Book Review – You’re a Bad Man Mr Gum – Andy Stanton

7 03 2014

Image

Summary – Fabulously funny. There’s a joke on every single page!  

8/10

Mr Gum is a nasty piece of work. When he sets out to poison Jake the dog, the citizens of Lamoic Bibber rally together to try and stop him.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It won the Roald Dahl funny prize and rightly so. It’s probably just about the funniest book I’ve ever read. Andy Stanton spent some time working as a stand-up comic and his writing really shows off his understanding of how to put a good joke together.

Here are a couple of the jokes…

“Mr Gum hardly noticed the walk home, mainly because he took a taxi.”

“Old newspapers from years and years ago with headlines like ‘Vikings invade Britain’ and ‘World’s first newspaper invented today.'”

The book is aimed at 5-7 year olds and it sits well within the age range.  Kids will really identify with the disgusting Mr Gum and the lovable Jake the dog, in the same way they did with the characters in Roald Dahl’s The Twits.

The only downside to this book is that it’s light on plot. Andy Stanton has focused so much on the jokes, that the plot is almost just a vehicle for them. It is utterly simplistic. The one-line summary above is pretty much all there is to it. But thankfully Andy Stanton’s writing is so humorous that it doesn’t really matter.

The illustration’s by David Tazzyman are fun and work well with the story, and add another dash of humour.

The theme of this book is:-

Angry people always miss out on their rewards - and Andy uses those exact words on page 45.

Because Mr Gum is so angry, miserable and negative he can’t see the good things in front of him. Luckily the characters who rise up against Mr Gum have the opposite traits. They are positive and hopeful and are able to seize the opportunities that Mr Gum misses.

Final word – Laugh out loud funny!

 

 





Book Review – Varjak Paw – SF Said

31 01 2014

Varjak

Summary – This book has it all. Cats, super powers, family, friendship and a terrifying villain!

10/10

Varjak Paw is a young thoroughbred house-cat who longs for adventure in the outside world.  When his home is threatened by a pair of mysterious back cats and a terrifying Gentleman he must set off in search of the only thing that can scare them away – a dog!

If you haven’t read Varjak Paw then stop what you’re doing and go and buy a copy! It’s not just a book for children. It’s one of those rare treats that will be enjoyed by adults too. It is truly incredible. And you don’t just have to take my word for it. It was awarded the Smarties Prize Gold in 2003.

So why is it so incredible? Let’s break it down.

The story falls into the super hero genre (my personal favorite). At the start of the novel Varjak is young and eager for adventure, but also bullied and misunderstood by his family. He longs to be a true Mesopotamian Blue but is told he has the wrong colour eyes (the colour of danger) and the wrong attitude. ‘I just don’t understand him,’ muttered Father. ‘Why can’t he be like everyone else?’

We’re in classic superhero territory here. Just like Spiderman, Harry Potter and many others, Varjak is someone who is different. He must battle against small-mindedness as well as the outside forces that threaten his world, in order become truly super. His journey is one of self-discovery as much as a mission to save the day.

SF Said tackles the story with elegance and confidence. The story is told by a narrator who has access to Varjak’s thoughts and feelings. Telling the story in this manner allows humor to come through (which is often at the expense of Varjak’s inexperience) and makes the encounters with the gang cats more palatable for a young audience.   

The book has some fantastic feline inspired similes and metaphors which really add depth. For example:   

‘Jasmine’s voice was cool and smooth, like milk in the morning.’ And ‘Thunder growled above the city as they reached the foot of the hill.’

Clues about the central mystery (the Vanishings) are perfectly placed throughout the book and the use of dreams to develop Varjak’s super powers is a neat idea. Another brilliant feature is the constant danger in this book: from the Gentleman and his cats, the street gangs, the threat of the Vanishings, to the dangers of speeding cars and scary dogs. It really keeps the tension up. Also great are the blistering fight scenes, where cat’s claws are unsheathed like swords.

The illustration’s by Dave Mckean are edgy and cool and add another level to the already brilliant book. They lift the story off the page in the same way a good comic book does.

The themes explored in this book are:-

The importance of knowing yourself - Varjak is unable to master one of his super powers until he truly knows himself. He is only able to save his friends once he has overcome this barrier. He isn’t aware that he doesn’t know himself until he faces a choice –  Staying with his family or helping his friends.

