Posts Tagged ‘childrens’

The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Watcher in the Shadows

Published
09/05/2013

Publisher
Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

ISBN
9781444001655

Source
Publisher

My Rating
5 stars

I am a big fan of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s writing, both his adult and children’s novels, since I first read The Shadow of the Wind when it was published in 2004.    Since then I have enjoyed his two other books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle,  The Angel’s Game and The Prisoner of Heaven.  There has been quite a gap between each adult novel being published but Zafon aficianados have been sustained in the interim by his Niebla (Mist) series for Young Adults which were originally written in the 90s but have recently been translated by Lucia Graves who did such a splendid job of translating Zafon’s adult novels.

Like Zafon, I fervently believe that storytelling transcends age and that his YA novels appeal to any reader who  loves magic and mystery so I was delighted to dive into The Watcher in the Shadows, the third of the Niebla series, a cycle of books which can be read as stand-alone novels as their linking theme is mystery and adventure rather than a series of characters.

In The Watcher in the Shadows you can see the first germinating seeds of Zafon’s masterful storytelling skills, that elegant Gothic style steeped in mystery and magic with an aura of malevolence haunting the narrative.  Our setting is Normandy, France in the summer of 1937.  Recently widowed Simone Sauvelle and her young children Irene and Dorian hope to make a fresh start in the small coastal village of Blue Bay where Simone has secured a post as housekeeper to Lazarus Jann, an inventor and toy manufacturer, who resides in a secluded mansion with his invalid wife.  Lazarus is the only person allowed to attend to his wife and they lead a rather unconventional life surrounded by the automatons and other fantastic pieces created by the toymaker.

At first, the omens look favourable for the Sauvelles.   Young teen, Irene, falls in love with a local boy.  Dorian is taken under Lazarus’ wing.  Simone feels settled and happy in her work.  Perhaps it is all a bit too perfect?  Indeed, fortunes change when a dark, malevolent force is unleashed and the reader is led on a breathtaking adventure with plenty of scary moments en route!   Its a fabulous, rollicking tale filled with suspense and mystery – a story which harks back to ripping yarns of years gone by but don’t expect a fairytale ending…  Highly recommended for both young  and old(er) adventurers.

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Better than Easter Eggs…

Posted in Children's Books on March 26th, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

If you’re looking for something for your children for Easter why not buy them a book…much more nutritious for their brains! :-)

The following reviews are of sequels to books which my children and I loved so we had a feeling they would be good.

Source – from Net Galley

Random House Children’s Publishers UK

Pub Date: May 2 2013 for paperback release
Big Change for Stuart is the sequel to Small Change for Stuart and they both revolve around the adventures of 10 year old, short for his age, Stuart Horten (S.Horten..). Suitable for confident male and female readers from about 7 years and over, this makes a pleasant change from the sparkly, pony/unicorn/fairy/wizard, adventures which are usually targeted at this age group. The result is an intelligently written adventure story which has an old-fashioned ring to it but still translates well into the modern, technological era.

The characters are likeable and interesting. Stuart is a curious young boy, keen to investigate the legacy of his Great Uncle who was a stage magician. He is accompanied on his adventures by his intrepid companion April as they solve the mysteries surrounding each piece of magical apparatus used during his Great Uncle’s stage act. Another engaging character is Stuart’s father who has tendency to use multisyllabic words – his job as a crossword compiler tends to hinder rather than aid his communication skills!

The book is split into short, snappy chapters and set out like a series of puzzles which will appeal to many young children. Even though this is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone but of course you will immediately want to read the first book anyway!

Highly recommended for children with inquiring minds who enjoy a touch of magic.

Itch Rocks

Random House Children’s Publishers UK

Pub Date: Feb 28 2013
Considering my 12 year old son and I (late 40s..) both loved the first in this series we were keenly anticipating the follow up, Itch Rocks. We are delighted to report that it is a worthy successor and having devoured it over a few days we can’t wait for the next in the series.

Itchingham Lofte’s life has changed dramatically since his disposal of the “rocks” and he and his family are now under constant surveillance and even have security personnel living with them as well as next door! Any hopes of Itch making new friends are dashed by his living in the spotlight and he lives under the constant threat of being kidnapped as he has refused to tell anyone (even the good guys) about the location of element 126.

Itch Rocks is a really gripping, adventure story with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. As well as introducing some more elements and their more interesting properties, there are more characters to meet all adding to the fun! Never have caesium and bismuth been more appealing…

Oh and one for the girls from Eva who highly recommends Jacqueline Wilson’s latest novel, Queenie.

Queenie

Hardcover, 410 pages
Published January 31st 2013 by Doubleday Childrens

Review courtesy of Eva aged 9.

