Book Review

MG Monday: Spy Dog by Andrew Cope.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, Spy Dog by Andrew Cope earns her turn in the spotlight.

SpyDogLara, or GM451 as she is known by the government, is a highly trained special agent, bred by the British Secret Service for use on dangerous missions around the world. But her last mission went wrong and now she is being hunted down by an evil drugs baron, Mr Big. Lara must go undercover as a normal dog, ‘choose’ a family to look after her and await her retrieval by the Secret Service. But can she keep her true identity a secret? Can she thwart the plans of Mr Big? And can she bear to return to government service, after weeks of cosy domestic bliss?

So often the word that comes to mind when I’m thinking about Middle Grade fiction is fun. I feel like it’s something I end up saying a lot, but that doesn’t make it any less true. So many great Middle Grade books are fun and highly engaging, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy the age grouping so much. Spy Dog, actually aimed a little below the lower end of the 8 – 12 age band lives up to this idea of fun really, really well.

We’re first introduced to Lara, the Spy Dog from the title, when she’s hiding out at the RSPCA’s rehoming shelter. This is part of her training – if she gets split from her handlers she should go undercover as a regular pet until they can come and get her. The process of Lara getting rehomed is very entertaining, she’s a highly skilled dog so there are all sorts of extra things she can think of to do in order to get herself, or one of the other dogs selected.

I really enjoyed learning about how Lara had become this canine special agent, and laughed lots as she tried to integrate herself into the normal family life. The illustrations by Chris Mould that go with this work really well and add to the humour, there are some things that are a little difficult to imagine – he captures these really well.

There’s plenty of action within this story, keeping the read pacey and engaging. The chapters are short which I would imagine will work in the favour of young children who ask for “just one more…” to be read at bedtime! The tone is appropriate for the intended young audience, the big villain being a drugs baron could perhaps have been a little much but it’s well done with the focus being on the fact he’s the baddie rather than why he’s the baddie.

A fast, fun read that I’m sure young readers will lap up. If they do there’s plenty more waiting for them, there are currently 20 books involving Lara, her pups and most recently Shakespeare the spy cat.

Spy Dog is published by Puffin in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

Picture Book Mini Reviews [7].

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.


Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton. Nosy Crow.
This is the story of two not very good thieves, who try to pull off a robbery but end up learning a lesson. It’s written in rhyme and is most enjoyable to read aloud. The story does have a moral but it’s nicely subtle, this is a fun book about two rubbish robbers first and foremost. The illustrations are colourful and detailed, I liked them very much – the double spread where Shifty and Sam are drawing their plans up was a particular favourite.

Small Knight and George and the Royal Chocolate Cake by Ronda Armitage and Arthur Robins. Orchard Books.
This is one of a series of picture books featuring Small Knight and George. When King Wilfred the Wonderful announces that he and the Queen are coming to visit everyone gets busy preparing for the big party. Small Knight and George have to go and rescue the very special chocolate cake from a band of brigands who have stolen it. The story is quite simple, and for me felt like it was lacking something. I’m sure however that young readers will enjoy it regardless. I loved the illustrations, there are very few straight lines, they’re all at least a little wobbly which seems to add a warmth to them. I enjoyed lots of the little details in them, and think children would appreciate these too.

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere. Puffin.

I absolutely loved this! It’s fun and clever, and has a nice sense of peril that young readers will love. We follow the monster as he gets closer and closer to the reader, and hungrier and hungrier. The peril grows and is then resolved in a surprisingly delightful manner. The descriptions are playful and inventive with lots of wonderful phrases – I grinned all the way through. The illustrations are similarly playful and have a childish charm to them. This is the first of Ed Vere’s books that I’ve read, I shall definitely be hunting out the rest now.

Book Review

My Week In Books. [2]

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

Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess. Puffin Books.
This book tells the stories of three troubled teens, the sort of kids a lot of society just dismiss and look down on, and gives them a voice to tell their side of the story. Burgess doesn’t try to excuse the things they do but instead offers an explanation for their behaviour and shows that people aren’t simply good or bad. The teenagers feel very authentic, I could relate their behaviour to a couple of teens I know. This book is funny, poignant and thought provoking and a real page turner, I will be certainly be reading more by Burgess.

Big Change For Stuart by Lissa Evans. Doubleday Children’s.
I loved Small Change For Stuart and was looking forward to reading about Stuart’s next adventure. I wasn’t disappointed, this book is full of magic and mystery as he and April search for his Great-Uncle’s will to prove Stuart is the rightful owner of the magician’s workshop. I liked the way some of the minor characters got a bigger part to play in this book, particularly the other two triplets and Stuart’s dad. I really enjoyed the tasks Stuart had to complete and the worlds they were set in, Evans clearly has a wonderful imagination. A lovely middle grade read.

A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean. Katherine Tegen Books
This book, aimed at the 8-12 market, is a deceptive read. Its title suggests it’s going to be a sweet animal story (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but it’s so much more. It focuses on how Cally and her family are adjusting to life without her mother but with the introduction of other characters shows how important it is to look beneath the surface of people. There are some lovely characters, I particularly liked the sensitive way Cally’s grieving father was portrayed and the friendship developed between Cally and Sam. This is definitely a book I’ll be recommending.

