Category Archives: Reviews

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

Guest review by Charlie Morris
Carol Lynch Williams’ The Chosen One tells the story of Kyra, a thirteen year old girl living in an isolated, oppressive religious community in rural America.

Kyra has grown up never questioning the iron rule of ‘the Prophet’ who controls the community or why her father has three wives and she is one of twenty one brothers and sisters.

As tensions in the community mount Kyra finds fragile escape in library books borrowed and read in secret and a forbidden romance with Joshua, another teenager member of the community.
When the Prophet decrees she is to become the seventh wife of her sixty year old uncle she is forced to put not only herself but all those she cares about in danger to save herself.

The Chosen One is a powerful and compelling story about freedom and love for ones family told through the eyes of a believable character. This is an intensely gripping read and it is easy to empathise with Kyra and feel afraid for her plight as this absorbing story develops.

The Chosen One has strong parallels to real situations in contemporary America and therefore could perhaps benefit from the inclusion of some factual information to put this commanding story into a more ‘real life’ context for readers who may be new to these issues.

I'd tell you I love you, but then I'd have to kill you by Ally Carter

Knowing that the quickest way to a man’s heart is through the breastbone is of no help when you are trying to win it
If James Bond had not sprung fully-formed from his creators mind and if he had not had the disability of being male, then the chances are that he would have been a student at the Gallagher Academy for Exceptional Young Women.

I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you is the first book in the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter and introduces the reader to Cammie (the Chameleon) Morgan, a resourceful young woman fluent in 14 languages and capable of killing a man in seven different ways. She is, in fact the perfect spy in training. She is also a teenager, with all the shortcomings that being 15 years of age brings.

Being trained as a superspy is no help when she meets a cute boy when she is out on assignment, add to this a devilishly attractive male teacher and a troublesome new classmate and you have the makings of La Femme Nikita meets Gossip Girl (only far superior).

I’d tell you I love you but the I’d have to kill you is BRILLIANT! A New York Times bestseller, it has strong female protagonists that will appeal to teen boys as well s their female counterparts. It has been my guilty pleasure read this week and it made me the envy of my Teen Book Group.

I am now looking forward to Cross my heart & hope to spy

Fire Djinn by Linda Davies

Set three months after the events of Sea Djinn, Fire Djinn opens with Finn Kennedy and his fellow Light Fighters Georgina and Fred enjoying a night under the stars in the deserts of Dubai. Struck by a plea for help and a vision of destruction they are again plunged into the battle between the Djinns of the Dark and the Light for the life of the world.

Bleaker in tone than the first book; Fire Djinn is just as compelling and entertaining. Ushering in new villains to challenge the at times reluctant heroes with a horrific plot to scorch the face of the world leaving only a chosen few survivors dedicated to serving the dark. With the Light Fire Djinn missing and his forces scattered and broken, Finn and his friends stand alone, his allies in the sea kingdom being of limited use against the earth-bound power of the Dark Fire Djinn.

Linda Davies makes good use of the characters standing in the many shades of grey between the Light and the Dark. I was kept guessing about the motivations and allegiances of a number of the characters up until the end. The secondary characters are proving to be just as interesting as the primary protagonists, with a number of new faces popping up and hopefully staying around to be fleshed out more in future books. A number of the story strands from Sea Djinn were tied up in Fire Djinn and others were expanded and elaborated on. There is a firm sense of continuiity from the first book and Fire Djinn felt like a firm continuation of a solid narrative. The main characters are developing nicely and the morals within the tale are subtle and give pause for thought long after the end of the book.

An epic book that starts with a bang and burns through its pages to a satisfying conclusion and set up for further adventures!

Shrink by Heather Morrall

Shrink is the story of sixteen year old Eloise Meehan and the difficulties she faces as a teenager with an eating disorder. The story takes place just as she is preparing to sit her GCSE exams. Eloise lives with her dad and although their relationship is a loving one trauma in the family’s past has put a massive strain on their relationship. As her father tries to rebuild his own life Eloise increasingly feels his actions are at the expense of her own wellbeing and has nowhere left to turn.

