September 2007 Archives

The Bad Spy's Guide

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Pete Johnson
Corgi Yearling
May 2007
Marginalised from her peers by consequence of her ardent interest in spies, Tasha falls easy prey to Henry, the new boy who, after a confusion of notebooks, reveals himself to be operating on behalf of a secret governmental organisation. Having succeeded in securing Tasha�s confidence, Henry uses her bedroom as a vantage point for surveillance on his alleged mission.

Fans of Pete Johnson�s work will neithbe neither surprised nor disappointed to learn that he has penned no ordinary teenage spy novel. Henry has a secret concerning his father and indiscretions from his past that have been manipulated to secure self-interest. Henry is now determined to reveal the truth and with a similar deftly, Johnson sows the seeds of his story with just the right precision to keep readers edging ever closer, but never quite guessing the truth behind this twisting, turning story. Fiendishly cunning and cleverly observed, Pete Johnson brings fresh flavour and gives food for thought to the common staple of the teen spy novel

The Iron, The Switch and The Broomcupboard

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Michael Lawrence
Orchard Books
Jul 2007
Exploration of the effects of chance and caprice feels familiar territory to Michael Lawrence. Following on from consideration that is firmly rooted in the philosophical consequences of the decisions and choices we each of us play out in �The Aldous Lexicon�, Lawrence writes with a humorous frivolity that is immediately accessible and, at points, feels to be reaction against the depths and intricacies of �The Underwood See�.

Back for his ninth adventure, the hapless Jiggy McCue finds himself transported to a parallel world in which he becomes divorced from his familiar motley crew of musketeers. In itself, this highlights Lawrence�s aptitude for revealing the inner-workings and mechanics of group friendships, social interaction and communal thoughts and actions � an understanding that places his series alongside stalwarts of children�s literature, Nesbit and Blyton, who showed similar awareness and ability to convey this effectually through unembellished, fast-moving prose style.

Literary influences figure highly in Michael Lawrence�s body of work, as he quite correctly asserts in his preface, this is not done �slavishly� here, but rather creates parallels that are parodied � and sometimes ridiculed(!) � adding to the jovial nature of the predicaments Jiggy encounters.

Cleverly interweaving details and character facets from the previous books in the series, this is absurdist humour at its unequivocal best � belly laughs abound in this rib-tickled read!

Too Ghoul for School: Terror in Cubicle Four

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B. Strange
May 2007
St Sebastian�s School in Grimesford had the misfortune to be built upon a Mediaeval plague pit. Throughout the series, a veritable medley of ghosts and ghouls manifest themselves within the school and, in this, the first book, it is the girl�s toilets that is the primary target.

Choice of the plague as a colourful backdrop for the novel betrays a pedestrian storyline and prose style that relies largely upon stereotype and sweeping generalisation as to the tastes and �truths� of childhood. Eclipsing the novel is the story of its production. This is the first of several series in Egmont�s cynical �2Heads� imprint, which sees children consulted over the contents of the list.

Reliant upon the notion of a set of �universal� truths that are somehow applicable to all children and are made available through consultation with a select group, consultation is located firmly within the contemporary preoccupation that active engagement in the arts is possible without tutelage or awareness of the field. A necessary lack of experience and restricted reading base become limitations that seriously impinge upon the imaginative scope available to writers, necessitating that the ways reading is able widen our windows onto the world and our sense of perspective and understanding. Reading at its widest and most liberated instead becomes substituted for that which is already known and has been experienced. It becomes a process of less than enviable recirculation�

The self-flagellating approach that children should be consulted with all that concerns them, limits the choices and opportunities available, only to those which are readily within a said �child�s� field of experience. It is invariably difficult to rise above the mundane with something that is lasting and likely to make an impression. �Terror in Cubicle Four� lacks the characterisation and emotional base that make it possible to empathise and understand.

Production values are low, illustrations by Pulsar Studios bear little relation to the text � the tentacle described on page twenty-three is visualised as a distinct creature, a nematode of sorts and the choice of illustration feels arbitrary and often poorly orchestrated.

Our approach to writing, publishing and making reading material readily available for children is seriously jeopardised when reticence over �adult� involvement is made whether that be instigated through commercial or egalitarian motivations�

The Trouble with Wenlocks

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Joel Stewart
Jul 2007
��What we saw there,� said Dr M, �was an inside thing. Something, a feeling or a fear, that belonged to that little boy. The Wenlock pulled it out and took it away.��

The highly innovative and imaginative illustrator Joel Stewart proves himself equally proficient at the pacing and plotting of fiction for young readers in �The Trouble with Wenlocks�. Travel on a train takes an unexpected turn when everyone slips into slumber save for Stanley Wells who experiences an apparition. This apparition is later revealed to have been a Wenlock, an ethereal being with the ability to remove fear and uncertainty.

