Book Review

July and August 2015 Reads – Part 2.

Day two of my catch up with the books I read in July and August.

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton. Bantam Press.
I’ve read a few of Sharon Bolton’s earlier books and really enjoyed them so I jumped at the chance to read her newest. Set on the Falkland Islands, the book follows three former friends as the community is torn apart when a child goes missing. The plot has bucket loads of tension, I found I spent most of the time wondering who to believe – at various points I decided I didn’t believe a single one of the characters!

I loved the Falkland Islands setting of the book, I’m always keen to explore new places through literature and this book certainly allows you to do that. Sharon Bolton’s writing really evokes a sense of the place, I feel now that if I ever visited I would feel like I was returning rather than being there for the first time. This is yet another excellent book from this author, she’s so consistently good!

Stitch Head: The Beast of Grubbers Nubbin by Guy Bass. Stripes Publishing.
This is the 5th book about Stitch Head, I hadn’t read any of the previous ones but hoped it wouldn’t matter. Essentially it didn’t, the story is told in such a way that you understand that these characters have spent time together already but you can follow this plot completely without knowing what happened. I think I would have got even more from the reading experience with prior knowledge but that just means I’m going to have to catch up and re-read – I’m glad to spend more time in the world of these books!

The story itself is fun and fast-paced, Stitch Head and his fellow are playing host to a group of children who they rescued in a previous book. There’s a monster about however and they all start to suspect each other. The book is illustrated by Pete Williamson, his art adds a lot to the reading experience. I enjoyed the resolution of the story, it worked really well and left me keen for the next story.

A Million Miles Away by Lara Avery. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
This book has an interesting premise, when Kelsey’s identical twin sister is killed in an accident can’t bring herself to break the news to her sister’s boyfriend who is currently serving in the armed forces. Instead she pretends to be her sister and finds herself falling deeper into the lie she is spinning. I was intrigued by the idea of the story but wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy the way it played out. Many of the fears I had for the plot were unfounded, it works pretty well though I did feel the resolution to the story came a little quickly and easily.

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell. Bloomsbury Children’s.
I really loved this book. It’s incredibly atmospheric, it reminded me a little of Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child which I also loved. The book is written in such a way that really evokes the setting, I felt like I was actually walking alongside the characters for much of the story.

The book is set against the backdrop of early communist Russia, something I studied a little in my GCSE History lessons but don’t feel I know a lot about. This didn’t matter, the necessary aspects of Russia at that time were woven easily into the story and I never found myself wondering about anything. I loved Feodora, the main character, she’s a great blend of tough and vulnerable – the sort of character you’d happily spend time around. The wolves that are under her care are also wonderful characters, they’re so distinct and as fully realised as the human characters

I haven’t yet read Rooftoppers, this author’s previous book which won the Waterstones children’s book prize 2014 but based on how much I loved this I know I need to read it sooner rather than later.

Almost Grace by Rosie Rowell. Hot Key Books.
I have really mixed feelings about this book. There were aspects I loved, particularly the South African setting and the idea of the group of friends going away together for a holiday after finishing their education. I didn’t however enjoy much of the main character’s storyline, particularly her relationship with . This doesn’t seem like the healthiest of relationships and at times I just felt a bit uncomfortable reading.

My overarching feeling at the end of the book was that I wanted to read other YA books set in countries I don’t usually see in books. This in itself makes me realise this book was a bit of a miss for me.

Remix by Non Pratt. Walker Books.
Trouble was one of my favourite books last year so my hopes for this book were high. It definitely lived up to them, it’s another brilliant, realistic YA read, this time set at a music festival. Told in dual narrative best friends Kaz and Ruby are off for a weekend of music and fun, but the unexpected presence of the two boys who’ve broken their hearts puts an unexpected spin on things.

I’m a huge fan of books with multiple narratives providing this is done well, Non really, really does it well. The voices are distinct and the perspectives wind brilliantly around one another. On top of this the characters behave in an entirely believable manner, poor decisions and all, and are allowed to be teens which is just brilliant. I loved this book and I know that my music obsessed teen self would have probably loved it even more.