Eloise has caring friends but is unable to speak about the terrible events of her past even to those she feels closest too. As her eating disorder becomes more and more the focus of her life she realises she must seek support and begins therapy.

Eloise is a believable, likable character whose difficulties in facing her past are mirrored in her narration of the story as she takes the reader on a journey of revelation. Her illness and treatment are handled in a sensitive, yet candid and often surprising way as she negotiates the real life intricacies of NHS psychiatric treatment. The way in which Morrall conveys this keeps interest high and adds to the emotional pull of the story and the reader’s empathy with Eloise.

Shrink shows that difficulties happen to ‘normal’ families and solutions to problems are often not as straightforward as we might hope. Shrink is written in an adult style which compliments its subject matter and engages the reader throughout.
Review by Charlie Morris

Meteorite Strike by A.G. Taylor

A meteorite has struck earth without warning, unleashing a deadly alien virus. Thousands fall victim… but not Sarah and Robert.

Instead they develop strange side-effects – psychic abilities. And that makes them targets for the the Hyper-Infectious Disease Response Agency (HIDRA), a rogue international agency determined to turn them into lab rats, just like the other kids they’ve already captured – kids who can control fire, create storms and tear steel with their minds.

If they can work together, these kids might stand a chance against HIDRA…

This is the debut novel for A.G. Taylor and has made the shortlist for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize for 2010. Meteorite Strike is the first book in the Superhumans series, with a second book Alien Storm due out later this year.

On their way to Australia to live with a father they have not seen in years, Sarah and Robert are typical siblings that bicker and argue. When their aeroplane is brought down in the aftermath of a meteorite strike they have to depend on each other and a parent they have no reason to trust to stay alive. Pursued and captured by HIDRA they are soon caught in the middle of a power struggle between the senior echelons of the agency to determine the core functions of HIDRA – saving lives or creating human weapons of destruction.

It is easy to see why Meteorite Strike has made the Waterstones’ short list as it is a gripping, well told story that takes the time-honoured staple of children gaining superpowers and polishes it up for a new century. Throw in a corrupt multinational agency an unknown disease and you have the makings of world class sci-fi! It is not all science fiction though – space-borne plagues are a possibility, and there are some theories that alien diseases have already reached the Earth.

On a personal level I found Meteorite Strike to be an extremely enjoyable read, the characters were well-written and believable and overall it set the pace for what I think is going to be a fantastic series, the strands that were left dangling at the conclusion make me want to get my hands on Alien Storm as soon as possible.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide by William Hussey

Posting a review of a horror book on Christmas eve may be a bit odd but seeing as it is the season to be jolly, I have entered into the spirit of things in the writing of this review…

Jake Harker is an outsider, a loser whose nose is always in a horror comic. That is until horror stops being fiction and the Pale Man and his demon Mr Pinch stop Jake on a dark, deserted road. That night, under a tree called the demon’s dance, Jake will learn the true meaning of terror . . .

‘Twas the day before Christmas
and as I lay on the beach
Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
Lay within reach.

I picked it up
to read a few pages.
Next thing I knew
I had been reading for ages!

In each generation
blood must be shed.
All this and more
I learned as I read.

Demons lie trapped,
they wait to be freed
by a coven of witches
a dangerous breed!

The Elders oppose them
the Demontide to deny.
To halt the invasion
an innocent must die!

Jake Harker (aka Horror Boy Harker) is a 15 year old loner and horror fan and makes a credible hero of this new series that combines magic, demonology, horror and cutting edge science. Jake will appeal to readers of all ages and genders but will grab the attention any readers who feel like outsiders (and seeing as this is written for teens there will be many).

