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of the devil. The jealousies and politics of the Spanish cour t are clearly described, but also the humanity of people who saw beyond the disability. There are many details of court life and in particular the artists’ studio where Bartolome’s make-up for his role as a dog is applied, and where he learns he can do something else.

The author works with handicapped children and her understanding of them comes through in the text, which has been well translated, and makes for a very readable and thought provoking novel.

JF Skylark HHHH

Meagan Spooner, Corgi Books, Random House, 352pp, 978-0-552-56556-1, £6.99 pbk

Lark Ainsley has never seen the sun. She has never seen flowers, grass or the sky. She has never been outside the walls of her city.

Lark is waiting. She hopes that this time she will be harvested. Finally, like all the other children, her magic will be taken and used to sustain the city. Only then can she become an adult. However, there is something wrong with Lark’s harvesting. It is painful, repeated and intense. She escapes, but outside the city walls lies a world that has been devastated by the wars. It is a frightening land of broken cities, dark forests and endless skies. There are many dangers here: magic pockets that become nightmares at sunset; inhuman creatures that are cannibals; and the mechanical pixies sent as spies.

As she crosses these lands to get to the promised sanctuary of the Iron Wood, Lark realises she has help, in the form of a half-wild boy. But is he really her friend or is he something much more frightening? Will the Iron Wood be a place where Lark can be safe at last or will it be yet another deception?

Skylark is an imaginative and ambitious fantasy novel. It is fast-paced and engaging with an impressive sense of suspense. Occasionally, the description is so involved that it distracts slightly from the plot, for example when describing the mechanical workings of Lark’s city. But, in spite of this, it is an extremely enjoyable and exciting read with many unexpected twists that will keep the reader guessing throughout. ARa

Upside Down in the Jungle HHHH

Helen Phillips Chicken House 352pp 978 1 908435 28 6 £6.99pb

Upside Down in the Jungle is a positive, responsible novel, full of suspense and rich in descriptive detail. It tells the story of Dr Wade, a renowned international ornithologist who travels widely. When he fails to return from a lengthy trip to study a jungle Lazarus species, his worried family set out to search for him. But neither people nor events are as they seem and when they eventually meet their father, a dark adventure unfolds.

As they find themselves increasingly sucked into a threatening world of big business, sisters Madeleine and Ruby learn to depend on each other; in order to survive they have to decide who can be trusted and why both of their parents are behaving so strangely. During the final denouement, it becomes clear that they have not only saved their father, but that they have also learnt a great deal about themselves and each other, about the strength of family and about trust.

In addition to being a really good yarn, the book also deals with some big-hitting contemporary issues, including the ability of multinational corporations to exploit fragile environments and the role of sustainable ecotourism in living accountably. It’s a novel written from the hear t – the author spent her childhood weekends hiking with her family in Colorado and her student summers volunteering in the Costa Rican jungle. These experiences, together with a love of wildlife, add an authoritative overtone to a rich and exciting narrative.

GR Me, Myself, Milly HHHH

Bush, Penelope, Piccadilly Press, 224ppp, 9781848122529, £6.99 pbk

Milly has always lived in her twin sister Lily’s shadow. Even her name was last minute and a variation on her sister’s, because her mother had not known she was having twins. In this story Milly is narrating the events of her life and how she is coping since the events of ‘The Incident’ which happened the previous April. She is trying to cope with a new school, with new people moving in upstairs and with her unconventional mother. It looks as if her life has become static and she needs to find a way of moving it forward.

This is a really thoughtful and poignant story, told in a way that resembles a flower unfolding. We gradually begin to understand why Milly is seeing a counsellor and why Lily, though often mentioned as if in the room, never speaks or interacts with others. The story is full of hope and some humour, as when she takes her neighbour Devlin to the Roman Baths, only to find out that he has a fear of water. I really felt connected to Milly and thoroughly enjoyed the book and though it deals with some difficult subjects, it does so in a sympathetic and positive way. MP

Rat Runners HH

Oisin McGann, Corgi, 400pp, 978 0 552 56620 9, £6.99

Nimmo, Scope, Manikin and FX already work for the bad guys, but in a city gone to ruin that’s the only way to survive. When crime boss Move-Easy puts them together to complete a simple mission it seems like an easy job, but some members of the team have a different agenda and under the watchful eye of a city under constant surveillance no one can afford to keep secrets. Hi-tech gadgetry and hacking are a way of life for these young criminals and despite

Few writers, if indeed any, write as warmly and accurately about family life as Hilary McKay, or with such humour. With what seems a unique child’s eye view on the world she pin-points children’s peculiar logic, and describes the joyful, exhilarating sense of freedom and adventure represented by the outdoors - and the sea in particular - in a way that no-one has since Blyton. Her books feel both utterly timeless, and thoroughly contemporary.

