When I Was Joe isn't an easy book to read, based on the harrowing and all-too-realistic subject matter. It's honest and raw without being unbelievable...moreWhen I Was Joe isn't an easy book to read, based on the harrowing and all-too-realistic subject matter. It's honest and raw without being unbelievable or over-exaggerated, and packs a punch that'll leave you mulling it over for days
Main character Ty, who, after being placed in the witness protection programme, is forced to change his name to Joe, is a very strong character. He's instantly likeable, and this bodes well when it comes to sympathising with him and his unfortunate situation. Even after he becomes Joe and his personality changes, he's still a typical teenager with everyday, mundane issues to deal with. He never lets anyone in, and deals with his isolation remarkably well.
His budding friendship with successful paraplegic Ellie is both comforting and worrying. There's always the chance he'll get a bit too close to her and slip up, revealing his real name or previous life. It's like he's constantly walking on eggshells that can never, ever be broken or disturbed. Living with such fear and secrecy is hard and demanding, and author Keren David never fails to hammer that point home.
Though the rest of the characters are all well-written and engaging, none of them stand out quite like Ty. It's the only complaint I have about this novel, which just goes to show that nothing is perfect. Maybe it's because they're not as endearing, or perhaps it's because Ty overshadows everything going on around him. He successfully carries the whole novel, and even if he was the only character featured in the story, I don't think it would have made a difference. Ty's mum Nicki is a particular highlight, and her struggles with her new life are often heartbreaking. She knows her old life could be lost forever and, armed with that knowledge, she tries to carry on moving forward to the best of her ability.
Knife crime is a frightening violence that is rife in many parts of the UK, and is something that just can't be ignored. While all cases might not be as extreme as Ty's, it does happen, and innocent people's lives are ruined, altered and forever changed. Keren David addresses this issue with the utmost severity, and never glorifies life as a main witness to a crime. Without books like these, people could very easily forget what's happening right under their noses; even as close to home as the school their child attends. For that reason alone, When I Was Joe should be read, enjoyed and learned from by everyone. It's never too late to pay attention. (less)
I'm still a bit excited about Leviathan, so I'm going to have to begin by saying that I loved it. It really is an accomplishment, and as a first time...moreI'm still a bit excited about Leviathan, so I'm going to have to begin by saying that I loved it. It really is an accomplishment, and as a first time reader of Westerfeld, I think I picked the right book to start with. It's lavishly illustrated by Keith Thompson, and some of the images are just amazing. They make the world come to life, and complement the writing brilliantly.
It's been quite a while since I've been so drawn to a story, but Westerfeld effortlessly pulled me in with his tale of Clanker machines and Darwinist fabricated species. I've never read steampunk before, but now that I have, I get why it's such a popular genre. There's so much scope and history to play with, not to mention the fantastical inventions and machinery that are woven into real events and important moments in world history.
Alek and Deryn are two very different teenagers, thrown together during the First World War. Alek's a reluctant heir to an empire, while Deryn is masquerading as a boy just so she can fly in the British Air Service. Both are headstrong, brave and determined, and both are instrumental in the outcome of the war. I must admit that I enjoyed Alek's narrative more than Deryn's. It flowed easier, and his journey across the country was marginally more interesting than her time aboard the Leviathan aircraft. Westerfeld's decision to tell two stories from two perspectives was quite a genius move -- when you have characters that good, there's never a doubt that they can hold their own.
The action in Leviathan is non-stop, with one threat or another always lurking around the corner. Whether it be German Clanker machines hot on their tail, or the fear of being kicked out of the air service, things are never quiet for Alek and Deryn, and they never take anything lightly. I honestly can't think of a better introduction to Scott Westerfeld, and all I'm wondering is: when can I get my hands on a copy of Behemoth? (less)
Fairies! Goblins! Witches! Welcome to The Thirteen Curses.
After reading Michelle Harrison's fantastic debut novel The Thirteen Treasures, I was so exc...moreFairies! Goblins! Witches! Welcome to The Thirteen Curses.
