Young Adult Reviews

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

Review: Alex In Wonderland by Simon James Green

alex in wonderland

Extract:

I could have bought another bag of candyfloss with my last pound instead of wasting it on this massive disappointment. I shook my head, beating myself up about how Wonderland gets you every single time, like everyone who walks in has ‘sucker’ written on their foreheads.

(Alex in Wonderland by Simon James Green. P51.) 

 

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Synopsis:

Socially awkward teenager Alex is used to life being disappointing and he’s resigned himself to another summer of total nothing. Then he gets a job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland, and makes friends with the kids who work there. He even develops a crush on a boy with the perfect dimples – a boy who is horribly in love with a girl.

Mysterious and threatening notes start appearing around Wonderland, a park which is already under the shadow of debtors. Alex and his friends Ben and Efia start vow to save Wonderland and to bring it into the 21st Century.

Who could be guilty of the notes? Will Alex ever get a boyfriend or is he a lost cause? A hilarious contemporary novel which follows one summer in the life of a teenager.

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Review:

Roll up, roll up for another summer of boredom in a run-down seaside town. At least, that’s what Alex is expecting, but putting himself out there and making friends leads him into an adventure. Albeit an adventure which involves a tatty flamingo suit, a banged head and chasing after another hopelessly unavailable boy.

Alex is the socially awkward kid most bookworms relate to – or remember being. He’s painfully aware of his every mistake, every blunder, and he lives in fear of the next social slip-up. It was lovely to see a book which really explored how it feels to navigate the world in this constant state of fret. Too many YA characters appear impossibly sorted. We’re rooting for Alex to have his moment, but more than that we want him to find the right guy.

The arcade mystery was great fun, with a wide cast of characters who could have been responsible. As equally as I wanted Alex to get his guy, I hoped Wonderland would be saved. Wonderland is very much like Alex. Quirky, mildly embarrassing, and sometimes perceived as ridiculous but a place which has brought many people great happiness. Why would anybody want another identical development, even if it is sleek and attractive?

It is difficult to talk about the mystery solution without too many spoilers, except that it fits too perfectly with the rest of the story. There’s more too it than that, though, and Alex comes away happier and more confident which seemed like the most important thing.

A wonderful summer read which shows how friendship and excitement can be found in the least wonderous of places. Add this to your reading pile and prepare for a wave of nostalgia. Being a teen sucked, but wasn’t it magical? Another hit from talented writer Simon James Green.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK for my gifted copy of Alex In Wonderland. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

 

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Book badges: Build your own collection of bookish badges. 

Book badges: Build your own collection of bookish badges.

badges

Gone are the days when being a bookworm was a secret hobby.

Bookish communities are explanding, bookish merchindise is available and bookworms everywhere are proud to show their true colours. But how do you get hold of those badges everyone wears at book festivals which celebrate not only reading but individual books and authors? Where, actually, do you get bookish badges at all?

That was my question as a newbie blogger. Sometimes it felt as if I scrolled through pictures of lanyards filled with badges. Was I missing something? In those early months I felt as if I had missed out on access to a secret club which only true bloggers knew about.

Now look at my beautiful lanyard. And those are just the ones that fit!

I have always been a collector. From Pokemon cards and Beanie Babies as a child, to Lego sets and pin badges in my 20s, collections have always played a huge role in my life. It isn’t only about owning one thing for me. Half the thirll is in the chase. The other part is in finding different ways to organise my collections. During the 2012 Olympics, I worked in the shopping centre beside the Olympic park and gained a reputation as a ruthless hunter of Olympic pin badges. It was inevitable, when I became a blogger, that I would crush on book badges.

Some of the books on my lanyard were produced for sale. Others were made in limited editions around the release of a book. I even have a very special badge celebrating The House With Chicken Legs which is different to the ones handed out to the public. I won mine in a competition.

The bad news is you will never get every badge. Or even a fraction of what is available. The great news is the ones you get will become a record of the books you have read, people you have met and the places you have visited. Really, that’s the greatest thing about my lanyard.

Here are some ways to get hold of bookish badges. Happy hunting … I mean collecting.

