WE WERE WOLVES
author: Jason Cockcroft
Anderson Press (6 May 2021)
Boy lives on his own in a caravan in the woods. Alone apart from the dog. His mum is still in the house in town. And his dad, John…he’s in prison. His dad always told Boy it was a bad idea to get to close to anything that needed you. But the dog came and Boy was alone and for once, just wanted something; someone that was his. His dad promises he’ll be back soon, but for now, Boy just needs to survive alone for a little while longer. And then…the dog, the girl, a man bringing Dads’ bag with a warning: “John says not to look in the bag.” And the man in the Range Rover came by; dangerous, angry and looking for his stolen money. Tensions are building, confusion and chaos are creeping in… Boy has no one to trust and no where to run. Ancient, dark forces awaken in the woods; forces that have been there, waiting for ages.
This startling, moving novel examines a complex bond between father and son woven together with observations of natural world, survival and ancient legends that waft through the woodlands. In the tales’ telling, the reader moves uneasily, as if crossing the boundaries between the waking world and the stuff of nightmares. The multitude of issues; poverty, child-homelessness, divorce, crime, isolation; spin through the book to create a tender story, but with tense realism and completely lacking in sentimentality. Dark, exquisite illustrations are infused onto the pages, bringing an eerie atmosphere that you can almost taste and enlivens all the senses. Beautiful, but unsettling; thought-provoking, yet filled with feeling; wild, dream-like, haunting and powerful. It is extraordinary. (ages 14+)
SKIN TAKER (The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness 8)
author: Michelle Paver
Zephyr (1 April 2021)
In the depth of midwinter, the Clans are preparing for the Sunwake, a celebration to honour the return of light and life to the world after the long, dark, cold sleep of winter. But disaster strikes suddenly when a Thunderstar strikes, reeking devastation on the Forest. Several Clans are destroyed and many, many hunters are lost. Hibernation animals, such as the bears are awakened by the Thunderstars’ strike and destroyed trees have unleashed demons from the Otherworld. The ghosts of the dead walk among the living, unable to move on. Torak and Renn, living apart from the Raven Clan with their Wolf pack have not escaped loss. The cubs are killed, Pebble is lost and Torak, whose spirit has walked inside the trees and felt the soul of the Forest is badly affected. The people, the Clans are in disarray and terror as a new threat emerges; the Skin Taker. Torak and Renn leave the relative safety of the Clan gathering and now, journey into the Deep Forest. They are convinced they will find a piece of the Forest in the Scared Grove, where the oldest tree stands. They must find this. They must fulfill the ceremony of the Sunwake. They must bring back the light, so the Clans and the Forest can survive. But with a new leader of the Hidden People, with treachery emerging on all sides in the devastation left by the Thunderstar and with the evil brought by the Skin Taker, Torak, Renn and Wolf are put to the test as never before. And Torak is risking everything; his life, his sanity…and even his soul.
As with entire series, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, there is real magic in these words. A vibrant picture is painted of the lives of people of the Stone Age; their struggle for survival, their social structure, their superstitions and spirituality. And while much of this lies in educated supposition, the research that Paver has brought to these stories creates a solid base and expands what we actually know into an act of amazing, textural world-building. There is a genuine sense of awe and fear as the Clans experience the destructive path of a meteor strike, having nothing to explain its’ appearance other than their beliefs. Torak, we see as a young man, trying to make peace with and embrace his destiny as a new evil emerges that threatens everything. With Renn, determined, bold and fierce, and Wolf, his spirit animal in the flesh, at his side, his journey takes another, more dangerous twist. They take on this new threat with trepidation, but also with energy and determination. Full of atmosphere and exhilarating adventure and unpredictable twists, Skin Taker is a feast for all the senses. You can smell the burning, taste the blood and feel the actual fear with the appearance of the Hidden People and the return of Naiginn, their constant nemesis brings a shock to the system that reverberates in your bones. Evocative, thrilling, moving and stunning….absolutely stunning. Creates a world you won’t want to leave. https://headofzeus.com/books/9781789542417
THE OUTLAWS SCARLETT AND BROWNE
author: Jonathan Stroud
Walker Books (1 April 2021)
England is much changed from the country it used to be. A series of catastrophes has left it in tatters. London is now nothing but a vast lagoon with eerie metal and stone islands peaking out of the murky waters. The large cities have all disappeared, replaced by a series of fortified towns where the population clings to traditional ways and ideas, while strangely evolved beasts roam the surrounding wilderness. Conformity is strictly enforced and those ho will not follow the rules are persecuted; driven out into the wilds, hunted down and killed. Only a few of these outlaws dare to rise up and fight back. Scarlett McCain survives by her wits, operating under a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy; never looking back. While fleeing Cheltenhem after a bank raid, she meets a strange boy with a dark past and an even darker talent, Albert Browne. With trouble always a stones’ throw or a bullets’ shot behind them, they run a furious chase across a fragmented England to outwit the rule of law…and become the most notorious outlaws of the seven kingdoms.
You can always expect the most thrilling, the most edge-of-your-seat stories from Jonathan Stroud, author of the outstanding Bartimaeus sequence and the Lockwood & Co. books. And I am very pleased to report this one, the first in a new series, is even better than the others. The world-creation here is full-bodied and amazing, filled with texture such that it ignites all the senses. You can feel the very air around you, the heat from the fires. You can smell the devastation in the land. The characterisation of these new breed of anti-heroes is perfection. They are intriguing, charismatic and compelling. Its’ slow reveal of the back-stories allow emotions and deeply hidden secrets to be peeled away, layer by layer; never revealing too much too soon. Pitch-perfect, fast-paced action is consuming as it is peppered with wickedly satisfying black humour. Pure escapism and thrills with a unique understanding of human nature, this is the old, wild west meets a haunting dystopian future. Witty, dramatic, compelling, impossible to put down…..simply brilliant! https://www.walker.co.uk/The-Outlaws-Scarlett-and-Browne-9781406394818.aspx
author: Cao Wenxuan
Walker Books (7 January 2021)
Young Ah Mei has always shared a close bond with her French grandmother, Nainai. Perhaps it’s because Ah Mei is the only granddaughter. Or perhaps it is because they look very alike; the same fair hair, the same beautiful eyes, the same manner of carrying themselves with grace and dignity…and the same sparkling smile. Ah Mei has always been proud to look like Nainai; to be like Nainai. But as the family fortunes dwindle into nothing and political upheaval seizes the streets, many in their home city, Shanghai begin to look with suspicious on their European heritage and appearance. The ugly phantom of racism soon surrounds them and takes its’ toll on the entire family. But for Ah Mei and Nainai, their resourcefulness and the tenderness between them gives them great strength in troubling times.
A saga filled with resilience and love that spans over 50 years and takes in 3 generations of a family this novel is a treasure. The reader is lulled into the heart of a family home and kept there, through the prosperous times of success in the silk industry to the stark day-to-day realities of social upheaval. The relationship between Ah Mei and her grandmother, in and of itself, brings a gentle strength to the tale as we journey through changing times. Their characters sparkle throughout, keeping that sense of grace and dignity that the world rejects with alarming speed. The story speaks with a strong, true voice that seems both fairytale and real world in the same breath. The writing brings all the texture, nuance and reality of the Chinese cultural revolution and displays how the world around this one family; people they have known for decades get caught up in the harsh, suspicious sentiments of this radical change. Incredibly moving, unsettling and comforting at the same time, this is a novel for us all. Quiet, lyrical and so very powerful. https://www.walker.co.uk/Dragonfly-Eyes-9781406378252.aspx
THE BROKEN RAVEN: Shadow Skye 2
author: Joseph Elliott
Walker Books (7 January 2020)
After an arduous journey, consumed by the many losses they suffered, Agatha and Jaime have rescued their clan and returned home to Skye as heroes. And now, faced with the very real possibility of having to fight to regain their clans’ home enclave, Agatha uncovers a new threat to their people. Unwittingly, she releases a terrible power that threatens to kill every living thing on Skye. Jaime must return to Scotia to find an ancient mage and hunt down a forbidden blood magic that may be their only hope. Meanwhile, a Norvegian girl, Sigrid finds herself chained to the wicked Konge Grimr, enslaved to be the eyes of the blind king. Bound together, they travel with their army to the court of Ingland where a dangerous alliance is being formed; one that is set on revenge and annihilation. Sigrid must escape, risking everything to warn the people of Skye that war is coming their way. And the shadows are gathering now.
In this, the follow-up to The Good Hawk, the reader will not know what hit them. Filled with insidious plots, horrifying creatures and sudden, unexpected twists in every chapter, this fast-paced, well-conceived novel opens up a journey into a mystical past that plays on existing legends and history and opens up totally new ingenious possibilities…and impossibilities that come to full fruition. The place and time are full of texture and well-painted; the characters are nuanced and well-rounded. The introduction of Sigrid as a character brings another layer of courage and difference into the tale; one that will win hearts and open the imagination. As the story goes back and forth between the different narratives, it maintains an outstanding ebb and flow, building a full of view of this incredible world with all its’ dangers and triumphs. It kept me hooked from page one. While aimed at a teen/young adult audience, it makes an incredible read for any fantasy-lover, regardless of age. Eerie, thrilling and mind-bending…spectacular! https://www.walker.co.uk/The-Broken-Raven-Shadow-Skye-Book-Two-9781406385878.aspx
author: Angie Thomas
Walker Books (12 January 2021)
With his King Lord dad in prison and his mom working two jobs to try to make ends meet, 17-year-old Maverick Carter helps out the only way he knows how; slinging drugs. Life isn’t perfect. There’s still a lot of gang rivalry and Maverick has a reputation to keep up. But he’s got respect and he’s got it all under control. Until he finds out he’s a father. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to finish school and a baby to look after. Maverick wants his little boy to grow up knowing he’s safe and his daddy is there for him. So when he’s offered the chance to go straight, Maverick takes it. But when King Lord blood is running through your veins, walking away isn’t so easy. The streets demand their price…
Raw, sharp and so very real, Concrete Rose packs an unforgettable punch. Evocative writing reveals an intimate view on what it means to live as a young black man in a place where opportunities to even cut your own path in life are few and far between. All the characters are painted with an incisive eye with no one coming off as all good or all bad. They are fully human, with depth and complexity. The anger, love and loyalty shine through on every page. The justice that may never come cuts a painful swathe across Mavericks’ life and the desire for revenge runs deep, but is played against the responsibilities weighing in his life with an eye to future consequences. And yet, the story isn’t heavy. Emotional, yes. But Concrete Rose sings with life and draws the reader through the pages with a compulsive and triumphant resonance. Taking place 17 years before the events of The Hate U Give, this is a prequel of sorts; Starr Carters’ origin story, if you will. But it is so much more. An unvarnished and powerful story of life; gripping and simply brilliant! https://www.walker.co.uk/Concrete-Rose-9781406384444.aspx
A KIND OF SPARK
author: Elle McNicholl
KnightsOf (4 June 2020)
Adeline is a neuro-divergent girl with a love of sharks and synonyms and just wants a friend who will understand her for who she is. Her teacher frequently dismisses her, having as little patience with Addie as she did with her (also neuro-divergent) sister. To top it off, Addie finds herself targeted and bullied by a girl in her class for being different. On a school trip, Addie learns of the witch trials that took place in her small Scottish town, the number of women who were singled out and persecuted as witches and the deaths that occurred during that dark time. Addie knows there is more to the stories of these ‘witches’, just like there is more to her own. As she steadfastly campaigns for a memorial to honour these women, Addie begins to challenge how people see her, how autism is understood and her own friendships, family and her sense of self.
An inspired story of difference, acceptance and change, this may well challenge some of the readers preconceived notions. It easily lets us into the heart and mind of Addie, allowing us to view the people and surrounding world through her eyes with accuracy, compassion and gives genuine insight into Addie herself. She is a brilliant character, showing great courage and determination. The overlaid story of the witch trials and persecution makes for exceptional comparison with Addies’ own reality and the feelings evoked are strong, confusing and give pause for thought. Add to this a witty, warm and beautifully written story of self-belief, friendship and growing up and you have a real winner. Direct, funny, accessible, heartfelt and filled with empathy.
author: Alex Wheatle
Andersen Press (1 October 2020)
Jamaica, 1760: Moa is fourteen. Since he could stand, he has been struggling; toiling his young life away in the fields of the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless scorching days and living n fear of the masters’ cruel whip. But rebellion is afoot. One night, Moa hears of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky… a fight for freedom for the enslaved people in nearby plantations. Moa is about to become a cane warrior. But before he realise his dream of escape, Moa and his closest friend Keverton have to prove themselves with their first great task. They must kill Misser Donaldson. The moment is fast approaching; the day of the uprising is here and Moas’ courage is put to test again and again…
In a consuming and honest representation of history, Cane Warriors follows the true story of Tackys’ War in Jamaica to win freedom for the slaves living and working in the horrendous, life-destroying cane plantations. While this is a work of fiction, its’ understanding and knowledge of historical events is unerring; shining a brilliant, heart-wrenching light onto the plight of a people with no choice but to fight. With finely woven words that bleed beautifully across the page, it’s story is brutal, moving, undeniable and holds great tenderness and compassion amongst the harsh realities of its’ telling. This book is urgent and powerful as it tells its’ tale and rightly so. I could not put it down. When I finally closed the book, it was with feelings of anger and sorrow and tears in my eyes, but also with a feeling of hope and brotherhood. There may be moments when you want to stop reading, but its’ passionate song carries you through. http://www.andersenpress.co.uk/books/cane-warriors/
I, ADA: Rebel, Genius, Visionary
author: Julia Gray
Andersen Press (3 September 2020)
Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Englands’ most famous and most notorious poet (Lord Byron.) With a vivid imagination and quick, intelligent mind, she grew up on a steady diet of mathematics and French verbs fed to her by a range of tutors hired by her mother, determined to instill method and order into her personality and thinking. But plagued by strange turns of health and haunted by a yearning for the absolute truth about her father, a man she never knew, she also grew with desperate to learn more of love, passion, science, stories and poetry. As she grows and her rebellious nature comes to the fore, Ada meets a scientist whose invention will revolutionise the world long past his lifetime. But Charles Babbage needs Adas’ vision of ‘poetical science’ to bring his creation to life.
