Book Review: The Fallen Children

I really wish life would stop getting in the way of my blogging! I was away with work last week, and unfortunately working well into the night, so any blogging went right out of the window. Luckily, I had taken The Fallen Children, by David Owen, with me, and this was a great decision because the book is brilliant. A modern retelling of John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, set in an inner city tower block and told from the point of view of the young women impregnated, The Fallen Children was everything I wanted it to be.

the fallen children

Young people on the Midwich Estate don’t have much hope for their futures. Keisha has lived there her whole life, and has been working hard to escape it; others have just accepted their lot.

But change is coming…

One night everyone inside Midwich Tower falls mysteriously unconscious in one inexplicable ‘Nightout’. No one can explain what happened during those lost hours, but soon afterwards Keisha and three other girls find they’re pregnant – and the babies are growing at an alarming rate.

As the news spreads around the tower its residents turn against them and the situation spirals toward violence. Keisha’s life unravels as she realises that the pregnancy may not have just ruined her hopes for the future: she might be mother to the end of the world.

The Fallen Children is a story of violation, of judgment and of young people who must fight to defy what is expected of them.

First of all, because I know lots of you are as shallow as me when it comes to covers, there are 360 different shades of covers available. 360! God help the completists out there! But the covers are gorgeous, and so I forgive whoever came up with the idea at Atom Books. (I got number 60, which is a lovely purple cover.)

Shallowness over, onto the actual book. There are four point of view characters – three of them are the young women who found themselves pregnant after the Nightout, Keisha, Siobhan and Maida (there’s a fourth, Olivia, but we don’t get to see her pov), and the other is Morris, Keisha’s ex-boyfriend who proves to be more of a support than she could ever have expected, while also quite often being a terrible person. I liked him a lot as a character because of this – he knows he’s screwed up, multiple times, but he just keeps making mistakes, and he sees Keisha’s pregnancy as a chance to make things right – but much less as a person. I liked the different point of view chapters because it was incredibly interesting to see inside the character’s minds, and look at how they’re dealing with this terrible thing that has happened. Keisha and Siobhan feel violated, and neither of them want the babies growing at an astounding rate inside them, but Maida feels that her pregnancy gives her power and a purpose, and she is determined to do right by her child.

I loved the sci-fi/supernatural parts of the plot, but what I loved most was the way it shone a light on problems in our society, as all good sci-fi should do. The expectations of society for our teenagers, both positive and negative, teen pregnancy and slut-shaming, the way women who have been raped are so often not believed, the way we as a society too often abandon others. Keisha has worked hard to turn her life around after nearly being expelled, but as soon as people find out she is pregnant, she is abandoned and shamed. No-one bothers to find out how she’s feeling, no-one gives her the support she needs to get through this, other than those who have found themselves in the same position. Once the rumours start flying, she’s treated with suspicion, especially once it’s clear that her baby is growing much faster than it should be. Even her parents don’t really know what’s going on, and don’t really make any effort to find out – they’re all too willing to believe that Keisha has thrown her future away. The way the rest of the estate turns against Keisha, Siobhan, Maida and Olivia so quickly is genuinely frightening, because it’s so realistic.

Keisha was my favourite character, but my heart broke for Siobhan in so many ways. I felt a little less connected to Maida and Morris, but I thought they were all written brilliantly. I also really liked the way the characters we meet in the second half of the story were written, especially how we saw them develop. I also liked that all the characters had well developed families, and the background of those families made the actions of the main characters make perfect sense.

I really haven’t done The Fallen Children any justice at all this review. I’m so out of practice! My advice is to just read it. You don’t need any knowledge of John Wyndham’s original (although I highly recommend you go and read some of his books if you haven’t already, because you are missing out!), and this version of the story is a masterful retelling. I’m off to buy Owen’s first book, Panther, but leave me a comment and let me know what you think if you’ve read The Fallen Children!

