Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Four things I liked about The Adventures Of Eric The Spider

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Eric is scary, he’s hairy and he is a whole load of fun.

The Adventures Of Eric The Spider is a self-published picture book which follows Eric through three short, rhyming adventures. The first story introduces Eric, the second sees him go camping where he is forced to confront the great outdoors, and the final story follows him on his birthday. 

Here are some of the things I like about the book:

  • The illustrations are bold, bright and full of character. I particularly like the spiders. The illustrator has clearly spent time observing how spiders move. 
  • I like spiders. As a kid, I often felt like the odd one out, and I also felt bewildered by other people’s reactions to harmless critters. This story puts the reader on Eric’s side. I hope it will help some young readers to respect spiders for what they are. 
  • Eric gets into some humorous predicaments. Spiders are much smaller than humans, so there is scope for situations which would not be possible with a human character. 
  • The short sections offer high reward to less confident readers.

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR for my copy of The Adventures Of Eric The Spider. Opinions my own.

Disney

Disney: Favourite Villain Songs

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Think of your favourite Disney songs and odds are at least one of them is a villain song. Disney are brilliant at exploring the darker side of human experience. Most of the songs here are as equally about the protagonist’s temptations as they are about the villain. A good villain song should be catchy, it should tap into the dissastisfaction most of us feel at some point and it should give us a clue about how the story is going to pan out. The songs I’ve chosen, without fail, tell us about the villain’s agenda. I love the music, the animation and how they reveal more about the characters. 

Here are my five favourite Disney villain songs.

 

  • Poor Unfortunate Souls

Sea Witch Ursula agrees to give mermaid Ariel legs so she can live ashore with her prince. End of the story? It’s only the beginning. Poor Unfortunate Souls is where Ursula reveals the catch. Ariel must give up her voice and get true love’s kiss within three days, or forfeit her soul to Ursula for all eternity. This is one of the best Disney villain songs. It is totally relatable – who hasn’t felt they will waste away if they don’t achieve their greatest desires? The more Ursula insists her service is practically sainthood, the more obvious is becomes she knows exactly what she is doing. She is the archetypal snake-oil merchant, profiting from other people’s misery.

 

  • Be Prepared

Scar plans to overthrow his brother King Mufasa and murder his young nephew Simba. He raises an army of hyenas, promising they will never go hungry if they help with his plan. In this song he incites the hyenas into actions. It is pretty dark as Disney goes, not least because it shows how a political leader can rouse the masses into action. Scar doesn’t respect his hyena army – he openly insults them – but he knows they are integral to his campaign.

 

  • Friends On The Other Side

The theme of the song is very similar to Poor Unfortunate Souls. Prince Naveen believes his problems will be solved by money and connections. He wants to marry a rich girl. Dr Facilier offers Naveen a transformation, but the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. Instead of making him wealthy, Facilier and his demonic friends turn Naveen into a frog.

While trippy animation introduces us to the demonic friends, Dr Facilier’s voice remains steady. He manipulates Naveen in the same easy way Ursula manipulates Ariel.

 

  • We Are Siamese

A pair of cats cause trouble and are only prevented from disturbing a baby by puppy Lady. This song is the epitome of understatement. The cats sing about their finer qualities in the same breath as they plan trouble. Their refined manners act as a perfect mask. When Lady chases the cats away from the baby, the cats pretend to be victims and Lady is sent out in disgrace.

 

  • Mother Knows Best

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower. Mother sings a nursey-rhyme style song about all the terrible things which might happen outside the tower. This is another relatable song – every young person is forced to confront the fact that their parents can’t solve everything. The song shows us what happens if we don’t get past those feelings. Mother is loving and protective to an extent which is creepy. The sickly-sweet tune contrasts with clips which make mother look totally spooky. 

 

Do you have a favourite Disney villain song? Any characters without an anthem who totally need one? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Across The Divide by Anne Booth

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Extract:

‘You can use something to symbolize something else. You can wear a flower and somehow it makes you think about someone getting killed. Except maybe we are too used to the image of poppies now, and don’t really think about what they mean anymore.’

(Across The Divide by Anne Booth. P78.)

birdSynopsis:

Olivia’s Mum has always had a thing about pacifism. She has embarrassed her daughter before by turning up at school with a box of white poppies. Olivia wishes Mum would keep quiet. They live in an army town, and lots of people find Mum’s ideas offensive.

