BfK 14+ Secondary/Adult

predictable but fantasy fans will love this and will be eager for the sequel. JC

Jackpot HHHH

Nic Stone, Simon & Schuster, 343pp, 978 1 4711 8690 5, £7.99 pbk

A Throne of Swans HHHH

Katharine & Elizabeth Corr, Hot Key, 326pp, 978 1471408755, £7.99 pbk

After the death of her father, Aderyn becomes proctor

of the dominion

of Atratys and one step nearer to inheriting the kingdom ruled by her uncle, a despot. The ruling nobility have the power to shapeshift into birds – each according to their family group. Aderyn is a swan but has not been able to transform since the death of her mother when they were both attacked by hawks. The trauma has physically and mentally scarred her but she must hide her disability otherwise she will be exiled from the kingdom. There are strict rules and penalties for those who can fly and those who can’t. Up until now Aderyn has been kept safe in her father’s castle but she realises the only way she can find the answers to her mother’s death is to go court to the Silver Citadel to meet her uncle and cousins despite the terrible danger this puts her in. She is unprepared and naive but with determination,

her trusty servant

and childhood friend Letya by her side, plus the help of Lancelin, the somewhat cynical and patronising son of her father’s steward she sets off on her quest.

Once there she

begins to uncover a web of treachery, intrigue and deceit and realises she can trust no-one. Yet as she becomes closer to Lancelin she finds she is beginning to have feelings for him. Loosely based on the Swan Lake

story this first-person narrative does everything a good high fantasy novel should do. There is a flawed but fascinating heroine, an unfulfilled romance and a fight to regain a kingdom ruled over by an evil king. It is a highly visual story rich in detail with twists and turns aplenty and some excellent lines in witty dialogue. All the familiar tropes are there which at times makes the story just a little

YA readers may well be familiar with novels set in New York City or on the West Coast, often featuring affluent homes. This is different. Rico lives in Norcross, a district of Metro Atlanta, Georgia. She’s a High School Senior, a good student, no problems with her grades. But she’s got no chance of going on to College. For a couple of years, she’s worked long shifts after school and at weekends at the Gas ‘n’ Go convenience store, helping her Mama pay the rent on an apartment they can’t afford. Her mother works 70 hour weeks as a cleaner, since she’s determined to raise Rico and young son Jax in a good neighbourhood with good schools. There’s no safety net for them; they can’t afford Health Insurance and Mama won’t apply for public assistance such as Medicaid. So when Jax is hospitalised


several weeks, Rico knows the bill for more than three hundred thousand dollars will put them out on the street. Rico doesn’t have time to hang out with friends. Though she can’t see it, we realise anger and resentment are never far away. One

day, the

Lottery Jackpot is: Two. And. Twelve. Million.

Dollars. (Look,

it seems every YA novelist currently deploys full-stops this way, so why not?) There are two winning tickets, half the Jackpot apiece. And one of them was bought at the Gas ‘n’ Go in Norcross, and the ticket owner hasn’t cashed it in. Rico thinks she knows who bought it - she’s pretty sure she sold it to her.

If she could track the

buyer down, maybe she could alert her to her good fortune and maybe some of the winnings might come her way.

So her search begins -

miles of driving, tracing a taxi driver, visiting the Victorious Faith Chapel (unlike any Church a UK reader might know), meeting strange old ladies in strange old houses, pretending to be a pregnant prospective buyer touring homes

with estate agents, and

almost breaking into a storage unit to search through a deceased person’s wardrobe. Always edging closer. Rico is not alone. A coincidence

on that fateful night at the Gas ‘n’ Go leads her to recruit Alexander (‘Zan’) Macklin, ‘varsity quarterback, all round teen dream’ and heir to a million dollar business producing the finest toilet paper in all America and possibly the World. While the novel is structured around the search for that ticket, it’s more interestingly about the searches of Rico and Zan for themselves through each other. Their financial circumstances could not be

30 Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020

more different, but both feel they have no choices about what to do with their own lives. Just as Rico is absorbed by caring for Mama and Jax, Zan’s path into heading up the toilet paper business is predetermined. The way his father sees things, there’s no need for Zan to waste time going to College. The narrative is punctuated by interjections

brief from inanimate

objects: the lost winning ticket, a taxi, a Waffle House Saltshaker, the sheets on Zan’s bed. It’s a device which readers might feel is contrived, jarring with the comic naturalism of the rest of Rico and Zan’s story. Nic Stone’s dialogue is charged with the super-fast wit YA readers expect, but there is a serious subtext. Rico hates Zan’s arrogant assumptions – ‘You just do whatever the hell you want’. He never asks, he simply expects her to accept his help, the rides in his upmarket jeep, his easy money and so on. But Rico’s anger means she misses Zan’s genuine kindness, and she’s blind to his own confusions. On the other hand, he’s exasperated by her stubborn pride. Each has much to give – to teach – the other, and that is very entertainingly done through a rapid narrative which culminates in a surprising revelation and an invitingly open ending. GF

Mighty Millions Hundred.

His father has been in prison several times and never

shows his son

affection or praises him for his many achievements. Jack, Kate and Franny are inseparable and fiercely loyal and so Jack knows he must say and do nothing about his romantic feelings. Then events completely change

Jack’s feelings-he meets Kate and falls profoundly in love. The feeling rapidly becomes mutual, but there is a serious problem: Kate has sickle cell

life at any time. Jack is determined to save her and this propels the narrative into a Groundhog Day loop as he formulates one solution after another to the

problem. Reynolds

deftly juggles tension, comedy, love and friendship using effective tools- smart, sassy, well-observed dialogue; rounded, convincing characters and, until the final section, credible plot construction. This

is fast and furious sentimentality. Reynolds

threaded through with strong emotion which avoids the of

stuff, trap

is an

accomplished and inventive writer, which makes the rather strained final section rather a disappointment. Nevertheless, I relished reading this book and was sorry when it ended. VR

The Good Hawk HHHH

Joseph Elliott, Walker 348pp., 9781406385854, £7.99 pbk

Set in an alternative Skye, Scotland (Scotia), and Norveg (Norway) this story is told by three protagonists, notably including Agatha, who has Down’s

Syndrome. Although this

is not specified in the text, the fact is mentioned in the blurb, and new characters that she meets notice immediately

that she is different.

Their low expectations of her and her abilities are soon shown to be unjust – she is the ‘Good Hawk’ of the title who is very good at being a lookout for her tribe and the sub-group, the Hawks, and ultimately it is her skills and actions that bring this part of the proposed trilogy to a satisfactory conclusion. storyteller

Another Opposite of Always HHHHH

Justin A. Reynolds, Macmillan Children’s Books, 456pp, 978-1-5098-7004-2, £7.99 pbk

This timeslip romance is full of smart, sassy, well-observed dialogue. The conversational

bounce between

the four principal characters feels authentic and immediately engages the reader. Jack and Jillian have always been best friends but Jack has begun to feel much more for her. He can do nothing about this, however, as she is dating Jack’s other best friend, Franny, who has both great physical strength and emotional vulnerability.

important is Jaime, a young man

who is full of fears and worries, specifically of the sea, which, as his designated sub-group is the Anglers, is embarrassing, but he discovers courage he didn’t know he had, and emerges, with Agatha, as heroic. The third person, Nathara, only appears with strange poems in Part Two, when the action moves to Scotia. Her identity, and her importance, eventually become clear, but her part of the story ends in Norweg. The tribe of


divided Wasps


into Hawks, Anglers and (builders), has long been

self-sufficient, but the elders decree that a marriage must take place, something that has not happened

disease, which can take her

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