Stop right there — if you haven’t read Rebel of the Sands, then get your ass out of here because there are spoilers abound!
Everyone says the middle book of a series is the hardest to write, and often where a series can take a downturn. Having decided to binge read the whole Rebel series this month, I can assure you that it does not suffer that fate. Instead, Alwyn Hamilton brings us an intense novel rife with deception.
Traitor to the Throne finds Amani in the middle of the rebellion, attempting to infiltrate the city of Saromatai after a number of their spies have been captured. But shortly after a thrilling escape, Amani is kidnapped and finds herself in the hands of Jin and Ahmed’s father, the Sultan. But what does he want with a demdji, and can Amani escape in one piece?
The adventure of this novel is in some ways in a lower key, but rarely does the tension let up. Hamilton makes it clear that the world of the harem is cut-throat. This is a novel of political machinations, subterfuge and danger at every turn, which makes it quite different from the guns-blazing Wild West of Rebel, but it doesn’t make it any lesser a novel.
Hamilton introduces a whole cast of new characters, and some surprisingly familiar faces (I won’t spoil who!). Luckily, she provides a character list at the very front of the novel so you can remind yourself who everyone is! I particularly loved new character Sam, a mischievous Albish defector with fae ancestry who has been posing as the Blue Eyed Bandit.
Traitor also takes a deeper dive into the mythology of Rebel’s world, bringing the stories of Hawa, The First Hero and the Djinni right to the forefront.
Traitor to the Throne is a tense, immersive novel that builds upon the furious start in Rebel of the Sands and promises an explosive ending in Hero of the Fall.
It was obvious that I was going to love this book. If you’re not familiar with Sara Barnard, let me assure you that she is a powerhouse of UKYA. Barnard’s contemporary novels rank as my favourites up with Non Pratt and Alice Oseman, and I’m always blown away by her characterisation.
Goodbye Perfect follows Eden McKinley, the “troubled” girl with average grades and a bit of a reputation. Eden and Bonnie are best friends who tell each other all their secrets, or so Eden thought. When the police suddenly appear at her house after Bonnie’s jokey messages that she’s run away, Eden starts to realise that Bonnie is gone… and she’s left with her secret boyfriend Jack. When Eden discovers Jack’s real identity as her former teacher, she struggles with what to do next — keep the secrets or betray Bonnie to the police.
Eden is another great narrator, and probably my favourite so far of Barnard’s creations. A little rough around the edges but calmed by gardening, Eden feels refreshingly different from your standard middle-class bookish narrator. I completely fell in love with her — her fears and worries feel so real.
I loved the portrayal of her relationship with long-term boyfriend Connor, a carer to his mum and a steadying influence. Barnard’s writing on sex has always been brilliantly frank, and I really like how it is discussed once again here, showing that the right time to have sex is when it feels right to the both of you.
Unlike so many other stories about student-teacher affairs, Goodbye Perfect presents the power imbalances and danger of such “romances”. It is exceptionally frank and refreshing in a world where Pretty Little Liars, for instance, romanticised such an abuse of power.
I read the book in a single sitting, as I’ve done with all her other books. The world she creates is so immersive and believable, and her strong pacing makes it easy to devour it completely, without feeling like you’ve rushed through. Goodbye Perfect is a compelling story about secrets, lies and dangerous relationships, a gripping and timely contemporary YA.
Next up from Barnard is Floored, a novel written by seven UKYA authors about the people stuck inside a lift, also from My Kinda Books.
Since my blog and poor internet connection conspired to swallow this post in the recent past, this is two weeks later than it was supposed to be. But ho hum, technology full of weasels can only get me down for so long. I was very lucky to get a spot at the Walker Books young adult preview evening for 2018. You might have caught my live tweets during the evening, but I thought I’d go into more detail here about the books in order of release date.
Settle down, because this is a multi-media presentation including several high quality book trailers. Fancy. Okay let’s go!
First up was How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, pitched as Mean Girls meets The Craft. The Salem witch trials takes the centre stage in this teen drama, plus creepiness and swoony romances and I am extremely here for this. We were reliably informed that it includes an inconveniently attractive ghost. Here’s the summary:
Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
Also it has a book trailer with surprisingly high production value, which is wild; you can watch it here. I’m fully expecting to enjoy this, based on my deep love for The Graces by Laure Eve. You can find out more about Adriana Mather herself in this intro video.
Next up was Scythe by Neal Shusterman; digital networks in place of government control life except death, which is in the hands of Scythes. The only way to die is to be gleaned by a trained Scythe. When two teenagers are chosen to be apprentice Scythes, they learn that their final task will a fight to the death. This sounds absolutely wild. I’m really lucky that Walker Books sent me a copy of this after the event, and it turns out this is the start of a series, with Thunderhead coming out in August. My immediate vibe from this is it would be really enjoyed by fans of The Bone Season or perhaps Gilded Cage. And look, another book trailer!
