Author Interview – Alison Rattle on her new YA novel The Beloved

Published August 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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ALISON RATTLE – A BIOGRAPHY

Alison grew up in Liverpool, and now lives in a medieval house in Somerset with her three very nearly grown-up children, her husband – a carpenter – an extremely naughty Jack Russell and a ghost cat. She has co-authored a number of non-fiction titles on subjects as diverse as growing old, mad monarchs, how to boil a flamingo, the history of America and the biography of a nineteenth-century baby killer. She has worked as a fashion designer, a production controller, a painter and decorator, a barmaid, and now owns and runs a vintage tea room in the city of Wells. Alison has also published three YA books about young Victorian women with Hot Key Books – THE QUIETNESS, THE MADNESS and THE BELOVED. Her fourth novel is due out May 2016. Follow Alison at http://www.alisonrattle.com or on Twitter: @alisonrattle

Please click on the book covers to get the link to GoodReads!

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See my review for The Quietness HERE!

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See my review for The Madness HERE!

Interview with Alison Rattle

I’d like to welcome Alison to bibliobeth today and thank her for her time in giving this interview!

1.) Your latest novel, The Beloved is based on an actual religious sect, The Agapemonites founded in 1846. Can you tell us about the research you had to carry out on this sect for the novel?

I stumbled across the story of The Agapemonites a few years ago when I was doing research for another book. I love quirky pieces of social history, so I stored this one away and had pretty much forgotten about it, until I was thinking of ideas for my next book and found it again in my note file. I actually live not too far away from the village of Spaxton, so the first thing I did was to visit the village. It’s a tiny little place, tucked away in the middle of nowhere with a real feeling of isolation. The buildings of the Abode of Love are still there as is The Lamb pub next door. I could really imagine how much more isolated it must have been in the 1800’s and this gave me a real sense of how such a sect could have survived and flourished away from the public eye. The walls of the pub next door were covered in old newspaper cuttings from the day, so I was able to read about the real scandals and to incorporate them into my story. Newspaper accounts from the period you are writing in are always invaluable, and the tone of the journalism was always so much more colourful than it is today.

2.) The main character, Alice Angel is a naive yet independent young woman which I love and your main female characters in The Quietness and The Madness also seem to have that fiesty streak. Have you ever thought about writing a novel from a male perspective?

I suppose I am naturally drawn to writing female characters because of course I am female myself and can draw upon my own memories of what it was like to be a teenager. Every book I write is a new learning curve and a challenge, so yes, I would like to one day have a go at writing from a male perspective – just to see if I could, if nothing else!

3.) Henry Prince aka The Beloved, is a charming yet despicable young man. Do you think he believed his own hype or always had an ulterior motive?

In real life, Henry Prince was actually a very ugly old man, which makes it even more surprising that he managed to entice so many followers into his cult. He must have had such charisma though, like many people of that type do. He absolutely believed in his own hype. He really did think he was God made flesh. Which I guess was what made him so persuasive.

4.) You touch on some difficult subjects in your novels which make them tense but so exciting to read. Is there any subject you have found difficult to write about/or wouldn’t write about?

I am very much drawn to writing about difficult subjects. I don’t know why. It’s just how I’m made I guess. The darker the better as far as I’m concerned! I don’t think there’s any subject that would be off my radar. I did get very affected when I researched the horrendous practice of baby-farming for my first book, The Quietness. When you’re writing historical fiction, there a distance between you and your subject, which can lessen the impact of a distressing subject, because it seems so far from your own life. But when I delved into the world of baby-farming, I began by researching the life of a baby farmer called Amelia Dyer (I co-wrote her biography – Amelia Dyer – Angel Maker)and followed the lives of some of the children she took into her care and later murdered. I ordered the death certificate of one of these children and reading about how he died, and seeing it in print right in front of me, really hit home and made me cry buckets.

(bibliobeth: “Must order Amelia Dyer biography now!”)

