Saturday, January 14, 2017

New Year! New Books! ....part 2

The last post featured those books out for the teen/YA readers among us. In this post I am focusing on the intermediate reading years, sometimes referred to as confident readers or 8 to 12 (roughly). I don't like to put age limits on books because, frankly, a good book is a good book. No one should feel they have to apologise for reading something 'beneath their age level.' But that is a discussion for another day. So here are some fantastic books out now or coming out in the next few months that I recommend.
Newly published now, Jake Atlas and the Tomb of the Emerald Snake by Rob Lloyd Jones is an incredible adventure tale that takes us to Cairo. Plumped as "Indiana Jones meets Mission Impossible", add a little James Bond and they are not wrong. Packed full of  danger and excitement, this fast-paced, high-octane read is my recommendation for Dubray Books Childrens Book of the Month. Jake and his twin sister Pan find themselves suddenly thrust into a world of high-tech tomb-raiding in a bid to save their (up to now, boring history professor) parents from being turned into mummies, while a secret society are robbing tombs of ancient artifacts with a bid for world-domination. But everything is not at all what it seems. (Full review on the What Are You Reading page) The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is a gentler sort of story about 12-year-old Matthew, who has an extreme OCD condition that keeps him housebound. From his window, he observes the comings and goings of the residents of Chestnut Close, including the old man who lives across the street, an old woman who may or may not be a witch, the local bully and the nosy neighbours next door. But when a toddler vanishes suddenly and the police can't locate him, Matthew uses all his observation to figure out exactly what happened. (For those of a sensitive nature, don't worry, it all turns out well.) Written with genuine compassion and understanding, this gives a fascinating world-view and is great for fans of Wonder by RJ Palacio.
Welcome To Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird is one of the first childrens' novels to deal with the Syrian crisis and the plight of refugees. Omar has a completely normal life in Bosra; school, friends, a couple of jobs and his family. But one day, the unrest escalates into violence and war, his family has to flee with only the possessions they can carry. As they move from place to place, they deal with real and present dangers; getting shot at, hunger, cold, as they move on to a refugee camp. But, a near tragedy just might bring them an escape from the horrific life they are now living. Realistic and powerful, this is a very important book for our times. Something for the younger reader,  Trouble Next Door by Chris Higgins is an absolute delight! The author of the My Funny Family series gives us Bellas' story. She has just moved into a new house; old, creaky and dark, and possibly with a ghost in the attic. But she has a new best friend in Magda, who is funny and filled with imagination. But Madga is also trouble! She wrecks Bellas' room, breaks her Mums' tea set and covers the entire living room in soot! But somehow, Bella always gets the blame. A charming story, with wonderful illustrations by Emily MacKenzie, about friendship, family and telling the truth.
Julian Gough and illustrator Jim Fields have returned with The Pest in the Nest (Rabbit and Bear book 2). All Rabbit wants is some peace and quiet! But what with Bears' continuous snoring and the BANG BANG BANG from up above, he can't even hear himself think. Something has to be done...but, spring has sprung, so peace may be the last thing Rabbit will ever see again. This is a laugh-out-loud, soon-to-be-your favourite story as we continue to travel through the seasons with those great (?) friends, Rabbit and Bear!

