Wednesday, 6 August 2014

July Book Reviews

 Allan Karlsson is 100.. He's seen a loot of things but that doesn't mean the adventures over.

On his 100th birthday he hobbles out of the window at his retirement home and embarks on a journey, picking up a band of comical misfits along the way. Quite the picaresque novel we learn of Allan's instrumental hand in the design of the a bomb and his education of the young General Mao among others.

Suspension of reality is necessary to get through the hundred year old man but once abandoned this is a gleeful treat of a book - an excellent holiday read.

The Rat is called Rose and is 16 year old Pearl's brand new baby sister. Pearl calls her the rat though... doesn't go to see her in the neo-natal unit or help out when Rose comes home and her Step-Dad desperately needs her help.

Pearl is trying to come to terms with her mother's death and in the year that follows we watch the cycle of grief and acceptance. Pearl is lucky to have the support of her Stepfather, her best friend Molly and finds solace in the next door neighbour's grandson, Finn.

A beautiful debut YA novel full of emotion and grit and a definite recommendation for those who cried at The Fault in Our Stars or Now is Good.

It's been a while since I've read a historical novel but this caught my eye - more faction than fiction, the May Bride is Katherine, new wife of Edward Seymour who comes to Wolf Hall during Jane Seymour's impressionable years. She brings with her an air of mystery and fresh perspectives on the Seymour home.

This was a slog unfortunately but may just have been as there's a lot going on at the moment. It had a lot going on and yet not much at all and I'm still not sure if I'd recommend it to others apart from steadfast historical fiction fans.

Friday, 11 July 2014

June Book Reviews

A story of survival and hope rather than a true science fiction classic in my opinion. Originally published in the 1950s, it is definitely a story of it's age. As you can probably tell I didn't particularly care for it. None of the characters stood out from the page apart from Coker who is a larger than life character. A good choice for readers groups, providing conversation on a myriad of subjects but not one that I'll be picking up again any time soon. 

An updated collection of poems on the underground with a mixture of newer works and old favourites. I gobbled these up. Easy and short, a great coffee table book to go back to time and again.

Rose visits Ypres with her grandfather. While there they go to Essex Farm, a first aid post during the War and now a cemetery to the fallen. Here she finds the grave of Valentine Joe, who died a month before his sixteenth birthday. What happens next is quite strange... whilst Rose walks around the city at night she is transported back 100 years to meet Joe and follow him on his journey through the War. With Tommy the dog to keep her company, we visit Joe in Ypres, at the front line and at Essex Farm.

An easy story based on a real person which lays a good foundation for those learning about the War, suitable for ages 9+.

A proof copy, Trial by Fire isn't actually out until September but I'm already hungering fro the next installment of this story. This starts off as your regular teen drama  Lily Proctor just wants to be normal and she's finally getting there, dating the most popular guy in school who also happens to be her best friend but when a house party goes wrong she wants to be anywhere but Salem.

Lily starts to hear voices, collapses and wakes up in a world far from her own. A parallel Salem where witches and magic reign and the Lillian of this world is Queen. Trying to describe this world would never do justice... this book will be the next Divergent, the next Mortal Instruments and I'll be giving it to as many people as possible.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

May Book Reviews

 Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal this year, The bunker Diary tells the story of 16 year old homeless boy who is captured and locked in a bunker all alone. That is until the 5 other bedrooms around him begin to fill up. Written as a diary and spanning many months this gritty and realistic portrayal shows the breakdown of these 6 captives.

Their only communication with their captor s via notes left in a remotely controlled lift, when they are good they are allowed food and drink, when they are bad, they are punished with poison and near starvation.

Not one for the faint hearted... these characters, especially 9 year old Jenny stay with you long after you leave the Bunker. Suitable for 12 years+.

Set in 1672, in  the fall out of the English Civil War Jonathan Dymond, a cider maker in Somerset learns of his Uncle's death under mysterious circumstances and travels to Tatton Green to investigate. However, what he finds out is not necessarily a welcome truth. Well written but with no real drive of plot Jonathan befriends his Aunt's servant and mother who have fallen on hard times and starts unearthing some family secrets.

Affairs, lies and incest are laced in this historical novel which to be honest is very much a Summer throw away read.

 A truly unique story although reminiscent of Curious Incident, Filer shares the story of one boys descent into mental illness after the untimely death of his brother. Written in the first person helps you to truly connect and share in the emotions that run deep within this novel.

For once  a very worthy award winner and a story that exceeded expectation, a brilliant reading group choice which shows the impact mental illness has not only on the patient but the family that supports them.

Nicholson's latest exploration into human emotion is set against the back drop of the second world war. Following two soldiers on very different paths and the journeys they take through the war and beyond, Motherland is a charged and powerful piece of fiction. 

