Release – Patrick Ness

I have read and reviewed a few Patrick Ness books now, and there is no doubt that he is an incredibly talented and engaging author. I really loved More Than This, enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go (which is being made in to a film with an amazing cast) and was intrigued by The Rest of Us Just Live Here (amazing concept and an alternative view on superheroes!) This book is no different, but I am feeling a little uncomfortable about recommending it to you and I will explain the reasons why as we go along.

The main story centres around a day in the life of Adam Thorn. He is 17 and lives in a small town in middle America. His father Bob Thorn, is a local pastor for a church called The House Upon the Rock. For English readers I imagine him as one of those evangelical priests who walks up and down at the pulpit and shouts a lot about Jesus loving you, I think that these are a more regular occurrence in America then they are here. His mother is in denial that they are poor and his brother Marty is the prodigal son who has gone off to Christian college to learn how to be a preacher like his dad. Adam is the black sheep in the family because he is gay. Not that this is ever discussed in the Thorn household, ever. Marty has all the commitment but none of the personality and Adam has all the personality but, according to Big Bob Thorn, is morally corrupt.

Adam’s best friend is called Angela Darlington and she is the adopted daughter of a Dutch lady and her American husband. She is originally from Korea I think and has a sharp wit and an open heart. She loves Adam and worries for him and has decided that she is bi or gay or not, it doesn’t matter. She supports Adam and is more family to him then his own crazy lot. He also has a boyfriend called Linus but is still in love with his ex, Enzo who is moving out of town. Today is his leaving party (or get-together as they keep calling it) and the book is leading up to this event. Adam also likes cross country running but isn’t very fast, which is incidental to the book but shows a little of his  personality.

The other  section of the book centres around the drug fuelled murder of another local girl, Katherine van Leuwen. She is murdered by her boyfriend while they are both high and her body is dumped in the local lake – where the get together is taking place later on. Her spirit inhabits some kind of Queen of the Lake who is now wandering the town looking for her murderer to exact revenge. Or rather the queen has reanimated Katherine’s body and when people see her, they are shocked to see the dead Katherine wandering about. She is followed by her faithful servant who is a fawn. She visits Katherine’s mother and friend and the murder scene trying to figure out why she is there. If the Queen cannot reconnect with her body by the end of the day then the world (hers and ours) will be destroyed. No pressure there then – the poor fawn is working overtime to erase everyone’s memories of his Queen in Katherine’s body. You all still with me?

There are several things that I really loved about this book. The writing style for one always makes me marvel at how people  can be so clever. I almost doubt my own cleverness because there is no way I could come up with a concept so clever. Ness writes with passion and depth. His descriptions, the scene where Adam is sexually assaulted by his boss, is so good you feel like you are sitting in that cramped office with them. I felt the shame of both of them, and the anger. The story is engaging, I liked Adam and Angela and Linus, wasn’t too keen on Enzo and Marty but I can understand them. Adam’s parents are struggling with their faith versus the love for their son and I can see, as a parent, how this would be difficult. I wanted it all to work out in the end but I guess life isn’t as neat as all that. I also love the concept of all the action taking place on one day, so many changes occur in Adam’s life that the supernatural element could be the only explanation.

Here is my problem. According my goodreads profile I have read nearly 1000 books. I have been reading for 40 years (give or take my childhood years!) and I have travelled all over the world, time travelled and gone in to the future in fiction. I have experienced things  through many fictional characters and have loved and laughed,  hated and felt angry, violent and heart broken. All of these emotions are brought on by the written word. I love reading and it is my job and my passion to make as many people as possible feel the same way that I do about it. I have never told a student not to read a book when they have asked me. I have recommended books that are controversial, touch subjects they may not understand or agree with but, they all make you think about what it might be like to live in another person’s skin.

