#CountdownML February Preview

By Jim Dean, January 24, 2016

TOMORROW, Monday 25th January, we’re hosting our second #CountdownML Twitter chat, focusing on books released from the 28th Jan until the 22nd Feb! It would be brilliant if you could join us at 8pm GMT. For a full list of what’s coming out, check this post, but here are our personal highlights.

Best Ones We’ve Read

Waiting For Callback by Perdita and Honor Cargill (Simon & Schuster) – This contemporary from mother and daughter team Perdita and Honor is a really fun read about a girl trying to make it as an actress. Perfect for Geek Girl fans, central character Elektra is great, there’s a huge amount of laughs, and the dialogue sparkles, showing the value of having an actual teenager as co-author. I also really enjoyed the relationship between Elektra and her parents, who are supportive of her acting ambitions but also clearly concerned about the possible effects that they could have on her at school. The publishers seem confident this is going to be one of the smash hits of the year and I can completely see why.

The Last Immortal by Alex Marlowe (Little, Brown) – Next month seems to be mainly about YA for me but this MG action adventure, a modern Gothic story featuring the son of Dr Frankenstein, reanimated after being dead for over a century, is one that I will be recommending to everyone who loves a pacy and exciting read. A team of heroes which include Jonathan Harker from Dracula and his daughter Evelyn (both turned into vampires by the count’s followers to get revenge for their master’s demise), gargoyle Raziel, werewolf Aurora and Charles Dickens’s Artful Dodger, make an interesting squad for the mission to stop cultists from resurrecting an evil Pharaoh. I enjoyed seeing main character Luke plunged into the modern world and finding the differences from Victorian times, while Marlowe’s fight scenes are superb. If there’s a Skulduggery Pleasant/Percy Jackson-shaped hole in your life, this is definitely one that could fill it!

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton (Faber) – Another incredible debut, this Wild West-style fantasy in an exquisite Arabian Nights-style setting starts with one of the most exciting opening scenes I can recall, as narrator Amani enters a sharpshooting contest in the hopes of winning a prize that will allow her to leave Deadshot, where she’s lived all her life. This is one of the fastest-paced books I’ve read for a long time, being a relatively quick read by epic fantasy standards, but despite this fits in wonderful world-building and another great love interest. Also the plot is outstanding and took me completely by surprise on several occasions. This is another where I can’t wait to read the sequel!

How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne (Usborne) – How do you follow up one of the best YA contemporary novels of last year? For most people, this might be tough, but Holly Bourne has done the seemingly impossible and given us a companion book which is possibly even better than the stunning Am I Normal Yet? I was slightly worried about reading Amber’s story because while I loved her in the previous book, I’m not sure taking a character away from familiar surroundings and bringing in an almost entirely new supporting cast always works too well. However here it definitely does – we still see Amber get support from Evie and Lottie via webcam but she’s also surrounded by other interesting characters in the American summer camp she’s working at so she can spend more time with her mother who she hasn’t seen for a couple of year. A strong love interest, a wonderful exploration of the difficult mother/daughter relationship, and a great approach to feminism make this another one that should definitely be on your shelves, and have me eagerly anticipating Lottie’s story in August.

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard (Macmillan) – For everyone who’s been desperately awaiting a YA contemporary that focuses on friends rather than romance, I can’t wait for you to meet Caddy, Rosie and Suzanne, the wonderful trio at the centre of Sara Barnard’s superb debut. Caddy is initially jealous when best friend Rosie meets a new girl at her school, Suzanne, and starts to spend time with her. But as Caddy and Suzanne get closer, Caddy gets caught up in the new girl’s difficult home life and forms a strong friendship with her. This deals with some really tough situations – including recovering from abuse, and tackling mental health issues – perfectly, and the main trio and Caddy’s sister Tarin, who has her own struggle with bipolar disorder, are four of the best characters I’ve read for a long time. With a stunning ending that I’m still thinking of often months after reading, this is a must-read.

Finally, Egmont are rereleasing the first three Trebizon books by Anne Digby. Trebizon is one of my favourite school series – written between the late 70s and early 90s they’re extremely quick reads with a great central trio of friends in Rebecca, Tish and Sue. It’s fabulous to see these books being brought out for a new audience and Lucy Truman’s charming illustrations capture the feel of the series perfectly.

Ones From Series We’re Reading

The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic) – One of the biggest hits in UKYA last year amongst bloggers was Melinda Salisbury’s enthralling debut fantasy The Sin-Eater’s Daughter, with a great heroine in Twylla and a completely terrifying villain in the form of the queen. This second novel shifts the action to follow Errin, sister of Lief (a love interest for Twylla in the first book) as her village is evacuated due to the war against the Sleeping Prince, who’s just been awakened by the queen. I thought Twylla, forced to execute the queen’s enemies with her poison touch, was a very interesting and well-developed heroine and I’m hugely excited to meet Errin.

The Case of the Blue Violet by Robin Stevens (Corgi) – Schoolgirl detectives Wells & Wong have to be one of the biggest success stories in MG recently; so many children (and adults!) have fallen for Robin Stevens’s brilliant murder mysteries. This mini mystery, which sees Daisy try to crack a romantic case involving Big Girl Violet Darby, is intriguing me a lot – partly because it’s narrated by Daisy herself, rather than faithful vice-president Hazel. I also generally prefer short stories in the crime genre to novels, so I’m hugely excited to read. (Currently e-book only but I have high hopes that it will see physical release at some point! I’d love to see two or three more shorts and a paperback release of the collection.)

Ones We’re Most Excited About

Electrigirl, written by Jo Cotterill and illustrated by Cathy Brett (OUP) – I took a quick look at this yesterday – it’s hit shelves early in a few places – and while I thought I was excited just from the concept of fabulous author Jo Cotterill and outstanding illustrator Cathy Brett teaming up together for a prose/graphic novel hybrid, nothing could have prepared me for how stunning this would look! The story of a girl who gains special powers after being struck by lightning, this is one I’m expecting to be a big hit with superhero fans.

Front Lines by Michael Grant (Electric Monkey) – Grant’s GONE series is still one of the best, if most brutal, that I’ve read in many years and I’m excited for this new novel as he looks at an alternate version of history in which women fought in the American army in World War II. This fabulous review at Reality’s A Bore has me especially interested!

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (Harper 360) – I follow a lot of American authors on Twitter whose taste in books tends to be close to mine and this is one of the ones I’ve seen lots of them pushing for what seems like ages – I’m so excited it’s finally making it to the UK! (And while I don’t know many people over here who’ve read yet, Louise O’Neill’s excited tweets while reading it are another massive recommendation!) Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson sounds like an amazing heroine and from all I’ve read about this beauty pageant story it’s likely to be a huge success.

All The Rage by Courtney Summers (Macmillan) – Like Dumplin’, this is one that I’ve seen people pushing really hard for a long time – it’s been out in the US a while – and acclaimed author Courtney Summers’s novel about a girl who has been ostracised by most of the local community since accusing the sheriff’s son of rape sounds like a stunning, if extremely harrowing, exploration of rape culture, the darker undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant community, and the way people react to a girl speaking out.

Finally I’m hugely excited to see new covers for Frances Hardinge’s Verdigris Deep, A Face Like Glass, and Gullstruck Island! The Lie Tree was one of my absolute favourites of last year but I somehow still haven’t read any of Hardinge’s others, despite fans like Tom Pollock and Katherine Woodfine recommending them a lot. I’m definitely planning on changing this!

Remember, you can see a full list here, and it would be brilliant if you could join us at 8pm GMT on Monday 25th Jan to talk about all of these brilliant books!

What do you think?