Tag Archives: YA

Swarm

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen & Unwin, at no cost. It’s available now; RRP $19.99.

When I read the first book in this series, Zeroes, I was a bit underwhelmed. I felt like it didn’t fully deliver on its promises – not quite dramatic enough, somehow, or heroic, or problematic. I didn’t hate it… I was just a bit disappointed. So while I was very excited to receive the sequel to review, I experienced some trepidation.

Unknown.jpegAnd then I picked it up. And then I couldn’t put it down. And I read the entire thing in an afternoon… and, ahem, evening; it’s been a while since I read past my bedtime in order to finish a book.

Folks, the sequel is better than the first. Shocking, I know. Continue reading →

Goldenhand

This book was sent to me by the publisher, Allen and Unwin, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $24.99.

Unknown.jpegThis BOOK! I’m so happy to have read this book! I’m so happy this book exists! (Spoilers for the other Old Kingdom books. Just go read them.)

I’ve been a fan of the Old Kingdom books for a long time. Not as long as they’ve existed – Sabriel came out about 20 years ago and I didn’t read it then – but long enough ago that when the prequel, Clariel, came out in 2014 I was a bit over the moon. So with Goldenhand being a direct sequel to Abhorsen, I’ve been pining for this book for a good while.

This is most definitely a sequel. I’m not sure how it would stand by itself – there’s not a lot of explanation of the whole necromancy by bells thing, nor of the Charter, and there’s a moment where Lirael is required to use her mirror and I was like wait, what? because it’s been a while since I read the other books. But really that’s all right because just READ ALL THE OTHERS ANYWAY.

Lirael is pining the loss of the Disreputable Dog, and trying to fit in with her newly discovered much older half-sister Sabriel and her family, and learning to be the Abhorsen. Something I loved about Lirael was how she always struggled to fit in as a Clayr, and I like that Nix hasn’t just made her magically (heh) well-adjusted. Meanwhile, of course, things aren’t entirely hunky dory in the rest of the kingdom: a nomad appears unexpectedly at the Greenwash Bridge, and even more unexpectedly proceeds to be attacked by other nomads and their awesomely freaky magical constructs. Cue mad flight down the river…

The book follows two tracks: Lirael, taking charge of Abhorsen business while Sabriel has a holiday (heh so cute), which means investigating a message about Nicholas Sayre and there being a magical creature on the wrong side of the Wall… and Ferin, the nomad messenger, whose endurance makes all the other characters look a bit weak and who just occasionally has a wicked sense of humour.

I love Ferin.

Nix’s writing is incredibly easy to read: it’s fast-paced, and it has lovely descriptions that allow you to imagine the place but not get bogged down in detail. I love the idea of the Charter and the additional development that the magic system gets here. In the interview with Nix that’s included in the book, he seems a bit bemused by how many people mention the gender balance in his books. But here’s the thing: when you’re reading about some guards being awesome in fighting and realise that any number of them are women, and that’s just so not a thing for this world, it still blows my mind. Multiple women in multiple sorts of roles: it can be done.

This is a wonderful addition to the Old Kingdom world and I’m so happy that it exists.

Stealing Snow

Unknown.jpegI received this book from the publisher, Bloomsbury, at no cost as an uncorrected proof. It comes out in October; RRP $16.99.

I abandoned this book, after reading just over half. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really wasn’t working for me and there are SO many books I want to read that I just don’t have time for books that don’t work.

Firstly, the press release says it’s for children 12+. I’m not sure I’d be happy with a 12 year old reading this: the protagonist has spent eleven years in a mental institute – since she was six – and there are some bits that I think may be a little scary for less mature readers. Anyway, that’s not a reason for me abandoning it.

The protagonist is part of the reason. I did not at any point feel any empathy towards Snow. There’s a bit too much repetition about her immediate woes (not being able to see the boy she really likes, who’s also in the institution), and a serious lack of development about either her history (she walked into a mirror and that was enough to get her committed?) or her personality more generally.

