One by Sarah Crossan- May BOM

This beautiful novel, comprised of lyrical free verse, will make you reconsider everything you knew about friendship, sacrifice and freedom.

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Tippi and Grace are sixteen, and after a lifetime of homeschooling, they’re going to an elite private school, with their space paid for by the government. They’re grateful; they come from a suffering family who can barely afford to pay for all their medication. They’re are lucky too; this new opportunity would not be possible if they couldn’t only take up one space at the school. Some people might marvel them, other shrink away in disgust. But one thing is clear; these two twins are beyond the group of ordinary they desire to be in. Tippi and Grace are conjoined.

I absolutely loved this novel, and the way it is written in free verse so that it resembles a trail of thought. I think that this is a very effective way of writing because it shows the reader that the two girls are in fact separate entities, each with their individual desires despite their shared body. Also, because of this original style of writing it is more striking and memorable, and because not many author care to experiment with forms of verse anymore and stick only to conventional prose.

I thought that the plot was well executed; Crossan immediately makes us engage through pathos, as we see from the start the sacrifices each girl makes for the other in order to have a happy, compromised life, and that, in turn if something effects one person, there is a knock on effect for the other. I have only ever heard of one other book about conjoined twins, but it seemed to serious and heavy for my liking. Here, Crossan deals with delicate issues too, but she makes them as relatable as they can be. For example, Tippi and Grace go to school for the first time; high school. Everyone can remember that in one form or another, and can relate to that daunting experience even if they didn’t have the issue of being the centre of attention. Also, Crossan does not weaken the plot at any point in order to make it more bearable on the reader’s behalf; it is extremely emotional as we see their family battle against poverty, suffer with an alcoholic father and bear the injuries of given to them through the public eye.

This is an amazing book; I would definitely recommend it because it is short and concise, without babbling on at all! It investigates such an unusual crazy condition perfectly and has an utterly breathtaking story. Tell me now; why wouldn’t make this book of the month?

 

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Julia Vanishes by Catherine Egan

This novel is an amalgamation of witchcraft, murder and adventure. So much so, it is one of the best novels I have read this year. Although it shares the common themes of betrayal, family and courage with many other YA novels, due to the unusual setting that is New Poria, they are seen in an entirely different context.

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Julia can become unseen- a dangerous ability in a society where witches are publicly drowned in Cleansings. Dangerous, but useful, particularly if you’re a spy or a thief- and Julia is both. So when she was sent to work as a housemaid in the Och household, she resents the worknbecause it’s dull compared to the break-ins she normally performs, and the miscellaneous information she is ordered to find is probably meaningless. Bored, she seeks entertainment instead by observing the obscure assortment of people she shares a house with; a beautiful relative seeking refugee, a noble house guest locked away each night, a restless professor who sends Julia on the queerest errands, and a student who had the most desirable future within his grasp, and then threw it away. And if that isn’t enough to think about there’s a murderer prowling the streets; and from the trail of bodies discarded in plain sight, they are looking for something very particular, and Julia has a queasy feeling its something to do with the house she works for.

I thought that this was a fabulous yet haunting novel; I loved Julia because she was an intuitive, brave and slightly reckless street kid who we see develop throughout the novel as she learns, through several unforeseen incidents, what is truly integral to her. Julia is also cynical and often gritty; character traits which far too many YA protagonists avoid desperately. Actually, upon reflection, Julia’s character changes so vastly throughout the novel that by the end they are practically incomparable, but this isn’t unusual in novels and I have only noticed this detail with hindsight.

The alternate world fabricated by Egan also made it an invigorating read; it is lined heavily with the grime of witchcraft, oozes complex history and is a dystopia without being too utterly depressing or scarred by technology. In fact, the setting is more similar to Victorian times, and the most appropriate comparison would be to Philip Pullman’s world of the Northern Lights. My favourite aspect of the novel was definitely the setting, but because of the fast-paced nature of the plot, it is in my opinion under explored and there are so many exciting events that swirl on one after the other that there is no time to fully explore this magical wonderful world that Egan has created. I’m only saying this because it is clear that Egan has put lots of time creating this universe; from the small details about their custom- religions, to the government’s hierarchy, it is clear that there is a mass of things Egan isn’t telling us!

