Book Review: Monster (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 464

Release Date: October 19th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

When the dome came down, they thought it was the end of the troubles. Truth is, it was just the beginning.

Shade Darby witnessed events that day, with devastating consequences, and vowed never to feel that powerless again. Now, four years later, she gets her hands on a part of the meteor that began it all – and that’s when she changes.

Trouble is, Shade’s not the only one mutating, and the authorities cannot allow these superpowers to go unchecked . . .

Review:

Confession time: I’ve not read the Gone series by Michael Grant. I’ve seen the name around a few times as I’ve read some of his other books, but when this one dropped through my mailbox I didn’t realise it was the continuation of another series.

After reading this, I really need to read the Gone series. There’s something quite cool about reading something and finding out there are more books to read before this story takes place. I was really into this story and able to understand what was going on, but it’s nice to know that I can read in full all the previous events that were alluded to.

Shade Darby was there when the dome came up, a helpless child who saw her mother die in the chaos that followed. Now older and determined never to be helpless again, Shade has tracked down part of the meteor that began everything and is going to take matters and power into her own hands. But other people have come across parts too, and their intentions might not be as good as Shade’s.

This book does have some old characters from the previous series in it, and lots of references to what happened in those books, so I guess I was starting on the back foot a little with it, but I still really enjoyed it. It has a similar format to Grant’s Soldier Girl series, in that lots of different viewpoints and stories are covered, rather than seeing things from one protagonist’s point of view, and that helped show the scale of the problem as bits of the meteor landed and were discovered across the world (my particular favourite was the baby who used part of it as a teether in Scotland).

There’s a lot of graphic and gross descriptions in the book that made it feel very gritty and real. While there are lots of references to comic book superheroes, our characters are very different from the usual spandex-clad heroes. Their powers come with grim transformations: no one sounds graceful or beautiful, they’re all monsters in their own way.

The book deals with questions of power and responsibility, and what happens when great power like this gets into anyone’s hands: wrong or right, there’s always going to be consequences. Even with someone like Shade, who means well, good intentions often aren’t enough to stop you from making terrible decisions and hurting the ones you love.

This is an exciting, action-packed story that grips you from beginning to end. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next to these characters and the changing world they’re in, as well as reading the Gone series to see how it all started.

Book Review: Silver Stars (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 479

Release Date: February 9th 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

The summer of 1943, World War II. With heavy memories of combat, Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the rest of the American army are moving on to their next target: the Italian island of Sicily.

The women won’t conquer Italy alone. They are not heroes for fighting alongside their brothers—they are soldiers. But Frangie, Rainy, Rio, and the millions of brave females fighting for their country have become a symbol in the fight for equality. They will brave terrible conditions in an endless siege; they will fight to find themselves on the front lines of WWII; and they will come face-to-face with the brutality of war until they win or die.

Review:

I adored Front Lines last year and was really grateful receive a copy of the sequel in the post, big thanks to Egmont UK!

Just as with the sequel, I did find this a bit hard to get into at first, but once I got into the swing of it I loved it. We still have our unnamed narrator framing events, with a small section at the start, middle and end of the book. I have a theory on who this is now, but we’ll have to wait until the next book to find out!

Rio, Rainy and Frangie are back and still at war. Rio is in the midst of the fighting, Frangie is doing her best to patch people up and send them out in – excuse the pun – fighting condition, and Rainy is on a secret mission that sees her meeting the Mafia and the British navy.

I kind of think of Rio’s story as the main one, probably just because I like her so much, and she’s the one doing the actual fighting, which, while not necessarily the most important job, it is the one that springs to mind when you think of war. She’s a good soldier and that’s leading to promotions she doesn’t want, because it’s easier to follow orders than to give them. But Rio isn’t able to shirk away from the responsibility and it leads to guilt, a battle within herself and tensions with Jenou, her best friend and fellow soldier.

Frangie has a doubly hard war to face: people might not like women soldiers, but what they like even less is coloured women soldiers. I think Frangie’s story is so important and so eye opening. Towards the end, after conversations with a certain character (no spoilers!) she sees how she is treated like a second class citizen, and how she even contributes to that, because that’s what’s been drummed into her. I know things aren’t like they were back then, but we still have a long way to go with race relations and I think reading Frangie’s story is really important. There’s also a note from the author at the back of the book on racism in the war. One bit that really stuck with me was when he said how black American’s had to fight to be allowed to fight in the war for a country that hated them. There’s real bravery and patriotism there.

Rainy’s journey takes her to dangerous territory: an invaded Italy is no place for a young Jewish woman. I admired Rainy’s resourcefulness and determination throughout and wished things worked out differently for her (no spoilers again!) It’s hard to say a lot without ruining things but some parts of her story towards the end really made me want to cry. Also, kudos for the mention of periods, wasn’t expecting that in this book at all and it was something I’d wondered about.

