Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton // an accomplished, action-packed fantasy adventure

249340651Author: Alwyn Hamilton
Publisher:
 Faber & Faber
Publication date: February 4th 2016
Category: YA
Genre(s): fantasy
Series or standalone?: series (#1)
Source: purchased
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam its barren wastes, and rumour has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there’s nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the suffocating town talented sharpshooter Amani can’t wait to escape from.

When she meets the mysterious, devastatingly handsome Jin at a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route – but in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she’d gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan’s army, with a fugitive who’s wanted for treason. And she’d never have predicted she’d fall in love with him… or that it would lead her to secrets that could alter the face of her world forever.

Rebel of the Sands is at once rough-and-ready, tooth-and-nail action adventure and intriguing epic fantasy. It has the bite of a merciless desert and the guile of a magic-laden kingdom.  The vivid collision of two very different worlds – the tough, gunslinging wild west in which Amani has fought to survive meets the ancient, mysterious realm of dangerous power and receding magic she’s rarely seen with her own eyes – is undoubtedly the most distinctive feature of this series opener. A highly-anticipated addition to UKYA, I first read it last year and it’s a solid début, with a fabulous cover to boot.

Led by the inimitable Amani, it stars a ragtag collection of heroes, rebels and, of course, lots of villains. Amani is kickass and courageous but her recklessness and smart mouth have a tendency to get her into trouble, particularly when she’s assuming the role of the Blue-Eyed Bandit. She’s a fitting lead for the book but there’s a definite sense that she has a long way to go from here in terms of development. Other notable cast members include the friendly, somewhat reluctant rebel Bahi and the unreliable, sometime-enemy Noorsham. My favourites, however, were the mysterious, charming Jin (love interest, prince, often on the receiving end of the Bandit’s barbs) and the strategic, brutally efficient warrior Shazad, who probably has a heart there somewhere, though she keeps it well hidden, at least at first, from the rebellion’s newcomer Amani. Unfortunately, the minor characters are a little harder to distinguish, as Hamilton seems to rely more on the reader remembering them by their abilities than by their individual personalities.

This is action-packed fantasy of the fairly short variety; it’s high impact, flash-bang, relatively contained stuff. If you’re a fan of Sarah J. Maas-level flowing prose and rich backdrops, you won’t find them here. It’s written in quite a concise style, with just a touch of the quips, sarcasm and verbal sparring YA readers will love overflowing where you might expect more lavish descriptions or ponderous musings. I would’ve liked more world-building beyond that which is established by this surface skirmish with Hamilton’s undoubtedly inventive Miraji, but if you’re looking for a fast, highly visual fantasy début which is light on techniques that sometimes slow down epic fantasy, like complicated histories or meandering detail, this punchy, cinematic alternative may be for you.

The plot is strong, too, with plenty going on and enough twists that it’s very difficult to review without giving away a whole sandstorm of spoilers. High stakes and an unravelling series of complications take Amani’s tale from mere escape to all-out rebellion. Hamilton expands Amani’s narrative horizons in familiar fantasy style as this kickass heroine finds herself reluctantly drawn into a fight for her kingdom. The climactic battle has a particularly pleasing sense of scale.  Its focus sometimes gets muddled and the pacing is occasionally uneven but the plot and intrigue keeps you reading.

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Striking, dramatic and memorable, this action-packed fantasy adventure sees a clash of two worlds woven together by magic, mirage and plenty of plot. It’s not without fault and it’s not the deepest of epics but it’s a well-contained, highly readable début. 

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book tag // Smashing and Dashing Character Awards

Well hello there! Following several weeks in which ALL OF THE BOOKS WERE RELEASED (ALL OF THEM), I’ve decided on a quick, fun post for today in the shape of the Smashing and Dashing Character Awards book tag (you can tell it was created by Cait at Paper Fury just by the title). It’s based mostly on books I’ve read in the last twelve months, with a few surprises here and there.

