Book Review: Hold Back The Stars

I’m a sucker for any book about space (and, as I’ve proven lately, for any book with the word ‘star’ or ‘stars’ in the title) but I genuinely was particularly excited to read Katie Khan’s HOLD BACK THE STARS when I spotted it on NetGalley.  Like many, I went into it thinking it was YA… it turns out it’s not, strictly speaking, but as the author itself says it deals with the kind of themes that are relevant to YA readers (first love, commitment, choices) so could as easily be enjoyed by them as by an older demographic.  I’d like to think that this kind of category-defying/crossover book might be a further step on the path to a more open view of books and readerships and who can enjoy what… but that’s probably a discussion for another day.

To return to the matter in hand, HOLD BACK THE STARS concerns the story of Max and Carys (girls with Welsh names in space is another thing I’m particularly keen on!).  They are freefalling in space after a spacewalk gone wrong, with nobody to help them and certain death on the cards, with only ninety minutes of air.  While this predicament unfurls we are told the story of their complicated relationship in flashback, through which we also gain insight into a future Planet Earth – its society, its rules, its philosophy – and the impact all of these have on the real people that live on it.

This is a richly detailed and expertly realised world, and I am fully aware of the the complexities of this kind of world-building, having just been neck-deep in it while writing my third book.  It’s thoughtful and interesting while also, I felt, managing to raise debate-provoking questions about our own society and the decisions and directions currently being taken.  The structure is fascinating, disorientating and very well executed, building suspense and taking VERY unexpected turns before bringing us into land.  Like I said I think this is a book that could have a very broad appeal; it’s not easy to pigeonhole or label but I think that was one of the things I liked most about it.  There are readers of many ages and demographic factors who will thoroughly enjoy this book, and I was most certainly one of them.

Thanks to NetGalley for the eARC.

More reviews on my blog http://kateling.co.uk/blog/

Book Review: Chasing The Stars

 

It will not be a surprise to anyone that I love books set in space, and when I heard about this – a take on Othello by the amazing Malorie Blackman – I knew it would be fantastic.  Othello is actually one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it’s so complex, so rich and must have been so forward-thinking for its time.  (I even got my one and only 100% for an essay on it when studying it at A-level, but that’s a different story).

V and her brother are alone on a spaceship, lone survivors of a virus which has wiped out the rest of the crew.  Into this isolation comes Nathan and his fellow crewmembers, and he and V feel an immediate and powerful attraction to each other.  But there is trouble ahead, as the varying motivations of those around them lead to manipulation, betrayal and secrets that threaten to tear them, and the wider situation, apart.

It’s an intriguing and eerie set-up, with Blackman creating a very dark and intensely lonely world for her protagonist.  It initially stretches believability that two teenagers would be able to manage to survive in deep space alone on a huge spacecraft, but there is a good explanation for this that is later revealed (and I didn’t see it coming at all).  Blackman is typically unflinching and honest in her realistic depiction of both sex and violence, which is something I really love about her writing.  True to her well established form, she ratchets up an almost unbearable amount of tension in depicting the increasingly twisted loyalties between her cast of characters, leading to an exciting climax and an unexpected final twist, that definitely leaves you wanting more.

A dark, brutal, suspenseful space tale, with plenty of twists and a fearless but believable heroine, from a seasoned storyteller at the top of her game.

Book Review: When We Collided

cover-for-when-we-collidedI thought it couldn’t get any better than the depiction of bipolar disorder in All the Bright Places, and maybe it doesn’t. But if there ever was a contender, it could be right here, in the beauteous, luminous When We Collided.

In it we are transported to a small, pretty coastal town where enigmatic, charismatic mini-Marilyn Vivi meets sensitive, handsome Jonah whose father has recently died, devastating his family. His mother’s subsequent grief and depression have left him and his older siblings caring for his younger ones, struggling to pay bills and attempting to hold together the family business. Into this world of cares and responsibilities Vivi comes like a whirlwind, or maybe a rainbow, since the particular brands of joy, fun and love she is offering extend not only to Jonah but to the rest of his family too. And in bringing the sunshine back into their lives, she also begins to expose the darkness that they are all living with, including Vivi herself.

Riding around town on her Vespa, Vivi lives up to just about every MPDG stereotype except one – unlike most of her kind she does have her own trajectory, her own story, her own journey to go on. This is assured by the clever use of the dual narrative, in which the two voices are distinct and through which we get a heartbreakingly intimate and wholly convincing first-person view of the struggles of living with bipolar disorder; the sheer colour and exhilaration of the highs (and the accompanying recklessness), versus the debilitating and inevitable self-destruction of the lows.

I literally read this book in a matter of days. This is one of those that end up responsible for a series of 2am bedtimes on my part. There was just something so compelling about these characters, their oh-so-normal and yet otherworldly setting, the sense of doom that hung over even their most star-filled, swooping and gorgeous moments. Honesty, truth and beautiful little nuggets of wisdom shine out of the rich and sumptuous prose and will stay with me, meaningfully, for a long time. I mean, it’s just so quotable I can’t even pick one to include; suffice it to say that the things it pointed out to me and made me consider left me feeling that this is a book everyone needs to read.

So I’ll end with an advisory: do not read this book unless you are prepared to be moved, to be surprised, to be compelled into staying up late to read one more chapter, to end up falling quite deeply in love with the characters, and to return from the journey it takes you on changed forever and for the better.

Book Review: Ariadnis

AriadnisFrom the start of this book, told in dual narrative from the perspectives of the Chosen Ones of two rival cities, we are coming at this unusual future dystopia from two distinct mirror-image angles. After some kind of schism in the philosophies that brought them to this post-apocalyptic point, the two societies have been heading in different directions. The vaguely steampunk city above has its ideas about where society should be heading, while that below is more focused on living in tune with nature.

Playing with the Chosen One tropes, we are presented with the super strength of Aula as set against the mute, unharnessed powers of Joomia. They have very little time remaining until the final test that will seemingly decide the fates of their respective worlds.

These worlds are distinct, unusual, fresh and well drawn. I felt I was entering a fictional future that was not as well trodden as some of them have become. Side characters were well employed and had good flesh on their bones; those designed to be likeable were just that, while dastardly villains didn’t disappoint. I don’t know if it’s just my interpretation, but I was a big fan of the androgynous, multi-racial qualities of most of the young cast. It’s a pretty nifty way of allowing all comers to the book to project themselves into and onto your story without turning into one of those super politically correct authors tripping over themselves to incorporate a rainbow into their narrative at its own expense. I don’t mean to come over cynical there (though I probably do) because I felt this aspect worked well, added to the atmosphere, and was entirely appropriate in the context.

What’s most clever and impressive about this debut however is the symmetry of the dual narrative. As I’ve said before, I’m not a big fan of these unless there is a reason for them, and in this case there certainly is. The way the stories of the two heroines intertwine – coming together, moving apart and ultimately colliding, is a smart piece of plotting and in itself a mirror (see what I did there) of the novel’s own themes.

Nicely done, and a pacey, involving read. Thanks to NetGalley and Hachette for the ARC.