The Deviants by C. J. Skuse

  • The Deviants by C. J. Skuse

Rating: * * * * *

Publisher: Mira InkScreen Shot 2016-09-02 at 20.37.28.png

Publication Date: Sept 22nd 2016

Series? – Standalone

Goodreads Synopsis:

When you set out for revenge, dig two graves

Growing up in the sleepy English seaside town of Brynston, the fearless five – Ella, Max, Corey, Fallon and Zane – were always inseparable. Living up to their nickname, they were the adventurous, rowdy kids who lived for ghost stories and exploring the nearby islands off the coast. But when Max’s beloved older sister Jessica is killed, the friendship seems to die with her.

Now years later, only Max and Ella are in touch; still best friends and a couple since they were thirteen. Their lives are so intertwined Max’s dad even sponsors Ella’s training for the Commonwealth Games. But Ella is hiding things. Like why she hates going to Max’s house for Sunday dinner, and flinches whenever his family are near. Or the real reason she’s afraid to take their relationship to the next level.

When underdog Corey is bullied, the fearless five are brought back together again, teaming up to wreak havoc and revenge on those who have wronged them. But when the secrets they are keeping can no longer be kept quiet, will their fearlessness be enough to save them from themselves?

I rushed to pick up a proof of ‘The Deviants’ at YALC, having heard glowing comments about C. J. Skuse’s new novel. Having read it a few weeks ago, I can confirm that the wonderful reviews I had seen were exactly right. ‘The Deviants’, a kind of YA version of Enid Blyton’s classic ‘Famous Five’ children’s books, is a fantastic mystery novel. It is one of the best books I have read this year, and, indeed, one of the best books I have ever read.

‘The Deviants’ is brilliant right from the opening. The first chapter is very mysterious and it hooks you straight away – a dead body is found on a beach. Then there is a section between the protagonist Ella and her boyfriend Max in the garden centre, which is very unsettling as we see the cracks in their relationship – Ella’s irritable mood, the fact that she does not remember an important date, the fact that the two of them are on different pages when it comes to intimacy, and Ella’s anger about where Max’s money comes from. C. J. Skuse establishes the mood and tension straight away. She also fills us with questions that we cannot wait to hear the answers to, especially with Ella’s comment that there are lots of things that even Max, whom she has been dating since she was thirteen and has been friends with for most of her life, does not know about her.

One of the main aspects of this novel that I absolutely loved was the way that each chapter ended. At the close of every chapter is a question or a comment from an unknown person who is talking to Ella. These comments fuel what Ella narrates next. This makes the book both really mysterious and very gripping.

Another aspect of the novel that makes it truly gripping and impossible to put down is the fact that there are twists and surprises dropped in that you will not see coming. A few of these surprises come from a character named Fallon who is one of the Fearless Five, and when she dropped these twists in I am sure my mouth dropped open and I was gawping at the book, so it is lucky I was not reading it in public! I read ‘The Deviants’ in two sittings and the only reason I did not read it in one was because I was exhausted and had to sleep. As soon as I got up the next morning, I rushed to start reading it again. I had to know what happened next.

Another strength of ‘The Deviants’ is that it is very vivid. Whether Max and Ella were on a date in the garden centre, or Ella was boxing and running with her coach Pete, or the gang were in Fallon’s kitchenette, I was picturing every scene as I read. The book truly captured my imagination.

I also loved the characters in ‘The Deviants’. Ella is a brilliant main character. She is fiercely loyal and will put herself on the line to protect her friends and she is talented and driven. She is very relatable because she has doubts and she has faults. She feels very 3D, as do Max and the other members of the Fearless Five. They are all gritty. I found the friendship and scenes between the members of the Fearless Five very moving. The part where Fallon tells Ella, to Ella’s extreme disbelief but pride, that Ella has inspired her and the part where Ella and Zane go to the island, because that area has a remoteness that will be useful to Zane at that point, especially touched me. This is one of those books where, after I have finished it, the main characters feel like old friends to me, for I have grown so attached to them over the novel’s course.

The ending of the novel is very well executed. Everything comes to a heart-stopping crescendo and it will have you right on the edge of your seat. The ending links back to the beginning in a really interesting and unpredictable way, as with ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart. In fact, ‘The Deviants’ is the perfect novel for fans of ‘We Were Liars.’ Upon finishing each of these two books, I felt the same thing – I wished that I could wipe the novel from my memory just so I could have the pleasure of reading it again for the first time.

The final thing that makes ‘The Deviants’ really special to me is the fact that as soon as I finished it, I passed it over to my sister so that I would have someone to talk to and fan-girl over it with. My sister had not read YA for a long time and she does not read that much fiction. ‘The Deviants’ changed that. She read it in a very short time, being as hooked by it as I was, and raved about it to me. She loved it as much as I did, and it has refuelled her love of reading.

