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November 2020 Debut of the Month | Nimbly navigating a fine thread between real-world tragedy and elemental inner demons, Richard Lambert’s The Wolf Road is a stunning coming-of-age thriller about a boy’s battle with bereavement, and the wolf that holds the key to his healing. It’s un-put-down-able and emotionally haunting in perfectly balanced measures. Fifteen-year-old Lucas’s life unravels when he discovers his parents were killed in a car crash caused by a dog. In an instant “the world didn’t make sense”, and now he must live with his nan, an “odd woman in purple DMs” (and socially-conscious solicitor) he’s only met twice in his life. Despite his angry protests, Lucas has no choice but to move to Nan’s cottage in the Lake District, certain the offending dog was, in fact, a wolf. It’s not long before wolves infiltrate all aspects of his life - at school he reads The Call of the Wild (a book “about a dog that really wants to be a wolf”). Local TV news reports on a local farmer who believes his livestock is being killed by a wild wolf. And then lupine menace encroaches on Lucas’s reality when he hears and glimpses what must be the wolf. As he wonders whether it’s coming for him, to “finish off the family after Mum and Dad,” he confronts his wildest pains in the wilds of the mountains. While the theme of loss - and Lambert’s inventive handling of it - will chime with readers who loved Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, this also has great appeal for fans of emotion-driven adventures, such as Piers Torday’s nature-rich novels. Other plot strands skilfully untangle the complex relationship between Lucas and his Nan. The faltering understandings reached between grandmother and grandson are a joy to witness, as is the bond Lucas forms with Debs, a Sylvia Plath-reading goth-punk.
“How can a dog and a girl who can’t see solve a crime?” visually-impaired Libby asks herself partway through this pacey novel by the award-winning author of I Have No Secrets. But that’s exactly what Libby sets out to do. Fearing her missing classmate Charlie is in danger, Libby and Kyle make it their mission to find him. As the perilous mystery unfolds, Libby’s story gives valuable insights into living with visual impairment, including the tactless comments and “help” from strangers that hinder her day-to-day life. Her determination is nothing short of inspirational. The author’s unfussy style makes this novel particularly suitable for reluctant readers - the story is driven by snappy dialogue. The plot moves at pace. Timely insights into county line grooming are delivered in an impactful, easy-to-digest way. To add to the tension, the drama plays out against Libby’s complex family dynamics – an insensitive gran, an over-protective dad, and a high-achieving mum who wants her to be more independent. All in all, this is a strong springboard for discussing pertinent issues, and a gripping, romance-tinged thriller to boot.
Kesia Lupo's We Are Bound By Stars is a fine follow-up to We Are Blood and Thunder, a richly-realised fantasy epic in which intrigue, trickery and powerful gifts from the gods throng through a cast of colourfully compelling characters. If you’re a fan of female-fronted fantasy, of Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas, this series is sure to be your chalice of char. Beatrice is one of three female mask-makers in the kingdom of the Wishes, a cluster of volcanic islands ruled by a Contessa. As a result of a secret pact the Contessa made with Mythris, patron god of the Wishes, the chosen triplet mask-makers are taught to create masks with powers that aid “the Contessa in discovering and destroying her enemies”, as long as the chain of inheritance remains intact. As a middle sister, Beatrice makes Grotesques, masks that “draw power from expression”, creations with the power to manipulate emotions, but she’s desperate to flee this life of bondage. Then there’s Livio, born into a powerful family, destined to be the first male leader in aeons, but his magic is overwhelmingly wild. When his path collides with Beatrice’s, it falls to them to prevent devastating insurgency, as menacing masked assassins close in on their heels. Can they cut the strings of a controlling puppet master? Can they change the course of destiny? As their tales twist along a troubled path, the sense of time running out, of high-stakes decisions, of human emotions are grippingly evoked within a tangled web of magical trickery.
Exploring the all-consuming throes of love, malicious secondary school social politics, sexual abuse, and how difficult coming out can be, William Hussey’s Hideous Beauty is a top-notch YA thriller with hard-hitting emotional resonance. Forced by social media exposure to come out earlier than planned, Dylan and his gregarious boyfriend Ellis reveal their relationship to the world in spectacular style at a school dance: “Okay, Dylan, this is it. No going back. The closet door is firmly barred behind you, chained and bolted. No re-entry, no refunds. It’s gay all the way from here on out.” Riding high after an unexpectedly jubilant response to their revelation, tragedy strikes when they leave the party - Ellis becomes angry and their car plunges into a lake. While Dylan is rescued, Ellis drowns, leaving Dylan wracked with grief and guilt: “I deserve the pain. I deserve the crazy. I deserve a messed-up hand. No one’s taking these things away from me.” Set on trying to “find out who pulled me out of that car and why they left Ellis to drown”, it’s not long before Dylan stomps into a viper’s nest, uncovering jaw-dropping truths that set him - and readers – reeling. With his family less than supportive, at least best friend Mike remains at Dylan’s side, even though he’s undergoing chemotherapy for leukaemia. Gripping, moving and unflinchingly honest, this is a fiercely affecting novel, told through the cleverly interwoven collision of two timelines.
