Tuesday 31 December 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Day 6: Best YA Historical Novel and Best Non-romantic Couple

(Links to reviews to be added later)

Best YA historical

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross - I picked this up on a whim after hearing it was based on a Zola short story about ugly women hired out to make companions look more attractive, but was surprised by just how gripping it was. Full of wonderful characters and raising some interesting questions about the nature of true beauty, this is a real gem.

Debutantes In Love by Cora Harrison - Harrison follows the brilliant Debutantes with an even better book, this time focusing on just 2 of the 4 Derrington girls. Hugely romantic and capturing the time period perfectly, don't miss this.

Flappers: Diva by Jillian Larkin - Larkin ends the best historical series in recent memory on a real high note. The central trio are amazing characters, as are the various love interests, and you almost feel you're in Prohibition-era America she's such a vivid writer.

Love In Revolution by BR Collins - I can't quite summarise this coherently, but it's AMAZING.

Stormbringers by Philippa Gregory - Gregory's Order of Darkness series continues with an impressive entry following on from the enjoyable Changeling. Much of the brilliance here is the wonderful relationship between the quartet at the centre.

Best non-romantic couple

Daisy and Poppy in Debutantes in Love by Cora Harrison - I was originally taken aback by Harrison's decision to make these two the focus of her second Debutantes novel, after the first featured all four Derringtons quite heavily. However, it pays off because the relationship between the two is so strong.

Ellie and Grace in The Summer of Telling Tales by Laura Summers - These two narrators, both blossoming in different ways after they and their mother run away from their abusive father, are a fabulous pair.

Evie and The Dragon in The Bone Dragon by Alexia Casale - Casale's phenomenal thriller is full of twists and turns, and even after the end I was still guessing about some things. The relationship between Evie and the dragon, who comes to life after he's carved out of her rib, is fascinating.

Isaiah and Noah in Crash Into You by Katie McGarry - I was ever so slightly disappointed by Dare You To, McGarry's first companion novel to Pushing The Limits, mainly because these two didn't feature in it too heavily. I was thrilled to find out we'd be getting Isaiah's story in book 3 and it definitely didn't disappoint - it's a stunning book overall, but the brother-like relationship between him and Noah is one of the real highlights. (As is the surprising friendship between rich girl Rachel and drug dealer Abby, who could have easily taken a place on the list themselves if I didn't feel giving two places to one book was perhaps overkill.)

Maggie and Roux in Spy Society by Robin Benway - I thought the way this pair grew to become firm friends was brilliantly done. I've seen a few comments this year that strong friendships between teen girls are rare in YA - I'm not sure I'd agree with that overall, but I don't think there's many that are this strong.

Monday 30 December 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Day 5: Best Speculative YA Novel and Best Main Character (Male)

Best YA Speculative Fiction

No plot summary for fear of spoiling the first two, but Hill's vampire story, following the descendants of characters from Dracula, continues to be superb - and with Gallagher Girls, Wereworld and GONE all finishing this year, this is almost certainly my favourite ongoing series, having been neck and neck with those three for the last two years. I'm hugely excited about the release of book 4 in 2014! Hill writes epic tales with extremely strong characters and great twists and turns in the plot. This is a series everyone should be reading.

Again, I can't plot summarize - apart from anything else there's so many deaths in the first five that even naming characters still left alive is probably a spoiler for the earlier ones! This has been an incredibly strong series - at least for people who have stomachs strong enough to cope with it. An excellent cast of characters and a stunning conclusion which gives a satisfying ending to some wonderful character arcs make this one to savour.

Oh, look, you can forget about plot summaries, alright? This is the first in the series - it will be followed very soon by Shadowplay (spoiler: I've read it and it's also great!) but I'm avoiding saying too much due to the big twist. That's possibly me being overcautious - the 'twist' actually gets revealed relatively early on, I spotted it even sooner, and Laura herself is hardly particularly secretive about it - but I'd rather do that than give too much away. I can probably say that this is a truly unique fantasy in the sense that it deals brilliantly with gender issues in a way extremely few books manage, while it also has a compelling plot and great characters.

EDIT: Shadowplay is apparently already out and I'm getting my release dates confused!