 

The Architect of Song by A. G. Howard

  • The Architect of Song by A. G. Howard

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 18.48.31.pngRating: * * * * *

Series: #1 Haunted Hearts Legacy

Publisher: Golden Orb Press

Publication Date: August 2016

Goodreads Synopsis:

A lady imprisoned by deafness, an architect imprisoned by his past, and a ghost imprisoned within the petals of a flower – intertwine in this love story that transcends life and death.

For most of her life, nineteen-year-old Juliet Emerline has subsisted – isolated by deafness – making hats in the solitude of her home. Now, she’s at risk to lose her sanctuary to Lord Nicolas Thornton, a twenty-seven-year-old mysterious and eccentric architect with designs on her humble estate. When she secretly witnesses him raging beside a grave, Juliet investigates, finding the name “Hawk” on the headstone and an unusual flower at the base. The moment Juliet touches the petals, a young English nobleman appears in ghostly form, singing a song only her deaf ears can hear. The ghost remembers nothing of his identity or death, other than the one name that haunts his afterlife: Thornton.

To avenge her ghostly companion and save her estate, Juliet pushes aside her fear of society and travels to Lord Thornton’s secluded holiday resort, posing as a hat maker in one of his boutiques. There, she finds herself questioning who to trust: the architect of flesh and bones who can relate to her through romantic gestures, heartfelt notes, and sensual touches … or the specter who serenades her with beautiful songs and ardent words, touching her mind and soul like no other man ever can. As sinister truths behind Lord Thornton’s interest in her estate and his tie to Hawk come to light, Juliet is lured into a web of secrets. But it’s too late for escape, and the tragic love taking seed in her heart will alter her silent world forever.

International and NYT bestselling author, A.G. Howard, brings her darkly magical and visual/visceral storytelling to Victorian England. The Architect of Song is the first installment in her lush and romantic Haunted Hearts Legacy series, a four book gothic saga following the generations of one family as – haunted by both literal and figurative ghosts – they search for self-acceptance, love, and happiness.

New Adult: Recommended for ages 16+.

 

Ever since I finished Renee Ahdieh’s sensational debut ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’, I have been looking for something with the same beautiful and mesmerising writing style – a style that renders prose poetry. I found it in my latest read, ‘The Architect of Song’.

The writing of ‘The Architect of Song’, best-selling author Anita Grace Howard’s most recent novel, can only be described as exquisite. I have never before highlighted and bookmarked so many lines, paragraphs and pages on my Kindle device. There were so many  memorable and moving thoughts, speeches and descriptions that I  wanted to savour and read over and over again. There was something so smooth and soothing about the writing of the novel, something – suitably given the title and theme of the novel – positively melodic.

It’s rare that I encourage people to judge a book by its cover, but with this novel I urge just that. The exterior of this novel is stunning, and the inside is just as beautiful.

I loved the way that each chapter starts with a proverb from a different country. The proverbs are very interesting to read and set the tone for each chapter. Each proverb holds much truth and insight. I have to say as well that the illustrations of butterflies and flowers above each chapter heading are very pretty, too. I really need to buy a physical copy of this novel.

I also really enjoyed the fact that often the chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger and revelation. This makes the novel gripping, and keeps the reader turning the pages and not stopping between chapters. Indeed, I devoured this novel in two settings, reading the first 70 percent, sleeping, then reading the next 30 percent. I slowed down for the final few chapters because I did not want the book to end, so enchanted by it was I.

Like any great song, the novel builds to a crescendo for the final few chapters. The ending is filled with twists, turns and revelations that I absolutely did not see coming. It wasn’t predictable at all. At the same time, there were clever little clues as to the reveal at the end dotted here and there. I love it when authors do that as it shows everything has been brilliantly planned out.

The characters in ‘The Architect of Song’ are fantastic. There actually aren’t that many characters, which makes them all easy to keep track of and allows room for them to be really developed. The main character, Juliet, is really likeable – clever, sensitive and good-humoured – and it is lovely to see her grow in confidence over the novel’s course. The two male leads – Thornton and Hawk – both share her sense of humour. Both are charismatic and hold secrets that we cannot wait to discover. Enya, Juliet’s maid, is also a great character – with a secret of her own – and I loved seeing her sibling-like relationship with and loyalty to her mistress.

Another outstanding aspect of ‘The Architect of Song’ is the way that A. G. Howard blends genres. It’s a wonderful mix of history, romance, mystery and fantasy. I love each of these genres individually, so to have them combined is amazing and creates the perfect book for me! It also has the feeling of a fairy-tale to it, which is something else I adore, and something that makes it perfect for fans of ‘A Court of Mist and Fury’, ‘Uprooted’, ‘Shadow and Bone’ and, of course, ‘The Wrath and the Dawn.’

‘Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a young man who lived in a hole. He was the prince of mud and grime. The rats were his chancellors, the spiders his stewards, and the salamanders his jesters of rhyme.’

