Book Spines at a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers
The Book Gnome
The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas for teenagers

The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr - Jan 18

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has had no short-term memory since the age of ten, when a tumour was removed from her brain. She remembers nothing from one day to the next.

Then she kisses Drake, her best friend's boyfriend, the day before he leaves town, and the memory remains with her, the memory that she has kissed someone that she shouldn't have kissed. Flora believes that Drake is responsible for the return of her ability to remember.

So when she receives an encouraging email from Drake from Svalbard in Norway, Flora is certain of what she needs to do, follow him to the arctic, cold and dangerous, in her quest to reclaim her memory and her life.

Emily Barr is an succesful writer of thrillers for adults and draws on her established expertise in this her first novel for young adults, to produce a captivating page turner that is both moving and exciting as Flora wrestles with her conscience and her desire to be able to remember. The book challenges young adults to think about complex situations in which there are no easy answers.

A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd - Dec 17

A Swift Pure Cry is set in a small town called Coolbar in Ireland. It takes place in the mid 1980s before Ireland's economy took off.

At the heart of the story is Michele, nicknamed Shell, a young girl who at a crucial and confusing time in her life loses her mother and is left with a drunk father. Shell is left to parent her two siblings, getting them to school, feeding them, clothing them, and protecting them from their drunken father.

In grieving for her mother and trying to understand herself, she turns to two people - Declan Ronan, the altar boy, who is eager to engage in a sexual relationship, and Father Ross, the new priest, himself barely an adult, who pushes the boundaries in trying to help her.

Then a baby is born and dies. Is Shell a baby-killer? Who was the father? Was it that young Father Ross, with whom she was once seen alone in his car? Was it Declan? Or was Shell the victim of incest?

While the plot makes the book sound bleak, it is actually a story of a girl surviving against the odds, not without difficulty but in a way that makes her strong and able. It is a thought provoking and excellent read.

Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick - Nov 17

It is 1910 and fifteen year old Sig Andersson is sitting in a cold, bare shack many miles north of the Arctic Circle, alone but for his father's frozen body lying on a table, when there is a loud knock on the door. His older sister and stepmother have gone for help.

A giant of a man has come to collect the gold that he believes he is owed by Sig's father, Einar Andersson. The man, Gunther Wolff, has a gun and seems ready to kill to get the gold he came to collect.

There is a gun in the shack, but it is in the storeroom and Sig has only ever fired it once, when he was 12 years old. Even when Anna, Sig's sister, comes back, they are still not able to overpower Wolff.

The arrival of Gunther Wolff forces Sig to investigate his father's history as an assay clerk for the mining company in the settlement of Nome, and his mother's murder.

The action in the novel takes place over a few days moving between past and present, explaining how Einar was lured to Alaska by stories of gold. The tension of the story holds the reader firmly until its end.

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman - Oct 17

It is 1752 in the West Country, when teenager Caleb Chappell, finds himself alone when his father Jospeh is sentenced for a murder that he did not commit and is shipped out to the territories. He is left to fend for himself with no way of earning an income.

Caleb is mixed race. At a time when slavery was legal, his white father sheltered him from the racism of the society he lives in. With his father gone. he learns that being poor is not his only problem as being black makes him a target to almost everyone.

Before being transported, Joseph tells Caleb to find his aunt, a relative that he didn't even know he had. His aunt and her husband who already have 2 daughters, take him in, causing the entire family a great deal of trouble.

Caleb discovers a dead body on the beach, and he and Letty find themselves unravelling a mystery that involves the exploitation of the poor and vulnerable by the rich and powerful - and a murder. Their lives are threatened, but the biggest surprise for Caleb is what he finds out about his own origins.

Panther by David Owen - Sep 17

Derrick's life is a mess. His weight is out of control, his best friend has betrayed him, he is hopelessly in love with a girl who simply would never look at him, he is being bullied at school, and his family is falling apart, all because of his sister according to Derrick.

Derrick's sister Charlotte suffers from depression and recently tried to commit suicide. His sister's actions and her illness is having a a huge impact on the family. Derrick's parents have split up, his mother is always exhausted, and all the family members feel isolated and alone. According to Derrick, Charlotte is the cause of all his and his family's problems.

When South London news reports that a panther has been spotted wondering around the allotments near his house, that his family's problems will be ended if he can catch and tame it.

This is a compelling and powerful novel about depression. It deals empathetically with the impact on the sufferer and those whose lives are linked to the sufferer. It deals candidly with the stigma of mental illness.

