The Deathless Girls

I requested and received a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, but I’ve since bought the beautiful, finished (and signed!) hardback edition anyway. All opinions are my own.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, cover art by Olga Baumert

I’m a big fan of Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s MG books so I’ve been really looking forward to both this and her adult fiction debut, The Mercies, due out in February (snapped up the proof copy that arrived in work today!)

I’m also a big fan of anything that draws on folk or fairytale, myth or legend, cultural histories or fables so the fact that this is a spin on the Dracula legend from the ‘brides” point of view was really appealing.

And it’s testament to Kiran’s writing that I approached the end of the books invested in the sisters that I was still hoping they would ‘escape’ despite knowing their fate!

Although what I absolutely did not see coming was the way in which they finally became his brides in the final chapters, and especially Kizzy’s role in this – this was one of my favourite parts of the book which I can’t talk about without spoilers so if/when you’ve read it please let me know your thoughts!!

The sisters in question are brave and feisty Kizzy and the less confident Lil who loves her sister dearly but often feels like she lives in her shadow.

Part of a small and close-knit travelling community, they return to their camp on their divining day to find it burnt down and their families and friends killed or captured. Not without a fight, they too are taken to serve a nearby Boyar, leading them straight into the path of the much-feared ‘Dragon’ or Dracul – a mysterious, powerful figure about whom rumour abounds.

I loved this. It had everything I’ve come to expect from her younger books – rich, lyrical prose with vivid, detailed description that transports you right into the story; I felt the rawness of the girls’ emotions – their fear, anger, pain and loss especially, but also the flares and flickers of warmth, comfort, joy and love.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this and I think a lot of it comes down to expectation. So, let me say here that while this is a brides of Dracula story, it is their story not his – their backgrounds, family and the events which led them into his path – therefore, it is not the next Twilight, Buffy or Anne Rice vampire fest.

It is a story about sisterhood (both literal and figurative), family, love and loyalty; and it is a story primarily about power in all its guises – about in/equality, slavery and subjugation and it is a book which shouts, sings and echoes with indignation at abuses of power.

It is, therefore, unflinching and brutal at times and while this makes it uncomfortable to read that is as it should be to address these themes well and there is also tenderness, hope and strength.

Atmospheric, powerful and beautiful. Bring on The Mercies!

Rose, Interrupted

I requested and received a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Rose, Interrupted by Patrice Lawrence.

Cover art by – to be added: my proof copy didn’t have the finished artwork or name the artist and I have tried and failed to find them online. I’ll add as soon as I know who they are!

I have enjoyed both of Patrice Lawrence’s previous books, Indigo Donut particularly, but this was by far my favourite that she’s written so far.

It follows Rose and her younger brother, Rudder, as they attempt to adjust to life in the ‘Worldly World’ having left the strict religious sect they’d been brought up in. Rose, like their mum, is relieved to be ‘free’ and doing all she can to fit in and shake off her religious past, having written herself a ten point decommissioning programme.

Rudder, on the other hand, is finding it hard. He’s struggling to adjust and swings between finding in comfort in his Harry Potter books, throws and robes and feeling guilty for having them as he yearns to be accepted back into God’s Pilgrims.

I also loved the use of music, which is a common theme in Patrice’s books (especially the choice of Simon and Garfunkel). It added a wry humour and helped build Rudder’s character further.

Unlike Rose, who has thrown herself, ultimately rather naively, into modern teenage life – using chat rooms to guide her actions when it comes to relationships and choosing flamboyant ‘fairy kei’ outfits and make up to stand out on her own terms rather than because of her past – Rudder is finding the outside world, the idea of making friends and teenage behaviour terrifyingly confusing.

The dual narrative in this works brilliantly as the characters and their worries are so different, but have the same root causes for their situation and struggles. Their different ways of coping (or not) and their differing views on what happened before they left the Pilgrims are really well articulated this way, and their frustration, anger and worry for each other is made clearer because of it too.

It was also a great way to depict their relationship in a realistic way – they clearly love and care for each other, but they bicker, fight, roll their eyes, take deep breaths and generally annoy each other the way only siblings can. I thought this was so well-written.

There are real layers to this, both in terms of the story which we get more and more of the history for as it unfolds, and in terms of the topical and thought-provoking issues it deals with – social media, sexting, so-called ‘revenge’ porn and consent, but also poverty and power, religion, control and being able to break free.

