It’s been a while since we wrote a “What We Are Reading Right Now Post…” and these are the latest and greatest reads from PanMacmillan, South Africa. There is really something for everyone in this post…
An Adult Read
The Muse by Jesse Burton: When I read her first novel, The Miniaturist, I knew I had found an author that I would be looking out for. While each of her books are quite different, if you like a good mystery with a historical touch then you are going to love Jesse Burton. I have to say that I loved The Muse from start to finish. It has two tales in two different times, running parallel to each other. You are compelled to read on to see what is happening in each of them. It opens up with us being introduced to Odelle Bastien who in 1967, has found her way to London from the West Indies, only to discover that she is not quite as “English” as she was brought up to believe. Life is hard for her and she finds a certain relief when she finds herself working for Marjorie Quick, at the Skelton Gallery. The parallel story is really the coming of age of Olivia Schloss the daughter of a celebrity mother (turned recluse) and an art dealer father, who have retreated to a villa in the South of Spain in 1936. In an era when women were not considered artists at all, Olivia secretly gets into art school, she has talent, she has skills and she learns to use them to her advantage. Each of the lead women have an important story to tell, and they tell it well. They both find love and it isn’t easy… they both find themselves as players in a world much bigger than they thought they were in. The book feels somewhat like you are time traveling and you will wish, more than once, that you could just step forward or backwards in time, so that they could explain to each other just how things are going to turn out for all of them. Not to mention, you know that the the stories have to align at some stage… but you have to read on. Don’t expect all the mysteries to unravel and be put back together again until the very last few pages. And whatever you think the ending will be… it won’t be that. I loved this read, read it form start to finish without pause… definitely look out for Jesse Burton, great historical novels with characters that go far deeper than just the pages.
A Teen Read
The Road to Ever After by Moira Young and illustrated by Hannah Gorge: This is the story of Davy Davids, a thirteen year old lad living by his wits in Brownvale. A cold and heartless town for a boy who loves classic movies and who has a creative streak that draws him to create angel masterpieces in the dust, with his broom collection, in the early hours of the day before the town wakes. There is indeed something especially special about the character Davy Davids. He manages to lurk unnoticed on the fringe of town, until a street dog called George puts him in the spotlight and he has to leave town. He has a strange encounter with the ancient museum keeper, Miss Flint. Davy and Miss Flint set off on a journey together, with Davy as the driver. This is a quirky book, with a magical feel… poignant and gentle all at the same time, full of adventure and smiles and yet… This book appears to be written for children, but while, Miss flint and Davy are on a truly transforming journey… she has decided in her very old age that she will return to her childhood home to die on Christmas Day, sounds a little macabre, it is… so I wouldn’t actually put this in the kids’ reads list even though it is a sweet book, just the lurking theme that it is okay in your old age to give up on life doesn’t sit well with me. The other theme of friendship and standing by each other no matter what, does work for me. This book would make a fantastic movie, (think The Tale of Unfortunate Events), but the dark back ground theme pops this book into the older class of YA for me, and adults who enjoy a magical childhood read. Illustrator, Hannah Gorge has created a delightful illustration at the start of each chapter, and I am really not sure why her name is not featured on the cover… I would call that a subtle design fail, because she deserves mention for her contribution to the book.
A Middle-School and Up Read
Never Say Die by Anthony Horowitz: So this is a pre-release, look out for it, it is coming soon… and just when you were devastated that the Alex rider series was over, there is another one. My kids have loved and adored Alex Rider since the beginning, not least because it is written by one of their writing heroes, Anthony Horowitz and one of our greatest interviews ever. Alex moves to America and doesn’t fit at all… he is homesick and lonely. One day he gets a cryptic email saying, “ALEXX I’M AL” and the adventure is on… What does this message mean? Who is it from? Is it the truth? Alex is reawakened and back on his travels around the world: France, Egypt, Wales… and re-encouters old enemies and friends and along the way makes new enemies and friends. The action is relentless, adventure lurking at every turn, mystery and danger thrown into one gripping book. In true Alex Rider style you be on the brink of your set reading through the night.
Animal Loving Reads
Bailey’s Story and Ellie’s Story by W. Bruce Cameron: Our animal loving eleven year old will love these books… they are stories written from the dog’d point of view. Beginning right at their first awareness of the world as puppies. These are dog biographies really, telling the story of their owners. In Ellie’s Story we are reading about a search and rescue dog and learning about her training and how she rescues folk, lost Alzheimer’s patients, lost children and rescuing folk. This is the story of the life of a working dog and it is a great read that all ages would enjoy. It also includes a Q and A chapter on search and rescue dogs. I would use this as a family read, simply because it is so interesting to read about the life of a working dog. Ellie is a true hero and her fabulous heartwarming story is one that folk of all ages would enjoy. In Bailey’s Story a golden retriever pup finds his way to an eight year old boy, Ethan… and the story of a boy and his dog emerges from there. It’s quite fun to read from the dogs perspective and it certainly gives you insight into what your pup is thinking when you leave him home alone, for instance. The story follow the life of Ethan from primary school through to college, I have to say that I started reading it thinking it would be a great family read… but after navigating through the whole book… I put it into the tween category, nothing untoward happens, but there are relationships and friendship rivalries that would peak my middle graders interest but would go right over the heads of my younger kids.
