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June 2021 Debut of the Month | Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades is an explosively exceptional debut. An incisively subversive, edge-of-your-seat thriller that takes the genre to jaw-droppingly unexpected extremes as it exposes horrific, deep-rooted institutionalised racism. The action centres around an elite high school in the white part of town. It has an all-white student population, except for our two principle characters - musician and scholarship student Devon, and privileged aspiring Yale alumnus Chiamaka. Devon (Von to his proud, hardworking Ma) can’t wear his hair in twists or cornrows here, and Chiamaka, of Nigerian and Italian heritage, feels compelled to hide her natural hair, and has adopted a “kill or be killed” stance - to achieve the success she’s set on, Chiamaka knows she’ll have to be tougher than tough. Devon and Chiamaka are sent reeling when an anonymous texter, Aces, starts revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, and it doesn’t take much to realise why they’re being targeted - the colour of their skin. And so a cruel cat-and-mouse game unfolds - two mice trapped in a destructive nightmare and a malicious cat motivated by racism, with homophobia weaponised too. While there are shocks aplenty (of the rare, ingeniously interwoven variety), the story is compellingly complex, with finely considered character exposition, and no simplified, clear-cut dichotomies drawn between who we can trust, and who should be top of our suspect list. The mounting tension is powerfully palpable, as is the embedded racism Devon and Chiamaka are subjected to - it runs deeper and wider than they (or readers) can possibly anticipate. Turns out, no one can be trusted; that there’s more than one cat in this hideous game. Oh, and there are romantic entanglements too, all of which means Ace of Spades delivers on all fronts - mystery, romance and tackling important issues in explosive style. What more could a reader ask for? *** Find a must-read letter from Faridah to her readers, attached to the extract.
Potently pertinent, William Hussey’s The Outrage wears its messages loud and proud on its sleeve. Think a YA LBGTQ+ version of The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Wizard of Oz; speculative fiction underpinned by aspects of present-day realities, and a belief in the importance of representation: “To see yourself reflected as a human being, with worth and dignity? I really think that has the power to change minds. Even save lives.” Deeply in love with his boyfriend Eric, the son of the chief inspector of Degenerate Investigations, aspiring filmmaker Gabe doubts he’ll ever be able to make the kind of movies he loves. Not in this England. Not living in the aftermath of the Outrage. In this society, it’s illegal to be gay, libraries have been shut down, and families who’ve contributed to the country have been put on “repatriation trains”. Sound familiar? The Outrage’s version of England certainly chimes with recognisable elements of the current political and cultural climate. And, through their discussions of trans rights, Windrush scandal-esque “send them home” policies, and the effects of climate change, the characters are powerful mouthpieces for big issues as they journey the gripping plot. Talking of which, Gabe, Eric and their fellow Rebel friends attend Mosley Grammar school. Though they’re excused from national service as a result of their Special Educational Exemption, they have a whole lot to hide when Protectorate Investigations arrive for their “annual scare-the-shit-out-of-the-kids assembly”. Then, everything unravels when Gabe and Eric are seen doing a whole lot of stuff they shouldn’t have been doing - under this regime, at least. A spirit of resistance surges as Gabe fights for a freer future in this most hostile of environments. Oh, and if that’s not enough, there’s romantic love, movie love, parental love, and love between friends who’ll always have each other’s backs, plus a powerful, heart-melting Wizard of Oz motif replete with Toto, Scarecrow and a quest to reach the Emerald City of the Emerald Isle - where the grass really is greener. All in all, a thought-provoking, page-turning reminder that “difference is good...defiance is essential” from the inventive author of Hideous Beauty.
In this brilliantly written account of hope, humour and humanity, five ordinary teenagers are caught up in a truly extraordinary situation. It's a heart-pounding and gripping account of the fight for survival as the attackers prowl the festival grounds, told from multiple perspectives. This is a book for teenagers facing the barrage of bleak reports that fill our newsfeeds and for anyone who needs to see that behind the hate that makes the headlines, there is always love.
