A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

Changing hands

It has now been almost 6 months since I started up this blog, and I’ve enjoyed it more than I thought I would! Because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, though, I wanted to play around with the design of my blog, which I found was much easier on Blogger. I now have my own domain through them, and am very happy with the design I’ve managed to put onto it.

Thank you to everyone who’s come to visit my blog here, but can I ask a huge favour? Please can you visit me on http://www.a-worldofwords.com now? I’d love to hear any feedback on how I’ve done with the design, and I’ve always loved getting comments on my posts! As I’ve started scheduling my posts a bit more, it’s harder for me to update both blogs, so here are the posts that are now just on my other site:

The Clock of Lifeby Nancy Klann-Moren (YA)

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld (YA)

ACID, by Emma Pass (YA)

And in the Morningby John Wilson (which also goes into the historical details of WWI) (14+)

Billy and Monster’s New Neighbor has a Secret, by David Chuka (4-8)

Divergent, by Veronica Roth (YA)

Thank you, and I really hope to see you here soon!!

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Perverse, by Larry Rodness

Perverse, by Larry Rodness
Published by Itoh Press

Perverse

19 year old Emylene Stipe is a second-generation Goth who, like every teenage girl, is trying to find her place in the world. One night she comes across an old painting in an antique store and is compelled to purchase it. When she brings it home , an image of a young woman appears in the sketch and then magically materialises in her apartment. Emylene nicknames her ‘Poinsettia’ and they soon become fast friends. But Poinsettia has an ulterior motive for her sudden and strange intrusion into her host’s life, which causes Emylene to question her whole belief system.

First off, I’m still posting on this blog, but I’ve actually just bought my own domain through Blogger – I’d love it if everyone could check out www.a-wordofwords.com, which has all my posts on it. I’ve done this as it’s a lot easier to play around with the design, and I’m waiting for some cool artwork to make my blog look unique to me.

Having been approached by Larry Rodness to review Perverse, I was intrigued by the blurb. It’s not often I read about Goths, let alone second-generation Goths!

Being honest though, I wasn’t overly impressed with the beginning of the book. While it wasn’t bad, I was a little disconcerted by the disconnected narrative of Emylene’s life that led up to the start of the plot. There’s setting the scene, and then there’s over-egging it a bit. I didn’t understand why such a big deal was made about Emylene being a ‘princess’ (except maybe to explain why she acted so spoilt), and certain characters (such as Nostra-Dame) have no bearing on the ultimate plot, so I’m sorry to say that if I hadn’t agreed to review it, I probably would have put it down.

However, upon hitting the middle of the book, the plot got decidedly better and I found it really enjoyable. It was fairly different to anything I’d read before, and I loved the idea of there being a certain part of town that offers your wildest dreams at night in exchange for a piece of your soul and a slightly hungover feeling. Then, there were different aspects of Goth lifestyle I found interesting and were explained well by Rodness. Once it got going, it was fast-paced, and Emylene became less annoying as she had more of a purpose. There’s also a sense of dystopia the further in I got (revenants taking over parts of town and slowly expanding), and you should know how much I love those by now!

So, while I admit it was a weak start, the book gets a healthy 3 stars from me for pulling it back and creating an unusual and interesting plot.

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Aberrant, by Ruth Silver

Aberrant, by Ruth Silver

Published by LazyDay Publishing

Aberrant

In the future dystopian society of Cabal, the government instills equality for all and offers its citizens the perfect system. There is food, shelter and jobs for everyone. The one requirement is to follow the rules without question, including the government’s match in marriage and “The Day of the Chosen”, a lottery that randomly selects families to conceive children as natural means hasn’t existed in generations. 

Following her eighteenth birthday, Olivia Parker accepts her requirement to marry her childhood best friend, Joshua Warren, and is eager to start her work assignment and new life when it all comes abruptly to an end as she’s arrested and thrown in prison. The only crime committed: her existence.

Olivia is unlike the rest of the world, born not from The Day of the Chosen. The truth haunts the government and puts her life in grave danger as one simple fact would destroy the perfect system.

