YA Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1)

Title: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (Cursebreakers #1)
Author: Brigid Kemmerer
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

I wasn’t sure that a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast would be my kind of book, but several people recommended it, so I grabbed a bargain copy and started reading. And to begin with, I still wasn’t sure. Nothing much happened in the first half of the book. The story seemed to be treading water – establishing the characters, but not going anywhere. I was tempted to give up, until I passed the middle of the story, and suddenly discovered that I couldn’t put it down.

Harper, a girl from modern-day Washington DC, finds herself in the fairy-tale land of Emberfall. She’s been kidnapped in an attempt to break a curse placed on Crown Prince Rhen. All she has to do is fall in love with him, and he won’t change into a monster at the end of the season – but she’s the three hundred and twenty-seventh girl he’s tried to win over, and the rest have all failed.

The first half of the book feels less like a story than a sequence of events. I’m glad I kept reading, because when the events and the context come together, the intrigue kicks off and the stakes are raised for all the characters. When Harper starts to engage with the politics and people of Emberfall, and to see that she could make a difference, the book changes course and the story becomes much more engaging.

Harper is an interesting character. She has a minor disability, but she doesn’t let it define her. She is strong-willed, brave, and determined to fnd her way back to DC. The Crown Prince and his guard constantly tell her that she’s not like the other girls, who played the game and waited to fall in love. She takes action where she sees the opportunity, and she does not accept her role in the breaking of the curse.

Rhen is also interesting, but frustratingly bad at communicating with Harper. While half the chapters are narrated from his point of view, none of the depth the reader can see is evident to Harper, in the earlier chapters she narrates. She can only see the arrogant prince, used to ordering people around and keeping himself hidden in the castle. It takes a painfully long time for her to to understand the challenges he is facing, and to see that he is trying to protect her, and his people.

By the end of the book, I cared about Harper, Rhen, and the guard, and I cared about what happened to the people of Emberfall. The final chapters bring everything together in a genuinely dangerous and exciting finale, and put in place a really interesting twist for the sequel. The first-person present-tense narration suits the story, making the adventure and danger more immediate and real, and the twists in the story ensure that the reader can never guess what the next chapter will bring. I ended up enjoying the book, so if you find it slow to begin with, stick with it – it gets better!

Have you read A Curse So Dark and Lonely? What did you think of the story? And what about the characters – Harper, Rhen, and Grey? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Boy 87

Title: Boy 87
Author: Ele Fountain
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Boy 87 cover image

This is a short and deceptively simple book, following fourteen-year-old Shif as he makes the dangerous journey from his home in Africa to find safety in Europe. The plot is straightforward, and the first-person narration is pared-back, childlike, and sincere. At first glance, the storytelling feels simple, but there is just enough here to allow the reader to connect with Shif, and to experience the frightening events of the story with him. The elegant, spare language gives the reader clear insights into Shif’s character, his hopes and dreams for the future, and his ability to survive the trials of the journey. Nothing is over-dramatised, but the threats and the danger feel real.

With its simple storytelling and short length, Boy 87 feels like a book for younger children, but the events Shif describes require a YA level of maturity to understand and connect with. As an adult I found the story truly frightening, imagining what it would feel like to have to leave your home, escape to another country, and trust people smugglers to take you on the dangerous sea-crossing. This isn’t heroic YA. It isn’t a story of adventure or triumph. But it is an insight into the motivations of the migrants who try again and again to reach safety in Europe. Shif’s experiences are relatable, haunting, and undoubtedly realistic, and the book would make a great introduction to the subject of migration, majority/minority world politics, and the value of human life.

Boy 87 is an easy but thought-provoking read, and an effective introduction to an important contemporary subject. Definitely recommended.

Have you read Boy 87? 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!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Third Day, The Frost (Tomorrow #3)

Title: The Third Day, The Frost (Tomorrow #3)
Author: John Marsden
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Book 3 in the Tomorrow series sees Ellie and her friends fighting back against the invasion of Australia. Ellie’s narration is vivid and engaging, drawing the reader in as the group’s guerilla actions expand in scale, and the friends begin to lose control of their surroundings and their safety.

There’s plenty of action in this book, and plenty of heart-pounding fear. The teenagers are resourceful and daring, but their actions have frightening consequences, pushing them to find new ways to be brave. The relationships between the friends change and develop as the story progresses, reflecting the changes in their country, and in the actions they are willing to take. They surprise each other with their bravery, and with their reactions to the events of the story, and this development feels authentic and inspiring.

