Here's a selection of books in the Junior Fiction and YA genres that I have enjoyed in recent times. To see a wider range of books that I’ve been reading follow me on Goodreads.


'How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot' by Suzanne Main

There’s a lot going on in the town of Pinehaven - Michael is starring as a tree in the school play, though he is worried about robotic spiders and the little problem of a dangerous kidnap plot. With the help of his friend Elvis, school reporter Natalie and a bit of luck, he might thwart the plans of the mysterious Mr C. Fast-paced and fun, this would be a great read for anyone from about 9 and up.


'Breathe' by Sarah Crossan

So many dystopias, so little time! In a crowded genre this offering from the author of the excellent 'The Weight of Water' - reviewed further down this page - promises an interesting twist. In a post-apocalyptic world with atmospheric oxygen reduced to an level unable to sustain human activity, sixteen year-olds Bea, Quinn and Alina live in the Pod, an artificial biosphere controlled by the Breathe corporation. Inside the Pod all should be well - instead there is inequality, corruption and unrest, a environment which sets the teenage trio on a collision course with the Resistance organisation. There's plenty going on to interest readers from about 13 up - action, some intrigue and burgeoning romance all set against a backdrop of eco-consciousness. Somehow the rushed ending, which I now know leads to a sequel, might have been more measured and the novel left as a standalone.                                                                             


'Between' by Adele Broadbent

12 year old Olly is football-mad. When he's not booting a soccer ball, he's fascinated by the unexplained and the paranormal. Maybe this is because of Mad Martha, a strange old lady well known in his town, or perhaps something to do with the father he never knew. This page-turning story provides some of the answers and will be enjoyed, right up to its unusual end, by 10 - 12 year olds.

'Time Travelling with a Hamster' by Ross Welford

Sorry, I haven’t posted a review in ages, but unlike 12 year old Al, the hero of this unlikely tale, I won’t admit to having been time-travelling. There’s no holding back the secret of what this exciting book is about – the title and the cover-blurb give the game away. Al, a present-day boy living in the north of England, has a vital mission back in 1984. Will he be thwarted by his painful step-sister Carly? How on earth does the hamster get involved? And what has an old wash-tub got to do with Einstein’s theories? All is revealed in this amusing, thought-provoking and at times, deeeep story. Anywhere from age 10 up, I would say… having just travelled back in time to read it and returned unscathed!

'The Name at the End of The Ladder' by Elena de Roo

In a world where mainstream publishers seem to opt for so many ‘samey’, follow-the-trend books, it’s refreshing to find something with a strong streak of individuality. Twelve-year-old September lives in a quirky future - part Wonka, part Potter with a twist of dystopia. As her birthday nears, September must prepare to choose her adult name, a process tightly controlled by the authoritarian Name Bank. Eager to acquire a more interesting name, one that might help her dreams of becoming a singer, September is caught up in more ways than one by Madame Alcina and her mysterious board-game. Page-turning fun for those aged about 9 to 12.

'My Friend Percy’s Magical Gym Shoes' by Ulf Stark

I heard this author on National Radio recently and thought I’d take a look… ‘Magical Gym Shoes’ is the first of three books featuring Ulf and his school-friends’ outlandish adventures in a small Swedish town. The writing, (in an easy to read translation by Julia Marshall) has the timeless feel of something like Roald Dahl and I’m sure Mr Dahl would have approved of the author’s flagrant political incorrectness. It is certainly a lot of fun and I think that Stark has his heart in the right place – see his ‘Can you whistle, Johanna’ for younger readers. Any parent concerned about what their young ones might come across should do a quick read through. It’s possible that some kids might need a minor safety debrief. Ages 10+, and more for boys I suspect.

‘In Too Deep’ and ‘Three Times Dead’ by DC Grant

Two New Zealand novels for mid-teens that would interest boys particularly. ‘In Too Deep’ follows Josh a keen surfer, whose world unravels when his parents run into financial problems. His family relocate temporarily to the West Coast of Auckland. The consolation of the wild Piha surf is one thing, but Josh soon finds that he has to share the waves, and his new girlfriend, with his nemesis Bevan. ‘Three Times Dead’ the sequel, takes Bevan on a traumatic journey of self-discovery. In dreams or visions Bevan meets his ancestor Haki who fought in the Waikato Wars of the late 1800s. I enjoyed the first book for its vivid descriptions of surfing - the sequel is more complicated. Both are fairly gritty at times, though appropriate for the nature of the stories.

