Review: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher

Emily’s dad is accused of killing a teenage girl in the woods.  Emily is sure he’s innocent, but struggles to work out what actually happened that night.  That is, until she crosses paths with Damon, the boyfriend of the dead girl.  Maybe they could help each other?  But Damon has his own secrets about the dangerous games that are being played in the dark. Continue reading “Review: The Killing Woods by Lucy Christopher”

Review: Cruel Summer by James Dawson

Ryan is looking forward to spending the summer with his old school friends at Katie’s luxurious Spanish villa.  He hasn’t seen the gang since their friend, Janey, committed suicide a year ago.  He hopes this summer they’ll be able to put the past behind them and move on – until someone else arrives, claiming to have proof that Janey’s suicide was murder!  Ryan was hoping for sun, sea and sand.  Suddenly, he’s facing a long, hot summer of death, drama and deceit. Continue reading “Review: Cruel Summer by James Dawson”

Review: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock

Hidden under the surface of everyday London is a city of monsters and miracles, where wild train spirits stampede over the tracks and glass-skinned dancers with glowing veins light the streets.
When a devastating betrayal drives her from her home, graffiti artist Beth Bradley stumbles into the secret city, where she finds Filius Viae, London’s ragged crown prince, just when he needs someone most.  An ancient enemy has returned to the darkness under St Paul’s Cathedral, bent on reigniting a centuries-old war, and Beth and Fil find themselves in a desperate race through a bizarre urban wonderland, searching for a way to save the city they both love. Continue reading “Review: The City’s Son by Tom Pollock”

Review: Secrets and Spies – Treason by Jo Macauley

Gunpowder, treason and, plot!
Can one girl save the life of a king?
Both Johnson is a talented and beautiful young actress.  She is also a spy.
The year is 1664, and somebody wants the King dead.   One November morning, a mysterious ghost ship drifts up the Thames.   Sent to investigate, fourteen-year-old Beth quickly finds herself embroiled in a dangerous adventure that takes her right into the Tower of London.  Will Beth be able to unravel the plot to kill the King before it’s too late? Continue reading “Review: Secrets and Spies – Treason by Jo Macauley”

Review: The Chaos Walking trilogy, by Patrick Ness

Chaos WalkingTodd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is. Continue reading “Review: The Chaos Walking trilogy, by Patrick Ness”

Review: The Sacrifice by Charlie Higson

The Sacrifice

The sickness destroyed everyone over the age of fourteen.  All across London, diseased adults are waiting, hungry predators with rotten flesh and ravaged minds.
Small Sam and his unlikely ally, The Kid, have survived.  They’re safe with Ed and his friends at the Tower of London, but Sam is desperate to find his sister.

Their search for Ella means Sam and The Kid must cross the forbidden zone.  And what awaits them there is more terrifying than any of the horror they’ve suffered so far… Continue reading “Review: The Sacrifice by Charlie Higson”

Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan

No one has set foot on Earth for centuries – until now.  Ever since a devastating The 100nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth’s surface.  Now, on hundred juvenile delinquents – considered expendable by society – are being sent on a dangerous mission: to re-colonise the planet.  It could be their second chance at life… or it could be a suicide mission.
Clarke was arrested for treason, although she’s haunted by the memory of what she really did.  Wells, the chancellor’s son, came to Earth for the girl he loves – but will she ever forgive him?  Reckless Bellamy fought his way onto the transport pod to protect his sister.  And Glass managed to escape back onto the ship, only to find that life there is just as dangerous as she feared it would be on Earth. Continue reading “Review: The 100 by Kass Morgan”

Review: Tall Tales From Pitch End by Nigel McDowell

talltalesIt’s been ten long years since Bruno Atlas’s father was murdered by Rebels in Pitch End.  A dark, forbidding town of one-footed ravens and clockwork sentries, ruled by the sinister Elders, it’s the only home Bruno has ever known.  Yet Bruno has always felt that there is more to Pitch End that he has been told – and when he finds his father’s old, battered copy of Tall Tales of Pitch End, that story begins to unravel, and an astonishing adventure begins to unfold… Continue reading “Review: Tall Tales From Pitch End by Nigel McDowell”

Review: Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman

nobleNearly two centuries ago, the region on our Eastern borders was not the volcanic wasteland it is today. It was a land as beautiful as our own, but inhabited by another culture, the so-called Crusaders, whose very nature was intemperate and undisciplined. Whilst we in the Alliance lived in harmony with the land, valuing and living at one with nature, their highly skilled scientists sought to control and subdue nature through their technology. Whilst we lived in peace and were tolerant to all, they were aggressive and expansionist and viewed our lands and our lives with covetous eyes. Whilst we respected nature, they sought to modify the very face of the continents, shifting the tectonic plates beneath their feet to create more territory for their ever-expanding population by detonating nuclear explosives deep within the Earth.
But in their hubris they over-reached themselves…
Continue reading “Review: Noble Conflict by Malorie Blackman”

