To Kill A Kingdom – Alexandra Christo

51addngjlzl-sx316-sy316When I first heard about To Kill A Kingdom I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. I like fantasy but I prefer it to not be too far-fetched. However, I had heard amazing things from both Becca and Gem so I took a gamble and downloaded it from NetGalley – I am so glad I did!

It’s told from a world with many Kingdoms; some on land and some under the sea. Those on land have been at war with the sea dwellers for many years and have lost many sailers, most noticeably Princes, to Sirens who lure them to their death.

Lira is one such Siren, and next in line to take her mother’s throne. Lira likes to take the heart of a Prince on her Birthday every year and this year would have been no exception – had she not defied her mother. Forced to become human until she meets her mother’s demand, Lira ventures into a world she has only ever seen from the Sea.

The Sea Queen, Lira’s mother, is a vicious monster (read: nastier than Ursula from The Little Mermaid) and although she isn’t a main character she is utterly fascinating. I felt physically tense from any part of the story that involved her. The imagery that surrounds her and her minions is fantastic; it’s dark and vile and makes your skin want to crawl.

Lira herself is such a fantastic character. I hate to watch female leads wither and melt under the male gaze but she doesn’t flinch. She’s incredibly strong, sometimes to her own detriment, but you cannot deny she is a force to be reckoned with. If you’re looking for a book with a kick-ass female lead then your quest ends here, and you won’t be disappointed.

Her male counterpart, Prince (and self-imposed Pirate) Elian is also a refreshing character. Where Lira shows us the perilous underworld, Elian swirls us into the glitz and glamour of the palaces of various Kingdoms. He’s not interested in settling for tradition and instead chooses to live the life of a Siren Hunter with a crew of loyal sailors, trying to rid the seas of vermin he considers them to be.

What I love the most about the two of them together is not that there is gender subversion by role reversal, but they are equally balanced, and I think that is what makes To Kill A Kingdom is a brilliant and visually stimulating book. Everywhere you look there are pirates and monsters and murderers and there is a true sense of traditional Fairytale horror too – do not expect beautiful mermaids or handsome princes. Everything is twisted in it’s own way.

To Kill A Kingdom will sweep you away on a tide of viciousness and never truly let your feet back on to solid ground.

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Bad Girls With Perfect Faces – Lynn Weingarten

61qmmo2b6uxl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is the second book from Lynn Weingarten. The first book, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls never really appealed to me but when I read the synopsis I was instantly intrigued. I picked it up on my birthday weekend and ended up reading the whole thing in a couple of hours in a waiting room.

The story follows Sasha and her best friend Xavier, who is trying to get over his toxic relationship with now ex-girlfriend Ivy. Ivy is your typical beautiful, perfect, manipulative character who is hell bent on getting what she wants. When Ivy reappears and persuades Xavier to give her another chance, Sasha knows she needs to do something to convince him Ivy is dangerous. In this media age it has become more and more easy to become tangled in somebody else’s life, and thats what Sasha does.

It’s told mostly from the first person viewpoint of Sasha and the 3rd person narrative of Xavier, however there are unnamed sections in between. There were so many times when I thought I knew what had happened, who had done it and who was talking. I changed my mind so many times and still didn’t get it right.

The pace builds slowly, like a stoking a fire, but when it really gets going it rages out of control. There’s so much to love in this book. It made me sit and think about how you can never really know who somebody is or how they’re going to act, and I thought about how we just fill in the blanks with our assumptions, and how that can go so wrong. The book touches on depression and mental health, and actually asks a lot of existential questions about how we should live our lives. It exploits a lot of moral grey areas and you have to ask: and what point would you have stopped helping your best friend? Who is in the right? Is anyone ever really innocent? There’s so much you can get out of this book.

It really made me reflect back on when I was a teenager and my relationships with my best friends. Although the way we present our relationships to the world has changed, how we feel about each other and the pressures of growing up really haven’t, and I think about this whenever someone says that YA isn’t for adults. What young adults are reading and experiencing now, people like me in their 30’s are reading and reflecting on and I don’t think there’s as much of an emotional gap as people believe.

One thing that bothered me is the prevalence of the use of drugs and alcohol. They’re 16/17 and there’s no voice saying you shouldn’t be drinking or doing drugs. I know that teenagers push the boundaries in terms of experimentation but it’s just, normal. It’s easy to see why young people get mixed messages when doctors give them drugs to help with everything then tell them they can’t use recreational drugs, or alcohol until they’re 21. But that’s another story.

