Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: YA (page 1 of 16)

Shiny New Books Issue 8

SNB logo tinyI can’t believe that when our next issue of Shiny New Books comes out at the beginning of April, we will have been going for two whole years! The last issue of our second year is out today and features the winning poem in the first Shiny Poetry  Competition – it’s lovely.

Naturally, you’ll find a handful of reviews by yours truly. I’ll be linking to them over coming weeks, but today I’m highlighting a YA novel for older teens that breaks taboos and made me cry…

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

asking-for-it-197x300The second novel from O’Neill follows the story of Emma, a beautiful eighteen year old schoolgirl, who has to live with the consequences of a party which went wrong and she doesn’t remember what happened. Of course it affects far more people than just Emma, and O’Neill bravely explores many taboo areas that few authors would dare to go near. I wept. This novel is an important one. Although 16+ girls may be its primary audience, it deserves a far wider audience, especially parents of girls. This book really raises the bar for YA novels.

Read my full review here.

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Source: Own copy

Louise O’Neill, Asking for it (Quercus, 2015) Hardback, 352 pages.

Catching up on reviewing…

My to be reviewed pile is larger than I like and I don’t want to forget the books – so here are some shorter reviews for you:

Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics

lukavicThis is one scary novel – published as a YA book but is definitely not for younger teenaged readers! The story is narrated by Amanda who is sixteen, and has been meeting the post-boy in secret for some time now. It gets her out of the house, away from her family and her deaf and blind baby sister, whose birth nearly killed her Ma. Amanda also has a secret, and doesn’t know what to do about it; her sister finds out what it is and tells her she must sort it out, or she’ll tell their parents.

There’s not room for the six of them in their tiny mountain cabin, even though Pa is often away trading. Suffering from cabin fever, he decides to move them all to the prairie, where they find a large abandoned home which will suit them down to the ground – only it’s steeped in blood! They clean, patch and mend and eventually move into the house, and that’s when strange things really start to happen.  Their neighbours are a doctor and his son, and the son tells bloodthirsty stories about tainted land and mad families – given the blood they found, are these stories true?

Gosh this was a disturbing book! It is as far from Little House on the Prairie as you could ever get – the only similarity being that the families are both pioneers/settlers. Despite her own secret, you know that Amanda can be relied upon, and her voice is authentic. I didn’t want to put the book down, but had to as I the train reached London, I had to wait for my return journey to get the full horrors of this brilliant debut. (9/10)

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A Short Gentleman by Jon Canter

short gentlemanBy complete contrast, this book is a riotous comedy starring the most deluded yet successful (in part) gentleman you could hope to meet. This novel is barrister Robert Purcell’s life-story, told after his release from prison for an offense we will eventually find out about.

It is full of hilarious scenes – after a fight with his childhood arch-enemy Pilkington, Robert’s mother asks him why he didn’t hit back:

‘He’s bigger than me.’
‘Nonsense. You must hit back, Little Man. Hitler was short.’

All the way through, Robert’s prevarications are hilarious, as are his footnotes. He is an absolute square, a snob and aesthete, a very literal chap too, yet underneath there is a human lurking which makes all the situations and relationships he gets himself into all the funnier.

Jon Canter has a wonderful track record as a comedy writer – I loved his book inspired by the series ‘Rev’ last year.  A Short Gentleman was actually our book group choice for last month, chosen because we wanted to read a funny novel and I dragged it from my memory as one that Kim and some other bloggers had really enjoyed a few years ago.  It was a hit with our book group too and I’d love to read Canter’s other novels. (8.5/10)

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Pretty Thing by Jennifer Nadel

nadelThis is a coming of age story set in the mid 1970s which explores the relationship between a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl and her older boyfriend, Bracken, but also between Becs and her best friend Mary-Jane.

