All The Bright Places – not a mood-booster

23357458So I learned a life lesson from All The Bright Places the other day. When you are stressed out and miserable, and all you want to do is get home and curl up with a good book, it is not a good idea to read the end of this book on a crowded tube home, when you have no tissues. It is a sob-fest. No other explanation needed.

And in case you were wondering, no it didn’t make me feel better. It just made my nose run for the entire 60-minute commute. It turns out I had no tissues. I was not prepared for this book.

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The cover of the copy I have says that this is the next Fault in Our Stars. Now, I didn’t really love The Fault in Our Stars (although I did sob my eyes out at it), so I don’t think that would be the greatest accolade for me. But it did give me something of a heads up about what direction this book might take.

So this is a really lovely book, in general. It’s about Violet and Finch, both of whom are struggling when they meet on the ledge of the bell-tower at school. Why would a school have a bell-tower? I don’t know. It’s never really explained. Violet has recently lost her sister, and is struggling to cope. Finch can’t stop thinking of ways to die, and is struggling to cope. But between the two of them, and a shared Geography project, they start to go about finding a way to live, and a way to stay in the present.

This book is really quite beautiful. It’s about falling in love, about struggling as a teenager, about coping with loss, about finding someone you can be yourself with, and about accepting people the way they are. It’s about finding a way to move forward and a way to connect with people even in the face of how hard life can be. It’s full of beautiful imagery and two messed-up, sad, lonely people who find a way to make each others’ worlds a little bit brighter.

I really did enjoy this book. I don’t recommend reading it in public places, though. And I did have one major complaint. The last thirty or forty pages of the book were a sampler of Jennifer Niven’s next book – Holding up the Universe. I’ve actually already read that, so I was pretty disappointed, as I thought there was still a fair chunk of story left to go. I wish books which have sample chapters at the end would make that clear from the beginning, so that I wouldn’t be left wanting more, just from the thickness of the pages I have left.

Still though – a lovely book, with lots of really lovely moments in it about love, life, and struggling, and how to find one small good thing to keep going.

Four Stars
****

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Free Verse – about One and Two

AKA Do They Have To Be About Twins?
Also AKA One – Sarah Crossan

AN78152238OneThis year’s YA Book Prize winner, One, is by Sarah Crossan, and is a widely-acclaimed bestseller which follows the lives of conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. Written in free verse, the whole book is a series of poems which describe the lives of the two girls as they venture out of their home-schooled bubble and into the (frankly, terrifying) world of the American high school.

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

Funnily enough, One isn’t the first free verse book I’ve ever read. It’s actually the second. And that other free verse book I read – Identical, by Ellen Hopkins – was also about twins. Although admittedly, they were identical, not conjoined, twins. Even still. Do all free verse books have to be about twins?

I didn’t really enjoy One. Having thought about it for a few days, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not a style which works for me. I think the story, characterisation, etc of One would have been much more effective, for me personally, if it had been written in prose, not free verse. But I think that does actually just mean that I’m judgemental. I also didn’t like Identical.

Beyond the free verse element of One, there was one other big thing I didn’t like – specifically, that I found the plot predictable. I saw from the beginning where it was going, and therefore went through the whole book with the expectation that this would happen, which rather marred my enjoyment of the story as it developed. I was always waiting for the plot to get to where I assumed (correctly) it was going. Again, that might be my fault.

Even with my dislike of free verse, and my disdain for the predictability of the story, it packed a powerful punch. Perhaps it was because it was about sisters. I’ve mentioned several times that I’m close to my sisters, enjoy reading books about sisters, and am affected badly by emotional books about sisters (The Alphabet Sisters, which I have read several times, never fails to make me bawl ugly tears). For that reason, One did manage to still pack an emotional thrust that left me crying as my boyfriend looked at me in bemusement.

Even with that, though, this wasn’t a book that I’d go back to. It has won numerous awards and accolades, but it absolutely didn’t do it for me. I do think, though, that it was mostly down to my own personal reactions, and it’s still a very powerful book.

Three Stars
***

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Patrick Ness

I 29229799picked this book up for my sister for her birthday, and then demanded that she give it back to me so that I could also read it, because I’m selfish like that (and also that’s how our book-buying works). So although I bought it in May, I didn’t actually get to read it until July, because I had to wait for someone to go home to visit my sisters and collect the book from them. But that’s okay. I could cope with that kind of delay.

So Patrick Ness is my friend Kellie’s ultimate celebrity crush at the moment. He was at YALC, talking about his book A Monster Calls, of which the film is coming out soon. When I told Kellie this, I’m pretty sure she started hyperventilating, and begged me to send her a picture of him. Ness’s books have won pretty much every award going, and his Chaos Walking trilogy, which I read earlier this year, was quite engrossing. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, though, I was not so enamoured with.

A new YA novel from Patrick Ness, author of the Carnegie Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal winning “A Monster Calls” and the critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, “The Rest of Us Just Live Here” is a bold and irreverent novel that powerfully reminds us that there are many different types of remarkable.

