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Nov 30 2020

The book collectors of Daraya by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

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PanMacmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529012323.
(Age: Adult) Highly recommended. How do you even begin to describe this book? For most people, Syria is a far-off place in the midst of a war that not many could say what it is about. We just know that cities are being destroyed and its people are fleeing as refugees. President Bashar al-Assad has painted the rebels as militant Islamic terrorists led by Daesh or ISIS. However journalist Delphine Minoui stumbles on an online photograph of the secret library of Daraya, the Damascus suburb under siege by Assad's forces. It shows young men browsing before neatly arranged shelves of books. It is an underground library of books rescued from the rubble of bombs, each book with the previous owner's name meticulously recorded on the first page, in the hope that one day the book will be reunited with its owner. In the meantime, the library is the haven of the young rebel fighters, not terrorists, but idealistic young men who want freedom and democracy for their country. They collect the books and share them; the titles range from the love poems of Nizar Qabbani to Shakespeare, to Saint-Exupery's Little Prince, to American self-help books, to J.M Coetzee and Paulo Coelho. The library becomes a safe meeting place for ideological discussions and English language classes.
Outside the library the inhabitants of Daraya faced the ongoing barrage of barrel bombs, sarin gas attacks and napalm. Minoui tells us the story through snatched moments on WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype, text messages and shared photographs and videos. We get to know each of the young men who protect the library, their passion for books, photography, art, and poetry, and their dreams for a better future for their country.
Daraya falls in the end, the besieged inhabitants beaten by malnutrition and starvation. But Minoui's book remains a testament to the courage of the young men who fought back against a cruel dictator and aspired for a better world.
Themes: Books, Libraries, War, Resistance, Freedom, Syria.
Helen Eddy




Nov 30 2020

A Guinea Pig Night before Christmas

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Guinea Pig classics, photographed by Phillip Beresford, sets made and designed by Tess Newall. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020 ISBN: 9781526613561.
(Age: All) Recommended. Guinea pigs photographed in cute costumes are the feature of this rendering of the classic Christmas story The night before Christmas. The publishers have not changed the text of the original poem at all, they have just used the guinea pigs and a cute little stuffed mouse as the"actors" in this story. The detail of each costume is amazing, my favourite being the line of guinea pig reindeers in the centre of the book, priceless.
Many children who saw this book commented that the lead reindeer was not Rudolf, but the publishers have added 'the ninth reindeer' in a cute little cameo at the end of the book with an explanation as to why he doesn't appear in the original poem. There is a brief paragraph towards the back of the book about pets being abandoned around the Christmas season reminding us that we can support local rescue centres with donations in the holiday season. The Guinea Pig actors are also credited at the end of the book.
This book is one of a growing number of adorable titles in this series with some of the other titles including The Nutcracker, A Christmas Carol, A Guinea Pig Nativity, Romeo and Juliet, Oliver Twist and Pride and Prejudice. A Facebook page "Guinea Pig classics" is also mentioned by the publishers on their website. Themes: Christmas, Guinea pigs, Classic stories.
Gabrielle Anderson




Nov 30 2020

The werewolves who weren't by T.C. Shelley

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Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526600806.
(Age: 10-12). Recommended for mature readers who have read the first book. Follow up to 2019's The monster who wasn't, which is a must-read before picking up this one. This story continues from the events in the first book and there are multiple concepts and relationships that are difficult to make sense of without the earlier background.
Sam looks like a normal boy but has a unique secret. He is half monster and half fairy, hatched only 4 months ago, with great strength and heightened senses. He is adopted by a human family and settles into a human life, including starting at school.
At school he meets three other students who smell nice to him but initially act very oddly. It turns out they have a secret too, one that makes them just as strange as Sam is, and so the foursome quickly form a strong bond.
Then a figure from Sam's past returns and seems to be using fairy dust to subdue and gather up monsters. Sam's friends vanish and new threats emerge as Sam races to figure out what's happening and why. He must weigh up where his loyalties lie and what he is willing to lose, and this sets the scene for a mighty struggle for survival.
This story is quite complex overall, rather wordy in parts (I found myself skipping through some of the longer descriptive passages between action scenes) and full of wonderful detail about various types of fanciful monsters. A younger reader may find this book difficult and/or frightening.
For the mature reader though it has lovely themes of belonging, identity, loyalty and friendship. West Australian author Shelley includes some humour too showing Sam still getting used to human life and speech (at one point he says "mistaken toe" where he means 'wrong foot'). The ending is hopeful and very intriguing, obviously paving the way for book 3 which is due in 2021.
Themes: Monsters - fiction, Gargoyles, Families, Fairies, Relationships, Dogs, Werewolves, Adventure.
Kylie Grant




