Tag Archives: family relationships

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

Friday Faceoff – Happy Easter!

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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 Easter, so I’ve chosen The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins Children’s Books in April 2007 is a delight. It is stylish and quirky with an attractive colour palette and filled with images directly attributable to the book. As for the font – I think it is wonderful. Diana Wynne Jones wrote books unlike any other and this twirling font manages to evoke the sheer difference of her writing. A wonderful effort and my favourite by a whisker.

 

 

This Finnish edition, produced by WSOY in May 2011 is another beautiful design that runs the above offering a very, very close second. It is so cleverly done, with all sorts of allusions to the magical story popping up around the main font and a lovely ethereal landscape as the background. These are both two outstanding covers and do full justice to the book, in my opinion.

 

 

This cover, once again, is closely aligned to the book and its content – the main protagonists feature right in the forefront and the artwork is well done. The egg looks amazing and I don’t think you could look at this book and have any doubt that it is a fantasy story about a magical egg. The cover design is also very well balanced – the main reason why this one isn’t my favourite is because I envisaged Chrestomanci looking just a little less saturnine and a little more kind, which is an entirely personal reaction.

 

This is the cover design, produced by Harper Collins in 2006, that features on the book we own. Again, it’s a solidly good design – featuring Diana Wynne Jones name so prominently is a good marketing ploy as catching sight of that had me swooping down on this one from across the bookshop and plucking it off the shelves. But while it is far simpler than the other offerings, it still makes it quite clear this is a book featuring a magical egg.

All these eggy covers are well designed, with thought and care for the book’s genre and all are attractive, but which is your favourite?

*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

Teaser Tuesday – 21st March, 2017

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:

My Parents Are Out of Control – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Parents series by Pete Johnson

p. 3 Friday 20th September – 6 p.m. Mum and Dad have just peeped round my bedroom door. Once they’d have barged right in and sat down and watched me do my homework.

They never let me alone. Whenever I looked up, there they were. In fact, if I was in the loo for more than two minutes they’d call out, ‘Are you alright?’ and ‘I hope you’re doing something educational in there.’

Parent fatigue. That’s what I suffered from. Until they decided they were getting too pushy and reformed their ways. So now they just hiss at me from the doorway.

BLURB: Louis doesn’t think much of it when his mum and dad ask him for tips on how to be cool. In fact, he thinks it’s pretty funny watching them bump fists and use words like ‘safe’, ‘sick’ and ‘wicked’. Until Dad turns up outside Louis’s new school dressed like a rapper, that is . . . Suddenly they’re trying to friend Louis and all his classmates on Facebook, and wearing baseball caps backwards – IN PUBLIC.
Louis and his best friend Maddy are horrified. Mum and Dad have taken things too far . . . and immediate action is needed!

Back in December, I read the first book in the series How To Train Your Parents and thoroughly enjoyed it. More importantly, so did my dyslexic granddaughter when I read it to her. So I acquired the other books in the series. And this one looks every bit as funny and anarchic, yet with a hint of seriousness underneath all the nonsense. And as you’ll already have noticed, while the prose is punchy and readable, the vocabulary is littered with those high frequency words almost-there readers need to master, boosting their confidence and give them plenty of practice. I’m looking forward to this one.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Mercy of the Tide by Keith Rosson

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I requested this one from NetGalley as the description caught my attention and I was looking for something different…

themercyofthetideRiptide, Oregon, 1983. A sleepy coastal town, where crime usually consists of underage drinking down at a Wolf Point bonfire. But then strange things start happening—a human skeleton is unearthed in a local park and mutilated animals begin appearing, seemingly sacrificed, on the town’s beaches. The Mercy of the Tide follows four people drawn irrevocably together by a recent tragedy as they do their best to reclaim their lives—leading them all to a discovery that will change them and their town forever.

This book is definitely on the literary end of the speculative fiction spectrum, with a nod to alternative history and magic realism. It is a study of loss and grief. A car crash months before the story starts has killed two women and not only does their death massively impact the main protagonists in the story – it also appears to set off a chain of events that have recurred on this site before.

