Sunday, 23 November 2014

Extra reviews - Issue 58 Winter 2014

Picture Books for young children


Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine

Written by Peter Bently

Illustrated by David Roberts

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1849396349

This is delightfully silly book; a rhyming account of what happens when a flock of sheep hi-jack an old-fashioned bi-plane. There’s lots of alliteration and repetition which adds to the fun. The story moves at a very fast pace as the sheep in the yellow bi-plane circuit the globe, calling in at France, Spain, Egypt, Tibet, India and the USA in a spiffing adventure. Useful for the classroom as the story links to the history and geography syllabi and topics like ‘Transport’. The colourful illustrations perfectly match the text, conveying not only the pace, excitement and silliness, but also the varied landscape together with the personalities and emotions of the runaway sheep and the mystified chaps on the ground. It’s a very funny tour de force.

Julia Jarman

Where Are You Banana?

Written by Sofie Laguna

Illustrated by Craig Smith

Allen &Unwin   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1743361627

This story sensitively evokes the all-consuming panic and anguish experienced when a family pet goes missing. Told in the first person by Banana’s young master who has now started school, Banana is a dachshund-resembling dog who is very much a part of the family, going everywhere the family goes and chewing Mum’s shoes, Dad’s work helmet and the twins’ toys when circumstances mean there’s no option but to leave him behind. Unfortunately, he’s banned from Aunt Cecelia’s for chasing Penelope, the big red hen, and it’s when he is left in the garden with a new bone, that he digs his way out, disappears and the frantic search begins. This is a heart-warming story, beautifully illustrated, to which all dog owners can relate!

Gill Roberts

First Steps in reading for young children


Superfrog and the Big Stink

Written & illustrated by Michael Foreman

Anderson (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783440306

In inimitable, painterly style Michael Foreman tells the tale of Frank, the superfrog, not only in words but in the symbolic use of his water colour palette: from fresh green colour-washed fields and the blue lily-fringed river, where Frank, the superfrog, sits quietly reading, through the murky smokiness of an industrial, decaying landscape that needs Frank’s attention, to the opulent interior hues of the city’s tallest building and finally the consoling splendour of a rainbow. Frank is supercharged and can travel great distances, literally under his own steam: his fuel is his own body gas. Reminiscent of the Pied Piper in his colourful clothes and his ability to summon children to follow his lead, Frank’s mission is to rid the town of its invasive pollution and to expose the way in which local maladministration has brought this situation about. There’s much to talk about here in terms of caring for our world and much to amuse young readers as Frank propels himself, at will, by discharging gas from his remarkable bum.

Catriona Nicholson


The Dawn Chorus

Written and illustrated by Suzanne Barton

Bloomsbury   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1408839218

Peep wakes one morning to the sound of beautiful singing. He discovers that the music is coming from the birds in the ‘Dawn Chorus’ and he wants to be able to sing with them. They agree to audition him the next morning, but he oversleeps and misses it. Determined not to oversleep the next time, he stays awake all night only to find he’s too tired to sing. Sadly, he realises that he doesn’t fit in with the Dawn Chorus until a new friend tells him the reason and shows him the right time for him to sing. A delightful story about fitting in and finding your own place in the world. Gentle illustrations capture the feel of the story perfectly and use the space on the page very cleverly. This new author/illustrator is definitely one to watch.

Annie Everall


 Football Star

Written by Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated by Renato Alarcão

Walker   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1406357219

Written by an Iranian author and illustrated by a Brazilian artist, this highly topical picture book follows the fortunes of a scratch football team made up of youngsters living in poverty near the sea in Brazil. Paulo hopes to be a professional football star so that his mother will not have to work long hours. He takes care of his younger sister, Maria, as she teaches him to read and he, in return, teaches her football tactics. Everyone smiles as Paulo assembles his team after a hard day out fishing and finally allows Maria to share in the game too. Lavish water-colour illustrations quickly and effectively establish the atmosphere of a small town where no-one is rich but life is still lived to the full.

Nicholas Tucker

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

The Frankenstein Teacher

Written by Tony Bradman

Illustrated by Peter Kavanagh

Corgi (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 9780552568999

The Doctor, in his science lab, creates a living creature - Mr Frankenstein - who loves children and desperately wants to become a teacher. When he qualifies he goes to his first school to teach 3F, but his reception is unexpected. The children are stunned at this new, huge, ugly and very scary teacher and soon Mr Frankenstein decides to leave because no-one likes him. Circumstances change and before the end of the story Mr Frankenstein is happily back in the classroom. The illustrations are excellent, there is a good use of rhyming words and onomatopoeia and the story is funny. “Colour First Readers are perfect for beginner readers and all the text has been checked and approved by a reading specialist. It is the ideal size, length and level for children beginning to read.”, so says the publisher!

Ingrid Fox

Super-Saver Mouse

Written by Sandi Toksvig

Illustrated by George Hollingworth

Corgi   £4.99

ISBN: 978-0552568944

This fun book is part of a new series of books ideal for new readers – Colour First Readers. At the moment there are twenty books to choose from, all written by familiar and well-loved children’s authors such as Sandi Toksvig, Jacqueline Wilson and Paul Stewart. Each book is an entertaining tale which will keep young readers entertained, thus encouraging a love of reading. For instance Super-Saver Mouse tells the exciting story of Boris, a very brave young mouse, who has to stop a tube-train after his friend has an accident on the track. As well as being a thrilling read, this book will help children learn both how anyone can be a friend, regardless of how different they are, and, how the littlest person can make a big difference. All the books have big bold illustrations on each page to help support developing readers; either by giving visual prompts for difficult words, or by encouraging conversation with sharing adults about what is happening. At the back of each book is an invaluable guide for adults on how to best support their young reader, along with activities for children so that they gain further enjoyment from the book.

Jane Hall

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

Written and illustrated by Dave Cousins

OUP (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0192736598

This book was written to coincide with the 2014 Football World Cup and will appeal to all football-mad young people. It is full of amusing illustrations, comic strips, football trivia, match reports, true facts and funny doodles. Charlie loves football and when he isn’t playing the game he is doodling kits and game formations. This is his first season as captain of North Star Galaxy Under 12s and he discovers there is an opportunity for youth teams to play in exhibition matches at the World Cup Tournament. Charlie wants to enter his team but there is a problem – all the best players have left to join another team. However, Charlie is determined and the story evolves in the lead up to the warm-up match at the World Cup. Will North Star Galaxy make it to the Under 12s tournament?

Ingrid Fox

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Written by Kate DiCamillo    

Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Walker   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1406345186

Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal, this is a characteristically quirky book from an acclaimed writer. The opening pages, in black and white graphic novel format, focus on the spectacular features of the Ulysses super-suction vacuum cleaner that is given to middle-aged poetry-loving Tootie Tickham by her loving husband. So powerful is the cleaner that when Tootie is persuaded to take it outside into her backyard an unfortunate visiting squirrel is sucked into its depths. Next door lives Flora Belle Buckman who, from her bedroom, sees the tragedy unfolding. Inspired by the deeds of her comic book hero, she rushes to the aid of the stunned squirrel. Needless to stay the creature is rescued, given the name of Ulysses and, born anew, assumes superhero powers and strength of comic book magnitude. Those heightened superhero moments when Ulysses writes poetry, flies and performs in unbelievable ways are signified by the use of the graphic format. But the author is not only concerned with writing a funny novel: the growth of love and loyalty between Flora and Ulysses is a touching thread woven into the narrative and Kate DiCamillo skilfully unsettles the novel’s comic dimension by gently exposing fragile human relationships that need attention.

