Posts Tagged ‘children’s fiction’

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 Devil Walks – Anne Fine

Posted in Children's Books on September 16th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

“The Devil Walks” is a gothic thriller for older children and just the right kind of book to curl up  with as the nights draw in.  Our tale is narrated by Daniel who has spent his childhood years sequestered in his bedroom, a reclusive invalid cared for by his widowed mother.  However, all is not as it seems, it turns out that Daniel’s background is shrouded in secrecy and as his story progresses, we discover what dark and dastardly skeletons lurk in the family vaults.

I’m deliberately not giving away any of the plot – suffice to say that those who love a touch of gothic will be very impressed this wonderfully eerie tale.  Family secrets, a mysterious dolls house, a psychotic uncle holed up in a creepy old house – everything to tempt the Gothic gourmand!

Daniel is a really engaging character, not one for snivelling and whinging, he just gets on with things and is determined to discover what motivated his mother to hide him away from the world.  Each revelation serves to further increase his emotional turmoil.  His uncle Severin is evil personified, switching between benevolent and malevolent at the drop of a hat. 

The plot moves swiftly with lots of twists and turns and the language is exquisite, ideally suited to the period setting but not too convoluted as to dissuade young readers.  An extremely well crafted, atmospheric tale which will appeal to all ages.

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Luke and Eva’s Current Reads

Posted in Children's Books, Eva's Books, Luke's books on September 12th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

My poor children have been seriously neglected on the blog what with Luke starting “big”school and Eva going into P4 but they have been busy reading too!  Here are some of their most recent reads as well as some which are on the wishlist for Autumn.

Quite an eclectic mix from Eva, the Morpurgo and Anne Fine books are ones I have been reading to her at bedtime but fairies and occasionally mermaids are still very popular!  I particularly like The Angel of Nitshill Road and the subtle way it deals with bullying.

It’s her birthday in mid-October so I have already gathered a few surprise book gifts to  accompany the main present…of course this is all top secret at the moment!  As the new Wimpy Kid book isn’t out  until November it won’t be part of the birthday present but will certainly be pre-ordered.

Meanwhile Luke has been enjoying the latest Skulduggery Pleasant book, Death Bringer and is looking forward to the new Charlie Higson, The Fear.  I am kept busy researching suitable titles for him, thank goodness we have two excellent library branches nearby!   Below are some of his most recent, current and soon TBR books.

Oh and last but not least, a special mention for a very funny book which kept both of them entertained on holiday in Kildare,  The Donut Diaries of Dermot Milligan, “a British Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with tons of toilet humour.  It’s great when I can find a book they both like which strikes a happy medium between zombies and fairies! 

I love to hear what other folk’s children/grandchildren/younger siblings are reading so if you have any recommendations just shout! :-)

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Fifty Fifty by S L Powell

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on June 29th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Fifty Fifty is S L Powell’s first novel and a very impressive debut it is – it’s a thriller, probably targeted at age 12-16 but it is an equally engaging read for those of a “slightly” older age range including my own good self!

Told in the third-person, our story opens with thirteen year old Gil embarking on a typically teenage row with his parents involving the usual triggers – “your room is a tip”, “I want a mobile phone”, “I’m old enough to look after myself” etc etc…  Gil has had enough, he’s out-grown his once good friend Ben , his Mum seems to be in a dream world and his Dad is the scientist/drill master with no room for flexibility so it’s hardly surprising that Gil gets side-tracked.  Jude, the dynamic, magnetic animal-rights activist, the complete anthesis of Gil’s Dad, is a Messiah-like figure who lifts Gil out of the doldrums and provides the excitement and spark which this bored teen craves.

What follows is an action-packed adventure during which Gil is tested to the limit.  Bit by bit, the secret history of his family is revealed and he is forced to make extremely difficult decisions and obliged to grow up very quickly.   The reader feels his anguish as he is faced with one moral dilemma after another – this really is edge of your seat writing as you just can’t second-guess Gil’s next move.

As well as a gripping personal read, Fifty Fifty would be an excellent group read or school text as it raises so many intriguing questions about the genetic research versus animal rights debate and it presents both sides of the argument in a very balanced way.  However, don’t expect a dull, patronising read as it works equally well as a fast paced,compelling  thriller.  Highly recommended for any young adult with an enquiring mind and perhaps also for we “oldies” who become so engrossed in our own little bubbles that we forget to ask the big questions.

PS – not a zombie/vampire in sight (not even a genetically modified one, hurrah!)

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The Truth about Celia Frost – Paula Rawsthorne

Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on June 10th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

Celia Frost lives her life in constant fear of bleeding to death.  Born with a rare blood disorder, the slightest scratch could have fatal consequences and Celia leads a hermit-like existence, her only company being her over-protective mother, Janice.  They have led a nomadic life but, following a knife attack on Celia, they suddenly flee to Bluebell Estate (not quite the rural idyll the name implies) and Celia embarks on a quest for the truth about her condition, with devastating consequences.

