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Pea’s Book of Best Friends by Susie Day

Pea’s Book of Best Friends
Written by Susie Day
Price: £4.99
Recommended age: 8-11

There’s a new family in town, and if you liked Hilary McKay’s Casson family (as I did), you will love the Llewellyn sisters and their author mother. When Pea Llewellyn’s Mum becomes famous children’s author Marina Cove, it seems as if the good times have begun for the girls, starting with a move from their most recent home in Tenby to a proper house in London. But life in the capital isn’t as glamorous or as easy as they had hoped, despite the hilarious Brazilian-Cockney home-help Vitoria and the mysterious Sam next door. As each of the girls struggles in their own way to adjust and make new friends, they hatch a plan to ruin their London life for good and return home…
There’s something effortless about a really good story, and Pea’s Book of Best Friends has that quality in spades. From the loving but not-quite-coping mother and her three children from different fathers, the female doctors next door and their two adopted children, twin boy and girl both called Sam, to the girls themselves – Pea, Clover and the frankly terrifying seven-year-old Tinkerbell, these characters are warm, real and totally satisfying. A fantastic read.

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Breathe by Sarah Crossan

Breathe
Written by Sarah Crossan
Price: £6.99
Recommended age: 11-17

I have to be honest, I thought I was really over the whole dystopian thing. When every YA book you pick up has that word on the back, it gets a teeny bit boring. After all, how many ways can people dream up for the world to end? So I was as surprised as anyone that the premise for Breathe made me want to read on.
The idea is that human beings have messed up the world so badly (an idea that isn’t flogged to death – it isn’t a bleeding heart kind of book) that oxygen levels have dropped so low that only the select few are saved to live in the pod, while everyone else has been abandoned to suffocate on the outside. Years later, society is still divided into the haves and the have-nots: the Premiums, with free access to all the air they need, and the Auxiliaries, whose air use is strictly rationed and who are threatened with expulsion from the pod if they step out of line. But there are also rebels, determined to bring back the trees and rebuild life outside.
This is the story of a Premium boy, a rebel girl and an Auxiliary girl who find themselves on the outside, with two days worth of air and a huge amount to achieve. When I had adjusted to the different voices for each chapter, I found Breathe a fast-paced, exciting and moving story, with sympathetic characters, a realistic premise and a sobering commentary on the use and abuse of power. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to the sequel next year. Look out for this one when it hits the shops in October 2012 – it’s going to be big.

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Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door

Mr Birdsnest and the House Next Door
Written by Julia Donaldson
Illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Price: £5.99
Recommended age: 5-8/7-10 reading below level
*Dyslexia Friendly*

Of all the collaborations between well-known authors and dyslexia-friendly publishers Barrington Stoke, Julia Donaldson’s have to be the most enchanting. Teamed with Hannah Shaw’s great illustrations (loved the birds on the inside cover!), Donaldson’s connection with young readers shows no sign of waning with this beautifully-written book. When Elmo and his sister have to move to a new house, and their parents choose the boring flowerpot house rather than the exciting jungle house next door, the children find a way to make the derelict, overgrown house their very own. Until the arrival of Mr Birdsnest with his huge beard and strange, covered furniture. And what is Granny doing over there? Perfect for both young readers and older readers with reading problems. A delight.

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Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Mum in Love

Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Mum in Love
Written by Dee Shulman
Price: £5.99
Recommended age: 8-12

The diary format isn’t going away any time soon since the runaway success of the Wimpy Kid series, and Polly Price takes it to a new level with its cartoon-style drawings, odd photos (where do they find some of those?) and slightly-scribbly font, which attempt to replicate ‘reality’ with some success. The use of colour and the thick glossy paper also help to make it a pleasure to read. So the story is that Polly has been blessed with a horror of a mother, who not only has a much younger, French boyfriend but snogs him in public, drags Polly to stay with his family in France and then pretends that Polly is only her niece, winning the award for one of the more unfortunate mothers in children’s fiction. Once in France, lots of language-related mishaps ensue, with a dash of mystery and possible romance for Polly herself thrown in for good measure. Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Mum in Love is fun, well-written and slyly clever concept for age 9+ girls.

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Revived

Revived
By: Cat Patrick
Price: £6.99
Age: 13+

After the success of Forgotten, big things were expected of Cat Patrick’s follow-up, and she hasn’t disappointed with Revived. The story of Daisy West, a girl who has already died five times and been brought back to life by a revolutionary and secret drug, Revive, pioneered by a man known only as ‘God’, Revived survives the unlikely science to focus on the human implications and moral choices the drug provokes. After being forced to move once again to a new school after her most recent death (by bee sting, to which she is highly allergic), Daisy settles enough to meet new best friend Audrey, who she adores, and when she falls for Audrey’s brother, Matt, she begins to feel that she has a chance at a normal life. Until she discovers that Audrey has cancer, and Daisy has to decide whether she should tell her friends about Revive. A combination of love story and thriller, Revived offers a fast-paced but deeply-felt look at a very modern-day dilemma.

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Ellie May Would Like to be Taken Seriously for a Change

Ellie May Would Like to be Taken Seriously for a Change
Written by Marianne Levy
Price: £5.99
Recommended age: 7-10

The trend for very long, un-tweetable titles continues with the first book from Marianne Levy. And as summer moves into autumn and programmes like X Factor return to our screens, Ellie May is very much a heroine for our times, a little film star with a big personal allowance, fame fortune and all the clothes, handbags and shoes she could possible wish for. But when she is nominated for a SAUSAGE award and realises that she probably needs to do something more than discuss nail varnish to earn it, Ellie May turns to her fan mail for inspiration, but soon finds that meeting and helping a ‘normal’ girl is not as easy as she expected. Ellie May is a deliciously engaging character, funny and sweet and desperately trying to do the right thing, even though she is not quite sure what that thing might be. A lovely book for young girls, that both embraces and pokes fun at the seductive world of celebrity.

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The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Price: £9.99
Age: 7-77

I knew I was going to like this book before I even started it, for two very good reasons. The first is the unfeasibly long title, the anti-Twitter of titles, a good old-fashioned title that tells you everything you need to know before you begin. The second reason is down to the lovely quality of the paper and the cover with handy flaps to mark your place, even if they did result in a £9.99 price tag. Publishers don’t always think that stuff matters, but it does.
But I digress – back to the story. Is it any good? I have to tell you that this is the best book I have read all year (and I have read A LOT!) Valente’s delightful tale of heroine September’s trip to fairyland with the Green Wind and the Leopard of Little Breezes is one of the most beautifully-written works it has ever been my pleasure to come across. From the first page, where September’s dull daily routine of washing pink-and-yellow teacups with her small and amiable dog (of which she thoroughly disapproves) is interrupted, I was hooked by her love of pumpkins and all things autumnal, her loyalty towards her friends (especially Saturday and A-Through-L) and her attempts to live up to the Green Wind’s judgement of her as an ill-tempered and irascible child.
The Girl Who… has invited reasonable comparisons with Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, but this deserves to be judged as a future classic in its own right. I found it almost impossible to select an age range as I imagine mothers will read it to their daughters, the daughters will read it alone and the mothers (or grandmothers) will sneak it away to finish a chapter once the children are in bed. Beg, buy or borrow a copy – truly wonderful and totally inspiring.

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Apologies for the long break…

…but September is here, and with it loads of new reviews, from later today. Watch this space!

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