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My Top Fantasy/Young Adult Reads of 2016

I read 50 books in 2016, which is record breaking for me. Here’s a selection of my faves. Add me on Goodreads so I can see what you read!

(NB: these are in no order, and they are books read in 2016, not published).

nimona graphic novel cover1. This graphic novel was a cracking start to the year – Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson. Hilarious, swashbuckling & perfectly drawn, I’ve since repeatedly bought this for friends as it’s the silly kind of funny my inner circle all love.

2. Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I was on the British Fantasy Awards jury for Best Novel this year, which meant I had to read a clutch of wonderful books, fast.

Honorable mention to Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series, which I happily crammed into a week so I could read the shortlisted final instalment, but Uprooted was my favourite of the nominees. I liked how it subverted some of the expectations of the genre, and never went quite where I expected it to.

3. Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones. Now, this one definitely didn’t come out in 2016. I’ve been meaning to read it for pretty much as long as I’ve been reading. I read her now-classic Archers Goon when I was about ten, & I was awed because I didn’t know books were ‘allowed’ to be so funny and weird.

This is the Wynne-Jones novel Maggie Stiefvater always recommends, so it’s no surprise that I liked it. ‘Magic happening to ordinary children’ is always a fave setup (see also: E Nesbit), and Polly was the kind of girl I’d have liked to be friends with. I was wrong-footed by the ending, but I got to go online and find plenty of theories and rants about it, always a bonus.

4. Joan Aiken was another writer I loved way back when. Black Hearts in Battersea (the sequel to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) gave me a hilarious, easy read on last year’s miserable winter commutes. Cool points for being set in the parts of London I commuted to!

power naomi alderman5. The Power by Naomi Alderman Ahhh this was an EPIC read. I found it while prowling Audible with a spare credit burning a hole in my account. This had a blurb from Margaret Atwood (MARGARET ATWOOD!), so hello, instabuy!

The novel is set in a version of our society where women develop a unique physical power, making them more physically powerful than men. It plays with several ideas of power, how we use and react to it, and how power shapes cultures and history.

I didn’t stop listening for days, pausing only to recommend it to all of my friends and rave about it on Twitter. I even listened while cooking at Christmas, hoping no one would come in & recoil from the violent parts. (The gravity of audiobooks is such that people will always come in during the violent or romantic parts).

6. Of course I need to include The Raven King here, because Continue Reading →

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Which Hunger Games character are you? Part I – The boys (Slacker Heroes post)

Hunger Games Poster

First published at Slacker Heroes.

In the lead up to The Hunger Games movie release, here’s a fun quiz in place of a book review. Because everyone’s already read the book, right? Right? If not, you’d better hurry up because the film’s out next month and you’re going to want know what all the fuss is about.

I definitely recommend reading the series before you watch the film; no matter how good the adaptation is, it can’t be better than the novel. The story is high tension, dystopian YA that grabs you from the start and drags you through to the end so fast your hands are bleeding from turning the pages. That’s right, dystopian paper cuts. For reals.

Here’s the main premise –

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins.

This week, it’s time to find out which of the male characters is most like you. Next time, you’ll get to identify with one of the girls. Ready? Let’s get started. And may the odds be ever in your favour.

1. There is a squirrel in the trees. It may be your only source of food for months. Do you:

A) Drive it out of the trees using a tactic you perfected years ago, catch it in a homemade trap, then share it between two starving families.

B) Entice the animal down with a beautiful trail of sugar icing, leading from the base of the tree right into your perma-hot baker’s oven.

C) Not notice it because you’re still drunk from this morning. Who needs meat, when whiskey has all the carbs you need?

2. What do you look like?

A) Dark, lean and grey eyed. Admired by the ladies, but too busy hunting and brooding to hook up. Coal smudged, with twigs in your hair, which is strange since those woods are forbidden…

B) Floppy blond hair and kind blue eyes. Broad and stocky from your flour-hauling, dough-kneading days. Face red and puffy from crying. Occasionally on fire.

C) Woody Harrelson.

3. What would be your dream holiday?

A) An adventure holiday, orienteering-type thing, where you have to live for weeks on grubs and tubers and people are impressed when you drink your own pee. You would save the biggest grubs and send them to your family back home.

B) A trip to the English sea-side, with lots of tea shops and crumpets, lashings of double cream and long, romantic walks on the beach.

C) An all-inclusive trip with a 24 hour bar, where it’s totally acceptable to have vomit in your chest hair and fall over a lot.

Mostly As

You are Gale, loyal best friend with super sharp huntsman-smarts. Your devotion and rebel sensibilities add a sexy dash of derring-do to your woodsy get-up, even though you probably always smell of blood and coal.

Mostly Bs

You are Peeta, the baker’s son that the TV cameras love, selected to battle one of the girls you went to school with. Form no attachments because a maximum of one of you is getting out alive. No, stop smiling at her, don’t you, oh. Fine. Befriend the pretty girl you’re going to have to kill. Just don’t come crying to me when it turns out messy…

Mostly Cs

You are Haymitch, the drunked-up mentor, the only living Hunger Games victor from District 12. What did you do, breathe poisonous booze fumes at the other competitors? It’s up to you to bring this year’s tribute home. Remember, only one can survive, and it won’t be easy to choose if you’re already seeing double.

