Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a series of short stories told from the point of Dr John Watson, Sherlock's friend and companion in his investigations.
I am very fond of these 'shorts.' Each one had a different storyline and is full of excitement. The formula is that someone comes to Sherlock Holmes with a problem and tells his story. Sherlock Holmes says 'of course,  will solve this,' goes off and does strange things that no one understands and at the end Holmes catches the killer/thief/criminal and explains to everyone in the room how he solved the mystery. My only criticism is that in some stories when he is catching the killer/thief and explains what he'd done, I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. That and in some stories I had to ask my mum what they meant when they said so and so or such and such.
My favourite story was The Speckled Band but that was just because I loved the killer's method.
A really good set of stories based on the phenomenal character of Sherlock Holmes. 77/100

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

This is an interesting book because instead of having normal chapter numbers this book's chapters go up in prime numbers like this: Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 5, Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and so on.
This book is told by a 15 year old boy named Christopher who has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and hates touching people.  His mother dies in a hospital and he lives with his father. When he finds his neighbour's dog speared by a garden fork he decides to conduct a full investigation.
His father has other ideas and tells him to "Stay the f**k out of other people's business." So Christopher stops investigating. Then he talks to Mrs Alexander who sheds some interesting light on his mother's death. After that Christopher discovered that the person who killed the dog was   (not telling)     so he runs away from them and gets into a LOT of trouble.
This was a good book with a great storyline and a fantastic character design. I loved Christopher's way of seeing the world. This book earned a 99/100

Monday, 19 December 2011


The has got to be one of the best books for 12 year olds around. Certainly one of the best I've seen - and I've seen a lot. Stormbreaker has everything from teenage spies to deadly jellyfish. If you like books full of adventure and near death experiences READ THIS BOOK NOW. If you are reading this review stop reading, shut down the computer and pick up the book. This is the most important decision of your lifetime so choose carefully.
Will you
A. Shut down the computer and read the amazing and sinister story of teen spy Alex Rider and his quest to save the world
B. Read the rest of this review and then go and read the Alex Rider story of creepy scarred men and psychopath millionaires
C. Stop reading the review and go and play Scrabble with your family

If you chose A then Go! Read the story, your life will improve, HURRAY!
If you chose B then fine, enjoy your mediocre life/
If you chose C then get out. You have your short sad life so stop wasting it.Goodbye!

99/100 for awesomeness

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Singing Tree

The Singing Tree is a story about cousins Janski and Kate and their struggle to continue life on the Hungarian plains during the First World War. At the start of the book Janski is 15 years old and the book covers about 5 years of his life. He loves horses more than anything else and when his father leaves to join the war he is put in charge of the horses along with the rest of the farm.
While Janski is struggling with the problems of the farm, Kate is having troubles of her own. You don't find petticoats growing on trees, you know! She often surprises Janski as he is used to the little girl who loves riding her white horse Milky, whereas Kate is becoming a young woman.
Throughout this story they lock girls in barns, gain 6 Russian men as workers and adopt 7 German children.
While I am sure this is a good book for some people it's simply not the kind of book I like. It lacked action, adventure and humour.  I think it would have been better if Janski's love of horses had been used in a dramatic escape.  Since I'm very fond of books and even I found it rather dull I'm giving The Singing Tree 50 out of 100 because it lacks interest for your average 12 year old.


WARNING - this review contains a spoiler

This is a story that focuses on a boy named Michael and how his life changes when he moves house to a place 2 bus rides away from his school.But the most important change in his life is that thing he finds in the garage covered in dead bluebottles and spider webs. What is this strange being asking for Chinese food? And why does it cough up bones and fur like the owls do? It'sup to Michael and his newly found friend Mina to discover the truth behind Skellig.
Wow, that is the most dramatic review I've written but the book really is that good. I love the references to evolution through the book even though it is themed around angels. (That was the spoiler)
I think this book has all of the requirements of a great book. 1. A good plot 2. Great character design 3. a fantastic conclusion. Oh, wait, it looks like I was wrong, it only has 2 out of the 3 requirements. (Guess which one it lacks) 88/100 for this book's fabulous writing and plot. (that leaves a 50/50 chances of you getting it!)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Moominsummer Madness

I'm going to start this review with the words Never Read This Book.
It's insane.
It's incomprehensible.
It's silly.
Not the nice, funny-cos-it's-so-weird kind of silly, the Oh-my-god-I-can't-make-sense-of-what-they're-saying kind of silly. Through the jumble of strange words I managed to pick our some sort of storyline in which a flood hits their home and so the family goes to live in a floating theatre. Then the family gets separated and the son and his girlfriend are arrested while the mother and father put on a play. Then they all meet up and go back home.
I think that this book is really to be read out loud to 4 or 5 year olds. One of the most negative points about this book is that when you read something you should not have to go online in order to find out who on earth these strange people are. After reading a few chapters I realised that there weren't going to be any hints about who the characters are so I was forced to go to their website and read their character summaries.
Due to its lack of sanity and incomprehensibility I'm giving it 29 out of 100.

Jay Writes
I love a bit of whimsy, but I'm with Luke on this one. Because this book is part way through a series, and the author gives no quarter to the uninitiated, he and I floundered about having no clue who anyone was, nor their relationship to one another. The book would have been immeasurably improved with a cast of characters - including illustrations - so newcomers to the Moomins would have a fighting chance. Thanks to a Canadian childhood I'd only ever heard of Moomins as illustrations on a friend's coffee mugs Ss I was as clueless as Luke. Ah well, one fewer book to read for the challenge!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Tygrine Cat

The Tygrine cat is a fictional story written by Inbali Iserles about a cat named Mati and what happens when he meets the Cressida Cats of London. Mati comes from Egypt and know very little about his past. He can't even remember the name of his mother. All he knows is that he must learn the Three Pillars Of The Cat. Unfortunately he does not have much time to learn them because his mother's deadly enemies, the Cats of Sa, are determined to destroy him and take his unknown power.
Although this was told from the point of view of a cat, the cats all had very human traits like betrayal, suspicion, laughter and homesickness. It wasn't at all cutesy, unlike some cat things can be, nor any old puns about things being purrfect. The author treated the characters as people, which I liked.
This was a very good adventure story with action, mythological references and magic. Because I love Egyptian mythology I'm giving this book 87 out of 100.

