Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_HallowsAnd so we come to the end of our reread and review of the Harry Potter series to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of The Philosopher’s Stone… The Deathly Hallows.

It’s often considered to be one of the best books and it is certainly a fan favourite. Equally the film version(s) is considered to be one of the best of the series…. it’s certainly one of my favourites. So how does it compare?
Deathly Hallows is a pretty hefty book at 607 pages and was split into 2 films, a slightly controversial decision at the time but fairly standard for book to film adaptations (Can we mention The Hobbit yet?!)

By and large the film did a pretty good job of parsing the epic story into a manageable time frame although it did necessitate leaving out a lot of the sub plots, for example, Dumbledore’s family background. I actually thought that the plots that were left out were chosen well, and the film series had been leaving out bits and pieces throughout which meant you couldn’t have everything a fan might want!

One of the things I loved about the book was the focus on the friendship of the central Trio. It really highlighted that friendship can be everlasting and yet still take work. Ron’s abandonment of Harry and Hermione, although hurried along by the Horcrux, had been foreshadowed in every book and I thought Rowling dealt with it beautifully- both from understanding Ron’s point of view and also dealing with the burden it placed on Hermione. The film added an extra dimension to this with the addition of the dance scene with Harry and Hermione. It’s difficult to get across the deep friendship between Harry and Hermione on film, particularly when so many other film adaptations have a love triangle at the heart of their romantic plot and I thought this scene, although not in the book at all, did an excellent job.
Ron’s return rewarded my faith in the friendship between the Trio and again, I felt the film covered the situation equally as well as the book. I remember feeling very relieved when I read that scene in the book… of course JK Rowling wouldn’t split up the Trio… not now, not when they need each other all the more!!

neville childMy favourite character in this book (and film actually) was Neville. Oh Neville, you who could have been the Chosen One, how I love your bravery! From book 1 where you stnland up to your friends to book 7 where you stand up to the most evil and dangerous wizard, you prove over and over that you are a true Gryffindor! In both the book and the films, little hints are dropped about Neville’s brave deeds- trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor, refusing to obey the Carrows and protecting younger students, undergoing the Cruciatus Curse (particularly daunting for Neville given his parents’ fate) and finally going in to hiding to continue the fight. Once the action gets to Hogwarts, his bravery really ramps up. His standing up to Voldemort at a time when hope was lost was braver by far than his dispatching of Nagini but both events showed just how far Neville had come from the boy who lost his toad (whatever did happen to Trevor?). I was really pleased that they didn’t cut Neville’s bravery from the film, although it was a tad altered. (On a side note, my dad always thought that it would have been a much better story had Neville turned out to be the Chosen One rather than Harry- views??)

I can’t write a review of The Deathly Hallows without mentioning the epilogue. It’s a particularly controversial aspect of the last novel with some hailing the chance to see what happens to everyone, and some deriding it as an example of fan fiction tropes of the worst kind. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do like that the series doesn’t just end with the fall of Voldemort but I can’t help wishing that we could see some of the immediate aftermath, it would interest me much more than knowing what Ginny and Harry’s kids are called (FYI, dreadful names….). It did raise a couple of questions- why exactly was Draco forgiven and not sent to Azkaban, being the one foremost in my mind! I quite liked the scene in the film, but I actually felt it was more out of place in the film than it was in the book. The ending of them on the bridge would have been perfect.

It’s a 5 biter for the book from me (and actually for the film but we’re not a film review site!)

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Harry Potter at 20- Fan Fiction Galore!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverIt’s a little hard to believe that the Harry Potter series is twenty this year… twenty!! It can’t possibly be that long… and yet it feels weird to try and remember a time when the bespectacled boy wizard wasn’t enchanting millions of children and grown-ups alike!

Kelly and I have been rereading and reviewing the books over the past few weeks for you but I wanted to address something else about the Harry Potter series… Fan fiction. I’d never really come across fan fiction before Harry Potter- it wasn’t really something that had crossed my radar. I think that’s partly due to the fact that the release of the first couple of books coincided with the burgeoning popularity of the internet and so I didn’t really have the opportunity to before. The main reason however, was my friend Clare. I met Clare at university and one of the things we bonded over was our love of Harry Potter books. She introduced me to the world of fan fiction and away I went!

Fan fiction is a little hard to get your head around at first… after all, if you love the books why would you want to read something that the author hadn’t even written? But people did… there were numerous websites, some dedicated solely to Harry Potter fan fiction, some covering fan fiction of all sorts of books, tv shows, films, and weirdly some real life stuff too!

Digging a little deeper into it, fan fiction becomes much more explainable, particularly in the case of Harry Potter.
JK Rowling had done a marvellous job of creating the fictional world of Harry Potter. The wealth of little details she has is testament to how much she dedicates to building a plausible world within which to frame her stories. Even the characters with the smallest roles to play, even the ‘walk on’ parts are well rounded and fit into the overarching story line. She drops in little details about people and places that seem completely innocuous and yet turn out to be pivotal in future plots. Her world building is on a truly epic scale.
And so, when it comes to writing the stories, there is a lot that she just can’t address. She can drop hints of back stories but never tell them, lay a foundation for a character’s motivation but never completely explore it and this is where fan fiction comes in.

IMG_1642So many of the fans want to know more. More about their favourite side characters, more about what happens when Harry and co aren’t around, more about the grownups at Hogwarts and how they got there. More more more!

Some fans decide to write this ‘more’ for themselves, some decide just to read (I fall squarely in the latter category) but Harry Potter fanfiction usually ends up having something for everyone.

The most popular types of fan fiction when I was reading tended to fall under certain categories.

The Maruaders- telling tales of Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs, these types of stories focused on Harry’s father and his friends when they were at Hogwarts themselves. Creating the Map, becoming animagi, James’ romance with Lily were all popular themes.

The Founders- harkening back to the formation of Hogwarts itself, these focused on the four Founders- Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff, Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin- and the whys and wherefores of creating a magical educational establishment. Often they featured romances between the founders.

AU- Alternative universes, often featuring the resurrection of a particular character (usually Sirius), or focusing on a world where Voldemort triumphs and Harry and co become freedom fighters.

Filling in the blanks/ alternative POV- These stories focused on minor characters and either told the story from their point of view, or told part of the tale unseen in the real books. Neville and Ginny’s resistance against the Carrows in the final year was a popular one, Colin’s POV of The Chamber of Secrets was pretty hilarious too.

Post Victory-  a hugely popular type was to write about what happened next. What happened when Harry had defeated the Dark Lord, grown up and faced other trials and tribulations contributed millions upon millions to the fan fiction databases  and covered all sorts of possibilities.

 

I’m certainly not saying that all Harry Potter Fan fiction was good, in fact huge swathes of it were absolute drivel, but every so often you would come across and sharply written take of Rowling’s world and it felt a little bit like knowing more…

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling

IMG_1643We are fast approaching the 26th June, which is officially the 20th (!!) anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. And our fond review of the series is coming towards the end as well. We have made it to the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and once again we have turned to fellow fans to give their feedback. Why not join in the conversation and let us know what you thought! Warning: spoilers below!

This book certainly seemed to polarise the people we spoke to. “I didn’t love Half Blood Prince. It felt like something I had to get to the end of just because I needed to know what happened,” said Clare.
“I thought It was all too angsty,” said Rachel. “I know that was the point of it, but it reminded me too much of stroppy teenager stuff that I’d experienced or seen. I suspect I wouldn’t have minded if I had been an actual teenager.”

Heather disagreed, seeing the angst instead as further demonstration of Harry’s growing maturity. “He is battling with his contending feelings of isolation and fondness for his friends,” she said. “This book is pivotal to the series and supplies an intense and dramatic read.”