With Joshua’s help, Olivia breaks free of prison and is forced on the run. Together they set out to find the promised rebel town in search of a new home and new life together. Their situation seems less than promising as they reach the town of Haven. New rules and customs must be adhered to in order to stay. Leaving would mean certain death in the large expanse of the Gravelands. Time is running out as the government mounts an attack to destroy Olivia and bury her secret with her. Thrown into a world unlike their own, they must quickly adapt to survive.

I was contacted by Ruth Silver, the author of this book, to promote Aberrant. In the next post will be an interview, spotlight and giveaway. She gave me a copy of the book to read, but it goes without saying that this review is honest.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was thrown headfirst into the action, first meeting Olivia when she is preparing for her wedding day. This piqued my interest, which was held right the way to the end. It was a brilliant dystopian plot, full of turns that I wasn’t expecting. It reminded me a bit of The Hunger Games and Brave New World, in that the government was very much in control – so much so that it could control the most intimate of features in its inhabitants’ lives. There’s a lot of uncertainty throughout the book as to what will happen to Olivia. She’s often not as safe as she would like to be, and feels the weight of expectation, the latter of which is something I think a lot of young adults can relate to.

I think what enhanced the book for me was Olivia and Joshua. Their relationship is written really well; as best friends with a complicated aspect thrown in, there’s the right touch of familiarity versus the unknown. Throughout, they work as a team, the realism of which I liked – it makes a change to the power games that appear in other YA books where sexual tension is at the forefront. Josh and Olivia have been raised in an environment where conception – and therefore sex – doesn’t happen, which made a really refreshing change. Even though they’re 18, the reader is able to see certain realisations bloom in their minds, and that was great to read!

When I interviewed her, Ruth Silver said about what inspired her to write the book:

Often, we as a society implement the use of vaccines, especially in preventing disease and now even cervical cancer. Of course the vaccines are all safe and approved by the relevant authorities for the country you live in. I decided to think a little further ahead, and a little darker. What if it was an epidemic where everyone was required to get vaccinated and testing had been shortened or barely done at all?

Hearing it put like that made me uneasy, because it brings home how potentially easy it could be for something to strike the world, and for us to find ourselves in a dystopia. I think stories such as this one, where it stems from a simple idea, are the most effective. Mix that in with great characterisation, a little bit of the supernatural, and a plot that twists and turns, and you’re sorted. A great read, thoroughly recommended.

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City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

Published by Walker Books

City of Bones

 When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder – much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing – not even a smear of blood – to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . .

I’ve seen several blog posts recommending this book – it seemed to me to be one of the ‘staples’ of YA fiction. Enough so that it has been made into a film, which will be released on 23rd August.

I’d say this book was a bit of a slow-burner. I was enjoying it, but I wasn’t whipping through the pages as much as I would usually – until the end, anyway. At the moment, I’m hating how much YA stuff depends on a romance, and I think I was a little wary that this is what City of Bones would be all about. Clary (short for Clarissa – knowing that helped me pronounce her name) has two love interests – her best friend, Simon, who is in love with her; and Jace, the new boy she meets. As this blogger here writes (which I agree with), the love interests are fairly stereotypical and underdeveloped. With this much ‘choice’, I thought it was fairly inevitable that the book would sink into romantic fantasy, which would not have impressed me. It was about two-thirds in, then, when the ‘twist’ starts to unfold (no spoilers!), that I was able to start properly enjoying it and let myself be taken along for the ride.

Not all the characters were developed fully (as I mentioned before), so I did find myself not caring when certain people were hurt (namely, Alec). Then there were some elements that weren’t fully explained. A good example is when Jace mysteriously knows it’s Clary’s birthday, although I’m pretty sure she never told him and nobody else, even Simon, refers to it.

However, the plot moved at a good pace and I was blown away by the numerous twists at the end, only one or two of which I was expecting. I was fully immersed into the world the characters moved in, and had great fun reading about their adventures along the way. I’ll definitely be reading the next books in the series, and may even treat myself to see the film, considering it’s out a few days before my birthday!

Speaking of the film, I’ve just watched the trailer for the first time, and I’m not sure. While I can see that she’s supposed to be seeing unusual things, Clary’s mouth seems to be wide open for the whole time! It does look action-packed though – what do you think?

