Reviewing ‘Angelfall’ by Susan Ee

In Susan Ee’s ‘Angelfall’, the world has come to an end. Violent armies of angels have taken over the earth, destroying anyone who stands in their way. On the ground, street gangs run the cities. Food and other supplies are scare and people are resorting to the most extreme measures to stay alive. Angel parts are valuable currency and secret resistances are building.

As well as wreaking havoc on earth, the angels are also stealing young children away from their families. No-one knows where they go, but they are never seen again. Following a chance encounter with a group of angels, Penryn’s younger sister is taken. Determined to find her, no matter what the cost, all that Penryn has to go on is a fallen angel left behind after the conflict, Raffe.

It was quite refreshing to have a lead character in this dystopian/YA genre that is just a normal person. Penryn isn’t ‘special’, she’s not ‘the Chosen One’ and she doesn’t develop special powers. She’s just a girl that has to adapt to extreme circumstances. There is, of course, a romantic element to the story, but for a lot of the book she relies on her own strengths and wits to stay alive and to get out of trouble. She’s not overly mollycoddled and she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.

Although the enemy here are angels, there isn’t a strong religious element. God isn’t present, he ‘talks’ through one representative. However, many of the angels seem to be agnostic and doubt whether God exists at all. They are very much a warrior tribe, and they should be seen as one.

I did have a few minor issues with this book. I understand that world that Penryn and her family are living in is supposed to be a war zone. Still, I find it hard to believe that in just a few short weeks people would have resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Penryn makes her way into the woods, which are still full of animals, relatively quickly from where she is. She also finds a stash of food in an office building at one point, suggesting that there is food to be found still. So the repeated mentions of cannibals felt like they were added in more for dramatic effect than anything else.

Some of the language and descriptions were a bit overdone for my liking. At some points the dialogue didn’t seem to flow as it should, and it felt like the author was trying a little bit too hard to be witty. Plus, as with pretty much all YA books, there is the typical instant and overwhelming physical attraction to the romantic lead. That said though, it’s a pretty good effort, and I’ll probably be reading the rest of the series.

‘Fallen’ by Lauren Kate

FallenAfter a horrific accident that destroyed Luce’s life, she lands at a reform school, which is predictably full of oddballs, misery and strict rules.

But the second Luce sees fellow student Daniel, she can’t shake the feeling that she’s met him before. She’s haunted by a sense of déjà vu, and she can’t seem to stay away from him. He, on the other hand, seems to want nothing to do with her.

Soon though, circumstances conspire to throw them together, and it becomes clear that the two of them have a past that goes back far longer than Luce can remember. As Luce searches for answers, the stakes continue to get higher and more dangerous at every turn.

While the idea was good, there were a few inconsistencies in ‘Fallen’ that I couldn’t really get my head around. Daniel and Luce have known each other before, time and time again, that’s clear from the opening pages. But while Luce is ignorant of their past each time they meet, Daniel has the full knowledge of what’s come before. It’s no surprise then when they meet again at reform school. But Daniel is there first. And if he’s lived so many amazing lives in the past, I couldn’t help but wonder what he was doing in somewhere so miserable.

The same goes for all of the other supernatural beings – and there are many! Why immortal creatures would choose to spend their time going to one of the dreariest sounding schools around, when they clearly have other, more interesting options, is beyond me.

The setting itself is very atmospheric – with a school with an onsite graveyard, a gym in a converted church, a huge gothic library, permanent mist and lingering smell – but it felt a little clichéd. Continue reading

Chatting to Joelle Charbonneau!

I’m so excited to announce the very first author interview on The Stacked Shelf. The amazing and lovely Joelle Charbonneau, author of the fantastic THE TESTING series (links to my reviews of the first two books here and here), has kindly agreed to chat about writing, her inspirations and some exciting future projects! Read on to find out more…

I hope you all enjoy reading this and gaining an insight into the workings of a writer as much as I did, and thanks again to Joelle for agreeing to take part!

The TestingTell us a bit about your background – how did you come to be a writer?

