I’m The King of the Castle by Susan Hill

A generally quiet boy, Charles Kingshaw never wanted anything but a peaceful home, but he finds this impossible when faced with the formidable force of Edmund Hooper. When Kingshaw comes to live with Hooper and his father, Hooper is determined to do anything he can to persecute his new lodger, completely unnoticed by either of the two adults. Through relentless mental torment, Kingshaw is bullied to an utter extreme; Hooper seems completely unavoidable, all-knowing and all-seeing. However, when the boys end up lost in the woods during a thunderstorm, tables turn and suddenly Hooper is the weak one, cowering and afraid in the rain and the dark. Hooper hits his head and is injured, but when they are found by the adults, Hooper continually insists that the other boys had pushed him, and just as quickly, he is back on top. This kind of continual mental anguish recurs throughout the book, as Kingshaw knows he is in the right, but Hooper is always the one who is believed. Will Kingshaw ever find a way to avoid Hooper? Or will he forever be tormented by him? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

In my opinion, this book was incredibly moving, especially from the sense of frustration that the author gives Kingshaw throughout the book. Everything is written through Kingshaw’s perspective, so we saw what happened to Hooper, we know that what happened was his fault, so we almost become the protagonist in his exasperation at the adults’ blindness to his situation. I also thought that the book had a good ending, but I won’t say too much about it as it will ruin the book! I would say that maybe it didn’t have an incredibly exciting beginning, as I remember reading the first few pages and not thinking it would be a particularly good story, but that is definitely a personal opinion so others might think differently. All in all I thought this was a brilliant book, mostly because of the way the author portrayed Kingshaw’s feelings, but also because of the great storyline and the writing. Maybe if the author was re-writing it, it would be nice to see some of, or even the whole story from Hooper’s perspective, simply because he is portrayed as a very mysterious, closed character, and we can never really know what he was thinking, so it would be interesting to see how the author would write that. However, maybe that was one of the things that made the book so brilliant, the sense of unease from our oblivion to his thought. Who knows?

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Butter by Erin Lange

This book is about an obese teenager, known as Butter, from Arizona, who is desperate for popularity. In fact, he will do anything to gain acceptance from his schoolmates, even gorge himself to death on a live video link for all his classmates to see. When he has promised this, Butter gains the approval of his peers, and he is admired for his audacity by all. However, though all they see is the suicidal, 423-pound teenager, we get to know the real Butter, who underneath the ‘fat suit’ is an amusing, creative guy and an incredibly talented saxophonist to boot. However, there is one question everyone is asking – will he do it? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

I found this book very interesting because I think it covers a lot of modern issues in a small space of time. The first and most obvious one is our hunger for popularity – everybody wants to be famous because our society revolves around this idea that people who are famous are somehow better. The second issue is definitely, although you can’t really see it from my quick summary, the impact the internet has on our lives. In the book, Butter admits that “whatever appetite I lost for food I gained for Internet attention.”, and this is definitely one of the prominent points raised by the book, that just like we want to be popular in real life, we want to be recognised on the internet just as much, if not more, and this is damaging us. Another point is the obvious one about obesity, but I think it’s not really about Butter being fat, but how others view him because of it. We live in an age where image is a lot more important to most than our character, and this is especially showed throughout Butter’s relationship with Anna, a beautiful girl in his class, over the internet. She is completely won over by his alter ego, and even boasts about him to her friends at school, and this is because of Butter’s personality rather than his image. However, when he tries to talk to her at school, he is rejected as the “fat kid” and humiliated in front of everyone. In short, I really liked this books because I thought it was a great story when I read it, but even better to think about after I read it and seeing all the underlying messages between the lines, and I would recommend it to ages 12+

(I have described what I found interesting in the book in this review, but if all the messages about society and self image seem a bit too philosophical, you can almost ignore them and just think about the story. Which is also very good.)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Heathcliff was a homeless boy living in Liverpool before he was adopted by the master of Wuthering Heights, Mr Earnshaw, when he was seven. Mr Earnshaw had two children, Catherine, who was six, and Hindley, who was fourteen. Catherine and Heathcliff made firm friends and were rarely seen apart, but Hindley disliked Heathcliff and was cruel to him. Mr Earnshaw began to love Heathcliff more than his own son, and Hindley is sent away to college. Three years later Mr Earnshaw dies, and Hindley returns as master of the house, with his Wife, Frances, determined to seek revenge on Heathcliff. Catherine and Heathcliff still keep, their close relationship, however, but when they make a trip to Thrushcross Grange to tease the snobbish children, Isabella and Edgar Linton, who live there, Catherine is bitten by a dog and is forced to stay there for five weeks to recuperate, during which time Mrs Linton makes Catherine into a proper young lady. When Catherine returns, she has become infatuated with Edgar, even though she loves Heathcliff, and her wish for a rise in social status forces her to marry Edgar Linton, making Heathcliff run away from Wuthering Heights. Meanwhile Frances has passed away after giving birth to a baby boy, Hareton, and this sends Hindley into alcoholism and gambling. When Heathcliff returns he is a wealthy man, and vows to have his revenge on all who have wronged him, and when Hindley dies he inherits the manor. He also marries Isabella Linton in order to inherit the Grange, and treats her very cruelly. Catherine gives birth to a daughter, Cathy, and dies, making Heathcliff distraught, and shortly after Isabella flees to London to give birth to Heathcliff’s son, whom she names Linton. Cathy grows up at the Grange, with no knowledge of the Manor, until she stables upon it one day, finds Hareton and plays with him. Isabella then dies, and sickly, weak, Linton comes to live with Heathcliff, and he and Cathy begin a romance, but is it really love? Or just part of Heathcliff’s plan for revenge?

