Kate Forsyth’s Top 10 CYA books Read This Year
‘The Ropemaker’ by Peter Dickinson.
Tilja has grown up in the peaceful Valley, which is protected from the fearsome Empire by an enchanted forest. But the forest’s power has begun to fade and the Valley is in danger. Tilja is the youngest of four brave souls who venture into the Empire together to find the mysterious magician who can save the Valley. And much to her amazement, Tilja gradually learns that only she, an ordinary girl with no magical powers, has the ability to protect her group and their quest from the Empire’s sorcerers
I read and loved many of Peter Dickinson’s books as a teenager, in particular ‘The Dancing Bear’ and the Weathermonger series. Peter Dickinson is one of the great children’s fantasy writers (he is 73 now, I think) and I was really curious to see if he still had the magic. ‘The Ropemaker’ was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal and was a Printz Honor Book, and so someone definitely thinks so! What do I think? It is a clever, thoughtful and demanding YA fantasy novel, and so it may not appeal to those teenagers who have grown used to quick and ultimately forgettable reads. However, it is truly original, with a quartet of unlikely heroes, being a girl and her grandmother, and a boy and his grandfather. The Ropemaker himself is an intriguing and enigmatic figure, and the book is full of surprises. It has lingered in my mind for a long time since reading it, and I think it will join many of Peter Dickinson’s other books as a classic of children’s fantasy.
‘The London Eye Mystery’ by Siobhan Dowd.
When Ted and Kat watched their cousin Salim get on board the London Eye, he turned and waved before getting on. But after half an hour it landed and everyone trooped off - but no Salim. Where could he have gone? How on earth could he have disappeared into thin air?
So Ted and his older sister, Kat, become sleuthing partners, since the police are having no luck. Despite their prickly relationship, they overcome their differences to follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin. And ultimately it comes down to Ted, whose brain works in its own very unique way, to find the key to the mystery.
This is an unputdownable spine-tingling thriller - a race against time.
This is a lovely little book that worked like clockwork – not one unnecessary word or sentence. It deserves to be as big a success as ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-time’, which has a similar plot device but is not nearly as clever. This was author Siobhan Dowd’s second novel, and is a very adroit ‘locked room’ type mystery, in that the victim – a teenage boy called Salim – disappears from the London Eye despite his young cousins watching the whole time.
The family are beside themselves with horror and grief, and these scenes are drawn brilliantly well, each character vivid and alive and real. Most vivid of all is the character of Ted, the primary protagonist, who has what I suspect must be Asperger’s Syndrome, although he described it as having ‘a different operating system’. Ted and his sister Kat, who is a very ordinary, sassy teenage girl, turn sleuth in the hope of finding their cousin themselves. Despite the tension and drama, some of these scenes are very funny, such as Ted’s theory that Salim was caught in a time warp. In the end, it is Ted that solves the mystery, though each step of his reasoning is shown and makes perfect sense, and the denouement is truly brilliant.
I absolutely loved this book, and was shocked when I learned Siobhan Dowd died soon after it was published from breast cancer. She was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for her third novel, Bog Child, which I have on my TBR pile. She was only 47.
‘The Museum of Mary Child’ by Cassandra Golds.Publisher’s blurb:
Heloise lives with her godmother in an isolated cottage. Next door is a sinister museum dedicated to the memory of Mary Child. Visitors enter it with a smile and depart with fear in their eyes. One day, Heloise finds a doll under the floorboards. Against her godmother's wishes, she keeps it. And that's when the delicate truce between Heloise and her godmother begins to unravel . . . Heloise runs away. She journeys far, but one day she must return to uncover the secret at the heart of her being. A timeless love story and a bewitching fairy tale from the masterful creator of Claire de Lune.
