YA Review: Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)

Title: Rebel of the Sands (Rebel of the Sands #1)
Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Deserts! People making a living on the edge of the habitable world! Magic! Escape! Princes! Politics! Rebellion! This book has everything I want in an adventure story, and a strong, brave female protagonist to take me through the action.

And there’s plenty of action. From the opening sequence, where the narrator is disguised as a boy and competing for prize money that would let her escape from her home, to wild horses, trains, and daring rescues. From the opening paragraph, Rebel of the Sands grabbed me and kept me reading.

Amani is an orphan, cared for in her Uncle’s strict patriarchal household in a dead-end desert town. She plans to escape to the city and track down her mother’s family, but when a foreigner arrives in town she has to choose in an instant whether to stay with her friends, or run. As she travels through the desert, she begins to see the larger forces at work in her society. There’s a royal dispute, an occupying army, and a hidden rebellion, and when Amani finds herself hunted by the Sultan’s men, she begins to question everything she knows about her family.

The action-packed ending wraps up part of the story, but promises more excitement in the sequel. I loved Amani – she’s tough, determined, and clever, and her knowledge of the desert and skills with a gun save her companions on more than one occasion. There are plenty of twists and revelations that I didn’t see coming, but which make perfect sense looking back. The book doesn’t pull its punches – people die, women are treated as property, and magical creatures are enslaved by the people of the desert. The danger feels real, and the stakes are high for Amani and her fellow travellers. I can’t wait to find out what happens in Book 2!

Have you read Rebel of the Sands? What did you think of the setting? And what about 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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YA Review: Tomorrow When the War Began (Tomorrow #1)

Title: Tomorrow When the War Began (Tomorrow #1)
Author: John Marsden
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

I loved this book. I’ve seen the film, and I know how close the themes are to my own writing, so I was interested to read it and see how it compared to the big screen version.

And it’s better. Of course it’s better. There’s a strong female Point of View character who narrates the story (first person, mostly past tense), adding a personal element to the events. There’s much more detail about the setting and the plot, and the reader has time to get to know the characters, and to care about what happens to them. The plot was simplified for the film, so there’s a lot more action in the book, a lot more detail, and lot more danger for the characters.

The setup is simple. Seven Australian seventeen-year-olds head into the mountains for a wild camping trip at the end of the summer holidays. Their destination is a remote valley, hidden from the outside world. The group is a mix of farm kids and small-town residents who know each other from school, and they have plenty of experience of camping and surviving in the wild. On the night of the Commemoration Day fair, the narrator wakes up to see waves of fighter aircraft flying overhead. In the morning, the friends dismiss her concerns, claiming that they must have been taking part in the Commemoration Day festivities. When they return to town, the teenagers find empty houses, dead livestock, and the power and phone lines cut off.

The book follows the group as they make their way through their town, avoiding enemy soldiers, and confirming that the country has been invaded. Their families are being held at the Showground, and on their return to safety in the mountains, the teenagers have to decide what they are willing to do to fight back.

It’s a clever story – simple, but effective. The friends have to grow up fast, and learn to keep each other safe. They have to decide what they are willing to risk, and what they are willing to sacrifice, to make a difference. They learn the hard way the limits of their capabilities, and they learn to trust and support each other. The book works as a standalone story, but it is also the setup for a seven-book series. I’ve picked up the next two books from the library, and I’m interested to see how the story develops.

Very highly recommended.

Have you read the Tomorrow series? What did you think of the setup? 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: Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3)

Title: Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking #3)
Author: Patrick Ness
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

I was planning to take a break before reading Book 3 of the Chaos Walking trilogy, but I found I couldn’t stop. The cliffhanger at the end of Book 2 was too much of a hook, so I jumped straight into Monsters of Men, and I’m very glad I did.

This book is wonderful. A step up, again, from The Ask and the Answer, it explores power and conflict from three different points of view. With themes of occupation, identity, and communication, it follows the characters from the first two books as the war they have been waiting for arrives.

Patrick Ness examines different types of power, and how wielding power in different ways affects the people who lead. There are vivid battle scenes, betrayal, sabotage, sacrifice, and determination, as the Point of View characters try to push events in a direction that suits them, and in a direction they can live with. The plot twists and turns, and the stakes creep higher, until events that seemed impossible in the previous books become inevitable, dangerous, and real.

I loved the central characters, and I loved the relationship between them. I really started to care about Todd and Viola, and the world convulsing around them. I cared about what they wanted, and about the events that trapped them both. I loved the complexity of the situation – not just two factions fighting to rule the colony, but three entirely different visions of the future, pitched against each other in steadily more destructive ways. I cared about the characters as they tried to negotiate and influence their factions to provoke or prevent the war, and the helplessness as each individual was swept along in the power games of the leaders.

This is a clever and affecting examination of power and corruption – of what makes a leader lead, and what makes people follow, even if the cost is betrayal and suicide. It is also a thought experiment in what it would take for everyone to live together and respect each other’s points of view. “Why can’t we learn to live with how we are?” One of the characters asks, “And whatever anyone chooses is okay by the rest of us?” This book tries to address that question. I don’t think it offers neat answers, but it puts forward ideas in a way that made me care. If everyone who reads it asks themselves the same question, then we’re half way to an answer – and isn’t that what fiction is for?

