Gaslight by Eloise Williams

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It isn’t every book that wins the whippet seal of approval, you know.

” My mother disappeared on the sixth of September, 1894.

I was found at the docks in Cardiff, lying like a gutted fish at the water’s edge.”

And so starts an intriguing prologue that leads us into Nansi Howell’s life.

Nansi

In chapter one, we find Nansi five years older and in the dubious “care” of Sid who runs a theatre along with other less salubrious ventures. Under Sid’s control, she has learned to take on other identities as both an actor and a thief. Still, Nansi is determined to hold on to her hopes and dreams doing what she can to uncover any clues as to where her mother might be.

Then the arrival of two new theatre acts have an impact on Nansi’s life that means things will never be the same again. Readers aged nine years plus will thrill at being plunged into Eloise Williams’ tale of Victorian Cardiff. Nansi is a character to take to the heart and one who children will find a great empathy for. Gaslight is full of surprises and as good an adventure as you could possibly want and as I’ve come to expect from Firefly Press who consistently publish amazing children’s literature. And look at that cover! Isn’t it just beautiful?

Gaslight

I’ve been looking forward to reading Gaslight for a long time and now I’ve finished it the one thing that strikes me as amazing is the amount of heart and drama Eloise Williams has created in less than 200 pages.  There’s huge depth of story and as I read, I felt like Gaslight functioned as an ink and paper time machine, with surroundings as real as you would wish for. This is exactly what makes me want to share it in class: to see the response from children to not only a cracking adventure plot, but also to the wider picture of Nansi’s life. I fully anticipate mass gasping and holding of breath and hands raised with questions that just can’t wait. I’m pretty convinced Gaslight is one of those books that keeps kids glued even after the home-time bell has rung. I’m looking forward to finding out!

Gaslight: a vivid and breath-taking piece of story-telling brilliance.


The Territory, Escape by Sarah Govett

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The Territory,  Escape (Book Two)

It’s 2059. 15 year old Noa Blake has earned the right to live in The Territory but her friend Jack hasn’t been so lucky. In this dystopian future, you have to pass an exam to stay safe and Jack’s time in the regulated environment of The Territory has run out. He’s been transported to the highly dangerous Wetlands, an area Territory occupants see as tantamount to a death sentence.

Noa isn’t going to stand by and let her friend disappear forever. In a bold move, along with love interest Raf, she vows to go into The Wetlands to find Jack and bring him home. From this point the action really gets going.

Suitable for young adults rather than children, The Territory, Escape is the second book in this series. I hear the first book is excellent but haven’t read it yet. Coming in part way through didn’t affect my enjoyment at all. The main characters were easily likeable and I therefore clicked with the story from the outset.

A Fresh Take on Dystopian Fiction

Sarah Govett gives just enough background information to satisfy new readers without going over too much old ground. It’s obvious to say that The Territory, Escape will appeal to fans of YA dystopian fiction, but I’d also like to add that it’s the most relatable book in this genre that I’ve read so far. Our female protagonist Noa is natural and three-dimensional. Even when she’s in The Wetlands encountering dangerous or life threatening situations, she’s brave and risky but remains young in voice and feel. I also really liked the way both luck and friendship play their parts in the book, as does the importance of being valued by others and finding your place.

The Territory, Escape was for me a fresh take on dystopian fiction and one I look forward to exploring further.

 

Thanks to Firefly Press who were kind enough to send me my copy.

 

 

 


Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan

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alien rain done

“Quick heavy footsteps walked over the corner of the room. I could hear them on the tiled floor. I held up my tilelight with one trembling hand, but no shaking or confusion could explain what it showed: that no one was there.

The footsteps stopped just short of me and then, horribly, I could feel the definite presence of someone or something breathing into my face. I could hear and feel sharp, angry breaths. 

I bolted for the exit but that door slammed in my face. I grasped the ancient handle with slippery hands and pushed and pulled as hard as I could, forgetting which way it should open. It would not budge. Behind me, the footsteps were approaching stealthily.”

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, Alien Rain by Ruth Morgan is exhilarating and action-packed YA science fiction.

It’s 3016 and Earth has long since been uninhabited due to the devastating effects of war. Although life continues on Mars, with the population living under thick domes in contained cities, there are still many links to home. Our story is part based in New Cardiff, a Martian city built to replicate Cardiff on Earth and originally designed to create a feeling of belonging and familiarity for the first dwellers.

Here we meet Bree, an immediately friendly and likeable teenage girl living in New Cardiff and attending the prestigious Pioneer School.

Bree

When Bree is picked from her fellow students to be part of a mission to Earth, no one is more surprised than she is. Only the most academic students usually get to make up the research teams visiting Earth, and though she has many talents, including empathy and a gift for writing poetry, Bree is not a traditional straight A student. However, once she begins training, she begins to understand her worth and appreciate that diversity within a group creates a stronger team.

As Bree becomes part of the mission at the Cardiff Scientific Survey Organisation (SSO), she learns quickly that the public image of Earth and the classified factual information are two very different things. She is informed that there are dangers on Earth the team will have to face every day, weapons originally developed by Earthlings in the final war. These biological weapons, or dragonmansks, once created to protect, became too powerful and wiped out human life. Now, having established themselves as Earth’s dominant species, they appear indestructible. Because of these creatures, any plans for making Earth habitable again have been written off. Teams from Mars, we learn, are now focused on stripping the planet of its useful resources while they can.

