Book Review

PoPB: The Great Balloon Hullaballoo by Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka and Standing in for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh.

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

The Great Balloon Hullaballoo by Peter Bently & Mei Matsuoka (illustrator). Andersen Press.
TGBHWhen Simon the squirrel’s mum sends him off to the shop, Simon decides to fly to the moon in Old Uncle Somerset’s hot air balloon in search of cheese. Shopping in outer space is very exciting, but proves to be a bit of a distraction . . .

I previously read and enjoyed Peter Bently’s Cats Ahoy! so was pleased when I saw his name on the cover of this book – I had chosen it completely based on the title and cover. This book definitely lived up to my expectations, it’s the story of a shopping trip that takes a turn for the adventurous – a balloon ride through space. Each planet has its own speciality, my favourite was Saturn’s star-spangled pants! The rhyming text makes this book a pleasure to read, it flows beautifully and is very inventive. Some of the rhymes require the page to be turned for their completion – I enjoyed trying to guess what might be waiting.

Mei Matsuoka’s illustrations are wonderful. They blend the somewhat normal of the animals and Earth based content with the fantastical space and aliens with ease. The colours are strong, I loved their richness. There are lots of little details that carry through the pages including a stowaway for much of the story.

This is a very entertaining picture book. I really enjoyed reading it, I think there’s enough going on in it that it wouldn’t be a problem to have it requested again and again.

Standing in for Lincoln Green by David Mackintosh. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
SIFLGLincoln Green has a double, someone who looks just like him. Lincoln Green’s own mother can’t tell the difference between him and You Know Who. With his handy stand-in taking care of all the chores that just can’t wait, Lincoln Green has plenty of time to do the things he wants to do, like drink fizzy sarsparilla and shoot the breeze.

But Lincoln Green’s not the only one who doesn’t like doing things they don’t like doing. It’s not long before You Know Who has teamed up with Billy the Kid Next Door, which is a lot more fun than doing things for Lincoln Green, that’s for sure. And that’s when Lincoln Green finds himself in BIG trouble.

This book is by David Mackintosh, I liked and reviewed his book The Frank Show earlier this year. I really enjoyed that book but sadly this one fell a little short for me.

The concept of the book is great. Lincoln Green has a double, this means Lincoln can do all of the fun exciting things whilst his double does all the boring things he needs to do – things like chores and homework. Sounds good? Of course it does, and of course things start to go wrong when his double realises he too could be having fun rather than standing in for Lincoln. Up until this point I really enjoyed the book – it’s fun and I found myself daydreaming about having my own stand in. The resolution of the book however is disappointing, it didn’t make a lot of sense and I found myself left with lots of questions.

I really enjoy Mackintosh’s illustration style. The lines all have the appearance of having been drawn in wax crayon, giving the illustrations a playful feel. Colour is used carefully throughout the book so as to not overwhelm the very detailed pictures. I loved how detailed the pictures were, every page has so much to look at.

This was a decent book but the ending meant it fell short of being as good as I had hoped it would be.

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

Book Review

MG Monday: Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well by Elli Woollard and Al Murphy.

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Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well written by Elli Woollard and illustrated by Al Murphy earns his turn in the spotlight.

WoozyTheWizardWoozy the Wizard is a well-meaning wizard who just wants to help his friends. But sometimes his spells (and he) get all mixed up! So then he has to get back on his broom with his pet pig and zoom around the village trying to put things right . . .

Hilarious rhyming verse for children aged four and up, starring Woozy the Wizard and his pet pig!

Woozy the Wizard looks a lot like the wizards you imagine; long grey beard, flowing cloak and pointy hat, wand in hand. Where he differs a little from other wizards however is that sometimes his magic isn’t all that good. That’s the problem facing Woozy in this book, the villagers are all sick and no matter what he tries he just can’t magic them better. Whether it’s his books not having a suitable spell, or a lapse in memory, Woozy has to try all sorts of different things in his mission to cure the village.

