Posts Tagged ‘Reviewer-Alison’

Getting To Know…Alison

Alison is Mum to two children, one at Primary School and one preschooler. She juggles day to day life with full time work is a school librarian. A career that fits very well with her obsessive reading habit. Life is very busy, but lots of fun.
Not a day goes by with at least a few pages being read. Alison can often be found reading teen and young adult fiction, all in the name of work, honest! An urban fantasy addict, both grown up and teen, she is currently reading the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, and loving every second. Alison also permanently seems to be reading books from the long and shortlists of children’s book awards. When she takes the occasional step into the territory of books for grown ups Alison loves to read crime and fantasy.

What have you enjoyed the most about blogging over the past year?

Just being able to rave about the books that I love. Everybody expects a librarian to talk about what they read, but there is only so far you can go before the eyes glaze over and people make excuses to run away…

What was your favorite read of the last 12 months?

Probably still ‘A Throne of Glass’ by Sarah J Maas. I’m enjoying ‘Crown of Midnight’ which is the next in the series, but it doesn’t have that wow factor of discovering something new and amazing. I really enjoyed ‘The Oathbreakers Shadow’ by Amy McCulloch as a new and original idea. Basically I’m back to really enjoying fantasy books. I love that the genre is becoming more popular in YA. Adult fantasy is a little too involved for light reading, YA fantasy gives me the elements of fantasy that I love is a more accessible format.

What makes the perfect beach/holiday read?
Something light and easy whilst on holiday, any time off at home normally means that I’ll read something a bit heavier as I don’t have as much on my mind as when I’m working.

What book are you most anticipating reading over the summer?

I’ve just finished watching season three of ‘Game of Thrones’. It’s been 8 years since I have read any of the books, so I’m thinking I may try the first three again. I’ve got three weeks off so should be able to manage something more involved. This time I may even take notes so I actually know what is going on!

Describe your bookshelf/TBR pile- ie all on kindle, alphabetised, tripple stacked!

I have loads of books waiting for me on my phone, I managed to break my Kindle this year and haven’t bought a new one yet! The house is also covered in books, I’d love to say they were all arranged neatly but they really aren’t. I’m sp precise about the order of the bookshelves at work but it doesn’t transfer to home. There are also loads and loads of books I would love to read on those shelves at work. I would take them all home but it’s only fair to let the students read them first!

How do you make time to read?

I don’t sleep! The amount of reading that I do has decreased dramatically this year as my husband has stopped working nights and I have ended spending my evenings with him. Lovely to see him but I do miss the reading. Occasionally you will find me curled up on the sofa whilst the children create chaos around me.

Where is your Favourite place to read?

In bed or in the bath, basically anywhere I can lie down. Although I will read sitting up I don’t really find it comfortable

How do you encourage the love of reading and books in your children?

By reading to them and by having lots of books around at all times. By making sure I talk to them about what they are reading AND what I am reading (within age appropriateness of course). I also make sure that they see me reading too so they know that it’s something I value, this bit is no hardship at all. It’s my job to encourage children to read more and it breaks my heart to see more and more children growing up with no reading culture at home. Schools can do a lot but in the end it really is parents who create readers.

What is your favorite book you have shared with your child(ren) in the last 12 months?

Anything by Roald Dahl. We’ve had a few years where it’s been difficult to read both children the same book as the oldest wanted something longer and the youngest wanted picture books. This year I’ve been able to read the same book to both of them and Roald Dahl’s sense of humour really appeals to both. The only problem is that I don’t end up reading the whole book to them anymore as the oldest will often carry on reading the books to the youngest!

A favourite blog/forum/website you would like to recommend to our readers? Why?

Lovereading4kids.co.uk. I use it both for work and finding books for my own children. It lets you know what new books are out, gives suggestions based on genre and best of all it has a extract from the beginning of most books that you can download to try.

And because we ask our visiting authors- Just For Fun

Tea or Coffee? Neither. Is Pepsi Max an option?

Slippers or barefoot? Barefoot in summer, big fluffy slipper boots in winter

Shower or Bath? Bath for comfort, shower for time

Marmite: Love it? Hate it? Ugh..

Alison's Place of work

Alison’s Place of work

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Carnegie and Greenaway: Wonder

R. J. Palacio

Wonder cover artMy name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August Pullman wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things. He eats ice cream. He plays on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside.
But Auggie is far from ordinary. Ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids don’t get stared at wherever they go.
Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life, in an attempt to protect him from the cruelty of the outside world. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?
Narrated by Auggie and the people are around him whose lives he touches forever, WONDER is an funny, frank, astonishingly moving debut to read in one sitting, pass on to others, and remember long after the final page.

