5 Book Reviews

Broken Realms
Author: D. W. Moneypenny
Published: 28th April 2014
ISBN13: 9780996076418
Goodreads Rating: 3.67 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2014

Broken Realms is a brilliant science fiction novel and the first instalment of The Chronicles of Mara Lantern by D. W. Moneypenny. Set in present-day Oregon, it deals with metaphysical ideas and bizarre creatures – a very intriguing read.

Mara Lantern is a young adult who has left school to work in a gadget repair shop, where her natural talent for restoring machinery is put to good use. At the commencement of the book, she is being driven to the airport by her New Age-obsessed mother in order to fly out to San Francisco to visit her father. Once the plane is airborne, it is clear there is something terribly wrong. Bright blue light flashes throughout the aircraft and the passengers around Mara appear to be distorting: growing fangs and snouts and changing eye colour. What is even stranger is a redheaded boy is running down the aisle, closely pursued by a clone of Mara.

In an attempt at an emergency landing, the plane crashes into the Columbia River – a crash impossible to survive – but everyone does. All the passengers and crew are pulled out of the river unharmed, all except Mara, who is found unconscious on the pavement with a head wound.

Detective Daniel Bohannon is assigned to the case to investigate the cause of the crash, but when some of the survivors start displaying super-human or animalistic traits, it becomes clear this is no ordinary situation.

Whilst the investigation continues, Mara begins to deal with what she saw on the plane. With the help of a fellow survivor, Ping, and the redheaded boy, Sam (who claims he is her brother), she begins to learn that her world, her life and human existence, in general, is not all she believed it to be.

Although Broken Realms is accurately described as a science fiction and fantasy novel, there were times, particularly during the police investigations, when it also felt a little like a crime thriller. There is nothing particularly bad about that, but to begin with, it was as though two different genres were competing with each other depending on which character’s point of view was being read.

What helped to make this book so great were the excellent writing skills of D. W. Moneypenny. It was written so clearly that vivid images came to mind whilst reading. The pace of the narrative was quick, and at no point did it stop being exciting.

Another good thing (admittedly others may not see it as such) was that there were no romantic attachments between the characters to detract from the main storyline. This meant the novel was completely focused on the plot without unnecessary interruptions.

Broken Realms is a highly recommended book for science fiction and fantasy lovers. It leaves the reader wanting to know what is going to happen next. So now the wait for the next book in The Chronicles of Mara Lantern begins.

The 100
Author: Kass Morgan
Published: 3rd September 2013
ISBN13: 9780316234511
Goodreads Rating: 3.57 out of 5
Reviewed: August 2014

The recently televised novel The 100 by Kass Morgan is the first in a unique dystopian series set centuries into the future. Cataclysmic nuclear and biological wars rendered Earth uninhabitable, forcing humans to create a new life in space on a large ship. Three hundred years later, scientists judge that the harmful radiation that destroyed Earth may have reduced or even completely disappeared, meaning that the planet would finally be safe for humans. To test this theory, the Colony sends one hundred adolescent lawbreakers with the mission to begin to recolonize Earth.

The novel is told from the point of view of four characters: Clarke, Wells, Bellamy and Glass. The first three are on the drop ship to Earth, but Glass escapes at the very last second and remains behind. Although there may be a hundred people on this mission, none of them has any idea what to expect or how to live on a planet. It does not help matters when the drop ship crash lands, leaving them, particularly Clarke, the only one with medical knowledge, in an even more difficult situation than they were anticipating. Meanwhile, back on the ship, Glass discovers that human life may be in as much danger there as it would be on Earth.

Each character has flashbacks to their life on the ship, which gradually reveals the events leading up to them being convicted as criminals and thus sent to their new lives or even possible deaths. Due to this, there was less action set on Earth than there could have been – there was not enough time for a Lord of the Flies situation to arise. Yet, it was fascinating to imagine their reaction to the first time they saw the sunset or felt the rain, being mesmerized by bird songs and enjoying their first-ever piece of meat.

As with most young adult novels, there is the inevitable romance theme consisting of conflicting feelings and love triangles. The overall situation some of the main characters found themselves in was due to actions they committed in the name of love. Sometimes this theme could get a little annoying and hinder the dystopian side of the story, but it would not have been able to function without these elements.

Kass Morgan concludes The 100 at the peak of the climax, leaving us desperately wanting to find out what happens next. This is a highly recommended book for young adult readers who love science fiction.

