Book reviews

YALC 2017 samplers

I amassed quite a pile of samplers over the duration of YALC last weekend, ranging in length from a handful to seventy-two pages. It’s taken me a little while to get through them all but here are my thoughts on each one – settle down as this is pretty lengthy…

The Surface Breaks – Louise O’Neill (May 2018)

This book is marketed as a feminist retelling of The Little Mermaid and within a couple of pages it becomes clear that it’s going to be one hell of a book when it’s finished. Gaia has dreamed of going up to the surface of the ocean all her life and now that she’s turned fifteen she’s finally able to see the human world for herself as per tradition. What isn’t so typical is the strength of her desire, something that her mother was punished for (although we don’t quite know to what extent). With the king parading his daughters as beautiful objects that he created and there to do what they are told, the oppression of females is quickly established and sets the tone for the novel. This was the first sampler that I read and ended up being one of my favourites.

The Truth and Lies of Ella Black – Emily Barr (January 2018)

Much like the author’s debut novel The One Memory of Flora Banks, this follows a female teenager who struggles with a brain/mental disorder. Ella has what seems to be a crossover between schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder, resulting in a being she has named Bella taking over her thoughts and actions. She has kept this a secret for several years but is finding it increasingly difficult to do so as Bella wants to be in charge more and more. The sampler sets up who Ella is but doesn’t give much away about the plot, so hit up the Goodreads blurb if you want to know more. I have to give out a warning though for a rather horrific moment involving animal cruelty.

It Only Happens in the Movies – Holly Bourne (October 2017)

Audrey has just started working at an independent cinema and has zero interest in romance. So of course when a flirty but troublesome boy is introduced as a colleague you automatically know that she’s going to fall for him (ok, so the prologue that’s set some point in the future is also a massive giveaway). I enjoyed Audrey’s rant about the portrayal of women in rom-coms but the storyline leaves me with little desire to read the finished book.

All the Crooked Saints – Maggie Stiefvater (October 2017)

I don’t really know how to explain what this story is about. There’s a trio of cousins who go around the desert at night broadcasting their renegade radio station and are all capable of performing miracles. That’s essentially all I can say about the plot. As for the writing, it was far too fanciful/floaty for my tastes and so I found it difficult to follow properly. Overall a weird piece of fiction and one that I won’t be reading more of.

Girlhood – Cat Clarke (out now)

Harper is starting anew at an expensive boarding school following the death of her twin sister to anorexia. At first she didn’t think that she would find anyone she could bond with but she soon makes friends with three other girls. And once again that’s all that it gives away about the plot. The Goodreads blurb makes it sound like a bit of a dark read about friendships and identity, and whilst it’s got a fairly good average rating I don’t think I’ll be looking to pick it up.

Hope – Rhian Ivory (September 2017)

From the sampler it comes across as the story of teenage Hope who has had her heart set on attending a particular drama college but who has just had a shocker of an audition for it. Upset whilst on the ferry crossing home, a creepy/concerned guy sets out to make sure that she gets home ok. Based on the snippet of the story included in the sampler I wasn’t that interested, however there’s an author’s note which mentions that the book is also about Hope getting a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder which piqued my curiosity a bit more.

Floored – Sara Barnard, Holly Bourne, Tanya Byrne, Non Pratt, Melinda Salisbury, Lisa Williamson and Eleanor Wood (July 2018)

Seven popular UK YA authors have come together to write a novel that follows six characters after they witness a traumatic event. Each character’s chapter is written by a different author (with one author writing the overseeing narrator chapters), but they flow so well that it isn’t jarring in the slightest. I have to admit to getting a little confused as to the personality/background of each character by the end of the sampler but I’m sure that given a few more chapters everything would become cemented in my mind. I’ve only read novels by two of the authors so I’m not sure I’ll go out of my way to read this but I think it could be interesting.

Clean – Juno Dawson (April 2018)

This is described as Gossip Girl meets Girl, Interrupted and it’s easy to see why. It begins with socialite and heiress Lexi being taken to rehab by her brother following a near miss overdosing on drugs. She comes across as a bit of a spoilt brat but I’m assuming that’s to allow for discovering her history and whatnot as the story progresses. The blurb mentions a diverse cast of characters, each with their own reason for attending The Clarity Centre, and has the potential to be a gritty novel.

Hole in the Middle – Kendra Fortmeyer (out now)

This has the rather bizarre concept of a teenage girl who was born with a hole through her torso, something that makes me feel a little squeamish (I’m too much of a wimp to research if such a condition actually exists). Regardless, the premise is there to give a different approach on body image issues and according to the blurb also has a feminist framework. It certainly sounds unique and whilst I’m half-interested to read more I don’t think I’ll actually get round to it.