Wonder is quite frankly an amazing book that well and truly deserves its place on the Carnegie Shortlist. I read the book in a night and needed copious amounts of tissues as I neared the end. It should be made clear however that this is not a sad book, instead it is one that highlights the better side of human nature. Although the darker side does raise its ugly head from time to time, this book shows how human kindness can overcome it. Yes there are parts that are quite corny and twee, but I was left with such a feeling of hope after finishing the book, so much so that the corniness didn’t really seem to matter.

Auggie is the main character in the book, even when we read from the point of view of other characters. Born with a severe facial deformity he has had a lot to overcome in his 10 years. Previously homeschooled his parents decide to that now is the time he should start at mainstream school. Auggie is apprehensive but decides to give it a go, it’s not like he isn’t used to the way that people look at him. Initially ostracized there are a couple of pockets of light in the dark. In the end, despite the wishes of a boy who is obviously scared of being different, Auggie gains the acceptance of his classmates by showing a incredible quiet strength.

Wonder is written from the perspective of a number of central characters, all people whose lives have been touched by Auggie. I did miss the perspective of Auggie’s parents but at the end of the day this is a book for pre teens not for adults and the characters that they would wish to hear from are all covered. All points of view were written in the first person, but I always knew whose voice I was hearing. I liked the way that this was done, I don’t think that the book would have had nearly as much impact has it all been written from Auggie’s point of view as a large part of the storyline was how he, as a person, affected the lives of those around him. I also think that the decision to write the book in the first person was a good one. It is a very emotive book about a very emotive subject, the first person narrative reinforced this as the reader feels an intense emotional connection to what is going on.

I also liked the fact that although this book focuses on the better side of human nature, the ‘good’ characters weren’t perfect. Via sometimes resents her brother for taking her parents attention away from her and whilst she loves her brother doesn’t always want the hassle that being seen with him brings, their parents disagree on Auggie starting school, Jack gives in to peer pressure and talks about Auggie behind his back and Auggie does feel anger and resentment at the lot that he has been given. Had these characters not had these little imperfections then Wonder would not have seemed as real and I don’t think it would have succeeded in putting across the message that we should all take time to look at who a person is as that is what counts.

I’m not sure that it will win Carnegie, I think it may be a little sentimental to actually win the prize. It has however been a welcome break from the heavy darkness that can be found in some of the other books on the shortlist. And although I don’t think it will win part of me wishes that it would.

Verdict: A beautifully written, emotional book that give me hope for the nature of human kindness.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Corgi Children’s
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Genre: Coming of age
Age: Middle grade/ Teen
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway: In Darkness

Nick Lake

in darknessListen. You’re the voices in the dark so the world can’t all be gone. There must be people left.
I’m going to tell you how I got here and how I got this bullet in my arm. I’m going to tell you about my sister who was taken from me by the gangsters.
Maybe, maybe if I tell you my story then you’ll understand me better and the things I’ve done. Maybe you’ll forgive me…. Maybe she will.
Alone and in darkness, trapped in the rubble after the Hatian earthquake, one terrified teenager holds on to life.

Told in the voices of a black slave from Haiti’s past and a gangster teenager from Haiti’s near past, ‘In Darkness’ walks us through two of the most important parts of Haiti’s history, in a very personal way. We have the story of Toussaint, an illiterate slave who becomes literate during a Voudon ceremony and then leads the slaves to their freedom. We also follow Shorty, a teenager who has grown up in the slums. The story starts in Shorty’s voice, just after the Haitian earthquake that destroyed the country. Shorty was in hospital with a gunshot wound and is now trapped under the rubble. In alternating chapters they tell their story until we get to the point where their stories combine.

I will hold my hands up and say that I wasn’t sure about ‘In Darkness’. In spite of some absolutely fantastic reviews I just didn’t know what to expect from it. It’s one of those books that seem very ‘worthy’ (and yes it is) and on the hole that tends to put me off (bad librarian!). I’ve read in other books that it’s not a book that you enjoy and that is completely right. It is however a book that evokes a lot of emotion. Incredibly dark, sometimes disturbing the book does include a lot of violence. But the story is about very violent places and times and is therefore fitting and never feels gratuitous. Because of this some librarians have questioned its place on the shortlist as they have doubts about giving the book to Year 7’s to read. Whilst I understand their doubts I don’t think that this book could have been written any other way, yet the writing and the characterisation means that it deserves its place. I think that children of their age tend to self censor when it comes to their reading and will either skirt over the bits they can’t cope with or leave the book unread. Despite the darkness present in the book it does end with a glimmer of hope.

