When their father dies, two streetwise orphans, Bob and his sister Marie Claire (or the Rat, as he likes to call her), leave their hometown of Winnipeg and go in search for their Uncle Jerome in New York, having no idea where he lives and no one to accompany them around the huge city.
Luckily for them, the Rat’s straightforward, dramatic and ruthless nature earns them lots of friends and keeps away potential enemies as they make their way around the city, sleeping in parks, running from strange men and showering in local swimming pools.
Even when it seems that nothing could be more dangerous than being unprotected on the streets on New York, something always happens to make you think otherwise. The Rat’s scary fits and visions make them even more vunerable. It seems like they are magnets for trouble!
I loved this book because it’s real life- very different from the fantasy, vampire or dystopian worlds which is what a lot of people concentrate on now. It’s gritty, edgy and every sentence is unexpected. The description is so vivid that you can visualise everything that happens. It’s also dark, mysterious and often scary.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to go for books which are out of the box, or even if you’re not, I suggest you read this book. After I had finished it, I realised it had changed my view of life.
Genre: Realistic / road story
Estimated reading age: Eleven +
Price on Amazon: Paperback £5.19, £4.27 for Kindle edition.
Author: Gregory Hughes
Main characters: The Rat (Marie Clare), Bob, Ice, Joey, Tommy
Rating: ★★★★★ A beautiful moving story of a road trip and two children who will stay in your head forever.
What would you do if you were able to speak to a ghost?
And what if you found yourself drawn to him like a magnet…
After meeting Callum in St Paul’s Cathedral, Alex realises that her mysterious new bracelet can somehow help her see ghosts. She can see Callum, she can talk to him and she can fall head-over-heels in love with him…
Callum is everything the boys at school are not – kind, attentive and romantic – but he’s trapped in limbo with no hope of escape. What future does their relationship have?
And who is Catherine? What is she trying to tell Alex about Callum, and about the secrets that he is keeping from her?
And what are the other secrets he hides from her?
I know that a book trailer doesn’t reflect on the actual book in any way, but if you are undesisve about a book you might want to read and decide to watch the trailer, it needs to draw you in. I watched the trailer after reading the book and hated it. The narrator’s voice didn’t fit at all with the storyline of the book and you never saw the faces of the people chosen to be Alex and Callum (not necessarily a bad thing), but the actor’s voices were completely emotionless as well. The trailer seemed to focus on the romance element of the story and not on the bit which initially drew me in, which was the whole drowning-people ghost-story thing. I also thought that the blurb was really bad.
I thought this book could have been amazing but that too much romance completely ruined it. The writing was quite good in most places but the romantic bits completely mirrored those of Twilight in a less convincing way. I did think that the idea of the Dirges was really good, and without the supernatural romance and with some more care taken over the description of the Dirges (ghost people who drowned in the river) and where they lived it could have been a spine-chilling ghost story. I thought that the head of the Dirges could have been a lot more menacing and a lot less kind, because he was more like an indulgent father figure than a leader, and that wrecked the spooky image I had of where they lived.
I would not read the sequel, purely because I think that it would be exactly the same as the first book. I actually did read a bit of it that was at the back of the first book and it seemed quite good, but even so I would not read itl because I think that a book like Small Blue Thing should not be the first of a series that has the potential to go on and on in the same way.
If you like romance or this particular genre of young adult books then I would read this book. I know that lots of other people enjoy it so this is just my view, but I think that my age is the kind of age it is aimed at, and the book did not appeal to me.
Genre: Supernatural romance
Official website: http://www.smallbluething.com/
Estimated reading age: Eleven and up
Price on Amazon: Paperback £4.89, Kindle edition £4.65.
Author: S C Ransom
Main characters: Alex, Grace, Catherine and Callum
YouTube videos on the subject:
Rating: ★★ Good ideas and good writing, but I would never have bought the book if I’d realised that the romance that was casually mentioned in the blurb was going to take over the whole story.