Catriona Nicholson

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School


The Forbidden Library

Written by Django Wexler

Doubleday (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857532879

Alice lives alone with her father and late one night hears him having an argument with a fairy - a horrible beast with warts and needle-like teeth. It is threatening her father, insisting he accepts a mysterious offer, or else. Very shortly after this, Alice’s father is lost at sea and she is sent to live with a mysterious uncle, Geryon, of whom she has never heard. Her life becomes even stranger when she discovers a huge library owned by Geryon, which she is not supposed to enter. Once she starts exploring she discovers the magic within the library’s books which suck her into their internal worlds, helping her to unravel the story behind the mysterious fairy and the disappearance of her father. A refreshing plunge into the world of fairy and magic that successfully immerses the reader alongside Alice in fighting dark forces and evil characters. A thoroughly entertaining novel. I really enjoyed the plot structure and the character development. Django Wexler has succeeded in creating a highly likeable heroine in a magical world that will continue to reward its readers for many years to come. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Annie Everall


The Boy in the Porch

Written by Sharon Creech

Andersen (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1849397728

Once again Sharon Creech has created a wonderfully whimsical story about ordinary people whose lives are touched by the extraordinary. A young couple wake one day to find a strange boy curled up on the chair on the front porch. A simple note says his name is Jacob and asks them to look after him. He seems happy to be with them but doesn’t speak – simply taps messages. Their lives are transformed as they care for the boy who makes himself at home at the farm befriending the animals, painting bright pictures and learning to play the guitar. The simplicity of this story adds to the moving portrayal of what makes a family and how unconditional love binds people together. The young couple are concerned to do what is best for Jacob and try to find his family, but when he is eventually claimed they are bereft. A friend suggests that as they created such a happy family with Jacob they should continue to foster children and over the years a succession of youngsters cross their porch and enrich their lives in many ways. Jacob had taught them well and years later they are rewarded.

Louise Stothard

The Chronicles of Narmo

Written by Caitlin Moran

Corgi (R) (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552570664

There are plenty of teenager readers who want to be writers (good for them!) and this is the book to show them how it is done. These young readers are unlikely to be followers of Caitlin Moran’s column in The Times, but they are sure to love this laugh-out-loud debut novel that she wrote when she was just fifteen years old. The highly entertaining story is based on the author’s own family life at the time and it follows the chaotic Narmo family of Wolverhampton through one whole year, when, among other things, the parents decide to home-educate their children, go on holiday to Scotland, and attend a family wedding. The closely observed episodes of family life are interspersed with delightful little scenes of pure fantasy, for example, a conversation between two gargoyles on the outside of a church. Caitlin Moran was obviously a brilliant writer from the day she was born and she has the eye to spot the humour in everyday situations.

Jan Lennon


Pigeon Summer

Written by Ann Turnbull

Walker (R) (eB)   £5.99

ISBN:  978-1406352498

First published in 1992, this is a welcome reprint of the first in this trilogy about a Shropshire mining family in the 1930s. Despite the poverty and struggle of her family’s life, Mary takes on the mantel of racing her father’s pigeons when he has to leave home to look for work. Mary’s ability to focus on the pigeons, and the possibility of winning a major race, lifts her above the anxieties of daily life. Family relationships are portrayed with a realistic combination of affection and frustration, and readers will be drawn into Mary’s world with sympathy and understanding, as well as a whiff of excitement as the race draws near. Warm, sensitive and unsentimental, this book will be enjoyed for its sense of a time and place, different from today’s, and for the direct straightforwardness of Mary’s character as she acts, not to change her life, but to live it to the full. Further titles in the trilogy take up the stories of different characters in the community and are also currently available: No Friend of Mine and Room for a Stranger.

Lucy Russell

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Running Girl

Written by Simon Mason

David Fickling (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857560582

Every so often there is an anti-hero who you can’t help but secretly love or admire and Simon Mason’s new character, Garvie Smith, certainly fits the bill. He is intelligent, attractive and very capable, but bored and cannot see the point of getting good grades. His teachers despair and his mother warns him about drinking too much and smoking ‘that stuff’ with his friends, threatening to take him back to Barbados. Whilst Garvie declares that nothing ever happens, D.I. Singh is investigating the murder of Garvie’s ex-girlfriend, Amy, the running girl of the title. Garvie becomes intrigued by the mystery surrounding Amy’s death and is impatient when the police ask what he considers to be the wrong questions and make incorrect assumptions. This exciting and intriguing mystery story has many unexpected twists and turns. It is fascinating to follow the deductions of a clever mind as clues and inconsistencies eventually lead to the truth. The characters are interesting and credible, but, best of all, Simon Mason has created a new hero and I hope Garvie Smith will soon return with a new mystery to solve.

Louise Stothard

Life after Theft

Written by Aprilynne Pike

HarperCollins (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0007515974

This hilarious story of a teenage boy finding his way at a new school and in a new neighbourhood, has an unusual twist. Jeff and his family have come into some money and moved to wealthy California. On his very first day at school Jeff almost falls over the most gorgeous girl lying in the hallway. The most disturbing aspect of this unexpected sight is that he is the only one who can see her. Kimberlee is a ghost, but is delighted that Jeff can see her and confesses to having been a kleptomaniac. She can only move on once everything she has stolen is returned. As Jeff reluctantly gets involved in this ambitious plan he discovers that there is more to Kimberlee’s past than she is letting on. Also, he discovers that returning stolen goods is far more difficult than he thought. Add to that the ever constant presence of an annoying ghost at your shoulder and you have all the ingredients of a farcical adventure. But, there is a deeper layer too, as the truth behind Kim’s death is revealed and Jeff realises that wealth doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. An entertaining and thought provoking read.

Louise Stothard

 Bet Your Life

Written by Jane Casey

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552566049

Jess Tennant first appeared in the book How to Fall when she arrived in Port Sentinel and immediately became involved in a quest to find out why her cousin died. In this second book Jess finds herself, reluctantly, investigating a violent incident when Seb Dawson is taken to hospital fighting for his life, apparently the victim of a hit-and-run accident. However, Jess isn’t convinced. She soon discovers that Seb may not be the clean-cut, nice guy that everyone thinks he is and that there are some very nasty games being played by the teenage population in her new home town. But this is more than just a dark and intriguing thriller, as Jess has her own personal problems to deal with. The events of last summer have made it hard for her to make friends and her fledgling romance with Will is being discouraged by Will’s policeman father. He has his own reasons for not wanting Jess in his son’s life or in his investigations. The teenage characters, even the unpleasant ones, are realistic and convincing and the plot twists and turns as it moves towards its dramatic conclusion.

Jan Lennon


Written by Antony Lishak

Acorn (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1909122680

Antony Lishak’s compelling novel about the plight of Polish Jews after Hitler’s bombing of Warsaw, follows the story of two boys, Stefan and Marcus, as they come to terms with the abhorrent changes that Nazism brings to the country. Stefan, a privileged Pole, son of the director of the Warsaw Zoo, is Marcus’s best friend and there is nothing extraordinary in that, until the Nazi’s arrive and being friends with a Jew is strictly forbidden. This is a subject which has been well documented and a plethora of books like Gleiztman’s Once, Then, Now and After have dealt with similar issues for children. Antony Lishak’s account is unusual as it is set around Warsaw Zoo and in particular its depiction of Jan Zabinski, Poland’s  ‘Oscar Schindler’, whose bravery and courage in finding ways of outwitting the Nazis saved hundreds of Polish Jews by sheltering them in empty animal cages. The author spent eight years writing and researching this book. The gripping storyline, and occasional touches of black humour, leave a harrowing impression of one of humanity’s darkest periods of history.

Richard Monte

The Children of the New Forest

Written by Frederick Marrayat

Hesperus (R) (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-1843914877

A very handsomely presented edition of a book first published in 1847, when far fewer titles were available for children and this was a staple of juvenile fiction. Will this story of four orphaned children learning to fend for themselves in the New Forest during the political chaos of the English Civil War still appeal to current young readers? There will certainly be some who will enjoy its quiet, old-fashioned charms, for there are many pleasures to be found following the travails of the Beverley children whose Cavalier father has been killed in battle and whose home has been burnt to the ground by Roundheads. The account of their education in a simple life of hunting and farming is fascinating and the twists and turns of the plot as they try to survive the turmoil of war are gripping. True, there are some long-winded passages and the phraseology is occasionally a little archaic, but a story of children overcoming odds is always enthralling. On top of all this, there is a quality that young readers may relish, since it is often missing in contemporary fiction - a feeling of comfort and reassurance and steadfastness. 

