Who Let the Gods Out by Maz Evans

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Book seen here with terrifying Easter Bunny

“It began on a Friday, as strange things often do.”

Who Let the Gods Out

Elliot’s worries are very much grounded in the real world. His mum isn’t well and whilst Elliot is trying to hold everything together, the money problems keep coming. If he doesn’t find £20,000 in exactly one week they will be turfed out of their farm for good with nowhere to go.

But sometimes life surprises you with a bolt from the blue.

(Or a constellation.)

Possibly the last thing Elliot was expecting to land in their cowshed was Virgo: a young immortal from Elysium, on Earth to deliver ambrosia to a prisoner kept by the Gods near his home. Specifically, under Stonehenge. Thrown together by fate, they join forces but when the delivery goes wrong and the pair accidentally release Thanatos, diabolical Daemon of Death, things get a bit dicey. With the whole of the human race under threat, it’s time to get the big guns involved. Enter Zeus and a cast of Gods like you’ve never seen them before.

MG Roller Coaster

Who Let the Gods is a substantial MG roller coaster of an adventure.  It’s a big story- over 350 pages- and is packed full of action and humour. It’s properly roll around on the floor can’t get your breath funny. The characters are varied and hilarious. For example:

Charon the ferryman crossing passengers over the river Styx is genius, a kind of London cabbie:

“Right-o, we’ll take the Severn- the Wye’s murder this time of day.”

And Zeus, retired for the past 2000 years. An ageing Lothario, schmoozing mortal women and having a blast:

“…he was rather surprised to find Zeus in a badly fitting light-blue tuxedo with a frilly shirt, holding a cheese and ham vol-au-vent. The long white hair was there, albeit badly slicked back with hair gel. And it wasn’t a strapping chest bursting out so much as a gigantic belly.”

Then there’s Sisyphus, who I’m pleased to report has a lisp. Thithyphuth.

I’ll leave you to discover the episode with Her Maj the Queen; sufficed to say it’s rather surprising!

Reader Response

Whether it’s a main character or a brief encounter, the attention given to reader response is second to none. This is why I’d love to teach it and see those reactions first hand. If I were sharing this with a class, I’d have a whale of a time. I’d be going all out with drama, role play, anything to get the children up and enjoying the pure joy Who Let the Gods Out gives. Fun and learning, together at last!

Who Let the Gods Out is the first part of a series and I’m very much looking forward to the next book, out in the summer.

 

 

 

 

 


Angels Next Door by Karen McCombie: Simply Divine!

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Angels Next Door by Karen McCombie

angels

 

Always Learning…

As part of my continuing education to increase my knowledge of books for the age group I actually teach (primary), my search has found me attempting to answer that elusive question “My kid loves Jacqueline Wilson- what else can they read?” Karen McCombie and Angels Next Door seemed a good place to start. She’s obviously very well regarded and established in her genre, writing largely for girls 9 years plus*; I’m possibly the last teacher in England to have heard of her.

Life Begins

Angels Next Door was released in April 2014 and is being quickly followed by Angels in Training- out in a few days time (7.8.14). We meet Riley, an eleven/ nearly twelve year old girl who is a few weeks into that enormous life changing event called ‘going to secondary school’. Everything feels a bit new and raw for Riley, but at least she’s with her best friend, the lovely Tia: vivacious, chatty and confident. All the things Riley considers herself not to be in fact. But with Tia by her side she can feel some of her courage rubbing off on her and it helps. Then one day Tia breaks it to her that she’s moving away, in fact the whole family is starting a new chapter in New Zealand. Riley is gutted.She feels like she’s starting her new school again from scratch, only this time she’s all too aware of the challenges it presents: the little gang of girls for instance, who have already nominated themselves Queens of Everything. Oh and boys. Boys who either laugh at you or are only friendly because they fancy your gorgeous best friend. It doesn’t bode well.

So Where Are The Angels?