This is symptomatic of the book as a whole, actually: there is so little development of anything. Characters and places and events all occur in a vague world, sometimes with connections spelled out and sometimes not. Things happen far too fast – strange dreams! strange boy appearing! lover boy disappears!! a Tree!!! – and I was left completely bewildered, and not in a shivery-anticipation kinda way; in a ‘what the heck just happened?’ kinda way. It’s a portal fantasy, eventually, but whereas Foz Meadows deals nicely with the sort of confusion this would produce, Danielle Paige has Snow being confused for about ten seconds and then basically comfortable, with no explanation for how this is possible (i.e. treating it as a fantasy or whatever).

Also, the writing does not help the reading process. It’s not actively bad, but I was aware of reading – rather than being sucked into a world and ignoring the process, which really awesome writing enables.

I’m sad that this didn’t work out. I think the Snow Queen story has a lot of potential for reworking. In fact the day I received this my mother was visiting, and she had just started Michael Cunningham’s retelling of the story (very different from this), and I’d seen Frozen only about a week before. So there definitely is potential. And this version had potential… it just wasn’t achieved.

Illuminae

Unknown.jpegI’ve been meaning to read this book for ages… like since it came out. Heh.

When I bought it, the sales assistant was very pleased for me. She warned me that she’d got to 200 pages, worried that she wasn’t enjoying it, gave it another 50 pages… and then finished it at like 3am the next morning. So it was good to know that at least one other person found it a bit hard going and then BANG it got better.

That’s kinda how I found it too.

The overview: this is written in a ‘found footage’ format – emails, reconstructed IM chat, reports, etc. It’s reconstructing the events which have happened over the last twelve months from the moment that a bunch of space ships suddenly opened fire on a colony, and just a few people manage to escape courtesy of a UTA (United Terran Authority) ship that happened to be nearby. The focus is Kady Grant and her ex-boyfriend Ezra, whom she helps to escape because dude, she’s not that cold.

As I alluded to, there was definitely a bit of a dead patch for me; I was finding the interaction between Kady and Ezra a bit laboured. But it seriously picked up, and while I didn’t finish it in one sitting I came very close (about 80 pages one night, the rest the next day). I can completely understand why this has already been optioned for turning into a film.

I really liked the format. Although something I’ve very bad at is keeping an eye on the dates of things like emails or reports, it was an important thing to try and remember because checking the progress of events was sometimes vital, so I found myself going back a few pages sometimes to check on them. I loved the inclusion of things like the space ship specs, and there were a few sections where the authors and designers did some wonderful things with typography and format and it really added to the atmosphere and aesthetics. Giving the AI a very particular look – white type on black (except its direct speech, which was grey) was brilliant. Obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone, and it would be really dangerous to see this overdone – it would be so easy for it to become a cliche (maybe it already it is and I haven’t seen it? It’s still fresh for me) – but for now, I’m loving it.

As well as some fairly excellent action scenes, Kaufman and Kristoff also engage in some philosophical issues. The main one is that of AI sentience and how humanity might deal with it, deal with it going against their instruction/commands/ demands. It’s just slightly off-central – the plot doesn’t work without it but they could have had less introspection; I’m glad they didn’t, though, because for me it lifted the book just that bit into not-just-rolicking-fun.

Things I suspect Kaufman and Kristoff are fans of: Battlestar Galactica (the reboot); the Expanse series by James SA Corey; Arthur C Clarke’s 2001.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Firstly, on formatting: having all of the names of the people who died on Copernicus actually listed? Slayed me. And then followed by pictures of the same? Magnificent touch. And then when I started picking out names of my friends from the Australian spec fic scene? SHEER BRILLIANCE I LOVE YOU.

