Category Archives: Review

The Book of Beasts

Carole Barrowman and her brother John have developed as their trilogy of books has progressed. I couldn’t wait to find out how they would end the Hollow Earth mystery, and well, I’d like to know what they are doing next. Perhaps I could twist an arm or two and find out?*

Animare twins Em and Matt were both in trouble at the end of book two, and in The Book of Beasts they need to use all of their fast emerging talents at drawing themselves out of trouble to save each other and their family. Although possibly not their father, who isn’t the best of role models as fathers go.

John and Carole E Barrowman, The Book of Beasts

We meet horrifying creatures (and how they smell!) and humans, who are almost worse than the beasts. The past smells. A lot. But it also features brave and intelligent people, and you can make friends across the centuries.

As before, what I like is the Scottish-ness and the use of art in the fight against evil. Some nice humour and a bit of romance add to it. I’d like to return to Largs and Auchinmurn Isle and Era Mina. I’d like to know if…

*I suspect they are not done with these characters. They are crying out to be developed further and put through more torment. OK, I’ll get my arm-twister out…

Potty

They are, when it comes to royal princes. After The Queen’s Knickers (how very dare they?) and The Royal Nappy, Nicholas Allan has come up with The Prince and the Potty. Now, do we have a royal baby birthday coming up, or not?

(It’s today.)

It stands to reason that a boy who had to have a royal nappy must be equally regal in the potty department. There are lots of potties. Some are better than others. But when you are out representing great-grandma you can occasionally be caught short, in which case any potty will do.

Even an ordinary one.

9781782952572

Michael Rosen has been known to be slightly potty, I believe. (I mean that in the best possible way.) Here in Wolfman, illustrated by Chris Mould, in a special Barrington Stoke dyslexia friendly edition, there is a wolfman on the loose.

He scares everyone he meets, and he appears to be after the Chief of Police. The reason for that is slightly potty, too.

Wolfman-01

Blue and yellow

Feeling quite inspired by two colourful picture books in nicely Swedish colours.

Bluebird by Bob Staake is a rather special book. Longer than average and wordless, it still tells a marvellous story. The illustrations are something else, and all in tones of blues and neutrals. I’d happily frame a page and put on my wall.

Bob Staake, Bluebird

Set in New York, by the look of things, it tells the story of a lonely boy, who is befriended by a small bird. There is bullying and a sad, but beautiful ending. Wonderful to look at, and if you can adapt your own words to your own child it should suit almost everybody.

In Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, we meet another little bird in this tremendously yellow book. The chicken pops into the farmhouse to use the farmer’s computer every night. She buys things, thus confusing the poor farmer.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Chicken Clicking

And then, then she makes an online friend. This is a cautionary tale about online safety. You just never know who will pretend to be your friend. Do you?

This chicken finds out…

Who’s calling?

Yes, who is that?

Well, in Michael Foreman’s Moose, the poor Moose finds himself in the firing line when Bear and Eagle begin to shout at each other. He just happens to be in the middle, which becomes an uncomfortable place to be.

Michael Foreman, Moose

So he has to do something, especially once the sticks and stones start flying. His solution is unusual, and one which appeals to all the other animals in the woods. As for Eagle and Bear, they can’t do much.

In That’s What Makes a Hippopotamus Smile! by Sean Taylor and Laurent Cardon, a little girl is startled when she opens the door and finds a big hippo outside. He wants to come in, so she lets him.

She needs to find out what will make him happy, so they play and eat and have a bath. When hippo next calls at her house, he is not alone. It was that much fun.

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis is wonderful! That’s the book by Gill Lewis, as well as her heroine. They are both called Scarlet Ibis.

Twelve-year-old Scarlet is a hard-working older sister who looks after her younger brother Red, as well as their unwell mother. She loves them both, and both are rather difficult characters. The mother is immature and can’t cope. Red is on the autistic spectrum and loves birds; especially the scarlet ibis.

Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis

Red looks at the birds he can see from the window in their top floor flat, and once a month Scarlet takes him to the zoo as a treat. He collects birds’ feathers and is most particular about the order they are kept in, and he desperately wants one from a scarlet ibis.

