Tag Archives: YA

MINI-REVIEWS: Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky; Circe by Madeline Miller; and The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman #Brainfluffbookmini-reviews

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These are books which I completed during a reading period when writing a full review wasn’t an option as I was too busy – but are still worthy of recommendation and notice.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky
This offering clearly demonstrates Tchaikovsky’s talent and ability to write in a variety of different styles as this bleak examination of an exhausted society essentially waiting for the planet to die, taking them with it, nonetheless is an engrossing read.

The first person protagonist is completely believable as an academic who has somehow managed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and therefore undergo a whole series of dangerous adventures that he never intended to encounter. The worldbuilding is excellent and I loved how the very apt title ties into the overall arc of the book. Yet another accomplished offering by one of the major talents of his generation.
8/10

 

Circe by Madeline Miller
No wonder this one has garnered so much attention and so many awards. The characterisation of this awkward, neglected child in a society where men are prized for their strength and aggression and women are prized for their beauty, charisma and guile, is wonderful. A protagonist who isn’t particularly beautiful or cunning, so develops a skill with potions and witchcraft, instead…

Once more, I was struck at just what a raw deal women got in this very masculine world where might was a done deal and if a woman started running and shouting ‘no’ – she was regarded as a challenge to be chased down… This could have been a bleak, traumatic read, but it isn’t partly because of the beauty of the prose and partly because of the wonderful, layered first-person depiction of a complicated immortal living in a world in which she really doesn’t fit. I found her take on Odysseus absolutely fascinating.

One of my outstanding reads of the year.
10/10

 

Illuminae – Book 1 of the Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I thoroughly enjoyed this roller-coaster dystopian space opera YA adventure, which started with a bang and simply didn’t let up. The epistolary structure worked well, although I did have to whack the font size right up for the text conversations and some of the reports, which for some reason had a miniscule font size.

The plot twists kept coming and the finale worked really well – especially that last surprise. A warning though – don’t get too attached to many of the characters in this adventure, as lots of folks die! Highly recommended for fans of mayhem in space featuring gutsy teens.
8/10

Sunday Post – 7th September, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

This week was a hectic one, as I started back teaching Tim, and attended meetings with the other tutors and Sally to co-ordinate our approach over the coming year. On Monday evening, I met up with a group of ex-students and we caught up on each other and listened to each other’s writing, while enjoying Anita’s fabulous home-made apple crumble – yum! I also met up with Gill at the Look and Sea café on Tuesday morning, before we plunged back into our Pilates class on Wednesday, after the summer break – while I was okay on Thursday, I was hobbling around on Friday stiff and sore. On Wednesday evening, it was Writing Group again and I got to hear about Liz’s wedding in between everyone reading out our writing.

It was Himself’s birthday on Friday, but he was working, so we celebrated on Thursday, which he had off, instead. We visited the Weald and Downland Museum on a lovely sunny autumn day – it was idyllic as the pic shows… I’ll post more in a separate post. We felt quite smug as Friday turned out to be a rather chilly, windy day that we’d had such a fabulous time the previous day.

My sister and I went flat hunting again on Saturday afternoon. Two were a bust and one was definitely a contender – fingers crossed she is able to nail this one, as it is only up the road from where I live.
I’ve been editing, though it hasn’t gone as smoothly because so much was going on. I’m hoping that by the end of the coming week I can get right back into the writing groove again.

Last week I read:

Illuminae – Book 1 of The Illuminae series by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started…

I had heard so much about this dystopian YA science fiction adventure and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Turning Darkness into Light by Marie Brennan
As the renowned granddaughter of Isabella Camherst (Lady Trent, of the riveting and daring Draconic adventure memoirs) Audrey Camherst has always known she, too, would want to make her scholarly mark upon a chosen field of study.

When Lord Gleinheigh recruits Audrey to decipher a series of ancient tablets holding the secrets of the ancient Draconean civilization, she has no idea that her research will plunge her into an intricate conspiracy, one meant to incite rebellion and invoke war. Alongside dearest childhood friend and fellow archaeologist Kudshayn, must find proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.

This spinoff series, charting an adventure featuring Audrey, granddaughter of the famous scholar of dragon behaviour, starts slowly and then as it gathers pace, becomes impossible to put down. Review to follow.

