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M Bastin (London, UK)

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The Flowing Queen (Flowing Queen Trilogy)
The Flowing Queen (Flowing Queen Trilogy)
by Kai Meyer
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Vivid, surreal, compelling, 14 Feb. 2015
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The Flowing Queen is a fantasy that grows in invention and strangeness with every page: it begins, exotically enough, in a gondola in Venice, only to confuse you moments later with mentions of mermaids and the Pharaoh's armies in the Mediterranean. Nothing is as it seems: the Pharaoh has been restored to life in the mid-nineteenth century, and enslaved the entire world with invincible armies of priests and living-dead mummies. Only Venice holds out, besieged but protected by the mysterious Flowing Queen in the waters of the lagoon. The mermaids are no whimsical creatures, but powerful and frightening with their mighty fish-tails and terrible shark-mouths, misunderstood, abused and exploited by the Venetians. Venice is half-abandoned and on the point of collapse; the people are hungry, and in their desperation their rulers will consider even an alliance with Hell (oh yes, Hell is a real place, and diplomatic relations may well be possible).

Orphans Merle and Junipa are taken on by the master mirror-maker Arcimboldo, expelled from the guild of mirror-makers for demonstrating a craft a little too close to alchemy. Indeed, one of Arcimboldo's first acts is to restore blind Junipa's sight by means of mirrors in her eyes. Arcimboldo's household is full of secrets, and Merle has one of her own: a mirror made of water that never spills, and into which one can dip a hand, and sometimes feel a hand grasping one's own... Merle is a compelling heroine, orphan-tough yet vulnerable, quick to anger yet also quickly accepting of those who are different and marginalised. The story twists and turns and surprises right until the end, where it proves to be just the first part of a trilogy. It certainly deserves to be more widely read and far better known, with a particular mention for the impeccable, undetectable translation from Anthea Bell.


Eleven Eleven
Eleven Eleven
by Paul Dowswell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, convincing and compassionate - the best children's book I have read about the First World War, 1 Dec. 2012
This review is from: Eleven Eleven (Paperback)
Paul Dowswell has been making a name as a writer of historical fiction for children, and for me this is his best yet. Set in the closing hours of the First World War, it conjures up the raw recruits and tired four-year veterans of the front line, still under orders to fight until the final moments before Armistice. You know what will happen in the great scheme, and yet you don't know what will happen to the three main characters, drawn closer and closer together in the last throes of the conflict. Country boys Will Franklin and Axel Meyer have barely arrived at the Front, on the English and German sides; seasoned American pilot Eddie Hertz is looking for one last victory notch on his propeller before returning to high society in New York. Over the last few hours of the war, the three are brought together in an unlikely, desperate and vital bond.

The plot is taut as a thriller, and Dowswell brilliantly captures the atmospheric detail that brings exhausted troops in the battle-churned Belgian countryside alive off the page: the wary camaraderie, grinding Army procedure, flashes of humanity, gallows humour and above all the dull misery of damp and cold and inadequate rations, spiked with fear when shells rain in or snipers strike. It's so hard for us to comprehend the First World War at this distance - so long ago, so enormous, so many lives lost for such unfathomable causes and apparently insignificant gains. Dowswell makes it possible to live and feel the conflict through his three protagonists - and to realise that they had not much more idea of the causes and grand ideas than we do, and are much closer and more like us than we would imagine. A powerful, wise and brillliantly readable book.


How to Help your Child Read and Write: A Groundbreaking Guide for Every Parent of Children from Birth to Eleven Years
How to Help your Child Read and Write: A Groundbreaking Guide for Every Parent of Children from Birth to Eleven Years
by Dr Dominic Wyse
Edition: Paperback

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well-written, enthusiastic, accessible - and yet, and yet..., 9 Sept. 2008
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I looked forward to reading this book, both out of professional interest and as a parent, and found much to appreciate and enjoy. Dr. Wyse is a lucid and engaging writer, a passionate advocate of reading with children and encouraging their own reading and writing from the earliest age. He includes some excellent ideas and recommendations of specific titles for particular stages, and lively supporting examples of reading and writing approaches from children themselves.

However, Dr. Wyse does quote his experiences with his own children - clearly very bright and able, and with plenty of informed parental support - extensively, drawing general conclusions from their very particular circumstances. I'm not for underestimating children, but even parents committed enough to buy this book might find some of the expectations in it daunting. And as a synthetic phonics sceptic, Dr. Wyse gives very little book-room or credence to phonics teaching - a pity, given its increasing importance in early literacy teaching in the UK.

Those details aside, on the whole this is a highly useful and encouraging book, and especially valuable for its emphasis on communicating and reading with children in the early years, the foundations of confident and enjoyable reading for life.


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