I was reading some reviews of Front Lines on Amazon and one comment stuck out to me. Someone said they thought they enjoyed the book because it was similar to the Animorphs series, by Katherine Applegate, Michael Grant’s wife. I was also a big Animorph fan – still am in fact, I think they’re an incredible set of books – and I think the comment rings true for me too. While they’re quite different in one respect – Soldier Girls being about WWII and Animorphs set in the present with an alien invasion – they’re both still kinds of war stories. While I loved the action in Animorphs, what fascinated me the most was the way the war changed the kids. Fighting like that, taking lives and making tough decisions changes people, and I loved reading about how it affected them. It’s the same with this series: now they’ve been at war for a while and all three have suffered and seen so much, we’re seeing the way it changes them, for better and for worse.

This book was a triumph, again. I’m more invested in the characters than ever and I really hope (though somehow doubt) they all survive the war. I loved that their paths are beginning to cross more and hope there’s more of that in Book 3, plot allowing.  I’d love to see more of Frangie and her struggles because she felt a little more absent in this book and I do love reading about her. If you’ve not picked up this series yet then I really recommend you do. It has three amazing, complex and very different female characters that are all inspiring in their own way and are great role models in YA.

4

Book Review: Dead of Night (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Egmont

Pages: 85

Release Date: February 23rd 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Set in the alternative World War II scenario of his Front Lines novels, Michael Grant, author of the bestselling GONE series, has written this story exclusively for World Book Day 2017.

Rio Richlin doesn’t have superpowers. She is an ordinary young woman. A soldier in the American army, wearing a uniform, carrying a rifle, and fighting alongside thousands who are trying to make a difference, trying to change the world.

At least, that’s the plan. Right now she’s part of a squad on a training exercise in some place called Wales. They’re cold, they’re wet, and Rio’s pretty sure they’re also lost. Spending the night in a creepy old inn wasn’t part of the plan at all…

Rio’s only training. But soon, the fate of the world will be in the hands of the soldier girls.

Review:

I really enjoyed the first in this series, Front Lines, last year and was excited when I received the sequel and this World Book Day story in the post.

On a training exercise in a dreary part of Wales, young soldier Rio Richlin finds herself in a creepy inn listening to stories of wars past, present and future. That’s right, this is a kind of A Christmas Carol story, with Rio being visited by ghosts who tell the story of how they died, while giving a bit of background to the war they were fighting in, both in a historical and personal way.

I liked the format of this once I figured what was going on, and it was a great way for Grant to give some commentary on war without being too preachy. I was curious where it was going when the second ghost said she had to learn to hate the enemy – while this is probably true in the case of war, it seemed an odd message for the story, but the third ghost came and told his story and it all made sense then.

This was a great little read and a good way to get back into the world and characters after a year away from it. I’m really excited to see where all the girls go next and I hope lots of people will be picking this up for World Book Day.

4

Best Books of 2016

It’s been a busy year for me outside of the blog but I’ve still found time to read, which I’m really pleased about. Although I did end up cutting my Goodreads challenge down from 120 books to 100, I do think the initial target was a bit ambitious considering all that’s gone on! Still, I beat that target and am ending the year on 106 books, which is pretty awesome.

For the end of this rollercoaster of a year, I’m picking my favourite book from each month, which is a pretty tough call! So tough, in fact, that I’ve added a couple of books that deserve an honourable mention each month. These are books that I have read this year but not necessarily been released in 2016.

January

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The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury

This is easily one of my favourite modern YA fantasy stories. After winning a copy of the first book in a competition in 2015, I was hooked, and was super excited to be part of the blog tour for this book and to get to read it early. I can’t wait for The Scarecrow Queen to come out next year.

Honourable Mentions: Front Lines by Michael Grant, The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil

February

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Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

This was an incredible debut with one of my favourite protagonists and a setting that really differed to most of the books I’ve read. I loved the Arabian Nights feel to it and I can’t wait to read the sequel next year.

Honourable Mentions: Forbidden by Tabitha Sazuma, Red Witch by Anna McKerrow

March

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Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

The thing that carried this book was the characters. It’s so rare to see a boy-girl platonic friendship in YA and it was really refreshing to read. It’s also great not to read the same straight, white characters too: this book was really beautiful in its diversity.

Honourable Mentions: A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

April 

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan  Fiona Staples

Easily the best graphic novel I’ve read all year, possibly ever. The Deluxe Edition is beautiful although I hate that I have to wait so long for the next edition. The story, characters and art all weave perfectly together and I just loved this book.

Honouable Mentions: Flawed by Cecelia Ahern

May

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Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

This was brutal book that hurt to read but somehow filled me with hope too. I’ll admit, part of me wished it was a Seed sequel but if I can’t have that then this is the next best thing from Lisa Heathfield!

Honourable Mentions: In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Waas

June

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Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

I’d seen this book around a lot and had it sat on the shelf for a while before I read it. I regret leaving it so long: it said so many things that I was thinking about femnism and mental health and is a book I really wish had been around when I was a teenager.

Honourable Mentions: Blame by Simon Mayo

July

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The Deviants by C. J. Skuse

This is one of those books that just punches you in the gut and leaves you breathless. As a group of friends reconnect, secrets from their past won’t stay buried and will end in tragedy. The ending hurt me. I’d really recommend it.