An insightful and entertaining work of historical fiction, this is the story of Ada Lovelace from childhood to young womanhood. An unusual life, what could have been a bohemian youth was strictly controlled by her mother, filled with anxiety about the possibility of her husbands’ presumed afflictions would rise again through her daughter. But Adas’ intelligence and abilities, her visionary genius shine ever-present even in her weakest moments of health, causing many clashes between the two. Despite the repressive determination of her mother, the struggle to live her life as herself and follow her heart as well as her genius sees Ada rise triumphant into the woman we now recognise as the worlds’ first computer programmer. Inspirational, fascinating, tenacious and full of personality and wit.
THE FALLING IN LOVE MONTAGE
author: Ciara Smyth
Andersen Press (4 June 2020)
Ever since Hannah broke up with her, Saoirse has been angry and heartbroken and has been left alone to deal with the gaping hole left in her family by her mothers’ absence. Now, she’s finished her exams and facing a long, hot summer before heading off to uni in the autumn. To add to her troubles, Dad has just announced he’s going to remarry at the end of the summer. Her plans? To party hard, get drunk, watch copious amounts of horror films and leave her troubles behind her by kissing girls. The last thing Saoirse wants is a relationship and she is determined to avoid it at all costs. And then, she meets Ruby. The prettiest girl Saoirse has ever seen, Ruby is a fan of romcoms, an optimist and a believer in true, everlasting love. Ruby challenges Saoirse to try a summer romance with all the serious parts removed; the ‘falling in love montage’, just like in the films. But what happens when the summer comes to a close and the falling in love montage ends?
This book is an utterly delight surprise that fills in the gap in the LGBTQ romance genre. What I was expecting was something with clichéd romantic tropes that oozed young love. And there is a good bit of that. But there is so much more. In dealing with relationships, decision-making, anguish, the scar of pain left by devastating illness in the family; it has an incredibly textured, moving and realistic approach, The Falling In Love Montage sets a very high mark. You feel for the ‘perfectly imperfect’ characters; you enter their world and their lives become yours. The voice of each character is remarkably genuine and astute. The view offered to the reader never falters in its realism and power. It pulls you along like a film with a narrative that hangs around after finishing the book and calls you back to read again. Incredibly engaging, beautifully written, thought-provoking, stirring and joyous.
TOO DARK TO SEE
author: Chloe Heuch
Firefly Press (2 July 2020)
After her mothers’ death, 16-year-old Kay harnesses her overwhelming grief to plunge herself headlong into a mission to self-destruct. She pushes everyone away. Needing to save money, her father moves them to a tiny village on Blackmoss Mountain, to Kays’ disgust and anguish. Though Kay still attends the same school, her feelings of isolation deepen in the small, old house. But she finds a new freedom in the rugged landscape, running with the wild ponies and meeting Sion; a beautiful boy with a clever and keen understanding of the natural world and deep sadness in his eyes. Wandering the mountains, trying to escape the reality of their lives and sharing a love of animals, Sion and Kay are drawn into an intense relationship, meeting secretly in a ruined cottage. But when Sions’ violent, abusive father finds them, events spiral quickly out of control. Kay must move quickly to find help if she stands any chance of saving the beautiful new light and purpose she has found. She can’t lose everything…again.
An evocative story of a teenage girl coming to terms with loss and finding hope and light in the untamed landscape of her new world, Too Dark To See is stunning. Each page oozes with a purity of raw emotion. Kay is a carefully crafted character; a true portrait of complexity with great clarity and subtlety in revealing motivation and emotion. Sions’ character stands as both compliment and foil to Kay, bringing in considerations of others’ reality; that everyone is fighting their own battle. It is the blending of these two young peoples’ lives that spark the brilliant light that shines through the book. Depictions of grief, love, self-destruction and resilience; of all the issues facing young people; are given to the reader in a voice without judgement or self-righteousness. The natural world in which the bulk of the action takes place echoes this sentiment, being just as it is without pretense or a skewed view. The incredible descriptions of the nature of the place, the lives of the animals are vivid, realistic and perfect in placing the reader well within the scenes. And the climax of the book? Simply nail-biting! Remarkable, genuine, heartfelt and so very real. (for ages 15+)
THE QUEEN OF COIN AND WHISPERS
author: Helen Corcoran
O’Brien Press (1 June 2020)
Lia rushes to the side of her dying uncle well aware that the Kingdom she is about to inherit is filled with corruption and conspiracies. This idealistic teenage queen will need the best advisors if she is to bring this bankrupt realm back from the brink and improve life in Arkaala for all its citizens. She needs advisors who are on her side. And she will need protection. Lia brings in a new spymaster, Xania. Quick, daring and clever, she is the last person anyone would suspect. But keeping Lia alive in the upheaval that follows the heralding of this new queen was never going to be an easy task. As tensions mount, the two grow ever closer and try to keep the true nature of their relationship hidden. Decisions and sacrifices are at hand. Caught in a web of loss, lies and deepening intrigue, Lia and Xania may not both survive the treason. They may not survive their love.
“She loved me as I loved her, fierce as a bloodied blade.”With writing that is both incisive and emotive, Corcoran has created a fantasy kingdom that is rich in detail and texture, full of intrigue and thoroughly believeable. Clearly well-researched, it harkens back to tales from the Tudor realms and such classics as The Three Muskateers. But far from being purely historical, it holds that ineffable ‘something’ that makes it feel so contemporary. Expert, perfectly rounded characterisation gives a nuanced and complete understanding of each characters’ personality. The reader actually feels the deep impact of their love, loss and, in many cases, deviousness. The sense of duty, responsibility and honour are not simply concepts, but sincerely felt and believed. The complex machinations of the workings of society are laid bare; the prejudices, the assumptions, the reality of living in this world. And beyond this, there is an authentic, sensitive and heartfelt story of young love; it’s burgeoning and powerful influence and the conflicts it brings when living a life less ordinary. Beautifully written, marvelous storytelling, intriguing and all in all, exceptional in every way. It took my breath away.
author: Patrick Ness
Walker Books (7 May 2020)
It was cold that Sunday evening in 1957 as Sarah Dewhurst waited in the parking lot of a Chevron gas station with her father. Under the cover of darkness, in the quiet and alone, they awaited the arrival of the dragon he’d hired to help on their farm. Not exactly legal, for dragons were known to be unpredictable, certainly dangerous and the uneasy truce struck with the dragon kingdom ages ago seems to be unraveling, making this an even more unsettling deal. It seems this particular dragon, Kazimir, is there for reasons of his own. This supposedly soulless beast appears determined to protect Sarah from the brutal intentions of local, power-mad Deputy Sheriff Emmett Kelby. And Kazimir knows something no one else does. There is a prophecy…a prophecy involving a strange and extreme cult of dragon worshippers, the FBI, the Mother of all dragons, Sarah Dewhurst herself and the complete destruction of a world already spiraling out of control.
Melding a rich, textured fantasy world with a compelling thriller firmly set in this one, Ness has created (another) master work of escapism. The detailing of new religions built from old fears, ancient legends come to life with political suspicions and the ever-present struggle to simply live a life meet well in Burn, giving the reader a thought-provoking, highly inventive journey with a marvelous, diverse cast of characters; each so complex and well-rounded in their personalities that they emerge in an almost sinister fashion from the page. There are explosive scenes of big, world-destroying action, tense and dramatic psychological twists and the gentle, intimate bloom of young romance woven together with finesse and nuance. This is a book where the fantastical; the stuff of myth and legend slips into the everyday world with grace and ease. You will live this book more than read it, as it invades the senses, heart and mind. Chilling, heart-wrenching, riveting…this is magic of the best literary kind; totally believable. But then, I would expect nothing less from this author.
ASKING FOR A FRIEND
author: Kate Mallinder
Firely Press (21 May 2020)
Agnes, Hattie and Jake all travel together on the same school bus. They have a few classes together and see each other around, but they don’t really know each other that well. They are thrown together by certain ‘gaps’ in their lives and plan a week away in Weston as a “study break” before exams. None of them is willing to tell the others the real reasons they need to get away. Agnes is living on the autistic spectrum and is really missing her sister, who has moved away. She needs to find her so life is normal again. Hattie is being ghosted by her closest friends (those popular girls) ever since “that party”; but what happened wasn’t her doing. She can’t bear being at home. Jake suddenly dropped off the team and off of their radar. He said it was to focus on exams, but he’s hiding something. Jake is certain he’s ill…really ill. He needs a break to clear his head. In just one week, the three end up tackling their loneliness, facing huge fears, risking their lives and, in the process, discovering the true meaning of friendship. But it isn’t going to be easy…
Kate Mallinder has done it again; another cosy, feel-good novel about friendship and navigating lifes’ bumpy road, while still tackling some hard-hitting issues and true-to-life concerns. In this exacting, yet warm, character-driven narrative, diverse, well-developed and genuine voices speak of loneliness, misunderstanding, the autism spectrum and social interaction, cyber-bullying and fear of illness. As the story grows, the reader is given such a deep understanding of their point of view with such ease, it almost sneaks up on you. You become involved in their lives; you reach the “ah-ha” moments right alongside them. Watching the unique and very real friendship grow between the three is an utter joy. And while it is a fantastic ‘escapist’ kind of read, it’s also a good bit more. Heartwarming, funny, dramatic, clever and insightful; In times like these, this is the kind of book we need.
REBEL WITH A CUPCAKE
author: Anna Mainwaring
Firefly Press (2 April 2020)
Jesobell Jones is bold, brash and beautiful. he feels no need to apologise from her rambling house, her quirky family, the way she likes to dress, her single status…or her weight. Jess is a brilliant cook and loves the way food brings people together and makes them feel comforted and happy. She bakes her own cupcakes and she eats them. All is this is grand…until Own Clothes Day at school when a tragic wardrobe malfunction leaves Jess exposed and a nasty, mean girl calls her the one thing she’s never been bothered about before; fat. Suddenly becoming an online sensation, Jess is called out by the school authorities and when her own mother and her closest friends fail to reassure her, insecurities creep in and she starts to think something has to change. But what? And how can she make a change and still be her brilliant, unstoppable self?
From the author of Tulip Taylor, this is a light-ish read that really lifts the spirits. It deals with issues such as body-consciousness, self-awareness, social pressures to conform and bullying with a realistic, personal perspective that is never heavy-handed and utterly relatable. In it’s light-hearted way, it really gives pause for thought as to how we see each other and how we see ourselves. Jesobel is a wonderful heroine; Possessed of self-confidence, her bold, brash personality shines through and she handles her inner conflicts with great style. She is creative and unusual, always thinking ‘outside the box.’ This is a young person who will walk her own path; as soon as she figures out what that is. Her rebellious, anti-establishment Gran is brilliant and Jess’ bond and relationship with her is heartwarming; adding much to an already wonderful tale of friendship, family and coming-of-age. Warm, well-written, funny; this is one that will everyone will enjoy.
author: Susann Cokal
Walker Books/CandlewickPress (5 March 2020)
Sanna is a mermaid; raised in a seavish flok; always a bit different, always a bit of an outsider. For Sanna is only half seavish. The night of her birth, an ancient seawitch cast a deep and powerful spell of forgetting causing her flok and even her landish mother to forget the circumstances of her birth. Now, Sanna is sixteen and determined to learn of her origins. She apprentices herself to the old seawitch to learn the magic of making and unmaking. With a new set of legs and a mysterious quest from her mentor, Sanna stumbles upon land with a slim clue, onto the Thirty-Seven Islands. Arriving in the midst of a rare celebration, Sanna falls into a wall of pure white roses. The blood she sheds there immediately turns them red…all of them. The people hail her as a miracle worker, a saint. As the mermaid flok wait for word of her in the sea, Sanna is confined in the castle by its’ ruling Baroness; a witch as powerful as any she has known and a woman who will do anything to live forever.
A labyrinthine and fascinating tale, Mermaid Moon emerges from the tides in a reworking of the Little Mermaid (Hans Christian Andersen); but it is so much more. It strides on land proudly if tentatively at times; rich in political and social traditions that expose the dichotomy of patriarchy-matriarchy, it weaves a mesmerising fairytale that leads us also into the conflict of heart and mind. Sanna is a wondrous heroine; one that will make a home in your imagination for years to come. The heart-wrenching search for her mother and for her true self fills the reader with hope and passion, while she navigates a dangerous patriarchal world about which she knows and understands nothing. But she is clever; she learns. With descriptions that defy the senses and characterisation that is deep and well-exposed, the story brings layer upon layer of truth, lies, manipulation and magic from the pages of legend and plants it in a world that becomes real to the reader. Full of texture, personality, conflict and emotion, this book wraps the reader in its’ spell, making it impossible to put down. The intricate world-building is superb and the storytelling, exquisite. As the tension and the danger builds, we are taken by the things unsaid, the truths we do not yet know and long for resolution, but beg for the story not to end. (And I have to add, the book itself; as a physical object is truly beautiful.) Complex, glorious, magical; an ebb and flow of destiny and desire. It is stunning.
THE PURE HEART
author: Trudi Tweedie
Chicken House Books (6 February 2020)
Seventeen-year-old Iseabail is from a remote island of St Kilda, far off the coast of the Scottish mainland. Life is harsh but simple there and her path is well mapped out for her. That is until the day when a boatman approaches the island with a proposition and her life changes forever. Employed to be the companion of the daughter of a wealthy merchant, Iseabail is transported to the Scottish borderlands and a foreboding household full of secrets. She suddenly must deal with her precocious and selfish young charge, a house full of servants who speak only Italian, an intriguing, mute stableboy; all of whom display a consuming, worship-like loyalty to the merchant, Plaustrell. When Plaustrell returns from his travels, he brings strange cargo with him. And now it seems the true reason for Iseabails’ employ is about to be revealed; a reason that will seal her fate forever more.
The Pure Heart weaves a tale that is utterly enthralling. The historical backdrop of the Scottish borderlands pull the reader into an otherworldly place, but one that sits just beside the real world; wild and filled with creatures and events that simply cannot be. The tension steadily builds as the superstitions of the aftermath of the Plague fill the pages and Iseabail struggles to hold on to a sense of reason and uncover the knowledge she needs to navigate this utterly strange landscape and its’ cunning, manipulative occupants. Iseabail herself is a clever, quick-thinking character, with a determined, yet generous, kind nature. But all of this, it seems, is not enough to outwit her employer; a man of great intelligence, secrets and control. With a touch of Jane Eyre and classic horror stories of the past, the deliberate pace of the book allows the tale to seep into the reader, gradually tightening its’ grip until you are as lost as Iseabail; surrounded by this eerie, mysterious world. Evocative, unsettling and beautiful.
