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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Discussion: Do you remember learning to read?

Because I don't. Not really.

I've been thinking about the physical process of learning to read this summer.
I read this book: 

And to be honest, it was a bit too research based for me and lacking in actual practical things to implement in the library but it did get me thinking about my experiences of learning to read.

This is what I can remember:

  • Reading Billy Blue Hat and Roger Red Hat
  • Reading words out of a tin. I still remember the smell of the tin.
  • In Year 6 my teacher telling me to "sound it out" when I stumbled over a word
  • Magic e
  • Reading The Twelve Dancing Princesses (many times) a Ladybird book
  • Going to the public library and borrowing the same poetry treasury over and over
So not much. I have no memories of my parents listening to me read or reading to me. Seriously. None. I find this so strange. I think it's because it was never made into a big deal. If I read, I assume it was because I enjoyed it. Not because I had to. I became a librarian so I guess this method worked for me.

Do you remember reading aloud in class?
I know some people hated it. I didn't. But whenever I read aloud to the class I was so busy making sure I said every word correctly that I had no clue what was happening in the story. I lost my ability for comprehension.

From reading the above book, I'm taking away this: For pupils with weak comprehension skills recommend illustrated novels and graphic novels. Pictures aid comprehension.

Okay. I'm taking away more than that really but I can't manage to summarise my thoughts enough for this blog post. 

But I'm interested to hear from anyone who can remember any aspect of learning to read? Positive or negative experiences? Anything that transformed how you felt about reading?

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review: Debutantes

Author: Cora Harrison

Release date: 2nd August 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books


Debutantes is a sweet historical novel set in the 1920s Kent countryside. When I was reading it, I kept thinking this is Pride and Prejudice meets Dawson’s Creek. It is a romance but it’s also a novel of friendship and making your own way in the world.

It’s the story of four sisters who are the daughters of an Earl. Sadly, the Derrington’s fortune was lost on a mining business venture and so the family estate is in a state of disrepair. There is no male heir and so the estate will pass to a cousin on the death of Michael Derrington. The family’s hopes lay with the eldest daughter Violet. If she can have a season and marry a rich aristocrat, then all will be well. But there is no money for a debutant season for Violet. Yet the main character of the story is Daisy. She wants to be a film director and has a plan to make Violet famous in one of her movies.

The great thing about this book is Daisy and Poppy (her twin sister). They both have separate interests – directing films and jazz music – which evoke the dazzling 1920s era. It was great to see young women empowering themselves and following their dreams. I love that message. All the references to film-making were fascinating to me and captured my imagination. I loved visiting Sir Guy’s film studios and seeing behind the scenes. This is where the book excelled and brought the era to life.

However, I did have difficulty visualising the characters’ outfits. One of the things I thought worked really well in I Was Jane Austen’s Best Friend was the illustrations. They complimented the story so well and brought it to life. I really wish that this book had contained black and white photos or film stills taken by Daisy. It would have given the book a wow factor and helped me to picture the girls’ attire and hair dos. There is such an emphasis on fashion of the period in Debutantes so I would have loved to have seen it.

There were also some errors in the proof copy. I think the author had changed Justin’s name from an earlier draft and so I was confused when a Julian randomly appeared. I’m sure this will have been rectified when the manuscript went to print though.

I wish I could have turned off my critical faculties and just enjoyed this story. But I kept wondering why Rose was there. (She is the youngest sister at twelve years old). What was her plot purpose? She wanted to be a novelist (and here I can see the link to Harrison’s previous novels) but did she really need to be there? At times it was hard to keep track of so many characters and I think the novel may have benefited from one less sister. It couldn’t be the eldest sister Violet because she is the “damsel in distress” and very much in need of a husband with a fortune.  

Despite my criticisms, I did find Debutantes to be a sweet and engaging read. It’s historical fiction and yet it is very accessible and has a “contemporary” feel to the language. Girls will love the fashion theme, the go-getting Daisy and jazzy parties. A great first novel for preteens who want to try the historical genre.

Source: Proof copy sent for review. Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Review: Angel

Author: James Patterson

Release date: 3rd March 2011
Series: Book 7 Maximum Ride
Genre: Action / Sci-fi Thriller
Target audience: 10+
UK Publisher: Random House

Note: This review contain some spoilers for previous books in the series.


Angel is the seventh book in Maximum Ride series – an all action, angry attitude and mad-scientists taking over the world story.

