24 Great Books in 2016: Day Fifteen

I’ve just got back from my monthly YA book club, which is run by my local Waterstones in Liverpool One. Despite the fact that I’m twice the age of most of the other attendees, I have a lot of fun every month, and in honour of that, today I’m going to talk about one of the first books we read, back in March. That book is Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton.

rebel-of-the-sands

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can’t wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up “wed or dead,” Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that he’d help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.

I’d already picked Rebel of the Sands up before we set it for book club, because look at it. I have a weakness for pretty, shiny things, so how could I resist that gorgeous cover? I’d also heard a lot about the book on twitter before release, so I was dying to get my hands on it. I wasn’t disappointed. Amani is a great lead character, who is determined not to be stuck in her terrible town where she has no value at all, but more than that, is determined to get out on her own terms, using her own skills. If those skills involve using a handsome young rebel, well why not? 🙂

My favourite thing abut the book though, was the chemistry between Amani and Jin. Their relationship practically crackled on the page. I knew where it was going (because the synopsis gives that away), but I loved the way we got there. I also liked the way it was a western in a Middle Eastern setting, and the way the magic was introduced to the story. I’m bitter I’ve had to wait a year for the sequel to  be honest!

5/5

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24 Great Books in 2016: Day Fourteen

So a couple of years ago, I was at Loncon 3 and listening to a panel about (I think) urban fantasy. One of the people on that panel was talking about a book she’d written which was set in a sort of library of souls and I thought ‘Ohhh, that sounds interesting,’ made a note of the author and book and then put it on my wishlist. And so my infatuation with Victoria/V. E. Schwab was born. (That book was The Archived by the way, and it was fabulous, but I didn’t read it in 2016.) My infatuation was only strengthened with every book I read, and I ended up attending some of her UK signings this year with a massive pile of books, including A Gathering of Shadows, which might just be my favourite of her work. (She’s LOVELY, in case you were wondering.)

(Skip the synopsis under the cover picture if you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, as it kind of spoils that book!)

a-gathering-of-shadows

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

So A Gathering of Shadows is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, and it is amazing. I already loved Kell, Lila and Rhy, but this book just made that love more intense, and introduced a new character, Alucard, who immediately joined the ranks of fabulous characters I adore. I think I shipped him with pretty much all three of the others, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been so desperate for two characters to kiss as I was at one point in this book! But yes, I loved Alucard with his mysterious ties to Kell and Rhy, and his role as reluctant mentor to Lila. He was a great addition to the cast, and I think he was a large part of why I prefer this book to its predecessor.

I’m not really going to talk about the plot here, because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it is a rollicking read, and ends with a terrible, terrible cliffhanger, which I’m STILL bitter about even though I finished the book in April. Lila continues to be one of the best heroines in fantasy literature, although sometimes I wish she’d think a little more before going off in some wild plan. (I don’t really. If she did that she wouldn’t be Lila, would she? But my heart would beat a little more normally when reading if she did. :)) I love her. I love that she discovered a world full of magic, just took it in her stride and is now off making the most of it. She leaves the only people she knows in search of adventure and freedom – don’t we all wish we could be like that occasionally? I felt desperately sorry for Kell for large parts of this book though. I won’t say why, but he’s not having a good time, and Rhy’s not doing much better. A Conjuring of Light, the forthcoming third book, has a lot of work to do for the happy ending – I cannot wait!

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Thirteen

Life is a little busy this week, and it seems like I have lots to do away from the computer (I know! I’m a little surprised too! :)), so I’m writing this very late. Hopefully normal service will be resumed soon. Today’s book is One by Sarah  Crossan.

one-cover

Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.

And their lives are about to change.

No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?

But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…

From Carnegie Medal shortlisted author Sarah Crossan, this moving and beautifully crafted novel about identity, sisterhood and love ultimately asks one question: what does it mean to want and have a soulmate?

