Book Review

Book Review: Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins by Liz Kessler.

HasAnyoneSeenUnexpectedly discovering you have a superpower can lead to trouble, as 13-year-old Jessica Jenkins finds out in this exciting new adventure from BLUE PETER BOOK AWARD-shortlisted author, Liz Kessler.

Jessica Jenkins is missing…

Jessica Jenkins has always thought she was a perfectly ordinary girl, until the day that part of her arm vanishes in the middle of a Geography lesson! Her best friend Izzy is determined to help Jessica realise what a great opportunity the power to turn invisible could be, but where has her new ability come from? Does this mean she’s a superhero? And, when her friends are threatened, can Jessica use her superpower to help?

I loved the last book of Liz Kessler’s that I read, time slip adventure North of Nowhere (see my review here). When I heard that her new middle grade novel was going to feature superpowers I was really excited, I always feel like I’m not reading enough novels featuring characters with superpowers.

The story is narrated by Jessica. She’s a lovely character, she’s comes across in a very engaging, chatty manner. Her friendship with Izzy is really well written, they’re quite different personality types but there is a real depth to their friendship that is very believable and appealing. I was impressed by the way they approached exploring Jessica’s new power of invisibility – whilst her mastery of it may have felt slightly easy I really appreciated them taking a logical approach to it rather than panicking. (I’m not sure I could be so calm at 30-something let alone 13!)

A key part of any story dealing with superpowers is of course explaining how / why the person with the new powers has them. I liked the way the explanation of this unfolded over the course of the book and the science behind it. With any such story there was to be a willingness on the part of the reader to accept the rules of science being bent a little (like the way Doctor Who fans across the world accepted the explanation of time as being a “big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff.”) I found the science between the superpowers to be well considered and I had no problem at all believing it, if anything I’d say it made more sense than many of the equivalent explanations I’ve come across in recent years.

Throughout the course of the book a few other teenagers join Jessica and Izzy in their quest to understand the new superpowers. They all worked really well, I liked the way the group slowly came together and learnt to look past their initial impressions of each other. The ending of the book in particular was highly satisfying in terms of the group dynamic.

This book is just downright cool. It’s fun and fast and I really enjoyed reading it. I think it could work well as a read alike for Cathy Hopkins’ Love at Second Sight. I also think it would be a perfect book companion to popular CBBC show Wizards vs Aliens – something else I love.

Have You Seen Jessica Jenkins? is published in the UK by Orion Children’s Books. Whilst I was provided with a copy of the book by the publisher all opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review: The One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John.

imageThe One Dollar Horse by Lauren St John. Orion.
Fifteen year old Casey Blue lives in East London’s grimmest tower block and volunteers at a local riding school, but her dream is to win the world’s greatest Three Day Event: the Badminton Horse Trials. When she rescues a starving, half-wild horse, she’s convinced that the impossible can be made possible. But she has reckoned without the consequences of her father’s criminal record, or the distraction of a boy with melty, dark eyes, with whom she refuses to fall in love.

Casey learns the hard way that no matter how high you jump, or how fast you gallop, you can never outrun the past.

I loved horse books when I was younger, my copy of Jill’s Gymkhana actually fell apart through repeated readings, so I was intrigued by this contemporary book that sounded like it had a similar horsey theme. When my copy arrived I was really taken but its appearance, the contrast of the black and white photographic cover with the bright pink page edges is really striking.

I really enjoyed reading this book, it’s somewhat predictable in that way most sports based stories are (whilst i love sports stories and don’t mind this in the slightest I know not everyone feels the same) but there are some lovely facets to the plot that make it an enjoyable, captivating read. Casey is an appealing character, and I found I really got behind her and her one dollar horse Storm Warning.

Whilst I liked this book a lot, I did have a couple of minor quibbles. A number of the characters are referred to with their full name – her dad is frequently referred to as Roland Blue in particular. I found this a little jarring. The pacing of the book is also a little unusual, it covers quite a long time so has jumps in from period of action to period of action with a short explanation of what has happened in the mean time, this generally works well but a couple of times I felt like I’d missed out by not getting to read about things in the in between times.

This is the first book of a trilogy, but also works well as a standalone – there is only one plot thread left completely unresolved by the end of the book and whilst I really want to know what happens next I don’t know whether younger readers would care so much as it features a minor character. I am pleased that the second book Race the Wind is already out, I shall be getting hold of it as soon as I can.

One Dollar Horse is published by Orion Children’s Books 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 : North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler.

NorthOfNowhereWhen Mia’s grandfather disappears, Mia and her mother immediately rush down to stay with her grandmother and offer support. With no friends and no internet access in the little seaside village where her grandparents live, Mia is bored and lonely–until she makes friends with Dee, the daughter of a fisherman from a nearby island, and Peter, who is on holiday with his parents. But Mia’s grandad is still missing, and actually meeting face to face with Dee is proving surprisingly difficult. Mia becomes determined to find out what’s going on, but the truth is much more mysterious than she ever imagined…

When this book arrived in the post the first thing that grabbed my attention was the gorgeous cover. I love the silhouettes of the trees against the stormy twilight sky, straight away I wanted to get reading to find out who the two children on the boat are and what they’re doing.

