June 2014 Chrissi Cupboard Month

All posts tagged June 2014 Chrissi Cupboard Month

Siege And Storm (The Grisha #2) – Leigh Bardugo

Published August 20, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

What did I think?:

My sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads introduced me to this series and it was a last minute addition to Chrissi Cupboard Month back in June as I enjoyed the first one so much earlier in the month. When we catch up with our main character Alina, she is on the run with Mal desperately trying to evade the clutches of the mysterious Darkling by trying to remain in disguise and under cover as much as possible. However, things don’t go exactly to plan and worse of all the Darkling has returned with a new ancient and highly destructive power which allows him to create shadow creatures that become his dark warriors. They are a considerable threat to Alina’s new power (which is also making her slightly power hungry) and she can see no choice but to find another amplifier so that she may have a real chance of defeating the Darkling.

Enter stage right the next intriguing character, Sturmhond who captains the ship sent to retrieve Alina and Mal and bring them to the Darkling. Sturmhond however doesn’t really take to being ordered around and has his own hidden agenda. Please note, he is definitely not what he seems in more ways than one. I absolutely loved this character and thought it was a solid addition to our line-up. But guess what? Mal is not as enamoured by him as others and it is not for the first time that Alina and Mal’s relationship may be teetering on the brink of failing. I didn’t get on too well with “jealous” Mal in this sequel, although it is obvious that a lot of barriers are put in their way that may be too strong to overcome. This is especially true when Alina is put in command of the Grisha soldiers that are on the “good” side, widening the gap between them further still as Mal is drafted into a more lowly position.

Alina is fully committed to saving her country Ravka against the evil forces of the Darkling, perhaps in part due to the responsibility she feels for a number of deaths in the Shadow Fold previously. The worry is that she will not be able to find and exploit the Darkling’s weak spot and to make things slightly hairier she is having vivid dreams where the Darkling is appearing to her, almost if he was controlling her mind. She feels she cannot confide in Mal about this and this only serves to widen the gap that is slowly forming between the pair as he becomes more distant and she works on strengthening her powers.

I enjoyed this second offering from Leigh Bardugo as much if not more than the debut, although I must say that Sturmhond really made the story stand out.  His wit and banter with Alina is fun to read and he is quick to goad and wind up poor Mal who ends up in a very dark place in this novel. There are a few questions that come out of it as we reach the finale – who can Alina trust? Can she defeat the Darkling? Who is Sturmhond really? And finally, when is Mal going to snap out of it and stop sulking?! Once again, the author creates a beautiful and imaginative world with a strong cast of characters that leave plenty of wiggle room for further development. I loved every moment of it and can’t wait to read the final instalment: Ruin and Rising, although in part I don’t want it to be over so I may stall for a while. Leigh Bardugo is a huge talent that mixes the perfect blend of fantasy and adventure to create a memorable and exciting series.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Shadows On The Moon – Zoe Marriott

Published August 18, 2014 by bibliobeth

9741685

What’s it all about?:

A powerful tale of magic, love and revenge with a strong female lead set in fairy-tale Japan; this is “Cinderella” meets “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Trained in the magical art of shadow-weaving, sixteen-year-old Suzume is able to recreate herself in any form – a fabulous gift for a girl desperate to escape her past. But who is she really? Is she a girl of noble birth living under the tyranny of her mother’s new husband, Lord Terayama, or a lowly drudge scraping a living in the ashes of Terayama’s kitchens, or Yue, the most beautiful courtesan in the Moonlit Lands? Whatever her true identity, Suzume is destined to capture the heart of a prince – and determined to use his power to destroy Terayama. And nothing will stop her, not even love.

What did I think?:

Describing this book as a cross between Cinderella and Memoirs of A Geisha is a perfect introduction to a magical and beautiful tale by an author I’m determined to know a lot more about. It was one of the books I picked as part of Chrissi Cupboard Month back in June and my sister recommended it to me as she knew I was a big lover of both fairy-tales and Japanese historical fiction, describing it as a nice blend of the two. It is important to remember however that this story is inspired by Japan only – the imaginative world Zoe Marriott has created is entirely her own. Our main character is a young girl called Suzume, who when we begin the story is enjoying her life as part of a relatively wealthy family with her beloved cousin Aimi who stays with them. Suzume is very close to her father who is presented as warm and caring in comparison to her mother who came across as slightly cold. This is all the more bitter-sweet when tragedy strikes in the form of soldiers storming their house, accusing her father of treason and killing him and her cousin. Suzume manages to escape by drawing upon powers which she didn’t know she had. For Suzume is a “shadow-weaver,” and is able to manipulate the light and shadows in ways where she can make people see things a little differently or hide herself when in danger.