As February rolls in (and we hope it will be kind), the books come along with some fabulous things to offer. In Who Let The Gods Out? by Maz Evans, Elliots' life is changed forever when a shooting star crashes to Earth and a young Zodiac goddess arrives with it on a mission. With his mum ill and his home under threat, you'd think Maz had enough on his plate. But when the pair accidentally release a powerful death daemon from his prison under Stonehenge, they have to turn to the old Olympian gods for help. Trouble is...they're all a little tired after thousands of years of retirement. It's just brilliant!  
The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis introduces us to Aventurine, the fiercest and bravest dragon who, while very young, is determined to prove herself to her family. She sneaks out of their cave in search of the most dangerous prey of all...a human. But when the human she captures tricks her into drinking hot chocolate, she turns into a little, weak human girl with no way back. Being brave and bold, Aventurine makes her way to the city to pursue her new passion....chocolate! While she brings mayhem to the human city with her, she never suspects she will actually find real friendship. A warm-hearted adventure that I absolutely loved. 
A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson is the story of Owl...yes, that's her name. And it's bad enough having a Mum weird enough to actually name you Owl, but when you add a Dad you've never met, a best friend in trouble and a new boy at school that keeps looking at you in a weird way; it's almost too much! So when strange frost patterns start appearing across Owls' skin, she just wants to hide away. But it isn't that simple. A wonderful book filled with great characters, friendship, responsibility and magic. 11-year-old Olly receives a very special delivery in The Everything Machine by Ally Kennen. It's a 3-D printer! It's also stamped with "Property of M.O.D. AND BRITSH SPACE AGENCY" and "DO NOT TAMPER". It has a name, it speaks and, of course it has magical powers. And it seems very happy to print everything that Olly asks it to. But what Olly really wants is his Dad, who moved out of the family. Cue the DAD-BOT, who is almost exactly like his real Dad...but a bit more chaotic. The Night Spinner by Abi Elphinstone is the third, and possibly the best, in the Dreamsnatcher series. Moll ventures to the wild north; to a land of moors and mountains, goblins and witches with Gryff and their friends to overcome the last Shadowmask. There, Wormhook is spinning a quilt of darkness called the Veil. A masked figure carries it across the land, slipping it through the windows of children to poison their minds. Moll and Gryff are in the forest, awaiting a sign from the Old Magic that they may continue their search for the Amulet of Truth. Suspenseful and truly magical!
And, I am so excited about the release of  Polly and the Puffin: The New Friend by Jenny Colgan. (Again, this is for the younger reader.) The third in the series, it's time for Polly to go off to big school and she's not at all sure about it. She is determined to make it work, though. Along the way, she makes a new friend for herself, and possibly a new feathered friend for her puffin, Neil. As always, in the back of the story there are wonderful recipes and activities.
On to the March winds and let's see what they'll be blowing in.  The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop; illustrated by Ashley King is my kind of book. (Of course!) A magical and intriguing story about Property Jones, who was left in a bookshop at age 5 and taken in by the owners, Netty Jones and her son. Property has a huge secret. After 6 years of living in a bookshop, she can't read! So she can't make any sense of the newspaper article announcing the chance to win the most magnificent bookshop in the entire world, the Montgomery Book Emporium. And, as luck would have it, her book-mad family actually win! Soon, Property finds herself in the middle of a huge bookshop with rotating rooms and a bad-tempered cat. But, it doesn't take long before disaster strikes, for all is not well at the book Emporium and the Jones family find themselves in the middle of trouble and a book forgery racket. Plumped for ages 5 to 9, I loved it!  
The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge is another great book from the author that gave us The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Jamies' Dad is an astronaut on the International Space Station.Jamie should be thinking this is really cool, but he just misses his Dad. When Jamie is hanging out at his local observatory, he begins to pick up some weird signals on his phone. Could it be that alien life is getting closer? When his Dads' mission goes awry, Jamie seeks to prove that his Dad isn't the only hero in the family. Another science-based story, this mixes family drama, alien intrigue and a space-time element in a cosmic adventure for anyone who's ever looked and the stars and wondered, is there anybody out there? Speaking of space, See You In The
Cosmos by Jack Cheng is a brilliant debut about 11-year-old Alex who dreams of launching his iPod into space with messages for any intelligent life, just like his hero, Carl Sagan. With a long-dead father, a sister he never knew about, an absent big brother and a troubled Mum, Alex ventures off to a rocket-launching convention in a impromptu road trip with his dog (Carl Sagan) that brings him many new answers and a whole lot of questions. Moving, hopeful and a lot of fun, this is amazing! Jane Kerrs' The Elephant Thief visits the past. A young street urchin and pickpocket, Danny accidentally bids on for Maharajah the elephant in an auction and begins the adventure of a lifetime. Danny's new employer transform him into an Indian Prince as he rides Maharajah from Scotland to his new home in England and even Queen Victoria is captivated by his story. But when a rival zoo-keeper gets hold of Dannys' dodgy past story, his new life threatens to unravel. Wonderful historical fiction!
 Thunderstruck by Ali Sparkes is an fantastic , fast-paced ghostly drama with lightening...literally. During a thunderstorm, Alisha and Theo are huddling under a tree when they get struck by lightening. Having survived the strike, they now see life differently.... including being able to see Doug and Lizzie, who were struck by lightening under the same tree in 1975. Sadly they didn't survive the strike and have now been hanging out under that tree ever since. But Doug and Lizzie are funny, brave and very clever. They come to the aid of Alisha and Theo, who have noticed something sinister going on at their school...something no one else seems to see. Ragged, faceless phantoms are staring out through the windows and not all ghosts are friendly. And the four friends have to battle through when all they want is to get on with their lives...or deaths, as it may be.
That's a lot of information, and I'm sure in the upcoming months, there will be more. So...take this as a taster of great things to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

