I have had a pile of review books on our coffee table and it is just growing and growing. Because of that, I have been in somewhat of a reading marathon to get them all posted before the end of the year, because I have this idea of starting a new year with a fresh clean slate, not to mention a clear coffee table. So expect lots of book reviews from us over the next few weeks, there are some fabulous reads are coming your way!!!
A Picture Book
The Matatu written by Eric Walters and Illustrated by Eva Campbell: This story, and as you can judge from the cover, is set in Africa… it is the story of a small boy, Kioko on his fifth birthday, on an adventure with his Grandfather. His grandfather is a wise old man, who has grown up under an African sky and is delightfully slow and deliberate. One feels for Kioko with his five year old excitement and his bouncy enthusiasm as they set out…
Together they are going on a journey on a Matatu, which is the Kenyan name for local buses that take anyone anywhere and all their possessions. Traditionally these buses are piled high with all sorts of worldly belongings: furniture, livestock… everything and their task is to get passengers to their destination faster than possible. Rules of the road are definitely made to be broken and well… maintenance and safety are not of the transport plan.
Kioko has been waiting his WHOLE life for this adventure… and while he is thoroughly enjoying the journey, his grandfather tells him a traditional tale: Why the dogs bark at the bus, the sheep just stand and stare and the goats run away. It is quite delightful and the oil painting illustrations are delightful. If you are looking for a sweet story about a boy and his grandad then then this is perfect, if you are wanting to explore the world through storybooks, then welcome to life in Africa. We read this book with friends that have grown up in northern Kenya and they were as delighted as we were as we read the story… they even knew the embedded folk tale from the Kamba region. I think for adult readers the author’s note adds a sweet touch to the story, don’t miss it.
Natural Factual Fun
iExplore Bugs by Hannah Wilson: Can I just say that I wouldn’t naturally choose a book that is linked to an app and that makes use of screen time. I saw the book, iDinosaur, at a recent book show and I realised the error of my ways, my kids would love an interactive book like this and since this long awaited bug book arrived it has been thoroughly loved and played with by my kids. A wide variety of bugs: from beetles to moths, from spiders to centipedes. Each bug gets a double page spread packed with information and the most incredible photographs…
And more than that when you install the app on your device…
And you hold your phone or your tablet over the page, a virtual bug will crawl off the page.
I kid you not it is impressive. So lots of facts like size, weight, habitat, diet, location and lifespan… as well as lifecycle information and any other special features. The facts appear to get absorbed while they are playing, everyone in our house know that the lifespan of a Hercules Beetle is 3 years, and Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterflies have a wingspan of about 27 cm. Not to mention there are Giant Shield Mantids (basically a praying mantis) that feeds mostly on other insects or arachnids and even mice (yikes). This book is pure factual fun and my kids have spent hours in it already.
Middle School Read
Pottymouth and Stoopid by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein, illustrated by Stephen Gilpin: Another in the prolific middle school series, that Hood 5 gallops through, book after book after book. And in this story, when your awful pre-school nickname sticks and even becomes the title of a book. A typical Middle School series book, light and quick reading, only this time it deals with the serious issue of bullying. Of course it is richly illustrated, lots and lots cartoons to break up the reading into manageable chunks. Way back in pre-school these friends were burdened with their nicknames, Pottymouth and Stoopid, and so many years later it is just not funny anymore. The name calling goes on and on… and then they come up with a surprising solution. It works. This book looks like a book about bullying on the surface, but actually it is about friendship. Two guys, who meet amongst the paint pots of pre-school, and stand by each other no matter what. A friendship that endures is something to behold. Through the many trials of every day life of school, of recently divorced parents for David and foster care for Michael, life isn’t easy… but their friendship never falters and goes the distance. Easy reading for emerging readers, who want to read fat books without millions and bazillions of words in them.
