BOOK REVIEW: The Obernwytn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody (Review by Sarah McDuling)

xthe-red-queen.jpg.pagespeed.ic.IO8CV4RPXNIt’s (almost) here!

At long last, it has (nearly) arrived!

All hail The Red Queen.

Like so many others, I’ve been a fan of The Obernewtyn Chronicles since I was kid. I have read and re-read these books so many times, my copies have grown battered and torn and the characters have come to feel like old friends.

But alas, all good things must come to an end! With The Red Queen, Isobelle Carmody is finishing a story that has been captivating readers for many years. And I cannot wait to see how she does it. Really, I cannot wait. If I don’t get my hands on a copy soon, there is a very distinct possibility that my head is going to explode …

I’m very much looking forward to reading this book, is what I’m saying.

In case you’re not familiar with this highly acclaimed and much beloved series, allow me to explain. The first book in The Obernewtyn Chronicles was published nearly 30 years ago. (Well … 28 years to be precise.) Since then it has been a consistent bestseller, collecting new generations of fans with each passing year. In fact, the first book has been published as a Popular Penguin title (a true sign of greatness). In editions both pink and orange – how cool is that?!

Way before Dystopian Fiction became a whole big craze, literally decades before anyone had ever heard of The Hunger Games or Divergent, Isobelle Carmody was writing about a distant future in which the world has been ravaged by a nuclear holocaust. In other words, when it comes to Dystopian YA, Isobelle Carmody did it first. And more importantly, she did it better.

This series is a beautifully written and painstakingly imagined, with the kind of detailed world-building and intricate plotting that has ensured each new book is better than the last. It also boasts the most iron-willed, big-hearted and strong-minded heroine I have ever encountered. No kidding. Elspeth Gordie is pretty much my role model in life. In times of hardship, I frequently ask myself, “What would Elspeth do?” and the answer is invariably, “Elspeth would do the most difficult, awe-inspiring and heroic thing imaginable. And she would do it alone. And she would do it without hesitation and without complaining.”

So yeah. I think it’s safe to say that The Red Queen is my favourite YA book of 2015. And I say this with the utmost confidence, despite the fact that I haven’t read it yet. Such is my unwavering faith in Isobelle Carmody.

Long live the Queen!

Grab your copy of The Red Queen here.

xthe-red-queen.jpg.pagespeed.ic.IO8CV4RPXNThe Red Queen

by Isobelle Carmody

The time has come at last for Elspeth Gordie to leave the Land on her quest to find and stop the computermachine Sentinel from unleashing the deadly Balance of Terror arsenal.

But before she can embark on her quest, she must find a lost key; and although she has long prepared for this day, nothing is as she imagined.

This is the final, dramatic volume in series of books that undoubtedly shines as one of the most fantastic, and fantastical, tapestries ever woven.

 Grab your copy of The Red Queen here.

BOOK REVIEW: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (review by Sarah McDuling)

illuminaeWhen I first heard about Illuminae, it was described to me as “Battlestar Galatica meets 10 Things I Hate About You”. This obviously sounded like the best idea ever to me. I figured I was probably going to adore the hell out of it. And I was right!

With a story that has been carefully constructed using a collection of emails, IM chats, descriptions of video footage, classified documents, diary entries, interview transcripts, pictures and poetry – Illuminae is a wildly imaginative, constantly surprisingly and often visually stunning reading experience.

This is creative storytelling at its best. In fact, the book reads almost like watching a movie or playing a video game … except for being way better than either of those things because it’s a BOOK!

From the combined imaginations of Amie Kaufman (The Starbound Trilogy) and Jay Kristoff (The Lotus War Trilogy) – Illuminae is the first book in a new trilogy that is best categorized as a Young-Adult-Space-Opera-slash-Romantic-Comedy-slash-Psychological-Thriller. This book shimmers with playful humour and burns bright with raw emotion. It’s exactly the kind of addictive read that will keep you up all night frantically flipping pages and mentally casting the movie adaptation in the back of your mind. (For the record, I settled on Miles Teller to play Ezra and Zoey Deutch to play Kady.)

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

A gloriously bold, genre-mashing masterpiece, Illuminae will take you on a madcap joy-ride through space, spinning a story that involves a fleet of refugees on the run from certain death, a highly contagious zombie disease, an evil planet-destroying corporation and a possibly deranged, definitely eccentric super computer called AIDAN, (Artificial Intelligence Defense Analytics Network).

