[REVIEW] Mosquitoland – David Arnold

mosquitolandSummary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

Review
Being called out of class isn’t exactly a new one on Mim, but overhearing the principle discussing her mother’s deteriorating health with her father and step-monster certainly is. And it’s the last straw. Dragged 1,000 miles away to live in Mississippi when her parents divorced, Mim decides it’s about time she made good on her plans to visit her mum in Ohio. Stealing all the money in the house she can find, Mim jumps on the next Greyhound bus and sets off into the world to make things right.

MOSQUITOLAND has a simple but fast-paced plot that is built around the characters Mim encounters on her journey to find her mother. Making plenty of friends and enemies on the way to her mother, Mim’s story is one of humanity and, like all good road trips, figuring out where she stands on family, friends and matters of the heart (in all their incarnations). I never knew what was coming next with Mim, she’s as unpredictable as they come, with all the accompanying excitement.

David Arnold’s style is perfectly pitched between humour and gravity, and feels incredibly genuine from our young heroine’s mouth. Despite spending a fair amount of time travelling and waiting, there is never a dull moment in MOSQUITOLAND with a pace which flows quickly throughout the whole novel.

Told through a combination of letters to Isabelle and an up-close and personal first person narrative, getting inside Mim’s head is an extremely simple, if not occasionally uncomfortable, experience. Medicated at the insistence of her protective father, knowing that what Mim is thinking and feeling is real isn’t entirely straightforward.

Mim is just about the bravest, most relatable, most human YA protagonist that I have yet to come across (and please let there be more). Melinda Salisbury gave a passionate speech at YAShot this year on feminism and the notion of strong female protagonists. She said that being strong is so much more than just having a ‘sassy’ narrative or a physical advantage, that there a million different ways to be strong, from standing up for what you believe in to having the courage to walk away. For me, Mim represents exactly what Melinda was talking about. She is a real human being who is full of the bravado of a confident teenager to the world but, in reality, is just as confused and anxious as everyone else.

Mim may have a funny, nonchalant voice but it is her true self that really makes MOQUITOLAND stand out as honest, liberating and most importantly, believable. The way she interacts with other characters isn’t always flattering, but she does have more redeeming features than she probably even realises. Her partners in crime: Arlene, Walt, Beck and a whole host of Carls, are just as well developed and endearing as she is.

It’s the things that Mim learns about herself on the way to rescue her mother that absolutely brings this novel to life; it takes guts to drag yourself 1,000 miles from home. I truly loved the deeper message of self-acceptance behind this book and can only hope that more readers find that same warmth, to make MOSQUITOLAND a quiet classic for years to come.

I received MOSQUITOLAND in exchange for an honest review from Headline. My reviews always represent my own opinion. 

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[REVIEW] Skin – Ilka Tampke

24721903Summary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“He was as dazzling and unfathomable as the night sky: in equal measure splendid and despondent, vital and injured, tender and cruel. He had an Elder’s wisdom, yet the wariness of a child, and in the force of these splits, the whole earth turned within his sprawling frame.”

Review
Set in a Pagan Britain yet to experience the rough hand of Roman rule, Ailia’s story is one of magic, politics and becoming more than you ever dared to dream was possible. Born in body but not in soul, Ailia is skinless. Without a totem animal to guide and protect her spirit she is forbidden to take part in the ceremonies that bring her people together and form the structure of their lives. She has found herself in a privileged position in the Tribesqueen’s kitchen, but it comes at the cost of never being permitted to learn, to marry and never knowing who she truly is. With her peaceful village on the cusp of a brutal Roman invasion, she must quickly learn to find the courage and conviction to rise to the role the Mothers have destined for her.

SKIN is a collision of all things perfect. Ilka’s language is like music, deftly weaving reality and the impossible into one beautiful world. The dialogue feels true to the era yet natural and playful, simultaneously elevated and understandable. Every moment is cinematic, real, alive with colour, texture and sound – from the kitchen to the Mother’s abstract realm, Ailia travels through vivid and fascinating scenes. I could read this book over and over and never grow tired of Ilka’s absorbing prose.

