Book Reviews

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The Martian by Andy Weir      published by Ebury Press  2014

Astronaut Mark Watney is stranded on Mars. Alone. After a catastrophic accident, his crew were led to believe he was dead and left Mars in the only return vessel. There is no way to communicate with Earth, only 50 days of food left and the next Mars mission is in 1425 days. Mark is a botanist and engineer but growing food in a landscape with no living organisms is nearly impossible. With only the devices left behind when the crew had to prematurely abandon the mission, Mark has to attempt to survive another 1425 days.

Andy Weir’s first book is a thrilling and clever science fiction novel filled with maths and physics. It is a scientifically accurate book, making it believable and more intense. It had me on the edge of my seat until the final page!

A film adaptation of ‘The Martian’ is scheduled to be released in 2015.

Review by AH

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Wool by Hugh Howey

Welcome to the silo, which houses a giant community living and working beneath the ground. Here even a mention of the ‘outside’ results in death.

In the shadow of a recent uprising, we follow Holston, Jahns and Jules, people who choose not to conform to the absolute rules of the silo. At the very top of the silo are projections of the outside world, a murky, uninhabitable land, and at the bottom are the mechanics, working to keep the silo running. Jules wants answers about this seemingly abnormal lifestyle they are living, but what price will she pay for her curiosity?

The first in the Silo trilogy, this is not your average dystopian science fiction novel. It is original, clever and heart-wrenching. This book brings out every emotion and even after the last page, it stays with you – I can’t wait to read Shift, the second instalment!
The final book, Dust, was published earlier this year.

Review by AH

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The Last Wild and The Dark Wild by Piers Torday

These two gripping novels are about an extraordinary boy named Kester. He has the unique ability to talk to animals, but cannot communicate with other humans.

In ‘The Last Wild’, Kester, and his animal friends go in search of a cure, a cure for the red-eye virus. If they don’t find it, the animals of the Last Wild will become extinct, and Kester will be locked in Spectrum Hall forever.

In ‘The Dark Wild’, Kester discovers a group of animals that live underground. Will he convince them he’s on their side, while Kester’s human friends are captured by evil animal culler, Captain Skuldiss?

These books are fantastic, I couldn’t put them down. They have excellent, unpredictable endings and can be read by boys and girls, aged 9-13.

Review by IH age 11

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Bite Sized by Fiona Hamilton

This book is brimming with anguish, brimming with bewilderment – brimming with love. Fiona is a parent who, like most of us (parents), is filled with unconditional love for her children. We desire for them to be happy, confident, empowered. We never cease to learn with, about and for them. We do not expect the assault or the challenge of an incomprehensible ‘force’ taking control – of them.

For Fiona’s daughter, that ‘force’ is anorexia; the monster of ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’. Fiona’s words are pared back to expose the cruelty of anorexia with stark reality firmly rooted in the
strength of unconditional love.

Quick to read, her words seep into your memory and remain with the reader, long after the book is closed.

Review by KC

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City of Halves by Lucy Inglis

Lily is a pro with computers. By day she’s a regular school girl, by night she helps her lawyer father hack the systems of the opposing council to find out what they’re hiding. Fighting against evil is what
she does. At least it’s what she thought she did until a near death experience with a two headed dog introduced her to Regan and a whole new world of good vs evil.

Meet Regan, a half blood. He’s half human, half eldritche and his sole purpose in life is to stop the forces of chaos from getting into London. When he meets Lily his focus shifts. There’s something about
her that he’s drawn to, but unfortunately that same something seems to be drawing the attention of other, more dangerous forces.

With their fates intertwined, Lily and Regan must work together to restore balance to London before chaos razes it to the ground.

Pacey and with a few scenes that will actually wow you – look out for the stunning dragon on top of London Bank – City of Halves is a dark urban fantasy won’t disappoint.

