YA Fiction

Fallen Grace by Mary Hooper

Posted in Historical Fiction, Victorian Mystery, YA Fiction on November 8th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

I must admit to being a big Mary Hooper fan and I’ve been hooked ever since I read Newes from the Dead.  She is a fabulous story teller and as a writer of historical fiction she really immerses the reader in the sights, smells and sounds of each historical period.

It is London, 1861 and our heroine, fifteen year old Grace Parkes, is embarking on the sinister sounding Necropolis Railway to hopefully bury a secret which will never be unearthed.  However, this burial is ironically the catalyst for the birth of a myriad of new challenges facing Grace and her vulnerable sister Lily who have been recently orphaned.  When their lodgings in the slums of Seven Dials are marked for demolition, they are made homeless and forced to seek employment with the Unwins, a disreputable family who seem to have cornered the market in funeral provision. Grace is employed as a mute, her particularly sad visage being much in demand whilst Lily is destined to be a lady’s maid, a decision which leaves Grace bewildered but do not worry – all will be revealed in good time!

Yes, this is a novel targeted at young teens but if you appreciate evocative writing, all things Victorian and Gothic, vividly presented characters you will be well rewarded.  I loved the insight into the Victorian fascination with death and mourning especially following the death of Prince Albert.  Even Charles Dickens puts in an appearance, how can you resist!   I’m anxiously awaiting Mary Hooper’s next novel which will be about Victorian Spirtualism – heaven on earth! ;-)

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Halloween Reads 2010

Posted in Ghost Stories, YA Fiction on October 30th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

I’ve decided to do a little “medley” of my Halloween Reads this year.  As I have grown older and wiser (?) I have moved away from horror and thrillers whether in literature or film – I’ve become so chicken I can’t even go on roller coasters any more!   Therefore this selection probably only rates about 5-6 on the average reader’s scareometer but is scary enough for my fragile disposition… ;-)

Firstly my favourite of the bunch, The Small Hand by Susan Hill which is one of the most attractive books I own.  Okay I know that beauty is only skin deep, never judge a book by its cover etc etc but who could fail to be enchanted by this small but perfectly formed volume..

Here, Susan Hill succeeds in cranking up the tension in another chilling tale.  Antiquarian bookseller, Adam Snow discovers an abandoned Edwardian house and experiences a supernatural moment when his hand is grasped by that of a small child.

…we stood for a time which was out of time, my own man’s hand and the very small hand held as closely together as the hand of a father and his child.  But I am not a father and the small child was invisible.

I love the way suspense is gradually built up, the increasing sense of unease as the small hand changes from something comforting to a menacing and threatening entity which permeates Adam’s very existence.  There are little clues here and there that this tale is set in the present day, such as allusions to the internet and air travel, but the style and ambiance are distinctly gothic and ethereal.  This story begs to be read aloud around an open fire on gloomy autumnal nights – or tucked up with your electric blanket!   Fans of M R James, gothic tales and those who love subtle scary stories will enjoy The Small Hand.

My next ghostly encounter was with the illustrious M R James whose collection of creepy tales has been lingering on my shelves waiting to pounce for several years now…  James is considered to be the master ghost story teller and he really has a deft hand when it comes to creating suspenseful scenarios which can scare the wits out of the reader by suggestion rather than in your face gore. 

I read all of the tales in a couple of sittings but it would probably be a more satisfying reading experience to spread them out a bit and read them over a couple of months as they can seem quite samey after a while. 

My favourite story was The Haunted Dolls’ House not only because of the terror inspired by the narrative but also because of my phobia of china dolls, you know the kind whose eyes follow you around the room…  Another of my favourites was Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad whose title actually sounds quite friendly but oh no, there is menace lurking in the wings.  I found myself wanting to shout at the protagonists – “No, don’t go into that cellar/church/crypt/cupboard!”.

If you like to be thrilled in a subtle, sophisticated way then M R James is the man for you.

