Friday, 17 April 2015

Violet and the Pearl of the Orient, by Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor. Reviewed by Saviour Pirotta

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children's Books
Publication date: 12th February 2015
Illustrated by Becka Moor

I have to admit that I bought this book, Whitehorn's debut, because it was part of Waterstone's 'Buy one get one half price' promotion, and because I was quite taken by its 1950s pastiche cover. I fell in love with Violet, its feisty main character and her sidekick, the demure Rose right away.

Here's the perfect whodunnit with a cast of characters straight out of a delicious pantomime. The baddies are truly bad, ruthless and conceited, the goodies my kind of people - sincere, literate and posessing great taste. My favourite has to be the camp, fading Hollywood starlet called Dee Dee Derota who talks like Blanche out of The Golden Girls.

I should imagine most 6 to 8 year olds at whom this book is a targeted would have never read a detective story before. This would make the ideal introduction to the genre, complete with clues, red herrings and an ineffectual policeman.

I won't spoil the plot by saying too much about it. Suffice it to say the crime involves the theft of a rare and precious jewel.

The language is simple and pacey, perfect for bedtime or a holiday read on the beach. Becka Moor's colour illustrations and doodles enhance the experience. Can't wait to start on the second book of the series: Harriet and the Hidden Treasure.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Green Sheep, by Diana Kimpton

Diana Kimpton, as many of you will know, is a prolific writer for children with over forty books published. Many of them have to do with horses, but she's also very keen on science fiction, declaring with pride that she has watched Doctor Who 'since the very first episode'.

The Green Sheep is a story about aliens. But these are not hostile aliens. They - well, 'it', to start off
with - are sheep. And they're green. And they're great fans of a terrestrial soap opera, which is the reason they're here in the first place...

Paul Dane lives with his parents on the outskirts of a village. His father has recently got a new job with a firm called DETOPS, and as a result, he doesn't seem to have time to do things with Paul any more. One evening Paul goes for a walk by himself - and sees a strange beam of light. Next thing he knows, there's a sheep in the field where there wasn't one before. It's bright green. And It can talk.

It tells Paul that it is indeed an alien, but a friendly one. It knows what Earth is like - it knows about men in suits, and it doesn't want to be taken to anybody's leader - and so it asks Paul for help. Kind-hearted Paul agrees, and then his troubles begin. One of them is that, due to a technical malfunction (one of several), whenever the sheep falls asleep, it becomes two sheep. And so on, and so on... the alien isn't due to be picked up for a month, and Paul realises that by that time, there'll be millions of them. Where can he keep them all? How will he hide them? How can he feed them? And then the men in suits arrive - and one of them is Paul's dad.

I read this with my eight year-old grandson. It made him laugh out loud, and he didn't want me to stop. He doesn't so far read much by himself, but I think this book would be one to help him feel confident about reading alone: the language is uncomplicated, the pace is brisk, and the narrative drives you from one chapter to the next. It's funny and warm and it has a reassuring message. Just the job - for any child, but particularly for those who are a little bit worried about the tiger on the landing or the monster under the bed.

The Green Sheep is published by Kubby Bridge Books, and is available  as a paperback and as an ebook.


Saturday, 11 April 2015

THIS IS NOT A LOVE STORY by Keren David; reviewed by Gillian Philip

Kitty reads a lot of books. And while Kitty doesn't have a great idea of where her life is going, she does have a very particular idea of where in a fictional existence it ought to be going. But as the strapline for this energetic coming-of-age novel points out: Life doesn’t come with a road map.

In This Is Not A Love Story, Keren David plays with many of the tropes of recent teenage fiction. There’s the love triangle featuring two gorgeous prospective partners (one of them a ‘bad boy’); there’s a ‘sick-lit’ element, with Kitty’s heart in constant danger of stopping just as her father’s once did. But tropes are there to be played with, to be subverted, and David has a joyful time doing just that. 