There is much to relate to in both Rose and Rudder’s situations and feelings – no, I’ve never had to leave a strict religious community that shun modern life, but I have been a teenager and so many of their doubts and uncertainties and their attempts to fit in, to do what ‘everyone’ does and to be accepted will be universally recognised.

It feels deep and complex and the emotions and shades of grey involved in so much of what’s covered are clear, but it’s such a page turner too!

Those of you who are here often will know I’ve been struggling to boot myself back into reading some YA for a while now, and contemporary (in YA or MG) is NOT MY THING…but this really grabbed me and I couldn’t put it down. Really well-written, it feels like Patrice Lawrence is going from strength to strength and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Scavengers

I requested and received a copy of this free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

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Scavengers by Darren Simpson, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Landfill enjoys his life in the Hinterland – running free with dogs, foxes, goats and cats; swimming with turtles and chasing squirrels. He is happy in his wild, junk-yard home with old Babagoo taking care of him, as long as he follows the rules and sticks to the routine.

The rules are Babagoo’s way of keeping them safe from Outsiders. So is the wall inlaid with glass shards which must be checked for cracks, disrepair or infiltration every day. So is the need for cover whenever the Eye passes over. So is the fact that Landfill cannot yet accompany Babagoo to the Spit Pit to rummage for useful ‘treasures’ and catch gulls to eat.

And it is this last point, along with a couple of other seemingly, but emphatically not, insignificant events that plants a seed of doubt in Landfill’s mind about Babagoo’s rules and what he has always known to be true. And it is this seed of doubt combined with a chance meeting, that gradually triggers the events which will see Landfill and Babagoo’s world turned on its head.

The world-building in this is fantastic. While very much sticking to show not tell and avoiding being at all laboriously descriptive, Darren Simpson manages to describe in intricate detail this world made up of discarded, broken and ‘good for nothing’ objects in a way which has you clambering around it, climbing over it and chasing through it with Landfill.

The thick, sweet scent of rubbish and the acrid, sour smells of living unwashed, along with a multitude of others infiltrate the pages. The swarms of butterflies we see taking flight, the joy of splashing about in a sunlit pool of water (albeit, rather dirty water!), the absolute abandon with which Landfill lives as he lopes along on all fours with the dogs – all of it is described in a way which not only makes this place incredibly easy to picture,  but in a way which makes it easy to understand both how and why Landfill is so content in this place you couldn’t imagine being a home.

The use of a combination of altered, made up or old versions of words add to the sense of Landfill and Babagoo being a world apart, as do the scenes in the latter half of the book in which Landfill is slowly introduced to ‘Outside’ concepts, inventions and life. The way these are shown and described really hammer home how isolated from ‘normal’ life Landfill has been. Likewise, his innocence and naivety about the world only highlight his separation from it.

This is a coming of age story like no other. Landfill begin to question his world and rebel against Babagoo’s rules and ‘facts’. We see doubt creeping in and hurt, anger and confusion taking their turns. But ultimately, we see his love for Babagoo and his want, and need, to trust him and believe him.

However, as the reader, we are also able to see, or at least guess at, Babagoo’s dishonesty and his motives – there is no doubt he loves Landfill and wants to protect him, but his fear of Outsiders and the actions they cause may be pushing him away instead.

While part of me would have loved to know more about Babagoo’s backstory, I also liked that we were left to make up our own minds about Babagoo and his past – where do the lines of right and wrong blur, cross or meet? What should or shouldn’t he have done? Can we excuse him? What led him to his current life? Why does he do what he does? The book comes with discussion questions at the end (great for schools or children’s book groups) but there is so much to discuss from Babagoo’s character alone.

I thought the relationship between Landfill and Babagoo was incredibly well-written – the bickering and rows and the deception and disobedience juxtaposed with really tender moments where we clearly see how much they care for each other. The way this built over the book made the final chapters even more dramatic and emotive.

I did at times find the early chapters a bit slow, but the pace gradually quickens as events unfold, until the final chapters which are punchy and pacey, chaotic and tense, making this slow burning start very effective in the end. These final scenes are frenetic with panic, confusion, and desperation and a stark contrast to the contented tranquillity of their life at the start.

Again, this leaves us with questions that open up a wealth of discussion about personal vs. private lives and when we intervene and how, about mental health, homelessness and support (or lack of), about society, materialism and ‘the norm’.

