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Saturday, 26 September 2015

Book review: 'Who Could That Be at This Hour?'

Author: Lemony Snicket

Release date: 20th June 2013
Genre: Mystery
Target audience: 9+
Publisher: Egmont


‘Who Could That Be at This Hour?’ is a quirky, oddball mystery. It’s whacky, it’s confusing and it’s full of fantastic words. It’s the first book in the All the Wrong Questions series.

Lemony Snicket is a young apprentice to S. Thedora Markson. Quite what is he is training for is unclear. But I gathered that it was perhaps a private detective of some kind. He travels with Thedora to a client in Stain’d-by-the-Sea. A town unlike one you’ve ever seen before. There he is employed to locate and return an object which has been stolen.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But I’m not sure I’ve ever read a children’s book which was so deliberately confusing. This book is bonkers. Why was Lemony Snicket in the cafe at the beginning? Why did he sneak out the window? Why does he choose the worst chaperone available? I’ve finished the book and there are still many unanswered questions. However, I did enjoy reading it.

My only complaint about this oddball book is the ending. Because after all the crazy setting, characters and unanswered questions, it turns out you have to read the next one to find out who was after the stolen object in this story. I felt like I’d been cheated. I love series books but as far as I’m concerned the story does need to be wrapped up rather than just left hanging. Especially when you consider that younger readers are persevering with so much new exciting language and strange happenings. They deserve a rewarding ending and not a feeling of bafflement.

A quick mention for the illustrations by Seth - I love them. They are as quirky as the story and they certainly helped me follow what was happening.

I decided to read this book for the A to Z Reading Challenge – for letter Q for Questions. It is surely the perfect book for that category. It was funny and definitely strange and overall, it was entertaining.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Book review: Madame Tussaud's Apprentice

Author: Kathleen Benner Duble

Release date: 15th July 2015
Genre: Historical fiction
Target audience: 11+
Publisher: Alma Books

Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice is a story of revolution, friendship and survival. In a time of political turmoil, it is difficult to know who to trust and who to love.

Célie and her friend Algernon are street urchins who pick the pockets of the rich French Parisians. But when the victim of their crime is the king’s brother - Comte D’Artois – it can only lead to a horrible punishment. Célie is rescued by Marie Tussaud and is employed to draw backdrops for the waxwork museum. The mood in France is volatile country and the future is far from certain.

I enjoyed reading about the work of Madame Tussaud. Of course, I (like many) have visited the London attraction and so it was fascinating to learn some of the history behind it. Célie’s education in waxwork was compelling reading.

There is an interesting message in this story about the choice to be violent in revolution. Célie wants change but as the story progresses she comes to realise that violence in any form is abhorrent. Perhaps she is naive to think that change can come about without the populous taking up arms. But history tells us, change can happen through peaceful protest. I like that this book raises these issues especially at a time when many young people feel alienated from British society.

The pace and the plot of the story follow the events of the French revolution. As I was reading it, I found that I was more engaged with the middle when Célie has an active role at Versailles and the conflict of her predicament with the Comte D’Artois. When she is whisked away to Paris, I lost a little interest and it wasn’t until the beheading of King Louis that I really wanted to read on again. (I hardly think that’s a spoiler. Surely everyone knows that is inevitable?!)

Having been to Paris and Versailles so recently, this book was perfectly timed for me to enjoy it. I liked many of the characters: Célie, Maris Tussaud and little Jean-Louis. Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice was a good read.

Source: Review copy from the publisher. Thank you.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Reading Challenge: Read Your A to Z

Umbrella Education are running a fantastic reading challenge which I am going to be running in our school library this year.

The aim of this challenge is to widen students' reading choices and help them to discover something new. (And of course have lots of fun in the process). It's great for those children who get stuck on Wimpy Kid and the like.

What's the challenge?
Students read a book for each letter of the alphabet. A is for Adventure, B is for Baddies etc.

I created the display on the right to help students get started. The book covers are pegged up so they can be changed frequently throughout the year.