“It’s definitely more of a grown up book than the rest of the series, but that makes sense seen as though Harry and co are in their 6th year at Hogwarts,” said Lauren. “I though it was a rollercoaster of a read; will Draco survive, let alone complete his mission? I couldn’t read it fast enough to find out! I finished the book having been through so many emotions I was exhausted but in a good way.”

“This is my favourite book of the series for a number of reasons,” said Claire. “For me it was a coming of age book, bringing together the whole reason for the tale. Harry finally realises what his destiny is and what he must do. He finds out exactly how Voldemort has bemuse so powerful and what a huge task it will be to find and destroy the horcuxes, finally defeating him. It also has the heartbreaking moments when Dumbledore dies, killed by Harry’s perceived enemy Snape, who turns out to be the eponymous half blood prince. I remember reading that passage twice as I couldn’t quite believe that Dumbledore was dead. I found this to be the most gripping book of the series, but unfortunately the biggest let down of the film franchise!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

IMG_1642The problem with reviewing Harry Potter, is that most people have already read the series. Most people already have their favourite moments and characters, as well as a favourite book. So instead of writing about what I love about the next two books in the series, I’ve turned it over to some fans to share their thoughts. Today it’s Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix and it’s fair to say, there were fairly mixed views on this one.

“Phoenix was pretty shouty,” said Rachel.
“It was a depressing read. Quite a negative book,” Beckie said. “I enjoyed it, and how it progressed the story, but there wasn’t much to lighten it. There wasn’t as much humour as the rest of the series,”
“I agree that Harry seemed quite petulant and shouty the first time I read it,” said Giles. “But then you read it again and you realise how traumatised he is from the events of the last book. He is suffering from PTSD, and to make things worse, no one outside the order believes that Voldemort has returned.”
Heather thinks this traumatic encounter changes all the characters we know and love. “We definitely see an increasing maturity and grounded dimension to the characters. As a result, Harry, Ron and Hermione encounter internal struggles and endure a new dynamic.”

The idea of an increased maturity within both Harry and the series itself is a popular one.
“I thought it really showed how the series had grown up. Much more than the end of Goblet of Fire did,” said Rachel.
Carolyn agreed with this, and felt the book showed us a new side to Harry. “To be able to examine the meaning behind Harry’s change in personality, the book has to be read very carefully. However, when you examine the truth, you discover how beautifully Rowling has described Harry’s thoughts and feeling and how they have affected, not only him, but those close to him,” she said. “It also shows how he deals with his past in order to protect the ones he loves from the dangers he is about to face. I would say the Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book in the series.”

But it’s not just the main characters who make an Impact in this book. “This is where we first meet Nymphadora Tonks who is one of my favourite characters,” said Mai. “She’s not only rockstar cool, but she’s a real romantic heroine in the Cathy/Heathcliff tradition.”
“Sirius Black,” said Clare. “I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.”
“For me it was all about Sirius,” Giles said. “Realising that Sirius was a sad and lonely wizard who missed his best friend, and thought he could get him back through his best friend’s son.”

“Delores Umbridge,” said Lauren. “I loved her yet hated her all at the same time. Surely only possible due to Rowling’s brilliant writing.”

“I loved how much more of the wizarding world we got to see,” Clare said. “Each book made it richer and deeper. But every book post movies suffered greatly from a lack of sharp editing, possibly because it had become such a genuine sensation by then.”

“The biggest book of the lot so far, yet I read it just as quickly as the others,” said Lauren. “I finished this one smiling!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_FireYesterday, Rachel eloquently stated her case for Prisoner of Azkaban. Today it’s my turn to explain why I think that the Goblet of Fire is the best book in the Harry Potter universe. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years, and a lot of them have described the book as “filler”. But for me, the Goblet of Fire is where everything changed.

The book begins, not on Privet Drive, but in the village of Little Hangleton and the Riddle House. This was the first book of the series to move away from Harry and Little Whinging, and as a result we are thrown straight into the action. As Frank Bryce steps into the house, describes the figures who are trespassing on the estate he has vowed to look after, it is clear he is doomed. Voldemort, Pettigrew, Nagini and the killing curse, all before the end of chapter one. JK Rowling had thrown down the gauntlet. This book was going to be dark.

For me, Goblet of Fire delved further into the minds of the characters than any other book before. Ron’s reaction when Harry’s name is pulled out of the Goblet of Fire is so real, perfect for someone who has lived for three years in his friend’s shadow. It is the book in which Harry is able to experience what it is like to have family, albeit one who is on the run from the Dementors. Future events will make this a bitter sweet experience.

We also learn a lot more about what the wizarding world thinks of Harry. Rita Skeeter and her ‘fake news’ are believed, because it compounds what people already believe: that Harry enjoyed his celebrity and would do anything for the attention. Even Ron fell into the trap of believing this was true. How else could Harry’s name have ended up in the Goblet of Fire?

But there is such fun within the book as well. The Quidditch World Cup (up to the bit where things start to go wrong), was brilliant. I would totally enjoy camping more if I had a tent like the Weasleys! I loved learning more about the other magical schools, and the descriptions of the Yule Ball. And I LOVED Mad Eye Moony, up until….well, you know.

I would like to clarify, for those who have just watched the film. Dobby gave Harry the gillyweed.

And then the ending. The death of Cedric Diggory made us realise that no-one was safe. Voldemort was back, and he wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his ultimate goal. Goblet of Fire was different to the books that had come before it. And after it, nothing was ever going to be the same.

5 Bites (obviously!)

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

IMG_1641And so we come to the third installment of the Harry Potter series. And my favourite. Book or film, number 3 always hits the top of the charts for me. I think it’s brilliant! I own three physical copies and a ebook. It’s on my wish list for audio-books to own but I have listened to it from the library several times.

I just feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is where Harry Potter really branches out and shouts to the world that here is a story for the ages.

Rowling herself said that writing POA was her best writing experience- her money worries were at bay, the press attention wasn’t too overbearing and she felt comfortable. I think that shows in her writing throughout. The little additions to the wizarding world she drops in, those little details that make it so easy to immerse yourself in a world where broomsticks and hippogriffs are perfectly legitimate ways to fly, and chocolate is the cure to abject despair!

Prisoner of Azkaban has the reputation of being the point in which the series becaomes darker, and in may ways that’s true. It’s certainly the book where you realise that Harry’s life will never be easy. In other series, the offer Sirius makes to Harry to come and live with him would mark the point at which he gains a trusted guardian and adviser and can really grow into his role as a hero. In Rowling’s world, it marks the point in which we realise that Harry has to overcome so much more than Lord Voldemort… he has to overcome everything life throws at him. I actually think that having Sirius make this offer, moments after Harry believes his story, and moments before he has to go on the run again, is the cruellest thing Rowling does to Harry over the whole series.

Plot wise, it’s a pacy book and I think the last of the streamlined books in this series. 4, 5 and especially 6 I find prone to bloat and it always makes me appreciate the efficiency of story telling in Prisoner of Azkaban so much more

I also love the characters in this. Lupin is a fabulous character, flawed and kind hearted, struggling with his inner demons and his principles. I do love him.
I also love the interplay between harry, Hermione and Ron. Their friendship endures despite the trials and tribulations of life.

It’s a 5 biter for me!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_SecretsAh, the difficult second book… Scrutinised and pored over mercilessly. Is it as good as the first? Is the author a one trick pony? Can the magic of the first novel be repeated?

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was one such book. The Philosopher’s Stone had been such a success that anticipation was high and scrutiny expected.

So did it hold up? What did the critics think?