Queenie is a heartwarming tale about Elsie Kettle, a girl in 1953, who desperately wants to see the Queen’s Coronation. She lives with her Nan in a little but cosy basement flat. When her Nan gets very poorly, Elsie’s life is turned upside down. Her Mum comes to look after her but when Elsie gets ill, she is taken away from everything she ever knew. Now she will have to make new friends and this leads to a friendship with a majestic white cat called Queenie but will Ever ever be reunited with her Nan?

This is one of Jacqueline Wilson’s historical novels which I especially enjoy. It has a twist in the tale and will keep you gripped until the last page.

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Fire Spell – Laura Amy Schlitz

Posted in Children's Books on November 21st, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

Expect a selection of reviews of children’s books in the run up to Christmas as I have been vetting a few for Luke and Eva and I always like to know what they’re getting when they open a book…plus I enjoy them too. :-)  This one is destined for Eva who is a little bookworm so she will love it.  I wouldn’t recommend it for reluctant readers as it is a fairly hefty tome at almost 400 pages and it would bore Luke silly but then he’s 12 and he hates fantasy unless there are zombies…

Fire Spell

Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 13th 2012 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
My Rating – 4 stars – almost there!
Set in Victorian London in 1860, Fire Spell will appeal to young readers with a penchant for magical adventure and fantasy. Clara Wintermute comes from a wealthy but rather melancholy family, not surprising given that all her siblings were wiped out by cholera. She longs for some excitement in her life and this comes in the shape of the puppeteer, Grisini, a Fagin-like character and his young urchin assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall (the Artful Dodger?). Unfortunately, in true Victorian melodrama style, all does not bode well and Clara ends up imprisoned in the body of a puppet while Grisini engages in magical and mental battle with the aged witch Cassandra. Will Clara ever return to human form? Can Lizzie Rose and Parsefall help her whilst evading the clutches of their evil master? Does Cassandra have a human heart after all?

Yes, it’s all rather melodramatic but extremely good fun and reminiscent of the adventures of E Nesbit’s characters with touches of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and The Graveyard Book as well as a pinch of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart Trilogy. Targeted at the 9-12 age group, at almost 400 pages, I think it’s perhaps only suitable for very confident readers in the younger age bracket but it is an enjoyable romp of a read for anyone who enjoys an exciting, magical, well plotted story with no great surprises en route.

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All Fall Down – Sally Nicholls

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on March 19th, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

All Fall Down

Published
01/03/2012

Publisher
Marion Lloyd Books

My Rating – 5 stars (if like me, you love excellent historical fiction for children)

Award winning author Sally Nicholls won me over with her wonderful debut novel, Ways To Live Forever,  a poignant contemporary story which was published in 2008.  She has since written Seasons of Secrets (2009), contemporary fiction with a taste of magic, and her latest, All Fall Down, is her first foray into historical fiction, set in Yorkshire during the Black Death in the mid 14th century.

At the moment so much Childrens/YA fiction is concerned with post-apocalyptic dystopias but, as Sally Nicholls points out in a note at the end of her novel, “The Black Death was the single biggest catastrophe in historical memory. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but was probably somewhere between a third and a half of Europe.”  This historical period certainly provides a compelling and dramatic backdrop for the story of Isabel and her family. 

Our story begins in the summer of 1349 and events are narrated by fourteen year old Isabel who lives in the tiny village of Ingleforn in Yorkshire.  She and her family are “villeins”, tied to the land which they rent from the lord of the manor so they can’t just up sticks and leave at the first sniff of pestilence.  Thus, they begin a game of waiting, a tense time during which Isabel and her siblings have to grow up very quickly and cope with whatever fate hurls at them.

Told in the present tense, this is a gripping, vivid tale which will appeal to a range of ages especially those who appreciate interesting, believable characters and writing which immerses you right in 1349, capturing the idiosyncrasies of village life and the burgeoning fear which takes root in the hearts and minds of the villagers.  Will caring for friends who have lost family to the plague end up endangering your own family?  How quickly can mistrust and deceit thrive in this atmosphere of malevolence and decay? 

A lot happens, we get to know many different characters and we experience a variety of settings, town and country, abbey and village church but Sally Nicholls demonstrates such an ease in her writing that the reader never feels rushed or manipulated.  An excellent historical novel with a lot of human heart, highly recommended for readers of all ages and one which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pat Walsh’s Crowfield series.

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Liesl and Po – Lauren Oliver

Posted in Children's Books on October 12th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Liesl and Po is the first of Lauren Oliver’s novels to be targeted at middle grade readers (age 8-12).  Following the sudden death of her best friend, Oliver wrote this book in a two month period as a type of confessional and a way of exploring her grief. 