Nov 27 2020

How to make a bird by Meg McKinlay

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Illus. by Matt Ottley. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781925381894.
(Age: children to adults). Highly recommended. How to Make a Bird written by Meg McKinlay is a poignant and striking picture book that would be suitable for readers of any age. The story is of a young girl who creatively constructs a bird from objects she finds in the natural world such as bones, shells and feathers. We see her growing collection of smallish items in an old battered case that she spreads on the floor to choose from in order to enhance her ever-evolving bird. She adds a heart and colour but still the bird sits as cold as a statue. The child knows that to set her bird free she must gather it in to her hands, give it life and gently let it go. This young girl has worked through a design process from the conception of an idea to her final creation. This story shows how even the smallest idea can be transformed into a work of beauty and creativity.
The illustrations by artist Matt Ottley are simply stunning. Muted in tones but steeped in detail they complement the text perfectly. One reading is not enough of this book, there is so much to be gained by poring over each page and searching for more clues to understand the flow of the story. A truly inspiring and gentle read. Teacher's notes are available. Themes: Birds, Ideas, Design, Nature, Imagination, Creating.
Kathryn Beilby




Nov 27 2020

The Greatest Inventor by Ben Brooks

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Hachette Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781786541123.
(Age: primary) Recommended. This is a quirky story, full of whimsy. Many children already know Ben Brook's books through the very popular Boys who Dare to be Different 1 and 2 and Kids who Dare to be Different. These books do not languish for long on shelves. Brook's new book The Greatest Inventor does not disappoint.
Victor, our hero, is a really good sort. In an unusual beginning the prologue is narrated by the story teller who has writer's block. The writer, lost in a forest in snowy Finland, is rescued by a boy who subsequently becomes the hero of the story. My class of ten year olds were captured after the prologue.
Victor feels that his little village is too boring and safe. He desperately wants adventure. The villagers have hard, honest lives and owe nobody anything. One day the self- styled . . . "greatest inventor ever to set foot in the land of King Marshalla" arrives and attempts to sell contraptions. The villagers won't buy. In anger he casts a malicious spell over the village. Victor must release the village from the spell. He travels with an unlikely companion a talking turtle (tortoise?) called Saint Oswald. As they follow the inventor, they come upon villages that are under the spell of the inventor's contraptions. Other children, intent on rescuing their villages, join them on their quest.
It becomes apparent that other villages have fallen into debt and are doomed to permanent servitude. A monumental battle between the children and the forces of evil ensures. In the end they all go home which is where all good stories should end.
This book is a satisfying, mischievous romp - pure escapism. George Ermos's black and white illustrations enhance the text. The children are grounded in solid values. Sanity is restored to a world that has lost touch with what really matters. Victor realises that he is part of a world much bigger than himself. A delightful, fantastical romp with a message.
Recommended for Primary aged children.
Wendy Jeffrey