One is written in free verse, and I’ll admit, that had put me off reading it. But I found it in my local library and decided to give it a go. That was one of the best decisions I made all year. It’s only a short book – I read it in about an hour – but it’s so beautifully written, and I was sobbing by the end. Written from Grace’s point of view, Crossan nevertheless manages to make you care about everyone’s struggles, even if they conflict with Grace’s opinion. It’s clear from the beginning that there are difficult choices to be made, and I found that I was dreading getting to those points in the book, because I didn’t want anything bad to happen to these girls. I know I’ve already said it, but beautiful really is the best word to describe this book, although heartbreaking would do too.

After reading this book, I would read anything written by Sarah Crossan. Anything. I love her writing, and I’m very interested to see what her forthcoming collaboration with Brian Conaghan (called We Come Apart) is like. Pick up one of her books – you won’t be disappointed! (And if you don’t trust my judgement, One won this year’s Carnegie Medal. Just in case you needed any more persuading. :))

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Twelve

Today is a book that I picked up purely because there’d been chatter on twitter about the author’s new YA book, and I recognised the name. This is actually one of Sarra Manning’s adult novels, and I ADORED it.

after-the-last-dance

Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story.

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst.

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane’s finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there’s no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives?

After the Last Dance is an extraordinary story of two women, separated by time but connected by fate, that will make you believe in the redemptive power of unexpected love.

Oh my god, this book. I have a couple of books that I’ll recommend to anyone, whatever they normally read, and I knew about halfway through After the Last Dance that it would be added to that pile. Rose is one of my favourite characters ever – the way she changed from a naive young girl at the beginning of the book, to the person the war makes her, to the strong, stubborn, dying woman she is in the present day sections was brilliant. The war sections were by far my favourite, but I loved seeing how the two time periods tied together. Jane is harder to warm to, but it’s testament to Manning’s writing, and the slow reveal of Jane’s background, that you do, and the relationship with Leo becomes something that you root for.

I should probably point out that this book broke my heart twice, so I definitely recommend having tissues to hand if you read it, and you should probably avoid reading it in public if you can. I actually exclaimed out loud at one point too, so maybe make sure you’re in a room by yourself so you don’t have any awkward explanations to give.

I feel that I have not done justice to this book at all here, but I just don’t have the words to explain how good it is. I read it in June, and it’s stayed with me since then. I’m trying to write this review without squealing out loud about the book, so I think you can take that as the best recommendation!

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Eleven

Before I start this post, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s been stopping by. As a new blog, it means a lot, so thanks!

Today’s book is the fifth in the Wells and Wong series of mysteries by Robin Stevens. This is a series that has just got better and better as it goes on, and I hope there are many more adventures for Hazel and Daisy to come!

mistletoe-and-murder

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College.

Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course).

Before I start this review, I should probably point out that I was practically brought up on school stories. I started with St Clare’s, moved on to Mallory Towers and finished at the Chalet School, with a short stop in Trebizon. I loved them. In fact, I still love them and own a complete set of Chalet School books in one form or another. So, although I am now a 37 year old woman and not a schoolgirl, you can imagine my pleasure at hearing about a new school series set in the 1930s, complete with murder mysteries. I was a little disappointed by the first in the series, but every book since then has shown how Stevens’ writing has grown, and Mistletoe and Murder is the best yet.

One of the best things about this book is the way it explores racism and sexism without bashing you over the head with it, and in a way the younger readers this is aimed at will be able to understand. Hazel Wong is from Hong Kong, and Stevens doesn’t shy away from showing how Hazel is treated by those who don’t know her (and some of those who do), because of her race. Even Daisy, Hazel’s best friend and co-protagonist, sometimes carelessly makes racist comments, and because the book is written from Hazel’s point of view, we get to feel as Hazel feels. It’s brought into particularly sharp focus by the book’s setting at Cambridge, and the introduction of two characters from India, the elder of whom, a student at the university, is consistently treated as lesser by his peers. It is also made clear that the female student who is charged with looking after Daisy and Hazel is also seen as less able, less clever and less important than the male students. Stevens’ skill at weaving these ideas into the book is brilliant.

