Category Archives: young adult

My Summer in Verse

I’ve had the chance to catch up on loads of books over the summer school holidays, which has been so great.  One of the books that I had wanted to read for a while was Kwame Alexander’s Booked.  I’d heard so many good things about this book and I had it on reserve at my public library for ages.

Not only was Booked totally brilliant, it also got me hooked on verse novels, a way of telling a story that I had previously thought wasn’t for me.  Kwame Alexander’s Booked opened up this door for me.  I loved the way that Kwame’s characters came alive using such few words.  Booked is about football and The Crossover is about basketball and, even though I’m not a sporty person, I loved the way that Kwame weaved the gameplay in with family issues, friendship and girl problems.  I especially enjoyed Booked because there is a really cool librarian called Mr Mac who always talks about books with Nick and keeps trying to give him books to read. I highly recommend both of Kwame’s books for Year 7 and up, especially boys who are super sporty but don’t really like to read.  These books might just switch them on.  I think boys would find them especially appealing because each of the poems is short so there isn’t too much reading.

Here are the verse novels that I have enjoyed recently and completely recommend.  Paper Hearts and Coaltown Jesus are aimed at teens but the others are perfect for ages 8+:

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he’s got mad beats, too, that tell his family’s story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.

Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story’s heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family.

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Booked by Kwame Alexander

In this follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER,  soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words as he wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
This electric and heartfelt novel-in-verse by poet Kwame Alexander bends and breaks as it captures all the thrills and setbacks, action and emotion of a World Cup match!

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Love That Dog by Sharon Creech

“I guess it does
look like a poem
when you see it
typed up
like that.”

Jack hates poetry. Only girls write it and every time he tries to, his brain feels empty. But his teacher, Ms. Stretchberry, won’t stop giving her class poetry assignments — and Jack can’t avoid them. But then something amazing happens. The more he writes, the more he learns he does have something to say.

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Hate that Cat by Sharon Creech

February 25

Today the fat black cat
up in the tree by the bus stop
dropped a nut on my head
thunk
and when I yelled at it
that fat black cat said
Murr-mee-urrr
in a
nasty
spiteful
way.

I hate that cat.

This is the story of
Jack
words
sounds
silence
teacher
and cat.

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Moo by Sharon Creech

When Reena, her little brother, Luke, and their parents first move to Maine, Reena doesn’t know what to expect. She’s ready for beaches, blueberries, and all the lobster she can eat. Instead, her parents “volunteer” Reena and Luke to work for an eccentric neighbor named Mrs. Falala, who has a pig named Paulie, a cat named China, a snake named Edna—and that stubborn cow, Zora.

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Apple Sauce Weather by Helen Frost

When the first apple falls from the tree, Faith and Peter know that it’s applesauce weather, even though Peter is getting a little old for such things. It also means Uncle Arthur should be here to tell his stories, with a twinkle in his eye as he spins tales about how he came to have a missing finger. But this is the first year without Aunt Lucy, and when Uncle Arthur arrives, there’s no twinkle to be found and no stories waiting to be told. Faith is certain, though, that with a little love and patience, she and Peter might finally learn the truth about that missing finger. Paired with warm, expressive illustrations by Amy June Bates, this heartfelt tale by award-winning poet Helen Frost highlights the strength of family and the power of a good story.

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Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

When Billie Jo is just fourteen she must endure heart-wrenching ordeals that no child should have to face. The quiet strength she displays while dealing with unspeakable loss is as surprising as it is inspiring.

Written in free verse, this award-winning story is set in the heart of the Great Depression. It chronicles Oklahoma’s staggering dust storms, and the environmental–and emotional–turmoil they leave in their path. An unforgettable tribute to hope and inner strength.

(This was one of the verse novels mentioned in Kwame Alexander’s Booked so I had to read this one.  It is heart-breaking but so wonderful!)

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Paper Hearts by Meg Wiviott

A novel in verse, Paper Hearts is the story of survivial, defiance, and friendship. Based on historical events about a group of girls who were slave laborers at the munitions factory in Auschwitz.

(This is a story of the holocaust unlike any I have read before.  Telling this story in verse somehow makes it more powerful)

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Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge

Walker shouldn’t have been so surprised to find Jesus standing in the middle of his bedroom. After all, he’d prayed for whoever was up there to help him, and to help his mom, who hadn’t stopped crying since Noah died two months ago. But since when have prayers actually been answered? And since when has Jesus been so . . . irreverent?