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Zoo City review

Zoo City Cover Lauren Beukes Angry Robot

How to enjoy book awards without having to actually write a novel

(A review of Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes)

There are three ways to gain pleasure from book awards (assuming that you are not one of the nominees yourself; if you are, congrats. Nice to see you here).

One is to have read all the books on the shortlist and therefore hold a valid opinion about which one is best. This never happens. Ever. Even the judges have to pull all-nighters skim-reading and pretend they’d read them ages ago.

Scenario Two is much more achievable: To have read at least one of the nominated books, and thus be allowed to hold forth, loudly, about how the one you bothered to buy should totally win the award in question (or, was such a pile of crap that it should never have been nominated).

Scenario Three is the nicest of all: To see a book you genuinely loved on the list, and for that book to actually win. That’s what happened to me when Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award last year, and I got to feel smug and proud despite having had nothing to do with the book. You hear that? A way to feel smug and proud without having to do anything except read a book. Don’t tell me you’re not impressed by that.

Right now, with the nominee list for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award not yet announced, having an opinion about last year’s winner is the best you can do. So, get thee to a bookshop and swot up fast. Here are some of my favourite things about Beuke’s book.

1 The concept of being animalled. In Beuke’s world, criminals have a permanent reminder of their crime, an animal who is linked to them for life. The tether between person and animal is strong, and separation is unbearable. It’s a cool, visual conceit, and something that’s not vampires. (Or werewolves). Something original. Phew.

Now that those with a less than pristine past can be identified with just a glance, the animalled are quickly ostracised. Let’s face it, excluding people who are different is something humans have always been good at. The suburbs become gated communities, and the Zoo City of the title is slang for where the cons and their critters reside.

2 Urban grittiness. I like urban fantasy when it shows me streets that are real. Streets that have dirt and junkies on them, litter and blood. When she came out of prison with a Sloth on her shoulders, no one would rent Zinzi a place anywhere nice, and in fact she kinda liked the broken down tenement she found in the Zoo City ghetto. It was dirty, and crowded, and noisy – just like prison. The scenes in the downtown slums are easy to visualise and are always believable, uncomfortably so. The detail makes the magic and the noir elements feel very real.

3 Zinzi December. What a name, what a woman. Here’s a female lead, written by a female author, winning a SF prize in a year where everyone shouted a lot (a lot) about there being a lack of female SF authors these days. Zinzi is the kind of heroine I like – cynical, clever, with healthy disregard for authority. Her downward spiral is in the spotlight, not her love life. No, she’s not proud of what she’s done, or what she does now. And nor should she be. She stays away from the drugs these days, but is involved in some dodgy internet scams to pay the bills and has no legit alternatives to turn to instead.

4 The pop culture. Like the slums, Lauren gets this right. Remember I said there were no legit alternatives for Zinzi? Well, what if she uses her natural talent to help out some bad people, and earns enough to stop hustling for a while? People with animals also have a magical talent, a shavi, and Zinzi’s talent is finding lost things. Keys, love letters, toys, jewellery. She could find bigger stuff, yes, but she prefers to stick to the easy stuff. Less trouble that way. She advertises her services to find things people have lost, and attracts the attention of a pop mogul who’s lost his teen singer. She should know better than to get involved – the darkness surrounding the case is palpable – but the money and the armed heavies make it hard to walk away.

So she takes the job, to find a lost teen idol, a cookie-cutter cutie who is adored for her innocent image. She’s a beauty, an angel, a role model. And she needs to be found before the media discovers her disappearance and infers anything sordid. The gossip magazine culture and the fake saccharine pop stars are perfectly done, and excerpts from YouTube style web pages (complete with comments), song lyrics and tabloid columns are slipped neatly between the chapters.

Bonus Scenario Four: being able to say that none of this year’s list are as good as last year’s winner. Read this now and you still have a chance to enjoy this scenario.

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Faux Casting of Anathema, by Megg Jensen (Slacker Heroes review)

anathema cover

Slave girls in a mysterious castle? Missing friends, magical tokens, intrigue and ritual – I was excited by this story from the opening chapter.

Anathema is the first title in Megg Jensen’s Cloud Prophet Trilogy, and the entire time I was reading I could ‘see’ it in my head like a film, so I thought it would be fun have a faux casting for an imaginary movie adaptation.

Our heroine, Reychel, is a slave girl in the King’s castle. She is not allowed to see the sky unless her tyrannical master allows it. Sometimes he summons her to his chambers to tell him stories, but the rest of the time she spends with the other slave girls, doing chores in the castle’s dark kitchen.

To show their slave status the girls must always keep their heads shaved, so you’ll understand why my in-brain movie wanted Natalie Portman for this role. However, I decided instead to sub Keira Knightley. At the start, Reychel is naive and trusting, not used to thinking for herself, and I think Keira does dumb better than Natalie, while still having that wide-eyed look that makes scalp-short hair so sexy.

Click here to see who else I chose.

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