YA Review: Black Ice

Title: Black Ice
Author: Julia Blake
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Buckle up – this one’s a wild ride! Think you know the story of Snow White? Think again. This adventurous fairytale retelling begins with the attempted murder of Princess Snow, heir to the throne of House White, and builds the drama from there. Instead of seven dwarves, the protagonist’s companions are the last seven survivors of the Dwarvian people, living in secret in the Great Forest. There’s a steampunk theme to the story, but technology, and the magic that powers it, is forbidden in the Kingdom of House White – a rule enforced by the powerful Contratulum. Princess Snow is the only person standing between the Contratulum and absolute power, and she’s going to need all the help she can get to claim the throne.

The Dwarvians are engineers with magic in their blood. They are masters of forbidden technology – and they know how to build airships. Snow might stand a chance after all …

This is a fairytale with a difference: kick-ass female leads, dark family secrets, evil plots, a dose of magic, a sprinkling of romance, fabulous parties – and epic airship battles. Hold on to your corsets and goggles, and prepare to fight for House White!

Black Ice is published as adult fantasy, but it is suitable for a YA audience.

Have you read Black Ice? 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: Darkness, Be My Friend

Title: Darkness, Be My Friend
Author: John Marsden
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 5/5

Book Four in the Tomorrow series continues the story of seventeen-year-old Ellie and her friends as they strike back against a foreign invasion of Australia. This time they have help from the New Zealand army, but they quickly learn that their new friends can’t guarantee their success, or their safety.

I adore the Tomorrow series. I love Ellie’s narration. I love the characters, and the setting. I love the relationships between the school-friends-turned-fighters, and the way they develop through each book. I love the bravery of the teenagers, and their creativity in standing up to the people who have invaded their country, their town, and their homes.

Hiding out in the bush and launching guerrilla attacks is the only way for Ellie and her team to resist the invasion, but sneaking into their heavily guarded town, even under the cover of darkness, is far from safe. Darkness, Be My Friend brings the group into increasingly dangerous situations, with revelations about the state of the town, the strategic importance of the airfield, and the fates of their families. Expect heart-stopping scenes, real danger, and adrenaline-pumping excitement as the teenager’s daring plans meet the reality of strangers in their homes, and enemy soldiers on the streets.

There are obvious parallels between these books and my own Battle Ground Series, but I only started reading the Tomorrow series after my books had been written. I love reading John Marsden’s take on teenagers as reluctant fighters, and the characters’ practical approach to making a difference against the invading forces. There are three more books in the series, and I’m trying to decide whether I want to binge-read them all now, or save them so that I don’t have to say goodbye to Ellie too soon!

Have you read the Tomorrow series? What did you think of Darkness Be My Friend? 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: Deeplight

Title: Deeplight
Author: Francis Hardinge
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Fourteen-year-old orphans Hark and Jelt scrape a living on the streets of Lady’s Crave, one of the islands of The Myriad. Life on the islands used to be dominated by the gods – giant sea monsters who swallowed ships and fought each other in the surrounding waters. But the gods are dead, and their bodies yield powers beyond the imaginations of the islanders. Hunting for godware is a dangerous profession, and when Jelt convinces Hark to help him dive to search for fragments they can sell, their lives are changed forever by their discoveries.

‘Deeplight’ is a gripping adventure story, set in a world that feels real and dangerous. Hark is a believable protagonist, and it is easy to sympathise with his dilemmas. He wants to build a better life for himself, but he can’t resist being drawn again and again into his best friend’s risky schemes. Hark and Jelt have been each other’s families for so long that Hark finds it impossible to walk away, and both boys pay the price for his decisions. Add in an engaging cast of supporting characters – ageing priests, ruthless gangs, strong women, and a genius scientist with questionable morals – and you have the ingredients for a nail-biting story. Part fantasy, part dark folklore, and part atmospheric horror, the book delivers chilling revelations, surprising plot twists, and touching moments of friendship, along with a spine-tingling sense of wonder.