Review by Abi K

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How to be a Heroine (Or, What I’ve Learned from Reading Too Much) by Samantha Ellis

As a little girl I idolised Ariel from the Little Mermaid. We had the Disney film on video, I had the Barbie and one Christmas I received a book of the Little Mermaid that starred me as the main character.
I’d never questioned whether or not she was a good role model for me as a child until Samantha Ellis revisited her childhood heroines in an attempt to re-evaluate them.

In a witty and thoughtful quest through the literature of her childhood and adolescence, Samantha puts her literary heroines under the spotlight. Within the contextual history of her life, Ellis revisits Austen, Montgomery, Anderson, Greer, Woolf and many more, scrutinising the positive and negative influence they may have had on her developing psyche.

Full of anecdotes and insightful, entertaining discussion on over two centuries of literary icons, this book was a delight from cover to cover!

Review by Abi K

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Cracked by Eliza Crewe

There’s nothing more refreshing than viewing a story of good versus evil from the less principled side. In this dark, funny and slightly violent urban fantasy you won’t be able to stop yourself falling in love with Meda, our questionably evil protagonist. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ‘will she kill everyone for fun’ or ‘will she save the day’.

Accompanied by her entourage, sweet little Uri, save-the-day-hero-complex Chi and potentially-going-to-be-murdered-by-best-friend Jo, Meda’s witty personality and ambiguous morality will have you turning pages quicker than you can read them.

If you’re anything like me you’ll be laughing your little bed socks off before crying like a baby only to be laughing again minutes later.

Review by Abi K

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The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Due to be published by Transworld publishers October 2014

If like me you adored ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, you will love to hear the story from Queenie’s point of view. Just what is it like to wait, when you have so little time left, while someone walks the entire length of England to see you?
This is a poignant love story, written with warmth and compassion; at times hilarious and others almost unbearably sad. Quite simply a lovely, lovely book.

Review by Sue H

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Mountwood School For Ghosts by Toby Ibbotson

Due to be published October 2014

This book is an intriguing fantasy about an ancient building made into a scary school! It is a 3-part story with each part even more exciting than the last. It is a thrill to read.

Part 1 is about three Great Hagges who set up the school to educate ghosts on how to scare humans…to death! One student – a small boy – gets lost on his way to the ghost school and Daniel, an ordinary human boy, hears him whining for his parents…

Parts 2 and 3 are about Daniel and his best friend Charlotte. Their homes will be demolished if they don’t do something! They decide to seek out their old ghost friends. Will they help to save the street, or will they refuse and leave it to be destroyed?

Find out what happens in this book, published on the 9th October 2014. This book has vivid, understandable language yet isn’t boringly easy. I would recommend this book to anyone from the age of 9 to 14, boys or girls.

Review by Isabel H (11)

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Summer’s Shadow by Anna Wilson

Due to be published October 2014

Summer’s Shadow is Anna Wilson’s first novel for young teens. It is a gripping story that keeps the reader guessing until the final pages and the dramatic conclusion!

After the death of her mother, Summer moves to Cornwall to live with relatives she hasn’t heard of. She is met by her hostile cousin and strange uncle. She has to find her own way around the seemingly haunted house and gardens whilst coping with the grief of losing her mother.

There, she discovers a perfect cove and meets a local boy – together they begin to uncover the mysteries of the past…

Review by AH at Hunting Raven Books

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ANORAK Magazine
Published quarterly – retails at £6

ANORAK is a kid’s magazine, filled with facts, activities, and short stories, making it fun, yet educational. Each double page has its own unique look and colour scheme, making the magazine very visually pleasing and interesting. Aimed at children aged 6-12, the activities are fairly simple, yet engaging, and should all be completable without adult supervision, however younger children may need some help.

Another small thing included in one issue of ANORAK was a reference to the popular TV series Breaking Bad in one of the cartoon short stories, this reference would only be noticeable to adults, and to children would just appear to be a story about a stuffed monkey and bear. While referencing Breaking Bad, the story also retains morals for children. This was a nice small thing to include for the adults who read the magazine with their children.

Overall, the magazine is great for most children, the activities and stories and will definitely keep them occupied.