The Secrets of Sam and Sam by Susie Day. Red Fox.
I absolutely love Susie Day’s series of books featuring Pea so I was really excited when it was announced that she was going to be writing a companion novel that focused on Sam and Sammie who lived next door. Sam and Sammie are boy and girl twins who are very different, they have different interests, different personalities and different challenges facing them. With a school residential trip looming these challenges become all important – how can Sam tackle some of the adventurous activities when he’s so scared of heights and how can Sammie share a room when no one can see how good a best friend she could be?

At the same time that the twins are preparing for their trip their mums also seem to be keeping secrets, and Mum K is writing her book about child development based on bring the twins up. This adds further layers to the story, most entertainingly the excerpts from the book that come complete with corrections by Sammie. The way each of the individual plotlines plays out and wraps round the others is brilliant, this is such an excellent addition to the series of books focusing on Pea and her family.

I’ve commented before about how brilliant Susie writes books featuring diverse characters. This book is no exception to that, characters differences are acknowledged and included and happen to just be. This whole series should be an automatic inclusion in school libraries as far as I’m concerned.

Book Review

Book Review: The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter & Garry Parsons (illustrator).

I’m getting in the festive mood today with a picture book review.

The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas by Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter & Garry Parsons (illustrator). Red Fox.

TDTPCSeasons Eatings!

Danny wants everything for Christmas.
But what he gets is a dinosaur, a very hungry dinosaur.

Danny’s new dino eats up all of Chrismas, but as we all know, what goes in must come out…

Danny is about to have most EXPLOSIVE Christmas of his life!

There’s poop, presents and prehistoric creatures in this festive feast!

I don’t actually know where to start with reviewing this book. It’s funny, it has a strong message… but it’s utterly gross in the best, funniest, cringiest way. If the title isn’t a big giveaway that poop is going to feature in this book, the decoration of the cover certainly makes it clear. And yet, I still wasn’t prepared for the poop levels the last few pages of the book contain.

The book is about Danny. He’s an incredibly spoilt little boy who has absolutely no concept of the idea that Christmas is about anything other than an opportunity for his already oversized collection of toys and games to grow even bigger. Father Christmas decides to teach him a lesson, leaves him a dinosaur who proceeds to eat everything and then gets an attack of the guilts and poops it all back out so Christmas can be restored.

The story is told in rhyming text and is really funny. It’s jointly authored by McFly members Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter, they’re putting their writing skills to a completely different format here and they pull it off well. Garry Parsons’ illustrations go really well with the text, I particularly loved how expressive all of the characters were.

This book is not going to be to everyone’s tastes. But those who are going to like it are going to really, really like it. I think this is a welcome addition to the ever growing collection of Christmas themed stories, there’s a giftset version that comes with a plush version of the dinosaur – I think this will make a great gift!

Book Review

MG Monday: Pea’s Book of Birthdays by Susie Day.

middlegrademonday

Middle Grade Mondays on Juniper’s Jungle feature books aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, or younger. This week, Pea’s Book of Birthdays by Susie Day earns her turn in the spotlight.

PBoBIt’s Pea’s birthday, and all the family are gathered around to celebrate. But there’s one person missing – her dad. She has never known him, but is the story Mum always told her (the one about Dad being a pirate) really true? What is this mysterious Piratical Father doing now? So begins Pea’s quest to track down her dad once and for all . . .

This series of books featuring Pea Llewellyn is one of my absolute favourite series, regardless of target age. So much so that after I fell completely in love with Pea, her sisters and mum and all of the rest of the cast of characters in the first book I decided that I needed to not immediately read the next books in the series but instead space them out and savour each one. This weekend I finally picked up this, the third book in the series.

Having dealt with the family’s move to London in Pea’s Book of Best Friends and then deciding what you want to be in the future in Pea’s Book of Dreams, this time Pea’s focus is more on personal identity and knowing who you are and where you come from. Pea has never known her father, all she knows is where her mum met him and that he left shortly after she was born. Knowing that he is out there somewhere, and reminders about family leave her wondering about him and wanting to track him down. The book takes place over the month of May when Pea and her sisters and mum all have their birthdays, Pea’s is latest in May and she shares it with her mum so what better opportunity to try and track down the mystery Ewan McGregor (no, not that one).