I must sadly say that I did not particularly enjoy this book. I really did not. I found it very confusing and complicated, which may just be because I am not one for long, dragging romances, but I thought that ultimately, it was quite boring. I thought that all the dying after giving birth made it quite predictable, and, for me, it just ticked all the wrong boxes. I know that it was written a long time ago, and it was meant to be complicated and romantic, but I just did not like it. Sorry.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Pip is a young boy living with his sister, the mean Mrs Joe, and her husband, the kindly blacksmith Joe Gargery, in the marshlands of Kent. His sister has never liked him, and is always reminding him of how she “raised him by hand”, and how grateful he should be about this.  Pip is sitting by his parents’  gravestones one night when an escaped convict grabs him and commands him to bring him food and a file for his leg irons. Pip obeys, but the convict is captured anyway. Soon afterwards Pip is taken by his pompous Uncle Pumblechook, to play at Satis House, owned by the mad Miss Haversham who has been driven  crazy after being left at the altar on her wedding day. She stays in her wedding dress all the time and even keeps all the clocks stopped at the time she heard of her lover’s betrayal; twenty minutes to nine. During his visit, he meets the beautiful Estella, who treats him coldly, but nevertheless he falls instantly in love with her. Pip dreams of becoming a wealthy gentleman so he may marry her, and even hopes Miss Haversham will help him do that, but his dreams are crushed when she apprentices him to  Joe Gargery, the blacksmith. Pip works unhappily, until one day a lawyer named Jaggers appears to tell Pip some brilliant news; he has been given a large fortune by an anonymous benefactor and is to leave for London to begin his education immediately. Pip guesses it must be Miss Haversham, and in London, he befriends a young gentleman named Herbert Pocket, and spends his days being tutored by Herbert’s father, Matthew, until one night the escaped convict, Abel Magwitch, breaks into Pip’s room to tell him something life changing… What did he say? Why has he come back? And will Pip and Estela ever be together? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

At first, when I picked up this book, I thought it would be very dull and hard to understand, but by the time I had got into it I actually really enjoyed it! It is definitely a longer read, and some of the language is obviously hard to understand as it is an old book, but something I had really not anticipated was how exciting or how much of a story this book has. I really liked how all the loose ends were tied up in the final few chapters, apart from one or two, and all the twists there were as you learned more abut the characters and their acquaintances. I would probably recommend it to ages 12+, as it is quite difficult, but it is still a good story so by all means try it or read an abridged version if you are younger (or older). I think this was a great book, and although it was hard to understand at times it had a great storyline, and was exciting, scary, and even funny!
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Prisoner of the Inquisition by Theresa Breslin

Zarita is the rich daughter of the town magistrate, at the time of the Spanish Inquisition, 1483. Her mother is ill with Zarita’s unborn sibling, and when she takes a trip to the Church to make an offering, a beggar touches her in pursuit of a coin to buy medicine for his sick wife, and she accuses him of assault. The beggar is brought before the magistrate, where, against Zarita’s will, he is executed. The news that Zarita’s baby brother died comes soon after. The executioners spot Saulo, the beggar’s son, watching in the bushes, and they take him off to be a slave on a galley ship. Then Saulo takes up the narrative, and vows vengeance on the magistrate, Zarita, and all his family. He is put on a boat to be a slave rower, and there he meets Captain Cosimo, who takes him away on his ship, and, after after learning about the boy’s aptitude for maths and languages, makes him his navigator.Meanwhile Zarita’s mother has died soon after childbirth, and her father remarried to the spiteful Lorena, who does anything she can to make her step daughter’s life miserable. Zarita then remembers about the beggar’s wife, and goes out on a search for her, and with the help of a Jewish doctor, she finds her, dying so she takes her to her aunt’s convent and nurses her until her final hours. By now the Inquisition has arrived to drive out all the non-Catholics, and the town lives in fear, with people being tortured and burned for heresy. Zarita’s father then decides that, because she has not gotten married yet, and will not get married, she must be sent away to her Aunt Beatriz’ convent to be shut away and live life as a nun. Whilst this happens, Saulo is battling pirates, and when the ship is taken over and Captain Cosimo dies, Saulo is given his peacock-blue velvet coat, where the Captain has sewn his life’s earnings. Saulo is rich, and after meeting the renowned Christopher Columbus who is planning his journey across the Atlantic, he returns to Spain to seek his revenge. He visits the magistrate’s house, where he burns it to the ground, killing Zarita’s father, but not Lorena, who is about to give birth. She is taken to the convent, where a baby boy is born with the help of the Jewish doctor, but Lorena is dying, and she confesses everything she has done, including the letter she wrote to the Inquisition about Zarita. Then Zarita goes to the Royal Court where she is captured and given a sentence to be burned at the stake for heresy. Lorena told the Inquisition that Zarita and her father were Jews. Will she survive? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

