Sunday, 16 November 2008

Creature of the Night by Kate Thompson

I always like Kate Thompson's writing, and this is no exception. The writing of the disaffected teenager Bobby is hard and edgy. His reaction to the move into the country and away from his criminal activity in Dublin is treated well. It is when his little brother Dennis starts talking about the visits from the rather sinister 'little woman' in the middle of the night, and the strange disappearance of the previous tenant in their house that the plot takes off - as Bobby tries to sort out his life, his mother needs to manage her money, and Dennis needs to stop imagining his midnight visitor.....or does he?

I was slightly disappointed in the epilogue - it rather spoilt the tensions and the revelations at the end of the story.

The Princess who Wouldn't Come Home by Irving Finkel

Well, what can I say? I had the pleasure of going to the launch of this new book by Irving Finkel - illustrated by his sister, meeting the author and illustrator, and sharing a delightful evening.

This is a very funny, modern take on fairy tales, but for adults. The Princess Irena decides to leave the stifling life of court in a very northerly monarchy and decamp to London to try to become a painter. This, of course, causes all sorts of problems at home, so the King comes to London and tries to reason with his daughter, but instead of him taking her back home she wins him over to her point of view. The character of the King was my favourite, he is cautious at home as his wife the Queen is very correct and can be rather fierce, but by various devious, amusing ways he wins her too and engineers a suitable fairy tale ending.

This book got me some very strange looks as I was reading it on the train and tube and laughing as I read! It was worth it, do read it!

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Mau is a boy just finishing his initiation to manhood, leaving his soul behind on a small island - when he canoes back to his home - Nation - he gets a man's soul. But on his journey he, and the rest of the world, face a tsunami that wipes out the world as it exists. He gets back to his home (by luck) to find it completely destroyed and he has to carve a life for himself.

Meanwhile the daughter of an ambassador is the only survivor of the wreck of the Sweet Judy - which also wrecks on the Nation. Setting the scene for a clash of cultures when the trouserman girl Daphne and Mau meet.

This is a wonderful exploration of the human spirit, the way individuals cope with disaster, rebuild their lives, their civilisations and work out their new societies and their belief systems; which makes it sound deadly dull, and of course it is far from that containing many flashes of Pratchett humour and slightly cock-eyed logic. The period is Victorian and the world similar but not entirely like our own - I believe the tsunami is probably based on the fallout from the Krakatoa eruption. Includes some wonderful and readable scientific deduction - Daphne is a science devotee. Read it for fun, and let it make you think too.

Blade of Fire by Stuart Hill

The second volume in the Icemark Chronicles - and again a hugely involving saga with battles of the various allies and the evil Polypontian General Bellorum. The action takes place 20 years after the first volume. Thirrin and Oskan now have a family - and three of them take part in the battles that ensue - possibly the battles to end the Icemark. Charlemagne the youngest has had polio, and is to be the regent in the country many of the population are evacuated to. The other sister Medea has her father's skills but is particularly drawn to the darker side of her skills - never quite being on the same side as the rest of the family.

This is such a gripping roller coaster of a ride, with the wonderful images of the mixed species allies working together and collaborating (not always so smoothly as one might expect.) Gives you the flavour of the sagas in an easily readable, gripping, un-put-downable book.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

The Magician by Michael Scott

This is the second volume in the Secrets of the Immortal Michael Flamel series - a really cracking fantasy novel, very well researched and squarely based in history and mythology. Gripping and enthralling story of the twins of prophesy, as their gifts are awakened - to help the world in it's fight against the next coming of the old Elders. Can't wait for volume 3!

The Goldsmith's Daughter by Tanya Landman

This is a compelling story set in the Aztec Empire - at the time of the Spanish conquest. The savagery of the time is well researched and well presented; and is quite shocking in it's depiction of the sacrifices of the religion of the time.

Itacate is the daughter of an Aztec goldsmith, who looks as if she is set for a life of drudgery - until she proves her skill in creating wonderful gold statuary. At the time of the conquest she falls in love with one of the Spanish invaders. Can she survive, can their love blossom, can she come to terms with the loss of her way of life?

A really good read - I would recommend it to any teenager with a love of history.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Trouble with Wenlocks by Joel Stewart

Stanley Wells is an ordinary boy that has some extraordinary things happen to him. He is on a train when everyone else is made sleepy by the mysterious wenlocks, and then, when they awake, they appear to have some spark missing from their eyes so Stanley is drawn into investigating what has happened. This leads him on a strange adventure with his rather odd acquaintances - Dr Moon and Morecambe the talking dog - where they discover that Albert's daughter Umiko may be the cause of the problem as she is trying to help mankind by taking away their sorrow.

