Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Children's Books I read this summer

I am a lover of children's fiction anyway, but my six year old son has become a very competent reader over the last six months or so which has definitely reawakened my fondness of the genre.  Here are the children's books I've read this summer (I already blogged the YA fiction I read over the summer here ).

Ballet Shoes- Noel Streatfeild

The Blurb
Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are sisters - with a difference. Pauline was saved from a shipwreck as a baby. Petrova was found in a Russian hospital and Posy was from a family so poor that they couldn't look after her. All three were adopted as babies by Great Uncle Matthew, an eccentric and rich explorer . . . who then disappeared, leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia.

The girls grow up in comfort and wealth until their money begins to run out and nobody can track Great Uncle Matthew down. At first Sylvia takes in lodgers but soon even that's not enough. Things look bleak until they hit on an inspired idea: Pauline, Petrova and Posy will take to the stage.

But it's not long before the Fossils learn that being a star isn't as easy as they first thought . .

The Review
As a girl I LOVED this book.  Although I was never likely to be a nimble little ballerina, I shared the dreams of being the next Margot Fonteyn with every other tutu-wearing girl in my dance class, and Ballet Shoes is the classic fiction book about the dance world for every wannabe prima ballerina. 

Coming back to it as an adult, I did approach it in a different way.  I suppose I found it harder to relate to the girls, and each of the Fossil sisters had character traits I found irritating- petulance, arrogance, selfishness- which I don't remember noticing as much as a child.  Perhaps it is only with a bit more life experience behind me that I truly realised just how hard people were working to give them the best opportunities they could, and I wanted them to see how blooming lucky they were given their starts in life. 

Although this story (written in 1936) is undoubtedly dated, there's enough of a plot to appeal to a younger reader, and the relationship between the sisters and the differences in their personalities ensures there is something for everyone.  It's a bit of a Little Women for younger children. 

Did I love it as much as I remembered?  I must be honest and say no.  But Noel Streatfeild writes in the most beautiful, eloquent way, vividly painting images in her readers minds, and that is why Ballet Shoes has remained so popular and will continue to be so for generations to come.  I plan to read some more of her books- there is a whole series of 'shoes' books, plus a plethora of books for adults too.  If her style is as fluid and evocative in those, then I know I am in for a treat.

Frankie and the World Cup Carnival- Frank Lampard

The Blurb
Publishing as a Special, Frankie's biggest adventure ever sees him magic-ed to Brazil to help take the England team to World Cup victory. Can he save the tournament?

The Review
My son bought this one with a book token he was given by his Godparents, and he was absolutely thrilled.  He's a football addict, and these books are at just the right level for him- chapter books of around 100 pages with plenty of illustrations to break up the bulk of text.

We've read a few of the other 'Frankie' books, and they are certainly formulaic.  As an adult, I found that a bit irritating, but Zachary liked the familiarity and it gave him opportunities to predict where the plot might go. 

This one is all about the World Cup in Brazil and Frankie and his friends are thrown into the lively, colourful scene, building up to a climactic finale.

These aren't the most gripping stories out there, nor are they the most well-written, but there is a definite market for them with younger football fanatics.  The added bonus of Top Trump style cards at the back of the book only added to the appeal in my six year olds eyes.

Secret Seven Short Stories- Enid Blyton
The Blurb
A secret store of stolen silver, a surprising view through a telescope, a shrill scream on a night out, a disappearing cash box and a dangerous accident and a trap for the Secret Seven!

This collection includes the following short stories: The Secret of Old Mill; The Humbug Adventure; Adventure On The Way Home; An Afternoon with The Secret Seven; Where are The Secret Seven?; Hurry, Secret Seven, Hurry!

The Review
A few months back, my son and I made a rare visit to McDonalds for tea.  He ordered the obligatory Happy Meal and was chuffed to bits with a mini Enid Blyton book, which happened to be The Secret of the Old Mill, one of the stories in this collection.  He finished it in one sitting and asked he could have more Secret Seven books.  I found this book on Amazon and it sounded perfect for him to read alone and follow the plot, something he sometimes struggles with in longer books.

