Review 20: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo

The Snowman (A new story inspired by the original tale by Raymond Briggs) by Michael Morpurgo and illustarted by Robin Shaw

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About the author

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Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

About the illustrator

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Robin Shaw is an award winning animator and illustrator, he is also a director of animated commercials. He has worked closely with Raymond Briggs in the past and was part of the directing team of The Snowman and the Snowdog. In 2017 he designed a series of animated sequences for Paddington 2.

Blurb

When James wakes to see snow falling one December morning, he rushes outside to make a snowman. With coal eyes, an old green hat and scarf, and a tangerine nose, the snowman is perfect. James can hardly bear to inside that evening and leave him. But in the middle of the night, he wakes and creeps out to see his snowman again- and to his amazement, the snowman comes to life…

Review

Firstly, I have a confession, I have never read The Snowman by Raymond Briggs but I have watched it on television many, many times. I have only seen The Snowman and the Snowdog once and it almost destroyed me emotionally so I have never seen it again. So when I saw this book sat on the supermarket shelf I immediately picked it up. I was a little worried as I always fear rewrites as most of the time they are never as good as the original, but then I saw it was done by Michael Morpurgo and realised I should have no fears because the man is a genius.

I was so pleased I trusted my instincts, as the story was wonderful, another triumph by Morpurgo. The story is based around James a little boy who suffers with a stammer and who is desperate to have a friend. James lives with his parents on a farm and for Christmas his grandma is staying with them at the farm. Grandma’s favourite story to read James at bedtime is The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.

During the night James’ wish is answered and it snows and so he builds a snowman, a giant of a snowman who towers above everyone wearing a green scarf and hat with a big tangerine nose. James loves this snowman and wants to spend all day with him, he is also really proud of his new friend and is desperate for his family to meet the snowman. Finally at nighttime he leaves the snowman but then in the night something magical happens, and James is not the only one to witness the magic of the snowman.

The story is very similar to the original but with a few subtle differences but this is what makes it a different tale to stand on its own. The story is full of magic and is very respectful of the original, this is just like a sequel to the original in fact. I also loved that when Morpurgo was approached to write this story he was worried and so approached Raymond Briggs who thankfully gave his blessing. The respect that Morpurgo has for Raymond Briggs’ story is humbling and comes through in his version of The Snowman.

I loved the character of James, I felt sorry for him, happy for him and he just made me smile and think aww. I also really liked Grandma, she is a Grandma who still believes in magic. I think this is a fantastic book for children and adults and a perfect read for around Christmas. The illustrations were also beautiful and really added to the story. I hope it gets turned into an animated film, as I think it would be perfect. I gave this book 5 stars out of 5 stars.

Plus I loved the extras at the end of the story, the Christmas traditions from other countries and the perfect method for making the best snowman.

Lady Book Dragon

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Review 19: Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Christmas at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

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About the author

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Veronica Henry went to eight different schools due to having a parent in the army. Henry studied Classics at Bristol University and a bi-lingual secretarial course. One of her first jobs was working as a Production Secretary on The Archers at Pebble Mill in Birmingham; it used to take her two and a half hours to type up the script on a typewriter. From there Henry became a script writer for Central Television. Henry has worked on Crossroads, Boon, Heartbeat, and Holby City. In 2000 Henry got her first book published and has never looked back, she has now written 19 novels and is working on her 20th.

Blurb

Everyone loves Christmas…

Especially Lizzy Kingham. But this year, she is feeling unloved and under appreciated by her family. The present-buying, decorating and food shopping have all been left to her. So she wonders…what would happen if she ran away and left them to it?

Lizzy heads to her favourite place: a beach hut on the golden sands of Everdene. There she meets an unlikely collection of new friends, all running away from something. But the spirit of Christmas gets under Lizzy’s skin: soon the fairy lights are twinkling and the scent of mulled wine mingles with the sea air.

Back at Pepperpot Cottage, her family are desperate to find her. For Christmas isn’t Christmas without Lizzy. Can they track her down in time and convince her she means the world to them, every day of the year?

Review

This is another of my Christmas reads and so far my favourite. I recently read a short story by Henry and really enjoyed it so I was pleased to find she had written a Christmas book. I must admit it put me through a great deal of emotions, it made me smile, giggle, cry and much more. It was a wonderful read and I have bought a copy for my best friend to read over Christmas and I am lending my copy to my mom to read and I think they will both really enjoy the book.

