YA Fiction

Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on November 23rd, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Maggot Moon

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 6th 2012 by Hot Key Books
My Rating – a fabulous 5 stars!

Our narrator, the wonderfully named Standish Treadwell, is left bereft when his best friend Hector mysteriously disappears, probably taken by the tyrannical goons of the Motherland – a totalitarian regime where dyslexics like Standish are held in scant regard.  The Motherland is intent on winning the space race, getting to the moon first without caring who gets hurts in the process.  However, what if it was all one big ploy, designed to keep people in their place?  What if someone like Standish, someone perceived to be weak, could debunk the whole scam?
As Standish himself remarks
You see, the what ifs are as boundless as the stars.
Equally boundless, it would appear, is Sally Gardner’s wonderful imagination and ability to draw the reader into another world, a parallel universe not that far removed from our own.  Using simple language she presents a brutal world, a scary place where folk like Standish are not expected to stand up for themselves.  Standish’s neighbourhood, Zone Seven, could be anywhere, any time in history and whilst his day to day life is fraught with danger, he faces the same dilemnas as any teenager – establishing your own identity, forging friendships, learning from your mistakes.
Now shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award 2012, Maggot Moon deserves to become a children’s classic.  Fans of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and Wonder will love this quirky, engaging novel and will perhaps fall a little in love with Standish, your not so average hero.  Highly recommended for all ages from 12 upwards.

  • Share/Bookmark

Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on October 29th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Ketchup Clouds

My Rating – 5 stars

Source – Amazon Vine

Publication date information seems to vary with the ARC stating 8th November 2012, Amazon saying 27th December 2012 and other blogs mentioning Spring 2013…

Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite reads of 2011 so I have been keenly anticipating her second novel, hoping that it would engage me and move me in a similar way. Well, it’s a very different type of novel but I’m delighted to report that it packs the same punch as its predecessor.

The novel is composed of a series of letters written by a fifteen year old British girl and addressed to Stuart Harris, a prisoner on Death Row in Texas. Initially, she is cautious about revealing her identity and location, writing under the pseudonym “Zoe” and living in Fiction Road. Ironically “Zoe” feels that she and Stuart have something in common – he having murdered his wife and she feeling responsible for the death of a boy she knew. So she sneaks out to the garden shed at night, hoping to somehow exorcise her guilt by confessing to a stranger.

We never hear directly from Stuart but there is quite enough going on in day to day life as well as “Zoe’s” gradual revelation of the events of the past year – May 1st is the first anniversary of the boy’s death. The author succeeds in weaving an intriguing tale of family relationships, the intensity of young love, the angst of the teenager as well as keeping the readers on the edge of their seats wondering who died and who is to blame.

Annabel Pitcher has captured the teenage voice and tone perfectly in a very natural and easy way. All of the characters are fully fleshed and extremely credible from the bickering parents feeling the stress of financial worry and the pressure of caring for elderly parents to the precocious middle child who feels ever so slightly neglected. It all flows beautifully and even though I’m not usually a big fan of romance, I felt the strength and intensity of “Zoe”‘s emotions with a conclusion which moved me to tears. You’ll laugh and cry in equal measure and, if you’re slightly older like myself, you will breathe a blessed sigh of relief that you’re no longer a teenager.

It certainly doesn’t look as if Annabel has suffered much from second novel syndrome as her writing is going from strength to strength, increasing in confidence, engaging you from the first word and keeping you enthralled – I’m already looking forward to her next novel!

  • Share/Bookmark

The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Posted in American Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on June 1st, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

The Age of Miracles

Published
21/06/2012

Publisher
Simon & Schuster Ltd

My Rating – 3 Stars

With apologies to TS Eliot, is this how the world ends then, not with a bang but a whimper, with the slowing of the earth’s rotation?  Karen Thompson Walker’s novel certainly stands out from the glut of post-apocalyptic novels currently crowding bookshop shelves with its quiet, reflective style and gentle tone but does this debut have enough oomph to grab the reader and keep him transfixed until the bitter end?

I don’t require a lot of action in my reading, sometimes the quiet ones are the ones which draw me in the most.  I also don’t need everything tied up neatly at the end but for several reasons this novel didn’t quite work for me and left me feeling rather unsatisfied.  Firstly, I am not sure what type of story it’s trying  to be – Young Adult or perhaps crossover, coming of age tale, stark dystopian drama? 