It also features a wonderful cast of endearing characters that will capture your heart (and then crush it into space dust) and an utterly adorable love/hate relationship between a wise-cracking hero and a pink-haired astro-princess with mad computer skills.

In short, Illuminae is a crazy-amazing rollercoaster ride!

Guaranteed to blow your mind, tie your heartstrings up in knots and play a frenzied game of ping-pong with your expectations – Illuminae is a must read for science fiction lovers, romance junkies and comedy fans alike.

Grab your copy of Illuminae here!



Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Kady and Ezra thought their break-up was messy until they witnessed their entire world literally falling apart. Now they’re piecing together what’s left of their lives, and their romance, and trying to survive an intergalactic war. An innovatively designed story that’s best described as Battlestar Galactica meets 10 Things I Hate About You.

The year is 2575, and two rival mega-corporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe … Read more.

Grab your copy of Illuminae here!

BOOK REVIEW: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix (review by Sarah McDuling

unnamedWhat do you get when you combine Regency Romance with Gaslamp Fantasy and toss in a healthy dose of light-hearted humour and rollicking adventure?

You get Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, without doubt the most charming book I have read in AGES! Seriously. Why don’t more people write books like this?

An intrepid young lady, a dashing young hero, a stolen emerald with magical powers, kidnappings, French spies, adventures on the high seas and best of all … an enchanted moustache!

What all this adds up to is a shining example of one of my most favourite sub-genres – the ever so elusive ‘Fantasy of Manners’.

Books like this are just so hard to find!

Newt’s Emerald introduces readers to a plucky young heroine named Truthful who has disguised herself a man in order to recover a stolen family heirloom with magical properties. She is aided in her quest by her aged relative  (definitely my favourite character in the book) Lady Badgery – an imperious old woman with a sword hidden in her walking stick. After donning her disguise, Truthful meets a handsome young man calling himself “Major Hartnett” and what ensues is a magical frolic though a reimagined of version of Regency England.

As a devoted Georgette Heyer fan I’m constantly on the look out for books that boast that same brand of lively romance mingled with sparkling humour and old-world charm. The magical twist in Newt’s Emerald is an added bonus and places it amongst my absolute favourite ‘Fantasy of Manners’ reads – alongside Patricia C. Wrede’s A Matter of Magic and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey and Kiersten White’s Illusions of Fate.

An absolute must read for fans of all the above listed titles, as well as lovers of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen (and for fans of Garth Nix, of course!) – Newt’s Emerald is a high-spirited and playful romp guaranteed to enchant and delight!

Grab your copy of Newt’s Emerald here

Q&A with Patrick Ness about his latest novel – The Rest of Us Just Live Here.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here 1. The premise for your latest book is a really refreshing new take on a familiar theme. Can you tell us a bit about how you first got the idea to write The Rest of Us Just Live Here?

The Chosen One plot is so important to YA, and for good reason: it provides an explanation for the incredible loneliness and alienation that teenage life brings. It’s powerful, and I’d never want to lose it. HOWEVER, I started thinking about all those young readers out there who never even think they’d be Katniss or Harry Potter. I wondered what their stories would be like. The answer, of course, is: just as interesting.

2. The “Main Plot” of the book is a hilarious parody of YA clichés. Did you ever find it difficult navigating the fine line between parody and mockery?

Not really because I love YA, for its smarts, its robustness, its great welcoming nature. If you love something, I don’t think you have to worry too much about mocking it in a nasty way. I did it with love, and people have been responding really well! Make no mistake, I’ll defend YA to the death.

3. If you had to pick a favourite “Chosen One” character from a book/film/TV show or graphic novel who would it be and why?

Buffy. Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. The greatest Chosen One there ever was or will be. Powerful but human, serious but funny. Buffy is the greatest YA creation ever. I want all my nieces and nephews to have her as a role model.

4. Why do you think people are so endlessly fascinated by stories about high school teens banding together toPatrick Ness fight a supernatural evil and save the world in time for the Prom?

I’ve always argued that all supernatural AND dystopian plotlines in YA are, in fact, actually about high school. They’re all allegorical to how it feels: that every problem feels like (and is) the end of the world, that your friends are the only ones who understand, etc. I don’t think they’re supernatural at all, really. They’re one tiny step beyond documentary.

