NEW TITLES

Adventure leads the way in this month's reviews of strong YA titles with murder, revenge and political intrigue featuring in the following titles, as well as some strong 'quieter' fiction for teenaged readers.

Murder In Midwinter
Fleur Hitchcock

Nosy Crow Ltd

ISBN 9780857636386

A busy Christmas shopping trip on Oxford Street turns into a nightmare for Maya when she sees a man threatening a woman with a gun. Horrified by what she has seen, her family notify the police. The investigation takes a dramatic turn when a body is pulled out of the river on the Southbank. The police now have a suspect and so the man-hunt begins. Maya's family are terrified and following the disappearance of her sister, the police decide to move Maya to safety. The city girl finds herself living in the Welsh mountains with her aunt and obnoxious cousin Ollie. The isolated farmhouse seems like the perfect place to hide, particularly with the addition of police protection; everyone assumes she will be safe there until the culprit is caught. Maya busies herself helping her aunt with the horses and avoiding Ollie. However Maya is uneasy and senses she is being watched. The weather turns and the family become trapped on the farm by a snow-storm, which does nothing to ease Maya's growing anxiety. A visitor to the farm house makes everyone realise that the police's suspect knows exactly where Maya is. What lengths will the culprit go to find Maya? The action from the off is fast-paced, which I think will appeal to the boys particularly. It's full of tension which makes for a great class reader. Hitchcock's vivid descriptions mean readers will feel like they are there in the Welsh countryside experiencing the extreme weather, trying to survive the frightening predicaments Ollie and Maya find themselves in! Children will love trying to work out what exactly Maya saw that day! This thriller had me gripped! I highly recommend it! 254 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Elizabeth Harris, Teacher

Murder In Midwinter
A Very Good Chance
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Orion Children's Books

ISBN 9781444014785

Minty tells the story in this book, set in a small town in Ireland. The teenage characters, now at secondary school, have mostly all grown up together, but two new boys enter the equation, and are treated with suspicion, including the silent and mysterious Ned, whose attendance is erratic, and who doesn't apparently even want to fit in. Minty gradually gets to know him, and discovers he lives in the Nettlebog by the river, an area that has a special attraction for the youngsters, in an old caravan with his grandmother. His great talent is horse riding. Minty herself has family problems, as her parents separate and divorce, without really letting her know what's happening. Add to the mix a glamorous Italian teacher, who is captivated by the horsemanship skills she sees, and has to tell the class all about the Palio race in her native Siena. Ned is training for the Ballycross horse race, a slightly illicit event, which has parallels with the Palio. The book captures the emotions and frustrations of being a teenager, not quite in the world of adults, but affected by the emotional turmoil around. It is also good at portraying an unlikely friendship, the excitement of learning to ride, and the appeal of doing things that are not really allowed. Taking risks and not always doing the conventional are appealing, and the author strikes a balance here. The health and safety paranoia of the head teacher and a local council oficer are made fun of, but there is a serious point about the danger of being over risk-averse. Ned could seem from the outside a dangerous character, outside the law, and a delinquent - but as Minty (and Miss Serralunga) realise, he is a kind, resourceful and independent boy, who has hidden vulnerabilities, but is a force for good. There is a message here about not judging people without getting to know them. All this sounds a bit serious, but the book handles it with a lightness of touch. The first person narration helps develop Minty's character, and there is plenty of humour as well. 240 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Carol Williams, librarian.

A Very Good Chance
Instructions for a Second-hand Heart
Tamsyn Murray

Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN 9781474906500

Having spent the last year in hospital, Jonny needs a heart transplant before it's too late. Niamh's twin brother has just died in a tragic accident for which she feels to blame. Fate brings the two together as Jonny strives to establish an identity for his new healthy self, searching the internet for clues to find out about his anonymous donor. Meeting his donor's sister just makes life more complicated for Jonny, however, as he realises his feelings for her, but Niamh doesn't know the real reason Jonny's sought her out. Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Jonny and Niamh, this is a beautifully-written and sensitive story about the effects of illness and loss, guilt, and different types of love. 323 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Sam Pett, school librarian.

Instructions for a Second-hand Heart
The Secret of Nightingale Wood
Lucy Strange

Chicken House Ltd

ISBN 9781910655030

This is a story about grief at the loss of sons, and its effect upon the mothers principally but also upon a girl left to fend for herself with the aftermath. Henrietta and her family, mother, father, baby Piglet and Nanny Jane have moved to a house near the sea after the death of the eldest child, Robert, in a house fire. Mama has collapsed after Piglet's birth, unable to cope with the loss of her son, and Father takes a job abroad, leaving Dr. Hardy to take care of his wife. Dr. Hardy has some very weird ideas and is obsessed with allowing his colleague to undertake some very risky experiments on the mind and body of his patient. Henrietta sees a fire in the woods behind the house and encounters Moth, a wild woman living there in a caravan, who shows her great kindness. At home things go from bad to worse as Dr. Hardy tries to remove Mama, and does succeed in taking Piglet for his wife who has lost her own child. Henrietta takes solace in the perceived presence of her brother, and taking her courage in her hand, manages to rescue Mama from the hospital, take back Piglet and summon her father home. Moth, too, has lost her son in the Great War and the two women console each other and the family comes together again. This is a thoughtful novel but I am not quite clear who it is aimed at. The subject matter requires real maturity and could be very upsetting for a young reader. The cover does not reflect the content at all and makes it seem like an adventure story for 9-11 which it most certainly is not. There are many literary allusions to stories of the time, Henrietta is reading Little Women for example, and these are lovely to see in a story as they may well lead to further exploration of these books. Henrietta is twelve and it seems to me that a mature 12+ girl would find much in it to think about and digest, but the childlike cover might really deter her. 336 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Janet Fisher, librarian.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood
The Diabolic
S. J. Kincaid