Longlisted for the UKLA Book Awards 2021 | June 2020 Book of the Month | Teeming with drama and compelling code-cracking action, this WWII thriller is driven by the lives of three young people determined to make their mark on the war effort, and by the life-affirming relationship between fifteen-year-old Louisa and the elderly woman she’s employed to look after. Aspiring pilot Louisa is alone in the world. Her white English mother was killed in a London bomb blast, and her black Jamaican dad died on a ship that was torpedoed only three days after her mother died. Through her grief brave Louisa “burns to fight back” and takes a job looking after Jane, an elderly German woman who’s been imprisoned in an alien detainment camp. While travelling to stay with Jane’s niece in her Scottish pub, they form a beautiful bond, finding common ground in their love of music and the fact that they’re both outsiders in Britain - Jane because she’s German, and Louisa because she’s mixed race and subjected to racism. In Scotland they meet fellow outsider, Ellen, a driver for the local RAF airfield who tries to hide her traveller heritage. Ellen’s active role makes Louisa more determined to do something herself, so she takes her chance when a German defector lands at the airfield and leaves a codebreaking Enigma machine. It’s not long before Louisa, Ellen and young flight lieutenant Jamie step-up their war efforts, as their story builds to an impeccably conducted, pulse-quickening crescendo. Alongside being a gripping thriller, this is a truly moving, inspirational novel. Louisa’s passion for music and learning, her wit and ambition, are exhilaratingly infectious. I’d love to know what she does next.
The highly-anticipated and brilliantly crafted crime-thriller sequel to the no.1 debut of 2019, A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER Pip Fitz-Amobi is not a detective anymore. With the help of Ravi Singh, she released a true-crime podcast about the murder case they solved together last year. The podcast has gone viral, yet Pip insists her investigating days are behind her. But she will have to break that promise when someone she knows goes missing. Jamie Reynolds has disappeared but the police won't do anything about it. And if they won't look for Jamie then Pip will, uncovering more of her town's dark secrets along the way... and this time EVERYONE is listening. But will she find him before it's too late? Perfect for fans of One of Us Is Lying, Eva Dolan, C L Taylor, We Were Liars and Riverdale
Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2020 | On the run with her little brother, Aidan, sixteen-year-old Emily stows away on a plane in this fast-paced thriller. When their plane crashes into the side of a snowy mountain, it’s up to Emily to ensure Aidan and their pilot, Bob, make it off the mountain alive. Lost in the Alaskan wilderness and pursued by mysterious government forces who want to capture them, the unlikely team of three trek across the freezing landscape, learning more about each other, and about life, than they ever thought possible.
A Jack Courtney Adventure : with Chris Wakling | Young readers who want to be gripped, challenged, informed and entertained – this exciting new adventure series is just what you’ve been waiting for. Fourteen-year-old Jack is on a safari holiday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with his parents, the wealthy founders of a conservation charity. His friends Amelia and Xander are on the trip too – so far, so idyllic (though he could do without his arrogant cousin Caleb), but then his parents are kidnapped by mercenaries. Jack has already experienced one family tragedy, he’s determined he’ll prevent another. This is a taut, tightly plotted thriller which puts young people firmly in the driving seat, but there’s lots about family and relationships too. Moreover, the authors will inspire a fascination about the wildlife of the region in readers, and alert them to the threats facing it. Fast-moving adventure with heart and a message. Jack is as appealing a hero as Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider, but the books will also appeal to fans of Gill Lewis’ animal adventures, Gorilla Dawn and The Scarlet Ibis. ****Read a Q&A with Wilbur Smith on his inspiration behind Cloudburst and the different challenges of writing fiction for children.
