Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Truth about Celia Frost by Paula Rawsthorne

Celia has lived her whole life, nearly fifteen years, in fear. Any knock, bang, cut or graze could kill her due to a rare and untreatable disorder which stops her blood from clotting. She has been moved from school to school, home to home, her mother always trying to avoid questions about her condition.

When Celia is involved in a violent incident at school, what should have been a fatal knife attack surprises everyone, not least Celia, by not killing her. Celia begins to wonder if there is something her mother has never told her, something much more sinister than a blood disorder.

With her new found friend Sol, she starts to investigate the truth behind her mother's strange behaviour and hysterical over-protectiveness, but will Celia lead herself into more danger than ever before?

The Truth about Celia Frost is a great thriller from a debut author, and should put Paula Rawsthorne firmly on the map as a bright new talent in teen fiction.

Age group 12+
Published by Usborne Publishing 

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

This wonderful story is told by Skip, a sensitive and artistic young boy who runs away from home at the beginning of the book and finds himself homeless in a big Australian city. He is befriended by Billy, a slightly grizzled older man, who is a companion to Skip and an ally against the big city.

When the war starts and the bombs start falling, Skip and Billy search each other out amongst the devastation, and along the way find Max, a six year old boy who has lost his mother. The little band of outcasts travel together to find a place that is safe, a place where they can wait for a good time to look for Max's mother. They end up in an abandoned fairground, living rough in the ghost train, and it's here that they meet teenager Tia, and her baby.
The group fight internal and external battles, brought on by war, fear and love and all the while the danger is getting closer.

From the title to the very last page, this book can only be described as beautiful. It's also warm, funny, hopeful, tragic and thought-provoking, but beautiful is the word that was in my head as I turned the last page.

Age group 12+
Published by Templar Publishing 

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

It's taken me a while to get round to writing this review. Not because I was unenthusiastic about the book, on the contrary, I want to do it justice, because it's actually really, really good.

This first book in the new Shades of London series sees sixteen year old American student Rory Deveaux travel to England to attend an exclusive boarding school in modern-day Whitechapel. As we know, Whitechapel is Jack the Ripper territory, and it so happens that Rory's arrival coincides with a brutal killing in the area, with all the hallmarks of the Ripper himself. Rapidly, Ripper fever takes over, but with no witnesses, and CCTV footage which shows the victim being murdered, but not the murderer, events become more serious than anyone imagined.

In the midst of the chaos, Rory realises that she has seen the killer, when no-one else was able to, and that he knows she saw him. Luckily, help arrives in an unexpected form and the race is on to stop the murderer before he silences Rory and strikes again.

Author of the acclaimed '13 Little Blue Envelopes', Maureen Johnson has turned her talents to the paranormal  with this new book, and what talents she has! While we are drowning in a sea of paranormal romance, Johnson has managed to write voices that stand out from the crowd and a plot that keeps you guessing until the last page. Rory is a joy of a character; feisty and funny, it's like Georgia Nicolson has been dropped into the murky backstreets of Jack the Ripper's London and is loving every minute. I can't wait for book two!

Age group 13+
Published by HarperCollins Children's Books 29/09/2011

Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts

Across the world, earthquakes shudder. Something is released. Trust no-one - not even yourself. The killing game has begun...

Four different stories run in parallel through this pre to post-apocalyptic tale. We follow Michael, Aries, Mason and Clementine as their lives change irreversibly following a series of worldwide earthquakes that lead to devastation and terror. The earthquakes not only cause terrible destruction to the world's major cities, but also have a terrifying effect on a large proportion of the population. Friends attack each other, parents brutally kill their own children, boyfriends turn on girlfriends as an unstoppable rage takes over people's brains.

Our four lead characters are unaffected by the rage, and so they are in an immediate and thrilling fight for survival, each narrowly avoiding a savage death on several occasions. We travel with them as they each make a slow and painful journey to safety, losing friends and allies regularly along the way.

Dark Inside is a very filmic book, which put me in mind of a (slightly) milder version of The Road or I am Legend. The journey is dark and bleak, with tension throughout. The difference between this book and some of the other zombie-type fiction around at the moment is the moments of clarity that some of the killing creatures experience. They are not all mindless murderers with a desire for brains. They are tactical and cunning, which makes them all the more scary, and the reader more fearful for the main characters as they learn, too late in some cases, not to trust anyone.

Jeyn Roberts has debuted with an accomplished and pretty scary novel, one which I wouldn't be surprised to see 'coming to a cinema near you'...