Dakota, a determined young girl, lives in the ancient White Flats with her mum, her friend Treacle, and her suspicious lodger. Her life gets stranger as she befriends an ageing actress named Medusa and her jewel-encrusted turtle. When the turtle goes missing, Dakota and Treacle and her silverfish Minty must go to find it, over a black river full of mutant eels to the highly sterile fortress of recluse writer Lassiter Peach… but is that his real name? And what is the story behind the fact that Dakota’s mother never leaves her armchair. And all this is just when you thought that it couldn’t get any stranger…
I really enjoyed Dakota of the White Flats. It was surreal and strange and dark, but there were funny moments too and everything is just about believable. It is fantasy at it’s best. There were hundreds of little back stories which all fitted together in the end in a very satisfying way, and Philip Ridley wastes no time getting to the action straight away. All of the characters were well developed and about as much like real people as you can get. I liked the little touches like Minty the silverfish, and also all of the cunning plans that Dakota comes up with. The drawings are perfect for the book and really set the scene and I LOVE the front cover as well, as shown above. All in all a great book. Maybe at it’s best for someone a bit younger than me now, but pretty much perfect for all ages.
Genre: Urban / fantasy / surreal
Estimated reading age: Nine and up
Price on Amazon: Paperback £8.09, no Kindle edition.
Author: Philip Ridley
Main characters: Dakota, Dakota’s mum, Lassiter Peach, Treacle
Rating: ★★★★★ Really great book… good conclusion, good character building- good everything.
The main character of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is a sixteen year old boy called Jacob Portman, who lives in America. Through all of his childhood he has been told what he thought were just made up stories by his grandfather, about a home he once lived in on a distant Welsh island. He tells of strange children who lived there, in an orphanage, all with peculiar talents, and shows him photographs, which Jacob dismisses as fakes. The children were there to be kept safe, he said, but he wouldn’t tell Jacob from what. Grandpa Portman had always been a bit strange, but Jacob relied on him, with his parents thinking they knew what was best for him when really they had no idea. When Jacob goes to his house after work, he finds his grandfather dying on the floor. All he can get out of him are a few words which he has to puzzle together to find out about his grandfather’s death. He only knows one thing- whatever the peculiar children were hiding from was what killed his grandfather. He manages to persuade his father and the psychiatrist who his parents took him to after his grandfather’s death to let him take a holiday to the island.
Strange things start going on as soon as they arrive. Emma, a girl who can control fire and hold it in her bare hands, takes him back through a time loop nearby the abandoned orphanage which he has discovered to the orphanage which his grandfather lived in. This orphanage is stuck in one day in the 1940s. It is occupied by all the children from the stories and the photos, and the kind but strict headmistress, Miss Peregrine. They are all immortal, stuck in that one day. They all think he is his grandfather, but then he tells them of what happened to his grandfather and why he is there.
He finds out what they’re hiding from and why, and pieces together evidence from all around the island. It then becomes clear to them- they are under attack. At not just from the bombs from the war- from something far, far more dangerous. Jacob realises that he is the key for keeping them alive, and he knows that he has to help. But will he choose the orphanage, with his friends, Emma, the beautiful grounds and laughing children but constant danger and no going back to his family- ever? Or will he choose his drunk father, the mother who thinks he’s mad, the psychiatrist he thought he could trust, the empty space where his grandfather was, and being unprotected forever?
In this book the author, Ransom Riggs, uses black and white photographs and his own text to create a story. The author had been collecting old photographs already but needed more for his book. The photographs haven’t been taken specifically for the book- he found them by being introduced to other photograph collectors by the man he usually went to when looking for photographs- someone named Leonard Lightfoot.
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Briggs is a haunting book which I’m never going to forget. I don’t normally like fantasy stories but this on was told so realistically that it made me uneasy. I like scary things, or things which don’t seem quite right, and as soon as I opened the book on my birthday I knew I was going to love it. I didn’t realise that it was going to give me bad dreams for months to come, but I guess that was inevitable.
To start with, there was the front cover. It was brown and looked old, and not in the Harry Potter movie way when you know that it’s either CGI or that someone’s worked on it for days. The cover design was brilliant, perfect for the book, and the title is also amazing. I loved the black, brown and white colour scheme, which makes it look like something that you just picked up in an orphanage on a remote Welsh island.
I thought that the characters were all well built up over the story. I liked how every character has at least a small bit about them, so you understand everyone’s side of the story. The story itself was disturbing, scary, original, perfectly described- the author did everything right. I can’t find a single fault with it. I love the descriptions of the island and how different it looks back in time and forward again. The description of the abandoned building sent shivers up my spine… it was completely incredible. It’s easy to describe a spooky place but not easy to do it well, but in this book it is.
