An ancient religion grotesquely modernized, The Purpose, deifies children for their deformities—a beautiful girl with three arms, a brave boy with one eye… the exceptional list goes on. Painted and costumed, they are worshiped on stage. Shy and exposed, they are ridiculed in the streets, often by the same faces. Glorious or repulsive? Gods or freaks? How deep will the identity divide be dredged, and to which side will the truth finally tip? Out of the city, through strange forests and dark dreams, we follow six young friends as they chase their answer. Lightning-lit and pulling moon into mountain, it awaits them at the top of the world.
Author Jeffrey Kinsey is a native of Jacksonville Florida, and a settler in Charleston, South Carolina. He makes cool stuff with his wife, Amelia Dreglewicz, goes for long walks by the water, and has a heavy interest in the dynamic, graceful and inventive interface of prose and visual art.
It’s that interface that takes center stage in “Areh” – a book that combines prose and art. That may sound like nothing new, but “Areh” is something unique – a book that places equal importance on both aspects, binding them together to create a memorable, special, and beautiful tome that, even when reading on an ereader, brings a story to life in vivid, colourful detail.
Set in a dark and trouble society, the book becomes a race against time to prevent a terrible catastrophe befalling the land. However, whilst there is a definite sense of pace to the story, the use of poetic, flowing language makes this a read that manages to be both timeless and current – the sometimes epic art lending it a feel of myth or fable. It doesn’t skimp on character either – with the plight of the children at the heart of this tale one that is conveyed with a great deal of sensitivity, and the character interactions between the children are cleverly written – reading as contemporary and youthful, without falling into any of the traps that many writers seem to plunge into when focusing on the language and syntaxes used by youths in an new setting.
The art that accompanies the prose is mesmerising – beautiful chapter headings that draw the readers eye without fail. Clearly influenced by ancient art forms, they help immensely to transport the reader to an other world, and some patterns linger long in the mind after the close of the book – intricate, delicate designs that represent points in the story and the characters lives.
All in all, “Areh” is a wonderful read – ambitious and original, it’s refreshing to read something that is clearly the product of years of hard work, determination and love between a group of people.
The Genetic Wars that turned most of the planet into a wasteland are over. The so-called “dregs” (short for “DNA regulars”) and superpowered “Supergenics” now live separately from each other: the Supergenics in the shiny towers of Jupitar City, the dregs across the river in the squat concrete buildings of the boroughs. But Supergenic children are still born to dreg parents, and under repressive laws must be sent to live with their own kind. To find these special few, every teen faces their Testing Day. When her turn comes, socially isolated Caitlin Feral is determined to Manifest superpowers. If she fails, she faces a lifetime of loneliness and drudgery in the boroughs. But how much is she willing to sacrifice to be the supergirl she’s always wanted to be? And when she uncovers dark secrets kept by both sides, does she dare start another war to reveal the truth?
Author Steven Bereznai is a Toronto based author and Travel Writer, who has previously published three other books, as well as having his short stories featured in various anthologies, and articles featured in a huge amount of publications. An avid water polo player, registered hypnotist and pilates instructor (not all at the same time. I hope), he’s also a keen fan of comics and superheroes – something that serves him extremely well in this tale.
“I Want Superheroes” is a book that manages to find a rather unique balance – the world is a dark, grim, dystopian one with very little light, but a lightness can be found in the characters, and, in rather touching scenes, their escape into the world of comics and superheroes. These characters live in a world inhabited by superpowered beings, but face injustice and mistreatment every day so it’s rather fitting then, that several of the characters find their escape in the fictional comics that once filled their world – comics that bear a very strong resemblance to those we read in our own Universe. Despite the huge popularity of superheroes in our media today, comics still rarely get acknowledged as pieces of literature, despite some storylines (the Dark Phoenix Saga and God Loves Man Kills are two of my favourite examples), being far better than many oft quoted works of classic literature – and modern graphic novels like “Persepolis” and “Safe Home” helping prove that the comic industry can give a huge amount more than many people may give it credit for. Comics are used here both as an influence and a catalyst – and Bereznai’s comic book knowledge shines through.
