Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Scholastic (R) £12.99
Young children will be immediately drawn to the embedded snow-dome on the festive cover of the new edition of this picture book. Stick Man is an engaging character who is on an exciting and sometimes perilous journey to be reunited with his stick family. His adventures are beautifully realised in the colourful, animated illustrations, and the rhyme and rhythmic repetition has established Stick Man as a story to be read aloud. The Christmas themed ending, with its warm final spread to resolve the worries of the story, makes this a lovely seasonal gift.
Written by Inkeri Karvonen
Illustrated by Hannu Taina
An outstanding book truly reflecting the Christmas spirit. Little Tomte anxiously watches the seasons until the snow begins to fall. He is feeling lonely all on his own and worries that Christmas may never come. He has a great idea and, making a special wish, begins to make lots of sweet-smelling candles to help his wish to come true. Christmas arrives and so do all his friends! A magical tale, beautifully illustrated – a perfect gift.
Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Nathan Reed
HarperCollins (eB) £5.99
Part of the Awesome Animals series, this is the fourth title concerning the wacky penguins at the City Zoo. Christmas is coming and the penguins decide to celebrate in a big way with all the trimmings. The witty, action-packed story is carried along by the cheery black and white line drawings. A welcome stocking-filler.
Martin & Sinead Kromer
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Egmont (R) £9.99
Four very different Christmas tales from the master story-teller, Michael Morpurgo. Three are reproductions of earlier publications, complete with their original wonderful illustrations by the renowned artists, Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman and Emma Chichester-Clark. However, one has been specially written for this edition and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp. A beautiful gift that will be treasured.
Martin & Sinead Kromer
Written by Samantha Meredith
Packed full of festive activities, games and stickers, focussing on
, this book
should prove an ideal present to entertain after all the other presents have
lost their appeal. Clear and interesting page layouts offer intriguing invitations
to puzzles such as ‘Present Pickle’, ‘He’s Behind You’ and ‘Snowglobe Spots’. An
excellent stocking-filler. Britain
Let’s Talk About Big Beds and Bedtime
Written by Stella Gurney
Illustrated by Fiona Freund
This title is a great tool for tackling a ‘trickier bit of toddlerhood’! This busy book follows Layla through her bedtime routine and her first night in her ‘Big Girl Bed’. It supports the transition and rite of passage that all toddlers go through when transferring from a cot to a big bed. The combination of photographs and illustrations, accompanied with different fonts and speech bubbles makes for an interesting read. There are also many questions to engage your toddler and words of wisdom from parents who have already made the transition with their toddlers. The book provides some great ideas on how to get children involved, including buying a new set of pyjamas before the big event!
Written and illustrated by Catherine and Laurence Anholt
Orchard Books £6.99
A conversation starter for you and your baby about all things baby! With its sections on animals, clothes, food and more, this book acts almost as a picture dictionary for your little one. It introduces new words, actions and adjectives that children will learn and add to their already expanding vocabulary. Its labels and captions are clear and the accompanying illustrations are timeless. Parents will have a lovely time sharing this book with their children. This book is one that you can read in sections and keep coming back to again and again.
Written and illustrated by Lara Jones
A brightly coloured and vibrant story about a birthday adventure to the Mystery Jungle. It is Poppy Cat’s birthday and her friends give her a treasure map. She follows it in search for treasure but comes across the best treasure of all, a surprise party with all of her friends. This adventure story is fun-packed and will really capture children’s imaginations. The text is lively and almost jumps out at you from the page. All of these elements make the text exciting to the young eye. There are many animals in the story to talk about and it also has familiar stories from the other Poppy Cat stories in the series.
Up and Down
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
HarperCollins (eB) £5.99
A story of friendship between a little boy and a penguin. They do everything together until the penguin decides that there is something he needs to do alone ….. fly! Penguin leaves without a trace and the little boy goes in search for him, worrying about his friend. The pair reunites when the penguin needs his friend the most ….. to catch him when he is falling! This heartfelt story makes you consider your own friendships and how, you too, can be a good friend.
Mabel and Me: Best of Friends
Written by Mark Sperring
Illustrated by Sarah Warburton
A delightful picture book with an unpredictable and amusing storyline which is complemented by witty, animated illustrations. Mabel and her best friend, Me, a mouse, set about discovering the answer to “a hugely harrowing and diabolically difficult question” as to why they are the best of friends. The story introduces two wonderfully conceived characters – a famous French photographer and Senora Prima Ballerina, who introduce some new and exciting words into the text. The fun effectively conveys the true qualities of friendship.
