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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Review: Fangirl

Author: Rainbow Rowell

Release date: 30th Jan 2013
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s books

Fangirl is a story of moving on, growing up, finding love and finding yourself. It’s a sweet romance with an enthralling plot. I loved it!

I really did not want this book to end. Reading it was an utter treat. It was sweet but convincing. I loved how it communicated the passion of readers through fan-fiction. The fan-fiction was so cleverly interwoven into the plot that I wanted to keep reading that story as well as the story of Cath.

Cath and Wren are twin sisters. When they go to college, everything changes. Wren wants to go it alone, Cath wants anything but. Propelled into college life, Cath would happily live in her dorm room and never leave. Except that her roommate Reagan is rather intimidating and she has about five different boyfriends. Cath must find her way through this whole new world. She must try to connect with people and make friends. But first she’ll need to leave her room...

There was a great authenticity to Cath’s writing struggle. It is surely easier to write about characters that already have a life and a soul and a whole world to inhabit. The fun is all about taking them on wild adventures. Writing for pleasure is like reading for pleasure. You do it for yourself so you can live in a make believe world. Now constructing a whole new world (that has logical boundaries and characters who are flawed) is much more difficult. But then taking those risks equates to greater rewards. (If this reads like an academic essay, please excuse me. It’s a consequence of being at UCL right now!) Cath’s dilemma resonates with me right now but not because I’m writing fiction. I’ve just conducted my own piece of research and hey, it was not easy, AT ALL! But now I’ve pretty much completed the assignment, I feel like it was a watershed moment. I have constructed something entirely my own. It feels like an achievement.

[Back to Fangirl]

I know some people didn’t enjoy this as much as Eleanor and Park but I totally did. It’s like trying to compare a marshmallow and a sherbet lemon. Both are amazing but completely different. Fangirl stands on its own as a beacon of romantic bliss. There are some very serious teen issues in this book: mental illness, isolation, alcoholism, learning difficulties. But the issues are not the heart of the book. The heart of the book is the most endearing love story. It’s wonderful. I truly didn’t want it to end and yet I gobbled it up.

I am a fangirl of Fangirl! Rainbow Rowell is a super-star of teen fiction writing.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Review: The Society of Thirteen

Author: Gareth P Jones

Release date: 3rd October 2013
Genre: Historical fantasy
Target audience: 10+
Publisher: Hot Key Books

The Society of Thirteen is a richly detailed fantasy novel set in Victorian London. It’s full of illusions, theatricality and menacing characters.

Tom and Esther are two thirteen year old street urchins. They left the hideous orphanage to live on the streets of London but it’s a mean place. They survive by pick pocketing the wealthy folks of Bloomsbury and other posh parts of the city. But one day, they try their luck on Lord Ringmore. Yet it doesn’t turn out how they planned. Lord Ringmore hires them as messengers. Esther is pleased by this honest turn of fortune. But Tom doesn’t trust the strange man. He’d rather chance a life of petty crime. Lord Ringmore has his own unique agenda. Seeking the truth behind the existence of magic, a book crosses his path and offers an insight into the mystery. But who sent the book to him and to what end?

This is dark magic, sinister and dangerous. The story centres on the mysterious book and how it may have the power to unlock the secrets of magic. The characters in the Society of Thirteen have their own motivations for seeking real magic. It makes for exciting reading. The author’s clever plotting and characterisation creates a really exciting ending.

This book is wonderfully rich with language. It’s full of theatre vocabulary, magic vocabulary and historical vocabulary. It’s definitely the sort of book for more confident readers and those who like their fantasy novels that bit darker.

There’s also an interesting interweaving of religious ideas in this book. Some of the characters are fervently religious and yet they act in many selfish and uncharitable ways. And then, there is the study of the occult and the search for magic. Perhaps some readers will be uncomfortable with this but it certainly didn’t promote any demonic values or encourage one to join a cult.

Overall, a really enjoyable read. The chapter length was perfect to keep you reading on. The characterisation was entertaining and exotic, the plot thrilling. The Society of Thirteen is full of twists and the unexpected just like a magic show.

