Friday, 15 November 2013

New Reviews - November 2013

Christmas Titles

Stick Man

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Scholastic (R)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1407130234

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.

Elaine Chant

Little Tomte’s Christmas Wish

Written by Inkeri Karvonen

Illustrated by Hannu Taina 

Floris   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1782500162

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.

Val Bierman

Penguin Pandemonium: Christmas Crackers

Written by Jeanne Willis

Illustrated by Nathan Reed

HarperCollins (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-0007521944

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

Christmas Stories

Written by Michael Morpurgo

Egmont (R)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1405268950

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

The Great British Christmas Book

Written by Samantha Meredith

Scholastic   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1407137940

Packed full of festive activities, games and stickers, focussing on Britain, 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.

David Chant

Picture Books for Young Children

Let’s Talk About Big Beds and Bedtime

Written by Stella Gurney

Illustrated by Fiona Freund

Campbell   £5.99

ISBN: 978-0230764323

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!

Louise Mundford

Babies, Babies, Babies

Written and illustrated by Catherine and Laurence Anholt

Orchard Books   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1408314364

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.

Louise Mundford

Birthday Treasure

Written and illustrated by Lara Jones

Campbell   £5.99

ISBN: 978-0230754034

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.

Louise Mundford

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.

Louise Mundford

Mabel and Me: Best of Friends

Written by Mark Sperring

Illustrated by Sarah Warburton

HarperCollins   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0007468355

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.
                                                                                                                                        David Chant


Written and illustrated by John Burningham

Jonathan Cape (R)   £19.99

ISBN: 978-0857550835

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.

Sinead Kromer


Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School


Too Many Hats

Written and illustrated by Hilda Offen

Troika   £4.99

ISBN: 978-0957301337

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.

Elaine Chant

The Witching Hour

Written by Sara Grant

Illustrated by Erica-Jane Waters

Orion (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1444007770

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.

Gill Roberts

Maisie Hitchins: The Case of the Vanishing Emerald

Written by Holly Webb

Stripes   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1847153722

In the second book of the series, Maisie’s actress friend Miss Lane 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.

Tina Massey

The Tattoo Fox

Written by Alasdair Hutton

Illustrated by Stref (Steven White)

Luath (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1908373939

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.

Jenny Blanch

My Super Sister and the Birthday Party

Written by Gwyneth Rees

Illustrated by Ella Okstad and Lydia Monks

Macmillan   £7.99

ISBN: 978-0230767775

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.

Julia Jarman


City Farm: Emily and Patch

Written by Jessie Williams

Curious Fox (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1782020202

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. 

Pat Thomson

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Written and illustrated by Chris Riddell

Macmillan (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-0230759800

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. Ada 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!

Martin Kromer

The Hobbit

Written by J. R. R. Tolkein

Illustrated by Jemima Catlin

HarperCollins (R) (eB)   £20.00

ISBN: 978-0007497904

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.

Martin Kromer

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

A Lily, A Rose

Written by Sally Nicholls

Illustrated by Sarah Dennis

Barrington Stoke   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1781121962

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.

Tina Massey

Shadows of the Silver Screen

Written by Christopher Edge

Nosy Crow (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0857630520

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.

Jane Hall

An Angel for May

Written by Melvin Burgess

Andersen   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1849395342

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.

Annalise Taylor

Geekhood: Mission Impossible

Written by Andy Robb

Stripes (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1847153647

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.

Stella Maden

The Book of Doom

Written by Barry Hutchison

HarperCollins (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0007440917

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!

Jane Hall

The Maleficent Seven

Written by Derek Landy

HarperCollins (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0007500925

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!

Jane Hall

Itch Rocks

Written by Simon Mayo

Doubleday (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-0857531322

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.

Nigel Hinton

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.

Davy Hall


Written by Mitch Benn

Gollancz (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0575132085

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.

Elaine Chant

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Invisible Girl

Written by Kate Maryon

HarperCollins (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0007466900

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!

Annie Everall

The Bone Dragon

Written by Alexia Casale

Faber and Faber (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-0571295616

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.

Louise Stothard

Castle Waiting

Written and Illustrated by Linda Medley

Fantagraphics (eB)   £17.99

ISBN: 978-1606996027

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.

