Having just missed one hundred books in the first year of The Book Challenge, in 2010, I made the full tonne. Still reading, but without the challenge, take a look at the reviews for the books that I have read this year.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Book 13 - Geek Girl

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Geek Girl
Author - Holly Smale
Year - 2013
Genre - Teen Fiction
Pages - 356

This book was recommended to me by Rachel.  I had seen it displayed quite prominently in several bookshops over the past few months, and so knew that it would be a popular book amongst teens at the moment.  I cannot say that it is the kind of thing that I would usually read, and - if I am entirely honest - it struck me as a 'girls' book.

The book focuses on Harriet, a self confessed geek, who is dragged along to a fashion fair by her friend Nat, who wants more than anything in the world to be a model.  However, things don't go entirely to plan when it is not Nat who is spotted by the agents, but instead Harriet herself.  For someone who has always professed to hate fashion, how will she cope with the idea that she could be a model?

As I mentioned before, I approached this with the idea that it was a book for girls.  Whilst there is no denying that this is the prime target of Geek Girl, I have to say that I absolutely loved it.  Smale is a very talented writer who has created such amazing and likeable characters that it is incredibly easy to become fully absorbed in her world.  The storyline is not something that holds any interest to me, but through great writing and wonderful characterisation, I was so hooked that I read the whole book in one sitting.

If you are a teenage girl, then this is the book for you.  However, if you are not then don't discount it.  Reading books that you never usually would and loving them is exactly the kind of thing that makes this challenge worthwhile.


Book 12 - Twelve Minutes to Midnight

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Twelve Minutes to Midnight
Author - Christopher Edge
Year - 2012
Genre - Fantasy
Pages - 256

This book was recommended to me by Paige.  She decided after only a few pages that she was not very impressed by it, so I shall be interested to see if my opinions are different, or if her opinions change as she finishes it.

It is the late nineteenth century and Penny has become one of the most successful writers in London.  This is despite her being only thirteen years old.  Despite writing under a pseudonym, she quickly becomes caught up in mystery when all of the inmates at Bedlam Asylum start to write unusual things at exactly twelve minutes to midnight each night.

When I started the book, I was ready to agree with Paige.  To start with I am not sure that it is the most interesting thing I have read recently.  However, once I got past the slightly gothic nature of the beginning, I found myself getting more and more into the plot of the book.  The slightly magical nature of much of it was interesting, and I think the main point behind the book was excellent.  However, I did want things to develop far more than they did.  Everything seemed to come to a close a little to quickly, when I could see the potential for it to carry on for further than just this book.

As I understand it, this is the first part of a series.  I would be interested to see how Edge develops his characters, and despite being a little disappointed with some elements of this book, I would still give the next one a go.


Book 11 - Love Lessons

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it.  This one has a proper edit at the end as well.)

Book - Love Lessons
Author - Jacqueline Wilson
Year - 2007
Genre - Romance
Pages - 264

This book was the recommendation of Sophie.  I am aware of Jacqueline Wilson - she was my little sister's favourite author as she was growing up, and as a result there were loads of her books around our house - and I have read one or two of her books.  However, she is a very prolific writer so there will always be plenty more to go, and this was not a book that I had come across before.

Prudence and her sister Grace are home schooled by their overbearing father, but when Prudence starts to rebel against him, he suffers from a stroke.  Whilst he recovers in hospital there is no option for Grace and Pru to start at the local secondary school, but for someone who has spent almost her entire life being schooled from home, Pru has a lot of difficulty fitting in, and causes plenty of problems along the way.

Wilson is famous for writing books for children about real issues, and in that regard, all of the books that I have read before by her have done very well.  There are believable real characters and no punches are pulled when it comes to talking about the world.  However, I found this book to be less real, and at times rather uncomfortable.  Prudence herself is not a particularly likable character, and she starts to grate from rather early in the book.  You can understand why, but it does not do a lot to improve the readers enjoyment of the book.  As the story goes on it becomes morally dubious and I am not sure that it is a book that I would ever recommend.

As an author, Wilson is still incredible, and I would recommend that you try reading one of her books - maybe Double Trouble or one of the Tracey Beaker books, but I cannot say that this book was one that I particularly enjoyed or would suggest you read.

