Action aplenty amidst the sewers of Victorian London

CITY OF ORPHANS BK 1TITLE = CITY OF ORPHANS (book 1) : A VERY UNUSUAL PURSUIT 

AUTHOR = CATHERINE JINKS

GENRE = HORROR, ADVENTURE, FANTASY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7, 8

If you like action, adventure and ghosts… with a backdrop of historic London then you will love this book. Young Birdie lives in the dark and threatening streets of London at a time when being a child wasn’t always easy. But Birdie is happy with her lot because she lives and works with Alfred Bunce, the local bogler who kills child eating monsters. Alfred may speak little, but he certainly looks after and cares for young Birdie ..even if his job does require him to use her as bait for the monsters he kills!

Birdie loves her job, despite the danger; she feels certain that she and Alfred are a match for any bogle out there. But have Alfred and Birdie bitten off more than they can chew … will they survive a run-in with the crook Sarah Pickles and the mysterious doctor?

If you enjoyed Jonathan Stroud’s “The Screaming Staircase” (reviewed here) you will also love this book … fast-paced, a cleverly twisting and  turning plot and an historic London that is brought magically to life … you can almost smell the rats and the sewers!!

Look out for the second (A Very Peculiar Plague) and third (A Very Singular Guild) books in the series … soon  to be on the shelves.

 This book was shortlisted in the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year awards and then announced as THE WINNER!! CONGRATULATIONS TO CATHERINE JINKS.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

 

Mateship between soldiers and their horses

loyal creaturesTITLE = LOYAL CREATURES

AUTHOR = MORRIS GLEITZMAN

GENRE = WAR, ANIMALS, WW1 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

Frank is a hothead. He is also very close to his father, with whom he works on farms in his close-knit community, tending to water supplies. So when his father is sent a white feather during the early days of the war, Frank is keen for them to join up together: in the Light Horse brigade, of course, so they can take their beloved horses with them.

Frank assumes war will be one big adventure but the reality turns out to be rather different: it is tough, dirty, dusty and disappointingly mundane. Keen to be on the frontline in the midst of the action, Frank is frustrated when his father is sent to Gallipoli and he must stay behind in the heat and dust of northern Africa, organising water supplies for the Aussie troops who are training there. And when his hotheadedness comes to the fore, Frank finds himself in real trouble.

Frank’s hotheadedness may get him into strife but he also shows great courage when put to the test – boys and girls are sure to enjoy reading about his adventures (and misadventures) just as much as they will enjoy reading about his beloved horse, Daisy.

This book is short and easy to read and demonstrates the special bond between the soldiers and their horses in the Light Horse Brigade during WW1. The loyal horses were well trained and would lead their soldiers into the fray of battle. Unfortunately, this loyalty was not always rewarded by the Army itself. Morris Gleitzman is normally better known for lol comedy but If you are an animal lover, you may find it handy to have some tissues at hand as you read the closing pages of the novel .

And if you enjoy reading this book why not have a look at the award-winning graphic novel:  “The Light Horse Boy” (reviewed here) on a similar theme.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

Fast-paced from start to finish

machine warsTITLE = MACHINE WARS

AUTHOR = MICHAEL PRYOR

GENRE = SCIENCE FICTION, FUTURE, ACTION, ADVENTURE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9

This novel is a fast-paced adventure from the very first line.

Bram’s mum (the genius behind many Artificial Intelligence (AI) inventions) has always been aware of the potential problems inherent in AI so when one of her creations (Ahriman) starts to act strangely, she has prepared her family with a well-researched “Scatter-and-Hide” safety plan.

But for 14 year old Bram, practising a safety plan and the reality of a safety plan are 2 very different things. Bram finds it exhausting, nerve-wracking and down-right dangerous being on the run from robotic-internet driven AI controlled bugs. IT is just as well he has 2 companions: a friend from school (Stella) who distinguishes herself with her intelligence, and Bob the duck (Bram’s favourite toy when he was a toddler but since turned into an AI protector by Bram’s mum).

Can Bram, Stella and Bob the Duck outwit the power hungry Ahriman long enough for Bram’s mum to come up with a counter-attack?? With clever robots on their tails, the machine wars are very, very real and could end very, very badly for Bram, Stella and Bob.

Great pace, great action and clever plotting make this story an enjoyable romp from start to finish. There are plenty of punches and punchlines andjust  a touch of romance, so it is wonderful  entertainment for younger readers.

Recommended (dma) ****

A ghost story with plenty of twists and turns

doll bonesTITLE = DOLL BONES

AUTHOR = HOLLY BLACK

GENRE = HORROR, QUEST, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 7-9    

Poppy, Zach and Alice have been friends for ages and have had great fun playing a special game filled with imagination and adventure. They use action figures, puppets and dolls to act out their stories, collaborating and decorating their storytelling.