This is a very gentle tale illustrating the point that we are the sum of all our experience both happy and sad, and that without the sadness we are changed, somehow less.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Amethyst Child by Sarah Singleton

Yet another really good read from Sarah Singleton - and each one is so different that she always surprises with her output.

The Amethyst children are thought to have special talents, often unrecognised by the rest of society. Dowdie is an amethyst child and she spots Amber as one also. Amber is bored during the school holidays and is gradually pulled in to the commune run by Dowdie's father - the charismatic James. The peace of the commune and the happiness of it's members are all put at risk as the summer progresses, and other people from outside the commune start to look into the amethyst child phenomenon. A wonderful tale told through the two voices of Amber, one as the child of the summer holidays and one as her voice of experience looking back at events as they are investigated.

Read this author - she's one to watch.

The Knife that Killed Me by Anthony McGowan

Paul Varderman is an ordinary sort of teenager at an ordinary school, subject to the usual sorts of bullying and minor torture that goes on in some secondary schools. By a series of unconnected incidents he becomes a focus for Roth - the violent gang leader- as well as Shane - the leader of the 'freaks' in the school. Paul is torn between the desire to conform and be one of the gang and the freedom to be himself if he joins with the 'freaks'. He is inexorably committed to a path he did not choose, and the awful consequences that result.

This is a totally compelling story, set in the everyday reality of a carefully drawn school. The reader is totally engrossed in the tale and swept along with the horror of it all. A must read for any boy thinking it's cool to carry a knife. Thought provoking.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

Heart wrenching story of a family falling apart after the eldest son's death in an accident. But a chance meeting for Rowan sets her on an inexorable path towards discovering more than she ever imagined...

A great read, be prepared to cry!

The Roar by Emma Clayton

An interesting first novel - Sci Fi. The occupants of New London live in fear and squalor behind 'the Wall' frightened of the plague caused by animals so there are none in this dystopian world. Then a group of children are given the chance to win wonderful przes that will make their families rich by playing a very complex computer battle game. Mika, one of twins, finds some solace for the loss of his twin by playing this game - but is there something sinister behind the game or is it a means of escape...

Tightly plotted, gripping and exciting read.

The Battle for Gullywith by Susan Hill

Olly and his family move to Gullywith - a tumbledown farmhouse near a mysterious mere. There are strange stones, covered in runes, appearing to follow Olly; a bookseller who knows what Olly wants before he asks for it; and a legend about a stone king who's castle is rumoured to be drowned beneath the mere - where will this all lead?

Interesting fantasy grounded in today, slighly over written in places and will need reading stamina to complete but well worth the effort.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox by Eoin Colfer

Two Artemis's, two Butlers, two Holly's, all converging on one time - to try to beat Opal before she can stop a cure for Mrs Fowl being found. Great fun - if you've liked the others you'll love the fast pace and the humour here.

Ways to Live Forever by Sally Nicholls

This scrapbook as from an 11 year old boy who is dying of cancer will make you laugh and cry, it will touch your heart and it will stay with you for a very long time. Read it.

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

Three friends -Kenny, Sim and Blake are about to embark on a strange, ill fated journey. They steal the urn that contains the ashes of their best friend Ross, and they set out to travel from Cleethorpes on the English east coast to the tiny hamlet of Ross in southern Scotland. After a depressing and dispriting funeral they feel that taking Ross to Ross will be a fitting memorial for a fifteen-year-old boy who changed all their lives through his friendship. Little do they realise just how much Ross can still affect life for them even though he's dead.

Keith Gray has written a different take on the usual quest novel - as they travel the boys discover much about themselves, but also more about the friend they thought they knew and loved. Their complete disbelief at the idea that Ross may have committed suicide, and their slow realisation that they may have let down their friend is realistically told. The misadventures they have are all credible, and written with a lot of black humour - a book well worth the read and will strike a chord with many teenagers.

Starcross by Philip Reeve

Follows on from Larklight - but can be read perfectly well by itself. The idea of the Victorians in space and the adventures that the family get up to are totally believable and thoroughly involving. The wicked moob try to take over the world from a resort hotel near Mars - a real space based ripping yarn, wonderfully told. Enjoy! More info here -

Just Henry by Michelle Magorian

I was lucky enough to go to the launch of this book - in a delightful small cinema in Rupert Street. A totally appropriate setting to hear Michelle read from her new book. Henry is a child growing up in post war Britain, and learning to live with his new step father (his father appears to have died a hero in the war). He has to learn to find his way in a world full of prejudices, and to escape from facing up to his world he attends the cinema as often as he can. The cinema history portrayed is authentic, and the feel of the times totally believable. Henry gradually begins to think for himself, and to deal with the world he lives in. This is a truly delightful story of friendship and growing up. Read it - if you liked Goodnight Mr Tom you'll love this.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Cosmic by Frank Cotterell Boyce

This is the usual madcap and delightful mix we have come to expect from Boyce. Liam is a normal boy, but very tall, and as such is regularly taken for a grown up - and so he ends up masquerading as his friends father - and via a series of adventures and misfortunes they end up on the greatest adventure imaginable - in space!