The mixture of history to fantasy is in flawless proportions. I usually shy away from historical fantasy as the courts and queens and servants can be stale and boring, but SKIN takes place in a relatively unexplored era with an original and fresh setting. The research poured into the novel is evident on each page, creating a believable and strongly rooted world.

The overall plot is fairly simple – the threat of Rome hangs directly over the villages head and the people must decide whether to stand their ground or submit to the sheer force of the Roman army. It means sacrificing their deeply set pagan ways and denouncing the Mothers, but it also means staying alive. Ailia is obviously key to this decision in some way, being our protagonist, but there is a sense of reason in her significance and a massive risk in trusting her importance.

There are several side plots which add extra flavour and excitement to the mix – Ailia’s romance with Taliesin is a thing of beauty and her journey as a character and a woman is developed with just the right pace. I often complain about romance in YA and fantasy novels but Ilka has absolutely hit the nail on the head in SKIN. Ailia is both confident and vulnerable, inexperienced yet mature while Taliesin is alluring and frustratingly mysterious, creating a sensuous and intricate relationship between the two.

I savoured the final chapters of SKIN as I just didn’t want that first read-through experience to end. While it would stand as a convincing standalone with the completion of a full story arc, I am absolutely thrilled that a sequel is already in motion. A sprawling fantasy series could easily spring from SKIN, in any case, I hope to read much much more from Ilka Tampke.

[REVIEW] I’ll Give You the Sun – Jandy Nelson

23573418Summary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Setting – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“Or maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people,” I say. “Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time.” Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things.”

Review
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is a heart-warming story that encompasses love in all its forms; family, friends and romance. The underlying focus is Jude’s desperate need to reconnect with her twin, Noah and their furious mother, after life has torn them all apart. Joining Jude at age 16 and Noah aged 13, we experience both sides of their tragic story in a brilliant format – large sections are narrated by each character to provide a true sense of their personalities at various points in time.

Noah and Jude are both brilliant artists, inspired and encouraged by their wild mother and grounded by their logical father. Noah dreams of art school and tries to make himself invisible to everyone but the boy next door, while Jude jumps off cliffs, kisses boys and raises hell. Their worlds come crashing down when tragedy strikes and I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN tells the story of their lives in the before and after, revealing how Jude both tears apart and brings the family back together.

Jude as a young teenager is an immensely unlikeable character. She is cruel and destructive and rebels against her family more than most 13 year olds would dare. Yet, three years later she is our heroine determined to set things right. As a narrator she is vulnerable and the pain she feels leaves her raw and unhinged. The way Jandy has worked these two personalities into Jude is masterful; she found a firm place in my heart for showing her capacity to change and to open herself up to love.

13 year old Noah is as vibrant as the paintings he imagines. He’s passionate, funny and full of an infectious energy that just leaps off the page. Easily the most endearing character with his innocence and lust for life. Yet as a 16 year old, he is cold and distant, choosing to shut Jude out no matter how hard she tries. The seamless execution of this role reversal is just a further credit to Jandy’s brilliant character development.

I loved delving into each twin’s personality and learning how they have chosen to protect themselves against the harsh realities of life throughout the years. Even secondary characters such as Guillermo and Oscar are treated with great attention to detail with exciting backstories that reflect in their actions today.

The plot really drew me in and kept me guessing all the way through. There was a real sense of honesty about the different relationships explored and this was carried beautifully throughout; no clichés in sight. There were a few little surprises and some major reveals towards the end that shocked me and gave an extra depth to the whole story; seeing glimpses of characters’ past decisions and how their personalities have been shaped by the consequences.

The writing flows like a river and is bright, colourful and lively. Jude and Noah have very distinctive voices but they feel linked somehow. Noah often interrupts his own thoughts with ideas for the paintings he’ll create at the end of the day and Jude argues with her desire and references her grandma’s superstitions constantly, creating a nice mirroring effect.

I really fell in love with I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN and would absolutely recommend this one not only to fans YA, but of books that explore the true nature of love and family. It’s a real work of art in its own right and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I will definitely be picking up a copy of Jandy’s first standalone, THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, to experience more of her wonderful words.

