Friday, 31 October 2014

Krabat by Otfried Preussler

Review by The Mole

Krabat is a young beggar boy who, when he is 14, hears a voice inside his head calling him to a mill in the middle of a fen. He leaves his friends and sets off to find the mill. When asking directions he is warned about it's mysteries but heedless of the warnings he goes to the mill and is apprenticed to the miller. But this is no ordinary mill or miller for this mill is a "Black School" and the miller is its teacher of the black art of necromancy. Krabat lives and eats with the 11 journeyman living there.

And then, at new year, Tonda - one of the journeymen who has become Krabat's friend and advisor - dies mysteriously and the remaining journeymen advise and instruct Krabat to forget about Tonda, something he cannot do. The very next day, released from his apprenticeship, Krabat and the journeyman find a new apprentice on Tonda's bed.

Exactly one year later the cycle starts again and this time it's Michal that is killed. Once again the advice is to forget Michal but instead Krabat swears to avenge their deaths. As the year goes round Krabat starts to wonder if he is next and what, if anything, he can do about it.

Originally written in 1972 this is a book that will, I'm sure, remain a timeless classic. Its start introduces us to a young innocent beggar who carol sings to earn money - not beg or steal or even scavenge and the reader immediately warms to this young lad. The events of the story unfold continuously and the reader really is compelled to just keep on reading - perhaps Preussler has studied some black art himself to achieve this?

The book is dark and tense throughout but has no really terrifying parts at all. Although Krabat ages at a faster than normal rate (something caused by the mill) I was never in any doubt that this was a children's book - even when the end came or deaths occurred I was still in do doubt.

A book for Halloween? Definitely - although not JUST for Halloween but for any time, especially those long, dark, cold winter evenings... Don't let it spoil your dreams though. Did I say dreams?...

Publisher - The Friday Project
Genre - Children's horror, 12+

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Bears Don't Read! by Emma Chichester Clark

review by Maryom

George is an unusual bear. He isn't happy to spend his time catching fish in the river or sitting chatting with the other bears. He thinks there must be something more to life than this. Then one day he finds a book - this could be just what he's looking for, if only he could read it! The other bears laugh at him, because bears don't read, but George perseveres and heads off into town where surely he'll find someone who can teach him to read...... He's in for a surprise though as the townsfolk are frightened of him and he's soon surrounded by armed police. Luckily, one little girl, Clementine, isn't scared of him and is even willing to teach him how to read.

Bears Don't Read! is a lovely picture book about an inquisitive bear who wants to know more about the world, and the little girl who helps him. In a fun, engaging way, it gets across the message that reading is fun; even if your friends don't want to read, and even if it takes practice, it will open a whole new world for you.
With bright, fascinating illustrations, it's an excellent book for early readers to explore on their own or to be read to younger children, and hopefully will be the first step to a lifetime of happy reading.

Publisher - HarperCollins
Genre - children's picture book

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel

review by Maryom

Katie has had a long-term crush on Luke McCallister, ever since 10th grade. Now she's 18, just finishing school; he, three years older, is back from Vietnam. With the long summer ahead, it's time for Katie to make her move. Meanwhile, for one last summer before 'real life' begins, she hangs out with her friends in their beach-side home-town ....

If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful is an evocation of one early 70s summer in the fictional, run-down Long Island resort of Elephant Beach - a place where, for Katie and her friends at least, life revolves around the beach and the main street - from Eddy's candy store at one end to The Starlight hotel at the other.
Set in the gap between high school and college, there's a lot of similarities with other coming of age novels - the drugs and drink, sex and teen pregnancies, the assumption that this group of friends is special and won't make the mistakes their parents did, the belief that they are on the brink of something exciting while realising that this moment in time won't come again, and in the background the horrors of the Vietnam war. What makes it stand out is the beautiful way it is written, nostalgic for a time that probably was never quite as good as the memory of it, that moment just before naive youth tips over into worldly adulthood.

I received my proof copy of this months ago, couldn't wait, and so read it far too early to actually write the review. Last week, as I was writing up my notes, I picked it up again to remind me of its feel and mood, and was completely hooked again, so much so that I had to tear myself away to get this finished!

 First time through, I'd been a little wrong-footed as I'd expected a love story solely about Katie and Luke, but Katie is as much an observer and recorder of the lives of others as she is of her own. The whole capturing of one last carefree summer is broken down into a series of vignettes focussing on the individuals within the group - each getting their little bit of fame before dropping back to the chorus.
On paper it didn't ought to be a cheery book - so many of the kids in it are messing up their lives, while thinking they're being 'adult', and the Vietnam veterans among them are scarred by their experiences in ways that no one understands - but there was something in it that spoke to me, and which I loved; maybe just for capturing that feeling of invincibility and entitlement that we have as teens, when all the world lies before us - and all of it will be good.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Tinder Press
Genre -
Adult/YA crossover, fiction, literary, coming of age, 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

One World Together with Catherine and Laurence Anholt

Review by The Mole

I want a friend but who to choose... We travel from one country to another, meeting a child from each and getting a brief glance at their life before finally coming to the conclusion that they would all make excellent friends.

A book advocating peace and harmony with people from across the globe - and we can't have too many such books!