4.5/5

Book Review: One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer by Keris Stainton is one of those books that grabs you in unexpected ways. I thought it would be a nice, summery, quick read, and while I knew it deals with loss, I thought that would probably be a secondary thing to the love story. What I got was so much more than that, and I LOVED it for it.

one italian summer

It’s been a year since Milly, Elyse and Leonie’s dad died, and a year since their last trip to Rome. Summer’s here again, and once again they are heading with their mum to Italy – but what’s it going to be like going without Dad? Rome still holds its familiar charms – the sun is still as warm, the gelato as delicious, the people as welcoming. But nothing is quite as it once was …

With grief still raw for all of them, Milly is facing the additional awfulness of having to see Luke again – gorgeous, gorgeous Luke, who she had a fling with last year, and who she made a total fool of herself with – or so she thinks. What’s going to happen this time? What’s more, things between Milly, her sisters and their mum are rocky – Leonie is being tempestuous and unpredictable, Elyse is caught up with her new boyfriend, and Milly feels like she just doesn’t know how she fits in any more.

Over one Italian summer, can Milly find a way back to the life she once had?

One Italian Summer is, on the surface, a love story. Milly’s had a crush on Luke for years, but she’s convinced she’s nothing more than a friend/potential fling for him, especially after what happened a year ago. Is she wrong? Well, you’ll have to read it to find out – no spoilers here! But on a deeper level, the book is about coming to terms with losing someone important to you – Milly’s dad has died, and no-one in the family is particularly dealing with it well. The grief suffuses every page of the book – it feels real and painful, and I knew from the first page that I was going to cry reading it at some point. I’m actually surprised I lasted to page 213 to be honest! At the same time, Milly’s sisters, Elyse and Leonie, are finding their own paths through life and this terrible loss, and it serves to illustrate the fact that everyone has their own way of dealing with events.

The relationships between the three sisters and with their mum was wonderful. Again, it felt real throughout the book, and I especially loved the way Elyse and Milly reacted to Leonie’s big secret. It was clear that however much they grew up, they’d always be there for each other – probably poking fun and embarrassing each other, but there all the same. I also loved the extended family members, their preparations for the wedding and how they knew their family so well, they knew exactly how to help them.

The setting was glorious. I could imagine myself sitting in the restaurant, sipping a glass of wine and just taking in the beauty around me. Having been to Rome ten years ago (and how is it ten years?!), I also appreciated the mentions of the landmarks. In fact, this book spoke to me on a number of levels. I definitely had a moment of ‘there but for the grace of god’, when it became clear how their dad had died, because that could so easily have been me at 14. It could be me at 37, and I’m not sure I’d cope with it any better now!

What I’m saying here is that you need to read One Italian Summer. In my opinion, it’s Keris’ best book so far. I was fully engaged throughout, and I sobbed like a baby towards the end, to the extent that I could barely see what I was reading through the tears. The love story is sweet and realistic, and I loved how sex was something the sisters actually discussed, because sex positivity is definitely something we don’t see enough of in YA. But really, what I most loved about this book was its depiction of family. I highly recommend it!

5/5

Book Review: Release

Before I start this review, I think it is only fair to point out that I am a massive fan of Patrick Ness (although I haven’t quite read all of his books yet. Yes, I know.). I was desperate to read Release, and I really wasn’t disappointed.

release

Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…

Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Release is brilliant. I loved every second of reading it and I think it’s my favourite Patrick Ness book. I read it in one go, and after I closed the book I had to take a few minutes to just sit there and reflect. I said on twitter at the time that it felt like a quiet, intimate and personal book, and I stand by that, especially after hearing Ness talk about it earlier this week. Adam is a fantastic character. He practically leaps off the page, as do his best friend Angela and his boyfriend Linus. This triumvirate completely made the book for me. Yes, Adam’s home life is awful, he can’t be himself, and he can’t wait to get away, but that’s not his family. Angela is his family. Linus could be his family, if Adam lets him. And that’s what I loved most about Release. (Having said that, his blood family isn’t all bad – I ended up really liking his brother Marty, and I even had a smidge of sympathy for their dad. It’s not that Adam’s family don’t love him after all. It’s more that they love their religion more.)