Written and illustrated by John Burningham
Jonathan Cape (R) £19.99
Originally published in 1963 and winner of The Kate Greenaway Medal in 1964, this timeless classic is reinvigorated by being republished in a Collectors’ Edition to mark its 50th Anniversary. It is amazing to think that this was John Burningham’s first picture book and yet its engaging, heart-warming, humorous story and luscious, bold artwork displayed his tremendous talent and acted as an indication of what was to come. Sub-titled The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, it tells the tale of a gosling named Borka who hatched out in the marshes with a beak, wings and webbed feet just like her brothers and sisters but with no feathers. Her mother knitted her a grey woollen jersey to keep her warm but that did not stop the other goslings making fun of her, nor did it help her to fly when all the other geese migrated south for the winter. The story tells of how Borka coped with being left behind and how she managed to make new friends and find a new home. This classic is not only a delightful story but it also shows the reader that being different is not a barrier to friendship and even love. This is a must-have for every young child’s library.
Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School
Too Many Hats
Written and illustrated by Hilda Offen
An engaging tale which sets a fair pace as a princess, a cat and a large collection of hats come together in a funny, confusing way. The rule is ‘No Pets Allowed’ at the palace where Princess Paloma lives. So, when her secretly adopted cat, Hattie (Hat for short), disappears, there’s quite a kafuffle as everyone is searching for the lost Hat. Lavishly illustrated with amusing line drawings, this would be perfect for a newly confident reader.
The Witching Hour
Written by Sara Grant
Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters
Orion (eB) £4.99
It’s as Trix’s cat clock strikes midnight and her tenth birthday draws to a close that, by the light of the witching hour’s full moon, she makes her first sighting of a real witch. From then on life isn’t the same and nothing is as it seems. Lulu, the funky librarian, turns out to be even more amazing and lessons at school become literally magical. Trix is ecstatic to have a cat and it’s even more special that Jinx chose her over the spiteful Stella who wanted him for herself. Not only is Stella a show-off but she uses her developing magical powers selfishly and negatively. This is the first in the Magic Trix series which firmly establishes the characters and whets desire for its sequel Flying High as well as for future books chronicling the young witches’ development.
Maisie Hitchins: The Case of the Vanishing Emerald
Written by Holly Webb
In the second book of the series, Maisie’s actress friend
is worried. Sarah Massey, the leading lady, can’t find her precious emerald
necklace, an engagement gift from Lord Tarquin Fane. All Fane brides wear it on
their wedding day and a curse is set to bring ruin to the family if it is ever
lost. Worse still, Sarah becomes so anxious that she performs badly and snaps
at all the cast at the theatre, threatening her job. When her dresser breaks a
leg, slipping on greased stairs, Maisie takes over, determined to solve the
mystery. Maisie’s kindness and helpfulness make her allies at the theatre,
while her painstaking accumulation of evidence of a dirty tricks campaign
against Sarah builds satisfyingly. In the end, there’s a denouement worthy of
an Agatha Christie novel. A lovely series full of very human characters for sparky,
adventurous young readers.
The Tattoo Fox
Written by Alasdair Hutton
Illustrated by Stref (Steven White)
Luath (eB) £5.99
Inspired by a real-life encounter one dark night on Edinburgh Castle Esplanade, this warm-hearted story is about a young, wild fox searching for a new home, Befriended by a cat - the unofficial mascot of the regiment - she settles into the rocks beneath the castle. Young rabbits provided easy hunting opportunities and plenty of tourists ensure lots of adventures whilst the famous Tattoo creates a dramatic finale to the story.
My Super Sister and the Birthday Party
Written by Gwyneth Rees
Illustrated by Ella Okstad and
This sequel to My Super Sister is a lively novel with utterly realistic family dynamics, but there is an equally convincing stream of fantastic happenings, stemming from the super-powers possessed by some family members. Emma, aged nine, is the sensible big sister, with Saffy being the naughty young one. Both have the power to animate inanimate objects. Their mother doesn’t have the power as it skips generations. When she sends the girls to stay with Granny and learn how to hone and control their gift, a scary drama ensues. There’s a lot of fun, too, as toys and other objects are brought to life, but when Saffy disobeys Granny and animates the sinister doll, Queenie-May, there’s real danger, and not just the spoiling of Grandpa’s birthday party. Made reader-friendly with twelve chapters of large print and plenty of jolly black and white drawings.
City Farm: Emily and Patch
Written by Jessie Williams
Curious Fox (eB) £4.99
Emily is finding it difficult to adjust after the death of her mother and the arrival of a new step-mother, so she is introduced to the Harvest Hope project at the City Farm where children with problems work them out while caring for the animals. Emily rebuffs the other children’s attempts to include her, until an equally sad puppy arrives. There is an element of adventure when Emily runs away and hides on the farm but the main attraction of the story is the depiction of the farm animals, the life of the farm and the interaction with the children. This is part of a series where apparently every problem has an animal solution but the book is well-written and will appeal to animal lovers.