The Story of Tracy Beaker

The Story of Tracy Beaker is based on events happening all over the country in, as Tracy calls them, dumping grounds (children's homes). The author of this book, Jacqueline Wilson, often writes about problems that affect children such as being left at children's homes, divorcing parents and moving to new places.
Tracy Beaker is a 10 year old girl who has an extra 10 years of attitude. She is waiting for her Hollywood movie star mum to pick her up in a limo and take her to a tropical island where she will swim with the dolphins and fly with the eagles. Unfortunately, until that happens she is stuck with Justine No Good Littlewood and everyone else in the dumping ground.
Because I loved the character of Tracy Beaker so much, and her opinion of the world, the humour in this book has gained it a 96 out of 100.

Jay writes -
This is my first Jacqueline Wilson and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I guess she is the Judy Blume of this generation, tacking issues and emotions affecting kids in a funny and realistic way. Tracy is a wonderful character. Much of the pathos comes from what she doesn't say - her Hollywood mum is really a young woman with an abusive partner and Tracy has no idea how to find her. Tracy's angry, destructive streak and her passionate creativity never let her slip into someone you pity. She'd be very hard to be friends with but probably worth it.
We both liked that Tracy 'never cries, just gets hayfever,' which happens to coincide with being upset.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Just William

Just Williams is an interesting set of stories written by Richmal Crompton about the 11 year old boy William Brown and his adventures in his small village in the country. He and his group of friends, the Outlaws do many things from kidnapping kids to setting up marriages.
I found the book very humorous and witty. The plots were interesting and lifelike. Williams behaves like lots of young boys do: challenging every rule and finding loopholes for everything.
A good classic LOL book. Because of Richmal Crompton's excellent writing I'm giving this 90 out of 100

Pig Heart Boy

Pig Heart Boy is about a boy named Cameron ans his experiences as he is informed that in order to stay alive he must have a heart transplant from a pig.
This like many of Malorie Blackman's books raises issues - such as "should animal experimentation continue?" and trust between friends. I was interested to find out how it ended.
The plot is that Cameron is told by doctors that he has about 1 year left to live and the only way to stay alive is to have a heart transplant. But since they don't have enough human donors they want to give Cameron the heart of a specially bred pig. The story then continues as his life is thrown this way and that because of the transplant. I enjoyed the book and was fascinated by every opinion of this operation.
Malorie Blackman is an excellent author. I give the book 77/100

Jay Writes - This book is one I chose for Luke to replace the second of the Moomin books on his challenge list, as both people who chose a Moomin book said any of the others would so just as well.

The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery is a book by Siobhan Dowd about a boy named Ted who has Aspergers and so thinks 'like a computer,' and the mystery of the disappearance of his cousin Salim.
This is a great story with suspense at every turn. Ted and his older sister Kat become sleuths to try to figure out what went on when their cousin went up in a London Eye pod and didn't come down again. A great thriller for the whole family. It was one of my favourite books so I'm giving it 100/100

Monday, 31 October 2011

Refugee Boy

The book Refugee Boy follows the story of a boy named Alem after he has been shipped to London because of the war in his country.
While I can certainly understand the opinions of this book and the plot wasn't too convoluted and was easily followed, I just didn't find the story believable.
Refugee Boy is a book that is based on events that do happen in real life. I know these things occur, but the way Benjamin Zephaniah placed the events just didn't seem believable to me.
For example, the main character Alem seems to speak like a robot. He says, "I like the school very much. It is very good. It is full with possibilities. I think the facilities are good. The building is structurally sound and I think that the students here have a great opportunity to advance physically, intellectually and socially."
In addition, in my experience people don't make friends within an hour of coming to a new school. I could address other points but for now I will give it 50 out of 100.

Jay Writes -
Luke and I really disagree on this one. Luke found it hard to accept that a father would leave his son in London alone, and struggled with the formal language common to non-native English speakers. I thought much of the detail insightful and authentic. However, like Luke I felt the book was very flawed - which rather disappointed me as I love Benjamin Zephaniah. For me, Alem was such a paragon that I found him hard to take seriously. I wish he'd sometimes been bad, or expressed anger, or done something petty or stupid. As it was, he felt more like a mechanism for Zephaniah to make a point than a realistic character.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Private Peaceful

This story was written by a well-known author called Michael Morpurgo, and according to many reviewers this is one of his best pieces. While I may not share their enthusiasm for the book for the book I do see much to admire in it.
The story is about a boy nicknamed Tommo and his journey through life from his first day at school to his experiences in the Great War. I think Michael Morpurgo did and excellent job of conveying Tommo's feelings through his writing. While I knew what was coming around the corner it was still a good book with a fantastically written ending.
When I read this book I learnt a lot about WWI. I discovered that soldiers were shot if they disobeyed the suicidal orders they were given and their awful living conditions in the trenches. I learnt how brutally they could be treated by their commanders and about the stupidity of some of the World War One leaders, generals and sergeants.
I give it 77.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Star of Kazan

I liked this story because while predictable it was one of those good old classic adventure stories that had a bit of everything: hidden jewels, long lost children, chases, plots, betrayals and Christmas fish.
The story is about a young Austrian foundling called Annika who, after living with her foster mother Ellie as a servant girl for 12 years, is suddenly claimed by a woman and is taken to their mansion in Germany. There she meets a stable boy named Zed and she slowly uncovers the dark secret of her family...
As I had said, a predicable story, and it was easy to tell what was coming around the corner but great fun to read. To be honest, my mum probably enjoyed this book far more than I did. I would recommend this book to anybody who wants one of those classic adventure stories without being bored by all the archaic language. I'm giving it 82 out of 100

