Script Kiddie by Michael F Stewarthere. This review contains spoilers for the first book, Assured Destruction, since the ending of that feeds into the set up of Script Kiddie.
Jan Rose no longer steals data from the old computers she recycles. She doesn’t need to. As the newest member of the police department’s High Tech Crime Unit, the laptop of a murderer has landed on her desk. Her job: to profile and expose a killer.Where the first book was about Jan doing some questionable things and then being “punished” for it by the bad guy, Script Kiddie is about Jan trying to hold everything together while trying to prevent bad stuff from happening. After the events in Assured Destruction, Jan finds herself sentenced to 2000 hours of community service. Luckily for her, the cop that showed up a bit in the first book, recognises her hacking skills and recruits her as an assistant (sort of) in the cyber crimes division.
But that’s not all.
A creep lurks in the shadows, stalking a friend, and Jan must stop him before the hunt turns deadly. The clock counts down for Jan to save her friend, her job, her boyfriend—maybe even her life.
The title comes from her making some forays into the hacking community — a script kiddie is a very low-level hacker that more experienced hackers mock. Tied with the hacking is Jan’s changing relationship with Peter, her mum’s boyfriend. In the first book he was newer and more distant from the plot (mainly just existing for her to be annoyed that her mum has such an old boyfriend) but he has become more central. I have to admit I’m a little suspicious of his role and I’m wondering what will happen with him in the final book. I hope he really does turn out to be nice, but it’s hard to predict at this point.
Although this is a second book in a trilogy and the events do follow on directly from the first book, the plot is pretty stand-alone. I mean, it’s still better to read the first book first because of character introductions and back-story, but the plot that arises in Script Kiddie is almost all tied up by the end. The only thing that isn’t tied up is Jan’s mum’s illness — MS — which takes a turn for the worse in this book. That’s the only cliffhanger at the end. I was going to read the third book anyway, but now I need to, to find out what happens with her mum. I hope it won’t be too sad.
Script Kiddie was a fun read and I’ll definitely be reading the last book in the series straight away. I recommend the series to anyone looking for a fast-paced, geeky, contemporary YA series. Each book is pretty short (in fact, my omnibus edition is only a few iPad pages longer than the last BFF I read) and not a huge time commitment.
4 / 5 stars
First published: 2013, Non Sequitur Press
Series: Yes. Assured Destruction, book 2 of 3
Format read: eARC of the Complete Series edition (see second cover art above)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Assured Destruction by Michael F Stewart
You can learn a lot about someone looking through their hard drive…
Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.
Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They’re stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose its livelihood.
When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.
I was hooked into this book more quickly than I expected to be. The pacing is good and it’s not very long, making in a quick read in both senses of the word. Janus wasn’t the most likeable character ever, but I didn’t hate her either. (Except for her name. And when it’s shortened to Jan, my brain automatically jumps to pronouncing it “Yan” — thanks Sweden — which is a male name and bleh. But at least it’s in first person, so this isn’t a huge issue.)
Jan works for her mum’s titular small business, recycling computers and destroying hard drives. Except, as the blurb says, instead of destroying them all, she keeps some and makes a network of Twitter and Facebook aliases out of them. On the one hand, the allure of looking through people’s private files is understandable, but then turning them into internet personalities struck me as a little bit strange. I mean in the sense that I can understand why the other characters in the book thought she was weird.
Speaking of being weird, Jan is not a traditional loner hacker, despite her array of imaginary friends. She’s actually in the cool group (or one of them?) at school and has friends (well, people she hangs out with that aren’t outright frenemies) and boys interested in her. She’s also smart but not super smart. What I mean by that is that often in these sorts of stories about smart teenagers, they are hyper-intelligent and think several steps ahead of everyone else. Jan… doesn’t. She is smart, especially when it comes to computers, but she’s not as careful/paranoid as she should be (or, more accurately, as I would be in the same situation) and she doesn’t necessarily think everything through, to her detriment. I suppose this is a more realistic portrayal of “smart teenager” but I have gotten used to (and enjoy) the other kind.
Another less common characterisation choice is that Jan’s mother is in a wheelchair because she has MS. I really liked this portrayal because it’s not just a background thing. Jan actively thinks about her mum’s heath in several contexts; from feeling bad about not helping more at the shop, to hearing her coming because her wheelchair squeaks, to the lift they have to have in their abode, to fearing for her health and whether her mum is having a good day or a bad day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a complete portrayal of a disability/chronic illness that wasn’t the main character’s (and even then…).
