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A suspenseful historical YA debut inspired by the true story of an all-female bomber unit in Russia during World War II. World War II has erupted in Valka's homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She's a pilot-and a good one-so she eagerly joins an all-female bomber regiment. Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German targets is something else entirely. The raids are dangerous, but as Valka watches her fellow pilots putting everything on the line in the face of treachery, she learns the true meaning of bravery. As the war intensifies, though, and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home. Inspired by the true story of a famous all-female Russian bomber regiment, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, of learning to fight for yourself, and of the perils of a world at war.
December 2018 Book of the Month | | I relished the first two books in this series (The Dark Days Club and The Dark Days Pact) and this final Bath-set instalment is a fittingly thrilling feast of fantastical foe-fighting and illicit liaisons. Spirited Lady Helen might be in the throes of finalising her wedding plans, but she has far greater matters to attend to, such as defeating the Grand Deceiver. Alongside the high-stakes, high-octane action, the delicious duplicity of Helen’s double-life existence further flavours this novel with edge and intrigue. While “her aunt and uncle, along with the rest of society, were under the impression that she had spent the last six months enjoying the delights of Brighton and Bath”, Helen had, in fact, been engaged in “killing murderers, and becoming one half of the Grand Reclaimer with Lord Carlston” as a member of the demon-fighting Dark Days Club. Talking of whom, Helen’s relationship with Carlston is a frisson-fuelled delight, thronging with “will they? Won’t they?” tension. Wildly inventive, and driven by the vitalities and conflicts of an engaging heroine, this trilogy is a magnificent melange of history, fantasy and heart-pounding passion.
November 2018 Book of the Month | One of our 2018 Books of the Year | A stunningly original ocean adventure by a one-of-a-kind author whose work defies convention and abounds with a purity of ideas and execution. Kel was “always running away from something”, seeking escape “from the world she inhabited within and the world that bullied her from the outside”. She’s a swamper, born oceans apart from the wealthy tower people who live in the same Cornish coastal community. She’s also an unforgettable heroine, a girl with danger in her eyes, a baby to care for and “a stupid heart that beat wrong and was shaped wrong and had wrongness stretched clean through it”. Kel “didn’t want what the tower people had; she only wanted two things, a heart she could rely on and freedom from kin”, which is why she kidnaps Rose, the daughter of a cargo ship captain. Kel plans to use her ill-gotten gains to travel to South America to have a heart operation, because in the UK “swamp folk don’t get operations”. Aboard the ship Kel tracks down Rose and forces her to board a smaller vessel, soon running into trouble when the engine fails amidst scenes of devastation on the mainland. Steering clear of well-worn clichés, Carthew’s stories cut to the heart of human experience, often portraying and championing life’s underdogs and outsiders. What a thrilling, thought-provoking novel this is, brimming with perilous encounters, and the rawness of real-life relationships.
This perfect little package (a cute clothbound hardback sprinkled with glittery goodness) comprises two festive-themed stories that are packed with heart, wrapped in hope and perfectly embellished with Simini Blocker’s warm and witty illustrations. Set over several New Year Eves, the opener Midnights tells the tense “Will they? Won’t they?” story of best buddies Mags and Noel, whose lives are on the giddy brink of change. Kindred Spirits, originally published as a World Book Day book, is a funny tale of a friendship struck up between Star Wars fanatics sleeping outside a cinema before a new movie opens. Certainly a must-read for Rowell fans, this short and satisfying treat is also perfect for introducing newbies to her unique talent for creating believable characters and writing romance with real-life authenticity.
October 2018 Book of the Month | Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | One of our 2018 Books of the Year | A heartfelt, hard-hitting, super-readable novella about the life-affirming, life-saving friendship that blossoms between a young teenager and her 59 year-old neighbour. All sweet-hearted Aman wanted was for her dad to stay a little longer, but he died before she had chance to read her special letter to him. While grappling with grief, she’s bullied by a bunch of older kids, but thankfully new neighbour Gurnam intervenes to scare them off. While Aman sees Gurnam as her “personal superhero”, she notices a sadness about him, but he won’t reveal the cause of his pain. The truth is revealed with poignant, page-turning urgency, leading to a shocking finale that sees Aman grasp a second vital chance to read her love-filled letter. There’s so much humanity and soul in this short gem of a story. While the content is YA, this is written for those with a reading age of 8+, in a lucid, gripping style that tells it like it is and gets to the core of the characters’ hearts. I relished every word.
Three young friends set out on a summer road trip, each one carrying secrets and sorrows. Squashed into a battered old car, fuelled by warm beer and pub pies, they bicker and tease, with the ease that only comes from deep familiarity. We know even as they set out that they will never make another trip like this, that it’s the closing moment to one part of their lives. Filled with the sense of hot, dusty days, the lull between end and beginning, this is a classic summertime novel. More than just a coming-of-age story, it perfectly captures a transformative moment in the lives of its three central characters, and turns it into something that rings true for us all.