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

So here was my major complaint about The Rest of Us Just Live Here: in a book where there are fantastical things going on and blue lights killing people, giving sparse details about the fantasy things happening while concentrating mainly on the boring, ordinary struggles of the rest of the class makes their lives seem, well… boring and ordinary.

And here’s the thing: I love YA realism. I really love books which deal with teenagers trying to get around being normal teenagers, dealing with life, falling in love, anxiety, depression, family issues, all the normal things that everyday people have to deal with. So if this book had been about that – about a group of kids who were just trying to get along and deal with graduating and getting out in to the real world, I totally would have been on board with that. Not everyone has a major magical life crisis to deal with before they turn eighteen, and not everyone needs to save the world.

But this book just set Mikey and his friends up to be the most boring people ever, simply by virtue of their not being the Indie kids. And it constantly, constantly framed them as this, again and again.

The start of every chapter gave a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids were up to as they tried to solve the mystery of the blue lights and what was going on in the town. And that was funny, in a snarky kind of way, as they all had unique names and melodramatic reactions. Then there were the few digs at the tropey nature of YA – vampires were the next big thing, and then kids dying beautifully of cancer, etc. I won’t disagree that there were a few funny moments in this book.

Plus there was a beautifully diverse group of main characters, with struggles of normal teens like anxiety, OCD, relationship woes, school difficulties, and being the descendent of the Goddess of Cats, which was nice. A lot of this book was about friendship, about growing up, about family, and about finding who you are and where you belong. I just think that setting it against the backdrop of the exciting and life-changing events of the indie kids was setting it up to seem boring.

So that’s what I left the book feeling – like I had seen the less interesting side of the town. I know that the whole premise of the book was that not everyone has to be special and sometimes life is just ordinary, even in the middle of the fantastic, so perhaps I’ve missed something crucial here, but this book just didn’t do it for me. A book about the ordinary kids was, to me, very ordinary.

Three Stars
***

Perhaps A Monster Calls, which is apparently the best thing since sliced bread (or so Kellie says) will be more my style. It’s gone on my to-read list anyway!

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Frost and Fury

I realised last week, as I finished off Frostblood, that it was the third book I had read within the space of about a month (although not within a calendar month, admittedly) that featured frost and snow prominently. So I thought then, why not group them together and have a little post about all three of them. Some competition, one might say!

So! Here are the competitors:

Snow Like AshesStealing Snow, and Frostblood

The covers:

A little bit about each book:

Snow Like Ashes – Sara Raasch
The first in a trilogy. It follows the story of Meira, one of the last survivors of the massacre of her country, Winter. Raised in hiding with the rest of her fellow countrymen, Meira longs to be able to fight and protect her lost country against the forces which orphaned her and forced her out of her home. Desperately in love with her best friend, the future king, Mather, she embarks on a dangerous quest to rescue half of the locket which will bring power back to her country – discovering things about herself along the way.
Snow Like Ashes and the sequel, Ice Like Fire, are both already out. Frost Like Night, the third in the series, is due to be published in September.
Three Stars. ***

Stealing Snow – Danielle Paige
Also the first in a series (I think a trilogy as well, but definitely at least two). Snow, a seventeen-year-old inmate of a high-security mental facility, has been there since she was five years old. She has known no other life. So when a strange boy appears from her dreams and helps her to escape, she jumps at the chance. She finds herself in icy Algid, a land covered in snow and frost, and her true home. She discovers that she is the long-lost princess of Algid, and the key to stopping – or keeping forever – the winter that has trapped her subjects. River witches, thieves, shape-shifters and magic combine as she tries to navigate her way to making the choices which will shape not only her future, but that of her whole country. Presented as a retelling of The Snow Queen, this reads to me more like Wicked – the story of the villain(ess) and how she came to be.
Stealing Snow will be published in October this year, with the as yet untitled sequel slated for 2017.
Three Stars
***

Frostblood – Elly Blake
Yet another first in a series, Frostblood tells the story of Ruby. A fireblood, with the ability to manipulate heat and light, she is on a quest for revenge against the ruling Frostbloods for the murder of her mother. Helped by rebel Frostbloods, Ruby must learn to control her gift and make her choices – not least about the icy young man she has come to care about. In a world where frost and flame are deadly enemies, affairs between Fire and Frost rarely end well.
Frostblood is published in January 2017, and the sequels (Fireblood and as yet unnamed) will follow.
Four Stars
****
I had a big quibble about the blurb of Frostblood though – one of the things it mentions doesn’t actually happen until more than 200 pages into the book. I felt like it was too big a reveal for the blurb.

In any case, now that you know a little bit about each of the books, let’s get into the competition!

Best Cover

This was a tough one. I had to think for a while whether I should use the proof covers which I actually read of Stealing Snow and Frostblood, or the officially-released cover art. But when I went looking at the art of Frostblood, I knew I couldn’t leave that out, and the broken mirror in Stealing Snow is so atmospheric, so I had to include them. I love that the cover of Snow Like Ashes has Meira’s chakram on it, and icy white of Stealing Snow is really eye-catching. But in the end, I was sucked in by the beautiful frosted petals of Frostblood!

