‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ Dave Rudden

This came highly recommended by colleagues, so I thought I’d give ‘Knights of the Borrowed Dark’ a try.  This is the first in a series, and it isn’t very often I read more than one title in a series, but I may well have to read all of these.   It has also won a couple of book awards.

Denizen Hardwick (great name!) is an orphan, with no memory of his parents.  Out of the blue, he is visited by a powerful man, who claims to be taking him to meet his never before heard of aunt.  However, things become very strange on the journey, when an incident seems to involve a massive monster, and Gray, Denizen’s companion, uses impossible weapons to destroy the creature.  After arriving at his Aunt’s huge and mysterious home, Denizen can’t help but accept that magic is the only explanation for some of the things that he sees.  Those living in the house are the Knights of the Borrowed Dark, and are all that stands between the world we know, and a world of horrors.  Denizen finds himself drawn into this battle, especially hoping to find out whether his parents had been a part of it too.  It wouldn’t be right if Denizen doesn’t discover that he has certain powers, but learning to control and use these will be crucial.

The writing is interestingly dense, full of description, but with tension.  The language and tone is quite sophisticated I feel, and I think only pretty able readers will get to the end.  However, for those that do, I suspect they will be asking for the next volume as soon as they finish.

It is impossible not to see parallels with Harry Potter (orphan, magic, discovering powers, fighting a deadly enemy to name just a very few), but this does have a very different feel to it.  Looking forward to the next in the series!

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‘We Come Apart’ Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

Having read everything that Sarah Crossan has written, ‘We Come Apart‘ went straight to the top of my to read pile.  A couple of her more recent titles have appealed to me slightly less, but this one did not disappoint in any way.

Told through chapters of poetry, in that sparse, yet somehow clear and detailed way that Crossan seems to have made her own, we hear 2 voices, Jess & Nicu.  The voices alternate, and I’ve assumed that Crossan wrote Jess and Conaghan Nicu – although it may well be the other way around!  Jess is a rebel.  Horrific home life, hates school, but gets caught shoplifting and gets a community service order.  Nicu is Roma.  Brought by his parents for a better life in Britain, but their focus is on earning enough money to go back home and secure a wife for Nicu.  He dreads the prospect, and wants to make the most of getting an education, even though he is bullied mercilessly in school.  However, Nicu is also caught shoplifting, and the two meet on their community service sessions.  An initially unlikely friendship develops between the two, through some of the most lyrical, funny and poignant writing I have read for a long time.  Nicu’s turns of phrase are brilliant, and the developing relationship is beautifully drawn.  They support each other in their tough lives – it seems to be a depth of friendship that neither has had before, and gradually starts to develop into something even deeper.

Initially keeping their home lives secret from each other, they learn to trust, however in trying to help each other their situation start to spiral out of control.

This is a tremendous piece of writing.  A beautifully told story, covering a huge range of issues such as domestic abuse, bullying, arranged marriage, knife crime and xenophobia sensitively and tenderly.  Even when I could see the inevitable ending coming closer, I still felt hugely uplifted by this story.

Can you tell I completely loved it?!

‘Beyond the Bright Sea’ Lauren Wolk

Shortlisted for the 2018 Carnegie award.  Still reading my way through the shortlist and I have to admit I hadn’t really liked ‘Wolf Hollow’, so has come to ‘Beyond the Bright Sea’ a little reluctantly.

On a tiny island lives Crow, rescued from a tiny boat that she was set adrift in as a tiny baby.  Crow’s life is simple and happy.  An unexpected fire from a nearby island, one she knows to be abandoned, sets Crow on a journey to discover who she really is.  The island had once been home to a group of lepers, and even though now abandoned, locals still avoided it if they could.  The only occasional inhabitant was a wildlife warden, but when Crow, and her two companions, Osh and Miss Maggie visit to see who might have lit the fire, they discover that someone has been digging holes in the land, clearly looking for something.  Could this be linked to stories of missing pirate treasure?  The story weaves this thread together with Crow’s realisation that she needs to know the truth about where she came from and who her family might be.  Building gradually and relentlessly, the threads unfold, and I found I had been pulled in so far that I could not put the book down.

This is a sophisticated mystery, with well drawn characters, and a skill of not revealing everything – hinting and suggesting what we need to know.  Although a subtle read, the mysteries are more or less solved, although I did find the ending a little abrupt.

Will it win the award?  I think not, but I did enjoy this when I had expected to find it slow going.

‘The Empty Grave’ Jonathan Stroud

This is the finale to the fantastic Lockwood & Co series, and was well worth the wait! ‘The Empty Grave’ has the same mix of humour and darkness that all the books in the series have, although in places this is perhaps even darker.