Nigel Hinton

Titles for More Mature readers

Take Back the Skies

Written by Lucy Saxon

Bloomsbury (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1408847657

The totalitarian world this story describes – a society of privileged government officials oppressing a population with lies about external threats from warring neighbours – is reminiscent of 1984. However Lucy Saxon spices it up with the additional nastiness of appalling experiments on children to produce a mechanical master race. The nemesis of this vile regime is Catherine Hunter, the daughter of one of the leaders of the government, whose father plans to marry her to someone she dislikes. Escaping from his clutches, disguised as a boy, she teams up with some smugglers on a skyship and learns that everything she has been taught by the regime is a lie. She launches a revolution. The action is fast and furious, Catherine is an appealing heroine and her relationship with a boy on board the skyship provides comedy, growing romance and tragedy. It’s a winning formula!

Nigel Hinton



Written by Non Pratt

Walker (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1406347692

Hannah is fifteen, and enjoying experimenting with sex. Fletch is her boyfriend, loud and funny, yet probably not for keeps. Tyrone is Marcy’s boyfriend, exuding sexual attraction. Aaron is new to the school and has a secret to hide. When Hannah falls pregnant, the identity of the father is a mystery. Meanwhile, Aaron decides to take on the huge responsibility of claiming fatherhood and supporting Hannah. Using frank colloquial language, this novel depicts a group of teenagers coping with the realities of growing up, puberty and developing sexual experience. The diary format, related by Hannah and Aaron in turn, involves the reader closely in their lives and we see their dilemmas and concerns from their viewpoints. Apart from an understanding granny, the adults fade into the background and offer very little practical help, and so it is the teenagers themselves who have to deal with their own problems. This is a heady mix of sexuality and promiscuousness, crude jokes, foul language and teenage banter, but older teenagers will appreciate a book which tells life as it sometimes is.

Liz Dubber




Friday, 20 June 2014

Titles for More Mature readers

Picture Me Gone
Written by Meg Rosoff
Penguin (eB) £12.99
ISBN: 978-0141344034
Meg Rosoff has once more produced a compelling tale that is powerful and haunting. Though brief, it is beautifully written. Mila and her father are in America trying to find his best friend, Matthew, who has gone missing, leaving his wife and baby son. Mila has always been very perceptive, often seeing things that busy grown-ups miss, and she soon realises that there is more to Matthew’s disappearance than meets the eye. As more of his hidden life comes to light, Mila begins to despair of, and for, adults. As the story progresses, more secrets are uncovered and the tension builds. Matthew’s disappearance weighs heavily on each of the characters for different reasons, and Mila is both puzzled and disappointed by their actions. Meg Rosoff has given us credible characters, both flawed and vulnerable. They may not have in-depth back stories, but you know as much as you need to. In Honey, she has written the most believable portrayal of a dog I have ever read. The conclusion is completely satisfying with no huge reveals or shocks, just an ideal resolution to this very understated story. Highly recommended!
Jane Hall

Sad Monsters
Written by Frank Lesser
Souvenir Press (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0285642324
The innocent illustration of a cute monster on the cover of Sad Monsters belies the adult humour inside, within stories that are often laugh-out-loud funny. US satirist Frank Lesser has taken all the monsters one would expect, i.e. vampires, zombies, and werewolves, but shows us sides of them we never knew existed. Godzilla wonders if there is more to life than destroying cities, when really he prefers to stay at home and watch M*A*S*H! The forty, short, monster tales in the book are not designed to be read in one sitting. If kept as a ‘dip-in’ book, then each separate tale will entertain. While some of the stories are innocent, many of the monsters have adult issues, such as searching for a job, body image, and sexual relationships. There is no actual ‘adult language’, but there are frequent allusions to mature themes which younger children will not understand, and could cause embarrassment for any parent asked to explain. Great subversive fun for older teens!
Jane Hall

Small Damages
Written by Beth Kephart
Philomel (eB) £10.87
ISBN: 978-0142426418
This mature and lyrically written story is perfectly flavoured with the tastes, sights and sounds of Spain. Beth Kephart writes with a simple but elegant intensity that matches the mood of the story. Still grieving for her father and coping with her mum’s new career, Kenzie throws both her and her boyfriend’s futures into doubt when she becomes pregnant. So that no-one in their home town will find out about the baby, Kenzie’s mother sends her daughter to stay with friends in Spain who organise an adoption. However, present-day issues mingle with tales of Spain’s tortured past and Kenzie is not the only person facing difficult truths under a blistering Spanish sun. Under the wings of Esteban, the house cook, Kenzie glimpses what love means and learns where her heart wants her to be. This thoughtful and endearing story will enthral many readers, particularly those looking to read something emotionally substantial and well written.
Benjamin Scott

The Cuckoo’s Daughter
Written by Griselda Gifford
Country Books £6.99
ISBN: 978-1906789879
This historical novel is based on a true story set at the end of the eighteenth century, which gives rare insight into growing up in a farming family long before cars, central heating, mobile phones or any phones at all, when babies were delivered at home, there was no NHS and Forster’s Education Act was still seventy years away. Based on the author’s great-great grandmother, Louisa, born illegitimately, is reared by the Edsir family, and, although she loves them dearly, she knows, from an early age, that she is fostered, “Your mother was like the cuckoo, leaving you in a stranger’s nest” says the fairground gypsy who also warns, “You’ll be needing strength and courage to go with your love.”At sixteen, Louisa is no nearer to knowing the truth of her origin and can only guess, thanks to the expensive presents she is singled out to receive. But, if she’s not even to know the truth about her parents, why should she accept an arranged marriage? She must summon the courage of which the gypsy spoke, and she does! This story, well researched and credibly written, really is a rare treat.
Gill Roberts

Little White Lies
Written by Katie Dale
Simon & Schuster (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0857071439
Lou’s cousin has been attacked and left in a coma. The publicity surrounding the assault, and her uncle’s imprisonment for the manslaughter of the boy believed to have attacked her cousin, has driven her to create a new identity. With her new name, a new life at university and a web of white lies she hopes to stop even her closest friends finding out the truth. When Lou meets the tall, dark, handsome Christian her determination to keep herself detached is seriously challenged. But it seems that Christian has his own secrets, and the reader is taken on a ride of twisting truths, identities and allegiances with many dangerous and sinister turns. Then Lou’s cousin dies, vigilantes begin looking for the other teenage boy thought to be involved in the assault and we realise that Christian’s secrets are serious indeed. Almost no-one in this thriller is who they seem, and, as the action becomes increasingly dramatic, we are lead closer and closer to the truth about what really happened to Lou’s cousin. This is a gripping read for older teenagers, full of conflicting loyalties, startling revelations and unexpected resolutions.
Stella Maden

Yellow Cake
Written by Margo Lanagan
David Fickling (R) (eB) £7.99
ISBN: 978-1849921114
Lanagan is a superb author of short stories who takes ownership of the English language and twists and turns it with inventiveness. Words are invented and repurposed to build a sense of authenticity in the many and varied worlds which she creates. These are imaginatively challenging tales. The reader can’t simply sit back and let the story wash over them, understanding requires active engagement. This is not to say that Lanagan’s prose is dense, far from it! Lanagan’s style is to catapult us straight into a world which we learn about gradually as we read on. The writing is often casual and conversational, but with a sense that every word has been meticulously chosen and placed. Settings range from a fresh retelling of the Rapunzel story to a childrens’ dare that affects a whole town. An illuminating postscript notes the inspiration behind each story. This book is suitable for older readers and those interested in the craft of writing.
Annalise Taylor

Half Bad
Written by Sally Green
Penguin (eB) £7.99
ISBN: 978-0141350868
From the very first page this book had me hooked. It is exciting, innovative, tense and completely unputdownable. Half Bad is the first novel from Sally Green but I can see it becoming a cult book amongst young adults, similar to The Twilight series. Nathan is a half witch – half black (bad) and half white (good). He needs to find his father, Mercury, a dangerous Black Witch, before his seventeenth birthday in order to ascertain his future. Nathan is illiterate but has amazing self-healing powers which prove to be very useful. He reacts to the phases of the moon and finds sleeping indoors traumatic. His symptoms are increasing as his seventeenth birthday draws nearer and his search for his father is relentless and beset by danger and trauma. Mercury is wanted by all the white Witches as he is a ruthless killer with amazing powers so Nathan’s movements are closely guarded. The last page is a cliff hanger so hopefully more will follow. Somehow, despite the whole fantasy angle, this book is credible and one not to be missed.
Ingrid Fox