Told from the perspective of 11 year old,  Julia, we hear a lot about her trials and tribulations as a young adolescent – falling out with friends, exploring first romantic feelings, lack of communication with parents BUT considering the earth has shifted on its axis and days are sometimes 48 hours long we have little in-depth analysis of a global catastrophe.  Divisions are caused when the “Real-Timers” go against government advice and decide to live their lives according  to whatever naturally occurs, sleeping during the dark time and remaining awake during daylight hours – I couldn’t quite fathom how they could do this during “48 hour” days!  Everyone else goes by the clock even if  it means trying to sleep in broad daylight and going to and from school in the dark. 

All in all, this is a promising debut but the intriguing premise was let down by a rather pedestrian story – one of those kitchen-sink books where everything gets thrown in but somehow it doesn’t quite blend to form a palatable whole.   Some beautiful writing but just not in this format…perhaps it would have worked better with an older narrator?

  • Share/Bookmark

I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2012 by admin – 5 Comments

I Hunt Killers

Published
12/04/2012

Publisher
Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)

My Rating – 4 Stars

Not for the faint-hearted, I Hunt Killers is a multi-layered, rollercoaster ride of a tale filled with characters who you would be well advised to cross the road to avoid.  I thought I’d left serial killers far behind me, in the dim and distant past, when I devoured anything written by Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell…before she went off the boil.  It came as a big surprise to me when I was so quickly sucked into the story of seventeen year old Jasper (Jazz) Kent and his “dear old dad” who just happens to be one of the  world’s most prolific serial killers.  Daddy is safely tucked up in high security prison but the sins of the father might very well be visited on the son  as Jazz faces a daily struggle wondering if he has inherited the “killer” gene. 

Jazz’s internal struggle is compounded by the discovery of a dead body in his small home-town.  Getting into the mind of a serial killer is a sure-fire way of tracking down another killer but much as Jazz wants to assist the local sheriff in his investigation, he is terrified that by doing so he will unleash his own demons and destroy any chance he has of a “normal” life.  It’s the classic nature versus nurture debate although the odds are stacked against Jazz on both sides given his inauspicious roots and his education in “How to be a Sociopath” thanks to Dear Old Dad again.

Yes, there is blood and gore but this is counterbalanced by comic moments coming from Jazz’s interactions with his goofy haemophiliac sidekick, Howie.  His remarkably understanding girlfriend Connie manages to keep him steady but there’s this constant underlying tension throughout the novel both within Jazz himself and within this quiet community – surely lightning couldn’t strike twice and they can have a break from that serial killer tag?

A gripping psychological thriller which will hook those at the older end of the YA range, I would hazard a guess that it will appeal mostly to 15+ boys.  Serial killers are not renowned for their pleasanteries so be prepared for upsetting scenes and be warned that there is extreme cruelty to animals.  If  you can get past all that…you are in for a treat and it looks like this is the first in a series with television rights sold to Warner Bros so Mr Lyga seems to have struck the right chord.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Killables – Gemma Malley

Posted in Children's Books, Dystopian Fiction, YA Fiction on April 2nd, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Killables (The Killables, #1)

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language English
  • My Rating – 4 stars

    One could be forgiven for thinking that a dystopian setting is compulsory for all YA novels being published at the moment and with the huge success of The Hunger Games both in print and on screen, this is one trend which is staying put.  Gemma Malley has already proven her worth in this genre with her excellent Declaration trilogy and she continues to demonstrate her impressive storytelling skills in this, the first of a new trilogy.

    I must admit that I was quite worried that this new series would seem too samey and fail to stand out amongst the plethora of other dystopian reads on the market but what makes it shine is its quiet, understated nature – thank goodness there are writers who realise it doesn’t have to be all singing, all dancing, all flailing limbs to attract the reader’s attention, sometimes less is more.

    Our “new world” is The City whose citizens are graded from A to D and (shock, horror!) sometimes K depending on their good citizenship and obedience of the rules established by the System.  The head honcho is the omniscient, omnipresent Brother who seems to have your best interests at heart – you really don’t want to end up outside the City gates at the mercy of the Evils, an allegedly subhuman species.

    There is an intriguing love triangle involving our three main protagonists, Evie, Raffy and his “much” older brother, Lucas.  I liked the fact that none of these characters are particularly likeable and you feel like shaking some sense into them most of the time – it’s a trilogy after all, they have time to evolve and change, hopefully for the better!  I also loved the semi-scientific slant on the new Society where all the good citizens have had their amygdala, the ”evil” part of their brain, removed – all done to deliver themselves from evil of course.

