Kids’ Books: bulk review

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Bathtime for Little Rabbit – Jörg Mühle
Published by Gecko Press – available February 2017

Another gorgeous board book from Jörg Mühle, featuring our friend, Little Rabbit. There’s something so appealing about the simplicity of this book; the illustrations are adorable, with clean lines and simple concepts that are beautiful and endearing. I love the interactive style (blow-drying Little Rabbit’s ears was a lot of fun!), and the gentle responses it elicits from my rambunctuous four-and-a-half-year-old. He loved Tickle My Ears, and Bathtime for Little Rabbit has quickly become a favourite. I know of a few little people in my life who will be getting this book for their birthday!

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The Lost Kitten – Lee (illustrated by Komako Sakai)
Published by Gecko Press – available March 2017

This book is, quite simply, a work of art. Sakai is considered one of Japan’s leading illustrators, and it’s not hard to see why. In The Lost Kitten, she has captured the innocent curiosity of a child, and of a small kitten, so perfectly that each page almost feels alive. My boys were both completely absorbed in this book, and I was in no hurry to turn each page; the story feels so real. As such, it’s also a story I don’t think we’ll tire of, it is such a pleasure to read. My youngest was a bit upset when we first read that the kitten was lost, but fear not, there is a happy ending!

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Bruno – Catharina Valckx (illustrated by Nicola Hubesch)
Published by Gecko Press – available March 2017

This is a delightful comic-like collection of six linked stories about Some of the More Interesting Days in My Life So Far. Bruno is a cat who makes the most of every day, always finding something good or interesting about them all. He has a hilarious little group of friends who bring joy and silliness to his days, and my boys think they are all wonderful. Tweety the canary is a particular favourite; “All done, cinnamon bun” is cackled a number of times each day in our house. I think the main appeal of this book is that it takes rather ordinary moments in time, and turns them into adventures that are always quirky and funny. The humour is aimed at kids, and my two found it hilarious. They get the jokes, and the silliness, and I love seeing what cracks them up about each different story. The lines are so dead-pan, but brilliantly delivered, and the illustrations are bold and perfectly detailed to enhance the text. One of my favourite books aimed at a wide age range, but especially enjoyed by four-and-a-half- and six-and-three-quarter-year-olds!

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Helper and Helper – Joy Cowley (illustrated by Gavin Bishop)
Published by Gecko Press – available February 2017

The thoughts of a six-and-three-quarter-year-old*:

“It’s a chapter book, but with pictures, which makes it interesting. The story is about some friends…some of them are best friends, and some of them are just ordinary friends, but they all want to help each other which is kind. Snake thinks she’s cleverer than Lizard, but they are best friends anyway. Squirrel is a bit nervous but I think she always tries her hardest to help. The book is called Helper and Helper because that’s the job Snake and Lizard do. They argue a lot but never stay cross at each other for long. It’s a good book.”

*At the time of writing, I hadnt actually read the whole book, as it was taken firmly from my hands by my biggest!

Book Review: Runemarks

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Runemarks – Joanne M. Harris
Published by Hachette New Zealand, 2016

In a world where magic and mystery are outlawed, Maddy has always been an outsider. With the strange marking on her hand and her unusual abilities, she’s mistrusted and feared by ‘normal’ folk.

But Maddy’s life is about to change. From learning about the ways of the old gods, to travelling into World Below and meeting the infamous trickster, Loki, Maddy must embark on a journey the likes of which she has never imagined.

As the powers of Chaos and Order prepare for a war to end all wars, it is Maddy who unknowingly holds the key to the Worlds’ survival.

I have a few Joanne Harris novels on my bookshelf: Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners and Holy Fools. All are quite different and quirky, but there’s a similarity in tone or plot that links them, in my mind, to each other. However, none of them are like Runemarks at all; if you’d covered the author’s name and asked me to guess at who wrote it, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed at Joanne Harris.

But here’s the thing: I loved romantic, whimsical Chocolat, and found Blackberry Wine tantalising in its point of view (first person, as a bottle of wine)…and was so gripped by Runemarks that I read until close to midnight on more than one occasion. Very different genres, very different styles, and very different stories, but with one thing in common: very, very good.