I went to college and to graduate school for music and theater and for the next several years performed in operas, musicals, children’s theater and lots of other crazy acting and singing kinds of things. It wasn’t until about 8 years after college that I started writing. I was the only person in my dressing room for the show I was doing that didn’t make the next show and I suddenly had an opening idea for a book in my head. And for some crazy reason I decided to write that book. It was a bad book, but I decided that I loved the challenge of telling a story and kept going.

What inspires you?

EVERYTHING! Honestly, I am inspired by great stories, by music, by my voice students, by my son’s laughter and by the kindness of the people I have met throughout my life. The world is filled with inspiring things and I find something new to be amazed by each and every day.

Your ‘The Testing’ trilogy is set in a dystopian future, where do your ideas come from?

The idea for THE TESTING series came out of my work with my voice students. I work one on one with teenagers on their singing. Many of those teens decide they want to go to college for singing or acting and then I work with them on their college auditions. The process is stressful and the stress can often overwhelm them. One year, I found myself wondering how the process could become more stressful. I wanted to know under what circumstances the world would turn the process of getting into college into something that could mean life or death. And the Testing was born!

Cia is a great character – she’s strong, smart and balanced. How did she develop throughout the trilogy? Is she based on anyone you know?

One of my students at the time I came up with the idea for The Testing is 5’2″ and has dark hair. So, I guess Cia’s outward appearance is probably based on her. But Cia’s starting point for her journey is really based on all of my students. They are all optimistic about the world and their future. Most of them come from good families. I wanted Cia to represent them. I also wanted her personal character growth to reflect what I see in my students as they go off to college and learn that the world is more complex and harder than they originally thought. They become more balanced and more confident. They also experience a lot of painful growing moments and come out the other side a little less happy, but a whole lot wiser.

What is the hardest thing about writing?

The middle! The middle of every book is really tough. The beginning of books are always interesting and engaging and the idea is fresh and new. The end of books are exciting because you’ve scaled the mountain. There is no better feeling than THE END. But the middle is where your doubts and unhappiness creep in. The middle (no matter how fast a writer writes) is always long and scary and filled with uncertainty.

What book/s are you reading at present?

I am reading Jason Reynold’s WHEN I WAS THE GREATEST. It’s awesome.

If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is still quite possibly my favorite book and the one that taught me to believe that anything is possible!

As a writer, what’s the one thing you can’t live without?

Diet Pepsi…honest! I need my Diet Pepsi.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on proofing my next book which is a young adult thriller called NEED, which involves an elite social networking site that allows anonymous users to say what they need and offered them a chance to get it. I’m also writing a brand new stand alone YA thriller that has the working title of MASKED. I’m closing in on the middle section. Wish me luck!

Joelle Charbonneau’s ‘Independent Study’

Independent StudyIn the follow up to ‘The Testing’, Cia has made it to the University. Having taken the exams that will determine the future of their careers in the United Commonwealth, Cia and the other successful testing candidates now have a whole new set of challenges to face.

Cia’s memories of her first Testing have been erased, but as she prepares for her initiation into her class, disturbing flashbacks make her question the University and all it stands for. With her dreams full of suspicions about what happens to students that fail to live up to the University idea of its ideal candidate, she is thrown into a dizzying round of intense studying, ruthless initiation processes and cut-throat competition.

When she learns about a group of rebels working against the government officials in charge of the University, Cia has to choose whether to risk her life, and the lives of the people that she cares about, by joining their cause. But who can she trust? And who is doing everything they can to make sure she’ll fail? Continue reading

‘The 5th Wave’ by Rick Yancy

Rick Yancy’s ‘The 5th Wave’ is part of a new trend of Y/A books that feature alien invasions and their impact on the human race. But there are no little green men in the book – there’s just a faceless enemy who is cleverer and more ruthless than any that we’ve imagined before.

