New review: Against All Gods by Maz Evans

Shhhh…I have a secret to tell you. Until very recently I hadn’t read any of the Who Let the Gods Out series……(*gasps of shock and horror*). Apologies. You know what it’s like – you hear about a book and think ‘ooo I must read that, sounds great’ and then you look at the TBR pile and think ‘OK well when I’ve got through these’. And that’s pretty much how it’s been since the first book in the series was published.  And yes I know, once it became clear it was a great story, I kept thinking ‘must read, must read’ but it wasn’t until the season finale in the shape of book four arrived on my doorstep that I thought ‘right, now’s the time’ . So I have.  And well. I can safely say that it was definitely worth the wait and the staying-up-till-late-at-night till I’d got to the fabulous end!

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Against All Gods by Maz Evans

The battle lines are drawn. It’s Good versus Evil. But which side will Elliot Hooper choose?  The Gods are ready to fight. But with Virgo, Gorgy and all Elementals imprisoned in Tartarus, the Goods need super-General Achillles to whip them into shape. And Patricia Porshely-Plum has Home Farm. In his final adventure, can Elliot find his way home? Or will he remain…..AGAINST ALL GODS?

Elliot is in real trouble.  The grief at the loss of his mother constantly threatens to overwhelm him, he’s lost his home and his friends are imprisoned. Standing by a river of fire in the midst of Tartarus, Elliot faces an impossible choice. Retrieve the final Chaos Stone and hand all four stones to the Daemon of Death Thanatos to bring his mother back to life – or refuse and die in the knowledge he’s saved the world but not her. Meanwhile Virgo is desperately trying to escape her jail in the Underworld, with her fellow captors, the Zodiac Council making less-than-helpful suggestions. And in the Great Hall on Mount Olympus, the gods are gathering; reuniting family, friends and frenemies who do their best – sort-of – to overcome their personality clashes in order to save Elliot. Who will triumph as the plot thickens, betrayals and loyalties are revealed and Elliot has to face his worst fears – as if he hasn’t had enough to deal with?! Not wanting to spoil the story, suffice to say you can expect a stupendous finale to this series with what now must be trademark wit, brilliant characterisation and the most hilarious take on the Greek gods and other celestial beings I’ve ever come across. And not forgetting the entire Royal Family….!

Not since I read Harry Potter have I enjoyed a series as much as this. I love children’s book series. With a great children’s book series you’re safe in the knowledge that there are at least three books if not more before thinking about what to read next – which can be especially useful when you’re working with less than avid readers! I know that the teachers and parents I talk to about books also love a good series for that very reason. You get completely immersed in a whole new world, attached to the characters and totally absorbed in the plot and you’re anticipating and enjoying the thrill of when the next book is published to find out what happened next.

Perhaps I missed out on the latter (and am maybe rather relieved I didn’t have to wait too long for what happened next!), but I absolutely loved every episode of this story featuring a fairly ordinary – but let’s be honest, also extra-ordinary –  chap who already has so much on his plate when his life changes beyond all recognition.  There’s love, laughter and adventure galore and the characterisation of the Greek gods had me in fits – especially as I studied Ancient History.  I wish this book had been around then – I expect my tutor would have loved it (or maybe would have been mortified?!). I was also surprised and moved by the narrative of Elliot and his mother and her illness which added huge depth the tale and of course caused many tears.  The emotional roller coaster of the series didn’t end there with the truth about Elliot’s father revealed and the rather brilliant ‘performance’ of Call Me Graham trying to help him towards the end. Another brilliant but suitably vile character was Mrs Porshely-Plum – almost worse than the Daemon of Death himself given her absolute deceit. The term ‘just desserts’ springs to mind.  All in all Who the Let Gods Out is surely a modern classic series which I know will be enjoyed by readers for years to come.  Don’t wait like I did to read them – get started now!

Find out more at www.maz.world and www.chickenhousebooks.com

With thanks to Chicken House for sending me this book to review.

New review: Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

With a beautiful feather-covered book jacket, Call Me Alastair caught my attention in more ways than one. I’ve never read a book where one of the central protagonists is a parrot! An impressive literary middle grade debut by American author, Cory Leonardo and published by ScholasticCall Me Alastair will tug at your heart strings.

 

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Call Me Alastair by Cory Leonardo

Born in the back of a pet store, Alastair the parrot dreams of escape. But when his sister Aggie is purchased by a big-hearted boy, and Alastair is adopted by a lonely widow, his hopes for the future crash-land. In between anxiously plucking his feathers, chewing a few books, and finding his own poetic voice, Alastair plots his way back to Aggie and their flight to freedom.