Becs and Mary-Jane were meant to be sneaking off to the pub to meet friends together, but when Mary-Jane was late Becs went on her own.  A young man offers to buy her a drink – he introduces himself:

‘Bracken,’ he said. He was much taller than me and older. Old enough to have been a real hippy. I tipped my head back to meet his gaze. His eyes were brown. Not normal brown, but deep dark brown the colour of rain-soaked wiid,
‘Bracken,’ he said again, ‘as in fern.’
The skin around his eyes crinkled into a smile and it took me a moment to realize I was meant to tell him my name.
‘Rebecca,’ I said trying to sound grown-up. Becs was what everyone called me but it didn’t feel nearly sophisticated enough.

That same evening, Mary-Jane is sexually assaulted, when she was late. This event will resonate throughout the book and their friendship will suffer.

Meanwhile, Bracken turns up to meet Becs at the school gate in his van, and this becomes a regular thing. They don’t have sex immediately because Becs is underage. She’s convinced he’s her soulmate and that he’ll wait. She trusts him. Should she?

This was a tense and naturally unsettling drama that can be read in one sitting – you’ll want to find out who Bracken is and what happens to Becs and Mary-Jane.  I was 16 in 1976 when this book was set and it took me straight back to those times – I was glad that my own experiences of sneaking into the pub and so on didn’t go the same way.  Nadel captures the teenager’s voice really well, wanting independence but not knowing enough about trust, from naivety to growing up fast.  A good pacy read. (7.5/10)

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Sources: Publisher, own copy and publisher respectively – Thank you.

Amy Lukavics – Daughters Unto Devils (Oct 2015, Simon & Schuster), paperback original, 240 pages. Buy from Amazon UK.

Jon Canter – A Short Gentleman (2008, Vintage), paperback 384 pages. Buy from Amazon UK.

Jennifer Nadel – Pretty Thing (Feb 2015, Corsair), paperback original, 256 pages. Buy from Amazon UK. 

It’s a Shiny Christmas

holly

Just to tell you that the Shiny New Books Christmas Extra Shiny edition is now online with 34 new reviews and articles for your delectation. There’s a bit of an ‘Oscar-Fest’ (Wilde that is) going on here here and here, plus a wide variety of other book in the mix.

I’ve contributed five pieces to this edition:

  • spectaclesNumber 11 by Jonathan Coe – a brilliant social satire about 21st century living and the economy
  • The Winter Place by Alexander Yates – an excellent YA novel that incorporates Finnish folklore into a contemporary tale of New York teens’ grief and going to live with the Finnish grandparents they never knew existed.
  • A Lion Was Learning to Ski by Ranjit Bolt – a book of read out loud limericks from the playwright/translator.
  • Spectacles by Sue Perkins – a fun but also thoughtful memoir from the Sue we know and love from GBBO.  Wonderful cover too!
  • The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs & Real Life Rock by Greil Marcus. Not one, but two books, by one of the best writers about popular music.

 

Two capsule YA reviews

I’ve rather a backlog of books to talk about, so here are capsule reviews of two strong YA novels I read during the past couple of months:

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

we-all-looked-up-9781471124556_hrThe world is going to end in ten chapters (weeks?) time when an asteroid called Ardor will crash into the Earth. If you’re a teenager, what are you going to do? There may be no future, so you’re going to live those last weeks to the utmost and attend a huge party at the end of it all – aren’t you?

Four senior High School students, Peter, Eliza, Andy and Anita – characterised as “the athlete, the outcast, the slacker and the over-achiever”, tell the interlocking story of these last weeks. Friendships will be made, broken and maybe mended; relationships, families and society too. What they all need though, is someone to love, to be with when the end comes.

It’s perhaps inevitable that there will be pairing up (after many false starts) and that the four protagonists are stereotypes. It takes the secondary characters – namely Andy’s mate Bobo and Peter’s younger sister Misery to gee things up on the action front. It does take  a long while to get going though and in the last quarter everything happens rather fast.  There are some nice touches though, especially near the start when Peter is talking to his teacher after class, and Mr. McArthur says:

The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.

