After the Fire – Will Hill

after the fire

Hold on to your hats kids, I love this book and so may be a bit gushy!

Moonbeam has grown up living in a cult in the desert in America. The cult, or God’s Legion live in a commune and are led by the charismatic and scary Father John. Moonbeam has lived there for most of her life after her father saw the previous leader, Father Patrick, speak. He moved Moon and her mum there and became one of the top leaders . He then died.

Moonbeam is left there with her mum, who she has quite a fractious relationship with and the rest of the commune. We first meet Moonbeam when she is locked in a secure facility with some other kids from the commune. We slowly learn that there has been a massive fire after the commune is attacked by government agencies and something has happened which Moonbeam feels she is responsible for. The book is written in the present with flashbacks to events that took place before the fire. Moonbeam is being interviewed by a Doctor, Doctor Hernandez and an FBI agent called Agent Carlyle. They are both interested in how the Legion worked and particularly about its leader.

We learn through the flashbacks that the commune is run by Father John with a rod of iron. Any misdemeanour means time in the box, a metal box in the middle of the desert. Father John lives in the ‘big house’ with his wives and there are mysterious visits by other men to the girls rooms unless you are promised to Father John as a future wife. Moonbeam is one of these and, when she turns 18 she will have to marry him. There is also extensive weapons training for when the day comes that the Legion is attacked by the Outsiders and they will need to protect themselves. Everyone needs to take part in this and combat training, including young children, of which there are quite a few.

We soon realise that Moonbeam has no experience of the outside world, once Father John takes over the leadership no one is allowed to leave the compound except Amos, one of the Legionaires. He goes once a week to collect supplies and packages addressed to a James Carmel. Father John takes these and no one else knows what they contain.

A new member called Nate arrives and Moonbeam likes him. She follows him around and he starts to make her realise that there are things going on that are not right. He eventually jeopardises his position within the group and needs to leave, this prompts Moonbeam to start thinking about getting out.

This book is frightening and hard hitting and violent. It is also about how religion can be used to twist people’s beliefs and used as a weapon of  control. The people who live in the commune give up their lives  for something that they believe is true. They think that when you die, you will ascend to Heaven and sit with God, this is the ultimate reward. This is most disturbing when we meet Luke, another teenager living in the commune who was the first child to be born and brought up  there. He has no knowledge of the real world except for what he is told by the leaders. He is a fanatical believer.

Father John is also terrifying. He controls  everyone and everything within the commune. He does this through fear and retribution, not something that you should associate with a peaceful, loving community.

The author wrote this book after a memory of the Waco massacre was awakened after a trip to America. I remember this because I was a teenager when it happened. This was a religious commune who lived Texas and was run by another charismatic leader, David Koresh. The Branch Davidians were a break off group of the Seventh Day Adventists and set up a commune where they stashed weapons for defense against the ‘end times’. The siege in the early nineties lasted for 51 days and was all over the news, eventually 76 people died. This is kind of an exploration of what it would have been like to be a teenager living though that. There are lots of adult stuff going on that Moonbeam cannot understand but, as an outsider we can see that what is going on is wrong and she cannot be blamed for what happens.

I loved Department 19 and I also loved this. Will Hill is a fantastic writer who really gets in to the mind of the characters and takes us there too. Moonbeam is a strong girl despite her upbringing and we are rooting for her to be ok. As a woman and a mother it was frustrating to see how the women were portrayed though, would they really put their children in such danger or did they really believe that this was a safe environment for them to grow up in? It is a dark novel though, and explores some really complex and disturbing themes. Make sure you are in a happy place when you read it!

Further reading: Whit by Ian Banks (this is one of my all time favourite books and is a humorous take on living in a cult) and The Girls by Emma Cline (this is definitely for older readers though so be careful – it is a very disturbing book!)

The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

memory flora banks

I Kissed Drake….. I kissed Drake….. I Kissed Drake….

Get used to these words because you will be reading them over and over again in this book! Flora Banks has a brain injury which means that she cannot retain any memories after about 2-3 hours. She lives in Penzance in Cornwall with her parents and they look after her. She has to write notes on her hands and arms to remind her what’s going on,and she has letters and notes around the house with other information about her life.

