One by Sarah Crossan

One is the 2016 of the Clip Carnegie medal, so it comes with good pedigree, I was hoping for something rather less traumatic, but just as compelling as The Bunker Diary by Kevin Brooks.  The premise follows Grace and Tippi who are conjoined twins, schooled at home, but about to start that traditional source of teenage angst and stress – the American High School.  They are of course a source of curiosity for their fellow students, and the soon make friends with Yasmeen and Jon, outsiders themselves who accept the twins without mockery or judgement. There is of course a spanner in the works, the twins health fails and the doctors have to decide whether to separate them or not, and after 16 years, this is physically and emotionally terrifying for Grace, Tippi and their family. 

It all sounds rather straight forward, and in all honesty it is. It falls into that “teen(s) under pressure” category of YA fiction, alongside The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and The Bunker Diary. Perhaps I am getting old and cynical, but the novel feels like a well-trodden path with the new twist of co-joined twins. There are some interesting set pieces such as how their psychologist deals with giving them therapy individually, and how the practicalities of life are handled. Beyond that though, there is little depth, certainly it is missing that real psychological tension and insight that The Bunker Diary gave us, and which surely must exist in such life and death situations.  

One was up against stiff competition, including The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness and The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, so I wonder why this won over these other fantastic novels. The writing style is unusual, with very short chapters, some written as poems, short bursts of prose and verse. Perhaps it was this, which is uncommon in YA fiction the judges saw as pushing it ahead of the others on the shortlist. I can’t help that feel though that it might be clever, it lacked soul.  Certainly read it, it’s a good book, but it isn’t a medal winner for me.

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The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper

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This is the second book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence, confusingly also called The Dark Is Rising and is all part of my The Dark Is Rising Read-a-thon.

In this book we leave the Drew siblings, who found the Holy Grail in Over Sea Under Stone, and we join Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son the day before his eleventh birthday. His birthday is the 21st December, Midwinter’s Day, and when he wakes he finds a deep blanket of snow. He also finds that he has left the modern world and outside is the world as it was centuries before.

He goes on to meet Merriman Lyon, one of the Old Ones of the Light, pitched in an eternal battle with the Dark. Merriman tells Will that he is the Sign Seeker, an Old One, with a special role to play. Will has to collect the six signs, which will make the ring of power, required to help defeat the Dark.

The book is incredibly atmospheric, with Will travelling backwards and forwards through time as the Dark pile on ever more destruction in the modern day. There is never ending snow, bitter cold, and then floods. The village in which Will lives in is set in the Thames valley, and the descriptions are stunning, as is the plotting. The whole story slowly builds momentum until the Dark unleashes the peak of its power on the twelfth night and Will truly starts to understand what being an Old One means.

It all sounds quite full on, and it is, but lovely family scenes break the tension as the Stanton family prepare for Christmas. Seeing Will go from being an ordinary eleven year old boy to an Old One with ancient knowledge is wonderful, and your heart will be in your mouth as he finally faces The Dark. 

PS. Don’t judge the book by the film, which was a travesty. 

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne

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This wonderful novel is by the same author who wrote The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, which I haven’t read, but have never met anyone who didn’t rave about it.

This story is set over the course of the Second World War, it follows a young boy, Pierrot, born in France to a French mother and German father. His dad is deeply psychologically scarred from fighting for his homeland during the First World War, and Pierrot is eventually orphaned when both parents die. Aged just seven, and with war in the air he leaves his best friend, a young deaf Jewish boy called Anshel to live with his Aunt in Austria.

It transpires that his Aunt is housekeeper to Hitler and Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing. Over the course of the war Pierrot becomes, what we would now call radicalized, and his behavior and actions lead to some devastating consequences.

Despite being set over seventy years ago, the book has some very strong contemporary messages about ideology, how good people can be swept up into behavior they never would have thought possible of themselves, and the devastation which can be caused by those who feel alone and isolated, despite being surrounded by others.

This might nominally be a children’s book, but it has a message for all of which we can’t afford to ignore. 

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Set several hundred years after an explosion that has decimated the planet, something odd has happened. Babies are born only in pairs. Twins. Not identical though, one is perfect, known as the Alpha and the other has some sort of disability, knows the Omega. The Alphas send the Omegas away, where the live in villages eeking out an existence on the worst land in the most difficult of circumstances. The Alphas can’t forget about their twins though, they are linked in life an death. When one of them dies, so will the other, and they will die of the same thing. If one gets the flu, so does the other, if one is stabbed, the other will have the same symptoms. 