Visit the Umbrella Education website for the downloads including bookmarks, review sheet and the all important A to Z categories: 

I have put my resources for the challenge into a share file on Google Drive in case they are of use to other librarians and teachers: Here is the link: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B3g0cuwB5d62aldTY1JreUtKMEU&usp=sharing
I'd like to adapt this for our Pre Prep children too. D is for Dystopia wouldn't work for them. But D is for Dinosaur = awesome!

I'm going to have at completing the challenge too. The children always get excited when the adults join in.

So are you running a reading challenge this year?

Any ideas for Z is for Zebra?

If you have a go, make sure you tweet your reads #readyourAtoZ

Friday, 21 August 2015

COMPETITION: Win a copy of Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice

Hi All,

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. I have been to Paris and in the spirit of all things French, I have a charming competition for you to enter.

Read on...

Win a copy of Kathleen Benner Duble's Madame Tussaud’s Apprentice from Alma Books!

A sweeping story of danger, intrigue and young love, set against one of the most dramatic moments in history.

SYNOPSIS: Célie Rosseau is a talented young artist who, along with her partner Algernon, resorts to petty thieving on the streets of Paris to survive. It is 1789: rumours of rebellion against the monarchy are starting to spread in the capital, and the two of them get involved in the idealistic revolutionary fervour. But when she is caught stealing from the brother of the King himself, Célie is saved only thanks to her drawing skills and the intercession of Marie Tussaud, the famous waxworks artist and a favourite at the French court, who decides to employ her.

Suddenly Célie finds herself whisked away from the tumult of Paris to the safety and opulence of Versailles. This raises a difficult moral dilemma for the young lady who had until recently dreamt of overthrowing the very people who now treat her with kindness: should she compromise her ideals and risk losing Algernon – the man she loves – or should she stay true to the cause of the poor and the revolution?

To win one of three copies we have to giveaway, simply answer the question - what is Madame Tussaud's first name? 

Please enter your details into the form below.

Closing date: NOW CLOSED
UK entrants only please
Good luck!

And don't forget to take a peek at the other great books they have coming out soon: http://www.almabooks.com/madame-tussaud%C2%92s-apprentice-p-797-book.html

And the winners are:
Grace Carswell,  Shannon Carey and Fiona Edwards

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book Review: Since You've Been Gone

Author: Morgan Matson

Release date: 5th May 2015
Genre: Contemporary YA Fiction, Romance, Realism
Target audience: YA 12+
Publisher: Simon and Schuster

Since You’ve Been Gone is a funny, moving and engaging story of friendship, first love and finding yourself. It was so enjoyable. I didn’t want it to end.

Emily’s best friend Sloane disappears at the beginning of the summer break with no explanation. She doesn’t answer her calls or emails. Emily feels utterly alone. They had all these exciting plans and now Emily has no one to have an adventure with. Emily and Sloane are inseparable. But with Sloane gone and no way of contacting her Emily must find a way to survive the holiday. A couple of weeks into the summer break, a list arrives in the mail, which can only have been sent by Sloane. Emily decides that doing all the things on the list will somehow bring Sloane back to her. So despite her shyness and introverted personality, she begins to tackle the things on the list: riding a horse, stealing something, kissing a stranger. It’s a challenge but it just might make this summer something to remember...

One of the things that I liked about this book was that Emily’s character felt really believable. The self-conscious feelings she experiences before speaking is something that I think will be familiar to teen readers. I loved that this story was in part her journey into being brave enough to leap before thinking about all the consequences. It was about seizing the moment but not about encouraging recklessness. Emily is still sensible and practical and I liked that.

I liked that she had these impressions of her classmates and that she learnt to see beyond what they portrayed at school. Frank Porter is a romantic hero. Collins is a sensitive soul which he hides behind his loud mouth. Emily’s relationship with Sloane was also really interesting to follow. We learn some from Emily’s reminiscences and some from flashbacks to the months before Sloane disappears.

This book made me laugh. It made me want to turn page after page. It’s the perfect teen summer read. It’s about enjoying the days ahead, finding your voice in a crowded room and taking a leap of faith. Another great novel from Morgan Matson. The best one yet! Read it for the romance and fall in love with the friendship.