There is, of course, a plot involving murder, but I’m not going to tell you about that, because why would I spoil it for you? I am astounded at how Daisy and Hazel seem to attract murder, although at this point, I’m not sure they’d know what to do with themselves if someone didn’t die in suspicious circumstances! But then, I’m not sure I could deal with the series ending right now, so that’s a good thing. I love the world Robin Stevens has created, and the characters she has filled it with (Daisy’s relationship with her older brother is particularly wonderfully written, and one of my favourite parts of the series). I can’t wait for the next book!

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Ten

sleeping-prince

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin’s life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won’t reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom.

A small confession first: I read The Sin-Eater’s Daughter last year, and, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. However, I liked it (and Melinda Salisbury herself, who is lovely) enough to pick the sequel up, and I’m so glad I did, because The Sleeping Prince is phenomenal. Seriously, a thousand times better than its predecessor.

The main reason for this is that it’s a war story, and Salisbury doesn’t hold back on what the consequences are of that war. It’s not pretty. She shows us, in heartbreaking detail, exactly what the refugees are suffering, and how hard it is for them to survive even once they’re out of the immediate danger posed by the Prince. In the current climate, I think that’s an incredibly important message to be sending. In case you haven’t realised, this is the part of the book that has stayed with me most. I was blown away by how powerful those scenes were. However, the writing throughout the whole book is great and Errin might just be my favourite heroine of the year. She’s strong and loyal and confident, but she’s flawed too, and doesn’t always make the right decisions. The story moves along quickly and it’s yet another book this year I couldn’t put down. It’s also a book which left me wanting the sequel fairly desperately, so I have no hesitation in recommending it to everyone!

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Nine

I suspect this will be quite a short post, because I’m not having a good day today, but that in no way reflects on the quality of the book!

wolf-by-wolf

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.

Germania, 1956. Over ten years since the Nazis won the war. 18-year-old Yael is part of the resistance, and she has just one mission: to kill Hitler.

But first she’s got to get close enough to him to do it.

Experimented on during her time at Auschwitz, Yael has the unique ability to change her appearance at will. The only part of her which always remains are the five tattooed wolves on her arm; one for each of the people she’s lost. Using her abilities, she must transform into Adele Wolfe, Germany’s most famous female rider and winner of the legendary Axis Tour; an epic long distance motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo, where only the strongest (and wiliest) riders survive. If she can win this, she will be able to get close enough to kill the Fuhrer and change history forever.

But with other riders sabotaging her chances at every turn, Yael’s mission won’t be easy

I read Wolf By Wolf, by Ryan Graudin, back in February, when it was one of the first picks in the YA book club my local Waterstones runs. I must admit, I might not have picked it up if it hadn’t been for that, but I’d have been missing out on a brilliant, thought-provoking book. An exploration of counter-factual history – in this case, what  if Hitler had won WWII? – with a SFF twist, I found it absolutely fascinating, and it’s stayed with me. My heart hurt for Yael and what she’d been through, and I found her strength of character astonishing. While I think my favourite parts were the backstory to each of her wolves, I found the motorcycle race gripping, and I couldn’t put the book down until I’d finished it. And then the ending! I am very glad the sequel is now out, although I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Believe me, if you go out and buy Wolf By Wolf, make sure you also buy Blood For Blood, because you’re not going to want to wait!

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Eight

Warning: Contains mentions of rape and rape culture

asking-for-it

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.

The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.

Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…

This book might have been the most important one I read all year. It’s the book I tell everyone I meet to read. It’s probably also the hardest, because it does not pull any of its punches. It is an unflinching exploration of the impact of rape and rape culture. Emma O’Donovan is not a nice character. She’s mean, and manipulative and out for what she can get. She still doesn’t deserve what happens to her. She doesn’t deserve to be raped by multiple members of the local football team. She doesn’t deserve to have her reputation dragged through the mud. She doesn’t deserve to be blamed for their actions. She doesn’t deserve to blame herself for what they did to her. She doesn’t deserve to be ostracized by her community because everyone thinks she’s destroying the team’s lives. What about her life? What about her right to enjoy a night out without having her body violated and her dignity ripped away? And the most horrifying thing about this book is that something like this happens in multiple places, at multiple times every day. Rape Crisis UK say there are roughly 11 rapes an hour in England and Wales. Think about that for a minute. Asking For It isn’t fiction, it’s the horrifying truth.

So no, Emma O’Donovan is not a person you’d expect to find yourself empathising with, but you do, because Louise O’Neill’s writing makes you understand what Emma is going through. You see her despair in the second half of the book, which takes place a year later, as the boys are close to trial, and she broke my heart. O’Neill makes you feel everything Emma feels. It’s harrowing and bleak, and definitely not one to pick up if you’re after something quick and easy to read, but it is something everyone should read. Rape culture is deeply embedded in our society but Asking For It calls it out in the most powerful way.

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Seven

Before I start this post, I feel like I should point out that I am a MASSIVE Emma Newman fan. I fangirl so hard over her and her books, because she is genuinely one of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and her books are so interesting. So I’m slightly biased when I try to review something she’s written.

after-atlas-cover

Govcorp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room—and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
 
To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…

After Atlas is the story of those left behind on Earth after the people we met in Planetfall flew off to explore the stars. It’s linked to that book, but it easily stands alone. I also read Planetfall this year (it may yet make an appearance in this list), and I loved it, but I actually preferred After Atlas. In what seems to be a pattern with the books in these blogs, it kept me up way past my bedtime because I had to know what happened, particularly after Carlos received a terrifying piece of news, which hit me like a punch to the gut. I genuinely felt physically sick at the thought of what might happen, so obviously I had to read it to the end.

The book is also set in a very interesting world, which I guess is probably best described as cyberpunk. It’s the future, but it’s clearly *our* future – you can see how it connects to our present. It’s slightly terrifying to be honest, because it’s not a nice world by any means, and I sincerely hope we don’t end up there! However, because of this, there’s also a good line of social commentary running through the book, as all good sci-fi should have.

As for why I prefer this to Planetfall, I think it comes down to the detective story aspect. I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. Something has always put me off it (I have no idea what), but I made an honourable exception for Planetfall, because it was Emma Newman. That (and three years of Nine Worlds attendance) persuaded me to take more of an interest in the genre, but it’s still not my preferred port of call when I’m looking for something to read. A detective story, however, is much more my thing, and it doesn’t matter that it’s set in a future dystopian world, because there’s still a mystery to solve. And that, I think, is why I love After Atlas.

5/5

24 Great Books in 2016: Day Six

Back to books that haven’t actually been released yet! Wing Jones (or The Heartbeats of Wing Jones if you’re in the US) by Katherine Webber is out on the 5th January, and I loved it so much I’m actually going to go and buy a copy, even though I already have an ARC. (This is at least partly down to it coming with gorgeous sprayed edges. I do like a book with sprayed edges!)

wing-jones-cover

With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.

As I said above, I LOVED this book. I read it straight through in a couple of hours when I was supposed to be working, because I had to know what happened. Wing herself is a fantastic character. She doesn’t quite fit in anywhere, and has always been overshadowed by her older brother, but to see the journey she takes following the tragedy at the centre of the story was so fulfilling. Wing doesn’t have an easy time of it, but she comes out the other side stronger, and I adored her. She is ably supported by her family – her grandmothers were one of my favourite parts of the book, and the early scenes with her older brother were adorable – and her crush, Aaron, who was the other half of a pairing I shipped almost immediately.

Basically, everyone should make sure they meet Wing when this book is out next month. I honestly don’t think you’d regret it.

5/5