Suspicion

In discovering just how much the SSO is holding back from the general public, a delicious seed of suspicion was created for me. I couldn’t wait for Bree to get to Earth and start to uncover the truth.

You should read Alien Rain for the following reasons:

  • I’m loving the love for Cardiff. There are stunning descriptions of Cardiff, written by someone who really knows it well and has the skills to re-imagine it as a post-apocalyptic world. Ruth Morgan brings beauty to dystopia and it feels extraordinary. Plus, it’ll open your eyes to the everyday loveliness of our planet, something I was all too happy to be reminded of.
  • It’s a more than slightly addictive page turner, that will take you through a range of events and emotional responses. I read Alien Rain straight after the brilliant Alone by D. J. Brazier and was still very much in the jungle, but within a few pages Ruth Morgan’s writing had transported me fully to Mars. I stayed up half the night reading Alien Rain, because I so wanted to reach the next twist in the tale. I wasn’t disappointed.
  • Adults who want to read but find time is not on their side will enjoy this just as much as their young adult counterparts. YA authors are amazing. They manage to convey concisely what most ‘regular’ fiction authors would find hard to achieve in double the page count. Alien Rain is a great example of a book that knows how to get you hooked and keep you enthralled in under 300 pages.
  • Alien Rain champions the importance of being yourself and recognising the power of all your talents, not just using the measure of academic results. I also loved the closeness depicted in the book between science and the arts, which are linked by the common goal of discovery. It sends a good message to young readers.

Alien Rain is a great read for superior beings, regardless of planetary provenance. Out of this world.

 

Big thanks to Firefly Press for sending me this copy.


The Boy Who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory

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boy who drew done

” A twitching thing, it moves as if it were still alive.

But it can’t be. The hand isn’t attached to anything.

Sinews, veins and skin are dried up, discoloured, dead on the page. Yet it moves as if no one has told it. As if no one dares to say the word:

Drowned.”

I’ve just opened The Boy Who Drew the Future again to find this extract. Immediately I’m covered in goose pimples and wish I was starting it all over again.

Gripping

Suitable for readers of eleven plus, The Boy Who Drew the Future is a gripping read, beautifully told by Rhian Ivory. It’s about two teenage boys living in different times but inexplicably linked by their unusual talent for drawing the future.

In the present we have Noah, a good soul and intriguing character, just moved with his parents to the village of Sible Hedingham. A new start isn’t a bad thing: you see, Noah’s had problems in the past that cannot be rubbed out and redrawn. Much to the distress of his family, and try as he might, Noah has no control over the artwork he produces: often disturbing images of real life events, drawn before they happen. He does this  as if commanded by an unknown force, without choice and sometimes even in his sleep. In 2016, this is definitely a curse. This is not what we might call normal, and so it is little discussed in the hope it might go away- which of course it doesn’t.

In the past, we read from Blaze’s point of view, also told in Sible Hedingham but in 1865. Although Blaze also has the gift/ curse to draw people’s futures, it is partially acknowledged in this time frame. This certainly doesn’t make his life any easier than Noah’s though, for whilst some accept and even consult Blaze about their own lives, he knows this could very quickly backfire. Here in 1865, this gift has the power to provide a source of income, but also makes him incredibly vulnerable to local hostility. The rural 1800s feels very pre-Industrialisation and more in tune with medieval times than the present, which it of course must have been. Unlike Noah living today, Blaze is no one’s responsibility. He has no parents to worry about, nor to worry about him. Since his mother died, his only comfort is Dog, who is wonderful and much-needed as a source of love and comfort.

Fingers Crossed

The Boy Who Drew the Future tells their fascinating stories, unravelling the links and uncovering elements of past, present and future in the process. Chapters are equally shared between the boys, pleasingly short and action orientated, which had me binge-reading for long periods of time and kept the story feeling fresh throughout. Scenes are highly visual, varied and exciting; it’s easy to become submerged. You have been warned.

Both Blaze and Noah’s worlds are made all the more irresistible by the characters around them. Antagonists on each side were especially convincing and brilliantly tangible in their unpleasantness. You will, I guarantee, make all sorts of  sounds under your breath as you read and discover more about where the boys’ futures are leading them. This is a book that gets under the skin, leaving the reader prone to muttering like a lunatic in surprise, anger, triumph- all of that- throughout. There may even be pacing and tiny punches of the air at times.

It it ends completely, with no hint or hope given of a sequel, but I’ve still got my fingers crossed for another book, as I’d love to read more of these characters and felt sad to see them go. Although it’s YA in genre, I’d happily recommend The Boy Who Drew the Future to anyone who’s after something original and a bit special to escape into. Oh, and if you get the chance to see Rhian Ivory talking about it, as I did recently at Waterstones in Birmingham, then do. There are some really fascinating and a few spooky stories connected with this book, that are absolutely brilliant and well worth hearing!

Goose pimples. Need I say more, really?

You can find out more about Rhian Ivory here.