The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong - Aug 17

Riley Vasquez was babystting a young girl when people broke in and murdered the child's parents. She and the child saw the entire brutal event from under the bed, where they were hiding. Unsurprsingly, she is haunted by memories of the event, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Max Cross has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is struggling with reality, a life-altering diagnosis that he doesn't want to disclose to others. Max meets Riley at a weekend camp with five other teenagers, a camp specifically with issues and which they reluctantly attend.

Three masked men break in and take the teenagers hostage, demanding money from one of the fathers. The building they are in has no windows, the exits are sealed, and they do not have their phones, so they cannot call for help. When the hostage-takers start killing, the two are forced to work together to survive.

The book is a thriller which explores the complex emotions of two teenagers with serious personal challenges. The characters are treated with insight and empathy, and the plot is a real page-turner.

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss - Jul 17

How Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss is the touching story of young Hattie, who as a result of time spent with her long-lost great-aunt Gloria, faces and resolves the predicaments in her own life.

Hattie is stuck at home, facing a summer without her friends. Reuben is 'trying to 'find himself' somewhere is Europe, while Kat has headed for Edinburgh with a new girlfriend. Hattie is, in effect, home alone.

Hattie's mother is focused entirely on her wedding. She engages with Hattie whenever she needs help with an endless string of impending disasters in the wedding arrangements. In addition, Hattie is left taking care of her twin siblings. Then to add to her problems, she discovers that she is pregnant with the absent Reuben's child.

Enter Gloria, Hattie's charismatic great-aunt, who no-one even knew existed, with an over-fondness for gin and in the early stages of dementia. She takes Hattie with her on a road trip to revisit her life before she forgets it, and Hattie is forced to face difficult decisions as a result.

Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eagar - Jun 17

While her friends are enjoying their summer holiday socialising and going out, Carolina (everyone calls her Carol) accompanies her parents to the New Mexico desert to help them move her grandfather from his deserted ranch to a care home for dementia sufferers.

Carol struggles with the suffocating heat and at the fantastical stories told by mentally ill grandpa Serge, who she starts out trying to avoid. In addition, bees seem to be following her around although the drought makes this impossible. She concludes that she must be imagining things.

With time, Carol becomes intrigued by her grandfather's stories - a healing tree, a green-glass lake, and bees that will bring back the rain and end a hundred years of drought - and sees something special in them, revising what she thinks of her family and her background.

Lindsay Eagar's debut novel is a wonderful coming-of-age story of 12-year-old Carol as she tries to understand herself and her world. It is a caring introduction to a complex topic for readers of 11 and over.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertelli - May 17

Sixteen-year-old Simon Spier is gay but not openly at school. However, when one of his emails falls into the wrongs hands, his secret is about to be revealed to his whole school. He is blackmailed into being a wingman for Martin, the class clown, to avoid having his sexual identity revealed.

The issue is not just that everyone will find out Simon's sexuality, but the boy that Simon has been emailing, known as Blue, will also be exposed.

As the emails from Blue become more intimate, Simon is faced with difficult choices. He doesn't want to alienate his friends, expose his identity, or destroy his chances with a guy that he thinks of as adorable. To make matters worse, Simon is not comfortable with change, and the dilemma's of his current life require him to deal with many changes.

The novel is both funny and poignant, making it thought-provoking and enjoyable to read. It is a coming-out and coming-of-age romance told with humour and insight by talented author Becky Albertelli.

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry - Apr 17

Natalie's summer in her small Kentucky town is going really well until she starts seeing things that shouldn't be there.

At first, they are brief and unimportant. For example, she looks at her front door and instead of it being red, it appears green. Also, a pre-school appears where the garden store should be. Before long though, matters escalate - her whole town disappears for hours, replaced by rolling hills and grazing buffalo. It is then clear to Natalie that something is horribly wrong.

Natalie is then visited by a kind but enigmatic apparition that she calls "Grandmother" and who announces mysteriously, "You have three months to save him." But who?

The very next night at the high school football field, she meets Beau, and it is as if nothing except Natalie and Beau exists. She falls head over heels in love instantly, beginning a beautiful and profound tale that captures the joy and hurt of high school, love, and shaping a future.

The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig - Mar 17

Growing up, Nix has accompanied her father on his ship Temptation around the world, however, her father's ship is not any ordinary ship.