I could take every single line from the book and analyse it but I would come up with the same thing in the end- this book is brilliant!!!
I am very excited that there is a sequel but slightly unsure about whether I’m going to enjoy it as much as the first or find it as believable. For example, it’s very unlikely that there’s more than one photo of the levitating girl or any of the other characters so either he would have to create a lot of new characters which would make it seem very unlikely, or not use photos which would be really sad, as they make the book what it is. I’m very interested to see how he does it. It’s also been announced that Jane Goldman is going to make the story into a screenplay for a film, which Tim Burton is going to direct. I will also see this when or if it comes out and review it and see whether or not it lives up to the book.
Estimated reading age: Eleven and up
Price on Amazon: Paperback £5.69, Kindle edition £5.41. I would advise that you get the hardback because it improves the experience. Hardback £7.79.
Author: Ransom Riggs
Main characters: Jacob, Emma, Jacob’s father, Miss Peregrine
Rating: ★★★★★ Perfect, no faults at all
Ginger was a plump girl with pigtails and red hair, and all she remembers of her childhood is being bullied. She doesn’t remember that she might have had people on her side, and she sees, when she looks through a photo album, that she was pretty when she was little. Ginger is insecure. With parents who never really talk to her and a best ‘friend’ who is completely in control of Ginger and knows it, Ginger starts doubting her status as most popular girl in Year Eight and starts looking around her, looking at how people never talk to her because they’re intimidated by her. Her best friend Shannon Kershaw never lets her express her real views on things. On the first day of Year Eight, Ginger sees a girl called Emily Croft crying in the toilet. She goes and comforts her, despite Shannon’s reluctance, and find out that Emily’s best friend Meg has moved away. She remembers an ice skating party she had when she was little, when Emily was one of the only people who turned up. She makes friends with her, but Shannon has other things in mind.
Shannon makes Emily a ‘project’, a project which includes hair dye, make up, hair straighteners and new clothes. This was never part of Ginger’s plan. Emily is ‘in’ and in her excitement she doesn’t notice that Shannon is pushing Ginger to the side, leaving her out. Ginger realises that she was just Shannon’s toy, and Emily is a newer, more fun version of her.
Ginger also meets Sam Taylor, a misfit who doodles in Tippex on his non-school-uniform jeans, skips class, drinks blue lemonade, plays the saxophone and regularly forms one person bands with strange names. Shannon likes him at first but when she realises that he’s interested in Ginger, not her, she announces that he’s ‘weird’. They date each other secretly, because Ginger is afraid of Shannon. Sam tries to get her to stand up to Shannon.
At school, the new English teacher who Shannon has a crush on and will not stop pursuing, suggests that they form a school magazine. Shannon makes up the name, ‘S’cool’, and becomes the Editor, taking credit for everything.
Just when it seemd like nothing could get worse, Shannon suggests that she joins her 13th birthday party and the magazine opening party together and invites Mr Hunter and a group of older boys who bring alcohol. That’s when everything starts getting out of hand, and Ginger has to think seriously about whether she wants to stay with pushy, mean Shannon or be a part of the ‘freak’ crowd…
I enjoyed this book because I know that a lot of people can relate to it. It was very moving, and at times funny. All of Cathy Cassidy’s books have me hooked, reading under the table at dinner and even reading at sleepovers (gasp!) I thought Ginger’s character was built up very well over the course of the book, until by the end you felt that you were actually friends with her. She sounds twelve, even though her thoughts are written by a middle aged woman, which is always good as the book becomes a lot less believable if the ‘child’ who’s telling it thinks like an adult. It would appeal to all ages- from ten year olds to adults. The ideas are very good- there isn’t just one central problem, there are lots of different things going on which are all resolved by the end, leaving you satisfied. The ending was a big surprise to me, because with realistic books you can usually tell what’s going to happen at the end and with Gingersnaps I couldn’t. Great book!
Genre: Realistic/ dealing with issues
Estimated reading age: Ten and up
Price on Amazon: Paperback £9.99, Kindle edition £4.99
Main characters: Ginger, Shannon, Sam, Emily Croft
Rating: ★★★ A great book, dealing with issues which many people will be familiar with
Wonder is about a boy called August Pullman, who was born with a condition that means that his face is deformed and out of proportion, even after surgery. August, known as Auggie, is a kind person who is very understanding, and though most of the time he is happy with who he is he can see how other people looking at him might feel, and he knows why children point and stare or scream and run away, or why adults find it hard to look at him.