So then there’s the twist. Oh. My. I really didn’t expect it: that the AI, AIDAN, has been mimicking Ezra for simply hours to lure Kady over to the Alexander to fix the problem it has that only ‘meat’ can deal with? That’s magnificent. I loved it. Because I’d been getting a bit sick of those two – and indeed I’m not completely over my annoyance at their relationship, although the revelation of why they broke up made it slightly better for them to get back together – and to then discover it was actually a ploy… Kaufman and Kristoff, NICE WORK.

I still don’t entirely love Kady and Ezra as a couple. I think this is partly an issue with me being old and cynical, because I think “17? 18? really?” – which is mostly my problem. But I’m not going to not read the rest of this series. I fully intend to read the heck out of the next book, that’s for sure, and shove this book into the hands of whoever I can find that’s just about old enough to appreciate it.

Curtsies and Conspiracies

This is another hugely enjoyable book from Carriger. Once again our girl Sophronia is thrown into difficulties at her alleged finishing school. This time she has a lot more to do with the supernatural element of her world, especially the vampires. Of course there’s a lot of discussion of dresses and fashion and hats and reticules; she must figure out how to carry a knife without it being obvious, she must learn to bat her eyelids effectively, and how best to carry the implements required of a young lady in her position. I’m still surprised by how enjoyable I find yet another school focused book.

Most of this book is spent on the dirigible of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school. Some time is spent in classes, learning about domestic economy, poisoning, fainting and how to properly address vampires. But for Sophronia, much of her time is spent on the outside of the dirigible – climbing – as well as with the sooties down below and the dressing-as-a-boy Vieve. Interestingly the plot follows on from Etiquette and Espionage, in that the MacGuffin here is the same. Of course this time it’s not so much about finding the prototype as it is about figuring out what it can do,  how it will do it, and who will control it. There’s a surprising amount of politics for a book that seems at least on the outside as being solely can send with fashion. I guess that’s kind of the point; that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive and anyone who is thinks they are is likely to underestimates graduates of Miss Geraldine’s finishing school.

One of the big differences in this book compared to the original is that there’s a lot more boys. I’m not really sure what I think about this; on the one hand it’s obviously an important skill for girls like Sophronia and Dimity to learn – that is, how to deal with difficult yet handsome young man. And of course reappearing in this book is Soap, certainly one of my favorite characters although somewhat problematic given that he’s black and his nickname is Soap. On the other hand I really enjoyed the almost exclusively female cast of the first book; the fact that boys were not necessary for the book to proceed, the fact that the girls were perfectly capable of getting themselves into and out of scrapes generally without any male assistance (or hindrance) at all. While some of the ways that Sophronia dealt with her would-be suitors was entertaining, I did find myself enjoying the sections of the plot that solely involves the girls generally more enjoyable.

I continue to be fascinated by the development of this world that Carriger initially developed for the Alexia books. And of course I remain desperately keen to find out how this series will intersect with the earlier one. One of those intersections is quite obvious but I have no doubts that Carriger will provide some further surprises in the rest of the series.

Ascendant

7726036.jpgI didn’t adore Rampant, the first book, but I was very curious to see where Peterfreund would take Astrid and her fellow unicorn-hunters. This sequel was a bit darker than the first, but overall has many of the same preoccupations: the difficulties of committing yourself to a life of killing and celibacy when you’re sixteen, the difficulties of being forced together with a bunch of girls you don’t know and have little in common with, occasionally having to deal with a crazy mother. So while I didn’t adore this one, either, I definitely don’t regret reading it.

The main surprise for me with the first book was (what felt like) its overwhelming interest in Astrid’s love life. By the end I could see why this was important – in terms of plot – and of course if Peterfreund was setting out to write a teen romance with killer unicorns then that’s totally cool; it’s just not what I had expected, which is my problem not hers. That continues into this book, naturally, with some neat (well, difficult actually) twists that meant it wasn’t simply rehashing the initial plot. Peterfreund is certainly not interested in making life easy for her characters. The romance didn’t work for me but I’m not a teenager, so maybe I’m too cynical.

