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How to Rob a Bank – Tom Mitchell

This was a little treat of a book, it’s a funny relatable book about a fifteen year old boy. It doesn’t try to be an allegory, there are no dragons or chosen ones. It’s all the better for it. After hearing the author talk about this book, he said that there is a gap from the ages of around 12 – 15 where readers are lost – and from our book selling experience it’s mainly boys.

This book is the antidote to that. It’s a book that’s purely for reading and enjoying. There is no metaphor or lesson, it’s literally about a boy, Dylan, who accidentally burns his prospective girlfriend’s house down with a knock off scented candle – and he decides to try to rob a bank to pay her back for his mistake.

Super cool movie-style book poster? Check!

There is a lively and engaging secondary cast of characters, his sister Rita is gloriously self involved about the whole situation and his mum and dad are very well drawn and funny. Some of the set pieces are hilarious, especially an incident involving the neighbours cat and it’s consequences and the various robbery attempts Dylan makes.

The book is full of pop culture references, without the author trying to be cool, and the language is accessible and appropriate for the target audience.

My favourite character was Tom, who has a permanent Joker grin after being accidentally kicked in the head by a llama as a child. You can see why teenagers will find it funny.

Get this one for the teen boy in your life, if anything has a chance at keeping them interested in books till they become cool again at sixth form, it’s this.

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A Home Full of Friends – Peter Bently and Charles Fuge

This picture book, on the face of it, wouldn’t appeal to the mini reviewer in our house. It’s very traditional in its illustration and doesn’t feature neon, pirates or dinosaurs. And yet.

We love this book. It’s a gentle tale of friendship and acceptance and is the perfect bedtime read. Bramble Badger is a kindly soul with a small sett and a happy life, but when a storm hits his little community he takes a walk to see the damage.

He comes across three of his friends one after the other, who have had their homes damaged, and they ask to stay with him. He has little room and little food, but says yes to each one.

Then, when they arrive that evening, they have brought their family – 12 mouths to feed! He doesn’t turn them away, choosing to share what he does have, and when he does he realises they saved things from their homes and they have plenty of food and supplies if they share. They have a lovely time and discover a home is better with others.

This could be twee, and it probably is, but the verse is charming and the super detailed pictures are just lovely. It’s impossible not to smile when reading this book out loud to a little one.

Apparently, the tree falling is scary (when Daddy makes the bang), the squirrels are cute, it’s funny when a hedgehog makes himself into a bowling ball and the best bit is all of Brambles friends sleeping in drawers and cupboards!

A hug of a book, which (along with it’s equally charming sequel) is now often requested in our house.

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Lots of Frogs by Howard Calvert and Claudia Boldt

Today’s review is from a family of Rogan’s readers. The book is a charming little picture book that came out in November last year. It’s cheeky and sweet, with a direct short style of prose that is easy for kids to understand, but is expressive and fun. It’s a tale of a box of frogs getting into real mischief.

Rosey (3) Loves this book because ‘it’s so funny’, her favourite page is when the frogs go in the headteacher’s hair.

Chloe (7) Loves this book ‘because it’s funny, my favourite page is when it goes – rows of frogs drinking tea’

And their Mum and Dad were ‘not so sure about the very short style of sentences in this book to start with but it definitely grew on us. A good, fun book – not too short to be over in a flash, but also not to long to lose interest. Nice and bright and colourful.

So there you have it!

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One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Well this isn’t quite The Breakfast Club.

Today’s review is a YA novel, set in an American high school (big shock I know, but bear with). It opens in detention where five students have all been given detention for having a mobile on them – but none of them brought their mobiles to class…..

They are:

Bronwyn, who is a college focussed overachiever, with a fear of rule-breaking

Nate who has never met a rule he wouldn’t break, and who is a not entirely legal delivery person and on parole.

Cooper, a well behaved uncharacteristically sensitive (aren’t they all in these books) Football Player.

Addy, a prom queen with a less than ideal home life whose mum is the life and soul of any party, who does everything her boyfriend tells her.

And Simon, the creator of the school gossip app, who has built a reputation on destroying those of others.

