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Jul 19 2019

The quiet at the end of the world by Lauren James

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406375510. 352p; p/b.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Science fiction, Dystopian fiction, Romance, Viruses, Diversity. How far would you go to save those you love? After a virus devastated the world and left people infertile, Lowrie and Shen are the two youngest left. Their ageing community loves and cossets them, and their days are happy, searching for bits of history in the mud of the Thames. Then they uncover a secret that threatens everything they have believed.
I read The quiet at the end of the world a few months ago and it was reviewed previously, but it is a story that has continued to stay with me and one that has a theme that often has me thinking of the meaning of humanity. James slowly builds up the tension as Lowrie and Shen find old treasures from the time when the virus first occurred. Lowrie researches the past of Maya, who describes what happened when the virus first took over the world and the development of the Babygrow app that became a couple's surrogate child. As their ageing community gradually decline, Lowrie and Shen have to face some hard decisions and heartbreak.
James skilfully builds up a world that feels real as Lowrie and Shen gradually uncover what has happened in the past. There is action and adventure, great character development and a riveting story line told in archived chat-logs and traditional narration.
This engrossing story would make a great class novel or literature circle text, giving participants lots of discussion points about the meaning of life, family and love.
Pat Pledger. 352p; p/b.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Science fiction, Dystopian fiction, Romance, Viruses, Diversity. How far would you go to save those you love? After a virus devastated the world and left people infertile, Lowrie and Shen are the two youngest left. Their ageing community loves and cossets them, and their days are happy, searching for bits of history in the mud of the Thames. Then they uncover a secret that threatens everything they have believed.
I read The quiet at the end of the world a few months ago and it was reviewed previously, but it is a story that has continued to stay with me and one that has a theme that often has me thinking of the meaning of humanity. James slowly builds up the tension as Lowrie and Shen find old treasures from the time when the virus first occurred. Lowrie researches the past of Maya, who describes what happened when the virus first took over the world and the development of the Babygrow app that became a couple's surrogate child. As their ageing community gradually decline, Lowrie and Shen have to face some hard decisions and heartbreak.
James skilfully builds up a world that feels real as Lowrie and Shen gradually uncover what has happened in the past. There is action and adventure, great character development and a riveting story line told in archived chat-logs and traditional narration.
This engrossing story would make a great class novel or literature circle text, giving participants lots of discussion points about the meaning of life, family and love.
Pat Pledger




Jul 18 2019

Devils unto dust by Emma Berquist

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Greenwillow, 2018. ISBN: 9780062642783.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Themes: Zombies, Coming of age, Adventure, Western, Dystopian fiction. Adventure galore, a Western setting, zombies, some heartbreak and a great heroine - what more could a reader want to while away a few hours?
Willie is a survivor. She has been looking after her younger brothers and sisters after her mother died from the sickness that turned her into a horrifying zombie-like creature called a shake and her father succumbed to alcohol. When her father steals from a shake hunter in the town of Glory where she lives and she is held responsible for the debt, she knows she will have to find him. With the assistance of two hunters she sets off into the desert on a desperate quest to get the money back from her father.
This was a compelling and easy to read story that blended a story set in the old West with a dystopian tale of sickness gone awry. Willie was an engaging character, capable and determined to look after her family as best she could. Her relationship with Micah her brother and the twins was very relatable and the reader can't help but be drawn to Curtis and Ben, the two honest hunters Willie hired to escort across the desert. Short chapters and humorous dialogue helped to lighten the darkness of the shakes.
There was plenty of action as the shakes tried to attack the small party, and some heartbreak and unexpected twists will keep the reader glued to the page until Willie's quest comes to an end. There is a small opening for a sequel which the reader would welcome. Readers who enjoyed the Western setting might like to read the more complex The Devil's West series (Silver on the road, The cold eye, and Red waters rising) by Laura Anne Gilman, while those who like a road trip might enjoy Tess of the road by Rachael Hartman.
Pat Pledger




Jul 17 2019

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

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Scribner, 2019. ISBN: 9781471185861.
(Age: 15 to Adult) Highly recommended. Set over the course of a year, each of the twelve chapters examines a month in the lives of different women and their families, all intricately connected by the disappearance of two young girls. This remarkable book takes place on Kamchatka, a remote peninsular in far-Eastern Russia, and is rich with descriptions of the volcanic landscape and tundra with their herds of reindeer. We are given an insight into lives filled with loss and longing, of ethnic tensions and traditional Russian values trying to find a place in the modern world.
While the mystery of the girls' disappearance begins the book and the investigation is interwoven throughout, this actually reads more like a series of short stories, with each focusing on a different woman who has been somehow affected by the event including family members, a witness, and a detective. There are many characters, and it is easy to get them mixed up, but thankfully the author has provided a list of primary characters at the start of the book. This book was not at all what I expected it to be, it is so much more.
Donella Reed