I would recommend Julia Vanishes for anyone who enjoys the darker spectrum of fantasy, no matter what age you happen to be. It is unique on many different levels and maintains throughout a mature attitude towards magic.  A genuinely great read which I loved- and I hope you will too!

 

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

This novel flits between centuries and is more than a thrilling adventure; it is a combination of romance and remorseless conflict between families.

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Passenger starts with off renowned teenage violin prodigy Etta Spencer preparing herself for her first debut. She is fizzy with nerves, and after overhearing a mysterious conversation between her reclusive mother and her beloved instructor, she suddenly feels overwhelmingly confused. But then as soon as she starts playing her piece, Etta hears a bewildering screech that whines throughout the hall. None of the audience can hear it though, and as she exits the room in panic her hand is grabbed by a stranger, who races her through the venue, dragging her past the shocking corpse of her instructor and through a blazing white door.

Etta wakes up several days later, centuries from her home and lost in a vicious tangle for power, with Etta wrapped tightly in the middle. Only Etta can drag herself out of this mess and back home. Only Etta, and perhaps the handsome Nicholas Carter who crosses her path on the ship she finds herself on.

Etta is the protagonist of this novel, and she’s incredibly affable- not only because of her feisty character that ensures she always stands up for her beliefs, but because she is an adventurous and determined person. Having said this, she’s not perfect; Etta has a poor relationship with her mother, and a lack of any sort of parental figure in her life. She is dedicated to the violin, and so has no friends either. All this combined, and we experience extreme sympathy for Etta, as she appears to be a genuinely pleasant person, and doesn’t entirely deserve this.

Well, she’s not all alone; Etta has her violin instructor Alice. I do not entirely understand their relationship and was annoyed when Etta was desperate to go back in time and save her life. From the moment Etta uttered this idea, despite it frequently recurring throughout the novel, I could tell it was never going to take place. It seemed to be task that would ultimately satisfy Etta too much, and therefore could never take place. Also, I didn’t feel particularly attached to Alice- I’m sure she was an amiable old lady but honestly she wasn’t particularly outstanding and was going to die in several years anyway (she was 90!).

I enjoyed reading about the reinvention of time travel, and the certain things that limited it. It did indeed seem realistic and believable in a way many books in the past, despite the employing an overactive imagination, have not quite achieved. The whole process appears all rather practical and thought through, without the explanation given by science. I thought that generally it was a strong plot, and it was fabulous to see Bracken fully explore the characters and push them to their respective limits, whether mental or physical. One weakness though was that at one point I was not entirely convinced by the plot; it was at the stage when Cyrus was blackmailing Etta to find the astrolabe. This was because, although I knew that she was intimidated, I also knew that Etta was smart and could see that Cyrus was desperate and actually needed her. I was disappointed because I expected Etta to work things out on her own terms, being the strong-willed person she is; I felt that she acted out of character, and that that scene took place because Bracken needed it to go in that direction, not because it was driven by the characters.

Also, there is a bit of romance in it, but I was not impressed by it. Although it wasn’t instantaneous, there was a sense of instalove as there was hardly any tension between them, and when there was it was over in the same paragraph, which frankly is disappointing.  On another note, I loved the settings that cropped up  we travel through time and thought that it would have a much more engaging novel if as readers we had more time to explore as opposed to just hurling through them.

So, despite this novel being too long, I still think it was respectable and worth a read if you are interest in a time-traveling, slightly weak romance, new interfamily conflict novel. Seriously though, if you don’t have time for a 500 page novel, do not bother. It is good, but not worth all that effort.

When We Collided by Emery Lord

This novel is a classic summer love story with a difference; not only does contain moments of unrivalled hilarity and it’s counterpart bitter sadness, but it stars two damaged teenagers struggling to face their scarred past in a demanding, unforgiving world.

