Real life stories about teenage lives sit alongside fantasy and detective-themed stories, in the YA books selected and highlighted by our reviewers this month.

Phoenix Rising
Bryony Pearce

Stripes Publishing

ISBN 9781847154507

Fantastic swash buckling adventure on the high seas. (Note to self: find out what a 'swash' is and why the buckling of it is so exciting.) But hang on, this is set in the not too distant, very imaginable, future. What the dickens is humanity doing adventuring on the high seas like eighteenth century pirates? I'll explain. Phoenix Rising (great title, works on many levels) is set within a world that has recklessly squandered nature's resources, fought over the few remaining oil reserves, faced economic collapse and returned to the rationing of the 1940's under military rule. As if that wasn't enough, a supervolcano in America has also erupted plunging the world into a decade of darkness. The United Kingdom is now unrecognisable as Scotland and Wales have closed their borders safeguarding oil and power reserves and a military coup has turned England into the State of St George. Pause for breath as all this information is given via the form of newspaper cuttings and memos at the beginning of the book. I know, Wow! Rising from the ashes of that world is the Phoenix, safe sanctuary for a motley crew of criminals, salvaging from the heavily polluted seas and trading what they need to survive. It's not all plain sailing as it's a cut throat world out there... did I mention the piracy? And the Banshee with a captain set on the destruction of the Phoenix and it's crew? This is an exciting read, good honest (OK, yes, well spotted, pirates does kind of knock the stuffing out of the honest bit...but let me finish!) good honest adventure with great, strong characters both male and female that will appeal to both boys and girls. 400 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Catherine Purcell, school librarian

Phoenix Rising
John McNally

ISBN 9780007521654

The Forbidden City is the second book in the Infinity Drake series and like the first, has an edge-of-the-seat storyline that takes our 9mm hero, Infinity (Finn for short), into the beating heart of global technologies; the Forbidden City in Hong Kong. In this story, Finn has just days to help prevent the power-hungry Kaparis from taking control of global communications by unleashing a swarm of nano bots worldwide to take over every gadget out there. This is a fast-paced read with echoes of gaming in the settings and the challenges that its young hero faces so it will have plenty of appeal to readers who enjoy action-based adventure stories. Its exploration of nano technology - and what humans may or may not be capable of developing - gives us a glimpse into the magic of science and hopefully will encourage children to explore this subject further. There are a couple of quite grim scenes, driven by the evil Kaparis, which makes it more suitable for mature readers aged 10+ / 11+, but its wide-ranging, fast-paced storyline with plenty of thrills also give it a wide appeal and especially to fans of Alex Rider. 400 pages / Ages 10/11+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

Jonny Jakes Investigates the Hamburgers of Doom
Malcolm Judge

Curious Fox

ISBN 9781782023234

In this book we discover the world of an ordinary secondary school through the eyes of Jonny Jakes, an undercover reporter for the banned school newspaper The Woodford Word. Jonny's investigations to enlighten the children at his school have led him to report on varied subjects with titles like 'Lardy Hardy Calls for Cream Cake Crackdown', 'Hardy Hardly in Control' and 'How Come Hardy's Hairy' (he's wearing a toupee) his ten pages of 'truth and justice' haven't won him any friends in authority (not surprising as Mr Hardy is the school's Head Teacher!). So when Jonny discovers that the Head is leaving he's eager to get the scoop on who will be replacing him. Little does he realise that the new Head will be 'out of this world', handing out sweets to everyone and offering hamburgers for lunch. With his new allies, he investigates the new Head's strange behaviour and seeks to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, no-one seems to believe his stories and accusations, not even his parents! Not until he joins the school play and explains the whole situation to Miss Briars, the drama teacher. Armed with swords, pikes, smoke bombs and spices, the little group do battle with the Head Teacher, his family and the whole of the school. Who will be triumphant? You'll have to read the book to find out. Malcolm Judge, making his debut as an author, is a drama teacher. He really makes this fast-paced book hilarious to read, his sense of humour shines through in the actions of the main characters and I loved his wacky character profiles (or perhaps you'd call them character assassinations) of teachers and pupils alike. Excellent illustrations by Alan Brown, combined with the easy-to-read handwriting font and the double spaced lines, make the book a lively and fun read. I can't wait to try it out on all my classes, there's something for everyone! 240 pages / Ages 8-12 years / Reviewed by Kerra Dagley, school librarian

