Tag Archives: Cressida Cowell

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

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The grandchildren have been staying over the Easter holidays, so Oscar and I have managed to get a fair amount of reading done, including this fifth instalment of the successful How To Train Your Dragon series.

The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?

After having thoroughly enjoyed the first four books in this funny, thrilling series, I was interested to see if Cowell could continue to provide yet another rip-roaring adventure full of intriguing twists. Or whether I would begin to see a pattern emerging in the storytelling. Well, there is a pattern – Hiccup and his naughty little dragon, Toothless, once more get dragged into an insanely dangerous and difficult adventure despite his best efforts. Though there is a major difference – the Isle of Berk is sweltering in a heatwave, which is something of a shocker. This part of the world is normally chilly and rain-lashed – failing that, it’s snowing… Hiccup spends most of his time shivering with cold if he isn’t shivering with fear.

However, Stoick the Vast has a cunning plan to keep his accident-prone small son a bit safer – when a real ex-Hero shows up, he employs him as a Bardiguard to look after Hiccup. Although there still seem to be a lot of near misses after Humungous the Hero starts guarding him – which makes his pal Fishlegs very suspicious… Oscar likes Fishlegs, who is small and suffers from eczema and asthma – until you put a sword in his hand and he turns into a Berserk. In this instalment, we also team up once more with Camicazi, the small heir to the Bog-Burglar tribe as the Archipelago is faced with a deadly threat that will leave every island a smoking ruin.

Of course, the one thing we do know is that Hiccup is going to survive and eventually prosper as these tales are his memoirs charting his progress to becoming the eventual leader that unites not just the Hairy Hooligan tribe, but all the Viking tribes. So the fact that both Oscar and I spend quite a lot of time trying to figure out how poor Hiccup is going to get out of this scrape and generally not getting it right is a tribute to Cowell’s considerable skill as a storyteller. What I did particularly enjoy about this tale is the insight it gave us on Hiccup’s mostly absent mother, Valhallarama, who is generally busy off questing on her own account.

The story is resolved after another climactic action scene that had me reading to Oscar later than I strictly should have – but neither of us wanted to stop as we needed to know what happened next. And if you are looking to fire up that kind of enthusiasm about books and stories in your youngsters, I highly recommend this wonderful series.
9/10

Sunday Post – 16th 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.

In theory it’s been a holiday period, allowing my break in my teaching routine to get a chance to focus on other aspects of my work. In practise, it’s thrown up all sorts of other tasks, including a stint of grannying. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a labour of love and I’m fortunate as both children are a joy and generally extremely well behaved. But we weren’t as up together this time around as we normally are, because the water pipe company had only completed concreting over the holes on Tuesday morning as they arrived in the afternoon. Himself also had a follow-up appointment at the Sleep Clinic, which was very encouraging where he has gone from 51 interrupted sleep events an hour down to 0.9 events, which is brilliant news. But we are both significantly shorter tempered than usual and while I am gradually getting more used to the silence instead of the thunderous snoring, my sleep patterns are still all over the place – and I’m not the one wearing the mask!

However, that didn’t get in the way of our having a fab time at the Crazy Golf on Wednesday with the grandchildren, though Frances going down with a heavy cold on Thursday meant we didn’t get out and about as much as I’d hoped. Fingers crossed the weather holds during the rest of the holiday when the grandchildren rejoin us for the coming week.

This week I have read:

Avengers of the Moon – A Captain Future book by Allen Steele

It was an age of miracles. It was an era of wonder. It was a time of troubles. It was all these things and more . . . except there were no heroes. Naturally, one had to be created.
Curt Newton has spent most of his life hidden from the rest of humankind, being raised by a robot, an android, and the disembodied brain of a renowned scientist. This unlikely trio of guardians has kept his existence a closely guarded secret since the murder of Curt’s parents. Curt’s innate curiosity and nose for trouble inadvertently lead him into a plot to destabilize the Solar Coalition. There’s only one way to uncover the evil mastermind—Curt must become Captain Future. With the permission of the Edmond Hamilton estate, Allen Steele revives the exciting adventures of Captain Future.
I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure once I got used to the old fashioned feel of the writing – wholly intentional as Steele was going for a retro feel with this science fiction heroic tale.

 

How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale – Book 5 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
The heat is on for Hiccup as he is called to save the day once again. Someone has stolen the Fire-Stone. Now that the volcano on Volcano Island has become active, the tremors are hatching the eggs of the Exterminator dragons! Can Hiccup return the Fire-Stone to the Volcano, stop it from erupting, and save the Tribes from being wiped out by the terrible sword-claws of the Exterminators?
A heatwave on the Isle of Berk – unheard of! As anyone who reads this blog will know, I love this quirky, anarchic world. In this fifth slice of Hiccup’s adventures, once again Cowell manages to deliver yet another original, enjoyable adventure full of excitement and humour.

 

Saven Deception – Book 1 of the Saven series by Siobhan Davis

Sadie Owens has been slowly dying inside. Bit by bit, piece by piece, day by day. Trapped in a life she hates, she relies on only one person—herself. Despised by her family and betrayed by an unscrupulous government, Sadie dreams of a different life. When she is chosen to participate in the government’s new social experiment, she is ecstatic at the prospect of spending six months in Thalassic City, the shiny new city under the sea. Sadie is captivated by Logan, the beautiful boy with the ocean-blue eyes, but he isn’t all he appears to be. When she finally uncovers the government’s real agenda, the truth is more shocking than anything she could ever have imagined.