She is 17 but as she had a brain aneurysm when she was 10 she still thinks that she is that age. All her memories before 10 are mostly there, including her best friend, Paige.

At the beginning of the book she is at a party with Paige. Paige’s boyfriend is leaving Penzance to study in Svalbard, Norway. Flora knows Paige at the party but doesn’t remember anyone else, she gets a bit bored and leaves to go and sit on the beach; this is where the famous kiss occurs. It is unusual because when Flora wakes up the next day she can remember it. This is so unusual that she attaches a massive significance to it and it takes over her life. It also destroys her friendship with Paige.

The other part of the story is that Flora has a brother called Jacob who lives in France. He has become very ill and her parents need to go over to France to see him. They tell Flora that she doesn’t have a passport so she can’t come with, but they have arranged with Paige that she will come and stay with Flora and look after her while they are away. Except Paige is no longer speaking to Flora and won’t come, Flora doesn’t tell her parents this and they go off thinking that she will be safe. She is left home alone for a week. Her mum rings to remind her to take her medication and she gets on with it, but this overhanging obsession with Drake becomes more and more intense. They start emailing each other and Flora becomes immersed. She then makes a decision that will change everything. She has a tattoo on her arm which says ‘ be brave ‘ and she certainly is that!

I have a few issues with this book. Although the portrayal of a person with short term memory is well done, the sense of confusion and unreality comes across really well, the significance of a kiss with a boy  (and not a very nice boy at that!) is annoying. It is also incredibly repetitive and eventually I dreaded reading those words ‘I kissed Drake…’ The twist at the end is good, almost worth reading all the way through for but, I wanted Flora to be more sorry about nabbing her best mate’s boyfriend, and she really didn’t give a damn! Considering Paige has obviously stuck by her through a very difficult time the way Flora just dropped her and became obsessed with her bloke was sad.

All in all, I have to say that this wasn’t one of my favourite reads, but it was entertaining and a sympathetic portrayal of someone with amnesia and the sacrifices that other people around them have to make. Paige is a good friend to Flora, her parents I have mixed feelings about because of what happens over the course of the book but, her brother Jacob is ace.

We Come Apart – Sarah Crossan & Brian Conaghan

we come apart

Jess doesn’t have a great life. She lives with her mum and her stepdad, Terry. She used to also live with her brother Liam, but when things got a bit too much with Terry he ran off; Jess hasn’t see him since. Terry beats Jess’ mum and forces Jess to film it so she is complicit in what is happening. Jess  can’t save her.

Nicu doesn’t have a great life either. He is from Romania and has come to England with his mum and dad to make some money. He is from a gypsy family and his parents are planning his wedding. Nicu doesn’t want to get married but his parents are adamant that they will find him a nice wife that he can look after.

Both Nicu and Jess are 15 years old and meet when they are both arrested for stealing and put on community service in the local park. They are both on their third offense, Jess got dumped in it by her mates and Nicu stole some stuff from a shop. Nicu doesn’t speak English very well and is struggling at school, not just with the language but with the bullying that he experiences as a Roma gypsy. He just wants to fit in and keep his head down but this is impossible to do. Jess is part of a gang that doesn’t want anything to do with people like him, but during their Saturdays together, a bond starts to form.

Nicu is starting to fall in love with Jess and this makes him want to get married even less. He is worried about not doing what his father wants, but at the same time can’t deny his feelings for the difficult Jess.

Like the other Sarah Crossan books, this is written in poetry form. This makes it a quick and easy read. Don’t let this fool you into thinking it doesn’t have a hard hitting message, and the language is pretty grown up too. The authors are making comments about the social landscape of modern Britain. There is a very large shifting population and many people from Europe come over to the UK to live and work, and bring their children, mostly with the intention of returning to their home countries at some point – with the children who have been educated in Britain. The cultures and rules that they bring with them from other countries are not the same as we have here. By bringing their children here and letting them experience our culture, their world shifts a little. If Nicu hadn’t come to the UK he would not have thought twice about an arranged marriage, or met Jess. The possibilities after their meeting means that he cannot accept what his parents want.