Benjamin Scott

The Last Wild

Written by Piers Torday

Quercus (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1780878287

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.

Patricia Thompson

Diary of a Mall Girl

Written by Luisa Plaja

Curious Fox (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1782020127

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!

Pat Thomson 

Through Dead Eyes

Written by Chris Priestley

Bloomsbury (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1408811061

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. 

Nigel Hinton


Written by Rachel Hartman

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552566001

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.

Jane Hall

Chasing the Dark

Written by Sam Hepburn

Chicken House (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1908435682

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. 

Marianne Adey

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow

Written by Amy McCulloch

Random House (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857531810

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.

Louise Stothard

Sun Catcher

Written by Sheila Rance

Orion (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1444006209

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. 

Pat Thomson

 The Savages

Written by Matt Whyman

Hot Key (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1471400384

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. 

Nicholas Tucker


Written by Graham McNamee

Hodder (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1444912784

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.

Louise Stothard

Infinite Sky

Written by C. J. Flood

Simon and Schuster (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-0857078025

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.


Patricia Thompson

The Boy from France

Written by Hilary Freeman

Piccadilly (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1848123014

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.

Patricia Thompson


A Face Like Glass

Written by Frances Hardinge

Macmillan (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-0330519700

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.

Richard Monte


Written by Megan Miranda

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1408834848

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.

Jane Hall


Written by Megan Spooner

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552565561

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!

Tina Massey

Finding Cherokee Brown

Written by Siobhan Curham

Electric Monkey (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1405260381

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.

Benjamin Scott

Titles for More Mature readers


Written by Candy Gourlay

David Fickling (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-0385619202

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.

Jenny Blanch

If You Find Me

Written by Emily Murdoch

Indigo (eB)    £9.99

ISBN: 978-1780621524

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.

Yvonne Coppard


Winter Damage

Written by Natasha Carthew

Bloomsbury (eB)   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1408835838

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.

Martin Kromer

Half Lives

Written by Sara Grant

Indigo (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1780620381

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.

Benjamin Scott


Out of the Easy

Written by Ruta Sepetys

Puffin (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-0141347332

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.

Jan Lennon

Dead to You

Written by Lisa McMann

Scholastic (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1407137230

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.

Ingrid Fox

The Bunker Diary

Written by Kevin Brooks

Penguin (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-0141326122

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.

Ingrid Fox


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

New Reviews - July 2013

Titles for Younger Readers


Meet the Weirds

Written by Kaye Umansky

Illustrated by Chris Mould

Barrington Stoke   £5.99                    

ISBN: 978-1781120743

This is an excellent reprint of Kaye Umansky’s first story about Pinchton Primm and the wonderfully strange family called the Weirds.  Printed on cream paper with a carefully chosen font and clear spacing, it has a ‘dyslexia friendly’ sticker on the cover and has been tested by young readers. Pinchton leads a sedate and organised life with his parents who only eat fish and a lot of radishes and are very tidy.  When a new family moves in next door Mrs Primm is dismayed to see the garden full of boxes and crates and even more concerned to learn that Ott and Frankly’s mother is a stunt woman and their father an inventor.  Pinchton meets Ott over the garden hedge and is surprised by her strange clothes.  She is very persuasive and he finds himself next door eating chips from newspaper, wedding cake and pink custard. But, when he sees that his mother’s flowers have been picked, the gnomes’ fishing rods have been broken and worse of all, the two goldfish are missing, Pinchton begins to worry. The language is clear and unambiguous and is lively and descriptive too, whilst the illustrations are full of detail and humour and compliment the story well. The ending leaves the reader, and Pinchton, guessing about many of the weird goings on next door but thankfully there are more stories in the series to be enjoyed.