Best Use of Snow

The MC in Frostblood is actually a fireblood, so all the use of snow and frost is by other characters, but they do lots with it – fighting enemies, picking locks, smashing chains! Very little snow magic is in Snow Like Ashes until near the end of the book, although Winter is a country of eternal Winter (shockingly…), similarly to Algid. Stealing Snow, however, has not only ice tornadoes and snowstorms, but also an eternal winter, and Snow Beasts, as well as freezing people and snow projectiles, so for sheer versatility (and snow-on-snow battles), Stealing Snow takes this crown!

Best Main Character

Ruby’s hot-headedness gives her a tendency to run off and make decisions without thinking, while Snow’s general cluelessness (although not really her fault) makes her incredibly frustrating to read. Meira, on the other hand, is not only tough and a great fighter, but also resourceful and clever, and she embraces her heritage and love for her country with panache, so this round goes to Snow Like Ashes!

Best Love Interest

There were so many options to choose from here. Frostblood provides the enigmatic and icy Arcus, while Meira has been in love with her future king Mather since forever. But the entry of the Crown Prince of Cordell, Theron, throws an extra choice and mystery into the game. Snow, on the other hand, has not one, not two, but THREE separate love interests. There’s Kai, the mysterious and cranky boy mentioned in the blurb (so that’s a big sign that he’ll be important), and Bale, the boy she travels to Algid to rescue, as well as Jagger, the literal man of her dreams. I know Snow has led a sheltered life, living in a secure facility, but come on, can’t she interact with a boy without kissing him?? For me, the winner of this category has to be the icy-hearted Arcus, who slowly warms to Ruby’s fiery appeal, and may be far more than he originally seems… So the winner here is Frostblood!

Best Blurb

I already mentioned above that I really didn’t like the blurb of Frostblood, because of major spoilers, so that knocks that one out of the running. Stealing Snow’s blurb annoyed me because it framed the book as a retelling of The Snow Queen, and it’s really more of a prequel, so the winner of this category by default (although it is an intriguing blurb!) is Snow Like Ashes.

So after five tense questions, Snow Like Ashes and Frostblood are neck and neck. Snow Like Ashes has the main character, but Frostblood has the love interest and that truly beautiful cover. Snow Like Ashes is pulling you in with that blurb though. That means it’s time for a …

Tie-Breaker!

So I was going to go with ‘If both books were caught up in a fire, which would you save?’, but then I realised that Winterian magic would put out the fire, and Firebloods can’t get burnt, so I had to go back and think some more.

My second thought was flipping a coin, but then I forgot to assign a book to each side, so I just ended up with a coin on the floor and no idea what it meant.

So my third idea (third time’s the charm!) was to ask myself the question: if I could only buy the sequel to ONE of these books, which would it be? And then my answer was clear to myself.

Which means, that after a protracted battle of ice and snow, the winner is…

Frostblood!

 

 

 

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Nothing Tastes As Good – Claire Hennessy

^ This has to be one of the longest blog post titles I’ve written in years.

2016-07-14 18.58.15Claire Hennessy is an Irish author who’s been on my radar since I was quite young. Roughly the same age as my older sister, Hennessy’s first books were written and published before she left school (the first, I believe, was written when she was still in primary school!), meaning that they were published before I left school, too. I hadn’t read any of her stuff in years, but saw last year that she had been picked up by Hot Key books to make her UK debut. That came in the form of this – Nothing Tastes As Good.

Don’t call her a guardian angel. Annabel is dead – but she hasn’t completely gone away. Annabel immediately understands why her first assignment as a ghostly helper is to her old classmate: Julia is fat. And being fat makes you unhappy. Simple, right?

As Annabel shadows Julia’s life in the pressured final year of school, Julia gradually lets Annabel’s voice in, guiding her thoughts towards her body, food and control.

But nothing is as simple as it first seems. Spending time in Julia’s head seems to be having its own effect on Annabel . . . And she knows that once the voices take hold, it’s hard to ignore them.

I had a lot of thoughts about this book – I thought the structure was pretty interesting. The idea of an afterlife where you act as a spiritual guide to troubled people is an interesting one – a little bit like that tv show Teen Angel which used to be on the Disney Channel. After messing up your own life, you get the chance to help someone with their life. Except, of course, Teen Angel was mostly about Marty messing up his friend’s life, whereas Annabel doesn’t know Julia, and is trying to help her in order to get a chance at redemption.

The premise of the book was good. The topic was good. It tackled eating disorders from an unswervingly honest perspective – they can, and do, kill, and have that insidious effect of making the sufferer feel like they’re not actually unwell, but rather that everyone trying to help them is wrong.

NTAG was, I felt, a really good book, but not a brilliant book. It tackled tough issues with an unflinching, honest approach, and came from a grounded feminist perspective. I really liked Julia and her driven, obsessive nature, her struggles with the pressures of school and her extracurriculars, and the details which came out slowly over the course of the book about her life before Annabel appeared. I also liked Annabel and her attitude, her stubborn insistence that the way to help Julia was to make her thin.

