Category Archives: Children’s literature

Friday Faceoff – Then let the crabs be cursed by Odin…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is the one we prefer. This week the theme is Vikings, so I’ve chosen How to Speak Dragonese – Book 3 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell.

 

This cover, produced by Hachette UK in 2010, is the main template for the other covers. It is illustrated by Cowell herself, in the guise of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, who is her chief protagonist and heir to the Hooligan tribe. He grows up to be the greatest of all Viking chieftains, and this is part of the ongoing story of how he survives to adulthood – a mighty achievement in itself. I very much like this cover. It is eye-catching and humorous, while promising a big dollop of exciting adventures in the book. This is my favourite.

 

This offering was produced by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in February 2010. It has a slightly slicker feel, having replaced the page in Hiccup’s journal with a purple background, but still features Hiccup and Toothless drawn by Cowell – and still clearly in yet another scrape. Once more it ticks the boxes for me.

 

This cover from Scholastic published in December 2009 features Toothless sitting in Hiccup’s helmet. Once more the illustration is recognisably Cowell’s and you get the sense that Toothless is sniggering about something. Another attractive cover that effectively gives a sense of the book’s content.

 

Produced in September 2008, this Spanish edition by Ediciones Sm still features the original illustration, but has changed the background. It’s pleasant enough, but I far prefer the blotchy, scruffy effect of the original, which is specifically aimed at reluctant boy readers, who are far more likely to be attracted by the odd ink blot and jagged page.

 

This Kindle edition, published in June 2017 by Hodder Children’s Books gives the first cover a very, very close run for its money as my favourite. While the original image has Hiccup and Toothless arguing, with Hiccup clearly losing, there isn’t a whole lot going on. However this cover features on of the most dramatic events in the book ripping a tear in the binding as a huge dragon hunts down his prey…

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Monday Post – 2nd October 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

It’s been a crazy week. My Creative Writing course at Northbrook is going well – everyone has settled in and our classroom is one of the nice big ones with plenty of windows. We started filming this week on Tim’s major project at the Bognor Museum on Wednesday evening, which was a wonderful surreal experience, though exhausting.

When my writing pal Mhairi came over for the day on Thursday, I discussed my increasing concerns regarding Running Out of Space hoping that she would wave her hand and tell me I was making a fuss about nothing. But she didn’t. She nodded and agreed with me. So I went back to the script and made a MAJOR change to the world with less than a fortnight to go before the launch. It took a huge amount of work, but I got the manuscript altered, the new review copies out, extracts and guest posts altered and my shiny new website and Goodreads all updated. Once the dust has settled and I have a chance to fully process exactly what happened, I will be blogging about it. And then fell ill on Friday night as we were picking up the grandchildren.

On top of that the clutch on the car died in the middle of the week and my lovely sister lent me hers while ours went into the garage to be fixed for a lot of money I hadn’t budgeted to go on car repairs. Thank goodness we took the decision not to go to Fantasycon this year, though I am sorry not to be able to catch up with all the lovely people I only get to see then – and huge congratulations to Grimbold Publishing for their Award for Best Independent Press.

I spent the week-end in bed enduring a really nasty cold that has also sideswiped my sister – which is why this is a Monday Post, instead of a Sunday Post…

This week I have read:

The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell
Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.
This new series from the author of the fabulous How To Train Your Dragon series did not disappoint. With all the plot twists and engrossing storyline I have come to expect from this wonderful author, there is also a beautiful lyric quality to the prose and more nuanced characters.

 

Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell
Llew has a gift. Her body heals itself from any injury – but at a cost to anyone nearby. In a country fearful of magic, freeing yourself from the hangman’s noose by wielding forbidden power brings dangers of its own. After dying and coming back, Llew drops from the gallows into the hands of Jonas: the man carrying the knife with the power to kill her – permanently.
I really enjoyed this fantasy adventure which takes a classic trope – the youngster growing up on the streets who is singled out by a unique talent – and then gives that premise a thorough shaking. Llew is an interesting protagonist with some scary powers that nonetheless won my sympathy, even though the right thing might be to ensure she can’t cause any more havoc… This one hasn’t left my head since I stopped reading it.

