When I read Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, I knew this was an author I was going to follow for a long, long time. I was super excited when I heard about her next book, On The Come Up, and honestly, I almost squealed in excitement when I spotted it in my local bookshop.
On The Come Up is the story of Bri, who wants to be the greatest rapper the world has ever seen. To try to get her start, she competes in rap battles in the ring, and from there, the story moves forward, showing us this young, strong, argumentative, passionate girl with a powerful voice, who the world wants to silence.
There are certain elements similar to The Hate U Give, a couple of similar themes and elements, and the books are set in the same area, but they are still vastly different. I’ve seen some people say Bri was harder to like than Starr, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I adored Bri. Like Starr, she felt completely and utterly real. A teenage girl, just trying to get along in life, juggling school, social life, her passion, and boys. There were a number of times I wanted to reach through the page and hug her, and there’s little about her personality I didn’t relate to.
When it comes to character voices, Angie Thomas has an amazing gift. Bri practically sings off the page (well, raps…) and it’s so easy to imagine her talking, rapping, thinking. Small touches emphasise her character, as we see the world through her eyes, as we witness the world around her, through her.
Overall, On The Come Up is a brilliant, fantastic novel, about ambition and voice and power (and being powerless), and once again Angie Thomas had me completely hooked right from the very first page until the last. I will be eagerly awaiting her third novel. If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest reading both The Hate U Give and On The Come Up. You really won’t be disappointed.
Before I get into this, I just want to mention I received this book from Ashleigh (@edwardanddamon on Twitter), after winning it in one of her monthly giveaways. You should definitely go check her out because she’s awesome.
In a future version of the USA, Noam, the bisexual son of undocumented immigrants, survives an outbreak of a disease that leaves some survivors with the ability to do magic, although what kind of magic varies from one person to another. He is taken to a training centre, and put under the watchful eye of the charismatic, mysterious Calix Lehrer, former king, alongside Calix’s ‘son’, Dara.
I wanted to like this. Maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, but the premise sounded brilliant, and the writing itself is good – certain sentences were a joy to read, and some scenes were really gripping. But by the end, it just felt like there was too much crammed in, too much going on. The cast of characters is a little too big, filtering in and out, the other students a little flat compared to the actually well done characterisation of Noam and Dara.
Calix himself just read as untrustworthy, and it was hard to see why Noam trusted him so much, why he felt so willing to go along with everything.
Plot-wise, again, there were some really good elements here, but a lot got crammed in, and the moment one thing picked up, the plot seemed to take a sharp left turn into something else. There were some confusing moments, some really ‘huh?’ moments, and the ending…the ending to me just felt a little contrived, a touch rushed, with everything being a little too coincidental at certain points, and confusing at others. More than once, I found myself going back to reread a paragraph or two.
This is definitely not a bad book, nor is it badly written. The fault – to me – lays in too many ideas jammed into a fast paced scenes, with slower, meandering interruptions throughout where the students do nothing but sit around, repeated quite often, when it feels like the pace should be faster, coupled with too many characters. I really would have liked to have seen more of their training, maybe an example or two of their classes, and what life was really like for the students in this school, rather than just skipping over the interesting parts to show them in the same room or in Calix’s study.
Now, the important question. The Fever King is the first in the series, named Feverwake, and at the end I had to ask myself – will I read the next one?
The honest answer is… (drum roll please) probably yes, actually. Like I said, Lee isn’t a bad writer, and I think the next book will likely show lots of improvement, plus, by this point, I do feel invested in the story. So maybe, despite the things I disliked about it, the book has done its job, after all.
I only recently started reading Victoria Schwab’s novels. I started with City of Ghosts, then read A Darker Shade of Magic, shortly before going to an author event in Waterstones, Cardiff, where I picked up the next two Shades of Magic books and The Near Witch, money being the only thing stopping me from picking up everything else.
From the moment I started City of Ghosts, I absolutely fell in love with the writing. All the books I’ve read are vastly different, but carrying the same talent.
For anyone not aware, The Near Witch was Schwab’s first novel, which went out of print, and has recently been re-released. Which is honestly a brilliant, great thing, because this book is an absolute delight.