Jay Writes
Luke's right, I loved this one. Set in the late days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it had all the fun of an old fashioned adventure story with none of the pacing issues that have bedevilled Luke's other recent books. A modern novel written in an old fashioned mould, if you see what I mean. The heroine and her friends are well drawn, many minor characters get their moment in the sun and there is much humour as well as tension and excitement. I'd recommend it for 9 to 10 year olds, I think.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Elephant's Child

This is from Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, all of which are told in the style of two people (you and the storyteller) sitting down together by a campfire.
The Elephant's Child is one of the longer stories. It's a little bit like a creation story of How The Elephant Got Its Trunk. The Elephant's Child is a young elephant who has a boot-sized nose and all he can do with it is wiggle it. He is also full of 'satiable curiosity (This is from insatiable, which means unquenchable). Because he is full of 'satiable curiosity he asks all his family - including his mother and father, his aunts the ostrich and hippopotamus and his uncles the giraffe and the baboon. Whenever he asks a question all his relatives spank him incredibly hard. but he still asks questions.
One day he asks the question "what does the crocodile have for dinner?" Nobody answers and they spank him harder than usual. Then he ask the Kolokolo bird who tells him to go to the Limpopo River. He walks all the way there, meets a bi-coloured python rock snake and the crocodile. He asks the crocodile what he has for dinner. The result and his revenge on his relatives is great.
It was an amusing and witty story so I give it 74 out of 100. I liked it.

The Happy Prince

I can't talk about this properly without discussing the ending.
The Happy Prince is a short story by Oscar Wilde. It is a story of how a statue of a young prince emotionally bullies a swallow into staying with him for the winter to do tasks for him. Because swallows are creatures that have to stay warm, the swallow dies after three tasks.
Many people interpret it differently. They see a lovely statue who has a kind heart and his friend the swallow who will help him to the end. I'm sure that reading of it is a much more positive one but mine is Swallow Murder.
The swallow didn't want to stay. The swallow wanted to migrate to Egypt with all the other swallows. The Prince convinced it to stay and because it does, the swallow dies. Call me a pessimist but that is what happens in the story.
I'm sure many people will have enjoyed it because of their perspective of self-sacrifice but I prioritise self preservation above somebody else's problems that I did not cause. Therefore I'm giving it a manipulative 41 out of 100

Jay Writes -
I love Luke's take on this story. I had never been able to read it without getting teary - the statue's love for his people at the cost of his wealth and beauty, the loving swallow sacrificing its life for friendship, the townspeople throwing the statue and dead bird in the rubbish but God and his angel prizing them above all. I've always been a sucker for self-sacrifice. However, I think Luke's view - that the statue manipulates the poor swallow into dying for the statue's cause - is a marvellously original and insightful way of seeing the story. Go Luke!

Monday, 12 September 2011


I think this book pressed the point of the story a little too hard. After the first two times it had done it - Pinocchio tried to be good, gets distracted, goes off to do something else - it kind of got repetitive. He does it for the first time in chapter 9, chapter 12 makes two, chapter 16 is third, chapter 18 fourth, chapter 20 fifth. Then a snake randomly dies for no reason. I do mean no reason, it serves no purpose. For one paragraph he is caught by a snake who laughs and dies. Chapter 23 is the sixth, chapter 25 makes seven, chapter 29 makes eight, and for the ninth time in chapter 36.
Do you see my point?
The language was understandable, which is pretty good considering it was written in 1883. But, because of the repetitive thing I am giving it only 22 out of 100

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland / Through The Looking Glass

I think it is unfair that I had to read two books and they only count as one on the list. Out of the two books I think I liked the second one the best because I could act out the whole book on my chessboard. I liked this prospect a lot and tried it out. Surprisingly it works perfectly, you just have to figure out the terms.
In terms of the books themselves, the first one was very odd and it was difficult to keep up with all the strange characters. I think that the best character in the first book is the Cheshire Cat. I liked him the most because of his attitude and evaporating skills.
In the second book the plot is a game of chess and Alice's quest to be a queen by crossing to the other side of the board. I think everyone knows enough about chess to follow this book, plus at the start of the book it says that all the moves correspond and stay within the rules of the game.
I think I give the first book 47 out of 100 and the second book 62 out of 100. This gives a mean score of 54.5 (My mum made me do the maths)

Jay writes - I always struggle with Alice books. The dreamlike surrealism and the nonsense gets on my nerves. I much prefer the poems within the books to the stories, and I am glad Luke could find things to enjoy in these classics that mostly don't appeal to me.

Moving Pictures

This is the first Discworld novel that I've read. While it was rather a long and confusing book, it was quite amusing and witty.
The book is set in a strange world that is a flat disc carried on the back of four elephants which stand on the back of a giant turtle swimming through space. On the Discworld there are loads of different types of creatures including wizards, dwarves, vampires and witches. The basic plot of the book is that the alchemists of the Discworld have made a silver screen capable of showing moving pictures. They make the moving pictures in a place called Holy Wood Hill and everyone wants to be in one.
My favourite character in this book is Gaspode, who is an old grey street dog who temporarily knows how to talk. What I liked about him the most was that when people came along he literally said the words 'Woof woof.' He's got a sarcastic sense of humour and likes to think he doesn't care about humans.
My favourite bit in the book is when two characters are discussing hieroglyphics and they point out that sometimes two hieroglyphs put together can mean a new word. For example, says one character, 'woman' plus 'slave' means 'wife.' I found that hilarious.
Moving Pictures has lots of references to old movies and Hollywood - stuff like Gone with the Wind, Lassie, and the Oscars. This might be good for people who are older than me but my age group don't know enough about the history of Hollywood to get all the references. Despite this, it is still a very funny book and I give it 78 out of 100

