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June 2017 Debut of the Month A thoroughly enthralling fantasy that brims with swashbuckling adventure and enchantment. Seventeen-year-old Caro Oresteia is inextricably bound to the river. Her Pa is a wherryman, like her grandmother before him. “A wherryman, Pa says, follows no man but the river. A wherryman is free”, but Caroline is still waiting for the river god to call her to this destiny. “The day your fate comes for you, you’ll know” her Pa tells her but, already two years older than he was when the river whispered his name, Caro is desperate for her time to come. When the Black Dog pirates set a flotilla of ships alight, and Pa is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious cargo, Caro agrees to carry it in exchange for his release, also hoping that by captaining the wherry, the river god will finally whisper her name. But with ruthless pirates set on capturing the cargo’s unexpected contents, Caro faces impossibly difficult decisions in unimaginably dangerous circumstances. The language is rich, the mythological world evoked with sparkling eloquence, and Caro is an inspirational heroine, a fully-rounded young woman who knows what she wants, what she loves, and what she needs. Fans of folkloric fantasy will surely be swept up in the lyrical currents of this exhilarating debut. ~ Joanne Owen
June 2017 Book of the Month | In a nutshell: rollicking, thought-provoking dystopian adventure | As the TV series of The Handmaid’s Tale sets everyone thinking, publication of Who Runs the World? seems very timely. It imagines a very different dystopian future to Attwood’s, one in which women are in charge. A generation after a deadly virus wiped out all the men, lead character River has grown up in an all-female world, looked after by a community of ‘mummas’ and ‘granmummas’. The general peace and harmony of their lives is shockingly disturbed when River finds a teenage boy, sick but alive. The book examines not just our attitudes to gender but poses wider questions about politics, power and the way we operate as a society. Bergin keeps the tension high throughout, the action unfolding at almost breathless speed, but still manages to intersperse humour and moments of tenderness. Read it and think! ~ Andrea Reece
June 2017 Debut of the Month | In a nutshell: sensitive depiction of loss and survival Three young people, each marked by terrible loss are at the heart of this powerful YA novel. Otis lost his three year old brother in a tragic accident three years ago. He also lost the girl he loved; Meg was there when Mason died and holds herself to blame. She and her family left town after the accident and Otis has had no contact until suddenly he learns Meg is coming back. A talented swimmer, Otis is coached by a girl just a bit older, who has her own pain to deal with: Dara lost her arm in an accident which ended her hopes of a career as an athlete. Dara is tormented by phantom pains in her missing arm, the agony a vivid reminder for readers of Otis’s loss. Dara’s sharp tongue adds moments of relief to what could otherwise be almost too harrowing a story, and Garner allows all three young people a hopeful ending. ~ Andrea Reece
June 2017 Debut of the Month | In a Nutshell: Love, loss, friendship and secrets A tear-jerking, soul-stirring, heart-warming debut about losing a sister, and the ensuing aftermath of grief and mystery. Sixty-five days have passed since Juniper’s effervescent big sister, Camilla, was killed in a car crash on their way home from a party. Since that devastating event, she’s been holding herself together by rating each day on cards in her Happiness Index. No wonder then, that losing one of the cards throws Juniper into further turmoil, especially when this particular card reveals a secret she’d rather no one knew. While frantically searching for the missing card - befriending bad-boy Brad as she does so - Juniper is also determined to discover the identity of her sister’s secret love. The mystery surrounding Juniper’s missing card untangles compellingly, as do the personal revelations (sometimes hard-coated bad boys have the softest of centres). While the novel doesn’t shirk from showing the shattering effects of loss, Juniper’s desire to help others, her zesty, sardonic outlook, and the friendships she forms, are hugely uplifting. The characters feel poignantly true-to-life, making this a richly rewarding must-read for fans of Jandy Nelson and aficionados of authentically-voiced contemporary YA. ~ Joanne Owen
In a nutshell: teenage love, romance and more in beautiful Italy Lina’s mum is dying, and she has one wish for her daughter: to go to Florence and spend a year with someone called Howard, a man Lina has never met but who her mum describes as, ‘the best man I’ve ever known’. When she gets to Italy there are more surprises for Lina, the fact that Howard’s home is in a graveyard (a WWII cemetery), the fact that her mum also arranged for her old journals to be sent out to Lina. As the months pass, Lina learns not just to love Italy and its people (the gorgeous Lorenzo in particular), but the truth about her own beginnings and her mother’s life. By turns funny, tender and truthful, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this quirky novel and it will leave everyone longing to get on a flight for Italy. ~ Andrea Reece