But as astounding as Jesus’ sudden appearance is, it’s going to take more than divine intervention for Walker to come to terms with his brother’s sudden death. Why would God take seventeen-year-old Noah when half of the residents in his mom’s nursing home were waiting to die? And why would he send Jesus to Coaltown, Illinois, to pick up the pieces?

 

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Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos

Reality television shows are made about just about anything these days. You can watch people survive on an island, housewives fight with each other or follow the exploits of a group of Kiwis on the Gold Coast, from wherever you are in the world. However, would you watch a man dying of a brain tumour as his family crumbles around him? Len Vlahos’ amazing new book, Life in a Fishbowl, shows us exactly what life would be like for a family in this situation.

32604250Fifteen-year-old Jackie Stone’s father is dying.

When Jackie discovers that her father has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, her whole world starts to crumble. She can’t imagine how she’ll live without him . . .

Then, in a desperate act to secure his family’s future, Jackie’s father does the unthinkable–he puts his life up for auction on eBay. Jackie can do nothing but watch and wait as an odd assortment of bidders, some with nefarious intentions, drive the price up higher. The fate of her entire family hangs in the balance.

But no one can predict how the auction will finally end, or any of the very public fallout that ensues. Life as Jackie knows it is about to change forever…

I absolutely loved this incredibly powerful story!  Like a reality TV show, Life in a Fishbowl is addictive and entertaining, but this book will also make you stop and ponder the issues that it deals with.  What lengths would you go to to provide for your family if you only had 4 months to live?  How would you feel if someone you loved was dying and you couldn’t grieve in peace? How would you cope with people who want to twist and edit your words and feelings just to make better TV?  If the person you love asked you to help them die would you do it?

Like the house that the family Stone live in, with it’s multiple cameras and multiple points of view, Len Vlahos gives us many different perspectives of Jared Stone’s situation.  I feel that these different points of view set this book apart from your average YA read.  You get the perspective of Jackie, one of the teenage daughter’s of Jared, who is struggling to deal with her father’s illness and the constant cameras that follow her everywhere in the house.  However, you also get the perspective of Jared himself (who is quickly loosing his memories and control of who he is), the ruthless TV producer Ethan (who will do almost anything to keep his show running), Sister Benedict (a nun who wants to save Jared but has questionable morals) and Sherman Kingsborough (an immature millionaire who believes that money can give him everything he wants).  Then there is my favourite perspective of the book, Glio, the anthropomorphized glioblastoma multiforme (or brain tumour).  You watch as Glio gobbles up Jared’s memories with glee, giving you a taste of family life before Glio came along.  Glio becomes more and more adventurous and hungry for experiences as the book progresses, which ultimately means the deterioration of Jared.

Like any reality TV show you there are moments where you will be biting your nails, screaming at the characters, laughing with glee as a character you hate gets what is coming to them, and ultimately wanting to binge the whole book until you’ve reached the end. Rush out and grab Life in a Fishbowl now!

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The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan

Like many of the books on my shelves The Bombs That Brought Us Together has been sitting on my shelf for a while just waiting for the chance for me to pick it up.  I’ve spent the last month reading through my TBR pile and this book shot straight to the top when I heard that it had won the Costa Book Award.  I’m so glad that I finally got around to reading it because it is a brilliant book.

9781408855744Fourteen-year-old Charlie Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

Sometimes, to keep the people you love safe, you have to do bad things. As Little Town’s rules crumble, Charlie is sucked into a dangerous game. There’s a gun, and a bad man, and his closest friend, and his dearest enemy.

Charlie Law wants to keep everyone happy, even if it kills him. And maybe it will…

