My Top Ten Reads of 2015!

I’m pretty sure when I did my top ten round up last year, I said something along the lines of “Wow, what an outstanding year it’s been for YA & Books in general” but THIS YEAR BEAT THE PANTS OF IT. Seriously, 2015 has seen the publication of some of the most challenging, powerful and evocative novels for Young Adults that have ever been available. The level of diversity, LBQT+ inclusivity and Mental Health awareness is beyond anything it’s ever been in previous years – and while we still have a long way to go, it makes my heart sing to see the dedication of authors, publishers, readers, bloggers and the whole community to actively shout about diversity and to demand better representation in the books they read. The UKYA community is going from strength to strength too, becoming a glowing warm beacon of passion and friendship across the internet that I always feel privileged to be a part of. OKAY, enough of me doing all this gushing – in no particular order, here’s a list of ten of my FAVOURITEST READS from this year! 

The Lost and The Found by Cat Clarke 

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Cat Clarke has a reputation for harsh, bleak thrillers that have a talent for breaking reader’s hearts in two. The Lost and The Found is no exception to her gritty formula, focusing on a family absolutely torn apart by the loss of their daughter thirteen years ago. It has an emotional level to it that’s uncompromising and refuses to look at the world in terms of black and white, letting Faith, its main character, be angry, bitter and selfishly flawed in ways that are deep and understandable. It’s a powerful book that asks a lot of questions, and isn’t afraid to leave those questions unanswered.

Birdy by Jess Vallance

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FRANCES BIRD IS MY BEST FRIEND. Birdy is a sinisterly dark, acid clever little thriller with so much of a skewed sense of unease. Hinging on an obsessive, out of control friendship and coming from a wonderfully unreliable narrator, it’s a slow burning novel that gradually unravels into a sprawling spider’s web of deception, paranoia and constantly escalating madness. It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart, but if you like a book that pulses with psychological trauma and emotional turmoil, then this is a fast paced gem for you. You awful person.

The Next Together by Lauren James 

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Lauren’s debut managed to do something that never normally happens for me – it managed to be a love story that I felt totally invested in! Her characters are witty and sweet, warm and utterly real, and she lets them be quirky and original, without falling into the usual gender stereotypes, and the use of time travel is clever, original and quite often fascinating – well researched and fully formed, and the way it skips between them creates a fresh, paced feel that keeps the plot hanging and pounding. Not to mention a fantastically mysterious open ended conclusion. I’m really looking forward to her next book in 2016!

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell 

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Rundell is the only non-YA title on my list, but it’s one I would urge people of all age to read. She’s got such a phenomenal talent with crafting words, like a true artist, she weaves them flawlessly and with passion and love. She refuses to talk down to her audience, and The Wolf Wilder is a captivating tale of wolves, snow and freedom, spearheaded by a wilful heroine who has more than a dash of Philip Pullman’s Lyra Belacqua about her. The wonderful words are beautifully accompanied by gorgeous inky illustrations that make this book the whole package – a children’s classic that we’ll have on bookshop shelves in fifty, maybe even a hundred years time.

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

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My first ever Hardinge book, and a darkly twisting novel that swirled with mystery and deception, all pulled along by a brilliantly bright, determined heroine trapped in a male-dominated society that really cuts into the reader. She has such a lyrical, haunting way with words that felt hypnotic and made me so intensely jealous, if I’m honest. She pulls in elements of weird fantasy into a windswept period world, creating a sense of unease and paranoia so tangible it practically drips from every page.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness 

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Yup. A Patrick Ness book came out, so OBVIOUSLY it’s on my list. It has to be. He’s managed to yet again create a perfect YA novel – tongue firmly in cheek and fully mocking standard tropes and stereotypes from a lot of mainstream Young Adult lit. It’s all done with love though, and it also manages to tell a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that beautifully looks at the loss of innocence, mental health and the power of friendships and family. Ness manages to blend contemporary drama with weird science fiction vibes seamlessly, shot through with wry humour and a bizarre, charming sense of warmth and sadness. It’s also so wonderfully Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All Of The Above by James Dawson