All Meg wanted to do was go out and create a real work of graffiti art. Then she sees a dying fox transform into a man, and pass onto her a mysterious gem, and all of a sudden she's inherited a whole new world of problems. Skulk sees its heroine plunged into a secret London, where raggedy groups of people transform into animals. The shapechangers have never got on with each other, but with a mysterious stranger trying to claim the strange gemstone Meg's forced to try to unite this ragtag bunch.

So thrilled to have got to one I can do a plot summary for! I love the way that Meg's character arc here ties in so brilliantly to her problems with her family, and this has superb world-building and strong character. I can't wait for book 2!

ANOTHER six-book series comes to an end with a stunning conclusion here. Jobling's character development has always been exceptional and that's still the case. Plus, there's just one or two loose ends left - surely we can get a couple more books out of this? Please?

Best MC (Male)

Archie, along with his interior and exterior monologues, is even more hilarious here than he is in the first in this series. Who could fail to love a hero who does Live Action Role-Playing?


This seemed to be a really strong year for main characters in books for slightly younger readers, and Dakkar is one of my very favourites. Setting out to rescue his mentor after a kidnapping, he's forced to use his wits and I love his relationship with the girl he meets here.

Jobling has created a huge amount of compelling characters in this series. I find that in some cases, that means the lead can actually get overshadowed - but Drew, heir to the throne and trying to bring peace to the kingdom of Lyssia, is so fantastically well-portrayed that this is never a concern here. A leader, a fighter, a loyal friend and a lover, Drew is amazing.

I read both of the 'Gift' books this year and am on tenterhooks waiting for book 3. Teenage Ross, trying to control his powers but struggling with his anger towards the villains and his frustration with his allies is a stunning lead.

Another fantastic MG main character, Julian 'Twerp' Twerski - writing the story of getting suspended from school in 1960's New York while trying to avoid telling his English teacher what REALLY happened - has a stunning voice. So good, I read this twice in a matter of days.

Sunday 29 December 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Day 4: Best Ending

(Slight change to plans as I'm short on time and best endings is easier to write up as I'm deliberately not saying much to avoid spoiling anything. There are 10 shortlisted because there was no way I could narrow it down to just 5!)

Best Ending

Curse of Kings by Alex Barclay -  Lots of superb twists in this one build to a brilliant climax.

Firewallers by Simon Packham - Stunning conclusion which I perhaps should have seen coming but which took me completely by surprise.

LIGHT by Michael Grant - I couldn't imagine how Grant could come up with an ending that would be satisfying and complete so many excellent character arcs over this six book series. I should have had more faith!

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell - One of the most heartwarming endings for ages. (Thought I'd done at least a mini-review of this but don't appear to have.)

The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer - Wasn't planning on having adult/NA books  in the category but this is too good not to include.

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales - Amazingly good in every respect, including a fabulous ending.

United We Spy by Ally Carter - The Gallagher Girls series roars to a phenomenal conclusion which left me with my heart in my mouth and tears rolling down my cheeks. Not my most photogenic moment, but worth it.

Wereworld: War of the Werelords by Curtis Jobling - Like Grant in LIGHT, Jobling pulls together his various strands and ties up so many character arcs perfectly. Although I still think he could get another couple of books out of the one or two loose ends left...

You Don't Know Me by Sophia Bennett - The kind of ending that made me want to turn somersaults down a crowded train carriage. (I resisted, but only just.)

Saturday 28 December 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year-Ends Day 3: Best Adult Book and Best Main Character (Female)

Best Adult Book

Bernie Rhodenbarr is just trying to make a dishonest living, breaking into museums  and apartments in a complicated scheme to get some money. Then a dead body turns up on a carpet, and - not for the first time - Ray Kirschmann, the best cop money can buy, turns to Mrs Rhodenbarr's boy for help cracking the case.

The return of Lawrence Block's wonderful burglar, Bernie Rhodenbarr, 9 years after the tenth novel in the series, was my most-anticipated book release for an awfully long time. It is an absolute pleasure to report that the character has lost none of his charm, Block's writing is as superb as ever, and the plot is as ingenious as in any of the previous 10. I read this in one sitting within 24 hours of it being released - and that was on Christmas Day!

