Category Archives: Books

Review: Al Capone Shines my Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko

alcapshinesWhen I picked up the book Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko, the first thing I noticed were the simple drawings on the front and back cover and the irregular colourful lettering of the title. “Hmm,” I thought. “This looks like light holiday reading”. I did indeed take it on holiday with me, and it was indeed light holiday reading, but no less enjoyable for it. Gennifer Choldenko is a good writer. Even in my sunny locale I could see the mists envelopping the prison island of Alcatraz where the story is set in my mind’s eye, and even though I myself am years past the pre-teen angst of growing up, I truly empathised with the main character – Moose Flanagan – a 12 year old boy and felt his internal embarrassment, his awkwardness, his frustration with his friend who doesn’t play baseball and his puzzlement at the vagrancies of his female playmates.

The year is 1935, the United States is battling the Great Depression and Al Capone has been transferred to Alcatraz. Meet a warden’s son – Moose Flanagan. Moose asks Al Capone for a favour – to help his sister get into a special needs school. When his sister is admitted into said school, Moose owes the dangerous gangster. What is he to do? The story then twists and turns through the trials and tribulations of living on Alcatraz, being in close proximity to dangerous criminals, rule-obsessed wardens, impossibly cruel but unbearably pretty girls and the thrill of moving undetected in a place designed to hold the most accomplished of escape artists.

Moose Flanagan as a character has the touch of the Irish about him, he’s well liked by all,
thinks quickly, always manages to say the right thing and has a way with the girls. This”chosen” sort of quality that others see, but he himself does not feel, reminds me greatly of Harry Potter. The story also deals with a young boy who lives in a special place, who faces down a a dangerous enemy and becomes involved in a plot far bigger than by rights he should be expected to handle, all Potter-esque virtues.

In fact, this book is similarly appropriate for the tween and teen markets as the Harry Potter series.
I would therefore not hesitate to recommend Al Capone Shines My Shoes to young adults and adults who are young at heart.

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This review was written & submitted by the awesome Natalie Prescott who currently resides in a medieval town in the Netherlands

Booktrust Teenage Book Prize

The shortlist for the Teenage Book Prize was released yesterday.

Launched in 2003 to recognise and celebrate contemporary fiction written for teenager, the prize (which is judged by a mixed panel of adults and teenagers) has in the words of former judge Matt Whyman ‘fast become the benchmark for quality young people’s fiction in the UK.’

The Booktrust Teenage Prize 2009 shortlist is

Auslander by Paul Dowswell (Bloomsbury)
It’s 1942 and Peter is seized from an orphanage in Warsaw by Nazi soldiers, only to be classified as an Aryan and adopted by the prominent Nazi Professor Kaltenbach. Peter is expected to perfectly embody the values of the regime, but he has his own ideas on how to undermine its horrific pursuit of perfection.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)
This chillingly fantastical tale is Gaiman’s first full-length novel since his internationally bestselling and highly acclaimed Coraline. Bod is alive…but his friends are not. Raised by ghosts, werewolves and other ethereal graveyard inhabitants, how will Bod reconcile the world of the living and the dead?

Ostrich Boysby Keith Gray (Definitions)
Left despondent after the funeral of their friend Ross, three friends – Kenny, Sim and Blake – steal Ross’ ashes and embark on an epic journey in search of a more fitting memorial. Described as a “modern classic”’ (Jake Hope, The Bookseller), this tale explores deep friendship and devastating loss.

The Ant Colony by Jenny Valentine (HarperCollins)
33 Georgiana Street is home to an eclectic and chaotic assortment of runaways and misfits. Their disparate lives only briefly cross paths as they each purse their isolated existence; no questions asked. Yet below the surface everyone has a secret to hide.

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant (Puffin)
Intrigue and eerie mystery lie at the heart of Grant’s captivating debut novel, which entwines ancient German folklore with contemporary life-changing tragedy. The disappearance of ten-year-old Katharina reduces the small German town of Bad Munstereifel to panic. Only young Pia is determined to discover the truth.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Walker)
The second sci-fi fantasy novel in the ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy and sequel to the Booktrust Teenage Prize-winning The Knife of Never Letting Go, this fast-paced thriller continues the adventures of Todd and Viola. Fuelled by tension and mistrust, the pair find themselves on opposites sides of a civil war in this work of dystopian fiction.