Surviving the slaughter of her father and cousin might not have been the best thing for poor Suzume who is traumatised further when her mother weds the scheming Lord Terayama, a little bit too quickly for her liking. She finds herself often pushed into the background or held up as a trophy when required by Terayama. Her immense distrust of him is proved correct when she finds out something that leads to her fearing for her life. She is forced to leave the household but ends up disguised as a skivvy in Terayama’s kitchens, desperately hoping he will not discover her. This is also where her shadow weaving comes in very handy! An old servant who faithfully served her father and is now part of Terayama’s household looks after her in any way he can and is able to encourage and strengthen her “gift.” It is here that she also meets the love interest of the novel, Otieno who swoops in like a white knight and gives Suzume the first real possibility for happiness. When forced to flee again, Suzume meets an intriguing young woman called Kano Akira, famous for having been the Prince’s Shadow Bride, chosen at an exclusive ball with a very-difficult-to-get-on VIP list! She boosts Sazume’s confidence, starts to mend her emotional scars, and gives her the possibility of exacting revenge on the villain that needs it the most. But can Suzume even begin to consider the implications of becoming the next Shadow Bride? And what effect might that have on her own budding relationship? Is seeking revenge more important then love? Suzume certainly seems to think so.

So, this book had pretty much everything ticked for me. Japanese element (tick), Fairy-tale and a few nifty magic tricks (tick), and a plot that pulls you in from the moment you begin and doesn’t let up (TICK!). The world the author creates is a nod to feudal Japan and felt entirely authentic and gripping. Suzume herself is a fantastic heroine, with bags load of bravery in a life that seems to be against her. I loved the change of identities that she went through just to keep herself safe, and her tumble from nobility to poverty is told with a sympathetic and imaginative mind. I wasn’t too sure what to make of the love interest, Otieno, at first, but by the end I completely bought the relationship and enjoyed the interactions between two people that could definitely be described as “star-crossed.” The attention to detail within the novel and the unravelling of the plot are outstanding and true evidence of a huge talent. Basically, I can’t believe I had never heard of this author before and am so excited to read both her past and future works. I urge you to do the same.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Splintered (Splintered #1) – A.G. Howard

Published August 13, 2014 by bibliobeth

Splintered (Splintered, #1)

What’s it all about?:

This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

What did I think?:

I’ve been wanting to read this debut novel, which is part of a series for a while, and again, Chrissi’s Cupboard Month in June provided the perfect opportunity. The cover art is absolutely beautiful and this continues within the book with purple pages and flowery illustrations along the sides of the pages. I love any book that takes a classic fairy tale and puts a new spin on it and A.G. Howard has written a perfect re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland with a twist, as we get to see the dark side of Lewis Carroll’s famous world down the rabbit hole. It tells the story of a teenager called Alyssa who is the descendant of Alice Liddell, whom in turn was the muse for Lewis Carroll, and the reason behind the weird and wonderful tales of Wonderland. Alyssa is a bit different from your average teenager, she hears the whispers of insects and flowers but is trying to keep it under wraps and bury her head in the sand, desperately hoping she is not afflicted with the same condition that led her mother to be admitted to a psychiatric institution. Alyssa is also very creative, and uses insects as her inspiration for her artwork. It’s perhaps not for everybody as she pins bugs to canvases, but she is clearly gifted and passionate about what she does, if only she could silence those pesky bugs!

‘I’ve been collecting bugs since I was ten; it’s the only way I can stop their whispers. Sticking a pin through the gut of an insect shuts it up pretty quickly.’  

The story really begins to pick up pace when a visit to her mother in the institution leaves her witnessing a particularly awful mental episode. Alyssa starts to wonder whether there may be some truth in the old stories and memories her mother used to tell her and the daily whisperings she has to endure from the bugs and plants. Another tumble down the rabbit hole with her friend (and crush) Jeb is definitely required as she attempts to lift the curse on her family that has passed from generation to generation. But this Wonderland is far darker than you can imagine with well-known characters like the White Rabbit and the Caterpillar appearing er… slightly differently is all I will say! Alyssa also meets Morpheus, a strange and mysterious character who has appeared to her regularly in her childhood in the form of a moth. Alyssa is told that she must complete several tasks before the curse on her family will be lifted and she can return home. One for example, is clearing up the sea of tears that Alice so annoyingly left during her adventure and which has made several of the inhabitants quite cross. Morpheus also completes a love triangle with Jeb who is beginning to realise his feelings for Alyssa, despite having a girlfriend in the “normal” world.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, but believe me, you’ll never look at Alice in Wonderland in the same way again! The characters were beautifully drawn with a clearly vivid imagination – the spider women gave me more than a few chills and the mysterious Morpheus both intrigued and delighted me. I also appreciated that the author didn’t go overboard with the romance element of the plot, there was so much going on anyway that I think it would have been too much, so I found it was excellently written and not shoved in the face of the reader. The world-building is incredible – I’ve already mentioned the imagination that must have gone into writing a book like this but I feel I have to mention again that it was written in such a way that you could lose yourself quite easily in a fantastical place. I’m really looking forward to the next novel in the series, Unhinged to re-join Alyssa and…hopefully Wonderland?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Under The Never Sky (Under The Never Sky #1) – Veronica Rossi