The title immediately reminded me of Hansel and Gretel and it does have that ethereal, fairytale feel.  Liesl’s beloved father has just died and she is locked up in an attic room by her cruel stepmother, Augusta.  One night she is visited by Po, a ghost of indeterminate gender and his animal companion, Bundle (cat,dog, hamster?).  She enlists Po’s help to contact her father on the “other side”.   This is the story of Liesl’s quest to lay her father’s spirit to rest, a quest which is thwarted by other characters such as her stepmother, an evil alchemist and the redoutable Lady Premiere. 

The characters inhabit a grey and murky world, almost Dickensian at times although the time period and location are deliberately uncertain.  The wonderful grey, pencil illustrations complement this vague, dream-like world perfectly. 

All in all, a very charming tale but, unfortunately, the characters never really emerge from their initial pantomime like introduction.  Yes, they are beautifully drawn, but they lacked depth (both the ghosts and the living ones!)  and I would have loved to have discovered more about their back stories – an opportunity missed?

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The Crowfield Demon – Pat Walsh

Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction on July 28th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

Having really enjoyed the first Crowfield book last year, I was eager to catch up with William and the rest of the inhabitants of Crowfield Abbey including Brother Walter, the endearing hob and the enigmatic fay Shadlock.

It is now March 1348 and a year has passed since the shenanigans involving the fallen angel in the woods and the subsequent battle between good and evil.  Surely, peace will now reign in this cloistered domain but alas, there is no rest for the wicked given the evil aura which seems to be settling over the church at Crowfield, tainting the inhabitants’ thoughts be they awake or asleep.

William, Brother Walter, Shadlock and Brother Snail join forces to track down the source of this malevolence and hopefully conquer it.  However they cannot do this without drawing on pagan powers such as alchemy – where will it all end?  As usual, the rest of the monks look down on William and don’t take his warnings seriously – yes, they will regret it!

Pat Walsh has succeeded in keeping up the pace of her first Crowfield novel, cranking up the tension and increasing the mystery of William’s family, leaving the reader chomping at the bit for the next instalment in this exciting medieval fantasy.  Highly recommended for ages 9-12 and “big kids” too!

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Century by Sarah Singleton

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on March 4th, 2011 by admin – 4 Comments

I have read and enjoyed one other novel by Sarah Singleton, Heretic,  so I looked forward to Century.   It’s a short, very readable novel targeted at young teens but also suitable for adults who enjoy a sprinkling of magic and fantasy in their reading.

Mercy and her younger sister Charity live in a world of darkness and mystery at their desolate home, Century.  They rise as the sun sets and sleep during the day in an environment which is permanently Winter.  Indeed it’s a bit like that film Groundhog Day at Century as each day is the same as the last with the girls having the same breakfast prepared by Aurelia, the housekeeper and then lessons with Galatea, their governess followed by a walk in the moonlit gardens.  The only other inhabitant of Century is their father Trajan who doesn’t figure much in the lives of his daughters, preferring to stay in the shadows of this already sombre abode.

At first, I was slightly irked by the vagueness of Mercy’s circumstances, I was jumping to conclusions, thinking they must be vampires and almost tempted to abandon book but I soon realised that the cloudiness of the opening chapters mirrors the dreamlike state in which the characters exist, almost like Sleeping Beauty in her castle, waiting for a handsome prince to come and break the spell.  Could the mysterious Claudius be the prince who can rescue Mercy from the darkness and revive her forgotten memories?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out!

There isn’t a great deal of character development as it’s a short book but the plot is extremely well crafted.  The descriptions of Century are eerily atmospheric and other-worldly and in Mercy we have a likeable, resourceful young heroine, determined to take control of her own destiny whatever dangers lie in her path.  I also loved the revelations of why Century is locked in perpetual Winter and how it fits in with the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed the parallels with Frankenstein.  All in all, a very enjoyable read which stirs the imagination and one I’ll be keeping for my daughter to read when she’s older.

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Review – Now by Morris Gleitzman

Posted in Australian fiction, Children's Books on June 27th, 2010 by admin – 6 Comments

ONCE upon a time there was a 10 year old Jewish boy called Felix whose parents were taken away by the Nazis.  THEN, his close friend and ally, Zelda, was taken away from him also.  NOW, Felix is 80, living in Australia, and trying to protect another Zelda, his grandaughter who is also our narrator.  

NOW is the conclusion to Morris Gleitzman’s wonderful trilogy for children which brings us from 1940s Poland to present day Australia.  The author insists that all three books can be read as stand-alones and I suppose that, technically, that is true but if you want to reap the full benefit of these short but powerful novels, you need to read them in the right order, Once, Then and Now.

