Children of Icarus

I’m a huge fan of myths. I studied Latin at school, right up to A Level and I devoured stories of the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus and Hercules (yes, the Disney version). So when Georgia mentioned this book from Curious Fox, I knew it would be right up my street.

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“It is Clara who is desperate to enter the labyrinth and it is Clara who is bright, strong, and fearless enough to take on any challenge. It is no surprise when she is chosen.

But so is the girl who has always lived in her shadow. Together they enter.

Within minutes, they are torn apart forever. Now the girl who has never left the city walls must fight to survive in a living nightmare, where one false turn with who to trust means a certain dead end.”

Think Maze Runner meets Gladiator when it comes to this book. A group of teenagers, thrown into a maze to become Icarii, though we never really know if that’s actually a goal they should be striving for. The creatures and dangers of the maze are horrendous, we are closed in, just like the narrator to its narrow walls and we are equally nauseated by watching what happens to the other teens around her.

I’ve got to say – at times I found the narrator a little too… pathetic? She freezes whenever faced with danger, she is silent to the point that it ruins her future and she doesn’t seem to get over this at all. But then, if I was shoved into a maze like this, I think I’d be pretty useless too. Plus, it’s a little refreshing to read someone who isn’t automatically the reluctant hero (Katniss, Harry Potter etc.)

I don’t want to give anything away, but as we watch the narrator in the maze, navigating through the various people she meets, we realise how much of an impact family, friends and emotional ties have in this incomprehensible maze. Everyone has a role, everyone has a story and they are fighting just to survive which must be exhausting when there is no hope of anything more. I actually enjoyed these quieter moments more, when you saw the effect their situation could have on their personality and mental state. Yet these moments were matched with throes of action.

I loved the rumours of the maze – the stories of what might happen to you and the mysterious creatures and possibly, people, who roam it. When our narrator is out on her own, we learn so much more and the tension towards the end of the book is palpable. You know, just like the narrator, that we are close to finding out the truth, to finding out what’s at the end of this trail of clues. And then the book ends – infuriating but brilliant because all I want to do is pick up the next in the series to find out what is happening.

At moments, I hated that we never knew who the narrator was. But mostly, I loved her elusiveness – a characteristic that lends herself to a new role by the end of the book. The excitement that builds as you realise what she might become, and the chances she might have in the maze is great.

This novel mixes the classic labyrinth and its monsters with new trials, relatable characters and an intriguing plot. Though at times I was frustrated with our narrator, I’m desperate to find out the truth behind the Icarri and what secrets the maze holds.

Children of Icarus by Caighlan Smith is out now from Curious Fox.

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Eden Summer

I’m a huge fan of everything published by DFB – their books are always incredibly written, overwhelmingly powerful and usually pretty beautiful. Other than The Call which is less beauty and more intensely terrifying and brilliant. The lovely Carolyn sent me a copy of Eden Summer which did not disappoint – a stunning book exploring the pain of loss and power of friendship.

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“It starts like any other day for Jess – get up, draw on eyeliner, cover up tattoos and head to school. But soon it’s clear this is no ordinary day, because Jess’s best friend Eden isn’t at school…she’s gone missing. Jess knows she has to do everything in her power to try to find Eden before the unthinkable happens. So she starts to retrace their steps, looking back over the summer she and Eden have just spent together. She starts to notice new things. She starts to question everything she thought Eden’s summer had been about…A tense and thrilling journey through friendship, loss, betrayal and self discovery.”

God this book had all the emotions. First, because me and my sister also had a pretty tempestuous relationship growing up and so I quickly text her after reading this just to say, you know, I do love you really. Second, because of Liz Flanagan’s writing. An expert in a YA mind it seems and a beautifully emotive writer of grief and recovery. Her prose is poetic, haunting and incredibly touching.

I loved Jess because she was different, but more so because she didn’t act like she was in a stereotypical way. So often we have these tropes of someone who dresses like an ’emo/goth’ and the connotations that come with it. But Jess is one of those people and is funny, interesting, kind and honest and bloody lovely to Eden and I was thrilled to see Liz Flanagan fight against the morbid stereotype. I also loved Jess’ Mum in who we could see the battle between keeping her daughter safe, and trying to help her recover and move on from what happened to her. The love there which isn’t as obvious as the friendship was still so significant to me.

There’s a perfect balance between annoyance and empathy for Eden as we watch her struggle after what has happened. We react with Jess as she recoils in hurt but is bravely determined to be there for her friend. Eden’s journey of grief is also so recognisable and so delicately handled by Liz, it just really made my heart ache. The moments of bravery which so easily destruct into moments of indescribable sadness. You could really feel her pain, and the pain of Jess who felt so helpless. Even though we are reading from Jess’ point of view, I felt so invested in Eden, so intrigued by her and really started to care for her. I think, in fact, I just felt some sort of comfort in her. That someone was experiencing what I have, what so many of us have: loss and guilt.