This is the first in the successful, best-selling dystopian science fiction adventure featuring the Saven aliens interaction with humanity. It is an enjoyable, page-turning read and I look forward to getting hold of the next book in the series.

 

Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space – The Dark – Book 4 of the Adventures in Wild Space by Tom Huddleston
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…
This is a genuinely creepy read with all sorts of twists and turns as the children are still fighting to evade the Empire’s attempts to capture them and their droid CR-8R. The friendly font, attractive illustrations and reasonably straightforward vocabulary means that Oscar can also join in and read to me, too.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 9th April 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of The Forever Court – Book 2 of The Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden

Teaser Tuesday featuring Avengers of the Moon – a Captain Future novel by Allen Steele

Review of The Operator – Book 2 of the Peri Reed Chronicles by Kim Harrison

Shoot for the Moon Challenge – March Roundup

Friday Face-off – Happy Easter! featuring The Pinhoe Egg – a Chrestomanci novel by Diana Wynne Jones

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL Review of Avengers of the Moon – a Captain Future novel by Allen Steele

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

The Social Contract for Writers http://writerunboxed.com/2017/04/15/the-social-contract-for-writers/ Bill Ferris is hilariously irreverent about the business of writing and in yet another article that had me sniggering throughout, picks apart some of our darker impulses…

My First Library: The Bookmobile https://coffeeandcatsblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/my-first-library-the-bookmobile/ In this delightful article, Loreen charts how she fell in love with the world of books, helped by a wonderful librarian.

Ouroboros https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/ouroboros/ I don’t always like the results, but this quirky photography site always produces challenging images – and this one really caught my attention and had me studying it for a while.

…ssshhhh… the NON-secret of Author online self-promotion… https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/04/14/ssshhhh-the-non-secret-of-author-online-self-promotion/ As a successful self-published author, Seumas shares some of his hard-won experience – a typically generous gesture.

Women in SF & F Month: Kat Howard http://www.fantasybookcafe.com/2017/04/women-in-sff-month-kat-howard/ I haven’t yet read Kat’s book, but I’ll be treating myself just as soon as funds allow – I loved this article…

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

Sunday Post – 12th February 2017

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

Another busy week with the Northbrook courses going well and my sessions with Tim now less pressured with the extra session. The catch is this week Himself’s shift pattern meant I had to pick him up from work at stupid o’clock in the wee small hours. A lot of the time that isn’t too much of an issue but this week, for some reason, I wasn’t getting back to sleep all that quickly so I’ve been rather sleep-deprived – even for me. As a confirmed insomniac, I’m used to functioning on not much sleep, but I only managed three hours on Thursday night/Friday morning.

On Thursday, Mhairi and I got together for a writing day – we work really well together and manage to get a great deal done. It’s also helpful to have someone you know and trust to bounce ideas around, along with lots of tea and laughter. It was the West Sussex Writers’ monthly get-together on Thursday night. This month was the manuscript surgery followed by an excellent Open Mic session where a variety of amusing and thought-provoking prose and poetry highlighted just what a talented membership we have. The Friday morning planning session regarding Tim’s progress went really well – intense, but we realised we are on track and now just need to focus our efforts on moving forward.

This week-end we have the pleasure of the grandchildren staying over. As ever, they are a joy – which is more than can be said about the bleeping weather. Oscar is suffering with a heavy cold and bad cough, so taking him out and about in the bitter cold – yesterday it was snowing quite heavily though thankfully it didn’t settle – won’t be doing him any favours. We nicked out to get a few vital supplies, but are mostly hunkering down for cosy indoors activities.

This week I have read:
The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echo of the Falls series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

thebearandtheserpentManiye, child of Wolf and Tiger, has a new soul and a new shape. But as Champion of the Crown of the World, does she represent an opportunity for the North – or a threat? Travelling as a bodyguard to the Southern prince, with her warband of outcasts, she hopes to finally discover her true place in the world, though she is quickly pitchforked in the middle of a crisis that puts her at the eye of a political storm.

I loved the first book in this shape-shifting epic fantasy set in a largely bronze age society, The Tiger and the Wolf . My firm advice is to tuck into this one before you reach for this offering as you are simply missing too much wonderful worldbuilding and rich character development if you plunge into this series with this one – which proves to be another real treat.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer

heartlessCatherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

This prequel to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a respectful and skilful addition to this famous classic that provides a fascinating take on what has happened to some of the major characters in the story. Highly recommended.

 

How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse – Book 4 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Reluctant hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III must rescue his best friend, Fishlegs, from the deadly howtocheatadragonscursedisease Vorpentitis. The only cure is rare and almost impossible to find…a potato. But where will Hiccup find such a thing? He’ll have to dodge the terrible Sharkworms, battle Doomfangs, and outwit crazy Hooligans if he’s going to be a Hero. Again.

Oscar and I completed this slice of Hiccup’s madcap adventures that takes him into the territory of one of the Hooligan tribe’s deadliest enemies in an effort to save Fishlegs’ life. Once more we giggled and gasped through this adventure together. Being a granny gets to be so much fun with books like this to share…

 

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

My 2016 Reading Year – the Statistics

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 of the Echoes of the Fall series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Turn – Prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – The Bear and the Serpent – Book 2 to the Echoes of the Fall

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds Are Forever… featuring Diamond Mask by Julian May

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
12 Thoughts Every Book Lover Has Had At Least Once https://athousandlives01.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/12-thoughts-every-book-lover-has-had-at-least-once/ This amusing post had me grinning and nodding in recognition – especially numbers 1 and 11…

8 Useful Computer Shortcuts and Hacks https://anaslair.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/8-useful-computer-shortcuts-and-hacks/ These commands Ana has compiled can save a lot of time and frustration – I’ve certainly bookmarked them.

