Book Reviews

Book Review #4: 'Stories to Read by Candlelight', by Jean Lorrain (translated by Patricia Worth). Ensorcellia, an imprint of Odyssey Books, 2019.

Synopsis:

The various eerie and whimsical tales included in this book cover a wide range of themes primarily centred around life in Paris during the 18th century. In particular, one thing is made clear to the reader regarding the chapters’ literary styles and use of flowery vocabulary; these tales are clearly designed to be read by candlelight to a listening audience as implied by the collection’s title. For example, when discussing the song about Marjolaine, in which she is whisked away upside-down by a tempest, the author remarks that she reminds him of the ‘beautiful, robust Norman women’ his grandmother used to mention. Without an adult reader to explain such terms a lot of the vocabulary employed in this book will likely go over the heads of young readers. Also, the distinctly French theme of settings and characters may not be as easily related to by audiences here in the UK or abroad. This came across as most striking when mention was made of ‘houses in the style of Louis XIII’ in describing the architecture. Along with advanced historical terminology there is also a fair amount of fantastical language employed in dealing with beings such as fairies or mean-spirited mice. However, despite the somewhat tricky language for young readers the stories themselves are intriguing.

The characters are often from aristocratic backgrounds and are shown in morbid or dire circumstances. One of the most memorable tales involves a Queen Maritorne appearing as an apparition to a young boy Wilhem; their interaction is described in a lot of detail and conveys his sense of dread quite well. There are also several elements of fantasy included throughout the stories, ranging from fairies to living tapestries. Altogether these historical and fictional elements mix well and end up developing into interesting scenarios. The narrative is generally focused on portraying characters themselves in detail rather than the surrounding environment. When read aloud as intended young readers will certainly find the tales amusing with a balanced level of spookiness for ages 5 through 10. This is one to save for a windy Halloween evening when the kids are in need of some ghost stories.

In order to break up the various chapters of this collection the author Jean Lorrain intersperses brief remarks about one Norine telling these stories to the author and his cousins in the linen rooms of the old spinsters’ accommodations at the time. This adds a personal touch to the stories themselves. Patricia Worth has also done an excellent job in translating the original French for English-speaking audiences; she has maintained an appropriate level of the eloquent vocabulary while also making it accessible. The stories are further supported by black and white silhouette-style art by Erin-Claire Barrow. Her illustrations are minimalist by design and supplement the stories well in their refined style (this book largely focuses on the French aristocracy after all). While this book would likely prove too difficult for young readers to go through by themselves it could definitely be narrated aloud to them with success. Older children between the ages of perhaps 5 through 10 would fare better with the language, but in either case having an adult to develop character voices and guide them through is recommended.

Strengths:

-A wide range of topics covered across the chapters.

-Striking artwork from Erin-Claire Barrow.

-Great use of imagery and conveying the environment to readers.

-Well suited to oral storytelling traditions (possible shadow puppetry?).

-Portrayal of French life and its cultural exposure for foreign audiences.

Areas for Improvement:

-Greater explanation of certain vocabulary for younger readers.

-Less focus on the interludes involving Norine and the author’s own reflections on the tales.

-Some of the chapters feel a bit abrupt and under-developed in contrast to others.

-Inclusion of other songs along the lines of ‘Marjolaine’ for improved stylistic balance.

Rating: 7/10 (adult) 6/10 (children 5+)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Stories-Read-Candlelight-Patricia-Worth-ebook/dp/B07Y2S5LN8
Published Works

Book Review #3: 'Moon and Me: The Little Seed', by Andrew Davenport. Scholastic Ltd., 2019.

Synopsis:

At first glance this book feels like a blend of the Pixar franchise ‘Toy Story’ with the classic tales surrounding the escapades of Jack and his magical beanstalk, both of which have come to inspire millions of young minds over the years. However, the past experience of author Andy Davenport, who is renowned for his creation of ‘Teletubbies’ and ‘In the Night Garden’, clearly adds a unique style to the adventures of Pepi Nana and her friends. This is also supported by excellent artwork by Mariko Umeda. In particular, there is one illustration showing Moon Baby flying down to Earth which young readers are sure to appreciate. To summarise the story itself without giving too much away, the character of the Moon narrates the light-hearted activities Pepi Nana and her other lively toy friends get up to togther. Also, onesie-clad Moon Baby receives an invitation to join them for tea and comes down to their toy house. After they play and make some arts and crafts out of tissue paper the group then hears the story of the ‘Little Seed’ from him. This part of the book tells of a giant beanstalk which the group climbs in order to talk with the giant flower upon its top named Lily Plant. After such an exhausting day playing together and hearing stories the various characters are read a lullaby and fall into a peaceful sleep.

