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Humphrey's Big-Big-Big Book of Stories
Humphrey's Big-Big-Big Book of Stories
by Betty G. Birney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Big Book Full of Fun, 22 Nov. 2009
Humphrey's Big-Big-Big Book of Stories contains the first three books written by Betty G. Birney and starring everyone's favourite educated hamster. Humphrey is the classroom pet for room 26 of Longfellow school and has become good friends with all the children in the class. What they don't know is that he is a very intelligent hamster who can read, write and scores highly in the spelling tests. Most of all Humphrey likes to help people out and when his classmates are in trouble he always finds a solution. So if Speak-up-Sayeh has a problem with shyness or Lower-your-voice-A.J. has an unbearably loud family the little hamster will do his best to cure them of their troubles whether they know about it or not. There are loads of adventures in this omnibus as Humphrey makes friends with the fearsome Mrs Brisbane, meets a frog called Og, takes a frightening ride on a train and helps a magician with his act. It's an almost endless source of fun and entertainment.

These books are wonderful stories for reading aloud. The short chapters make them particularly good for bedtime reading as they are quick to get through but are packed with plenty of entertainment and emotion and always leave the reader in a happy place by the end.
The most interesting thing about these tales however is the content. Young readers or listeners will empathise strongly with Humphrey because he sees the world and school through a child's eyes. Being seen but not listened to is something which all children can relate in some degree. They will recognise the trials and adventures of life at school from shyness to bullying. Hardships at home are also cleverly dealt with such as immigrants trying to integrate, a young girl attempting to deal with the consequences of divorced parents and a new stepsister, even a boy whose mother is gravely ill which makes him misbehave badly at school and lose his friends. All these themes are touched upon delicately and always finish happily. It's a great way for parents to get to hear just what is going on in their child's life as they will undoubtedly recognize certain events and compare them to their own problems or to those of other kids at school. There are plenty of opportunities for discussion and this has proven to be a great book for teachers to read to their pupils in order to dwell upon a few of its themes.

There are really no negatives to Betty Birney's creation that above all is crammed full of fun. A highly recommended book that is a perfect gift.

The Spookoscope (Oli & Skipjacks Tales/Trouble)
The Spookoscope (Oli & Skipjacks Tales/Trouble)
by Ceci Jenkinson
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Funny, 22 Nov. 2009
Another adventure for Oli and Skipjack and this time they are having a bit of trouble with ghosts! Lord and Lady Spiffing own a great big haunted mansion but the roof is falling down and they have to rely on money from tourists to keep the building upright. They have hired Madame Moonbeam a clairvoyant (and fraud) to tempt their spiritual ancestors into spooking all these visitors but even so they just can not keep their heads above the water and it looks like Lord Spiffing will have to face a fate worse than death; selling his prize cow, Mildred.

So when the boys come and visit bringing their Spookoscope with them and see a real ghost who happens to know the secret location of some hidden treasure, the Spiffing's invite them to stay the weekend and help find it. However there are two BIG problems. First of all, the devious Madame Moonbeam is out to sabotage their attempts so that she doesn't end up unemployed and secondly, Skipjack is being haunted. The nasty and smelly werewolf ghost, Norman, has sworn to haunt the boy forever if he does not help him get revenge on Lord Spiffing for old grievances before the weekend is over. The two heroes must find the treasure, outwit Viola Moonbeam, find some way to save Skipjack and get the Spookoscope back to Oli's brother, on pain of a fate worse than death, before it's to late!

The third outing for Oli and Skipjack, this is definitely the best one yet! The story is never falters and is tremendously entertaining as the plot falls cleverly into place. Ceci Jenkinson also has a real talent for making her readers laugh, the book is riddled with jokes for both children and adults but she also writes in such a way that her amusing scenes spring to life before the reader. The characters are great, especially the quirky Lord and Lady Spiffing with Lord S having a strange penchant for sharp axes and a love of all things cow related. The ghosts are by not at all frightening, with fantastically funny and slightly ridiculous behaviour. It's difficult to be afraid of a ghost when it's being sucked up someone's nose!

Ceci Jenkinson really knows how to write for children and has created a fun and entertaining book for kids that is also quite educational with no fear of using big difficult words. It's perfect for adults to read to their child or can also be easily enjoyed alone.

