There are some great treats in store for teenaged readers this month, including new books by David Almond, Marcus Sedgwick and Scott Westerfeld, as well as books with startling concepts such as poisoned rain, psychic detectives and living parallel lives. The books are reviewed for ReadingZone by teachers, librarians and other experts.

ISBN 9781444919547

The blurb states that this is "The most beautiful book you'll read this year", and, for me, that was true. I loved it. A modern interpretation of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, this novel is told from Claire's viewpoint. It's her life from age 5 to 17 with her best friend Ella Grey. Starting the Summer they were 17 years old this evoked my memories from that magical age -- no responsibilities, carefree, cushioned by parental love. We could do anything and everything was possible. Almond's love of the Northumbrian countryside and coastline is demonstrated by his description of the surroundings of the young people in the story. Even without knowing the area, you can feel the magic in his words when describing the sheer joy of life for the young lovers as well as their friends. Although I was familiar with the myth, I was still shocked when Ella died. So for those readers who don't know the story, they too will experience a severe loss when she is bitten by the snake. Part 4 is produced on black paper -- a symbolic interpretation of life in the Underworld. It all seems so believable, so the shock when Orpheus looks behind him is equally as devastating. Almond has mixed up the everyday of school, exams and parental concerns for their children to concentrate on revision with legendary love at first sight and tragic loss. This must resonate with teenage angst, enabling its intended audience to identify immediately with the group of young people. Everyone loved Orpheus -- girls and men, and there is a hint of dealing with teenage anxieties of sexual preference without the need to be explicit. You must read this book. 272 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Dawn Woods, librarian

Dave Shelton

ISBN 9781910200162

Jack is drawn to the old house, maybe he shouldn't go inside, but he is a curious boy and can't turn away. Inside he finds 13 chairs, all but one are occupied and Jack is encouraged to take the empty one as there are stories to be told. Are the storytellers alive or dead? Well, each has a ghost story to tell. As their story is told they move their chair into the darkness beyond and the room becomes increasingly darker. Some of the storytellers tell their own story, whilst others tell tales they have been told or overheard. Some of the stories are sombre and others darkly funny but each storyteller has their own unique voice. Maybe the stories are true and maybe they aren't, but as each story is told, the lights go out drawing the narrator and the reader further into the darkness. Finally the narrator is all alone in the dark and outside another storyteller is curious about the house. A very different book from the authors 'A Boy And A Bear In A Boat'. A collection of short, pithy ghost stories that gradually draw the reader into the book and the house. Enjoyable to read alone but would also work well for reading aloud with a group. 256 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Dorne Fraser

Scott Westerfeld

Simon & Schuster Childrens Books

ISBN 9781471122569

The bestselling author of 'Uglies' returns with this masterly novel that is, in itself, an exploration of how writers write, or what influences the development of a novel. To manage this, Westerfeld tells two stories in alternate chapters. The main thread is the story of Darcey, a debut teenaged novelist who secures a major book deal for her first novel, called Afterworlds, and who decides to move to New York to complete it. The second thread is Darcey's novel, Afterworlds. As Afterworlds unfolds, we see how the events in the story mirror things that happen in Darcey's day-to-day life including her relationships with her family, falling in love for the first time and being a newcomer to an entirely different landscape. The Afterworlds story, where the main character Lizzie can cross between life and death, is itself an exploration of an author's sometimes unconscious relationship with their story and their demands of their characters. It is an intriguing, multilayered novel that goes further than any author can when asked that question, 'where do you get your ideas from'? In an interview with ReadingZone (see Author Interviews), Westerfeld says he is writing a second novel as a 'sister' novel to Afterworlds that is explicitly about writing for teenagers. All this makes it a great choice for book groups who are interested in the process of writing. However, it is also an enthralling novel for individual readers that delivers not one but two punchy stories. 608 pages / Ages 14+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone


ISBN 9781780621982

Described as a novel in four parts, each part able to be read in any order, this book describes essentially good people who are dragged into a spiral beyond their control. Their lives take unexpected paths, during which they discover more about themselves, although they struggle to understand the others who play their parts in destruction. The link is the spiral -- an artistic symbol? A mathematical symbol? A symbol surrounding us in nature, art and science. I struggled to understand some of the significance, but then does that matter? I took from this novel what was important to me. Another reader will latch onto what is important to them. Both of us can still enjoy the compulsive writing Marcus Sedgwick always, without fail, brings to his books and what makes a new novel from him something to which to look forward. For ease of keeping track of my place in the book, I did read these 1 -- 4. I read about the girl who should have been chosen, but could only follow behind, yet knows more than the boy who was chosen. I read about kind Anna, wanting something more than the work at Fuller's Mill, able to do more than that, but under suspicion for her powers of healing, as well as her looks. Then a doctor, trying to recover from the death of his wife, connects with a mad poet -- or is it his daughter who makes the connection? Finally, into the future a scientist on a mission discovers all is not as it seems. If time permits, the reader could read again in a different order and see different links. In fact, this novel can be read in 24 different combinations. A true crossover book, this story will generate discussions between old and young and do what we all love -- get people talking books. 448 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Dawn Woods