Have you read Monsters of Men? What did you think of the plot twists? 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 Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2)

Title: The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking #2)
Author: Patrick Ness
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

I picked up the sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go because I was curious about the story, not because I was hooked. I was expecting more of the same, but this book was much better. I found that I connected more deeply with the characters, and with the scenario, than I had in Book 1. This is partly thanks to the alternating Point of View chapters, allowing the action to be seen through the eyes of both leading characters, and partly because the setting, and the action, is more interesting.

This is a book about power: how to win it, and how to hold onto it. There’s a ruthless dictator, manipulating people to stay in control, and a guerilla force using bombs and stealth to undermine his position. Todd and Viola, the girl he meets in Book 1, are both drawn into the conflict, and end up working on opposite sides. The tension built up between their individual chapters allows the reader to see what none of the characters can see – something approaching the full story, from both points of view.

There is cruelty and torture, but there is also friendship and kindness and sacrifice. As the hostility between the two factions builds, it is not clear where the plot is heading. The final chapters are an edge-of-the-seat read, and the conclusion is very clever, bringing together all the threads of the story so far into a satisfying cliffhanger.

The big ideas from the first book – the Noise of the men’s thoughts, the death of the women, the alien enemy, the talking animals, and the isolation of life on New World – are developed in The Ask and the Answer, enhancing the reader’s understanding of the setting and deepening the connection with the characters.

This is a more compelling, more complex story than the road-trip plot of The Knife of Never Letting Go, and as more of the secrets and lies are uncovered, the characters and the readers are left with more questions than answers. The main characters are deeply involved in their opposing sides in the conflict, and any moral outrage has to be pushed aside with the realisation that everyone is taking part in the fighting. Where The Knife of Never Letting Go was a black-and-white story, The Ask and the Answer sees the world in shades of grey.

Bring on Book 3, and hopefully some answers!

Have you read The Ask and the Answer? 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 Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1)
Author: Patrick Ness
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 3/5

I like Patrick Ness. I enjoyed And the Ocean was our Sky for its ideas and gorgeous imagery, and I loved A Monster Calls for its effective exploration of real-world grief through the framework of a fairy tale. And as I’m writing YA dystopia, I thought I should take a look at his Chaos Walking trilogy. I picked up Book 1, The Knife of Never Letting Go, with high expectations, but they weren’t entirely met.

The story is built on big ideas, expressed and explained at the level of the characters. The reader is thrown into the setting and the scenario in the first sentence, and the first-person narration makes it easy to understand and accept the ideas, and move on with the story. It’s hard to grab your readers and immerse them in your fiction so quickly, and Patrick Ness is almost too successful, sacrificing a sense of wonder in order to make the big ideas feel mundane and ordinary.

On a colony planet, Todd is the last boy in a town of men, with thirty days left until his coming of age. The women died during a war with the indigenous population, and Prentisstown is the last settlement on New World. For the men, the war brought the Noise – an infection that broadcasts their thoughts, so everyone in town can hear what their neighbours are thinking. Todd knows there will be a ceremony to mark his birthday, but even his foster parents have been masking all references to the plans in their thoughts, so he doesn’t know what to expect. When we first meet Todd, he’s walking out of the settlement with his talking dog, relieved to be spending time away from the Noise.

That’s a lot of big ideas, all introduced through Todd’s narration, and all of it feels completely normal by the end of the first chapter. It’s an amazing achievement, to make the reader believe all these impossible things within 16 pages, but it comes at a cost. I wanted to feel a sense of wonder at the Noise, and at Todd’s relationship with a dog who could talk and share his thoughts. I wanted to feel a sense of displacement on an alien world, or some sense from the narrator that there might be more to life than farming and running errands for his family.

But that’s not the point. The point is to put you in Todd’s shoes, so that what happens next is more shocking and surprising. When Todd and his dog are forced to run from Prentisstown, he begins to understand his place in a wider world, and to unravel the truth about his home from the lies he’s been told.

It’s a good story, with a cliffhanger at the end that made me pick up Book 2, even though I didn’t feel completely invested in the characters and the dangers they face. I sympathised with Todd, and I cared about what happened to him, but I didn’t connect with him as deeply as I wanted to. Many of the descriptions of locations and landscapes feel gorgeously cinematic, but at the same time the emotions and reactions of the characters feel frustratingly pared back and tightly controlled.

I’m interested to see where the trilogy takes the story, and to discover the truth behind the lies and half-truths Todd has been told. I like the world that Patrick Ness has created, and I like the big ideas he’s managed to slip so convincingly into the narrative. I just wish I could feel more wonder, more empathy, more fear, and more anger, as I share Todd’s experiences on his journey.

Have you read The Knife of Never Letting Go? Did you fall in love with Todd and his world, or did you feel disconnected? Were you ready to pick up Book 2 at the end? 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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Adventures in Publishing

The publication date for Battle Ground (Battle Ground #1) is fast approaching, and we’re hard at work, making sure everything is ready for our readers!

