Friday 29 June 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Monsters of Men', Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2010)

"War," says the Mayor. "At last." Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they're so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await? But then a third voice breaks into the battle, one bent on revenge. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Confession time - I don't think I've have had a swifter, more impulsive purchase on my Kindle than this book. I was about two thirds of the way through The Ask and the Answer and I just knew my head would be a complete mess until I finished Monsters of Men as fast as humanly possible. 

Monsters of Men (Chaos Walking, #3)Blimey, these books really get under your skin. I can't think of another series that has had this strange an effect on my brain - every morning I would pass the ducks and the dogs in the park and I swear I could hear the conversations they were having.

But we're not here to talk about the trilogy. OK, I will be talking about the trilogy in a bit. But I'll give a bit of attention to Monsters of Men first seeing as this is, in fact, a review of Monsters of Men.

OK, it goes with out saying there's going to be a few spoilers in this review. *sounds spoiler alarm*

I'm not going to even attempt to write it without them. But not too many spoilers. Pinky promise.

Well, where do I start? At the beginning is a good as place as any, I suppose. We left Todd and Viola as they had victory almost within their grasp. But this is Ness we're talking about here, and heart-wrenching destruction was only just around the corner. Of course it was. I don't know why I bothered building up my hopes. If you thought the battles in The Ask and the Answer were hair-pullingly intense, then you're in for a post-read trip to the hairdressers with this one. The first half of this novel is stuff to the brim with action. STUFFED I TELL YOU. Which leads me onto the little niggle I had with this one...even though the writing was, yet again, spot on perfection, it just felt like we were going over old territory just a little bit...

Todd and Viola get separated...Todd and Viola have doubts about each other....another battle....bit more angst...reunited but not quite...oh, she's off again...more battles...right, OK then.

I just felt, as a reader, I been through these same emotional upheavals in their relationship in the previous book and I wanted them to move on. Which they did, eventually, but I just wanted them to get there a bit sooner.

Now let's talk about the rather large change in this book. The third narrative. I have mixed feelings about our Spackle friend, The Return, so I'm just going to partake in an unabashed bout of fence sitting here. In one way, he is a masterstroke - his voice is so unique and makes a great contrast with the angsty, impulsive Todd and the rational Viola. His point of view is vital to the story, but, BUT, having invested so much emotion (honestly, I was drained by the time I started this book) in Todd and Viola's story, part of me just wanted The Return to hurry up so I could get back to the other two. So, there you go. Fence sitting. 

The two villains from the second book take two very different paths here. Whereas the Mayor gets to build on his moustache-twirling, chief insurgent Mistress Coyle was a bit underused - she was such a fascinating character in The Ask and the Answer and I was a bit disappointed to have her take a bit of a back seat in this one.

I will not say anything about the ending. 

Ok, I will. 


I would never have thought it possible for an ending to be so horrifically horrific and heart-breaking and soul-destroying at the same time as being hopeful, so warm and fuzzy, so bloody brilliant.

You see, he breaks your heart and then he solders it back together again. WITH WORDS. The man is a genius.

Look, just read it, alright? Just read them, I should say. 

The best series of books I've ever read. End of.

Friday 22 June 2012

YA REVIEW - 'The Ask and the Answer' - Patrick Ness (Walker Books, 2009)

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor's new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode... (Synopsis from Goodreads)

At the time of writing this, I've only just finished this book. But, just SO MANY FEELINGS, I think that I at least have to start this review right now to do the book any justice. If you haven't read the first novel in the Chaos Walking series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, I would strongly recommend you go read it right this second. And you can also read my review, just to fully immerse yourself in the world of Ness.

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)So we last left Todd and Viola at the end of a gripping a violent chase towards the hopeful sanctuary of Haven, only to be met by the rifle of Davy Prentiss. And with Viola's life hanging in the balance, is Haven all they had hoped it would be?

