Free Book!

It’s a year since we published Fighting Back, Book Four in the Battle Ground Series, and we’re celebrating with a giveaway! The award-winning Battle Ground, Book One of the Battle Ground Series, is completely FREE to download this weekend!

Find your free download on your local Amazon store, and discover the series that’s ‘raising the standard for YA dystopian fiction’.

Happy birthday, Fighting Back!

Mid-grade book review: Holes

Title: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read forever, and I’m glad I did. It’s a fun book, cleverly written, with an offbeat and playful feel. The story begins with Stanley Yelnats’ arrival at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention centre in the middle of the Texas wilderness. He’s innocent, but the absurd events that led to his arrest ensure that no one believes him.

Camp Green Lake is supposed to build character by requiring the boys to dig holes in the dry lake bed – one large hole every day – and to report anything interesting they find. But the Warden seems very interested in everything they dig up, and Stanley begins to suspect that his hard labour has less to do with reforming his character, and more to do with finding something the Warden is searching for.

Stanley’s story is told alongside the story of his great-great-grandfather, and the stories of the people who used to live in the vanished town of Green Lake. It’s the details that make the book so much fun to read, and so clever. Some of the historical stories feel like unnecessary, whimsical asides at the start of the book, but as Stanley’s adventure develops, everything starts to drop into place. By the final pages, the reader is left with the wonderful feeling of fitting the last pieces into a jigsaw puzzle, and suddenly seeing the full picture.

It’s a beautiful puzzle of a book, with plenty of tiny moving parts that come together beautifully at the end. It mixes absurdity with engaging, well-drawn characters, a playful style, and a gorgeously detailed plot to create a wonderful reading experience. Very, very well done.

Have you read Holes? What did you think of the story? Did you spot all the connections between 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: The Night Country

Title: The Night Country
Author: Melissa Albert
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

I read The Hazel Wood in 2018, so I’ve been waiting a while to read the sequel. The Hazel Wood is a fascinating urban fantasy, where several of the characters are stories in the fairytale world of the Hinterland, created by the controller of the world, and living out their tales over and over. Alice and Ellery cross into the Hinterland, with the help of a book of fairytales collected by Alice’s grandmother, and their presence disrupts the world, and the stories living there.

The Night Country drops the stories from the Hinterland, with their magical powers and repeated trauma, into present-day New York. Alice finds herself drawn to the other stories as they try to survive in a place without the narrative structure they were created to serve. They find ways to stay hidden, and protect each other – until someone starts murdering stories, and Alice is the most likely suspect. There’s a pattern to the murders, and if Alice can piece together the evidence she might be able to save herself – and everyone else.

I enjoyed The Hazel Wood, but I found it hard to connect with Alice as a character. I found The Night Country much more engaging. The story is much darker, the stakes are higher, and as the plot develops there is real peril and edge-of-the-seat action. In contrast with her dream-like path through The Hazel Wood, Alice has a clear plot to follow in this book, and plenty of opportunities to make the wrong decisions – with disastrous consequences.

This is a very effective sequel to a highly unusual book, and I’m very glad I picked it up.

Have you read The Night Country? 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: Harrow Lake

Title: Harrow Lake
Author: Kat Ellis
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

I don’t normally read horror, by when I read the first couple of chapters of ‘Harrow Lake’ in the 2019 Penguin Box Set YA sampler, I was hooked. After a brief scene-setting chapter, the story begins with a shocking discovery – the narrator discovers her film-director father stabbed and bleeding in his New York office, hours before they are supposed to be moving to France. Lola is sent to stay with her grandmother in the town of Harrow Lake while her father is in hospital, and finds herself trying to make sense of the setting for his most famous film.

‘Nightjar’ is a film with a cult following. Filmed in Harrow Lake, the production was famous for the mysterious disappearance of a cameraman, and for the local actress – Lola’s mother – who went on to marry the director. Lola’s mother played the lead role in the film, but she’s been missing for years. Lola looks just like her mother, especially when she tries on the costumes from the film that she finds in her grandmother’s house. Soon after her arrival, Lola discovers that the annual ‘Nightjar’ festival is about to begin, and fans of the film will be heading to Harrow Lake for parades and events based on their favourite horror movie.