The book is centred around Lizzy Kingham who is a wife and mother of two teenagers, she has also recently taken voluntary redundancy from her job at a hotel as wedding and events planner. Life has suddenly got overwhelming for poor Lizzy, she has no job and all the jobs she has applied for have fallen through, she is worried about her children going off to university and no longer needing her anymore. She suddenly feels like she is not needed by her family and that they do not care about her. The last straw is when none of them come home to decorate the tree with her, the one family tradition that means the world to her and so she leaves for Christmas on her own.

As the story unfolds we meet other characters who also need to escape Christmas. First we meet Harley, a teenage boy who is about the same age as Lizzy’s twins, his father is in prison and his mother is in a relationship with a bully of a man who likes to provoke and make Harley’s life a misery, so Harley leaves the house to stay at one of the beach huts he looks after as a part time job. This beach hut is also the same one Lizzy is staying at, they instantly become friends and help each other to have a good Christmas. The next characters to enter the scene are Jack, his son Nat and Clouseau the French bulldog. Jack and Nat have a very sad history and the memories of Christmas have all got a bit much for Jack so he decides to escape the memories and history and stay at a client’s beach hut over Christmas. This beach hut is right next door to Lizzy’s and Harley’s. We also eventually meet Leanne, Harley’s mother and River, Harley’s little brother.

Left at Pepperpot Cottage is Simon, Lizzy’s husband and Hattie and Luke the twins. Eventually we also meet Cynthia, Simon’s mother and also find out why Lizzy finds it so hard to be around Cynthia. I really enjoyed how they all realised suddenly what they had put Lizzy through, they had all been wrapped up in their own lives and just taking Lizzy for granted. The sudden realisation they might have lost her for good to me was justice for their lack of care and asking Lizzy if she is ok and doing what she asks. She never asks for much and does not nag, she is always there with a smile, a listening ear and whatever they need but they have not been there for her or noticed she is not coping.

There are a lot of characters in this book and I really enjoyed how Henry made all their lives entwine and made the most unlikely group of people the best of friends. I also enjoyed the little snapshots of their past, Henry did not go crazy into detail but gave just enough for the reader to understand. Jack’s memories brought me to tears, I found them really hard to read about and very moving. Lizzy’s memories of how she met Simon were very romantic but at the same time believable. I think the main thing I enjoyed about this book was how all the characters were realistic and relatable. Everything about the book feels like they are drawn from real life.

I adored the ending of this book and it really put me in a festive mood. This book is a feel good read and I could not recommend it more to people, especially if what they are looking for is an easy light hearted read to make them smile. I have rated this book 5 stars out of 5 and I can not wait to read another book by Veronica Henry.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 18: Coming Home by Michael Morpurgo

Coming Home by Michael Morgurgo

Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman

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About the Author

Michael Morpurgo has written over 130 books, many of them award winning. His best known work is War Horse which has also been turned into a stage play and a film. In 2003 he was made Children’s Laureate. He set up a charity with his wife called Farms for City Children and in 1999 he was awarded an MBE for his charitable work. In 2017 he was awarded a Knighthood for his charitable work and literature.

About the Illustrator

Hyndman has a degree in fine art from Newcastle University and an MA in Illustration from Kingston University. She now works as a freelance illustrator and map maker based in London. Hyndman is also an associate lecturer in Illustration at Goldsmiths University.

Blurb

A plucky little robin sets out on an epic journey. Through dark forests, driving rain, clapping thunder and flashing lightning. Across frozen wastes, huge mountains and stormy seas he flies. And all the while he’s dreaming of home. Of her. But will he ever get there?

Review

Another book off my Christmas reading list. This is my accidental find as I was trying to find another book called Coming Home but forgot the author’s name and so just typed in the title and this came up. I am so pleased I did find it as it was a beautiful book to read.

A very quick read for me but enjoyable, and the illustrations were excellent. This book is all about a robin’s flight home, through perilous conditions but all he thinks about is getting home to his mate.

This book is very short, even for a children’s book and to be honest a little scary, I was very worried about the little robin especially when he was attacked. I am not entirely sure a child would enjoy it in some places, unless they are made of stronger stuff than I.

