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Book Reviews

Furthermoor by Darren Simpson (Usborne, £7.99)

If you crossed Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights with the film Truly, Madly, Deeply, a bit of steampunk, and a serious message about bullying you would come up with something like Darren Simpson’s young adult fiction novel Furthermoor.
Though there is no alethiometer, twelve year old Bren slips in and out of a parallel world, Furthermoor, which he and ​Evie, ​his sister​,​ had created through a magical watch, which has birds and animals made from bits and pieces of metal rather than flesh and blood. There he meets up with Evie, but we know that she died in a crash. Is this a ​completely ​fantasy world or a “real” alternative universe? We are never quite sure, but for Bren it is a refuge from home where his parents have never recovered from the death of their daughter, and a refuge from school where he is in trouble for fading out academically. At school he is also hideously bullied by a gang. A new boy, a Chinese boy, turns up at school and stands up to the ​main ​bully, but can Bren find the courage to do the same? Throw in the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz here.
And then things start to go really wrong. His utopia becomes a dystopia as a crow-like creature starts to destroy the other animals and taunts him as a coward. The creature, Featherly, starts to take control creating even more scary creatures and appearing to turn those Bren loves against him. Will Bren finally stand up for himself? Of course he will, because this is a positive book (if​ ​really scary at times). And Truly, Madly Deeply? No Alan Rickman or Juliet Stevenson, alas, but Evie finds a way for Bren to let her ​- and Furthermoor – ​go, though she says in parting “But I’ll always be here, right?”
There’s resources at the back of the book for readers who might want help with bullying themselves and the author opens up about the pressures he too went through in school.
Cliché  alert – this book should be in every school library
Furthermoor is Darren’s third young adult novel. He’s one of our local rising stars. For Nottingham folk there is one added advantage in that if you look closely you will see that this book is based on a map of Sneinton. Great cover too.
Signed copies of Furthermoor are available in the shop or here:  fiveleavesbookshop.co.uk/product/furthermoor/
Ross Bradshaw

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Vintage)

I Capture the Castle by Dodie SmithUnlike many of my friends, I didn’t read this book when I was younger – in fact, I wasn’t even aware of its existence. I read 101 Dalmatians many times, and its sequel The Starlight Barking, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I suspect at that age (eight or so) I wouldn’t have thought much of I Capture the Castle. However, at age (ahem), I loved it.

It is a gentle, beautifully written story told in the form of Cassandra Mortmain’s diaries. Cassandra is seventeen, and she lives in a castle with her elder sister Rose, younger brother Thomas, a kind of adopted brother Stephen, her author father and stepmother Topaz. Her father has had writers’ block ever since he was sent to prison for an unfortunate incident where he threatened Cassandra’s (late) mother with a cake knife. As a result the family is struggling to make ends meet – to have a boiled egg with the teatime bread and butter is a treat. Onto the scene come the American owners of the castle, Simon and Neil, and Cassandra finds out about love in all its varieties.

All the way from the classic first line – “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – to the end, I Capture the Castle had me hooked. I believed in all the characters, and cared about them, despite their all-too-apparent flaws. Although the setting is somewhat dated (the book was first published in 1949) I think today’s teenagers might enjoy it as much as I did.

Pippa Hennessy