In all honesty, at the beginning of this book I didn’t think it was incredibly interesting, and this continued throughout the first five chapters or so, as it didn’t really get off to a racing start. I would say that it is not one for everyone, but by the end I was more interested and involved in the story. I liked how the story starts by giving you a prologue of complete irrelevance to what you are about to read, and then the last chapter is just a repeat of the prologue which rounds off the story nicely. It was definitely a very well-researched book, with many of the facts and characters completely true, and overall I think it was well written, it just wasn’t the best book I had ever read.

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You can buy Prisoner of the Inquisition from Amazon here

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

In a derelict hotel in Occupied France, World War II, a girl sits with an iron rod bound to her back, bargaining with her interrogator. Her codename is Verity, and is a British spy, flown into France by her best friend,and has been captured by the Nazis, She is being held in the Chateaux de Bordeaux, where she strikes a bargain with her questioners, to confess everything about the British war effort, in return for her clothes. This book is what she wrote, how she came to be there, and what happened afterwards. It begins with her talking about her friend Maddie with her motorcycle in her hometown of Cheshire, and her time as a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force volunteer, where she made friends with Queenie, a German-speaking wireless operator after an incident involving a crash-landing German pilot. Maddie then goes on to become an Air Transport Auxiliary Pilot, and through an unseen course of events Maddie ends up flying Verity into France, where they are shot down and Verity has to make a parachute jump before Maddie crash-lands.

This book does not sound like it has a lot to it, but there are so many twists after what I have described, most of them completely unexpected. I like how the story starts off with the reader knowing very little, and slowly progresses until you can see the whole picture, and the changes of perspectives throughout the book. I also liked how things were revealed without Verity’s intentions, as others characters in the story point out things you hadn’t previously noticed, and, maybe it was just me, but how you warmed to the character as you read further, because at the beginning I quite disliked Verity for making such a cowardly bargain, but as I read more and learned more about her I liked her more and more. It’s the kind of book that slowly reels you in, and by the end you are so attached to the characters that the ending brings you into floods of tears and you wish you could jump into the book and change what happened. One thing I found slightly confusing was all the different names there were for the main character, which made it quite hard to keep up, but that was a very minor thing and all in all I thought the book was very funny, moving and ultimately, rather sad.

You can buy Code Name Verity from amazon here, or Elizabeth Wein’s other book, Rose Under Fire, here, which I will be reading as soon as possible!

Revolver by Marcus Sedgewick

‘Revolver’ is set in the freezing, icy tundra of the Arctic Circle, in the midst of a gold rush in 1910. Sig Andersson has found his father frozen to death, on the surface of an ice-covered lake he has warned all the family to stay off. Why? Sig is completely clueless, until there is a knock at the door, and a huge, hostile stranger lumbers into the cabin, a revolver around his belt, and demands the gold Sig’s father owes him, the gold Sig knows nothing about. As the plot unwinds, Sig learns so much about his father, his life and how he came to be standing in this freezing hut in the midst of an icy landscape. At the end, however, the stranger still wants the gold, and Sig has no idea where it is, or if it even exists, but all the time Sig is thinking about his father’s most prized possession, a Colt Revolver and the eight bullets that lie inside its wooden case, and just how easily he could get to it…

I really enjoyed this book, so thanks to Emily for recommending it to me ☺︎, I liked the way the author unraveled the plot by changing viewpoints every chapter, so you would have one chapter with Sig and the stranger inside the freezing cabin, and then you would have one at the very beginning of the story with Sig’s father, slightly starting from both ends of the book and working inwards. I really liked his writing type, and I think the slow suspense that led up to the ending was very clever, keeping the reader gripped throughout. I seem to be reading a lot of books with brilliant endings recently, and this book was no exception, I won’t give too much away but it definitely proves that if you look hard enough, there are always three ways out of a two-way situation.

