Sophie McKenzie is a bit of a teen institution here in the UK, and has garnered lots of critical acclaim and numerous awards. She's got the ideas to wSophie McKenzie is a bit of a teen institution here in the UK, and has garnered lots of critical acclaim and numerous awards. She's got the ideas to write a great story, and always puts a lot of thought and effort into her characterisation.
The Medusa Project series is an interesting premise, and is paced as fast as TV show 24. I didn't like this second instalment as much as the first, though I still enjoyed it and whizzed through it. My problem with this particular book was Ketty's narration. She wasn't as captivating as Nico, and at times seemed to be overly dependent on the other three Medusa kids. I didn't gel with her or the other characters as much this time around, though I do think The Hostage had a much better storyline than The Set-Up.
I love the idea of the Medusa gene, and all the special powers Nico, Ketty, Ed and Dylan have found themselves with. As each book progresses and is told from the point of view of a different character, more information about their powers is revealed, and they get the chance to use them in different environments. Think teenage X-Men in England, and you'll get what I mean.
The Rescue, the fourth book in the series, is due for release in July, and I'm really looking forward to it. Ed will be at the forefront this time, along with his pretty cool but uncontrollable mind reading talent and shy nature. It sounds like a recipe for disaster to me! ...more
I was pretty excited when I heard that this book was like Terminator meets X-Men. What a premise! Luckily, Monster Republic delivered the non-stop actI was pretty excited when I heard that this book was like Terminator meets X-Men. What a premise! Luckily, Monster Republic delivered the non-stop action promised, and moved along at a very quick speed. As a bonus, Random House have included a few pages of art at the back, which made imagining the characters and settings that much easier.
Cameron is a normal teenage boy, with the usual mix of secondary school friends, and the hots for a girl in his year. He's not a character that stood out to me at first, but all that changed when he woke up after surviving an explosion at a power plant. He became a leader, a warrior, and someone to be feared. Cameron's new life as part-machine, part-boy struck me as a metaphor for growing up, with his new responsibilities and decision making teaching him some valuable life lessons.
Rora, a fellow member of the Monster Republic for rejects, is a good match for Cameron, and takes him under her wing. She comes across as the leader of the group, and risks a lot when she decides to trust Cameron. Carla, a mish-mash of machine parts and students, plays the main villain well, even though she coincidentally always turns up at the right place at the right time.
Monster Republic didn't hook me immediately, and it took me quite a while to warm to it. I felt detached from most of the characters, which I think is down to me not being able to easily empathise with their situation. I did enjoy all the action scenes, and the story itself was fantastic, but for me it just had that special ingredient missing. ...more
When I Was Joe isn't an easy book to read, based on the harrowing and all-too-realistic subject matter. It's honest and raw without being unbelievableWhen I Was Joe isn't an easy book to read, based on the harrowing and all-too-realistic subject matter. It's honest and raw without being unbelievable or over-exaggerated, and packs a punch that'll leave you mulling it over for days
Main character Ty, who, after being placed in the witness protection programme, is forced to change his name to Joe, is a very strong character. He's instantly likeable, and this bodes well when it comes to sympathising with him and his unfortunate situation. Even after he becomes Joe and his personality changes, he's still a typical teenager with everyday, mundane issues to deal with. He never lets anyone in, and deals with his isolation remarkably well.
His budding friendship with successful paraplegic Ellie is both comforting and worrying. There's always the chance he'll get a bit too close to her and slip up, revealing his real name or previous life. It's like he's constantly walking on eggshells that can never, ever be broken or disturbed. Living with such fear and secrecy is hard and demanding, and author Keren David never fails to hammer that point home.
Though the rest of the characters are all well-written and engaging, none of them stand out quite like Ty. It's the only complaint I have about this novel, which just goes to show that nothing is perfect. Maybe it's because they're not as endearing, or perhaps it's because Ty overshadows everything going on around him. He successfully carries the whole novel, and even if he was the only character featured in the story, I don't think it would have made a difference. Ty's mum Nicki is a particular highlight, and her struggles with her new life are often heartbreaking. She knows her old life could be lost forever and, armed with that knowledge, she tries to carry on moving forward to the best of her ability.
Knife crime is a frightening violence that is rife in many parts of the UK, and is something that just can't be ignored. While all cases might not be as extreme as Ty's, it does happen, and innocent people's lives are ruined, altered and forever changed. Keren David addresses this issue with the utmost severity, and never glorifies life as a main witness to a crime. Without books like these, people could very easily forget what's happening right under their noses; even as close to home as the school their child attends. For that reason alone, When I Was Joe should be read, enjoyed and learned from by everyone. It's never too late to pay attention. ...more
I'm a big fan of fiction set in and around the Second World War. I don't know what it is that fascinates me, all I know is that it's a particular poinI'm a big fan of fiction set in and around the Second World War. I don't know what it is that fascinates me, all I know is that it's a particular point of interest, and has been the subject of some of my favourite books. Auslander is a great addition to war fiction, and though it's not up there with The Book Thief or The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, it's most definitely worth a read.