As said above I can’t say that I enjoyed ‘In Darkness’, it’s not that type of book, but I do feel that I gained something in reading it. I know very little about Haiti and its history and the historian in me was interested in learning about its past. A lack of knowledge also meant that I could enjoy the story instead of thinking about how accurate it was. This is a book that also concentrates on relationships between people, between Mother and Son, Father and Son, between gang member and between siblings. This gives the book a human element that is one of its greatest strengths. It makes the focus of the book become the human cost of the events concentrating on the injustices of the times.

Another interesting factor of the book is the way it deals with the Voodoo practices of the characters. There is a such a matter of factness about it the it is obvious that this is just the beliefs of the characters. Whether there is any truth to the power of voodoo is left to the reader.

Although this is an incredibly strong book I’m not sure that it is likely to win Carnegie. I think that it probably lacks the wider appeal that the winner should have.

Verdict: Dark, violent and sometimes unsettling but still a very interesting read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Genre: Historical, Supernatural
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: Debut Author
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Carnegie and Greenaway: Maggot Moon

Sally Gardner

Maggot MoonWhat if the football hadn’t gone over the wall. On the other side of the wall there is a dark secret. And the devil. And the Moon Man. And the Motherland doesn’t want anyone to know. But Standish Treadwell — who has different-coloured eyes, who can’t read, can’t write, Standish Treadwell isn’t bright — sees things differently than the rest of the “train-track thinkers.” So when Standish and his only friend and neighbour, Hector, make their way to the other side of the wall, they see what the Motherland has been hiding. And it’s big…

Maggot Moon won this year’s Costa Coffee Children’s book Award and is probably the one to beat when it comes to Carnegie. Incredibly original Maggot Moon tells the story of Standish Treadwell, a dyslexic boy, who struggles to read and write, and therefore everybody has decided that he is stupid. The book is set in a dystopian world, but in this case a historical one. The book has the feel of 1950’s Britain, but one that is a totalitarian state of the likes of Hitler’s Germany or Stalinist Russia. The country is now a satellite of the Motherland and every aspect of life is closely monitored.

I read this around the time that my daughter was taking the initial screening for dyslexia, which was both a good and a bad thing. It meant that I got distracted by that element of the storyline a little too much, but at the same time was incredibly reassuring. Sally Gardener, the author, is also severely dyslexic and this really shows in how Standish appears to feel about his difficulties with reading and writing. That a dyslexic author has written such an extraordinary book, a book that would be so extraordinary no matter who had written it, really does highlight that dyslexia has absolutely nothing to do with a lack of intelligence and that everybody really can achieve anything, as long as they put their minds to it.

It is probably the most heart wrenching book that I have read so far from the shortlist. I defy anybody to have completely dry eyes when they finish the book. The characters of the book are constantly watched; have to guard every word and action, this atmosphere of close oppression just serves to make the emotion feel all the more intense. This is not a book that gives you hope, but then it tells of a world where there is very little hope. It is because of this atmosphere that Standish’s voice is so important. Standish is different, because he thinks outside the box and this is not a regime that is tolerant of differences. That Standish has managed so far is testament to his grandfather. Their relationship highlights the positive side of human nature, in a book that concentrates so heavily on the negative. It highlights the good that people can do even when everything is against them.

The writing is just beautiful, whilst at the same time being brutal. The story is told in short chapters, giving the story a stop, start feel that just seems to highlight uncertainty present in the world in which it is set.

The short chapters make the book look like it is intended for younger readers, when it probably isn’t. It is a true crossover book in that adults will enjoy it too, but I wouldn’t give it to a child younger than secondary age, the content is quite dark and they wouldn’t necessarily understand some of the complexities of the plot. It is however a book that should be read, not for light hearted enjoyment, but just to experience the incredible writing.

