Tag Archives: family

Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

If you have read Annabel Pitcher’s debut novel My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece you’ll know what an amazing writer she is.  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece was one of my favourite books of 2011 and I’ve been dying to read Ketchup Clouds ever since Annabel first started talking about it. Ketchup Clouds, is every bit as extraordinary as her first book and it will stay with you long after you reach the end.

Fifteen-year-old Zoe has a secret – a dark and terrible secret that she can’t confess to anyone she knows. But then one day she hears of a criminal, Stuart Harris, locked up on death row in Texas. Like Zoe, Stuart is no stranger to secrets. Or lies. Or murder. Full of heartache yet humour, Zoe tells her story in the only way she can – in letters to the man in prison in America. Armed with a pen, Zoe takes a deep breath, eats a jam sandwich and begins her tale of love and betrayal.

Ketchup Clouds is an utterly beautiful, heart-breaking story, told in an original and very clever way.  The whole book is a confession of what Zoe has done, to someone who she knows will understand, but won’t be able to do anything.  I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear that I’ll let some important detail slip. Annabel gives you enough detail that you know vaguely what has happened, but you just have to keep reading to find out exactly what happened and to who.  She leaves you hanging on every word and dreading what is inevitably going to happen.

There are several things that I really like about Annabel’s writing.  I really like the way that she ties up the story at the end, bringing everything together and showing you how the characters have turned out.  Like her first book, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, you feel completely satisfied at the end and you’re left amazed at how her characters have developed over the course of the story.  I also like the way that Annabel portrays the parents in the story.  The parents have their own problems that they are dealing with in their own way, and they’re not always the best parents, but deep down they love and care for their children.  They are important parts of the story and Annabel portrays them as real people, not just characters in a book.

The main reason I loved Ketchup Clouds was the relationships between the characters.  The relationship between Zoe and Stuart was really interesting, because even though we never hear from Stuart, Zoe’s tone changes the more she writes to him.  At the beginning she calls him Mr Harris, and by the end she’s calling him Stu.  She seems to get more comfortable with Stuart as time goes by and becomes less formal with him.  Zoe and her sister Sophie have quite a close relationship and they talk quite openly with each other, especially when it comes to talking about their parents.  Zoe’s relationships with Max and Aaron are quite different and Annabel does an excellent job of portraying Zoe’s conflicting emotions and the tough decisions she has to make in their relationships.

Annabel Pitcher is one of those authors whose books I’ll read no matter what they’re about, and I certainly can’t wait to see what she will write next!  I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders if we’ll ever get to read Bizzle the Bazzlebog.  Grab a copy of Ketchup Clouds from your library or bookshop now.

5 out of 5 stars

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under authors, books, young adult, young adult fiction

The Boy in the Olive Grove by Fleur Beale

Fleur Beale has written some great novels, both for children and young adults.  My favourite books of hers are the award-winning Juno of Taris series.  Fleur’s latest book, The Boy in the Olive Grove, is a about a girl living in present day New Zealand, whose past lives resurface and turn her life upside down.

On the night of her seventeenth birthday Bess Grey sees images of a witch-burning unfold in front of her as if in a movie. She also sees images from a different time — lovers, and the girl, she’s sure is — was – herself. When she meets Nick she recognises him as the boy. There’s an immediate connection. However when her father nearly dies from a heart attack there’s no time to brood as Bess tries to save her father’s business. She falls in love with Nick but her difficult mother interferes, forcing Bess to make the hardest decision of her life. She must decide whether to lose her mother or the boy she loves.

The Boy in the Olive Grove is a really unique story about a girl who is navigating the minefield of her family life, while trying to deal with the lives she has lived in the past.  In the present Bess has a horrible mother who doesn’t seem to care for her at all, a protective brother who has just up and left her, a father who is ill, and a step-mother who she feels awkward around.  When she has a visions of herself burning a witch at the stake and of a mysterious boy who she has strong feelings for, she gets drunk and nearly kills herself on the road.  This only seems to be the beginning of her troubles, as she gets expelled from her boarding school and sent home to live with her mother.  Her dad falls ill and Bess gets left to look after his struggling furniture business.  She continues to have the visions and her step-mother sends her to a psychiatrist who helps her to understand these and come to terms with what they mean.