    Like all first books in a series, a large portion of the novel has to be devoted to world-building but the author has succeeded in also building characters and a plot which engage the reader and will make you want to read on.  If you’re aged over 13 and you like your dystopian fiction restrained, intelligent and thought-provoking then this is your next stop.

    • Share/Bookmark

    Mice – Gordon Reece

    Posted in YA Fiction on March 20th, 2012 by admin – 1 Comment

    Mice

    Published
    03/02/2012

    Publisher
    Macmillan Children’s Books

    My Rating - 4  stars

    Sixteen year old Shelley and her mum have been born with the victim gene – Shelley has been on the receiving end of an intensive, malevolent bullying campaign by former girlfriends and her mum has been through a difficult divorce with Shelley’s dad finding a younger, fresher partner.  They are quite simply “mice”, meek little creatures scuttling around not making much impression on the outside world so they retreat to the safe tranquillity of Honeysuckle Cottage, far from the madding crowd.   In their secluded bolt-hole, they should be safe and sound, Shelley preparing for her exams and her mum trying to keep their heads above water in a low paid job well below her abilities and qualifications.  However, change comes knocking at the door  or rather, sneaking in a window, when an unwanted visitor shows up disturbing the nest – will the mice show their teeth when faced with adversity or will they squeak and beat a hasty retreat?

    I found this a gripping, unputdownable read, one which I devoured in one sitting as I just had  to find out what fate had in store for Shelley and her mother.  The first part of the novel is quite slow paced but nonetheless riveting, as we see the build up of the bullying campaign against Shelley – you really feel for her as she is turned upon by her once close friends.  There is a brief period of calm with the removal to Honeysuckle Cottage but you just know that something is lurking, something which will break the short-lived spell of serenity and the tension is palpable.  What ensues might be disturbing for sensitive readers so I would recommend this for the older, more mature end of the YA market.  Some of the events might seem a bit far-fetched but this is a piece of entertaining, fast paced fiction and not a treatise on How To Be Good.

    An exciting, thought provoking  read – it will raise lots of interesting questions about how far we would go to survive and to what extent the end justifies the means – food for thought indeed.

    • Share/Bookmark

    All Fall Down – Sally Nicholls

    Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on March 19th, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

    All Fall Down

    Published
    01/03/2012

    Publisher
    Marion Lloyd Books

    My Rating – 5 stars (if like me, you love excellent historical fiction for children)

    Award winning author Sally Nicholls won me over with her wonderful debut novel, Ways To Live Forever,  a poignant contemporary story which was published in 2008.  She has since written Seasons of Secrets (2009), contemporary fiction with a taste of magic, and her latest, All Fall Down, is her first foray into historical fiction, set in Yorkshire during the Black Death in the mid 14th century.

    At the moment so much Childrens/YA fiction is concerned with post-apocalyptic dystopias but, as Sally Nicholls points out in a note at the end of her novel, “The Black Death was the single biggest catastrophe in historical memory. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but was probably somewhere between a third and a half of Europe.”  This historical period certainly provides a compelling and dramatic backdrop for the story of Isabel and her family. 

    Our story begins in the summer of 1349 and events are narrated by fourteen year old Isabel who lives in the tiny village of Ingleforn in Yorkshire.  She and her family are “villeins”, tied to the land which they rent from the lord of the manor so they can’t just up sticks and leave at the first sniff of pestilence.  Thus, they begin a game of waiting, a tense time during which Isabel and her siblings have to grow up very quickly and cope with whatever fate hurls at them.

    Told in the present tense, this is a gripping, vivid tale which will appeal to a range of ages especially those who appreciate interesting, believable characters and writing which immerses you right in 1349, capturing the idiosyncrasies of village life and the burgeoning fear which takes root in the hearts and minds of the villagers.  Will caring for friends who have lost family to the plague end up endangering your own family?  How quickly can mistrust and deceit thrive in this atmosphere of malevolence and decay? 

    A lot happens, we get to know many different characters and we experience a variety of settings, town and country, abbey and village church but Sally Nicholls demonstrates such an ease in her writing that the reader never feels rushed or manipulated.  An excellent historical novel with a lot of human heart, highly recommended for readers of all ages and one which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pat Walsh’s Crowfield series.

    • Share/Bookmark

    A Waste of Good Paper – Sean Taylor

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on January 17th, 2012 by admin – 1 Comment

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (3 May 2012)
  •  

    I was initially attracted to this YA novel as I used to teach French to a wide variety of pupils from top stream to those who faced severe behavioural and emotional challenges on a daily basis. I was keen to see how an author would recreate the voice of a youth who struggles to fit into “mainstream” education and I think he’s got it spot on.