5. Would you rather be a hero, a sidekick, a villain or none of the above? What do you think makes someone a true hero?

Eh, it’s hard enough to be a decent human. It’s also heroic enough. My life philosophy is, “Just do your best and try not to be a dick.” Trust me, in this world, that’s bloody heroism, that is.

Grab a copy of Patrick Ness’ new novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here


The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here.
by Patrick Ness

Award-winning writer Patrick Ness’s bold and irreverent novel powerfully asks what if you weren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you were like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school.

Again. Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. Even if your best friend might just be the God of mountain lions…An exceptional novel from the author praised by John Green as “an insanely beautiful writer”.

Patrick Ness is the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling Chaos Walking trilogy, as well as the Carnegie Medal winning A Monster Calls, inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd. Among the numerous awards he has received are the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, the Booktrust Teenage Prize, and the Costa Children’s Book Award.

Grab a copy of Patrick Ness’ new novel The Rest of Us Just Live Here

Darragh McManus, author of Shiver the Whole Night Through, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

shiver-the-whole-night-throughThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Darragh McManus
author of
Shiver The Whole Night Through

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and reared in Ireland. A little village in County Tipperary, which is in the South-Midwest, if you can follow that. School, hmm…loved primary, hated the first three years of secondary. It wasn’t the school’s fault, they were fine. I just hated pretty much all the kids! Including myself, probably. I grew up a bit and enjoyed the final two years though. Then I went to college in Cork for an Arts degree in English Lit and History. I’ve also done a certificate in Art & Design, and of course have learned some lasting lessons in both the School of Hard Knocks and the University of Life.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Twelve: either play soccer for Liverpool or be some kind of intergalactic bounty hunter with cool blue skin and bluer eyeballs, toting a crossbow that fired lasers. This was because I read a LOT of comics at the time, mostly Roy of the Rovers and Champ (hence the soccer) and Eagle (hence the daft sci-fi).

Eighteen: probably to have my own grunge band. I’d moved onto an obsession with grunge by that stage. I still love those bands, the image, the sarcasm, the plaid shirts, everything about them – good guys who rocked like all-get-out. Sadly, I was too lazy to bother learning guitar…the dream withered and died.

Thirty: a writer! I’d decided in my late twenties that, yes, I definitively wanted to be an author; I finished my first novel at 29 and the future seemed – potentially? – bright. Didn’t quite go according to plan. That book and my next one (collection of stories) failed to sell. Finally, I was published in non-fiction at 34. And in 2012, a lifetime ambition was realised when AT LAST I had a novel released. Shiver the Whole Night Through is my third published work of fiction (though first Young Adult).

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That communism was both possible and desirable. I think most people, as they get older, move to a more meritocratic philosophy i.e. you should get out pretty much what you put in. (Obviously, this doesn’t mean not looking after those who need it – that’s just basic decency and kindness.) But my desire for a totally evened-out society is gone; I don’t think it’s remotely feasible anyway, even if it was a good idea. Maybe after another 10,000 years of human evolution. Funnily enough, not every youthful passion fades away; for instance, I’m probably more and more of an ardent feminist with each passing year.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc. – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

It’s not a work of art, as such, more a movement – but the aforementioned grunge music has been a seminal influence on me personally and my writing. I did a crime novel, Even Flow, which was basically the grunge ethos in vigilante form. Shiver the Whole Night Through takes its title and much of its tone from Nirvana (and Kurt is mentioned in the first paragraph). Another book, unpublished, called Pretend We’re Dead, is about a bunch of slackers whose lives and thoughts were profoundly shaped by grunge. As I said, I love everything about it: artistically, intellectually, emotionally, socially…maybe even metaphysically, who knows.

FEA_2014-01-29_LIF_044_30297410_I1Twin Peaks was also huge. In fact Shiver was, to some extent, my attempt at writing an Irish version of the great David Lynch drama. Murder mystery, small-town weirdness, supernatural elements, love story…and of course, the forest. It’s a character in its own right, in the show and book. Just that sustained mood of dread and reverie that Lynch evokes…man, it’s stayed with me for decades.

