Youth Fiction

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Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-lymide. AMAZON says: Hello, Niveus High. It’s me. Who am I? That’s not important. All you need to know is…I’m here to divide and conquer. – Aces.  Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is revealing the darkest secrets of two students. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power. Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…So I didn’t like the tell rather than show approach and have debated this with one of my pupils but it was tension building and a good narrative overall. 3/5

A Monster Calls by Parrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd: Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don’t quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there’s a visitor at his window. It’s ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth. Patrick Ness takes the final idea of the late, award-winning writer Siobhan Dowd and weaves an extraordinary and heartbreaking tale of mischief, healing and above all, the courage it takes to survive. A MUST READ.  This deals with such a sensitive topic in an incredibly beautiful way.  Challenging to read and must be handled with care in the classroom. 5/5  THEMES: family, loss, cancer, friendship, self

After the War by Tom Palmer:  Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover.  But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?  Really sensitively written novel for younger readers.  Made me quite emotional at various parts.  A good read.  4.5/5 THEMES: war, loss, grief, recovery

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Birdsong by Katya Balen.  After a devastating car crash, Annie is unable to play her flute and retreats from the music she’s always loved. She exists in a world of angry silence – furious with her mum and furious she can’t seem to play her beloved flute any more. Then she meets Noah, who shows her the blackbirds’ nest hidden in the scrubland near their flats. As their friendship grows, the blackbird’s glorious song reignites Annie’s passion for music. But when tragedy strikes again, will her fragile progress be put at risk?  Very quick read.  Nice enough and won’t take you very long. 3/5

Bone Talk by Candy Gourlay.  The Philippines, 100 years ago. A boy called Samkad wants to become a man. He is desperate to be given his own shield, spear and axe. His best friend, Luki, wants to be a warrior too – but she is a girl and that is forbidden. Then a new boy arrives in the village and everything changes. He brings news that a people called ‘Americans’ are bringing war right to his home . . .  I loved this book and thought it was really worthy of being on the short list. 4.5/5 THEMES: other cultures, urbanisation, indigenous people, clash of cultures

Blueblood by Malorie Blackman.  AMAZON says: Nia has met the man she wants to marry. Marcus is kind, clever and handsome, with a beard so dark it is nearly blue-black. Nia demands a single promise from him – that Marcus will never enter her study in the basement, her private space.  But when Marcus’s curiosity begins to mount Nia feels more and more uneasy. Will he betray her? Can he accept that no means no? Can a woman ever have a room of her own? I PAID 16 EUROS FOR 39 PAGES.  Well, after I got over the shock of that, it’s a good short story.  Still feel like I’ve been robbed though. 3/5

Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo. AMAZON says: Beverly Tapinski has run away from home plenty of times, but that was when she was just a kid. By now, she figures, it’s not running away … it’s leaving. Determined to make it on her own, Beverly finds a job and a place to live and tries to forget about her dog, Buddy, now buried underneath the orange trees back home; her friend Raymie, whom she left without a word; and her mum, Rhonda, who has never cared about anyone but herself. Beverly doesn’t want to depend on anyone, and she definitely doesn’t want anyone to depend on her. But despite her best efforts, she can’t help forming connections with the people around her – and, gradually, she learns to see herself through their eyes.  A really good read.  Good-hearted, compassionate with a good message about friendship and community.  A worthy longlist for the Carnegie 4/5

The Boy who made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter. AMAZON says:  Billy Plimpton is an eleven-year-old boy with a big dream.  He wants to be a stand-up comedian when he grows up: delivering pinpoint punch-lines and having audiences hang on his every hilarious word.  A tough career for anyone, but surely impossible for Billy, who has a stammer. How will he find his voice, if his voice won’t let him speak?  The idea for this story came from Helen Rutter’s son, who has a stammer: she wanted to write the book that he would love to read, starring a child like him. A really good read giving an insight into what it is like to live with a stammer.  Well worth reading 4/5

Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy.  AMAZON says:  Twins Arthur and Maudie Brightstorm receive word in Lontown that their famous explorer father has died in a failed attempt to reach the southernmost point in the world. Not only that, but he has been accused of stealing fuel before he died!  The twins don’t believe the news, and they answer an ad to join a new attempt to reach South Polaris. It’s their only hope of learning the truth … and salvaging their family’s reputation.  As the winged ship Aurora sets sail, the twins must keep their wits about them and prove themselves worthy of the rest of the crew. Another enjoyable adventure story that is crafted well to keep you on your toes. 3.5/5

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Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a dog warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend di lui Keverton must do their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches. . . Irresistible, gripping and unforgettable.  This book doesn’t seem to have enraptured me as it has many many other people. 3/5