The overall style of ‘Moon and Me’ consists of short and simple sentences suitable for toddlers alongside vibrant painted illustrations. The characters all have varying types of cute, cherubic faces while also displaying a range of different colours and body shapes. The numerous shades of blue applied throughout the book help to develop a tranquil setting and the perfect atmosphere for bedtime. Also, along with the lullaby entitled ‘Goodnight, Everybody’, a song which parents will no doubt find useful in helping their young children to fall asleep, there are several other songs included as well. The lyrics are easy to follow while families can construct their own tunes or melodies without too much difficulty. Furthermore, the section of the story involving arts and crafts using tissue paper is an excellent way to inspire the young reader to begin such projects on their own time. As this represents the first entry in a series which is being adapted for CBeebies named ‘Moon and Me: Storyland Adventures’ it lays a strong foundation for the years ahead. Between the colourful cast of characters, cute and accessible story, beautiful artwork and various included songs, Andy Davenport has created a bedtime story which is sure to please readers of all ages.

Strengths:

-Gorgeous artwork by Mariko Umeda.

-A fun and lively cast of characters, particularly Pepi Nana and Moon Baby themselves.

-Fun songs for parents and young readers alike.

-Accessible language for toddlers along with quirky vocabulary, eg. ‘tiddle, toddle’.

-Examples of making arts and crafts.

-An overall peaceful and very mellow atmosphere which is perfect for bedtime.

-A great foundation for future entries in the series.

Areas for Improvement:

-Young readers who are familiar with ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ may find it slightly unoriginal in the latter half.

-At times the rhyming scheme tends to feel a bit like it has been deliberately inserted rather than an integral part of the book’s style.

-Of the cast of characters only Pepi Nana, Moon Baby, Mr. Onion and Lily Plant have lines of any real importance. Colly Wobble, Lambkin and Sleepy Dibillo largely fade into the background. (As this is the first in a series there is plenty of room to flesh out the cast).

Rating: 8/10 (adult) 8.5/10 (young readers)

https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Little-Seed-Moon-Original-Story/dp/1407188526/ref=sr_1_24?keywords=moon+and+me&qid=1572956027&sr=8-24
Book Reviews

Book Review #2: 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator', by Roald Dahl. Alfred A. Knopf Ltd., 1972.

Synopsis:

The story of Charlie Bucket and Grandpa Joe exploring the vast myriad of wonders within the mysterious chocolate factory of Willy Wonka is a tale for the ages. Largely bolstered by a strong cinematic adaptation, starring Gene Wilder and later Johnny Depp as the eccentric candy lover, the events which unfold over the course of Charlie’s adventures are familiar to all Roald Dahl fans. From the ominous marching songs of the Oompa-Loompas to the trials of Augustus Gloop being sucked up into a processing tube, or Violet Beauregarde swelling into a giant blue balloon for that matter, the scenes depicted in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ are highly memorable. However, ask the majority of readers what they remember about its sequel ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ and you are very likely to be given the same repeated answer:

The Vermicious Knids.

These blob-like insatiable alien creatures are both the greatest strength and weakness to be found in this story. On the one hand, they are intriguing to the reader in the scale of their potential devastation and consumption of the human species. On the other hand, the other escapades which unfold on Space Station USA are largely forgotten by the reader at the expense of these terrible Knids. Grandma Georgina being reduced to the age of -2 through the use of ‘Wonka-Vite’ and the venture into Minusland both end up reduced to plot points of marginal importance. This isn’t to say that the story isn’t developed in the usual quirky fashion of Roald Dahl, or that the scenes aren’t interesting in their own right, simply that they are vastly outweighed by the impact of the Vermicious Knids upon the reader.

The book itself contains illustrations by Joseph Schindelman (later those of Quentin Blake in the Penguin Books editions) to support the story in the expected Roald Dahl fashion, and they do a good job of conveying the sense of wonder required. The general premise is essentially divided into two parts: First, Charlie and Grandpa Joe must find a way to solve the issue of the Knids having taken over Space Hotel USA in orbit around Earth. Second, upon returning to the Chocolate Factory they must find a way to restore Grandma Georgina to her original age following a debacle involving various Wonka potions. Although the first half is arguably more memorable, largely due to our little alien miscreants reminding us of the Doldrums from ‘The Phantom Tolbooth’ with less lethargy, the book as a whole is still worth reading with your children. The humourous application of both imagery and language which have become a staple of Dahl’s work are fully utilised here, and young readers are sure to enjoy the spacebound antics.