A TREASON OF THORNS
author: Laura Weymouth
Chicken House Books (5 March 2020)
When her father is convicted of treason, Violet Sterling is exiled to the fens while he is sealed inside their ancestral home, Burleigh House; one of the magical Great Houses of England. Trapped inside with him is Violets’ oldest friend Wyn, the boy she must leave behind to certain death beside her father. Seven years later, her father has been consumed by the magic of Burleigh and Violet seizes her chance to return home. But her beloved Burleigh is not what it once was. A crumbling ruin with is’ tortured magic gone wild with grief and pain, the House may be beyond redemption. The King has given Violet a few short months to bring Burleigh House under control…or he will burn it to the ground. Burleigh is Violets’ greatest love; the place she was made to protect and she will risk everything to save it. But her relationship with Wyn, a miraculous survivor of his confinement, has changed and a strange twist of fate causes Violet to question exactly how far she will go to save her home.
A lyrical writing style with a sharp edge brings this intriguing tale to life. Like a weird, twisty dream; like a fairytale with all the thorns, the story moves with a steady pace and exposes all its’ secrets and lies with nuance and grace. Each character and their roles within the book are fully defined and developed, giving the reader immediate purchase on the story. Violet is an exceptional protagonist, bold and strong with a definite sense of her purpose and a reasoned sense of conflict as she questions whether this purpose has changed; why she must sacrifice one hearts’ desire for another. I was somewhat dissatisfied with the back story of Violets’ mother leaving, as it is not fully explained. But it is completely necessary for Violet to step into her own consciousness and sense of self. The personality borne by the House itself is filled with texture and an unreal reality that will cause you to look at buildings and their history in a different way. All in all, it is a thrilling, mysterious book; full of historical content in time and place and magic, improbability and certainty with incredible twists. Atmospheric, unusual, haunting and luminous.
ALWAYS HERE FOR YOU
author: Miriam Halamy
ZunTold Books (11 February 2020)
As Holly wakes up to the impatient ringing of the doorbell, she realizes that she is alone in the house…again. She’s fourteen; she should be able to handle it. Ever since Gran’s Crisis, Mum and Dad are spending much more time away from home. With her very best friend Amy living in Canada now, Holly is alone much of the time. The girls in school see Holly as “sooooo young.” They all have friends and boyfriends. No one is there for Holly. So, she turns to an online chatroom. Holly has had all the online safety lectures. She is smart; she knows what to do. After a few mild online disasters, Holly sees a shoutout from Becca at school introducing everyone to Jay, “a nice guy.” And she contacts him. It seems like magic. They have so much in common! Before she knows it, Holly is spending all of her time chatting with Jay, wrapped up in the comfort of his kind words and attention. Surely this is true love. Within a week, he’s calling her his girlfriend and they meet up for their first real date. However, things don’t quite go to plan. Her lovely Jay is very different than she expected. Suddenly, everything turns very sour indeed. Holly is left in a dangerous situation, with nowhere to turn. She never imagined this could happen to her…
With stunning characterisation, this book paints a very realistic picture of just how easy it is to be taken in on the internet; to fall prey to online grooming and how, unlike many all too common perceptions, it isn’t always the ‘troubled’ or “bad” young people that are targeted. Steadily building the tension throughout the story, it tells the story of Holly; a bright, typical 14-year-old girl from a loving family. There is nothing about her that causes concern; apart from the abject loneliness she falls into after a series of ordinary life events that simply can’t be helped, but add to her vulnerability. Enter Jay and an online relationship that starts as something innocent and ends up as anything but. . Holly rides a real emotional roller-coaster, with all the highs of joy and excitement, the lows of loneliness, anger and confusion; the exhilaration of first love. Jay subtly isolates her from friends and family, causing her to believe that he is the only one she needs. The depiction of manipulation are written so that the reader experiences this as much as Holly. As he increasingly plays on Hollys’ feelings of isolation and her insecurities, while simultaneously building her attachment to him, the effect it has on the reader is palpable. We are shocked out of innocence and complacency along with Holly when she learns that Jay isn’t at all as he portrays himself. But now she is trapped, with no one and nowhere to turn. It takes a massive act of courage, of soul-searching for Holly to face what has happened and to seek help breaking out of Jays’ grasp with a resolution that is nail-biting and dramatic. Beautifully written with a flowing, lyrical text, Always Here For You is compelling, sometimes harrowing, insightful, urgently important; as heartfelt and warm as it is heartbreaking. This is a book that must be read…and not just by young adults. It’s one that is valuable for us all. I couldn’t put it down.https://www.zuntold.com/book/12
THE GOOD HAWK
author: Joseph Elliott
Walker Books (6 February 2020)
Agatha is a good Hawk, guarding the walls for her clan with pride. But there are those who doubt her abilities and her right to hold such an important position due to a condition she was born with. Jaime is reluctant to be an Angler for the clan; uncomfortable on the sea. His doubt and discomfort is magnified by his impending arranged marriage with a girl from the neighbouring island. When disaster strikes and the entire Clann-a-Tuath are either killed or kidnapped by a warring seafaring people, the pair of friends are thrust into an arduous, dangerous odyssey across mainland Scotia and on to Norveg. This is a journey that unveils a long forgotten magic and sinister secrets from which they have little defense apart from their own resourcefulness. But they must sojourn on…they are the only hope the clan has of survival and freedom.
Mystical, dark and thrilling, this is an epic tale with a foot in the myths and legends of old Scotland. The landscape, its’ people and their beliefs are expertly drawn with, not only old superstition, but contemporary fears, prejudices and concerns subtly and logically woven throughout. The world created here is incredibly accessible; it all makes sense as it wraps the reader into the story with great feeling and power. Opening a discussion of differing world views that exist between the clans and countries, and it is these differences that deftly drive the story forward, deepening the sense of peril while injecting compassion and empathy. Agatha is a most fascinating character. Born with Downs’ Syndrome into a time and place that has no concept, no name for her condition. As a hero, she is phenomenal. Facing many different challenges and obstacles that those surrounding her are not and written with great understanding and revelation. The book is written in her voice, alternating with that of Jaime and the two differing views offer a broader, more complex vision of their world and experiences. It works perfectly. All in all, The Good Hawk is amazing, full of texture that will enliven the senses and imagination. Tense, enthralling, brilliant; an utter feast for lovers of fantasy and historical fiction. (The first in a new trilogy.)
OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS
author: Justin A Reynolds
MacMillan Childrens Books (4 April 2019)
When Jack and his best friend, Jillian head off to Whittier College for a visitors weekend, he has no idea how much his life is about to change. Jack meets Kate at a party; beautiful, intelligent, completely wonderful Kate. And, at first sight, Jack falls…hard. Soon, Kate is an integral part of his life; meeting and winning over his best friends, his family, getting ready to go to prom. Then, Kate dies. Just as suddenly as it began, it’s over. Or is it? Kates’ death literally catapults Jack back to the moment they first met. She’s happy, healthy and full of sparkling life and possibility; and Jack thinks he must be losing his mind. But maybe, just maybe Jack has the chance to prevent Kates’ death. And if that’s so, he’ll take it. Even if it means believing in time-travel. Even if it means doing anything. But Jack so learns actions are not without consequences and choosing to change things for Kate could mean placing someone else he loves in the firing line. So…exactly what is Jack willing to do to save the girl of his dreams? And how many times does it take to get it right?
This time-loop romance captured me from the first page. Witty, charming and compulsive, it is filled with completely believable characters and typical circumstances that suddenly twist into a”Groundhog Day” scenario with great effect, where even the unlikely becomes realistic. While dealing with such issues as friendship, love, family expectations, illness, death and loss, it has a light quality about it that still inspires thought and understanding. The story deftly shows that each action produces a different impact and affect in life and that there are possibly infinite numbers of choices; of paths to take. But will any of those produce the outcome we attempt to engineer? And at what cost? Appealing to any and all who have ever wanted a “do-over” (and let’s face it; who hasn’t?) this is a story that will pull you right in, relating to the characters, their frustrations and feelings and the circumstances that life throws in their way. With an open-ended finale that is perfectly in keeping with the feel of the story, this book has a quietly glorious quality. Refreshing, sometimes humourous, sometimes heart-breaking; this book is a real gem.
author: Frances Hardinge
Macmillan Childrens Books (31 October 2019)
For centuries, the sea gods held ultimate sway on the Myriad; their terrifying grasp demanding sacrifices lest they destroy the islands and all the people completely. Then suddenly, without rhyme or reason, the gods turned on each other. In a brief span of time, all the gods were dead and the Myriad created an industry out of the wreckage of their corpses; finding god ware. Some of the islanders even make a living illegally salvaging god ware and conning customers as they divest them of their money; young orphan islanders like Jelt and Hark. While Jelt is known for his quick temper and irrational plans, Hark has quick fingers and a talent for talking his way out of any situation. Until one day, when he finds himself caught and sold off as a slave to a scientist with an obsession in the magical possibilities in the use of god ware….until the day when Jelt reappears and something extraordinary is discovered in the deep…until that extraordinary bit of godware begins to take over the mind and body of Harks’ oldest friend and the Myriad is at risk of destruction once again.
Frances Hardinge is one of or best storytellers. Here, she has created a deep and rich mythology weaving in into a fantastic tale of self-determination and coming-of-age that touches our deepest fears, our most irrational and illogical beliefs bringing them to light and making them all too real. With an incredible feat of world-building, the vision of a land, of gods that cannot possibly be, come alive with genuine texture and tangibility. Each and every character within the story has an integral part to play in this tightly bound tale of horror, fantasy and discovery. The characters of Jelt, with his reckless disregard for all others; the ‘seakissed’ Selphin, daughter of the dangerous salvager, Rigg and fighting to remain herself while her mother demands she be ‘healed’; Dr. Vyne and her obsession with god ware and Hark, intelligent, determined and discovering his own potential, shine through and carry the reader on a journey through fantasy and reality, rejection and acceptance. The result is simply magnificent. A completely immersive read, DeepLight will drag you into the depths of the sea and of your own imagination. Gripping, consuming, complex, haunting and full of…well…everything.
UNION OF WORLDS: DECEPTION
author: Kieran Ryan
cover illustration: Sally-Ann Kelly
Tribes Press (October 2019)
Crade was once a beautiful, independent world. But no longer. Firmly in the grip of the Union of Worlds the echoes of its’ past glory fade more and more as each day passes. Poverty and unrest are rife throughout the kingdom. When Prince Ory vanishes during a royal parade, it seems an uprising is finally beginning. As two orphans, Lizzee and Daru are running for cover, separated in the melee, they find themselves running straight into a complex galactic conflict and the unwitting accomplices of Prince Ory himself. Navigating an old space taxi from one lethal situation to another, in the hands a strong-willed AI guidance system, Aye-Eye. But friendship and loyalty are hard commodities to come by, and a stubborn little girl with child-like hopes and dreams may be the one to bring all their efforts to nothing. And when unexpected information about the Royal family of Crade comes to light, Daru finds himself questioning everything he ever knew; about himself, his life and what he is fighting for.
From the first chapter, the reader is thrown into this unique and troubled world with fast-pace plot and incredible action sequences. Throughout, the atmosphere is palpable; the sense of time and place believable; the danger…very real. A myriad of twists and turns make the book a whirlwind. The character development and descriptive passages are never drawn out beyond what is necessary, but still retains such a pinpoint accuracy in the writing that the reader knows with certainty how this world works and what its’ people are about. Intelligently written with an economy of language, this story grips from the very start and does not let up. And the hint of a sequel makes you yearn for more. It may have been written for ages 10-14, but this is one any sci-fi fan will love to get their hands on. Exciting, daring and full of thrills, this is classic-style, straight forward sci-fi fantasy as it should be.
RULES FOR VANISHING
author: Kate Alice Marshall
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
This time every year, a strange road appears in Briar Glen; and the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons those who are brave enough to come play here game. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose, you are trapped forever in a forest with rules of its’ own. Last year, Becca went missing. And everyone else has stopped searching for her. Her name is barely mentioned and hardly anyone believes that she vanished on the road. They say ‘Lucy Gallows’ is simply local legend; there’s no truth at all to it and Becca must have run away to live a different life. But Sara knows better. Sara knows her sister vanished while searching for Lucy Gallows. A series of eerie ‘messages’ and unusual events have occurred around Briar Glen and Sara knows the road is about to appear. Determined to find Becca, Sara and a handful of her friends enter the woods. But there is something much more sinister awaiting them and not everyone will survive.
With expert plot crafting and writing that simply flows off the page, this is one ghost story that will come back to haunt you. Nothing in this book is what it seems. Through use of transcripts of text messages, emails, police interviews, evidence…all interspersed within the story; and an unreliable narrator, while the reader has the sense of not knowing what will happen next, of being completely disoriented in place, time and events, but they are also compelled and consumed by the tale. Written this way, it vibrates the tale in different directions; a task that would have been impossible to accomplish if written any other way. It reads as if it is not a work of fiction, but a strange reality….and the reader is living it. Evocative description of landscape, characters and the (truly eerie) journey pull the reader deeper and deeper into a story that simply refuses to be put down. You MUST see it through to the end. While there are echoes of classic ghost stories of the region (Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, etc.), Rules For Vanishing stands apart; a completely unique, vibrant and chilling book.
