YA Review: How Far We’ve Come

Title: How Far We’ve Come
Author: Joyce Efia Harmer
Kindle ARC

Cover of How Far We've Come by Joyce Efia Harmer

Obah is a slave on a Barbados plantation in 1834. Jacob is a descendant of a slave-owning family, determined to atone for the crimes of his ancestors. When Jacob finds a way to time travel to Obah’s plantation, he seizes his chance to give her a life of freedom in present-day Somerset. But Jacob has underestimated Obah’s experiences on the plantation and the culture shock she encounters in twenty-first century England, and Obah has discovers that the two teenagers are more closely connected than she realised.

It’s an interesting premise for a story. Obah is a perfect protagonist to take on the injustices of life on the plantation, and to recognise the problems of present-day society from her unique viewpoint. She’s intelligent and determined, but she knows how to keep herself safe and obey the rules that govern her life, both in Barbados and in the UK.

The supporting characters, and Obah’s relationships with them, give the book its page-turning pace. In Barbados she works in the kitchens, and directly for the wife of the owner. Her mother escaped from the plantation when Obah was young, and Obah has built her own family among the slaves. With them, she finds warmth and community while she navigates constant danger from the owner and his overseer, and the whims of the owner’s wife and daughter. The author doesn’t romanticise life on the plantation, and the reader is not spared the horrific experiences Obah and her found family share. There is no gratuitous detail, but the matter-of-fact reactions of the slaves to their punishments and hardships is more heartbreaking than any over-dramatised anger or confrontation. The unending injustice and cruelty is harrowing to read.

In England, Obah slowly learns to trust Jacob and his mother and sister. It takes time for her to understand that she is not expected to work or take care of them, and to understand the expectations of modern-day society on her. She sees injustices that they, as a wealthy white family, do not, and it is this that drives the twenty-first century sections of the story.

There are all sorts of issues with writing a novel like this. Avoiding the White Saviour trope, and the obvious difficulties both characters will experience as they are displaced from their homes, feels extremely important to making this story work in 2023. Both characters learn about themselves, their societies, and their prejudices, and come to see the power Obah has over her life, if she can work out how to use it. I’m not completely convinced that the author has fully avoided all the issues with the setup, but the story structure is neat and the characters engaging. It definitely gives the reader plenty to think about.

How Far We’ve Come is published in paperback today! Thank you to the publisher for the ARC copy.

Have you read How Far We’ve Come? What did you think of the story? Do you think the author handled the difficult theme well? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: How Far We’ve Come cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YA Review: Mage Quest

Title: Mage Quest
Author: Julia Blake

YA Review: Mage Quest

The sequel to Erinsmore is here! Book Two of the Erinsmore Chronicles brings new characters, old friends, and three spirited dragons.

It’s been six years since Ruby returned from Erinsmore, leaving her sister Cassie behind. When she eventually finds a portal and takes the opportunity to slip between worlds, she inadvertently brings thirteen-year-old Finley with her. Twenty years have passed in Erinsmore. Everyone she left behind has aged without her, and she’s surprised to discover that she is aunt to a seventeen-year-old princess (and heir to the throne), and her twin brother.

The heir to Erinsmore’s throne is expected to find the mage who will be her lifelong companion and guide. Most heirs discover their mages early in life, but the princess has never felt the presence of hers. She will be using the traditional tour of the kingdom when she turns eighteen to search for her companion.

With their eighteenth birthday only days after Ruby’s arrival, the twins invite their aunt and her accidental companion to join them on their quest. The plan is to visit every major settlement, and for the princess to meet her future subjects. With the help of Lord Merric, Protector of the Royal Children, three awe-inspiring dragons, and a mysterious healer named Xem, the group sets out to tour the kingdom, and search for the heir’s mage.

But something is rotten in Erinsmore. Evil is rising, and strange and frightening creatures are terrorising the people. The quest becomes more dangerous, and the evil forces stronger, as the group travels north. Working together, can they track down and defeat the dark forces – and will the quest lead the princess to her mage?