In a Nutshell: Summer love | Short stories | Poolside pick-me-up Perfect for dipping into between dips in the pool, this varied seasonal anthology features twelve scorching stories by twelve top YA authors. Following last Christmas’s My True Love Gave to Me collection, this is a stunning summer-themed showcase of the dazzling breadth of current YA authors, including Cassandra Clare, Leigh Bardugo and Veronica Roth. Personal favourites include the beautifully bittersweet trapped-in-time tearjerker, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Lev Grossman), and the satisfyingly sardonic Love is the Last Resort (Jon Skovron), but the joy of this collection is its variety. It’s a fabulous feast of mix-and-pick treats, from soft-centered romance, to hardboiled thrillers. And the pretty package - a chunky sky-blue hardback resplendent with sunburst yellow edges and pink silk bookmark – makes it an ideal end-of-exam gift to chill-out with. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell: Race against time unites two brave, beautiful hearts How far will a person dare to go? What does it take to face the hardest truths? This gripping, heartfelt novel explores emotional depths and oh-so many vital themes with a dazzling lightness of touch that gets to the beating heart of the characters’ journeys. It has all the feels, as they say, and then some. Kam Malik was set for a bright future until an accident left him with severe neurological disabilities. Claire goes to Kam’s school, but it’s not until she starts volunteering at his clinic that she gets to know him and, later, his brother, Sef. Sef is on a mission to raise the £60k needed to keep Kam in the specialist clinic, which is where tech-and-media-savvy Claire comes in. She has the idea of starting a YouTube campaign in which they adopt superhero personas (‘Truth Girl’ and ‘Dare Boy’), and invite subscribers to donate cash to watch their Truth or Dare? challenges. It’s an ace idea but, while they pick up fans, they’re not generating nearly enough cash, so they ramp-up their online dares, while their offline relationship develops into something very real, and very special. But higher-stakes dares bring higher risks, with repercussions that threaten to tear them apart. It takes a special kind of writer to tackle as many big emotions and themes as this (love, trust, guilt, bravery, friendship, sexual assault, trolling, and prejudices around disability, race and sexual orientation) without ever slipping into Issues Book Mode. The writing brims and bristles with authenticity, the dual narrative is cleverly executed, and this is YA at its smartest. A true tonic for the heart and soul. ~ Joanne Owen
In a Nutshell : Harriet hits Paris A treat for the summer holidays this special Geek Girl novella sees Harriet Manners in Paris for the Haute Couture shows no less. Being Harriet, she’s extensively researched Haute Couture, but it wasn’t her background knowledge that got her the job, rather stalking the auditions ‘unimpressed and severe, much like our headmistress just before an assembly on truancy’. That can’t last, and Harriet is soon doing Paris in the only way she can – totally herself. Smale’s writing is as sharp and funny as ever and fans will be excited to learn that a certain ex-boyfriend might also be in Paris. Fiction featuring awkward, smart, funny, real young women is booming and Geek Girl fans should also look out for books by Holly Bourne, Jenny McLachlan and Sophia Bennett. ~ Andrea Reece
***Recommended for 16+ due to content. Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018 | May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: love, truth and the power of release | A gripping, soulful novel about a life-changing day, which will surely change the lives of those who read it. "Where on earth had this day come from? And where was it headed?" remarks 17 year-old Adam as a single day unfurls wave after wave of shattering disruption: first a revelation from his brother, next an ultimatum from his foul boss, then a destabilising announcement from his beloved best friend. And alongside Adam's unraveling, there’s the mesmerising narrative of the ghost of a murdered girl who’s risen from a lake in search of release. Partly modeled on two of the author’s most admired books (Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever), with this remarkable novel Ness once again demonstrates his profound understanding of the complexities of being a young adult, and of the human condition more generally. Adam’s story is pinpricked with truly nerve-touching moments, perhaps most poignantly between him and the overbearing father he fears coming-out to. At one point his dad reveals that he wishes Adam could be honest with him, and then Adam begins to let go. While revealing truths can be excruciatingly painful, doing so might also bring