SOMEBODY GIVE THIS HEART A PEN
author: Sophia Thakur
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
This unique and powerful collection of poetry From acclaimed performance poet Sophia Shakur ebbs and flows across the journey of life and becoming. From youth to school to home to love and back again, it offers rare and exquisite insight. While it is drawn from the authors’ own intimate experience, it also speaks in a more universal voice. It is impossible to read these words without relating; without understanding and taking them fully into your own self, causing the reader to question, to ponder and to reach a level of empathy with both self and others. The collection explores many issues encountered as we grow and attain individuation; issues of difference and identity, relationships (in the broad sense of the term), love, loss, joy sorry, perseverance and those moments of surrender. It is about life. It speaks eloquently in the voice and experience. But more than a call to simply hear the authors’ voice, it is a plea to speak your own. Every poem, every page begs you to pick up a pen; write your own story; come home to yourself in a world that fights you to allow this every step of the way. Inspirational, moving, overwhelming, wondrous and simply beautiful.
author: Tom Pollock
Walker Books (4 July 2019)
Cat has fallen in love. She can’t believe it! She has always been so sensible, and now she is dating a star! But no one…absolutely no one can know. If the fandom discovers their secret, they will destroy her. And first in line would be her best friend, Evie. But in a world of social media, keeping secrets is not so easy. And when things don’t go quite to plan, Cat discovers how alone she really is.
Amy has been using Heartstream; an app that actually allows others to feel your emotions; to chronicle every minute of her mothers’ degenerative illness, and now, the grief over her death. It is very, very real, packed with the power raw emotion, with absolutely nothing left private. It also appears to be very addictive. The day of her mothers’ funeral, Amy comes home to find a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s wired herself and the entire house with explosive and has been waiting to talk to Amy for a very long time. With her life and her entire family at risk, Amy is about to discover just how far obsession can drive a person.
This is a heart-stopping psychological thriller that invites the reader into an intense examination of the role social media and technology now plays in society. In a world where we now share our most intimate thoughts and feelings with complete strangers, there are insightful observations about how our mental health is affected by our online lives, how we communicate, the things we say and do, what we share (or overshare) believing we are safe. Believing we are helping and giving support. But are we? Where exactly do we draw the line? What impact does this have on actual human connection? Both characters, Amy and Cat are easy to relate to, quite affable and accessible. It is easy to understand their lives and feelings, but a powerful punch is delivered when we discover their fates. All of this is wrapped up in a gripping, shocking and tangible story that brings a lot of self-scrutiny, and societal scrutiny, with it. Powerful, realistic, shattering.
THE PAPER and HEARTS SOCIETY
author: Lucy Powrie
Hodder Childrens Books (13 June 2019)
Tabitha Brown would much rather curl up with a good book than go to parties and ‘join in.’ She’s so tired of trying to fit in when all it brings her is grief. Tabbie is really hoping that the move to a new town will give her a second chance. If she can just keep herself to herself and not get involved, then maybe her past will leave her alone. But a chance encounter at the local library lands her right in the middle of The Paper and Hearts Society; a book club with a difference. A wonderful group of new people, all just as book-mad as she is, the promise of a chance to celebrate books (all books!), fancy-dress Jane Austen-themed parties and a brilliant literary road-trip all bring Tabbie back to herself. What could possibly go wrong? But the past just won’t go away and an online bully threatens to destroy her new-found friendships. If only she could find the courage to trust her friends and face her fears….
With a book that calls upon you to be who you really are, regardless of how weird that looks, Lucy Powrie has given us a great gift. Written with a real understanding of the inner workings of the teenage mind and heart (something that never really leaves us, I might add), this is funny, warm, heartfelt, insightful and very well-written. Told around the creation of a book club (an excellent idea!), it gives us a light, comforting and very important message of acceptance, trust and friendship. Tabbie is a wonderfully-drawn central character with a genuine voice; one that you believe from the very start. Tabbies’ view of herself and her life have been heavily coloured by a false friend, who continues to plague her through some pretty nasty online bullying, causing Tabbies’ insecurities to escalate. By contrast, her new friends all suffer from anxiety but are never made fun of for it. They support each other, enjoy each others’ quirkiness, hold each other together and finally even catch Tabbie in their web and give her the strength she needs. This debut novel nailed it on every single page. It is a wonderful read; poignant and genuine, filled with heart. And books! It will make you laugh and cry….and feel better about yourself.
author: Anna Mainwaring
Firefly Press (20 June 2019)
Fifteen-year-old Tulip Taylor has a passion for words, a hugely popular make-up vlog and cannot go anywhere without looking perfect, courtesy of all the products sent to her by the companies that are lining up for her promotion. It’s all about the branding. So when she is challenged to go on a ‘survival’ reality TV show, it comes as a big surprise. Honestly, she only accepts to escape her mothers’ money-driven schemes that pressure her every waking moment. But Tulip has been set up to fail by that cute, but extremely annoying boy who challenged her in the first place. Can she prove to everyone; her family, her fans, but most importantly herself, that she is not just another pretty face?A light-ish read for YA readers who just want a good book to sink their teeth into, Tulip Taylor is filled with drama, fabulous characters and brilliantly irreverent humour. Tulip herself is an engaging character; smart, cheeky, determined and highly relatable. She struggles with finding her role in the world, her family and indeed, with herself as each circumstance causes her to deal with, not only how she is seen by others (a huge concern for us all), but who it is she really wants to be; what she stands for in her life. The repartee with her friends is witty and reveals much about all. The plot has much fast-paced, but considered, funny (and at times dangerous) action, as we see Tulip tested to her limits, but testing those around her as she goes and emerging triumphant. Based around the concept of reality TV, the reader is taken on a wild ride as ‘reality’ becomes more and more bizarre by the minute. Clever and contemporary situations; gripping, compelling story and a character you will be routing for every step of the way. Simply a great read.
PERFECTLY PREVENTABLE DEATHS
author: Deirdre Sullivan
Hot Key Books (30 May 2019)
After their mother remarries, 16-year-old twins, Madeline and Catlin find themselves moving from Cork; where everything about their lives is normal; to a very small and very isolated village in the wilds of Galway. Now, everything has an eerie feel to it; the castle they live in and its’ resident ‘wise-woman’, Mamó, the town residents, the surrounding hills which conceal the bones of generations of missing girls along with hidden truths; and Lon, the unsettling young man that quickly wins Catlins’ heart to the point of obsession.As Madeline senses the witchy talents that lie within her and turns to Mamó for explanation, Catlin falls ever-deeper under Lons’ spell. Madeline discovers that Ballyfrann is a place of dark secrets and predators, both unearthly and quite earthbound. Catlin comes into the gravest danger imaginable and Madeline must decide who she really is, what path she wants to take…and what she is willing to sacrifice for her sister.
No one writes YA like Deirdre Sullivan…and magical, ominous, teenage mystery? There is none better. Her writing is just so beautiful! Foreboding, reflective and completely consuming, Perfectly Preventable Deaths is the stuff of dreams and nightmares. Told in Madelines’ voice which allows a view of the workings of mind and emotion of a 16-year-old caught in the concerns of ‘coming-of-age; the writing is lyrical and moves through the eerie landscape, both internal and external of such an personal quality the reader will feel it as much as read it. The descriptions of time and place, the development of the characters and plot are exquisite. With the twins at the heart of the story, the reader sees not only distinct differences, but a view of two sides of one personality. The attachment of sisterhood, the depth of feeling of longing and loss as they grow further apart, the sheer horror of the circumstances and the will and determination are palpable. The witty, lively banter between the two give a welcome relief to the overall angst-ridden, anxiety driven feel to the story and is written with pitch-perfect tone. The focus on ‘witchcraft’ creates a cracking, truly spooky (and dangerous) story line, but also acts as metaphor for becoming your real self; for taking control of your own destiny and responsibility for your life and the fate of those around you; and the real cost of that. Each character adds much to this story, and all are layered, nuanced and integral. In terms of storytelling, its’ gothic, fairytale power pulls the reader along much like the paths and tunnels in and around the fictional Ballyfrann. You may feel like you don’t want to go on, but you can’t stop yourself.Magic is the soul of this book, its’ power and its’ possibilities (much like being on the brink of adulthood); and it is deep and intimate and so very expressive. And isn’t that what frightens us most about it? Brooding, compelling, expressive….I simply got lost in this book.
THE DEEPEST BREATH
author: Meg Grehan
Little Island (9 May 2019)
Stevie is 11 years old and knows a lot about a lot of things. She loves reading, sea-creatures and finding out as much as she can about everything…in case something bad happens she can do something to make it stop. Stevie lives with her Mum ans she’s been best friends with Andrew since they were babies. Her Mum teases her that someday, she and Andrew will get married. But Stevie knows that won’t happen. She likes Andrew; but she doesn’t like like Andrew. And there’s a girl in her school that she likes a lot more. It’s making her confused, how much she likes her. It’s a new feeling and one she has to find out about. She also has to find out how to get the courage to share her feelings with her Mum.
Written as a verse novel, The Deepest Breath is incredibly expressive of the emotionally complex journey of a young girl, Stevie, on the brink of moving from childhood to that confusing time of her teenage years. As a ‘coming-out’ story, it is so powerful and revealing, yet so nuanced. It touches on that sense of anxiety about many things in Stevie’s world with such delicacy as matches her age. The use of verse throughout makes this an emotional read, expressing all the emotion as only a verse novel can; considerate and endlessly kind. The characterisation is absolute perfection, with elegant detail given in just a few words. We see Stevie as she glimpses those intimate, fleeting views; a look on her mothers’ face, a broken conversation with a friend. We see how the wheels turn in her head as she tries to imagine what these things actually mean; will she be seen as a disappointment, will she be rejected? And the overwhelming sense of love and acceptance by the end is so very relieving, not just to Stevie, but to the reader. This book is gentling amazing and utterly compassionate. Beautiful…just beautiful. Please, please read this book!
(for ages 10/11-adult)
THE COLOUR OF THE SUN
author: David Almond
Hodder Childrens Books (10 January 2019)
On a hot summer morning, Davie is urged out of the house by his mother; “…The day is long, the world is wide, you’re young and free.” So off he goes to see what life in his small Tyneside town will offer him, not expecting much. It is an ordinary day…but as the morning moves on, the day becomes more and more mysterious. A boy has been killed and the whole town is awash with gossip and rumour. Davie might know who killed him, but he works his way into the hills to escape the tension. As Davie wanders along, real and imaginary things start to happen; memories turn into reality and fade back to memories once again. And Davie realises that his quiet life will never be the same again.
A quiet book, The Colour of the Sun is one of those that will stay with you. It explores many of the boundaries between life and death, childhood and the adult world, reality and imagination and how much of what we perceive in our younger years colours who we are. The relationships between the people of the town and how they are consumed and spat out by the events of the day are exquisitely expressed, revealed and questioned through Davies’ eyes as he draws his observances and reflections. Superstition and reality are intertwined, ebbing and flowing in sunlight and shadow, and the reader becomes uncertain as to what is real and what exists in the musings of a young boy on the brink of manhood. The landscape of the tale is written beautifully in intimate detail that pulls the reader inward. You can feel the surroundings, smell and taste the air and truly experience the day. While there isn’t a lot of ‘action‘; no fireworks, no glitz, no glitter; it is dynamic and forthright. This reminds me a great deal of Almonds’ pivotal book, Skellig in tone, reflection and in the effect it has on the reader. Lyrical, magnificent in its’ expression, intensely philosophical, filled with light, shadow and constant wonder. Thank you, David Almond. This is simply dazzling.
SUMMER OF NO REGRETS
author: Kate Mallinder
Firefly Press (2 May 2019)
Best friends Hetel, Cam, Sasha and Nell have just finished their exams and have a brilliant summer planned…a summer of no regrets. Inspired by a conversation with Hetels’ Gran, they are determined to do whatever they want and step out of their comfort zone. Sasha is the first off; heading to spend the summer in Geneva with her Dad, who she hasn’t really seen for years. However, on arrival she’s met with her Dads’ new girlfriend and a young man in a café. Hetel is painfully shy, but she agrees to head off to Wales for a science camp and discovers a competitive spirit she didn’t know she had. Cam is working for her foster-dad in the hardware shop and is bored to tears. But her emboldened by her new pink hair and the stress of a time to come when her foster parents no longer want her around, she goes in search of her birth-father; a man she has never known. And wonderful, brave Nell longs to be treated normally, but since a horrible boat accident left her permanently injured, her Mum is afraid to let her go. So, Nell secretly ventures forward and lands herself a job in a nearby bakery. The choices they make inevitably are rife with challenges; things get difficult and, sometimes even dangerous. They turn to each other to find the strength they need to face the future.
This is a real feel-good story of friendship that is quite an easy read…and impossible to put down. Tackling the drama of growing up and issues of diversity, family pressure, disability and foster care, it does so with a real joie-de-vivre couple with insight. Well written with fantastic dialogue and in alternating voices, the personalities of the girls play off each other well and shine through, both individually and as a collective. It is a joy to read; great escapism that allows the reader to feel they are part of the story. There are a few nail-biting moments with real tension, thought-provoking scenes filled with great sensitivity and the entire text is just plain fun. Highly recommended, this is one to dive into for the summer. It ended far too soon.
THE HAND, THE EYE AND THE HEART
author: Zoé Marriott
Walker Books (4 April 2019)
Hua Zhilan is the oldest child, a daughter is a much honoured family. Despite being adept at casting illusions and havings the clever and quick mind of a warrior, she is destined to live out her life in the womens’ quarters, never allowed to use her gifts. But a civil war is brewing across the land; one that will cost many lives; many men. Her father, a brilliant, strategic warrior in his day has been called up to fight on the battle field. But his previous exploits have left him disabled and Zhilan is now determined to save him from what will surely be his death…by taking his place. Disguised as a boy and now called Zhi, the journey to the battlefield is long and arduous; surviving the army training is only the first brutal challenge and hiding their ‘true’ identity is sometimes overwhelming. Quickly becoming a favourite of the Young General, Wu Jiang is placed in ever more perilous circumstances and it is not only their fathers’ life that they are left to protect. The losses are unbearable and the fate of the Empire is at stake. But sometimes, as Zhi learns, the greatest battle of all is to simply be who you really are….
