My Facebook book list.

There’s been a meme circulating on Facebook for the last couple of weeks with the following instructions:

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right books” or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. Tag 10 friends including me so I can see your list.

I was tagged by an old uni friend to take part, and found it harder than I expected. The more I tried not to think too harder the more I found myself second guessing everything. I ended up stopping and starting the task a few times, as soon as I became aware of my brain getting too involved I closed the note file and came back later.

I thought it’d be nice to put the list up here and to add a thought or two about what each book means to me. Without further ado, here’s my list of ten.

Outsiders1. The Outsiders – S. E. Hinton
Quite simply this book means everything to me. I don’t remember why I picked it up, but I remember clearly the impact reading it had upon me. This book made me think about books completely differently, and made me realise I was entirely serious about wanting to write books for teens of my own.

WKDAS2. What Katy Did At School – Susan Coolidge
One of the many frequently re-read books of my childhood. This, along with its predecessor What Katy Did and the four books in the Little Women series, was what I turned to when I needed something familiar and comforting. This one in particular delighted me with its descriptions of a school experience so completely alien yet fascinating.

Matilda3. Matilda – Roald Dahl
I’m not sure this one actually needs any explanation does it? Like so many bookish children I loved the books of Roald Dahl, and this one in particular left a long lasting impression upon me.

 

TCE4. The Cupid Effect – Dorothy Koomson
I have loved each and every book written by Dorothy Koomson, her characters leap off the page and have a way of worming their way into my heart. It is Ceri from this book who I have loved most dearly of all – reading the book by the side of a pool on holiday I had to keep stopping so I could tell my friend just how exactly like me Ceri was. I think this was the first time I read a grown up character who felt so entirely like me – a really special reading experience.

image5. Banished – Liz de Jager
A list of books that have stayed with me wouldn’t be complete without Banished, first in my lovely friend Liz’s Blackhart Legacy trilogy. I’ve blogged before about my pride in watching Liz work towards getting this book published, being involved in that even just a little means this book (and its sequels) will always hold a special place in my heart.

TCOTW6. The Call of the Wild – Jack London
I don’t actually remember too much about this book, it’s the reading experience itself that I remember. Starting middle school I was lucky to be put into a class with a teacher who spotted that I changed my library book on a daily basis and made it her mission to introduce me to different authors and books, hoping to find something that would take me longer than a couple of hours to devour. The memory of this teacher going above and beyond is the thing that stays with me most, and this book in particular reminds me of her.

GM7. Graffiti Moon – Cath Crowley
This book completely blew me away. Told in dual narrative, gritty and gripping – this was a book I both couldn’t read fast enough and never wanted to finish. This added a whole new layer to my desire to write, helping me realise what I wanted to write.

 

NAC8. Noughts and Crosses – Malorie Blackman
The phrase game changer is used far too often, but I think both this series and author deserve the title. Personally this book made me stop and re-evaluate so much of what I thought, knew and had experienced. I don’t believe anyone can read this series of books and not come out the other end changed in some way by the reading experience.

NL9. Northern Lights – Philip Pullman
On four separate occasions I picked this book up at the library and took it home to read. On the second and subsequent occasions I quickly realised I had read this book before and then became excited to read it again. I have no idea why the cover and title refused to stick in my brain, but getting to repeatedly revisit the start of this series was no bad thing. This series again allowed me to think again about what fiction for children could be.

Rule10. Rule – Jay Crownover
The most recent book on my list, this again is a book that’s changed me as a person. As a series I’m more than a little obsessed, and it is the characters who drive my love for these books. Reading about them, about who they are and what they stand for has prompted me to look at myself and ask the same questions of myself.

Have you taken part in the meme? What books have stayed with or had an impact on you?

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Book Review: Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets by J.A. Buckle.

imageFifteen year old Josh fantasizes about becoming a death metal guitarist complete with tattoos,piercings and hoards of adoring fans, but its not easy when his super strict mum won’t let him grow his hair or even wear black t-shirts! Luckily Josh has a way of coping with life’s setbacks; his diary; it’s only a diary, but it contains all Josh’s hopes,dreams and frustrations (not to mention great ideas for band names and song lyrics). There’s a lot he wants to get done before his 16th birthday, but things never turn out quite like he plans…

What Josh doesn’t know is that his mother also kept a diary, back about the time he was born, and a secret in there holds the key to Josh’s life becoming a whole lot more metal.

