The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

Published: 3rd July 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
University of Queensland Press
Pages: 180
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Olive’s father has a sadness so big that she imagines it as an enormous elephant following him around. Every day Olive sees the elephant, and every day she wishes it would go.

With the help of Grandad and her best friend, Arthur, Olive sets out to chase the elephant away.

Just reading the blurb of this book made me instantly want to start reading it. It’s the story of a girl called Olive who lives with her dad and the elephant that follows him around. Olive is tired of seeing the looming elephant near her father, she is tired of seeing how it affects him and how it makes him forget about her.

I loved seeing how Carnavas explores Olive’s different relationships. I loved seeing her interact with her grandad, how he treats her and takes her on special adventures. I also actually really loved when Olive tries to be with her father. She’s always hopeful, always trying to get him to see her through the elephant.

There was one part that I thought really summed up the experience of depression and grief very well: “[Olive] longed to share it all…In the end, she said nothing because her father would never listen – really listen – with the elephant beside him.” I felt that this part portrayed the relationship Olive and her dad have. He doesn’t ignore her; he just can’t be there in his entirety for her because his sadness is too great, it overwhelms him.

This book is ideal for kids who need help understanding depression or how grief can affect the people around them. This isn’t a book that explains what depression or grief is or how it is treated, it doesn’t explicitly try to be either, but it is a story about a girl who lives with a dad who is sad all the time and can’t always be there for her.

There are some beautiful moments in this story and there’s a lot of wonderful surprises as well. I love Olive’s imagination and her creative mind, and I love Carnavas’ illustrations that fill this special book.

You can purchase The Elephant via the following

Dymocks | Booktopia | Publisher

Amazon | Fishpond

Book Depository | QBD | BookWorld

Advertisements

Timothy Other: The Boy Who Climbed Marzipan Mountain by L. Sydney Abel

Published: 2nd October 2014Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Solstice Publishing
Pages: 354
Format: Ebook
Genre: Junior Fiction/Young Adult
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

12 year-old adventurer, the intriguingly named Timothy Other, escapes the Dreams and Hopes Orphanage and travels to the bizarre world of Marzipan Mountain, where he befriends some amazing creatures.

With the help of his friends, Timothy seeks to discover his true origins and returns to the Orphanage. He becomes embroiled in a matter of life and death and faces the evil forces that crave the secret of ‘Golden Life’.

He becomes embroiled in a matter of life and death and faces the evil forces that crave the secret of ‘Golden Life’.

Note: I was provided with a copy of this book from the author for review.

From a captivating and really sweet beginning this story turns into one that is filled with adventure, puzzles and mysteries, and a lot of other elements that are a combination of magical, bizarre, and delightful.

The narrative is interesting, it is cryptic and elusive, with tiny tit bits dropped throughout that pique your interest. The tone is light and casual, conversational almost like that of a storyteller, but it soon settles into an almost regular narrative style while still maintaining its deliberate style. There are also multiple points of view which allow an understanding of all angles and character intentions, both good and bad, and Abel makes use of these nicely to propel the story along.

There is just enough character depth and explanations to make the situations believable and the events make sense. Timothy goes off on a spontaneous adventure and is quite accepting of the strange and bizarre things that follow, but there are brief explanations that justify what happens which doesn’t make it too farfetched, and the mindset and justifications of a twelve-year-old can account for a lot of things.

Timothy is a decent main character, he is a bit snappish and he likes to tease and bicker seemingly out of the blue, plus he is slightly intolerable, all of which was a little strange but if you remind yourself he is only twelve then it does help explain his behaviour.

Other characters are interesting, unique in their own way, and a mix of quirky, eccentric, and strange with a few stereotypical figures like jolly cooks and maternal housekeepers, but Abel has them in a place that suits them, and makes it a nice environment. There are some darker characters who are not just mean but a tad threatening, but there is restraint in their behaviour and while the actions can be quite dark, Abel doesn’t make it too disturbing.