This novel begins with Max in emotional turmoil following the ending of Fang (book 6). It’s been a week since Max’s world fell apart and so we find her up a tree and for once wallowing in self-pity. Don’t worry, it doesn’t last for long. Max is her usual chip on the shoulder, the flock against the world self when human kids start turning up brainwashed by the Doomsday Group. Max knows she is destined to save the world but she was happier when it was a small step at a time rather major catastrophes waiting to happen.

I do love this series. Max is a great strong female lead – she’s sarcastic, she’s not one for emotional displays (unless it’s anger) and she’s ready to kick evil scientist butt. The great thing about these books is they are easy to read. They take no time at all – this one took me just a couple of hours and I did enjoy it with a wry humour. And it was satisfying. For readers who love short snappy chapters, colourful characters and not much description, then these will be a winner.

However, there is very little thematic depth to them. You’re not going to come away with questions to contemplate about human existence. You might think genetic experimentation on humans is wrong or open to debate but that’s pretty much as far as it goes.

The plot is typical of this series too – the flock against the scientist baddies. Entertaining for sure but not complicated. At this point having read seven books, I began to doubt that the ending of the series is in sight. I wonder if the author even knows how it ends and that made me a little unsettled. How much commitment to a series should an author expect from a reader? Anyway, when I got to the end of the book, there was a page saying the finale is out this year. So that’s a relief. I want to see it to the end and know that there is a thought out character arc and climax to the story.

No review would be complete without mentioning Angel as within the series context this is her book. At seven years old she comes of age in this book. But her intentions are never clear. Is she a manipulator or has she accepted that Max is the rightful leader of the flock? I should mention here that Angel can read minds, breathe underwater and kick some serious butt.

Overall, a page-turning thriller full of mutant-bird kids attempting to save the world from destruction and mass murder. What’s not to love?

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review: All These Things I've Done

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

Release date: 6th April 2012
Genre: Crime / Dystopian
Series: Book 1 Birthright
Target audience: 12+
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books


All These Things I’ve Done is a futuristic novel and yet it’s not like any dystopian novel I’ve read. It’s more a family saga or a coming-of-age story. Its Godfather-esque mafia crime meets high school drama. And let’s be clear here, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Anya Balachine is sixteen and the night before the new school year starts her Neanderthal boyfriend – Gable Arsley, tries to take advantage of her. (That’s the polite version of events). This is just one of the many problems that Anya faces. Being the daughter of a deceased mafia boss is her greatest burden. It’s an inheritance she could do without. She’s responsible for her siblings and wants to protect them from the clutches of the gangster world. Her older brother Leo has a mental impairment and relies on Anya to offer comfort and stability. Her younger sister Natty is still suffering from the trauma of witnessing their father’s murder. Her Grandmother is bedridden and is being kept alive by machines. Anya’s goal is to go keep her family situation under the radar until she is eighteen and can be made legal guardian of Natty.

In this future there is no grand apocalypse. How refreshing! Rather there is a return to the prohibition years of the 1920s/30s. Coffee is illegal. Chocolate is illegal. Resources are sparse. There’s rationing for many things. Hence organised crime and the black market are big business. The Balachine Empire is a supplier of chocolate. And it’s chocolate that really kick starts the plot moving. Gable Arsley has a real thing for chocolate. When Anya gives him two bars of the illegal sweet stuff to get rid of him, it has unexpected and dangerous consequences.

I found this book so easy to read. Anya’s narrative is direct and it feels as if she is speaking directly to you. The writing is hypnotic. It’s compelling and uncomplicated. You just have to turn those pages. In among the “crime plot” there is the “romance” plot. What could be more complicated for Anya than falling for the son of the Assistant DA? Win is a charming character. I felt we only scratched the surface in getting to know him when compared to how well we get to know Anya. We learn her deepest fears, her practical reasoning, her resilience and the wisdom that her father shared. Anya is a real daddy’s girl and not in the usual meaning.

The questions this book explores are fascinating: when is it right to legalise a substance? Do some laws encourage crime? Does the punishment of a crime lead the perpetrator to commit another? Honestly, I was enthralled. These are the sorts of questions about society that really interest me. At the heart of the book is the most important question: are our lives self-fulfilling prophecies? If we’re born into a life of crime, can we ever escape it?

