Saturday, February 22, 2014

Reading Aloud in 2014 - The 13-Storey Treehouse

 The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

The 13-Storey Treehouse Who wouldn't want to live in a treehouse? Especially a 13-storey treehouse that has a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of sharks, a library full of comics, a secret underground laboratory, a games room, self-making beds, vines you can swing on, a vegetable vaporiser and a marshmallow machine that follows you around and automatically shoots your favourite flavoured marshmallows into your mouth whenever it discerns you're hungry.
Two new characters – Andy and Terry – live here, make books together, and have a series of completely nutty adventures. Because: ANYTHING can happen in a 13-storey treehouse.
This is a major new series from Andy and Terry- and it's the logical evolution of all their previous books. There are echoes of the Just stories in the Andy and Terry friendship, the breakaway stories in the Bad Book (the Adventures of Super Finger), there's the easy readability of the Cat on the Mat and the Big Fat Cow, and like all these books, the illustrations are as much a part of the story as the story itself.

  My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review by Jack, age 6.5

It was excellent, it was very, very, very good.

It was awesome because it had man-eating sharks and a shark nearly ate Terry. Terry accidently threw Andy's head in the bowling alley. After they ate too many marshmallows they drank too much lemonade from the lemonade fountain.
Their treehouse is awesome because it looked small from the outside but is big on the inside. There was a gorilla and a yellow canary cat with a whole army of yellow canary cats who saved Andy and Terry. They took away the gorilla to a dinosaur island. Terry painted a cat yellow like a yellow canary.
The pictures are really, really, really cool.
Boys and girls should read this book because it is very interesting and very, very cool and awesome.
That's all folks!

Review by Mum, age none-of-your-business

Anything combining the joint talents of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton is going to be superb. Andy's writing is a pleasure to read aloud with a deceptively simple style that is never condescending, extremely visual and uses a vocabulary that doesn't require stopping frequently to explain words or phrases. Terry's illustrations complement and enhance the text perfectly, and are chock full of unexpected details.

My favourite part of the book was the illustrations of the pages - pages within pages - especially the one that has a page within a page within a page.... (pg 228). We had made a movie like this several days before reading this book, so it was of particular interest to both of us.

To get the most out of this book find a kid aged between 5 and 10, share it aloud and be prepared to giggle. We are off to find the next book in the series.

Reading Aloud in 2014

I've been reading aloud to my son since the day he was born. I've always loved sharing precious books from my own childhood but the beauty of having a child who loves reading and being read to is that we can discover new authors together and it gives me a wonderful excuse to indulge myself with some fabulous children's fiction.

I loved it when my parents or teachers would read 'chapter books' aloud. There is a perverse, exquisite pleasure in having to wait for the next reading session to find out what happens next. I've always loved our bedtime story routine but now we are sharing chapter books I find that often I am looking forward to the story just as much as he is. It isn't hard to twist my arm for 'just one more chapter pleeaasseee...'

It can be difficult to select quality reading material for kids once they move on from picture books as they are harder to vet without reading the whole book yourself. There are plenty of books that appeal to kids of a certain age (often game, movie or tv spin-offs) but they are just not very well written and are very difficult to read aloud. I've been looking at book reviews on Goodreads but find that often reviews of kids books are written by adults who seem to miss the point that children's books are actually written specifically for kids.

I thought it might be fun for us to review some books together, as we read our way through our ever-expanding library. I have promised to faithfully type his reviews exactly in his own words without any fussy-mummy editing.

I'd love to see reviews of other books for shared reading so join in, link to your blog in the comments on this post and share some of your favourites for reading aloud.

Reading in 2014 - Second Chances

Second Chances by Charity Norman

Second Chances
'In the quiet of a New Zealand winter's night, a rescue helicopter is sent to airlift a five-year-old boy with severe internal injuries. He's fallen from the upstairs veranda of an isolated farmhouse, and his condition is critical. At first, Finn's fall looks like a horrible accident; after all, he's prone to sleepwalking. Only his frantic mother, Martha McNamara, knows how it happened. And she isn't telling. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Tragedy isn't what the McNamara family expected when they moved to New Zealand. For Martha, it was an escape. For her artist husband Kit, it was a dream. For their small twin boys, it was an adventure. For sixteen-year-old Sacha, it was the start of a nightmare.
They end up on the isolated east coast of the North Island, seemingly in the middle of a New Zealand tourism campaign. But their peaceful idyll is soon shattered as the choices Sacha makes lead the family down a path which threatens to destroy them all.

Martha finds herself facing a series of impossible decisions, each with devastating consequences for her family.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason I couldn't give this one 5 stars is simply because it is a very traumatic read.
Upon finishing it I had to sneak into my child's room and sit there stroking his hair while he slept. How on earth do you keep your child safe? If everything does fall apart then how on earth do you manage your own reactions?

