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January 2018 Debut of the Month High school student Dill knows what it is to feel “the crushing weight of destiny”. His granddad went mad after a copperhead viper killed his daughter, and his dad, a fanatical Pentecostal minister, makes his congregation handle deadly serpents to prove their faith. While his father is now in prison for a terrible crime, Dill feels shackled by these family demons, and also by poverty, bullying and a fiercely religious mum who blames Dill for his father’s imprisonment. Dill also knows he’s lucky to have friends like Travis and Lydia. While staff-wielding Travis finds sanctuary from his violent drunk of a dad in fantasy books, Lydia is an energetic fashion blogger from the right side of the tracks. But everything shifts as the three friends embark on their last year of high school. Lydia is all set to study journalism in New York, Travis is excited about his burgeoning relationship with a fellow fantasy geek, but Dill has no hope for his future. He’s terrified of losing Lydia, and terrified that he’s already been poisoned by his family’s legacy. He finds some solace in song-writing but, when tragedy strikes, Dill descends to a very dark place and it takes supreme strength and love to untangle himself from the strangling grip of grief and despair. This southern gothic story about small-town small-mindedness, religious fanaticism, wrestling family demons and the redemptive power of friendship really is an exquisite gem; an unforgettably haunting tale that imprints itself on your heart. ~ Joanne Owen
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | October 2017 Book of the Month A feast of feel-good funniness and feminism that cleverly contrasts the impossible magic of movie romance with the heady complexities of real-life love. Talented actress Audrey (named after Hepburn) has just started working in an indie cinema where she begrudgingly serves gourmet hotdogs to the well-heeled inhabitants of Bridgely-upon-Thames alongside zombie-movie-maker and “player” Harry. When set a Critical Research project by her media studies teacher, Audrey decides to write about “why love is never like the movies”, and boy does she know about the devastating disappointments of real-life love, what with her mum seeking solace in alcohol as a result of her dad starting a new family with someone else, and her own experience with an ex who dumped her a week after she lost her virginity to him. No wonder, then, that Audrey’s left wondering what the point of love is, and the project excerpts that appear as chapter intros wittily expound her views. But this hard-held conviction is put to the test when Audrey agrees to play a “feminist freedom fighter zombie bride” in Harry’s new movie, and finds that she might just be falling for him. Tackling complex issues around relationships, sex, alcoholism and movie cliché madness with a nimble lightness of touch, this is contemporary YA at it’s finest: hilarious, heartfelt, and wholly recommended. ~ Joanne Owen
In a nutshell: contemporary drama gives us hope Hope Baldi has more problems than the average teenager: she’s mourning the sudden death of her father, and having failed to win a place at drama college has no idea what to do with her life. On top of that she suffers from a disorder that causes extreme mood swings and terrifying uncontrollable fits of rage. Various things help her through however, not least the love of family and friends, and a long distance text/email relationship with the charming, no-nonsense Riley. Rhian Ivory has a real ear for dialogue and understands her audience very well; readers will be gripped by Hope’s journey of healing and self-discovery. One to add to the ‘you’re not alone’ category alongside books by Holly Bourne, Lisa Williamson and Eve Ainsworth. ~ Andrea Reece
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | October 2017 Book of the Month This inspirational novel about three young Suffragettes from very different backgrounds is at once a riveting character-driven read, and an outstandingly rich account of British social history between 1914 and 1917. Seventeen-year-old Evelyn is exasperated by the unfairness of a society in which her academically disinterested brother is afforded the expensive privilege of going up to Oxford while her genuine desire to broaden her mind is dismissed as pointless. “These university women lead very sad lives, I'd hoped for better things for you - a husband, and a family, and a home of your own,” her mother poo-poo’s. But, shirking familial disapproval, Evelyn joins the Suffragette movement and finds herself at the heart of a highly-charged rally, with serious repercussions. Then there’s May, a flamboyant fifteen-year-old who revels in being different and is encouraged to do so by her liberal Quaker mother. May is also a passionate Suffragette, and passionate, too, about Nell, a working class girl from Poplar. The flowering of their love and lust is brilliantly portrayed, as is the contrast between their respective backgrounds. Then, the political conflict of WWI heralds personal conflicts for the three young women, not least when Nell’s desire to contribute to the war effort angers pacifist May. The nature and struggles of masculinity are also excellently explored through, for example, Nell’s brother who wrestles with "feeling much less of a man than he should be”. This novel is the perfect tribute to the incredible women who blazed a trail during the early twentieth century, and its inspirational scope and storytelling excellence cannot be praised enough. I loved it. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Killer concept sci-fi with contemporary kick Extra-terrestrial invasions, an honourable teen girl fighting to save the human race, this UK debut for a much-admired, bestselling Icelandic author is a Pandora’s box of page-turning action, with added aliens. Think War of the Worlds meets The Hunger Games, meets Michael Grant’s Gone. Amy’s story begins in a recognisable London, in which she watches cat videos on YouTube, chats to best friend Matilda online, and where she and her brother try to bypass parental Internet restrictions. But this is also a London in which sinister metallic arms snake down from the sky and suck teenagers from sight, among them people Amy holds dearest. An atmosphere of devastating distrust and tension is evoked as Amy realises that the survival of the human race might just depend on her. It really is refreshing to see such sweepingly original sci-fi with a relatable, fully formed female protagonist and, what’s more, Amy must volunteer herself and fight without recourse to special powers – it’s her humanity that sets her apart. Suzanne Collins fans, meet your new must-read author. This is a blast of a book. ~ Joanne Owen