I said in my review of ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’ that no-one writes romance quite like Renee Ahdieh. A. G. Howard certainly gives her a run for her money. The chemistry between the characters in this novel is electric, their romantic gestures swoon-worthy, and their affection and adoration heart-warming.

Overall, ‘The Architect of Song’ is a beautiful, unpredictable and mesmerising novel. It’s a new favourite for me and one I cannot wait to reread. I absolutely adored it, from its unique and intriguing opening to its stunning and satisfying close. I heartily recommend it.

I cannot wait for the next installment in this breathtaking series, and I also cannot wait for A. G. Howard’s next novel, ‘Roseblood’, which comes out in January next year. I love musicals and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is one of my absolute favourites, so this retelling is right up my street and, bearing in mind the beauty and brilliance of ‘The Architect of Song’, it is sure to be amazing.

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What’s A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

  • What’s A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne

Rating: * * * * *

Series: The Spinster Club #3Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 16.44.05.png

Publisher: Usborne

Publication Date: August 2016

Goodreads Synopsis: HOW TO START A FEMINIST REVOLUTION:

1. Call out anything that is unfair on one gender

2. Don’t call out the same thing twice (so you can sleep and breathe)

3. Always try to keep it funny

4. Don’t let anything slide. Even when you start to break…

Lottie’s determined to change the world with her #Vagilante vlog. Shame the trolls have other ideas…

The Spinster Club series is one of my very favourites. We had Evie and Amber’s stories – now it’s the turn of their friend and aspiring Prime Minister Lottie, and her story is just as un-put-down-able and heart-warming as the other two were.

Feminism is a very important and very popular discussion point in YA fiction – there is a Twitter chat with the hashtag #FeminisminYA every Tuesday – and feminism is at the very heart of ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’. The novel tells the story of Lottie’s campaign to be an active feminist and to fight sexism by pointing out every case of sexism she notices – whether it’s in a store with the unfair cost of razors or ibuprofen for period pain or it’s in a restaurant with the waiter automatically handing over the bill to the man – for a month. Holly Bourne explores the consequences Lottie faces during her campaign, from taunts from boys at school who view her as ‘man-hating’ to being a source of irritation to insulted teachers when she points out sexism in their lessons. Lottie must overcome the difficulties, disappointments and costs associated with fighting boldly for a cause that not everyone agrees with or understands. At times over the novel’s course, Lottie really struggles to continue with her project. These sections are very moving and the reader is completely behind Lottie, urging her on all the way and feeling very proud and full of admiration whenever she pulls through a particularly difficult stage.

One of my favourite things about each of the books in this series has been the way that Holly Bourne is able to blend humour with poignancy and sensitivity. As I’ve mentioned, there are numerous very difficult and emotional time periods for Lottie in the novel, but there are also very funny sections of the novel – particularly in the dialogue – which will have you laughing at loud and will put a massive smile on your face. I’m especially thinking here of Lottie’s ‘banter’ with her cameraman Will.

I also really enjoyed and appreciated the fact that Lottie’s parents play an active role in this novel (as parents have in all the books in this trilogy in fact). This is different to many YA novels – particularly genres like fantasy and dystopia – in which the main characters are orphans or alternatively they have conveniently constantly-absent parents, so we fail to see the relationship between young adults and their parents/guardians , a relationship at the very centre of teenagers’ lives. Lottie’s parents are not particularly interested at the beginning in her feminist vlog – they worry it will affect her Cambridge application and her A-level grades – nor indeed is her mum happy when Lottie points out that the allotment of household chores in their house is sexist and her mum does everything while her dad relaxes after work. Lottie’s feminist campaign affects every sector of her life – both her school life and her home life.

I love the friendship between the three main characters in this series – Lottie, Evie and Amber – and the fact that, while all three characters have romantic relationships, their friendship is what is central to the series and what matters most to them. All these things that are sometimes overlooked in YA – parental relationships and friendships are often side-lined in favour of crushes and romances – are at the forefront of this series and it is fantastic to see them taking the focus, not least because partners come and go but parents and best friends are constant.  In this novel, we see the first major upset in the three Spinsters’ friendship and I thought this was very realistic and relatable.

And that leads me to another major point about this series – these are three of the most relatable books I have ever read. I can identify with so much in these novels – whether it’s a situation one of the main characters is in or whether it’s a thought, emotion or worry that they have. I see myself in them, and there is something very comforting about that – about knowing through an author’s writing that others feel the same as you and have the same thoughts. The first scene of the novel, for a start – where Lottie is verbally abused by men for wearing lipstick – is something I think that every girl can relate to. We have all, unfortunately, experienced this in some form. Lottie’s story is all of our stories.

To summarise, ‘What’s A Girl Gotta Do?’ is a novel that should be on everyone’s shelves. It’s striking, memorable and impactful, the kind of book that stays in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page. It raises countless points about everyday sexism, points that it is crucial that we all recognise, discuss and fight against. Most importantly, this book left me, as I’m sure it will every reader, feeling inspired and empowered to act and to fight for the changes I want to see happen.