The Hero Foundation is a shadow of its former self and Lord Eon the most terrible supervillain ever has hatched a plan to tear apart time. Toby and his superhero friends should be able to stop him . . . but Pete has woken up from his coma a different person, Emily has been kidnapped, and Lorna has disappeared.

At the same time, schoolboy supervillain, Jake Hunter has taken his seat on the Council of Evil. Now he will live his dream and exact revenge on the cruel world.

But the cruel world has other plans, and they come in the shape of the Hero Foundation. Jakes not scared of the Hero Foundation. He even has a plan to turn it to the dark side. Until it gets a new member ? Jakes own sister. Is he really so villainous as to try to get her out of the way?

Read the books as separate satisfying adventures . . .or read them together and spot the heroes and villains blasting into each other’s missions.

Which side are you on?

H.I.V.E: Dreadnought by Mark Walden COMPETITION NOW CLOSED

A renegade faction of the world’s most powerful villains is intent on destroying G.L.O.V.E. (Global League Of Villainous Enterprises) and showing the world the true face of evil. The Disciples begin by hijacking Diabolus Darkdoom’s Airborne command post, then they kidnap his son and his son’s best friend. Unfortunately for them, Nigel Darkdoom (and Franz) also happen to be Otto’s friends. Heading out to America, Otto, Wing et al embark on a perilous and highly unauthorised rescue operation. Cut off from the support of H.I.V.E. and on the run from American security forces the hunt for their friends leads to one of the US military’s most secret facilities. It becomes clear that the Disciples are not all they appear and in a desperate race against time Otto must work out who his real friends are to prevent the Disciples from completing their true objective. Only Otto can save the world from domination by a sinister new world order but it might be that the price he has to pay is just too high. When it comes to the crunch will he be prepared to sacrifice himself?

Visit the Hive Hub where you can find out more about the excellent series by Mark Walden, and read interviews with the man himself. There is an evil laugh generator – essential for any budding evil overlord and a grapple hook game. You can also sign up for the H.I.V.E. e-mail newsletter to find out more about what is happening at the premier school for Villains.

Teen Librarian has one copy of Dreadnought that can be won by answering this (relatively) easy question:

Name the main character in the H.I.V.E series

The answer can be found in the Character section of the Hive Hub and in the H.I.V.E books that you should have on your bookshelves.

Answers to editor(at)

For more details on the H.I.V.E series you can download the press release (which also has the answer to the competition question).

The winners name will be drawn on the 15th September.

Kelly Osbourne: Fierce – new book and website

You think you know Kelly Osbourne?

Find out her story in her own words and online with her new biography and a website for teens & Young Women on advice and her life:

Log on to Kelly’s website live from today at: where you can sneak peek at some of Kelly’s personal pictures, and keep up to date with what she’s up to and where she’s going to be appearing. You can also post the best piece of advice you’ve ever had and share it with others. It can be something that comforted you, inspired you, made you feel happier, made you laugh, or something you just want to share with the world. And if you’ve had your own embarrassing moments, just log on to the forum to discover you’re not alone!

fierceWhen you’re little, you think your family is just the same as everybody else’s.

Doesn’t everyone’s mum plan secret exits for when things get tough?
Surely all dads embarrass their daughters at their birthday parties?
But as you get older, you begin to notice that what’s normal to you is completely f***ed up to the outside world, and that sometimes you just can’t explain that what other people think of as weird is actually all about love.

Who is Kelly Osbourne? I’m still not totally sure. But I do know who I’m not, and I want to help other people make the right decisions with the difficult choices we all face when growing up.

So I’ve gone out and got the best advice I can find from people I love, respect and always listen to. I’ve included Louis Walsh’s advice on making it in the music industry, tips from Neil, my sought-after make-up artist at MAC and many others. And for when things get really serious I’ve gone to the organisations that really can help.

In this book I’m sharing my advice and my embarrassing moments, but it isn’t just about me, it’s about you. And I’d love to hear your stories too!

Meet Kelly at an exclusive London book signing on Tuesday 8th September at Selfridges London at 6pm.

The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson

The Nargun and the StarsWhen Simon Brent’s parents are killed he is taken to live with his mother’s cousins on Wongadilla, their 5000 acresheep station. Simon feels like an outisder. But he’s not the only thing that doesn’t belong. The arrival of machines to clear the land brings to life the Nargun, a great rock, older than time itself, that has slowly dragged itself into the valley – and with, it a simmering rage that drives it to kill.
I do not often get the chance to read YA books older than I am, but at a recent Catnip event I was given a copy of The Nargun and the Stars written by Patricia Wrightson.