April 2020 Debut of the Month | Delving deep into Paris and Prague, and teeming with tension, automatons and assassins, Damien Love’s Monstrous Devices is an atmospheric, adventure-packed debut, which will surely appeal to fans of Jonathan Stroud’s immersive, multi-layered novels. Bookish twelve-year-old Alex’s story begins with him enduring nasty messages from bullies at school, and then he receives a tin robot in the post, accompanied by a mysterious message that reads, “This one is special”. Next morning, his unfinished essay has been completed and, on cue, as matters take an alarming turn, Alex’s charismatic grandfather appears and whisks him away to Paris as a matter of urgency. Little by little, and in cryptic terms, Alex’s grandfather reveals details of a secret world of robots that sees them journey from Paris to Prague to combat mechanical menaces. Interweaving the Czech origin of the word ‘robot’ (meaning ‘forced labour’ and derived from Karel Čapek’s ‘RUR’ play), and Prague’s 16th century legend of the golem (a man made from clay created to protect the city’s Jewish Quarter) with contemporary pace and punch, this feels at once timeless and of the 21st century.
February 2020 Debut of the Month | Set in a world that’s become “a walking graveyard”, this edge-of-your-seat thriller teems with cinematic chills and the tender love between two teenage boys. Indeed, author Darren Charlton has hit the nail on the head in describing his debut as The Walking Dead meets Brokeback Mountain. “Clock it. Kill it. Rid the world of it” - this is how encounters with the zombie Restless Ones must be handled, a mantra soon-to-be-sixteen-year-old Peter struggles to follow. Too trusting, and infinitely better with a darning needle than an axe or gun, he’s something of a liability to the community, especially as another winter sets in, for “winter was the one season every Lake Lander feared. Not because Montana was about to get colder than an eagle’s gaze. But because the Dead could make it across the lake’s frozen waters.” When the community comes under serious threat during their annual First Fall party, Peter winds up as zombie bait with his at-one-with-the-wilds boyfriend Connor responsible for wrangling the Restless Ones like a post-apocalyptic cowboy. On the mainland, the young lovers uncover an earth-shattering secret and it’s not long before Connor’s situation is seriously comprised, leading to Peter stepping-up and standing tall. Gripping and graphically gory, this dynamic debut is dystopian horror with a difference, for it pulsates not only with terror and visceral violence, but also with love, affection and emotional atmosphere.
Jess’s mother was the first victim of a serial killer who came to be known as the Magpie Man, and ten years later the case is still unsolved, and the death toll stands at thirteen. A chance to be part of a YouTube reality show for teenagers gives Jess an idea; what if while being filmed, she can goad the Magpie Man into revealing himself? This inevitably raises reader’s questions about the social responsibility of media companies and the way both police and responsible adults allow Jess to take this reckless attitude to her own safety. But in reality, it seems that Jess lost two parents the day her mother was killed, her quest for the killer is also a chance to rescue her father from a deep depression. She luckily has good friends, both old and newly discovered in this process, looking out for her. The plot constantly twists and turns and keeps the reader inexorably gripped throughout. The ultimate reveal of who and why is both satisfactory as well as surprising. Told entirely in the first person the character development of Jess is outstanding and the subtle nuances of grief and the way in which bereavement affects other people and their treatment of you is very well done. A novel that is entirely current and yet with the age-old thrill of a complex mystery.
February 2020 Book of the Month | This gripping must-read for sports fans fizzes with a powerful message about picking yourself up and self-belief, and a poignant portrayal of gang culture coercion. I cannot praise Dan Freeman’s compassion-rich writing enough. Life’s not easy for twin fourteen-year-olds Kaine and Roxy growing up on their London estate. Their dad’s lost his job and mum works all hours. But Roxy and Kaine aren’t your average teenagers. He’s a super-talented footballer with Premier League potential, and she’s an outstanding tennis player, tipped for the top. Oh, and they can’t stand each other. After being close as kids, they’ve grown apart, with Roxy loathing the fact that Kaine’s always in trouble, and Kaine hating the way Roxy gets all the attention and support, overlooked even when a scout for a Premier League club comes to watch him. Both a bundle of frustration, Kaine is tempted into dangerous territory. If only Mamma, their Barbados-born grandmother, was around to keep Kaine on the right track. Mamma’s warm, wise presence is felt throughout the novel. She was the person Kaine turned to in times of need. She’d feed him soul food, remind him that he’s special, urge him to “do the extraordinary.” Sage advice comes from Kaine’s supportive PE teacher too, who counsels “There are paths in life, there are choices. And you are at one of those crossroads now”. When tragedy strikes as Kaine loses his way it takes a whole lot of soul-searching for him to turns things round and become the extraordinary young man he is. And Roxy tackles her profoundly life-changing situation with heartrending courage too. With overriding messages of hope, compassion, doing the right thing and staying true to yourself, this is an absolute galáctico, Grand Slam winner of a novel.
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