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James Dawson has had two books out this year, and All of The Above was the author’s first foray into contemporary, and it’s totally astounding. Filled with chaotic, messy and brilliantly real characters with flaws and so much love, it managed to utterly break my heart and completely sucked me in, by allowing its teen characters to be rude and sexually diverse, shunning labels and focussing on emotions. The dialogue is hilarious and cuttingly witty, and the friendships are achingly beautiful, filled with fury and passion. It’s a triumph of a YA novel that doesn’t talk down to or patronise its audience in the slightest.

Remix by Non Pratt 

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Non’s second book is yet another testament to the fact that she might well have one of the best narrative voices in YA. She manages to make her characters speak exactly how me and my friends always used to (and still do, for that fact), and she tackles some important issues that affect teenagers on a regular basis with stark honesty and superbly hilarious heart. Not to mention, Remix is all about Festivals and Music, something that is very very close to my heart, and the book includes some brilliant nostalgia, band nods and musical feelings that made me squeal with delight.

Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 

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Jenny Downham novels don’t come along very often, but when they do, they’re really something special. Unbecoming is a huge mix of diversity, emotion and themes that should feel clunky and forced, but it simply flows and sings flawlessly. It’s a powerfully important book that touches on family and mental illness, as well as examining sexuality and race, all with respect and intelligence. It’s got so much heart and so much warmth to it.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle 

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Easily one of the most original, haunting, captivating and twistingly brilliant YA novels this year, The Accident Season is an absolute powerhouse of a debut novel, one that uses language like wind and magic, to create an unsettling dreamlike atmosphere that sucks you in totally and completely. It’s filled with diverse, whirring characters (Bea will always hold a special place in my heart), and a dark, creeping mystery that has one foot in Fantasy and one in Contemporary Drama. It’s simply outstanding writing.


RIGHT! That’s your lot! This was one of the hardest Top 10 lists I’ve ever pulled together, because honestly YA publishing has been so unbelievably on fire this year! From debuts like The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury and Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, to the latest instalments in some of my favourite series, like Lockwood & Co’s The Hollow Boy, or the final in Will Hill’s outstanding Department 19 horror series –  I can only hope that 2016 builds on this year and delivers even more. Although I have NO IDEA when I’ll get them all read!

Thanks for Reading, and be wonderful to each other.

D for Darran/Dinosaur/Decepticon

 

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Lockwood & Co. – The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud

The third instalment in Stroud’s creeping spectre splashed ghost series is one that I’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for ever since book two, The Whispering Skull, ended with such an explosive cliff-hanger. These books are everything I ever dreamed of reading when I was about nine or ten, and even in my late twenties I devour them eagerly in a few short sittings, staying up into the small hours to try and get as much read as my brain will allow.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

I need book four RIGHT NOW.

The Hollow Boy picks up a little after the events of The Whispering Skull, and a huge area of Chelsea has been cut off from London, due to an unexplained and deadly outburst of ghosts – hundreds roaming the area, leaving many ghost-touched and leaving London’s biggest and best agencies baffled. There’s no obvious source, so all that can be done is teams of agents sweeping the cordoned off zone on a nightly basis, dealing with the overwhelming number of smaller apparitions. London’s smallest agency, Lockwood & Co., have not been requested however, deemed too small to be of any use, much to the annoyance of brightly talented young Anthony Lockwood and his two assistants Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins. As they continue trying to deal with the void left in the rest of the city by the other agencies prioritising Chelsea, the strained relationships between the highly talented young agents begin to reach fraying point. Lockwood’s cold distance is becoming increasingly more frustrating for Lucy, who is still trying to work out her rapidly expanding skills with hearing ghosts and spirits. But Lucy doesn’t just hear ghosts and death echoes, she can talk and communicate with the dead, a skill that is entirely unique as far as she knows. Eventually the stresses and pressures of overworking cause shifts in the structure of the tightknit Lockwood & Co., driving the wedge of uncertainty further between Lucy and Lockwood. When they’re finally asked to come into the Chelsea outbreak to help, the team are no longer operating with their usual haphazard synergy, and there’s something lurking underneath Chelsea that feeds on fear and distrust…

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I cannot recommend this series enough.