Even though NOW is firmly set in the present, there are constant reminders of Felix’s past experiences.  Zelda has some idea of his past but has been sheltered from the more brutal episodes.  She loves her Grandfather dearly but seems to inevitably end up getting into scrapes despite her best intentions – including nearly causing a bushfire.  Indeed, the dreadful trauma wrought by the Victorian bushfires of 2009 are vividly presented here. At 167 pages, this is a quick yet substantial read and alongside its fellow novels, would be an excellent way to introduce children to the Holocaust without frightening them off completely.

Although perhaps less poignant than its predecessors, it is a fitting conclusion as we return to the present and see how future generations have been affected yet are still able to move ahead in a positive manner.  The memory of Zelda lives on.  I will ensure that my own children will get the opportunity to read this trilogy and recommend it to all adults too, especially when we need reminded to count our blessings.

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Eva’s Latest Loot – April 2010

Posted in Eva's Books on April 24th, 2010 by admin – 8 Comments

A diverse collection comprised of library loans, charity shop purchases and competition wins.  We’ve already had several reads of Thumbelina (50p from Oxfam!) and My First Knock Knock  joke book has been well used… there is of course a Magic Kitten and Magic Pony plus some ballet inspired stories in Nina Fairy Ballerina and Ballet School Carousel.  Eva has loved lots of the Rita the Rescuer series by Hilda Offen, excellent for independent readers around 6-8 – this time we got Rita in Rocky Park but she’s nearly finished the whole series so are on the lookout for something similar.  Junie B Jones is another series which Eva really enjoys – we even learn a lot about life in kindergarten and first grade in the US, Junie is like an American version of Sophie from the Dick King Smith stories which Eva also loves.

Two great charity shop buys were Gwyneth Rees’s Fairy Gold (Gwyneth Rees is a firm favourite) and Stanley’s Christmas Adventure – yes, we’re getting ready for the festive season already, well book wise anyway!  Flat Stanley can do no wrong in this household.  From the library we got Lauren Child’s fabulous Who Wants to be a Poodle, I don’t – we have read most of the Charlie and Lola series and also have some Clarice Bean plus a beautiful version of Pippi Longstocking illustrated by Lauren Child.   We have spent all week taking turns to do all the tongue twisters from Dr Seuss’s Rhymes, Riddles and Nonsense – I think it must be even better than Brain Training for keeping the old grey cells turning over!   Life wouldn’t be complete without a Rainbow Fairy addition, this time Destiny the Pop Star Fairy which Eva has borrowed from a friend – she has decided to set up a mini mobile library in her class and has started a book exchange!

Last but not least, Eva got her share of our prize win from Lucy Coat’s blog, The  Beasts in the Jar and The Dolphin’s Message - if I can get her dragged away from the fairies, ballerinas and fluffy animals for a while, I’m looking forward to introducing her to the Greek Myths.

Phew, that’s enough to keep us going for quite a while – I am going to have to buy another plain bookshelf and paint it pink to match the one I painted for her only 3 months ago!

PS – the books are not actually as long and thin in real life…must be my camera – if only it would have the same effect on pictures of me! ;-)

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Review – Jordan Stryker, Bionic Agent – Malcolm Rose

Posted in Children's Books on March 16th, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

Jordan Stryker: Bionic Agent

My Rating = A

Format – Paperback

Published
28/05/2010

Publisher
Usborne Publishing Ltd

ISBN
9781409509752

 

Ben Smith no longer exists – he was severely injured in a huge bomb explosion which wreaked havoc in the South of England.  But, just like The Six Million Dollar Man (or Astroboy for those too young to recall Steve Austin) “we can rebuild him”. 

A top secret agency, Unit Red, even more secret than MI5, has the technology to repair and replace Ben’s injured limbs and he is reborn as Jordan Stryker, a cybernetically enhanced teenager complete with bionic arm, supersonic hearing, enhanced vision and the ability to remotely access computers – everything a young boy would love!

In this fast paced adventure story, Jordan is assigned the task of discovering the identity of the bomber who was responsible for his injuries and for wiping out his family.  He does this by a process of elimination, visiting all known suspects and using his special skills to eventually get to the truth but he is not allowed to let anyone know of his previous incarnation as Ben Smith, not even his friend and budding romantic interest, Amy Goss who happens to be the daughter of a local gangland boss – phew, there’s so much going on!

Simple yet strong prose makes this ideal for young boys (about 9+) who enjoy a fast paced thriller including bombs, speed boats, explosions  with the added bonus of the whodunnit element.  But it’s not all show – I liked the way the author portrays Jordan’s inner sadness at being forced to give up his previous life and relinquish all that is normal for a teenager.  At first all these cyber enhancements are a novelty for him - what young boy would turn up his nose at having supersonic hearing and x ray vision – but working as an undercover agent for Unit Red is certainly not child’s play.

A gripping, unputdownable read which will really appeal to any boy who has a taste for adventure and gadgets – Alex Rider and Young James Bond had better up their game, there’s a new kid in town!

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