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Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Review: Dead Ends

Author: Erin Lange

Release date: Paperback 3rd July 2014
Genre: Realism
Target audience: 13+
UK Publisher: Faber and Faber

Dead Ends is the story of an innocent boy and a bully. It’s a story of friendship, anger and a search for understanding. It’s an emotive, compelling read.

Dane Washington uses his fists to say everything. He’s an angry sixteen year old who lives with his young mum. He’s desperate for a car and he also wants to go to college but he’s fists keep getting in the way. He’s on his last warning at school. His future is teetering on the edge. But when Billy D starts following Dane on his way to school, Dane won’t use his fists to get rid of him. At first Dane only sees Billy’s Down syndrome but when the school warden charges Dane with the responsibility of being Billy’s school ambassador, Dane discovers there is much more to Billy than first appears.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It is so simply told and the voice hooks you from the very first pages. I read it really quickly. Despite Dane’s anger and aggression, I couldn’t help but like him. Billy charmed the socks off me too. I loved that Billy had his own agenda – there is nothing simple about Billy. This story grows with complexity as the plot unfolds. The depth of the issues the author explores here get bigger and bigger with every chapter. It’s very cleverly done.

You can read this book as the struggle of a teenager who isn’t quite a man but is certainly no longer a boy. You can read it as a story of friendship and how two lonely boys find a comfort in a rather odd relationship. You can read it a book about searching for answers about why people do what they do. Any way you read it, Dead Ends is an excellent portrayal of character and choices, of difference and understanding. It’s a bittersweet novel, moving and sometimes funny. But as a prep school librarian, I only wish it had a little less swearing. It just makes it that bit more teenage when I think it’s the sort of book that any confident reader could enjoy. Without it, maybe it would be a bit less believable, who knows? Anyway, Dead Ends is a fantastic read. I recommend it.

Source: Borrowed from the school library.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Book Talk: Michael Rosen

Last night, I attended a book talk with two friends. It was an evening with Michael Rosen and we were all very excited when we were on our way. When we left the venue an hour later, we were all rather muted. We had gone with the hope of inspiration, to hear the wonders of language and we had a secret hope of some performance poetry. But the evening did not unfold in this way.

Let me be clear, we did enjoy the conversation and it gave us food for thought. But in fact, the evening felt more like political activism than it did a book talk. We work in education. We know it is a difficult time to be a teacher, learner or in my case a school librarian. Michael Rosen had written his new book Good Ideas: How to be your child’s (and your own) Best Teacher for parents. I have yet to read it myself but the anecdotes that were shared last night were certainly entertaining. Rosen wants parents to encourage their children to be curious, to question the world around them. He thinks education should be: investigation, interpretation, cooperation (and one other which I just cannot recall right now). He thinks children should learn how to learn. I do not disagree. We certainly aim for this in our library lessons.

I guess the thing my mind is still trying to fathom this morning is that Rosen told us the government want a low wage economy. They are changing the education system because too many people were achieving too highly. We had too many students going to university so they have to make it harder to do so. The latter I remember hearing on the news.

It’s like I entered the theatre and discovered I live in a dystopian society and it sent my mind reeling. The suggestion that our society aspires to keep a percentage of the population downtrodden is horrifying. 

All in all, I can’t say last night inspired me. I didn't leave feeling uplifted and enthused. If there were any parents in the audience, I wonder how they felt. I think the audience was mainly teachers and other education professionals. Rosen did get me thinking though. Perhaps that was the point.

If you want to read more about Michael Rosen’s desire to transform education, you should check out his blog: http://michaelrosenblog.blogspot.co.uk/ or follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichaelRosenYes

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: The Iron Trial

Authors: Holly Black, Cassandra Clare

Release date: 11th September 2014
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: 8+
Series: Book 1 Magisterium
UK Publisher: Random House

The Iron Trial is the first book in a new fantasy series for middle grade readers. Full of elemental magic and secrets and lies, it is an intriguing new addition to the genre.

Callum Hunt has been training to fail the entrance tests to the Magisterium for years. His father has warned him many times of the dangers of becoming a mage and entering the Magisterium. He believes the endless tunnels that make up the school will cause him to die a painful death. But despite his spectacular failings in the tests, one master decides to choose Callum as his student. Callum is forcibly taken from his father and thus his education in the ways of magic begins. Callum doesn’t trust the masters at the school and sleeps with a knife on his bedside table. But not all is as it first appears; there are secrets about Callum that will make him question who exactly he is and where he came from.

The first third of this book felt like a really strange read. It is very much a standard boy going to magic school story and there didn’t seem to be anything exciting or original about it. It followed the reluctant hero plot and it was full of archetypes – the mentor, the bully, the father figure. The beginning lacked energy and humour. The bond between Callum, Aaron and Tamara didn’t convince me in the early parts of the book. It just didn’t leap off the page or really have made believing that they would go to any lengths to save each other. I kept thinking why did the authors write this book? It’s no Harry Potter.

