Review | Angelfall – Susan Ee

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Paperback (Hodder and Stoughton, 325 pages)

First published 2011; this edition published 2013

Rating on Goodreads: 3 stars

(Won on Goodreads)

“It’s been six weeks since the angels of the apocalypse destroyed the world as we know it. Only pockets of humanity remain. 

Savage street gangs rule the day while fear and superstition rule the night. 

When angels fly away with a helpless girl, her seventeen-year-old sister Penryn will do anything to get her back…”


Another dystopian, another ‘end of the world’ type novel.

I’ll admit, Angelfall does have its original elements, but overall, to me it feels like another tired YA novel with the girl fighting for survival whilst simultaneously trying not to fall in love. Seriously? *headdesk*

The idea of angels being the ‘bad guys’ appeals to me, and that’s why I was so pleased to receive a copy of Angelfall, but the novel, though I read it in one setting, just didn’t stand out for me. If it was standing in a row of other YA novels, it wouldn’t stand out to me. Susan Ee’s writing is readable, but not revolutionary. It’s enjoyable, but I wouldn’t read this again. Nor would I continue to read the series.

The inclusion of mental illness is a pleasing one; it’s rare that I see mental illness in stories that isn’t part of the plot. But it seemed almost glamourised. And that is a dangerous thing. It could have been handled well, but I really feel it wasn’t in Angelfall.

This was an enjoyable read – with a few moments that made me wince – but overall, I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for an original YA dystopian novel.

 

Review | Gutenberg’s Apprentice – Alix Christie

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Paperback (Headline Review, 392 pages)

Expected publication: September 23rd 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 2 stars

“Gripping historical novel about a young German scribe apprenticed to one of history’s most extraordinary characters, Johann Gutenberg, creator of the first printed Bibles. Dramatic, colourful, historically accurate, the novel is both gripping and informative, bringing to life a period of unprecedented change in Europe and beyond.”


Gripping, this wasn’t. I really wanted to like this novel, I really did. But the style just didn’t grab me. I didn’t find the characters interesting, nor the setting. I have a long-standing interest in the history of the printing press and palaeography, and I truly hoped that Gutenberg’s Apprentice would be just what I expected. But it wasn’t. I found the writing dull. That might sound like an awful thing to say, but I just could not get into the story. The characters had no depth to them, and I really feel like Ms Christie could have explored them a little bit more. The problem is the style, which at times is so formal that the reader can’t grasp at the personalities or the emotions of the characters, nor at the nuances of the history behind it.

As a historical novel, this simply didn’t work for me, at all. Which is a shame.

 

Review | The Ocean At The End of The Lane – Neil Gaiman

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Paperback (Headline Review, 248 pages)

First published 2013; this edition published 2013

Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

“Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.”


God, I love Neil Gaiman’s writing. I love his imagination. Who else could come up with a tale as enchanting and magical and unearthly as this?

My only quibble is that I wish that this novel was longer. I really, really do. I love Gaiman’s style so much, and the story leaves me wanting more of these characters, even though it’s made clear that the event of the novel is an isolated one.

This was a lovely, albeit short tale. The characters are wonderful, the setting mystical, and I have honestly read nothing like it. I love the slightly fey atmosphere that runs throughout the novel, the literal Otherworld that Lettie and her family hail from – just enough to tantalise the reader’s curiosity, and enough to sustain the story and not leave the setting too thin or too flimsy. It is a story concentrated on one small area, one time period in a person’s life, and yet it has more scope than many a fantasy novel I’ve read. I have a soft spot for otherworldly novels, and this one sits in that spot quite nicely.

A brilliant fantasy tale. Gaiman has struck gold once again.


 

Review | Popular – Maya van Wagenen

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Paperback (Penguin, 259 pages)

First published 2014; this edition published 2014

Rating on Goodreads: 4 stars

“Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular? 

The real-life results are painful, funny, and include a wonderful and unexpected surprise—meeting and befriending Betty Cornell herself. Told with humor and grace, Maya’s journey offers readers of all ages a thoroughly contemporary example of kindness and self-confidence.”

 


This was a light, fun book to read. I read it in a couple of hours – van Wagenen’s writing style is easy to get sucked into, light-hearted, and she is wonderfully down-to-earth. I’m impressed that van Wagenen had the balls to carry out this experiment – being as shy as I am at times,  I couldn’t imagine doing half the things that this lady did. Some of the anecdotes made me laugh in shock – and yet utterly respect her for doing them. Kudos to you, Ms van Wagenen. Even more fascinating was the fact that her classmates seemed to think other people were more popular, even when those different individuals considered those classmates to be the most popular – perhaps we should take a leaf out of Ms van Wagenen’s book and start opening up perceived social barriers.

I may have to check out Betty Cornell’s popularity guide for myself, and compare the tips from the 1950s with social ‘rules’ from today, just as Maya van Wagenen has done. If I am honest, I would have preferred the book to be a little longer, but doesn’t everyone, when they find a book they enjoy?

This is a great YA novel, and I think it would suit everyone to read. It might teach us a thing or two about what popularity really is, and whether it’s worth it.