Saturday, 28 April 2012

Small Change For Stuart

Small Change For Stuart
By Lissa Evans

Stuart is a ten year old boy who is incredibly small for his age, and is often picked on because of this. When he moves house to dull and dreary Beeton, his life gets worse and worse, especially when he meets the triplets next door. But the boredom doesn't last long; when Stuart discovers a message from his missing Great Uncle, he sets out on a quest to find the magician's workshop that was left behind by following a series of clues. However, he has very limited time and there are others searching too...

I thought this book was stunning and I was really caught up in the plot despite probably being considered too old to read it! I know I would have loved to read a book like this when I was younger, yet I still really enjoyed.

The series of clues is a really good idea, and although not unique, I thought Evans used the context around it to make it as unusual as possible. I loved how everything fitted together at the end, and whilst there were a couple of lose threads left, most my questions were answered and I felt extremely satisfied. I can see a sequel being written for this book, but it works just as well as a stand alone novel.

I really liked how Stuart was characterised, and how he reminded me of a ten year old - his thoughts and feelings were spot on. I also enjoyed the development of April as a character as I felt she helped to compliment many aspects of Stuart's character, as well as making both characters very relevant to ten year olds today.

There were continuous twists and turns, but nothing too complicated to follow, yet nothing was predictable and I was constantly turning the pages. I thought that the way magic and comedy were woven into the story were pretty much seamless. Nothing seemed tacky or silly - everything was completely believable and had that lovely old fashioned feel about it, but was also very modern. The comic moments were well executed and were not over the top or trying to be funny and failing.

Overall I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to children and young adults of all ages - no one is 'too old' for this book!

Rachel, Yr 12

Friday, 27 April 2012

Everybody Jam

Everybody Jam
Ali Lewis

Living on a cattle station out in the Australian Outback, Danny Dawson is a thirteen year old boy struggling through a difficult time. His fourteen year old sister is pregnant, his older brother has recently died in an accident that no one ever mentions, and the drought is putting an increasing strain on the family. To add to things, the annual muster has almost arrived and this will be Danny's last one before boarding school, so he needs to prove himself and prove he is as good as Jonny, his deceased older brother. To add to his problems though, he has Buzz the camel to train against his fathers wishes, and the new house girl, Liz, to contend with, who seems to make mistake after mistake. As the tension builds, unlikely friendships are formed to build up to a dramatic and exciting finale.

I loved the insight into another culture with this book! The Australian Outback became a very real and very special place, whilst I enjoyed learning about the cattle stations and the way of life out there. It contrasts so vastly to the UK and the way of life is so unique to how we live and what we take for granted.

I thought the plot was excellent - there were plenty of twists and turns throughout that kept it entertaining and exciting, as well as making me really care about the characters. I particularly liked the characterisation of Buzz and how he got to play a large part in Danny's life - a camel is an unimaginable pet in my life! I also liked the character of Liz (The Pommie) and Danny's scathing remarks about her, whilst all along the reader is likely to share similar views to Liz.

I'm not so sure about Danny's narration as I felt it was a little immature for a thirteen year old and made him seem a lot younger than he really was. However, that was the only flaw that I could really spot - I thought everything else was absolutely excellent! The title is also incredibly fitting, as I think this a novel for everyone, like how everyone likes the 'everybody jam' in the book.

This book was incredible and definitely one of my favourite so far!

Rachel, Yr 12

My Name is Mina

My Name Is Mina
David Almond

'My Name Is Mina' is very difficult to describe what it is about, and that's perhaps one of the best things about it.  In summary, it is a diary that Mina, an incredibly imaginative girl, keeps and records all her daydreams, hopes, wishes, fears, and discoveries, and has been written as a prequel to 'Skellig' which is definitely now on my very long 'to read' list!

I loved Mina as a character, as I thought every aspect of her was thoroughly explored in the novel in a creative and imaginative way. Almond has captured the thoughts and feelings of many young and frustrated people who have a love of literature and managed to pack them into one person - the result is a very powerful a strong character, and although slightly mad we can all connect to her in some way or another.

The postmodern element of the novel was both a positive and negative for me. I loved how the book ignored pretty much every single rule of the conventional novel - even the way the writing laid out on the page was different, with massive words on some pages, some pages black with white writing etc, pretty much exploring every possible way of having an impact upon the reader. I also liked the playing around with 1st and 3rd person narrators and how Almond has manipulated the story to try his ideas out.