After reading Michelle Harrison's fantastic debut novel The Thirteen Treasures, I was so excited to get stuck into The Thirteen Curses. Having now read both books, I'd go so far as to say that Harrison is up there with my favourite UK authors, and is now in the good company of Marcus Sedgwick, Sarra Manning and Lucy Christopher. Seriously, she's that good.
The Thirteen Curses is so hard to put down it's almost impossible, and aside from some convenient plotting and the occasional clunky chapter, I have no qualms with it at all. I could never fault the brilliant writing, imagination or magic of the fey characters, and it's quite clear why these books are held in such high regard.
Without spoiling anything about the previous book, The Thirteen Curses picks up almost exactly where it left off, and takes you on an enchanting adventure through fairie realms, scary forests and history itself. All your favourite characters, both human and fairie, come back for more, and there are even a few new creatures for you to meet. Red and Tanya share MC duties, with Warwick and Fabian having more to do and less of a sidekick role.
When I'd finished the first book in the series, Brunswick the goblin was my favourite character. Now, the little tea caddy brownie is my number one dude. He can brandish his walking stick like it's a required skill among the little people, and he just sounds so cute and grumpy. I want one!
I don't know what else to say other than that you need to read these books. They're the most enjoyment I've had in a long time, and are just a great escape from everything going on around you. Hats off to you, Michelle Harrison. You rock.(less)
Flyaway is only Lucy Christopher's second book, but already it feels like I've been reading her words for years. It's completely different to her debu...moreFlyaway is only Lucy Christopher's second book, but already it feels like I've been reading her words for years. It's completely different to her debut novel, Stolen, but is just as good, if not better. This story is told by Isla, a teenage girl with a love for all types of birds. When her father is taken to hospital, it's there she meets a boy called Harry Brambling. Isla and Harry discover a swan out on the lake, and before they know it, everything changes.
Isla is an engaging narrator, with a warm personality and a selfless nature. She's supportive when her family needs her, she's encouraging to her sick father, and she's the anchor that ensures Harry keeps hold of the cheeky sparkle in his eyes. Like Isla's father, Harry's not well himself, though you'd never be able to tell from his high spirits and positive attitude. The friendship that forms is so lovely and innocent, and is a refreshing change from all the supercharged teenage hormones I've become so accustomed to.
Accompanying Isla and Harry throughout the book is a lone swan that has become detached from its flock. It might not be able to talk or interact like a human can, but it's just as important as the other characters. It has the ability to just be, and to guide and offer comfort when it's needed most. It's described so vividly that I almost believed it could be sat outside in my own tiny fish pond, bobbing for goldfish and tormenting the frogs. I never had any interest in swans before reading Flyaway, but now I want to experience their magic for myself.
There are a few short dream sequences throughout Isla's tale, and while they do fit into what's happening in the real world, I felt that a couple of them interrupted the flow of writing and unnecessarily complicated things. The last venture into Isla's imagination is so poignant and touching, and really made me think things were going to turn out differently than they did. I'm glad I was wrong!
Flyaway is chock-full of beautiful imagery, realistic plot threads and short chapters that will tug at your heartstrings. It's a story about family, friendship, and overcoming the many obstacles that life will inevitably present. I just wish it had a higher page count, because I could have carried on reading it for days. (less)
I can't believe this book has been out there for so long, and I'd never even heard of it! It's a magical fantasy that travels through time, and is exa...moreI can't believe this book has been out there for so long, and I'd never even heard of it! It's a magical fantasy that travels through time, and is exactly the kind of story I love to lose myself in.
I loved all the mythology and history included in Hannah's adventure, especially when it concerned Mary, Queen of Scots. To mix the Queen's life with Scottish faerie lore was just brilliant, and it made for an edge-of-your-seat read. I'm a fan of time travel anyway, though I had no idea it was part of The Puzzle Ring. I also didn't realise it was a book about fairies and magic, so I had a great surprise when I finally cottoned on.