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It is finally Summer again, and Vivi is new to Verona Cova, and is a vacationer, as they are known to the townies (the people who live in Verona). Whilst working in a pottery shop, Vivi, a burst of colour who refuses to be tied to reality by her medication, comes across Jonah and his younger sister. Jonah is a slowly recovering; his father recently died, leaving his mother to recoil into encompassing grief, and now rarely leaves the safety of her bedroom. Chirpy and energetic though he may seem, Jonah feels excruciatingly weary from the strain of now sharing the role being the parent, and looking after his other siblings , especially since he is only 17. So when he meets Vivi, he is fascinated by her optimistic take on the universe, flamboyant nature and creative ecstatic mind. And Vivi loves how Jonah cares for his younger siblings, and his tender, thoughtful nature. But they belong on different planets; Vivi is a dreamer and can never be pinned down, whilst Jonah is always trying to be responsible, always trying  do the right thing. So when the two planets so different collide, it is clear that this inexplicable attraction between them will have consequences. But to what extent?

I thought that the title was a shame because it does not reflect the novel honestly enough to do it justice! In some ways, the title is completely irrelevant, because it is never referred to once in the novel, and to add to that, it is cliche! Every other love story has a slightly metaphorical, romantic sounding name like that, so the title in my opinion drags the novel down instead of exalting it, which is a shame because I love the novel and I think that it deserves better.

The novel is written in the contemporary style of alternative points of view, switching between the two protagonists Vivi and Jonah.  I adored the novel and thought that it was fantastic until I reached roughly second half; then it became saturated with the details of Vivi’s bipolar disorder: there were some awesome sentences in the first half, where I thought that the imagery created was incredibly strong, even for the such abstract ideas mentioned, but as I neared the end of this novel, this writing flair displayed earlier quickly dissolved, as Lord tried to handle everyone’s reaction to her disorder. Having said that, you will fall in love with the essentially flawed characters as they try and navigate themselves through their darker times, and always try to find that the perspective of hope wherever they go.

It was a fairly typical plot ( wild girl + good boy= fun filled summer), so nothing completely revolutionary will take place, but the characters were developed enough, and the plot was well written, so despite not being ground-breaking, it is definitely worth a read (if you are interested in this side of YA literature). Also, it wasn’t the fact that Vivi was bipolar that set this novel apart, because increasingly there are characters with mental illnesses featured in novels, but the quirk of Vivi loving the whole of Jonah’s family, not just him exclusively, which evolved this love story to becoming much more exclusive.  Aside from that, it was slightly unoriginal, it must be said (e.g skinny dipping happens in most of these types of novels, ice creams on the beach, sneaking into rooms…).

This novel is perfect for a relaxing holiday read, where you can sink into the romance, sea and sunshine, particularly as it is not an overly taxing mentally. I would recommend that the target audience for this novel be teenagers.

 

Risuko by David Kudler

This dramatic novel will transport the reader into the perilous world of Japan, entangled in the ruthless civil war of 1570.

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Risuko fulfils every opportunity to climb; trees, castles, walls- in fact, she earned her nickname Risuko- Squirrel because of her curious hobby. Risuko is content, although since becoming fatherless her family have been trudging on the weary road of poverty, and Risuko is surviving on what pitiful rations her mother can afford. Yet suddenly Risuko is snatched from her peaceful existence by  a glamorous, frail figure, and her life morphs into one of bewildering lessons. Yet, as the civil war surges on, Risuko is far from sheltered by the brutality in her protected academy.

Unlike many novels that haunt our bookshelves today, this one isn’t tiresomely long, and at roughly 200 pages, the emotional plot slotted in perfectly into the pages, without dragging on. I enjoyed the most reading about the in-depth research that went into this novel, particularly the extravagant names for items and people, such as Murasaki, Chiyome and a miko. Also, thankfully it deviated somewhat from the stereotypical samurai stories, but at the expense of possibly only being enjoyed by a mainly female audience. I say this because the novel is absolutely dominated by female characters (the only thing saving it from flailing in the seas of another samurai sword flashing book is because of the original, nearly all female, Mochizuki academy) and despite the handful of male characters featured, they cannot salvage the novel in that sense. This novel will only have a target audience of realistically around 10-14, and at that age I doubt many boys are interested in an overall female cast (where they disappear once a month to the Retreat, during their “Moon time”-I found that weird because it didn’t seem entirely pragmatic).

