Book Review

Book Review: Revenge of the Zeds by Stewart Ross.

RevengeOfTheZedsThe Soterion has been opened, but does it mean salvation or devastation?

A horrific mutation in human DNA has resulted in a world where no one lives beyond nineteen. Cyrus and the noble Constants have opened the Soterion vault containing the Long Dead’s secrets of science, art and possibly even the cure to the mutation.

First, Cyrus must teach the Constants to read. But those he calls friends are falling prey to the greed and power knowledge can bring. Meanwhile, the barbaric Zeds are massing against them, determined to take the Soterion for themselves and destroy everything the Constants have built.

I read The Soterion Mission when it was being published, chapter by chapter, by Fiction Express. I really enjoyed the world the book was set in, and became entirely invested in the characters and what was to happen to them. I was thrilled therefore when I heard that following The Soterion Mission being published in book format by Curious Fox there was to be a sequel, The Revenge of the Zeds. The title sounded ominous, the blurb backed this up – I couldn’t wait to get reading!

Revenge of the Zeds picks up from where The Soterion Mission left off, both in terms of plot and fierceness. By the end of the first chapter there’s been the conclusion of a trial, sentence passed and carried out, funerals and the discovery of Malik Timur’s fate by the Zeds. The book continues like this – it’s a pacy read with lots of action, most of it gory and bloodthirsty. Whilst it has all of the action going on it still has the quieter, more thoughtful moments – I really enjoyed seeing how the characters developed and related to one another.

I really liked the mix of familiar characters and new characters within the book. It was particularly nice to revisit favourites such as Cyrus and Sammy, and also Giv and Jamshid from the Zeds. I loved the addition of Malika Xsani – the head of a different tribe of Zeds with a very focused view of what success is and how to achieve it. The one thing I did find a little hard at times was remembering that all of these characters are under 19, they’re all young people. They don’t think like young people and they certainly don’t act like young people, this dystopian future has turned the young into the adults.

One of the things that really struck me when I was reading this book was what it had to say about knowledge. Knowledge is valuable, it is powerful, and it can be perceived differently by so many. Some want knowledge in order to be able to share it with others, to make things better. Others see knowledge either as something to be feared or as something to be kept to oneself in order to maintain a position of power and importance. The blurb references the idea that knowledge has a role to play in this book, it really does and in a really thought provoking manner.

This is a really good continuation of the story of the Constants and Zeds. Its conclusion is strong but cries out for another instalment. I am already wondering what’s going to happen next, there are so many things still unresolved!

Revenge of the Zeds is published by Curious Fox in the UK from 25th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall.

GardenOfDarknessTheir families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as Pest, 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem are thrown together. They realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure. A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that — to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.

Or does this adult have something else in mind?

Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the cure. But they are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world had become suspect — adults, alliances, trust, hope. But perhaps friendship has its own kind of healing power.

I absolutely loved the sound of this book, particularly the mentions in the blurb of friendship and very different teenagers being thrown together in the face of such adversity. I’d not long read a grown up post pandemic novel and loved it (Station Eleven) so was eager to read another such title.

The book primarily follows Clare, she’s fifteen years old and all too close to adulthood – the time when Pest will catch up with her (it catches up with everyone eventually you see). To begin with she’s on her own, remembering the demises of those closest to her and trying to work out how to exist in this new world. This beginning is brilliantly claustrophobic – I loved the way that Clare doesn’t fall to pieces or turn into some super strong survivalist. Instead she falls somewhere between the two, having moments where she shuts down and moments where she manages to work out a next step to take. Then, slowly but surely she meets others – Jem first and then other little groups of children – and they begin to work together both to survive and to try and find the cure being promised to them. For me the book really began to shine once Clare was with the other children.