The Bombs That Brought Us Together is an atmospheric, tense, utterly unique read that made me smile one minute and bite my nails the next.  I was absolutely captivated by this story and the characters that Brian has brought to life.  It is clear to see why this book won the Costa Book Award.
Brian Conaghan portrays life in a war-zone and a time of unrest with honesty and with heart. You see what the day-to-day reality is for Charlie, with rationing, curfews and beatings, and you see the fear that his parents live with.  Charlie tells us about the reality of life after the bombs when he shares his list of things he did before the bombs came, including ‘got really bored because Little Town had a lack of teenage things to do.’ You also see what life is like for refugees like Pav, those people that are forced out of the country and the lives that they knew into a place where they are hated and made to do horrible jobs just to survive.  Brian also shows us the friendship and hope that exists too, even with everything else that is happening.
The way in which Brian has portrayed the war between Little Town and Old Country is brilliant.  The conflict between Little Town and Old Country bears striking similarities to wars all over the world.  There are rebels that have taken Little Town as their own and they run the place as they see fit, but Old Country wants to take Little Town back and so they invade with their bombs and their soldiers.  Pav and his family are refugees from Old Country who are now living in Little Town and they are persecuted, especially when the Old Country troops invade.  Little Town is run by The Big Man and his Rascals.  It is when Charlie and Pav get themselves involved with The Big Man that the real trouble starts.
It was Charlie’s voice that grabbed me from the first page and made me want to keep reading.  As the story is narrated by Charlie you really get inside his head and go through all of his dilemmas and the events of the story right with him.  You feel him changing as the story progresses and hope that he is going to make the right choices.  You know how much he wants to protect his family and Pav and that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe.  Things get especially tense towards the end of the book and I wasn’t sure how it was going to end.
The Bombs That Brought Us Together is one of those stories that I’m still thinking about days after finishing it.  Charlie and Pav will stay with me and I’ll wonder what they are getting up to.  I loved Brian’s writing so much that I want to go and hunt down his first book, When Mr Dog Bites, and I’m eagerly awaiting his next book (with Sarah Crossan) called We Come Apart.
Recommended for 13+ (definitely a YA read).

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Stealing Snow Blog Tour Guest Post

Danielle Paige is no stranger to putting new twists on old stories.  Her Dorothy Must Die series took readers back to the land of Oz, to a land where Dorothy returned and ruined everything.  In Danielle’s new book, Stealing Snow, she shows us the origins of The Snow Queen.  Here is the blurb:

9781408872932Seventeen-year-old Snow lives within the walls of the Whittaker Institute, a high security mental hospital in upstate New York. Deep down, she knows she doesn’t belong there, but she has no memory of life outside, except for the strangest dreams. And then a mysterious, handsome man, an orderly in the hospital, opens a door – and Snow knows that she has to leave .
She finds herself in icy Algid, her true home, with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai. As secret after secret is revealed, Snow discovers that she is on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more powerful and ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change everything. Heroine or villain, queen or broken girl, frozen heart or true love, Snow must choose her fate .

Danielle joins me today as part of her Stealing Snow Blog Tour to talk about her Top 5 fairy tale retellings.

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1.Cinder/ Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

She had me at cyborg Cinderella and kept me with imaginative world building and a mashup of other fairy tales.  I devoured the whole series, and I forever credit her for inspiring me to take Dorothy Must Die as far as the Yellow Brick Road would take me.

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2. Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

To a writer, Shahrzad is the ultimate heroine. She is literally saving her own life, not with magic, but with the power of her storytelling. Every night she must tell her story to Khalid or she will be killed. The sequel, The Rose and the Dagger, is sitting on top of my TBR pile.

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3. The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

Not a straight up retelling, more a reimagining.  Chainani treats us to the school where Malificents and Cinderellas are made. I was delighted as Sophie and Agatha find themselves in the “wrong” classes.

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4. A Court of Thorn and Roses by Sarah J Maas

Beauty and the Beast is a forever fave, and Sarah is such a master of action and romance.

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5. Wicked by Gregory McGuire

Wicked showed every reteller how it is done. Setting the bar and exploring the world of Oz way before my Dorothy stepped onto the Yellow Brick Road.

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Bonus: The Descendants series by Melissa de la Cruz

All the Disney feels. The second generation of villains and royals is just perfection.

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige is out now from Bloomsbury.

 

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Winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

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The winners of the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced last night in Wellington.  Congratulations to all the winners and those who were chosen as finalists in the awards.  Congratulations also to the judges of this year’s awards who had the tough job of choosing the winners from all the fantastic books that were submitted.  It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.  I personally think they made some great choices for the winners.  Kids also made some fantastic choices too in the Children’s Choice Awards.

