Friday, 11 March 2011

Review Roundup March 2011

A Bit Lost Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton,
Walker £11.99
Little Owl falls from the nest in this stylish picture book. Luckily a pink squirrel and a blue frog are on hand to help him on his quest to find Mummy.
The terror of getting lost! Any small child can identify with this predicament. Indeed, Little Owl represents the frightened infant in all of us and his short, simple story will engage readers of all ages. The minimal text lends itself to reading aloud and would make an enjoyable bedtime story.
The strength is in the illustrations. The pictures are clear and uncluttered. The colour scheme of gold, blue and orange creates a strangely foreign air. The characters are realised with eye-catching simplicity. Little Owl tugs at the hearts strings. Squirrel and Frog are almost modern art by design. As for Blue Bear, filling a page all by himself in the middle of the book, you’ll want to take him home.Little Owl’s tumble itself is depicted with clever sleight of hand, using a half page cut. However this is the only gimmick in the book. Which is a relief, because this story doesn’t need any.
Ian Douglas

Well Done, Dougal Written and illustrated by Benedict Blathwaite
Red Fox £5.99
ISBN: 978-1849410403_
This shows Dougal the yellow digger working hard beside the harbour with his gang of workmen. A group of children nearby go out to sea on a fishing boat but get marooned on a sandbank at low tide. The men hitch a rope to Dougal, who pulls their boat free and the children return safely to shore.
A simple short story with bold illustrations and numerous details for young children to enjoy. There’s plenty for adults to point out and share, which take the reading far beyond the immediate story. There are opportunities to name and count the seashells, seagulls and all sorts of other details in the pictures. Two undersea pictures provide a further chance for discussion, although some young children may find the sudden change of perspective quite difficult to understand.
Liz Dubber

Grub in Love Written by Abi Burlingham
Illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Piccadilly £5.99
The course of true love never did run smooth, at least not for Grub, the hero of this lovely book. There are new neighbours for Ruby and Tilly but neither is happy. Ruby doesn’t like boys and so is very unhappy about Billy. Grub does not like Tilly, Billy’s dog … at least not at the beginning of the story! Life is simple for humans - they can talk to each other but for dogs it is more difficult when their owners do not even let them play together. Fortunately for Grub and Tilly, it all ends happily
The book scores well in all areas; the cover is attractive and enticing, the illutratrations are clear and humorous and there is lots of rhythm and repetition. It is a book that can be enjoyed by adults and children sharing or by developing independent readers.
Patricia Thompson

Rabbit Pie Written by Penny Ives
Illustrated by Gerald Rose
Child’s Play £5.99
On first looking at this book, I did hesitate a moment, wondering if my first thoughts about the front and back covers could really be true! Title? Rabbit Pie, an illustration of lots of rabbits which usually go into a rabbit pie and a synopsis which reads, making a rabbit pie can be tiring, especially if the ingredients won’t sit still! However, open the book and read on and a different and delightful scenario emerges! The text is written as a recipe but with completely different outcomes to a conventional rabbit pie. It is a lovely story of bedtime in the rabbit household, using simple words and comprehensive illustrations. It offers lots of opportunities for observation and discussion between adults and children
Patricia Thompson

Goodnight Tiptoe Written and Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
The latest in Polly Dunbar’s Tilly and Friends series, Goodnight Tiptoe is a bedtime story. Everyone in the little yellow house is ready to sleep, everyone except Tiptoe. As Tilly gets on with the bedtime routines, putting Pru the chicken’s rollers in, brushing Doodle the crocodile’s teeth, Tiptoe just cannot settle down, not even after a bedtime story and lullaby. But in the end it is Tiptoe that comforts Tilly as they snuggle down together.This is a cosy book. The characters are beautifully drawn, with gentle lines and colours that create a warm atmosphere that parents of toddlers will be drawn to. The simple text moves the story along with plenty of dialogue. And if even Tiptoe can eventually settle for the night, perhaps anyone can.
Annalise Taylor

IRIS AND ISAAC Written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner Little Tiger Press £10.99
Two polar bears have a squabble and walk off in opposite directions. Iris sees a flock of Eiders fly by, but there is no one to share this wonderful sight with. Isaac watches two Arctic foxes playing in the snow. What a pity Iris isn’t there to see them. Can the two patch up their differences? A young audience will appreciate the large, expressive illustrations that tell a gentle but powerful story.
Marianne Adey