And yet. There was something missing, for me, from this book. It was missing something like the punch which underlines every word you read in Asking For It, or the unsettling feeling which lingered about me after I finished reading Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Ansdersen. It felt, to me, from the first page, that this was a redemption story. I knew from the moment we met Annabel that she would slowly realise over the course of the book that she was sick, and she needed to accept that, and it resulted in her death, and Julia was just a background story to help Annabel come to this realisation. By the end of the book, everything felt like it had been wrapped up neatly with a little bow, and happily ever afters would ensue. Except, of course, that Annabel was still dead, but even that felt a little unreal.

I don’t know quite why I felt like the book missed that impact factor. On the surface, it should have had it. The stark reality which hits you from the first page, that Annabel died from her disordered eating, should have been enough to make this an important book in the same way I think that Asking For It is important, and Wintergirls is important – even the way I think All The Rage by Courtney Summers and Speak, also by Laurie Halse Anderson, are important. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it’s that eating disorders have never been a topic that resonates with me the way that Asking For It and All the Rage did.

That said, though, NTAG is still a very good book. It’s strongly drawn and the characters leap off the page. There was a lot that I identified with, and I really enjoy reading books which are set in Ireland and written by Irish authors. This is a book which will resonate with many, and it’s easy to read, engaging, and even sometimes fun. It’s a good book, it really is. It’s just not quite up there as a brilliant book.

Four Stars
****

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The Potion Diaries & Royal Tour

A few weeks ago I was buying things on Amazon, and my total came to roughly £16. Delivery was free if I spent more than £20, but cost £4 otherwise. Never one to pass up a chance for a bargain, I threw a paperback into my cart, bumping the total up high enough to qualify for free delivery and netting me a shiny new book in the process. The reason I picked the Potion Diaries was because I thought it sounded fun – magic, social media, a love potion gone wrong? Sign me up please!

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The problem with reviewing books in a series together is that by talking about the plot of the second, you almost inevitably spoil the plot of the first. I really hate that, so I’m just going to post the blurb of the first book and then chat a little bit about the two books and their feel as a whole. Plus mocktails, because everyone likes mocktails.

When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn.

Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime?

And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news.

No big deal, then.

The Potion Diaries is a little bit like prosecco. It’s fun, it’s light, it’s sparkly, but too much of it will give you a serious headache. I enjoyed this book, it was a quick, light-hearted romp through magic and mayhem as Sam and her entourage tried to find the ingredients necessary to create the antidote to Evelyn’s accidental love potion poisoning.

What I liked about this book was the subtle world-building. Lots of it was shoehorned in as Sam travelled the world looking for ingredients, but other bits were just thrown in as asides – Sam thinks of potions to calm herself down when she’s stressed, so this was a fun addition to the story.

The whole story of this book, I think, is best described as fun. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s not awful. It’s a real beach read, with some magic, some romance, and some lovely moments which underline the importance of family relationships too, as well as a whole heaping of teenage angst and the typical does he like me/doesn’t he pain which almost every teenager will go through at some point.

At YALC, there was a Potion Diaries workshop, where we were taught to make potions using a host of fun ingredients. I think the one I instagrammed was made with Dragon’s Blood (aka grenadine, but whatever!).

Potion making at #yalc earlier – everything is made better with grenadine!

A photo posted by Aislinn O'C (@apoc_rypha) on

 

While at YALC, the sequel, Royal Tour, was available to buy, two weeks before it’s actually published. I picked it up (along with a lot of other books) and enjoyed this one too. It’s more of the same fun and light-hearted adventure which made the first book so easy to read.

I’ll tell you one thing, though – Royal Tour ends on a mahoosive cliffhanger that almost had me yelping in the quiet carriage of a train. And the third book isn’t out for an ENTIRE YEAR. That’s the kind of low-down dirty trick I definitely don’t approve of.

I’m actually joking – I will pick up the third book when it’s published, I’m sure. It’s quite a cliffhanger, though.

Royal Tour has been published in the time between YALC and my actually posting this, so both books should be available now.

The Potion Diaries
Three Stars
***

Royal Tour
Three Stars
***

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Redwall Reread

P636214 BRAINWhen I was either ten or eleven, I remember one day walking into the library in my primary school and picking out a book with an otter dressed in green on the cover. She was holding a longbow and standing on a ship rowed by a hare, with a heroic-looking mouse standing in the prow. I didn’t know at the time, when I picked it up, that I was beginning what would become one of my favourite series of books. I just thought it looked like a fun story. The blurb spoke of a set of beautiful pearls, an emperor across the sea, a quest, some riddles, and a rollicking good ride all around. I was hooked. I read that book as fast as I could, deduced from it that it was part of a series, and then set about getting my hands on and reading as many of the others as I could. I also introduced my little sister to the series (as I have done with almost all books that I’ve read, um, ever) and she was soon invested in them as well.