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Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig

Bamse is a small boy living in Denmark at the time of World War Two. His parents both work at the local theatre, the father painting sets, and his mother a renowned actress, and before they are invaded Bamse spends carefree days with his friend Anton who lives in the flat upstairs. However, all this changes when the Nazis invade, nothing really happens for a while, so Bamse doesn’t find the war particularly dangerous at this point, and he and Anton can’t resist playing the odd practical joke on the Nazi soldiers, but underneath all the laughter, Anton and his family are becoming more and more worried about what is going to happen. Bamse’s father tells his sons to lie low, not stir up any trouble that could get them noticed, but Bamse’s brother, Orlando, begins to work for the resistance, serious work, against his father’s will, and soon Bamse and Anton are pulled into the Resistance movement, helping deliver secret papers and putting messages on the bottoms of trains to send off to England, but when Orlando is arrested by the Nazis and the situation is Denmark starts to turn hostile, the boys, and the rest of the country, embark on a huge, nationwide mission to deliver all the Jews from Hitler’s clutches, and show the world they are not just Hitler’s Canary.

I really enjoyed this book, and the fact that it was a partially true story was just incredible, given the massive scale of the book’s ending. I think it was actually made better because I have read, and am also reading currently, so many books about World War Two, and the contrast between something like Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, which is a roughly true story about the horrific treatment of the people who were taken away in WW2, The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne and this book, gives you a sense of perspective about the war and how it changed between different people. For example, whilst I was reading this book I kept thinking how well Toksvig had given it a childish perspective, making World War 2 feel slightly like a big game. You don’t usually find many good books about the war which have a great, happy ending, well not to my knowledge anyway, so I was really pleased when I finished this book, and I also like the way that the ending didn’t completely turn out all smiles and butterflies and rainbows, because it just brings a little bit of realism back into the story. This was a great book and I really enjoyed it, it has one of the best endings I have ever read (I can promise you I was positively grinning all throughout the last few chapters!) so go on and read it! It will give you a smile on your face (hopefully) and a new perspective on World War 2.

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Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

Georges is a boy in 7th grade, living in Brooklyn. The ‘s’ in his name has got him a lot of unwanted attention at school, his mum works night shifts so they never see each other, and his family has just moved house, leaving the home Georges has known all his life behind. Life seems to just keep getting worse, until he finds a note in the basement about a “Spy Club Meeting.” He meets Safer, a boy living upstairs who is intent on finding out what the mysterious Mr X is up to, and his little sister Candy, and soon Georges is swept up into a world of lies and spying, all controlled by Safer.  As the bullying at school gets worse, Georges begins to think. Just how far is far enough? Are Safer’s demands, and the bullying at school, becoming too much? Helped with some logical reasoning from Candy, Georges decides that the bullying must come to end, and starts making his own rules…

This was a great book, which had loads of twists and turns that were completely unexpected. I absolutely loved the ending, but I won’t reveal anything because what made it great was the element of the unknown… Like “A Street Cat Named Bob” the cover was quite misleading, and I ended up reading a completely different type of story to the kind I had expected, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

I would recommend this book to ages 9-12, as a quite short but nonetheless brilliant read!

A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen

James is a homeless man living in sheltered accommodation. Everything has gone wrong in his life, and there seems no hope until he meets a stray cat, who he takes in and quickly christens Bob. Bob’s appearance into his life begins to turn it around, at the beginning in a very literal way, as he comes busking with James and attracting a lot of extra attention and money by sitting on his shoulder, but also by being there to support James on his journey to try and stay off the drugs he has depended on for so much of his life. The cat becomes an amazing, strong character in the book but isn’t afraid to remind James he can still fend for himself, even though he will always come back in the end. Along the storyline, there are lots of ups and downs, which can make you grip your seat in anxiety or make tears of happiness run from your eyes, and one of my favourite parts of the story was when James decided to go and visit his mother for the fist time since he moved out, and because this is a true story it just goes to show how people can go right from the edge back onto the right path again. I was given this book by one of my mum’s friends, and at first I thought it wouldn’t be particularly good, because of the title and the cover, but when I started to read, it became one of the best books I have ever read, so I would like to thank her so much for giving it to me. My favourite thing about the book has got to be the fact that it’s true, and the man who started off as a helpless addict living hand-to-mouth has not only got his life back on track, but has now managed to write a brilliant book about everything he went through, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. I would recommend this book to anyone from around ten to around one hundred, as it is an amazing, moving story that I think both adults and children alike will love.

I think there is a sequel to the book called “The World According To Bob”, so I will definitely be reading that at some point!