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

People Might Hear You

This was written by Robin Klein in 1983. It is told from the perspective of Frances. She is about my age, she lives alone with her Aunt Loris.
Aunt Loris then marries Mr Tyrell who is in a very unbelievably strict religion. It believes everyone else is evil, the world will soon end and everyone but them will die. So they don't interact with the outside world. The only time they go out is to meet at The Temple with other followers of their religion. Mr Tyrell has three daughters, none of whom go to school, which in the world of the book is illegal (unlike this world, woohoo!). The plot of the book is Frances's struggle to escape.
It is awful. I could have got the whole story in 6 carefully chosen chapters out of the 16 there were - chapters 1 to 4, 10 and 16. The remaining 10 chapters said this:
"I want to leave the crazy religious people. I want to leave the crazy religious people. I can't, my aunt is one of them. Got to get away from the crazy religious people. I can't, my aunt is one of them. Got to get away from the crazy religious people. What should I do? What should I do? What should I do?..."
Repeat. For 10 whole chapters.
I was looking forward to this book because on the back it claims "there are sinister secrets" and that it's "a powerful suspense story." I think this would have been a good book if it had just contained the chapters I specified but I really didn't like this book.
Since this is so badly written I am giving it a 10 lout of 100.

Black Hearts at Battersea

I'd like to start with a positive comment and say this is a very good sequel to The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Unfortunately it had a predictable plot twist and too many characters so I lost track of them.
The book tried to do too many things at once. We were following Simon and his search for Dr Field; Sophie and her life at the castle; Hanoverian plots; Dido the mischievous, annoying youngest daughter of the landlord Mr Twite; abductions, shipwrecks, babies swapped at birth, several rescues, explosions and hot air balloons.
I think the whole book could have done with better pacing. The start of the book took far too long and the ending had too much happening. I really liked the storyline, I just didn't like how the author bunched too much of the action at the end; like a slack string for half a book then pulled REALLY tight for the last bit.
I give it 17 out of 100.

Jay Writes - I was sorry Luke didn't enjoy this one, I'd loved it at his age and was chuffed to have the chance to re-read it. I agree with Luke about the over-abundance of characters and the mad gallop through adventures in the last few chapters but I didn't mind.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A Christmas Carol

I'd like to thank Mark Tranter for lending me this book and my already-reviewed Owl Service. Thank you for letting me read your copies, I will post them back to you very soon.

As for the book - the original was different to other versions I'd read or seen. Like Treasure Island, it used an older vocabulary. This didn't stop me understand it anything like as much as Treasure Island and after reading a little more I usually managed to figure out what it all meant.
I have to say it was certainly better and easier to understand than I expected. What did surprise me was that there was minor humour in it (although Charles Dickens has nothing on Gonzo the Great, who played him in A Muppet Christmas Carol.)
I've seen A Muppet Christmas Carol, Northern Ballet Theatre's version, a child's version with story CD from Usborne books, and loads of other bits on telly so I knew the story pretty well. The book was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. The characters were exactly what I expected. It's sort of a mix between a ghost story and a fable. The first two ghosts give him leverage but really what changes Scrooge is the last one, seeing himself dead, alone and hated, with people nicking his stuff.
I prefer modern books because they're paced more to my liking. They spend more time advancing the plot and little time describing the surroundings. Sometimes I felt that Dickens spend a little too much time describing rather than actually doing. I think you only need to describe things once whereas he described things in several ways and I didn't really like that aspect of the book.
However, because of the good story and the humour I give it a 76 out of 100.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Treasure Island

An enjoyable book, at least for the first half. After that, with all the Arr-ing and Yo-Ho-Ho-ing I couldn't find out what on earth was going on.
The story as I understood it is this:
The main character, Jim Hawkins, finds a map of the old pirate Captain Flint showing where he buried his treasure. Jim, a Doctor, a cook named Long John Silver, and a crew set off to find the island. Just before they reach their destination, most of the crew mutiny and it is revealed that Long John Silver is the captain of the mutineers.
On the island Jim finds a man called Ben Gunn (who would like more than anything to eat some cheese). Gunn teams up with Jim, the Doctor, the Captain and a few other loyal sailors. Jim goes on a stealth mission and somehow manages to sneak aboard the ship and move it so the pirates can't find it. He is captured by Silver, there is a hunt for the treasure but the good guys beat them to it. Jim and the rest of the good guys find the ship and sail off (taking Ben Gunn with them) leaving the mutineers behind to slowly go mad.

I'm sure it's an excellent story. If only it had more modern language or if it included footnotes to explain the words I didn't understand! I am going to give it a 46 out of 100 for being a good story but difficult language for modern kids to follow.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My own writing

Jay Writes -
Luke has written part of a short story himself this week. Here is part one - I'm coaxing him to write part two , so pop back to read the next instalment

Luke Writes -
I am a gruesome and horrible child. Enjoy. Mwah-ha-ha-ha-ha...

What happened on Planet 9

John came crashing through the forest panting; he didn't look back for fear he would have to see it again. He tripped over a tree root and fell. He tried to get up but his foot was stuck fast. He pulled out his knife and began sawing at the root. It eventually snapped. Then John made the mistake of looking up, so he could see the large pair of jaws filled with razor sharp teeth right above him.
The problem with being in Planet 9's black forest is that the trees mute your screams.


Benjamin Folkine Marden was having a lovely dream about a tropical island when he fell out of the top bunk of a bunk bed.
"Wow, said his bunk mate Sam, "that looked like it hurt... a lot!"
"Well done," groaned Ben. "Did you figure that our all by yourself?"
Ben, Sam and twenty-eight others people had been in this harvesting camp for two years. Planet 9 had a large amount of zinomine, a rare and powerful substance, and the Government decided to send a group of men and women to mine the stuff and slowly destroy the natural environment. But someone, or more accurately some things, were not happy with this arrangement.

