Book of the Week Archive

Please find below Book of the Week reviews from the last academic year. Happy reading!

The Bees by Laline Paull

The beesIn a lonely corner of a silent orchard, bathed in sunlight, sits a beehive. But this is no ordinary beehive. Instead, the injection of Laline Paull’s incredible imagination has transformed this plain wooden box into something truly extraordinary.

Inside this beehive, a city of mindless worker bees is running through its dark, winding corridors. Separated into a rigid caste system and ruled over by a dying Queen, the world of The Bees is one that is dark, complex and intricate. The book follows Flora 717, a worker bee born into the lowest caste of society with a dreadful secret. Unlike the mute kin with whom she shares her name, Flora has a gift shared by no one but the Queen herself – Flora, by some miraculous twist of fate, can give birth.

Fleeing from the dastardly fertility police and seeking from the mysterious Sage priestesses, Flora navigates her way up the caste system, serving in the court of the Queen, exploring the outside world to collect food for the hive and crossing paths with evil wasps and mysterious spiders as she slowly begins to unravel the secrets holding the hive together. But when the beloved Queen dies the hive is thrown into disarray, with two rival Queens fighting for dominance over the hive – until Flora’s daughter, brought up in secret, appears to take control of the hive once and for all. Fleeing the hive, the bees fly away to find a new home to call their own, leaving the ageing Flora behind to die in peace, free from the constraints of the hive.

Masterfully written, thoroughly engaging and brilliantly crafted, The Bees is a true triumph. Featuring a totalitarian society that would make George Orwell shiver, a gripping story and a wealth of fascinating – and at times, terrifying – characters, The Bees has to be one of the best and most ingenious books I’ve ever read. Laline Paull’s meticulous attention to detail gives the book a real air of credibility and realism, drawing the reader into the beautiful world she has constructed, and constantly drawing parallels between the bees’ rigid, ordered society and the one we ourselves live in. This gives the book an added depth, giving the ideas presented a subtle sense of familiarity, in turn warning the reader about the dangers that might come in the future.

But more than just being a fascinating novel, Laline Paull’s The Bees had a powerful effect on the way I saw life as a whole. No longer would I pass by a beehive for only a fleeting moment, glancing down at it without interest; now it is a complex labyrinth of bees scuttling through the wooden layers, toiling to serve their Queen. No more will I look up at a spider winding its web through the air and think of it just as a disgusting, intrusive creature; now I see it as a being shrouded in mystery, gazing down on the world suspended far below it with infinite wisdom. And no longer will I look at a bee rushing through the flower beds and think of it merely a bee; now it is Flora, flying through the air and feeling the sunlight on her wings as she gathers precious nectar to feed her fledgling child. The depth and realism The Bees conveys will affect anyone fortunate to read it. The book’s powerful impact has stayed with me long after I put it down.

If anyone is looking for an escape into an intricate and beautiful world, or wants the way they see the world to be fundamentally challenged, The Bees is the book for them. Once read, I guarantee it will not be forgotten.

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

The hound of the baskervilles bookAfter having previously read other novels by Arthur Conan Doyle which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was instantly interested in reading this book when I spotted it on the L5th reading list, particularly as it is a timeless classic.

I would say that Arthur Conan Doyle is a master in vividly portraying the different characters involved with their eccentric personalities and I am also rather fond of the elaborate and very articulate language he uses.

Generally, I tend to gravitate towards mystery and adventure novels and I would say that this was a very satisfying read. Personally however, I would like to add that I have found other Sherlock Holmes adventures to be more exciting in comparison to this particular tale. Despite this, on no account did I tire of reading this as there was continuously an air of mystery and suspense in every chapter. One aspect of this novel which was perhaps a little disappointing was the ending as I found it to be fairly predictable but there were certainly unexpected occurrences during the novel which created interesting plot twists.

This novel was different to other Sherlock Holmes tales that I have read before as Watson was used as a structural technique throughout the book and much of the tale was unravelled through his letters to Holmes as well as his diary. Another feature of this book was the wide range of characters that were cleverly interlinked with the plot and the idea of an extraordinary supernatural weapon which certainly contrasted with other cases that Holmes has encountered before. I certainly felt involved with solving the mystery.

The book was excellently written as I constantly experienced imagery in my mind whilst reading, particularly as there was a strong sense of setting and personality depictions described in thorough detail. 

I would recommend this novel to all age groups who enjoy a little mystery and I look forward to reading other books by Arthur Conan Doyle in the future.

Aastha Singh

Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer

Veniss underground 2It is a dystopian thriller that follows a boy and girl on the run from a town where the boy’s thoughts can be heard – and the passage to manhood embodies a horrible secret.

Todd Hewitt is a boy who lives in Prentisstown with his dog and main companion, Manchee. Except Prentisstown isn’t like any other town: there are no women in Prentisstown and there is this germ called Noise. This means that everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. Todd is the youngest boy in Prentisstown. Every other boy has now become a man and he is the only one left.

One day, he is taking a stroll through the swamp nearby as he was sent out to pick apples. He comes across a break in the Noise: silence. After then he bumps into Aaron, an ill-tempered preacher from the church.

Todd goes back to Prentisstown and greets his foster parents, Ben and Cillian. They had been taking care of Todd since he was little as his parents had passed away. Ben and Cillian heard about Todd’s experience earlier that day in his Noise. He is told he has to leave the town straight away: there are a lot of people that want to get him. It is then that the run begins.

Overall, I personally really enjoyed this book. The premise of the book is what got me hooked to begin with: Noise. I found the concept of Noise a really interesting notion. The idea that everyone can hear each other’s thoughts and opinions is quite thought-provoking and something I had never considered before. How could anyone live with their thoughts projected for all to hear? I think the way Patrick Ness portrayed the way the characters felt about Noise was extremely realistic and believable: an annoying inconvenience, yet something they had clearly had to deal with for a long time and had gotten used to it. Therefore, I felt that aspect was good.

I feel some people could struggle getting into the book as the way it is worded is quite different to any other book that I have read. However, I definitely feel that you need to give it a chance and don’t give up after the first few pages. Yes, it is strange at first but that is what makes it unique and what brings the story alive. You soon get into the way the character’s act and I felt quite connected with Todd Hewitt. Patrick Ness really managed to bring the characters to life for me and you feel part of that world. Todd’s narration propelled the book and allowed me to delve into the story.

Todd’s voice is raw and rough enough to feel completely genuine, and yet it never strays into annoying territory. In other words, the voice is enough to make Todd a distinct, real character, but never at the expense of pulling me out of the story and making me notice it.

The only main qualm I had was the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of cliff-hangers as I feel they can be necessary to keep the reader engaged but the one at the end of this book was just unfair. After all the tension we as readers had been put through with Todd and his friend running away, the ending was extremely abrupt and left me desperately trying to claw at any information that could help me find out what happened.

Certain passages within the book appeared hand written. Words were scribbled and printed in different fonts across the page to represent the chaos of Noise. I found this to be incredibly effective as it highlighted the extreme pandemonium.

Overall, I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness for the way the characters were portrayed and its rugged writing style. It is impossible to put down this book – it is a must read. Just watch out for the ending – have the next book in the series next to you ready to start as soon as you finish this book.

Francesca Heath-Clarke

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Doctor sleep stephen king'Doctor Sleep’, by Stephen King, is the sequel to his famous book ‘The Shining’. The book starts off with Dan, the son of Jack Torrance, a character in ‘The Shining’ who tries to kill his son and wife, recovering from being an alcoholic. In addition to this, he is still haunted from his childhood nightmare at the Overlook Hotel where his father tried to murder him and his psychic ability called the ‘shining’ torments him with memories of the past. In the beginning of the book he drifts from town to town in search for jobs which he eventually loses because of his drunken antics. He finally finds a town to settle down in called Frazier, New Hampshire, where he starts to join an alcoholics anonymous group and works at a hospice where he helps dying patients gently move into the afterlife. The plot moves on and Abra Stone is introduced to the readers, a girl born with the ‘shining’. However, her version of the ‘shining’ is much stronger than Dan’s. She’s telekinetic, telepathic and can travel into people’s minds from far away. As she grows older, she and Dan start to communicate telepathically using the ‘shining’ and a strong heartfelt relationship between them is created. The antagonists in this novel are a group called the True Knot, a group of psychics who feed off the psychic energy called ‘steam’ which is created when a person who possesses the ‘shining’ dies. The True Knot will stop at nothing to obtain steam, this results in the slow torture of children and others because of their desperation.  Due to the fact that Abra’s shining is so strong, she contains a very large amount of steam. When the True Knot find out about Abra, they are determined to find her and kill her. This starts to cause conflict between Dan and the True Knot, and this is where the story starts to really develop.

Doctor Sleep is very plot-driven and ends up avoiding conflict between Dan and the True Knot until the final showdown between them. However, this lack of conflict between the characters ends up building a lot of tension; Dan’s battle with alcoholism, his past and his psychic ability, and the shocking antics of the True Knot lead to a very eerie atmosphere which ends in a very dramatic final confrontation.  Overall, Doctor Sleep is a supernatural adventure which grips the reader with its suspenseful plot and the troubles Dan has to face outside the True Knot. I would recommend this book to anyone who prefers plot driven books which create a gripping atmosphere. On the other hand, if you are somebody who prefers to have action from the beginning to end, this book may seem boring during some parts.

Seun Akinniranye

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman was published on July 14, 2015 and is considered a sequel to Harper Lee's first and only other published novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). However, Go Set a Watchman was actually written before To KGo Set a Watchmanill a Mockingbird and the title is taken from Isaiah 21:6 referring to Jean Louise's view of her father Atticus being the moral compass (watchman) of Maycombe.

The novel begins with Jean Louise Finch returning from New York to her child hood town in Southern America. Set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird, 26 year old 'Scout' (childhood nickname) finds that the fictional town of Maycombe has changed significantly since her last visit. The book is full of anecdotes and flashbacks to her childhood days with the themes of racism and moral justice prominent throughout.

Lee also investigates the relationship between Jean Louise and her childhood sweetheart Hank. After an unpleasant discovery of her father and Hank's activities whilst working in the city, she begins to doubt her feelings for the man who still believes they are going to be wed. This leads to a disagreement over coffee and the deeper discovery of who Jean Louise has grown to become.

Jean-Louise grew up with her father setting an example as to how to behave, particularly with black members of the community who, at the time the novel was set, were considered an inferior or subhuman race.  She is shocked when she is aware her ageing father is a member of the local citizens’ council, known for its racist motives. Scout is angry and visits her Uncle Jack in search of an answer. He provides her with vague clues but no definite solution to her troubles.

Jean Louise decides to seek her father in his office. She argues with him over moral values and the definition of justice. Atticus, despite being cursed at by his only daughter, remains calm driving Jean Louise insane with fury. She plans to leave Maycombe and never return. Her Uncle Jack visits her as she is about to depart. He is the only person able to knock some sense into her, quite literally.

