‘The List’ – Patricia Forde

I’m finding it increasingly hard to not be too dismissive of books marketed as middle-grade simply because I’m so far away from the target age of the intended readership. Sometimes, a story comes along that just carries you away regardless of age and though this wasn’t quite there it was a story that I can see appealing to many readers.

John Noa (obvious parallels) is not a man we know much about until later on in the story. However we are told that he is the founder of the new community, Ark, and that he has made many changes to this new society to help them adjust to this future world. He’s no genial gentleman though – his actions throughout the story hint at a steely determination and a willingness to do anything he deems necessary to carry his plans to fruition.

The focus on words is what drew me, and it’s an obvious link to want to feel for the main character Letta whose job is to record the few words prescribed as permissible to use under List. Far too young to be placed in the position she is, her refusal to turn her back on an injured boy leads to some dangerous meetings that have her questioning everything she’s been led to believe.

Throughout, there were many echoes of other well-known stories but I don’t think this is a problem per se. My main issue with the plot was that it was quite predictable and that we never seemed to get a fully-developed sense of the world/people in it.

‘Tarnished City’ – Vic James

Thank you to NetGalley for authorising me to read this. Number two in the series is another cracker, though there are signs that things are changing (and not always for the better).

I admit to being a little scared I would have forgotten details, as it felt a long time since I’d read book one. However, I felt I was quickly taken back to the world and didn’t feel too many details were missing from my mind.

There is a lot of alternating between Luke and Abi following the events of Gilded Cage. Neither is in a good place, but they at least have something to fight for. The Equals we observe are also in pretty dire situations, but some have more of a chance of escape than others.

I felt Tarnished Cage was bold in its attempts to explore the more morally dubious characters. I can’t say I liked many of the characters/ideas we come across, but James portrays them with skill. It was interesting to see their motivation, but there’s still an awful lot we’re not being told.

In many ways this was bleaker than Gilded Cage, but I got a sense of how events were moving on. I’m very excited to see where we go in the final part of the trilogy.

‘The Power’ – Naomi Alderman

‘The Power’ is a book I’d been desperate to read since I first heard about it, but it has taken me a long time to get round to.

My initial reaction upon finishing the book was one of bemusement. In this novel Alderman highlights issues of gender and power in contemporary society, by turning our expectations and norms on their head.

I liked the fact the book focused on four separate characters during this time, but that inevitably led to a sense of detachment as we never fully get under their skin and jumping from one to the other means the links between their stories aren’t always clear.

I found the basic premise of the girls’ power fascinating, but it seemed to descend into abuse of such magnitude that I felt a real bleakness towards people and their basic humanity.

While this book seems to fit into science-fiction/dystopian writing, I think the messages it gives us about how we live now are really depressing.

I can admire much about how this has been constructed, and the writing style but it was an unnerving experience and one that I’m left uncertain about how to respond to.

‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ – M.R. Carey

I admit to watching ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ’28 Days Later’ and even laughing at the zombie street pimps scene in ‘Hollywood Shuffle’, but I would never call myself a fan of the zombie movie/novel. A reading challenge I was involved in this month meant ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ was one of my first reads…and I was uncertain what I’d make of it.

We’re told that in the future a strange fungus has changed virtually everyone into a thoughtless, flesh-eating monster. Known as ‘hungries’ these monsters are pretty efficient killers – once they’ve picked up a scent. However, there are some who do not appear to be quite the same as the others.

Our story begins with a truly awful opening, showing us our main character Melanie being strapped into her chair and taken to a classroom where she is taught along with a small group of other children. The purpose of their lessons is simply to monitor the extent to which they can retain information and to allow the scientists working with them to try and find a cure to save humanity.

Watching events through Melanie’s eyes is upsetting. They are treated with little humanity and this is hard to take – until we get a stark reminder of what happens to these children when they get a whiff of human flesh.

While this is all well and good, a whole book focused on a dead child – albeit one with a genius IQ – would not be entertaining. So, alongside Melanie we have a cast of very different adults who become central to Melanie’s existence.

I loved the way we slowly get to know more of the background to these characters as the story progresses. Dr Caldwell was, in my mind, a real monster – but deliberately so as she juxtaposes the more nurturing and caring character of Melanie’s teacher Miss Justineau. I came to really admire this disparate group as they take amazing risks in order to try and help one another.

Unexpectedly thought-provoking (though I will always be tempted to skip the more graphic descriptions of flesh-eating) and I’m not surprised this has been turned into a movie. I would have liked to know more about the background to the virus, and am definitely going to look at the second book by Carey – ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ – which is set about a decade prior to the events of this novel.

‘Contagion’ – Teri Terry

The first in a new Terry trilogy, ‘Contagion’ is a book that packs a punch.