Age group 13+
Published by Macmillan Children's Books 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

From the second she sets eyes on him, Helen Hamilton despises Lucas Delos. She accepts that it's pretty irrational, after all she doesn't know him, but regardless of irrationality, when she sees him, she is overwhelmed by a desire to cause him great pain, kill him even. This is a slightly tricky situation, given that they go to the same school, and as Helen soon discovers, attacking a fellow pupil in the hallway is not really the done thing.

Despite hating Lucas with a passion, Helen isn't blind to the fact that he is the most gorgeous boy she has ever seen in her life. Feeling totally conflicted, and a bit crazy, Helen decides to stay out of his way as much as possible. You won't be surprised to hear that this doesn't go quite to plan...

Before long, Helen and Lucas are thrown together, as she begins to discover the ancient secrets of her ancestry. Connected in ways she never thought possible, Helen and Lucas become increasingly conflicted about their love-hate relationship, and between them, they must make a decision that could affect the fate of the world. Can love triumph over such ancient adversity? Can the gods really keep them apart?

You may think you've had enough of paranormal romance -  gorgeous boys with special powers romancing ordinary human girls feels so 2009, but bear with me on this one. Starcrossed is actually really good. If you loved Twilight when it first came out, and nothing has really had the same effect for you, I would urge you to give this a go. The characters take a while to warm to, but once you have, you're really rooting for them to overcome their apparently impossible hurdles.

There are obvious similarities to the Cullens - there's the big and burly older brother, a sister who has 'visions', and of course the painfully gorgeous central character. This doesn't matter when you're reading Starcrossed, the story is so involving that any little niggles can be put to one side as you're taken along on the ride!

Age group 13+
Published by Macmillan Children's Books 

Between by Jessica Warman

So, you wake up on your dad's boat the morning after your eighteenth birthday and go outside for a breath of fresh air. An annoying thumping sound coming from somewhere on the boat is driving you mad, so you go and check it out. You look over the side of the boat and see your own dead body floating in the water, your fab new boots hitting the hull as the waves make the little boat bob about on the water.

This is how Elizabeth Valchar discovers that she's actually dead. Now that is a bad hangover.

While Elizabeth's friends are waking up and finding out that their friend is dead, Elizabeth herself is joined by Alex, the boy from her school who was killed in a hit and run the year before. To say they were never friends while they were alive is an understatement. Elizabeth and her friends were the popular crowd, and delighted in tormenting Alex, as well as anyone else who didn't quite make the grade.

As well as coming to terms with the fact that she's dead, Elizabeth realises that she has no memory of the events leading up to her death and hopes that with Alex's help she can discover the truth.  Piece by piece her memory returns and she comes to realise that she may not have been such a great person when she was alive.

While Elizabeth is on her journey of self-discovery, she also gets to watch how her friends and family are coming with the aftermath of her death and finds out some disturbing secrets along the way. Could one of the people she loved so much actually be responsible for her death? And did she deserve everything she got anyway?

Between is a great book - a bit of mystery, a bit of romance and a big twist. Keep an eye on this one, I think you'll be seeing it the bestseller lists when it's published.

Age group 13+
Published by Egmont Books 

Being Billy by Phil Earle

Call me heartless, but I don't often cry over books (or films and TV for that matter, apart from when Madge died in Neighbours- tragic). I don't know why, but it has to be something very particular to get me reaching for the tissues. It's something I've tried to address over the years - watching Bambi and ET, attempting to read Sophie's Choice etc. Not a single tear between them, which is something I have become quite proud of.
Now Phil Earle has gone and ruined my record, because Being Billy actually made me cry.

Billy Finn is the epitome of a troubled teenager. He was taken into care, along with his little brother and sister, when he was six and now, at fourteen, he's angry. Angry with his mum, who stood drunkenly by while her boyfriend beat Billy for the slightest thing. Angry with the care workers at the home he lives in. Angry with the system for threatening to take his brother and sister away from him. Angry with himself for ruining any chances of a normal life that he's been offered.

When Billy is given a final warning to sort out his behaviour and is threatened with being moved to a different type of facility, away from his siblings, he realises he has to make some sort of effort. He starts showing his face at school, and even makes the closest thing to a friend that he's ever had, Daisy. He is trying, but being Billy, he still manages to get himself into trouble. With the help of his long-term carer and arch-rival, Ron (or The Colonel, as Billy calls him) Billy manages to get himself together slightly for the sake of his little family.  That's when he finds out that his mum is taking his brother and sister back to live with her. Without Billy.

How is Billy going to get through it, and will his mum finally rise to the challenge of having children?

Debut author Phil Earle has produced an incredible novel. It's not hard to guess that Phil has actually worked in a children's home and must have seen the reality of lives like Billy's because the voices sound so real. Somehow he has managed to blend tragedy and humour, violence and tenderness completely seamlessly. Reading this book, I occasionally felt like shouting at Billy to stop whining and sort himself out, because I was so desperate for him to get his happily ever after. 