There are some elements when you need to suspend your disbelief but the sheer pace and plot means you are carried along happily.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo

A beautifully written and thought provoking life of a greyhound. Illustrations by Michael Foreman - including the chance to see Best Mate run by flicking the pages.

Best Mate is rescued from drowning, then kidnapped as it is obvious he is speedy and could win races. The dog shows us both the best and worst of human life through the problems he faces in his life. I am not one for reading animal stories in the main - but this is a thoughtful exploration of our relationship to animals, and each other.

Newes from the Dead by Mary Hooper

This is a fictionalized account of the life of Anne Green, a rael historical character, who was hanged for infanticide at Oxford assizes in 1650, didn't die and was restored to life by the doctors who had bought her corpse for dissection. She died much later in 1665.

Mary Hooper has created a world in which we can believe, the sense of place and time, particularly in the attitudes towards women, emphasized in Anne's case as she was only a servant in the big house, making thsi a difficult and dangerous place for a naive and gullible girl like Anne to live.

I read this in one sitting - you are gripped from the begining. You know Anne survives from the title page but you are still entirely gripped by the story and how it unfolds - and are horrified that she may be dissected before the Doctors realise what has happened. Real people play their part and are skillfully woven into the fiction created here. Historical fiction seems to be enjoying a new vogue - enjoy this one as it is one of the best...

The Last Resort Library by Irving Finkel

This was one of those spur of the moment purchases - I had just discovered the joys of the London Review bookshop and was having a lovely mooch around it's well chosen shelves when I saw this book on the counter. The library on the front cover (and the title) were enough to intrigue me - so I picked it up and started to read the prologue -

"The Library is situated" said the short entry in the Guide to British Libraries A-L, "in pleasant rolling countryside not too far from Hereford, and is perhaps most readily accessible by private motor vehicle."

Well, that was me hooked! I leafed through the book and joy of joys it's illustrated - Jenny Kallin's blocky, naive woodcut (?) illustrations are a delight - full of humorous detail and fun. They add enjoyment to the wonderfully eccentric life of a library dedicated to collecting unpublished works - and all the rejection letters that go with them! This is a darkly humorous read - full of the day to day problems that such an odd institution may expect to see.... read it!

Irving Finkel is a curator at the British Museum and one feels he talks with affection and humour - albeit black humour about some of his colleagues......

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Once Upon a Time in the North - Philip Pullman

This is another element in the His Dark Materials saga. This book explores the first meeting of Lee Scoresby, the Texan balloonist, and Iorek Byrnison - the armoured bear. The sense of cold in the far north has seeped into the human inhabitants and made them devious and politically corrupt. Lee and Iorek form an unlikely alliance that will help some of the innocent people caught up in the problems in the town of Novy Odense.

This is a superb short novella - illustrated beautifully by engravings by John Lawrence. It is also a lovely object in itself with cloth cover and quality paper production. Any reader of HDM must read this.

Skulduggery Pleasant-Playing with Fire by Derek Landy

Derek Landy started life as a screen writer and this certainly shows in his style which creates a rollercoaster of a ride.

The skelton detective Skulduggery and his sidekick Valkyrie Cain (Stephanie to her family) have to defeat terrible evil in the form of Baron Vengeous who is trying to master the deadly armour of Lord Vile and thus gain world domination....

This is a rip roaring adventure that will pull the reader into the story and keep them reading right to the exciting end. This is the second in the series - and more promised for the future.
Great for top of primary schools!

Mariah Mundi- The Midas Box by G P Taylor

I was really looking forward to reading this book - I had enjoyed G P Taylor's previous output but there is something about the set up - a slight fantasy location that tries to be mysterious and scary gothic at the same time. There was a sense of threat but it wasn't engaging enough to help me finish the book.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Ghostscape by Joe Layburn

Aisha - a somali girl living in East London is prone to fainting attacks. Each time she collapses she is transported to her area, but in World War II - and she meets Richard who is actually using her old school building as a shelter. Aisha realises that the school she knows is a new building and sets out to investigate what happened to the old one. This leads Aisha to discover the history of her area, to try to save Richard, and also in the process to come to terms with the difficulties she has been having with her mother and her culture.

This short novel is based on the real life case of an East End school bombed in WWII. It is easily accessible and should prove a successful first novel for this debut author. The handling of the gritty background, a bullying theme and a multicultural theme make it an interesting modern ghost story - always popular.