The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Published: 26th April 1993
ISBN13: 9780385732550
Goodreads Rating: 4.13 out of 5
Reviewed: October 2014

It has been over twenty years since Lois Lowry’s controversial children’s story The Giver was published, and it certainly deserves its status as an essential modern classic. Jonas has grown up in the perfect world of the Community whose survival relies on strict rules and rituals. Adults are assigned spouses and children (one boy and one girl) as they take up their roles within society. At the beginning of the book, Jonas is approaching the end of his eleventh year and feeling apprehensive about the Ceremony of Twelve, where he will be assigned a job for him to do for the rest of his adult life. Jonas gets selected as the Receiver of Memory – a very rare position – and begins to experience memories from humans who lived a long time ago. For Jonas, this is exciting until he begins to see the flaws in his perfect world.

Dystopian literature has become popular over the past few years, and it would not be surprising if it were The Giver that inspired these contemporary works. Lowry claims that she did not intend for The Giver to have a sinister feel about it; she was writing an adventure story and exploring the concept of the importance of memory, but it turned out to be much more thought-provoking. As the children’s novelist Margaret Mahy (The Haunting) pointed out, up until the publication of this novel in 1993, Lowry was best known for her funny stories about Anastasia Krupnik, resulting in The Giver being even more shocking and unexpected.

The Giver highlights that attempting to produce perfection can often result in the loss of good things as well as the bad. The notion of the ideal world may seem like a wonderful proposal, but in order to achieve it humans would have to do away with free choice. In ironing out the inequalities and injustices of the present world, everything becomes the same for each individual.

It is a difficult concept to grasp, particularly for a child. Although intended as a children’s series, The Giver and its following instalments are more suitable for young adults and older. The only issue with this is that the writing style was targeted at a younger audience meaning that the story is short and lacks depth. If written for older readers, there would have been the scope for it to become a much lengthier novel.

There are a lot of mixed reviews surrounding this book, although they have changed greatly since the original publication. To begin with, The Giver was banned in some areas, but the dystopian theme has become accepted in today’s society. What many people comment on now is the oversimplification of such strong ideas. Then again, as already mentioned, it needs to be emphasized that this book was aimed at children, thus the language reflects the reading skills of its target audience.

The Giver is a gem of a book that is not only enjoyable, but also educates the reader on the dangers of attempting a utopian society and why it is important to retain human memories – even the bad – in order that wisdom can exist. Those who have become fans of contemporary dystopian novels, for example, Divergent by Veronica Roth or Delirium by Lauren Oliver, will love this series.

Our Zoo
Author: June Mottershead
Published: 9th October 2014
ISBN13: 9781472226358
Goodreads Rating: 4.15 out of 5
Reviewed: October 2014

Many people in Britain may have recently watched the drama series Our Zoo on BBC1 about the Mottershead family who moved to Oakfield, Upton, in 1930 with the aim of building a zoo without bars. Based on a true story, the drama over exaggerated the difficulties the family faced in developing what became the famous Chester Zoo. Until 2010 when TV producer Adam Kemp approached her, June Mottershead had never thought about making her history available to the public. The truth had to be bent slightly for the television production with the removal of certain characters, added romance, and laws prevented chimpanzees from being filmed. So, June Mottershead has penned the true story, also called Our Zoo, which is just as fascinating as the scenes shown on screen.

June was only four when she moved to Upton with her parents, grandparents, her fourteen-year-old sister Muriel, and a selection of animals. The BBC1 drama only focused on her father, George, seeking permission to build his zoo despite the petition against it. In the book, this occurs within the first few chapters, then continues until June’s marriage to her husband Fred Williams in 1949. The period of the narrative also jumps around depending on the animals or events that June is describing.

A large chunk of the book focuses on the effect the Second World War had on the zoo. As can be expected, the rationing of vital products took its toll on the animals’ diets, and although the zoo never took a direct hit, the Liverpool blitz caused havoc by destroying the glass tanks in the aquarium. On the other hand, the number of animals rapidly grew, as it was not just humans that became refugees during the war.

It was a delight to read about June’s relationships with some of the animals, particularly Mary the chimpanzee, who was also June’s best friend as a child and behaved in a human-like manner. As well as the happy moments, there were the inevitable upsetting accounts of the deaths of some of the animals, either from old age, illness or accidents.