Well - LEAST SHOCKING SPOILER IN THE WORLD ALERT - no, it isn't. Of course it isn't. Heck, we're only at the start of the second book of the trilogy, guys. We couldn't expect possibly the cutest sort-of couple in the world of YA to live happliy ever after just yet, could we?

Can I just talk about Todd and Viola for a bit? The bond that they formed in the first book is intensified, as everything they were running towards is ripped apart in the first half of this book. This is a YA romance like no other. In that it's not really a romance. Or maybe it's not just a romance. You're never allowed to forget how young they are, especially Todd with his sheltered perceptions, and the strength of feeling between them is clearly something that they can't fully comprehend, but can just feel. If this sort of bond was transferred to a contemporary tale, they would have so many hang ups about what each other thought, what other people think of them and each other, but here, it's just so powerful and overriding, and the writing is just beautiful. I just love them so much! But Ness really puts them through the mill here, in more ways than one. I was cursing him on many an occasion whilst reading this, but all these trials just makes the realtionship so much more moving.

This book is in very different territory to the first one. Although both are fast paced and exciting, this is so much more complex and thought-provoking. Mainly due to the introduction of a dual-narrative. This is the first time we get a glimpse inside Viola's thoughts and everything is so much more richer for it. Where Todd struggles to articulate his feelings and understanding of the situations he finds himself in, Viola is a reliable, intelligent narrator. I'm a big fan of the dual narrative, but, more often than not, I find myself preferring one narrator over the other and itching to get back to their tale, with the other perspective just dragging the story along. Not so here. The plot is tight, with both sides interweaving and tightening together like a rope that's being pulled to breaking point. Todd is well, Todd. You just feel everything with him, every blast of pain, every furrowed brow, every scrap and punch up. I LOVE TODD.

The world that we were introduced to in the first book is carefully built upon with new locations and characters added to the mix, all complex, believable, flawed. You name it, they've got a chip on their shoulder about it. And it is here we fully get to witness a villain of truly awesome proportions. Not content with showing blatant evil and ego rolled into one, we get an insight as to how a good person can fall under the spell of a tyrant. Frightening stuff.

I won't say too much about the plot, just that it raises so many questions and issues about morality and maturity. Yes, I rate a plot in terms of how much it makes my brain hurt (in a good way). This book = top hurty brain rating from Anna.

This is a blinding read. Blinding. I really enjoyed The Knife of Never Letting Go, but this just pushes the story and the writing up to a whole other level.

Astonishingly good.

Keep you eyes peeled for my review of Monsters of Men. Coming (fairly) soon...

Wednesday 20 June 2012

It's International Short Story Day!

On the shortest night of the year (20th June) (today) (or tonight, even) is International Short Story Day...

Short Circuit: A Guide To The Art Of The Short Story (Salt Guides For Readers And Writers)Now, I've been a pondering for a little while about doing some thing short story related on the blog. As I explained in my last YA Confessions post, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to encourage myself to read and write more. and ever since I started the whole writing experiment, short stories have been at the forefront of my mind. They're a natural starting point for any new writer - when I first started out (not that long ago), I made the very stupid mistake of assuming that the shortness of them would naturally make them easier to write.
WRONG. The short story is still a literary nut I've yet to successfully crack and I find it utterly fascinating when people get it so, so right. If you've yet to come across an amazing short story, I urge you to seek one out. In some ways, it is so much more impressive when a writer can engage and astound with so few words.

Which brings me onto why I am writing this post... Actually, sorry, I'm going to digress AGAIN. Bear with me, it is all related, I promise....

I've been a bit worried about how much reading and writing I'm going to get done over the summer holidays. With the kids being with me 24-7, all my work has to be crammed into the evenings, which means blogging gets shunted to the back of the queue *apologises to blog* *strokes blog* *pats blog on the head*. However, with all this pondering about short stories, I got to thinking THEY'RE SHORT. THEY TAKE LESS TIME TO READ THAN THOSE BOOK THINGS. I WILL HAVE LESS TIME... Do you see where I'm going with this one....?
Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories
Well, let me introduce you to Short Story Summer...