Nov 26 2020

October, October by Katya Balen

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Ill. by Angela Harding. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526620491
(Age: 10+ ) Highly recommended. October is a girl who thinks of herself as a wild wolf living in the woods with her equally wild father. In the woods she is confident and self-sufficient. She spends her days digging, climbing, running, learning, scavenging, growing food and using her imagination to make up fantastic stories. She does not need the 'woman who is her mother' and the only time she feels out of her depth is on rare trips into town for supplies.
On her 11th birthday October has just adopted a baby owl. She and her father are following their annual birthday ritual when something terrible happens, and suddenly everything is different. October is wrenched out of her wild life. She feels lost and angry in equal parts and shuts down.
It takes time, bravery, love and friendship for October to let new people into her inner circle and become open to finding something to be excited about again.
October's relationship with her parents is a clear theme throughout. Her father is fair, wise and warm as he guides, encourages and protects her. Her connection with her mother is complicated and sometimes ugly, but her mother offers unconditional love along with great patience, grace and kindness.
Katya Balen uses long sentences to brilliantly convey the breathlessness, anger, excitement, bewilderment and imagination of October. The illustrations by Angela Harding show the baby owl maturing, stretching and thriving throughout the story, mirroring October herself.
The end is very moving and satisfying as October comes back to the woods, where nothing and everything has changed.
"Being wild and free is different for every person and every thing and it can be folded into the woods or whirling through the city streets".
Includes a sneak peek at Balen's 2019 middle/upper grade novel, The space we're in.
Themes: Family, Relationships, Imagination, Nature, Fathers, Mothers.
Kylie Grant




Nov 25 2020

A dog's perfect Christmas by W Bruce Cameron

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529010114.
(Age: Secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. Winstead, a nine year wolf hound becomes aware one day that his Daddy is sad. His owner gets up in the morning with aching bones and crooked fingers, and turns to the pillow next to his where his wife once slept. Their house has been sold to cover the debts her illness accrued, and he is now living with his son and his family. His granddaughter comes in each morning to wake him, but Ello is a taciturn young girl on the brink of becoming a teen, at odds with everything around her. Her three year old twin brothers, Ewan and Garrett cause mayhem within the household, and mum, Juliana cannot wait to drop all three at school and have some time to herself, going to Target for respite. She is meeting her husband, Hunter for lunch and has something to tell him.
Hunter is given a promotion in his office but warned that a lack of success means being fired. He cannot understand his wife's distress at home, and is at a loss to help with the children or his father, Sander, who counts the pills in the medicine cabinet. This chaotic household is very recognisable and the descriptions poignant and very funny. The readers' involvement builds as Juliana reveals she is very unhappy, Hunter's work nose dives into a scrambled mess, Ello's friends bully her and she is saddled with baby sitting Dad's boss' son, newly arrived at school. When Mum is taken to hospital and the diagnosis becomes dire, the family grows together, helped by the stray puppy Ello has found on her walk home from the skating rink. Named Ruby it becomes part of the family, a crutch for the children as they cope with their mother's illness.
This is a beautifully written story of a family and their fractured relationships, repaired by a stray dog which adopts them. And did I mention this story happens at Christmas, adding another layer of stress and the cold in Michigan in December is finger numbing.
Themes: Family, Death, Christmas, Grandparents, Suicide, Pets, Animals, Twins, Anxiety, Michigan.
Fran Knight




Nov 25 2020

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End by Jeff Kinney

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Penguin, 2020. ISBN: 9780143796084.
Highly recommended. This was read and reviewed by my 10 year old son, who has read most of the others from this series and really enjoys them:
First of all I thought this book was good, because it was funny and a good story.
The story is about the family and they go on a holiday, and they travel to lots of places. While they are at a caravan park lots of bad things happen. One of the bad things is when the bridge to get out of the caravan park is struck by lightning they can't get out. Everyone gets panicked and they buy everything . . . this is very familiar to me because of Covid-19. At the end Manny saves the day as he drives the van to fix the bridge and let everyone out!
I would recommend this book to people who have read any of the other Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I giggled a lot as the pictures are hilarious, they add to the story and with some parts of the story you wouldn't understand the story without the pictures.
I give it 4.5 starts out of 5 - I would have given it 5 stars if there were even more funny pictures.
I think his review says it all. This book was real hit with a 10 year old, and I also think this book would really suit readers who need a bit of extra encouragement. The funny illustrations are a real draw card and keep in line with all the others in the series. A great addition to the series, and highly recommended!
Lauren Fountain