Kendall Bettencourt, at the age of just 19, has become one of Hollywood's hottest properties, but is missing her best friend Payton. Flying the other girl out to keep her company in LA and help teach her music seems like a sensible thing to do. But Payton's realised she thinks of Kendall as more than a friend - does Kendall feel the same way about her, and can their feelings survive the craziness of Hollywood life?

My new favourite New Adult book ever, edging out Tammara Webber's Easy, this is a brilliant romance which benefits from nearly every character in it being really likeable and sympathetic. It also has incredible chemistry between the two narrators.


The Other Typist is set in 1920s New York City, with Prohibition at its height and Rose Baker, an orphaned young woman, working as a police typist. While she has no real friends, she's good at her job and seems to have the respect of the Sergeant, whom she admires and the Lieutenant Detective, whom she's less keen on. Then a perfect storm comes into their lives, in the shape of the enchanting Odalie, and nothing will be the same again.

I'm too petrified of spoiling this absolutely exquisite book to say much about it, but it is AMAZING. From my review "I loved it. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, I loved the climax, and I loved the themes of identity, obsession, truth vs justice, and so many more. Most of all, though, I loved that it wears its literary influences - Gatsby in particular, but also others I won't mention because it's getting into spoiler territory - proudly, paying homage to some classic works."

No plot summary as it would be full of spoilers for books 1 and 2 - read the linked review at your own risk - but the best adult fantasy series for several years just keeps getting better and better. It's a sprawling epic centred on a wonderful quartet of main characters, including one of the most fascinating I've read all year.

Theodora Atwell is torn away from her much-loved brother at the age of 15, to be sent far from her home in Florida to Yonahlossee, where she's to have a fresh start after a mysterious event she blames herself for. Set in the 1930s to the backdrop of the Depression, we follow Thea as she tries to navigate her new surroundings and come to terms with the damage she's caused to her family.

While this is slowly-paced, to say the least, it builds up to a stunning climax and it's also beautifully written. Not necessarily one for everyone, but deserves to be in my top 5 because of just much the ending affected me.

Best Main Character (Female)

This is a stunning novel for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest of its strengths is the way that debut author Skilton creates such a compelling portrayal of a girl struggling to come to terms with her disillusionment with something that defined her life. Imogen starts to fall apart when she freezes during an armed robbery, blaming herself for being able to disarm the gunman - and save his life - using tae kwon do. Her problems in the aftermath of the incident make her hugely sympathetic.

Tarzan has always been an enjoyable read, but the Savage Lands is a class above the first two in the series. I think the main reason it's so wonderful is that it firmly establishes Jane as someone who's developed from a plucky girl in book 1 to a resourceful, loyal and generally awesome young woman in this book.

Jess - a tough girl thrown into an awful situation, as she's taken to the remote (and, frankly, weird) community of Dawdlers to escape publicity surrounding her father's suspension from work - is perhaps the incredibly consistent Simon Packham's best character yet. She has a fantastic voice and her struggle to adjust to life in the Dawdlers is a fascinating read.

Meg - bullied by a horrendous mother because she's size sixteen and doesn't fit into the woman's idea of the image she's trying to protect - is an amazing character. At the start of Skulk, she's only interested in creating a work of graffiti art, but she ends up seeing a dying fox transform into a man and he passes the power to shapeshift onto her. With a mysterious stranger threatening the shapeshifters, Meg takes the lead role in trying to unite various ragtag groups, and her character development as she does this is absolutely wonderful.

I love talking/writing about You Don't Know Me because it's a breathtakingly brilliant book. I also kinda hate talking/writing about it because I think part of its strength is how unpredictable it is and I definitely don't want to do anything to spoil that. However Sasha's character arc is completely wonderful and I love that she has real flaws that she struggles to overcome. I know that's vague, but if you haven't already read this, GET IT NOW!

Friday 27 December 2013

YA Yeah Yeah Year Ends Day 2: Best Pre-2013 Read and Best Supporting Character (Female)

Best pre-2013 book I only read this year

Paul is gay, and confident in his sexuality. With a loving, supportive family, he doesn't have to hide his feelings. Life seems pretty good to him - but falling in love can change everything.

This was the first solo effort from Levithan that I've read - I've come to his work shamefully late. I was somewhat surprised to find that the setting was a rather idealised one - ten years ago, when this book was first released, a town where there was so little prejudice against LGBT people must have seemed even more far off than it does today. However, the contrast between Paul's town and his friend Tony's town, where attitudes are less enlightened, works really well, and overall this is hugely heartwarming.