Verdict: Beautifully written, if a little brutal at times, a book that just cries out to be read.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Genre: Historical, Dystopian
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: Oh No George

Chris Haughton

oh no georgeGeorge is a dog with all the best intentions. And his owner, Harry, has all the best hopes that George will be a well-behaved dog when he leaves him alone for the day. But when George spies a delicious cake sitting on the kitchen table, his resolve starts to waver. You see, George loves cake. . . . Uh-oh. What to do now? It’s so hard to be a good dog when there are cats to chase and flowers to dig up! What ever will Harry say when he gets back? Chris Haughton’s fetchingly funny story and vibrant, retro illustrations are sure to lure dog lovers of all ages — and anyone who has ever met a temptation too good to resist.

I love this book! I really wish that it had been around when my son was a bit younger. He is a typical boy, who gets into lots of mischief, but deep down really wants to behave and this would have been the perfect book to introduce a discussion into those contrasting feelings to him.

The pictures should really appeal to young ones. Very simple and based around bight oranges and reds they are eye catching and give you lots to talk about without being too distracting or too detailed for young minds. I can really see why this book made the shortlist.

But for me it is the story line that really makes this book. All young children misbehave, they all do silly things. The scrapes that George gets into in the book are something that most young children would consider doing. When George gets ‘found out’ he feels very guilty, in the same way a young child would and then he gets the chance to make things better. This is all done on a level that a child would understand, giving them a chance to explore their own feelings on wanting to do things that they aren’t allowed to do. That George also gets the chance to do it all again the right way shows children that they can do it too and that we all learn eventually.

Verdict: A lovely, engaging picture book. A fantastic starting point for discussions about behaviour with small children.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Walker
Publication Date: Match 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Genre: Picture book
Age: Picture book
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards: The Weight Of Water

Sarah Crossan

weight of water cover artArmed with a suitcase and an old laundry bag filled with clothes, Kasienka and her mother head for England. Life is lonely for Kasienka. At home her mother’s heart is breaking and at school friends are scarce. But when someone special swims into her life, Kasienka learns that there might be more than one way for her to stay afloat.

This is a book that is stunning in its simplicity. The writing, especially coming from a debut author is just exquisite. I originally bought this book for my school library as it was about a polish girl coming over to England and I work at a school with a large polish population. I thought it may be good for girls who had come over from Poland to relate to but really this book is so much more. I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d already read ‘Breathe’ Sarah’s other book but not really realized that both were by the same author as the books are so incredibly different, both in subject matter and writing style. I’d enjoyed ‘Breathe’ but it hadn’t quite lived up to the hype for me, in contrast ‘The Weight of Water’ very definitely does.

This is a book written as poetry rather than prose. I’m one of those people who just doesn’t ‘get’ poetry and I normally avoid books like this like the plague, in fact the only time that I do read them is when they appear on the Carnegie Shortlist but this book was really a pleasant surprise. Telling the story of Kasienka, all from her point of view it covers, very sensitively, all sorts of issues that teens all over the world face. Family breakdown, isolation, bullying, first love and the building of new lives are all covered within the book. I did find the original premise a little unbelievable, that a mother would uproot their child from all that they knew to follow a man that had left without word with just a postmark to go on. But I think that may have been me reading the book as an adult rather than a child. I wanted to find out more about Kasienka’s parents, but that was not something that Kasienka would know and this was her story not theirs, that would be what a teen girl would have been interested in and rightly so.

Kasienka is a strong central protagonist. Whilst we get a look into others lives this is her story not theirs. This works really well in adding to the feeling of alienation and isolation within the book, a very common feeling for many teens. That Kasienka comes from a different country and doesn’t speak the language means that she finds understanding her peers very hard. These misunderstandings come from both language and cultural barriers, but again although they may be more pronounced in this case they work very well at showing the confusion of teens as they start to try to understand the world around them and their place within it.
‘The Weight of Water’ is an incredibly quick read, it only took me about 40 minutes to read, although running to over 200 pages the way the book is written mean that pages aren’t filled. Yet what amazed me was the depth and range of feelings that the book provoked in me in that time, just because it is a quick read does make it shallow or superficial in any way. It is quite the opposite and I think that this is why the choice to write the book in poetry format really works.

