Sunday, 23 March 2014

The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

When my NetGalley request for this title was approved, I squealed with excitement. The Dark Wild follows the highly-acclaimed The Last Wild, which I've already expressed my love for in this post, and I've been looking forward to reading more ever since. For your own sake, if you haven't read The Last Wild and you want to, perhaps you should be doing that rather than reading this. 

The Dark Wild picks up right where we left Kester, but now he finds himself facing problems bigger than he could imagine. Polly has disappeared after confessing she holds a secret that could bring down Facto, leaving Kester desperate to find her. In his search for Polly he soon discovers another Wild, and another Wildness - a Dark Wildness who wants nothing but to destroy all humans. And Kester, with his ability to talk to all animals, lands right in the middle of everything. 

For those of you who have read The Last Wild, this sequel will certainly not disappoint. Torday hasn't lost the pace, charm or humour, and The Dark Wild will keep you gripped to the point that you'll possibly miss your lunch (I did...). The animals are fantastic, with distinct voices and characters that you can understand why Kester is so attached and protective of them. You may never look at a cockroach or a rat the same way ever again. 

The Dark Wild is a spectacular adventure, bringing far more elements to the story and leaving you hungry for the final installment. Published by Quercus, The Dark Wild is available from 27th March. You can read extracts from both books on the website: The Last Wild

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss

I've had trouble writing this review. I kept coming back to it over the past week because I wasn't able to figure out what to say. It's a complex book with a not so happy topic, and I didn't want to write anything to make you think it's overly depressing and put you off reading it. In fact, I'll put the recommendation here first: read this book.

The Year of the Rat focuses on the first year after Pearl's mother dies in childbirth, but the baby (which Pearl henceforth calls the Rat) survives. Pearl and her step-father, who is the biological father of the Rat, are then left to deal with the situation: both grieving and taking care of a new baby.

While really it's no one's fault, it is a situation where one could easily place blame or feel guilt. Pearl, struggling with the loss of her mother, retreats into herself. Her best friend can't possibly understand, her step-father seems more concerned about his new child, and all Pearl can do is blame the Rat for causing the whole horrible mess. She seems to emotionally flit between different stages of grief depending on her situation: Pearl is clearly depressed, but she is also angry with her new sister to the point of such hatred that you begin to wonder if she'll ever warm to the baby.

What I loved most about this book is that while it was very much focused on an unhappy topic, it manages to maintain some humour. Despite her depression, Pearl can be funny in her own way. It really comes out during the exchanges she has/remembers with her mother. I think her mother's character is what makes this story, even though the story is clearly based around her absence, everyone else is focused on various traits of Pearl's mother as they begin to cope with her death.

As already mentioned, I highly recommend The Year of the Rat. This is a strong debut from a very talented author, looking at how people cope with grief and depression while life continues around them. It's an emotional but worthwhile journey complimented by superb writing.

The Year of the Rat publishes on 24th April by Simon & Schuster.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan

I will admit that I have never read an entire book written in verse before. Not necessarily by choice, but I simply never found myself with that sort of book in my hands. I also haven’t read a lot of poetry outside of university. All that considered, one might even wonder how I managed to find myself reading The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan, which is written entirely in poems.

First, let me get this out of my system: despite my lack of regularly reading it, I have a real respect for poetry. It requires a certain mastery of language, an understanding that there is no need to be verbose to illustrate a scene. One of the best books I ever read was written by someone known as a poet, not a novelist, but it was his use of language that made the novel really stand out. (But this review isn't about that title - so it shall remain nameless.)

I was in love with The Weight of Water within a few pages. Along with the gorgeous simplicity of a verse, it was the concept of taking moment within someone's life and capturing it in a few stanzas. Each poem shows a meaningful part of Kasienka's story as she is uprooted from her home in Poland and settles in Coventry with her mother as they search for her father. But the text flows so well from one poem to another that it doesn't seem any different from reading a prose book. In fact, it's one of the most enjoyable reads I've had recently. 