The Castle of Tangled Magic by Sophie Anderson.  AMAZON says: Magic awaits, all you have to do is believe…When thirteen-year-old Olia, steps through a magical doorway, she discovers another land. A land tangled by magic, where hope is lost, and a scheming wizard holds all the power.  Soon Olia learns that she is destined to save this land, but with time running out and her new friends and family in danger, she must search for the magic within herself – to save everything and everyone she loves. A winning formula for an adventure story but my least favourite of the three written by Sophie Anderson 3/5

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  They killed my mother.  They took our magic.  They tried to bury us. Now we rise.A fantastic read.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE this series and have become completely absorbed in it.  THEMES: other cultures, adventure, fantasy, tribal wars.   A MUST READ 5/5

Chinglish by Sue Cheng.  AMAZON says: Jo Kwan is a teenager growing up in 1980s Coventry with her annoying little sister, too-cool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents. But unlike the other kids at her new school or her posh cousins, Jo lives above her parents’ Chinese takeaway. And things can be tough – whether it’s unruly customers or the snotty popular girls who bully Jo for being different. Even when she does find a BFF who actually likes Jo for herself, she still has to contend with her erratic dad’s behaviour. All Jo dreams of is breaking free and forging a career as an artist.  Told in diary entries and doodles, Jo’s brilliantly funny observations about life, family and char siu make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.  Didn’t enjoy this as much and something didn’t quite sit right with me. 2/5

The Climbers by Keith Gray. Sully is the best climber in the village. He can scale the Twisted Sister’s tangled branches and clamber up Double Trunker with ease. But when new kid Nottingham shows up and astonishes everyone with his climbing skills, Sully’s status is under threat and there’s only one way to prove who’s best. Sully and Nottingham must race to climb the last unnamed tree. Whoever makes it to the top will become a legend. But something spiteful and ugly has reared its head in Sully … Is it worth losing everything just to reach the top? A short, enjoyable read and touching too. 3.5/5

The Colour of the Sun by David Almond. “The day is long, the world is wide, you’re young and free.”  A murder takes place and our protagonist believes he knows he did it.  But as he ventures out, nothing is quite as it seems.  I found this quite dull and unenjoyable.  Not for me. THEMES: journeys

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann. The sea carries our pain. The stars carry our future. Natalie’s world is falling apart. She’s just lost her mum and her brother marches the streets of Dover full of hate and anger. Swimming is her only refuge. Sammy has fled his home and family in Eritrea for the chance of a new life in Europe. Every step he takes on his journey is a step into an unknown and unwelcoming future. Another harrowing topic with some beautiful lines especially the matching of the last and first but didn’t quite deliver for me. 3/5

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by SImon Stephens, Mark Haddon.  AMAZON says: Christopher, fifteen years old, stands beside Mrs Shears’s dead dog. It has been speared with a garden fork, it is seven minutes after midnight, and Christopher is under suspicion. He records each fact in the book he is writing to solve the mystery of who murdered Wellington. He has an extraordinary brain and is exceptional at maths, but he is ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. He has never ventured alone beyond the end of his road, he detests being touched and he distrusts strangers. But Christopher’s detective work, forbidden by his father, takes him on a frightening journey that turns his world upside-down.  Simon Stephens’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s bestselling, award-winning novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time offers a richly theatrical exploration of this touching and bleakly humorous tale.  Enjoyable enough. 4/5

The Dark Lady

The Dark Lady by Akala.  AMAZON says:  Henry is an orphan, an outsider, a thief. He is also a fifteen-year-old invested with magical powers … This brilliant, at times brutal, first novel from the amazing imagination that is Akala, will glue you to your seat as you are hurled into a time when London stank and boys like Henry were forced to find their own route through the tangled streets and out the other side.  I had high expectations but was a little bit disappointed in this lacklustre narrative. 3/5

Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk.  AMAZON says: 1933. When Ellie and her family lose everything, they flee to Echo Mountain. Ellie runs wild, exploring the mountain’s mysteries. But the one she can’t solve is who’s leaving the gifts for her: tiny wooden carvings of animals and flowers, dotted around the mountain for her to find. Then Ellie’s father has a terrible accident. When she sets out to find a cure for him, she discovers Cate, the outcast witch, and Larkin, a wild mountain boy. From them she learns about being a healer, being brave – and how there can be more to a person than first meets the eye.  I really struggled to get into this and found it quite slow.  2/5

