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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Hive by Gill Hornby

The Hive

Welcome to St Ambrose Primary School. A world of friendships, fights and feuding. And that's just the mothers. It's the start of another school year at St Ambrose. But while the children are in the classroom colouring in, their mothers are learning sharper lessons on the other side of the school gates. Lessons in friendship. Lessons in betrayal. Lessons in the laws of community, the transience of power...and how to get invited to lunch. Beatrice - undisputed queen bee. Ruler, by Divine Right, of all school fund-raising, this year, last year and, surely, for many years to come. Heather - desperate to volunteer, desperate to be noticed, desperate just to belong. Georgie - desperate for a fag. And Rachel - watching them all, keeping her distance. But soon to discover that the line between amused observer and miserable outcast is a thin one. The Hive is an irresistible, brilliantly observed novel - warm, witty and true. Wickedly funny, it is also a fascinating and subtle story about group politics and female friendship. From the joys and perils (well, mainly perils) of the Lunch Ladder, to the military operation that is the Car Boot Sale, via the dos and don'ts of dressing your child as a dalek, all human life is here.

This book is cleverly titled - it wasn't until I started reading it that I realised that Gill Hornby is so right with her comparison of a bee hive to that of a school's parent's association/fund raising committee.

Hornby has cleverly identified that within a school community, there are a group of parents who are volunteering for everything, organising fund raising, taking new parents under their wing and generally supporting the teaching staff. Although I do not believe that there is always a 'queen bee' within this group of parents, Hornby introduces us to Bea, who has taken on this role and organises the group of parents within activities regarding the school, but also, interestingly, with activities outside of school e.g. exercise routines.

I found that there were lots of characters within the book, some of who's back story's we were told, others who seemed to be there to pad it out a bit. These characters bought many different story strands to the book, some of which seemed to link into the main story, others drifted and went nowhere. I think that some of these stories could of been developed further and would of made a better read. I also thought that the main characters at the start of the book seemed to be lost part way through the book and only came back in at the end in a weak manner - this I think, especially Bea, could of been developed more and could of shown a meatier storyline, with the feelings of mums whose children are at school all day, feeling lost and undervalued.

The book was an okay read, it promised lots but I don't believe it lived up to all of its hype and possibilities from reading the synopsis.

The school my children go to is an inner city primary school and although there is a similar committee it has different dynamics to this one which is in a smaller village/town community.  I could identify parents from the playground which were similar to the characters within this book but I think that the school my children attend is too large to have this close community within all the parents. 
Hornby's ideas behind the book was very clever and I am sure it can be observed in many smaller, close knit school communities.

I received this book through the Mumsnet book club and also through Net Galley in return for an honest review. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Algy's Amazing Adventures in the Arctic by Kaye Umansky

Algy's Amazing Adventures in the Arctic - Early Reader

Early Readers are stepping stones from picture books to reading books. A blue Early Reader is perfect for sharing and reading together. A red Early Reader is the next step on your reading journey. Algy can't wait to see what world is waiting for him at the bottom of the garden this time. But when his best friend Cherry shows up with her little brother Brad in tow, he is not impressed. Everyone knows small children just cry and break other people's toys. What use is Brad going to be on an adventure? But in a snowy Arctic world, where monsters lurk and giant footprints lead into the mountains, Algy discovers there might be more to Brad than meets the eye.

When I read this book, my first thoughts were: The lion, the witch and the wardrobe for young children. Algy has found a world hidden behind a loose plank in the shed at the bottom of his garden. Together with his friend, Cherry, who is his best friend and lives next door, they explore the world.

In this instalment of their adventure they have to take Cherry's brother, Brad, along. They find a snowy land. While Cherry and Algy sensibly go back to find warm coats and gloves, Brad goes exploring and finds a furry man with giant footprints - this also made me think of the Gruffalo or Where the wild things are. 

It is a great book for early readers who are becoming more confident in their own abilities. The story is split into chapters, of just the right length for a chapter a night or for a child to read themselves. There are pictures on each page, which accompany the story perfectly and break up the text into manageable sizes for an early reader to manage.

The Orion Children's Books,  Early Reader Series are fantastic and I would recommend them as the perfect series for any school or family to add to their library of books for a child to choose from.

Thank you to the publishers, Orion Children's Books, for sending me the book to review.

Me and Mr Jones by Lucy Diamond

Me and Mr Jones

Meet the women in love with three very different brothers ...Izzy's determined to escape her troubled past with a new start by the sea -- but flirtatious Charlie Jones is causing complications. Alicia's been happily married to loyal Hugh for years but secretly craves excitement. Maybe it's time to spice things up? Emma's relationship with David was once fun and romantic but trying for a baby has taken its toll. Then temptation comes along ...As the future of the family's B&B becomes uncertain, Izzy, Alicia and Emma are thrown together unexpectedly. It seems that keeping up with the Joneses is harder than anyone thought ...From the queen of summer reading, this is a sparkling tale of heartbreak, hope, friendship and love.

Lucy Diamond is a great author, one who I think of as a holiday read. Her books are a great read, perfect for long days spent in the sun, on the beach, on a plane or to be read on a long afternoon spent inside on a traditional British summer day (i.e. while it rains outside). I really like her book covers, they are bright and cheerful - also having a summery theme which jump off the book shelf right at you!