But what happens when one of them is challenged to stop being childish … the ripple effect on their friendship and their storytelling game quickly stirs into action, especially when Poppy realises that the doll in her cabinet at home has a mysterious curse that can only be lifted by a road trip … by bus, at night ….

Can 3 young teens really work together on this quest without destroying their friendship? Does the doll really need help or is it just playing games with them? Can they in fact finish their quest … or will fear, anger or disappointment get in the way?

This is a clever story with plenty of mystery, adventure and friendship problems to be resolved. If you liked The Spiderwick Chronicles you are sure to enjoy this novel for younger readers from Holly Black

Recipient of a Newbery Honor Award

Recommended (dma) **** 

An interesting blend of humour, grief and reality TV

loathing lolaTITLE = LOATHING LOLA

AUTHOR = WILLIAM KOSTAKIS

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, GROWING UP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

15 year old Courtney  Marrow has lost her boyfriend in a car accident and is struggling with her grief. She lives with her Mum and younger brother and has a poor relationship with her father (who recently remarried the dreadful Lola, without warning his children first). On the plus side, Courtney has a great best friend: Tim (they talk together, support each other and he is very loyal towards her). His twin sister (Katie) is another story altogether; having recently decided she will be Courtney’s second best friend …. Is she really on Courtney’s side (or only looking out for herself?)

Courtney has been selected to be the star of a reality TV show based on “a real teen” – however, she is unaware of the plotting going on behind the scenes: by supposed friend and others. Can Courtney survive the reality experience with her reputation and sanity intact??? And what about those burgeoning feelings for a new boy in her life … is it too soon after the death of her previous boyfriend?

Clearly there is a lot on Courtney’s plate and readers will enjoy watching her trying to untangle the complications in her life and her heart.

The authors second novel (The First Third) was announced as an Honour Book (OR) in the CBCA Book of The Year awards. This is his first book and it reveals the same desire to blend laughter and sadness. Although it is perhaps not quite so well handled here, there is still a lot to like about this book.

Recommended (dma) ***  

A moving story for older readers

eleanor and parkTITLE = ELEANOR & PARK

AUTHOR = RAINBOW ROWELL

GENRE = FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, SCHOOL, BULLYING, ROMANCE 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is a sad story as flagged from the opening page.

Park is afraid to be open about his feelings, so initially seems a bit angry with Eleanor. Eleanor seems gawky and awkward but as we follow their stories in alternating chapters, we see what hides beneath the veneer that they show the world.

Eleanor comes from a poor and brutal home where her step-father rules. He has only just allowed Eleanor to return home, after kicking her out a year ago. Her mother is afraid to stand up to her partner, so Eleanor and her siblings eat early (before he comes home) and cower whilst he shouts and their mother cries.

Eleanor’s newness and strange attire make her a target for the school bullies so school days are equally difficult for Eleanor; until Park slowly reaches out to her over a shared interest in comics and music. Gradually, their friendship blossoms, giving both of them inner strength. But does their love stand a chance when Eleanor’s brutish step-father is watching her every move… and when put to the test, will Eleanor and Park have the courage to take action .. even at a cost to their relationship?

This is a credible and moving story … although some readers may not like the ending?? Given the themes in the story, it is likely to suit more mature readers.

Recommended (dma) **** 

Mycroft and Watts are at it again!

every wordTITLE = EVERY WORD

AUTHOR = ELLIE MARNEY

GENRE = CRIME, MYSTERY, FAMILY, FRIENDSHIP, RELATIONSHIPS

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

An exciting, nail-biting sequel in a brilliant crime series – fans will be delighted and new fans will be won over. The action has moved to London where Mycroft and Watts have a crime to solve but this takes a back seat to battling their demons: Mycroft has plenty of angst in his family history to make him surly and unsure whilst Watts is agonising over their on-again-off-again relationship. Throw in a couple of nasty thugs, a kidnapping, an explosion or two … suddenly the lions they faced in book 1 are looking pretty tame by comparision with their London adventures.

Will Mycroft and Watts survive intact … will their relationship?

Check out the following book trailer for further clues:

(Images by dma or from the Animotot website, Music (Beethoven, Symphony No 5) sourced from thewebsite too.

Read a review of book 1 (Every Breath) here. Fans will be eagerly awaiting the final instalment in this exciting crime series.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

In a dark future how do you survive?

the sky so heavyTITLE = THE SKY SO HEAVY

AUTHOR = CLAIRE ZORN

GENRE = FUTURE, VIOLENCE, SURVIVAL, FRIENDSHIP 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an exciting story of survival which also gives the reader plenty to think about. The opening line takes us straight into a dramatic situation and awakens a strong sense of peril and fear. And then we go back to find out what brought the narrator, Fin to this urgent situation.