The novel ends with Jean Louise drunkenly realising her destiny and the mistakes she has previously been too immature, controversial or naive to avoid. Her own consciousness requires individuality, despite her stubborn views opposing that of the Southern American population. Lee does not end with a hugely significant event (i.e. death, guts or glory) however, the great meaning of the characters’ actions provides a heart-warming and satisfying close to an extremely well written story.

Katie Kerr 

The Outsiders by SE Hinton

The Outsiders‘…the hand at the back of my neck was strong. I’m drowning, I thought’

Set in 1960s America, The Outsiders is a story that follows Ponyboy Curtis, a member of the gang the Greasers (the outsiders), and his fight against the Greasers’ rival gang, the Socs (the rich kids). As Ponyboy puts it the Socs’ idea of having a good time is beating up Greasers. However, Ponyboy knows he can always count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop, and the other members of the gang to help him, until one night someone takes things too far and chaos ensues.

The book is written in a first person narrative from the perspective of Ponyboy which, in my opinion, engages the reader more with the story as one feels they can really relate to the character. At first the language takes a bit of getting used to, as it is written similarly to how they would speak, with frequent use of American slang. However, I feel this contributes successfully to the atmosphere, as it enables the reader to step back in time, and fully immerse themselves in the story. Furthermore, the language is very informal, and is not too descriptive, making it very easy reading and not difficult to understand, making it suitable for young teenagers. The story was full of suspense, keeping the reader on tenterhooks, making them want to read more, to find out what the fate of Sodapop and his friend Johnny would be.

There are many characters in this book the main focus is on the three Curtis brothers, Dally Winston and Johnny Cade. As a result I feel the reader is able to fully understand each of the characters and relate to their story, engaging them further. Darry is the oldest of the brothers, aged 20, and has been caring for his brothers ever since their parents died in a car crash and is often butting heads with Ponyboy. Sodapop is the middle child, who has a much closer bond with his younger brother. Johnny is Ponyboy’s best friend who lives with his alcoholic and abusive mother and father and Dally is the roughest of the Greasers who always looks out for Johnny.

Ailsa Munro

There are many themes in this book, but one key theme is the importance of family, displayed through the turbulent relationship between the three brothers. It is also a story of friendship between the most unlikely of people, and emphasises just how important friends are. Furthermore, The Outsiders also brings to the surface issues of class conflict and appearance vs reality, further instilling the message ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. Whilst on the outside, the story appears to be the tale of a harsh and violent community, when investigated further, the story is actually a heart-warming tale of a close knit community who always look out for each other.

Personally I really enjoyed this book; I found the storyline gripping and as a result was always keen to read more. I also feel the story included important issues, some of which are considered too controversial to talk about in society today, but we must be made aware of as many of these problems are still apparent today. The character Ponyboy also gives readers insight into lives of those very different to us, giving us all a different perspective on things, and as a result brings interest to the story. My only criticism of the book would be that it ended too soon! I would thoroughly recommend this book to all; it is well worth the read!

The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald

Set in 1920's America during the “Jazz Age”, The Great Gatsby follows Nick Carraway, a young bachelor who has just moved from the Midwest to West Egg, Long Island, seeking his fortune as a bonds salesman. Not long after his arrival, Nick goes to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband, Tom Buchanan, in the more classy East Egg. There, he also meets famous golfer Jordan Baker, who he later develops a relationship with. The story takes a turn when Nick is formally invited to one of Gatsby's extravagant parties, hosted for the rich and famous. Gatsby is a mysterious, well presented man, who is involved in shady business and has a vague past. Over the summer, the two men become friends, and details of Gatsby's love for a married women are revealed, which cause events to descend into tragedy.

Whilst being primarily a love story, there are some deeper themes presented in the book of a more sombre nature. Fitzgerald portrays the 1920's as an era of declining social and moral values, including: greed, excess and the futile pursuit of an unworthy dream.

I found F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing to be very fluid and captivating. The images and scenes are so beautifully described that I could envisage every area clearly. I also found Fitzgerald's lexical choices extremely rich, if a little hard to follow at the start. However, with such a beautiful and broad use of vocabulary, I found The Great Gatsby to be one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have ever had. I particularly liked the characters in The Great Gatsby because they are evidently flawed and harder to sympathise with than most other characters in books that I have read. You do grow to hate specific characters, due to their major personality flaws. You even begin to slightly dislike Gatsby but, to me, Gatsby remains Great right until the end.

I would recommend The Great Gatsby to anyone who wanted a short, but more challenging read. I feel like it is a book that everyone should read, at some point in their lives, because even though it seems to give a bleak view on chasing dreams, it is really teaching you which dreams are worth pursuing.

Harriet Goulding

 

Slated by Teri Terry

Slated is the first book in the slated trilogy written by Teri Terry. It’s set in the late 21st century where the government has been replaced by the central coalition (who are very dominating and forceful.) They have a policy that criminals, under the age of 16 should be given a second chance, and have their memory wiped, otherwise known as being slated. These “criminals” are unable to revert to their original bad ways through devices attached on their wrists, which control their emotions. Kyla, the book’s main character is slated and has been placed with a new family in outer London. With the help of her new companion Ben, who she met at a slated support group, they start to uncover reasons behind the slating and get into more and more trouble…. One day Ben goes missing and Kyla is determined to find him, despite the dangerous consequences of this task. The book is written from Kyla’s perspective so we can see how she matures as the book goes on and also we can understand her complex personality more easily. As the book progresses she realises she is different from every other slated person; she asks too many questions and her memories are returning in her dreams, which should be impossible.

This book is very thought-provoking whilst being an excellent and original novel. I really like the way the book was written and has a perfect balance between action and romance whilst still being in the sci-fi genre. Terri Terry’s next two books in the trilogy; Fractured and Shattered are just as good if not better than the first book. I would highly recommend this book to teenagers (male and female) who enjoy dystopian books such as ‘the Hunger Games’. The book has many plot twists, which will be revealed throughout the novel to keep you interested, and I personally have to say that I couldn’t put it down!

By Lucy Minichiello

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go bookI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh is a crime novel focused on a tragic accident that results in the death of a young boy. Jenna Gray’s world falls apart and in hope of rebuilding her life she moves to the Welsh coast. The book follows both the police team and Jenna Grey as well as a number of other characters through the unravelling of the ‘tragic accident’. It throws you back and forward through view points and characters. With a major plot twist but it is hard to explain much more about the story line without accidentally giving something away.

Mackintosh manages to create excitement and tension throughout the book and the sense of drama keeps you reading long into the night. The story is compelling and gripping as the reader begins to really connect with the characters in the novel. Mackintosh is clever in adding various points of view to the novel, dividing the story into first person and third person which allows us to see a wider view of the case. The range of voices in the book also presents a clear contrast between Jenna Gray and the police team who play very different roles in uncovering the truth of the accident. These switches in narration are smooth and effortless.

The writing is skilful and the settings are perfectly described, bringing alive the seashore and cliffs of the Welsh coast. Despite giving the reader various pieces of the puzzle she doesn’t reveal everything, making the killer twist even more shocking. The twist is impossible to predict but impossible to ignore. The beginning is equally clever as I love that it opens so swiftly and the shock of a brutal start immediately gets you hooked.

Mackintosh’s previous career as a detective makes her the perfect person to write about the complications that exist in a crime investigation. The story was inspired by a real life hit and run accident that Mackintosh was involved in investigating.

I Let You Go is not an easy novel to review as the twist makes it extremely hard to add much detail, so without telling you much more about it, I urge you to read it!

Claudia Lax-Tanner

Invictus by John Carlin

Invictus bookThis book was based on true events in the 1995 rugby world cup in post apartheid country South Africa. It presents how small acts can impact on a nation that had a serious issue. The story is concentrated on the relationship between Nelson Mandela (president of South Africa) and the captain of the South African rugby team, Francois Pienaar. As Mandela was the first black president, he worries that the whites and blacks will be driven further apart. Moreover the fact that the Springboks (South African) rugby team were all white players, enhanced the prejudice and apartheid in the blacks’ mind, encouraging them to cheer for anyone but the Springboks. He believes that winning the World Cup and beating their biggest rivals, New Zealand, would unite the nation.

The way in which Carlin wrote this book allowed me as a reader and a player of the sport to really connect with the novel. He wrote in such a way that it was easy to imagine and understand the poor conditions in which the blacks were treated during that time and the troubles that the whole nation faced irrelevant of their skin colour. Since I really enjoy playing rugby, I completely understand and concur with the fact that winning a big tournament can unite players, fans and enemies, which Mandela relies very strongly on. It also is very touching as Carlin allows a very detailed insight into the wrongful imprisonment of Mandela and the very poor conditions he was held in. This reveals a very vivid and impactful impression on you as a reader which pulls on your heart strings to really want Mandela’s idea of uniting a nation to work.

I would recommend this to anyone over the age of 13 due to the fact that it is an emotional and powerful read that may upset younger readers or possibly even confuse them as they are unsure about the events that took place then. I also believe it is irrelevant if you like rugby or not as the book is about so much more than that. This novel is definitely worth a read to everyone as  not only is it extremely informative and educational but yet also very interesting and intriguing as you wish to know the outcome.

Dan Stubler

We Were Liars by E Lockhart

We Were LiarsI have always found summer to be the perfect time to launch myself into a good book – or many in my case! There seems to be something glorious about lying on a beach with the sun glaring down on you and reading a good, lengthy book, both to distract yourself from the heat of the sun and allow you to get a top notch tan but also to truly engross yourself in the wonders of a spectacularly well written book.

The first on my long list of summer reads was ‘We were Liars’ by E. Lockhart, the book I am going to be reviewing. It is a book I found on numerous ‘top reads for the summer’ websites and alongside its shining reviews I felt it was worth a try. The story centres itself around 17-year-old American teenager Cadence Sinclair Eastman who comes from a family of old money. Her grandparents (Granny Tipper and Granddad) own a private island named Beechwood with 3 houses for each of their daughters alongside a home for the cooks and cleaners. Every summer, she and her newly divorced mother visit the island to spend the summer with her family and cousins, three of whom she grows very close to.

The novel begins with a positive tone, where we see Cadence as a moody yet normal teenage girl meet her cousin Johnny’s friend Gat and at first one believes the novel will take a cliché summer romance turn for the worse. Until around half way through the book this seems probable, until the book takes an unexpected turn into much murkier and unpredictable waters. We see our once understood protagonist become something of a mystery with a twisted view of the world and dark, selfish themes begin to creep into the novel.

The author sheds a different light on the upper class of America, all of whom hide behind painted façades with no talk of the raw truths felt by all around the dinner table. The family is tormented by tragedy and death, yet “my family never speaks of it”, Cadence explains.

