A Jane Austen Summer

Prompted by a “suggested reading list” brought home from school on the last day of term, I embarked on a multi-media immersion in the works of Jane Austen this summer, which in turn led me to read/re-read some of the books inspired by her characters.

I read Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion; listened to Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey on Audible and watched every TV/movie adaptation I could get my hands on!

Up until now I have mostly read books by contemporary writers, and have found old “classic” books a bit of a chore to read. I was delighted to find that these books were incredibly enjoyable to read due to the witty dialogue and steady flow of events; and the details on the fashions and etiquette of the time, far from being tedious, made the setting and feel of the books so perfect that I did not want to leave the world. I loved the comedy characters such as Mrs Jennings and Mr Collins whose scenes were amongst the most entertaining and memorable. I liked different characters for different reasons – I think that the witty heroines and obsequious clergymen each had their own merit and were brilliantly brought to life. Similarly, I can’t think of any of the books as a favourite as they each had unique qualities and standout scenes and I know that I am likely to re-read each of these novels.

Finally, I was inspired to read Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James, which is set approximately six years after Pride and Prejudice and loved the way that a modern writer could replicate the charm of Austen’s world, but add the new (and seemingly mis-matching)  layer of a murder mystery. The characters of Elizabeth and Darcy reacted in exactly the way I would have expected them to, and this made the  book a hugely enjoyable sequel. I also re-read Lydia – The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice  by Natasha Farrant which I enjoyed just as much second time as when I reviewed it here. I am now hoping that when my mum finishes Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield, she’ll allow me to read it too!

 

 

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Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

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`I have been a huge fan of Katherine Rundell’s distinctive and beautiful writing since I read Rooftoppers a few years ago. When I heard that her latest book was inspired by “Journey to the River Sea” by Eva Ibbotson, another of my favourite books, I could not wait to get my hands on it, and when I did I simply could not put it down!

No sooner has the first chapter concluded when four children from three different backgrounds have been stranded by a plane crash and in the words of one of the girls, Con, “We’re lost, in the Amazon jungle, and statistically speaking it’s very likely that we’re going to die.” The other children are Fred, a young teenager returning to school in England, and Lila and her slightly irritating 5 -year-old brother Max. Of course, this being a Katherine Rundell novel, you know that the children are going to find inner reserves of bravery to vanquish their situation.

Things I loved about this book: the characters of the four children, especially Con to whom many of the book’s greatest lines apply, and who changes during the story from a prickly outsider, who says such things as, “Shut-up cricket jumper” to Fred, and “Oh good, it’s always nice to be grammatically correct when you’re being eaten” to Lila, to a trusting friend. The unusual advice about how to survive in the wild, such as not eating any part of an animal that would take more than one colour to draw! The descriptions of the terrifying but awe-inspiring beauty of the rainforest and the ecological message of caring for the environment.

The combination of the humour, the descriptions of the setting in the Amazon jungle and the psychological and physical journey of discovery made by the characters, make this my favourite of Katherine Rundell’s books so far. Aspects of the plotline reminded me a little of Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo which I enjoyed when I was in Year 5, especially the determination to protect a place and person which have provided refugeI think this book should have equal appeal to all generations as there is so much to be learned from it and the writing is so intensely enjoyable.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens

Firstly, before you even think about reading this book, spend some time marvelling at the glorious cover art created by David Dean: it really sets the tone for a gorgeous story!

I was delighted when I heard that one of my absolute favourite authors, Robin Stevens, had been asked to write a sequel to The London Eye Mystery; a book which I thoroughly enjoyed reading about 3 years ago. Robin has done a tremendous job of further developing the characters of Ted Spark, his sister Kat, their parents, their cousin Salim and Aunt Gloria. The family relationships are utterly believable and  are consistent with the original book.

This time the action is set in New York, where Ted, Kat and their Mum have gone to visit Salim and Gloria as their aunt is now a  Curator at the Guggenheim Museum, and is involved in her first exhibition of paintings. I don’t know if it is because Robin is American, or a tremendously talented author, or a combination of the two – but she certainly made New York city come alive so that I could hear the commotion, smell the street smells and get immersed in the frantic bustle of the place. If you have read The London Eye Mystery you will know that Ted’s brain is wired differently to most, and his unique reaction to being in the city that never sleeps is brilliantly described. 

Not wishing to give away any plot spoilers I won’t go into details about the story, but when a priceless painting goes missing from the museum Ted has to use all his ingenuity to solve the crime. Kat and Salim prove to be an effective team with Ted, and together they outwit the adults by picking up on clues that others have dismissed.

I think that Robin Stevens has cemented her place as one of the most talented current writers of mystery books, the verve and skill with which she writes make her stories utterly enjoyable reads. If you are a huge fan of Robin’s Murder Most Unladylike series or a fan of the mystery genre, I’m sure you’ll love this book. Although you can read this a stand alone novel, if you like the characters in the story I would highly recommend that you read The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd as well.

In short, this is a fantastic book – read it!

One more great reason to buy this book is that I noticed some of the royalties are donated to The Siobhan Dowd Trust which provides funds for bringing books to under-privileged children, a really important cause.

Review: Hero on a Bicycle by Shirley Hughes

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I was prompted to pluck this book from my “to be read” pile when I noticed on Twitter that Shirley Hughes was celebrating her 90th birthday a couple of weeks ago. There were many things that I loved about this book and made it stand out for me.