Review: Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

One cursed demigod, two new heroes.  A quest to unleash the God of Death…

“I’m the God of Rome. I protect the legions.  I don’t want war without end.  You will serve me.”
“Not likely,” Percy said.
“ I order a quest!” the god announced.  “You will go north and find Thanatos in the land beyond the gods.  You will free him and thwart the plans of the giants.” Continue reading “Review: Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan”

Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

In Ethan Wate’s hometown there lies the darkest of secrets…
There is a girl.  Slowly, she pulled the hood from her head…green eyes, black hair.  Lena Duchannes.
There is a curse.  On the Sixteenth Moon, of the Sixteenth Year, the Book will take what it’s been promised.  And nothing can stop it.
In the end, there is a grave.
Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep and powerful love.  But Lena is cursed and, on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided.  Ethan never even saw it coming. Continue reading “Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl”

Review: Shiverton Hall by Emerald Fennell

They slowed as they reached the gate: two stone columns each with its own crumbling angel perched on top.  The angels help up a rusty, wrought-iron arch that read, in curling, serpentine letters: SHIVERTON HALL.

Arthur Bannister has been unexpectedly offered a place at Shiverton Hall, a school steeped in tales of curses and evil.  But at least there are a few friendly faces: George, who shows him around; also Penny and Jake.  However, there are some friends who you don’t want to have at all, as Arthur is soon to discover…

I love a bit of YA and was a big Point Horror reader, back in the day, so I was really intrigued by Shiverton Hall, the debut from Emerald Fennell.  There’ve been comparisons to the Harry Potter series but really the trope it emerges from is much older than that – the boarding school adventure going back to Tom Brown’s School Days, as well as female favourites like Mallory Towers.  Also, I think it’s a shallow likeness because at Hogwarts, the students are living in a fantastical world of wizards and magic, whereas Shiverton Hall is home to normal, everyday young people facing terrible spectres and paranormal goings-on.

Straight away, I found Fennell’s prose open and accessible, while still very capable of creating a tone of menace and danger.  After a brief introduction, we head off to Arthur’s new school, with its imposing buildings and archaic traditions, not to mention some rather terrifying ghost stories about its past.  Fennell uses the idea of a book of historical ghost stories written by the grandfather of Arthur’s friend George to share with the reader the ominous past of the Hall.  I felt this worked very smoothly where, dealt with in a different way, it might have been contrived.  George is keen to share the ghost stories with Arthur, so we learn at the same time that he does the horrible fates of the previous residents.

Some of the ghost stories are really quite scary, or at least surprising, for an adult reader.  They all result in some sort of death or disappearance and some are particularly grim and gory.  The book seems to be aimed at children of 9 or 10 and over, but some might find these scenes a little much.  Slightly older readers will no doubt relish them.

I enjoyed the range of characters in the book.  Fennell certainly draws on the idea of meathead bullies and oddballs sticking together, but there’s a reason these are such popular ideas – they’re often true – so again, what could seem repetitive is fresh and enjoyable because the characters are very believable and sympathetic.

My only real criticism of Shiverton Hall is that there are a couple of ‘bloopers’ which I felt could have been easily sorted out and which seem to have been missed.  At one point, a character uses the phrase “beyond reproach” to mean ‘so awful that there’s no point in criticism’ when it means ‘so perfect as to be beyond criticism’.  

There are also a couple of points which seem inaccurate, historically.  One of the ghost stories mentions the owner of Shiverton Hall (supposed to be somewhere in the north of England) beating his slaves viciously in 1799.  While the slave trade wasn’t abolished in the UK until 1807 and slavery throughout the Commonwealth until 1833, no one in the UK had been permitted to have their slaves in this country since 1772, even if they could still trade and own slaves for ‘use’ abroad. I had a feeling it was wrong when I read it, and a quick Google showed my feeling was right. Something else which jarred was a nouveau-riche character, who’d made his money from textiles, described as wearing “a foot-high powdered wig” in what must have been the mid-1800s.  Really – a Victorian new-money mill owner in a powdered wig?  Those sort of wigs were a phenomenon of the late 1600s and 1700s, and fell out of fashion in the UK with the French Revolution (and probably in France too, as the sort of people who wore them didn’t keep their heads anyway).  Even if the character is supposed to be a bit ridiculous, it seems unlikely he would have been wearing something 50 years out of date.

Perhaps I’m being really picky here; generally I very much enjoyed Shiverton Hall, reading the whole thing in a couple of hours, and it’s quite possible that most people wouldn’t notice these things.  I suppose, I just think, if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.  Having just read Wolf Hall, it’s emphasised to me the importance of doing your historical research thoroughly, even if it is just about a wig!  Even so, I would certainly recommend this to young people and their parents, as well as grown-ups who enjoy a bit of adventure, and I’m hoping there’ll be a follow-up in the not-too-distant future.

Kate Neilan
@magic_kitten