Tag Archives: child protagonist

Friday Faceoff – Me and my shadow…

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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 shadows, so I’ve chosen A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

 

This cover, produced by Walker Books in September 2011 is the one with the shadow. The dark figure striding across the newly ploughed field towards the house is certainly creepy – and initially I’d thought this was a horror book. But of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that. And the monster isn’t what you expect. I love this cover, but I do think it gives the wrong impression about the book.

 

This offering was produced by Candlewick in August 2016 and is one of the movie tie-in covers. That said, it is both beautiful and moving – I just wish they hadn’t seen fit to smother so much of it with details of the wretched film. I love the colours and the fingertips showing at the top of the cover as the boy sleeps.

 

This cover from Walker Books was published in May 2015. It’s okay, I suppose. But I find it rather generic with the tree branches and the moon shining through them. I’m not quite sure exactly why, except that the monster tends to visit Connor at night.

 

Produced in August 2011, this German edition by CBJ is haunting with the silhouette of the boy standing in front of the gravestones at the foot of the tree. The detail is beautiful – clever use of the foliage that looks like the profile of the monster. I really like this one – it’s my favourite. It’s beautiful and eye-catching, while still being relevant to the content.

 

This edition, published in October 2016 by Walker Books is another movie tie-in. Despite the sharpness of the illustration and beautiful colour of the sky, I think it is a poor imitation of the previous, more atmospheric German cover. And again, there is far too much chatter about the film plastered across it. Which one of these do you prefer?

 

 

AAAND… today the blog tour for Running Out of Space is being hosted by Crazy Beautiful Books.

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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…

*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

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

Sunday Post – 23rd April 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 all about the grandchildren this last week, as they have been with us again. Unlike most of their recent stays, the weather has been grand – though the fly in the ointment has been poor little Oscar’s hacking cough and heavy cold. So instead of trips to the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, along the beach and to the bluebell woods, we had to rein in our activities. We did manage a couple of trips to the cinema – the first to see Beauty and the Beast which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Oscar and I returned to see a truly dreadful Smurf film yesterday instead of the proposed trip to the climbing wall, which was vetoed by me because of his cough. We did manage a visit to Highdown Gardens on Thursday. It was a beautiful morning – bright sunshine without the easterly wind and I decided we all needed some fresh air and the added pick-me-up of a wonderful display of Spring flowers. As ever, it was lovely and the children had fun running around together.

 

This week I have read:

The Tropic of Serpents – Book 2 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Attentive readers of Lady Trent’s earlier memoir, A Natural History of Dragons, are already familiar with how a bookish and determined young woman named Isabella first set out on the historic course that would one day lead her to becoming the world’s premier dragon naturalist. Now, in this remarkably candid second volume, Lady Trent looks back at the next stage of her illustrious (and occasionally scandalous) career. Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics. The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
Once again, I loved being swept off to the steamy humidity of the jungle where Lady Trent finds herself confronted with a lot more than the savage swamp-wyrms. Brennon’s plucky adventuress leaps off the page with her frankness in how she defied social conventions to follow her passion to discover more about dragons.

From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters
After a five year sabbatical following the tragic death of his wife and fellow agent Alysha, Keona Rause returns to the distant colony world of Magenta to resume service with the Magentan Intelligence Service. With him he brings an artificial recreation of his wife’s personality, a simulacrum built from every digital trace she left behind. She has been constructed with one purpose – to discover the truth behind her own death – but Keona’s relationship with her has grown into something more, something frighteningly dependent, something that verges on love. Cashing in old favours, Keona uses his return to the Service to take on a series of cases that allow him and the artificial Alysha to piece together his wife’s last days. His investigations lead him inexorably along the same paths Alysha followed five years earlier, to a sinister and deadly group.
This far-future murder mystery is a classy, accomplished noir whodunit set on a miserable planet with too much gravity and weather, as Rause returns to Magenta to confront unanswered questions about the bombing incident in which his wife died. And uncovers a whole lot more…

Goldfish From Beyond the Grave – Book 4 of the Undead Pets series by Sam Hay
Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?
Well, this is a hoot! I love the premise that Joe’s magical amulet given to him by his archaeologist uncle means that undead animals look to him to solve their unresolved problems. Fizz the goldfish is definitely on the warpath after being flushed down the toilet and determined to discover who perpetrated the crime.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 16th April 2017

Top Ten Unique Reads…

Teaser Tuesday featuring From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

Review of Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Review of How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of How To Train a Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Face-off – Burning my bridges… featuring The Bridge by Janine Ellen Young

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of From Darkest Skies by Sam Peters

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

Seven of the Best Epic Poems by Female Poets https://interestingliterature.com/2017/04/19/seven-of-the-best-epic-poems-by-female-poets/ Once more this excellent site has come up trumps with another informative, interesting article.