Often protagonists are faced with unexpected deaths of partners, parents or children – and while we are aware of the impact upon them, events generally move along so that we rapidly gain some distance from the bereavement tearing lumps out of their lives. Indeed, I am regularly exasperated at how quickly that aspect of the story is glossed and the implicit message is that the bereaved are allowed a few months’ grace, but then should be pulling themselves together, again. Unless the book is all about how their dead partner has arranged letters in bottles, or a series of tasks for them to undertake – then they’re allowed to continue to founder in a morass of grief.

Rosson hasn’t done either of these – his focus is firmly on the four characters devastated by the deaths of these two women. In beautiful, unsentimental prose that peels back any pretence or façade, he digs into his characters’ souls and shows the crippling extent of their loss. Alongside this, though, there are other events. Mutilated remains of animals start appearing along the beach of this off-season seaside town which has seen far better days, a body is discovered. Meanwhile the political temperature is steadily rising as Ronald Reagan is warning the world about Russia’s ‘evil Empire’ and fears about nuclear war abound as the cold war seems to be dangerously heating up.

There are all welded into an engrossing read that takes us into the rain-lashed streets of Riptide with a grieving Sheriff of Police, a teenage boy trying to also look out for his deaf nine-year-old sister as he comes to terms with the loss of their mother and a Deputy who was having an affair with one of the women. In order for this book to work, I needed to really care for all the characters – which I did. Even when they did stupid, silly things. Even when they were mean and angry. Rosson does a cracking job of giving his characters depth and vulnerabilities that certainly had me rooting all the way for them.

Any niggles? I’m aware this is more of a literary read than I generally do, these days – but I did feel that about two-thirds of the way through, the pace dipped slightly just at the point in the book when it should have picked up. That said, I was never at any stage tempted to put it down. I really enjoyed the wonderful piece of personification for all that terrible grief in amongst the story and found it a gripping, sobering read. Strongly recommended.

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Windwitch – Book 2 of The Witchlands series by Susan Dennard

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I really enjoyed reading the first YA, epic fantasy series, Truthwitch, last year and was delighted when Himself ordered the sequel from the library.

After an explosion destroys his ship, the world believes Prince Merik, Windwitch, is dead. Scarred yet alive, Merik is determined to prove his sister’s treachery. Upon reaching the royal capital, crowded with refugees, he haunts the streets, fighting for the weak—which leads to whispers of a disfigured demigod, the Fury, who brings justice to the oppressed.

When the Bloodwitch Aeduan discovers a bounty on Iseult, he makes sure to be the first to find her—yet in a surprise twist, Iseult offers him a deal. She will return money stolen from him, if he locates Safi. Now they must work together to cross the Witchlands, while constantly wondering, who will betray whom first?

After a surprise attack and shipwreck, Safi and the Empress of Mwindwitcharstok barely escape with their lives. Alone in a land of pirates, every moment balances on a knife’s edge—especially when the pirates’ next move could unleash war upon the Witchlands.

I would recommend that if you haven’t had the pleasure, go and track down Truthwitch and read it first. The above blurb gives the starting point of the main characters at the beginning of Windwitch, but as you can see each one is right in the middle of a major situation so you really are missing out on a chunk of the ongoing storyline if you try to start with this one.

As the title suggests, this book concentrates mostly on Prince Merik’s efforts to track down his murderous sister and gather evidence to prove her involvement in his attempted assassination. However the two witches, Safi and Iseult still feature as they are caught up in their own adventures and Dennard manages to keep their storylines plunging forward. I particularly liked the fact that each of them badly misses the other and part of each of their character progression is that Iseult tries to emulate Safi’s headlong impulsiveness when she needs to react swiftly. While Safi continually envisages what Iseult would say or do in a particular situation.

But for me, the character who really leaps off the page is Vivia, Merik’s sister who is in effect ruling as her father continues to decline from a mysterious wasting illness no one can cure. Haunted by her mother’s madness and subsequent suicide, Vivia struggles to cope with the ongoing crisis of food shortages and incipient warfare. We get a ringside seat at her continued resentment against her dead brother, who’d had such a easy life in comparison, which contrasts nicely with Merik’s gritted fury at her perfidy. This lethal sibling rivalry is in strong contrast to Safi and Iseult’s continuing bond, for despite being equally magically talented they manage to complement each other, where Merik and Vivia became increasingly distrustful of each other’s growing powers.