Nov 25 2020

Angels weep by Colin Falconer

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Constable, 2020. ISBN: 9781472132703.
(Age: Senior secondary/adult) DI Charlie George and his team investigate the abduction of a young woman. Time is of the essence if they are to find her alive. Their workload is dramatically increased when there is another young woman taken off the street and orders are to assume the abductions are linked. The budget is stretched and very little sleep is had by the team as they desperately search for the two victims.
The second target is a young woman, Sarah Howlett, married to Danny, an investment banker. She seems to have a great life: handsome successful husband, beautiful home, a young child and a nanny to help with young Ollie. Danny however is controlling, abusive and has lost a huge amount of money trading illegally.
When the first victim is found alive but traumatised, elation is short lived. There is no second victim and there does not seem to be a link to Sarah Howlett, so the team must look with fresh eyes at the evidence they have.
Charlie George is well acquainted with dysfunctional families. He is the product of one. In the midst of his investigation a surprise seventieth birthday has been arranged for his mother who has dementia! His drug addled brother has been flown from Australia and has been billeted with him. He rarely sees his siblings and a family reunion at the care home is the last thing he needs as he struggles with his case load.
Sarah Howlett is hit by a car seemingly escaping from her husband who she claims is trying to kill her. She has injuries not all sustained in the traffic accident and is deeply traumatised. The husband Danny Howlett is nowhere to found and Sarah's father is furious that progress seems to have stalled.
Colin Falconer cleverly contrasts the social divides in London, and takes the reader into the lives of a fascinating range of London society. Most seem to be damaged goods in some way. There are not too many happy families in DI George's circle, including his own. Falconer is able to ramp up the intrigue with some unexpected twists and turns to deliver a thoroughly satisfying read.
Themes: Abuse, Abduction, Domestic violence, Crime, London.
Mark Knight




Nov 25 2020

Zombierella by Joseph Coelho

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Illus. by Freya Hartas. Fairy tales gone bad. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406389661.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. The perennial fun of twisted fairy tales takes on a new lease of life as Cinderella becomes a zombie after falling down the stairs, slipping on dog poo deliberately left by her fake sisters. Readers will laugh out loud as they recognise bits of the well known Cinderella, turned around for a modern audience with zombies, coffins, skeleton horses, and a vampire prince. A ball is called every three days by the prince, newly arrived in town with his retinue. But Cinderella is left home to clean. Falling on the stairs, she dies, to be revived as a zombie by Death, and given the opportunity to attend the ball. The prince, of course, falls for her, but she slips away. On the third night, her fake sisters become aware of who the beautiful girl is and pour glue on the stairs, stopping her progress. Not to be outdone, Cinderella breaks off her foot to run away, leaving the prince with a foot and ankle to match. The fake sisters do more than cut their toes off to marry the prince, and in the end, love rules and the story concludes most happily.
What a wonderful retelling, I laughed out loud and I am sure the readership will too, especially with the array of detailed very funny illustrations to guide them. A whole array of vampire and zombie paraphernalia dot the pages, intriguing the readers, and the grisly stuff, pulling out Cinderella's guts, or pulling off her foot, for example, is simply grist for the funny bone, goading people to laugh with gusto.
And I was pleased to read the epilogue by the librarian who unearthed these dark, mad tales, that there is more to come.
Walker Books' website gives more information about poet Coelho, and this is the first of a three part series called Fairy tales gone bad. And I loved the wrap around cover.
Themes: Vampires, Zombies, Cinderella, Twisted fairy tales, Humour, Verse.
Fran Knight




Nov 24 2020

Christmas is murder: a chilling short story collection by Val McDermid

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Sphere, 2020. ISBN: 9780751581775.
(Age: Secondary/Adult) Highly recommended. In a few pages, award winning crime writer McDermid is able to create a scenario, characters and a crime, enticing an already enthralled reader to keep going, wanting to see where the story heads. Twelve short stories all framed by Christmas, are tantalisingly brief, but each is complete in itself, dealing with a murder, and sometimes making a point along the way. In 'A wife in a million', a detective investigates a series of murders: someone is spiking condiments at supermarkets with arsenic, while her unemployed partner scans the papers each day searching for work. It is her suggestion that brings the investigation to a close.
Another tale reprises the Holmes' stories as Watson and Holmes go to Sarajevo to stop a killing (not the one you think!). In another a young girl unsure of whether Santa Claus is real or not, pushes a burglar down the stairs on Christmas Eve, after she finds him with her Christmas presents. In 'Happy Holiday', DCI Jordan and Dr Tony Hill solve a murder, while another story has a couple cycling through Scotland, finding a remote folly, and after her partner is killed, she lures the driver to the folly to exact revenge.
Settings are so different: the Scottish Highlands, Scottish towns, various castles, lochs and coastlines, while the characters inhabit many guises. A thoroughly involving set of stories, sure to keep readers amused and absorbed over Christmas.
Themes: Short stories, Christmas, Murder, Investigation, Crime fiction, Scotland.
Fran Knight