Who has got them all into detention, as they ponder this, Simon has a drink of water and collapses with an allergic reaction. After his death, suspicion naturally falls to the four remaining students in the room. What would be their motive? Was he about to reveal their secrets? Where what Simon’s epipen, and who removed the rest of them from the School Nurses Office?

As blog posts start to publish with details of the crime scene only the four could know they start to suspect each other, but in the face of police investigation and media scrutiny can they work together to solve the crime?

This is a surprisingly fast moving YA thriller, which aims to subvert stereotypes of teens in teen movies, but unfortunately subverts them in a predictable way. The perfect student may have cheated, the bad boy might have more emotions than he lets on, the prom queens home life isn’t bad and all she wants is to be more edgy and independent.

Where this book is strong is that despite being familiar the characters are well drawn, the pop culture references are neither cringey or forced and the central mystery is compelling. The students secrets and stories are drip fed enough that your ideas for what actually happened will shift throughout the story as plenty of viable suspects are introduced and discounted.

All in all, this is a great introduction for teens into more adult thrillers and the ending is satisfying and ties up the story nicely.

And, for a YA book, it doesn’t set up or need a sequel, so it can be enjoyed for what it is!

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The Legend of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Spoiler. I love Reeve & McIntyre. The shop loves Reeve & McIntyre. They could write a plumbing manual and it would probably be charming and gorgeously realised and illustrated. I’m going to love this book……. (Begins reading)

Guess what. I LOVED this book. It’s possibly their most relatable book, despite being the tale of a boy, his flying horse, his goth sister Daisy (SORRY! – Elvira), cheeky Sea Monkeys, hair obsessed Mermaids and two pioneering guinea pigs named Neville and Beyoncé. (Also, can I point out that my tablet totally just put the accent on the ‘e’ in Beyoncé without me doing anything. She’s that famous. Look it did it again!).

Kevin is a roly poly flying pony who doesn’t realise he’s lonely. He loves a custard cream, just as any flying pony should.

I’m so beautiful and magic.
YES KEVIN, YES YOU ARE!

Max is a charming little boy who lives in a top floor flat in a quirky little town and all he wants is a dog. They can totally live on the top floor of a building and stay in all day, right? When a big storm sweeps Kevin off course (and DOOF! Straight into the wall of Max’s flat), a massive flood isn’t far behind him.

DOOF!

What follows is a tale of bravery, friendship, flying, underwater hair salons and a noble quest to find custard creams.

The illustrations are so vivid and so lovingly created you will not even realise they’re in black white and blue, in your mind they’re full colour and full of joy. Reeve’s text is clever, witty and as whimsical as you would expect, with a perfectly parentally acceptable level of naughtiness.

There are little visual jokes in the pictures to keep a parent smiling while reading it, and you come away with a bigger smile than when you started.

Unfortunately despite all being awesome there are currently no sequels to their earlier works, but this reader is fervently hoping that Kevin and Max will be the first to lead a whole series!

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Lottie Potter Wants An Otter by Jeanne Willis and Leonie Lord

An oldie but a goodie, this one. It’s from 2016, and is frequently requested for tongue twisting giggles.

Lottie Potter wants an otter, and it’s a very good thing that Mr Trotter, from Trotters Otter Shop in her town. He has a wide selection of otters for her to choose from, and this reviewers child’s favourite is of course the grotty snotty otter. However, trading standards may need to get involved, as the otter she purchases may not be quite as he seems.

By way of Phuket, this super rhyming tangle of rhymes takes Lottie on a journey to her perfect pet – although a side trip to Mrs Cleavers market stall is particularly full of diva…… pets.

This story flows beautifully and the illustrations of the otters are characterful and endearing. The only problem is our mini reviewer gets so excited it’s not the ideal bedtime book.

Take a deep breath before you start this lovely story out loud!

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The Lost Letters of William Woolf by Helen Cullen

This is a novel that defied my expectations, in a surprising way. The plot follows William who has put aside his ambitions to become a writer after starting work in a Royal Mail lost letters depot. Here mail that cant be delivered comes for one final chance at finding a home. From damaged envelopes, incorrect addressees and illegible handwriting they have to do all they can, but the ones that have kept William intrigued are the ones he has termed the supernatural ones. These are the letters addressed to God, mythical figures, the deceased – the tooth fairy even. He’s fascinated, so much so that he is collating his favourites for a book that he wants to publish. Then one day he starts getting beautifully written letters from a mystery woman to her one true love.