Plot wise there were a few odd things that were explained strangely or just accepted, even with a magical reasoning. Though this does add to the quirky and mysterious nature of the story, and while it feels like a few things haven’t been answered as much as you’d like, it doesn’t affect the story too much. Where the story shines is towards the end when after all the dropped hints and secrets and puzzles Abel does a great job of bring the story to a close, solving many of the riddles and offering wonderful surprises while still hinting at further adventures.

I wouldn’t call this a Young Adult book; it is more down the Junior Fiction 10-13 year old bracket, though admittedly not unenjoyable for older readers. There is adventure and mystery, with fantasy mixed in but there is also a sweet story as well. There is a slight paranormal element but it is pleasant rather than scary, and coupled with the magical and fantasy components it works really well.

Overall it is nice, complex and delightfully cryptic with secrets to reveal and a fun bunch of characters in a detailed but not over the top adventure story.

 You can purchase Timothy Other via the following

Amazon

Amazon Aust

Amazon UK

Lycanthor the Werewolf (The Dragon Fyre Blade #1) by Aiden Storm

Published: 1 July 2014
Publisher: Dreaming Empire
Pages: 71
Format: ebook
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★  – 3 Stars

Note: I was provided a copy for review

Thirteen year old Jack is spending the summer at his Aunt’s house in the country. Unfortunately, it’s done nothing but rain and he’s stuck in her old mansion without cable or internet. Bored and alone, he sets out to explore the house. When he reaches the attic, he finds an intricate and unusual mural painted on the walls. Life for Jack gets turned upside down when he stumbles and is transported through a portal into a magical world. 

914ldY8Ar9L._AA1500_For Jasyra, the daughter of the High King, life couldn’t be worse. Her father has been turned to glass, her kingdom has been taken over by the Demon Emperor, and she and her friend, Evooku, have been exiled. The only way to save the land is to reassemble the Dragon Fyre Blade, but the Demon Emperor has hidden all six pieces and each is guarded by great mythical beasts. There is only one person who can help restore peace, but it has been said that he is not of their land. 

When Jack awakens in the Great Forest of Karandur, he encounters Jasyra and Evooku. He discovers the only way home is to band together to fight the evil Lycanthor, a giant werewolf that guards a piece of the Dragon Fyre Blade. But first they have to make it through an enchanted land full of danger. 

The Queen of Light appears to Jack and delivers a gift, as well as a revelation. He, Jasyra and Evooku form an unlikely friendship along the way and lasting bonds are made when they realize they are Karandur’s only hope. Will the trio be able to defeat Lycanthor and save the kingdom from an eternity of despair?

Lycanthor the Werewolf is the first book in the Dragon Fyre Blade series and tells the story of Jack, a thirteen year old who has found himself in the magical realm of Karandur and must help save the kingdom from the Demon Emperor who has taken control of the land. The story that Storm has presented is interesting and has some great action throughout the story. It has the potential to be a great series but while the story itself was engaging there were some things missing and I felt it lacked the well rounded introduction not just a new land, but to the characters as well.

One of the things I noticed was that for some reason I kept forgetting Jack was supposed to be thirteen, I kept imagining him as younger. I don’t know why, perhaps it was the way he spoke, or how he thought; it didn’t have the voice of a thirteen year old. But I think this was due to the fact that there wasn’t a lot of depth to Jack’s character, or to the others really. There is a lot about the other characters we don’t know, and while Storm provides a little character detail for Jack and Jasyra, we know nothing about Evooku aside from a physical description. Being the first of six books there is a chance that more information will be revealed about these characters, but being a first introduction it seems odd that a little more wasn’t explained to Jack or to the reader, especially about Evooku who is a key character. Understandably, plot wise Jack does arrive in the middle of a quest as it were, but I felt he didn’t ask enough questions. And even though he has a revelation and understands more when he meets the Queen of Light, the readers are still left in the dark about certain things.