While Our Zoo cannot be described as a novel, it neither has the feel of an autobiography. The conversational tone of the writing made it a pleasure to read and easy to visualize the scenes. This easy-to-read book is a strong recommendation for those who enjoyed the BBC adaptation and wish to find out what happened next. It does not matter if you have not watched the drama, as it is still a fascinating story to read.

The Outcasts
Author: John Flanagan
Published: 1st March 2012
ISBN13: 9780440869924
Goodreads Rating: 4.38 out of 5
Reviewed: October 2014

The Outcasts is the first book in the Brotherband Chronicles about teenage Hal and his small team of misfit friends. Set in times when to be a warrior and be part of a crew on a wooden ship were some of the highest honours, all boys, when approaching the age of sixteen, have to endure months of exhausting training. The popular boys form Brotherbands containing the candidates with the most potential, leaving Hal and seven other social outcasts to form another group: the Herons. Despite their severe disadvantage, Hal must encourage the Herons to use their brains to outwit the strength of the other Brotherbands and defeat them at the challenges the instructors set and become the ultimate winners.

Hal is an instantly likeable character. He is talented, intelligent, kind and thoughtful, and makes an excellent and inspiring team leader. Although this book is set in a fictional historical period, there are many things that a young reader can relate to, for example, bullying and racial discrimination.

As well as the Brotherband training, there are a lot of ship and sailing references, which may appeal to male readers of a certain age. The author, John Flanagan, realises that many people today would not be familiar with the ins and outs of sailing and has included a glossary explaining numerous nautical terms used during the novel. These are defined in an easy-to-understand way, as the target audience is those aged ten and upwards.

There is a limited number of female characters, suggesting that these chronicles are written with male teenage readers in mind. Despite this, it is still an enjoyable, exciting book regardless of your gender. The character developments are excellent, and the Herons are an admirable team.

Initially, it took a while to get into the story. The reader does not meet Hal until part two of four because it begins twelve years before the main timeline. Throughout this section, the only characters are adults, to which the target audience is less likely to relate. For this reason, and due to some of the violence, I would recommend this book for ages thirteen and older rather than the “10+” suggested on the back cover.

Overall, Brotherband: The Outcasts is a brilliant book, and it was refreshing for a young adult novel not to revolve around a romantic relationship. The next book in the series promises to be as exciting as the first.


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5 Book Reviews

Looking at the Stars
Author: Jo Cotterill
Published: 30th January 2014
ISBN13: 9781782300182
Goodreads Rating: 4.18 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

Looking at the Stars by Jo Cotterill is a beautiful story targeted at older children and young adults. It handles serious themes that most readers would not have and hopefully will never face.

Amina is thirteen years old, living in a country where women have absolutely no power. She is prohibited from going to school, so she spends her days with her sister, Jenna, weaving baskets and rugs, which they sell to stall holders in the local market. The novel begins with the two girls witnessing the arrival of foreign soldiers. They are overjoyed, believing that all their troubles are over now that the liberation has begun. This, however, turns out to be a false hope.

Separated from their family, Amina and Jenna head to a refugee camp where they hope to find their younger sister, Vivie, and discover information about what has happened to their mother. To prevent them from succumbing to despair, both on the journey and living in the camp, Amina makes up stories about the stars in the sky – hence the novel’s title.

Amina and Jenna’s personalities are vastly different, meaning the reader should be able to identify with at least one of the girls and place themselves within the story. It makes us wonder how we would cope in these situations. Amina is the kind of person who asks questions. She wants to know why things happen and constantly asks, “what if?” Despite being a year younger than Jenna, she is the more confident of the two, and it is partly her determination that keeps them alive. Jenna is quiet, anxious, and always wants to do the right thing. Jenna “just wants everyone to be happy”. She is a realist, whereas Amina is a dreamer.

The storytelling aspect of this novel makes it unique from others in this genre. Many books deal with war, refugees and death, but Amina’s stories provide something extra. They are beautiful and bring hope and faith into such as bleak and dangerous setting.

Whilst this story is set in fictional towns in an unnamed country, it is not unlike recent civil wars in Syria and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of us can distance ourselves from these stories because, for us, they are just that: stories. They are not something we have to deal with every day. This novel, told from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old girl, reveals what it is like for the thousands of innocents caught up in war. The way it is written helps children and young adults understand and learn more about what is happening in these countries.

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Published: 3rd February 1998
ISBN13: 9780340717783
Goodreads Rating: 4.34 out of 5
Reviewed: July 2014

These is My Words is a magnificent historical novel by American author Nancy Turner, told through diary entries written by the protagonist Sarah Prine. For twenty years, Sarah wrote about her experiences, both good and bad, beginning when she was almost eighteen years old.

