Posted by: janesandell | April 15, 2014

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

I have come to the conclusion that Meg Rosoff is a genius. I’ve been reading her books since How I Live Now which I really didn’t like. I thought it was flawed and convoluted and generally an unsatisfying read. I was part of the Carnegie Medal judging panel that controversially didn’t short leet it. Perhaps it was the controversy that made me carry on reading Meg’s books.

Because, in spite of everything and even with hindsight, I still don’t think that How I Live Now is a good book. But many other people did. So maybe I needed to find out what I was missing in her books. Now, I have read everything she has written since then as though I can’t help myself. I don’t watch out for her books, counting the days until a new one appears but somehow they impinge themselves upon my consciousness.

I have just finished reading Picture Me Gone and I could hardly put it down. As much as it’s a story at all, it’s the story of Mila and her father and their journey to find Gil’s oldest friend who has disappeared, leaving behind a wife, son and dog.

But, of course, it’s not really about the story; it’s about ideas just as all of Meg’s books are. And this time it’s about truth and how well one person can ever really know another. And it’s brilliant. Written in Meg’s distinctive low-key style, it wraps itself around you and doesn’t let you go until you reach the end.

Posted by: janesandell | April 15, 2014

Love, Lies & Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon

One of the many joys of reviewing books for The Scotsman is that I see lots of them before they are published. I’ve never quite got over the excitement of knowing that I’m reading a book that the general public hasn’t seen yet!

A few weeks ago I was sent a copy of Love, Lies & Lemon Pies by Katy Cannon from Stripes Publishing. It’s not due to be published until May and, although it was on my reading shelf, I hadn’t quite got around to it. Then last week I had a gentle nudge from the publicist so I thought I’d take it home (my main reading shelf is at work and I only take a few books home at a time; they balance precariously on a reading pile) and read it over the weekend.

In fact, I read it on Friday evening and hardly stopped until I’d finished! The book looks like it’s a light and frothy summer read and the sun was shining in Lossiemouth last weekend so it felt like a good match. Actually, without wanting to give away too much of the plot, the book isn’t as light and fluffy as all that.

It’s the story of six teenagers who, for different reasons, end up joining the Bake Club at school. Lottie, the main character, is struggling after her Dad’s death. She tells the story in the first person so we see everything through her eyes. Mac is at Bake Club as his last chance. If he messes this up, he’s going to be kicked out of school. The other four teenagers are there from choice, or so it seems. In fact they all have secrets and no-one’s life is quite what it seems.

I loved this book. Yes, everything works out slightly too easily but this is a feel-good story, not an angst-ridden tome. I’ll be buying it for the Libraries Service and recommending it to my young teenage readers. Realistically, it’s the girls who’ll read it but there’s no reason at all for the boys not to enjoy it.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. In between each chapter is a recipe. They all sound delicious but the one that might get me to break out my rarely used baking bowl is the cinnamon rolls.

Posted by: janesandell | December 17, 2013

Judith Kerr

My introduction to Judith Kerr’s books was not through Mog or the Tiger Who Came to Tea but When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I remember that I was in Primary 6 when I read it and I think it came from the class library but it might have been a class reader. However I came to read it, I loved it. Clearly at that age I didn’t understand the horror lurking behind the story but I did grasp that life was difficult for Anna and her family.

This year Judith Kerr was 90 and, in honour of that HarperCollins reissued some of her most-loved books and published an illustrated autobiography. Here’s how I reviewed it in The Scotsman last weekend:

To celebrate Judith Kerr’s 90th birthday HarperCollins re-issued many of her much loved books this year. So Mog, Pink Rabbit and that Tiger who dropped in for tea are doubtless being enjoyed by many children for the first time. But older readers who already know and love Judith Kerr’s work will be delighted with Judith Kerr’s Creatures (HarperCollins £25). It is her autobiography, written in such a way that it can be enjoyed by older children, teenagers and adults. Throughout the book there are references to her love of art and included are many sketches, photographs and published illustrations. It is both a superb introduction to her life and work and a joy and treasure for those of us who have grown up loving her books.

If you get a book token for Christmas you could go further wrong than buy a copy of this beautiful book!

Posted by: janesandell | December 6, 2013

Eleanor Updale

Eleanor Updale came to speak at an event I was running recently and it was lovely to see her again.  I say ‘again’ but neither of us can remember where we first met, although we both recall the meeting and I have a signed copy of Montmorency as proof.  We think it might have been at a Youth Libraries Group conference about ten years ago.  Since then Eleanor has gone on to write more books about Montmorency and his friends and two stand alone novels.  Her most recent offering is The Last Minute which I think is a complete triumph but you can read my opinion in The Scotsman next Saturday.  The exciting news, however, is that there is to be a new Montmorency novel.  Can’t wait!

Posted by: janesandell | December 6, 2013

Must Try Harder

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to the author Sara Sheridan.  We had a great conversation about books and the lack of printed space given over to reviews of books for children and teenagers.  At the end of our conversation Sara said to me that I should write a blog…  Oops!  Now look, I’m not really one for new year’s resolutions so here and now I promise to do better with this blog.  The good news is that The Scotsman is still (for the time being anyway) publishing children’s book reviews and still asking me to write them.  The next batch should appear in the paper on 14. December.  Look out for them; there are some great books included.