Published August 8, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

WORLDS KEPT THEM APART.

DESTINY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER.

Aria has lived her whole life in the protected dome of Reverie. Her entire world confined to its spaces, she’s never thought to dream of what lies beyond its doors. So when her mother goes missing, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland long enough to find her are slim.

Then Aria meets an outsider named Perry. He’s searching for someone too. He’s also wild – a savage – but might be her best hope at staying alive.

If they can survive, they are each other’s best hope for finding answers.

What did I think?:

Under The Never Sky is another one of my books from Chrissi Cupboard Month in June, the debut novel from Veronica Rossi, and a series I had been excited about starting. It’s not just another one of those dystopian novels that seem to be all the rage at the moment instead it blends a bit of fantasy and science fiction with some high class world-building to give the reader strong main characters and a story that they can really invest in. Our first main character is a teenager called Aria, known as a Dweller, who lives in a little bubble of a world called Reverie. Inhabitants of this strange dome are protected from the wild lands and occasionally dangerous climate outside  and exist mainly in virtual reality, with an eye attachment that allows them to escape to other virtual settings – say, if they fancied lying on a beach, well er… virtually lying that is! Aria’s mother works on a different planet on very important business but she finds time to virtually link up with her daughter via Aria’s “Smarteye,” where she encourages her to sing, hence the name.

When we first meet Aria, things are going a bit haywire. She hasn’t heard from her mother for a while and has no clues as to her disappearance. Rebelling slightly against the rules of the pod they live in, her and a few friends decide to break out and see what the outside world is really like. For example, what exactly is fire? What does it look like, how does it smell etc? Well, unfortunately the teenagers soon find out with some tragic and dangerous results for them all. An outsider called Perry, who seems somewhat mythological to the Dwellers, saves Aria despite his misgivings, but in the end she is expelled from the protection of Reverie to try and survive on the outside.

Perry is a fantastic character. From his impossibly long canines, to his difficult relationship with his brother, and to the love and responsibility he feels towards his nephew are all points in his favour. However I also enjoyed the fact that he wasn’t perfect and breathed a sigh of relief while reading about characters that are quintessentially flawed, therefore human, and far more realistic. Aria’s mission apart from trying to stay alive in a dangerous world, (hey, it’s not called the Death Shop for nothing!) is to find out what has happened to her mother. When Perry meets her for a second time on the outside, he is also looking for something, and it makes sense to team up and look together – at least for a while anyway, as they both find each other highly irritating. However, the two must learn to work together if they are to survive in a world of cannibals, disease, and storms so intense that even the air has the potential to kill you.

As I mentioned before, I loved that this wasn’t just another dystopian novel, much as I enjoy them. I loved the science fiction edge to the story, even if I didn’t really understand what was going on at times. What exactly is the Aether again?! Aria and Perry are both strong and intriguing main characters that I found easy to like, and am curious enough about them to want to continue the series. I’m hoping Veronica Rossi has some more tricks up her sleeve, and a bit more explanation about this fascinating world in the second book as I think this series has the potential to be really fantastic.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Madness – Alison Rattle

Published July 26, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Sixteen-year-old Marnie lives in the idyllic coastal village of Clevedon. Despite being crippled by a childhood exposure to polio, she seems set to follow in her mother’s footsteps, and become a ‘dipper’, escorting fragile female bathers into the sea. Her life is simple and safe. But then she meets Noah. Charming, handsome, son-of-the-local-Lord, Noah. She quickly develops a passion for him – a passion which consumes her.

As Marnie’s infatuation turns to fixation she starts to lose her grip on reality, and a harrowing and dangerous obsession develops that seems certain to end in tragedy. Set in the early Victorian era when propriety, modesty and repression were the rule, this is a taut psychological drama in which the breakdown of a young woman’s emotional state will have a devastating impact on all those around her.

