YA Review: Pretties

Title: Pretties
Author: Scott Westerfield
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Tally and Shay are living in New Pretty Town, but when a friend from their past arrives with surprising news, Tally is once again forced to decide how – and where – she wants to build a life, and where her loyalties lie.

Pretties is a great follow-up to Uglies, showing the reader life in New Pretty Town from the inside, and giving us an understanding of the characters’ choices – who chooses to become Pretty, who chooses to stay, and what might persuade them to leave. Once again, Tally provides a relatable point of view for the reader. We understand her motivations as we follow her life as a Pretty, and her surprise when she is offered an alternative to the easy, luxurious lifestyle of New Pretty Town.

The alternative proves to be more complicated than Tally expected, and as she discovers more about the world beyond New Pretty Town she begins to understand her place in the rigid structure of her society. Where the first book introduced Tally and her friends to the idea of living outside the society they grew up in, Pretties brings another dimension to the ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups, and what might make people reject the expected progression from Ugly to Pretty, and on to employment, family, and children.

There’s plenty of adventure and danger, and the ever-present threat of the Specials keeps Tally from fully enjoying her life, even in New Pretty Town. The bad guys are still scary and believable, and we learn more about their motivations as Tally uncovers the complexities of the wider world. Old friends return, and old grudges shape new relationships as the worlds of the Pretties and those who escaped collide.

Pretties is a fast-paced, gripping read with a breathtaking cliffhanger ending. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Have you read Pretties? What did you think of Tally’s choices in the second book? Would you have done the same? 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: Uglies

Title: Uglies
Author: Scott Westerfield
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Tally and Peris have been best friends forever. The three-month gap between them has never been a problem, until Peris turns sixteen and has the operation. He is transformed from an Ugly to a Pretty, and moves with the other sixteen-year-olds to New Pretty Town. He promises to keep in touch, but Tally only receives one brief message from her friend. With three months to go before her own operation, she’s desperate to see Peris again, even though Uglies are banned from New Pretty Town.

While she waits for her birthday, Tally meets another Ugly who is also counting down the days until she turns sixteen – but Shay isn’t like Tally. She doesn’t want to go through the operation and become someone else’s idea of pretty. There’s no way to escape the operation without running away, but Shay has a plan, and somewhere to run to. As she spends time with Shay, Tally is torn between the friend who abandoned her, and the friend who wants to leave the city for good.

Uglies is an engaging YA dystopia that takes a critical look at what it means to grow up. Do you live your best life by conforming, changing yourself to fit in, and living in luxury – or by staying true to yourself, and working hard to survive outside the society that won’t accept you as you are? The author is careful to present a balanced choice. New Pretty Town is a place of constant parties where everything – food, drink, shelter, clothing – is provided and the biggest concern is wearing the right outfit in order to fit in. It sounds like a fun place to live, and the Pretties certainly seem to enjoy their lives. Living outside the city is hard work. Food must be hunted or grown, clothes must be made by hand, and surviving every day involves hard physical work. Tally is genuinely torn between her two possible futures, and her two best friends, and it is easy to see what makes her uncertain.

Tally is a relatable main character, trying to make the right decisions at every point in the story. She doesn’t always succeed, but she understands that living with those decisions might mean taking brave actions to make up for her mistakes. The characters around her feel real, and her relationships with them are not always straightforward. As she faces the decisions she must make as she reaches her sixteenth birthday, Tally’s doubts and uncertainties are entirely understandable, driving the story to unexpected places. The bad guys are scary without ever slipping into cartoon-villain territory, and the world building is just detailed enough to create a believable dystopian setting.

I enjoyed Uglies, and picked up the second book in the series as soon as I’d turned the final page.

Have you read Uglies? What did you think of Tally’s story? Would you have made the same choices? 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: Archivist Wasp

Title: Archivist Wasp
Author: Nicole Kornher-Stace
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

I picked up this book because the author described it as ‘zero-romance YA’, and as someone who writes friendship-based YA I wanted to experience someone else’s take on non-romantic relationships. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that I loved it – I loved the story, I loved the characters, and I loved the die-for-each-other friendships.

Archivist Wasp hunts ghosts in a world haunted by a terrible past. A war created the Waste, and destroyed a civilisation. For hundreds of years, an Archivist has protected her town from ghosts – hunting them, catching them, studying them, and destroying them. But every year, the Archivist must fight other girls to retain her title – and it is always a fight to the death.