The book was released on the 2nd June 1998 to a rapturous reaction. Critics were overwhelmingly positive citing Rowling’s strong plotting, her well-developed characters and her unflinching approach to the scarier elements of the story. They almost all gave the glowing commendation of not only being a book that adults would enjoy too, but more importantly, a sequel that was as good as the first!

Nearly two decades on and with the advantage of being able to look back on The Chamber of Secrets as a part of a completed series, reviews have generally become more measured and often it is not considered the stand out book of the series. In fact, a cursory search on the internet will often show COS as sixth or more often seventh in ‘Which is the best Harry Potter book?’ surveys, polls and votes.

In some ways, this position is deserved. The similarities in plot structure are glaring and occasionally distracting in a way that is not apparent in later books. The timely arrival of Fawkes in his dues ex machine role is a little too miraculous and too much is unexplained (if Fawkes knew where Harry was, then he clearly knew where the chamber was all along!)

But in many other ways, the release of the following five books has done COS a disservice. The central theme of tolerance of others and integration within a community are important topics to address within a children’s book and it is well done here. The continuation on addressing the idea of a person’s choices making them who they are furthers the overarching theme of the story and adds extra dimension to later stories.

I also feel that the more disturbing elements of the story announce to the world that JK Rowling is not scared to go dark, is confident of the ability of children to adapt to the harsher realities of life. And I think this is a good thing.

So Chamber of Secrets…. You’ve done a good job. You proved that Rowling wasn’t a one trick pony, you showed that strong characters and plots can be sustained, and you revealed a lot about the series overall that we just didn’t appreciate until later on!

4 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

cover96034-mediumIn one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Mexico, just twenty metres beyond the border with America, lives Faustino. A desperate orphan who’s just made a big mistake. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding for a gang he wanted to escape from. Now he and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.

He’s praying to Saint Death – the beautiful and terrifying goddess who demands absolute loyalty and promises little but a chance in return.

This is children’s literature unlike any I’ve ever read (embarrassingly I’ve no real excuse for reading as many kids / young adult books as I do!) It is aimed at older children, a mature eleven or twelve year old could read it but generally over 13’s. However this is 100% suitable for adults.

It is brash and brutal. And brilliant. There’s nothing I can fault about it at all, the storyline is terrific, the characters utterly believable and their dilemmas beautifully poignant, and the writing is clear and expressive.

What I love about reading books for young adults and children is their honesty. Children have a thirst for the truth, they don’t seem to want to deny the horrors and mistakes in the world the same way that adults do, maybe because they don’t bear the burden of blame for any of it. This is one of those books, a truth-telling book. It peels back the stereotypes of fiesta Mexico – Mariachi bands, Cinque de Mayo,Burritos, Pinantas and the Mexican Wave, and shows the pitiable lives of those living in poverty. But more than that, it shows their humanity.

It isn’t a long book, perfect packing wise for a holiday read. Forget the scandi noir this summer holiday and take this.

5 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverI can remember exactly where I was the first time I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was eighteen and in Mexico on a month long trip with schoolfriends. In a burst of teenage pretentiousness and a desire to bring a book which I wouldn’t read too quickly, I only had on me Dante’s Inferno (I know, right!) Shockingly, I found that this wasn’t the book to cosy up with in a tent after a long days hiking. So a friend lent me her copy of Harry Potter. It was three years since its release, and at the time I hadn’t heard much about it. But I do remember taking a train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and thinking I was like Harry on the Hogwarts Express. Except for the scenery. And the country. And the fact that I hadn’t just discovered I was a wizard. Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

We all know the story: An orphan child is being brought up by his Aunt and Uncle in circumstances that should have had Social Services hammering on the door; discovers he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by an evil wizard (so far, so Luke Skywalker); manages to defeat evil wizard with his mates. And we all can guess why children loved it so much: it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s got a giant dog with three heads. But why were there so many copies of it being read by commuters on their way to work?

Lets face it, it’s not the best writing in the world (please don’t hurt me!) It has all the ingredients of a children’s book- some cliches, a lot of adverbs. In short, not the kind of book that millions of adults would normally take to. But it’s got something so much more. It’s the hero’s journey: orphan boy discovers there is so much more to him than he thought, that he is a celebrity. We have Dumbledore as the wise mentor, Voldemort as the villain. It is nostalgia. Who amongst us didn’t want a letter from Hogwarts to arrive for us? It harks back to rose tinted schooldays, full of adventure and friends. It is warm and funny. I cheered when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig’s tail, celebrated the come-upance of the Dursley’s. I loved it when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, his first true friendship. And Christmas morning when Harry is overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving Mrs Weasley’s knitted jumper.

But there is a little hint of threat through it all, a warning that in this Mallory Towers- esque world, all is not safe. It drives the book forward. As adults, the magical world thrills us and we are desperate to be a part of it.

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

BOOK BATTLE! The Cursed Child

Who would ever have thought it would come to this?

image
Two BFFS, Bookeater Kelly and Bookeater Rachel, at odds over The Cursed Child!
Kelly loved it, Rachel hated it- how will they ever reconcile their friendship?

With a BookEater Book Battle of course! The literary version of a corridor death match pistols at dawn duel!
Who will open up a can of literary whoopass and emerge victorious?!

(We made efforts to keep it spoiler free but failed miserably towards the end… you are duly warned!)

 

Rachel: So, I didn’t like it. To start with, I didn’t particularly like the format. The difference between the richness of the Harry Potter books and this bare bones play was stark

Kelly: I agree with that, but it was never trying to be a book. It was published as a screenplay so it was always going to be different.

Rachel: That’s true but I didn’t consider it a positive difference

Kelly: I think it depends what you wanted from it. I loved the idea of finding out what happened to the characters afterwards, the “living in your father’s shadow” theme and the impossibility of living up to being the son of the boy who lived. For me, the characters made up for any lack in description.

Rachel: That’s interesting because I thought the characters and the theme were pretty terrible

Rachel: The characters didn’t seem to be in line with how they were portrayed in the books and I found the theme of living in your father’s shadow to be depressingly mundane

Rachel: I wasn’t expecting them to have been the exact same as in the books but I felt the fundamentals of their characters were different

Kelly: But we grow up and change. We aren’t the same people we are at school. I mean- you and I are awesome still, but for different reasons!

Kelly: And a lot of the actual stories in the original series are mundane, just set in a magical environment- like this one was.

Kelly: Although if you delve into Harry’s personality more, he was always filled with doubt about his wizarding skills, it’s just that now he doubts his parenting skills.

Kelly: I loved Scorpius!

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

Rachel: We do grow up and change but we aren’t witches nor are we the focus of an entire franchise of books devoted to making magic out of the mundane. That is what made JK Rowling’s stories so wonderful and that isn’t what happens here. Here the magic is burdened, is dragged down and is overwhelmed by the ordinary, the boring, the mundane.

What does The Boy Who Lived grow up and do? Erm, well actually he has a pretty boring desk job, three kids and a severely middle class, suburban outlook on life.

Wow what an exciting sequel. #snooze #evaporatedmagic

Rachel: Scorpius wasn’t bad. What did you like so much about him?

Kelly: I can’t help but feel that the play is much different and pulls on the magic more. Again, because it’s a screenplay we lose some of the description and background that makes it more magical. We only have the dialogue, and that’s never going to be able to incorporate all the magic.

Kelly: I thought Scorpius was a wonderfully funny character. He’s so the opposite of what you expect a Malfoy to be. I kept waiting for him to do something evil!

Kelly: I found it quite nostalgic. I can’t expand on that because of spoilers. Did it give you that feel at all?

Rachel: Not really to be honest. I felt a bit betrayed (or something slightly less dramatic!). I felt a bit like I did when I found out Father Christmas doesn’t exist (is that a spoiler too?!)

Kelly: (What do you mean? Father Christmas is real- I’ve met him!!)

