Monthly Archives: April 2013

What books hold a special place in your heart?

I read a lot of books.  Some of them I forget about almost straight away, but others stick with me long after I’ve turned the last page.  There are only a handful, however, that have a lasting effect on me and hold a special place in my heart.

Some books feel as if they’ve been written just for you, like my favourite children’s book, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.  As soon as I started reading it I knew that I would love it, and the more I read it, the more I felt like Cornelia had written it just for me.  She felt exactly the same about books and stories as I did and it was like she had put the thoughts and feelings inside my head down on paper.  I can’t tell you what I was doing or where I was at the time I first read it because I was completely caught up in the story and didn’t want it to end.  My favourite adult book, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, also had this effect on me.  I’m going to meet him at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in a couple of weeks and I think I’ll probably die of excitement just listening to him talk.

Some books unsettle you and creep in to your head so that you can’t stop thinking about them.  Alex Shearer’s The Speed of the Dark was one of those books for me.  I can’t remember much about the story (I will have to reread this again soon) but the sense of mystery and feeling of unease I got while reading has stuck with me for many years.

Some books just wrench your heart out, by putting you in to the head of a character that faces some horrific situations.  I’ve just finished reading Morris Gleitzman’s books about Felix, Once, Then, Now and After.  These were books that I had been meaning to read for a while but hadn’t got around to reading.  Last year one of my best friends, who is a school librarian, told me I had to read Once.  I did and I’m incredibly grateful to her for making me do so, as this book (and it’s sequels) had a huge impact on me.  Morris Gleitzman is a very talented storyteller, who can write incredibly funny stories as well as incredibly sad and moving stories.  Morris’ stories of Felix’s fight for survival in Poland during World War II are heartbreaking and I know that I will always carry these stories in my head and my heart.  Once, Then, Now and After are stories that everyone should read.  I’ll be meeting Morris Gleitzman at the Reading Matters Conference in Melbourne next month and I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be telling him how much I love these books.

What books hold a special place in your heart?

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Books to Treasure: Beautiful books from Walker Books

Walker Books are renowned for publishing not only great stories, but also producing some beautiful books.  Their books are a pleasure to hold, touch, look at and read and you want to have them on your bookshelf to read whenever you want.  Two of their recent publications are new additions to my bookshelf – East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris and Mysterious Traveller by Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and P.J. Lynch.

East of the Sun, West of the Moon by Jackie Morris

An extended version of the Norwegian fairy tale, set in the 21st century.

From the moment she saw him, she knew the bear had come for her. How many times had she dreamt of the bear… Now, here he was, as if spelled from her dreams. “I will come with you, Bear,” she said. It is the beginning of an extraordinary journey for the girl. First to the bear s secret palace in faraway mountains, where he is treated so courteously, but where she experiences the bear s unfathomable sadness, and a deep mystery… As the bear s secret unravels, another journey unfolds… a long and desperate journey, that takes the girl to the homes of the four Winds and beyond, to the castle east of the sun, west of the moon.

This is a wee gem of a book that you can carry around with you wherever you go.  Jackie Morris’ gorgeous watercolour illustrations are sprinkled amongst her magical fairy tale retelling.  I love the smaller format of the book as it’s easier to share, but you don’t loose the magic of the illustrations.  It’s the perfect book for those young and old who love folk tales and fairy tales.

Mysterious Traveller by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated P.J. Lynch.

A moving and beautifully researched story about camels, lost princesses and the strength of wisdom and knowledge.

This is the second tale in a trilogy from acclaimed storytellers Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham. This tale begins with a disgruntled camel, desperately trying to protect a little baby from a violent desert storm whipping up all around him. He is rescued by Issa – the desert guide – who takes the child in, naming her Mariama. She becomes Issa’s family and, as he begins to lose his sight, his eyes. Many years later, a mysterious stranger arrives at their doorstep, a stranger who will change both their lives for ever.

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham are gifted storytellers who have woven a touching tale.  I’ve always loved P.J. Lynch’s illustrations and his illustrations for this story are absolutely stunning.  Like Mariama is the eyes for Issa in this story, P.J. Lynch is the eyes for the reader, creating an image of the characters and showing us the beauty of the land.

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Win Red Rocks by Rachael King

Rachael King’s fantastic children’s book, Red Rocks, was recently named as a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  Since then, it has also been named a Storylines Notable Book and been nominated in the Best Youth Novel category for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards (for science fiction, fantasy and horror writing).