Wasim One-Star Written by Chris Ashley
Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst
Francis Lincoln (R) £5.99
ISBN 978-847801081
These Wasim books were published in 1997, first came out in paperback in 2007 and it’s understandable why they’re reprinted. They’re great for newly confident readers and totally relevant to children in schools today.Wasim (One-Star) is mortified to be sent from the poolside during a school swimming session and not be able to earn his certificate. It’s so true that children don’t always listen and it’s also true that adults sometimes misjudge. However, all ends well and Wasim is ‘one’ very real ‘star’.
The fact that often these days, some children have a first language other than English, can have serious consequences when their understanding of a situation cannot be assured and should not be assumed.Wasim is a Muslim, but this is never the main storyline though Ramadan is part of the storyline in Wasim’s Challenge. Central to the Wasim books generally, is suspense, action, a sense of injustice that needs addressing and Chris Ashley’s obvious vast experience of managing groups of children who are completely individual and not always understood. Great books in an accessible format.
Gill Roberts

Ella Bella Ballerina and Cinderella Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
Orchard Books £5.99
ISBN 978-1846162992
Ella Bella hurries to Ballet Class only to discover she’s a ballet shoe short. Reassuringly, the wonderful Madame Rosa bids her “Don’t worry darling”, tells her she reminds her of Cinderella, they dance to the Cinderella Ballet music from the special magical music box and Madame Rosa tells Cinderella’s story. Ella Bella is so totally entranced, she lives and dances the Cinderella experience herself, true to Prokofiev’s interpretation of the original story by Charles Perrault. And the inspiring Madame Rosa comments that ‘Ella’ Bella even shares her name.
This book is beautifully created and is educational in the best possible way. You’re left wanting to source the music for yourself and read through the book again. Magic!
Gill Roberts

Cows in Action ‘The Moo-lympic Games Written and illustrated by Steve Cole
Red Fox £4.99
This is a ridiculously funny book based on a ridiculously funny concept. The CIA - Cows in Action - travel through time fighting the evil FBI - Fed-up-Bull-Institute. They want to pervert history for their own evil ends. In this pacey adventure they are in Ancient Greece where ultra-tough ter-moo-nators are threatening not just to take over the games but the whole world, replacing humans with wicked ox-athletes. Confused? I was, but it all works out in this meticulously plotted, wittily written, joke-laden romp through time. There are plenty of black-and-white cartoon style pictures to entertain and aid understanding. It’s perfect stuff for lads who may well learn a thing or two about Ancient Greece too.
Julia Jarman

Skulduggery Pleasant Mortal Coil Written by Derek Landy
HarperCollins £12.99
2010 has been a wonderful year for Skulduggery Pleasant fans, with two books being published. The fifth book in the series, Mortal Coil, is bigger, better, funnier and most definitely darker than ever. Valkyrie is struggling to come to terms with her dark secret which she keeps to herself, fearing that her friends would feel compromised if they found out. Meanwhile, the Remnants are on the loose, so for most of the book you are kept guessing as to who really are the good guys. There are fight scenes galore, written with such skill and enthusiasm that you feel breathless just reading them. The familiar wisecracking banter between Skulduggery and Valkyrie and just about everyone else is also present. Add to that the budding romance between Valkyrie and Fletcher and there is literally something for everyone. Landy has the knack of making the unbelievable totally believable and once again proves that he is not afraid to say goodbye to familiar faces, making his books so thrilling. As fans know each book ends with a cliff hanger; this one is no exception and maybe the most frightening one of all. A must read for everyone! Roll on September 2011.
Jane Hall

I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you. Written by Sally Carter
Orchard Books £5.99
ISBN: 978-1408309513
Gallagher Academy is known as a posh school for rich heiresses; but it’s really a school for geniuses, and a training ground for spies! Fifteen-year-old Cameron (Cammie) Morgan has a particular reason to study hard – her mother is the headmistress and her father has recently been killed on an assignment.
In this fourth Gallagher Academy adventure, Cammie and her friends are sent out beyond the school gates on a practical covert operations challenge. While she’s out Cammie meets and falls for a local boy. She can’t reveal the secret of her school, and life gets complicated as she tries to balance her love life with the serious demands of her schooling.
This is a fast paced adventure story, told with more than a hint of humour. The girls are forever using their wits and intelligence to manoeuvre their way through the challenges the school sets for them. The plot twists and turns with a lightness of touch and short chapters keep the whole story on the move. Cliff-hangers are used with skill to keep the reader interested. This is a great portrayal of relationships and loyalties between school friends, and makes an entertaining read likely to be enjoyed by younger teenagers.
Liz Dubber