1. MOST RELATABLE CHARACTER
Kell from V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic saga. Great taste in coats, likes shiny things, just wants A Break

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2. MOST PURE AND PRECIOUS ANIMAL COMPANION
Rita from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. Loyal, sleepy and suitably miffed when her owner hangs around with other dogs. (And there are multiple dogs in this book.)

3. FIERCEST FIGHTER
I’m taking this literally for a simpler answer, so Amani from Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, though most of Sarah J. Maas’ characters are up there too.

4. MOST AMAZING SIDEKICK
I’ve just now realized I don’t really read books with sidekicks in…?! I suppose I prefer more equal dynamics? And find books in genres where a sidekick would be traditionally likely – superhero stories, sci-fi – have to be amazing to stick with me. In recent reads, the lion and dragon in Katherine Webber’s Wing Jones spring to mind.

5. ONE YOU’RE SURPRISED YOU LOVED
Dean from Unboxed by Non Pratt. We have been reliably informed that Dean is essentially Unboxed’s equivalent to Wolfgang from Sense8, and yet here we all are. WHY DOES ANYONE LOVE DEAN?! WHY DO I?? I’m so confused.

6. BEST SASSMASTERlbtu4

Sunny from London Belongs To Us by Sarra Manning. Sunny isn’t the most obviously sassy of people, but her narration is filled with sarcasm and humour (you can read more about her in my review here!).

7. BEST ANTI-HERO AND MORALLY GREY GRAPE

Kaz Brekker from Six of Crows. Everyone’s favourite anti-hero/villain with excellent cheekbone structure.

8. BEST WORST VILLAIN TO HATE
I was really surprised by how well-written the villain in Timekeeper by Tara Sim was.

9. TRULY ASTOUNDING WORST YA PARENTS
The parents from Cuckoo by Keren David. THE WORST. So terrible in fact, that I won’t even waste word-count on them (but I did review the book here).

10. TRULY ASTOUNDING BEST YA PARENTS

Tom and Jen from The Last Beginning by Lauren James. Okay, so thankfully I have been reading more YA with positive parental relationships recently (which makes a change from the usual, you know, blasé attitude to keeping on eye on whether your children are out SAVING THE WORLD or something) so this one had a few contenders. I’ve chosen ex-hacker Tom and bisexual scientist Jen because they’re very present parents for adopted daughter Clove. Oh, and there’s an alternate universe where Tom is still hot as ever but is also an underground rebel with a motorbike.

11. TOOT TOOT BEST SHIP OF THEM ALL
Amber and Kyle from How Hard Can Love Be? or Steffi and Rhys from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard because I, an epic fantasy fan, ship them more than most contemporaries usually inspire me to! (For said epic fantasy ship, see the deliciously angst-ridden Elide/Lorcan storyline in Empire of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas.)

12. THE MOST IN NEED OF PROTECTION
Jonah from When We Collided by Emery Lord. Poor Jonah. He is so busy and tired and just needs a hug.

13. MOST BORING AS A BARNACLE
Etta and Nathaniel from Passenger by Alexandra Bracken. I tried so hard to get into this book but three-quarters of the way it was still SO BORING. The pace dragged and the characters are so bland??

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14. BEST LITTLE ROYAL
If we’re talking contemporary royals, then Mia Thermopolis from The Princess Diaries: Royal Wedding, or if we’re talking high fantasy, Elide from Empire of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas, who yes okay is more aristocracy than royal in a world full of royals, but SHE IS PRECIOUS AND I LOVE HER.

15. VERY SURPRISED YOU’RE STILL ALIVE
Everyone in Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin Eater’s Daughter trilogy. Honestly, how this woman can bear to leave even one or two characters alive for her fans. THERE’S A REASON SHE HAS TO HAVE A NEW CAST IN EVERY BOOK, Y’ALL.

16. BEST AT HORRIBLE DECISION MAKING
Maya from The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi. This book…is full of so many bad (and badly explained) decisions??