The blurb for Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets definitely piqued my interest – my younger brother spent most of his teenage years and then some in heavy metal bands so he sounded like a character that I would understand.

Josh is certainly an interesting character. He’s inwardly focused, speaks before thinking and often comes across as a little mean – completely by accident. I spent a while wondering whether I liked him or whether he was in fact a bit of an idiot. I ended up deciding that whilst he was a bit of an idiot he was a very likeable bit of an idiot who actually had the best of intentions. He cares for the people around him even if he struggles sometimes with showing this.

This book is funny. There’s a natural wit to it that comes from everyday life being funny. This doesn’t feel forced, and feels like we’re laughing with the characters rather than at them. There were times when I smiled as I read and there were times when I laughed out loud. The diary style format works really well, making the story zip along. There’s one major twist in the story that I barely saw coming, it worked well though and felt natural.

One issue I had with the book is that there are frequent occurrences of “f***” written out exactly like that. This pulled me out of the book every single time – I’m not sure why it was decided to include the word and star it out, it didn’t fit Josh and it had a detrimental effect on the reading experience. For me this wasn’t a satisfactory way to try and show a true teenager in all their sweariness, I think going for lesser curse words that didn’t need to be blanked out would have worked better for the book overall. I completely understand that this is a subject that frequently comes back round for debate – having now read a book where this stylistic choice has been made I know that to me it is not a satisfactory solution.

I liked this book a lot. I think it would make a very good pairing with Dave Cousins’ Waiting For Gonzo.

Half My Facebook Friends are Ferrets is published by Curious Fox. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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PoPB: The Dinosaur Games by David Bedford & Dankerloux and A Day with the Animal Doctors by Sharon Rentta.

pairofpicturebooks
Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

The Dinosaur Games by David Bedford and Dankerloux (illustrator). Macmillan Children’s Books.
TheDinosaurGamesReady, steady, RAAAAAAH! Titus the T-Rex is ready for the Great Dinosaur Games. He may only be young, but he’s a tough lizard king and he’s out to win everything! Or so he thinks . . . He’s not built for hurdles and swimming isn’t easy when you’ve never learnt how. But with a meteor on its way to Earth, everything is set to change. Titus may not win a race, but he might just save one!

I enjoyed this book so much! It has a wonderfully catchy, rhyming text – I started reading it in my head but soon switched to reading it aloud just so I could enjoy the reading experience to its fullest. Titus the T-Rex is a lovely character, he starts the book completely ready to dominate all of the sporting activities in the Great Dinosaur Games. When he discovers that actually he’s not suited to any of them he goes off and sulks in true childish fashion, before getting the opportunity to redeem himself and find his own sporting path.

Dankerloux’s illustrations are bold and appealing, working really well with the text. I really enjoyed how the text is paced throughout the book, a couple of times the final, rhyming, word appears on the following page allowing for prediction (and the satisfaction of predicting the correct word) and the building of anticipation. The page where Titus is throwing his strop is wonderful, there are four pictures showing him engaged in different sulky behaviours – he looked so much like some of the young children I’ve seen sulk!

This is a lovely, fun book that will make an excellent addition to any collection. It’s a lot of fun to read aloud (though thankfully avoids the sort of rhymes that require hours of rehearsal) and children will enjoy listening to it. It also provides some great talkabout opportunities, and will fit well into any sports themed events.

A Day with the Animal Doctors by Sharon Rentta. Alison Green Books.
ADWTADIt’s going to be a busy day for the Animal Doctors.

A snake needs unknotting, a leopard has lost his spots, and a dog has swallowed an alarm clock…

A fabulously funny book for every child who loves playing doctors and nurses.

This book is so cute! Terence is a young tapir, and this book follows him as he spends the day at work with his mum – a doctor at the Animal Hospital. He gets to see all sorts of aspects of hospital work, and finds he’s able to do lots of things to help out (though the tiny mice cleaning the hospital often seem to wish he’d help a little differently). The story has a real gentleness to it, there’s humour throughout though this is quieter than in some picture books. Terence is adorable (though I love baby tapirs so I admit I may be a little biased) – I liked how childlike his helping was.

