YA Review: Enchantée

Title: Enchantée
Author: Gita Trelease
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

Camille and her sister are struggling to survive in Paris in 1789. Orphaned by smallpox and exploited by their drunk, gambling-addicted brother, Camille and Sophie must find a way to pay the rent and buy food. Sophie is a talented hat-maker, but her earnings are not enough to cover their costs. Reluctantly, Camille begins to work the magic her mother taught her. Turning scrap metal into coins pays for essentials, but the coins don’t hold their shape. When Camille discovers the tools to work more powerful spells, she follows her brother into the dangerous world of gambling at Versailles. Disguised as a Baroness, she makes friends among the aristocrats of the palace, and learns to earn a living from their games of cards. But magic requires sacrifce, and Camille discovers how hard it is to walk away from the gambling table, and from her friends. As Paris moves towards revolution, Camille must keep herself safe as her family life and her double life at court collide.

In Enchantée, Gita Trelease paints a vivid picture of Paris in the early stages of revolution. The details – from fashion, politics, the experience of poverty, and the texture of the city to the manners and expectations of the aristocrats at Versailles – are carefully researched and beautifully woven into the story. Magic is explained as a secret skill, passed down through aristocratic families, but used at great personal cost. The magic used by Camille feels real, and dangerous. It takes practice to perfect the spells, it doesn’t always work as intended, and it always requires sorrow to work at all.

Camille is an interesting character. She does what needs to be done to keep herself and her sister safe, but the secrets she keeps from the people around her grow more complicated and dangerous as she moves deeper into the court at Versailles. The story is told from Camille’s point of view, but with third-person past-tense narration. While I found the book engaging, I also felt that the story moved very slowly, probably because of the detachment of a third-person past-tense narrative.

I loved Camille, I loved Sophie, and I loved Lazare – the daring aeronaut with his ground-breaking hot air balloon. I enjoyed the intrigue of Camille’s double life, growing in complexity against the background of mounting political upheaval. I enjoyed the cameo appearances of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and getting to meet the very human aristocrats of Versailles. The history of the French Revolution is usually told from the point of view of the winners, so it makes a change to see the build up to revolution through the eyes of the rulers who lose everything when the people turn against them. The author uses aristocratic magic as a metaphor for the pre-revolution power of the court, adding to the tension and danger of political change.

Enchantée is an engaging story with a strong and sympathetic female protagonist, set in richly imagined and gorgeously described historical locations, and told with an enchanting dash of magic.

Have you read Enchantée? What did you think? Did you find Camille’s story engaging? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!

Review 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: Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1)

Title: Shatter Me (Shatter Me #1)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 3/5

This was good. It kept me reading – over breakfast, over lunch, and way past my bedtime. I kept intending to stop, but then reading just one more chapter, and then another.

Juliette is 17, and locked away from the world. She’s in an asylum – the only place her touch can’t hurt another person. Abandoned by her family when she is locked away for murder, she has no contact with the people who control her life. But the murder was an accident – she can’t control what happens when she touches another person’s skin, and now someone wants to use her as a weapon.

At the start of the book, Juliette is frightened and alone. She’s practising speaking, because she hasn’t spoken to anyone else for months. She has learned how to survive in her solitary confinement, but she’s desperate for human contact. Over the course of the book, she learns to take back control over her life. She learns to stand up for herself, and she learns who to trust, and who to fight. She’s an interesting character – strong, but damaged by the guilt she carries for the death she caused, and by the rejection of everyone she cared about. The first-person present-tense narrative makes her story immediate and intense.

As Juliette changes and develops, so does the writing style. At first, many of the sentences are crossed out. She seems confused, her thoughts often contradictory and extreme. She uses odd turns of phrase and jarring similies and metaphors to describe her feelings and experiences. As the story develops, there are fewer crossed out sections. As she grows in confidence, her thoughts become clearer. It’s an original and experimental writing style, and it helps to immerse the reader in Juliette’s world, and her state of mind.

The dystopian world is clearly imagined, as is the process of societal collapse. The supporting characters are likeable and just complex enough to keep you guessing at who can be trusted, and who is a threat. If I have one complaint, it’s that some of the things things that happen to the characters feel a little too contrived, the violence a little gratuitous, pushing an otherwise horrifying antagonist towards cartoonish levels of enjoyment.

That said, I finished ‘Shatter Me’, and immediately ordered the sequel. This is the first book of a series, and it feels like an introduction to a larger story. It was an easy, quick read, but I’m hooked, and I want to know what happens next.

Have you read Shatter Me? What did you think of the story? Were you, like me, in a hurry to find out what happens next? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!