The story is fast paced and Morpurgo’s use of language is simple but perfectly descriptive and rolls along. It made me want to say it out loud, it was so full of drama and had a rhythm to it, which is probably why I read it so quickly. I went back through it when I had finished it to truly enjoy and look at the illustrations. My favourite illustration is below, the details of the birds are just stunning, I would happily have it framed on my wall.

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At the end of the story there is a list of facts about Scandinavian robins, this list is brilliant! I never even knew there were Scandinavian robins, let alone their migrating habits and that they are almost identical to our own English robins. 

This book I rated 4 stars out of 5, it did not get the full 5 because it was just too short for me! I wanted more about the little robin. I leave you with another of my favourite pages. A beautiful read for both children and adults.

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Lady Book Dragon.

Review 17: Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

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About the author

Pamela Lyndon Travers was born in Australia in 1899 and her birth name was Helen Lyndon Goff. She was first published in her teenage years and also worked briefly as a Shakespearean actress. At the age of 25 she emigrated to England and changed her name to Pamela Lyndon Travers, she adopted the pen name P. L. Travers in 1933, when she started writing the Mary Poppins series. Walt Disney tried for years to get the rights for Mary Poppins to be made into a film, he even visited her several times at her house in London. Eventually Disney obtained the rights and the film Mary Poppins film was released in 1964. Travers did write many other novels, poetry and works of non-fiction but she is mainly remembered for Mary Poppins. She received an OBE in 1977 and died in 1996.

Blurb

When Mary Poppins arrives at their house on a gust of the East Wind, and slides up the banister, Jane and Michael Banks’s lives are turned magically and wonderfully upside down…

Review

Another book off my Christmas reading list finished and enjoyed. I’ve never read any of the Mary Poppins stories before but I have watched the film many times over, I used to happily sing along to all the songs and must admit I still do. I must admit I am looking forward to the new film coming out but only because one of my students stars in the film. I am not usually a fan of remakes if truth be told. When Waterstones emailed advertising this book I ordered it straight away and got a signed copy, always a thrill.

The first thing I noticed was that the story is abridged which was a little disappointing but the gorgeous illustrations more than made up for that. The story is based around the Banks family who are in need of another nanny and that is where Mary Poppins comes in.

The Banks family consists of Mr Banks the father and head of the house who is rather tight with money and goes out to work each day at the bank. Mrs Banks is the mother and is always out being very busy doing things and making sure the house is running correctly. The children are Michael and Jane the two oldest and the main characters of the story and the young twins John and Barbara who have a chapter of their own but are not otherwise really mentioned. Then there is Mrs Ellen who is the cook, Ellen the maid and Robertson Ay who is the butler but who is also a little useless.

Michael and Jane are rather naughty children and have driven away another Nanny and so Mary Poppins turns up to be the new Nanny. Mary Poppins instantly comes across as different to the children, to begin with she seems to arrive with the wind and then she sits at the bottom of the banister and slides up the staircase. The children know that Mary is different and soon begin to realise her ways and methods. The other thing I love about the children is their view of the world, a good example of this is the fact that they think their dad physically makes money at the bank. When I read this I had the image of Mr Banks sat there cutting out and minting coins and this is what I think the children also imagine their father does each day at work. I found the image adorable and it put a big smile on my face. Travers is a talented writer in this respect and fully understands the way a child’s mind works.

Mary Poppins was a bit of a surprise to me, firstly I could not believe how vain she is, she is constantly looking at her own reflection and deliberately wears clothes and hats that she knows are different and look good on her. The two children get frustrated with her when they go out as she constantly stops at windows to look at herself. In this respect I do not think she sets a good example to the children and I would not like to be around a person who did this either so I understand the children’s frustration. Mary Poppins is also very bossy which I was not happy about but she did get results from the children so I suppose it worked. I also found it odd how she called all birds sparrows, even pigeons, thankfully the children knew better.

I did not find Michael and Jane to be very naughty and thought that the previous nanny must have had a very low threshold of behaviour for the children to drive her to leave. I found the children inquisitive and just like normal happy high spirited children but maybe my opinion is a modern opinion and the time the story was written children were still meant to be seen and not heard.

My favourite chapter was in fact the chapter based around John and Barbara and how when they reach the age of one everything changes. I found this chapter really sweet and it made me smile, it also made me a little sad but in a good way. The illustrations for this chapter also reminded me greatly of the TV series that Child created called Charlie and Lola. The other highlight of this chapter was the cheeky starling.

