YA Review: Rule of Wolves

Title: Rule of Wolves
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Even more Grishaverse! Even more Nikolai! Even more Zoya! Even more Nina!

I’m so happy that the paperback edition of ‘Rule of Wolves’ has finally arrived, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to read the end of the story that began in ‘King of Scars’.

The poison of The Fold is spreading, throughout Ravka and beyond. No one can predict where the blight will strike, leaving cursed dust in its shadow and wiping out crops, towns, and people. The Fjerdan army is massing on the northern border, and the queen of Shu Han is plotting her own moves against Ravka. Threats to the King and his people are growing, and Nikolai has few places to turn for support.

This book follows the fallout from the events of ‘King of Scars’. Nikolai and Zoya are constantly on the move, calming unrest in Ravka, directing troops on the front lines, and seeking diplomatic solutions to their disastrous situation. A mission to Shu Han attempts to minimise the threat from the queen, and Nina’s undercover work in Fjerda becomes more dangerous as she finds herself entangled with the Crown Prince and the inner workings of the Ice Court.

Where the first book developed each character’s story, focusing on Nikolai’s attempts to keep his curse concealed, and to forge a political partnership to protect Ravka, ‘Rule of Wolves’ is a much more strategic book. Reading it is like watching a very clever game of chess, as each country and player seeks to out-manoeuvre their neighbours, and find a way to increase their power and influence in the world. It’s a nail-biting plot, with constant twists and surprises – including a moment when I couldn’t decide whether to cry or throw the book at the wall, and a moment of air-punching brilliance near the end.

I loved the relationship between Nikolai and Zoya, struggling to keep their feelings hidden for the sake of Ravka, and each other. The roles of King and General ask so much from the characters, and their bravery and constant self-denial was heartbreaking to read. Yes, Nikolai is still my book boyfriend. I adore him – his quick wit, his refusal to give up hope, his acceptance of his role, and his sincere but impossible feelings for Zoya. He’s a wonderful character, and I hope we see more of him in future Grishaverse books.

While the plot is shaped by political decisons, there are plenty of fantastic action sequences, and several heart-stopping events that keep the pages turning. I loved the story (in spite of the book-throwing and tears), and the ending, while unexpected, is big enough and bold enough to complete the duology – while setting up for a new story, which I can’t wait to read!

I have adored all the Grishaverse novels, and I’m already wondering what happens next.

Have you read Rule of Wolves? What did you think of the story? And what about that ending? 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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Hello, Birmingham!

Birmingham Film and Comic Con event promo graphic

We’re in Birmingham (UK) this weekend! We’ll be at the NEC on Saturday and Sunday, signing books for Film and Comic Con. Come and say hi – you’ll find us in Artist Alley!

Don’t miss our exclusive special offer – Battle Ground will be only £5 to buy in paperback at the event! Plus the Kindle edition is only 99p to download, and you can read it FREE on Kindle Unlimited.

What are you waiting for? Happy Comic Con weekend from Taller Books!

YA Review: Escape From B-Movie Hell

Title: Escape From B-Movie Hell
Author: MT McGuire
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Cover art for 'Escape From B-Movie Hell'

What do you do when your best friend tells you he’s an alien, proves it, and then disappears? Student Andi Turbot heads to her next lecture, then home to heat up some leftovers for dinner. She doesn’t expect to meet more aliens in her kitchen, or to find herself transported to their ship, abducted, and subjected to a telepathic interrogation. Finding out about the impending destruction of the earth is not what she had in mind for the evening – and neither is discovering she’s a powerful telepath.

On the plus side, she is reunited with her friend – only now he looks a bit like a lobster with seven long eye stalks and a coating of slimy goo. His human form was a telepathic projection, and his Gamalian form will take a bit of getting used to. As will the task ahead – escaping from the brig of a Gamalian ship, avoiding capture, and saving the world.

I read this book in one sitting. Once I’d started, I couldn’t put it down. Everything I love about MT McGuire’s writing is here – humour, action, brilliant and imaginative world-building, and an absolutely compassionate approach to the question of what it means to be human, and what it takes to do the right thing. It’s a beautiful balance of laughter, friendship, loyalty and bravery, and recognising that no one is all bad, and no one is all good. There are bad guys and good guys, but plenty of shades of grey, and the author has a keen eye for the comedic moments when two cultures – and two species – meet. The action scenes are vivid and immersive, and the tension towards the climax of the story had me absolutely on the edge of my seat.

