Saturday, 25 August 2012

Dark Parties by Sarah Grant

I have a confession to make. Sara and I used to belong to the same critique group. We used to meet once a month in the wonderful back room of the Sherlock Homes Hotel on Baker Street. I am quite familiar with her work and I saw some parts of this novel in very early drafts. I found them interesting then. As I read them now I am captivated.
Dark Parties is a dystopian near-or-distant future young adult novel. It introduces us to a world that is believable but terrifying. We are close to the protagonist, Neva. The characters are richly drawn. The mystery and suspense are held throughout.  
Grant does something here that I am not sure any other writer has yet done as successfully: she maintains a fast pace and yet allows us to be emotionally close to the protagonist. These are both qualities required in the young adult novel, but it is extremely difficult to get both of those characteristics in at the same time.
She includes a third young adult novel trait: she leaves enough questions unanswered at the end to satisfy the young person’s need to control the story. The reader can decide on the answers. It also leaves the way open for another book. I can’t give any details; that would mean creating some spoilers. A total no-no in reviews. I can tell you, however, that she keeps the mystery and intrigue going in every single sentence.       

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Something Invisible by Siobhán Parkinson

At 182 pages this is a respectable length for a teen / late middle grade book. Yet I read it extremely quickly. I started yesterday morning and I it finished this morning. It just carried me along.
Jake is a pleasant enough young man but falters a little when his baby sister arrives. She is the daughter of his biological mother and the man he calls dad. Sally from round the corner and her elderly next-door neighbour befriend him and give him food for thought. Then some other things happen but I won’t tell you what because I don’t want to spoil it for you.  
Why did it hold me so much?
The chapters are just the right length. Some of them are very short. Some of them are longer but none are too long. All, actually, are just exactly as long as they need to be. Jake’s voice is just right. He’s a great character, anyway, as is Sally, and Mrs Kennedy – the old lady-with-arthritis from next-door. Other adults and children hover in the background but they are no less real or rounded. The adults are clumsy, as is often the case in books written for this age group, yet we can’t help but forgive them. Siobhán Parkinson treats them kindly.
A lovely read indeed.       

Friday, 18 May 2012

Voices of Angels

I’m doing something a little strange this evening. I’m recommending a book my own publishing company has been involved with. Voices of Angels is edited by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt. I actually had very little to do with this book.  I gave one story a light edit. When I read it again I’d forgotten most of it so it was like reading it for the first time. I wasn’t even involved with the proof read this time. The most I did was give it a quick look through to see that the formatting was right.
And it’s sat on my shelf since it came out at the end of last year.
Last week I got round to reading it.
I was entranced. The stories were engaging, gripping and entertaining. All about angels of one sort or another. I wanted to make some extra comments about some of them but another look through the book has convinced me that I couldn’t choose between them; they are all so good.
I’m also convinced that Bridge House produces good books. Phew! What a relief. I’d just read a book published by one of the Big Six and written by a writer I respect. But I enjoyed Voices more. What a revelation!      
£1 from every paperback and a percentage form every Kindle edition sold goes to the Caron Keating Foundation, the charity Gloira Hunniford set up in her daughter’s memory. Gloria Hunniford has written the foreword.     

Saturday, 24 March 2012

That Summer by Sarah Dessen

This isn’t quite what I call “Chicklet-lit”. I define Chicklet-lit as being Chick-lit for the next generation down – the generation that the book-publishing and book-selling industries might define as young adult. Chicklet-lit novels are always a fun, easy read yet are just one stroke more serious than what is written for the more mature Chick-lit reader. Personally, I’m not the greatest fan of them. I usually see them as competently written, following a formula that satisfies and just a little unadventurous. But I’ve read Sarah Dessen before and enjoyed her work. I was already familiar with her This Lullaby – which is in fact on my “further reading” list on one of the modules I teach at the University of Salford, UK. So, although the cover suggests Chicklet-lit That Summer is really something a little different.  
The novel totally absorbed me all the way through. Dessen certainly maintains the setting that so frequently houses Chickletlit – comfortable middle American life, girls interested in boys and young women who laugh and cry a lot and suffer all the normal adolescent anxieties. Yet she uses a more lyrical prose than one would normally find in a Chicklet-lit book. Just into the opening paragraph we read “It must be something about the heat and the smell of chlorine, fresh-cut grass and honeysuckle, asphalt sizzling after late-day thunderstorms, the steam rising while everything drips around it.”  And we can totally identify with main character Haven whom Dessen draws so well. She is rounded, complex and unusual.
My daughter remarked as we looked at the teen section in Waterstone’s “I wish they’d had books like this when I was a teenager.” She is now 30. And had there been books like That Summer available when she was a teenager, I would have gladly bought it for her.              

Friday, 6 January 2012

Powder Monkey

By Paul Dowswell 
ISBN 9780747577218
I’m not usually attracted to boys’ adventure stories which is what the cover suggests this book is. However, I’d already read Paul Dowswell’s Ausländer and found it extremely useful for my Holocaust project as well as being very well written. Also, having lived for thirty years near Portsmouth I’ve developed a fascination for Nelson’s ship, the Victory. So, in the end, I couldn’t resist picking up Powder Monkey off the library shelf.
I wasn’t disappointed. Powder Monkey is also beautifully written. Main character Sam is totally convincing. We start to care about him just a few lines in. The story is told in Sam’s voice. We are right there with him all the way. There is also plenty of camaraderie amongst the men on the Miranda and in some ways the story is quite gentle. Yet there are plenty of spills and thrills and at any one point we are not sure what is going to happen next. And there are enough darker characters to bring  sufficient tension in.
I imagine this novel could appeal to a wide readership. It would be suitable for mature children at the end of primary school, ye there is enough adventure, blood and gore to suit older boys. Older girls may well fall in love with Sam or some of his friends and there is a hint of a love interest. There is enough fast-paced adventure for everyone.  
It is clear that Dowswell has been thorough in his research. Yet he does not overwhelm us with his knowledge. He simply creates a thoroughly believable world.