I think it’s no small thing to say that this might be one of the best series to come out in the MG age bracket since a certain bespectacled boy discovered he was a wizard. That’s right – Lockwood & Co is a series I just compared to Harry Potter. Not just that, but Percy Jackson, Skulduggery Pleasant – Stroud really stands with the big names. Lockwood’s chilly Sherlock-esque unflappable nature, George’s grubby but brilliant mind and Lucy’s emotionally charged narration all work perfectly to create a warm, diverse cast of characters that I genuinely care about so very much. Each book in the series stands alone superbly as a chilling ghost story, as well as a historical mystery, against a brilliantly realised world of paranormal darkness and a Victorian sense of melancholy, and they’re continuing to build a deep sense of history and mythology in The Hollow Boy. I yearn to know more and more about this universe after each chapter, dreaming of rapiers and rawbones. It balances creepy atmosphere with quirky, wry humour and intelligent plots, and this third instalment contains some of the most haunting moments of the series yet (crawling on all fours… *shudders*)

If you’ve got a strong reader with a love of clever, twistingly sophisticated ghost stories rooted around three vibrant characters then I cannot recommend the Lockwood & Co. Stories enough – they really are one of the greats.

Thanks for Reading…

D

My Top 10 Book Adaptations I wish they’d make!

Let’s be honest – media adaptations of our favourite books very rarely actually stand up to the original source material. From the pure abomination of The Golden Compass, to the passable fun of The Maze Runner, film and TV adaptations never quite manage to capture the same magic and escapism as the books. But, despite all that, we still *want* to see our favourite stories on the big (or little) screen, to see our heroes and villains played out by talent (and beautiful) actors and actresses, and I am not above all that. Even though I know full well that adaptations are hard to pull of satisfactorily, I still thought I’d make a list of TEN ace YA/MG books or book series that I think would make a fantastic Film or TV Show, if done RIGHT. So heeeeeeeeeeeere GOES –

The GONE Series by Michael Grant 

Format: TV Series

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I’ve been a massive fan of the Gone books for years now. Their perfect blend of science fiction, horror and twisting mythology creates a series of books that feels fast, driven and gore-soaked, in a universe that has real depth and history behind it. Author Michael Grant has alluded to the idea of a TV Adaptation on many occasions, and it seems that a deal has been agreed upon, but these things can takes years, even decades to get greenlit, so I don’t think we should be holding our breath. I do think that with a talented young cast and a great set of special effects, the FAYZ could be brought to life superbly, though, creating a dark and unpredictable TV series.

The Three by Sarah Lotz 

Format: TV Series 

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Okay, so this one isn’t YA, but it sure has crossover appeal. I feel like Sarah’s subtle, supernatural (but not quite) tale of mania and paranoia in the wake of a tragic set of plane crashes would make the twisting thriller that Lost always promised to be. It’s full of sudden pitfalls and cliffhangers, and teased out in week by week episodes it could create a superb sense of tension. The rise of social media could push people to talk about each sudden shock ending across the globe and turn the story into a phenomenon, and it has just the right investigative angle to drive the narrative along at a good pace, with the right feeling of discovery.

The Strange & Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton 

Format: Film 

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The visuals in Ava Lavender are absolutely stunning, creating a haunting sense of magical realism that absolutely sings to the heart of readers. I think done right, with a good sense of cinematography and colour palette, then this book could make one of the most stunning visual feasts for decades. The plot is achingly beautiful, spanning generations and filled with youthful energy and hope, with just the right pinch of fantasy about it to make it feel special. It’s got enough breathless romance and tragedy to make a hugely popular stand alone film, and I’d love to see it on the big screen.