Andi is a refreshing character. She’s studying Art Restoration and Museum Studies, but in her spare time she’s a stand-up comedian. Her take on the events of the book is always coloured with humour and compassion, alongside a genuine fear for the safety of the Earth. Her friend Eric is the kind of being you’d want to go on an adventure with. Reliable, brave, and always willing to listen to Andi’s suggestions, he’s both a companion and protector, and her guide to the weirder aspects of Gamalian culture. I particularly enjoyed the character development of Doge Sneeb, a really interesting alien bad guy whose backstory develops in unexpected ways over the course of the book.

This is a proper B-movie romp with giant aliens, a constantly twisting plot, and a very satisfying conclusion. Great fun to read, and a fantastic way to spend a sunny afternoon in the garden.

Escape From B-Movie Hell is published as adult SciFi, but is suitable for a YA audience.

Have you read Escape From B-Movie Hell ? What did you think of Andi’s story? Who was your favourite character? 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: If You Still Recognise Me

Title: If You Still Recognise Me
Author: Cynthia So
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

If You Still Recognise Me by Cynthia So

This is a lovely, quiet, undramatic LGBTQ+ romance full of friendship, family relationships, and the dangers of coming out to people who might not understand.

Elsie is finishing her A-level exams, and looking forward to a summer of freedom and adventure before university. She has plans to go on holiday with her best friend Ritika, and she’s looking forward to new issues of her favourite comic, Eden Recoiling. She has a secret long-distance crush on Ada, who writes Eden Recoiling fan fiction, but Elsie is in Oxford, and Ada is in New York, so a relationship is probably out of the question.

But Elsie’s plans for the summer are forced to change when her grandmother flies in from Hong Kong to stay, following the death of her grandfather. Her parents expect her to stay at home with their guest during the week, and to find a weekend job before she plans her holiday. Elsie hasn’t come out to her family, and she knows that her grandmother’s traditional attitudes would probably not include acceptance of her sexuality. She hasn’t seen her grandmother for eight years, and as she keeps her company she starts to uncover the prejudices, family secrets, and a clash of cultures that have forced her family apart. When an old friend from Hong Kong arrives back in her life, Elsie finds herself questioning all her relationships – friends, family, and romantic interests.

The book follows Elsie as she spends time getting to know her old friend again, discovering the secrets her family has been hiding, and attempting to solve a puzzle that she hopes will impress Ada. In pursuit of the truth about her family, and the solution to Ada’s mystery, Elsie and her friends meet a series of gay characters at every stage of life, most of whom are refreshingly happy and settled in their identities. While she doesn’t feel comfortable being open about her sexuality at home, these characters provide her with inspiring role models for the next stages of her own life, and help her to make decisions about her relationships.

There’s nothing forced about these encounters, and the positive attitudes provide a wonderful counterbalance to the rejection she fears at home. Elsie is a warm and relatable character – she’s passionate about the Eden Recoiling comic and fandom, and the people she meets who share her enthusiasm. She grumbles about the changes to her plans for the summer, and surprises herself as she spends time with her grandmother and learns more about her. Ritika is a great best friend. She’s excited for Elsie as she discovers more about herself and her relationships, and she’s not afraid to point out when Elsie is wrong. Elsie’s parents are strict but supportive, and I loved the moment when Elsie discovers her mother’s love of manga, and they begin to bond over their shared interest.

If You Still Recognise Me is a gentle coming-of-age novel with an LGBTQ+ protagonist and a positive supporting cast. The author infuses the story with the luxury and hopefulness of a summer of freedom before the characters move away from home and start new lives at university. Reading it is like finding a new friend who loves the things you love, and discovering a new way to see yourself in the world. It’s a perfect summer read.

Have you read If You Still Recognise Me? What did you think of Elsie’s story? Did the ending surprise you? 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: Junk

Title: Junk
Author: Melvin Burgess
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

YA review Junk Melvin Burgess

First published in 1996, Junk caused outrage with its candid depiction of heroin use in a book written for teenagers. A recent BBC radio interview with the author prompted me to order the 25th anniversary edition of the book, and find out what the fuss was about.