Kate Forsyth's characters are well-rounded and easy to like, and each has little quirks that set them apart from one other. Linnet is my favourite, but to say why would give more away than I should, so I'll just say that she's a charming old lady with a lot of useful knowledge. Hannah herself is also a fantastic character, with more intelligence and quick-thinking than I'm sure I had when I was thirteen. Of course, I was never pitted against the fair folk, so I've never needed to speak in rhyme or decode cryptic clues. It's just as well really, as I don't think I would have been half as good as Hannah!
The Puzzle Ring takes you on a journey from Australia to modern day Scotland, and all the way back to 1567. It's an exciting story of magic and danger, and I loved every minute of it. Fans of Michelle Harrison's 13 Treasures will find this a must-read, as it's full of mystical creatures, family curses and lavish landscapes. What more could you want?(less)
"I'll tell you a tale of Vampirates, A tale as old as true. Yea, i'll sing you a song of an ancient ship, And its mighty fearsome crew."
Yep, you've guess...more"I'll tell you a tale of Vampirates, A tale as old as true. Yea, i'll sing you a song of an ancient ship, And its mighty fearsome crew."
Yep, you've guessed it. The above shanty excerpt is what I've had swimming around in my head for the last week or so, ever since I finished Demons of the Ocean. Try explaining that one to parents and friends... I've had a lot of funny looks, let me tell you. It got worse when I said it was from a book about Vampirates: vampire pirates out at sea, sailing around as if they're not bloodsucking fiends with scary sharp teeth and an ancient song written about them... cool, eh?
I'm a vampire freak, as people like to tell me, and even I've never encountered vampire pirates before. It's a brilliant story, and I couldn't get enough of my favourite fanged fighter Lorcan who, let's face it, is like the Edward Cullen of the sea. With his chiselled features, long dark hair, chivalrous nature and deep glowing eyes... *sigh*... sorry, I'm back now.
As I was saying, this is a fun, inventive story, and will appeal to both boys and girls. There's a heroine for each gender in the form of twins Grace and Connor, two kick-ass teenagers who get separated and hauled onto two very different ships. Will they be reunited? Will Grace be eaten by evil vamp Sidorio? Or will Connor be cut to shreds by hardcore Jack Sparrow types? All will be revealed...
My only quibble with this book is that the majority of the story is supposed to be set in the year 2512. I expected things to be drastically different to how they are now, but I didn't get that impression. There are no hoverboards, no machines taking over the world and not a single little AI boy in sight, so I can't help but wonder why it's set so far in the future. Maybe it'll all become clear in later installments which, by the way, I can't wait to read. I can see this series getting better and better, and with book five due for release in a few weeks, I'm anticipating great things.(less)
Even though I'm not a teenage boy living in the 1980s, I still related to The Diary of a Dr. Who Addict much more than most of the other books I've re...moreEven though I'm not a teenage boy living in the 1980s, I still related to The Diary of a Dr. Who Addict much more than most of the other books I've read. That's because I too have an obsession with a TV show, but it's Buffy, rather than Doctor Who. Like main protagonist David, I can rattle off episode names and numbers, ramble on about useless trivia and give you a summary of each and every episode ever broadcast. Embarrassingly, I also used to record episodes off the TV, and listen to them on my audio Walkman. I ran out of blank videos after Season 1, so of course I had to have a substitute. That's where the similarities end, I think, though I feel better knowing that author Paul Magrs may just understand what I've been going through for the last twelve years.
The Diary of a Dr. Who Addict is primarily about growing up at a time when everything was different. For example, being gay was still somewhat frowned upon, which led to an abundance gay slurs being used as everyday playground taunts. David gets his fair share of these, even though it's unwarranted at the time, and in no way deserved. He's slowly growing apart from his best friend, fellow Doctor Who addict, Robert, and is also living with mysterious new Grandma Jacqui. He handles it all well and takes everything in his stride, but adolescence is all new to him, and it's hard to navigate.
Girls enter the mix further into the novel, and David finds himself with a new friend. By this time, Robert isn't around much, and the door is open for new opportunities and friendships. Karen is a good match for him, and though their relationship is never really romantic, she makes his school days more bearable. I loved this aspect of the story, as we all know girls and boys are capable of being just friends. It might be becoming increasingly rare in YA fiction, but it does happen.
