The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgewick

The Ghosts of Heaven is a hugely ambitious and original work of YA fiction, and it’s been languishing on my shelf for a good long while. Last month, I finally got round to giving it a try – and two days later I was done, having read one of the best books I’ve ever read.

The Gorgeous Hardback Cover

The Gorgeous Hardback Cover

Told through four different stories, the book channels different characters and time periods in each quarter, all linked through a theme of spirals. We open of the dialogue sparse pre-history tale of a nameless teenage girl, part of a hunting party who use shapes painted on cave walls to summon good luck and strength to aid the hunt. The second story tells the tale of a girl accused of witchcraft, and a quiet country village under the grasp of a tyrannical reverend. The third quarter is a tense story of a psychologist and his highly intelligent patient in a cliff side Insane Asylum. The final story in the book is set in the far-flung future, aboard a sleeper ship filled with dreaming people destined to colonise a new planet, and follows a solitary sentinel who watches over them in a lonely vigil as their ship spirals through space.

This Book. Seriously, I cannot begin to describe how swept up in these four interwoven narratives I was. The first quarter, told eerily through fractured stanzas that bounce along poetically, is filled with hope and bitter-sweet melancholy. The second is stiflingly oppressive, painfully and blisteringly unfair, whilst the third is so wonderfully windswept and Gothically HP Lovecraft, unfolding with a spiralling sense of madness and chaos. The final quarter is a cold, uneasy science-fiction tale that pulls through the whole story and links each narrative together, like a needle and thread spiralling through four patches of fabric to create one whole blanket.

The Paperback Jacket

The Paperback Jacket

Sedgewick is such an outstanding writer – each story has its own feel and style, but they’re all part of a greater whole, and it’s done with such clever skill that flows naturally. None of the stories feel discordant with the others, despite their massive differences in time periods. Plus, the four parts of the book can be read in any order, giving a different experience depending on how you read it. It’s honestly mind-blowing, and by the time you get to the last quarter it all starts to pull together in a way that staggers you. The Ghosts of Heaven is a book that I’m going to return to again and again, a perfect balance of genres, filled with twisting unease and suspense, reading flawlessly and beautifully. It evokes something wonderful just remembering it.

Thanks for Reading,

D

If The Ghosts of Heaven takes your fancy, you can pick it up here.

Things to look out for in 2015!

Greetings! I was recently flicking through The Bookseller’s rather fantastic feature on upcoming Children’s & YA books over the Summer and into the back end of this year, and there’s some very exciting releases! So, I thought I’d compile a little snapshot of books that you should keep an eye out for in the next EIGHT MONTHS. Now, some of these I’ve been lucky enough to have read already, such is the life of a Bookseller. However, I’ve plonked them on this list ANYWAY, because they’re fabulous books that you should definitely pick up when they go on sale. Originally this post was going to be 15 Books in 2015! But, yeah. Too many books. Sorry. I got lost.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen (12th of May, Andersen Press)

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When Phil Earle recommends me a book, it’s always a corker (see The Art of Being Normal), and he’s super passionate about this debut Middle Grade/Younger Teen title which can only mean it’s a mixture of heart and passion that will make waves. I’ve got a copy somewhere on my TBR pile, but other bookselling pals of mine are already raving about the sweet, heartfelt and touching plot, reminiscent of RJ Palacio’s Wonder.

Pre-Order Here!

In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll (2nd of July, Faber & Faber) 

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Already the author of two phenomenal MG titles (the creepsome Frost Hollow Hall & beautiful The Girl Who Walked on Air), Emma Carroll is returning this Summer with what sounds like another fantastic blend of magic and realism. It seems set to capture the quirky, folklorish environment that makes brilliant fairy stories like Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Treasures so perfect. I’m expecting a brilliantly entertaining and gripping read for those long Summer evenings!

Pre-Order Here!

The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle (18th of August, Corgi)

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Already being hailed as this year’s We Were Liars, The Accident Season is another book that I have a proof of in my TBR pile that I’ve yet to get to, but again I’m very intrigued by the idea behind it. It seems like it’s going to bring in a painfully beautiful, melancholy narrative that will cause some pretty hard emotional reactions (especially from me, I cry at everything!). The jacket is beautiful, and early feelings seem to be overwhelmingly positive. It should be a great read!

Pre-Order Here!

