Tag Archives: young adult fiction

The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein

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The Masterpiecers by Olivia Wildenstein, e-book, 646 pages, published in 2016.

Nineteen year-old, artistic quilter, Ivy has scored a heavily fought for spot on the reality TV show, The Masterpiecers, where eight contestants battle against each other in various art-related tasks. The prize, one hundred thousand dollars, but more importantly, automatic entry to The Masterpiecers art school. For Ivy, this is an incredible opportunity, but she must leave behind her twin sister, Aster, to attend the competition in New York. Aster is in gaol after killing a man with her car, claiming it was self-defense, but not everything in her story adds up.

The story is told from the alternating views of the twins; Ivy as she arrives in New York and begins to compete on the show, and Aster, from the gaol, where she has been granted special privileges to watch her sister’s show. I am not a big fan of reality TV, so the premise of this book was a little hard for me to get on board with. I was nonplussed for the first section of the story, and dismayed by the first task the contestants had to complete; it was more torture than performance art. At that point I was actually thinking of giving the book up as not being my thing. However, it greatly improved from there. As the girls’ stories began to unfold, and discrepancies became obvious, the story became much more intriguing, and soon I was flying through the book to see what else would happen. There were a lot of questions that I wanted answers for, which spurred me on to keep reading.

The plot was quite complicated, with twists and mysteries, which made it interesting and exciting. It was also well written, and the characters were vividly described. However, I found the setting a little vexatious. I don’t much care for reality TV, nor do I follow the lives of celebrities, so I was a little out of my comfort zone. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about the preparations, hair, makeup and manipulations that go on behind the scenes of that sort of show! Everyone seemed so vapid, just concerned with playing an angle and getting ahead no matter the cost to others. So the majority of the characters were rather dislikable.

I did like the twins, though Ivy and Aster were very different people. Ivy was talented, ambitious and organised, though I found her a little cold. Aster was less sophisticated, yet completely dedicated to Ivy. She worked two jobs to support them, while Ivy worked on her quilts. And while I think Ivy did love Aster, she didn’t seem to trust her. I think they had quite a complicated relationship, especially when it came to their mother. I’ve still got plenty of questions!

The Masterpiecers is the first book in the Masterful series. This explains why I still have so many questions, but I’m undecided as to whether I will read the second book. I really liked the fast pace, the subterfuge, the conflict, the mystery; these elements combined to make a great story, I’m just not sure that I liked the characters enough to continue the series.

The Masterpiecers is suitable for middle to upper high school students and beyond.

 

*I received this book as a digital copy from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison

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TwoSpells by Mark Morrison, e-book, 574 pages, published in 2018.

Twins, Sarah and Jon have travelled to Wales to spend the summer with their maternal grandparents, whom they have only met once before. They’ve barely landed in Wales when they begin to encounter some odd things; was that a werewolf they hit on the road? Things only get stranger at their grandparents’ farm, where there’s a creepy handy-man with a wooden leg, a magical book, and Sarah is sure those garden gnomes waved to her. They are giving a swift introduction to the magical world, learning much about themselves, and how they fit into that world, along the way. Sarah and Jon are excited to enter the ancient castle, TwoSpells, which is actually an humungous magical library, where one can enter the books and view the story from within. It also acts as a refuge for magical folk, where the “regulars” cannot go. Unfortunately the library is experiencing some rather frightening disturbances, and an illness is also affecting the magical populace. Sarah and Jon must help to save the library and all those who are sick.

This book is Awesome! TwoSpells had me hooked from the first chapter; that’s where the action started, and it just kept coming. It was a rollercoaster ride of magical creatures, book characters and a villain intent on controlling not just the world, but all worlds and realities. I could hardly put it down, I just had to read the next chapter, and then the next!

The battle at the library was wonderfully told. It was detailed and energetic; the highlight of the story. The diversity of creatures, magical, historical and mythical that emerged during the battle was incredible. Many of them were terrifying, but all came to life, rampaging about, creating a swirling mess of the library. I love the idea of being able to enter books, but the possibility of unleashing something big and dangerous was somewhat alarming!

All of the characters were strongly developed and described. I really felt like I got to know Sarah and Jon, and their grandparents. Grandpa was such a funny old man, but completely loveable. His relationship with Grandma was lovely, and I enjoyed their interactions. Their banter, and Grandpa’s propensity for “nicking” stuff, made me laugh. I loved when he fooled the security system at the exit of TwoSpells. Grandma standing up to the Golems was also quite funny.

