Snapshot Review: VIII by H.M Castor

VIIIThis is a great book to pick up if you’re fan of the infa­mous Tudor king, no mat­ter what your age. VIII tells the story of Henry from a young prince through to his death and Cas­tor really suc­ceeds in bring­ing the prince to life, giv­ing emo­tion and moti­va­tion to her care­fully crafted char­ac­ter, while stay­ing true to his­tory.

There’s a lot to cover in just one book and inevitably some areas of Henry’s life are glossed over slightly, particularly some of his marriages. However, this is a period of history that has already been explored a lot – what’s fresh about VIII is that much of the book is based on Henry’s childhood and earlier years instead. It’s very much about the boy (and later, the man), himself, rather than the women in his life.

There is a hint of the para­nor­mal in VIII but it works well, Cas­tor is ambigu­ous enough to leave it up to the reader to decide whether Henry really was haunted, whether his upbring­ing and reli­gious beliefs led to his visions or whether he was a frag­ile young man, slowly going crazy.

An engag­ing story that I’d highly rec­om­mend for any­one with a love of history.

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Snapshot Review: Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy

Words in the DustWords in the Dust is one of those quiet, no fuss books that tend to get lost amongst the pop­u­lar, well-marketed titles. If I saw this book on the shelf I would, in all hon­estly, be put off by the old fashioned cover and prob­a­bly carry on by. But this is a heart­felt, intel­li­gent book and I sim­ply can­not praise it highly enough.

Words in the Dust, writ­ten by for­mer sol­dier Trent Reedy, tells the story of Zulaikha, a young girl liv­ing in worn-torn Afghanistan. The Tal­iban may be defeated, but Zulaikha is bul­lied daily and shunned because of her cleft lip. Until the day the American’s arrive and offer her a surgery that will trans­form her life.

Words in the Dust is a rich novel that flows so beau­ti­fully, giv­ing an insight­ful glimpse into a very dif­fer­ent cul­ture and way of life. It was heart­en­ing to see Zulaikha grow in con­fi­dence throughout the book and ultimately choose her own future. One of the aspects I loved most (and found particularly powerful), was how pro-women’s rights the book was, all the while maintaining a respectful understanding of a culture where girls and women do face a lot of limitations. To that end, the authors note at the end is also well worth a read. An excel­lent book for younger and older readers.

*Many thanks to Frances Lincoln Books for sending this for review*

Book Review: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

At first glance, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale sounds like an overwhelmingly girly book, but both the title, and the UK covers (not shown here), are a bit misleading. I’m neither a twelve-year-old girl, nor a fond reader of princesses and romantic fairy tales, but I really enjoyed this book.

Scenes of girls learning how to dance, gossiping over boys and getting excited over pretty dresses are few and far between. Instead, Princess Academy focuses on themes of friendship, loyalty, family, finding your place in the world and most of all, how education can open doors, with a little old-fashioned fairy tale feel-good on the side.

Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

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Book Review: Creepover Truth or Dare by P.J Night

Publisher: Atom

Published: 5th April 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 160

Genre: Horror, Paranormal, Junior Fiction

Recommended Reading Age: 7+

Rating: 6.5/10

Amazon/Goodreads

During a round of Truth or Dare, Abby Miller confesses her crush on Jake Chilson. The only people who know her secret are her friends at the sleepover – and whoever sent her a text message in the middle of the night warning her to stay away from Jake…or else!

But Abby isn’t going to stay away from Jake, especially not after he asks her to the school dance.

As the night of the dance comes closer, some very creepy things start happening to Abby. Someone definitely wants to keep her away from Jake. Is it a jealous classmate or, as Abby begins to suspect, could it be a ghost?

Creepover: Truth or Dare, while not something that can really hold my interest now, is a book I know I would have enjoyed in my pre-teen years.

Fans of R.L Stine will most likely enjoy this one – I devoured the Goosebumps series when I was a kid, several of which I found incredibly creepy (I seem to recall a dolls house one that I loved and hated in equal measures). I’d say Truth or Dare is a little tamer, it doesn’t quite manage to hit that level of creepiness that would make this a real memorable story but it’s quite enjoyable nonetheless. Continue reading

Book Review: Lilah May’s Manic Days by Vanessa Curtis

Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Book

Published: 5th January 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 176

Genre: Contemporary, Junior Fiction

Recommended Reading Age: 11+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Lilah May used to be angry. VERY angry. But not any more. She’s got her temper – and her life – back under control. Or has she? Things with her best friend, Bindi, are going from bad to worse. The whereabouts of her brother Jay is still a mystery. And gorgeous Adam Carter is still out of reach. Groo! Can Lilah sort out her family, her friendship and her love life? Or is her anger about to reach all new levels? 