Jonny Jakes Investigates the Hamburgers of Doom

ISBN 9781909991125

The King's Shadow is the second book in The Darkening Path trilogy and you will need to have read the first, The Broken King, to enjoy this one. In The King's Shadow, Simon and Flora have reached the Silver Kingdom, which is ruled by the Broken King, and they know that they must fight and kill the king in order to rescue their siblings and return to their own world. But shadows, dark magic and deception reign in the Broken King's world and it will take all their courage and skills to find their siblings, and their way home. Having watched Simon and Flora battle to enter the land of the Broken King, it was intriguing to enter the Silver Kingdom and I am sure children will enjoy making this transition into this other, atmospherically-described world. Womack is skilled at maintaining the tension throughout this story, partly through the random acts of the mad king and the shape-shifting abilities of some of his subjects. There are some dark scenes, particularly the 'taking aparts' where traitors to the king are literally pulled apart, but there is little detail given and the scenes serve to underline the threat the king poses and to highlight the battle between good and evil. All in all, this is a thrilling, dark and pacey story for readers aged 11 years plus and I look forward to reading the concluding book in the trilogy. 304 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Alice Long.

Big Game
Dan Smith

Chicken House Ltd

ISBN 9781909489943

Set in the wild forests of Finland, the book starts as Oskari faces his thirteenth birthday and the Trial which marks his passing from boyhood to manhood. At the ominously named Place of Skulls, in a ceremony which is generations old, Oskari is handed the traditional hunting bow and sent out into the forest alone for a day and night. He is expected to bring back whatever animal he has been able to shoot as a trophy. Taught survival skills by his father, Oskari is confident in the forest, but he is small for his age and lacks the strength to handle the traditional bow, so he sets out to hunt with trepidation. However, events take a totally unexpected turn when Oskari witnesses an aeroplane being shot down and meets the President of the United States. Together, they have to survive in the hostile terrain and evade capture by ruthless terrorists. Told in the first person, this is an exciting, action-packed read. The reader becomes fully involved in the struggle for survival as Oskari and the President are faced with a series of dramatic challenges, including being trapped in a sinking aeroplane and jumping over a huge waterfall. Although the events described are increasingly improbable, it is easy to become engrossed in the action and fascinated by the details of surviving in a freezing forest. There are some interesting aspects of the book which make it more than just an action-packed thriller - the relationships between Oskari and the President and, particularly, between Oskari and his father. The paperback is written by Dan Smith, from the original screenplay of the film starring Samuel L. Jackson. The film tie-in is bound to increase its appeal and will be enjoyed by readers of 11+ who love a good action-packed, survival story. 265 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Karen Poolton, college librarian.

Big Game
Because You'll Never Meet Me
Leah Thomas

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781408862629

This is a wonderful, heart-warming and thought provoking tale of friendship and coming of age. It is the story of two teenagers, Ollie and Moritz each fragile in their own special way who get to know each other and develop a deep bond through writing letters. They will never be able to meet due to their unique medical problems; if they did then they would probably both die. As more letters are exchanged the true personalities and feeling s of the two boys and their very different approaches to life are revealed, and sinister secrets are unearthed. The two boys are superheroes in the way they face their fears and dare to become independent against all odds. The supporting characters are skilfully portrayed; Ollie's mother who has given up everything to look after her son and keep him safe from a world which could easily prove lethal, Moritz's adopted father who has offered quiet steady love to this boy who others regard as an unlovable freak, and the doctor with complicated motivations who has spent his life caring for them. The book raises questions for us all about how far we should go to protect the ones we love, how society treats those who are different, and how important it is to take responsibility for our own lives and actions. Leah Thomas has a fresh voice and a highly original story and she should make a big impact on the teen publishing world. 341 pages/ Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, school librarian.