However, the downside of the postmodern element of the novel was that I finished without the character really getting anywhere - I didn't feel any particularly strong or overwhelming emotions at the end of the story, and I didn't feel satisfied either. There was no real drive to read 'Skellig' based on the end of the book - instead I am simply curious as to what happens next.

That being said, I did enjoy the refreshing break of reading Mina's diary and her wild and unrestrained thoughts that simply spilled out over the page and came straight from the heart - definitely a worthwhile read as long as you don't expect too much from the ending.

Rachel, Yr 12

Between the Shades of Gray

Between the Shades of Gray
Ruth Sepetys

This book is about the story of a Lithuanian girl, Lina, during the second world war. She is deported to Russia with her mother and her brother to work in the labour camps run by Stalin. Clinging to the hope her father is still alive, she creates pictures in the hope that he will see them and know where to find her. Lina undergoes some of the most horrifying conditions that humanity has had to face, but amongst the terror she develops closer bonds with her family and those with the same fate of her, learning to survive on hope and a will to live.

Firstly, I really enjoyed how this book explored a piece of history that has been largely overshadowed by the World War Two and Hitler. I knew absolutely nothing about what the people of the Baltic States had to endure in this period, and this novel is a perfect way of educating young people about the horrifying events that took place. Lina's lack of knowledge about what was happening was a perfect way to draw the reader into the story and to learn about what is happening as she learns, taking them on a journey similar to hers.

The narrative was easy to read and I loved the flashbacks that were scattered throughout the novel and how they eventually fit together to create a powerful ending. Despite the monotony of her life in the work camps, there is always some spark of hope in her voice to encourage the reader forwards, and at other times I was so scared about what would happen that I couldn't put it down.

I particularly liked the character of Andrius as he was so cheeky and so defiantly resisted the rule of the Russians. His relationship with Lina was also very touching and poignant, yet also incredibly challenging due to the immense pressure that both characters were put under.

The writing of this novel was incredibly solid and I found it very easy to connect to Lina as she is presented as such an ordinary person, despite the hardship she is suffering. I felt everything flowed very naturally, even the flashbacks, which can often be very jerky in many stories. I loved how just a few words in the present narrative linked to the flashback that made it sound like an echo of a forgotten life, which was exactly what it was.

Perhaps the most shocking point of this book is not the story itself but the Afterword, in which Sepetys explains how the Lithuanians were unable to speak of their ordeal freely until very recently - which makes it all the more important that this book is read.

Rachel, Yr 12

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece
Annabel Pitcher

Five years ago, Jamie's sister Rose was killed. Now aged ten and barely able to remember her, his family has been torn apart because of the tragedy. His mother has left, whilst his father is an alcoholic and hates all Muslims. His other sister Jasmine (Rose's twin) who is 15 is the only one who can understand him. But when Jamie makes friends with Sunya, a muslim girl at school, his life is turned upside down.

I thought this book was absolutely brilliant! I was drawn in from the very first page, and to use the cliché 'I couldn't put it down' is the most accurate way of describing how I read it, despite the fact I should have been doing homework for the next day. I loved all the twists and turns in the plot - everything was very unpredictable and I never knew where the story was going to go next.

The characters are all very well written, and each of them seemed very real to me. The development of Jas in particular was excellent, and I loved the little twist at the end involving her. The relationship between Jamie and Sunya was also very strong and worked well with the storyline - it was absolutely perfect for two 10 year olds and wasn't ridiculously fast paced or inappropriate. The characterisation of Roger is something to look out for too - it is very rarely that an animal sparks so many emotions that are so genuine and not silly.

The narrative voice of Jamie is well suited to that of a ten year old - I felt it really captured his innocence of that age. Many writers do not quite truly capture the age of their characters, most often making them sound too old for their age. However, Pitcher has developed Jamie's voice into something very believable and also includes the silly humour of that age, along with the honesty - something which is unusual when dealing with the subject of grief.

I particularly liked how so many relevant issues were explored too - there is something that many children and teenagers can connect to in the story. Each issue was given an appropriate amount of depth and time - nothing felt like it was rushed or lagging. The fact that Jamie cannot really comprehend what happened to his sister or have many memories of her definitely made the narrative much more compelling and put a different spin on this kind of story. As part of the generation who were alive when 9/11 took place but did not really understand it until many years later, I found this easy to connect, and I'm sure this is similar with many other readers having the same experience of knowing about an event but not really understanding it, such as the 2005 London bombings.

This book is excellent and definitely deserves to be on the shortlist

Rachel, Yr 12

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
Patrick Ness

Conor is a boy who has a close relationship with his mother who is battling cancer. He has a strained relationship with his father and grandmother, so he uses stories and dreams to help him deal with the more difficult aspects of his life.

