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May 17 2019

How to rob a bank by Tom Mitchell

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HarperCollins Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780008276508.
(Age: 11 and up) Recommended. Themes: Adolescents, humor, guilt, bank robberies, fires. When I first read the title of this book little alarm bells rang in my head thinking this may not be such a great topic to allow into a teenager's hands. However, the story is more about a young man's need to impress his first love than stealing from a bank. Fifteen-year-old Dylan Thomas is competing with annoying Harry for Beth's affections and giving her a Nepalese candle for her birthday seemed a great idea at the time. But as with many of Dylan's great ideas, his execution never seems to come up to what he's envisaged. The candle smelled awful and trying to get rid of it in a hurry when Beth's mum was on her way to catch him in Beth's bedroom meant throwing it into the bin. Great idea, unless the candle is still alight and causes a house fire.
Things turn from bad to worse when he realizes he has caused such a catastrophe that Beth must move in with her Aunt and go to a different school as the family can't afford the rent for the flat they are forced to live in as a result of the fire. The idea that he could somehow gift Beth the money her family needs gives him the motivation to rob a bank. Watching movies with his dad, who is not opposed to bending the rules when it suits him, has shown him that there are many smart ways out there to get money without having to go into a bank. In desperation to save Beth from her family's' financial woes he decides to try a few out.
Again, his implementation lets him down on several occasions providing the reader with a story that is very entertaining. Dylan is a thinker and is determined to get this right and no unfinished history homework, horrible Saturday job or nasty bank manager is going to stand in his way.
Gabrielle Anderson




May 17 2019

Queer heroes by Arabelle Sicardi

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Illus. by Sarah Tanat-Jones. Quarto Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781786034861.
(Ages: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: LGBTQ, Difference, Heroes and heroines. Subtitled, Meet 52 LGBTQ heroes from past and present, this brightly inviting book does just that. Each page is devoted to one person who has advocated the LGBTQ cause. From Sappho in Ancient Greece to Krsten Stewart, from Da Vince to Harvey Milk, from Tchaikovsky to Khalid Abdle-Hadi, the coverage is amazing, including people from all continents, ethnic backgrounds and positions in society.
Many will be well known to younger readers, but equally, many will be unknown, informing the reader about people new to them. Readers will love reading about people like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, Sia and Tim Cook, but will be equally fascinated by stories of people like Virginia Wolfe, Vikram Seth, Nobuko Yoshiya and Josephine Baker.
Each of the stories gives an outline of their lives, where and when they were born (and died) and the journey they took in being accepted. Sometimes the article is ended with a quote which for some encapsulates their life's work.
Subhi Nahas for example has a page devoted to him, his portrait surrounded by many flags and we see that he was born in 1988 in Idlib in Syria. Pursued by the military for being gay he fled Syria to Turkey where he became an activist, but as things changed there, he fled again to the USA. Here he set up a group called Spectra Project an organisation promoting the cause of LGBTQ refugees around the world.
Several people like Frida Khalo, for example have two pages devoted to their story. Frida was an artist born in Mexico in 1907 and her work as one of the twentieth century's best artists as well as her work promoting feminism and civil rights have been widely recognised.
Another person, Lili Elbe, born in 1992 in Denmark has had her story recognised through the film, The Danish Girl. She was born a male and fought hard to have her transgender status recognised and to have gender reassignment surgery. Her story is all the more astounding when she was having this ground breaking surgery in the first years of the twentieth century.
A wonderful read, presenting both known and little known activists in this field, the book will be a hit on the library shelves. I read it as a dip in, lamenting the publisher's decision not to include either a contents page or index, limiting its ease of use, but the content easily outweighs this consideration.
Fran Knight




May 16 2019

Adventure Duck vs Power Pug by Steve Cole

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Illus. Aleksei Bitskoff. Orchard Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781408356838.
(Age: 6+) Recommended. Themes: Superpowers, Humour, Good vs evil. Imagine a meteor lands and the impact creates a surge of energy that transforms animals nearby into over-charged versions of themselves with powers that defy reason . . . and that is the premise to this book. When an ordinary duck, living an ordinary life in a local duck pond, (A Duck, self-named as Adventure Duck) becomes the recipient of this excessive burst of 'super' and supreme influence, he also gets to team up with a mind-reading egg (with Eggstra-sensory Perception) and a striking Neon Zebra to bring their evil nemesis, Power Pug and his sidekick, Apocalypse Cow, to their knees.
This book does defy reason, but the extremely quirky characters with their bizarre powers are entertaining. The story is filled with mildly amusing puns and expressions that will appeal to young readers. With a second book to follow, ready to incorporate Adventure Duck's talents, young readers who enjoy humorous stories will be recommending this book to their friends.
This is not great literature, and the illustrations are suitably eccentric, but kids will be laughing as they read and will enjoy the super-charged hapless superhero.
Recommended for readers aged 6+.
Carolyn Hull