Verdict: A beautifully written coming of age story, told in a very strong, very believable voice.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: January 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 256
Genre: Coming of age
Age: Young Adult
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Award: Code Name Verity

code name verityI have two weeks. You’ll shoot me at the end no matter what I do.
That’s what you do to enemy agents. It’s what we do to enemy agents. But I look at all the dark and twisted roads ahead and cooperation is the easy way out. Possibly the only way out for a girl caught red-handed doing dirty work like mine — and I will do anything, anything, to avoid SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden interrogating me again.
He has said that I can have as much paper as I need. All I have to do is cough up everything I can remember about the British War Effort. And I’m going to. But the story of how I came to be here starts with my friend Maddie. She is the pilot who flew me into France — an Allied Invasion of Two.
We are a sensational team.

Code Name Verity is set during the Second World. Split into two parts the first section is ‘written’ by one of two friends, though we don’t find out her name until the end of her section. Captured by the Gestapo whilst in Nazi occupied France, she tells the story of her friend Maddie, and through this the story of their friendship. The second part of the book is told by Maddie herself as she tells her own story in the aftermath of her friend’s capture.

Now I mentioned last week that I had tried to read this book some time ago, but had not managed to finish it. It wasn’t that I hated the book, leaving it wasn’t even intentional, I just put it down one day and then never picked it up again. Since then I have seen countless bloggers and librarians rave about the book, where I was left a little underwhelmed. So expecting the book to be on the shortlist I started it again with a completely open mind, hoping that I could see in the book what everybody else has loved so much. I did find the second reading so much easier, I was drawn into the book to a much greater extent than before. In the writing and the storyline I can see what everybody else has loved, but I still don’t think it’s the book for me.

Code Name Verity is undeniably a well written book, telling a beautiful story of an unlikely friendship set against the hardship of the Second World War. I am left wondering why I just don’t connect with the book. Although I have an interest in history, modern world history has never been my favourite period so that could possibly be an issue for me. I think the main issue for me the first time round was that the book was just not what I was expecting.

The dual narrative of the book works very well. The ‘voices’ of the characters are very different, but entirely consistent with the way that the other friend sees them. It is the relationship between Maddie and her friend that really makes the book. Two girls that would have been very unlikely to meet at any time other than war, just ‘click’ and quickly become very important to each other. They don’t need to see each other every day or know everything about the other’s life; they are just there for each other. The age group that the book is aimed at often struggle with forming friendships, doubts about their own identities come to the surface which affect their relationships with others and this is a really positive relationship that girls can use as an example. Though towards the end of the book something pretty shocking happens, it is completely in line with the friendship that the two young women have.

The book also deals with some very sensitive situations that go hand in hand with war such as death and torture, but these are handled well enough that reading the book is not an issue for younger secondary school students. They may however struggle with the writing style, which in a lot of ways is quite grown up. The Carnegie judges gave the book an age rating of 13+ and I would probably agree with this assessment, though there will of course be many exceptions!

Verdict: A beautifully written story of friendship set against the backdrop of the Second World War.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Egmont Press
Publication Date: February 2012
Format: Paperback
Pages: 339
Genre: WW2, Historical fiction
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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Fragments

Dan Wells

fragmentsKira Walker has found the cure for RM, but the battle for the survival of humans and Partials is just beginning. Kira has left East Meadow in a desperate search for clues to who she is. That the Partials themselves hold the cure for RM in their blood cannot be a coincidence—it must be part of a larger plan, a plan that involves Kira, a plan that could save both races. Her companions are Afa Demoux, an unhinged drifter and former employee of ParaGen, and Samm and Heron, the Partials who betrayed her and saved her life, the only ones who know her secret. But can she trust them?
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, what’s left of humanity is gearing up for war with the Partials, and Marcus knows his only hope is to delay them until Kira returns. But Kira’s journey will take her deep into the overgrown wasteland of postapocalyptic America, and Kira and Marcus both will discover that their greatest enemy may be one they didn’t even know existed.
The second installment in the pulse-pounding Partials saga is the story of the eleventh hour of humanity’s time on Earth, a journey deep into places unknown to discover the means—and even more important, a reason—for our survival.

Please note, this book is second in the series, if you haven’t read the first there may be spoilers.

Picking up a couple of weeks after the events of ‘Partials’ ‘Fragments’ is a very strong second book in a series. It holds a hint of nostalgia for me as ‘Partials’ was the first book I was given to review by the Big Book Little Book team, as soon as the galley for ‘Fragments’ appeared I was very eager to get my hands on it, the book didn’t disappoint.