Caitlin is a strong lead character – her actions make a lot of sense, and Bereznai dares to take her to perhaps a slightly darker place than the lead is often put in in Dystopian YA books. In addition, she’s a layered, flawed and well developed character – intelligent, driven and talented enough to be a compelling character who stands above others, but normal enough to be relatable to the reader. Other characters too provide interesting counterpoints to Caitlin’s story – Normand in particular is both memorable and, as the story develops, an extremely intriguing character whose motivations are far more complex than one may feel initially. Bereznai writes teenagers well – even growing up in a dark world, they maintain the same complex feelings that regular teenagers do, and the author understands these. Older characters don’t just serve as antagonists or wallpaper here either – Caitlin’s mother is given an emotional backstory and hugely understandable motives, making her a character I’d be keen to see more of in future books. The characters being so well drawn really lifts this book above a lot of other YA books, and they work extremely well alongside the clever, surprising plot, and the general world building that Bereznai has done. In fact, the world he’s built is such a compelling one – similar to our own and yet so, so different, that I’d definitely like to read about how it came to be, and how it’ll change going forward.
Original, thrilling , and packed full of brilliant characters who take the reader on a twisting, turbulent adventure, “I Want Superpowers” is an entry to a universe that, no matter how dark or dystopian, I’m extremely eager to return to.
Jenna’s just a teenager who wants to fit in. But popularity turns to infamy when two “friends” spark a controversy that alters her life forever. Can she discover Jenna’s Truth before it’s too late?
Amanda Todd was a Canadian school girl, who decided to make new friends over the internet. Using video chat, she was convinced to post topless for a stranger, who took screenshots of the moment and circulated them online. Several years of torment for Todd followed, causing her anxiety, depression and panic disorder, leading her to begin using drugs and alcohol. The individual who had taken the screenshots then started a new Facebook profile which used the topless photograph, and purposely contacted classmates of Amanda at her new school. Despite Todd moving schools several times, her online assailant pursued her, ensuring that all of her new classmates saw the image, as well as some teachers and parents. After suicide attempts, self mutilation and counseling, Amanda Todd took her own life on October 2012, aged just 15.
Inspired by Amanda Todd’s tragic story, author Nadia L. King has written “Jenna’s Truth” – a moving tale that explores the far reaching consequences bullying can take, and puts the reader firmly into the mindset of a teenager. At 6,000 words, it’s kept short in order to be easily read by those with dyslexia, aids comprehension and developing vocabulary, and contains discussion questions and recommended activities, making this both an excellent read, but also a great classroom tool for those aged 15-16.
It’s all very well and good to add curriculum activities and teaching aids to a book, but can only be successful if the book they back up is well written, and thankfully author Nadia L.King excels here. Despite only being a short read, Nadia has created a three dimensional and hugely relatable character in Jenna. Even though it’s been some considerable time since I was a teenager, the feelings of isolation, loneliness and confusion that the teenage years are full of, are brilliantly conveyed here, and whilst I was never bullied to any great extent, and thankfully went to school in a time before social media, empathy for Jenna is easy to find. The messages conveyed here are strong and powerful, and whilst the book does get dark and quite tough to read at points, the reader is left with a strong sense of hope, and I think there’s a genuine chance that the events explored in this book could help children going forward, to avoid finding themselves in a situation like Jenna’s, and also to avoid causing situations like Jenna’s to come about too. Definitely worth a read, especially for those of Jenna’s age, or for those with children of high school age.
1990 – Wolverhampton. Johanna Morrigan is 14, intelligent, funny and from a loving family. Unfortunately, said family consists of a depressed mother, a mostly drunk father, an older brother with issues of his own, and three younger brothers to worry about. Well read, witty and hugely intelligent, Johanna longs for escape, building a new version of herself at age 16 and gaining employment as a writer, frequently travelling to the drink, sex and drug filled bars and bedsits of London.
But as problems mount up for her family back in Wolverhampton, Johanna struggles to find a compromise between the life she has lived and the new life she has made for herself – will she choose to be helpful, intelligent but awkward Johanna Morrigan, or fun, sexy troublemaker Dolly Wilde?