    The novel takes the form of a journal/diary written by young Jason who has the opportunity to move onto a mainstream school if he’s on his best behaviour but as we gradually discover, it’s rather hard not to LOSE IT when his mum looks like she might go back on drugs, when he is continually riled by his classmates, when he has to listen to the platitudes of the teachers. At first he treats the diary project as some sort of joke, a way of fooling his teacher, Pete, into thinking he’s actually doing some work but gradually he puts down in words the truth about his home situation…but the diary is confidential so how can anyone else help?

    As well as gaining insight into Jason’s home life we also see life in school, warts and all with the tiniest slight sending some pupils over the edge. One scene reminded me of the time a chair was thrown in my direction…but I had the good sense to duck! I have so much admiration for teachers who can draw on infinite amounts of patience and creativity to help disadvantaged and disaffected children and are happy to see progress on a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute scale rather than throwing in the towel. I think the author does an excellent job of representing the work done by such professionals.

    This is a very honest portrayal of one boy’s life, with a fair injection of humour too – well worth reading and recommended for both young teens and adults in need of a hefty dose of empathy.

    • Share/Bookmark

    A Waste of Good Paper – Sean Taylor

    Posted in Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on January 5th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

    A Waste of Good Paper

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (3 May 2012)  I was initially attracted to this YA novel as I used to teach French to a wide variety of pupils from top stream to those who faced severe behavioural and emotional challenges on a daily basis. I was keen to see how an author would recreate the voice of a youth who struggles to fit into “mainstream” education and I think he’s got it spot on.

    The novel takes the form of a journal/diary written by young Jason who has the opportunity to move onto a mainstream school if he’s on his best behaviour but as we gradually discover, it’s rather hard not to LOSE IT when his mum looks like she might go back on drugs, when he is continually riled by his classmates, when he has to listen to the platitudes of the teachers. At first he treats the diary project as some sort of joke, a way of fooling his teacher, Pete, into thinking he’s actually doing some work but gradually he puts down in words the truth about his home situation…but the diary is confidential so how can anyone else help?

    As well as gaining insight into Jason’s home life we also see life in school, warts and all with the tiniest slight sending some pupils over the edge. One scene reminded me of the time a chair was thrown in my direction…but I had the good sense to duck! I have so much admiration for teachers who can draw on infinite amounts of patience and creativity to help disadvantaged and disaffected children and are happy to see progress on a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute scale rather than throwing in the towel. I think the author does an excellent job of representing the work done by such professionals.

    This is a very honest portrayal of one boy’s life, with a fair injection of humour too – well worth reading and recommended for both young teens and adults in need of a hefty dose of empathy.

  • A FOUR STAR READ FOR ME.

    • Share/Bookmark

    Dark Inside – Jeyn Roberts

    Posted in YA Fiction on September 3rd, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

    I’ve had the pleasure of reading some truly excellent dystopian YA novels in recent years - The Hunger Games and The Declaration trilogies spring to mind.  The post-apocalyptic setting seems to be increasingly common in recent YA releases and Dark Inside, Jeyn Roberts’ debut , is part of this growing trend but is it strong enough to stand out from the rest?

    Four teens, Mason, Michael, Aries and Clementine are survivors of a bizarre catastrophe – a series of worldwide devastating earthquakes coupled with sudden onset psychotic behaviour manifesting itself in the majority of the human race so you don’t know who to trust.  Each chapter deals with a different teen and their efforts to stay alive, all of them journeying to Vancouver, thought to be a haven in a world of terror.

    I enjoyed Dark Inside – it’s an extremely fast paced read which keeps you hooked from the opening chapter.  However, there were some elements which spoiled the reading experience and really irked me at times.  I usually have no problem following a storyline with multiple POV but I didn’t feel the characters were well enough developed for me to cope with each chapter shifting to a different storyline and I couldn’t remember who was who and kept on flicking back to remind myself of each character’s back story.  In the midst of the four teens’ stories are random interjections from an anonymous narrator, “Nothing” which really didn’t add to the overall story.  Unfortunately,  this got in the way of my enjoying what was actually an exciting narrative.

    It would appear from the concluding chapter that this might be the start of a series but if this is the case, it’s a shame that the opener wasn’t stronger with more defined characterisation.  It will appeal to those who like action-packed narratives but I fear that Dark Inside might be eclipsed by others in this increasingly saturated market.

    • Share/Bookmark