Now school wants to open a cadet unit. Olivia feels torn between her veteran soldier grandfather and her pacifist mother. Worse than that, her friend Aidan refuses to join on the grounds of pacifism, and everyone at school takes sides.

When Mum is arrested following a protest, Olivia is sent to stay with her Dad who is renting a cottage on the island of Lindisfarne. There she has time to think over her torn friendships and to find out about the strange boy in an overcoat who she keeps seeing around the island.

birdReview:

This had so many story lines I loved. There is the story of Olivia’s debate about school. The mystery of William, the strange boy who stays at Lindisfarne Castle. The other story I liked was the relationship between Olivia and her Dad. Olivia’s parents were teenagers when she was born and she has been raised by her Grandparents and her Mother. Dad went away to uni and never looked back. Now Olivia is 14 and Dad is ready to be a parent. I thought the story was fair to both Olivia and Dad. I felt able to empathise with the scenario from both perspectives.

The themes of division and loyalty felt relevant to the current political climate. The novel looks at propaganda, freedom of speech and how quickly our political beliefs divide us. It focused a specific issue – whether cadet units should be attached to schools – and showed how people in a community can turn against one another and resort to propaganda and hatred instead of reasonable debate.

I liked how the contemporary story was more important than the time-slip. Olivia’s brush with the past allowed her to look at the present in a different way. An enjoyable and thought-provoking novel which made me want to seek out more from the author.

 

Thanks to LauraSmythe PR for organising the blog tour and for my ARC. Opinions my own.

 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: All Of This Is True by Lygia Day Penaflor

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Synopsis:

A young boy lies brain-dead. The press are having a field-day, linking his story to a bestselling YA author and the gatherings she held at her Long Island home. Three teenagers sell conflicting stories to the press as each of them tries to unravel the events of the past month to make sense of what happened to Jonah, and their friendship with writer Fatima Ro.birdReview:

Your next binge-read. Think One Of Us Is Lying, throw in some observation of human psychology and three conflicting opinions. All Of This Is True brings the epistolary novel right up to date, with interviews, recordings, group chats and emails.

Who was Jonah before he came to prestigious private school Graham? What happened between the four teenagers and bestselling author Fatima Ro? Why is Jonah brain-dead? These questions are set up early on and I promise you won’t stop reading until you have the full picture.

This story is interspersed with extracts from Fatima Ro’s novel The Absolution Of Brady Stevenson. By the end of the story, Brady feels as real as any of the other characters. The result is we feel we know Jonah. This raises some interesting debates. It is difficult to discuss this in any detail without spoilers, but whatever we feel about Brady, we know nothing about Jonah. If we draw a conclusion from fiction, should we necessarily apply it to real life? This is one of the questions posed by the novel. 

Did Fatima Ro use the teens? My mind isn’t made up. She certainly didn’t think through the possible consequences if Jonah was identified. More interestingly, the media which vilify her is keen to profit from the same story, to the extent that the overarching voice in this narrative is not Jonah, or Miri, or Penny or Soleil or Fatima (who, incidentally, is barely more than a teen herself.) It is the voice of the interviewers.

A fast-paced and intriguing read. I recommend reading in as few sittings as possible to keep track of the different voices, and to allow the story to build.

 

Thanks to Lucinda for organising the blog tour. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Cold Bath Street by AJ Hartley

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Extract:

The Leech did not just kill the living. It had a use for the dead as well, a purpose both strange and terrible which was suited only to ghosts, a purpose beside which dying seemed like nothing. 

(Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley. P27.) birdSynopsis:

9.22pm. Preston Oldcorn is walking home from Scouts when a cold hand plunges into his chest. He finds himself stuck in a sort-of limbo world. Preston is merely dead, not most sincerely dead.

The same thing that threatened him in life is hunting the souls of young people in the afterlife. Preston must go through the local history of his home town and solve the mysteries of the afterlife before the shadow takes his soul. To do so, he must brave the scariest parts of town – Cold Bath Street and the Miley tunnel.birdReview:

A compelling ghost-story, and a love song to the Preston of the author’s youth.

This kept me turning the pages into the night. I loved Preston’s afterlife and his interactions with the other young people who had lost their lives. He meets characters from the ghost-stories of his childhood – the Bannister Doll and a squadron of Roman Centurions, as well as the more recently dead like his new friend Roarer.