Short Stories, Great for Bedtime Reading
Jeremy James featured in Elephants Don’t Sit on Cars and Never say Moo to a Bull by David Henry Wilson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler: These are just delightful short stories collected together about the inimitable Jeremy James. Jeremy James has particularly typical parents, getting on with their lives and only half an ear to Jeremy, who tells them about things to be aware of… “Mummy there is an elephants sitting on top of Daddy’s car” is typically ignored and he is told to play with his trains. At the store he realises that while adults just take the first tin of fruit they see, because they are always in a rush, he is going to get the best tin of mandarins for the family… with dire and cascading consequences. Jeremy James is a pondering child, why for instance do adults say that it is quicker to walk, when all the while cars rush past? Why at the football does one sit in the stand? And why has he never met the men in blue, if they are the home team? All reasonable questions and all slightly amusing. We won’t mention the time that Jeremy James went looking for pirate treasure in the garden with a pick axe and found a water pipe that burst instead. In Never Say Moo to a Bull, twins join the family, and what were once slightly distracted parents are now very distracted parents and more deep questions from the inimitable logical questioning mind of Jeremy James emerge. The stories are all short and sweet, with a happy ending. Just delightful easy reading on a chapter book level, they make fabulous bed time stories or stories to read to group of kids. They are funny and light, written from a child’s perspective, that is a child who has to live in that foreign world of adults. I love that there is no hidden agenda, no sickly lesson to be learnt… just good funny stories that kids will enjoy and retell as their own, as they do!!!
First Chapter Books
Little Legends: The Story Tree and The Secret Mountain by Tom Percival: This is a series that is going to continue to grow… If your child is reading easy readers then these would be perfect first chapter books to move on to. Richly illustrated, there is a picture on every page and the chapters are short and one of our kids absolutely raves about them. A series where all the fairy tale characters come to life and go on exciting adventures together. They have to get right into the adventure from the start because… they have to keep their young reader engaged, so expect plenty of action and lots of sweetness right from the start. The Story Tree and The Secret Mountain are book five and six in the series, but all the stories stand alone. The Secret Mountain: In the centre of Tale Town there is a very special tree that grows when you tell it a story. If the story is short you get a couple of leaves and a long and exciting story shoots out branches and if you run your hands along a branch the story retells itself to you in your head… Anyway Jack, of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, is horrified to discover that some of the branches have been cut off. While Jack and his fairy tale friends are discovering that so many of the stories with them as the main feature, have disappeared and are trying to figure out why, the mean mayor and and his guards put a troll child in the town stocks below them. Jack and his friends perform an adventurous rescue and plan to return the troll child to his home. The adventure has plenty of ins and outs and distractions and of course a happy ending. In The Story Tree: Is another tale between the mean mayor, who is putting a lock down on Tale Town to protect them from a troll invasion. Actually, the mean mayor is using that drama as a cover up for a greedy personal lost. Our little fairytale friends once again come to the rescue, only this time their help comes from an unexpected pair: an extremely bad tempered wolf and a very sickly dragon. A fair amount of heroism and adventuring is required to get to the ultimate happy ending.
Picture Book Classics
Amazing Aeroplanes, Hovering Helicopters and Tough Trucks by Tony Mitton and Ant Parker: These books are classics for a reason and I can’t believe that they are twenty years old. For years they were absolute favourites in our home… lovely rhyming picture books for lovers of all sorts of amazing machines: Amazing Aeroplanes takes the young traveller on a plane trip through the terminal, into your seat… and across the sky; Hovering Helicopters is for the adventurous at heart, showing the little reader all the amazing and exciting uses of a helicopter; and Tough Trucks shows the young trucker all the different trucks that they could pass on their delivery. All these bookstore written in rhyme, and they very cleverly get the facts across to the reader all the while with a lovely rhythm. Our favourite page in all of them is the last page of each book… which has a drawing of the relevant vehicle and captions explaining the different parts of the vehicle. There is great illustrating through out… and thoroughly delightful throughout.
A Stunning Picture Book
Follow Me from Priddy Books: My love for Priddy Books is well known… I love the chunky details, the stunning illustration and while created by adults they manage to know exactly what will appeal to a small child. In this book, you need to follow the little red fox on a journey through the book. The maze is just slightly indented and turns a board book into a game… on each page you wind your way in and out and around about… until you reach a window, through to the next spread. Through woodlands, and farmlands, undertake sea, across a desert and through a crispy alpine forest… and finally getting all his little friends home. There are little questions on each page to provide conversation points for reading with little people. It is beautifully illustrated, a tactile joy and just delightful through and through. I would gift this to any small child, only I love it too much, and it is a keeper. I guess you are never too old for board books.
Huge thank you to PanMacmillan South Africa for supplying this fabulous collection of books for review purposes. This is not a sponsored post and all the reviews are as usual my own.