Because You'll Never Meet Me
The Apple Tart of Hope
Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Orion Children's Books

ISBN 9781444011159

Where do you start with a book like this? So many teen reads at the moment are full of huge issues and angst, that this appears, at first glance, a simple read. However, there is so much more to this wonderful book... Relationships are a key theme. The story is told through the eyes of two teenagers, Oscar and Meg, who are neighbours and best friends. When Meg's family leaves for a six month stay in New Zealand, she is heartbroken to leave Oscar behind but, when she believes he has fallen in love with the new girl Paloma, she gradually stops communicating with him. Then Oscar disappears and it is only when Meg returns home that she starts to piece together what has happened. Meanwhile the reader discovers that Oscar isn't dead, as many people believe - he just doesn't want to come home. The duel viewpoint is handled skilfully, allowing the reader to understand the misconceptions on both sides. Having a sensitive, slightly naive male character is so refreshing and (in my opinion as a teacher) much needed in books for this age range. His relationships with his brother, Stevie, the new girl, Paloma Killealy and Barney Brittle, add depth to his character. This is a very positive book - hope is a constant theme as the title suggests - and I can't recommend it highly enough! 272 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Susan Wilsher, teacher.

The Apple Tart of Hope

ISBN 9781406347708

Non Pratt's debut, Trouble, received much critical attention and her second novel, Remix, like her earlier novel, is an honest, warm and also funny exploration of the everyday lives of teenagers. In Remix, best friends Kaz and Ruby are excited to be spending a few days at a music festival when the unexpected arrival of both their ex-boyfriends brings heartache and trouble. As they each try to navigate their feelings for their former boyfriends, the festival brings constant surprises and revelations. Both Kaz and Ruby face heartbreak and betrayal but as they each focus on what their former boyfriends mean to them, are they in danger of neglecting each other and risking their most important friendship? In this truthful and sensitive coming-of-age story we see how, despite their mishaps, both Kaz and Ruby emerge from their experiences wiser, and more at peace with what the future might hold. The novel's strength lies in the very real friendship between Kaz and Ruby; there are very few YA novels that explore the strong friendships and bonds that girls of this age often form, so it's good to see that given centre stage. The festival setting also provides the kind of freedom that many teenagers dream of but as well as enabling them to have fun, we see how the girls are also given plenty of room to make their own mistakes so there is plenty to discuss. I'm already looking forward to see what she writes next. There are some sexual scenes in the book so I'd recommend it for readers aged 15 plus. 304 pages / Ages 15+ / Reviewed by Anne Baker

Lottery Boy
Michael Byrne

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN 9781406358292

London is as much a character in this book as Bully and Jack the dog. The city is clearly well-known and well-loved by the author and the level of detail adds a poignant quality to this already moving story. The story itself has a simple basis - a homeless, underage boy has a winning lottery ticket and must fight to not only keep the ticket, but also find a way to claim his winning; but so much more goes on around this plot that the promise of a life-changing amount of money seems inconsequential. Homeless Bully is grieving the loss of his mother. His stalwart companion is his mongrel dog Jack, who is both Bully's saviour and his conscience. The story is not a happy one and the reader is often left frustrated by the injustices that Bully and Jack suffer, but the honest love that is evident between the young boy and his dog make it all worthwhile. The book is very well written, with the dialogue flowing easily and incorporating many of the habits of actual speech. Each character is well defined and even those who only play a marginal role are not wasted or surplus to the plot. It's a fantastic debut and will hopefully be the first of many books from this promising writer. The book would be perfect for a reading group of teenagers, from 12 upwards (there are some instances of violence and bad language in the books and some of the subject matter is not suitable for younger readers), as there is plenty for them to discuss. I would give this book 5 out of 5 and I would recommend it to children aged 12+. 288 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Hayley Nicholson, librarian.

Lottery Boy

ISBN 9781780622095

This is a coming-of-age story which chronicles a formative year in the life of Ashleigh Walker, who is at her own 17th birthday party as the book starts. Here she meets Dylan, an attractive, older boy who asks her out. However, this isn't the straightforward love story you might expect, as it is her English teacher, Miss Murray, who is most in her thoughts. In the course of the year, Ashleigh deals with friendship problems, pregnancy fears, the breakdown of her parents' marriage, exam pressures and discovers her own sexuality. The reader sees a vulnerable, often confused but feisty young woman who doesn't always make the right choices but who ends the year stronger, more at ease with herself and with good relationships with friends, parents and a potential partner. Teenage girls of 14+ will no doubt identify with Ashleigh who is a highly likeable narrator. There are some lighter, funny moments in the book but every teenager will be able to relate to at least some of Ashleigh's struggles and confusion. It is an honest, believable book, essentially about discovering sexuality, with a positive message. 304 pages / Ages 15+ / Reviewed by Karen Poolton, librarian. College Librarian