Ben looked at his timetable. He didn't know why he bothered; it was always the same:
Wake Up
Eat Breakfast
Eat Lunch
Eat Dinner
Got To Sleep

Ben and Sam headed outside to start work.
"Hey Sam, you ever wonder if exciting will ever happen here?" called Ben.
"What, like an alien invasion?" answered Ben. "Are you kidding? If anything exciting ever happens here I beg of you, please include me." Then he saw Ben's face - a face he had never seen but knew what it was. It was the face of pure, indefinable absolute terror. "What?" Sam asked.
"Your wish," said a raspy voice behind him, "has been granted."
Sam turned to see the creature behind him. He felt a jerk in him. The creature looked down. So did he, so he could see in the three clawed hand his very own beating heart.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

According to the back of the book, all the events in the story actually happened to the author. In the story the main character is Anna, who starts age 9 and over the course of the book becomes 10 and 11. The book is about Anna's experiences when she is rushed out of her home into Switzerland and then Paris as she and her family try to stay away from the Nazis when Hitler comes to power.
Anna's father writes for the newspaper in Berlin in 1933. The Nazis want Anna's father because before the elections he wrote articles that criticised the Nazis, and because he is Jewish.
The first big change for Anna is that she is quickly taken out of Germany to stay in a small Swiss inn, to escape before Hitler can take away their passports. She catches influenza and nearly dies, and when her birthday comes around she realises how horrible things have become because she doesn't get a party and her presents are really small and rubbish. The family move to Paris. Over time Anna and her brother Max come to enjoy it thoroughly. Their parents struggle for the money to buy clothes and other basic things. Over just two years they go from being a wealthy German family who has everything to being a family of poor refugees doing their best to survive in Paris.
I found the book very formal in writing style. The feelings of Anna are described very well but I don't really think that I'd like to just decide to sit down and read this book. My personal taste is more for books with more inventive story lines rather than real life events, and it didn't exactly have me begging for the next chapter. I'm giving this 27 out of 100 for being well written but I don't plan on re-reading it in the near future.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Owl Service

That pretty much sums up this entire book. When I'd finished this book I was left thoroughly confused, and rather annoyed. I was annoyed because I couldn't pick out the story. All I managed to gather was that there was a girl called Alison, a boy called Roger and a boy called Gwyn, which at first I read as Gwen so I thought was a girl. Alison made paper owls that disappeared and Roger and Gwyn hated each other and both liked Alison.

There was also some plate smashing and a woman who had something to do with flowers. Gwyn's mother was very angry throughout the book because of something to do with the plates (that had owls on them, the Owl Service of the title). Roger got very annoyed because people kept messing up his photos. There was also an old man who was a bit weird and the only one who listened to him was Gwyn.

Even though I didn't understand the story, the author managed some very excellent descriptions of the valley in Wales, and the personalities of some of the characters. I think I would have to be a lot older and understand a bit more Welsh to fully appreciate this book. I'm giving it 21 out of 100.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A bit of philosophy

Jay Writes -
As well as the reading challenge, Luke's been doing some other work with me over the past few weeks. We've been looking at ideas; talking a bit about philosophy, religion, and myths. Luke's making a stop motion animation version of Ragnarok, the Norse end-of-the-world story. Inspired by Derren Brown's show about faith healers, we talked about why someone might believe and what advantages being part of a religion brings - lots of critical thinking for our devout atheist to consider!

Inspired by the Doctor Who episode The Rebel Flesh, we got thinking about what defines a person. I asked Luke to write a bit about his view of this tricky philosophical questions. Here's his piece -

I define a person as anything that can think creatively and can adjust quickly to a situation. While this might not work in many situations, for example people in a coma or people with severe brain damage, it is the best solution that I have.
When humans say, "Look at all the people," or, "What kind of person are you?" they don't know just how big that statement is. But that is what philosophy is all about: asking the big questions.
But going back to what makes a person - I am afraid creativity and adjustment is the best I have to offer. If you have a much better definition please post it on my blog! But for now, what I really think is that "what makes a person?" is an unanswerable question
Luke's reading Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder a couple of chapters a day, now that he's got interested in philosophy. As he says, sometimes you need to ask the big questions!

Red Cherry Red

This was another poem book; it was written by Jackie Kay. Something I definitely noticed about her writing is that she wrote lots of poems about the sea and animals related to the sea. She did include some others but those are the ones that stuck with me most.
My favourite poem was one called The Angler Fish and I found it interesting because the things written in the poem, once you figured out what they meant, included some really unusual facts about angler fish.
One thing I found rather annoying about the poetry collection was that the poet often used Scottish words that I didn't understand like ach, crofit and oot. Because of this, some of the poems left me rather confused. When I listened to the poetry on CD, she did a little introduction to a bunch of the poems to tell us what inspired her to write them. Some of them I didn't really thing were necessary but some were interesting.
I preferred reading the poems to listening to them, mostly because it was faster and I didn't really enjoy doing this poetry collection. I found it a bit tedious, so I'm going to give it 35 out of 100.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Man Who Planted Trees

This book's appearance was rather pretty because it was small and completely made of paper, even the cover. However, in terms of the story, I was left slightly confused. It is told in the first person.

The man who was narrating said that after travelling for 3 days he met a shepherd. After staying with the shepherd for a few days, he discovered that he was a very quiet man who spent his days tending his flock of sheep and planting oak trees. He did this very calmly and did not get frustrated when most of them didn't grow, and he was quite friendly in a very quiet way. The narrator then left to fight in the 1914 war and did not see the shepherd for many years.

Once the war was over, he went back to visit the shepherd. He finds there are only 3 differences that have happened: the man is slightly older, instead of sheep he has beehives and he's started planting other trees like beeches. This time the narrator stays for longer and helps plant trees and collect new seeds. Of course, by now there is a huge forest.