Trash Written by Andy Mulligan
Published by David Fickling Books £10.99
Trash is a thrilling read for young teens, set in a highly unusual location. Raphael is 14-years-old, living in the slum that scrapes its living from the town rubbish dump. Every day he dreams of finding something valuable that will take his family and friends away from squalor and poverty. Then one day he finds a bag containing money, a letter and a key and his life changes forever. In Raphael, Garda and Rat, Andy Mulligan has created three extraordinary boys, all based in part on children he met while teaching in India and the Philippines. They are engaging, being at once clever, imaginative and rather devious in their bid to uncover the truth. The boys take turns at narrating their adventures, each with a distinctive, individual voice. Trash is written with real passion for the location and empathy for the characters, and the vivid descriptions make them both feel very real to the reader. The book contains plenty of suspense and there is excitement on every page, with just enough social comment to prompt children to think about the lives of others, without being heavy handed. A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking book.

The Secret Garden Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen
Templar £14.99
It is one hundred years since the publication of The Secret Garden, and Templar Publishing has celebrated this anniversary by issuing a new edition full of evocative illustrations by award winning artist Robert Ingpen. The images are suggestive rather than photographic, leaving plenty of space for a child’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Botanical studies head each chapter, building a sense of the plants that the children nurture in the garden beyond the wall.
Burnett’s story is as powerful as ever – the tale of two bruised, objectionable children and their journey to wholeness through the healing power of nature. Mary, an orphan living with her invalid cousin Colin, slowly learns about kindness through people who love nature; Ben the gardener and Dickon, not much older than herself but an animal charmer. She pulls Colin into this world and together they and the garden grow. Burnett was a master of the emotional finale, one can almost hear the music surging in the background, but the characters have come so far that they deserve the happy ending.
This is a truly beautiful book from cover to cover – a delight to share and pass on within a family.
Annalise Taylor

Foxly’s Feast Written and illustrated by Owen Davey
Templar £10.99
This wordless picture-book is a masterpiece! The stylised drawings are in muted colours of ochre and green, but Foxley the fox and his friend, the robin, are always clearly drawn, although maybe not to everyone’s taste. It’s clear from the start that Foxley is thinking about his dinner. As he goes around the farm he meets all sorts of animals and birds and food is constantly on his mind. Knowing adults and children will suspect his intentions and, near the end, Foxley appears ready to pounce. Everyone fears the worst. A surprise, after turning the page, shows Foxley to be a much more thoughtful diner than ever suspected. A great book for stimulating conversations and learning to expect the unexpected!
Liz Dubber

Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High! Written and illustrated by John Fardell
Andersen Press £10.99
Though Jeremiah is very good at drifting with the currents in a huge shoal, he is not your average stay-in-the shoal jellyfish. He feels the need to see the world and have an adventure. He bravely drifts out of his safe and dreamy life and finds more excitement than he could have ever imagined when he exchanges roles with the director-in-chief of a rocket plane company. As with all the best picture books, the text and illustrations work perfectly together and provide details, contrasts and layers of meaning to entertain and engage both adults and children. Inventive, witty and delightful.
Gill MacDonald

Brontorina Written by James Howe
Illustrated by Randy Cecil
Templar £5.99
This is a wonderful picture book affirming that we should all follow our dreams. Brontorina wants to dance – but as the dance teacher, Madame Lucille, points out - she is dinosaur and rather bigger than the other ballerinas. But this is no obstacle to Brontorina who, as she says, is a ballerina in her heart. When Madame Lucille and her students try to resolve the problems posed by Brontorina they learn that the answer is a matter of looking at them in the right way.
The story of Brontorina and her friends is delightful and the illustrations of this extra large ballerina, quite endearing. The colours are limited and muted but the soft shapes portray the characters very successfully.
Louise Stothard