I read the stories first, then Zachary read them himself at bedtime.  I'd then ask him to recap the story and ask him some questions to see how much he'd understood/taken in.  This worked really well as he enjoyed telling the story in his own words (and I enjoyed finding hearing how he interpreted the book!).

They are 'of their time', but there is a reason Enid Blyton books have continued to remain popular with generations of younger readers.  The sense of adventure and the clubhouse, passwords and secrecy only adds to the appeal of these stories.

These are definitely a perfect introduction to the series for younger children or newly independent readers.

Viva Alice! - Judi Curtin

The Blurb
Alice and Megan are back together again! When they are together, they can handle anything!

Grace invites Alice and Megan to spend Easter in her house in Lanzarote. The girls are accidentally left home-alone for two days in the house. It’s fun at first, until they become trapped on an upstairs balcony and spend a long cold night and day waiting to be rescued!

Meanwhile Melissa is still unhappy at boarding school. Alice wants to help her to get back to their school, but Megan sees this as a betrayal. Tension mounts between the two girls, until Megan gives in and agrees to help. In the end, Melissa comes back, and Megan realises that she is confident enough to stand up to her.

The Review
I was sent this book for review and was immediately drawn to the attractive cover-it was bright, cheery and age appropriate, and gave me a taste of what to expect.

Judi Curtin is not an author I have heard of before, although by all accounts she is fairly prolific- this is the 8th book in the series and she's also written other books for younger readers.  The back cover quote from the Irish Independent claimed her as 'Ireland's answer to Jacqueline Wilson'- high praise indeed!  This book also reminded me of Beverley Cleary and a book I read at school back in the 1980s My Best Fiend.

Viva Alice! was a fabulous story of friendship, loyalty and family, and most of all it was funny.  I laughed a lot at the madcap escapades of the girls and the quirky, larger-than-life extended cast.  The holiday setting gave scope for plenty of drama which was fulfilled through both mishaps and mischief.

Looking beyond the plot, this is actually a really well written book with a quick pace and well developed characters.

Overall, I imagine this will be a popular book with girls 10-12 (and also with me-I want to read the rest now!)

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Viva Alice! is out now, published by O'Brien. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Cover Reveal for Mexican Kimono by Billie Jones!

I read Snake Typhoon by Billie Jones at the start of the year, and am VERY excited to be able to reveal the beautiful cover for her upcoming release Mexican Kimono.  And it is absolutely STUNNING.  Roll on 8th September when it is unleashed on the world!!!!
Author Bio:

 Billie Jones is a writer from Australia who enjoys imaging herself wrestling killer crocodiles and swimming with great white sharks. She thinks she may have to attempt base jumping so she can write about it and Bungee is on the list too. You can find her either in front of her computer writing about her fictional adventures or at the beach searching for the next perfect wave.

Monday, 18 August 2014

The Dinosaur that Pooped the Past- Tom Fletcher and Dougie Poynter

Oh. My. Word.  There is a new Pooping Dinosaur book out!  Let's just say there has been a bit of excitement about this one in our house (and not just from my son-we both squealed in equal measure when it landed on the doormat).  I love McFly and have long been aware of the warped sense of humour the band have, but my son Zachary knows Tom and Dougie only as authors-he didn't believe me when I went to watch McBusted and said Tom and Dougie were in the band!

The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet and The Dinosaur that Pooped Christmas are firm favourites here, so this latest instalment had a lot to live up to.  It's another brilliant read- children will love it and adults will be grossed out by it.  But when you've finished you'll have a smile on your face, whatever your age.

Here's my review (in funky Pooping Dino style rhyme)...

It's Danny's Gran's birthday, her party's today
But Danny and Dinosaur just want to play.
She's filled up the table with food that is green,
Probably the most green food you've ever seen.
Sweeties and biscuits and cakes it is not
But with one giant gulp Dinosaur eats the lot.

They head to the garden to play on the swing,
When suddenly something strange starts happening.
They're swinging and looping and going real fast
Then SNAP!- with a bump they're both in the past.

