Book Review

September 2015 Reads.

September was a slower month for me, I was on holiday for the first part of it and so didn’t read anything. I read a total of 9 books, I’ll be rounding up 7 of them here. One of the remaining books is part of the same project I can’t talk about at the moment that I mentioned last month, and the other was The One by Kiera Cass – I’m planning on writing something about the series as a whole once I’ve read the final book.

Naked Heat by Richard Castle. Titan Books.
I really enjoyed the first Nikki Heat book so was keen to read another. I again really enjoyed this, reading it is a lot like watching an episode or two of Castle – the series it is based around. The characters in the book are clearly, as intended, reminiscent of the characters in the show so this feels like a good way of spending more time around them. A fun, easy read – I know I’m going to keep returning to this series, there are 7 books so far so I have plenty more to work through!

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger. Hodder Children’s Books.
I’m reviewing these two books together as they’re companion novels, both set in the same Hamilton High. There is some overlap of characters, particularly with one main character from The DUFF being a sibling to one main character from Lying Out Loud but in good companion novel style both books stand alone really well.

Both books have strong casts of characters, both the main and supporting characters are well developed and feel very real. Something I loved about them both was the way that while there are romantic relationships in the book it is the exploration of friendship that feels more important and more central. Female friendship treated like this is something I want to see more of in books, so I’m glad to have found an author who does it so well!

These books don’t shy away from the challenges facing teenagers; self image, feelings of isolation and family problems to name but a few. Everything is dealt with carefully, and adds to the realistic feel of the books. I saw on Goodreads that in her profile Keplinger says “I write books for teenagers and strive to be honest and true-to-life”, I think both of these books are excellent evidence of this.

The Big Lie by Julia Mayhew. Hot Key Books.
A startling coming-of-age novel set in a contemporary Nazi England.
That was the line that drew me to this book – the concept of that setting felt huge. This is a brilliant piece of speculative fiction that has left me feeling so happy that there are authors out there trying things and getting them so right.

This book is harsh and bleak, and at times incredibly disturbing – I found I was entirely gripped by it from start to end. The main character, Jessika, is brilliantly challenging to read, she’s been brought up by an ultra loyal father and has almost been brainwashed into believing in everything she’s been told. At times you wonder how she can be so clueless, but then this only goes to reinforce the themes of the book. A really brilliant read with huge potential for discussion and further thinking.

Before I Met You by Lisa Jewell. Arrow.
This is a wonderful book from Lisa Jewell, but then I’ve never not enjoyed anything I’ve read that she’s written. This is a story told in two historical timelines, it tells the story of Arlette which is set in the 1920s and it tells the story of Betty which is set in the 1990s.

Betty was Arlette’s granddaughter, following Arlette’s death she strikes out on her own and moves to London in pursuit of finding her own path and at the same time finding the mysterious Clara Pickle named in Arlette’s will. Both storylines are captivating and wind around each other beautifully. I particularly enjoyed the moments where something happening in one story provided a lightbulb moment for the other story – each time I was even more eager to read on and discover whether what I thought I’d realised was correct. This book made me laugh and cry and for the time it took me to read it, transported me to two former versions of London and allowed me to explore for a while.

One by Sarah Crossan. Bloomsbury.
Okay, hands up, I must admit that the very words verse novel have in the past been enough to have me moving away from a book very rapidly. I’ve heard wonderful things about them, but there was something that just put me off the idea of actually reading one. The buzz around this book though was enough to convince me to give it a go, and very quickly I realised I’ve been missing out on some really good books.

This is a story about conjoined twins Grace and Tippi. They’ve spent all of their lives sheltered as much as possible from the cruelness of the world at large, they’ve been home schooled and protected. When the money for their home schooling runs out they have to go to school, which is naturally terrifying. I found it really interesting that we were seeing their experiences through Grace’s eyes so we get her perspective on things along with what she tells us of what she knows of Tippi’s perspective.

This is a beautiful book about sisterhood, about friendship and about personal identity. The flow of the narrative works so well for the story, I think it would have been a very different book if it’d been written a different way – I dare say it would have lost a lot of the connection for the reader. I’m a definite convert to verse novels thanks to this, I’ll be picking up Sarah Crossan’s previous two as my next ones for sure.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Walker Books.
This is a story about not being the Chosen One. It’s a story about being ordinary and about wanting to just make it through high school without getting involved in any of the drama going on, and it’s brilliant.

Mikey is our main character, he and his friends make for a wonderful group – the sort of friendship group teen me would have read about and wanted to run away and join. Each of the members of this group has their own, ordinary (within the context of the Indie kids as the Chosen Ones are referred to), life challenges to deal with – things like parents who are more engaged with their careers than their children, teen romance, passing finals. Most of them have additional things to deal with too, issues around mental health problems and sexuality are all dealt with brilliantly in this book, but still all of this is part of their normal which makes for an excellent contemporary read as the main thrust of the book. And, just in case you are worried about what the Chosen Ones are up to, each chapter opens with a brief synopsis of what the Indie kids are doing which brings in an excellent urban fantasy thread before the focus returns immediately to our ordinary characters and their lives. The balance is perfectly found, resulting in a book I already can’t wait to re-read.

