NEW TITLES

This month's selection of books for KS3/KS4 readers includes some great action adventure as well as brilliant coming-of-age stories that explore complex themes of life and death, love and betrayal, and finding one's own pathway.

Boy X
Dan Smith

Chicken House Ltd

ISBN 9781909489042

Summed up in three words by the publishers as 'Action', Survival, Terror', I'd have to agree. I read this book in one sitting, I just had to find out what would happen to Ash before I put it down. The book opens with Ash McCarthy, returning home after his dad's funeral, before he wakes up in a strange, white room with no memory of how he got there. The only familiar thing he finds when he wakes up, are his dad's identity discs on the table next to his bed. These and the mantra his dad taught him 'I am Ash McCarthy. I am strong. I can do this', are all he needs to find the strength to look for his mum and a way out. Wandering through the corridors, he works out that he is in a Biomesa facility (the company his mum works for) in a jungle. He also finds out that his senses have gone into overdrive; he can see, hear and smell things that he has never noticed before. Ash meets Isabel and she helps him to piece together how and when he got to the island of Isla Negra, near Costa Rica. For the rest of the story Ash has to find out why he is on the island. That turns out to be the key to saving himself, his mum and the rest of the world from a group bent on wiping everyone off the face of the planet. This would be great for older reluctant readers, being short with loads of action and adventure. I would also recommend it for more able readers who want a quick read. 352 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Kerra Dagley, school librarian.

Boy X
Counterstrike
Peter Jay Black

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN 9781408851494

In their latest adventure, the Urban Outlaws continue to use plenty of gadgets and cunning plans to thwart their arch enemy, Hector's attempt to obtain a deadly, but mysterious weapon. Tested to the limits of their ingenuity, they also face dealing with personal old scores which are still painful. Will this adventure take them to breaking point? As with every Urban Outlaws story, this is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure with great characters. There are gadgets galore and the groups' antics are ever more daring, pushing their skills to new levels. The challenge of retrieving the weapon from its location - locked behind five levels of security challenges under an oil refinery - exposes more of the characters to the reader. Jack, the meticulously planned, highly organised leader of the pack, finds his focus drifting as he worries about other issues and forms a dodgy alliance; the events around Charlie's father's death are explored, showing her in a different light; the indestructible Slink is wounded. Everything about this book makes it appealing to children: the lurid covers, the gadgets, the action, the pace, the very diverse and equally strong characters - even the font used and the spacious feel to the page layout invites the reader to read on! This is a great series- well worth investing in! 315 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Counterstrike
Time Travelling with a Hamster
Ross Welford

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008156312

When Al Chaudhury discovers his (dead) father's time machine, he is set a challenge which involves going back to the 1980s. He quickly finds himself involved in breaking and entering, setting fire to a school, lying, stealing, and trying not to lose his hamster, Alan Shearer. This is a very clever story, combining lots of science, interesting facts, humour and a very well-plotted story. Full of twists and turns, plenty of adventure and wonderful characters, the book leads to a very satisfying conclusion. Family relationships are at the heart of this story, particularly those between the male figures. Without wishing to give too much away, the relationship between Al and his father is cleverly explored and developed. Al's grandfather, Byron, is a delightful character who adds much humour and love to the story. A challenging read, this will appeal to anyone who likes a read that keeps them on their toes and offers plenty to think about. 400 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Time Travelling with a Hamster
Hour of the Bees
Lindsay Eagar

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN 9781406368154

Carol and her family stay with her grandpa at his desert ranch for the summer. This is the grandpa she has never met as her father walked away from the ranch and his father years ago. Despite Grandpa having dementia, Carol feels a strong connection with the old man and comes to love his stories, the old ranch and the searing desert. Over time, Grandpa tells the tale of how the ranch and village used to be; full of life, with a glistening lake and an ancient tree that was always in blossom and busy with bees. He also tells of how this idyllic life was ruined. Linked to his stories is the emerging tale of the beautiful Grandma Rosa and how her wanderlust and thirst for adventure affected the family, and the painful rift between Grandpa and his son which is never spoken of. Dramatic revelations occur when the ranch is finally sold at the end of the summer, and Grandpa is taken to a nursing home. It's a wonderful story of the importance of roots and family love. This is a coming of age story about not being afraid to live your life to the full and follow your dreams, but refreshingly it does also make you consider the potential selfishness of this in the effects it has on those we love. Like the soft buzz of the bees that mysteriously follow Carol around, this story will continue whispering in your ear long after you put it down. 366 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, school librarian.