New Year! New Books!...Teens/YA

After the craziness of the holiday, as the kids go back to school, in the book world our attentions turn to "so...what's next?" So, very briefly, I wanted to share a quick glance at some of the brand-new-out-now and soon-to-be-released titles that I am particularly excited about. It looks like it will be a very good year for books!
I have already put up a few reviews for books released at the beginning of this month, but they bear mentioning again. There are fantastic books that slipped in as we were doing the beginning of the year to speak.... and are ready to kick-start 2017 into a whirlwind of great book activity.
Let's start with the teen/YA group. Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle is the third and final in the Blood for Blood trilogy. A powerful and turbulent story that finds Sophie now under the protection of the infamous Falcone family and trying to prove her loyalty to them. Caught between 2 brothers vying for her affections and bent on revenge for her mothers' murder, this one is filled with emotional turmoil, deadly circumstances and an ending that you will never see coming. The plot twists will keep you up all night reading.Bone Gap by Laura Ruby is an eloquent, lyrical act of magical realism that takes us to the small town of Bone Gap, a place where anyone can slip away unnoticed; without a sound. Beautiful immigrant Roza disappears just as easily as she appeared. But she hasn't just vanished unnoticed. Finn knows that she has been abducted by a strange, sinister man whose face he cannot remember...but no one believes him. Eerie, moving and mysterious, this one was my selection for Dubray Teen Recommend for January. Simply spell-binding. In The Icarus Show by Sally Christie, we meet Alex, who has worked out a fool-proof method for avoiding the bullies notice; simply don't react. But his new next door neighbour, David does react and becomes targeted as a weirdo. When mysterious notes start turning up in everyones' school bags, the attention turns from David and starts a mystery hunt that ends in near-tragedy. An intriguing, compelling story of friendship and understanding that takes a poignant look at bullying, loneliness and mental health issues and compels the reader to be more aware. Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon is out now in paperback. This novel about a young refugee and brief segment of his life in a refugee camp (all he has ever known) is an urgent read that gives us a wondrous, heart-felt story and is a very important book for our times.

As we move into February, we are anxiously anticipating the release of  We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan. It throws together Nicu, a young Romanian in search of a better life with Jess, who would never normally even look twice at him. They meet while in community service and, as their relationship becomes closer, secrets are revealed...secrets about domestic abuse, racism, alienation, poverty and expectations. A powerful verse-novel, it will break your heart and give you much to consider.
 UnConventional by Maggie Harcourt takes us into the world of, well, conventions. This comedic romance brings together Lexi, who is trying to make it through sixth-form college while acting as her Dads' right-hand man in his convention circuit, and Adrian, or Hayden Swift, a young author who has just released his first fantasy novel and receiving a lot of attention. It is great fun and brilliantly touches on first love, jealousy and the world of PR. Perfect for fans of Rainbow Rowell! Lisa Williamsom makes a welcome return with All About Mia. This is a wonderful read about Mia, the middle child caught between her  perfect older sister, Grace and sweet, star-swimmer Audrey. Mia is a breath of fresh air; charming, chaotic and, generally speaking, nothing but trouble. A fabulous, exciting voice tells a story of family drama. 
A Dangerous Crossing by Jane Mitchell will be released at the end of February and, personally, I can't wait. Adding to the list of refugee stories, this one packs quite a punch. Ghalid doesn't want to leave his home, but Syria is far too dangerous now and his family has no choice. The journey they brave takes them through many dark, dangerous places to the horrific conditions of a refugee camp...and that is before they face a long voyage on a boat that may never make it. Insightful, heart-felt and, at times, horrifying, this is gives a passionate and considered view that will stick with you.
March comes in like a lion, indeed. Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen (author of We Are All Molecules) takes us into the life of self-avowed pessimist, Petula. She has done everything to avoid friendship and happiness since the death of her younger sister. And then she meets Jacob, an amputee, in the worlds' worst art therapy class. A novel about friendship, heart-break and growing up in an unfair, tragic world. Melinda Salisbury brings us The Scarecrow Queen, the concluding part of the dark, fabulous trilogy that began with The Sin-Eaters Daughter. This is fantasy at its' most delicious!
If you like historical fiction, I'd suggest checking out My Name Is Victoria by Lucy Worsely. Coming off the back of her debut, Eliza Rose, this takes us on a journey to the world of Queen Victoria's childhood as we've not seen it before. (Highly suitable for younger teen readers.) Also, look out for Following Ophelia by Sophia Bennett. for older teen readers, this is a highly charged romance set against the backdrop of the Pre-Raphaelites. With Bennetts' keen eye for revealing the inner workings of whatever world she is writing about, this promises much.
The White Hare by Michael Fishwick is the launch title for the new Young Adult imprint from Head of Zeus. A fantasy set in rural Somerset, this is a powerful story of love and loss which fuses with mystery and myth and legend. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is an exquisitely written novella telling the story of a 14-year-old boy in search of a baby daughter he has never seen. Absolutely beautiful and profound, coming in paperback in March.