There’s a superatural sub-plot that runs concurrently with Adam’s story, and I really enjoyed seeing the little ways it intersected, in much the same way as I enjoyed the chapter headings in Ness’s last book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. I also enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on with faun and the queen, but I did slightly resent those chapters for not being more about Adam and his momentous day.

Overall, I thought the book was stunning. The writing is beautiful (as I’ve come to expect from Patrick Ness), all the characters feel like real people and not 2D caricatures (which would have been easy to do with, say, Adam’s dad), and the plot moves along easily. Most of all, the book is hopeful. There’s a definite feeling that it will get better, that Adam has the support of people who think he’s important, and that this moment right now isn’t all there is. And I think that’s a really important message to get to teens.

5/5

Book Review: See You In The Cosmos

Look! A book review! It’s a very overdue book review – I read See You In The Cosmos so long ago I’ve just had to look up who actually wrote it (Jack Cheng), so I can’t imagine this will be a very detailed review, but to be honest I’m just grateful I seem to have found my blogging motivation again!

see you in the cosmos

11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.

I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make of See You In The Cosmos but I really enjoyed it. I’m not sure it’s terribly realistic – Alex manages to travel across the USA with very little interference, and it’s actually kind of worrying that he manages it – but he’s a great character, and the people he meets along the way acknowledge that in various ways. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried more than once reading it.

I also really liked the structure of the book – Alex is talking into his ipod to make a recording to send to space, in the hope that alien lifeforms find it and listen to it. Alex’s enthusiasm is infectious, and I think the idea of the recording brings us closer to him. Equally, his sadness seems very real, and I remember feeling very dejected, as Alex did, at certain points in the story. As an adult, I was also horrified at Alex’s backstory – he’s essentially been looking after himself for a year at the point the story begins, and that just made my heart ache.

I’m really glad this came up as a read now on Netgalley, because I’m not sure it’s a book I would have come across otherwise, and I’d have missed out. It is a MG book, but probably for the upper end of the age range, and if you know anyone who’s obssessed this space, I think they would get on very well with Alex. See You In The Cosmos is definitely well worth a read.

4/5

ARC received from Puffin Books via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things on my Reading Wishlist

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And so another week has gone by without me posting anything. I definitely need to get back into this blog this week, but theres so much going on offline that I’m really struggling to find the time. However, Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish, seems to be a constant, so at least there’s something going up! This week’s theme is things on my reading wishlist, so here goes. (Quick list tonight, because it’s late.)

  1. More own voices books
  2. More HEAs for LGBT characters
  3. More books focused around found family
  4. More books about female friendships
  5. More books with female lead characters and no romance
  6. More UK urban fantasy set somewhere other than London
  7. More bisexual, trans and non-binary lead characters
  8. More retellings of fairytales/myths from non-western cultures
  9. More villainous lead characters
  10. More coffeeshop AU style books

At least two of those wishes are very much influenced by having been to see Patrick Ness last night, as he tours his latest book. I hope to have a review of Release up this week, but in case I don’t manage it, I would like to tell you that it’s brilliant. 🙂 I also realise, by the way, that these things exist, probably in greater quantities than I’m aware of, but it’s hard to find them among the sheer volume of new books being released. Please let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Covers That Made Me Want To Read The Book

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish and this week’s theme was a cover freebie. Despite being brought up to not judge a book by its cover, I chose to go with ten covers that made me want to read the book.

1. The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

the city's son

Just look at it! I still remember seeing it on the shelves at Waterstones and thinking I HAVE to read it – and then I went and bought it on kindle because I’m an idiot. I have a paperback of it now though, and what I really love is that the covers of the trilogy all have their own, relevant, spin on the same picture. It’s actually one of my favourite books, so the cover did not deceive me! (I’ve just seen the US cover and, well, I’m glad we got this version!)