No punches are pulled in the telling of this tale, the horror is visceral but never feels forced and none of the characters are two-dimensional caricatures. The lack of black and white morality makes the story far more interesting as shades of grey always have more depth. The story twists and turns like a spider on a pin and I was never sure of the motivations of all the players until the closing chapters. Dawn of the Demontide is a chilling read on a hot summers day, it will be even better late at night with a winter storm howling outside the window.

William Hussey is being heralded as one of the new masters of dark fiction, and with this book his ascent begins.

Witchfinder: Dawn of the Demontide
by William Hussey will be published in March 2010 by Oxford University Press

Strange Angels: Betrayals by Lili St.Crow

BetrayalsPicking up immediately after Strange Angels ended, Dru is thrust into yet another dangerous situation.

Placed in a Schola for her own protection, she does not know who to trust or who is trying to kill her. The Schola is riven by factions, the Wulfen who welcome Graves, her loup-garou friend and look upon him as a prince of their kind, and the Djamphir, part-Vampires, whose disdain for the Wulfen is almost palpable. The Wulfen mistrust her and the Djamphir see her more as a tasty snack than a potential saviour.

Surrounded by secrets and lies, Dru learns that she does not know everything she thought she did, and must rely on her own instincts and skills to stay alive.

What are Christophe’s true intentions, and to whom does he owe his loyalties? Why is she being kept sequestered in a reform school for the supernatural? Who are her friends? Who is the traitor in the Order and why has she been lied to and misled? What is her full name?

We start finding answers to some of these questions in Strange Angels: Betrayals, the second book in the Strange Angels series by Lili Saintcrow.

One thing is for sure – she is not at Hogwarts, and no-one can be relied on to protect her.

Betrayals is an excellent follow up to Strange Angels, a kick-arse heroine, supernatural politics, more mystery than you can shake a stick at and just enough information is dropped during the book to make me want the third book NOW! I loved it – even more than Strange Angels, and can see this series going far

Lili Saintcrow captures the high school atmosphere and transfers it to a setting where the characters can sprout fur (natural for teens) and fngs (slightly less natural) and are expected to draw blood in their lessons. It gives new meaning to high school being a warzone.

Betrayals can be read on its own but will be more enjoyable if read in sequence.

Sea Djinn by Linda Davies

Fear one thing in all that is… Fear the Djinn – The Wishmaster

seadjinn

In writing Sea Djinn Linda Davies has created a book that takes you inside the story and makes it real. The description of the sand, sea and surf in the opening chapter made me long for the ocean and to feel a surfboard move gliding me over the waves, it was then that I knew I was hooked that Sea Djinn had hooked me!

Set in Dubai, Sea Djinn mixes 21st century Teens with the myths and folktales of the Emirates. Finn Kennedy lives in Dubai with his aunt and cousins and attends a prestigious local school with Georgie and his friend Fred. His life is changed when he comes face to face with Triton a Djinn of the Sea. Triton tells him that his parents have been kidnapped by Hydrus – the evil sea Djinni and that he Finn is a descendant of the royal blood of Atlantis and is an important part of the fight that is brewing between the forces of Light and Darkness.

Mixing mythic encounters into contemporary life is not a new concept but Linda Davies has created something special here, adding in human greed and intrigue as well as ecological awareness into a fast-paced adventure no part of the story feels forced or false. The characters are fleshed out through the book and even the (human) villains are more than two-dimensional caricatures that often populate YA books as foils for the heroes. The twists in the story are artfully done and I did not see them coming until they were happening. The sense of the fantastic is present throughout the book but magic never comes to dominate the story instead it is the humanity of the protagonists (mortal, animal and mystical) that shines through and leads the story.

I loved it and am eagerly awaiting Fire Djinn which is due out next year.

I also learned that Djinn is plural and Djinni is the singular. They are beings of fire and not to be trifled with even if you have a hankering for some free wishes…

amosdaragon
Four Masks, sixteen stones of power. A struggle between good and evil.
On the day of his birth, his fate was written in golden letters in the great history of heroes. His destiny: to re-establish the balance between the forces of Light and Darkness.