The Wells & Wong Detective Mysteries by Robin Stevens 

Format: TV Series 

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Robin’s two books (to date), A Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea, have proven absolute smash hits in the MG world and beyond, capturing a Blyton-meets-Agatha Christie atmosphere that’s been just as popular with adults as they have with children. I feel like a brilliant Sunday afternoon series could be made from these shows, or maybe a CBBC afternoon programme? The brilliant mix of strong morals and genuinely gripping mysteries would be brilliant TV for younger viewers, and the retro feeling would really appeal to adults as well. Getting the right young actresses in to play the precocious Daisy and fabulously level headed Hazel would make the whole thing a charming, wholesome murder mystery show for all the family!

Say Her Name by James Dawson 

Format: Film 

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When I first reviewed Say Her Name, I geeked out an awful lot about the clear love of J-Horror themes and styles that James brought into the story. So, naturally, I feel like Say Her Name has the potential to make a brilliant supernatural horror film! In a genre saturated by dumb teen slasher movies, intelligent supernatural chillers are very hard to come by. Horror is probably my favourite film genre, but honestly finding great examples is tough, and getting tougher, especially if cheap shocks and gore bore you as much as it does me. Say Her Name has just the right feel of urban myth and creeping dread to understand that what you *don’t* see is the most important when it comes to scaring the bejesus out of people.

Othergirl by Nicole Burstein  

Format: Film 

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The world is crying out for more lady superheroes in films, and as Black Widow is constantly being overlooked despite being a legitimate member of the Avengers, it’s high time some original, funny and lovely story came out and took centre stage. Othergirl is Nicole’s debut novel, and I feel like her story of friendship and self -discovery would translate brilliantly to the screen, especially in a down-to-earth way similar to C4’s Misfits. She plays the comic book tropes perfectly, and her passion for the superhero and YA genres really give the story a lovable feeling of fandom and friendship. It’d be a heartwarming and ass-kickin’ flick.

Lockwood & Co. By Jonathan Stroud 

Format: TV Series

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I absolutely love Jonathan Stroud’s MG series about paranormal investigators fighting spooks and phantoms on the streets of a Victorian-esque London, and I think the Gothic feeling of frights and fun would lend itself perfectly to a brilliant TV adaptation. Lockwood himself is a teenaged Sherlock if ever there was one, and he’d make a brilliant lead in a TV show, all genius and trouble darkness, and I feel like the mixture of humour and horror would be hugely popular with kids and adults alike. The books have some brilliant historic mysteries to them that would work so well in a week by week episode format, leaving each week with more questions than the last.

The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle 

Format: Film 

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The Accident Season is probably the best debut YA novel of 2015, in all honesty. The brilliant chaotic mix of magic, love, tragedy and pure angst is a heady cocktail that breaks readers hearts and fills your soul up with hope and melancholy. In the same way that Ava Lavender‘s beautiful visuals would translate so well to the screen, The Accident Season‘s bleak sense of twisted unease would also create a beautifully haunting treat of cinematography. All the characters are wonderfully messy and diverse, and I think bringing them to the screen would be an important step in breaking the cycle of attractive, well adjusted YA protagonists, as well as representing the LGBTQ spectrum much better.

The Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness 

Format: Film Trilogy 

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It’s no secret to anyone how much I love Patrick Ness’ work. Pretty sure the binmen on my street know all about it by now. While we are getting a film adaptation of A Monster Calls soon (and I am SO excited), I feel like The Chaos Walking series (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask & The Answer and Monsters of Men) would make a truly epic and philosophically important science fiction trilogy. From the wonderful concepts and visuals of a hostile, alien environment, to the themes of genocide, gender and humanity, the three books really look at human nature in all of its brutality and love, and the sense of hope and the message that worlds and societies can be changed is one that is so powerful that it deserves as wide an audience as possible. Plus, the core concept is so unique to YA, it’d really make a big change to a lot of the other big YA trilogies out there.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman 

Format: TV Series 

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“But Darran,” you cry “Didn’t they already make a film based on The Northern Lights?”

