Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “sevenstories”

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #44: Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis

“Danny Dawson lives in the middle of the Australian outback. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it. And now it’s time for the annual muster; the biggest event of the year on the cattle station, and a time to sort the men from the boys. But this year things will be different: because Jonny’s gone and Danny’s determined to prove he can fill his brother’s shoes; because their fourteen-year-old sister is pregnant; because it’s getting hotter and hotter and the rains won’t come; because cracks are beginning to show…”

First Line: “I’d known for ages how a baby was made.”

Why I read it: It is currently on the Carnegie shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: People who like gently paced family dramas, animal stories or are interested in the Australian outback.

This is comfortably my least favourite book on the Carnegie shortlist. Whilst it was okay and covered some interesting and important themes, it was just a bit dull and does not compare well to the excellent other seven shortlisted novels. Nothing really happened until half way through and if I hadn’t been reading it for Carnegie, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. It has some appealing elements but the endless descriptions of cattle just got a bit boring for me.  I think that Lewis has a great deal of potential as a writer but this is just too boring, particularly for a children’s novel. The characters needed more backstory and the story just needed more variation and action and less description of cows.

You can read the full review on my blog.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #43: Skellig by David Almond

“Michael was looking forward to moving house. It was all going to be wonderful. But now his baby sister’s ill, his parents are frantic and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless. Then he steps into the crumbling garage… What is this thing beneath the spiders’ webs and dead flies? A human being, or a strange kind of beast never seen before? The only person Michael can confide in is Mina. Together, they carry the creature out into the light, and Michael’s world changes forever…”

First Line: “I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.”

Why I read it: After reading My Name is Mina, the recently released prequel, I wanted to reread this.  I read it when I was much younger and didn’t really like it but I loved My Name is Mina and wanted to see if my opinion had changed, reading it as an adult.

Who I would recommend it to: If you’re after a quick read with depth and you don’t mind unsolved problems and unanswered questions.

Whilst I much preferred Skellig second time round, I can’t say it is up there as a classic for me, which it is often described as. Indeed, it won the Carnegie award when it was first published which is high praise indeed. So I didn’t like this the first time I read it, which would have been when I was around 12 or 13 but I can’t really remember any specifics about why I didn’t like it but I have grown up knowing I didn’t like it, criticising it to English teachers and not recommending it to students. I now feel bad about that. Although to me it is a good read, it didn’t transcend any boundaries for me and whilst it had some lovely moments, it is nowhere near my list of favourites. My Name is Mina is a far superior book in my opinion, although it obviously does build on themes and ideas that were first created here. I can see why this won Carnegie, even if it isn’t to my particular taste, as it is unique and carefully written, something that is all too unusual in the children’s fiction market.

The full review is on my blog.


sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #42: My Name is Mina by David Almond

“Mina’s a rebel. She can’t be controlled and she won’t fit in. People say she’s weird. Some says she’s just crazy. But all she wants is to be free, to be happy, and to be herself. One night, as she sits in the moonlight, she picks up an empty notebook, and begins to write. And here is her journal, Mina’s life in Mina’s own words; her stories and dreams, experiences and thoughts, her scribblings and nonsense, poems and songs. Her vivid account of her vivid life.”

I read Skellig when I was much younger and didn’t really like it so when My Name as Mina was announced as being on the Carnegie shortlist this year, I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about reading the prequel to Skelling. However, I was totally unprepared for how much I loved this. Almond’s writing is beautiful and Mina is a truly remarkable creation. The word I would use to sum this up is uplifting, I felt really inspired and moved reading this and I would highly recommend this. I think it is going to be a battle between this and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness for my pick for the Carnegie win. This book is magical and wonderful. It inspired me to work harder to nurture the students I have responsibility for and to try and make sure that they see the world to be as magical a place as Mina does, filled with endless opportunities and beauty.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “My name is Mina and I love the night.”