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17. CUTEST DORK
Matt from The Next Together/The Last Beginning by Lauren James. Matt is such a dork and it is adorable. At one point he wanted to be a farmer. Swept off his feet by exuberant scientist girlfriend/wife/reincarnated soulmate (it’s complicated) Kate, their romance is one of humour, respect, warmth and science shenanigans.

18. CLEVEREST LITTLE HELLION

Lada from And I Darken by Kiersten White. Lada is pure wrath, but she’s smart with it – a keen strategist and ruthless 15th-century leader.

19. MOST IN NEED OF A NAP
Kell from A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. Just Let Him Rest.

20. WANT TO READ MORE ABOUT YOU
Meg from A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard (can you tell I love this book y/y). Friendly, vivacious, spirited Meg Callifryn makes far too few appearances in this contemporary standalone. I DEMAND A SPIN-OFF.

Feel free to consider yourself tagged if you so wish!

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Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan // striking sci-fi splices space and society

26804769Author: Katie Khan
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication date: 26th January 2017
Category: crossover, adult
Genre(s): science fiction
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: won
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

In whose name? 
Not God, not king, or country.
In whose name?
My own.

Adrift in space with ninety minutes of air left and nothing to hold on to but each other, Carys and Max are fighting for their lives.

Their shuttle is damaged and Earth looms far below them. They can’t help but look back at the well-ordered  world they left behind – at the rules they couldn’t reconcile themselves to, and the life to which they might now never return. But in a society where love is banned, what happens when you find it? And when the odds are stacked against you, what do you do to survive? 

A simple premise, straightforward prose and a striking plot shape this remarkably confident début. It sees two fairly familiar stories entwined – one in space, the other earthbound – in a page-turning, engrossing read which slowly reveals how heroes Max and Carys go from aspiring chef and scientifically-orientated pilot to astronauts trapped in the vacuum of space. It’s smart, stylish and memorable, with a plenty of tension, conversation and even a few surprising twists. It’s a fast, pacy read, and I was so gripped I read it in one sitting.

Carys and Max’s Earth is a world in which the problems of the past are being solved by a new way of life: one where everyone spends time in each other’s countries, where languages are picked up like clockwork, and where the only loyalty is to oneself. This distinctive world-building makes for a strong backdrop to the exploration of the line – which sometimes turns surreptitiously sinister – between utopia and dystopia. At turns chilling, vibrant, unsettling and effective, Khan takes time to create a feasible utopia while simultaneously illustrating its flaws and the ultimate inability of the system to fit everyone. Max was raised with the ideals of Europia, which have brought peace, prosperity and understanding to a war-torn world. Carys is more skeptical, scornful of believers who send their children away and condemn them to years of loneliness on Rotation through different Voivodes. But neither wish to tip the balance that has made their world a better place – until they find each other.

Here’s where the book’s cover copy gets a little misleading. Love isn’t banned (this isn’t Delirium) but long-term relationships have become obsolete in a system which obliges citizens to move to randomly-assigned cities every three years (at least in those under 35, when they are permitted to choose a partner and have children). Unfortunately for a novel so pinned on a relationship, I wasn’t swayed by the romance. There’s an effort, however, to avoid the pitfalls of “the fate of this system depends on these two specific youths being definitely, completely unable to be together for REASONS!” trope, and they are interesting, compelling characters.

Then there’s the minor complication of Max and Carys spending much of the book FREEFALLING WILDLY AWAY FROM THEIR SPACESHIP. IN SPACE. The planet is surrounded by a recently-arrived, apparently-impassable asteroid field, and Europia wants to know how to navigate it. Fast-tracked to the space program and losing signal with on-board computer Osric, Max and Carys are going to have to rescue themselves. It’s a high-stakes concept and I couldn’t wait to see them aboard Laertes. 

