Summer Reading: a few reviews

Summer holidays allows me time to relax and read. I have a few reading challenges from my GoodReads groups that I can get ahead on before I have to go back to work. A few of the books I have enjoyed reading are as follows:

Pick Your Poison (Ruby Redfort, #5)

Pick Your Poison by Lauren Child
This is another intriguing instalment to the light-hearted spy novels that make up the Ruby Redfort series. It can be read as a stand-alone as although, references previous stories, it fills in the gaps for the reader. (This may make these books less suspenseful if a reader wants to go back to read them for the first time.) The story this time picks up seven months after ruby has joined Spectrum. There are all the scrapes and capers you expect from Ruby. She remains rebellious and although has some risky run-ins with numerous villains, she is starting to consider the risks before she jumps in. Ruby remains troubled by the idea that there might be a mole in Spectrum and this storyline is developed further. Hitch has only a small part in this story and there is a lot more of best friend Clancy, who is becoming more resourceful.
There are again codes to crack and an explanation about them at the end of the book, this time they involve tesseracts and four-dimensional shapes being  coverted into 2D drawings.
The fifth Ruby Redfort book will not disappoint fans with plenty of mystery, suspense and humour and is a great novel for young readers.

The Spy of VeniceThe Spy of Venice by Benet Brandreth 

Fun to read. Is this really what Shakespeare was doing in his “lost years”?

The novel is a speculation about what Shakespeare might have done in the years where there is no historical record about him. It also seeks to explain why he knows so much about Italy.
The historical context is interesting. It is set in the time when protestant, Elizabethan England needed allies as she was up against a powerful Catholic Spain and the Pope.
William Shakespeare has to leave his home in Stratford and ends up with a troupe of itinerant actors in London. From here, he and the others in the troupe are mixed up with spies and intrigue, as they become part of a group who are sent to Venice. The city at this time was autonomous from Rome, centred on trade and very powerful in its own right. Elizabeth’s England needed all the support it could get from other protestant centres but negotiations were always delicate and Will and his fellow actors stumble about before they finally start to realise the stakes and actions that the powerful entities will take to make sure they achieve the best deal for themselves.

VoidVoid by David Staniforth
This is a mystery thriller that has an added layer with the psychological tension of the main protagonist (Tom) waking up in a freeing car with complete loss of memory. A journal, left in the car with him, slowly reveals some of his backstory to him and it explains that he, himself, wrote it. It pans out that, for one week each January, this exact same thing happens to him. The journal also reveals that the first twenty years of his life are a mystery. The journey that Tom takes to uncover who he is, what he has done and where he belongs forms the story. There is a fear of the unknown, combined with vague hints about some possible wrong-doing, that keeps the reader interested until the end.

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Book Review: Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

I had the chance to read a few novels over the past 2 weeks and especially enjoyed the newest addition to the Wells and Wong series. These books are a great read for girls who enjoy the crime genre with the added bonus of the Boarding house life (so no annoying adults to stifle the protagonists adventures.)

Jolly Foul Play (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery, #4)Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another delightful tale about our two young detectives, Daisy and Hazel, who again have to deal with another murder in their school Deepdene, a year after their first investigation. This is the fourth book in the Wells and Wong series by Robin Stevens .
In this classic whodunit mystery set in the 1930’s, Elizabeth, a mean-spirited Head Girl has been found dead next to the bonfire on the fireworks night at Deepdean School for Girls. Although the teachers think that it was an accident, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong, aka The Detective Society, immediately see that it she was murdered and get on to the case.
This year’s Head Girl Elizabeth Hurst, who together with her team of prefects, the Big Girls, loved to terrorise the younger students, seemed to have been in possession of other students secrets and was especially fond of using them to leverage her power. After Elizabeth’s death, some may have felt safe but then the secrets of Deepdean start to surface, one at a time, written in pieces of paper and spread all around the grounds. The plot revolves around these secrets and the consequences that occur once they are revealed. Many friendships and loyalties are tested and Kitty, Beanie and Lavinia, the other girls from Daisy and Hazel’s dormitory, have bigger roles to play in solving the crime this time.
As usual the book is packed with red-herrings and suspicious behaviour. There were the twists and turns as the loyalties between the girls is tested. Silly small things blew up into major arguments and jealousies raged at times but the determination and spirit in this English boarding school overcame them in the end when the clues finally dropped into place and the danger was successfully alleviated.
This story was a good romp, complete with bun breaks, midnight feasts, gym-knickers, hockey sticks, and other “jolly japes”. The narrative has an excellent pace, likeable characters and seems right for the period, with several references to what is happening beyond the Deepdean world. Modern language is used with occasional period words, explained in the glossary at the end, thrown in for effect so younger readers can easily relate to the character and events.
There were occasionally references to previous adventures but nothing that gets in the way of the story for a new reader. Anything important from the past was explained as events unfolded in the story. A great addition to the series and the genre.

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Young Sherlock Holmes

I have just finished reading the first in the Young Sherlock Holmes series Death Cloud by Andrew Lane. I have always loved the Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and have also collected all the movie and television adaptations over the years.