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2018 | Shortlisted for the Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award 2018 | One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award 2017 | In a Nutshell: Death row injustice | Undying brotherly love A book to break your heart, quicken your blood and stir your soul by one of the most outstandingly distinctive writers to have emerged in a long, long time. New Yorker Joe Moon was only seven when he took the call in which his big brother Ed told him he'd been arrested because “they think I done something real bad”. That “something” led to Ed winding up on death row, convicted of murdering a cop, though he insists he’s innocent. Ten years later, now Ed’s execution date has been set, Joe travels to Texas to say goodbye. The sublimely-formed structure slips between present and past, recounting the brothers’ troubled upbringing - how their Mom took off; how Aunt Karen took control and decided that Bible study and never mentioning Ed again was the only route to their salvation. While she insists that there’s no point wasting life or money helping someone who wasn’t sorry, Joe sees things differently. “He's my brother,” and that’s really all that matters. He has to see him. Lawyer Al, who’s taken on Ed’s case for free, offers some hope, but time is running out. “It's better to be guilty and rich, I reckon,” Joe remarks, as he experiences the excruciating injustices of a legal system in which the harshness of a sentence depends on where a crime takes place, who the victim was, and who you can afford to pay to represent you (crucially, Ed had no representation when he was first arrested). Once again, Crossan's free verse form is breathtakingly powerful - always the right word, in the right place, at the right time. Yes, this is harrowing and heartbreaking, but the kindness of the strangers Joe meets in Texas is achingly uplifting, as is the deep bond of love between Joe and Ed. This really is a magnificent feat of writing. ~ Joanne Owen The Costa Judges say: ‘An exceptional, compelling book for our time – its analysis is devastating but its message is hope.’
In a Nutshell: Revolution era romance Shimmering with passion and period intrigue, this heady historical romance tells the story behind the hit musical Hamilton. New York, 1777. Desperate to find suitable husbands for her three daughters, Mrs Schuyler hosts a ball at the family mansion. She’s most concerned about finding a match for her spirited middle daughter, Eliza, who’s "more interested in books than fashion", and "devoted to the revolutionary cause". Hearing that "heart-stoppingly handsome" Colonel Alexander Hamilton is in attendance sets the sisters’ corseted hearts-a-fluttering. As a bastard, and "child of the Caribbean", marrying into the prestigious Schuyler family would surely bolster Alex’s social standing. And, aware of her reputation as a bookish, forward-thinking young woman, Alex is certain that Eliza is the sister for him. Their first frisson-filled encounter impacts them both, but it's over two years until they next meet, when he comes to her rescue like a Knight in shining armour. But Eliza is not the kind of woman to be easily swayed by a silver tongue, and the path of true love is not known for running smooth... At once the sweeping love story of a romance that shaped a nation, and a fascinating account of the politics and society of a world-changing period, this has plenty to satiate fans of both YA romance and historical fiction. The passion and pulse-quickening tension keep the pages turning, and Eliza's wit and wry tongue will speak to many a young woman. ~ Joanne Owen
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | September 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Stellar story of survival in outer space A uniquely thought-provoking, space-set page-turner with an unforgettable main character whose strength and resolve will leave readers reeling in admiration. Romy is alone in space, decades from Earth. She’s the sole survivor aboard The Infinity, a spacecraft whose crew had been tasked with the mission of establishing “the new home of humanity on Earth II”. After losing her parents at the age of eleven, she’s had to come to terms with being entirely alone. “I just got on with it”, she states, revealing her characteristic, awe-inspiring strength. Then news comes from NASA that another ship has launched and the programme will be pushed forward by over twenty years. Romy is ecstatic that she’ll have company again. This is intensified when she and J, the young Commander of the new ship, start communicating and strike up a close bond, as troubling news comes from Earth. Romy’s experience of falling for J is dazzlingly evoked - every skip of her heart, every frisson of passion - as she imagines them as the Adam and Eve of Earth II. The novel’s darker strands are powerfully done too. Romy is haunted by the traumatic events that forced her into solitude, then there’s the succession of shocking revelations that explode when she begins to question J. To say the twists are unexpected is an understatement. This is one of those rare reads that defies classification. Smart sci-fi; gripping thriller; coming-of-age epic - it’s all this and more. ~ Joanne Owen
August 2017 Debut of the Month Move over Georgia Nicolson. Say goodbye to Geek Girl. Meet Emma Nash. `According to Netflix, this is NOT how my teenage life is supposed to look.' Nursing a broken heart, Emma Nash spends her summer in her room, hiding from the world. Seeing Leon suddenly `in a relationship' on Facebook, however, spurs Emma into action. She vows to use the internet for good (instead of stalking Leon's social media), chronicling her adventures on her new Editing Emma blog. But life online doesn't always run smoothly. From finding her mum's Tinder profile, to getting catfished and accidentally telling the entire world why Leon Naylor is worth no girl's virginity... Surely nothing else could go wrong?!