The novel takes on a distorted and non-chronological structure, where you find yourself constantly questioning the plot, this reflecting the confused and broken Cadence struggling to fit the pieces of her puzzled life back together. “I suppose that I was raped or attacked or some godforsaken something. That's the kind of thing that makes people have amnesia, isn't it?" These are the thoughts of Cadence after she is found on the islands beach, unconscious, with water washing over her and nobody seems to know why or what happened to her, nobody seems to want to talk about it either. It’s not until those last few pages when everything finally clicks into place; you find out the truth as Cadence herself does. 

I will not share all the twists and turns of this beautifully crafted novel, but can promise you that when you find out the heavily anticipated secret embedded in the novel, you will find it to be more sinister and shocking than you ever imagined.

This is a cunning, wicked and truly gripping novel, sure to be a tearjerker which sent me straight back to the first page as soon as I reached the last. 

By Georgie Elliott

A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

Recently I was challenged by my dad to read a book he’d been rambling on about, “A Game of Thrones”, and of course I wasn’t going to back down. Firstly, I could immediately tell, this book is definitely for readers (mature ones!). I read it within a week and have already started on the next book. If you’re still there, then let’s take a look at this book…

Themed from a medieval period, “A Game of Thrones” brings into play a new world of fantasy. George RR Martin manages to make gripping storylines, each unique for different characters, yet making some intertwine, with either disastrous consequences or relieving ends.

The main feature that I personally love about “A Game of Thrones” is that the characters will never get boring and that is what is key, in my opinion, to novels such as these. The reason being is that it enables readers to become hooked and establish what characters they love and hate: I immediately knew who I hated and loved! The character’s personality is always shown throughout the book and you can instantly tell from their speech what each character is like and sometimes what their specific traits are. The way Martin writes the story helps to develop and give identity to each character and highlights their role in the storyline.

I would definitely recommend this book to any fantasy lovers and any reader who loves strong characters and reading generally. However, there are some parts that only a mature reader could read and therefore, as I have stated previously, only mature readers could read such a novel. It will be worth your time, I can guarantee you!

Kameron Shah

The Host by Stephanie Meyer

I recently read “The Host” by Stephanie Meyer and it instantly became one of my favourite books. The story begins when an alien species, known as ‘souls’ invade planet Earth and begin to take over the bodies and minds of the humans. Wanderer, a well-travelled soul, has been assigned to the body of Melanie Stryder in order to help the other souls find where the remaining humans are hiding. However, Melanie Stryder has somehow survived and is still fighting to regain control of her thoughts and actions. As Wanderer struggles to remain in control, Melanie fills her head with thoughts of the man she loved and soon Wanderer is powerless to fight her own yearning for this man she has never met. As Melanie and Wanderer become unwilling allies, they set off to find the man whom they both love.

I thought this book was extremely good due to the way the author incorporates Melanie’s perspective in a way that it seems Wanderer is subject to her control. Meyer writes it in a certain way that you won’t be able to predict anything that happens next and will always leave you hanging; it’s a 619-paged book that I read over a weekend! I would definitely recommend this to all ages.

By Laura Green

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me before you jojo moyesPublished in 2012, Me Before You narrates six months of Louisa Clark’s life in which she works for Will Traynor, a man left a quadriplegic after being involved in a motorbike accident. Will struggles with his life in a wheelchair as previously he had been very active, enjoying extreme sports and excursions. This struggle leaves him fairly miserable in his everyday life and thus his moods are extremely variable. This makes Louisa’s job as his companion quite difficult at times. However, the two soon form a bond, with her making him happier than he has been since his accident. However, soon enough Louisa learns about Will’s terrifying plans for the future and is left with the impossible task of making him change his mind.

What I like about this book is the imperfections and realism of the relationship between Will and Louisa and the ‘one step forward, two steps back’ nature of it, as opposed to an expected arc. This makes the story more interesting for the reader as they are unsure what will happen next as it is unpredictable.

I also think the way in which the story is told from multiple perspectives is effective as it adds background to the current action from different characters, which Louisa (the dominant narrator) would have no reason to know. It also means that the reader is able to see different points of view on the controversial issues explored within the book.

Finally, I find the title of the novel a point of interest as it is unclear whose perspective it is from as Louisa and Will both become changed people after the arrival of each other in their lives.

I would definitely recommend this book as I found it was easy to read quickly. However, it also made me ask myself my own views on the issues discussed. Also, the characters Moyes has created, I think, are extremely likeable and easy to become attached to, which makes the plot more gripping and thus the book is enjoyable.

Rachel Cunningham

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The Exorcist 1971Based in the neighbourhood of Georgetown, Washington DC, “The Exorcist” explores the themes of religion, sacrifice and sanity in this gripping tale which tells the story the events and characters surrounding a young girl, Regan McNeil who is possessed by an evil spirit claiming to be the Devil.

The book is separated into three distinct sections; the possession of Regan, the exorcism of Regan and finally the mental battle which Father Damien Karras faces throughout the book. This final aspect is not in any particular chronological position within the book but instead is a theme constantly explored and developed as the more key events of the story take place. This helps to break up the story as well as to introduce a more in depth understanding of the situation to the reader who is able to piece together the various aspects of Damien’s life and troubles with the harrowing situation taking place with Regan.

Shortly after the release of the book in 1971 William Friedkin, with the help of Blatty, quickly converted the critically acclaimed book into a film, released in 1973. It is impossible to not mention this book without making any sort of reference to the film; after all, it was heralded as one of the most terrifying films of its time. However, unlike the book, in my opinion, the film fails in many places to be able to invoke a similar degree of horror. Limited by a two hour run time, the film fails to create what I believe to be one of the best aspects of the book, witnessing Regan’s decent into possession. It instead uses abrupt scenes with very little explanation or result to the story in order to show off the special effects which are now dated. No amount of acting can truly create some of the more harrowing scenes in this book which despite being merely words on paper are able to make your skin crawl and turn your stomach. It is no secret that this book is a horror novel. However, it goes beyond what many other books have done. Stephen King, as incredible as he is, is only able to create a sense of dread from deep within you which will remain all the way through a book. Never before have I read a book which has created the sense of fear which leaves me in a state of unwillingness to progress.

Away from the horror aspects, you can say that not only does this book succeed as a horror novel but it succeeds as a novel in general. It should be noted that the writing is sublime. A wide range of vocabulary, as well as an incredible ability to use these words, means that Blatty has created a novel which is of a far higher quality than many other horror novels which rely upon the fear factor to hold up the sometimes poor writing. Of course there is the usual issue of colloquialism which comes from reading a book written by an American, different societies create different literary styles. However in this case this the writing is hardly comparable to that of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, a novel which frequently utilises different languages. Even the more colloquial terms used by Blatty do not require the use of a dictionary which Burgess supplies the reader as part of his novel.

“The Exorcist” is not a book for the faint hearted. Dark and harrowing scenes will plague the reader’s mind for days however throughout the whole book remains the fact that this book does not rely upon shock to entertain its reader. Brilliant writing allows the author to explore subtle and carefully constructed themes without seeming to be forcing these down the reader’s throat. The book may be a difficult read but it is completely worth it.

By Barnaby Dulley

A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White

 24 September 2015

A dark lureThe last captivating book I read was called “A Dark Lure”. I found this book via a recommendation from a family friend, I thoroughly enjoy reading mystery thrillers and as this book was in the top twenty best sellers for this category I began to read it. I got into the plot straight away which I found very gripping. The book was set twelve years ago, when Sarah Baker was abducted by the Watt Lake Killer and sexually assaulted for months before managing to escape. The killer was caught, but Sarah lost everything: her marriage, her child, and the life she loved. This really engaged me in the novel, as I was intrigued to find out the cold and dark reasons behind Sarah Baker’s abduction.

Struggling with mental difficulties from the incident, Sarah changed her name to Olivia West and found sanctuary working on Broken Bar Ranch. But as her scars finally began to heal, a cop involved with her horrific case remained convinced the Watt Lake Killer was still out there. This part of the novel was very interestingly discombobulated, but it was chillingly exciting for me to find out the mystery of the Watt Lake Killer. The cop set a lure for the murderer, and a fresh body was discovered. This was a very tense and spine chilling section of the novel, as it kept me on the edge of my seat at every turn of the page. Olivia’s fear of the Watt Lake Killer returning and the unknown of his return, was so cleverly conveyed to the reader, it built a solid atmosphere of the unexpected, which kept the book thrilling and kept me wanting to read on. As a harsh winter isolated the ranch, only one person could help Olivia: Cole McDonough, a writer, adventurer, and ranch heir who stirs long-dormant feelings for her. But Olivia’s determination to shut out her past destroyed more than her chance at love. It could have cost her, her life. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys thrillers or mystery books, because the monopolising plot, dragged me in from the first chapter, as I could really connect with the characters as they had such a dense back story. There was a plot twist in every chapter and it was very satisfying to attempt to try un-wind the mystery myself. An over-all very suspenseful read.

By Lily Lewin

The Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen

Lady in the tower book of the week“The Lady in the Tower” is a book set in the early 1500s and is about the life of a girl called Eleanor Hungerford. For four years of her life, Eleanor is made to life without her mother-Lady Elizabeth Hungerford- who is imprisoned in an isolated part of their castle home after a horrible, false accusation. In prison, her food is poisoned and her only chance at survival is through her daughter, Eleanor who secretly gives her food. The only way Eleanor can communicate with her mother is through secret notes to one another. Without being able to trust her father after she finds out she is to be married to a young boy, Viscount Staton, she is sent away. Eleanor must rely upon herself to survive. She then discovers a murder plot against her mother. However the only way Eleanor can save her is if her mother agrees to flee before it becomes all too late.

I liked this book because it is very historical and set in the Tudor times. It is also apparently based on a true story in the time of Henry VIII. I also liked the individuality of each character and the exciting mystery they all bring to the novel. Eleanor is a sort of tomboy and sometimes her language isn’t always suited to the proper castle language. I would recommend this book as I really enjoyed reading it not only because of the story line as I really enjoy history books but it’s a very exciting read as the writing has an even balance of tension, passion and combat. However, it takes a while to get into the book as the first couple of chapters are just setting the scene and some of the characters individual stories are rounded up in a single sentence. Nevertheless, everyone is bound to love this novel and grow closer to Eleanor as she shows so much courage throughout.

By Imogen Poulter

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

12 September 2015

Lordofthefliesbookcover‘Lord of the Flies’ is a book about a group of school children that have been stranded of an island, with no adults. The tale is one of savagery amongst the group, and of the innocence and naïve behaviour of youth. The ages of the boys range from nine to twelve, and the elder boys decide to take control of the group.