Louise Stothard

Weird Happenings

Written by Kaye Umansky

Illustrated by Chris Mould

Barrington Stoke   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1781120767

If your friend next door has a mad inventor dad, a stunt woman mum and a grandma who never stops cooking chips over an open fire in the kitchen they may be a little unusual themselves. If their last name is Weird and their house is a mess, they may not be the safest houseguests when your parents are away for the day, especially if your parents like things ‘just so’ with not a speck of dirt on the cream rugs. This is just the situation that Pinchton Primm finds himself in. In no time there’s a pile of mud in the kitchen and a hole in the ceiling. Kaye Umansky has years of experience writing funny stories for children. Here, most of the humour is derived from the contrast between Pinchton’s rigid home life and the relaxed attitudes of the Weirds. Chris Mould’s style of illustration compliments the story perfectly as his line drawings add to the eccentricities of the characters. Published as it is by Barrington Stoke, the Weird series is printed in a dyslexia friendly font on buff paper with the text well-spaced. Good fun for newly independent readers that can work their way through the series.

Annalise Taylor


Leave it to Eva

Written by Judi Curtin

O’Brien (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1847173478

Eva wants to help everyone who might need her to sort out their lives. This book recounts two, seemingly separate, stories about Eva and her efforts to help her friends and their families. At the beginning, each story stands alone and flows along with barely a pause for breath, but there is a tenuous link which becomes clearer as the book progresses.  It is a very enjoyable book to read, but it also touches on issues that are very much current in our society today; care of the disabled and separated families.

Pat Thompson

Survival Squad: Night Riders

Written by Jonathan Rock

Red Fox (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1862309678

Connor and his friends are members of the Sixth Matfield Scout Troop’s Tiger patrol, and they love adventures! This story is about their cycle trip to Wales where they camp overnight and get involved in foiling a gang of sheep rustlers. Although this is one of a series, it stands alone as a simple adventure story for young readers who are gaining confidence and can manage a book with proper chapters. It is told with a racy and rather breathless style, which keeps up the interest and constantly pushes the reader on to find out what happens next.  The patrol is a mixed group of boys and girls, each with a distinct character, and a contribution to make. Some are more confident than others, but even Priya, who hasn’t ridden a bike before and is nervous of sleeping under canvas, manages to rise to the occasion and actually enjoys the adventure. This is a fun adventure story that will be popular with children. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the language is rich and varied without being too demanding, and the dialogue is well crafted.

Liz Dubber


 The Snow Queen

Retold by Sarah Lowes

Illustrated by Miss Clara        

Barefoot   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1846866616

Another beautiful book from the Independent Reading Series; one of the great traditional tales of Hans Christian Anderson is retold here for confident readers. Gerda’s best friend Kay is enticed away by the evil Snow Queen and Gerda sets off across the world to find and reclaim him. Sarah Lowes rises to the challenge of the inevitable constraints imposed by a scheme. Her style is lyrical and understated, and she keeps the old-fashioned, storytelling tone of traditional versions. French illustrator Miss Clara gives us beautiful pictures to match the power of the text. The doll-like characters have the air of not quite connecting with the sumptuous, vibrant warmth of their backgrounds – echoing, perhaps, the tensions between the Snow Queen’s icy world and the warmth of Gerda’s love. This is, all round, a lovely book to put into the hands of a young reader, to take off into a quiet corner and be transported.    

Yvonne Coppard


 Watching Jimmy

Written by Nancy Hartry

Tundra (R) (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1770493605

The narrator of the story is Carolyn, whose friend Jimmy has been brain-damaged due to an ‘accident’. Weekly visits of Jimmy’s Uncle Ted haunt Carolyn, as she knows Ted’s secret and shares it with the reader at an early stage in the story.  Eventually the truth emerges and Uncle Ted is discredited. This is a great little story, set in Canada shortly after the Second World War, and filled with compassion and understanding.  Jimmy and his mother Jean are ordinary people, down on their luck, while Carolyn is a loyal and faithful friend.  She shows real bravery in confronting Ted’s bullying behaviour. The story is well written with excellent characterisation and strongly observed detail which brings the book to life. The style is economical, yet vividly conveys the plot and moves it forward. Carolyn’s original approach to problem solving is an object lesson in strength of character and the whole book has a calm determination which echoes Carolyn’s own attitude and behaviour. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

Liz Dubber


 In Too Deep

Written by Tom Avery

Frances Lincoln (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1847803894

This sequel to Too Much Trouble follows both Prince and his brother, Emmanuel, who together have escaped from danger in the Democratic Republic of Congo and are trying to adapt to life in the UK without their parents. Kindly social workers and genial foster parents try to help the boys adjust but nothing can replace a parent and there is relief and happiness when their mother arrives in the country. They settle down with her and their baby sister, Grace, but still miss their father who is now in impossible debt to ruthless gangsters in Tanzania. The two boys come up with a plan to rescue him!

