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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


Review:
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


Review:
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


Review:
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


Review:
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.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Review: The Boy in the Tower

Author: Polly Ho-Yen



Release date: This Hardback edition 3rd July 2014
Genre: Contemporary science-fiction for the younger reader/ sci-fi realism?
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Random House| Doubleday


Review:
The Boy in the Tower is a story of friendship in a time of adversity. Set in modern day London, it’s about survival, hope and courage. This tale is dark in places but it is as equally moving and charming in places too.


Ade lives in a tower block on the seventeenth floor. He enjoys the view from his window and watching the tiny people on the street below. It’s a busy noisy street full of hustle and bustle. Across the street, in another tower block, lives his best friend, Gaia. They tell each other everything and Ade loves how much Gaia knows about plants and the world around them. Their lives begin to change when the Bluchers arrive. At first no one understands why buildings begin to suddenly crumble killing the people inside. And when the construction workers are sent to inspect them, they mysteriously die too.  Soon, all everyone can talk about is the Bluchers, dangerous plants who destroy everything. Time is running about for Ade and Gaia.


I enjoyed this book immensely. It had a wonderful lightness in the style of writing. Ade’s voice captured the innocence of a child’s viewpoint perfectly. He leaps off the page and I connected with him instantly. He’s heroic but not in a showy way. It’s a quiet sort of helpful-heroism.


The darkness in this story cannot be ignored. It deals with death, neglect and the impact of a violent crime. But the author managed to convey these issues in way that was neither condescending to the reader nor outright terrifying. Not an easy thing to achieve for the 9+ audience.


The bleak elements are lightened by the wonderful friendships the Ade makes in the time of crisis. Dory, one of Ade’s neighbours, and Obi, caretaker of the tower block, offer comfort and new skills to help Ade survive the siege of the plants. They give this book a special charm.


I found it hard to put this book into a specific genre. On the one hand, it is a contemporary story of friendship. It reads like realism and it deals with the issue of agoraphobia and the aftermath of a traumatic experience. It also confronts the issue of child neglect which caused a lump in my throat at various points in the story. On the other hand, this is a novel about plants which arrive from who-knows-where and begin to slowly annihilate the population around Blucher Road. So at times it reads like a children’s sci-fi/ dystopian read. This book certainly fills a gap in the market for those younger readers who are desperate to read Hunger Games-esque novels but are not at the maturity or reading level to access the content.


I wish there were more books like this for the middle grade market. Even the way the book is formatted is excellent. The words are nicely spaced out on the page and the chapter length is just right. The Boy in the Tower is a moving story. It makes you think about so many different things: childhood, where food comes from and loneliness and isolation. A book well worth reading.


Source: Borrowed from the school library


The paperback is released on January 29th.