I liked Sarah better than Jon; he was a bit too happy about slaying dragons and swinging swords. I preferred Sarah’s more cautious approach to their new-found magical identities. She was more likely to think before acting, and was very compassionate towards others, even those that were very different to her. I liked the relationship she began to form with Liam, one of the Junior Guardians at TwoSpells. While Liam, and his brother, Seth, were more minor characters, they were both very likeable.

The handy-man at the farm, Clyde, was an interesting character; he seemed pretty shifty, but also had kindness behind his exterior grumpiness. He had a strange back-story, and I’m still wondering what happened to his dog. I liked his gruffness, in the same way that I liked the abruptness of the Golems. Though the Golems were all made the same, the ones in charge of security about Sarah and Jon, were developing their own personalities nicely.

TwoSpells ended with many of my questions unanswered, and the fate of several characters unknown. I really hope that means there will be a follow-up book! I want to know about so many things! There are still lots of connections to be fulfilled, and I feel that there must be another great adventure coming.

TwoSpells is suitable for upper primary and high school students. I recommend it for fans of fantasy and action. Read it, it’s fantastic!

 

*I received this book as a digital book from the author, who asked me for an honest review of this book. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley, hardback novel, 218 pages, published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2010.

When Michael’s mother dies, his future is placed into the hands of a distant and unknown guardian, Sir Stephen. Along with his sister, Sir Stephen lives in a large house, Hawton Mere, stood by itself in the middle of some marshes, far from everything and everyone. Michael is invited to stay with them over the Christmas period, which he is very reluctant to do. Upon his arrival it is immediately apparent that there is something not quite right in the house, and that Sir Stephen is also rather odd and foreboding.

The Dead of Winter is a ghost story in the tradition of gothic fiction from Victorian times. It contained similar elements to a few other ghostly mysteries I have read. In particular, the bleak, wintry landscape of the boggy marshes surrounding Hawton Mere reminded me of the novel The Woman in Black, though The Dead of Winter is aimed at a younger audience.

I found this to be an average read, with solid writing and strong characters. The plot was easy to follow, but wasn’t as scary as I expected, and I had a fair idea of what was happening at the house well before it was revealed. Maybe I’m just getting older and harder to scare! Still, it was entertainment for a couple of nights, and I did genuinely feel for Michael. He was an appealing character, as was Jerwood, Hodges and Mrs Guston. The description of Sir Stephen was well done, easily conjuring the image of a nerve-wracked man, old before his time.

The Dead of Winter is suitable for upper primary and high school students.

I’ll Rescue You by M.T. Thomas

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I’ll Rescue You by M.T. Thomas, e-book novel, 189 pages, published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform in 2017.

Forty years previously a race of aliens tried and failed to conquer Earth. Since then humans have been studying the aliens’ technology, weaponry and anatomy in preparation for any further attacks. Belle is the product of one of the human’s experiments; she is half alien and half human. She is able to communicate with the aliens and listen in to their telepathic conversations. Apollo is one of the enemy aliens, come to earth as an assassin. After failing to terminate Bell’s life on his first attempt, he hatches a plan to draw her to him. However, he must work quickly before his alien colleagues drop in for a bloody confrontation.

Science fiction, romance and adventure collide in this somewhat off-beat novel. I’ll Rescue You was a quick and enjoyable read; it was funny and unique, with quirky and original characters. The plot was solid, the writing well structured and the characters detailed. I enjoyed the jaunt about the world, especially to the Paris Catacombs, and the burgeoning relationship between Belle and Apollo, though this was perhaps a little predictable.

I quite liked Apollo, despite his original mission, and his brethren. It was lovely reading his journey to self-enlightenment and empathy. For the first time in his long life, he was able to get to know himself, experience emotion and care for others, something quite apart from his previous alien life, which was cold and emotionless. I didn’t like Belle as much, though she was resourceful and kind. Belle’s human sister and bodyguard also featured a lot throughout the story. I liked seeing how events unfolded from both sides of the chase.

Although none of the characters are children or teenagers, this book is still suitable for upper primary and high school kids to read.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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No Virgin by Anne Cassidy

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No Virgin by Anne Cassidy, paperback novel, 183 pages, published by Hot Key Books in 2016.

Stacey Woods is only seventeen, but she has a lot going on in her life. Her younger sister is a teen mother, her parents are divorced and her Dad has a new partner, she is having some issues with her best friend, and school and grades are always on her mind. Stacey needs some time out, but she finds herself in a situation that leads to her being raped. This is her story.