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie Prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of quirky yet lyrical writing and you don’t mind a story not driven by plot. If you don’t mind precocious child narrators.


sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #41: A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison

“‘In my squirrel room, looking out over the moors to Grimbottom, thinking about Alex. When he next sees me, I will be up there on the wild moors, lost to the world, unaware that I am being observed. It’s only when I glance up, that I notice Alex in his breeches and fancy shirt. He runs to me and takes me in his arms. I close my eyes and hear… “We is here, wiv our bumbums out.” And open them to see the toddler twins at my bedroom door, naked from the waist down.’ You know when something feels really bad, worse than a bat trapped in your mouth? Or kissing the boy who just wants to be your friend? Tallulah Casey does. She’s your kind of mate.”

This is the gloriously silly sequel to Withering Tights, the romantic mishaps of Tallulah Casey, aspiring actress, hampered by her out of control knees and distinct lack of acting ability. Rennison’s charm is her ability to manage to get inside teeenage girls heads whilst also introducing enough ridiculously bizarre situations and characters to make her books stand out from the hundreds of imitators out there. If you are a girl who grew up in the 90s or 2000s in the UK, you will struggle not to be charmed and entertained by Rennison. This series is not as funny as Georgia but still has many laugh out loud moments and is a quick, fun read despite not being as tightly written as the Georgia series. So, to be honest, I would recommend reading the Georgia series in full first, starting with Angus, Thongs and Full Front Snogging.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “Performing Arts College, here I come again, hold on to your tights!”

Why I read it: I grew up reading Louise Rennison’s Georgia Nicholson series and have a huge affection for her as a writer so whilst I am no longer the target audience for these, and they don’t make me cry with laughter any more, I still enjoy reading them and having a giggle at the complete silliness.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of Chris Higgins or Jaclyn Moriarty. If you fancy a quick and silly read that manages to blend the absurd with some real truisms about growing up as a girl.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #40: Small Change for Stuart by Lissa Evans

“Stuart Horten – ten years old but small for his age – moves to the dreary town of Beeton, far away from all his friends. But in Beeton begins the strangest adventure of Stuart’s life… He is swept up in a quest to find his great-uncle’s lost workshop – a workshop stuffed with trickery and magic. There are clues to follow and puzzles to solve, but what starts as fun ends up as danger, and Stuart begins to realise that he can’t finish the task by himself.”

This is a lovely and fun book that is written with charm and wit and heart. The story of the below-averagely height Stuart as he begrudgingly moves to a new town and ends up solving a family mystery full of puzzles and tricks, magic and mystery. I feel like this would make a great children’s TV show as Stuart races around Beeton, managing nosy triplet neighbours, quirky parents and a scheming enemy with a hapless magician sidekick. Despite all of this though, I found it difficult to consider it is a viable contender for the Carnegie prize just because its intended audience is so obviously much younger than the other shortlisted novels which are definitely aimed at the firmly young adult, older teens audiences. It is difficult to compare this to something harrowing like Between Shades of Grey or something lyrical and meandering like My Name is Mina. So, whilst I’m not sure  it is a good novel for Carnegie, I do think it is superbly written and incredibly charming.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “Stuart Horten was small for his age – the smallest boy in his year at school – and both his parents were very tall, which meant that when he stood next to them he looked about the size of an ant.”

Why I read it: It is on the current Carnegie Prize shortlist.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of Rebecca Stead or Frank Cottrell Boyce. If you like quirky stories full of heart.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #39: Trash by Andy Mulligan

“Three friends. Raphael, Gardo and Rat. Living on a heap of trash, a lifetime of sifting rubbish. One day they find something extraordinary – a deadly secret. From that moment they are hunted without mercy. With danger snatching at their heels, the boys are chased from the city’s dirty gutters to its wealthy avenues. But they can’t run forever. They need a miracle.”