2. The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

mystery of clockwork sparrow

This cover just drew my eye immediately and I knew I had to read the book. I don’t really read many mysteries, even in children’s, but when I do, they’re historical. This cover made it abundantly clear that this was my sort of mystery!

3. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

rivers of london

I love London. I love maps. I especially love maps drawn by Stephen Walter. The fact that this cover was on a urban fantasy book was frankly just a bonus!

4. Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

murder most unladylike

The cover is bright blue and makes absolutely clear that this is a murder mystery set in a 1930s school. Obviously I was going to pick it up! (I must admit that the cover was not the only reason I bought it, but it certainly helped.)

5. Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

between two thorns

Again, the cover isn’t the only reason I picked this up, but it was a contributing factor, because it’s just so pretty. I love the font and the background and the odd splashes of colour.

6. The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

sin eaters daughter

Well it’s just stunning, isn’t it? I don’t think any further explanation is needed!

7. Ink by Alice Broadway

ink-cover

You obviously can’t see it in the picture, but this cover is foiled and so, so shiny and I love it. I had to buy it!

8. Strange the Dreamer

std cover

So I know I actually read this as an e-arc, but I’d known I had to have it as soon as Hodder and Stoughton published what the book would look like. I suppose it’s not just the cover, but the book as a whole, with its sprayed edges and foiled cover. I’d ordered mine online and it was a bit late in arriving so I kept going into Waterstones just to stroke it a bit. It’s so pretty!

9. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell

neverwhere

I had no intention of buying a copy of Neverwhere. I’d read it years ago, and had a kindle version and didn’t see the need for another one. Until I saw this book, which honestly made me catch my breath it was that beautiful. I love it. (I still haven’t read it, but that’s a completely different matter. :)) Also, Chris Riddell’s illustrated version of The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge is just as spectacular, but I would have bought that anyway, which is why it’s not on the list.

10. Radiance by Catherynne M Valente

radiance

I was immediately drawn to this cover. I almost certainly wouldn’t have picked it up without that cover, and I would definitely have missed out on one of my favourite books last year. It doesn’t particularly tell you anything about the story, but I still had to know what was inside the pages, and I wasn’t disappointed.

So there’s my top ten covers that made me want to read the book. Which books (if any) have you read because of the cover? Let me know in the comments!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Things That Will Instantly Make Me Want To Read A Book

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and The Bookish and this week’s theme is things that will instantly make me want to read a book.

1. The author

We all have go-to authors, right? Those people whose books you wil pick up whatever they’re about, or however much they cost. The first two that spring to mind are Charles de Lint and Lisa Williamson (and you’d struggle to find two authors more different than those two!), but there are others too.

2. LGBT content done well

I’m always looking out for books that have central LGBT themes, but I have to know they’ll be done well. I don’t want to always be reading about a gay kid who spends the entire book being victimised for his sexuality/gender identity. Give me positive representation, with happy endings please. Bonus points if it includes bisexuality and/or transgender, or if it’s own voices.

3. Alternative history

Steampunk Victorian England with werewolves? GIVE IT TO ME NOW. A world where Hitler won WWII? MINE. A world where Hitler never existed but WWII still happened and was worse? GIMME. I love alternative histories. (I will also love any of you who can identify those books – leave me a comment! – or recommend anything else.)

4. Bookseller recommendations

My local YA bookseller is a goddess of book recommendations and if she tells me to read something I will read it. I might not manage it straight away *cough*ACOTAR*cough*, but it still makes me want to read it immediately. (Seriously, since book club started, I have spent So. Much. Money.)

5. A well written romance that is not the focus of the story

I am a sap at heart, and I really like reading romantic stories, but I still don’t want the romance to be the be-all and end-all. I want the characters involved to have lives that don’t revolve around each other.

6. Strong female friendships

Two women who have a proper, realistic, supportive friendship, not a bitchy one. Is that too much to ask? (Sometimes, apparently yes.)