Cruel Summer
Written by James Dawson
Indigo (eB) £8.99
ISBN: 978-1780621081
This thriller is set in a seaside villa in Spain, where a group of school friends have met up a year after leaving school. Things are overshadowed by the memory of Janey, a close friend, who died on the night of last year’s School Leavers’ Ball. Was it suicide, or was it murder? As the friends settle in, past memories and suspicions surface, eventually leading to another death. The holiday soon becomes a nightmare with several murders, a terrible and stark climax, and only a slight glimpse of a possible happier future for two of the friends. This is thrilling read, which takes us through a series of clever plot twists and turns to keep us guessing. The characterisation is very good as we really do believe in these people, which helps to sustain the suspense. The writing flows easily and confidently, and the dialogue is handled well. The whole story moves along at a good pace. A good page-turner!
Liz Dubber

The House of Scorpion
Written by Nancy Farmer
Simon & Schuster (R) (eB) £7.99
ISBN: 978-1471118319
Matt is the clone of 142 year old Matteo Alacron, Lord of a country called Opium, where he is a drug lord. Unlike other clones who are imbedded with a computer chip to make them “ejits”, Matt is highly intelligent and given private tutoring. However, many still treat him as an animal and during his life he encounters hatred and is mistreated. Although futuristic, this novel echoes some of the problems in the world today – slavery, human rights, drug use, immigration and crime. It is well-written, thought-provoking and an interesting concept.
Ingrid Fox

Forbidden Friends
Written by Anne-Marie Conway
Usborne (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1409561903
Lizzie and Bee both have issues within their respective families. They meet on holiday and feel like they have always known each other and that they were meant to be best friends forever. But, there are dark secrets hidden in both families and the girls instinctively know it somehow links to their fathers’ disappearance. When their friendship is discovered and they are told they can’t see each other again, the girls are determined to find answers to their questions, to give each other strength and to make sure their friendship survives. This is a thoughtful, well-written novel, which captures the readers’ interest from the start. Narrated through the voices of Bee and Lizzie, the characters are well-drawn, family dynamics are realistically portrayed and the atmosphere emotionally charged. The plot is carefully constructed, balancing the darker threads of the secrets awaiting discovery with the love and warmth of the girls’ friendship. It’s a story of grief, love, loss and family tragedy but above all it’s a story of the power of friendship.
Annie Everall

Titles for Young Teenage Readers

The Drowning
Written by Rachel Ward
Chicken House (eB) £7.99
ISBN: 978-1908435361
Rob is dead, drowned in a lake. His girlfriend, Neisha, and his younger brother, Carl, were rescued from the water. Why did Rob drown? Carl is in mental collapse but tries to piece together the moments of drowning in the lake and the events that led up to it. Episodes of hallucinatory flashback verge on the supernatural. Is he suffering from trauma or is he really hearing his dead brother speaking to him? He becomes more and more convinced that he killed his brother out of jealousy over Neisha. Gradually, it emerges that Rob was a violent boy who terrorised his girlfriend, including on that day at the lake. Was Carl saving her from Rob, and even if he was, would that justify him killing his brother? Carl is tormented by these questions and by the dreadful visions every time he is near water. This is a powerful novel which deals with grief and guilt as well as sibling jealousy and rivalry.
Nigel Hinton

Angel Fever
Written by L. A. Weatherly
Usborne (eB) £7.99
ISBN: 978-1409522393
Angel Fever is the gripping conclusion to the Angel trilogy. As the Angel Killers train new recruits, their enemy, the angel Raziel, seems to be one step ahead of them. Willow will never understand the risk Alex needs to take to save his own kind, and is left betrayed and grieving, thinking that Alex is dead. But if Alex can return to Willow from the Angel’s own world, will she trust him enough to do what she needs to do to defeat the angels? Angel Fever hurtles towards an exciting climax, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. L. A. Weatherly explores the nature of true love, jealousy and revenge, as well as asking whether we can recognise the harm in things that on the surface seem to bring joy, together with the benefits of things that also cause us pain.
Benjamin Scott

Gabriel’s Clock
Written by Hilton Pashley
Andersen (eB) £12.99
ISBN: 978-1849395786
Jonathan is half-angel, half-demon: the only one of his kind in the universe and the demons want to harness his powers for their own purposes. The boy ends up in the gentle village of Hobbes End where the battle for good and evil is played out. The village itself, built by the angel Gabriel, is home to a motley collection of eccentric characters including two rather pompous gargoyles and a talking cat. The plot creaks away as Jonathan lets loose his Hulk-like anger and fights off brass dragons and the hideous arch-demon Belial, in an attempt to save the village and the fate of his friends and parents. There’s plenty of tea-drinking and references to cricket giving a quaint ‘English village’ feel to this unusual and inventive fantasy.
Richard Monte

The Boy on the Porch
Written by Sharon Creech
Andersen (eB) £9.99
ISBN: 978-1849397728
Carnegie Medal Winner Sharon Creech tempts readers in from the very first page with an intriguing set of events. A boy is found on the porch of John and Marta’s farmstead, but they have no idea who he is, or how he came to be there. He is unable to speak, and a note in his pocket says he will be collected “when we can”. For John and Marta, childless themselves, so begins a journey together of love, loss, and rich blessing. Description and dialogue draw the reader deeper into their world, willing the story to end well, discovering plenty of surprises along the way. This is a story to warm the heart, and to encourage the reader to ask challenging moral questions about taking life’s good fortunes as they come. The unfussy, but tender, portrayal of John and Marta’s growing love for the boy, their tussle with moral dilemma and the way they cope with changes will leave readers feeling hopeful, lifted and optimistic.
Lucy Russell

Hidden Among Us
Written by Katy Moran
Walker Books (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1406324211
All her life Lissy has been frustrated by a very over-protective mother. But there are secrets within her family, secrets that link back to when they were living in the village of Hopesay Edge, secrets that she knows nothing about but that put her life in danger. Lissy discovers that she is a link between the mortal world and the world of an ancient elven race that lives hidden among us and the battle for Lissy’s life and soul has begun. The plot is complex and the story is narrated through the voices of the five main protagonists. As there is a lot happening in the story, the different chapters for the voices works very well. This is a sophisticated novel which perfectly blends magic and reality and weaves a darkly gothic supernatural thriller with a modern contemporary family story. The writing is excellent with the tension continually tightening, leaving the reader breathless and completely engrossed.
Annie Everall

Written by Non Pratt
Walker (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1406347692
This book could be seen as an exposé of teenage life today with boyfriends, sex, bullying and that ever-shifting combination of friends, allies and enemies. There are two main protagonists in the book: Aaron, new to the school, with some kind of mystery in his background, and Hannah, fourteen years old and pregnant. New boy, Aaron, offers to take responsibility for the child. Why would he do this? Perhaps his reasons are linked to one of the two underlying plotlines within the book. Of these, one concerns the true father of Hannah’s child and the other is the mysterious secret that Aaron is carrying with him: both of which are eventually revealed. The book will probably strike a chord with many teenagers but could make uncomfortable reading for their parents.
Patricia Thompson

Written by Bali Rai
Tamarind (R) (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1848531208
Subtitled Two Tales from Devana High, this volume combines two previously published short novels, set in the highly charged atmosphere of a contemporary city high school, which bring the story up-to-date. Both show everyday life and pressures in school as seen by two members of the same friendship group. In the first, Grace is the narrator, and the plot revolves around a scam to avoid late (and spoiled) lunch sittings, and at the same time miss ten minutes of lesson time. In the second, Dean does some entrepreneurial selling in school, gets himself into problems, and has to avoid serious interference from a vindictive school bully. The school and its pupils are as diverse as we would expect from an inner-city school, providing an excellently drawn setting for the stories. Even stronger are the relationships between the group of friends, which emerge from brisk and lively current dialogue and realistically drawn ways of behaving. These are well-crafted stories, about everyday people in everyday settings facing familiar problems and challenges. Younger teenagers from diverse backgrounds will readily identify with the well-drawn characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Thoroughly recommended!
Liz Dubber