This is the first novel by Gabrielle Zevin that I’ve read but I’ll certainly be reading more. All These Things I’ve Done is thought-provoking, compelling and action-packed. But there’s warmth, humour and friendship too. One of my favourite books I’ve read this year. Fantastic!

Recommended for fans of:

Source: Review copy sent by Macmillan Children’s Books. Thank you so much!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Review: Priestess of the White

Author: Trudi Canavan

Release date: This paperback edition 2005
Genre: High Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Orbit


Priestess of the White is the first novel in Trudi Canavan’s Age of Five series.

Set in a fantastical world where Gods have chosen representatives to do their bidding in the world, this novel mixes magic and religion. The leaders of Hania are the White – five powerful sorcerers who are guided by their Gods. Auraya is the youngest of the White and the novel begins with her joining the Priesthood and her commitment to devote her life to the will of the Gods.

It is the Gods’ will that all of Northern Ithania be united and at peace. Auraya is a problem solver by nature, she is patient and caring. She had a childhood friendship from a Dreamweaver and this makes her more open-minded and accepting of their choices. It is this unique vision that makes Auraya a great peace-maker and her role as a servant of the Gods sees her travel to form alliances with other races in Northern Ithania.

This is an epic book and I feel the challenge of summarising the complicated history of the Gods’ past is beyond me. Those who do not follow the Gods they are known as Dreamweavers – the White view them as heathens. The leader of the White killed the leader of the Dreamweavers and there is a deep rooted hatred between these peoples. Dreamweavers are healers and pacifists. They were persecuted by followers of the White and were massacred in the past. Auraya hopes to change the dynamic between the White and the Dreamweavers.

While the nations of Northern Ithania are debating alliances with the White, in the South the heathen cult known as the Pentadrians (who follow fake Gods) are readying themselves for war.

Trudi Canavan’s storytelling leaves me awestruck. There are so many different plots and subplots running through this novel and they all link together in a coherent mesmerising way. The story is told in Canavan’s usual style – a third person roving viewpoint. We still the events of the story from so many different characters and it could be completely overwhelming but Canavan’s writing is so incredibly clear that it isn’t.

The themes in this novel are war and loyalty, the idea of devotion and free will, power and sacrifice, strength and weakness. It was fascinating to read about characters who range from fervent in their belief in their Gods to absolute hatred towards the Gods. It made me feel impartial to all the different social groups. If there was a character that stole my heart it was Mischief – Auraya’s pet veez – he added a much needed humour in the darkest times.

I can’t wait to see where this story goes next. The thing I love most about Trudi Canavan is her novels never disappoint. Great epic fantasy at its best.

Recommended for fans of:

Source: Bought from Waterstones in Oxford

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Holiday Snaps: Yorkshire Dales

It's that time of year again when I share with you my holiday snaps. 

This year the hubby and I were stayed in the UK. We headed for the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.

Here is our cottage. We were staying in Leyburn, Wensleydale.

We did a five mile walk around the spectacular waterfalls at Ingleton.

I took the Wensleydale railway into Redmire to visit Castle Bolton while my poor hubby walked the eight miles to get there (he is insane). I hired an audio guide to give us the history. It was hilarious. My hubby said it was worth the money for the comedy value alone. Let's just say that a bit of editing goes a long way!

Here I am at the riverside in Middleham after having tea in the village square and watching all the local riders come back from exercising their horses.

I don't think I've ever eaten so much cheese as I did on this holiday. I discovered that I love Wensleydale with Pineapple after we taste tested cheeses at the cremery in Hawes. We also spent a day in York but I was too tired to take any pictures. It turns out that I love the Yorkshire Dales. I love the slow pace. I love the streams and becks which are everywhere. I love the smell of countryside. I love the peace.

Well that concludes the holiday snaps for 2012!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Books for Olympics-inspired pupils

I'm anticipating that my pupils will all be wanting to read sport-themed novels when we get back to school in a couple of weeks. So I'm looking for new titles to add to the school library so I asked Twitter for recommendations. I also scanned Amazon and used the school library online catalogue to come up with this list to help anyone looking for an Olympic read.

