Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Arianne's Review Round-Up: Black Dove White Raven, Still Falling, Stung & The Here and Now.



For fans of Jennifer Donnelly and Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Wein’s novels represent the very best that YA historical fiction has to offer. Entertaining, compelling and utterly original, Black Dove, White Raven is the latest addition to Wein’s triad of mesmerising, powerful novels about wartime pilots, human conflict and the bonds which hold us together — and tear us apart. 

Independent, strong-willed Em and quiet, patient Teo have grown up on American airfields. Em’s mother Rhoda and Teo’s mother Delia were best friends and stunt pilots, but after losing Delia in a tragic air crash, this makeshift family must choose whether to stay in the States and face continued discrimination because of Teos’s skin colour, or live their lives according to Delia’s wishes — in the country of Teo’s ancestors, where new opportunities could await all of them. A country of equal splendour and poverty, clamour and wilderness, the promise of Ethiopia proves impossible to resist — but with the secrets of Teo’s heritage still be revealed and war suddenly looming on the horizon, it could just be the most dangerous move they’ll ever make.

Black Dove, White Raven has an incredible concept, but it just didn’t match quality of Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire for me. It’s weighed down by backstory, particularly when it comes to Em and Teo’s unconventional childhood. I wanted to see more of them as teenagers. I didn’t love the writing style and also felt Teo and Em deserved a more solid ending, as while it’s dramatic, it just doesn’t do justice to the depth of the bond they share.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of upsides worth mentioning. Whether you’re looking for diversity, unusual settings, a focus on friendship, insight into a lesser-known historical period, or even just devastating and brutal emotion, this book has it all. Not quite a five-star read, but excellently researched and very engaging.


Four Stars.
Release date: March 5th 2015.

*****




From the author of the award-winning Grounded and Taking Flight comes another hard-hitting novel about struggles, choices and self-acceptance — this time with a romantic twist. This is the closest to mainstream contemporary YA I’ve seen from an Irish author in years (excluding the glorious Vendetta by Catherine Doyle, which is part forbidden romance, part Mafia murder saga like to give even The Godfather a run for its money) and it’s definitely a trend I’d like to see more of. 

Still Falling tells the story of Luke and Esther, two ordinary teenagers who can’t help but fall for each other – but while many love stories take the ‘us against the world’ angle, this is a book which shows that Luke and Esther may just be their own worst enemy, particularly when it comes the secrets they’re trying to keep. This book is John Green meets Jenny Downham: potentially cheesy and overdone, but chilling and dramatic instead.

That said, I did have a few issues with the book. I wasn’t enamoured by the story to start with, as the characters don’t immediately jump off the page. Well-read fans of US and UKYA may find it difficult to look past the difference in quality between books like this and other more polished titles on the shelf; with standards skyrocketing, it’s easy to lose interest in a narrative which lacks the polish and shine found in books by Stephanie Perkins and Katie McGarry. For more reluctant readers who need their own world more directly reflected in a book, however, Still Falling will certainly appeal — and throw in some surprises to boot.


3.5 Stars.

****



2014 was a fantastic year for UKYA, and 2015 looks set to be no exception. This thrilling, highly-anticipated sequel to series opener Struck (also known as Storm and Stone) is stuffed to the brim with high-octane chase sequences, brutal fight scenes and dangerous deals of the extremely shady kind. I’m a huge fan of Joss Stirling (including the books she’s written under various other pen names), so when I read the premise for Stung, I knew I had to add it to my TBR; then I read the opening line (“Kate Pearl stood on the green wheelie bin in the alley that ran along the back of her mother’s house…”) and I knew I’d definitely have to read it.

Stung’s plot is gripping from start to finish. It has the feel of a real thriller and I can easily see it being made into a gritty kid/teen TV show or one-off special. Framed for a crime she didn’t commit and hunted by a gang of ruthless killers, sixteen-year-old Kate is risking everything just to stay alive. With traitors at every corner and peril at every turn, Kate hasn’t got time for romance — that is, until she meets Nathan. Locked in a frantic race against time, Nathan may be the only person she can trust — or the person who could hurt her the most. 

Kate is a fantastic heroine. She knows she’s not the only one keeping secrets, but with her life on the line and chances of survival looking slim, she’s prepared to do almost anything to clear her name and make it through each day. While she’s not as glamourous as fellow female lead Raven, she’s resilient and resourceful, and I loved that. Unfortunately, I didn’t like Nathan’s character as much as I’d hoped and his romance with Kate feels forced. The writing style as a whole let me down; it may be practical, but it’s also flat and uninspiring. If there’s one downside to the recent skyrocketing standards of UKYA, it’s that writing styles which lack flair soon fall by the wayside.

In short: Joss Stirling’s Stung isn’t without fault, but it’s still a taut, exciting adventure.


3.5 Stars

*****



I love the premise of this book. Time-travel love stories and parallel universes are a bit of trend in YA at the moment, but unfortunately I’m still looking for a novel that does the concept justice after reading this lukewarm foray into science fiction from the author of the wildly successful Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series. 

The cover may be spellbinding but things quickly go downhill from there. In spite of — or perhaps because of — all the hype for The Here and Now, I don’t know anyone who’s enjoyed this book, and since reading it, I not only understand why, I agree with them. There’s only one thing worse than a badly written book, and that’s a badly written book with absolutely no passion or energy in the narrative. Reading this book was like reading an instruction manual — in fact, you’re probably better off reading an instruction manual instead, because at least a manual would be useful. 

The opening chapters are meandering and unfocused, and it’s a trend that continues throughout the novel. The main characters — particularly Prenna — are totally passive and the romance lacks all semblance of a spark. The central conflict is solid but with little to no believable explanation for other events in the book, it never cements itself as a truly memorable novel. 

I wish there was a better way to say it, but this book is just plain boring — it barely held my attention and I couldn’t bring myself to invest in the characters. This is a book as generic as its title and if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi romance, I’d steer clear of this limp and lacking effort.


Two Stars.

*****

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