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. The second, highly anticipated novel from Carnegie-shortlisted author Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. Come on a journey across the rural American West. . . Meet the teenagers who live in the small towns across these states, separated by distance, but whose stories are woven together in the most unexpected of ways. Whether they are brought together by the spread of wildfire, by the priest who’s moved from state to state or by the hunt for a missing child, these incredible tales blaze with secrets, rage and love. A novel like no other, this intricate, intense and beautiful book will take your breath away. I really enjoyed these short stories and especially the way in which they each connected up to the other short stories. 3.8/5


Firegirl by Tony Abbott. From the moment Jessica arrives, life is never quite the same for Tom and his seventh grade classmates. They learn that Jessica has been in a fire and will be attending St. Catherine’s while getting medical treatment.  Despite her startling appearance and the fear she evokes in him and most of the class, Tom slowly develops a tentative friendship with Jessica that changes his life.  FIREGIRL is a powerful book that will show readers that even the smallest of gestures can have a profound impact on someone’s life.  I loved this book.  A great book about disability and how we respond to it. 4.5/5 THEMES: disability, identity, friendship, compassion

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George by Alex Gino.  When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.  This is a cracking book about identity.  A really powerful book. 5/5 THEMES: identity, acceptance, transformation

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna. “Debut author Namina Forna’s created a fierce female protagonist you’ll root for and a captivating world that feels so real you can step inside it.” – Bookriot. An enjoyable fantasy but I remember feeling a little unfulfilled. 3/5

The Girl Who Speaks Bear by Sophie Anderson. Found abandoned in a bear cave as a baby, Yanka has always wondered about where she is from. She tries to ignore the strange whispers and looks from the villagers, wishing she was as strong on the inside as she is on the outside. But, when she has to flee her house, looking for answers about who she really is, a journey far beyond one that she ever imagined begins: from icy rivers to smouldering mountains meeting an ever-growing herd of extraordinary friends along the way.  A wonderful adventure story that links beautifully with The House on Chicken Legs. 4/5 THEMES identity, adventure, myths, belonging, friendship, teamwork

The Girl who Became a Tree by Joseph Coelho. AMAZON says: Daphne is unbearably sad and adrift. She feels the painful loss of her father acutely and seeks solace both in the security of her local library and the escape her phone screen provides by blocking out the world around her. As Daphne tries to make sense of what has happened she recalls memories of shared times and stories past, and in facing the darkness she finds a way back from the tangle of fear and confusion, to feel connected once more with her friends and family. The Girl Who Became a Tree sees Joseph Coelho deploy a wide variety of poetic forms with consummate skill in its narration of events. He seamlessly but searingly weaves together the ancient legend of Daphne, who was turned into a tree to avoid the attentions of the god Apollo, and a totally modern tale, mixing real-life and fantasy, in which a latter-day Daphne seeks her own freedom. Read too much like A Monster Calls for me. Some beautiful poetry but didn’t feel original. 3/5

The Girl who Stole an Elephant by Nizrana Farook. Chaya, a no-nonsense, outspoken hero, leads her friends and a gorgeous elephant on a noisy, fraught, joyous adventure through the jungle where revolution is stirring and leeches lurk. Will stealing the queen’s jewels be the beginning or the end of everything for the intrepid gang?  For me this was quite a superficial read and I was a bit disappointed after hearing so many great reviews. 2.5/5

The Giver by Lois Lowry.  It is the future. There is no war, no hunger, no pain. No one in the community wants for anything. Everything needed is provided. And at twelve years old, each member of the community has their profession carefully chosen for them by the Committee of Elders.  Twelve-year old Jonas has never thought there was anything wrong with his world. But from the moment he is selected as the Receiver of Memory, Jonas discovers that their community is not as perfect as it seems.  It is only with the help of the Giver, that Jonas can find what has been lost. And it is only through his personal courage that Jonas finds the strength to do what is right… 4/5 THEMES: dystopian, war

Guard Your Heart by Sue Divin. Aidan is Catholic, Irish, and Republican. With his ex-political prisoner father gone and his mother dead, Aidan’s hope is pinned on exam results earning him a one-way ticket out of Derry. To anywhere.
Iona, Protestant and British, has a brother and father in the police. She’s got university ambitions, a strong faith and a fervent belief that boys without one track minds are a myth. At a post-exam party, Aidan wanders alone across the Peace Bridge and becomes the victim of a brutal sectarian attack. Iona witnessed the attack; she picked up Aidan’s phone and filmed what happened, and gets in touch with him to return the phone. When the two meet, alone and on neutral territory, the differences between them seem insurmountable. Both their fathers held guns, but safer to keep that secret for now. Despite their differences and the secrets they have to keep from each other, there is mutual intrigue, and their friendship grows. And so what? It’s not the Troubles. But for both Iona and Aidan it seems like everything is keeping them apart, when all they want is to be together. . .An enjoyable read 3/5

