Monday, February 17, 2014

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Mila has a gift. She can read a room, a person, a situation - and tell if you're happy, or pregnant or having an affair. 
When her father's best friend, Matthew, goes missing, Mila joins in the search. She sees clues no one else notices, facts everyone else overlooks.
But the answers refuse to line up and Matthew refuses to be found. 
Is there something Mila missed?
Something closer to home than she ever imagined?

Star Rating

At only 195 pages, this is a very short read and I read it in one sitting. I had wanted to read this book for ages but did not want to pay the £12.99 price tag for such a short novel. Luckily, I found this beautiful hardback copy hidden away in one of my favourite charity bookstores, Fara in Teddington, for a mere £4.20 so I just had to buy it. 

Picture Me Gone has a beautiful front cover that fits well with the American style motel setting of the story. Mila, a 12-year-old girl from London, sets off on an adventure to America with her father, Gil, to discover what has happened to his best friend Matthew. Matthew has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth leaving behind his loving wife and son Gabriel.

 Mila is a very special young lady and has a strange gift for reading into situations and uncovering clues. She comes across, throughout the novel, as much older than her years and I often found myself forgetting that Mila was merely a child. It wasn't until Mila, discovering her father had been lying to her throughout the trip, gets increasingly upset and angry that I remembered she was only 12 years old.

The plot idea behind this novel is exciting and imaginative and in the blurb Meg Rosoff promises a mysterious thriller, 

"Is there something Mila has missed? Something closer to home than she ever imagined."

Unfortunately, this novel never really gains momentum and the discovery of Matthew and the reasons why he disappeared didn't really live up to my expectations. As an avid lover of crime fiction, I was probably expecting more twists and turns and some gruesome results. However, I must remember that this is a Young Adult novel centred around the characters and their relationships with one another. With this in mind, it was a successful and superbly written novel by this high esteemed writer of YA fiction. 

This is a quick, easy and enjoyable read with a fabulous front cover that will take pride of place on my bookcase. Although I don't think this plot line is one to remember I will certainly be trying out some of Meg Rosoff's other titles soon.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What She Saw by Mark Roberts

When a nine-year-old boy is left to die inside a burning car on a sink estate in Peckham, DCI David Rosen is drafted in to investigate. The young boy has been severely burned, and is now fighting for his life. As Rosen and his team begin to scour the crime scene for forensic evidence, they discover something chilling; a graffiti image of a sinister eye, drawn in exquisite detail above the site of the wreckage - and behind it, a series of mysterious markings, etched into the wall. Could the markings represent a secret code left by the killer - a code that will hold the key to the investigation?

I received this copy from the publishers for an open and honest review.

Star Rating

This story opens with the eye witness account of Stevie Jensen, a young boy who discovers, and pulls out, Thomas Glass from a burning car. The reader is also introduced to Macy Conner who is another witness of this terrifying attack that leaves poor Thomas Glass in a critical condition,

"Sodium streetlight picked out his charred face. He had no eyelids, just red raw whites, one blackened at the centre."

It quickly becomes clear that eleven-year-old Macy Conner is a very troubled, young girl who lives in squalor with a mother who wishes she had never been born. The title 'What She Saw' indicates that Macy's eye witness account of this fateful attack will influence the course of events for the rest of the novel. 

As the story progresses, another teenager is murdered in a brutal fire attack and it becomes evident that whoever is responsible for these attacks is leaving behind a mysterious code. DCI Rosen (the main officer working on the case) finds himself a target in a horrifying game of cat and mouse. As children continue to disappear and characters' secrets begin to unfurl, DCI Rosen finds himself growing ever closer to uncovering the monster behind the murders. 

Unfortunately, before starting this crime novel I read the blurb on the back of the book which was incredibly long and detailed. I have decided not to add the second paragraph of this blurb to my blog as it gave away the entire plot line! In one fateful sentence, Mark Roberts gave away the character behind all the murders and therefore any red herrings along the way were unnecessary. This was a real shame and therefore tarnished my enjoyment of the book. 

I also feel that this novel was let down in it's development of the characters. I didn't really feel any true connections with the victims and, therefore, lacked empathy and emotion. Although Mark Roberts managed to tie up loose ends and link the characters together at the end of the novel this was not done seamlessly and at times left me slightly confused. 

Mark Roberts is clearly an imaginative crime writer and without having read the blurb I am sure I would have enjoyed this novel. So... if you fancy giving it a go take my advice and don't turn it over!

Penguin In Love by Salina Yoon

Penguin is looking for love.
Instead, he finds himself in the middle of a curious situation...

And as the mystery unravels, something very special happens - Penguin finds his soulmate.

A heartwarming story about life's biggest adventure - love!

I received this copy from Bloomsbury for an open and honest review. 

Star Rating

Arriving just in time for Valentines day, I received this copy of 'Penguin in Love' to read to my Year 2 class. As predicted, this book had very mixed reviews from the children in my class. In short, the girls LOVED it and the boys HATED it. Prepare yourselves for a humorous review...

This book tells the story of Penguin, a lonely soul who is looking for love. With the help of some clever puffins, Penguin meets Bootsy a fellow knitter who has run out of knitting wool. Together, Penguin and Bootsy set off on an adventure to discover who has stolen their wool. As the penguins grow closer they begin to fall in love... until a huge blizzard comes and blows the penguins apart! Will they ever find each other again? 