The Mousehunter (Mousehunter Trilogy)
The Mousehunter (Mousehunter Trilogy)
by Alex Milway
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A "Tail" of Daring on the High Seas!, 22 Nov. 2009
Imagine a world where mice played a more important role than any other animal. These mice would come in all shapes and sizes with a variety of different skills from flying to razor sharp claws. This is the world of Mousehunters. Isiah Lovelock is the world's most famous mouse collector in the world as well as the richest and most powerful man in Old Town. By comparison his young mousekeeper, Emiline, could not be any more insignificant. When Lovelock receives a warning from the most feared pirate on the seas Mousebeard, Emiline jumps at the chance to become part of the famous Captain Drewshank's crew as they set out to catch this pirate and bring him to justice.

What follows is a terrifying encounter with sea monsters and a confrontation with the dreaded Mousebeard. Things don't turn out as hoped when they are overpowered and captured before the terrible truth behind their quest is revealed. Lovelock has betrayed them all, sacrificing Drewshank and his crew in order to take Mousebeard prisoner but more importantly to retrieve two incredibly valuable golden mice. Emiline and her fellow mousekeeper Scratcher must act fast to save their friends and halt Lovelock's plan for world dominance.

Mousehunters is above all a tale of piracy and adventure. The mouse theme gives it a very original twist however that reminds me quite strongly of the popular Pokemon television series. Nearly every character has their own pet mouse, each with different abilities and uses. The mice are present in every walk of life and carry out many tasks in society from working as moving drink trays in taverns to repairing ropes high up in the rigging of ships. Mouse collecting is a serious and deadly occupation with a lot of money at stake as the more ruthless collectors are casual with other's lives in order to obtain the rarer breeds. This plays a major part in the clever plotline to this exciting and novel book. Alex Milway is a good writer but above all he is a great entertainer, as the story rushes on at breakneck speed throwing up dangers and seedy characters at every turn. The sudden change in the plot as it unveils many more layers of betrayal and subterfuge was completely unexpected but utterly welcome.

The world of Mousehunters is one closely resembling the old sea towns at the borders of the British Empire where pirates and soldiers rubbed shoulders among the dingy alleyways of rotten old towns. You get a real feel for this through Milway's writing and can almost smell the reek of stale seawater and hear the creaking of rope as the bodies on the gibbet twist in the wind. Despite the high body count there is no real violence to this book which deals with a gruesome and bloody era in a way that makes it completely suitable for young children. So sit back and enjoy the first of what is bound to be a great trilogy, of which the second book is already released and the third is due in a matter of months.

Battleground: Code Red
Battleground: Code Red
by Chris Ryan
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Painful Read, 22 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Battleground: Code Red (Hardcover)
Ben Tracy is on a school trip to Pakistan with his classmates and his environmental activist mother. While he is busy absorbing the culture and lifestyle of his new surroundings his mum will be crossing the border into Afghanistan, where she will be busy instructing tribespeople in modern farming. On his first day things go very wrong for Ben when he and a girl called Aarya are kidnapped by the Taliban after they witness the transportation of a secret weapon. Trussed up and thrown in the back of a van, the two are carried into war torn Afghanistan where their captors will use a nuclear bomb to destroy a huge dam, aiming to kill thousands. The SAS are already out searching for the Taliban after hearing of a secret plan. When Ben escapes he must tell them all he knows if they will have any chance of saving all those people in time as well as Aarya, who is still held prisoner. It's a race against time as Ben and four crack troops hurry to find one lone terrorist before it is too late. To make matters worse Ben receives word that his mum is trapped inside an army base under siege with no way of getting out and all reinforcements directed towards the nuclear threat.

This is an interesting novel as it focuses on the war in Afghanistan and will give young readers a view into the harsh realities of warfare and the problems faced not only by the soldiers on the front line but also by the local population. There is a particular emphasis on the lives led by women under the Taliban regime as Aarya tells of the hardships her aunt has suffered. Letting young people know of the difficulties outside the borders of our own relatively safe country is very much worthwhile, especially with so many seeing friends and family leave to fight in Afghanistan. The army receives a glowing tribute with individual bravery particularly highlighted. There is also mention of many of the problems faced by the troops such a the lack of equipment, especially helicopters.

