Cover Art Reveal: Hidden in the Signal

Hidden in the Signal cover

Those who oppose Grey’s Tower tend to end up missing or dead. Jenny’s friend Matt vanished while trying to uncover the Tower’s secrets. Jenny has promised to discover what happened to him, and she must keep those she loves from facing the same fate.

Meanwhile there is another threat looming. An alien spaceship is heading for Earth. Jenny and her allies must find a way to stop it but there may be another danger nearer to hand. Someone close to Jenny is keeping secrets – secrets that might hold the key to the spaceship’s mission, to Matt’s disappearance, and to what their enemies have planned.


Hidden in the Signal is the third book in the Codename Omega series, which follows the adventures of Jenny Harding, an ordinary girl who gets caught up in conspiracies and combat involving alien technology. The first two books Omega Rising and Traitor in the Tower are available now.

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen coverRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard (UK link, US link) has a lot of the standard hallmarks of a young adult dystopian novel, but it approaches them in a way that makes the story feel new and different. It is the story of Mare Barrow, a girl from a downtrodden people who finds herself in the middle of the political intrigue and machinations of the ruling class.

The world is divided into Silvers and Reds. Those with silver blood have amazing abilities, including controlling fire, manipulating metal, or even entering people’s minds and controlling them. The reds… don’t. Without power of any description, the reds do menial labour, working as servants, factory workers, farmers, and so on to produce the necessities and the luxuries that the silvers enjoy. Reds are also sent into pointless wars as canon fodder if they can’t get a job soon enough.

Mare Barrow is a red girl from a poor village, who steals to help her family survive. When she steals from the wrong person and gets caught, she expects to lose her hand. Instead, she gets offered a job as a servant in the palace. In a very public accident, she and the rest of the world discover that Mare has powers of her own – the ability to control electricity. Because the royal family can’t admit that anyone with red blood has power, they create a fiction that Mare is the lost heir of a silver family, and betroth her to one of the princes. Mare is suddenly trapped in a world of politics and intrigue. If she plays her part, she can keep her family and herself alive, but there is a rebellion stirring and she might be in a position to help all reds in a way she’d never imagined possible.

What I like about this book is the way that the characters all feel like people. There are a lot of different personalities mixed in, from the major characters to the minor ones, and they all have layers. A character who is cruel and vicious shows that they can be a loving parent. A character who at first seems kind and caring can find ways to rationalise brutal actions and a status quo that hurts millions of people. In the world of the silvers, there are characters you can connect with and feel sympathy for, even while they turn a blind eye to the fact that reds are being downtrodden. This focus on the people makes the book feel very real. Even in this sci-fi/fantasy setting, the reactions of the different characters to the events of the book felt very genuine.

The plot is also one that kept me hurrying through this book. It has layers and factors, with the in-fighting within the silver houses, the rebellion of the reds, and Mare just trying to keep her family and friends safe. There were twists I didn’t see coming, but afterwards I could spot the seeds that had been leading up to them.

One thing I struggled with was trying to keep track of all the different silver houses, their house colours, and their powers. Fortunately, part of the story involved Mare struggling to learn all that, so there were reminders and it became another way to connect with the protagonist.

If you enjoy YA dystopias, I definitely recommend Red Queen. It’s the first of a series and I have the second one on order and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.

Five stars.

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day coverEvery Day by David Levithan (US link, UK link) is the story of A, who lives each day in a different life. Each morning they wake up with a new body, a new name, and a whole new life. They must bluff their way through the day and then, the next morning, start all over again. They have no control over whose body the inhabit and no way to stop the transfer happening. Normally, they try to leave the people they inhabit exactly the same after the experience, but sometimes they make exceptions to the rule, such as when they spent the day in the body of a girl contemplating suicide.

When A meets Rhiannon, one day is enough to fall in love. A doesn’t want to leave her behind when they move into another body and so they start taking stupid risks for the chance to see her again. And now one of their hosts knows he was possessed and is desperate to find out what happened.

This was an enjoyable book and it was fun to see the different lives A briefly experiences. It gives a real variety of family situations, from an undocumented underage worker to the rich and bitchy queen of a high school. The book is really good for the diversity of people included, with A jumping between bodies of different races, different genders, and different sexualities. I loved that it showed the depressed sufferer as having serious problems with her brain chemistry that impacted A as well, rather than being dismissed as a “bad mood”. A themselves describes themselves as not really having a gender. Because they jump around each day, they don’t really feel either male or female but a bit of both.

Plot wise, most of the book is about A trying to stay with Rhiannon, but there is the threat of Nathan poking around, trying to uncover the truth. It’s more of a romance than an adventure.

I enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that irritated me, including an event that happens near the end, so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but on the whole it was entertaining and enjoyable and kept me guessing. Four stars.

Review: Viral Nation by Shaunta Grimes

Viral Nation coverViral Nation is a post-apocalyptic book with many of the standard hallmarks of a YA dystopian story. The world was ravaged by a deadly plague and now the few survivors have come together into a small number of cities. They are all reliant on a drug that keeps the virus suppressed. Without regular doses, the virus will return. In the cities, law is kept because a time portal lets the authorities know what crimes will be committed so that they can stop them before they happen.

Clover is an autistic girl who depends on her support dog Mango to help her through loud and crowded situations which are incredibly stressful to her. She is extremely intelligent and is accepted into the prestigious Academy, only to be told that Mango can’t stay with her. When she refuses to be parted from her dog, she is sent instead to be a time mariner – to travel through the portal to bring back information from the future. In her new job, she learns that the system may not be as perfect as she’s been told.

The story is told largely from the perspectives of Clover and her brother West, with occasional sections from their father’s viewpoint. Clover’s character is a real strength for this book. Her experiences and thought processes are clearly described and made understandable to non-autistic readers. The way she behaves feels completely genuine and there is a real emotional connection. That feeling of reality is also reflected in the way she is sometimes treated by other characters in the book because of her autism. There were times when I felt fury and indignation on Clover’s behalf about the unfairness of how she is treated and I wished I could leap into the pages and yell at the other characters.

On the other hand, I didn’t think the plot did justice to the strength of the main character. There were a number of plot elements that seemed really convenient. I don’t want to give spoilers, but in particular the way the time travel is handled seems to lack consistent logic and there are details that are revealed that make no sense and seem to be there only because it furthered the plot.

The book also suffered a bit for being obviously the first one in a series. There are a lot of significant plot points that go unexplained which is frustrating, but I know I do this in my own series, so I can accept this. I trust that these mysteries will be resolved in the second book of this two-part series. The second book is already out, so at least I won’t have to wait to get the answers.

This isn’t going to make it on to my favourites shelf, but it’s an enjoyable read if you like dystopias and especially if you like well-written representations of autistic characters. Three and a half stars.

Review: Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee

Not Your Sidekick coverNot Your Sidekick is the story of Jess, a girl born to superhero parents, whose older sister is set to become a superhero too and whose younger brother is intellectually brilliant. She, on the other hand, has no powers and feels that she’s not enough for her family’s legacy. When she gets offered an internship and discovers she’ll be working for her parents’ nemeses, she decides to go for it. However, the job is not what she expected, the villains aren’t exactly evil, and there’s a lot more going on with the battle between heroes and villains than she’d have ever guessed.

The story plays with superhero tropes around powers and secret identities, while simultaneously telling the coming of age story of a teenager trying to figure out who she is in relation to her family. As a character, Jess is relatable. She goes through a lot of very normal things, dealing with school and friends and a crush on her fellow intern. Even in a world of superpowers, Jess is a very human character. She’s also the child of immigrants, and this plays nicely into the story of her figuring out who she is. She doesn’t want to ignore the heritage of where her parents come from, but she also needs to fit in the society she lives in now.

There are other interesting characters as well. While Jess is the main character, she has interactions with friends, family and strangers. The interplay between the different characters gives the impression of a rich, full world.

The only thing that I feel let this book down was that it didn’t really surprise me. In a story of superheroes, a lot of the characters who are introduced also have secret identities and these were sign-posted so much that they might as well have been shining in six-foot neon letters. The identities of various heroes were obvious. There was also a key relationship between a major character and the villains that could be seen coming from miles off. Key plot points were predictable. There was nothing subtle about the hints. There was only one detail of a plot twist in the whole book that came close to surprising me, but I won’t spoil that surprise now.

Not Your Sidekick does well from a diversity standpoint. Jess is an Asian bisexual, one of her friends is trans, and there is good representation from both a racial and LGBT+ perspective among the other characters. This representation feels genuine and it adds layers to Jess’s character and the overall theme of coming to terms with who you are.

I did enjoy the book. I liked the characters and the story, and there were some entertaining interactions between Jess and some of the other characters, I just wish it could have surprised me a bit more. If you enjoy superhero stories and what a quick read, you’ll probably have fun with this one. It’s probably a good book for younger readers, who might be less familiar with some of the tropes and who might therefore get a bit more surprised than I was. Three and a half stars.