Booklovin’: What It Is and Why You Should Be Using It https://bookishnessandtea.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/all-abloglovin/ Ava’s excellent article helps those of us who enjoy reading blogs but have problems keeping track of our favourites.

The Best Poems for Valentine’s Day https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/10/the-best-poems-for-valentines-day/ In preparation for a certain date coming up next week, those fine folks at Interesting Literature have a stock of romantic poetry to wow that special person in your life…

Proverbs from Africa https://siuquxebooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/09/www-siuquxebooks-wordpress-comproverbs-africa-josbons/ Josbons has compiled these favourite African proverbs, which make fascinating reading.

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

Sunday Post – 9th October

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Sunday Post

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.

A much quieter week, getting back into a routine -and working very hard line editing Netted. The catch is, I have to keep breaking off, otherwise my effectiveness falls through the floor, which is annoying. On Wednesday evening my wonderful writing buddy, Sarah Palmer, provided me with valuable feedback on Dying For Space after beta-reading it for me. So I’ll be performing surgery on the narrative arc and tweaking the ending, using a good, sharp scalpel once I’ve completed my rewrite of Miranda’s Tempest. It seems this is to be the year of the rewrites – but if that’s what it takes to go on improving my writing, then so be it. It’s pointless writing new material if my current body of work is not the very best I can produce.

On Thursday, Mhairi spent the day with me. Although it was only a fortnight ago we last met up, it seemed much longer as a great deal has happened since then. It was great to be able to chat over things with a sympathetic listener – there’s a lot going on at present and not all of it good…

J and I went for a walk over Kithurst Hill yesterday – it was the first time I’ve done a proper walk since I started my Pilates and Fitstep and was delighted that I was able to complete it without limping. Sadly I forgot to take my camera, but we’re also aiming to go out again tomorrow, so long as it isn’t lashing with rain, and I try to remember to get a few photos.

My reading has slowed right down this week:

How to Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
howtobeapirateHiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons…

Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled. I’ll take these funny, exciting books over the tepid film version every time.

 

 

Escapology by Ren Waroom
Shock Pao is the best. In the virtual world the Slip there’s nothing he can’t steal for the right price. escapologyOutside the Slip, though, he’s a Fail – no degree, no job. So when his ex offers him a job, breaking into a corporate databank, he accepts—it’s either that, or find himself a nice bench to sleep under. Amiga works for psychotic crime lord Twist Calhoun so when Shock’s war comes to her, it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive.

While Warom’s writing has the gritty lyric quality of the best cyberpunk when it comes to the world-building, she also excels at characterisation, which isn’t always the case with this genre. This is one of the most enjoyable cyberpunk offerings I’ve read and a mightily impressive debut novel from a very talented author – and the good news is there is another book in the series due out next year.

 

 

My posts last week:

Review of Necessity – Book 3 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Escapology by Ren Warom

2016 Discovery Challenge – September Roundup

Review of How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

Friday Faceoff – Consumed by the darkness, it hides all our sins… featuring Dark Eden – Book 1 of the Dark Eden series by Chris Beckett

Review of Escapology by Ren Warom

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

Why Villains Need More Respect in Books http://lovelypagesreviews.com/why-villains-need-more-respect-in-books/ This enjoyable article articulates some of the frustrations readers have when authors don’t pay sufficient attention to the baddies in their stories…

Lola’s Advice: How to Run a Giveaway http://lolasreviews.com/lolas-advice-how-to-run-a-giveaway/ This excellent blog is one I frequently visit and as ever – her feature addresses the topic with readable thoroughness

Richard Ankers’ micro fiction often packs a punch – I found this offering particularly moving… https://richardankers.com/2016/10/06/the-drowned-and-the-drowning/

Before the Call https://gloriachao.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/before-the-call/ Gloria Chao had her writing dream come true when she got her agent and then a publishing deal – and is now generously sharing the nitty gritty details of her preparation towards that dream

Chronicling the Craft: A Conversation About Beta-Reading, From Nailing Your Critiques to Finding Your Candidates https://saraletourneauwriter.com/2016/10/06/beta-reading-conversation/ I seem to have been particularly drawn to how-to articles this week – and this is another gem for writers who wish to improve their work

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

Review of How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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Oscar and I completed this book together this last weekend when the grandchildren were staying and once more, I was struck at just how funny and anarchic the storyline is…

howtobeapirateHiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons….

And that’s the blurb. Of course, it doesn’t begin to give you an idea of the story, where Alvin, the poor-but-honest-farmer pops up and beguiles the Hairy Hooligan tribe with tales of Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure and how to find it. Hiccup has a sinking feeling this is a very bad idea, but his chieftain father, Stoick the Vast, is determined to track it down. After all, he is Grimbeard’s heir.

What I particularly love about this books – and loathe about the film – is that Hiccup and Fishlegs are undersized, average-to-homely in the looks department and are regularly beaten up by Snotlout and Dogsbreath. While the other boys occasionally are happy to follow Hiccup’s lead after he’s managed to pull them out of yet another disaster by virtue of yet another cunning plan, they’ll jeer and join in the laughter quickly enough once the memory of that particular victory fades – which generally takes a couple of days. In other words, Hiccup isn’t the good-looking and capable character portrayed in the film with the cool, rare dragon. Toothless is only remarkable in being the smallest dragon in the village with the manners of a spoilt two-year-old. Hiccup’s constant sense of not measuring up to his strong chieftain father has us rooting for him. Under all the humour there is a real sense of poignancy over his feelings of inadequacy.

Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled.

However, it’s all very well piling on the action and winding up the narrative tension until it is pinging off the page – but then comes the moment when there is the payoff. And where children are concerned, there can be no half measures. The final denouement has to pack a sufficient punch to wind up such a twisting plot so that when we close the book for the final time, we all still feel the tingle of excitement yet are thoroughly satisfied with the ending of this particular adventure. Cowell pulls this off magnificently. It didn’t take much to persuade Oscar to immediately start reading the third book in this enchanting series, How To Speak Dragonese. I want more of this world.
9/10

Five SFF Books That Made Me Laugh – Part 2

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As promised back here, I’ve now trawled through my lists and added another science fiction or fantasy five books that at least made me grin or laugh aloud. Here they are in no particular order…

Insatiable – Book 1 of the Insatiable series by Meg Cabot

insatiableSick of hearing about vampires? So is Meena Harper. But her bosses are making her write about them anyway, even though Meena doesn’t believe in them. Not that Meena isn’t familiar with the supernatural. See, Meena Harper knows how you’re going to die. (Not that you’re going to believe her; no one ever does.) But not even Meena’s precognition can prepare her for what happens when she meets—then makes the mistake of falling in love with—Lucien Antonescu, a modern-day prince with a bit of a dark side. It’s a dark side a lot of people, like an ancient society of vampire-hunters, would prefer to see him dead for.

Another vampire adventure filled with incident and a large dollop of humour to help it all along. I loved both this offering – see my review here – and its sequel, Overbite.

 

How To Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

And no… I am not talking about the rather vanilla version portrayed in the films, which is very how to train your dragonentertaining, but nothing like as vivid, anarchic and funny as the books. Hiccup is far less charismatic and far more worried; while Toothless is far less rare, a whole lot naughtier and less obedient than the film – see my review here.

Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a truly extraordinary Viking hero known throughout Vikingdom as “the Dragon Whisperer”…but it wasn’t always so. Travel back to the days when the mighty warrior was just a boy, the quiet and thoughtful son of the Chief of the Hairy Hooligans. Can Hiccup capture a dragon and train it without being torn limb from limb? Join the adventure as the small boy finds a better way to train his dragon and become a hero!

Again, this is has been a joy to share with the grandchildren – and I have been known to dip in and out of these books if I need cheering up.

 

The Radleys by Matt Haig

theradleysThe Radleys are an everyday family who juggle dysfunctional lives. Except, as Peter and Helen Radley know, but their children have yet to find out, the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act, her parents decide to explain a few things.

This is another vampire book, but unlike any other you’ll have read see my review here. This is the story of a middle-class couple desperately trying to blend into suburban England with their children – to the extent that they haven’t even got around to explaining to their hapless offspring the cause of their garlic allergy and extreme photosensitivity. It is hilarious and shocking by turns – and I’ll guarantee if you read it, you won’t forget this one.

 

Stray Souls – Book 1 of the Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin

straysoulsThis book sort of follows on from the previous offering – what do you do in our modern world if you are cursed with a special power? How do you blend in? What if you can’t blend in?

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.

Sharon Li tries to provide an answer with her Magicals Anonymous support group. In addition to getting together and discussing their issues together, they also find themselves caught up in Matthew Swift’s latest problem. Unlike the Midnight Mayor series, this one is laugh-aloud funny, in amongst the chaos and drama – see my review here.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.themartian
Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate the planet while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded on Mars’ surface, completely alone, with no way to signal Earth that he’s alive. And even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone years before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, Mark won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark’s not ready to quit. Armed with nothing but his ingenuity and his engineering skills—and a gallows sense of humor that proves to be his greatest source of strength–he embarks on a dogged quest to stay alive, using his botany expertise to grow food and even hatching a mad plan to contact NASA back on Earth.

I – finally – got to see the film of this 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe adventure over the Easter break. And was sort of glad that I didn’t spend a lot of money going to watch it at the cinema. Oh, the film was okay – in fact, better than okay. But it only hinted at the humour that runs right through this story, humanising Mark and preventing him from coming across as either a lantern-jawed NASA clone, or a whiny victim. The book was not only a thoroughly enjoyable science fiction adventure, it was also very funny – see my review here.

So what funny or amusing science fiction and fantasy books have I missed off my list? Have you read any of these and also found they made you smile?

Favourite Dragons in Literature

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I’ve read one or three fantasy books in my time and decided to give a quick roundup of my favourite dragons. I happen to have a really soft spot for these critters and am always fascinated how different authors approach them. So, in no particular order…

Tintaglia from The Realm of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobbdragonkeeper
I love this superbly arrogant blue dragon and the whole backstory of how the dragons come back into being, starting with the Live Ship Traders trilogy and then continuing through the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet. I’m not in the business of giving spoilers, so I won’t say too much more. But if you have a weakness for dragons and enjoy a really intelligent, nuanced world featuring them, then consider reading Hobb’s books.

TheWhiteDragon(1stEd)Ruth from the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey
This clever blend of science fiction and fantasy features dragons used in the fight against Thread, a terrible alien infestation that periodically threatens to wipe out the colonists. The alliance between riders and dragons is very close and a number of dragons are featured throughout the series, but the little white, Ruth, stole my heart. This classic series has stood the test of time and is highly recommended for anyone who has not yet encountered it.

