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Dakota of The White Flats by Philip Ridley

I hadn’t read this book since I was nine and it was my favourite book ever, but yesterday I started to read it for some comfort reading. It was much better than I remembered, and I really enjoyed it.

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.

 

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Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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.

Genre: Fantasy/horror

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

My Sister’s Keeper

I found My Sister’s Keeper in the DVD rental place near my house, going for 50p because no one was renting it. I bought it and watched it with my friend, and we both found it really sad… in fact we were crying by the end, but we both also agreed that it was amazing!

Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin) believes that she was put on the earth to save her sister. Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) her older sister, suffers from acute promyelocytic leukemia. She was diagnosed when she was very young, and her parents were told by the doctors that the only way they could save their beloved daughter is genetically conceive another daughter who will be able to be ‘spare parts’ to Kate. Anna had to have operations from when she was a baby, and the newest one means that she can’t play sport, be a cheerleader or have children- she has to donate a kidney to Kate because her own have failed.

The film is told from different points of view, using their interior monologue to tell the story. Anna’s is the most frequently used, but the switch is good because you can see that there’s more than one thing going on in the family, not just Kate’s illness. Anna’s parents push her to her limits. Anna knows that they love Kate more, but there’s something she’s not telling them. When she tries to refuse to donate her kidney to Kate, her parents are horrible to her. They don’t know that there’s a reason behind her doing so which is not for her benefit, which is for Kate’s. Anna tells her parents that she doesn’t want to do it because she deserves the rights to her own body and employs a lawyer to sue them for medical emancipation. The lawyer is very famous and Anna can’t pay him nearly enough to make it worthwhile for him, but he takes the case on for personal reasons, which you find out near the end.

Anna’s mother Sara (Cameron Diaz) is barely a person without her obsessive pushing to help her daughter Kate. She has given up work as a lawyer- her whole life revolves around Kate, and she doesn’t have room in her schedule for Anna or Jesse, Anna and Kate’s dyslexic brother, who needs more help than Kate, who has every relative and doctor fighting to save her. The film is full of flashbacks, which confused me quite a lot because there isn’t any kind of dreaminess or thoughtfulness to them so you can’t really tell what is a flashback and what isn’t. One of the flashbacks shows Kate in a relationship with Taylor Ambrose (Thomas Dekker), another cancer victim. He helps her through radiotherapy and you see how he makes her happy and makes her forget her illness.

You don’t see how on earth Kate can get through her illness. The court case reveals many things about the family and the characters and about Kate. This isn’t a spoiler because you can tell right from the beginning of the film, but right at the very end Kate dies. It’s incredibly moving and well-done, because there isn’t a huge funeral or dramatic lead up to it- she just dies, like people actually die. They have no serenade and usually no one around to watch their last breath. That’s what made it so sad- the fact that it was so realistic. The family’s lives continue and all of them get jobs and start moving on. You can tell that they’re never going to get over Kate’s death, but they don’t deny it and, just like she told them to, they start living their own lives, not just hers.

I really liked this film. The terminal illness theme was really sad, because by the time Kate dies you feel as though you really know her. It felt like actually watching someone die, and the good acting makes it more realistic but much, much more sad. I enjoyed seeing everyone’s point of view and looking back at Anna’s memories. I would really like to see how the book compares and whether it’s any better.

Genre: Realistic

Estimated watching age: Twelve and up

Price on Amazon: £3.64 for normal DVD, £6.75 for Blu-Ray

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Names of the people who play the main characters: Abigail Breslin, Cameron Diaz, Sofia Vassilieva

Rating: ★★★

Speak

I found Speak by clicking a link that was next to the Snow White and The Huntsman trailer on YouTube.

Melinda Sordino (Kristen Stewart) starts the first year of her school with no friends, being labelled as a squealer for calling 911 at the end of the previous end of term party. No one knows the real reason why, not even her parents. Melinda is quiet and seems to be living in her own head. Her parents leave her alone in the house and her mother never listens to Melinda’s opinions. They refuse to be nice to her as she suffers, believing she’s going through a teenage phase and that they’ve lost their ‘sweet, loving little girl’.