 

Shadowblack – Book 2 of the Spellslinger series by Sebastien de Castell
It’s a few months since Kellen left his people behind. Now aged sixteen, Kellen is an outlaw, relying on his wits to keep him alive in the land of the Seven Sands. He misses home, he misses family and more than anything, he misses Nephenia, the girl he left behind. And when someone else turns up unexpectedly who carries a secret that’s all too familiar to Kellen. Kellen and Ferius resolve to help – but the stakes are far higher than they realise…
I thoroughly enjoyed the first book, Spellslinger, in this entertaining series – see my review here. The good news is that this offering is even better. More Kellen goodness along with the naughty squirrel cat who nearly manages to steal the show, despite a thumping good plot and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist – great stuff!

 

Austral by Paul McAuley
The great geoengineering projects have failed. The world is still warming, sea levels are still rising, and the Antarctic Peninsula is home to Earth’s newest nation, with life quickened by ecopoets spreading across valleys and fjords exposed by the retreat of the ice. Austral Morales Ferrado, a child of the last generation of ecopoets, is a husky: an edited person adapted to the unforgiving climate of the far south, feared and despised by most of its population. She’s been a convict, a corrections officer in a labour camp, and consort to a criminal, and now, out of desperation, she has committed the kidnapping of the century.
I love this one. The landscape, the situation and above all, Austral’s narration of the most turbulent, difficult time in her life to someone she cares about and wants to tell all to… This one held me until the last page and though not flawless, it is a gripping, moving book that will stay with me for a long time.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 24th September

Review of The Lost Steersman – Book 3 of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein

Teaser Tuesday featuring Healer’s Touch by Deb E Howell

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Select – by Marit Weisenberg

Friday Face-off – Faint heart never won fair lady featuring Heartless by Marissa Meyer

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

Apologies to those of you who have commented and are still waiting for a response. Hopefully normal service will be resumed next week… Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Wizards of Once – Book 1 of The Wizards of Once series by Cressida Cowell

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Those of you who are regular visitors to this blog will know that I am continually banging on about how much I love the How To Train Your Dragon books – so when I saw Cowell had written a new series, it was a no-brainer that I would request it. It cheered me up no end when I was approved for this one…

Once there was Magic, and the Magic lived in the dark forests. Wizard boy, Xar, should have come in to his magic by now, but he hasn’t, so he wants to find a witch and steal its magic for himself. But if he’s got any chance of finding one, he will have to travel into the forbidden Badwoods. Xar doesn’t realise he is about to capture an entirely different kind of enemy. A Warrior girl called Wish. And inside this book, at this very moment, two worlds collide and the fate of the land is changed forever.

My rather elderly Kindle did not handle Cowell’s trademark illustrations very well and I needed to persevere to pick out the text within the rather hinky formatting. However, I refused to be put off though it took me a little longer to get into the story than I had expected, simply because Xar is fairly obnoxious at the beginning – though as the narrative progressed, it became increasingly obvious why he is such a pain and I grew to like and sympathise with him.

This book is clearly aimed at an older age-group than the How To Train Your Dragon series, and consequently lacks the can-do chirpiness that runs throughout HTTYD no matter what is going on. The language is also richer, full of poetic metaphors and although the adventure is full of incident and unexpected developments that are the hallmark of a Cowell story, the issues are more nuanced. Neither Wish or Xar are all bad or all good and I particularly liked the way the adults are portrayed. Very often in children’s literature, adults are either bullying buffoons or simply oblivious. It’s relatively rare to see an adult with a significant backstory and an interesting hidden agenda, yet both parents in this book first appear as typically black and white authority figures, only to later develop into something far more intriguing. I shall be very interested to see how they develop in due course.

All in all, this is a joy. I shall be reading it aloud to my granddaughter as a break from the Louis the Laugh series – after I’ve bought the print copy. And I have included the poem at the back of the book as something of a treat – I recommend you read it aloud…

Wandering Free
In the roads of sky and paths of sea
And in that timeless long-gone hour
Words of nonsense still had power
Doors still flew and birds still talked
Witches grinned and giants walked
We had Magic wands and Magic wings
And we lost our hearts to impossible things
Unbelievable thoughts! Unsensible ends!
For Wizards and Warriors might be friends.
In a world where impossible things are true
I don’t why we forgot the spell
When we lost the way, how the forests fell.
But now we are old, we can vanish too.
And I see once more the invisible track
That will lead us home and take us back…
So find your wands and spread your wings
I’ll sing our love of impossible things
And when you take my vanished hand
We’ll both go back to that Magic land
Where we lost our hearts…
Several lifetimes ago…
When we were Wizards
Once.