Toothless from the How to Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowellhow to train your dragon
Yes, I know these are children’s books. Yes, I know you’ve probably seen the films. But if you have, don’t go away with the idea that Cowell’s version of Toothless is remotely like the cool, sensible creature depicted in the films. Toothless in the books is snarky and disobedient, only coming to Hiccup’s rescue when their lives depend upon it. Indeed, the relationship between the Viking youngsters and the dragons in the books is far more nuanced and chaotically funny than the rather tepid versions depicted in the films. Reading sessions of these books with grandchildren regularly descend into giggles.

TemeraireTemeraire from the series by Naomi Novik
This alternate historical series is starts off during the Napoleonic Wars, where dragons are used as men of war by both the English and French. Temeraire is a dragon that hatches prematurely so that his rider and lifelong companion is William Laurence, a Royal Navy captain. Novik has moved the story arc on, having her intrepid duo ranging all over the globe during their enjoyable, well written adventures.

The Blessed Penn from Tooth and Claw by Jo Waltontooth and claw
This marvellous gem from Walton, which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2004, is set in a world not dissimilar to Anthony Trollop’s Framley Parsonage. But you don’t need to have read Trollop’s book to appreciate Tooth and Claw, which inserts dragons and their need for meat and ambition into a world bounded by Victorian sensibilities. It is wonderfully observed, full of delightfully witty touches and one of my most memorable reads.

Other strong contenders – I love Gralen from White Mountain by Sophie E. Tallis, whose strong, outspoken character provides some delightful moments in this enjoyable epic fantasy read. I also really enjoy Jack from The Future FallsBook 3 of The Enchantment Emporium series by Tanya Huff – though I am cheating a little here, because he is somewhere between a dragon and a person. The other dragon series worthy of mention is Stephen Deas’ riveting, if disturbing series The Memory of Flames, where the rather unpleasant humans have been subduing the dragons by magical means…

What about your favourite dragons in literature? Who have I left off this list that has you wincing in disgust? I’d love to hear from you!

My Outstanding Reads of 2014

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Before I start, perhaps you should know how I’ve arrived at this decision, after reading 143 books and writing 126 reviews during the year. To make the list below, the books either blew me away at the time – or have lodged in my brain and rearranged my mental furniture in some way. There are a couple of books by the same author – I make no apologies for that. One of those authors, Jo Walton,  should be a whole lot better known than she is, given the breadth of her writing talent and the sheer quality of her work, while the other is simply an extraordinary writer at the top of her game. So in no particular order – here they are, my outstanding reads of 2014…

Glass Thorns – Book 1 of the Touchstone series by Melanie Rawn
Cayden Silversun is part Elven, part Fae, and part human Wizard. After centuries of bloodshed, in which Cade’s glassthornsWizard kin played a prominent role, his powers are now strictly constrained. But in the theatre, magic lives. Cade is a tregetour, a playwright who infuses glass wands with the magic necessary for the rest of his troupe, Touchstone, to perform his pieces. But alongside the Wizardly magic that he is sure will bring him fame and fortune on the stage is the legacy of the Fae within him. Troubled by prophetic visions of not only his future but the fates of those closest to him, Cade must decide whether to interfere, or stand back as Touchstone threatens to shatter into pieces.

It is always enjoyable and intriguing to read something that stretches the genre in a different direction – and Glass Thorns certainly does that. Apart from the fact that it has many elements taken from Fantasy – a Late Medieval/Early Modern historical feel, complete with horse-driven conveyances; a number of races rubbing shoulders, including Elves, Wizards, Fae, Trolls, etc; women relegated to a subservient role – there are also aspects of this book that would fit quite happily in a hard science fiction read. The denseness of the world and close attention to detail is a delight – I also loved the two other books I’ve read in this series, Elsewhen and Thornlost and I’m looking forward to reading the fourth book Window Wall, due for release in April 2015.

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
dominionTwelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

Civil servant David Fitzgerald has been passing on government secrets after the tragic death of his son. While his wife Sarah is increasingly suspicious of the late nights and week-end stints in the office. But as events sweep this middle-class couple up into the political mincing machine, they cross paths with Gestapo Sturmbannfűhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant and implacable hunter of men…

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading and in amongst his deftly realistic worldbuilding, is the tense thriller that pings off the page. This book keeps creeping back into my head at all sorts of times – even when I’d rather it didn’t…

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
These are the acclaimed Man Booker prizewinning books about Henry VIII’s bully boy Thomas Cromwell, who wolf halloversaw the dissolution of the monasteries. Mantel instantly had me off-balance with her present tense, third person deep POV when we first meet Cromwell being beaten by Walter, his drunken father, and he is lying on the ground trying to summon up the will to move. So Mantel quickly gains our sympathy for her protagonist – but rather than chart his adventures in Europe where he spent time as a mercenary and scholar – we then jump to when he is in Cardinal Wolsey’s employ and establishing himself as a man of substance.

bringupthebodiesThe biggest problem for Mantel in choosing this period of history, is that many of us know the progression of events all too well – so how to pull us into the story and keep us turning the pages of these door-stoppers? Well, the use of present tense throughout gives both these books pace and immediacy. While she certainly charts the major events in Henry’s constant struggles to persuade the Pope to annul his marriage to Katherine in favour of Anne Boleyn, it is Cromwell’s musings and highly personal take on what is going on around him that bounces off the page. I was absolutely gripped by these books – the writing is extraordinary.

