The Girl Who Broke The Sea by A. Connors, reviewed by Farrah (16)

Lily, who has deep-rooted emotional problems, has an outburst which leads to expulsion from her school. In a desperate attempt at helping Lily and saving their family, her mother accepts a research job on a deep sea, mining rig (Deephaven), with Lily in tow.

The setting of Deephaven was unlike anything I have ever read before. It was an incredible backdrop for this story, providing a creepy, stark surrounding, to amplify the tensions and conflicts, as well as Lily’s internal battles.

Farrah (16)

Initially Lily feels just as unbalanced and isolated there as she did topside, but as the story unfolds, and she discovers more about her surroundings (and the suspicious nature of certain events), Lily gradually grows and adapts to her new-found environment. She begins investigating the death of a scientist on the rig, suspecting that his death is not all it seems, and discovers many enlightening things. With a blossoming friendship under her belt, Lily goes on a multitude of deep-sea exploits, ending up in several death-defying circumstances, as she attempts to untangle a web of mysteries, lies, and fascinating scientific discoveries. 

The setting of Deephaven was unlike anything I have ever read before. It was an incredible backdrop for this story, providing a creepy, stark surrounding, to amplify the tensions and conflicts, as well as Lily’s internal battles. The worldbuilding was expertly crafted, and you will be able vividly picture all of the action in your mind’s eye. 

Lily is a compelling main character, whose growth you root for, as you follow along with her identity- asserting journey. This fast-paced sci-fi thriller will have you enthralled, and on the edge of your seat, as you venture to the depths of the sea, with both villainous and courageous characters alike. 

I would recommend this novel to fans of ensnaring mysteries, as well as lovers of sci-fi and anything that will question and engage your mind. 

Unraveller by Frances Hardinge, reviewed by Farrah (16)

Unraveller is a vivid and delightful fantasy novel, which had me gripped from the very first chapter. Featuring Kellen, an unraveller of curses, and Nettle, an individual whose curse was unravelled by Kellen, we follow these characters as they are joined by unlikely allies in a journey to uncover the conspiracy surrounding a band of fugitive cursers. Along the way they travel through the alluring and vibrantly depicted locations of Mizzleport, the Shallow and the Deep Wilds.

It will certainly go down as one of my favourite stories of the year.

Farrah (16)

Covering a variety of topics in this expertly crafted fantasy, this is a book which you will find yourself unable to put down. I loved the vast cast of characters, and the incredible set-up of this fantastical world and its ‘magic system’. From the fearsome creatures inhabiting the Wilds, to the victims of strange curses and their seemingly formidable cursers, these are characters who’s escapades are a joy to read. Nettle’s quiet compassion and Kellen’s vivacious lust for adventure (and often the danger that accompanies it) are enchantingly written.

Lover of the fantasy genre or not, the lyrical writing and engaging characters will entice you in from the get-go. I would highly recommend this book to a large variety of age groups, and it will certainly go down as one of my favourite stories of the year.

The Reluctant Vampire Queen by Jo Simmons, reviewed by Catherine (11)

Fifteen-year-old Mo Merrydrew has her life sketched out perfectly. It’s all in The Plan, a scheme that she and her best friend have come up with together. Unfortunately, one evening, coming home from school, she encounters Bogdan, a vampire who insists that she is the Chosen One and must become the Vampire Queen of Britain. Mo doesn’t find it appealing, as she is a vegetarian. But the next day she meets Luca, Bogdan’s human servant, and suddenly the role of Vampire Queen seems a lot better…

The author is really good at making the reader want Mo to succeed – even though she faces a life of gruesome crime.

Catherine (11)

Bogdan and Luca ask Mo over and over again, trying to persuade her to change her mind. Just as the duo are leaving in defeat, Mo has a brainwave which solves everyone’s problems, usefully making her new crush stick around. But trouble is around the corner. The Vampire King is coming to England! Mo will need all the help she can get…or she might accidently become the royal dinner!

Mo likes hanging out with her bestie Lou, and eating mini Battenberg cakes. She is a person who values school and sadly she is bullied by a girl called Tracey Caldwell, who is also mean to Lou. Will Mo find the courage to stand up to her enemies so they leave her alone? The author is really good at making the reader want Mo to succeed – even though she faces a life of gruesome crime.

Throughout this story Mo finds her voice and discovers exactly what it means to be a Vampire Queen. I like how Mo seems to be a powerful role model and has strong feelings about women being equal to men. She criticizes Bogdan’s biased view that vampire monarchs should be male, but that he is willing to make ‘an exception’ for her. In her opinion (and mine too!) there is no exception to make!