Partials was very heavy on the sci fi, Fragments has moved away a bit from this. It’s still an incredibly strong theme in the book, it always going to be when you are writing about biologically engineered robots, but much of the science has already been established so I suppose it doesn’t need explaining in quite the same way. There is also a move away from the dystopian topics of control, this book looks at individuals and their relationships to a much greater extent. It’s almost as Dan Wells felt as though he needed a book to establish his world and then he could concentrate on his characters. That’s not to say that the characters aren’t well drawn or one dimensional in Partials, but in Fragments we did see a greater depth to them and some relationships were explored in more detail. This was fantastic, as for me it’s the characters that really make a book. Fragments also had more of a sense of adventure to it with some incredible action packed scenes. This isn’t just a book for the girls, even with a female central character this is a book that I should be able to sell to the boys too.

There is still the crucial element of Romance and the hints of that ever present YA device, the love triangle, but this doesn’t take over the book. It’s there in the background, enough to satisfy those who like a little romance in their books but not enough to overwhelm the story. Just the way I like it.

Fragments has built such a believable future world that you can’t help but be drawn into the story. It isn’t a short book, but despite the length and fairly complicated storyline it is a fairly easy read. The writing draws you in and you really start to care about the characters. I found that I needed to know more and had to carry on reading.

The book also raises some interesting arguments over morality. The entire premise of the series, the creation of bioengineered robots, who think for themselves, being made for military purposes is always going to raise some interesting questions into the ethic of such a thing. What I have found incredibly interesting in both books is that Wells has decided to set the book after a virus has wiped out most of the human species, rather than the event itself. This means that both sides have had chance to evaluate their actions and how different camps have come to different conclusions is very interesting. The preconceptions of each side towards the other could be applied to so many issues that affect the human race, it becomes an interesting study of what it means to be human, even though one side technically isn’t. This really comes to the fore in Kira’s internal struggle, raised as human until she finds out that she is actually a partial as a teen, she feels that she doesn’t fit in either world. Human’s would see the robot whose kind almost destroy the human race, where as the partials just see someone is thinks like a human. I’m really looking forward to seeing how all of this can be resolved in the next book.

Verdict: A well built world, fantastic characters and some interesting moral issues, what more could you ask for?

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Publication Date: March 2013
Format: eARC
Pages: 576
Genre: Dystopian, Sci Fi, Adventure
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Netgalley
Challenge: None
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Carnegie and Greenaway Awards 2013

It’s that time of year again; The Carnegie and Greenaway shortlists are out. For those that don’t know, these are two of the most prestigious book awards in the country. The Carnegie Award looks at books published for children over the past year, The Greenaway Award will be looking for the best illustrator of a picture book. Last year the fantastic ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay won both awards. Over the country thousands of school students will be shadowing the award, so we at Big Book Little Book had to get in on the act too. It’s quite a special time of year for me, as a school librarian I get to see lots of students trying books that might not otherwise have tried, widening their reading choices and getting involved in debates about the books. Awards like this really encourage children to read. I’ve also been more excited this year largely thanks to the buzz on Twitter and I think this will only get greater as more of us read the books and start discussing who we want to win!

So the shortlists, firstly Carnegie. This is the award out of the two that I really love, normally the shortlist comes out and I haven’t read any of them. This year I have read five. There are a couple of surprises on the list and a couple that most expected to be on there. What’s nice about this list is that all age groups should enjoy the books. In recent years there seems to have been a shift towards books for older children. This year it is mixed but most should be suitable for all secondary children to read, some are suitable for younger children too. Here are some of my initial thoughts on the books; reviews will follow in the coming weeks, before the winners are announced in June.

The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan– A lovely simple read I was initially quite surprised this was on the list, I shouldn’t have been. This book is written in verse, something I normally dislike, but I didn’t really notice that in this case and really enjoyed the book.

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle– I haven’t read this one yet and judging by other comments it is one of the surprise inclusions.

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner– Set in a dystopian past this one was always going to make it onto the shortlist and it well and truly deserves it place there. Winner of the Children’s Costa Award I think it is probably one of the favourites for Carnegie too.

In Darkness by Nick Lake– At times incredibly dark, this book told in dual narrative at different points of Haiti’s history really draws you in. It was no surprise that this book was chosen to be on the shortlist.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio– Another that I haven’t yet read. Not because I haven’t wanted to but because it’s been so popular that the book hasn’t been there for me to read. I’m looking forward to reading it now we will have more copies.

