Grace Divine is picture perfect; the pretty daughter of a well liked Pastor, good grades, a wonderful brother and family and a quirky and loyal best friend. The problem with perfect things is that they are often hiding imperfections under the façade. For Grace and the Divine family, the secret they are hiding is Daniel, once part of the family and now outcast, never to be mentioned again. This doesn’t work so well for Grace when Daniel appears, unannounced, in her Art classroom.A talent for art that Grace can only aspire to and a certain allure that she certainly can’t stay away from make Daniel a dangerous person to be around. Her brother has uncategorically forbidden her to leave Daniel alone but the secrets that the family are hiding, all personified in Daniel, are too tempting. She could follow him, find out what happened all those years ago to drive Daniel away and make her brother hate him so, but does she dare? Daniel makes her careless, makes her break rules she would never have done before, but also sends shivers through her and she simply can’t leave him alone. Luckily it seems Daniel wants to be as close to her as she does to him, but does he want to be with her because he loves her or is there an ulterior motive driving his actions? My heart has begun to fall to my stomach when we receive another black covered book that promises supernatural romance but The Dark Divine stands on its own merits away from the fashion. Grace is a likeable character, a little too pristine in the beginning but then I enjoyed watching her break the rules all the more.Sometimes characters can have flaws that make it difficult to be inside their heads but Grace was a comfortable vantage point to watch the unfolding drama. Daniel is the epitome of damaged bad boy with hidden depths and if anyone can write a brooding teenage love interest, it’s Bree Despain. Their budding romance is so tangled up that emotions are sure to run high and the trials they face to be together are complex, providing a great mystery to the story. If the characters and romance storyline aren’t enough to grip you (and I promise that they will be!) then the desire to get answers will push you to the very last page. Despite the generic cover, The Dark Divine is a very well written and original book, dark and intense with a wicked streak of humour that was unexpected.
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar
Alton is nephew to his rich, grouchy and distant uncle, Trapp. Trapp doesn’t feature much in Alton’s life, except as a voice on the phone that his mother forces him to make pleasantries with until Trapp becomes blind. Alton is sent to help his uncle one a week to continue his passion; playing bridge.
Trapp is a genius in the bridge world. He can’t see the cards but he doesn’t need to; Alton tells him what cards he has and the players announce what they lay down and that’s enough for Trapp. He has a gift for the game and Alton’s ignorance makes him perfect as a card turner. He won’t give the game away by reacting to or questioning Trapp’s instructions. Alton doesn’t remain ignorant for long however, and with the help of Toni, Trapp’s previous (and accidentally pretty and, possibly, insane) card turner, he begins to get to grips with the game that his Uncle loves. Spending so much time with his Uncle, Alton begins to realise there is more to this old man. He has talents, but interestingly he also has a colourful past. Alton keeps finding that Trapp’s history is intertwined with that of Toni’s grandmother, Annabel, who died in an insane asylum. They play bridge, Alton turns the cards, Trapp shows his genius and bit by tiny bit the puzzle is unravelled. Time is pressing however, as the national Bridge championships are looming and Trapp’s health is failing. He seems to be holding on to win one last time and Alton is holding on to find out what sort of man his uncle really is.
The Cardturner should, by all logic, be a dull book. A thrilling narrative based on a card game between four people that is complex and not generally understood should not be possible. But it is. And it’s this book. The Cardturner was fascinating. I am not a bridge player and knew very little about the game but I found myself sucked into this story so very quickly. It helps that the author is aware of the drawbacks of this story and compensates for them. He explains that there will be sections of the book that are difficult to get through, as they contain technical knowledge. He gives you fair warning when one is approaching (using a small picture of a whale!) and also sums up the main points into a key summary box at the end, so should you not be interested you can skip that section and still get the info you need to understand the story.
In addition to grappling with the minutiae of Bridge, there is another puzzle to work out; the relationship between Trapp and Annabel. Little snippets are given throughout the story, just enough to lead you on and through the pages. The book takes an odd little turn in terms of Trapp and Annabel, taking a supernatural element for the last couple of chapters that I didn’t think sat quite well with the rest of the book, but it’s a small detraction from an otherwise great book. The Cardturner is thrilling, gripping and entirely absorbing. Despite all preconceptions I finished this book feeling completely satisfied and utterly delighted that I had found such a gem.