There was an almost informal style to the writing because of the simple language used, which is unfortunate because the foundations of this novel is superb, but in the actual literary sense it is disappointing. Often, there were phrases repeated, which is irritating as a reader because a skim through of the novel is all that is needed to solve this issue. Also, I noticed several spelling mistakes (in one instance I saw the word “exarcise” which jolted me in shock and surprise out of my flow of reading). I was also bemused by this extract; “I was thinking of Lady Chiyome’s interrogation that morning: Who are you working for?” This ultimately was the worst sentence in the novel, because this is one of the most overused sentences in a spy blockbuster film. This is not Hollywood Kudler, this is 1570 AD Japan. The sentence was glaringly obvious; out of place and incredibly cliche.

On the sense of stylistic devices, there was a rather minimalistic approach, where only adjectives would suffice. Having said that, the world encapsulated by Kudler did feel extremely substantial, yet at times visualisation of the characters was tedious. All the information I receive about Emi, for example, is that she is taller than the protagonist Risuko, and frowns a lot, with the latter repeated relentlessly. Agreed, repetition is a useful tool to gain emphasis, however I am still lacking a severe amount of other details about this character, which makes reading stilted as I have to create a character’s face every time the name crops up.                                                                                                                                    Then there was Kee Sun, the chef, who always pronounces his “you”s like “yeh” (‘”…I don’t think it’s someone come in from outside o’the wall over and over without anybody knowin’, do yeh?”‘) Unfortunately, Kudler has created the effect of, not a Korean chef, but a rusty English pirate, which was frustrating.

So, for the novel to be improved, I suggest that the editors could reread the novel, and replace all repeated sentences or phrases, check for spelling mistakes, (as there should be no reason for them in the age of auto-correct), and for Kudler to try and appropriately describe in more depth the characters, so that the readers can see beyond their two outlying characteristics.

I would recommend this novel to girls (or openminded boys) of the age of 10/11 years old who are looking for an action packed, historical adventure. It is generally thrilling with a twist of mystery, and you will benefit from this atypical insight into Japanese history. There are some issues with the novel, but it is  going to be released on the 15th June 2016, so I hope that by that time most of them will be solved, enhancing everyone’s reading experience!

April- More of Me by Kathryn Evans

Quirky, creative and engrossing, this YA fused with romance and science fiction is a novel that is certain to grip your attention.

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Teva is sixteen; her life is hectic. Then again, isn’t everyone’s? If she’s not juggling meeting up with her best friend for lunch, then it is finding the time to see her boyfriend, or actually finishing her A level coursework, as the deadline looms ominously closer. And to add to that, whilst that’s happening, she’s counting the days until her next birthday, when her body will spilt in two, and a new Teva will be slip right into sixteen year old Teva’s place in the world. If that happens, as it has happened every year, Teva is will be forced remain at home, isolated there along with the many other versions of herself that have remained at the same age they were at the time of their spilt. However, Teva isn’t going to let that happen; she has to much to lose.- her best friend, her boyfriend, and her future. She is going to find a way to beat the split; luckily there’s only one person standing in her way, but the person inescapable. It’s herself.

I loved the character Teva, because she is easy to relate to; admittedly I cannot say that I do spilt in two like her, but I can recognise various aspects in my life that line up with hers and also can relate to many of the issues she faces to do with her school. Moreover, despite that Teva is a scientific marvel and can do an impossible feat (splitting), this fact never  takes away from her humanity. She undoubtedly has a human aspect; Teva experiences powerful emotions and is constantly striving to maintain her friendship with her best friend that she values so much. She shares the pain, like many other people her age, of growing up and finding her place in world, and this novel represents the idea so refreshingly and captivatingly that I wouldn’t, couldn’t stop reading. I consumed so many words in the hours straight that I would read the novel so it took a while for it all to sink in.

