Another year, another challenge, not least to keep me reading. So far highlights have been Abi Elphinstone’s Sky Song, and the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness which was all kinds of wonderful. Eleven books so far…
- Piers Torday – The Wild Beyond
Perfect storytelling which, as with books 1 and 2, have a really strong message about the environment, and how life in all its guises should be cherished.
The main thrust of Kester’s adventure sees him sail to a mysterious island in order to solve the riddle of the whale’s prophecy. Here he meets a man who reveals a lot about Selwyn Stone’s motives, tying the three books together beautifully.
There is humour, loss, despair, determination and much more, not to mention a bittersweet ending. A fantastic trilogy.
2. Bao Phi – A Different Pond
A simple enough tale with a serious and thought-provoking message.
Set in the US, a father gets up before work and takes his son fishing for their evening meal. Here, he shares a little of his previous life back home, a life during wartime.
The story has a warm conclusion and the author’s footnotes provide a clearer idea of the inspiration behind the book. It shows the struggle of refugees, the tradition of different cultures and the bond that can grow between a father and son.
3. Abi Elphinstone – Sky Song
A magical fantasy adventure that follows Eska, a young girl who has been trapped by the Ice Queen as she seeks to take her voice and achieve immortality. Eska escapes the Queen’s clutches and falls in with Flint, a boy from the Fur Tribe. He doesn’t trust Eska to begin with, but, as with Eska’s relationship with Balapan, a golden eagle, this changes as the story’s theme of trust, hope and friendship are explored. Eska, Balapan, Flint, and Flint’s sister, Blu, work together to fight against the odds, finding out why Eska is wanted by the Ice Queen and learning the power of collaboration.
Wonderful language, non-stop magic and adventure, and a fitting rollercoaster ending. Abi Elphinstone’s acknowledgements at the end are just as heart-rending, showing that the courage shown in the book doesn’t just come from the characters.
4. Zillah Bethell – The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare
I really enjoyed this. There’s a serious message at its heart and has so many angles that it’s hard to say where it belongs.
A tale of friendship, mystery, humour, dystopian sci-fi along with a backdrop of war, served with a message of care for our planet. The relationships between characters are fantastic, and Uncle Jonah steals the show despite being a dead man.
Auden can’t see colours, and, after following clues left by his genius scientist uncle (now deceased), he believes he can find a cure. However, what he finds is something much bigger and much more important.
Read it. It’s lovely.
5. S.F Said – Phoenix
This book took me by surprise – I’m not a science fiction aficionado and often steer clear of space-related films, series or stories. I’m glad I challenged my own preconceptions.
Lucky is anything but, having never known his father, being forced to escape his home, and suffering from terrible dreams in which he feels burning sensations.
He is taken in by the Axxa – a group of aliens who are at war with the humans – and is quickly accepted as one of them, particularly by Bixa, a feisty foil for Lucky’s uncertainty, and soon finds he has more power than he realises.
Dave McKean’s beautiful illustrations more than add to the atmosphere, and the ending was just fantastic.
6. Neil Gaiman – Coraline
Coraline is tempted into another world, opening a mysterious door into a place where another mother and father live. All is not as it seems, as the mother wants her to stay there forever and will stop at nothing to get her way.
As with all of Gaiman’s books, there is a darkness here that is palpable, without ever being too frightening for readers in year 5 and 6.
The Knife of Letting Go: This was just fantastic. All-action, non-stop from the word go.
Written from the perspective of Todd Hewitt, the last boy in Prentisstown, we follow his escape from the settlement as we find out he is a wanted boy. Prentisstown’s evil layers are revealed as Todd’s story is told, and as his relationship with Viola develops.
I love the idea of being able to hear thoughts (Noise, in the book) – whether it is too intrusive or strips everyone back to an equal state of being. There are wonderful relationships built and destroyed on the back of this ability.
Perhaps a comment on power, faith and equality, though also a sci-fi dystopian survival story of love and trust, Patrick Ness’ imagination knows no bounds here.
The Ask and the Answer: ** spoiler alert ** After Todd and Viola are tricked by the conniving Mayor Prentiss (now self-proclaimed President), they are separated – Todd is made to work with Prentiss and his son, Davy, while Viola makes good her escape from her role as a healer to join The Answer, an uprising of affronted women, led by Mistress Coyle.
Both only have thoughts for the other, despite burgeoning relationships with different characters (soldier Lee in Viola’s case, and, surprisingly, Davy for Todd).
At the centre of all this are the two super-villains, Prentiss and Coyle, whose words mix truth and lies in equal measure. I don’t think Todd ever truly learns to trust the Mayor, but he is certainly drawn closer to him; the friendship with Davy is the most interesting of this power triangle, with Davy desperate to impress and revealing his innocence and honesty along the way.
Viola, for her part, is fully taken in by Mistress Coyle’s words and actions, but soon realises she is as ruthless as anyone else.
Part love-story, part coming-of-age, against a backdrop of war, politics, equality and power. There’s so much to enjoy that I’m thinking of putting off the reading of part three just to prolong the joy.
Monsters of Men: ** spoiler alert ** Probably – no, definitely – the best trilogy I’ve ever committed myself to. And I was committed. You have no choice once you fall into the world of Todd Hewitt, who gamely and naively battles with the all-powerful Mayor Prentiss. Viola’s perspective shows her struggles, both physically and emotionally, as she continues to put her faith in Todd, and the return of 1017 is a perfect twist.
Ultimately a story about love, hope and trust as Todd and Viola search for peace – and you’d have a heart of stone not to fall in love with the two of them.
10. Yangsook Choi – The Name Jar
As Unhei moves from Korea to a school in the US, many of the children (and perhaps a little oddly, the teachers) find her name very difficult to pronounce. Unhei pretends she has no name, and the rest of the class make her a name jar from which to choose a new one.
Unhei learns the meaning of her name and why it is important, and the ending with one of her school friends is lovely.
A message about accepting all cultures, learning from each other and being proud of our own heritage
11. M.G. Leonard – Battle of the Beetles
A fitting ending to what has been a fully engrossing and endearing trilogy.
Lucretia Cutter’s evil plans are finally revealed – she wants full world domination and intends on mutating humans to go along with the beetles she has genetically modified. Nothing will stop her…unless Darkus, Bertolt and Virginia can do something about it.
The message throughout all three books has been one of caring for our world and respecting everything within it – this is emphasised even more in this book. Darkus’ determination, Virginia’s bravery and Bertolt’s intelligence combine to confront a brilliantly-written villain.
Educational, humorous, adventurous – a keeper in classrooms for years to come.