This debut novel is sure to engage young teens with its gripping storyline and feisty heroine.  It’s refreshing to read a gritty, realistic story for Young Adults with not a vampire or dystopian landscape within spitting distance.  The many twists and turns in the plot will keep readers captivated until the very last page – highly recommended for young fans of  fast-paced, realistic narratives.

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Posted in YA Fiction on June 9th, 2011 by admin – 7 Comments

I have experienced equal quantities of dread and delight whilst anticipating A Monster Calls, a novel which is the joint venture of two highly acclaimed authors of YA fiction.  I’ve been dreading it as it will be my last experience of the wonderful writing of Siobhan Dowd who died in 2007 aged 47.  Siobhan was the author of four brilliant novels, two of which were published posthumously and she had penned some notes for a new book which culiminated in Patrick Ness taking the baton and producing the thing of beauty which is A Monster Calls.

So was it to be a Dowd or a Ness novel, whose influence would be felt the most?  To tell the truth, it’s different from anything either author has produced before.  Yes,  I felt Siobhan’s touch at times but this really feels like a one-off, an original masterpiece.  In just over 200 pages, Patrick Ness weaves the tale of Conor O’Malley, a 13 year old only child who has a battle on his hands.  His single mother is nearing the end of her fight with cancer and Conor has a well meaning grandmother whose good intentions only end up estranging him further.  His father has remarried, now living in the US and is in the clutches of a jealous new wife complete with new baby and he hardly wants the added troubles of his teenage son.  Meanwhile, at school, the only people who really notice Conor are the bullies – everyone else is busily tip-toeing around the elephant in the room/playground.  If that wasn’t enough, a monster comes a-calling, in the shape of a yew tree – yew trees are symbolic of everlasting life and healing but this particular specimen doesn’t seem very friendly.

This is one of the most powerful, compelling books I have ever read.  If you have ever experienced bereavement or even have the slightest human interest in other folks’ emotions, you will adore A Monster Calls.  Its simplicity and lyricism is perfectly balanced by the stark black and white illustrations by Jim Kay.  You must get the “real” hard back edition, not the “pretend” e book version, this is a book which has to be caressed and treasured.  It’s a harrowing read, brutal in its honesty, never veering into mawkishness.  I have a feeling that Siobhan’s novels will have a much deserved renaissance with a whole new influx of readers and I, in turn,  must pick up Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy which has languished on my bookshelves for long enough now…

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Artichoke Hearts – Sita Brahmachari

Posted in Children's Books on March 14th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment


Macmillan Children’s Books


Winner of Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize 2011,  Artichoke Hearts is a very impressive debut novel.  It’s a coming of age novel with an array of big themes including  first love, bereavement, family relationships, friendship and bullying.

Our narrator, twelve year old Mira Levenson, takes us through a month in her life via a diary project for her creative writing class at school – a month in which she has her first period, her first love in the shape of Jide Jackson, her first bereavement as her beloved Nana Josie enters a hospice for her final days.  Mira lacks confidence and finds it difficult to make herself heard amid the chaos of her family life and the hierarchy imposed by her more extroverted classmates.

I loved the relationship between Mira and Nana Josie, who still dresses in a hippy style as it suits her and who has spent a lifetime protesting against injustice.  Josie is so full of life, even as her days draw to an end, painting her own coffin in bright colours in preparation for her funeral.  The whole concept of bereavement and loss is handled very sensitively, yes there is sadness but it’s offset by Josie’s positivity the ripples of which affect all her loved ones.

“Aren’t you frightened for her?” asks Jide.

Frightened?  I think it’s a strange question.  It has never crossed my mind to be frightened of Nana dying.

“No, I’m not.  I think it’s because she’s not frightened and she’s got everyone around her who loves her.”


Also the growing relationship between Jide and Mira is presented beautifully – you can almost hear Mira’s shrieks of delight when Jide sends her a text ending with an “x”.  He has experienced loss too as he was orphaned in the Rwandan Civil War and eventually opens up to Mira about his feelings about the past, his identity and anxieties about the future.

Artichoke Hearts is an ideal read for 11+ girls and indeed, older girls like me,  tackling serious themes in a grounded way without ever feeling preachy or pompous and having the added bonus of being very well written.   Sita Brahmachari has certainly made her mark in children’s fiction and I look forward to reading her next book.

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The Dead of Winter by Chris Priestley

Posted in Children's Books, Ghost Stories on March 2nd, 2011 by admin – 6 Comments

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (4 Oct 2010)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1408800136
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408800133
  • The Dead of Winter is a children’s book, aimed at 10-15 year olds, which can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.   It”s more of a novella than a novel although I refuse to get into literary debate about the differences between short stories, novelettes (?) and novellas – basically it is a story which one could easily read in one sitting.