The first entry in 1881 reveals that Sarah and her family are travelling from Arizona to Texas, which proves disastrous, with her father and youngest brother dying along the way. Soon after they arrive, they decide they would be much better off back home and prepare to make the return trek through the “heathen land”. This time they join a train of travellers accompanied by soldiers to make them feel safer, although this by no means makes it any less dangerous. With constant attacks from Indians, many trekkers are killed or wounded, but thankfully Sarah’s family makes it through. Not long after settling back in Arizona, Sarah receives a marriage proposal from a childhood friend, which she gratefully accepts. Unfortunately, the marriage is not a happy one and ends with the untimely death of her husband, who probably never loved Sarah anyway. Later, a potentially fatal incident brings Sarah together with Captain Elliot, a soldier from the journey to Arizona, and her life takes a new direction.

Sarah is a very likeable character. Her innocence makes her a pleasant girl, but she is admired for her independence. Having grown up on a ranch with only brothers, she knows how to fight for herself and can fire a pistol better than any man. As the wording of the title suggests, Sarah has never been to school, and her grammar and spelling require improvement, which is witnessed throughout the progression of the novel. By being written this way, the reader gets a closer insight into Sarah as a person: the way she talks, the way she has been brought up, and her determination to learn and develop her reading and writing skills.

Initially, it is difficult to get into the storyline. The blurb suggests that the book is about the journey to Texas, but that is over in a matter of pages. Once they are on the return voyage, it is easier to understand, and there is a stronger connection with and appreciation of some of the characters. It is fast-paced, and most of the diary entries are short, only becoming considerably longer when something of significance is recorded. Towards the end, entries occur less frequently, resulting in the latter ten years flying by.

These is My Words is both humorous and heartbreaking. There is a romantic theme throughout the book from the very beginning, where it is clear that something is happening between Sarah and Captain Elliot, and the reader can only begin hoping that something will bring them together. This book can either make you laugh, make you cry or both – for a book to cause that amount of emotion, it must be good!

Unremembered
Author: Jessica Brody
Published: 28th February 2013
ISBN13: 9781250040022
Goodreads Rating: 3.68 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

Unremembered is the first book in a young adult science-fiction trilogy by American author, Jessica Brody. Set in current-day California, Unremembered is told from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old girl, Seraphina, who has no memory of anything before the first page of the book.

Whilst a first-person narrative by someone who does not know anything may hinder the telling of the story, it connects the audience with the main character. As readers, we also do not know what happened before the first page of the story. We learn everything as Seraphina does, the only difference being that we are aware of what certain items are – particularly technological ones – as well as being able to communicate and understand other people, not just through words but also with sarcasm and body language.

At the start, we learn there has been a plane crash into the Pacific Ocean with only one survivor, an unidentifiable girl with amnesia. Further on, it transpires that there was never any record of her being on the plane in the first place. This is where all the questions and mysteries begin. Temporarily given the name Violet, she is placed with a foster family, the Carson family, whose thirteen-year-old son Cody is intimidated by her flawless beauty. He begins to connect with her more after it emerges that she is a mathematical genius. So, another question arises, how can she remember how to solve complicated equations yet cannot even remember who she is?

There are also mysteries surrounding a peculiar tattoo on her wrist; a boy named Lyzender who keeps appearing, claiming to know who Violet, or should we say Sera, is; her uncanny ability to speak fluently in a range of languages; and the number 1609. What is the significance of this number? Not only is it the year Sera believes it is after recovering from the crash, but it is also engraved onto a locket she was wearing along with the initials “S + Z”.

Unremembered is a fast-paced novel with mysteries that get solved at the same time as more questions develop. It shows us how people with no experience of the modern world would struggle to understand the things we take for granted. It also poses the question of what truly makes us human.

A Song For Issy Bradley
Author: Carys Bray
Published: 19th June 2014
ISBN13: 9780091954376
Goodreads Rating: 3.7 out of 5
Reviewed: June 2014

A Song for Issy Bradley is the captivating debut novel of talented author Carys Bray. Set in modern-day Britain, this heart-breaking story shows a family’s struggle to overcome the loss of their youngest child whilst also adhering to the strict rules of their Mormon religion.