They decide that they must have some sort of organisation within the group in order to survive. They elect one of the elder boys, Ralph, as the leader of the group, much to the disappointment of another of the elder boys, Jack. Due to there being no adults present on the island, the schoolboys have to help each other in order to survive.

They agree that they must first build a fire, in order to create a smoke signal, so that boats can see their location, in the hope that they would be rescued. This is initially unsuccessful so they then move on to other means of survival. Jack takes a group of the boys out hunting as he sees eating as the main source of survival, whereas Ralph leads a group of boys in building shelters to sleep in, and to protect them from the ‘monster’ that one of the younger boys has reported seeing.

One of the major symbols in the novel is the ‘conch shell’, which must be held in order speak. This is a symbol of civilisation amongst the boys, as they are working with one another.

The ensuing events of the book follow on much as they start, with Jack taking his group away from the followers of Ralph. Jack’s group are all hunters, and act like animals, providing no feel of civilisation or community, stripping the atmosphere that the conch shell once provided.

Ralph, Piggy and Simon, three of the elder boys, attempt to remain civil, and keep their behaviour sane. However, they soon fall to the rule of Jack and his group, joining them in a chaotic ritual slaughter, in which the boys dance around fire, cooking on which is a pig that they had hunted. Simon, however, had gone off into the forest, and starts to hallucinate, and believes that he hears the voice of the head of the pig, which had been killed earlier and placed on a stick in the ground. The head seems to speak to him, in a voice that he believes belongs to the ‘Lord Of The Flies’, saying that he will never be escaped as he lives in all men, he precedes to faint. As he returns to tell the others this, they kill him with their bare hands, charging at him when they see his shadow, as they are still performing their vicious ritual slaughter. From this point on, the boys realise that things must change, and they set out to do so…

I really enjoyed reading this book as I found it an intriguing insight into the mind of younger people, and how they can change when given responsibility. What really interested me were the many symbols that were used in the novel, which could be interpreted as meaning different things by different people. This creates a sense of intrigue into the book, as you are able to formulate your own opinion on what things may represent. I also enjoyed the book as, being a young man myself, it really got me thinking how well I would do if I was in that group, stranded on the island.

I do not always enjoy reading books about the supernatural, as I often find them very hard to relate to. Therefore the apparent reality portrayed in this novel was another thing that really drew me in. I also enjoyed the psychological side of the novel, seeing how people’s thoughts changed as the situation worsened, and how many seemed to go insane, and become killers, nearing the conclusion of the novel.

By Jonny Mussard

Cirque du Freak - Darren Shan

18 May 2015

Cirque du freakThis is the first of a twelve book series written by the well-known author Darren Shan. This book is no exception to Darren Shan’s typical genre of dark horror, although a light twist of humour is put in now and then. This book, along with the other eleven is very small, only a couple of hundred pages and therefore appeals to occasional and young readers although fans of Darren Shan will obviously be attracted to Cirque du Freak. The whole Cirque du Freak series makes for an easy read but that does give way for some rather uncomplicated language which can bore you in heavy dialogue scenes.

Without giving too much away about the story line, "Cirque du Freak" offers two hundred pages of betrayal, love and fighting, as well as strange and interesting creatures. The book focuses on two boys at the beginning, Darren Shan and Steve Leonard. We see early on that Darren has the perfect life of which Steve is. Steve shows a great obsession with the abnormal, in particular vampires. So when Steve sees a recognised vampire at a freak show, or the Cirque du Freak, his suspicions become true and he thrives to become one himself. However, this becomes unachievable as a series of unfortunate events follows, leading Darren to becoming a vampire and having to leave his family and friends behind. In his jealousy and sorrow, Steve joins the vampaneze who believe it or not are the real threat to humans and not the vampires, so at this point a real classic good versus evil battle starts to emerge. During all this time, Darren is going through a hard time becoming a vampire as it becomes apparent to Larten Crepsley that Darren may be the ‘chosen one’. Other distractions for Darren appear as he and girl with a tail start to fall in love which leads him to a dilemma between saving his family or her at the end of the book.

Although not left on the cliff edge, Cirque du Freak is sure to leave you wanting more at the end which is good as there is lots more to follow. It is primarily aimed at teenagers but really is suitable for anyone with a slight love for fantasy. However, is not suitable for anyone with a weak stomach as the vampaneze have a very strong taste for blood! This book is not all blood and guts however as comedy is cleverly placed in here and there particularly with Larten Crepsley. This book truly is weird and wonderful and the plot only deepens and thickens the further through the series you go.

By Will Sandy

Twilight - Stephanie Meyer

5 May 2015

Vampire Venom

TwilightWhen teenage girl Bella moves from hot sunny Phoenix to the cold town of Forks, her life is changed dramatically. This first novel in a series of 4 books talks about how Bella moves to live with her dad in a tiny town, population of 3120, and encounters a strange boy whilst attending her new high school, who she later discovers to be a vampire. The book is mostly based around the love story that develops between Bella and her new vampire boyfriend, Edward. However, there are consequences, due to Bella not being a vampire herself; this makes the relationship they have very dangerous. Will Bella ever be safe?

I loved this book because although the idea of it is very unrealistic, the way the book is written makes it seem like it somehow could be real. I like this aspect of the book as it makes it seem more believable, and puts you in Bella’s shoes. Stephanie Meyer has made the story almost addictive; it’s a book that’s impossible to put down! I believe that this book is so popular with many teenage girls because Stephanie has made Bella a very normal, average teenager, which makes most think that it could happen to them, therefore refuting my point of it being believable! I think it is so different to other stories, as the vampire in the book is actually told in a good light, which makes it very rare and intriguing.

The book is loved by so many due to the treatment that Bella has from Edward. Edward, although being a vampire, is a true gentleman, and treats Bella with respect and morality. Although Bella has the normal feelings of a regular teenager, Edward makes Bella more mature for her age, and they both become a more adult couple, than teenage couple.

Also the way it is written in the first person makes it a page turner and Publishers Weekly have quoted it "Will keep readers madly flipping the pages of Meyer's tantalizing debut". This book has also come out as a film, which has been wildly popular, and the New York Times described it as "A deeply sincere, outright goofy vampire romance for the hot-not-to-trot abstinence set."

I deeply recommend reading this book if you’re a teenage girl; it’s a fantastic, unusual, and unpredictable book that must be read!

By Madeline Halford

The Wonderful Adventures of Geoffrey Scrutinous, From Armageddon Outta Here! - Derek Landy

27 April 2015

Armageddon Outta Here Cover"The Wonderful Adventures of Geoffrey Scrutinous" is from the world of Skulduggery Pleasant. This series of nine book as well as two novellas, one including three new short stories, is written by the Irish author Derek Landy about the adventures of the Skeleton detective Skulduggery Pleasant and his teenage partner, Valkyrie Cain. The story is based in Ireland, mainly Dublin. The books are a series of fiction fantasy novels that are packed full of monsters, magic and gripping mysteries. In each book, Skulduggery and Valkyrie travel around uncovering secrets and fighting the bad guys to solve the mystery as well as in most of the books, save the world.

This particular novella from Armageddon Outta here! is a story about a character called Geoffrey Scrutinous who helps Valkyrie and Skulduggery solve a murder mystery. Geoffrey is a psychic or a sensitive to the magic community who helps to keep the world of magic a secret. The mortals don’t know that any of this is going on. The danger and disaster in this life is extreme. His power is that anything he says to a mortal, they believe. This helps cover up multiple revelations of magic to the public throughout the series of Skulduggery and Valkyrie’s adventures. During this gripping novella, Geoffrey accompanies Skulduggery and Valkyrie to a murder scene where the victim looks as if he has been hit by a train, despite the fact that he was killed in his living room, which doesn’t have a railway track running through it. While looking round the room for clues, Geoffrey finds a lovely old fashioned fountain pen which he picks up. Not being a detective, he is surprised when he finds a clue- a notepad with very neat handwriting on it saying, "I am going to be hit by a train." After this, Skulduggery notices that Geoffrey has written something on a newspaper while holding the pen without realising. It says, "I am going to be eaten by a shark." This exciting novella takes the reader along a twisting rollercoaster where the mystery is solved, but do they have enough time left to rewrite what has been written?

This fantastic novella gives you a glimpse at the characters’ personalities and abilities. Geoffrey is very friendly, but is not cut out for detective work. Further on in the novella, near the end the reader shares Geoffrey’s desperation and panic to be saved. Valkyrie Cain is an excellent fighter and is intelligent and good at detective work. Despite this the reader sympathises with her as she spends most of her time away from her family solving mysteries, and has to leave her reflection (a magical copy of Valkyrie with no feelings or personality) to continue her normal school and home life. Valkyrie is only sixteen, so she feels she should spent more of her time with her parents. Skulduggery is an intelligent quick witted character who always manages to make a joke out of something very serious. The fact that he is a living skeleton also adds to his interesting and slightly mysterious character.

The best thing about the book is that two great genres are mixed together. Mystery is the main genre, as the whole story is about the three characters trying to undo what Geoffrey wrote was going to happen to him. But horror is also proven to be part of it because there are some gory scenes as well as murder scenes. These two genres fit together to creates a fantastic gripping novella with an exciting storyline. Despite this, the worst thing about this particular book is that it is very short. It is long enough that the mystery is wrapped up, but unlike in most of the other books, there isn’t much action or adventure, it is mostly detective work. However, this is only one Skulduggery Pleasant book out of nine plus two novellas, so there is much more adventure to come!

Personally, I loved the novella. It was gripping the whole way through and got me yelling at the page in desperation during the final few pages. I would really recommend it to all ages, but mainly teenagers, because it is easier to link and empathise with the characters. It would also be good for a quick read for going on holiday or just to entertain you for a while as it is quite short and easy to read.

By Hannah Marsden

Tamar - Mal Peet (reviewed by Freddy Harris)

21 April 2015

Tamar   mal preetWar, love, mystery, all rolled into one fabulous novel

The book "Tamar" by Mal Peet is a truly good book. This title says it all. It is split into two times, one in the present day in England and one in the past (1945 Nazi occupied Holland). This makes it a well written novel. The two time frames intertwine with each other because as the present day Tamar (young Tamar) finds out more about her late grandfather (also Tamar), you go back to the 1945 timeframe and you are told more.

I would recommend this book to ages 12 upwards because there are some uses of strong language. The book is also so good because it doesn’t repeat the same sort of thing over and over again. The change of time and place every now and then helps to keep the book rolling and smooth.

The Bookseller says:

"Beautifully written and absolutely gripping, this is exceptional story telling."

The story also has three main themes: love war and mystery. The mystery part of the novel is quite a key part but don’t worry I won’t give away any twists in the story. The main mystery in this book is why young Tamar’s Grandfather jumped off his apartment balcony. But also he left Tamar a box of clues including a map of the river Tamar, covered in markings, mainly crosses. Tamar follows this map most of the way through the novel but this mystery part is littered with another theme, Love.