This story is told in rhyme with some repeated stanzas that will encourage participation from young listeners. The back cover blurb suggests this story is for those aged four and up – it’ll work well at the younger end of this as a book to read out loud. The rhyming structure makes for some amusing word choices, these are always entertaining rather than feeling shoe-horned in for the sake of the rhyme.

The book is illustrated by Al Murphy. His illustrations are bold and colourful, working really well with the humorous text. They are very clear, with strong lines and solid colours – I think that this was a great choice, busier pictures might have distracted from the rhyming text. As it was I found it easy to give both the text and illustrations my full attention. I think my favourite illustration is from when one of Woozy’s spell attempts goes wrong and Woozy and his pig end up being pelted with vegetables – it made me laugh!

This is a really great, fun book. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to sharing it with others. Woozy is going to be back in the Spring in Woozy the Wizard: A Broom to go Zoom – I’ll definitely be reading this.

Woozy the Wizard: A Spell to Get Well is published by Faber Children’s in the UK. I won my copy of the book in a giveaway by the publisher, all of the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Book Review

PoPB: The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland and Harold Finds a Voice by Courtney Dicmas.

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

The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland. Hodder Children’s.
TVCBIn the Jingle Jangle Jungle
on a wet and windy day,
four little friends meet
a very cranky bear.
Can they cheer him up?

I liked this book, I liked it a lot. The story is told in rhyme, it follows four animal friends who are looking for somewhere dry to play. They find a cave but don’t realise its already occupied, by a bear who just wants to sleep. Each of the animals thinks it knows the best way to cheer the bear up, initially this results in a very amusing but unsuccessful result. It takes an animal who is prepared to listen to what the bear actually wants in order to solve the bear’s problem.

The book’s illustrations are bold and striking. The colours are very rich and the pictures feel like they have a real depth. The depiction of the rain is very effective, I felt cold every time I saw a rainy picture. Of the animals my favourites were Lion thanks to his shiny, golden mane and Sheep thanks to her lovely soft looking fleece. I wasn’t 100% sure of the need for the two female characters Zebra and Sheep to have eyelashes and pink cheeks to signify that they were female, this information is conveyed in the text. One of my favourite details was that it was cards the animals wanted to play, as a keen card player I liked seeing these animals wanting to play too.

I enjoyed this book a lot. It would work really well as a group read with a nursery crowd, it would allow for discussions of hibernation and of how we can best help others.

Harold Finds a Voice by Courtney Dicmas. Child’s Play.
HaroldHarold is an amazing mimic, and can imitate the sound of everything in his home. Tired of repeating the same old noises, he yearns to find out what other voices there are in the big, wide world. But what happens when he suddenly realises that he doesn’t yet have a voice of his own?

This fantastic debut by author/illustrator Courtney Dicmas recounts Harold’s hilarious tale. It’s full of colour, humour and invention, and children will love to join in with Harold as he mimics everyday noises.

I loved this story! Harold is a parrot who is an incredible mimic of all of the sounds around him. His range is extensive, from alarm clocks to blenders, showers to vacuum cleaners. When he gets the opportunity to escape the flat he lives in he quickly adds lots of new sounds to his repertoire. When he realises he doesn’t know what he himself sounds like he has a go at making his own noise, and is pleased with the result. It’s a fun, simple story, I think it’s absolutely begging to be read aloud. It would require a bit of practice beforehand, I’m still not entirely sure how to try and make the noise of the blender!

The pictures are colourful and busy, occasionally to the level of feeling a little chaotic. This works well for the story but I was pleased that the very busy pages were infrequent. My favourite pages were the ones that just showed Harold, particularly a double spread where he is pacing and thinking. There’s so much movement and expression in this page, it felt very real.

Such a fun book, one that should be making its way into any nursery or childcare setting’s collection.

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

Book Review

Book Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle.