So far, so generic fiction that you find in a multi buy in any supermarket – and to be fair this reviewer only picked this title up because of the idea of the lost letters department.

However, this book’s focus is primarily on the character and emotions of William and his relationship with his wife Clare. Chapters alternate between them, and the book provides a full picture of their relationship from meeting to where they are now, which is on the brink of separation. The dialogue both internal and between characters is well realised and believable, and the plot of him falling in love with the mystery letter writer is not the whimsical almost supernatural love story you would expect, but more of a framing device to allow William to understand, questions and test the bond he has with Clare.

Part of this book is set in Ireland, and you can definitely tell the author comes from there as it’s very effectively portrayed and the people there come alive very deftly.

Along the way there are small vignettes about the letters telling some interested and affecting stories of the writers, and taken as a whole this was an emotional, interesting debut, marking Helen Cullen as a talent to be followed for the future.

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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

It’s YA Day today, and it’s a new year, so the first review of the year is an old favourite.

Eleanor is growing up in the 1980’s in Nebraska. Eschewing the quaint charming lives of most YA where teens ‘problems’ are a lack of parental supervision, too much freedom and which good looking fellow teen they should go out with, this book presents a truly different perspective. Eleanor’s life sucks. She has recently returned to her home after her alcoholic abusive step father Richie had kicked her out. She shares a room with her four siblings and does her best to hide her home life at school where she is bullied over her weight and appearance.

Park also stands out in the community as he is Asian American, and while doesn’t get bullied in the same way as Eleanor, but is treated as an outsider. He loves comic books and they both love music, which acts as a thread throughout the novel. Just look at the track listing of one of the mixtapes exchanged between the pair – talk about nostalgia for the older readers and a new Spotify playlist for the teenage intended audience!

The writing is real and raw and the issues involved aren’t shied away from at all, but are framed in the way an older teen can handle and process, and recognise.

Eleanor is a likeable heroine, who is flawed but you will root for her. Park is perhaps not as well drawn, but is an interesting lead too. They’re relatable teens, and play with gender constructs too, in the way Eleanor dresses and the way Park experiments with eyeliner and an out of mainstream look.

Finally the relationship. It’s sweetly done, not rushed, and you become totally invested very quickly and get angry at the barriers they face, but the ending is not the one you would expect, which is also a welcome shift from the YA norm.

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Think Big by Kes Gray and Nathan Reed

This lovely little tale is released on February 7th, and is available for pre-order.

This colourful bright story is the tale of Humpty Dumpty planning his future career. All of his fairy tale folk friends want him to do amazing things, but he just thinks that he should become a boiled egg. What careers can they all think of, what will Humpty decide? The writing is sweetly encouraging, gorgeously illustrated in a clear expression filled style. The wicked twist at the end will cause peals of laughter in your little one!

I can’t wait to see what happens to Humpty next!

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The Bear, The Piano, The Dog and The Fiddle – David Litchfield

Well, there is a new favourite in this reviewers house. My little five year old book tester was enthralled by this lovely tale of a loyal dog Hugo and his elderly owner Hector. As Hector stops playing his fiddle, Hugo takes up the job and becomes a sensation. There’s an emotional argument between the two, which nearly had my little dude in tears, and a possible reunion later in the book – at Bear’s concert tour – where he was upset that the dog may not want to see Hector again.

This, while another Bear and Piano book is definitely the story of the new characters, and is better for it. The temptation in childrens picture books is to repeat the formula ad nauseum, in the vein of Shark in the Park or Oi Frog, but this is a new tale that stands on it’s own.

As always David Litchfield’s artwork is breathtaking, detailed and emotional. The expressions of the characters are so vivid, and when combined with the gorgeous cityscapes and beautiful colour palette it’s a book that we already know will become a firm family favourite. It’s superceded our previous Litchfield illustrated favourite, the Spectacular City!