However, it did all become apparent after about the halfway point. They were playing with the traditional hero’s tale and gave it a big twist which suddenly made it very exciting indeed. I couldn’t actually put the book down once the twist was revealed. It became a compelling and darker story. More mysterious and much more what you’d expect from Holly Black and Cassandra Clare.

I’m looking forward to seeing where they take the story next. If it isn’t a hero story, then where will it go? Darker places perhaps. I certainly am intrigued and will read the next book in the series.

Readers who enjoyed the Septimus Heap series will enjoy The Iron Trial. This is tale of twisted fantasy surprised and thrilled me in the end. It has a universal appeal. So well worth a read, if you’re a patient reader who wouldn’t mind learning how chaos magic can be controlled. Maybe it can’t?

Source: Netgalley

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Guest Post: Top Ten Books for Aspiring Naturalists

Today I'm pleased to share with you a guest post from children's author and TV presenter, Nicola Davies.


These are a bit more specific than just scientists - really for kids who already have an interest in the natural world. Some of them are grownups books but things I either read myself as a child or could be enjoyed by a fluent reader, who is still young!

A Buzz In The Meadow by Dave Goulson
This is part memoir, part biology. It describes the life of the insects in a French meadow in lively entertaining prose. It’s fascinating and funny, and also describes the study of insects in the wild in a unique and engaging way. Good for young biologists!

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
A Greek island full of animals to wander through, and no school. Real life heaven for any child. I adored this book when I was 10.

Garden Creepy Crawlies by Michael Chinery
Great guide to the tiny wildlife in your back garden. Packed with fascinating surprises and written with great style and humour - and some very funny cartoons.

Caterpillar Caterpillar by Viv French
This is a picture book about caterpillars and butterflies. But it’s also about looking and noticing - the two first skills of a field biologist.

Plants That Bite Back by Martin Jenkins
It’s good to remind children about plants and the fact they can be every bit as exciting as animals. This picture book is full of life, enthusiasm and fascinating information.

Can We Save The Tiger? also by Martin Jenkins
Beautiful picture book that explains the problems that animals face in the wild and how we might help out.

The New Encyclopaedia Of Mammals by David Macdonald
This is a huge, huge reference book. I use it all the time, but it’s FULL of wonderful photographs. I would have adored this book as a kid, and spent hours exploring all the little known backwaters of mammals.

Skyhawk by Gill Lewis
A wonderful, heart-rending story that draws together the biology of a bird and the lives of two children.

Halcyon River Days by Philip and Charlie Hamilton James
A real river with real wildlife and a real family, and the way they live alongside each other. Beautiful photographs too.

The Cat And The Cuckoo by Ted Hughes
Poetry helps you to see things clearly. Reading it builds those skills of observation and close attention, analysis and careful thought that all scientists need.

Nicola will be treating young bookworms in Argyll & Bute to a series of free events in September as part of the Scottish Friendly Children’s Book Tour. For more information visit www.scottishbooktrust.com or follow @booksontour

Friday, 5 September 2014

Review: Royal Assassin

Author: Robin Hobb

Release date: This edition 2014, first published 1995
Genre: Epic Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Series: Book 2 The Farseer Trilogy

Royal Assassin is the second book in the Farseer series. If you haven’t read Assassin’s Apprentice, you should check out my review for that instead.

At the beginning of Royal Assassin, Fitz is considering not returning to Buck Keep. He is suffering from seizures and is greatly weakened from the confrontation at the end of the first book. But return he must, for he is a King’s Man and he has sworn his loyalty to both King Shrewd and King in Waiting Verity.

Poor Fitz, he goes through so much. He is beaten physically. He is assaulted mentally by the Skill. And his emotions are fraught for he has finally realised that he loves Molly. Being an assassin is not a nine to five job and keeping his exploits secret are taking their toll. Then consider, he must also keep his Wit hidden for if anyone finds out; he may be burned like a witch at the stake.

The Red Ship Raiders are not put off their decimation of the villages and townships in the coastal duchies. The winter only stopped them for so long. The marriage between Verity and Kettricken offered hope to many but now the people see that the Raiders are winning.

This book was darker than the first. It is violent and brutal. It is full of tension. It stopped me sleeping. Robin Hobb has really got her hooks into me. I’m not sure it is entirely healthy. Honestly, I would rather be starting the third book than writing this review but I’m not sure that’s good for my mental health.

This is an epic fantasy series; the emphasis on dark deeds and deadly foes. Read it if you like your fantasy books long, tense and full of raw emotion.

Source: Borrowed from the public library.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Book Trailer: Black Ice

This is the creepiest book trailer I've ever watched. 

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick.
Out on 7th October!

Don't forget to check out the brand new website too: http://blackicebook.co.uk/