And it all began on what seems like a typical day in the life of teenaged Fin: catching the bus to school, trying to chat with his crush (Lucy), listening to his teachers waffle about the world outside their own Blue Mts. At home, his brother clashes with his father and step-mum, so the boys are left on their own … and that’s when the horrifying adventure really begins.

In an apocalyptic future, Fin and his brother Max must face the danger alone. The power goes almost instantly so any chance of communication with the outside world is immediately restricted. It becomes a daily battle to keep warm and feed themselves, let alone entertain themselves… as they wait for dad to come home …or to be rescued.

Fin is a decent and responsible lad but even he can be pushed to extremes when faced with the mammoth job of keeping his brother alive and safe. Suddenly Fin decides to take action in a morally questionable way … this leads the way for a clever and thought-provoking strand to develop in this novel. For the story gradually raises questions about actions and consequences: does the end always justify the means? Does the fight for survival give one the right to hurt others? How far is too far?

Fin joins forces with Lucy and another boy from their school whose religious leanings provoke some of the moral questioning. Fin is a credibly flawed character who faces great odds and readers will be truly engaged in his story.

Shortlisted for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year (Older Readers), this book was announced as AN HONOUR BOOK!! CONGRATULATIONS TO CLAIRE ZORN.

Recommended (dma) ****

A sparkling sequel in an original and magical series

Cracks in the Kingdom CVR.pdTITLE = THE COLOURS OF MADELEINE Book 2: THE CRACKS IN THE KINGDOM

AUTHOR = JACLYN MORIARTY

GENRE = FANTASY, FAMILIES, RELATIONSHIPS, ROMANCE, GRIEF, FATHERS, FRIENDSHIP, GROWING UP

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

Jaclyn Moriarty has crafted a wonderful sequel in a clever and thoughtful series. Filled with a delicious blend of magic, science, adventure and romance…with credible characters who will draw readers into their stories. Again the book follows the stories of Elliott (in Cello) and Madeleine (in Cambridge, the World) but there is an added strand to the story in the sequel: the story of Princess Ko’s attempts to retrieve her royal family members who have been sent into the World by Hostiles (where they have forgotten their identities and ties to Cello). So there is an added political intrigue behind their new adventures, especially as Elliott is part of the team who have been nominated to help find the royal family … even though this means working with Madeleine to open up the crack between their worlds, despite the risk of death if he is discovered.

This book is about mirrors and cracks: in the world, in families and in individuals: he depths we will go to in order to find and/or protect our loved ones … the grief we will feel at their loss. It is also about politics and looking beneath the surface of people: spies pop up at every turn, allies and friends may have hidden depths of despair … no-one is quite as they seem.

Moriarty balances each strand of the story cleverly, with plenty of new twists and turns in the plot and in the characterisations.  As in the first novel (A Corner of White, read a review here), Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing simply sparkles: it is an absolute joy to read each line. Readers will be left asking for more, and impatiently awaiting the last volume in the series.

Read an interview with Jaclyn Moriarty about writing this series, here.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****

A gothic fairytale in small town America

far far awayTITLE = FAR, FAR AWAY

AUTHOR = TOM MCNEAL

GENRE = FAIRYTALES, GOTHIC HORROR, RELATIONSHIPS, COMMUNITY 

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 9+

This is an unusual tale, filled with ghosts and the whisper of grim fairytales, where children go missing and evil lurks around the corner. There is a real sense of other-wordliness about this story partly because the narrator is none other than the ghost of Jacob Grimm (yes, of the Grimm brothers’ fame).

Unable to crossover after his death and meet his beloved brother Wilhelm, Jacob believes his destiny is to look after Jeremy Johnson Johnson and ensure that he doesn’t fall into the clutches of the “Finder of Occasions”. So he whispers in Jeremy’s ear and tells him spooky fairytales.

Jeremy is a quiet boy, with few friends – partly because he hears voices (Jacob’s whispers) and partly because he loves reading fairytales (surprise, surprise). He is a kindly lad who cares for his father, bedridden with grief since his wife left them many years ago. But Jeremy is shunned by the townspeople after an unfortunate prank … is the beguiling Ginger simply leading him astray? Or can she help him find his way to fame and fortune … so that he can save his home from the debt collectors?

Jeremy & Ginger need to stay one step ahead of the “Finder of Occasions” … whoever he may be… for if they are caught they may join the ranks of other missing children. Can Jacob help save them or is he too busy watching the wrong person?

A spooky tale that mesmerises readers into believing in fairytales … and hoping for the best for our young hero, Jeremy and his friend, Ginger. This book has won numerous awards, including the California Book Award Gold Medal (2013), it has been shortlisted for the US National Book Award (2013) and been a finalist in the Edgar Allan Poe Mystery Awards (2013) as well as gaining many, many acclaimed reviews from school libraries. A great choice if you are interested in spooky fairytale-like stories.

Highly Recommended (dma) *****