Posted by: janesandell | April 11, 2013

Ishmael by Michael Gerard Bauer

I love this trilogy so much that I have to share with you my review of it from The Scotsman last month:

Ishmael and the Hoops of Steel (Templar £6.99) is the concluding book in Michael Gerard Bauer’s trilogy revolving around Ishmael and his friends. It had me by turns hysterical with laughter, deep in thought and in floods of tears. When I finished it I was devastated because I knew there was no more. Readers who don’t know Ishmael will want to start at the beginning (Don’t Call Me Ishmael and Ishmael and the Return of the Dugongs) in order to get to know the boys and live with them as they progress through high school in Australia. Bauer’s writing is deceptively simple, easy to read and dialogue driven. He meets difficult issues head on and allows his characters to deal with them. The characterisation is truly outstanding: even the fringe characters leap off the page as they interact, grow and develop. The plot twists and turns entirely believably, creating a world that even your fortysomething female reviewer would like to inhabit. Be a part of Ishmael’s world.

Please go and find these books and read them and pass them on to teenagers you know. And don’t judge them by their covers. I was very nearly put off by them. Now I’m so glad that I opened the first book and started reading.

Posted by: janesandell | April 10, 2013

The Boy From France by Hilary Freeman

I always have a huge pile of books at home waiting to be read but, at the moment, I have two!  They’re a random mixture of children’s books I might review, teenage ones I either like the look of or think might be popular (usually two entirely separate categories!), adult novels and books I’ve bought to add to my collection.  I’m working my way through them very slowly, not helped by the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time rereading old favourites lately.

However, today I have read a whole book.  It’s been on the pile for a while and it might fit into three categories.  The Boy From France by Hilary Freeman is probably aimed at girls from a mature ten to about thirteen so I might well include it in my next lot of reviews for The Scotsman.  It counts as a teenage novel that (i) I like and (ii) might be popular!

It’s set in contemporary London (Camden, to be exact) and is superficially a romance between a local girl and her school exchange guest – the boy from France.  As a romance, however, it’s pretty slight and, were it no more, wouldn’t merit a mention.  Refreshingly, the heroine Vix lives with both her parents, who’re married to each other and have been since before she was born.  (Sometimes reading fiction for young people you’d think that no-one lived in such a family these days!).  They love each other and she loves both of them.  But her Mum has MS, rapidly progressing and Vix’s life is different because of that.

Hilary Freeman handles Vix well.  We see her conflicted feelings, the subtle, but real, pressure on her, her relationships with her parents and her two best friends and the knowledge bubbling under that someday soon something will have to give.  And it is Xavier, the boy from France, who is the catalyst.

The Boy From France isn’t a long book and it isn’t deeply meaningful.  It is, however, well-written, easy to read and enjoyable.  Vix, her family and friends are well defined individuals who interact believably.  And the book has just enough substance to make it thought-provoking for young girls, regardless of their circumstances.

Posted by: janesandell | December 6, 2012

The Scotsman

I’ve been having trouble posting to my blog but it all seems to be working now. So I can let you know that my Christmas reviews will be in Saturday’s Scotsman. Don’t miss them now!

Posted by: janesandell | December 6, 2012

2012’s Bookshelf

The other day I was clearing out all the books I’ve received from publishers this year. Don’t worry; they all went to good homes. I dealt with the books for primary children first, as they were being given as prizes, and the picture books had already gone. So I was left with the teenage titles. One of my colleagues took them to pass on to a local organisation which is collecting gifts for young people who might not otherwise receive anything. Hopefully there will be lots of happy teenagers in Moray this Christmas.

But they’ll pretty much only be happy if they like dystopian novels or the paranormal/supernatural. Fairies, vampires, zombies, angels, werewolves and dark spirits of all kinds were clustered on my shelves. And I hate them all! I’ve never met one that I could enjoy reading about. I’m sure some of them are good books. In fact, I know they are. Take a bow, Joss Stirling. But I can’t get interested. Part of my problem is that I’m irritated by publishers jumping on the bandwagon and giving us more of the same – even when it’s badly written, plotted and populated. The dystopian novels aren’t quite as bad but I do think that they’re going the same way as authors run out of anything new to say. But Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy was interesting and I thought that Slated by Teri Terry was a great concept.

Once these genres were off my shelves, I was left with very little. Fortunately some of it was very good. Sophie McKenzie’s Missing trilogy was represented and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Similarly, I am loving Anne Cassidy’s Murder Notebooks. I’m surprised by both of these as I don’t particularly enjoy thrillers. But these are gripping without being a ridiculous strain on the nerves. More to my general taste were the historical novels by the likes of Mary Hoffman, Rosemary Sutcliff, Paul Dowswell and Marie-Louise Jensen, who is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine. And my small Australian collection: Garth Nix, Michael Gerard Bauer and Morris Gleitzman. I met the first two at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year and they were as lovely as their books. (I’ve met Morris Gleitzman previously and he is too!)

Clearly there are other brilliant books out there and I do understand that publishing is a business and it needs to be commercially viable. But my wish for 2013 is that more publishers will be brave and take risks – and that they’ll keep sending me their books!

Posted by: janesandell | June 16, 2012

More Book Reviews

In a surprising development (It certainly took me by surprise!) my next batch of reviews will be published in  The Scotsman the week before the schools break up.  So that’ll be Saturday 23. June.  They were written pretty quickly but I had a great selection of titles to choose from so I hope they’ll be worth reading.  The books certainly were.

Older Posts »