In a nutshell: welcome to the wonderful world of Zoella ‘Blogging is all about community’ says Penny, the central character in Going Solo, the third novel from Zoe Suggs. You won’t need me to tell you that Suggs is better known as blogger Zoella, best-online-friend to millions and Penny, it seems, is closely based on the author herself. Like Zoella, Penny shares the ups and downs of her life with her band of online followers, including her details of her anxieties and panic attacks, which are described with impressive honesty. If Penny’s life is rather more glamourous than most – with an on-off pop star boyfriend, and fast-tracked career in photography beckoning – then it’s made clear too that she suffers just as much from insecurity and self-doubt as any of her readers, and that she gets through with the help of friends, family and that online community. It makes for a bright, breezy read and underneath the sparkle there’s a rather important message about life, and how to have a happy one. Ten million Instagram followers can’t all be wrong, you know. Readers who love this will also enjoy Holly Smale’s Geek Girl series and Cathy Cassidy’s Chocolate Box Girls series. ~ Andrea Reece
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | In a Nutshell: Rolling waves of romance in the Californian sun Feel-good fiction at its best: moving, life-affirming, with a heart of sunshiney gold. Movie-loving, vintage-wearing Bailey has found her perfect boyfriend, but with Alex being a West Coast guy and her stuck in Washington with her mom, they’ve never actually met. But life has a habit of dealing unexpected cards, like Bailey moving to out west to California to live with her dad, where she deploys all her detective skills to track down Alex while working a summer job at The Cavern Palace museum. It’s here she meets swaggering surf dude, Porter. While Bailey has Porter down as her arch nemesis, he has an electrifying effect on her, and she’s soon up to her neck in all kinds of conflict. I was a huge fan of the author’s Night Owls, and this confirms her talent for creating protagonists I’d love to meet in real life - outsiders set on pursuing their passions, young women (like Bailey) who scoot around on Vespas with leopard skin seats. With its cast of cool characters, oceans of authenticity, and a wow, pow, wallop of an ending, this YA riff on the ‘You’ve Got Mail’ movie is the perfect summer read. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Luminous finale laden with laughter and love | There’s more sunshine, soul-searching and sticky situations than you can shake a Eucalyptus branch at in this scorching conclusion to a series that’s captured the hearts, minds and funny bones of millions of readers around the globe.Now sixteen and a fully-fledged sixth-former, Harriet the model, geek and complete control freak is embarking on a trip of a lifetime to Australia with best friend Nat (“Sartorial Genius, Temper-Loser, Truth-Sayer”) and her glorious grandmother Bunty. “We may be going Down Under, but I’m on top of the world”, Harriet enthuses as their adventure begins and, truly embracing the road trip vibe, she’s even promised Nat that she’ll be “more laid-back and free-flowing moving forward”. With Australia covering over 7.6 million square kilometres, there’s obviously little chance of Harriet bumping into her Ozzie ex-boyfriend, right? Well, not quite…and it’s not long before an emotional rollercoaster is set in motion, sending Harriet reeling up and down, Down Under! The themes of friendship, fitting in and finding yourself radiate through the series to exhilarating effect and, while fans will miss Harriet, this fabulously fitting finale to her voyage of self-discovery will also leave readers breathless for what Holly Smale does next. ~ Joanne Owen