This first in a new series of books is a good adventure story set in Victorian England. It does not matter if you have not read Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, this one works fine on its own.
Death Cloud is a fast-paced, interesting and easy to read story that should appeal to many YA readers. We have a unit on the crime genre and I have converted a few boys into Sherlock Holmes readers. This story and the other stories I have been reading recently, the Tim Pigott-Smith stories about the Baker Street Irregulars (First mentioned by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Study In Scarlet) are a good addition to the Sherlock Holmes section of the library.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
 
 
 

 

Stephen Sewell (Animal Kingdom) podcast

Another interesting podcast from the Radio National BookShow. This is a discussion with writer Stephen Sewell. 

Stephen Sewell is best known as a prolific Australian playwright and screenwriter. He has recently had a novel published by Pan Macmillan. It is based on the film, of the same name, Animal Kingdom directed by David Michod. Stephen Sewell briefly touches on his entry into the playwriting field and then goes on to discuss the reasons for his change of  writing direction and why he decided to write this novel. It is an interesting discussion about the setting and the characters and how he recognised them and the approach to writing about them. 

It’s unusual in the Australian scene for a novel to follow the film but not unknown elsewhere, particularly in the US. Stephen Sewell’s Animal Kingdom is the story of revenge in a criminal family, the Codys, and it’s told through the character of 17-year-old Jay Cody, appalled by the family violence but inevitably affected by it and finally trapped by it. Stephen Sewell’s second novel, Babylon, is due out later this year.

Many boys at our school watched the movie as well as being fans of the Underbelly Tv series. There has been a lot of discussion and criticism about the glamourization of criminals and the underworld they live in. Stephen Sewell, who has often portrayed a grittier side of life, is articulate and thoughtful in his discourse.

 

Young Sherlock Holmes – coming soon

In the beginning there was Arthur Conan Doyle and his original detective and the many reprints that followed.

Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle

If you have read this blog before you will know that I have been involved in presenting the crime fiction genre to our year 8 students. Sherlock Holmes is one of the major authors I talk about when we are looking at the history and development of the crime novel.

The popularity of the Sherlock Holmes stories continues still. There are other authors who are also fans and have tried their hand at writing stories that involve this great literary character. Some of the stories, by other authors, involving Sherlock Holmes include  Caleb Carr and Laurie R. King and her Mary Russell Holmes stories.

sherlockholmes-paget

There have also been many screen adaptations, including Young Sherlock Holmes. This was followed by Anthony Read’s  Baker Street Boys(books that our boys have started to enjoy  and a tv series that we haven’t seen) and Enola (Enola Holmes being the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes and Mycroft Holmes and the protagonist of a series by Nancy Springer).

Guardian article reports that the publisher Macmillan has revealed they will release a series of adventures about a young Sherlock Holmes The tales of teenage detective hope to imitate success of Charlie Higson’s bestselling Young Bond series. These books have been very popular with our students, along with other young spies series, examples of some are the  Alex Rider series(Stormbreaker), Cherub series, The Boy Soldier series (McNab) and Alpha Force series (Ryan)

The estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has authorised a series of books detailing the life of the teenage Sherlock Holmes, which will see the budding detective falling in love for the first time, learning the deductive skills that serve him so well in his adult life, and making the acquaintance of a certain Dr Watson.

and

Starting at age 14 and tracing Holmes’s life at school and then at university, the books will be written by author Andrew Lane – a self-confessed “super-fan” who has a collection of over 100 Holmes-related books – kicking off with a case referenced but never explained by Conan Doyle, The Colossal Schemes of Baron Maupertius. This will see Holmes, who is sent to stay with relatives in Surrey after his soldier father is unexpectedly posted to India, uncovering a series of murders.

The series, to be published by Macmillan Children’s Booksfrom spring 2010, will end with Holmes meeting Watson in the laboratories at St Barts Hospital in London.

So they have decided, if it’s good enough (successful) for Young Bond then why not Sherlock Holmes?

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Crime fiction

crime-fictionI have been enjoying talking to the students about crime fiction. Many of our staff are avid fans and we have a very good collection in our library. Instead of the whole year level studying the one class novel, the boys may choose any crime novel that interests them. This has meant that there is a lot of choice and this is not easy for some (too much choice).

Many of course say they don’t read  or don’t know much about crime but many of them also watch crime shows on television. When I have discussed the some basic stereotypical formulae that crime fiction follows, and the boys compare these to the tv crime shows, they begin to understand.

Some of the teachers are also going to have the boys create a book trailer for their crime novels, intead of a written piece/book review. This follows on from the work that a small group of students did last year. The crime novel is an ideal book for a book trailer. The assessment rubric  is ready for them and we can show the students examples of some of last year’s work as well as some of the more “professional” ones.

Some of the student videos: I am having trouble loading this on tonight

On TeacherTube: Nemesis Video and Cherub (the General) trailer

 I also want to show some classic trailers from the world of film. I was looking up the old b&w trailers from Hitchcock’s films (still some of the best examples of suspense) and came across the clip below.

The Airplane scene (WOW Version) [World of Warcraft]

and the true one

Many of the boys watch/know about the World of Warcraft and Scrubs so it appeals.