My posts last week:

Cut price science fiction offer…

Friday Faceoff featuring The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett

Mantivore Dreams – Book 1 of The Arcadian Chronicles now available

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kingdom of Souls by Ren Barrron

Review of The Midnight Queen – Book 1 of the Noctis Magicae series by Sylvia Hunter

Sunday Post – 1st September 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

On (Not) Defending Historical Fiction https://writerunboxed.com/2019/09/02/on-not-defending-historical-fiction/ I thoroughly enjoyed reading this intriguing article. While historical fiction hasn’t been my go-to genre for a while, it was a pleasure reading this intelligent response to ‘that’ question.

Brilliant Book Titles #301 https://librarystaffpicks.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/brilliant-book-titles-301/ I haven’t featured any of these offerings for a while – but this one caught my eye…

Group Hug… https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2019/09/02/group-hug/ You’re on your computer, working away – and it alllll goes wrong☹. I was in something of a state when I spotted this little gem, which made me laugh and gain perspective once again.

An Interesting Character Study: Prospero from The Tempest https://interestingliterature.com/2019/09/03/an-interesting-character-study-prospero-from-the-tempest/ Those who know me also know I’m obsessed with this play – so found this article well worth reading.

Chase Bookfest – Cannock Chase’s first book festival devoted to women’s popular fiction and thrillers – Saturday 21st September 2019 https://mychestnutreadingtree.wordpress.com/2019/09/05/chase-bookfest-cannock-chases-first-book-festival-devoted-to-womens-popular-fiction-and-thrillers-saturday-21st-september-2019/ A shoutout about a special event for keen readers who live in the area…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Kingdom of Souls by Rena Barron #Brainfluffbookreview #KingdomofSoulsbookreview

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There was a lot of excitement about this one and one of my lovely book-blogging friends highly recommended it – so I scampered across to Netgalley and managed to snag an arc – thank you! If you do recognise yourself, please let me know and I will give you a shoutout.

Born into a family of powerful witchdoctors, Arrah yearns for magic of her own. But each year she fails to call forth her ancestral powers, while her ambitious mother watches with growing disapproval. There’s only one thing Arrah hasn’t tried, a deadly last resort: trading years of her own life for scraps of magic. Until the Kingdom’s children begin to disappear, and Arrah is desperate to find the culprit. She uncovers something worse. The long-imprisoned Demon King is stirring. And if he rises, his hunger for souls will bring the world to its knees… unless Arrah pays the price for the magic to stop him.

This is essentially African-inspired epic fantasy with a strong POC protagonist in Arrah and an interesting, coherent structure of magical with important differences in tone and effect within the various tribes. I really enjoyed the backdrop, the feel of the book and Barron’s vivid, gritty writing. The supporting characters were also layered – I particularly loved the depiction of Arrah’s mother, who is by far the most interesting, charismatic character for at least the first half of the book. But none of this would have worked if Arrah’s own personality hadn’t pinged off the page in her desperate longing to fulfil the destiny that was well nigh flattening her from the time she was old enough to realise who she was supposed to be. It is often a trope within SFF – a protagonist is lacking that vital talent or magical ability so confidently predicted from their birth. But rarely is that disappointment so acutely experienced as in Kingdom of Souls. It was a real heartbreak to see Arrah’s pain as her mother increasingly distanced herself from her daughter, while her father desperately tried to compensate by providing all the love and companionship she could want – incidentally immersing her in his own blood magic rituals, presumably hoping some of it would rub off…

I loved the fact that family went on mattering to Arrah throughout the length of this twisting plotline – in fact, it’s a major theme that recurs within the narrative arcs of a number of the supporting characters, too. As someone who is fascinated by the family dynamic and also writes a lot about it – this is meat and drink to me.

Do be aware that this is a gritty read including child abduction and death, parental rejection and dark magic – much of which appears in medieval-era fantasy tales as a matter of course, but somehow the more exotic setting and different flavour of magic manages to give a more menacing aspect to these events. I also think that Barron’s intense, sensual writing style packs a punch.

This is a triumphant debut by a very promising author. It’s not perfect – there are places where the pacing could have been tightened up as the description took over at the expense of the action. But given the ambition and breadth of the book, these lapses were relatively few and far between. Highly recommended for fantasy fans who appreciate something different. The ebook arc copy of Kingdom of Souls was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The book is a film that takes place in the mind of the reader… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffmovietieincovers

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is MOVIE TIE-IN. I’ve selected Catching Fire – Book 2 of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins. Mostly because I think both the book and film are more successful than most notoriously difficult second-in-the-series efforts.

 

This edition was produced by Scholastic Press in September 2009 and is a strong design that catches the eye on the shelves (I know – I bought this edition, having seen it on said shelves). Red and gold are always a strong colour combination and the design and the unusual bird give a sci fi feel to this cover. If I have a moan, it’s that blocky, rather uninspired font.