An unusual book? Pretty much. A must read? Absolutely, definitely.

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: The 100 Society by Carla Spradbery.

The100SocietyFor sixth-form student Grace Becker, The 100 Society is more than just a game; it’s an obsession. Having convinced her five friends at Clifton Academy to see it through to the end, Grace will stop at nothing to carry out the rules of the game: tagging 100 locations around the city. With each step closer to the 100-mark they get, the higher the stakes become. But when the group catches the attention of a menacing stalker – the Reaper – he seems intent on exposing their illegal game, tormenting Grace with anonymous threats and branding their dormitory doors with his ominous tag.

As the once tight-knit group slowly unravels, torn apart by doubt and the death of a student, they no longer know who to trust.

With time running out, Grace must unmask the Reaper before he destroys everything she cares about for ever…

The striking cover art for this book grabbed my attention, when I then read the blurb I thought it sounded like exactly the sort of thing I’d have picked up as a teenager. I started reading expecting a tense, twisty read – that’s exactly what I got.

This book definitely has a strong feel of the Point Horror titles I devoured as a teenager, the sinister creepiness starts early on in the book and just keeps growing. It is a fast paced read, diving into the action from the very beginning and keeping it up over the course of the book. I liked that there were some quieter, more character driven, moments – they were a good pause from the driving plot. These moments also reinforced the fact that whilst the teens in this book are dealing with this terrifying threat they’re doing it at the same time as they’re trying to navigate being teenagers and the difficulties this brings to life in general.

Grace, the lead, is a really interesting character. She’s highly driven and motivated, particularly in her bid to join The 100 Society and achieve something her highly successful older brother didn’t manage. I would have liked to get to understand Grace a little more than I did, whilst I could see how driven she was I didn’t feel like I entirely understand what was behind this. As I’m typing this I’m realising that actually I feel like this about most of the main characters, I did get to know them but would have loved to get to know them a little more deeply.

The plot twists and turns throughout the book. Very quickly I realised that everything was pointing towards one person being behind the reaper tags and unpleasantness, this made me think that it was perhaps all a little too convenient for it to fall at their feet. This meant I was then increasingly suspicious of everyone, looking at the notes I made whilst reading I managed to have almost all of the core characters in the frame at one point or another! The reveal when it comes is satisfyingly explained, it was entirely believable and the explanation behind it worked for me.

This is Carla Spradbery’s debut novel. It’s an accomplished start, I look forward to seeing her grow with each subsequent book she writes.

The 100 Society will be published by Hodder Children’s Books on 4th September. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [4].

One of my 2013 reading resolutions was to read more picture books. I’m going to share my thoughts on these books in mini reviews throughout the year.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems. Walker Books.
I’ve been aware of Mo Willems and the Pigeon for a long time, but it’s usually impossible to find any of Willems’ books in my local library so I hadn’t read any of them. When I saw this one I grabbed it before anyone else could spot it, and immediately sat down to read it.

This book really deserves all of the love and praise it gets. It’s so funny, I know I got completely drawn into the book and found myself answering the pigeon’s repeated requests – I’m sure reading this with a young child is absolutely wonderful. I loved the illustrations, they’re eye catching in their simplicity and work perfectly to support the text. I’m a definite Mo Willems convert and shall be adding his books to my own collection.

Dear Vampa by Ross Collins. Hodder Children’s Books.
This picture book is about a family of vampires living in a normal neighbourhood and struggling to cope with the new neighbours who are normal and live their lives in a completely opposite manner to the vampires. The story is told through letters Bram the young vampire is sending to his grandfather. I adored this book, it made me laugh lots and has a fab twist at the end, I didn’t see it coming and was thrilled by it.

The book has lovely illustrations, they help to reinforce the contrast between the two families – Bram’s family are drawn in black and white line drawings whilst the Wolfson family are in full, sunny colour. This is definitely going on my favourite picture book shelf.

The Queen’s Knickers by Nicholas Allan. Red Fox.
I admit it, I picked this book up purely based on the title! I couldn’t resist at all. The book explains how the Queen has special knickers for all sorts of occasions, and describes the emergency that occurs when her special knicker chest goes missing.

This is a very inventive book, there are lots of different sorts of knickers with plenty of humour attached to the designs. I particularly loved the way the paintings in the Queen’s chambers reflected what was going on – their looks of shock when the knicker chest disappeared made me laugh out loud. This is such a fun book, I know kids will love it (and more than likely the adults reading it too). I know Nicholas Allan has recently published The Royal Nappy: A Royal Baby Book, I’m looking forward to reading that one too.