Way Down Dark by J.P. Smythe (2nd of July, Hodder & Stoughton) 

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Very intrigued by this one, the first YA title from a hugely well respected Sci-Fi author. Normally I’m hesitant of adult authors hopping on the Teen Fiction bandwagon, but this book, the first in a planned trilogy, promises a claustrophobic spaceship setting that definitely ticks a big box for me, combined with murder and obsessive cults, so I’ll certainly be giving it a go as soon as possible. Love the jacket too… Might it feed my love of Sci-Fi Horror? Here’s hoping!

Pre-Order Here!

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (15th of September, Scholastic Press) 

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Brian Selznick is a stunningly creative writer, and I’d add him to this list without even knowing a synopsis of his next book. The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, Selznick is unrivaled when it comes to fusing haunting, gorgeous illustrations with emotionally articulate and powerful stories. All I know about The Marvels is that it’s set in 18th Century London, and it weaves two seemingly separate stories together using 400 pages of what I’m sure will be astounding illustration and 200 pages of text.

Pre-Order Here!

Demon Road by Derek Landy (7th of August, Harpercollins) 

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I’ve always been a massive fan of Landy’s twisted, witty and downright explosive Skulduggery Pleasant series, which came to an end last year. His new series, planned as a trilogy, sees him up his writing to a YA level (which makes sense, since a huge part of his fanbase will have grown up with Skulduggery and are now teenagers and young adults). It looks like it’s set to be full of supernatural horror, twists and vibrant lead characters, all wrapped up in the dark sense of humour we’ve all come to know and love from Mr. Landy.

Pre-Order Here!

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne (1st of August, Usbourne) 

After the brilliant success in the Paranormal Romance of Soulmates, followed by the brilliantly sharp contemporary The Manifesto on How To Be Interesting, it seems Holly Bourne is an author who can give any genre a good go. I’m already sold on the title, and the contemporary plot line is going to tackle anxiety and other mental health issues that I would love to see approached intelligently and with respect within the YA sphere. I’m expecting a strong, strident voice, with heart and humour.

Pre-Order Here!

The Tattooed Heart by Michael Grant (22nd of September, Electric Monkey) 

The second book in Grant’s brilliant, dark and shocking Messenger of Fear series, which managed to utterly captivate me in book one. If his GONE series proved one thing, it’s that he’s so superbly talented when it comes to developing creeping, unfurling mythologies and sudden, brutal and visceral shocks and twists. I’m sure we’re going to have some truly grotesque descriptive sequences and a bigger peak into the world and history of the Messengers.

The Unbecoming by Jenny Downham (3rd of September, David Fickling Books) 

It’s hard to believe that it’s been FIVE YEARS since Jenny Downham’s award winning You Against Me, so I’m very excited about a new novel from her. Very well known for her debut Before I Die (aka Now Is Good), Downham is a skilled writer at unfolding complex and beautiful emotions. The Unbecoming is going to be epic, covering 50 years and following three generations of the same family. I think we can look forward to seeing some heartbreak, some uplifting chapters and some painfully grounded tragedy, all with her trademark heart and hope.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill (3rd of September, Quercus)

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The sophomore novel from the author of the YA Book Prize winner Only Ever Yours, this looks set to be just a dark, powerful and important. It looks like it’s going to be discussing and working with the ideas of rape, consent and victim blaming, so I’m expecting this to be pretty controversial, but also probably very necessary in today’s culture and political atmosphere. Louise has already proved that she’s not afraid of going after emotional and visceral subjects, and that’s going to continue.

Remix by Non Pratt (4th of June, Walker)

I reviewed this the other week right here, but I’ll reiterate what I said then – Non is one of the brightest shining stars of UKYA, and Remix is the perfect showcase of her talents for messy, realistic teenagers and perfectly formed, believable dialogue that snaps and crackles with youthful energy. Much like her debut, Trouble, Non is so brilliant at creating characters that I love and feel invested in, and this time she weaves in the energy and hopefulness of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, all within the gloriously chaotic world of a Music Festival.

Pre-Order Here!

All of the Above by James Dawson (3rd of September, Hot Key Books)

This is set to be James Dawson’s first contemporary novel, but in his work in the YA horror sphere with Say Her Name and Under My Skinhe’s already proven he has a sharp talent for witty characters and brilliant, hilarious dialogue. All of the Above promises to be his rudest and most mature to date, but it looks like it’ll be examining anxiety and peer pressure, which I can only imagine will be portrayed beautifully and sensitively.