And then we have Liam, a character who you don’t wholly trust but really hope he’ll turn out to be the guy you think he is. I won’t spoil whether he is or not. All in all, a powerful, moving book which really makes you leap from sadness to warmth over and over as you journey through their grief and beautiful friendship. I felt every moment with these characters – a wonderful debut and I can’t wait to see more.

Eden Summer by Liz Flanagan is out now.

In the Dark, In the Woods

The first time I heard about this book, it was because Louise O’Neill tweeted about it and I thought, well if she says it’s good, it’s got to be. And as expected, Louise was so right.

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“An unforgettable thriller from an incredible new author.

Father wants sixteen-year-old Castley and her five siblings to hide from the world. Living in a falling-down house deep in the woods, he wants to bury their secrets where no-one will ever find them.

Father says they are destined to be together forever. In heaven. Father says the sooner they get there, the better.

But Castley wants to be normal. She wants to kiss boys and wear jean shorts.”

What a beautifully written book. I mean, stunning. It’s such an uncomfortable read as you hear about the planned ‘incest’ of Castley being coupled off with her own brother, the fierce love between them all as siblings, the intense religion and heart-breaking trust of their father. When you’re young, all you have to look at is your parents and this is an extreme example of reaching an age where you start to question whether they’re really right about everything…

The novel is such a lyrical one, written so delicately and so perfectly that it makes its darkness even more prominent. I could feel myself as a teenager in it, the desperation to fit in and the moment you start to draw away from your family but feel guilty for doing so, wanting to be able to return to safety at any moment. Castley feels that so intensely and it’s brilliantly portrayed as she battles her normal teenage wishes with the guilt and love for her family.

It’s not all about Castley either, I actually found her siblings far more interesting. The brother who followed his father so closely he nearly becomes him, the other brother who is so rebellious, it’s painful to watch. Another brother who chooses to punish himself. The sisters who choose either silence or a painful kind of self-preservation. The torment the children suffer is ungodly, ironically. You could see each of them flit between being fastly loyal to their father and starting to believe there is an alternative.

Their father is abhorrent but in a way, I ended up feeling sorry for them all in the end. He is cruel but obviously so tormented in his own mind, it just feels like a tragic finale for every member of the family. You learn as much from what isn’t said, as from what is.

The story was certainly disturbing, treated with such delicacy and such detail in every sentence that you were drawn into a story which felt some-what magical. A truly uncomfortable read but an incredible coming-of-age story. Haunting is the best word to describe it. Heart-breaking, touching, stunning are a few more. The writing is what makes this book, such beauty in its characters and in the storytelling, with a darkness that sends chills up your spine.

In the Dark, In the Woods by Eliza Wass is out now.

Sign of One

I’ve heard a lot about this book – mostly good too, so I was thrilled when I was offered a copy by Maggie at Egmont. It’s a brilliant cover and a fantastic concept, one I was definitely intrigued and taken in by.

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“One for sorrow, two for death…

On Wrath, a dump-world for human outcasts, identical twins are feared. Only one will grow up human, while the other becomes a condemned monster with ‘twisted’ blood.

When sixteen-year-old Kyle is betrayed, he flees for his life with the help of Sky, a rebel pilot with trust issues. As the hunt intensifies, Kyle soon realises that he is no ordinary runaway – although he has no idea why he warrants this level of pursuit.

The hideous truth they discover could change the fate of Wrath and its harsh laws forever. Their reluctant, conflicted partnership will either save them – or bring about their destruction.”

I loved the examination into twins that this book took, the idea that one was evil and one good was an interesting idea in itself. We’re working on a book about twins at the moment too (False Hearts by Laura Lam) and I find it all so fascinating to see the bonds between them.

I’ll be honest in the fact that I really enjoyed Sign of One, I read it one summer afternoon in one go and it’s incredibly readable, exciting, emotional and full of adventure. However, I wouldn’t say it’s one that’s going to stay with me, I won’t be clamouring for the next one, though I’d definitely want to read it. And that’s got nothing to do with the writing or the book itself, more the fact that it was another dystopia (/sci-fi) and unfortunately I just feel worn out of them as a genre. It’s another group of people who are misunderstood and presented as evil when actually they were just feared. It feels very X-Men/Divergent.