The narrator’s experiences in Harrow Lake become more creepy and unsettling, the longer she stays in town. The residents introduce her to their superstitions about the town, the woods, the caves, and her father’s film. A series of unnerving events forces Lola to question her own memory, and the sanity of the people around her.

Lola is an interesting narrator. She’s not particularly likeable – she’s the spoiled teenage daughter of a rich and famous film director. Her father keeps her out of the spotlight and expects her to follow him around the world as he makes his movies. She’s understandably curious about Harrow Lake, and about anything she can find out about her mother, but she doesn’t listen to the warnings from the residents about going into the woods, or into the caves.

There are plenty of horror elements in the story – spooky puppets and dolls, toys that belonged to Lola’s missing mother, unexplained events, and the chills that go along with exploring the setting of a horror film in the dark. It’s YA appropriate, but if you’ve watched any horror films you’ll be familiar with the ideas in the book. The creepy atmosphere is very well crafted, and there’s a constant sense of something being not quite right with the town and the people Lola meets.

There’s a great twist at the end of the book, and a punch-the-air moment as the story comes together – but it’s not quite enough to give a satisfying conclusion to Lola’s experiences. I’m giving the book three stars, because there are plenty of events that remain unexplained, and I would have liked to learn more about the strange events in Harrow Lake. I can’t help thinking that everything that happens to Lola is connected, and it was frustrating to find that these connections are not entirely explained. Horror fans will probably disagree!

Have you read Harrow Lake? Did you find it scary? 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: Full Disclosure

Title: Full Disclosure
Author: Camryn Garrett
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

This quiet story of a boy, a girl, and her HIV caught my eye because it offered a positive view of living with the virus. Simone is seventeen. HIV postive from birth, she has learned to take responsibility for her own health, and for the safety of the people around her. She attends her hospital checkups and her HIV support group, and takes her medication every day – all without drama. In every other way, she’s a typical high-school student with a passion for musical theatre.

The story follows Simone as she settles into her new high school, making friends and landing the job of directing the school play. She hasn’t told anyone she’s HIV positive, so when she falls for Miles, a boy in the theatre club, she has a decision to make. She was forced to leave her previous high school when someone made her status public, so this time she’s being careful. No one knows about her HIV, but she’s going to have to tell Miles if she’s serious about their relationship.

Simone is a great protagonist. She’s sensible in all the ways that matter, but she’s also brave, assertive, and happy to use fake IDs with her friends when it’s not going to put anyone in danger. She passionate about musicals, and about making the school production of Rent as good as she possibly can. She’s well-informed about sex, and the risks associated with her HIV, and she knows she wants to have a physical relationship with Miles.

There are some wonderful supporting characters, but my favourites are Simone’s adoptive fathers. They decided to adopt an HIV-positive baby after witnessing the effects of HIV and AIDS on the gay community before the development of long-term treatments. They are always alongside her, through her medication, hospital visits, and high-school experiences, and they have an amazingly supportive relationship with their teenage daughter.

This is a small story, about Simone, Miles, and the choices they make. There’s no full-on drama, and no incident that can’t be overcome by Simone, Miles, and her parents and friends. I was expecting more drama, and more heartache – but I guess that’s the point. Being HIV positive isn’t dramatic, and it shouldn’t be the cause of drama and heartache. The author has included a comprehensive list of organisations and resources at the back of the book for readers wanting to find out more about living with HIV. Simone and Miles are great role models for readers with questions about HIV, sex, relationships, and informed consent. This is a story that uses its everyday setting to reinforce Simone’s matter-of-fact reality, and it doesn’t need drama to make its point.

Have you read Full Disclosure? What did you think of Simone’s story? And what about her family? 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 Poet X

Title: The Poet X
Author: Elizabeth Acevedo
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 4/5

This is a powerful book about finding your voice in a world that wants you to be quiet, and finding your path in a family that expects you obey and conform. The story of a poet discovering the power of her words is written in verse, each section delivering a glimpse of the narrator’s life – her relationship with her mother, her rebellion against her religious upbringing, her forbidden friendship with a boy from school. The verses are raw, punching home the desperation of the unread poet, and the speaker without a voice.