Pre-Order Here!

Silence is Goldfish by Annabel Pitcher (1st of October, Orion)

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Both My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece and Ketchup Clouds have been contemporary YA novels that have both completely absorbed me and emotionally wrecked me in different ways, showing that Award Winner Annabel Pitcher is a versatile and powerful writer. Silence is Goldfish is a brilliant title, and it looks like the book is going to be another great examination of growing up, and loss of innocence and the way our views towards family and adults change as we get older.

Pre-Order Here!

Darkest Night by Will Hill (4th of June, Harpercollins)

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Will Hill’s Department 19 series is one of my favourite YA series, and it’s finally coming to a close. Compulsive, gloriously gore-splattered Vampire fiction, I would recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of fast, intelligent horror and action. Will has already promised death and emotional turmoil in this final installment, where he carries on his combination of classical horror literature and pulse-pounding action.

Pre-Order Here!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (10th of September, Bloomsbury)

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The award winner of future Children’s classic Rooftoppers has turned to a snowy atmosphere for her next adventure, set in the harsh, cold Russian forests. Rundell is a masterful writer with a lyrical, beautiful writing style, and I can see her capturing this tale of harsh environments and loyalty, the story of a young girl and her mother against a murderous force in the woods, absolutely brilliantly. I’m sure it’s going to be uplifting and captivating and I cannot wait.

Pre-Order Here!

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (27th of August, Walker)

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If you missed my glowing review the other day, let me tell you that Patrick Ness’ next novel is a phenomenal character examination that’s full of pain, emotion, hope and melancholy. Another stellar example of why he’s such a brilliant YA writer, his characters in The Rest of Us are so perfectly messy and realistic, and he approaches mental health and the uncertainty of growing up with intelligence and respect. He also plays on standard YA tropes and themes to perfect effect, mocking with just the right amount of adoration.

Pre-Order Here!

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (30th of July, Random House) 

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Golly! Time for another caper from the fantastic detective duo that is Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, this time taking on a Murder on the Orient Express twist. The first two novels, A Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea, have been roaringly good fun to date, and I can’t wait to see where Robin’s vibrant, intelligent detectives end up next! More hilarious use of Blyton-esque language and genuinely gripping and well formed mysteries will make this another gem of a children’s novel.

Pre-Order Here!

Another Day by David Levithan (30th July, Electric Monkey)

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Every Day is getting a sequel! Of sorts, at least. Another Day revisits the events of Levithan’s phenomenal novel, but retelling the story from the perspective of Rhiannon. Where the first book looked at the nature of the self, and what it meant to be you when things like race, gender and sexuality are stripped away, Another Day will look at what it is like to love someone who is always different. I’m expecting an emotionally electric and intelligent plot, using Levithan’s characteristic beautiful writing style to uncover some difficult truths and create some diverse and heartfelt characters.

Pre-Order Here!

 

This is just a handful of the brilliant YA and MG titles due put this year, but there’s loads more! Feel free to grab me on Twitter for more recommendations or book chat – @ShinraAlpha

Thanks for reading!

D

The Three by Sarah Lotz

A sleek, black proof appeared on the staff room table at Waterstones Durham, promising mystery, darkness and a tense, supernatural thriller. First my colleague Ann read, and absolutely devoured it… Then our Lead Bookseller Kat read it and became near evangelical with her handselling of the book. So, I became the Third. It’s rare for me to read Adult fiction, so it has to be something special for me to shift from my comfort zone, but The Three absolutely absorbed me, kept my mind racing, gave me chills… I think it has real crossover appeal in the YA market too.

Kat's fantastic Chalkboard to encourage people to check out The Three.

Kat’s fantastic Chalkboard to encourage people to check out The Three.

Black Thursday, a monstrous tragedy that will live on in Human History forever – The day when four planes crashed around the world, simultaneously. Of these crashes, there were only four survivors, three of them young Children, the fourth – Pamela – lived only long enough to record a haunting voicemail message that would go on to send the world into a frenzy. Told in the style of a factual novel about the events that followed the disaster, The Three uses interviews and testimonials, transcripts and documents to track the conspiracy theories that soon grip the world over the three child survivors of Black Thursday. From the religious front in the US, who feel the Three are three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, to the Japanese cult who are determined that the Three are alien replacements, there are plenty of crazy ideas about the unscathed survivors, but it’s the testimonials of the guardians of the Three, the grandmother of Bobby in America, the uncle of Jessica in England, and the cousin of Hiro in Japan, that really start to unravel the unsettling truth behind the global mystery. Slowly, the frenzies grow and the life of the Three becomes more chaotic, and more dangerous.