Nov 24 2020

Kay's anatomy by Adam Kay

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Illus. by Henry Paker. Penguin Random House, 2020. ISBN: 9780241452943.
(Age; 9+) Recommended. Kay's anatomy is a comedic anatomy book with the revealing subtitle: A complete (and completely disgusting) guide to the human body. Written for the youthful audience who loves humour with everything in life and enjoys the bizarre and disgusting aspects of the human body - from the top of the skull to toe nails via every gross fact in between. Adam Kay studied Medicine so information in the book is factual, however it is heavily laced with jokes, humorous asides and quirky illustrations. With a focus on the questions that kids would like answered and on bodily secretions, noises and smells, there is something to learn or something to laugh at on every page, including reference to Covid 19.
This is the kind of book that kids will read from cover to cover and laugh at every page. Fortunately, they will also learn a lot about human anatomy in the process. Illustrations are extremely amusing cartoons that will attract the visual learner and will draw them to the well set out information. Note: The book explains the reproductive system in a simple but thorough way with clear illustrations and explanations for a young audience. I enjoyed the humour and the clarity of the information for young readers, but kids will love all the snot, fart and vomit references and every other disgusting piece of information.
Themes: Human anatomy; Humour.
Carolyn Hull




Nov 23 2020

I follow you . . . until you are mine by Peter James

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781509816286.
(Age: Secondary/adult) Highly recommended. Set in Jersey, James' latest thriller is most unsettling. Dr Marcus Valentine is a distinguished gynae-oncologist, a leader in his field and looked up to by both his colleagues and patients alike. He is also an obsessive man - time is important and everything has its place.
While driving to work he almost runs a woman down. A woman who reminds him disturbingly of his first love. Georgie Maclean becomes a preoccupation which rapidly turns to an addiction.
Peter James is able to knit the lives of Georgie, her partner Roger Richardson and Marcus Valentine into an increasingly volatile dance. Valentine believes he is in control but he has to take ever more complicated steps to keep his passion secret.
After a plane crash involving Roger, Valentine takes charge of the surgery to save his life but deliberately omits to take care of a small problem which will eventually end in his death.
Georgie is also pregnant, a long awaited precious event. Valentine would also like to be rid of that troublesome addition. He does not wish to be saddled with another man's child. As his fixation with Georgie becomes more delusional he really believes that they will live together in a blissful loving partnership.
As James' narrative moves on the pace steadily increases as does the suspense. He has been able to paint the Dr Valentine as a pompous, self-opinionated sociopath a thoroughly dislikable character, while the reader's anxiety for Georgie and Richard steadily mounts as the story unfolds. A thoroughly satisfying page turner. Highly recommended.
Themes: Crime, New Jersey, Obsession, Thriller.
Mark Knight




Nov 23 2020

The book of not entirely useful advice by A.F. Harrold

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Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781526618016. 121p.
(Age: 9+) Recommended. Poetry, Nonsense. Penned by English poet, A.F. Harrold, young children are rewarded with chunks of snappy rhyme and sometimes bonus glee. The foreword advises us not to follow any of the bad advice, thereby writes the author, making this a useful collection. Delicious extras make the anthology evermore useful: a searchable index, contents and a glossary of 'Knots of the world'. Not to mention interactive blank canvases for the reader's own drawings or poems; plus an advice generator - customize the template to build your own Advice-A-Tron animated by a roll of the dice.
Aesthetically, our interest is sustained by the cute animations of A.F. Harrold, several animals and selected children. Mini Grey throws in a colourful parrot saying "Bum" twice - double the hilarity. A.F. Harrold rounds his text with an afterword including some final advice not attached to poems such as: "You are not alone. We all feel like that sometimes."
But what of the poetic advice? Not letting the broccoli drive the car seems too obvious followed by such nonsense lines as "Always keep an onion handy, They're great for self-defence" and poems entitled "Gravy is Not Perfume". But this closet poet throws in the odd serious gem to groom his young readers to appreciate the paradigmatic insertions in poetry.
Roots
It's a good picnic
to which you need carry no food,
simply slip off your shoes,
let your toes grow down,
rooting around,
deep into the soil,
supping and sifting,
and you palm up your hands
and drink
the sunshine.
The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice is a library must and would engage lower/middle school readers on a lazy afternoon in: drawing or writing - or simply learning to be still and more self-aware. With poetry, less really is more.
Deborah Robins