Far Far Away
Written by Tom McNeal
Jonathan Cape (eB) £12.99
ISBN: 978-0857551269
In this beautifully crafted, multi-layered story, Jeremy has an invisible, but constant, companion in the form of the ghost of the storyteller, Jacob Grimm, of fairy-tale fame. Trapped in the restless world between death and the hereafter, Jacob knows that his mission is to protect Jeremy from impending danger. But who, what and from where this danger will come is not known to him. It is Jacob’s voice that carries us through the story, with his quaint, old-fashioned take on modern life. The tale becomes very dark in places, full of suspense and terror as children disappear, one by one, from the village and are never seen again. This is no happy-happy land, where you can be sure everything will turn out fine in the end, for this a Grimm world of subversion and unpredictability. Jacob’s watchful presence, as he longs for release from the world that conflicts with his enduring love for the child he protects, stays with you beyond the pages of the book.
Yvonne Coppard

The Seeing
Written by Diana Hendry
Corgi (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0552565691
This is a disturbing story set in the 1950s, in a small seaside town where Lizzie becomes fascinated by Natalie, a new arrival to her school. Natalie lives in poverty with her mother and her little brother, Philip, whom Natalie claims has second sight. Soon Lizzie is drawn in to Natalie’s campaign to oust ‘Left–Over Nazis’ whom she believes are masquerading as ordinary citizens. The plotline becomes extremely sinister as they hound several elderly people out of their homes, and when Natalie sets fire to the caravan of local beach artist, Hugo, there are ghastly consequences. This is a complex story in which the legacy of the war, together with the fate of the Jews under Hitler, has a strong influence over the characters and their actions. The historic setting is well managed and the characterisation is excellent, with even the minor characters playing their part in the totality of the plot. However, this is an emotionally demanding read, suiting confident readers who can cope with a strong psychological charge as well as a tragic ending.
Liz Dubber

The Messengers
Written by Edward Hogan
Walker Books (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1406337181
As if it wasn’t bad enough being sent to live with her aunt and uncle, away from her mum, her friends and her beloved brother, Frances now realises her blackouts are getting more frequent. She has no explanation for these episodes until she finds herself drawn to Peter, an older man who explains that she, like him, is a messenger, but the messages they convey are not ones that anyone would want to receive. During their blackouts messengers glimpse the moment and circumstances of someone’s death and their task is to convey this image to the poor soul who is about to die. If they fail to do this there are dire consequences for those close to them in their own lives. The interesting question is this: if you can glimpse a moment of the future, can you or should you try to change it? Inevitably a lot of deaths do occur, but Frances’ emotional journey is our prime concern as she tries to accept this grim new aspect of her life and also tries to find out what has happened to her brother. At first, this appears to be a rather complex and unpromising plotline for teenage readers, but the haunting prose and strong characters make this an original and thrilling read.
Jan Lennon

Written by Lily Herne
Much-in-Little (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978–1472100900
The first in a trilogy, this novel is set in a post apocalyptic South Africa. The suburbs of Cape Town have become zombie infested Deadlands, and the human survivors are protected by The Guardians, sinister shrouded figures. In return for this protection five teenagers are selected and then handed over to them and no-one knows what happens to the teenagers afterwards. When people die, their bodies are dumped in the Deadlands as food for the zombies. When Lele is chosen to be handed over to the Guardians she decides to be mistress of her own fate and to take her chances in the Deadlands. Alone and unable to return home she meets up with the Mall Rats, a group of teenage rebels. Together they uncover the truth about the Guardians and learn how to destroy the zombies. Fast paced, a cleverly constructed plot which twists and turns, with well-drawn and likeable characters, this is a cut above the average zombiefest. It is cleverly done, offering a fresh approach on this theme, full of horror, humour and a touch of romance, but with an interesting perspective on anti-capitalism and current political situations.
Annie Everall

The Keeper
Written by Darragh Martin
Little Island £9.99
ISBN: 978-1908195845
Oisin lives an ordinary sort of life, feuding with his older brother and holidaying with his Gran. But, when he comes across an intriguing little book that seems to exert a strange power, Oisin finds himself suddenly drawn into a mysterious and frightening supernatural world where he is known as The Keeper of the Book of Magic. His little sister is kidnapped, and Oisin and his brother must somehow overcome their differences and work together to free her, but in a world where they have no idea which of the people who step forward to help them can be trusted. There’s a good strong plot, with nods to various traditions: the evil queen, the noble quest, the ordinary child with extraordinary gifts, the mighty battle and above all, a ripping good yarn. The glossary of Irish words and guide to the pronunciation of the characters’ names at the back will, I think, be helpful. This is a great first children’s book from an author to watch out for.
Yvonne Coppard

Written by Meagan Spooner
Corgi (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0552565578
Shadowlark, second in the Skylark trilogy, is even more powerful than the first. Lark escapes from the flesh-eating ‘Empty Ones of the Iron Wood’ only to be captured and imprisoned in a claustrophobic underground city. Powerful magic protects it, for which its inhabitants pay a terrible price. Lark may use her own strange powers to protect and defend, but only by leaching others’ magic and risking their lives. She has useful friends in Tansy, who helps her escape, Nix, the flying robot and Oren, half ‘Empty One’ himself, who loves her and needs her magic to keep him human. Lark gathers resistance around her, but in the end must face the rulers at the heart of the city alone to reveal its secrets and prevent further deaths. Lark must learn who to trust, how to judge herself and others, how to exercise power and responsibility and how to cope with the burden of others’ expectations. A surprisingly reflective, powerful book: complex, fast moving, thoughtful!
Tina Massey

The Prey
Written by Andrew Fukuda
Simon & Schuster (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0857075451
This is the second book in The Hunt trilogy. Not having read the first in the series, I was, nonetheless, quickly caught up by this intense and violent saga in which a few remaining humans (hepers) are the prey of the marauding flesh-eaters (duskers), who have taken over the world. The young hero, Gene, and a small band of other hepers are pursued across land and water. They are in search of The Scientist, Gene’s father, who may hold the secret to survival. They come across the Mission; a community which they gradually find out is not as friendly or safe as they hoped. The story doesn’t flag for one second and the reader is whirled along through scene after scene of unremitting threat as the hepers just, but only just, manage to stay ahead of an appalling death at the hands and fangs of the duskers. Lovers of stories with a high quotient of gruesome horror and relentless tension will be waiting impatiently for the third and final instalment.
Nigel Hinton

Rebecca Rocks
Written by Anna Carey
O’Brien Press (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1847175649
This is the third story about Rebecca Rafferty and her band, Hey Dollface, but you don’t need to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one. The summer holidays are fast approaching and the girls plan to advance their rock star ambitions by going to a summer camp for would-be performers of all kinds. Rebecca uses her diary to record the exciting events of that summer as the band is introduced to new techniques in music-making. They enter a competition with other bands from the area and begin new friendships and relationships, as well as making a lot of fudge! From time to time Rebecca worries about her boyfriend-less status, but she is genuinely delighted for her friend, Cass, to begin a close relationship with another girl. There are some very funny moments especially when Rebecca tries to improve her song-writing abilities with the aid of a rhyming dictionary. The girls have great fun even though some rather unpleasant boys, in another band, begin bullying them about their relationships, and threaten to spoil everything.
Jan Lennon

