30 April 2010

Book of the Week (58): "The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, vol.1)" by Rick Riordan

This is a brilliant, funny and thrilling novel, full of strange magic and mind-blowing adventure. There is never a dull page - the only thing that stopped me reading it cover to cover was school!

Carter and Sadie Kane suddenly find that they have magical powers and their father has been locked in a sarcophagus. They embark on a dangerous quest to save their father and find that not only are the Egyptian Gods real but they are much closer than they ever could have imagined.

Comic in places, really absorbing, tense and exciting – this is even better than ‘Percy Jackson’!

Recommended by Andrew Lewis, Aged 12

  • For more supernatural adventure, try The Power of Five: Necropolis by Anthony Horowitz.
  • For more adventure on an epic scale, try Airman by Eoin Colfer or Corydon by Tobias Druitt.
  • If you want to know more about Egyptian myth, try hunting out any of the many versions available in your local bookshop or library.

20 April 2010

Book of the Week (57): "Rich and Mad" by William Nicholson

I was quite surprised when I received the review copy of Nicholson’s latest novel for teenagers. I was familiar with his fantasy writing, as well as his screenplays for blockbusters such as Gladiator and First Knight, so a realistic, tender novel about first love and sex was the last thing I expected. Well, some people are just multi-talented – Nicholson is a good writer even when he steps away from the big canvases of alternative worlds or historical epics to focus on the life of two, quite ordinary, teenagers. The novel shifts between the stories (and points of view) of Rich Ross and Maddy Fisher who go to the same school but have very little to do with each other until they find that they have something in common – they are both victims of unrequited love. Maddy is sure that she is having a secret love affair with the gorgeous, but still-to-dump-his-current-girlfriend, Joe Finnigan, while Rich is busy making a fool of himself to get the attention of the I-couldn’t-care-less-whether-you-live-or-die ice queen, Grace. When reality finally kicks in, Rich and Maddy find that they understand each other, have shared interests, and, actually, feel quite comfortable together.

The budding relationship between Rich and Mad is written convincingly and realistically, but the book mostly impressed me with its honesty about sex. From describing sexual feelings to pornography and finally ‘doing it’ – Nicholson is direct, doesn’t recoil from naming body parts, and more importantly, stays away from the ‘double standards’ which annoyingly persist in so many teen novels by showing us a girl who is interested in sex, enjoys and initiates it, as much, if not more than her male partner. Rich and Mad does not feel like sensational reading material as some aspects of Burgess’s ground-breaking Doing It did, and it is all the better for it. My only issue with it is that it still operates within the conservative / educational frame by promoting sex within a ‘proper’ relationship. (For this reason I still prefer Aidan Chambers’s Breaktime and the more recent Good Girls by Laura Ruby.)

Recommended by Noga Applebaum

  • Well, obviously I highly recommend all three novels mentioned in this review. Melvin Burgess’s Doing It is still an important novel about sex for teenagers, even if it is far from perfect, Aidan Chambers’s Breaktime was published in 1978 and is still fresh, exciting and ground-breaking, and Laura Ruby’s Good Girls explores society’s double standards about the sex life of girls and boys.
  • I’d just like to throw in a trailer – Andersen Press are about to publish (July) a short story collection edited by Keith Gray and entitled Losing It, in which an impressive cast of current YA writers give their version of ‘the first time’. Should be interesting.

14 April 2010

Book of the Week (56): "Pretty Bad Things" by C.J. Skuse

Imagine a mash-up of Bonnie and Clyde, the TV series Supernatural and Hansel and Gretel and you’ll get a flavour of Pretty Bad Things. Add in a mullet-rock sound track, the sleaze and glitz of Las Vegas and a tonne of adolescent anger and there you are, deep in a story that sweeps you along at a reckless pace.

Paisley and Beau are twins - ones once famous for surviving three days alone in the woods after the death of their mother. They're 16 now, separated both in distance (by their super-bitch grandmother) and in temperament, as Beau is the geeky quiet boy and Paisley the hell-bent wild-child that no school can tame. Deliberately getting expelled from her last school, she finds Beau and the two of them go on the run, hunting for their long-lost father - last seen in Las Vegas.

I enjoyed the book, but probably not quite as much as some other reviewers. I didn't really believe in Paisley until about half way through the book, and I really never quite believed in her father. I'm not a fan of the current rage for pushing the boundaries of teen fiction with evermore explicitly violent and sexually aware stories - and this book is both. I kept wondering who it was aimed at... 12 year olds? 14 year olds? 16 year olds? When are teen books simply adult books with splashier covers?