Here are the winners of the 2016 New Book Awards for Children and Young Adults:

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  • Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction

ANZAC Heroes by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Best First Book Award

Allis the little tractor by Sophie Siers, illustrated by Helen Kerridge; Millwood-Heritage Productions

  • Te Kura Pounamu Award for the best book in te reo Māori

Whiti te rā! by Patricia Grace, translated by Kawata Teepa, illustrated by Andrew Burdan; Huia Publishers

  • Picture Book Award

The Little Kiwi’s Matariki written and illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson; David Ling Publishing (Duck Creek Press)

  • Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle by Kate De Goldi; Penguin Random House (Longacre)

  • Young Adult Fiction Award

Battlesaurus: Rampage at Waterloo by Brian Falkner; Pan Macmillan Australia (Farrar Straus Giroux)

  • Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Much Ado About Shakespeare illustrated by Donovan Bixley; Upstart Press

New Zealand children enthusiastically voted for their own specially selected finalists’ list for this year’s HELL Children’s Choice Awards. Each book wins $1,000. The winners are:

  • Te reo Māori

Te Hua Tuatahi a Kuwi written and illustrated by Kat Merewether, and translated by Pānia Papa; Illustrated Publishing

  • Picture Book

The House on the Hill by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Sarah Davis; Scholastic New Zealand

  • Junior Fiction

The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg; Harper Collins

  • Non-Fiction

First to the Top by David Hill, illustrated by Phoebe Morris; Penguin Random House (Puffin)

  • Young Adult Fiction

Stray by Rachael Craw; Walker Books

You can read the full media release here, including the thoughts of the judges on each of the winning books.  You can download the Winners Poster here.

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Forgetting Foster by Dianne Touchell

I think books, rather than people, have taught me the most about empathy, particularly as an impressionable teenager.  They make me feel what the characters are feeling and help me to understand different situations. Dianne Touchell makes your heart break for the main character in her new book about a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease, Forgetting Foster.

Forgetting Foster | REVISED FINAL COVER x 2 (18 April 2016)

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad’s stories.

But then Foster’s dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

Forgetting Foster is one of the most heart-breaking books that I have read since Morris Gleitzman’s Once.  It is Dianne’s lyrical writing and very real portrayal of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease that makes the story so heart-breaking.  She takes us inside the head of 7-year-old Foster and we see his family falling apart through his eyes.  We experience Foster’s confusion and hurt as the father that he loves and looks up to starts forgetting things and changing completely.  We understand his anger at being treated like a child, even though he understands more than his family thinks he does.  The power of stories to bring enjoyment to our lives and help us to remember also plays an important part in the story.

Dianne’s writing is very lyrical.  I found myself stopping reading in many places just to soak up descriptions and savour images that she had conjured.  I especially liked the image that Dianne conjures when Foster and his dad are talking about phantom itches when someone loses a limb,

‘He imagined Dad’s profile, half a face that looked a bit empty lately, and felt a stab of ghost feeling.  A funny ache that told him the stories were still inside Dad somewhere, like an amputated foot that still itches.’

The way that Dianne describes the relationship between Foster and his dad in the start of the book gives you warm fuzzies.  Sunday is always a special day with Dad, when they make pancakes together and go into town, playing games along the way.  You can feel how proud Foster is of his dad and how much his dad loves him.

Stories play an important part in Forgetting Foster.  Before Foster’s dad got sick he would tell stories to Foster all the time and encourage him to join in.  Foster’s dad tells him that ‘there are stories in everything…They are all around you waiting to be discovered.  You just have to look for them.’ He also encourages Foster to tell his own stories to whoever will listen.  Foster’s mum had an accident when she was younger and his dad tells Foster a fantastic story about why she now looks different to other people.  Stories also play an important part in helping Foster and his family deal with his dad’s illness.

Although Foster is seven in the story, Forgetting Foster is not a story for 7-year-olds.  There are a couple of swear words which, although they are in the context of the story, may alarm parents.  I think good Year 7 and 8 readers would enjoy the story and it would make a great novel study for this age group.  Forgetting Foster is a book that I think all teachers, librarians and anyone who loves a beautifully-written, heart-breaking story should read.  I’m now going to hunt down all of Dianne Touchell’s previous books and will look forward to more books from her.

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You Know Me Well by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Stories can take us out of our own heads and put us into the heads of other people.  I don’t think I’ve ever met myself in a story but I’ve certainly met many characters whose lives and personalities are very different from mine.  I love getting inside the heads of these characters who help me to see the world from a completely different perspective.  This is why I love David Levithan’s books so much.  His characters are very real and always stick with me long after I’ve finished the book.  David’s latest book, written with Nina LaCour, takes us inside the head of two lovesick teens, a gay boy, Mark and a lesbian girl, Kate, and their friendship that comes along at exactly the right time.

9781925355529Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

I loved You Know Me Well but I didn’t want the story to end.  I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to Mark and Kate.  I carried them around with me everywhere while I was reading their stories and I kept hoping that they were going to get everything that they wanted.  It’s a story about friendship, love, discovering yourself and having the courage to be that person.