Preston starts out as a brooding youth. He is cross that his parents won’t let him buy a leather jacket, cross that they make him go to Scouts and partake in other ‘wholesome’ activities. I love how his feelings change over the course of the story. There are strong messages about boys acting tough to cover their fear. Boys feeling the need to hide their emotions. Lots of recent YA has centred on girls and gender-equality, and it is lovely to find one which focuses on boys.

There are two interesting characters in the living world who deserve a mention. The first is Tracey, the girl who Preston haunts. I loved the dynamic between Tracey and Preston. The second is Nora Mcintyre, the church caretaker who has a particular connection to the dead of Preston. I was particularly intrigued by Nora. There is a brilliant twist in her story which is revealed in the final chapters.

The rule of thumb with YA is to write about the current time. Although I am not a teenager, and can’t talk for the teenage readership, I think Cold Bath Street proves that a good story can be set in any place and time. Preston’s cultural references are different from those of today’s youth, but his tedium at being young and lacking agency in his own life will be familiar to many. I loved the metaphor of being stuck in 9.22pm. Neither day nor night, child nor adult.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I have strong feelings about the ending. This didn’t spoil my reading at all – I love the final battle and the answer to the mystery. The part I want to talk about is the result. As this is only the final three pages, it doesn’t affect my recommendation in the slightest, but I would love to talk about this if you have read the book.

This is the first YA Novel from UCLAN Publishing. If they continue to publish stories at this standard, they are one to watch out for. 

 

Thanks to UCLAN Publishing and Hazel Holmes for my copy of Cold Bath Street. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor

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Joan Beauchamp Proctor was a herpetologist and museum curator who lived in the early 1900s. Her love of reptiles began as a small girl, and eventually became a career when she impressed the head of The Natural History Museum with her knowledge. She later helped to redesign the reptile house at London Zoo, giving particular thought to the animals’ needs. Joan’s life story has been told in this beautifully illustrated book by Patricia Valdez and Felicita Sala.

Joan Proctor was clearly a remarkable woman, and I love that her story has been brought to life this way. We are introduced to Joan as a child and fall in love with her as she takes her reptiles to school and dedicates her time to studying their scale-patterns. The pictures and the text really bring her character to life.

There is a two-page biography at the back, which gives more information about Joan’s life. This provides extra context to the story, and acts as a first source of information for readers who – like me – wanted to know more about Joan.  

img_5998The artwork is beautiful and fits the time-setting of the story. The people are drawn in an impressionistic style, and there is a big focus on the patterns of the reptiles.

I loved the picture of the Komodo Dragons in their enclosure at London Zoo. Pictures of animals in captivity are often shown from the human perspective – from the viewpoint of someone looking in. This picture is set in the enclosure. We look across to see a crowd of faces pressed against a glass window. This allows the reader to empathise with the animals.

This is a special and beautiful book and one which I will be keeping on my shelves. I recommend this as a biographical text, but also just for sheer enjoyment. I think young readers will love Joan with her crocodile and her Komodo Dragons.

 

Thanks to Andersen Press and Harriet Dunlea for my copy of Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor. Opinions my own.

 

Chat

Chat: Updating My Instagram

 

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I’ve finished spring-cleaning and there is no dust in sight.

 

Cleaning is an accepted part of spring. I have unhauled books, dusted the shelves and sorted my desk area. I thought I had a good job done. Then I logged on to my blog. A tired header, a boring Instagram feed and a whole host of misplaced commas.

 I may have finished cleaning my shelves, but my digital spring-clean has barely started.

This week I have worked on my Instagram feed. Instagram has never been my strong-point, but it had never occurred to me that it might be about more than the individual photographs. A quick Google suggested that I needed to think about the order of my feed. Google, that wise old genius, was right. My feed showed book after book after book, often in the same position.

Top tip: There are heaps of apps which allow you to preview your photographs as if you have loaded them to Instagram. Download one and play with different layouts. 

My first change was to mix book photographs with other objects. Bath-bombs, biscuits, and sunsets. I’ve got them all on my iPhone. I chose to use regular splashes of pink – one of my favourite and most photographed colours – between the book pictures. This broke up the book pictures but was still fairly restrictive in terms of subject. I chose to add a free choice for every fourth photograph.

I have been delighted with the response. I’ve had a couple of compliments, and more comments in a day that I used to get in a week. My Instagram may not be swoon-worthy, but it looks less sorry for itself. It allows more flexibility in terms of subject and reflects my ethos that being bookish goes beyond books themselves.

 

Are we following each other on Instagram? Check mine out at  @BookMurmuration, and leave your handle below. Look forward to seeing your pictures.