Such a striking jacket.

Such a striking jacket.

To say The Three is a gripping read is to do it a serious injustice. I would read it even as my train slowed into the station. I would gasp out loud in public as plot twists and haunting moments sprang at me, and I would try to second guess them before they happened… And I never did. The strength of this book is the way it blends horror and science fiction, without ever out and out stating it. The Three might be aliens, they might be the horsemen, but Sarah Lotz never lets you know who is right – But by no means does she let you know that they’re anything Normal. The testimonials, particularly Paul’s steady loss of sanity as he cares for Jessica, are absolutely chilling, dark and show the emotionless, inquisitive and unhinged mind of The Three survivors, and give the novel its slow, creeping, building sense of horror that permeates throughout everything in the story. Sarah pulls in aspects of religious fundamentalism, Japanese folklore and subtle science fiction, and by presenting it in the style of a journalistic, factual novel, she’s created a brilliantly realistic feel to the plot, which helps encourage the sense of unease the reader feels throughout. As it goes on, the world of the Three gets steadily more insane, hectic and frantic, with horrific events cropping up constantly, really speeding up unstoppably. And you never want it to stop, either. The book is left open to make your own conclusions, and that’s what keeps it lingering in your brain for weeks afterwards. The closing epilogue opens up a whole brilliant realm of possibility, using a hard, and quantum take on sci-fi. I’d love to know more… But that’s what makes it such a great book.

Pick it up. It’s a hardback, but a gorgeous one, well worth paying a bit extra for. One of the best thrillers I’ve read in years.

Thanks for Reading.

D

P.S. Always watch for the Fourth.

The Fearless by Emma Pass

If you remember, last year I reviewed Emma’s debut novel, the Orwellian YA title ACID, and I was a massive fan – twists, action and a unique writing style that helped it stand out from the crowd. When I heard her second offering would be a dystopia with a Zombie flavour to it, I was sold. But The Fearless is far more brutal and harrowing than a mere jaunt with the walking dead…

The UK jacket for The Fearless.

The UK jacket for The Fearless.

Cass was just a child when the Fearless first invaded the UK. They hit hard, and they hit fast, taking the nation by surprise with their ruthless efficiency and cold violent nature. The Fearless used to be soldiers in the British Army, given an experimental drug designed to help combat Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. However, the drug had the unexpected side effect of turning the soldiers Fearless – an unfeeling, violent core who kill for the fun of it, and how share a singular goal: To use the drug on everyone in the world. Cass and her family secure a place on an island refuge called Hope, along with her best friend Sol, and his family, The Brightmans. The journey is short, but devastating, Cass losing her father to the Fearless and Sol losing his mother to a stray bullet, as well as the untimely birth of Cass’ brother, Jori. The Fearless then jumps forward seven years, where Cass is caring for Jori after her mother’s suicide, and she and Sol are on the verge of graduating into Hope’s patrol, dedicated to guarding the island’s perimeter from The Fearless, and stray survivors who might try to kill to get into their refuge. Sol and Cass’ friendship has become strained with age, as Sol loves her intensely, but has been rejected by her on multiple occasions, leaving him bitter and confused. Cass just doesn’t feel that way towards him, though. Life on Hope is bleak, but the inhabitants manage to scrape by an existence, trading with passing barterers, until one day a new boy is found amongst some of the island’s ruined buildings. The eyepatch wearing Myo isn’t Fearless, but he managed to slip onto Hope past the patrols somehow, and so he is immediately apprehended and roughly imprisoned. Later that same evening though, Fearless do arrive on Hope, kidnapping Jori, Cass’ brother, and all the family she has left in the world. The residents of Hope are forbidden to leave the island to pursue anyone, so Cass has to turn to the mysterious stranger Myo if she is to have any chance of finding her brother alive… and unaltered.