FamousInLoveShe fell in love with him in the books – now she has the chance to star opposite him in the film…

Paige doesn’t think she’s particularly special, but after getting the starring role in a massive film adaptation of the bestselling Locked trilogy, the rest of the world would disagree. Now she’s thrown into the spotlight, and into a world of gossip, rumour and deceit. The only people who know what she’s going through are her two male co-stars, and they can’t stand the sight of each other. Paige knows it’s a mistake to fall in love on the set of a movie, but days of on-screen romance and intensity start to change her mind. The question is, can she keep what happens behind the scenes a secret when the world is watching her every move?

This book feels really current and very relevant, it focuses on Paige a young actress who gets the lead role in the latest YA movie adaptation. She’s done lots of acting locally, but never dreams that she’s going to be successful at the open audition looking for an unknown actress.

The book opens with a prologue that’s set at some point in Paige’s future. She’s already a famous actress at this point but she suggests that all is not as it seems. The story then leaps back to just before she gets the role, and then follows her through the filming of the first movie in the trilogy (like most existing YA movie adaptations the fictional story is a trilogy with fantasy elements and two boys vying for the girl’s attention).

Paige narrates the book, this along with the use of the present tense makes the book feel fresh and draws the reader into Paige’s life. Paige struggles with the transition from regular teenager to lead actress in a film that matters so much to so many fans, whilst this is generally well done she does from time to time come across as unnecessarily angsty.

The author works hard to explain to the reader that Paige isn’t your typical teen, she doesn’t read gossip mags and is happiest hiding in her local bookshop reading screenplays. This is necessary so that when she meets Rainer and Jordan, the two male actors she’ll be filming with, that she doesn’t know anything about them, their pasts or the trouble there has been between them.

There is a section in the book where Paige reflects on her favourite film, one with a makeover reveal scene – she talks at length about how much she loved the way the character becomes beautiful. She experienced a similar sort of makeover and is entirely buoyed by how everyone reacts to her – it made me sad that she bought so firmly into the clothes and make up and image thing. I really wished that she could see how false this was – I didn’t feel like it fitted in with what we knew about Paige either.

Like the fictional YA book that is the focus of the movie being filmed, this book has a love triangle. This lacked some subtlety, the tensions between Rainer and Jordan left me thinking they were both lying and manipulating Paige at points in the book. The ending felt very abrupt, lots of things slotting into place in a very short space of time. I think this was meant to reflect the whirlwind nature of the press commitments for promoting a film, but it didn’t translate so well.

I had lots of quibbles with this book but I did enjoy reading it. It’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to return to, and I won’t be racing to read the subsequent books in the series or the novella of the fictional book being made into a film (yes, the author of this has written and released the book that features in this book under the pseudonym of the fictional author – there’s no easy way to write that). I will more than likely read the later books at some point, if only to find out where the prologue of this book fits. This could have been a great book, but sadly it’s execution just falls a little short of its concept.

Famous in Love is published by Macmillan Children’s Books in the UK from 23rd October 2014. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

PoPB: Noodle’s Knitting by Sheryl Webster & Caroline Pedler and Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves.

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

Noodle’s Knitting by Sheryl Webster & Caroline Pedler (illustrator). Little Tiger Press.
NoodleNoodle’s Knitting Noodle has ALWAYS wanted to knit. She even knows all the magic words:

“Knit one, purl one, knit two together!”

So when Noodle finds a ball of wool, she knits and knits and knits…

But soon Noodle knits herself into a very big pickle!

I’m convinced that Little Tiger Press is producing some of the cutest picture books going, Noodle’s Knitting is no exception to this. After spending months watching the farmer’s wife knit Noodle finally gets her chance to give it a go – she has a ball of beautiful purple wool, some Noodle sized knitting needles (trying saying that three times!) and away to go. Admittedly this cute book is a little low on story, but the story it does contain is lovely and has an ending that made me want to leap into the book!