Binny for Short has all that her readers have come to expect. It’s the story of the Cornwallis family: harassed mum; beautiful big sister Clem; six year old James, equally endearing and irritating; and of course Binny. Eleven-year-old Binny, short for Belinda, is a typical McKay heroine, determined, stubborn, generous, well-meaning but so often frustrated by the adult world. The sudden death of the children’s father when Binny was just eight, means that this McKay family is par ticularly close-knit, and the sense of terrible uncer tainty that comes from that tragedy is never far away. For Binny this is represented by the loss of her much-loved dog, Max, shockingly given away by Aunty Violet who deemed he was too much for them to look after.

being under constant observation it seems that people can be easily removed if they start causing problems. Fast-paced action and a new breed of anti-heroes give this thriller a strange time-warped feeling; despite ultra-modern technology featuring heavily Rat Runners seems to be working within worlds created by Philip K. Dick and visualised in movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report, with characters reminiscent of 90s cult-flick Hackers, while name-checking influences such as Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. A cast of colourful characters will keep techno teens happy in this maze of cyberpunk crime.

KC Binny for Short HHHHH

Hilary McKay, Hodder Children’s Books, 304pp, 9781444900545, £9.99 hbk.

McKay’s readers are used too to her characters finding themselves in life or death situations. Here the book opens with Binny at real and terrible risk, and the narrative moves back and forth in time, describing the events that led up to this climax, its development and, finally, its outcome too. In a flash of insight, Binny is suddenly aware of a pattern in her life, that her grief, anger, frustration and guilt have led to this moment. In McKay’s skilful hands, the reader understands it too, and witnesses Binny’s redemption, all this done with a wonderfully light touch, with moments of sheer comic genius, and no sense whatsoever of moralising. Typically of her novels too, the thing readers will want to do more than anything on reaching the end of this book, is to turn back to the beginning and start all over again.

AR Sorrowline HHH

Niel Bushnell, Andersen Press, 352pp, 9781849395236, £6.99

Jack Morrow is a Yard Boy. He can travel the Sorrowlines to the past. Can he make use of this ability to prevent his mother’s death? In his quest, Jack finds himself in London during the Blitz where he discovers that his role is much greater than he imagined. With his teenage grandfather and the Paladin Knight, Eloise, he must find the Rose of Annwen and prevent it from falling into the hands of the sinister, Rouland. But what is Jack’s connection to the Rose?

Despite the complication of timeslip, and a scenario that allows Jack to exist in the same timeframe as his earlier self, the narrative moves along briskly carrying the reader with it. While the ingredients conform to the conventions of the genre - fractured family, troubled teen, a companion who is also the betrayer, a quest that involves a journey, in this case across time, they are well handled. There are some imaginative touches; the concept of the Sorrowlines in particular, - the channels that connect every gravestone with the date of a person’s death, is an interesting one. As might be expected, action rather that characterisation is more impor tant for the narrative, though both Jack and Davey are neatly defined. The conclusion is, as usual, both an ending of this story and paves the way for the next. I suspect the Timesmith adventures will attract young readers of 11+ and will fit neatly with titles like The Ministry of Pandemonium by Chris Westwood. FH

The Hidden Gift HHHH

Ian Somers, O’Brien Press, 416pp, 978 1847173089, £6.99 pbk

Fans of Ian Somers’ first novel, Million Dollar Gift, of which there are many, will be delighted to see his hero Ross Bentley back in a new adventure.

For those that don’t know – and The Hidden Gift is a more enjoyable read if you are familiar with the action in book one – teenager Ross has supernatural gifts and can move things with his mind. He’d always kept this secret until

Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013 27

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