My last ghostly read before Halloween is upon us, is a teen read, Heretic by Sarah Singleton.  It’s not really a scary read but a very atmospheric piece of historical fiction set in England in 1586.  Elizabeth finds a strange green creature in the woods – this turns out to be Isabella, a young girl who has been trapped in the faery world for several hundred years.  The girls have something in common, both have faced persecution, Isabella in the 1200s when her mother is tried as a witch,  Elizabeth for being of the Catholic faith.  What unfolds is an exciting tale as Isabella tries to help Elizabeth’s family escape the fate dealt to her family in the distant past.

More a teen rather than a cross-over read, I did enjoy my first experience of Sarah Singleton’s writing and look forward to reading Century which won the Booktrust Teenage Prize in 2005.  A great read for those who love all things faery and fans of Michelle Harrison’s Thirteen Curses/Treasures novels.

I’ve really enjoyed my Halloween selection this year and I think I will seek out some more Gothic tales to while away the dark and dreary evenings this Winter.

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Review – No and Me by Delphine de Vigan

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on September 9th, 2010 by admin – 9 Comments

Lou Bertignac, 13 with an IQ of 160, doesn’t quite fit in with her peers.  She’s been transferred to a class of 15 year olds but has most in common with Lucas,17, who has repeated two years.  Her family has never recovered from a past tragedy which has left each family member bereft and leading an aimless existence.  Then Lou meets No, an 18 year old homeless girl – on the surface they appear to be polar opposites but somehow they click.

When I was with No, you could have drawn a circle round us, a circle that didn’t exclude me, which enclosed us and for a few minutes protected us from the world.

This is a short, accessible novel with a very engaging, quirky narrator.  Lou is a fascinating character, rich in academic intelligence but poor in social skills.  She’s an extremely loyal friend and yes, perhaps she’s very naive about the ways of the real world but you can’t help cheering her on in her mission to rescue No.

I think No and Me falls more in Young Adult rather than Adult literature but its simplicity is part of its charm.  Despite its exploration of dark themes such as grief, loss and the plight of the homeless, you are left feeling uplifted by Lou’s sheer determination.  If you enjoy YA literature with unconventional young narrators you will relish No and Me.

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Review – Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on May 13th, 2010 by admin – 5 Comments

This is my first taste of Sonya Hartnett’s writing and her 11th novel (published in 2000) – no mean feat for a then 32 year old.  Thursday’s Child is set in rural Australia during the Great Depression although the environment is somewhat generic with little to identify it as antipodean apart from a few sundry references to plant life and some place names.   However, this is, first and foremost, a novel about people rather than place.

The story is narrated by Harper Flute with the Thursday’s Child of the title being her younger brother “Tin James Augustus Barnabas Flute, he was, born on a Thursday and so fated to his wanderings, but we called him Tin for short”.  Her other siblings are Caffy, her youngest brother and her older brother and sister, Devon and Audrey.  Not only are the name choices quirky but so is the fact that Tin becomes a feral child living in a series of subterranean tunnels and that his parents barely bat an eyelid!  As Tin merrily excavates his way underground, literally, his parents, meanwhile, stick their heads in metaphorical sand as they blithely go about life, barely eking out a living on their soldier settlement.  The father, ex soldier,Court, knows nothing about farming and doesn’t seem interested in learning so he hunts rabbits most of the time whilst his family and home degenerate around him.  The mother doesn’t contribute much either and it seems that Audrey and Harper are the mother figures here with Harper taking the most interest in Tin and his exploits.

This is a novel for Young Adults so I suppose the author can be forgiven for having a certain lack of depth to her characters but I feel it had so much potential as a novel for all ages.  Lots of philosophical questions are raised like how small and fragile human beings are when pitted against nature and how, if we’re not careful, lethargy can swallow us up just like the earth consumed Tin and others.  It’s a coming of age story, with moments of brilliance in its deeply lyrical narrative.  The overall tone is sadness as the family disintegrates under the weight of grinding poverty.  You feel that Harper has grown as a result of all this turmoil but at what cost?