SHUT UP NO THEY DIDN’T WHAT EVEN WAS THAT. An Alethiometer is NOT A GOLDEN COMPASS WHY IS THAT EVEN A THING?! That film was SO BAD AND ALL WRONG AND I WILL HATE IT FOR ALL OF MY DAYS.

Ahem. Sorry. His Dark Materials (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) is my favourite set of books ever of all time, and they’re one of the best and earliest examples of YA as a subgenre emerging, with fantastically complex, sprawling fantasy set across multiple universes, powerfully well drawn main characters and deeply complex, intelligent themes that refuse to talk down to their audience. The film-that-shall-not-be-named completely missed the mark, so what I’m suggesting is a TV Series in a Game of Thrones style (no, not like that, you gutter-dwellers). What I mean is a high budget, 10 episodes per season, each episode lasting an entire hour sort of epic show crafted with love for the source material and a dedicated desire to tell the story. So many cable shows have been able to circumnavigate any censorship by being independent channels, and I feel like a lot of the themes of His Dark Materials could be represented in much more bold confidence in a TV series than through a film that relies on funding.

 

Anyway, so that’s my two cents on the whole thing. There’s a few more I could think of I’m sure, and I’m not saying any of those would work… But I’d give them a watch, for sure. What would you want? Feel free to talk in the comments, or write your own blog about it! Let me know if you do – @ShinraAlpha

Thanks for reading!

D

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud

Last year, I read the first Lockwood & Co book, and was pretty much swept away in a world of fog-bound streets, creeping miasmas and murderous ghosts. Crackling with intelligence, and shivering with cold dread, it was a book I would’ve been obsessed with at ten years old (and still was at twenty-six). I even posted to the Waterstones Blog when the paperback edition was our July Children’s Book of the Month, and worked my little cottons off recommending it to as many people as would listen to me. So, how does the difficult book two stand up to the rip-roaring debut? Pretty superbly, I’d say…

Another Creepsome Cover

Another Creepsome Cover

The Whispering Skull takes place several months after the events of The Screaming Staircase, and the success of the Combe Carey Hall incident has helped raise the profile of the smallest team paranormal investigators in the country – Lockwood & Co. They’re hardly drowning in work, but the increase in acclaim has helped put them firmly on the map. However, when the high profile case of the Wimbledon Wraiths is snatched from their grasp in an embarrassing failure, by Quill Kipps’ expertly trained and expensively armed team from the Fittes Agency (the largest Paranormal Investigation Agency in the country), Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle and George Cubbins are finally thoroughly sick of being shown up by less skilled agents with expensive toys to help them muscle in on the good jobs. When an unknown body is unearthed from an unmarked grave and a horrifically powerful and terrible artefact is stolen, Inspector Barnes sets both Lockwood & Co, and Kipps’ team on the case, to try and increase the odds of finding the object before it falls into nefarious hands – and the rivalry between the two teams finally has a solid way to be settled: The best team is the team that returns the artefact first, and the losing team has to place an advert in the paper admitting their superiority. The mystery is thicker than a Type-Two Spectre’s miasma, though, and the team are sucked into the dark, unholy works of the nefarious Dr. Bickerstaff, a scientist who experimented with the Otherside and tormented the dead even before The Problem swept the nation and ghosts began to plague the living. Bickerstaff was an evil, unrelenting man who created something so powerful and unspeakable that it was buried in an unmarked grave with him, but there is one person who remembers what Bickerstaff did – Someone who was there: The Skull that speaks only to Lucy, from the first book. The Whispering Skull…

My shiny, fragile bound manuscript!