Redwall as a series is based around an Abbey set in the quiet countryside of Mossflower, inhabited by peaceful mice, squirrels and moles (and the occasional vole), who live together in a community where they farm the land, offer respite to travellers, and eat a lot (and I mean a lot!) of food. Each Redwall book generally consists of a quest to find someone or something, often in order to ward off some great evil, undertaken by young members of the Abbey, in tandem with friendly creatures they find along the way. There is almost always a friendly hedgehog, a brave mouse or squirrel, a homely mole, a garrulous hare, and a fearsome warrior in the form of the Badger Lord, who rules over the mountain Salamandastron. In The Pearls of Lutra, the quest is to rescue the Abbot of Redwall, who has been kidnapped by villains and pirates, while the side story is finding the Pearls of Lutra, which were hidden around the Abbey by a cunning and wise old squirrel, but they can vary. Sometimes the Abbey is invaded, sometimes Salamandastron is under threat, sometimes they’re just on a fact-finding mission. Watching over all of these missions is the spirit of Martin the Warrior, a founder of the Abbey who prods the characters in the direction they need to go via dreams and cryptic messages.

Every book will have several songs, poems, recitations, and often a few riddles, as well as a lengthy description of a wonderful feast with delicious food described at length. Good characters are always moles, squirrels, mice, hares, badgers, hedgehogs, voles and watershrews, whereas the villains are foxes, rats, weasels, stoats, wildcats, rooks, crows, toads, eels, lizards and magpies. All of the creatures mentioned are native to the UK, except in certain exceptional circumstances (e.g. there’s a scorpion in Pearls of Lutra, but it’s stated to be from far-off lands).

Reading 815255all of the Redwall books took me a very long time. By the time I read The Pearls of Lutra, which was the ninth one published, there were actually twelve available. From that starting point, I worked my way around and through the rest of the series as fast as I could, but when you don’t set your own book-buying budget, it’s harder to get hold of a whole series.

It’s not that my parents didn’t encourage me to read – they absolutely did! It’s just that an eleven-year-old demanding that you obtain twelve books for her immediately is unlikely to be listened to.

So reading the Redwall series was a mixture of books from my primary school library, local library, and other libraries in the same area, combined with buying some of them, and begging for new ones as soon as they were published. I didn’t read them in order (although what order that might be is debatable!), but rather whenever I could find one of them, I would read it. I remember getting Lord Brocktree very soon after it was published and being somewhat daunted by its size and weight. I wasn’t used to reading books with dust jackets, and didn’t know whether or not to take it off the book. Actually, I still don’t know whether or not to take covers off. I guess some things you never get the hang of.

I kept reading Redwall books until I was in my mid teens, I think. The collection that my sister and I amassed between us belongs to both of us, and I don’t think either of us is sure who owns which book. I got Triss about a year after it was published, when I would have been thirteen or so, and I do know that High Rhulain belongs to Sinéad, and Redwall itself is definitely mine, but considering that they’re all in her bookcase, I think she has successfully laid claim to them. I counted two years ago, when I was setting up my Goodreads, that I had read the first fifteen books, and then missed two before hitting up High Rhulain as my final installment.

Last year I decided I would rectify this, and seek out the six Redwall books I had missed, to complete the collection of having read all 22. (Brian Jacques sadly passed away a few years ago, so I know that there won’t be any more).

Sinéad, my sister, decided to do the same, but we ordered our re-reads slightly differently. The books weren’t published in chronological order. They actually skip around quite a lot, with Redwall, the first published, being in the middle, and other books which happened chronologically after being published in order, but those chronologically before being published I guess as the mood struck Jacques. So I decided to read them in publication order, and my sister in chronological order, and theoretically after Lord Brocktree, we should sync up and be reading them together.

There’s even a table which I’ve taken from Wikipedia to make things nice and clear:

Title Publication Chronological order
Lord Brocktree 2000 1
(The Legend of Luke – Book 2 substory) 1999 1.5
Martin the Warrior 1993 2
Mossflower 1988 3
The Legend of Luke 1999 4
Outcast of Redwall 1995 5
Mariel of Redwall 1991 6
The Bellmaker 1994 7
Salamandastron 1992 8
Redwall 1986 9
Mattimeo 1989 10
The Pearls of Lutra 1996 11
The Long Patrol 1997 12
Marlfox 1998 13
The Taggerung 2001 14
Triss 2002 15
Loamhedge 2003 16
Rakkety Tam 2004 17
High Rhulain 2005 18
Eulalia! 2007 19
Doomwyte 2008 20
The Sable Quean 2010 21
The Rogue Crew 2011 22

In 2015, I read the first seven Redwall books, so I finished the year having read The Bellmaker. This year, I’ve read another five so far, and Lord Brocktree is now the next on my list. It does, however, sit very far down, beneath all my YALC reads. So it might take me a while to get there. I’ve not got very many books to go before I start hitting books I haven’t read before, which will be an interesting adventure for me.

Having reread twelve Redwall books in a year and a half, I feel that I’m qualified to make a few comments on them. So here are my remarks.