Jess on the other hand is living a pretty miserable life and cannot see a way out. By meeting Nicu, the spiral of her life changes. She no longer wants the life she has, she sees the people she hangs around with for what they are and it pushes her to change the way she sees things.

I so wanted this book to have a different conclusion but I guess life isn’t like that! Inevitably they both see that they can’t carry on the way they are and something needs to  change, unfortunately life gets in the way. I don’t want to spoil it for so I won’t say any more then that but, suffice to say – if you love her other books (and you just need to read my reviews to know that I do!)  then you will absorb this book and finish it in a single sitting. You may even shed a tear or two at the end….

Goodbye Stranger – Rebecca Stead

goodbye stranger

Bridge, Tab and Em have been friends for ever. They met in grade school (I think this is primary school English viewers!) and made a pact that they would never fight. This is probably quite easy when you are little but, as you get older this is a little harder to do. Bridge was out  rollerskating one day when she is hit by a car. She is off school for a year recovering and Tab and Em get on with life.

It's a new term, their last at middle school,when Bridge returns to school. Em is starting to pull away from the group, she has taken up various sports, filled out a bit and got interested in boys. One particular boy takes her interest and, encouraged by her new friend Julie Hopper from the year above, she engages in some flirting with him. The boy, Patrick, starts sending her pictures and she starts replying and then it all gets a bit complicated.

In the mean time, Bridge meets Sherm. Sherm is lovely, and Bridge wants to be his friend. They are all only 12 remember so she's not really sure what else she wants. She just knows that she looks forward to seeing Sherm and hanging out with him. Meanwhile, Tab has started spouting feminist ideology picked up from her  teacher, and their friendship is starting to become fractured. Sherm also has some stuff of his own going on and isn't really sure how to deal with it all.

This book is really interesting. It deals with some pretty big themes; friendship, first love, betrayal and heartache. There is also a bit of cyber bullying thrown in, along with a difficult moral conundrum for Sherm; in fact two moral conundrums! His relationship with Bridge gets more complicated and he makes a decision which has consequences for everyone.

I kept forgetting that they were so young while I was reading it. I don't know if that means I am getting old or kids just have to deal with more serious dilemmas at a younger age then I did. Bridge is a great character simply because she is a bit more innocent then the others and finds herself in situations that she isn't really ready to deal with yet. This is a clever device because that's pretty much how most kids feel at this age! Sherm is also the kind of boy you would want your daughter to be friends with. Em and Tab are a bit more complicated, and perhaps this is because they have a bit more experience of how the world works then Bridge does, this doesn't mean that they make the right decisions though!

I haven't read anything else by Rebecca Stead but will put some of her other books on my reading list – a nicely written book about growing up in America in the 2000s and how modern technology can make dating and flirting even more complicated. The cyber thing will also have you gnashing your teeth about how girls get treated differently to boys, even now. See if you think Em and Patrick get treated in the same way, by their peers and by the school, when everyone finds out what happened….

Our Chemical Hearts – Krystal Sutherland

There is a wealth of books for teenagers about all kinds of things. Some of them worry me. They deal with illness, mental and physical, abuse, sexuality (loads of these!) bullying, relationships, strange illnesses that aren’t really illnesses and, like this one, grief. In this day and age when teenagers have access to so much online content, to then write books about how they should deal with these things, effectively taking the role of the parent, sometimes troubles me. I don’t want my daughter to find out how to deal with these things from a book, I want her to be able to talk to me about them,  but I know that this isn’t possible for some. I also know that there are lots of things going on in your heads that you  need to sort out and, if it helps to read about it then that can only be a good thing…. except bear in mind that  life isn’t all doom and gloom!