I finished this book last week and have really struggled with how to review it. This book is written for the teen market or YA audience. This is classified as 11 to 18 years old. This market has blown up over the last few years and is amazing. The wealth of subjects that it writes about make it easier for young people to experience and accept things that they have not experienced yet, and I think this is a great thing.  There may be things that they cannot talk about with anyone else but they can read about and not feel so alone in the world. Which is why I think that YA authors have an obligation to educate as well as produce great fiction – no mean feat. The sex scenes in this book are some of the most graphic I have ever read. The description of Linus and Adam in bed together are both unnecessary and so descriptive that it made me uncomfortable, and I am no prude. I have never read another YA book where any sexual descriptions, straight, gay or bi are so intimate. I’m not sure why Ness decided to make them so, or why his publisher then decided to go ahead with them. There is a fine line between educating and shocking and I think this one crosses it.

That’s just a personal opinion and you may go on and love it and think I’m a silly old lady but, I want you to know what to expect and, as an educator (!) I need to do that. I loved this book but I struggled with it. You decide what you think.

 

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This Careless Life – Rachel McIntyre

If you  saw an advert asking if you wanted to be famous, would you do it? This is the premise of this interesting book about four friends who sign up for a reality type TV show over their summer holidays before they go off to university. The main driver of the project is Olivia Dawson-Hill, or Liv to her friends Hetty, Jez and Duffy. Well I say friends, they don’t seem very friendly to me, except Liv and Hetty  and even they don’t seem too keen on each other!

They have all just left their posh boarding school and are waiting for their A level results before heading off to separate lives. Liv is not confident about hers but its ok because a. her parents are mega rich and b. she has her own blog Miss Olivia Loves and she is going to be famous anyway. This programme will just make that happen a bit quicker. She lives in a big house in an annex that her parents have built for her which is super swanky and which she has designed herself. This is where all the action takes place.

Cass arrives to make some audition tapes of the four from the production company Pretty Vacant Productions. The reality programme they are auditioning for is called This Careless Life. I love the cleverness of these two names, and the fact that none of the kids get it! Liv is not expecting Cass, she is expecting a guy called Tony but, she has a business card and it all seems legit so they get started. All of them have to sign a disclaimer saying that they are allowed to take part and that none of the footage used in the audition tapes will be used on TV (if they make it that far). They also have to turn their phones off and make sure that none of the auditions are recorded. This is important for later. Liv goes first. They all watch her audition tape and then Cass starts asking some uncomfortable questions. She seems to have knowledge about each one of them which no one else seems to be know. All of the kids are connected to their local country club and all have a big secret to hide.

Hetty is obsessed with her boyfriend Duncan (control freak!) who works for her mum, a local far right councillor. Jez is trying to get publicity for a charity that he has set up, Duffy is a bit of a playboy who seems to think that all women should fall at his feet. All of them have done something that they think  no one else knows about. All of them are wrong.

The clever thing about this book is that you are never quite sure whether these things happened or not and what the connection is. It all becomes clear at the end but, although you get to know the characters, you don’t really invest too much in them. They are all a bit shallow and a little bit morally dodgy but, can you agree that they made the decisions they make for the right reasons or to protect themselves?

There a little bit of supernaturalness going on as well (is that even a word? it is now!) and I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary, although it does add to the mystery and explain a couple of twists at the end. I would have liked Cass’ character to have been explored a bit more but I can see that that could turn into another book on it’s own so maybe the author has kept that story in reserve.  Quite a short read but a good plot and a page turner that will keep you guessing until the end. Can they all redeem themselves and come out the other side as better people, or they all just living a careless life, exploiting people along the way? You’ll have to read it to find out!

The Hawkweed Prophecy – Irena Brignull

The Hawkweed Prophecy by Irena Brignull is the first in a series about two girls who have a strange connection. One lives in a coven in the woods with other witches, and no men. The other lives with her Dad and moves around a lot. It soon becomes clear that they move around so much because the girl, Poppy has problems settling in at school. Things seem to happen around her.