Hour of the Bees
Phoenix Burning
Bryony Pearce

Stripes Publishing

ISBN 9781847156709

Phoenix Burning is the follow-up to Phoenix Rising, an action-packed adventure about a future world where rising sea waters and a apocalyptic volcanic eruption have virtually destroyed life on Earth. People are surviving as best they can, including the crew of The Phoenix, a pirate ship with many enemies. The ship's ultimate goal is a fabled island where it is hoped the crew can live out the rest of their days in peace. However, rival ship the Banshee is on their heels and has the same goal in mind. Both ships are equipped with solar panels, which is the only way to reach the island in a world where fuel barely exists. But neither ship has an inverter, the part that is required to make the panels operable. Only one place could have inverters - the secretive and heavily guarded Solar Order cult on the island of Gozo. The only way to access the island is to take part in the annual Festival of the Sun and Moon, where two outsider teenagers are chosen to be the sun and moon representatives for the year. The Banshee and Phoenix come together in an unlikely truce to put their teenagers, Toby and Ayla, onto the island to try out for the roles of the sun and moon representatives. However, no one outside the cult knows what are the punishments for failure and even if they find the parts, how will Toby and Ayla escape from the heavily-guarded sanctuary? The world Bryony Pearce creates is carefully thought out and credible and the challenges the teenaged characters go through to be chosen as the sun and moon representatives are full of tension and excitement. However, be warned that there are some tough moments and violence; this story is not for the faint-hearted, but those who love adventure in spades and a touch of romance will love it. 416 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

Phoenix Burning
Broken Sky
L. A. Weatherly

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781409572022

In Broken Sky, author Lee Weatherly builds an intriguing and believable alternate 1940's, albeit set in the future, where war is against the rules. Instead of war (which led to the previous civilisation's destruction), peace is maintained by individual pilots whose airborne fights determine the outcome of disputes over issues from territory boundaries to mineral rights. Into this world steps Amity, who lives to fly. She is one of the 'Peacefighters' and is deeply aware of the responsibilities she shoulders during each of her flights. She recognises the growing threat posed by a powerful neighbouring state whose leader John Gunnison - who is likened to Hitler and the Nazis - uses astrology to drive his decisions and to control his enemies. Gradually, Amity comes to believe that the fights she so firmly believes in are compromised and that peace is under threat, but questioning the status quo would put her and all those she loves in peril. One of the most powerful things about this novel is the world-building Weatherly has done, with the atmosphere drawing on 1940's film noir and providing a tense background to the heightening tension and moves towards all-out war. The impact that bigger political decisions have on individuals and families is also played out. The other highlight is Amity herself as we gradually find out what has created this brave and emotionally closed-off Peacefighter. We discover more as she re-unites with Collie, her best friend from her childhood who quickly becomes more than this when he re-enters her life as another Peacefighter. The characters are believable and Amity, especially, engaging. Look out for an incredible twist in the final pages - it changes the way you read the entire novel. Clever and satisfying. 500 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

Broken Sky
Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue
Sarah Rubin

Chicken House Ltd

ISBN 9781910002865

This is not James Bond for girls but a detective story which is from time to time quite violent. Alice is bundled into a car by two men, which is quite unnerving at the start of a story about a 12 year old girl. Alice has solved problems before for Sammy Delgado but not of this nature. His father's chief scientist, Dr. Learner, who has apparently been researching invisibility, has disappeared from his office which he entered but was not seen leaving on CCTV. Alice lives with her father, a reporter. Her sister, who lives with their mother, has come to stay. Della has aspirations to be an actress and has come to audition for the part of Annie. She and Alice have to share a room which causes friction, and with the long hot summer stretching ahead, Alice fears she may be spending a lot of time in the library - which is fine as she is a maths nerd. Suddenly, however, she is caught up in the disappearance of Dr. Learner, visiting his very smelly flat with Kevin, a boy from school who has attached himself to her. This leads them to the premises where they find Dr. Learner, but then Alice and Kevin are tied together by two men and the scientist is taken away. Alice manages to cut herself free but then falls from the balcony and Kevin follows her still tied to the chair. Both are quite seriously hurt. Eventually Alice solves the mystery and Dr. Delgado is unmasked. All this is told in very American prose, although bizarrely there is mention of The Independent and The Times newspapers, possibly an attempt to Anglicize the text? Alice is a very spunky heroine and she and Kevin make an unlikely pairing. Her rather chaotic home life is well portrayed, and the relationship with her mother is not over dramatized but told realistically. The fact that the violence occurs makes this for 12+ and does rather spoil this pacey and enjoyable story, which could have been told without it. This is the first of stories about Alice, although there is mention of her solving a previous mystery for Sammy. 285 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian.

Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue
Underwater
Marisa Reichardt

Macmillan

ISBN 9781447287360

Sixteen year old Morgan doesn't go to school. She studies online and lives a reclusive life in the apartment she shares with her Mum and young brother, Ben. We gradually learn that she used to be a champion swimmer who, when she wasn't training, loved to have fun with her friends. Something has changed all that and we gradually learn about the traumatic events which have caused Morgan to break down so dramatically. Told in the first person, the book chronicles Morgan's slow recovery. We meet a cast of characters who all play their part in helping her to face what has happened and rediscover enjoyment in life. Evan, the boy who moves into the apartment next door, is obviously attracted to Morgan but we wonder whether he will be able to handle her problems. Brenda, her counsellor, patiently tries to build Morgan's confidence and coax her to take steps outside her front door. Her Mum works long hours to support her family and is tirelessly supportive while dealing with her own problems while Ben just wants his big sister to see him act in a school play. The reader becomes fully involved in Morgan's story, her triumphs and setbacks. The characters are well drawn and likeable and I found myself really hoping Morgan would recover but never certain that she would be able to re-engage with life outside her apartment. The gradual discovery of the true circumstances that caused Morgan's breakdown adds to the tension and keeps the reader interested. This is an ultimately uplifting read which should appeal to readers of 12+ who like a book with a romantic element. 279 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Karen Poolton, College Librarian

Underwater
Anna and the Swallow Man
Gavriel Savit

The Bodley Head Ltd

ISBN 9781782300526

This is a story of war, set during the Second World War but timeless in that it looks at man's inhumanity to man. It is also an adult's view of a child's experience of war, of being a wandering refugee, evading capture. Anna, who is a precocious seven, is left by her father while he goes to a meeting in Krakow in 1939. She does not know he will not return and waits patiently for him, but is discovered by the Swallow Man, an enigmatic figure who can conjure up a bird for her. Anna follows him and they start wandering across Poland, keeping on the move and away from people finding food and shelter where they can. It is not clear why this is necessary nor why he wants to keep walking until the very end of the story. At one point Anna encounters a Jew, Reb Hirschl, who shows the child that life can be fun and entertaining and not full of fear, but a meeting with the Pedlar threatens the threesome and the Swallow Man kills him. Reb cannot accept this, so he leaves and Anna and the Swallow Man find Reb's body in the woods, a reminder that the war is near. The leadership of the Swallow Man is lost when his medication runs out and there is a distressing scene when Anna is forced to do something against her will in order to obtain it for him. The story ends when he enables Anna to take a boat to safety. This is an extraordinary first novel, with many layers, and requiring a certain maturity to understand and ingest. It tells of a yearning for a free and better life that the Wolves (Germans) and the Bears (Russians) were trying to destroy. Thoughtful teenagers will find much to reflect on in this amazing novel. 240 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher.

Anna and the Swallow Man
More of Me
Kathryn Evans

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781474903028

'More of Me' is a gripping thriller. It opens with the description of a new being bursting out of another person and becoming her. But this is not some fantasy set in outer space; this is happening her in Britain and now. Teva is the new being and she is the latest in a long line of Tevas that all live with their mother in the same house. Things are different now; there is tension between this Teva and her predecessor. There are friends who don't notice the change and a boyfriend that is not so sure. The strange thing is that they are all the same person but each time they regenerate, they're slightly different and those that are left behind stay the same age. This is a tense psychological thriller and as you read through it, you are caught up in Teva's internal struggle with what is happening and what it all means. For most of the book you are wondering what is real and what is not. Is this a weird fantasy or is Teva suffering from a rare psychological condition? Why does her mother not seem to notice what is going in on and why is her father such a secret? Personally, I was disappointed by the ending but I think the target audience will love it. There a lot of questions just lurking around the corner from this book's happy conclusion that I would love the author to explore. A weird and very readable thriller. 332 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Caroline Downie, librarian