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Book events

Book festivals like YALC, the Northern YA Literary Festival and YA Shot are brilliant ways to build your collection. Publishers set up stalls to promote their books and badges are often available on the stalls. They may also feature in goodie bags.

Badges are often available for sale too. I bought my larger Northern YA Literary Festival badge for the grand sum of £1. 

 

Pre-orders

Ordering books in advance is a great way to support authors. Pre-orders alert shops and booksellers that a title is attracting interest, and may lead to an increase in shop orders. 

As an incentive and a way to thank supporters, publishers sometimes run pre-order campaigns. Evidence of pre-orders can be sent in exchange for anything from a bookmark, a signed bookplate, an entry in a competition draw or even a pin badge.

I’m waiting on a The Paper And Heart Society pin as I type. 

Run a quick internet check or look at the publisher’s Twitter feed for news of pre-order campaigns. 

 

Exhibitions 

Children’s literature doesn’t attract as much museum space as it should, but when it does, the tickets sell faster than you can say Quidditch.

The Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library in 2018 saw fans from all over the world heading to London. That’s where my Fawkes the phoenix pin came from. Additionally, the Seven Stories centre in Newcastle is home to a vast archive of children’s literature material, and there is always something interesting on. The exhibitions even tour the country, if you can’t make it North. I have a big Seven Stories badge and a badge celebrating Where Your Wings Were, an exhibition about David Almond’s work. 

 

Meet the author

Meeting an author is, of course, a treat without a badge. The best reason to go to an author talk or signing is to hear about the story or learn about the author’s experience of the craft. 

However. Badges are sometimes available. 

Robin Stevens, author of the Murder Most Unladylike series keeps badges to badge the colours of her books. My Snowglobe, Whiteout and The Maker Of Monsters badges were all from authors, although that is no guarantee they will be available at current or future signings. 

Author events are amazing. Badges are a lovely bonus and a reminder of the day. 

 

Competitions

Competitions on social media are most likely to happen ahead of or around the release date of a book. Check out publisher pages and social media feeds from your favourite authors, and you never know. Occasionally there might be a giveaway.

 

Treat yourself

Generic book badges are available, and although they don’t relate to individual titles, there are some beautiful designs available. 

Additionally, badges often come in bookish subscription boxes such as Fairyloot and Owl Crate. If, like me, you can only drool over unboxing pictures of bookish loot, the Twitter #swagfortrade is regularly used by book box subscribers looking to slim down their collections. There are often items for sale. 

 

teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

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Extract:

I know what she means. Rescuing Lady MacBeth simply shone a light on a much bigger problem. And the worst part is we’re in the wrong … not only did we steal a chicken, we released three hundred more. What if we were seen? Claire will not hesitate to destroy us.

(The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher. P53.)

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Synopsis:

Molly’s life should be simple.

Instead her mother is moping in the attic and dating Gary ‘The Hulk’, her sister Polly is engaged to a boy with an IQ to rival a gnat and nothing is getting repaired because money is tight. Now her chicken companions have been sold to the shoddy local farm.

When Molly and her friend Tess rescue one of the chickens, they accidentally set hundreds of other chickens free. Then drama queen Claire Kelly doctors some video footage to make out the chickens were stolen in a wilful act of chicken hate crime.

Together with her friends and supporters, Molly sets out to prove the conditions on the farm are unacceptable. But will life ever be as mundane as it should be in a quiet area of rural Ireland?

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Review:

Cold Comfort Farm meets a rural Irish childhood. With added social media. This is the sweetest teen novel I have read in ages, and possibly the funniest. It shares the same charm and biting wit as the classic novel but throws in the sort of dysfunction and family changes faced by many teenagers today. And chickens. A whole load of chickens.

 Molly Darling is in many ways my teenage self. The kid who watches everything from one step back and keeps a running satirical commentary. She’s fond of the outdoors, less fond of people and happy to hide among the family book towers. Her wit and strong desire for peace and normality make her an easily relatable character.

 Unfortunately, she’s faced not only with the changes and dramas in her family (like her eighteen-year-old sister’s insistence that she will marry the latest boyfriend) but also with the challenges of social media, in the form of blogger-supreme Claire Kelly.