Nov 20 2020

To sleep in a sea of stars by Christopher Paolini

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Pan Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529046519.
(Age: Adult/Young Adult). Highly recommended. Christopher Paolini, author of the much beloved young adult Eragon series, appeals to a different target audience with his adult debut To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. This is a science fiction novel of truly epic proportions. At almost 900 pages, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a serious (and weighty) undertaking that may intimidate some fans. However for readers determined to tackle this behemoth, an enjoyable space opera awaits.
Kira Navarez is a xenobiologist living approximately two hundred and fifty years in the future. Happy, newly engaged and working in her dream occupation, her life is interesting and fulfilling. Kira is completing an assignment on the moon of Adrasteia when she uncovers an ancient and mysterious relic. What she has found will have consequences that will change her life and the galaxy as she knows it forever. Kira has discovered that humans are not alone in the universe and that she is now at the centre of a war for the very survival of her species.
To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a hugely complex and multi-layered story. Paolini worked on the novel for almost a decade before its release, a fact that is evident in the level of world-building and characterisation achieved. It will tick the boxes for any fan of hard science fiction as well as those who enjoy action, adventure and many, many human emotions. While certainly not a quick or always easy read, this novel highly recommended.
Themes: Space, Space Travel, Planets, Astronauts, Aliens, War, Solitude, Identity, Humanity.
Rose Tabeni




Nov 20 2020

Noah Wild and the floating zoo by Alexander McCall Smith

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Bloomsbury, 2020. 120p. ISBN: 9781526605542.
(Age: 7+) Adventure. The scene is set for a classic children's book. There are no responsible parents, only eccentric aunts and uncles. Noah & Hattie are living happily enough with Aunt Smiley when their pirate Uncle Loafy, having closed his Zoo, invites them to help re-locate his last four wild animals to their homelands.
Monkey Robertson, Henrietta Alpaca, Mrs Roo, a tiger called Ram and four humans, set sail on a magnanimous quest, investing time and money to ensure the well-being of all species. After the practicalities of fixing the Ark and the obligatory storm, the expansiveness of travel is a steady learning curve . . . and as always they're dogged by the enraptured reader.
The author ponders many different versions of the nature vs nurture conundrum: Mistaken identity is a thing. Upbringing counts. Sometimes genetics and animal natures are insurmountable. And when the roguish Monkey Robertson proves incapable of rehabilitation, we must accept that he is a higher species trapped in the wrong body.
Children's authors sometimes write best-selling adult literature. Alexander McCall Smith has proven the reverse is also possible. In future, adults may not draw parallels to Noah Wild's musings when compelled to turn the pages of The Life of Pi, or when shedding tears at the treatment of lab animals in We are All Completely Beside Ourselves but Smith's brushstrokes on an early literacy canvas will have played a part.
Deborah Robins