Our thanks to Bloomsbury for our review copy
Reviewed by Jo@KidsCompass
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
The world in which Elspeth Gordie lives is one of destruction and violence. Years before she was born a nuclear holocaust destroyed the world as we know it and only those who lived on the outskirts of civilisation managed to survive. Through the ruthless extermination of anyone who might be tainted by radiation, society managed to grow while being run by leaders called the Council. The fear and suspicion never left however and the survivors are ruled by an iron fist where dissidents and the new breed of people given strange new abilities by the radiation are destroyed without hesitation.
Elspeth has been orphaned by these activities along with hundreds of others who live together in orphanages. Unlike the others however she has powers she doesn’t dare reveal. Mind control and communicating with animals are just some of the things that could earn her a death sentence, so when a woman from the infamous prison for Misfits visits the orphanage it’s not long before Elspeth’s life crashes around her.
Discovered and taken to the forbidding Obernewtyn high in the mountains, Elspeth finds herself in the middle of an evil conspiracy that shows no qualms in using and killing children to get their own way. Somewhere hidden amongst the peaks are the weapons that destroyed mankind once before and it seems that Elspeth is the key to either finding them or keeping them hidden forever. This is the first book in a series first published in Australia in 1987 but which is new to Britain. You might expect the story to be dated or old fashioned but the tale is surprisingly relevant to the modern age even if fear of nuclear weapons has died down somewhat since the end of the cold war. Isobelle Carmody gives a fascinating insight into the break down of civilisation after a disaster of worldwide magnitude and she doesn’t hesitate to add some of the more gruesome sides to human nature. The world she creates is one of incredible viciousness and pettiness, with humankind still subject to its greed and thirst for power. Religion also plays a part, represented by the Herders who enforce their views on the rest of the survivors by burning them on the stake if necessary.
If the thought provoking sides to the book aren't enough then there is also a lot to praise about the story itself. The plot is absorbing and clever with a decent amount of pace to keep it from becoming boring. The characters are also of interest, in particular Elspeth who has a very strong personality and whose character development mirrors the changes in the plot nicely. One criticism however is that the evildoers could have had more of a presence which would have created a more foreboding atmosphere.
Obernewtyn can be a little disjointed at times but in general this is a good and thrilling story that poses interesting questions on human nature when faced with a crisis.
Our thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us a copy
The Truth About Leo by David Yelland
The truth about Leo is that, for the last few years, his life has been awful. His mother died of cancer and his father has slowly been sliding into alcoholism. He does his best to make things better, to bring back the father he remembers, by hiding the bottles and getting up at 4.30 so he can clean the house after his dad has smashed it up but nothing he does can stop it. In fact, things are getting worse as now his father is also becoming violent. Leo's time at school is no better. He has only one friend in Flora and is picked on constantly by his violent teacher, Mr Manders. There seems to be no escape from his misery and he dreads going to school as much as he hates going home afterwards. Alone and grieving for a dead mother and a live father, things are bound to come to a head; nobody can live in isolation forever. The problem is, if someone finds out will Leo lose his Dad, the only person left in his life?
I’ll start with the drawback to The Truth Bout Leo and that is the character of the Prime Minister who appears briefly to bring some humour to the story. In this it is successful, but sits rather awkwardly with the rest of the story and is perhaps a bit childish for the target audience. That is honestly the only criticism we could find to make. Apart from that easily forgotten and overlooked point this is a brilliant book. Heartbreakingly sad, there’s plenty to cry over here as the author gives us an in-depth look at Leo's pain and isolation as he struggles with his living hell. Many of these moving scenes obviously involve Leo himself but the other characters, in particular the adults, play a strong part as well. Leo’s Grandmother in particular undergoes a radical transformation in the reader’s opinion as we learn the reasons she hid from the truth. Leo himself is a lovable character who quickly becomes endearing and you cannot help but feel pity and concern for this boy. His grief for his lost mother is overpowering at times and helps drive the story along as many of the books saddest moments are drawn from his memories. The author himself is a recovering alcoholic whose wife died of cancer and whose young son had to deal with the consequences of his drinking problem. The fact that this book is drawn from painful experience is apparent and it is thanks to this past that we can read such an honest and personal story that deals with a terrible theme that is so often overlooked. There is a lot to love in The Truth About Leo and it will come as a great surprise if it isn’t at least nominated for a few awards. Touching, sad and yet with an underlying message of hope if you are going to read just emotionally tough book this year then make it this one.
Our thanks to Puffin for sending us a copy.
Review by James@KidsCompass.