Kitty and Theo, both from North London, find themselves coincidentally moving to Amsterdam at the same time – Theo much against his will. Though they don’t know each other (surprisingly – and David is very funny and sharp when describing the tight world of Jewish North London, where everyone knows someone’s friend’s aunt and every boy has loads of friends called Jacob), they fall in with the same group of expat friends, and their attraction is instantaneous. Theo, though, is still getting over a previous romance (the cause of his exile), while Kitty wants to make quite sure he is the perfect soulmate she’s read about in so many books. The spanner-in-the-works is Ethan, an English-American but-mostly-Dutch boy who may soon become Kitty’s stepbrother. He’s acerbic, he’s blunt, he’s cynical, and Kitty doesn’t know what to make of him – except that, impending family ties notwithstanding, he’s certainly beautiful enough to qualify as another potential love interest.

Keren David herself spent time as an expat in Amsterdam, and her affection and admiration for the city are vividly expressed as Theo and Kitty explore their new home. She’s also very good on the expat existence, where friendships are almost always fleeting, but there’s a will to experience intensely a new and short-lived home. And for both Kitty and Theo, that intensity is ramped up to a pitch that teenagers need, dread and want. “Love has to be passionate,” Kitty insists, “it has to include fear and hate and longing.” 

While searching for her glittering drama of true love, Kitty perfects her life online, through YouTube vlogs and Tumblrs and her Instagram, where she constantly checks her (rising) follower count. It’s the contrast between her ideal Instagrammed life and the real one that creates much of the tension (as well as the fun) of the book.

The story does not play out as you might expect (and paradoxically, that’s just what Keren David fans will expect). As well as the romantic triangle, there’s a central nail-biting mystery, and a broad cast of characters who stay lodged in your memory. Teenagers who love John Green but are looking for something a little different will love this book. And just to be clear, there’s not a single scene involving a snog in Anne Frank’s attic. 

This Is Not A Love Story by Keren David; Atom Books 7 May 2015, £6.99


Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Seven Days by Eve Ainsworth, Reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

Jess is fourteen. She lives with her mum and younger sister, Hollie, on a housing estate and nothing is easy for her.

Then there's Kez. On the surface, she's got everything Jess wants: a pretty face, a hot boyfriend, nice house, two parents. Most of all, Kez has power, at least when she's at school. And she uses that power to make Jess miserable.

Over the course of seven days, the two girls' lives are tangled together until everything comes to a head on Saturday night and nothing will ever be the same again. How far is Kez prepared to push Jess? Does Jess have enough strength left to push back?

Seven days is an original and clever concept: a dual narrative following victim and bully over just one week (which feels like a lifetime when you're young). At the start of the story, the bullying has been going on for some time and Jess is really struggling to cope. My sympathy was instantly won as I took in her difficult home life and daily battles. Then Eve Ainsworth smartly flipped things around and retold events from the bully's point of view. From that moment on, I was torn between the two girls - on one hand, I was willing Jess to ask for help, to tell someone what was happening, to stand up for herself but on the other, I was desperate for Kez to get the support she needed too. It was a bold move to recount the same action twice but it works perfectly and for me, it's the strongest part of the book. It really made me think about events from both points of view and reminded me that bullying is never just about the victim - it says a lot about the bully too, how they're often damaged as well. Each character had their own distinct voice, ringing with authenticity and perfectly observed. Both leapt off the page and there was a host of supporting characters who were equally brilliant.

I predict teachers and teens alike will love this book. An important and thought-provoking debut.

Published by Scholastic, February 2015. I recommend it for readers of twelve years and up.


Friday, 3 April 2015

Sam's Super Stinky Socks! written by Paul Bright & illustratrated by Ed Eaves - reviewed by Damian Harvey

Young Sam is a fearless explorer who  clearly follows in his Pa's adventuring footsteps.
After announcing that he is off to see the world, Pa offers him some words of advice that I'm sure Bear Grylls would firmly endorse - 'Be sure to wash your socks each night and hang them up to dry.' Pa also offers some slightly more dubious advice on what to do if he comes across a cheetah, a crocodile or a python. But it seems that the only thing that Pa can't help with is the most fearsome thing of all - the 'Jumbo Bumbo Fly.' which will bite you on the bum.