I'd say this particular story of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll would be perfect for sophisticated teens - but definitely not for anyone wanting something comforting!

Recomended by Leonie Flynn

  • Kevin Brooks and Melvin Burgess for sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll...
  • Jenny Valentine for realism with real people.

05 April 2010

Book of the Week (55): "Angelica Sprocket's Pockets" by Quentin Blake

It’s by Quentin Blake.

Surely that’s enough of a recommendation for anyone? No? You want more?

This is imagination in a pocket, well, lots of pockets. Angelica Sprocket has a pocket for everything you can think of and even things you wouldn’t believe. It left me wondering what she may have hidden up her sleeve…

Quentin Blake’s illustrations are, as always, full of character and characters. I love the recurring ducks that drink through straws and jump at horns and the alligator escaping the page. Energetic, colourful and playful, it’s a delight to read. It’s a wild adventure in an overcoat that may just leave you wondering if you could be making better use of your own pockets.

Recommended by Tessa Brechin

  • A Quentin Blake favourite of mine is Clown - it has no words and really opened me up to the power of storytelling through pictures.

02 April 2010

David Almond wins 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award

Though this is rather late news (it happened more than a week ago), I did just want to mention how delighted I am that David Almond has won the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award. David is of course the author of many wonderful books, and while to my mind the best of them remain Kit's Wilderness and Skellig, I've never read one I didn't like. He's a favourite of all three UBG editors, and we're particularly proud to have him as the author of the introduction to our Ultimate Teen Book Guide.

Nikki Gamble, who runs the brilliant Write Away site, asked me last week for a few words on why I thought David was a great choice for the HCAA. So for what it's worth, this was my slightly rambly quote...

If you read a lot, you quickly learn that many books are rather like many other books. But this is not always true. David Almond writes books that are unlike anything by anyone else. You can always recognise a David Almond book, and not just the consistent setting, or the familiar way of telling a story, the characters, the prose, but because he seems to see the world quite differently from everyone else. It’s not a fantasy world he lives in, however, it’s not a different world to our own, he merely seems to see things in our own world that the rest of us don’t. And as a result, once you’ve read Kit’s Wilderness, or Skellig, or Clay, you’ll start seeing our world a little differently, too. And really, what more could a reader ask? Almond shows you the things that might be just half-glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, the spirits inside everyday things and places, the shadows lurking behind visible surfaces, the fault-lines between the physical world and the metaphysical, between past and present, life and death. No less than that. His are beautiful books, bold books, they’re books for brave readers who love writing. When we celebrate the pleasure of reading it’s because books allow you to immerse yourself in a world and see it through another’s eyes, and maybe understand something new; when we celebrate the greatness of truly great books it’s because it is these that will deeply change your own perceptions of your own world, and change it, and you, for good. I can think of no one writing for young people today who more deserves celebrating than David Almond.

Book of the Week (54): "Frightfully Friendly Ghosties" by Daren King, illustrated by David Roberts

It’s really a problem. Tabitha Tumbly and her ghosty friends are obliged to share their house with a family of still-alives (the bearded one, the one with high heels, and the two half-sized ones) who keep doing annoying things like locking the attic door when Pamela Fraidy is inside (and there’s a big leggy spider in there with her – and her a nervous wreck to begin with…). And the worst of it, blubs Wither, is that those still-alives keep being so mean to their ghosty housemates! So Tabitha, Pamela, Wither and their friends come up with a plan to befriend the still-alive family. Unfortunately the still-alives don’t seem very happy to have a troop of ghosties trying to get chummy with them. The ghosties are terribly friendly, frightfully modest, and exceptionally polite (especially Charlie, who always remembers to take off his hat), but those mean still-alives still run screaming every time they see them. How rude!

The family bring in a priest, carrying garlic and a cross ("What does the cross mean?" asked Humphrey. "I think," blubbed Wither, "it means he's cross..."), and the ghosties bring in a big scary Ghoul, and, well, then things really get out of hand...

This is a delightful, really very funny story for younger readers, written by the brilliant Daren King and illustrated with all his customary style by the even-brillianter David Roberts, with whom he’s collaborated before, including on the NestlĂ©-winning Mouse Noses on Toast. The story is well-told, witty and eccentric, and those fantastic pictures just bring out the best in it – a perfect match.

Owing to some shameful mistake by the publishers Roberts isn’t credited on the book, but if lots of us buy copies now they’ll have to reprint it soon and get it right next time. So if you needed another excuse…

Recommended by Daniel Hahn