'A Winter’s Day in 1939’ by Melinda Szymanik

Don’t be put off by the bleak title; this book is a real gem. Based on the experiences of the author’s father during World War II, the story tells of twelve year old Adam and his family; forced to leave their home in Poland by the Russians. At first the family are transported under terrible conditions to a prison camp in a remote part of the Soviet Union. For the next few years of the war they are tested by harsh conditions and moved on from place to place by the Russian authorities. Szymanik handles this potentially distressing tale with a delicate and insightful touch. An excellent historical story for independent young readers, or perhaps read-aloud from about 9 years and up.

'Dark Lord – The Teenage Years' by Jamie Thomson Dirk Lloyd!

Is Dirk delusional, or is he truly the super-evil Dark Lord of the Darklands trapped in the form of a thirteen year old boy? I don’t plan to give much away as that would definitely spoil a crazy read. Set in present day England, this is a funny book that anyone aged 10+ to 13 will enjoy, especially if fantasy or gaming are your thing. Oh, and there’s an unexpected ending, and the sequel is out now… “Mwah, hah, hah”.

'The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head' by Sue Copsey

Set against the wild coastline of Poverty Bay, this is a fun and exciting tale for 8 to 11 year olds. With his sister packed off to Australia, Joe and his friend Eddie are free to explore the creepy old house at Young Nick’s Head which Joe's parents have rented for the holidays. The author introduces just enough historical context to drive the plot without swamping it, and manages the tricky task of including Joe’s parents in the story rather than banish them to the background. The characters are perhaps a little stereotyped because of this, but that doesn't spoil the very good writing. A rollicking New Zealand tale - an ideal primer for my stories for the next reading level up!

‘The Haunting’ by Margaret Mahy

As we say our goodbyes to one of our beloved Kiwi writing icons, I thought I should read her 1982 Carnegie Medal winning story ‘The Haunting’. I’m more familiar with Mahy’s recent fiction, such as the exciting ‘Kaitangata Twitch’, but even though the tale of 8 year old Barney’s haunting is a little more ‘old fashioned’ in tone, the captivating Mahy style comes through. By turns spiky and lyrical, the writing offers a most unusual story of magic and the supernatural. The narrative can be poetic at times, though in a matter-of-fact setting. There’s a nice twist at the end and it’s an only slightly scary story. Best enjoyed by those between 8 & 10 I’d guess. Thanks Margaret!

'The Prince of Soul & The Lighthouse' by Fredrik Brounéus

A Kiwi teenager into music, a Finnish babe, a zombie Grandpa and a grammatically challenged Tibetan monk… Yep! This is another unusual tale. The quirky story of George Larson and/or Isaac Newton is a madcap rollercoaster set in the South Island of NZ. Any explanation of the clever premise of the story would be telling. Brounéus’ touch is both funny and occasionally profound. It’s a pity that the steady stream of footnotes and internal monologues weren’t trimmed as they distract from an enjoyable read that will appeal to anyone 14 and up.Squawk!

'When You Reach Me' by Rebecca Stead

A 'laughing man', unexplainable events and perplexing notes are some of the ingredients in this New York City tale of sixth-grader Miranda. The book was a deserving winner of the Newbery Medal a couple of years back. To say too much about the plot would spoil an excellent read. Will be loved by anyone who enjoys a little complexity, for example fans of Dr.Who. Ages? Hmmm... probably about 10 & upwards, though in the case of this story such things are a little too concrete...

'A Study in Scarlet' (Sherlock Holmes) by Arthur Conan Doyle

How to rate a Classic? Well we know it's a good'un. The story was the first to introduce Holmes to the world, and though written in 1886, it is surprisingly modern and easy to read. As a detective mystery it's an intriguing tale, though there is no obvious way for the reader to figure out the murderer, method or motive until they are revealed by Holmes. Definitely worth a read to see where it all began, then watch 'A Study in Pink' one of the 2010 BBC 'Sherlock' series - I'm sure Conan Doyle would have approved enthusiastically. (NB Kids please check with a parent first about the TV watching!)

