YA Fiction

Front Lines (Soldier Girl #1) – Michael Grant

Posted in American Fiction, WWII, YA Fiction on April 9th, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Michael Grant has written over 150 books, most of them co-authored with his wife Katherine Applegate but Front Lines is my first experience of his writing – I now can’t wait to investigate his other novels, I might be gone some time! His latest novel is set in the mid 1940s and it is an alternate history of America’s involvement in World War 2, with females being sent to the front lines for the first time.

An anonymous narrator relates the stories of three American recruits who hail from very different backgrounds – Rio Richlin, a farmer’s daughter from California, Frangie Marr from Tulsa who faces a double dose of discrimination as a result of her gender and skin colour and Rainy Schulterman, intellectual Jewish New Yorker. I was pleased that there wasn’t too much romance and more of a focus on the realities of life in the army and how these teenagers, both male and female, struggle to adjust to life at the front. It was also refreshing to hear the stories of soldiers involved in North African operations, a location often overlooked in YA novels about World War II.

Michael Grant doesn’t hold back in his presentation of the brutality of warfare so those of a nervous disposition might be traumatised by the graphic detail. I can’t wait for the next in the series to see how army life continues to mould the characters’ personalities, for better and for worse.

An intelligent, fast paced opening to an exciting new series with extremely engaging characters. Highly recommended for older teens and even young at heart adults!

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Twenty Questions for Gloria – Martyn Bedford

Posted in Proofs, YA Fiction on February 23rd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Publisher – Walker Books

UK Publication Date – 4th February 2016

Aimed at young readers aged 14 and over, this new novel from Martyn Bedford is less high-octane thriller and more a sensitively written, contemplative account of the trials and tribulations of teenage life.

Gloria is sick and tired of her mundane life, each day blending into the other but along comes Uman, this exotic creature whose clothes, vocabulary and general demeanour are unlike anything she’s experienced before.  He’s a breath of fresh air, no, make that a hurricane and Gloria lets herself get swept away without any thought of the consequences.

This novel makes a refreshing change from all the “noisier” YA  fiction currently on the market.   It is a clever, compelling story with fully realised characters who don’t have to wield a weapon or possess super powers in order to engage the reader.  The author skilfully recreates the uncertainties and angst of teenage years, that limbo between childhood and adulthood.

Yes, it’s a slow burner but stick with it and you’ll appreciate its warmth and emotional intelligence.

My thanks to Helen at Walker Books for providing me with a review copy of this novel.

 

About the Author

Martyn Bedford has written three YA novels, the first of which, Flip, was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award.  He has also written five novels for adult.  Read more about the author at – www.martynbedford.com

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We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs, YA Fiction on July 21st, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Jacqueline Wilson’s novels about “jigsaw” families were extremely popular with young teens but she has recently moved from contemporary to more historical settings. Susin Nielsen’s novel fills that gap very nicely with its lighthearted look at serious issues.
Narrated by nerdy, socially challenged Stewart and academically challenged, Queen Bee Ashley in short and snappy alternate chapters this story will appeal to young teens.Thirteen year old Stewart and fourteen year old Ashley are thrown together in a “blended” step family which Stewart imagines will be akin to paradise whereas Ashley expects the worst. It’s a predictable enough story with an unlikely hero saving the day but it has lots of humour and real heart which draws the reader in very quickly. I still giggle when I remember Ashley’s fervent desire to be “unconstipated” – an in-joke, you have to read the book to get it!An easy read which touches on some fairly heavy issues, We are all Made of Molecules will appeal to boys and girls aged 12 and over, especially those who enjoyed Wonder by R J Palacio.

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Poppy – Mary Hooper

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 8th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

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Blurb from Good Reads

1914. Poppy is fifteen, beautiful and clever, but society has already carved out her destiny. There’s no question of her attending the grammar school – it’s too expensive and unsuitable for a girl. Instead, Poppy will become a servant at the big house. And she’ll ‘keep out of trouble’. But Poppy’s life is about to be thrown dramatically off course. The first reason is love – with someone forbidden, who could never, ever marry a girl like her. The second reason is war. Nothing could have prepared her for that. As she experiences what people are capable of – the best of humanity and the very worst – Poppy will find an unexpected freedom and discover how to be truly her own person.