5.) Are you working on anything now and can you tell us a little bit about it?

I’ve just finished my fourth book (well, still lots of rewrites and editing to do!) It’s quite different from my first three books. It’s not set in Victorian England for one thing, but in 1961. The main character is called Violet and she was born above her Dad’s fish and chip shop at the exact moment Winston Churchill announced the end of World War 2 on the wireless. It’s a coming of age story and follows Violet as she deals with broken friendships, first love, a missing brother and a series of mysterious murders.

(bibliobeth: “Sounds brilliant – can’t wait!”)

Now for some quick fire questions!

E book or real book?

Got to be real books, I’m afraid. Just love the smell, the feel, and seeing them all, fat with words, lined up in rows on my shelves. Although I did buy my husband a Kindle for Christmas. And he loves it.

Series or stand alone?

Stand alone. I’m too impatient to wait for the next in a series!

Fiction or non-fiction?

Fiction mostly, although I do love the occasional juicy non-fiction social history, such as The Victorian House: Domestic Life from Childbirth to Deathbed.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?

Definitely bookshops. Especially ones with a coffee shop. Heaven!

Bookmarking or dog-earing?

Oh blimey. Dog-earing, I have to admit. My books are always well-thumbed.

Once again, a big thank you to Alison for her efforts in making this interview possible and I’m incredibly excited now for the next book.

The Beloved was published on 5th March 2015 by Hot Key Books and is available from all good retailers NOW. Why not check out her back catalogue too? I highly recommend both The Quietness and The Madness which are both stand-alone novels and can be read in any order you like!

The Beloved – Alison Rattle

Published August 27, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Escape from a bullying mother takes one young woman to an even more dangerous place.

Alice Angel has known only a life of rules, restriction and punishments as she strays from the rigid path of Victorian proprietary that her mother has set out for her. A constant disappointment to all but her doting father, she longs for the day that she might break free from the stifling atmosphere of her mother’s rule.

After a chance encounter with a charming stranger, and a final incident with her family that sees her condemned to the madhouse, Alice sees her opportunity to run and grasps it with both hands. She escapes to join the Agapemonites in their Abode of Love, where ex-Reverend Henry Prince rules his isolated colony of women as their Beloved. Prince ignites a passion in Alice that she never knew existed, and she dares to think she might be free at last.

But as Alice becomes more deeply drawn into the life of Prince’s strange religious sect, secrets are revealed that seem to hint at a darker nature lurking behind the man’s charm. Instead of freedom, is Alice in fact more trapped, alone and in danger than ever before?

What did I think?:

This is Alison Rattle’s third historical novel following the wonderful The Quietness and The Madness, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and cemented her as one of my “auto buy” authors i.e. without even reading a synopsis I have faith that her books are going to move me in some way and she hasn’t proved me wrong so far. As with her previous two novels, Alison features a strong young female heroine, in this case Alice, who lives with her emotionally abusive mother and her father and brother who she is closer to. Her mother is incredibly manipulative and seems to delight in punishing her daughter when she strays too far from what she thinks a young Victorian lady should be.

The final straw comes for Alice when her mother manages to convince the family that she is insane and should be committed to an asylum. After listening to a stranger preach and being passionately affected by it, Alice decides to run away and join his group, The Agapemonites which is a woman’s only colony of a new religious order ruled over by Henry Prince known to the women who stay with him as their Beloved. At first, Alice is overwhelmed by a satisfied feeling of relief that she has finally figured out where she belongs and idolises Henry, looking for any opportunity to be closer to him and drink in his magical words.

Then things start to feel a bit wrong and certain practices which involve some of Alice’s new friends seem slightly abhorrent. When Alice is chosen for a privileged position at Henry’s right hand her worst fears may be about to be confirmed. Has she escaped one prison environment for another? More importantly, does she have the strength to disappear again and where would she go, estranged from her family as she is?