Magnus Chase and the Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan: This is book three in the Gods of Asgard series and welcome to the world of Norse Myths and Legends. Hood 2 has read every Rick Riordan and grabs them as they come off the printing press… this series has a few more adult themes and is for older teens, than the first series, Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan is not afraid to tackle all kinds of diversity in his characters, which is a good thing for contemporary teen literature. In this book Magnus and his entourage head out on a dangerous journey packed with perils and lurking hazards. There are elves, giants, zombies, sea gods and dragons… Magnus has to make his way through every single challenge to reach his goal… to finally conquer Loki, or to be destroyed himself.
Young Adult Read
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: After his six year hiatus John Green is back! His new book Turtles all the Way down is amazing! If writing the perfect book needed a recipe John Green has it. This book has teen angst, mystery, a rich boy, poor girl, love and John Green’s specialty, mental health and metaphors, the title itself is a metaphor. The whole book is perfectly quintessentially John Green. The main character is a girl names Aza Holmes who has OCD, (like John Green), she is a very anxious person, that likes to think. But her friend Daisy pushes her out of her comfort zone.
When Daisy hears about a reward for finding Russell Pickett, the father of Davis, a friend of Aza’s from her childhood she is ready to jump in a boat to go and have an adventure. The only problem, she is not outgoing at all and would rather stay at home away from germs. This book is a book that everyone should read, it is the kind of book that you read in one sitting and once finishing it you want to go back to the start and read it all again. It is the perfect book for John Green to release following his hiatus, and I can’t wait to see if he has anymore books coming out.
The Historical Saga
The Last Hours by Minette Walters: Just wow… I only received this book for review last week, a great big 550 page historical saga… I dived straight in and it took a few days before I emerged. I loved it. Swept back in the to the 1300’s in England and the Black Death is sweeping through the countryside at an alarming rate. There are three main players, a serf Thaddeus Thurkell who finds himself way above his statin as the steward; wise and compassionate Lady Anne, who’s wicked self-seeking husband, Sir Richard, was one of the first from their neighbourhood to succumb; and 14 year old Lady Eleanor, who is Lady Anne and Sir Richard’s spoilt daughter. Of course there are a whole lot of other characters, the drunkard priest, serfs and villains… and everybody has their faults and lots of them. Nobody is trustworthy, nobody at all. Lady Anne takes the unusual (for the day) step of quarantine… and while she is not popular, her people survive… but to what end, it is highly likely they will all starve to death. While Lady Anne tries to keep everything running smoothly, Thaddeus finds himself doing a lot of heroics, while Lady Eleanor causes nothing but trouble, more than just teasing the local lads there is something decidedly wicked about this girl… but what is her issue with the world? Secrecy, survival and desperate times… a hard life a fantastic read and there is a sequel coming, I just can’t wait.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins: Brought to us by the author of Girl on the Train, I really enjoyed this read, the second novel from Paula Hawkins and it is nothing like the Girl on the Train. It is a mystery that surrounds the sinisterly named “drowning pool” alongside a village wheelhouse. There are a number of characters and they are all portrayed warts and all, just as you would expect to know them if you lived in the heart of a village. The story revolves around the mysterious death of single-mom, Nel, who has been trying to contact her sister, Jules. You can’t help wondering why Jules has been ignoring her, but she has to take notice when her sister dies in very suspicious circumstances. Jules returns to her childhood town for the while they both have issues to resolve, they are forced to get along. There is a lot of small town gossip, and all those teenage relationships that Jules thought she had left behind when she left town to find her fortune… are just waiting really, where she left off. The point is, the Drowning Pool is called that for a reason, and Nel had been looking into the death of more than a few young women who had lost there lives there. The question is why are these women dying and are their deaths somehow related or could all the “accidents” really be just a terrible coincidence? Great chilling/crime read… more crime than chilling and of course a twist in the tail.
Geological Wonders of Namibia by Anne-Marie and Michel Detay: I have only ever driven through Namibia on a bus… and this book makes me want to just get up and go on that dream road trip. Really, the most incredible photographs and it reads like an invitation to play. Each chapter shows a special feature of Namibian geology, from meteorite moonscapes to the Fish River Canyon; from huge underground lakes to fossil footprints, from granite domes to ancient art and desert landscapes… this book will blow you away. Anyone interested in geology, or knowing a whole lot more background about the places the visit, will enjoy this book. Really the photographs and the Wide open African skies in these books will be enough to get any locals that have traveled away, dashing home for a visit and some renewal.