Only Melinda knows what happened to her at the party- she was raped by a boy called Andy Evans (Eric Lively), who is currently dating her old best friend Rachel, who has re-invented herself as Rachelle. All Melinda’s old friends have joined various cliques, and the new girl, Heather, who Melinda has helped at the start of term who doesn’t even notice that Melinda never speaks, joins one o the cliques and tells Melinda that while she has her ‘depression thing’ she doesn’t want to sit with her at lunch.

When Melinda’s parents see her bad report card, they think that she’s just not trying. They send her to see Mr Neck, a teacher who despises her for no good reason. He asks her to write an essay on any history topic, and she chooses the suffragettes. She presents it to him, having written it in the old school store cupboard where she spends a lot of her time, hiding from people but not wanting to go home. My Neck tells her that to get the marks for it she has to read it out in class, but Melinda does her best not to draw attention to herself and believes that she has the right not to speak if she doesn’t want to. Her lab partner Dave Petrakis (Michael Angarano) helps her to express her views in class, but she is sent to the school principal for impertinence.

Mr Freeman (Steve Zahn) is the new art teacher at the school, and gets Melinda interested in art. Her project for the year is trees, and although she starts off not being able to draw them properly, she end up a talented artist. Her parents start noticing this, and her favourite Christmas present from them is some drawing tools. Rachel, or Rochelle, is ignoring Melinda, but Melinda is scared that she’s going to suffer the same fate and although she resents her for not being there when she needed her most, Melinda tells her about what happened. At first Rachel doesn’t believe her, but then she notices that Andy is sometimes violent towards her and she starts telling other people what happened to Melinda.

Melinda is slowly becoming more confident and gaining some friends and better grades. But when Andy hears the rumours that are being spread about him, he comes after her and tries to attack her. Either Melinda could lose her confidence altogether, or she could fight back, start speaking out and start telling people what happened to her. She chooses the latter.

Although Melinda has regained some of her confidence, it is obvious that she needs time to get over what happened to her. By the end though, you know that she eventually will.

 

I liked this film because it shows what life in an American school might be like- very different from in an English school. The film really inspired me as well actually, because when I was little I loved art but I hadn’t been finding time to do enough of it and then I saw Speak and it made me want to start doing it again. Kristen Stewart’s acting in this film is really strong and she portrays Melinda perfectly.

This film was really moving, because it looks like Melinda’s just going to be trapped on her own for the rest of her life, but then she starts making things happen and breaking free from the cage she’s been trapped inside. The film is not very widely known- only real fans of the actors have found it. It’s not on sale in any shops or on Amazon. I also liked this about it, because it was made to put across a message, and only people who really want to hear what it has to say have ever watched it. It’s not the kind of film that everyone likes- like the Hunger Games or something. It’s more personal, and you can take what you want out of it- whether it’s a general message to keep going and speak out, or whether it’s something which actually means something to you in everyday life.

Genre: Realistic

Estimated watching age: 12 and up

Price on Amazon: The only one there is is a version from the Czech Republic… there are only two copies. Because of this some one has put it up on YouTube, which is where I watched it.

Director: Jessica Sharzer

Film certificate: PG-13

Names of the people who play the main characters: Kristen Stewart, Michael Angarano, Eric Lively, Hallee Hirsh, Steve Zahn

This is for Part One of the full movie- follow the links to other parts:

Rating: ★★★★★ One of my favourite ever films. Obviously just personal view, but it is really REALLY good.

Gingersnaps by Cathy Cassidy

I read Gingersnaps last year and I loved it.

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

Author: Cathy Cassidy

Main characters: Ginger, Shannon, Sam, Emily Croft

Rating: ★★★ A great book, dealing with issues which many people will be familiar with

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

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.