I liked that Astrid got to experience life a bit outside of the Cloisters, and that she got to think through her difficulties with the whole idea of killing. There’s a nice, if simplistic, balance between Cory on the one side, all in favour of killing the lot, and Phil wanting to set up some sort of genuine conservation – and Astrid fitting between them. It did relieve me that Kill The Beast! didn’t become an overwhelming theme for the novel.

I’m surprised there’s no third book. … and I’ve just looked at Peeterfreund’s website which says that she’s hoping to write the third, Triumphant, “soon” (but I don’t know when the site was updated). I’ll probably end up reading it, although it’s not a preorder-in-a-mad-rush kinda thing.

Manners and Mutiny

Unknown.jpegThis book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

Firstly? I do not love this cover. It’s far too old to be Sophronia, which I don’t remember being a problem with the other covers. The crossbow is appropriate, at least. I am also not wild about the yellow.

Fortunately I do not tend to judge books by covers; at least, not books in a series I have been enjoying and whose author I tend to trust.

Continue reading →

Zeroes

This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.

CEcd_mmWIAAk2Y3I wanted to adore this book. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t adore it. I’m trying to work through why…

Some general comments and then spoilers will be flagged.

The premise is one of superheroes, where the heroes are adolescents and most of them don’t feel, or want to be, heroic. Their ‘powers’ aren’t obvious (no one is turning green) and sometimes they don’t seem particularly useful, either. At some point in the past they’ve discovered each other and tried to work together, to see whether and how they might become a team… but then it turned sour, and they haven’t really worked together for a year. But when one of them is caught up with the police (his own fault, really), he asks for help and things go from there. Up, and down, and twisty-windy. The plot revolves around accidentally stolen drug money, a bank robbery gone very wrong, people in the wrong place and a bunch of teenagers trying to fix things and occasionally messing up.

We get chapters from each of the Zeroes, although not always alternating; the story begins from the perspective of Ethan (Scam), then Kelsie gets the fourth chapter and then gradually the others are introduced. This structure is exactly as useful as it seems, with multiple perspectives on events and people and ideas. It was an aspect I really liked, but it also contributed to one of the reasons I didn’t adore the book (I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters; more on that below). The characters are nicely varied: girls and boys, different ethnic backgrounds, one blind, families of different structures (those that we see anyway). They definitely have different personalities, which are not entirely tied to their ‘powers’ – which is great. There is some connection (Kelsie can work a crowd and loves going out dancing, for instance), but the question of cause and consequence isn’t tied down.

I liked that the action takes place over just a week; there’s no interest here in dragging a story out. It’s fast-paced over all, as it needs to be when there’s scary underworld types involved and things need to get fixed pronto. There are a few adults around – more parents are mentioned and briefly involved than you might expect in a teens-save-the-world story – but they don’t get in the way of said teens getting into a lot of trouble. The story is set in Cambria, which it turns out is really a name for a town in the US; I don’t know whether it’s intended to be set in the real town or not, but at any rate it’s a dinky little town rather than NY or Chicago, say, which I think is an interesting choice. It lets the characters develop their powers before having to deal with The Big Smoke, I guess (bets on that happening in a later novel?). There’s little real world building – it’s the America of today, and the city itself plays little part in the story, so there’s no need to make it really come alive.

Now, SPOILERS.

Continue reading →

Rampant 

By Diana Peterfreund

Sadly I did not love this book as much as I had hoped. Partly this is me, partly it is the book.

I had read the novella, Errant, so I thought I kinda knew what the story was going to be about. But Errant is set… I forget when, some time in the past. Rampant is not; it’s about a girl in modern America learning about unicorns. Which is fine, it was just a bit of a surprise. I had t read the blurb, deliberately; I didn’t want any spoilers since I figured it was going to be the sort of book I’d like anyway.