Poppy and Ember have been switched at birth. Poppy is living with her dad and moves a lot. Ember lives with her mother Charlock Hawkweed and the rest of the coven. The coven is led by her aunt Raven. There is a prophecy that one of the Hawkweed daughters will become Queen of the Witches and that means that it will either be Ember or her  cousin Sorrel.  Raven is determined that it will be her daughter, hence the reason that Poppy and Ember were swapped. Ember has little or no magical powers and there is no real possibility that she will ever be queen.

Poppy is on her 11th school and is struggling with the fact that her mum is in a mental hospital. Her mum is there because she has rejected Poppy and claims that she is not her daughter. Poppy is understandably struggling with this and doesn’t get on too well with her dad either; he is getting fed up with all the moving. Strange things happen when Poppy gets annoyed and most of the schools she has been in have asked her to leave.

One day the two girls meet in the woods by chance. They have no idea that they are connected but form an instant bond with each other. Poppy starts to talk about the outside world and Ember longs to be a part of it. Although she is not allowed the talk to ‘chaffs’ (non magical people) about the coven, she finds herself telling Poppy bits and pieces and lends her some of her books about spells. Poppy soon realises that there is more to their connection then either of them thought.

The other main character in the book is Leo, a boy who lives on the streets. Poppy meets and forms a connection with him and he helps her through some stuff with her cats. Leo has had a hard time and is living in fear of his stepdad and stepbrothers. Leo plays an important part in the lives of both the girls and, without giving too much away, will definitely make an appearance in the next book.

The book has some great elements in it; magic, jealousy, love and revenge. The strong female characters are refreshing to read about, and the idea of a load of ladies living in the woods making potions is kind of cool! As Poppy’s magic grows and she becomes more sure of her abilities she becomes a likeable person that we can identify with. Ember is a little too soft for my liking, but I think this might change later.

All in all a good book that you will enjoy and will keep you guessing. There are some violent elements to it but this is in context and the whole waiting to be queen thing will hopefully be fleshed out a bit more in the next  book, along with the East witches who turn in to big cats. Did I mention that there was people changing in to animals as well?

Further reading: The Thirteen Treasures series by Michelle Harrison, Harry Potter (obviously!) The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard – basically anything with magic in!

The Queen of the Tearling

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This is the first part of a three part series and definitely one for older readers as the swearing in it is necessary but bad! Kelsea Raleigh is a girl who has a destiny. The book begins with her living in a small house in the forest with her guardians Barty and Carlin. She knows that she is destined for greater things, and that she is the daughter of the Tearling Queen; when she reaches the age of 19 she will become the Queen herself but she has been hidden all these years because of fears that she will be killed. The Tearling is a land created by William Tear, and contains exiled people from England and America. They went there for a better life but things are pretty basic and there are few doctors and no technology. There is however, magic.

Kelsea’s mother Queen Elyssa was a weak queen and signed a treaty with the Red Queen to send people from Tearling to Mortmesne as slaves. Mortmesne is the neighbouring country to the Tearling and is ruled by the Red Queen, a magical figure who does not age. After Queen Elyssa’s death, her brother Thomas became the Regent until Kelsea was old enough to rule. He has left the country to ruin and is lazy and weak. There are also other factions like the Caden who are trying to kill Kelsea so that the Regent can stay on the throne and continue ruining the kingdom. All Kelsea has to do is get back the Keep in the main city of New London, and be crowned. This is easier said than done as so many people are trying to kill her. She is protected by the Queen’s Guard, a group of men loyal to the previous queen who will guard her until death. Their leader is a man called Lazurus, or the Mace. He is a huge man mountain who kills people with a mace!