While I obtained the arc of The Wizards of Once from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

Review of The Cold – Book 5 of the Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space series by Cavan Scott

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Oscar and I have thoroughly enjoyed this series – the last book particularly captured the menace of being trapped in deep space on a ship with a number of really creepy little creatures. So I wondered whether this fifth book in the series would be able to sustain the narrative drive that has been building in this overarching adventure as the Graf children continue to desperately seek their parents.

Milo and Lina Graf have picked up the trail of their kidnapped parents–but an ambush in the depths of Wild Space leaves them stranded on a desolate ice planet. With an old enemy out for revenge, can they survive THE COLD?

Once again, the children are split up. Lina is left stranded on a freezing planet without the necessary equipment to survive the sub-zero temperatures for any length of time, while Milo is trapped on a very battered Whisper Bird which has serious problems of its own… I really like the fact that both children grieve for their lost parents – and at one stage, Milo is afraid that his only memories are encapsulated in the holos and pictures of his parents, as he feels his own recollections are fading. It’s a nice touch and certainly helped me to rebond with both young protagonists near the start of this challenging adventure.

I also like the fact that their nemesis surfaces once again. Captain Korda, who had snatched their parents and forced the children to flee as he continues to look for them, resurfaces in this particular storyline. He reminds us all over again just what a truly unpleasant character he is – and near the end of the book there is yet another twist involving him that increases the stakes for Lina and Milo.

The Cold and the previous adventure, The Dark, have been gritty adventures, with plenty of tension and danger such that both Oscar and I read longer than we’d intended to find out what happens next. We have chatted about the storyline and wondered what we would do in those circumstances – and agreed that we, too, would probably have a cry just then… In amongst the discomfort and danger, there are also shafts of humour. This is chiefly provided by their trusty robot, CR8-8R, or Crater, as they’ve nicknamed him, who has a strong resemblance to C-3PO in his fussiness and irritability when in danger. He also loathes Milo’s lizard-monkey pet, Morq, whose mission is to tease him, providing some much-needed moments of light relief.

Overall, I am very impressed with the strong storyline, sympathetic characterisation of the two lost children and narrative tension, so it’s a real shame that for the second book in the row there are a couple of mistakes. The wrong word in the wrong place in a book designed for newly independent readers is far more than merely an irritating error – it undermines their confidence in the printed word and has them wondering if this is yet another mistake, or whether this new word combination they haven’t encountered before is really intended. So I’m docking a point for it. I understand that times are hard and editing is expensive – but if you as a publisher decide to release a series for young readers, then you should ensure your editing standards are up to it.
8/10

Review of The Last Straw – Book 3 of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

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When Oscar came to stay, he was keen to go to the library and get hold of a book in this series as he’s been reading them at school and enjoying the fact that he was able to read a chapter book independently. He was delighted when we found this one on the shelves and between us, we were able to finish it before he returned home.

Let’s face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg’s father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is easily able to sidestep his father’s efforts to change him. But when Greg’s dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up . . . or get shipped out.

I can see why this series is so very enjoyable – hapless Greg gets himself into so many scrapes. Some explore fairly accurately the travails of school life that many children reading this book will be able to identify with – and some that tip into outright farce. Greg is an appealing protagonist, managing to be both inept during PE and clueless during lessons, when he regularly gets into trouble for daydreaming, or even falling asleep. What stops this becoming something much darker, is that Greg is perfectly happy being exactly who he is and feels the rest of the world ought consider changing around him. He lives with both parents and two brothers, one is older and the other a baby.

The humour is direct and helped along by the amusing cartoon drawings on each page that breaks up the text, giving new readers extra confidence and information. Kinney has a really good narrative flow – the diary format means that each couple of pages contains an event or happening that can be read as a standalone, while the main, overarching problem – that of Greg’s Dad being increasingly worried about Greg’s unmanly attitude to life – is the theme that underpins the story. Again, this makes the book very accessible for new readers still struggling with decoding words. There is a limited vocabulary with the occasional harder word added that is obvious in the context, again encouraging children to continue reading with a feeling of achievement.