There is an ethereal, mystical quality to Sonya Hartnett’s writing which has really impressed me.  Part of me wishes the setting could have been more distinct but I guess the indeterminate background serves to highlight the Everyman element of this tale as poverty is universal and doesn’t recognise geographical borders!  I will most definitely be on the look out for more from this author.

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Review – The Resistance by Gemma Malley

Posted in YA Fiction on April 24th, 2010 by admin – 4 Comments

This is Book Two of a Young Adult trilogy by Gemma Malley, the first being The Declaration  with the final instalment, The Legacy, due for publication in Autumn this year.  It’s another futuristic, dystopian thriller set in 2140. 

We are reacquainted with Anna and Peter who are now Legals living on the Outside but life is not exactly carefree for them given that young people are viewed with distust and suspicion and having Ben, Anna’s baby brother, living with them makes them even more conspicuous.  Peter, working as an agent for the Underground takes on the task of infiltrating Pincent Pharma Corporation which manufactures the longevity drugs crucial for maintaining a society intent on the  pursuit of immortality.  This mission is both enhanced and hampered by Peter’s turbulent relationship with Richard Pincent, his grandfather, who is determined to make Peter and Anna sign the Declaration (agreeing to take Longevity) using any means necessary.

If you haven’t read The Declaration you will be totally confused as the author assumes prior knowledge of previous events and characters - it can become a tad distracting at times even for those of us who have read the first book!  Again, there are a lot of serious questions raised about good versus evil and the morality of scientific progress – would we really want to live forever?  How can we reconcile one tribe, those who have signed the Declaration, having eternal life whilst the dissenters, the Surpluses, are rendered extinct?  Of course, we would be blind if we didn’t see the similarities we share with this future world – apartheid, segregation and xenophobia are hardly new phenomena. 

Some scenes might be considered unsuitable for sensitive young teenagers due to the graphic descriptions of some experiments at Pincent Pharma but overall, I think this is an excellent book for teenagers as it raises a lot of important social and political questions.  The most frightening aspect is that this story, set in the distant future, doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  It is refreshing  to find a YA novel suitable for both male and female, this second volume concentrates on Peter’s story whilst the first volume focused more on Anna.  I’m looking forward to seeing how the author concludes this series with The Legacy – I’m not expecting a neat and tidy ending!  If you enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood and/or perhaps Under the Skin by Michael Faber and you don’t have an aversion to Young Adult reads, I think you’ll really enjoy this very readable series.

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Review – Ondine – Ebony McKenna

Posted in YA Fiction on March 6th, 2010 by admin – 1 Comment

Format: Paperback 336 pages


Egmont Books Ltd




Not your typical boy meets girl story but rather, girl meets enchanted ferret, falls in love and strives to break the spell which has transformed him from handsome young man into hirsute pet.

Ondine de Groot, our 15 year old heroine, runs away from Psychic Summer Camp accompanied by her new acquaintance, Shambles, the ferret. Ondine returns home to her family and discovers en route that Shambles can speak albeit with a strong Scottish accent and,at times, incomprehensible dialect (Fear not, there are ample footnotes which provide translation).
Yes, this is quite a sweet fairy tale romance but it is very much enhanced and fortified by the inclusion of Shambles whose humour and wit is great comedy value. The footnotes also provide an air of authenticity, providing more information about Ondine’s fictional hometown Brugel and frequent comic asides.
Against this fairytale background we witness the very realistic representation of a teenage crush, family conflicts and sibling rivalry. Ondine is a clever, independent young lady who knows what she wants in life but achieves her aims without veering too far from the straight and narrow.
This is a fun, romantic, well written read which would appeal to young girls aged 12+ who enjoy intelligent and witty writing.
Thank you to Waterstones for sending me this proof for review.

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