When they arrive in New London, Kelsea begins to realize the extent to which the country has been ruined. She sees giant cages where people are herded in and taken to Mortmesne. They are chosen once a month through a lottery system run by a pretty nasty piece of work called Arlen Thorne. The decisions she makes will have a huge impact on whether the country will remain at peace or not, but she cannot sit by and watch such cruelty. The Mace can do little but advise her but she is governed by a mysterious jewel that hangs around her neck, given to her by Carlin when she was a baby and part of the proof that she is the real queen of the Tearling. It has magical powers that she had no idea existed. During her journey back to the New London she meets a mysterious figure called the Fetch who she kind of falls in love with, he takes the companion jewel from her. The two jewels together make her extremely powerful, she just needs to learn how to use that power.

As you can imagine, the book ends on a cliffhanger and I have already started the next one in the series. I was  getting a bit fed up of reading teen angst books where one kid has something wrong with them and it was all profoundly depressing. What happened to fun!? Anyway, so I thought I would read a fantasy fiction book to give my brain a rest from all the angst! This is a really enjoyable fantasy fiction book that transports you to another world. It is a little confusing as to whether the people who founded the Tearling left the present world or not but that seems a bit incidental and you will find out more about this in the next book anyway. The characters are interesting and you will enjoy seeing Kelsea grow from a bit of a geeky tomboy to a strong leader. She is constantly described as plain and a bit fat, she struggles with fitness and has to tell the cook to make her healthier meals, she is not the gorgeous heroine queen that you would expect, and I think that makes it a better book for that. She is a more realistic character. The others are good strong characters that  you will enjoy reading about. It is advertised as a Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games type book, although I can see some similarities this book is in a world all of it’s own. It is violent though and, if you don’t like swearing and violence then this is not for you.

further reading: Game of Thrones series (but only if you are prepared to invest some time and you don’t mind a bit of sex and violence!) The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman (and the rest of the series).

 

Dreaming The Bear – Mimi Thebo

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This is a quick, enjoyable read. Darcy is the main narrator but there are some sections in italics, not sure who is narrating these, maybe the bear! Anyway, Darcy lives with her mum and dad and her brother Jem in Yellowstone National Park where her dad is working on a research project. They used to live in a proper town but her dad has  been offered a position working in the park and has moved them all there, Darcy is not very happy with this. Her mum is also working on some research thing and her brother Jem is older than her and goes to the local high school. She is supposed to be going there too but has been really ill with pneumonia and is off sick. She is recovering and must do a certain amount of exercise every day to build up the strength in her lungs. She goes out one day and starts walking through the snow. She is taken ill and has an encounter with a bear who looks after her. The bear also has something wrong with it and she has a kind of out of body experience.

Darcy is also a little bit in love with a boy in her brothers class called Tony Infante. As Darcy struggles with her illness she builds a connection with the bear and she starts to feed her. The bear has an injury in her shoulder and is stuck in a cave up an incline that she can’t get down  from. She is also really annoyed with her dad and her mum has gone away to a conference  and left them to it. Then a storm hits.

Darcy, Jem, Tony and their dad are stuck in their house and all confined to one room. This is a little intimate for Darcy but it means that she can get closer to Tony. After the storm Darcy and her dad go down to town and after a few more  trips they realize that when she is down in town she is much better. Eventually one of the research assistants works out the connection.

This  book is a nice easy read and, although it doesn’t look like much, it is quite enjoyable. It is also on the Carnegie longlist for this year and I can see why. It won’t take you long and that’s quite satisfying!

As I Descended – Robin Talley

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This is the third Robin Talley book that I have read now; I loved The Lies We Tell Ourselves but really wasn’t keen on What We Left Behind so I went into this with a bit of trepidation.

The premise of the book is thus: Maria and Lily are room mates and lovers at a creepy boarding school in America called Archeron Academy. The school is built on an old slave plantation and there are more than a few ghost stories attached. There is a big lake in the middle of the campus where, allegedly, three students  drowned and current students are now forbidden to swim in it. The lake is also supposed to be haunted by the students who died.