Covers_Amos_Daragon

Amos is a boy with a quick mind and the intelligence to direct it, despite being unschooled he proves himself to be the intellectual equal or smarter than many of the people he meets. After encountering a dying mermaid he helps his parents to escape a cruel lord who treats them little better than slaves Amos is thrust into a series of adventures before being anointed as the first of a new order of Mask Wearers and is tasked with bringing balance back to his world.

The author mixes folk-tales into the story with Amos cast in a role that combines trickster and hero in equal quantities. The first book introduces Amos’ world and some of the many species that inhabit it, including merfolk, fairies, manimals, gorgons, nagas and gods including Seth (Egyptian) and Baron Samedi (a loa from voodoo belief). This mixing of world myths works well and makes the books accessible to readers from different cultures as they will be able to identify stories that they may have heard woven into the narrative.

The Mask Wearer is written as a series of mini-adventures that combine into an overarching narrative that is brilliant for readers that struggle with their reading as it is as enjoyable to read in parts as it is to read from beginning to end. The Key of Braha is slightly more complex with fewer side adventures but is just as gripping and enjoyable to read.

The author Bryan Perro does not shy away from using themes of redemption, loss and death in his books.

Amos Daragon was originally written in French and to date has been translated into 19 different languages. The first two books are currently available in English and I am eagerly awaiting the release of book three: The Twilight of the Gods.

The Beautiful Dead by Eden Maguire

jonasarizona

Something strange is happening at Ellerton High. Jonas, Arizona, Summer, Phoenix…
All dead within a year.

Darina, Phoenix’s grief-stricken girlfriend, is on the verge. She can’t escape her intense heartache, or the impossible apparitions of those who are meant to be dead. And all the while the sound of beating wings echo inside her head…

When Phoenix suddenly appears before her, he tells her that he is one of the Beautiful Dead – souls in limbo returning to earth to right the wrongs of their deaths. Beautiful and sub-human, they all bear a “death mark” – a tattoo of angel’s wings on the place they were mortally wounded.

Darina is determined to release their souls from limbo, starting with Jonas.

Will love conquer death? And if it does, can Darina set it free?

Jonas died in a motorcycle accident that left his girlfriend a broken wreck. They were young and in love, why was he riding so dangerously? Arizona drowned – committed suicide, so they say. Why would a beautiful, fashion conscious young woman with so much to live for choose a death like that?

Beautiful Dead is one of the most original zombie-related series that I have ever read (or started reading). Darina is our eyes and ears and it is through her that we experience the world that the Beautiful Dead inhabit. Part murder-mystery, part horror, each of the books deals with the unravelling of the circumstances surrounding the death of one of the Dead who have a year to solve the mystery or be forced to return to Limbo forever and denied a release into the hereafter.

Beautiful Dead deals with more than Darina’s role in helping her deceased friends find closure in solving the mystery of their deaths, she is still struggling with the loss (and unexpected return) of Phoenix, as well as other issues that are closer to home. Darina’s involvement with the Dead affects the relationships she has with her still-living friends & family, as well as the families of those that have passed on. There are deeper questions in the series that form an overarching plot apart from the obvious murder mystery of each novel. The mysteries of how they returned and the background and mission of Hunter (their leader) and protector gradually becomes unravelled.

There are a number of authors that are capitalising on the current love of vampires and werewolves in YA fiction but Eden Maguire is not one of them. Her protagonists are all too human, even the Beautiful Dead are as flawed and lost in death as they were in life. Love, friendship and a sense of loss drew Darina to them and it is those human frailties that will appeal to readers. It helps that the books are also very well written, it is one of Eden’s strengths that she can create such well-realised characters that will allow readers to see parts of themselves within them.

Possibly the first books to portray zombies in a sympathetic light

A brilliant heart-breaking series that should be at the top of any Halloween reading list!