I was far more impressed with this than I was expecting and it has gone down very well with my teenage readers as well. Whilst easy to read and relatively simple, it is filled with excellent storytelling, exciting twist and turns, wonderful characters and much to think about. A really worthy contender for the Carnegie prize this year and a novel that will be read and loved for years to come, I imagine (although it was written nearly two years ago so I’m a little confused as to why it is on this years shortlist). . It has a great mystery story as well as plenty to challenge teenage readers about the way children their age live in other cities.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “My name is Raphael Fernandez and I am a dumpsite boy.”

Why I read it: It is on the Carnegie shortlist which I am currently reading and shadowing with my Book Club students at school.

Who I would recommend it to: I can hardly think of anyone who wouldn’t fall for this book. An easy read with real depth, it’s perfect for its intended audience.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #38: Q by Evan Mandery

“Would you give up the love of your life on the advice of a stranger? A picturesque love story begins at the cinema when our hero – an unacclaimed writer, unorthodox professor and unmistakeable New Yorker – first meets Q, his one everlasting love. Over the following weeks, in the rowboats of Central Park, on the miniature golf courses of Lower Manhattan, under a pear tree in Q’s own inner-city Eden, their miraculous romance accelerates and blossoms. Nothing, it seems – not even the hostilities of Q’s father or the impending destruction of Q’s garden – can disturb the lovers, or obstruct their advancing wedding. They are destined to be together. Until one day a man claiming to be our hero’s future self tells him he must leave Q.”

Q was almost exactly as I had hoped it would be. I wanted a quirky romance without cheesiness and that is largely what I got. Whilst there is plenty of whimsy from the characters, Q in particular, we also get a level of quirk from the time travel element. Our hero is visited at points by himself from the future which tries to answer the oft-asked question of whether we would go back and tell our younger selves to avoid mistakes we made. I say it was almost what I hoped it would be though, as I did feel a little let down by the fact that the quote on the front cover from The New York Times, which warns the tear-prone not to read it in public. I was hoping for an epic, heartfelt ending where as in fact it was gentle and sweet, which has its charms but I was hoping for something a little more emotionally charged. To be honest, the book is worth buying just to have on your bookcase because it is lovely, the picture doesn’t do it justice. I found the experience of reading this thoroughly enjoyable and really ticked my boxes in terms of balance of romance and whimsy which can sometimes be rather overegged. I found it to be just the sort of book I love to read so despite it’s flaws, I really liked it.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, is the love of my life.”

Why I read it: The beautiful cover caught my eye in Waterstones and I bought it for a train journey to London.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of gentle philosophical meanderings, whimsical romance and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #37: The Blue Book by A. L. Kennedy

“Elizabeth Barber is crossing the Atlantic by liner with her perfectly adequate boyfriend, Derek, who might be planning to propose. In fleeing the UK – temporarily – Elizabeth may also be in flight from her past and the charismatic Arthur, once her partner in what she came to see as a series of crimes. Together they acted as fake mediums, perfecting the arcane skills practised by effective frauds. Elizabeth finally rejected what once seemed an intoxicating game, Arthur continued his search for the right way to do wrong. He now subsidises free closure for the traumatised and dispossessed by preying on the super-rich. The pair still meet occasionally, for weekends of sexual oblivion, but their affection lacerates as much as it consoles. She hadn’t, though, expecting the other man on the boat. As her voyage progresses, Elizabeth’s past is revealed, codes slowly form and break as communication deepens. It’s time for her to discover who are the true deceivers and who are the truly deceived. What’s more, is the book itself – a fiction which may not always be lying – deceiving the reader? Offering illusions and false trails, magical numbers and redemptive humour, this is a novel about what happens when we are misled and when we are true: an extraordinarily intricate and intimate journey into our minds and hearts undertaken by a writer of great gifts – a maker of wonders.”