Review 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: Collision (Phobos #3)

Title: Collision (Phobos #3)
Author: Victor Dixen (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Edition: Paperback, Hot Key Books
Rating: 3.5/5

The sequel to Ascension and Distortion (reviewed on GoodReads) left me alternately cheering and shouting at the page. A great plot, a relatable central character, and some serious tension – brought down by a plot point I couldn’t accept, some terrible science, and an ending that left too many elements unresolved.

I’ll start with the positives. Collision continues the story from the first two books, picking up from the final scene of Distortion and exploring the consequences of the betrayal that marked the climax of Book 2. The twelve teenagers who took part in the speed-dating reality TV show on their way to Mars in Ascension are living in the Martian base, married, and working to extend the base to accommodate the contestants from Season 2. Faced with the revelations from the end of Distortion, the colonists have to decide how to respond, and how they want their new Martian society to develop. As they consider their actions, they are all aware that their decisions will set a precedent for the future running of the base.

Meanwhile, on Earth, their support network is under threat. The portrayal of the powerful antagonist becomes even more extreme and cartoonish, provoking international hostility, and putting the future of the colony at risk. There is deception on Earth and on Mars, and everyone is hiding something. As the secrets are uncovered, and the truth threatens lives on both planets, the stakes are raised for a nail-biting conclusion.

There is less of the body-shaming and sexism in Collision than in the previous books, which made it easier to read without shouting at the pages. The story moves on from the excitement of the speed-dating to the realities of long-term relationships, and long-term Martian settlement. There are serious clashes and disagreements between the colonists, and serious consequences – but there are also opportunities for them to stand together and defend each other when faced with unreasonable demands from Earth. The terrible science is back, but I was happy to ignore the details in order to follow the story. My major complaint is with the betrayal that ends Distortion and begins Collision. I could not bring myself to accept the severity of the confession – not at the end of Book 2, and not as the consequences played out in Book 3. I found that I had to ignore my doubts, and accept that the characters felt betrayed – even if I couldn’t see why. Once I accepted the premise, the plot kept me engaged. I cared about the characters, I cared about the story, and I cared about the mounting threats to the mission.

Which makes the ending so much worse. Collision kept the story exciting and engaging for a hefty 723 pages. It kept me interested, and it kept me reading. But on page 723? The story doesn’t end. One section of the story draws to a close, but nothing is resolved. The beliefs of the Mars cult, introduced in Collision, are unexplored. The illness of one of the colonists remains undiagnosed and incurable. The final page is the setup for a sequel.

And there’s the problem. There is a sequel, if you’re reading in French. Phobos 4 tells the next part of the story. The blurb is on the French publisher’s web page, and the book has 4.5-star reviews on GoodReads – but it hasn’t been translated. On the back covers of all three books published in the UK, there are images of the first three books, suggesting that the series is a trilogy.

It isn’t. So – Victor Dixen, Daniel Hahn, and Hot Key Books – we need Phobos 4! I may have a love/hate relationship with the Phobos books, but I need to know how the story ends! It’s that, or I polish up my A-level French and see how much I can read without a translation. Wish me luck …

Have you read the Phobos series? What did you think of the story – and what did you think of the ending? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!

Review 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: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)

Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust #1)
Author: Philip Pullman
Edition: Audiobook
Rating: 4/5

It’s ages since I read ‘His Dark Materials’, so I was concerned that I wouldn’t remember enough about the story to engage with the first book in the prequel trilogy, ‘The Book of Dust’.

I needn’t have worried. The first chapter introduces most of the story’s main elements (including La Belle Sauvage, the canoe of the title). The differences between the modern world and the world of the story are introduced gradually, and act as reminders if you’ve read the later books, or gentle worldbuilding for readers new to the series. The fantastical elements of the story are introduced and explained through the characters and their conversations, so nothing feels like an infodump.

The protagonist is eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead, whose life revolves around working at his parents’ inn in Oxford, helping the nuns in the priory across the river, exploring the river in his beloved canoe, and going to school. He’s an engaging character – curious, serious, and more at home in the adult world than with his school friends. He maintains his canoe, helps the caretaker at the priory with carpentry and repairs, and helps the nuns with their work, always quick to learn and apply his skills.

And he needs those skills. When a catastrophic flood hits Oxford, Malcolm’s adventure begins. With realistic and fantastical elements, and Pullman’s trademark critique of organised religion, the book builds to a tense climax. The links to ‘His Dark Materials’ become evident during the story, and by the final scenes the connection between the trilogies is clear.

It’s a good story – slow to build at first, but always interesting. There are moments of intense action, and moments of fear and danger, but most of the book focuses on Malcolm, his resourcefulness, and his relationships with the people around him. I’m looking forward to Book 2.