[REVIEW] Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

SummaryOnly Ever Yours
Characters – 4/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“We have never had a class on how to say no to men while simultaneously never saying no to them.”

Review
ONLY EVER YOURS is a dark and disturbing commentary on society’s reckoning of the female role, set in a world far too close for comfort. Women are no longer born, they are created as a reflection of perfection, trained for their entire lives in the art of being female. Each year three times as many eves are created than boys born – these boys grow up knowing the eves’ faces, ranking their fotos regularly to determine who is the most attractive, but they will not meet until the eves are nearing the Ceremony which determines their lives forever.

Kept in solitude during the night, the eves are played ceaseless mantras to wash their thoughts: I am a good girl, I am pretty, I am always agreeable, I always do as I am told. During the day, their appearance is scrutinised, their self-control is tested and they are taught lessons of utmost importance: how to please a man, how to compare themselves to other women, how to serve their purpose.

Best friends freida and isabel are approaching the final year and the stakes are higher than ever. This is the year the Inheritants will make their final judgement and condemn the girls to life as either companion, concubine or chastity. Desperately clinging to her lifelong desire to become an honoured companion, the pressure on freida gradually mounts throughout the story to an excruciating peak. The tension is well-built and well-paced, giving the whole story a creeping sense of unease that stayed with me long after reading the final page.

freida can be a difficult protagonist to like at times due to her behaviour – she makes a string of terrible choices and her justifications are hard to swallow. Having access to her thoughts was a little disturbing too; she is a product of her environment after all. Overall I really enjoyed her as a narrator and felt she gave a very true reflection of life in the world created for her. I felt a little maternal towards her by the end, as even though she made such big mistakes I loved her and just wanted to get in the story to protect her.

It’s made clear from the beginning that isabel is significant, but I could not figure out why until the very end. Keeping everyone guessing, she is enigmatic and mysterious and I couldn’t help but be sucked into the hysteria surrounding her. The other eves all envied her and wanted to know her secrets, look like her and be like her.

The other characters, especially the eves, are presented as extras, a means to an end. To freida they are either competition to beat to win the heart of the boys or tools to exploit in her pursuit. The girls were vapid and soulless, perfectly moulded into the roles prescribed to them. I loved the fiery attitudes of the chastities and felt they added an extra dimension to the secondary characters with their more powerful role in such a heavily patriarchal society.

Stylistically, this book took my breath away and left me reeling. ONLY EVER YOURS is cutting with its honesty and is brutally unforgiving. I watched helplessly as freida pressed the self-destruct button and felt her pain as vividly as if it were my own. Louise O’Neill is to the point and sharp with her words, her style mirroring the themes of the book in perfect harmony. The decision to use lower case letters for female names is so intelligent – it’s such a simple but striking reminder of inferiority throughout the entire novel. It begins to feel almost natural as you turn the pages, so assimilated to the idea by the end.

Deeply emotional and terrifyingly twisted, ONLY EVER YOURS didn’t just break my heart, it ripped it out and took pleasure in stomping all over it. This book should be required reading – as a female of course I am acutely aware of how society treats us and pushes us to think, but freida’s world truly woke me up to the horrors we ignore in everyday life. Yes, it’s speculative fiction, scifi, dystopian… but every moment is based on mountains of truths. It’s opened my eyes to how I think and feel and I certainly won’t be able to let this book go for a long time.

Louise O’Neill’s second novel, ASKING FOR IT, lands on 3rd September 2015. Though it’s bound to be another emotionally draining read with themes of rape culture and victim blaming, I know Louise will handle it with grace, respect and brutal honesty.

[REVIEW] All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Summaryatbp_m
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Setting – 5/5
Style – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“The thing I realise is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.”

Review
ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES tells the story of love-struck Finch and Violet, as the unlikely couple meet on the edge of the school bell tower, neither certain if they really want to jump. Still grieving painfully after the tragic death of her older sister, Violet’s depression is crushing her with an iron-grip, while Finch constantly re-invents himself to find a reason to stay awake every single day.