It begins with seven-year-old Jacob’s birthday, and Mum, Claire, is rushing around with last-minute party preparations whilst her husband, Bishop Ian, is off attending to his religious duties. Although Claire is aware that Issy is feeling poorly, she does not realize how serious it is until much later – too much later. After being rushed to the hospital with meningitis, Issy’s prognosis is not good. Despite Ian’s blessings and prayers, no miracles occur, and Issy passes away the following day.

The main storyline is about how the characters cope with this sudden loss. Claire hides away from everyone by remaining in bed for weeks and ignoring her duties and her family’s pleas. Ian, worried that Claire is not grieving in the proper Mormon way, throws himself even deeper into religion by focusing on what is expected of him as a Bishop rather than concentrating on his children’s needs.

Zipporah, the eldest, is expected to become the woman of the house until Claire returns to “normal”. As well as studying for her exams and doing the housework, Ian insists she attends all church events for people her age. Alone, she worries about love, marriage and falling into sin; she would really like to be able to talk to her Mum. Alma, on the other hand, is becoming more and more rebellious. Not only does he have a stupid name (Alma was named after a prophet in the Book of Mormon), his ambition to become a professional footballer is not conducive to living the gospel. Although he makes jokes and rude remarks about religious ideas, there is still a part of him that believes, and despite his attitude, it is clear he is deeply affected by Issy’s death.

Jacob’s reaction is the most heart wrenching of all. Being so young, he believes everything he is told, especially the Bible stories he hears at church. If Jesus can bring people back to life, perhaps Issy can live again? He puts his faith in God and waits in vain for his sister’s miraculous return.

The story is told through each of these five characters’ points of view, which allows the reader to see how each person’s actions affect the others and gives a greater insight into character development. It is gratifying to witness, albeit slowly, the family pick themselves up and begin to work together and carry on.

As to be expected with a story about Mormons, there are a large number of Bible quotations. Many are from the Book of Mormon, but there are numerous biblical references that Christians of all denominations will appreciate. The author was raised as a Mormon, so it can only be assumed that all the details are accurate. Non-believers should not be put off from reading this beautiful book: it is how people deal with loss that is important, and there is no preaching to the reader or attempts to convert.

The Atlas of Us
Author: Tracy Buchanan
Published: 31st July 2014
ISBN13: 9780007579358
Goodreads Rating: 3.68 out of 5
Reviewed: July 2014

It is hard to believe that almost a decade has passed since the Indian Ocean tsunami at Christmas 2004. Tracy Buchanan’s novel The Atlas of Us is set partly in Thailand during the aftermath of the natural disaster. Yet, this is not a story about the tsunami; it is a tale of love, relationships and motherhood, travel and mystery. Stay-at-home Mum of two, Louise, has flown out to Thailand in a desperate attempt to locate her missing mother. Although they did not have a close relationship, Louise is determined to find Nora and bring her home. An unidentified body was discovered with Nora’s bag containing her passport, but also a book titled The Atlas of Us and a necklace belonging to a woman named Claire Shreve. So who is the body? Is there a chance Nora survived? And just as importantly, how did Nora know Claire?

In between accounts of Louise’s frantic search is Claire’s story, starting from 1997 in Exmoor, where she meets Milo, the potential love of her life, and the rest of his family. But there seems to be more than meets the eye. After a disastrous event, Claire gives in to her wanderlust, and her story continues as she moves from country to country, including Serbia, Finland and Australia, where she writes award-winning travel articles. During this time, she slowly discovers the secrets that Milo has been harbouring that threaten to damage their relationship. This continues until she reaches her final destination: Thailand.

Buchanan creates a sense of foreboding as Claire travels and arrives in Thailand. The reader knows what disaster she will face there and that her chance of survival is slim; Claire, of course, is completely oblivious.

Louise’s first-person account gives an insight into the reaction of relatives of the missing as they take in the devastation left by the waves. Although she has not seen or heard from her mother for two years, there is a powerful need to find her. Louise also talks about her children and what it is like to be a mother, which helps her understand her own mother’s past behaviour and discover how much she loves her. By writing Claire’s section in the third person, Buchanan keeps the question of Claire and Nora’s possible survival unanswered until the very end. From Claire comes the perspective of someone who yearns to be a mother but is unable to conceive. She also explores the effects of the relationship with her father, the way she lives her life, and her passion for travel.

Despite the traumatic storyline, The Atlas of Us is a beautiful story with a lot of detail to keep the reader interested. One minute the focus is on relationships, and the next, a whole new world is opened up with descriptions of foreign places that could spark a desire for travel even in those usually content to stay at home. 


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