The creatures in the story are actual figures from Aboriginal myth the water-spirit Potkoorok, the tree-dwelling Turongs, the subterranean Nyols even the Nargun a fearsome creature is present in their tales. The land on which the story is set plays an important role – from the rivers and creeks to the mountains, forests and swamps. It is an isolated area that, until the beginning of the story, is relatively untouched. Into this wild and beautiful land Simon Brent is sent – to live with his late mother’s cousins. His arrival coincides with the beginning of deforestation on the other side of the valley The story mixes Simon’s personal quest for identity and sense of belonging, with a quest to remove a destructive presence from the land – both the Nargun and the Grader & Bulldozer are unwanted intruders in Wongadilla. Environmental themes are present throughout the book – with the destruction of the Turongs environment, the sound and vibrations of the machines driving the Nargun into a frenzy even the concept of land ownership with Charlie seeing himself as the man in charge of the land – a steward rather than owner.

“But you’re not the man in charge! You own it!”
“Do I? For sixty years or so, maybe; but how long do you think the Potkoorok’s owned it?”

Patricia Wrightson’s writing is lyrical and beautiful, her descriptions of the land and its surrounds as well as the interaction between Simon and the other characters is believable and the story drew me in completely – I loved it and did not want it to end!

Rated A for Awesome!

Hush, Hush competition over at Bella and Edwards

hushhushcoverThe lovely people at Simon & Schuster are giving away 3 signed proof copies of upcoming book Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick on the Bella and Edward site . It’s not published until October, so this really is an opportunity to read the next big thing now.

Falling for the fallen…

Hush, Hush features our heroine, Nora Grey, a seemingly normal teenage girl with her own shadowy connection to the Nephilim, and super-alluring bad boy, Patch. Together they find themselves at the centre of a centuries-old feud between a fallen angel and a Nephilim…

Forced to sit next to Patch in science class, Nora attempts to resist his flirting, though gradually falls for him against her better judgment. Meanwhile creepy things are going on with a mysterious stalker following her car, breaking into her house and attacking her best friend, Vi. Nora suspects Patch, but there are other suspects too – not least a new boy who has transferred from a different college after being wrongly accused of murdering his girlfriend. And he seems to have taken a shine to Nora…

Love certainly is dangerous… and someone is going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice for it.

Enter the competition here

A day in the life

I make a guest appearance on the excellent The Book Smugglers review blog in support of their YA Appreciation Month.

You can read about a day in the glamorous life of a Teen Librarian here.

Interview with Joanne Hitchens author of Stained


1. Before it was developed for the Cutting Edge series, Stained was shortlisted for the Sanlam Youth Literature Award in 2005. Is there much difference between the Cutting Edge version and the original text? How did you rework the book to fit into this series?

Actually, I had worked on Stained since the short-listing. I wanted it to be a longer novel, but the word count for Cutting Edge was limited so I went back to the original text and worked with that. I was happy to do this, as the Cutting Edge project sounded exciting and I wanted to be part of it. I was very pleased that Cutting Edge, and specifically editor Peter Lancett, more or less liked Stained the way it was. I did, however, rewrite the sections now titled ‘from the diary of Crystal September’ from third person into first person, as the Cutting Edge brief was to publish stories written from the first person perspective. As a writer too, I’ve learned not to be too precious about the work – Stained is one of the first full-length pieces I wrote and I tried not be too concerned about making changes and letting it go.

2. Coming from Cape Town yourself, did you draw on any of your own experiences of growing up there when you were writing Stained?

Cape Town is an interesting City to live in. Parts of Cape Town are extremely affluent and luxurious. Suburbs exist with large mansions, complete with housekeepers and gardeners, while a stones throw across the railway line lie the Cape Flats. This is, for the most, a sprawling and very poor area where many families live in cramped council housing, or wooden shacks. Living in Cape Town, I’ve always been aware of this ‘shadow’ side of the city, and I think this influences all of my writing. I am interested in writing about characters who live on the edges of life, the people who are often dismissed or forgotten, people who’ve suffered, and I’m interested in the reasons for their suffering.
My own childhood was relatively privileged, although I did go through the turmoil that affects most teenagers. I was rather boy crazy, so can understand the hormones that influence the behaviour of teens, and I understand too, the need for acceptance that alot of teens feel, and want, from the opposite sex – especially if they are confused themselves about their own identity.