Firstly, the setting, which is Florence in 1944. I found it different and interesting to read a WWII story set not just outside Britain, but in one of the Triple Alliance nations, giving me a different perspective on a part of history that I have studied in school this year.

The main character in the book is thirteen year-old Paolo Crivelli – the eponymous Hero on a Bicycle. However, his sister Constanza and his English mother Rosemary also feature as very strong characters.

In the opening chapter of the book Paolo is taking a secret night-time ride around the streets of Florence when he is suddenly grabbed my two men who command him to relay a message to his mother. Thus he and the reader are thrust into a story of courage and endurance and battling against a seemingly much stronger enemy.

Every character in the book was beautifully  well-written including less major characters such as Hilaria Albertini – a neighbour from a fascist sympathising family; and Lieutenant Helmut Grass – a young and compassionate officer. Another interesting aspect of the book was that it was set near the end of World War 2, with more emphasis on fear of exhaustion and starvation rather than bombing and fighting. By the end of the novel, each character has grown up and changed after the experiences they have overcome.

I would rate this book as an essential read, along with “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” by Judith Kerr and ” Letters from the Lighthouse” by Emma Carroll for anyone in late KS2 or KS3.

The Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child – a Fantastic Appointment

 

I meant to write this post as soon as I heard that Lauren Child had been appointed as the new Children’s Laureate, but end-of-year exams got in the way! In my opinion she is a brilliant choice because her unique style has certainly had a huge influence on my own love of books and reading.

When I was three my mum bought me “I am Too Absolutely Small for School” from a book fair at my older brothers’ primary school. I think I subsequently requested it as a story every single day until I went to school myself; I used to spend hours looking at the  fascinating illustrations and the word “schooliform” is still in use in my family! This book was followed by other Charlie and Lola titles and many other Lauren Child picture books….

I absolutely adored Clarice Bean. Apart from her wonderfully realised family, there was the fictional girl detective Ruby Redfort making intermittent appearances throughout the stories! I hoped and hoped that Lauren would write a book about Ruby too, and when the Ruby Redfort books arrived they became my new favourites.  I’ve been lucky enough to meet Lauren Child at book festivals on several occasions – her signing queues are very long because she is so charming and makes time to speak to all her fans and answer their questions. As I said at the start of this post, Lauren Child has been a huge inspiration to me and I’m sure that during her time as Children’s Laureate she will foster a love of books in many, many more children.

 

Here are some reviews of Lauren Child’s books that I’ve previously written:

Feel the Fear

Pick Your Poison

Blink and You Die

 

Review: Letters from the Lighthouse

Firstly, an apology for the lack of book reviews on here recently. I have been rather preoccupied with my Year 8 extended study project…but more of that later.

I’ve been a huge fan of Emma Carroll since I first met her at a local book festival event which happened to take place at my school four years ago. I have been captivated by each of her novels and I was delighted to see that Waterstones had made her latest work, Letters from the Lighthouse, their children’s book of the month.

The “Queen of Historical Fiction” has, this time, painted a captivating mystery set during the Second World War. The story starts with Olive, her younger brother, Cliff, and her older sister, Sukie, taking an ill-fated trip to the pictures. An air raid interrupts the film, leading to a chain of events which will take each of them far from their familiar London home. Sukie vanishes into the night and their mother decides to send Olive and Cliff to stay with their neighbour’s sister in Devon. On the evacuees train, Olive takes a keen dislike to a girl called Esther, whose unpleasant behaviour will be explained later in the book.

The children receive a mixed reception from the locals when they arrive in a small Devon village, but soon become conspirators in a heroic mission, due to a coded note which Olive has found in the coat that Sukie was wearing on the night of the fateful cinema trip.

Once I had started this book I read it continuously, as I was desperate to find out how the plot would resolve. As she always does, Emma Carroll has created a heroine who is relatable and totally genuine and has constructed a beautifully crafted story that will not let you go until you have reached the final page. I love the way she portrayed the different emotions and viewpoints of the characters and made you understand the importance of empathy and not judging others harshly. I think this is a wonderful book and I would give it a 10/10 rating; I think that anyone from Year 4/5 upwards would enjoy either reading it, or having it read to them.

I was especially lucky that Emma Carroll was signing copies in my local Waterstones today so I had the pleasure of meeting my literary hero again!

Oh, and back to the little matter of my extended study project – I have made Lego stop-frame animations of four of my favourite novels; one of which is Emma Carroll’s previous book, Strange Star, which you can see here (warning – contains spoilers)

Books in Brickfilm – Strange Star

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books and Lego

 

At school this year I have been given the opportunity to learn a new skill as a part of the Year 8 Extended Study project. I chose to combine my existing love of books with investigating Lego Stop-Frame animation.

When I started the project in October, I planned to create storyboards of the key scenes from some of my favourite books and then film them as short Lego movies; originally I though I might manage about 5 book adaptations and then have time to experiment with other forms of animating. Of course, since then I have learnt just how time consuming it is to create just a few minutes of movie with stop-frame (not to mention how long it took to sort out the family Lego collection which had been carefully scrambled and deposited in two huge plastic boxes!!)

Anyway, I have recently completed two short films, posted them on YouTube and had some positive feedback from friends and family. It now seems to be a good time to show them to the wider world, I know they are not super professional but I hope they give an indication of how much I love these books.

You can watch “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in Under 3 Minutes” here

and

“The Wolf Wilder in Under 3 Minutes” here

 

I am currently filming “Strange Star in Under 3 Minutes”,  I ideally hope to complete it during this half-term.

I hope you enjoy these as an alternative to the conventional book review.