Tag Archives: ya literature

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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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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