All provided by publishers for review consideration.
The Castle by Sophia Bennett (YA adventure, Highly Recommended)
Peta's mother is getting married again, much to Peta's dismay. She's convinced her army hero father isn't really dead, even though his ashes were sent home. But no-one believes Peta, even after a mysterious phone call gives her hope - so she sets out to find her father herself. Somehow, she ends up getting trapped on board a superyacht; can she save herself and possibly find her father?
I wasn't sure what to expect here - I've only read one book by Sophia before and while it (You Don't Know Me) was one of my favourites of the last few years, it was a VERY different idea to this one, being a gorgeous, summery YA contemporary read. This is much more action-packed, as the synopsis above suggests, but it's also an amazing read! Peta is a clever and resourceful heroine, the people she meets who end up helping her are well-drawn, while the villains are truly evil, and it's ingeniously plotted.
Perhaps the best thing about the book, though, is Peta's voice - she's a wonderful, likeable narrator who really makes you want her to succeed in her quest. Highly recommended and I'd love to read more in this genre from Sophia in the future!
Starring Kitty by Keris Stainton (YA LGBT romance, Very Highly Recommended)
Kitty is falling for someone she's just met - but that someone is a girl. Will her friends Sunny and Hannah ever understand her feelings for Dylan? And can she open up to any of them about her mother's illness? Kitty is keeping a lot of secrets, does she come out into the open, or risk losing Dylan forever?
This is, in a word, adorable. In two words, absolutely adorable. In three words... you get the picture, yeah? Kitty and Dylan are a super-cute couple and I loved getting to know them both, while the subplot with Kitty's mum's multiple sclerosis is handled with the sensitivity and tact you'd expect from the wonderful Keris Stainton. It's also a really diverse book - in addition to the two girls as the central couple, Kitty's brother is also gay (I loved one scene in particular between the two of them!), while Kitty's friend Sunny, who will be the main character in the sequel, is a Muslim. It's always interesting to read about different cultures and I think it's hugely important that readers (especially younger YA readers, which is the age range that this is aimed at) see more than just the 'straight white kids' who tend to populate most YA books.
It's told with Keris's usual easy to read writing style, it's a short, quick, and above all fun read, and it's absolutely perfect for the summer. A massive recommendation!
The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black (MG fantasy, Highly Recommended)
I've never read anything from Cassandra Clare before and have only read one book by Holly Black, somehow, so was intrigued to get my hands on this thanks to the lovely people at Random House's blogger brunch a few weekends ago. This is set in a version of the modern-day USA but with added magic, and we see Callum Hunt, the main character, get accepted into the mysterious Magisterium - despite doing his best to fail the Iron Trial as his father has warned him throughout his life that he should stay away from magic.
With barely any idea what to expect, I was pulled into the story really quickly by Black and Clare's clever plot, likeable characters, and vivid world-building. I think the friendship between Callum, Tamara and Aaron is very realistic, the masters at the school are well-portrayed, and the villains are suitably dreadful. (On that note, I LOVE that cover, with a truly haunting picture dominating it, and the trio of heroes looking very small and insignificant in comparison!)
I have to comment, by the way - I've seen a few comments about similarities between this and Harry Potter. There ARE, to an extent, but only really so far as they're both set in schools for magic-users and they have central trios - both fairly common tropes in fantasy stories. It's something of an occupational hazard when writing MG fantasy these days that there's a fairly chance you'll get HP comparisons, in the same way 90% of dystopians get compared to The Hunger Games, of course - I think there are enough significant differences between this and HP that you definitely shouldn't approach this expecting just a rehash!
I definitely don't want to give anything away about the ending, but I have to give the authors credit for a really stunning climax which had me desperate to get my hands on the next in this 5-book series. I can't wait to find out where we go from here!