An exquisite tale based on versions of the Chinese fairytale of Mulan, Marriott has created a world ripe with the flavours of ancient China without laying claim to its’ actual history. She has done her research well and created something so incredibly imagined, so fluid that it crosses through time and place. The descriptive quality of the writing not only gives a perfect view of the world created, but of the people that inhabit the time and place; their physicality, their thoughts, their culture. And yet, The Hand, the Eye and the Heart is a very timely, very contemporary story. Like all good fairytales, the spell it weaves tells the reader more about their own world; their own sense of being than it ever could about some mythical world of the past. Issues of gender identity, family and social expectations, power and corruption, sexual manipulation are all wrapped in a beautifully executed text that brings to life a very personal, yet universal story. Zhi is a marvelous character; complex and yet well-defined with a voice that rings with truth. There is love, loss, compassion, struggles of both the outer and inner world, adventure, war, murder and ultimately acceptance and hope. Exceptional fantasy, utterly spell-binding.
author: Charlie Pike
O’Brien Press (1 April 2019)
The year is 2203. The earth is a dying planet; scorched by solar flares and ravaged by violent storms with torrential rain that will burn the body of any living thing it touches in a matter of minutes. A series of messages has been sent to earth, promising refuge to any human strong enough to survive. The final message is due imminently. Leon wakes in the early hours for his Rising; the initiation into his warrior culture where he must prove his worth by his ability to kill. An outsider from the clan is provided for the hunt, but his prey is no typical outsider. In the wild forests and fields, Leon’s mission quickly goes wrong and he is forced to question everything he was raised to believe. Leon will need all his strength and very quick wits in his final, violent battle for survival.
A unique, incisive voice brings us on a journey filled with tension, drama and thought-provoking action. The descriptive power of the writing gives a clear picture of what the planet has become; the landscape scorched and threatening; the people violent and desperate. The story-telling is gripping, fast-paced and it takes the reader on a journey that they do not want to be on. But it is impossible to turn away from this. The reader is locked in Leons’ intense perspective as he tries to cling to his beliefs and teachings, but struggles to marry those with the things happening before his very eyes. This is a coming-of-age dystopia of the highest quality, but is quite violent in places; so may not be one for more sensitive readers. It is the stuff of nightmares made real. ‘Prepare To Be Born Anew’, indeed. Original, energetic, shocking, consuming…extraordinary in every way.
THE QUIET AT THE END OF THE WORLD
author: Lauren James
Walker Books (7 March 2019)
The year is 2109. Lowrie and Shen are the last two young people left on Earth after a virus many years before has caused human infertility on a global scale.. They live in London, with a population of approximately 300; an aging population that does on them as the only chance of human survival. Spending their days ‘mudlarking’ the banks of the Thames Lowrie and Shen search for relics from the past, gathering what information they can about the lives and deaths of the people that came before them. The discovering of a wallet belonging to someone named Maya Waverly leads them to research the old online social media platforms and much information about the days just before and after the virus struck and what the human race was doing to survive. Suddenly, the adults in their world; their parents and those they have known as all their lives as friends, protectors succumb to a strange affliction, leaving Lowrie and Shen alone to save them. And looking further into Maya’s life leads them to a deeply guarded secret and an impossible choice. What are they willing to sacrifice in order to save the human race?
This stunning sci-fi adventure leaves a disquieting sense in its’ wake. As it appears humanity may not end with a bang, but a slow, drawn out whimper, many of our current issues are revealed in a new light. Racism, sexual orientation, environmental concerns, medical and technological research; even evolution and what it means to be human seem re-evaluated in some subtle way. The well-drawn characters, their relationship to one another and their interactions give much to think about while providing a riveting story that captivates the reader from page one. You become invested in the lives of these people; consumed by the prospect of the actual quiet at the end of the world. There is a staggering twist at the end that not only gives a gasp of surprise, but causes you to think…and think deeply. Layered, nuanced, compelling, beautiful and completely believable, this is science fiction as it should be.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
author: Dick Lehr
Walker Books (3 January 2019)
Every Saturday, 14-year-old Trell Taylor makes the bus trip with her mother to visit her father in the state prison. Romero Taylor has been held there for the last 12 years; convicted of killing a young teenage girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.Romero has always claimed his innocence; and Trell KNOWS he didn’t do it. Now, she’s going to prove it. Trell teams up with a young, fiery lawyer and reporter Clemens Bittner. Lost in grief of his own, Bittner used to be the top crime investigative reporter for the Boston Globe who vowed never to step into his old role again. But Trell is a force of nature; determined, smart and brave. She gets Bittner on board and together, the will stop at nothing to set her father free. Not everyone wants to see justice served and soon, Trell is the target of potentially lethal unwanted attention. That won’t stop her, though…she won’t stop until she gets nothing but the truth.
Former reporter Dick Lehr was once part of the Boston Globes’ Spotlight team, where he was instrumental in cracking the real life case; the accidental shooting of a young girl caught up in a world of drugs-wars and crime bosses; that inspired this novel. The result is an incisive story with a birds-eye-view into the criminal justice system and the fight to uncover the truth. The story is gripping and filled with emotion. The characters are painted with care and understanding. Trell is brilliantly expressed; from a disadvantaged neighbourhood, she shines as intelligent, well-educated, complex and multi-layered. The scenes are set with texture, creating a believable scenario throughout allowing the reader to map out the locations in their own minds. Woven into the heart of this story, the effects of wrongful conviction ripple through an entire community, causing grief and untold damage, mistrust and fear. It demonstrates clearly intricate community connections and why and how a people would keep vital information under wraps. It shows the true cost of fear and mere survival at the hands of those in power. It shows the cost of societal divisions. Courage, love and truth rise to the surface only through great effort and determination, but rise it does in the end. Heartfelt, compelling and mind-opening; this is a book you must not ignore. Read this book.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
author: Miriam Halahmy
Firefly Press (2 July 2018)
Tasha and Josie are neighbours; both 15-years-old, live with single mums and in the same class at school. They aren’t what you’d call friends. Josie’s mum is a rabid recycler is determined to save the planet by collecting everything, literally. Her passion for recycling has actually turned into a massive hoarding problem and now the house is so full of stuff, it isn’t safe for either of them. To top it off, Josie’s mum has forgotten to pay the council tax, has spent all the money on her hoarding addiction and is now spending time in prison, leaving Josie to fend for herself. Tasha has all the clothes, all the ‘things’ any girl could possibly want. But her mother’s new boyfriend is giving her a little too much attention. When that attention gets too personal, Tasha leaves, not knowing where to turn. In their times of crisis, Tasha and Josie turn to each other, almost by accident at first.Navigating situations neither should have to endure, they find support, hidden strengths and a kind of friendship that goes above and beyond.
This gripping, exceptional novel opens your eyes to how easy it is for young people today to slip between the cracks. Realistically written, it is compelling. The characters and their lives are laid out on the page with openess; frankness. It is easy to enter their world, understand their point of view and hear their voices which ring with emotion, making it so easy to identify with them.. The plot builds meticulously while maintaining a momentum that urges the reader through. The writing is quite sensitive in the issues it deals with; homelessness, mental illness, grooming and the potential for sexual abuse, and the dangers of an unstable homelife; but it also deals with them with honesty. An incredible read for teens and adults with a quietly triumphant ending. Heart-wrenching, powerful and, ultimately very satisfying.
MY BRIGADISTA YEAR
author: Katherine Paterson
Walker Books (5 April 2018)
Cuba, 1961. Thirteen-year-old Lora is inspired by the posters in her school calling all young people to join Castros’ army of volunteer teachers in a bid to achieve 100% literacy throughout the country. Her parents are utterly opposed to her joining, but Lora is determined and finds an ally and encouragement in her grandmother. From a privileged family, Lora has never been outside Havana. She knows the living conditions will be difficult and the mountains filled with danger. Some young literacy teachers have been killed by insurgent forces fighting against the new government. But Lora also knows her own mind, has a passion for books and a desire to be part of this life-changing programme. With raw courage and determination, Lora undertakes an arduous journey into the isolated mountains, learning more about life than she could ever teach.
This amazing work of historical fiction speaks eloquently about a little talked about moment in time. Written in a memoir style, this is also a coming-of-age novel with a difference. Loras’ struggles, her battles within herself as well as with the outside world are genuinely expressed and a true sense of character and her growth as a person shines throughout. Much is revealed about the complexities of the Cuban government and the confusion and resistance of the people at the time, without glorifying or sensationalising. But more than this, there is a unique and enthralling story here, brought to light with power and emotion while still maintaining a text that is flowing and easy in its’ expression. Compelling, driven and sensitive, My Brigadista Year is a quietly stunning book; and one I’d whole-heartedly recommend. (ages 11+)
BLACK SNOW FALLING
author: L. J. MacWhirter
Scotland Street Press (1 August 2018)
The year is 1592. Ruth is the spirited daughter from a privileged family, determined to live a life of her own choosing; to play by her own rules and not those imposed upon her by her callous, manipulative stepmother. With her father long absent, her only solace is the love she believes she has found with Silas, a young man far beneath her station. Her best friend has been promised in marriage to a man far away from her and a betrothal is being arranged for Ruth herself, to a Lord who will advance her stepmothers desires of advancement in court. And Ruth has secrets; an old book of heresy belonging to her father and a recurring dream that haunts her almost nightly. A dream that brings phantoms into the world that are stealing the dreams of the young around her. As everything she loves slips away from her and Crowbury itself weaves deeper into danger, can Ruth trust a shadowy figure from her dreams, even though he is the only hope she has?
An eerie, atmospheric Elizabethan fantasy, Black Snow Falling is deep, dark and authentic. The plot is woven with care and complexity. With an genuine sense of history, it creates a unique mythology and imaginative world and tightly holds the reader in its’ icy grip. The characters are believable, compelling and fit within their context perfectly. While the story touches on very contemporary concerns; forced marriage, sexism, abuse and class issues; it stays firmly within its’ time and place. The fantasy elements are filled with texture and nuance; developing a perflectly paced journey that fascinates as it time-flips and calls into question the fabric of history itself. Certainly a perfect winters read. Gorgeous; absolutely gorgeous.
THE LIGHT BETWEEN WORLDS
author: Laura Weymouth
Chicken House (1 November 2018)
It’s February 1944 and just as suddenly as all the others, another bombing raid has begun. Evelyn, Jamie and Phillipa Hapwell run to the back garden shelter. In her terror, Ev makes a wish…”Anywhere but here. Anywhere but here.” And then, the silence. When the siblings emerge, their eyes take in a strange, magical and beautiful realm called Woodlands. There is strife and war in Woodlands, but it couldn’t be more different for them than London. Six years later, they find themselves transported back home again, where no time has passed at all. But they are different people, now. While they all have trouble adjusting, for Ev it is impossible. Ev struggles with every aspect of her life; school, family, friendship. Sleep eludes her and she finds herself wandering the local woods, trying desperately to find a way back. She longs to return to the place where she felt as if she truly belonged. As time goes by, Phillipa wonders if the colliding of the two worlds has actually torn her sister apart.
The Light Between Worlds tells a sibling love story, the struggles they face to simply be themselves and to find their place in the world. In its’ fantasy, it exposes the reality of coming-of-age and the heart-breaking face of severe depression. There is a real ebb and flow as the siblings navigate between worlds, creating an intimate portrait of landscapes both internal and external. The world-building is exquisite; the dialogue heart-felt. There are nods to the Narnia Chronicles and other ‘portal’ fantasies, of course. But this book stands on its’ own ground, with exquisite, echoing prose; expert characterisation and relationships and a gift for bringing that shimmer of light into the darkest of moments. It is haunting, mystical and lyrical.
THE HAZEL WOOD
author: Melissa Albert
Penguin Books (8 February 2018)
Seventeen-year old Alice has spent her entire life on the road with her mother, Ella; always just one step ahead of the bad luck and trouble that seems to follow them wherever they go. Just when she thinks they have finally escaped it, Alice grandmother Althea Prosperine, famous, yet reclusive author of dark, disturbing tales of The Hinterland dies and, reputedly, her estate The Hazel Wood now belongs to them.. Althea had a mysterious past, including a two year disappearance with no clues as to what became of her time away. Ella wants nothing to do with it, and when she is abducted by a sinister character who claims to come from the world of Altheas’ creation, Ellas’ only message to Alice is “STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD.” The bad luck has taken on a whole new dimension. Alice will not simply let her mother disappear. She goes to the Hazel Wood and from there ventures into the world of her grandmothers’ writing. To save her mother, and herself, she enters her own story…but can she change the ending and ever come back again?
The idea of fairy tales invading our contemporary world, making us an inextricable part of the story is captivating in and of itself. But this book takes that idea and uses it to play on our fears and fascination. This is a dark story; deep and delicious. It claws its’ way into the dreams and nightmares and twists reality. The characters are intricate and obsessive, so well described that they bear a stark resemblance to reality.. The inclusion of a few of the Hinterland stories peeks curiosity. You want the book…to read them all. But they also inspire a chilling, fearful reaction, as though the full collection would give you nightmares for the rest of your life. Compelling and creepy with surprising (sometimes shocking) twists and turns, The Hazel Wood invades your subconscious and leaves you breathless. Stunning novel from a debut author.
ARE WE ALL LEMMINGS AND SNOWFLAKES?
author: Holly Bourne
Usborne Publishing (9 August 2018)
Olive is spiralling down again. She has been having these problems for a while and to say it’s made her life difficult is a bit of an understatement. She can’t seem to get it together and now, she is camped out under her desk, buffeted by blankets and duvets to keep the light out. After one particularly upsetting incident, she is off to the doctor (again), where she receives an offer of a unique chance.Welcome to Camp Reset; a new facility with a ground-breaking programme that seeks to help young people manage their individual metal health issues. Most of the people there join in whole-heartedly and really make an attempt…anything to help, right? But Olive is quite resistant to much of the camps’ programme. She feels she knows better;she’s smart. She’s special. She should be able to crack this permanently! Working with a maths’ genius she meets there, Lewis, Olive begins to work out an algorithm that could be world-changing. And she is NOT wrong…mostly. Kindness. That is the answer. What she doesn’t realise is that kindness starts from within. You starts with yourself…that’s the only way you can spread it out to the world.
Today is World Mental Health Day (10 October), so it seemed a great time to post this review.
This is a book that reveals, in a cold clear light, the struggles of a number of young people to come to grips with their personal mental health issues; what caused them, how it happened to them and what they can actually do about it. It reveals the differences in how these conditions affect people differently. And it is mind-boggling in its’ honesty. Depicted in clear strong voices and an intriguing story, the reader views these disorders in the extreme as very human conditions, but those that affect everyone at some point. But mostly, this book calls on us all to examine our relationship with “kindness”; to tap into our own strengths and do something…anything to be more kind. It posits a theory as what kindness can actually do, whether a small, seemingly insignificant act or a grand gesture. Perhaps it is a lack of kindness and compassion that is creating a world that makes people sick in the first place. Everyone wants to be normal, right? But everyone wants to be special… It is a tough read; you will want to disagree with it. But it is a frank book and very real. Filled with raw, refreshing humour and poignant feeling; moving, thought-provoking and important.