Aside from that the story is good, I actually liked how Jack came into the middle of Jasyra’s quest as they were hunting for the blade as it means there is action almost immediately, it follows on well from the prologue. The narrative focuses on a small period of time but makes good use of it, especially with the events that occur. Jack gets thrown into the world at a crucial moment and there is no time initially to stop and take it in and as a result we get to see him think on his feet quite well. Jasyra is also a good character; she is strong and determined and is the person who provides us with a little more information about their mission. Her attitude to Jack is one that starts off harsh but softens as the story goes on. I liked her because she has a clear goal in mind, and while Jack seems to have arrived and interrupted, she is not going to let him ruin her plans and she puts him to work almost instantly to help. Jack’s role in this quest is interesting. How he helps initially is based on the orders he gets and doesn’t come across as a prophesised saviour per se, but you can see hints of it develop as the story goes on, even if it is only slightly, and he soon comes into his own as they hunt down Lycanthor.

With his aunt’s mural being the link between worlds it is clear that Jack is the destined hero the kingdom is after, but this element is not really addressed once Jack is in Karandur. Before he lands in the world there is a great and very detailed description of the mural that creates a great image in your mind, but I would have liked a little bit more focus on the house and what the connection  was (if any) between it and Karandur. That may have been a personal issue though and you do get caught up in the story quite quickly to really get to think about it. Hopefully this is something that is addressed in later books though because it could be an interesting addition.

Overall the narrative itself is interesting, and I thought the writing style was suitable for the intended audience and the characters were intriguing. And aside from feeling a little let down by the lack of information in parts and some unanswered questions the story was still engaging and enjoyable to read. There is definitely the start of a good series here, one that Storm will hopefully continue to expand and develop on further as we follow these characters in finishing off their quest to save the kingdom.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming

Birthday

Today marks the 106th birthday of author Ian Fleming, best known for his novels turned movies about 007 spy James Bond. However, writing novels is not how Fleming started out. Born in 1908, Fleming was the second of four bothers to parents Valentine and Eve. Valentine was a Member of Parliment for Henley in London and they lived in the wealthy district of Mayfair. Just before Fleming’s ninth birthday his father was killed in the First World War, and family friend and fellow officer, Winston Churchill wrote the obituary.

Fleming had a range of jobs, he attempted a career in the army, failing his officer’s exam and his attempt to get into the Foreign Office, he instead joined the Reuters news agency. It was here he learnt the basics of journalism and relished in reporting on the espionage trial in Russia. He left this position and worked in a bank in London before moving onto a stockbroker company. He soon changed jobs again and became, unexpectedly, the personal assistant to the Director of the Naval Intelligence, a job that transformed his life.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royal, was written in 1953, with one being released every year afterwards until 1966. Fleming had a major impact on British culture and there is a lot written about him. I could spent forever discussing all the things he did, especially about James Bond, so instead I suggest you check out the superb official website. Here you will find video, details information about Fleming’s life, his creation of the Bond novels, as well as his literary career, family, and even trivia.

Fleming is the kind of author I know of, but know little about aside from what he wrote. I have not read any of the James Bond novels, and I do not feel qualified to discuss them but there has been so much written about them it is worth looking up to find about the themes, ideas, and style through Flemings many books. I have however, read Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

I’m not sure how many people know that the creator of the suave spy James Bond is also the creator of the magical flying car that was turned into a wonderful movie with Dick Van Dyke but this little story is one that continues to delight. Three additions to the series were added by Frank Cottrell Boyce that carries on the magical adventures of the car, each having a new adventure and going new places..

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a story created for Fleming’s son Caspar. In 1962 when Dr. No was being turned into a film, Fleming suffered a heart attack and was under orders not to work, instead he hand wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the story of adventures with a family and their magical car.

 

Exciting Bits and Pieces

Website
More about Ian Fleming
James Bond
Fun Facts

Published: 22 October 19643349b-goodreads-button
Publisher: 
Puffin
Pages: 
113
Format: 
Book
Genre: 
Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   – 4 Stars

“Crackpot” is what everybody calls the Pott family. So when they go to buy a new car and come back with a wreck, nobody is surprised. Except for the Potts themselves. First, the car has a name. And she tells them what it is. Then they find out that she can fly. And swim…Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a car on a mission to stop a criminal gang in its tracks — and she is taking the Potts with her!