I listened to the story as an audiobook, so I should mention the narration. Michael Sheen is a fantastic narrator, capturing the day-to-day activities of Malcolm’s life while bringing an intense sense of drama to the exciting parts of the story. I don’t usually buy audiobooks, but I really enjoyed listening to Malcolm’s adventures over breakfast every morning. I’m planning to have Michael Sheen read the sequels to me as well!

Have you read La Belle Sauvage? What did you think? How would you rate it? And how do you think it compares with ‘His Dark Materials’? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and let us know what you think!

Review 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.

Read a lot and write a lot: the role of reviews

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

Stephen King, On Writing

What makes a good writer?

That’s a big question. Is it a talent you’re born with, or a skill you can learn? Is it your ideas, or your storytelling – or your characters?

I think it is all these things. I think it is talent and hard work. I think it is learning how to frame your ideas, how to build your stories, and how to connect with your characters.

And how do you learn these things? You write. You write again. And you write some more.

But you know what else you need to do?

Read. A lot.

Reading

This is my recent reading pile. These are books that have gripped and inspired me. Books that have crept into my mind, pulled up a chair, and refused to leave.

I’ve thought about them. I’ve analysed them. I’ve turned back through the pages, looking for the source of the magic.

And I’ve written reviews.

Writing

Reviews are partly for the audience. They are partly to show other readers what I enjoyed about the books, and what I loved about them. To inspire other people to read and enjoy them.

And they are partly for me.

They give me a reason and an opportunity to think about ideas, story, and character. They push me to figure out how other writers communicate their stories, and their ideas. They force me to put my feelings about a book into words, and to understand where the magic comes from.

They help me to improve my ideas, my storytelling, and my characters.

GoodReads

You’ll find my YA reviews on GoodReads. I read as much as I can, and I review what I read. It helps other authors – I’m promoting their books, after all – but it also helps readers to find me. If you like reading what I like reading, you’ll probably enjoy the books I write!

In writing reviews of my books, readers can help expose them to a wider audience.

We’re all helping each other. The books I read and the reviews I write help me to be a better writer. The reviews I write help readers to find new authors and new books to add to their reading piles. And the reviews you write take my books – and all the books you write about – to new readers.

Over to you

If you’ve read Making Trouble, my FREE novella, I hope you enjoyed it. I hope it crept into your mind and pulled up a chair, and I hope you found yourself caring about Toph and Nasrin and Alec and Charlie and Rob.

If you did, I’d like to ask a favour.

Write me a review. It doesn’t have to be long, and it doesn’t have to be detailed. Tell other readers what you liked about the book – or what you didn’t like! Don’t spoil the story or give away the plot, but let other readers know what to expect. Add your voice to the reviews on GoodReads or LibraryThing, or your favourite review site, and use the comments section below to tell us about it.

You’ll be sending me feedback, which is always helpful. You’ll be holding a book you’ve enjoyed out to other readers, and influencing what they choose to read next. And you’ll be figuring out for yourself what I did with my ideas, my story, and my characters.

Whether you’re a reader or a writer, that can only be a good thing.


Click through to the full blog to access the comments section. 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.

Desert Island Books

This week at Taller Books, we’re wondering about Desert Island Books. If you were marooned on a desert island, which three YA books would you take with you?

Book image from Pexels.com

This is such a difficult question! It would be hard to choose ten books to pack in a desert island bag – but three?

My choices

If I had to pick my three books right now, I think I’d go for A Sky Painted Gold by Laura Wood, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, and This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada. That way I’d have a quirky YA romance, a historical LGBT adventure, and a futuristic YA dystopia to choose from – along with some fantastic strong characters to keep me company on my island.

But then again … maybe I should grab The Hunger Games trilogy instead. Or the Divergent trilogy. Who better to inspire me to survive on the island than Katniss or Tris?

Or maybe I should go old-school, and take the first three of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, and escape into a world of magic and dragons with Archmage Ged.

It’s impossible. I can’t choose.

Your turn!

What about you? What would you take? Use the comments to tell us which books you couldn’t live without!

We’d love to hear your recommendations, but please remember to keep them YA appropriate. Please be patient – comments are moderated, and may take some time to appear.

Disaster and Recovery

It’s been an interesting evening at Taller Books. We’ve had so much interest in downloading our FREE BOOK, our website couldn’t handle it! We lost the entire site, and we’ve had to reinstall from a backup. We’ve even lost the blog post from Monday, officially launching the site and the book.

The good news is that we’re back! And we’re so sorry for letting you down. If you’ve tried to download Making Trouble today, the good news is that the link works now.

So – once again, we are very excited to announce the publication of Making Trouble, a Novella in the Battle Ground series.

Novella front cover

Download your FREE copy of Making Trouble – and when you’ve read it, drop by and tell us what you think!

Comments are moderated, so please be patient. We’ll approve comments as quickly as we can. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!