All these things however do not make up for the story itself. Strangely it is not the nuclear bomb threat that makes the plot unbelievable, but Ben's involvement in the action. He is not a character you can find any affection for and his big mouth and arrogance not only land him in trouble in the first place but also sink him ever deeper. Despite this he still makes a series of badly judged escape attempts while constantly striving to outsmart his opponents. He isn't resourceful and clever like Alex Rider or as suave and dangerous as the young James Bond. He is barely involved in any action and his main method of investigation is to trick the main evil villain into bragging about his plans. This works over and over and over again. Another problem is that the Taliban are portrayed as incredibly stupid, two dimensional enemies, capable of being outwitted by a mere fourteen year old boy with no skills, brains or the usual high tech gadgets! It's not until the involvement of the SAS that things begin to get a bit more exciting as they ruthlessly eliminate the enemy to hunt down the bomb. Cue a terrifying drive through a mine field and a last second race to diffuse the nuke.

Chris Ryan obviously has a wealth of knowledge of warfare which he uses to good effect. Grisly fight scenes, detailed weapon descriptions and army slang help to create a believable world where boys little older than the target age range for this book are immersed in a fight for their lives. It's just a shame that awful characters and a weak plot stops the reader suspending their disbelief and diving into a promising story.

by Ian Beck
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Close to Greatness!, 1 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Pastworld (Hardcover)
In the mid 21st century London has been turned into a giant theme park. Buckland Corp has recreated a historically accurate replica of the city during the Victorian era. Visitors pay hefty fees to relive the old days, relishing in the violence, decadence and squalor of Pastworld where everything, including the law, is exactly as it was during the reign of Queen Victoria.

Eve is a young woman living in this Victorian city, with no idea that the outside world exists or even any memory of her life before the age of fifteen. Trouble stalks Eve as a ragged looking man begins to follow her and rumours are circulating of the return of the Fantom, a deranged killer much like the Ripper who rules most of the criminal world.

Caleb is visiting Pastworld for the first time with his father, one of the creators of the city. Events turn against him and finding himself accused of kidnap and subject to the old laws of Pastworld, Caleb must a way to escape. Together with Eve, Caleb finds himself drawn into a plot that has been years in the making and must find the Fantom if he is ever to escape.

The premise to Pastworld is a brilliant one and Ian Beck gives his world a moody and atmospheric feel. There is little difficulty in imagining the Victorian London as he describes the foggy streets thronged with huge jostling crowds and the occasional pickpocket. Many of the situations are historically accurate or culturally familiar such as the Victorian obsession with supernatural séances, the Jack the Ripper style murders and the appearance of a main character who very much resembles the Artful Dodger. The plot is well developed and interesting as futuristic science mingles itself with this old world and shows just what lengths some people will go to enrich themselves. The villain of the story is particularly good with his creepy appearance and bloodthirsty behaviour which gradually reveals him as a mad criminal mastermind.

Whilst the premise provides a great backdrop and the plot is exciting and enticing, it is very difficult to become involved with the main characters. Their actions are sometimes unusual and unrealistic, which is a jolt to the natural flow of the book. This is a disappointment as it is the only thing to let down what could have been a great book. Had the characters been slightly more developed and the action scenes been a bit more exciting Pastworld could have had huge success. As it is the idea behind the story is what pulls it out of the bag and it would be great to have this added to in a sequel. I would in particular like to hear more of the strange outside world from which all these visitors come.

A good read that narrowly misses out on being a great one.

Madame Pamplemousse and the Time-Travelling Cafe
Madame Pamplemousse and the Time-Travelling Cafe
by Rupert Kingfisher
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best way to Time Travel, 1 Nov. 2009
Madeleine is a young girl with an exceptional talent for cooking who lives with her new family in a restaurant in Paris. Since her adventures with the extraordinary Madame Pamplemousse, the inventor of the most incredible edible ever, life has really improved for the budding cook. One day however a woman sent from the President of France appears at her door and threatens to arrest her if she does not reveal the location of Madame Pamplemousse. It turns out that the President hates the happy atmosphere of Paris and is intent on destroying it. For this the government needs the ingredients of the Incredible Edible with which they will control the population of the Capital. Madeleine must go on the run and is soon propelled back into the past by the owner of the Time Travelling Café in order to help Madame Pamplemousse gather the illusive ingredients for a concoction that will save Paris.