The book also follows the Master, the voice in the radio promising a cure to all children who are hearing his broadcast. Very quickly we realise there is something seriously weird about this man, this only increases as the book progresses. I found that when it became a Master chapter I was willing it to end quickly – there was something so incredibly unsettling about him. If anything this was the part of the book I enjoyed least, whilst I know there is a need for peril I’m not sure the true level of wrongness about him was really necessary within the book.

One element of the book that did surprise me was the presence of the Cured – adults who, when the pandemic first broke out, received a supposed cure that left them in a zombie-esque state. I enjoyed the dilemmas that the Cured brought to the young people, but at the same time felt like a number of the scenarios were quite familiar to me.

Whilst I generally enjoyed this book it didn’t do a brilliant job of capturing my attention. It took me over two weeks to read it – by my standards this is virtually glacial. I found I could only read it in smallish chunks, maybe to do with my intense dislike of the Master, and then once I’d put it down there was no great pull to pick it back up. Interestingly there was never any question of my not finishing the book – there was obviously something hooking me to it, I think this was the central focus on Clare and the other children. I did genuinely care about them to some extent.

I’m sad that this isn’t a book I’ll be rushing to revisit or to recommend, though I’m sure there will be lots of readers who’ll feel entirely differently about it (Goodreads already has a number of glowing 5 star reviews of this book).

The Garden of Darkness is published by Ravenstone. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

StationElevenDAY ONE

The Georgia Flu explodes over the surface of the earth like a neutron bomb.

News reports put the mortality rate at over 99%.

WEEK TWO

Civilization has crumbled.

YEAR TWENTY

A band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony move through their territories performing concerts and Shakespeare to the settlements that have grown up there. Twenty years after the pandemic, life feels relatively safe.

But now a new danger looms, and he threatens the hopeful world every survivor has tried to rebuild.

STATION ELEVEN

Moving backwards and forwards in time, from the glittering years just before the collapse to the strange and altered world that exists twenty years after, Station Eleven charts the unexpected twists of fate that connect six people: famous actor Arthur Leander; Jeevan – warned about the flu just in time; Arthur’s first wife Miranda; Arthur’s oldest friend Clark; Kirsten, a young actress with the Travelling Symphony; and the mysterious and self-proclaimed ‘prophet’.

Thrilling, unique and deeply moving, this is a beautiful novel that asks questions about art and fame and about the relationships that sustain us through anything – even the end of the world.

It feels like I’ve been seeing buzz for this book online for months, though I’m sure it’s actually just been a few weeks. When the publisher offered advance eBook copies for the longest day of the year I jumped at the chance to find out for myself why everyone was so excited about this book.

The first part of the book feels a little like it’s telling a number of discrete stories from different time periods – whilst I knew they would come together at some point I had no idea how this would happen. This only added to my desire to keep reading, this book is definitely one that’ll glue you to your seat! There is no one main character, instead a number of characters are focused on throughout the book. I love ensemble casts when they’re done well, and this book definitely pleased on that front.

The book covers a number of time periods; you have the contemporary story set in year 20 (time is now measured post the flu epidemic that wipes out much of the world’s population), and then a number of past settings including the time just around the flu epidemic and then earlier in some of the characters lives too. I found this easy to navigate, it’s always clear when the events on the page are unfolding and I really liked the way reading another few pages would add a little more backstory to one or more characters and I would feel like I understood them that little bit more. I particularly enjoyed the way that seemingly small inconsequential mentions of things would reappear later in the story and gain more significance.

The non-linear nature of this book also gave me moments where I had to stop and think a bit about what I had just read, memory is such an important part of this book – some of the characters are old enough to remember what life was life before the flu whereas others aren’t. A number of the characters in the contemporary story have connections to the Museum of Civilisation – a collection of things that held importance to individuals, whether a gadget or a stunning pair of shoes. I thought this act of remembering was so interesting, civilisation has changed so completely yet there is this desire to remember what was and will likely never be again.