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
Written and illustrated by Chris Riddell
Macmillan (eB) £9.99
You certainly cannot judge this book by its cover. The beautifully presented exterior of this book gives no indication of the ludicrously hysterical illustrations of creatures and monsters galore and the zany story within.
lives with her comically insane father,
Lord Goth, in Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Together with her newly acquired friend,
Ishmael, the ghost of a mouse, her escapades are crazy and silly in the
extreme. Hilarious! Ada
Written by J. R. R. Tolkein
Illustrated by Jemima Catlin
HarperCollins (R) (eB) £20.00
A new luxurious edition of the classic, well-loved tale. Bilbo Baggins is enjoying the peace and quiet of his comfortable home when he is persuaded by the wizard, Gandalf, and a band of dwarves to accompany them on a dangerous adventure to steal a dragon’s treasure. With coloured images on almost every page, along with the many atmospheric full-page illustrations, this edition will be cherished by younger and older readers alike.
Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School
A Lily, A Rose
Written by Sally Nicholls
Illustrated by Sarah Dennis
Lady Elinor, at 14, loves chess, riding, hawking and Dan, a young knight in training with her father. It’s a heady, rose-tinted first love which sweeps her up and enhances her whole world. But her father is coldly furious when he discovers them kissing, as Elinor must marry for position. The prospective husband chosen by her father is 50, grey-haired, limping but no-one’s fool. When Elinor defeats him soundly at chess and tells him she won’t marry him, he mentions that his son Adam, 16, also plays, and much better. Adam soon arrives; a tall, attractive and stylish young man who enjoys chess, hunting and hawking too. He speaks several languages, is an avid reader with an easy humour and eyes that warm to Elinor. Elinor is intrigued but confused and Dan is furious. Can it be that she loves both of them? Beautifully taut, spare writing which is very accessible but never at the cost of style or subtlety. Sally Nicholls creates a very credible medieval society with problems of the period and perennial ones too; especially the unexpected ferocity of first love, which both overwhelms and threatens. Dyslexia friendly, but still a book for anyone to enjoy.
Shadows of the Silver Screen
Written by Christopher Edge
Nosy Crow (eB) £6.99
Penny Tredwell, 13-year-old heiress of the best-selling literary magazine “The Penny Dreadful”, returns in her second adventure. This mysterious tale is set in 1900, at the beginning of the era of silent films. Initially, Penny is excited and intrigued when a film maker starts to film one of the Penny Dreadful’s best known and scariest stories. However, as the malevolent past begins to influence filming, and fact and fiction begin to blur, Penny finds herself caught up in one of her own terrifying tales. Shadows of the Silver Screen is a thrilling read for pre-teens. This paranormal tale is full of thrills and excitement, mystery and danger, all of which our heroine battles with her bravery and intelligence. The descriptions are vivid, whether of Victorian London or the excitement generated by the first glimpse of moving pictures. Penny’s associate Montgomery Finch brings humour to the tale, while sinister film-maker Mr Gold adds revenge and villainy. This thrilling and fun=filled gothic tale is a must read for horror-loving tweenies.
An Angel for May
Written by Melvin Burgess
This original story uses the common timeslip device, but, in a way, that heightens the emotional tone of the novel. When he travels through an invisible portal to a World War II farm, Tam encounters a makeshift family group that brook no nonsense but show a depth of warmth, understanding and selflessness that Tam appreciates. The young girl, May, orphaned and traumatised by the bombing, is cared for in an understanding way by farmer, Mr Nutter, who in turn is helped by widowed Mrs Pickles. Few questions are asked about Tam with his clothes of unfamiliar fabrics. Like May before him he is simply accepted. He is expected to pull his weight on the farm but welcome to stay. A homeless woman seems to exist between both times, but only Tam can see her in both. Melvin Burgess is adept at telling a story without over explaining or tying up too many loose ends. He trusts the reader’s intelligence and in the process has created a vivid, touching story.
Geekhood: Mission Impossible
Written by Andy Robb
Stripes (eB) £6.99
Here’s a book that announces its credentials from the get-go. It is a book by a geek, about geeks and for geeks, and everyone else who loves a clever, witty read. The story follows the adventures of a group of four geeky teenage boys. It’s all here: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Super Heroes, Dungeons and Dragons, and, most of all, Live Action Role Play (LARPing). Archie is in love with Sarah, the most beautiful girl in the world. However, she just wants to be friends. Enter Clare, a girl who is also suffering from unrequited love. She hatches a plan for the two of them to start a fake romance to makes their respective loves jealous. Everything goes to plan, except Archie doesn’t really feel OK about lying to Sarah and his best friends. Complications emerge as it becomes apparent that he might not be the only one who has a crush on Sarah. With monsters, elves, dwarves and wizards in the mix, what could go wrong? The story touches on many quite serious topics such as the emergence of sexual feelings, bullying, family break-up, reconstituted families, peer group rivalry. It does so lightly, but with sympathy. Archie is a rather wise and very likeable narrator, and the book ends with a heartening vision of friendships re-forged in the heat of role-played battle.