Like The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, or On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, this is a book about finding yourself, and finding a way to express who you are, whatever the people around you expect. Xiomara, the narrator, writes in secret about her life and her dreams. She can’t let her family know about her poems, and she has no way to share them, until her English teacher invites her to join the Poetry Club at school. She has to lie to her mother about where she is – she’s supposed to be at her confirmation class at church – but through Poetry Club she discovers spoken word, open mic nights, and performance poets. She finds her voice.

This is a book about heartbreak and recovery, about holding on and letting go, about fighting expectations and demanding to be heard. It’s about family, friendships, and fighting for the things – and the people – you love. It’s gritty and cruel and real. It’s a tough journey with an uplifting message about the power of words, and it’s an inspiring read.

Thank you to NetGalley for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Poet X? What did you think of Xiomara’s story? Were you inspired by her poetry? 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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Bargain box set!

Darkest Hour, Book 3 of the Battle Ground Series, was published a whole year ago. To celebrate, we’re offering the Books 1-3 Kindle Box Set for only 99p/99c TODAY!*

The box set is usually £6.99 / $9.99, so grab yourself a bargain and discover the series that book blogger AyJayPageFarer says is ‘raising the standard for YA dystopian fiction’!

Check out our promotional video!

* US/UK only (Amazon’s rules, not ours!)

YA Review: The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)

Title: The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust #2)
Author: Philip Pullman
Edition: Audiobook
Rating: 4/5

It’s been a while since I listened to the audiobook of La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1), and I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Secret Commonwealth. The ending of La Belle Sauvage tied in neatly with the beginning of Northern Lights, and The Secret Commonwealth picks up Lyra’s story after the His Dark Materials trilogy.

Lyra is twenty, and studying at Oxford. Separated from Pantalaimon after the events of His Dark Materials, she finds herself increasingly at odds with her daemon. When Pan disappears, Lyra sets out to find him. The book tells the story of her journey across Europe in the shadow of a developing conflict in the Middle East, and a power struggle at the heart of the Magisterium. Malcolm Polstead, now a professor at Oxford, sets out on a journey of his own to discover more about the conflict, and about the attacks on rose gardens and rose growers in the desert. Lyra’s journey brings her into contact with refugees from the rose-growing regions, while Malcolm searches for information on the causes of the fighting.

Where La Belle Sauvage was Malcolm’s story, The Secret Commonwealth is Lyra’s adventure. Travelling without a daemon alienates her from the people she meets, and she relies on word-of-mouth connections to find people to help her at every stage of her journey. It’s a long, dangerous journey, and Lyra’s determination, courage, and quick thinking keep her one step ahead of disaster. She’s still an engaging character – intelligent, thoughtful, and resourceful, and while a continuous progression of trains, boats, and places of refuge could be dull in the wrong hands, Pullman manages to keep the reader’s attention. As Lyra crosses Europe, she learns more about the relationships between people and their daemons, and about people who exploit that relationship in various ways. Each stage of her journey feels more dangerous than the last, and there are some edge-of-the-seat moments towards the end of the book as she grows closer to her goal.

As in the previous books, the author creates a believable alternative world where agents of the Magisterium are to be feared, unconventional relationships between humans and daemons are viewed with revulsion, and asking questions about Dust attracts attention from dangerous people. This is an intriguing instalment in Lyra’s story, and I’m looking forward to Volume Three.

I listened to the story as an audiobook, and I’m pleased to say that Michael Sheen continues to be a fantastic narrator. He provides distinct voices for a large cast of characters, conveys the tension between Lyra’s fear and her determination, and brings a sense of drama and danger to the story. I’ll be sticking to the audiobook for Volume Three.

Have you read The Secret Commonwealth? What did you think of Lyra’s story? And what about the people she meets as she travels? 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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