Invasion books are usually characterised by groups of people banding together to make war on the enemy. But here – the enemy is not there to fight. They’ve been making their move from far away, effectively clearing the earth ahead of making it their home. Humans are, as the main character points out, nothing more than cockroaches to them – an infestation to be snuffed out as effectively and efficiently as possible. This happens over five ‘waves’ – featuring everything from infectious diseases to forced natural disasters to our own human paranoia – which paint a terrifying picture of how human life could be completely decimated.

Cassie is one of the few that have survived. She’s on her own, hiding out in the woods in a desperate bid for survival. Her only plan is to find her little brother and make sure he’s safe. After she’s shot in the leg, she’s taken in by fellow survivor, Evan. But even as she starts to develop feelings for him, she starts to suspect that he is more than what he seems. Continue reading

‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsFrom the outside, they are the perfect family. Blond and tall with a strong chin and a strong tennis serve, they are the Sinclair’s and they stick together.

Since she was a child, Cadence Sinclair has spent every summer on her grandfather’s private island. Each year, she spends her days inseparable from her cousins, Mirren and Johnny, and Gat, the nephew of a family friend. Surrounded by boats, beaches and wealth, it seems like nothing will ever go wrong. But in the heat of the summer, tensions brew.

Now 17, Cady is recovering from an accident. But she has no recollection of what happened. In fact, she has very few memories of an entire summer spent on the island. With her family keeping secrets from her, Cady returns to the island in an attempt to uncover the truth about events.

To say much more about the plot of this book would ruin it entirely for anyone that hasn’t already read it, which makes it quite hard to review! Over the course of the book, we’re shown how Gat’s friendship with the cousins and his presence on the island forces the family members to examine themselves from the outside. As they grow older, Cady, Mirren and Johnny gradually become aware of what the darker side of being a Sinclair entails, and what the family is willing to do to keep their positions. Continue reading

Living up to the hype

The TestingEver since Katniss Everdeen and her bow and arrow set stormed onto the scene a few years ago, practically every new book published in this genre has managed to include a critics quote on its jacket that claims it is, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘the next Hunger Games’. Most of these books, I’ve found, fall woefully short of this claim. But there are a few that manage to bring something new to the table. So if you’re one of the millions of people who couldn’t get enough of the Mockingjay, ‘The Testing’ by Joelle Charbonnaeu might just help to fill the void!

Seven stages of global war have devastated the planet, corrupting the land and making it hard for plants to grow and for people to thrive. To combat this, the United Commonwealth Government selects the brightest students to go forward for The Testing. If they pass, they will gain entry to the University, where they will be trained to be the next leaders of the country – tasked with rebuilding the Commonwealth by stretching the limits of medicine, biomechanical engineering and government, as well as finding new ways to grow crops and improve communications.

Cia is from Five Lakes colony, one of the most remote and least populated in the Commonwealth. So when four of her graduating class, including Cia, are selected to go forward for the testing, it’s an honour that hasn’t been seen in more than 10 years. Continue reading

Ebooks versus print

Continuing the debate about ebooks and their place in the market, Hodder Children’s announced last week that it will be launching a new e-only sci fi classics list. The list is launching with five out-of-print books, and aims to release up to 21 titles by September – see their Hodder Silver Twitter account for more info.

But is this a trend that’s set to continue? One of the major criticisms levelled at ebooks and the ebook market is that they limit the possibilities of new discoveries, making it hard to find new recommendations in the way that you would in a traditional bookshop.

It’s telling that the first e-only list is aimed at children and young adults, a generation that is likely to be far more engaged online with blogs and social media sites than ever before. The number of sites aimed at the sci fi and fantasy genre is huge, and each one is teeming with recommendations and opinions on the latest releases. It’s only natural that this audience would gravitate towards ebooks, where a quick click of the mouse is all it takes to deliver a book to the screen in front of you in a matter of minutes.

It’s a tentative start – as these are all novels that have previously appeared in print – and I think that we can see this growing more and more over time as people, but I can’t see paper books disappearing forever.