Rachel: I agree with you on Scorpius actually. He was pretty funny and loyal, and I could see him being in the original extended gang. He made up for my disappointment in the neutering of Draco Malfoy

Rachel: Which to be totally honest was a process begun by Rowling

Rachel: (Oh, yes, OF COURSE he is real…..)

Kelly: It was- it began in the last book. When you are on the losing side, you are going to be neutered. But there is still the distrust between him and Harry.

Kelly: (Thank goodness! You had me worried for a bit!)

Rachel: Which I didn’t find believable. But again, this is really Rowling’s fault. He didn’t seem to have suffered any consequence in her epilogue for having been essentially evil albeit in a flawed manner so why would he here?

I found the family aspect of his storyline to be a bit affecting (although think it clashed with stated facts from the epilogue)

Kelly: Affecting in what way?

Rachel: I felt sorry for Draco because of what happened to his family (close to spoiler territory!). And his reactions felt real

Rachel: Which unfortunately just contrasted with how unaffecting I found Harry

Kelly: I agree with your comments on Draco, but disagree about Harry. I thought his actions were realistic and he made me react emotionally throughout the screenplay. I felt angry with him, a bit disappointed in his reactions (which I think was the point) and sad for him. Can I say that the bit I was most disappointed with was how small a role Ginny had.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Rachel: Yes! It was as if she was totally erased as a proper character!

Rachel: And they had such a good opportunity to show how the two characters had grown together and complemented each other

Rachel: Wasted

Kelly: Exactly. She was purely there to give Harry and Albus a sounding board, and to give them advice that they ignored. Such a shame.

Rachel: She could have easily been a brand new character for all of the emotional attachment I had to her

Rachel: Wasn’t massively impressed with Ron or Hermione either. The Trio felt missing. I couldn’t find that amazing connection and camaraderie they had

Rachel: And don’t tell me that it’s because they’re grown up and friendships change because we’re living proof that friendships can be just as marvellous, if not better, decades on!HHR CC

Kelly: Ha ha! We are living proof of that! But not everyone is as lucky as us, and doesn’t Hermione admit that work has gotten in the way and they haven’t been as close as they once were? Or did I make that bit up? I’m sure it was part of the story.

Kelly: But less of the decades please. We’ll stick to “years on”. It ages us less!

Rachel: Maybe I am biased because even when work and life gets in the way of us, we still managed to get through the, erm, several years on (!) with our closeness still intact.

I just felt that these three saved the world together; they wouldn’t let work get in the way

Rachel: Particularly as their friendship was SUCH a core element of the original story

Kelly: I do get what you mean.

Rachel: So I think I could have forgiven or got past most of my concerns (not really to the extent of thinking it was a good book/play, but at least to the stage of not regretting I’d read it) if it hadn’t have been for the plot. Not so much the main plot as I thought that was fairly decent. It was the addition of that character and their origin… You know the one I mean

SPOILERS APPROACHING!

Kelly: I do. I understand what you mean, but again I feel it draws on the themes of the play. Without giving too much away, you have Scorpius who is forging a path away from his father and is a good guy, Albus who is struggling to make a life away from his father’s shadow, and then the other person who just embraces their father’s character. It provides contrast.

Rachel: It provide contrast but in a way that completely undermines the character of the father, and as such, undermines a central concept of the original series. It’s difficult to not spoil things but this new character’s very existence contradicts a central aspect of the father’s core belief and the actions they take on those beliefs.

If they were going to introduce this new character, they could have done it a different way. They didn’t actually need to be that character’s progeny

Kelly: I don’t know how to reply without spoiling the book. I would say that I disagree and think that we don’t know completely that this would be against the characters core beliefs. In fact, it’s in keeping with the characters actions.

AND HERE IS WHERE OUR ATTEMPT AT A SPOILER FREE BATTLE GOES COMPLETELY OUT OF THE WINDOW!! BE WARNED!!

Kelly: But wouldn’t Voldemort have created her as another horcrux? There was nothing to suggest love between them

Rachel: The idea that he would feel enough human emotion to actually have sex with Bellatrix is baffling to me, but more importantly, it’s a distraction from his main purpose

Rachel: And it’s totally unrealistic that no-one ever found out

Rachel: And why did she confund Amos except that otherwise the rest if that story makes no sense

Kelly: But we don’t know Voldemort as well before he tried to kill Harry, there may have been aspects of him we don’t know.

Kelly: Maybe it was a turkey baster?!

Rachel: Ewwwwwww!

Rachel: I think it was sensationalism. Delphi would have worked better had she been the child of Bellatrix and Rodolphus and was trying to live up to her mother’s legacy and restore Voldemort for her

Rachel: Still fits in with the theme

Kelly: I do get what you mean, that’s a good way around it and makes just as much sense

Kelly: (Is it ok that this isn’t a battle, more a polite discussion of views?)

Rachel: (Yep, we’re bffs, we aren’t going to let a book bring us to fisticuffs!)

Kelly: I still really enjoyed this book, as a screen play. It works as that, it’s not a novel and shouldn’t be treated as one. I completely got your beef with “that” character and feel your solution is much better. Maybe you should write to JK?!

Rachel: Kelly hasn’t swayed me although I do concede that I’m perhaps too harshly punishing the cursed child for being a play rather than a novel. However, it was billed so much as the continuation of the original series, the ‘what happens next’ and I think it just gets so many things wrong. And the new character tipped me over the edge! (Seriously, I have SO many beefs with it!)

all-cursed-child-cast

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

hooJason finds himself on a bus on the way to The Grand Canyon along with the rest of the ‘troubled’ kids of the Wilderness Camp- including his best friend Leo and his girlfriend Piper. The trouble is he has no recollection of them or of his life. He doesn’t have long to dwell on the matter though as almost immediately they are attacked by a storm spirit. Fending the storm spirit off results in Jason discovering he can fly… well, control the air currents… and gets them rescued by demi-god heroes from Camp Half-Blood. Shortly afterwards the three find themselves on a quest to rescue an imprisoned goddess, save the world and find out who they really are….

The first in a new series by award winning author Rick Riordan, this book is a spin off from the incredibly popular Percy Jackson books. Whilst it is not imperative to had read those before this, it would certainly help.

Riordan continues with his tried and tested formula of mingling the ancient Greek myths with the modern world creating an entertaining, if surreal, hidden world of cyclopes, satyrs, spirits of the air, and gods and goddesses, both minor and major, meddling in the lives of the children of the gods- the Heroes of Olympus.

As a piece of YA literature, The Lost Hero succeeds in its aims. It imparts life lessons and history lessons all wrapped up in a pacy and humorous tale. The jokes may not be flowing all the time but the melding of the old world and the new provides much to smile at. The ages of the demi-god protagonists provide teenaged angst to relate to in a clean and wholesome manner and the lines of good and evil are blurred just enough to make the characters well-rounded and interesting.

Although much older than the target audience, I have nonetheless enjoyed reading this and have actually read two of the four sequels in quick succession. I have enjoyed the pace of the story- it is episodic and yet still feels like the story flows naturally. The characters are distinctive and not too perfect despite the fact they are heroes!
I particularly enjoy the references to the Greek myths and legends and have actually been inspired to look up several of them to see what they originally were.

3 bites and a recommendation to teenagers everywhere to get a copy of these books.

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

Northern Lights came out when I was in the middle of secondary school so I was just about in the age range it is marketed for… not that that would matter. Northern Lights has more than enough depth to satisfy older readers of this ostensible children’s book.

nlpp“Without this child, we shall all die.” Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

In this book (which not only won the Carnegie medal in 1995 but also won the ‘Carnegie of Carnegie’s’ when voted by the public as the all time favourite of the medal winners) Pullman weaves a magical, fantastical story with wonderful characters and locations so richly described, they feel part of the story.