The Book of Doom
Written by Barry Hutchison
HarperCollins (eB) £6.99
The Book of Doom is the second in Barry Hutchison’s Afterworlds series. Here we meet fifteen-year-old Zac, who lives with his infirm grandfather. They survive by Zac’s talent for stealing. However, these nefarious activities have brought him to the attention of the Angel Gabriel. Heaven has lost the Book of Doom, which contains everything there is to know. Gabriel is convinced that Satan has the book, and makes Zac an offer he cannot refuse; to steal the book back to save his grandfather’s life. Zac is accompanied by the permanently cheerful and positive Angelo, a half angel, and half something else? This is a hilarious adventure story with true baddies, and real heroes. There is great chemistry between cool, loner Zac, and the innocent Star Wars loving Angelo who just wants to help his new friend; their banter is hilarious. On their journey, they encounter such unusual things as a Viking Conga at Valhalla, and an unsettling nightclub in Limbo, as well as favourite characters from the first book. There are plot twists throughout, but the one at the end is jaw-dropping, while also making perfect sense. Highly recommended!
Written by Derek Landy
HarperCollins (eB) £12.99
At last, one of the most exciting of Derek Landy’s characters gets her own story. The Maleficent Seven is a one-off novel from the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, starring the wonderful Tanith Low. As faithful readers will already know, Tanith is now officially one of the bad guys as she is possessed by a remnant. In this story, she recruits a team of villains to find and steal the four God-killer weapons. However, as these are the weapons that the Sanctuary needs to fight Darquesse when she arrives, there is also a team of good guys hunting for them. There are familiar characters to entertain readers, as well a few new ones. There are plenty of Landy’s trademark action sequences, double crossing galore, hilarious banter between the characters and a thrilling, intriguing storyline. The highlights of the book, for me, were the flashbacks to Tanith’s childhood; a dark but delightful insight into her mind. Hopefully, Landy may allow more favourite characters their own adventures. Tanith Low is a new high in bad guys!
Written by Simon Mayo
Doubleday (eB) £10.99
In his time as a film reviewer, Simon Mayo must have seen many high-octane action adventure movies and this book is right out of that mould. The action is explosive and May certainly knows how to keep that roaring along. His story is a sequel to his successful book, Itch, in which Itchingham Lofte, a teenager fascinated by the Periodic Table, discovered Element 126, some highly radioactive rocks. In the first book, he was pursued by sinister forces desperate to get their hands on the rocks, and, in this book, the sinister forces are still desperate to get their hands on the rocks! Despite M15 agents giving him 24 hour protection, Itch is soon on the run and plunged into all kinds of perilous situations which will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The scenes of chase and carnage are very well done and there are some stomach-churning descriptions of pain and injury to please the blood-thirsty. Mayo’s many fans will be hoping that perhaps sinister forces will again be pursuing our hero in a third book.
Itch Rocks is the explosive sequel to Simon Mayo’s excellent debut novel, Itch, and continues the story of Itchingham Lofte and friends, and their protection of the valuable Element 126. Itch’s life seems to have returned to normal after the events of the last book, but that soon changes. Itch learns that not only have MI5 Agents moved next door in the hope that they will find out where he has hidden his valuable discovery, but also a sinister group of villains are still relentlessly hunting for the radioactive element and they won’t stop until they uncover where it is hidden. Itch Rocks is a highly enjoyable read for all children aged 10 years and above. It’s filled with action and adventure on almost every page and will keep even the most reluctant reader hooked to the very end. The author brings to life a group of dynamic young protagonists and a group of sinister villains, led by the evil Dr. Flowerdew, with their own nefarious agenda. Although a sequel, this is a great read in its own right.
Written by Mitch Benn
Gollancz (eB) £12.99
A science fiction story with more than a touch of humanity to its central theme. Abducted from earth as a baby, Terra, now “eight orbits old”, is about to start school on the planet Fnrr. Although excited by the prospect, Terra is still an outsider who is about to discover how being different gives her a unique perspective on life. The lively and distinctive narrative voice adds to the enjoyment of the tale.
Titles for Young Teenage Readers
Written by Kate Maryon
HarperCollins (eB) £6.99
Gabriella Midwinter hasn’t had an easy life. At five years old, her abusive mother left, taking her older brother with her, but Gabriella stayed to look after her dad. Now aged 12, her father marries again to Amy, a woman who makes it clear that she doesn’t want Gabriella around. One day, Gabriella comes home from school, to find all her belongings in a backpack and a note from her dad, telling her that he and Amy have gone to live in Spain and that she should get a train to Manchester and go live with her Mum, who she hasn’t seen since she left. Suddenly, Gabriella slips through the cracks, becoming invisible and finding herself vulnerable and living on the streets, facing all the dangers and hardship that can bring. A carefully woven plot sensitively handled and beautifully told. Gabriella is a really well drawn character with whom the reader completely empathises. I was shocked at the statistics that in the UK a child runs away every five minutes and that every year there are 100,000 children under 16 living on the streets!