The writing is superb. I read the whole thing in one day but was up to 2.30am to do it. You will immediately want to visit New Zealand to see if it lives up to the promises of the book (it does). There are layers upon layers and the characters are so very real. There are so many families living this exact story every day. I pray that I am never one of them.

Comparisons to Jodie Picoult are inevitable and the themes are very similar to Picoult's The Tenth Circle but Charity Norman does not have the religious tones of Picoult's work and based on this one novel I believe Norman is a stronger writer.I am interested to read more of her work but will wait for this one to fade first.

Read it with tissues handy and only if you are in a positive state of mind as it will linger long after closing the cover on the last page.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

The Shadow Year'On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her friends, it offers an escape; a chance to drop out for a while, with lazy summer days by the lake and intimate winter evenings around the fire. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.
Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? Why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can't she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?
The Shadow Year is a story of secrets, tragedy, lies and betrayal. It’s a tale that explores the light and dark of human relationships and the potential the past has to not only touch our present, but also to alter our future.'

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I read this in three sittings - but would have read the whole thing cover-to-cover if I had the time.
The beginning was a bit confusing, but you quickly adjust to the chapters jumping between the two characters and their respective 'presents' - one in past and one now.

This is the sort of story I seem to have a clear preference for - a study of relationships and interactions between people, how their personalities or flaws influence their actions and how their choices and actions have consequences that echo long after the event.

You sometimes see comments about 'a carefully woven tale' and that is an extremely apt description of this book. Hannah Richell has taken great care in sequencing this story, revealing the characters and plot in a well crafted manner. She teases you right up to the very last page and leaves you somewhat exhausted but satisfied. If you respect the work of Gillian Flynn then you should enjoy this.

This is her second book and I will seek out her first and keep an eye out for any new works.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Reading in 2014 - Plastic

Plastic by Christopher Fowler

Plastic'June Cryer is a shopaholic suburban housewife trapped in a lousy marriage. After discovering her husband’s infidelity with her flight attendant neighbour, Hilary ‘Boarding From The Rear’ Cooper, she loses her home, her husband and her credit rating. • Then her best pal Lou offers a solution; a mutual friend needs someone reliable to act as caretaker in a spectacular London high-rise apartment. It’s just for the weekend, but there’s good money in it… Seizing the opportunity to escape, June moves into the penthouse only to find that there’s no electricity and the phones don’t work. She must flat-sit until the security system comes back on. When a terrified girl breaks into the flat and June makes the mistake of asking the neighbours for help, she finds herself embroiled in an escalating nightmare, trying to prove that a murderer exists. Over the next 24 hours she must survive on the streets without friends or money, solve an impossible crime, and fight off the urge to buy a new wardrobe.'

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't know how to rate this and wasn't sure if it was a 3 or a 4 star read.

This is my first Christopher Fowler book and I picked it up off the 'New books' stand at the local library because the blurb on the back was interesting.

It is a crime thriller but I guess it is also poking fun at the genre in some ways, with a clever take on character and plot. I thought it was a bit far fetched - but then no more so than many of the political thrillers I've read that make you wonder about the dark side of life portrayed in these stories and question the reality of your own sheltered, comfortable life. Or is that just me?

The plot does get a little confusing and I had to go back and re-read chapter one after I finished, just to get things straight in my mind.

I enjoyed it and there are some rather pithy observations of relationships and how people compensate for dissatisfaction with their lives by engaging in self-destructive behaviour rather than fixing the problem. It is also a story about coming-of-age or self-actualisation with a lead character who realises that she has been existing in a vacuum of her own making, rather than living. Hell of a way to make that discovery though!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier 

The Last Runaway'The stunning new novel from the bestselling author of Girl with a Pearl Earring.
Honor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.'

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tracy Chevalier's books are easy and pleasurable to read, and this one is no exception. Her topics and settings are wide ranging and this novel is set in 1850s America after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, the time when the abolitionist movement was gaining support leading to the Civil War.

Chevalier's books are well researched and she generously shares her sources and in the 'Author's Note' provides an interesting summary of the historical facts that form the basis of her novel. I read this book cover-to-cover in one day but after reading the notes at the end of the book I want to go back and re-read it with a little more care and also seek out some of the sources she has listed to find out more about this period in American history. Having little knowledge of the geography of the USA it was useful to be able to reference the map provided at the start of the book from time to time.