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin! In 2023, my pupils have challenged me to read the Harry Potter series.  Apparently you can’t really call yourself an English teacher otherwise!  More enjoyable than anticipated. 4/5

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas.  Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs.  The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer.  Now what Starr says could destroy her community.  It could also get her killed.  A good read dealing with an important subject matter. 3.5/5  THEMES: race, identity, oppression, justice

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning.  For Marinka’s grandmother is Baba Yaga, who guides spirits between this world and the next. Marinka longs to change her destiny and sets out to break free from her grandmother’s footsteps, but her house has other ideas… I love Sophie Anderson – another great storyteller who writes these beautiful adventure stories immersed in mythology.  A great read. 4/5 THEMES: identity, family, legacy

How it all Blew Up by Arvin Ahmadi.  AMAZON says: Eighteen-year-old Amir Azadi always knew that coming out to his Muslim family would be messy, but he wasn’t expecting it to end in an airport interrogation room. Now, he’s telling his side of the story to the stern-faced officer.  Amir has to explain why he ran away to Rome (boys, bullies, blackmail) and what he was doing there for a month (dates in the Sistine Chapel, friends who helped him accept who he is, and, of course, drama) . . . all while his mum, dad and little sister are being interrogated in the room next door. A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy.  I mean maybe I am biased because it’s set in Rome but I really enjoyed this book. 4/5

I Ada

I, Ada by Julia Gray. Rebel. Genius. Visionary. Ada Byron is rich and clever, but she longs to be free. Free to explore all the amazing ideas that come to her imagination, like flying mechanical horses and stories inspired by her travels. Free to find love and passion beyond the watchful gaze of her mother and governesses. And free to learn the full truth about her father, the notorious Lord Byron. Then Ada meets a man whose invention might just change the world—and he needs her visionary brilliance to bring it to life . . .I love a bit of historical fiction.  Really interesting and insightful and a hugely enjoyable read. 4.5/5

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Lampie and the CHildren of the Sea by Annet Schaap.  AMAZON says: Every evening Lampie the lighthouse keeper’s daughter must light a lantern to warn ships away from the rocks. But one stormy night disaster strikes. The lantern goes out, a ship is wrecked and an adventure begins.  In disgrace, Lampie is sent to work as a maid at the Admiral’s Black House, where rumour has it that a monster lurks in the tower. But what she finds there is stranger and more beautiful than any monster. Soon Lampie is drawn into a fairytale adventure in a world of mermaids and pirates, where she must fight with all her might for friendship, freedom and the right to be different.  I really, really loved this book until the end which I felt let it down a bit.  Nonetheless an awesome read 4/5

The Life and Times of Lonny Quicke by Kirsty Applebaum.  AMAZON says: Lonny is a lifeling. He has the power to heal any living creature and bring it back from the dead. But he pays a price for this gift – by lengthening the creature’s life, he shortens his own. So Lonny has to be careful, has to stay hidden in the forest. Because if people knew what he could do, Lonny would be left with no life at all…I love Kirsty Applebaum.  I really enjoyed this and it made me cry, which for me is always a good marker of a book.  I was disappointed by the ending which felt quick but overall would recommend 4/5

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.  A superb read of the impact and effect of gun violence.A must read! THEMES: gun violence, social responsibility, decision-making. A MUST READ.  This is a phenomenal book about social responsibility.  It has taught my pupils so much about poetry as well. 5/5

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds.  AMAZON says: When the bell rings and school is finished for the day, the walkers are finally set free. For ten blocks they have no-one telling them what to do; they can talk about bogies, skateboard, plan dramatic escapes, make jokes, face bullies, and hear about the school bus that fell from the sky… In ten stories (one per block), find out what really happens on the walk home from school, when there are no parents or teachers to supervise (or stop the fun!). From hilarious escapades to brave challenges, join the walkers for one journey and many, many detours… I enjoyed some stories more than others but this was again a really enjoyable and pertinent read for Reynolds. 5/5

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Mirad, A Boy from Bosnia by Ad de Bont is a play about a family torn apart by war.  Powerful and evocative.  A strong read.  4/5 THEMES: war, refugees

The Monster of Rookhaven by Padraig Kenny. AMAZON says: Sometimes the monsters take us. Sometimes we become the monsters. Mirabelle has always known she is a monster. When the glamour protecting her unusual family from the human world is torn and an orphaned brother and sister stumble upon Rookhaven, Mirabelle soon discovers that friendship can be found in the outside world.  But as something far more sinister comes to threaten them all, it quickly becomes clear that the true monsters aren’t necessarily the ones you can see.  I loved this book and it is one of my Carnegie 2022 favourites so far. Imaginative, tense and an incredible enjoyable read. 4.8/5