There is also a "big fold-out surprise" for the young reader at the back of the book.

Beautifully illustrated, this book does try to show how different life is for children in different parts of the globe but also how there life can be fun despite those differences.

A lovely and informative book that while it shows a small sample of one child per country and only a small number of countries it underlines that children from all over the world can find common ground and be friends.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Monday, 27 October 2014

Pharaoh by David Gibbins

Review by The Mole

Jack Howard is diving off the coast of Spain in search of a ship that went missing in the 19th century carrying Egyptian treasures from the times of the Pharaohs, while another team from the IMU are conducting a dig in Sudan. Meanwhile a Sudanese official is waiting until they show their hand to move in and reap the benefits of their efforts. But many of these discoveries are not new but go back to the 19th Century and have been relost somewhere along the way. Can Jack and the team keep these artefacts away from drug lords and deliver them safely to the proper authorities. And what is the true and complete extent of what is to be discovered?

The opening prologue has us in the desert with the Pharaoh Akhenaten undergoing a ceremony, grudgingly on the edge Egypt. His intentions are also not very appropriate to his rank and he turns things on their heads a bit. But the full implication of his behaviour is not explained to the reader and we must wait to find out.

The rest of the story is told through two separate time lines that we keep switching between. The first is the present day with Jack Howard revisiting many of scenes from the second time line and trying to interpret what happened in the 19th century as well as trying to piece together the happenings in ancient Egypt, while also chasing around the world and trying to evade drug lords.

The second time line follows Major Mayne who is attached to the British army's river column as it winds it's way slowly up the Nile trying to get to Khartoum to relieve General Gordon. But Mayne is not all he appears and nobody seems to understand anyone else's agenda in the campaign.

When I first picked this up and started with the prologue I began to wonder what I had let myself in for. I found the prologue difficult to read and it nearly turned me off. However I carried on and soon it became apparent we were either going to be in the 19th century or the modern day for the rest of the book and it became a great deal easier to read for me. Much of the book focuses on Mayne and the Khartoum relief effort - and very compelling I found it. Gibbins takes us through a battle with the Mahdi as Mayne tries to dodge would be assassins and the description, although extremely gory, is extremely informative and I came away with what I believe is a far greater idea of what warfare was like at the time.

While this book is a "Jack Howard" novel I felt,  after reading it, that it was about Mayne and Gordon of the 19th century, although we do visit Jack Howard and progress his journey through this history and leave him... on a cliff hanger (well almost).

At 480 pages this is not a coffee time read but one that once you get into it, will keep you reading and wanting more. Well I have taken a while to pick this up but the sequel is out on 6th November 2014, so you won't be waiting long.

For Dan Brown lovers (although I'm not one) and anyone enjoying Indiana Jones or Jack T Colton. A couple of really compelling adventures for the price of one.

Publisher -Headline
Genre - Adult fiction, action adventure

Friday, 24 October 2014

Max the Champion by Sean Stockdale and Alexandra Strick

Illustrator Ros Asquith
Review by The Mole

Max is a sports mad dreamer. From the moment he wakes to his dreams at night he imagines that everything he does involves sport and that he is winning at it. When they have a fun sports day at school then Max dreams he is winning the world cup.

Very much a picture book for a child to read because the pictures are "inclusive", that is to say his dreams as well as his day to day life include disabled children. While Max is the only winner (well, they are his dreams!) the disabled children are included throughout the book and they often come second to the champion - they are not just spectators but fully integrated as friends.

The only person referred to in the story is Max, not even his toy rabbit and turtle who turn up almost as often as Max in the pictures get a mention.

An extremely lovely book with a message - a subtle message - and a rarity in that the pictures actually have greater importance in the story than the words themselves.

Publisher - Frances Lincoln
Genre -children's picture book

Thursday, 23 October 2014

WTF Knits by Gabrielle Grillo and Lucy Sweet

review by Maryom

Think you know knitting? Well, think again. These days it's not just about lacy baby clothes or heavy Sara Lund style Nordic sweaters, it all more arty and...well, frankly....weird.

Since 2010 Gabrielle Grillo had been collecting photos of strange, mind-boggling knitting on Tumblr and here it is collected together in book form.
There's the fairly common knitted food - hamburgers, fruit, veg, a whole butcher's display - and cigarettes if you really need them, odd but kinda-cute headgear for your favourite pet - dress your dog as a unicorn or reindeer, or disguise your tortoise's shell as a bat or tor(toise)illa. There are murder scenes and knitted celebrities, internal organs and rather a lot of knitted poo (fortunately there's a knitted toilet roll to accompany it)

Some of it might be considered art, some of it's just macabre but, however you feel, it certainly stretches the imagination about what can be achieved with yarn and some needles.
This isn't a knitting 'pattern' book, just a collection show-casing what others have made. I was a little disappointed that some didn't have patterns - I'd love a Princess Leia hair-style hat, and some seemed ideal for unusual Halloween costumes - but for the most part they're perhaps best just left on the page.

It ISN'T a book for granny or an elderly aunt, unless you're confident of their open-mindedness - but for any knitter who delights in the bizarre and wacky it could prove an ideal Christmas present.

Publisher - Bantam Press
Genre - knitting, art, craft