But Danny and Dino spy cracks in the dirt.
The lava is dangerous, the lava is hot,
This volcano could wipe out the past, the whole lot!
But Dinosaur knows just what he can do
He can save the whole lot with a rip-roaring poo.

It's pretty disgusting, but you want specifics?
He's pooping Egyptians who love hieroglyphics!
He poops baby dinosaurs, cute as can be,
He even poops Roman and Trojans, you'll see!
He's pooping out artefacts, ancient and rare,
This dinosaur poop's going everywhere!

Of course, in the end they are all safe and sound
They're back in the future, with feet on the ground.
With Dinosaur's help they escaped the great quake
and are back to eat Gran's birthday broccoli cake.

This book is disgusting (it's all about poo),
But I must admit it is hilarious too.
The pictures are awesome, eye-catching and bold,
And the story in rhyme? It is comedy gold.

My six year old's view when I asked him to rate?
'The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past is just GREAT'.

With thanks to Random House Children's Books for providing me with a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past is out now.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Young Adult books I've read this summer

Well, I've been without a laptop for the past month.  It's been VERY annoying.  And not exactly conducive to blogging.  So, instead of individual posts, I decided the best way to catch up on reviews would be to do quickfire posts by genre, starting with my favourite- Young Adult.

So, here's what I've read this summer...

Boys Don't Knit by T.S. Easton
The Blurb

Ben Fletcher must get to grips with his more 'feminine' side following an unfortunate incident with a lollipop lady and a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso from Waitrose.

All a big misunderstanding of course.

To avoid the Young Offenders unit, Ben is ordered to give something back to the community and develop his sense of social alignment. Take up a hobby and keep on the straight and narrow. The hot teacher he likes runs a knitting group so Ben, reluctantly at first, gets 'stuck in'. Not easy when your dad is a sports fan and thinks Jeremy Clarkson is God. To his surprise, Ben finds that he likes knitting and that he has a mean competitive streak. If he can just keep it all a secret from his mates...and notice that the girl of his dreams, girl-next-door Megan Hooper has a bit of a thing for him...

Laugh-out-loud, often ridiculous, sometimes quite touching, and revelatory about the knitting world, Boys Don't Knit is a must for boys and girls...

The Review
This book is laugh out loud funny.  From the scene where Ben and his friends try and steal alcohol (from Waitrose, no less) I was hooked.  I loved Ben- he's a teenager bumbling through life, wondering how on earth he finds himself in the situations he does.  He's a bit like one of The Inbetweeners, certainly not perceived as cool by the majority of his peers, yet desperate to fit in-or at least, not stand out.

Don't let the knitting bit throw you, this book is about friendship, family and challenging stereotypes rather than crafting.  I enjoyed it much more than I expected to, and will definitely be getting hold of a copy of the sequel, An English Boy in New York.

Hot Key Books never fail to push the boundaries of YA fiction, and Boys Don't Knit doesn't disappoint. 

If I had to describe it in one word= hilarious

With thanks to Hot Key books for providing me with a review copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.  Boys Don't Knit is out now.

Lola and the Boy Next Door- Stephanie Perkins
The Blurb
Budding designer Lola has an outrageous sense of style, a hot rocker boyfriend and big plans for the future. Everything is perfect - until Cricket Bell returns to the neighbourhood. When he steps back into her world, Lola must reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. And perhaps discover that true love can be closer than you think.

The Review
Earlier this year I read Anna and the French Kiss and fell truly, madly, deeply in love with its hero, Etienne St Clair.  I was literally itching, like a girl with intense allergies, to read the next in the series, Lola and The Boy Next Door. 

Firstly, it isn't a sequel as such.  Anna and Etienne do have small cameo appearances throughout (which disappointed me somewhat- Etienne was nowhere near as alluring as he was in Anna), but this is very much the story of Lola, the quirky girl who has two Dad's and an alcoholic mother, and Cricket, the 'boy next door'.  And their story is angsty, and cute, and touching.  If I fell in love with Etienne, I full on adored Cricket Bell, despite his ridiculous name.  He's been living in his twin sisters shadow his whole life, but instead of being bitter, he's genuinely happy to support her as she strives for her dreams.  How sweet is that?  He's a bit of a geek, but that's part of his charm.