I did enjoy this book and I want to read the full version and maybe some of the sequels but it did disappoint in some areas, the main being Mary Poppins, she just came across as grumpy. The best characters were the children I loved their naivety and their undying love of Mary Poppins even though they can see her flaws they still love her and have also learnt how to get what they want from her. The other reason I enjoyed this book so much was the illustrations, Child is very talented and she really made the story come alive. I only gave this book 3 out 5 stars because it felt like a lot had been cut from the story and it seemed to detract from the storyline and at times felt rushed and disjointed. Also I struggled to accept Mary Poppins at times.

A beautiful book well worth the read and I will happily recommend it to children and adults. I will leave you with my favourite illustration from the book.

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Lady Book Dragon

Review 16: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

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About the author

Chris Van Allsburg was born June 1949 and is an American author and illustrator of children’s books. Van Allsburg attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan and majored in sculpture. Van Allsburg started sketching at home and his wife encouraged him to illustrate children’s books, he then went on to write and illustrate his first children’s book The Garden of Abdul Gasazi in 1979. He has won two Caldecott Medals for U.S picture book illustration, both books he also wrote. To date Van Allsburg has written and illustrated about twenty books and has also illustrated children’s books for HarperCollins.

Blurb

Late on Christmas Eve, a boy boards a mysterious train: The Polar Express bound for the North Pole. When he arrives there, Santa offers him any gift he desires. The boy modestly asks for a bell from a reindeer’s harness, but this turns out to be a very special gift…

Review

So this book was not on my Christmas reading list but I bought some Christmas presents from Waterstones and this might have slipped in on the order. I know have a problem with buying books but I regret nothing!

This evening after a long day teaching I managed to put a few more Christmas decorations up and I rewarded myself with a mug of tea and this book to read. I was really looking forward to this book as I love the film. I have been singing the soundtrack from the film all evening.

The book is about a little boy who is excitedly waiting on Christmas Eve to see Father Christmas but instead a train pulls up outside his house. This little boy is desperately hoping to hear the sleigh bells even though his friend has told him he will never hear them as Father Christmas does not exist. The little boy gets on the Polar Express to go to the North Pole to see who will be chosen to receive the first Christmas present from Father Christmas.

I enjoyed the story of the book and the significance of the little boy’s chosen gift of the sleigh bell, it made me smile but at the same time it also made me sad. The sadness came because the book shows the truth we all know so well, some people forget the magic of Christmas and lose the wonder. This I hope I never lose, no matter how busy I get at Christmas or how stressed I hope I still see the wonder, magic and beauty of the Christmas season.

The story is a lovely little children’s story and the illustrations are beautiful but I must admit I found the movie more impressive, maybe because I have known the movie longer and always loved it. I also just felt the story was rushed and I wanted the story to be a bit longer and padded out, I just could not seem to gel with the author’s writing style. I give the story 3 out of 5 stars because it made me feel a little blue instead of the warm fuzzy feeling I was after.

Lady Book Dragon

 

Review 11: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

About the Author

Neil Gaiman is an English author who writes comics, books, graphic novels, short stories, film and theatre and has won many awards for his work. He was a great reader from an early age and states that JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a major influence to him and he read it a great deal as a child. Gaiman started his career as a journalist and his first book was a Duran Duran biography. Gaiman now lives in the United States.

Blurb

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Apart from the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised and educated by the ghosts, and his guardian belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of should; friendship with a witch; and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that the real dangers lurk, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

Review

I was so excited to read this book after reading the short story in Coraline and Other Stories which is the fourth chapter in this book. So on my next bookshop visit I managed to buy a copy of the book. Sadly though I was rather disappointed with the book as a whole.

The book is about the life of Nobody Owens as a child and teenager and the struggles he goes through. Nobody or Bod for short escaped the same fate that his family went through and was protected by the ghosts of the Graveyard he wandered into and his guardian, Silas who is neither in the land of the living or the dead. 

Bod is a typical boy growing up, he is full of wonder and the drive to learn however he lacks the fear and trepidation that most people feel because he has seen death is not all that bad. His best friends are ghosts, death holds no fear for him. He has also sampled the powers that the dead have and that the living do not and knows that they are very advantageous. 

The first chapter shows how Bod came to the graveyard and I must admit I almost shed a tear when Mrs Owens finds him. The chapter was full of emotion and you can not help but desperately root for Bod, but also wonder how the ghosts of the graveyard will look after the child. 

