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UKLA Longlist Book Award 2019 | Winner of the YA Book Prize 2018 | Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2018 | In a nutshell: tense, super-suspenseful novel based on harrowing real life events | After the Fire was inspired by the Waco siege in Texas 1993 when 82 members of the Branch Davidian sect and four US government agents died in a fire fight after a long siege. It’s not a fictionalised version, but Hill imagines life in the camp and as a survivor. Moonbeam, his central character, is beginning to doubt the teaching of Father John and to comprehend the methods he uses to control his followers. A survivor, she’s being coaxed to tell the story of the events that led up to that deadly confrontation with ‘The Authorities’. The tension rarely abates, and Hill makes readers empathise with Moonbeam’s confusion and fear. He also makes us desperate to discover the secrets she’s keeping, and long for her to achieve the freedom that’s always been denied. One of the most gripping and suspenseful books you’ll read all year.
June 2017 Debut of the Month In a nutshell: breath-taking magical adventure on the banks of London’s underground rivers Hyacinth Hayward, newly arrived in the UK from the US, is already struggling with culture shock when her mum is kidnapped by the strangest postmen ever and she herself is plunged (literally) into extraordinary adventure. Amongst the mass of magical quest adventures, The City of Secret Rivers stands out and not just because of its cast of fascinating characters (unscrupulous sewer dwelling cockney criminals and a possibly malevolent but extremely polite giant pig included), or its singular setting (the banks of London’s underground rivers); the sheer invention and wit of author Jacob Sager Weinstein makes this a special read and every page crackles with originality and energy. Outlandish fun! ~ Andrea Reece Readers looking for more page-turning adventures that cleverly combine real historical places with rip-roaring adventure will enjoy the Defender of the Realm series by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby.
In a Nutshell: Hyper-tense high school whodunit * Everyone has secrets… Five teens in detention are hit by a storm when one of them of dies. Outsider Simon, creator of the notorious Bayview High gossip app, wryly remarks that they’re all “walking teen-movie stereotypes” and casts himself as the “omniscient narrator” shortly before collapsing to his death. The question is, why was there allergy-inducing peanut oil in Simon’s water? And why were the EpiPens missing from the nurse’s office? His death seems anything but accidental and, since Simon had dirt on pretty much the entire school population, a whole lot of people might have wanted him dead. But when it emerges that he was about to reveal highly damaging secrets about his four co-detainees (we’re talking the kind of secrets that mess-up lives and destroy futures), they’re first in the frame for his murder. A snappy story of cover-ups, lies and unraveling lives unfolds amidst a hotbed of suspicion and the personal plights of the accused teenagers, including two storylines of a romantic nature that truly tug at the heart. Entertainingly addictive, sharply written, with a genuinely jaw-dropping twist, this first-rate thriller exposes the murky morality of social media salaciousness, and questions what lengths a person might go to in order to protect their darkest secrets. ~ Joanne Owen
In a nutshell: Cherub, signing off in a blaze of glory In the final book in his hugely popular series, Robert Muchamore reunites some favourite characters from previous books: James Adams, original Cherub lead, is back, and heading up a mission deep into ISIS territory in Syria - as ever the story is thoroughly contemporary. It’s not just the realistic backgrounds though, or the line-up of wish-we-were-them characters that make the books so successful, it’s the sheer pace and excitement packed into every chapter. Fans will be deservedly disappointed that this is the last in this series, but Muchamore signs the series off with exactly the sort of bang they’ve come to expect. ~ Andrea Reece
In a nutshell: gripping adventure that keeps readers tense and guessing As revealed in the first book in this spell-binding series, Wylie is one of a group of people known as Outliers, able to read people’s emotions and intentions. It’s a gift that’s already brought her into danger and in this new episode she’s even more exposed: there are creepy government agents tracking her, and she finds herself under lock and key more than once. And Wylie has other things on her mind too, like working out what really happened to her mother, apparently killed in a car crash. Wylie is a terrific central character, tough and determined, and her punchy first person narrative combined with the rising tension makes this unputdownable reading. ~ Andrea Reece
May 2017 Book of the Month | In a Nutshell: Devastating deceits and sanity-shattering set-ups | Tense, twisty thriller in which a girl’s disappearance spirals into a snare of manipulation and lies.. Fourteen-year-old Jude has gone missing from Port Glasgow. No one has heard from her until she texts Abbie, the novel’s narrator: “I want to come home,” it reads. Abbie says she has no idea why this was sent to her. They weren’t close. In fact, Abbie isn't close to anyone. She’s an observer who likes “watching things from a distance”, until she finds herself the focus of frenzied media coverage. But the nightmare really begins when Abbie suggests holding a candlelit vigil for Jude. It’s then that the story explodes into a terrifying tale of entrapment and harassment. The twists are truly unforeseeable, the mounting sense of paranoia is brilliantly evoked, and this authentically told tale will surely create a whole new generation of McPhail-ites. ~ Joanne Owen
Shortlisted for the UKLA 2018 Book Award | A thought-fuelling thriller set in a gang-run neighbourhood near the border of Mexico and El Norte (America). The writing is poetically punchy. Exquisitely formed sentences are fired-off in smarting succession, and the juxtaposition of contemporary totems like Burger King buildings with the likes of folk saint shrines is smartly done. This is a richly layered novel in which important socio-political issues (gangs, poverty, corruption, migration, social divisions and dissonance) are made potently real through Arturo and Faustino’s predicaments. And alongside the enlightening Mexico-specific context, there’s much that is universal: friendship, loyalty, and searching for a sense of purpose. As paternal figure Siggy tells Arturo, “You just have to find out what it is you’re looking for.” Pacey and passionate, this truly exceptional book tells a tale that truly needs to be heard.
