18 June 2011

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Bilbo Baggins is just a small hobbit when an unexpected party bursts into his hobbit hole, taking him on an adventure filled with excitement and mysteries. With Bilbo goes Gandalf the wizard, the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield and his eleven followers. In Bilbo’s path he finds a magical ring that helps them on their way to finding the greatest treasure of all time, which is guarded by the most ferocious dragon, Smaug.

Will Bilbo and his friends survive the dangerous adventure and claim the treasure they dreamed of? You have to read it to find out! I think this is a thrilling book and it is a Must Read!

Oscar Harvey age 10
Dorset House School, West Sussex

The above was written as part of a lesson about review writing – a lesson using the UBGs and their entries as examples. I think it works brilliantly (the UBGs on how to write reviews and Oscar’s review on how to enthuse about a book!).

17 June 2011

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

Amy has isolated herself from all her friends, and to make life even more dispiriting than it already is her mum has upped stakes and moved across America - pretty much as far away from their California home as you can get and stay on land. The plan is that Amy will follow her, driving across country with the son of a family friend. A family friend who not only is disconcertingly cute but who has an agenda of his own, and enough emotional baggage to fill the trunk of the car with some to spare. Though that's still less than Amy's...

So, what you have is a road trip with two almost grown-up teens, a trip complete with pictures of receipts from diners, tourist photos, diary pages, playlists of music that they listen to whilst on the road, broken-hearts, grief, despair and laughter as well as tears. But put all that together and what you get is one of the most warm-hearted stories I've read in ages. It's a story of hope that shows how life's complexities can be battled through and how friendship really is the most important thing you can find. I loved it, and thought about the characters long after the book was done.

Danny was sent the advance copy and he didn't fancy it, so maybe the cover appeals more to females than males, but certainly the content is readable by both and isn't cloying or girly or romancy. Or maybe it's a perfect example of don't judge a book by its cover (though I infinitely prefer this to the American version!).

Looking back (I read this a couple of weeks back) I want to re-read it already. In fact I want to pick it up and take it on a road trip, listening to Roger's playlists, adding in a little Elvis and eating at roadside diners. For a first time writer, Ms Matson? Well done, this is bliss in a book!

Oh, and again no vampires/ghosts/werewolves/angels! Yay!

11 June 2011

Indy reviews

I've just reviewed a couple of sort-of Young Adult books for the Independent - little piece on Mal Peet's Life: An Exploded Diagram ran yesterday, and Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls last month.

They're unquestionably two of the best books I've read in a long time. Both will win many things over the next year, and people will talk about them for a long time to come.

Meantime, please, please read them.


PS A Monster Calls has been reviewed on this blog already, too - there's a rave from Tessa here.

04 June 2011

Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

I loved What I Saw and How I Lied - as a teen novel it was fresh-looking, brilliantly insightful and beautifully written. That Judy Blundell had managed to come up with a story that was set in the past but that spoke so eloquently to the present was something I was a little afraid she wouldn't be able to replicate. Well, I needn't have fretted: Strings Attached is another wonderfully sophisticated, complex novel.

Set in 1950, but with the past told in snapshots that piece together like a jigsaw, this is the story of smart-mouthed redhead, Kitty Corrigan. With a tangled history that binds her more securely than she dreams, she runs away from a broken romance to find fame on Broadway. But success as an actress is hard to find and, lying about her age, she becomes a nightclub dancer, all the while trying to ignore the complex presence of her ex-boyfriend's father and the plans he has for her life. Kitty's hunger for love, for life and for success blind her to almost everything, especially to the fact that actions have consequences and that very little in life comes for free.

I loved this book, as it's a real novel (woo hoo, no magic, no vampires!), a real story, with three-dimensional characters and a nail-bitingly tense mystery. Sleaze and sex ripple through the book, but Kitty is - for all her would-be sophistication - an innocent abroad and none of the sex is overt. All the period details are delicious (Mad Men watchers? Read this now!) and the claustrophobia of an America waiting for the bomb to drop or the Reds to take over is satisfyingly evoked. The nod to David Levithan in the acknowledgements is just, though this is not a carbon copy of his style at all, as Ms Blundell is far too much her own writer for that - a writer with style, panache, a real ear for dialogue and a heart for story.

With the hedonistic world of clubs, dancers, gangs, McCarthyism and mobsters evoked with all the stark depth of Film Noir, String Attached reads like a movie, one that flickers in your head long after the story is done.

The one thing I'd have changed? The title - it really didn't work for me...