The ensemble of characters Nicholson creates will welcome you into a world of love and loss, friendship and heartache. The sens of duty is explored within all the main characters - military duty, a mother's duty, a wife's duty - along with how well you can ever know a person. The only negative I have is the prologue and epilogue which in my mind are unnecessary.

Gavin has turned her hand to fairy tales with success in this new selection of short stories for children. Engaging and with the feel of traditional tales, Gavin creates characters of different ethnic backgrounds and cultures to fall in love with including Blackberry Blue and Emeka the Pathfinder.

My favourite though is the story of the Golden Carp - a father who comes back to look after his family in the form of a fish. A fine edition to any fairy tale collection, the illustrations that accompany the stories are a work of genius (otherwise known as Richard Collingridge).

Perfect gift for children of 7 years+.

Friday, 9 May 2014

April Book Reviews

The final instalment in the Finn - River saga.

River has recovered from her break up with Finn when he comes back into her life in the only way that Finn can. But as they re-connect River learns of the underworld Finn has caught himself up in. Heart overrules head as River cannot contemplate a life without Finn but as we know the road to true love never runs smoothly.

A fitting end to the saga - teen angst and a little bit of suspended reality never hurts anyone.

In October 2012 Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban but this book is so much more than a recount of this episode of Malala's short but busy life. This biography explains where her passion for political activism comes from and praises her father and his stand against authorities who look at the education of women as unnecessary.

Whilst reading I do wonder how much is told in Malala's own voice as opposed to the help of Christine Lamb and some areas do read much like an essay than a book. If you want a true depiction of life in Pakistan, you cannot get a more authentic account. I'm glad I read this but I don't know that I would pick up another biography like this again.

I got through this in a day - I've always enjoyed history books from unique perspectives but this was not what I expected at all. I believed this would be like other TV tie in books, depicting key points in US history witnessed by the help but this book at only 112 pages long tells you the story behind the story. How Will Haygood found a unique angle for a newspaper article in time for Obama's inauguration in 2008, how Eugene Allen served as butler for 8 presidents and voted for Obama the day after his wife passed.

There is no real detail of Eugene Allen at work at 1600 Pensylvania Avenue, for that you'll have to watch the film but remember like all good films, a little imagination goes a long way.

An amazing recommendation from a friend, Guernica does exactly what it says on the cover - An epic story of love, family and war. Set against the back drop of the beautiful Basque country we follow the Ansotegui brothers; Justo, Josepe and Xabier through the Spanish Civil War, the devestation of Guernica itself and it's reprecussions into the Second World War.

Boling writes characters you can imagine off the page, Justo the iron man and his wife Mariangeles, the talk of the village. Dodo and Miguel; brothers on very different paths but at the end of the day loyal to the family, Xabier, the priest who is friends with the Basque president. I found it very hard to do anything else but read whenever I could whilst reading this book, I found myself wondering what the characters were doing after the final page was turned, how they are now - always the sign of a good book. May have to find more of this author!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

March Book Reviews

An intelligent debut that reflects the confusion children can go through after a family break up. Dan Hope is 11 and still trying to work out why his Dad left 4 years ago.. he is spurred on to reconnect with his father after seeing him in his new role as news reader on the local tv.

Along with the normal heartbreaks of childhood - falling out with friends, squabbling with siblings, Williamson manages to capture the confusion of huge emotions which younger children deal with in their pre-teen years when so much is still unclear.

Brilliant characters including Big Dave and Ninja Grace pull the story through to it's somewhat inevitable conclusion... looking forward to The Boy Who Sailed the Ocean on an Armchair. Would aim this at Year 6 (11yrs) and  pre-teens.

Part of my book group quota - this month we chose children/teen titles to share and discuss. This is one I've been meaning to read and finished it within a day - very easy premise of Tom being awesome (if not a little cheeky) and the fun things a boy can get up to. Like all boys he enjoys a bit of music, playing around with his mates and the girl he sits next to at school.

Illustrations help to embellish the writing and I can understand why this series is so popular - much like Diary of  Wimpy Kid, Tom Gates is an easily likeable character. Brilliant fun for Key Stage 2

Remember when you were a teenager and you obsessed over that guy/girl from that band? Well now imagine that you're front row at their concert and they are standing in front of you? What would you do? 

When Jody finds herself standing face to face with Jason Gatlin, lead singer of The Regulators chaos takes over and a week later he's still living in her mother's garage, wearing her grandfathers' clothes and trying to hide from his evil manager! Brilliant characters including the best friend Mac, adorable toddler Cree and crazy journalist make for an interesting 370 pages, if not a bit of a predictable ending.

Darling lives in Paradise, Africa... she spends her days playing the Country Game or Find Bin Laden, or stealing guavas from the security gated houses up town. This feels like a true depiction of an African childhood that you see glimpses of on the news, it's feels realistic. But Darling doesn't stay in Africa with her group of friends, she moves to destroymichegan... where everything is different.