Brendan and the Secret of Kells

This story is set in the eighth century, an animated film about the creation of the famous Book of Kells, which is one of the most famous medieval illuminated manuscripts and is written in Latin.

Twelve-year-old red-haired Brendan lives in a small village, which is preparing itself for a Viking invasion. His parents are dead and his guardian is his uncle, an abbot and the head of the village. He is intent on building a wall all the way around the village to keep it safe from the Vikings and assumes that Brendan will help him. Brendan is an apprentice in the scriptorium and is good friends with the monks, who tell tales of Aidan of Iona, a great illuminator, who is working on the Book of Iona. Iona is a small island near Kells.

Brother Aidan later comes to seek shelter in the village with his white kitten Pangur Ban and the unfinished book of Iona. Wanting to carry on his work on the book, Aidan sends Brendan into the forest to look for berries to make green ink, even though Brendan has been forbidden to enter the forest by his uncle. He wants to impress Brother Aidan though, so he takes a bag and sneaks out through a hole in the scaffolding holding up the wall. He has never been outside the village before. In the forest, which looks menacing at first but is beautiful if you know where to look, he meets a forest spirit called Aisling. Aisling can control everything in the forest- it is hers. She shows him where to look for the berries and helps him climb a tree for the first time. To start with she is hostile towards him, believing that he has come to steal her forest, but soon she realises that he is just an innocent boy and she befriends him.

Trying to sneak back into the village, he is caught by his uncle and banned from leaving the abbey where he and his uncle live. Brendan finds it too hard to stay away from the scriptorium though, and goes there to see Brother Aidan and be taught illumination. Later he ventures into the forest again and meets Aisling, who shows him more of the forest- the parts that you can go into without a fear, and the parts that you can’t. Brendan makes the mistake of entering the temple of Crom Cruach, who is an ancient Celtic deity. It is like a cave, and he would have got stuck inside it had Aisling not saved him. Brendan finds out that Aidan needs his help to finish the book, as he is growing old and his eyesight is failing him. He has lost the Eye of Collum-Cille, which is an eye-shaped crystal that he had used to do the finer detail on his work (it acted like a magnifying glass). His ancestor had got it from Crom Cruach. He knows where he lost it- he was running away from the burning Kells and it must have fallen out of his bag. One of the attacking Vikings stood on it and it shattered as he ran for his boat to try to get away.

Brendan realises that the book can only be completed properly if he obtains the other eye, so he tries to get out of the village to go to the shrine to get the other eye. He is caught and locked in his room by the abbot, and as far as he can see there is no way out. But aisling manages to free him, and together they go to try and take the eye from Crom Cruach, not knowing whether or not their mission is going to be successful…

I really enjoyed this film. I first saw it at the London Children’s Film Festival several years ago, where I was a Young Juror. I had to review the film after I saw it on the big screen, so this is my second time reviewing it. I loved the way all the illuminations came to life and I loved the animation style, which was brightly coloured in the appropriate places but dark and terrifying in others.

The storyline was original and interesting, but my only complaint was that the voices of the characters are slightly emotionless, and it sometimes made me come out of the film and think, ‘This is very believable’. It is really a young children’s film, but it interested me and inspired me to look at some more medieval illumination. It could also interest adults, because the storyline is gripping and the animation is good. It’s the kind of film you might watch as a family or show to young children. It was amazing on the big screen! My favourite scene was when Aisling shows Brendan the forest and is comes to life it beautiful bright colours. I would have enjoyed this film more if I was slightly younger, but it was still very good and I definitely advise that you watch it!

Genre: Fantasy/historical

Estimated watching age: 8 and up

Price on Amazon: £5.67 for normal DVD, no BluRay that I can see

Producer: Tomm Moore, Didier Brunner, Paul Young and Viviane Vanfleteren

Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey

Film certificate: PG

Names of the people who play the main characters: There are none, it’s an animation

Rating: ★★★ I would have enjoyed it more if I was a bit younger but it is perfect for young children