The Bone Dragon
Written by Alexia Casale
Faber and Faber (eB) £9.99
This strong story mixes fantasy and real life in a captivating way. Evie has been living happily with her loving adopted parents, Paul and Amy, for four years but it takes this long before Evie tells them about her painful ribs – which they discover have been broken. The physical sign of her troubled past mends and the pain eases but the emotional baggage takes longer to resolve. Evie is given a fragment of her bone and when Uncle Ben carves a tiny dragon for her it becomes more than just a talisman. Evie returns to school, her girl friends have saved a desk for her but Sonny Rawlins is as mean as ever. Ms Winter visits to help her catch up with her school work and to give her a chance to talk. Gradually, Evie rationalises her past – the weak mother who abandoned her and the grandparents who hated her. When it comes to unresolved events and present fears, the bone dragon comes to life at night and takes Evie on a journey of resolution and revenge. The descriptions of their nocturnal journeys through the fens are atmospheric and haunting. Evie’s story is heart-warming. The mystery of her past is treated with delicacy and compassion and events are referred to rather than explained which gives this book a haunting sensitivity. The characters are strong and immensely likeable and Evie’s courage is to be admired. The themes of this well-rounded story last well beyond the last page.
Written and Illustrated by Linda Medley
Fantagraphics (eB) £17.99
Don't let the phrases graphic novel or fairytale put you off. Castle Waiting is an enthralling, beautifully crafted and unexpected delight. The strong resemblance to Sleeping Beauty at the start is quickly subverted down a much more twisted and winding path to something far more satisfying and enchanting. With the fairytale princess gone, the castle becomes a refuge for an assortment of odd, but appealing, characters, from the bird-man Rackham to the bearded nun Peace from the Solicitine Order. Witty dialogue, subversive themes and shrewd nuns create a compelling story brought to life by carefully drawn and detailed black-and-white pictures. With meandering storylines, there are plenty of challenges for growing readers and this handsome volume is going to be treasured by many. I can't wait to read the next volume.
The Last Wild
Written by Piers Torday
Quercus (eB) £9.99
Imagine a world where all the animals are dead or culled because of a disease called ‘red-eye’. Imagine a world where most of the land is forbidden territory and where the population is confined to specific, regulated locations. Because there are no animals or access to real food, the population can only eat manufactured food that all looks the same but is given different flavours. Against this background there is Kester, who is locked away in an institution for challenging children, because he has lost the power of speech. However, Kester has the gift of talking to the animals. He is rescued by a flock of pigeons and a swarm of cockroaches and taken to a place where some animals still survive. Here, he is given the task of finding his father who may have a cure for the ‘red-eye’. His journey, in the company of a strange group of animals and one human, is fraught with danger, betrayal and tragedy. The story is fast-paced as the group face one crisis after another, trying to discover what has really happened to the world. The truth is shocking and has some resonance today as it concerns the manipulation of public opinion by business interests. Certainly it is very thought provoking and should provide opportunities for discussion and for developing a critical appraisal of what is happening in the world today.
Diary of a Mall Girl
Written by Luisa Plaja
Curious Fox (eB) £6.99
Malls, best friends, boys, snogging and texting ….. Hmmm! But wait, even post-teen reviewers can warm to fifteen year old Molly who is dealing with teen life and still remaining excellently Molly. The family live in the ‘affordable housing’ which is attached to the new shopping mall. She is involved in the familiar game of intertwined support and exploitation with her two best friends, a situation which is complicated by the arrival of the cool and mysterious twins, Jasper and Jewel. The introduction of the rock star family adds some glamour but the story is underpinned by a warm family dynamic and the lively and engaging character of Molly herself. Not as ‘pink’ as the title might suggest. Much more fun!
Through Dead Eyes
Written by Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury (eB) £10.99
Alex is in Amsterdam with his father who is there to meet his Dutch publisher to discuss the possibility of a TV documentary based on his book about World War II. Beautiful Angelien, the daughter of the publisher, is asked to show Alex around the city. They visit an antiques market where he buys a Japanese mask which seems to have supernatural powers. Soon Alex is sucked into the strange story of a girl in 17th Century Amsterdam called Hanna Van Kampen whose portrait, wearing the mask, hangs in the Rijksmuseum. The spooky elements of the story are not particularly creepy but the book’s real interest lies in Alex’s confused emotional life: his fraught relationship with his father, the mixed signals he is getting from Angelien, the bitterness he feels towards his absent mother, and the struggle with his own rather dark recent history. There is, however, an excellent supernatural frisson right at the end of the story.
Written by Rachel Hartman
Corgi (eB) £6.99
The beautifully illustrated cover of Seraphina hints at the joys awaiting the reader. In the Kingdom of Goredd humans and dragons live side by side in fragile peace. When the Queen’s son is murdered, suspicion falls on the dragons and the peace treaty is threatened. Seraphina, a court musician, gets drawn into the murder investigation, due to her friendship with the dragons. However, she struggles with her desire to uncover the truth about the murder, and her need to keep her own secrets hidden. Rachel Hartman has created an amazing fantasy world in her stunning debut novel. Her descriptions are vivid, creating clear visions of the places and people as you read. Her portrayal of dragons as totally logical and unemotional creatures, able to transform into human form is exquisite. Seraphina is a vibrant lead character, full of self-doubt, but very brave and loyal. Written from her point of view, the reader is privy to her, sometimes hilarious, thoughts. As well as being a tense ‘who-dunnit’, the book also has a very strong anti-discrimination message, along with a hint of love. Seraphina is a beautiful book inside and out, and one of the best books I have read in a long time.
