children's fiction · review

Demon Dentist – David Walliams

“That fateful afternoon the boy vowed he would never ever go to the dentist’s again.”

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Blurb: “Darkness had come to the town. Strange things were happening in the dead of night. Children would put a tooth under their pillow for the tooth fairy, but in the morning they would wake up to find… a dead slug; a live spider, hundreds of earwigs creeping and crawling beneath their pillow. Evil was at work. But who or what was behind it?”

I’ve been slowly making my way through all of David Walliams’ books and Demon Dentist marks the third stop on this adventure.

The story follows a boy called Alex who has avoided going to the dentist even since he suffered an unfortunate incident there. As a result his teeth are brown and rotten. It can be no coincidence that children wake up to gifts of dead frogs, eyeballs and creepy crawlies from the tooth fairy just as the new dentist, Miss Root, moves to the town.  The strange occurrences encourage Alex and his new (friend that’s a girl, not girlfriend!) Gabz to investigate what’s exactly going on.

When I was a child I was terrified of the dentist and to be honest, not much has changed and the darker – while still comical – tone of this book really does re-affirm why my fear of the dentist is quite legitimate… okay maybe I should book a dentist appointment. In addition to the regular Walliams humour you can find in his books, Demon Dentist features “made up words” which just adds to a more hysterical reading experience. It’s a small thing but packs a big punch.

Miss Root is a truly suspicious character that had me on edge throughout the story; you never really can work out what her deal is. Alex faces a lot of hardships (outside of his rotting teeth) because his dad is in a wheelchair, making Alex his sole carer. I thought this was a wonderful addition to the story as there are real-life cases where children are put in situations where they have to look after family members. It centred the story more in the real world and provided some representation to those children who may pick up this book.

What I’ve discovered with Walliams’ books is that the minor characters are always the one that make the biggest impact. In Demon Dentist that role is taken on by Winnie; a social worker sent to look after Alex’s dad. There’s one scene where she chases Alex through the school on her moped to try and make him go to the dentist. I laughed so hard my stomach hurt!

Demon Dentist is the best of Walliams’ works so far and if you’re looking for somewhere to start, this is the best one to dip your toe in the water.

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children's fiction · contemporary · review

Awful Auntie – David Walliams

“Aunt Alberta is the most awful aunt who ever lived. Would you like to meet her?”

 

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Blurb: “From larger than life, tiddlywinks obsessed Awful Aunt Alberta to her pet owl, Wagner – this is an adventure with a difference. Aunt Alberta is on a mission to cheat the young Lady Stella Saxby out of her inheritance – Saxby Hall. But with mischievous and irrepressible Soot, the cockney ghost of a chimney sweep, alongside her Stella is determined to fight back… And sometimes a special friend, however different, is all you need to win through.”

The story follows Lady Stella Saxby who wakes up from a coma to find that her wealthy parents are dead and she is left in the care of her horrid Aunt Alberta and an owl called Wagner. As Stella starts to adjust to a world without her parents, she soon learns that maybe everything isn’t how it first seemed and soon plots an escape with the help of her ghost friend Soot.

All I can say is that I finally understand why David Walliams is constantly topping the charts and making himself comfortable there. Awful Auntie is an injection of fun and downright goodness. It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s The Twits and was a fantastic mix of humour and mystery.

The characters are well-fleshed out and the forgetful butler, Gibbon, had me rolling in my seat at times. I just loved how he wandered around completely unaware of the situation going on around him.

If you’re looking to get into David Walliams’ work and unsure of where to start with his incredible catalogue, Awful Auntie is a sure winner.

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children's fiction · contemporary · review

See You In The Cosmos – Jack Cheng

“My name is Alex Petroski and my house is in Rockview, Colorado, United States of America, Planet Earth. I am eleven years and eight months old and the United States is two hundred forty-two years old and Earth is 4.5 billion years old. I’m not sure how old my house is.”

 

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Blurb: “11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

See You In The Cosmos follows Alex Petroski who is making recordings on his ipod which he plans to send into space via SHARF (Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival). He shares stories from his life along with “in the moment” narratives, accompanied by his dog Carl Sagan, named after “one of the greatest astronomers of our time.”

The narrative is told as if the reader is the one listening to the recordings – with each chapter indicated by “new recording” and the time length of the recording – and that is an aspect that really works to this novel’s advantage. From the outset it instantly feels like you’re connected to Alex as he shares stories from his life and the build up to this festival where he plans to end his collection of recordings. It feels, in a way, as if you’ve stumbled upon someone’s secrets and you’d been entrusted with them and that’s a feeling I haven’t experienced in fiction for a very long time.