The illustrations in this book are as gentle as the plot. The colour palette is on the slightly muted side which works beautifully in this book, the the illustrations themselves appear hand drawn which adds to the overall softness. The pages are rich with details, I loved spotting all of the little things – like the cleaner mice who are often to be found mopping or sweeping or the hen going around collecting eggs.

This cute book would be a lovely way to discuss hospitals with a young child, the language used is simple and to the point. I loved the book and will look out for more by the author.

Both books featured in this post were borrowed from my local library.

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MG Monday: Fantasy League by Mike Lupica.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week features Fantasy League by Mike Lupica.

FantasyLeagueFrom the #1 bestselling author of Heat, Travel Team and Million-Dollar Throw comes a story of every football kid’s dream come true.

12-year-old Charlie is a fantasy football guru. He may be just a bench warmer for his school’s football team, but when it comes to knowing and loving the game, he’s first-string. He even becomes a celebrity when his podcast gets noticed by a sports radio host, who plays Charlie’s fantasy picks for all of Los Angeles to hear. Soon Charlie befriends the elderly owner of the L.A. Bulldogs — a fictional NFL team — and convinces him to take a chance on an aging quarterback. After that, watch out . . . it’s press conferences and national fame as Charlie becomes a media curiosity and source of conflict for the Bulldogs general manager, whose job Charlie seems to have taken. It’s all a bit much for a kid just trying to stay on top of his grades and maintain his friendship with his verbal sparring partner, Anna.

I’m a huge sports fan and love reading books where sport plays a major role. American football is not that close to the top of my list of favourite sports, we just don’t get to watch enough of it in the UK for it to earn such a place, but it’s one that I find myself learning about increasingly often. My a bit better than basic knowledge of the game was certainly enough for me to follow this book with ease and really enjoy it.

The plot of this book errs towards the real life fantasy in the best possible way. Charlie, the main character, is football obsessed – he plays for his school team, plays lots of fantasy football and analyses the game down to teeniest details. Its this hyperfocus that makes him special – he sees things in the game that others simply don’t spot, and draws predictions from them that may seem outlandish initially but rarely fail to come true. This is how he ends up advising his beloved, struggling, local NFL team – definitely the stuff that dreams are made of.

There’s so much to love about this book, the plot is gripping to the point that I found myself holding my breath a couple of times when games of football were drawing towards a close. The central characters are also all very endearing – I could easily have read a book twice as long as this one and not even begun to get bored of them. Charlie himself is fascinating, particularly this way he has of analysing football – I think he’s a great advertisement for a love of statistics! His best friend Anna, well I’d have liked to have seen her a little more – she’s described early on as being the only one who understands and loves football the way that Charlie does and as a sports loving girl I really loved her. By the end of the book I understood why she wasn’t featured as strongly as I’d have liked her to have been, and I had to remind myself that it was Charlie’s book after all. The elderly owner of the L.A. Bulldogs, Mr Warren, was a wonderful character, I could feel his warmth spring off the page.

This is such a great story. It carries a number of messages, all seamlessly threaded through, and as such would provide some great discussion opportunities. I think this book will be loved by many, it’ll be an instant sell to sports mad tweens but I think far more will enjoy it if they’re just persuaded to pick it up and start reading.

Fantasy League is published by Philomel/Penguin in the USA from 16th September 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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Book Review: The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop.

TheSunriseIn the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island’s most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city’s façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

I’ve read and loved a couple of Victoria Hislop novels in the past, I love the way her writing style transports me back to the historical setting of the book. When I saw her new book focused on the conflict in Cyprus I was really interested in it – I know not a lot about this piece of modern history so what better way to get a bit more informed?

The book opens with a timeline of the events in Cyprus leading up to the 1972 setting of the book. I found this a very useful whistle stop tour, giving some useful background information. Following this the book has a brief period of scene setting, introducing us to Famagusta – the city setting for the book – and the Papacostas – the ambitious couple opening the luxury hotels that are to provide much of the focus of the story. This first chapter is quite long, and I found initially that I didn’t feel like I was gelling with it. I think I just wanted the story to get going and to draw me in.