Mark is gay and everyone knows this.  He’s in love with his best friend Ryan, and the two of them have fooled around plenty of times in the past.  Ryan, though, doesn’t seem ready for the world to know he’s gay and certainly doesn’t see himself as Mark’s boyfriend.  Things get complicated when Ryan hooks up with a guy in a bar and starts a relationship with him.  Onto the scene comes Kate, a girl in Mark’s class who he has never talked to.  Kate is running away from the chance to finally meet the girl of her dreams.  Mark and Kate get talking and realise that they have found the friend they didn’t know they needed.  They help each other to figure out who they are and who they want to be.

It always amazes me how well dual-author books work.  The two different characters and perspectives, written by these two fantastic authors, weave perfectly together.  You really get inside Mark and Kate’s heads, feeling all of their insecurities, their heartbreaks, as well as their hopes for the future.

David and Nina show you how tough life is  for LGBTQ teens as they figure out who they are, while at the same time showing you that they have the same problems as straight teens, especially when it comes to finding love. Although the story centres on a gay and a lesbian teen it’s ultimately about being proud of who you are, no matter what your sexual orientation.

I know that Mark and Kate are only fictional characters but I wish that I could check in on them from time to time and see where their lives have taken them.  Grab a copy of You Know Me Well and get to know them yourself.

 

 

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The Road to Winter by Mark Smith

Sometimes you get that feeling when you start reading a book that you know you are going to love it.  Something about it, whether the characters or the tone of the story just clicks with you.  Mark Smith’s debut novel, The Road to Winter, is one of those books for me.

9781925355123Since a deadly virus and the violence that followed wiped out his parents and most of his community, Finn has lived alone on the rugged coast with only his loyal dog Rowdy for company.

He has stayed alive for two winters—hunting and fishing and trading food, and keeping out of sight of the Wilders, an armed and dangerous gang that controls the north, led by a ruthless man named Ramage.

But Finn’s isolation is shattered when a girl runs onto the beach. Rose is a Siley—an asylum seeker—and she has escaped from Ramage, who had enslaved her and her younger sister, Kas. Rose is desperate, sick, and needs Finn’s help. Kas is still missing somewhere out in the bush.

And Ramage wants the girls back—at any cost.

I absolutely loved The Road to Winter, from the first page to the last!  It’s a thrilling story of survival in the aftermath of a virus that wipes out the population.  There’s lots of action and twists to keep you reading, but there are also some lulls in the action that give you a chance to breath and prepare yourself for the next part.  It’s a story that I couldn’t stop thinking about either.  When I wasn’t reading I was wondering what was happening to the characters and how the book was going to end.

Finn’s story takes place in the aftermath of a virus that has wiped out a huge percentage of the population.  The virus affected females mostly so it is mostly males that have survived.  Gangs of men, called Wilders, wander the countryside and control the north where Finn lives.  With a lack of females around to keep them in check these men have lost their humanity and have become violent and ruthless.  You certainly don’t want to bump into them!  Finn has hidden himself away in his house, with a secret store of food, gas, and other supplies, and he and his dog, Rowdy, have survived by themselves fine.  However, when Rose turns up, she brings trouble to Finn’s door and his quiet life is disturbed.  Being the kind of guy that he is though, Finn has to help Rose, both to help her hide and recover and to help her find her sister, Kas.

The Road to Winter reminded me of other books that I’ve really enjoyed, including one of my favourite books, Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go.  The tone of the book felt quite similar, as Finn has to try and help the girls escape the clutches of the violent men who want to harm them.  There is the suspense of them evading capture but not really knowing if they’ll be able to outrun them.  The other similarity to The Knife of Never Letting Go that I really liked was the relationship that Finn has with his dog Rowdy.  Rowdy is his constant companion and is incredibly loyal, much like Todd and Manchee.  The story also reminded me of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet because it’s all about Finn’s survival on his own, becoming aware of the land and the ocean to find hidden trails to get around and hunt for food.

I loved Mark’s characters too, especially Finn.  While the other males have lost their humanity, Finn has held onto his and leaves the safety of his home to go out and try to find Rose’s sister.  He cares for the girls and is willing to do anything he can to protect them and keep them alive.  I loved the special moments of hope that Finn shared with the females in the story.  Even with everything that was happening to them they still managed to laugh and enjoy having full stomachs.