Goodbye, Perfect – Sara Barnard

9781509852864Goodbye, Perfect tells the story of Eden, whose 15 year old best friend Bonnie has run away with a man. And not just any man; their Music teacher Mr Cohn. This is the first YA book I’ve read in 2018 and I actually loved it. I have to admit that it’s not something that I would normally have picked up myself, but a friend gave me the advise that it’s like Me and Mr J by Rachel McIntyre, which I also loved.

I really like the idea of the position that Barnard has put her main character, Eden, in. The focus of the book isn’t actually about what Bonnie has done, but about the impact that it has on those left behind, and the moral and legal arguments that surround it. I think the unbiased presentation of every side of the argument is very clever and demands empathy.

The story is mostly told through Eden’s first person narration, but there are visual conversations between her and Bonnie over text that just felt spot on. The book is split in to ‘days missing’ and has newspaper articles at the beginning of each chapter that sheds light on what society as a whole thinks about the situation too. This, along with the reflection on previous conversations that have taken on new meaning to Eden, keeps the pace of the story moving quickly.

The more I read the more I was thrown back to my teenage years, how you feel that you’re an adult because your own body and the world are basically telling you are. Even school is preparing you to be one. Except you don’t realise or understand the emotional responsibility that comes with that until you actually are an adult. I connected with the story instantly and felt a real nostalgia for the fierce loyalty and love I had for my best friend. I understood how I would have felt if she had run away too (I’d have told straight away, just for the record, I wouldn’t have been able to live with the guilt).

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Caraval – Stephanie Garber

517izovmjbl-_sx323_bo1204203200_I remember when Caraval first came out, with all the special edition hardback covers, and I also remember that absolute scramble of people to get them. People saying that we hadn’t reserved the right edition, even though all the editions had exactly the same ISBN. I’m all for excitement around new books, but I’m the kind of person that likes to either read a book before the hype hits or a long time after so my opinions can’t be swayed by people shouting theirs louder.

I never originally intended to ever read Caraval. It was an accident, really. We’d popped to Tesco on the way home from Christmas shopping and I knew that we were probably going to be snowed in for the rest of the weekend. Obviously of all the thousands of books I owned I knew that none of them would be quite the one for a snow day. If you’ve never looked at the books in a supermarket they’re all pretty much crime thrillers, and Caraval seemed to be the only book that was a bit different.

 Caraval is set in an alternate world, which somewhat resembles Victorian Britain. It has all the beginnings of a Disney movie; Mother has disappeared, turning Father into an abusive Villain, leaving the two sisters to look out for each other. Scarlet, the older sister, is the main character, and when she is finally invited to take part in the Caravel games, it seems like she would be too timid to make it. Her younger sister Tella is the rebellious one, and when Scarlett finally makes it to Legend’s island, Tella is nowhere to be found.

Initially I was really unsure about Scarlett’s character. She seems so easy about her potential arranged marriage to the Count that when Julian even comes near her she’s quick to remind him that she’s engaged. Again, that 19th Century idea of virtue and a woman’s place was a little infuriating. If I was being kind to the book I would say that it is setting up traditional gender and familial roles in order to reflect the attitudes of a lot of the fairytales it’s inspired by but I’m not completely sold on that. I found that there was an incessant need for Scarlett to have a love interest. There’s actually no real need for her to fall in love with anyone, especially because of supposedly being crazy over not being able to find her sister.

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Genuine Fraud – E. Lockhart

9781471406621There are very few books that keep me up late at night, and get me waking up early to carry on reading. Genuine Fraud had just that effect. I would have read it complete in one sitting if I hadn’t had the need to sleep in between. After reading and loving We Were Liars, I went into this feeling that I understood Lockhart’s style and expecting two things: an examination of identity and its constructs, and to never have a grasp of what the hell is going on. Neither of these are bad things, and Genuine Fraud did not disappoint. From the first page I was analysing every single word and interaction trying to gain an insight into the story as a whole.

It’s very difficult to tell you the gist of the story line without giving away too much of the plot. On the surface it’s about two girls, Jule and Imogen, and their very complicated friendship. The narrative is completely fragmented and it’s like trying to do a jigsaw when you’ve no idea what the picture should be and you’re not even sure the pieces are from the same puzzle. Every chapter ends on some kind of cliffhanger, and just needed to know the truth. Every time I thought I had figured it out I realised I had no clue. There was always something more to the store, something deeper.

The ideas it sets forward about identity and how we form who we are, how much our backgrounds form us and how we perceive those backgrounds is so interesting, and I wish I could write more about it without giving away key plot point. It asks how much input we have over who we become and how we can become more than we are. I honestly wanted to shout about it from the rooftops and argue about it in coffee shops.

The writing has a suspiciously easy style, as though it should be so much more complicated to portray the intricacies of the story but it’s not, you can completely fly through it like I did. Yes it’s YA, and it’s raising the bar. The pace doesn’t drop, doesn’t give you a break to stop and gather your thoughts but keeps up with the hints and the tiny phrases that break apart everything you think you’ve decided is true.