However, I would also say that many folks have found these books initially difficult to get into, so my firm advice would be to persevere if you aren’t immediately hooked – it really is worth it.

The Crossing Places – Book 1 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
Ruth Galloway is a forty-something archaeologist who lives on her own at the edge of Saltmarsh in an isolated cottage thecrossing placeswith a couple of cats. I found her character immediately appealing and realistic. Her concerns about her weight and her single status struck a chord with me – and I suspect many other female crime fans. This series is evidently going to be something of a partnership between Ruth and Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. So did I also feel an affinity with the other main character? Yes. Nelson is clearly a complicated personality and – unlike Ruth and many other detectives in other series – he is a family man with two daughters and an attractive wife. I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out during the series. The other powerful factor in this book is the stunning backdrop – the salt marshes.

Griffiths evidently knows and loves this landscape and has it as a character in its own right, particularly during the climactic scenes where the dangerous surroundings heighten the drama and tension during the denouement in a classic showdown that manages to provide plenty of surprises. Let’s hope the upcoming television series does this book justice.

The Enchantment Emporium by Tanya Huff
Well, this is fun! I loved the whole idea – including the Gale family tendency to interbreed to strengthen their magical enchantment emporiumbloodline, and the fact that it takes a different direction depending on gender. As Huff doesn’t go into any major detail about the uninhibited sexual exploits within the family, the fact that a normal major taboo is crossed due to a magical imperative just underlines the sense of ‘other’. I would have been a lot less comfortable with this aspect if she’d chosen to provide a lot of gratuitous detail around said exploits – but she doesn’t. It was particularly enjoyable to read a punchy, urban fantasy where the power lies with the elderly females – the infamous ‘aunties’. As someone who finds herself rapidly approaching the same role within my own family faaar too quickly, it was gratifying to read about women of a certain age who were a significant force to be reckoned with.

As for Alysha, herself – Huff has depicted a feisty, enjoyable heroine who is busy trying to find her feet within a powerful family without cutting herself off from their support or love. Again, refreshing to read. So many protagonists, male and female, don’t seem to have much in the way of family ties, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in whatever arcane adventures that come their way without having to consider anyone near and dear to them. Her reaction to the rapidly escalating troubles surrounding the Emporium makes for a riveting, memorable read – and the bonus is this is the first of a series.

Fortune’s Pawn – Book 1 of the Paradox series by Rachel Bach
œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIDevi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day. But not just yet. That is, until she gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years anywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

Written in first person point of view, Devi is a wonderful protagonist. A driven, adrenaline-junkie, she spends her earnings on wicked weaponry and a shielded suit that she loves far too much, to the extent they all have names. She also likes the odd drop and playing poker. I loved her – and her impulsive character that gets her into regular scrapes. Given that many of my favourite reads were quite grim, this mapcap adventure provided plenty of thrills and spills which didn’t stick in my memory as much as the general feeling of fun. It’s not a comedy, but there was more than enough energy crackling off the page to have me turning the pages with a grin on my face.

Farthing – Book 1 of The Small Change trilogy by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight farthingyears after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the upper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But by far the strongest voice in the book, is that of Lucy Kahn. She bounces off the page with her first person narrative, told in a slightly breathless, chatty style that is so vivid, I actually dreamt of her… Her love for her husband shines through – as does her disgust for her peers, whom she regards at best as useless, after being educated by a thoughtful, egalitarian governess. And her wary hatred for her powerful, unscrupulous mother. This is the first of an excellent trilogy and I highly recommend it. Walton should be read. A lot.

How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
how to train your dragonHiccup and his friend Fishlegs join a group of boys and set out to catch and train a dragon to be initiated into their clan, the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans. Those who fail will be exiled forever, so will Hiccup and his small, disobedient dragon manage to avoid this miserable fate?

The whole tone and feel of this book is a delight – Frankie enjoyed the pictures and loved the humour. There is a lot going on, here with plenty of wordplay and puns within the names of the Viking characters and their dragon pets, but there is also a really strong, well executed narrative arc packed with action and suspense. Several times, I found myself reading far longer than I’d initially intended because we both wanted to know what would happen next. As anyone who visits this blog will quickly realise, I’m an enthusiastic reader and consider myself fairly sharp at recognising how a story is likely to progress – but any predictions I made about this particular book were wrong. I simply didn’t know where Cowell was going to take the story after the initial setup – even though I also know the film very well.

In addition to enjoyably funny cartoon drawings and riveting storyline, Cowell also added some extras for those who like to immerse themselves in her world. Frankie wasn’t remotely interested in breaking off and examining the copy of the book stolen from the Meatloaf Community Library called How To Train Your Dragon, written by Professor Yobbish, or checking out any of the dragon stats dotted throughout the book. But then, she is all about the story. However, for any child who appreciates these details – it’s a great addition. All in all – I’ve become hooked into Cowell’s world and am now in the process of buying the audio editions narrated by David Tennant so she can enjoy them when I’m not around to read them to her. And the bonus is that I can also listen in to Hiccup’s latest adventure.

My Real Children by Jo Walton
The day Mark called, Patricia Cowan’s world split in two.my real children
The phone call.
His question.
Her answer.
A single word.
‘Yes.’
‘No.’
It is 2015 and Patricia Cowan is very old. ‘Confused today’ read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. Her childhood, her years at Oxford during the Second World War – those things are solid in her memory. Then that phone call and… her memory splits in two.