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The second type of dystopia

Noughts and Crosses, by Malorie Blackman

ISBN: 0-552-54632-1, £2.32 from Play

noughts and crosses

Callum is a nought – a second-class citizen in a world run by the ruling Crosses…

Sephy is a Cross, daughter of one of the most powerful men in the country…

In their world, noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. And as hostility turns to violence, can Callum and Sephy possibly find a way to be together? They are determined to try.

And then the bomb explodes…

A friend recommended this book to me back when I was at university. The noughts are the white-skinned underclass, only 50 years out of slavery to the Crosses, the dark-skinned people that have the majority of the prospects and jobs. Sephy is the daughter of the Prime Minister, whereas Callum is a nought whose mother once worked for Sephy’s. The book alternates between the first-person perspectives of both characters, and together they tell their story, starting from when Sephy’s 13 and ending when she’s 18.

I realised today that there are two types of dystopia. The first is like The Hunger GamesIt’s an interesting idea, but still removed enough from our everyday lives that the message it sends is fairly subtle. Noughts and Crosses is the second type: the dystopia is near enough to life today to make one feel distinctly uncomfortable. And that’s what it did; the politics of Noughts and Crosses slapped me in the face. There are still enough issues with race and equality today for this book to be extremely relevant, which I can imagine is why Malorie Blackman wrote it.

The character development was brilliantly done, and I was able to empathise with the perspectives of both main characters. Their flaws were exposed as well as their strengths, so they were really believable. Reading it as an adult, I think I figured out pretty early on that the story was only going to go downhill for Sephy and Callum, despite what they might dream and I might hope. In that respect, I did find myself a little depressed in that all I could do is see how badly things went wrong – there was only a tiny glimmer of hope, which I’m not used to. I wonder how I’d have interpreted this story as a teenager?

Despite being saddened by the book, I still really enjoyed it. The message is clear but didn’t stop to preach – everything was put in context. The plot was fast and Callum and Sephy’s relationship was handled deftly, according to their situation. It was a gritty book I’d thoroughly recommend.

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Moving house

I’ve been so busy this week, having finally moved out of my parents’ house (again!). They’re moving house too, so we’ve been through the loft and I’ve ended up re-discovering many children’s books. They take up a shelf and a half of my bookshelf. I was expecting them to take up more space, although I haven’t finished yet and I left books that Caitlin, Lewis and Harry could read at my parents’ house. Obsessed, me?!

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The marvellous Quentin Blake

I heard on the radio that Quentin Blake was receiving a knighthood today. I’ve checked this out and can only find 2 stories on the net (with minimal details) to back this up, but it’s still worthwhile talking about him. After all, he did become Sir Quentin Blake in the 2013 New Year’s Honours List, and I’d think a child deprived if they hadn’t heard of him. (EDIT: It’s true – check out Twitter! @ClarenceHouse, @QuentinBlakeHQ or just see the pic here.)

As a child, I saw a lot of Blake’s work through his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s books, a staple of the average English classroom. Having done a little research, I found out that he used to be Children’s Laureate between 1999 and 2001, which is awesome. This blog post mentions more about some of his work, better than I could.

While I’ve decided to read some of his books as soon as I can – as I’m ashamed to say I haven’t yet – today’s review is going to be one of the books he illustrated for Roald Dahl.

George’s Marvellous Medicine, by Roald Dahl

ISBN: 0-14-131134-7, £15.99 for a set of 15 RD books, but also available in most places

gmm

George’s grandma has some pretty odd views. In fact, she’s not a very nice person at all. She thinks caterpillars and slugs are delicious and likes to crunch on beetles best of all. 

George can do nothing right in Grandma’s eyes, so when it’s time for her medicine he decides to give her a dose of his own special brew.

This was always my favourite Roald Dahl book, and I’ve re-remembered why now! It’s deliciously naughty, and everybody can imagine gleefully mixing up a concoction to make a disliked person yell “Oweeeee!”

A couple of years ago, I was an au pair in France for three children: a boy aged 9 and two girls, aged 5 years and 9 months old, respectively. I remember I had a little bit of trouble getting the children to settle down and listen to me reading a book, and alas, with the girls, I wasn’t actually successful. They were really intelligent kids, speaking French and German, with English as their third language. With the boy though – I’ll call him L, as I haven’t asked permission to use his name – he ended up loving this book. While there were some words I thought it necessary to replace so that he’d understand, he got really into it, and every day was asking me to read him another chapter.