Set in the mid-eighties, Junk tells the story of two fourteen-year-olds who run away from home. Tar is escaping a violent father and an alcoholic, manipulative mother. Gemma wants to get away from her repressive, disciplinarian parents. When Tar makes his way to Bristol, he finds a group of people living on the margins of society. They find vacant houses to open as squats for homeless people to live in, and after sleeping rough for a couple of weeks, Tar moves in to their latest squatted property.

With somewhere safe to run to, Gemma gets away and joins Tar in Bristol. While he is happy to have found a new support network, she is excited to explore the freedom of her new home. Tar is a sensible runaway. He’s looking for the stability he’s never had, and he sets out to help the squatters, decorate his room, and contribute as much as he can to their community. But Gemma wants more. She’s had enough of obedience and rule-following, and when she meets a new group of friends at a party she is won over by their dreamy, otherworldly attitude to life.

As she is gradually drawn in to their circle, she begins to accept their heroin habit as part of what she loves about them. She tries the drug, with their assurances that she doesn’t need to be addicted, and their encouragement that she can stop at any time. She draws Tar in to the group, and introduces him to the habit.

Burgess is very honest. He makes sure the reader understands why his characters choose to take heroin. He describes the effect on Tar as feeling all the pain of his experiences floating away. He doesn’t experience a high, but he loses the pain he’s been carrying with him. For a fourteen-year-old boy escaping domestic violence, finding something that takes away the hurt he’s carrying feels miraculous.

The book charts their continued experiences with the drug, and their constant reassurances to themselves and each other that they can stop at any time. Their struggles when they try to kick the habit are heartbreaking, and again Burgess doesn’t pull his punches. The slow build up of addiction, the risks they take, and the things they are willing to do make money for drugs make for a hard read. We spend half the book getting to know these vulnerable, lonely young people, only to witness their understandable transformation into characters whose only motivation is their next hit.

I won’t spoil the story, and I’m not sure what I thought of the ending, but whatever controversy the book continues to cause, it should be on everyone’s reading list. Burgess uses his contrasting characters and multiple narrators to explore the attractions as well as the destructive side of addiction. He stays true to his teenage leads, and even when the story deals with their darkest experiences, it never feels like a lecture. Everything in these pages feels real, authentic, and possible – and very far from moralising or preaching. It is genuinely heartbreaking to watch two young people go through everything that happens in the story, and I badly wanted everything to work out for them in the end.

It’s not an easy read, but it is a great place to start a conversation about drugs, addiction, and personal responsibility. The review quote on the front of my paperback says ‘everyone should read Junk‘. I definitely agree.

Have you read Junk? What did you think of the story? Did you sympathise with any of the characters? 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: Double Cross

Title: Double Cross
Author: Bruce A Hanson
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

This was a fun read. Three Canadian teenagers on a winter break discover a valuable historical artefact on a snowmobile outing. Excited by their find, the friends soon discover that they are not the only people interested in its history – or its value. Their investigations lead them into unexpected danger as they are forced to decide who they can trust, and who might be hiding a deadly secret.

Double Cross might be a short book, but I was hooked from the first page. The teenage characters are beautifully written – I knew within a couple of pages who they were and what to expect from each of them. As the story progressed, and the three of them faced fear and danger, their personalities shone through. I loved their friendly banter, and the way they could joke with each other even when they found themselves in mortal danger.

The adult characters are similarly well crafted. I particularly loved Aunt Irene, fearless investigative reporter and host to the friends on their holiday. She came alive on the page, providing both energetic adventures and a grown-up grounding – making sure everyone remembered to eat, and asking the right questions at the right times.

As a Brit who has worked and studied in Canada, I enjoyed the specifically Canadian details. The descriptions of the winter landscape were gorgeous, showcasing the cold, crisp beauty of winter woods in snow. The snowmobile sequences and details of the Hudson’s Bay blanket made me smile, along with the historical references in the story.

It’s a quick read, but with its sparkling characters and exciting plot, Double Cross will drag you in, heart pounding, and keep you guessing until the end.

Double Cross will be published on July 29th.