Finally, I’d like to pick a book but there are just so many… I’ll go for Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, one of my very-favourite novels. (Incidentally, I consider it a great work of YA literature too: the core story is about a lad of 14 and his fraught journey to some kind of emotional maturity and adult responsibility.) I was blown away the first time I read it, especially by the language Burgess invented for his narrator: English-Russian-Cockney-Gypsy and who knew what else. It really showed me the limitless possibilities of fiction. Great, great book. Real horrorshow, oh my droogies…

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

God – good question! I should have been a musician or painter or movie director or one of those lunatics who mutilates their own body and videos the whole thing and runs the video in a gallery and… Probably I write because A) I’m reasonably good at it, B) I love reading anyway so why not read my own stuff, C) as I say, I was too lazy to learn an instrument, D) I’m colour-blind so visual art is out and E) films cost billions to make and I’m way too neurotic myself to be dealing with tantrums and egos of actors.

6. Please tell us about your novel, Shiver The Whole Night Through.

It’s a YA mystery – sort of a noir-style detective story, with paranormal/horror elements, set in a small Irish town. The basic plot is: after months of bullying and romantic heartbreak, seventeen-year-old Aidan Flood feels just about ready to end it all. But when he wakes up one morning to find that town sweetheart Sláine McAuley actually has, he discovers a new sense of purpose, and becomes determined to find out what happened. One night Aidan gets a message, scratched in ice on his bedroom window: ‘I didn’t kill myself.’ Who is contacting him? And if Sláine didn’t end her own life…who did? Now Aidan must hunt down Sláine’s killers, and unravel the darker secrets surrounding the town. And he’s about to find out that in matters of life and death, salvation often comes in the unlikeliest of forms…

shiver-the-whole-night-throughNeedless to say, it’s great! Seriously, the reviews so far are very positive, and Shiver is on the (UK) Daily Telegraph’s Best YA 2014 list. Think Twin Peaks meets Twilight meets Let the Right One In meets the teen-detective movie Brick meets old Gothic horror stories. Or don’t think that at all, and just go into it blind.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

This one specifically, a feeling that they’ve been thrilled, chilled, moved and entertained. For all the things we may say about our books, first and foremost you want to entertain the reader. Beneath that, I hope they get a sense of empathy and sympathy for bullying victims; it’s the scourge of society and always has been. Nothing worse than a bully. I hope they debate some of the themes with their friends e.g. is revenge ever justified? And I hope they’d have become as fond of Aidan, Sláine and Podsy as I am.

In general, I’d like to think people will put down one of my books and – whether they loved it or liked it or were indifferent or worse – at least they’d think it was authentic, distinctive, made with care and sincerity. I hope they’d think, “This guy’s writing isn’t like anyone else’s.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Oh wow, so many. Anthony Burgess, again: the man was just the most incredible virtuoso. Could write anything, any style and any genre, better than virtually anyone else. Jorge Luis Borges, because his ideas and technique were so unusual that he was almost an art-form unto himself. Margaret Atwood for being so witty and clever and making it look so easy. George Orwell for writing 1984, probably the greatest book I’ve ever read. Don DeLillo, for having the most unique literary voice I’ve ever read, and for somehow expressing the inexpressible in our existence, and illuminating the deep mysteries of it all… I’d better stop now or I really will keep going and going, possibly forever.

 9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

To write and publish a sequel to Shiver the Whole Night Through. To write and publish the several other ideas for YA novels that I’ve begun sketching out, plotting, pottering about with. To have my first novel and short-story collection published. To have that slacker novel published (dude). To write lots of screenplays and get filthy rich in Hollywood. To win an Oscar for one of them…and then refuse the Oscar. Ha!

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Everyone says this, but…read. Read, read, read. Not the internet or magazines; read books. All sorts of books, with a good smattering of classics. That can mean anything from Homer to Dickens to Graham Greene – whatever. Just something outside your comfort zone, outside your normal realm of thinking/reading (and they are, in a sense, two sides of the same coin). Something that stretches your mind. Read. Keep reading. Then start writing, but keep reading. Don’t ever stop reading! I cannot stress this enough!

Darragh, Thank you for playing.

The Fault in Our Stars Movie : A GIF Review by Sarah McDuling

Getting invited to an advanced screening…

On the way to the cinema…

When the movie is starting…

Five minutes after the movie has started…

Every time Augustus Waters appears on screen…

Every time anyone says the word “Okay”…

Isaac’s eulogy…


Augustus’s letter…


The End…


Grab a copy of The Fault in our Stars here

Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  

Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming.

She is also an enthusiaster fibber.