Very random I hear you say! Yes, this story line is bizarre but consequently it is incredibly cute and the ending will have even the coldest of hearts smiling. The girls in my class (including myself) absolutely loved this story branding Penguin "the cutest animal ever." The girls liked that the story was "all about love" and were pleased to discover that there was a happy ending. The children quickly realised that the puffins had stolen the wool on purpose so that Penguin and Bootsy would fall in love; with one child commenting that the puffins were "just like cupid."

The boys in my class, however, were not as impressed. One boy told me that he "doesn't like people in love" and that he certainly did not like this story as kissing makes him "feel sick." Much to my amusement, most of the other boys agreed and said this was definitely a book for girls. One child told me that "knitting is boring and a waste of time." When I explained that knitting  was actually very important and asked him where his clothes came from he replied "the shop". Something tells me I need to do a little more work on materials and where they come from. 

This an extremely cute and heartwarming story but definitely one for the girls!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Story Machine by Tom McLaughlin

Elliott is a boy who likes to find things out and, one day, he stumbles across a machine. At first, he can't work out what the machine is for - it doesn't beep or buzz like all of his other machines and it doesn't have an ON/OFF button. Then, quite by accident, Elliott makes the machine work. The machine makes letters! Elliott thinks it must be a story machine but, sadly, Elliott isn't very good at letters and words. How can he make magical stories without them? But wait, some of the letters look like pictures. Elliott is good at pictures and, as he discovers, pictures make stories.

I received this copy from the publishers for an open and honest review.

Star Rating

Although this is a short and simple story, the illustrations are beautiful and make this a book worth purchasing. The illustrative style is reminiscent of Oliver Jeffers work and anyone who follows my blog will know that I love his picture books for this very reason.

This story is about a boy who paints pictures with words. Upon finding a strange machine, Elliott begins to make his own stories, however he soon finds out that he isn't very good with letters.  

"He did his best but he kept getting them all jumbled up." 

In all classes, you will always get a group of children who LOVE writing stories and those that don't. I was always one of those children who loved reading and writing stories, the skill of putting pen to paper coming fairly easily. As Tom Mclaughlin explains, it is important to point out to children that anyone can make stories, even if they use pictures instead of words. That is what the story machine is about: how you don't always have to use words to make stories. 

I chose not to read this story with my Year Two class as they are now at that stage where they can use letters and words to create imaginative and exciting stories. Therefore, I asked if it could be read to a Reception class of 4 and 5 year olds. It is important at this age to build a passion for reading and writing and for children to realise that even if you're "not very good at letters and words" you can still create magical stories.

The children in this class enjoyed the story, particularly when Elliott realised it wasn't the story machine making the pictures, it was him! One child commented on how old the story machine was (a typewriter being very different to iPads and Laptops young children see nowadays) and some had never seen a typewriter before with one child remarking that they thought it was a cash register! Some children decided they did not like this book as they were upset when Elliott poured water on his story machine, resulting in it not working!

With beautiful illustrations and a good message for young children, The Story Machine is...

 "A winner of a book about the power of drawing and storytelling." (Oliver Jeffers)

Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon by Rachel Valentine & Ed Eaves

Marmaduke's not like all the other dragons - his ears are too big and he never even tries to fly. He just doesn't fit in, however much he wants to, and so he feels terribly lonely.

And Princess Meg? Well, she wears trainers and breaks into dance at the most inappropriate of times, which means that she sticks out like a sore thumb. She doesn't really have any friends, but then she's far too busy having fun to notice . . . 

Until one day when Marmaduke and Meg's lives collide in the most exciting, brilliant and surprising way and they both realise just how much they need each other.

I received this copy from the publishers for an open and honest review.

Star Rating

 Although this book comes under the 0-5 age category I had no qualms about reading it with my Year Two class and they absolutely loved it!This is a great book to use within a PSHE lesson or an assembly to teach children about the value of being unique. It covers both the challenges and the positives of being yourself and standing out from the crowd. 

Marmaduke the dragon is different. He has sticky-out scales, enormous ears and very unusual wings. The other dragons are unkind to Marmaduke and often laugh at him. 

"I don't like being different!" he sighed, as a tear rolled down his cheek.

However, when he meets Meg, a very different Princess, Marmaduke's luck changes and he realises the true value of being different.

In a class of 28 children (who love stories), all but one raised their hand to tell me they enjoyed this book. One child told me she thought "Marmaduke was cute" while another "liked the fact he was different." All the children were pleased that Marmaduke finally found a Princess to protect and were relieved it had a happy ending.  The one child who raised his hand for disliking the book did so for the following reason, 

"I didn't like this book at all! The purple dragons were so mean to Marmaduke and it made me feel sad."

This response alone shows that this is a perfect book for teaching young children right from wrong, particularly when meeting people who are different in some way. One boy in my class told me that "if you are not like other people then you are different. But surprisingly the purple dragons were jealous of Marmaduke in the end. So maybe it is best to be different!"

This story is very well written with some great story language for children to use in their own writing.Although my class loved this book they were, however, disappointed that the front cover ruined the revelation of Marmaduke's wings towards the end of the story. This small drawback aside, this is a great book for young children (and teachers of all ages). 

Out 13th March 2014!