'The Weight of Water' by Sarah Crossan

A bit of a different one that came across my path... The story of Kasienka, a young Polish immigrant in contemporary Britain. Searching for her estranged father, 'Cassie' arrives in Coventry with her mother. The book deals unsentimentally with her adjustment to a new school, bullying and boyfriends. What is different is that the story is told in verse - a series of poems. At first this feels a little odd, but then the rich abbreviated narrative moves swiftly along, engaging the reader while the poetry works beneath the surface. As with many worthy books, the question of whether it will appeal to the target audience is unclear.

'Too Small to Fail' by Morris Gleitzman

A funny, fast paced story which will be loved by 9 to 11 year olds. Oliver is about ten. His super-rich parents own an Australian investment bank, but all Oliver really wants is a dog. His wish comes true - though his canine friend comes with many more complications than Oliver could have ever imagined. Snappy writing even manages to explain the credit crunch and the perils of the banking world with ease, (parents may learn a thing or two here!). Oh, and there's a grumpy camel and a humourous dig at NZ too!

'Funny Business' - Guys Read series. Ed John Scieszka

This collection of funny short stories looks like it's the first in a series of stories for boys. Most of the authors are pretty well known; Eoin Colfer, (the Artemis fellow) was the one I recognised best. The stories are easy to read, silly and a bit crazy. There are great illustrations by Adam Rex too. The next volume to hit the shelves is for guys who like Thrillers! They've got a cool website at This stuff probably suits 9 to 12 age.

'The Bridge' by Jane Higgins

Recent winner of the 'Text Prize' - a dense, satisfying novel set in an a dark, uncertain future. Affluent Citysiders are in a constant state of war with the Southsiders over the river in a city that might be London, warped by time and conflict. Nik is smart, into maths and computing - a dead-cert for recruitment into ISIS, the elite force leading the campaign against the 'hostiles' of the Southside. But Nik has a past that even he doesn't realise exists. Rejected by ISIS he sets off on a risky adventure over The Bridge. Complex politics, (that share more than a passing similarity to the Israel-Palestine situation) and a fast paced plot, reward attentive readers, though sometimes the twists and turns of the story stretch belief. Occasional swearing, death and violence are appropriate to the narrative. Recommended for anyone 15 up.

'The Bone Tiki' by David Hair

A fantasy novel with a difference - I've written about Maori history and legend in my books, (observant readers may spot some similarities - definitely a case of 'Great minds think alike' !) but this fast-paced tale fully immerses the reader in modern and mythological Maori culture. Mat is fifteen, unsettled by his parents' separation and disconnected from his heritage. Mat obtains the Bone Tiki of the title, a powerful taonga that triggers an exciting adventure in both contemporary New Zealand and also the strange parallel country of spirits, monsters and living history, known as Aotearoa. At times the complicated worlds conjured by the author weigh down the story. But overall a great read, though pretty violent at times, so perhaps suitable for 13 and up.

‘Smiling Jack’ by Ken Catran

Eighteen year-old Robert has returned from Christchurch to his home town. Almost as soon as he arrives a series of murders begins - all seemingly victims of the mysterious Smiling Jack of the title. With his own father one of the murder victims; small-town New Zealand becomes a bleak and frightening place. Even more so, as the body count rises. The plot strains at the ropes of credulity, but its twists and turns maintain excitement. Gruesome at times and with some darker themes, the story is more suited to older teens.

‘Violence 101’ by Denis Wright

Also set in New Zealand, but this time with a much more realistic storyline. Any darkness suggested by the title is nicely balanced by some great humour throughout. Hamish is fourteen, with a troubled past and a hyperactive brain. He's sent to 'New Horizons', a home for young offenders and the final chance to get his life back on track. An exciting, well written novel, particularly for boys, 12 up.

‘The Glass Demon’ by Helen Grant

My daughter gave me this one to try – it would probably suit girls more than boys, as the protagonist, Lin, is an English girl of about seventeen. Fans of ‘Twilight’ would enjoy the mix of real-life and scary fantasy that accompanies a series of murders in and around a rural German town. Well written and suited for ages 14 up.

‘Genesis’ by Bernard Beckett

This well known short novel set in a future New Zealand, explores complex matters including the very essence of consciousness. It’s really one of those “must-reads” for any free thinking young person, but don’t let that tag put you off. The story unfolds relatively slowly, but soon the pace of the drama picks up and thought provoking concepts and ideas start to come thick and fast. And there’s a great twist towards the end. I’d say the book suits anyone age 12 up.