Shortlisted for The Branford Boase Award 2019 | Mel Darbon’s contemporary love story stars Rosie, who is 16 and has Down’s syndrome; and Jack, who attends the same college in a specialist unit. When Jack, who has anger management issues, is sent away to a residential treatment centre, Rosie is determined to see him again, whatever it takes. Her father disapproves of their relationship, so Rosie is very much on her own in this. It’s very rare to find a novel for YA readers narrated in the first person by a disabled character and Rosie’s voice is unique and feels totally authentic. Her journey is as challenging as you’d imagine, and dangerous too, and readers will finish the book full of love and admiration for Rosie and with a better understanding of the difficulties faced by those with disabilities. Highly recommended.
This seminal exploration of mental health begins with an explosion. Olive is on the edge, unable to cope with the volume of noise and people in the world: “I hate humans. I hate that they’re everywhere. But the human I hate most is me”. After a disturbing episode during her dad’s birthday celebrations, she agrees to attend Camp Reset, “the country’s first residential camp for brain wellness”, where young clients are given therapy and encouraged to identify their core beliefs in a plush country setting. Olive knows what her core belief is - “I’m a bad person” - and so a key to her healing will be to switch that into “I am a good person who tries my best.” While struggling with this, and inspired by the “suicide algorithm” the Camp Reset doctors have devised, Olive is struck by her own idea for a cure. She’s a compelling, creative fireball of a character and, though her condition is complex and her journey often dark, she’s also frequently entertaining. After enlisting the help of introverted maths-lover Lewis, it’s not long before Olive’s idea evolves into a wildly big-scale project. Unflinchingly honest and empathetic, this intense novel demonstrates the primary importance of kindness and compassion, that it’s never a persons fault that they’re unwell, and just how essential self-care is. Ladies and Gents, I give you one of the year’s most important YA novels - an engaging and thought-provoking book with tremendous value. Holly Bourne has done it again.
One of our 2018 Books of the Year | September 2018 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: love, trust, truth, and being true to yourself | This engaging and refreshingly candid sequel to the bestselling The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things tackles big issues (body shaming, date rape, parental pressure) with big-hearted verve, sincerity and charm. Vibrant, witty, purple-and-green-haired Virginia attends a prestigious private Manhattan school but despite this privileged background, her life’s not exactly a bowlful of cherries. On good days Virginia considers herself to be curvy. On bad days she’s “plain old fat”. She comes from “a family of fat-shamers” and is constantly undermined by her high-achieving older siblings. Virginia has a boyfriend, though, Froggy. Except she’s no longer into him, which is another source of tension – she is, after all, the girl who wrote: “if you’re a chunky chick and you managed to get a nice boyfriend, don’t ever let him go”, so it’s quite a struggle for Virginia to decide whether she should let him go. Then, while you’re 110% rooting for her to make the right decision, fate intervenes in the form of a chance encounter with cute artist Sebastian. He’s attentive, complimentary and makes her feel pretty. As they become closer (and cuter), complicated connections emerge when Virginia’s big brother Byron is arrested for a serious offence, leaving the lovebirds with a whole lot of conflicts you’ll be desperate for them to resolve. The story is a real edge-of-your-seat page-turner, but Virginia is the true star of this well-plotted piece. At once ambitious and insecure, she zings from the page as a firecracker of relatable, true-to-life contradictions, while Byron’s appalling actions – and their painful repercussions – expose male privilege with thought-provoking poignancy. Highly recommended for fans of Rainbow Rowell and Holly Bourne. ~ Joanne Owen
Katherine Webber’s story is set in Palm Springs the desert landscape beloved of her central character Reiko and on-off boyfriend Seth providing a dramatic backdrop to a story that changes moods and directions to make this a rich and rewarding read. To most, Reiko would seem to have it all: she’s clever, beautiful, rich with a loving family, already favourite to be Homecoming Queen. Close friends know however that she’s never recovered from the tragic death of her sister five years earlier; readers know that Reiko sees and talks to the ghost of Mika in her room each night. It’s a chance meeting with Seth, one of the uncool kids, that turns into a friendship then a relationship. Her friends are astonished when they finally go public as a couple, what can Reiko see in Seth? We wonder too, but as the story unfolds perspectives change in really interesting and revealing ways. A thoughtful, intelligent and moving YA novel.
August 2018 Book of the Month | A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month August 2018 | | A thought-provoking and touching story of the bond between children and nature, from renowned storyteller and award-winning author Gill Lewis. Award-winning Gill Lewis is renowned for her skilful capturing of the healing power of human/ animal friendships and the importance of nature to all – and especially to children who grow up without much chance to explore it. Searching for a secret place where they can practise their skateboarding, Izzy and Asha discover the perfect spot – the site of an abandoned gas works. But they are not the first to find it. The gas works site is also home to a wounded wolf. Knowing that they must keep its existence a secret the girls take care of the wolf and, in doing so, become involved in keeping the patch of wasteland safe from developers. It is a heartwarming story with a deep theme written in a highly readable way. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 8+
Shortlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2019 | July 2018 Book of the Month | 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 | | 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.