Our story focuses firstly on a young girl, Callie, who went missing a year ago. She isn’t clear where she is – or even what she is – but she knows she is in an underground bunker, and that the people within its confines are experimenting with something.

Alongside Callie we are introduced to Shay, a teenage girl, who is struggling to fit into her new home in Scotland. She recognises a picture on a missing poster, and realises that she might well have been the last person to see this young girl alive. Of course, the girl she saw was Callie (it always helps for the stories to merge somewhere) and it helps that the brother desperately searching for Callie is not unattractive.

‘Contagion’ was a curious mix of genres – romance, thriller, dystopian – but I really liked the telling of the story through the two different viewpoints. It allowed us to do a little joining of the dots, and to get under the skin of the characters a little better.

As it becomes clear that there’s some form of contagion spreading through the country we join Shay and Callie in their attempts to work out who’s responsible, and how the country can fight back. I couldn’t have predicted some of the details that get dropped on us, but the writing about the fall-out of this spreading menace was horribly realistic.

My only real gripe with the novel was the fact that it ends with us still none the wiser about what has been happening. We have a couple of hints, but everything is left quite open. Frustrating, perhaps, but it has definitely left me desperate to get my hands on part two as soon as I can.

A huge thank-you to Teri Terry, publishers Hachette and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in mid-May 2017.

‘King’s Cage’ – Victoria Aveyard

I admit to having mixed feelings about this third in the series. It was slow to get going and did, too frequently, feel like a bit of a filler, but it really picked up the pace just over halfway through. By the end I was feeling more than a little wrung out – and now I’m desperate to see where Aveyard takes things in the final instalment.

Our story begins with Mare having been taken prisoner by the new King. She is kept bound in manacles, Maven desperate to take away her lightning power. Though Mare and Cal have been desperate to see the best in Maven – laying the blame for his personality at the hands of his mother – it becomes increasingly clear that he is just as dangerous as she ever hoped he would be.

The initial chapters focus on establishing the stifling atmosphere in which Mare is kept. She is a powerful trophy prisoner, Maven using her to manipulate others within his kingdom. However, alongside this we see the planning and training that the Scarlet Guard/Reds and their supporters are putting in place.

Switching views as we do can, on occasion, mean a frustrating wait to pull together the pieces. However, as we put things together it is clear that we are about to get a humdinger of a story as everything comes together.

There was so much to love about this: some cracking battle scenes; graphic descriptions of the battles and training; a wonderful reconciliation between the characters of Cal and Mare; a hint that sometimes help comes from unexpected quarters, and the most heart-wrenching ending ever (though we kind of know to expect it, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept).

With part four expected in February 2018 we’re in for a tense wait. Personally, I’m torn between hoping Cal and Mare get their happy ending and waiting for chinks in the Maven-bad-guy persona. Whichever way it goes, I have a feeling I’m going to like this!

 

‘The Selection’ series – Kiera Cass

The Selection series The HeirThe Crown

 

Book One – The Selection (read and reviewed July 2016)

Link: http://mygoodreads.co.uk/?p=950

Book Two – The Elite (read 06/03/17)

Book two picks up after the events of the first in the series. America has a firm foothold in Maxon’s affections, but she can’t bring herself to trust her feelings for him/feelings about the caste system and her indecision is the focus of most of the novel.

On the surface we have the superficial Selection process – like Blind Date gone horribly wrong we see the girls who are left put through a series of tasks to prove their worthiness. Lest we forget, we’re reminded regularly that though Maxon gets to choose, there are other forces coming into play that he has less control over.

The book was fairly well-paced and we get some further understanding of just what Maxon is put through as part of his role. This, however, seemed a bit cobbled on to explain why he didn’t stand up to people more.

The threat from the Rebels is closer, and there’s certainly more to this than we’ve been told so far. What annoyed me here though was America herself. She’s reckless, headstrong and so flamin’ indecisive I was really irritated by her. I can see why she’s appealing to some of the characters in the novel, but I hope the anger she was feeling at the end of the book forces her to act with some sense of decisiveness in book three.

 

Book Three -The One (finished 08/03/17)

A really emotional read, which is no mean feat for a book that is, at heart, focused on the superficial Selection process of choosing a wife for Prince Maxon.

In spite of many of the characters being more than irksome, here we got a real chance to see beyond the surface and come to know more about them/their hopes and fears. I even found myself liking America at points as she wrestles with her feelings for Maxon, comes to acknowledge the true state of her relationship with Aspen and finally acknowledges her role in the process.

For me a strength of this book was the fact it moved beyond the Selection and showed us more about the rebels/state of the country. It was much easier to get emotionally invested in people once we stopped seeing them in isolation.