 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang follows the story of a car and the Pott family. Comander Caractacus Pott is an inventor, husband to Mimsie Pott and father to two twin children Jeremy and Jemima. After selling his whistle-like sweets to a sweets factory owned by Lord Skrumshus, Commander Pott buys and renovates an old car. At first the car is just big, impressive and powerful, but the Pott family soon learn that the car is alive, and just a little bit magical.

This was something I enjoyed because unlike the movie version it is made clear that Chitty herself is alive, not that Pott made her special. Chitty initiates all her magical elements such as flying, and floating through various scenarios in the book, not all extraordinary circumstances either. She indicates to Pott which buttons need pushing and what levers need pulling and marvellous things happen.

After a mishap at a family outing the Pott family end up in France where their adventures really kick off. I can’t say many of my family outings included dynamite and blowing up criminal hideouts, but then again what the British did in their free time is not my concern.

Some parts of the plot are actually really interesting and well written. Being a true Fleming story there are marvellous cars and technology, danger, gangsters, and thrilling plots galore. It is definitely an intriguing read and one that you can tell has come from the mind of the great James Bond creator. There is a great story here if you accept some of its peculiarities and absurdness. I understand this is supposed to be a children’s book of magic and adventure but you can’t ignore that some parts are slightly silly. The fact that the Pott family thought they could just blow up a part of the French cliffs and nobody will make a fuss, “Probably even give us medals” I recall Mr Pott saying, made me smile. Nothing like a good old British stab at the French. And the proximity of small children to dynamite was an interesting turn, but being the 60s and from the mind of Fleming it just adds to the excitement.

Having grown up on the film I enjoyed seeing the Pott family as a whole unit, and Commander Potts as quirky but competent. The key here, as with most children’s books, or any books really, is don’t expect them to be exactly like the film. Characters are added, removed, all in the name of storytelling. Unlike in the film, there is a Mrs Pott in the book, which immediately rules out the chance of a romance occurring for dear Mr Pott with the Skrumshus daughter (who is also absent). They always seem to break up the families, either for pity or for love interest when these movies are made, the same thing happened with Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory if I recall.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a relatively short book, definitely an easy read, and one that has and will continue to delight. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series by Frank Cottrell Boyce, and I am not entirely sure I want to. I am quite happy to enjoy Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as a standalone book, but who knows, one day I may stumble across the others and give them a go. As I say, don’t come looking to this book thinking it is like the movie, aside from some vague similarities in the beginning the rest is not the same at all and in its own right it is just as good.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Published: September 30th 2008
Goodreads badgePublisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 289
Format: Book
Genre: Junior Fiction/Fantasy
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars 

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard. But it is in the land of the living that real danger lurks for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

Sometimes there are five star books that change your world and make you cry and move you so much you think nothing could ever be compared to it. Then there are other five star books like this that are just so so well written, not always complicated or deep, but just with such beauty and honesty and with characters that are so amazing and sincere and complicated that you fall in love with them immediately. You get absorbed into their story and their life and while there aren’t life changing moments or anything too grand that makes you get overly excited, you just get attached in the beauty of the basics and a good, proper, well written story. And if that experience is going to happen to you then it is definitely going to happen with one of Neil Gaiman’s. This type of reaction isn’t limited to Gaiman or The Graveyard Book, there have been many books that have such complex simplicities that they are just wonderful reads without needing to be grand, but it is especially wonderful when it is compacted into a supposedly simple “children’s book”.

The Graveyard Book opens with a few different perspectives given; including a very clever second person point of view from the baby which blends back into third person seamlessly, and it is also a rather dark start but one that doesn’t address or dwell too much on the darker elements. We start almost in the middle of a scene with the man Jack, one we get almost no explanation for and as story unfolds we are thrust into this strange set of circumstances and we are introduced to the graveyard and a few residents through the events that unfold.