Except we never get to see them aboard Laertes. There are almost no scenes set on the shuttle! There are mentions of experiments, a greenhouse and Carys’ flying skills, but the book never once lets the reader see what they’re ACTUALLY DOING in space in the first place. It builds up to their journey and just skips right by it. Imagine listening to a great song only for it end before the rousing chorus. Or buying an ice cream and getting an empty cone! It leaves out potentially the best part! Anyway, I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE SPACESHIPS AND THEIR ABSENCE IS DISAPPOINTING.

As a portrait of societies and human psychology, Hold Back the Stars frequently delivers. Max’s relationship with his parents is strained, while Carys is much closer to her mother Gwen. Many third-generation Europians have stopped investing in meaningful relationships altogether, overcome by the endless series of leavings, monotonous contribution and the isolation of being separated from family and any notion of lifelong friends. Secondary characters are each almost visibly confined and kept at arm’s length in a system which above all values the transient individual.

The downside to this characterisation is, however, that some seem flat, and if the book is occasionally thin on narrative richness, it can be traced to the base calculation of the novel: a cinematic efficiency in which the simplest of plots can be shaped to yield the highest impact result. I would’ve liked to see some character and world details more richly fleshed out. Older fans of Lauren James’ The Last Beginning and Malorie Blackman’s Chasing the Stars will find some things to like, but I still prefer Becky Chambers’ brilliant The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. 

Of course, there are plot holes. Why do two characters walk into a grand hall to discuss their love lives and walk out in charge of a space shuttle? Who thought this was a good idea? If Carys is such a skilled pilot, why don’t we get to see her being a pilot for more than ten seconds? Why can different languages exist but not associated cultures? Did anything aside from impromptu Shakespeare readings happen on Laertes? Will I ever read more than two sci-fi books in a year where the romance is actually consistently romantic? Why is this book being marketed as YA when its characters and content are clearly adult fiction? WHO EVEN KNOWS.

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Page-turning, striking and atmospheric, Hold Back the Stars is snappy sci-fi which is as much about a society as it is about a relationship. In some ways I would’ve liked more from it – more romance, more developed characters, more spaceships, more detail – but it’s still an engrossing read.

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard // a love story with ALL of the romance

30197201Author: Sara Barnard
Publisher:
 Macmillan
Publication date: 12 January 2017
Category: YA
Genre(s): contemporary
Series or standalone?: standalone
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

Steffi doesn’t talk, but has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.

Shy, anxious Steffi has been silent for so long that sometimes she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her.

Rhys is deaf, and Steffi’s knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to introduce him to sixth form life. To kind, confident Rhys, it doesn’t matter that she can’t talk, and with each they find unexpected friendship and even new adventures. As they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she may have a voice after all – and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.

From the bestselling author of Beautiful Broken Things comes a love story about the times when a whisper is as good as a shout.

I didn’t quite have the words, at first, to describe how much I adored this book. It took me ages to write a review because every time I looked at my notes I just ended up re-reading it. But I have taken this as par for the course when it comes to Rhys and Steffi, who would probably also see the irony in someone being (at least momentarily) speechless because of a story about finding one’s voice.

This is a novel which finds in the ordinary the extraordinary: which has taken a humble premise, straightforward prose and a handful of characters and created a love story which may already be one of my favourite books of the year. (And perhaps even a possible awards contender, too). Sara Barnard’s celebrated début novel Beautiful Broken Things was a great addition to young adult fiction, but A Quiet Kind of Thunder stunned me. I think I’d forgotten anyone could get much better at writing when a first novel was that good. The style is still fairly plain, but it does so much work with such everyday words and most importantly, it has improved: it flows better, it’s more memorable, and it’s more vivid. Fans of Sarah Crossan and Stephanie Perkins looking for a new writer to add to their shelves will find an excellent companion here.

Quiet, determined Steffi has learned the hard way that the world does not really know what to do with someone who should be able to, but cannot, talk. Sixth form will be difficult enough without her best friend Tem – sporty, rambunctious, big-hearted Tem, who has traitorously abandoned her for a different college and can send only texts to keep her spirits up – but when she’s asked to act as a guide for the new boy at school, her day reaches new levels of socially-anxious terror. But Rhys is not at all like she expected: kind, charming, ridiculous and maybe a little more nervous than he lets on, he is the first person in a long time to look at Steffi and see her. There’s just one complication: Rhys is deaf, and Steffi’s sign language skills are more than a little rusty.