While the actual process of Maxon and America forming their alliance came under pressure, I was quite stunned by the pace of the final part of the novel. Having already hit us with a death-blow that felt absurdly painful, I couldn’t read fast enough for the closing moments. Though I can’t help but feel shamefully manipulated, those final moments of the process and the emergence of the new order contained some of the best scenes of the series.

Book Four – The Heir (read 11/03/17)

We get to see America and Maxon years after their wedding, and we gain an insight into the changes they brought to their country. This novel focuses on their eldest daughter, Eadlyn, and the attempt to quell disturbances by holding another Selection.

There’s no escaping the fact that this felt like the same book, just with different characters. What I did like in this was the characters who aren’t part of the process. I didn’t particularly like many of the boys and the artificiality of the setting. It seemed an unusual situation to leave the book in, but I’m looking forward to seeing where we end up.

Book Five – The Crown (read 12/03/17)

First, this was full of romance and high on emotion. Second, there are some unexpected twists and turns that you might not see coming. Third, that’s it…
Eadlyn begins the novel in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s heart attack. Things are tense, and the turbulence in the Palace is mirrored in the country.
I unashamedly fell for the events of this novel. Rather predictable in places but Eadlyn grew as a character and there was a lot to like here.

‘Gilded Cage’ – Vic James

Gilded Cage

TARNISHED CITY is published early September 2017
BRIGHT RUIN concludes the trilogy in June 2018

A dark fantasy that immediately had me intrigued, and now I’ve read the first part I am desperate to see where James takes this next (it’s not that long to wait until September, honest!)

Our story opens with the death of a young slave at the hands of her ex-lover as she tries to leave the estate with their young child. Immediately it is clear that this is a brutal existence and the Jardine family – as one of the foremost Equals – are a force to be reckoned with.

In this world the ruling elite – the Equals – have authority over the masses, and everyone is forced to give up ten years of their life to servitude. Some romanticise the Equals and their Skills, but the reality of their power and capabilities is truly frightening (and isn’t really shown fully until we are immersed in the world).

We focus on the events involving Abi and Luke Hadley, the older children of a family who are set to spend their slave period working for the Jardine family. Unfortunately, Luke is not found a position and ends up in one of the slum towns working in a highly dangerous place. What is more dangerous is the group of people he encounters who hold beliefs that could result in a lot of trouble.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I found myself gripped by this. The characters were all intriguing, and it was exciting to see how each of them coped with their varied experiences. James skilfully sets up this world, and gives us a clear history/sense of where these ideals have come from, yet keeps racking up the intrigue. Throughout my reading I was vacillating between which of the Jardine brothers was least to be trusted, and there’s just enough revealed to satisfy us while keeping plenty back for the next in the series.

This was an unexpected treat, and I think it’s a definite must-read for fantasy fans.

‘Scythe’ – Neal Shusterman

Scythe

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

When we first meet Citra and Rowan it is clear that they are no ordinary teenagers. Their behaviour makes it clear that each has certain attributes that would make them a good scythe. Neither wants the role – and this is a good thing – but they are each taken on as apprentice to the indomitable Scythe Faraday (who I think has to go down as one of my favourite mentor figures in Literature).

It definitely makes for a better read to know little more than the information we are given prior to reading. We are quickly immersed in this futuristic setting, and also get a real sense of a microscope being held up to our contemporary world to scrutinise our own beliefs.

There is a lot of political intrigue behind the scenes, and it’s not giving anything away to tell you that after a series of unfortunate events Citra and Rowan end up pitted against each other in possibly the cruellest competition ever. There’s a truly wonderful cast of characters here, and though there is a lot of violence it is not out of place.

Personally, I cannot wait until book two is released…

‘Perfect’ – Cecilia Ahern

Perfect

When I finished reading ‘Flawed’ – the first in the series – I was impatient to get my hands on the next part of the story. Not due for publication until April 2017, I was more than a little excited when Macmillan publishers and NetGalley approved my request to read an advance copy of ‘Perfect’.

Our story picks up with Celestine North on the run, desperate to avoid the clutches of Crevan. She knows that her sixth branding would, if the truth were to be revealed, bring him down – and he is prepared to go to any length to avoid this happening.

With publication still some way off, I will just give my initial thoughts. There will be time for a fuller review later (as I will, undoubtedly, read this again).

In Celestine Ahern has created a strong character who we remain invested in. The setting plays a major role in the success of the novel; we are urged to question what perfection is, and whether flaws are things to reject or learn from. Though this series is marketed as YA fiction, Ahern tells a good tale and, in ‘Perfect’, she has created a powerful story whose message is timeless.