was my inspiration growing up. She’s a little wild, headstrong and fiercely loyal and it was such a pleasure to follow her story. She doesn’t let anyone stop her from doing what she wants to and what she needs to. She’s another who makes great sacrifices to herself for the greater good, and the pain of that made me love her all the more.

Which women in books have inspired you?

Book Review: Sleepless (Lou Morgan)

Publisher: Stripes Publishing

Pages: 352

Release Date: October 1st 2014

Summary (From Goodreads):

Young, rich and good-looking, Izzy and her friends lead seemingly perfect lives. But exams are looming and at a school like Clerkenwell, failure is not an option. Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the group begin taking the study drug. It doesn’t take long before they realize there are far worse things than failing a few exams.

Review:

I bought this book at the UKYA Extravaganza and got it signed by Lou and had a lovely chat with her about her books and the horror genre.

As a bit of a self confessed horror nerd (I spend most evenings watching horror films and I wrote my Masters dissertation on the subject) I enjoyed seeing a lot of classic horror tropes in the story, as well as references to situations we’re so used to seeing in horror films. Protagonist Izzy’s awareness of this (like me, she’s a horror film fan) somehow made the situation more believable: she knows that if she were watching her life as a film, she’d be screaming at herself not to go off alone, but sometimes the situation calls for it.

The setup of the story was very thorough: the characters and their group dynamic was very easy to grasp and the introduction of the pills seemed natural enough, though knowing what the story is about, you’re already yelling at them not to be so stupid. My gripe would be that the set up went on a little too long. It felt like I was over half way through before everything really started kicking off.

The warning on the back of the book is right: it’s definitely not for younger readers. Some of the descriptions are pretty gruesome and there are some grizzly deaths that made my skin crawl.

As with a lot of horror stories, I found I didn’t connect too well with some of the characters, probably because I knew they were going to be killed off. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because I loved Izzy, Grey and Tigs (great name/nickname there) so I didn’t really mind regarding the others as part of the body count.

I was pretty ill while reading this and not sleeping well myself, so I really felt for Izzy as the tiredness began to take over her. I loved the lapses of memory/consciousness and not knowing what was really happening and what wasn’t. It makes everything feel so much more dangerous when the lines between reality and dreams are blurred.

In my head, I was comparing this constantly to Frozen Charlotte, another Red Eye book, and I found this book didn’t have the same kind of creepy atmosphere: if I compared it to a horror film, Sleepless would be a gory slasher, while Frozen Charlotte would be the psychological horror that stays with you long after it’s finished.

The ending was a little confusing and open ended, but it’s another horror trope I’ve come to expect, especially with modern horror: I think horror can lose its effect if it’s all closed off neatly at the end, and with some ambiguity it means the nightmare is still going on.

This is another modern horror that I would recommend to anyone who loves a good scare, and I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lou’s books.

 My Verdict:
 
4
If you enjoyed this, you might like Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

Book Review: The Death Cure (Janes Dashner)

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Publisher: Chicken House
Pages: 327
Release Date: 2011
Summary (From Goodreads):

Thomas knows that Wicked can’t be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they’ve collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It’s up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test.

What Wicked doesn’t know is that something’s happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can’t believe a word of what Wicked says.
The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine.
Will anyone survive the Death Cure?


Review:
I may not have enjoyed it, but I have at least finished the series (don’t mention the prequel, I’ll get round to it eventually but I was losing the will to read and needed a good book). 
As predicted, this was a pretty unsatisfying end to a very unsatisfying trilogy. With all the comparisons to The Hunger Games I had high hopes and they have not been met at all. The thing about The Hunger Games was that, whilst obviously never likely to happen, everything still managed to sound plausible. You could see how they’d got to that state and how the games were used to control people. But with this series, I’ve not been able to suspend disbelief at all. I just don’t buy any of it, even with the vague explanations in this final book, nothing made sense. 
I think the most interesting point in this book was finding out that one of them wasn’t actually immune to the Flare. But I think that it could have been written with a lot more emotional pull, because the way it went down didn’t really do it for me (I seem to use that phrase a lot when talking about these books). The whole thing with Newt’s note didn’t play out realistically for me: I know he could have been being irrational on purpose but it just all felt too contrived. 
A really minor point that bugged me was when Brenda had to explain what a mall was. The whole memory loss thing was inconsistent: if he knew what a bowling alley was, or a football field then why not a mall? Silly, I know, but inconsistencies like that really jar me. 
I could go on about the flat characterisation and unsatisfactory ending but I’m sure you’re used to hearing that from me now. Safe to say I didn’t enjoy this book either and doubt I’ll be revisiting the series. 
My Verdict:


   Take it or leave it

Book Review: The Scorch Trials (James Dashner)

Details:
Publisher: Chicken House

Pages: 359

Release Date: 2010

Summary (From Goodreads):
Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end. No more puzzles. No more variables. And no more running. Thomas was sure that escape meant he and the Gladers would get their lives back. But no one really knew what sort of life they were going back to.
In the Maze, life was easy. They had food, and shelter, and safety… until Teresa triggered the end. In the world outside the Maze, however, the end was triggered long ago.

Burned by sun flares and baked by a new, brutal climate, the earth is a wasteland. Government has disintegrated—and with it, order— and now Cranks, people covered in festering wounds and driven to murderous insanity by the infectious disease known as the Flare, roam the crumbling cities hunting for their next victim… and meal.