I’m conscious that I’ve slipped into teacher-mode while reviewing this book and may have given the impression that it is one of those stories that children love and adults hate. But this isn’t the case. Oscar made a good start reading this one himself, but as he wanted to finish it before returning home, he asked me to read it to him during both days and as his bedtime story. I found it thoroughly enjoyable and although Greg is a Canadian kid in the state school system, the experience crosses over effectively so that my British grandson and I also giggled at his problems and could identify with him. Highly recommended for emerging and newly independent readers.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The List by Patricia Forde

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Being something of a word nerd, I liked the sound of this one, so requested it from Netgalley and was delighted when my request was accepted.

In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world. But when events take a darker turn, Letta realises that her responsibilities extend to more than the words in this fragile community…

I’ve paraphrased the rather chatty blurb and my firm advice would be not to read it if you intend to get hold of the book – it gives far too much of the story arc away. I really liked Letta – she gets wrapped up in the words she records for when times get easier and takes great care to copy out The List for the children to learn. But as her job isolates her from most of the rest of the community, she has the opportunity to look and wonder about some of the older words – and make comparisons to their current existence. I also very much like the fact that she is short-fused with a quick temper and cannot abide to see suffering and injustice. Otherwise her actions simply don’t make sense.

In order to believe in this dystopian world, the reader has to go along with the premise that the founder of the Ark, John Noa, has decided that language and words were the cause of humanity’s downfall. He feels that if only humanity is limited to the most basic of communication, they will be nearer the state of animals. He thinks is a great idea – for animals do not harm the planet, or plot and deceive each other. Only mankind is capable of that – because of the lies he can spin with his words. Initially I wasn’t sure this was going to work, but overall I think that Forde has built a convincing case for Noa’s beliefs. Like many charismatic leaders, Noa becomes caught up in his own rhetoric and needs to continue to push the community to make ever more extreme changes as everyone falls short of his grandiose schemes to return humanity to a pristine state.

Forde effectively raises the stakes and it doesn’t take much for this fragile, brutalised community to be tipped into unrest, as events drive Letta ever forward with some plot twists along the way. The climax of the story works very well, though for the more experienced reader, there aren’t a lot of major surprises as the overall story arc follows a well-trodden path. That said, this is aimed at children who haven’t necessarily read much in this genre and it raises some interesting issues regarding the role of language in the development and organisation of human society. If you enjoy dystopian, post-apocalyptic worlds, then this one is worth tracking down.

While I obtained the arc of The List from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Sunday Post – 16th July 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Last Sunday we had the pleasure of Oscar’s company for the week-end and on Sunday we went to the Look and Sea Centre for breakfast, before walking down to the beach and out onto the small pier where we could watch boats negotiate the entrance of the River Arun. It was another wonderful, sunny day and later we took my sister with us when driving Oscar home so she could visit Rebecca’s home and amazing garden.

I’ve been working hard on the line edit for Dying for Space and also treating myself to watching Wimbledon, which I love. On Friday evening we had a meal at my sister’s and played Nostalgia and Dobble after going through her photo album of us as girls and remembering family holidays another lifetime ago…

This week I have read:

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.
I loved this one – there are so many clever allusions and nods to Shakespeare’s play embedded in this entertaining story of revenge and redemption. But Atwood doesn’t allow them to hamper her narrative pace – great stuff! I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

 

The Last Straw – Book 3 of the Diary of a Wimpey Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Let’s face it: Greg Heffley will never change his wimpy ways. Somebody just needs to explain that to Greg’s father. You see, Frank Heffley actually thinks he can get his son to toughen up, and he enlists Greg in organized sports and other “manly” endeavors. Of course, Greg is easily able to sidestep his father’s efforts to change him. But when Greg’s dad threatens to send him to military academy, Greg realizes he has to shape up . . . or get shipped out.
Oscar was keen to get this one out of the library when he came to stay last week-end and between us, we managed to finish reading the story before he went home on Sunday afternoon. I was impressed at the humour and strong narrative, as well as how accessible the vocabulary is for emerging young readers – no wonder these books are so popular. Review to follow.

