BfK 14+Secondary/Adult continued Ed’s Choice The Electrical Venus HHHH

Julie Mayhew, Hot Key Books, 9781471407048, 270pp, £7.99pbk

Mim’s life is with Grainger’s Side Show along with a “dwaff”, a learned pig and Alex, a boy who has only one arm. Welcome to the world of Georgian entertainment. But this is also the Age of the Enlightenment when scientific discoveries and experiments are exciting society. When smooth talking Mr Fox joins the fair, Mim finds herself catapulted to fame as the Electrical Venus whose kiss will shock. But is this really magic – or is she just a pawn in Fox’s ambition? This is an electrifying read and the adventurous reader,

one for

reminiscent as it is of the writing of both Leon Garfield and Angela Carter. Despite the cover


certainly attracts attention, this is not a fantasy nor does it involve magical realism. This is a well- researched

historical novel that

draws the reader straight into the eighteenth century. This is the time when Wright of Derby was painting, when reason and science are taking the place of superstition and belief. But you still needed a patron to succeed. Mayhew takes a bold decision to tell her story not just with one voice, but with three so we hear not only from Mim and Alex as they comment on their situation, their hopes, fears, their ambitions but also from an omniscient narrator

but this is no clichéd account. Jay’s shame, her lonely loss of direction, her

conviction that no-one could

value or love her again, read as a unique experience. Certainly, there is a strong moral purpose here, charged with compassion and driven by anger. Readers may be challenged


informed as they are absorbed by Jay’s story, but they will not be subjected to didacticism or melodrama. GF

On a Scale of One to Ten HHHH

Ceylan Scott, 256pp, Chicken House, 978-1-911077244, £7.99pbk

Tamar is aged seventeen. She is convinced that

three years ago

she killed her best friend Iris. This belief has led Tamar to find herself in a secure mental health hospital named Lime Grove. Since she has not been sectioned, she is free to leave any time she chooses. But Tamar is harming herself and nurturing suicidal thoughts. For these reasons she is encouraged to

remain in

hospital. Scott’s novel tells in the first person the story of Tamar’s long and

painting the world they inhabit. The result is a rich, dense narrative that is as rich and dense as the setting. It is no surprise to learn that the story was originally conceived as a play it has such movement and immediacy. Both Mim and Alex are neatly defined and convince with their distinct characters and very particular voices; both are outsiders through their differences and this is a central theme as both can only find status by exploiting these differences. This is an exciting immersive novel To conclude Mayhew provides

extensive note on the origins of her tale,

fascinating in itself,

allowing a young reader to explore further without detracting from the freshness of her storytelling.. FH

arduous journey towards recovery. Scott’s book is important. It is

for example unusual in being a first person narrative. It is also unusual in daring to tackle a subject – breakdown of mental health – from which many authors would shrink in fear. The book is also sadly topical, since mental

health problems

among young people are becoming more widespread. Almost everyone knows some young person who has been afflicted to some extent in this way. But the book must come with a warning note.

Ash Princess” stems from the crown made of ashes that she is forced to wear at any court function; as the crown disintegrates, she is covered in the ash and shown as a lesser person. Life changes when she is sixteen and is forced to kill a prisoner that she thinks is her true father and then she discovers that there is still some resistance to the harsh rule of the Kaiser. The question is whether Theodosia will comply with the life she has, or seize the opportunity to take revenge on the people who have destroyed her family and her country? This is the debut novel

of the

author, Laura Sebastian and she has made an excellent start to her career.

The story itself is a fantasy

but without magic, dragons or the obvious type of ‘hero’. The central character is a young girl who has been damaged by the traumas that she has suffered in the preceding ten years. The author has increased this sense by divorcing the character from any of her own people; even her only ‘friend’ is the daughter of the man who killed her mother. The themes that the story explores are about friendship, loyalty and knowing who you are and this becomes more obvious as Theodosia comes in to contact with her own people who have also suffered over the years. You could almost say that this is looking at the difference between nature and nurture, although the latter was not positive in any way. The other theme that is strikingly obvious is the issue of physical and mental abuse and how this affects the person subjected to this treatment. We are given a heroine who gradually gains mental strength and the determination to improve the lot of her people, but in doing so she creates further enemies that she must combat. This is a great novel for the Young Adult market and will be a favourite for those who love authors such as Sarah Maas.MP

Skylarks HHHH

Karen Gregory, Bloomsbury, 978- 1-4088-8361-7, 336pp, £7.99 pbk

It contains some

passages in which self-harm and the contemplation of suicide are vividly depicted. But be prepared, the book’s power comes from its candour. RB

Ash Princess HHHH

Laura Sebastian, Macmillan, 417pp, 9781509855209, £7.99 pbk

At the age of six Theodosia witnessed her mother, the Queen of Flame and Fury, being murdered before her eyes. She is then brought up in the court of the invading monarch, the Kaiser but her life is full of torture, pain and a sense of uselessness. Her title “The

30 Books for Keeps No.230 May 2018

After years in which the genre has been dominated by dystopian and fantasy adventures, contemporary stories are sweeping YA, featuring protagonists that readers will immediately recognise, and exploring important themes and issues with sensitivity as well as passion. Skylarks is such a book. Central character Joni lives with her

parents and brothers in an ordinary house on an ordinary estate in rural south-west England. The


scene makes us aware that money is tight: the family work hard – Joni herself has a paying job at the local community-run library – but still struggle to make ends meet. It’s in the library that Joni meets Annabel, a girl the same age as her but from a very different background. The two become friends, then gradually more, but as they get closer the differences between their lives are brought into

sharp focus. Joni’s family faces losing their home when their estate is bought and marked for redevelopment.


joins her brother in organising local protests and quickly learns just how energising the sense of community is, but also just how heavily the world is stacked in favour of those who have wealth and power. Joni is a convincing and appealing central character who changes and grows throughout the course of the book, while her voice remains direct and distinctive. Joni’s family, friends and neighbours are equally well drawn and if Annabel’s family are less convincing, bordering on stereotype even, they serve their purpose and this works both as a romance and a story of social awakening. There’s a happy resolution which feels a little bit pat but nonetheless this is a true and honest bit of storytelling, about the kind of lives lived by lots of people and which seldom get the fictional scrutiny they deserve. LS

Fragments of the Lost HHHH

Megan Miranda, Penguin Random House, 400pp, 9780241344422, £7.99 pbk

When her ex-boyfriend is lost after his car crashes through a bridge, his mother asks Jessa if she will clear out his room, because there are so many memories of her in there. The process is a traumatic one, but Jessa feels she has to do it. However as she sorts through everything it is like unpeeling layers of an onion; every layer bringing with it memories of when she and Caleb were a couple. It also brings to light other aspects of his life; secrets that he has been keeping for years.

that there are mysteries to be solved and questions answered.

Gradually Jessa discovers The real

issue is about how many people are involved in these events and whether they have any relationship to Caleb’s disappearance. This is a great story for those who

like a mystery to solve and particularly when it is a complex and multi-layered plot like this one. Jessa is an ordinary

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