The Starlight Conspiracy. Steve Voake. Faber. pound;12.99
"She was amazed to hear the tiniest of sounds, so distant and strange that whatever she tried to think of later, it was almost impossible to remember. The closest she could get was to imagine a waterfall of stars tumbling through space, each one splashing silver notes into the darkness."
The Starlight Conspiracy is beautifully written with a fantastic use of unusual and exotic descriptions. It tells an exciting tale of a recently-orphaned teenager's brave journey into the unknown to deliver a mysterious package.
The story, which is fast-paced, thrilling and well-structured, takes the reader through a variety of locations from the Glastonbury festival to the remotest stretches of New Mexico. It focuses on the perilous journey that Berry, the orphan, has to undertake. Relationships, power, humanity, intolerance and courage are explored and it concludes in a moving way. Good ability Year 8 and 9s will lap it up.
The use of characters is varied and most pupils will find someone that they can relate to or aspire to be: whether it's Elle, the non-conformist, running from his father; Polly, the heartbroken and lonely police officer who is punished for telling the truth, or Berry and her wild and reckless attitude that changes her life forever.
This use of characters ensures that the story has elements that will appeal to all pupils.
I would use this book for teaching descriptive language and the use of pace. Steve Voake provides many examples, working in an obvious but effective way.
At times I found the book to be rather formulaic, which could be a positive resource for pupils to base a piece of creative or extended writing on. This by no means is a criticism and I found that I was pleasantly surprised by the ending.
In short, the book could be used as a springboard for the exploration of many different ideas, themes and issues. I would use it in my own teaching but only with more mature key stage 3 groups who would be able to understand and appreciate the more controversial and subtle issues the author attempts to portray to his reader.
Cheryl McHugh is an English teacher from Grimsby.
H.I.V.E. Mark Walden. Bloomsbury. pound;12.99
The Overlord Protocol is the second book in the H.I.V.E. series but it stands fairly well as a one-off read, with past references being explained throughout the text.
The introduction is punchy, which drew me into the story and ignited my curiosity. However, it then made the start feel a little laid-back by comparison. The pace began to quicken and I was soon carried along on a Ripping Yarns for boys and James Bond-esque style adventure, which I enjoyed, even when I felt that the plot was a bit obvious in parts.
The story begins with Otto Malpense, a Higher Institute of Villainous Education (H.I.V.E.) student, dropping through eternity into an unspecified place. The action then shifts to a Global League of Villainous Enterprises (G.L.O.V.E.) meeting where Dr Nero, the headmaster of H.I.V.E., is beginning to feel that they are on trial with many members of G.L.O.V.E. and that they need to keep on the right side of Number One, the other group's mysterious leader, as the "old school system" is increasingly threatened by a "new world order" represented by Cypher, an incognito newcomer.
Otto and his fellow students are beginning to come to terms with being deposited, or incarcerated as the students term it, at H.I.V.E. until their unconventional education is deemed complete, when Otto and Wing must attend Wing's father's funeral in Tokyo.
A chance to escape perhaps, but then they find themselves at the centre of a murder attempt and double-agent intrigue. Playing in the background is the previous, not wholly resolved, problems with artificial intelligence and in particular H.I.V.E. mind (think Holly from Red Dwarf).
Meanwhile, other classmates, including Laura and Shelby, encounter their own adventures at H.I.V.E. Can they get a decrypted message, indicating that a member of the teaching staff is working for an, as yet unidentified, enemy, to Dr Nero in time to save their fellow students?
Overall, this is an enjoyable read that made me laugh and had me gripped at times, leading me to recommend The Overlord Protocol for early teens, and of course anyone else who fancies a funny, action packed, easy read.
Philippa Yates is a teacher from Buckinghamshire.