Read it if you enjoyed:
The Book of Dead Days by Marcus Sedgwick
The Black Book of Secrets by F E Higgins

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Review: The Book with No Pictures

Author: B. J. Novak

Release date: 4th December 2014 (hardback)
Genre: Picture book
Themes: Play, Humour, Reading aloud
Target audience: 3+
Publisher: Puffin Books

The Book with No Pictures is a hilarious, silly book. I love it!

It’s about a book with no pictures. It’s all words! And of course, if you are reading a book out loud to a class, you have to read every word. This book has some very silly words. It makes the adult reader look really silly. So of course, children love it. Therefore, so do I.

I can’t really tell you much more about it. What I can say is, if you want children to interact with story, laugh and giggle, then this book is for you. It’s for all the kids young and old.

If you enjoyed Press Here by Hevré Tullet or There are No Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz, then you will love this!

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Here’s a little Youtube clip. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Review: The Apple Tart of Hope

Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Release date: Hardback 5th June 2014
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Orion

The Apple Tart of Hope is a story of friendship, first love and hope. It’s also about doing good things in the world and being kind to others.

This book begins with a memorial service to celebrate the life of Oscar Dunleavy: A fourteen year old boy who disappeared off the pier and is believed to dead. In the pews sits his best friend Meg. She grew up with Oscar and knows him better than anyone. Or at least she did. She’s been away in New Zealand these last few months and something came between them. Meg can’t believe that Oscar would take his own life and neither does his younger brother Stevie. Together can they find out the truth about just what did happen to Oscar while Meg was away?

This is a sweet novel that is both charming and challenging. The issue of suicide in young people’s fiction is not an easy one to write about. But this book is not about a boy who commits suicide. In fact by chapter two, we know that Oscar is not in fact dead. The author is right to make that clear very early on because although this book does deal with bullying, manipulation, rumours and guilt, it is not a depressing sad book. It’s a book about keeping faith and hope alive.

Oscar is not your average fourteen year old boy. He’s sweet and sensitive. He has a special magic about him. He can sense other people’s emotions and rescues them with his homemade apple tarts. Meg and Oscar lived next door to each other and would speak for hours about anything and everything from their bedroom windows.

The split narrative worked well in this novel. Seeing how both Meg and Oscar feel and why they do the things they do, is bitter-sweet. As the reader you know, they are making mistakes in their communication but you also keep heart that they’ll figure it out.

The Apple Tart of Hope was a quick read. It was brimming with warmth and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read this if you’re a sentimental and love the sort of story where you really care about the characters.

Read it if you loved:
The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Source: Borrowed from the school library

The paperback is released 12th February 2015.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Review: Journey

Author: Aaron Becker

Release date: Paperback August 2014
Genre: Picture book
Themes: Loneliness, Play, Imagination, Adventure, Creativity, Journeys
Target audience: 4+
Publisher: Walker Books

Journey is a wonderful, wordless picture book which is full of imaginative adventure. It’s a picture book that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

At the beginning of this story, there is a girl who is bored and lonely. Her parents are too busy so she draws a door on the wall, and she steps through it into a new world. The world is full of wondrous things – a marvellous city, mechanical airships, a beautiful bird – perhaps these are created by the girl’s imagination, perhaps not. This is a story that can be interpreted many ways.

The colours of the beginning illustrations are very muted. The domestic scenes communicate a sense of dullness and boredom. The playful items stand out – the ball, the kite, the crayon – as these are illustrated in red. The later illustrations of the new world are still muted but they are more magical – greens, blues and some gold.

The illustrator masterfully tells the story of the girl’s journey into the magical world. It is full of adventure, danger and ultimately triumph. This is a richly rewarding visual read.

This is a simply delightful picture book. It requires no knowledge of language so it is entirely accessible. As well as being a joy to read, it will also be a favourite with teachers as there are so many activities you could use it for. Some suggestions are below.

Journey is a picture book which belongs in every school library.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Activity ideas:
Pupils could write words or poetry to accompany the pictures.

You could use the images in this book to stimulate imaginative writing. In the beginning there is a wonderful image of the girl drawing the door to the new world. What lies beyond the door? Where will the girl visit? What would this magical world, sound, smell, look like?

Discuss why the illustrator chooses to make the toys red. What would happen to the story if it was a different colour?

Predict what the girl will draw to save herself from the waterfall.

Any other suggestions, please share them in the comments.