Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 3.

The third and final part of my July and August reading catch up.

The Last Summer of Us by Maggie Harcourt. Usborne Books
There is not enough YA fiction set in Wales. Or fiction as a whole for that matter. This is a lovely, contemporary YA story set in Wales that includes some main characters who speak fluent Welsh – it was already onto a good thing with me before I got reading. This is a road trip story, the three main characters are close friends but all struggling with something at the moment. They escape the realities of their lives for a few days and get back to basics, road tripping and camping.

One of the central themes of this is the realisation that the adults in your life are flawed, fallible beings. All three of the main characters have difficulties in the relationships with their parents and this is dealt with really well within the book.

There is a romantic element to this book, I wasn’t sure about it to begin with but ended up really enjoying it. This is an excellent debut, another author to add to my watch out for list.

Counting Stars by Keris Stainton. Hot Key Books.
When I first heard Keris mention this book I knew it was something I wanted to read – I’ve long bemoaned the lack of decent stories set post sixth form and the wave of New Adult that promised to fill that gap certainly did not deliver. This is a great story filled with warmth about Anna as she moves to Liverpool to take up a role in a theatre. She’d been on the university path like her friends but a work placement made her realise that maybe this wasn’t the right path for her at this time. This in itself was something I loved, I think it’s really good to see narratives that involve alternatives to university for young adults.

Anna’s story has a secondary thread to it, she is a vlogger and we see her tell her story to her subscribers, and their comments to each video. This storytelling technique is really interesting, seeing telling her viewers what’s been going on rather than experiencing it alongside her works really well. There’s also a nice reflection on privacy and social media that clearly illustrates a point without coming off as prescriptive.

I enjoyed this book immensely and hope it brings along more books set in this time of life – there’s so much potential for stories about this life transition so let’s see more of them!

Elspeth Hart and the Perilous Voyage by Sarah Forbes. Stripes Publishing.
I read and reviewed the first Elspeth Hart book earlier this year over at Middle Grade Strikes Back. I loved it, and particularly liked that the ending was setting up the next story. I’m very glad to say that this, that next story, picks up the action straight away and continues it brilliantly. The characters have left the school that provided the setting for book 1 and spend much of this book on board a luxury liner. These close quarters again make for plenty of near misses and tense moments, I couldn’t read fast enough. This is an excellent second instalment to Elspeth’s story – I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football by Dave Cousins. Oxford University Press.
I always enjoy Dave Cousins’ books, they never fail to entertain and make me laugh. Charlie Merrick’s Misfits is no exception to this. Pitched at a slightly younger audience than Cousins’ previous books this is an illustrated tale of a football team made up less than stellar players. It has a lot to say about friendship, about teamwork and about learning what the important things in life are. I enjoyed it hugely, it made me laugh, it made me wince as I could see characters make bad decisions, and it made me really root for this team of misfits. There’s already a second book in this series, I expect to be reading it sooner rather than later!

The Last Leaves Falling by Sarah Benwell. Random House Children’s Publishing.
When this book was published I remember reading lots of reviews and thinking it was a book I really wanted to read. Then, at NineWorlds I had the fortune of meeting Sarah and immediately bought my copy of the book. It took me a few days to read, something which is quite unusual with how fast I read, but I found myself wanting to savour every word (plus I got too emotionally invested to continue reading it in public on my commute!)

This book tells the story of Sora, a Japanese teenager who has been diagnosed with the progressive neurological disease Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Sora is dying, his condition is progressing faster than he or anyone wants and this book is him telling his story. We get to know his family, see him trying to make sense of his ever changing new normal, and see him make new friends. This book is a challenging read, but I know I feel like I’m a better person for having read it. I’m going to be recommending this book far and wide.

Demon Road by Derek Landy. HarperCollins Children’s Books
I haven’t read anything by Derek Landy before (yes I do intend to catch up with Skullduggery Pleasant, even more so since I enjoyed this book so much) so I went into this book knowing nothing more than the synopsis. The idea of a teen girl suddenly discovering her demon heritage and having to go on the run sounded good to me and the book really didn’t disappoint.