This was an interesting novel, that nearly carried it off – but not quite for me. (7.5/10)

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The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The-rest-of-us-just-live--002A new book by Ness is always worth reading and this summer’s offering is a thoughtful novel that sits on the boundaries between paranormal fantasy and normal life for a small group of friends about to graduate from High School in a small town in Washington state.  The first chapter is prefaced thus:

Chapter The First, in which the Messenger of the Immortals arrives in a surprising shape, looking for a permanent Vessel; and after being chased by her through the woods, indie kid Finn meets his final fate.

There are strange blue lights in the sky, the deer are acting like zombies, but then it gets straight down to normal life for Mikey, his sister Mel, best friend Jared and object of his affections Henna (who doesn’t realise and is attracted to new boy). Mikey’s family is dysfunctional – cheerful alcoholic father, mom running for state senator, and Mel a recovering anorexic. Mikey himself had counselling for anxiety – things are getting back to a sort of normal again…

And that, I think, was the problem. They could absolutely deal with Mel getting so sick. But I don’t think they could quite deal with her getting better. I did about eight hundred hours of anxious research on the internet and tried to tell them that almost ninety percent of anorexics do recover, but as time passed, they seemed to start resenting the healthy daughter just sitting there, the one that they’d sacrificed so much for, no longer needing the sacrifice, if she’d ever really needed it in the first place. (She did. We could have lost her. I could have lost her. And then what?)

It’s hard being normal for Mikey, in a world that’s so abnormal, where everyone seems to act like a superhero. Who are the real superheroes? This is the question at the heart of the novel – a slow burner – but thought-provoking in its gentle way. I enjoyed this a lot.  For a fantastic and much fuller review – do read Eric’s take on this book – here. (8.5/10)

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach – Simon & Schuster, March 2015. Review copy. Paperback, 384 pages. Buy at Amazon UK

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – Walker Books, August 2015. Own copy. Hardback, 352 pages. Buy at Amazon UK

Shiny Linkiness

SNB logo tinyI’m back to school today, so scheduled this one in advance. A post of Shiny linkness to my fiction reviews in the recent Extra Shiny issue of Shiny New Books.

Do head over to see the full reviews, and feel free to comment here or there. Thank you.

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The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

watchmaker

A multi-layered tale of a humble telegraphist,  a bluestocking scientist and a Japanese watchmaker, set in Victorian London under siege from the Fenians. Despite its vestiges of Victorian steampunk fantasy, at its heart The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a thriller, a remarkably effective one that draws you into its world from the beginning.

It’s hard to believe that this novel is a debut. It is so polished that you will genuinely believe that a clockwork octopus is alive too.   (9/10)

Click here to read the full review.

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The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock

Last-Pilot-cover-RGB-667x1024Behind every test pilot or astronaut is everyone they leave behind each time they set off.  Set during the beginning years of the space race in the 1960s, this amazing debut novel tells of one such human story, that of a fictional family set amongst the real life test pilots and astronauts, and their story blends seamlessly into that of history.

This book moved and excited me in equal measure, and will definitely feature around the top of my year end best of list. (10/10)

Click here to read the full review.

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All Sorts of Possible by Rupert Wallis

all sort of possibleThis YA novel begins with a sinkhole – Daniel survives falling into the sinkhole, but falls further ending up at the bottom with no way out except to follow the water. He scratches the word ‘Help’ onto a cave wall. ‘Please,’ he says – and finds the way out. He is the miracle boy – the one who survived. His father though, is in an induced coma, he may not recover.

Daniel discovers that his ordeal has given him a psychic energy that when another receptive person seeks him out and helps focus it.  Surely it could be used for good, but when gangster Mason gets his hands on Daniel, things get rather nasty…

A different kind of paranormal teen novel, I enjoyed this blend of psychics and sinkholes!  (8/10)

Click here to read the full review.