Sporting Reads Book List

  • When Granny Won Olympic Gold - poetry collection
  • Medal Mayhem (Stunt Bunny) by Tamsyn Murray
  • Football Academy (series for 7+) by Tom Palmer
  • Foul Play (1st in series for 9+) by Tom Palmer
  • Striker Boy by Johnny Zucker
  • Gym Stars: Summertime and Somersaults  (1st in series) by Jane Lawes
  • Girls FC (series) by Helena Pielichaty
  • Stadium School (series) by Cindy Jefferies and Seb Goffe
  • Running for Gold by Owen Slot
  • Cycling for Gold by Owen Slot
  • Cows in Action: The Moo-lympic Games by Steve Cole
  • TJ and the Cup Run (Theo Walcott Series) 
  • The Kick Off (1st in the Jamie Johnson series) by Dan Freedman
  • Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (for the sailing references)
  • London 2012 Novel: Deep Waters by Robert Rigby
  • London 2012 Novel: Running in Her Shadow by Robert Rigby
  • London 2012 Novel: Wheels of Fire by Robert Rigby
  • Berlin Olympics: Olympic Swimmer (My Story Series) by Vince Cross
  • Olympia the Games Fairy by Daisy Meadows
  • Sam and Ruby's Olympic Adventure by Tony Bradman and Martin Remphry
  • Downtown Dinosaurs: Dinosaur Olympics by Jeanne Willis and Arthur Robins

  • B.A.S.E. Camp (Black Cats) by Rob Childs
  • The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog Goes for Gold! by Jeremy Strong
  • Vulgar the Viking and the Great Gulp Games by Odin Redbeard
  • Camp Gold: Running Stars by Christine Ohuruogu
  • Camp Gold: Going for Gold by  Christine Ohuruogu

Thanks to: @Nictheauthor, @rebeccabooks, @jonnybid, @kpaice, @wesatdown for their recommendations.

If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments or tweet me @the_bookette.

I haven't found any basketball, hockey, canoeing or kayaking novels and many more Olympic sports are missing from this list. I wonder if Team GB athletes could work with editors to produce a great new series...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Review: The Night Watch

Author: Sergei Lukyanenko

Translator: Andrew Bromfield
Release date: July 2007
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Arrow, Random House


The Night Watch is an Urban Fantasy translated from Russian.

Anton is an Other – an Other of the Light. A member of the Night Watch who are responsible for monitoring those of the Dark – the Day Watch. Anton is a low-grade magician. Usually he works in the analyst division of the Night Watch. When the story begins, he is in the middle of his field operative training under the orders of the Boss. He is searching for a rogue member of the Dark – a vampire who is hunting prey. Whilst travelling on the Moscow Metro, Anton spots a girl with a Dark vortex hovering above her head. He attempts to disperse it but is unsuccessful. Torn between pursuing the vampire and helping the girl, Anton must decide which is his priority as a member of the Watch.

This isn’t your standard good versus evil story. The Night Watch and The Day Watch signed a treaty which prevents them from acting in the extreme. The thing the separates them is that those of Light act selflessly. Those of the Dark act self-interestedly. They both can take power from the ordinary humans who live among them unaware of their existence. The Light chooses not to. The Dark enjoy it. One of the things that I liked about this novel was that being of the Light was a struggle. It was a constant battle with the conscience to act for the benefit of others rather than for one’s own interest. This seems to me exactly what goodness is.

When I started reading The Night Watch I was entertained by the elements that stood out to me as fitting with the idea if Russia – the bitter cold, the vodka, even the vampires. But this novelty soon wore off and I found this book a frustrating read overall. It is told in three “stoires” but I didn’t realise this until I got to the end of Story One. Suddenly, I was wondering if I was going to have to locate myself in the world all over again. That wasn’t the case but I carried on reading feeling unsettled. The “stories” should have been called “parts”. There were also turns of phrase which were really off-putting using things like double negatives and confusing me as to the meaning of a sentence. Could this have been a process of the translation? The translator perhaps trying to stay true to the Russian and thus losing the understanding of a British reader?

Other things that I had difficulty with were placing the age of the main character – I couldn’t picture Anton at all. Yet I could visualise the scene and the secondary characters. The ending – I didn’t actually understand what Anton did. The constant referring to the Boss with his forename and surname - that was irritating.

The plot of the book is complicated. It’s meant to be. Think of a game of chess. Both the Light and the Dark are moving pawns, knights, rooks. They make moves seeing many steps ahead in the game. Now think of one of the pawns telling the story. This is The Night Watch. The main character is frustrated with his passive role. As I reader, I was too. I just didn’t understand what was going on half the time. The Russian feel of the book was great. But the plot was confusing. The Night Watch was a disappointing read for me.

Source: Bought copy from a second-hand bookshop.