It’s all slightly cheeky, and very funny. There have certainly been people over the years I’d love to make a magical medicine for, and I remember L getting more and more excited as he firstly wondered what was going to happen to Grandma, and then was fascinated by all the effects the medicine had.

There’s a real childish logic to how George goes about concocting his marvellous medicine, which I know appeals to many kids. She’s got rotten teeth, so he’ll put toothpaste in, and if that doesn’t work, he’ll paint them red with nail varnish. Genius! Here’s one of his ideas:

“The first one he took down was a large box of SUPERWHITE FOR AUTOMATIC WASHING-MACHINES. DIRT, it said, WILL DISAPPEAR LIKE MAGIC. George didn’t know whether Grandma was automatic or not, but she was certainly a dirty old woman.”

gmm gram

Quentin Blake’s illustrations really add to the story, particularly in the second half of the book, when the child reading it can see just how big the characters are getting.

The imagination is powerful, but even more so when mixed with these visual aids – see the picture to the right. I think the great thing about the detail of these illustrations – particularly Grandma’s face – is that you can project feelings onto them. In the context of the story it’s really easy to see her as a disgusting “old bird”, but if it was slightly different, judging from the front page you could see her as slightly mischievous too. Or is that just me?!

However, I’m digressing. For an adult reading the book, the words dance off the tongue just like George, imagining he’s casting a spell over his cauldron. I found that L’s attention was thoroughly captured and he loved hearing the ‘special effects’ of all the whooshes and woweeees. There’s also the magical and triumphant aspects – he’s somehow created this cool concoction that has meant he’s got his own back on his grouchy old Grandma and helped out his dad by enlarging all the animals. I think kids love those feeling of pride and revenge they get on George’s behalf, while at the same time getting vivid images in their head that they’ll remember for a long time – I know I did!

PS. I’ve just seen this awesome fact from The Puffin Blog:

When Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake worked together on The Enormous Crocodile in 1978, it was the perfect match. Quentin never knew anything about a new story until the manuscript arrived. ‘You’ll have fun with this,’ Roald Dahl would say. He’d then make lots of illustrations and take them along to Gypsy House. Did you know the BFG’s shoes were inspired by Roald Dahl’s own sandals? He sent them to Quentin Blake in the post!

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I’ve finally read some Dr Seuss books!

Having spent far too much money recently on buying some more books for the kids, I finally got to let them pick what they wanted to read from a nice new pile (of second-hand books, mainly – my bank account is already crying a little!). I was quite surprised to find that Caitlin and Lewis both went for a Dr Seuss book; Caitlin for The Cat in the Hat and Lewis for I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!. I wasn’t surprised for any bad reasons – it’s just that I’d also bought Giraffes Can’t Dance!, one of the World Book Day books this year, and I thought Caitlin would have been straight onto that one, seeing as she loves giraffes and dancing! I think on these books they loved the illustration on the front, and might even have been a little aware of the cat in the hat – I’m not sure! The illustrations in both books were awesome and really engaging.

Cat in the hat

The Cat in the Hat, by Dr Seuss

ICRWMESWhen the Cat in the Hat steps in on the mat, Sally and her brother are in for a roller-coaster ride of havoc and mayhem.

ISBN: 0-00-715844-0, £1.74 from Play Marketplace

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I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, by Dr Seuss

ISBN: 0-00-715851-3,  £1.74 from Play Marketplace

This celebration of the joys of reading encourages us to open our eyes and take pride in our reading, so we’ll learn lots of stuff and end up succeeding!

We started off with The Cat in the Hat, which went down really well with the children. They identified really strongly with the idea of the naughty cat and things 1 and 2, and were able to answer questions at the end about whether they would have told their mum if something like that had happened to them. For the record, they would have kept quiet! Lewis especially loved the idea of being able to carry all those items – I had great fun getting him to find certain things.