By the end of the first chapter I was beginning to get drawn in, and then very quickly I was hooked and couldn’t read quickly enough. The core cast of characters is plentiful, I felt like I got to know all of them and was invested in their individual stories. Whilst the stories of both Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta are interesting, for me it was the Georgious and the Özkans who really captured my attention. The two families come from the two warring sides, the Georgious are Greek Cypriot and the Özkans are Turkish Cypriot – this allows the reader an immediate view into both sides of the dispute from a very human, relatable position.

The two books I’d previously read by the author had both featured a modern story intertwined with a historical story. I must admit I’d expected this book to follow the same pattern and it was only when I reached the mid point that I realised this book was instead following an entirely linear narrative. It worked well for this story, I don’t think having a modern story woven through it would have added anything to the reading experience.

I liked the way that the author has tried to present a very balanced take on what happened in Famagusta in the 1970s, showing that both sides were following strong convictions and in doing so both sides committed crimes and atrocities. This never feels heavy handed, instead very matter of fact. I think having young children included in the two families helps with this – questions are asked by Mehmet Özkan in particular that allow for discussion of the human side of the conflict. This feels a particularly timely read as we’re currently living with many conflicts ongoing that are pitting two sides of communities against one another.

This book is atmospheric, and gripping. It covers a time in history that I knew virtually nothing about but by the time I reached the end of the book I felt both that I knew a little more and would like to do some reading of my own to learn more still.

The Sunrise is published by Headline Review in the UK from 25th September. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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Book Review: Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard.

ConquestEarth is no longer ours. It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilised yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun…

Whilst it is often the cover of a book that makes the initial grab for my attention, in this book’s case it was John Connolly’s name. Discovering that he’d co-written a new YA science fiction series was enough to make me want to read this book. If I’m being entirely honest it’s a good job the book had his name attached and a great synopsis – that cover art for the paperback version of the book does absolutely nothing for me I’m afraid.

I found the book a little hard to get into initially. The necessary world building is a little wordy, the first chapter feels a lot like that opening sequence found at the beginning of many sci fi movies or tv series (the ones that usually end up being a teacher telling a class their collective history). The world that Connolly and Ridyard have created is an alternative version of our own – in their version an alien race, the Illyri, invaded towards the beginning of the 21st century and the ensuing war has been fought ever since. The Illyri are now in charge, various shows of power and control have forced humanity’s surrender, but it’s an uneasy situation with the Resistance still fighting to regain the Earth from the Illyri’s control. The level of detail that is brought by the plot means that the world building and exposition comes into play throughout the book, I found that the further I got into the book the more seamless this felt – I was glad I’d persisted with the book, the first few chapters made me consider giving up a few times.

Much of this book centres around the power struggle between the Illyri and the Resistance, our main character Syl gets herself entirely embroiled in the battle and we see her personal struggles both for survival and with making sense of the world, she’s been kept away from much of it and taught solely from the Illyri point of view. Mixing with humans leaves here questioning some of what she’s been taught and realising there may be other perspectives to take into account. The book is told from a number of points of view, hers is our primary way into the world – as she learns so to do we the reader.

Syl’s human equivalent is Paul, an up and coming voice in the Resistance. They along with Syl’s best friend Ani and Paul’s younger brother Steven make up the central cast of characters. Around them is an extensive collection of supporting characters, there are many and at times this meant I found I wasn’t quite tracking who everyone was, and what each one meant to who. I’m not generally a fan of character lists at the beginning of books, I don’t want to have to flick back to remind myself who’s who, but in this case I could have done with one. I think perhaps the combination of all of the supporting characters plus all of the specific vocabulary that comes with an alien species may have been a little more information than I could hold in my head simultaneously.

All of that said, I did enjoy the book and once I’d settled into it I was completely invested in finding out what happened next. There’s peril littered throughout the book, at various times I expected to turn the page and find a bloodbath. I cared about the central characters, and about a couple of the supporting characters. Conversely there were other supporting characters I was willing to meet a sticky end, when this happened I was pretty much always satisfied (I could argue a case for a couple of them deserving more gruesome deaths).

