Thursday, 24 September 2015

'Take Back The Skies' Review

'Take Back The Skies' by Lucy Saxon
Review by Laura Ashforth


Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya. She's one of the privileged; she has luxurious clothes, plenty to eat, and is protected from the Collections which have ravaged families throughout the land. But Catherine longs to escape the confines of her life, before her dad can marry her off to a government brat and trap her forever.

So Catherine becomes Cat, pretends to be a kid escaping the Collections, and stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind and brave the storms that fill the skies around the islands of Tellus, Cat's world becomes more turbulent than she could ever have imagined, and dangerous secrets unravel her old life once and for all . . .

For a debut author, Lucy Saxon's first book is pretty good. She certainly has a lot of potential which I’m sure will improve as she writes more.

The plot of TBTS is fairly good, it has a dystopian, ‘overthrow a terrible government’ feel to it but different and in a completely new world. However, at the start of the book, Cat’s objective is to escape her life, but we don’t get enough detail on it to know exactly what she’s escaping from; she dislikes her father, but doesn’t every teenager at some point? And her mother is ill; doesn’t she mind abandoning her? I felt it needed more on her father's cruel behaviour so that she felt forced to leave rather than seeming like a stroppy runaway.

After Cat leaves, there is too big a gap in the plot where nothing really happens. She just lives happily on the Stormdancer with nothing building in the background and you wonder what the rest of the story is going to be about. It leaves you bored just waiting for the plot to pick up.

Once things do pick up, sometimes you’re left thinking, really? The main characters have snuck in to a secret government building and to avoid being caught hide in a cupboard, where they begin talking. Surely, they couldn’t be at all surprised when they’re shortly after discovered and hauled out?

The characters, I think, could’ve been better developed with more stand-out, individual characteristics compared to the stereotypical enigmatic male with a dark past he doesn’t wish to speak of. He didn’t seem different to past heroes. The heroine was a typical, stubborn girl who wants to escape her life and ends up falling in love with the first boy she encounters. 

The language was unnatural and forced almost. The dialogue just didn’t flow but seemed disjointed; it needed to be more conversational.

The world building was good; Lucy has built an odd and new world with opportunity for later books set in it. It was easy to slip into the world and imagine it and want to be aboard the Stormdancer. 

The end of the book I feel isn’t satisfying; you’re left hanging and angry. After finishing, I liked that the end was different and sort of angered me because it made it stand out but I felt saddened by it in an already quite dark book. It didn’t change and end lightly, which was surprising. 
Rating: 3/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ 

Laura is a blogger who started reviewing for the Guardian’s Children website before starting her own blog and joining the YAfictionados. She loves to read everything and anything though fantasy is her favourite (probably, she thinks, because of her childhood love of The Lord of the Rings). Her favourite books include the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas.

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Laura Ashforth

Thursday, 17 September 2015

'The Art of Being Normal' Review


'The Art of Being Normal' by Lisa Williamson
Review by Sarah Nuttall


David Piper is a fourteen-year old boy who has kept a secret for years. A secret that makes him feel different, scared and alone, yet the implications of revealing the secret could shatter David’s world. For David knows that he is a girl in a boy’s body, he has known for years and the secret is slowly weighing him down to the point where he feels he is drowning. Leo also has a secret, one that he would prefer to keep hidden from the world and has switched schools to hide. Leo knows this secret could shatter his new life so he keeps people at bay. However, when the mysterious Leo befriends David to protect him from being bullied, they both recognise that each is holding onto a secret. This friendship allows both David and Leo to take the first steps into the adult world allowing them to understand themselves and offering them acceptance, independence, love and happiness. 


The Art of Being Normal is the debut novel from Lisa Williamson and based simply on the quality of this debut, I have high expectations of what wonders she will bring to the YA genre. Although this book wants to discuss the wider issues of the LGBT community, it is secondary to creating memorable, original and well-crafted characters that I loved spending time with. I felt like I could identify with all the characters in the book despite not facing the same challenges and obstacles in my life. The book is so beautifully written that I cried several times and for days afterwards, I thought about the characters and the world they inhabited. I raved about this book to anyone who would listen that that they needed to read this book as I wanted to share the brilliance with everyone and discuss the issues raised.

I absolutely adored this book and think it is one of the most important YA books of the last ten years and marks a milestone in the understanding and reflection of an important issue in the LGBT community. Its central character is aware he is transgender and is viewing his options for transitioning to become, on the outside, a reflection of who David is on the inside. It is the first book I’ve read in YA that contains characters that are transgender and are at different stages of their transitioning and I hope it opens a door for further books on the subject. It eloquently depicts the wide-ranging issues that the transgender community face and how challenging this can be in the context of high school.

I find the high school setting to be one of the book's greatest strengths. There is nothing scarier in the world to a teenager than the loss of routine (school-life and home-life), friends and family and David’s secret has the potential to shatter them all. The fear that to become who David truly is, might cause those he loves to turn their back on him and destroy not only his home-life but also school-life, is a truly terrible possibility; one that would strike fear into the hearts of all teenagers and a fear David lives with daily. It is incredibly difficult to be unique in high school where the pressure to conform to the status quo is overwhelming. David’s choice is incredibly brave and moving and it is a pleasure to follow David on his journey. I do not want to go too deeply into the challenges David faces as the route David takes is unexpected and thrilling and I found the book was far more emotionally thrilling and unpredictable the less I knew. What I can say about this book is that it is a character-driven story and rich in plot with unexpected twists and turns that are believable and allow our characters to discover more about themselves.