Thanks to Random House New Zealand I have 3 copies of Red Rocks to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is enter your name and email address in the form below.  Competition closes Sunday 5 May (NZ only).

Thanks to everyone who entered.  The winners are Adrienne, Cushla and Lynley.

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Department 19: New Recruit

New Recruit is the second part of the Department 19 animated web comic created by Will Hill and Tom Percival.  You can watch the first part, If you go down to the woods today, here on the blog.

The latest book in Will Hill’s Department 19 series, Department 19: Battle Lines is out now.

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2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I love the world of Fontania that Barbara introduced us to in The Traveling Restaurant.  I reviewed it in September last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.  You can also read my interview with Barbara Else and Barbara’s guest post about The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

Last year, Barbara Else took us on a magical journey through the land of Fontania, with Sibilla and The Traveling Restaurant.  Now she takes us back to Fontania and introduces us to some wonderful new characters in The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Hodie is the unpaid odd-job boy at the Grand Palace in the Kingdom of Fontania.  Fed-up, he decides to leave and better himself.

The young Queen, 12 -year-old Sibilla, is fed-up too.  Sick of gossip about her lack of magical ability, she decides to run away with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a magical story, full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, stinky trolls and poisonous toads. Trouble is brewing from the very beginning of the story.  The Emperor of Um’Binnia threatens war with Fontania and he hopes to destroy what magic there may be in the world.  The Fontanians have been looking for ‘The Ties’ for many years, but nobody really seems to know what they are, and for the Emperor to carry out his plans he must get his hands on them too.  Little do they know how important an odd-job boy might be.

Your favourite characters from The Travelling Restaurant return, including Sibilla and the pirate chef, Murgott.  Hodie is the main character of this tale of Fontania.  Even though he’s not treated very well in the Palace, he’s smart and brave, and determined to make something of himself.   My favourite quote from the book sums up Hodie, ‘Whether a boy was somebody or nobody, if he was normal he was expected to be curious.’  Hodie and Sibilla meet lots of other interesting characters on their journey, including a rather strange Um’Binnian spy called Ogg’ward, and a very persistent squirrel.  The Um’Binnians themselves are quite interesting.  They have a different way of speaking and their names look and sound strange.

If you loved The Traveling Restaurant you have to get your hands on The Queen and the Nobody Boy, but if you haven’t read it this book will make you fall in love with the land of Fontania.  You certainly won’t be able to go past this book on the shelf without wanting to see what magic is inside, thanks to Sam Broad’s brilliant cover.

4 out of 5 stars

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My Most Anticipated May New Releases

Felix and the Red Rats by James Norcliffe

When David’s uncle comes to visit he sets off a bizarre series of events. Things become complicated when the pet rats turn bright red.David senses that somehow the red rats are connected to the story he is reading, and he becomes more convinced when the colour red becomes contagious.

The parallel story sees Felix and his friend Bella inadvertently shifted into a strange land where they must solve a riddle. But this puts them into great danger. How will they escape and find their way home?

The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A mysterious toymaker, Lazarus, lives as a recluse in a crumbling mansion by the sea, surrounded by the mechanical beings he has created. Strange lights seem to shine through the mists that envelop the small island where the old lighthouse stands, and somewhere in the woods nearby lurks a shadowy creature.

When her mother takes a job as a housekeeper for the toymaker, fourteen-year-old Irene meets Hannah and her alluring sailor cousin Ismael, and what seems like a dream summer begins. But Lazarus’s house contains dark secrets and before long Irene and Ismael find themselves entwined in the mystery of the September lights.

Sinking by David Hill

A grim secret. A life in danger.

When a crazy old man leaps out of the bushes at Conrad on his way to swimming training, he gets the fright of his life. And when he discovers the man’s granddaughter is that weird horse-riding girl from school, he decides to steer clear of them.

But fate has other ideas … and he is drawn into a grim secret. What’s the old man’s connection to a death from long ago? And whose life is in danger now?

The Subterranean Stratagem by Michael Pryor

Kingsley Ward and Evadne Stephens are the Extraordinaires and they should be the toast of the town – but their juggling and escapology act is failing, and Kingsley is to blame. His wolfish side is breaking free, ruining performances and endangering those around him. The secret to controlling this wildness lies in his mysterious past. Was he really raised by wolves? Who were his parents? What happened to them?