Tangleweed and Brine – Deirdre Sullivan (September 2017)

I have to be honest here and state that I DNF’ed the sampler after one page. The writing style was completely out of my comfort zone so I had no idea what was meant to be happening. Much like The Surface Breaks the book is concerned with dark, feminist retellings of traditional fairytales and so may be of interest to some. I however will be giving it a miss.

The Space Between the Stars – Anne Corlett (out now)

I’d seen this around previously (possibly on NetGalley) and so had a little bit of interest in reading it. The sampler however was too short to really get a sense for the direction of the plot, other than it being set in a post-apocalyptic world where the vast majority of the population has been wiped out to a devastating virus. The Goodreads blurb gives a bit more information on how it follows the main character as she discovers she’s not quite as alone as she thought. It’s received mixed reviews and so I’m not sure whether I’ll continue with it.

Children of Blood and Bone – Tomi Adeyemi (March 2018)

Set in a world where the magic that Zélie remembers from her childhood no longer exists, this follows her struggle to reclaim the power that was meant to be hers whilst overcoming the rule of a king who wishes to see magic banished for good. With two main female characters who go against what is expected of them, this novel sets out to be an emotional and exhilarating read. Sadly the blurb does mention her “growing feelings for the enemy” which I’m not too keen on but regardless it sounds like it’s going to be a popular read.

A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge (October 2017)

Spirits, witchcraft, the English Civil War… yep, another dark and atmospheric novel from Frances Hardinge. Makepeace has had to learn how to block wandering spirits from possessing her in the night, but a traumatic event sees her guard lowered and as a result she unwittingly takes in the spirit of a performing bear. Having to face a new life with the family of her once-unknown father, Makepeace is tasked not only with hiding a fearsome secret but also with surviving an upcoming war. I enjoyed the sampler and would read the finished book.

Spare and Found Parts – Sarah Maria Griffin (February 2018)

This book was first published in the US last October and so I was already reasonably interested in it. Following an electromagnetic pulse that wiped out a large proportion of the population, the majority of survivors all now live with some form of prosthetic. The main character Nell is different in that her prosthetic is on the inside – a mechanical heart that causes her to tick like a clock. Her father is a renowned scientist who was instrumental in providing the prosthetic limbs her society relies upon, and so she faces a great amount of pressure to live up to him. Unsure how she can contribute, one day she stumbles across a mannequin’s hand and comes up with the idea of building a companion complete with an AI system, a dangerous idea given that advanced technology is greatly feared. I won’t be rushing out to buy the book next year but it was a good enough read.

The Language of Thorns – Leigh Bardugo (September 2017)

I was lucky to win sampler 1 of 30 of this collection of fairytales set in the Grishaverse. Apparently three of the six short stories the finished book will contain have already featured in Leigh’s previous novels, but as I’ve only read the Six of Crows duology reading The Witch of Duva (the story featured in the sampler) was new to me. It was a slightly creepy story that felt very much like someone was actually narrating it to me. I liked how a little bit more is added to the border illustration every time you turn the page, culminating in a full double-spread image at the end of the story. Fans of the Grishaverse will want to add this to their collection.

Fire Lines – Cara Thurlbourn (September 2017)

This sampler took me completely by surprise with how much I enjoyed it. The world consists of four cities and it is within the city of Nhatu that the story begins. Divided into four colour-coded hierarchical quarters, Émi and her mother have recently been downgraded to the poorest quarter after her father committed a crime. An extremely controlling council ‘keeps it’s citizens safe’ from the evil magick that apparently destroyed the three other cities, and so when Émi discovers that magick is in her blood she must go on the run to escape the council and find out what really exists outside Nhatu’s walls. The sampler contained six chapters and ended just when things got even more interesting so I might have to add this to my wishlist.

Encounters – Jason Wallace (out now)

Inspired by real events, this book tells the story of six young people who claim to have witnessed a UFO landing outside their school in Zimbabwe in the 1990s. I like a bit of sci-fi and so the blurb of this had me intrigued, however I found the first witness to be so unlikable with his casual homophobia and racism that I DNF’ed the sampler one-third of the way through. Whilst reviews state that this isn’t present in the five other accounts I know that I won’t be able to get past this first chapter.

Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds (October 2017)

This novel told in verse follows fifteen-year-old Will whose older brother Shawn was killed in a gang-related gun crime two days ago. The Goodreads blurb gives a bit more information about the plot but the sampler essentially sets up what happened, how Will is feeling and what is expected of him now. It comes across as genuine and hard-hitting, however it’s not really something that interests me.

x x x

And there you have it. Eighteen mini-reviews of eighteen samplers. It’s taken me literally days to write all of this so if you’ve stuck it out to the end then congratulations. I hope that you’ve found this post useful in deciding which upcoming releases to add to your TBR pile.


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