Built completely around Violet and Finch, the plot has a simple premise that allows the personality and prose to shine through. Brought together for what they expect to be a lame school project, the pair are sentenced to wander Indiana and learn what their state has to offer. As Violet slowly begins to reconcile with her loss and start to live again with Finch’s coaxing, Finch is struggling to hold it together and pulls further and further away. The parallels between their lives are both healing and heartbreaking, set against the background of Finch’s exciting and imaginative wandering sites.

Violet and Finch are both wonderfully complex and well developed characters in every aspect. They feel like real people with real actions and emotions; their presence just leaps off the page. Reading their story felt like experiencing it all first hand, with a relationship so beautifully crafted it makes you ache. Both Finch and Violet have distinct voices when narrating their own chapters, and are brought to life with quirks that make them unique in personality too. There is nothing cheesy or embarrassing about their romance, just an honest telling of the lives of these fully-fleshed teenagers.

While some of the other characters are little lacking in the same all-encompassing depth and emotional complexity, I really didn’t mind. This is completely Violet and Finch’s story, everyone else falling away to show how truly wrapped up in each other they become.

Jennifer Niven’s style is simply stunning. Each sentence, paragraph and chapter is constructed with a purpose and reads beautifully. There’s real passion behind her story and it’s evident she has drawn on some intense personal experiences to create this level of raw energy in her writing.

The sentiment behind the whole story comes from a very real place, as such, ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES handles teenage mental health in a mature and powerful way. Neither romanticising or sweeping aside Finch and Violet’s personal struggles, this novel creates an honest and sensitive space to discuss depression and grief. A difficult one to get right, Niven really nails what it is that love can do, and more importantly, what love cannot do for those with depression.

There isn’t a thing about this novel that I didn’t love. ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES is believable, rich and raw and I was completely glued to it beginning to end. Finch in particular made this story for me with his vulnerability and easy charm. Simply perfect.

[REVIEW] The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

Summaryimage4
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 5/5
Style – 5/5
World building – 4/5
Overall – 5/5

In a Tweet
Time is running out for Cass & the Omegas if her brother’s plans come together. Can she escape & find the rebellion before it’s too late?

Review
THE FIRE SERMON is the stunning debut novel from Francesca Haig, released in hardcover on 26th February 2015.

As a Seer, visions of The Blast which reduced the world to dust haunt Cass. She wakes screaming every night, horrified by the destruction that tore The Before apart and left The After; her world. Being an Omega, these visions are just one of the many burdens she cannot escape.

In The After, children are born in pairs – one perfect Alpha destined for privilege and authority, and one mutated Omega shunned from society and treated as filth. The Alphas reign supreme with the best land, cities, facilities and all the power, while the Omegas are thrown out of the community and horribly oppressed. But still, Alphas can never fully wash the taint of their poisoned siblings away. They are linked. When one twin dies, so does the other.

This bright twist on a timeless tale of segregation and uprising makes THE FIRE SERMON stand out in a well-developed genre. The rules of Cass’ world are logical and binding, no exceptions. Once the Omega is discovered, the twins are ripped apart and sent to live the lives destiny prescribed them. Cass may have escaped the split for a few precious years, but once her visions were discovered there was no fighting back. The Alphas are torn between hating their siblings and wanting to protect them, and what Cass’ powerful twin, Zach, has in mind is truly horrifying.

It is this unique history that makes the typical world and customs of Cass’ setting something more exciting than the expected. With sprawling countrysides and medieval citadels, the surroundings are reminiscent of classic high fantasy, but beautifully imagined.

The narration is full of rich imagery and wonderfully worded language. Haig is fluent in metaphor and Cass’ frequent reflections on her past draw us in to her history and give a true insight to her character. She is often reminded of childhood stories and experiences with her twin, creating a real melanchonly undertone throughout the story.

Cass is a mature and level-headed narrator, filled with a little longing and a good pinch of rebellious ideals about equality, but she always acts with a sense of purpose. She is pulled towards her goals by her visions, her moral compass and her heart. I was really impressed with how Cass was brought to life, and felt she truly embodied what it is to be a strong leader.