 The plot centres around Claire’s exaggerated claims, which she backs by editing different video clips together to prove the truth. This is a form of bullying which has become more common in recent years, with the rising interest in video editing. The cruelty is twofold – firstly that any viewpoint can be pushed with a bit of clever editing, and secondly that it can take one point and twist it into gold. In the story, a girl sneaking into a barn to rescue her pet chicken is made to look like a hardened criminal. Zoom in on a face and put the voice from one clip over another and presto. You can claim anything.

 Alvy Carragher calls this behaviour out by pitting antagonist Claire against a group of kids who genuinely have good hearts. Claire knows she has an audience and she knows what she is doing. I rooted shamelessly for Molly and her friends in their search for justice and kindness.

 This is a countryside book in many ways. Chickens are kept as pets and found dead at the side of the road. Although Molly’s vegan friends are persistent in their cause, there’s no shying away from why farm animals are kept. It is also a book about small communities, family life and people who work tirelessly for very little profit.

 I will be shouting from the rooftops about this one. It has just the right blend of heart, humour, and social commentary to make it last and, while Molly would probably prefer a quiet life, I hope it gets the noise it deserves.

 

 Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my gifted copy of The Cantankerous Molly Darling. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Board Book

Review: I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

Review: I thought I saw a … series by Lydia Nichols

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I thought I saw a penguin. Is it behind the sunshade?

A trip to the beach gets exciting as a penguin pops up in different places, while a monkey causes havoc in a supermarket. Everywhere is made more exciting by the appearance of an animal friend, and what better game to play than hide-and-seek. 

Slide the picture across, around and up and down. A sandcastle pops up, doors open and close and monkey slides out behind the shelves. These innovative sliders add heaps of fun as the animals are found in whole new ways. Readers will enjoy guessing and remembering how the animal will be revealed. 

There’s heaps of fun to be had on a trip outside. 

These books are not only great games, but they also introduce different things which happen in ordinary locations. Vocabulary is built as the reader is introduced to location-specific words like sunshade, beach hut and parasol. This will be absorbed without anybody noticing – they’ll be having far too much fun with the sliders to realise that they are learning. 

While the cardboard is sturdy and the sliders are friendly to little fingers, they also move in complex ways. It is recommended that this book is shared with an adult or older reader, and smaller readers might need help to manipulate the sliders. This is actually fantastic news because it helps develop fine motor skills.

A friendly and fun series which introduces readers to the outdoor world. 

 

Thanks to Templar Publishing for my gifted books. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

Review: The Big Stink by Lucy Freegard

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Charlie is a mouse with a big love of cheese, and he will go to any lengths to nibble the best. Parmesan, Roquefort, Camembert. Charlie’s stolen them all. Now his aspirations have increased as he sets his sights on The Stinker – a world-famous sculpture held at the Museum Of Cheese. 

Officer Rita is on the trail and she has a cat’s nose for criminals. 

Can Charlie turn his life around and find a way to sustain his cheese-nibbling? 

A laugh-out-loud story where the humour is all in the details. I love this book. As in the very best of heist fiction, the reader is on Charlie’s side. He may be a criminal, there may be no justification for his actions, but his dedication to cheese and daring antics win us around. Oh, and it helps that he is so ridiculously cute. Just look at those ears. I’d forgive him anything.

When he steals The Stinker – a parody of Rodin’s The Thinker – we are left on tenterhooks. Will he nibble it? Will there be a single crumb left?

Cheesy versions of famous artworks and hilarious locations on the detective’s board add humour, but they are background details. The humour is subtle and is also relevant to Charlie’s world. 

The characters are all friendly, round-faced animals who will appeal to readers brought up in the age of emojis. I love the variation in the illustrations between small vignettes and double-page spreads which detail the background. They look almost like little worlds made in cardboard boxes. It would be fun to use this book to inspire art, and to reenact parts of the story in a cardboard hideout or cheese museum. 

A cat and mouse story which will make you smile. This is a big hit and I will be looking out for more work by Lucy Freegard. 