Simon & Schuster Childrens Books

ISBN 9781471147142

Nemesis is a Diabolic. She is an engineered humanoid creature designed to kill on command and to protect Sidonia, the girl she is bonded to with her life. Diabolics are fearless, they don't have emotions, they are not humans, they are possessions of their masters. Nemesis grows up with Sidonia, who is the only person who loves her and treats her as a person and an equal, even to the extent that she insists that Nemesis must possess a soul and be capable of love. Sidonia's father is part of a faction that is growing increasingly rebellious against the imperial ruling family who have remained in power through ruthlessly murdering anyone who gets in their way and banning scientific education to ensure that they retain control of all technology. So when Sidonia is summoned to the galactic court by the Emperor, they cannot refuse, even though they fear the Emperor will kill her as the family's punishment for speaking against him. The only way to protect Sidonia is to send Nemesis in her place, to pretend to be her. One mistake, and this dangerous secret will be discovered and the whole family be destroyed. Nemesis soon discovers she's not the only one at court with a deadly secret, and she becomes embroiled in court intrigues, plots and counter-plots. Can she fool the emperor's mad heir, the Emperor himself and most of all the Emperor's mother who has killed many of her own family, including her own children to retain her grip on power? Full of intrigue and plot twists, great characters some romance and loads of action, it's rightly billed as the next big thing in YA. Entirely gripping. 403 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick

The Diabolic
The Light That Gets Lost
Natasha Carthew

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN 9781408835876

From a cupboard young Trey hears the violence and slaughter of his mother and father and although his older brother, Billy, is not killed, he is left with life-changing injuries. Trey becomes a rebel, looked after in care homes and by foster parents, driven by anger and revenge. A chance snippet of overheard conversation sets Trey on the trail of the man he believes is responsible for his parents' death and eight years later, at a juvenile camp for young offenders on the moors of Cornwall, Trey is very close to the revenge he seeks. It's a stark world; containment, harsh work and meagre rations; there's no programme for education or behaviour management here. Trey chooses farm work, which sounds better than slaughter or butchery but in effect is just digging ditches and erecting more fences. Into his life comes the protagonist Wilder, bully boy and self-elected leader; Lamby, victim of Wilder's bullying, oddball with slightly mad behaviour; and Kay, self-assured, implacable and strong. At first Trey rebuffs Lamby's friendship but by the time Wilder takes over the camp, Trey, Lamby and Kay are firmly cemented together with each one playing a vital part in their survival. A gritty read, often using Cornish dialect and slang. I found the jagged phrases difficult and a distraction; Natasha has a roundabout way of saying things. However, I did like the images she conjures with her words, 'Trey sieved the words like grit on a shovel', is just one of many. I couldn't place the story in a time frame, I think it's set in the future with climate change causing extreme weather conditions and society breaking down into anarchy. But then why choose the church as the corrupt leaders' front for their drug dealing? The church is a standard scapegoat used too often, something fresh would better match Natasha's poetic tone. 260 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Sue Gillham, librarian.

The Light That Gets Lost
Saint Death: shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Media 2018
Marcus Sedgwick

Orion Children's Books

ISBN 9781444000528

Arturo has survived by keeping his head down and staying out of trouble. Not easy in the violent, crime-ridden, narcos-controlled communities on the Mexico-US border. He lives in Anapra, one of the poorest neighbourhoods and only yards from the boundary fence, his meagre income supplemented by small wins at the card game Calavera. One day his estranged friend Faustino appears, begging for help to escape the drug lord who is after him. Faustino had borrowed $1000 from his boss to enable Eva and their baby to escape across the border. With just 36 hours to replace the missing money, the only way is for Arturo to win it. The stakes are raised. It's not just money Arturo is gambling with, but their lives which begin to spin tragically out of control. The gangs are real and dangerous; the sinister Saint Death, Santa Meurte, stalks them the whole time. Santa Meurte, a popular folk saint idolised by the criminal gangs, is mysterious and threatening. Above the entrance to her shrine is written 'No temas a donde vayas, que haz de morir donde debes.' Don't worry where you're going; you will die where you have to.' Saint Death, like all of Marcus Sedgwick's books, is beautifully written. It's a gripping thriller that swept me into a terrifying and unfamiliar world. Dealing - as it does - with issues of migration and the negative consequences of selfish capitalism, it is powerful and timely. Saint Death challenges us to ask what matters. What really matters in life? How highly do we value friendship? What is right, or wrong? What are the most important things in our lives? And is it really possible to cheat death? 272 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by Jane Welby

Saint Death: shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Media 2018