Weirdos vs. Quimboids
Written by Natasha Desborough
Catnip £6.99
ISBN: 978-1846471711
Teenage angst is ever the stuff of books for young adults. It’s all rather different from Little Women or Anne of Green Gables nowadays, though with frankness replacing discretion in both the style and content. There is a useful debate to be had about whether writers are appealing to the lowest common denominator or whether they are, at long last, being allowed to write fearlessly about how teenagers really behave and talk. Centred round the perennial fears and hopes of how to fit in and how to be liked and loved, this is a comedy of embarrassment. Blossom Uxley-Michaels, aka Bumface, and her best friend, known as Poohead, suffer all kinds of humiliating disasters along the way including regular bursts of acne, and things like wayward flying sanitary towels. Bumface and Poohead have a band called Camel Toe. Through their musical success with the band and as school DJs, and the intervention of some professional musicians, they finally achieve the social acceptance they have craved. I laughed a lot!
Nigel Hinton

Written by Paula Weston
Indigo (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1780621586
Every night Gaby Winters has the same nightmare; she is killing demons alongside a strange, but very attractive, young man. She thinks that the dreams result from her twin brother being killed in the same car crash that left her critically injured. However, when Gaby meets the man from her dreams, and he claims to be her brother’s best friend, she finds herself caught up in a supernatural battle. Despite the fantasy elements, the core of the story is Gaby’s immense sadness following the death of her twin. Sensitive and moving passages describe Gaby trying to come to terms with her loss. It is heartening to see that the female characters in Shadows are confident and able, rather than cowering victims. The frequent use of the ‘F word’ would suggest that it is aimed at older teens.
Jane Hall

Close Your Pretty Eyes
Written by Sally Nicholls
Scholastic (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1407124322
This gripping, but sometimes harrowing, story begins as Olivia arrives at her sixteenth home. Our strong-willed, eleven-year-old narrator has been in care since she was five years old, and family after family has rejected her. She is angry, violent and destructive. Although she makes it very hard for anyone to get close to her, she really hopes the Ivey family, in their lovely old farmhouse, will give her the love and stability she craves. Unfortunately, Olivia’s already troubled life encounters yet another problem. A former resident of this old house, Amelia Dyer, a Victorian baby farmer, may well have been hanged for mass murder in 1896, but her spirit lives on in her old home and is intent on driving Olivia away. As she narrates the story of her life and her previous homes and we start to understand her pain and anger, Olivia tries to convince us that her appalling behaviour is totally justified; however, this is definitely a case of love the child, but not her actions. The novel is well-researched and shows a deep understanding of the lives of fostered children and foster carers.
Jan Lennon

Hold Your Breath
Written by Caroline Green
Piccadilly (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1848121706
This book has everything – it is a thriller with many twists and turns, contains romance and has a little of the supernatural. Tara has the unusual psychic gift of being able to find ‘missing’ objects and people. In the past this has got her into trouble with the result of her family having to move house and change schools. Now a classmate, albeit not a very nice one, has gone missing and Tara fights hard against her psychic ability. She knows something is wrong, has disturbing visions of her whereabouts, but desperately tries to ignore it and just be normal. This leads to more trouble for Tara with a thrilling and tense result. The writing is very descriptive, the characters are realistic and the pace is fast and furious. The tension and the excitement make the novel unputdownable!
Ingrid Fox

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Frost Hollow Hall
Written by Emma Carroll
Faber & Faber (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0571295449
A slight case of trespass at Frost Hollow Hall, leads Tilly Higgins to be skating on a not fully frozen lake, with the inevitable result that she falls through the thin ice. However, she is saved by a mysterious benevolent spirit. Tilly is convinced that this is the spirit of Kit, the son of the house, who drowned in that same lake in the same circumstances. Tilly also recognises that he is a very troubled ghost. She manages to get a job at the hall and becomes aware of another spirit, also troubled, but this one is malevolent. Although just a maid, Tilly manages to convince Kit’s mother, the mistress of the house, about her experiences and a séance is arranged. The results are surprising! This is an interesting ghost story for young readers as it is not too scary, but never lets the reader’s interest waver, with just enough mysterious happenings to satisfy.
Patricia Thompson

The Wells Bequest
Written by Polly Shulman
OUP (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0192793119
This is the second title to centre on the New York Circulating Material Repository, a multi-level library for objects rather than books. Whereas the earlier title, The Grimm Legacy, was concerned with fairytale objects, the items in this volume are all connected to science fiction. When Leo’s science teacher suggests that he heads to the Repository to research his Science Fair project, Leo has no idea what kind of adventure he is embarking upon. Not only does he meet a great girl, Jaya, and get a part-time job at the fascinating Repository, he also gets the opportunity to explore his original, apparently impossible, project idea, time travel. Full of clever connections with existing stories by authors such as H.G.Wells and Jules Verne, along with thought-provoking conundrums about the nature of time and reality, this is a stimulating story for imaginative readers.
Annalise Taylor

The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth
Written by Mackenzie Crook
Faber & Faber (eB) £9.99
ISBN: 978-0571295586
The actor Mackenzie Crook has written a truly off-beat, whimsical and quirky novel unlike anything else around. No werewolves, vampires or wizards here. Not even a hero in the usual sense, for Benjamin Tooth is a self-opinionated young chap who declares his genius to all and sundry and who has few attractive qualities. He despises his mother and makes sardonic comments about almost everyone he meets. The one person he likes is a girl whom he misjudges and who wisely marries someone else. By the end, he has become so obsessed with his desire for greatness that he has hardly any humanity left and is a fanatical recluse, dressed as a deer and eating grass. However, such strange behaviour has led him to discover the existence of what he hesitates to call ‘fairies’ but prefers to call ‘sprites’. The strange story is told in journal form with Benjamin recounting his strange meetings with eccentric characters and giving idiosyncratic details about his life including his bizarre meals, “Dined today of pig’s ankles and blancmange” and his mother’s illnesses, “Mother abed with Yellowing of the Elbow”. It is intriguing, funny and absolutely one of its kind.
Nigel Hinton

Monkey Nuts: The Diamond Egg of Wonders
Written by Robin and Lawrence Etherington
David Fickling (R) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1849921695
The Diamond Egg of Wonders is the first book in the Monkey Nuts series and the debut graphic novel from The Etherington Brothers. It stars a crime fighting duo, the like of which we have never seen before. Sid, the monkey, and Rivet, the robot, make up the intrepid team that live on the Isla De Monstera. In their first adventure, the unlikely heroes have to uncover the truth behind a mysterious signal that makes the locals of the island fly into an uncontrollable rage. As if that wasn’t enough, they also have to track down the eponymous ‘Diamond Egg of Wonders’. I have rarely read anything that is so simultaneously exciting and amusing. The characters are hilarious and it is not often that a mystery is solved by a tap-dancing monkey and a coffee-producing robot. The illustrations are extraordinary with each panel containing much detail, immersing the reader completely. This book has everything that could be hoped for: action, adventure, humour and a sarcastic talking coconut.
Davy Hall

A Home for Teasel
Written by Margi McAllister
Scholastic £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407131061
This book will excite and delight all young pony-loving girls. It has the right amount of equine descriptions, including the grooming and mucking out, together with mystery, hope and friendship. Reminiscent of Lauren Brooke and K. M. Peyton, this will definitely be a winner. Gwen longs for a pony of her own but her family cannot afford one. She takes on various part-time jobs in order to supplement her ‘pony fund’ as one day she is determined to have her own pony. Her family does not understand her obsession and she is teased and mocked by her siblings and parents. Then, Gwen is asked to help an elderly lady who can no longer do her own shopping and it is with great surprise and delight when she discovers Teasel, who also needs looking after. Gwen’s whole life changes as she and Teasel develop an unbelievable bond but when the old lady is taken into a home, Gwen and Teasel’s relationship is threatened. Teasel is moved to new stables and Gwen must find a way to see her again. The result is an adventure for both of them with a satisfying result.
Ingrid Fox