Nigel Hinton

Long Jump High

Written by Malachy Doyle

Barrington Stoke   £6.99  

ISBN: 978-1781121375

This is a new ‘dyslexia friendly’ title from Barrington Stoke and it is yet another book written with an Olympic theme.  Pete is a gifted young man. He can run, then jump, then fly, but he has kept his astonishing jumping ability secret until now. As the London Olympic Games approach, Pete dreams of being the youngest ever athlete to win a gold medal, or even three, and so he starts to get himself noticed at local athletic events and then at regional and national level. Other more experienced athletes have their own dreams and, after years of training, they are not about to let a young lad from nowhere spoil their chances of glory. This short tale about sporting ambitions is easy to follow and, if the Olympic theme isn’t already out of date, it may well appeal to teenagers with dreams and ambitions of their own.

Jan Lennon

Graphic Shakespeare

Retold by Kathy McEvoy

Book House   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1908973030

This volume contains graphic versions of Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Story panels include excerpts of original Shakespearean dialogue with accompanying captions to interpret the action. These captions act almost as a translation, and helpful footnotes explain the more challenging language. Each play has an illustrated cast list at the beginning. All these factors combine to make these stories an accessible route into the plays proper. All in all, this could prove to be a useful aid to students who need help understanding Shakespeare.

Annalise Taylor


Task Force Delta: Rogue Predator

Written by Craig Simpson

Franklin Watts (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1445106946

This book is one of a series of four created around the fictional Task Force Delta, a Special Operations force whose work involves counter-terrorism, hostage rescues and other covert operations. We are introduced to the Delta Force crack team, and their first high-risk mission to locate a stolen Predator drone aircraft. Complicating the mission is the promise that Major Nathan Connor made to his old Afghan friend Assif to protect his son in the event of his own death.  Assif is indeed now dead, murdered for being seen to collaborate with the occupying US forces. This book contains a mix of factual information on Special Forces, weapons and tactics with a thrill-a-minute adventure story set in the current war in Afghanistan. With its graphics and jargon-heavy dialogue, it will appeal to readers in search of a short, exciting read. It covers the ground with spare efficiency, and contains just about enough political complexity to avoid falling into the trap of presenting the US forces as the ‘goodies’ and the Afghans as the ‘baddies’.  This is a good book to stir the enthusiasm of those reluctant readers.

Stella Maden

Titles for Older Readers


Cat’s Cradle

Written by Nick Green

Strident   £6.99

ISBN:  978-1905537884

The Cat Kin is an after-school club whose members possess ancient and peculiar powers. In this third book, Tiffany is determined to stop the illegal trade in big cat parts which threatens the survival of tigers worldwide. Ben doesn’t want Tiffany to put herself into danger alone, but his parents have just got back together and he does not want to put his family at risk, either. As Mrs Powell, their teacher and mentor, is dead, Ben reluctantly joins Tiffany to take on the followers of the ancient god Set, with the other club members supporting. A dark and troubled tale ensues with action moving swiftly and threats menacing the teens as those skilled in Pashki, the art of moving like a cat, prowl the streets, warehouses and port of London in the form of big cats themselves, the cats’ eyes description here oddly compelling.

Tina Massey


Operation Kick Butt

Written by Niki Daly

Hodder (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1444900934

The suggestion of community service, as part of a holiday project for school, raises groans from Al and his friends, Sophie and Julian. However, at the suggestion of Al’s grandmother, the trio volunteers to work at a local Care Home, the Lady Buxom Home for Seniors, where Al’s Gran already teaches art. The three arrive full of ideas and meet such a range of interesting and idiosyncratic characters that they throw themselves whole-heartedly into the task. However, all is not well at the Lady Buxom Home, with the main problem being Mrs Black, the owner of the home. The dreadful Mrs Black is intent on cutting care and food to the minimum and appears to be systematically robbing the residents. Developing very strong attachments to the residents, the trio decide, with the help of Gran and her very particular skills, to come to the rescue. This fast moving and exciting book is a classic story of good conquering evil. The reader becomes very involved with the characters and is always willing for Al, Sophie and Julian to triumph.