If you enjoyed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you'll enjoy this!

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Book Review: Night Owls

Author: Jenn Bennett

Release date: 24th September 2015
Genre: Modern, Contemporary, Realism, Romance
Target audience: YA 13+
Publisher: Simon and Schuster


Night Owls is a sweet, romantic read that will make your heart soar! I love this book. I could read it again and again. But don’t let my overly romantic tendencies fool you; the themes of this book are serious – mental illness, family breakdown, trust and acceptance – the meaning runs deep.

Beatrix wants to wants to be an anatomical illustrator, someone who creates images for textbooks. She has a plan to enter a competition to help her fund her college tuition. But in order to do that, she needs experience of illustrating human organs. She wants to draw cadavers at the local hospital but her mum doesn’t approve. At the beginning of the novel, she meets a mysterious boy on the night bus. His name is Jack and he has his own troubles. He’s potentially a wanted criminal but Beatrix can’t stop thinking about him.

This book is so well written that you feel every emotion of these two characters falling in love. You feel the thrill of the first meeting, the anticipation of waiting to see if they’ll meet again and the triumph of when they do. It’s really charming. Jack is not simply a rogue. He has a complicated life and is trying to keep up appearances for his family. His friends also seem troubled. Beatrix is determined and passionate about her art but her world is about to get more complicated by Jack and the return of her estranged father.

One of themes of this book is mental illness and how we treat those who experience these conditions. I really feel it’s important that as a society we talk more and learn more about mental illness. It will affect all of us in different ways. According to the charity Mind, one in four people will experience a mental health issue each year. In relation to this novel and the mental health condition of Schizophrenia, Mind explains that anywhere from one to three out of every 100 people may have a diagnosis for the condition. The statistics are vague because different measures are used in different surveys. You can read more facts about mental health on the Mind website.

This book is out is September and if you love a good, can’t-put-it-down-til-it-ends romance, then this is the book for you. It’s adorable (but meaty too). I am officially a fan.

Source: Review copy. Thank you S&S!

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Book Review: Summertime

Author: Vanessa Lafaye

Release date: 7th May 2015
Genre: Modern
Target audience: Adult fiction
Publisher: Orion

Summertime is a story of love, segregation, family relationships, and the reality for soldiers during the Great Depression.

Missy is a housekeeper and nanny for the Kincaid family who live in Heron Key, Florida. In the height of summer the weather is hot and humid. Henry, a First World War veteran, along with his comrades, takes the only employment opportunity offered to them on a public works project. The conditions are abysmal, and the men who are likely traumatised from their wartime service, are not welcomed with open arms by the locals. Tension is high at the Independence Day celebration on the beach. As locals gather to watch the fireworks, the sparks fly!

This story also follows the town’s doctor, police officer, the local store owner. The list goes on. I really wanted to love this book. On this face of it, many of the themes are issues that matter to me: civil rights and justice for all. But the style of the writing in this novel just didn’t set my world on fire. There were so many characters that meant in the beginning it was difficult to remember who they are were. Their voices weren’t distinct enough so in the third person roving narrative, I was lost at times.

Their predicament was something that should move you to tears. The veterans, abandoned by the government, were left to the mercy of the worst ever hurricane to strike North America.

The love story between Henry and Missy should have kept my attention. I’m a hopeless romantic after all. But I just didn’t feel the emotion leaping of the page.

Perhaps the style of writing was just not for me. This is entirely possible. There are lots of quotes in the book from readers who did feel a connection to the story. But I think that this book tried to tell too many stories. The author wanted to tell the story of the veterans and how the government failed them. (It says so in an author’s note). I think this would have been a much more powerful novel if she had focused on that and not all the other characters that inhabited the small town of Heron Key. It would be a different book but all the more powerful for it.

I found this review really hard to write. I guess it is a case of not every book is for every reader. 