This book is a sensitive portrayal of a young woman who has lost her boyfriend/ best friend/ future husband in a car crash. The story isn’t told through her eyes though, but through the boy who falls in love with her afterwards. Henry is a bit geeky and aspires to be the editor of his high school newspaper in his senior year. He has schemed for the last two years with his friends Lola and Murray ( a quirky Australian!) to achieve this. When he is called in to the English teacher’s office (Mr Hink) at the beginning of the year he encounters Grace Town. Grace walks with a limp, wears musty boys clothes and, when offered the job of sharing the editorial job with Henry, turns it down. Henry chases after her (she is surprising nimble, even with a walking stick) and demands to know why. Grace has transferred from another local high school in the area called East High. Henry feels drawn to her but can’t explain why, even to himself. She is not the typical girl to fall in love with and, Henry isn’t the type of boy to fall for girls much anyway, he’s too interested in his writing.

As their relationship develops La and Murray, and Henry’s sister Sadie, who is also going through a divorce, try to warn him against trying to start something with someone who is so broken. The metaphor here is that Henry likes to collect broken things, in particular Japanese pots that have been fixed with gold wires. Grace is profoundly broken and blames herself for the accident that took her boyfriend and future, Dom. The idea that when someone you love is killed, you are also robbed of that future that you would have had with them is a deeply upsetting concept.

There is also a little side thing going on with Henry’s parents which I found quite interesting. This all became clear at the end of the book but it was the relationship between Henry and his parents and then their relationship with his sister Sadie that made me think a bit. The age gap between Sadie and Henry is big and Sadie was the naughty one who did everything, so when Henry is her opposite they aren’t sure how to deal with this. I can’t quite decide whether they intended to make him feel guilty or were relieved that he wasn’t as rebellious as his big sister, interesting though.

The writing is beautiful and the texts and emails that intersperse the book are good at breaking things up and a realistic portrayal of how young people would communicate, no one is ever off limits anymore.   I wanted to feel sorry for Grace, but I ended up just feeling a lot of frustration with her. She doesn’t ask Henry to feel the way that he does but she doesn’t do anything to help make the situation better. The way in which grief is portrayed  as a real, visceral thing that eats away at you is awesome (in the proper sense of the word!) This is a debut novel by this author and I wasn’t expecting it to move me as much as it did, be prepared for some raw emotion and hard hitting dialogue that will leave you reaching for your tissues. Murray is also great as the comedy factor and, although he is portrayed as a stereotypical Australian, it’s kind of ironic!

Enjoy this one, I’m sure you will!

Ink and Bone (The Great Library Series #1) – Rachel Caine

I haven’t read anything by Rachel Caine before; the whole Morganville thing didn’t really appeal to me even though they were really popular in the library. This one kind of grabbed me because of the library  connection and I thought I’d give it a go.

The book is based on the premise that The Royal Library of Alexandria in Egypt was not destroyed and is still standing at the time the book is set, which is in 2025. The Royal Library was built in the 3rd century BC and was a centre of cultural learning and knowledge. It housed thousands of papyrus scrolls and other scholarly works which were destroyed by a big fire in 30 BC. The library then moved to a daughter library or Serapeum and this was destroyed in the Muslim wars in about 642 AD. This background knowledge would have helped when reading the book but is not essential!

The Library is controlled by the Librarians (!) a sinister group that basically rule the world and all the knowledge in it. Any printed books are banned and any that exist are housed in the original library in Alexandria. There is a black market trade in printed books but this a dangerous game and, if discovered will lead to execution. All citizens of the world are allowed to read from tablets, or blanks, and these are controlled by the Library. There is also some wars going on, particularly between the Welsh and the English and these are brutal, almost medieval, warfare. There is also a group of people who live in the Iron Tower in Alexandria called Obscurists. They can preform some sort of magic that controls the blanks and other things. If you are an Obscurist you cannot leave the Iron Tower, ever. They are super powerful and rare. There is also a group of people called Burners who destroy books in a public way to draw attention to the fact that all books should be free to be read without being controlled by the library.

Jess Brightwell lives in London with his family. They are book smugglers and he is a runner. He has to deliver the books to the clients. Some are extremely rare and worth lots of money. He had an older brother called Liam who was executed at 17 for smuggling and a twin called Brendan, who is a mystery ( he makes fleeting appearances in this book!) The Brightwell family are large and have relatives all over. Although Jess is part of the business his heart isn’t really it so when he turns 17  his father buys him an opportunity. Every year students from all around the world are chosen to go to Alexandria to study. They have to sit a series of exams and if they pass, go to Alexandria and study with a Scholar, who chooses six of them to be taken in to the library. The others are sent back.