With parents living apart, and voyages made between their respective home, Stanley has been the subject of great change. His train ride extends as a metaphor for the journey of his own life, one that he must travel, arriving at difficult decisions alone with regard to his outlook and intended destination...

Delightfully idiosyncratic and whimsical, Joel Stewart captures that sense of the surreal that accompanies feelings experienced for the first time. Caught, on the one hand, between the enigmatic Dr Moon's careful guidance and sage advice and, on the other, Joel Stewart's intriguing first novel, readers could not be in safer hands.

Unzipped: A Toolkit for Life

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Matt Whyman
Aug 2007
In �XY - a toolkit for life�, Matt Whyman achieved that rare balance of finding a chatty and informal voice and means for communicating information about puberty � the bits that everyone wants to know but that few feel comfortable in asking, or by turns in answering.

�Unzipped � a toolkit for life� is a welcome return of the winning format used previously but here updated for revised. Carefully interwoven firsthand experiences and the occasional joke prevent the book from becoming a diatribe of paternalistic guidance and advice diminishing the very real concerns that can accompany adolescence.

Written and designed with precision, many will feel as comfortable with reading this as with FHM, Loaded, Nuts or any of the other boorish magazines aimed at the young male market and further restricting popular constructions of masculinity through positing football, cars and sexual bigotry as the unique preserves of the male and denying all that is emotional or cerebral in content. Matt Whyman�s skill is in appropriating this style but through subtle awareness of the head of emotional steam that lies behind all as they encounter the transition from childhood to adulthood, paying tribute to the emotional concerns that lie beyond the front, a standpoint worthy of applause.

Worse than Boys

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Catherine MacPhail
Feb 2007
Pithy and packing a considerable punch to the solar-plexus, Catherine MacPhail�s latest novel explores gang mentalities and the often fickle sense of ethics and allegiance that accompany these. Coursing beneath this is an intricate network of character exposition and story strands that serve to stimulate much debate and consideration into social class and the status and stereotyping that is assumed around this.

Suffering a slight at the hands of the �Lip Gloss Girls� after having been accused of betraying her former best-friend, Erin, Hannah Driscoll feels isolated, ostracised and caught between her former gang and their rivals, the �Hell Cats�. In an abrupt � though totally convincing � plot turn, Hannah becomes accepted into the rival gang, allowing for the dynamics of group mentalities to be exposed and for a series of lively revelations as to the characteristics and motivations of both groups of girls to be played out against one another expertly.

As ever, Catherine MacPhail shows deftness of in having crafted a thoroughly readable and compelling novel that has a needle-point sharpness in its no-bars-held insight into the types of assumption and prejudice concerning the stigma and prejudiced expectations that arise concerning �class� both in educational and social settings.

Jack Stalwart: The Pursuit of the Ivory Poachers

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Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Red Fox
Apr 2007
Continuing his missions with the GPF (the Global Protection Force), and in so doing desperately seeking information concerning the current whereabouts of missing elder brother Max, Jack Stalwart is called to Kenya to protect the African Elephants which have been being slaughtered as part of elicit ivory trading.

Although sometimes overt in the narrative�s placement of moral and ethical standards, the story nonetheless makes for a fast-paced, action adventure that will doubtless find a legion of fans foremost of these are likely to be those who are savvy with the fast evolving worlds of gadget and computer aided technologies. With often exotic and far-flung locations, an increasingly enticing array of spy gadgetry and the promise of top-secret assignments, this series has enough hooks to capture the imaginations of even the most reluctant of readers�

Ivan the Terrible

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Anne Fine, ill. Philippe Dupasquier
Jun 2007
Greetings to all you lowly shivering worms

Assigned the task of looking after new pupil, Ivan, by headteacher Mrs Blaizely, Boris finds himself constantly trying to veil darkly threatening comments and a deliberate flouting of authority when translating his new class-mates comments from Russian into English for the benefit of teachers and pupils alike at the highly convivial St Edmund�s school. Throughout the course of the day, the problem escalates in magnitude, placing Boris into ever more cringe-worthy, difficult circumstances as he tries to meet and match Ivan�s menace with good manners.

Anne Fine�s trademark black humour is laced with a delicious sense of precision and of timing throughout the novel. As concurs with the author�s body of work per-se, however, underpinning this humour are keen observations as to the functionality of communication in modern life, the need for expressing one�s wants and desires across whatever boundaries we encounter in life � whether these be geographical or based around engaging with those from different ages or backgrounds to our own and a tendency for children�s voices to be marginalised alongside the egalitarian intents of those imbued with their education and wellbeing.

Publication of this admirable and compelling short novel is the flagship for Anne Fine�s revised and rejacketed backlist with Egmont books.