Source: Purchased from WH Smith

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Book Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

Author: Philip Pullman

Release date: 2011
Genre: Modern, Myth and Creation
Target audience: Adult
Publisher: Canongate

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is a twist on the story of Jesus the man and Christ the Redeemer. It’s a complex tale but told with the easy narrative of a traditional tale.

I certainly found this book easy to read. The narrative voice is clear and enticing. It almost invites you to sit by the fireside and listen. Perhaps it is inevitable that this story, which is known so well to the reader, reads like putting on a comfy jumper. And yet, the book may be easy to read but it is difficult to understand. At times I felt confused. I didn’t know which character to trust.

In Pullman’s retelling, Jesus and Christ are twin brothers. Both are flawed, as all humans are. They both believe in the coming of the Kingdom of God but it is in the method of preparation that their views differ. Beyond that, I don’t want to say much more because you already know this story and any twist I reveal would spoil the retelling for you. Every time we tell a story from memory a little detail changes in the retelling. If it is a witnessed event, everyone will remember it a bit differently. I think in part this is a theme of the novel. Sometimes we see what we want to see. Sometimes we change something for dramatic effect.

Although I did find the subject matter interesting and at times even mysterious, there are some passages which are excessively long. They tended to be Jesus speaking or giving a sermon with very little interruption. I’ll be honest here and say that in those parts I was a bit bored.

I know this book caused considerable controversy when it was first published. I think it’s a challenging subject matter to novelise and reinvent in an age where race, religion, ethnicity and belief are sensitive topics which shape identities and communities but can also be entirely misrepresented and misunderstood. I think having the courage to explore this story is to be commended. I wouldn’t call myself religious but religion (from a sociological point of view) fascinates me.

This book won’t be for everyone. But if you enjoy thinking and looking at the world from different viewpoints, it is a rewarding read. I have never read anything like it before.

Source: Gift

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Book Review: Genesis

Author: Bernard Beckett

Release date: 2009
Genre: Science Fiction
Target audience: YA
Publisher: Quercus

Genesis is a sci-fi tale of survival, philosophy and artificial intelligence. In my mind it is also about compassion and what makes us human.

This is a story set in a future where humanity faced extinction. On the island republic founded by Plato, a small society survived and cut itself off from the rest of the world.

The inner form of this novel is really unusual. It is told largely as a record of an examination. The dialogue is between the main character Anaximander and the examiner. Anaximander is being tested on her knowledge and if she passes, she will enter the Academy. The topic she chooses for the exam is the life of Adam Forde. Through the interview, we learn about Adam, Eve and the fate of humanity. In the pauses between the parts of the exam, we also learn about Anaximander and how she comes to be sitting the examination.

This book was such a quick, gripping read. It was intriguing to be given the back story to Anaximander’s exam in little tiny snippets. I was willing her to do well in the exam even though I didn’t know what would face her on the other side. Beckett creates great tension and the feeling of standing on a precipice as if one wrong move will send you into the abyss. The writing is skilfully done.

The ending was a twisty, surprise. I never saw it coming and that was both thrilling and shocking in equal measures. It is weeks since I finished reading this book and I’m still ever so slightly confused by it all but in a good way. It was a revelation! And for a book with the title Genesis, that seems entirely fitting.

Read Genesis if you like your novels concise, thought-provoking and compelling until the very last page.

Source: Own copy

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Book review: Counting by 7s

Author: Holly Goldberg Sloan

Release date: 1st May 2014
Genre: Contemporary / Realism / Family & Friendship Stories
Target audience: 9+
UK Publisher: Piccadilly Press

Counting by 7s is a bitter-sweet tale of tragedy, perseverance, friendship and hope. It will make you laugh. It will bring a tear to your eye.

Willow Chance was adopted as a young child and flourished with her new parents but sadly at the beginning of the novel, her life is yet again struck by tragedy and she becomes an orphan. She’s intellectually gifted and not everyone understands her. She tries to make sense of the world in her own unique way. Willow observes plants, animals and diseases and conducts studies into their properties. When her parents pass away, her life is turned upside down. Yet Willow is a change-maker. Her presence impacts the lives of those around her and she transforms others even as she tries not to put down roots.