Mary Hooper is one of my favourite writers of YA Historical Fiction.  She has the knack of combining strong young female characters and realistic historical settings which give readers a strong sense of time and place, whatever their age!  Quite a few novels are being released this year to tie in with the centenary of the outbreak of WWI but Poppy would be my standout choice for any young female teens wishing to acquaint themselves with the role of their early 20th century counterparts.

In a relatively short novel, 288 pages, we are shown the dramatic changes war brings about in everyone’s lives, from upper to lower classes, amongst men and women, and particularly for  young women like Poppy who find themselves in a position to alter previously rigid, mapped out destinies.  Poppy is no longer restricted to a life of servitude as she can forge her own path in life, working as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse but she will be tested both emotionally and physically in her new career.

The author doesn’t hold back in describing the brutal effects of war, especially the horrendous injuries of Poppy’s patients, some of them young boys bedazzled by the glory of war.  We see the early days of plastic surgery as doctors strive to improve the lives of young Tommies stricken by horrific facial injuries.  Likewise we see the deep psychological stress placed on these young men – PTSD is unheard of and those who can’t face the horrors of the trenches are swiftly court-martialled and executed.

If I have one tiny quibble about this novel, it’s that it ends on such a cliff-hanger and cannot be read as a stand-alone novel.  Poppy’s adventures will resume in the sequel, Poppy in the  Field, to be published in May 2015.  If you’re looking for an introduction to the role of young women in WWI, a sensitive read which treads the middle path between sentimentality and gore, then Poppy is the ideal place to  start.  For slightly older readers interested in this period, I would highly recommend Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain’s extremely powerful war memoir.

Poppy by Mary Hooper is published on 8th May 2014 by Bloomsbury Childrens.

You can follow Mary Hooper on Facebook here and on Twitter here.

My thanks to Net Galley and Bloomsbury for providing a review copy.

 



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She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on October 10th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Published
03/10/2013

Publisher
Indigo (an Imprint of Orion Children’s)

My Rating
5 stars

She Is Not Invisible is a gem of a read,  a thought provoking and intelligent thriller which can be read on so many different levels.  On the surface, it’s an adventure story with our heroine, Laureth, accompanying her younger brother, Benjamin, on a quest to discover the whereabouts of their father, famous author, Jack Peak.  Sounds straightforward enough but then Laureth has the extra obstacle of her blindness plus she isn’t really sure that her Dad is officially missing.

There are so many layers to this deceptively simple story.  Jack Peak is obsessed with the nature of coincidence in our daily lives and as you follow Laureth and Benjamin on their journey you find yourself pondering the same issues.  Do we manufacture our own destiny or is it predetermined?  Laureth is certainly determined to make her own mark on the world and is most certainly not invisible.  She and Benjamin make an excellent team with superhero qualities, Batman and Robin  spring to mind.  I loved the way they worked together as one, along with Benjamin’s trusty sidekick, Stan the crow!  So many questions are raised and happily they aren’t all answered and neatly tied up  with a pretty bow.

This is a novel which makes you think, not just about the nature of coincidence but about family relationships, about what it is like to be different, about what influences our path in life.  A highly recommended read for anyone with an inquiring mind.  If you enjoyed The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon you’ll love this.

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Marina – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on October 8th, 2013 by admin – 3 Comments

Marina

Published
26/09/2013

Publisher
Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

Written between 1996 and 1997, Marina is the last of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s series of four YA novels.  Each novel has a gothic feel with supernatural overtones and Marina is particularly engaging with its otherwordly, ethereal atmosphere.

Narrated by 30 year old Oscar Drai, the story is set in 1980s Barcelona when Oscar mysteriously disappears from his boarding school.  During his “lost” week, Oscar and his new friend, Marina, experience the hidden, darker side of old Barcelona – a world far removed from modern life, a world peopled with sinister characters with shady background stories.
Whilst some might find Zafon’s style a bit OTT and flowery, I simply relish the escapism offered by his stories.  There is something irresistible about his storytelling, the Hammer House of Horror settings, the feeling of malevolence which permeates the story keeping you hanging  until the final page.   For teen readers, the growing attraction between Marina and Oscar is appealing but, of course, adversity constantly puts obstacles in their path.

Not for the faint-hearted, this spooky tale oozes gothic intensity – a really entertaining tale for teens and beyond.