More of Me
The Nest
Kenneth Oppel

David Fickling Books

ISBN 9781910200865

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this story; it sounded a little creepy and I thought I may not enjoy it as 'creepy' isn't normally my genre of choice! However, I was soon hooked on what turned out to be a very well-written story, which kept you on the edge of your seat as the tension slowly built. The brilliant illustrations add to the eeriness of the tale creating a haunting picture as the story develops. As a shorter read this is perfect for those wanting a great story that doesn't take too long to read. The Nest is told through the eyes of a boy called Steve, whose mother has just given birth to his baby brother, Theo, who was born with very severe health problems. The implications of this are not quite clear but you know he is not going to be 'normal' if he survives at all. And actually this story very cleverly looks at what does 'normal' mean anyway? Steve is offered a chance to help 'save' his baby brother by a very unusual visitor, who appears at first in his dreams and seems heaven-sent. But she is no ordinary 'angel' and it soon becomes clear that her intentions are really quite unpleasant. The story cleverly weaves between the fantasy and the reality of the situation and you're never quite sure what is 'real' and what is a nightmare.... I found the hero of the tale very likeable, immediately connecting with his plight and it was his voice that kept me reading. Steve is a boy who has had his own anxieties to face and now he is trying to help his new brother and indeed, his whole family, but he is not sure what the 'right' thing to do is. His relationships with those around in him in what is a very difficult situation; facing the fact that the newest addition to the family is potentially facing a life limiting disability; are totally believable and as you would imagine them to be. The author paints the picture of emotions that Steve';s parents are feeling simply and beautifully, which I found very moving. Steve's younger sister provides a balance to this with an element of light-heartedness and although at first she does't seem to have much of a role in the plot, a surprise towards the end creates a clever twist. It's not really until you get to the end of the story you realise you have read something that deals with many issues at once; anxiety, illness, family relationships, facing your fears, hope even at the darkest of times. And I think that's the cleverest thing about it; it's a fable for anyone facing something out of the ordinary, it's about being brave and making a choice and standing by that choice no matter what. Read The Nest. You won't ever look at a wasp in the same way again! 244 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Victoria Dilly, school librarian.

The Nest
Cecelia Ahern

ISBN 9780008125103

I have always enjoyed Cecelia Ahern's novels and was intrigued about what her first teenage/young adult novel would be like. It turns out that it is a brilliant, absorbing, thought-provoking read, which I foresee becoming one of the next big teenage series. There may be many other dystopian series are out there already but this one, I think, is a very welcome addition to the collection. It is very well written as you would expect from such a bestselling author and for me, it is much more intriguing and evocative for not being set far off into the future or after an apocalypse or involving vampires and the like (however, I have been known to enjoy all of those things as well). Set in a world very recognisable to ours today, Celestine and her family live in a country which has two sets of rules to abide by, firstly, the ordinary criminal laws and secondly, the directives issued by The Guild. After having suffered a major economic crisis caused by those in power who, it is felt, got away with their poor decisions and the devastating consequences, The Guild was developed to weed out such Flawed individuals from powerful roles. However, over time its reach has extended into all areas of society, all demographics; nobody is untouchable. The head of The Guild, Judge Bosco Crevan, boasts that they will soon have a 'morally, ethically flawless society'. But is this at all possible and how far is too far in the desire to get to this ideal? Crevan, for many, is a scary figure, someone to 'fear and revere', but to Celestine, he is a friend, the father of her perfect boyfriend, somebody who she respects and admires. Celestine is logical, sees things in black and white, trusts the system, and never questions it. The Guild and Crevan are always right and those that they have deemed Flawed deserve all that the non-Flawed society can throw at them. This includes everything from wearing an identifying armband, having a curfew, allocated seating on public transport, limited prospects and following a strict basic diet right up to be branded, their skin seared with an F in one of five different places on their body depending on what misdemeanour they have perpetrated. One day an event occurs which shocks Celestine to her core and her certainty in the system is shaken. She is soon knocked even further when she witnesses something, which to her, just does not make sense. Her logic and tenacity lead her to becoming involved and as events escalate she finds herself on the wrong side of The Guild. It is from here that she begins to question everything and sees society, The Guild, and the Judge, her once upon a time idol, as they really are. Celestine is a perfect citizen of The Guild, she is naive, selfish, inward-looking, and is quite blind to other people's feelings and lives. Because of this, she is the perfect heroine of the novel. We follow her growing self-doubts and essentially her becoming a rounder, kinder, stronger person. She captivates the reader and we feel for her as her naivety leads her into several dangerous situations. She is bewildered by why so many different groups, including various underground anti-Guild movements, want her as their figurehead. As she becomes more aware and questions her society more she begins to realise that she holds all the power and it is up to her how she uses it. There is so much to talk about in this novel; it is engaging and thought-provoking. It has intense moments, I so wanted somebody to barge into the room and rescue her in one particular scene. It has many parallels with our world (both historically and contemporary), including media manipulation and political deception as well as how the Other in society is treated. It is possible to make parallels with so many other works, not just teenage dystopian series but novels such as The Scarlet Letter. I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment. 416 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Natalie Plimmer