As I said, I enjoyed Assured Destruction more than I expected. It wasn’t perfect, but it was fun. I’m planning to start the next book straight away. I would recommend it to fans of contemporary SF or code/computer-based stories. Like I said, it’s not technically SF, but it is about a computer geek, and to me that seems to appeal to similar sensibilities. Oh, and fans of contemporary YA should also check it out.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2013, Non Sequitur Press (omnibus edition, April 2014)
Series: Assured Destruction, book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC of omnibus edition
Source: publisher via NetGalley
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Blades of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina
Blades of the Old Empire is the first book I’ve read by Anna Kashina. I decided to read it on a whim, and I’m glad I did. I must say, I’m not overly fond of the blurb — it’s a bit melodramatic and slightly spoilery for an event admittedly close to the start — but it’s not too bad so I’m still including it.
Kara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.
But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.
A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?
There was a lot to like about Blades of the Old Empire. For me, the real strength of the book was the way everything came together into a smooth package. It opens with Prince Kyth being attacked by some mysteriously powerful bad guys (the Kaddim) and some troubles with the priesthood regarding Kyth’s ability to succeed his father. The main characters set off in a couple of groups to deal with the religious issue and the story mostly follows them on their journeys (even if the “journey” doesn’t necessarily consist of much travel thanks to complications).
You know how in some books, poor timing and coincidence is used to send characters off on misinformed missions of revenge and so forth and you’re left shouting at the page in frustration? Well, Kashina doesn’t take it quite that far, which was a nice change. I mean, I like books which toy with my emotions and make me yell at them (well, not if I’m yelling because they’re crap, but that’s not what I’m talking about here). But it was nice to have some of the suspense of that but not necessarily played out to the worst possible conclusion. I didn’t realise how much less stressful that would be! ;-)
I should probably admit that I have a soft spot for assassins guilds. It certainly wasn’t the only think I liked about Blades of the Old Empire, but it helped. So did the implausibly awesome warriors (one of whom, Kara, adorns the front cover). The Majat Guild has a ranking system based on gem stones; Diamond rank is the best, Jade rank indicates particular proficiency with ranged weapons, a group of Rubies plus one Diamond form the king’s guard, that sort of thing. There are three Diamonds in the group of main and secondary characters, so we have ample opportunity to read about their implausibly good fighting abilities. The only think I would have liked is a glossary or appendix listing the ranks in order since that didn’t come up in the book in very much detail (beyond what we needed to know about the characters). Actually, a list of characters — especially the rulers of the other kingdoms, which I briefly lost track of — would also have been good. And of the roles of Keepers, another powerful sect in the world. I do feel like some of this stuff will slot into place better upon reading the next book, however.
All the main characters were enjoyable to follow. The two main(-est) assassins have very few point of view sections (I think only when no one else is around for a plot-relevant scene) which serves to make them even more mysterious since we only have the other character’s observations and thoughts to go on. The prince and friends were also very likeable characters. I particularly liked Ellah, who probably has the most complete emotional journey throughout the book. And, needless to say, I liked that there were several female characters (really, most of them) who actually got to control their own destinies, despite living in a fantasy world. Always good to see.
I enjoyed Blades of the Old Empire a lot and I highly recommend it to all fantasy fans, especially fans of BFF (big fat fantasy) books. Once I got a few chapters in, I found it very difficult to put down (you would think that having relatively short chapters would make this easier, but it was not the case). I will definitely be picking up the sequel which, apparently, is due out in (Northern) “summer”. Looking forward to it.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: February 2014, Angry Robot
Series: The Majat Code book 1 of ? (at least 2)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Tsana’s April Status
I had a few unusual things going on this past month. The first would be that I wrote a blog post celebrating Women’s History Month (which was March) over on Gillian Polack’s blog about Emmy Noether. She was a mathematician whose theories are very important to quantum physics. If you’re interested, you can check out the whole list of Women’s History Month posts Gillian ran. You can also check out my most recent round-up of speculative fiction by Australian women over on the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog.
What have I read?
- Supurbia Volume 4 by Grace Randolph — the last one so far. Ties of most of the plot lines, but leaves something dangling for future comics.
- Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier — YA with a really interesting take on werewolf dynamics. Also a Mexican main character group, although it’s mostly set in the US.
- Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres — A science fiction Western, set in future Perth.
- The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke — A fantasy world which explores the spice trade between analogues of the East and West. A really great read.
- Adaptation by Malinda Lo — Near-future YA with government conspiracies and weird happenings.
- Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett — The most recent (albeit, not that recently released) Discworld novel. Pretty much what you’d expect (if you’ve been keeping up with recent Discworld), in a good way.
- The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M G Buehrlen — Innovative YA with a protagonist who can sort of travel to other times.
What am I currently reading?
download a copy here. It’s only got three stories, but I’m not quite down with it yet. And then I’ll get onto Dead Americans.
Novel-wise, I’ve almost finished reading Blade of the Old Empire by Anna Kashina, the first of a new fantasy series from Angry Robot. I’m enjoying it more than I expected to, so that’s always nice. Expect to see a review very soon. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll read. At the moment it’s a toss up between Emilie and the Sky World (sequel to Emilie and the Hollow World) and Assured Destruction (see below).
- Crudrat by Gail Carriger — This is from a Kickstarter to make an audiobook of Gail Carriger’s first SF book. So far I’ve only got the ebook because the audiobook is still in production (and I won’t mention it next month by when, hopefully, I’ll have the audio version) but I plan to enjoy it in audiobook form. Really excited to see what this will be like. I’ve loved Carriger’s humorous steampunk books but I’m not really sure what to expect from this.
- The Lascar’s Dagger by Glenda Larke — awesome. First in her new series. Already reviewed.
- The Grinding House by Kaaron Warren — novella, was on sale, like Kaaron Warren.
- Essence by Lisa Ann O’Kane — YA from Strange Chemistry. Review copy.
- Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin — another review copy. I came across a few “if you like <author I like> you should read Gail Z Martin” in a row, so when Solaris offered me a chance to review it, it seemed like a good idea.
- Assured Destruction (The Complete Series) by Michael F Stewart — caught my eye on NetGalley. YA with tech wiz girl and identity theft shenanigans. Or something like that. Not technically SF, but the kind of book that seems close enough for me.
- Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb — OMG I can’t believe I actually got a review copy of this. I absolutely loved the original Assassin books. They were among the first serious/BFF fantasy books I read as a teen. I didn’t get into the Shaman’s Crossing series and didn’t bother with the recent dragon series because that part of the Liveship books didn’t grab me… but now Fitz is back for a third series! Yay!
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The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by M G Buehrlen
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.I have mixed feelings about this one. The very start immediately got me interested with Alex playing a prank on one of her teachers. But she does whinge a lot, especially at the start, about how she has these weird flashbacks (which, to the reader, are obviously the point of the story) and thus it’s better if she has no friends. I mean, I liked Alex overall, but there were times when she thought she was doing something special (by making herself an outcast) when really she was just being a teenager.
But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.
It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.
Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.
And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.
Then she meets Porter, who plays the role of adult mentor. Of course, he drags out his explanation of WTF has been going on as long as possible and manipulates her into working for him without fully understanding what she’s actually doing. It’s not all bad, but he is definitely on the morally ambiguous side of things. The revelations we get towards the end are partly not that surprising, once the climax begins, and partly satisfying. A mixed bag. Oh, I will add that I found some of the earlier “here is what’s going on” explanations from Porter a little too info-dumpy for my liking.
Really, I found the first half of the book a little slow. I didn’t quite share Alex’s connection with 1920s Chicago, and it took a while before we learnt what and why was happening. And then once it was explained, the worldbuilding — or more specifically, the way Alex’s (and others’) abilities worked. Nothing major, but a few little “hang on, what about…” moments which I won’t go into detail on because spoilers. They were ultimately minor enough to be overlooked, though.
I quite liked Jensen, Alex’s only, albeit not straightforward, friend in the present. Her family were also all great characters. The only disappointment was that other than her family (which included her parents, two grandparents and two sisters), there were no female characters that she was on good terms with. All the non-familial “nice” characters were male. And at one point, she even says (out loud, to Jensen) that all other girls are vapid. Which is so not cool.
I’m not sure whether I’ll read the sequel, The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare. For much of the book I was thinking probably not, but then the climax piqued my interest and there were sufficient threads left hanging to keep me interested. And there are reveals left to come that I want to know if I’ve guessed correctly about. So I’ll probably decide when it comes out. For now, I’m pencilling it in as a maybe.