Wasp has retained her title for the last three years. The book’s Prologue throws the reader directly into high-stakes action, as she fights for her life and a fourth year as Archivist. The danger feels absolutely real, and from the first page we understand what Wasp is fighting for.

Life as an Archivist is hard. The people she is protecting leave offerings to make sure she is fed and clothed, but no one will socialise with her. The only people she can spend time with are the priest, who steals her offerings and hunts her down when she tries to escape, and the upstarts, who spend their lives preparing to defeat her and take her job. When she meets a ghost who needs her help, she sees a way out of her isolated existence. Together they set out on a journey that will change them both.

Wasp is an interesting character. She earned her name in the fight she won to become Archivist, and throughout the story she shows a determination to survive, and to make life better for herself. She’s not always entirely likeable, but she is completely understandable. She has come from a harsh background and a community that relies on her while pushing her to the edges of survival.

Her relationship with the ghost develops during their journey. There is never any hint of romance or attraction – they both have a job to do, and a goal to reach, and they do everything they can to protect each other on the way. This is a relationship of friendship and respect, and of a gradual building of trust for two characters who usually work alone. The friendship feels authentic, and it is wonderful to read the story and live through the development of trust and understanding between Wasp and the ghost.

The world building is subtle and effective. There’s no infodumping, and we know enough about the post-apocalyptic society to understand Wasp’s motivations and decisions without heavy-handed descriptions or back story. Throughout their journey, the reader discovers more about the setting through the experiences of the two travellers, ensuring that we feel fully immersed in the action and the plot.

There’s a place for romance in YA books, but there is also a place for life-changing friendship. I loved this book, and the lives-on-the-line relationship between the characters. More like this, please!

Have you read Archivist Wasp? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the emphasis on friendship instead of romance? 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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Cover Reveal!

The Battle Ground Series Books 1-3 Bargain Box Set has had a makeover! We’re testing the new covers with new Amazon Ads and hoping to tempt some new readers who enjoy YA Dystopian stories.

We love our original covers, but we asked a marketing specialist to take a look at our books, and they suggested using covers that are a better fit for the YA Dystopia genre.

Book covers on Amazon are extremely genre-specific. YA Fantasy? You’ll need a young woman dressed in black, facing the reader, with a suggestion of magic going on around her. YA Romance? You’ll probably want cutesy handwriting for the title, and plenty of pink. YA Dystopia? A young person facing away from the reader, possibly armed, probably looking at the ruins of their civilisation.

Rather than change all our covers, we’ve decided to test the new designs on the Books 1-3 Box Set. So here it is! The new-look Kindle box set, featuring ruined buildings, a character walking away from the reader, and some almost-correct Home Forces body armour.

We’d love to know what you think!

YA Review: Jade Fire Gold

Title: Jade Fire Gold
Author: June C.L. Tan
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Set in a fantasy world inspired by Chinese history, Jade Fire Gold is an exciting adventure story. The author combines recognisable aspects of Chinese culture with the South-East Asian myths and legends she grew up with, and the result is a gorgeously imagined world, a strong plot, and an engaging cast of characters. The magical elements add excitement to the central storyline and the setting, which feels like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or The Last Airbender on the page instead of the screen.

Ahn lives with her grandmother in a small desert town. The desert is spreading, and survival in town is a struggle. The Diyeh priests are ruthless in their control over the use of magic, and the people live in fear of their punishments. When Ahn discovers her own magical powers, she finds herself on a terrifying journey, leaving everything – and everyone – she knows behind.

Altan is a wanderer with a dangerous secret. He’s the heir to the Dragon Throne, and he’s safe as long as everyone thinks he was killed along with his family when his Uncle took the throne.

Altan wants revenge on the Emperor’s family for the death of his parents and his sister. Ahn’s powers might be the key to his success. After a chance meeting in the desert, Ahn and Altan find themselves on a mission to find the White Jade Sword – the magical artefact that could conquer the desert and restore Altan to the throne.

There’s a lot to unpack in this book. Ahn and Altan have their own stories, motivations, and plotlines, and it was refreshing to read a quest story where the two main characters embark on their journey for different reasons. This isn’t a story about a hero and a sidekick – both storylines are equally important, and there is a constant tension as their motivations clash, and they have to decide how much to trust each other.

The secondary characters are complex and interesting. From Ahn’s grandmother and Altan’s travelling companions to the Crown Prince and Altan’s childhood friends, everyone has a role in the story, and an individual voice.