The opening prologue to The Fearless is a superb example of why Emma Pass is such an exciting writer in the Teen/YA bracket right now. It’s punchy, fast and downright terrifying, using explosions of action with claustrophobic passages of such tension that you’re unable to even blink reading it. Cass is a great lead, a good mix of powerful determination and (often) naive, heartfelt passion, and her isolation on Hope allows the reader to really uncover the desolated wastes of the mainland with fresh, unfamiliar eyes. One of my favourite things about Cass (and about The Fearless in general) is that it does away with the idea that the lead female character just HAS to fancy the main male/best friend, because he loves her. Cass is fully able to say “nah, you’re alright mate” in a way that so many other books aimed at Teenagers refuse to do, and I love her for that. She’s under no obligation to fall in love just because she’s loved. Myo is a surely, embittered character with a deceptive streak that allows the book to drop in back story to tease the mystery of the story out in stages, and his character arc is positive and yet harrowing at the same time – he goes through a lot for those he cares about. The only character I didn’t get one with was Sol, but I don’t think you’re supposed to. He’s childish and entitled, with a temper on him that is frustrating to read, but as the story develops, that makes more sense and it opens up some of the later sections on the book in a way that would otherwise make no sense. His actions are motivated by some pretty dark emotions, and using him as a perspective character along with Cass and Myo gets to show the reader the effects of the Fearless Invasion in terms of rage and paranoia.

ACID is superb. If you like action and mystery, give it a go.

ACID is superb. If you like action and mystery, give it a go.

I think unlike ACID, the plot to The Fearless is simpler. That’s not a bad thing though. Where ACID was a twisting thriller, this book is much more a survival horror, focussing on the resolution and grit of the main characters to achieve their goals despite the harsh world around them. The descriptive passages in The Fearless are great, creating a real sense of isolation, terror and panic that infuses the whole story… At no point does anything ever feel certain or safe, and some of the most brutal, harsh moments happen just as you’re uncovering some back story or character development, and it jars the reader out of any lull they might’ve slipped into, keeping you constantly glued to the pages. The very cold nature of the Fearless themselves helps add to the chilling feeling of unease – they’re brutal for no reason and violent at a moments notice, an unrelenting and unpredictable villain.

The Fearless is a great follow up to ACID, and it’s sure to be a big hit with fans of the darker side of Dystopian Fiction like Ashes or The Enemy.

Thanks for Reading, as always.

D

P.S. You can find author Emma Pass on Twitter HERE.

P.P.S. For more Dystopian reads, check my blog post D is For Dystopia.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

You know when a book just seems entirely written to fit your tastes? Grasshopper Jungle is one of those books for me. When I first heard about it, I knew it was coming from Egmont imprint Electric Monkey, who are brilly at ace Teen/YA novels – So that ticked one box. Then I found it was a coming-of-age story, which I love as well, being a perpetually confused youngling (SEE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Catcher in the Rye, etc) – So that ticked a second box. OH, & it features homicidal Six Foot Tall Praying Mantises. Believe it or not, that also ticks a box for me – I’ve loved a good giant bug b-movie since I was a teenager, so I requested a proof as soon as possible. And oh. Oh boy.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Such an unassuming jacket for such a crazy book.

Austin Szerba is a confused young man. Sixteen years old & unable to keep his mind focused on much more than sex & cigarettes. The book opens with him living his day to day life, chronicling his own personal history & the history of the rundown town of Ealing, Iowa, with his girlfriend, Shann Collins, who he loves, & with his best friend Robby Brees Jr, who he also loves. Possibly in the same way. Austin doesn’t think he’s gay, but his best friend is, & the two of them have a definite, unspoken attraction, so naturally he’s very confused about life. One day, skating in the stretch of abandoned wasteland in Ealing’s failing shopping mall – Known locally as Grasshopper Jungle, Austin & Robby are set upon by some older boys, who embark on some good old-fashioned bullying, beating the two up, before throwing their shoes on the roof of the nearby second hand store – From Attic to Seller. That night, the two friends decide to return to the shop & climb onto the roof & recover their discarded footwear, & once there, curiosity drives them into the back office of the store via a skylight on the roof. What they find, is a strange, morbid collection of old scientific experiments, severed heads, hands, two headed boys in jars, & some glowing blue mould marked MI Plague Strain 412E in a glass globe. Whilst fascinated by the dark & macabre displays in the back office of From Attic to Seller, the bullies from earlier in the day also break in, with the goal of stealing some booze from the adjoining liquor store. Austin & Robby manage to hide in the office, but overhear the older boys stealing the glowing orb of mould. And that is the night that started the end of the world. You see, once dropped, MI Plague Strain 214E is unleashed, mixing with Robby’s blood that stains the concrete in Grasshopper Jungle – With horrific consequences. Life in Ealing, Iowa, continues to tumble onwards, full of lonely drunks & failing businesses, while slowly, inside four teenage boys, grows a new, apex predator, bred in the Cold War from plant & insect DNA to be an unstoppable soldier. As more people come into contact with the broken globe’s contents, a small but violently powerful force begin hatching from their hosts, & they have primal insect brains that really only want to do two things: Eat & Make Babies. Bulletproof, lightning quick & armed with razor arms & mandibles, the Unstoppable Soldiers really are the apex predator in Ealing. Can Austin, Robby & Shann solves their differences, fight off a horde of horny, hungry giant bugs, grow up & live happily ever after? The outlook isn’t great.

