Monday, 8 March 2010

Throats, Ghosts, Thongs and Bones

Things have been a little quiet on this blog recently, thanks to the wonderfully incompetent people at Sky who cut off our broadband last week (‘Oh dear, it’s been a comedy of errors with your account,’ chortled some minion in a call centre when we called to complain. ‘I’d call it a tragedy,’ I growled in return.)

Yes it is a spooky coincidence that I was cut off from my beloved social network just after my family had seized control of the blog to exaggerate wildly about my social-networking habits. They deny all responsibility. Hmmm…

Anyway, no internet means more time for reading. Back by popular demand ( sister…) here’s my round up of the YA books I’ve read recently. Inspired by the Oscars (and by the way what a total and absolute outrage it was that Un Prophet didn't win the best foreign language fact it should have got the best film award, if you haven't seen it, and you're old enough to do so, then do.) I’m giving some awards.

The Book that Everyone (Adults too) Should Read Award
- Auslander by Paul Dowswell. A historical novel about the Second World War with a clever twist – it tells the story of a Polish boy who is adopted by a Nazi family because of his Aryan looks. His mixed and developing feelings are brilliantly portrayed, and the historical details - the swastika Christmas decorations for example – manage to shock anew. One of the best books I’ve read about this period.

The Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover Award goes to Girl Aloud by Emily Gale. Judging by its bright pinkness, I expected a light and frothy chicklitty romp about a girl taking part in the X Factor auditions. And there is lots of humour in the book, and a great teen voice for Kass, whose Dad is desperate for her to shine. But it’s much darker and deeper than the cover suggests and amid the wisecracks and imaginative metaphors, Emily Gale tells a tale of how mental illness can cripple a family, with plot twists that never fail to surprise.

The Wish It’d Been Longer Award goes to Magic Under Glass by Jacklyn Dolamore. I absolutely adored this book, and hugely admired Jacklyn Dolamore’s feat in creating an utterly believable world in which fairies and magicians co-exist uncomfortably. Nimira is a dancing girl who seeks a better life by taking a job where she has to sing with an automaton - a piano-playing machine in the shape of a man. But the automaton is an enchanted fairy prince and the house where they live is full of secrets. The scenes where Ennis, the enchanted prince becomes aware of the fate of his family are truly moving, and Jacklyn Dolamore cleverly examines political questions about Otherness with a light touch.
The only fault I could find was that the last third of the book seemed to flash past in a rush and I wanted much much more. Thank goodness there’s a sequel on the way.

The Fun Vampire Book Award goes to My Love Lies Bleeding by Alyxandra Harvey. I have to admit being hugely prejudiced against this book on the (pathetic) grounds that a) It’s about vampires (zzzz) b) I don’t like the way the author spells her name, c) Horrible title and d) Yucky throat cover. However I was totally won over. Two great first person narrators - Solange, the reluctant soon-to-be vampire, overwhelmed by her seven gorgeous and over-protective brothers. Then there’s Lucy her friend, who’s funny and feisty, wears specs and hates Solange’s brother Nick. Or does she…
I did get a bit confused at the beginning when there’s a rush of new characters, and the pace is fast and furious. But I loved the jokes and the melodrama and the sweet romance and the way that there was no gradual realisation that we were dealing with (gulp) the supernatural, but it was all taken for granted.

The Shame about the Twi-Like Bits Award
goes to Need by Carrie Jones. Another nasty throat cover (although I like the gold lips). There’s a nice laid-back sardonic voice struggling to get out here, and an interesting though under-developed idea about naming phobias as a defence against grief. Unfortunately cardboard characters, fluffy were-creatures (the doggiest werewolf ever) and, above all, too many similarities to the work of Stephenie Meyer throttle these promising elements. Name-checking Stephen King does not make your book as scary or compelling as his. Quite the opposite.
It may be that chosing Pixies as your paranormal villains is bold and original - it made me giggle and think of Cornish kitschery – but if that’s what you’re after then think of something for them to do other than drinking blood.

The Best First Line Award - no competition, it has to be My So-Called Afterlife by Tamsyn Murray for the very wonderful ‘I knew it was time to move on when a tramp peed on my Uggs.’ Lucy’s a stroppy teenage ghost, tied to the place she was murdered, the Carnaby Street gents toilets. I’m not a big fan of ‘afterlife’ books, so it’s a real tribute to Tamsyn’s entertainment power that I found this so enjoyable, thanks mainly to the wise-cracking narrator. It’s a cross between The Lovely Bones and Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging - more Thongs than Bones, thankfully. I lent my copy to a 12-year-old girl who absolutely loved it and it’s doing the rounds of all her BFFEs.

Reading back over these reviews it strikes me what an evil prejudiced person I am - taking offence at throats, creative name spellings and paranormal themes. But we all come to books and films with a load of baggage - based on our likes and dislikes, the cover and..well, you tell me? What else makes you pick up a book or decide to skip it?

Oh and speaking of awards, click here to nominate your favourite author blogs for an award. Like perhaps this one...if you want...


  1. Thanks for the mini reviews. My So-Called Afterlife is on my reading pile, quite near the top (but lower than When I was Jo, I promise:-). I'll probably have to pretend to be a girl to enjoy it to the full, but nevermind -- as a man, I'm used to being in the minorty in the world of YA fiction. I didn't even know what Uggs were until recently.

    Bad covers and funny author names can put me off too, no matter how irrational that is. Over-blown blurb can have the same effect.

  2. Sorry, that should be When I Was JoE. You at least write books with cross-gender appeal:)

  3. Oooh, how utterly fabulous! The Best First Line Award is the one I really wanted to win :) I should really thank my husband and daughter but actually I'm going to hog the limelight for all it's worth instead.

    Thanks for this, I'm really chuffed.

    PS Thomas - the aforementioned husband has read it and I heard him laughing at it so it's not just for girls :) Just channel your inner teen and you'll be fine.

  4. This is such a neat idea! I wish I bought Auslander from the book fair now. I shall have to pick it up next time I see it!

  5. Thanks, Tam. I'm looking forward to reading your book. My Inner Teen is pretty much on constant standby at the moment, rolling his eyes at the antics of my Inner Child.

  6. thanks for this list. Your internet connectivity loss is my gain.

  7. :) Heehee! Great reviews here. Glad you like My Heart Lies Bleeding - it was one of the books that launched me into understanding and liking the whole vampire thing that's going on right now.

  8. Thanks for the round up. I recently read Going Bovine by Libba Bray and loved it. Did an open letter to the dirt bag who stole my copy on my blog...

  9. Auslander sounds great, as do the others. I definitely have to agree with Need, it was a bit too much like Twilight.