Proof copies

I am so excited to finally have a proof copy of the paperback edition in my hands! There’s nothing like seeing the manuscript you’ve been perfecting on a screen for eighteen months converted into a gorgeous physical book. I keep picking it up and turning the pages, just to check it’s real!

Sadly it is only a proof copy, so you’ll have to imagine it without the grey stripe. Not long now until we have copies of the real thing!


YALC

Taller Books will be at the Young Adult Literary Convention in July, launching Battle Ground on publication day. We’re already busy designing flyers and staff badges and the backdrop for our stand. If you’re coming to YALC, make sure you say hello!


The Battle Ground series book covers

Battle Ground series

Rachel has been working hard on the rest of the series, making sure the books are edited and proofread in time to publish them later in the year.

Publication dates for the Battle Ground books are:

Battle Ground (Battle Ground #1) – 25th July 2019
False Flag (Battle Ground #2) – 5th September 2019
Darkest Hour (Battle Ground #3) – 17th October 2019
Fighting Back (Battle Ground #4) – 28th November 2019
Victory Day (Battle Ground #5) – 3rd January 2020

And don’t forget our FREE novella, Making Trouble, available now.


Getting there …

We’ve got a lot more work to do before we launch Battle Ground, but we’re looking forward to making all the books in the series available to our readers. Keep an eye out here for announcements, or join our mailing list to stay up to date.

Click through to the full blog to say hello in the comments section! We’d love to hear from you.


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YA Review: Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3)

Title: Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

The final book in the Shatter Me series had a lot to deliver: superpowers, training, friendship, attraction, love, and war. And it didn’t disappoint.

Juliette has come a long way since the beginning of Book 1. She was locked away, denied contact with other people, and terrified that her touch would kill, again. Many of her thoughts were crossed out and confused, and she knew nothing about the collapse of society outside her asylum room.

Ignite Me continues her story of self-discovery, and her journey from fear to power. There’s more X-Men-style training, to help her control her powers. There’s a growing awareness of what has happened to the world, and what she can do to put it right. And we get more exploration of her complicated relationships with the person who saved her life, and the person she needs to trust in order to change the world. More steamy scenes, a very touching friendship, and some punch-the-air moments combine to make this a riveting read.

This could be the end of the story, but Tahereh Mafi has written a second trilogy. I have the first book. The second book was published in April. The third book isn’t available yet. I’m now in the painful position of having to decide whether to read Books 4 and 5, and then wait for Book 6, or to force myself to ignore Book 4 until Book 6 has been released. I know how hard it was to stop reading after the other books, and I don’t know how I’m going to wait for the final installment.

This series has grown on me, each book scoring higher than the last as I’ve come to know the characters, and as Juliette takes control of her life. The central characters are well-drawn, and their stories and relationships make for compelling reading. Juliette’s awakening, as a person and as a fighter, is inspiring to read, and by the end of the book I was punching the air. Yes, it’s YA, so there are details that don’t get explored, and the story is less complex than it would be in an adult novel, but the pace and the intensity of the writing make up for the lack of depth. I’m going to recommend this series – but make sure you have all three books before you start, and make sure you have time to read them.

Have you read the Shatter Me series? What did you think of Juliette’s journey? Were you impatient to pick up the next book in the series? 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: Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2)

Title: Unravel Me (Shatter Me #2)
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

There’s a lot going on in the sequel to ‘Shatter Me’, and once again I couldn’t put it down.

Juliette has found a group of friends to support her. She’s safe, for now, and surrounded by other people with powers like her own. There’s a side to this book that feels like an X-Men story – people with powers struggling to understand the limits of those powers, and how to control them. She has the chance to explore her abilities – killing with a touch of her skin, and the strength to punch through walls – and to discover what triggers her responses, and how to protect the people around her. Her journey from rejection to becoming part of a community continues, and by the end of the book she is stronger – less afraid and more determined to help her friends.

There’s more detail on the dystopian world of the series, and on the collapse of modern society. There’s more background on the person who saved her from the dystopian government in Book 1, and more background on the person who wanted to train her as a weapon. We learn about their families and relationships, and their motivations as the good guy and the bad boy of the story.

And there are some very steamy scenes. When your touch can kill, being close to someone else is a challenge, and Tahereh Mafi takes the opportunity to explore this aspect of Juliette’s life in heart-pounding detail. Her continued use of unusual phrases and metaphors adds to the intensity of these chapters, and the first-person present-tense narration puts the reader inside Juliette’s head, and in her skin. My copy of the paperback states on the back cover that the book ‘contains mature content’. Yes. Yes it does – but this is all appropriate to the story and the characters.

This book gripped me at least as much as ‘Shatter Me’. Juliette’s journey from victim to strong young woman is engaging. The people around her are interesting, and busy with their own problems, even while they support her through hers. The ending is tense and exciting, and once again I closed this book and reached immediately for the sequel. It’s still an easy read, but there’s enough going on to keep me hooked for Book 3. I need to know how this ends!

Have you read the Shatter Me series? What did you think of the books? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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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.


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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.


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