Caitlin Moran is really riding on a wave of success at the moment – How to be a Woman was a stonking success back in 2011, and rightly so – a refreshing look at feminism that was enlightening, hilarious and inspiring – and accessible enough that I could read and enjoy it without feeling horribly out of place. Adding to that, a tv series roughly based on her early life – Raised by Wolves started airing in March 2015.
How to Build a Girl is in a similar vein to the previous two projects – a semi autobiographical novel that explores, develops and fictionalises Moran’s teenage years, and provides a close and almost painful look at being a teenager – you may never have become a music writer, hosted a party from a bathtub or frequently nicked ashtrays from hotels, but I can’t imagine anyone who won’t be reminded of their awkward adolescent years when reading this.
I should point out that this book is pretty explicit – but it’s not gratuitous, the sex scenes here serving well as both a good portrayal of a teens sexual awakening, and also for moments of hysterical, awkward comedy. As such I reckon this book would be a good read for anyone sixteen and up, provided you don’t read in a public place – I was reading this in a waiting room on the platform of the London City Airport DLR (glamorous, I know), and think I may have genuinely worried the other inhabitants by giggling and blushing like a small schoolgirl for a good twenty minutes.
Despite never having been a teenage girl (to the best of my knowledge anyway…), Johanna Morrigan is a hugely relatable character – awkward, worried about her looks, prone to bursting out exactly the wrong thing when nervous, and forever thwarted in her attempts to look cool (one incident when Johanna takes up smoking, but is informed some time later that she has been smoking the cigarette from the wrong end, genuinely happened to me…). I don’t think there is any way one could read this and not root for Johanna to succeed.
The characters around Johanna are also well drawn – a mother struggling with children, bills, an unreliable husband and postnatal depression and a father – an injured wannabe musician whose love for drink sometimes interferes with his role as a parent. Krissi, Johanna’s older brother is caustic, with a biting wit and an ability to easily silence the younger sister who adores him. Thankfully though, they are all very three dimensional – they all may make bad decisions, but there is any doubt that the children are well loved and cared for, no matter how eccentric and cash starved the upbringing.
How does this link into Moran’s new role as Queen of Twitter and leading Feminist, you may wonder? This book is a marvel, in that whilst you are busy laughing and empathising with Johanna and her various problems, major issues such as gender inequality, the pressures put on young girls to look a certain way, social inequalities and assumptions about class, are all explored and eloquently spoken about. In addition, topics often considered taboo – periods, masturbation, women owning and enjoying sex, and even things like cystitis, are openly discussed. You may cringe – I certainly did. But I laughed, related and hugely enjoyed the bluntness. This is being a teenager, the gawky awkwardness of findings one’s self described perfectly.
A fantastic read, How to Build a Girl ends on an uplifting but openeded note – and I sincerely hope I’ll be able to read more about the adventures of Johanna Morrigan/Dolly Wilde.
Huge thanks to the publishers for the copy.
1988, Charleston, South Carolina. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries – and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship enough to beat the devil?
Supernatural dramas often tend to centre around teenagers – something about the maelstrom of rage, angst and hormones that is adolescence, along with bodies sprouting hair and changing beyond all recognition, mean that tales of the supernatural and strange seem, well, almost normal compared to all the other bizarre things that are going on. Add to that the fact that many teenagers feel like complete outsiders – and demonic posessions, lycanthropic transformations and vampiric urges hardly feel that surprising.
It’s a theme that Grady Hendrix exploits to maximum effect in My Best Friend’s Exorcism – an incredibly charming ride through suburban America and the lives of high school girls. Anyone who lived through the 80’s, or, like me, missed the majority of it but revels in such films as The Breakfast Club and Heathers, or has a bizarrely indepth knowledge of Madonna’s 80’s output, will feel absolutely at home in the world that Hendrix has recreated.
Outwardly, this is a horror story – and the author doesn’t spare the reader any gory details, with the last few chapters really taking a rather dark turn, some moments of which are rather hard to read. However, the real heart of the book is in the friendship between Gretchen and Abby – it’s believable, touching, and, even with the risk of demonic possession, incredibly true to life. The humour between them and their friends is also wonderfully well drawn, and provides the book with a large amount of warmth it would lack if the author had just focused on making this a horror tale. A special note should go to the designers of the book too – the yearbook effect sets the scene wonderfully.
