The CHERUB Series

CHERUB is an espionage/military organisation whose operatives are between the ages of ten and seventeen. All are trained professionals with one essential advantage: adults never suspect that children are spying on them. For official purposes, these children do not exist.

It is both surprising and disappointing that this series has garnered such a wide fan base and achieved success on the bestseller lists worldwide. The books are written in a style that is neither engaging nor inspirational. They are narratives that tell all and show little. While an improvement in style over the Alex Rider books, I would actually recommend Alex Rider over CHERUB. While Alex Rider may be only acceptable in terms of style, originality and ideas, the CHERUB series sinks even lower. The first book, at least, is action-packed and clean. However as the series progresses the characters deteriorate with drug-use, sex, lesbianism and even infidelity becoming more common among the teenage characters. The issues… click here to read whole article and make comments


Walls Within Walls

No child likes to move to a new place. When the Smithforks leave their humble home in Brooklyn to live in a posh Manhattan apartment, CJ (12), Brid (9), Patrick (6) and Carron (2) feel like they have not only lost their friends; they also feel they have lost their parents. Mr. Smithfork, recently turned video game king, works so much that he rarely has time for his children. Maricel, the nanny, replaces Mrs. Smithfork as the children's primary caregiver while their mother meets with interior decorators. Making friends in exclusive private schools presents its own problems. At least they have each other.

Their loneliness might have torn them apart, but CJ, Brid, and Patrick uncover evidence that the long lost wealth of their apartment's former owner may still be somewhere in New York City. They learn that the heiress to the fortune is the little old lady (Eloise Post) who lives downstairs and combine forces with… click here to read whole article and make comments


The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight

The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight manages to deal with heavy themes in the style of a light, satisfying read.

It is important to note that the cover, the easy-to-read formatting and the simple storytelling style all seem to be directed at a younger audience (perhaps 10 to 12), yet the serious themes and occasional bad language are more suited to an older readership (I'd suggest mature 13s to 18).

As a good murder mystery the story is built on lies and secrets, murder and money, and since much of this happens within the family, the overall situation is quite nasty. There's even medicinal use of prescription drugs to help some of the adults to cope.

However, there is no gratuitous detail that leaves you with too much information, and most of the story doesn't deal with these themes at all. Instead, it focuses on the guadual unravelling of a mystery which doesn't come clear until… click here to read whole article and make comments


Goodnight, Mr. Tom

Willie Beech, a timid nine year old, is evacuated from Deptford to Sussex, and is billeted with Tom Oakley, a widower who has allowed himself to become bitter and misanthropic since his wife and child died of scarlet fever forty years prior. Each causes the other to open out, as Tom helps Willie to read and write and encourages his talent for drawing. Willie is called back to London by his mother. Tom gets worried when he does not write and goes looking for him. He finds Willie tied up and emaciated with his mother's illegitimate baby lying dead in his arms. His mother is later found to have committed suicide. Tom takes Willie back to the country and adopts him.

That this was the author's first book is not surprising: the style and dialogue are erratic in places. However, the sheer warmheartedness of it all carries you away. The story is a little romanticised: the crusty old widower… click here to read whole article and make comments


As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth

This is a great read. It had me laughing out loud, half in disbelief at the number of things that could go wrong for one person, and half because the protagonist's uncanny combination of dry humour and bumbling determination to just keep going makes him so much like my younger brother.

As the difficulties keep coming the laughter turned into wondering smiles, these guys never say die.

By the last quarter it was evident how much Ry's character had strengthened through his ordeals, he was making decisions and solving problems with wisdom beyond his years.

And at the same time he'd lightened up and discovered how to enjoy the simple things in life: good company, the strength of family, and the joy of living fuelled by the exciting optimism of a can-do attitude. Now he's ready to take life head on, no more being dragged along by the ears.

It's a contemporary story that doesn't… click here to read whole article and make comments


Dave, the Potter

Laban C.Hill has managed to pack quite a history lesson into this simple but eloquent picture book. Written as poetry, the text tells the story of Dave, an African American slave who lived in South Carolina in the early 19th century. Although slaves were not allowed to learn to read and write, Dave's life is known through the dated rhymes he wrote on his pottery. His words not only describe his life, but give advice and express his own feelings and longings, such as one dated August 16, 1857: "I wonder where is all my relation; friendship to all--and, every nation."

Dave clearly took his work seriously, for those of his pots that still exist are well made and attractive. He was one of the few potters who successfully made pots larger that could hold more than twenty gallons. Hill's book explains the process by which mere dirt is transformed into a work of art in the… click here to read whole article and make comments


Gideon the Cutpurse

What makes this book stand out from the crowd, at least in its more engaging first half? It is not the time-travel premise; that has been done to death. Neither is it the plot, which has children chasing the device which will return them home. That, too, is hardly a novelty. The appeal of this story is the characters: Kate, Peter and their families in the present; morally ambiguous Gideon and his enemies, and the more straightforward Byng family in the past.

There is a direct if unspoken contrast between twelve year old Peter's family life, in a well-to-do suburb of London, and Kate's in a Derbyshire valley. He is an only child with a mother who, while not formally separated, is certainly absent. His father, well-meaning but busy, breaks a promise to celebrate his son's birthday and leaves him with the au pair. Which brings us to Kate's family: a family of six children, a scientist… click here to read whole article and make comments


Another great Spinelli story: Crash

Crash Coogan is cool. He's the star of the school football team... and he's a bully.

Penn Webb is small and weedy. Penn Webb hates violence; he's a ‘Peace' badge wearing vegetarian. Crash and Penn are not destined to get along.

In all the action, the conversation, and even in his few backfiring attempts to show-off, Crash always manages to be on top.

From the day Penn moves into the neighbourhood, Crash torments him mercilessly. But no humiliation seems to bring Penn down. Crash is intrigued. The question slowly dawns on him: could it be that in some way Penn is actually stronger than he is?

Spinelli is a master of books about character. In the selfish and conceited preoccupations of this kid's life, Spinelli finds those hidden inklings of humanity which can grow into extraordinary strength and greatness.

He draws out Crash's insecurities and almost undetectably heals them… click here to read whole article and make comments


The Everest Series

This series tells the story of a group of teenage mountain climbers who try to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. Their team is sponsored by a private company looking for publicity and is led by a group of adults, none of whom appear psychologically sound. While the descriptions of mountain climbing may be accurate, the plot itself is completely unrealistic, (starting with the question, "What parent in his/her right mind would send a thirteen-year-old half way around the world, with strangers, to climb the highest mountain on earth?!").

That said, the books should appeal to children, especially boys. There is adventure and suspense. The hero of the story, thirteen-year-old Dominic, manages to perform feats that most adults would not attempt, including a risky rescue of experienced climbers. However, it is not evident until the end of the third book that he will reach the summit of the mountain. Dominic is perhaps the only truly "normal" character… click here to read whole article and make comments


The Garbage King

Mamo is a poor orphan, left to fend for himself when his mother dies. Dano is the clumsy son of a well-to-do businessman who runs away rather than be sent far away to a strict tutor. They form an unexpected alliance while each is sleeping on the streets, and together they join a gang of streetboys, begging but not stealing. They each offer different talents to the group, which has a strict code of sharing whatever they get. Mamo becomes the Garbage King, expert at finding treasures on rubbish heaps; Dano writes stories which the others sell for a few coins. Each becomes more and more accustomed to this way of life until Dano's father finds him.

The story manages to blend the harsh situation of those forced to live and sleep on the streets with a sense of comradeship and how to make the best of a situation without resorting to crime. When one of the… click here to read whole article and make comments


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