The ‘angels’ are actually the Angelo sisters. They move into Tia’s old house, next door to Riley. It’s Coco who mistakes Angelo for angel and claims angels are moving in next door. Coco? She’s Dot’s partner in crime. Dot? Riley’s sort of younger sister (it’s complicated.) There is something a little out of the ordinary about them though, something of an ethereal nature…

Big Sisters

All these different girls presented in a fun and interesting story would have been a total gift to me when I was a child, being the youngest by quite some way and having two older brothers who although lovely, weren’t much cop at girl talk. Like most of my friends, I looked to Just Seventeen and Mizz for big sisterly themes, which could sometimes be more than a touch scary…

The point is, if you’re a nine or ten year old girl, Angels Next Door looks like quite a grown up book, without being too old. Plus, once you open it you’ll be reading about older girls experiencing things you might be worrying about, giving it that ‘big sister’ vibe. The chances are that like Riley you might be feeling a bit uncertain about going up to high school, so this book deals with the issues you might have to deal with whilst shows the light with the shade.

All the sprinklings of glitter and the rumours of angels dovetail well in allowing children an escape into more magical matters. Oh, and did I mention it’s funny? I was surprised to find myself laughing aloud on a few occasions, mostly at the moments of genius connected to young Dot (great name) and Alastair her ‘pet dog’, a charismatic piece of driftwood on a string.

Added Value

Apart from a fun story, McCombie writes her girls with plenty of personality. At the minute I’m particularly looking out for books with a bit extra oomph, the ones where the reader is encouraged to go out and do something as a result of reading it. There’s a bit of that here. Riley is artistic, but as an ex art teacher I know that can be alienating as a lot of children convince themselves early on that they can’t draw and never will be able to. But here, Riley’s talent is photography- much more accessible. She doesn’t have an expensive camera, but she’s got a passion for taking snaps which develops (ho ho) during the story.

The girls you meet here, our friends, are carefully shown to be individual, except for the vindictive girl gang at school who are all pretty much identical in taste and style- and expect all others to follow suit. Pretty much the same as it was when I was at school and I guess has always been. Individuality should always win over and McCombie shows there’s more to that than your choice of clothes.

Individuality also spills into family life. McCombie introduces characters who are fostered, although she doesn’t go into that much in this book. Riley’s own family is a relatively new set up. Her dad’s girlfriend and daughter live with them and it’s touched on that relations are not easy between Riley and her step mum. I suspect they’ll be more on this later in the series, in fact I’m sure it will be as we see this developing as a sub plot throughout Angels Next Door. Another family on offer here for readers is Karen’s Club. This is where fans of Karen McCombie’s works can come together and write, do quizzes, get advice or get lots of freebies. Very lovely and inclusive- Wendy Quill would approve! I’m loving these books that offer so much value for money in so many different ways!

If I was ten, I’d have definitely felt a GGGG warm glow.

Angels Next Door is a good read for (mostly) girls who enjoy Jacqueline Wilson (hooray!) and want a new series to devour. Also an early chance to experience a flavour of YA reading with training wheels on.

* Although suitable also for keen readers 7+

 


London Calling

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As a kid I read whatever was available: cornflake packets, Enid Blyton, Woman’s Own. Heck, sometimes I even read the Daily Mail. But what was most commonly available in my house were the collected works of Dick Francis with his horsey-based crime adventures, Ian Rankin’s Rebus books and a nice smattering of JRR Tolkein. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon an author who combined his crime with a good dollop of magic. Harry Potter it ain’t. What Ben Aaronovitch does with Rivers of London is create a whole new dimension to the capital, where it’s only logical that if magic exists then like everything else it needs to be used in a law abiding manner.