In Pullman’s world, everyone has a physical manifestation of their soul- their daemon, an animal which represents their nature. Children’s daemons can change their form, not settling until the onset of puberty. Daemons are one of the elements of Pullman’s world that I adore- Not going to lie, I would love to know what form my daemon would take!

The issue of daemons, and of Dust – and the Magesterium’s interest in Dust- underpin some of the more theological themes of the trilogy, and are instrumental in making this book appealing to more than just the children it is aimed at.

The writing itself is elegant and rich, reminding me of a more interesting Tolkien- it’s the same sense of scale and depth to the world without the over abundance of detail that often renders the prose unreadable in LOTR (controversial, I know, but that’s just the way I feel!)

As the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, the book eases you in to this world and at the same time gets under your skin. I reread this trilogy an awful lot and think it’s one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

5 bites for this slice of magic

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Pottermore Presents… by JK Rowling

ppThere is usually much excitement and slight hysteria when JK Rowling releases Harry Potter books- midnight fancy dress parties, bookshop activities and huge media attention.  So it was a bit surprising at how low-key yesterday’s release of the three Pottermore Presents collections was. In comparison to the firework extravaganza of The Cursed Child only a few weeks ago, these three short reads were a bit of a damp squib (pun intended!)

And there is a reason for that… in my opinion at least!

pp2The three collections of information, biographies and short reads are mainly compiled from the content already to be found on the Pottermore website but with the addition of new writing from Rowling herself and promise to give extra insight and a new dimension to the existing Potter series.

pp3Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies cover a range of topics including PolyJuice Potion, Professor McGonagall, the Ministers for Magic, the Hogwarts Express, and Remus Lupin.
All in all, it sounds like three books of delight for any average Harry Potter fan…

So why am I strongly implying that there is the distinct aroma of damp squib hanging around these mini tomes of knowledge….?

Simply put, these three books contain very little in the way of new information and the vast majority of the writings can be found on the Pottermore website itself or, for the more motivated fan, in numerous interviews, web chats and Twitter posts with Rowling.

Yes the information that was included, and yes it was a delight to dip back into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I expect that’s trademarked somewhere!) but it feels a bit like cashing in to have released these books when they contain so little that is new and undiscovered. Given that the marketing of these books included substantial mentions of the ‘exclusive new content’, I feel a more appropriate phrase to use would have been ‘elusive new content’.
I have actually dropped my bite rating by two because of this- had the marketing information been more clear about the proportion of Pottermore content to new content, I would have been happier.

The content itself is well written, is interesting and really does help to enhance your understanding of some of the characters (although never those that are central to the stories!) and their motivations. It also really shows just how much world building JK Rowling did when she was writing- lists of Ministers for Magic, recipes for potions complete with why each ingredient was chosen, origins for even minor characters.

1 bite from me today- be honest, marketing people. That’s all we ask. (3 bites for content )

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Book 1 by Dave Rudden

I had to laugh when I read the first line on the title page of the kindle edition

Dave Rudden enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children

‘I’m in for a good one here’ I thought …. and I wasn’t wrong!  In my opinion adults and youngsters are going to love this.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Thirteen year old Denizen Hardwick has been raised in an Irish orphanage and knows nothing about his parents. He loves reading and is very good at frowning – in fact he has mastered a remarkable number of different frowns. He has no known relatives and no expectations so he is extremely surprised when he finds a note from Director Ackerby informing him that at 6pm he will be collected by his aunt. At 6pm a car does indeed arrive, a Jensen Interceptor, strangely though it arrives in the dark with no headlamps on and instead of a woman a tall and mysterious man gets out. Denizen is both curious and wary – after all even an orphanage can feel like home – but he willingly gets in the car  to be driven him to Dublin where he is told he will meet his aunt. A monstrous event occurs on the journey and fortunately Grey reveals himself to be rather more than just a chauffeur.  However the response  to everything that Denizen asks is merely that the aunt will explain. Bursting with frustrations and questions when Denizen finally meets his aunt he discovers that she is a Malleus, a warrior and a leader among the Knights of the Borrowed Dark who fights the tenebrous creatures that breach our world. Furthermore he discovers that he is not thirteen as he believed and that he too is possessed of unusual powers.

Clockwork creatures, monsters that shape themselves from objects, iron that runs through the body as well as the soul. Rudden has envisioned new magic and new enemies. This isn’t a Harry Potter rip-off; it is fresh, exciting and humorous.  The cost of wielding magic and the price of superpowers is skilfully portrayed and thought provoking. The writing is witty and sharp, and the action moves along swiftly but still allows for character development. The quality of the writing is excellent and the variety of imagery used for even simple events is delightful, these two particularly appealed to me.

“He ran gloved hands across the steering wheel the way you’d ruffle the head of a beloved dog” or

“A conversation with Simon had the soothing effect of a cool pillow”

This is Rudden’s first novel and the first of a series. Puffin Random House are publishing it and I fully believe that they have picked a winner because it is going to appeal to children and their parents, indeed I couldn’t put it down. I am so looking forward to book 2 for as Rudden wrote in his afterword “Onwards and downwards, to misery unending”.

5 bites and I want more!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

How whoopsey-splunkers!

I went to see The BFG last night. With my mum. I’m 34…

And it was wonderful. Not 1989 The BFG cartoon wonderful, but like I said, I’m 34 not 8!
One of the top contenders for best book in the categories of ‘Roald Dahl books’, ‘Children’s Books’, and ‘Best in Show’, the cartoon adaptation was also a favourite and this year’s Spielberg adaptation highly anticipated. Quite simply, there is something about The BFG that delights me.
Is it the heart warming story of two lonely souls finding each other, the triumph of good against evil, the story of a a downtrodden kindhearted giant finding the strength to fight back against his bullies, the hilarity of Her Majester the Queen’s household staff finding innovative ways to serve breakfast to a 25 foot house guest, the magical Dream Country and the idea of dreams being blown in through the window, or the satisfying conclusion?

Or is it the delightful, fantastical, tongue-twisting, squiff-squiddling language?!

I think we have a winner!! I adore the language used in The BFG, it delighted me as a child, a teenager, and now as an adult.

I thought I would share some of my favourite quotes/passages and spread the magic around a little…

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14697451671181469743775741In the words of the BFG himself… “The matter with human beans is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.”

But the language in the BFG makes a believer out of me…

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Today’s tragic teenagers

I was witness this week to a display of such utter ignorance of the unique magic of books that I was left wondering whether I had been sucked into a parallel universe where everything I hold dear is perceived as worthless.

It’s reading week at our tertiary college and one vibrant and passionate teacher has set about transforming an area into a book junkie’s delight. Colourful copies of a diverse range of extracts, shocking, amusing, saddening or uplifting have transformed a wall and virtually shout “Read me!” as you walk along. Tables are laden with books and magazines for borrowing or browsing, blind dates with the literary world lie discreetly packaged in brown envelopes for those who like a random pick and copies of brand new give away books are piled high.

I drew these goodies to the attention of my class of 16 year old students and said I would delay the start of our maths lesson just so they would have an opportunity to assess what they might want. There I was, anticipating the glee of children let loose in a sweet shop, so imagine my horror (if you can) when none of them even left their chairs!  Thinking they had misunderstood I repeated that all the books were free and that they could grab one immediately. No-one moved.  With a growing sense of bewilderment I tried again “Well when did any of you last read a book?” – general silence greeted me- “You must have read a book once” I tried. Finally one student piped up “The last time I read a book was in year 7”. A chorus of “yeah me too” comments echoed around the room. vicki pollard

Gobsmacked !!!!! My first emotions were sadness and pity for these girls who are missing out on one of the greatest pleasures life affords. The second wave of emotions was a combination of frustration and dismay. It is almost as if  the parents and  the education system believe that once a child has been taught the fundamental mechanics of reading then their responsibility is discharged.

