CILIP Carnegie 2017 Nominations

21st October was an exciting day as the nominations for the 2017 Carnegie Award were publicised.

At this point, it’s always a pleasure to see books that you’ve already read and enjoyed featuring on the list. Personally, I’m more excited by the number of books that are on the nominations list that I haven’t yet read – I can sense some busy library ordering coming up!

This early on in the process – with so many books that I haven’t read – it’s not possible to suggest which books will make the longlist, but I am pleased to see a number of writer friends have been included on the list.

While this part of the process feels like it goes on ‘behind-the-scenes’, I think it’s an invaluable guide for directing students to books that they might enjoy. For this reason I’m surprised that more isn’t made of this stage to get parents involved in developing a love of reading.

‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ – Matt Haig

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

Canongate Books have got themselves a Christmas hit in my opinion…who could resist this?

I was fortunate enough to receive a copy via NetGalley so have to admit to it feeling rather strange to be reading a book about Father Christmas in October. That oddness aside, I was entranced by this and the reaction of my six year old to it as we kept going for ‘just one more chapter’ at bedtime.

In this story, there is a lot to appeal to adults. Father Christmas is having a tough time of it, as the magic that allows him to do his job is running out; Elfhelm is under attack from trolls and there’s a very real chance that the impossible will happen and Christmas will have to be cancelled. Alongside these events, we see young Amelia Wishart – the girl who saved Christmas one year with her belief – struggling to maintain her hope as she is orphaned and taken to the workhouse under the eye of the deliciously nasty Mr Creeper.

Set against the backdrop of Victorian Britain, there’s knowing nods to Dickens’s writing and the writer himself actually turns up on a number of occasions to help things along.

For my son, there was a great blend of magical elements with slapstick humour and some hints of scariness, which combined perfectly to have him thoroughly engaged throughout our bedtime reading sessions.

While we both thoroughly enjoyed the story for quite different reasons, this is a charming Christmas story. Both of us were betting on exactly which of the characters we were introduced to in this novel might be the focus of next year’s instalment.

‘Before Life Happened’ – Isabel Curtis

Before Life Happened

The front cover drew me to this – partly because it was so intriguing, but also because it hints at something innocent being hidden or masked in some way.

Described as a distinctive coming-of-age novel ‘Before Life Happened’ is the first in a series. The second is due out in January 2017, and I think this sets us up well for developing a story while maintaining our interest in established characters.

Hayden Wilson and her brothers are left devastated by the sudden death of their parents. Nobody is sure what to do, when they are so used to having someone guide them. The brothers are doing what they can, but Hayden is really struggling to accept what has happened.

In this story we see things go from bad to really awful for Hayden. Clearly struggling to cope with her grief over the loss of her parents, Hayden shuts herself away from those who could help. She had people looking out for her, but not in the way that meant they could make any difference.

Though the story was quite entertaining I was surprised at just how quickly Hayden gets into trouble. The events that she gets caught up in are beyond the wildest imaginings of many of us, but many of the key issues are resolved in some way. I’m not totally convinced by the conduct of some of the adult characters in the novel, but I think this will have its fans.

‘The Yellow Room’ – Jess Vallance

The Yellow Room

Having read ‘Birdy’ it came as little surprise to me that in ‘The Yellow Room’ Vallance creates another set of dysfunctional characters, who form unhealthy obsessions.

When sixteen year old Anna receives a letter from her father’s girlfriend, asking that they meet because he has died we are given some clues about the type of relationship Anna has with her family. It did strike me as strange that this issue wasn’t discussed by Anna with anyone, and that Anna received such important news from someone she had never met.

Against her better judgement Anna meets Edie, and is immediately drawn to her. Edie is the mother-figure that Anna desperately craves, and the bond they form is unnaturally close.

As the story progresses we are given some clues as to how this story might resolve. By the time we start to piece some of these ideas together it is, just as it is for Anna, too late to do anything but see them through to their natural conclusion.

Tautly written, and quite unnerving, this is a dark story that I didn’t particularly like but couldn’t put down.


‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Girl of Ink and Stars

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

This was a beautiful book in many ways, but there did seem to be something lacking.

The character of Isa behaves in a fairly typical fairytale manner, and her journey into the Forbidden Territories is richly described. There were some great scenes, but everything happened very quickly and it wasn’t always clear why certain characters acted as they did.

‘The Serpent King’ – Jeff Zentner

Travis, Lydia and Dill live in what can best be described as a claustrophobic Southern town. Preparing to leave high school we start with the three best friends caught up in their own personal issues.

None of them have great lives, and they all seem lost.