I recommend The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare to YA fans looking for something a bit different. It’s not perfect, and it has slow bits, but it wasn’t bad. I think other people will enjoy some aspects, like the worldbuilding, more than I did.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: March 2014, Strange Chemistry
Series: Yes. Book 1 of (I think) 2, Alex Wayfare series
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
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Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
To the consternation of the patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork - a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it’s soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear.To me, what the most recent Discworld books have really been about, especially the Moist books, is progress sweeping through Ankh-Morpork. Starting from Going Postal, which was about reviving the postal service, the clacks (semaphore communication) system made a serious appearance and brought fast communication to the Disc. Although the previous Moist books have been ostensibly about Vetinari forcing Moist to reform and run various useful services (post, bank, mint and his wife runs the clacks), Raising Steam has Vetinari throwing Moist in on the ground floor of the budding rail system.
Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work - as master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital… but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse…
Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi’ t’flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all going off the rails…
It seems obvious on the surface that the fast progress made in these books is mirroring, to an extent, the rapidity of progress in the real world. I don’t know if we’ll get it, but the next logical step might be a full-blown industrial revolution with Vetinari steering the ship. Progress, as they say, marches on. The evolution of Ankh-Morpork (and the Disc) is even more obvious if you look at the Watch books alongside the Moist books. The general arc of the Watch books is Vetinari getting Vimes to clean up first himself and then the Watch, turning it into a well-run machine. We see some of the after-effects of Vimes’ leadership in Raising Steam when watchmen in faraway places are noted as being trained in Ankh-Morpork. Especially if we look at the past depicted in Night Watch, it is evident that Ankh-Morpork is becoming more modern and safer (for a given definition of “safe”). I hope we do get to see a few more books in this vein. Progress in the Disc is not remotely identical to Roundworld’s history, despite various bits in one being analogous to bits in the other. I want to see where Pratchett takes it.
Speaking of comparisons with other Discworld novels, Raising Steam also put me in mind of Moving Pictures. Both are about new technologies being developed — and are about the technology as much as the people — and both are arguably before their times. However, where everything goes horribly wrong in Moving Pictures, it works out well in Raising Steam. I am left wondering whether it was Vetinari’s oversight that made the railway a success or whether it was the fact that the railway is built on physics and careful measurements whereas Holy Wood had a much greater reliance on more esoteric elements. (And I feel like a rift in the spacetime continuum was involved, but it’s been years since I read it, so I’m not sure.)
Key characters in Raising Steam other than those I’ve already mentioned are Simnel, the engineer who invented the steam engine train, Harry King and his wife Effie who have been previously featured in their role of running the nightsoil empire (well, mostly Harry has appeared in earlier books), and Of The Twilight The Darkness, a goblin who might have appeared in Snuff but I can’t remember. Surprisingly, Drumknott, Vetinari’s secretary, played a larger role than he has previously. Also, many old favourites made appearances, especially Vimes, Angua, Detritus and Cheery Littlebottom.
The Low King of the Dwarfs, who we most recently saw in Thud! (I think) is an important minor character as part of the plotline concerning grags fighting against modernity and Ankh-Morporkisation. On the one hand, the grags and their recruits struck me as having strong parallels with religious terrorists, on the other hand, the more interesting dwarf subplot was the continuing discussion of dwarfish gender. For part of the time while I was reading I found myself wishing there was a more in-depth discussion of dwarfish gender, but then I don’t think that would have been very Pratchetty. (There was also a period of confusion when, in tiredness, I misread a pronoun and thought someone was gay for a while when they really weren’t, but that wasn’t the book’s fault.)
The dwarfish expression of femininity seems to be (still) mostly confined to chain mail skirts and makeup which I don’t really get (since I am female and wear neither skirts nor makeup very often). On the other hand, there was more discussion about why a dwarf’s gender is secret until they want to reveal it. While my first thought was that surely genderless dwarfs meant that there was a reasonable amount of equality for them, what I didn’t consider until it was pointed out in this book is that by marking all dwarfs as male by default, they were culturally erasing women, not equalising them. It was a case forcing women to pretend not to be, whether they wanted to or not. It’s a far cry from Angua introducing Cheery to lipstick and heels and it might not look like feminist progress on the surface, but in this context, turns out it is. Aside from one minor twist which I picked up on before it was revealed (albeit only because I was flicking back through the book in my pronoun confusion), I didn’t quite see the nuances of the dwarf-gender discussion coming. It made for a more satisfying ending than I had been expecting on that front.