Jul 17 2019

Roald Dahl's colours illustrated by Quentin Blake

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Penguin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780241370315.
(Age: 1-5) Highly recommended. Board book. Themes: Colours. Another stunning board book featuring the captivating illustrations by Quentin Blake from Roald Dahl's stories for older children. These will make the book familiar to adults reading it aloud, and will be a fabulous introduction to the world of Roald Dahl for children.
Each of the double page spreads features a coloured background for the colours chosen, pink, red, green, blue, purple, orange, grey and yellow. For example, pink for 'I see plenty of peculiar porky pink pigs' has hilarious pictures of pigs against a beautiful pink background. Of course the famous 'green enomous crocodile hungry for his lunch' features against a lovely lime green background. Only one of the little people racing away from the snapping crocodile has a green shirt and this will be a fun way for the adult to show that there are different shades of green. This is also true of the dark orange coloured fox against an vivid orange background. It was interesting to see the colour grey featured and many children will identify with the idea of a grey suit or grey trousers.
The description of each items associated with the colour is in a bold black print which makes it easy to remember and there is a special touch at the end with a gorgeous lift the flap featuring 'a yellow giraffe with a neck that goes up . . . up . . . up!' Its construction is also very sturdy with hard boards for heavy use.
This is a fun introduction to colours for children and is sure to become a favourite.
Pat Pledger




Jul 16 2019

A good girl's guide to murder by Holly Jackson

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Electric Monkey, 2019. ISBN: 9781405293181.
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Themes: Mystery, Thriller, Murder, Diversity, Friendship. What a compelling mystery - one that was almost impossible to put down! Pippa Fitz-Ambobi decides to investigate the murder of schoolgirl Andie Bell as her final year research project. Even though the police had closed the case, based on evidence that her boyfriend Sal Singh had murdered her, Pippa has always had doubts and sets about interviewing suspects and family members in an effort to see if she can find evidence to prove his innocence.
In a tightly packed narrative, consisting of entries into her Extended Project report and narrative about what is happening every day, Pippa delves into the secrets of her small town and uncovers some shocking truths about the people that she thought she knew well. Highly organised and intelligent, Pippa, with the aid of Sal's brother Ravi, goes about the investigation in a systematic way that allows the reader to follow the clues and try and work out who did the murder, or if there was a murder. At the same time Pippa's humour helps to lighten the darkness of some of the evidence and there are some very sad moments as well.
There are lots of plot twists that will keep even seasoned mystery readers trying to unravel the truth, and both Pippa and Ravi are people that the reader would like to know. Pippa's view of people begins to change as she finds out things from the past and she is uncertain of who she can trust. And if Sal didn't murder Andie, how dangerous is her investigation?
This is a terrific thriller that will keep the reader on the edge, very unwilling to put it down until the case is unravelled. People who enjoyed One of us is lying by Karen McManus and There's someone inside your house by Stephanie Perkins will be sure to enjoy this as well, and I am really looking forward to more stories by Holly Jackson.
Pat Pledger




Jul 15 2019

A nearly normal family by M. T. Edvardsson

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Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781529008135.
(Age: senior secondary to adult) Recommended. Themes: Sweden, Crime, Family. The Sandell family seems to have it all. Adam is a pastor in the Church of Sweden, Ulrika is a successful lawyer and their daughter Stella is a vibrant student and athlete. There have been the usual ups and downs, as there are with families, but they are looked on by other residents in the small provincial city of Lund as a model of success.
Things take a lurch into the unexpected and unknown when Stella is taken into custody for the murder of Christopher Olsen. The story unfolds from the points of view of Adam, Ulrika and Stella and gives very different insight into each individual and the dynamics of this 'ideal' family.
Adam's recount is the first, and as a reader, I found this man hard to empathise with. His interference with the case and distrust of the lawyer defending Stella began to annoy me so much I almost gave up on the book. It was Stella's account that turned things round. Her character formed by the narrative of her father gave the impression of a selfish, spoiled teenager full of angst and rebellion. As her side of the story is slowly and at times reluctantly revealed an empathy is developed. Her strong friendship with Amina is at the centre of the web of emotion and loyalty which Edvardsson brings to life.
Stella who is 18 at the time of the murder has been involved with Christopher Olsen an older man at 32. Chris is a wealthy, successful businessman the son of a professor of law at the local university. There is some uneasiness about his treatment of women when it is discovered a former girl friend, Linda Lokind, has made a complaint to the police about Olsen. The investigation came to nothing and its Linda's reputation and state of mind which has come into question.
The final voice is that of Stella's mother Ulrika. It is the shortest narrative but one which gives the greatest insight and perhaps shows the greatest understanding of Stella and of Amina.
The Sandell family was not the one any of its members wanted. Adam wanted a perfect image projected to his congregation as a reflection of his role as loving father and husband. He is a controller and in the end not open with Stella or Ulrika. Stella is a complex character and she feels guilty about her behaviour and reactions to her parents but is unable to express them. She has many secrets she keeps from her family and even some from Amina. Ulrika feels guilt being the working mother working away from her family so often, but also feeling excluded from the bond which Adam and Stella formed as a baby and into her childhood. She too has secrets.
This novel was involving not least from the dynamics of the family, but also the community in which they live. The Swedish police and judicial system is an interesting contrast to the US or British with which we are far more familiar. Edvardsson's resolution is not entirely unexpected, but the master mind behind it all is more of a surprise.
Mark Knight