Dill is the only son of a Pentecostal minister who has had a very public fall from grace, which Dill is taunted about on a daily basis. He is in love with his best friend, Lydia, but cannot tell her how he feels. She is determined to escape their small town with her fashion blog. Travis lives in his own fantasy world, preferring it to the reality of the world he is faced with. None of these teenagers seems comfortable in their own skin, and they don’t seem as though they’ll work together. But they do.

I found the setting hard to take initially. The extreme religious focus, and the lack of understanding many of the characters show was really hard to take.

There came a point, as we start to get under the skin of the three characters, that I started to get more intrigued. Things didn’t always take the obvious route and this was one of those books that appealed to me in ways I wasn’t expecting.

Bleak in many ways, but there was an endearing sense of hope too.

‘Doreen’ – Ilana Manaster


A glamorous update of Wilde’s classic for The Pretty Little Liars generation.

Let’s cut to the chase – The Picture of Dorian Gray remains one of my favourite novels, so I started reading this out of curiosity more than anything else. The themes of appearance and how we portray ourselves, and the extent to which we are judged for our outward actions remain pertinent. For the modern social media-obsessed teenager, this is likely to appeal on a number of levels, but I’d still urge them to read Wilde’s book if they want to go beyond the surface of the key ideas explored.

I found the setting of the novel appropriately close and unsettling. The girls being tucked away in a well-to-do Academy provides the ideal setting for them to experiment with their identities in relative safety, yet show in detail the intricate webs that are woven to keep their social hierarchies firmly established.

Our Queen Bee in this novel – Heidi – is suitably shallow and vacuous. Her adoption of Doreen is vital to the plot – and Doreen grows into a perfect monster as she succumbs to the hedonistic pleasures that her new-found prettiness brings her.

The actual style of writing was confident, but the mix of Wildean-style prose with more modern dialogue did not sit well with me. The lack of any attempt to provide an explanation for the occurrence with the picture frustrated me, but it will definitely have enough to entertain many readers.

‘The Thousandth Floor’ – Katherine McGee

The Thousandth Floor

A thousand-story tower stretching into the sky. A glittering vision of the future where anything is possible—if you want it enough.


A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. Everyone there wants something…and everyone has something to lose.

I have to confess to getting quite caught up in those slick American TV shows where lots of glamorous people wander round doing glamorous things, and spend their spare time storing up dirty little secrets that are just waiting for someone to find them out. So, it’s no surprise that I fell for this hook, line and sinker.

From the totally attention-grabbing Prologue I was excited to read this.

The futuristic setting is credible, but just different enough to get us thinking about our behaviour now. The cast of characters are gloriously messed-up. They each have their secret they want to hide, and their interactions cause untold problems.

I’ve read some reviews that are very critical of the Avery and Atlas issue. I understand the concern, though I don’t think McGee can honestly be accused of trying to glamorise incest. Avery’s genetic make-up is like some bizarre Frankenstein scenario of the future, and it’s stressed so many times that Atlas is adopted that we’re under no illusions that they are not related. The familial bond between them is problematic, but I think the issues their feelings cause them stopped me thinking this was a healthy thing. I get the impression McGee knew this issue would cause problems as she glosses over the actual intimate details and tends to focus more on their feelings.

As I read I could sense that we’d been led to believe one scenario and that things were being set up to go in another direction. The finale was worthy of a series of its own-and I am excited by the image of Eris’s girlfriend’s final moments.

I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next instalment and can’t thank NetGalley enough for my sneak peek!

‘The Mysterious Howling’ – Mary Rose Wood (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place)

The Mysterious Howling

For a book intended for younger readers, this was curiously written. I was intrigued the moment I saw the title, and couldn’t wait to find out more…

Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

There’s an air of whimsy to this book, but the style of writing was genuinely fascinating. With a rather eccentric turn of phrase, and a quite knowing tone, this reminded me a lot of Lemony Snicket.

The whole story was great fun, with plenty of scenes that highlight the oddity of the society amongst which the children are being brought up. I laughed out loud at some of these moments, and really enjoyed my first introduction to these children.

‘Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles’ – Maria Turtschaninoff

The Red Abbey Chronicles

Originally published in Sweden some years ago, I was intrigued by the premise of this contemporary fairy tale.

Maresi is a thirteen year old novice who lives at the Red Abbey, a safe haven for women and girls who have suffered abuse or oppression. In the world where she lives, girls are not allowed to learn or receive an education, but in the Abbey the girls are instructed in the teachings of an ancient magic.

The girls are used to feeling disposable, but in the abbey they are given a purpose. Their knowledge is celebrated and they have power. Unfortunately, when Jai arrives on the island it’s clear she is escaping something. Provided with sanctuary, Maresi earns her trust and finds out more of her past.

This was not a long read, and it’s probably better to not know too much before you start reading. The character of Maresi was intriguing. I’m curious as to whether anything was lost in translation, but I think this sets up interest in the rest of the chronicles.