This story is really easy to get into. Willow’s voice rings clear and you can’t help but like her and admire the things she does for others. Sometimes she doesn’t mean even mean to effect change but it happens anyway. That is what is really charming about her.

The story is written in the first person with Willow as the narrator. But rather unusually, we divert from Willow to read the events experienced by other characters like her counsellor Dell, the taxi driver Jairo and her friend’s mum Pattie. An interesting approach and for this book it works well. It allows you can see the plot coming together and want to see the best possible outcome for Willow.

I think the title doesn’t do this book justice. It is quirky but it doesn’t (for me) capture the spirit of the book. It’s a book about growing towards the sun, about doing good in the world and seeing the best in people. The fact that Willow has a habit like ‘counting by 7s’ is almost irrelevant to the heart of the story. Although it is significant to her as she changes through the course of the novel. It doesn’t really communicate the joy that her influence on others brings into the world and to the reader as they enjoy this book. But whatever the title, this is a wonderful, emotive read that sweeps you into Willow’s world and the Gardens of Glenwood.

Counting by 7s is a heartfelt, endearing book. I really enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Book review: Shadow Study

Author: Maria V Snyder

Release date: 12th March 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Target audience: YA+
Publisher: Mira Ink

Shadow Study is the first novel in a new fantasy series by Maria V Snyder. It’s a story of power and conflict, love and loyalty.

The story follows Yelena and Valek and takes place almost a decade on from the events in the Poison Study series. Yelena is the Liaison between the realms of Sitia and Ixia. Valek is still the commander’s right hand man. The story begins with an assassination attempt on Yelena’s life as she travels to meet Valek. The attack leaves Yelena vulnerable as she loses her powers. Keeping her predicament secret from Valek, she returns to Sitia to seek help from the Masters and the Council. But her enemies are many and she doesn’t know who she can trust. Meanwhile Valek returns to the Commander to find that security is more than a little lax and that the Commander is testing him...

This book is as thrilling and dramatic as all the other books I have read by the author. She has a wonderful way of creating tension and making you fear the worst is about to happen. It really keeps you turning the pages. Of course, the love story between Yelena and Valek is at the heart of this book and that will please her fans: Especially me.

There is the usual cast of colourful characters Janco and Ari, Opal and Devlen, Leif and Irys all make an appearance. But there are some new characters too and one in particular who really shakes things up. I think most people will guess how it ends but it doesn’t make it any less exciting.

What I loved most about this story was learning about how Valek came to be an infamous assassin and the most feared man in all of Ixia. Imagine a man who leaves you a sculpture on your pillow as a warning to tell you you’re about to be assassinated – terrifying! And yet it was wonderful to find out what drove him to become a cold-blooded killer.  

Shadow Study is a fantastic fantasy read. If you haven’t read any of the books by Maria V Snyder, then go and grab a copy of Poison Study. You won’t be disappointed!

Source: Purcahsed from Foyles online shop

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Book review: Blown Away

Author & Illustrator: Rob Biddulph

Release date: 29th Jan 2015
Format: Picture book
Target audience: 3+
Publisher: HarperCollins


Blown Away is a wonderfully adventurous picture book which delights the reader with its cheeky animal characters and its bright setting.

The story begins with Penguin Blue who is taking a kite for a flight for the first time. He gets blown away and calls for help to his animal friends to help him. They get blown along too and thus they embark on their adventure.

Blown Away is a rhyming picture book and has a lively rhythm. It’s a perfect read aloud book. There is ingenuity in the illustrations which adds charming details like the blue whale becoming the school bus.

This is also a really useful book for beginning to teach the idea of animal habitats and adaptation. The penguins find it too hot in the rainforest. It would be a nice starting point to discover why some animals live in cold climates and some in tropical, humid climates.

I read this book to the Nursery children and to a Year 2 class. It was great to see the different things they noticed and the questions that the older children asked about the language and the setting.

Blown Away is a must have for any primary school library. It’s fab!