One of my favourite things about Alison Rattle’s books is how she draws on factual events from history and interprets it in a new and exciting way. As the author mentions in her Historical Notes yes, there actually was an “Abode of Love,” established by one Henry Prince in 1846 that he built in order to brain-wash a certain type of woman that he was the new Messiah. I hadn’t heard of this before and was absolutely fascinated, inspired to carry out my own research on the subject.

The characterisation is magnificent, I loved the strong yet vulnerable and naive Alice, shook my head a few times in disbelief at Alice’s mother Temperance, became exasperated by the weakness of Alice’s brother Eli and read mostly with my mouth (most unattractively) agog at the dealings of Henry Prince. The author has a real gift for pulling the reader right inside the novel and always manages to surprise me with the slickness and excitement of her plot. There is one particularly shocking scene which I won’t spoil but I guarantee everyone who reads it will be moved in some manner. With this third novel, Alison Rattle has without a doubt made it onto my favourite authors list and I even feel slightly jealous that those of you who haven’t read her yet have three fantastic novels to discover while I wait impatiently for the fourth!

Please come back to visit tomorrow where Alison Rattle will be visiting bibliobeth for an interview where she will answer what we all want to know – does she dog ear her books?!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Legend (Legend #1) – Marie Lu

Published August 25, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

What did I think?:

Legend is another one of those YA novels set in a dystopian future where the world we know it is at war with each other and a vile, corrupt government is responsible for a host of bad decisions that leave a vast number of people in poverty or danger. I’m glad to report that I felt it held its own against rivals such as The Hunger Games and Divergent and it’s one of those books that I can easily see on the big screens like its predecessors. Our two main characters – a heroine and a hero, are vastly different in the obvious ways i.e. June, who has lived a privileged life and is the Republic’s darling, set to shine brightly as a military genius when compared to Day who is the Republic’s most wanted criminal and barely manages to scrape enough together to make sure his family does not go hungry. However, when their paths inevitably cross, both June and Day have some striking similarities but have to decide whether the other can be trusted.

So the world has gone a little crazy, to put it mildly and what we know as Los Angeles is dominated by the Republic, ruled over by an Elector Primo who can re-elect himself time and time again (where did democracy sneak off to?!). By the age of ten, each child who lives in the state must take a test known as The Trial composed of both written and physical examinations. If they pass they are practically guaranteed a nice life with a well-paid job for the rest of their years and if they fail, well they can say hello to Poverty Central. I wasn’t too enamoured with the world-building here, mainly because I was so curious about how exactly the world came to be in this state and wouldn’t have minded a bit of history or background information. This may be what the author is working up to and I hope that the next books in the series will explain all of this in a bit more detail.

I really loved the characters of both June and Day and as we get both points of view in alternating chapters, it gave a nice glance into both sides of this peculiar world where the flu is killing off the poor in their hundreds yet the rich are automatically guaranteed a vaccination. Hmm….interesting. We see Day suffering every day as he tries to hide himself from the authorities while still trying to sneak ways to visit and look after his family, especially when one of them becomes desperately ill with the dreaded flu. June’s suffering on the other hand only begins when her beloved older brother Metias is killed in action while trying to apprehend a dangerous and notorious criminal – yes, that would be Day! Hell-bent on revenge and with all the right skills at her disposal, the Republic uses her grief for her brother as a weapon so they may finally get their hands on the Republic’s Most Wanted. When the two finally meet, they are both startled to realise neither is who they thought they expected them to be and if they join forces, they just might be able to make a stand against a government with evil on its mind.

I have to admit, I was pretty gutted when the author decided to kill off June’s brother Metias, as in the short time we get to know him, he is instantly likeable and I loved the strong bond between brother and sister that was portrayed. This gave June so much more strength and believability as a character though and it was exciting/sad to see how much she developed in maturity without her brother there to hold her hand. At times she did seem hopelessly naive in her beliefs over the Republic but on the other hand, if it is all she has known and she has never come across anyone who would tell her otherwise, it wasn’t surprising.