What did I think?:

Alison Rattle’s debut novel was The Quietness which I absolutely loved so I was excited to read this, her second novel which I chose as my seventh book from June 2014 – Chrissi Cupboard Month. As well as the stunning cover art which took my breath away, the story inside is both beautiful and poignant. Set in early Victorian times, it follows the life of our main character, a sixteen year old girl called Marnie who was crippled from an early age by infection with the polio virus. Marnie is determined for her disability not to ruin her life, and works long and hard hours both in and outside of her house to make herself as strong as possible. Her mother is renowned in their small village by the sea as being a “dipper,” in other words, helping other women (mostly the rich and frail) to bathe in the sea in order to absorb the healing properties that it was believed to offer. Marnie herself was “dipped” in the water by her mother on a regular basis in the hope that it would cure her affliction and as a result she develops an intense bond with the sea which appears at times to be her only comfort.

One day the wealthy Lady de Clevedon arrives in the town specifically to attempt sea bathing as she is constantly unwell and very weak. In tow is her son Noah, whom when he meets Marnie is fascinated by her free and daring personality and the two soon become good friends. Noah’s father meanwhile, lays out his plans for the building of a pier in Clevedon which he assures the town will bring entertainment and prosperity. It’s not such good news for Marnie’s mother though, as the dippers are unable to work while the pier is being built. She channels her energies instead into providing a laundrette service, with poor Marnie doing most of the laundering, Marnie is not discouraged however, as she begins to meet Noah late at night by the sea, encouraging him to bathe and learn to swim, step by step. Unfortunately for Marnie, she is beginning to develop stronger feelings for Noah that go beyond the realms of friendship, and is often puzzled by the mixed messages Noah gives her in return. A few times, Noah would sneak her up to the Manor, where they would have hot drinks and play like children, but Noah is afraid of them making too much noise, and is very reluctant to introduce her to his family.

The story really starts to pick up pace when Noah has to return to London with his mother. Even though he shared an intimate moment with Marnie just before he left, he is excited to return to society and see one girl in particular – of his own class of course. I found myself squirming with unhappiness for Marnie as her feelings for Noah increase in intensity becoming a sort of obsession. While he is gone she concocts elaborate fantasies in her head where they are together living at the Manor, never having to launder anything again. Of course, you might be able to see where it’s going, but I really don’t want to spoil anything as I feel the beauty of the story and the writing comes across when you read it for yourself. At times, I almost felt like an eavesdropper on a private moment, as the emotions Marnie goes through are played out across the pages with no holds barred. I also found Marnie’s relationship with her mother very interesting as it didn’t seem to be anywhere near a conventional mother/daughter bond – in fact, it was more employer/servant in my opinion! By the end of the novel, Marnie takes some quite drastic actions which make the novel utterly un-putdownable but because the reader has gone through so much with Marnie, we can almost understand her choices while not condoning them. This story is truly beautiful and haunting, with a bit of darkness added that makes for an utterly compelling read. Beware – don’t read this book if you have any other tasks to complete, because you won’t get them done!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Hollow Pike – James Dawson

Published July 21, 2014 by bibliobeth

10836484

What’s it all about?:

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her. Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her? She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you? Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps… Hollow Pike – where witchcraft never sleeps.

What did I think?:

This is the sixth book from Chrissi Cupboard month which I completed in June of this year. After reading James Dawson’s other excellent young adult novels, Cruel Summer and Say Her Name, I was eager to read Hollow Pike, which was his debut. I found it to be a stunning read, physically and literally speaking with beautiful cover art and images inside that fit with the theme of this novel perfectly. Our main character is a teenager called Lis London who has suffered from bullying in her previous school and when it opens, is travelling to a town called Hollow Pike, to stay with her sister for a while and attend a new school where she is desperately hoping she can fit in and escape the problems of her past. Despite escaping from her tormentors, Lis is having terrifying nightmares, where she is alone in a forest and someone is trying to hurt her. On arriving in Hollow Pike, it becomes more eerie when she recognises the forest of her nightmares in the small town. Lis also finds out that the town has a history for practising witchcraft in the past, and as she eases into her new school and is integrated into the “popular” crowd, learns of a small group that are ostracised for being a bit “freaky,” and are accused of being witches.