I absolutely loved the imagination that went into this book and how the monster featured throughout the stories, perfectly capturing all of Conor's emotions in so few words. I also thought the book was visually very beautiful - the pictures simply helped to enrich the images I had in my mind and made me realise how much I miss picture books! I also love how unique, detailed, yet shadowy they are - as if they are designed to work to everyone's imagination

I was also impressed how the character of Connor was so different from that of the characters in the Chaos Walking Trilogy - so many writers create very similar voices for their characters in different books until they are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Conor retained a unique personality which makes him stand out.

By far the best part of this book was the power of the emotions in the incredibly short space of time and words. With very little description I could feel Conor's rage, anger, sadness and guilt throughout the story, eventually making me cry at the end due to the sheer power of the conflicting emotions.

Overall, I thought this book was excellent!

Rachel, Yr 12

Trash By Andy Mulligan

Trash was a roller-coaster of a heart-felt story narrated by a group of friends who lived on a giant landfill, they find a wallet of a moderately rich man in the trash with some money in it but end up taking more than they bargained for, as the man was a thief that stole a corrupt (is there any other kind) politician's stash of millions of dollars for revenge. The corrupt police and the narration leave you rooting for the - late - thief and the trash boys.
A nice story to follow along to, well written and although there isn't much room for a sequel I'm sure Mulligan will write another award nominee (and possibly winner) again. I like how it was written like a document of the events (I won't give much away) and how Gardo and Raphael explain themselves before carrying on with the story. But I'll will stop boring you with my words read the book it's definitely worth a read.
By Louis Yr 9

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Fantastic reviews!

Some really amazing work being done on the books this year everyone, well done! And congratulations to Molly and Emily B who are in the lead for most books read.

This entire book is based around one girl and her family, how they were taken from their home by guards and shipped away with no explanation.  Unknown to them and all the people they are sharing a cattle car with they are being shipped away to Siberia where they would face death, illness and total and utter loss.  Would I be able to survive that was the question running through my mind as I dived deeper into the book
 Lina is fifteen years old when her, her mother and her younger brother are put through all of this punishment.  She may never see her father again but she keeps her hopes high and uses her art works to help her survive this bitter new life she has to lead.  Her art helps her find hope in a truly horrifying world. For me this book is one of those books that when something sad happens to a character it brings a tear to your eyes, it is written from first person with power and strong emotion as if it is a real diary. People who can read this book and not feel a slight  bit of sadness  have a heart of stone, I rarely get a emotional at a book but this book did.  A truly amazing book of young love, death, and survival.

All in all I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
 By IsobelYear 9  

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

My Name Is Mina


My name is Mina is an amazing book written from the point of view Mina. She is a home-schooled girl who has a wide imagination. She lost her dad and owns a         house that used to belong to her grandfather. She explains how she because            home-schooled and the trip to Corinthian Avenue Pupil Referral Unit.and about her trip to the underworld where she meets 'Cerberus'. She talks about S.A.T.'s day and dust being peoples skin so they never really leave this earth. Also she see a new family moving into a empty house. But will she have the courage to talk to there son?

I found this book amazing and would give  it to anyone. The only thing I would change would be then ending. This is because I would like to find out what happens to her. Maybe she goes back to school or moves into her granddads house. I would give this *****.

By Laura Bayne

Small Change for Stuart

By Lissa Evans

When Stuart moves to Beeton, the home town of his Father, he thinks that he is going to be bored out of his brain, but he soon finds out things about his family he has never heard of before. Like that he has a Great Uncle, Tony, who was a magcian, but suddenly disappeared years ago. Soon Stuart finds himself wrapped up in an adventure to find his Great Uncle's secret magic workshop!

I really enjoyed this book, and I thought it was really cleverly written. This was the second time I had read it, and I enjoyed it more the second time, as I saw a lot of stuff I didn't notice the first time. The way things were linked was really good, and it made you think about how every action made something else happen or showed the direction of something else. There were some very serious bits and some funny bits (I really liked how Stuart reacted to the way his Dad kept using really long words that he didn't understand!). I thought the story line was really interesting as were the characters.

My favourite part in the story was when Staurt realised what his 'task' was and what dramatic consequences could come as part of his actions. My favourite character was April, because she was almost a bit of a mystery to begin with, and Stuart really judged her, but she turned out to be a really nice and helpful character, an important bit in the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this bok, and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good, easy read.