I have so much praise for this book. SO MUCH. It’s such a hard story to describe, & I do really hope I’ve done it justice in that synopsis. I mean, it’s just nuts, violent, rude, funny, powerful & outstanding. Austin is a phenomenal narrator of the story, his historically obsessed tangents adding a real depth to the universe of the Szerba family, the town of Ealing, Iowa, & the world that Grasshopper Jungle takes place in. He’s a sharp, sensitive teen, with a lot of love for Shann & Robby, & an overwhelming sense of guilt over not doing the right thing – A struggle I think I have on a daily basis. The way him & Robby interact is achingly sweet, as well as brilliantly cool-yet-awkward. Andrew Smith has nailed teen idle chat perfectly, in a way that a lot of other books right now tend to overdo in a very flowery, over the top manner – Really reminding me of the existential thought processes of Holden Caulfield. Robby & Shann are only ever viewed from Austin’s perspective, but his deep love for both of them makes them glow & crackle on the page with passion, energy & attitude. His descriptions of other townspeople are funny, sharply observant, & oftentimes deeply despondent, creating a skewed, tragic & chucklesome portrait of small town American life.

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

I also nabbed a great set of Unstoppable Postcards!

More than just a horror/science fiction story, Grasshopper Jungle approaches concepts of sexual identity & confusion in an open, honest way that is seriously lacking in so much fiction for teens at the moment. It discusses the idea of bisexuality in a very down to earth way, without demonising it, & I think it’s a woefully misunderstood aspect of many young people’s lives that they need to be shown is perfectly okay. This book does that, it tackles with Austin’s inner confusion, probably an idea that many developing teenagers have been afraid to approach in their own “real” life, & that’s a very important idea that needs to be embraced more often in a funny, down-to-earth & relatable way. It also uses humour to make sexual topics seem much more approachable, less serious & just fun.

Also, did I mention giant bugs? The story is brilliantly teased out with an impending sense of dread, told in a Historical style from Austin’s future self, & using the old videos to slowly reveal the horrible history of the Unstoppable Soldiers – I found it absolutely enthralling reading, especially with the dry, witty narrative style that Andrew Smith uses to explain the end of the world. It has a wry sense of whimsy about such a violent situation, making the whole story a blood soaked black comedy like nothing else. I don’t feel like I’m describing the book well…

LOOK, this book is weird & funny, rude & violent, important in how it deals with difficult subjects & just… Crazy. It’s not for everyone, but if this has stirred your interest, you’re going to love it.

And that was our day. You know what I mean.

D

P.S. Obviously, in case you hadn’t gathered from my review, Grasshopper Jungle is pretty high-end teen, not suitable for younger readers. I’d say 15 upwards.

You can find publisher Electric Monkey on Twitter, as well as author Andrew Smith, AND lead character Austin Szerba!

Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

I’ve often been fascinated with the idea of blending elements of science-fiction & fantasy together in one story, so when I read the synopsis for Laure Eve’s debut novel I was eager to nab a copy & see just how well two of my favourite genres could be interwoven.

Fearsome Dreamer's UK Hardback jacket.

Fearsome Dreamer’s UK Hardback jacket.