The City's Son by Tom Pollock

Set in a version of London with supernatural elements added, The City's Son sees Beth Bradley stumble into a secret city where the ghosts of trains rush around, and glass-skinned dancers light the streets.

I've read lots of good fantasy recently, but this stands out as one of the best at melding the protagonist's 'normal' problems to the fantasy world she finds herself involved in. It's notable for exceptionally strong character arcs for several characters - Beth herself, her father and her best friend all develop brilliantly. If anything, my one issue with this one is that I think I would probably have enjoyed it even more if I'd read it fifteen years ago when I was younger and had more of an imagination 

On December 8th, 1980, a quartet of musicians record an album in the ruins of a haunted abbey. Tragedy strikes, and they split up, deciding never to work together again. Fourteen years later, they're persuaded to return to confront the evil they discovered - but can they find a way to stop it?

I wasn't planning on including adult novels in this line-up, but Rickman's super-creepy horror is far too good to leave out. I reviewed it for the Bookbag as it was reissued in December. It took me about two weeks to read and another week to review because I didn't want to a) read it after 9 o'clock at night or b) think about it after 9 o'clock at night. It is by some way the most terrifying reading experience I've had in many, many years, but it's brilliantly written and has fantastic characters. Read at your own risk though, and don't blame me for nightmares!

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

Zoe has a terrible secret that she can't bring herself to confess to anyone. She comes up with an ingenious way of sharing it with somebody... but will it help her ease her guilt?

Having avoided this as I wasn't a big fan of My Sister Lives On The Mantelpiece, I was blown away when I finally read it. Narrator Zoe, who feels responsible for the death of a boy, is an outstanding character, while the central concept here as 15-year-old Zoe unburdens herself of her guilty secret by writing to a convicted murderer on Texas's Death Row is riveting. As she tells both her story and his, her voice is superb.

Sparks: The Epic, Completely True Blue, (Almost) Holy Quest of Debbie by SJ Adams

Debbie has a crush on Lisa, her best friend. She can't bring herself to tell her this - but then the school's most boring guy takes a shine to Lisa, and Debbie realises that if she can't confess her feelings, she might lose all hope of a relationship with her friend.

I have a real soft spot for books set completely or mostly in the course of one day, and this one is a new favourite of mine. Debbie's support for her journey, Emma and Tim - founder members of the Church of Blue - are engaging characters and the relationships at the heart of the book are really believable. This deserves to be much better known than it is (at least in the UK - not sure if it's more popular over in the States.) The constant references to TV show Full House probably work better if you've seen it, or have some idea of what it is, but as someone who just vaguely recognised the title, I managed to fill in the gaps as much as needed. Definitely worth checking out!

Best Supporting Character (Female)

One of my favourite types of character is the 'nice' stepmother and lawyer Annabel is absolutely wonderful in both GG books  - particularly the first, where she has a bigger part to play. One of the scenes between her and main character Harriet nearly made me cry at just how lovely she was.

The ultra-speedy, ultra-cocky young girl is perhaps my favourite character in a series jam-packed with wonderful ones. I really love the way that despite her powers, she's recognisable as a pre-teen girl forced to grow up far too fast due to the horrific situation she's been plunged into.

Katie, the autistic sister of lead character Holly - who's forced to move into a witness protection scheme with her family after seeing a crime take place - is a stunning creation. Jarratt portrays a young child struggling to cope with several moves across the country - difficult for anyone her age, but a nightmare for someone with autism - superbly.

As mentioned yesterday, Westy is an utterly wonderful character in this book. Lily is even better. Truly loyal, fabulously friendly, and completely lacking in anything approaching common sense, she's steals the scene every time she's on the page. (And stealing the scene from a narrator as brilliant as Faith should be difficult!) Plus, there's some surprisingly deep insights from her at times - when you think about it, it IS weird that all the water in the sea doesn't wash away their fishy smell...

While I think Carriger's male characters tend to be better-written than the female ones in the Finishing School series, the two exceptions are lead Sophronia and her 10-year-old tomboy friend Vieve. Vieve - niece of a school teacher but far more interested in machines and adventures than she's meant to be - is an absolutely glorious character.

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