Book Reviews | by Miss Buxton

“Change” can be found in many of the books that we recommend in school at some point in the story arc, whether an action story or reflective one concentrating on the internal life of the main characters. The following recently published recommendations involve change in various ways but what the stories do have in common is that they are compulsive reading, especially helpful during these uncertain times.

Burn by Patrick Ness:

“On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron Gas Station for the dragon he’d hired to help on the farm.”

Which is how one of the best books I have read this year begins, set in a world similar to ours but very different in the fact that dragons exist. The dragon, Kazimir, supposedly without a soul is protective of Sarah and arrives in her life because of a prophecy, one which involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents and Sarah herself.

The multiple themes of racism, sexism and homophobia amongst others, in no way detract from a story that is fast paced, compelling and right till the end you’re never quite sure how Patrick Ness will rescue his characters.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust, Volume 2 by Philip Pullman:

The second volume of The Book Of Dust reintroduces us to Lyra Silvertongue, twenty years of age and studying now at the university which has always been her home. Effectively following on from The Amber Spyglass which ends His Dark Materials trilogy this is not a story for children as we find Lyra older, rather sad and in serious conflict with her daemon, Pantalaimon. The murder at the beginning of the story in Oxford is the catalyst for the action which follows. Dust is ever present, as is the new presence of rose oil, created in a fantastical place in the middle of a desert and leads to Lyra and Pan leaving Oxford and travelling across Europe and Asia to find answers to the secrets which surround them.

A story which explores how we and the world around us changes and how courage can always be found if we look for it.

The Night Bus Hero by Onjali Q. Rauf:

“I’ve been getting into trouble for as long I can remember. Usually I don’t mind ‘cos some of my best, most brilliant ideas have come from sitting in detention.But recently it feels like no one believes me about anything – even when I’m telling the truth! And it’s only gotten worse since I played a prank on the old man who lives in the park.”

Hector, the narrator and central character of The Night Bus Hero is by his own admission a bully. With a couple of friends Hector terrorises their fellow pupils, is the bane of his teachers lives, has a distant relationship with his parents and generally not a very likeable person at all. Then Hector encounters Thomas, a homeless person in the local park and a sequence of events are triggered which lead Hector to decide to become the hero and prove everyone wrong!

Orphan X By Gregg Hurwitz | Florence G

“Do you need my help?”

It was the first question he asked. They called when they had nowhere else to turn.

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It’s said that when he’s reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he’s no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He’s also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the governments Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets— assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan’s weakness—his work as The Nowhere Man—to find him and eliminate him.

Evan’s training, unlike that of the other Orphans, left his deep seated moral code intact. He carries guilt and remorse with him everywhere, as well as his conscience. He’s one of the good guys, but don’t get on his bad side. His humanity is evident, but he still strictly adheres to the rules instilled within him by his handler- Jack- a man who was more like a father to him.

Still, Evan’s personality is muted, as he fiercely controls all his emotions. The secondary characters provide the dramatic dialogue, while Evan internalizes and reminds himself of how to respond to complex situations. There is no reliance on gimmicks, no slick polish or shine, the dialogue is sparse, to the point, without a lot of time spent on descriptive text. The story moves at an incredibly swift pace, formatted almost like long form vignettes. It has a unique presentation but that helps to create a tense, suspenseful atmosphere, adding just the right amount of poignancy to the story, allowing one to fall under Evan’s spell. One finds oneself cheering him on, developing a connection to him, caring about what may happen to him as he continues his lonely journey.

Orphan X hits all of the right notes – fantastic action, more than a few twists, some excellent character development, and some pretty cool gadgetry. In lesser hands, Evan could have been turned into a stereotypical assassin-with-a-heart, but Gregg Hurwitz gave him a lot of complexity, which made him all the more fascinating.

It’s a book filled with plot, action, terror, blood and guts.

“I do.” A man’s desperate voice. “Dios mio, I do more than anything. Is it true? Is it true that you can help me?”

Image Link: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/A1Nk2UrPPWL.jpg (16/04/21)

‘A Place Called Winter’ by Patrick Gale | Florence G

A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything. Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.

In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.

Throughout this novel Harry’s story is told simply, without embellishment, yet with beautifully descriptive writing, detailing the wilderness both surrounding Harry and within him as he searches to belong somewhere and with someone.

‘To find yourself sometimes you must lose everything’

This book is a frank look at sexuality and the battle of self-acceptance in a less enlightened time. It is a story that is both harsh and soft-edged, a bittersweet mixture, a story that doesn’t flinch from the truth.

You really feel like you are there with Harry during all he goes through and with those he meets along the way.

A Place Called Winter was first published in early 2015 by acclaimed author, Patrick Gale. This novel was Patrick’s sixteenth book. The character of Harry Cane is loosely based on Patrick’s grandfather, who, for some unknown reason, fled to Canada. Partick has referenced many books that inspired him to write A Place Called Winter but the book that has always stood out to him when thinking about influences is the classical love story Maurice by E.M.Forster. A Place Called Winter was also shortlisted for the Costa Prize in 2015.

I recommend this book to people that are above the age of fourteen because of some upsetting scenes.

“He was not a scholar – his brain seemed too sluggish or too dreamy to grasp the things demanded of it – but he was never happier than when left alone among books, and would spend hours turning the pages of atlases, novels or tales from history, alive to the alternative versions of himself they seemed to proffer.”

“Bad men you want to kiss are the worst; he had only to use the right tone of voice and you offered your throat to the knife.”

Both taken from A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Image Link: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/71noXpH2KLL.jpg (20/03/21)