Moonchild by Aisha Busby AMAZON says: The Sahar Peninsula lies just beyond the horizon, but it isn’t the easiest place to get to. No maps will take you there, nor can it be charted by gazing up at the stars, or down at a compass… Twelve year old Amira has only ever known a life at sea with her sea-witch mothers. So when their ship is wrecked in a great storm, Amira is delighted to have an opportunity to explore land – accompanied by her best friend Namur – a jinn in cat form. Amira soon finds a boy who has a jinn like her, and learns that their spirit companions are connected to the mysterious storm that gets stronger each day. When Namur goes missing Amira discovers she has to visit a magical place; a place where lost things can be found. But will Amira also discover her own destiny, and find out what it truly means to be a Moonchild?  An enjoyable enough simple read. 3/5

Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve.  AMAZON says: MORTAL ENGINES launched Philip Reeve’s brilliantly-imagined creation, the world of the Traction Era, where mobile cities fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic future.The first instalment introduces young apprentice Tom Natsworthy and the murderous Hester Shaw, flung from the fast-moving city of London into heart-stopping adventures in the wastelands of the Great Hunting Ground.  Fantastic adventure book, kept me gripped all the way through. 4/5 THEMES: dystopian adventure, dictatorships

Mud by Emily Thomas is a book about loss and the effects of loss on an entire family.  It explores financial and mental hardship as a result of loss and how this impacts on the young within a family. A good enough read. 3/5

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher.  This book is about a family thrown into grief when one of the children is killed by a terrorist bomb.  Deciding to move to a new area, Jamie, forms a friendship with Sunya, someone he is not sure he can introduce to his dad.  All I can remember about this book is sobbing in Costa and looking a right mess.  A beautiful book that deals with the subject matter of loss beautifully. 5/5 THEMES: loss, identity, friendship

A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison.  Three sisters trapped by an ancient curse.  Three magical objects with the power to change their fate.  Will they be enough to break the curse?  Or will they lead the sisters even deeper into danger? …The first in an enchanting new series from Michelle Harrison, author of the bestselling 4/5 THIRTEEN TREASURES trilogy.  A really enjoyable adventure read.

Noughts and Crosses

Noughts and Crosses by Dominic Cooke, Malorie Blackman.  AMAZON says: With echoes of Romeo and Juliet, Noughts and Crosses is an electrifying, bittersweet love story set in a society divided by racial bigotry and a world rocked by terrorism. Sephy (a Cross) is the daughter of the Deputy Prime Minister. Callum is the son of a Nought agitator. United by a shared sense of injustice as children, and separated by intolerance as they grow up, their desire to be together begins to eclipse all family loyalty sparking a political crisis of unimaginable proportions.  Dominic Cooke’s thrilling stage adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s hugely successful novel was premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2007.  I found this a tough read in that so much happens in the shortest space of time that it stops becoming believable and I struggled as a result. 2.5/5

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October, October by Katya Balen. A classic in the making for anyone who ever longed to be WILD.  October and her dad live in the woods. They know the trees and the rocks and the lake and stars like best friends. They live in the woods and they are wild. And that’s the way it is.  Until the year October turns eleven. That’s the year October rescues a baby owl. It’s the year Dad falls out of the biggest tree in their woods. The year the woman who calls herself October’s mother comes back. The year everything changes.  Written in Katya Balen’s heart-stoppingly beautiful style, this book is a feast for the senses. And, as October fights to find the space to be wild in the whirling chaos of the world beyond the woods, it is also a feast for the soul. I really enjoyed this and consider it to be a worthy winner of the Carnegie award.  Touching and sentimental. 4.8/5

On Midnight Beach by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.  AMAZON says: When a dolphin takes up residence in Carrig Cove, Emer and her best friend, Fee, feel like they have an instant connection with it. Then Dog Cullen and his sidekick, Kit, turn up, and the four friends begin to sneak out at midnight to go down to the beach, daring each other to swim closer and closer to the creature . . .But the fame and fortune the dolphin brings to their small village builds resentment amongst their neighbours across the bay, and the summer days get longer and hotter . . . There is something wild and intense in the air. Love feels fierce, old hatreds fester, and suddenly everything feels worth fighting for. Cor, this novel packed a punch and there was one moment where there was a sharp intake of breath.  A great read 4//5