This is a fast witty book with a good share of action and gore. It’s tone and style is evocative of many of the tv shows I love, both those showing now (things like Supernatural) and those no longer on our screens (Buffy seems like the obvious link to make). I think this book would be an easy sell to many teen readers and probably many grown up ones too. The characters are brilliant, I fell in love with main character Amber pretty much straight away and am thrilled that this is only the first part of her adventures.

Book Review

Picture Book Round Up.

A slightly different sort of picture book post today, I’m simply rounding up the picture books I’ve read recently.

A Home for Mr Tipps written and illustrated by Tom Percival – a cute book about a young boy adopting a stray cat. It has lovely illustrations with bold colours which work well with the story.

Daddy Does the Cha Cha Cha is written by David Bedford and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo – a fun story about lots of dads who all have their own signature dance. Not particularly high on plot but the choices of different dances made me smile.

Grandma’s Saturday Soup is written by Sally Fraser and Derek Brazell. Published by Mantra Lingua, the book is available in 29 different dual language editions, I read the English with French version. It’s a lovely story, everything Mimi sees around her reminds of her grandmother and the delicious sounding soup she makes on Saturdays. There’s lots to discuss here, from family to different cultures to the seasons and days of the week.

Here Be Monsters written by Jonathan Emmett and illustrated by Poly Bernatene – an exciting pirate adventure with a real sting in its tail. The illustrations are gorgeous and add a lot to the reading experience. The text is rhyming, some work better than others, and lengthy – this would be best suited to slightly older children.

And finally, sticking with the nautical theme, The Sea Tiger is written and illustrated by Victoria Turnbull. It’s a touching story about a sea tiger and merboy who are best friends, having lots of adventures together. The story is quite deep and whilst the illustrations are beautiful they’re also very muted, I’m not entirely sure what young readers would make of the book.

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

PoPB: Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian by Jessica Spanyol and The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers.

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

Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian by Jessica Spanyol. Walker Books.
CarloIn a simple storybook adventure, curious Carlo discovers the joys of the library with the help of a gentle (if toothy) librarian.

Carlo the giraffe is making his first visit to the new library. “Wow!” he says when he sees all the books, the colorful posters, and especially the chairs with wheels. But Carlo is a little afraid of the librarian, Mrs. Chinca, with her sharp teeth and claws, until he learns how much she loves books. With bright illustrations and a cheery text, Jessica Spanyol offers preschoolers a spirited introduction to the library — and a really nice librarian.

I am a big fan of picture books that show a character going to do something for the first time, particularly when its something to do with reading. This book tells the story of Carlo’s first trip to the library, he loves books and reading and instantly falls in love with the place. It takes him a little longer to fall in love with Mrs Chinca, the librarian, mainly because she initially seems a little scary. I enjoyed the story but felt that in its effort to be simple and cute it ended up being a little underwhelming, neither the idea of joining the library or of getting to know someone instead of judging them on their appearance ended up being dealt with as fully as I would have liked.

The illustrations in the book are fun, bold and colourful. This is the second book I’ve read that is written and illustrated by Jessica Spanyol, after loving the look of the first one (Go Bugs Go!) I had high hopes for this and I was not disappointed. The pages are very busy but not overwhelming, I really enjoyed how much there was to look at on every page.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers (illustrator). HarperCollins Children’s Books.
TheDayTheCrayonsQuitPoor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: We quit!

Beige is tired of playing second fiddle to Brown. Blue needs a break from coloring all that water, while Pink just wants to be used. Green has no complaints, but Orange and Yellow are no longer speaking to each other.

What is Duncan to do? Debut author Drew Daywalt and New York Times bestseller Oliver Jeffers create a colorful solution in this playful, imaginative story that will have children laughing and playing with their crayons in a whole new way.

I absolutely loved this book, as soon as I finished reading it I added it to my shortlist of books for my next Beaver Scout Sleepover and to my books to buy for children I know list. It’s clever and enchanting and cute and just brilliant. It tells the stories of Drew’s crayons. They’ve gone on strike, leaving behind letters to explain why. For the different coloured crayons there are different reasons, some are feeling over-used, some under-used and some are in the middle of a feud over who gets to be the official colour for the sun. Regardless of why they’re on strike each crayon’s letter is both funny and thought-provoking, each makes its case very well for the strike action.