Our heroine hasn’t really got the character to be part of the Mean Girls Brigade however, and finds herself warming to the group on the outside, three friends called Jack, Delilah and Kitty, who accept Lis into their fold when Queen Mean Girl Laura turns on Lis for attracting the attention of Danny, who she is determined to snare for herself. In a pivotal moment in the story, tragedy strikes when some teenage pranks go badly wrong and Lis and her new friends find themselves ensnared in a murder mystery that proves very dangerous for all the teenagers concerned. Lis’s nightmares meanwhile are becoming more vivid and intensely disturbing – could they be a premonition for what is to come? And can Lis find out what exactly is going on in Hollow Pike before those nightmares become a reality?

James Dawson certainly knows how to get into the adolescent mind, and writes a terrific ghost story for young adults that is full of thrills and chills and completely unputdownable. As a debut novel, it is an accomplished piece of writing that I’m certain will be loved by teenagers the world over. It deals with a lot of difficult issues, like sexuality, the damaging effects of bullying on an individual, and the importance of friendship and support. In essence, it is a book that urges you to feel comfortable in your own skin, encouraging individuality, the power we all have to just say “no,” and assurance that we don’t have to follow the crowd like a sheep but can be our own person with our own rights and opinions. I also loved that the author explored the issue of sexuality which I feel is often looked on as a taboo subject in other young adult novels or just not recognised/mentioned. I’m very excited to see what this author does in the future as I’m sure that his talent will capture the hearts and minds of all younger readers.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Echo Boy – Matt Haig

Published July 14, 2014 by bibliobeth

17997707

What’s it all about?:

Audrey’s father taught her that to stay human in the modern world, she had to build a moat around herself; a moat of books and music, philosophy and dreams. A moat that makes Audrey different from the echoes: sophisticated, emotionless machines, built to resemble humans and to work for human masters. Daniel is an echo – but he’s not like the others. He feels a connection with Audrey; a feeling Daniel knows he was never designed to have, and cannot explain. And when Audrey is placed in terrible danger, he’s determined to save her. The Echo Boy is a powerful story about love, loss and what makes us truly human.

What did I think?:

Echo Boy was the fifth book I picked for Chrissi Cupboard Month in June 2014 and I was really excited to get to it already having loved Matt Haig’s previous adult novels The Radleys and The Humans. But can Matt Haig do YA? The answer is yes, absolutely. The story is set in a future world where things previously considered to be the realms of science fiction are made reality. We have hover cars that make travel to other countries a walk in the park, with journey times vastly reduced so that previous far-off holiday destinations are easily accessible through a day trip. We also have virtual reality which make learning for children much more interesting and fun without having to leave the comfort of your own home, and trips to the Moon which has actually become a habitable planet. The most amazing technological advance however has to be the creation of creatures called Echoes, robots which are human in appearance, but are programmed to be used in households across the world as helpers/slaves (whichever way you like to look at it!)

Our main character in this novel is a teenage girl called Audrey whose world is turned upside down when a previously faithful Echo turns on her family in the worst way possible. The eerie and bitter-sweet fact of the tragedy is that Audrey’s father was stridently against Echoes, having quite “old-school” principles and constantly worrying and campaigning about the danger of creating such sophisticated machines. His brother, whose care Audrey now finds herself under, is the complete opposite side of the coin, and works in the manufacture of Echoes as he fuels his desire of creating more advanced machines. After Audrey’s terrifying experience with a “malfunctioning” Echo she is understandably anxious about staying with her uncle. Due to the nature of his job, he is a very rich man and has literally dozens of Echoes working on his property, although he takes great pains to assure Audrey that they are completely safe.

Then Audrey meets Daniel. Daniel isn’t like any other Echo she has met before. For a start, he seems to be able to feel emotion and pain and rebels against the authority imposed on him by Audrey’s uncle, all because he believes that she is in danger and he wants to protect her. As the two become closer both of their lives are now at risk and it leads to an action-packed adventure where they both learn what it is to love, to be human and how to live in a dangerous world where the art of communication and joie de vivre is slowly disappearing. This leaves behind a sort of emptiness in a technology-crazed society that can only be filled by the love they both have for each other.

I was very excited when I found out that Matt Haig was attempting a YA novel and after finishing his effort, I can happily confirm that he has made an explosive and exciting entry into a market that is really hot at the moment. His imagination in creating our future world is spectacular and it was written in such an accessible manner that the story felt very authentic, as well as being highly entertaining. In this book, I think we have something for everyone – science fiction, action and drama and the obligatory villain(s). To add to this though, we have a love story that builds over time, some tender and poignant moments and even a bit of philosophy that made me question my own beliefs and attitudes. I hope that Matt continues to write YA, but I look forward to any novel that he brings out as he has a real talent for tapping into what the reader wants and leaving them fully satisfied.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0