Chasing the Dark
Written by Sam Hepburn
Chicken House (eB) £6.99
The nightmare of his Mum’s death, in a hit and run incident, keeps coming back to Joe, and it makes no sense. Who would want to murder her, and what did her last words mean? But taking his dog for a late-night walk begins a sequence of events which may lead him to discover what really happened that night, and why. Unravelling this puzzle takes Joe into a dangerous world of KGB operatives, blackmailers and murderers, but he knows he can never rest until he learns the truth. Joe’s coming of age under such stressful circumstances will appeal to thoughtful readers, while the page-turning pace of the novel adds to its broad appeal.
The Oathbreaker’s Shadow
Written by Amy McCulloch
Random House (eB) £12.99
The world portrayed in this complex and absorbing novel is peopled by a rich variety of characters from diverse cultures. Raim and his people are nomads, travelling the plains of Darhan. As Raim nears his sixteenth year he is ready to join the Yun, the elite guard of fighters. Khareh, the Crown Prince is his best friend and Raim looks forward to promising to be his protector when Khareh becomes Khan. In this society making a promise or oath is not done lightly. It is marked by a simple knot around your wrist and if you break that promise you are not only scarred for life but outlawed too. Raim has always worn a promise thread but has never known what it represents. When Khareh persuades him to make his promise of allegiance, to Raim’s horror, the knot bursts into flames and scars his wrist. Raim has to flee for his life and escapes into the inhospitable desert where he struggles to stay alive. He is found by the Alashan tribe, seasoned desert dwellers who know the secrets of survival in a land without water. When they discover that he is an oath-breaker they resolve to take him to Lazar, a place of exile for all outlawed oathbreakers. The pace of the story as Raim endeavours to find out the meaning of his promise thread is swift and exciting. The characters are interesting and the ideas behind the different tribes fascinating. As the beginning of a series it will be fascinating to see how the adventures unfold in future titles.
Written by Sheila Rance
Orion (eB) £9.99
Maia is an outsider in her village. Her father weaves silk that sings a story but he is silent about their past. It is when the Wulf Kin comes to hunt Maia down that her destiny as the Sun Catcher is revealed. This densely written story will please fantasy fans, reflecting so may of the elements they love: the outsider who discovers her power, glamorous animal companions and a whole variety of human groups from Amazon-like women to Scythian-like Eagle People who gallop with their eagles on their wrists. The story strides on, full of colourful detail and the many groups are well handled. Those who like a combination of adventure, magic and animals, set against romantic backgrounds, will quickly become absorbed and will be waiting for the second book.
Written by Matt Whyman
Hot Key (eB) £6.99
Matt Whyman’s books are always worth looking out for and this present novel is certainly something different. Written with the very darkest of wit, it describes a close contemporary family who every now and again feast on the human flesh provided for them following an opportunistic murder. Details of their banquets may be too much for some readers’ stomachs, sounding a bit like a run-through of Hannibal Lecter’s favourite recipes. But for those who can stick it out there are plenty of rewards as the author mocks both meat-eaters and vegetarians as the cannibalistic family heads for its long overdue comeuppance. Readers must decide for themselves whether in the end it was all worth it and why such a talented author should have landed himself with such a very distasteful (sic) plot.
Written by Graham McNamee
Hodder (eB) £6.99
The rather ambiguous title of this supernatural thriller does not really do justice to the taut, intriguing and exciting story. Jane and Lexi are best friends but the bond between them is more than sharing secrets and hanging out together. Lexi knows why Jane is different from everyone else and why she is in danger – from herself. Her parents consider her as accident-prone but Jane has faced the improbable fact that it is her own shadow which literally drags her into harms way. Set in a small town on Canada’s West Coast, the atmosphere of The Rain Coast adds to the building tension. The latest incident was a very close call and since this near-death experience Jane has been sleepwalking and catching glimpses of a past life that was not her own. Lexi is determined to help her friend and to see if there is a pattern to the events. When a landslide reveals the skeleton of a young boy more details become clear and life for Jane spirals out of control. The two girls are in a race against time to save not only Jane but another youngster too. This well-written mystery keeps the reader guessing and involved until the last page. The characters are interesting and well portrayed from Lexi who sees life through a camera lens to Jane’s bewildered policeman father and Ryan the potential love interest in her life – that is if she can stay alive.