Review by SW at Hunting Raven Books

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Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant

Due to be published end of August 2014

‘Messenger of fear’ is a fictional book written by Michael Grant, well known for his ‘Gone’ series. The book is gripping and fast moving, with a plot that doesn’t seem to make sense until you get a few chapters in, and a huge twist towards the end.

‘Messenger of fear’ tells the story of a girl (Mara), waking up in a strange location, and being approached by a mysterious character, and leads on from there, keeping you in a state of suspense and uncertainty. If you enjoyed the ‘Gone’ series you will love this book!

Reviewed by SW at Hunting Raven Books

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LEVANT : Splendour and Catastrophe on the Mediterranean by Philip Mansel llJohn Murray Paperback  £10.99  Sep 2011

A stunning review of the rise, tribulations and demise of the polyglot cities of the eastern Mediterranean – Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut. The origins of these cities stem from the multi-ethnic nature of the Ottoman Empire and they grew to become massively important trade centres during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Each in turn attracted Greeks, Armenians, Jews, French, Italians, English, and many other ethnicities. But the rise of nationalism within Asia Minor and the Middle East, encouraged by regional powers for their own purposes, led to the tragic collapse of these vibrant cities.  In the case of Smyrna in 1922, the collapse was violent and horrific; the victorious Turkish army put many quarters of the city to the torch killing thousands. Likewise Beirutis were in the front line of the Lebanese civil war in the in the 1980s and suffered greatly.

Mansel’s research is exemplary and his style is clear and vivid, despite the complexity of the subject. For anyone with an interest in the modern history of the region, this book is a must.

JBS   Hunting Raven Books

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd Walker 2011 (Illustrated) 2012 (Non-illustrated)

This is the only book to have won both the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal – ever! Carnegie for it’s author and Greenaway for it’s illustrator.

Critics agree that this is a powerful novel about love, loss and hope.  Patrick Ness was invited to write the book from an original storyline set down by Siobhan Dowd before she died of cancer in 2007.

It centres on 13 year old Connor, angry at the injustices of life – an absent father, a pragmatic grandmother, a bully at school, a reoccurring nightmare and a seriously ill mother.  In his nightmare a monster comes calling, providing Connor anxieties, frustrations and false expectations.

Ancient stories provide the warp to the contemporary story’s weft, creating a rich tapestry.  Read it!

Who is this book for?  Both the illustrated and non-illustrated copies are aimed at 13+ with the latter aimed the young adult and adult market – remember Harry Potter?

Reviewed by KC at Hunting Raven Books

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Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan Jonathan Cape 2012

This is McEwan’s thirteenth novel. He is also the author of two short story collections and the 1998 Booker Prize winner for Amsterdam.

Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) recounts events in the 70s when, after graduating with a third in Maths from Cambridge, she is recruited by MI5.  As a voracious reader of contemporary fiction the ‘men-in-suits’ deem her most suitable for a secret mission, code name Sweet Tooth.  She is introduced to the literary world of promising young writer, Tom Haley, where betrayal, intrigue, and love await.

McEwan’s deft expertise leaps from the pages of this clever, amusing read, packed with relevant research; British Governments, the Miners’ Strike and the IRA.  Stories are contained within stories and ultimately it’s a novel for readers who love reading!

Reviewed by KC at Hunting Raven Books

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Damned by Chuck Palahniuk Vintage Books 2012

From the author of ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ comes another off the wall novel by Chuck Palahniuk. Damned follows the life, or death to be more specific, of thirteen year old Madison. Daughter of two high flying billionaires Madison led a strange and drug filled life. After dying from a suspected marijuana overdose she finds herself in Hell, perpetually a pre-pubescent frumpy and unattractive girl.

Hell isn’t all that bad though, sure there are demons wandering around killing you now and then but Madison is making the most of eternity. Having found a group of teenage friends all condemned for various trivialities she sets out on a journey of self discovery across the Hell-ish landscape.