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick– Now I’m a bit of a Marcus Sedgwick fan girl so I’m not entirely sure that my opinion can be taken as impartial. I’m so happy that this book is on the list, I think it is possibly my favourite of his yet. I read it over a year ago, so may well need a reread before I review it, what a shame…

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton– The third book on the list that I’m yet to read and another that seems to be a bit of a surprise. I’m looking forward to reading it though and it sounds like a book that I’ll be able to share with my primary aged children which is always good.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein– This book has been raved about by librarians and bloggers alike. I knew it would be on the list but the first time I read it I didn’t even finish it. Now on my second read and keeping an open mind I’m hoping that I can see what everyone else has loved about the book.

So all in all a very strong list. Last year the winner was obvious from the outset. This year it’s all a little bit harder to predict.

At Big Book Little Book we don’t neglect the books for little (and not so little) people too. We’ll also be reviewing the books shortlisted for the Greenaway Award. I’ve not read any of these yet but the list does include some authors and illustrators that I know and love so I can’t wait to get started on reading these books too.

Lunchtime by Rebecca Cobb
Again! by Emily Gravett
Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Pirates ‘n’ Pistols by Chris Mould
King Jack and the Dragon by Helen Oxenbury (illustrator) and Peter Bently (author)
Black Dog by Levi Pinfold
Just Ducks! by Salvatore Rubbino (illustrator) and Nicola Davies (author)

Check back next week for the first round of reviews!

Post by Alison

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Sister Assassin

Kiersten White
sister assassinShe never chose her deadly gift but now she’s forced to use it. How far would you go to protect the only family you have left?
Annie is beset by fleeting strange visions and a guilty conscience. Blind and orphaned, she struggles to care for her feisty younger sister Fia, but things look up when both sisters are offered a place at Kessler School for Exceptional Girls.
Born with flawless intuition, Fia immediately knows that something’s wrong, but bites her tongue… until it’s too late. For Fia is the perfect weapon to carry out criminal plans and there are those at Kessler who will do anything to ensure her co-operation.
With Annie trapped in Kessler’s sinister clutches, instincts keep Fia from killing an innocent guy and everything unravels. Is manipulative James the key to the sisters’ freedom or an even darker prison? And how can Fia atone for the blood on her hands?

Well I’ve got to give to give it to Kiersten White, Sister Assassin is a fast paced, rollercoaster of a supernatural book and what’s more it’s actually original! Annie and Fia are sisters, when their parents die they are sent to live with an Aunt that doesn’t really want them. Hearing that Annie has visions of the future the Kessler School offers Annie a place, originally there was no place for Fia, until the school works out that Fia has perfect instincts and as such can be more valuable than Annie could ever have been.

Sister Assassin is a very, very easy read. It’s one of those books that draws you in and before you know it hours have passed and you are staring at the last page. Told from the point of view of both Fia and Annie and jumping around on the timeline did leave a little confused occasionally. It is however made very clear who is speaking and when at the beginning of chapters, I’m terrible for not reading these though so any confusion is probably my fault. That the story didn’t follow a chronological timeline did mean that the tension was racketed up a notch. It meant that you found out crucial details slowly, some surprising, some not. But it really added to the need to keep on reading. Also in some ways it kind of makes sense to do it this way when one of the main characters can see into the future anyway. On the whole Fia and Annie voices were different enough that it meant it was easy to tell between the two.

The characterization in this book was fantastic. All of the characters were flawed and had aspects of their personality that were utterly unlikeable, but they also had redeemable features. My favourite was Fia, strong but undeniably broken. Committing unimaginable acts in order to protect her sister, I couldn’t help but like her. I also quite liked James, who is supposed to be a fairly dark character. But then that was one thing that I liked about the book, that characters could be dark and do horrible things but somehow be one of the good guys. For me this reflects the complexities of life and those various shades of grey that lie between good and evil.

One very strong theme throughout the book is the lengths that people will go to to protect the people that they love. This is seen mainly in the case of Fia and Annie where both are prepared to sacrifice a lot for the other. You do also see it in a number of minor characters as well. In fact it is in this willingness to protect that we see the redeemable features of some of the characters.

This book very much sets up a series, but is fairly unusual in that it reaches a good enough conclusion to be read as a standalone book. This was a big plus point for me. I love reading series, but get frustrated with cliffhangers and having to wait. This was a happy medium.

Verdict: Original and fast paced. A sure fire winner.

Reviewed by Alison

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s
Publication Date: February 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 302
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery
Age: YA
Reviewer: Alison
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: None
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