Over July and August, I'm going to do some posts about the short stories I love, maybe dig out a few new ones, chat to some short story writers, just anything short story related, really.

And I would like you to join me - if you fancy doing any short story reviews in the next few months, either as a guest post or on your own blog, we could all link arms together and celebrate the shortness of the stories. And have many larfs and larks and the like.

Ok, so in my quest for less stuff to do, I appear to have given myself more things to do. Oh well...
Anyway, I'm not that good at planning stuff, so it will all be very ad hoc. Just let me know if you want to take part....

So, celebrate International Short Story Day by reading one, maybe even writing one if you're feeling particularly motivated. And keep your eyes peeled for my first Short Story Summer post, coming soon to a neglected blog near you...

Sunday 17 June 2012

YA REVIEW - 'Kill All Enemies', Melvin Burgess (Penguin, 2011)

14-year-old Billie has managed to alienate nearly everyone who has ever meant anything to her - her mother, her foster parents, her friends. Rob has been labelled a bully, but is struggling to cope with a violent stepfather and absent mother. Chris is always quick with a smart remark but struggles at school and has his parents putting pressure on him to change his ways. When they end up at the Brandt Pupil Referral Unit, care worker Hannah tries to help them overcome their problems. But is it too late for one of them?

I ashamed to admit that I'd never actually picked up a Melvin Burgess book before this one. Which is a terrible, terrible thing as he a lord of UKYA and in particular, the sort of YA that I love reading - contemporary, angsty, hormone-fuelled pages that drip with ISSUES and RAGE and FURROWED BROWS.

Kill All EnemiesAnd even though I've got two of his books sitting on my shelf already, just waiting to be devoured, I wanted this to be my First Melvin Burgess. Why? I was just attracted to everything about it - teenagers on the fringes of society, the fantastic title, the RAAAHHHH cover, the split narratives (love a great split narrative). It all sounded brilliant.

Mmmm, well. Yes, umm...

It's not that I didn't like it. Because I did. There are so many things to commend it - it is an ambitious, controversial subject he tackles here and it could so easily have fallen apart and just become one big messy old mess. I'm sometimes weary of books that wear their issues on their sleeves - it can be so easy to simplify and trivialise these things and it takes a writer of great skill to do these characters justice. And I'm pleased to say that Mr. burgess does just that.

He doesn't choose to tackle only one 'problem' teenager, but three. On the surface, these kids, especially Billie, wouldn't garner much sympathy from most - from the first page, the reader is treated to an onslaught of her violent, unpredictable temper. But all three are allowed to tell their own story in a convinving voice. From Billie, who struggles to articulate her emotions  through any way, other than with her fists, shy, frustrated Rob and, my personal favourite, Chris - quick-witted and smart but stubborn to the point of you really want to shove his head through a wall on a number of occasions. He provides some much needed and very welcome comic relief. And his logic is oddly convincing, especially when putting his arguments forward about exactly why he shouldn't be doing any homework

Even if you are stupid enough to want to go to uni and run up massive debts, why not wait until you're nineteen or twenty? You don't even have to do all those stupid A-levels then. You can do a nice, easy, one-year access course and get in almost for free because you're a grown-up. Why bust a gut doing it he hard way now, when you can do it the easy way, just by waiting a few years?

But like I said before, it's an ambitious book and he doesn't always pull it off. So much happens in not that many words and some scenes which I would consider important, are glossed over. The time span here was very confusing. With one character we are given the impression that several days, maybe weeks, have past, then we move back to another and it only feels like hours, yet the story lines tally up. One particularly harrowing and disturbing incident involving Billie is given particularly short shrift - the situation that she finds herself in is possibly one of the most terrifying any young girl, or woman, could be in, but the whole incident feels so rushed. I would have loved a bit more insight into Billie's thoughts and feelings - she was such a complex character, I just felt a bit cheated out of really 'getting' her.

And you know when you want two characters to get together but clearly the author has entirely different ideas? That's really annoying, right? Well, it happened here for me. I won't give anything away, but I reckon he really missed a trick on that one.