In the USA the proportion of teenagers who “never” or “hardly ever” read has tripled since 1984 and a third of 13-year-olds and 45% of 17-year-olds say they’ve read for pleasure less than twice a year. Nielson books found in the UK that the percentage of non-readers in the age range 11 -17 grew from 13% to 27% between 2012 and 2013 . Yet research and analysis carried out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have identified that reading for pleasure at the age of 15 is a key factor in determining future social mobility, infact, it was shown as the most important indicator of the future success of the young person.

Surveys amongst teachers have regularly produced lists of the top 100 books they believed a child should read before leaving school. Time and again the same books are repeated. Many of these books and plays are classics but boy are they old. 35 years ago more than half of them were required reading when I in school and it seems little has changed; from Romeo and Juliet, via Pride and Prejudice to Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. Pride and prejudiceThe books are frozen in time but our teenagers are not; their expectations, their learning styles, their environments have all changed. In this media savvy, technological age confident enthusiastic readers may stick at books they find challenging or irrelevant but those who are less confident or who find it hard work are hardly going to engage in them by choice.  I know loads of young people who never read the set texts for an exam, instead they rely on the reading notes and a brief skim of the first and last chapters. The books simply don’t excite them and forcing them to study books they can’t engage with risks poisoning the whole magic of reading for pleasure. I say let’s stop imposing middle-class interpretations of what should be read and instead encourage all youngsters to read for pleasure before we expect them to read for education!

I asked my fellow bloggers for some thoughts on what they would like to see on a GCSE reading list and these are some of their suggestions.

Girl at War, Sara Novic

The Palest Ink, Kay Bratt

The Fault in our Stars, John GreenNeil Gaiman

The Harry Potter series, the Northern Lights trilogy, and just about anything by David Walliams, Neil Gaiman, or Roald Dahl.

What would you like to see as curriculum reading and exam material from ages 12 to 16?

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Ah summer holidays, a time to kick back, relax and read as many books as you physically can. I always, if I can, try to read at least one book that matches my holiday destination in some way, if not directly geographical… Murder on the Orient Express for the night train from Moscow to St Petersburg, Tara Road for a trip to Dublin, Coming Home for summers where I stay home. I can’t say they’re normally books which are quintessentially ‘of’ the destination but they’re always books which help to set the mood for my holiday.

Which is why, when I was deciding on books to take to the Alps with me, Heidi by Johanna Spyri came to mind.

HeidiImagine following in Heidi’s footsteps as she winds her way up the mountain trail (main road) accompanied by her somewhat difficult aunt (not very difficult husband) towards the mountain village (ski resort) and on to her final destination- a remote Alpine hut (nice hotel) to stay with her isolated and withdrawn grandfather(nice hotel ladies).

Imagine sitting in the attic (yep!) of the Alpine hut, watching the sun sink over the majestic peaks of the Alps, sipping your evening goat milk (cherry schnapps), excitedly looking forward to the next day’s excursion up into the mountain pastures to look after the herd of goats with Peter the goatherd and dance amongst the pastures of Alpine flowers (erm, well there was an hike up the mountains, and pastures, and flowers but no dancing… Ok, a bit of dancing… Ok, so I sang The Hills Are Alive whilst running through an Alpine meadow! There were no goats though!)

Heidi was one one of my favourite books as a child. The story of the kind, thoughtful little girl thawing her grandfather’s heart only to be torn away from her beloved mountains to go and live in Frankfurt never failed to bring a smile to my face and make me determined to a) buy a baby goat
b) somehow live in the mountains over a hundred years ago
c) be kinder to people

It is a book with many messages to impart to young children about working hard, what it means to be a friend, forgiveness and overcoming jealousy. The descriptions of the frankly amazing and awesome Alpine scenery may be the reason I chose to read it this summer, but the simple and sweet story is what will keep me reading for many years to come.

4 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Holy Cow by David Duchovny

image
Click through to get a copy from Amazon or pop to your local children’s book shop for a copy

Elsie is your average dairy cow, happily chewing the cud with her best friend and grateful for the relief the morning milking brings. In fact the only thing wrong with her life was her mother vanishing one day but then all the mothers do that so she can’t complain really.

Then one night she gets out of the field and ends up outside the humans window. They’re all sitting worshipping some kind of ‘box God’ then the pictures on the box God show Elsie the horrific meat farming practice and she realises what happened to her mum and what is likely to happen to her.

Elsie realises she must escape, she dreams of traveling to India where cows are sacred so her safety would be certain. But dreaming and doing are two different things and it isn’t long before she realises she needs some friends with the same dream. Enter Jimmy the pig, longing to travel to Isreal and Tom the turkey keen to escape Thanksgiving. Together they construct a solid plan, then they attempt to execute it.

The words we read here are Elsie’s, written as a book but with a keen desire to see her story turned into a moo-vie (sorry, couldn’t resist!) The manuscript includes asides to the audience, discussions with her agent, deliberate pop-culture references and suggestions to the eventual director on pretty much everything. Through this Elsie’s cheeky, irreverent voice comes through loud and clear. She is a great character for kids of all ages to read!

The biggest problem with this book though is whether or not it does really talk to those it is aimed at. It seems to me it supposed to be for kids and adults to read together, Elsie has deliberately included references for the adults to find amusing. That means it’s mainly aimed at kids between 6-10 years old. But the pop-culture references are mainly aimed at people of around 50, I’m 45 and I didn’t get most of them. Few kids of these ages will have parents in their 50’s.

The philosophy within it (mainly how humans treat animals but a little bit on Middle Eastern differences and similarities and what makes a life happy) is in my opinion, great. Kids should have the opportunity to know what happens and make their own decisions about how that knowledge impacts their life. Some of the information is graphic and is horrific, this isn’t Duchovny’s fault, it’s hard to pretty up factory farming after all. Which makes me think it probably does need an adult on hand whilst it’s being read. A lot of kids will have questions and they’ll need answers to those (hopefully they’ll get honest ones not just convenient ones!) So that makes this a book (or film) to be read by kids with grandparents or older teachers on hand – now that’s a niche market! Shame because it is pretty good, great characters, a lot of humour, some great illustrations and I think Elsie’s right – Jennifer Lawrence should play her in the film!

4 Bites (obviously of a vegetarian dish!)

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Books to enjoy with young children

Our book group is occasionally asked to review books that are aimed at very young readers and that can be surprisingly difficult to do when you don’t have any little ones to try them out on! I quickly realised that there is a big difference between a book designed to be read to a child, and an early reader book designed for the child to read. The books I have selected are those intended to be shared and enjoyed by adult and child together, this allows for a greater range of vocabulary and the illustrations often provoke additional discussion.

Enjoyment is a key so the tale must be fun, the characters can get into scrapes and there can even be dangers lurking, but the tale needs to be entertaining and pleasurable with elements that the child can relate to or they won’t ask for it again. Worse still is that the adult should find it a tedious and unsatisfying read.

Eat DirtballsRecent review requests to the blog have included the Read and Bake series by Erin Kurt and Laara Exsnar, story cookbooks aimed at getting young children involved in creating and eating yummy food. In ‘Celia and Cedric Eat Dirt Balls’, they have taken that instinctive childhood desire to play at making mud pies, and turned it into a great story. After the children have fun making real mud pies in the garden Celia’s mum takes them into the kitchen and shows them how to mix up edible dirt balls using peanut butter, chocolate powder, seeds, raisins and maple syrup. Nutritional information, the full recipe and instructions are all included at the end of the book to inspire the adult and child to cook together. However be warned, if your child wants to make the dirtballs after every reading you may regret letting them pick the story.

