23 February 2010

Book of the Week (49): “Threads” by Sophia Bennett

There’s an awful lot of reality in books for girls: the reality of tower blocks, gangs and the everyday misery of growing up. Boys seem to get guns, spies and saving the world whilst girls get pregnancy, ‘issues’ and boys with fangs – unless of course the book in question has a pink (and sparkly) cover in which case you get girl-meets-boy-plus-misery-before-luv4evah…. But, hang on, the cover of Threads is pink. With sparkles. Does that mean…

No, it doesn’t! There’s romance here, yes, but the romance of perfectly cut clothing, of colour and fit and designers who want to make the world more beautiful. There’s the romance of finding what friendship means. The romance of a world where dreams can come true. The romance of a fairy tale – where the wicked witch is the reality of war-torn Uganda and Cinderella is a dyslexic girl in a tutu and fairy wings. It’s also all about the romance of being yourself, regardless of shape, colour or creed. And most of all it’s about love.

Sophia Bennett won The Times / Chicken House prize for an unpublished author. That this wasn’t snapped up by some publisher long before the prize is a mystery as the writing is fresh, funny and the story is utterly captivating. There’s a sequel, Boys, Beads and Bangles, coming out in May and I for one am eagerly looking forward to finding out more about Crow, Nonie, Edie and Jenny.

Threads also has the best use of a museum in a kids’ book since Charlie Fletcher’s Stone Heart – not the Natural History museum this time, but the glorious Costume gallery next door at the V&A. Go and check them out, as whether you choose to wear a tutu or not, they’re brilliant!

Recommended by Leonie Flynn

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield – another fairy story for girls who like things real.
• The Susanna series by Mary Hogan is about a girl who wants to be a journalist – try Susanna Loves London which has more about the London teen scene, and London fashion too. Or maybe start with Susanna Covers the Catwalk which is about New York fashion week.
• They’re pretty much classics now, but you can’t beat Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries for girls, friends, and family. Oh, and boys. And a bit of fashion too.

16 February 2010

Book of the Week (48): "The Hunger Games 2: Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins

I always worry when it comes to trilogies. If I loved the first volume, there is always the chance of shattered expectations when the second one comes along. Well, I’m glad to announce that the second volume in Collins’ terrific trilogy is another ‘can’t put down’ success.

We left Katniss in what seemed like a relatively safe spot – having won the blood curling Hunger Games, poverty and danger should be behind her, and the wellbeing of her mother and younger sister guaranteed. There was, however, the emotional turmoil to sort out, as Katniss is torn between co-winner Peeta, publicly endorsed as her ‘one true love’, and Gale, her childhood hunting companion for whom she harbours deep, yet confusing, feelings.

But at the opening of the new instalment, Collins doesn’t dwell too long on inner conflicts, though they remain in the background throughout, as Katniss finds that the tyrannical Capitol sees her as a threat, and will stop at nothing to destroy her. Her act of rebellion, and consequent victory when the rules of the game are broken and both she and Peeta come out of the arena alive, has sent shockwaves through the nation, and the disquiet in the Districts grows, threatening the status quo. Katniss is now more than just a girl, more than another winner – she is a symbol, and her famous mockingjay broach now the logo of a silent revolution. If she thinks the forced marriage to Peeta would be the low point of her future, she soon finds out that her fate is far worse.

What I love about this book are the characters. Many action-packed futuristic page-turners compromise on the depth of their characters, opting for identifiable stereotypes. Collins’ protagonist is feisty and a good hunter yet can appreciate a beautiful outfit. She may be unsure of her feelings towards two different young men, but unlike the coy Bella of Twilight, she allows herself to explore the physical aspects of both relationships. I liked Katniss, and her honest voice carried me easily through the twists and turns of the plot. Here’s hoping that part three will be just as good.

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

  • Unwind by Neal Shusterman also takes place in a future America where teenagers can be ‘aborted’ by their parents if they are branded trouble-makers. These teens are sent to be ‘unwound’ – each and every organ harvested from their bodies to become transplanted elsewhere. Three unlikely companions challenge the system and attempt to escape.
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – a first of a trilogy following Todd, his talking dog, and a strange girl running from Mayor Prentiss’ man-only regime in search of a safe place on an alien planet.
  • Epic by Conor Kostick – in Erik’s colony, everything is decided by Epic, a complex computer game, where your skills can get you status and wealth in real life. What seems like a fair chance for all has in fact resulted in huge social gaps where Central Allocations – the powerful and rich elite – control society, while many are overworked and poor. Erik sets out to change the system in part one of a riveting saga.

13 February 2010

Chaos Walking 3: Monsters of Men

I've just finished reading Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness, the concluding part of the Chaos Walking trilogy.

If you're a follower of this blog you'll know how much I liked the first two in the series. But the third is something else altogether. Absolutely magnificent. I had really high expectations, and it cleared them by a mile.

I can't tell you anything about it, except that fans of the first two are in for a huge treat when this comes out in May; and if you've not read the first two yet, you have just under three months to do that and get yourselves ready for
Monsters of Men. It's out on May 3rd and you really won't want to miss it.

08 February 2010

Book of the Week (47): "Vampirates: Empire of Night" by Justin Somper

Justin Somper’s latest foray into the world of the Vampirates is, without a doubt, his best yet.

Fast-paced and genuinely moving in places, Somper focuses less on established favourites such as Lorcan and instead moves the action to Sidorio’s ships. Grace and Connor, still trying to come to terms with the fact that they are half-vampire, take on a dangerous mission and are forced to decide where their true loyalties lie. We see more of Stuckley and Johnny, at least one character makes an unexpected return and there’s a surprise death – or two.

But it’s not just the pace of the writing that makes this volume stand apart from the previous books. Somper really seems to be hitting his stride as a writer of horror and there was certainly one scene that I found quite disturbing... and in case you are wondering, that’s a good thing! After all, Vampirates – no matter how handsome – exist on blood; a fact that was certainly downplayed at the beginning of the series.

All in all Empire of Night is a real treat for Vampirate fans and a great way into the series for anyone interested in horror, adventure or good old-fashioned gore. If you can’t wait for its publication, then visit Somper’s excellent website to read an extract and remind yourself of the plot so far.

Recommended by Laura Hutchings

  • More horror? Try Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak.
  • More Vampires? Try Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.
  • Or for more rip-roaring swash-buckling adventure try Eoin Colfer’s Airman.

01 February 2010

Book of the Week (46): "The Ultimate Teen Book Guide"

The magnificent new edition of The Ultimate Teen Book Guide is out today! So what better to choose to recommend as our new Book of the Week? And chosen quite without bias, of course - it just is, objectively, Absolutely the Best Book Ever.

So you can ignore all our other recommendations now. Buy this one. You
must buy it. Lots of copies. We've never read anything so good, ever. Described by its editors as "Touching, thoughtful, dazzlingly funny, charming, intelligent, reliable, insightful, elegant, life-affirming - it is, in short, a masterpiece". It will, quite simply, change your life. Trust us...

Recommended by The Editors of The Ultimate Teen Book Guide

  • The Ultimate Book Guide for 8-12s
  • The Ultimate First Book Guide
  • The Ultimate Teen Book Guide (US)
  • The 'National Year of Reading' UBG digest
etc. etc.