One of the things I adore about Pea is that she’s such a thinking girl. She’s a budding writer, always creating characters and plot lines, and when she’s not doing this she has a tendency to overthink her current situation. In this book trying to choose a birthday party theme that is sufficiently “mature and sophisticated” proves really hard, she doesn’t really feel grown up but feels like she ought to. Pea is so much the kind of young person I was, I know I would have loved reading about her when I was similarly aged (pretty much like I do now). Life is full of anxieties, even when you’re young, and seeing them dealt with in such a reassuring manner is just brilliant.

The family dynamic between Pea, her sisters and mum is just brilliant. So too is the dynamic of the Paget-Skidelskys who live next door, and then the relationships between both families. I would have loved to have good friends living next door like this. I particularly like Pea’s friendship with Sam One, I always like seeing girl boy friendships in the books I read.

One thing I must highlight is the ease with which Susie writes diverse characters. This whole series of books is filled with them, all included seamlessly and naturally. Their differences are acknowledged but not dwelt on, they’re simply presented as the way of things which is of course what they are. This series is one that should be held up of an example to show that it can be done!

I loved how funny this book was at the same that it was covering some really important issues. The blend of the drama and comedy of real life works really well and results in a hugely readable book that is appealing and very lovable. The whole series is like this, and that’s why I love it so much and find myself recommending it as often as I can. The next book in the series is Pea’s Book of Holidays which includes a visit to Corfe Castle (inspiration to Enid Blyton) – I wonder how long I will be able to resist it? Not long I wouldn’t think!

Pea’s Book of Birthdays is published by Red Fox in the UK. My copy of the book is one I purchased myself.

Book Review

PoP: Brave Little Owl by Penny Little & Sean Julian and What’s in the Egg, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman

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

Brave Little Owl by Penny Little & Sean Julian (illustrator). Red Fox.
BraveLittleOwlLittle Owl would love to learn to fly in time for her grandma’s birthday. But flying is scary, especially when your brothers won’t stop teasing you.

Will anyone be able to help Little Owl face her fears?

This book is really very cute. It tells the story of Little Owl, she’s scared to learn to fly but desperate to conquer her fears. I think anyone reading the book will find themselves rooting for her, particularly when her very first efforts end in disappointment. Her mildly bratty older brothers also help the reader to side with Little Owl! I liked the way Grandpa Owl was firmly on everyone’s side, wanting his grandbabies to succeed in flying, but also stood up for Little Owl when her brothers were mean – his message that not everyone is good at everything is such a valuable one for all children to hear.

The illustrations are very attractive, they’re richly coloured without ever feeling loud. The story takes place as night is falling, the colours used reflect this with the sky becoming darker over the course of the book. Towards the end of the book there is a single fold out page, this works brilliantly well with the story telling making a real moment out of something that deserves such recognition.

A really lovely picture book that I’d certainly be looking at adding to my collection.

What’s in the Egg, Little Pip? by Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman (illustrator). Simon and Schuster.
WhatsInTheEggLittle Pip liked in when her family was just three. But now the egg seems to be all Mummy and Daddy can think about, and little Pip can’t understand why… until the egg finally cracks open.

I love penguins, so I was drawn to this book with its beautiful cover. The story is about a young penguin who doesn’t understand why her parents are obsessed with the new Egg they have – they’re so focused on keeping it warm and safe, they don’t have time to play with her or to even think about anything that isn’t the Egg. Slowly but surely she becomes more involved with the Egg, her instincts take over but she still thinks the Egg is unnecessary. The ending is as expected, but it’s very lovely and heart warming.

I liked the illustrations in this book, though I was interested by the fact that Pip is a dark inky blue colour rather than the black like all of the other penguins in the book. I wonder if this is to keep the focus on her, and also to help distinguish her from the other penguins – the style is very natural rather than cartoony so the penguins look like actual penguins.

This book will of course make a really good book to share with a child that has a sibling on the way though its length probably means it would be best suited to slightly older children, maybe 4+ as there’s a lot of story to sit through. This is the third book that features Little Pip, I’d certainly like to read the other two.

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

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.