 

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The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

Posted in YA Fiction on September 6th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

 

Published
03/09/2013

Publisher
Indigo (an Imprint of Orion Children’s)

Source
Publisher

My Rating
3.5 stars

Vampires aren’t usually my thing and I have managed to avoid all the Twilight, True Blood hybrids but I do have a soft spot for vampires with a twist, something which sets them apart from the mundane, everyday bloodsucker.  Thus I enjoyed Justin Cronin’s Passage series and there’s a little spark in this latest YA novel from Holly Black which stirred my interest.

Holly Black injects vitality into her story with the concept of Coldtowns – walled cities where humans and vampires co-exist in a world which is simultaneously glamorous and grotesque.  Here, vampires are lauded and treated like A-Listers with their debauchery streamed to the outside world 24/7.   Tana finds herself thrust into this seedy world when she is scratched by a vampire and she decides to face a period of quarantine in Coldtown rather than endanger her friends and family.  She is accompanied by her ex, Aidan,  a rather unpredictable vampire, Gavriel and a couple of hangers on.  The story revolves around their experiences in Coldtown.

The world-building is extremely accomplished and it is a breath of fresh air for YA vampire literature but unfortunately the emphasis on back story and information leads to a rather slow pace.  There are some fabulous descriptive scenes where the author captures the true gore of the vampire society but I found the characters less engaging.   Tana and Aidan seem quite one-dimensional with Gavriel provoking  some interest with his mysterious background covering centuries.

I’m not sure if this is the beginning of a series or not.  As a series opener it’s not a bad start but as a stand-alone it left me quite cold…

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The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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The Quietness – Alison Rattle

Posted in Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on April 12th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Quietness

Published
07/03/2013

Publisher
Hot Key Books

ISBN
9781471401015

My Rating
4 stars

I must admit to being very envious of the youth of today, given the plethora of well written YA Historical Fiction which was sadly lacking in my younger days.  Alison Rattle proves she is a force to be reckoned with, given the quality of her debut YA novel, The Quietness.

This is the story of two teenagers, Queenie and Ellen, who have very different experiences of life in London in 1870.  Queenie is struggling to exist in the dark, impoverished side of the city whilst Ellen leads a privileged but not necessarily happy life with her austere, emotionally challenged parents.  As the story progresses, the two girls find their lives interweaving but don’t expect a fairytale ending!

The author excels at painting a realistic picture of late 19th century London, you feel the physical hunger of Queenie and her siblings and you are confronted with the seedier aspects of poverty, crime and prostitution.  Also examined is the distasteful Victorian practice of baby-farming whereby unwanted babies were, for a small fee, taken away by ‘kindly’ ladies who were supposed to find them new adoptive families.  Women have few rights, be they low or high born and even the more socially elevated Ellen finds herself under the complete control of her unfeeling father.  For all the social disadvantages facing Queenie’s family, they definitely have a more loving relationship… albeit tough love.

Detailed scenes of childbirth make this novel more suitable for an older reader, most likely girls aged 14 and over.  If you enjoyed Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper,  you will be equally engrossed by The Quietness.  Looking forward to reading more by this author.

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Midwinterblood -Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in YA Fiction on February 6th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Midwinterblood

Paperback, 263 pages
Published by Indigo (first published October 6th 2011)
ISBN
1780620209 (ISBN13: 9781780620206)
Source – from the publisher

Midwinterblood is a cleverly constructed and deliciously dark read.   Using reverse chronology it begins in June 2073, on remote Blessed Island, where journalist Eric Seven has travelled to research a story on the islanders who are rumoured to live forever.  Divided into seven sections, we hear of seven different stories over the ages right back to Time Unknown.  The link in each story is Eric, in various incarnations, and his connection with a girl called Merle who seems to elude him over the centuries.

I was quickly drawn into this tense, atmospheric tale told in stark, simple prose.   There are echoes of The Wicker Man with suspicious islanders and the outsider, Eric, but he isn’t really an outsider and as you read on, you discover his link with the island.  Love, reincarnation, mortality, sacrifice, family ties, fate, symbolism, nature – there’s a lot of food for thought here all wrapped in a gloriously gothic style.

This is a story you will want to read again as soon as you have turned the final page.  A Young Adult read which will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

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