A highlight of the book is the treatment of its deaf characters. Loss of hearing is a common injury among the Myriad’s under-sea scavengers, and deaf islanders are honoured for their bravery. Many of the characters in the book speak using sign language, and their status means that hearing characters learn the signs in order to communicate with them. Sign language is presented as a standard method of communication, and while characters from different islands are described as having regional accents, the signs also have regional variations. The author consulted members of the National Deaf Children’s Society, and the result is a diverse, inclusive narrative where no one feels like a token character, the use of sign language is seen as a strength and an honour, and everyone is important to the story.

Have you read Deeplight? What was your favourite part 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 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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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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YA Review: How It All Blew Up

Title: How It All Blew Up
Author: Arvin Ahmadi 
Edition: Kindle (ARC)
Rating: 4/5

A clever take on a coming-out story, How It All Blew Up follows eighteen-year-old Amir as he comes to terms with his sexuality, and wonders how to tell his Iranian-American Muslim family that he’s gay. He’s very careful to hide his high-school hook ups with his maybe-boyfriend, but when another student threatens to tell his parents, Amir feels defeated by the blackmail and bullying. Running away to Rome feels like the perfect escape. He’s sure his family will reject him when they discover his secret, and in Rome he’s free to explore his identity without threats and judgement.

The clever twist is the setting for the story. Amir is explaining himself to an immigration official, following an argument with his family on their flight back to the US. His family is also being questioned in neighbouring interrogation rooms, and the events leading up to their detention are narrated by Amir, his parents, and his sister.

Amir is a sympathetic and relatable character. His fears about his family are based on comments they have made, and Amir’s decision not to tell them about his sexuality feels entirely justified. His experiences in Rome are life-affirming and beautifully described, with a cast of characters who take Amir into their social circle and teach him about life, love, and relationships. Rome becomes a character in the book, with descriptions of beautiful buildings, riverside cafes, rooftop parties, and a memorable visit to the Sistine Chapel. His new friends are older and more experienced, but with very different approaches to life and love. There are heartbreaking moments and heartwarming conversations, and in spite of the interrogation-room setting this is a feel-good book.

The story poses questions about family, tolerance, and identity without offering easy answers. Amir’s experiences in Rome give him confidence, but after the final page he still has to negotiate his life at home. There are no magic solutions and no sudden changes of heart, so the story feels real and messy – but hopeful.

This is a gripping, interesting book with a cast of wonderful characters, an engaging story, and some utterly fabulous parties.

How It All Blew Up will be published on September 22nd, is available now for pre-order. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read How It All Blew Up? What did you think of the 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: Everless

Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

Cover of Everless by Sara Holland.

In Sempera, time is magically bound to the blood of every person, and payment is made in the form of blood iron – days, hours, and years. The rich amass centuries of life while the poor struggle to survive, bleeding themselves to pay for rent and food. Jules and her father used to live at Everless, the grand home of one of the richest families in Sempera. Her father was the blacksmith, and she grew up playing with the sons of the Gerling family. A childhood accident led to the expulsion of the blacksmith and his daughter, and now Jules is worried that her father is bleeding himself to death to pay their debts.

When Jules disobeys her father and takes a servant job at Everless, she attempts to keep her presence a secret. But waiting on the boys she used to play with, and on the nobles who surround their family, she discovers secrets about her past that threaten her safety – and the safety of everyone she cares about.

Everless is an engaging story with a unique and gripping premise. The magical binding of time to blood forces the poor to risk running out of time with every debt they pay, while the rich can drink the time paid to them, and take risks with their lives knowing they have centuries left. Jules is an interesting character – practical, curious, and determined to find out what happened at Everless before she was forced to leave. Her relationships with her father, her childhood friends, and the other servants at Everless are sympathetic and warm. Jules cares about the people around her, and about protecting her family. She doesn’t give up, even when the secrets threaten to unravel the life she has built. She’s headstrong, too – I found myself shouting at the page when she made dangerous choices – but everything she does is rooted in her determination to discover the truth, and protect the people she cares about.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, but the sequel is waiting on my shelf.

Have you read Everless? What did you think of the story? Did you like the 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!

Full disclosure: I did not enjoy Evermore, the second and concluding book in the series, so I will not be reviewing it here.

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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