Paper Townsby John Green
Paper Towns opens with the best day of Quentin’s life. He’s desperately in love with his neighbour, Margo Roth Spiegelman, the most beautiful and popular girl in school and always full of wild ideas and adventures. On this day she has discovered that her boyfriend has cheated on her with her best friend. She drags Quentin out of his bed in the middle of the night and takes him as a sidekick on her mission of revenge. Together they cause chaos for all her school enemies, painting graffiti on houses and cars, dispensing justice with smelly fish and hair removal cream. For Quentin it seems like the best chance he will ever have of getting to know the girl of his dreams.
The next day however she doesn’t turn up to school, or the day after that. Both her parents and the police think she’s run away again and Quentin is convinced that she has left him a series of clues to her location. There are many distractions from his quest: his friends, his new popularity at school, graduation and his parent’s complete lack of understanding with regards to his need for a car. Despite this, nothing can pull him away from the hunt for the girl he loves. As one clue follows another it soon becomes clear that the happy, popular girl everyone thinks they know is a lot more fragile than they thought and Quentin starts to feel that Margo just doesn't want to be found or something far worse has happened.
Before you think to yourself that Paper Towns is just another coming of age novel, let me warn you that this is a book of unexpected brilliance. Quentin’s transformation into a man plays a big part in the story as does the all consuming love he feels for Margo but this a funny, intense and very philosophical book as well. First of all let’s start with the emotional side of things. The hero is head over heals for Margo and most of the other characters are also in some sort of relationship and for most of these the good get the love they deserve while the bad suffer accordingly. For Quentin, things are a bit more intense and complicated. He is a hopeless romantic in a way that is rather reminiscent of old fairy tales and it quickly becomes apparent that he would do anything for her, a fact that has heart-breaking consequences in the end. There is a very strong comic element to the book as well, with the usual teenage banter and insults being hurled around but also with some more subtle touches. One particular favourite is the friend whose parents own the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Black Santas in the world. Such moments and Quentin’s friends provide relief from the intensity of the story and supply the reader with plenty of laughter. For those who like to go a bit further than just a great story then Tom Green provides a very insightful and thought provoking look at teenage life and the world in general. Themes range from family life to the seeming shallowness of life but whatever he chooses to write about you can be certain that the author will have an opinion on it and doesn’t hesitate to let his rebellious side show.
Paper Towns is clever, emotional, funny and yet heart-breaking all at the same time. This is a coming of age story but one of real quality, the likes of which I don’t remember reading in quite a long time. Five stars and more!
Our thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us a copy.
Review by James@Kidsompass.
Blue Moon by Alyson Noel
Ever suffered greatly in the first novel of this series. Suddenly orphaned through a terrible accident (that was actually not so accidental), she was sent to live with a career minded aunt and left to deal with the grief of losing her family and the overwhelming onset of her psychic ability.
The arrival of Damen, a handsome, 400 year old immortal who also happens to be Ever’s destined soul mate for the last four centuries improves matters for her. He helps Ever to get a grip on her psychic powers and together they visit the realm between lands where all things are possible; Summerland. Ever is now also an immortal and must drink the elixir that Damen also consumes. This second book shows them very much in love and, as her relationship develops and her powers come more controlled, Ever seems much happier.
Happier that is, until the arrival of Roman. Handsome and popular he nonetheless sets Ever on edge. For reasons she cannot explain she is wary of him, despite the fact the he has undoubtedly won over all her other friends. She doesn’t have time to wonder long though, because Damen begins to change. He becomes distant, detached and cold. Critically, the immortal who has never had an aura before suddenly develops a colourful glow. Ever can ony watch as the love of her many lives ditches her for the popular kids, starts flirting with her rival, Stacey, and begins to spread rumours that Ever is a psycho stalker. She eventually ties up Damen’s changes with the arrival of Roman. Seeking answers that she cannot get in this world, Ever travels to Summerland looking for a cure. What she finds is a second chance. It may just be possible for Ever to move backwards in time, to go back to being the Ever who was carefree and had a family, to save the lives of her parents, to save Riley. All she needs to do is give up her relationship with Damen, never see her soul mate again. She is faced with an impossible dilemma and time is short; Damen may not last much longer.
The Immortals books are actually pretty good. We say this a lot here at Kid’s Compass but there are so many books out there at the moment involving paranormal romance for teens that its hard to find the gems amongst them all. Having said this, I would safely put Evermore and Blue Moon into the ’good’ category. Ever is a great character and you can really feel with her as she goes through the trauma of the first half of the book. She also has a more realistic relationship with Damen than other teen books portray. She likes him, loves him even by the end of the book but she also realises that he isn’t always the greatest influence. I really liked that there is a more multifaceted approach here. This carries through to Blue Moon. Relationships between Ever, Damen and their friends aren’t at all two dimensional, which lifts the story from the page. It has some great original elements and is overall an genuinely exciting and gripping read. Just a note; it’s really hard to pick up in the middle of a series so if you would like to read Blue Moon, we would recommend you try Evermore first.