LOVE, HATE AND OTHER FILTERS
author: Samira Ahmed
Hot Key Books (16 January 2018)
Maya Aziz is at a crucial moment in her life. She is on the cusp of stepping out into the world; finishing high school, applying to colleges and pursuing her dream of becoming a film-maker. But her family has other ideas. Of course, she must get her degree…in something practical, like law or medicine. But she must also find the perfect Muslim boy to build her life with ; one that will bring joy and honour to the family. Their plans for Maya do not include film-making; they certainly don’t include the lovely, blond football hero she has known all her life. Most of all, they want her to be safe. Family pressure is difficult to navigate and Islamophobia is rife in the social structure. When a suicide bomber strikes in a city hundreds of miles from her home and he happens to have the same last name as Maya, things change rapidly. Tensions rise both in her town and her home and Maya finds herself in the middle of an unfolding drama that has nothing to do with her, but may take control of her life forever.
A very topical novel that gives true insight into what it means to grow up Muslim in the current contemporary western world, this was a powerful, engaging read. The element of a ‘star-crossed’ love story makes it hugely accessible to any young person about to step into their life, but its’ themes of multiculturalism, politics, bullying and diversity give it that little bit more punch. An empathetic, thought-provoking view allows the reader time to absorb and understand how truly multi-layered society and family life can be and how this provokes dilemmas, and in some cases, tragedies that fray at the threads of social structure and political agenda. There is a surprising twist of mistaken identity woven cleverly through the story and its’ reveal will make the reader stop cold. The issues it deals with are complex and heavy, but the book is not. A joyous and compassionate story of young love and coming-of-age; it is lovely, well-written with characters of real depth and genuine voice. Uplifting as well as heart-breaking, dynamic and filled with life. (14+)
THE MONSTERS WE DESERVE
author: Marcus Sedgwick
Zephyr (6 September 2018)
High in a remote mountain cabin in the Alps, an author has sequestered himself to ponder alone and write his book under a pressing deadline. The book; an examination?; an exposé?; a reworking? of Mary Shelleys’ Frankenstein troubles him deeply. It is a book he claims to despise, but it haunts him. Immersed in this location, quite similar to the location of the original work, he finds that he is not only haunted by the book, but by its’ author and its’ creation as well. Nocturnal visitations, mysterious rooms and lost, vacant wanderings through a landscape of oncoming winter drive him to strange occurrences and an even deeper submergence into himself. Reality and perception bleed into one and the author begins to wonder if these monsters we create are ever content to stay on the page. Do we get the monsters we deserve?
Marcus Sedwick has given us another genre-defying, intense and thought-provoking tale. It has a quiet, riveting sense about it; like any good horror story will. But there is a deeply psychological aspect at work here, as it opens up a realm of questions, both about the inner workings of perception and the creative process and the intention of Mary Shelleys’ original Frankenstein. (This is quite appropriate and interesting in the 200th anniversary year of its’ publication.) The description of landscape and time places the reader in the story; you are actually there, bearing witness to all while in a chilling, breath-holding grip. It ends with an open, haunting echo that will stay with you long after. There are no loud, flashy action scenes here; simply a compelling read with an unnerving atmosphere and a deeply troubling sense of unrest that must be experienced. Exceptional!
(please also read: My Swordhand is Singing; Blood Red, Snow White; The Ghost of Heaven)
THE PRICE GUIDE TO THE OCCULT
author: Leslye Walton
Walker Books (6 September 2018)
Over a century ago, Rona Blackburn arrived on Anathema Island. With her otherworldly and vast healing skills, she might have been a welcome addition to the eight original settlers in this small, unwelcoming wilderness. But guilt and suspicion took over and the settlers rise up against Rona to ‘burn the witch out’, destroying her home and all her possessions…so they think. Instead, Rona invokes her witchs’ power, cursing the settlers for generations to come. Every curse comes with a price. And while the settlers are well and truly punished, Rona and her descendents are irrevocably bound to them for all time.
Now, in the present day, Nor Blackburn wants to live the life of a normal teenage girl; commonplace, unexceptional; escaping the inherited abilities of the Blackburn women. She has reason to believe she may have done just that, until the arrival of a newly published book; The Price Guide to the Occult. Written by Nors’ beautiful, ultimately cruel mother, Fern the book promises to cast any spell…for the right price. It isn’t long before the entire nation is completely captivated by the authors’ magical abilities as she seems to wield a power over all who cross her path. These are abilities far beyond Ferns’ reach and they cost a horrific price. And now Fern is coming…she’s coming for Nor.
I was immediately pulled into this eerie, spell-binding gem of a book. It’s fluid, hypnotic writing and vivid descriptions of time and place create a tactile effect in the reader, filling the senses with sights, scents and sounds. The building of the background story is quick, yet intriguing and places you firmly in the present day, compelling you to be a part of this small island community, however closed it may seem. There are some timely issues built into the story; self-harm, gender issues, family secrets, environmental concerns and political corruption. But this is our present day world, just a version of it where the magic, which has been leaking out quietly for generations now flows with the force of an erupting volcano. The characters are exquisitely painted so that the reader really knows them. A caution here; while the juxtaposition of light and dark moments is well presented, the dark gets really dark. As Ferns’ magical madness takes over, there are some horrific and gruesome moments, as in the best of horror films.You feel the tale as much as you read it. All in all, this is a breath-taking, absorbing story; evocative and thought-provoking with a lasting impact.
(Read also; The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender.)
DON’T STOP THINKING ABOUT TOMORROW
author: Siobhan Curham
Walker Books (2 August 2018)
Stevie is fourteen years old and lives in Lewes with her Mum…and her mum’s depression which is growing worse by the day. When things get too much (which happens all too frequently these days), Stevie escapes into a brilliant vinyl record collection and a book “Stevie’s Little Book of Big Song Wisdom”, both left to her by her Dad. At school, she doesn’t mind being an outsider and plans to not have ‘friends’. Fitting in would cost her far too much. But then she meets Hafiz, also 14 and a Syrian refugee with a passion for football. Hafiz has been traveling for 2 years, having left his family behind in Syria to reach safety in the UK. His journey has been tough…really tough. His family paid smugglers all they had to send him on his way and he doesn’t know if they will ever see each other again. Support is something he doesn’t know if he can count on or give in return. Then Stevie comes into his life.
A sincere and heartfelt book, Don’t Stop… deals with the difficult and timely issues of racism, the Syrian refugee crisis and depression. It pulls no punches, handling the issues with great understanding and sensitivity, but also with pinpoint accuracy. Both Stevie and Hafiz are written so well, the reader can easily relate and feel their circumstances. With very realistic touches, it explores the life of young people and the situations they are confronted with in the course of each day. At the core of the story, it is about friendship, empathy and belonging. While in other hands, this could make for a very heavy, depressing read, Curham has injected this story with hope and promise. The inclusion of Stevie’s musical recommendations make for a wonderful play list of songs to suit every situation. (I do recommend seeking each song out and playing them; and please add your own.) It is a very emotional book (keep the tissues handy), but it is also thoughtful, expressive and joyful. Things do change; it will get better. The road to happiness is not as far away as you might think. I absolutely loved every page.
THE FOREST QUEEN
author Betsy Cornwell
Clarion Books (7 August 2018)
Sixteen-year-old Sylvie is Lord Loughsleys’ daughter, raised in privilege and power. When her brother, John takes over the running of the estate, his abuse and abject heartlessness toward the local villagers is unbearable, but Sylvie is left powerless to stop him and to put a halt to the ever-increasing tax levies and consequences for non-payment. Johns’ cruelty is something Sylvie knows all too well. With her friend, Bird she retreats into the forest in search of a deeper connection with nature and life; in hopes of becoming something more than simply another ‘Lady Loughsley’. Before long, they find themselves in the company of other villagers, running for their lives. Together, they form a community; a band determined to build a life of freedom and peace. But life as a forest outlaw has its’ own challenges and heartbreaks. And healing past wounds can be a hard-won battle.
A gender-swapped retelling of the old Robin Hood folk tales, this book covers a lot of ground in a very short space. It deals with many issues that hold many parallels to todays world; gender equality, abortion, environmental issues while imparting an ethos of kindness, fairness and economic rights. The characters are ones that are familiar to the reader (if they have knowledge of the Robin Hood story), so there isn’t much emphasis on character development. The descriptions of landscape and environment are stunning, with albeit some very specific descriptions of hunting practices.But mostly, it’s a cracking adventure read. The writing is fluid and filled with meaning; at times cinematic, with a high-paced rhythm that takes the reader on a brisk ride to a gripping climax.A thoroughly enjoyable read that will leave you wanting more.
author Betsy Cornwell
Clarion Books (13 August 2015)
Nicolette lives with her horrible stepmother and stepsisters. They have nicknamed her ‘Mechania’ as a cruel, belittling act. But the name is fitting. Her mother was an incredible inventor, teaching Nicolette all she could before succumbed to a strange illness. With both her mother and father now gone, Nicolette is left behind to a life of servitude and drudgery. On her 16th birthday, Nicolette discovers a her mothers’ hidden workshop, and befriends a tiny, mechanical horse (Jules) who shows her that she may be able to have a different life for herself; a life as an inventor and creator of her own destiny. With an festival celebrating marvellous inventions and technolicgal advances looming and a royal ball approaching, this may be Nicolettes’ chance to write her own ‘happily-ever-after.’
Fairytale meets steampunk in this retelling of the familiar Cinderella story that is utterly wondrous. Cornwell takes the old characters we know so well and develops them with a contemporary outlook that breathes new life into the story while keeping the setting of the original. In doing so, she has done what fairytales met the original purpose of fairytales; to grow, change and reveal the layers of an ever-changing society. It is filled with the wonders of magic, and the perils that it holds. Beautifully written, incredibly descriptive, the line between this world and the fairy world is blurred, but tangible. This is a story worth reading over and over and over. Loved it!
(For more of Nicolette’s story, read VENTURESS)
THE SURVIVAL GAME
author: Nicky Singer
Hodder Children’s Books (26 July 2018)
The world has taken a dark and dangerous turn. Severe drought and climate change has turned the planet into a desert wasteland, with very few places left where anyone has a real chance of survival. The political climate is hostile to the millions of global migrants fleeing to these areas. Mhairi Anne Bain is trying to make it home to a remote island in Scotland with only two possessions to her name; her identity papers and a gun with no bullets. She has learned the wisdom of living her own story, of talking to no one. Then, on her journey, she meets a small boy with no voice at all and no one to speak for him. Against her instincts and better judgement, she risks everything to take him
Painting a severe and grim picture of the future, The Survival Game stands apart in the canon of young adult dystopian literature. The story unfolds gradually, each step portrayed with great uncertainty as though peeling off layer after layer of an onion, only to discover it isn’t an onion at all. The issues at the heart of the tale, global warming and the refugee crisis are never far from our view these days, but here we see a set of possible consequences of our current actions and our current world-view that expose another layer of consideration. The development of Mhairi’s character, the maturity and insight she develops along the way is consuming. Her relationship and sense of responsibilty to her young charge is a heart-felt ode to the strength of human nature. Through Mhairi, we begin to question not just the dynamics of this future fictional world, but the reality of our own. This book is incisive and gripping, filled with suspense and desperation. But it is also thought-provoking and illuminating. A single act of kindness, born of conscience and concern might be the very thing to make a world of difference. Stunning and very, very different.
THE WEIGHT OF A THOUSAND FEATHERS
author: Brian Conaghan
Bloomsbury YA (14 June 2018)
Bobby Seed has been watching MS steal his mother from him for a long time; since before her official diagnosis. He has been her main carer from the very beginning. He has kept it all together, his younger brother, school and home life; but the weight of it all is enormous. As the disease slowly grinds her away, Bobby has been doing all he can to keep her with him…for just a little longer. Now, bedridden and with ‘good days’ turning ‘good moments,’ his wonderful, funny, lively, yet disintegrating mother asks him the impossible question…the one he should never have to face. She asks Bobby to take all her suffering away; to help her die.
Filled with tension, humanity and a delicate, but insuppressible humour, Conaghan has surpassed himself in giving us an uncomfortable, compelling and true read. A strong, genuine voice chronicles a period of time in the life of a young carer, letting us see the determination, loyalty and love that drives him while the weight and cost of it all wears him down. Bold and beautifully written, this novel brings the reader in such an intimate orbit of this world that we actually feel the circumstances and their effects as if they were our own. Each character does not so much develop, as they do appear fully formed, demanding an empathy, understanding and that they be heard. The story also begs a lot of questions from the reader; questions about trust, obligation, what it takes for us to be human, friendship, loyalty and the pervasiveness
(Also by Brian Conaghan: When Mr Dog Bites; The Bombs That Brought Us Together, We Come Apart with Sarah Crossan)
WHITE RABBIT, RED WOLF
author: Tom Pollock
Walker Books (3 May 2018)
“This story is a lie.” Everything about it is a lie; a bad, dark, conspiratorial lie acted out through the life of 17-year-old Peter Blankman.
Peter is a mathematical genius, prone to analysis of everything around him, calculating probabilities and statistics that will lead him down rational by-ways to a safe and satisfying ends. But Peter also suffers from mental illness, severe panic attacks and self-destructive behaviours. He lives with his brilliant scientist mother and his twin sister, Bel who is his protector and his axiom. When his mother is brutally attacked and stabbed at an awards ceremony held in her honour and Bel vanishes, Peter is plunged into a world where violence, espionage and state and family secrets merge into one. Without his sister and only one friend left in the world, Peter finds that his analytical skills and his all-consuming fears are the greatest weapons he has to find the truth.