3. Obviously the South African setting is quite important to your book, but how well do you think teenagers from other countries will be able to relate to your story and characters?

The setting is unique to the Western Cape in South Africa, but there is council-type housing in many parts of the world, especially developing countries, where poverty is rife. In my opinion, poverty, linked to the frustration that many people feel as they try to eke out a living and do the best for their families, is a recipe for anger which can result in abuse. And abuse is something that many young people may have to endure – which brings me to the question, how do young people protect themselves in a modern world?
The confusion and angst that my characters feel – Grace the more stable teenager, and Crystal and Shardonnay, the wild sisters who live next door – is universal. As is the need for acceptance, as is the risk of absue that they face, either from older men or their peers who are themselves experimenting sexually. There are risks too, of sexually transmitted diseases, including the very real risk of contracting HIV. I hope that young women might relate to the characters in some way, and learn that they can make good choices for themsleves – although it can be difficult. And I hope too that this book will be read by young men, and that they might learn something from it – to take responisbility for their part in a sexual relationship, which also means to understand the consequences: teenage pregnancy is a problem worldwide, and Britain especially has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy.
And then of course I have made reference to televison and programmes like Pop idols, and materialism and wanting more, showing, I hope, that there is more to life. So I hope teens will respond to this book on many levels.

4. You also spent some time working in a psychiatric clinic, how much of your story is influenced by cases that you saw whilst you were working there?

I worked with adolescents for a number of years, and realised how vulnerable they are – how easily influenced, how needy, and how easy it is to get into (and addicted to) drugs and alcohol, which, if abused, lead to very risky behaviour. I learned too that the media is a great influence on young people and they often want a lifestyle, or a body, which is ‘advertised’ in the pages of magazines, or on TV. I’d like to encourage young people to celebrate their individuality and uniqueness – of body and mind – instead of looking to external factors to make themselves feel better. In many cases this is sex, or even pregnancy. I always like to consider the underlying needs of my characters, which in the case of the young people in Stained, is the need for acceptance, a need to ‘fit in with a crowd’ – which leads to Grace, for instance, making compromises about who she is instead of accepting who she is.

5. Would you agree that teenage pregnancy is the central theme in your book, and were there any other issues you wanted to draw attention to?

Yes, I would completely agree. The reason some teens fall pregnant is that they want to fill a ‘gap’ or a ‘void’ in their lives. They feel an emptiness in their lives and try to fill that ‘space’ with boys, sex or drugs – anything to create the illusion that life is bearable. If young women and girls tiurn ot sex to distract themselves from the ‘emptiness’ , this can so easily extend to pregnancy. In many case preganancy is accidental, but in some cases girls want to become preganant. They feel a baby will be someone to love, and that the baby will love them back! Then the reality sets in, after birth, that raising a child is a full-time job which takes comitment and patience – a baby, unlike a cell phone, can’t be switched off! Dealing with a young baby can be very frustrating.
I wanted also to adress the issue of abuse. In South Africa we have extremely high levels of violence against children, including rape and murder, which is sadly often perpetrated by an acquantance or a family member. In order to face this, we have to expose this sort of abuse, and what better way than to engage readers with the issues? We can’t shield our children from the realities out there.
Another issue I wanted to address was parenting . Sometimes as teens we think our parents are too strict and stifling and that they don’t give us enough freedom. Good parenting is about creating boundaries, even for teens who believe the world belongs to them. Sometime teenagers only understand the value of proper parenting when they are older and can appreciate the effort it takes a parent to ‘hang in there’ through the difficulties – to be a support as well as to provide an example.

6. Stained is one of the few fiction books that I have read that deals with postnatal depression. It is a condition that affects a lot people but it is rarely discussed in the public sphere. Were you aware of this, and do you think it is an important issue for teenagers to be educated about?

