The Handmaids Tale - Margret Atwood - Reviewed by Aidan Ricketts Star Review!
Set in a dystopian future, where the USA has recently been turned into an ultra-Christian society, The Handmaid's tale offers a different perspective on power, religion, gender and sex. In this world, most women are infertile, so those who are still fertile are highly valued. They are groomed to bear children from high ranking members of this authoritarian society.
The book focuses on Offred, a handmaid, and the trials and tribulations of her new life. Personally, I think that Atwood has done an excellent job of giving motivations and emotions (and therefore depth) to her characters. One character who is particularly relevant today is the Commander, to whom Offred is in service to. He represents a powerful and selfish bureaucrat, who believes they can get away with anything on the surface, yet still has base feelings for Offred, and doesn't want to see her harmed.
The plot of the book takes a back seat to the relationship between characters, and Offred's feelings, yet is still engaging. Lots of the book takes part in flashbacks, so while the plot itself is not hugely significant, lots of character progression is still conveyed, and these flashbacks help us to understand Offred, and also how this setting came to be. However, I found the end of the book to be slightly unsatisfactory, and while understanding why it was ended where it was, would have liked more of a resolution.
I would highly recommend this book for older readers, but think that younger ones would struggle with the subtext and some content due to the highly mature themes. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and now is a better time than ever to read it, as Atwood has announced that she will be writing a sequel inspired by modern America, 30 years after she wrote the first book.
Down and Out in London and Paris - George Orwell - Reviewed by Joe Watkinson - Star Review!
If I you were to ask a student to name a book written by George Orwell; the odds would be that they would reply with either Animal Farm or Nineteen Eighty-Four. This is, I must admit, no surprise: after all, we study Animal Farm in year nine and Nineteen Eighty-Four has become a modern classic: being the source of the famous term “Orwellian”.
The fact that Orwell is chiefly remembered today for his works of fiction is- In my opinion- rather a shame because a fiction writer he primarily was not. To elaborate on this: during his lifetime, he was best known for his non-fiction works such as Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London; the latter of which this review is about. Published in 1933, it was the first full-length work by Orwell who, just six years prior had been an imperial police officer in Burma. Is is written as a memoir- split into two parts: following Orwell’s own experiences of living among the destitute working class of Paris and as a homeless person in London. The most striking thing about both parts is, I think, the observations that Orwell makes of a reality starkly in contrast to his education at Eton and comfortable upbringing. Indeed, one of the main points that makes Orwell’s work such a joy to read is his ability to connect with his audience by not using flowery, over-the-top language but to deliver substance through the observations that he makes of the customs, unique characters, and anecdotes that he comes across.
Furthermore, Orwell takes these observations and often ends with a reflection on that subject: making his work more than just a personal memoir and instead crafting a insightful, intelligent, and revealing reflection on society as a whole. One of my favourite examples of this happens towards the end of his time in Paris where he considers what place the job of a plongeur (a dishwasher) has in modern society: “Is a plongeur’s work really necessary to civilisation? We have a feeling that it must be ‘honest’ work, because it is hard and disagreeable, and we have made a sort of fetish of manual work. We see a man cutting down a tree, and we make sure that he is filling a social need, just because he uses his muscles; it does not occur to us that he may only be cutting down a beautiful tree to make room for a hideous statue. I believe it is the same with a plongeur.” This is very representative of Orwell’s style: taking his own experiences and using them to shed light onto a reflection of society and how rife inequality is.
Upon this note, I think it can be said that Down and Out in Paris and London has a somewhat bittersweet aspect to it. On one hand it presents the realities of the setting and situation in a factual manner whilst still managing to serve as a personal reflection and tribute from Orwell through tragi-comic anecdotes that do so much to enrich Orwell’s writing. I also like how there are signs throughout the book that Orwell was already turning towards Democratic Socialism (although it is never mentioned) on account of the conditions that he experienced in both cities.