I think this book has more to offer than just the same old dystopian story though – it’s got clever twists and great lead characters, I was more of a fan of Sky than Kyle but that’s probably just because I feel I’m a similar person to Sky. I love that every character has another version of themselves to fight for, I love the bond between twins that is more unbreakable than most other relationships. I loved Kyle’s family – I won’t say too much as I don’t want to give away spoilers but they’re brilliant, loyal, kind and clever.

It’s a really easy read, so pacey and realistic; the writing brings their world and the characters to life. I’d definitely recommend it; it just won’t be making my top 10 pile unfortunately.

Sign of One is out now from Egmont.

 

Wolf by Wolf

Wolf by Wolf is an incredible book – full of adventure, passion, history and powerful characters and writing. It’s one that I’ll keep thinking about for months and years to come – a fantastic novel.

 

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“Over ten years since the Nazis won the war, 17-year-old Yael has one mission: to kill Hitler. But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it. Wolf by Wolf is a captivating YA alternative history thriller, selected as the BBC Radio 2 Book Club title for 4th January 2016 and perfect for fans of The Book Thief.

Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same. Her story begins on a train.

Experimented on by scientists during her childhood in Auschwitz, Yael escaped from the concentration camp with the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only parts of her which always remain are the five tattooed wolves on her arm, one for each of the people she’s lost. Now she is intent on getting revenge and achieving her goal: to kill the Führer and change history forever. But to get close enough she must win an epic and gruelling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo – disguised as someone else…”

I had this book on my Kindle for a good month before I opened it up, simply because I had so much else to read (mostly for work). I was actually in a bit of a slump, I kept starting books and giving up  because I just wasn’t bothered – books I’ve come back to and loved since. But when I read the first few paragraphs of Wolf by Wolf, I was hooked. I kept being drawn back to my Kindle to read.

The time period is one I will never tire of, I inhale wartime fiction, and read Birdsong at least once a year. But I loved the twist Ryan puts on it, I love that we see a Jewish girl who is strong, resilient and who fights back. It was so interesting to read what the world might have been like if the Nazis had won the war. I loved the slight sci-fi edge too, it’s so light that it feels incredibly realistic, and completely believable.

Ryan’s characters are complex and powerful, I followed Yael’s romance, I adored the brother-sister relationship that she had to endure as Adele and the fierce adventure too. That’s what adds a new dimension onto this book: the bike racing. It’s like Storm Rider set in an alternative post-WWII period and it’s utterly unique and brilliant.

You have the politics and emotion of the Nazi time period, the emotion of the family relationships and what the wolves mean to Yael and the thrill of the long endurance of this race and its final goal. The twist is heartbreaking but so clever and you’re left hanging in the balance at the end of the book.

It was nice to read a book about a Holocaust victim which shows them as people outside of the camps and not only that, but strong, vengeful and important. At times she didn’t feel like a victim at all but you remember why she is there, what has happened which is true and you’re shook with anger, and even guilt, once more. It felt great to be seeking revenge on Hitler with Yael and that’s what makes the book so fantastic, a fiction adventure which has basis in reality, it’s like an alternative ending to history, a re-imagining, which makes it so easy to feel real.

The combination of tension, vivid detail, historical insight, pain, action and emotion makes this book totally different from anything I’ve read and it was an utterly fantastic read – brilliant characters with writing which didn’t let up for a second, I was completely immersed in their world and the story and am so excited to read Blood For Blood out in October.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin is out in paperback on 5th May.

Chasing the Stars

What is there to say about this book? When you combine Malorie Blackman, Shakespeare and space, you know it’s got to be incredible.

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“What happens when love brings loss? When love brings lies? When love brings hate?

Olivia and her twin brother Aidan are heading alone back to Earth
following the virus that wiped out the rest of their crew, and their family, in its entirety.

Nathan is part of a community heading in the opposite direction.
But on their journey, Nathan’s ship is attacked and most of the community killed.
Only a few survive.

Their lives unexpectedly collided, Nathan and Olivia are instantly attracted to each other, deeply, head-over-heels – like nothing they have ever experienced.

But not everyone is pleased. Surrounded by rumours, deception, even murder, is it possible to live out a happy ever after…?”

I studied Othello at A-Level and just like Malorie, fell in love with the story. The deceit and manipulation, the love and tragedy, it was so intelligent and so ahead of its time and a story that will apply to human nature forever.

I was lucky enough to go along and hear Malorie speak at the launch of Chasing The Stars and loved hearing her talk about the process of turning Othello into her character of Vee, of omitting the narrative voice of Iago to concentrate on the two lovers – something which made the story so much more romantic and therefore so much more heart-breaking. Iago is also far more sympathetic in Malorie’s interpretation and I kind of wished he wasn’t because it just made the whole ending far more heart-breaking.