With magnificent pacing and imagination, this book is a roller-coaster ride of a thriller. As a narrator, Peter gives a consuming voice, as he is caught in the confusion of an unreliable world where events change, develop and change again at a rapid pace. The plot twists lead the reader through a world of dark imagination while still maintaining the feeling of sinister reality. The reader will never know where they are going or what will happen next; it’s all too unpredictable. It is positively thrilling, and embedded with a quirky humour that gets the reader through intense action and emotion. Peters’ severe anxiety/panic disorder are the compelling drive of the action, while also portrayed with great understanding. The manipulation and control ruling over Peters’ entire life (unbeknownst to him) allow empathy (and, at times regret for his actions) towards those caught in this ominous reality and shows great courage on realising the he must turn his greatest deficits into his greatest strengths. With a shocking,turbulent conclusion, this is a “spy novel” with a real difference. Powerful riveting and incredibly gripping.
WORDS IN DEEP BLUE
author: Cath Crowley
Hodder Children’s Books (5 April 2018)
Rachel and Henry were the best of friends.She loved his familys’ bookshop and the comfortable and easy way Henry had about him. In fact, Rachel had a crush on Henry, something he never seemed to see. The night before she moved away, Rachel left a note for him in his favourite book; on the page of his favourite poem. She waited for Henry…but he never came.And Rachel had to figure out how to move on with her life.
Tragedy struck Rachels’ family when her brother, Cal drowns. Deepening the sorrow and pain in her life, Rachel moves back and takes a job working alongside Henry in his parents’ bookshop. Henry never mentions the letter, or Rachels’ declaration of love. They don’t even want to be near each other at first. But with the bookshop failing, Henrys’ sister caught in a surprising dilemma of the heart and Henrys’ plans to travel the world floundering, Rachel throws herself into the task of cataloging the ‘Letter Library’ and rebuilding their friendship. With each of them facing the ghosts of their pasts, will they find the way to face the future?
I’m sure I didn’t explain the plot of this book very well, so let me just say this. This is an utterly beautiful book…one that you don’t so much read as immerse yourself into and feel completely. Set in and around a wonderful bookshop with its’ Letter Library holding much of the storys’ content, it has a distinctive ebb and flow; a glowing emotional punch. The idea of writing in margins and leaving messages in books is intriguing. You find yourself wanting to dip in and partake; examining the books in local bookshops with careful scrutiny. “Sometimes love is written in the margins.”Populated by quirky but realistically drawn characters with unique, flawlessly expressed voices, each is relatable and easily recognisable. We know these people. And it is charming, compelling and filled with the joy and pain of real life. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, especially for fans of John Green, David Levithan and Jandy Nelson. You simply must read it!
MORE THAN WE CAN TELL
author: Brigid Kemmerer
Bloomsbury Childrens Books (8 March 2018)
Rev has been struggling to keep the trauma of his life before his adoption at bay. But then, a letter from his father arrives on his eighteenth birthday
Brigid Kemmerer writes with a beautiful and authentic voice, creating recognisable, relatable characters, environments and circumstances. The story is a contemporary, dark and chilling tale that deals with many issues; friendship, family, grief, abuse, online bullying, trust… in a style that is realistic and poignant. It is a love story. It is a book about being fearless. It is a book about secrets and how to release them. Emma and Rev are both haunted; Rev by his past and Emma by the events in her life now. Their characters are exquisitely drawn with details that bring them straight off the page. There are nods to Kemmerers’ previous novel Letters To The Lost, with characters Declan and Juliet reappearing as supporting characters who have already been through so much and this gives a nice backdrop to the action of this novel. (Rev himself was a supporting character in Letters To The Lost.But don’t think of this as a “sequel”…it isn’t at all.) Intense, profound, deeply psychological; yet one of the most beautiful books I’ve read this year.
FLYING TIPS FOR FLIGHTLESS BIRDS
author: Kelly McCaughrain
Walker Books (1March 2018)
Finch and Birdie Franconi come from a long line of circus folk; twins born into a wild and wonderful tradition. The family run a struggling circus school in Little Murragh, a small rural village in Northern Ireland. Birdie starts a blog to encourage more people to come and learn from them, revealing all about life as part of a circus. They attend the local school, and as their outrageous dress sets them apart from the crowd, they are frequently the victims of the school bullies and mean girls. Name-calling and being ostracized are part of their typical day. While Finch doesn’t really care, he has never gotten over the day his best-friend, James Keane just dumped him without warning and now joins in on the bullying. But bold and adventurous Birdie always has her brothers back. As long as they are a team, life is good. Then, Birdie has a horrific accident, leaving Finch to cope alone; with standing out from the crowd, with the bullying, with growing up and being ‘different’ and with the new friend he’s made (quite by accident)…a clumsy, awkward lad his age named Hector Hazzard who wants to be part of their world. Coping with the shock of Birdies’ accident, her ongoing blog posts, his unusual family and Finchs’ investigation into what exactly happened and who is responsible reveal far more about himself than he thought possible.
A gentle, quirky romance/coming-of-age novel lends a fresh and unique eye to the world and culture of young adults. The clever use of circus life allows difference in personalities and viewpoints to be easily woven into what could have been an all to typical tale. Each character is well-drawn and precisely defined without over-burdening description and how they relate to each other, their actions and interactions ring true. While the story builds, there are some pacing issues. But these develop into a nice flow and rhythm that create a story that needs to be read. The closeness of the family, its’ position in the community and its’ struggles to maintain itself are in the background, but glimmer out through the plot so the reader understands and automatically consumes its’ relevance. It blends in themes of diversity, acceptance and inclusiveness with seamless facility. This book stands apart. Witty and intelligent, heartrending and revealing, it is a joy to read. Whole-heartedly recommended. Ages 12+; adults…give this one a good read.
THINGS A BRIGHT GIRL CAN DO
author: Sally Nicholls
Andersen Press (1 February 2018)
Through the voices of three young women who decide to join the fight for womens voting rights, we revisit the time just prior to World War I when womens’ rights were first coming to the fore in the midst of a huge variety of other political/social changes. Evelyn is 17 years old; rich, privileged, clever and feisty and very angry that she may never be able to go to University like her brother because she is a girl. When she joins the Suffragettes, she vows she will go to prison, endure a hunger strike and sacrifice her own life for the cause, if needs be. May is 15 and the only child of a pacifist Quaker mother, she is already enlisted in the cause, though as a Suffragist, she refuses to resort to violence. In Nell, a girl who has grown up in poverty in the slums of the East end, May sees a kindred spirit, in fact a soul mate. The paths of these three, both separately and together try them more than they could have believed possible. But war is looming on the horizon and they must decide how high a price they are willing to pay.
This is more than a Suffragette story.By use of the three separate voices; all very distinct and genuine but all very different, a picture is painted of a time in history of great change. But also, the reader has a view of the characters growth in the development of social and world events, of how these things affect each one and what they believe and how they become the women they are destined to be and how they will live their lives. As we weave between their stories, Evelyn, May and Nell come alive and there is an ever-growing feeling that we really know these girls; we understand them, like them and are sometimes frustrated by them. It is interesting that Evelyns’ story seems to stand apart from the other two and although their paths do cross, she is a bit more removed from the tale than the others. Perhaps this is an observation on class distinction, as well as a comment on how, in a consolidated group fighting for the same thing, many different people who would not ever meet come together to achieve the same goal; something we should not lose sight of. Compelling, pacey, intelligent and thought-provoking, Nicholls have offered us much in this book. And it does not disappoint. A very important voice to hear in this year of honouring womens suffrage.
THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF BEING HUMAN
author: Linni Ingemundsen
Usborne Books (January 2018)
It isn’t easy being Malin. She likes things to make sense, be logical; she likes things to fit. When considering the big things in life, Malin knows she can’t fix them, so she watches as life rolls on around her and considers her place. In the meantime, her father yells all the time, her mother goes away suddenly on a ‘business trip’ for months, her brother lies about everything and at school, well, Malin doesn’t fit in at all. The only consistent thing she has in her life is her cousin, Magnus.Then she makes a friend…a friend who helps her figure things out; kissing, what to wear to prom, what to do when you stand apart from the crowd. What to do when everyone around you hides the truth and won’t explain things to you because they believe you won’t understand.
This is a beautiful book; a poignant view into a specific time in Malins’ life when life comes crashing into her world. A coming-of-age vignette, there is no real plot, so to speak. But that actually enhances the feel of the story. Malin is a brilliant character, clever, bold and quite naive. She also clearly has Autism Spectrum Disorder, undiagnosed and not discussed at all in the book. But that’s not a problem. When you read the book, you get that immediately. It is Malins’ perception of everything going on around her that tells the story and creates a fascinating view into human nature; the things we protect, the things we hide, what we can and cannot deal with as human beings, our hopes, our fears and our frustrations. There are many issues dealt with in the book, such as teenage pregnancy, addiction and mental health. All of these are handled with great sensitivity on the part of the author, making it an insightful and emotional read. There are also moments of light and humour. In the end, it works as a ‘feel good’ type of read with an understanding that, in spite of everything, it’s all going to be okay. Wonderful!
THE ANGELICA TOUCH
author: LJ Sedgwick
Janey Mac Books (2018)
Angelica Moone has a unique gift for matchmaking. It has been with her since she was a small child and this gift is the thing that has lost her hotel manager Mum quite a number of jobs. Until she found the perfect job at the Drisogue Arms in Donegal on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean. They have been happy here for 7 years, though business could be better; in fact, the entire town could be doing better. Now, age 14, Angelica decides to use her gift to find the perfect match for her mother. But she’ll have to be sneaky about it. What better way than to set up a dating website! Designed with her mum in mind and questions concocted
Another gift of joy from Sedgwick, the Angelica Touch is filled with heart and warmth. With a setting and characters that fire the imagination, the reader gets sucked in to Angelica’s world immediately and pulled along on an incredible ride of the emotions. While Angelica is trying to grow into her own true self (and doing a marvelous job),the give and take in the relationship with her mother is at once unique and typical, deeply touching and completely grates. Both are guilty of getting it utterly wrong and completely right. This hits at the soul of what it means to be a teenage daughter. Each and every character is a real gem; quirky, well described and fully realised. Their own stories of past and present weave many coloured threads throughout and make the core story all the richer. Pitch perfect and with a great pace, just when you think this story can only end one way, a surprise twist brings an even more satisfying conclusion. This is a wonderful, imaginative tale that will leave you smiling. (13+)
author: Sheena Wilkinson
Ink Road (20 April 2017)
After winning a TV talent competition and becoming pop sensation RyLee, Ryans’ life has taken a downward turn. The following spell of addiction and media scrutiny, his career hit rock-bottom and Ryan landed in rehab to emerge under virtual house arrest by his controlling manager/stepfather. After a near tragic incident at home, Ryan runs from this old life and emerges in Belfast. Singing on the streets, he reinvents himself as ‘Cal’, joining with an amazingly talented young band and finally playing the music he wants to play. Just when he is happy; just when he is living life on his terms; his past begins to catch up with Ryan and he discovers that you can’t run forever.
Written with passion and insight, Street Song is everything YA fiction needs to be. The story is gritty, realistic and so well-written as it takes you, not only on the physical journey the tale recounts, but on a journey inside the lead characters heart and mind, bringing the reader to a place where they feel the story as much as read it. The characters are superbly developed throughout; each one on their own path, each one coming to terms with the reality of their own life. The settings are described so well that it is not only easy to visualise, but the reader will believe they can go to those places and recognise them immediately. The world Wilkinson has created is expert and breath-taking in its’ depth and accuracy. While the situation our young protagonist finds himself in is very specific, the struggle, the confusion, the decision-making processes, the friendship and family issues allow his story to stand as metaphor for every young person. Street Song could easily be described as a ‘coming-of-age’ novel, but it is so very much more. On top of this, its’ a real page-turner. Honestly, just read it. (And then read everything else she has written….)
author : Sarah Crossan
Bloomsbury Childrens (7 September 2017)
Joe hasn’t seen his brother for 10 years. Ed…his brother, his hero, his protector, the one who helped Joe make sense of his world…gone. And for the worst conceivable reason. Ed left in his aunt’s car, promising to come back for 7 year-old Joe and now, he’s sitting on death row. The date for Ed’s execution has come and Joe will not let him wait alone. He is going to be there for his brother, regardless of what anyone thinks. Joe travels to Texas to spend those last few precious weeks with his brother…and, just maybe, get some answers.
This exquisitely lyrical verse novel offering from Crossan is beautiful…filled with genuine emotion and empathy and unanswered questions. The reader feels the impact of the story from the very first page. The story rolls between memories from the familys’ difficult past and the harsh reality of the present. Embedded throughout its’ telling are the typical concerns that anyone just leaving school, while trying to deal with a situation that finds Joe completely out of his depth. Trying to find joy in a grim situation, Joe attempts to support himself in a place that he doesn’t know anything about and cope with an onslaught of media, the rumour mill of society and a complex mine-field of the criminal justice system. And yet, I doubt that any other author could write a story such as this with the grace, gentleness and finesse that Crossan shows. Moonrise is powerful. Just read it. (14+)
author: Alice Broadway
Scholastic (2 February 2017)
In Saintstone, each resident has their entire life tattooed on their body…every act, every deed, every significant moment; always on view for all to see. When they die, their skin is removed and compiled into a book of their life. It is then reviewed and it is decided if the book will stand as testament to a good life for which they will be remembered, or destroyed and forgotten forever. The biggest threat to society is the Blanks; those without tattoos whose lives cannot be read and are considered dangerous and subversive.
Leoras’ father has just died. As the family wait for the verdict on his Skin Book, Leora discovers that his book has been ‘edited’ and his life story is incomplete. A dark secret has been withheld from her all of her life and now, her whole world is under threat.Everything she thought she knew, everything she believed is called into question. But her father was a good man. He deserves to be remembered; doesn’t he? As Leora enters a life as an Inker, her friendships expand and, like her, many now call the regulations and laws that have kept them secure. Leoras’ once certain future, as well as her memories of life, become very uncertain indeed.