 

Published in November 2011 by Nemira, this Romanian edition is very effective, with the face half-hidden by those red leaves. The detail of the raindrops beading the leaves gives a nice three-dimensional aspect. But then they went and botched it by plonking the title font bang in the middle of the cover in the same shade of red. It both clutters the overall design and is difficult to read – hard to imagine how they could have made more of a mess of it, really.

 

This edition, published by Scholastic in October 2014, goes for a different suite of colours no less eye-catching than the red and gold. I love the treatment of the font which is both attractive and imaginative. However, that negative effect on the mockingjay makes it look like a fossilised pterodactyl, which isn’t an accurate portrayal of the book. I suppose I can give them a pass on this one – by 2014 you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of The Hunger Games, but it goes against the grain to have a cover that doesn’t accurately reflect the book’s genre.

 

This movie tie-in edition, produced by Scholastic in October 2013 is an underwhelming effort. It certainly doesn’t work all that well in thumbnail – all you see are those roiling clouds. Katniss merely blends into the background wearing her hunting attire. I think this is the least effective of all the covers.

This Scholastic Singapore edition, published in October 2014, is my favourite. Just look at the bird on fire against the black background. Gloriously simple and yet so beautiful and visually compelling. It is also one of the movie tie-in covers and if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know it works really well as a nod to that terrible scene when it all does, indeed, catch fire… Which is your favourite?

Sunday Post – 23rd June, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I’ve been AWOL this week – which has been something of a roller-coaster… We have been embarking on a series of home improvements, given it’s far too long since we spruced up the house and duly got someone in to look at the guttering, which clearly needed replacing. Only it didn’t. Once the builders investigated, it rapidly became clear that we needed a new roof, instead. The roofing felt is like paper mache and the ends of the joists are rotten. The cowboys who replaced our soffits (Anglian Windows, in case anyone is interested…) must have been well aware of the situation when they fitted the soffits by screwing them straight into the rotten joists, but bodged the job and said nothing. Suddenly the house is swathed in scaffolding, the tiles are off, the rotten wood in the process of being replaced, along with the felt. Meanwhile we are frantically arranging finance… The sudden, sharp rainstorms hammering down throughout the week haven’t helped, either.

Other news – I have started my Poetry short course at Northbrook this week, which went well. My writing buddy Mhairi came down for a few days and while she was here, the proof copy of Netted arrived through the post with the awesome cover looking every bit a fabulous as we thought it would. And I spent yesterday with my sister who took me out shopping to celebrate my birthday. In the meantime, I keep waiting for my life to get more boring… please?

Last week I read:

The Killer in the Choir – Book 19 of the Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett
Although she hadn’t known Leonard Mallett very well, nor liked him particularly, Carole Seddon feels duty bound to attend her fellow committee member’s funeral. As she suspected, the hymns, readings and sermon are all very predictable — not unlike Leonard himself. What she couldn’t have predicted was that the deceased’s daughter would use the occasion to publicly accuse her stepmother of murder. Did Heather Mallett really kill her husband, as many Fethering residents believe? Deciding to get to the heart of the matter, Carole’s neighbour Jude joins the new community choir – and discovers that amidst the clashing egos and petty resentments lurk some decidedly false notes. At least one chorister would appear to be hiding a deadly secret — and it’s up to Carole and Jude to unearth the truth.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Liar in the Library recently, so was delighted when given the opportunity to also read this offering. Once more Fethering is buzzing with yet another murder – and getting reacquainted with these characters was even more fun than I’d anticipated. I shall be reading more of these…

The Dark Lord of Derkholm AUDIOBOOK – Book 1 of the Derkholm series by Diana Wynne Jones
Everyone – wizards, soldiers, farmers, elves, dragons, kings and queens alike – is fed up with Mr Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties: groups of tourists from the world next door who descend en masse every year to take the Grand Tour. What they expect are all the trappings of a grand fantasy adventure, including the Evil Enchantress, Wizard Guides, the Dark Lord, Winged Minions, and all. And every year different people are chosen to play these parts. But now they’ve had enough: Mr Chesney may be backed by a very powerful demon, but the Oracles have spoken. Now it’s up to the Wizard Derk and his son Blade, this year’s Dark Lord and Wizard Guide, not to mention Blade’s griffin brothers and sisters, to save the world from Mr Chesney’s depredations.
This is billed as a children’s book – but it doesn’t feel like it. It seems far more like a clever exploration of what happens when people flock to a wonderful place to experience said wonder – all on their own terms, of course. And while parts are funny, other parts are quite dark. But all wonderfully gripping and well realised in this audiobook.