Now I come to the sticking point which really prevented me from enjoying this book completely. Dividing the narrative between three - good job well done. He's a talented writer and he manages it here, apart from the points I've mentioned already. But adding a fourth perspective into the mix? It might have worked if it had provided any genuine insight and had been an engaging character, but care worker Hannah only succeeded in making me get a major case of character RAGE. Her holier than thou, condescending tone just annoyed the shit out of me to be honest. Was she supposed to annoy and infuriate? I don't know, I really don't. I'm guessing her narrative was there to provide an informed, outsider's opinion on these kids and some sort of explanation as to why they behave like they do. But, honestly, I think the author did a good job of conveying these points to the reader through the kids perspective...and would have done an even better job if he used the words he wasted on Hannah and gave us a bit more Billie, Rob and Chris.

If I were to meet a Hannah in real life I suspect I would have a strong urge to do a Billie on her. Ok, maybe just roll my eyes at her a lot.

And the close bond she was supposed to have with Billie, which felt like the whole reason for the inclusion of her perspective, was never properly explained - we are told that she loves her, but without putting this in context, it just felt a bit,,,meh.

I can't not mention the ending - MINOR SPOILER ALARM. OK MAYBE NOT ALARM, MORE LIKE LITTLE TINKLING BELL - would everything really be tied up so neatly, all thanks to the power of death metal? And why the rush to the end? Before I knew it, everyone was all smiles (or as smiley as you can be screaming metal into a mic), and I was thumbing back through the pages, convinced I'd  missed a major plot point.

I feel very strongly, VERY STRONGLY, that these sorts of stories have to be written and need to be told and this book does it extremely well indeed. Just more of the brilliant characters and less of the daft music story lines and MUCH LESS of annoying care workers called Hannah who like to point out the bleeding obvious.

So less is more. Or is that more is more? I'm confused. But I can say with absolute certainty that I will be working my way through Mr. Burgess's back catalogue in the next few months. *picks up copy of Doing It* *gasps* *clutches pearls*

Friday 8 June 2012

MY YA CONFESSIONS #2 - I'm a YA Blogging Dabbler

You may have noticed my posting frequency has not be very, well, frequent as of late. That old mistress, time, has been eating away at my schedule (HA! like I have a 'schedule') and all that stuff they call life has been getting in the way of blogging business. And sometimes, well, I don't think I class myself as a YA blogger proper and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Let me explain...

I've been having a bit of a dilemma of late - should I be continuing with this blogging lark? I'm not as committed to it as most and my plan was to always put more effort and time into it eventually to make it a proper 'YA book blog' with all the memes and wotnot, but now it's come to a point where, at the moment I just cannot spare the time - children, work, WIP, more work, a bit of study thrown in. And I really, really hate making excuses that start with 'but I don't have the time', because, if you really want to do something, you make the time, right? Which brings me back to my dilemma - maybe I don't want to do the blogging thing enough, and that is why I am letting it slide.

So I thought about the reasons why I started it in the first place - I really didn't have any clue about the world of YA blogging at about this time last year. I just enjoyed writing reviews and wanted to discuss the books I love with other bookish folk. I'd started writing a few YA-themed short stories and wanted to give myself a project to get reading more YA. And by this, I mean a solid diet of YA. And by this I mean mainly contemporary YA, because that is what I enjoy reading and writing the most. And I guess, in the last 12 months, I've ticked all these boxes. So why do I want to stop this - just because it's not something that I think it should be?

A few weeks back, I was determined to start a new all-singing, all-dancing blog. I would post at least one review a week, I would do memes, and would make a proper effort to get more followers. And then I thought, well, what's wrong with what I've got now. It brings a smile to my face, it gets me reading and writing, and I get to read all these fantastic blogs by you lot, and remain in awe that you all manage to make them so blinkin' brilliant.

So yes, I'm not sure if I would call myself a YA 'blogger'. But I'm a blogging dabbler and proud. And that is what I will continue to be. For the time being, anyway..