The relationships forged throughout the novel feel genuine and personal too. Kip is so endearing with a quick humour and a hidden depth that is slowly revealed as time goes on. They seem to grow together in a natural way, and it’s such a wonderful partnership to read. Even Zach has a soft and gentle side to his hateful coldness, as we see him through Cass’ love tinted eyes. With such a diverse and interesting cast, it was really enjoyable to see each character’s personality and development throughout the novel. Zach especially has a deep and complex motivation for his actions.

Story-wise, the plot and direction of the novel are really strong. I guessed a few of the twists along the way but the final chapters were a complete shock! There is a lot of tension and anticipation built throughout, so the ending worked incredibly well. The originality in Haig’s writing is fresh, so this isn’t just another tale of rebellion.

For me, the execution of THE FIRE SERMON puts it a step above a lot of books in the SF/Dystopia genre. The plot is compelling and exciting and the characters simply breathe off the page. I really fell in love with this book, and I encourage you to do the same.

I received THE FIRE SERMON from HarperVoyager in exchange for an honest review. My reviews always represent my own opinion.

[REVIEW] The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender – Leslye Walton

18166936Summary
Characters – 5/5
Plot – 4/5
Style – 5/5
Setting – 5/5
Overall – 5/5

Quote
“Fate. As a child, that word was often my only companion. It whispered to me from dark corners during lonely nights. It was the song of the birds in spring and the call of the wind through bare branches on a cold winter afternoon. Fate. Both my anguish and my solace. My escort and my cage.”

Review
Our narrator is Ava Lavender, daughter of heartbroken Viviane Lavender and granddaughter of mysterious Emilienne Roux. Born with an angel’s wings and locked away in her haunted home to keep from the prying eyes of the worshipping public, she recounts the lives and loves of her family over time. Beginning in France when her family first made the journey to America, by the time we catch up with Ava’s timeline she is a familiar and endearing voice. She has an omniscient presence and feels wiser than her years.

Every character is full of personal quirks and intricacies, even down to minor players like Jack’s father. The Roux women, especially, are well-rounded and intriguing; I was constantly trying to figure out Emilienne. THE STRANGE AND BEAUTIFUL SORROWS OF AVA LAVENDER is a story directed by the characters and the way their lives are woven together by fate and love. There is a subtle and slow climax built for the finale after we finally meet Ava, but the majority of the book is spent leading us through the years to this exact moment in time. I loved that the novel is ultimately about Ava, but pays a lot of attention and respect to where she came from and her upbringing.

The ending broke my heart then fixed it again. I could sense that something foreboding was coming, but never managed to put my finger on exactly what. This creeping build-up suits the style of the novel perfectly, for me, but if you prefer plot-driven prose then it might not be for you. AVA LAVENDER is all about the investment in the stories and emotions of the characters, and I’m just happy to have been taken along for the ride.

One of the many things I loved about this book was the very realistic way Ava’s stories were brought to life. There are many fantastic and magical elements woven throughout her tales, yet every moment feels real, plausible and familiar. While the Roux women are driven with love, this is definitely no soppy romance. The stories of her family and friends are full of the same little ironies we experience on a daily basis, and every event held both the happiness and sadness, laughter and heartbreak of our weird and wonderful world.

The settings were all vivid and exciting, from the tiny French apartment to the sprawling house on the hill in Seattle. Rich imagery made it easy for me to picture every detail of the rooms and streets in Ava’s world. I loved that the whole novel is set in the real world, as it revived a Harry Potter-like notion that magic and excitement is hiding right under our noses.

Walton’s style is pure elegance and every sentence is beautifully phrased to create a little extra magic. Finding just one quote for this review was a difficult task, as every word, paragraph and chapter flows seamlessly into the next. She truly is a fantastic writer, and really brought the characters and plot to life in the most enchanting way. I couldn’t recommend this book enough, especially to fans of young adult, fantasy or a little bit of whimsy. Walton’s writing is magical, and I can’t wait to read more from her!