    Back to the story…it is Victorian London and young Michael Vyner, recently orphaned, is sent to spend the Christmas holidays with his guardian Sir Stephen who lives in an isolated, desolate country house.  En route to Hawton Mere, Michael sees the ghostly figure of a woman as they grow closer to their destination but no one else shares his horrific vision.  What ensues is a gothic ghost story which has echoes of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, M R James, The Turn of the Screw and other eerie stories which crank up the tension subtley but surely.

    The result is a supremely spooky story which will keep the reader enthralled right up to the closing pages – highly recommended for all young readers and indeed those young at heart who appreciate their chills being served  in a subtle, sophisticated way rather than having blood and gore thrown on their plate…

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    My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece – Annabel Pitcher

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 3rd, 2011 by admin – 5 Comments

    It’s been a while since the mere title of a book has been enough to whet my literary appetite and to entice me into further investigation.  Such was the case with My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, the debut novel of 28 year old Annabel Pitcher, a former secondary school teacher of English.   So is it a case of “what’s in a name..” or is there plenty of substance to back up this beguiling title..

    Well, I can happily report that what lies beneath is a meaty, insightful, beautifully written account of family life today.  The voice of the narrator, 10 year old Jamie Matthews, is spot on – in him I can see the idiosyncrasies and hopes and dreams of my own 10 yr old son and his friends.  Jamie hasn’t had an easy time lately, ever since his sister Rose died, five years before, his family has gone into meltdown, escalating in his Mum leaving and his alcoholic Dad deciding to up sticks and move the family including Rose’s twin sister, Jasmine, from London to an isolated, rural area in the Lake District.  Jamie is a stoical figure, often wishing life were better but he holds onto the idea that his Mum will come back to them and that his parents will be able to move on after Rose’s death and that life can get back to normal again.  Not that he even remembers Rose that much but he knows not to say this aloud as his Dad tiptoes around the big issues, preserving Rose’s memories in boxes marked “Sacred” and keeping her ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece. 

    This is a corker of a children’s/YA novel as it examines grief and how it can tear families apart, it shows how hard it is to remain loyal to your family, in this case, your Dad when he is so focussed on his own grief and blind to the needs of his remaining living family.  Jamie has never really had friends other than Luke Branston who was is friend for four days…  However, things look hopeful when he makes friends with Sunya, who becomes a superhero counterpart, Girl M to his Spiderman.  They’re both outsiders, alienated by their fellow class-mates and one would hope that their friendship could be a refuge from the maelstrom that is Jamie’s family life.

    This novel will make you laugh and cry – Jamie is one of the most credible child narrators I have ever encountered and you feel drawn right into his world, warts and all.  It’s suitable for age 10+ but I think it will attract a large readership across all ages, if only to make you see life through a child’s eyes again.  Sometimes whenever a book gets so much early publicity, I tend to avoid it, fearing disappointment, but, for this novel, the buzz is justified.  I would say “hasten thee to the nearest bookshop” but it isn’t published until 1st March – believe me the wait will be well worth it!

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    The Memory Cage by Ruth Eastham

    Posted in Children's Books, YA Fiction on February 3rd, 2011 by admin – 1 Comment

    In this, Ruth Eastham’s very impressive debut novel for children/young teenagers, she takes on a variety of “big” themes, all of which revolve around suppressed memories and the risks involved in unravelling them.

    Our narrator is young Alex (Alexandru) who was adopted by an English family, 6 years previously, having been orphaned during the Bosnian War.  It is clear that Alex has not come to terms with the trauma which preceeded his adoption and that this is hindered by his older sibling, Leonard who take great pleasure in bullying him, calling him “Bosnia Boy”" and “Charity Case”.  In the midst of all this, Alex and Leonard’s grandfather keeps on forgetting things and Alex has overheard his parents discussing putting William, the grandfather, into a home.  Alex takes on the mission of helping William to remember the past, especially events which took place during World War II, in the hope that, by remembering, William will avoid being taken away from the family.

    As the story unfolds, we gradually come closer and closer to the truth, both for William and Alex, and such revelations are destined to come at a high emotional cost for all the family members and indeed for friends and neighbours too.  I thought the characterisation was spot on.  Alex is a sensitive, young chap, who, on the surface, seems unscathed by past events.  The family dynamic is also portrayed very well with an array of siblings, all with their own distinct personalities and busy parents who are trying to hold everything together despite William’s obvious deterioration.  Alex assigns himself the daunting task of trying to “fix” things and, in so doing, uncovers a veritable nest of vipers but it quickly becomes evident that, in order to “heal”, the hurts of the past must be confronted.  Perhaps his investigations are part of a displacement technique to avoid confronting his own demons, but his heart is most definitely in the right place.

    I was extremely impressed by this debut novel which is on a par with Michael Morpurgo’s best work, high praise indeed in a market where many try to emulate the “master” but inevitably fail miserably.  I will be passing on my copy to my children and will highly recommend it to librarians and our local primary and secondary schools.  This is most definitely a classic in the making and  I will be keen to see what Ruth comes up with next!

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