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: The Supreme Lie

Title: The Supreme Lie
Author: Geraldine McCaughrean 
Edition:
Audiobook
Rating:
5/5

What can I say about this book? The second book by Geraldine McCaughrean I have read proved to be every bit as quirky, wonderful, and unpredictable as the first (The White Darkness), and I was completely hooked.

Fifteen-year-old Gloria is a maid to the absolute ruler of Afalia, Madame Suprema. She is used to keeping her head down, serving meals with minimum fuss, and trying to stay invisible. When catastrophic floods devastate the country, Madame Suprema realises that she will be held responsible, and flees her home to avoid the consequences. Rather than allow the government to fall at such a critical moment, Gloria is chosen to impersonate the Suprema and bring the people of Afalia through the disaster.

Initially, Gloria is expected to follow a script and deceive the government and the people into believing the Suprema is still in control. As she finds herself drawn into the political turmoil and begins to witness the effects of the flooding, Gloria can’t help getting involved. While the Suprema’s husband is desperate to convince his young maid to stick to the script, Gloria’s interventions begin to draw attention from senators, factory owners, and the people she hopes to protect. Small decisions turn out to have catastrophic consequences, and Gloria finds herself risking the lives of her people as she desperately tries to do the right thing.

This is an absolutely gripping story with characters who grow more engaging as the complexities of the plot reveal themselves. There are no predictable moments, and no predictable outcomes as each decision brings further problems and complications. Gloria is a wonderful character, driven by compassion for the people and a conviction that she must use her new position to dispense help and justice instead of continuing the despotic self-serving actions of the real Suprema. The supporting cast includes the downtrodden husband of the Suprema, various devious politicians, Gloria’s childhood friend, and three dogs – two of whom expand the story in their own point-of-view chapters. Did I mention it was quirky?

The author uses humour and the absurdity of the situation to sneak some horrific events under the reader’s radar. Much of the narration feels lighthearted, while dealing with life-and-death decisions and disasters, and this technique allows the author to tell a sometimes harrowing story without plunging the reader into despair. Gloria’s optimism and determination to save people keeps the narrative feeling upbeat, and even when the reader can see danger in her actions, the maid-turned-Suprema keeps pushing for a positive outcome. The contrast between Gloria’s good intentions and the devious self-serving actions of the politicians adds menace to an already precarious setup, and the Suprema’s husband finds himself treading a careful line between the maid’s ambitions and the credibility of the lie.

The audiobook, read by Ailsa Joy, brings a perky 1920s newsreel atmosphere to the narration. It’s perfect for a quirky story that touches on so many serious issues, and I very much enjoyed listening.

Have you read The Supreme Lie? What did you think of Gloria’s story? What would you do in her place? 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: Pretties

Title: Pretties
Author: Scott Westerfeld
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 Westerfeld
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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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!