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young adult

The Double Axe : Philip Womack

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pacey re-telling of the Minotaur myth

This is a refreshing and lively version of the Minotaur myth is pitched to capture the attention of a new generation of readers.  The story is told from the viewpoint of  13 year old Stephan, son of King Minos, and includes all the familiar characters: Ariadne, Daedalus, Theseus and Icarus, all in slightly different but very believable roles and concludes with a satisfyingly terrifying ending.

The Nest : Kenneth Oppel

… compelling, intense story about witchy wasps and a boy who fights back …

When Steve’s brother is born, something isn’t right.  The baby is waiting129 for an operation and may not pull through.  In his dreams, Steve is visited by a witchy albino wasp who says she and her sisters are going to fix the baby.  Can Steve trust her?

Oppel has created a beautifully realised world of childhood fantasy and a brave hero who fights through his own fears to save his brother.

The Nest is a short, intense read with a vivid and scary finale.  Recommended.

 

The Door That Led to Where : Sally Gardner

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… London teen caper that slides between the centuries …

AJ has enough to contend in his own hopeless, dead-end life without Slim nicking a gangster’s girlfriend and skateboarder Leon, disappearing after his mum’s death.  Now he’s got a key with his surname on it that leads to the 19th century.  Gardner assured pacing take her vivid characters on an adventure that twists in and out of grim North London council estates and 1830s Clerkenwell through the Jobey door.    The three lads have to dodge the modern day whilst solving a Victorian murder and, in doing so, find a future for themselves.  Recommended.

The Invisible Library : Genevieve Cogman

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steampunk romp through an alternate Victorian London

Cogman has created a great adventure in a fabulous steampunk London with a vibrant heroine, Irene, and her distractingly handsome assistant, Kai.

She’s had great fun populating her London with delightfully fashioned baddies: mechanical centipedes,  robotically controlled alligators, a Fairy Ambassador of Liechtenstein, a ghoulishly fiendish villain, Alberich; and stolid Victorian allies including Inspector Singh and Mr Vale, the Earl of Leeds.  Her sheer exhilaration and imaginative force is a delight to read as these characters tumble across the pages.    Her overarching theme of an Invisible Library linking many alternate worlds adds to the pleasure and the possibilities for further stories.  She wraps it up nicely with a thrilling climax and, in doing so, lays down the springboard for the second in her series, The Masked City, which came out in the UK on 3rd December 2015.

 

Maresi : Maria Turtschaninoff

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a beguiling different story

Billed as a “Finnish feminist fantasy”, Maresi is a beguiling different story about a settlement on an island off an Northern continent.  Gathered here to worship the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone, the women are also come here to gain protection from the harsh, male dominated life on the mainland.   Written by Maresi,  “recording my memories so they are fresh and sharp in my mind”, the story starts slowly, describing daily life in the Red Abbey, and builds to a dramatic climax when outside forces threaten the Abbey and Maresi has to face her own personal fears.  A rich satisfying read.

 

RailHead : Philip Reeve

latestbookimagethe romance of the steam age with interplanetary travel : what’s not to like?

A really pleasurable action adventure story following Zen Starling, petty thief and marked man, helter-skelter through a series of dazzling different worlds with an intriguing array of characters.  Reeve translates the romance of train travel into interplanetary voyaging: refashioning the evocative noises of steam, rails, arrivals and departures into futuristic living machines, Station Angels, and the beautifully realised “un-bang”.  He balances the sheer exhilaration of dashing through a high tech universe with the 1930s vibe of plush double deckered carriages of a private, sentient train.  His satisfyingly solid and well thought world is populated with a dazzling collection of characters including a freckled Motorik called Nova; a very memorable Uncle Bugs; Flex, the graffiti artist; and the enigmatic Raven.  Read it.

Fire Girl : Matt Ralphs

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fast paced adventure with thrilling darker undertones, lightened up by a grumpy dormouse.

In his first novel, Ralphs has created a feisty young witch, Hazel, and some entertaining side characters such as Titus White, the drunken Witch Finder, and Bramley, a dormouse familiar.  The plot starts relatively slow and gets faster and faster, with some excellent twists towards the end.   Ralphs conjures up some truly scary scenes including the Dreadful Remains and her Poppet – and frightening demons: Baal with his servant, Petrov; blind Rawhead who sniffs out magic; and Spindle, the giant spider.  The ending left me impatient to find out what happens next in the Fire Girl’s story.

My only very slight quibble is that the dormouse might mislead readers into thinking this was a cute story.  It really is not.  It gets increasingly dark as the story unfolds and there’s a delicious frisson of horror in the last scene.   I don’t want to lose the dormouse.  The partnership is great fun and very useful, I just would like Bramley and his relationship with Hazel to tie in more with the atmosphere of future books in the series.

 

Rebel of the Sands : Alwyn Hamilton

26360.books.origjpg… a mash up of wild west action and desert sands with Djinni magic.

I was given a review copy of this brilliant debut novel by my lovely bookshop, A Festival of Books, in Chipping Campden, as Emily and I share the passion for young adult fiction.

Fast paced, with a feisty female lead and an argumentative love interest, Rebel of the Sands certainly lives up to its hype.

It’s a mash up of wild west action and desert sands with powerful Djinni magic.  There are vibrant scenes: for example, the shooting gallery, the First Class train ride, the desert festival; well drawn supporting characters and a very fast pace all of which is gathered up into a satisfying finale.

I re-read certain scenes because they were so good and I wanted to savour the story – and the writing.  Definitely worth looking out for when it is published in February 2016.

Sorcerer to the Crown : Zen Cho

content“English magic faces its darkest hour”  

An enjoyable  romp with an engaging heroine, Prunella, coming to terms with the twin themes of magic and social manners.

I found the arch language a little difficult at times but, as the pace quickens, Cho gives some glorious scenes of mermaid and dragon familiars battling it out, a gentle love story and a couple of satisfying twists and reveals.

That magic has be to curtailed or diminished is a standard construct – or any difficulty could be very simply despatched  by a lead character; in Sorcerer to the Crown, it is done so by social convention (women aren’t allowed), an old ailment and sensibility (Zacharias) and a lack of magic coming from Fairy land.  All these reasons stand up well though perhaps are a trifle laboured for such a convention.

When Cho stops trying to explain and just has fun with her ideas, the plot speeds along with panache.  And, yes, I did stay up too late to finish it! There are delightful secondary characters: Damerell, Lady Wythe and Mak Genggang; and some well rounded walk-ons parts such as Mr Hsiang.

A very enjoyable novel with scope for sequels.

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