2011 Thriller YA

Mice by Gordon Reece


Five words from the blurb: bullying, women, timid, shattered, control

Ignore the weird romance-like cover, this book is a dark, fast-paced thriller. Many bloggers raved about Mice on its release four years ago, but I never got around to reading it. Then last week I was looking for a light, but gripping read and stumbled across my copy. It was a perfect match for my mood and is great for a slightly creepy Halloween read.

Mice begins with fifteen-year-old Shelley being bullied at school. Shelley and her mother are both quiet people, unwilling to make a fuss. They silently endure the jibes of others and many people abuse their good nature. Then one day they are woken in the night by a burglar and they face the difficult decision of whether or not to fight back for the first time in their lives.

Mice is a clever book. On the surface it is a gripping read, packed with twists and turns, but underneath it raises many interesting questions about whether we should always stand up for ourselves. It also has some good observations about how we interact with others:

All I could think was that no matter how close we are to someone else, there are limits, frontiers between us that we just can’t cross, things that touch us so deeply they can’t be shared with anyone else. Maybe, I thought, it’s what we can’t share with others that really defines who we are. 

The subject matter was dark, but not oppressively so – it’s a great introduction to scary books! Some elements of the story required the reader to suspend their disbelief, but I didn’t mind as these were necessary to build a more interesting plot. I also found some of the symbolism a bit heavy-handed, but overall the writing quality was quite good.

The characters were well drawn and I especially loved the interaction between the mother and her daughter. There was a real emotional connection between the two and the reader quickly becomes involved in their dilemmas.

This wasn’t great literature, but it was an entertaining plot driven novel. Recommended if you’re looking for a quick, engaging read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I found this a gripping, unputdownable read, one which I devoured in one sitting. Lovely Treez Reads

Some nice dramatic scenes are unfortunately let down by obvious concepts and ideas. A little more showing and a little less telling. Sam, Goodreads

Thought provoking and reading like something that could easily have been torn from the front page of a newspaper – this is great fiction and I shall certainly look out for Graham Reece’s next one. Books and Writers


2012 Audio Book Books for Children Recommended books YA

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (audio book)

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend Note: Author is known as Matthew Dicks in the US

Five words from the blurb: boy, danger, loyalty, imagination, friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has the most original premise I’ve come across this year. The book is narrated by Budo, an imaginary friend who explains what life is like for those who only exist because a human has thought of them. Most live brief lives with young children, but Budo is special. Budo was imagined by Max, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Because Max has autism his attention to detail is excellent and so Budo is very life-like – unlike most other imaginary friends he even has ears! Budo can talk to Max and other imaginary friends, but cannot communicate with other people or touch anything in the real world. One day Max disappears and Budo is the only one who can save him. This leads to a thrilling, entertaining plot that is packed with emotion.

I am drawn towards books that deal with autism and this one did a fantastic job of showing the condition in a realistic, but positive light. Matthew Green’s career as a teacher has obviously helped him to understand children and this engaging story was filled with lovely little details about school life.

There were a few moments when I became frustrated by the plot – in the middle it became far fetched and I could see easier ways for Max to be rescued. But as this is a children’s book I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – especially since the plot was so compelling.

There were also times when it got a bit too sentimental for me, but on the whole the messages were good and so I’ll forgive this too.

You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.

The audio book narration was wonderful! Matthew Brown was perfect, effortlessly managing all the different voices and capturing the heartache and emotion of the situation. I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it as much if I’d read the print edition. The style reminded me of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and I’m sure that anyone who enjoyed Annabel Pitcher’s book will also like this one.

Because it addresses so many issues this book would make a fantastic classroom resource for older children. Themes of bullying, death, friendship and disability could all be discussed. The fact that most of the problems were faced by imaginary friends somehow made them less oppressive. But this isn’t just a book for children; as an adult I loved the original approach and was charmed by Budo’s insight in human behaviour.

This has become one of my favourite books with an autistic character. Recommended.


Many thanks to Bay State Reader’s Advisory for drawing this book to my attention!