By reading the first page alone, you can tell Dowswell has done his homework. His attention to detail is almost flawless, as is his ability to paint a clear picture of wartime Germany and its surrounding areas. Warsaw in 1941 is a scary place to be, and that's where Peter's story starts. From there, he's sent to a family in Germany, introduced to Nazi propaganda, and deemed an auslander -- a foreigner. He also stumbles across proof of medical experiements being tested on jews, and becomes tangled up in a dangerous web of lies and deceit. It's all for a good cause, but it doesn't do him any favours as a respected member of the Hitler Youth.
I can't even imagine what it must have been like to be a teenager during WWII. Most of their choices were stripped away, and they lived in a constant fear of being bombed or killed because their hair wasn't the right colour. With Auslander, Dowswell tries to show that fear and uncertainty and, for the most part, he manages to. I personally wanted to see more of the Hitler Youth, and how that affected the children and teenagers enlisted. I also would have liked a first person narrative, so I could have read how Peter was feeling, and how everything was really affecting him. Without being in his head, I did have some trouble warming to him, and by the end of the novel, I still wasn't fully convinced.
The Reiter family, who were my favourite characters, reminded me very much of Hans and Rosa Huberman from The Book Thief. Compassionate and selfless, they put others first, even if it meant dying themselves. There's no better message to convey than that of acceptance and equality, and that's what I've taken away from Auslander. The pace could have been faster, and the characters easier to identify with, but in the end, it's all about Peter's story. And what an important story it is. ...more
Fairies! Goblins! Witches! Welcome to The Thirteen Curses.
After reading Michelle Harrison's fantastic debut novel The Thirteen Treasures, I was so excFairies! Goblins! Witches! Welcome to The Thirteen Curses.
After reading Michelle Harrison's fantastic debut novel The Thirteen Treasures, I was so excited to get stuck into The Thirteen Curses. Having now read both books, I'd go so far as to say that Harrison is up there with my favourite UK authors, and is now in the good company of Marcus Sedgwick, Sarra Manning and Lucy Christopher. Seriously, she's that good.
The Thirteen Curses is so hard to put down it's almost impossible, and aside from some convenient plotting and the occasional clunky chapter, I have no qualms with it at all. I could never fault the brilliant writing, imagination or magic of the fey characters, and it's quite clear why these books are held in such high regard.
Without spoiling anything about the previous book, The Thirteen Curses picks up almost exactly where it left off, and takes you on an enchanting adventure through fairie realms, scary forests and history itself. All your favourite characters, both human and fairie, come back for more, and there are even a few new creatures for you to meet. Red and Tanya share MC duties, with Warwick and Fabian having more to do and less of a sidekick role.
When I'd finished the first book in the series, Brunswick the goblin was my favourite character. Now, the little tea caddy brownie is my number one dude. He can brandish his walking stick like it's a required skill among the little people, and he just sounds so cute and grumpy. I want one!
I don't know what else to say other than that you need to read these books. They're the most enjoyment I've had in a long time, and are just a great escape from everything going on around you. Hats off to you, Michelle Harrison. You rock....more
My Totally Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare is a quick read that will really appeal to younger readers who like their books to be a little more inteMy Totally Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare is a quick read that will really appeal to younger readers who like their books to be a little more interactive. It's filled with eccentric characters, quirky drawings and real photographs depicting people and places mentioned in the story.
My favourite character was Vanilla, Polly's mum's crazy life coach. She was really into astrology and tarot, and wow did she talk some cosmic rubbish! If I was Polly, I would have been seriously miffed at the prospect of sharing a house with this woman, so all things considered, I think she handled it very well. If I ever see a lady resembling Vanilla, I'll be running in the opposite direction, that's for sure.
I occasionally had a bit of trouble with the layout of the pages, as they're very busy, with a lot going on. Having to stop and check I'd caught everything briefly disrupted my flow of reading, and proved to be a bit of a distraction. I'm sure younger readers will have no problem with it at all, and will highly approve of the packed pages.