By Emily B, Year 8

My sister lives on the mantelpiece

By Annabel Pitcher

Jamie was five years old when it happened and he hasn’t cried since. Things seemed to have only got worse despite others promises that things could ‘only get better’, First Mum ran off and Dad has started drinking. Will things ever get better for Jamie? But then he finds Sunya who is Muslim. Should he play with her even though it was Muslims that blew up his sister?

I really like the characters in this book as they are realistic and you can picture them clearly in your head and they are believable as well as some of them being a bit crazy. My favourite character is Jamie because the book describes in a likable way yet you can’t help but feel sorry for him.

Iloved this book and would recommend it to anyone  who loves a sad but interesting book

My name is Mina lover!!! Has finished the book

I absolutely loved this book! It is about a girl called Mina, she is home-schooled and doesn't have any friends. The book contains diary entries and stories from her past. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys listening (or in this case reading) about things that have happened to other people. :D XD

My Sister lives on The mantelpiece By Anabel Pitcher

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece

5 Years ago Jamie’s sister Rose aged 10 was killed by terrorists. Jamie was too young to remember her and when his mother walks out it’s just him his dad and Rose’s twin sister Jas. When they move house Jamie starts a new school he is bullied by everyone except one girl Sunya. Sunya is Muslim and Jamie can’t decide when to leave the pain of losing a sister behind and become friends with Sunya or stay remorseful and hate filled for ever which will he choose……………

I thought the book was brilliant and I really sympathised with Jamie. He was my favourite character as I just felt really sorry for him. I thought the characters and the plot were all really well thought out, especially Jas as she was really supportive of her brother and was always there to comfort him and make him feel better. I found the book quite emotional and I found it quite upsetting at times. I would recommend the book to people who enjoy an interesting yet sad book with lots of tension.

It’s a lovely book and I thought it added a lot of tension and also sadness when Jamie’s mother walked out. This book has displayed a very true picture of what sometimes happens and how the families have to deal with it. Overall I loved it.

By Yasmin

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

My Name is Mina

By David Almond
My Name is Mina is the prequel to David Almond's Skellig. It is about Mina, and her writing in her journal, but she doesn't write boring things like what she did and when, she writes all kinds of things. The first thing she writes in her journal is My name is Mina and I love the night. The story is told from before Michael (from Skellig) comes into the story.

I thought this book was strange, not bad, but not really what I would normally read. Mina was a bit weird, and her mind sort of wandered all over the place. The way things were written were quite clever, and although some things were very strange I definitley learnt some new words such as archaeopteryx (a kind of dinosaur) and other things. Also, I think that some of the views she had about school (being a cage and teachers bla-bla-bla-ing) are views that many people would share with her, and there were aspects of that that I thought were very funny, especially when she back-chatted the teacher. I liked her poems, and I thought that the things she did at home as school 'lessons' were very interesting.

I thought that the chararcter Mina was very strange but I quite liked reading about her 'extraordinary activities' and how she solved questions she had in her mind. I also liked it when she saw and thought about the new neighbours and what it would be like if they lived there, and how those bits tied in with Skellig was good, as were all the other links in the story.

Overall, I thought this bok was ok, but Mina was very strange! Not really my kind of book.

By Emily B, Year 8

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Between Shades of Gray

By Ruta Sepetys

Lina lives in Lithuania with her parents and younger brother Jonas. She is just a normal teenager, with normal problems and a normal life. Until, that is, that fateful night in 1941 when her family is arrested by Soviet guards. Through Lina’s eyes we see the terrible journey they faced, slowly trekking north to work camps where they are put under Stalin’s cruel order. Separated from her Father, Lina tries to communicate by recording her pain, joy, and her journey in her artwork which she hopes, one day, will find its way to her father. As Lina and her family fight to survive in the freezing conditions with barely any nourishment, will they ever be reunited again?

I really enjoyed this book as it was very emotional and gripping. The plot itself was distinctive and struck a chord with me. It made me want to read on because you were constantly thinking about what was going to happen to Lina and her family. Sepetys created an enthralling book which is even more interesting once you find out it was based on true stories. The idea of people facing the ordeal Lina does is unbelievable and I admire any person who was brave enough to write about their journey and tell of their life. I read this book from start to finish in one day only, it was amazing, and I couldn’t put it down. The author has chosen a controversial period to write about, when humans were treated like animals just because of their race, origins or religion. The phrase below illustrates just how drastic the line in society was at the time:

“Have you ever wondered what a human life is worth? That morning, my brother’s was worth a pocket watch…”

The characters in the book are realistic and full of life. The situation they are in makes their troubles all the more emotional. I loved the way Lina tells the story, she grows up far too quickly during these years of her life, first looking after herself, and then slowly as time progresses, being forced to look after her mother and brother too. She is an enchanting character with so much depth. The diary style, first person account of the book allows you to see all her thoughts and feelings as well as view the world through her eyes. You can track her emotions as time moves on and she becomes more and more desperate, and the feeling of elation fills you when you read of a happy time she had such as when she sees her father, or when she becomes friends with Andrius. In Lina, Sepetys has created an intelligent teenager well beyond her years, who’s passion for art drives through.