The arts also play a significant role in the book. The opening section is set in a theatre where a production of King Lear is underway, just prior to the flu epidemic. Much of the contemporary story telling focuses on a travelling band of performers, both classical musicians and Shakespearean actors. When we live in a time where funding for the arts is frequently in the first swathe of cuts to be made when savings are deemed necessary I found the emphasis on the enduring passion for an value of the arts to be really meaningful. There’s a definite exploration of what the arts mean to us, what they do for us and why we try our hardest to cling to them.

This book is a fascinating, thought provoking, gripping read that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. Definitely a book to look out for.

Station Eleven will be published on 10th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross.

AfterTomorrowWhat if you woke up tomorrow and everything had changed? Money is worthless. Your friends are gone. Armed robbers roam the streets. No one is safe. For Matt and his little brother, Taco, that nightmare is a reality. Their only hope of survival is to escape through the Channel Tunnel. But danger waits on the other side…Stay or go. What would you do?

Gillian Cross’ Demon Headmaster books were some of my frequently re-read books when I was younger, when I began reading more children’s fiction again I was thrilled to discover she was still writing. I read and enjoyed Where I Belong so when I started seeing all of the buzz around After Tomorrow I added it to my books I need to read list. It’s won a number of awards including the Little Rebels children’s book award – would I find it lived up to such hype?

The first thing I have to say is that this book is a terrifyingly believable read. I’ve always said that for dystopic versions of our world to really work for me I need to be able to see how our world could change in order to become the fictional one. The world created in After Tomorrow doesn’t require much thought at all in this respect, the more you read the more you recognise scenarios from our world today – it’s a fictionalised version of situations occurring around the world. I felt that this made the book both more scary and more thought provoking.

The story begins with the first time Matt, the narrator, and his family get raided. This makes for a bold start, the reader is as surprised by the events unfolding as the characters – I found I couldn’t read fast enough in my bid to understand what was happening and why. It’s not long in the book until the family gets raided again, the raids get worse and worse and I found myself getting angrier and sadder on the characters’ behalf.

It’s not far into the book that the family begin to prepare to escape the dreadful situation in the UK by travelling through the Channel Tunnel. The rest of the book focuses on these experiences, both in making the escape and in living their lives as refugees. It was particularly this aspect that made me realise how topical the book is, some scenes felt like I was watching them on the evening news.

This was a book that I became hugely invested in, as I read I felt the emotions experienced by the characters keenly. There was one scene in particular, a good way through the book, that really got to me emotionally – I had to have a little break and go and make myself a cup of tea before I could carry on reading. I also formed opinions of some of the secondary characters that the main characters didn’t yet share and found myself wanting to shout at them and warn them of my suspicions (by the end of the book I was proven right on only some counts, probably as well I couldn’t actually influence the main characters!).

This book is a really important one, and as such is going to be one that I’m going to be talking about lots. It feels as though it sits on that boundary between middle grade and young adult, it has a lot to offer both age groups. I think it would make an excellent book group book, there’s so much to discuss in it. The way the action is packed into the book, particularly at the beginning, means I think it would hook in most readers. It does slow down a little as the book progresses but I think it still does plenty to keep a young audience reading.

After Tomorrow is published by Oxford University Press. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Recent Reads: Wanderer by Roger Davenport and Bone Quill by John and Carol E Barrowman.

A round up of some of the books I’ve recently read.

Wanderer by Roger Davenport. Sky Pony Press.
WandererHere in a vast lost valley, society has split into two: the Wanderers, who team together to battle against the elements and each other in the harsh world of the desert, and those who live in the pyramid-city of Arcone, whose closed environment and tightly controlled society enable them to maintain a more civilized existence in the face of an environmentally devastated planet. Conflict is inevitable…

Kean is a Wanderer, adopted into a team that has protected him since he was a child. Essa lives with her parents in the pyramid, and chafes at the mental and physical restrictions the government enforces to protect its people. But when a rogue Wanderer plans an attack on the city to gain its resources for his people, Kean and Essa’s paths collide with an impact that will alter their lives forever.