The independent ghost hunters are this time convinced that Marissa Fittes, head of the biggest and most ruthless ghost detection agency is not perhaps exactly who or what she claims to be.  Clues are gathered along the way, and while researching in the depths of the night, George is brutally attacked.  It starts to become clear that the very beginnings of The Problem may have had a helping hand from some top people who will stop at nothing to make sure this detail does not get out.  After a very tense confrontation at Lockwood’s house, their escape is daring and dangerous, with the group’s only option being to go through another gate to the other side.

This was an excellent finale, involving all our favourite characters.  We see Lockwood confiding in Lucy by the graves of his parents in an especially poignant moment.  The whole way through this book I had a dread feeling that Lockwood’s reckless nature would lead to disaster – but in fact it led to a very satisfyingly dramatic and destructive ending.  We learn even more about each character, especially Flo, who develops a soft spot for George, and nurses him after his beating. The skull again plays a vital role in this story, continuing with its usual mix of devastating sarcasm and downright rudeness in its attempts to persuade Lucy to release it.  This is Stroud’s strength – his amazing characters.  They are drawn so clearly and with great depth.

This has to have been one of my all time favourite series (if you haven’t guessed yet!).  The mix of excellent male & female characters means this is a great one to recommend to any student, as long as they aren’t too squeamish!

‘The Inventory – Iron Fist’ Andy Briggs

A few years ago I watched a TV programme called ‘Warehouse 13’.  It was based on a secret warehouse that contained incredible objects with amazing and generally dangerous powers.  I loved every programme in the series!  ‘Iron Fist’ seems to be very solidly based on this (no idea if the author saw the series as well).  The basic premis is almost identical.  Dev lives an isolated life on a farm, just him and his uncle responsible for caretaking an extraordinary collection of items far too dangerous to be in the wider world.  Dev is allowed to go to school, but his geekiness means he has no friends.  After a disastrous incident at a party, Dev finds two people from school have come to the farm – one is the biggest bully, and the other a girl Dev has known from afar for a long time.  These three unlikely allies are thrown together when the security of the inventory is threatened, and the only way to come out of it alive will be for them to work together.

I found it took me a little while to get into the book.  The first few chapters swapped between Dev as narrator and The Collector (evil genius out to take over the world….).  Once I’d worked out who was who I was hooked.  Andy Briggs has let his imagination run riot with the possibilities of secret gadgets and the pacy action kept me reading on.  Yes, it’s a total take-off of Warehouse 13 with young people, and there’s a certain amount of predictability, but students will love the action and the brilliant tech!

‘Word Nerd’ Susin Nielsen

This was one of those books that you just know from the first words is going to be fantastic!  ‘Word Nerd’ is a mostly light, funny, observant read.  It has immensely likeable characters, and comes across as sincere and real.

Ambrose has a tough time at school.  He doesn’t really seem to fit in anywhere,  he and his mum have moved around quite a lot following the sudden death of his father before he was born.  They are, at the same time, very close, but at times can drive each other mad – pretty realistic I’d say!  Mum is very overprotective, although it isn’t hard to see where that stems from, and they generally live a pretty quiet life, enjoying regular games of scrabble in the evenings.  Following a horrible incident with 3 bullies in school, Ambrose’s Mum decides home schooling is the only answer.  Having more time at home, Ambrose meets his landlord and neighbour’s son, Cosmo, who has just been released from prison and is trying hard to stay out of trouble.  The only thing they have in common is a love of scrabble, and by devious means Ambrose persuades Cosmo they should join a local scrabble club – knowing that if his Mum found out he was spending time with the ex-con and leaving the house he’d be in serious trouble.

From this small deception, adventure ensues.  Ambrose is blunt with Cosmo – asking the questions everyone else is too scared to ask, but in many unlikely ways they end up helping each other to move on with their lives in new ways.  I particularly enjoyed Ambrose’s clumsy matchmaking efforts when Cosmo falls for Amanda who runs the scrabble group.

This was a very quick book to read.  It was down to earth, and I can see it being enjoyed by a wide variety of students – I loved it!

‘The Pirate King’ Huw Powell

The third and final of the Spacejackers trilogy, ‘The Pirate King’ is a very fitting ending for this series.  It’s great to find something a little different in writing for children, and the combination of pirates and sci-fi works really well.

In this final book, Jake Cutler faces his final challenges.  Can he find the father he barely remembers who is rumoured to be alive?  Can he bring the independent worlds together to defeat the  corrupt interstellar government?  In a rush of action and adventure Huw ties up all the loose ends, giving a very satisfying finish to the series.  There is an eclectic and colourful cast of characters, and the pacey writing keeps the reader gripped all the way through.

Huw is an ex-student of my school, and we all love his books.  I’m looking forward to finding out what he has planned for his next one!