However, my favourite character of the book has to be Jonas. At the start of the novel, he is unaware of what is happening. His naivety and innocence make you love him more but at the same time it is sad that he knows so little. But, as the novel goes on we witness Jonas change from a little boy to a young man. He takes on work and does his best to protect the women in his family whilst also making his own friends too. Jonas has been created by Sepetys as in no way the main character, the focus is mostly on Lina and her mother, but, I think that Jonas’ quiet charm and driving determination to keep going make him just as important.

Furthermore, the description and detail in this book is outstanding. Every page, although told by Lina, is packed with description and emotion. No small detail is missed and no scene skipped. The chapters are all set close together and you never feel as though you have missed anything. The author uses a variety of techniques to write the account of what happened and I think each one is effective. She also includes flashback passages which show Lina’s thoughts. They always relate to the chapters topic and added yet more emotion as Lina gives us an insight into life before the arrest. As this book is about such a sensitive topic it is in places complicated and as I mentioned before, I was shocked at the way the people were treated. It seems unreal and it is hard to believe that these events really happened and that these people really lived and died at these camps. What is even more shocking is that it was all set only 70 years ago!

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book as I thought it gave an accurate insight into the cruelty and hardships of this time. Sepetys has got the mixture of emotion, fact and tension just right and has created a gripping novel which anyone could easily devour! The characters were detailed and obviously planned and created in depth. I particularly liked the way the story was told through Lina’s eyes because you could witness her thoughts and feelings and watch her and Jonas turn from children into adults quicker than expected. To conclude I cannot fault this book or the way it was written and I would recommend it to anyone. Emotional and enthralling, it gripped me from start to finish!

Eleanor, Year 9

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

My Name is Mina

By David Almond

My Name Is Mina is the prequel to David Almond’s novel Skellig. It is written in the style of a diary, as Mina writes down her thoughts, feelings and stories leading up to meeting Michael, and her entrance into Skellig.
I really liked how Almond showed Mina’s character through the style and layout of the book, as she was a very eccentric person. This was very clear in Skellig, but in My Name Is Mina, you saw more of the way she thought and her point of view on things. It was very different to most books, as it didn’t have much of a plot, but was filled with Mina’s thoughts and stories. I liked the stories about Mina in school, but the rest was boring. Her view on the world was interesting and made you think, but there was no action, anticipation or mystery. I found the whole book quite dull, and skim-read most of it.
Mina. However, was a lovely character, albeit odd and misunderstood. She looked and the world in a different way to anyone I’ve ever known or read about. I felt bad for her, because she was bullied for this, as she was the type of character that I would have loved to know in real life.
Although I didn’t enjoy it all that much, it was a really sweet book and having read Skellig, it was great to know more about Mina.
Molly, Year 8

Thursday, 5 April 2012

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls is about a boy called Conor. His single mum is struggling with cancer and his dad rarely bothers to visit. He hates his grandma, the only person who can look after him, and his only friend has betrayed him. One night a monster visits him in a dream. But not the one he’s been expecting. Not the one from the nightmare. But this monster could be even more dangerous. This one wants the truth.
This book was amazing. Even though the plot contained very little action, it gripped me the whole way through. I cried so much at the ending, and it felt as though I was Conor – living through the terror and despair of his situation. The stories within this story were really interesting and couldn’t wait for the next one. The twists and the end were fantastic, but they also made me think, about what we believe to be wrong and right and whether there actually is a wrong or right, good or evil.
My favourite character was by far the first monster, the yew tree. He carried an air of mystery throughout the story. He seemed like he could be trusted, yet could be deceptive. He seemed friendly, but it could just be an act. He was an unusual monster, one that may not have really been a monster at all. For me, this character fitted in perfectly with the theme and plot of the story.
Not only did I love the story, but I loved the pictures too. They were haunting and strangely beautiful, and they captured the essence of the story perfectly. The book wouldn’t have been the same without them.
The book was amazing. I loved it and wouldn’t want a thing to be changed. I smiled, I cried, but I felt like I was part of the book, which was incredible.
Molly, Year 8