In Me and Mr Jones, the three Jones' brothers all must face up to the idea that their parents want to give up their B&B business, which also means giving up the family home. With only the youngest brother showing any interest in taking over the B&B, who has no serious relationship with someone who could take it over with him will the Jones' loose their family home?

Each of the three brothers have their own stories; however it is their partners and wives who have the main story lines within the book. Alicia, the traditional mum, who has a family, but is expected to do so much more; Emma, who would love to be a mum but is finding it difficult to get pregnant; and, the potential Mrs Jones, Izzy, who is a single parent and has caught Charlie's eye.

As I have already said, Lucy Diamond's books are one of my favourite summer authors, and this book is again one of my top tips for a beach read this year, 2013. It is an easy read, but a great, believable read. The story lines are cleverly interwoven and the characters are believable in today's world. 

I would really like Diamond to write a sequel to this book as I would love to see what happens after this book finishes. I am sure there is another great story just waiting to be written about the Jones'.

I received this book from the publishers, Pan, in return for an honest review.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Country Loving by Cathy Woodman

Country Loving

Successful city accountant Stevie receives two surprises in one week: a proposal of marriage from her boyfriend Nick and a phone call begging her to return to the family farm in Devon to help out after her father has a stroke. But what she thought would be a long weekend in the country turns into much longer as she struggles to bring order to her father's rundown farm. Finally, she decides to give up her job - and her fiance - and take on the farm permanently. She dreams of turning it into a tourist attraction, never realising it would be so difficult. But with the help of many of Talyton St George's local residents, and the locum vet Leon, she is starting to make progress. Until a life-changing complication throws all her plans into disarray, and destroys her growing romance with Leon...

Cathy Woodman's series of books based in Talyton St George has become one of my favourite series and as two have been released each year I eagerly await the next installment. 

This installment, Country Loving, introduces us to Stevie, an accountant who lives in the city along with her flatmate. She has a good job and a boyfriend, Nick, but when a phonecall comes from the family farm following her father's ill health and a threat from a vet that the animals may have to be removed due to ill treatment Stevie returns home to see how she can help. However, the trip she thought would be a few weeks at most turns into a longer stay and a complete change of life for the city girl.

I really enjoy these books. Although each of the books focus on different characters, there are always old friends who pop into each book - in this book Stevie's neighbour is Jennie, who we met in The Sweetest Thing and she is also a big part to the book.

There is the usual country village goings on throughout the book and the annual country fayre is the main event - I remember when I was younger going to such a fayre and this in itself bought back many happy memories. I would love to live in Talyton St George and through Woodman's writing I feel like I am meeting up with old friends.

I really enjoy Woodman's books and it appears that she releases two books each year - one of these books each year appear to be based within the village's veterinary surgery and the other introduces us, the reader, to another character from the village. Although this book includes a vet, he is a locum, not one of the regulars and therefore it concentrates on Stevie.

I am already looking forward to the next installment from Talyton St George later this year.

Thank you to the publishers, Century, for sending me this book to review.

Judith Kerr's Creatures - A celebration of her life and work

Judith Kerr's Creatures: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith Kerr

A lavishly illustrated retrospective in celebration of the 90th birthday of Judith Kerr, author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and many other iconic books. Her story begins with the extraordinary events of her early childhood in Berlin, dramatically cut short by the rise of Hitler's Nazi Party in 1933. Judith tells of her family's struggles with language and money, and what it was like to be a German refugee in London during the war. We see her early attempts at drawing and writing; her sketches and work from art school, and her textile designs from her first job. We hear of her life-changing meeting with her future husband, the scriptwriter Nigel Kneale, and her time at the BBC, first as a reader and then as a scriptwriter herself. Judith's career as a children's book writer and illustrator began after she had children, and over forty years on she is still producing classic picture books. She is a rare and wonderful talent and this is a fascinating insight into the person behind the books that have been enjoyed by generations.

When I hear the name Judith Kerr I am transported back to my childhood and some of my favourite books - 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' and 'Mog the Forgetful Cat'  are two of my childhood favourites and, now for my own children both at home and in work - 'The Great Granny Gang' and 'My Henry'. 

This book is a celebration of Judith Kerr's work - both that as an illustrator and as an author - and although there are autobiographical qualities to this book, it is also a fascinating book on the appreciation of art. It also is a true account of how Kerr's artwork and illustrations progress from first sketch to final piece. There are pages from some of her books as well as examples of pages that start from a sketch and progress to the finished page.

This is a book which, although priced at £25, is a beautiful addition to any bookcase and is well worth the price. A book which can be enjoyed by adults, reminiscing about their childhood favourite books, and also look through with their children talking about the different characters from all of Kerr's books. 

I recommend this book to anyone who admires and has enjoyed Judith Kerr's work, whether young or old. I would also recommend it as a great book for appreciators of children's literature or for anyone studying the writing of children's stories or the social history of a childhood spent in Berlin, and their subsequent fleeing from the Nazi Party. It is very informative and gives a good insight into Kerr's life.

Thank you to the publisher, Harper Collins Children's Books, for sending me this beautiful book to review on my blog.