BOOKS FOR CHILDREN: How do you know what's good?

While there are many places (especially on the internet) where you can read book reviews, how do you really know if it's a good book or not when a single book might receive anywhere from one to five stars?
The answer: read the reviews of a book-addicted teacher librarian.

** The age recommendations are guidelines only; whether or not a certain book is suitable for a particular child depends on multiple factors, including their maturity, reading level, interests, and in some cases their experiences.
** While the ratings are largely based on my own personal appreciation/enjoyment of the book, they are also influenced by my experiences as a teacher and the potential attraction for the target-aged child (acknowledging that what one child may love, another may find exceptionally boring). A rating of 5 indicates the book is likely to be popular with the majority.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Series: Take Back The Skies (Jnr YA Fic)

AUTHOR: Lucy Saxon (UK)
PUBLISHED: Bloosmbury, c2014.
PAGES/ILL: 378 pages, map.
SERIES: Take Back The Skies.
FIRST BOOK: Take Back The Skies.


Catherine Hunter is the daughter of a senior government official on the island of Anglya, in the world of Tellus. Since the monarchs went missing during a war, the government officials have controlled everything. She lives a privileged life, unlike the Commoners, whose children have been Collected for a war no one knows much about. Unhappy with her caged life, she stows away on the skyship Stormdancer. As they leave Anglya behind, Cat learns about other lands in Tellus and that her government is involved in a despicable secret scheme and has been lying to the people of Anglya. With the help of the crew of the Stormdancer, she vows to set things right. (And along the way, she falls for one of the crew members.)

First of all, cudos to a 16 year old for writing it, but I was really disappointed in this story. I really wanted to like this book, and for the first half I did.

The world Saxon has created is rather great. A little steampunk, a little fantasy. The main and supporting characters started off quite likeable. However, the story falls down with some of the plot and character developments.

The plot is developed (if you can call it that), reaches the climax, and ends way to fast. As for the love interest, you can see Fox and Cat falling for each other a mile off. Unsurprisingly (because the characters and the author are teens), it's a fairly juvenile relationship, going from 0-10 in a matter of chapters, and, annoyingly, with constant "saying the wrong thing and being taken the wrong way" back and forth they keep up for almost the entire book.

The progression of events is thus:
- Cat leaves her privileged life and stows away on the skyship Skydancer where she makes friends with the crew and falls for Fox, who does the whole "I'll act like an arse because I secretly like you" thing while Cat does the "I'm independent and I'll overreact" thing.
- The government plot comes to light - they are kidnapping kids for something and lying to their people about being at war.
- The adults on the Skydancer have known something was up for YEARS, but Cat gets them to mount an offensive in one conversation (obviously only those on the Skydancer have a clue and none of the other nations know what is going on, and obviously they should do something without finding out more details or alerting authorities in other lands).
- They plan what they are going to do for all of a day or two, managing to find blueprints of the government building they need to infiltrate, along with making secret video and audio equipment, explosives, etc.
- Once in the building, they discover exactly what is going on (turning children into half-machine soldiers), find the missing monarchs, and Fox and Cat realise their feelings for each other and are in 'love'. (And the previously-missing prince gets an instant crush on Cat that makes you gag).
- The next day, they rescue the monarchs as well as a lot of children, broadcast to the world images of what is going on, and go after the skyship on which the completed child/machine soldiers are being kept. - They find the ship, kill the main baddie, Fox dies (in an unlikely scenario), the Prince makes a move on Cat, she swears she will never love him or marry him (all this within a few hours).
- "Two years later" Cat marries the Prince. The end.

Riiiight. The first part is fine. I'll even overlook the Mission Impossible plot of infiltrating a secret government plot in a matter of days.
What would have made it more interesting, though, is the baddie getting away, finding out there are MORE ships with child/machine soldiers, and Fox living to fight another day in the next book where they continue to hunt for the baddie and try to find the other ships and eventually maybe having to fight those machines. (This also means the prince can get over his nauseous little infatuation and find someone else, Cat and Fox's relationship might actually develop into something quite good while providing the romance in the story, and then the trio could actually work quite well).

Instead, they kill the baddie, and we immediately jump to 'two years later'. So.... a government conspiracy just magically vanished like smoke after destroying one building and killing some people? What about the child/machines? What did they do with them? What about the kids who hadn't been made into machines yet? How far did the conspiracy reach? What was the punishment for those captured? What did the other lands make of it? How did people react to learning about the plot and finding out what had happened to their kids? How about learning that the missing King is actually part of the conspiracy? Or that some people in other nations are in on it, too? There are a lot of options to take this plot further, but instead it's over in one chapter and 'two years later'.

Oh, and Cat goes completely against the 'tough independent' character she's been (sometimes taking it a little too far) for the whole book and goes from a 15 year old losing the 'love of her life' to a 17 year old 'doing her duty' and marrying the sack-of-wet-cement prince which she swore she never would (I HATE predictable and obvious foreshadowing), while still, apparently, being in love with the memory of Fox.

Since a 16 year old wrote it, yes, the writing is juvenile with a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" (although it's still very good for her age). This is another book which is a bit of a let-down and could have been much better (see my review of 'Death & Co.').

AGE: 11+.
GENRE: Fantasy/Steampunk fiction
RATING: I'd give it 3 1/2 - 4 stars until the end. The end gets a 2. Overall, I'll give it 3, but I can see some pre-teen girls giving it a 5.

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