Fearsome Dreamer takes place in a dark alternate Europe, where the mainland nations are mostly united as World, a dark, miserable land where most inhabitants dwell in a massive virtual online world known as Life. Across the sea from here, is the contrasting United Kingdom, in this world known as Angle Tar, a country where technology is all but shunned, & where witchcraft & superstition run day to day life. The story follows two individuals from both nations, both possessing a peculiar skill known as The Talent, allowing them to dream about other places in the world, even transporting themselves hundreds of miles with the right amount of practice. Vela Rue is an apprentice hedgewitch, in a small town in the countryside of Angle Tar, but she dreams of much bigger things in her life – dreams that often feel so jarringly real that she can’t ignore them. When a mysterious stranger arrives in the town & offers to help her train her dreams into something unbelievable, she jumps at the chance to leave her country life & head with him to University in the Capital city. White is a native of World, but despises his nation’s dependency on the online computer network Life. He dreams of fleeing to the mysteriously distant Angle Tar, using his strange power to vanish completely & starting a new life in a country free of Life. When his Talent attracts the attention of World’s authorities, White knows he only has a little time before his dreams of escape are crushed completely, so he takes the leap & teleports himself to Angle Tar. It’s not long before he’s recruited by the same mysterious man who took on Rue, the charming yet guarded Frith, who recognises that White posses the most potent jumping Talent he’s ever seen. But why does Frith have such a determination to recruit talented individuals? What lurks outside the castle in his dreams that makes him wake up in a cold, terrified sweat?

Fearsome Dreamer hooked me from the first page, with a combination of great writing & a darkly creative world that had me dying to know more. Rue’s dreamy character was immediately relatable to me (a hopeless daydreamer myself!), & her caring, heartfelt spirit really made helped me attach to her straight away, & care for her throughout. White’s guarded nature & slight traces of arrogance made him a bit of a harder character to get along with, but his strength of conviction, & his role as an amazingly talented outsider bring him into a more positive light – eventually allowing him to become genuinely sweet. My favourite character though, just has to be Frith. Witty, charming & casually mysterious, he manages to exude confidence whilst still being almost completely unknown to those around him, & he’s introduced whilst calmly dispatching a couple of would-be assassins, which just adds to his air of hidden secrets.

Laure Eve, total style.

Laure Eve, total style.

What really sparked my imagination in Fearsome Dreamer though was the concept of Life, the fully immersive virtual reality network that fills World, and the Avatars that inhabit the meetings Frith attends there. Ghost Girl is sinister & enticing, & her entire people – who stay shrouded by Avatars, refusing to interact in the real world – are so intriguing I was glued to any passages they appeared in. Combined with Frith’s strange, sinister dreams of something stalking him in a walled castle, the whole book is shrouded in tantalising mystery which is teased out in tiny fragments & subtle hints, as well as strange, shadowy dreams. The book is clearly the first part in a series, & as such it’s a slow starter, but that’s not a bad thing – It builds up the characters well, investing in them fully to create well rounded people for the reader to really root for. Many books skip this kind of development, leaving 2D characters in dramatic, perilous situations that the reader can’t feel anything for, because they just don’t care. Laure obviously wants readers to feel for her characters, & so she’s building the tension in this novel using mystery, no doubt to explode into some serious action in the next one, & I can’t wait to find out what’s lurking in this dark world she’s created!

I think Fearsome Dreamer’s setting is what really sank its claws into me, a combination of simple beauty without ambition & darkness without morals, and its two extremes that can’t possibly survive on their own, two worlds that need something from the other to really work – the ying & yang equivalent of society, & that bleak not-quite-utopia of World just really grabbed me.

Fearsome Dreamer is from the amazing new UKYA publisher Hot Key Books, a very exciting group publishing some superb novels for Teens & Young Adults.

As always, thanks for reading!

D

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Okay, so I’ve spent days trying to get this review together. If you’re not familiar with him, Patrick Ness is the double Carnegie winning author of the Chaos Walking trilogy, & the hauntingly powerful A Monster Calls – As well as a great Twitter profile, & occasionally appearing on BBC Breakfast.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, book 1 in Ness' critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting Go, book 1 in Ness’ critically acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy.

His latest offering isn’t due out until the 5th of September, but once again, I was a lucky enough bookseller to get hold of a proof edition.

The strikingly simplistic jacket for More Than This.

The strikingly simplistic jacket for More Than This.

This will be a difficult review to work through without revealing one or two slight plot points, so minor spoilers ahoy.