I loved Steffi. I loved Rhys. I loved Tem. I even loved Meg, who steals every scene she’s in.
I loved how Steffi and Rhys actually spend time with each other and get to know each other. Theirs is somehow both a slow, unfurling love story – full of shyness and affection, mistakes and mishaps – and a swoony, sweet romance – full of kisses and conversations, humour and hope. And honestly? This book has set new standards for me when it comes to romance in YA fiction. It’s thoughtful and down-to-earth but also heartfelt and gorgeous. It’s astonishing. HOW CAN IT BE ALL THESE THINGS AT ONCE??! Where has Barnard been hiding this talent? CAN I READ ABOUT THEIR WHOLE ADORABLE LIFE TOGETHER?!

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(spoiler: it’s definitely a kissing book)

Funny, cheesy, romantic and serious, the story is told in traditional narration, but also notes, text, chat exchanges and British Sign Language. Consistently bolded or explained, BSL is Rhys’ first language and Steffi’s second: it is the wholly embraced dialogue of their relationship. And just as love does not give Rhys hearing, neither does it cure Steffi’s selective mutism or anxiety. They simply help and understand each other. Oh, and there are dogs. And families! And hope! And dogs. And some subplots! Supportive, enthusiastic teen friendships! Platonic, caring boy-girl friendships! AND DOGS.

A strong, character-driven plot proves contemporary fiction can be both romantic and highly engaging. It’s focused, fluid, dramatic and just a little heartbreaking, and it fits the characters. Things go wrong, there are failures of communication, there are roads to true love with a few bumps along the way. The ending is a bit rushed and I would’ve liked a touch more description, more sex-positivity for Steffi herself (though the book is sex-positive on the whole), or to have seen appearances from the characters of Beautiful Broken Things (NO MATTER HOW INEXPLICABLE). Alas, it will have to wait until this book’s delightfully romantic sequel. Or the Belinda-Davy short story. Or the Meg spin-off. YA NEEDS A MEG SPIN-OFF.

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Romantic, expressive, warm and true, A Quiet Kind of Thunder is an irresistible second novel. It is achingly happy. It reminded me what five star books feel like: shiny, sparkling, and memorable. Glorious. I loved it. 

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Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle // a fitting finale for a tale of feuds, fisticuffs and forbidden love

Author: Catherine Doyle25059637
Publisher:
 Chicken House
Publication date: 5 January 2017
Category: YA
Genre(s): contemporary, crime
Series or standalone?: series (#3)
Source: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Find on Goodreads and The Book Depository

A dangerous feud rages on the streets of Chicago.

Protected by an infamous mafia family, Sophie is living a lie, pretending to lead a normal life while shadowed by the threat of violence and retribution. But the deceit can’t last for ever. Her heart belongs to someone she can’t have and her past makes her the prime target of a rival family. Dragged into the criminal underworld, there’s a part of her that wants revenge, but is she willing to pay the price – can she really be a mafiosa?

The highly anticipated conclusion to Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series comes complete with a gorgeous cover, an action-packed plot and plenty of drama. Caught in a blood war she never asked for, Sophie finds herself trapped in a bitter rivalry with deadly consequences. Betrayal can come from unexpected places, and she must be on her guard if she wants to last long in the brutal criminal world which has claimed her as its own. After the shocking events of Vendetta and Inferno, the stakes for Sophie are higher and riskier than ever.

