Posts Tagged ‘YA’

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black

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

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown



Indigo (an Imprint of Orion Children’s)


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


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



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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Midwinterblood -Marcus Sedgwick

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


Paperback, 263 pages
Published by Indigo (first published October 6th 2011)
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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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


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?

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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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    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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