And this is just a taster for the YA/teen readers!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

NUI Galway Childrens Studies Presents....

NUI Galway Children's Studies Programme is holding another fantastic seminar. On Thursday, 19 January, Professor Peter Hunt from Cardiff University will address:
Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature
From Librarianship to Childhood Studies via
Liberal Humanism, High Theory, Post-Theory, Metamodernism and Pooh Corner 

The seminar will be held in room GO11, James Hardiman Library commencing at 5pm.
"Over the past 50 years, children’s literature has become a vibrant and important part of university-level studies worldwide. Approaches to it have been as diverse and lively (and problematic) as the subject-matter, having to deal with multi-media texts, the responses of non-peer audiences, fundamental issues of cultural, historical and literary values and psychological, educational and political influences. This lecture provides an outline of the fascinating and entertaining directions which the criticism of texts for children has taken."

If you are interested in children's literature, this promises to be a fascinating lecture. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

More Favourites of 2016 - Picture Books and Teen/YA

I am going to add a few more to my list of favourites. While yesterday, I focused on books that were largely 'middle-grade'/ages 8-12, today, I will complete the list for those not in that category.
I begin with Picture Books...a particular passion of mine. We have a tendency to let go of picture books far too early. I think, as we grow older, we should read more, not less picture books. They give a clear, unvarnished view of the world and are very tricky to create. I believe that our visual literacy suffers because of the desire to put 'real books' in our hands. Nothing is more real than a picture book.
No prizes for guessing what my Picture Book of the Year is; it has to go to A CHILD OF BOOKS by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston. A clear, eloquent tale of a young girl who 'sails across a sea of words' (quite literally) to meet a somewhat unsure and reluctant young boy and take him along on an amazing journey. In the end, he himself becomes A Child of Books and ventures off on a journey of his own. The illustrations are crafted using typesetting...excerpts from a wide variety of childrens' classics that we all know and love. This typesetting is chosen in consideration of the action of the picture; so the pages involving sailing across the seas will have excerpts from The Swiss Family Robinson, Pinocchio, Gullivers' Travels; the mountains of make-believe are crafted with text from Peter Pan; the fairy-tale forest has trees with branches of lines from time-honoured fairy tales and so on. This is not simply a childs' picture book, but an 'everybody' picture to be treasured across a lifetime.
Birgitta Sif has quickly become one of my favourite picture book author/illustrators and this year, she gave us a wonderful gift in WHERE MY FEET GO. Little Panda is ready for adventure. As he walks down the street, could it be there is more than meets the ye with every step he takes? His flight of imagination is marvelous! Sif's lively, wondrous child-friendly illustrations are pure delight that truly replicate a childs' world-view. Adventure, entertainment and a real sense of cosiness. WHEN DAD SHOWED ME THE UNIVERSE by Ulf Stark/illustrated by Eva Eriksson tells the story of a father taking his young son on a walk to show him the universe. Along the way, they pick up provision and see many things. Just at the moment when Dad becomes down-hearted, feeling that he has failed to reveal the universe to his son, the young boy gets it! Fresh, dynamic, utterly lovely drawings reveal a story that everyone must hear and see. THE WHITE CAT AND THE MONK by Jo Ellen Bogart/illustrated by Sydney Smith is a retelling of a 9th century Irish poem, Pangur Bán. The eloquent illustrations have an ancient, but feel of aliveness as this quiet retelling of a monks' life alongside his cat is something of great beauty....again, not just for the small ones.  THE KNIGHT WHO WOULDN'T FIGHT by Helen and Thomas Docherty offers the story of Leo, who will never be a proper knight if he won't put down his books and learn to use his sword. Sent on a quest to see off a dragon making mischief, Leo has packed everything he needs...including his books.The fearsome creatures he meets along the way are all ones he's read Leo has no trouble dealing with them. An absolutely enchanting story with warm, colourful illustrations, this is a parable (of sorts) about the power of reading and a wonderful adventure! 
The wordless, stunning . OWL BAT BAT OWL by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a silent book that shouts loudly about friendship, family, acceptance. While there are no words to read, the story is expressed perfectly through the pages with colour, positioning, facial expressions and body language. It sings with clarity, expressiveness and uncluttered simplicity. One of the best I've seen in ages.