My shiny, fragile bound manuscript!

Yay! I was immediately sucked straight back into the haunted realm of Stroud’s series, it was almost like I’d never been away. The book opens with our three protagonists already in the middle of an overwhelming investigation, and the plot stays at that level of pace throughout the rest of the book, constantly twisting and turning. It’s brilliant to see all our favourite characters back in action, and Lockwood and Lucy are on fine form as a Holmes and Watson style sleuthing team. It’s George who has the great character arc in book two, though – His slow obsession with the Bickerstaff history slowly drives him to distraction, and his friends are so busy searching for the missing artefact, that they don’t notice just how lost their friend is. He becomes distant and haunted, but eventually comes out on top as a truly courageous character, and it’s a slow burning change in him that we as readers are tapped into, even where his fellow agents aren’t. Kipps’ team also show new, less arrogant and more professional sides to themselves towards the second half of the book, making them feel less like the “Karate Kid” style rivals this time. And the introduction of Joplin works as a great parallel to George, but as an adult, demonstrating the same bookish obsessive nature that gets darker throughout the story.

The Paperback Jacket for book one.

The Paperback Jacket for book one.

As for the atmosphere – it’s back from The Screaming Staircase, but with more impact than ever before. The way Jonathan manages to create a creeping sense of dread is fantastic – there’s real nods to the classic ghost stories in his writing style (especially M.R. James), and the way he describes the unknowable horrors of Bickerstaff’s experiments really sent a chill up my spine. The history is steeped in a sinister, oppressive feeling that drips from the words, and the mystery is slow and dread filled as it builds throughout the story. Still, just like book one though, The Whispering Skull has great moments of action and genuine humour that snap through the darkness and keeps the characters relatable and fun to read about. I love the entire team at Lockwood & Co, and I always feel compelled to delve into their misadventures. They truly are an ensemble cast on the same footing as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, and The Whispering Skull is proof that this series is gripping, fun, chilling and so much fun.

Now, Jonathan Stroud sir, WHERE IS BOOK THREE?! You can’t leave me on *that* ending!!

Thanks for Reading, and keep your rapiers to hand, Agents.

D

My 10 Favourite 2013 Reads!

So once again, Christmas is over & we stare down the barrel of a brand new year. I’ve never done one of these round ups of my reading before, but 2013 has been an absolutely storming year for YA, Teen & Children’s Fiction, hitting comedy, fantasy, sci-fi & contemporary with some exciting & passionate authors. So without further yammering by yours truly, lets get one with it!

10. Fearsome Dreamer by Laure Eve

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A stunning début from one of the hottest new publishers of YA literature at the moment (Hot Key Books), Fearsome Dreamer is a brilliantly paced fusion of Science Fiction & Fantasy, focusing around individuals with the ability to teleport. Laure’s novel is gloriously well written, with a deep, textured world & layers of mystery waiting to be unfolded. It’s set for big things.

9. Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The UK Hardback Jacket

The UK Hardback Jacket

Part one of a brand new series from the Bartimaeus author, Lockwood & Co takes the classic ensemble style of Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, but with a delightfully gothic twist, replacing gods with ghosts. A book I just know I would’ve become obsessed with as a 9 year old obsessed with all things dark & spooky, The Screaming Staircase isn’t light on laughter though, & with a very Doctor Who/Sherlock style lead – It’s sure to capture imaginations as the series goes on.

8. Heroic by Phil Earle

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Phil is a charming author with a deep understanding of troubled youth. Heroic is a harrowing story of war, told not just from the front, but from home, allowing the story to examine the effects tension & stress have under combat situations, as well as in the helpless environment of an East London council estate. Heroic also looks deep into the bonds of family & friendship, & has a powerful message behind it, lending it a serious emotional punch, as well as bringing attention to the very misunderstood subject of Post-Traumatic Stress in Young Adults. All in all, Phil has done a wonderful job at a moving story once more.