Slow pacing and sparse chapters at times jarred my concentration, but as with all real-life stories, it was something I was prepared for. Not everyone's life is a rollercoaster ride, and sometimes it's just nice to sit back and let it travel at its own speed. David's story is like that, and it's all the more realistic because of it. He finds his place eventually, makes new friends in the process and watches many excellent episodes of Doctor Who. If that's not growing up, I don't know what is. (less)
Out of Shadows is one of the best debut novels I've ever read. It's fantastically written, and has left me close to how I felt when I read The Book Th...moreOut of Shadows is one of the best debut novels I've ever read. It's fantastically written, and has left me close to how I felt when I read The Book Thief for the first time. It's powerful and important, and at times horribly shocking. I sat there in stunned silence after reading one particular page, and had to take a minute to fully comprehend what had happened. That's strong writing, if ever I saw it.
Out of Shadows begins in 1983, a few years after the end of the Rhodesian Bush War (or the Zimbabwe War of Liberation). Robert Mugabe is now Prime Minister, and Zimbabwe is no longer ruled by white people. I hardly knew anything about this historical event before reading this book, and so once again I was given a history lesson. It's very interesting, and is the first time I've come across this setting in a YA book.
Robert Jacklin is a very likeable character for most of the book, and I'm so glad it's written in the first person. He started off as an unassuming 13-year-old, and grew into a strong, decent man right before my eyes. He has more tough decisions to make and bad choices to live with than anyone that age should, but each shapes his life and who he becomes. His friends are a less desirable bunch, and though I see why Robert was so eager to be part of their group, things would have been vastly different if he'd stayed well away.
At times chilling and dark, yet strangely hopeful, Out of Shadows is one of those books that I know I'll revisit in the future. I've been thinking about it ever since I finished it, and am finding it hard to get it out of my head. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I hope it eventually gets the recognition and praise it deserves. (less)
I've been trying to write this review for weeks, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. I could just say that Before I Fall is amazi...moreI've been trying to write this review for weeks, but have had a hard time putting my thoughts into words. I could just say that Before I Fall is amazing, fantastic, a groundbreaking debut. It's all of these things, yet so much more. You know when you read a book, and you're left speechless at the end, like you're in sensory overload? That was what happened to me when I read Before I Fall. I was a complete mess, left reeling like Sam's end had been my end, like her thoughts and feelings had been my own. It's a powerful feeling, though completely unprecedented.
Before I Fall made me wish I was a writer. It made me wish I could arrange sentences that would mean something to people, and maybe even change how they live their life. Not many books do that for me, but when they do, they cast their spell on me and stay in my head forever. Sam's story did more than that -- it made me realise that life is precious, and that every single choice we make has an effect. We might not see it, but it's there. Our decisions have the ability to alter someone's path, or someone's self perception. We have to think about what we do, how we treat others and what one wrong turn can lead to.
Sam's whole journey is filled with regrets and what ifs. Her story is tragic, yes, but it's also redeeming. How many of us wish we could relive a day, maybe do something differently, or take something back? It's a dream we'll never experience, but for Sam it's her reality, even her nightmare. She has a second chance, and she has to use it to fix the trouble she caused, and the people she hurt along the way. I didn't like Sam at first; I thought she was horrible, stuck-up, and not someone I'd ever want to know. Lauren Oliver warned me of this before I started the book, so I was prepared to hate her. What I wasn't prepared for was how much she'd change, and how much she'd speak to me and my way of life.
I'm a naturally shy, quiet person: I don't take risks, I don't try many new things, and I worry about situations I have no control over. Lauren has shown me that life's too short to worry about what might happen in the future, and that once it's gone, it's gone. I've made a conscious effort to live a little, and not focus on the negatives of everything. For that I owe her a huge thanks, because it's something I've struggled with for a long time. On a personal level, this book is everything I've needed, and I hope sharing my thoughts can make someone like me open their eyes to new experiences.
To put it simply, just buy this book. Meet Sam, cry with Sam, and live with Sam. Then go out and do something new. Even if you only say hi to someone outside your circle, or drive a different way to work, it's a step in the right direction. (less)