Honourable Mentions: The Castle of Inside Out by David Henry Wilson, Faceless by Alyssa Sheinmel

August

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What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

After reading the first two books in the Spinster Trilogy earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this one. As soon as I read the synopsis I knew it was going to be awesome. Lottie’s challenge to call out sexism was inspiring to read and got me thinking about sexism I see every day too.

Honourable Mentions: I’ll Be Home for Christmas by lots of awesome UKYA authors

September

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More of Me by Kathryn Evans

After struggling with reading for a bit, this book got me absolutely hooked. I read it at every opportunity and genuinely struggled to put it down. Unlike anything I’ve read before, I’ve been recommending this to everyone.

Honourable Mentions: Eidolon by Sofi Croft, Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery

October 

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Caraval by Stephanie Garber

No review for this one as I’ll be publishing it next year, closer to publication. This was a book I heard tons of praise for before I read it, and it certainly delivered. Magical and beautiful and twisting and turning. I loved that I could never tell what was the game and what was real.

Honourable Mentions: The Hypnotist by Laurence Anholt, The Ruins by Scott B. Smith

November

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i love this part by Tillie Walden

November was a bit of a quiet reading month for me so while there wasn’t a lot to choose from, this was an easy pick. It’s different to a lot of things I’ve read: not quite graphic novel or short story, more like an art book with a beautifully sad narrative.

Honourable Mentions: The King of Rats by Melinda Salisbury, Horns by Joe Hill

December

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Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Review coming next year, closer to publication date. I love anything to do with Alice in Wonderland and this really hit the spot. An origin of the Queen of Hearts, it somehow fleshes out this insane, angry character into someone you can actually sympathise with.

Honourable Mentions: The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr, …And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne (no review for either of these yet, check back next year!)

So there you have it. These are some of my favourite books of the year, but they’re only a selection of all the marvelous things I;ve read this year. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings to me in books! Happy New Year everyone. Hope you all have a wonderful one x

Book Review: Front Lines (Michael Grant)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Electric Monkey

Pages: 576

Release Date: January 26th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

World War II, 1942. A court decision makes women subject to the draft and eligible for service. The unproven American army is going up against the greatest fighting force ever assembled, the armed forces of Nazi Germany.

Three girls sign up to fight. Rio Richlin, Frangie Marr, and Rainy Schulterman are average girls, girls with dreams and aspirations, at the start of their lives, at the start of their loves. Each has her own reasons for volunteering: Rio fights to honor her sister; Frangie needs money for her family; Rainy wants to kill Germans. For the first time they leave behind their homes and families—to go to war.

These three daring young women will play their parts in the war to defeat evil and save the human race. As the fate of the world hangs in the balance, they will discover the roles that define them on the front lines. They will fight the greatest war the world has ever known.

Review:

I loved the idea of this book as soon as I read the blurb. I feel I’ve heard of a lot of twists on WWII, most of them being ‘what if the Nazi’s won the war?’ I felt this was such a small thing to tweak – having women fighting alongside men – but gave so many possibilities, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.

I struggled a little to get into it at first, but I’d blame this on Christmas time/a bit of a reading slump. I came back to it in 2016 with fresh eyes and was quickly sucked in. The story follows three main women at war – Rio, Frangie and Rainy – who are all in different units, doing very different jobs, but whose paths do eventually cross.

The book progresses quite slowly at first. We see the girls signing up, each for various different, but equally valid reasons, and then them in training, before they finally go off on assignments. I was glad the book didn’t linger on training too long – I know it’s probably an important part but it just felt like something I would have read before/seen in various films.

I knew that attitudes to women would be a big part of the story, and I did enjoy reading the different ways men reacted to living and training and fighting alongside them – some were more accepting than others, understanding that it was whatever was needed to win the war, but these were a minority. There was a lot of lewd jokes and gestures, and mostly an expectation that the women would be little more than secretaries/support roles, which is why I loved that they end up on the front line (hence the title) and one of them is even the first to get kills in. The women are all very different characters – no one is ‘a wimp’ or ‘one of the guys’ or any stereotypes like that, which is what makes this book work.

What took me by surprise was the attitudes towards Frangie, a black woman at war, and her fellow black soldiers, whether they were men or women. It’s probably naive of me but I’d not really thought about racism being a big thing around war time, but this books shows how there were separate ‘coloured units’ and a lot of the white soldiers wouldn’t want to be looked at by a coloured doctor like Frangie, even when desperately injured. It made me sad that those attitudes existed, and while I know we’re not perfect these days, it’s a hell of a lot better than that.

The story is framed by an unknown narrator, talking from near the end of the war, injured in some way although we don’t know how. It’s a clever device as they tell the story of all three girls, and don’t reveal who they are themselves. I’m hoping it is someone we know, but I’m glad they remain unknown for now – it puts more weight on the fate of the girls because you don’t know who survives.

The worst thing about this book is that it’s the first of a series and I’ll probably have to wait a year to read the sequel. I love the idea and the characters and can’t wait to find out what happens to them all. This is definitely one to read in 2016.

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