refreshing, life-affirming release. Heartbreaking, intense and acutely honest, this novel casts a subtle spell of hope. ~ Joanne Owen
May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: A heart-warming story about first loves, friendship and the power of kindness What’s important in life? Money, success, popularity are all words that float to the top of the list yet friendship, empathy, kindness and love are possibly where happiness really resides. This warm, heart lifting novel from Jennifer E. Smith encourages us to question what is really important in life. Alice buys best friend Teddy a lottery ticket for his birthday as a joke. She doesn’t believe in luck and the last thing she expects is for Teddy to win and win big. Suddenly the comfortable life she has come to know is thrown in to disarray and things begin to change and the Teddy she thought she knew so well and who she’s secretly been in love with for years, begins to change. As she sees his popularity rise along with his bank balance and their hopes and dreams change, she begins to feel that she is losing him. But soon Teddy discovers that using his new found wealth committing random acts of kindness is the way forward and Alice joins him on helping to change the lives of random strangers. This thoughtful, inspiring story follows them on their adventure as they grow, sometimes together and sometimes apart, but both discovering a little more about each other and themselves along the way. For me Alice and Teddy’s story highlights the changes we can all make within our own world and the knock on effect that can have. It’s a wonderful message about love, hope and friendship, and ultimately about acceptance; acceptance that we can’t always control what happens in our lives but that our own actions have the power to change, maybe not the whole world, but certainly the world for at least one person through the kindness we can share. And that is a wonderful power to have indeed. ~ Shelley Fallows
May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Witty fantasy anti-hero forges his own path There’s trickery, traps, and action aplenty in this vividly conjured magical fantasy – the first in a series - about finding your place and discovering who you really are. Soon-to-be-sixteen, Kellen is one of the Jan’Tep (the ‘People of True Magic’) and about to undergo a series of trials to prove he has the “calibre of magic worthy of earning my mage name”. The pressure is immense, and failure “inconceivable”, for failure means living in servitude as a Sha’Tep. But there’s a problem... Despite being the son of a highly esteemed mage, Kellen has zero aptitude for magic, and so the arrival of straight-talking Ferius Pafax comes as a godsend. She saves Kellen’s life, and then her mysterious decks of cards leads him to question everything… What follows is a spectacularly cinematic experience that fizzes with action and jaw-dropping revelations. Oh, and a talking squirrel cat sidekick. This is fresh, funny fantasy made all the more appealing by Kellen’s wit and outcast status. ~ Joanne Owen
Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2018 | One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | In a Nutshell: Compelling and compassionate account of a pregnant teen fighting an eating disorder | Insightful, authentic and profoundly moving story of a teenager facing the double struggle of discovering she’s pregnant while fighting an eating disorder. Hedda’s initial reaction to news of her pregnancy is that she has to “get rid of it”. With her relationship with her family in tatters, she lives alone in a rundown flat, and how can she possibly carry a baby when Nia (Hedda’s name for her personified eating disorder), tells her “that Thing inside you is going to make you fat”? But then the idea of adoption slips into Hedda’s head and she forms a truce with Nia: “When the baby is safely here and I’ve found it some proper parents, then Nia can have me back”. The arrival of a new neighbour – selfless, sensitive, nineteen-year-old Robin - further brightens Hedda’s outlook, and she begins to wonder if she might be able to bring up her own baby. And then there’s the presence of Molly, a friend from her former clinic, now gone, but a still ray of light in Hedda’s life. Hedda faces some huge decisions as she counts down the days and, with the odds stacked against her, she’s going to need tremendous strength to keep going. With heart-melting empathy, the author conveys how it feels to be in Hedda’s complex situation. I loved her inimitable, imagery-rich voice (“I spot myself, a long smear like a ghost in a shop window”). Yes, Hedda’s story is often heartbreaking, and the knockbacks and obstacles she faces are excruciatingly painful (especially in relation to her family), but the sting of disappointment and difficulty is beautifully offset by the kindnesses of strangers who show that while there’s no easy fix, there is always hope. This is an important, impactful, mightily impressive debut about love, reaching out and taking one step at a time. ~ Joanne Owen
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