Nov 19 2020

Shadow Sands by Robert Bryndza

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Kate Marshall book 2 . Little Brown, 2020. ISBN: 9780751572759.
(Age: Adult - Senior secondary) Recommended. Kate Marshall and her offsider Tristan Harper are back in another exciting adventure. The duo first appeared in Nine Elms and continue with their successful sleuthing in Shadow Sands. When Kate and her son are diving in the Shadow Sands reservoir, Kate finds the body of a young man floating above the sunken village. The body has extensive injuries and even though he is identified as a swimmer capable of going to the Olympics, the authorities deem it to be an accident. When the victim's mother contacts Kate, she and Tristan gradually uncover the fact that people have been disappearing from this area for years. Then a young lecturer from the university disappears and the hunt is on.
Bryndza has the happy knack of writing in a very easy to read style, with engaging characters that are relatable. Kate is a recovering alcoholic, who only sees her teenage son Jake in holidays. Both must deal with the fact that Jake's father is a convicted serial killer. Meanwhile Tristan has some personal issues to deal with as well. Both Kate and Tristan come across as highly intelligent and capable, and the reader will enjoy all the clues that they pursue.
The setting of a reservoir as the dumping ground for bodies is unusual. Add a very thick fog that rolls in over the land and a desolate, empty old club which was the last place some of the victims were seen and readers can expect to hold their breath. A rich and powerful local aristocratic family raises issues about class and the wielding of power and influence.
The case is concluded with some surprise twists and turns, and heart-stopping moments and readers can expect to see Kate and Tristan in further investigations.
Pat Pledger




Nov 04 2020

Santa Jaws by Mark Sperring

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Illus. by Sophie Corrigan. Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781408897812.
(Age: 2+) Highly recommended. Shelly the shark is all set to make this Christmas a very festive one. She turns her cave into a Santa grotto and invites the little fishes to come in, but they are very wary and swim away. However, Sid the squid is very excited as he has not met Santa before:
. . . today's my LUCKY, LUCKY day.
Golly, whizz and gee!
For guess WHO's meeting Santa Claus?
Yes, me! Yes, me! Yes, me!
When he swims in finds that it is Shelly the shark in her diving Santa suit. Can he trust her?
This is a hilarious read aloud, from the creators of Mince Spies. The cadence of the rhythm and rhyming words make a rollicking read and young children will love to sing out the 'Yes, me!' And 'I am!' refrains along with Sid. The person reading it aloud can also make the story lots of fun by coming up with voices to suit the two main characters, who each have their own characteristics. Readers will identify with Sid and his desire to meet Santa, while relating to Shelly who has no friends and is not trusted by anyone. She is a misunderstood creature, and it was lovely to see Sid working with her to bring joy to all the sea creatures.
Illustrations are cute with lots of fishy details to examine and giggle over. Sid the squid with his long pink tentacles and big black eyes is a hoot. The double page spread where he realises that there was not a real Santa in the cave is hilarious, showing Shelly's gleaming white teeth and little Sid's tentacles bunched together. Newly independent readers will love to give this one a go as well with the illustrations complementing the narrative.
A fabulous fun Christmas book, it is perfect as a bedtime story as well and has become a firm favourite with my little grandson.
Pat Pledger




Nov 04 2020

Tinsel: The girls who invented Christmas by Sibeal Pounder

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Bloomsbury, 2020. ISBN: 9781526619273.
(Age: 8+) Highly Recommended. Tinsel: The Girls who Invented Christmas is a cleverly written book by Sibeal Pounder, author of the popular Witch Wars and Bad Mermaids series. What if history had it all wrong and Christmas and the Santa story was really begun by two young girls? This very exciting and humorous story brings in traditions of Christmas that readers of all ages will relate to. Blanche Claus lives under a bridge in London of long ago when poor orphaned children struggled to survive. She has no inclination or resources to embrace the festive season and would prefer to sleep through it. However on one special evening she is given a magical red bauble by an old woman. In the bauble she sees a surprising image and this begins her journey. She finds an abandoned horse she names Rudy and promises to care for her forever. While riding Rudy she meets Rinki, another orphaned child, and they share a mince-pie picnic. They lose touch but eventually find each other again and the mince-pie picnics become significant to the storyline. Blanche, disguised as a boy, becomes one of the best carters in the docks. She meets Captain Garland who entrusts her with a precious box which she delivers to his home not realizing Rinki is now living there with her two dads. Given their earlier impoverished circumstances Rinki and Blanche make a promise to try to provide a present for every child on Christmas Day. The evil neighbour Mr Krumpus and the three jealous carters play important roles in trying to thwart everything the two girls' attempt.
Throw in elves named Carol, a larger than life fir tree, a young cook called Santa, a new home in the North Pole, a magical sleigh and you have an entertaining story full of adventure and magic. An enjoyable and exciting read. Themes: Magic, Fantasy, Adventure, Good Vs Evil, Friendship, Christmas Traditions, Humour, Loyalty.
Kathryn Beilby




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