It was nice to see the online community for space lovers transfer into the reality when Alex arrives at the festival and notes which people he recognises online because it’s always been wonderful when that’s happened in my personal life and just shows how much you can build up relationships online with people who share the same interests.

Given how much the importance of the rocket festival was stressed, it threw me off when that event took place a quarter of the way into the story. The main bulk is more of a road trip where Alex starts to have new, exciting experiences, make new friends and find ways to glue together the pieces of his broken family.

Fundamentally See You In The Cosmos is an example of just how quickly life can change but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone because you never know what you might find… and it’s pretty cool to have a dog companion join you for the ride.

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children's fiction · review

The Midnight Gang – David Walliams

“Midnight is the time when all the children are fast asleep, expect of course for… the Midnight Gang! That is the time when their adventures are just beginning.”

 

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Blurb: “When Tom gets hit on the head by a cricket ball, he finds himself at Lord Funt Hospital, and is greeted by a terrifying-looking porter. Things go from bad to worse when he meets the wicked matron in charge of the children’s ward… But Tom is about to embark on the most thrilling journey of a lifetime!”

David Walliams’ success when it comes to writing children’s books only seems to be getting bigger and bigger. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s topped the charts and made himself quite comfortable there, and during my brief period working at a book store, I saw first-hand just how well loved he is by the intended audience for his books. I had many children tell me that he’s their favourite and they love his books, along with many parents telling me he’s gotten their recent children into reading. On top of that, he’s often referred to as the “new Roald Dahl.” Though I hate these kinds of comparisons being used, it’s very easy once delving into his writing to see why those comparisons have been made.

The Midnight Gang follows a boy called Tom who is admitted to the Lord Funt hospital with a nasty lump on his head. He is placed on the children’s ward – looked after by a horrible child-hating matron- where he meets Robin who is recovering from an eye operation, Amber who has broken both arms and legs, George who’s had his tonsils taken out and Sally who is so ill she’s lost her hair and sleeps a lot. When night falls and midnight rolls around,  Tom catches the children leaving the ward and follows them which leads him to discover The Midnight Gang which was created by the first child who ever stayed at the hospital and has been passed down through every child patient. The aim of The Midnight Gang is simple: make every child’s dream come true.

At its core, The Midnight Gang is a fun, heart-warming tale of friendship and the power of simple good deeds. The humour accompanied by Tony Ross’ illustrations created hilarious scenes and witty moments for those readers who are a bit older.

By far my favourite character is the Porter who, at first glance, appears to be an adversary to the children and quite scary with his unconventional looks but once the pages start being peeled away the reader will be able to see just how much this character cares for the patients of the hospital. The porter is a fantastic testament to why you should do your best to never judge someone by how they look because you may be missing out on someone pretty great.

The Midnight Gang is a wonderful story that, despite being 478 pages long, feels as if it’s over far too soon.

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children's fiction · review

Furthermore – Tahereh Mafi

“Colour was life. Colour was everything. Colour, you see, was the universal sign of magic.”

 

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Blurb: “In a world brimming with colour and magic, Alice’s pale skin and milk-white hair mark her as an outcast. For the people of Ferenwood, colour and magic are one and the same. Alice is determined to prove her magical abilities and solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance. To do so she’ll have to travel into the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore. But nothing there is as it seems, and Alice may never find her way home.”

Ferenwood is a place which is alive with colour. It’s a land rich in the natural resources of colour and magic. Every citizen was born with some kind of magical talent, given to them by the land. If they want any more magic then they have to buy it. Alice is a girl completely without colour except for her eyes; a fact which makes her stick out like a sore thumb. Every year the Surrender comes around which gives children of the age of twelve the opportunity to present their magical talent in exchange for a task to prove themselves. This year is Alice’s turn and she’s hoping it will give her the chance to find her missing father. Her adventures take her to the land of Furthermore which has countless rules where breaking them means death. Thankfully, Alice doesn’t have to face this alone as she finds a companion in the form of Oliver a boy with the power of persuasion.

This book has a very whimsical feel to it and that comes across in the writing style. However, at time I found it hard to picture and understand things and even had to re-start the book a few times to make sure I could fully understand the world. As the story gets more and more into the plot it’s a lot easier to follow. The chapters are quite short and then become longer once Alice reaches Furthermore which I felt reflected how Alice was engaging more with the world around her and gains more of a purpose.