Strengths:

-Whimsical illustrations and use of sketches.

-Colourful language and names such as ‘Vermicious Knids’ or ‘Wonka-Vite’.

-A coherent plot which ties up its loose ends.

-A further look at the relationships between Charlie Bucket and his elderly family.

-Willy Wonka continues to show his love for all things bizarre.

Areas for Improvement:

-The story could be less fragmented into two very distinct thematic halves.

-A wider cast of interesting characters akin to the previous book.

-The political aspects of the story sometimes feel unnecessary or out of place.

-Even though the first part is the highlight, events at the hotel can feel rushed at times.

Rating: 7/10 (adult) 7.5/10 (young readers)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlie-Great-Glass-Elevator-Fiction/dp/0141365382/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=great+glass+elevator&qid=1572261215&sr=8-1
Book Reviews

Book Review #1: 'The Geat: The Story of Beowulf and Grendel', retold by John Harris. NotReallyBooks Ltd., 2007.

Synopsis:

The story of Beowulf is one of the most vital pieces of epic poetry in the English tongue. It has been translated into many languages based upon the original manuscript dating to the tenth and eleventh centuries AD. Covering a broad range of events in the style of Norse sagas or skalds, Beowulf is full of ribald bravado and heroic boasting. One can picture the warriors sitting around the hearth telling such tales, with their scale becoming more exagerated with each generation. While the original Nowell Codex gives a vivid description of such exciting adventures surrounding the Geat hero Beowulf, such as his great battle against the ‘monster’ Grendel, it can nonetheless be difficult to read for even the most dedicated fans. This is where John Harris attempts to portray the story in an amusing and accessible manner for all ages of reader. Thankfully, the illustrated book is a resounding success; the story is maintained at its core and the illustrations help to add a strong level of imagery for its audience. Tom Morgan-Jones is the illustrator behind such colourful pages and his work is worthy of praise. Their joint effort in creating this book has certainly paid off as the manner of writing and art both compliment one another beautifully.

Without giving too much of the plot away in this review, the story largely revolves around the escapades of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, and of the hero Beowulf. It is told in the third person perspective and utilises everyday language. While the target demographic is children and young readers, as demonstrated through its use of consistent illustrated panels, people of all ages will find it charming. Whether you are a parent reading the story to young children or an adult who simply has a passion for Norse or Old English literature, John Harris has created a version of Beowulf and Grendel which is suitable for everyone. What is arguably most impressive is his success in retaining the core elements of the tale: Unabashed pride, heroic courage, humour and a sense of underlying melancholy. ‘The Geat’ is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours with a cup of tea while listening to the rain tapping against your window sill, or curled up in a ‘pillow fort’ with your children as you proceed to eat cookies.

Strengths:

-Accessible language for young readers and adults alike.

-Colourful illustrations reminiscent of Roald Dahl and similar artistic styles.

-The narrative is kept intact from the original manuscript.

-A child-friendly ‘horror’ story which can be read at Halloween.

-John Harris does a great job conveying emotions and imagery.

Areas for Improvement:

-Older readers may find the style formulaic or slightly repetitive (not an issue for the target audience).

-The final and climactic plot point (no spoilers) could perhaps be developed in further detail.

Rating: 8/10 (adult) 9/10 (young readers)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Harris/e/B0034Q2AT6?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000

Published Works

Available for Resume and Cover Letter Editing

While working on my upcoming books and reviews I am also free to assist with editing resumes and cover letters. This service is available in three tiers and not limited to aspiring writers; anyone interested in bolstering their documents for upcoming applications is welcome to take a look. I have attached the link below:

https://www.fiverr.com/share/vVZlN

Published Works

Motivational Hacks

It seems to help… I think?

I have recently been tinkering with different methods of maintaining motivation as an aspiring writer. As we all know it is an incredibly demanding and competitive field of work, but also a very rewarding and fulfilling one. Using a whiteboard on my wall near my door (5 pounds at Wilko) has been one method I utilise recently. What do you find helps keep you focused on your vision and long-term goals?

Published Works

First Book Published

My first in a series of books aimed at children ages 1-5 has been released on Kindle and as a paperback. Please feel free to check them out using the links below. The book is available on most other Amazon shops outside the UK as well. As the series continues I will post updates here and through Twitter. Enjoy!

Paperback:

All Our Lovely Shapes (Hermione Little Books) https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1695127684/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_i_S6XIDbBRWEEC8

Kindle:

All Our Lovely Shapes (Hermione Little Books) https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07Y8PWPHL/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_i_R9XIDbHEX2HK6