The discovery of Kingsley’s father’s journal promises answers, but when it is stolen the Extraordinaires uncover ancient magic, a malign conspiracy, and a macabre plot to enslave all humanity. What begins as a quest to restore Kingsley’s past becomes an adventure that pits the Extraordinaires against forces that could shatter the minds and souls of millions.

The Originals by Cat Patrick

To the outside world, Elizabeth Best is a model student. She’s a cheerleader, gets straight As and holds down an after-school job. But what the outside world doesn’t know is that Elizabeth Best is actually three girls. Lizzie, Betsey and Ella are no ordinary triplets. Born as part of an illegal cloning program, the girls were forced into hiding when the program was uncovered. To avoid being taken away, the girls have lived as one girl ever since. Living a third of a life can suck. Imagine having to consult your sisters before choosing your clothes, or hairstyle, or boyfriend. So when Lizzie is forbidden from seeing Sean, the amazing guy from her English class, she and her sisters decide they’ve had enough. But for a chance at a full life, they’ll have to risk everything they know.

Doll Bones by Holly Black

Twelve-year-old Zach is too old to play with toys. Or at least, that’s what his father thinks. But even though he stops hanging out with Poppy and Alice, stops playing with his action figures, it’s no good. There’s one toy that still wants to play with him. A doll that’s made from the bones of a dead girl. The only way to end the game is to lay the doll to rest forever. It’s time for a journey to Spring Grove cemetery. It’s time to grow up.

The Trouble with Mummies by Fleur Hitchcock

Sam comes home one day to find his family turning a little bit loopy – his mum is redecorating using hieroglyphics and his dad is building a pyramid in the back garden. He hopes it’s just a weird new fashion …but then the strangeness starts to spread. With the help of his friends Ursula, Henry and Lucy the Goat, Sam must save his town from rampaging Roman rugby players, hairdressers turned cavewomen, and a teacher who used to be a ‘basket of kittens’ but now wants to sacrifice the Year Ones to the Aztec sun god. As history invades Sam’s world, will he be able to keep the Greeks away from the Egyptians and discover the cause of the Mummy madness?

Death and Co. by D.J. McCune

Adam is a Luman, and it runs in the family. Escorting the dead from life into light, Adam must act as guide to those taken before their time. As his older brothers fall into their fate however, Adam clings to his life as a normal kid – one who likes girls, hates the Head and has a pile of homework to get through by Monday morning. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny.

Transparent by Natalie Whipple

High school is hard when you’re invisible. Fiona McClean hates her family, has had to move to a new school and seems to be completely invisible to the boy she likes. So far so normal, right? But Fiona really is invisible. She doesn’t even know what colour her own hair is. Born into a world where Cold War anti-radiation pills have caused genetic mutations, Fiona is forced to work for her mind-controlling mobster father as the world’s most effective thief. When her father announces she must become a murdering assassin, Fiona and her telekinetic mother make a break for freedom. Running to a small Arizonian town, Fiona finds that playing at ‘normal life’ with a mother on the edge, a brother she can’t trust, and a boy who drives her crazy is as impossible as escaping her father.

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Through Dead Eyes by Chris Priestley

One of my favourite genres of stories for children and teens is horror.  There weren’t many of these types of book around when I was younger, but there is plenty to choose from these days, from Derek Landy and Joseph Delaney, to Darren Shan and Barry Hutchison.  Chris Priestley is an author of spooky, chilling and creepy stories that I’ve been reading more of lately and his latest book, Through Dead Eyes is a new favourite.

Alex joins his father on a business trip to Amsterdam. During the day he hangs out with the daughter of a family friend. They visit the usual sights but also coffee shops and flea markets off the beaten track. At one of these markets Alex spots an ancient-looking mask. Before he knows what he’s doing he buys it. Later, in his hotel room, he feels compelled to put the mask on. Alex is sucked into a parallel Amsterdam, one from centuries before which begins to reveal the dark past of both the building he is staying in and the little girl who once lived there edging stealthily towards the terrible twist.

Through Dead Eyes is a chilling ghost story that haunts you long after you’ve turned the last page.  I read it on a wet and dreary day which added to the chilling tone.   Chris Priestley really knows how to keep the reader on edge throughout the story.  The thing I love the most about Chris’s writing is that there are lots of twists that you don’t see coming, especially towards the end of the story, and he leaves you with a feeling of unease.  You know that, even though the story has finished, things are not right in the life of the characters.  Like any good ghost story you get pieces of the puzzle as the story progresses and you’ve got to figure out how they all fit together.  You just hope that the main character solves the puzzle before it’s too late.