I liked the novel because of the original idea and that at some points the protagonist was uncertain about what was reality, making the reader question and think through things themselves- I was surprised by the answer revealed in the twist at the end.Then there was the host of interesting, tangible characters (apart from the Mum, who for most of the novel I thought was harsh towards the Tevas- there is an acceptable reason behind this that was presented at the end.)

So, If you are interested in a YA that is full of suspense, has a satisfying but ultimately unpredicted ending, readable (by this I mean it is not saturated with dramatic pretentious language like many books are today), and is a concoction of various genres (romance, contemporary, science fiction) then this novel is definitely for you!

 

Fire Colour One by Jenny Valentine

A courageous, remarkable novel about family relationships.

Iris doesn’t know her father, Ernest; he left Iris’ mother, Hannah, before Iris can even remember. But that’s alright; life for her certainly isn’t perfect but Iris has her best friend Thurston to see her through things, and anyway, she hasn’t heard from Ernest in over 10 years.

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Iris’ mother, Hannah and her boyfriend, Lowell, are drowning in debt and are struggling to keep up the facade of being an extravagant and thriving family. Yet, despite their finical status, they continue to uphold this illusion. They have to; Hannah’s obsession with luxurious fashion must be maintained, and visiting casting directors won’t hire Lowell if they look like they are sinking into the depths of poverty.

So when Hannah hears that Ernest, Iris’ father, is dying, she jumps at the opportunity to see him. Why? Ernest is a millionaire and she is keen on snatching a large proportion of his wealth through her daughter, as soon as he is dead, so that Hannah can continue to live in the upper echelons of L.A society.

Iris reluctantly comes, after all Hannah can’t visit without her, and is surprised. The walls of Ernest’s humble house are covered in priceless masterpieces. They are all there; Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir. But once Iris peers past these incredible paintings into her father’s eyes, she discovers an unbelievable truth.

I liked the characters in this novel because of their rich personalities; Iris is a pyromaniac, and devotes her free time either to setting fires, or spending it with her older creative yet homeless best friend Thurston.

Thurston appears to have a mysterious, innovative character and an intriguing past. However, he had no clear role in the novel except as the one person who Iris is emotionally attached to, as well as a shadow to Iris’ father (both are characters she nearly loses as they temporarily disappear). But unfortunately he plays no outstanding role bar him cameoing in several of her flashbacks; it is a shame because there is no obvious significance in his role generally (*spoiler* except at the end, but it didn’t necessarily have to be Thurston who made the final bid for Fire Colour One. Yes, it was a pleasant touch that it was him, but it wasn’t a character specific role; anyone could have done it).

Hannah is Iris’ self-indulgent mother, and is determined to accumulate as much of Ernest’s wealth as possible, in order to launch her out of debt and ricochet her and her like-minded boyfriend Lowell, back into the life oozing with luxury. Hannah is similar to greedy stepmothers in fairytales; portrayed hyperbolically and one dimensionally. She has a truly despicable character but has been depicted too brashly, and seems to have an unrealistic character.

The novel read easily and amiably, but too often did I find blatant cliches, which were, frankly, a disappointment. On the other hand, there were incredible lines of literatures scattered around, and it felt wonderful reading them. So, in the sense of the actual writing, there was much divergence. The main theme is novel is relationships, so there is exploration of that in most of the chapters, as well as the theme of family. In Iris’ case, her real family offer no comfort, so the reader observes her try to piece her own version of a family, albeit unrelated through blood, together.

The plot unfurls through the eyes of Iris and there is a clear direction, although it is frequently punctuated with fragments of the past, which adds complexity (but I think that without these occasionally irrelevant dips into history, the novel would also be extremely short, because without the buffering of these accounts, relatively little happens). I thought the ending was cunning and satisfying, but various important pieces of information were brutally shoved upon the reader in the closing pages.

This novel has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie Medal, and therefore is predominantly aimed at the younger spectrum of teenage readers. I agree with this, because the language and use of stylistic devices is recurrently simplistic. Having said that, it was an enjoyable, light, minimal attention required holiday read!