Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Review: Show Stealer - Hayley Barker

Show Stealer by Hayley Barker, published by Scholastic on 2nd August 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Hoshiko and Ben have been on the run since they burned Silvio Sabatini's circus down to the ground. But Ben's mother will stop at nothing to track him down and get her revenge: backing him into a corner where he is forced to sacrifice himself to save Hoshiko. The deadliest show on earth has been resurrected and if Ben thought he'd seen into its dark corners as an outsider, the true extent of the horrors that lurk beneath the Big Top are about to be revealed as he becomes the circus' new star attraction...

Review:This is a stunning follow-up to last year's debut hit Showstopper. It is an incredibly enjoyable read and had me engrossed from start to finish.

Each chapter alternates between the viewpoints of Ben and Hoshiko, with the story picking up from nearly a year on, after their escape from the Cirque and evil ringmaster Silvio Sabatini. Still on the run and being hunted by Ben's mother and the police, there is a huge reward for their capture.  This means that they are not even safe from the other dregs who, given half a chance, will turn them in.

I really loved this book and I didn't want it to finish. Hayley Barker has let her imagination run riot which means that there are a lot of unexpected surprises in store for the reader. I don't want to say too much about the plot for fear of spoiling anything but needless to say, you are in for a real treat. This is YA fiction at its best.

The characters are very special and for me, they help to make the book come alive. Ben and Hoshiko are captivating, likeable and engaging and there are some truly wonderful secondary characters, such as Greta, Jack, Ezekial and Sean. Plus, a terrible villain who you will love to hate.

The overall message of the book is about society itself and how it should be working together to unite people from all walks of life. Although the Pures and the Dregs have been made to hate one another, there's definitely a glimpse of what could be a brighter future if they could only accept each other and learn to change their attitudes to those who may be different from themselves.

I can't recommend this book enough and if you haven't read Showstopper yet then I would encourage you to go out and buy both books, clear your weekend schedule and find somewhere comfy to cozy up in while you dive into these amazing stories. You won't regret it.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Review: The Alaskan Chronicles: The Provider - John Hunt

The Alaskan Chronicles: The Provider by John Hunt, published by Lodestone Books on 14th June 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
The year is 2020 and President Trump has just announced that the world is bracing itself for the effects of a huge solar storm.

17 year old Jim Richards is a gawky, unimpressive teenager in Anchorage, Alaska. As chaos descends and society breaks down into anarchy and violence, his family team up with others to leave the city and take their chances in the Alaskan wilderness. They can no longer flick a switch to get what they want, no mobile or internet, in fact no communication at all with the wider world, how will it play out?

Jim must step up, and in doing so, find his true self, his first love, and his destiny. How will the human race survive in this new world?

This book had an interesting premise but didn't quite pull me in as I was expecting it too. The second half was better than the first as it had a lot more pace but overall, I found it very slow.

The story is set in the year 2020 when President Trump announces that a huge solar storm is about to hit. When solar flares take out the entire electricity grid, the world plunges into an age without phones or the internet; cars no longer run, TVs don't work and all modern commodities are gone in the blink of an eye. The plot centres around teenager Jim and his family who head into the Alaskan wilderness to seek refuge from looters and mass mobs when the whole of society starts to crumble.

I normally always enjoy survival stories which are set in remote locations. It's interesting to see how the characters have to use every survival tactic in the book to rebuild their lives, including learning how to catch food and build shelter. However, there was something about this title that just didn't hit the mark for me. I struggled with some of the characterisation and dialogue which didn't seem to be very realistic. The characters were slightly one-dimensional and although there were some things about Jim that I liked, I never really rooted for him as the hero of the story.

The ending was strange and didn't entirely feel like it fit with the rest of the book. I also don't think that I will be continuing with the series as I wasn't left with a burning desire to find out what happens to them all next.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Review: All These Beautiful Strangers - Elizabeth Klehfoth

All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth, published by Penguin on 19th July 2018

Goodreads synopsis:
Charlie Calloway has a life most people would kill for - a tight-knit family, a loyal set of friends, and top grades a privileged boarding school. But Charlie's never been interested in what most people want. Like all Calloways, she's been taught that she's different, special - better. So when her school's super-exclusive secret society extends a mysterious invitation, Charlie's determination to get in is matched only by her conviction that she belongs there.

But their secrets go deeper than she knows.

Charlie finds herself thrust into the centre of a decades-old mystery - one that implicates her family in not one terrible crime, but two. Uncovering their past may destroy everything she knows - or give her the answer she's always craved: Who or what was behind her mother's disappearance ten years ago?


'All These Beautiful Strangers' is described as Cruel Intentions meets Gossip Girl with a hint of The Secret History.  It sounded exactly like the kind of book that I love.  I'm a big fan of YA thrillers and I was even more intrigued after reading the blurb which hinted at a hidden mystery waiting to be unravelled.

The story is set at Knollwood Prep, an exclusive boarding school. I can never resist the lure of a boarding school setting which I think dates back to my days of enjoying the Chalet School books. It adds a sense of suffocation and claustrophobia, as well as functioning almost as an exclusive society with it's own set of specific rules.  The main character, Charlie Calloway, is one of the privileged pupils and appears to have it all.  At the beginning of the story she is invited to try joining the school's secret society which involves having to complete a series of almost impossible challenges. As she attempts to gain her place within the society, she also becomes embroiled in the secret of her mother's disappearance ten years ago.  As she begins to connect the dots, long-buried secrets finally threaten to become exposed.

The plot switches backwards and forwards between Charlie in 2017 and her mother Grace in 2007.  It was interesting to see her mother's life unravelling as Charlie begins to realise that the events of the past and the present are linked together.  I actually think I enjoyed the Grace chapters more than the ones from Charlie's perspective.  Probably because Charlie wasn't immensely likable and there seemed to be a lot of flaws in her character.  She definitely matures a lot throughout the book though and there's hope that she will be a better person by the end of the story.  I also wasn't madly keen on any of the male figures which was a shame because there were one or two who had real potential.

I enjoyed the mystery element to the plot and finding out what really happened to Grace so many years ago.  I definitely didn't have any inkling about who was going to be involved, so it was nice to feel completely surprised when the big reveal finally came.  This is a pretty long book at nearly 500 pages and while I thought that the mystery was well written and plotted, it was possibly a bit too drawn out and a tad long in places.  It felt like some of the suspense was slightly lost owing to the length of the story and the pace might have benefited from a few cuts here and there.  Saying that, the ending fell a little flat because it all seemed a bit rushed in the final chapters.  Suddenly everything was wrapped up quite quickly and I was still left with a few unanswered questions.

If you enjoy YA thrillers and you're looking for mystery and suspense then this could be your kind of book.  I would have liked it to have been more fast-paced but overall it was very good and I didn't find it easy to put down once I'd started it.  Overall, a terrific debut and I look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Klehfoth in the future.   

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