I started reading this with echoes of Room or Our Endless Numbered Days, but it soon moved into its own, with its unique and detailed language and world-building to thank. There is a feel of David Almond to this, or at least there was for me, though I can’t quite place why, perhaps the coming of age narrative or the fact that the voice of this sits so well in that mid-ground between MG and YA, or perhaps for other reasons entirely! Whatever the reasons, I think if you like Almond, you’d enjoy this.

This book was a slow burner for me, but I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s incredibly moving, heart-breaking at times, and there is much to discuss, pick over and reflect on by the end.

 

WWW Wednesday 20/2/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Monsters by Sharon Dogar.

I’m still chipping away at Monsters. I have mixed feelings on this one but I definitely want to see it through to the end.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J K Rowling, read by Stephen Fry.

I’m nearing the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on audiobooks too…which is disastrous as Prisoner of Azkaban isn’t available for another 2 weeks…! As you can tell. I’m still really enjoying these!

What have you just finished reading?

Flights of Fancy – Children’s Laureates

I thought this was a lovely book – perfect for aspiring writers, illustrators, creatives everywhere. I’ll post a full review this week.

Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie

Amy at Golden Books Girl recommended this and I’m so pleased she did as I might not have picked it up otherwise and I loved it. With a remote, rural, historical setting it felt do well rooted and it was such a joy to read – I really liked the writing style. I’ll be reviewing it soon.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’ll definitely be listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as soon as its available. In the meantime I might give something else a go but I’m not sure what yet…

I’m just about to start The Closest Thing to Flying by Gill Lewis too which I have high hopes for.

Have you read any of the books here?

What are you reading at the moment?

5Ws Wednesday

Since I only tend to do a WWW Wednesday post every other week, I thought I’d use today to get some more Ws out there – this time the ‘5 Ws Book Tag’ which I pinched from Amy over at Golden Books Girl!

1 – WHO? Who is an author you’d love to have a one on one with?

There are so many for so many different reasons (Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, Katherine Rundell, Shaun Tan, Zana Fraillon, Helen Oyeyemi, Frann Preston-Gannon, Morag Hood, Rob Biddulph…) but honestly, I think I’d be so shy that I’d just stand there and be fidgety and awkward not knowing what to say or saying something stupid, so maybe it’s best that I don’t have a one on one with anyone!

2 – WHAT? What genre or style do you most gravitate to?

Hmm, this is a tricky one. With picture books I like anything quirky and fun – nothing smushy and sentimental or moralistic please! With MG, I definitely read more fantasy than anything else, but really anything with great world-building and that little bit of magic (whether real or just in the feel of it!). With this and YA I’m less keen on the contemporary/funny/everyday life stuff, but it means when I read one in that style I do like I usually rave about it! With YA and adult I do still like some fantasy, but nothing TOO fantasy-y, I prefer historical fiction, magical realism or contemporary stuff with social issues as a theme.

3 – WHERE? Where do you prefer to read?

This definitely used to be bed – well, it still is, but I can’t read in bed anymore as Peapod sleeps next to us and I’d wake him with a light on, so now I read on the sofa in the evening or stood up in the kitchen when he naps in the sling during the day (I daren’t sit down!)

4 – WHEN? What time of the day do you prefer to read?

Definitely evening before bed – I think it just feels cosier. But really, I find it so hard to squeeze any reading in now that I prefer to read whenever I have two minutes to do so!

5 – WHY? Why is your favourite book your favourite book?

My absolute favourite book is Shaun Tan’s ‘The Red Tree’. It puts into pictures (and words!) a feeling I could never articulate but know so well. It’s both an explanation and a comfort.

BONUS! How do you go about selecting what you’ll read next?

I look at what I’ve been sent to review and which are out/out soon/have been out for ages because I’m way behind (always), use this to narrow it down then pick one I fancy from those. Usually I try to mix it up a bit, so if I’ve just read a YA or 2, I’ll switch to MG or adult, or if I’ve read a fair bit of fantasy, I might read something more historical or contemporary.

Do we share any of these answers or reading habits? What would your 5 Ws be?

Mini Monday – a YA double bill

I requested and received advance copies of both books free from the publishers, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

This month I’ve read two YA books, both by authors whose debuts I read and loved last year, so I was very lucky and very excited to get early copies of both of these.

Both of these books not only take on some serious and relevant issues, but also give a voice to what have traditionally been (and continue to be, although it may be improving) under-represented members of society: a British-Pakistani teen and a young black American girl.