Have you read Double Cross? 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 Stranded

Title: The Stranded
Author: Sarah Daniels
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

Refugees from a war-ravaged Europe have been stuck at sea for more than forty years, confined to the cruise ships that were supposed to bring them to safety. A fractured US refuses permission for them to come ashore, fearful of the weaponised virus that might lie dormant in the bloodstream of everyone on board. On the Arcadia, desperate passengers live their lives in the ruins of ballrooms, crew areas, restaurants, and empty swimming pools. Rival gangs maintain a fragile truce, overseen by a sadistic administrator from the Federated States, and the current captain of the ship. Passengers fall in love, start families, and educate their children within sight of the shore, with no hope of reaching land. It’s a brilliant dystopian premise, and a gripping read.

The story follows Esther and Alex, teenage passengers who were born on the Arcadia, as they train to be medics. The top students in their class will be allowed to go ashore to complete their training and begin new lives. Esther and Alex are planning to marry on board and leave together, finally completing their families’ journeys across the Atlantic.

Esther’s older sister, May, is working towards her own escape, as a member of the military cadets. If she keeps out of trouble, she will be recruited into the on-shore military, and given the chance to make her own new life on land. But her friend Nik is part of the resistance, and while May tries hard to protect her family, it is only a matter of time until Esther and Alex find themselves tangled in gang rivalries and rebel plots – everything they need to avoid if they are going to make it off the boat.

Narration is shared between Esther, Nik, and Hadley – the deliciously nasty administrator who is desperate to impress his superiors enough to earn a placement on land. As Esther’s experiences develop her understanding of the politics of the Arcadia, the reader learns along with her, and the complexity and fragility of her position in shipboard society become dangerously clear.

As the story progresses and the plot twists kick in, we follow the narrators through acts of friendship and bravery, heartbreak, betrayal, and adventure. The action sequences are tightly written and exciting, and there are no guarantees of safety for any of the characters. Esther and Alex are respected for their medical knowledge, and it doesn’t take long for their skills to be in demand.

I loved everything about this book – the excellent dystopian premise, the characters and their relationships, and their adventures as they try to make sense of the events of the story. Hadley’s narration is deliciously nasty, Esther struggles with the path she must follow in order to leave ship life behind, and Nik is doing his best to maintain his precarious position on board while protecting the people he loves. The ending is a cliffhanger, and I’m looking forward to the next book. I’m hooked!

The Stranded will be published on July 21st.

Have you read The Stranded? What did you think of the dystopian setting? 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: You Can Trust Me

Title: You Can Trust Me
Author: Gina Blaxill
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

Foul is Fair meets A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder in this gripping read, as featured in the April Paper Orange YA Book Box.

Alana is the new girl – at her school and in the small town she’s moved to with her mother and brother. A New Year party seems like a great place to meet people, but not everyone is there to make new friends. When her childhood best friend is found unconscious, Alana realises that the attacker is at the party – and that she was supposed to be the target.

It’s a great setup for a story full of plot twists, surprises, and dangerous amateur sleuthing. The starting point is an attempted sexual assault, and Alana must decide which of the local rugby club boys she can trust as she tries to piece together the events of the party. Everyone has secrets, everyone holds a piece of the puzzle, and there’s a history of suicides and murders in the spot where her friend was found.

Alana finds herself dismissed by the police investigating the attack, and frustrated by their lack of progress. Investigating the crime herself feels like the only solution, and she quickly discovers that someone involved doesn’t appreciate the attention. Figuring out who is behind the threats, lies, and rumours throws Alana into danger, and the reader into the heart of the story.

I couldn’t put this book down. I read more than half in one sitting, and I couldn’t wait to come back and read the rest. It’s a clever mix of detective-style interpretation of evidence, networking with Alana’s new friends to pick up on gossip and rumours, and a very human process of uncovering the people behind the gossip. Reputations matter, but as Alana follows the clues to track down the attacker, she discovers that not all reputations are deserved.

Is she trusting the right people, and can she believe what they tell her? I highly recommend diving in and finding out!

Have you read You Can Trust Me? What did you think of Alana’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!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Four (Divergent #4)

Title: Four (Divergent #4)
Author: Veronica Roth
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

It’s been ages since I read the Divergent Trilogy – devoured it, in fact – but I never got round to reading Four. Following a recommendation from my YA-reading niece (thank you!), I finally completed the series – and I’m very pleased I did!