Incredibly funny, surprisingly moving, wonderfully scary and crammed full of on the nose pop culture references, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is definitely one of my reads of the summer – so many thanks to the publisher for the copy.
Review originally posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk
On its outskirts stands the Shard. Worshipped by some, feared by others, it’s revered as an artifact of wonder, a monolith of mystery. Where it came from and why it appeared, nobody knows. What is undeniably clear is that its very presence, like a dark poisoned dagger, is killing the land. A man who dwells in the crumbling ruins of Savrona, Justal, has dedicated himself to protecting a small girl, Kria. Like most people they survive by scavenging for whatever morsels they can find. One day their fortunes change when through a series of violent circumstances their paths collide with Avani Sovrarn, a young woman whose family controls the dwindling remnants of the city’s resources, and an unlikely partnership is formed between them. As tensions mount between the Sovrarn family and the citizens of Savrona, starvation drives the city to tear itself apart. This forces Avani and Justal to confront their pasts in order to save their future, and together find a way to shatter the Shard and free their world. Though between them and their goal stands a demonic entity known as the Prisoner, whose arrival threatens to wipe out what remains of mankind.
Reviewing debut novels by authors can often be a tricky thing. I wouldn’t call myself a particularly sunny person – but knowing that a bad review could crush someone’s dreams and ruin their image of the thing they’ve been working on for years, does mean that I don’t always accept offers of books to review, and when I do, it can be with some trepidation.
You will, however, be glad to know that none of my fears were realised here, as this is a very strong debut indeed. Compelling, with complex ideas made real in a dark and twisting plot, Bertrand writes layered and vivid characters, and detailed descriptions give life to a dangerous world – a world which, despite the many grim science fiction worlds we have seen before it, still feels fresh and original.
I had some mild issues with the pacing at the start, but soon adjusted, and I’ll admit that I do still have issues with reading ebooks – but that’s no fault of the author, more a consequence of me being an old fart. I was, despite grumbles, soon swept in to the tale of “Shadow of the Shard” – and there are some stand out paragraphs which really capture the way the author has with language, and some action scenes that move at a rapid and hugely engaging pace.
Whilst the ending is a satisfying one, these are interesting ideas and concepts that could do well with revisiting – and I hope that the author chooses to do that in the future. As a debut, it’s very strong indeed – so I can only imagine that further books will be even better.
Stanly is frustrated. Having set himself up as London’s protector, he’s finding that the everyday practicalities of superheroism are challenging at best, and downright tedious at worst. So it’s almost a relief when an attempt is made on his life and Stanly finds himself rushing headlong into a twisted adventure, with enemies new and old coming out of the woodwork. However, even with his friends and his ever-increasing power behind him, he may have bitten off more than he can chew this time. The monsters are coming… and nothing will ever be the same!
Ace of Spiders is the second in Stefan Mohamed’s Bitter Sixteen series. The first one of which, Bitter Sixteen, I adored (so much so, that The Bookbag can be spotted raving about Bitter Sixteen on the back cover of Ace of Spiders). Compelling, warm, achingly funny and with a grasp of pop culture that appealed hugely to a big old geek like me. It has to be said, that whilst I was hugely excited to read the second one in the Bitter Sixteen series, I did approach it with some trepidation. Sequels are notoriously tricky things to pull off – would this fly, or would it flop?
My worries were misplaced – this is a sequel of The Empire Strikes Back proportions – expanding upon everything that was brilliant about the first book, and taking things into a dark direction that makes for compelling reading. Stanly, our lead character, is one of the most relatable teens I’ve read in some time – he’s super powerful, but also suitably flawed. His wit, humour, and humanity lead the reader through the book, delivering incredibly funny asides, and managing to be relatable for, I imagine, most of those who were ever a teen. Other characters are expanded upon too, with excellent results – Eddie, Connor and Sharon serve as a great family unit for Stanly, as do Tara and Kloe – and it’s these characters who really make the book for me.