Gripping from the first moment on, this is a scary, an unputdownable and a brilliantly plotted fantasy. One minute all the adults are there - next they're gone! Only the children remain and they are trapped, cut off from the outside world and, scarily, left to rule themselves. Can they survive? With no guidance, gangs start to form. Danger lurks at every corner and everyone has to make a choice – to be cruel or humane. It’s a chilling prospect and the new world order is scary for all. It's Lord of the Flies for the Heroes generation with just a dash of the X-Men thrown in for good measure.
While witches might be steeped in gold, Ciannon Smart’s mighty debut is steeped in the majesty of Caribbean magic as it weaves the gripping journey of two vengeful witches. The first in a duology, Witches Steeped in Gold is a stunner for readers who love complex plots driven by strident characters, and comes especially recommended for fans of epic, female-fronted fantasy, such as The Gilded Ones, Children of Blood and Bone, and series by Sarah J Maas. Heir to a conquered, magical dynasty, Iraya was exiled from the island nation of Aiyca as a child. Having spent her life in a cell, she’s a warrior set on securing her freedom - and revenge: “there’s nothing like the potential betrayal of your oldest and best sestren, a friend closer to you than any other, to challenge any doubts about avenging your murdered parents.” And she plans to use Obeah magic to do just that - “the ways of Obeah in matters of vengeance are clear. It is justice to take in equal part that which was stolen from you.” Meanwhile, gold-swathed Jazmyne is a threat to her mother’s power as self-crowned Doyenne, “part of the resistance working against the very structure I serve.” And so the stage is set for two vengeful witches to form an alliance that might see them achieve their respective desires. Smart’s world-building and sense of place is gorgeously sensory - you can hear, smell and taste, for example, the “musical patwah mingling with peppery jerk spice and opiate smoke.” An ambitious concept, delivered in intricate style, Smart’s debut is a satisfyingly complex page-turner.
April 2021 Book of the Month | This exquisitely creepy YA shocker whirls with gritty horror, witty one-liners, Insta-worthy visual conjurations and the menacing mystery of three bewitching sisters who vanished in childhood. “Dark dangerous things happened around the Hollow sisters. We each had black eyes and hair as white as milk...We didn’t have friends, because we didn’t need them.” So explains the youngest sister, Iris. As children, the three sisters vanished one New Year’s Eve on the strike of midnight and reappeared with their hair and eyes a different colour, tiny baby teeth in place of their adult teeth, and no memory. “In possession of an alchemical self-confidence that belonged to much older humans,” Iris’ older sisters have “set off into the world, both bound for the glamorous, exotic futures they’d always known they were destined for”, leaving her alone in North London with her mother. Sinister bells toll when seventeen-year-old Grey, a supermodel and designer of decadent couture “who looked like sex and smelled like a field of wildflowers”, fails to turn up to middle sister Vivi’s punk gig in Camden, and then there’s the mystery of the man wearing a horned skull. There are books with unexpected twists, then there’s House of Hollow - imagine losing your way in a decaying fairy tale forest, where tangled tree roots trip you up, and you have no idea what terrors skulk within its ever-shifting mists. At times grisly and always eerie, this intoxicating cocktail of contemporary horror and mythic menace is a lushly-written feast.
A Julia Eccleshare Pick of the Month April 2021 | Zaynab arrives in Devon from her home in Somaliland after the death of her mother, a passionate activist trying to improve lives in drought-stricken Somaliland. Unhappy, and lonely in her new environment, Zaynab begins her own campaign against the climate crisis drawing on her first-hand view of its devastating effect on her home country. She quickly finds fellow supporters among her classmates, including particularly Lucas who is equally passionate for different reasons. Challenging their school’s prohibition on campaigning is the first big step and taking part in the national protest is the second. In doing both Zaynab shows her peers that children like them need to be heard. And that they can make a difference. But the stakes are high and, when Zaynab uncovers a big company with a sinister and destructive programme, she has to decide just how hard she will fight. Zaynab’s passionate commitment is infectious – readers will be inspired.