There is a romantic element to this book, it draws of course on the forbidden love thing – over the course of the book the relationship between Syl and Paul develops a little and changes. I really liked the way this was gradual, I don’t have the same issues with so-called insta-love that a lot of readers do, but for these characters anything other than a slow, tentative closening would not have felt true to them or to the world in which they live.

This book is the first in a trilogy, it ends not so much with a cliffhanger but more a situation where the various characters the reader has come to care about are pushed in directions that seem hard to reconcile. I have absolutely no idea where the plot of this series is going to go, so many new paths seem to be opening up alongside the number of plot threads not yet resolved. I’m looking forward to reading the other two books and discovering what on earth is going to happen in the long run.

This is a good book, but sadly not a great one. I’m hoping that with much of the world building done the rest of the trilogy will reach the greatness I’d hoped for from this book.

Conquest is published by Headline in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

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PoPB: Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex and Mr Super Poopy Pants by Rebecca Elliott.

pairofpicturebooks
Pair of Picture Books Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman & Adam Rex (illustrator). Bloomsbury Books.
ChusDayChu is a little panda with a big sneeze.

When Chu sneezes, bad things happen.

Lucky there’s nothing sneezy near Chu today… Is there?

Uh-oh… Stand back everyone!

I read this lovely book as a cute, simple story, and immediately thought of how much fun it would be to read aloud to a group. It feels like the sort of book that would be a sure fire hit with any nursery age group – watching Chu go through his day avoiding sneezing before that sneeze finally appears is going to make most smile if not giggle or laugh. I enjoyed it, and then I spotted other reviews suggesting I may have missed something. It seems my reading of the book might have been a little simplistic, there is apparently a much deeper meaning with a political undertone. In fact, the more reviews I read the more different interpretations I can find of the text – many of them far more incisive than my feeling that it’s a cute story.

Regardless of whether this book is simply cute or in fact a political masterpiece, Adam Rex’s illustrations are stunning and the reason this simple story took me a very long time to read. Chu’s world is entirely inhabited by animals, there are 8 double or single full page illustrations that contain so much detail and so many animals that I found myself pouring over them for ages. There is a wonderful richness to the colours, my favourite illustrations are those within the circus tent – they’re filled with lovely purples and greens. Chu himself is lovely, I particularly liked his facial expressions when he’s trying so hard not to sneeze.

This is a book that seems to divide opinion. Either way I think it’s a book with great sharing potential and I will certainly be looking out for the next in the series, Chu’s First Day of School.

Mr Super Poopy Pants by Rebecca Elliott. Lion Children’s.
MSPPToby had been looking forward to all the adventures he would have with his new baby brother.

Instead, when he arrives, he just… poops. All the time.

How BORING. But then Toby realizes that his little brother’s pooping might have some SUPER advantages!

This book features Toby and Clemmie who’ve already featured in Just Because and Sometimes, based on the author’s own children, and new baby Benjamin. Whilst waiting for Benjamin to be be born Toby came up with all sorts of plans for the fun they could have, but he finds the reality is a little different – babies aren’t really quite up to superhero antics. The more he talks about Benjamin the more he realises that whilst he might not be exactly the sidekick he had in mind he’s pretty brilliant in his own way.

This book is funny, and cute, and entirely entertaining. I was absolutely loving it, then I reached the final page and have to admit that the last line made me absolutely melt from how adorable it was. It made what was already a brilliant book into a downright excellent one. The illustrations add to the warmth and humour of the book, my favourite has to be the page where Toby describes the first of his favourite of Benjamin’s poops – The Submarine Poop:

Art work taken from author's website here

Art work taken from author’s website {here}

I haven’t read the first two books featuring Toby and Clemmie, but they’re firmly on my list to track down. Clemmie was born with profound mental and physical disabilities, Just Because describes the relationship she and Toby share and Sometimes is about Clemmie’s trip to hospital. Seeing children with disabilities of all forms represented in children’s books is something I feel very strongly about so I’m pleased to discover these books exist and look forward to reading them.

Chu’s Day was borrowed from my local library. I was provided with a copy of Mr Super Poopy Pants for review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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