Book Review: Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman

So I’ve been off-radar for a couple of months….I”m going to blame that on the very early arrival of sprog #3 (all fine just little!) which kind of scuppered all attempts at writing and well, using my brain at all for the past 9 weeks.  It has also meant my reading has ground to a halt (sleep wins) but in the midst of it all a friend bought me this book to escape into while I was in hospital and I couldn’t put it down.

Noughts & Crosses is the story of Sephy and Callum.  It’s a love story – a dystopian Romeo and Juliet, set in a time where the superior black Crosses control society and lord over the inferior white Noughts.  Sephy is a Cross, Callum a Nought and the two don’t mix.

I’m not going to risk any spoilers by saying much about the story but I have to tell you what captivated me about this book.  The writing is lovely; sharp and real.  The characters though are what did it for me.  They jump out of the page and you can’t let them out of your sight until their story is finished.  The book deals head on with the issue of racism in a brave way and some of the scenes are very vivid.  In particular there is a scene where white Noughts are allowed to attend a school with black Crosses which comes to life in such a powerful way – it stayed with me long after I finished the book.

In the note at the beginning of the book, the author says; ‘Noughts & Crosses was quite simply a book I had to write, a story I had to tell.’ which sums it up really.  This is a wonderful book.  Really encourage you to pick it up if you haven’t already.  It’s a keeper.

Book Review: Half Wild by Sally Green

When this book arrived it felt like a real treat – I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since I finished its predecessor, Half Bad.  It’s the second in the Half Bad trilogy, which tells the story of Nathan Byrn – a half white, half black witch living in a world where (putting it mildly) the two do not get along.

In order to talk about Half Wild I need to say what Ioved about Half Bad (apologies if this turns into a review of both!).  I listened to an interview with Sally Green on Women’s Hour last year and felt drawn into the story as she spoke about it.  There are of course plenty of stories out there about witches and wizards and all things magical but this one sounded different.  And intriguing.  A genre I love, written by a former professional (in her case accountant, in my case lawyer).  I must read this book, thought I!

Half Bad is all about Nathan himself, how he becomes a fully fledged witch and deals with some pretty horrendous things along the way.  I think that it is so tempting, especially in this genre to throw your main character straight into the acton, not giving them a chance to process what is happening to and around them.  After all we are eager to get into the adventure as quickly as possible!  But Half Bad does both adventure and character so effectively.  Sally takes us straight into the action and intrigue (I was hooked instantly) but this is unmistakably Nathan’s journey and his way through it is wonderful to read.

Nathan is a great character, developed further throughout Half Wild; again an engaging balance between action and character.  I enjoyed the other characters too: Mercury, Celia, Van, Gabriel, Annalise and Marcus to name a few – not typically all good or all bad but instead all wonderfully flawed and rounded.  Even the ‘baddies’ have elements which you want to like about them and nothing is black or white (in the usual not the witch sense!) – this theme is clear through both books.

I’m not going to give away much about the plot of Half Wild but Nathan’s story continues – he discovers his powerful Gift, given to him by his father, Marcus (a powerful Black Witch with dubious violent tendencies) and he learns how to use and live with it.  He is determined to rescue the girl he is in love with and his relationships with the other key characters develop and deepen.  And the story of the increasingly dangerous conflict between White Witches and Black Witches continues.

Sally’s writing style is punchy and distinctive and suits the story and the voice of Nathan so well.  I liked the use of the second person point of view at the beginning of Half Bad, which returns briefly at the very end of Half Wild, setting it up beautifully for the story’s conclusion in book three, which is due to be out in March next year.  So you have plenty of time to read the first two before then!

PS I know you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but these two are brilliant, as are the blurbs on the back 🙂

PPS There’s a great interview with the author here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/mar/27/sally-green-interview-waterstones-half-bad-wild

Book Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

I bought this book as a result of reading an excellent interview with Pierce Brown on Goodreads (you can read it here http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/993.Pierce_Brown). Red Rising is set on Mars. I have to confess the idea didn’t thrill me at first, but the book is in fact a clever new take on the YA dystopian novel (not an alien or spaceship in sight) and I enjoyed it a lot.

Plot

Sixteen year old Darrow is a Red, the lowest caste on Mars. They mine for helium-3 believing that this will transform the surface into a habitable place so that humans can escape a dying Earth.  But Darrow and the Reds have been sold a lie.  The surface of Mars has in fact been fit for habitation for years and they are slaves to the ruling class of Golds.

Darrow agrees to join the rebels and is transformed into a Gold so that he can infiltrate and bring them down.

Once transformed he is accepted into the Institute; a training school for the best young Golds.  Darrow discovered that this ‘school’ is in fact a barbaric testing arena. Students are split into houses and pitted against each other in an outdoor war game involving death, brutality, rape and battles. He makes enemies and allies and eventually wins the game, beating the ArchGovernor’s son. The ArchGovernor is so impressed that he asks Darrow to become a member of his household. Darrow accepts in spite of his hatred for the man and embraces his mission to bring down the Golds from the inside and free the people he has left behind beneath the surface.

Review

There are many things I liked about this book…

Characters

Darrow is a great protagonist.  He is very young but you have a clear understanding of the events that have shaped his character so far.  The other characters are memorable and varied with their own distinctive qualities. I’m looking forward to seeing how they all develop in the next two books!

World – Building

This is brilliant. The book is obviously set on another planet so the world – building needs to be detailed, vivid and rich, which it is.

Plot

The pacing is good – at some times fast and at others steady, but always moving the story along at a good rate. A lot happens, so the book seems longer than others of this genre and some parts could perhaps have been a little shorter without detracting from the story.

Writing

I liked the writing style. It is straightforward and clear but also the descriptions and use of language are great. You get a strong sense of where you are and what the characters are like from their thoughts, actions and appearances.