Dark, edgy and sensational, the is a finale readers will love. It’s pacy, full of plot and even throws up some last-minute shocks and surprises. The twists – one of which I did guess way back during book two – really keep you reading and I sped through it. This is contemporary-crime-romance-thriller all rolled into one: it’s got a touch of Gabrielle Zevin’s ice-cool All These Things I’ve Done and a shade of V.E. Schwab’s bloodthirsty This Savage Song,  but there really is nothing else like it on the UKYA shelf. I’d recommend a trigger or content warning for this finale as the violent Falcone-Marino blood feud threatens to lay waste to Chicago’s innocent and guilty alike, but if you have the stomach for it, the pacing and tension are undoubtedly gripping.

The Falcone boys are back, of course, and with a rival Mafia clan baying for blood, tensions are high in the household. All five of them get ample time on the page, but their family obligations are never far away. Nic sees Sophie as the mafiosa she could be: ruthless, furious, out for vengeance. Luca longs for a life free of feuds and bloodshed, where he and Sophie might stand a chance at a future. There is crowd-pleasing forbidden romance here and there’s a particular scene of stargazing fans are sure to lap up, though in a series which takes realism with a pinch of salt from the outset, it’s occasionally a little stylised. It’s in the pursuit of clearer character that Doyle really makes her mark; in these moments of clarity – whether it’s with poetry, one-on-one conversation, much-needed light relief, realizations of what characters are or are not capable of – improvements in writing style show.

The breakout star of Mafiosa for me, however, was Sophie’s light-hearted, deeply loyal best friend Millie. It’s been said that Blood for Blood would make for ideal Netflix Original series material, and I have to agree – it’s thrilling, dramatic, and super stylish – but the friendship between Millie and Sophie may be my favourite part of Mafiosa. After two books where their friendship was prominent but sometimes flat, it finally, feels natural: their dialogue is funny, silly and serious, their bond warm and strong, their love story in some ways more important than any other in the trilogy.

And the ending? Oh wow, the ending. It is a fitting finale. This is a spoiler-free zone, but I will say it’s the kind that will have you glancing at the dwindling page count, wondering how on earth Doyle’s going to get the characters out of this one…

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Dark, dangerous and twisted, there’s a sense of fervour to Catherine Doyle’s Mafiosa: full of ferocious feuds, fistfights, masquerade balls, murder, chases, poetry, sweeping romance, murder, inauspiciously interrupted kisses, climactic showdowns and more murder, this finale brings to a dramatic end one of the most unusual series in recent YA.  I’m intrigued to see what Doyle writes next. 

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a pair of reviews // Vendetta and Inferno by Catherine Doyle

As some of you may know, Catherine Doyle’s Mafiosa (the final book in her Blood for Blood trilogy) comes out VERY SOON, so I thought I’d do a quick recap-review of Vendetta and Inferno before reviewing the finale! Both of these are adapted from my pre-release reviews, which you can read here. Enjoy!

24638201Vendetta by Catherine Doyle
Publisher:
Chicken House Books
Publication date: January 1st 2015
Genre:  
contemporary, crime
Category:
YA

When it comes to revenge, love is a dangerous complication.

When five brothers move into the abandoned mansion in her neighbourhood, Sophie Gracewell’s life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nicoli, Sophie finds herself drawn into a criminal underworld governed by powerful families. But with a fierce rivalry raging between two warring crime families, falling in love is the deadliest thing Sophie could do. As the boys’ dark secrets begin to come to light, Sophie is confronted with stinging truths about her own family, too. She must choose between two warring dynasties – the one she was born into, and the one she is falling in love with. When she does, blood will spill and hearts will break.

Thrilling, explosive and dangerous, Vendetta is young adult fiction’s answer to The Godfather. Its pastel cover design may have you thinking this is just another love story, but Vendetta is complex, brutal even, with a plot that twists and turns like a skater on an ice rink. Throw in a mystery and a forbidden romance, and it’s no wonder Catherine Doyle is being hailed as an original new voice in teen fiction.

The writing in the book is seriously good. It’s super stylish: detailed yet straightforward, illustrative yet practical. It catches your attention but more importantly, it holds your attention. I saw some of the twists coming, but the adventure itself is undeniably addictive. If you can stick with the early chapters, you’re in for a real treat. Vendetta is just the injection of adrenaline recent UKYA needed.