Sam's adventures take him around the world and as you might expect, he completely forgets all of Pa's sound advice on how to deal with wild animals... but worst of all, he never washes his socks and the terrible pong attracts a cheetah. 
Soon poor Sam finds himself being chased by a cheetah, a python and a crocodile. Just as it seems that things can't get any worse he hears a fearful noise - the dreaded Jumbo Bumbo Fly. The terrible insect bites the cheetah, the python and the crocodile, turning their bums blue, and it seems that Sam will be next. Fortunately, Sam proves himself to be more resourceful than his Pa and all ends well but you'll have to read the book to see exactly what happens.
The combination of Paul Bright's witty, rhyming text and Ed Eaves's bright, fun filled illustrations make this picture book a joy to read aloud and share. Children (and especially boys) will giggle endlessly at the references to bums an stinky socks... a sure winner. 


Monday, 30 March 2015

The Pheonix Presents The Pirates of Pangaea Book 1 by Daniel Hartwell and Neill Cameron - reviewed by Cavan Scott

In his excellent How to Make Awesome Comics, Neill Cameron suggests mashing together different cool things to make a REALLY cool thing.

The Pirates of Pangaea is the artist and author practicing exactly what he preaches. Cameron and co-writer David Hartwell take two eternally popular staples of adventure stories and combine them with epic results.

Pirates and Dinosaurs. Need I say more?

OK, if you insist. Set during the 18th Century, The Pirates of Pangaea sees Sophie Delacourt visiting a recently discovered island that is still populated by dinosaurs. All is going swimmingly, until she is kidnapped by a band of vicious pirates, led by the blood-thirsty Captain Brookes. Can she escape before Brookes finds his heart's desire, a mystical skull hidden somewhere on Pangaea?

Along the way, we have action, intrigue and pirate ships strapped onto the back of massive sauropods. Yes, you read that right - schooners on the back of dinosaurs. Just look:

Seriously, why has no one done this before? If any comic deserves to be adapted for the big screen, it's this pre-historic page-turner.

Oh, and you've heard of horse-whisperers? Well, Sophie turns out to be a T-Rex whisperer. Far more impressive, if you ask me!

The writers' inventive world building is brought vividly to life by Cameron''s dynamic artwork, with colouring from Abigail Ryder. Best of all, there's a real sense of jeopardy here. There's no quick fixes to problems, and you begin to wonder which of the main cast will make it to the end of the book - if any!

If you like your swashes buckled and your pulse quickened, you'll love this dino-mighty adventure.

The Pirates of Pangaea is published by David Fickling books. Reviewed by Cavan Scott


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott reviewed by Lynda Waterhouse

This book was given to me as a gift. A Christmas present from my Godson. In fact the first present he has ever given me. After months of languishing on my ever growing ‘To be read’ pile so, with this review slot looming, I started to read it.
The full title of the book is bird by bird, Some instructions on Writing and Life. I pulled a face. This was probably not a book I would have chosen for myself. I pursed my lips and sighed. I do not consider myself to be a great reader of ‘how to’ books. Then I glanced at one of my bookshelves. In a neat row was Stephen King, Dorothea Brande, Robert McKee, Betsy Lerner and Christopher Booker. The row was rounded off by The Penguin dictionary of Jokes. Who was I trying to kid?
Anne Lamott’s book is a slim volume and is divided into five parts; Writing, The Writing Frame of Mind, Help Along the Way, Publication and Other Reasons to Write and The Last Class. It is full of advice as well as being funny and brutally honest. It has a section entitled Shitty First Drafts in which she says ‘All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.’
The section on jealousy particularly resonated with me. Anne says, ‘Jealousy is one of the occupational hazards of being a writer, and the most degrading. And I, who have been the Leona Helmsley of jealousy, have come to believe that the only things that help ease or transform it are a) getting older, b) talking about it until the fever breaks and c) using it as material. Also someone somewhere along the line is going to be able to make you start laughing about it, and then you are on your way home.’
This book is written in lively and sassy style. Anne is very open about her life experiences and her faith which makes this book a warm and generous guide.  The perfect gift.

Bird by bird is published by Anchor Books