Legend is a fast-paced and thrilling read and it steps up level by level as the story continues to a nail-biting finale where we finally begin to understand just how low the Republic would stoop in order to keep their little world just the way they like it. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next book in the series and I have high hopes that we will see some more world-building, more “kicking ass,” more anticipation and terror and probably even more questions that I will in no doubt want immediately answered by the final book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

Published August 24, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The feeling that coincidences give us tells us they mean something… But what? What do they mean?

LAURETH PEAK’S father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers – a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. When he goes missing while researching coincidence for a new book, Laureth and her younger brother fly from London to New York and must unravel a series of cryptic messages to find him. The complication: Laureth is blind. Reliant on her other senses and on her brother to survive, Laureth finds that rescuing her father will take all her skill at spotting the extraordinary, and sometimes dangerous, connections in a world full of darkness.

From acclaimed storyteller Marcus Sedgwick, She Is Not Invisible is a gripping contemporary thriller threaded with unsettling coincidence and a vivid and convincing portrayal of a young woman living without sight.

What did I think?:

I’ve wanted to read a book of Marcus Sedgwick’s for so long after hearing many positive things about him so She Is Not Invisible seemed a great place to start. It it essentially a short-ish YA novel told from the point of view of a sixteen year old female protagonist called Laureth, but the difference with this character is that she is blind. Her father is a successful author and is in the middle of researching his new book in Europe which sees him investigating coincidence, the theories of people like Einstein and Jung and the peculiar significance of the number 354. Laureth has not heard from him in a while and is quietly concerned (unlike her mother who doesn’t seem to give two hoots) but alarm bells start ringing when she receives a mysterious email from someone in New York who claims to have possession of her father’s beloved notebook and as proof, he sends a copy of a few of the pages.

Her mother is going away for the weekend and entrusts the care of Laureth’s seven year old brother Benjamin on her. Instead Laureth, now desperately worried, decides to use her mother’s credit card to get her and Benjamin from the UK to New York in search of her father. A tough mission for any ordinary sixteen year old girl but imagine when you have to consider being blind as one of your challenges? I found myself absolutely thrilled by both the character of Laureth with her strength, resilience and determination and the adorable Benjamin who just leapt off the pages for me as someone I could give a giant hug to! Benjamin has a stuffed raven (called Stan) who he won’t be parted from and constantly whispers to as if he is bringing the toy up to speed on their current situation. Benjamin also has hidden strengths within himself that come to light as the novel continues and he plays a crucial part in guiding his sister around the melting pots of sounds, smells and noises that is New York, allowing her to see the city through him.

Another important part of this story is Mr Peak’s notebook which we see glimpses of from time to time as the two children try to find clues about where their father may be. It is very philosophical and often had me wondering about the nature of coincidence… it all became a bit spooky. Several reviewers didn’t really enjoy this part of the novel and some found that the excerpts from the notebook didn’t really add much to the narrative but personally I really enjoyed it as something a bit different from the usual manner of story-telling. I was especially excited about the parts written regarding the number 354 and then guess what page She Is Not Invisible finishes on? Yes, 354. There are many other instances, including the ending where the author shows just how meticulous he has been in writing the novel, everything adds up just right and although I was surprised, I think it was a nice way to end the book.

I do think that this book will probably split some people and it seems to have done just that by the reviews I have read already. Some may find the philosophical bits not to their taste, others may have been expecting something different from the ending. For me, it was a unique and exciting tale that shows YA characters can have disabilities and still be strong (in some cases, stronger) characters too and I hope that other authors will be inspired to step up and promote/recognise disabilities in their work also. From an absolutely brilliant first line:

“One final time I told myself I wasn’t abducting my little brother.”

to when I turned the final page, I was engrossed in Laureth’s story and didn’t want it to end. I will definitely be looking out for more work by Marcus Sedgwick, he has an undeniable talent for beautiful prose and a thought-provoking plot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge – Narrative of Agent 97-4702 by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner

Published August 23, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Narrative of Agent 97-4702 all about?:

Our narrator in this short story is a government agent who details her daily working life, how she came to enter the Agency, her relationship with her husband and the time when she faced disciplinary action.