Dread Eagle
Alex Woolf


ISBN 9781909645004

Imagine a world where Napoleon had not lost the Battle of Waterloo, where fantastic airships powered by steam filled the skies and where an entire city could live in the clouds.... This story by Alex Woolf is set in a vivid, alternative nineteenth century where Napoleon did not lose the Battle of Waterloo and the French and the English continue to battle for global supremacy, aided by a vast array of assorted flying ships and weaponry. With Napoleon threatening a full-scale invasion, the British Secret Service is relying on a team of aerial spies known as the Sky Sisters to find out how they can thwart his plans. But no one could have predicted what the team will discover when they set off on an exploratory mission..... Arabella, the main character and one of the Spy Sisters, is a no-nonsense, talented 18 year old and it's great to have an adventure story, flying machines and guns where the main character is a girl. Arabella flies an 'aeriel steam machine' and so is reminiscent of the WWII female pilots but is also teenage enough to appeal to readers. The story also has a hint of romance and some great characters, including the old fashioned, gentlemanly 'Miles', a steam-driven robot. There is plenty to appeal to readers, including the draft drawings of some of the amazing machines described in the story. 296 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

Dread Eagle
Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull
Jonathan Stroud

Doubleday Children's Books

ISBN 9780857532657

Lucy, George and Lockwood are going about their business as psychic detection agents, investigating mysterious happenings and confronting dangerous ghosts, when they are asked to investigate the grave of a sinister Victorian doctor. Things go seriously wrong when the doctor's ghost is released and a dangerous and valuable object goes missing from his coffin. The Lockwood team have to recover the relic in an exciting race against time. The whispering skull of the title is a ghost which the Lockwood team keep at home, trapped in a jar. It is a rare type of ghost which can speak to Lucy and it becomes evident that he holds information vital to their investigation and to saving lives. This is the second book in Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co series which started with The Screaming Staircase where the characters of Lucy, a talented 15 year old agent, George, an expert archivist and the charismatic Anthony Lockwood, their leader, are introduced. The books are set in a version of modern London which, like the rest of Britain, has been in the grip of The Problem for the last 50 years. The Problem is an epidemic of ghosts and supernatural occurrences. If you are touched by a ghost you die and only children have the power to overcome them. Psychic detection agencies where young people, armed with the tools of their trade including magnesium flares, iron chains and salt bombs are employed (mostly at night) to deal with dangerous ghosts. Told in the first person by Lucy, this is an exciting, fast paced read full of ghostly mysteries. The context of the story was set in the first book of the series and it takes a while to understand some of the background detail about dealing with ghosts and the agency system. Despite this, it is easy to enjoy the story as a stand-alone adventure. It should appeal to 12 + readers who enjoy ghost stories with plenty of action and don't mind tackling a lengthy book. It ends with an intriguing glimpse into a secret room which should entice readers to pick up the next book in the series. 486 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Karen Poolton, librarian

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull

ISBN 9781780622149

When she was eight Malala Yousafzai wished she had a magic pencil like the boy in her favourite TV show, so that she could use it to make life better for people. By the end of the book she realises that she doesn't need a pencil, all she needs is herself, 'one child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world' (speech to the UN, 2013) Engaging from the start, this is the story of Malala, an ordinary child in a family where education for all, not just boys, is important. By the end of the book, she is as she says still her, but someone with a message that she has to impart to the world, telling President Obama that America should spend less money on weapons and more on education for instance. A inpirational story, 'Malala, The Girl Who Stood up for Eduaction and Changed the World' was written with children's writer Patricia McCormick and would interest pupils from Y5 upwards. 256 pages / ages 10+ / Reviewed by Lynn Roulstone

The Rain
Virginia Bergin

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781447266068

The Rain (which is among this year's Carnegie nominations) is a scarily realistic story about an environmental catastrophe that strikes a very contemporary world, when rain becomes infected by a bacterium and a single drop of water can kill. The story is told through the journal of teenaged Ruby who, confronted by the terrible catastrophe of her mother, brother and stepfather dying from the disease - as well as most of her schoolmates, heads off to London to find her father. It is this tense journey, and how Ruby grows and develops during it, that the story is really about. Ruby proves to be an entertaining and sharp narrator and if she isn't overcome by the grief of her situation, she makes it clear that this is because, in this newly-drawn world, her life hangs on a knife edge; she can't afford to 'lose it'. Since it is Ruby's journal, many of the insights we get about her character come largely from Darius Spratt, a boy from her school who has also survived but who Ruby is reluctant at first to even name, he is so far 'below' her in the pecking order. Through his limited but insightful comments during their journey together and the non-verbal communication of the young girl he has rescued, we can compare the new Ruby with the schoolgirl she was and the toughened but more sympathetic character she is becoming (although her addiction to makeup and fashion hold fast through most of the novel). Ruby is on a journey of self-discovery and, with the book leaving unanswered questions, we are likely to see more of that journey in a sequel. It's a thoroughly addictive story that will grip teenaged readers and leave them with plenty to think about. 386 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

The Rain
Between the Lives
Jessica Shirvington

Orchard Books

ISBN 9781408331736

Sabine lives two lives. Every night at midnight she shifts between the two. One day she is the street-wise big sister to Maddie in a struggling family who run a chemists shop. The next she is the perfect daughter, living in a rich household with older two brothers, a perfect boyfriend, an offer from Harvard and her own convertible car. She is terrified each night as she waits for the switch --she needs to constantly remember what she's supposed to know in each life, be wary about how she acts and play her part well enough so no one suspects anything. All she's ever wanted is to be normal, to be able to live one life to the full and be rid of the strain of her dual lives. After breaking her arm one day and finding it uninjured in her other world she begins to think there may be a way out. If she ceased to exist in one world, would she carry on in the other? Her experiments to test her theory result in her committal to a secure clinic as her family think she is crazy. This is where she meets Ethan who she slowly falls in love with. He questions everything she believes and leads her to rethink her decisions. Teen girls will love it. 323 pages / Ages 13+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, librarian

Between the Lives