On the train to Alexandria he meets his fellow students; Thomas, Khalila, Danton and Glain. When he arrives he meets his room mate, Dario who isn’t very nice and later another mysterious girl arrives called Morgan. Their scholar is a chap called Wolfe who may or may not be dodgy, and they are also trained by the Garda, a man called Santi. These are all the main players in the book and you will get to know them as you go.

I don’t want to elaborate too much on the story because it will give you too many spoilers, but this is a series opener so it needs to set everything up. Which it does! The story is fast paced and gritty and there is a hint of magic but it’s not too overwhelming for people who aren’t too into magical books. Jess is a great character and there is a developing love story as well but, the main plot is; who to trust? Should we agree that one organisation can control all the power and knowledge in the world just because they can? The other characters are really good as well and I’m sure that the ones that survive will make an appearance in the next book (which is already in my kindle!)

This is a great summer read and you will become immersed in their world, I am looking forward to reading the next one and the third one is out in July so that’s going on the kindle as well! There are also some spin off novellas which will keep you busy. If you love a series with some magical twists and turns then this is the one for you!

 

 

One of Us is Lying – Karen M McManus

Hands up if you have seen the awesome 80s classic The Breakfast Club? High school kids stuck in detention, all different types, don’t really know or like each other and then they are all stuck in the same room and end up having this amazing experience? WHY NOT??? This film is fab and I demand you go and watch it this evening….

Well, this book is unashamedly similar, except one of the students who goes into detention doesn’t make it out again. Bronwyn, Cooper, Nate, Addy and Simon are all in detention on a Monday afternoon for being caught with their mobile phones. Except all the phones they were caught weren’t their own, but were found in their bags. Weird coincidence number one. While they are all there, the teacher leaves for a second and there is a car crash in  the car park which they all go and look at out of the window. The next thing you know, Simon falls down and starts  gasping for breath. It is well known that he has a peanut allergy and quick thinking Nate tries to find his epipen. It’s not in his bag and one of the others runs to the medical room to get a spare; there aren’t any.  Simon doesn’t make it  (this isn’t a spoiler, it tells you this in the blurb)

The other four narrate the story and all have something to hide. Simon is the author of an online gossip website called About That and has been writing nasty things about other students, he isn’t exactly Mr Popular. So when it’s discovered that he has been deliberately killed they are all under suspicion. Bronwyn is the clever type who is just trying to get though high school and into Yale. Cooper is the star baseball player who is just about the get a full scholarship and possibly play in the majors (this is important if you play baseball apparently) Nate is the school drug dealer and lives with his alcoholic dad, his mum has disappeared. Addy is dating Jake, a thoroughly nasty jock who is a total control freak. That basically sums up Addy’s personality at the beginning of the book.

As things play out and the students all fall under suspicion they start to get together to figure out what really happened. As they start to trust each other more, and spend more time together, there is a lingering suspicion that one of them may have committed the murder. So who did the crime?

I liked the way that, as the reader you experience all the main suspects in their own words, which makes it more difficult to figure out which one (if any) of them might have done it.  As  the groups secrets are exposed and some of them get a bit closer the suspicion heightens. Although I never really believed that any of them were guilty, the lies came out quite slowly so it was exciting to go along not knowing who the murderer was. I also started to really like the characters and really hoped that none of them were responsible!

This is another YA book that references classic stuff but also is trying to encourage you to be an individual. Addy in particular is in an abusive relationship but doesn’t even realise it. Cooper’s secret also exposes the fact that, although American is a first world country, it still has some backward thinking going on!

The twists and turns made me want to finish quickly and I  really enjoyed the ride. A good thriller that will make you go ‘oh!’ when you find out the truth! One to read over the summer I think.

Now go and get The Breakfast club on Netflicks, if you love Pitch Perfect hopefully you have seen it already!