This book is different from anything else that Walton has written – but then books with a storyline like this aren’t exactly crowding the bookshelves. There is a sense of ambiguity about the whole business – Patricia is suffering from dementia and has been battling with it for some time. So… is this a complex illusion brought about by a damaged brain? At this point, the two alternate lives seem to collide – she gets muddled as to which nursing home she is living in and although she hasn’t yet mixed up the children, she knows it will only be a matter of time. The impact of her different lives doesn’t just affect her family – the world is quite a different place and I found this to be a fascinating consequence.

Walton is excellent at summoning up the feel of an era and I was intrigued to note how nostalgia steadily drifts into alternate history, as political events increasingly diverge from our own timeline. Focused as I was on Patricia’s personal story, it took a while for the penny to drop – but when I went back and reread the sections, I was able to appreciate the subtlety Walton employs with occasional mentions of events, before the shock of the major crisis which changes the whole political backdrop forever…

Hav by Jan Morris
havJan Morris is a renowned and respected travel writer with such books as Venice and Europe an Intimate Journey under her belt. The first half of this book, then known as Last Letters from Hav, was first published in 1985 and it wasn’t until after the 9/11 effect rippled around the world, shifting political and cultural stances, that Morris considered writing a follow-up charting that type of changes she’d noted while travelling to actual places.
So she wrote the second section and the book in this form was published in 2006. I have something of a soft spot for well-conceived imaginary places – but this is a tour de force. Morris has not only written extensively about the physical geography, describing the buildings and topographical features – she has also provided a vivid historical and political backdrop.

During the first section of the book, Hav is a comparative backwater. Athough situated geographically between East and West, it is a cultural and political melting pot with a number of immigrants from France, Turkey, Greece, China, India – as well as the mysterious indigenous cave-dwelling population… She captures Hav’s faded splendour and idiosyncratic customs, many originating centuries ago when Hav was part of the Silk Route and Venice had a series of warehouses backed by powerful merchanting families to protect their valuable assets. Though I constantly had to remind myself as I got caught up in the welter of small details Morris continually drops into her narrative – Hav doesn’t exist.

All this is impressive enough – but for me, the genius of this book is what happens in the second half after the Intervention. Morris revisits Hav and charts how it has changed since the… um – Intervention. No one would be stupidly crass enough to use the word invasion… This is another of those remarkable books that have impacted my  inscape with its clever, thought provoking premise.

Half a King – Book 1 of The Shattered Seas trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Born a weakling in the eyes of the world, Yarvi cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a half a kingdeadly edge. Especially when his father and older brother are both slaughtered by a neighbouring lord and he suddenly finds that instead of continuing with his training to become a trusted advisor to his brother, he is the one who will be the next king…

I loved the world, the perfect narrative pacing and the character progression. We have a salutary demonstration at the end of the book as to just how much Yarvi’s experiences have shaped him – once more leaving me open-mouthed with surprise. I’m not the target audience – and while I regularly read YA books with huge enjoyment, I’m normally conscious they are written for a less experienced reader, so I tend to give the author a pass on some of the less subtle writing. No such pass is required for Abercrombie. This is a delight. Accomplished, enthralling and has this non-YA reader desperate for more.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
signatureofallthingsThis housebrick of a book charts Alma’s life from the day she is born, 5th January 1800, right up until her very old age. And it is a life full of contradictions – brought up in a fabulously wealthy household, she nevertheless is taught strict obedience, frugality, attention to detail and rigorously schooled by her Dutch mother. An only child, she is suddenly presented with an adopted sister when she is 10 years old – a dainty, beautiful girl who is everything Alma is not… Despite being the daughter of a wealthy man, she is not besieged by suitors as a young girl – although there is one man who she has fallen in love with. And I’m not going further because to do so would be to lurch into spoiler territory. Suffice to say that it would be all too easy to turn this book into a heartbreaking melodrama – there is certainly the material to do so.

But Gilbert turns this book into so much more than that. In amongst her duties as her father’s secretary and administrator, Alma is a bryologist, which means she studies mosses. And her work brings her into contact with other naturalists and lithographers – including Ambrose…

As well as becoming engrossed in Alma’s life, I was also fascinated by Prudence, her adopted sister. Though neither girl bonded with the other, their paths cross in ways that profoundly affected each of them, and indirectly, leads to Alma’s restless travelling at an age when most of her contemporaries are settling down to a life of placid routine. The wealth of historical detail; the state of Tahiti at the time, when the native people are still reeling from the epidemics that ripped through the population; Gilbert’s iron grip on the pacing and narrative tension that ensured that the story pinged off the page… This is a masterpiece.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’m stranded on Mars. I have no way to communicate with Earth. I’m in a Habitat designed to last 31 days. If the themartianOxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the Water Reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the Hab breaches, I’ll just kind of explode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So yeah. I’m screwed.

That is the blurb in Mark Watney’s viewpoint – typically laconic. Several of the reviews called this a 21st century version of the Robinson Crusoe story, and it neatly sums up the first section of the book. Like Defoe, Weir is very keen on demonstrating all the fixes and lash-ups that Watney resorts to. But being an astronaut on a NASA space program, the ingenious ways he manages to avoid death involve a great deal more technology and scientific knowhow than Robinson Crusoe had to grapple with. Weir had to dive into a truly brain-bulging amount of research in order to get this level of detail and apparent plausibility. Although I’m no scientist, nothing jarred – not his reaction or the relationship with NASA.