I’ve been mulling over No Virgin for a couple of weeks since I finished reading it. It was a very powerful and confronting story. The pace was at times a little slow, and at times it was a bit hard to continue reading. I can’t say that this book was exactly enjoyable, but I’m glad that I read it.

I felt sorry for Stacey, not least because she was raped either. Her home life was difficult. I really disliked her sister, Jodie, and felt that she made Stacey’s life much harder than it needed to be. Jodie was selfish, self-centred, rude and manipulative. She was so young when she had her baby, Tyler, and she was still growing up, but that doesn’t excuse the way she treated her mum and Stacey and expected them to look after her baby whenever it suited her. Jodie wasn’t going to school or work or even helping about the house, her excuse was the baby, but she’s wasn’t dedicating her time to him, she just wanted to smoke and talk on her phone. Jodie’s attitude and behaviour placed a huge strain on Stacey and her mum. Perhaps if Stacey’s home life was better, she may not have been compelled to escape, and the situation could have been avoided.

However, irrespective of the how and why that caused Stacey to be in that cafe on the morning she met Harry, and irrespective of any choices she made leading up to the rape, it wasn’t her fault, or Jodie’s fault or her Mum’s fault. The only person at fault for a rape is the rapist. I thought No Virgin did a good job of conveying the conflicting feelings of Stacey as a victim of rape; her feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. I was pleased that the attitudes of the perpetrators were also addressed, even if they did make me angry.

No Virgin is most suitable for mature middle to upper high school students. I recommend all teens read it and talk about it. We should all be talking about rape and removing the stigmatism that goes along with it; stop the victim blaming and look at the behaviours and attitudes of the people committing these crimes to try to prevent further assaults.

*I received this book through a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway.

 

If you, or someone you know, have been affected by sexual assault, rape or domestic violence, there are a number of services designed to help you, with counselling, support and information. Below are some sites where you can find more information, and numbers for rape crisis lines within Australia.

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, paperback novel, 295 pages, published by Scholastic Inc. in 2014.

Until his Grandfather’s death, Devin had always lived on their farm in an isolated valley, partially protected from the heat and dryness plaguing the world. Left alone, Devin heads for the city, which he has only ever heard stories of. There are many homeless children living off the streets of the city, and most of them have heard of a special place just for children like them. Devin, and his new friend, Kit, soon discover that this child’s paradise isn’t just myth, but it isn’t the perfect place to grow up either.

I thought this book got off to a slowish start, but it quickly evolved into a page-turner. It was an interesting story, though the subject matter was rather darker than I expected. The goings on at the home for children were really very creepy and original. And directed all by the perfect villain, the Administrator. There was nothing likeable or agreeable about the Administrator; she was downright scary and mean. An excellent character to pit the hero against!

Devin was an intelligent and brave hero. He was likeable, personable, and a little naive. And like most heroes, I had no doubt that he would somehow overcome all adversities and lead his friends to safety. His friends were great characters too.  Many of the characters in The One Safe Place were children or early teens, and it was interesting getting to know them. These kids may have come from different backgrounds, but they found themselves in the same predicament, with various reactions and methods of coping with it. I felt that all the characters were well written and expressive.

Overall, The One Safe Place was an entertaining and somewhat unsettling read that I enjoyed. It would be great for kids keen on dystopian and science fiction novels.

The One Safe Place is suitable for upper primary school through to middle high school students.

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach, paperback novel, 370 pages, published by Simon and Schuster UK Ltd in 2015.

An asteroid appears in the sky, threatening the earth and all of its occupants. The scientists predict that the asteroid will collide with earth in two months. With its imminent arrival, people feel free to leave who they were behind, become someone new, do something different, really live for the first time in their lives. For four high school acquaintances, the end of the world brings changes they couldn’t have predicted, and allows them to escape their labels and the perceptions that go along with them.

Told from the perspectives of four high school students, We All Looked Up is a poignant tale of letting go, finding oneself, love and friendship under adversity. The asteroid’s threat allows these characters to shed their preconceived ideas, their protective shells and all the conventions that come with them. They no longer have to be the jock, the overachiever, the druggie slacker and the outcast “slut”, they can just be Peter, Anita, Andy and Eliza. And they can be friends, or even lovers, without the condemnation of their peers. The end of the world gives them a freedom they would never have experienced otherwise.