The setting of Amsterdam adds to the eerie feeling of the story, because Alex is surrounded by so much history.  The buildings are hundreds of years old and they would hold many stories.  Alex is drawn to the history of the hotel he is staying in and the strange feelings he has inside his room.  This history and the connection between the mask and the paintings draw you in to the story.

The cover is fantastic and captures the tone of the story perfectly.  It was the cover, with the mottled and cracked surface, and the creepy eye, that grabbed my attention and made me pick it up.

Through Dead Eyes is great for readers aged 11+ who like to give themselves a good scare.

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Picture Book Nook: Ted by Leila Rudge

I mentioned recently that I’m a sucker for a good dog story, so when I first saw Leila Rudge’s new picture book Ted I fell in love.  Ted, the little dog who is the subject of the story, graces the front cover in various poses wearing his little green jumper.  I knew right away that I would love Ted and you will too.

Ted is a smart dog, with his own jumper. But he has lived at the pet store for as long as he can remember and nobody seems to notice him. Will Ted ever find the perfect place to live? Ted joins the circus, enters a pet pageant, and takes a job as a guard dog, but nobody notices him.  When he least expects it, Ted gets noticed.

Ted is a superb picture book by a very talented author and illustrator.  Ted is a loveable character that children certainly will notice and want to take home. The story is great to read aloud and will have children laughing and hoping for Ted to find a home.  The illustrations are both cute and funny, with lots of quirky details that children will point out.  I particularly like where Ted puts his collar when he’s a guard dog.  The end papers even add to the story (compare the ones at the front to those at the back).

The ending of the book is absolutely hilarious and I definitely didn’t see it coming.  I thought it had all gone horribly wrong for Ted, just when things were looking up.  You’ll just have to read it to find out what happens.

Ted is the perfect book to snuggle up with and share before bed on a cold Winter’s night, so grab a copy from your library or bookshop now.

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Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

I’m a picky graphic novel reader.  Like picture books, it’s the illustrations that catch my eye and then I’ll see what the story is about.  There are a couple of graphic novel creators whose books I’ll grab whenever they’ve got something new coming out.  The first is Garen Ewing, the creator of the Rainbow Orchid graphic novel, because he’s got a style of illustration and story that is similar to Herge’s Tintin.  The second is Doug TenNapel, because his cartoony style really appeals to me and his stories are imaginative and funny.  Doug’s latest graphic novel, Cardboard, is about a down-on-his-luck dad, his son, and the magic cardboard that changes their life.

Cam’s down-and-out father gives him a cardboard box for his birthday and he knows it’s the worst present ever. To make the best of a bad situation, they bend the cardboard into a man– and to their astonishment, it comes magically to life. But the neighborhood jerk, Marcus, warps the powerful cardboard into his own evil creations that threaten to destroy them all!

Cardboard is a fantastic story, filled with imagination, adventure, humour, and cardboard creations of all sorts.  One of the reasons I love Doug’s work is because he creates such original stories and Cardboard is no exception.  He’s taken the idea of a father building something out of cardboard with his son and thought ‘what if?’  My dad used to make awesome cardboard creations with me and my siblings when I was younger (the best being a full Batman mask) so I can totally imagine what it would have been like to have had magic cardboard.  I think that’s why this story works so well, because every kid (or adult) can imagine it happening.

The thing that really draws me to Doug’s graphic novels are his illustrations, which are fantastic.  Doug’s style is quite cartoony and reminds me of some of my favourite cartoons that I watched as a kid.  His characters have very expressive faces, particularly their eyes. Doug’s imagination has run wild and he’s created some weird and wonderful cardboard creations, some of which go out of control.  Der-Shing Helmer has done a wonderful job of the colouring, making the illustrations vibrant and bold.  I especially love the front cover.  It really jumps out at you and makes you want to read the book so you can find out who the giant eyes belong to.

Cardboard and Doug’s other graphic novels, Ghostopolis and Bad Island are perfect for ages 9+, especially boys, who want a great story.  They are ideal for those kids who have moved on from Asterix and Tintin or for reluctant readers.

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Derek Landy on Tanith Low and the Maleficent Seven

To celebrate the release of his new book, The Maleficent Seven, Derek Landy went down to a crypt under Dublin and answered some questions about Tanith and her part in the Skulduggery Pleasant series.  The 3 parts of the interview are below for your viewing pleasure.

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