It's a break-up novel…

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

10798418Daniel Handler, best-known as the author of the Lemony Snicket series of books for children has also written several novels for adults; I reviewed one of them – Adverbs here. Like Lemony Snicket, Adverbs was quirky and full of off-beat humour. Why We Broke Up is a little different in style. It’s still quirky, but its humour is more ironic and very bittersweet – it is, after all, a break-up story.

It sits firmly in crossover territory – being published in the UK under Egmont’s YA imprint, Electric Monkey, but is actually a sophisticated tale that teens and adults can enjoy alike. Each chapter is prefixed by a colour illustration by Maira Kalman and these are equally quirky and fit the novel’s style perfectly. One last bonus is that on the inside cover – instead of publicity puffs from other authors and celebs, there are short paragraph teenaged break-up stories from the likes of Neil Gaiman, Brian Selznick, David Levithan and Holly Black – some of the cream of current YA writers – a neat touch. This is backed up by a Tumblr blog where readers can share their own break-up stories.

Why We Broke Up is the story of the short-lived relationship between Min Green and Ed Slaterton, as told by Min. It starts:

Dear Ed,
In a sec you’ll hear a thunk. At your front door, the one nobody uses. […]
The thunk is the box, Ed. This is what I am leaving you. […] Every last souvenir of the love we had, the prizes and the debris of this relationship, like the glitter in the gutter when the parade has passed, all the everything and whatnot kicked to the curb. I’m dumping the whole box back into your life, Ed, every item of you and me. I’m dumping this box on your porch, Ed, but it is you, Ed, who is getting dumped.

She’s not bitter at all then?!  They meet at a party, not the usual type of one Ed goes to. He’s a jock, one of the stars of the basketball team – he only goes to non-jock parties when they lose.

– and then you asked me my name. I told you it was Min, short for Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom, because my dad was getting his master’s when I was born, and that, don’t even ask, no you couldn’t, only my grandmother could call me Minnie because, she told me and I imitated her voice, she loved me the best of anyone.

You said your name was Ed. Like I might not know that. I asked you how you lost.

“Don’t,” you said. “If I have to tell you how we lost, it will hurt all of my feelings.”

I liked that, all of my feelings. “Every last one?” I asked. “Really?”

“Well,” you said, and took a sip, “I might have one or two left. I might still have a feeling.”

I had a feeling too. Of course you told me anyway, Ed, because you’re a boy, how you lost the game.

We then go on to work our way through the box with Min explaining each item’s significance chronologically. The first item is a movie ticket from their first date. Min is an arts student and an aficionado of old movies. She and Ed go to see Greta in the Wild, which stars the beautiful, young Lottie Carson. As first dates go it’s a success and Ed is amazed by this quirky ‘different’ girl who persuades him that an old black and white film is the business! He indulges Min who is convinced that an old lady who goes to see all these vintage films is Lottie Carson herself – and this becomes a bit of an obsession for Min which escalates throughout the novel.

Romance blossoms for Min and Ed, despite Min’s BF Al and Ed’s older sister Joan knowing it’ll never work. Geeks and Jocks just aren’t really made for each other – they’re too ‘different’. Min has a go at watching basketball practice along with all the other jock’s girlfriends who seem happy to be bored out of their brains on the benches – it’s so obviously not her and naturally, Al feels ignored missing their after-school chats.

It works for a while though…

I loved this novel. Its monologue style reminded me of The Perks of Being a Wallflower (review here). They may share a High School setting, but Why We Broke Up is a good old-fashioned romance, it’s not issue-led like TPOBAW, although that is one of my favourite novels of this type. The added mystery over Lottie Carson gives Why We Broke Up all the side-plot it needs although that was rather over-extended. It was, however, a relief to read compared with all the dark Issue lit on the YA shelves these days. It’ll make a great movie …

Sophisticated, tender, bittersweet, quirky, funny – this is a YA/Crossover novel to savour and enjoy. (8/10)

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Source: Own Copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (2012), illus Maira Kalman. Paperback (Jun 2015) Electric Monkey, 368 pages.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, paperback.

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