Eventually the old man becomes a lot more tired but still carries on planting trees. The second world war occurs. The narrator goes to help with that, and comes back when the war is over and again goes to visit the shepherd. The forest is even bigger and lots of people are assuming it is a 'natural' forest.
In the end, after a small village has been built in the forest, the old shepherd dies, no one takes up his job but they do live peacefully in the village.

I'm pretty certain that there's supposed to be some moral or a lesson in this story but I simply can't pick it out. Although it was quite a nice story I think it's a bit obscure for kids my age. So I'm giving it a mere 57 out of 100.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Talkin Turkeys

This is my first book of poetry in the challenge.
I think my favourite poem was called Sunny Side Up because it was written upside down. It was funny because it said that when people see you reading upside down they think you're strange "but this poem is out to mislead."
One thing I noticed about Benjamin Zephaniah was that he wrote things how they are pronounced (like 'dat' instead of 'that') which makes it a bit harder to read and so you have to read them out loud. The poems were humorous even though some were about serious things like global warming and habitat loss.
I give Talkin Turkey 75 out of 100

Jay's Note - I read this one too. Zephaniah's warmth, humour and voice shine through these short poems. I think Michael Rosen is the first poet I'd introduce a child to and Benjamin Zephaniah is the second.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Luke recommends...

Several people commented to us that they'd really like some suggestions of books to read. Here are Luke's recommendations:

  • Stoneheart trilogy by Charlie Fletcher
  • Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
  • Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
  • Wolf Brother series by Michelle Paver
  • The River/Valley/Castle/Circus/Island/Mountain/Ship of Adventure books by Enid Blyton
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • How to Train your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
  • Time Riders by Alex Scarrow
  • H.I.V.E. series by Mark Walden
  • C.H.E.R.U.B. series by Robert Muchamore
  • Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Only You Can Save Mankind and its sequels Johnny and the Bomb & Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett

Some of the books, like How To Train Your Dragon, have been favourites since Year 3 but still make us laugh. Michael Morpurgo's Kaspar, Prince of Cats was good too. Eoin Colfer's books for younger readers like The Legend of... Spud Murphy/Captain Crow's Teeth/The Worst Boy In The World were also very good. Horrid Henry is obviously fun when you are starting out. And Pippi Longstocking is not just for girls, it's fun for everybody.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is the best book I've read in my challenge so far. It is also one of my favourite books and I would recommend it to anybody who likes magic, tech and villains. This book has a perfect mix of fantasy, high tech machines and the modern world.
The plot of the book is that 12 year old boy genius Artemis Fowl II has, through vigorous research, discovered the existence of 'The People' - fairies. He pursues the fairy bible to learn about their rules and weaknesses so that he can kidnap a fairy and take its gold.
The fairy he kidnaps is Holly the elf who is also a leprechaun (but that's just a job). She is on very thin ice with her Commander, Julius Root, because she is the first female LEP officer. But when she is kidnapped, he attacks Fowl Manor with the help of Foaly the centaur (a tech geek) to get Holly released.
This is a book full of action, adventure, and just possibly the world's best book for 11 and 12 year olds, so I am giving it 95 out of 100.

Jay's note - Luke's read all of this series and was so pleased to revisit them. I think he first got into them in Y5 and was just as enthusiastic then.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Thanks aplenty

Jay Writes -
People are lovely, aren't they?
When Luke and I embarked on this project in March, I'd assumed we'd get most of the books from the library. This has not quite worked out as well as we'd hoped, although Luke's school library are having a look for him. Primarily the books have come from our bookshelves, my increasingly expensive Amazon habit, and the kindness of friends online.
I'd like to thanks some of the lovely people looking books out for us -
  • Mark Tranter loaned us The Owl Service and A Christmas Carol
  • Sarah, a very kind woman on ReaditSwapit (a great system, btw) is sending us When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
  • Immi Howson (who introduced me to Dianna Wynne Jones, for which I shall be forever grateful) is loaning us Mitress Masham's Repose.
  • Little Women and The Secret Garden are coming to us from Nic, whom I met online
  • Meg has offered us Swallows and Amazons - again from someone I've never met face to face
  • Luke's grandparents Colin and Marion have offered to get him a couple of books from the list too
Take a bow, lovely people!

The Old Man and the Sea

Firstly I'd like to say GAH! This book is the worst book I have read not only in my challenge but in my life.
The story is about a fisherman who caught on his rod a super giant fish that nobody has ever seen before. The fish tugs him a long way (because it's a very strong and giant fish) and the man in his head complains, he wishes that he could get sleep, that the fish would slow down, that a boy he knows in the village was with him. The fisherman is constantly saying "The fish is my honourable brother and so I must kill him."
The man says he must kill his brothers and to be honest anything alive that isn't human is his brother. This, I think, is an excellent example of fratricide and how it can affect your life. At one point in the book he says "We are lucky the stars are not our brothers because then we would have to kill them."
I give it 2 out of 100. Why it is a classic is beyond me.

Jay's note - I'm impressed Luke managed to persevere with this one and wonder what about this style of writing made Michael Morpurgo include it in the list. Here's a sample:

"...his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert."

We've not seen many fish-laden deserts ourselves, but maybe we don't get out enough.
Flippancy aside, it was a very Literary-with-a-capital-L novella and it was all a bit much even for a bibliophile like Luke. Heavens only knows what the average Y7 student would make of it.
After 2 negative reviews Luke's heading to more familiar territory for his next review.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Silver Sword

I read this book in Year 6 and didn't like it at all.
This book was about a group of kids from Warsaw in the Second World War trying to get reunited with their mother and father. They are two sisters, a brother who goes missing for part of the story, and a kid they happen to meet called Jan, who also met their father and got the Silver Sword from him. They make a huge journey through Germany, where a dog comes in it for a bit, there's a chimpanzee who turns up and smokes cigarettes, and a chicken destined for the pot.
In the end they get lucky and everyone lives happily ever after.