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm AMAZON says: The transport ship Orion is four months out of Earth when catastrophe strikes – leaving the ship and everyone on board stranded in deep space. Suddenly it’s up to thirteen-year-old Beth and her friends to navigate through treacherous and uncharted territory to reach safety. But a heavily-damaged ship, space pirates, a mysterious alien species, and an artificial intelligence that Beth doesn’t know if she can trust means that getting home has never been so difficult… This a brilliant space adventure with lots of twists and turns and a protagonist you can really engage with.  4/5 Hugely enjoyable.  Themes: space, adventure, teamwork

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray.  AMAZON says: The City was built on a sharp mountain that jutted improbably from the sea, and the sea kept trying to claim it back. That grey morning, once the tide had retreated, a whale was found on a rooftop.  When a mysterious boy washes in with the tide, the citizens believe he’s the Enemy – the god who drowned the world – come again to cause untold chaos.  Only Ellie, a fearless young inventor living in a workshop crammed with curiosities, believes he’s innocent.  But the Enemy can take possession of any human body and the ruthless Inquisition are determined to destroy it forever.  To save the boy, Ellie must prove who he really is – even if that means revealing her own dangerous secret . . .Another adventure story following the good narrative of adventure story-telling. 3/5

Punching the Air

Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam. One fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighbourhood escalates into tragedy. ‘Boys just being boys’ turns out to be true only when those boys are white. Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal Shahid’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it?  A powerful read. 4/5

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Rat by Patrice Lawrence. AMAZON says: When his mum is sent back to prison, Al knows exactly who’s to blame. Mr Brayker, who lives downstairs, has been making trouble for Al’s mum ever since they moved in, and Al’s determined to get his revenge. Ignoring advice from his gran and sister, Plum, Al takes things into his own hands with a plan that involves the only two creatures he can rely on: his pet rats, Venom and Vulture. But things don’t turn out exactly as he’d imagined… Written by award-winning author, Patrice Lawrence, this is a moving story of community, loneliness, and how you never quite know what’s going on in someone else’s life. A tough read but well worth it.  Beautifully told. 4/5

Raven Winter by Susanna Bailey. Ever since Billie’s kind and nature-loving dad went to prison, her life has lost its shine. And now, Mum’s new boyfriend has moved in and home is full of sharp-glass silences. Billie’s never felt more alone. Until one day she discovers an injured young raven and in nursing him back to life, Billie finds friendship, hope and a letter that might bring her one step closer to reuniting with Dad. I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a great read. 4/5

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  AMAZON says: It\x27s the year 2044, and the real world has become an ugly place. We\x27re out of oil. We\x27ve wrecked the climate. Famine, poverty, and disease are widespread.  Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes this depressing reality by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia where you can be anything you want to be, where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets. And like most of humanity, Wade is obsessed by the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this alternate reality: OASIS founder James Halliday, who dies with no heir, has promised that control of the OASIS \- and his massive fortune \- will go to the person who can solve the riddles he has left scattered throughout his creation.  For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that the riddles are based in the culture of the late twentieth century. And then Wade stumbles onto the key to the first puzzle.  Suddenly, he finds himself pitted against thousands of competitors in a desperate race to claim the ultimate prize, a chase that soon takes on terrifying real\-world dimensions \- and that will leave both Wade and his world profoundly changed.  An enjoyable read, full of twists and turns, highly imaginative. 4/5

Rebound by Kwame Alexander.  It’s 1988. Charlie Bell is still mourning his father, and struggling to figure out how he feels for his best (girl) friend, CJ. When he gets into trouble one too many times, he’s packed off to stay with his grandparents for the summer. There his cousin Roxie introduces him to a whole new world: basketball. A legend on the courts is born. But can Charlie resist when trouble comes knocking once again?  A verse novel in a year where all the verse novels were making the Carnegie long list.  A great read. 4.2/5  THEMES: coming of age, loss, friendship, sport

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell.  Everyone thinks that Sophie is an orphan. True, there were no other recorded female survivors from the shipwreck which left baby Sophie floating in the English Channel in a cello case, but Sophie remembers seeing her mother wave for help. Her guardian tells her it is almost impossible that her mother is still alive, but that means still possible. You should never ignore a possible…4/5

Run, Rebel by Manjeet Mann. AMAZON says: I am restless, my feet need to fly.  Amber is trapped – by her father’s rules, by his expectations, by her own fears.  Now she’s ready to fight – for her mother, for her sister, for herself.  Freedom always comes at a price. I really enjoyed this book.  I, sometimes, find it difficult to connect with verse novels due to the speed that they can be read but this was a really moving story and completely engaging. 4/5