Having a cute and clever plot is only half of the story. The illustrations by the ever brilliant Oliver Jeffers add so much to this book. Each double page spread contains the same key elements; the letter, handwritten in the relevant colour, a picture of the crayon and some of the pictures that crayon has been responsible for. These all work so well together, they each support the other elements and add a richness to the reading experience. The resolution of the plot brings a couple more lovely illustrations, I particularly liked the very last one.

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

Book Review

PoP: Woolly by Sam Childs and The Great Granny Gang by Judith Kerr.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Woolly by Sam Childs. Scholastic.
WoollyThe new baby mammoth is called Woolly, but she isn’t woolly. And she’s cold.

How will Woolly’s family keep her snug and cosy?

A mammoth tale of warmth and friendship.

Woolly a baby mammoth, born without the woolly coat her parents and brothers all sport. She’s born without a woolly coat – I must admit that my mammoth knowledge is minimal so I have no idea whether this was the norm or not. Woolly’s lack of woolly coat means she’s cold so her mummy comes up with different ways to keep her warm, but each one fails for one reason or another. My favourite of these was the beautiful feather coat.

The text is not a rhyming text, but I’d still recommend a run through before reading it aloud – there’s one sentence on the second double page in particular that is rather tongue twister like (Woolly’s brothers are called Willy and Wally…) There’s a nice familiar structure to the book that works really well for the type of story. The illustrations are nice, there are some lovely little details to spot throughout the book.

I enjoyed this book right up until the ending, I felt like I was missing a page of story. This was a real shame as it left me feeling a bit disappointed in the whole reading experience.

The Great Granny Gang by Judith Kerr. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
GreatGrannyGangHere come the fearless granny gang,
The youngerst eighty-two.
They leap down from their granny van,
And there’s nothing they can’t do.

I really don’t think you can go wrong with Judith Kerr, her stories are always entertaining, her rhymes make for lovely read aloud books and her illustrations are always warm and welcoming. The Great Granny Gang is no exception to any of these and it results in a gentle, entertaining read. I love that this book is about grannies who aren’t living boring lives – this bunch of octo- and nonagenarians are super cool and adventurous. I’d be really hard-pressed to choose a favourite granny, though Maud repairing roads with her pneumatic drill might take some beating!

I love the softness of Judith Kerr’s illustrations. The illustrations in this book are drawn and coloured using pencils, they’re truly lovely have a timeless feel, so in keeping with the age of the main characters. There are lots of action filled pictures in the book, these really do give the impression of movement for the characters. I liked spotting all of the little details in the pictures, there were so many things that made me smile.

A lovely read that definitely gets the thumbs up from me.

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

Book Review

PoP: Captain Brainpower and the Mighty Mean Machine by Sam Lloyd & Black Dog by Levi Penfold.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Captain Brainpower and the Mighty Mean Machine by Sam Lloyd. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
CaptainBrainpowerHoley moley! There’s a new superhero in town!

Meet two very special toys: Captain Brainpower and Mojo Mouse. They’ve been thrown away at the rubbish dump where the Might Mean Machine has snatched Mojo for breakfast! Can Captain Brainpower activate his amazing super power and save Mojo from becoming mouse on toast?

3, 2, 1… Captain Brainpower to the rescue!

I really wanted to enjoy this book, its bright colourful cover had grabbed my attention and I loved the idea of having brainpower as a super power. Unfortunately I was left underwhelmed by the book, despite its short length it felt like the time spent reading it dragged.

The book is as colourful as its cover, if anything I found at times it was a little too colourful – the pages filled with bold colour shades sometimes felt a bit too busy. Some pages have a huge amount of detail, there would certainly be lots to talk about if reading it with just one or two children.

The story itself has all the elements that make a good picture book, the action starts straight away, there’s sufficient peril to keep the reader’s attention. I personally found that the middle section fell a bit flat – I would have expected to love seeing Captain Brainpower in action but unfortunately didn’t. I also didn’t like the name calling there was going on throughout the book and Captain Brainpower’s repeated utterances of “Holey Moley” and “Blooming Brains” – this made the character feel a little on the twee side.

All in all this was a book that sounded great but unfortunately failed to deliver for me. I have every confidence that it’ll work well for some young readers but it’s certainly not one I’d be rushing to add to my collection.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold. Templar Publishing.
BlackDogAn enormous black dog and a very tiny little girl star in this offbeat tale about confronting one’s fears.