Miki and the Moon Blossom Written and illustrated by Stephen Mackey
Hodder £10.99
Miki lives in a land of snow and ice with her friends Penguin and Polar Bear. One day a spiky seed blows past, and Polar Bear sticks it in the ground to hold up the washing line. Overnight the seed grows into a giant flower that lifts Miki’s house into the air. From the top of the moon blossom, the friends are taken on a windy adventure before being brought home. This gentle, charming story is illustrated with pretty, slightly smudgy pictures that create a unique, dreamy quality making it an ideal bedtime read.
Stella Maden

The Bear’s Picnic Written by John Yeoman
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Andersen Press £5.99
ISBN 978 1849390040
The pig, the squirrel, the hedgehog and the hen have been invited to join the bear on his water picnic, for which he has specially made a raft. All seems perfect. However, frog’s “May we join you?” is met with a rather direct “We’d very much like to share our picnic with you...if only you would stop going awrk, awrk.” The frog refrains from replying but when their help is requested and desperately needed, the awrk, awrk is no issue whatsoever! Finally, when they are all safe and well-fed and the frogs launch into song this time the animals were so happy that they all joined in.
All about tolerance and good manners, this lovely story was written and illustrated with the humour and skill typical of the brilliant John Yeoman and Quentin Blake.
Gill Roberts

When Night Didn’t Come Written and illustrated by Poly Bernatene Meadowside £10.99
Bernatene has produced a magnificent book without words that will fire the imagination of most children. While it may mean working harder to formulate a story, the stunning illustrations are full of life and offer every opportunity to develop tales that twist hither and thither with each viewing. It opens with pictures of a world that is full of gorgeous clockwork and gadgets. Day ends and night should surely follow. but when the moon doesn’t appear after the sun, it is up to a group of children to fix the problem. This truly delightful book enables the whole family to become involved with the book
Jayne Howarth

Goodbye, Mr Muffin Written by Ufl Nilsson
Illustrated by Anna- Clara Tidholm
Hawthorn Press £9.99
Mr Muffin is a seven-year-old guinea pig; tired and not very well. He always checks his letter box for an almond or piece of cucumber, but one day finds a letter from his young owner: I am so sad because daddy says that when guinea pigs get old they may suddenly die… Mr Muffin anxiously chews the letter to shreds then reflects on his happy life, when he was young, strong and father to six children. Alone with his tummy ache, he remembers all the happiness in his life; his home, wife, children, food and many cuddles. Two more letters in his box wonder what is next for him. Then he dies. A final letter explores what’s next in an unexpectedly honest and kind way. Muffin’s funeral ceremony and burial are sensitively handled and this book would help any child who has lost, or is in danger of losing, a pet.
Tina Massey

Katie and the Water Lily Pond Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
Orchard £10.99
Katie visits the art gallery with her Gran and finds out that there is a competition to see who can paint the best Monet-style picture. When Gran sits down to rest Katie goes off on her own and discovers she can step through the frames of the Monet pictures in the exhibition and converse with the characters as she wanders round ‘backstage’.
James Mayhew’s books, each one based on a famous artist, are much loved by many children and parents, and this one is particularly attractive with Katie entering five of Monet’s most famous paintings and selecting a viewpoint from which she can start her competition entry. Mayhew’s own delight in the masterpieces shines out on each page, with glorious, rippling, shining bursts of colour almost certain to engage and please young readers.
Jack Ousbey

That’s Mine! Written by Jennifer Northway
Frances Lincoln £11.99
Many young children may recognise this family; a demanding baby sister, an older brother who feels pushed out but who is still expected to share everything with her, sharing not only his toys but Mum’s time too. Here is a scenario that could be played out in many households. William’s sister, Emma, seems to have taken over William’s life. He is determined, however, that she will not have Spotty Cat—his all-time favourite toy! However, when Emma is poorly, it is only William and Spotty Cat who can comfort her!
Sharing with younger siblings is a hard lesson to learn and this book presents and resolves the difficulties in a very sympathetic way. The reader shares William’s problems, just as he shares them with his friend David, who also has a demanding younger sibling.
Patricia Thompson