This is an extraordinary book about the power of love to transform the world. With a fairy-tale, out-of-world quality, it reminded me of books by Elizabeth Goudge and Joan Aiken, writers who I love. Delicate and yet riveting, timeless and yet surprising, tender and yet sad, it’s a truly beautiful book. It tells the story of Heloise who lives with her cold and remote godmother, who forbids her any toys or dolls or books, all except an old Bible that has had any passages about love heavily struck out so they cannot be read. When Heloise finds a doll hidden under her floorboards, she runs away, searching for love, a home, truth ... she hardly knows what. What she finds is a young prince chained in prison, a Society of Caged Birds, a church choir of orphan girls, and dolls. Lots of them, not all of them benign. And yes, in the end, love, a home, truth ...
Cassandra is an Australian writer and so perhaps may not be very familiar to UK writers, though I know you can buy her earlier book Claire de Lune from amazon.co.uk. She was first published at the age of nineteen, but has written only a few beautiful and unusual books. You may need to buy this from an Australian online bookshop like http://www.booktopia.com.au/
‘City of Flowers’ by Mary Hoffman
The sequel to City of Masks
and City of Stars
, the narrative moves to the Talian equivalent of the city of Florence, where beauty and danger walk - as ever - hand in hand. The focus this time is on the new Stravagante, Sky, whose talisman is an ornate and delicate blue glass bottle. Sky is propelled right into the midst of a deadly feud between the di Chimici and Nucci families, who think nothing of sliding a knife between a man's ribs for revenge A breathtaking and thrilling drama with a very special kind of magic, continuing the stories of Luciano, Arianna, Rodolfo, Falco and Georgia, which fans will sieze upon with glee.
I love these Stravaganza books! They are a series of YA historical fantasy, about a group of modern day teenagers who travel back in time (or perhaps sideways to an alternative universe) to a medieval Italy with flying horses and other magical things. I wish I’d thought of stravaganzing – it is such a brilliant idea! Filled with romance, intrigue, drama and adventure, the books balance modern-day issues with gorgeous medieval Italy (or almost Italy). I read on her website that her daughter says her books are more Italian than Italy – which is perfect for an Italophile like me. Mary Hoffman is a UK writer whose other titles include ‘Troubador’ and ‘The Falconer’s Knot’ which I fully intend to read very soon. Book 4 in the Stravagnza series ‘City of Secrets’ was short-listed for the 2009 Carnegie Medal, so that’s on my TBR list too!
‘Magic Flutes’ by Eva Ibbotson
Spring, 1922. Tessa is a beautiful, tiny, dark-eyed princess - who's given up her duties to follow her heart, working for nothing backstage at the Viennese opera. No one there knows who she really is, or that a fairytale castle is missing its princess, and Tessa is determined to keep it that way. But secret lives can be complicated. When a wealthy, handsome Englishman discovers this bewitching urchin backstage,Tessa's two lives collide - and in escaping her inheritance, she finds her destiny...
Eva Ibbotson is one of my favourite YA authors. Her books are light-hearted romances, yet are filled with life and vitality and charm. ‘Magic Flutes’ tells the story of Tessa, one of the last princesses of the dismantled Austrian Empire, who must face the reality of life after the Second World War. Like all of Ibbotson’s heroines, she is humble, hard-working and kind. She does not try and maintain her lost aristocratic dignity, but goes to work at a small opera company, following her passionate love for music and the arts. Meanwhile, her ancient, crumbling castle is sold to a young, rich Englishman who plans to lay it at the feet of the shallow, haughty beauty who rejected him before the war. Tessa, the rich hero, the shallow beauty and a cast of lovable eccentrics are then brought together by fate in a captivating and amusing story that includes all sorts of fascinating tidbits about Vienna and opera and music. As always, it is Ibbotson’s minor characters who bring so much life and humour to the story - the Littlest Heidi, the Bulgarian Boris and his flocculating yoghurt, Prince Maximilian and his dogs, Bubi and all the rest just leap off the page and dance around the room. A delight, as always.
‘Cupid’s Arrow’ by Isabelle Merlin.