The love part of the novel is very important because it leads to key events. One main love part is that of young Tamar and Yoyo. At first Yoyo just makes silly remarks but as their adventure goes on their love develops. The arguably more important love part of the novel is in the 1945 section. Young Tamar’s grandfather old Tamar (who was young in 1945) has been to Holland before in the war on another mission and is in a relationship with a farm girl Marijke. But when he returns he has a fellow agent with him. The fellow agent Dart has an instant crush on Marijke and is unaware of the relationship between her and Tamar. Dart thinks that Marijke love him but actually she is just being nice to him and helping him because he needs it. It is this love scoundrel that causes some of the most significant events in the whole book.

The last theme of the book is war. Half the book is based on the war. The whole 1945 section of the novel is infested with Nazis. There are many unpleasant parts in the book about the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews and how they are starving the Dutch. If there had been no war section in the book, the rest of the book would not have made sense. Would old Tamar have gone to Holland in the first place? Would young Tamar have actually been born? Would her Grandfather have jumped off of his Balcony?

I would highly recommend this book to anyone. It will really stand out to you as a good book as it did to me. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. And I lastly hope that you will be moved by the ending.

By Freddy Harris

Tamar - Mal Peet (reviewed by Ben Pegrum)

21 April 2015

Tamar   mal peetTamar is a war, mystery and love novel all at once because it is great at integrating all three. This is the reason why it is an interesting book to study. It follows an undercover agent called Tamar in the year 1944 and we join him through his dramas, tragedies and horrific experiences under the Nazi reign in WW2. He is appointed on a mission in which he has to travel to Holland undetected and keep the Dutch resistance under control as an operation called "Market Garden", has failed causing British soldiers to flee and hide from the Nazis. Thus, Tamar must succeed in his mission undiscovered. This does not go to plan as two friends, comrades and allies (Dart and Tamar) fuel and anger each other as they are both star struck by a woman called Marijke. However, Tamar was already based in Holland as a spy, working as a farm labourer – Christian Boogart - and by coincidence we know he was sent back to the exact same place where he had already started a relationship with Marijke. This obviously causes a rivalry between Dart and Tamar; also with the Nazis around every corner and the addictive drugs Dart things take a turn for the worse. A second story is later revealed about another Tamar, a teenage girl who takes on a mystery to find who her grandfather really is. When she looks through a box left by her grandfather, the items are actually all linked and she must solve them to carry through a journey to find the truth. It is believed that her grandfather is Tamar but a shocking and twisted turn in the book reveals an unexpected ending.

Tamar is tremendous at differing the narrative style to change at different points in the book. For example it changes between the teenage Tamar, which is presented in the first person so you are able to connect with her personally, understand how she thinks and solves the mystery and also the general 1944 setting which is written in the third person to capture the story from a vast point of view and get across some of the circumstances the characters faced. This is beneficial because it varies the text so the reader does not get bored and enables you to think about the story more thoroughly.

For me there are only four main characters: Tamar, Dart, Marijke and young Tamar. Tamar is a strong character and seems to be a natural leader. Tamar I think is very unfortunate as he did not do much wrong really (although he could have told Dart about him and Marijke instead of waiting for Dart to find out the hard way) and is unlucky to deserve such an evil fate. I really sympathise with him and I think that he deserves to come off better than Dart. However, Dart is a weaker character and crumbles under his drugs and the pressure of not being discovered by the Nazis so he tries to take out his rage on Tamar being with Marijke which is highly immoral but the guilt he is to face in later years to come almost forces you to sympathise with him. Book of the Week

Bishop's Stortford College Senior School English Department

Marijke is a willing person and is not afraid to go to great lengths for others and her own protection. For instance she dresses as a boy to prevent rape from Nazi soldiers. I think that she is also in the same boat as Tamar and does nothing wrong to deserve her outcome, and is worried sick about Tamar being discovered by the Nazis, so I do sympathise for her to. Finally we have young Tamar, who I think is a troubled teenager with so many mixed emotions through the book but I seem to sympathise with her less as she goes through less than the other main characters.

In conclusion I think this book fulfils its potential. I do not think that there is anything wrong with Tamar; it is very good in the sense of things like cliff-hangers and foreshadowing. It involves the reader, making you ask questions and getting to know the characters and understand the book. There are also lots of things that are left for you to solve yourself. This book is really a book of exciting storylines and meaningful characters.

By Ben Pegrum

Will Grayson, Will Grayson - John Green and David Levithan

23 February 2015

Will grayson will graysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson is a novel written for teenagers, that covers all genres: romance, comedy, drama and so on. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is written by two authors, John Green and David Levithan, whose chapters use different styles to separate them. The book has alternating chapters between two strangers, who live in very different worlds that collide on a cold night, outside an unexpected shop in Chicago. The one thing they have in common is their name, Will Grayson.

The first Will Grayson we are introduced to is written by John Green, and he lives in Evanston, Chicago. Here’s a few facts about Will no.1:

 He is a reluctant member of the Gay- Straight Alliance.

 He’s obsessed with the band Neutral Milk Hotel.

 His best friend is the larger than life (literally), fabulous, homosexual, soccer player, Tiny Cooper (the head of the Gay- Straight Alliance).

 Will is in love with Jane Turner, a curly haired girl, a member of the Gay- Straight Alliance, who also shares his obsession with Neutral Milk Hotel. Sadly, she has a boyfriend.

 Will lives life abiding by two rules; "1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut up."

The other Will Grayson is written by David Levithan, and he lives in Naperville, Chicago. Facts about Will Grayson no.2:

 He does not believe in capitalisation.

 Will is depressed. He says "I am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me."

 His dad left a long time ago.

 His possible friend, Goth- Girl Maura, is in love with him. The feeling is not mutual.

 Will Grayson is a hidden homosexual, in love with his online romance, "Isaac," who is not at all who he seems.

The two Will Graysons’ lives are hurtling in opposite directions but when their worlds are drawn together by what some may call fate and they meet outside a shop in Chicago, their lives begin to grow closer together. With the help of friends old and new, both boys, eventually, march through their complicated lives with their heads held high. The two boys’ stories progress with romance, betrayal, humour, sadness and a flamboyant Tiny Cooper wedge in the middle, who works towards Tiny the Dancer a musical of Tiny’s life, written, directed, produced, choreographed and starring Tiny Cooper. While Will Grayson no.1’s life is falling apart, Will Grayson no.2’s life is building up, but as we near the end of the book the lives change roles. The end of the book is the first performance of the heart-breaking, inspirational, humorous and feel good musical Tiny the Dancer, which plays its role in ending the story of Will Grayson and Will Grayson, whose lives by now have become completely interlocked yet have ended in very different ways. Although the ending for one of the Will Graysons may not be how you would like it, it is still moving and completes the book all the same.

I absolutely love Will Grayson, Will Grayson and would recommend it to anyone, even though it is more of a teenage novel. I love how the book is written by two authors because David Levithan and John Green have very different styles of writing, which really helps portray just how different the two boys are. I also love the different stories in the book, how two plots can intertwine and yet be so far apart at the same time. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is an amazing concoction with laugh out loud moments, tear stained moments, and moments that warm your heart. You should definitely read it!

By Charlotte Hopkinson

Lies like Love - Louisa Reid

2 February 2015

Louisa Reid Lies Like Love1When a depressed teenager moves to a new home with her mother and younger brother, Audrey just wants to start a new life, forget about her mysterious old one, and become a ‘normal teenager and do normal teenager things’. Lies Like Love by Louisa Reid is a realistic fiction with love, lies and heartbreak. It is about how a rejected teenager falls in love with her slightly older neighbour, Leo, and discovers that their love might help her through her past.

During the beginning of the novel, Audrey and Leo are close friends, and start to become closer. On bonfire night Leo and his Aunt, Sue, hold a bonfire and Audrey’s family are invited. On that night, Leo and Audrey share a kiss and that’s when their relationship starts. Throughout the story, Lorraine, Audrey’s mother, starts to worry that Leo is becoming a bad influence on Audrey, and he is only trying to take advantage of her.

One night, further on in their relationship, Audrey and Leo sneak off into London and stay in Leo’s parents’ apartment for the night. In London they have an amazing time, sightseeing and eating out in wonderful restaurants. When they get back to the apartment, they share an intimate moment. It is the best night of their lives. The next day Leo and Audrey start on their trip home. Their welcome back from London was not warm though: Lorraine was especially angry with Leo, blaming him for the whole incident. That night Audrey tries to commit suicide. Leo hears about the incident and knows that it can’t be true, because the Audrey he knew was happy now. He is determined to find out the truth about what is actually happening in Audrey’s life.

I really enjoyed reading this book, as there was a really good story line and I was always gripped. There were good descriptions of characters and many happy as well as sad parts. There were numerous plot twists and I felt like I didn’t want to put the book down until I had finished it. I would recommend this book to young teenagers, who have a mature outlook as this book can be quite disturbing and some parts can be quite depressing. It is a really good balance between romance, mystery and depression. To conclude, I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend other people get a chance to read it.

By Ruby Barford

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

26 January 2015

Walter isaacson steve jobsThere are three things necessary for a pre-eminent biography:

1. A compelling subject

2. An engaging narrative

3. Accuracy

Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs has all three. At first glance, Steve Jobs may come across as a dirty hippie. He did not shower or wear shoes. He believed his diet kept him from becoming smelly; apparently not true. He was obsessive with diets - he regularly ate nothing but carrots for extensive periods of time, until his skin turned orange. Maybe this was what caused his cancer later on in life? His lifestyle choices seem strange and somewhat ridiculous. Nevertheless, there is another side to him in the book, where Jobs is portrayed as a fascinating person with many unique positive features. What makes this book so compelling is that these two insights in to Steve Jobs’ character are illustrated in the biography. Reading it has enabled me to blend these contrasting descriptions of Steve Jobs and to conclude that he was an extraordinary man with an incredible story.

Jobs transformed the technological industry by combining technology with the liberal arts - generating several products, which consumers did not know they even wanted. Job was the founder of Apple Computer, Inc (now named ‘Apple’); originally established to build and develop personal computers. Apple is now a multinational corporation with 72,800 permanent employees and 437 retail stores in fifteen different countries. Apple has extended its range of technology by developing several different technological devices, most recently the iWatch. Apple is the largest publicly traded corporation in the world by market capitalisation, and is valued at over $700 billion.