Pat Thompson


Wentworth Hall

Written by Abby Grahame

Simon & Schuster   £6.99

IBSN: 978-0857079169

This story is very reminiscent of Downton Abbey, with all its Upstairs and Downstairs characters and their very different, individual concerns. The Darlington Family has lived at Wentworth Hall for generations, but money is very short so Downstairs are thinking about job security and trying to make plans for the future. Upstairs, however, have different problems: shortage of money, trouble-making, but very rich, guests, relationships, children, and rich potential marriage suitors. They also have their secrets which need to be closely guarded, for, in addition, someone is writing an insider view of the family, and although they are not named, it is clear which family is the subject of the resultant gossip column. The book tackles such issues as the impoverished gentry, illegitimacy, and the relationships between upstairs and down, all happening at a time when the world is just about to be torn apart by a World War.

Pat Thompson



Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact

Written by A. J. Hartley

Razorbill (R) (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1595144812

On reflection, Darwen’s new life was not what he expected! Following his parents’ death, Darwen Arkwright moves to America with his aunt. He feels out of place there, especially at his new school, but at least he has his two new friends, Alexandra and Rich, who are also incongruous.  When Darwen is presented with a strange old mirror by the mysterious Mr Peregrine, he quickly discovers that his gift is no ordinary mirror, but a portal to Silbrica, a beautiful world full of enchanting creatures. Darwen cannot resist the temptation, but every time he visits, Silbrica changes and evil creatures gradually take over. Can the Peregrine Pact save the day? A. J. Hartley’s first children’s book is a dark fantasy adventure story that will enthral confident readers. Although a daunting 425 pages, the constant excitement means that the story flies by and the three children have the admirable traits of bravery, compassion and loyalty. The subject of loss is handled well, with it adding to the children’s resolve to defeat evil. Hartley’s imagination is in full flow with Grobblers and Dellfeys from Silbrica, while some of Hillside’s teachers are not as they seem! Pre-teens will enjoy this thrilling adventure story.

Jane Hall


Shiverton Hall

Written by Emerald Fennell

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN 978-1408827789

Shiverton Hall, Emerald Fennell’s debut novel, is an extremely likeable, well-written adventure story set in a creepy old school where extremely odd things are happening. When Arthur Bannister unexpectedly receives a letter offering him a scholarship at the boarding school Shiverton Hall, he feels he can’t turn it down, despite the fact he really doesn’t want to go there. He had had a dreadful time at his previous school so going to Shiverton Hall would mean a fresh start. What he doesn’t know is that Shiverton Hall is not an average boarding school. When he gets there he does not see the nice welcoming place he saw in the school prospectus but ‘a Gothic, turreted behemoth, all ridges and spines and gargoyles.’  It is a really hair-raising place, full of surprises and he’s glad to quickly make some friends, despite the fact that one of them, George, delights in telling him stories about the schools extremely gruesome history, which make him feel a bit spooked. Soon it’s not just Georges’ stories that are making him feel scared. Something bad is happening and Arthur seems to be at the centre of it. Shiverton Hall is great fun. A fast paced exciting school/ghost story with engaging and credible characters. I hope there will be more from Emerald Fennell.

Gillian Macdonald


 Time Riders: City of Shadows

Written by Alex Scarrow

Puffin   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0141337074

This outstanding episode of the Time Riders sequence begins with the 9/11 Twin Towers catastrophe. Liam, Maddy and Sal, are charged by the shadowy agency to prevent time travel destroying history. They themselves are hunted by a remorseless cyborg team of assassins from the future which utilises security services in order to track them. The story moves expertly between Jack the Ripper’s London and America, constantly juggling present, future and past while the reader is drawn into the characters’ loyalties, puzzlements and moral dilemmas. When their nature is revealed the bleak emptiness of their lives and problems of purpose and existence become moving and utterly absorbing. When, if ever, is a human murder justified, and how can they watch it happen, even if it could prevent future catastrophe? Intriguing questions and very human social and moral dilemmas are expertly handled by a master storyteller. Irresistible reading!