The Revelry by Katherine Webber, reviewed by Tegan

I adored this book! It’s only quite short, about 260 pages long but there is so much depth and detail in the story. The story goes that every year, there is a huge party for graduates of the local high school. It’s very secretive and you are only meant to go if you are a graduate. Our two main characters, Bitsy Clark and Amy, one year break into The Revelry. However, they blackout, and when they wake up, they don’t remember anything from the night, only a few flashbacks. Suddenly Bitsy is unlucky and Amy is getting everything she wants. As the story continues, Bitsy and Amy are tested in their friendship. How far will Bitsy go to prove something happened that night of the Revelry. And will anyone believe her? This story is great, I loved the way Katherine Webber created a world in such a short amount of time. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who likes mystery and fantasy. 

About the book

A story of best friends, bad luck and the consequences of breaking the rules in a town built on secrets and superstitions.

Growing up in Ember Grove, Bitsy Clark knows better than to break the rules around the Revelry, the mysterious end-of-year party in the woods. So when her best friend, Amy, persuades her to sneak in, Bitsy is full of misgivings.

Misgivings that she should have listened to, because it’s after the Revelry that Bitsy’s luck turns and her life starts to unravel. For Amy it’s the opposite, as if she’s been blessed with good fortune. Soon Bitsy is convinced that the Revelry has tied the two friends together in a curse that only she can break…

Pax: Journey Home by Sara Pennypacker, reviewed by Mia and Kate

Mia says:

We received ‘Pax – Journey Home’ to review and so we read Pax first! They really need to be read in order. 
Peter is a young teenager whose mum died when he when seven. He had a pet fox, Pax, who he raised from a kit, but was forced to abandon when his dad went off to war and Peter was sent to his Grandfathers. He then goes on a journey to find Pax.  Along the way, Peter meets a special person who helps him when he gets injured, but who also needs Peter’s help without knowing it. 
Peter later finds Pax, who he realises is better off in the wild. 
In Pax – Journey Home, Peter feels like he loses everyone he loves, thinks things are his fault, and that it is best not to let anyone get close to him or to care about anyone.
Peter travels with the Water Warriors who work hard to put the rivers and reservoirs right after the war poisoned the water, while planning a life alone. Along the way he has to visit places with difficult memories from his past. 
Pax is making a similar journey for his family.

I loved these books. They describe feelings so well. They show how people can change and get over bad times, no matter how old you are. 
I really loved that the chapters alternated between  Peter’s point of view and Pax’s point of view.  
It was really interesting to see the world through the foxes’ eyes; how they would describe the things we do (which can seem really odd); how they sense feelings and danger through smells; and how they’d find our ‘dens’ strange. It also made me think a lot about how destructive people can be to the world and wildlife.
We couldn’t decide when the book is set – past, present or future, but it could be anytime as it is everyone’s life journey that matters.
The books gave us lots to talk about, 
A five star rating from me!

Mum Kate says:
These were wonderful books to read together and I think they’d be a great choice for a class. 
The books deal with a lot of trauma, without being traumatic – they are simply honest, in a very clear way. They offer so much opportunity for discussion about loss, emotions (a lot of anger, fear and sadness), human impact on the world, and connections and bonds. Also, if and when wild animals should be captive. 
The setting both in place and time is hard to gauge which puts more emphasis on the journey and bond of this boy and his fox.
A brilliantly told story which we couldn’t put down, and will revisit.

About the book

From bestselling and award-winning author Sara Pennypacker comes the long-awaited sequel to Pax; gorgeously crafted, utterly compelling with stunning illustrations by award-winning author and illustrator Jon Klassen.

It’s been a year since Peter and his pet fox, Pax, have seen each other. Once inseparable, they now lead very different lives. Pax must protect his litter of kits in a dangerous world. Meanwhile Peter, orphaned after the war, has left his adopted home and joined the Water Warriors, a group determined to heal the land from the scars of the war.

When one of Pax’s kits falls desperately ill, he turns to the one human he knows he can trust. And no matter how hard Peter tries to harden his broken heart, love keeps finding a way in. Now both boy and fox find themselves on journeys toward home, healing – and each other.
A breathtaking novel about chosen families and the healing power of love.

Furthermoor by Darren Simpson, reviewed by James

Furthermoor is an extremely well written book in which one boy overcomes the challenges he faces after his older sister is fatally injured in a car crash near his home. This book is extremely thought-provoking, as it personifies this boys problems into a physical being, that he needs to overcome to be able to achieve his full potential, with or without his sister. I enjoyed this story immensely, and, as I mentioned before, it really made me think about how different people deal with their problems, and how to be accepting and supportive in finding ways to help those people, in whatever way you feel is needed. As it deals with some quite serious issues, I would recommend this book for anyone 10+ who wants to read a book about forgiveness, and facing problems. I will be looking forward to reading more books by this author!