 

The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman
The Stargazer’s Embassy explores the frightening phenomenon of alien abduction from a different point of view: in this story, it is the aliens who seem fearful of Julia Glazer, the woman they are desperately trying to make contact with.
This is an interesting and unusual approach to this subject, where Julia’s fury at being constantly visited throughout her life has affected her, making her suspicious and hostile of humans and aliens alike.

 

 

Face the Change – Book 3 of the Menopausal Superheroes series by Samantha Bryant
The Menopausal Superheroes are coming out of the closet and the pressure is high, on the job and on the homefront. Now that he knows what it’s like to be a hero, Leonel “Fuerte” Alvarez can’t imagine going back to his former life as a grandmother and housewife. But putting his life on the line may cost him his husband even while he saves the city. Jessica “Flygirl” Roark is holding on to her second chance at love with both hands while learning to balance single parenthood with her new career in crime-fighting. Patricia “Lizard Woman” O’Neill is blindsided by an unexpected romance just as she signs on to join the team. Meanwhile enemies abound–old and new. When superpowers alone aren’t enough, what a woman really needs are her friends.
I jumped at the opportunity to review this entertaining and unusual take of the superhero genre and it didn’t disappoint. I shall be posting my review this coming week.

 

Star Witch – Book 2 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper
Ivy Wilde, the laziest witch in the West, is still entangled with the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. That’s not a bad thing, however, because it gives her plenty of excuses to spend more time with sapphire eyed Raphael Winter, her supposed nemesis. And when he comes knocking because he needs her to spy on the latest series of Enchantment, she jumps at the chance. Hanging around a film set can’t be hard … or dangerous … right?
I thoroughly enjoyed the smart snappy writing of the first book – and was delighted when Himself treated us to this second instalment. Another real delight to read and I shall be posting my review in due course.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 16th July 2017

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Teaser Tuesday featuring Face the Change – Book 3 of the Menopausal Superheroes series by Samantha Bryant

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Dichronauts by Greg Egan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Friday Face-off – I must go down to the sea again…featuring Ship of Magic – Book 1 of the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Slouch Witch – Book 1 of The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magic series by Helen Harper

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Peace Talks 101https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2017/07/10/peace-talks-101/ Now the children are at home for the summer break, World War 3 can break out between siblings – these top tips help you cope…

Anne Valley Walkhttps://inesemjphotography.com/2017/07/09/anne-valley-walk/ Inese talks us on a wonderful walk featuring the fauna and flora…

Proxima Centauri b keeps getting attention http://earthianhivemind.net/2017/07/12/proxima-centauri-b-keeps-getting-attention/ Another excellent article from Steph about some of the latest investigations on one of our near neighbours.

Six Word Stories: Wethttps://richardankers.com/2017/07/12/six-word-stories-wet/ Another snappy gem from Richard…

10 of the Best Plays by Women Dramatistshttps://interestingliterature.com/2017/07/12/10-of-the-best-plays-by-women-dramatists/ An interesting, informative article on some of the foremost women dramatists through the ages.

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Review of Star Wars: The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space series by Tom Huddleston

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Oscar and I have really enjoyed this series to date – and we left Lina and Milo Graf in a tough spot at the end of the previous book as they had been captured by the Empire. So we were keen to read this next instalment to discover what happens next.

In a galaxy far, far away… Milo and Lina are adrift on a starship that is spiralling towards disaster. A dangerous criminal is on the loose, the Empire is closing in – and something even deadlier awaits them in The Dark…

Set in the very familiar world of the Star Wars franchise, this series of science fiction books is designed to appeal to boys between the ages of 7-10. We discovered this series last year when Oscar had his World Book Week £1 token and picked up the prequel, full of excitement that he had found something he really wanted me to read to him – see my review of The Snare. The covers are attractive, the font a friendly size and there are a number of black and white illustrations dotted throughout that help the story along, but it is designed for newly independent readers.