Review: All the King’s Men

All the King’s Men by Alex Powell is a story set almost entirely in the artificial world of the Cerebrum. The protagonist Fox is part of a group of hackers who uncover corrupt government practices and expose them to the world. The group is led by a man known as King. When King is captured, he erases his memories rather than risk them being stolen by the government. Fortunately, in the digital world, backups are possible. Fox and the others must hunt for the backups of King’s memories but that won’t do them much good until they can rescue King’s physical body. Meanwhile, the government agent known only as Seven is on Fox’s trail, but he has some questions about his role.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story. There are a number of threads of mystery running through the plot: where are King’s memories, how did the government capture him, how will they get King’s body back? These keep the story going and kept me turning the page to find out what happens next.

The world building was interesting. Most of the action takes place in a virtual reality that builds on concepts familiar to internet users, with the characters able to take links from domain to domain. There are concepts of private domains and public spaces, with the ability to create virtual representations of places and even memories. This provides a rich backdrop to the story.

The one thing that I wasn’t sure about was the romantic element, which seemed to build extremely quickly. I don’t want to give spoilers, but there is a romance that seems to build from strangers, to being interested in each other, to being a couple, in a very short space of time. Given everything else that’s going on in the story, with hunters and betrayal, it seemed that they started to trust each other too soon.

Despite that, I did like the characters. They each had different personalities. Seven in particular has a great deal of character development over the course of the story.

If you enjoy cyberpunk action, this is an enjoyable book. Four stars.

Author reading: Helen Comerford

Last weekend, I was at St Leonard’s Festival, an event which included a vast range of events from market stall to folk dancing, puppet shows to a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in a park. One of the events was a workshop with author Helen Comerford, who as part of the workshop did a reading from her book. I took a recording on this opening.

You can find out more about her book at http://afterlifethenovel.com/ or check out the book on Amazon.

Review: Lost Stars

Lost StarsLost Stars by Claudia Gray is undeniably a book aimed at Star Wars fans. Many major battles from the original trilogy feature in the story and there are offhand references to events, locations, and characters from the films. Without a good recollection of the films, I imagine the book would get extremely confusing. If you are familiar with the original three Star Wars films, the book makes an enjoyable read.

The story spans more than a decade, staring several years before the events of A New Hope and continuing on for more than a year after the end of Return of the Jedi. It is a story of childhood friends turned lovers Ciena and Thane who end up on opposite sides of the war. That is the premise of the book and is given on the blurb, so I don’t feel it counts as a spoiler here, but it takes a very long time for the story to reach that point. Early chapters focus on their friendship, on trying to get into the Imperial Academy, on their training, on them becoming military officers and taking up their duties. It feels like it takes a very long time for the plot to start happening.

However, I’m not sure that’s a criticism. The slow build lets us see the relationship between Ciena and Thane. It lets us get to know them as people – how they work together and when they disagree. The length of time we see them as allies makes their later actions feel more plausible.

I was impressed with the character building, particularly of Ciena. The author did a brilliant job of creating a character who could seem noble and heroic, even idealistic, but who could plausibly fight for the Empire. Her decisions to stay with the Empire, first to keep her oath and then later to protect her family from repercussions should she dessert, felt very real. The motivations and desires of both characters are clear and compelling.

For a story that takes place in a war, a lot more emphasis was placed on the characters than the action. It feels more of an emotional romance than an adventure story. The characters in this book are new, with only passing mention being given to the main characters of the films.

I did enjoy this book, but I feel the appeal will be limited to those who are already fans of the Star Wars films.

Four stars.

Author Interview: Corinne Duyvis

Please share a little bit about your books.

On the Edge of Gone coverRight now, I have two books out. My first book, Otherbound, came out in 2014. It’s a young adult fantasy novel which is about a boy from our world who witnesses the life of a mute servant girl from another world every single time he blinks. She has no idea—until they learn to communicate, and they have to work together to discover what binds them together.

My second book, On the Edge of Gone, came out in March 2016. It’s a young adult sci-fi novel about an apocalypse-in-progress: a guarded, autistic girl tries to keep her family together in the immediate aftermath of a devastating comet impact.

Do you have a favourite character in your books?

Ohh, choosing favorites! That’s always hard. I think I’d have to choose Cilla from Otherbound, as I found her an unusual and intriguing character to write—that balance between sweet and haughty, well-intentioned but clueless, made her very appealing to me.

From On the Edge of Gone, it’s Denise herself. I just related to her a lot—which probably isn’t surprising, since a large part of the reason I wrote her was because there were so few autistic characters for me to relate to!

Could you explain a little bit about the Disability in Kidlit program?