If Being Billy isn't a multi-award winner by this time next year, I'll be amazed. Read it, and weep.

Age group 14+
Published by Puffin Books 

Pretty Twisted by Gina Blaxill

When Jonathan's girlfriend Freya moves to London to study music, he feels left out, and jealous that she's living the life that he wants for himself. He misses her too, and jumps at the chance to visit her when he can. Things don't go to plan though, and after a big row, Freya decides enough is enough and sends Jonathan away.

When he doesn't hear from Freya for a few days, Jonathan assumes that she's ignoring him. It's only when he discovers she has missed work and hasn't been in contact with any of her friends or family, does he realise she's gone missing. Knowing that there has been a recent spate of murders in the area, Jonathan sets out to find out what's happened to Freya. With the help of Ros, a young girl he meets in an internet chat room, he traces Freya's last known movements and makes a shocking discovery. Will Jonathan and Ros find Freya, or is it already too late?

Pretty Twisted is a great crime thriller for age 14 plus. Gina Blaxill has managed to create a plot full of tension, and characters that you can really believe in. Well worth a read.

Age group 13+
Published by Macmillan Children's Books 06/05/2011

Department 19 by Will Hill

Department 6 is the Army.
Department 13 is MI5.
Department 19 is the reason you're alive.

And so begins one of the best debut YA novels so far this year.

Jamie Carpenter's life is thrown into turmoil when his mum is kidnapped by a group of bizarre and terrifying creatures.  Before this moment, Jamie knew nothing about the supernatural threats that we humans are protected from by Department 19, even though, as it transpires, his dad was a Department 19 operative himself.

Jamie sets out on a mission to save his mum, and pretty soon is being trained in the art of vampire slaying. Forget the garlic though, these vampires are tougher than that, and Jamie gets to use some seriously high-tech weaponry. With the help of some larger-than-life characters, including Frankenstein and an escaped, apparently reformed vampire, Jamie gets closer to finding his mum and closer to finding out the truth about his dad. The problem is, who can he trust along the way, and who will reach their goal in one piece?

Will Hill's debut novel is a seriously action-packed ride through the history of vampires to the present day. It's full of blood and gore, but actually has a heart at its centre and this is what makes it such a well-formed story.
Department 19 is a perfect read for 13 and up (and when I say up, I mean adults too). There's plenty of blood and exploding vampires to keep boys entertained, but enough warmth and personality to appeal to girls too. So if you're normally put off by the whole fang-love thing, rest assured, there is not a sparkly vampire in sight.

Age group 13+
Published by Harpercollins on 31/03/2011

The plus side of commuting...

Since I moved house, my journey to work has increased from a pleasant ten minute walk, to an hour and a half commute from NW to SW London.  As you can imagine, this leaves a lot of time for reading, if only to avoid making eye contact with some of the weird and wonderful characters one encounters on the tube. As a result, I am now speeding through my unread books, so here are the first few reviews...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness 
The original idea for A Monster Calls came from the late Siobhan Dowd, a brilliant writer of teen fiction who sadly passed away in 2007 before she had time to write this book. Award-winning author Patrick Ness was asked to take Siobhan's spark of an idea and run with it. He has certainly done that.

"The monster showed up after midnight. As they do"

Conor is visited nightly by the monster. It comes from the graveyard behind the house

he shares with his mum, but this is a different kind of monster from the one in the nightmares he's been having since his mum became ill.

The monster from the graveyard tells Conor stories from long ago, and these tales lead Conor to confront his nightmare head-on, with life-changing consequences.

A Monster Calls is a beautifully written (and illustrated) novel of two parts. The tales told by the monster have the traditional feel of folk stories - with a twist, while Conor's story is a heartwrenching journey through his mother's illness and his own attempts to deal with the difficulties that brings. The interaction between Conor and the monster is funny and touching and brings the story together seamlessly. The two parts blended together create an intensely moving and gripping book, the only criticism of which is that it's impossible to put down.

Age group 12+
Published by Walker Books 03/05/2011

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Begin the Begin

And so begins my attempt to review some of the MANY books I have. Some are already read, others yet to be explored. They are in tottering piles next to the bed, languishing in corners of the house in varying quality 'bags for life', double-layered in my floor to ceiling bookcases and overflowing from the proof copy shelves at the bookshop I work in.

Having recently moved house and been forced to hire a removal van for the sole purpose of moving my books, I have decided that the time has come to give them the attention they deserve and hopefully give someone (anyone?) some great recommendations in the process.

So here goes...