A recurring issue with stories about superheroes is that the characters can often lack humanity – writers often choose to focus on mystical powers and mighty beings, but fail to look at the people behind those, meaning that stories can feel two dimensional, and lack any kind of emotion, failing to inspire or move the reader. But author Stefan Mohamed knows his pop culture well, and this shows – some of the best episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer focused on the Scooby gang and their relationships rather than dealing with the big bad of the week, and my favourite issue of a comic has a group of superheroes going to the pub. The exploration of the dynamics of a team and of a group of friends is something that will remain interesting no matter what the situation they are in – and Mohamed really excels at building a vivid, beating heart for his book.
As for the plot, after the origin story that was Bitter Sixteen, Mohamed turns things quite dark here. The humour and optimism remains, but the stakes are upped hugely, with villains on every corner and, yet again, a plot that soars like an Indie superhero blockbuster, defying expectations and entertaining on every single page. Stanly is not just the hero we need, he’s the one we deserve. The writing is brilliant, the characters vivid, and this series continues to be a definite one to watch, given that Mohamed has created another page turner jam packed with action, imagination, intelligence, emotion, humour, and a talking dog! I couldn’t ask for more out of a book.
Robin Fellows lives with his grandmother, and lives what appears to be a rather ordinary life for a normal twelve-year-old boy. But when Robin’s Gran dies, quite suddenly and a bit mysteriously, his life is turned upside down. A long lost relative comes out of the woodwork and whisks him away to a mysterious new home, Erkling Hall, a quiet estate in the solitary countryside of Lancashire. Suddenly Robin must adjust to his new reality. But reality is no longer what he thought it was…Erkling has many secrets. There is more than meets the eye to this old rambling mansion. Little does he know that there is more than meets the eye to himself. Robin is the world’s last Changeling, descended from a mystic race of Fae-people. Their homeland, the Netherworld, is caught in the throes of a terrible civil war. Not only this, but in this new world there is a magical force that has infiltrated the human realm. But before he can wrench power from the malevolent hands of the Netherworlde’s fearsome tyrant leader, Lady Eris, he must first search for the truth about himself and the ethereal Towers of Arcania.
I grew up on fantasy books, and it’s pretty safe to say I still haven’t grown out of them – you’ll find that the majority of books I review tend to run that way. Why? Well, like many, I view books as an escape, and I tend to find that there is a huge amount of skill involved in creating fantasy worlds. It’s all very well to write a crime or thriller set in the modern day, but you’re writing in the world the reader is already familiar with. But to create your own world for the reader to visit? That’s something that requires skill, imagination, hard work, and a lot of luck…
Happily, James Fahy has managed to conjure up a new world that is both comfortingly familiar, and magically strange. Robin is transported from mundane to suburbia to a world of mystery, before taking a full on tumble into a magical landscape, and it’s a very clever way of easing the reader in to the environment, meaning they are there with Robin every step of the way.
There’s no shortage of likeable characters to meet either, with Henry, Phorbas the Tutor, Aunt Irene, Woad the Faun and the mysterious Karya all coming together and facing such evil characters as the grotesque Moros and Strife, working for the evil Lady Eris… There is a traditional element to the plot, but it’s balanced well – I was happily reminded of the books of my childhood, but still found the plot exciting and unpredictable, with Fahy weaving a twisting plot that takes the reader on quite the adventure. Magic is used well too – it’s got limits and a system of use that I found fascinating, and hope will be expanded on in future books.
There’s more to come in the series, and I for one am very excited indeed –It’s great to see a new series that reminds me of the “Narnia” series by CS Lewis (without the overt religious preaching, thankfully), “The Dark is Rising” by Susan Cooper, and “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” by Alan Garner – all childhood favourites of mine. Fast moving and thrilling, there is magic and mystery at every corner, accompanied by compelling characters. I’d recommend from anyone from the age of 10 or so – this is a book that manages to be suitable for both children and adults, and I imagine they’d have to be made of stone not to enjoy it…
A mesmerising sandstorm of adventure, romance, action, and wonderfully drawn characters, “Rebel of the Sands” is both a stunning debut, and a very exciting start to a series…
Dustwalk is an unforgiving, dead-end town. It’s not the place to be poor or orphaned or female. And yet Amani Al’Hiza must call it “home”. Amani wants to escape and see the world she’s heard about in campfire stories. Then a foreigner with no name turns up, and with him she has the chance to run. But the desert plains are full of dangerous magic. The Sultan’s army is on the rise and Amani is soon caught at the heart of a fearless rebellion.