What I liked about this book as opposed to the crime and police writing I had read previously was that rather than our protagonist being an old soak with a bad marriage and a hygeine problem, we are introduced to DC Peter Grant who is just finishing his probationary period in the Met. He’s young and full of enthusiasm for the job with relationship problems that only go as deep as having a huge and unrequited crush on his colleague Lesley. Grant narrowly avoids being assigned to the Case Progression Unit, admin heart of the police and is instead head-hunted by Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, an immaculately turned out man of uncertain age who until now has been single-handedly dealing with London’s supernatural ne’er do wells. He takes Peter on as his young apprentice and through him reveals a London split between scenes of street life which would be familiar to anyone who has spent time there and a vivid underbelly of unexpected creatures and ancient covenants. Aaronovitch makes the two work seamlessly together, incorporating a sharp sense of humour and cultural references to anchor the book to now. He makes London the star of the book and interesting snippets of information about the city are given as part of the story, all of which I enjoyed and chose to believe entirely (and don’t want to know if they’re made up). Although much of this is irrelevant to the plot, for me this was its major strength. These were the parts where the author’s astute observational wit was most apparent and the subsequently the parts which made me laugh out loud.

Aaronovitch’s characterisation is pure recognisable London and in particular his personification of the rivers (which I did realise was fictional) is cleverly done but without taking it too far. His writing is best appreciated with due attention given to the detail- this isn’t a speedy read where it’s okay to skip paragraphs much as you might want to as the story progresses and things unfold. I found myself turning back and re-reading pages to ensure I’d got the plot, sometimes going back several times in order to do it justice. I quite enjoyed this lesson in patience- not me at all but worth the effort.

Will I be reading the next in the series? I’m sure I will but not for a while. Although fundamentally different in style, I was reminded of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels: brilliant and totally involving but requiring an awful lot of attention and commitment to the process. What I need now is a complete contrast and for my brain to come back to it in its own time. Which is pretty much how I feel after a visit to London.

GGG I’m not emotional but I like it.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

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I tend to approach Neil Gaiman books with a mixture of excitement and trepidation: I haven’t loved everything I’ve read but I always have a strong opinion about them. From completely adoring Stardust immediately to feeling utterly trapped in a nightmarish world of eye buttons in Coraline, I’m fully immersed whether I want to be or not. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is no exception.

As hoped, Gaiman charmed me into the story by use of both the familiar and by transporting me to the absolutely new and fantastic. The familiar in this case being the narrator’s return to the place he grew up following the funeral of a loved one, his reflections on the changing landscape and the subsequent visit to the home of a childhood friend. By making the decision not to name the narrator, he lifts any potential barrier between the reader and the story that unfolds.

Parts of the story are wonderfully bonkers and more than a little sinister at times. A high point for me was trying to imagine the appearance of a character which resembled a rotten flapping tarpaulin. That took me a few goes- not the sort of thing that usually crosses my mind, you see. But this is one of the things I loved about the book- that I could enter a world of magic but one entirely for adults, with threatening elements and preposterous but thrilling events.

Whilst Gaiman fills the imagination with visions I never thought I’d, well, imagine, he also leaves space for you to draw your own conclusions along the way. For this reason and also the knack he has for provoking strong reaction, I think this would be a great book club read. It’s also deceptively short at not much over 200 pages, so lots of time to think it over as you go.

My favourite thing about The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the Hempstock family. Grandmother, mother and daughter, these three women live at the farm far down the lane and they are the book. Providing the magic and the link between the known and the unknown, they remember things that it shouldn’t be possible to remember. Getting to know Lettie Hempstock is as good a reason for reading the book as I can offer. She’s the one with the ocean.

Having finished the book it comes as no great surprise to me that Gaiman has had these characters in mind for some time, waiting for the right opportunity to reveal them. As for me, I hope this is just an introduction. Such brilliant characters deserve more than one story. For this story however, the end was timely. I wasn’t left wishing it would continue as it left me feeling that to go on further would be to know too much and that’s never a good thing is it?

My Rating:

Four G’s for the book.

Five G’s for Lettie.

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