When a huge black dog appears outside the Hope family home, each member of the household sees it and hides. Only Small, the youngest Hope, has the courage to face the black dog, who might not be as frightening as everyone else thinks.

This book won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2013, awarded for distinguished illustration in a book for children. Having now read the book I can completely understand how it won, the illustrations are absolutely stunning. Every double page spread contains one large colour illustration and a number of small sepia toned illustrations. There is a real beauty and slightly unusual quality to the illustrations, they brought to mind the work of Shaun Tan – an illustrator whose work I adore.

The story is about a family who in turn see the black dog outside, each person who sees it describes it as bigger than the last person right up until Small, the youngest and tiniest member of the family, sees it and instead of hiding from it like her family members does exactly the opposite and goes to confront it. It shows how fear can be self generating, with each family member the fear of the dog becomes bigger and more exaggerated until Small refuses to be drawn into this, showing them that standing up to the thing they’re all afraid of is the way to conquer it.

Black Dog is a beautiful book which balances a big message with stunning illustrations, bringing a sense of whimsy to the whole reading experience. A definite new favourite book for me.

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

Book Review

PoP: Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner and The Frank Show by David Mackintosh.

PoP Tuesdays on Juniper’s Jungle bring two reviews of picture books.

Solomon Crocodile by Catherine Rayner. Macmillan Children’s Books.
SolomonCrocodileIn his swampy home, Solomon is looking for fun but nobody wants to play. The dragonflies tell him to buzz off, the storks get in a flap, and the hippo is downright huffy. But then somebody else starts making a ruckus… and for once it is NOT Solomon. Could it be the perfect pal for a lonely croc? Matching vibrant art with rollicking words, Scottish artist Catherine Rayner has created a funny, reassuring story about a rambunctious youngster who chases off the friends he’s trying to make.

I was drawn to this book by the sticker attached to the front cover announcing it was by the winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. Within a couple of pages of the book I understood why the creator had won it for her earlier book Harris Finds his Feet – her style is very attractive and adds lots to the story. I liked the illustrations of Solomon the crocodile in particular, his expressions were superb.

The story itself left me a little underwhelmed. It all starts really well with Solomon trying to wind up different animals and being sent away. Rather than him learning a better way to try and play with the other animals he finds a partner and crime, the two of them work together to carry on the efforts to wind the other animals up. Whilst I’m sure the mischief making element of this will appeal to the young listener (and the older listener too if they’re anything like me) I do think some children could get a little confused by the message of the book.

The Frank Show by David Mackintosh. Harper Collins Children’s Books.
TheFrankShowThis hilarious, offbeat picture book from the creator of Marshall Armstrong Is New to Our School reveals that there is more to the older generation than meets the eye. Grandpa Frank doesn’t have any interesting hobbies, unless you count complaining about how everything was better in the old days. He doesn’t speak Italian like Paolo’s mom, or play the drums like Tom’s uncle. He’s just a grandpa. So when the young narrator of this story is forced to bring Frank to school for show-and-tell, he’s sure it’s going to be a disaster. But Frank has a trick—make that a tattoo—up his sleeve! And a story to go with it. After all, the longer you’ve been around, the more time you’ve had for wild adventures.

This is a really lovely book that has an important message to share but does so in a fun, light hearted manner. Much of the book is spent with the narrator talking about all the reasons Grandpa Frank is not a good subject for the upcoming Show and Tell – he’s old, he doesn’t like new things, and everyone else’s relative is just a better choice. The inevitable reveal that Grandpa Frank is not as boring as the narrator believes is done really well, there’s a strong visual clue first of all (I want to read this book with a group of children so I can talk about this with them afterwards) and then of course it’s spelt out in the story.

One thing I loved was that in spite of the narrator focusing on all the reasons why Grandpa Frank is an uninteresting subject there is a lovely moment when he jumps to Frank’s defence – it’s one thing for him to be aware of Grandpa Frank not being very interesting but it’s a whole different matter for someone else to suggest it. This made me smile, we can all be like this about the people or things we love and I really liked its inclusion in the story.

I like the art style a lot, every page has lots of detail to absorb but they never feel cluttered or overly busy. There are two double page spreads with lots of pictures of different characters doing different things – I really enjoyed poring over them and I’m sure young readers will too.

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