After following Lina and Milo in their desperate search for their parents through the previous four books, we were keen that they should be able to escape from their current predicament. Locked up in a cell and heading towards the vicious Captain Korda, their prospects look bleak – and indeed, I was surprised at just how genuinely creepy this offering is. Rapidly, things start to go wrong on this freighter and when the lights go out, there is a rushing, scuttling sound as it appears some of the cargo has escaped…

We ended up reading this not just before bed and first thing in the morning, but we also slotted in a reading session mid-afternoon as we both wanted to discover what would happen next, when two new prisoners are picked up. One has the title the Butcher of Brentaal IV – and it’s easy to see how the huge alien came by his grim title, with his scarred face and growling voice – Lina and Mira are very relieved that he is safely locked up, though they decide not to let the friendly Stel out, either. After all, they had trusted another character earlier in their adventures and look where that led them…

We were both gripped by this one and although I guessed one of the main plot twists that changes the fortunes of our two brave prisoners, it didn’t really matter as there was so much going on. Like Oscar, the moment we came to the end of this one, I was keen to find out when the next instalment in this entertaining series was coming out. This is an enjoyable read and comes highly recommended particularly for boys between 7-10, depending on maturity and reading ability.
9/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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I haven’t seen the film, but a number of my book blogging buddies have recommended this one, so I bought it. Would I enjoy reading it?

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Oh yes, this book gripped me from the first page and wouldn’t let me go until the final page and I was weeping by the end. For starters, the writing is beautiful. The prose is perfectly judged between lyrically balanced descriptions, pin-sharp characterisation and a very good grasp of just how children behave when confronted with extreme stress over a long period of time. As an ex-primary school teacher, I thought the depiction of both Conor’s reaction and some of his classmates was realistic and apt.

The monster’s appearance is marvellous and I loved the interaction between Conor and his monster – and the stories he tells. For starters, Conor wasn’t the only one confounded at the stories the monster tells – and his reactions to the outcome. Having heard one or three folk/fairy tales in my time, I had a sense that I knew where the first story was going – and was completely wrong-footed by the monster’s judgement at the conclusion. Meanwhile, Conor’s mother is still struggling with a latest treatment – and he then has to contend with his grandma. She isn’t the cuddly, white-haired lady so popular in modern imagination – she wears tailored suits, is hopeless at cooking and works full-time. She also is clearly adrift when dealing with Conor as she hasn’t spent much time with him. I enjoyed the fact that as the story is told from Conor’s viewpoint, any adult reading the story will appreciate that she is under enormous stress, but most children – and certainly Conor – will probably miss the signs. Until a disastrous visit by the monster…

So do I have any quibbles? Well, given the mention of mobiles and other contemporary details, I don’t think this story is set in the past – and so my problem with this tale is that most schools these days would be far better equipped to deal with Conor’s situation. Nowadays there would be trained help available for teaching staff and all adults dealing with Conor and it’s highly likely the school would have a specific policy to deal with children undergoing a major family trauma – it happens more often than you might think. Conor would have some sort of counselling, probably be put in touch with other children coping with similar situations and have some time out of the classroom. He would also be asked how he would like to be treated. However, that isn’t a dealbreaker – there is so much about this story that blew me away and I very much recommend this one.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cats, so I’ve chosen Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – by T.S. Eliot.

 

This is playful cover is more than a nod to some of the earlier covers with the cartoon-like cats and cheerful colour – so much more fun than some of the other drearier offerings in the 1960s and 70s. It was produced in August 1982 by Harcourt Brace and Co., which sounds like the sort of publisher that would crop up in one of Eliot’s poems… I really like this one.

 

This edition, produced in October 2009 by HMH, is another really enjoyable cover with a number of the recognisable cats that feature in Eliot’s delightful poems. As well as being quirky and playful, this cover is attractive and eye-catching.

 

Published in 2001 by Faber and Faber, this cover continues with the bright background and cartoon cats. However, I think the whole design is spoilt by that ugly block running across the bottom of the cover for the title and author – and by 2001, they didn’t have the excuse that it was still the fashion that prevailed with covers.

 

This cover, produced by Faber and Faber in February 2014, is another strong contender. I like the madcap cat featuring behind the footlights – along with the distinctive font on the word CATS, this is more than a nod to the worldwide hit musical that came out of this collection of poems.

 

This is my favourite cover – mostly because I find it the most appealing and attractive, rather than because I think it is necessarily the best design. Produced by Faber and Faber in October 2010, I love the bright colourful design of the cats high-kicking their way across the rooftop. It may lack the quirkiness of some of the other covers, but the bold colours and well balanced title font sells this one for me. Which is your favourite?