Killer unicorns? How can that not be awesome? That’s what it’s about, by the way. Unicorns are real and they hunt animals and people. Only certain people can hunt them in return. This is the learning-about-your-abilities book. If that’s your thing, feel free to ignore my whinging! Just go read it; it’s certainly enjoyable enough that I wouldn’t dissuade potential readers automatically.

Anyway, what I really had not expected was how much the book would be focussed in sex. Not having it, how people feel about you if you do or don’t, etc (do American teens really feel pressured to have sex before they leave high school??). It does make sense, given that Peterfreund has kept the virginity aspect for her unicorn hunters, but… it felt like it got in the way of what I was expecting, which was learning about unicorn hunting and dealing with that aspect of your nature. Which, yes, virginity is part of that. But there was a lot of going on dates and agonising which I guess just isn’t what I was interested in reading. 

So I’m willing to agree that in that aspect, definitely a problem of my expectations. And I did like the discussion around rape, attitudes towards and reactions to, although the victim seemed to deal with it faster than I would expect. (Not that I want intense victiming either, necessarily.)

On the book’s side, I felt that the plot went a bit too fast sometimes; fast enough that things got a bit improbable (yes yes, around the killer unicorns bits) and too convenient. In the characters I  especially found Astrid’s mother a bit much; a bit ridiculous.

For all its faults I will definitely read the sequel, Ascendant, at some point.

Archer’s Goon

Unknown-1Yes, that Archer’s Goon.

I really do not understand how I missed Diana Wynne Jones as a child. It’s not like I was too old for her stuff when it was coming out. It’s not like there weren’t libraries in my town. There were even bookshops! … but there it is. I didn’t read my first Jones until a couple of years ago – a Chrestomanci – and I’ve been hearing about Archer’s Goon for ages. And now I’ve finally read it.

Yes, it is magnificent. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I will be foisting it onto every young person when I think they’re not quite ready for it.

If, like me, you haven’t read it – well, just do so. It’s about a family whose house gets gently invaded by a very large man with a very small head who insists that Dad has to write 2000 words, Or Else. And things go on from there with discovering that the town really does not run the way they thought it did. Which naturally leads to Adventures. And those adventures were genuinely absorbing and often unexpected and always wonderfully written.

So what did I really like?

Firstly, the family situation. The adventures centre on the son, Howard, but Mum and Dad are absolutely present and important and relevant. I love the family dynamics, actually; that Mum and Dad are so different, Dad is so magnificently obstinate and Mum is wonderfully competent; that they have a raging row which does not result in them considering divorce; that they complement one another and generally work together. And then there’s Awful. Seriously a family who nickname their daughter Awful and still go out of their way to make sure she’s ok – this family is so REAL. I love them.

I love the Goon. When people were talking about the book I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what the title meant. Clearly goon can mean henchman, but it didn’t seem to fit here; then there’s the Aussie slang term for cheap wine, and that really didn’t seem to fit… so I was lost. Discovering that actually it did mean henchman was a surprise, but made sense once I realised that Archer was of course a person. Anyway, I liked the Goon a lot. Especially his dialogue.

And I liked the plot. I loved that Jones did not explain absolutely everything about Archer’s family and their place in the town; you just need to accept that this is what Howard and his family know, so of course it’s what the reader knows. We regularly deal with events that we don’t have complete context for, so why must it be different in a novel? Going around visiting the different members of the family to investigate what’s going on is of course a familiar trope; it reminded me of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kingdom series (which of course is a series, not a stand-alone, something else which is a bit different in Jones), amongst others. There’s nothing wrong with using this trope, of course – it’s used so often because it does let the author show you stuff about the world and reveal the plot in bits and pieces. And Jones does it so well.

Finally, in looking around for a picture of the cover, I discovered that it was a TV show – which I vaguely remember someone talking about at some stage. Is it wrong that I immediately got the Round the Twist theme song in my head? (Roger Lloyd Pack as Dad is SHEER BRILLIANCE.)