But things go wrong, and the two siblings are separated from each other and from their mum. Scarlet knows she’s the only one who understands Red properly, despite what the social worker thinks, so she needs to find him again.

This is a very warm story, with less of the grey side of life than I had been expecting. Birds, and people who like birds, play a large part in the story. Scarlet makes good friends, and she discovers what it’s like to actually be allowed to be a young girl, and not just a carer. And Red is a fairly capable boy for an aspie and beautifully determined, and you can see that something will surely work out. The question is how.

I knew this would be great, and it was. Is. Read it and feel good about humanity. (And birds, I suppose.)

Aliens Stink

Isn’t it odd how two of the books I’ve read this week, to make up for my non-attendance at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, are about aliens? Being one myself, I feel drawn to them. (In moderation, obviously.)

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

Let’s face it. The cover of Aliens Stink would not tempt me to pick up the book. (But then it’s a while since I was ten years old.) What does, is that it’s got *Steve Cole’s name on the cover, and that is always a recommendation and counterbalances ugly aliens and the word ‘stink.’

In this case I only had to pick it up off the Grandmother’s doormat, because Steve sent it to Daughter as a thank you for her help (so her name is in it). She told him astrophysical facts and he ignored them. That’s how they cooperated. I didn’t feel I needed to read the book. I’m glad I did, though, and even the Grandmother read a couple of chapters before I removed it from her hands.

It’s great! It’s fun. It’s pure entertainment. It’s the kind of book I look at and think it’d be both fun and easy to write, except I suspect it’s much harder than it looks. Luxembourg has disappeared under a blanket. Parts of Russia is covered in a yellow substance. The world is strange. Better than before, but no one knows why.

Poor Tim and his goldfish Herbert are not having a good time, however. Tim’s father is a weird scientist and he is needed to save the world. Hah. Herbert listens patiently to Tim’s woes, but what can a goldfish do?

Things come to a head and Tim and his dad and the goldfish suddenly find themselves somewhere else. All of them need to adjust to this new situation.

This is a book about good aliens and bad ones. It’s about clever children (not Tim) and aliens, and stupid adults, and aliens. You just have to love it. (And your pets. Always love your pets.)

* Steve was at mcbf on Wednesday. I’m sure everyone had a great time. Sniff…

Destination Earth

Wow! I forgot to eat my peach as I was finishing Destination Earth by Ali Sparkes. Those last twenty pages, or so, really had me in their grip. (Not that the preceding 320 pages were exactly lacking in fun and excitement.) Very Ace of Bass. (So to speak.)

This was my very first Ali Sparkes. Are they all this good? I can’t believe I’ve not tried her before. Anyway, Ali was at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival yesterday, and this was my way of making up for missing her. Phew. What a book! Or did I just say that?

Ali Sparkes, Destination Earth

The blurb is nowhere near as persuasive as it needs to be. Lucy is the lone survivor from another planet, who has journeyed to Earth for ten years after killer aliens wiped out her whole home planet. And one of those aliens has hitched a lift on her spaceship…

But instead of the cold science fiction nightmare I was expecting, I found a warm and funny early teen adventure. Masses of humour, and full of nice, intelligent people.

OK, so Lucy is an alien, and even to her the killer alien is an alien, and it might just wipe out all of Earth in a week or so. But we have time for ‘killer’ hairdressers with a fondness for purple and there is a nice grown-up romance (sort of; it’s yucky when parents do that kind of thing) and there is space technology and space ships and weapons and Motokola mobiles. Not to mention Nipe trainers. Brad Pitt.

All the usual misunderstandings aliens suffer when they land on Earth. That’s fun. You can prepare for a lot, but you can’t prepare for everything. ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures meet E.T.’ is actually a much more apt description than most.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. I even found myself wanting to discover more about Level 42 (a real band, I understand).

The #10 profile – Janet Quin-Harkin

Janet Quin-Harkin is a woman who impressed me so much when she moderated an event at CrimeFest back in 2008, that I have remained a silent fan ever since. So I was pretty pleased to find she has a past as a writer for teens, and now her 1989 HeartBreak Café novel No Experience Required is being republished. Which I think is good news.

It seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out more about Janet, so here she is:

Janet Quin-Harkin

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Not many. I think I sold on my first or second try, but then I had a long dry period before I sold again.