I really think that the Redwall books are a great series of children’s books. They’re richly drawn and complex, but not on a level which is too much for a child to understand. Reading them in my mid twenties, I can see the blatant character archetypes and structures which Jacques reused in every book, but they’re excellently drawn in that they help to identify the heroes and villains in the stories and draw very black and white lines of good vs evil. There are also the occasional characters who reform, or those who act contrary to how one would think they should, given their species, so perhaps the stereotyping isn’t quite as blatant as one might think.

The idea of epic quests with large casts and heroic ideals, combined with battles for the ideals of good and freedom is one which I really enjoyed when I was small. Jacques didn’t shy away from death or the horror of battle either – there were many characters in the Redwall books that I shed a tear over as they made their way to the Dark Forest gates.

One of the things which is notable about the Redwall series is the descriptions of food. Every book will have a feast (if not multiple feasts) where characters all gather together and the food is described in mouth-watering detail. I didn’t realise when I started reading Redwall that they were originally written for children in a school for the blind, so this would go a long way towards explaining that. I enjoyed it regardless, perhaps because I’m a secret glutton, so this might indicate that I would like A Song of Ice and Fire, which reputedly also has phenomenal descriptions of food.

Rereading the Redwall series is filled with nostalgia for me, as I remember how much I loved the books when I read them first. Perhaps that’s clouding my judgement, and I guess I’ll be able to see that a little more clearly when I’m reading books I haven’t read before, but if the first twelve books I’ve read so far are any indication, the Redwall series are a set of timeless classics which will stand up easily to adult eyes and re-reading, and will, I hope, be something I can share with the next generation of my family.

Another note – for some reason, despite repackaging and republishing of the books across the years, and a combination of UK/US covers, no matter what edition of a book I’m re-reading this time, I stubbornly refuse to picture them in my head as anything but the cover art of the first issue I read. So here’s a little collection of the Redwall books as I see them in my mind’s eye – even if that’s not what they look like in shops and libraries now!

 

 

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#YALC 2016

KTQ3DgZkIt’s been almost two weeks now since the amazingness that was YALC and I’m still not sure I’ve really recovered. I had such an amazing time listening to authors speaking on topics that were important to them, chatting to YA lit fans of all ages and from all parts of the UK (and further abroad) and coming home with more piles of swag than I could shake a stick at!

I had a phenomenal time, and picked up so much stuff that I’ve really enjoyed looking through. My TBR is growing by the minute, and I’m not really sure I can handle it any more.

There really is no way to describe all the things that went on over the weekend, the fun and the books and the talks and the joy, so this post is mostly made up of photos and captions.

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This little pup made his way around the hall as part of a competition.

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Baby Broni made a new friend at the Publishing 102 workshop

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The wall of books was a particular highlight, partially because it was so beautiful, and partially because it was surrounded by beanbags and deck chairs for reading!

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My friend Kellie is a massive Patrick Ness fangirl, so this photo was taken just for her.

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This temporary glitter tattoo for Malorie Blackman’s space epic Chasing the Stars not only managed to get glitter all over my watch, but also lasted an impressive four days until I vigorously scrubbed it off!

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Free Nutella ice cream and a proof of A Torch Against the Night were a highlight of this day!

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This Goldenhand proof made the entire weekend worth going through anything. What a superb return to the Old Kingdom.

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A potion making class for The Potion Diaries was a fun and refreshing way of spending my Sunday afternoon!

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A free manicure from Walker Books to match this book about friendship was too good an offer to pass up!

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This is Sunday’s swag – although I think there may have been a tote bag or two as well.

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This is the final stack of YALC books. As of now, two weeks later, I’ve read four of them. I’ve got a long way to go!

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All the little samplers and short stories I got have massively expanded my TBR – I’ll definitely be eagerly awaiting the publication of some of these books!

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On declaring my love for The Girl From Everywhere, the lovely girls at the Hot Key Stand gave me this lei. I felt so tropical!

The three days of YALC were all different, and all really very entertaining and engaging. I left with not only a lot of books and a new appreciation of feeling like part of a community, but also a lot of joy and happiness at the fun which I had had.

For me, the absolute highlight of the weekend was getting Goldenhand, but hot on the heels of that comes a raft of experiences and discussions which I will treasure until next year, when I’ll get to experience YALC all over again.

If you have an interest in YA literature, in YA authors, in books, in the writing process, in creativity, any or all of the above, I highly recommend visiting YALC. It’s a superb weekend and I hope it continues for many, many more years to come!

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A Torch Against The Night – Sabaa Tahir

A-Torch-Against-The-Night-TahirAt YALC, there were a few books which I really, really wanted to get my hands on. I hadn’t even realised that there were Torch proofs available until I saw a girl holding one, near the end of the first day. I went investigating, and was told that giveaways would be announced on twitter.

So with a subscription to HarperVoyager’s Twitter account set up, on the Saturday, I was ready to nab my copy of A Torch Against The Night.

Part of the reason why I wanted this so much was because I had thoroughly enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes – it’s definitely in my top 10 books this year, so I was excited as all get out for the sequel.