I loved We All Looked Up! It was a wonderful commentary of what life could be without judgement and without restrictions. It was well written, emotive and thought provoking. The apocalyptic nature of the story puts life into perspective. It got me thinking about how I would react in that situation, how my family and friends would cope, how society would break down; it’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time. I also spent many hours analysing the decisions of characters, and speculating about their future. It really got under my skin; always a sign of a great read!

We All Looked Up is suitable for middle and upper high school students. It does contain some violence, drug use, sex, and strong language.

 

 

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Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson

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Green Valentine by Lili Wilkinson, paperback novel, 279 pages, published by Allen & Unwin in 2015.

Astrid is everything that Hiro is not. Astrid is bubbly, popular and successful, some might say that she doesn’t know how to fail. She has a passion for the environment and is trying to save the world at every corner. Hiro, on the other hand, is sullen, resentful and disaffected. He is smart, but has no interest in school, and he doesn’t show much enthusiasm for anything, except maybe comics. When they first meet, Astrid is dressed as a lobster, so Hiro doesn’t recognise one of the most popular girls in school, and Astrid doesn’t tell him who she really is.

This contemporary YA romance started with one of the main characters dressed as a lobster. This certainly caught my attention! Astrid is really dedicated to environmental activism, and she puts her whole heart into each project, which is why she finds herself at the shopping centre on a Saturday in her lobster suit.

That lobster outfit allowed Hiro to get to know Astrid a little without the judgement that comes with preconceived perceptions. I think this is an important issue, especially during high school, when everyone seems to have a label. It is hard to step beyond one’s own social circle when so many eyes are watching, and judging. It is sad that Astrid and Hiro felt that they needed to hide their burgeoning relationship, but it is also understandable; teenagers are not known for their compassion and empathy when faced with something or someone that is different. Green Valentine is not just a romance, but a social commentary on the high school experience.

I liked the way this tory was told; the writing was great. I loved all the little footnotes in Astrid’s story. Some of them were quite funny, though I also appreciated the environmental facts. I blew through Green Valentine very quickly and really enjoyed the story. It described and explored high school culture and stereotypes, along with some of the common issues that develop during that time very well. While gardening is a slightly unusual way for teenagers to date, I thought it worked wonderfully and was so sweet. Definitely unique!

Green Valentine is suitable for high school students. While the story does revolve around a romance, it is pretty clean. I’m looking forward to reading more of Lili Wilkinson’s books soon.

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May Book Box

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With school holidays, I’ve gotten a little behind with things, but I’m working on getting them done now. I was organising my June book box, when I realised I never posted about the one I got in May. I was so excited by the A Court of Wings and Ruin box that I forgot about the other one! So better late than never, here is what came in the May book box from The YA Chronicles.

 

The May book was Flame in the Mist by Renée Adhieh. 

The other contents of the box included a very cool pair of socks (which I love), a fiery bracelet that my younger daughter swiftly claimed, a cute pack of dragon sticky notes, a Hunger Games figure and a beautifully smelling candle. Plus the usual bookmark and postcard with info about the box.

 

 

 

 

 

To get your very own book box like this one, head over to The YA Chronicles!

 

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, paperback novel, 228 pages, published by Chicken House in 2016.

The coastal town where Isabella lives is governed ruthlessly by a man that arrived from over the seas several decades earlier. He has banned travel away from the island, as well as through the forest to the interior of the island. Isabella longs to explore and map her island as her father had previously mapped foreign lands as a cartographer. When her best friend goes missing, presumed to have passed into the unknown territories beyond the forest, Isabella might just get her wish.

This was an easy and quick read with adventure, monsters, myths and a harsh dictator looking out only for himself. It didn’t take me long to get into the story, and I was intrigued by what or who could be beyond the town. It took longer to build up the characters and setting than I expected before getting to the adventuring, but I enjoyed getting to know everyone. The adventure was great, with conflict and action at a reasonable pace. I would have liked a little more explanation for why “The Banished” were banished in the first place, and how they had survived for so long. I also wondered how the Governor had come to be so powerful with such complete control over the town and its inhabitants. Still, the story was fun and entertaining.

Isabella was a plucky lead character; she was brave, determined and intelligent. I didn’t like Lupe nearly as much, but she did show moments of incredible courage under pressure. She was a good friend to Isabella, despite her usual self-involvement, and her relationship to the Governor. Pablo was rather surly, yet he had a soft spot for his old friend Isa, and was always looking out for her.

The pages of this novel were bordered with cartographical and nautical line drawings and symbols. It didn’t interfere with the text at all, though my eyes were often drawn to them as I read.

The Girl of Ink and Stars is suitable for upper primary and lower high school students.

 

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