Written by C. J. Flood
Simon and Schuster (eB) £9.99
Travellers are often in the headlines! They arrive in either large groups or small, but for the majority of local residents they are always bad news. Such is the case when a family group settle on land on of Iris’ family farm. For Iris’ Dad, this is a second major problem that he must cope with. Iris’ Mother has left, leaving Dad responsible for Iris and her brother Sam, who has already gone “off the rails” and joined a gang. Although Iris gets to know one of the travellers, the story progresses in an almost predictable manner; and then, tragedy strikes. The book is immensely enjoyable in a very sombre way. It explores the two themes of family breakdown and the response of a community to the arrival of a group in their midst, a group who do not share their lifestyle nor recognise the commonly accepted rules of society. In this book, this latter group include both the travellers and the local gang. It is an excellent book; the issues raised could be a springboard for much thought and discussion.
The Boy from France
Written by Hilary Freeman
Piccadilly (eB) £6.99
Part of the Camen Town Tales series. French exchange students, some of them boys, cause a stir amongst Vix’s classmates. Vix is a teenager who carries the great responsibility of caring for her mother who suffers from a degenerative illness, but who is also very reluctant to let the world know that her illness is incurable. Vix is allocated one of the boy students and as well as having to deal with the jealousy of her classmates, she has to keep not only the secret of her Mother’s illness, but also how much responsibility for running the home falls on her shoulders. The necessary lies and evasions of the truth that are needed to keep these secrets, very nearly destroy the developing relationship between Vix and Xavier, the student. It explores the relationships within groups of young people, with all their different characters having an influence on the group dynamics. It also explores the relationships within families and as such, it will strike a chord with many readers.
A Face Like Glass
Written by Frances Hardinge
Macmillan (eB) £7.99
The muscles in a human face are capable of rendering a whole gamut of emotions making it hard to lie. But imagine a world where expressions are learnt from birth and worn on the face like masks. This is Caverna, Frances Hardinge’s underground fantasy world, a dystopian city hidden in a network of tunnels chiselled out of rock. Here, master craftsmen, the bourgeoisie, skilled at creating rare treasures - miraculous cheeses, intoxicating perfumes and dangerous wines - live at the expense of the drudges, the proletariat, condemned to the darkness where they must work for the good of the community. Enter Neverfell, a little girl with a face unlike anything seen below ground, with no recollection of where she has come from, and a desire to break free of her oppressors and escape to the overground. But she soon finds herself drawn into a deadly game, which involves nothing less than a plot against the Grand Steward, an omnipresent tyrant who rules over this ‘communist’ state. With its rich, dense language and intricately mapped storyline, this is a challenging read. Admirers of Frances Hardinge’s previous books will not be disappointed.
Written by Megan Miranda
Bloomsbury (eB) £6.99
Mallory has killed her boyfriend, allegedly in self-defence. However, she cannot remember what happened that night, and has been plagued by horrifying nightmares ever since. To give Mallory a fresh start, her parents send her away to boarding school. Unfortunately, her reputation has preceded her and, when a student is found dead, she once again finds herself a murder suspect. Hysteria is a thrilling psychological read. Told from Mallory’s perspective, with her vivid nightmares and possible hallucinations, you are never entirely sure what is real and what she is imagining. Author Megan Miranda makes effective use of flashbacks, slowly revealing to Mallory and the reader what actually happened on that fateful night. The tension builds constantly, as Mallory’s fear increases, at times becoming claustrophobic. Like many teen books, this has friendship and romance at its heart, with Colleen risking everything to prove her best friend’s innocence, and Reid believing in Mallory when no one else would, including herself. A suspenseful edge of your seat teen murder mystery, with a touch of romance.
Written by Megan Spooner
Corgi (eB) £6.99
Lark has never seen the sky, living in a post-apocalyptic Dome city whose energy field protects its citizens from a despoiled, dangerous land outside with its shadow people, zombies and cannibals. At sixteen, she is due to be Harvested, a coming of age ceremony where her future will be decided for her – and unknown to her, her ‘magic’ will be extracted to fuel the Dome. Lark’s agonisingly painful Harvesting causes consternation in the ruling elite, as she is a Renewable, extremely rare, who can replenish her own magic energy. Before she is harnessed to become a virtual engine for the Dome, she escapes outside accompanied by a mechanical Pixie. Pixies are secret police who spy on the Dome’s citizens, so can this one be trusted? In the waste land Lark is shadowed, protected and fed by Oren on her journey to the Iron Wood, where she hopes her brother and some answers may be found. Much is revealed as we knit together revelations with unexplained events from earlier in the story to build fuller understanding. Lark is a distinctive heroine in a dark, despoiled future, which is full of danger. A thoughtful read!
Finding Cherokee Brown
Written by Siobhan Curham
Electric Monkey (eB) £6.99
After her best friend moves away and the bullying starts, Clare Weeks decides to write a novel to help her cope. Following the advice of the irrefutable Agatha Dashwood’s So You Want to Write a Novel? Clare sets off to create the heroine she aspires to be. However, it's the arrival of a birthday card addressed to Cherokee Brown that leads Clare to discover more about herself and her true biological father, musician Steve. Rather than needing to step into a fictional world, Clare discovers she's been Cherokee all along and that she has the strength to stand up for herself. Although this is a tender portrait of a girl finding her own identity and re-evaluating her relationship with her parents (mum, dad and stepdad), it’s not without a bit of rock 'n' roll. There is an emotional journey that will keep readers hooked until the very end and a reassuring message that things really can get better.