The subsequent chapters show snippets into Bod’s life at about yearly intervals. These chapters I must admit frustrated me as it left me wanting more and the things that were in the chapters were quite often never touched on again or even mentioned. I also wanted to know more about Silas and Miss Lupescu but that was not to be and the reader is left guessing. The character Jack and his kind are only lightly touched upon and this was another disappointment, all the time I wanted to know more details. My favourite chapter still remains The Witch’s Headstone.

The concept of Sleer was brilliant, I really liked the idea of a creature who is unbelievably ancient that nobody even remembers its reason for existence or even that it does exist. Sleer still remembers its purpose though but at the same time is desperate for somebody to become its master again. In a way it is like Bod, Bod wants answers and adventures and Sleer just wants a master a reason for it to still keep protecting.

There were moments in the story that really pulled on my heart strings and almost brought tears to my eyes and I absolutely loved the character of Bod and Mr and Mrs Owens. However I also found myself losing interest in places and that is one of the main reasons for the lower rating. I think reading the fourth chapter first as a short story was a mistake because the rest of the book just did not live up to my expectations.

The edition of the book I read had some beautiful illustrations in by Dave McKean which really added to the story and worked brilliantly in setting the dark mysterious scene of the graveyard. Here is one of my favourites.

A good read for adults and children and I think it would make an excellent film one day. 

Just 3 stars out of 5 from me.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 2: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

Good morning my fellow book dragons! Thank you for all the likes, comments and follows so far. I really hope you are enjoying my blog so far. I hope you have a good day and happy reading!

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Friend Request by Laura Marshall

About the author

Laura Marshall grew up in Wiltshire and studied English at the University of Sussex. In 2015 Marshall decided to complete a lifelong ambition to write a book, and enrolled on a three month creative writing course. Friend Request is Marshall’s first novel and it was shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award and the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize in 2016. Marshall now lives in Kent with her husband and two children.

Blurb

Maria Weston wants to be friends with me. Maybe that had been the problem all along: Maria Weston had wanted to be friends with me, but I let her down. She’s been hovering at the edge of my consciousness for all of my life, although I’ve been good at keeping her out, just a blurred shadow in the corner of my eye, almost but not quite out of sight. Maria Weston wants to be friends. But Maria Weston has been dead for more than twenty-five years.

Review

I saw a lot of good reviews about this book, on a few of my book related facebook pages and so I had to get a copy. I always take a list of possible books to buy when I go to Waterstones and I bought this last month with high hopes.

I was quite excited to read this book and although yes it was a good read, I was also rather disappointed. The lead character Louise sadly got on my nerves somewhat, as she just seemed to be rather weak and at times pathetic. At times I felt sorry for her son Henry as I couldn’t help but wonder what type of example she was setting him. Polly was the typical strong friend who everyone wants in their life. Sam is portrayed as the strong in control character but obviously a total jerk and the old school friends we have all gone to school with and are familiar with the different characters and social groups they were in.

The major element of this book is bullying and I was glad to read a book which discussed this in detail, as sometimes I find bullying is still hidden away and not talked about. I admit my life in school was not easy and I was a victim of bullying for my middle school years (I was in a three tier system). In some ways I was lucky I had a small group of friends but sadly my friends and I suffered a great deal at times and life was not easy. However I have no idea how I would have coped without those friends. This book shows the grizzly details of bullying and the hurt caused by excluding people from things and the consequences. I honestly wonder if Marshall is not drawing on experiences she might have had at school.

It was really interesting how social media played a major role in this book and how vulnerable it can make us if we are not vigilant. It really made me realise that anybody can pretend to be anyone on social media and you are none the wiser who you are really talking to. The fact that Maria Weston who has been dead for twenty-five years is suddenly adding people on social media is very haunting and better than a ghost returning in my opinion.

As a thriller, this book was good but I would have liked a bit more suspense and eventually it started to get a little predictable and I’m sorry to say but the twist was obvious to me. However all the elements all fitted together brilliantly and I did enjoy reading it. It was a fast paced read which had me hooked most of time.

As Marshall’s first novel I think this is brilliant and I can’t wait to read more of her novels especially if they draw on real life situations as Friend request has.

My rating on Goodreads is 3/5 stars. 

To Purchase

Waterstones

Amazon

Kindle

Lady Book Dragon