Fleur Hitchcock delivers another scorching crime drama in Waiting for Murder. It’s a baking hot summer and Dan is away from the city and his friends, with his mum on her archaeological dig, where they might just have found the bones of King Harold’s wife, Edith the Fair. But it’s Dan’s discovery of much more recent remains that sparks the adventure, uncovering evidence of treachery and murder and starting a new treasure hunt. The story reaches its climax just as the weather finally breaks, and a torrent of water threatens to sweep everything and everyone away. Full of thrills, twists and surprises, this will keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
This is the third in this hi-octane thriller featuring four teenagers, each of whom have different psychic powers, which together can defeat almost anything. The problem is that government agents want them to help to infiltrate the criminal underworld but of course the criminal world also want them to help fulfil their crimes. As with the first two this one is relatively short and a real page-turning read.
The fourth in this hi-octane series featuring four teenagers, each of whom have different psychic powers, who together can defeat almost anything. One of them Dylan has her hands chock full as she tries to discover the truth behind his father's death, the scientist who created the medusa gene that gives these children their powers. It's a roller coaster ride.
Interest Age Teen Reading Age 8 | A life-changing opportunity for a teenage pilot brings risk and excruciating choices in this accessible WWII thriller from the author of Firebird and White Eagles. Ingrid was six when the Nazis came to power and, since she has a severe stutter, her mother and father feared a new law ordering the sterilisation of less able children would apply to her. With her parents desperate to prove their daughter has worth, and since she’s a talented glider pilot who dreams of being like her heroine, the intrepid test pilot Hanna Reitsch, Ingrid attends her Cousin Jonni’s flying school. Though she’s confident in the air, Ingrid seems forever doomed to plummet back to earth, not least when she’s castigated for her behaviour in front of a high-ranking regional Nazi leader. “Your daughter is a disgrace to Germany,” he informs her horrified father. Terrified she might be taken to a camp, at seventeen she becomes Cousin Jonni’s junior flying instructor, and her heart soars when none other than Hanna Reitsch enlists her assistance on a propaganda tour. But when Hanna reveals shocking truths about a secret mission, Ingrid is left feeling that “there was an ugly crack in the shiny glass of my new Luftwaffe career” as she faces a seemingly impossible decision. Alongside the gripping action and emotion of Ingrid’s tumultuous journey (readers will be on the edge of their seats as her allegiances are tested to the max), the author provides fascinating insights into life in Germany during the war, and this accessible novella will also prompt discussion around roles women worked in during WWI, and the ethics of patriotism. Find more books with Positive Images of Disability.
A thrilling prequel story to the bestselling, award-winning A Good Girl's Guide to Murder! Pippa Fitz-Amobi is not in the mood for her friend’s murder mystery party. Especially one that involves 1920’s fancy dress and pretending that their town, Little Kilton, is an island called Joy. But when the game begins, Pip finds herself drawn into the make-believe world of intrigue, deception and murder. But as Pip plays detective, teasing out the identity of the killer clue-by-clue, the murder of the fictional Reginald Remy isn’t the only case on her mind … Find out where it all began for Pip in this prequel to the best-selling A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Good Girl, Bad Blood.
Necropolis is a Young Adult dystopian fiction with a thrilling concept. In a time where society is becoming more restrictive and segregated, Wyn embarks on a perilous quest to prove the gender divide imposed by her society wrong, as she goes undercover in the army. Will the challenges she faces as a recruit on top of her fight to remain undercover derail her ambitions before she’s had time to achieve her goal? With mention of ‘The Breakdown’ and the illusive nature of the Necropolis, you are immediately drawn in to a different world. As I read I was keen to learn more about this world and Wyn’s journey. The plotline progresses quickly and this is a story that you could enjoy easily over a weekend. In a society that is quite this strict about the gender divide, I think that there could have been a bit more tension built as Wyn enquired about joining up, and I found Mrs Clay’s critical outbursts in History and eagerness to help Wyn a little bit overzealous and at odds with my expectations of a restricted society within a dystopian novel. Regardless of this I found the plotline enjoyable and Wyn very endearing. This is an interesting story.
Shortlisted for the Excelsior Award Black 16+ KS5 | One part thriller, one part meditation on a life of violence, Pulp is unlike anything award-winning Brubaker & Phillips have ever done before. This celebration of pulp fiction set in a world on the brink is another must-have hardcover from one of comics' most acclaimed teams.
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