For any fans who have read later books, it is well worth reading The Near Witch. There are some elements sprinkled throughout which feel like they have taken root, and branched out into other books, such as the Shades of Magic series.
The Near Witch takes place in the town of Near, where Lexi lives with her sister and mother. The people are afraid of anything unusual, including the witches who live on the town’s edge. A stranger appears one night, and shortly after, children start disappearing.
Near is described so well, it’s easy to imagine the town, and it really comes to life with the various characters dotted here and there, as Lexi explores and tries to discover exactly what happened to the children. Atmosphere plays a key role, and even the weather itself feels like an additional character, helping or hindering the characters as they move along their journeys.
The characters all feel real and fully realised, including Lexi’s family and Cole, the stranger. And as to the disappearance of the children, the reader is kept as on their toes as Lexi, trying to work through the puzzle and figure out if a fairy-tale really has come to life.
Overall, I loved The Near Witch for the same reasons I loved City of Ghosts and the Shades of Magic trilogy. For the atmospheric settings, the colourful characters, and the intriguing plot. Highly recommend this book for anyone who loves a good, haunting novel.
After Amy Thomsett’s mother finds her floating on the ceiling, Amy is shipped off to Drearcliff Grange, but rather than squash this strange ability out of her, Amy learns more about her abilities, while her and her new found friends are tested in various ways.
They face off against The Hooded Conspiracy, before a new girl arrives at the school, bringing with her a strange new way of doing things.
I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel, about strange, powerful girls who can do strange, wonderful things in a strange, creepy school. The book reads very much like the old pulp novels, mixed with the great British boarding school novel tradition. The characters are likeable, though a bit numerous, and it was fun to read the clever ways the girls came up with to get themselves out of dire situations.
Newman has a gift for immersing the reader in the time period, as evident in Anno Dracula and Drearcliff, and a solid love for whatever literature he is using as a base for his work. Drearcliff isn’t Hogwarts, Miss Peregrine’s or Xavier’s School. These girls aren’t witches, Peculiars or mutants. Some of them don’t have abilities, but may have other skills. Some just have interesting family backgrounds, but a few, like Amy, are Unusual. In the girls of Drearcliff, Newman has created a brand new batch of teens with abilities, with his own twists. The main core all feel fully fleshed out, though when it came to some of the more background characters, I did find myself losing track of who was who, now and then, especially as a couple of the girls had similar sounding names.
But overall, I really did enjoy this, including the more Lovecraftian aspects filtering in throughout the novel. The novel is set in the 1920s, with the girls using exclamations such as, “Crumpets!” and with that time period in mind, there’s an interesting parallel as the Black Skirts slowly infiltrating the school, mirroring the rise of fascism in Europe.
Some things aren’t as clear as they could be, and some of the characters can get a touch grating, but the clarity feels like a purposeful choice, and Amy Thomsett is enjoyable enough to counter the others.
The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is a fun, creepy, enjoyable read, with masterful use of language and a solid sense of place and time. Definitely one for fans of more subtle but fantastical horror, and a good twist on the British school literary novel.
As indicated by the title of this post, this post will contain spoilers. If you haven’t yet read the book (and if you have, I would love your thoughts on this!) then I suggest getting a copy, reading it, then coming back.
FINAL SPOILER WARNING PUPPY!
Glancing over reviews on Goodreads, this book seems to provoke a love/hate reaction. Some feel the book might have sexist tones, and an ‘obsession’ with certain aspects of the female form. But to me, the book was less sexist in itself, than portraying the attitudes of the townsfolk. Grim seems to take a very dim view of women. He goes out of his way to protect the town, to try to make things right, and has clear views of what is right and what is wrong – but he still obsesses over the appearance of women. Personally I don’t think that’s reflective of the author, but of the character. Grim might be good at his job, but clearly living in the same town, unable to leave for any extended period of time, and being forced to watch over the same people day in, day out, with actually very little power, has taken its toll on him. And he’s as dismissive of the men, too.
One argument is that there’s no ‘positive’ female characters, but I think Jocelyn is quite positive. And even if she weren’t, personally, I don’t see any particularly positive male characters, either. Jocelyn definitely comes out much better than Steve who, after Tyler’s death, is so obsessed with it he doesn’t really seem to care about Matt, and thinks bitterly about ‘her son’ still being alive.