Up first:

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan. Illustrated by Amrit Bird. Cover design by Rachel Vale.

I thought Khan’s debut I Am Thunder last year was brilliant – well-written, ground-breaking in the way it looked at radicalisation and with huge contemporary YA appeal – so I was eagerly anticipating this one too.

Fifteen-year-old Ilyas is under pressure from everyone: GCSE’s are looming, his dad wants him to join the family business while he dreams of designing comic books, and he’s becoming increasingly unsure of the direction his group of mates is taking.

Serving detention one day, Ilyas finds a kindred spirit in Kelly, but when Kelly is caught up in his gang’s toxic bet, Ilyas must decide where his loyalties lie.

While I didn’t feel this broke the mould in the same way I Am Thunder did, it nevertheless tackles some difficult and important subjects – racism, revenge porn, gangs, bullying and peer-pressure not to mention culture, family and friendship – and it does so with sensitivity, awareness and realism.

Similarly, when I first started reading the book, it felt like there were a lot of stereotypes at play. However, as I read on, they felt necessary, believable and, perhaps most importantly, familiar.

There’s a lot in this book teens will recognise and all of it feels well-described, with voices that sound natural and real, not forced or too ‘adult’. There is a lot of slang used in the dialogue and this feels carefully considered, well-researched and integral to the characters and the story which just would not have the same effect without the characters speaking as they really would.

Immensely relatable, my heart went out to Ilyas as he struggled with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, but it also cheered as he found the courage to stand up for what he believed in and grew in confidence.

This is a book which really understands how hard it can be to find yourself trapped in a bad situation and how it can be even harder to get out of it again. The increasing desperation came across powerfully and will be so familiar to so many. It shows how confusing and difficult teenage years can be as you try to find your way, your goals, your ‘people’ and of course yourself.

A story of hope, change and self-belief: I really enjoyed this and it deserves to be a big hit with contemporary YA fans.

And next…

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. Cover design by Tim Marrs.

Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill.

But when her first song goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Bri finds herself at the centre of controversy and portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. And with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it – she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

The Hate U Give was one of my favourite books of last year – powerful, hard-hitting and brutally honest, it was truly something else.

On The Come Up returns to ‘The Garden’ (Garden Heights) where THUG was set and – while it isn’t a sequel and reads perfectly well as a stand-alone book – there is much overlap, with events from THUG seeing their consequences reaching into On The Come Up.

As with ‘Kick the Moon’, this didn’t feel quite so ground-breaking as THUG, but still tackles some very important issues – racism, poverty, class, misrepresentation, drugs and gang affiliation – in a compassionate but unsentimental way which very much holds a mirror up to certain aspects of society and the media.

Angie Thomas is an incredible writer – her characters feel real and complex, their relationships and lives the same. Bri’s mum in particular struck a chord with me, while the changing dynamics of Bri and her best friends’ relationships will no doubt hit home for many readers.

Bri herself is incredibly likeable – and if you’ve read THUG and liked Starr, you’ll love Bri just as much if not more: fiercely determined, stretching her wings and aiming for the sky, she is a character with big dreams, plenty of hope and just as much fire…which, whether rightly or wrongly, can lead to trouble.

It was near impossible for me to like this as much as I did THUG, but it was still brilliant and readers from all backgrounds will find both things they relate to and other things which open their eyes or make them pause for thought. It is a book brimming with friendship, love, hip hop and hope!

WWW Wednesday 23/1/19

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday’:

What are you currently reading?

Kick the Moon by Muhammad Khan. Illustrated by Amrit Birdi.

I thought Khan’s debut I Am Thunder last year was brilliant – quite ground breaking in tackling radicalisation and very well written.

Im not too far into Kick The Moon yet, but I’m enjoying it, although it doesn’t feel like it’s breaking any moulds. We’ll see how it pans out…

What have you just finished reading?

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas. Cover design by Tim Marrs

I loved The Hate U Give last year, so I was really excited about this. I definitely preferred THUG (I think I just found its subject matter a bit grittier and more interesting) but I really enjoyed this too – there’s a lot of the same themes touched on but with new ones too, and all new characters – if you liked THUG’s Starr, you’ll love Bri too! Full review soon.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m not sure! I’m trying to plan ahead a bit better with regards to what I read and release dates this year, but I’m already behind on my planning ahead so I’ll probably just choose one!

Possibly/probably/maybe A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison or Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie.

Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?