With her talented but addicted father and a mixed group of individuals for a crew, Nix travels with her father through time and space, and between fantasy and reality. The ship Temptation is a "time traveling pirate ship" which as long as her father has an original map that has been signed by its creator and has never been used before, the ship can follow the map to its destination whether it is part of real history or from a mythical world.

She travels to nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, and a mythic version of Africa meeting people and making friends.

Every journey is subjected by her father's obsession to find the 1868 Honolulu map which he hopes with take him to Nix's mother, the love of his life. As much as Nix would love to meet her mother, the journey could have more far reaching consequences erasing her completely from time.

Moths by Anne Cassidy - Feb 17

Two girls are drawn to the dilapidated house on Princess Street, like moths to a flame, and are never heard from again. That same night, the old man who lived in the house was murdered and his killer never found.

Five years pass, and Mandy contemplates the disappearance of her best friends Tina and Petra. She is now 18 years old and still blames herself for what happened to them, plus has never got over it.

The police and the community assume that the girls had stumbled in on the old man's killer, and so were themselves killed even though their bodies have never been discovered. However, their disappearance, turns out to be far more complex than the police presumed as they discover when the house is knocked down, that one of the girls, isn't gone after all.

The novel is an exciting thriller, skillfully crafted with unexpected twists, and hard to put down. Through the characters, it explores female friendships and bullying. As the reader progresses, they realise that nothing is quite what it seems. It is a compelling read.

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson - Jan 17

It became the bestselling young adult hardback debut of 2015 for very good reason. "By turns almost unremittingly poignant, caustically honest and very, very funny, The Art of being Normal, is, as you might expect, the antithesis of what it says on the tin." Lisa Williamson writes with remarkable clarity on a controversial and difficult subject.

David Piper and Leo Denton are very unlikely friends being so different. However, they become very good friends after when Leo stands up for David in a fight, on Leo's first day at Eden Park School. The friendship works because both boys are wrestling with great personal problems.

David has always been an outsider at school, and the secret he has, makes matters worse. He's a girl in a boy's body and not gay as his peers and parents assume. Leo also has a secret. He has numerous issues because of a difficult background and simply wants to attend school without being noticed by anyone.

While written for young adults, this is a book that all ages will enjoy and appreciate.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro - Dec 16

The novel features the great-great-grandchildren of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, so unsurprisingly, the title is a play on the famous Sherlock Holmes title "A Study in Scarlet".

Jamie Watson (no prizes for guessing to whom he is related) receives a scholarship to a school in Connecticut, where Charlotte Holmes (the clue is in the surname) is already a student. She is a genius, loves playing the violin, and has severe mood swings. People stay away from her both because of her temperament, and she makes it very clear that she is not interested in friends. Does this remind you of anyone?

Then a fellow student with which they both have a history is murdered, and the pair are framed for the murder. Very quickly, they realise that they cannot trust anyone other than each other, and are forced to work together to solve the murder.

The book is a real page turner that simply flies by. An excellent read based on a clever idea.

Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs - Nov 16

This book is part of a collection of books by Ransom Riggs that reveals the secrets of peculiar history.

If you are new to his work, this volume of short stories is an excellent place to start. While the book draws on Riggs' bestselling Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series, it stands alone so it is not necessary to have read any other books in the series to enjoy it and become a scholar of all things peculiar.

Stories cover a wide range of creative ideas including wealthy cannibals who dine on the discarded limbs of peculiars, a fork-tongued princess, and the origins of the first ymbryne, as they reveal the secrets of the peculiar world.

Not only are the stories intriguing, but the stunning illustrations enhance the weird and wonderful characters and tantalisingly original plots. If you enjoy this brilliant book, you will want to read the entire peculiar world series.

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon - Oct 16

The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is a heartbreaking but hopeful. It explores a very controversial topic with incredible skill and honesty.

The novel set in a refugee camp in the Australian desert where the boy Subhi has spent all nine years of his life.

Subhi is a Rohingya Muslim whose family fled persecution in Myanmar. His father is missing, his mother is dying, and his older sister is focussed on making the outside world aware of their plight. Subhi is left to himself.

Subhi escapes the camp in his dreams, in which the sea reaches his tent and brings treasures with it, until he meets local girl Jimmie.

Jimmie lives near the refugee camp, and carries with her a notebook that she cannot read. In addition, she wears a sparrow made out of bone around her neck. Subhi reads aloud from Jimmie's notebook, and together the friends learn about the importance of their own stories in shaping their futures.

'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.

The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.

Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote to help with A level English Literature revision.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature.

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