What I wasn’t as keen on…

The book contains a lot of vivid violence. This in itself didn’t worry me as for the most part it enhanced the story and the characters. What I didn’t like was the violence towards women and the rape. Did it further the story? I don’t think it did.

If you like YA fiction and especially if you are looking for something a bit different, then I would recommend that you give this book a go.  I really enjoyed my time immersed in Darrow’s world and I can’t wait to read the second instalment (Golden Son), which is supposed to be even better!

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I was excited about reading this book.  Lots of anticipation and great reviews, so it was next on my To Read list.

I loved the idea of a ‘novel within a novel’; two stories running alongside each other in alternating chapters.  The first story belongs to eighteen-year-old Darcy Patel, who writes a novel during National Novel Writing Month, lands a two-book publishing deal and moves to New York to pursue her career as a writer.

The second story also belongs to Darcy, but it is her novel, Afterworlds.  It is the story of Lizzie, the only survivor of an airport terrorist attack which results in her being able to ‘move over’ to the afterlife.  She meets a sexy death god called Yamaraj, falls in love with him and realises that she has powers to help the dead as their ghosts move to the other side.

There are lots of good things to say about this book.  Both stories are interesting and I enjoyed reading them in tandem.  Darcy’s novel sounds like it is her writing, rather that Westerfelt’s, which is very clever.  The writing and especially the dialogue feels natural, moving the stories along.  So I feel as though I should have enjoyed the book more than I did.

On reflection I think that there were a couple of things bothered me.  Both plots moved along and I enjoyed them, but I wasn’t fully engaged and desperate to find out what happened next.  I was intrigued about the two novel concept.  Each story was interesting to read in its own right but I was expecting them to interact with each other, which they didn’t very much.  The characters were interesting and developed throughout the book, but I didn’t find myself connecting with them.

I finished the book feeling disappointed as I was expecting to have loved this book.  I feel like I am missing something – If you’ve read Afterworlds I would love to know what you think.

Book Review: We Were Liars by E Lockhart

I have been recommending this book to so many people so I thought it would be a good one for my first review. Also we did it for book club last week so I’ve been waiting to hear what everyone else thought as well!

We Were Liars is a story about the Sinclairs, a wealthy American family, who spend every summer on their Granddad’s private island.  The Sinclairs are ‘tall, merry, and rich’ and nothing is allowed to affect that facade. The Sinclair’s world is controlled by Harris Sinclair, whose four daughters compete for his affections and argue constantly about their entitlement to the family wealth.

The story is told by Cadence (or Cady), who we know from the beginning is ill in body and mind.  She relates the story from her fifteenth summer on the island to the seventeeth, all the time trying to remember what happened during ‘Summer Seventeen’ which made her so ill.  We go on Cady’s journey with her, trying to unravel the truth and eventually finding it.

The four ‘Liars’ from the title are the three eldest grandchildren, Cady, Mirren and Johnny and also Gat, who is not part of the family, but spends every summer with them.  Gat is different from the Sinclairs in the way he looks, thinks and behaves, so when Cady falls in love with him, it threatens to upset the structure of the world they all live in.

I think that the characters are all interesting and vivid. Most of the adults are unpleasant, often tragic and I rarely sympathised with any of them. The teenagers are selfish and products of their surroundings and upbringing but also likeable.  They are opinionated, passionate and dramatic, making statements which they believe in but do not fully understand.

I loved the writing.  It sounds a bit cliché, but whilst I was reading this book, I often paused on a page to re-read a paragraph or sentence with a smile on my face.  The way Lockhart expresses certain emotions or situations is just so brilliant and lovely to read!  Here’s what I mean:

‘It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.’

I also really liked the way that she sets the scene. Rather than lengthy pages of description Lockhart often conjures up a picture of where the characters are in just a couple of sentences. 

The ending is shocking and profound.  A couple of girls in my book club had only just finished it and were still reeling.  It brought some to tears. There was some debate amongst us whether when the truth comes out it is plausible or not. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions but I am a believer. Enjoy.

NaNoWriMo Prep

This year is my first go at National Novel Writing Month… Am I naive and slightly mad?  Yes.  Excited (heart racing etc)?  Yes absolutely.  That too.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) takes place during November each year where hoards of people sign up to write 50,000 words of their novel.  In a month.  Definitely mad then.  When I’ve explained what I’m doing to a few friends and family, they have given me the same look of fondness that I imagine I would see if I’d said I was training to run the London Marathon.  That would be a lovely analogy but I think in this case I’m looking at a marathon-sprint…

Anyway, this week is prep week.  I’m trying to cram in as much as I can before next week (half term=small noisy distractions), then once school is back it’s November, eek!  I’ve found that the NaNoWriMo website in particular is great for advice and ideas (www.nanowrimo.org).  I am definitely a planner rather than a pantser, so here’s what I will be doing this week…

  • Go back over the plot map which I have on a large piece of lining paper stuck on the wall above my desk.  I love to visualise what I’m doing and it lets me see how I need to get from A to B (in theory).  I also need to make sure the timeline still works.  It’s getting a bit messy so I might need to make a new one…
  • Revisit character plans and flesh them out – they need the most work this week I think.  I need a baddy.
  • Sketch out some stuff about location.  It’s based around real places but there are also ‘other-worldly’ elements which I need to be clear on.
  • Go back over general premise, themes etc.
  • Write a synopsis
  • Look at our calendar and work out when I’m going to write the thing!

And for the pantsers out there, apparently too much planning is not recommended…http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/62067178090/no-plot-no-problem-in-which-a-planning-limit-is

Good job I’ve only got a week!

Anyone else out there signed up to NaNoWriMo?  Any planning tips??