The illustrations are as lovely as the story. They’re filled with beautiful colours, and I found myself wanting to find a ball of wool the exact same purple as Noodle’s – I’d love a scarf that colour! This book is a little bit different, it’s been enhanced with “soft-to-touch wool on every page”. This adds an extra element of interest to each page, I think little hands will love tracing the wool throughout the book. I loved the attention to detail with the knitting – I could clearly see the different stitches (Noodle’s scarf appears to be knitted in stocking stitch which has two distinct sides).

A cute read, perfect for the autumn!

Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves (illustrator). Bloomsbury.
MarmadukeMarmaduke isn’t like other dragons. He’s got big floppy ears, he’s orange and he doesn’t even fly! He can fly, but he won’t, because his wings… Well, they’re unusual.

But when Marmaduke embarks on a daring rescue mission, he has to make an important decision: will he keep his wings hidden, or will he dare to be different?

I love stories about dragons. I’m less keen on some of the princess related story tropes that often accompany dragons in stories, but it seems more and more books are trying to step away from these tropes. This book definitely tries it, first acknowledging the trope – the other dragons all protect princesses – and then showing a different story altogether featuring Marmaduke the very different dragon and Meg a very different princess. Marmaduke and Meg’s differences are carefully explored, along with everyone else’s reactions to them – this would produce some great discussion points in a nursery setting. I liked their story and I particularly liked its outcome.

The illustrations in this book are bold and colourful. They’re very attractive and appealing, I loved the contrast between Marmaduke and the rest of the dragons, and between Meg and the rest of the princess. I wouldn’t want to be a princess, but if I had to I’d want to be a princess like Meg! I’d also like a bedspread like hers, the bold colourful patchwork is beautiful.

This is a lovely addition to the dragon and princess story range. I’m very interested by the news that the author has another princess themed picture book coming out next year, The Three Princesses, it sounds like this one’s going even further to subvert the trope. It’s already on my list of books to look out for!

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

Book Review

MG Monday: The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth & The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook.

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Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth and The Windvale Sprites by Mackenzie Crook are both featured.

These two books are companion novels. The Windvale Sprites was published in 2011, and The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth was published in 2013.

LJoBTOne day I will be remembered as the greatest scientist that the world has ever known and so it is my duty to mankind to record my thoughts that future generations are able to study the progress of a genius.

I am eleven years old.

These are the recently discovered journals of Benjamin Tooth: alchemist, inventor and discoverer of the Windvale sprites. They chronicle his journey of scientific discovery from pompous boy to mad old man in his pursuit of the sprites on Windvale Moor. The sprites hold the key to eternal life, and Tooth is determined to capture it.

I read this book first, though I had been assured that it didn’t matter which order you read the books in. I chose to go chronologically – this book is set before The Windvale Sprites and so that made more sense to me.

I enjoyed the first part of the book very much. Benjamin Tooth is an engaging character, a young lad focused on science and his mission to excel in his scientific pursuits. Sadly, as the book progresses and Benjamin gets older I found him harder and harder to like, and found that I cared less and less about what happened to him. A couple of times I actually found myself wishing some great harm would come to him. I’m fine with characters not being likeable, but Benjamin was the sort of dislikable that made me consider putting the book down and not carrying on.

The journal format makes this book a quick read, this probably helped me to keep reading. When the sprites make their first appearance I found I was instantly taken by them – they’re an interesting creation and Benjamin’s observations of them are fascinating. I would have loved to read more about them and their society rather than his attempts to trap them.

WindvaleSpritesWhen a storm sweeps through the country, Asa wakes up the next day to find that his town is almost unrecognisable – trees have fallen down, roofs have collapsed and debris lies everywhere. But amongst the debris in his back garden Asa makes an astounding discovery – the body of a small winged creature. A creature that looks very like a fairy. Do fairies really exist?

Asa embarks on a mission to find out. A mission that leads him to the lost journals of local eccentric Benjamin Tooth who, two hundred years earlier, claimed to have discovered the existence of fairies. What Asa reads in those journals takes him on a secret trip to Windvale Moor, where he discovers much more than he’d hoped to…

Having not enjoyed The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth that much, I picked up The Windvale Sprites with a little trepidation. I quickly realised though that I was enjoying this far more, and this stayed the case for the entirety of the book.