A modern posthumous take on the classic ‘coming-of-age’ tale, Damned is an intelligent, funny and foul mouthed portrait of one girls search for Satan.

Reviewed by AK at Hunting Raven Books

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The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides Fourth Estate 2011  (Paperback 2012)

Perhaps you have heard of Jeffrey Eugenides through the critically acclaimed film of his first book – The Virgin Suicides?  Or for his Pulitzer Prize winning second novel, Middlesex?  No?  Then it’s third time lucky with his most recent novel, The Marriage Plot.

Applauded by critics on both side of the Atlantic, this intricate story offers a satisfying read as it follows three linked young lives: Madeleine Hanna, highly irritating, head-in-the-clouds and incurable romantic; writing her thesis on Austen and Eliot – authors of the great marriage plots.  Mitchell Grammaticus, a theology student seeking truth in life and decided of at least one thing – that he and Madeleine are destined to be together.  Leonard Bankhead, a brilliant and charismatic yet erratic student.

After graduation, the novel unfolds as tentatively they make their way into the world and for me, into my heart!

Reviewed by KC at Hunting Raven Books

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Sigrun’s Secret by Marie-Louise Jenson

Sigrun is living happily with her family until Halfgrim arrives in the new land and ruins everything Sigrun knows and is accustomed to. Exiled with her father, brother and some friends, she is forced to live in the city of Jorvik. After leaving Iceland she finds a power awakening in herself from what she thinks is from one of her most prized possessions.

I liked this book because Marie Louise Jensen made the characters so real that I felt that I was there and was going through the same things.  I was interested in the new environment that the viking characters found themselves in and Marie Louise Jensen described the new land that they were in really well.  The book was exciting and at points emotional.  When I finished the story, I was left satisfied but wanting Ms Jensen to write another book!                      (Teenage readership)

Nina B

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Scholastic

Truly remarkable. Undoubtedly the best childrens’ book that I have ever encountered. This is evocative, memorable and strangely haunting – fiction at its very best!

This is a story about machines; about the intricate inner-workings of a clock; about French cinema in the early 1900s; about a thief that lived in the train station and the cinematic legend that he ended up befriending.

I really, truly loved the illustrations, and the way that this book was more like a film than a novel. I loved that line, too, about a first cinema experience: “It had been like seeing his dreams in the middle of the day”. This book really highlights the magic of film and its advent. We take it for granted, but its a wonderful thing. I’m also dying to see some early French cinema now, particularly something from Georges Méliès (he invented dreams, after all!)

This book comes with my highest, highest recommendations. Film lovers will love this. Book lovers will love this. Children and adults alike will love this!

Wendy C

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Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Scholastic   £7.99

Katniss isn’t your regular heroine, she is difficult, unsociable and uncharismatic. Set in a dystopian world, she lives for her younger sister and the stolen moments with her friend Gale when she can hunt in the forest. Her greatest skill is her ability with a bow and arrow. To protect her younger sister from being forced to fight to the death on a reality television show for the entertainment of the Capitol city, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Thrown into an arena where she must kill or be killed by twenty three other children, it is a battle of the wits to remain appealing to an audience of blood thirsty, fashion obsessed socialites. With the help of Peeta, a boy from her hometown, can they fight off the competition and both survive when there can be only one winner?

Full of action and violence, love and friendship, Katniss’s struggle to survive will have you hooked. I read the first book expecting to be lightly entertained at best. I had read the trilogy within three days!    (Teen fiction)

Abi K

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The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright Johnathan Cape 2011 £17.99

Anne Enright’s latest novel charts the story of an affair, the intensity of desire and destruction it creates (“who would have thought love could be so expensive?” wonders Gina Moynihan), set in the Irish boom years, in the Dublin world of dotcom winners, designer clothes and second homes by the beach.

Like the Man Booker winner The Gathering, The Forgotten Waltz examines complexities of marital and family relationships. Early on, Gina Moynihan describes her lover Seán as ‘my downfall, my destiny’, her looping narrative both glancing backwards and teasingly suggestive of the future. Like the slow unravelling of marriages in the book, the Irish boom turns to bust, until they could hear “the creaking sound of money withering out of the walls and floors.”