Set on the outskirts of Chicago, it feels American without becoming overbearing. It pays homage to iconic gangster movies of the 20th century, but make no mistake, it has its feet firmly planted in the present day. The characters at the core of the story, Sophie and Nic, are incredibly human, and it keeps you reading. Sophie is a narrator I can see a lot of readers identifying with, while of Nic’s four brothers, Luca seems already to have won hearts and left fans swooning. Sophie’s best friend Millie is also tremendous fun, but even more than that, she feels real. All too often best friends in YA are flat or forced to fit tropes, but I can’t wait to see more of her in the later books.

However, it would be wrong to say Vendetta features the most realistic of romances, as most people would (and should!) run a mile the second they realize their potential suitor was actually a member of one of the most notorious Mafia dynasties on the block — and that’s not even starting on the link between horrors of Sophie’s past and that of the Falcones, either. When I say there’s brutality in this book, I mean there is a lot of brutality in this book. Bloodshed for the Falcone brothers is not only normal, but compulsory, and unfortunately, heroine Sophie is not immune to the danger of that reality. I don’t usually advocate age ratings on books, but I’d probably recommend this one for readers aged 14+.

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If you’re searching for a début that doesn’t hold back, look no further than this explosive tale of forbidden love, thrilling danger and Italians swearing great storytelling. Fiercely original, page-turning and well-written. 

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Inferno by Catherine Doyle
Publisher:
Chicken House Books
Publication date: January 7th 2016 
Genre:  
contemporary, crime
Category:
YA

Romeo and Juliet meets The Godfather in the second installment of Catherine Doyle’s Blood for Blood series.

Sophie’s life has been turned upside-down, and she’s determined to set things right. Nic won’t give up on their love, but it’s Luca’s knife she clutches for comfort. Then another Mafia  clan spoils the fragile peace – and with her heart drawn in one direction and her blood in another, Sophie’s in deeper than ever.

Catherine Doyle’s début novel was a real statement: a full-throttle collision of first love, family ties and ferocious blood feuds, written with surprising skill and remarkable confidence. Inferno has a different feel. It’s darker, edgier and more dangerous. This time, the skill is as sharp as a knife, and the confidence comes armed to the teeth.

Sharp, sensational and utterly addictive, Inferno plunges headfirst into a story overflowing with drama. Bound by omerta and lucky to be alive, Sophie is seeing the dark side of Cedar Hill everywhere she goes, and with a rival Mafia clan baying for blood and a feud stirring once more, the secrets of the Falcone family threaten to leave carnage in their wake. There is romance in the book, but it definitely takes a backseat to thrilling chases and heart-pounding discoveries. Luca may be hot and Nic may be the boy who first caught her eye, but with danger lurking in every shadow, first and foremost I think I ship Sophie with survival!

Best friend Millie is the only character in the book with any common sense, bringing much-needed light relief to an otherwise heavy drama with her resourcefulness and humour, while the introduction of secondary characters is handled well. The Falcone brothers are still great characters, but they’re terrible people. This series isn’t about loveable rogues or even moral ambiguity. Much has been made of Vendetta’s star-crossed romance and sizzling quintet of Mafia brothers, but as ever there is more than meets the eye to this story. There’s a sense that Doyle’s focus has shifted to revealing characters – for better or worse – for who and what they really are.  The world of the book is sick and twisted, and the characters do some pretty unforgivable things; it really isn’t for the faint of heart. You’d think the trilogy couldn’t possibly get any more explosive than this, but Doyle will undoubtedly ratchet up the tension for the series finale.

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Dark, defiant and utterly engaging, Inferno is an electric, unputdownable read. It’s Romeo and Juliet meets The Sopranos (with the emphasis on The Sopranos) and not for the faint of heart: it reads like a gut-punch and remains one of the most unique YA series on the shelf.

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