Maria is kind of the second best. They are in their senior year and students are competing to win the coveted Cawdor Kingsley Prize, which gives them a free pass to college. When the book opens, Lily and Maria, and Maria’s best friend Brandon are playing with an Ouija board in the old plantation dining room. They ask it a series of questions and open up a link to the spirit world. Before they can close it again, the ancient chandelier falls on the board and smashes it. Maria is haunted by her memories of Altagracia, her maid from when she was a child, who spoke to spirits and was interested in the occult.

The only thing standing in the way of Maria winning the prize, and being valedictorian (top student in the year) and football captain is a girl called Delilah. Lily wants Maria to win the prize so that they can go to the same college and be together forever. She encourages Maria to go out with Delilah ( a known drug user) the night before a random drugs test (Brandon gives her the info) and slip a drug that she uses into her drink. Then Delilah will be caught, she uses all the time anyway and the girls don’t think it’s fair that she always gets away with it; Maria will win the prize, get captain of the team and valedictorian and life will be perfect. Except something goes wrong.

After a tragic accident the situation spirals out of control and Maria and Lily get more and more paranoid. Shove in the ghosts as well and this book gets more exciting. I’m going to give you a final clue and tell you that the book ends on the sports field which was originally called Dunsanane and you will obviously guess that the book is based on the play Macbeth.

Very loosely based I might add! Maria and Lily are obviously meant to be the Macbeths and Lily does a good job of winding Maria up. Eventually though it’s a little unclear whether either did anything because they wanted to or because they were possessed by evil spirits.  Mateo is the hero, Brandon’s boyfriend becomes suspicious of the two girls and decides to do some investigating.

I enjoyed this book a lot more that What We Left behind, although I didn’t think the characters were as deeply constructed as they could have been. There wasn’t much of a back story on any of them and I felt I would have liked them more if there had been. I didn’t really care if Maria succeeded or not, or was consumed by the evil spirits and went mad! The other aspect to the  story was obviously the  ghosts and whether they were real or just the figment of the teenager’s troubled minds. You’ll have to read it to decide that one; I’m still not sure. I’ll tell you one thing though, I am so glad I never to went to boarding school!

All in all, a good read. I would recommend to anyone who is studying Shakespeare as it gives the story a modern twist and it will help you to see the psychological aspect of the story. Was Maria so blinded by what she felt she deserved that she would do anything to get it? Did Macbeth want to be King so badly that he was willing to kill or did Lady Macbeth talk him in to it with clever words and some magical trickery?

The Morphant: Gabriel Grant and the Ringmaster – Cornelius Fuel

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This book is an ebook only and you can get it on Amazon or Ibooks. The author came to do an author talk at the school so I thought I would read it for background!

I started off by thinking that, if you have an ebook what does that mean? Does it mean it hasn’t been picked up by a publisher? Do you decide to publish it yourself and see what happens? How does it work? Well, I still have no idea but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless!

Gabriel Grant is a bit of a school loner. He is bullied by a pretty nasty group of boys and one day, in a bid to escape them, he runs into a factory place and is electrocuted by a power service station and ends up in hospital. When he wakes up he is confronted by a hells angel type bloke called the Searcher who tells him that he is a Morphant. A Morphant is a person that change shape at will; not like a shapeshifter though. The Searcher is also a Morphant and his favourite shape is an owl, which teaches Gabriel (in the shape of an angel) to fly.

Gabriel has special powers that enables  him to change into any number of characters that he has thought of. Like a stretchy man or a giant bubble man. He basically has a bit of fun with this until his parents are kidnapped by evil clowns and he needs to go and rescue them. He takes his feisty sister Ariel with him and they investigate. Ariel is a fun character that you will identify with and she is always giving Gabriel a hard time! Especially when he borrows money from her.

The book is a good romp; it has all the key elements that you want; adventure, excitement, baddies and killer clowns! The book is nicely set up for a sequel as well and the author was great at passing over his enthusiasm about the book to his audience. A quick and easy read that you will enjoy.