Thursday, 7 November 2013

While No One Was Watching by Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

Okay, so Debz is a good friend of mine and a business partner as well. But there is no nepotism here. Nothing makes its way on to this blog unless it takes me out of my editing head. No more than I’ll like anything I don’t actually like on Facebook just because I like the page-owner.
And this book certainly did make me forget to chunter.  
Set in the modern day and also in 1963 with the JF Kennedy murder as a background, the story is in part about the girl who disappeared while no one was watching because all eyes were on JFK. But it is also a story about the 21st Century people who looked for her and who tried to solve the mystery.   
Here we have richly drawn characters, plenty of tension and a fast pace. Every one of the characters is believable and lovable. This novel’s plot is carefully controlled and the novel is certainly page-turner. We’re kept guessing, about quite a few points, long enough to want to read more.
I’m a fast reader normally but had to take my time a little more with this one. This was no bad thing: there is a richness of language here that makes one think a little. And even so, it took me not more than ten days to read.
A really pleasing first novel. I look forward to the next one.    

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Flying for Frankie by Pauline Fisk

Charis Watts and Frankie Bradley are unlikely friends. Charis comes from an ordinary, slightly awkward family. Frankie is a bit of a princess and her family are unbelievably rich. Yet they become the best of friends – which is just as well because Frankie really needs a friend when she becomes very ill with cancer and so does Charis when her family nearly falls apart as her father all but starts an affair with Gran’s friend who also happens to be one of Frankie’s nurses.
As I’m a writer myself and also lecture in creative writing I suffer from extraordinarily acute episodes of the jabbering critic and it wouldn’t quite go away with this one, even though normally the trigger for a book being listed here is that it shuts that critic right up. I wondered here why the writer didn’t allow us to watch the development of the girls’ friendship a little more closely. I sometimes thought that the young protagonist couldn’t possibly think in some of the language the writer had used.
Yet despite all for this the book engaged me enough to be listed here. How?
It is the authenticity of the emotions portrayed that make this book appealing. We experience everything through Charis’s viewpoint. At times she is very frail and sometime she is very strong. And we are kept reading because we wonder how she is going to fulfill the promise of the title. That too brings some surprises.      

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Deep Secret by Berlie Doherty

This is an extraordinarily good tale. Tragedy strikes, there is confusion over twins and what seems like loss actually leads to some rediscovering some old treasures. The various strands of the plot are skilfully woven together and we are kept guessing throughout.
As a teacher of creative writing I could potentially quibble with some of the narrative techniques Berlie Doherty uses. At times the point of view shifts a little too swiftly and a little too often. I’m not sure the voice is always right for the teen reader. Yet she maintains that appropriate balance of dialogue, action, description and exposition.
The story takes place over several years with a concentration on the years in which the new reservoir is constructed and the village and valley are drowned. It’s all left a little open-ended at the end with the protagonist actually absent.                

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Dime quién soy by Julia Navarro

It took me six weeks to read this book. I read for at least 45 minutes a day, more at the weekends and holidays. I am a fast reader. An average-length Dickens’ novel will take me two weeks at this rate. So full marks for this one for keeping me engaged all of the time. But gosh, it must be a hefty volume in hard copy. The sort that makes your wrist ache, particularly near the beginning and the end. Unfortunately I can’t find a translation of this though several of Julia Navarro’s works have been translated into English.
It is the story of Amelia Garoya, reconstructed by her great-grandson who is a journalist. So, we have the story of her life and the story of how he pieces together that life. It is exciting form beginning to end as she takes part in almost every drama of the 20th century: Spanish Civil War, the early days of Communist Russia, World War II, the Cold War and the falling of the Berlin wall. Alongside that she has her own personal journey: she loses her husband and child though her own actions but creates a compensation for this.
I never wanted to put this down but of course I had to: my own writing, my day job and the need to sleep and eat intervened. I was disappointed when I had finished. It’s often hard leaving characters that you have come to know. It was particularly difficult in this case.
This was yet another of those extraordinary books that took me out of my editing head. There are very few of these, even though I do enjoy others where that nagging voice remains. I’ll always give an author five stars if they manage this.             

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Slated by Teri Terry

I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that it is going on to my reading list at the University of Salford, on my module Writing Novels for Young People. One of the hardest things to get right, I tell my students often, is maintaining both pace and emotional closeness. Teri Terry does this superbly in Slated.

In this dystopian near-future young adult novel Terry presents us with a world that is believable and disturbing. Kyla is one of the “slated”. Because of her less than satisfactory past – according to someone’s terms if not her own - she has had her memory wiped in this world where young people are no longer allowed mobile phones. Slating is used on youngsters who have rebelled or look as if they might. All is controlled by the sinister Lorders – dressed in grey and sometimes black.
I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that it is going on to my reading list at the University of Salford, on my module Writing Novels for Young People. One of the hardest things to get right, I tell my students often, is maintaining both pace and emotional closeness. Teri Terry does this superbly in Slated.

The characters in this novel are richly drawn and we feel empathy for Amy, Jazz and Ben as well as Kyla.

We are left with a little of a cliff-hanger. One story is complete but another is wide open and about to begin. I was disappointed when I finished the book, in a good way, because the sequel, Fractured is not out until April. Can’t wait.

Finally my confession. Teri is another SCBWI friend, though I don’t know her as well as Sara Grant I mention below. I heard of the book because of SCBWI but bought it because I was below my quota of YA books at the time and it sounded like my kind of book. So this review is without prejudice. 
But it does say something about SCBWI.