Auggie is like a normal person, or he feels that he is. He knows that it’s only his face that makes him different, and he knows that he can’t change that. He has been home-schooled for most of his life, and he’s certain, when his parents decide to send him to school, it’s going to be hard. He is clever and intelligent and he makes good jokes and likes making friends, but in school he slowly finds out what the real world is going to be like- unprotected, cruel. The children at school are all disgusted by him, all except Summer, who sits by him at lunch and talks to him. Auggie likes his headteacher, Mr Tushman, and he likes Summer and Jack Will, a boy who showed him round on his first day. He takes an instant dislike to Julian, the boy who showed him round the school with Jack Will, and there is no doubt that more will come of it later on.
Auggie learns to survive at school, clinging on by the tips of his fingers, while his sister Via struggles with friendship problems while trying to show her parents that Auggie isn’t the only person in the world. As the year progresses, it feels like everything is changing… for everyone.
This book was a pleasure to read. I didn’t even know that Auggie’s condition existed until I read this book and it moved me to tears. I could see that what happened in Wonder would be identical to what would happen if someone like Auggie turned up my school, and it made me feel ashamed. If you look at someone like that, you are stupidly led into believing that they don’t have any real thoughts, and obviously it’s not true. It really made me think, and in the process of reading it, I think that the way I think changed a lot, as will the thoughts of anyone else who reads it. I like the way it includes song lyrics and the beginning of each part of the book, and the way it jumps between nearly every character’s point of view, often more than once. From the front cover of the copy I read (as shown above) I had no idea what to expect. The book was better than I anticipated, and after reading it I could understand why the cover looked as it did and I think that the cover just added to the perfection of the book, in that it was in no way random, as I had thought before I read it, and it summed up the whole book just in one picture. The message of the book? Accept difference and learn to love it, and never be afraid to stand up for what you know is right.
Genre: Realistic/ dealing with issues
Estimated reading age: Ten and up
Price on Amazon: £4.93 for paperback, £8.15 for Kindle edition
Author: R. J. Palacio
Main characters: Auggie, Via, Summer, Jack Will, Julian
Rating: ★★★★ A great book with a powerful message.
The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is an amazingly moving book about a nine-year-old girl named Rose Edelstein who can taste people’s emotions in the food they make and prepare. She can taste if a farmer was angry when he picked his tomatoes and if someone was in a rush when they baked a batch of cookies.
She only finds out about her strange talent on her birthday, when her mother bakes her a lemon cake. She goes and lies down to have a nap, leaving Rose to take the cake out of the oven. She can’t resist tasting it, but when she does, it feels like there’s a hole in the food- like it’s hollow. Her mother’s heart wasn’t in it when she was making it. The dinner is the same, and Rose, being young, has trouble coping with what’s going on on her own. Gradually she gets used to it and it becomes part of her normal lifestyle, but because she puts up with it doesn’t mean that she enjoys it. It dominates her life.
The Edelstein family have a difficult relationship. Rose’s father, who has a strange terror of hospitals, only singled her out when she showed a talent for drawing soccer balls perfectly.
Rose’s mother is having an affair with a man at her carpentry class, Larry, and Rose only knows because she can taste it in her mother’s food. The rest of the family are in the dark.
Rose’s older brother Joseph used to be scarily smart, the class genius, but his grades are slipping and Rose notices that there’s something odd about him- sometimes he just disappears.
Rose’s grandmother is ancient and sends the Edelsteins strange cardboard boxes containing broken teacups, dish towels, and cracked tins of old rouge. They only ever talk to her down the phone.
Rose admires Joseph’s friend George, who often comes round to solve physics problems with Joseph. It is he who first helps her find out her problem. Of course, he has to leave for college and when Joseph doesn’t get in, he rents a flat by himself, so that Rose is left with only her parents for company. They hardly ever talk to her and only Rose’s mother ever really seems to acknowledge her.
George leaves for college and although he comes back to see her sometimes and calls her on the phone, but their relationship doesn’t work out and after a while he gets married to a botanist from his college.