This book is set in the modern day, the main character Asa also comes in contact with the sprites Benjamin Tooth had discovered and ends up finding Benjamin’s journal and using this as his guide to discovering more about the sprites. There are sections of text that are direct copies of the text from the journal – I liked revisiting this and seeing it through Asa’s eyes. Many of the issues I’d had with Benjamin were expressed by Asa – this reconfirmed by belief that these books have a real value in talking about science and the ethics of scientific investigation.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the two books, and I do think looking back at the two books I feel a little more kindly towards The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth if I considerate in its context as part of a pair of companion stories. I’m glad I read the books this way around rather than in the order in which they were published. Both books are illustrated by the author, these add a lot to both stories. Overall I found these books to be an interesting and thought provoking experience though maybe not one I’m going to be in a great hurry to repeat.

The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth and The Windvale Sprites are published by Faber & Faber in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The Seafront Tea Rooms by Vanessa Greene.

SeafrontTeaRoomsThe Seafront Tea Rooms is a peaceful hideaway, away from the bustle of the seaside, and in this quiet place a group of women find exactly what they’ve been searching for.

Charismatic journalist Charlotte is on a mission to scope out Britain’s best tea rooms. She knows she’s found something special in the Seafront Tea Rooms but is it a secret she should share? Kathryn, a single mother whose only sanctuary is the ‘Seafront’, convinces Charlie to keep the place out of her article by agreeing to join her on her search. Together with another regular, Seraphine, a culture-shocked French au pair with a passion for pastry-making, they travel around the country discovering quaint hideaways and hidden gems. But what none of them expect is for their journey to surprise them with discoveries of a different kind…

Sometimes you want a book that you can dive in to head first, a book you can become completely wrapped up in and ignore the world. The Seafront Tea Rooms is just such a book, a truly lovely gem of a read. I liked the sound of it from the synopsis – what could be nicer than a book about tea and cake? Upon reading it I discovered that as well as being full of mouth watering descriptions of afternoon teas galore it was also full of life and heart.

The book centres around three women, Kat, Charlie and Seraphine. Brought together early on in the book, the trio work together to research the piece Charlie is to write on the best tea rooms in Britain. They each have challenges going on in their lives, and each have a need for the sort of support that comes from the best of friendships. Watching the friendship grow between the three ladies was wonderful, and left me thinking about the similar sorts of friends I have in my own life. I think sometimes that in fiction friendship can be overlooked in favour of romance so it was nice to see friendship take such a central role here. I particularly liked that the main friendships were all new yet strong – sometimes we meet someone and click as friends instantly, length of friendship isn’t necessarily an indicator of strength of friendship.

There are romantic subplots running through the book, I found that whilst I could see where Kat and Charlie’s stories were going fairly quickly it was Seraphine’s that was the surprise. I don’t want to elaborate too much, the synopsis and material around the book have been careful to allow the reader to discover this for themselves so it would be wrong for me to not follow suit. That said I will say that it was a pleasant surprise and added a whole new layer of appreciation for this book. There’s a gorgeous epilogue that ties up all of the romantic elements of the book, it’s beautiful and made me shed more than a tear or two.

In addition to the three main characters this book has a strong collection of supporting characters. These are well created, I felt like I got to know and understand them. Charlie’s sister Pippa was one of the stand outs for me – she has a long journey to go on throughout the course of the book and I found I cared a lot about this. Kat’s son Leo is very lovely, he reminded me a lot of children I’ve known in the past – always a sign that a young character is well written. And finally I must mention Bagel the Beagle – what a great name for a dog!

I haven’t read all that many books aimed at adults recently, this book has absolutely reminded me that the grass is green on every side of publishing irrespective of target audience. This is the author’s second book, I’m now going to be making sure I read her debut The Vintage Teacup Club too.

The Seafront Tea Rooms is published by Sphere in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.