The plot is a 'will they/won't they' tug of war and as I got to know Lola and Cricket more as the book progressed I wanted to bash their heads together until they realised just how perfect they would be together.

It's got a different feel to Anna and the French Kiss, but is just as enjoyable.  I can't wait to read the final book in the series, Isla and the Happily Ever After.

If I had to compare it to a TV series- Dawson's Creek

If I Stay- Gayle Forman
The Blurb
Life can change in an instant.

A cold February morning . . . a snowy road . . . and suddenly all of Mia's choices are gone. Except one.

As alone as she'll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all.

Gripping, heartrending and ultimately life-affirming, If I Stay will make you appreciate all that you have, all that you've lost - and all that might be.

The Review
If I Stay is that dangerous beast- a book which has received so much hype that the reader expects A LOT.  And I did expect a lot from this book.

The premise, that Mia is hanging somewhere between life and death and needs to choose whether to pull through, is interesting.  It's a thought provoking concept.  But I'm not going to lie, I found it hard going in places.  I wouldn't say it's the kind of book you can enjoy.  Appreciate, yes.  But enjoy?  No.  Whether my age played a part in that, I don't know.  I'm not the target audience, although Forman has definitely passed that transitional line into crossover fiction.  Maybe it was particularly hard for me, as a mother, to contemplate how it would be for a child to lose her whole family?

The strangest thing about this book is how it was only at the end that I realised how much I cared about the characters and their fate.  Yes, there is a love story at the heart of If I Stay, but it's more than that somehow.  It's kind of heartbreaking.

Gayle Forman either has a natural talent for creating engaging characters or she works hard at crafting them.  Not just the leads, but the hospital staff, Mia's best friend Kim...I felt as though they were real people, not just characters in a book.

I didn't know how it would end, which is a feat in itself, and I can see why it has been made into a film.

Does it deserve the hype?  I'm not quite sure.  When I was reading it, I didn't feel much.  But at the end I had ALL THE FEELS.  So I'm a bit torn.  But would I recommend it?  Yes.  Definitely.

If I had to compare it to a song- Never Tear Us Apart by INXS

With thanks to Random House Children's Publishers for providing me with a review copy of If I Stay in return for my honest opinion.

So those are the YA books I've read this summer.  They've all been crackers.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Upside Down- Lia Riley

Upside Down is a new adult novel by up and coming author Lia Riley.  I was grabbed by the promise of an all encompassing romance, and couldn't wait to devote an afternoon of reading to it.

I must admit that the opening didn't immediately grab me.  As with all novels there was all the character development, and it focussed on Talia's insecurities, her OCD and how she was coping with the death of her seemingly perfect older sister Pippa.  It all seemed a bit more serious than I'd been expecting.

However, that changes when Talia runs away to Australia and meets Bran Lockhart, a mysterious hunk with a playboy reputation.  They might not appear to be a match, but they open up to each other, sharing their thoughts and their fears.  Bran's perceptive nature counteracts Talia's insecurities and before long they are dependant on each other. 

It isn't all plain sailing.  There are bumps in the road, particularly when it transpires that maybe Bran hasn't been entirely honest when sharing his life story.  But I took this couple into my heart, and after the turmoil they experienced, they deserved it.

I fell a little bit in love with surferboy Bran.  He's not perfect, not by a long chalk, but there is something about him which lured me in.  He's the playboy every woman believes she can tame.  And yes, he can be a total idiot at times, and thoughtless, and self-obsessed, but he truly cares for Talia.  He sees her for what she is, and loves her as she is.  And that is why this works.  The characters are not airbrushed to perfection, they have the flaws and quirks that are within us all, which gives them relatability (is that a word?  If not it should be).

Lia Riley has written a corker of a debut here, and fans of the genre will be lapping this up.  Humorous and heartfelt, Upside Down is a winner in my book.

Upside Down is out now.

With thanks to the publisher for providing me with a galley copy of this book in return for an honest review.