When the announcement was made that proofs would be given out within the next hour, a small crowd began to build around the HarperVoyager stand. It wasn’t long before the publicists behind the desk were feeling a bit pressured to hand out the proofs, lest they be overwhelmed by rabid Sabaa Tahir fans.

Luckily, things at YALC are very civilised, and Penguin on the next stand were giving out ice cream to promote The One Memory of Flora Banks, so it wasn’t long before I had my proof, some ice cream, and the chance to sit down and get stuck into a return to the Empire.

A Torch Against the Night takes readers into the heart of the Empire as Laia and Elias fight their way north to liberate Laia’s brother from the horrors of Kauf Prison. Hunted by Empire soldiers, manipulated by the Commandant, and haunted by their pasts, Laia and Elias must outfox their enemies and confront the treacherousness of their own hearts.

In the city of Serra, Helene Aquilla finds herself bound to the will of the Empire’s twisted new leader, Marcus. When her loyalty is questioned, Helene finds herself taking on a mission to prove herself—a mission that might destroy her, instead.

Torch picks up exactly where Ember left off, so there’s no delay and no trying to figure out what’s happened in the interim. Where Torch followed Elias and Laia, Ember adds in an extra perspective by giving us Helene as a third point-of-view character.

I loved this book. It had lots of great things in it – a diverse cast of characters, romance, adventure, magic, treachery, betrayal, divided loyalties, incredibly tough moral decisions, and more. I spent most of the book with my heart in my mouth, wondering how Helene would act, how she would react, what choices she would make.

In the first book, Laia was definitely my favourite, but Helene may just have eclipsed her to become my new favourite. She struggled with so many things in this book but came through it all with grace and skill and at the end of the book is still totally bad-ass.

Torch is a really great sequel to Ember. It expands on the world built in the first book, develops new characters and relationships between those and the existing ones we’ve seen beforehand. It delves into the mythology and magic of the world, as well as introducing us to more tribes and telling us a little more about Elias’s past and Helene’s family. It expands on so much that wasn’t in the first book, all the while tearing us along on a breathless, tense mission to break Darin out of the most high-security prison in the Empire while on the run as the most-wanted person in the world.

I did really enjoy this book, and it was a 5* read for me, but it’s clearly the middle of a larger series. Everything has been established beforehand, and while there is one overarching plot which is resolved, it’s clearly gearing up for a bigger confrontation in the future. Ember was originally commissioned as a standalone, and Goodreads now lists three books in the series, but I’ve also heard rumblings that there’ll be a fourth book.

If you went into this book expecting it to wrap up all the trailing plot threads, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you go in knowing that it’s the middle of a trilogy (at least), then I think you’ll find it an immensely satisfying read, with its own distinct plot development which goes toward setting up for what will hopefully be an explosive third installment next year!

Five Stars
*****

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Goldenhand – Garth Nix

I posted only a few weeks ago about how excited I was for Goldenhand to be published in October. Somewhat unexpectedly, I didn’t have to wait that long at all to get my hands on a copy of the fifth foray into the Old Kingdom. Having spent the weekend at YALC and carefully perused the twitter feeds and MaximumPop!Books posts advising me of who was dropping which proofs when, I was one of several people loitering suspiciously near the Hot Key Books stand at 12 on the Sunday, when they were rumoured to be handing out *signed* Garth Nix proofs.

So it was with great excitement that, after all my lurking, I did actually get my hands on one of those bad boys and was able to dive in as soon as possible. Having sated myself with the first few chapters while waiting for the next panel discussion to start, I then read late into the night and throughout the next morning as I devoured every word of this reentry into Nix’s magical Old Kingdom.

I make no secret of the fact that Garth Nix is my favourite author, and furthermore that the Old Kingdom is my favourite series, so it’s to be expected that my reaction to this would be largely composed of excited flailing. But I also like to think that the reason why Garth Nix is my absolute fave is because he’s a phenomenally talented writer, capable of building a world which is utterly immersive, while still managing to paint a story which is true to life and believable. So while I admit bias, I think that my bias is backed up by Nix’s skill. Plus, I didn’t absolutely adore Clariel, so maybe that can go some way to supporting my theory.

In any case! The actual book. The British cover art is still yet to be released, although I would expect that it will be something similar to Clariel, which in itself was similar to the original trilogy covers – solid colours with blazing Charter marks on the front. I’m excited to see that, although I have to admit that I also really like the bells on the front of the proof copy.

Lirael is no longer a shy Second Assistant Librarian. She is the Abhorsen-in-Waiting, with Dead creatures to battle and Free Magic entities to bind. She’s also a Remembrancer, wielder of the Dark Mirror. Lirael lost one of her hands in the binding of Orannis, but now she has a new hand, one of gilded steel and Charter Magic.

When Lirael finds Nicholas Sayre lying unconscious after being attacked by a hideous Free Magic creature, she uses her powers to save him. But Nicholas is deeply tainted with Free Magic. Fearing it will escape the Charter mark that seals it within his flesh and bones, Lirael seeks help for Nick at her childhood home, the Clayr’s Glacier.