If I haven’t said it enough yet I adored this book. I want to recommend it to everyone, especially those in a reading slump; it’ll light a fire under you. I barely looked up or noticed anything going on around me. So take my advice, treat yourself this Christmas and buy this book.

Half Wild – Sally Green

This post may contain spoilers for the first book, Half Bad. You can read my review of the first book here. It may also contain a couple of spoilers in Half Wild.

51yptmgpxcl-_sx324_bo1204203200_I’ve been binge reading this series ever since I realised I couldn’t remember what happened at the end of the first book. I didn’t get as far as reading books 2 and 3 the first time round so I headed over to my local bookshop and bought them, determined to read the whole series through.

Half Bad was just as wonderful as I remembered (and the ending just as frustrating) and I couldn’t wait to delve into the second book and find out where Nathan would end up. We find him living in a cave in a forest, at a meeting place appointed by Gabriel should anything go wrong whilst trying to get the Fairborn. It has a slow pace to begin with, like trying to peddle a bike when you’ve left it in a high gear, which is so teasing after the speed of the first book. It gives the reader time to catch up and remember, to get their bearings before being thrust forward once again into a constantly moving, twisting plot.

Nathan is isolated at the beginning of Half Wild and as harsh as it sounds I was glad, because I wanted to see where he was mentally as well as his thoughts and feelings around Gabriel and the rest of his group, without the distractions of the actual plot. Nathan is such an interesting and complex character and I find him fascinating.

However I didn’t feel that all characters were given the same treatment. Mercury, for example, had the potential to be another highly complex character but not much was shown about her. The first person narrative is effective but it restricts the ability to view characters in the same way we get to see Nathan.

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Half Bad – Sally Green

51cc9s7nqsl-_sx321_bo1204203200_Half Bad tells the story of Nathan, a young boy born to a White Witch mother and a Black Witch father. It’s set in an alternate UK where most Fains (non-Witches) don’t know that Witches exist, but within their own communities Witches are governed by a Council who are increasingly putting pressure on Black Witches and ‘Half Codes’, people like Nathan. At heart it’s a traditional ‘sins of the Father’ narrative that explores how Nathan’s formative years are shaped by his surroundings but conflicted by the genes from his Father.

The first thing you’ll notice when you start reading is the fragmented style of writing; broken chapters and short sentences perfectly portray Nathan’s struggling voice- it’s submerged and compelling, teased through an a-linear timeline. There’s a barbarity and savagery in the description. Physical and mental abuse are apparent right from the beginning and it’s not for the faint hearted. It’s written in present tense and the use of “you” early on in the book makes the writing feel immediate and it’s hard to tear yourself away. Nathan’s character develops quickly but deeply, reflected by his life with his half brother and sisters.

Nathan’s relationship with his half siblings is so interesting. His older brother, Arran, is beautiful and the love portrayed between the brothers is the most tender and sincere I’ve ever read. Green doesn’t simply go for the traditional ‘macho’ roles, instead they have moving exchanges that seem truly heartfelt. Even though the story solely follows Nathan, I wanted to know what was happening with his family while he was away.

There are plenty of moments where you’ll want to put the book down or look away but you simply can’t. It moves forward with such pace and you can’t help but think Nathan deserves so much more than the life he has, and how persecution can rob you of a normal life. With this review I’ve aimed to convey how much more this book offers without giving away too much of the plot. It moves so quickly and deftly that you need to experience it yourself. But it’s not really about the plot, it’s about Nathan, and his ultimate survival at all costs.

Reviewed for Penguin Books

Me And Mr J – Rachel McIntyre

512fcn0cb0l-_sx324_bo1204203200_I really loved this book! It’s a brilliant story that shows the isolation that some children feel, and the way they become vulnerable to those who are in a position of power. There is the saying that it takes a village to raise a child and I think that shows here, if every adult in Lara’s life had taken an interest in her in a responsible way then it should never have come to her putting her emotions into an unhealthy attraction.

I felt the issue was dealt with really well, and the ending was the only way it could have ended – it’s a good lesson for those who think that crushes on teachers always stay innocent. I think it deals with the ‘he loves me and age doesn’t matter’ vs. the ‘she led me on even though she’s a child’ scenario really well and seeing it only through Lara’s eyes makes it all the more devastating; I constantly wanted to scream at Mr. Jagger!

It puts forward all of the debates and arguments about bullying and its emotional effects, but also how the modern world affects the choices teenagers feel they have about solving them because of what they see in the media.

It’s a controversial read, but very compelling.

Reviewed for Electric Monkey