Our thanks to MacMillan for sending us a copy.
Review by Joanna@KidsCompass.
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
Lou is an incredibly clever girl, so clever that at the age of 13 she actually attends the classes of fifteen year olds. On the other hand, while her grades are the highest in the class, she’s the outsider of the group with no friends. Things at home aren’t much better. Since the death of her little sister Chloe around five years ago her mother has become withdrawn and unreachable, she hasn’t even left the flat in all that time. Lou’s father does his best to keep up a semblance of normality but she has heard him crying in the bathroom many times and she is not fooled by his charade.
Lou's life has crumbled around her and things don’t look like they will ever change until the day she comes across an 18 year old homeless girl called No, a day on which her entire world will change. Lou has a class presentation on homeless women and she interviews No about her life on the streets. As the details of the harsh realities of her fight for survival come out and their friendship grows, Lou Becomes certain that she must do whatever she can to help. With the permission of her parents she brings the girl to live in their flat and hopes that this helping hand will inspire her to change her life. Her decision will make a huge impact on Lou and her parents in ways she could not have predicted but No’s problems run deeper than she imagined and together they face the toughest struggle in Lou’s young life.
First of all I think it’s worth mentioning what an excellent job has been made of translating this story from the original in French. All to often the English version of a foreign book can seem ponderous and heavy but George Miller has done brilliantly. The author has created a free-flowing and gripping story which is absolutely crammed full of emotions as this young heroine attempts to save another’s life in order to escape her own. This is the main theme of the book, loneliness; two girls of different ages whose mothers no longer seem to love them.
Delphine de Vigan has drawn heavily on a problem so rife in Paris in order to create No. The descriptions of life on the streets are vivid and disturbing, even worse is the portrayal of the characters mindset as she sets upon her path of self-destruction. Because, despite all the help and love in the world, nothing can save someone who does not want to be saved.
No and Me is a tale of unconditional love and heart-rending sadness. As with many French books it is very hard-hitting with plenty of moral lessons but its bitter-sweet ending seems to be unable to draw a conclusion on the subject of homeliness. It’s almost as if the author suggests we should all try our best but not hope for much in return.
A book for those who enjoy an intellectual challenge and are not afraid of sadness.
Our thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us a copy.
Review by James@KidsCompass.
My Love Lies Bleeding by Alyxandra Harvey
Solange is the first female vampire to have been born in nearly 100 years. She is fifteen years old and still has her human senses but is fast approaching her sixteenth birthday, where she will become a fully fledged vampire. This won't be the only change; once she is a vampire she will be much in demand amongst those who want to create a powerful vampire dynasty and in equal demand amongst those who want to stop it. Some girls might have their heads turned by the unexpected attention, with flowers delivered daily and would be suitors literally stalking the house, but Solange is not content to accept her fate. With the help of her brothers and her human best friend, Lucy, she attempts to decide her own destiny,
This is a refreshing take on the typical vampire romance. Romance certainly does play a part, with Solange's brother Nicholas providing a stereotypical romantic lead to Lucy's equally typical young girl in love. What isn't typical in this story are its heroines. Both are sassy and strong examples, unwilling to accept the rigid borders that are outlined for their lives. Solange and Lucy are both vocal and intelligent, easily holding their own in scenes that are otherwise male dominated. This is a feature of the novel that I found particularly useful. The novel is the first in a coming series and many characters are introduced in a relatively short space of time. The Drake family include Solange, her parents, a host of brothers and various extended relations. The enemies include vampire royalty, an aristocrat and his own personal army, a human group intent on vampire destruction, a splinter cell of that group gone renegade and that's all within less than 250 pages. In that quagmire of characters and motivations, having some strong heroines to act as an anchor to the story really helps.
My Love Lies Bleeding is a great example of what can be done with the vampire genre and I do look forward to reading the next in the series. This book's only main problem is in its excessive information, although it will set the scene for the coming series.
Our thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us a copy.
Review by Joanna@KidsCompass.