The transgender/transitioning is a major plot point of The Art of Being Normal and it is treated with the upmost respect, love and understanding rather than being used for shock value or to sensationalise. The book is also realistic in portraying that there is still ignorance within society with the concept of transgender and transitioning and that this is not the end for David; there will be more challenges to face; more adversity to overcome. It is for this reason alone thatThe Art of Being Normal deserves the acclaim it has received. It has shined a light into a community that is under-represented by the media and society at large and often misunderstood. It also highlights the dangers the community faces from this ignorance, even though this year has seen several high-profile members of the transgender community speak out about their experiences such as Caitlyn Jenner and the development of the first Miss Transgender UK however there is still too much work to be done.

In the US alone this year, 17 transgender women have been murdered which is more than the entirety of the previous year. Acts of violence against the transgender community are not rare. Transphobia is real. According to the American Psychological Association, transgender children are likelier to face harassment and bullying than their peers and ¾ of transgender children reported feeling unsafe. It is a sobering thought that children can feel unsafe simply because of their sexual identity. The Art of Being Normal is therefore not only a well crated novel with a message but a book that can provide a little hope for the future whether it is allowing transgender children to feel less alone or providing non-transgender children a glimpse into a world they don’t know but the more we understand, the better a world we can make for everyone.

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Sarah Nuttall

Sarah is an active contributor for the YAfictionados blog site. She has written posts for the Waterstones blog and has worked as a bookseller (for 9 years), a Children's bookseller (for 6 years) and is now a manager at her local bookstore. Needless to say, Sarah is a valued member of the YAfictionados team - a true Children's and YA literature expert.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Why We Need Diverse Books #DiverseYA

"We need diversity in YA books as books themselves represented life, they reflect our worlds around us whether the setting is dystopian, fantastical, historical or real-life through the characters, their emotions and their choices. Books that choose to ignore diversity despite relevance to their story do not reflect life but a diluted, unrealistic and forced perspective that limits characters and their choices not allowing the characters the chance to fulfil their potential. Instead the story becomes secondary to the authors own personal beliefs and attitudes. It becomes a sermon rather than a story allowing neither reader nor author to develop from the book. As reflecting diversity can be challenging and challenging books are not always popular, high-grossing or beloved it’s not always the obvious choice to reflect diversity even though it is the right choice.

Books that do embrace diversity allow their characters a rich character arc and emotional connection, whilst also bringing to light issues that affect the world and society. They allow us to empathise, learn and understand the characters and their situation and develop from an experience we may otherwise have little understanding of. Diversity allows books to reflect the world and from that we can understand the world embracing the differences that make us great and increasing our understanding of this complex and beautiful world."

Sarah Nuttall (@CapturingSarah)

"Diversity is about representing our generation. There's strength in all of us and we deserve to see that in characters that we will love but ones that will also challenge our perceptions of the world we live in. I deserve to be represented; you deserve to be represented; we all deserve to be represented. Race, age, sexuality, gender, taboo issues (rape, suicide, depression etc.) should all be talked about. They are real issues, often real problems, and they need to be highlighted. Without diversity, we will be left with husk stories and vapid characters. We not only need diverse books, we DESERVE diverse books. The most important thing is that, you, YES YOU, reading this: if you want to see diverse books then you need champion and support them.
Christopher Moore (@yablooker)

"I think it's important to have #DiverseYA so that people from all races, sexualities, genders etc. can feel represented and confident in themselves that they are accepted. Diverse books help diverse people to realise that, despite what anyone says, they are normal. And that it's okay to be who you are. I think without diverse books, particularly in YA, where teens struggling with various problems will look for comfort, the social situation would be very much worse. Books help us to understand one another and without them, I really don't know where we'd be."
Georgina Howlett (@thereaderrunt)




'Because You'll Never Meet Me'

'Because You'll Never Meet Me' by Leah Thomas
Review by Christopher Moore

Ollie and Moritz are two teenagers who will never meet. Each of them lives with a life-affecting illness. Contact with electricity sends Ollie into debilitating seizures, while Moritz has a heart defect and is kept alive by an electronic pacemaker. If they did meet, Ollie would seize, but turning off the pacemaker would kill Moritz.

Through an exchange of letters, the two boys develop a strong bond of friendship which becomes a lifeline during dark times - until Moritz reveals that he holds the key to their shared, sinister past, and has been keeping it from Ollie all along.
Because You'll Never Meet Me is an incredibly touching story told between two boys who will never meet because Ollie, repels electricity and it repels him, and Moritz requires a pacemaker to live. The story is told in a letter narrative, mostly, between the two boys and is an intimate form of writing that lets us see both characters, their relationship and so much more.
I would have liked a little more character differentiation between Ollie and Moritz. Sometimes the lexicons feel quite similar but overall, Thomas has produced a magnificent story with endearing characters (admittedly, Ollie being the most charismatic and bubbly) that reveals so much about human nature, love, friendship and family. It's not without its highs and its lows but ultimately, it's a long-distance journey that changes both boys for the better.
The LGBT element is subtle and this is a perfect example of where LGBT representation can be prominent without it being centre-stage and completely taking over the story. Yes, the story does cover LGBT issues but it's not a LGBT story. It cannot be pigeon-holed as such because it is a compelling and deeply touching story that encompasses this but is so much more than JUST THIS. This is exactly the sort of story that we need. I would class it as a diverse book and as James Dawson commented this year at YALC, we have diverse books around us already but we need to champion and support them in order to push publishers to produce more wonderfully diverse stories. We don't just need DIVERSE books, we DESERVE them.
Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 
Christopher Moore:
Christopher is a co-founder of the YAfictionados blog and is best known as the YAblooker. He is a twenty-four year old book blogger who has previously worked in marketing and consumer insight for various publishing houses and writes in his spare time. He loves to travel and will read anything YA-related and some general fiction and fantasy.

Follow Christopher on Twitter: @YAblooker

Find Christopher on Goodreads: Christopher Moore

Follow Christopher on Instagram: @yablooker