With Runemarks, Harris has created a world – nine, to be exact – full of magic and mystery, where a host of characters from Norse mythology mingle with common folk who are terrified of magic. I have a basic knowledge of Norse mythology, so felt familiar with the main players (specifically Odin, Loki and Thor), and found it interesting to learn more about them. I especially liked Harris’ Loki, the Trickster; he was one of those characters that I was instantly drawn too, despite his history of treachery and deceit. I found Maddy, our common heroine, to be far more mature than her 14 years should suggest, but her character was likeable if a little predictable at times.

The story started out slowly, but picked up pace about five chapters in and then raced along at heart-stopping, breath-quickening pace. It was exciting and compelling, and nerve-wracking in parts; a page-turner that I struggled to put down because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. There were a few predictable plot-twists, but some that I didn’t see coming until they were about to happen. It was a cleverly crafted story, and has left me wanting more (which I will find, in the form of Runelight, and The Gospel of Loki). Fantasy isn’t usually a genre I go for, and I’ve certainly not read many mythical fantasy novels (if any!), but Runemarks was a pleasant introduction and a happy surprise.

Thank you to Hachette for my review copy, and for the opportunity to experience so many amazing books over the past couple of years!

Book Review: All I Ever Wanted

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All I Ever Wanted – Lucy Dillon
Published by Hachette New Zealand

Catlin’s life is a mess. Her marriage to a man everyone else thinks is perfect has collapsed, along with her self-esteem, and breaking free seems the only option.

Nancy, her four-year-old daughter, used to talk all the time; in the car, at nursery, to her brother Joel. Then her parents split up. Her daddy moves out. And Nancy stops speaking.

Nancy’s Auntie Eva, recently widowed and feeling alone, apart from the companionship of two bewildered pugs, is facing a future without her husband or the dreams she gave up for him.

But when Eva agrees to host her niece and nephew once a fortnight, Caitlin and Eva are made to face the different truths about their marriages – and about what they both really want…

If you need a last-minute gift idea for someone this Christmas, I suggest you race out now (or click here) to buy a copy of All I Ever Wanted. Or if you’re looking for a good book to take to the crib/bach/beach this summer…buy a copy of All I Ever Wanted. I thought it might be a bit “fluffy”, a bit of romcom chick lit, but it is so much better than that. It made me cry, and it made me smile, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, compelling read that I didn’t want to put down.

The characters are written so well, and through the course of the novel, we get to know each of them quite well through their interactions and relationships with one another. The only characters we merely skim the surface of are Patrick, Catlin’s husband, and Alex, Eva’s friend, yet we still get a sense of who they are. Caitlin is complicated; she appears outwardly confident but constantly battles with self-doubt and regret over what she hasn’t done with her life. Nancy is full of spark and is rather perceptive for a pre-schooler; her brother Joel exudes energy and drama, but is sensitive to everything going on around him, and is fiercely protective of his little sister. Auntie Eva thought she was happy with where life and circumstance had taken her, but spending time with her niece and nephew allows her to see what her heart has always desired: children of her own. Patrick comes across as a busy professional, focused on his career, desperate to live up to an impossible standard he incorrectly recalls from his own father; he is the character who reveals little of himself, until it’s almost too late, and then he became one of my favourites.

And Bumble and Bee, the pugs…well, never have I thought so highly of a pair of fictional pets! They are an integral part of the story, and Dillon has a magical way of bringing them to life. Upon finishing the book, I decided I need pugs.

All I Ever Wanted is very clever – in a subtle, “Oh, I see, and like, what you’re doing here” kinda way instead of a “Wow, I didn’t see THAT coming” kinda way. It’s an extremely satisfying story – the ending was so good! – and thought-provoking, realistic and moving at the same time. It’s not your typical romance novel, especially where the crumbling relationship between Caitlin and Patrick is concerned, which is very refreshing.

I will be sharing this book around my Village mums, for sure.

Thank you to Hachette NZ for my review copy.