‘Who Let the Gods Out?’ – Maz Evans

Elliot’s mum is ill and his home is under threat, but a shooting star crashes to earth and changes his life forever. The star is Virgo – a young Zodiac goddess on a mission. But the pair accidentally release Thanatos, a wicked death daemon imprisoned beneath Stonehenge, and must then turn to the old Olympian gods for help. After centuries of cushy retirement on earth, are Zeus and his crew up to the task of saving the world – and solving Elliot’s problems too?

This has been popping up on a range of feeds commenting on how much primary school students are loving this. My eight year old was keen, but I said I’d read it first.

Well, what great fun!

Elliott Hooper is not your typical hero. However, it looks as if he’s going to be the one charged with saving the world.

After a rather unfortunate mishap involving Virgo crashing into Elliott’s barn, he gets caught up in a riotous adventure involving a range of Gods and a quest to collect four stones.

Along the way we get introduced to a range of great characters. There’s a potentially upsetting story-line featuring Elliott’s ill mother and money problems, and some very funny moments with the queen.

Having finished this I’ve ordered part two and am looking forward to seeing what my son makes of this series. Pretty sure ‘Epic Bosh’ is going to find its way into conversation soon…

‘The Binding’ – Bridget Collins

The Binding will be one of those divisive books that will have both fans and haters alike, but whichever camp you fall into I think there’ll be similar comments made about it.

For me this was the story of Emmett Farmer, a young man drawn to books but reluctant to take on the apprenticeship he’s offered for reasons he can’t explain. He comes to learn about himself and how he might challenge the expectations of his time.

When I requested this from NetGalley it was because of the lure of a story about books. In this world books are currency, used by fraudulent men to bind people to them. Books in this form are not stories – works of fiction are sneered at here as being less worthy – but they are used to draw memories from people who desire to forget things. Sometimes this is an unpleasant memory, but sometimes these bindings are used as a form of covering abuse or controlling others.

Intriguing though this was, we don’t focus on the books as much as I expected.
There’s no denying the fact that the first part of the story feels slow as you read. It drifts and it’s not clear why certain events are happening as they do, and the recurring allusions to secrets to be told did get a little wearing. However, as we started to uncover some of these details I became more invested in the story. Unfortunately I can see many readers being bored by the midway point where things really started to move forward, and simply not bothering to read on. That would be a shame.

As we come to understand Emmett’s actions and unearth some of the details that have led him to this point I couldn’t help but feel the story had shifted into a place that wasn’t expected.

Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

‘On the Come Up’ – Angie Thomas

Firstly, thank you Angie Thomas for introducing us to another wonderful character in Bri. Secondly, thank you for not writing another THUG. Some crossover issues, but there’s never a moment when you feel this has already been done. Thirdly, thank you for writing about something I don’t have any experience of (rapping) and making me actually care about it.

Focusing on sixteen year old Bri, daughter of a much-loved rapper shot by gang members, On the Come Up places music at its very heart. Showing us the power of words and the way music can, literally, save us also means Thomas has to confront some of the less appealing elements associated with this genre.

At the outset Bri is rather brash, quick to rile and say what she thinks. This means she’s labelled as ‘aggressive’ and people expect trouble. Immediately confronting attitudes to race when Bri is thrown to the floor by school security there’s a lot happening here.

Alongside the school issues/general social exploration, there’s a real focus on the family and how our relationships affect us. Bri’s mum and brother leave her out of things – perhaps out of a desire to protect her – but this leaves a Bri open to suggestions she may not have considered in a misguided attempt to help ease her family’s experiences.

Friendships are tested as Bri sets out to get her ‘come up’ – her chance to change things. She battles with words, she is set-up to play a role but ultimately she has to figure out who she is and whether she’s important enough to look to do things her way.

Again, I’m sure all too soon we’ll see this adapted into a movie. Vibrant, thought-provoking and powerful.

‘The Giver’ – Lois Lowry

For many this is regarded as the original YA dystopian novel. It’s cropped up on my recommendations time and time again, but I had never heard much about it.
In this world, everything is strictly regulated. It’s all done for people’s safety and well-being, but it’s so safe and constricted. Nobody knows this, because they’re indoctrinated into the lifestyle. From early on they’re trained to be precise in their language use (abstract nouns such as love don’t have any place here); they’re unfailingly polite; they don’t ask questions and every detail of their life is regulated. This way, people can’t make wrong choices. They can’t be upset.
They are also, it seems, not really living.

