Posted in 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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Posted in 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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Posted in 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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