Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Shorter Novels - less demanding

Two-Minute Christmas Stories
Retold by Elena Pasquali
Illustrated by Nicola Smee
Lion   £7.99
ISBN: 978-0745963297
A message of peace and goodwill at Christmastide runs through every page of this appealing book. As the title suggests it is a collection of ten short Christmas stories, gently retold, which includes the Nativity story taken from the Gospels as well as tales and legends displaying a variety of Christmas traditions from around the world. The large text and the playful illustrations on every page make this the ideal book for the young reader to dip into.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

The Snow Bear
Written by Holly Webb
Stripes   £7.99
ISBN: 978-1847152558
It is a few days before Christmas but Sara feels lonely and left out, staying with Grandad as Mum is expecting. To cheer her up Grandad builds her an igloo in the garden with a snow bear to guard her. Whilst it is still dark she wakes up in a magical world with a polar bear cub as companion. What has happened and how will she get back to Grandad? Another tender and gentle story for young readers from the pen of a best-selling author.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

The Hundred-Mile-an-Hour Dog Goes for Gold!
Written by Jeremy Strong
Illustrated by Rowan Clifford
Puffin (eB)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-0141339962
Another addition to the plethora of books with a sporting theme and by the end of the year there will be enough of them to fill an Olympic Library. But maximising commercial opportunities does not make a story poor, and Jeremy Strong has created a lively and enduring duo in 10 year old Trevor and his dog Streaker. They have that special child-pet relationship that will resonate with those of us lucky enough to have been brought up with animals in the family (and before people start picturing that unappealing cousin or pestering sibling, I do mean real animals, not metaphorical ones). The Animal Games are coming to town, and Trevor wants Streaker to shine. He has high hopes for the Doggie Frisbee competition, but Streaker does not have the soul of a dedicated athlete as he would rather play than train. It is a humorous story with a surprisingly complicated plot: it has a bully, a criminal hypnotist, and even a bit of (unrequited) love interest in the form of Tina, Trevor’s close and ever-hopeful friend.
Ingrid Fox

Guinea Pigs Online
Written by Amanda Swift and Jennifer Gray
Quercus (eB)   £4.99
ISBN: 978-0857389909
Coco and Fuzzy are two contented guinea pigs until Fuzzy ends up in the hands of Scarlet Cleaver, a restaurant owner who seems to be collecting guinea pigs at an alarming rate.  When Coco learns the awful truth – that Fuzzy and the others are on the menu for the Queen’s visit, she knows she must take action. With the help of techno-wiz Terry and other guinea pig friends, she faces the challenge. This action-packed tale will have broad appeal. 
Marianne Adey

Alien Invaders 7: Junket - The Flying Menace
Written by David Sinden, Guy Macdonald and Matthew Morgan (a.k.a. Max Silver)
Illustrated by Nikalas Catlow
Red Fox (eB)   £4.99
ISBN: 978-1849412360
Everything about this book will appeal. It has a vibrant, garish cover showing Cosmo, our hero, defeating an enormous alien robot and inside there are similar black and white sketches to illustrate the story. Cosmo Santos is an earthling agent who is on a mission in space and must save the galaxy from Kaos and the metallicon agents. The chapters are short, the font is large, and the plot is action packed.  Inside the cover there are glossy gaming cards to cut out and keep, or swap, giving information about the aliens.  The book is also supported by a “top secret” website with competitions, games and videos.
Ingrid Fox