Tina Massey


Song Hunter

Written by Sally Prue

O.U.P. (eB)  £6.99

ISBN: 987-0192757111

It has long been the bane of youth that grown-ups don’t listen. Go back to the era of living in caves with flint tools and it was just the same. No! It was even worse! Dare to challenge the way it was always done and your very life was at risk. Being the leader meant being obeyed. For Mica this situation was intolerable. She could see that without change there could be no future for her little community. Starvation would surely come during the coming winter. Her problem was that she had ideas and wanted to try something different. She was also becoming aware that there were other people close by; people that used their voices to make melodic sounds and people that used their hands to create tiny creatures in stone.  Such practices were totally alien to her own experience and yet she was memorised by the possibilities of something different. Sally Prue imagines a world in which imagination itself has no part. Why did the Neanderthal die out while Homo Sapiens flourished? Adaptability and creativity were always the keys to survival and, somehow, Mica instinctively knew this. In a world where there was no scope for imagination, Sally Prue has created a story that fully utilizes imagination to delve into a past so very long ago.

Trevor Thompson


Wolf Princess

Written by Cathryn Constable

Chicken House (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1908435347

This book promises to be an exciting read, with a cover design that suggests a snowy Russian landscape together with prowling wolves.  The story revolves around Sophie, an orphan who feels strangely drawn to join a school trip to Russia.  Together with two school friends, she finds herself in a remote Russian palace, home of a ‘princess’ who turns out to be less than they thought. It’s March and the palace is still enfolded by the cold snows of the Russian winter. The wolves of the surrounding forest are menacing and as the plot unfolds, the violent history of the palace is reflected in a modern twist that brings the story to an exciting climax. This is a great setting for a romantic suspense thriller. The plot keeps up the suspense, and the characters retain our interest through the story, which is likely to appeal to readers.

Liz Dubber


The Last Wild

Written by Piers Torday  

Quercus (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1780878287

Kester is captive in a prison-like institution while outside a viral apocalypse has apparently taken place. He finds it difficult to talk to humans but he discovers that he can have conversations with a cockroach. Yes, a cockroach. One day a whole army of cockroaches help him to escape from his cell. Outside the ‘prison’ he is carried away by a huge flock of pigeons to where a small band of creatures, led by a stag, seem to have avoided the virus which has wiped out almost all animal life. They can all talk to him. Now, if the cynic in you is saying “Oh come on now!” – don’t listen. This epic tale is enchanting and totally captivating. The narrative rattles along from exciting crisis to breathless crisis and Kester is a convincing young hero whose interaction with the animals is so well handled that disbelief is totally suspended. I raced headlong through the book, thirsting for the denouement, only to reach the last tantalising line: “And I realise my story has only just begun”. It’s a story which deserves to go on!

Nigel Hinton


The Sun Catcher

Written by Sheila Rance 

Orion (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1444006209

What is young Maia to believe?  Is she the Silk Weaver’s daughter, washed up with him to live a quiet life with the Cliff Dwellers, or does her flame-red hair tell her that she belongs to a different people?  Maia must overcome man fears and challenges to find the answers she craves.  The first of the Storm Catcher trilogy, this fast-paced, original tale, set in the Far East in a bygone age, will please all who love fantasy and high adventure.

Marianne Adey


 Winter Shadows

Written by Margaret Buffie

Tundra (eB) £8.99

ISBN: 978-1770493582

This is a fascinating book from Canada. Teenage Cassandra’s mother has died and her father has now re-married.  New wife Jean and daughter Daisy have moved into Cass’s historic house in a small community in central Canada. The house was part of the 19th century Red River settlement of the Hudson Bay Company.  It’s full of atmosphere, and one day Cass discovers a journal written in 1856 by a previous resident, seventeen year old Beatrice Alexander.  Beatrice had also lost her mother, and her father had remarried, and her future was uncertain. The story unfolds through alternate chapters telling of Cass and Beatrice’s parallel lives, and their growing awareness of each other as they occasionally time-slip between the centuries. The historic episodes give a marvellous picture of life in a remote rural colony with difficult communications and very different attitudes from today. The story skilfully draws us into both households, showing family tensions and problems as an array of well-drawn characters interact with each other in each domestic setting and time. This carefully researched story illuminates the past and demonstrates that while history changes, the human emotions that bind us and our families, remain very much the same.   