All in all, this entertaining, foot-to-the-floor adventure scooped me up and held me, even though this isn’t my favourite genre. While Dennard nicely wraps up this particular storyline in a series of twists – some I saw coming and some I didn’t – there are a host of ongoing plotlines that need a satisfactory outcome and I’ll be waiting not-so-patiently for the next slice of Witchlands goodness.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Terminal Regression by Mallory Hill

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I loved the look of the futuristic cover, so requested it from NetGalley…

Laura Baily’s life is meaningless. In a world where purpose and passion are everything, Laura feels as terminalregressionthough she has no place and no business even existing. Her life is forfeit, and it would be better for everyone if she simply ended it, if she simply got a ticket for a train to oblivion and faded from memory. But what awaits her at the end of the line isn’t death…

I’m reluctant to add the rest of the rather chatty blurb, because while you can gather Laura doesn’t die from the fact that this is at the start of the book and we have another two hundred or so pages to get through, I don’t like how many spoilers it contains. This YA offering has a really interesting protagonist. She is numb. Life washes around her and while her artistic, talented mother is endlessly encouraging and positive, Laura’s efforts to try and find her own enthusiasm and passion have all ended in failure. Wretched and discouraged, she decides to volunteer for the train to oblivion. Everyone knows about the train – it ships out criminals, misfits and those who can’t cope with living anymore and they never come back. There are also a handful of talented, effective people who are commandeered to board the train – like Laura’s dad eight years earlier – and they are never seen again, either.

It’s a tricky business writing a protagonist with severe depression. The classic symptoms – such as an inability to get out of bed, inability to communicate and prolonged fits of crying to name but a few – don’t generally make for the sort of character readers are going to warm to. But Hill manages to pull it off, which is a major achievement in this debut novel. She also tackles the issue of suicide head-on to the extent that it was causing me some concern, given the target audience are teens. I was uneasy with a protagonist who declared she’d rather be dead – and then acts on that impulse. However, by the end of the book I was far happier with her overall stance and felt that she handles the subject with sympathy and insight.

This is a brave book that wears its heart on its sleeve. The inevitable romantic element is very sweet, to the extent that this particular reader who is a dyed-in-the-wool cynic about such matters was won over by the love interest, who I initially was convinced would turn out to be some psychotic murderer. The sequence of events near the end of the book also had me wondering whether it was realistic to have such a seismic shift without any deaths, but then recalled the bloodless revolutions that have occurred throughout history. Overall, I think Hill has pulled off this one – an impressively ambitious book that marks Hill as One to Watch in the future. Receiving a copy of Terminal Regression from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible by Ross Welford

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When I saw the blurb for this one, I couldn’t resist pressing the Request button. Did it live up to my expectations?

whatnottodoTurning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed. It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy, she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she…?

The abbreviated blurb makes the whole process of becoming invisible sound far more controlled and straightforward than it actually is – which for me was one of the main selling points of this beguiling, funny book. All too often fantasy or paranormal books for children tip them into situations that would have most of us hiding under the duvet armed with a strong glass of gin and prosac – only for said children to accept the whole process without so much as a blink. While children may well be a great deal more adaptable than we oldsters, I was far happier to witness Ethel’s real shock when she looks down to see her hands isn’t visible.

In fact, Ethel is a wonderful protagonist. At a spiky twelve years old with a bumpy background, she is as wary as you’d expect – yet also with the vulnerabilities that come with being twelve. Having a twelve year old granddaughter, it’s an age I’m very familiar with and Welford has absolutely nailed it. There are a whole host of complexities that come with finding herself invisible, as well as a handful of desperate, harebrained opportunities that seem like a good idea at the time. I sniggered in an appalled way all through the Talent Show, while catching myself muttering, ‘Oh no!’ a couple of times.