Rose’s friend Eliza abandons her to go round with another group of girls as they grow up, and Rose makes her own friend, a girl who she thinks is going to stay her friend forever. She thinks that her friend Sherrie accepts her talent and finds it interesting, but it turns out that she is only friends with Rose so that Rose can eat food she makes and tell her how she’s feeling, whether she really likes a boy, whether she’s really depressed. When she realises that Sherrie doesn’t even know she has a brother and is only interested in Rose’s talent and not in Rose herself, Rose tries to change their friendship so that they are proper friends instead of being like servant and master. Sherrie, who is self-centred and didn’t care much about Rose in the first place, slams down the phone after Rose suggests a film instead of more food tasting and they never speak again.
When Eliza and Eddie, Rose’s only remaining childhood friends, leave for college, Rose, who is deciding to stay at home instead to ‘avoid the drama of dorm cafeterias entirely’, is on her own.
Rose changes, dying her hair and learning to drive and making her own money by working at a restaurant and in an office, where she meets a man called Peter who is later to become her boyfriend. Joseph’s disappearances grow more and more frequent and alarming, until Rose begins to give him up for lost. Rose perfects her talent at tasting foods, and even tries her own food, although there’s a taste in it that she hates and can’t work out. Her mother’s affair goes on and her father is still terrified of hospitals and her grandmother dies, and Rose finds out something she never knew about her grandfather. But amongst all this, Rose finally finds out where she belongs.
I really enjoyed this book because it mixes the impossible with reality and makes it really believable, just by the way Rose tells it. The sentences are beautifully constructed and normally I read books very fast, but with this one I slowed down a lot so that I could concentrate on the language.
The dialogue does not have speech marks around it and it’s not in italics, but it’s not at all confusing and somehow makes it a better read.
I like the way it’s told from Rose’s point of view, because when time passes and she goes from being a nine-year-old to a thoroughly independent teenager, she doesn’t even notice herself changing until she’s looking through the family photo album and doesn’t recognise herself. I found that bit especially moving. Time goes very slowly, but by the end of the book you realise that there is a completely different person telling the story than there was at the beginning.
The subject of the book is very original and I think that the characterisation of Rose’s family is very well done. I also like the way it doesn’t end with a flourish, and the last sentence is very subtle.
One of the three things I don’t like about this book is that the family have a lot of secrets from each other, and none of them are really resolved by the end. It’s a bit unsatisfying. I think that Aimee Bender should do a short epilogue in which Rose mentions those secrets, even if it’s just to say that they stayed a secret.
Another not-so-good thing is that Rose’s character does not really develop through the story until the very end, when the change in the way she thinks and acts is too abrupt. She’s a teenager but she speaks and thinks exactly how she did when she was nine. She’s had to virtually look after herself since she was a child but this does not really come across in the way she tells her story, which in a naïve and simple way like somebody who has not really seen the world and is still at the stage of playground games. By the time Rose is twenty-two the story is still told in that same way.
And then there’s the whole mystery of Rose’s brother Joseph’s disappearing skill, which I feel is definitely not a crucial addition to the book. Take it out and the book would, yes, be less unusual, but because Rose doesn’t really give much thought to the fact that Joseph’s gone makes it seem a bit pointless. If a mother or father lost their son they would probably be frantic, but after Joseph’s final disappearance life in the Edelstein household seems to go on exactly the same way. The conclusion, when Joseph is found and hospitalized, was too sudden and out of the blue. The story could not have done without Joseph as a character but it could have done without his special skill. With most books I like I would say that I wish there was a sequel but I think this book finishes in the right place, although the end does feel just a bit rushed.
I have read this book at least seven times and would definitely go back to it again. It’s got a bit of everything for everyone in it, and as well as being a teenage book it could also very easily be for adults too. The cover picture is also very inviting and while it doesn’t give much away it’s very descriptive of the book. The girl on the cover looks exactly how I imagine the nine-year-old Rose.
Genre: Fantasy/realistic at the same time!
Estimated reading age: Twelve and up
Price on Amazon: £5.29 for paperback, £5.03 for Kindle edition
Author: Aimee Bender
Main characters: Rose, George, Joseph, Rose’s mother, Rose’s father.
Rating: ★★★★ Overall an amazing original book with a great front cover, but some things could have been given a lot more thought and time.