Alive is a character very set in her ways and quite stubborn at times, especially when in Furthermore. I don’t think she could’ve done this adventure without Oliver (who I found annoying at times but he did have all the answers).  Though I loved the character of Alice, the one scene that really stood out to me is when she dances. It was written in such a vivid, beautiful way that it was like watching her perform before my eyes.

The ending is much like being brought to a halt. It’s abrupt and while answers a lot of questions, doesn’t give that feeling of closure because it is so unexpected for the story to just end.

The moral of this story is important. It showcases the fact that you should take what you consider to be a weakness and turn it into a strength.

A wonderful little adventure story that will satisfy the magic-minded.

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children's fiction · review

The Christmasaurus -Tom Fletcher

“This story starts like all good stories do, a long time ago. Not just a long time ago, but a very, very, very long time ago.”

 

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Blurb: “Forget everything you thought you knew about the North Pole, pop a crumpet in the toaster and get ready to meet: a boy called William Trundle, Santa Claus, an elf named Snozzletrump, Brenda Payne; the meanest girl in school (possibly the world), a nasty piece of work called Hunter and a most unusual dinosaur…”

The Christmasaurus is the first full length children’s novel from Tom Fletcher, known for his best-selling picture book series The dinosaur pooped…

It’s now a new year and if you’re missing Christmas then this book is the perfect read to keep the festivities alive for just a little while longer.

The story follows a boy called William Trundle who loves Christmas but nowhere near as much as his dad who has a decorated Christmas tree in his cupboard and wears Christmas jumpers all year round. William also loves dinosaurs and wants a real one for Christmas and it just so happens that the elves at the North Pole have dug up a dinosaur egg.

It’s rare that I find a book where I can’t uncover any faults but The Christmasaurus is one of those books.  William Trundle is in a wheelchair which is so important to have represented, especially in a book aimed for children, as it shows that anyone can have an adventure. The Christmasaurus struggles to cope with the fact he is the only dinosaur left and through a series of magical events, he ends up in William’s house on Christmas Eve.

This book is definitely written in a way where it’s meant to be read aloud (there are some words in bold, big font or italics for emphasis).  There are lots of rhymes too as that’s the way the elves speak which provides opportunities for Tom to showcase his song writing abilities. This book also features the most beautiful illustrations I have ever seen. Shane Devries does a fantastic job of bringing the story to life with an extra bit of magic. I somehow felt closer to the characters by seeing the scenes depicted in drawings alongside the story.

The Christmas song from the announcement video for this book also makes a relevant appearance in the book along with sneaky references to one of Tom’s previous books.

The Christmasaurus is a testament to the fact that you can enjoy any books at any age.

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children's fiction · young adult

Favourite Books Of The Year | 2016

It’s the end of another year which means it’s once again time for me to discuss my favourite reads of the past twelve months. 2016 has been a very interesting reading experience for me as I decided to start being a tad more honest with my ratings and if I wasn’t enjoying a book, then I simply tossed it aside rather than forcing myself to finish in an attempt to get one step closer to achieving my Goodreads target. So, without further ado, here are the stand out books for the year of 2016.

Gabriel And The Swallows by Esther Dalseno 

 

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Gabriel and The Swallows follows a boy who stumbles across an injured bird and takes it home in the hopes that he can save its life, only to discover that the creature is in fact not a bird… but a girl with swallows wings. This book is a slow read, taking place over many years but it’s such a beautiful story. It’s very much in the realm of magical realism and explores the friendship between the protagonist and this remarkable creature that fell into his life. It’s been a very, very long time since a book affected me so much at the end that I just sat there sobbing. I honestly cannot put into words just how outstanding the contents of this book are.

My full review can be found here and I also went to the launch event for this book which can be found here.
Inherited by Freedom Matthews 

 

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Inherited by Freedom Matthews tells the story of a group of people on a pirate ship, cursed with the inability to love:  If they were to confess love for another, that person would die. Together, the crew search for the remaining heirs to the curse and aim to track down the sorceress that put the curse on their parents and get her to change her mind.

Frankly, we don’t have enough pirate books and it was so refreshing to read this book. What I love the most about this story is that because the majority takes place on a ship, where the characters have no real place to escape to, it’s easy to get boring, but Freedom manages to keep it interesting, introducing new ideas and backstories through dialogue.