You can read her other posts here or see her tweet about all things Young Adult-ish at @sarahmcduling.

You can also follow her on tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia

REVIEW: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Review by Sarah McDuling)

love-letters-to-the-deadLove Letters to the Dead is a powerful coming-of-age novel that will grab hold of your heart and soul, drawing you into the narrator’s world so completely that finishing the book is actually quite upsetting – like having a door slammed in your face by your new best friend. As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the top Young Adult novels of the year.

This book first came to my attention when I saw that Emma Watson had tweeted about it. As a general rule, I will do whatever Emma Watson says because she is Hermione and therefore my idol. So when she gave her seal of approval, I obediently googled Ava Dellaira and discovered that she’s friends with Stephen Chbosky and had worked as an associate producer on the movie adaptation of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. After that I was naturally desperate to get my hands on a copy. 

Love Letters to the Dead is the story of Laurel, a young woman who is quietly drowning in grief and guilt. We are introduced to Laurel as she starts her freshman year of High School. (That means Year 9, for those of you who don’t speak American.)

At a glance, all the usual hallmarks of YA contemporary literature appear to be present and accounted for:

1. The (seemingly) Unattainable Crush:

In this case, his name is Sky. And if Sky was a mathematical equation he would look something like this:

Hot Guy + Mysterious Loner = Swoon10   

(Maths was never my best subject but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate).

2.  The Friend/s with Serious Life Problems:

Ava_Dellaira_author_photo Laurel’s two closest friends, Hannah and Natalie, are in love!  But their relationship is complicated. Neither of them are quite ready to come out of the closet and Hannah is dealing with a pretty stressful home-life situation.  Also she keeps ditching Natalie to date boys.

3. The Parents Who Just Don’t Understand:

Neither of Laurel’s parents have a very clear understanding what she’s going through. Her father is blinded by grief and her mother has skipped town at a time when Laurel needs her most.

4. The Thing That Happened in the Past that Must Remain Secret (until the end):

Laurel’s family was torn apart after the death of her older sister, May. But only Laurel knows the whole story behind what happened the night May died. And she can’t talk about it. She can barely even think about it.

So there you go. The bare bones of the story probably sound familiar to you. Most of us have read books like this before. But while the ingredients that have gone into making Love Letters to the Dead may be standard staples, Ava Dellaira throws a serving of raw emotion into the mix that takes everything to a whole new level. And I think that’s what makes Love Letters to the Dead such a special treat. It’s a genuine heartbreaker.

Another thing I love about this beautiful book is the fact that it’s written as a series of letters addressed to dead celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, I got a real kick out of this. Kurt Cobain, Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Amelia Earhart and River Phoenix are just a few of the intriguing people Laurel chooses to write to. She writes the first letter for a school assignment, but then cannot bring herself to turn it in. Instead, she keeps writing letters to dead people. And as she writes she slowly reveals the tragic secret behind the death of her older sister, May.

love-letters-to-the-deadDellaira writes with such perfect pitch and subtle skill, Love Letters to the Dead feels like a modern classic. Laurel is a very self-contained and unassuming protagonist, one who spends the majority of the book repressing her feelings and denying the past. The true depth of her suffering is revealed so gradually that  I think I was about a third of the way through the novel before it dawned on me that she wasn’t just wallowing in typical teen angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. I happen to love wallowing in teen angst, and I’m a proper grown up adult (supposedly).

This is one of those books that sort of creeps up on you. You start reading and everything seems pretty cool. You’re like, “Oh hey! I see what’s going on here. High school girl with high school problems. Boy drama! Teen Issues! Burgeoning womanhood! I know the drill.”

But as you keep reading you find yourself starting to think, “Hold up. I’m having some strong feelings about this book. Powerful emotions are happening! This is not a drill!

This beautiful book is the perfect for fans of poignant (i.e. emotionally apocalyptic) Young Adult literature like The Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Fault in our Stars. And the craziest part? This is the author’s first book! I’m completely blown away by that fact. After such an impressive debut, I can’t wait to see what Ava Dellaira does next because … wow.

Grab a copy of Love Letters to the Dead here


Sarah McDuling is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog and Editor of the Booktopia Young Adult Buzz.  Her hobbies include (but are not limited to) sword-fighting, ghost hunting and lion taming. She is also an enthusiastic fibber.

You can read her other posts here or follow her on Tumblr at Young Adult @ Booktopia


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