I found the story quite unusual (it’s quite different in a way from Fleur Beale’s previous books), but the more I read, the more intrigued I became and wanted to find out how it would end.  Fleur Beale always gets inside her characters heads so we know everything that they’re thinking and feeling.  Bess has so much to deal with, from her visions, to taking over her father’s business, and dealing with her horrible mother, but she deals with everything extremely well.  I know I wouldn’t have been able to handle all that at her age!  I love the relationship that Bess has with the men that work for her dad.  After some initial skepticism they warm to her and she helps to boost their confidence.  I love the way they call her ‘boss.’

The only thing I didn’t really like about the story was the scheming, vindictive bitch that was Bess’ mum.  I don’t think I’ve met a character that I’ve hated quite so much as her, and she didn’t seem to have any redeeming characteristics.  I’d really like to know if there are mothers out there that are really like her, because I couldn’t quite imagine a mother that could be as cruel and uncaring as she was.

If you like contemporary Young Adult fiction that stands out from the crowd, The Boy in the Olive Grove, get a copy now.  If you’re a fan of Fleur Beale then this is one not to be missed.

4 out of 5 stars

You can read an extract of The Boy in the Olive Grove on the Random House New Zealand website.

Leave a comment

Filed under authors, books, history, mystery, New Zealand, romance, young adult, young adult fiction

Four Children and It Book Trailer

Four Children and It is Jacqueline Wilson’s brand new book.  It’s due out this month and you can reserve your copy at your library now.  I haven’t read a Jacqueline Wilson book before but I’ll definitely be reading this one.  I remember watching the BBC adaptation of Five Children and It as a kid and loved it.  I’m sure Four Children and It will be just as popular as her previous books.

Leave a comment

Filed under book trailer, books, children, children's fiction

Pop! by Catherine Bruton

There are so many different types of reality shows on TV these days, involving everything from singing and dancing, to cooking and building.  Suzanne Collins took the reality show idea and turned it into a fight to the death in The Hunger Games and in Catherine Bruton’s new book, Pop!, one of her characters has worked out the rules of talent TV and reckons she knows how to play the system.

The first round of auditions was a bit mad. All these wannabe popstars sitting around trying to look wacky/soulful/tragic (delete as appropriate) to catch the attention of the TV cameras.

At least we had a cracking back story. The story of me, Agnes, Jimmy and baby Alfie; the tears, the tragedy, the broken homes and feuding families, the star-crossed lovers. And only some of it was made up.

If I say so myself, it was genius: a sure-fire golden ticket to stratospheric stardom. Or at least that was the plan…

Pop! is a terrific story full of moments that will make you laugh, cry, cringe, jump for joy, and possibly want to slap a certain character.  The story is told from the point of view of the three main characters; Elfie, Jimmy and Agnes.  Elfie is the smart-ass who always comes up with crazy schemes that Jimmy gets roped into.  Her mum is incredibly unreliable and always walks out when times get tough, so Elfie is often left to look after her baby brother Alfie.  Jimmy and Elfie have been best friends for as long as they can remember, so Jimmy always gets involved in Elfie’s schemes.  Jimmy is a fantastic swimmer and his dad trains him hard so that he might get a chance to go to the Olympics.  It’s one day when Elfie and Jimmy are hanging out under the bridge that Elfie announces their next big scheme – they’re going to enter the Pop to the Top talent contest.  Their only problem is that they don’t really have any talent.  Then they hear a girl singing.  That girl is Agnes, the daughter of one of the ‘immos,’ the immigrant workers who have taken the jobs of local workers at the power station.  Agnes has an amazing voice and so Elfie ropes her into being in her girl band for Pop to the Top.  Agnes and Jimmy have no idea what they are getting themselves in for, and as Elfie weaves more and more lies, their lives and the lives of those around them spiral out of control.

Catherine Bruton has created three very different characters who are all doing what they believe is right.  Even though Elfie creates these twisted versions of their lives, she is only doing so to try and win the money that she thinks will solve all their problems.  She cares so much for her dad and her little brother and wants to give them the life they deserve.  Jimmy and Agnes go along with Elfie’s scheme because they want what’s best for their families too.  At first Elfie made me laugh with her plans and her fake back stories, then she made me want to slap her, but by the end of the story she had redeemed herself.  Agnes is a really interesting character because she really grows throughout the story.  At first she’s quiet and withdrawn because nobody, apart from her family, talks to her.  Not only is she the daughter of an immo, but she also doesn’t speak much English.  She says that she is a collector of words and she picks up new and interesting words from listening to conversations.  Throughout the story she grows in confidence and manages to settle the moths in her stomach when she sings.