Shadows under the Sea
Written by Sally Grindley
Bloomsbury (eB)   £4.99 
ISBN: 978-1408819449
This is Sally Grindley’s second book about Joe and Aesha who accompany their parents to exotic locations to help protect endangered species. In this book they travel to the Philippines where the children’s father has been invited to photograph seahorses in their natural environment to help raise awareness that these beautiful creatures are under threat. The Seahorse project is working in the area trying to persuade the local human population to protect the seahorses and their coral reef home. While on the island Joe becomes friendly with Dario, a local boy, and together they try to thwart a gang carrying out illegal blast fishing. There is a lot of information woven into this story and young readers will learn a lot about seahorses, life in the Philippines and the many uses of seaweed. The point is also made that in the poorer parts of the world people often carry on with illegal fishing practices simply because they need to feed their families. There is plenty to think about in this book and it would appear that there are more titles to come in this series, which is being produced in conjunction with the London Zoo.
Jan Lennon

The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School                             
Written by Sorrel Anderson
Illustrated by Nicola Slater
Harper Collins (eB)    £4.99
ISBN: 978-0007438679
Although it sounds great fun to have talking mice and a small elephant living in your office, Howard Armitage would disagree.  The Clumsies; eating-obsessed Mickey Thompson, his friend Purvis, along with Ortrud the elephant, try hard to keep mild-mannered Howard out of trouble with bullying boss Mr. Bullerton.  Unfortunately for Howard, their help causes nothing but chaos. In this story, the fifth of the series, Mr. Bullerton decides to be guest of honour at the local school’s sports day and sends Howard along to make the arrangements.  However, with the ‘help’ of the Clumsies, by the time Mr. Bullerton arrives, the school is partially flooded, the children’s lunches have all been eaten and Howard finds himself taking part in all of the races.  In this madcap tale each page is a joy with amusing illustrations effectively mixed in with photographs. There is an interesting use of typefaces for specific words - adding emphasis and often becoming part of the illustration.
Jane Hall

The Sprite Sisters: The Boy with Hawk-like Eyes
Written by Sheridan Winn
Sheridan Winn (eB)   £7.99
ISBN: 978-0957164802
Each of the Sprite sisters has a magical power related to one of the four elements – earth, water, fire or air. The girls’ magic must be kept secret and used only for good.  In this book, the sixth in the series, Ariel harnesses her power of Air to learn to fly and uses it to save her family threatened by an invasion from insect-like creatures.  This is a book for those who enjoy mystery, fantasy and adventure.  The story is pacy and the characters – 21st century Famous Fivers.
Ingrid Fox

Shrinking Violet
Written by Lou Kuenxler
Scholastic   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407130040
Violet has just achieved her life’s ambition because, at last, she is tall enough to ride the Plunger!! However, just as she reaches the head of the queue, she shrinks to fish finger size! Sadly, the family don’t actually see this happen and are totally mystified about where she has gone. After some frightening encounters with an earthworm, a rat and a rubbish bin, Violet finally returns to her normal size. As she is quite unable to control either the shrinking or the re-growing, this is a skill that Violet would definitely prefer NOT to have! However, when her Granny is accused of stealing from the other residents in her care home, Violet desperately wants to find out the secret of how to control her shrinking, so that she can uncover the real thief; and finally, she does! This is a really good, fast moving story, very funny at times, but with moments of pathos. It is full of memorable characters, good, bad and all shades in between and it certainly has a very satisfactory ending.
Pat Thompson

Dark Lord: A Fiend in Need
Written by Jamie Thomson
Illustrated by: Freya Hartas
Orchard (eB)   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1408315125
A Fiend in Need is the second in the devilishly funny Dark Lord series. The first book ended with the Dark Lord (now in the body of Dirk, a 13-year-old boy) trying to return to “the Darklands”, but the spell went wrong, sending his Goth friend Sooz there instead. This book opens with Sooz settling into her new role as Dark Queen, redecorating the Dark Tower to her taste, freeing the prisoners from the “Slave Pits of Neverending Toil” and making peace with the Dark Lord’s enemies. Meanwhile, back on earth Dirk is still trying to get home, whilst being under constant attack from his sworn enemy, the White Witch. Author Jamie Thompson has created a hugely entertaining series, where the ‘bad-guys’ are the ‘good-guys’ and vice versa. Anti-hero Dirk’s attempts to be ‘human’ are hilarious, as are the characters’ names e.g. the Ogre Lord, “Gallons Blubberbelly”. The schemes to try to get Dirk home are highly imaginative, not to mention extremely dangerous.  The action is non-stop, fully engaging the reader with the predicaments of the characters. Look out for the cleverly-comic illustrations. A Fiend in Need is laugh out loud funny throughout.
Jane Hall