Cracks by Caroline Green. Piccadilly Press.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it combines dystopia with thriller really well, both aspects of the plot feel very well balanced. For me the best dystopias are those that you can imagine happening, where you can see how our society could disintegrate to that point, and Cracks definitely ticks this box. This is a fast-paced read, I couldn’t hit the page forward button on my Kindle quickly enough at times. I didn’t always buy how Cal who’d missed the last 12 years and the changes in society accepted this new world, but that was my only niggle with the book.

The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown. Corvus.
I’d put off reading this book for ages, I’d heard it was a beautiful and emotional read and I needed to be in the right frame of mind (and have a good supply of tissues) and it never felt like the right time. I’m really glad I waited, a book like this deserves some proper indulgent reading time. It’s a truly wonderful read, I’m not sure I have the superlatives for it. Steeped in history, filled with the wonderful women of the ATA this book has it all – hard work, friendship, laughter, tears and love. An absolute must read.

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I did also read a few picture books this week but I’ve decided I’ll do a monthly round up of picture books or these posts will end up ridiculously long!

Book Review

Book Review : Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

This book really appealed to me, a cyborg version of Cinderella? Well maybe this could be a version of the fairy story that I could love, I’m afraid the Disney version would come really low on my list of their film adaptations. The book is divided into four sections which are each divided into chapters, I sat down to read just the first chapter and ended up getting to the end of the first section without even thinking about what else I should be doing, and soon carried on to finish the whole book.

The danger with a retelling of a story as familiar as Cinderella is that the reader is not surprised by the book, and that the plot just plays out as expected. I was really pleased that this wasn’t the case, whilst the story is essentially the one we’re all familiar with there were plenty of twists and turns and tweaks to keep the interest right the way through. I absolutely loved the way the Cinderella story was transported into a future version of Earth complete with cyborgs, AI lifeforms and hover transport. The world that Meyer created was vivid, I found it really easy to imagine. The opening chapters are set in a market place, I really got the sense of this noisy, bustling place.

Cinder is a pretty great character, I liked the fact she was practical and smart, and as in control of her own life as she could be. Her relationship with her younger step-sister Pearl was lovely, and I adored the friendship between Cinder and her very wonderful robot Iko. I also loved Prince Kai, whilst he was most definitely a Prince Charming he was also an interesting, engaging character with depth. Both Cinder’s stepmother and the ruler of the Lunar empire make for excellent villainous characters, I do love good bad guys!

By the time I got to the end of the book I was desperate to carry on with the story. Alas it is a whole year before the next book in this series, and based on what I’ve read about the Lunar Chronicles series it seems that each book is going to feature a different fairy tale heroine so I’m not sure how much more of Cinder we’re going to get to see. I’m quite prepared to wait and see how the series plays out though, I have a feeling it’s going to be good.

Cinder is published in hardback, paperback and eBook by Puffin in the UK. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book via UK Book Tours all of the opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review

Book Review : Wereworld: Rage of Lions by Curtis Jobling.

YOUNG WEREWOLF DREW FERRAN IS THE FUTURE KING OF WESTLAND.

He has the makings of a great warrior – but first he must master the blade and the beast.

When Lady Gretchen is abducted by the Werelion Prince Lucas, Drew and his friends embark on a perilous chase to stop the prince fleeing to his homeland of Bast. As Drew encounters terrifying new Werelords along the way, he is led to the exotic city of Cape Gala, where the forces of Onyx, the Beast of Bast, await.

Now Drew must summon all of his courage and strength – because the Catlords are ready to attack . . .

I absolutely loved the first book in Curtis Jobling’s Wereworld series so I was really excited to start reading this second book. It opens with an all action prologue and you straight away get the feel that this is going to be one hell of a read.

The book continues with Drew trying to come to terms with his role and what it means for him. Between training to help him develop his skills and meetings with the Wolf’s Council his life is certainly very different now. When Gretchen is kidnapped he is told that he must not go after her, but of course he ignores these orders and goes off in pursuit of her and her kidnappers. Whilst he is on his quest his friends are not quiet either, Hector in particular gets a great story.

I continue to love so many of the characters that feature in these books, I was so pleased to see Count Vega back in action – he’s a real favourite of mine. I also love Whitley, she’s so brave and resourceful – I don’t think I could do half the things she does even in the most dire of situations!

This book absolutely whips through, I only put it down long enough to make a cup of tea! The blend of politics and action makes it a captivating read, the addition of some lovely quieter character moments is just the icing on the cake. I feel like I’m really getting to know the characters well which means I’m really invested in what happens to them and the people that mean a lot to them.

I love the way the book keeps you on your toes, there are a couple of pretty major plot points later in the book that made my jaw drop open. I have absolutely no idea how the author is going to carry on from one of them in particular, but I can’t wait to read the third book and find out. This series of books is now a real favourite of mine, I really can’t recommend them enough.

Wereworld: Rage of Lions is published in paperback by Puffin in the UK.