This book was a really interesting read. Initially it grabbed my attention, then for a few chapters I didn’t feel like I was quite getting it, and then I settled into it and it flowed well.

As post-apocalyptic YA fiction goes this is pretty standard fare. The contrasts between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are pretty stark, though for me at times the author held back a little in this respect. The ‘haves’, living comfortably within Arcone have some pretty despicable attitudes and operating practices. At times the reader has to put two and two together to realise how awful they can be – I felt sometimes the would have benefited from some of these aspects being spelt out a little more explicitly, this would add weight to them and allow the reader to really stop and examine the society (and in some respects compare it to our own).

I particularly enjoyed the sections focusing on the ‘have nots’ living in the wilderness outside Arcone. Their world is harsh, and challenging, I found it fascinating and would have gladly read lots more about it. I really liked the way this society of outcasts had formed a structure with rules, customs and routines. I cared more about this group of characters, particularly Kean.

Overall this was a good read, I’d definitely have liked a bit more from it, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Bone Quill by John and Carol E. Barrowman. Buster Books.
BoneQuillIn this thrilling sequel to Hollow Earth, Matt and Emily must stop someone from unleashing an army of mankind’s worst nightmares.

In the Middle Ages, an old monk used his powers and a bone quill to ink a magical manuscript, The Book of Beasts. Over the centuries the Book, and the quill, were lost.

Twins Matt and Emily Calder are Animare – just like their ancestor, the monk. The things they draw can be brought to life, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Now Matt and Em are being watched -hunted – because only they can use The Book of Beasts and the bone quill to release the terrible demons and monsters their ancestor illustrated.

And someone is tracking down the lost Book of Beasts, page by page, and reassembling it. Matt and Emily have no choice: They must get to the bone quill first… before somebody gets to them.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Hollow Earth so had high hopes for this book. Sadly by the end of the book I was sad and frustrated.

The beginning of the book worked really well for me, there is a quick recap of what has already happened in the story, and to help even more there is a glossary of some of the terminology used within the story. The adventure aspect of the book is also just as strong, there’s plenty of excitement and the scenes zip past quickly. A time travel element is added to the plot, whilst this did end up leaving me with unanswered questions it did bring some great scenes and ideas to the book.

Where the book did completely let me down was in the treatment of Em, the female twin. In the first book she played an equal part to the two main boys, something I was entirely refreshed by – too often the girl in such trios is in the background doing all the work and getting none of the credit. Sadly she did not receive such good treatment in this book, instead she is absent for a good proportion of the book and ends up virtually a damsel needing to be rescued. The final, major sequence of the book actually can be boiled down to the males doing and the females feeling.

I’m so sad about this, the very thing that made me so impressed with Hollow Earth was the thing that made this book such a disappointment. I will read the final part of the trilogy in the hope there’s some redeeming factor, but I’ll be going in to it with greatly reduced expectations.

Book Review · Reading Challenges

48HBC: The Vandal by Ann Schlee and The Night Sky in my Head by Sarah Hammond.

Day 2 of the challenge has started well with two more excellent reads. I’m now up to 11 hours 20 reading time and 2,314 pages.

The Vandal by Ann Schlee. Catnip.
TheVandalPaul started a fire.

Tonight he will do as he always does: take the Drink and submit the day’s events to the MEMORY.

Tomorrow the MEMORY will remind him what happened today. Paul trusts the MEMORY.

But should he?

This book is a reissue by Catnip Publishing, it was originally published in 1979 and won the Guardian Prize for Children’s Fiction. I was told that you would have no idea it hadn’t been written recently, and I have to say that’s absolutely right. It feels fresh and current, it definitely doesn’t feel older than I am!

The book straddles the boundary between sci fi and dystopia nicely. It works so well because it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to see how this could be a potential future – the idea of this level government control is all too believable.

I loved the world building in this book, I found I could really imagine how it looked and functioned. I liked Paul a lot as a lead character, his spirit in particular had me hooked.