7. ACID by Emma Pass

ACID's jacket features protagonist Jenna, & tells you all you need to know.

A one-off kick-ass Dystopian novel set in a United Kingdom taken over by a harsh, totalitarian police force, ACID is an adrenaline fuelled ride full of action, mystery & plot twists, all topped off with a strong, direct heroine with a real edge to her. Blending Orwellian surveillance  & social commentary with pulse-pounding action, ACID grips the reader from the outset & doesn’t let go until the very last page. Perfect for people who’ve been devouring Hunger Games & Divergent series, Emma Pass is great at keeping the reader engrossed with high tension drama.

6. Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti

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One of the books I’ve yet to do a full review of, Monkey Wars is a unique story of gang warfare between two tribes of Monkey’s on the streets of India. Despite sounding like a lovely animal tale, Monkey Wars is smart, sharp & brutal, soaked in gore & betrayal. It’s a classic story in one way, very reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, but with an energy that literally crackles off the page. Constantly high stakes, with emotional turmoil & political rivalry, this is a visceral book that would be ideal for fans of fantasy & war novels alike.

5. Geekhood: Mission Improbable by Andy Robb

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Archie the Geek is back, in Andy’s follow-up to Close Encounters of the Girl Kind – And the laughs are strong with this one. Crammed to bursting with references to nerd culture, & a big feature on Live Action Roleplaying, Andy fully throws his passion for all things Geek into his writing, & that honesty & passion makes the book feel so much more personal to him. Geek culture is big business write now, with shows like Big Bang Theory written by non-Geeks for non-Geeks, so it’s refreshingly satisfying to have someone doing it from the fan side of things. Also, as with the first Geekhood novel, Andy works in the true emotional sweetness & turmoil of being an adolescent teenage boy, & all the embarrassing scenarios that go with it, in naked, cringesome honesty – Helpful to every young adult struggling through not being the strongest, fastest, toughest kid in school.

4. The Last Wild by Piers Torday

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A modern day Animals of Farthing Wood, with a post-apocalyptic twist, The Last Wild was funny, touching & engaging, blending environmental issues with a bold main character, determined to do the right thing. The world of The Last Wild is wrapped up in layers of mystery begging to be unfolded, but with a bleak beauty that admires the determined power of nature, & rather than taking the usual stance of man vs nature, it shows how greed can overcome humanities normal moral compass. It’s a book of passion, power & with a real message to get across, a must read.

3. Follow Me Down by Tanya Byrne

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A dark, beautiful story of friendship, young love & loss, Follow Me Down is surprisingly witty & even brings up a several chuckles despite the bleak tale of murder that weaves its way through this classic English boarding school tale. Tanya has a beautiful way with words, & her passages almost slide into your brain like poetry, creating a melancholy beauty to her writing that haunts your very core, yet makes you smile all the while. A rare talent to make something so horrifying still be so life-affirming.

2. Every Day by David Levithan

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Possibly the most unique book I’ve read in my life, David Levithan’s Every Day is a superb examination of life & humanity, a window into understanding the struggles & troubles that make us all different. From another superb YA publisher (Electric Monkey), Levithan brings his quirky style of modern language & pop-culture knowledge with an emotional punch & a dark, realistic & heart-wrenchingly bleak conclusion. With his examination of our differences & similarities, Every Day is one of the most important novels in years for promoting acceptance & understanding, & is perfect for fans of bittersweet romance.

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness 

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Beautiful, compelling, shocking & lingering. Patrick Ness is possibly the best writer working in Teen fiction today, & More Than This is a true testament to that fact. Dark & thoughtful, the plot is constantly shifting, keeping the reader on edge throughout, with each chapter dropping a cliffhanger onto your head & blowing your mind. It examines life, death, survival, love & friendship with a soft eye, before ramping up the action & tension, turning a haunting mystery into a full blown thriller in the second half. This book left me unable to read anything for a week afterwards, & still makes me think about its themes even now.