May 16 2019

Boy oh boy by Cliff Leek

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Illus. by Bene Rohlmann. Quarto Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781786033291.
Themes: Masculinity, Activism, Racism, LGBTIQ. Subtitled 'From boys to men', inspired by 30 coming-of-age stories of sportsmen, artists, politicians, educators and scientists, Boy oh boy is a collection of biographical entries to highlight the way that different young men from around the world have expressed their strength, individuality and their influence in the world. The variety of expressions of what it is to be a man is deliberate in showing that there are many ways to do this. From Nelson Mandela, Mohammed Ali, Gandhi to Prince and LeBron James, there are many examples of activists, politicians, musicians, artists and sports stars that have changed the world in some way. Many of the men will be unknown to young readers, but do make interesting reading. There are also individuals whose fame has also given them opportunity to serve and impact the world and a number of LGBTIQ individuals whose stories of overcoming discrimination are told in this collection.
Illustrated with a Pop Art style bright design for each bio page, there is a youthful and non-realistic representation for each man depicted. This is ironic for a non-fiction biography and perhaps will attract some, and dissuade others from reading this book and may make it difficult to be used as a reference book.
Carolyn Hull




May 14 2019

Willow Moss and the lost day by Dominique Valente

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Illus. by Sarah Warburton. Starfell bk. 1. HarperCollins, 2019. ISBN: 9780008308391.
(Ages 8-12) Recommended. Themes: Magic, Witches, Time, Fantasy. Dominique Valente's debut fantasy novel conjures up a magical world, filled with witches and trolls, controlled by an evil time spell. In the village of Starfell everyone has a magical talent, some are more exciting than others. Unfortunately, Willow Moss has a simple one, she can find lost things, wooden teeth, lost glasses, and the townsfolk line up and pay a spurgle for her help. Then powerful witch, Moreg Vaine, requests that Willow accompany her on a quest to find the missing day - Tuesday. The pace picks up as Willow leaves her home town with her carpet bag and Oswin, a very opinionated kobold (a green furry cat-like creature) and ventures out into dark forests and magical towns. Journeying by broomstick, they are guided by the Storypass, and stopped by the menacing Brothers of Wol, Moreg who want to rule the world. Danger lurks at every turn, who can they trust, where will their journey take them?
The young witch grows in confidence as she travels far from home. Feathering the dragon joins the travellers transporting them up to Cloud Mountain, meeting a forgotten teller (not fortune teller) Nolin Sometimes, who reveals more of the mystery to them.
The impact of losing a weekday seems insignificant, until Willow thinks about all the births, deaths, special appointments and events that are lost, as history's course is changed. One young witch and her quite sarcastic sidekick Oswin the kobold finds hidden strengths, learn resilience and find courage on their dangerous mission.
Dominique Valente's imaginative world building, cast of unusual crazy characters, fun conversations, humorous and dangerous encounters and fast-paced actions make Willow Moss and the lost day an exciting and enjoyable novel. Middle Primary students will enjoy diving into this magical world, overflowing with witches, wizards, trolls and monsters. What's next for Willow Morse and her caustic kobold?
Rhyllis Bignell




May 14 2019

Don't let go by Harlan Coben

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Cornerstone, 2017. ISBN: 9781780894249.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Mystery, Revenge, Secrets. Best-selling author Coben writes a compelling thriller about the death of two teenagers, Leo and his girlfriend Diana, who were found dead on train tracks. Nap Dumas, Leo's twin brother, now a detective in New Jersey, has never been convinced of the official verdict especially as his girlfriend Maura disappeared at the same time. When her fingerprints turn up in the case of a suspected murder, he is even more determined to find the truth.
Coben is a master at keeping the suspense going in a tightly woven plot that kept me reading until the twist at the end of the book. Nap Dumas was a complex and interesting character, and the exploration of his first love of Maura, adds to the plot. His investigation of secrets, those of his high school friends, his colleagues and the government and the notion of revenge make for a highly readable story, and the short chapters and crisp dialogue make it a quick read as well.
I had not read books by Coben for many years but will seek out more books written by him. I really enjoyed this suspenseful, tricky stand-alone story. A great read for lovers of mysteries and thrillers.
Pat Pledger