The final Divergent book contains four short stories, along with three pivotal scenes from the trilogy, all narrated by Four/Tobias. It’s a great insight into a favourite character’s perspective, feelings, and back story.

In ‘The Transfer’, Four tells the story of his Choosing Ceremony, and the home life that led him to transfer from Abnegation to Dauntless. His journey deliberately shadows Tris’s transfer in ‘Divergent’, but gives another perspective on why someone might leave their community to start a new life in another faction. It adds depth to his background and motivations, and provides new glimpses into the politics and dangers of life in Dauntless.

‘The Initiate’ develops the political insights as Four works to impress his instructors, hide his responses to the simulations, and find his place in his new faction. It’s another story that shadows Tris’s journey, while introducing political elements from her trilogy. Definitely a page-turner.

‘The Son’ explores Four’s inner conflicts as he navigates life in Dauntless while coming to terms with his own background. Turning away from his father, the leader of Abnegation, has consequences he hadn’t expected as Four repeatedly finds his loyalties challenged.

In ‘The Traitor’, Four’s experiences of the politics of Dauntless come together with his doubts about his loyalty and personal safety. We see his side of the developing relationship between Four and Tris, and witness the agonising choices he must make to protect the people he cares about.

In the three bonus scenes, it is a joy to see events from Divergent through Four’s eyes, and to read about his first impressions of Tris when she arrives in Dauntless to begin her training.

I’m so glad I read this book. Jumping back into the world of the Divergent trilogy was like meeting up with old friends, and the new perspective only added to the wonderful worldbuilding, and my sympathy and understanding of the characters.

Have you read Four? What did you think of Four’s side of the Divergent 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 Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)

Title: The Wolf and the Water (Deluge #1)
Author: Josie Jaffrey
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Inspired by the legend of Atlantis, The Wolf and the Water is the exciting first instalment in Josie Jaffrey’s first non-vampire fantasy series.

Kepos is an isolated city, surrounded by impassable cliffs and the Eastern Sea, and protected by a high wall at the head of the valley. The Priests maintain the wall – the barrier, they say, between the valley of the living and the souls of the dead. Kepos is ruled by the Dekocracy, ten aristocratic families who share control of the wealth, power, and politics, from the respected Tauros clan to the tenth-level Glauks. Their children are expected to marry into other aristocratic families, and raise their status if they can.

Kala has two disadvantages in Kepos. She’s a Glauks – the lowest of the Dekocratic families – and her damaged leg means that she walks with a cane. The other Dekocrats would have disowned her, but her father refused. Instead, he taught her to read, and recognised her intelligence and humanity. Everyone agrees that she will never be able to marry. As a disabled girl from Glauks, she knows that none of the other families would allow the match. She spends her time in her father’s library, or escaping to swim in secret, sustained by her relationship with Melissa, one of the Glauks slaves.

When Kala’s father is killed, everything changes. As his only child, she is the Glauks heir, and a possible marriage partner for the younger son of another family. Her mother’s remarriage casts doubt on her status, and brings a cruel stepfather into her house – along with a new step brother and sister who both embrace Kala as a full member of their family.

But Kala is preoccupied with solving the mystery of her father’s death. She suspects the priests, and her questions bring her closer to the wall that protects everything she knows. Is it really holding back the souls of the dead, or is there something more dangerous behind it? Discovering more about her own family only raises more questions about Kepos, its place in the world, and the threat building behind the wall.

It’s a complex story, with plenty of effective worldbuilding and character development. Kala is a sympathetic protagonist, and following her journey from rejected child to Glauks heir and beyond is an emotional experience. Her relationships – with Melissa, with her mother, and with the new members of her family – are vividly drawn and entirely engrossing. She faces constant danger from the other Dekocrats, and constant uncertainty about her own status and safety, but her determination to survive matches her determination to find a place for herself in Kepos in spite of her disability.

The action and the tension build throughout the book, coming to a heart-stopping climax as Kala puts the pieces of her story together. The books ends on a spectacular cliffhanger, opening up enticing possibilities for the rest of the series. I can’t wait for book two!

Have you read The Wolf and The Water? What did you think of Kala’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!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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