That’s the lot! Well, the top ten anyway. There’s been dozens of fantastic books published in 2013, which is truly inspiring, flying in the face of people who say books are struggling. They’re not. You just need to know where to look.

Here’s to many more in 2014!

Thanks for Reading!

D

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

One of my most anticipated books of the autumn publishing period, Lockwood & Co is a spooky ghost novel from the amazingly talented Jonathan Stroud, author of the Bartimaeus Sequence. As I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion, I love a good Horror novel, so I’ve been really looking forward to it… And it did NOT disappoint!

The UK Hardback Jacket

The UK Hardback Jacket

Ever since The Problem came to England, Ghosts & Spirits have been preying on the population, terrifying & even killing with their chilling ghost touch. Whilst adults cannot see or hear most Visitors, Children are able to use their innate psychic gifts to track them, & soon companies are set up across the country, specialising in ridding haunted sites of their undead inhabitants. London based Lockwood & Co are an upstart agency ran by the brilliantly talented young Anthony Lockwood, with his assistants George Cubbins & Lucy Carlyle. Unlike most agencies, Lockwood & Co operate without specialist adults to guide them, & this difference allows them the flexibility they need to become the best Ghost Eradication Agency in the country. However, after a poorly researched expedition goes awry, the group end up burning down a client’s house & owing a substantial amount of money in repairs. When the incredibly wealthy Mr. Fairfax offers Lockwood & Co the chance to pay off their debts & more, investigating the most haunted house in England, Combe Carey Hall, the company jump at it. But can Lockwood & Co survive the night in a house that has claimed hundreds of lives, including other agents? Will they get to the bottom of the mystery of the Hall’s Red Room & Screaming Staircase? And why does it seem almost too good to be true that Mr. Fairfax is offering to help them just when they need it most?

The US Jacket for book 1

The US Jacket for book 1

Lockwood & Co is told from the perspective of Lockwood’s assistant, Lucy Carlyle, a tenacious & passionate young girl with an intense talent for hearing spirits, as well as sensing their history through touch. She’s a brilliant mix of level-headedness & emotional depth, providing great insight into the group’s investigations, as well as the sadness & despair of the Visitors that they encounter. Lucy is a really easy to relate with character, & her caring & strength of resolve make for a great narrator to keep the reader engaged with the fates of both the main characters, & the spirits they investigate. Lockwood is a charming leader with an easy, eclectic genius, conjuring images of Sherlock Holmes or The Doctor, tall & elegant. He’s often quiet, contemplative & thoughtful, but his sudden outbursts of excitable inspiration make him an endearing, but distracted character. He’s far from perfect, but his childlike exuberance makes up for his flaws. Finally, George is a bumbling, sarcastic addition to the team, with a razor sharp tongue & an amazing talent for sifting through research on haunted locations, death records & drudging up hidden secrets.

Jonathan Stroud is a brilliantly creative writer, & his descriptive passages are haunting. The way he unveils Visitors, in a slow, ponderous way creates a terrifyingly uneasy edge of expectation. Passages literally pour with the dread of some hideous spirit lurking just out of shot, & this adds to the general feel of the universe the book inhabits: One of tension, unease & constant paranoia. As well as his descriptive prowess though, Stroud creates a compelling cold-case murder mystery, interweaving plots from various cases, across a 50 year gap. He expertly drops hints & twists into the plot to keep the reader guessing until the very end, & the resolution ties all the threads neatly, whilst leaving enough to make the promise of a sequel very appealing. As well as drama, mystery & spine-chilling horror though, Lockwood & Co is also deeply fascinating, with staccato bursts of humour, as well as a complex history & universe to explore. All this, tied together with three interesting, notably different but equally engaging characters means The Screaming Staircase is bound to be a big hit, & Lockwood & Co is going to be a series to watch out for.

Book 2, The Whispering Skull, should be due out next year.

Thanks for reading!

D