That actions are more importance than heritage - Near the start of the book Holly says ‘I don’t care how purebred you are, or where you think you’re from. The only thing that counts is what you do.’ It takes Varjak a long time to truly understand this.

That friendship has risks and benefits - Holly has a fear of being let down, which all of her friends seem to do. She takes a risk in letting Varjak be her friend, and the most poignant moment of the book is when Varjak lets her down. Thankfully he sees the error of his ways and she is wise enough to forgive him – a sign of true friendship.

Varjak Paw has it all. Make sure it’s your next read!

 





Book Review – The Considine Curse – Gareth P Jones

8 01 2014

ccurse

Summary – Murder mystery with a wolfish family curse!

7.5/10

Mariel arrives in England for her grandmother’s funeral – a grandmother that she didn’t even know she had! She meets her strange, hostile cousins and quickly gets yanked into a world full of secrets, mystery and murder…

I’m usually not the biggest fan of the whodunit genre. I much prefer the superhero / quest format, but the fact that this book won the Blue Peter book award 2012 convinced me to buy it. I’m glad I did. The story was well written and kept me engaged from beginning to end. The answers to the main question were revealed at appropriate intervals and, although I guessed the first major revelation way before Mariel figured it out, I was nicely surprised by the twists near the end.

I’ve read some other reviews which complained about the ending of the book. I have to say that I actually quite liked it. It was neat, unexpected and fit in perfectly with the themes of the book.

The themes explored in this book are:-

The importance of embracing your true nature. This was delicately handled and really hit home by the ending (which I won’t spoil).

The destructive nature of secrets. This was seen throughout the book, from Mariel’s trying relationship with her mother, to the secrets surrounding her grandmother’s and grandfather’s death, to the heritage of her youngest cousin.

The importance of fitting in. This was explored by Mariel’s alienation from her cousins, Amelia’s odour problem, and the events at the end of the book.

The complexities of the family unit. This was present from the first page to the last and there was even some psychological analysis of the family thanks to one of the Aunties.

The Considine Curse is a fast-paced fun story. It is well worth a read.





Book Review – Oliver and the Seawigs – Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

3 01 2014

OLIVER_AND_THE_SEAWIGS

Summary – A brilliant adventure for boys and girls. Phillip Reeve has done it again!

9/10

Oliver Crisp has been exploring the world with his parents for the last ten years. The family are just about to settle down to a normal life when Oliver’s parents disappear. Oliver sets off to find them and encounters all sorts of unexpected adventure!

This book is very funny. It’s the kind of light-hearted silly humour that both children and adults will enjoy. The section where Oliver sails through the Sarcastic Sea really tickled me. “It’s called the Sarcastic Sea, and sailors fear it because the weed keeps making horrid, hurtful comments about them.”

Reeve’s writing flows perfectly and the momentum of the story rattles along, even when dipping in and out of the past.  Sarah McIntyre’s illustrations are fantastic and they really help the story jump off the page.

The themes explored in the book are:

  1. The importance of friendship
  2. Whether exploring the world or having a stable, normal home is better

Reeve shows the reader both sides of each argument in such an effortless manner that it undoubtedly took months of hard work.

Oliver, Iris and Cliff all have a well defined goal. Each friend is only able to succeed at their goal with their friend’s help. Stacey de Lacey is the perfect antithesis to Oliver. He doesn’t have any friends and he doesn’t want any friends, and he is all the weaker for it.

When Oliver comes across some Rambling Isles who have “Settled” (stopped moving) he feels sad. In his heart he knows that his parents are true wonders, like the Rambling Isles, and they will be unhappy if they settle down. But he still longs for a steady life with his own bedroom, school and friends. The final chapter of the novel resolves this argument very neatly.

Reeve’s characterisation is crystal clear. You get to know each of the main characters very quickly and their actions are always exactly as they should be. I especially loved Stacey de Lacey, who was laughable and slightly terrifying when ordering around his personal army of sea monkeys.

Oliver and the Seawigs is full of adventure. The inventiveness, pace, characterisation and humour make it a joy to read. Go out and buy it!





Book Review – Hell’s Bells: Samuel Jonhnson vs The Devil – John Conolly

15 10 2012

Hells_Bells

(Sequel to The Gates: Samuel Jonhnson vs The Devil)

Summary – Witty, educational, thrilling and damn good fun!

8.5/10

This is the second exciting instalment of Samuel Johnson’s encounters with the Devil and his right-hand woman/ giant squid – Mrs Abernathy.