This is going to be a book that’s a little tricky to review, the plot is clever and needs to be discovered by reading rather than be me trying to describe it without giving anything away. At its most basic this is a story about family and friendship, but it’s so much more than this at the same time. Two or three times as I was reading I started to think I knew what was happening and where the book was going and then was thrilled to find that I was wrong or only half right.

I liked Mia, the main character, a lot. I found that as I was reading I felt like her thoughts were my thoughts from when I was in year 8, so many years ago. I think many young readers will really identify with Mia, particularly those in that tricky stage of trying to be the person they think their peers want them to be when at the same time they don’t really want to give up on things they love just because they might be perceived as babyish.

This book is targeted at the 9+ audience so I found it to be a lovely, quick read. There’s plenty packed into it and I found that I didn’t want to do anything other than keep reading it – there was no quick checking of Twitter or anything else until I’d finished reading, this is an exciting book that complete drags you in. I was really impressed by the book, it’s definitely one that I’m going to be pushing into young relatives’ hands.

North of Nowhere is published by Orion Children’s in the UK from 24th January 2013. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [4]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in mini reviews.

Brotherhood of Shades by Dawn Finch. Authonomy.
This book has a really strong plot pulling lots of historical fact into a fantasy plot filled with great tension and intrigue. Within a few pages I realised that this was the sort of book you could really sink your teeth into, it’s intelligent and densely plotted with lots of detail and lots to make you think – I found a couple of times I had to put it down for a while so I could ponder some of the more philosophical discussion. There were times where predictions I’d made about what would happen came true, but the ending of the book took me completely by surprise.

Finch has created a really intriguing cast of characters, I felt particularly drawn to D’Scover, the “Keeper of the Texts” who plays a central role in the book. The whole time that I was reading I felt that information, and knowledge were held in very high esteem within the book, it was a delight to discover when I reached the end, and Finch’s biography to discover she was as I hoped a librarian. This shone through in the book and only added to my enjoyment.

The Falcon Chronicles: Tiger Wars by Steve Backshall. Orion Children’s.
This was a thrilling read from start to finish, I had to stop reading at one point to answer the phone and spent the whole time wondering what was happening whilst I wasn’t reading! Backshall has used knowledge that he’s gained on his travels as a naturalist to create the world of these books making it jump vividly off the page. There’s a clear conservation message running through the book but it never feels preachy or shoehorned it, instead it’s fully part of the plot and will be all the more effective.

I loved the two lead characters, Saker and Sinter, and the way their relationship develops over the course of the book. I really loved that there was no hint of any romantic link between them, this felt very refreshing. As I was reading the book I found myself imagining reading it out loud, I think it would work really well as a class book for most year 5-7 classes – it would certainly keep the children wanting the next chapter, and there’s lots of potential for really good discussions of plot points. I’m really pleased that this is the start of a series, I’ll certainly be picking up the next book.

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan. Templar Publishing.
Whilst I’d known of Shaun Tan’s work for a few years now I’d never got round to actually reading any of it. After being introduced to The Arrival at a conference I attended (I’m still sad that only the first 20 pages or so were read, I wanted to listen to the whole story being told) I knew I needed to start catching up with his work and Tales From Outer Suburbia became my first port of call. As soon as I started reading I realised there’s something very special and magical about Shaun Tan, and then realised that in my new review everything approach I was going to have to find a way to talk about this book.

It’s hard to explain why this book is so lovely, and such a magical read. It’s a collection of short stories, they cross genres, they vary in length but they all captivate the imagination. The illustrations that go with the stories are beautiful, I spent ages poring over the detail in some of them. I liked each and every story, though there were of course stories I loved more than others, my favourites included Eric, No Other Country and Alert But Not Alarmed. This is a really lovely book, I know I’ll be recommending it far and wide.

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The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that it’s Tuesday rather than Monday, the weekend was rather hectic and I just didn’t have time to finish this post yesterday. Also I’ve switched to mini reviews as I felt sticking to 100 words was just too constrictive and I was having to leave things out that I really wanted to say.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [1]

Each Monday I review the books I’ve read in the previous week in drabble form – exactly 100 words excluding title and publishing details.

Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts. Orion Children’s Books.
Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life.

This is the first book in a new series, Wings & Co, aimed at young readers. I thought it was a great read, it introduces the characters and the magical version of the world that the book’s set in really well. There’s enough adventure and excitement to balance out the scene setting, I think it’ll capture the imagination of most young readers. I love the illustrations included in the book, they really add to the experience. Emily is a wonderful lead character, I’ll be looking forward to reading about her adventures in the next book. A definite thumbs up from me.

Undone by Cat Clarke. Quercus.
A video appears online. And a boy jumps off a bridge. Jem is determined to avenge the death of Kai – her beloved best friend who was driven to desperation after being ‘outed’ by the popular crew at school. Transforming herself from introverted emo to in-crowd acceptable, Jem becomes part of the clique. She’s going to take down those responsible, one by one. But what if Kai was keeping secrets from Jem? Could her quest for revenge be directed at the wrong people? And can Jem find out what really happened before someone else gets hurt?