Two years ago, Lilah’s older brother, Jay, ran away after she caught him taking drugs. Since then, no one’s heard from him or knows where he is. Eaten up with guilt and worry, with her parents not coping well and her now ex-best friend dating the boy she likes, Lilah’s struggling to keep her anger until control again. Suddenly Jay comes home after sleeping rough on the streets, but it’s not quite a happy reunion she always imagined it would be. Continue reading

Book Breakup: Sword of Light by Katherine Roberts

 

Sword of Light by Katherine RobertsI feel particularly bad about not finishing this, since Templar kindly sent it to me for review, and it seems like the kind of book I probably would have enjoyed as a kid. I’m not going to rate it, because if I did based on my own enjoyment it would pretty low and I don’t feel that is exactly fair, given that I not only didn’t finish reading this, but that I’m also roughly fifteen years older than the intended audience.

I have read and thoroughly enjoyed a lot of junior fiction, but this one, for whatever reason, just didn’t click for me. The writing was just too simple and I found the characters un-engaging. Unfortunately I couldn’t warm to the heroine. She was the kind of character who is incredibly naive yet thinks she knows best and basically causes a lot of bother for everyone else along the way. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, I found her bossy and difficult to like. This is quite a long book for its age group and I personally found the story slow going.

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Book Review: The Court Painter’s Apprentice by Richard Knight

The Court Painter's Apprentice by Richard KnightThis is an unusual story. While the writing is suited to its target audience, this short, historical novel has a sophisticated, intelligent and moralistic edge to it, that reminded me very much of the short novels I studied at school (which I used to enjoy, in case you’re thinking that’s a criticism!) I can actually see this one sitting among them quite comfortably.

‘Paint what you see, Johann; not what you think you see.’ This is the advice that Hugo, master portrait painter, gives to his protege, Johann. But Johann’s talent for painting the truth runs deeper than anyone can ever imagine. Johann soon discovers how changing the portraits he paints, can change the lives of his subjects- from fixing the pox-marked skin of a lowly serving girl, to changing the course of history by painting a petulant and spoiled heir to the empire as a noble ruler. But with the power to bring good fortune to those around him, Johann is soon tempted to change his own…

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Book Review: A Hen in the Wardrobe by Wendy Meddour

Publisher: Francis-Lincoln

Published: 2nd February 2012

Format: Paperback

Pages: 160

Genre: Contemporary, Junior Fiction

Recommended Reading Age: 7+

Rating: 7/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Ramzi’s dad is acting very strangely. He climbs trees in the middle of the night, and even goes into Ramzi’s wardrobe looking for a hen. The trouble is, he’s sleepwalking because he’s homesick for his native Algeria. So Ramzi, Dad and Mum go back to Dad’s Berber village in the desert region of North Africa, and Ramzi meets his Berber grandmother and cousins, and even braves the scary Sheherazad. But can Ramzi help his dad and what will happen when they get back home again.

Multicultural children’s books can, sadly, be difficult to find. A Hen in the Wardrobe is a fun, easy read for children, and despite its quirky title, is, at heart, about mixed families, cultural differences, community and acceptance. There are also some nice little spot illustrations by the author dotted throughout. Continue reading

Book Review: The Considine Curse by Gareth P. Jones

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 2nd August 2011

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Genre: Paranormal,  Junior Fiction

Recommended Reading Age: 9+

Rating: 8/10

Amazon/Goodreads

Meet the wonderfully weird Considine children and their very normal cousin, Mariel, and discover the dark secret at the heart of their family.

Until recently, Mariel had no idea that she had any relatives at all, let alone a pack of long-lost cousins. And perhaps there is a good reason. Because Mariel’s family are strange… very strange indeed.

I really enjoyed this children’s book by Gareth P. Jones. Far more than I probably should have, given that I’m about fourteen years older than it’s intended audience! Continue reading

Book Review: Plain Kate by Erin Bow

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Published: 1st September 2010

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 314

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Recommended Reading Age: 12+

Rating: 9/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square. 

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate. 

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.’

So I’ll admit, I bought this book purely because of the cover (isn’t it just lovely) and because its been a while since I read a really good children’s fantasy book that adults could equally enjoy.

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