Catching Fire: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
After Katniss and Peeta survived the Arena of the Hunger Games last year, you would think that things would start to look better for their future. Unfortunately that's not to be. Their act of rebellion has set wheels in motion across the twelve districts for a full scale revolt and the chilling President of Capitol is not at all happy. Our two heroes are due to visit the districts for their Victory Tour and if they don't manage to convince everyone that their actions were those of two love blinded people rather than planned rebellion then they and their families will suffer for it. From the beginning of the trip things look doomed as district after district flares up in violence after their arrival. Knowing they are doomed all Katniss can do is wait for whatever punishment is about to come her way.
She doesn't have to wait long. It turns out the rules for the next Games have been changed. Only previous victors will take part, once again plunging Katniss and Peeta back into the horrifying arena. Things are a little different this time however as the contestants make a series of protest gestures. Even the citizens of the Capitol seem unhappy with the slaughter of so many of their previous favourites. But with only one permitted victor this time, will Katniss and Peeta manage to survive?
Two books in to this trilogy, this is turning out to be one of our favourite series. Suzanne Collins really is a top notch author. When you consider that this is the middle book, which can quite often suffer for pace and excitement, Collins has excelled, cramming it full to the brim with suspense while still expanding on the plot. She builds the story, heading towards what is shaping up to be an amazing final.
The characters are one of the main reasons this book is so appealing. Katniss is one of the best female main characters since Lyra from Philip Pullman's Dark Materials. Armed with a bow and arrow, her weapon of choice, she can be a remorseless killer when she needs to as well as a tough survivor. She is clever, resourceful and regularly outwits her enemies. But for those who like a softer side Katniss is also involved in a love triangle, with Peeta on one side and her childhood friend Gale on the other. Confused by her conflicting emotions, she's pulled from one way to the other and you'll be left almost frustrated by her inability to choose.
A great aspect of the book are the moral issues with which Collins litters her story. In this post-apocalyptic world where unfairness is rife and many starve and live in squalor in order to maintain the rich lifestyles of the few, you'd think there wouldn't be any comparisons to be made with our own world. This is not the case and you'll be left with some serious thoughts on many of society's main issues, such as consumerism and some ideas on dictatorship and subjugation. Collins isn't preachy but leaves you to consider things yourself and many of us will uncomfortably find we resemble most closely the citizens of Capitol rather than our heroes from the poorer districts.
If you haven't read these books do so now. You won't regret it.
Our thanks to Scholastic for sending us a copy.
Review by James@KidsCompass.
Pastworld by Ian Beck
In the mid 21st century London has been turned into a giant theme park. Buckland Corp has recreated a historically accurate replica of the city during the Victorian era. Visitors pay hefty fees to relive the old days, relishing in the violence, decadence and squalor of Pastworld where everything, including the law, is exactly as it was during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Eve is a young woman living in this Victorian city, with no idea that the outside world exists or even any memory of her life before the age of fifteen. Trouble stalks Eve as a ragged looking man begins to follow her and rumours are circulating of the return of the Fantom, a deranged killer much like the Ripper who rules most of the criminal world.
Caleb is visiting Pastworld for the first time with his father, one of the creators of the city. Events turn against him and finding himself accused of kidnap and subject to the old laws of Pastworld, Caleb must a way to escape. Together with Eve, Caleb finds himself drawn into a plot that has been years in the making and must find the Fantom if he is ever to escape.
The premise to Pastworld is a brilliant one and Ian Beck gives his world a moody and atmospheric feel. There is little difficulty in imagining the Victorian London as he describes the foggy streets thronged with huge jostling crowds and the occasional pickpocket. Many of the situations are historically accurate or culturally familiar such as the Victorian obsession with supernatural séances, the Jack the Ripper style murders and the appearance of a main character who very much resembles the Artful Dodger. The plot is well developed and interesting as futuristic science mingles itself with this old world and shows just what lengths some people will go to enrich themselves. The villain of the story is particularly good with his creepy appearance and bloodthirsty behaviour which gradually reveals him as a mad criminal mastermind.
Whilst the premise provides a great backdrop and the plot is exciting and enticing, it is very difficult to become involved with the main characters. Their actions are sometimes unusual and unrealistic, which is a jolt to the natural flow of the book. This is a disappointment as it is the only thing to let down what could have been a great book. Had the characters been slightly more developed and the action scenes been a bit more exciting Pastworld could have had huge success. As it is the idea behind the story is what pulls it out of the bag and it would be great to have this added to in a sequel. I would in particular like to hear more of the strange outside world from which all these visitors come.
A good read that narrowly misses out on being a great one.