Obviously, if you are a fan of Pratchett, you should definitely read Raising Steam, especially if you are otherwise up to date. If you haven’t read Pratchett before: goodness, why not? But this probably isn’t the book to start with. There are a lot of places to start, though, and most of them don’t include the very first book. I recommend googling around. The Discworld series has evolved in style since Pratchett started writing it in the 80s (as you’d want to hope it had) so the very early books and the middle period books aren’t very similar to the latter period books. A good and particularly standalone example of a latter period book would probably be Monstrous Regiment and a good place to start if you want a lead-in to Raising Steam would be Going Postal.
4.5 / 5 stars
First published: 2013, Doubleday
Series: Discworld, apparently book 40 (It seems like only a couple of years ago book 30 came out, but I’m pretty sure that was when they weren’t counting the YA Discworld books as “proper” Discworld books. Progress marches on.)
Format read: Hardcover, oh my!
Source: A RL shop! I think it was a Dymocks.
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Adaptation by Malinda Lopreviously reviewed Ash, which was a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. Adaptation is set in the almost-present in the US.
Flocks of birds are hurling themselves at aeroplanes across America. Thousands of people die. Millions are stranded. Everyone knows the world will never be the same.I had mixed feelings about this book. Some of the time it was a mix of irritation and meh, but ultimately I enjoyed the read, I just didn’t love it. I’ll say up front that I do intend to read the sequel when it becomes accessible.
On Reese’s long drive home, along a stretch of empty highway at night, a bird flies into their headlights. The car flips over. When they wake up in a military hospital, the doctor won’t tell them what happened.
For Reese, though, this is just the start. She can’t remember anything from the time between her accident and the day she woke up almost a month later. She only knows one thing: she’s different now. Torn between longtime crush David and new girl Amber, the real question is: who can she trust?
The first thing that irritated me was the airport scene at the start. After — as the blurb says — flocks of birds hurl themselves into aeroplanes, all the flights in the US are grounded and no one in the airport the main characters are stuck at behaves like sensible travellers would in that situation. It wasn’t particularly relevant to the plot but it annoyed me. Especially when Reese’s friend tells her they’re worried airports are going to run out of food because they can’t fly more in. WTF? She’s at Phoenix Airport, a reasonable-sized city. Also, food is generally shipped to airports in trucks, especially when they’re in cities (I mean, maybe super-remote ones, OK, but that is not the case here). Anyway, as I said, it wasn’t relevant to the plot, but it pissed me off, not least because of the amount of time I’ve spent in airports of late.
Most of the book leaves the the science fictional aspect on the back-burner and focuses on Reese recovering from the car accident and Reece’s budding relationship with Amber. I found this part of the book enjoyable but a little bland, apart from the hints of weird stuff having happened post-accident. The action picks up again as Reece and friends start investigating why her and David’s accident treatment is so top secret.
There was a particular trope used during the climax — I won’t say what because spoilers, but it wasn’t a YA-specific trope — which I am sick of seeing and which almost pushed the book down half a star. But Lo subverts it quite satisfyingly, which salvaged the ending nicely.
There wasn’t a love triangle in this book — although Reece had two love interests — and I liked the very accepting way everyone treated Reece’s relationship with Amber. It was nice to see a homosexual relationship not being treated as a big deal, which I think is exactly what Lo was going for. I have to say, though, I felt ambivalent about Amber as a character.
Ultimately, it was a pleasant read, though not a remarkable one. I liked it, but I did love it. I recommend it to YA fans, especially those looking for a bisexual main character, which doesn’t come up in many books (I can only think of one other series off the top of my head). I hope the science fiction element is stronger in the sequel, as that was the aspect I found most interesting.
4 / 5 stars
First published: April 2014, Hodder Children’s Books in the UK/ANZ and 2012, Little, Brown Books in the US
Series: Yes. Adaptation series, book one of two so far.
Format read: eARC of UK/ANZ version (mind you, it retains US spelling, of course, apart from the blurb)
Source: (ANZ) publisher via NetGalley
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