Love at first sight has never been so terrifying ... It's been a while since 16-year-old Fleur Griffon has had one of the weird and scary dreams that used to plague her childhood. So she's really creeped out when she starts dreaming of being hunted through a dark forest by an unseen, sinister archer. But when her bookseller mother unexpectedly inherits the magnificent library of a famous French author, Fleur forgets all about her fears. Excitedly, mother and daughter travel to Bellerive Manor, near the ancient French town of Avallon, reputedly the last resting place of the 'real' King Arthur. And it is there, in the magical green forest near Bellerive, that Fleur meets a handsome, mysterious boy called Remy Gomert. It seems to be love at first sight, beautiful as a dream. But Fleur's nightmare is just about to begin . . .
This is the third in a series of fresh, fast-paced YA suspense novels which I have been really enjoying. Each novel stands alone, with new characters and situations, yet they are linked by their French settings, their gentle romances, a twist of the eerie or supernatural, and their use of the newest technologies, such as google, blogs, and so on. In ‘Cupid’s Arrow’, an Australian teenager Fleur travels with her mother to Avallon, meant to be the ‘true’ resting place of King Arthur. She meets a lovely French boy called Remy, but soon finds herself caught up in a murderous mystery. The romance is romantic, the suspense is suspenseful, and the writing style is easy and natural and very readable. Definitely recommended for teenage girls!
Isabelle Merlin is an Australian writer, who draws upon the stories of her French grandmother to enrichen and enliven her books. The other books in the series are called Three Wishes, Pop Princess, with another coming soon, to be called Bright Angel.
‘Locket of Dreams’ by Belinda Murrell.
Sophie discovers a golden locket in an old treasure box that belonged to her grandmother's grandmother. When she falls asleep wearing the locket, she magically travels back in time to 1858 to learn the truth about the mysterious Charlotte Mackenzie.
Daughter of a wealthy Scottish laird, Charlotte and her sister Nell live a wonderful life with their parents and animals, on a misty island with its own ruined castle. Then disaster strikes and it seems the girls will lose everything they love. Why were Charlotte and Nell sent halfway around the world to live with strangers? Did their wicked uncle steal their inheritance? What happened to the priceless sapphire - the Star of Serendib? With the magic of the golden locket, Sophie begins to unravel the mysteries as she shares the adventures of Charlotte and Nell - outwitting their greedy relatives, escaping murderous bushrangers, and fighting storm and fire. But how will her travels in time affect Sophie's own life?
I need to declare straightaway that this wonderful book was written by my own beautiful, talented sister Belinda. She’s a writer too, and like me, writes stories filled with magic, history, suspense and adventure. This novel is a time slip adventure that moves between modern-day Sydney, and 1850s Scotland. It has as its inspiration the true story of our great-great-grandmother Ellen Mackenzie, whose parents died when she was just a young girl. Her family castle was inherited by her uncle, who promptly shipped Ellen and her sister Jane out to the wilds of Australia. As kids, Belinda and I used to dream about one day winning back that castle and so of course the old family mythology has worked its way through our imaginations and into our fiction. It was pure coincidence that both Belinda and I wrote time travel adventures set in Scotland in the very same year, and we both resolved not to read each other’s books until they were finished. Of course they are very different –half of Belinda’s book is set in 1850s Australia with bushrangers and bushfires and other Australian motifs, while mine is primarily set in Scotland. ‘The Locket of Dreams’ is a brilliant book, though, being sad, heroic, and beautiful. It can only be bought from Australian online bookshops, though, along with her other books which include a fantasy trilogy, Quest for the Sun Sword, and her forthcoming French Revolution time-slip novel, The Ruby Talisman.
‘Shiver’ by Maggie Stiefvater.
For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf—her wolf—is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human... until the cold makes him shift back again. Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human—or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.