I absolutely love Pop! and the wonderful characters that Catherine has created. Whenever I watch a reality show now I’ll be looking out for people who know Elfie’s Rules of Talent TV.  If you love Frank Cottrell Boyce’s books, like Millions and Framed, then Pop! is definitely the book for you.

5 out of 5 stars

Leave a comment

Filed under authors, books, young adult, young adult fiction

Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur

Elise never really knew her parents.  Her mum died after her birth and her dad got sick and died of cancer a few years later.  Her Uncle Hugh and Aunt Bessie promised to look after her and she has lived with them ever since.  She’s been best friends with Franklin for years and they’ve always loved playing games like Knights together.  When they start middle school Elise starts to get embarrassed by Franklin and doesn’t want to hang around with him anymore.  Then there’s her locker buddy, Amanda who nicknames her Scabula and squashes her lunch every morning.  Elise starts to hate school and is afraid to go because of Amanda’s bullying.  Just when she needs it a special surprise comes along.  Her father leaves her a mystery to unlock and with each discovery a new key arrives.

Eight Keys is about a girl discovering who she is and learning about the parents she didn’t know.  When Elise is feeling lost and worried, the mystery that her father left for her comes along and helps her choose who she wants to be.  It helps her see who her mum and dad were and how much they loved her, even before she was born.  You see a real change in Elise, from the worried, confused girl at the start to the confident, happy girl at the end.  I really liked the character of Franklin because he’s funny, loyal and will do anything to help his friend.  Eight Keys is the perfect book for girls who like Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy.  It will make you laugh and cry, but leave a smile on your face.

Eight Keys would make a great read-aloud for 9-12 year olds, especially as it deals with bullying and friendship.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Picture Book Nook: Out of Bed Fred by Lucy Davey and Harriet Bailey

Every day Mum has to give the boys a hurry-up.  She goes through the house calling,

“Out of bed, Fred!
In your clothes, Mose!
Brush your hair, Blair!
Wash your face, Mace!
Eat your food, Jude!
Clean your teeth, Keith!
Time to go, Joe!”

However, their little sister, Shirley is always up before them, “all dressed, brushed, washed, fed, cleaned and ready to go.”  She’s the sort of sister who always  does everything right and never gets in trouble.  But one day her brothers come up with a plan to change all that.  Will it work or will Shirley outsmart them?

Out of Bed Fred is a fun story that perfectly captures the day-to-day life of a big family.  Shirley really stands out, not just because she’s the only girl, but also because of her sense of humour and the way she stands up to her brothers.  The illustrator, Harriet Bailey has given the pictures a real Kiwi feel, with the brothers wearing shorts and rugby jerseys and photos of beach holidays on the wall.   If you look hard enough you’ll also be able to spot Weetbix and Marmite on toast.  Out of Bed Fred is perfect for brothers and sisters of all ages and is a great read-aloud.

Leave a comment

Filed under books, children, New Zealand, Picture Book Nook, picture books

Not Bad for a Bad Lad by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo’s latest book is about a boy who is always getting into trouble.  Everyone is always telling him he’s a bad lad.  He gets caught playing on bomb sites, banging rubbish bin lids and stealing tomatoes and even a car.  He gets arrested and sentenced to a year in Borstal, which was a prison for young offenders where they could learn a trade like carpentry, painting or bricklaying.  The judge sends him there to think things over and learn his lesson.  The first few months are tough and the boys are worked hard, ‘laying bricks for hours on end in all weathers, making bread in the kitchens, weeding in the vegetable garden.’  Every morning the boys have to go on a two-mile run and the bad lad likes running past the stables.  One morning, as he goes past the stables the old man who looks after the horses calls him over and offers him an amazing opportunity to help out in the stables. This opportunity helps him to turn his life around and make his family proud of him.

Not Bad for a Bad Lad is another amazing story from Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman, the author and illustrator of War Horse, Kaspar: Prince of Cats and Billy the KidMichael Morpurgo often writes stories about an older person telling a child about their interesting life, and this is one of those stories.  The story is inspirational and Michael Foreman’s illustrations add perfectly to the story.  Don’t get put off by the picture of the horse on the front cover because this isn’t just a story about a horse.  This is a must-read for all Michael Morpurgo fans, but a great book to delve into if you haven’t read any of his books yet.  