Landscape with Invisible Hand from M. T. Anderson continues the sci-fi theme but, slightly unusually for YA, is a novella. The story follows benevolent invasions by aliens like granite coffee tables, mixed with a lot of strange humour and explores art truth and colonisation. After the invasion goes south and Adam is left poor, he and his girlfriend Chloe decide to create a pay-to-watch tv show of 1950s style dates.
We’re also being treated to some cute recovers this year! To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy and film deal, Walker have released these stunning completely black covers. I’ve not read this series yet (I know, I know) and I’m so glad I get to start with these stunners now.
Walker have also started releasing the Magnus Bane short stories by Cassandra Clare in these cute little individual hardbacks. So far they’ve released The Midnight Heir and The Course of True Love is out this month. They’re a really cute size, pocket sized really, and would make a great gift for Cassie Clare fans. I only just started reading her books last year, but beautiful queer Magnus is basically the reason I read them.
All of those are already out, so now it’s time to get hyped for the future releases!
Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughran has been on my radar for the last few months, simply because queer romance is what I’ve been waiting for in the recent trend of circus themed books. Twins Birdie and Finch Franconi are stars of the trapeze in their family circus, but when Birdie has an accident, Hector Hazzard joins Finch to form a boy-only double-act to save the business. And of course, emotions happen.Set in Northern Ireland and discusses homophobic bullying, alongside trying to save the family business and discovering secrets. Excited for some queer romance, lads. My hands were shaking a little when I found this in my bag because it sounds so great.
Next is a book I’ve not heard a lot about yet, but am excited to read. The Goose Road by Rowena House is set in 1916 in France. When Angélique hears news of her father’s death on the frontlines, she promises to keep her family farm running until her brother returns from the war. But in order to keep the promise, she will have to journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. The Bookseller have described it as “Gorgeous historical novel … An impressive debut with a tenacious heroine.”
Coming in May ready for to be your poolside read is The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson. Originally published in the US, The Wonder of Us follows two best friends, recently separated when one family moves to Germany, who reunite to travel Europe… though they’re pretty mad at each other right now. This immediately makes me think of Keris Stainton’s One Italian Summer and Remix by Non Pratt.
I did a shriek when the next book got announced — no cover art to share just yet as it’s too far in the future — but the sequel to Girl Out of Water is FINALLY coming this summer. I absolutely loved Nat Luurtesma‘s first novel about Lou, a former swimmer who coaches a team of boys in synchronised swimming for a national tv competition. Lou Out of Luck follows Lou and her family struggling with poverty while she works through her first relationship. Luurtesma’s writing is hilarious and heartfelt, and I am really happy to see more working-class characters in literature.
I had the real joy of snagging a ticket to Angie Thomas’ appearance in London next month, where I hope she’ll talk more about her next book, On the Come Up. Thomas’ second novel returns to Garden Heights with a story about an up and coming teen rapper.
It is rare that I read a book so far ahead of publication nowadays. I try to read things as they come out, so they get promotion around their launch into the world. But sometimes, some books creep into my head. After hearing Tom Pollock read an excerpt of the first chapter at the Walker YA preview event, I couldn’t hold back and I pried open my copy on the train home that night.
This book. THIS BOOK.
Sometimes I read a book that makes me feel so many emotions that I end up tweeting the author my feelings, with specific page references. I definitely sent Tom at least two of those, though I won’t repeat them because I want you to experience the plot hitting you like a truck.
This is a twisty-turny thriller, heavily peppered with unreliable revelations that send the plot — and your brain — spiralling. This is not a straight forward novel, and it is all the more exciting and brilliant for it.
Peter Blankman is often afraid, balancing his severe anxiety with logic and his love of maths, wherever possible. At an awards ceremony celebrating his scientist mother’s work, everything goes to hell; his mother is stabbed, his twin sister Bel has disappeared, and he is taken in with a shadowy organisation telling him to trust them. Together with his only friend Ingrid, he must use is logic and analytical skills to save everyone… or at the very least find out what on earth is going on.
Several times in this book I thought I had everything figured out, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Pollock dangles tidbits and clues, only to flip the plot completely on its head.
I am a huge fan of how Pollock bluntly confronts mental health, tackling it head on and plainly showing the realities of living with a glitchy brain. The novel basically opens right into the middle of a panic attack, showing the reader the reality of anxiety and eating disorders. If you want a taster of his writing on mental health, this piece about his experiences with anxiety and bulimia is incredibly insightful.
I’m absolutely blown away by this brilliantly witty adventure through science, maths and the mind. Mark your calendars for 7th June and clear your weekend; prepare for an adventure you never expected.
It has taken me so long to write about my love for this novel, because I feel like I’m still breathing out. This novel is a held gasp, a subtly growing tension.