Of course, one of the amazing things about books is that everyone takes away something different from different pieces of writing. The actions and thoughts of the characters can be seen as sexist and misogynistic, but I personally feel this was the characters, not the author, though without further works to read, it’s a hard judgement to make.
The book definitely carries a Pet Semetary vibe for me, and a complete Stephen King feel, from the strange small town where odd things happen, to the absolute humanity of the characters. They feel real, and they do things – good and bad – that make sense. They try to protect loved ones, and hurt when they fail.
It’s easy to see early on that Katherine isn’t the real evil in the town. She’s creepy, yes, but that feels like it’s because of the interference by the townsfolk. She’s creepy because they made her creepy. And in a trope any horror fan will recognise (*cough* Mama *cough*), at the end of the day she is a lost mother mourning her children, who ends up – not in the best way – replacing them. The attacks are her self-defence mechanism, and when the town becomes a nightmarish hell hole, it’s less because of Katherine and more mass hysteria.
Overall, if I haven’t made it clear already, Heuvelt has written something which has quickly become one of my favourite horror novels. This is the first English translation of one of his novels, and I really hope it’s the first of many.
I’m actually going to do two posts for this novel, because there’s a fair bit I want to talk about which would contain spoilers. This is the spoiler-free review of HEX, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt.
In the English language version of HEX, the story takes place in Black Spring, a town situated not too far from New York in the USA. Black Spring seems like a pretty normal town, with normal, small town type characters. The novel mainly focuses on the Grant family – Steve, Jocelyn, Tyler and Matt. As newlyweds, Steve and Jocelyn moved to Black Spring, with no idea what awaited them. Because Black Spring has a secret, known to the townspeople, but kept hidden from Outsiders.
That secret is the witch, Katherine van Wyler.
Katherine has a tragic history – accused of witchcraft, forced to do something horrific, and killed for it. The townspeople believe they are under Katherine’s curse – she wanders through the town, her eyes and mouth sewn shut, appearing in people’s homes and disappearing at will.
Katherine is creepy. Her presence is creepy, and Heuvelt does what any good horror writer should do – he takes what is normal, even if that normality is different for the characters than for us – and twists it. We come to accept Katherine’s presence, but similar to Stephen King’s Derry, there are trails of the curse in the town, in the population. It makes us question whether this is a result of the curse, or if people are just shit.
One of the things I really loved about this book was that the characters, and their problems – even where they involved Katherine – were so damn real. The characters are human, and relatable, from the teenager who just wants to live a normal life, to the father who would do anything for his son, and the woman just trying to protect herself and her son after an abusive relationship.
All the characters are, essentially, trying to make the best out of bad situations. But, well, it’s a horror novel. Things happen that change Katherine’s ‘routine’, and the tension kicks in, rising up until we hit the climax.
Overall, I really liked this book. The setting has been transported from the original setting to the USA, and works really well, allowing the more American elements and history to bleed into the novel. The horror is handled brilliantly, with the tension not just rising from the supernatural, but the more mundane issues of the Black Spring residents, as well.
There are some issues, a few strange moments, but these were easy to overlook amongst the strengths. A really fantastic horror novel, and one I would definitely recommend.
Something that can often be said for book to film adaptations, but I think really is worth repeating here – the book explains it better.
For those not aware, Bird Box follows Malorie, as the world becomes a strange, frightening place full of creatures the human mind cannot understand nor comprehend. To combat this, survivors wear blindfolds whenever they are outside their homes. They cover windows, learning not to look.
At the start of the story, Malorie is pregnant, meaning she must not only learn to survive in this scary new world, she has to learn how to raise children in it, as well.
There were a number of…interesting changes made between the book and Netflix’s film. They make sense, in a way, because they probably make for better watching, but whereas I finished the film thinking meh, not that scary, not really invested in any of the characters, I found the book to be a good horror novel, really gripping and definitely with more interesting characters.
There are some…strange changes made between book and film. I’m sure there are valid reasons for some of these, but some of the changes include –
Ageing up the characters – this is understandable, and not completely a bad thing, but in the book, Malorie and most of the ‘housemates’ are in their early to mid twenties. To me, this makes a lot of sense – not that women past their thirties wouldn’t have one night stands, but I feel like it’s more likely for Malorie to have one AND get pregnant if she’s younger. That might just be me, but a few of the character’s actions make sense when they’re just that little bit younger.