The Time Travelling Café is the second adventure for Madeleine and her friends. There is something of an old fashioned fairytale to this book with plenty of magical beasts from the Sphinx to the Loch Ness monster but it has a modern twist with the invention of time travelling coffee machine. The attention to detail is what lifts the story and keeps the reader interested but it also gives the book some humorous moments as well as its most imaginative ones. Every reader would surely want to taste some of Madame Pamplemousse's edibles once they had heard of Triceratops Tail with Garlic, Peppered Dragon spit or Kraken Tentacle with Rose-Petal Jam! The book is full of wonderful elements such a these and coupled with some of the strange creatures, amongst which is the amazing cat Camembert, this will be a great favourite with many children. How could it not be when the main character gets drooled on by a dinosaur before being whisked swinging through the trees by a cat with an eye patch?

The illustrations are few but charming and best of all the beautiful paper cover that comes with the hardback version the book beautiful visually and encourage it to be a favourite. Madame Pamplemousse's adventures could easily one day become a classic in every young child's collection.

Stormy Weather
Stormy Weather
by Debi Gliori
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A future classic, 1 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Stormy Weather (Hardcover)
Join a rich cast of firm animal favourites, from foxes to bears, in a world of warmth and comfort as they settle down for a good night's rest. Despite rising waters, stormy weather, falling snow and strong winds these little characters curl up and fall asleep one by one in the loving arms of their watchful parents who protect them from the elements outside.
Gentle and soothing this is a wonderful picture book that allows for plenty of cuddling. It will comfort anyone finding it hard to sleep with rhymes that read just like a lullaby.
The illustrations are beautiful, spread across double pages that perfectly portray the sleepy mood the story creates. Wonderfully detailed each page takes your breath away with its sheer charm and calming autumnal feel. Children will be able to imagine the wind and rain outside as they lie warm and safe in their beds. The looks of adoration on the animals' faces, both parent and child, really reinforce the over-all message of love and protection.

A fantastic book for reading aloud this is sure to become a firm favourite with many children who will demand it along with their nightly bedtime kiss and cuddle.

Blood Hunters
Blood Hunters
by Steve Voake
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and violent., 1 Nov. 2009
This review is from: Blood Hunters (Paperback)
This story begins deep in a Mexican jungle where a team of scientists are exploring the world's deepest sinkhole. A little unmanned submarine is sent down but it's cameras pick up strange dark shapes swimming at the bottom just before they short-circuit. When the machine re-emerges one of the scientists, William Sims, notices a strange green goo stuck to the bottom. He scoops it up and smuggles it back to Britain.

Two big thing happened to Joe in just one day. First of all he makes a friend in the new boy at school, Giles. Secondly his scientist father is arrested for the murder of William Sims. Convinced of his innocence Joe and Giles set
out to discover the real culprit.

Meanwhile savage attacks are being carried out against members of the public and the police are baffled. The boys suspect that something unusual is happening. Their investigations lead them to the canal where they are suddenly and violently attacked by a giant wormlike creature that surges from the waters intent on killing them. Narrowly escaping they are forced to turn to the police who are forced to face facts and an armed team is sent in to destroy this new threat. But the reality is far worse than they thought and Joe's father believes the monsters to be the Earth's reaction to human overpopulation.

Blood Hunters is fast paced, packed with action and the thrill of danger. There are plenty of fight scenes against these scary and revolting invaders with everything from guns, helicopters to cricket bats used in the attempt to beat them back. The characters are interesting and believable with a well developed background to all of them no matter how insignificant a part they may play. Giles was a particular favourite with his constant optimistic view of the world and his bravery. Joe, who is normally self-effacing, becomes determined and a bit aggressive when put in a life threatening situation. There is a strong eco message as the author deals with the theme of overpopulation and the way humankind abuses the earth. He compares the appearance and rapid reproduction of the worms to the actions of white blood cells when faced with an infection. The monsters are the Earth's attempt to curb the spread of humans over its surface.

There are some drawbacks however. It's difficult to decide just what age range the book is for with it's huge writing and simple plot indicating a younger age than its sometimes gory moments may allow for. There is also a rather repetitive element to the story with some action scenes seemingly recycled and losing originality, especially with regards to the strange fixation of fighting cricket bat and many other cricket related moments. At one point the two boys employ the bat and some bricks to good effect as one throws the bricks up for the other to hit, shooting giant beasts out of the sky. If this had been written differently it could have been comedy genius but as it was it seemed very much out of place with the feel of the book. The same could be said for the use of swords (twice), that are conveniently hanging on a wall in a house where children live. All very bizarre when mingled with the impressive firepower of a helicopter gunship.