The Start of a Series
Darien: Empire of the Salt (I) by C.F. Iggulden: So I am a huge Conn Iggulden fan. When I saw that he had begun a fantasy series I decided to give it a try. Well what can I say, once a fan… always a fan. Basically, if you can write great historical fiction then you are well equipped to create an incredible world and write a fantasy novel about all that is going on there. As background, the city of Darien is rolled by twelve aristocratic families, and there is a plot to kill the King, well that’s what all the online summaries have to say. Actually, this book is about the intriguing characters, you can’t help engaging with them and you will be compelled to read on, and then read on because of them. The first character you meet will be Elias and he is a hunter with an extraordinary talent, he also has a wife and daughters suffering from the plague… he is a desperate man and will even dodge bullets if it means rescuing them. Then there is the mute lad Arthur, who is taken in by a Bill Sikes character called Daw Threefold. The characters continue, they are fantastic… and so is the story. If you like a fabulous saga… then you will definitely like this one.
The Weekend Read
Hiding in Plain Sight by Susan Lewis: This was a great read… I thoroughly enjoyed it and was quite happy to let a whole lot of weekend chores go in favour of reading it straight through. We join Andee, a retired detective, in France, on a hot summery day. A passing car slows to a halt and the girl in the back seat says, “Remember me?” This apparently random event wasn’t that random at all. And Andee did indeed realise that she recognised her long lost sister, who went missing when they were young teenagers and hasn’t been seen for well over twenty years. In fact, it was so long ago that everyone believed that her sister had died. Turns out Penny had chosen somewhat of a rollercoaster ride of a lifestyle for herself and and the more you want to sympathise with her regarding her life, the meaner she appears to be… But why? You will find yourself reasoning it all out and then the story changes slightly and you find yourself back to rethinking all over again. A shocking tale reveals itself, and as each piece of the puzzle comes together and as more secrets are revealed the more you cannot becomes more shocking. This is a fabulous read and a great escape… be warned topics covered in this book are not for the fainthearted, nothing gory or graphic, but certainly criminal and revealing a very dark side of society.
Faster, Higher, Farther by Jack Ewing: Faster, Higher, Farther is a book about a seemingly dry topic: pollutants from Volkswagen car engines. But it’s not a dry read. On the contrary, the book is as arresting as a war novel and manages to grip you from the first few pages. After a few pages, you won’t put it down until you’ve reached the bitter truth at the end.
Beginning with the story of the students who first found that Volkswagen “clean” diesel was not clean at all, this riveting read begins with the founding of Volkswagen during Hitler’s Germany, and traces the history of the company to the modern day emissions scandal. The story isn’t written like a history book, though. It’s written in such a way as to build suspense throughout. The suspense isn’t in the result of the lies and tricks. The suspense in the story as each lie and deceit is slowly peeled away, bringing you closer to the truth you already know.
It takes a masterful writer to bring suspense, intrigue and drama to a story that’s punch line is common knowledge – and Jack Ewing has done it. This is a book that will tell you a story of truth and lies and satisfy you afterwards. But more than that, this is a book that makes you care. This is a book that lets you share the outrage at the environmental travesty – and care about the future. It’s a book that begins, reveals, and ends waiting for the final chapter. How will car manufacturers respond in future? Will they be responsible? What will the cost of this crime be?
Salt Houses by Hala Alyan: I really enjoy books that open a window into a completely different world to the world we live in and for a moment we can be transported to a totally different culture. This book is slowly and lilting and beautifully written. All the time, while I was reading it, I felt that I am reading a tragedy. This is the story of a family on the run. Each generation has fought through a war, each generation is forced to flee. From the Six-Day War of 1967 to Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait, they are forced to flee. This is the story of their relationships, the tension that brews as the stress they are living under plays havoc with their everyday lives. To know that their is no place called home… this is a tragedy, this is real life and this is heartbreaking. And the theme, “Never Give-Up” rings true throughout. This is a debut novel, I expect there will be more powerful reads to come form Hala Alyan.