Anne Enright’s signature tone, mildly mocking and wry , gilds the book, describing ‘Indeed, a couple of women had the confused look that Botox gives you, like you might be having an emotion, but you couldn’t remember which one!’ Chapters are playfully named after love songs, ‘Stop! In the name of love’ and ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’. This gives a somewhat lighter touch to the book than The Gathering, but still makes for an engaging read.

Jo Brudenell

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Edge of Nowhere by John Smelcer Anderson Press Ltd 2010 £5.99

Seth’s mother has died and he seeks consolation in junk food, video games and music. Living on the Alaskan coast, he also has to go out with his father fishing. During the night in a violent storm he and his dog are swept overboard.

The story follows boy and dog as they try to get home, coping with the sea, weather, lack of food and bears; Periodically it cuts to his father, who refuses to give up hope of his son’s return. As Seth and his dog make their way from island to island over a period of months, the reader is aware of how he is changing. He not only looses weight, but he draws on knowledge and legends that he had previously thought irrelevant to modern life.

This story, for older children and young adults, is based on true events. It gives you great insight into the lives and culture of native Alaskans. Ray Mears would be disappointed by Seth’s fire lighting attempts, but it is a really gripping survival and coming-of-age story.

VC

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Guernica by Dave Boling Picador 2009 £7.99

With a strap-line ‘an epic story of love, family and war’ Boling writes a powerful novel embedded in the tragic history of a town whose name is familiar to most.

Told through generations of the Ansotegui family from 1893 – 1940, Boling provides rich story-telling; the Spanish Civil Guard, the Luftwaffe’s infamous Red Baron, the French Resistance, Picasso in Paris, the British support of the orphans of Guernica and the Basque people’s humbling resilience.

Rooted securely in extensive research and personal family history, this absorbing read will definately not disappoint!

KC

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Tiny Campsites by Dixe Wills Punk Publishing Ltd 2010 £10.95

If night-life is owls and badgers, and entertainment is birdsong and walking to the local pub; if you don’t want discos, bars and serried ranks of caravans, this is the camp-site book for you.

Dixe Wills cycled 2,000 miles to discover 75 tiny campsites, each one an acre or less. Every site has a double-page spread, providing loads of facts, a small but detailed map, a photo and a description of the site and nearby ‘attractions’.

On wet winter evenings, it is a great book to browse through and dream about your next camping trip. So pack your tent and mallet and ‘head for the hills’…

VC

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American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld Black Swan £7.99

The New York Times Bestseller

A wonderfully written and cleverly constructed novel ‘loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady, her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration’. Readers will recognise Laura, George Junior and Senior, as well as Barbara Bush through the story that Alice Blackwell narrates via the four key home addresses of her life.

As a character she charms, frustrates and even shocks; a tragic event at the age of seventeen shapes a longing that she carries throughout the book. Sittenfeld’s in-depth research reveals an ambitious writer whose incisive style demonstrates great awareness of the human condition. This will make a great summer read and I can guarantee that by the end you’ll be intrigued to compare fact with fiction!

KC

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THE SUSPICIONS of Mr WHICHER or THE MURDER AT ROAD HILL HOUSE

by Kate Summerscale Bloomsbury Publishing £7.99

Winner of the 2008 Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

The story of the sensational murder in 1860 of the three-year old son of Samuel and Mary Kent in the village of Road – now Rode – half way between Bath and Frome. Circumstantial evidence showed that the murder must have been committed by either a member of the family or one of their servants. Kate Summerscale weaves the story of the plodding local investigation, the later bringing-in of ace Scotland Yard detective, Jack Whicher, and the classics of detective fiction from Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone to Agatha Christie’s country house murders. The book is beautifully written and constructed, with many whodunit-like twists right to the final chapter. This book was Hunting Raven’s best-selling title since its publication in 2008.

JBS

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