Liz Dubber


 Clockwise to Titan

Written by Elon Dann

Hot Key   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1471400957

Mo spends his life in the Institute trying to avoid a “squeeze”, but when Mo is caught between the opposing demands of a guard and the inmates, he’s in a squeeze with only one answer – escape. He takes with him the one thing of value he has, his friendship with Moth who was imprisoned to silence his parent’s political protests. The two boys, and Moth’s other friend Harete, devise a daring escape over the barbwire to follow a line of pylons north to safety. As their plans unravel, so does the truth about Mo’s involvement in the squeeze that has them running for their lives. This is a smartly written survival adventure that crackles with word-play, sharp characters and friendships tested to the very end. Elon Dann balances the tension of escape with a careful flashback structure that gives older readers a more satisfying read than a conventional narrative. He also weaves many classical and storytelling references that add further layers to the story.

Benjamin Scott


The Murder Notebooks: Killing Rachel

Written by Anne Cassidy

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1408815519

This is a sequel to Dead Time, where the story of Rose and Joshua and their missing parents began. They were briefly step-brother and sister after their respective parents married, but family life was brutally interrupted after their parent’s disappearance. As Katherine Smith and Brendan Johnson were both serving police officers with the Cold Case Ops Team, it seems that there disappearance may be linked with the case they were working on. The official view is that they were killed by a hired assassin, but Rose and Joshua believe that their parents are still alive, convinced that the story of their disappearance is a smoke-screen for more sinister activities. The story intertwines with the death by apparent suicide of Rachel, an old friend-turned-enemy of Rose’s at the boarding school she attended after her mother’s death. Solving the puzzle of Rachel’s death provides further clues to their ongoing quest, and sets up for a further book in the series. This story balances the overarching theme of The Murder Notebooks with a look at the darker realms of friendship between teenage girls.

Stella Maden


Forget Me Never

Written by Gina Blaxhill

Macmillan (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1447208068

When Sophie finds a memory stick belonging to her cousin in an old pair of jeans, it brings back all the horror of Danielle’s suicide. Sophie and her best friend Reece were visiting Danielle on the weekend she jumped from the balcony of her flat, but, having seen her only minutes before the alleged suicide, Sophie has never been able to convince herself that her cousin took her own life. This pacey, exciting read for younger teens flirts with danger without ever getting too serious. The romance between Sophie and Reece, including the adolescent misunderstandings which have lead to a breach in their friendship, is nicely drawn, and it’s good to have an intelligent and resourceful leading character who lives in a cared-for environment.

Stella Maden


The Power of Five: Oblivion

Written by Anthony Horowitz

Walker Books (eB)   £16.99

ISBN: 978-1844286232

My initial response to Oblivion was that it was a huge piece of work with five key characters, each with their own story to tell. At that point I had no idea that it was indeed written as five separate books and that this was the conclusion to so much that had gone before. Knowing nothing of the background I read it as a standalone and, as such, it stood up brilliantly. Of course, questions came to mind about where it all started and what were the origins of the evil ones and powers of the five. How had the world fallen into such a mire of corruption? But, not knowing didn’t really seem to matter as the adventure was immediately gripping, with the horror, brutality, carnage and the fight against impossible odds all holding together as a work of shocking darkness. Now that I know it is the thrilling culmination of a much longer story I am intrigued to return and discover the whole package.