One ThingMany of the great favourites that stand the test of time, have educational aspects subtly embedded in them to encourage early counting, shape, colour or design recognition. This October sees the eagerly awaited new release by Lauren Child, author of the Charlie and Lola series. Titled ‘One Thing’ the author has created a new story around how children use, and sometimes confuse, numbers and their meaning. Child sees numbers as joyful and fun and as she says “part of the learning process is the discovery of patterns and experimenting with them…numbers are in everything, they are everywhere”.

A world-wide hit that has sold over 30 million copies since 1969 is ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle. It combines very simple text and illustrations with pages that have finger sized holes where the titular caterpillar has munched his way through. The story recounts the life-stages from caterpillar to butterfly, although the diet selected relates to the reader rather than a caterpillar. Images of fruit join with the use of numbers to encourage early naming and counting up to 5. HungryCaterpillar

 

A couple of other childhood hits to buoyantly survive the tides of children’s literature have been the 1983 Hairy McClary series, written and illustrated by Dame Lynley Dodd, and the 1999 phenomenon that is The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.Hairy McClary  Both stories make use of rhyming verse with repetition of key lines (so young children can quickly pick it up and join in) and humorous, detailed illustrations provide additional objects for a child to talk about. The Gruffalo A more recent addition to the rhyming stable is the hilarious offering by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort titled ‘Aliens love underpants’. My (nearly) 80 year old mum came back chortling her head off, after reading this series to children in a nursery. I had to get a set of my own they sounded such fun and now I can’t wait to have some little ones to share them with.Aliens love underpants

Rhyming verse is a technique often employed in books for the very young but the problem is that bad rhymes and disjointed rhythm can ruin the essence of the story. Where the message in the book is of greater importance than the humour then it can be a wise idea to stick with ordinary prose. Pigeonhole books is a new series of books aimed at introducing children to the many different types of family unit that exist today. The author’s objective is to show children that non-traditional family units can be fun and loving, and that when for instance, parents separate or divorce, the new family units created can be secure, reliable and loving too. A brand new dayWhile I applaud the author, A S Chung for her motives, I can’t see her books becoming wildly popular. While the story content and the illustration of ‘A Brand New Day’ are good I struggled with the rhythm due to the constraints of the rhyme and would have preferred it in straight prose. Nevertheless it could be a very useful tool in the right situation.

My all-time favourite story to share with a child on my knee, is a book titled ‘Sorry Miss Folio’ by Jo Furtado and Frederic Joos. Released in 1988 this delightful book starts with a couple of pages of illustrations without words. From the picture you can tell that it is Christmas and a young child has been brought to the library to choose a book to read over the holidays. January arrives and the text begins. Sorry Miss FolioAccompanied by a double page illustration for each month, the text wittily encapsulates the youngster’s latest excuse for failing to return this much loved book. The excuses range from the common and probable to the outlandish and creative as the year progresses. Each month begins with the phrase ‘Sorry Miss Folio…’. Of course Christmas eventually comes around again and the book finishes with a happy ending.

Reading to a child quickly progresses to reading with a child and it is a vital step towards developing that child’s love of literacy. It is a gift that works both ways and from my own experience I can tell you that it is one of the memories you will treasure most – long after they have flown the nest.

 

 

 

 

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Caretaker of Imagination by Z.R. Southcombe

Caretaker“Bored with his normal life, John Carroll runs away with his faithful cat in search of adventure. When he meets a real-life pirate, John realizes there is much more to the world than he’d ever thought possible – magic is real, and in desperate need of a hero.
John must convince the (once fearsome) Captain Simon Peabody to join him on a fantastic and perilous quest to find the only person who can save magic from being lost forever: the Caretaker of Imagination.
This wondrous tale harks back to the style of classic children’s literature. Perfect as a read-aloud, it is sure to delight readers of all ages.”

The above marketing blurb makes it pretty clear that The Caretaker of Imagination is a children’s book, and the plot and illustrations also make it pretty clear that it is a children’s book. I’m not really sure therefore why I read the whole thing unaware of this fact; it made for a very confusing read!

The storyline was surreal, the characters were peculiar, the illustrations were very good but added to the sense that I was reading a very mystifying  fantasy book for adults.  I even distinctly remember thinking at one point ‘This would be a fabulous children’s book’- then I read the author biography at the end, twigged that it was in fact a fabulous children’s book and felt like a total prat!

Of course it’s a children’s book- the characters that are peculiar and weirdly wonderful, the plot that makes all the sense in the world and yet no sense at all, the wonderful illustrations that catch the imagination, and the central message of the book itself…

I should make it very clear though, that at no point did I not enjoy the book despite the prat like misunderstanding…There was no way I was putting it down, it was compelling! I felt very invested in John’s story and the adventures he found himself on.

This is a 4 biter from me today… and at the time of writing was on 99p for a Kindle version on Amazon… go check it out!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Kitty Hawk and the Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

Kitty hawkKitty Hawk is just about to finish school and embark on a summer of science. Trained as a seaplane pilot from a very young age by her father, she is going to conduct an aerial survey of the habits and feeding grounds of humpback whales along the coast of Alaska. During her survey she notices a peculiar blue boat that appears more than it should and decides to track it down. This decision pushes her headlong into an adventure involving stolen gold, historical curses, kidnap and theft. Chuck in a bear attack, a climb over a mountain pass, and a Mexican standoff and you have the makings of a rollicking adventure story.

Definitely geared towards the tween/teen crowd, this book has a lot to recommend it. The heroine is quirky, independent, and resourceful if a little earnest and perky at times. She also has this strange habit of having proper conversations with herself which is slightly odd and distracting but in her defence she is on her own quite a lot!

The story is a bit slow at first, beginning as it does with a rundown of Kitty’s life so far. The inclusion of lots of details about her home, parents and friends seems a little odd as we then don’t see them for the whole rest of the book. As the story progresses though, it picks up in pace and enjoyability albeit dipping slightly in believability! Even though I am far removed from the target audience, I finished the book in one sitting, and did enjoy reading it. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d been 20 years younger but that’s hardly the author’s fault!

One thing that I didn’t like much was the fact that there were two prologues, one of which was never referred to or brought up again in any way. I suspect it may have been meant as a reference to the overall series arc of Kitty’s round the world trip but, as the prologue made a big deal of Kitty supposedly finding the solution to her fairly epic problem in the memory of her Yukon Gold adventure, I thought it was weird and a little annoying that there was no closure on that aspect of the story.

All in all, an enjoyable book. 3 bites

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Click to buy from Amazon or support your local independent book shop by popping in to buy it from them.
Click to buy from Amazon or support your local independent book shop by popping in to buy it from them.
Being the only boy left in a town of men is a lonely existence, even when you can hear everything everyone else thinks. Still it doesn’t mean Todd wants the dog he’s just been given, particularly when he can hear his thoughts too. Who wants to hear the constant requests to be fed or to go for a poo that stream from a dogs consciousness? A knife really would have been better.
Men hadn’t always been able to hear each other’s noise. It was a side effect from the germ warfare the Spackle had loosed on them just before Todd was born. The same virus that had killed all the females. Every single one.

Todd will soon be a man, and he is hearing snatches of things in the men’s noise that make him uneasy. Suddenly his foster dads force him to run away from home, pressing a knife into his hands, insisting that he is in great danger and making him take the dog, Manchee, with him.

This is billed as a Young Adult novel and I think it would be readable for kids of about 11 and over. However it is one I would definitely recommend for adults too.