The Night Sky in my Head by Sarah Hammond. Oxford University Press.
NightSkyInMyHeadStep backwards. Witness the murder. Find the truth

Mikey Baxter isn’t like other fourteen year old boys. Not since the accident.

The world sees him as damaged. But Mikey has a remarkable gift: the ability to go backwards in time and witness things that hide in the shadows.

Now he must uncover the terrifying truth behind his dad’s disappearance. Before the past starts to repeat itself . . .

This book opens with an intriguing prologue and then gets going with the action right from chapter 1. We’re quickly introduced to Mikey, and to the fact that Mikey is able to see The Backwards – shadows and places offer up reruns of things that happened in the past for him to see. Of course the adults in his life don’t believe this, labeling it as delusions or just another facet of the brain damage he suffered when he was younger.

Mikey’s story has him piecing together the circumstances around his father’s disappearance. Everyone has kept many of the details from him and he doesn’t know why, but as he investigates and uses The Backwards to help him he starts to uncover things that maybe no one else know either. At the same time Mikey’s experiencing new things, making friends and finally starting to work out where he fits in the world and what he might like the future to hold.

This book has a lovely, warm feeling to it. I can understand the comparisons with both The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time and Skellig, I think for me it sits happily at the crossroads between the two books. I really enjoyed reading it, and have already got a couple of people in mind to recommend it to.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [2]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess. Puffin Books.
This book tells the stories of three troubled teens, the sort of kids a lot of society just dismiss and look down on, and gives them a voice to tell their side of the story. Burgess doesn’t try to excuse the things they do but instead offers an explanation for their behaviour and shows that people aren’t simply good or bad. The teenagers feel very authentic, I could relate their behaviour to a couple of teens I know. This book is funny, poignant and thought provoking and a real page turner, I will be certainly be reading more by Burgess.

Big Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans. Doubleday Children’s.
I loved Small Change For Stuart and was looking forward to reading about Stuart’s next adventure. I wasn’t disappointed, this book is full of magic and mystery as he and April search for his Great-Uncle’s will to prove Stuart is the rightful owner of the magician’s workshop. I liked the way some of the minor characters got a bigger part to play in this book, particularly the other two triplets and Stuart’s dad. I really enjoyed the tasks Stuart had to complete and the worlds they were set in, Evans clearly has a wonderful imagination. A lovely middle grade read.

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean. Katherine Tegen Books
This book, aimed at the 8-12 market, is a deceptive read. Its title suggests it’s going to be a sweet animal story (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it’s so much more. It focuses on how Cally and her family are adjusting to life without her mother but with the introduction of other characters shows how important it is to look beneath the surface of people. There are some lovely characters, I particularly liked the sensitive way Cally’s grieving father was portrayed and the friendship developed between Cally and Sam. This is definitely a book I’ll be recommending.

Cracks by Caroline Green. Piccadilly Press.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it combines dystopia with thriller really well, both aspects of the plot feel very well balanced. For me the best dystopias are those that you can imagine happening, where you can see how our society could disintegrate to that point, and Cracks definitely ticks this box. This is a fast-paced read, I couldn’t hit the page forward button on my Kindle quickly enough at times. I didn’t always buy how Cal who’d missed the last 12 years and the changes in society accepted this new world, but that was my only niggle with the book.

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown. Corvus.
I’d put off reading this book for ages, I’d heard it was a beautiful and emotional read and I needed to be in the right frame of mind (and have a good supply of tissues) and it never felt like the right time. I’m really glad I waited, a book like this deserves some proper indulgent reading time. It’s a truly wonderful read, I’m not sure I have the superlatives for it. Steeped in history, filled with the wonderful women of the ATA this book has it all – hard work, friendship, laughter, tears and love. An absolute must read.

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I did also read a few picture books this week but I’ve decided I’ll do a monthly round up of picture books or these posts will end up ridiculously long!