7. A blurb from an author I love

If you’ve got a quote from my favourite authors on your cover, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to pick your book up, because I reckon they probably have good taste.

8. Positive representation of marginalised people

This would have been higher up the list, but it’s taken me this long to work out how to phrase it. Bring me your books about anybody other than able-bodied white people, preferably by own voices authors, and I will read them. Do NOT give me books that marginalise people further, or appropriate different cultures, ok?

9. Fairytale retellings

I am 90% more likely to buy a book if it’s a retelling. I love them.

10. A pretty cover

Yes, I am that shallow. If it’s shiny, I’m there.

What makes you want to instantly read a book? Let me know in the comments!

Missing in Action

So it’s been a while since I posted here. This is due to a confluence of things all happening at once, some good, some not so good, and I just didn’t have the mental energy or actual time to put blog posts together. I’ve really missed blogging and reading everyone else’s blogs though, and I’m hoping to get back into this weekend. I have so many posts I want to write! Please use the comments to direct me to your favourite posts you’ve written while I’ve been missing in action – I would really like to catch up!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Authors I’m Dying to Meet

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and The Bookish, and this week’s theme is Top Ten Authors I’m Dying To Meet.

(I have about 10 minutes to write this post, so it’s going to be very short and sweet!)

  1. Gail Carriger
  2. Kelley Armstrong
  3. Laini Taylor
  4. Sabaa Tahir
  5. Kate Elliot
  6. J. K. Rowling
  7. Robin Stevens
  8. Ryan Graudin
  9. Simon R Green
  10. Ilona Andrews

I’m lucky – I’ve met a lot of my favourite authors, and if I’d had more time, I’d have done a top ten list of them as well. For now, this will have to do!

Book Review: Stranger Than Fanfiction

Stranger Than Fanfiction was chosen as one of our book club books this month (by me), and I was really looking forward to reading it. Although I still mostly know Chris Colfer’s name because he played the best character on Glee, I’d heard enough praise of his middle grade fiction that I wanted to try this YA book. Unfortunately, it didn’t really live up to my expectations. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – I read it very quickly, and if I’m not enjoying a book I find it a slog to get through, so that wasn’t the case here – it just had a lot of potential that I didn’t feel it reached.

stff

Cash Carter is the young, world famous lead actor of the hit television Wiz Kids. When four fans jokingly invite him on a cross-country road trip, they are shocked that he actually takes them up on it. Chased by paparazzi and hounded by reporters, this unlikely crew takes off on a journey of a lifetime–but along the way they discover that the star they love has deep secrets he’s been keeping. What they come to learn about the life of the mysterious person they thought they knew will teach them about the power of empathy and the unbreakable bond of true friendship.

My biggest problem with Stranger Than Fanfiction was the writing style. It was very basic storytelling, and I just didn’t like it. It took me a long time to see beyond the style to the plot, but then that was also a problem. It was just so weird! I know Cash has his reasons for accepting the invitation, but we don’t find those out until the end of the book, and so we spend most of the book wondering why he’s there and it just seems really unlikely. Also, from the descriptions of the show he’s the star of in the book, I can’t see what the appeal is, and I say that as a member of many and varied fandoms. There are so many authors writing excellent depictions of fandom (Maggie Harcourt and Rainbow Rowell spring to mind) that it’s a real disappointment to see how fandom is portrayed in this book.

I liked that there was an attempt to bring some diversity to the book and there is always room for more trans characters in my view, although I couldn’t really understand this particular character’s reasons for keeping their gender identity secret. However, I’m straight and cis, and it’s not my place to judge why someone chooses not to come out.

Despite all the problems, I found myself genuinely caring for the characters, and there may even have been a few tears along the way. It’s just, every revelation seems so forced, rather than organic to the story, and I think this would have been a much better book if it had focused on a group of friends just having fun rather than everyone trying to hide their own world-shattering secret and not noticing that everyone else has problems too. It was pretty obvious where it was going (to me, anyway), and I just think I would have preferred a more character driven story.

3/5