My reading found that many reviewers found Steve Jobs to be viewed as an ‘ass’ to everyone he knew. I partly agree with this opinion. Steve Wozniak was Jobs’ only friend at times and always stood by him, but Jobs manipulated and cheated Wozniak multiple times. Jobs also denied being the father of his first daughter when she clearly was his child. He was extremely emotional - he often cried when he did not get what he wanted. Jobs was impossible to please and rarely finished a task. It is incredible to believe what he has achieved, despite his negative traits. It may have been these ‘negative’ personality traits, which caused him to create the most extraordinary things. His desire to create the seemingly impossible was, I believe, what led him to his success. From iPods to iPhones, iPads to iWatches, MacBooks to iMacs - all these items that an substantial percentage of the population rely on every day, all derived from the brain of the super genius Steve Jobs. We should be thankful and remember everything Steve did - thank him for being a hippie. Thank him for being an ‘ass’. Thank him for being a genius.

I found Isaacson’s narrative style to be engaging. This biography could have easily have merely been a dull read of quote after quote; fact after fact. Instead Walter Isaacson took these facts and quotes and used them to construct a fascinating story about Jobs’ life. The book is also logically structured- the majority of the biography is chronological. A book about a computer company is guaranteed to feature many technological aspects of different products. This could be tedious to readers. However, Isaacson explains the technology occasionally and simply, so you do not have to be a computer genius to understand the book. This widens the target audience to pretty much anyone who is capable of reading at a fairly high level.

My only way of judging the accuracy of the book is by my own knowledge from other sources, and my overall impression after reading the biography. Isaacson appears to present a realistic image of Jobs, that includes his positive and negative aspects. Jobs comes across as a person with plenty of flaws and possibly a mental illness - but fought his mental issues and used his negative aspects to his advantage to accomplish great things - Isaacson did not defame him in any way. However, Isaacson does at times have a slightly apologetic tone to his writing. Every time a negative point is mentioned, Isaacson seems to remind the reader that in the end Jobs was a good man who had great success- implying that the ends justify the means. This suggests that Isaacson was positively biased towards Jobs. Although surely a biographer need to have passion for his or her subject in order to devote the time to write a thorough and interesting biography? With passion comes bias, and that could be positive or negative - in this case Isaacson is positively biased.

To conclude, I thoroughly enjoyed the biography and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in technology, business, or just influential people in general. There are also small stories of Jobs’ involvement in Pixar, although not much. This biography is the biography of Steve Jobs and NOT the biography of Apple. You should expect that the majority of the book to be about his life story and not the history of Apple. I thoroughly recommend that you read this biography because you will see a new side to Steve Jobs. Whether you admire or dislike him, after reading this, you cannot deny that he changed the world forever.

By Matthew Jones

Girl Online - Zoe Sugg

19 January 2015

Girl on LineGirl Online by Zoe Sugg is a lovely portrayal of a 15-year-old girl, her struggle with everyday teenage life and her panic attacks. When everything is all beginning to look too much for her, Penny’s parents whisk her away to New York, where she meets the gorgeous Noah. As she struggles with love, friends, school and her panic attacks, Penny begins blogging about her life, and ends up uncovering things Noah had tried so hard to hide.

The book is both hilarious and moving, as Zoe Sugg writes about the truth of being a teenage girl and all that it entails. I loved this book for many reasons, but mainly for its honesty. In the first chapter alone Penny blogs about how hard it is for a teenage girl and she lists ‘The Top Ten Reasons for Teenage Girls Getting Anxious’. I loved this part of the book because not only was it hilarious but also it was also totally true! The book also covers many relevant problems for teenagers in society today, including, cyber bulling and becoming an adult in today’s world.

Despite personally falling in love with this book, it has been the subject to lots of recent criticism, mainly due to the apparent ghost-writer, who supposedly wrote the book. This ghost-writer has also recently been said to be, the already established writer, Siobhan Curham. For this reason many people have been put off the book. Despite this, I and millions of others, really enjoyed the book. This sweet and funny book had me in fits of laughter right the way through and I think it’s a lovely book, no matter who wrote it!

True to its appearance Girl Online is definitely aimed towards the teenage girl market, and probably not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a light-hearted book, perfect for escapism. Not a heavy, deep book which some readers find themselves drawn to, but a sweet rom-com ideal for someone looking for some more light reading, and possibly a bit of an insight into Zoella’s life. I say this because Zoella and Penny share some common similarities. For example they are obviously both bloggers and also both experience panic attacks.

I would definitely recommend Girl Online to anyone looking for some fun reading. This enjoyable book left me feeling happy and cheerful, and not only that but I felt satisfied that I had read something heart warming. In conclusion, don’t be put off by the rumours surrounding this book; once you have begun reading you will fall in love with this book like I did. Definitely a four star rating if not a five!

By Lucy Betser

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd

12 January 2015

Secret life of bees2The sorts of books I tend to read involve mythical creatures such as vampires, werewolves or superhuman creatures. However, over this last half term, I felt I would stretch myself and read a topical book that would allow me to understand a certain time and era, as well as enjoying a pleasant read. The book I chose was The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Having just spent a term studying To Kill a Mockingbird, a book centred around racism and the Deep South, I decided to dwell some more on that theme and read another book from a slightly different angle. Still based upon racism and the inequality of life for the blacks in the 1960s in South Carolina, this was likely to enhance my understanding and personal views of the unacceptably tragic environment of the day.

The Secret Life of Bees is narrated by Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl, who is haunted by the memory of her late mother and abused by her neglectful father. To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father, Lily flees with Rosaleen, her family’s black maid and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters – all of whom are also black - Lily finds solace in their mesmerising world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.

The book deals with the obvious themes of racism and segregation, but also contains the themes of love, destruction and the power of a strong faith.

I have read few books that have moved me to tears and made me really think about how lucky I am to live in such a privileged world. The book allowed me to open my eyes to the harsh reality of the lives of many coloured people and this is portrayed beautifully in the book with the subtle, masked hints set in place by the author’s unique writing and linguistic skills.

I feel, through reading this book, that I have been both educated through the didactic technique used by Kidd, but have also read a beautiful story filled with positivity and happiness as well as undeniable cruelty and sorrow.

In 2008, the book was made into a film featuring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning. However, when comparing the two, naturally I prefer the book due to the ability to add more detail and explore, in far greater depth, different themes and emotions.

Overall, I am pleased that I decided to broaden my horizons and read this book as it has influenced my thinking in the context centred around my GCSE novel as well as allow me to enjoy many evenings spent solely reading such an inspiring and well-written book.

By Georgie Elliott

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story - George Orwell

8 December 2014

Animal FarmFirst published in 1945 and now almost sixty years old, George Orwell’s ground-breaking and utterly inspirational novel Animal Farm has been described many times as one of the greatest books of the twentieth century, and I am most definitely inclined to agree.

Animal Farm focuses on the animal inhabitants of Manor Farm, presided over by the ruthless drunkard, Mr Jones. Rising up in a rebellion against him, the animals take over the farm and, under the leadership of the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, claim it as their own. The animals rename the farm Animal Farm, vowing to separate themselves from humans completely, and create the Seven Commandments – the last of which being, “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL.”

However, the immense corrupting influence of power soon takes its toll on Napoleon. Overthrowing Snowball, he rules the farm with an iron fist, forcing the animals to build a windmill for him while he and the other pigs live a life of luxury. Over the course of the novel, each and every one of the ideals the animals stood by is crushed and forgotten, with Napoleon using the erratic memories of the other animals to his advantage. By the novel’s end, the Seven Commandments are gone, and all that remains of them is perhaps Orwell’s most famous saying: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL. BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”

Animal Farm is an allegory of the rise of communism in Russia, with a multitude of parallels drawn between the two societies throughout the novel. Both undergo a revolution, freeing the masses from their tyrannical overlords, both experience a fleeting period of prosperity and universal happiness, and both eventually find the ideals their societies are built upon corrupted and then forgotten. Napoleon takes centre stage as the representation of Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union until the 1950s, while the other animals on the farm represent the people of the Soviet Union – some spreading seeds of rebellion, some fiercely loyal no matter what, and some allying themselves with those in power so they can benefit all the more out of life on Animal Farm.

Animal Farm is an extremely short novel at only 95 pages long, and is written in a style very different to that of many other books I have read recently. Rather than focusing on intricate description and complex dialogue, the novel centres on its plot and has a very fast pace. While it took a couple of chapters for me to become fully engrossed in the novel, once I had got into it I was totally caught up in its fantastic story – I literally couldn’t put it down. George Orwell has immediately endeared himself to me, and his other classic novel, 1984, will be next on my long reading list without a doubt.

While it is subtitled A Fairy Story, it is clear that Animal Farm is not a book for children. The novel contains elements of violence and corruption on both a social and political level, and I fear that many children, upon reading the novel, would miss many of the subtle parallels between the Farm and the Soviet Union’s communist society. I would recommend this book without a doubt to anyone – its short length makes it easy to read, while its meticulous social commentary make it an absolute must for anyone endeavouring to expand their literary horizons.

By James Gregory

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

1st December 2014

Life after LifeLife After Life, a gripping novel that follows the eventful life of a girl, a life that starts again and again, over and over. Born in England, 1910, safely away from the furious snowstorm outside, Ursula Todd dies before she has the chance to draw her first breath, held in the arms of a loving mother.

Ursula Todd grows into a young spirit, wild and free with no worries in the world apart from the insignificant quarrels she has with her three siblings, only to have her life ripped away from her once again.

Atkinson describes this continual process of Ursula Todd being born and her precious life somehow being snatched away from her throughout the duration of Life After Life. Fear not, a new slant is put on the birth and life each time, thus representing a new chapter every time Ursula is reborn. Atkinson carefully manages to place the deaths of Ursula into the new chapter, thus creating a logical and enticing story.

Growing up in Fox Corner, Ursula comes face to face with every experience a little girl has: days at the beach with her family, playing dolls with her older sister only to be tormented by her brother, and a grim case of Spanish flu. However, these seemingly normal occurrences that would usually pass through life without a second thought are twisted on their head, when things don’t quite turn out as expected.

Set at the time of the First World War, we are told of the struggles faced by Ursula and her family. However, every time Ursula dies and is reborn, she comes back with an apparent sixth sense. Once reborn, when it comes to the time of her pervious deaths, Atkinson blesses her with the ability to sense what she needs to do to avoid the situations playing over and over again.

Atkinson does not keep Ursula young forever. She quickly grows up and we feel nothing but sympathy towards her as her life slowly unravels through vicious twists and turns.

This original and innovative novel explores a new idea never really looked at before. Through the use of giving Ursula Todd ‘Life After Life’ Atkinson is able to tell and retell the captivating and heart wrenching life of a woman who dies over and over again.

Life After Life is a truly mesmerising account of a girl who is captured perfectly throughout her life. You must read this book.