Witches at War! The Wickedest Witch Written by Martin Howard
Illustrated by Colin Stimpson
Pavilion Children’s Books £7.99
The Wickedest Witch is a delightful book, mixing fun and excitement for children, whilst slipping in jokes for parents e.g. a beetle named Ringo. After years of reading about magic, Sam (not Samantha!) sets out to become apprentice to Esmelia Sniff, a particularly unpleasant witch. Esmelia is celebrating the death of the Most Superior High and Wicked Witch and decides to enter the contest to become her successor, using Sam to do this, before eating her! However, Sam soon learns a few tricks of her own. The story has a great mixture of characters: young hero Sam, the gruesome witches, and a mysterious ghost who helps Sam to become a witch herself. The story is fun-filled as Esmelia tries unsuccessfully to get her peers to support her, whilst the thrilling contest to find the new Superior Witch has them all demonstrating devilishly evil and nasty skills, with hints at Sam’s past and future. Author Martin Howard clearly enjoyed dreaming up the characters’ names with such gems as Diabolica Nightshade and contest judge Sulphurus Cowl. Superb illustrations, including traditional witches - warts and all! - complement the story perfectly.
Jane Hall

Billionaire Boy Written by David Walliams.
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
HarperCollins £12.99
David Walliams may not appear to be a natural children’s author but he is a very good writer whose wicked sense of humour shines through the pages.
His debut children’s novel, The Boy in the Dress, was a super read quickly followed by Mr Stink, another comical gem. Billionaire Boy centres on Joe Spud’s dad, who is now a billionaire after building up his Bumfresh toilet roll empire. But it doesn’t matter how much money he has, how many gadgets, gifts or cars, overweight Joe just wants a friend. He thinks leaving his private school and going to the local comp, where he can keep his identity secret, is the way to do it. The ploy works – for a while - and then everything starts to go wrong. The story is typically over the top. There are puns, slapstick humour and the kind of scatological humour that older primary school children fall over themselves to read.But there is a strong story, too, with some subtle moral points about what is important in life. The illustrations by the inimitable Quentin Blake bring life and more than a dash of elan, too.
Jayne Howarth

pace Crime Conspiracy Written By Gareth P. Jones
Bloomsbury £5.99
Hapless orphan Stanley is snatched from a mundane existence living with his selfish brother. Snatched by an alien policeman that is, as he is wanted for assassinating the galactic President. It’s the murder of the millennium. Worse, the prosecution have an airtight case, right down to his DNA on the gun and his face in the news footage. So begins a riotous comic caper, with Stanley on the run and out to prove his innocence. All manner of weird creatures join in the chase, including a talking mushroom, parrot-headed space-pirates, journobots and furry cops. Then there are the Rottlebloods, the outer space equivalent of cockroaches and ten times as yucky.
The pace is fast and furious, with a flowing narrative perfectly pitched for its young audience. The humour comes in bucket-loads, there’s a hint of romance, and each character is well defined and engaging. Best of all, the author keeps not one, but half-a-dozen surprises to the end.

Ian Douglas

Witch Baby and Me On Stage Written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
Random House £4.99
This is a laugh-out-loud book with both text and pen-and-ink pictures equally zany.
Debi Gliori is irrepressible and this mad romp continues the story about Lily MacRae and her wonderfully normal family - except for baby sister Daisy who is a Witch. Only Lily and her best friend, Vivaldi, know about Daisy’s ability to make mischief and they spend much of their time on the look out but are unable to prevent her from shrinking the whole class, or turning her brother into a pig, or bringing the school ceiling down. After much hilarity, many near calamities and a great deal of affectionate concern about Daisy’s toilet training, Lily and her friends manage to save the day. A fantastic package to enjoy.
Louise Stothard

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw Written by John Flanagan
Random House £5.99
John Flanagan has set this story about Will Treaty on a bleak shoreland where Gundar Hardstriker and his crew have been shipwrecked. He realises that Castle Macindaw , an important gateway to the North, has been taken by Keren, the renegade Knight who has captured and imprisoned his friend Alyss. Readers are soon absorbed in this pacey, well-crafted adventure story as Will, with a band of loyal warriors and good fighting men, break into the seemingly impregnable castle. Courage and cunning combine with battle skills in this exciting read for both boys and girls.
Louise Stothard