My only complaint with The Road to Winter is that now I have to wait to find out what happens next.  I need to know what happens to these characters and whether they can find some peace eventually.  The book comes with a money back guarantee but you are certainly guaranteed a great read and I highly recommend The Road to Winter.

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The Leaving by Tara Altebrando

You know a book is really good when you can’t stop thinking about it.  You want to shirk all your responsibilities just so you can read it in one sitting.  The Leaving by Tara Altebrando is one of these books.  You will not want to stop reading it until you’ve reached the last page and finally know what the hell happened!

26073074Eleven years ago, six five-year-olds went missing without a trace. After all this time, the people left behind have moved on, or tried to.

Until today. Now five of those kids are back. They’re sixteen, and they are … fine. Scarlett comes home and finds a mother she barely recognises, and doesn’t really know who she’s supposed to be, either. But she remembers Lucas. Lucas remembers Scarlett, too, but they can’t recall where they’ve been or what happened to them. Neither of them remember the sixth victim, Max. He doesn’t come back and everyone wants answers.

I absolutely loved this book!  The Leaving is super twisty, tense and heart-pounding.  Tara Altebrando had me at the tag-line ‘Six were taken.  Five came back.’ The blurb completely gripped me and I had to read it straight away.  I got completely lost in the story and couldn’t stop thinking about it when I had to put the book down.

It’s one of those books that I feel that I can’t say much about, for fear that I’ll give something away.  The whole premise of the story is intriguing.  Six kids went missing when they were 5 years old.  They have turned up at home again eleven years later.  Why now? Where were they? Who had them?  Tara is very good at stringing the reader along, giving you tantalising pieces of the puzzle so that you have to keep reading to find out how all the pieces fit together.  When I started I had my own theories about what had happened to the characters but I couldn’t have picked what actually happened.

The story takes place over fifteen days from when the kids return and throughout the story we get the perspectives of different characters. We follow two of the returned, Lucas and Scarlett, as well as Avery, the sister of the kid who hasn’t returned.  The returned desperately try to remember what happened to them, while their families adjust to having them back again (or wondering why they haven’t returned, like Avery and her mum).

I think this is one of the best YA books this year and I highly recommend it.  It’s a great read for those Year 7/8 readers who want to be reading YA too.  Grab a copy of The Leaving now and get lost in this incredible story.

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The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

As a male I really value authentic male teenage characters in YA books.  I find those ‘hot, bad boys’ very fake, whereas the nerdy, sweary guys feel like the guy I was and a lot of the guys I knew.  I’m always on the look out for books with authentic male teenage characters and books that focus on male friendship, because it’s these books that I want to get into the hands of teenage guys.  The new book by Aussie author Will Kostakis, The Sidekicks, is one of these books, and I think every teenage guy should read it.

9780143309031The Swimmer.

The Rebel.

The Nerd.

All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?

I loved The Sidekicks!  I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager because it would have totally clicked with me.  Will makes you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives and that you’re one of the Sidekicks too.  Will absolutely nails what it’s like to be a teenage guy and the often awkward friendships between different guys.

The Sidekicks follows three teenage guys after the death of their friend, the one guy who was holding their group together.  They are all quite different guys who were friends with Isaac, but they don’t have anything in common with each other.  Ryan is The Swimmer, whose mum teaches at his school (which creates its own problems), and who is hiding a secret.  Harley is The Rebel, the guy who would drink with Isaac and was with him on the night that he died.  The papers imply that Isaac killed himself but Harley knows he wouldn’t do this and tries to set the story straight.  Miles is The Nerd, the intelligent one of the group who works hard, but also has a side business that he ran with Isaac selling essays.  Although Isaac is no longer around their friendship with him might be enough to help them through.

This is not just about friendship though.  It’s about three guys who are dealing with grief in different ways.  Like a lot of males they don’t really want to talk to anyone about it, especially the school guidance counsellor. Harley feels guilty because he could have stopped what happened to Isaac, and he wants to do what he can to set the story straight.  Miles holds on to Isaac through the film that he made starring Isaac.  Through his film Miles continues to have conversations with Isaac, even if it is just Isaac’s smiling face paused on the screen.

The ending of The Sidekicks is absolutely perfect and it made me want to go right back to the start and take that journey with those characters again.  I’ll be eagerly awaiting Will Kostakis’ next book and putting The Sidekicks into the hands of any teenage guys I can.

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Filed under books, friendship, young adult, young adult fiction