The Halfling – Book 1 of the Aria Fae series by H.D. Gordon
What do you get when you take a highly trained Halfling teenager and throw her into the concrete jungle of Grant City? One badass vigilante, of course! 17-year-old Aria Fae is no stranger to danger. She’s super fast, incredibly strong, and on her own for the first time ever.
Throw in a brand new best friend who’s a computer genius, a mysterious and super-fly older neighbor, and a drug that’s turning people into maniacs, and you’ve got the potion for trouble.
This YA superhero read was unexpectedly engrossing. Yes… Aria has it all – super-human strength and top-notch training. She also has enhanced hearing and sense of smell, as well as effective night vision. But, after a series of traumatic events that dumped her into Grant City, alone and friendless – she is also struggling with depression.

My posts last week:

Review of Broken Heart Attack – Book 2 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James J. Cudney

Friday Faceoff featuring The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Outside by Ada Hoffmann

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – and I apologise for not visiting or comment all that much. It’s been a tad full on. I hope you have a wonderful week.

Friday Faceoff – Ô, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is the SUMMER SOLSTICE, seeing as this is the longest day of the year in this hemisphere. I’ve selected The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

 

This edition was produced by Random House Children’s Publishers UK in October 2016. This is the default cover for this YA best-seller and it’s easy to see why. I love the colours and the fabulous effect of the different embroidery threads. Somewhere online, I recall seeing the footage of the master being made – because, yes, the cover was actually stitched. It’s my favourite.

 

Published in June 2017 by Bonnier Carlsen, this Swedish edition has the potential to be successful, particularly with the contrast between the yellow and black, which always works well. However they then sabotaged the effectiveness of that strong colour selection, by insisting on including almost everything that occurs in the book in a series of line drawings, which makes the effect too busy and cluttered to be really effective.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Editura Young Art have overcome the issue that makes this something of a problem for foreign language editions – given the cover was initially stitched with the title in English – by stitching their own version. I very much like it, but the colours lack the vibrancy and impact of the original cover chiefly because the thread is finer.

 

This Indonesian edition, produced by Spring in April 2017, have taken a different approach to that stitched cover with a wonderful cover that is my second favourite. I love this one – so beautiful and striking. It also references some of the themes/subjects that feature in the book – because if there is an issue with that original cover, is that it isn’t immediately apparent that it is basically a YA romance.

 

This Vietnamese edition, published in May 2019 by Wings Books, has taken yet another approach. I really like the blocky bold depiction of the sun within that lovely rich blue background – it’s colourful and eye-catching and nicely references the title. My one grizzle is that the white title font is very boring and while I love the creative arrangement of the lettering amongst the ends of the sunrays, I feel there is a risk of the title getting lost amongst the design. Which is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Blue oblivion, largely lit, smiled and smiled at me… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week at least one of our covers has to be BLUE, so I’ve selected Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Book 1 of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor.

 

This edition was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in September 2011. The monochrome face with that fantastic blue feathered mask is very eye-catching and I also really love the title font, which is both striking and effective. This one is so very nearly my favourite…

 

Published in August 2015 by Fischer Taschenbubh, this German cover is another strong contender. I love the shades of blue patterns backlighting the Prague cityscape. The girl looks otherworldly with the treatment to her eyes and the title font is also stylish and eye-catching. Yet another well designed and beautiful cover, wholly appropriate in tone and mood for this enjoyable fantasy adventure.

 

This edition, published by Hodder & Stoughton in September 2011, is my favourite. I love, love, LOVE those fabulous feathers with the iridescent sheen in all the shades of a sunlit starling. My choice might be influenced by the fact that this is the cover of the book that I read – I also think the title font is very well done.

 

Produced by De Boekerij in April 2013, this Dutch edition is yet another superb effort, being a variation on the design of the first cover. The mask is beautifully designed and the colours shading the title font replicate those colours, intensifying the lovely effect with the clever repetition. Another accomplished and appropriate cover for this book.

 

This Indonesian edition, published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in September 2012, is yet another well-designed cover. If this had been a different book, I would be raving more about the restraint… the clever, subtle blue shading around the edge of the single feather… the way that colour is picked up and reflected in the stylish title font. But there are so many wonderful, classy covers for this particular book, it is just added to the list – lucky, lucky Laini Taylor! Which one is your favourite?

Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Review of PAPERBACK Satellite by Nick Lake #Brainfluffbookreview #Satellitebookreview

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This is another book I hauled last summer with my birthday money – and yes… I can’t lie, it was allll about that stunning cover.