Rarely two babies are born which appear normal. Zach and Cass are such a pair of twins, but Cass has a secret, she is an Omega, and is eventually found out. By this time the Alphas have such a control over the Omegas rebellion is in the air. 

I read this on holiday and my nose was glued to the page. There are several wonderful set pieces including an amazing escape and dash for freedom. The characters are sympathetic, and the danger feels very real. What struck me is the way the Alphas justify their actions, it isn’t so far away from what many powerful people in our own world would argue in a similar position. 

The link between the twins is a clever plot device, and there are a couple of twists when this is used to great effect, revealing the desperation of all caught up in this post-apocolyptic world. This is the first book in a sequence and the resolution to this volume is good, but leads it tantalising open for further adventures. 

The CLIP Carnegie Nominations for 2015

The CLIP Carnegie Nominations for 2015 have been out a little while, but I have only just had time to look at the list properly. It is quite a long list, and I haven’t ready many of them, but there are some wonderful authors in there. 

Tim Bowler has been nominated for Night Runner, the story of a young man caught up in criminal gangs. Tim Bowler is a favourite of mine, although it has been a good while since I ready any of his books. Another one to add to the wants list. 

Last year’s winner, Kevin Brooks is up again, but this time for The Ultimate Truth: Travis Delaney Investigates. The Bunker Diary was a top read for me last year. I haven’t read this new one, but am intrigued to see if it is as dark as The Bunker Diary. 

The Maggot Moon writer, Sally Gardener is listed for Tinder, set during the 30 years war, and about magic, witches and a strange creature stalking the hero. The front cover looks amazing doesn’t it?

We Were Liars by E Lockhart is also listed, another of my 2014 reads, and great for young adults out there.  The great Marcus Sedgwick’s She Is Not Invisible must be in with a good chance of winning with his wonderful tale of a blind girl and her brother searching for their Dad in New York City. 

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens is there too, which I was pleased to see. A review is  scheduled for next week. It is the first of a series of Wells and Wong mysteries set in a 1930s British girls boarding school.  

On top of that lot, there are some other wonderful writers including Phillip Reave, Meg Rosoff, Neil Gaiman,  Patrick Ness, Matt Haig and Roddy Doyle. I have just added at least a dozen new titles to my want to read list…  The Delightful Mr F will need to build some more bookcases…

Have you read any of the books on the list?

 

 

 

She Is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick

I’m a huge fan of Marcus Sedgwick. There aren’t many writers who can move deftly between times and places with different novels and still retain quality writing.  

In this book we meet Laureate, a blind British teenager. Her father is a famous writer and he has gone missing in New York. Desperately worried about him, she sets off to Heathrow airport to fly to the US to find him. She takes her seven year old brother with her to help her navigate a world set up for the sighted. 

Once in New York they try to track down her father, who is writing a book about coincidence, or co-inky-dinks as her little brother says. The sections about about coincidences were absolutely fascinating, especially, if like me you love numbers and the tricks they can play on you.  There is even a lovely little secret revealed for the reader at the end of the book. I bet you won’t be able to resist working through it. 

On the face of it, this is a straightforward thriller, two kids try to solve the mystery of their father’s disappearance, but that isn’t the point. There is a wonderful relationship between Laureth and her brother, as they each rely on the other in different ways. It also really made me appreciate how hard it must be to be blind and how all those little everyday things such as shaking hands can cause a problem when you can’t see.  

As I was reading I felt I was getting a real sense of what it was like to be blind, as much as one can when one isn’t, and I wasn’t sure why that was. It was only afterwards that another reviewer pointed out that at no point are any visual descriptors used in the book as the story is told from Laureth’s point of view. Every scene is built up using sounds, temperatures, smells and so on, but nothing related to sight. It is extremely clever, extremely subtle and extremely effective. 

This is another book which I won’t be passing on, but has earned a permanent place on my library shelves. 

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

ISBN: 978-1471403989

This Young Adult novel is really rather good. Cadence Sinclair is a 15 year old girl, living a privileged lifestyle, spending the summers on a private island with her extended family. 

Regardless of how much money a family has, there are always secrets, and slowly but surely over the duration of one summer a secret is revealed to Cadence, a secret everyone around her already knows and is trying to keep from her. So far, so young adult. However the secret, when realisation strikes both the reader and Cadence is brutal, and not one I saw coming at all. It is really all rather clever, and disturbing.   What you see if the normal coming of age troubles coupled with a powerful, monied American family with the tough teflon veneer which keeps them going.