Seth is dead. He knows he must be, he remembers struggling against the cold ocean current, remembers the sickening crunch of his bones on the jagged coastal rocks. So when he wakes up, lying on the pavement outside his childhood home in England, over 3000 miles from the US coastline where he lost his life, it’s safe to say that Seth is painfully confused. Not only is he in the town he grew up, but it seems like it’s been untouched for decades: layers of dust cover the houses, the food in the supermarkets decaying & rotten. This is the town he has so many painful memories of, the one his parents moved across the Atlantic to escape… So if Seth really is dead, this must be Hell, surely? Soon though, things take a turn for the stranger, when he meets two other people trapped in the town, Regine & Tomasz, both of whom remember their own deaths too. If this is his personal hell, did Seth create companions from his own imagination? If he didn’t though, & they’re real people with real pasts, why would they all share this space, in a town that meant so much to him personally? The mystery is just beginning though, when a mysterious black van, complete with malevolent black clad driver begin stalking the three companions, ruthlessly determined to eliminate them. Is it the devil? Or is there something more than this, some darker puzzle to be solved?

This novel is superb. I’m likely to be somewhat gushing here, but I genuinely think Patrick Ness is one of the most talented writers from Young Adults, not just right now, but probably of all time. He has a talent for writing teenage characters that feel wholly real, flawed, brave & natural, & he tackles complex issues of life & coming of age in a non-patronising way that makes his books so popular & accessible.

Seth, the novel’s protagonist, is a troubled individual, with a very complicated back story, & a really powerful emotional progression throughout the story. In a rare instance in Young Adult fiction, Seth’s sexuality as a gay character isn’t a major focus of the plot, & while it is a huge part of his characters actions prior to the setting of the story, it’s amazingly refreshing to have a homosexual character portrayed in such a natural way, the way of course it should be shown, both in fiction & everyday life. His strained relationship with his parents, as well as the mysterious childhood incident involving his younger brother, which plagues his memory throughout, hint at a dark past for Seth, & the slow way it’s teased out through flashbacks is really absorbing & gripping. Seth is not the only character with a dark past though, & Regine is a strong individual with a stubborn streak through her that makes her a good counterpoint to Seth, a girl of decisive action & repressed emotions, her character’s mysterious past which she refuses to discuss makes her even more stoic. I found her spiky nature & nonchalant attitude endearing, hinting at a vulnerable & pained young woman, desperate to avoid the horrors of the past. Tomasz is a brilliant third perspective on the darkness of the world, a bright, optimistic young boy, with a natural exuberance that counteracts the other two character’s painful emotional angst. He still possesses a haunting secret to his past, but he’s young enough to push it away, choosing instead to throw all of his hope & trust into Seth & Regine. His motivations are of pure friendship, often taking rash & brave actions because he’s a naturally positive individual who cares deeply about his friends. He’s really the innocent glue that holds the other two characters together & he’s often the funniest, most touching character in the novel.

Past some wonderfully complex, well written, & multifaceted characters, More Than This has a winding, gripping thriller of a plot, linking theology, philosophy & science fiction to create a really unique view on the Dystopian angle, with strong hints of the Matrix, but with a much stronger feeling of personal discovery. As with all Patrick Ness’ work, the moral dilemmas in the book are so much shades of grey than they are clear cut right & wrong, which I think is an important angle for young readers to learn at this sort of an age. There isn’t always a right & wrong answer to your questions, & sometimes people do awful things for the perceived Greater Good. This novel really explores that idea of the greater good, & also analyses the selfishness & selflessness of both teenagers & adults, showing both in an altogether more human light than a lot of books do. Normally, the adults are flawed, but selfless, the teens selfish, but able to grow, but here, some of the adults actions aren’t just selfish, they’re downright painfully horrific. Patrick clearly believes in the idea that teenagers are complete individuals, capable of just as much decisive action (right or wrong) as any other human being on the planet, & he really weaves that moral into the plot.

The mystery unravelled throughout More Than This kept me gripped from page one, & the writing style, the short, gut-punching chapters with sudden drop-off cliff-hangers really make this a rollercoaster of emotions, & an un-put-down-able read. Every chapter ending left me yearning to learn more about the bleak, abandoned landscape our characters are stranded in, & their desire to solve this mystery keeps the reader glued to the story. It’s a wonderful book, written in a poetic, fluid & dynamic style, with tense mystery & philosophical issues tackled. It doesn’t talk down to its readership, & pulls no punches on some very distressing but important themes. Pick it up the beginning of next month; it’ll blow your socks off.

D