Jinx: The Wizards Apprentice
Written by Sage Blackwood
Quercus (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-1780872476
The reader meets Jinx, a young boy, just as his wicked stepfather is ready to abandon him in the dark wood of Urwald, a dangerous place where people who step off the True Path rarely return. Jinx is saved by a wizard when a group of trolls turn up. The wizard, Simon Magus, shields Jinx from the trolls using his magic but his stepfather is not so lucky! Thus begins Jinx’s adventures, growing up as a wizard’s apprentice. We see the world through the eyes of Jinx and, as he meets the diverse cast of characters, including the forest itself, we get to know him as a character and become engrossed with how his journey will end. It’s an entertaining fantasy with a great storyline, and more adventures will appear in future titles. Sage Blackwood has a good eye for capturing the nature and relationships between characters, often in a very humorous way. The story and adventures keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next and putting Jinx at the heart of the story makes the cast of characters and the forest of Urwald very believable.
Annie Everall

Tilly’s Promise
Written by Linda Newbery
Barrington Stoke £6.99
ISBN: 978-1781122938
Here is a quick-read that powerfully conveys the reality of what happened in World War I. Linda Newbery has written brilliant longer novels for teens about this war and this is a clever distillation. When Tilly’s sweetheart, Harry, joins up he promises to look after her brother, Georgie, whose mind is much younger than his body. Tilly makes a promise too. Neither can hope to keep the promises made when they do not understand the realities of war, but they soon learn. The worst horrors are hinted at, and this lack of sensationalism leaves room for the reader’s imagination. Readers identify with the characters and experience their pain. Tilly and Harry survive the war so there is a happy ending of sorts, but they are older, wiser and deeply sad about the losses of others they have loved. Published by the dyslexia-friendly Barrington Stoke, this will appeal to teens struggling with reading but also to other readers too.
Julia Jarman

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

The Forever Whale
Written by Sarah Lean
Illustrated by Gary Blythe
HarperCollins (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-000751222 5
This story of ten-year-old Hannah’s devotion to a grandfather suffering from Alzheimer’s may be too intense for some, as the ‘grandad’ in question is referred to on almost every page. But for those with the patience this thoughtful, well-written story raises major themes like the nature of memory and how best to deal with loss. These are then handed back to readers as part of an ancient mystery that young Hannah takes it upon herself to solve. Lovingly supported by her fifteen-year-old sister, Jodie, plus two caring parents, both Hannah and reader end on a positive note of understanding. Author of the previously best-selling A Dog Called Homeless, Sarah Lean is an author to watch.
Nicholas Tucker

Stan Stinky
Written and illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Scholastic £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407136240
Stan Stinky is a very bored sewer. Instead of being able to spend the summer surfing the storm drains of the Bahamas, he has to stay in the boring sewer he’s lived in all his life. Even worse is the fact that his mum is making him work aboard his crazy uncle’s boat. But when his Uncle Ratts and his sidekick, Roachy, disappear, Stan finds himself on a big adventure to rescue them. This is the first in a new series by a favourite author/illustrator. It’s sharp, witty and full of the kind of toilet humour that young readers just love. Hannah Shaw’s illustrations work very well with her text, giving visual clues to what is about to happen and supporting the narrative really well. This is going to be a very popular series.
Annie Everall

Vile Visitors
Written by Diana Wynne Jones
Illustrated by Marion Lindsay
HarperCollins (eB) £5.99
ISBN: 978-0007501595
Two previously published stories brought together in a new edition from the consistently brilliant Diana Wynne Jones. In Who Got Rid of Angus Flint? three children are outraged by the antics of their father’s friend when he comes to stay with the family after his wife has left him. Totally demanding and utterly self-absorbed, Angus Flint’s tyranny over family life threatens to overwhelm them all. But then, the children step up to the plate and, with the help of some magical furniture, restore peace and harmony to their home by turning the tables, and the chairs, the piano and the carpet, on their unwelcome intruder. In Chair Person it is furniture that becomes the enemy for another family, when an old discarded armchair comes to life and refuses to be ignored. He, like Angus Flint, selfishly demands total attention and causes mayhem wherever he goes. Once again, it is the children of the family who have to step up to the rescue, with a little magical help. The illustrations are expressive and the stories are funny and well-paced, with just the right mix of magic and reality to appeal to a wide audience.
Yvonne Coppard

Rona Long-Teeth
Retold by Fran Parnell
Illustrated by Sophie Fatus
Barefoot £4.83
ISBN: 978-1846869082
Sensitive readers - beware! This reworking of a somewhat grisly folk tale from Tahiti certainly earns its place in this Monster Series for early readers. Kind and helpful, Hina, is unaware that her loving mother, Rona, turns evil when darkness falls and has a nightly habit of eating the neighbours. However, Hina’s secret love, Monoi, falls victim to Rona’s hungry rage. Hina must turn to the village chief to help defeat her mother and save Monoi. This simple, but involving, tale evokes a fairy tale’s triumph of good magic over unambiguous evil with bright, accessible illustrations. Rona’s loving mother/secret cannibal persona may disturb some young booklovers but this exciting story will suit children with an appetite for the macabre.
Megan Stanfield

Jazz and Bo’s Story
Written by Sarah Hawkins
Illustrated by Artful Doodlers
Puzzle illustrations by Jason Chapman
Red Fox (eB) £4.99
ISBN: 978-1782951803
The inspiration for Jazz and Bo’s Story is the real life dog and cat that lived at Battersea Dog and Cats Home. There are many books in this series which have instant appeal to animal-loving youngsters. Abi is looking forward to Christmas and asks Santa for a kitten. Her brother, Harry, thinks dogs are more interesting, but his Mum and Stepdad think two pets will be disruptive. Abi is taken to Battersea Dog and Cats Home to choose her kitten but the result is unexpected and heartwarming. The outcome is satisfying and will please the young readers. The story is illustrated with pleasant line drawings which aptly complement the text. There are tips at the end of the book on how to care for a pet along with animal-related jokes, puzzles and recipes. It is easy to read and will be enjoyed by emerging readers.
Ingrid Fox

The Great Gold Robbery
Written by Jo Nesbø
Simon & Schuster £6.99
ISBN: 978-1471117381
The fourth title in this Doctor Procter’s Fart Powder series of madcap adventure stories sees our hero, Nilly, and heroine, Lisa, unite again with Doctor Proctor to solve the mystery of the theft of the entire gold reserves of Norway. When the reader finds out that this consists of only one gold bar, we have an indication of the seriousness of this escapade. With their wits about them and a host of crazy gadgets invented by the illustrious Doctor Proctor, they encounter the deadly Crunch brothers and their terrifying chief, Mama Crunch. Can Nilly and Lisa save the day? Well of course they can, but readers will enjoy the crazy and amusing ways in which they manage it. Fast-paced and full of action, with black and white line drawings scattered throughout adding humour.
Lucy Russell

Maisie Hitchens: The Case of the Stolen Sixpence
Written by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Marion Lindsay
Stripes £4.99
ISBN: 978-1847153715
Maisie Hitchins longs to be a world-famous detective like Gilbert Carrington. She is positive that out on the streets of Victorian London, there are lots of mysteries for her to solve, if only she could find the time to investigate, but she’s always too busy running errands for her grandmother. However, one day she rescues an abandoned puppy and he leads her to her first case, when the butcher’s boy, George, is wrongly accused of stealing a sixpence. Great to see a strong and feisty little girl as the central character! The story is fun and fast-paced. The text is supported by lovely black and white illustrations by Marion Lindsay and text and illustrations together give a real feel of Victorian London. First in the series, there are now three other titles and the fifth title will be published in May.
Annie Everall

Atticus Claw Lends a Paw
Written by Jennifer Gray
Faber & Faber (eB) £5.99
ISBN: 978-0571284474
The cat is back! Once again Atticus Claw is called to battle with his old enemies, Zenia Klob, Ginger Biscuit and the Magpies. This time, however, the story is mainly set in a more exotic location. An ancient Egyptian book is stolen from the British Museum and Atticus and his friends from Atticus Claw Settles a Score, set off to find it. On the way, Atticus discovers something strange about himself and his ancestry. The story moves along at a furious pace as the team move from one crisis to another. There is plenty of mystery, action, humour and magic, which are all guaranteed to appeal to the reader.
Patricia Thompson