However, if Weir had kept the story going at that level, I would not have stayed engrossed right to the end. The narrative pacing is pitch perfect – despite the plethora of detail, Weir never loses touch with the fact that he is telling a story. It’s a triumph and worth a read by anyone – including those who don’t generally go near science fiction.

Foxglove Summer – Book 5 of the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch
foxglovesummerWhen two young girls go missing in rural Herefordshire PC Peter Grant is sent out of London to check that nothing supernatural is involved. It’s purely routine. Nightingale thinks he’ll be done in less than a day. But Peter’s never been one to walk away from someone in trouble, so when nothing covertly magical turns up he volunteers his services to the local police who need all the help they can get.

But because the universe likes a joke as much as the next sadistic megalomaniac, Peter soon comes to realise that dark secrets lurk under the picturesque fields and villages of the countryside and there might just be work for Britain’s most junior wizard after all.

Well this is fun! Grant is taken right away from his natural stamping ground and deposited in amongst strangers who are battling to find two girls who have disappeared. After the high drama at the end of the last book, I’d feared this book might feel a tad flat – but the scene change and innate tension caused by the nature of the case meant Foxglove Summer hits the ground running and just goes on gathering momentum, making it a joy to read.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Harry August is on his deathbed again. No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry first 15 lives of Harry Augustalways restarts to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a live he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes. Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. ‘I nearly missed you, Doctor August,’ she says. ‘I need to send a message.’

This is the story of what Harry does next – and what he did before – and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

North is visiting a very familiar science fiction trope – that of the trans-human who has shifted into something different by dint of having lived so long. The big difference is that trans-humans as depicted by the likes of Alastair Reynolds and Greg Bear owe their longevity to scientific development, while Harry August and the handful of other returnees he encounters during his lifetimes, owe their existence to a genetic quirk. As a kalachakra, after he dies, he goes straight back to the year of his first birth – 1918 – and relives his existence, with the memories of his previous lives impacting on his choices and decisions. For my money, Harry August is the most effectively depicted post-human I have yet encountered. While never forgetting his difference, North has managed to still make him sufficiently sympathetic that I really empathised and cared about him – a feat, as he has become something other than fully human and is certainly not particularly cuddly or even likeable at lot of the time. What we get is a fascinating exploration of what it is to be human and the effects of determinism – how far can Harry influence or alter the events in his lives – alongside the cracking adventure story that steadily evolves.

Review of How to be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Dragon Series by Cressida Cowell

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So as the summer holidays started, I got hold of the second book in this entertaining series to read to the grandchildren – hot on the heels of watching the second film in the franchise. Would this book fall flat in comparison?

how to be a pirateCan Hiccup find Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure before Alvin the Treacherous gets his sneaky hands on it? And if Hiccup opens a box that says DO NOT OPEN, will he live to tell the tale?

Actually, it’s the other way around. Having seen both films before getting to the books, I was surprised at just how much didn’t cross into the films from the books. There are a number of the characters in both versions, and some of the story arcs, of course. But the sheer exuberant anarchy that reverberates throughout the books, as well as the humour, both the punning, cheesy kind and the sharp, observant kind, simply isn’t effectively represented in the films. The relationship between Toothless and Hiccup, in particular – like Toothless – has lost its bite in the film. In the books Toothless is disobedient, selfish and highly manipulative – and regularly embarrasses Hiccup by refusing to obey him at key times. Until Hiccup is suddenly pitched into the middle of a life-threatening situation.

And that’s the other major difference between the film and the books – the sheer thrill factor… The plot in this second book swept us along and I ended up reading to the children disgracefully late – chiefly because I also wanted to know what was going to happen next…

In short, How to Be a Pirate delivered everything I could ask for in an adventure book written for children. No wonder it is such a runaway success. As for my grandchildren – they loved it, too. And Frankie is now clamouring for the third book in the series. Fortunately. Because I was going to get it anyway, even if they hadn’t wanted to read it.
9/10

How To Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

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After thoroughly enjoying the film and the spinoff episodes, Frankie was keen for me to read the book to her. Would she be disappointed, after getting to know the characters through the medium of film?

Hiccup and his friend Fishlegs join a group of boys and set out to catch and train a dragon to be initiated into their clan, the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans. Those who fail will be exiled forever, so will Hiccup and his small, disobedient dragon manage to avoid this miserable fate?

how to train your dragonThe whole tone and feel of this book is a delight – Frankie enjoyed the pictures and loved the humour. There is a lot going on, here. Lots of wordplay and puns within the names of the Viking characters and their dragon pets, but there is also a really strong, well executed narrative arc with plenty of action and suspense. Several times, I found myself reading far longer than I’d initially intended because we both wanted to know what would happen next. As anyone who visits this blog will quickly realise, I read. A lot. And so I’m fairly sharp at recognising how a story is likely to progress – but any predictions I made about this particular book were wrong. I simply didn’t know where Cowell was going to take the story after the initial setup – even though I also know the film very well.

In addition to enjoyably funny cartoon drawings and riveting storyline, Cowell also added some extras for those who like to immerse themselves in her world. Frankie wasn’t remotely interested in breaking off and examining the copy of the book stolen from the Meatloaf Community Library How To Train Your Dragon, written by Professor Yobbish, or checking out any of the dragon stats dotted throughout the book. But then, she is all about the story. However, for any child who appreciates these details – it’s a great addition.

Overall, I highly recommend this book and we are both looking forward to reading the next book in the series – How To Be a Pirate. And I’ve noted with enthusiasm that there are currently twelve books in this series. Yippee!
9/10