Titles for More Mature readers
Written by Candy Gourlay
David Fickling (eB) £10.99
Forced to hide herself away from the superstitious community of Mirasol, thirteen-year-old Rosa seeks solace online. There she meets Anse195, and as their friendship moves from virtual to reality Rosa discovers she is not the only one with something to hide... Not a ghost story, but there are plenty of ghosts! Not a horror story, but some readers may be horrified! This is an original, moving tale that combines myths and ghosts into a contemporary setting that will make you laugh and cry.
If You Find Me
Written by Emily Murdoch
Indigo (eB) £9.99
Carey, and her young sister Jenessa, live deep in the forest in a decrepit camper van with a drug-addicted, abusive and neglectful mother. When she disappears, Carey has somehow to keep herself and her sister alive. Then out of the blue, her estranged father shows up and the girls are whisked out of the forest and transplanted into a life they don’t understand. This debut novel is a gripping and mysterious tale, confidently spun into a complex web as details of what Carey had to do to survive in the forest are gradually revealed. It is a haunting but beautiful narrative of how the human spirit can triumph against impossible odds.
Written by Natasha Carthew
Bloomsbury (eB) £10.99
Society and the economy are breaking down. Fourteen year old Ennor Carne lives in a broken-down trailer with her dying father and young brother. A few days before Christmas, with a snowstorm setting in, she decides to go in search of the mother who deserted them years earlier. Little does she realise what faces her! When nothing can be guaranteed friendship, loyalty and love are all that remain.
Written by Sara Grant
Indigo (eB) £9.99
After being sent to a never-used nuclear waste storage facility in a top secret mountain bunker outside Los Vega by her parents, Icie find herself living with three strangers, as the rest of the world crumbles from a biological terror attack. Hundreds of years later, Beckett is the Cheer Captain of this same small community of survivors who now follow the strange faith of the Mountain and the Great I AM. Their stories, though separated in time, are cleverly intertwined. This is a tightly written and layered story which asks big questions about the nature of religion and faith as well as the fate of our nuclear waste problem. Sara Grant has a natural love of language, using it with great precision, but she also knows how to have fun with it. The new religion of Forreal adapts and changes current social-media and teen language to create something new and slightly surreal, replacing “Amen” with “Whatever”, but ties the present and the future clearly together.
Out of the Easy
Written by Ruta Sepetys
Puffin (eB) £7.99
Between Shades of Grey was an excellent debut novel. This second title is completely different and is a rattling good story. As the 1940s become the 1950s Josie, the daughter of a brothel prostitute in one of the sleazier areas of New Orleans, dreams of heading north to study at one of the country’s more prestigious colleges. Her grades are good enough to be accepted but her background is likely to be a problem. Josie has always been shamefully neglected by her selfish mother, but the brothel madam, a shrewd business woman called Willie Woodley, and the various other employees at the brothel, care for her and are prepared to help her in her search for a better life, even though they can’t understand why she would ever want to leave New Orleans. Inevitably in a story set in a brothel there are many references to sex and violence, but this is, at heart, an uplifting and engaging story about a girl’s ambition to escape the sleaze and corruption of her surroundings and get an education. There is a cast of colourful and lovable characters, as well as some more sinister ones, and the lively New Orleans of the early 1950s is wonderfully evoked.
Written by Lisa McMann
Scholastic (eB) £6.99
Sixteen year old Ethan, abducted at the age of seven, returns to his family. What should have been a joyous and happy occasion turns sour when Ethan’s younger brother poses a serious question. Ethan struggles to regain his formative memories and adapt to living as part of a family again. The family struggle to adjust to having Ethan around and desperately want everything to be “normal” but there are nine missing years and Ethan cannot remember anything prior to his abduction. This book is a real page-turner, full of drama, mystery and intrigue. The ending is abrupt and unexpected but I was hooked until the last page.
The Bunker Diary
Written by Kevin Brooks
Penguin (eB) £7.99
Linus, sixteen, is drugged and abducted and wakes up in an old bunker underground. There are six bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom and a lift with hidden cameras and microphones in every room – yes even the bathroom! Soon, he is joined by five more people – all from completely different walks of life and varying ages. There is neither rhyme nor reason why they have been taken and Linus records their coping mechanisms and outcomes in diary form. How different people cope is interesting, bleak and harrowing. It is very thought provoking – how would you cope in this situation? This book is reminiscent of Room by Emma Donaghue, but in some ways more disturbing. The concept is brutal and chilling and Kevin Brooks delivers a dark and gritty read. This book will easily cross over into adult fiction.