I had heard a great deal about this book and so I grabbed it as soon as it finally arrived in Australian shores. I read it in a single setting – it is a small, simple, elegant story – with a sense of brooding melancholy and bittersweet longing. Essentially a tale of first love, it is beautifully told and I rate it much more highly than any other paranormal romances for teenagers that I’ve read this year. It is true that there are no surprises, but that is true of the genre as a whole, I think. Teenage girls (or anyone else) do not read paranormal romance for twists and turns and switches and surprises – they read it for the sense of strange and wonderful in the midst of the real experiences of first meeting someone who stirs you, and of the real fears and problems we all face as we grow into adulthood. They read it longing to find love like that for themselves.
Structured in very short chapters alternating between the points of view of Grace, the teenage heroine, and Sam, the mysterious wolf-boy, the book moves at an elegiac pace. Much of the pleasure in it comes from Stiefvater’s lyrical use of language, and especially for me, by the use of one of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke.
Also, the characters are carefully and lovingly drawn. Sam quickly became a favourite of mine, because he has the good taste to love Rilke, and because he composes songs in his head which made him a far deeper and more interesting character that is usual in YA paranormal romance. I liked Grace too. She was strong, intelligent and capable, and the romance between the two was delicate and rather lovely. By the time I finished the book I was completely enchanted.
‘Heroes of the Valley’ by Jonathan Stroud.
Not everyone is destined to be a hero…Long ago the valley was a wild place, defended by the twelve legendary heroes. Now it is at peace and the time for daring exploits has passed – much to the annoyance of Halli Sveinsson. A short, squat stump of a boy, Halli craves excitement, setting sail across the uncharted waters of the goose-pond, or scaling the heights of neighbouring rooftops. But his dreams of real adventure seem doomed until a practical joke rekindles an old blood feud and his life is turned upside-down.Setting out on a daring quest, he is joined by Aud – a girl every bit as reckless and headstrong as him. Together they will challenge the legends, and themselves, and discover that there is more than one way to be a hero…Blood feuds, epic battles and an unforgettable anti-hero come together in this brilliant new fantasy adventure by Jonathan Stroud.
I’m a big fan of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus
trilogy and so I was looking forward to reading this book a lot. It was just as clever, funny and action-packed as I hoped it would be. ‘Heroes of the Valley’ tells the story of Halli Sveinsson, who dreams of being a hero like those in the old tales but is short and dark and bad-tempered, not at all the usual criteria for a hero. The character of Halli is one of the book’s joys, particularly his quick temper and acerbic tongue. One of my favourite lines: ‘Leif needs no sabotage from me .. If he manages two sentences without tripping over his trailing knuckles he will have exceeded my expectations.’ There is also a tall, clever, wisecracking girl called Aud who rescued Halli once or twice, and the dynamic between the two characters is great. Add in a murder, a quest, a few pratfalls, some nasty trows, and a genuinely surprising twist, and ‘Heroes of the Valley’ becomes one of the best children’s fantasy books I’ve read in a while. It also has a great website at http://www.heroesofthevalley.co.uk/
‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zusak. Publisher’s blurb:
1939 - Nazi Germany - The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information - this novel is narrated by death. It's a small story, about: a girl; an accordionist; some fanatical Germans; a Jewish fist fighter; and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know - death will visit the book thief three times.
‘The Book Thief’ is one of my all-time favourite books. It is written by an Australian, Marcus Zusak, who drew upon his own German parents’ memories and tales of the war. It took him three years to write, and he struggled for a while to find the right voice – one day it occurred to him to have the story being narrated by Death himself, and the result is a truly extraordinary story.
The book thief is a teenage girl called Liesel who steals books from Nazi fires, and saves them from destruction, because she instinctively realises the redemptive power of words and stories. She tries to save a young Jewish man as well, and works to thwart Death from the feast of slaughter that was the Second World War. ‘The Book Thief’ has won too many prizes for me to list here, plus been on bestseller lists all around the world for years. I first read it when it came out in 2005, and I read it again this year – always a sign of true love with me. Such a wonderful book, so sad and yet filled with such hopefulness. If you haven’t read it, you really really must.
Thank you so much, Kate! You can visit Kate at her website
here and read my review of The Puzzle Ring here