The thoughts of other bloggers:

I listened to the entire 10 hour audiobook over the course of a single day because I just could not bear to put it down. Devourer of Books

….for all the suspense, the writing wasn’t quite as tight as Emma Donoghue’s in Room. Capricious Reader

That Matthew Dicks crafted his novel in such a way as to give an almost 3D view of the life of a child with emotional and social issues impressed me. The Literate Housewife


2000 - 2007 Fantasy Science Fiction YA

The Shadow Speaker – Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu


Five words from the blurb: 2070, mysticism, West Africa, survival, magical 

Earlier this year Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu won the World Fantasy Award for her novel, Who Fears Death. It sounded really interesting, but a few people on twitter suggested that her earlier novel, The Shadow Speaker, was even better and since it was available in my local library I decided to give it a try first.

The Shadow Speaker is a young adult fantasy set in West Africa in 2070. The world has been changed by a nuclear war that released “peace bombs” around the globe. These bombs caused the human population to mutate in a variety of different ways; the idea: to create so much diversity that no single group would be big enough to launch a war against another. Many of the population now possess magical powers – some can fly and the central character, Ejii, has the ability to hear the thoughts of plants, animals and people.

There is a lot going on in this book. African mythology is mixed with science fiction and fantasy to create something truly unique. The blend of magic with interesting predictions for the future created a book that I found very compelling and the fact it is aimed at teenagers means that it is easy to read and is the perfect introduction to African literature.

There is something for everyone in this book – there are talking cats, flesh-eating bushes, links to other worlds and a myriad of new inventions. At times there was a bit too much going on for my liking – so many new ideas on each page that I longed for a bit of calm.

My only other criticism is that the characters weren’t very well developed. There was so much world building crammed into this book that the characters remained a bit flat. They lacked an emotional depth and I failed to connect with any of them, but this wasn’t a major problem as other aspects of the book were so strong.

The best thing about The Shadow Speaker is that it contains a depth behind the words. I found this interesting blog post about the religious messages in the book and I’m sure that it contains equally insightful thoughts about many other aspects of our civilisation.

Recommended to anyone looking for something a bit different, especially if you are interested in African literature.


2011 Audio Book Books for Children YA

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher (Audio Book)

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

Shortlisted for Galaxy National Book Awards 2011 Children’s Book of the Year & Audiobook of the Year
Shortlisted for the 2011 Dylan Thomas Prize
Shortlisted for 2011 Red House Children’s Book Award

Five words from the blurb: boy, loss, family, heart-warming, struggle

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is a children’s book that tackles many difficult themes. The story is narrated by Jamie, a ten-year-old boy who lost one of his twin sisters in a terrorist attack five years ago. His family are torn apart by grief, but Jamie was too young to remember much about his sister and just longs to be normal. He wishes that his father would stop drinking and that his mother would return. This book is a moving account of Jamie’s struggle to understand his family and his plans to lead a happy life.

I loved this book! Jamie was a fantastic narrator and I felt I understood his complex problems entirely.

That’s the thing no one seems to get. I don’t remember Rose. Not really. I remember two girls on holiday playing Jump The Wave, but I don’t know where we were, or what Rose said, or if she enjoyed the game. And I know my sisters were bridesmaids at a neighbour’s wedding, but all I can picture is the tube of Smarties that Mum gave me during the service. Even then I liked the red ones best and I held them in my hand until they stained my skin pink. But I can’t remember what Rose wore, or how she looked walking down the aisle, or anything like that.

He had an innocence that I was charmed by and he dealt with his problems with the realistic, but flawed thinking of a child.

My only problem with the book was that I felt some of the themes were a bit heavy-handed. The “not all Muslims are terrorists” plot thread was especially lacking in subtlety, but I suppose that it is a children’s book and so should be given some leeway.

David Tennant’s narration of the audio was fantastic. I can imagine that reading Jamie’s rambling thoughts in the print edition could become draining, but David Tennant added a warmth and humour to the text. He brought the story to life and I frequently found myself unable to turn the audio off, listening to the end of a section in the car after I’d reached my destination. I normally prefer audios narrated by multiple actors, but this was so well executed that it has just become my favourite single narrator audio book of all time.

Highly recommended.


Clips of the audio book are being released as part of a blog tour. The third section of the audio book and links to the other blogs taking part are below.