While the beginning is slightly dark and strange and…not confusing but with a few omissions that make you feel like you’re missing something, it actually fills in nicely as it starts to fall into place. What was great about this story is that we are shown not told in many instances and scenes and characters are brought to life (no pun intended) allowing you to capture each character and who they are not just from how their described, but how they are portrayed in their actions. Gaiman tells us a lot about his characters through their actions and how others see them which in turn reflect how they are seen by us.

Adopted baby Bod’s life in the graveyard is aided by his new ghost parents Mr and Mrs Owens as well as Bod’s guardian, Silas, who looks out for Bod and provides for him where the other ghosts cannot. Bod loves his parents certainly, but Silas is someone he looks up to and reveres. The admiration small children can have for an adult is truly wonderful and Gaiman captures it well. Silas is someone who Bod admires for his skills, his knowledge, his secrets, and he is someone in Bod’s life that he never wants to let down or disappoint. Their relationship is one of the highlights in the story, and while Bod’s view shifts as he gets older, it never strays far from the wonder and admiration he had a child.

So much of Bod’s story is written beautifully, not just the events he experiences but as a person. As a character he is very confident, he speaks his mind, and he speaks wisdom far above his age. He is a smart kid considering how he has been raised, he has a great manner and he deals with people and conflict well. He offers lessons to readers as well as those around him, and he isn’t afraid to stand up for what he feels is right or what he wants.

Bod grows up through the chapters and often as they change we have moved forward in time. The story does move away from Bod’s life on occasion and we’re shown other events away from the graveyard. These extras allow for story progression and occasionally provide additional information but we mainly follow Bod through his life. You see his life in the graveyard and you see the adventurous and amazing experiences he has there as well as watching him learn about the world around him and the ways of the graveyard. You also see his occasional struggle as he desires to escape and venture into the world beyond the graveyard gates. These moments are when we see the great character in Bod and how even when things are not going well, his emotions and nature shines through excellently.

As a human he does well in his constricted world. There is a point at the start where you think there shall be limitations but Gaiman works it through wonderfully. We do not get the full history of Bod’s circumstances straight away but that isn’t a problem. As you read you get involved in what is happening that you forget that there is a reason Bod is living in the graveyard, you get caught up in his little life and you forget that someone is hunting him.

In terms of the “threat” I have read some criticism about the man Jack and his reason for hunting Bod, and without giving anything away I think that the reasoning suits the story and intended audience well, it is actually rather clever and very well done. When it is revealed, Gaiman writes about it and surrounding events brilliantly, it is clever and mysterious and you have no idea what is going to happen and it is a great moment of suspense to read. That is not the problem though, the issue I think people see is the overall reason why it happened, whether they feel it is too basic, perhaps, but given the intended audience it is ample. Besides a lot is implied through other aspects to warrant the reader to figure out what the man Jack is part of and who he is. But what I take from this is that we are not there to necessarily follow the man Jack, we are there for Bod and Bod’s life. Yes his life is as a result of the man Jack and it is an ongoing problem, but we aren’t pulled along by the mystery of the man Jack, we are pulled along by Bod and really it is all you need. I think that even if we knew the reason from the first page I believe we could have the same story and it would be just as exquisite.

It took me a couple of chapters to realise that Bod has appeared before. Last year I read M is for Magic by Gaiman and it was an excellent book, ten short stories that were all wonderful and sad and haunting. As I read The Graveyard Book and I realises that our dear Bod is none other than the delightful Bod who appeared in one of those short stories. I remember how much that short story unsettled me and was just so sweet but eerie, and now that it has been turned into a complete book made the whole experience better and it is a truly amazing story. The ending alone is wonderful, and probably works so well because it has been built up brilliantly beforehand with each of the characters and their lives.

The way Gaiman ends this story is wonderful, absolutely heartbreaking and beautiful and just perfect, it was the right way to finish the story I think. There are different avenues Gaiman could have taken but he didn’t, and there is an excellent feeling as you finish the book of sadness and happiness and hope. In a way it is almost a sense of ambivalence, but it is also rather bittersweet and it stays with you even after you’ve finished. All the excellent things books should make you feel.

Previous Older Entries