I think that most teenagers have a skewed view of pregnancy. Most women, in fact, are brought up to expect pregnancy to be this wholesome time where you glow with health. In fact, pregnancy and birth are probably one of the most life-changing experiences a girl or woman can go though, and the reality of it is that a new mother may well suffer from depression after the birth, or have feelings of loneliness or isolation. It’s difficult for women to admit this, as most people consider the arrival of a new baby to be a time of great joy. The reality is, that the first few days and weeks of taking care of a new baby can be overwhelming – not only do you have to adjust to the new life, but your body goes through various changes too. And the baby makes demands if you are breast-feeding! If feelings of anxiety and helplessness take a new mom by surprise, it can have devastating effects.
I feel there should be much more education on the consequences of pregnancy – which is a child for life! And a child who may have colic, who doesn’t sleep, grows up to be willful and stubborn as he or she turns into a toddler – this is all taxing on a new mom. Although wanting a child is instinctual, and with menstruation, many girls may feel the urge to have a baby, there are so many responsibilities that go with parenthood. Pregnancy is not something that should happen without a good deal of preparation and understanding of what it is like to look after a child.

7. A lot of teenage fiction attempts to discuss these kinds of issues but often skirts around them or doesn’t fully engage with them. When you were writing Stained were you consciously trying to avoid this and remain honest and realistic about and the issues you were writing about?

Yes. Absolutely. A publisher here, interested in publishing Stained, wanted me to cut back on the sex and the violence, but I felt what would the point be if I toned it down? In my experience, and even just from reading the daily newpapers, this is the kind of tragedy that is happening in real life (I have just read a report about the abuse of a nine-year-old girl who is now pregnant!) so I wanted to be truthful and reflect a certain reality. There is no point denying that many young women, and girls, are not only sexually active, but are pushing prams about! Unfortunately, abuse of young women and girls is a major problem in South Africa, and I didn’t want to skirt about the issue. I wanted to be truthful and honest, and in this way initiate exactly this sort of discussion!

8. One of the things I found most striking whilst reading Stained was the narrative voice of Grace. It is overwhelmingly genuine, how did you manage to find and capture this voice of confusion and teenage angst that so many of your readers will connect with?

I placed myself in Grace’s character when writing the story. I tried to wite as if I was myself a rebellious teenager, in that position of wanting a more exciting life. Grace wants more ‘kicks’, but at the same time is afraid of the sort of chaos she sees unfolding next door. She is very much an observer, and I think this comes through in the tone of the writing. Grace is a well-brought up girl, her adoptive mother has tried her best to love Grace, albeit in her own way, but Grace has issues with her adoption and issues with what she believes is her ‘boring’ life. I have teenage daughters too, so I can see how difficult this stage of life is. Girls want to explore, they want to experiemnt, but it is such a dangerous world out there, young people have to be educated about the pitfalls. Part of a parents ‘job’ is to try to potect teenagers. But how does a parent do this without going overboard? A diificult job indeed! And as I said earlier, I can still remember the angst of being a teenager. I did some stupid things, but came through it alive! There is actually less opportunity to experiment these days than there was when I was a teenager – with AIDS, abuse, and murder as part of our wolrd, young girls and women have to really learn to respect themselves and to keep the bigger picture in mind – of a healthy life.

9. Finally, the tragedy that unfolds in your book is a stark wake-up call to readers. Were you always working towards this outcome, or was there any point where you considered taking the story along a different route?

The first scene I had in mind as I started writing was the killing of a baby by his teenage mother. I wanted this mother to be so damaged that this was the only course of action to her. I had thought of writing Stained as a crime novel, so I’m sure this influenced my choices as i went along. I did however, manage to save the baby in the end. In retrospect, maybe the suicide is too much, but I think I wanted the novella to be stark. Not too many happy endings. Especially for the September family. I wanted to show the utter devestation that absue can cause. Yet Grace learns something, doesn’t she? She learns she wants to look after herself, and that her mother loves her.

The Amanda Project

Since Amanda Valentino started at Endeavor High on that fateful Halloween, she changed everything. Brilliant or diabolical, visionary or bizarre, she turned ordinary life into a work of art, with herself as her best creation.

Then March 15th, Amanda vanished. No one’s seen her since…although we do keep getting these weird clues that make us think she’s definitely out there, maybe even closer than we think.

Amanda moved around a lot, so when she first showed up at Endeavor she asked us each separately to be her own special guide to the new school. Once she was gone, we found out there was a trio of us!
endeavor crest

So if we weren’t unique, then we figured there were probably lots of people who knew Amanda, and we all want the same thing—to find out why Amanda disappeared, and where she’s gone, and why. And that’s why we made this website.