By Lucy MacKaness

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote

10 November 2014

Breakfast at Tiffanys PenguiThis truly captivating novella set in the heart of the bustling New York City during the mid 1940s, immediately caused a variety of judgements from readers, towards the reasoning behind Truman Capote’s starring character, Holly Golightly. Many assumptions of this seemingly innocent young lady were that because of her significant change of lifestyle from a country girl to a vibrant city girl, all she longed for was the company of ‘wealthy men.’ This portrayal of Holly, venturing out into the expanse of the unknown city to merely socialise with men and have them give her expensive gifts, was just one of many accumulated reasons why a negative view may have been had of this young lady, destined to be a lonely married woman with absent dreams for her future ahead.

Moreover, this speculation of Holly Golightly perhaps may not at all have been the real circumstance that Holly was being faced with. With Capote’s parents being divorced, and the disappearance of his mother at an early age in his life, Truman’s outlook to his future was inordinately bright. Truman’s years were described as ‘lonely’, mirroring the desolate life of Holly Golightly. However, Holly maintained a gleaming future ahead of her. A hope in the form of the ‘American Dream.’ Capote himself shared this same passion for their up and coming years, as they would swap their old, reclusive lives for a modern prospective in a brand new environment.

Holly had a somewhat unusual place of paradise and escape in the form of the famous, well renowned store entitled ‘Tiffany’s'. Holly explained ‘What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s'. This simple statement unveils all that Holly stands for. A means of escapism. A place to be free and voice their own opinion. From my own perspective, I and many other readers find this extremely empowering and we find ourselves feeling at peace, as we connect to Holly’s character on a more meaningful level. The desire for freedom can be found in a variety of means, some more evident and sophisticated than others.

I found great pleasure in reading this novella, due to the perspectives that each individual reader can take away from each character. The diversity of emotions through this book is constantly changing and being able to select and analyse Holly’s actions was a particularly enjoyable part in my opinion.

I would recommend this book to young adults and above, based on the fact that making your own assumptions on each character is part of the challenge that you face as you read this simple, yet delightful novella.

By Milly Gray

Legend - Marie Lu

3 November 2014

Legend Marie Lu Book cover“Legend” is the first book in a trilogy written by Marie Lu and in my opinion is a brilliant book for all young adults as it has many different themes that would appeal to many different types of people such as action, love, hate, revenge, fear and above all bravery.

The story is about a boy named Day who is the most wanted criminal in the city and June, a girl who is the city’s prodigy. When June’s brother is killed, June goes hunting for his murderer and spends her time on the streets with Day whilst not realising who he really is. The novel is all about their relationship and how it changes as the situations that they find themselves in puts enormous pressure on the pair.

The novel starts off with action which immediately engages the reader and creates a thrilling and exciting mood. As the book progresses, the reader understands more and more about the two main characters, June and Day as they begin to learn about each other. The reader knows more about each character than they know about the other which makes the reader feel helpless but it means that you can empathise with the characters much better and therefore you become very attached to both protagonists early on in the novel. Marie Lu uses this to draw in the reader further as the plot twists in unexpected ways thus making the reader want to know what will happen next as you are so involved with the characters and their emotions.

“Legend” is told from the point of view of Day and June in alternating chapters and this enables the reader to truly understand the situation from each of their sides and we quickly see that June is a smart girl who is patriotic and militaristic whereas Day is humble and very loyal to his family and close friend only. However, they are both rebellious and very strong-willed so have a lot in common with each other despite their opposite backgrounds and so when they meet, they bond extremely swiftly and later on work together as partners in crime.

By Lauren Tuch

Life: An Exploded Diagram - Mal Peet

13 October 2014

“Witty, super-smart and heartbreakingly generous”- Patrick Ness

Lifeexploded malpeet“Life: An Exploded Diagram” is an awe-inspiring tale of love and tragedy. The story consists of young Clem Ackroyd and his secret lover Frankie, who grow up in times where the end of the world is just around the corner: the Cuban Missile Crisis looms overhead and there is a lot of talk about living life to the full. Set in Norfolk in the 1960s, a working class boy and a wealthy landowner’s daughter inevitably fall in love. Their story could be compared to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” as the love between the pair is separated by the social divide of society at the time. The novel begins with the unexpected birth of Clem in the rhubarb patch of Ruth Ackroyd’s garden; the baby arrives three weeks early due to the shock of an RAF Spitfire shooting her chimney to pieces. Clem grows up in an unusual household of mixed emotions. He lives with his obsessive old grandma and the forgotten relationship that is his parent’s marriage.

The book is a bildungsroman where we see Clem mature over time; the pace of the novel slows down as Clem hits adolescence and we see him develop in many ways. He becomes a budding young artist, a current affairs expert and most of all he gets a girlfriend. The story of Clem’s love life is interspersed with updates on how President Kennedy is dealing with the Crisis in Cuba. Clem’s unusual viewpoint on the entire affair provides us with a platform to see the world from an otherwise ignored position.

Peet also expresses in his novel the move away from the divide of social classes with Clem’s genius providing him with a better chance of life in the form of Grammar School. At the same time we hear about young Frankie who supposedly has it all but otherwise abuses her luxuries in life; that is until she meets Clem. Their first meeting is not what you would call a fanciful affair of love at first sight. Instead, we see a working class boy picking fruit to earn extra pocket money and a spoilt daughter banished to pick strawberries. The fields and woods of Frankie’s father’s land provide us with the backdrop to many of our couple’s meetings. Both oblivious to the ways of the world, together they are free to experiment.

I really enjoyed the unusual aspects of Clem and Frankie’s relationship and how their forbidden love is more believable than in “Romeo and Juliet”, especially when you compare it to the social segregation of the classes that they faced at the time. The chapters that tell us of the events regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis were hugely interesting and I found myself intrigued into researching more. Overall, I think that this novel is great for the budding historian; anyone, in fact, who loves a thought-provoking story or for those who love romance with an edgy twist.

By Shona Reid

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

6 October 2014

Life of PiOn purchasing the book, I found myself thinking that it would be an exciting tale all about the story and adventures of Piscine Molitor (Pi Patel) trapped on a boat with a Royal Bengal tiger. Having heard people’s praise for the book and having seen how they raved about the film, I felt inclined to read this masterpiece. Life of Pi is about a 16 year old, Pi, from a zoo-keeping family. They have decided to move to Canada from India via boat so they can transfer the animals which they will sell on arrival. However, this is halted when the boat sinks and Pi manages to survive by finding a lifeboat. After this dramatic turn in the story, we find out that he is not in fact alone, but with a number of animals; a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and the vital character which is the Royal Bengal tiger, all from his family’s zoo.

Although this is the main storyline in the novel, it is unravelled bit by bit as the first half of the book focuses on Pi’s childhood and life living at the zoo. The scene is set in Pondicherry, a small Indian town, where we follow Pi as he grows up and learns valuable skills and beliefs that will be crucial for him to have later on in the book. At first, I personally found this part of the book rather tedious as it commented on Pi’s conversion from Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and for me this was unexpected as I had prepared myself for a book with a punchy and adventurous storyline. In hindsight I think I needed to read this part of the book more thoroughly as many of the situations would link in with the events later on, such as important points on social hierarchy within animals and people, as these lessons he picks up in the slower-paced part of the book are significant when he interprets them into how he will stay alive on the boat.

My favourite part of the book was most certainly when Pi is on the boat and becoming alpha-male. After his shock starts to diffuse and his survival tactics become instinct, I felt it became a lot more interesting as we saw this lonesome child trying to tame a tiger and convince him that Pi, the 16-year-old was the alpha-male on the boat. I think I especially enjoyed this part of the book because of the array of events that occurred. There are joyful moments and gory moments, for example when the zebra slowly dies. This moment especially captures the danger that Pi is facing as not long into his survival one of the passengers has already died, and the hyena and tiger are most likely going to be hungry again and Pi is the obvious choice for food. I think that the stereotype of humans being vulnerable in a situation like this also made me love the book more as Pi got over this and became friends and allies with the tiger in a situation where I think it would be hard to concentrate and think of the most rational option to get round this gigantic, predatory obstacle.

Multiple events occur in the second half of the book which keep you going and entice you to read on as they become wilder and more interesting, and because of this it really draws you in. I also feel that because these descriptions were sometimes very unusual that many were likely to be dreams - such as when Pi landed on an island which he felt was trying to gobble him up, and where he couldn’t stay on the floor at night. This brought a sense of fantasy which was like a sweet nectar that I enjoyed to devour and eat up and believe that all that he was telling me was true, which I think was very effective. Furthermore, at the end of the book when you are given the choice whether to believe that the story he told was true, or that the animals represented people, I feel from my perspective I chose to believe his story was true as the descriptions were so vivid that they conjure up pictures in your head that you can’t simply dismiss and allow yourself to believe an alternative story to what you have already pictured.

Overall, I feel I really liked this book once it became a faster pace and more exciting. I think this is because I enjoyed the survival aspects and seeing someone similar in age to myself tackling a ludicrous problem. Although there are some outrageous parts to the story such as the tiger, which is very significant, I think that the simple elements were also effective. One of these moments was when Pi began fishing and catching an array of fish and building a raft out of turtles. I think this amazed me and made me realise there was a real sense of self-help that Pi had encouraged himself into in the first half of the book.

I would recommend this book to teenagers and adults, as I find some children may not enjoy the first part and lose interest. However, teenagers would enjoy reading such an iconic story and the adventure that goes on. I myself do not usually read this sort of book, but I think that it is important for teenagers to read things that are out of their comfort zone, and I feel this would be an ideal start. I also believe that adults may appreciate the first half of the book more as they may have more understanding about what it is like during the teenage years as they have been through them already, but they would also like the more adventurous parts too.

By Anna Calder

I am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

 20 September 2014

Malala book i am malalaVery few books have the power to leave me speechless; to make me cry, and make me laugh. I find that authors generally have to have a lot of skill in order to do this (I have high expectations when it comes to literacy). They have to be able to deftly navigate precise turns of plot, and to throw out a perfectly executed simile or metaphor every once and a while, to give me something to think about, maybe on a deeper level. Malala Yousafzai's autobiography, I am Malala, had very few examples of imagery, if any. It did not have a gripping plot line. It was real. It managed to make me think, make me laugh, and make me cry, whilst educating me constantly, and I thank Yousafzai for that, because these qualities are very hard to find in literature these days.

In this book review I am lucky: there is no big, dramatic twist at the end of the story for me to spoil, as you are probably already aware of the ending. Malala Yousafzai was "the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban". Remember her? She was shot in the head, and yet miraculously survived, all the while causing a major international stir, and is now almost completely and utterly back to normal. The book is the story of her life and achievements so far, right from the moment of her birth in beautiful and (relatively) peaceful valleys of Swat in Pakistan. She was, however, also growing up as a girl, which, in Pakistan, is decidedly more difficult than if you were a boy. The story follows her as she grows up and develops a loving appreciation for education, partly due to inheriting her father's love for knowledge and partly from her own oppression at the hands of the Taliban. Yousafzai was living in Swat Valley during the time when a great trepidation was reaching its climax, as the Taliban gradually took more control. The banning of girls' education had a great impact on her life, and the book shows how she starts to speak out against the Taliban. This eventually leads to her being shot in the head, all for pushing for what is a fundamental right of every single person on Earth: education. The story then takes the reader through her recovery, and shows how she does not give up on the fight for universal education even though she is constantly aware of the fact her life is in danger.