It’s also interesting to see that Sand, the latest novel from Hugh Howey, has actually been released as an ebook by publisher Cornerstone months before it will appear in print. Readers will still be able to pick up a hard copy, but it’s getting people used to having an ebook format be something that they look forward to.

Andrew Fukada’s ‘The Hunt’

I’ve been struggling to put this book into words. I suppose it could be described as a sort of warped version of The Hunger Games. Except in this case we have a world dominated by vampires embarking on a once-in-a-decade human hunt, with the lucky hunters drawn from the population by lottery.The-Hunt

However, one such hunter is actually a human, or a heper as they call them, living in disguise amongst the vampires. Knowing that he will be exposed as soon as the hunt starts by his inability to keep up with the pack and his unwillingness to tear their prey apart with his fake vampire fangs, he is rapidly running out of time to come up with a way out. With the help of some unexpected allies, his world is changed forever as he uncovers hidden secrets that go against everything that he’s been taught.

I have to start by saying that The Hunt is written really well – it had a great pace, plenty of action and it was quite addictively readable. However, while the concept was interesting, there were some gaping holes in the plotline that managed to completely distract me from the main story on several occasions throughout the book.

There are numerous points that I just cannot get my head around. Whether that’s because the author has failed to think things through or because he simply hasn’t bothered to explain them, I’m not sure.

My first gripe is how our main protagonist has managed to attend vampire school for years without detection. I don’t know how he’s managed to get hold of fake fangs or contraband razors in the first place, but those basic difficulties aside, I don’t see how it is possible to have never coughed, sneezed, sweated, blushed or spilled a single drop of blood in the presence of vampires (who never show a shred of emotion and scratch their wrists instead of laughing).

Secondly, vampires are under the impression that humans are totally extinct outside of government activity. But since there are several secret humans revealed throughout the book, from a relatively low pool of characters, you have to assume that there are lots of fake vampires running around unnoticed. Despite this, there’s no testing of any kind?!

And then there are the things that are just plain weird. The vampires in this book don’t kiss, they rub armpits. And nowhere does it explain how they are able to reproduce, if they do so in the same way as humans, and if not, how fake vampire humans/manage to have babies without shedding any blood at all (as this can apparently be smelt from miles away).

There are plenty more, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. If anyone can offer up an explanation for any of the above, I’d love to hear it!

A review of ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ by Laini Taylor

(Hodder, September 2011)

Recently, I’ve read a few Y/A fantasy fiction novels, some of which I’ve loved and some of which have been distinctly underwhelming (see here for more). Since its publication, The Daughter of Smoke and Bone has received rave reviews from Y/A bloggers, so when I was casting my eye around for something new to read, it naturally made the list.

Smoke and BoneKarou has grown up between worlds, her childhood was spent in the back of a mysterious shop owned by Brimstone, a dealer in teeth and wishes and Karou’s guardian for as long as she can remember. Now Karou is old enough to fend for herself, and she has gradually begun to forge a life in the human world, but she’s increasingly torn between normality and the exciting, dangerous and macabre duties that she carries out on Brimstone’s behalf. She is also desperately searching for answers regarding her identity and how she came to be in Brimstone’s care. Then one day, she comes into contact with one cold-hearted and extremely powerful angel, Akiva, who might just hold the answers she needs.

As with most Y/A fantasy novels, there is a strong love story at the heart of ‘The Daughter of Smoke and Bones’, the true extent of which becomes clear as the novel progresses. That said, the author has really tried to approach this in a different way and break free of the traditional stereotypes. There’s no escaping the fact that all the clichéd elements are there, but it was interesting and different, with a bit of a twist, and the way the novel was written kept me turning the pages.

My main criticism of this novel is that I felt it was wholly focussed on building up to a sequel. There’s a lot of time dedicated to explaining Karou’s background and history of her world, but the action was just about to kick off when the book ended, which was frustrating to say the least. I’m all for sequels, and I think they can work really well, but The Daughter of Smoke and Bones needed more of a story of its own. Now my big debate is whether this annoyed me too much to read the next in the series – or whether my curiosity as to what happens next will win out?!