How To Fail Dismally at Book Blogging http://marelithalkink.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/how-to-dismally-fail-at-book-blogging.html?spref=tw I loved this funny, helpful guide on how avoid some of the pitfalls that can stall your book blog.

Meeting Deadlines – Remember to Breathe! https://sophieetallis.wordpress.com/2017/04/16/meeting-deadlines-remember-to-breathe/ Fellow Grimmie author and all-round thoroughly nice person Sophie has had a real roller-coaster month – and a cautionary tale for freelance artists…

It’s a Dog’s Life https://blogging807.wordpress.com/2017/04/22/its-a-dogs-life/ I laughed out loud at this quirky, funny story – if you want some light relief swing by and enjoy this one.

Why Not More Love for the Brontë Sisters? https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/why-not-more-love-for-the-bronte-sisters/ Having been a fan of their writing for a very long time, it has often puzzled me why Charlotte, Emily and Anne are not a lot more popular, given the rise and rise of nostalgia for classic reads.

Thank you for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Magic in the City by Heather Dyer

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I would like to claim that I requested this one from Netgalley because I was mindful that it was one of my yearly targets to extend my reading of children’s fiction – but it wouldn’t be true. I picked it out because I liked the cover. So would this most shallow of reasons pay off?

Brothers Jake and Simon Grubb are not happy they have to leave their home in Canada to move in with their cousin Hannah and her family in England. But things get interesting for the boys when, on the way there, they encounter a retiring magician at a highway rest stop who presents them with three gifts he claims have magical properties: a carpet, a camera and a stopwatch. Unfortunately, the magician doesn’t provide them with any instructions. So when the boys and Hannah find themselves being swept away on a wild adventure fueled by the magic in these curious objects, they have to learn as they go. But who cares when it’s this exciting!

I found the three child protagonists all appealing and believable. The boys, in particular, I thought were done well. I also very much liked the way Dyer handled the major life event that brought the boys and their mother across to resettle in Britain – I had assumed one thing was the problem, but it turned out to be something quite different. And I also liked the way Jake’s mind worked in his attempts to fix things – it was such a childlike way of looking at how to deal with it. Dyer has clearly spent time around children of this age and manages to depict them in crisis without assuming they will behave as adults do – they don’t. She also managed to show the depth of their trauma without telling us, so if the readers don’t know what they are looking at, they’ll likely miss it. Which is just fine as far as I’m concerned. Young readers without this sort of damage in their lives won’t necessarily pick up the extent of their suffering.

Dyer also serves up a fair dollop of humour along with the chaos and excitement. I love the depiction of the Queen – whether or not it’s correct, I thought it was a delight. Overall, this is a charming, enjoyable book that delivers an engrossing magical adventure with some hefty family issues wrapped up in the story that will speak to the many fatherless children out there. Recommended for independent readers between eight and eleven years old, depending on maturity.

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

Friday Faceoff – I never let my schooling interfere with my education…

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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 school covers, so I’ve chosen Ender’s Game – Book 1 of Ender’s Saga by Scott Orson Card – a distinctly futuristic educational experience.

 

This is the offering produced by Tor in April 2010 is a lovely uncluttered cover, allowing us to fully appreciate the lovely artwork. I particularly like the depiction of Ender, who looks young and fragile for all his techie suit and cleverness – which is exactly as Card wrote him. This is my favourite cover.

 

This cover produced by Starscape in February 2002 gives us another view of Ender, who is clearly older here. But I love the colours and the detail as he struggles to prevail in the lethal game he is playing. It’s just a shame the title and author crunch so aggressively through the cover art.

 

This cover produced in October 2013 by Tor is clearly heavily influenced by the film. For all that, while I don’t like it quite as much as the previous two covers, I don’t dislike it, either.

 

This effort was produced by Orbit in 2011 is basically the cover of the film, featuring all the main characters superimposed on Ender’s face. For all that, I really like this one. It successfully captures the flavour of the book and as the casting was both clever and creative, even if the film fell some way short of the quality of the book, I think it is very successful.