What did I think?:

I Am An Executioner has been one of my favourite collections of short stories and introduced me to an author who writes with such intensity and passion that I was so glad I discovered him. Not every story is going to be perfect however or speak to the reader on an individual level. Unfortunately, Narrative of Agent 97-4702 was one of those stories for me and even on a second reading failed to interest me although as before I appreciated the unique style of writing that the author gives us with every story.

Our narrator is a government agent in a dystopian future whose current mission is to report on the actions of a particular subject as he leaves for work each day. Our narrator does not know much about the subject in question, not even what he does for a living, her task is to merely report on what he does each morning and then at 1900 hrs when he returns from his working day. The reader also gets an insight into our narrators personal history – how she became an Agent in the first place, her relationship with her husband (referred to here only as “J”) and a matter with another Agent where she viewed personal information that she was not supposed to have access to and which may result in disciplinary action. The story itself is presented as a written confession from our narrator, admitting that she has accessed this unauthorised information.

This review has proved very difficult to write, I appreciated the intrigue of our Agents role and thought the relationship with her husband J was very interesting as neither were allowed to speak about what they do during the day. For some reason though this story fell quite flat for me and I was disappointed as I have thoroughly enjoyed most of the stories in this collection. I’m not sure whether it was because I found our narrators voice quite cold and hard to relate to but then again, I believe this was what the author meant us to feel due to the mysterious nature of her work. All the stories in this collection are about love and in all the different ways it is represented and even though our Agent and J are very limited in what they can talk about round the dinner table, you can sense the deep love in their relationship. I would love to hear other people’s points of view on this story, am I missing something and did you enjoy it?

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: Small Degrees by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

This Book Is Gay – James Dawson

Published August 22, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Former PSHCE teacher and acclaimed YA author James Dawson gives an uncensored look at what it’s like to grow up as LGBT. Including testimonials from people ‘across the spectrum’, this inclusive book explores everything anyone who ever dared to wonder wants to know – from sex to politics, how to pull, stereotypes, how to come-out and more. Spike Gerrell’s hilarious illustrations combined with funny and factual text make this a must-have read.

What did I think?:

With its bright rainbow cover and “look at me” title, This Book Is Gay is no shrinking violet. Thank goodness for that! This is a frank and humorous look at sexuality across the LGBT* spectrum that is surely a godsend to teenagers in today’s world who are confused or curious about their gender preference and even as a heterosexual female, I found this book to be an entertaining and fact-filled journey where there is always something to be learned.

James Dawson is brutally honest about the fact that despite his experience in sex education for youngsters he is by no means a complete expert, he just talks about what he knows. I’ve read some reviews on this book and the main criticism seems to be that he doesn’t really explore other types of sexuality, for example asexual and pan-sexual preferences. Yes, this is the case but sexuality in general is such a huge topic and I feel if he was to explore everything in detail the book would lose something of its undeniable charm.

Most of the information I read I was aware of before but I was also surprised to learn a few things as well. There are also certain things I have a mental image of thanks to James that I don’t think I will be able to get rid of for a while! e.g. how to pleasure a man – DO NOT shake it like a tomato ketchup bottle! The author also covers a wide variety of topics from how to come out and the ins and outs of gay sex to gay icons and stereotypes. The most important message he covers through the novel however is that it’s okay to be yourself, to be unique and to fancy whoever floats your boat be that man, woman or both. This is a fantastic statement to send to all teenagers as we all remember how tough adolescence is, regardless of sexuality and I have to applaud James Dawson for this.