He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home. Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight.

That’s part of the blurb. But what is interesting is that if blurbs are supposed to be a taster for what is inside the book, then this back-book matter should be written in text-speak because Lake has taken the brave decision to write this near-future adventure in this format, complete with no capitals except for names. It took me a couple of pages to get comfortable with this format, but I’ve read a string of reviews from indignant readers who simply couldn’t cope. That’s a real shame, because they missed a cracking story as a result. And to be honest, I’m not sure this step was worth it, given it certainly posed an additional barrier to accessing the story.

Leo is a rather self-contained character, who is always an outsider – he’s bound to be given he is raised in a space station alongside a set of twins. When he sees his mother, which is infrequently, she never shows him any affection – not so much as a hug, let alone playing games and reading to him like Orion and Libra’s mother during her visits. At fifteen, Leo tells himself that he has become used to her attitude, while readying himself for his return to Earth. I loved his personality, which is important as this tale is told in first person viewpoint. Lake managed to denote his emotions, while we are also aware he doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Given the nature of his upbringing, he is wary of people and their motives, which stands him in good stead once he finds himself back on Earth.

Leo’s wonder at the beauty he encounters is wonderfully conveyed as he begins to acclimatise to gravity while living on his grandfather’s cattle ranch. But all too soon, his life there becomes disrupted. Earth is in trouble. Water and food are running out as global warming is drying up farmland and turning swathes of the landmass into desert. There are dangerous factions abroad who would like to get their hands on one of the famous space-born children…

As events stack up and the story turns a whole lot darker, I found it hard to put this one down. The scenario portrayed is chillingly plausible, which sharpened the sense of distress at the children’s plight. However, after carefully building up a realistic sense of the near-future, this adventure suddenly takes a sharp left-turn into a plotpoint more suited to Hollywood silliness. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I could easily visualise an alternative scenario that wouldn’t have entailed all that nonsense and still given more or less the same ending.

So while I coped with the text-prose, I have marked this down from a five-star rating to a four-star novel, because I strongly felt that one final action scene at the end was entirely unnecessary and distracted from some of the hard ethical questions this thoughtful story raises. But don’t that discourage you from reading this one – it’s a gripping story with a hard-hitting message and left me with a lump in my throat, notwithstanding that final act.
8/10

Review of PAPERBACK Caraval – Book 1 of the Caraval series by Stephanie Garber #Brainfluffbookreview #Caravalbookreview

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I’ll admit it – it was the cover of this one that caught my eye – and the premise that a complicated, magical game was at the heart of the story…

Scarlett Dragna has never left the tiny island where she and her sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval—the faraway, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show—are over. But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt-of invitation finally arrives…

And that’s as much of the very chatty blurb that I’m prepared to include as far too many of the major plotpoints are revealed, so my first piece of advice is to avoid reading the back matter. As for the story – Garber quickly snagged my attention by providing a sympathetic heroine who is desperate to escape her cruel father. She has written every year for seven years before her request to join the game is approved – and she has tickets for her and her sister. However, as she is soon to be married and is desperate to believe the kind, courteous letters that she has been exchanging with her prospective husband means he is caring and at the very least – kinder than her bullying, violent father who has been terrorising her and her sister ever since their mother disappeared.

Caraval – remember it’s only a game – all too quickly turns into a desperate quest, when her sister almost immediately disappears and Scarlett is led to believe that if she doesn’t find her before Caraval ends, then she will die… Scarlett is plunged into a beautiful, varied world where she cannot trust what anyone says or does and her decisions have unexpected and frightening consequences. Accompanying her for at least part of the way, is a young sailor who effected their escape from their family home. Unexpectedly, he joins her and is responsible for saving her life – apparently… But can she really trust him and his advice? Or is he one of the famous Master Legend’s highly trained actors?

This one is a real page-turner as Scarlett struggles to work out how to survive and track down what has happened to her beautiful, wilful sister – and it is the love between the two sisters that is the emotional engine that powers this story, despite the love story also threading through it. I really enjoyed it and found the twisting, often surreal situations that Scarlett was confronted with kept the pages turning late into the night.

Of course, it’s all very well constructing a tension-filled mystery with high stakes – but at the end, the denouement must deliver. I was pleased to find it did. Some of my guesses about what was going on were correct – however, most of them weren’t and I loved the way Garber wrapped this one up. Recommended for those who like their thrillers with a strong paranormal twist, delivered by a sympathetic protagonist.
8/10