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Book review: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse

Author: Chris Riddell

Release date: 12th September 2013
Genre: Gothic Adventure/ Comedy
Target audience: 8+ / Middle Grade
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is funny, quirky adventure story. It’s full of friendship, imaginative characterisation and a daft, adorable humour.

Ada Goth is a spirited and polite girl who lives with her father – Lord Goth – at Ghastly-Gorm Hall. Her mother died from a terrible accident and he is still grieving. Ada is rather lonely at the beginning of the story until she meets the ghost of a mouse and sets out to discover how to help him.

This is a truly bonkers book. It has Chris Riddell’s unique stamp all over it. The humour in the choice of character name and the playing with exaggeration – for example, he plays with the concept of the secret garden.

Ghastly-Gorm Hall is the sort of setting that will appeal to young readers. It’s an adventure waiting to happen and the added attraction of the illustrated form of this book really helps it come to life. Middle Grade readers are not likely to understand the concept of Gothic and this book is a great introduction to it.

One of the wonderful things about it is the use of exciting, unusual words. Sometimes I was wondering if some of these words were actual words or if they were completely fabricated. How much fun for young readers to find out though!

I wish there were more books of this length and this format for this market. It’s great for newly confident readers. The layout is kind on the eyes and the illustrations help readers picture every wacky detail from the clothing to the eggy-soldiers.

Overall, Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse is a great book which has been super popular at my school library. With its nomination for the Kate Greenaway Medal, it will surely be a hit with librarians and pupils for years to come.

Source: Borrowed from the school library

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Book review: Breakable

Author: Tammara Webber

Release date: 7th May 2014
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Target audience: New Adult (frequent & detailed sexual references)
Publisher: Penguin

Breakable is a companion novel to Easy. It’s the same story told from Lucas’ point of view.
I decided to read this because I wanted something light. When you’re studying all the time, your brain can only compute so much. I wanted to read something quick too as all these Robin Hobb novels I’m addicted to take a long time!

This novel takes us inside Lucas’ head and takes us into his past. It’s a split narrative between him now and him growing up as Landon after his mother is brutally murdered.

I enjoyed it but not as much as Easy. The problem with it is if you’ve read Easy, then you’re not really learning anything new (just some additional back story). I feel this doesn’t really work. I thought it would tell the story from the end of Easy as a sequel but sadly that is not the case.

The other issue I had with it was there wasn’t enough action or drama. It seems like a really self-indulgent book – full of erotic moments which at times were simply annoying.

Overall, I’m being honest here and saying that I was disappointed. Read Easy – that’s great. Give this a miss. (You could take a bit of inspiration from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and write your own ‘what happened next’).

Source: Bought and read on my Kobo.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Book review: Tinder

Author: Sally Gardner

Illustrator: David Roberts
Release date: November 2013
Genre: Fairy tale retelling/ Gothic
Target audience: YA (sexual references and violence)
Publisher: Indigo (Orion)

Tinder is a fairy tale retelling of Hans Christen Andersen’s The Tinder Box.

Otto Hundebiss is on the battlefields among the many bodies of the dead. He cheats death and is given a set of dice to guide him on his way. It’s not a comforting read...

I’ve wanted to read this for ages but the shortlisting for the Kate Greenaway Medal has propelled it to the top of my reading pile.

I still haven’t quite decided what to make of it. I suppose it is the nature of the fairy tale before Disney gets their hands on it. Fairy tales are dark, full of deception and have a structure that’s so familiar. There were some very detailed descriptions of gore and blood and dark deeds. It’s definitely written with a young adult rather than middle grade audience in mind.

What I did like was the descriptions of the setting and some of the character references - like the lawyer being referred to as a quill. It stood out to me as clever. But sadly, I never really connected what Otto. I never lived his passion or felt his fear. Personally, I think the illustrations were distracting. My mind couldn’t conjure the darkness for itself and that worked against making the story come to life.

The illustrations that I did think were good were of the scenes where Otto goes to retrieve the box and the wolves become men. I thought the brothers were almost godly in stature and that was really evocative of the fairy tale tradition (for me anyway).

Overall, this is certainly different. I’m looking forward to reading what other people thought about Tinder.

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.