While many people will disagree with me I really disliked this book because I found it far too religious and that the children believed the Power of God would only help them if they had the Silver Sword. I found this idea preposterous, especially as the Silver Sword isn't even an enchanted item, it's just a letter opener.
I give this book 9 out of 100.

Jay's note - wow, Luke really hated that one! I can't blame him, I found it sanctimonious and the most dated of the books so far, although it isn't the oldest. Sorry the review contains a spoiler of sorts, but it's a rubbish book anyway. We'll try harder next time

The Castafiore Emerald

This is the first Tintin book I've ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the sense of adventure and mystery and really liked Captain Haddock, who is Tintin's friend. I thought this book was interesting because while it was still a cartoon it managed to tell a great story and had a great sense of humour.
The two funniest characters, I thought, were the Thomson Twins because they kept on making mistakes while saying "It could happen to anybody," and still saying they were right. Their personalities were amusing.
The general story was that Lady Castafiore, a famous opera singer, was coming to stay at the Captain and Tintin's house. Lady Castafiore assumed everything was about her, whenever anybody talked about a problem she'd caused she waved it off as if they should feel honoured just to speak to her; she was not very good at seeing other's points of view. She was very protective of her jewels. The most expensive and valuable of these was the eponymous emerald. She was paranoid, constantly thinking her jewels were stolen when actually she'd just misplaced them. Eventually the emerald is actually stolen. At first everyone but Tintin believes it's the gypsies who've been living in the area who are responsible. But Tintin is determined to prove the gypsies' innocence. He investigates and finds out many things about the people in the house and eventually finds the culprit.
While I did like this book there are certainly things I would change. For example, I'd appreciate a quick back story on each character because it took me a while to understand why someone as young as Tintin had travelled all around the world having adventures and was now living with the Captain in a big posh house with his own butler. Because of this frustration I'm giving it 67 out of 100.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved The World

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was funny, witty, and I loved the characters.
Here is the plot:
The main character, Alexander, has a his crazy grandfather who warns him that aliens are about to take over the world and kill them all. He says that Alexander must assemble an alliance of superheroes to fight the aliens.
Alex runs trials for superheroes at his school. However all he gets are a boy who can throw cards; a boy who runs at people like a Viking, using his tortoise as a weapon; a boy who can burp or fart on demand creating any smell he likes; a secretary and a girl who has the power to be extremely annoying. They go on to fight the aliens, Alexander armed with the amazing maths powers of Einstein's underpants which he wears on his head.
I think this is an absolutely brilliant book for people aged 9 years and over. It has lots of comedy and is very witty. A well deserved 80 out of 100!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Noughts and Crosses

This is the largest book I've read so far in my challenge. The book is about racism and how people reacted during segregation.
The main characters are Sephy and Callum and their families. The books reverses the way racism is usually seen in our society. The Crosses, black people like Sephy, have much more power than the Noughts, whites like Callum.
I really liked how the characters' personalities were described in the book. My favourite character was Callum's older brother Jude. Obviously he was a Nought as well and hated the Crosses because they made sure the Noughts were powerless and were given the worst stuff. He called the Crosses 'Daggers' and joined the Liberation Militia, a Nought terrorist group that targets Crosses and their buildings. He was written really well, a really angry character who wants all Crosses to die and is constantly fighting with his brother Callum and sister Lynette.
At the start Callum is against Jude's beliefs and thinks Noughts and Crosses should be equal. He and Sephy are best friends. Over the course of the book, as they grow up, Callum grows to love Sephy. A good third of the book is about Callum and Sephy's struggle to be together without angering those around them because "a Nought and a Cross don't mix."
Very interesting read, and at some points rather moving. I felt I could really experience some of their feelings at times.
I'm giving Noughts and crosses 85 out of 100

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Hundred Million Francs

This book was incredibly similar to Emil and the Detectives because the plot structure was the same. A boy had something stolen, he and a group of kids did detective work to find out why it was stolen, eventually fought a bunch of baddies and got their thing back. The differences were that it was a much smaller group of kids, it was a toy stolen rather than money and they weren't rewarded at the end of it.

The story is set in a small village in rural France. It's about a gang of friends who play together every day. The character I most remember is the Dog Girl, because at the end of the book when they are fighting the villains she defeats them by calling all the dogs in the town with her special whistle. She and her pack of dogs take the thieves to the police.

The hundred million francs of the title refers to the amount of money the baddies had taken from a Paris bank.
I found this book had some extremely interesting and at times rather funny parts so I have decided to give it 75 out of 100

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth

This book is very interestingly written. The plot is about a small boy called Milo comes home from school after another dreary day and finds a toll booth waiting for him, which has been sent to him by someone completely mysterious. He pays the toll and goes into a magical world with two arguing kingdoms: the Kingdom of Words and Letters and the Kingdom of Numbers and Maths.

Milo goes on a quest with two companions - a faithful dog called Tock, who has a clock in his belly, and the reluctant HumBug - to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason, to restore peace to the Kingdoms. Along the way lots of strange and wonderful things happen to him and Milo eventually succeeds in his quest.

The magical world was full of edible letters and subtraction stew which makes you feel hungrier every time you eat it and also demons of time wasting and interrupting. It was very imaginative and original but I didn't enter into it as much as some of the books I choose for myself.
It got off to a slow start for an adventure book.