 

This is another edition produced by Starscape in February 2002. While I know the definition is rather fuzzy, I like this one, too – especially as Ender is suitably young. I like the fact we have his classmates floating around in the background as well.

I think these are all good covers, though the first one just edges it for me. Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook novella The Imlen Brat by Sarah Avery

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I saw this offering on Netgalley and was attracted by the intriguing title and blurb – although I hadn’t appreciated it was a novella when I requested it.

theimlenbratStisele of Imlen knows she’s in trouble, but not how much. The young adopted daughter of Beltresa’s sovereign longs to be a weapon in her mother’s service — even against her birth family, should Utroneth ask it. If only Stisele could master the temper that drives her to pepper the royal heir with petty kin-curses. But Stisele’s dreams are bigger than the balance of intrigues that keeps her alive and captive in this perilous royal court. She can be more than a speaker of kin-curses. She deserves a life beyond the palace islet she’s never left. Her two imaginary friends, if indeed that’s what they are, tell her so. If Stisele is to make her own life in a world that’s not ready for her, she must regain the trust of wary allies. She must begin to control the power of the kin-curse — her imaginary friends are as much hindrance as help. And she will have to give up her place in the only home she’s ever known.

Stisele is a hot-tempered, impetuous child who comes across as just that, which is very refreshing. It is very difficult to write convincingly as a child without appearing to be just that bit too wise and self-aware – and Stisele isn’t either. She is also in a very difficult place and I enjoyed the fact that we appreciated her precariousness well before she did. Her two imaginary friends also produce a nice plot twist near the end of this story.

The cast of characters – from her spoilt step-sister who is to be the future ruler, to her loving and very concerned step-mother  – all jump off the page, giving us an opportunity to view them both through Stisele’s eyes and gauge our own opinions about them. This is far harder to accomplish than Avery makes it look and for me, this was a large part of the joy of this novella, also providing some welcome shafts of humour, even while I was wincing.

Overall, this novella is a delight. But the moment I completed it, I went looking for more from this talented writer and found nothing else, which was quite frustrating as this clearly reads as an opening salvo to a longer adventure in a politically complicated, well depicted world with clear magical rules. I  hope that Avery has plans to release a full-length novel in this world soon – I for one, will be only too pleased to scoop it up and become engrossed once more in Stisele’s adventures.

My copy of The Imlen Brat was provided by the publisher via Netgalley, which has not affected my unbiased review of the novella in any way.
9/10

Review of The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

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For those of you interested in such things, the author of this widely acclaimed book has a long pedigree of writing comics and graphic novels, including Lucifer and as Mike Carey, he has also produced the enjoyable Felix Castor series. A film is also being made of The Girl With All the Gifts.

thegirlwithallthegiftsEvery morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite. But they don’t laugh.

That’s the very short blurb, which takes you to the start of the book. I hope I’m not straying too much into spoiler territory by mentioning that a fungal infection has rampaged through humanity, causing unfortunate changes. Yes… before you ask, we are talking a type of zombie, or hungries as they are called in the book. While the book is written in multiple viewpoints, the protagonist is unquestionably young Melanie, a very bright little girl who loves learning. And her teacher, Miss Justineau, who smiles at her and the other children in the class, talks to them kindly and reads them stories. Whereas Mr Whitaker is often angry and hung over. Everyone knows he drinks too much.

The viewpoint is masterful, as is the pacing. I’m not going to mention any more about the story development, because Carey has deliberately constructed it so the reader goes on discovering more about the world as the story progresses. I personally love that particular style of storytelling above all others and devoured this book in three greedy gulps, reading when I should have been sleeping. Or editing. Or writing lesson plans. Or organising my trip to Bristolcon. In short, I broke one of my golden rules – I read for pure enjoyment during the day, rather to relax and unwind as a present to myself after a long day’s work.

I’m not a major fan of zombie apocalypse stories. Other than a couple of notable exceptions, I find the general gore and mayhem too much as I’m prone to nightmares. But this particular book drew me right in – how could anyone not love Melanie? Though I wasn’t too far through, when I figured it wouldn’t necessarily end well…

And I’m still musing over the ending. I’ll continue to do so for some long time, I reckon. This is a book that has crept under my skin and impinged on my inscape – I’ve even dreamt about it. No doubt about it – it’s one of my outstanding reads of the year. And even if you don’t generally read dystopian novels, or zombie anything – track it down. For once, the hype was right.
10/10