Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Two junior novels

Just a word first about that term, junior novels. They're sometimes called 'middle-grade' novels, and they are - very approximately - intended for 9-12 year olds. (Many of them could be, and are, enjoyed equally by adults - don't dismiss books because they happen to be on the children's shelves in the bookshop! And 'Young Adult' books even more so...)

And an apology - I know many of the readers of this blog are in the US, and not all the books I write about are published there as yet. All I can say is, I'm sorry - and if you like the sound of a book, make a noise about it - you never know, someone might listen and publish it over there! (Fairy-tales do sometimes come true - don't they...?)

And now on with this week's books.

The Brockenspectre, by Linda Newbery.

I opened this blog with Linda's first adult book, A Quarter Past Two on a Wednesday Afternoon: she has previously written books for teenagers and another book for this age group, Lob, which is a great favourite of mine - it's a sort of re-imagining of what the mythical figure of the Green Man might be like if he lived in our time.

An illustration from The Brockenspectre

This book is a very satisfying little hardback with beautiful pictures by Pam Smy. It's set in Heidi country, in the Alps, some little time ago - there's little evidence of technology. (Such as mobile phones, those great plot-wreckers: how many good plot ideas are lost these days because all the heroine needs to do to get out of danger is make a quick call?) It's about Tomas Rust, and his father Niklas, a mountain guide. Niklas loves the mountains so much that he's often away - he almost misses his daughter's birthday - but Tomas idolises him and longs to be just as brave and fearless. But Tomas is afraid - particularly of the Brockenspectre, which, according to his father's stories, is a giant ghostly figure that lives in the mountains, waiting to trap unwary climbers.

There comes a day when his father doesn't return home, and eventually Tomas decides that he must conquer his fears and go into the mountains to search for him. But it turns out that there are things he must learn to cope with which are at the same time more ordinary, and far worse than the Brockenspectre...

The book has a terrific sense of place, and, like Lob, it has a slightly mythic quality to it - a hint of the central European fairy tale, with its forests, its quests, its children in danger. But it's also about relationships and families and learning to accept unwelcome truths. It's a powerful story, and Tomas is a main character who becomes the hero we want him to be.

The Shiver Stone, by Sharon Tregenza

The Shiver Stone is a mystery/adventure story set in 'Carreg', on the Pembrokeshire coast. The book has a distinctive, brilliantly coloured cover by Lizzie Spikes which puts the sea right where it is in this atmospheric novel - in the foreground: while the eponymous Shiver Stone looms over the whole scene. Carys lives in the village with her father. Her mother is dead, and there is a new partner on the scene, Linette, whom Carys is not very happy about.

The train of events begins when Carys makes a video of a sculptor, Tristan, who has been secretly making structures from rocks and pebbles on the beach. The video is shown on television, and this leads to the re-emergence for Tristan of secrets he'd hoped would stay buried.

It also brings a new friend for Carys, Jago: and it puts both children, and Jago's mother, into considerable danger.

This is an adventure story which moves along at a cracking pace, enhanced by the beautifully realised setting.

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