Things move slower. Again, a change that makes sense when transferring from text to film, but the ‘creatures’ don’t just suddenly appear to everyone at once at the same time. They creep in, affecting some people and leaving others untouched, rather than everything going from “oh there’s stuff happening in Russia” to “OMG it’s here panic panic panic.” It’s more gradual, leaving people with more time to prepare.
Tom. Ah, Tom. Intelligent, keen to help everyone, very flirty with Malorie. In the book, it’s hard to say she’s in love with him or not (I would think she is), but without a doubt, she admires him, respects him, and he gets her through a lot, whether he’s physically present or not. Tom conducts ‘experiments’, pushes for change, BUT (and here’s the kicker) some of what he does in the film, or that the group does as a whole, is done only by Malorie in the book. She learns to survive, and raise the kids, on her own. The film, to me, took away a lot of that strength given to her in the book.
The other housemates. On the whole, the other housemates are pretty decent. Even Don, who triggers some problems in the house, doesn’t do it out malice. The characters are more nuanced than in the film. Including Gary, though he is still a dick. And those two characters who steal the car? Doesn’t happen in the book. (Though maybe they found they needed an excuse to get rid of MGK?)
Mental illness. Okay, I’ve been thinking about this one a fair bit. In the film, the implication is that anyone who is just a little bit off the line of what is considered ‘normal’, would be fair game to the creatures. But in the book, it’s more complicated than that. There is an element of that, but it’s more like people who could be susceptible to that sort of thing anyway can be drawn deeper down the path, like someone who believes man didn’t land on the moon might be more likely to believe the conspiracy theories surrounding JFK. And, well, anyone who lives through an end-of-the-world scenario is going to have mental health problems. Cooped up in a house for so long is going to work on your mind, as well as seeing some of the horrific imagery these characters do, it’s going to trigger depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other issues. I feel like it’s more clear in the book, whereas the film simplified it to the point where anyone with any mental illness ‘might’ worship the creatures, disregarding the fact that anyone living isn’t going to be the same person they were before the creatures arrived.
Dogs. If I’m remembering correctly, there are no dogs in the film. The book features three, with one ‘main one’, but considering this is horror novel…maybe it is a good thing they dropped them for the film.
Overall, the book definitely wins out over the film. The film felt like a physiological thriller packaged as horror, and though it was enjoyable, elements of it just felt a little too weak. The book was a gripping, engaging horror novel with stronger characters and less plot-holes.
I am, quite possibly, one of the last people to have read this. It’s one of the books I picked up thanks to the hype on Twitter, and honestly, when book Twitter hypes a book, I’ve learnt it’s well worth listening to them. Simon VS is a great example of that.
Simon VS is a coming of age story, focusing on Simon as he attends high school, works on the school play, and tires to navigate the confusing world of teenage friendships (I remember that well enough).
Along with this, Simon is keeping a secret from those closest to him – he’s gay, and in a sort-of-not-quite relationship with a mysterious stranger called Blue. They chat via e-mails, and through them, we see their relationship develop and deepen.
And, honestly, this book is so damn beautiful. I love a book that can make me laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page, and this was…well, it had plenty of both. Simon is wonderfully, adorably awkward, not quite sure why the girls are annoyed at him, and making clumsy attempts to identify who Blue might be.
But on top of all that, he’s really doing his best. Not just trying, but doing. He misses his older sister, away at college (and not that I would tell him, but it does remind me of how much I missed my brother, many years ago) and the way that feeling is conveyed works well, not to mention the feeling of normality that returns when she comes home, the way they sink back into family traditions. (Side-note: the ‘traditions’ we had when we were all under one roof tended to be more along the lines of my brothers practising wrestling moves on me, and my mum screaming can’t we all bugger off again so there was peace and quiet)
There are so many lovely moments to this book, not to member a number of edge-of-your-seat ones.