As soon as I started reading, I was piecing up which character was who – and in a way I wished I hadn’t read Othello because then it might not have been obvious to me. Having read the play, it was like reading the book when you already knew the ending (though Malorie adapts that slightly too and adds in a brilliant twist which I was never expecting). I loved seeing the story come to life again in a modern, or futuristic, setting. It just shows how timeless these stories are.

Malorie has a way of writing that really captures your heart. I adored Noughts and Crosses when I was a teenager and Chasing The Stars took me right back to that age – the beauty of falling in love for the first time, the intensity of your feelings and the vulnerability of being that emotionally involved. It made me feel warm, it made me cry and it was so incredibly romantic. But the book offers so much more than romance. It was so interesting to read what Malorie had to say about sex and about class, and throw in a few murders and tons of adventure too and you’re completely gripped from the get-go.

Malorie is one of the few authors whose stories and characters make me completely fall in love and I just cried at the end of the book and I’m not a big reading-crier. You really believe in Vee and Nate, and Aidan too. I felt so much for Aidan and their bond as brother and sister travelling alone together for so long, and without spoiling anything, I just felt so sad for them both at the end.

Malorie also manages to open your eyes to the bigger picture, to the real life occurrences which you can’t help but think of when reading about these refugees in space. It makes you think without ramming a political opinion down your throat. She did the same with Noughts and Crosses – Malorie made me consider at a very young age what it would be like if the roles were switched and I think it’s one of the best YA series of our time, or ever.

Chasing The Stars is just like that – it’s important in its message, it’s heartbreakingly romantic, funny, inspirational with a brilliant main character in Vee. She’s real and human – she may be strong and seem independent but she’s also vulnerable and makes mistakes, something that anyone reading can empathise with. You can see both her and Nate’s side to the story and see how the manipulation they go through would work, especially with such a new love.

To finish off – I just want to say how important Malorie is for diverse literature. I tried to make a list of bestselling black YA or children’s authors last week and was horrified to find I could fit the list on one hand (apologies if this is just my ignorance). Malorie is a leader, writing not only about race but about love, compassion, loss, jealousy, politics, class and fun. As a child and teen, she never saw a black character in the books she read and I’m so glad that she has changed that for our generation. I only hope there are more to come.

Chasing The Stars is published on 21st April, price £10.99 in hardback.

Flawed

When I heard Cecelia Ahern and YA in the same sentence, I just knew I had to get my hands on it. I’m not the biggest fan of the cover, compared to the US version but it feels very Cecelia doesn’t it? Dystopian fiction feels a tad overdone, and in this one, I did feel echoes of The Hunger Games/Insurgent etc. I did feel a bit like, oh here we go again and at points it felt very scripted. Having said that, I still absolutely loved it.

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“Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.

But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.

In this stunning novel, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society in which perfection is paramount and mistakes are punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.”

I’ll be honest, you can see the plot line of this book as soon as you start reading – the horrific treatment and segregation of the ‘Flawed’ and the young heroine, Celestine who innocently lives her life abiding by the rules, but feeling sorry for these people. You know what’s going to happen – there’s no tension there. Unfortunately, having read ‘the big’ dystopian YA on offer, they seem to start all feeling fairly similar, or following a similar pattern. Luckily, Cecelia Ahern introduces a few new aspects, some unsuspecting twists, and brilliant writing to make it worth reading and really enjoyable.

There’s something awfully familiar about the leader of the rebellion who never meant to be a rebel (*cough* Katniss), but I still found myself whipping through the pages. Though the plot structure feels pretty similar, I loved how Cecelia’s story questions human morality, presented in the idea of a ‘Flawed’ person. I loved the different brands that you received if you had poor lack of judgment, or if you lie, or ‘step away’ from society and the isolation that comes with such a label. It was a brilliant concept, and one that I could easily imagine in society – we judge each other for such things anyway, in the  media and in rumours, this book just goes to the extend of branding poor choices onto people. This book makes its difference by focusing in on what it’s like to make a mistake, if you learn from it, or if you should be reminded of it forever and considered to be a lower citizen. It questions whether one choice determines your life, or makes you ‘flawed’ and what perfection really is. And it shows how no matter what rules there are or the risks involved, you can’t beat human compassion.

Flawed is such an easy read – I finished it within one afternoon and  I think had it come along before the height of the dystopian YA, it would have been huge, in place of The Hunger Games Insurgent. I’d definitely read the next one and I would certainly recommend it to other readers – Cecelia has proven herself to be a great YA author with a brilliant voice and some inspiring and interesting concepts too. It’s a really enjoyable, and lovely read and if anything, I think it’s just a shame that it wasn’t published 4 or 5 years ago!

It’s published by HarperCollins on 24th March – so go buy it and lose yourself in dystopia once more.