My full review of this book can be found here.
Rebel Of The Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

 

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Set in the desert nation of Miragi, mortals rule and mystical beast roam free. Amani wants nothing more than to leave her dead-end town and when a shooting competition arises offering prize money larger enough to fund her escape, she disguises as a boy to take part. There’s a Sultan’s army, magic, a fantastic protagonist, vivid imagery and a growing rebellion.

I became very disheartened with Young Adult Fiction this year; an awful lot of the books I was excited for let me down. I was close to turning my back completely on the age range but Rebel of the Sands was utterly fantastic and proved to me that there’s still hope for good books in Young Adult.

My full review can be found here.

Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne

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Am I Normal Yet? Follows Evie who was recently hospitalised for her eating disorder. Starting at a new college where nobody knows her “secret” she wants nothing more than to be normal. She meets Amber and Lottie and together they create The Spinster Club dedicated to reclaiming their womanhood. This was a very difficult read for me as it deals heavily with anxiety disorder but the really good thing about this book is it doesn’t sugarcoat. It shows just hard it is to live with mental illness and I hope will generate a platform where readers learn about what it’s like to be in that mindset and how to help someone they may know who deals with these experiences on a daily basis.

My full review can be found here.

The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher 

 

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As the first full length novel from Children’s writer Tom Fletcher, The Christmasaurus tells the story of wheelchair user William who wants nothing more than a pet dinosaur for Christmas and it just so happens that a dinosaur egg has been found at the North Pole. It’s a wonderful adventure that takes place one Christmas Eve. This book is hilarious, festive, and heart-warming, accompanied by wonderful illustrations.

It’s also great that Tom included a wheelchair user as his protagonist because representation is so important, especially when your audience is children.

My full review can be found here

So there we have it!
What were some of your favourite reads?

I will be back in the new year with many more reviews.

– Charlotte

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children's fiction · fantasy · review

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated) – J.k.Rowling & Jim Kay

“There will be books written about Harry – every child in our world will know his name.”

 

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Blurb: “Harry Potter’s life changes forever on his eleventh birthday, when beetle-eyed giant Rubeus Hagrid delivers a letter and some astonishing news. Harry Potter is no ordinary boy: he’s a wizard. And an extraordinary adventure is about to begin. The first ever Illustrated edition of J.K.Rowling’s magical classic is packed with glorious colour illustrations by Jim Kay, winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal. An utterly enchanting feast of a book, perfect for devoted fans and new readers alike.”

It’s no secret that I love Harry Potter. When Bloomsbury announced there would be new illustrated editions coming out each year I was beyond excited: an opportunity to experience my love for this story in a new format.

I finally sat down with my massive, very heavy copy and started reading. I was instantly sucked back into this world: reading about characters and a magical world I’d grown up being a part of. Through my re-read I decided to bump up my rating of this book to the full five stars. What is truly wonderful about this book is that, with the combination of the words and the illustrations, it felt like I was reading it again for the first time. There is the element of surprise as you don’t know what scenes are going to come to life in glorious colour. It made the whole reading experience even more exciting.

Through reading the first book again I was reminded of how fantastic and magical this story is and decided to bump up my rating to five stars.

The thrill I get from this new edition is knowing that a whole new generation will be able to experience the story with the pictures to go along with it.

I honestly cannot justify how beautiful this book is and while it’s  quite pricey, it is worth it if you can afford it.

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children's fiction · fantasy · review

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix – J.K.Rowling

 

“He felt as though his heart was going to explode with pleasure; he was flying again, flying away from Privet Drive as he’d been fantasising about all Summer, he was going home… for a few glorious moments, all his problems seemed to recede to nothing, insignificant in the vast, starry sky.”

 

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Blurb: “Harry Potter is due to start his fifth year at Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His best friend Ron and Hermione have been very secretive all summer and he is desperate to get back to School and find out what has been going on. However, what Harry discovers is far more devastating than he could ever have expected…”

It’s taken over a year but I have finally finished my re-read of Harry Potter (in the fancy new UK editions). It’s not the first time I’ve re-read the series and I have no doubt it won’t be the last. This is the fifth book in the series, so you can clearly tell I didn’t re-read the series in order. One thing I have discovered is that every time I pick up one of the Harry Potter books and read them again, I become even more disillusioned by the films. I understand that changes need to be made etc. when it comes to an adaptation, but I just feel like you miss out on so much if you haven’t read the source material.