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The Shark Caller by Zillah Bethell. Dive beneath the waves with this spell-binding adventure of friendship, forgiveness and bravery, set on the shores of Papua New Guinea, perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell and Eva Ibbotson. “I want to be able to call the sharks. Teach me the magic and show me the ways.” Blue Wing is desperate to become a shark caller, but instead she must befriend infuriating newcomer Maple, who arrives unexpectedly on Blue Wing’s island. At first, the girls are too angry to share their secrets and become friends. But when the tide breathes the promise of treasure, they must journey together to the bottom of the ocean to brave the deadliest shark of them all…I honestly loved this and cannot wait to read more by this author. 5/5

The Skylark’s War by Hilary McKay.   Beautiful told story of war.  Reads and feels like Goodnight Mister Tom.  We see the formation of a friendship group in the years before war and how that friendship group shifts as war comes into play.  I shed a tear at the end.  A beautiful book with a Goodnight Mister Tom vibe. 4.8/5 THEMES: war, friendship

The Short Knife by Elen Caldecot.  AMAZON says: It is the year 454AD. The Roman Empire has withdrawn from Britain, throwing it into the chaos of the Dark Ages. Mai has been kept safe by her father and her sister, Haf. But when Saxon warriors arrive at their farm, the family is forced to flee to the hills where British warlords lie in wait. Can Mai survive in a dangerous world where speaking her mother tongue might be deadly, and where even the people she loves the most can’t be trusted?  I really enjoyed this adventure which transported me to another time and place.  A worthy contender for the Carnegeie. 4/5

Simon and the Homosapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli.   Simon Spier is sixteen and trying to work out who he is – and what he’s looking for.  But when one of his emails to the very distracting Blue falls into the wrong hands, things get all kinds of complicated.  Because, for Simon, falling for Blue is a big deal … THEMES: sexuality, acceptance, friendship, bullying, loss.  Be aware of language and some references to sexual activity. 4/5

Shadowsea by Peter Bunzl   AMAZON says: Swept into the bright hustle and bustle of New York, Lily, Robert and Malkin discover shadowy secrets lie beneath its surface. For there are chilling goings-on in their hotel…A strange boy held captive, haunted by an undersea mystery; and a revengeful villain with a treacherous plan.  Searching for clues, Robert and Lily are plunged into deep water… But can they reveal the deadly truth before the secrets submerge them? Peter Bunzl is a master storyteller and knows how to craft a good story.  This kept me engaged and was a really enjoyable read. 4/5  THEMES: adventure

The Somerset Tsunami by Emma Carroll. AMAZON says: When Fortune Sharpe carves a boat from a tree with her beloved brother, Gem, she’s only having a bit of fun. But now is not the time for a girl to be drawing attention to herself. She is sent away to find work dressed as a boy. Luckily a rich manor house is hiring.  Yet Barrow Hall’s inhabitants harbour dangerous secrets of their own, the suspicious owner is hunting for witches, and the house itself is a little too close to the sea . . . An enjoyable enough adventure story 3/5 for me

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The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne.  Barnaby Brocket doesn’t quite fit in with his family and, through no fault of his own, ends up on an adventure meeting plenty of people who don’t quite fit in.  A fantastic book about accepting who you are and being proud about it. 4.8/5 THEMES: identity, friendship, acceptance

The Thief Who Sang Storms by Sophie Anderson, The Island of Morovia is shaped like a broken heart. The humans live on one side of the island, and the alkonosts – the bird-people – live on the other. But it wasn’t always this way… Linnet wishes she could sing magic. But magic is forbidden and she has been banished with her father to the Mournful Swamp. She misses her old life, and dreams of reuniting with her friends. When her father is captured for taking a precious jewel, Linnet must set out on a treacherous journey. Travelling through alligator pools and sinking sands with new friends, she learns how to be brave, and discovers something even more powerful than singing magic. Something that could save her father, and heal the broken heart of her island once more…Enjoyable enough.  Quite a formulaic adventure story but Sophie Anderson writes in such a way that draws the reader in. 3.5/5

Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nichols. Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, three courageous young women join the fight for the vote.  Really interesting read about feminism and the empowerment of women. 4/5  THEMES: identity, feminism, friendship, suffragettes, equal rights

Toffee by Sarah Crossan.  I am a girl trying to forget.  Marla is a woman trying to remember.  A story that brings the most unlikely pair of people together.  Big fan of Sarah Crossan – not my favourite but still a touching piece. 4/5 THEMES: relationships, loneliness, amnesia

The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne Amelie fell hard for Reese. And she thought he loved her too. But she’s starting to realise that real love isn’t supposed to hurt like this.  So now she’s retracing their story, revisiting all the places he made her cry. Because if she works out what went wrong, perhaps she can finally learn how to get over him.  This is a hard read but an incredibly piece of fiction from a well-established author. 4.5/5 THEMES: abuse, relationships, identity

Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum  Imagine having the perfect friend, one who never steals, lies or bullies.  Now you can, with the TrooFriend 560, the latest in artificial intelligence! What can go wrong with a robot buddy? Especially one that’s developing human characteristics and feelings, and who has just run away with her human? Kirsty Applebaum has become one of my favourite writers after reading The Middler last year.  Really pertinent read about the nature of real relationships etc in a busy technological world.  Some real laugh out louds moment because of amazing voice. 4.5/5  THEMES: friendship, technology, real world.

Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgewick. Yuki and her friend Taka must make sense of the terrible situation and come to terms with the loss of their life as they knew it – and see that through renewal and with resilience, they can emerge from this tragedy with optimism for the future. Interwoven with Japanese folk tales, modern-day ghost stories, and the creation of her very own vibrant manga hero, Yuki finds the courage to overcome extraordinary odds, and take her first steps into the world that lies beyond catastrophe. An incredibly sensitive and harrowing topic but didn’t quite deliver for me 3.8/5.

The unforgotten coat

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottell Boyce.  Two refugee brothers from Mongolia are determined to fit in with their Liverpool schoolmates, but bring so much of Mongolia to Bootle that their new friend and guide, Julie, is hard-pressed to know truth from fantasy. Told with the humour, warmth and brilliance of detail which characterizes Frank Cottrell Boyce’s writing, readers will be transported from the streets of Liverpool to the steppe of Mongolia.  3/5 THEMES: identity, other cultures

Valley of Lost secrets

The Valley of Lost Secrets by Lesley Parr. September 1939.  When Jimmy is evacuated to a small village in Wales, it couldn’t be more different from London. Green, quiet and full of strangers, he instantly feels out of place.  But then he finds a skull hidden in a tree, and suddenly the valley is more frightening than the war. Who can Jimmy trust? His brother is too little; his best friend has changed.  Finding an ally in someone he never expects, they set out together to uncover the secrets that lie with the skull. What they discover will change Jimmy – and the village – forever. An enjoyable read. 3/5

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The Weight of a Thousand Feathers by Brian Conaghan.  Angry, stirring and tender, this is a bold, questioning exploration of the lengths to which we’ll go for the people we love. 3/5

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Keeren Getten. Nothing much happens in Sycamore, the small village where Clara lives – at least, that’s how it looks. She loves eating ripe mangoes fallen from trees, running outside in the rainy season and escaping to her secret hideout with her best friend Gaynah. There’s only one problem – she can’t remember anything that happened last summer. When a quirky girl called Rudy arrives from England, everything starts to change. Gaynah stops acting like a best friend, while Rudy and Clara roam across the island and uncover an old family secret. As the summer reaches its peak and the island storms begin, Clara’s memory starts to return and she must finally face the truth of what happened last year. A pleasant and easy read. 3/5

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle.  AMAZON says: 1941. War is raging. And one angry boy has been sent to the city, where bombers rule the skies. There, Joseph will live with Mrs F, a gruff woman with no fondness for children. Her only loves are the rundown zoo she owns and its mighty silverback gorilla, Adonis. As the weeks pass, bonds deepen and secrets are revealed, but if the bombers set Adonis rampaging free, will either of them be able to end the life of the one thing they truly love? This is a great read. I loved it and cried as well (always a marker for a good story, for me). Beautiful tale of loss and friendship and love 4.5/5

When Stars are Scattered by Omar Mohamed. AMAZON says: Omar and his brother Hassan, two Somali boys, have spent a long time in the Dadaab refugee camp. Separated from their mother, they are looked after by a friendly stranger. Life in the camp isn’t always easy. The hunger is constant . . . but there’s football to look forward to, and now there’s a chance Omar will get to go to school . . .With a heart-wrenching fairytale ending, this incredible true story is brought to life by Victoria’s stunning illustrations. This book perfectly depicts life in a refugee camp for 8-12 year olds.  A heartbreaking yet hopeful and inspiring true story read. 3.5/5

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones.  Murder mystery meets fantasy with strong allusions to Frankenstein which I thought was quite clever.  Enjoyable enough but ploddy and didn’t blow me away.  THEMES: adventure, allusions to Frankenstein 3/5

Wonder by RJ Palacio. ‘My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’  August has a facial disfigurement.  This book charts his journey as he returns to school.  Will it be as awful as he thinks it might be?  A wonderful book with an accompanying film that deals with disability so beautifully. 4.8/5 THEMES: disability, identity, family, friendship