I think this book would work best if it were read out loud to younger children - maybe a chapter a night to 6 or 7 year olds - than it does for someone my age. Because of the brilliant ideas in it, I give it 63 out of 100.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Beano Annual

This is the third book and I'm surprised it's counted as 'a book' because it is actually just 2 magazines stuck together with a hardback cover.
I don't really get the Beano comics generally. I mean that in the sense that I don't buy them or read them. Some of them are quite funny and inventive but there's just no story, it's just a collection of sketches written by some guys.
They weren't that bad but I wouldn't call them good. I have found other Beano comics funny but I can't say I enjoyed this one. I didn't really like it but at least I read it quickly.
The Beano Annual is something to flick through when you are in a waiting room. I give it 17 out of 100

Jay's note - Luke read the Beano Annual 2011. He borrowed from his brother who had received it for his birthday. Z liked it and found it very funny!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Hello, this is my second review and I'm doing Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

I really liked this book because I thought the combination of writing and cartoons was really good. It expressed Gregory's (the main character) point of view of school and the summer holidays. I thought it was very funny and I like how Gregory thought he will be rich and famous when he's older.
The basic storyline is Gregory is going from the end of vacation to the first few weeks of school and his perspective of things that happen in his family and at school. I find the characters in the story convincing and I have to say that I have compared many of them to people I know in real life!
I think this book is less for 11 year olds, more for 9 year olds but that doesn't stop me from giving it 80 out of 100.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Hunting down the books

Jay Writes -
Hi everyone,
A few people have offered (here or on Facebook or by email) to loan us us some of the books from the list. Below is a list of those we've not got yet. If you have any you'd be willing to lend Luke, could you let us know? I'm running up quite the tab with Amazon - which I must confess isn't unusual for me - but I'd like to only buy those books we can't get elsewhere.
  • Swallows and Amazons (promised to be loaned to us)
  • The Happy Prince, Oscar Wilde
  • The Singing Tree, Kate Seredy
  • The Secret Garden (promised to be loaned to us)
  • Refuge Boy, Benjamin Zephaniah
  • The Tygrine Cat, Inbali Iserles
  • Carry On Jeeves (got lots of Jeeves but not this one)
  • The Story of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
  • Little Women, L M Alcott (promised to be loaned to us)
  • How To Be Topp, Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
  • Animal Farm (I think I had this at one point but can't find it on the shelves)
  • After The First Death, Robert Cormier
  • The London Eye Mystery, Siobhan Dowd
I'd also like to thank Luke's school library, who have promised to get him any of this list they have on their shelves. Librarians rock.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Emil and the Detectives

Hello. Luke here. This is my first review out of the 50. I thought I would start with a positive review so I chose this book and I have to say that this book is great.
When I started I have to say I had my doubts but they were soon gone as I was sucked into the world of Emil. Emil is set in Germany and it is about when a man with a bowler hat steals Emil's £7. He then goes on to retrieve his money from the thief with the help of most of the boys in the city. It was fast paced, interesting and went straight to the action. On my scale of 1 to 100 this book claims a well earned 70.

Jay Writes - Emil and the Detectives is by Erich Kastner. Luke read this edition. There's a sequel called Emil and the Three Twins. We'd like to point out that this Emil is a totally different one to the hero of Astrid Lindgren's series, also rather confusingly called Emil and the Clever Pig/Sneaky Rat/Great Escape. Luke liked Mr Kastner's Emil much better.

The 50 Books

Here are the books Luke will be reading. We've included links to Amazon in case you are interested in reading any of them with us, although there was one we could not find. We might make a couple of tweaks to the list but I'll explain about that in a minute:
  1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass - reviewed here
  2. Pinocchio - reviewed here
  3. Emil and the Detectives - reviewed here
  4. Swallows and Amazons - reviewed here
  5. Blackhearts at Battersea - reviewed here
  6. The Owl Service - reviewed here
  7. The Phantom Toll Booth - reviewed here
  8. Moominsummer Madness - reviewed here
  9. A Hundred Million Francs - reviewed here
  10. The Castafiore Emerald - reviewed here
  11. The Star of Kazan - reviewed here
  12. A Christmas Carol - reviewed here
  13. Just William - reviewed here
  14. The Happy Prince - reviewed here
  15. The Elephant's Child - reviewed here
  16. Treasure Island - reviewed here
  17. The Old Man and the Sea - reviewed here
  18. The Man Who Planted Trees - reviewed here
  19. The Singing Tree - reviewed here
  20. The Secret Garden - reviewed here
  21. Refugee Boy - reviewed here
  22. Finn Family Moomintroll - replaced by this review (see notes below)
  23. Diary of a Wimpy Kid - reviewed here
  24. I Capture The Castle - Luke played a wild card, reviewed here
  25. The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings - reviewed here
  26. The Tygrine Cat - reviewed here
  27. Carry On Jeeves - reviewed here
  28. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - reviewed here
  29. Moving Pictures - reviewed here
  30. The Story of Tracy Beaker - reviewed here
  31. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - reviewed here
  32. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - reviewed here
  33. Mistress Masham's Repose
  34. Little Women
  35. How To Be Topp - reviewed here
  36. Stormbreaker - reviewed here
  37. Private Peaceful - reviewed here
  38. Artemis Fowl - reviewed here
  39. The Silver Sword - reviewed here
  40. Animal Farm
  41. Skellig - reviewed here
  42. Red Cherry Red - reviewed here
  43. Talkin Turkeys - reviewed here
  44. Greek Myths - reviewed here
  45. People Might Hear You - reviewed here
  46. Noughts and Crosses - reviewed here
  47. Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved The World - reviewed here
  48. After The First Death - reviewed here
  49. The London Eye Mystery - reviewed here
  50. Beano Annual - reviewed here
Those that chose the Moomin books both said any one of the series would do, so we think reading just one of them will satisfy the challenge. Luke's read a few of the titles on this list already himself (although he was faintly insulted by the inclusion of Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, which he thinks is for 9 year olds). As long as he can remember enough about them to do his review we'll tick them off his list. We don't think we'll bother with the version of Greek myths listed here and Luke has pretty much memorised them from the wonderful D'aulaire's Greek Myths so I think we've got that covered.
I'm relieved to see we own a fair few of the books already. Otherwise it might have become a rather expensive project as not all that many seem to be available at the library!
Personally, I think Little Women will present the biggest challenge for Luke in both style and content, but I look forward to seeing what he thinks of them all.