The trick of writing good farce is for the people in the middle of the mess to take the whole situation utterly seriously – and there’s no reason why Ethel would want to find any of this remotely funny, anyway. The book teetered between making me want to laugh and cry, as I found myself invested in her situation. I guessed one of the main reveals very early on, but I don’t think it matters that much – it certainly didn’t stop me enjoying her slowly discovering who exactly her parents are.

The other issue that makes this book stand out for me, is the way Welford depicts the adults in Ethel’s life. She lives with her grandmother and regularly visits her great-granny, now living in a residential home. Welford shows the adults as doing the best they can in some tricky situations – a refreshing change when all too often adults are shown to be bumbling idiots or unthinking tyrants in otherwise excellent children’s books. I liked the fact that Ethel frequently refers to her grandmother’s sayings and ways of doing things as she evidently is trying to work out which of her opinions and approaches to life are applicable to herself.

The ending was one of the strengths of this book – it takes the story onwards and wraps up the main problems without being unduly sentimental or too tidy. All in all, this is an enjoyable adventure that packs an emotional punch and one I shall be introducing to my granddaughter in due course.

Receiving a copy of What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible from the publisher via NetGalley has in no way affected my honest opinion of this book.
9/10

Review of How To Train Your Parents by Pete Johnson

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I acquired this one after seeing a recommendation from one of my book blogging buddies (sorry I cannot recall exactly who…) and this week tucked into it, thoroughly enjoying the humour.

howtotrainyourparentsMoving to a new area and a new school, Louis is horrified to discover his parents changing into ultra-competitive parents, wanting him and his younger brother to get straight As at school and join all sorts of after-school clubs and activities like the other kids in the area. Suddenly Louis’s life is no longer his own…

As you can see from the blurb, under Louis’ s jokey asides is an unfolding situation that is anything but funny. His parents are steadily being sucked into the competitive atmosphere around them, so both boys are being strongly encouraged to perform better at school and shine at extra-curricula activities. Which is fine if either of them are academic high-flyers – however Louis clearly isn’t, hating his new school where results and academic standards seem to matter far more than any pastoral concerns. You won’t be surprised to learn the situation doesn’t end well. However, what I really enjoyed was Johnson’s refusal to turn Louis’s parents into villains. As the relationship between them and Louis worsens, they are also clearly suffering and trying to find solutions to the problem.

The cast of supporting characters are well depicted through Johnson’s snappy, amusing descriptions via Louis’ first person point of view. I particularly liked Maddy who he befriends at a talent competition. One of the related plotlines does spiral off into something of a fantasy, providing a slightly unnecessarily idealised ending in my opinion. However, I’ll forgive that because without being remotely preachy, Johnson manages to impart some useful messages for pushy parents and their children.

I’m going to be introducing this one to my granddaughter to see if the humour works on her, too. In the meantime, if you are looking for an amusing book for the ten to twelve-year-olds in your life, this one is worth considering.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 6th December, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Judged – Book 3 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jager
13% ‘Bro, it’s a mess.’ One boy shakes his head. He’s got eyeliner smeared under his eyes and too judgedmuch glitter down the side of this face. He leans against a girl, her arms wrapped around his waist. Looking at the group, I realize they all look shell-shocked. ‘We got here about an hour before the police showed up. Everything was going so well and we were all just partying hard.’

BLURB

Kit’s job description includes solving crimes – the supernatural kind . . .

Glow, a fae-created drug, is rapidly going viral and the suppliers have to be shut down. Teaming up with Aiden and Dante, Kit follows leads across London, tracking down dealers. They stir up trouble, making themselves a target for the gang they’re trying to stop.

In the Otherwhere, Thorn stumbles across a secret that could destroy both the human and Fae worlds. The Veil that separates our human world from the fae realms is weakening and the goddess is dying. And if she dies and the Veil fails, madness and chaos will wreak unstoppable havoc upon both lands.

As you can see, it’s early days, but I really enjoyed the first two books in this series – Banished and Vowed. Right now Kit is on the ropes after the devastating outcome in Vowed, but I’m just beginning to see her get her mojo back as the pace is picking up and she is becoming involved in this investigation to get to the bottom of who is handing out quantities of illegal and highly addictive drug Glow at clubs, raves, universities and schools. Yes – it’s great to be once more immersed in de Jagar goodness…