The magical elements of the story are introduced and described with a healthy sense of wonder. The system of magic feels real, while inspiring a sense of awe in the reader. The author is channelling every martial arts film and every immortal hero TV series she has seen, and making it work on the page.

This is a gripping read with a gorgeous setting, a wonder-filled magical system, and relatable, interesting characters. If you’re a fan of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or The Last Airbender aesthetic, this book takes those visuals and works its own magic to put them into words.

Jade Fire Gold will be published on November 4th. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read Jade Fire Gold? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the magical 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: Dumplin’

Title: Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
5/5

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, and I’m so glad I picked it up. As a plus-size non-beauty-queen I could relate to every part of this story – the body positivity, the doubts, and the level of attitude needed to put yourself out there and take part in a competition that was always intended to exclude you.

Willowdean is the plus-size daughter of a former beauty queen. Her mother organises the local beauty pageant every year, but she can’t bring herself to accept her daughter’s looks and choices, constantly dropping hints about losing weight. When Willowdean and her friends realise there is nothing in the pageant rules to stop them from taking part, they club together and support each other in their bid for the title of Miss Teen Blue Bonnet.

I loved Willowdean – I loved her body positivity, and her drive to include everyone in the pageant. I even enjoyed the romance (YA contemporary romance is not my comfort zone!), and I completely understood Willow’s doubts when someone she finds attractive shows an interest in her. The two potential love interests were both interesting characters, and as Willow experienced dating both of them her reactions felt real and her confusion entirely justified.

Willow is also grieving the loss of her aunt – the only person in her family who accepted her as she is. As she discovers more about her aunt’s life, the different threads of the story begin to overlap. Best friends, romance, Dolly Parton, beauty queens, and support from unexpected places combine to form a strong, relatable plot with a few surprising twists and turns on the way to the night of the pageant.

By the end, I was cheering for Willow and her friends, but it was less about winning the pageant, and more about being loud, proud, and showing people who you really are. I think this is a must-read, whether or not you have beauty queen aspirations. It’s a neat, engaging story with a believable cast of characters, and an uncompromisingly positive outlook. I loved it.

Have you read Dumplin‘? What did you think of Willowdean’s story? Of all the wonderful characters, who was your favourite? 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: As Good As Dead

Title: As Good As Dead (A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder #3)
Author: Holly Jackson
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
5/5

The final book in the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy was a must-read for me. I enjoyed the first two books, and I was looking forward to meeting schoolgirl detective Pip Fitz-Amobi, her boyfriend Ravi, her wonderfully supportive family, and the residents of Little Kilton again for another investigation.

Pip isn’t intending to investigate another local mystery. She’s heading to university in Cambridge at the end of the summer, and she is still haunted by memories of her two previous cases. But when she unearths a connection between events in Little Kilton and a convicted serial killer, she can’t resist digging deeper.

Throughout the book her relationship with Ravi continues to develop, and they make an adorable couple. It is wonderful to see the friends she’s made, and the people she’s helped during her investigations come together to support her – but she’s made enemies as well as friends, and her list of local suspects keeps growing.

The case quickly becomes personal, and the stakes are higher than ever as Pip works to connect the fragments of evidence and find out what really happened – and who is threatening her as she goes public with another true-crime podcast.

I’ve enjoyed all three books in the series, but this is definitely the best. We are drawn into Pip’s investigation, and to the danger she faces. There are some truly heart-pounding scenes, and plenty of tension, deception, and eureka moments. Pip’s reactions to her previous cases and the lasting trauma she carries with her feel real – she’s not a hard-boiled detective, and we never lose sight of the fact that she’s still a teenager, at the very beginning of her adult life. As she unearths evidence, she is also discovering which adults, and which authority figures, can be trusted – and who has something to hide.

You’ll need to read the first two books in order to understand the context for this story, but the series is perfect for binge reading. Highly recommended!

Have you read As Good As Dead? What did you think of the final book in the series? Do you want more from Pip, or are you happy that the story ends here? 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: Wonderland

Title: Wonderland
Author: Juno Dawson
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

A retelling of Alice in Wonderland with a transgender narrator and a cast of rich kids enjoying sex, drugs, and murder at London’s most exclusive party.