2011 Booker Prize YA

The Testament of Jessie Lamb – Jane Rogers

The Testament of Jessie Lamb Long listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: women, dying, girl, innocent, heroism

The Testament of Jessie Lamb is one of the most frustrating books I’ve ever read. I was gripped by the fast paced plot, but internally screaming at the frustrating actions of the narrator, the unlikely global events and the numerous bizarre plot twists.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb is set in the near future, at a time when an act of biological terrorism has caused all women to die during pregnancy. This leads the human race into imaging a time when there will no longer be any children, when the aging population will have to support themselves and when they will eventually have to face the extinction of the human race. The premise appealed to me greatly, but unfortunately the book concentrated on a seemingly bizarre solution to this problem (minor spoiler – highlight to read) – teenage girls who don’t see any point of living if they can’t have children (roll-eyes) decide to sacrifice themselves to create a new generation. ARRRGGHH!!

It is hard to explain what frustrated me most about this book, but I’ll try my best! In a similar way to The Unit, I had problems with the basic premise of the story and I was unable to suspend my disbelief because there were so many holes in the plot. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the book so I’ll just give a couple of examples from the first section: Why would terrorists want to wipe out the entire human race? Normally terrorists just want to kill a certain group of society. Why couldn’t they save the women by using contraception/the morning after pill/hysterectomies?  

The most annoying aspect of this book was the narrator, Jessie Lamb. Her teenage outlook on life had me internally screaming at the pages. Everything problem had a simple solution and she seemed to think she had the power to save the world by herself. Her ideas were one-dimensional and failed to take into account the complexity of the adult world. I have had similar issues with teenage protagonists in the past (eg. The Stars in the Bright Sky, Pigeon English) and can see that people like this exist, but they drive me nuts. Reading about them is not an enjoyable experience. (Also note the awkward sentence structure in this passage).

We had spent hours discussing it. Why shouldn’t anyone over 10 should be able to elect representatives and have them stand up for us in parliament? How else could kids have power? But Nat and Lisa said why would you want to join in their stupid system. And Lisa said why did Iain  care, he already had the vote and it’d done a fat lot of good.

I’d describe this as a good YA book – one that allows teenagers to think about a few issues relevant to them. I admit to being dragged along by the pace of the plot, but as an adult reader I was unsatisfied. My negative reaction to this book proves that it has affected me on some level and that is surely better than the boredom/indifference produced by others. I’d therefore recommend it as the perfect book group choice – I guarantee it will create a lively debate!

If you enjoy reading about life from the perspective of teenagers then I’m sure you’ll appreciate this book, but I can’t understand why it made the Booker long list.


2010 Books in Translation Richard and Judy Book Club YA

No and Me – Delphine de Vigan

 Richard and Judy 2010 Winter Read

Translated from the French by George Miller

No and Me is a simple story about a 13-year-old girl who has an intelligence that isolates her from her peers. Difficulties at home make her life even harder, but everything changes when she befriends No, a homeless girl a few years older than her.

The book is very quick to read and contains a nice, heartwarming story, but I found it too straightforward to satisfy me. It felt like a children’s book and the teenage protagonist emphasised this classification.

Several serious issues were raised, but although it contained some emotional scenes I thought the book lacked subtlety. Everything was explained in easy to understand terms – perfect you teenagers, but a little patronising for intelligent adults.

Before I met No I thought that violence meant shouting and hitting and war and blood. Now I know that there can also be violence in silence and that it’s sometimes invisible to the naked eye. There’s violence in the time that conceals wounds, the relentless succession of days, the impossibility of turning back the clock. Violence is what escapes us. It’s silent and hidden. Violence is what remains inexplicable, what stays forever opaque.

I also thought that some of the story line was a bit far fetched, or at the very least over simplified. I don’t want to give anything away (although you can probably guess what happens!) but I have serious doubts about whether the events in this book could happen in real life, especially in the given time frame.

If you are interested in books about teenagers coming to terms with difficult situations then I recommend that you read Luke and Jon instead. The writing quality is far higher and I guarantee that you’ll find it more emotional.

Recommended to those who like simple, sentimental books.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

…its simplicity is part of its charm. Lovely Treez Reads

Beautifully written, touching and original…. Steph Bowe

No and Me is a very powerful book and I think that it is perfect for young adult readers…. Dot Scribbles