(edit:  The thing I didn't really want to go into here with regards to the review appearing on a blog for a year seven class, is that this book goes a bit beyond being 'morally dubious' as I suggest above.  The main thread of the story is about the lead character, a teenage schoolgirl, falling for her teacher, and him reciprocating.  I tend to believe that there is no problem with promoting some serious issues in books for teenagers, so would applaud this approach by Wilson - indeed something she is well known for doing - if it were not for the fact that she treats this as though it is something perfectly natural, and there are no consequences for anyone as a result of it.  I didn't like the insinuations behind this, and as a huge children's author, I actually found it pretty irresponsible of Wilson to suggest that it is the kind of thing that is not a problem.  It is treated like no big deal by the end of the book, when in actuality he is predatory and in real life his actions would have had a lasting effect on this girl. I can't believe that someone of Wilson's standing would not make a point of suggesting that anyone in that situation should talk to someone about it rather than thinking it will all be fine.)

Book 10 - Framed

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book - Framed
Author - Frank Cottrell Boyce
Year - 2005
Genre - Adventure
Pages - 320

This book was recommended to me by Brooke, and from the start was one I was looking forward to reading.  Boyce is a writer whose books I have been recommended several times, and he has become even more famous in the past year for having written a large part of the opening to the London Summer Olympics in 2012.

Framed tells of a boy called Dylan who lives in a town in North Wales.  His quiet life changes when an old mine in the town becomes the place in which incredibly expensive paintings are hidden by London's National Gallery.

The strongest part of this book is the characterisation.  You find as you read it that you fully believe in all of these unusual characters from a little Welsh town.  Dylan himself is a great character, and Frank Cottrell Boyce manages to mix together a strong character with traits of naivity and humour in order to make him an incredibly engaging person to read about.

Many of my friends who have recommended reading Boyce's books only started reading his stuff as adults themselves, and in that regard, despite this being a book aimed at children, I certainly believe that it can go beyond that and be read by anyone of any age.  I know that I certainly intend to give some of his other work a go.


Book 9 - Mr Stink

(note:  this is a review taken from the challenge that I undertook with my year seven class in 2013.  See here for my explanation of it)

Book – Mr Stink

Author – David Walliams
Year – 2009
Genre – Children’s Humour
Pages – 267

So, this is the first book that I am reading in this challenge, and it has been recommended to me by Vikki.  I know of David Walliams from Little Britain and Britain’s Got Talent, but was quite unconvinced that he would be able to write a quality children’s book.  However, as the illustrations come from long-time friend of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake, I was willing to give it a try.

Chloe does not have the happiest of lives.  Her bossy mother dotes on her sister, but pretty much ignores her, her Dad is powerless to argue against her Mum, and at school she has to deal with bullies making her life a misery.  However, she is a good person and takes the time to speak to a local homeless man, christened Mr Stink by the locals because of how he smells.  Could he help to change her life around for the better?

I admitted that I was worried about how good this book would be when I started to read it. Well I am happy to announce that by the time I had finished it, I loved it!  It has all of the same humour that you would find in a Roald Dahl book, with little asides to the reader, and even some graphs.  The story is as lovely as it is ridiculous and the illustrations provided by Quentin Blake make it feel like a classic of children’s literature already.

There is no denying that this book is aimed at children, and I would be amazed if any child were to read it and not love it (no pressure Vikki) but despite being (a couple of years) older than the target market, I found that I loved it, and for the second half, could not put it down until I had finished it.  If you grew up reading the books of Dahl, and loved The BFGMatilda,and The Twits, then you could do far worse than to give this book a read to be reassured that books of that quality are still being produced.


Some links from a side project...

Last year I was teaching a fantastic year seven English group. They were pretty able, and many of them really enjoyed reading. One of the main reasons that I wanted to teach English was because I think that young people should read more, and I really wanted to set a little scheme of work that would encourage reading.  Surprisingly as an English teacher, there is little scope to push reading for pleasure usually - you are so focussed upon making sure that everyone is reaching their target levels that anything aside from the work at hand is simply superfluous - but I made a bit of a point of trying to produce this and run with it.