As well as this, the author provides testimonials from real teenagers across the globe as they talk about their own experiences with sexuality. And if this wasn’t enough, a comprehensive list of places to go to for more information, phone numbers and websites is provided at the end of the book so people can make use of the services that are provided but perhaps little known about. Finally, the illustrations by Spike Gerrell which accompany James’ hilarious and honest text are just the icing on the cake and provided quite a few laugh out loud moments for myself and the people that I immediately thrust this book upon. I highly recommend this book for anyone curious about sexuality and especially for those struggling teenagers out there. It’s a hugely important read that I can only hope will be stocked in school libraries and be referred to in sex education classes for years to come.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Knife Edge (Noughts And Crosses #2) – Malorie Blackman

Published August 19, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

This thought-provoking and often provocative look at racism is a sequel to the award-winning Noughts & Crosses.

Persephone (Sephy) Hadley, now an 18-year-old single parent, is raising her biracial daughter in a sharply divided alternate England, where black Crosses suppress the white Noughts. She faces pressure from both her less-than-understanding Cross family and her disintegrating Naught family, and everyone in between. When her brother-in-law’s violent behavior leads to murder, Sephy provides a false alibi to save Jude, but doing so irreparably damages other lives.

What did I think?:

I’ve only dipped my toe so as to speak into Malorie Blackman’s excellent young adult reads so far, starting with the brilliant Noughts And Crosses (read my review HERE) and now with the follow up Knife Edge. Well, I might be a bit of a latecomer to the party but blow me down with a feather she is a superb writer! I always worry with a series that it might suffer from “second book syndrome,” or tail off and lose my interest but I enjoyed the sequel just as much as I did the first. I’m going to try my hardest not to spoil things for those of you that haven’t begun the series yet but it might be better if you go off and read the first book then come back and read my review!

Okay, so where the first novel focuses on two Romeo and Juliet-esque characters who are fated never to be together purely because of the difference in their skin colours, the second tends to focus and hone in on a couple of these characters – Persephone (Sephy to her friends) and Jude. After the nail-biting and shocking ending of Noughts & Crosses, Sephy has a hell of a lot more to be worried about then just relationships. She now has a whole new life to be responsible for in the form of Callie Rose, a daughter named for her father and more precious to her than anything else. Life never runs smoothly for Sephy sadly and she ends up moving in with Callum’s mother Meggie who is not completely delighted to have her there but begins to dote on her little grand-child. Poor Sephy is also suffering from what happened in the last novel along with a bout of post natal depression which begins to threaten her relationship with her daughter.

As well as Sephy’s viewpoint, we also get one from another familiar character – Jude, Callum’s brother who is on the run after being wanted as a member of the Liberation Militia, a violent organisation seeking equal rights for Noughts in a world ruled by inequality. He is absolutely furious with Sephy (and with all Crosses in general) for what he believes she has put his family through and when something happens to him that shakes his whole belief system, their paths cross again. Will she help him or will it be daggers at dawn?

I’ve got to admit I had no idea about which way Malorie Blackman was going to take this story after the ending of the first novel (which was pure fireworks for me, by the way) and I’m really pleased she dug down a bit deeper into her characters mindsets. We have suffered with Sephy from the very beginning of the series but in Knife Edge we see her becoming a mother, overcoming obstacles and really growing as a person. But Jude – what can I say? He is a vile, disgraceful and embarrassing piece of humanity but by the author exploring his character in more depth and allowing for a tiny glimmer of good that he might possess, I even started feeling a bit sorry for him! Only a bit, mind you. Once again, I also loved the way in which the author presented this dystopian world not too far removed from our own, where skin colour can mean everything in life is granted or taken away from you. And the ending? Oh dear Lord, she’s done it again….it’s one terrific cliffhanger that will have you grabbing for the third book in this four book series Checkmate immediately!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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