Ari is an angry young Latino man growing up in Texas in the late 1980s. He has a brother his parents refuse to talk about, his sisters have moved away, and he is (mostly) friendless and bored. In order to cope with his frustrations, Ari takes to the swimming pool, where he meets Dante Quintana. Dante is sincere, intelligent and confident in his Mexican identity, and Ari is instantly drawn to him. Can their friendship and Dante’s openness free Ari from his pain?
This is a stunning novel. The prose is particularly sparse, and often focussed almost entirely on the dialogue between the characters. The book is split up into six sections, and the individual chapters are generally quite short, often more like vignettes of single pages.
I really love the way their romance is born of friendship, a slow burn that feels so true to the characters, especially Ari who struggles to understand his own hopes and desires. In relation to the book and his own experiences, Sáenz talked about sexuality to NPR here.
I feel that Ari’s anger will resonate with many young people, especially young men. Sáenz explores anger critically, the way it squashes Ari’s other emotions, and equally interrogates some of the toxic aspects of masculinity.
Since its publication in 2012, Aristotle and Dante has won plenty of well-deserved awards, including the Stonewall Book award for LGBT fiction and the Lambda Literary Award. Also, I have just found out that the audiobook is read by Lin Manuel Miranda!?
In 2016, Sáenz announced he is working on the sequel, There Will be Other Summers, which picks up immediately after Aristotle and Dante. In the meantime, he has recently released The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, which is currently top of my reading list.
Sáenz is a fascinating writer, both a poet and a writer of young adult fiction. I want to leave you with this poem, To the Desert, which I like to think is written by Ari for Dante.
This is technically a review of a re-read, mixed up with my feelings from the first time round. Deep in the drafts section of this blog was the remnants of a mini review from when I was a bookseller and would habitually upload a few lines to Waterstones.com.
The final book of the Rebel trilogy, Hero of the Fall, has been published and the other night while near-meltdown, exhausted from packing copies of books from our Kickstarter, I had a desire to read something I knew. I never used to re-read books until a few years back, realising a special joy that comes from it, especially in the noticing. You notice a lot more.
I certainly have noticed a lot more in this re-read of Rebel, and it truly has made me fall in love even more with Amani’s story.
Amani is a girl of the desert, whip-smart and sharp shooting, and desperate to get out of Deadshot, lest she stay and become her uncle’s next wife. Deadshot, a town in the grimly-named Last County is devoid of magic, sick with iron from the mines and factories, and a perfect place to waste a life way. Once a place where First Beings roamed, it is now a desert in more ways than one.
In order to escape her future as it stands, Amani enters a shooting competition, disguised as a man who is given the nickname the Blue-Eyed Bandit. The contest is rigged and in a blaze of gunfire and actual fire, she and her mysterious competitor The Eastern Snake escape with their lives. When the same man appears in her shop the next day hiding from the army, Amani is sucked into a world of adventure and rebellion, magic and Princes.
Rebel of the Sands is an absolute riot of a ride through the tropes of the Wild West, juxtaposed against legends of the Djinni and creatures straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.
Amani herself is more gunpowder than girl, quick thinking, brash and brutal, just like the desert she was raised in. I completely buy into her passionate romance with Jin, and especially love the cast of characters introduced fairly late-game in the novel — no spoilers, but you’ll see why I don’t go into detail when you get there.
This is an exciting, fast-paced adventure of escaping brutality, fighting for good and falling in love. I especially recommend reading them back-to-back for the full Amani experience, so you can appreciate her growth, the adventure and the many curve-balls Hamilton throws at you through the series.
I love Non Pratt, so much so that a few weeks ago I wrote a short post about just how much I love her books. Pratt writes the most wonderful characters, teenagers who feel real with relatable problems.
I think Second Best Friend is her most honest book so far. Jade and Becky are best friends, matching with blonde hair and interchangeable wardrobes. But when the boy Jade breaks up with tells her he only pursued her because Becky turned him down, Jade begins to suffer an inferiority complex. Why does she always come second to Becky?
When a new lesson proposes a school election, Jade sees it as the perfect opportunity to step out of Becky’s shadow and win something for herself.
This is such a heart-wrenching book. Jade’s behaviour is so oftentimes cruel or thoughtless, but her pain is so believable and her anxiety completely understandable. I found myself rooting for Jade even when she treats Becky terribly.
This is a brilliant, intense novella from one of the greatest writers from the UK young adult scene, and I eagerly await the next book, which will be Floored, a book written by seven different UK YA authors.
Second Best Friend is published by Barrington Stoke, who publish super-readable fiction — short, intense stories in accessible fonts and paper that make reading easier for those who struggle. Their backlist is full of amazing writers — Malorie Blackman, David Almond, Sita Brachmari. I strongly recommend you go check out their books!