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

A boy and his uncle discover a body in the bog when they are illegally cutting peat on the borders of N Ireland during the height of the troubles in Ireland. Fergus's brother is in the Maze prison on hunger strike, there are Provisional IRA people in the local community, and a bomber working around the area. Into this mix come Cora and her Mum to investigate Fergus's find from an archaeological viewpoint - and all Fergus has to do is keep everything together, pass his A levels and thus escape from the situation - whilst falling in love with Cora, of course.

This is a very tightly scripted story - totally believable and engaging. Siobhan Dowd was a huge loss to the children and young people's arena

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret

As Shirley Hughes (illustrator and author) can be heard saying - it's a shame that children's books lost their illustrations over the years as children get to be more confident readers - a trend that graphic novels and this book do something to redress.

This book starts with a series of original drawings that slowly reveal the location of the story from a distant view of the world slowly focussing in to the railway station where the majority of thte action takes place. At over 500 pages this seems like a mammoth read, but as the book contains nearly 300 pages of drawings, photos and film stills the form of the book will encourage readers who may have never tackled a whole book before.

The story is of Hugo's fascination with an automaton - and through this how he finds out about his dead fathers fascination with old film - and discovers the true identity of the sinister old toy maker.

Anne Cassidy- Forget me Not

A real cracker of a novel from the author of Looking for JJ. A child goes missing in the middle of the night from what appears to be an ordinary suburban street, but there are repercussions for another family living in the street. Stella Parfit is watching horrified as she sees the tale unfolding in front of her, until the police arrive to interview her mother and the horror, fear and darkness of the situation unfolds.

A real thriller - very compassionate but totally honest - and a real cracking read for young people.

Ian Rankin - The Black Book

A treat - an adult book for a change! The fifth Rebus novel which underlined that Rankin joins the elite of crime writers. Wonderfully phrased and beautifully plotted this book reveals itself as you turn the page. As a colleague is attacked this draws Rebus into investigating a long unsolved case involving a hotel fire and a dead body. Rebus has to unravel the seemingly unrelated clues and hints. Dark and dangerous - and well worth a read.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

The Bone Magician by F E Higgins

This is the second book from the author of the 'Black Book of Secrets' although the events in this book run concurrently with those in the first book. The names of the characters and places in this novel are wonderfully inventive and add to the fantasy/horror aspect of the tale.

The Bone Magician is a sort of fairground side show where the dead appear to be raised and talk again - but somehow everything seems to be tied up with the Silver Apple Killer who stalks the street at night apparently killing any random passerby - and Pin himself is left wondering if he is the son of the killer as his father disappeared about the time the killings started.

A good read with just enough grime and horror to make it appeal to primary children with fluent reading skills.

Barnaby Grimes - Curse of the Night Wolf

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell have created another winning formula for young people - a book about Barnaby Grimes - a sort of slightly skewed victorian courier service operative in a fantasy city where strange creatures can roam the night rooftops. This is a macabre new story, with lots of intrigue and horror (but not too terrifying!) It rushes on at a pace so that it is difficult to put down - and the turn of the page to reveal one of Riddell's detailed and fantastic illustration is always a joy.

Monday, 28 January 2008

100 Books Children Should Read - Michael Morpurgo

Interesting article in the Telegraph today - Michael Morpurgo, ex Children's Laureate and established author - writing an introduction to a collection of 100 Books Children Should Read. The list aside (there are always titles you feel are missing) this is a brief outline of one child's path to being a reader and writer, with a critique of the current educational situation and the pleasure of family reading. Click on Arts, then Books

Alan Bennett - The Uncommon Reader

Bennett is always a pleasure to read - I like the way I always read him with his voice echoing in my head so it seems I have had an individual audience with him! This is an affectionate fantasy on what might happen if the Queen suddenly became interested in reading, and developed into an avid reader - because she happens upon a Westminster mobile library parked outside the palace. Whilst being a little subversive and gently humorous Bennett actually sets out a strong case for the benefits of reading -it's a short novel - do read it!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Airman - Eoin Colfer

On the surface this is a rattling good adventure with lots of action, revenge and plots and counter plots. Where an idealist follows his dreams, but is forced into action by circumstance. On another level it is a story of human spirit and how to survive against the odds. A really well constructed tale of heroic action that will appeal to all Colfer fans, and will reach new audiences who have not yet met his other creations. A page turner that carries you through the story rooting for Conor all the way.

To find out more

Friday, 25 January 2008

The idea of this blog is to let anyone interested know what I am reading - to make recommendations for further reading - me to you and you to me, and to stimulate debate and discussion on reading generally.

For a thought provoking read try Slightly Foxed - a quarterly journal that reviews across a wide range of reading matter and has added to my list of want to reads in the future

Currently reading Eoin Colfer The Airman - a new direction for him - and very gripping...