This is a difficult book to review. On the one hand it is clever and bold and intricately written, but on the other it is unpleasant to read; it doesn’t uplift or inspire you but drags you down into the cruelty and intimacies of everyday human existence. I was fascinated by it, in the way you are with the somewhat repulsive creature you see in the aquarium, you can’t stop looking at it even though it horrifies you. It is also difficult to review as things are revealed throughout the book that change the way you perceive the situation or characters and to spoil them would fundamentally spoil the book but it is difficult to consider your feelings about the book without revealing them.

It is remarkably readable and I was fascinated by the characters and their messy lives and bad decisions. Some of the passages are startlingly beautiful and scenes from Beth and Arthur’s work as mediums are complicated and wonderful. If you like to read fiction that challenges what fiction should be then this is for you. Whilst I can’t say I enjoyed this,  I was impressed by it and I can’t really fault it either. Personally I found the experience of reading it distasteful and perplexing at times, but it is an incredibly well conceived and crafted novel and I feel as though it was designed to be experienced like that. Kennedy wrote The Blue Book as a confronting and challenging novel, and that is what she has succeeded in creating.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: “But here this is, the book you’re reading.”

Why I read it: It was one of the titles on the Orange Prize longlist that appealed, but not quite enough to buy it in hardback so I borrowed it from Solihull Library.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #36: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

“Every year, the Scorpio Races are run on the beaches of Skarmouth. Every year, the sea washes blood from the sand. To race the savage water horses can mean death, but the danger is irresistible. When Puck enters the races to save her family, she is drawn to the mysterious Sean, the only person on the island capable of taming the horses. Even if they stay together, can they stay alive?”

First Line: ‘It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.’

I’m a little torn about this in a very similar way to how I felt about Delirium by Lauren Oliver recently. The writing is carefully crafted and atmospheric but the pacing is off and the book takes too long to get going. The characters are largely appealing and the concept is refreshingly unique for the young adult market but I think the horsey focus put me off a little, as I’m not a big animal lover. I imagine that this will go down a treat with some teenager readers. It is also good to read a standalone young adult novel as well and to get some level of closure at the end.

The full review is on my blog.

Why I read it: I bought it for my husband after seeing it on the Cannonball group blog, who took it on holiday with us to Iceland where I read it after I finished the books I brought with me.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of earthy, gritty books rather than high tech, futuristic worlds who like a strong heroine and difficult decisions.

sevenstories’ #CBR4 Review #35: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

“Great art is difficult – that’s the motto of the family Fang. The family consists of Caleb and Camille (the parents), Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B). The family Fang create art: performance art, provocations, interventions – call it what you like. And many people certainly don’t call it art. But as Annie and Buster grow up, like all children, they find their parents’ behaviour an embarrassment. They refuse to take up their roles in these outrageous acts. They escape; Annie becomes an actor, a star in the world of indie filmmaking, and Buster pursues gonzo journalism, constantly on the trail of a good story. But when their lives start to fall apart, there is nowhere left to go but home. Meanwhile Caleb and Camille have been planning their most ambitious project yet and the children have no choice; like it or not, they will participate in one final performance. The family Fang’s magnum opus will determine what is ultimately more important: their family or their art.”

This was so close to being a favourite, I really loved so much of it and if it wasn’t for the ending I would have adored it. This is a wonderful mix of quirky and brutally realistic with charming characters and a totally unique concept, which makes a nice change from paranormal romances and dystopias. Whimsical and beautiful and heartbreaking, it’s a Wes Anderson film in book form. Wilson’s writing is wonderful, it manages to really lift you, there were moments were I felt buoyant with the lovely way he describes people and events. There are moment which are just suffused with joy and that made me laugh in pleasure. But the seemingly joyous and quirky style meant that I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming melancholy ending. It wasn’t surprising in itself and I can understand why Wilson chose to end it that way but I would have preferred a little more of the beautiful absurdity and for it to be less bleak and matter of fact.

The full review is on my blog.

First Line: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art, their children called it mischief.’

Why I read it: I saw it reviewed on the Cannonball group blog and though it sounded right up my street so I ordered it from Amazon.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of quirky, unpredictable fiction with an solid emotional backbone.

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