The World of Norm: May contain nuts
      Written and illustrated by Jonathan Meres
      Orchard (eB)     £5.99
      ISBN: 978-1408313039
      The World of Norm: May cause Irritation
      Written and illustrated by Jonathan Meres
      Orchard (PB) £5.99
      ISBN: 978-1408313046
Norm thinks the world is against him! In the first two of this hilarious new series, nearly 13 year old Norm gets up to all sorts of scrapes and scams, but usually falls flat on his face.  Even his 7 year old brother can out-scam him!  Norm uses his best friend and naïve perfect cousin to his advantage, but comes a cropper against the devious girl next door.  Meres is a multi-talented author, script writer, stand-up comic and actor.  His Norm books are very entertaining and infectious for their pace and wit.  Text, fonts, and illustrations are creatively deployed on every page.  Even the most reluctant reader will be drawn to the world of Norm.
Dave Chant

What Holly Did
Written by Joan Lingard
Catnip   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1846471568
Joan Lingard triumphs again with this sequel to her story “What to do about Holly”. Holly’s parents have separated, with Mum living in Glasgow and Dad living in Edinburgh. Mum, together with her scary boyfriend, are far from responsible and reliable and so Holly has come to live with dependable Dad, but that doesn’t stop her worrying about her Mum. This is a heart-rending story about a young girl suffering separation and loneliness whilst longing for security and stability.
Sinead & Martin Kromer

Kensuke’s Kingdom
Written by Michael Morpurgo
Egmont (R)   £5.99  
ISBN: 978-1405264259
The stage and screen adaptations of War Horse may have brought Michael Morpurgo to a global audience, but this story of a boy shipwrecked at sea and washed up on a Pacific island still ranks as one of his best books. The complex relationship between the young lad and Kensuke has been compared to Crusoe and Friday in Defoe’s masterpiece. Kensuke (pronounced Kensky) teaches the boy how to survive so that he too becomes part of a paradise with its orang-utans, gibbons, palm trees, shells and caves. But where did the old man come from and why is he so afraid of leaving the island? Also, if the boy cannot abandon the thought of ever finding his parents again is he condemned to a life waiting for a ship to rescue him? Perhaps the message of the book is best summed up in Kensuke’s words “Life must not be spent always hoping, always waiting. Life is for living.”
Richard Monte

Raven Mysteries 6: Diamonds and Doom
Written by Marcus Sedgwick  
Illustrated by Pete Williamson
Orion Books   £9.99  
ISBN: 978-1842556986
The story starts with an extract from “Solstice’s completely secret and totally private diary” and from this we learn that Edgar the Raven has gone missing and, totally horrifyingly, Castle Otherhand is up for sale as the family has run out of money. Thankfully, Edgar does return, but saving the castle is not easy and Solstice’s attempt to find the fabulous lost treasure by casting a spell doesn’t actually seem to help at all. In fact, Solstice’s spell has a series of hilarious consequences such as a snowstorm appearing in the gallery above the small hall, all the stairs from the first floor to the ground floor turning to raspberry jelly and all sorts of strange creatures appearing inside and outside the castle. It seems Marcus Sedgwick’s imagination knows no bounds! Obviously fans of this series will love this book, but even if you haven’t read the earlier stories, this is still a hugely enjoyable read and Pete Williamson’s wonderfully gothic black and white illustrations add yet another dimension to the fun. I am sure that any reader new to the series will want to go back and read all the earlier books having laughed their way through this one.
Jan Lennon

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