But even as Lirael and Nick return to the Clayr, a young woman named Ferin from the distant North braves the elements and many enemies in a desperate attempt to deliver a message to Lirael from her long-dead mother, Arielle. Ferin brings a dire warning about the Witch with No Face. But who is the Witch, and what is she planning?

Once more a great danger threatens the Old Kingdom, and it must be forestalled not only in the living world, but also in the cold, remorseless river of Death.

Goldenhand is the long-awaited fifth installment of Garth Nix’s New York Times bestselling Old Kingdom series.

So I’m just going to go right ahead and say that I absolutely adored this book. It was everything that I loved in the original trilogy, and everything that I really like about the Old Kingdom series in general, and suffered from almost none of the pacing issues that frustrated me in Clariel, the prequel.

Goldenhand brings together all the plot points from Clariel, the original trilogy, The Creature in the Case and even To Hold The Bridge, and paints a new story of the Old Kingdom which picks up the characters I loved from the previous books and catapults them into a new and thrilling situation filled with tension and excitement. It plumps out the backstory of Arielle, Lirael’s long-dead mother, adds in some great new characters – especially Ferin, the messenger from the distant North – and really shows how Lirael has grown into her new role as Abhorsen-in-Waiting.

I don’t want to put too much of the plot into this post because a) spoilers and b) it’s still a long time until the release date, but I do want to say that I really enjoyed it. It follows on from Clariel, and resolves some of the issues I had with the unfinished feeling of her story. It doesn’t feel like an add-on, though. It is a fully realised and satisfying plot of its own, and would, I think, stand well on its own – something I think is really important for follow-on novels. If this were the first Old Kingdom book you picked up, I think you’d be able to follow the story without feeling like you needed to go back and read the trilogy first. Although, of course, I would recommend that you read the trilogy. They’re excellent books, you know!

Goldenhand follows on immediately from The Creature in the Case, overlapping with it from the Old Kingdom point of view. It’s not necessary to read the novella first, but I did read it after, to refresh my memory and flesh out my understanding of the events leading to Nick and Lirael’s reunion

There were lots of things I really liked in this book, so I’ll list a few of them in bullet points here:

  • Badass female protagonist who knows what she’s doing and is capable of getting things done
  • But she isn’t one-dimensional and has all kinds of other issues which make her very human, from awkwardness around guys to dealing with her family and convincing them that she’s moved on from the quiet, Sightless librarian she used to be
  • Casual and accepting references to both lesbianism and bisexuality – particularly the latter, as it’s so easy to gloss over
  • Disabled protagonist whose story is about so much more than her disability
  • Healthy depictions of relationships (Touchstone and Sabriel are still my relationship goals)
  • Lots of interesting tidbits about the aftermath of the Binding of Orannis – Lirael is still deeply grieving for the Dog, and we get to see lots of her dealing with this (I miss the Dog.)
  • Introduction of a great new character in Ferin – a totally different person to everyone we’ve seen before, Ferin is from the Tribal North and is a whole new kind of strong female character
  • Mention of what Mogget has been up to (who doesn’t love Mogget!)
  • Explorations of new areas of the Old Kingdom. While the original trilogy was set largely around the Wall, Ferin’s journey takes further north, exploring the tribal lands above the Old Kingdom.

The proof copy I got didn’t have a map in the front pages, but that’s not to say that the final editions won’t. In fact, I would say it’s even likely, due to this tweet:

(I’m still trying to convince myself that I don’t actually need to buy this to hang on my wall.)

There were one or two things I didn’t like about Goldenhand. I know. It doesn’t seem possible. But they were tiny, tiny things, and I didn’t think they were big enough to deduct any stars from its rating. Nonetheless:

  • There wasn’t enough Sam. I want more Sam! I love Sam! Although there was talk of Sam, there wasn’t much actual presence of Sam, nor interaction with Sam, until very late in the book.
  • The pacing of the book, I thought, was a tiny bit … off. I was quite far into the book and wondering when we were going to get to the actual delivery of Ferin’s message, and was afraid for a little while that it would roll over into a sequel, leaving things unfinished. This might have been influenced by the fact that I thought Clariel left things hanging. But actually, when I kept going, this wasn’t the case at all, and everything was resolved within the one book. The ending, however, might be a tiny bit rushed. But only a tiny bit!
  • There is specific mention of Nick’s shoes midway through the book. But, having now re-read The Creature in the Case, Nick wasn’t actually wearing shoes when Lirael found him. Where did these shoes come from? I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does.

That’s it. Those are my three tiny complaints. Other than that, I really did love this book. I think it’s a more than worthy successor to the original Old Kingdom trilogy that I love so much, and surpasses Clariel by leagues. I can’t wait for the publication of Goldenhand so that I can get a hardcover copy and sit it in pride of place on my shelves next to the others. October *still* can’t come quick enough for me. I absolutely recommend that you re-read all four existing OK books and the two novellas/short stories in preparation for the release of Goldenhand later this year.

Five Stars
*****

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