May 13 2019

You ain't seen nothing yeti! by Steven Butler

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Illus. by Steven Lenton. Nothing To See Here Hotel bk. 2. Simon and Schuster, 2019. ISBN: 9781471163852.
(Age: 8-11) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Trolls, Hotels, Yetis, Families. Steven Butler's fantastical Nothing to See Here Hotel series returns with more eccentric characters, hilarious scenes and a magical mystery to solve. In You ain't seen nothing Yeti the hotel owners are busily preparing for 'Trogmanay' the midsummer festival. Amazing food is being cooked in the kitchens, unusual floral chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and even the walls have ears that really listen. It's exciting pandemonium! When Nancy the eight-armed Giant Brittle-back spider returns from food shopping, she brings news of a freak blizzard sweeping across Asia and Europe; even the Eiffel Tower is frozen solid.
Swept in by the snowstorm the Kwinzis arrive. The family of yetis have ridden across continents on their ulk ready to spend time with Frankie's family and renew their friendships. What does this mean for the rest of the guests expecting sunny summer activities? Frankie the owner's son steps up to sort out the problems, caused by an influx of unexpected visitors and to try and solve the mystery of a missing relative. Evil comes in some strange forms when Maudlin Maloney the leprechaun and her lepre-caravan land in a cloud of feathers. The tension builds dramatically, as the snow radically changes the landscape. Then as night falls, the walls whisper secrets of the stranger in the storm and the hotel's imminent destruction.
Steven Lenton's illustrations cast an eeriness over the scenes, add heightened tension and bring a liveliness to Butler's unique characters. With such a fast-paced plot, so many twists and turns, secrets uncovered and humourous scenes, You ain't seen nothing yeti delivers another fabulous magical read just right for ages eight plus.
Rhyllis Bignell




May 10 2019

A girl called Justice by Elly Griffiths

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Quercus, 2019, ISBN: 9781786540591.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Themes: Boarding schools, Girl detectives, Mysteries. Adult crime writer Elly Griffiths presents a 1930s' mystery with twelve-year-old Justice Jones as an amateur detective, who's been lovingly home-schooled by her mystery writer mother. When her mother passes away, her father Herbert Jones QC sends Justice off to Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk, set amidst the bleak landscape of the Romney Marshes. What an ideal setting for a little mystery, mayhem and murder, an isolated Gothic school, with creaky stairs, hidden rooms, turrets, attics and a creepy basement! Of course, Griffiths sets the scene with an icy winter snowstorm cutting communication off to the outside world, the students and staff are locked in and tensions rise.
Justice's analytical mind, keen sense of observation and her meticulous journal writing assist with her crime-solving, even when overwhelmed with feelings of grief and loneliness. The austere school environment is dominated by a slightly terrifying headmistress Miss de Vere. Everything seems strange to the young girl who's been very close to her mother, from the limited food choices, the strict rules, the icy-cold bathrooms and the grim dormitories. With the help of new friend Stella, a scholarship student, Justice navigates school life and seeks answers to the mystery of the disappearing maid.
Surreptitious notes passed inside books, leads to midnight forays on the way to the haunted tower and secret meetings in the maid's room. The tension builds as the feisty young detective delves into the backgrounds of the staff, takes risks and keeps up with her schoolwork. Through coded messages she keeps her father informed about the dangerous environment.
Elly Griffiths' A Girl called Justice combines a dramatically tense action-packed plot, quirky characters and a resilient protagonist. Her setting of an isolated school on the icy marshes is reminiscent of an Agatha Christie or Enid Blyton novel.
An entertaining mystery suited to readers from ten plus who enjoy a dramatic school story in an English period setting, with a dash of mystery and adventure.
Rhyllis Bignell