I also enjoyed 'Remarkable Creatures' and 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reading in 2014 - The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things'5th January 1800. Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Sir Joseph Banks' Kew Gardens and as a deck hand on Captain Cook's HMS Resolution. Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two dead ones). An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of botany. But as Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.
The Signature of All Things is a big novel, about a big century. It soars across the globe from London to Tasmania, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam. Peopled with extraordinary characters – missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses and the quite mad – most of all it has an unforgettable heroine in Alma Whittaker, a woman of the Enlightened Age who stands defiantly on the cusp of the modern.'

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you know much about the life and work of Charles Darwin you will recognise the echoes in the story of Alma. The seemingly aimless and self-absorbed years of study of moss, the moment of insanity that gelled the millions of observations together into a hypothesis and then the years of focused study to gather the specific evidence to support a theory (that would become known as Evolution),the fear of publication without being sure that the theory was absolutely watertight and the shock at finding that someone else had reached the same conclusions. All this mirrors Darwin - Alma studied moss, Darwin looked to barnacles. Much of the first half or two-thirds of the book explores the religious and political barriers to scientific discovery and also to societal change of any kind in the era(this is the story of Prudence). Alma's time in Tahiti is a vehicle for exploring, developing and coming to terms with her own religious philosophy, opening her mind for the discoveries to come. This reflects the journey of the scientific community in general as 'natural philosophers' disappeared and 'scientists' emerged, shedding the reins of the church and embracing discoveries that threatened the social order of the western world.

The story of Henry Whittaker is one that was quite common for the time. An illiterate pauper who is smart enough to make the most of every opportunity, a mind for business and a knack for making connections. He lived in a time where anyone with enough money and enough interest could become an expert in so many different fields. He made himself aware of all the latest advances in technology and science from around the globe. His modern-day equivalent would be Richard Branson. In Henry's youth the world is a small place, one he is able to conquer and control. In adulthood he is a master of all, able to keep pace with the social changes, his finger on the pulse of the business and scientific communities. Henry's decline in old age is the inverse of the world around him and he laments the loss of his mastery and the dizzying rate of change and discovery going on around him. I wonder what he would make of the internet?

At times in the novel it feels like there is too much going on, too many competing stories, too many narratives that aren't explored in enough detail. However that is the reality of the age. The 1800s were an exciting time - a bit like human teenage years - full of exploration, pushing boundaries and testing limits. There are so many side stories that could easily take off and become novels of their own but the key to this book is in the title - The Signature of All Things - the multitude of small discoveries that led to what we now know as the Theory of Evolution. The book is long and twisting and convoluted because that is the story of those discoveries.

I really enjoyed this book and think I would like to re-read it sometime in the future. I've been considering On the Origin of Species for some time but now I have had the push I need to find a copy and fully acquaint myself with Darwin's own words.
If you have never read anything of substance about the work and life of Charles Darwin I highly recommend Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His life and ideas by Kristan Lawson. Despite the title it is not a childish book and it is a fabulous summary of his life, his work, the society of the time and the influences that shaped him. If you read only one book about Darwin then consider this one. It will certainly help you understand the themes of Signature more clearly.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

KTB - Portfolio dress

Project: Voile Lisette Portfolio Dress
Started: November or December 2012?
Finished: 27 January 2014

A while ago the Lisette Portfolio dress was popping up every where in blog-land. I took one look at the design and went 'Nah - not for me'. Gathers over the bust, no hip, bust or waist shaping. I just thought it would look like a sack on me.
Later I saw a few versions that really appealed so I got the pattern and then it sat, and sat and sat.
Last summer I had a long break and was looking for some light summer dresses that would double as work wear. I had some voile (or lawn...something like that) and thought I could try a wearable muslin.
Matching the patterns required a lot of careful measuring and pinning before I even cut the fabric.
I got it all cut out, got the front together and fussed around with fancy top stitching that disappeared into the print. I got the back together and pin basted the dress together for fitting. That is as far as I got.
I didn't like it and debated cutting it into a skirt. I made up a skirt in a similar weight fabric to check sizing for a yoke, but cut a size too small.
Gave up, shoved it all in a bag and put it on a shelf.

Fast-forward a year and I had a free evening and wanted something quick and easy to play with and found this on the shelf. I sewed the front and back together, tried it on and was happy enough with the fit so decide to finish it off and see how it went.
In a few hours over two nights I got it finished.
The fit at the front is fine and I love the pockets although they disappear into the busy fabric, and I'm still not fussed over the gathers. The back was a bit sack-like so I added some darts to shape it to my waist.
The colour of the fabric combined with the loose, A-line style remind me of a school uniform.
The fabric has a bit of cross-grain stretch so it is comfortable to wear and it is nice and light.
It is hanging in the wardrobe at the moment and I'll wear it some time this week to decide if I keep it or donate it.