Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Tunnel Of Bones – Victoria Schwab

“You are my best friend. In life, in death, and everything else in between.”

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Blurb: “Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual. She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass’s parents are filming their TV show about the world’s most haunted cities. Sure, it’s fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there’s true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.”

The sequel to City Of Ghosts sees protagonist Cassidy Blake doing more ghost hunting, but this time things are getting even more dangerous. The series as a whole gives me immense Coraline vibes and does a fantastic job of balancing the mystery and downright creepiness of the situations. Unlike its predecessor, Tunnel Of Bones takes place in Paris which feels like a breath of fresh air, and also opens up ghostly happenings to the rest of the world which I only hope continues with future books.

Victoria Schwab has a fantastic talent for descriptions and visuals. She weaves aspects together in such a way where they are detailed, unique and incredibly distinctive. Everything just clicks together and fits perfectly.

Of course, every book needs a menace to overthrow and in this one, it’s a pretty nasty poltergeist. The mystery and tension around him is unbearable at many points and he defies everything that both Cassidy and the reader has learned about how the veil world works so far.

The absolute gem of this story is Cassidy and Jacob’s relationship and how it continues to grow and flourish. Their lives are so woven and interconnected and I have so many fears for the future. But for now, I will enjoy the wonders of their friendship.

Tunnel Of Bones shows that Victoria Schwab continues to grow as an author and is one that we are very, very lucky to have.

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Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Percy Jackson & The Sea Of Monsters – Rick Riordan

“Family are messy. Immortal families are eternally messy. Sometimes the best we can do is remind each other that we’re related for better or for worse… and try to keep the maiming and killing to a minimum.”

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Blurb: “Starring Percy Jackson, a “half blood” whose mother is human and whose father is the God of the Sea, Riordan’s series combines cliffhanger adventure and Greek mythology lessons that results in true page-turners that get better with each installment. In this episode, The Sea of Monsters, Percy sets out to retrieve the Golden Fleece before his summer camp is destroyed, surpassing the first book’s drama and setting the stage for more thrills to come.”

The Percy Jackson series is one that I’ve gone back and forth on for the longest time because my knowledge of Greek mythology is limited very much to musical numbers from Disney’s Hercules. Just over a year ago I listened to the first installment on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it. So it feels only right to finally make my way back to this world under the same format.

It’s not often in these kind of stories that the protagonist becomes my favourite characters, but I absolutely adore Percy. He has the right kind of fight and stepping up to the legacy of his father who is a literal Greek god, along with having these perfect moments of sarcasm when he finds himself in ridiculous situations. I think a lot of this has to do with Jesse Bernstein’s narrations which really do wonders for bringing him to life.

I continue to marvel at the way this world has started to branch out and flesh out the surrounding characters while also giving Percy that room to feel a little lost: he may know who his father is now, but that doesn’t mean his father wants to be around him. When Percy has the opportunity to solve the problems in Camp Half Blood by going on a quest to the sea of monsters, of course he puts himself forward for it. Naturally, any place called the “sea of monsters” is not a fun walk in the park and I loved seeing all the different threads that Rick Riordan filtered into this story.

I loved seeing the alliances start to build and the rivalries that I can see causing a lot of problem in the future books as everyone was trying to track down this fleece that could restore Camp Half Blood to its former glory.

The only part where I really struggle with these books is my lack of knowledge when it comes to Greek mythology. While brief explanations are given, I still find it hard to keep track of everything. I also feel that if I knew a lot about the subject I would get a lot more out of this series. However, that doesn’t stop me finding this world compelling enough to venture on, no matter how scared I am about what might be waiting around the corner.

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Posted in children's fiction, review

The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club – Alex Bell

“She never got tired of looking at maps and globes, and as far as she was concerned, a compass was just the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world.”

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Blurb: “Join Stella Starflake Pearl and her three fellow explorers as they trek across the snowy Icelands and come face-to-face with frost fairies, snow queens, outlaw hideouts, unicorns, pygmy dinosaurs and carnivorous cabbages . . .When Stella and three other junior explorers get separated from their expedition can they cross the frozen wilderness and live to tell the tale?”

The story follows a girl called Stella Starflake Pearl who has a pet polar bear. Her dad is an explorer of the Icelands and she wants to be one too. But there’s one catch – girls are not allowed to be explorers. After much convincing, Stella is given the opportunity to prove herself by going on an expedition and, if successful, she will be given a place in the Polar Bear Explorers’ Club.

In The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club, the reader is thrown into an icy world of pure brilliance and never-ending magic as Stella is paired up with boys from her club as well as the others to make new discoveries. While the world is all-consuming and well put together, I did find myself getting lost quite a lot and having to re-read pages to get a sense of where the characters were in the world. It was one of the few times where I really did wish that there was a map at the front of this book. Sadly there wasn’t and I feel that let the book as a whole down a lot.

I like that there were many different explorer clubs: Polar Bears, Ocean Squid, Desert Jackal and Jungle Cat; all with their own rules. It allows that room to connect more with the world as readers can look at a glossary at the back of the book and see which club they’d most likely fit in.

There were plenty of magical twists on aspects that already exist in our world such as frostbite (a rather scary bit I must admit), however, I find it hard to be invested in a book and enjoy the story if I can’t really place where the characters are. For mainly that reason, this book fell just a bit too flat to me.

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Posted in children's fiction, contemporary, review

The Thing About Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin

“Some hearts beat only about 412 million times. Which might sound like a lot. But the truth is, it barely gets you twelve years.”

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Blurb: “After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone.”

I stumbled across The Thing About Jellyfish in my local library and picked it up because it sounded familiar. After reading the blurb, flicking through it and reading the first page it became clear that this odd sense of familiarity was misplaced. However, the first page captivated my attention, so I checked it out and set off on a new adventure.

The story follows a twelve year old girl called Suzy who finds out her best friend, Franny, has died. The cause of death doesn’t make sense to Suzy as her friend was an incredibly good swimmer so she struggles to understand how drowning could be the cause. Through a school trip to an aquarium she learns about jellyfish and comes to believe that one type in particular was the real culprit. She starts learning everything she can about jellyfish and looks into experts who can help prove her theory to be correct.

Back when I read The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, I was completely overwhelmed with emotions and ever since then I’ve said I didn’t think I’d find a book that would match when I experienced when reading that. Dear reader, I think I’ve finally found some competition. The writing style in The Thing About Jellyfish is utterly beautiful and has a sense of broken innocence that feels like listening to the story of a real person.

This is a story that anyone who’s experienced loss can relate to. Death is a horrible thing that we’d rather not think about until we have to face it head-on, and when that happens it’s very hard to accept. Suzy is unable to believe that her best friend could drown when she was such a good swimmer and refuses to accept that sometimes things just happen. She stops talking after hearing the news and isolates herself which almost makes it easier for her to work on her new obsession. She wants to find a reason that fits better than the one she’s been given and it’s honestly heartbreaking to read. Here you have a twelve year old girl faced with the reality of her own mortality for the first time.

The format flits between past and present and in the former scenes the reader starts to build up a picture of the friendship Suzy and Franny share. These aspects showcase the difficulty of growing up and it’s where Suzy starts to appear as a bad person at times. It’s a struggle to support her actions but this is makes her flawed and just adds more humanity to her character.

I didn’t expect to learn so much about Jellyfish but, as the title suggests, the book is littered with all the different facts that Suzy learns on her quest for the truth.

The Thing About Jellyfish is fundamentally a story about grief, loss and how to cope with it. Oh, and of course Jellyfish.

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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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