I am acutely aware I am painting Malala Yousafzai as a portrait of heroism, when in fact she is not a hero. She is exceedingly brave, yes, but she is not a hero. She is similar in age to myself, and enjoys dancing and watching TV. She is a teenage girl. She has very few qualities that define her from the rest of the teenage girls in the world, one being extreme luck - as well as a finely tuned moral compass. We all have passions, hers being global education, and for that she is willing to die. I revere her for this. For managing to be so quintessentially a teenager (trust me, I know what they're like) and at the same time speaking internationally about something she believes in. I think everyone should read I am Malala, because even if the story is slightly pedantic at times (it is an autobiography) there is always going to be a situation, or event, that opens your eyes to the harsh realities of an imperfect world, making you realise just how lucky we are to have people like Malala.

The Taliban had gradually been penetrating the tranquil Islamic society for a while, taking advantage of people’s ignorance and fear. She writes of how they made it increasingly hard for girls to be brave enough to attend school. She writes of how they made it increasingly hard for girls to be brave enough to attend school. to one incident where she sees a girl, an orphan, just younger than herself, scrounging around in a rubbish dump looking for food, unable to afford education, and therefore unable to expand her chances in life. It is this combination of love and support from her family, as well as seeing regularly the harsh realities of life below the bread line that makes Yousafzai’s autobiography so compelling.

By Maya Nurbai

Looking for Alaska - John Green

 15 September 2014

Looking for alaskaLooking for Alaska is a young adult novel full of adventure and mischief. It is the story of a teenage boy called Miles Halter who is a lover of famous last words. This novel takes us through his adventure into the Culver Creek Boarding School, where he seeks to discover his ‘Great Perhaps’. Here we are introduced to Miles’ roommate Chip, otherwise known as ‘The Colonel’ and mysterious and intriguing Alaska Young, from whom he is given the nickname ‘Pudge’. Here we also meet a boy named Takumi and a girl named Lara.

The book is divided into before and after. The incident that occurs midway through the novel turns the novel itself and the lives of the characters in it upside down. In the before section, the reader is introduced to the routine of the friends in their normal teenage life - of school, work, smoking, drinking, pranks and rebellion. However in the after, the teenagers become more mature and seek to unravel a mystery.

Alaska herself has a fascination of ‘the labyrinth’. “The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive.”

Alaska Young is a deeply unhappy person who refers to herself as homeless. The tragedies within her life have left her wanting to die young rather than growing old; she wants to ‘die smart’. She is mysterious, moody and causes chaos wherever she goes. It is for this reason that ‘Pudge’ finds her irresistible and cannot stop himself from falling in love with her. When disaster occurs it is the labyrinth of Alaska Young that the boys try to discover and understand.

I found this book deeply captivating and enticing. John Green pulled me into the teenagers’ world and I felt as though I was living their lives with them. I found the countdown before and after the event tantalising and it made me desperate to continue reading on and discover what I was counting down to. Although the book seems about the everyday life of a teenager in a boarding school, John Green cleverly writes the book to make it so much more – he turns it into a novel of learning and understanding. As the teenagers mature and their friendships grow stronger, you bond with the group and feel yourself maturing with them. The novel is written in the first person perspective which allows the reader to connect more with the novel and see the world through ‘Pudge’s’ eyes. As the friends unravel Alaska’s labyrinth, you feel yourself unravelling it with them and begin to understand Alaska’s world. It is amazing how John Green manages to write a novel in which you understand Alaska and get to know her like a best friend, but at the same time not really get to know her at all.

This alluring love story is one in which I can find no flaws and I would highly recommend it to any person looking for a good read on teenage life and mystery.

“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.”

By Philippa Otter

Divergent - Veronica Roth

8 September 2014

Divergent by veronica roth jpg“Divergent” is the first book in the series by Veronica Roth. “Divergent” is set in futuristic Chicago; society is divided into five factions which each represent different virtues. There are the abnegation who are the selfless, the dauntless who are the brave, the erudite who are intelligent, the candor who are honest and the amity who are peaceful. The story is told from the perspective of Beatrice Prior, a teenager living in this society. She has reached the age of sixteen and she now has to decide whether to stay in her current faction, abnegation or whether to transfer to another faction. Tris is divergent, meaning she does not fit into any of the factions and she has to keep this secret or it would mean her death; people fear the divergent. Tris makes a surprising choice, her and her fellow faction members have to complete a highly competitive initiation process during which Tris discovers growing conflict that threatens her society.

“Divergent” was a very enjoyable book to read and if you enjoyed “The Hunger Games” I would highly recommend it. There is the perfect balance of romance and action. There is something for everyone. I really liked the way that the book was written; it was easy and relaxing to read. I enjoyed how the story line is instantly picked up and the action begins early on making the story easy to get into. I also liked the fact that when I finished this book there were two other books in the series, “Insurgent” and “Allegiant”. The character of Tris is relatable making the book a fun read. The book is very thought provoking and makes you wonder about the possibilities of what may happen in the future. The book provides cliff-hangers throughout and will have you hooked within the first few pages since there are many plot twists that make the story more complex and shock the reader. I also recommend seeing the film adaptation of this book.

By Eden Duggan

Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer

VenissVeniss underground Underground is a 2003 horror novel by American writer Jeff VanderMeer, a notable author of the emerging ‘New Weird’ literary genre. This novel is undoubtedly something new and definitely weird, set in a dystopian city called Veniss, spelled ‘like an adder’s hiss, deadly and unpredictable’. This quotation could describe the novel as a whole, as there are unpredictably fickle and ominous tones running through the plot even when there is seemingly nothing wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes the unpredictability just seems unnecessarily random and occasionally even comical, as evident in the opening quotation, ‘Let me tell you why I wished to buy a meerkat’. I’m still confused as to why that was exactly.

The novel is told through the narration of three protagonists, twins Nicholas and Nicola and their friend Shadrach, who is Nicola’s rejected lover. When Nicholas becomes entangled in the bleak world of a crime lord’s vivisection, Nicola and Shadrach must explore the nightmarish labyrinth of Veniss’ underground to rescue him. Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing original about the characterisation of these protagonists; Nicola is the emotional damsel in distress obsessing over her reckless brother’s disappearance, while the heroic and stupidly resilient Shadrach strides in to save them both. Unfortunately, the clichéd, unimaginative characterisation is so buried underneath pretentious and confusing ideas that you can barely remember the characters’ names. However, Veniss Underground’s main purpose does not lie in reader sympathy for the characters, but as I see it, is primarily abstract artwork. The complex, oppressively grim world that VanderMeer creates is disorientating and moody, and this unique atmosphere is one successful aspect of the novel – making the characters within this atmosphere almost irrelevant.

The narrative techniques are the most original feature of the novel; Nicholas’ narration is told through the first person, while Nicola’s narration is through the second person and Shadrach’s through the third. In my opinion, this worked extremely effectively; the constant transitions in narration enhanced the disorientating, agitated plot while emphasising the gothic writing, adding to the sense of paranoia and tension throughout the novel. Although it took time to get used to the second person narration, feeling uncomfortable in quotations such as ‘a chill runs through you’ and ‘you catch yourself smiling and frown instead’, this was just fear of the unknown. I found that the idea was successfully innovative, as the constant pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’ made the narration feel more intimate and personal, as if you were inside the character’s head.

However, this makes the novel sound slightly more intelligent than it is, as in my opinion, the actual plot is weak and unimaginative, while the characters are unlikeable. If innovation and abstract storytelling were the most important qualities about a novel then I would definitely recommend Veniss Underground – but in my opinion, there was too much style over substance for the experience to be genuinely enjoyable.

Nicholas Cowles

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The knife of never letting goIt is a dystopian thriller that follows a boy and girl on the run from a town where the boy’s thoughts can be heard – and the passage to manhood embodies a horrible secret.

Todd Hewitt is a boy who lives in Prentisstown with his dog and main companion, Manchee. Except Prentisstown isn’t like any other town: there are no women in Prentisstown and there is this germ called Noise. This means that everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. Todd is the youngest boy in Prentisstown. Every other boy has now become a man and he is the only one left.

One day, he is taking a stroll through the swamp nearby as he was sent out to pick apples. He comes across a break in the Noise: silence. After then he bumps into Aaron, an ill-tempered preacher from the church.

Todd goes back to Prentisstown and greets his foster parents, Ben and Cillian. They had been taking care of Todd since he was little as his parents had passed away. Ben and Cillian heard about Todd’s experience earlier that day in his Noise. He is told he has to leave the town straight away: there are a lot of people that want to get him. It is then that the run begins.

Overall, I personally really enjoyed this book. The premise of the book is what got me hooked to begin with: Noise. I found the concept of Noise a really interesting notion. The idea that everyone can hear each other’s thoughts and opinions is quite thought-provoking and something I had never considered before. How could anyone live with their thoughts projected for all to hear? I think the way Patrick Ness portrayed the way the characters felt about Noise was extremely realistic and believable: an annoying inconvenience, yet something they had clearly had to deal with for a long time and had gotten used to it. Therefore, I felt that aspect was good.

I feel some people could struggle getting into the book as the way it is worded is quite different to any other book that I have read. However, I definitely feel that you need to give it a chance and don’t give up after the first few pages. Yes, it is strange at first but that is what makes it unique and what brings the story alive. You soon get into the way the character’s act and I felt quite connected with Todd Hewitt. Patrick Ness really managed to bring the characters to life for me and you feel part of that world. Todd’s narration propelled the book and allowed me to delve into the story.

Todd’s voice is raw and rough enough to feel completely genuine, and yet it never strays into annoying territory. In other words, the voice is enough to make Todd a distinct, real character, but never at the expense of pulling me out of the story and making me notice it.

The only main qualm I had was the ending. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of cliff-hangers as I feel they can be necessary to keep the reader engaged but the one at the end of this book was just unfair. After all the tension we as readers had been put through with Todd and his friend running away, the ending was extremely abrupt and left me desperately trying to claw at any information that could help me find out what happened.

Certain passages within the book appeared hand written. Words were scribbled and printed in different fonts across the page to represent the chaos of Noise. I found this to be incredibly effective as it highlighted the extreme pandemonium.

Overall, I loved The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness for the way the characters were portrayed and its rugged writing style. It is impossible to put down this book – it is a must read. Just watch out for the ending – have the next book in the series next to you ready to start as soon as you finish this book.

Francesca Heath-Clarke