Jonas is almost twelve when we meet him, and he’s eagerly awaiting the details of his work training. On the day of the ceremony he’s left out. However, this is because those in charge have decreed he should become a Receiver. This is the highest honour that can be bestowed in the community, but nobody really knows what it entails.

When Jonas starts his training it is with a mix of eagerness and worry. He is told his new job will be to receive the memories – not just of the community, but of those that came before, and those from even earlier. He will be granted access to books, and he will – eventually – be able to see the world in colour rather than the black and white sameness that everyone else experiences.

Initially, the training focuses on pleasurable experiences. He is shown the exhilarating memory of sledging down a hill, feeling the sun on his skin and happiness at a birthday party. Soon, however, he is also given less pleasant memories. He sees war, he feels the pain of a broken limb and the loss of death.Jonas can talk to no one about his training, only the person giving him the memories (the man he will replace). In their conversations we are encouraged to consider for ourselves our own thoughts on these topics.

The ending was a curious one. I know this is part of a quartet, though it seems each story focuses on a different character. It’s hard to work out what we’re meant to feel at the end of this. While it was hopeful, there was also a melancholy to it that unsettled me.

‘The Vanishing Stair’ – Maureen Johnson

So, last time round Stevie was investigating the Ellingham mysteries and getting herself into places/situations she ought not to have. In the interim we are led to believe her parents have pulled her from school, worried because one of the students has died and another has gone missing (fair point, I think).

Initially I felt the book was (sorry) a little slow to get going. Starting with Stevie moping round her home town pointing out all the things she missed about school and generally not doing much was too reminiscent of that awful scene with Bella in the chair, doing nothing as the seasons change around her.

Thankfully the mood becomes less maudlin before it gets too much to take. David’s dad steps in and, effectively, bribes her to return to school and keep an eye on his son. Stevie settles back into school but – as you’d hope – she cannot forget the elusive Ellingham case and continues her investigations.

The last thing you want is to know any of the details of this. Suffice to say, Stevie gets closer to unravelling some of these mysteries but also – as in many of the best mysteries – there are new strands woven in.

Towards the end I was really quite frantic with trying to work out what was going to happen. Johnson is toying with readers by leaving it where she does. I have so many questions…

‘Station Eleven’ – Emily St. John Mandel

The first thing to say about this book is that it’s very different to anything I’ve read before. Puzzling, but breath-taking in its approach, I have to admit that for a substantial part of the reading I was wondering quite how these characters/their stories linked.

The second thing to say is that this was a book that made me feel I was constantly reaching for something, only to have it tugged away at the last moment. It was elusive, but not in a frustrating way. Having just finished it I’m aware of feeling unsettled, as if I need to read it again to get a firmer grasp on its message.

Station Eleven is the title given to a comic book series that features at moments throughout the book. It’s a work of love by Miranda, a character within the story, that explores the idea of a hidden civilisation.

Very often when reviewing a book I focus on the general plot and give my reactions to it. Station Eleven felt, for a lot of the time, like a book with no story – more an exploration of the timeless ideas of what makes us who we are/what it means to be civilised. So, why does it feel like a book that’s so important?

There’s no simple answer.

The book opens with famous actor Arthur Leander dying on stage as he performs Lear. It’s a moment that foreshadows the events to come. For, at the same time as trainee paramedic Jeevan is trying to resuscitate Arthur, a deadly virus is spreading the world. Within hours of coming into contact with this virus, people come down with flu-like symptoms. Within hours they are dead.

Civilisation as we know it is coming to an end.

The timeline skips and, at times, I found this disconcerting. We flit between the time Arthur is dying and the immediate aftermath to twenty years after the end of the world. We also venture into the past to learn more about the five characters central to the story. They are connected in ways that seems most unlikely, but reinforces the sense of humanity.

My somewhat random thoughts here do, I think, reflect what a strange read this was. That’s a good thing, but not one that immediately feels comfortable.