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Book review: In a Glass Grimmly

In a Glass Grimmly

Author: Adam Gidwitz

Price: £5.99

Publisher: Andersen Press

ISBN: 9781849396202

KRB rating: 8/10

Recommended age: 9-11

Reviewer: Krissie

The frequently discussed notion that there are only seven plots in the whole of storytelling, and that these are reworked endlessly by each new generation, is probably more relevant for fairy tales than for any other genre of fiction. With their roots in oral tradition stretching back centuries, the origins of stories such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood are probably lost in the mists of time. It is sad, therefore, that many children now only know the sanitised Disney versions.

That’s where Adam Gidwitz comes in. In the second of his books inspired by the tales of the Brothers Grimm, Gidwitz tackles the story of Jack and Jill, and a whole lot more besides, complete with blood, guts, gore and… um… nakedness. In this version, Gidwitz spins a web of unholy enchantment around the unlucky pair, who end up murdering giants, being drowned by mermaids and having the learn the unpronounceable German name of a giant salamander before voluntarily walking into its mouth.

One of the best things about this book is the glee with which the narrator stops the story to announce each section of particular nastiness. You could read these pieces as warnings to those with a nervous disposition, but in reality they act as enticements, daring children to venture just a little further, around the corner, into the dark where the nastier figments of their imagination live. Fortunately, Gidwitz writes with a wicked sense of humour, turning the grisly into the hilariously funny.

In a Glass Grimmly is pitched at the 9-11 market, which seems about right, and there are enough warnings to keep those away for whom it might be unsuitable, but I think that most readers of that age would be in for a real treat – a dark and witty fairy tale without the sugar-coating.

By the same author: A Tale Dark and Grimm

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Book review: Cheesemares

Cheesemares

Written by Ross Collins

Publisher: Barrington Stoke

ISBN: 9781781121917

Price: £5.99

KRB rating: 10/10

Recommended age: 7+

Reviewer: Krissie

If ever a book could perfectly illustrate how to be funny, engaging and dyslexia-friendly, Cheesemares would probably be it. From the jokes and maze hidden under the cover flaps, to the short chapters and spacing of the story over Barrington Stokes’ trademark yellow pages, the structure is all there. But it is the genius that is writer and illustrator Ross Collins who makes this a story well worth reading for both mainstream and challenged readers.

After weeks of nightmares related directly to his consumption of different cheeses before bed, Hal and his fat dog Rufus, decide to investigate the mystery of the Cheesemares. Their journey takes them to Mr Halloumi’s cheese shop, then onto Contessa Von Udderstein’s (not-at-all-evil) House of Cheese, where the intrepid duo must solve the mystery and save the world from evil cheese.

The story is laugh-out-loud funny, the prose is sharp and witty, and the illustrations are brilliant, with the expressions on the face of Rufus the fat dog worth reading the book for on their own. Absolutely loved it!

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Book review: The Crystal Mirror

Faerie Tribes: The Crystal Mirror

Written by Paula Harrison

Publisher: Nosy Crow

ISBN: 9780857632012

Price: £6.99

 

KRB rating: 8/10

Recommended age: 8-12

Reviewer: Krissie

 

The Crystal Mirror is a very difficult book to place. Firstly, there’s the cover (shadowy fairy girl with pink wings and lots of sparkles) and the title (also with pink faerie wings), both of which might suggest to your average potential reader that the story within is pretty, girly, and perfect for those just a bit too old for the Rainbow Magic series, but with basically the same interests.

 

However, the story is not like that at all. Being a bit further past the Rainbow Magic stage myself, I wasn’t really looking forward to reading this one, but I was pleasantly surprised. From the very beginning, when Laney Rivers discovers that strange things are happening around her, especially when she is near water, The Crystal Mirror reads more like Days of Blood and Starlight, or even Twilight, but for younger girls and without the love interest.

 

Laney discovers that not only is she a water faerie, but that her village is full of faeries of the different tribes; however, her own powers seem weak and her tribe is convinced that she is fulfilling an ancient prophecy and will bring bad luck. She is also ostracised for being friends with faeries of other tribes. It is only in fighting the shadow faerie that she can prove her true worth.

 

This story combines magic, horror, local politics and adventure in a way that offers a perfect link from children’s to YA books, considering themes such as social exclusion and the sometimes frightening power of adults over children, alongside a good, interesting story. I look forward to reading more from the series, but I do beg Nosy Crow to consider rebranding this one – I think many readers who would really enjoy it will be put off by the unnecessarily girly cover.