Space Crime Conspiracy Written by Gareth P. Jones
Bloomsbury £5.99
Gareth P Jones is an inventive and imaginative storyteller. He first started writing for children in 2007 with The Dragon Detective Agency series for younger readers, and then in 2009 he wrote The Thornthwaite Inheritance, a black comedy about 13 year old twins who spend their time trying to kill each other. His new book, Space Crime Conspiracy is completely different again. Stanley, an ordinary boy who leads a pretty uneventful life in present day East London, is more than a bit surprised when he is whisked away into space and imprisoned in an intergalactic prison for the crime of the century - the murder of President Vorluner.
Space Crime Conspiracy is a crazy, funny, fast-paced space adventure peopled by a weird and wonderful cast including bird-headed space pirates, bounty hunters with beards on their foreheads and best of all, a talking mushroom called Spore. Great fun.
Gill MacDonald

The Stolen City Written by Tom Eglinton
Piccadilly £6.99
This absorbing sequel to the excellent ‘The Spellbound Hotel’ opens in London, where Bethany ‘s parents are staying with her cat- loving aunt while they look for work. Cats seem to trail Bethany, particularly a malevolent black one, always there when she is almost hit by a taxi or crushed to death… Her leprechaun friend Quinn, who helped defeat the demon at the Spellbound Hotel, is being tried for major crimes in the spirit world. When Bethany tries to help she, too, is accused, then imprisoned as his accomplice. The leprechauns and spirits help her escape but she must battle the clever, immensely powerful demon determined on revenge in this fast- moving, unpredictable narrative which takes broad swipes at pyramid selling and the power of advertising along the way. Triumphant , Bethany must decide whether to stay in the spirit world as its most powerful demon slayer or return to her rather tediously normal parents. It’s a mark of the power of the writing that you feel wrenched as she returns to them, losing the love, fun and warmth of the leprechaun world. Original, unpredictable, with stylish description displacing you to another world. Highly recommended.
Tina Massey

The Search for Wondla Written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Schuster £10.99
Any book by Tony DiTerlizzi promises the reader a treat and this is no exception. Eva Nine is twelve-years-old, living underground on the planet of Orbona with only her robot Muthr for company. Her dearest wish is to go above ground and find ‘Wondla’ the place shown on the one treasured picture which she carries everywhere. When dramatic circumstances force Eva above ground, far from meeting other friendly humans, she is instead hunted by an evil mercenary who wants her for a valuable prize. This book is a fantastical story with DiTerlizzi’s trademark imaginative creatures. As well as foes, Eva meets more amiable and colourful characters such as Rovender, a large blue creature with backward bending knees! Gorgeous monochrome illustrations throughout truly bring the story and outlandish creatures to life. Readers with a webcam can even experience an interactive map. The story moves along swiftly, full of excitement and extraordinary adventures, keeping the reader on tenterhooks. Eva begins as a vulnerable girl, but by the end she has learnt valuable lessons about her world and herself too.
Jane Hall

Killer Strangelets Written by CT Furlong
Inside Pocket Publishing £5.99
Killer Strangelets, the first in the new “Arctic 6” series, is an action packed techno-thriller. The adventure begins with the kidnapping of Iago’s father, when he is mistaken for his twin brother, a scientist at CERN in Switzerland. The kidnapper is a rogue scientist who plans to use the Hadron Collider to create a black hole. Iago and his cousins immediately set off for Switzerland to rescue his father and save the world. The pace never slows in this teen thriller, which will have the reader on the edge of their seat. The story is narrated by 15-year-old Iago with short chapters, each one focusing on a different part of the action thus keeping the tension and the reader eager to read ‘just one more’. All the characters are quick-witted and brave, each having a vital role in order for their rescue plan to work. Science and technology are used liberally and to good effect, not only to save the day, but also as a clever way for each character to tell what is happening to them via phone calls to Iago. Author CT Furlong has hit on an ingenious way to interest children in the scientific issues of today.
Jane Hall

City Of Thieves Written by Ellen Renner
Orchard Books £5.99
Tobias comes to Gibbet Square in time to see his father hang, which is immediately horrific and gripping so we really need to understand why a son could be so glad. This is an exhausting and complicated story. The strong characters have human weaknesses who are immediately at the mercy of the action, as well as in control of it.
The Petch family is a notorious family of thieves. There are many branches of the family, including the Sorrells, who ensure that little escapes them. But Windlass clan is equally, if not more, elusive and clever and it’s never certain which force will have the stronger hold over Tobias, who struggles between all the different family factions. And then there’s his love and loyalty to his mother, and concern for friend and contemporary Queen Charlie as well as an affection for the Queen Dowager and Moleglass. Completely compelling with much action and poignancy, not to mention the amazingly interwoven plot. This is a truly great read.
Gill Roberts