Recommended for 9+    10 out of 10

1 Comment

Filed under authors, books, children, children's fiction

All I Ever Wanted by Vikki Wakefield

My favourite quote from one of the greatest books of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird, is

‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.’

I was reminded of this quote while I was reading a wonderful book by debut Australian author, Vikki Wakefield.  Her book, All I Ever Wanted is the story of Mim, who is growing up in the suburbs.  She knows what she wants and where she wants to go – anywhere but home, with her mother who won’t get off the couch and her brothers in prison.  She’s set herself rules to live by, like ‘I will finish school, I will not drink alcohol, I will not be like everybody else, and I will not turn out like my mother.’   However, things aren’t going to plan; drug dealers are after her, her best friend isn’t talking to her, and the guy she likes is a creep.  Over the nine days before her 17th birthday, Mim’s life turns upside down.

All I Ever Wanted is a brilliant debut from Vikki Wakefield and I’ll eagerly await her next book.  I loved the character of Mim, whose voice was original and authentic.  Even though her life is tough, she stays true to herself and is determined not to turn out like the rest of her family.  The thing that really makes this book so great is the other people we meet who are a part of Mim’s life.  There’s the vicious, dodgy Mick Tarrant (who beats his family and his dog Gargoyle), her neighbour Mrs Tkautz (the grouchy woman who everyone thinks is a witch), Lola (the shy girl who lives next door), and Kate (the straight-laced sister of Jordan).  When Mim actually gets to know them she realises she has misunderstood them and maybe they aren’t so bad after all.  Mim and the cast of characters in All I Ever Wanted will stay with you long after you’ve finished their story.      Recommended for 13+      8 out of 10

2 Comments

Filed under books, young adult, young adult fiction

Angel Creek by Sally Rippin

Jelly has just moved into a new house, in a new neighborhood that’s far away from all her friends.  If that wasn’t bad enough, she’s having to spend Christmas eve looking after her cousins.  There are only two things she likes about her new home: the old apricot tree  and the creek at the back of the house.  Jelly dares her cousins to go down to the creek and it’s in the creek’s dark waters that they discover a baby angel with a broken wing.  They decide to keep it in a shed at the school and nurse it back to health.

But soon things start to go horribly wrong; her grandmother gets sick, a tree falls on her uncle’s car and there’s  some very strange weather.  Jelly realizes that you’ve got to be careful what you wish for, especially when there’s an angel around.

Angel Creek is a mysterious, spooky story that makes you want to keep reading to find out how it ends.  Like Jelly and her cousins, Pik and Gino, you wonder why there is an angel in the creek and why all these strange things seem to be happening.  Even though bad things keep happening to those around them, the children are really brave and do all they can to protect the angel.  I loved Angel Creek and I’m sure you will too. 

Recommended for 9+   10 out of 10

Leave a comment

Filed under books, children, children's fiction, fantasy

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Finn!

Finn Marsh is just an ordinary kid who’s not very good at most things.  When his class has to do a homework assignment about what they’d like to be when they grow up, Finn decides he’d like to be a superhero.  But to be a superhero there are a few things you need, like superpowers, a nemesis, a costume, and you need to save someone’s life.  To finish his homework Finn needs to become Super Finn and, with the help of his friend Brain, he must figure out what it takes to be a superhero.  When Finn’s mum tells him and his brother that they can’t afford to sponsor their World Vision child, Umbaba anymore, Finn realizes that it’s up to him to raise the money to save him.  After their experiments to try and get super-strength and night-vision powers don’t go as planned, Finn and Brain turn to doing dares for money and running a black market junk food business during their lunch break to raise money to help sponsor Umbaba.  Are their crazy schemes enough to help save Umbaba’s life and become a superhero?

Super Finn is the funniest book I’ve read in a long time.  Finn and Brain are cool characters and you might even have kids like them in your class.  The things that they get up to are hilarious and one part of the book, when Finn is in assembly with bags of lollies strapped to his body, made me crack up laughing.  I loved the character of Finn because even though he keeps getting in trouble he doesn’t give up his mission to help Umbaba. Super Finn is Leonie Agnew’s first book and I can’t wait to read what she writes next.  Recommended for 7+     10 out of 10

Leave a comment

Filed under books, children, children's fiction, New Zealand