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Book review: Operation Eiffel Tower

Operation Eiffel Tower

Author: Elen Caldecott

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Price: £ 5.99

ISBN: 9781408805732

 

KRB rating: 7/10

Recommended age: +9

Reviewer: Ebba

Operation Eiffel Tower is a lovely portrayal of a family experiencing some severe changes. The four siblings – Lauren, Jack, Ruby and Billy (who is mostly eating on his teddy) – are in caught in the middle of their parents’ cracking marriage. The marriage is in a place where the main character Jack can neither stand their silence nor their talk as they always end up fighting and shouting. What else is there to do but to plan a romantic trip to Paris for his parents?

The siblings spend their summer trying to make money to send their parents to France. But money is hard to find, and when the open golf tournament does not go according to plan, Operation Eiffel Tower has to change. However, the family is starting to break; the pressure is taking its toll on everyone. Accident, minor crime and a feeling of being lost are the cornerstones of their summer, but so are care, love and sibling connectedness.

The front cover of the books states that it is ‘perfect for Jacqueline Wilson fans’. The reference to Willson is, in my opinion, this book’s selling point and curse. It does open the book up a wide and established readership, but it also, in a sense, makes it hard for Caldecott to stand on her own. I do think the book has the ambition to, and can, stand on its own, but because of the story and its similarities to Wilson’s books, it is it hard to not compare Caldecott’s book to Wilson’s.

If I leave the question of author and authorship out of the calculation, this book is a nice read. I particularity enjoy the role the siblings play in each other’s lives in terms of support, love and a good tease.

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Book review: Dear Scarlett

Dear Scarlett

Written by Fleur Hitchcock

Publisher: Nosy Crow

ISBN: 9780857631503

Price: £6.99

 

KRB rating: 7/10

Recommended age: 8+

Reviewer: Krissie

 

I was a bit concerned when I first picked this one up – it sounded so much like Red House Book Awards-nominated Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur that the press release could have been describing the same book. Thankfully, the similarity is only a passing one, and Scarlett’s story is very much her own.

Soon after her 11th birthday, Scarlett receives a box of bits and pieces that had belonged to her dead father, who had spent much of her life in prison. However, the random objects seem to have their own story to tell, and have attracted the close attention of the local mayoress and her chauffer, who suddenly seem to be everywhere the girls go. Scarlett and her new friend Ellie follow the clues, making a few false starts including a heist at the local sweetshop and an incident involving penguins that lands them in trouble, but the search soon takes on a more sinister turn.

Scarlett’s search is about more than just following clues, however, as she learns about family, friendship and the father she never really knew along the way. Fleur Hitchcock’s story is quirky, funny and tense by turn, and Scarlett is an engagingly scatty heroine. A good read for girls of 8-plus.

 

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Eight Keys

Eight Keys
Written by Suzanne LaFleur
Price: £6.99
Age: 9-12

This second book from US author Suzanne LaFleur has, at the time of writing, just been nominated for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2013, and it is a nomination well-deserved. LaFleur’s tale of that tricky transition between schools at age 11 struck a real chord with me, as I’m sure it would with many other parents of children the same age.
But Elise’s story is rather different, for she lives with her Uncle Hugh and Aunt Bessie: her mother died when she was born and her father a few years later. So when the school bully makes Elise the target of her aggression, and she begins to question her friendship with the sweet boy Franklin, who has been her best friend forever and now seems to be a part of her past she would rather leave behind, she misses having parents to make sense of it all. Until she discovers the first in a series of eight mysterious keys that just might help to bring her parents back to her.
Eight Keys tackles the issues of bullying, death, fitting in and growing up in a beautifully written and well-measured book that inspires and offers a real sense of understanding to this coming-of-age tale.

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Meet the Weirds

Meet the Weirds
Written by Kaye Umansky
Illustrated by Chris Mould
Price: £5.99
Age: 8-12 (reading age 8)
*Dyslexia friendly*

Meet the Weirds is the first in a reissued series from dyslexia-friendly publishers Barrington Stoke, with Weird Happenings and Wildly Weird to follow. The fantastically Dickensian-named Pinchton Primm has his orderly life with his Primm parents disrupted when a new family move in next door, complete with stunt woman mother, investor father, chip-cooking Gran, and the three Weird children: Otterly, Oliver and Frankly (not to mention Ginger, the black cat). However weird the Weirds might be, they start to have a surprising effect on the whole Primm family – even Mrs Primm (who reminds me of no-one more that Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia) begins to fall under their spell. I love the humour of this book, ably aided and abetted by Chris Mould’s wonderful drawings, and look forward to reading the two sequels – if only to find out what is making that noise, and what is it with that houseplant??