It’s another good story, and the first-person narrative pulls the reader into the danger and the challenges faced by the characters. This is the last book in the original Tomorrow trilogy, but John Marsden has written more books in the series. I definitely need to know what happens next!

Have you read the Tomorrow series? What did you think of Ellie and her friends? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Dead of the Night (Tomorrow #2)

Title: The Dead of the Night (Tomorrow #2)
Author: John Marsden
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

The second book in the Tomorrow series picks up the story several weeks after the end of Tomorrow When the War Began. The invasion of Australia continues, and Ellie and her friends are in hiding, piecing together the current situation from radio broadcasts while they stay out of sight in the bush. But with their town occupied, the weather growing colder, and their supplies running low, the group must decide what risks they are willing to take, and whether they are ready to fight back.

Ellie, the narrator of Book 1, is back as the group’s official record-keeper. The first-person narration is still gripping, and the descriptions – while age-appropriate – still drop the reader into the middle of a war. There’s romance, too, and friendship, and the characters make plenty of mistakes in their attempts to undermine the invasion. There’s bravery and fear, and the author doesn’t shy away from writing about the consequences of the characters’ mistakes and actions. The action sequences are tense and breathless, and the danger feels uncomfortably real.

As with Book 1, the story puts a simple challenge to the reader – if your country was invaded, what would you do? Would you fight back? And what would you risk, to fight for your friends and family? How would it feel to fight, and would it change who you are?

I’m really enjoying this series. I like the characters, and their different reactions to the events of the story. I like the way they come together to work as a team, even though they have very different attitudes to fighting and bravery. And I like the premise – giving teenagers the freedom to make mature decisions, to make mistakes, and to discover their own abilities in life-and-death situations. I’m looking forward to Book 3.

Have you read the Tomorrow series? 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!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Hero at the Fall (Rebel of the Sands #3)

Title: Hero at the Fall (Rebel of the Sands #3)
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Hero at the Fall cover image

Oh, I loved this book. The final installment in the Rebel of the Sands trilogy brings more peril, more bravery, more sacrifice, and more adventure. The author still doesn’t pull her punches, and with powerful legendary beings stepping into the lives of the characters, the stakes are raised ahead of the final conflict. There are stand-out scenes, daring rescues, and plenty of punch-the-air moments. It’s a fantastic climax to an exciting story.

And then there’s the end. Throughout the trilogy, certain chapters are written as campfire legends, particularly where Amani is not present for important plot developments, and couldn’t narrate as a Point of View character. There are more of these in ‘Hero at the Fall’, and towards the end the reason becomes clear. The author ends the story with a wonderful meditation on the difference between the characters’ lived experiences, and the legends told about what they have done. It’s lovely, and it made me cry.

I highly recommend the entire trilogy. Amani is an inspiring protagonist – by no means perfect, but strong, determined, and loyal to her friends. Her journey through the books is one of self-discovery and exposure to a wider, more dangerous world than she had encountered at the start of Rebel of the Sands. Her relationships – with friends, family, and creatures from legend – develop and grow until the reader can’t help but care about everyone she cares about. There is real danger, and real sacrifice. There are scenes I read while metaphorically peeping through my fingers in case something happened to someone who mattered to me. And there is real friendship, loyalty, and bravery.

I can’t believe the story has ended! I miss the characters and the gorgeously described world already, and I want to go back to ‘Rebel of the Sands’ and start all over again. I’m not sure I can think of higher praise than that!

Have you read the Rebel of the Sands trilogy? What did you think of the story? And what did you think of Amani? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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Battle Ground Reviews

Wow!

Thank you so much to everyone who has supported ‘Battle Ground’! We published a week ago, and so far the book has been the Amazon number one free download in three different categories, reached number 41 in paid YA Dystopia, and collected some amazing reviews. We’ve been to YALC, and met readers and writers who are passionate about YA, and excited to read our post-Brexit dystopia. We’ve sent ‘Battle Ground’ on a blog tour. Amazon ratings are at 4.8 stars.

We’re exhausted, but ‘Battle Ground‘ is finally live on Amazon.

Read this year’s most relevant dystopia for 99p (or FREE on Kindle Unlimited).