Shade Written by Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon and Schuster £6.99
Aura is sixteen, and she can see ghosts everywhere. So can all the children who have been born in the last sixteen years. It’s a result of The Shift, a mysterious event that cannot be explained, nor can the course of events flowing from it be predicted. It is a terrifying world where ghosts, unable to move on, emerge in the darkness to haunt the places they once inhabited, plaguing terrified children with questions that cannot be answered. Aura’s first real boyfriend, Logan, dies suddenly and in circumstances for which she blames herself. For a while, making contact with his ghost is a blessing rather than a curse. But as Aura’s life moves on in ways that Logan cannot share, things take a more sinister turn for both of them.
The story is not without its flaws. It is a bit disappointing to have questions about this new world dismissed by a character simply saying that no-one knows how it all works. Also, although the story has to be happening at least sixteen years in the future, the language and lifestyle of the characters could be easily transplanted into our present day: nothing seems to have moved on in music, technology, transport or even fashion. Nonetheless, the writing draws you in and the final scenes, where Logan faces incarceration by the shadowy forces of the Government ghost-busters who believe him to be a threat, are genuinely gripping.
Yvonne Coppard

Zelah Green Written by Vanessa Curtis
Egmont £5.99
Zelah is a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder. Everything has to be done in order, the right way or she has to start again. Washing hands takes an age because of the rituals involved; she has to jump on the stairs; her teeth have to be cleaned by the time a certain track on her CD has finished. These are all part of her every day life. It’s all part of her war on germs. She is constantly on germ alert. But her OCD is leaving her uncaring stepmother exhausted. And when Zelah’s father leaves, the stepmother cannot take anymore and packs off Zelah to a hospital, where she can be treated for the disorder. When Zelah arrives all she can see is dirt and germs. Then she meets anorexic Alice, Caro who was admitted for cutting hersel. There’s Sol - he might just be her saving grace. It’s a collection of people who do not conform to the norms of polite society. Curtis deals with these undoubtedly serious subjects with sympathy, but there is also a great deal of humour. The characters are all very likeable and rally when they have to support each other to deal with their problems. There is a feeling of hope that permeates the story and Curtis writes so engagingly and entertainingly that you cannot help but warm to Zelah and her friends. A must-read for every teen who thinks no one understands them.
Jayne Howarth

Edge of Nowhere Written by John Smelcer
Andersen £5.99
This author was born in Alaska and is one of the last speakers of the regional dialect unique to Chenega Bay. His stories concentrate on the tough life facing native hunters and trappers, up against the elements and also having to contend with daily threats to their fragile ecology. This one tells how sixteen-year-old Seth, washed overboard from his father’s fishing boat during a storm, manages to survive on deserted islands with only his dog, happily also named Tucker, for company. Seeing off killer whales, black bears and an inability to make fire, Seth is finally spotted and rescued just as winter is setting in, which would have meant his certain death. Written in prose as lean and muscular as Seth himself eventually becomes having started out near enough obese, this is an excellent read.
Nicholas Tucker

Fallen Written by Lauren Kate
Corgi £6.99
Luce is in deep trouble, locked away in a secure school after a violent crime she doesn’t remember committing. She is instantly drawn to fellow student, Daniel, but why is he so uneasy in her presence? And why is Luce convinced they have met before?
It’s an edgy tale that hovers at the threshold of many of the hot trends in current teen fiction: star-crossed lovers, shifts of time and place, a mystery to solve, a slice of the supernatural with hints of vampires AND angels, plenty of violence and a smidgeon of smouldering sexual desire. All this and the promise of more to come, with the inevitable sequel advertised on the back pages and a lingering feeling that the story, with its dark and brooding images and high-action set pieces, would make a good special-effects movie.
Is this book a cynical commercial exercise, designed to hit all the right marketing buttons for the teenage market? Or is it a story that has spilled out of a writer’s creative imagination and just happens to capture the mood of its time? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, if the characters compel us to care about them and the tale is well-told. And for the most part, this is a compelling and absorbing story.
Yvonne Coppard