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Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings

Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings
Written by Ros Asquith
Price: £6.99
Age: 7-10

I haven’t read any of the previous books in Ros Asquith’s successful Letters from an Alien Schoolboy series – but after reading this book, I plan to.
Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings does what it says on the tin, offering an alien perspective on humans in a handy, easily digestible format (which does, after all, run from A-Z so as not to confuse us poor earthlings too much). And it is hilarious. From the descriptions of camping as “a cruel holiday ritual”, the point of which is “for the tent to blow away and everyone to drown” to a definition of diets as “instructions about how to eat a slice of lettuce instead of a cow”, I laughed all the way through, stopping only to read parts of it to my children, especially the section on gods (“elephants and little fat men”) and homes, with the fantastic illustration of a bedroom that looks like a war zone – or my daughter’s room.
Wry, sharply observed and constantly amusing, Asquith’s take on human life as observed from the outside holds a mirror up to the absurdities of our daily existence, and the reflection is far stranger than anything that might come from outer space.

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
By: Catherynne M. Valente
Price: £9.99
Age: 7-77
Release date: 17 January 2013

You know what it’s like when you read an absolutely brilliant book, and you can’t wait for the sequel – but there is a little part of you that almost doesn’t want to read it in case it’s not as good as the first one? That is exactly how I felt embarking on The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, the sequel to Catherynne M. Valente’s award-winning, New York times bestselling, and my own favourite book of the whole of last year, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
First up, the plot. You really do have to have read the first book for this one to make sense, so it is a sequel in the true sense of the word. Having returned to Nebraska after her adventures in Fairyland, September’s life is quiet – too quiet, punctuated only by an undercurrent of anxiety over her father, still absent at war. So when magic comes bouncing across the prairie in the form of a man-wind and a woman-wind in a rowboat, she chases after them with little thought of the consequences, only to fall straight back into Fairyland. But a lot has changed since her last visit, with her own shadow up to mischief, and although she finds both her old friends and some old enemies, no-one is quite as they seem this time around.
So is it as good as its predecessor? The Girl Who 2 (for the sake of brevity) shares the same luscious language, engaging characters (the coats have to be among my favourites) and fabulous storylines as the first book. September is as wonderful as before, but her friends are different and (without giving away too much of the plot) I was disappointed not to read more of them. That said, the changes in them are fascinating and the lovely Aubergine, the characters in the tea-house and Glasswort Groof are worthy additions. The Girl Who 2 acts as a reflection to the previous book in many ways, and if some of the colour is lost in September’s foray through Fairyland-Below, then the mystery and the darkness add a whole new dimension.
In short, if you loved the first book as I did, I’m fairly sure you will love its sequel too. And if you haven’t read the first book, the comparisons to The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland are well-deserved without ever being derivative. Personally, I’m hoping for a third… after all, the most important things comes in threes and sixes, and I think six volumes is too much to hope for.

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The Wolf Princess

The Wolf Princess
Written by Cathryn Constable
Price: £6.99
Recommended age: 9-14

It’s that time of year when we all want to cosy up in our biggest jumpers and drink hot chocolate in front of a roaring log fire. And if you’re not quite there yet (it being only October!), you certainly will be when you have read The Wolf Princess as Cathryn Constable’s beautiful new book transports you to the snowy wastes of wintry Russia. And it really is the beauty of this book that is its most striking feature. From the moment Sophie and her friends leave their humdrum lives in a London school for a trip to Russia, the author’s love of the snowy Russian landscape shines from every page, in the descriptions of the frozen forests to the faded splendour of the Winter Palace.
The story itself is engrossing, as Sophie struggles to unravel the mysteries surrounding Princess Anna, the Volkonsky Palace and the white wolves, and finds that her own life is not as straightforward and dull as she had imagined. The Wolf Princess offers a welcome respite from dystopian futures with a return to good, old-fashioned story-telling and an unexpected flash of beauty.

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