Call Me Alastair is a moving and quirky tale, unlike anything I’ve read before.  Told through the eyes of three characters: Alastair, the literary parrot who has never known freedom and is fiercely protective of his sister; Fritz a twelve year old boy who helps in the pet store and recently lost his grandfather; and Bertie, a feisty widow trying to find purpose after the death of her husband. Each character is struggling to find their freedom – whether this be literally, in Alastair’s case, or freedom from grief and loneliness.  Alastair has a habit of eating books, and often ‘regurgitates’ these literary snacks in the form of poetry, reflecting much about his state of mind as he comes to terms with being separated from his sister. Fritz’s voice is heard through a medical log, sharing his desire to be a doctor and giving glimpses into the daily grind of life and being a bit different.  And Bertie’s story comes through the beautiful letters she writes to her husband of many years who has passed away; whilst trying hard to maintain a jovial attitude, it is clear just how much she misses him.  Their stories intertwine and each helps the other find acceptance and friendship.

The lingering narrative draws you in, tugging at your heart, creating empathy and understanding in a truly unexpected way. There is also light-hearted humour – particularly from the other residents of the pet shop who have many and varied views; a brilliant insight into what the world of domestic pets might be like! You can’t help but love Alastair, despite his crankiness and moments of melancholy; after all wouldn’t we all feel like that if we were separated from the one we love most in the world?  Fritz is just the most gorgeous boy, full of love and care and trying hard to make amends for things that just aren’t his fault. And Bertie, well, I just wanted to give her a great big hug and be her friend.

Call Me Alastair is a story to make time for; a wonderfully written tale of three very different characters who inadvertently help each other see they are not alone in the world.  Help and happiness can come from the most unexpected places but that is often one of the joys of life. I think Call Me Alastair demonstrates this beautifully.

Find out more at www.coryleonardo.com and www.scholastic.co.uk

With thanks to Scholastic for sending me this book to review.

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New review: When Good Geeks Go Bad by Catherine Wilkins

This funny, coming-of-age story kept me company on the commute, bringing a smile to my face and reminding me of the precarious nature of teenager-dom!  From the author of the My Best Friend and Other Enemies series, Catherine Wilkins, When Good Geeks Go Bad published by Nosy Crow, will have you rooting for the main character Ella, as she navigates school and family life.

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When Good Geeks Go Bad by Catherine Wilkins

When Ella’s Dad refuses to buy her cool school shoes or let her stay up later than 9.30, Ella decides to take things into her own hands. Being good hasn’t got her anywhere, so why not try being bad? But rebelling is a slippery slope and soon things spiral out of control. Can Ella get back on track? Or will she end up with egg on her face?

Ella is a pretty normal thirteen year old – she’s good at school, has a steadfast best friend Jas who’s she’s known for years and goes swimming with every Sunday.  But things aren’t great at school – she gets teased relentlessly by  the pretty girls for supposedly being ‘lame’ and a ‘povvo’ (poor) and bullied by the bad kids for being too ‘good’. Ella feels like she can’t win. Coupled with things at home not being great either, now that her parents have separated, it’s no wonder she starts to feel all over the place.  Especially as her attempts to be more grown-up, spread her wings a little and be a bit more ‘cool’ are well and truly thwarted by her strait laced father. With her Mum seeming to have abandoned her, bit by bit Ella starts to respond to her situation differently. Instead of grinning and bearing it; she fights back. Not with her fists, but with attitude.

Told through Ella’s eyes in first person narrative, When Good Geeks Go Bad is witty coming-of-age, middle grade story with some important themes at its heart.  Readers are bound to identify with the sometimes relentless navigation of trying to fit in at school, avoid being noticed too much for the wrong reasons and making a good impression with your peers.  Ella’s reaction and decision to start being ‘bad’ is totally understandable and provides for some very funny and possibly a bit cringe-worthy moments when it doesn’t pay off.  The insights into Ella’s own thoughts and feelings are often amusing but also moving as you feel her pain at not being understood. Ella is not without conscience as she realises the consequences of some of her actions.  As her Mum comes back into her life, we see the difficult dynamic of two very different people trying to ‘parent’ their daughter in totally different ways. Ella is lucky to have her understanding and steadfast friend Jas by her side, who helps her see what true friendship really is. With a thoroughly believable narrative, When Good Geeks Go Bad portrays teen rebellion with wit and wisdom and makes for a great read about friendship, family and believing in yourself.

Find out more at www.catherinewilkins.co.uk and www.nosycrow.com

With thanks to Nosy Crow for sending me this book to review.

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