Put simply this is a masterpiece. Patrick Ness is as talented a writer as Philip Pullman and as imaginative as J K Rowling. He has created an utterly believable world and populated it with a variety of realistic characters. Then he’s shoved in more danger and intrigue than a body can easily cope with. He’s a brave writer too and doesn’t shy away from the moral of the story or from doing what needs to be done.

I listened to the audiobook version of it and I found the reader and the effects of the noise fantastic. So good that I listened to the whole 13 hours + of it within 4 days! My daughter had read the book and when she heard a snatch of the audiobook she didn’t like it as she had a strong impression of Todd’s voice from the book. So it seems that whether you read it or listen to it you will identify with it very strongly. It’s due to be released as a movie later this year and I hope the film will create equally strong reactions!

It’s the first of a trilogy and I am absolutely going to listen to the other two – no matter how many times that Patrick Ness fella breaks my heart during it! I thoroughly recommend you do too!

5 Bites.

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

The Snow GooseIn 1940 between May 27th and June 4th a remarkable story of heroism and humanity unfolded on the beaches of Dunkirk. Hundreds of thousands of Allied troops were trapped against the sea, pinned between the English Channel and the German Army with little hope of rescue. The shallow, sloping beaches did not allow for access by the bigger boats to enable mass evacuation and although the stranded troops could be seen they could not be reached. Fishermen and yachtsmen from harbours and estuaries along the coast of England set out in many types of small boat to act as ferries between the beaches and the transport ships waiting to take the troops to safety. In one week over 330,000 troops were rescued and many tales of selfless heroism were told.

Philip Rhayadar, a small, stocky artist with a hunched back and a claw hand, has settled into an abandoned and redundant lighthouse. Here, safe from the judgemental assumptions and rejections of others, he paints the beauty he sees all around him. His works are “masterpieces, filled with the glow and colours of marsh-reflected light… the loneliness and the smell of the salt-laden cold, the eternity and agelessness of marshes, the wild, living creatures, dawn flights, and frightened things taking to the air and winged shadows at night hiding from the moon.”  Philip harbours no bitterness towards a society from which he feels excluded and he finds respite from the loneliness by caring for the exhausted and hungry birds that flock to the marshes in the winter. One day a young girl arrives bearing an injured snow goose and, overcoming her fear of the ogre that local legend makes Philip out to be, she and Philip work together to heal the bird and, in doing so forge a lasting link. This link draws her back to the lighthouse each winter with the seasonal return of the snow goose. Several years pass and Fritha becomes a young woman, but war has arrived and everything is changing, including how Philip and Fritha see each other. But their time has run out and Philip has set his heart on sailing his little boat across the channel. He is answering the call to save the men who are “huddled on the beaches like hunted birds, Frith, like the wounded and hunted birds we used to find and bring to sanctuary”. Their farewell has been criticised for its sentimentality and the fairytale transformation of how they each view the other, yet to me, there is still a touching poignancy with all that is suddenly realised left unsaid.

Like many people I was introduced to The Snow Goose as a child. I had no concept of where Dunkirk was nor what 330,000 troops would look like, but the story captivated me. My father gave me the book and told me it was a war story about the rescue of many, many men, so when I opened the cover and started reading about the wild solitude of the Essex coast I was convinced he had made a mistake. My 1953 copy has just 25 pages yet the story is neither hurried, nor lacking in description and the account of the actual rescue is related in snippets barely totalling five pages. The prose encapsulates the barren, forlorn and eerie atmosphere of the marshes in winter, where the only sounds come from the wild birds and the rushing wind. Dialogue is minimal until we come to the tales of the rescue, these are then related in a simple fashion and with little preamble, by conversations between a Rifleman and an artilleryman, and a pair of officers. The change in tone from the earlier prose reinforces the shocking contrast between Philip’s almost hermit-like retreat and the scenes on the war-torn beaches. Before you have time to realise it the story ends, the cycle of loss and redemption and loss again has completed another circuit and the loop is tied off.

I love this story, it is so short that I can devour it between dessert and coffee, but it is lodged in my heart. No matter how many times I read it I will still want to read it again, and I will still be giving it the perfect 5.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Least Envied by Sean DeLauder

The Least Envied
Click here to get a copy from Amazon
Andrew is in love, hopeless, unrequited love with the girl who sends him back in time. What’s worse is that he’s been sent back to a perilous wasteland and tasked with writing the biography of a young boy called Billy-Bob. A boy who yearns to be a hero but seems an unlikely candidate at best.

As he trails Billy-Bob towards the terrors of the West they are threatened by knee-high creatures called Wogs, an enigmatic beast known as the Forest Monster, and the man orchestrating the slow annihilation of the world, but surprisingly the naive Billy-Bob never gives up.

I was sent a free copy of this to review by the author and I’m not ashamed to admit I spent the first third of the book enjoying the writing and the story but no wiser than Billy-Bob or Andrew as to what on earth was going on! I felt a little like I imagine Lewis Carroll’s publishers on receipt of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – convinced of its genius but not sure I was able to keep up with it.

When I realised that it was like a lightbulb in my head came on and I stopped trying to understand it and suddenly it started to become clear. This book is an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for a new generation.

Like authors Lewis Carroll and Philip Pullman, or film director Darren Aronofsky, Sean DeLauder has created a marvellously weird landscape and strangely familiar yet fantastical characters that don’t patronise their readers but do lead them through parables and learnings galore.

It can easily be enjoyed by adults but I think reading this to kids around the ages of 8 – 10 is where it would really come into its own. But if you don’t have one to hand then read it to your inner-child instead.

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Little Parrot and The Angel’s Tears by M. Anu Narasimhan

little parrot
Click for Amazon
The little parrot lives in the forest with his friends. He is littler than all his friends, and often wishes he could be bigger. One day he spies smoke and realises there is a forest fire. Although he can safely fly away, his friends cannot and the little parrot flies back to help them. He cannot carry them to safety so tries to collect water with his wings to put the fire out. His efforts are spotted by Devtas (divine spirits that roam the earth) and one is so moved by the little parrot’s determination and love for his friends that he starts to cry, his tears quenching the flames and saving the little parrot’s friends.

This children’s book is written and illustrated by the same person and is based on a traditional folk tale that her grandmother used to tell her.

I loved this book. The illustrations are evocative and rich in colour, the story is suitable for young children and has a strong moral without being too earnest, and I enjoyed the rhyming the story was told in. I could definitely imagine reading this to my future hypothetical children, or, more immediately, babies that my friends and family have.

I, however, am 33 and not the 2-7 that the book is aimed at so I gave the book to two mini-Book Eaters to see what they thought.

Mini- Book Eaters Ben and Millie tuck in!
Mini- Book Eaters Ben and Millie tuck in!
Ben and Millie liked The Little Parrot and the Angel’s Tears although not as much as I did. They liked the illustrations and seeing the pictures of the characters, although at one point Ben did point out that the story mentioned the little parrot looking out of a window but the picture didn’t show any window! Children really do notice every detail!

Millie enjoyed the rhyming in the story although Ben wasn’t so sure. Laura, Ben and Millie’s mum, felt the rhyme was a bit forced at times and seemed aimed at younger children but then had some rather more difficult words which younger children would have struggled with.

IMG_2172

Although both Ben and Millie enjoyed the book, they definitely wanted to see more. They liked the essence of the story but felt it was over too quickly. Laura added that it seemed a bit of a rush to get to the moral of the story and so some interesting points fell to the wayside. Ben and Millie wanted to know more about other animals and the efforts to rescue them; they loved seeing the animals but wanted more engagement within the written story about them. Millie mentioned wanting to know their names etc.

A lovely little story to read to and with youngsters, I would give this 4 bites but have lowered it by a bite for Millie and Ben for a 3 biter overall.

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.