The novel begins in the small English town of Biddlescome, where life has returned to relative normality, following the breath-taking adventures in the previous book. But the evil Mrs Abernathy is hell-bent (did you like the pun?) on exacting her revenge upon Samuel.

The theme of Hell’s Bells is good vs evil (I’m always a little dubious when someone says that good vs evil is the theme of a book or film, as the majority of adventures touch upon this battle, but in the case of Hell’s Bells, it is actually the theme).  Samuel and his dog Boswell represent the good, the Devil and Mrs Abernathy represent evil, but most of the other characters lie somewhere in between. Nurd (the loveable demon from the previous book), is now a reformed demon, having spent some time on earth. The four dwarves are individuals who appear mostly bad, yet prove that they are capable of good acts. Sergeant Rowan, a stickler for the rules admits some wrongdoing in his life. Old Ram appears good, but turns out to be bad and we even see through the Blacksmith that even souls in hell are capable of redemption for past wrongs and can achieve peace.

There is also a secondary theme running through this novel concerned with the finding of ones place in the world. This is explored through Duke Abigor’s ambitions of promotion, the demon Ba’al’s adoption of the Mrs Abernathy’s characteristics (and flowery dress), Nurd’s altered character and his struggle with being back in Hell, Dan Dan the ice-cream man’s vocational choices, Shan and Gath’s desire to run a brewery and the professor’s desire to receive a Nobel Prize.

This novel is chock-a-block with humour and sarcasm. It made me laugh out loud on numerous occasion. I particularly enjoyed the footnotes, many of which describe ludicrous events from history (including corpses being put on trial and using urine to freshen breath) whilst others describe very interesting, complicated scientific theories in plain and simple English.

I also enjoyed Samuel’s character arc, which was nicely portrayed through the adolescent act of asking a girl out.

This was a brilliant book in its own right and a great sequel to The Gates. Definitely worth a read.





Book Review – Heroes of the Valley – Jonathan Stroud

7 09 2012

Heroes_of_the_valley_stroud

Summary – Slow start. Rip-roaring second half. Well worth a read.

7/10

I’m a big fan of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus trilogy so I was really looking forward to reading Heroes of the Valley.

The novel follows Halli, a young (short, ugly) boy, who embarks upon a journey through a valley and discovers much about his society, his heritage and ultimately himself.

The theme running through Heroes of the Valley is faith. This is explored in many different ways, but mainly through the legends surrounding Halli’s great ancestor – Svein. The characters question whether these legends are based on fact or fiction and their assumptions are put to the test. Both sides of the argument are deftly handled.

My first impressions of this novel weren’t good. Nothing much happened in the first five chapters, the language was old fashioned, and I found Halli, the lead character, slightly irritating.

To elaborate, the catalyst moment happens in chapter 6 (about 20% of the way through the book) and even after this, the leap into act two is more of a gentle stroll. Had this catalyst moment happened in chapter two or three I think I’d have scored this book with an eight or a nine.

Thankfully, Stroud makes up for a slow start with a rip-roaring second half. By the end of the book I was utterly gripped.

I quickly got used to the old fashioned language and felt it added a certain depth to the book.

As Halli travels through his character arc he becomes more and more likeable – Helped along by the brilliant supporting character of Aud.

The end of the story had an unexpected twist, which I wasn’t entirely convinced by, but I’m sure other readers loved it.





Book Review – Goblins – Phillip Reeve

6 09 2012

reeve-goblins

Summary – Everything a fantasy adventure should be.

8.5/10

Phillip Reeve is a great writer. His Mortal Engines series is top notch and Goblins doesn’t disappoint.

The novel is set in a world where magic is weak and mythical creatures only exist in a handful of places. But the old magic is beginning to return to the world and Henwyn, a cheesewright’s son with his head in the clouds, and Skarper, an unnaturally intelligent and decent goblin, find themselves at the centre of it all.

The theme of Goblins is friendship and loyalty. Qualities which are as alien to the goblin race as wiping their bottoms after they’ve been to the toilet!

We watch Skarper explore these admirable qualities for the first time and even help some of the humans to do the right things at key moments. I particularly enjoyed the use of the Sable Conclave (a group of cowardly magicians) in the development of the theme.

Goblins is rich with Reeve’s trademark humour and intricately woven storylines, which collide at mingle  beautifully. The twists and turns really made me smile. Particularly the parts about Stenoryon’s map.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Everything a fantasy adventure should be.








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