In a Nutshell: Trans-European espionage thriller | Cinematic page-turner following a teenager’s ruthlessly fearless journey into a criminal underworld to find her diplomat dad. Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom has spent much of her life on the move due to her dad’s job as a US diplomat. They now live in New York, where she’s an outcast at the elite school paid for by his employers. But it turns out that the constant moving and snobby school are the lesser evils of her dad’s career. When he vanishes, and it emerges that he’s actually a CIA agent and suspected of working for “another side”, Gwendolyn is forced to search for him herself. Having assumed a new identity, the path of Gwendolyn’s high-stakes quest leads her to the dirty edges of Paris, Berlin, and Prague, where she infiltrates the brutal underworld of “the biggest crime family in Mitteleuropa”. This is an edgy, twisty, plot-driven thriller with an open-ended conclusion that will leave fans desperate to discover what Gwendolyn does next: she’s already shown that she’s prepared do what it takes - to do anything - to find her father, even if it means committing a few crimes of her own… ~ Joanne Owen
Special 11th Anniversary Edition As ever, Melvin Burgess makes readers think. Sara signs up for a face transplant but is it her who wants it or, is she being pushed into doing it against her will by the scarred pop-star who wants her face? Glamour and fame are not always what they seem. ~ Julia Eccleshare Lovereading Comment: This is young adult fiction at its challenging and thrilling best - and Melvin Burgess has yet again struck a chord with a teenager’s world. The issue of cosmetic surgery is brought sharply into focus and in such a way that the reader will feel more informed and as a result the ever present peer pressures which are a part of teenage life more keenly borne.
In a nutshell: two kids on a death-defying treasure hunt through Egypt’s ancient monuments. Adventure stories don’t come more action-packed than the exploits of Jake Atlas. As the book opens, the Atlas family are about to fly off to Egypt on a working holiday (Mum and Dad are Egyptologists) and the family tension is so strong you can almost hear it twang; tension of a different kind quickly racks up when Jake’s parents are kidnapped. To save them he and his twin sister Pandora team up with a couple of unscrupulous if well-equipped tomb robbers. After years of academic failure Jake can finally use his true talents, dodging explosions, outthinking the bad guys, even wrestling a giant snake. It’s great fun, the Egyptian settings giving it an extra edge and the developing relationship between Jake and Pan (and latterly their parents who’ve been keeping secrets of their own) gives it a cool credibility too. This is definitely one to recommend to fans of the Alex Rider books, and readers would also enjoy Defender of the Realm by Nick Ostler and Mark Huckerby. ~ Andrea Reece
January 2017 Book of the Month | Winner of the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award | In a Nutshell: Unconventional magic realist thriller | A entrancingly unique novel about a boy’s search for a young woman who’s disappeared from their eccentric small town. “Bone Gap had gaps just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away, leaving only their stories behind”. That’s what the townsfolk of Bone Gap believe, and so none of them are shocked when beautiful Roza vanishes, as mysteriously as she arrived. Well, not quite none of them. Finn is certain that Roza was abducted, snatched by “the man who moves like a cornstalk in the wind”, but since he’s considered “a little weird”, no one believes him. Then, as he searches for Roza, he finds an ally in Petey, who describes herself as looking like a “giant bee”, and reckons Finn is face-blind, only able to recognise the most distinct of faces. As they become close and discover truths about themselves, so light is shone upon Roza’s vanishing. The sequences with Roza and her captor possess the sublimely sinister atmosphere of fairy tales. “You'll love me one day”, her captor insists, over and over, while extolling her to be the most beautiful woman in the whole world. And perceptions of beauty, and how we interpret what we see, are central to this enthralling genre-defying novel. ~ Joanne Owen
January 2017 Book of the Month | A book to make you flinch! Virulent diseases and natural disasters are sweeping the world, the church and a private investigator seek the truth behind the reports of two pregnant virgins, can they possibly be linked? Cradle and All is a reimagined telling of a previous James Patterson novel Virgin which was written in 1980. The story touches various lives, including investigator Anne who speaks in the first person. Anne’s tale centres the story, I felt a connection to her, which made the horrifying events feel as though they were within touching distance. The short chapters made my mind flicker, and question my thoughts and feelings. Spinning from good to evil, hope to despair, Cradle and All is an action packed tale, which moves quickly and creates a tense atmosphere, ensuring a thrilling read. ~ Liz Robinson