So, a poor, orphaned teenager stuck in some dead end town, just happens to bump into a mysterious (and sexy) stranger, runs away with him and discovers the world, as well as herself, along the way. Sounds like tons of other fantasy books you’ve read, right? Well, in the case of “Rebel of the Sands”, you’ll be very, very mistaken. The reader is plunged headfirst into Amani’s world, and it’s not a book that’s easy to put down, with plot twists occurring on such a regular basis you’ll be racing to catch your breath. All clever, well crafted plot twists too, I hasten to add.
I happen to have a friend in common with author Alwyn Hamilton, and so was all set to go to the launch of this book. However, one broken elbow later (ouch), I had to cancel – but happily my friend had Alwyn dedicate me a copy, and the book turned up just before I left to go on holiday last week. Despite reading this in Austria, curled up with hot tea, overlooking the snowy alps, this book has such a brilliantly strong sense of place that you can’t help but be transported to the dusty, dangerous land in which the characters inhabit. Not only will you feel strongly for the leads, you’ll feel sand everywhere you touch…
My only real issue with the book is how abruptly it seems to end – I suddenly realised about twenty pages from the end that this was going to be the first in a series, and whilst I’m hugely excited for more, I was so invested in the characters that to not find out the ultimate fate of both them and their rebellion, briefly disappointed me – although the ending of book one is extremely good, so don’t be put off!
Amani deserves special mention too. Whilst strong, tomboyish leads are often pretty common in Fantasy books, Amani stands head and shoulders above the rest – in parts she reminded me of Lyra Belacqua from “His Dark Materials”, a character who remains my favourite female lead to this day. Amani is independent, funny, strong, brave, and doesn’t take any shit. The romance between her and Jin is compelling and real, never feeling forced but also never becoming particularly sickly, but rather passionate and unavoidable.
4.5 Stars out of 5 for this one from me – and I really, really can’t wait for more.
Kali Ling competes in the RAGE tournaments – a competition of Virtual Gaming, where the world’s best gamers compete in a fight to the digital death. Every fights is broadcast to millions, and each player leads lives of fame. Although the weapons are digital, the players feel every blow… Kali Ling – the first female captain in tournament history, is famed for her prowess – but has her world shaken when her teammate and lover overdoses. Now, she must win the tournament and uncover the truth about the tournament, for the Virtual Gaming League has dark secrets. And the only way to change the rules is to fight from the inside…
Virtual Gaming, or eSports as it tends to be called, has risen hugely in popularity in recent years – with over 71,500,000 people worldwide tuning into competitive gaming during 2013, and the number steadily growing. The industry is plagued by accusations of drug abuse, with players utilising prescription medication such as Adderall in order to stay awake and alert. The gender split in the industry is fairly large, with the vast majority of fans male, so unsurprisingly sexism is rife, although female representation in the industry is increasing.
Author Holly Jennings, a lifelong gamer who has spent many hours in the virtual worlds of World of Warcraft and Call of Duty, explores the industry to great effect in her novel, setting things in a near future where the Virtual Gaming League is one of the major sporting events, and its competitors lauded like footballers are today. The issue of drugs is tackled head on, and the lead is a strong female with a complex and interesting personality. Plot developments come swiftly, and the violence is frequent and bloody – even when the reader knows it’s taking place in a virtual field, some of it is still genuinely gory.
There is a love story thrown in, and whilst initially it seems a little inappropriate, it’s convincing and written well – although thankfully the main aim of this plot is to encourage the development and growth of the lead character. Kali Ling is truly a fascinating character, layered, complex, and a good companion for the reader throughout the book, and her rise is a gripping one to watch. I can’t deny that there are some issues I had with this book – some prose is a little clunky, and the Hunger Games meets Ready Player One shtick is a high bar that isn’t always explore to the full potential it suggests. However, I’m inclined to remember that this is just the first book of a series, and I’m sure the potential of both this world and the character of Kali Ling will be explored more going forward – and I’ll definitely be reading.
This review was first posted on The Bookbag – http://www.thebookbag.co.uk