May 10 2019

The assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

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Candlewick Press, 2018. ISBN: 9780763698225.
(Age: 10-15) Highly recommended. The old-style gold embossed front cover of this novel gives a strong indication of the story to follow. The collaboration between M.T. Andersen and Eugene Yelchinhas has produced a book that harks back to an older world where goblins and elves live apart and are wary of each other.
The story opens in a manner similar to Brian Sleznick's (The Invention of Hugo Cabret and The Marvels) style where illustrations are whole chapters and tell the story visually. These Gothic style drawings feature throughout the book and are intricately woven into the story.
Brangwain Spurge is an historian elf. He has been selected to deliver a gift to the kingdom of the goblins. He believes he is a messenger of peace and agrees to stay with his host, a fellow historian, a goblin named Archivist Werfel.
At first Brangwain's superior attitude is a struggle for the friendly Werfel and gets them both into some dangerous situations due to Brangwain's total disregard and disdain of Goblin cultural and social mores.
Although set in an ancient world, the storyline has strong connections to modern politics and the 'spin' that each group or country places on events.
Both elf and goblin argue and disagree about their versions of historical events and wars but as the story unfolds a more mutual purpose exists between them and they need to work as a team to deal with treachery and danger.
There is humour and fun when these two different characters buddy up and unwittingly embark on a perilous adventure together.
The reader needs to process all the information that is presented in the novel in both illustrations and words, to discover the real truth and knows more than both of the hapless historians.
This is a wonderful story that will appeal to those who love fantasies such as Lord of the Rings.
I highly recommend this book to students aged 10 to 15 years old, but this will also appeal to fantasy genre lovers of any age.
Jane Moore




May 10 2019

Arthur and the tiger by Sophie Beer

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Penguin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791836.
(Age: 4-7) Recommended. Visually exciting with bold colours, vistas filled with light and shade, strong linear definitions and bright patterns, Arthur and the Tiger explores overcoming fears and prejudices, developing courage and creatively meeting challenges.
A happy little circus perches on the edge of a smog-filled city. Inside the bright orange and yellow tent are fire-breathing jugglers, a soaring acrobat and the Strongman capable of balancing a car on one finger. On the side of the circus ring sits Arthur the Ringmaster's son who's 'tried to learn all kinds of daring circus tricks' to no avail. He's happiest picnicking with his little mice friends.
When his father announces the arrival of a new circus animal a fierce tiger, poor Arthur is told he'll be the tiger's trainer. All of the other circus performers are afraid, 'the jugglers jittered' and 'the strongman shivered.' Tensions build, as the townsfolk show their anger and fear, with banners and shouts they protest. How does Arthur face his fears, gather himself and bravely tame the huge, growly beast? Will the townsfolk overcome their prejudices and realise they need to accept differences in their world?
Arthur and the Tiger is a wonderful story to share, filled with gorgeous alliteration, some fun descriptions and phrases to extend vocabulary combined with a tension-building storyline. Sophie Beer's artworks and text create an energetic and visually appealing story. Take time to investigate all the animals' activities, find the little mice and discuss the ranges of emotions shown. Use as a springboard into creative writing with a Junior Primary class.
Themes: Circuses, Tigers, Courage, Prejudice.
Rhyllis Bignell




May 09 2019

Star Wars: Meet the villains (series)

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DK, 2019.
Darth Vader by Ruth Amos. ISBN: 9780241392089.
Stormtroopers by Emma Grange. ISBN: 9780241392096
(Age: 7-9) Dorling Kindersley presents Star Wars: Meet the villains, two easy-to-read question and answer books filled with colourful stills from across the original movies, prequels and sequels.
Ruth Amos investigates the powerful Sith Lord Darth Vader, why he's so powerful, his family members and why he makes that strange rasping noise. Pitched at new fans and younger family members who've been brought up with the franchise, Darth Vader is packed with factual information including his wars with the rebel forces, his castle on the planet Mustafar and his powerful forces. What are his evil plans? Is there any good left in Darth Vader?
In Stormtroopers Emma George provides a wealth of information, continuing the question and answer format with images captured from across the franchise which started in 1977. The Stormtroopers wear armour designed to help them on missions in different environments, sand dunes, swamps and snowy landscapes. They march in formation, travel on speeder bikes for spying, use All Terrain Scout Transports and use tanks to trample everything in their path. Stormtroopers' helmets are specially designed with padding, communication links and breathing devices.
Star Wars: Meet the villains is a thrilling series that explores the popular characters, their roles, uniforms, powers in a galaxy far, far away. Each book concludes with a glossary to help understand key terms including empires, orders and forces. Written with the younger audience in mind, these books are suitable for ages seven years and up.
Subjects: Star Wars - Characters
Rhyllis Bignell




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