Category Archives: Review

The lost diary of Sami Star

We don’t always know what others want, and sometimes not even what we ourselves need. And parents want what they believe might be best; not what would be best.

Karen McCombie, The lost diary of Sami Star

Hannah wants peace and quiet at home, and isn’t getting it, because her parents ‘know best’ regarding her older sister and her future. Her friends seem to have lost interest in what Hannah needs. Then, one day she finds a diary in the park, and reading it – to see if she can find out whose it is – she discovers someone really interesting. Someone cool, but also sad.

A bit of detective work sends Hannah and her sister Victoria to a spot where maybe she’ll find Sami Star. We all need each other, and that’s something the girls discover.

Great little story by Karen McCombie about friendship and learning what’s important in life. And that goes for parents too.

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Race to the Frozen North

‘How does she know so much of what happened?’ I – almost – asked myself when reading Catherine Johnson’s book for Barrington Stoke about Polar explorer Matthew Henson, who was the first man to reach the North Pole in 1909.

The answer, of course, is that authors make things up, but apart from ‘knowing’ what the young Matthew might have said to his sister the night he ran away from home, the facts are facts. Catherine is telling the story of this black man who worked so hard to reach his goal, but whose success was mostly ignored for so long, because of his colour.

Catherine Johnson, Race to the Frozen North

Matthew was a good worker and clearly talented, learning several languages and acquiring many useful skills, despite his humble beginnings. It feels good to read about a man like him, and I hope that countless children will be inspired by what Matthew achieved, and will feel that they, too, can make something of themselves. Early background and colour should not stop you from trying anything.

The not surprising course of events after he reached the Pole, was that others of his expedition were rewarded, but not Matthew. Decades later, he gradually gained recognition for what he did.

This makes for very exciting reading, and the pride you feel, both when he learns new skills, and when he arrives at the North Pole, is considerable.

Mummy Time

I read Mummy Time with an amused smile, thinking myself so much better than the mummy in Judith Kerr’s new book. But we’re probably all a little too unaware of what our toddlers get [got] up to.

Judith Kerr, Mummy Time

The illustrations are so lovely; really sweet and traditional, showing us a small child going to the park with his – or her? – mummy. The thing is, mummies today are always on their mobile phones, aren’t they? This one certainly is.

She sits blithely on a park bench as her little darling gets up to all kinds of things, and what put that smile on my face was the way her toddler’s antics completely mirrors what she’s talking about. ‘…well, all I can say is, different people have different tastes…’ as the child happily munches on what an elderly man has just thrown on the ground for the pigeons to eat.

But all’s well that ends well. At least for today. That child could do with more, and proper, mummy time. And the pigeons want their bread back.

Villain

They will have to ‘try and save the world.’ That’s the ‘Rockborn’ who are on the side of good. They might look like monsters, but on the inside they are as normal as they were before they were changed by the strange rock from space. It’s just hard for the rest of the world to see past the monstrous outer skins and shapes of our heroes.

Michael Grant’s Villain, the second book about the Gone world after Perdido Beach, is – if possible – gorier than the first. I found Monster hard to cope with, and it was the same with Villain. Until you get into the swing of things and can unthink the horror, hopefully also unsee it, these are unbelievably horrific books. (Or I’m just innocent, protected until now. Yes, that’s probably it.)

Michael Grant, Villain

Villain has, like Monster, the same spirit that readers found in the Gone series; normal teenagers who suddenly find themselves in impossible situations, and this time it affects the whole world. No one is safe.

After the Golden Gate Bridge and the port of Los Angeles, Michael is now gunning for Las Vegas. And you don’t want to know what he does there.

More monsters have woken up, and everyone’s having a go at the killing and the maiming. But as I believe I have suggested before, you can read with your eyes shut, so you don’t see so much.

In Monster we had various individuals and groups, and they are now gathering to work as a bigger group, doing their world-saving thing.

But it seems as if what made them like this didn’t only come from space, but perhaps they are being controlled from there too? Who wants to destroy Earth? No doubt we will find out, and I hope there will be something left, and that there won’t be more mayhem in another series of books…

As it says on the cover, ‘contains scenes of cruelty and some violence.’ Some violence? Really?

Mr Godley’s Phantom

I so loved this book, and the fact that although Mal Peet is no longer with us, he left behind writing to be turned into new books for us, who loved him and his writing. Described as a ‘haunting novella’ by David Fickling, I’d say that this [adult] retro story is a full length novel, if you apply the measurements for books as they were then, shortly after WWII.

Martin Heath returns from the war, and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. His nerves aren’t good, and he drinks too much. Eventually he is interviewed by the mysterious Mr Godley and given a job at his home on Dartmoor. The job description is a little vague, and we’re not quite sure what Martin’s employer really wants or why he chose Martin.

Mal Peet, Mr Godley's Phantom

It’s hard to describe the story without spoilers, but Mr Godley’s house hides secrets, and the local women who work for him also have their own unusual histories. And then there is Martin, shaking, looking for drugs.

Mal has hit the head on the nail perfectly, both as regards the period – or so it seems from here – and in creating a strange little plot that doesn’t really take you where you expected to go.

It’s a wonderful book.

The Glass of Lead & Gold

Cornelia Funke’s The Glass of Lead & Gold is that best of things, a beautiful, small volume consisting of a Christmas story that can be read at any time. Written in English and illustrated by Cornelia herself, it is set in her Reckless world.

In an alternate, past London, we meet Tabetha, an orphan trying to survive by searching for ‘treasure’ in the Thames mud. Just before Christmas she’s asked by a stranger to look for a sliver of glass. A specific sliver, for which he will pay well.

There is a ‘soup kitchen’ and a troll, as well as a one-armed waitress, and together they work some Christmas magic.

Cornelia Funke, The Glass of Lead & Gold

I reckon anyone would love to discover this in a stocking, or to have it to read in the months leading up to Christmas. It’s small and could lead to better things, just like the sliver of glass.

Armistice Runner

Tom Palmer doesn’t usually make me cry. Yes, I enjoy his books, which are thoughtful and deal with a mix of children today and people from the past, with a sports element, and the reader learns through them. But this one, Armistice Runner, was something else. Published in the Conkers series by Barrington Stoke, it’s a little longer than the usual dyslexia friendly books.

Tom Palmer, Armistice Runner

It’s about Lily who is a fell runner, practising for an important run near her grandparents’ house in the Lake District. She worries about her gran who has Alzheimer’s, and she fights with her younger brother.

In one of her more lucid moments, Lily’s gran brings out an old box for Lily. It used to belong to Lily’s great-great-grandfather Ernest, who was a fell runner before he went to war in 1918. Lily reads his log book, which is almost like a long letter to his dead brother Fred; about running and about the war.

It’s so gripping, and as the reader along with Lily herself desperately wants to discover if someone will be all right or not, Tom does a very naughty thing and interrupts both us and Lily with something much more urgent, and there was a wait to find out what happened.

Even if you’ve read countless other WWI stories, and this obviously has overlaps with many other tales, it also has something that belongs only to this book. It’s very good. And sad.

But also inspiring.

(As long as I don’t have to do any fell running. I’m still out of breath.)

Gorgeous cover by Tom Clohosy Cole.