This is a long-awaited and exciting return to the world of Erinsmore. While Ruby is older and wiser, and thrilled to see her sister again, thirteen-year-old Finley provides the sense of wonder as the newcomer to a place where magic and dragons are real. The reader rediscovers Erinsmore with Ruby, while seeing everything for the first time with Finley. It’s a great way to balance the wonder of the magical world with Ruby’s six-year exile and her wish to return.

When Ruby and Finley have found their feet and been welcomed into the castle, the story takes off (literally, on the backs of dragons), and the quest begins. Strange creatures, evil pirates, hidden mermaids and mysterious dark forces lie in wait for our characters, and they must work together to keep each other out of danger.

It’s a gripping story. The tension builds as the group draws closer to the dark power infecting Erinsmore, while the princess’s search for her mage brings unexpected leads and crushing dead ends. I was on the edge of my seat as the end of the book approached. I won’t spoil the story, but it grows more emotional and more exciting as the pages turn.

Julia Blake has written another fast-paced, engrossing novel that drags the reader in and begs to be read in one sitting. Dive in for a fantastic tour of Erinsmore, a mystery that builds as the story progresses, and just the right mix of romance, danger, friendship, and action.

You’ve waited long enough. It’s time to go back to Erinsmore.

The Mage Quest ebook will be published on May 16th, and the gorgeous illustrated paperback is available now. Thank you to the author for the ARC copy.

Have you read Erinsmore and Mage Quest? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: Mage Quest cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

YA Review: The Songs You’ve Never Heard

Title: The Songs You’ve Never Heard
Author: Becky Jerams and Ellie Wyatt

How much did I love this book? Just thinking about it is making me smile. A musical in book form is such a clever idea, and the authors have created a warm, emotional story accompanied by an album of the original music from the novel. I loved the entire experience!

Meg McCarthy is thoroughly sick of being the younger sister to musical superstar Caspar, especially when he’s home for the summer, trying and failing to write songs for his second album. Every conversation seems to revolve around her famous brother – at home, at school, and at her embarrassing summer job serving frozen yoghurt to tourists. She’s learned not to expect genuine friendship – everyone wants to use her to get close to Caspar. So when she meets aspiring singer-songwriter Alana at work, she expects more of the same.

But Meg has a secret. She’s been writing and recording her own songs for years, and keeping them hidden from everyone around her. The only person she shares them with is an online contact, but she’s too scared to admit to him who she is in real life. When Alana convinces her to share her music, the two girls begin working together, pooling their talents and writing songs as a duo. Meg isn’t ready to share their songs, and when their work is leaked online she finds herself overwhelmed as she tries to manage the consequences.

Meg is a highly relatable character. She’s used to living in the shadow of a successful older brother, and she has understandably had enough of trying to be friends with people who only want access to him. Her attitude might be aggressive, but I completely understood her need to be seen as an individual, and not an extension of Caspar’s identity. When she meets Alana – larger than life, bubbly, open and enthusiastic – she struggles to understand her new colleague. Their developing connection was a joy to read, and I loved following their journey as they shared their music and friendship.

This book plunged me deep into Meg’s life, and immersed me in her experiences and feelings. I was completely hooked, and invested in her hopes, dreams, and disasters. Her relationship with her brother felt real and raw, and her musical partnership with Alana was joyful and exciting. Half way through the book I realised that I needed to hear the songs, rather than simply reading the lyrics, and I downloaded the album. Hearing Caspar sing for the first time was absolutely thrilling, and listening to songs from Meg and Alana added so much to the experience of the story.

Definitely a five-star read, and a five-star idea. I adored it.

Have you read The Songs You’ve Never Heard? And have you listened to the songs? What did you think of Meg’s story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

YA review: The Songs You’ve Never Heard cross-posted to GoodReads.

Please keep your comments YA appropriate. Be patient! We want to hear from you, but comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.