The Warrior Sheep Go Jurassic
Written by Christine & Christopher Russell
Jelly Pie (eB) £5.99
ISBN: 978-1405267182
The five sheep known as the Warriors, visit the Isle of Wight in this crazy adventure about a stolen dinosaur egg. Sandy Bay Dinosaur Museum website advertises the egg before the director realises his mistake in publicising its whereabouts. At least two criminals spot an opportunity to steal it, and a young museum employee is tempted to do the same. The sheep escape from their field to try and track down the egg and prevent both the fulfilment of an ancient sheep prophecy, and the recreation of dinosaurs that would terrorise the country. The adventure involves a hilarious chase as the sheep trample most of the entries in the Sandy Bay Grand Sandcastle Competition and continue day after day to try to intercept the handover between the young egg stealer and her accomplice. Finally, things come to a head at the Ventnor Carnival. This is a fast-paced, humorous adventure story told with skill and enthusiasm. The plot is scarcely credible but a strong storyline and effective dialogue and characterisation suspend the reader’s disbelief, creating an entertaining read.
Liz Dubber

My Brilliant Life and Other Disasters
Written by Catherine Wilkins
Illustrated by Sarah Horne
Nosy Crow (eB) £6.99
ISBN: 978-0857631596
Jess is glad when she is doing the wild life project with her best friend, Natalie, but other parts of her life unravel when she has an argument over her prize cartoon. When her good friend, Lewis tells her she is being arrogant about her own drawings, should she listen? Unexpected developments in this richly comic novel lead to a satisfying end. Expressive illustrations add to the fun.
Marianne Adey

The Story of Gulliver
Written by Jonathan Coe
Illustrated by Sara Oddi
Pushkin £14.99
ISBN: 978-1782690191
The aim of Pushkin Books is to keep classic stories alive by getting popular modern writers to abbreviate and reinvent them. Good quality paper, bold typography and atmospheric illustrations make the stories accessible in these handsome editions. Well written, they retain the strengths of the originals, without trivialising plot, character or themes. First published in 1771 Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels soon became a book for children. Child appeal in the form of giants and little people was there from the start and in many children’s editions the satire on society was down-played, but not in this version. Why are people so poor that they starve, and rich people have more than they need? Why do people make weapons not just to defend themselves but destroy others? These important questions, so relevant today, are posed in a graphic re-telling that includes Gulliver peeing on a fire to save the diminutive Lilliputians and being banished for his efforts. The Lilliputians are petty and small-minded as well as small-bodied. There’s much to appeal to children here, especially those who like to ponder big questions.
Julia Jarman

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

The Girl with a Brave Heart
Written by Rita Jahanforuz
Illustrated by Vali Mintzi
Barefoot Books £10.99
ISBN: 978-1846869280
When Shiraz’s father dies her stepmother insists she does the housework because they cannot afford a maid. One day, when the young girl has finished all her cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing, she retires to the balcony to knit from a ball of wool left by her late mother. But a gust of wind blows the red ball off the balcony into a neighbour’s courtyard garden. The house is owned by an eccentric old woman who sets Shiraz three tasks which she must complete before getting her ball of wool back. The moral is subtly woven into the text, of this Cinderella-like tale from the Middle-East, which pits the good brave-hearted Shiraz against her greedier stepsister. The colourful artwork, with splashes of Hockney and Matisse, perfectly captures the spirit of this wise tale.
Richard Monte

Written by Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow £10.99
ISBN: 978-0857631992
Gloriously subversive and laugh-out-loud funny, Weasels has clearly been designed with adults’ humour in mind as much as kids’. Fuelled by coffee and biscuits, the weasels to which the title refers are secretly planning to take over the world, from an underground bunker reminiscent of something you might find in a Bond film, or Thunderbirds, but with the dynamics of a typical British office. Each weasel has its own unique personality and quirks, which come to light as their control room encounters difficulties, and a solution must be found. The Machine for World Domination is just the sort of thing kids would enjoy making themselves out of cardboard boxes and tin foil, and the incredible detail on every spread is veritable fuel for the young imagination. After every option has been explored, including, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”, a rather sheepish lone weasel is seen holding the machine’s plug (needless to say, not in its socket), exclaiming “oops”. A well-rounded universe with splendidly slapstick inhabitants, this is a truly enjoyable book that will stand up to repeated outings.
Rowan Stanfield

Fortunately, the Milk...
Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Bloomsbury (eB) £10.99
ISBN: 978-1408841761
It all began when they ran out of milk. Dad went out to get some and ran into some very grumpy, globby green aliens, and that was only the beginning. Pirates, angry volcano gods, lisping vampires and singing dinosaurs add to the challenges he faces. The balance between lively text and fantastic illustrations makes this book an excellent choice for any new reader who enjoys real adventure.
Marianne Adey

The Case of the Phantom Cat
Written by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Marion Lindsay
Stripes £5.99
ISBN: 978-1847153821
In this third mystery for Maisie Hitchins, the Victorian maid, she gets the chance to accompany a friend to a house in the country. Before they have even seen the house they have heard rumours that it is haunted. The objects that go missing, strange smells, strange noises and a ghostly cat eventually cause the servants to walk out in fear. Maisie is used to working hard in the boarding house her Grandmother runs but cooking and cleaning is a novelty for her well-off friend Alice. Maisie is determined to prove that there is no such thing as ghosts and point-by-point she does just that, with Alice‘s help. This series is perfect for those who have been reading alone for a while but are perhaps not quite ready to move onto longer books. The illustrations throughout help bring the story to life, especially the scene setting cutaway of Maisie’s house at the beginning. Puzzles and quizzes at the back allow readers to do some detecting of their own.
Annalise Taylor

Dick King-Smith titles
These four books have all been reprinted giving a fresh feel to some old favourites. Dick King-Smith is the master of stories about animals and these books are still as humorous and entertaining as they were when first published. They are all illustrated by different artists in black and white line drawings and they have vibrant, appealing cover designs by Garry Parsons. The soft paperbacks are small with large text making them ideal for small hands reading their first chapter books. There are several other titles in the series.

Written by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by Jim and Peter Kavanagh
Young Corgi (R) £4.99
ISBN: 978-0552567404
In Omnibombulator we meet a very small beetle who feels so insignificant that his parents give him a long name. He searches for recognition but is ignored by birds and insects until the day he meets his match – another tiny beetle, a female one, which is perfect.

Written by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by Peter Wingham
Young Corgi (R) £4.99
ISBN: 978-0552567367
A smelly old tramp discovers that Eric Stanley Pigeon has a very unusual talent and so dreams of using it to win his fortune on the horses. The relationship between the two develops into a strong bond but will E.S.P fulfill the tramp’s dreams?

Connie and Rollo
Written by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by Judy Brown
Young Corgi (R) £4.99
ISBN: 978-0552567381
Connie and Rollo are two books in one. Connie astounds everyone when, as a baby, she begins to speak and perform amazing mathematical calculations. Her parents are delighted with her talent and intend to harness it but things soon go astray and Connie becomes precocious and unbearable. Rollo is a little boy who, as he learns to speak, everything is said in rhyme. We follow Rollo’s life through rhyme in the story right to the end!

Billy the Bird
Written by Dick King-Smith
Illustrated by John Eastwood
Young Corgi (R) £4.99
ISBN: 978-0552567374
Billy is the baby brother of Mary and he can fly! Mary confides in her cat and guinea pig when she discovers Billy’s amazing ability, but decides not to tell her parents. Billy flies every month when there is a full moon and manages to escape recognition although there are a few near misses, until the lunar eclipse, when everything changes.
Ingrid Fox

Mondays at Monster School
Written by Ruth Louise Symes
Illustrated by Rosie Reeve
Orion (R) (eB) £4.99
ISBN: 978-1444008524
Fred is about to join his brother and sisters at Monster School but he is very apprehensive and not sure he wants to go. His Mum tries to reassure him by telling him all the exciting and horrible things he will be doing. However, Fred’s anxieties are soon squashed when he has to reassure his friend, Ted, who is also scared. The two little monsters have a great day and cannot wait to return on Tuesday. The story is one of the Early Readers range aimed at young readers just starting to move on from picture books to reading books. There are excellent illustrations to complement the text which has plenty of repetition and high frequency words.
Ingrid Fox