Alice is trying to fit in at her very expensive girls’ school. She’s the first transgender girl at St Agnes, and outside the staff room no one is supposed to know. She’s also the daughter of a successful novelist, so her New Money background sets her apart from the Old Money heiresses in her classes. When her friend Bunny goes missing, Alice discovers an invitation to Wonderland among her belongings. With no idea what she is heading into, and armed only with a credit card and a designer disguise, Alice uses the invitation. She throws herself down the rabbit hole and into an exclusive Old Money world where anything can happen, and the usual rules don’t apply.

Wonderland is an extravagant party. Alice feels like an outsider from the start, hiding behind her disguise and trying to look as if she was invited. People keep judging her on her outfit, trying to work out who she is and whether she is on the guest list, and she constantly invents lies to justify her presence. As she explores the party, always looking for Bunny, Alice meets some familiar characters – a top-hatted boy at a drug-laced tea party, twins who spike her drink and try to assault her in a hot tub, another gatecrasher dressed as a cat who keeps turning up when she needs help, and the Red Queen, who controls everything at her own private party.

Alice’s anxiety about being discovered as an imposter in Wonderland parallels her anxiety about being outed at school. The tricks she plays at the party – with clothes, her avoidance of questions, and avoiding detection – mirror the measures she takes in real life to keep anyone from questioning her gender. Alice is right to be concerned – Wonderland is a dangerous place, and her secrets are not as safe as she believes. But Wonderland is also a place of freedom from everyday rules, and Alice finds acceptance as well as threats at the party. The two consensual sexual encounters in the book affirm her gender, and demonstrate other people’s acceptance of the body she is trying to change. Her partners are kind, attractive, and attracted to her, even when she feels self conscious and out of step with her physical appearance.

This retelling of a familiar story as a fable about identity, navigating written and unwritten rules, and finding your value when other people want to exclude you. It is an effective use of the Alice in Wonderland concept, with the dream-logic of the original mirrored in the drug-fueled, alternative reality of the party. Alice is an engaging narrator – smart, funny, and determined to claim her place in the world without apologising for who she is. It’s a refreshing, affirming read, with a relatable transgender narrator and positive portrayals of characters of a range of genders, sexualities, races, and class backgrounds. Like Alice after the party, I’m still trying to process everything that happened, and how I feel about it. There’s a lot going on here, and the themes will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt as if they didn’t fit in. A feel-good book about assault, discrimination and murder? Anything’s possible when you fall down the rabbit hole …

Have you read Wonderland? What did you think of the story? Do you think it worked as a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland? 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: Bearmouth

Title: Bearmouth
Author: Liz Hyder
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Newt is one of the Bearmouth boys, living and working deep underground to mine coal for the Master. It’s hard to make a living in the mine – Newt has to pay for boots and candles, and send money home to his mother. He can’t afford the cost of the trip to the surface, so he’s stuck underground with his work team. The boys and men who share his dorm are his Bearmouth family, looking out for each other in a dangerous environment, and keeping each other’s secrets. Thomas takes care of the younger boys, and teaches them to write – and this allows Newt to tell his story.

Bearmouth is a book about friendship, loyalty, identity and rebellion. So far, so YA – but it is Newt’s distinctive voice that sets this story apart. The book is written in first person present tense, and narrated using Newt’s attempts at phonetic spelling. As with any phonetically transcribed book, the first few pages are hard to engage with, as the reader attempts to find the voice behind the unfamiliar words. Thanks to the skill of the author, and a careful balance between misspelled words, expressive dialect, and the cadences of Newt’s storytelling, it doesn’t take long to tune in and hear the narrator’s voice as you read.

It’s a captivating voice. Newt is good at his job, and he tries hard to learn his letters with Thomas, but there is so much he doesn’t understand. There is pressure on the Master to open up more of the mine and produce more coal, which makes Bearmouth a dangerous place to live and work. As the realities of his world come into focus through the events of the story, the injustice that is obvious to the reader becomes clearer to Newt and his friends.

The book doesn’t pull its punches. There are scenes of violence, and scenes that hint at the constant threat of violence that surrounds Newt and his work team. There are deaths and disappearances, mining accidents, fights, and abuses of power. Newt’s dorm feels like the only place of safety in a mine full of violent men, and this danger draws the reader into the story.

This is a captivating story, engagingly told. The reader can’t help but sympathise with Newt, and the actions he takes in order to survive. Stick with the first few pages, and you are rewarded with Newt’s unique voice and growing understanding of the world around him. Follow Newt into the dark, and you’ll be cheering him on as the danger closes in.

Definitely worth a read.

Have you read Bearmouth? Did you enjoy the story? What did you think of the Newt’s narration? 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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