Book review: Turbulent teens, rollocking Romans and a dotty dinosaur

From tots to teens, there are books to amuse, inspire and amaze this winter season.

By Pam Norfolk
Tuesday, 27th January 2015, 9:00 am
Turbulent teens, rollocking Romans and a dotty dinosaur
Turbulent teens, rollocking Romans and a dotty dinosaur

In a sparkling round-up, thrill to a dangerous love affair inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, discover if an A-list celebrity will escape her kidnappers, share the slapstick fun of a Roman boy crazy about chariot racing and meet a mole who loves labels.


Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

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Young adult novels don’t come with more passion, drama, danger and breathtaking romance than this stunning debut, the first of an outstanding trilogy written when the author was little more than a teenager herself.

Irish-born Catherine Doyle’s tense, electrifying thriller Vendetta, set on the streets of contemporary Chicago, features a young woman thrown into the murky criminal underworld of the Sicilian Mafia when five mysterious brothers move into town.

This unique, powerful and utterly compelling story, played out amidst scenes of soaraway love, warring dynasties, revenge, heartbreak and deadly secrets, is guaranteed to set pulses racing and the pages turning.

It’s a long, hot and dull summer in Chicago for Sophie Gracewell until the five Priestly brothers move into the abandoned mansion next door and her life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to bad boy Nic, whose presence leaves her breathless, Sophie soon finds herself caught up in the battles of the Sicilian Mafia’s ruling families.

As the secrets of Nic’s heritage emerge and Sophie falls deeper into his perilous world, her own family skeletons come to life. Caught up in a twisted game of revenge between two dynasties, the choice between love and family suddenly comes at a deadly price.

Doyle plays a blinder in this visually exciting, fast-paced reworking of a Shakespeare classic which explores a young woman’s impossible choices as she tries to decipher right from wrong and to ultimately decide whether to follow her head or her heart.

A cracking opener to what promises to be an enthralling trilogy…

(Chicken House, paperback, £7.99)

Captive by A.J.Grainger

They say love and politics don’t mix… but here’s a thriller that makes them an addictive and explosive partnership.

Welcome to the nail-biting, poignant debut novel from A.J.Grainger, a children’s books editor making her first foray into writing young adult literature.

When 16-year-old Robyn Knollys-Green opens her eyes, she is in a cell flooded with sunlight, the window just a sliver of pale blue. Dust particles dance in the sparkling light, pirouetting in a golden line from the window to the opposite wall of the cell, where they seem to converge into shapes.

It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope, but not one that reflects colour and beauty, because she has been kidnapped and her father, the UK Prime Minister and one of the world’s most powerful men, isn’t there to protect her. The A-list celebrity is entirely alone, and not even the paparazzi can find her now.

As Robyn slowly starts to understand that she is trapped in a complicated web of global corruption and deceit, she also discovers that Talon, the strange, melancholy boy guarding her, might not be an enemy after all…

Grainger’s well-crafted novel tackles up-to-date social, political and family relationship themes as well as delivering a complex and emotionally-charged romance.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £6.99)

Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

There is one thing guaranteed about Sarah Alderson’s sizzling, sexy new thriller… teen readers are not going to forget enigmatic Finn Carter in a hurry!

This talented YA author has the enviable knack of creating drop-dead gorgeous leading male players, and unforgettable Finn will certainly earn his place in the pantheon of irresistible heart-throbs.

Everybody knows about the Cooper Killings – the Bel Air attacks that rocked the nation. There was only one survivor – a 16-year-old girl – and though the murderers were caught, they walked free.

Now aged 18, the survivor Nic Preston is trying hard to rebuild her life in New York. She is paranoid about her personal security, has a suitably ferocious bulldog to guard her but is starting to make some progress.

Attending college has boosted her confidence and she has rejoined the dating game. But then one night her apartment is broken into and the life Nic has worked so hard to create is shattered in an instant.

Finn Carter – FBI agent, hacker, rule breaker – is the last person Nic ever wants to see again. He is the reason her mother’s killers walked free from court. But as the people hunting her close in, Nic has to accept that her best and possibly only chance of staying alive is by keeping close to Finn and learning to trust the person she has sworn to hate.

Fleeing across a snowbound New England, frantically trying to uncover the motive behind the murders, Nic and Finn come to realise that the conspiracy is bigger than they could ever have suspected. But the closer they get to the truth and the closer they get to each other, the greater the danger becomes. To survive, she has to stay close to him. To keep her safe, he has to keep his distance…

High on emotion, action, romance and danger, Conspiracy Girl grips like a vice... and steals your heart!

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)

Age 7 plus:

Romans on the Rampage by Jeremy Strong

When your narrator is an irreverent, talking raven called Croakbag, you know there can only be mayhem and madness ahead!

It’s always best to expect the unexpected when the king of comedy Jeremy Strong sets pen to paper (or in this case, stylus to papyrus) and here we have a ‘classical’ example of Ancient Romans behaving badly.

Packed with outrageous antics, hilarious one-liners and Strong’s trademark slapstick sense of fun, Romans on the Rampage will have youngsters laughing all the way to the Circus Maximus.

Eleven-year-old Perilus is just mad about chariot racing. He loves to practise in his own home-made chariot (pulled by the family goat) and dreams of riding in the Circus Maximus himself one day.

But when Perilus’s hero, the brilliant charioteer Scorcha, goes missing on the day of a big race, Perilus finds his wish coming true far sooner than he had ever imagined…

This raucous Roman adventure – an easy, fun, addictive read brought to life by Rowan Clifford’s anarchic illustrations – is as weird, wacky and wonderful as Ancient Rome itself.

Perilusly good…

(Puffin, paperback, £5.99)

Age 3 plus:

Dangerous! by Tim Warnes

Take note! Looks can be deceptive as a label-loving little mole discovers in this charming and quirky picture book from award-winning author and illustrator Tim Warnes.

Words, humour and the joys of friendship take centre stage in the quirky adventure story of Mole and the strange lumpy, bumpy thing with snippy, snappy teeth that defies his obsession for labelling.

And there are over 100 stickers to encourage children to join in the fun and share the wonderful world of word play.

Frogs, flies, feathers, trees and toadstools are easy to put labels on but the discovery of something strange, mysterious, whopping, green, ribbed and splodgy on the forest floor is sending Mole dotty.

And when the lumpy, bumpy thing stretches and yawns, Mole dives for cover… until he discovers that the scary creature is a lonely dinosaur who just wants to be his friend.

Packed with new words to learn, use and love, bold, bright and colourful illustrations, and a story that glows with fun, warmth and affection, this enchanting book is ideal for reading and sharing.

(Little Tiger Press, paperback, £6.99)