All in all this was a reasonable enjoyable read suitable for children over ten, unless the reader is of a sensitive nature, in which case we would recommend a 12+ limit.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux
The Death Defying Pepper Roux
by Geraldine McCaughrean
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best recent kid's books, 1 Nov. 2009
On the day of his birth, Aunt Mireille announced that Pepper would die by his fourteenth birthday, le pauvre. Pepper lives his life with his mother and aunt, under strict control and in the knowledge that his life would be very short and he should prepare rigorously to meet God and all his saints and angels. The book begins on the morning of Pepper's fourteenth birthday and Pepper has decided that he does not want to die just yet. To escape the avenging angels and St Constance, who he is certain is coming to take him to the Lord, Pepper decides to step out of the life of Pepper Roux and take on another identity. He becomes Captain Roux the captain of a coffin ship doomed to sink, Konstantin Kruppe, a delivery boy for the French Telegraph Service and Pepper Papier, a journalist who wants to write only good news. Finally, his lives begin to crash around him, the saints eventually catch up and its up to Pepper and his friends to find a way to live past his fourteenth year.

Each life that Pepper takes on is a fascinating episode in the life of this loveable little boy. McCaughrean has written her characters extremely well and the supporting cast of quirky, unusual and yet believable characters move this book up from being a good read to a great classic. Every character, regardless of how small their role may be, is lifted from the page with turns of phrase and mannerisms that illuminate the story. Pepper himself is a wonderful character, beginning the story as a naive, downtrodden but polite little boy and growing over the course of the book into a capable, kind hearted and warm young man who is loved by all despite his twisted childhood. You naturally warm to Pepper and without realising it the reader soon becomes attached.

The Death Defying Pepper Roux is a delicate gem of a story, that rare book that should be savoured and enjoyed slowly rather than devoured in one sitting. That isn't to say the story isn't gripping; quite the opposite in fact, but I felt that I wanted to prolong this fantastic story by a superb writer.

The Battle of the Sun
The Battle of the Sun
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.74

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Imaginative and Fun., 1 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Battle of the Sun (Hardcover)
Jack is a thirteen year old boy living in 17th Century London. He doesn't know it yet but an evil alchemist calling himself the Magus is planning to overthrow the Queen of England and take control of the kingdom for himself. To do this he will turn the entire capital, including the inhabitants, into gold. The final ingredient is the Radiant Boy, who is the key to finally turning base objects into solid gold. Jack is that boy and so finds himself kidnapped, taken to the disturbing home of the Magus who seeks to unlock his magic and bend Jack to his will. The young boy is by no means a willing captive and soon discovers another prisoner who was once the Magus' master. This prisoner promises to give him the key to escaping if he will free him in return. What follows is whirlwind of events where Jack meets a dragon and gains his own powers and superhuman strength. But the boy has no control over his new magic and is no match for the cunning Magus. Forced to obey him they set events in motion that will lead to the city being turned to gold in just a few days. With the Magus gone to prepare for his confrontation with the Queen, Jack is left to find a way to somehow defeat him. Helped by Silver, the heroine from the previous book of the series Tanglewreck, he sets out to not only save the city but everyone he loves before it is too late.

The Battle of the Sun is a highly imaginative book with strange creatures, most of which are unpleasant, making appearances throughout the tale. The best of these is the Creature(s) that consist of Wedge and mistress Split who were made in a bottle as a whole and then cut in half. Their presence is both malevolent, pitiful and amusing as they hop around one legged. It's this cast of the weird and the wonderful that really gives this book such a compelling feel. The plot itself is rather basic but then takes on so many unexpected twists and turns that it will leave the reader slightly out of breath and introduces a London that no-one could have imagined and even brings important figures such as the Queen into play. There is also a welcome return of Silver who saved the world in Tanglewreck. She is less prominent here as she figures as Jacks sidekick but nevertheless plays an important role as the book gears up towards the final deadly confrontation between the Magus and the Radiant boy.

Cleverly linked with the previous novel The Battle of the Sun can still be read as a stand alone book and there is also hints pointing to a third instalment. An exciting fantasy adventure this is highly enjoyable read. Do not let yourself be put of by Jeanette Winterson's unusual writing style which you will soon get used to and even grow to appreciate.

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