I was the lucky winner of Cat Clarke’s ARC giveaway, as soon as it arrived I knew I had to read it next. I read it cover to cover in an afternoon, it’s absolutely gripping and I had to know how it ended. Undone is a story of grief and loss, and of trying to find a way through it – in Jem’s case that’s exacting vengeance. The characters are so real, they’re insecure and self-focused and flawed making them seem to leap off the page. It’s a bold, wonderful book that packs a real emotional punch, a fantastic read.

Blackwood by Gwenda Bond. Strange Chemistry.
And finally a little bit of a cheat for the first week, I won’t make a habit of it – I reviewed this book for Book Angel Booktopia. You can read it here.

Book Review

Book Review : Opal Moonbaby by Maudie Smith.

Martha’s decided friends are stupid. She never wants another one. Ever.

So when Opal Moonbaby comes along, with her mad hair and huge violet eyes, claiming to be an alien and wanting to be friends, Martha is definitely NOT interested. But Opal isn’t the kind of alien who takes no for an answer…

Sparkling with originality and charm, this is a heart-warming, hilarious story about friendship.

From the very first pages of this book the author grabbed my attention and she kept it right through until the last page. The plot is one that I think readers of all ages can identify with, Martha is finished with the idea of friends after her friend let her down so badly – she knows she’ll be better off going it alone. Even meeting the rather odd Opal Moonbaby won’t change her mind.

I must admit I had an idea in my head of how the plot was going to play out, with Opal being an alien from another planet, but I was pleased to be entirely wrong. I’d expected Opal to need to be introduced to everything in our world, but the author avoided that and instead allowed Opal to be knowledgeable but for this knowledge to be flawed. To me this resulted in a far funnier and more enjoyable book.

There’s so much to love about this book, Opal, her adorable companion Garnet, and lovely brother and sister Martha and Robbie are all characters I really enjoyed reading about. The ‘bad guys’ are well created too, the author takes real care to show why they are acting the way they are.

Reading this book I was transported back to the books I’d loved as a child. The illustrations help with this I think, at times they really reminded me of the art work by Quentin Blake that adorned the pages of the Roald Dahl books I adored. I think this book will go down really well with young readers, and they’ll probably learn a thing or two about friendship whilst they read without even realising it.

Opal Moonbaby is published in paperback and eBook by Orion in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Mini Reviews : The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Between Two Ends by David Ward.

I thought I’d try something different today and bring you a couple of mini reviews. Both of these books are adventure stories with a fantasy twist so it seemed to make sense to talk about both of them.

The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Set in Calcutta in the 1930s, The Midnight Palace begins on a dark night when an English lieutenant fights to save newborn twins Ben and Sheere from an unthinkable threat. Despite monsoon-force rains and terrible danger lurking around every street corner, the young lieutenant manages to get them to safety, but not without losing his own life…

Years later, on the eve of Ben and Sheere’s sixteenth birthday, the mysterious threat reenters their lives. This time, it may be impossible to escape. With the help of their brave friends, the twins will have to take a stand against the terror that watches them in the shadows of the night—and face the most frightening creature in the history of the City of Palaces.

This the first of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s books for teenagers that I’ve read. The plot has plenty of excitement, though at times I found it to be a little far fetched and I had to work to keep up with it. On a few occasions I found myself having to go back and re-read a section, trying to get it to make more sense.

I quite liked the main group of characters, though as to be expected with teenage characters I did sometimes find some of their actions a little frustrating. I found the villain a little hard to understand, his actions didn’t always match up with what I expected.

The most frustrating part about this book was how much potential I could see in it. The good bits are really very very good, I just wish the whole book could have been consistently at this level. Unfortunately The Midnight Palace didn’t live up to my expectations, I think in the future I’ll stick to Zafon’s adult fiction.

Between Two Ends by David Ward.
When Yeats and his parents visit his grandmother’s creepy old house, Yeats reunites a pair of pirate bookends and uncovers the amazing truth: Years ago, Yeats’s father traveled into The Arabian Nights with a friend, and the friend, Shari, is still stuck in the tales. Assisted by the not-always-trustworthy pirates, Yeats must navigate the unfamiliar world of the story of Shaharazad–dodging guards and tigers and the dangerous things that lurk in the margins of the stories–in order to save Shari and bring peace to his family.

Whilst The Midnight Palace fell short of my expectations Between Two Ends completely lived up to them. It’s an exciting read that combines folk tales and pirates, a surprisingly good combination. I liked Yeats from the beginning of the book, and I found myself really rooting for him throughout the book.

I loved the idea of the characters going into the book to go on a big adventure, and I know that the young me would have been completely blown away by it. I had to read this in two sittings, I spent the time between them looking forward to getting back to it.

This is aimed at the middle grade audience, I’m sure that it’ll also do well with the YA age group too. I’ll certainly be looking out for more by David Ward.

The Midnight Palace is published in hardback by Orion Childrens in the UK priced £12.99. Between Two Ends is published in hardback by Abrams in the UK priced £10.99. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of these books via NetGalley.com all of the opinions expressed are my own.