Best place for inspiration?

Driving around in the car or doing laundry.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I wrote my children’s and YA books under my married name. I use a pseudonym for my mystery novels so that I was not judged as a children’s book writer.

What would you never write about?

Anything too horrible; torture, hurting children or animals, demonic possession.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

The most unexpected person I’ve met in my books? Probably Houdini. And the most unexpected place I’ve ended up – a freak show on Coney Island.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

I’d like to be my current heroine, Lady Georgie. In spite of having no money, she does seem to lead a fun life – and she has the gorgeous Darcy O’Mara pursuing her.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

It’s happening right now. A movie’s being made by Matador Pictures of Her Royal Spyness. I’ll have to wait until I see it before I decide if it’s a good or bad thing. It might be nice to have the Heartbreak Café books made into a series or film.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Are writer Victoria Thompson and I really the same person? ( We both write historical novels set in New York.)

Do you have any unexpected skills?

Many – I can open champagne bottles, play the harp, sing opera, tell jokes.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

Oh Narnia, definitely, although I grew up on the Famous Five.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Abba, all of them.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I’m not that organized. One lot of shelves for my work reference. Several for fiction. One for good looking, leather bound books.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

Harry Potter. He’d be hooked for life.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. I can’t live without it.

This time you had to read the Q&As before I could let on about Janet’s pseudonym. But she is – of course – Rhys Bowen. And she has very sensible advice for eight-year-old boys. I must admit I’m looking forward to the Her Royal Spyness film. It should be really good. (As would a film about Molly Murphy, I reckon.) In the meantime you could do worse than read Janet/Rhys’s books. Enjoy!

Over the Line

WWI football, but not that match, the one we all know about.

Tom Palmer writes about a young football player going to war, and he’s not the first one. A couple of books I’ve read recently begin with young men and their hopes of becoming successful – professional – players, only to find WWI getting in the way. It wasn’t the done thing to ‘avoid’ signing up because you were about to get your big break.

Jack in Over the Line is a really good player, but once he’s played his first season he enlists, along with team mates as well as players from ‘the competition,’ and they are placed in the Footballers’ Battalion, who play against other soldiers when not in the trenches.

Tom Palmer, Over the Line

This is another engaging Barrington Stoke story, and because of the soccer aspect it’s refreshingly different from other WWI books. As it’s a short book, it can only afford the briefest of description of life in the trenches. This doesn’t matter – in fact, it possibly helps – as the stark horror of war is painted in a few words.

Some of the people around Jack die, but by the end of the book the reader realises that surviving the war isn’t necessarily the wonderful fate you’d think it would be.

A very footbally war story, and interesting, even for non-soccer fans.

Tom will launch his book with the help of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival on Sunday 6th July. Twice, in one day. Be there!

Heartbreak Café – No Experience Required

It’s hard getting used to thinking of 1989 as being a retro year. But sooner or later most things turn retro, and here is an old favourite being reissued. Maybe you read Janet Quin-Harkin’s Heartbreak Café series 25 years ago, and would like to visit again. I didn’t, so for me it was a pleasant return to old values in a new-to-me book.

In a way this is no different from a Sarah Dessen. No mobile phones or computers, and fashion has changed a little, but other than that we have the same American teenagers driving around in their nice cars, going to school and planning for college, working part time, and falling in love. Dealing with parents and some kind of problem, but mostly hanging out with their friends in that very American way people in the rest of the world are so fascinated by.

Janet Quin-Harkin, HeartBreak Cafe 1 No Experience Required

Debbie is 16 and has to find a job when her parents divorce and money suddenly becomes an issue. Instead of going for the safe kind of job you could seemingly expect back then, she finds a job waitressing and cooking burgers at a beach café. The young and handsome boy who runs it reckons she won’t last, so obviously Debbie has to prove him wrong.

The hardship we are all mostly used to today is missing. Or maybe it is still an American idea that if you work hard you will have to succeed. I’d like to think this book will appeal to teenagers today. Whether it will seem hopelessly dated, or just charmingly retro is not for me to say. I was old even in 1989.

But this is fun and a bit romantic and so very American. And to Janet’s credit, she didn’t end the book the way I’d been expecting.