The teen/YA sector has had a particularly strong year in 2016. Here are just a few of my 'best' reads.
I love a good fairy-tale, it has to be said. One of the best comes in the form of THE BOOK OF PEARL by Timothée de Fombelle. Joshua Pearl comes from a land not so very far from our own. Thrown here in an attempt to save his life, he has memories of his great love and all that lies waiting for him in his former home. With a stolen name and life, Joshua embarks on a journey to recover what was lost and make sense of the things that haunt him so. Expert crafting tells a story that is enduring and intricate; one of first love, longing and self-discovery. Everything a fairy-tale should be. A DARKNESS AT THE END by Ruth M. Long continues the story of Jinx and Izzy, as the worlds they both know are threatened by Holly, the fae matriarch seeking ultimate power for herself...and she doesn't care who or what she has to destroy to get it. Ancient pacts are destroyed; the angels and demons are drawing down sides, each daring the other to start a war that will end everything. High-octane, powerful, unnerving and an exceptional close to the story that began with A Crack In Everything.
We make a most welcome return to the Old Kingdom with GOLDENHAND by Garth Nix. Lirael, our favourite librarian and now Abhorsen-in waiting; finds Nicholas Sayre deeply wounded after being hideously attacked by a Free Magic creature. But Nicholas is now tainted with Free Magic and Lirael must travel to her childhood home, Claryls' Glacier, to save him. Simply one of the best fantasy series I have ever read by a master storyteller.
Back in the real world, NEEDLEWORK by Deirdre Sullivan is the story of Ces, a young woman who longs to be a tattoo artist and embroider a stronger, braver sort of beauty on the skin. Her own back story is very sensitively revealed in a book that is hard to read, but impossible to put down. BLAME by Simon Mayo takes us into the world of a not-to-distant future, where hereditary crimes are punished in the extreme. Unrest and tensions are brewing high within the prison system, and Ant and her little brother Mattie are right at the heart of it. When all comes to a head, they have one chance to escape and prove to the world that they, like all the other inmates, are not to blame. Powerful, deeply considered and a breath-taking read.
For those who feel the need for something gentler, quieter, can I recommend THE MOONLIGHT DREAMERS by Siobhan Curham? Four girls who simply don't fit in with their contemporaries band together to create The Moonlight Dreamers club. Each with their own issues and aspirations, they find friendship, support, courage and solace in their lives. It is joyous and imaginative to watch these 4 bound together to go against the norm and take on whatever life throws at them while they struggle to be themselves. And CARAMEL HEARTS by E.R. Murray gives us a glimpse into the complicated life of Liv Bloom...far more complicated than any 14-year-olds' life should be. Her father left the family, her mother has descended into alcoholism and her sister Hatty has taken a break from Uni to care for Liv while their mother can't. Finding a recipe book written in her mothers' own hand, Liv discovers something she is really good at while trying to replicate her mothers' recipes. But things are never straight-forward. A possible first love, bullies from school and reconciliation with the past bring more chaos into Livs' life. A heart-felt novel about growing up and the true value of friendship, family and understanding.
I'd better stop there, or I'll never get on with 2017! Happy reading to you all and I hope you find something to enjoy within these lists.