About the book

The real world is a hostile place for twelve-year-old Bren, his schooldays stalked by vicious bully, Shaun, and his family life fractured at home. Ever since his sister Evie died in an accident, Bren’s only safe space is Furthermoor, an imagined world of mechanised trees and clockwork animals, where Evie is still alive. In Furthermoor, no one can hurt Bren…until the mysterious Featherly arrives.

Now Bren is forced to confront his deepest fears and decide if his place in the real world is worth fighting for.Enter a world as vast and dark as your imagination, in this unforgettable coming-of-age story about courage, friendship and finding your voice.

Alex Rider: Nightshade by Anthony Horowitz, reviewed by Ben

Nightshade is the most recent book of the Alex Rider series, a wildly popular set of books set on a 15-year-old boy who has been recruited by MI5. MI5 use him for missions that adults can’t achieve, this mission was like wise. Him breaching a high security prison, acting like a criminal in an attempt to befriend and get information out of a similar aged boy who was part of a cult. 

This book was very exciting and well written. It made you want to know more from page one. I think the book could mainly be enjoyed by early teens and a little younger, but I think most people would like to read Nightshade. Although many argue the Alex Rider series peaked near Scorpia rising, I think all the books have been very good in the Alex Rider series.

Dragon Skin by Karen Foxlee, reviewed by Leontine

An enthralling story about the bond between a girl and a baby dragon.

What to expect: a baby dragon, friendship, a never-ending waterhole, and a secret cave.

As you step in Pip, Laura and Archie’s world, you will follow Pip as she learns to care for a lost baby dragon with unexpected friends, while escaping her hard family life.

I liked this book as it was a page turner, and it was a book like no other, filled to the brim with a character’s big thoughts. It was also full of tips on how to look after a dragon, so if I ever find a dragon near a waterhole like Pip did, I’ll be prepared!

I would say that this book is suitable for 8+. I would recommend this book to those who liked “A glasshouse of stars” by Shirley Marr. Dragon skin is a great book, you should read it!

About the book

Pip never wants to be at home nowadays. There’s no laughter anymore and her mum isn’t happy. She spends most of her time alone, daydreaming and digging for treasure by the dirty creek.

But one night, Pip finds something incredible – a dragon. Tiny, possibly dying, but definitely a dragon. She quickly realises that dragons don’t come with instructions: what do you feed a dragon? Where could it have come from? And how can Pip cope with the enormous changes this creature will bring into her life? Full of enchanting magic and poignant truths, Dragon Skin is a moving story of friendship, family and finding a way to fly.

All the Money in the World by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, reviewed by Isobel

This is a heart-warming story about social status, privilege and identity. The moral being: Don’t be ashamed of where you come from and who you are. 

In this story the protagonist, Penny Nolan, lives in a place ominously referred to as ‘The Flats’. The flats have poor lighting, rats and a damp problem. Penny feels that people look down on her because of where she comes from, for not having enough money. She longs to escape. 

When Penny befriends Violet Fitzsimons, the mysterious elderly woman living in the large house next door, she feels a sense of escape as Violet teaches her to play the piano and tells stories of her much-loved schooldays at a respectable boarding school called Pearlbourne. Hearing about Pearlbourne makes Penny jealous. It makes her realise, properly, how different she and her friends from The Flats are, and she becomes determined to find a way to attend Pearlbourne herself. However, when Penny eventually finds herself thrust into a world of privilege, her shame about who she is and where she comes from grows.  

This is the story of a poor girl in a rich world. A girl who has to earn respect, rather than be born with it. A girl who feels she has to lie about everything, her friends, her family, and her life, just to be accepted by society. This is the story of someone pretending to be something she isn’t, even though the person she was originally was just as good, in fact, better.  

This is a story of family, friends, lies, secrets, playing, working, acting, hiding and pretending. This is a story of how much good a person can do when fuelled by cold, hard ambition. 

Hide and Seek by Robin Scott-Elliot, reviewed by James

Hide and Seek is a thought-provoking book about Amelie, a Jewish French girl who witnesses her family being taken away by the gestapo during World War Two, and her quest to be reunited with them in Nazi occupied Paris. This is a brilliantly written book that had me sitting on the edge of my seat all the way through and should I come across any other books written by this author, I would definitely be inclined to read them.

About the book:

‘Hide and Seek brings to vivid life the courage of young people who risked all in the French resistance in the second world war.’ OBSERVER

‘Beautifully told’ TELEGRAPH

Thrilling new page turner by Robin Scott-Elliot, author of The Tzar’s Curious Runaways and The Acrobats of Agra.

Paris, 1942. When Amelie Dreyfus hides in her mother’s wardrobe it’s a game; when she comes out it’s a matter of life or death. With her family taken, Amelie has to fend for herself in Nazi-occupied France – she’s no choice but to resist. In the Resistance life hangs by a thread. Betrayed, Amelie’s forced to flee to Britain. But Paris is home and she returns to face one final, desperate mission.