Trevor Thompson


ZOM-B Underground

Written by Darren Shan

Simon & Schuster (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857077561

Darren Shan’s 25 million sales worldwide testify to his appeal to horror-loving teenagers. This, the second in a projected series of twelve, is a gore-fest which should sate even the most rabid fan’s lust for blood. Heads are severed, eyes are gouged, arteries spurt, flesh is burned, and intestines slurp onto the floor. One of the less traumatic moments in one scene is reported thus – “Cathy digs the head of her chainsaw into a man’s stomach and grinds it around. Blood and guts spray everywhere….. He shudders and spasms like someone being electrocuted.” In the middle of all the mayhem, though, Shan crafts our intriguing heroine, Becky Smith, a zombie who has been ‘re-vitalised’ and needs to eat people’s brains to stay alive (or dead!). Though she is literally heartless she has a conscience and wrestles with moral dilemmas. Like all good sci-fi/horror, the book deals with the big issues: what makes us human, what is life worth? Add a dash of conspiracy theory involving mysterious controlling mutants, and a terrifying monster called Mr Dowling and you have a recipe for another very successful series.

Nigel Hinton


Written by Marianne Curley

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN 978-1408822623

Told in the first person by two characters in alternative chapters, this is a complex and complicated storyline complemented by a simple structure.  Because of her unnatural strength and hearing, her beauty, and her violet eyes, Ebony knows instinctively that she’s different. Her confusion and anguish throughout the careful unravelling of her real identity are very understandable when you realise she is a stolen angel, hidden on Earth! Her friend Amber is a best friend in the true sense and Jordan, also human, holds important middle ground with a special role to play between the two worlds because of his heightened spiritual awareness.  A great read which is full of action and is beautifully imaginative throughout.  There must be more!

Gill Roberts



Written by S.J. Kincaid

Hot Key Books (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1471400001

Tom Raines is a 14 year old drifter and scammer who looks set to follow the burnt-out career of his gambling-addicted father. However, his exceptional skills in virtual reality game playing have brought him to the attention of the state, and he is recruited to become a Combatant, one of a group of elite teen soldiers who fight virtual wars in space. Set in a future but familiar earth, the story follows Tom’s progress from raw recruit to graduating Top Gun. Its set-piece descriptions of VR game playing will thrill aficionados of computer games. The novel contains some entertaining comic scenes illustrating just what happens when you let teenagers loose with the ability to infect each other’s neural processors with viruses, but it also makes some telling and serious political points. In this world, the Combatants rely partly on corporate sponsors, and must make devilish deals with them. The ethics of wars fought in space, virtually or otherwise, wars fought at the behest of governments who are effectively corporations in thin disguise, wars fought by teenagers with computer software which belongs to the military installed in their brains are all issues raised in this satisfyingly complex read. There is a planned sequel, and I look forward to finding out what the author makes of these darker, more thought-provoking strands.

Stella Maden

The Hanged Man Rises       

Written by Sarah Naughton

Simon and Schuster (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0857078643

A serial killer known as the Wigman stalks an impoverished riverside community in a murky part of London. His target is young children, and their deaths are gruesome. Titus Adams and his young sister Hannah live with their drunken parents in the Wigman’s stalking ground. Life is cruel enough, but when their home burns down and their parents are killed, there is no place for Hannah to go except the dreaded workhouse. Titus finds shelter and a job with Inspector Pilbury which will help him secure Hannah’s release. Pilbury successfully apprehends the murderer and Titus sees him hang. So why do the murders continue? This is a dark, dark tale with many of the themes from which childhood nightmares are woven. The story itself is well paced, carefully constructed and absorbing, with a real air of suspense and characters that you find yourself rooting for. It was a book that, once started, I did not want to put down.

Yvonne Coppard



Edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

Walker Books (eB) £7.99

ISBN: 978-1406341515

Such an exciting and varied anthology makes me wonder why more short story collections aren’t aimed at Young Adults. With a varieties of length, style and subject matter, older readers can explore exciting, relatively new genres as well as discovering more about their own personal reading tastes: whether they lean more towards the dark, with Libby Bray, the romantic, with Holly Black, or the historical, with M. T.  Anderson. Cory Doctorow tells the story of a care home for injured orphans where a revolt replaces an oppressive guardian with a Clockwork Fagin and a co-operative business. Delia Shema brings a world of deceit, debit and the latest mechanical automaton to a sleepy Welsh village and a family ghost. Garth Nix delivers a short but punchy story of assassinations. Steampunk! is a distinct, vibrant and rich selection of narratives which includes two graphic artists as well as twelve authors. Any fantasy or science-fiction fan will find this a rewarding and stimulating collection.

Benjamin Scott