(All spoiler warnings will be book-ended by puppies. By the way, this book is so lovely, part of it does feel like a puppy in book form)
The book opens with Martin attempting to blackmail Simon. Martin has seen his e-mails to Blue, and wants Simon to put ‘a good word’ in with Abby for him. Later in the novel, Simon’s friends act a little strange around him, and thanks to his younger sister, Simon discovers a very revealing post has been put on the school’s Tumbler page. I knew what was coming. I almost ripped the book in two, as we get closer and closer to finding out what’s happened. And, really, it’s heart-breaking. Simon’s hand is forced, and although he knows his parents won’t kick him out or anything, he’s still pushed into telling them before he’s ready.
Some people might think Martin’s actions – or Leah’s, or Abby’s, or some of the other characters in the book – are overreactions. And yeah, they kind of are (especially Martin. What an arsehole). But, the thing is, that’s what teenagers do (sometimes! Not all of them, not all the time, but sometimes!), they over-react. And, hell, plenty of adults do too, don’t get me wrong. But I remember, as a teenager, getting so worked up over stuff that doesn’t really matter, but which, at the time, really does.
It doesn’t mean those problems don’t matter. And that’s one of the things, I think, Becky Abertalli does amazingly well. She shows those things which, to adults, would seem small, but reflects them in a way that shows just how much it means to these teenagers.
None of the characters were unlikable because of the way they were written. Instead, Abertalli brilliantly guides you to conclusions about the characters, drawing you more into Simon’s head yet allowing us to make up our own minds about them. The teachers seem like they really do care for the students, Simon’s parents are supportive, and there are darker directions this book could have gone, but just didn’t. It all blends together really well, and feels so much like reading an actual high school student’s diary, it read almost like non-fiction. (In a really good way)
So, as you can tell, I absolutely loved this book, and will continue to make book-buying decisions based on Twitter. It’s enjoyable and wonderful and happy and uplifting and I almost cried when I put it down, after picking it up only two days before.
I’ve kind of been beating myself up over not keeping the blog more updated, but the truth is I’ve struggled recently with thinking of what I could write here that would be interesting. Then I realized, hang on, it’s my blog, I can put what I want really, and more importantly, I don’t have to do anything too lengthy.
So now and then I’ll put up shorter posts just saying what I’ve been up to and what I’m working on at the moment. Sound good? Glad we’re in agreement.
Didn’t do any writing yesterday, as I went out to watch the rugby. This is a national pastime in Wales – the Six Nations are on so it’s kind of a rule you have to go to the pub and get drunk watching a match, for at least one of the games. Importantly, yesterday was basically the decider for the whole thing. England vs Wales, an age old rivalry, so it was important on a number of levels. Wales lost. We won’t mention this again.
In terms of writing, I struggle to stick to one project at a time. A lot of my focus recently has been on short stories, though I usually dip in and out of the numerous novels I have on the go, too.
At the moment, I’m trying to get a few chapters done of my vampire novel. This is a novel I’ve worked on – on and off – since I was fourteen. I actually finished it, sent it off and had a rejection letter on it when I was fifteen. Back when I knew a lot less about writing. Obviously in the last ten years it’s gone through a lot of rewrites, especially as in that time Twilight appeared and I did not want anything linking my vampires to them. Even at fifteen, I wanted them to be darker. They’re monsters, even if the main group in the novel aren’t the bad guys. So yeah, working a little on that, which is always fun as I get to play around with a cast with massively different histories, backstories and, obviously, personalities, all through the eyes of a teenage girl who gets roped in with them while trying to look for her missing brother.
Two short stories on the go right now; one about an estate agent showing a couple around a possibly haunted house (not horror though), which I got the idea from after using Writer’s Forum plot generator square. Really useful to spark off an idea. And I’m working on the second draft of a story called ‘Indistinguishable’, about a young couple who find strange technology in a cave near their village.
Outside of writing, I’ve been working and trying to get some running in, though health issues have meant I had to stop that for a few days. I’m doing a 5K run in May, raising money for Macmillan doing it. It’s not just a straight run though; this is an inflatable obstacle course. Which should be….I hesitate to use the word fun.
And I started playing Disney Infinity on Friday. Fantastic game, I’ve got all the Star Wars sets for it now so I was playing as Boba Fett, Luke and Leia. A lot of fun. So that’s about it for now. Hope you’ve all had a great weekend and have a fun week, and I’ll try to get another post up soon.