Sunday, 20 May 2012

Sunday Special: April in Review

No month was ever going to compare to the wonder that was March, when I got to read Code Name Verity, Department 19: The Rising, and The Things We Did For Love, and thought they were all outstanding.

That said, April could have done a bit better job of at least trying. I read a bunch during the month and while there was some good stuff, there was a fair bit of lacklustre writing around.

Still, my top three, and a few others, stand out as excellent, and there's nearly a dozen more 'recommended' ones, so not a complete wash. And on the plus side, not one but TWO self-published books I'm very happy to recommend!

YA books

Reality Check by Peter Abrahams – Football player gets injured, finds out his ex-girlfriend has disappeared from her new boarding school, and goes to join the search. It’s serviceable but incredibly forgettable, to the point where I noted the title but not the author and had to Google it to remind myself what it was about.

Sweet by Julie Burchill – I loved Sugar Rush, but the sequel fell flat with me. Maria Sweet worked brilliantly as a love interest in the original but is an obnoxious narrator. I loved the ending, to be fair, but it still doesn’t lift this into recommended territory.

Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne – Impressive hard-hitting debut which follows the way a girl insinuates herself into another teen’s life to get revenge after her father is stabbed. Gritty and realistic with a really good narrator. Tanya Byrne was kind enough to give me really good interview.

Scarlet by AC Gaughen – Robin Hood retold by Will Scarlett – who’s a girl. Scarlet is one of my favourite narrators of the month, with a fantastic voice. Guy of Gisbourne is a really nasty villain. The action scenes are superb. It’s not perfect – the Scarlet/John/Robin love triangle didn’t work for me and some early dialogue is awkward – but it had me glued to it and I’m looking forward to Gaughen’s next book.

The Summer My Life Began by Shannon Greenland – Coming-of-age story has a predictable plot and characters who never really captured my attention, unfortunately.

Changeling by Philippa Gregory – Another adult author takes the step into YA. Whenever anyone does that I watch with bated breath… but shouldn’t have worried here. Gregory’s first book in her new Order of Darkness series is one of the most entertaining pieces of historical fiction for ages, she captures 15th century Europe wonderfully, and her central quartet are all superb characters.

Slide by Jill Hathaway – This had a few faults, notably an ending I didn’t like, but was a welcome breath of fresh air in the paranormal genre. The idea of a girl suffering from a type of narcolepsy in which she ‘slides’ into other people’s bodies is very original and her quest to expose a killer is an interesting story.

Biggles in Spain by W E Johns – Read it for nostalgia, but either it wasn’t one of the best Biggles or I’m seriously overrating the books in general through rose-tinted glasses. Slightly bizarre as Biggles isn’t in it all that much; it focuses strongly on Ginger. Not dreadful, but not as good as I was expecting.

The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan – As a series, I’m struggling to retain my interest in Homelander. This is reasonable action but nothing special.

Brigands MC by Robert Muchamore
Shadow Wave by Robert Muchamore
People's Republic by Robert Muchamore
- I finally got round to finishing the James Adams CHERUB books, and started the new series focusing on Ryan Sharma and Fu Ning. I thought they were all good, although could have been a bit shorter, and the lengthy scene-setting of Brigands MC and Shadow Wave didn’t do that much for me. People’s Republic is definitely the best, and is a great jumping-on point if you’re new to the series.

Sparks (Or How To Give Grandpa A Viking Funeral) by Ally Kennen – I love the subtitle but found the book to be a little bit so-so. Not bad, and significantly more entertaining than much I read this month, but a slight letdown. I should point out my sister grabbed it after I finished with it and enjoyed it more.

How To Keep A Boy As A Pet by Diane Messidoro – Slightly unintentionally creepy tale of a girl getting advice on how to hook boys from someone who’s apparently a sophisticated American woman who stumbled her blog by accident. Not impressed.

The Boo Hag by David Morgan – Another original paranormal, which takes its villain from the Gullah culture of South Carolina. Despite ending on a cliffhanger, I really enjoyed this one and actually liked the romance here. Well worth checking out, and along with another I'll mention later has restored my faith in self-published books! David Morgan also gave me a fab interview.

Nevermore by Linda Newbery – This old-fashioned tale of a girl moving to a strange country house with a missing owner is serviceable but I’d expected more from Newbery. Narrator Tizzie’s mother is also incredibly unlikeable to the point where she was really winding me up.