We then went on to I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!. This one started off okay – I was able to test the children on their colours at the beginning, They also liked trying to close one eye at a time! I had to stop a little for that bit, seeing as I can only see out of one eye, but they loved trying – Caitlin could only manage to close her left eye, haha! After this point, it went downhill though. Lewis lost attention, and while Caitlin was listening, she didn’t seem all that engaged with it. I think this is down to a couple of reasons. Firstly, for books aimed at their age range, I did find them fairly long, so expecting Lewis, particularly, to sit through 2 of them was probably asking a little much. Then, particularly with I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, I thought there were possibly a few too many American references for them to grasp. They barely know about English geography, let alone being able to grasp Mississippi!

I had a quick scan of blogs talking about Dr Seuss and found this one, which gave a list of good Seuss links. There were 2 that I think Caitlin and Lewis will love – Seussville and The Cat in the Hat Knows A Lot About That!I’m babysitting for an hour or so tomorrow, so I’ll probably try them out. I’ve also recently discovered the Me Books app, which features loads of Ladybird Classics, and is really interactive. I can’t wait to see if it manages to keep them quiet!

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A visit to Bristol

I visited my best friend in Bristol over the weekend. She’s mother to the beautiful Vanessa, who is now 2 months old, and starting to get her own personality. Wonderful! Vintee (my friend) and her husband also live with his sister and nephew, who is almost 4. I haven’t asked his mother’s permission to mention his name, so I’ll just call him N. He’s a really bright boy, and so well behaved! N had a couple of his books in his bookbag, which I’ll review below.

Firstly though, someone I follow on Twitter wrote a blog post looking for book reviewers. If that’s you, take a look!

Elephant, by Petr Horáček

ISBN: 978-1-4063-4030-3, £1.51 from Amazon Marketplace

Image

He’s fun. He’s big. He’s messy. 

He’s ELEPHANT. And he’s never too busy to play.

This was a really sweet, beautifully illustrated story that held N’s attention. There was enough repetition for him to be able to anticipate what was coming (and so join in more), but then a cute little twist at the end that left him giggling. Recommended!

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There’s an Ouch in my Pouch!, by Jeanne Willis & Garry Parsons

ISBN:  978-0-1415-0003-4, £2.11 from Amazon Marketplace

Ouch in my Pouch

What is the matter with Willaby Wallaby?

Why is he sobbing, and throwing a wobbly?

Read this bonza billabong rhyme and find out just why one little wallaby is so cross.

This book wasn’t bad, although I can’t say I was the biggest fan. There’s a lot of rhyming, which is good, but at the same time, they were  very easy to trip over. At one point, the words are arranged on the page to suggest bouncing, which looks good, but wasn’t the most practical thing when I was reading it – I kept missing words! N enjoyed it, particularly the repetition of certain phrases (such as “there’s an ouch in my pouch”, obviously!). However, in parts it did seem as though he was slightly glazing over. Vintee and I got him involved when we could, but whether it was the unfamiliar Australian animals or just that the story was slightly above his level, there only seemed to  be a half-hearted enjoyment. Still, it’ll probably be just fine when he’s just that little bit older!

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Where the books are

I’m on the coach to Bristol as I write this, so please excuse any bad formatting and lack of links – I’m using my phone! It’s National Libraries Day today though, so I’ve been reading, and I couldn’t resist!

I used to go to my grandparents’ house every half term as a child. Those memories include Baffins Pond, where we’d always go, trips in the local area (the historical ones were my favourite), going to see Poppa when he was a tour guide at Forts Purbrook & Widley, and many others. A fond memory is being taken to the library when they were holding children’s reading sessions; they’d have dress up days and get everyone involved. I remember a time when I dressed up as a pirate and told everyone my name was Jane. I was an odd child!

Maybe it’s because I don’t have any children of my own, but I never hear about events like that any more. Small libraries have limited opening hours, and just in general they appear to be fading out of social consciousness, which is a real shame.

I recently enquired to the library in Coulsdon about starting up, or helping with, a Chatterbooks group. The librarian told me that there hadn’t been much interest when they’d started one before, so it was probably better to contact a library like Purley. I’m not blaming anyone in mentioning this; I just thought it sad that, in an area where there was numerous primary schools nearby, no children were attending.

This is such a shame. Part of what I love about children’s books is doing all the silly voices and seeing the kids engage. I remember loving being read to, and also loved talking about books. That won’t have gone away.

Does your local library still do events like that? In this time of e-books and technology, what can be done to revive the library?

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Emmy's Mummy

and Harry's too!

Book Gossips

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