The story itself was a bit far-fetched, but I think that added to the humour and tone of the book. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and poor Polly is left to avoid being teased by older boys and being humiliated in front of her peers. It's not an easy life, but then being a teenager never is. Dee Shulman has a created a book that is fast and fun, and is guaranteed to be a hit with fans of the diary-and-drawing format. ...more
Flyaway is only Lucy Christopher's second book, but already it feels like I've been reading her words for years. It's completely different to her debuFlyaway is only Lucy Christopher's second book, but already it feels like I've been reading her words for years. It's completely different to her debut novel, Stolen, but is just as good, if not better. This story is told by Isla, a teenage girl with a love for all types of birds. When her father is taken to hospital, it's there she meets a boy called Harry Brambling. Isla and Harry discover a swan out on the lake, and before they know it, everything changes.
Isla is an engaging narrator, with a warm personality and a selfless nature. She's supportive when her family needs her, she's encouraging to her sick father, and she's the anchor that ensures Harry keeps hold of the cheeky sparkle in his eyes. Like Isla's father, Harry's not well himself, though you'd never be able to tell from his high spirits and positive attitude. The friendship that forms is so lovely and innocent, and is a refreshing change from all the supercharged teenage hormones I've become so accustomed to.
Accompanying Isla and Harry throughout the book is a lone swan that has become detached from its flock. It might not be able to talk or interact like a human can, but it's just as important as the other characters. It has the ability to just be, and to guide and offer comfort when it's needed most. It's described so vividly that I almost believed it could be sat outside in my own tiny fish pond, bobbing for goldfish and tormenting the frogs. I never had any interest in swans before reading Flyaway, but now I want to experience their magic for myself.
There are a few short dream sequences throughout Isla's tale, and while they do fit into what's happening in the real world, I felt that a couple of them interrupted the flow of writing and unnecessarily complicated things. The last venture into Isla's imagination is so poignant and touching, and really made me think things were going to turn out differently than they did. I'm glad I was wrong!
Flyaway is chock-full of beautiful imagery, realistic plot threads and short chapters that will tug at your heartstrings. It's a story about family, friendship, and overcoming the many obstacles that life will inevitably present. I just wish it had a higher page count, because I could have carried on reading it for days. ...more
Pat Walsh's atmospheric debut offering is a historical fantasy with a magical twist. Gone are the expected swords and battles, and in their place arePat Walsh's atmospheric debut offering is a historical fantasy with a magical twist. Gone are the expected swords and battles, and in their place are mysterious angels and loveable hobs.
A hob is a fay creature, with similar physical attributes to that of a fox. They can hold conversations as well as the next human, and prove quite useful when unravelling age-old mysteries of angels buried in nearby forests. Brother Walter is a lovely little guy, and due to my enthusiasm for tiny creatures, I fell in love with him straight away. He was by far my favourite character, though Brother Snail came a close second. I had a bit of trouble connecting with William, just because he didn't present himself as a particularly endearing character. I liked him more as I got to know him, but he didn't leave a strong impression on me.
The setting of The Crowfield Curse is fairly unusual for a YA book, and isn't something I remember coming across before. An isolated abbey makes for an intriguing place of residence for the monks, and provides a sense of isolation that makes the story seem that much more ominous.
The arrival of two strangers sees life at Crowfield Abbey take a turn for the creepy, and William uncovers a local legend of sorts. With the help of Brother Walter and Brother Snail, a fascinating history unfolds, and that's when the story really finds its feet. Up until that point, things move along at a fairly slow pace, while Walsh sets everything up with the utmost attention to detail.
1347 is an interesting time period to explore, and this is one of The Crowfield Curse's most appealing elements. Walsh took a chance on an almost forgotten time, and I think it more than paid off. I can't wait for the sequel and the return of the fay creatures, and I just hope Brother Walter keeps himself out of trouble! ...more
The St Jude's series is one of my favourite to come out of the UK, and it gets better with each book. There's character growth, positive messages, andThe St Jude's series is one of my favourite to come out of the UK, and it gets better with each book. There's character growth, positive messages, and a whole load of innocent teenage fun to be had with the girls from St Jude's boarding school.
Drama Girl is the most serious installment yet, dealing with important themes and issues such as eating disorders and self-esteem. I think it's so important to include these storylines in teen books, as it speaks to teenagers in a subtle yet informative way. Although most things wrap up happily at the end of the book, Carmen Reid never skirts around the importance of realising you have a problem, and being able to ask for help.
Friendship is what the St Jude's series is about, and that still has a strong presence in Drama Girl. Boys and brothers might get in the way, but the four girls -- Gina, Niffy, Amy and Min -- always support and come back to each other, and remember what's important. It's like Sex and the City for the younger generation, if it was set in Scotland and was actually funny.