Jul 15 2019

Nits! by Stephanie Blake

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Gecko Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781776572243.
(Age: 4+) Themes: Nits, Classroom behaviour, Friendship, Humour. A disarmingly simple text tells the reader of the friendship between Simon and Lou. Simon loves Lou but she loves Mamadou. Simon is quite upset at seeing Mamadou kiss Lou, but when Lou begins to scratch at the nits in her hair, her friends, including Mamdou, desert her. But not Simon. He assures Lou that her mother will fix her problem, and kisses her. And so Simon gets nits as well.
Simply told the story shows how easy it is to get nits, and tells readers what to expect when they get them. The story reiterates that there is nothing to be afraid of and tells readers that their mothers will be able to get rid of them for them.
The simple clear illustrations underline the straightforward message contained in the book, and will appeal to the target audience of early primary readers.
Astute teachers will use this book as an introduction to the prevalence of nits within school communities and take the opportunity to encourage preventative action as well as showing the children how they can be managed.
Fran Knight




Jul 12 2019

The rest of the story by Sarah Dessen

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Balzer and Bray, 2019. ISBN: 9780008334390.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Family, Friendship, Self-perception, Class structure, Anxiety. Sarah Dessen does it again - The rest of the story has all her wonderful hallmarks, beautiful writing that grabs the reader straight away, a feel good look at a difficult family life, a swoon worthy but slow romance and a clever view of class structure and wealth.
When Emma Saylor is sent to spend the holidays at North Lake with her grandmother and cousins, people she hasn't seen since she was a small child, she finds things difficult. Here she is called Saylor, the name given to her by her dead mother, while at home she is called Emma by her father and other family members. There are unknown cousins to become acquainted with and Roo the boy who had been her best friend when she was little. Roo is the key who helps her find out about her mother and her past.
Emma is a character that the reader will immediately identify with. It is easy to relate to her feelings when she arrives at her grandmother's house. She has to navigate family shoals while coming to grips with the fact that there are two communities at North Lake. There is the working class group at North Lake, where her mother grew up and where her grandmother runs a motel, and there is the rich Lake North resort, where the wealthy spend their holidays. There is Roo, the caring boy, who lives on the working class side and the rich boys who stay at the resort. And there are all the stories that she finds out about her mother who died when she was ten and the side of the family that she didn't know about. Who is she - the Emma from the rich family who stay at the resort, or Saylor, the girl who helps her cousins clean the motel? And can she overcome her anxiety especially about driving?
Dessen is one of my favourite authors. I love her characters and even though she often explores complex family and personal situations, she always leaves the reader hopeful of a good outcome and better understandings as her characters grow and develop. Her books are ones that fans will want to revisit and The rest of the story is certainly one that would richly repay a reread.
Pat Pledger




Jul 11 2019

Hey baby! by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

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National Geographic Kids, 2019. ISBN: 9781426329319. 192pp., hbk.
'In every corner of the Earth - from the Arctic to Australia, from ocean depths to mountain tops, from dry deserts to lush rain forests - tiny tots are learning to find their way in a big beautiful world.'
But these are not human babies - they are animals of all shapes and sizes and each has its own life story, some more complex and demanding more attention than a human baby. Using the most stunning photos, this is a collection of pictures, poems, stories, folktales and information from Nature's nursery that will introduce young readers to the diverse creatures of this planet. Grouped according to habitat such as mountains and plains, forest and streams, oceans and seas, each creature has a short fact box giving the name of the young, its home and its food as well as other information, and each section also has a Tot Lot which is a group of eight creatures with not quite so much detail but adding to the wonder of the variety of fauna that shares this planet with us. Many have a story or even a classic poem to accompany them, such as 'The Legend of the Pink Dolphin' or 'The Duck and the Kangaroo' by Edward Lear to further engage the young reader as this is a book to be shared or read by an independent reader.
An investment in a child's learning.
Barbara Braxton




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