The Gladers are far from finished with running. Instead of freedom, they find themselves faced with another trial. They must cross the Scorch, the most burned-out section of the world, and arrive at a safe haven in two weeks. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Thomas can only wonder—does he hold the secret of freedom somewhere in his mind? Or will he forever be at the mercy of WICKED?
Review:
I’m not going to say too much about this book. I’m reading them all because it’s rare that I don’t finish a book/series, and there is a part of me (the bit that’s also a sucker for punishment) that wants to find out what happens in the end. But the more I read the more I feel like I’m not going to get any satisfying answers.

After escaping the Maze the Gladers find themselves back in another WICKED’s trials (or ‘games’) only this time it’s a lot less interesting than the Maze.

I do like the idea of the Flare, a kind of zombie like disease that eats away at the brain until all emotions and rationality is gone. It’s like giving the zombie genre a medical background and I think it’s a good idea. I just don’t like the story that goes with it.

The characters are still pretty flat and boring, Thomas and Teresa especially, while the others tend to blend into the background a lot (seriously, how many times does someone die and Thomas says it was a boy whose name he didn’t know/had never spoken to?) Thomas spends a huge portion of the book sleeping or passing out and is constantly being the ‘Chosen One’ without ever really doing anything special.

I didn’t like the love triangle type relationship that forced its way in with the introduction of Brenda. I didn’t like that Brenda and Teresa were constantly being described as ‘probably as tough as any of the boys’ as if girls can’t be tough in their own right without being compared to boys, who are obviously all tough (read with massive amounts of sarcasm). The whole betrayal thing at the end didn’t fool me at all, and I was really annoyed when it was explained away by saying that WICKED just wanted Thomas to feel betrayed. None of their explanations make sense!

This is going a bit ranty so I’ll draw it to an end. There’s plenty of action and intrigue in this book, but not enough character or, quite frankly, sense. The vague explanations of the Variables and patterns and what not just leave me feeling sceptical more than anything. It all seems like it’s trying very hard to be mysterious and I feel there’s not going to be a great pay off at the end.
My Verdict:

 

UKYA Extravaganza

So, after a month or so of waiting for it, and an amazingly epic blog tour, yesterday the UKYA Extravaganza finally happened in Birmingham.

I didn’t get off to the best start to the day. My little car died this week (RIP) and public transport is not my friend, but after one very slow bus, and an impressively quick walk/run to the train station and lots of directions from other people, I made it to the Birmingham High Street Waterstones.

(I should point out that I only live round the corner from Birmingham and it should not have been such a big thing. I know a lot of people travelled a lot further for it!)

As I am cursed with crippling shyness, I probably didn’t make the most of the event, but I’m just going to take baby steps for now and call it a success. I met Anna from Enchanted By YA which was great as we’ve spoken a fair bit online. I also met Georgina from Miss Chapter’s Reviews who was so friendly and easy to talk to, and helped me find cake, which is always good.

Author wise I got to meet Rachel Ward who I interviewed for the blog tour and it was great to meet her in person, and she also introduced me to Lucy from Queen of Contemporary, who leads the UKYAChats.

Money’s tight so I wasn’t planning on buying anything, but I couldn’t resist getting Sleepless by Lou Morgan so I could get it signed by her. We had a great chat and I can’t wait to read her book.

And I ended my time there chatting to Jim from YA Yeah Yeah and Debbie from Snuggling on the Sofa who were both so friendly I wish I’d spoken to them earlier in the day.

There were plenty of bloggers and authors I wish I’d spoken to, but I think I did okay for my first event. As a reader and a writer I found the whole thing so inspiring: it’s amazing just being in a room with people who love books as much as you do, and I really can’t wait for the next event.

Book Review: Hansel and Gretel (Neil Gaiman)

Details:

Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Pages: 56
Release Date: December 11th 2014


Summary (From Goodreads):

The enduring story of the children, the breadcrumb trail and the gingerbread house is brought to life by master storyteller, Neil Gaiman. Who better to retell the Brothers Grimm’s greatest, and perhaps darkest, fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel? Coupled with breathtakingly haunting illustrations from Lorenzo Mattotti, you will be enticed into the world and into the woods . . . so beware.

Review:

This is a lovely telling of the classic story of Hansel and Gretel. I’ve received a lot of fairytale books lately (including the complete works of the Brothers Grimm) and am really interested in the different tellings and they way they change over the years/author-author.

This story is classic Gaiman, beautifully told with dark undertones and some very creepy illustrations by Lorenzo Mattotti. I did enjoy the illustrations: they reminded me a little of those in A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. The style is similar, black and white, very dark and ‘messy’ looking (not in a bad way, it’s just the only word I can think to describe it – I’m not good with arty things!)

The reason I’ve only given three stars is because I was expecting something a little more. It really was just the story of Hansel and Gretel with no added darkness or twists, as I was expecting. It’s still a lovely story and I’ll be looking out for more of his fairytales, but I think with slightly lower expectations this time. It’s perfect if you’re looking for a well told fairy tale, but maybe look elsewhere if you’re after a more twisted tale.

(As a side note, there was also a page at the back with explained some of the origins of the story, which I found really interesting, as apparently during wartime people would sometimes be forced to eat other people or ‘lose’ children so there were less mouths to feed.)

My Verdict:
3