 

Thanks to Catherine Ward PR and Pavillion Books for my gifted copy of The Big Stink. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu.

Review: The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu.

The dragon In The Library

Synopsis:

When Alita and Josh suggest a trip to the library, Kit is majorly unimpressed. What is there to do at the library? Won’t she just die of boredom? She’s reckoned without her own magical powers, the amazing librarian Faith and the dragon who lives beneath the bookshelves.

Suddenly the library doesn’t seem like such a boring place after all.

When it is threatened with closure, and the magic is threatened, Kit and her friends know they must do everything within their power to save it. Because libraries are magical places which should never be threatened by men in suits.

 

Review:

A magical adventure about the power of reading by prolific non-fiction author Louie Stowell. This is a story which will have broad appeal. Bookworms will love it because it celebrates that special magic which can be found in any place with bookshelves. People who dislike reading (at present) will relate to Kit. A bad early experience with words can be enough to frighten people away from a lifetime of magic. Luckily librarians like Faith know that people who are afraid of books are often the ones who enjoy a good story.

Kit is the Wizard. The one with special story-related powers. Not bookish Alita or polite Josh. This is an empowering message and it is particularly appropriate in a book which could be enjoyed by readers of all ages yet has a lower reading age than standard middle-grade books (like the early Harry Potter books or stories by Robin Stevens).

Deciphering the words is a skill. Getting into the story is very real magic.

The antagonist in this story is a businessman who intended to turn the library into a shopping centre. During my last year in London, my local library was reduced in size to accommodate a gym on the bottom floor. While this was far less drastic than the loses suffered by other communities, it still felt like an attack on the space where I had grown up and dreamed. Baddies, as bookworms generally know, don’t always have magical powers. In fact, they are usually very mundane people who can twist a situation to their advantage and back themselves up with powerful friends. Showing this all to real kind of nastiness in stories is important. Even if most people aren’t wizards, they can, like Kit, find good friends who also refuse to bow down to injustice.

Louie Stowell’s message is clear. Libraries are magical and those who seek to take them away are greedy, villainous tyrants. At a time it too often feels that all the power is in the hands of such people, this book offers a healthy dose of hope along with the adventure.

Black-and-white illustrations by Davide Ortu add extra sparkle to the story. He is especially good at bringing out the hidden traits of his characters. Librarian Faith looks like she is prepared for adventure at any moment, while Mr Salt has meanness brimming out of him like an exaggerated Lord Business (of Lego Movie fame).

A delightful story which states loudly and clearly that the magic of reading belongs to everyone. I’m looking forward to more fiction from Louie Stowell.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Dragon In The Library. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

Review: I’m Not Grumpy! by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler

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Everyone knows about the grumpy little mouse who lives in a tree. Everyone except Mouse, who doesn’t think of herself as at all grumpy. One day, she wakes to find a baby badger blocking her front door. Baby Badger is upset because he’s lost and he’s trying to find his mummy. Together the pair set off in search of the baby badger’s home. They join up with other animals, who discover that there is more to Mouse than her legendary temper.

A cute story about friendship, bravery and looking beyond the surface.

The grumpy woman down the road. That mean man who walks his dog near school. Such characters are part of the landscape of childhood and everyone can reference at least one person from their own childhoods. A running theme with these stories is how little is actually known about the person in question. They were horrible. We avoided them.

That’s how the story usually goes. Mouse is such a character and her temper is legend. However, she has a good heart and her determination is exactly what is needed to get Baby Badger safely home through the forest. 

The other animals learn to look past Mouse’s temper, and once she has been given a chance to make friends, Mouse feels much less grumpy than before. 

Gentle woodland greens and different leaves and flowers provide a peaceful backdrop to a story which has moments of real drama. Like all the best fictional forests, there is a sense that something could be lurking unseen on the edges and as more animals join the mission we feel happier about their chances of getting through safely. 

The characters are painted with such relatable facial expressions. There is never any doubt about how they are feeling and this opens up lots of conversation about what is going on inside their minds. 

A brilliant story which reminds us that the best of friendships don’t always start with a friendly face. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of I’m Not Grumpy. Opinions my own.