The concept was simple.  In a term, each of them had to read a book and write a review of it.  In that time, I would attempt to read each of the books that they were reading and also write a review of each.  If they collectively read more than me then I would throw them a party at the end of the year.  If I read more than they did collectively, then they would do a handwriting lesson on the last day of term.  In silence.

I really enjoyed setting this up, and the concept was really well received, especially when - taking a cue from this little challenge here - I told them that I would post all of their blogs online. The problem was that the old levels issue came straight into play, and I didn't really find the time to push this like I would have liked to.  As a result, not many of them read their books, and I won the challenge with only about five or six books.  I'd love to run another challenge of this kind at some point where the pressure is less on, but I have no idea whatsoever when that might be, if ever.  In the meantime, I thought that it would make sense to transfer over some of these reviews to this book blog so that I have all of my books together.  Shall make a couple of minor edits (one in particular simply has bits that I want to say about it that I would rather have not put on a blog that all my kids were reading), but aside from that try and keep them similar to how they appeared on the original.

And if you are interested to see it, this is the blog for them with a few of their reviews.  As I say, sadly unfinished, but feel free to check it out!

Book 8 - Coraline

Book - Coraline
Author - Neil Gaiman
Year - 2002
Genre - Dark Children's Fantasy
Pages - 192

A quick little search shows me that I have never reviewed a book by Neil Gaiman here.  As I think through it as well, I realise that I have not really read many of his books overall.  Stardust was part of the original challenge before I kept the blog, but thinking about it, the only other Gaiman book I have read is Neverwhere many many years ago.  Something to rectify there.

Coraline is probably most famous for its stop motion film adaptation of a few years back.  I am not particularly a film person, so it is therefore probably unsurprising that I have not seen that, and would rather read the book first. Well I got round to it, and it was not quite what I was expecting.

Following a young girl called Coraline who has moved to a new neighbourhood, this book follows her to another world where everyone she knows is replaced with weird versions of themselves with buttons for eyes.  A strange concept for a kids' book, and yes, it really does come across as that odd when you read it!  I was surprised at the dark tone of what is a children's book, although the content is not particularly edgy.  All in all, a brave move for this kind of fiction, and one that has paid dividends with a critically acclaimed film coming off the back of it.

The only problem is that it wasn't really that interesting.  Maybe my age is to blame - if I'm honest I was reading it more for the Gaiman name than because it is aimed at me - but whilst there was no particular problem with it, I was simply not enthralled by what I was reading, and had it not been so unusually dark, I think it may have been something that I would not really remember even this short time after reading it.


Book 7 - Ultimate Avengers 2: Crime and Punishment

Book - Ultimate Avengers 2: Crime and Punishment
Authors - Mark Millar and Lenil Francis Yu
Date - 2010
Genre - Graphic Novel
Pages - 148
Lent to me by Chris Allum

Starting to work with Chris and discovering his massive love of superhero comics, along with his rather impressive collection, has meant that he has very kindly lent me some of his favourites.  Trying to enter the universes of Marvel is a tricky one, and having read the first X-Men comics and also the Avengers Disassembled graphic novel (I really need to get back on track of writing these in order!) Chris lent me one of his favourites - Crime and Punishment.

What is particularly interesting about this version of the Avengers, is just how dark they are.  Without reading everything is perfect order (a genuinely nigh on impossible task) I don't follow exactly where we are in the overall storyline of things, but this iteration includes the Hulk's mentor who is a gangster, a rude Hawkeye who is nothing like the films, an evil version of Spiderman, and as their feature attraction, the mass-murdering Punisher.  It's a far cry from the MCU films we have all seen of late, but it really whets the appetite.  There is such a dense amount of storylining to everything that Marvel have produced, that the possibilities for the films are endless.

In terms of story, this is good (focussing on the backstory of Ghost Rider) if not a stone cold classic.  What makes it a really good read is understanding some of these characters a little better - particularly for a relative newcomer such as myself.  I found myself wanting to get to know more about some of the characters who are on the periphery of the story (Nerd Hulk.  There is a character called Nerd Hulk.  And yes, those two words sum him up perfectly).

Universe reading such as with Marvel, and presumably DC as well (don't worry, Becky and James got me The Killing Joke for my birthday, so I shall be visiting there as well) can really hook you in, and I am very much looking forward to falling deeper down the rabbit hole.