Dads, Geeks and Blue-Haired Freaks by Ellie Phillips – Something of a letdown. I loved the idea of a girl searching for her sperm donor father, but found the teen characters to be bland (although the adults were really well-portrayed) and the text speak used in certain scenes had me hurling the book across the room 

King Dork by Frank Portman – I loved the voice of the narrator Tom here to start off with but felt the book dragged on a bit. Considering there’s several plot strands, with Tom trying to find out the truth about his father’s death, seek the identity of a mystery girl he met at a party, and win the battle of the bands, nothing felt all that important.

Mice by Gordon Reece – If this had been 10 times better it would have been merely dreadful. From the bizarre start, in which we find out that the lead character left her school after bullies set her hair on fire, and the headteacher has decided there’s not enough evidence to act against them (NEWSFLASH: However weak the headteacher, the governors and LEA would be involved here, and the media would be having a field day.) to the staggeringly bad ending which appears to be going for ‘black comedy’ and misses by a mile this is by far the worst I’ve read this year.

Charity's Child by Rosalie Warren – I’m still not overly convinced this is YA, despite the teen narrator. It’s a gripping tale of religion, teen pregnancy, and other controversial subjects which is very well-written – I just think it may appeal to adults more than teens. Definitely worth checking out, though.

Top 3 of the month, though, are…


Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer – I think I’d have offered long odds against a self-published author ever making my top 3 of the month, but Scott Cramer’s incredibly tense account of a world after space dust kills off everyone past puberty, leaving the children to form a new society, deserves its place. Really strong characters and a great plot make this one which I’d highly recommend. Scott was kind enough to give me a great interview, as well!


Della Says: OMG! by Keris Stainton – Despite the cover, which looks like it’s going to be a really light read, this has got a bit more depth than expected. It looks at trust, loyalty, honesty, relationships, and family, and is incredibly frank. I thought the dialogue was brilliant and Della, her friend Maddy, and love interest Dan are three of my favourite characters for a while.

But my YA Book of the Month is…

Fear by Michael Grant – My top three are all pretty great, to be fair, but this sneaks first place. Grant’s ‘Gone’ series is one of the best dystopians around and his character development over the course of the five books so far is pitch-perfect.

MG books

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – I started rereading classic fantasy series the Chronicles of Prydain. The Book of Three is an entertaining start to the series without being particularly memorable. More of the series in a minute… hint, hint!

Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy – Super-sweet story about a wild 12-year-old girl who’s sent from London to Ireland to live with her dad and his new partner and her 9-year-old daughter. I loved the character development here, there’s a great romance between Scarlett and a mysterious boy she meets, and Cassidy’s writing style is as wonderful as ever.

Outlaw: The Story of Robin Hood by Michael Morpurgo – Morpurgo writes Robin Hood. If you’re not convinced by those 4 words, I’m not sure what else I can say.

Creepover: Truth or Dare by P J Night – Despite the characters being a tiny bit underdeveloped, this is atmospheric enough and a quick enough read that it’s definitely worth checking out. Really looking forward to later books in the series!

The Flip-Flop Club: Charmed Summer by Ellen Richardson – Seriously sweet read with three fab central characters and a dog who steals every scene he’s in! I found this to be really good in a rather timeless sort of way and can't wait for the next in this series.

And the MG Book of the Month for me is…

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander – If the first in the Chronicles of Prydain isn’t all that memorable, this makes up for it in spades! A great plot, which is influenced by Welsh mythology but feels really fresh, wonderful character development, and a bunch of really interesting adversaries, this is one you shouldn’t miss. 
Highly Recommended (These are all the books I rated 4 ½ or 5 stars this month.)

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy
Night of the Purple Moon by Scott Cramer
Fear by Michael Grant
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Outlaw by Michael Morpurgo
Della says OMG by Keris Stainton

Recommended (These are the books I rated 4 stars this month.)

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
Scarlet by A C Gaughen
Slide by Jill Hathaway
The Boo Hag by David Morgan
Brigands MC by Robert Muchamore
Shadow Wave by Robert Muchamore
People's Republic by Robert Muchamore
Creepover: Truth or Dare by P J Night
Charmed Summer by Ellen Richardson
Charity's Child by Rosalie Warren

1 comment:

  1. Jim, thank you for your comments (and your earlier review) of Charity's Child. I think you make a very good point about the readership. I'm now writing a sequel and am having a serious rethink about who it's aimed at. (You may be interested to know that Charity was originally written for adults but I was encouraged to reclassify it as YA :-) )