Category Archives: Reviews

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!

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

hush, hushFor Nora Grey, romance was not part of the plan. She’s never been particularly attracted to the boys at her school, no matter how much her best friend, Vee, pushes them at her. Not until Patch came along. With his easy smile and eyes that seem to see inside her, Nora is drawn to him against her better judgment.
But after a series of terrifying encounters, Nora’s not sure who to trust. Patch seems to be everywhere she is, and to know more about her than her closest friends. She can’t decide whether she should fall into his arms or run and hide. And when she tries to seek some answers, she finds herself near a truth that is way more unsettling than anything Patch makes her feel.
For Nora is right in the middle of an ancient battle between the immortal and those that have fallen – and, when it comes to choosing sides, the wrong choice will cost her life.

I have a confession to make – I have a split personality, and my secondary inner mind is a 14 year old goth girl – that is the only explanation I have for what I am about to say.

and that is: I freaking LOVED Hush, Hush!

That is all I can say really, in Nora Grey Becca Fitzpatrick has created a heroine who is normal – no lashings of angst, or whininess that typifies so many Teen characters in modern YA lit. Hush, Hush could easily have been a by-the-numbers stereotypical teen novel, all the markers are there – a heroine with a tragedy in her recent past – check, a dark, mysterious new boy who is always there stirring feelings she tries so hard to deny – check, mysterious happenings – check, danger – check, excitement – check, vampires – ch… wait there are no vampires – not a fang in sight! What there is is something far older and darker with a need that far outstrips a hunger for blood.

Becca mixes these elements into a powerful and hypnotic first novel that delights and terrifies with every turn, along with Nora we experience her life whirling out of control. From her car smashing into a mysterious figure and them appearing untouched to her room being ransacked and reverting to pristine condition then her friend Vee being hospitalised after a vicious attack. Nora questions her sanity, and with a story that hides as much as it reveals we ask ourselves that too and also if Patch is somehow responsible for these occurrences and if so how? Patch is a man of mystery who (as most teen boys do) refuses to divulge any details of his history or who he is.

I had to read Hush, Hush twice before I felt ready to write this review and even now I cannot help but feel that my words are lacking somehow, I want to make people read this book because it is that good – just not my copy as I need to reread it.

I know readers that will read this and lie awake straining to hear the beating of wings.

Hush, Hush is out at the end of October get a copy and read it – my inner teen goth-girl commands you!


Find out more about Hush, Hush!

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.

– –

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

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!