The first of a trilogy, Ink is fresh, original, thought-provoking and enthralling. A picture is painted within the pages that is so clear and vivid, it allows the reader to enter the world and become part of it with a fully suspended disbelief…you are there. That world is real.The characters are alive with depth and nuance. Their friendships and relationships are fully realised with layer upon layer of emotion and complexity. Many parallels can be drawn between the social/political society of Saintstone and its’ surrounding environs and our own world; and this leads to much pondering of our present state of affairs. But this does not overwhelm a story that is filled with texture and life. Definitely YA territory, I have not read a book like this in a very long time. It stands out, head and shoulders among the numbers of fantasy/dystopian novels for young adults. Highly recommended!
author: Patrick Ness
Walker Books (4 May 2017)
It’s Saturday. It’s the height of summer. And today, everything changes…absolutely everything. Outside a small town in the Pacific northwest, a ghost has risen and is acting out an eerie, confused mythology while the towns’ residents go about their normal lives. Adam Thorne, son of the local, highly respected minister, is planning to attend a summer party at the lake, while preparing to go to work, making plans with his best friend, his concealed boyfriend… just another normal Saturday. But what Adam doesn’t know is today is the day when his life is going to fall apart completely. But perhaps, when it does, Adam will find freedom hidden within its’ release.
An incredibly personal, tender look at the uncertainties of coming-of-age, Release is beautifully and brutally honest, heartfelt and simply stunning. It examines family life and the constructs of social structure with an exacting, sometimes shocking eye while never once dipping into the realm of sensationalism. His use of the supernatural/mythological serves to provide backdrop of explanation as to why these things are and to demonstrate the iconography that exists in human life. It says the things we feel, but cannot prove. And all the while, Release gives us a story; true, emotional and all too familiar. The wonderful and the earth-shattering, the weird and completely ordinary all collide to form one day that alters, not just Adams’ life, but that of the reader. And the journey through that day is breath-taking. Any review simply cannot do it justice.
DAD’S RED DRESS
author: L.J. Sedgwick
Janey Mac Books (February 2017)
Jessie Keane just wants her family to be normal… utterly, completely normal. Having moved from L.A. back to Ireland, normality would offer a chance to avoid the ‘looks’, the rumours and the bullying that she has dealt with in the past. But ‘normal’ is hardly possible. Not with a little sister who claims to have been abducted by the Virgin Mary (twice), a wildly contemporary artist stepmother anda creative architect father with a penchant for cross-dressing. As she tries to balance this eccentric, yet loving family, and what she hopes will be an ordinary school life, Jessie is put to the test when a new development shakes the façade
When I picked up Dad’s Red Dress, I expected a book that was quirky, entertaining and funny. What I did not expect was a novel that spoke to the heart of what it means to grow up. Filled with vivid, genuine characters and complex, conflicting family drama, it is joyous, loving and truly unique among the vast canon of coming-of-age stories. Each character is intricately drawn. Difficult subject matter is handled with great sensitivity. The dialogue is realistic and relatable for any young person. And while the situation may be unusual, the emotional impact is not. It gives the reader much to consider about life, friendship, who we really are and what makes a family. Dad’s Red Dress is indeed humourous; a delight to read. Simply wonderful.
(Review published :Childrens Books Ireland Inis Magazine http://childrensbooksireland.ie/review/dads-red-dress/ )
AFTER THE FIRE
author: Will Hill
Usborne (1 June 2017)
Moonbeam has spent all but her earliest years inside the Base, in the compound of the Holy Church of the Lord’s Legion. She belongs to them. And she has been promised to become one of Father John’s wives. But all that was Before. After a fierce battle with the Government; After the fire, Moonbeam’s entire world has been shattered. She is now injured, but alive and severely damaged and disillusioned. Closely monitored and in intensive therapy, Moonbeam tells her story and the story of her Family. She painstakingly reveals all that happened on the Base, the events that led up to the battle and what happened during the fire.
After the Fire grabs hold of the reader from the very first page and never lets up. A riveting, at times painful read, this is an inquiry into faith, corruption, society, humanity and, mostly survival. The vast number of themes running through the text and how they play on each other give a view of the complexity of the human being and the world.Moonbeam is an extremely rounded and sympathetic character. Her flaws and strengths are slowly, purposefully brought to light with much understanding and insight. There is real texture and nuance as she explores her own story, her belief, the ever present voice in her head that was part of a life-long indoctrination, her healing and her feelings. The examination of those surrounding her is intricate, with an almost forensic accuracy. But the pace of this novel is phenomenal. Page after page offers new revelations and the reader is gripped and pulled through the book as if we, ourselves are involved in an investigation. The action is explosive. Very sophisticated and incredibly tense, this book is simply extraordinary. Read it!
author: Gabrielle Zevin
Bloomsbury Childrens (14 July 2016)
After meeting her end in a hit and run accident, 15-year-old Liz finds herself aboard the SS Nile, on her way to Elsewhere. Coming to terms with her death difficult enough, and it takes her many months to realise that she IS actually dead. Liz spends time watching her family and friends while on the other side before finally settling into her new friendships; most notably with Curtis, an aging rock star who died of a drug overdose, Thandi, a young black girl killed in a drive-by shooting and her grandmother, a woman she never met in life, but now lives with in the Afterlife. But ‘life’ in Elsewhere offers Liz the possibility to do all the things she didn’t get to do previously, and some things she’d never be able to do. Here she can learn to drive a car, fall in love, hold down a job, speak Canine. In Elsewhere, things carry on almost as normal, with the distinct difference that the residents age backwards from the time they died. As new relationships are formed and old wounds are healed, they are also strained and tested as reverse aging carries back to the moment they are released to travel across the sea and be reborn…
First published in 2005, this is a celebratory re-publishing of one of the most joyous, touching, unique books imaginable. Filled with marvelous detail and imaginative, touching relationships, Zevin spins an incredible tale of possibility, restitution, redemption and re-birth. It is poignant, honest, at times heart-breaking and utterly brilliant. I recommend it to absolutely everyone. Completely memorable, you will what to revisit Elsewhere again and again.
NOTHING TASTES AS GOOD
author: Claire Hennessy
Hot Key Books (June 2016)
Annabel worked hard all her young life to be “lighter than air” but she could never seem to get thin enough. No one ever understood; no one could ever help and now, as a result of her quest for her view of perfection, she finds herself, having died as a result, as a “spirit helper” of sorts. Her first assignment is Julia. Julias’ problem seems fairly obvious to Annabel. Julia is fat and that is why she’s so unhappy. As Annabel spends time getting to know Julia, she becomes a voice in her head..guiding her to exercise, limit her food intake…pushing her all the while to lose that weight. But along the line, Annabel starts to think about other aspects of her own life; family, friends…and maybe, that happiness comes more than being thin. And what really happens when you listen to the voices in your head.
Claire Hennessys’ marvelous new book stands apart in the sea of newly published YA fiction. It tackles the very prevalent issues surrounding eating disorders and body image with a great deal of compassion and clear perception, not to mention some extraordinarily fine writing. The reader is taken on a journey of discovery through both central characters; you get into their heads and feel them, understand them…gradually unraveling what is going on in there. Annabels’ resistance to her task and responsibilities, as well as (more importantly) her development of a full view of what happened to her is frustrating, but moving at the same time. It is a powerful indictment to see how easily Annabels’ voice gets inside Julia and begins to manipulate her behaviour; a poignant reminder of the force of social pressure and how easily you can lose yourself; how difficult it is to get back to your own voice. With carefully crafted plot and character development, the story is woven, frayed and re-woven frayed, coming to a resolution that, though not cut and dried, is filled with potential. A truly exceptional vision; unique and riveting. Read it!
author: E.R. Murray
Alma Books Ltd. (May 2016)
Liv Bloom has a complicated life….too complicated for a 14-year-old. Her father left the family when she was very young, her mother is in a recovery centre trying to deal (or not) with her alcoholism, and her older sister, Hatty, has taken a break from Uni to take care of Liv while her mother can’t. Liv and Hatty are really struggling. The only one Liv seems to be able to turn to is her best friend, Sarah. But Liv has discovered a recipe book written in her mothers’ handwriting…her mother before her father left, before the drinking, before her world fell apart….and embarks on a journey of discovery. Through trying to replicate her mothers’ recipes, Liv discovers something she is really good at, something that takes her out of her misery and gives her a new focus. But things are never that straight forward and a a possible new love, threats and an attack by a school bully that used to be a close friend and a reconciliation with the past bring more chaos into Livs’ life. Some hard lessons are still there for the learning.
This is a heart-felt novel about just how difficult growing up can be and the real value of friendship, family and understanding. While Caramel Hearts is a beautiful read, it is not an easy one. The realism with which it deals with the subjects of alcoholism, bullying, and family dysfunction is gritty and, at times, disturbing. But it is written with finesse and compassion.The mother-daughter relationship is explored deeply, with great insight even for those not coping with alcoholism or difficult issues. It is truly revealing. The intricacies of the relationship between the two sisters is handled beautifully, the love, the anger, the struggle. And Livs’ character sings with the energy and confusion of a teenage girl trying to deal with things she shouldn’t have to deal with. Structured around the recipes, this is a YA novel that is warm and revealing. I highly recommend it to all, as there is something here for everyone. A marvellous and important read.
THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE
author: Patrick Ness
Walker Books (27 August 2015)
Mikey, Mel, Henna and Jared are just ordinary, normal kids (well…mostly). Their concerns are normal concerns; love, stomachs, making it through to graduation and going to the prom before someone blows up the school….again. Their lives are played out against a backdrop extraordinary, weird events like fighting off zombies or vampires or whatever this new thing is, with the blue lights and explosions and death. Mikey doesn’t want to be a hero. He doesn’t want to save the world from its’ latest imminent destruction. Because some things are bigger than the end of the world.
Patrick Ness always offers the best and the most incisive reading and this book is no exception. The Rest of Us Just Live Here champions the ordinary and finding the genuinely remarkable in the most commonplace; something that everyone needs. Ness writes with keen insight into the emotional world, not just of young adults about to enter the world, but of all of these around them. The huge, big, world events that threaten day to day life takes a back seat to just trying to make it through. Yet, the kids who are just trying to make it through exist in a state of collateral damage to these events. The adults in this book are both misunderstanding and misunderstood. In one particular scene, the mother remarks, almost casually, certainly wistfully, that weird things were happening when she was young as well, which fires off an understanding of her childrens’ lives that is not quite reached… because we don’t really want to go back there, do we? In the meantime, the ‘indie kids’ are fighting off the latest demons for the greater good.
Written with enormous compassion, quirky and pinpoint sense of humour and while telling a great story, this book speaks for the everyday. The characters are just like us… it’s heroes are not the ‘special’ ones. The Rest of Us also riffs on every single dystopian, fantasy genre and every fab seen so far in YA literature, while giving the reader a sense of a certain stable instability. These things are always happening….you will make it through….you don’t have to be any more, anything greater than what you are. That is enough. Brilliantly written, entirely remarkable and utterly readable. It is both worldly and intimate. This is pure genius.
author: Sheena Wilkinson
Little Island (26 February 2015)
Moving, strong and compassionate, Wilkinson gives us a story that is important and challenges the reader. With echoes of The Great Gatsby, it is a story of seemingly reluctant and impossible love, of overcoming the ghosts of ones’ past and developing a self-belief and confidence that allows the course of life to unfold. I have to say something, first of all about the way Wilkinson handles her depiction of epilepsy…she has it exactly right. The way she shows what happens with a seizure, the dangers of simply ‘falling’ and the effects this condition has on a persons’ view of themselves; along with the misconceptions and concerns of those who lives are intertwined with someone with epilepsy is spot on. Also, the story of falling in love is amazingly rendered. This is no simple tale of love and beating the odds…not a simple ‘us vs. them’ story. It is told with genuine and richly layered voices with all the passion, confusion and fallibilty that happens, not just within the confines of young love, but with us all at any given stage in life. There are no easy answers here. It is gritty, heart-felt and all too real. Marvelous….simply marvelous. Highly recommended for 14 +.
I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN
author: Jandy Nelson
Dial Books (Penguin) (2014) ISBN 9780803734968
Jude and Noah are incredible close, nearly inseparable twins. At 13, reclusive Noah draws constantly; painting and drawing in his head when no paper is to hand, and feeling everything. Jude is the dare-devil; boisterous, cliff-diving and talking for the both of them. But at 16, a tragedy has driven them apart….now they barely speak to each other; avoiding each other at all costs. And they hold blame anger towards each other, and towards those around them. The earlier years are told in Noah’s voice; the later in Jude’s; as they come to the realisation that each one has only half of the story.
What an incredible power-house of a story! Eloquent and emotional, Nelson gives voice to, not only the story that unfolds, but the confusion; the noise that takes place in each twins head as they try to make sense of what has happened, how they became who they are, and how they will resolve and grow. Nelson is expert at this, as was evident in her earlier book, The Sky is Everywhere. The twins’ stories, both individually and collectively, tumble across the pages in the way that all our stories move in the years in question. A ‘coming-of-age’ story, yes; but with more. This book gives an important glimpse into how people and families; and entire communities; create and live their own mythologies….and how they recreate when the myths don’t hold up. Intricately woven, passionate and quiet at once, profoundly moving; I’ll Give You the Sun pulls you through the pages and leaves you breathless, with some very compelling insights. Wow!
WE WERE LIARS
author: E. Lockhart
Hot Key Books (2014) ISBN: 9781471403989
“Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure……”
And into this family is born Cadence Sinclair Eastman. Nearly 18, educated, bright, promising. Her fondest moments are spent on the Sinclairs’ own private island off the coast of Massachusetts with her grandparents, her mother, aunts and the wonderful Sinclair cousins and Gat. Gat came to spend the summers with them when Cadence was eight and became as much a parent of the family as the rest. Each sub-family has their own house….and their own petty jealousies and issues. Two years ago, Cadence suffered an accident on the island. Now, nothing is the same. Everything is broken…and all the privilege and beauty in the world won’t bring back the life she knew.
This book chronicles the event and lives of the entire Sinclair family through Cadence’s eyes. All the time spent that seems to tragically lead to the accident. Her perceptions are, of course skewed; her understanding clouded and confused. Through the telling of this tale of love, family, romance and tragedy, the reader gets a story of childhood adventures and growing up in a refined, wealthy and privileged life. A mystery is created that very few will figured out along the way. It has realistic, genuine characters and an ending adventures and growing up in a refined, wealthy and privileged life. A mystery is created that very few will figured out along the way. It has realistic, genuine characters and an ending you will not see coming. An eloquent and moving book about love, guilt, grief and perception; We Were Liars is a subtle, quiet, profound triumph.