As a Pole recently moved to England, Kasienka faces many problems: being the new girl in school, being a foreigner, having a father who has run away from his family - and a mother unwilling to give up her search for him. Each poem is told from her perspective as she struggles with her new life, but she soon finds a break from her troubles through swimming. 

Despite the simplicity of the text, The Weight of Water provides complex characters and plot, with a young girl trying to figure out who she is under incredibly difficult circumstances. It is an impressive work, so beautifully different from many other books for middle grade readers. I highly recommend getting a copy, having a read and just enjoying its impressive structure.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

If you haven't heard of Matthew Quick, you will have heard of Silver Linings Playbook, the film based on his book of the same name. His recently-published Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has some similar elements in that it focuses on a character that is suffering from psychological trauma. The real difference, though, is how Leonard Peacock chooses to deal with it.

While the story is mostly linear, present-day Leonard is continually focussing on the past as a way to explain his behaviour. It is his 18th birthday, and he has decided to kill himself, but not until after he's given the four people who mean something to him a small goodbye gift. Then he's going to kill Asher Beal before turning the gun on himself. As he acts through his plan, he looks back on how each of those four people has come to be what he considers a friend, with his thoughts interspersed by letters he has written to himself from the future.

At the onset, it's all rather disturbing, particularly if you are aware of just how often shootings happen in America, or just how easy it can be for teens to get access to guns. Leonard never expresses the desire to kill anyone other than Asher and himself, but you never know. Yet during the whole book you get the sense that Leonard doesn't really want to go through with it. He thinks he is really giving everyone the signs to show something is not right with him; he wants someone to notice. He wants people to pay attention to him. The problem is that no one is ever there to notice, as his mother spends most of her time away from home leaving Leonard essentially living by himself.

Despite his obvious faults, Leonard is a likable character. He's funny, thoughtful and even charming at times. This may seem out of sync with the dark things going on in his head, but it does go to show how complex we are as humans, and how most people only get to see a small side of any individual. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is a great example of a teenager who feels ostracized by everyone around him, and how he has attempted to rationalise extreme behaviour in reaction to feeling so alone, but can't quite let go as easily as he would like to.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Echo Boy by Matt Haig

From the moment I started Echo Boy, I didn't want to put it down. And that was annoying, because I had a very busy week, so my sleep has suffered a bit. But the joy of reading this book was worth those lost hours of sleep. 

Echo Boy takes place in the future - not so distant that it seems impossibly far away, but long enough that it's possible and believable. In This future, the planet has been ravaged by extreme weather. Most of the UK is underwater, but despite these seemingly severe problems, humans have adapted amazingly well by developing new technologies. Houses are built on stilts, transport is on elevated magrails, and lifespan has improved immensely. The most noticeable technological advancements, though, are the Echos (Enhanced Computerised Humanoid Organisms): biological machines made of flesh and blood like a human, but still very robotic in manner. They have no ability to feel emotions or even disobey commands. But aside from these cognitive differences, they are more life-like than any other machinery that has ever existed. While many people in this world see the technological developments as a benefit to society, there are just as many people who are concerned and even scared for the future of humanity as these machines become increasingly intelligent.

Audrey's father is one of those who is strongly against the new technologies, actively writing about and protesting against developments. Yet it's his brother and Audrey's uncle, Alex Castle, who is at the helm of the all-powerful Castle Industries, driving these technological developments. And it's when Audrey ends up in her uncle's home that she meets Daniel - an Echo who doesn't seem quite right. His stare isn't blank like other Echos, and he seems to keep trying to tell her something.

What impressed me most with Echo Boy was Haig's desire to work out what it truly means to be human, and at what point is something classified as being "alive". Haig has a real understanding of how humans feel and portray emotion, and also how confusing certain feelings can be, particularly when they go against all logic. This is a book that you can really get into and enjoy, even though it may leave you asking much bigger questions. Echo Boy is a gripping read, not just for the need to find out what will happen, but discovering why everything else has. 

Echo Boy is published on March 27th by Bodley Head, a division of Random House Children's Publishers