Like I said, this is the fifth book in the Harry Potter series and the longest; reaching exactly 800 pages in this edition. What I really like about this book that following on from the events in Goblet of Fire, is that everything has the “calm before the storm” feeling. Horrible things are looming that people are trying their hardest to ignore, but for the most part there’s enough warmth and joy that it makes you feel like, for now, things are continuing as normal.  You have Fred and George up to their usual antics, new and exciting classes and creatures, contrasting with Harry’s negative battle with being left out of situations, being left with no information and no contact with his friends. This book is when he starts to internalise a lot of what he’s going through and becomes quite bitter. He gets upset, he gets angry (and not just over exams) and that only gets worse when the Ministry of Magic appoints Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher. Her character is insufferable as she grows in power throughout the plot, but one thing I will say is that she is tame in the movie adaptation compared to this book. She gave me headaches. A lot.

A while ago, someone said to me that J.K.Rowling is a “good storyteller, but not a good writer.” At first I was utterly flabbergasted. I think everyone can agree that Harry Potter has been hugely successful and continues to be long since the last book was released. However, upon my overall re-read, I’ve learnt that the person who made those comments is right. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of editing, or maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself, but I found myself saying “I would have cut that”, “oh that’s oddly presented” although you cannot deny that the world she has created is something that will fall into the classics of the future.  She paved the way for stories about magic schools and child wizards.

There’s so many subplots in this book that just root you back into the world, despite not wanting to admit that certain people may be making their return, such as Quidditch, St Mungos hospital, the prefects and Hermione becoming essentially a House Elf Activist. And may this is because I love learning, but it was interesting to see the characters stressing over exams and how the actual exams took place.

Overall, it’s another solid addition to the series and where I feel Rowling starts to get stronger. It’s moved its way up into my top 3 Harry Potter books.
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children's fiction · contemporary · review

The Last Of The Spirits – Chris Priestley

 

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Blurb: “On the bleak streets of London, Sam is freezing and hungry. When he is rudely refused help by Ebenezer Scrooge, Sam vows to kill the selfish man. But later, while Sam is huddled in a graveyard, a ghost warns him of the terrible fate that awaits if he chooses the path of murder. And so Sam begins  journey led by terrifying spirits through past, present and future. After which he must decide his own destiny.”

I found this book when I was browsing through the Christmas sales on Bloomsbury’s website. The second I saw this utterly gorgeous cover I was intrigued. When I discovered that is is a re-imagining of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I had to get it.

Before I delve into the initial plot and my overall thoughts, I just want to point out something that really annoyed me about this book. From the blurb you can see that a boy called Sam is an important, central character to the book. However, on the cover you can see two children, and in the story Sam has a sister who, for some reason, is not mentioned on the blurb. It kind of threw me off a bit, I will admit.

So this story follows homeless orphans Sam and Lizzie who wander the streets of London looking for someone to give them a little bit of hope during this Christmas time. They fall into the path of the notorious Scrooge and when he rather impolitely refuses to help, Sam is overcome with a desire to kill this foul man. They seek refuge for the night in a graveyard where the spirit of a ghost – Scrooge’s old partner Marely – appears and warns Sam of what will happen if he continues down the dark path he is contemplating. Marely says that he will give Scrooge the chance to change and will send three ghosts (the ghosts of past, present, and future) to help him see the error of his ways. Through certain circumstances Sam and Lizzie try to catch the spirits in the act and Sam ends up seeing some of what the ghosts show Scrooge. The ghost of the future then turns on Sam and shows him what the future will be for him and his sister if he does kill Scrooge.

As you can see, it’s quite a dark, festive read but also very short (166 pages).

Sam and Lizzie are very different children. Lizzie, despite their situation, is quite accepting of the injustice they have, and continue to, receive, lucky that simply she is alive. On the other hand, Sam has grown to be a bitter young boy, believing that he deserves a lot more than what has been handed to him and is determined to change his life. It made for more of an interesting narrative with the focus being on him, but I did feel like Lizzie was a very swept-under-the-rug minor character despite being involved in quite a big portion of the story (And being part of the reason Sam inevitably changes).

I understood the hatred Sam possessed but it felt a bit too much at times for me and Lizzie just seeming to miss some of the important plot moments was disappointing. It would have been nice to see some of her thoughts and be more of a part of the moral journey her brother took rather than becoming essentially an after-thought.

One thing I love about adaptations of a novel that already exists is links to the original and there are quite a few such as the focus on the Cratchit family who still play that ever vital part in this book.

And of course, the overall moral of the story is still there.
Now I’m going to put on my over-sized hoodie, sit by the fire and read another book!

 

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