To conclude, I would insist that Down and Out is a must-read for everyone. It isn’t challenging to read and contains a thoroughly engaging, factual narrative whilst still managing to deliver humour.
I should warn you that at negative language is used to describe Jewish people (although I must hasten to add that Orwell was most definitely against antisemitism and that the negative language used is from Orwell’s Russian associate Boris). To finish off I would also highly recommend that you read Orwell’s other non-fiction works; especially Homage to Catalonia.
Winter In Madrid - C.J. Sansom - Reviewed by Rob Dorrington
Winter In Madrid is an amazing book. With lots of detailed and exciting stories all stemming from one core, the book twists and turns with many plot twists that engage the reader right from the start. Due to all of the detailed background stories that are entwined within the book, the characters appear to be real and very authentic adding to the already amazing plot. It is a story of deceit and love interweaved into one . It is easily one of the best books I have read..
Naughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman - Reviewed by Molly Gath
Blackman gives an insight into a fictional dystopian future that I never thought was a possibility. She details the immense struggles of those in an ethnic minority: through the eyes of 2 young families whom are segregated from one another. Emotionally, the novel brought me to tears at times, with laughter too! I loved it so much, that I’m now onto the sequel ‘Knife Edge’ and intend to read the third book!
The Mortal Instruments series - Cassandra Clare - Reviewed by Molly Gath
Undertaking this series is not a task for the faint-hearted : it contains a total of 6 books and 3171 pages! However, if you do find time to read this series, you will be pleasantly rewarded by a new adventure in each book, each with its own subtle mystery. The main character, Clary Fray and is born of the Nephilimn world, a place where demons and so called 'under-worlders' roam. But Clary knows nothing of this world - until a demon kidnaps her mother and turns her life tumultuously upside down. In this newly revealed world she meets Jace Wayland, a shadowhunter like herself, and together they embark on an epic quest to find the 'mortal instruments' which have the power to summon the great angel Raziel. Together they triumph over evil and ultimately fall in love. The only Criticism I would give the series are the cliffhangers! Every book (but the last, thank goodness) ends with a cliffhanger, forcing you to read the next one. I believe that the part where Cassandra Clare has us hanging onto our seats the most is the point where Clary's father reveals that Jace is Clary's long lost brother. But (sorry, cliffhanger alert) is this true or is this just an elaborate ploy to get them to do what he wants? Read to find out! Books in the Series: City of Bones City of Ashes City of Glass City of Fallen Angels City of Lost Souls City of Heavenly Fire
Elon Musk- Ashlee Vance - Reviewed by Noah Evans
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance is a very interesting book; it explores the life of entrepreneur, Tesla, The Boring Company and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. Musk originally didn't come from the USA. He started more companies than many people knew; including PayPal. It was originally called X.com but was then bought and renamed to PayPal. He also started Zip2; a company that provided online city guide software. If you're looking for a Christmas read about something different, this is for you.
Neverwhere- Neil Gaiman - Reviewed by Rob Derry
Neil Gaiman has been the brains behind several hit TV Series and movies including Coraline and American Gods. His latest book Neverwhere is based in central London and revolves around Richard Mayhew, a down-to-earth businessman. However after helping a hurt girl in the street his life as he knows it slowly falls apart around him. He then discovers an underground world hidden in plain sight. The next 350 pages follow him as he explores the secret world around him whilst trying to survive the unfamiliar and dangerous adventure he has caught himself up in. Neil Gaiman writes with a very relatable and easy to read prose. His imagination takes you on a unique journey through the London you wished existed.
Wolf Boy - Michelle Paver - Reviewed by Yousif Bahr
"Wolf Brother" is a gripping tale of a stone-age boy who sees his father dying in the midst of a great, demonic bear that preys the forest in which they reside in. Full with anguish, he must avenge his father - and make an oath to find a mountain nobody's ever seen before, kill a bear that nobody can kill, and find three things that nobody knows what they are or what power they have. He has to steer clear of people, and to make matters worse, his only companion in an orphaned wolf cub.