Reid clearly knows her characters inside out, and knows what it's like to grow up in that environment. Her writing is humorous and easy to read, and makes the time fly by. I'd like to see more romance in the next book, and a little less emphasis on the girls and their bond. Three books in, I know they're best friends forever, and now I want to see how they cope when they're not the most important people in each other's lives. Can they survive that? Yes, I think they can. ...more
Laura Summers brings the subject of disability to the forefront, in her critically acclaimed debut novel Desperate Measures. Told from the perspectiveLaura Summers brings the subject of disability to the forefront, in her critically acclaimed debut novel Desperate Measures. Told from the perspectives of twins Vicky and Rihanna, the story takes us on a journey across the UK, and to a place where both girls, along with their brother Jamie, finally feel at home.
Vicky and Rihanna are very well written, with both girls dealing with Rihanna's disability in different ways. Vicky is her primary carer, and has more responsibility than she should. She's loyal to her sister, and is willing to put her own life on hold to help her. Rihanna is innocent and young for her age, and often doesn't understand simple concepts such as death. It's hard work for the children, and the lack of a stable home life makes things even more difficult.
Although the characterisation and topics explored are hard to find fault with, I did have some trouble with the plot. I found it fairly hard to believe that three children would be able to run away, and get as far as they did with hardly any money or supplies. I thought the people they encountered would have used common sense and alerted the police of their whereabouts, rather than send them on their merry way with some advice and well wishes.
I can see why Desperate Measures has been so highly regarded, as it really will make teenagers think about disability, and what it's like for the families involved. I'm looking forward to seeing what Summers writes next, and I'm sure she has a long and successful career ahead of her....more
When I first received a copy of Pretty Bad Things, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was what I'd learnt from the cover: it was something to doWhen I first received a copy of Pretty Bad Things, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was what I'd learnt from the cover: it was something to do with siblings, Vegas and a gun. Quite a random mix, eh? Pretty Bad Things does feature two twins, it's set in Las Vegas and, yes, a firearm enters the equation. In addition to this, it's also about sacrifice and love, and the lengths people will go to to be reunited with those closest to them.
C. J. Skuse's writing is among the best I've read in the past few years, and her words are brimming with snark, wit and humour. I laughed out loud plenty of times, usually at something the ever observant Paisley came out with -- that girl can talk her way out of anything, whether it be a robbery or an arson attempt. She's the complete opposite to her brother, Beau, who is quiet for the most part, though he does step up and come out of his shell as the book progresses. Buddy is also an interesting character, and is one I'm hoping to see more of in the future. As a father, he's been pretty absent for most of Paisley and Beau's lives, but their bond is still there and, in true fatherly fashion, he'd do anything for them.
The Vegas backdrop is a brilliant setting, with lights and glamour par for the course on The Strip. I've never seen Vegas in real life, and I doubt I ever will (scared of flying), so I was fascinated to read about it in such detail. I came away feeling like I'd been living in a seedy hotel and walking down the dingy back alleys late at night, just like Paisley and Beau. Skuse definitely has a skill when it comes to scene setting, and I've been listening to The Killers all day in response. They're the best thing to come out of Vegas, in my opinion!
Pretty Bad Things is cool, edgy and daring. It's one of those books I couldn't put down, and it's one of those debuts that deserves a place on the YA map of fame. I'm so excited to see what this author writes next, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will feature Paisley and Beau. They are two rockin' dudes! ...more
I absolutely loved How to Train Your Dragon, and it's now one of my favourite books for younger readers. It has everything you could want: an excitingI absolutely loved How to Train Your Dragon, and it's now one of my favourite books for younger readers. It has everything you could want: an exciting story, likeable characters, bucketloads of humour, and a very cute little dragon with no teeth.
Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a ten-and-a-half-year-old with a difference. He's Viking royalty in training and, like most people, has to prove his worth to his friends and relatives. He's a fantastic character, with as much charm and determination as a young Harry Potter. His tiny dragon, Toothless, is of the cute and scaly variety, speaks Dragonese and likes to pretend he doesn't really like Hiccup. Together they take the Viking world by storm, and show everyone that, yes, Hiccup is more than capable of being a hero.
Cowell's writing is so funny and easy to read, and I can see why this series of books is a huge hit. She incorporates Hiccup's drawings, notes and observations into the text, and successfully gives an interactive element to the reading experience. Seeing who I was reading about gave it that extra sparkle, especially when drawings of Toothless appeared. I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to anyone when I say that I now want a little dragon. I've taught myself some Dragonese for when the situation arises, and I'm on the lookout for any unhatched eggs!
Readers of all ages will find something to enjoy with this book, and if you have a younger child looking for something new to read, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a copy of How to Train Your Dragon. I'm going to read the rest of the series when I get chance, and I can't wait to see the animated movie. It's going to be brilliant! ...more