This was a strange read - nothing happens and yet under the surface everything changes. Darling doesn't forget her friends but their lives are now so different there is no common ground. Back story is given through confusing flashbacks and I finished the book feeling slightly cheated for story.

River and Flynn have never been happier - Flynn has his anger issues under control with the help of group counselling, they've both moved to the commune with River's dad and even attend the same sixth form - what could go wrong? 

Teen angst and the confusion of first relationships ensues in this next instalment of McKenzie's teen drama

Thursday, 6 March 2014

January and February Book Reviews

An apology for those crazy few who may look forward to these reviews - due to illness I haven't managed to read as much as I would normally this year - hopefully this will get better, just means I have a larger pile of books to get through than normal!

An easy festive read for the holidays follows the local, lovable police man Hamish Macbeth on his wanderings through Lockdubh and the Highlands beyond.

With characters from the village to provide some light hearted amusement and a sense of community that warms the soul... why not give it a go?

A series of books I have meant to read for a while and finally got round to!

The Diamond of Drury Lane invites you into theatreland following our heroine Catherine Royal, an orphan taken in my the owner of Drury Lane Theatre. Cat, a street wise urchin, knows how to play the gangs of Covent Garden and the surrounding area but when the new boy Pedro arrives at the theatre she is unsure she can trust him. And then there's the diamond... can she help Mr Sheridan protect from Billy Boil and his evil gang?

An easy, historical page turner suitable for 7 years+

A silly stocking filler present which has had me in stitches - who knew what went on in a dog's mind - now thanks to October Jones we can all find out!

Have been plugging away at this story for a while after hearing about the film last year. Monuments Men shines a light on the men of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division of the Allied Forces serving in World War II.

Very well written and easy to follow, Edsel takes us through the key players on both sides and re-counts the brave and courageous experiences of this small band of devoted men who saved some of the greatest pieces of art in history.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

December Book Reviews

 The best in the Pittacus Lore series by far in my opinion. The Garde have found each other and are now ready to bring the fight to the Mogadorians.

As with all groups though some people play better with others and there are always secrets to uncover. As the gang all get to know each other whilst staying in Nine's Chicago penthouse full of gadgets, they learn more about their legacies. It's up to Four to lead them in the right direction but with Sarah and Sam to worry about as well is the pressure becoming too much?

I wasn't sure whether I'd enjoy this or not but I was hooked from the first chapter. Father and son share stories and opinions from their lives and you can feel the enjoyment and friendship through the stories. 

By far the best part is the annotations though as they bicker on the page about Jack's use of grammar and Michael's constant name dropping. That and Jack's cartoons give much light relief.

A definite for any fan!

Edward and Leonora spend the Summer with their Aunt Kestrel... having not met each other before they are thrust together as each other's only companion. Their relationship reminds me a lot of Pip and  Estella from Great Expectations. Leonora, spoilt rotten by her mother wants only one thing... a doll. But when Edward gets it for her things do not go according to plan.

I enjoyed this book although it as nothing like what I expected. At only 153 pages it is slow to start and is pleasant whilst not being overly scary... I would say I was slightly disappointed but enjoyed the story for what it was.

Having been sent down from his home planet to erase all proof of a mathematical theory that will ruin the world our alien narrator takes on a bit more than he bargained for.

As missions go infiltrating a family and finding out who knows what doesn't sound too difficult. But when he gets caught up in this human mess called emotion, sees "his son" contemplating suicide, "his wife" unhappy with the way her life has panned out, suddenly erasing a theory doesn't seem that important any more. 

Written as an account for higher up the order Haig strikes the balance of description and emotion well and shines a light on what intrinsically makes us human.

This sequel sees us catching up with Wilhelm, the lovable rogue of Just One Day in the hospital in Paris after being  beaten up on the Paris streets. Everything starts coming back to him; Lulu, his day around Paris with her, the chance encounters. But not knowing Lulu's real name makes it almost impossible to find her again.

Over the next year Wilhelm travels as he always does but never loses the feeling of missing someone, missing her and trying to find his place in the world. This is a book of soul searching, of opportunity and possibility, of life and love and their importance.

The latest in the journeys of the demigods finds Percy and Annabeth travelling through Tartarus to the doors of death whilst the crew of the Argo II venture to meet them on the other side. 

During their journeys we learn more about these demigods, their hopes and fears, their vulnerability and their determination whilst visiting countries of the world and characters well know from myth and legend. Rick Riordan, the myth master himself has done it again... next intsalment please!

A festive-ish choice - what's winter without a couple of ghost stories. Kate Mosse has been on the list for a while and when I found she'd produced a book of short stoires I thought the time was right. 

Based on local folklore and legends of the this isle Mosse takes you through a kaliedoscope of emotion and it is a testament to her writing that some of these stories have stuck with me through the month. My favourite though is the story the book is named for The Mistletoe Bride.