Disability in Kidlit is a website I co-founded alongside author Kody Keplinger in 2013; it was originally intended as a sort of temporary blog fest but turned into an actual resource. We post reviews of the portrayal of disability in MG/YA novels, write articles about tropes and stereotypes, and discuss representation from various angles. All of our contributors identify as disabled themselves. I’m so very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the years. A lot of people have expressed gratitude and stated how helpful the website is to them, which means the world to me.

Your books are great examples of diverse fiction. Could you tell us why you feel so strongly about diversity in fiction?

Once I started seeing (a) the extreme imbalances in both the real world and inOtherbound cover fiction and (b) the results in society, I found it impossible not to care strongly about this topic. After all, these imbalances didn’t appear out of nothing. They’re a result of an unjust system, which doesn’t go away by simply waiting, hoping, or asking. I don’t want to support that system.

My thinking is: If I’m a writer, I have to make a choice—whether conscious or unconscious—about who it is I write about, and how I do so. Will I perpetuate the problems and imbalances, or will I try to do my part in combating them?

That doesn’t mean I should arrogantly try to “fix” everything myself and tell stories that aren’t mine. It means is that I try to be aware of my choices, and make those choices conscious ones. Sometimes, the best choice is to step away from a certain character and story, as I’m not the right person to write it.

Instead, I should listen to those who are the right person to write these stories, and do what I can to help their voices be heard.

What has surprised you most since getting published?

I think the ups and downs and backs and forths. It’s not like you’re just taking a step forward. Instead, one part of your life shifts, and the rest doesn’t necessarily shift with it.

So on one hand, your life is completely different: you’re put into different situations, you worry about different issues, and you have different concerns to keep in mind. Being published is such an entirely new set of experiences.

At the same time, nothing much has really changed. You’re still thinking up stories, you still have to do groceries and scoop out the litterbox, you still geek out with friends and eagerly anticipate the next book in someone else’s series.

Sometimes, you’ll pause during the cool parts of being published and realize, wow, when did this start feeling so normal? Or you pause during the regular everyday things and think, wow, I’m actually balancing this average life with signings and book deals and interviews?

It’s a constant seesaw. After several years, I’m still figuring out how to incorporate and balance it all.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started writing books?

As corny as it sounds: just keep going.

I must’ve written over ten books by now, and I still find myself constantly procrastinating, constantly doubting myself, constantly comparing myself, constantly getting distracted. Life throws so much your way that can distract you from writing, whether it’s obligations or brain chemistry or rejections from literary agents or more.

But if you just keep going, you can’t go wrong. You’re always learning and developing as an author, and the more you write, the more material you have to work with. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t use preparation as a means of procrastinating. Don’t linger on the rejections. Don’t spend years on the same project if you aren’t making actual progress on that project.

Just keep going.

If you want to find out more about Corinne Duyvis and her books, check out her website at http://www.corinneduyvis.net or you can connect with her on Twitter or Tumblr. You can find her books on Amazon and I have reviewed On the Edge of Gone here.

Review: On the Edge of Gone

On the Edge of Gone coverOn the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis is a brilliant book. The only downside to this book is that you will need to bring your tissues because it’s emotional and heart-breaking and poignantly written.

The story is set during a global catastrophe. A comet is about to crash into the Earth, devastating the world and doing massive damage that will last for years to come. Society has been preparing for the comet, with permanent shelters for some people, and generation ships to take others off-planet, but there aren’t nearly enough resources for everyone. Most of the population will just have to survive as best they can with temporary shelters and then hope they have homes to go back to after the impact. Thanks to a chance meeting, Denise and her mother end up on board a generation ship that hasn’t launched yet, but they won’t be allowed to stay. Denise is determined to find a way to earn a place on the ship, but those in charge look down on her drug-addict mother, and in the meantime her sister is missing. Outside the ship, people are fighting for survival and Denise doesn’t know if her sister is alive or dead.

The emotional impact comes again and again, as Denise deals faces the difficult decisions and challenges of trying to save a few people she cares about when so many others are suffering. Survival for some is going to be at the cost of others, and the author makes you feel every minute of it.

This book also does amazingly well from a diversity standpoint. Denise is a mixed-race, autistic girl and, as the book is written by an autistic author, her portrayal feels genuine and not remotely stereotyped. The book also contains: characters of a range of races and religions; a trans character; other LGBT characters; disabled characters; a character with Downs syndrome; and so on. Some of these are major characters, others are in the background, a few are just mentioned in passing, but it all adds up to a world in the story that feels like it represents the true diversity of the world around us. This adds to the emotional impact of the story because it feels like this disaster really is affecting everyone.

Five stars. Highly recommended.