Melanie Reviews

My Sister Jodie By Jacqueline Wilson

I have often been told that I write in a similar vein to Jacqueline Wilson so, when I saw one of her books on sale for 50p I snapped it up.

At first I wasn t sure that I liked it, if I m honest. To me, it felt as though there was something missing but what exactly?

I never did figure it out (it could have been simply that I m not the correct demographic for the book) but I soon warmed up to it.

Her sister Pearl, on the other hand, is the opposite very shy and lovely, with a great imagination (that was me too!)

In desperation, their parents took on new jobs at a well respected boarding school. It is live-in so they are stuck in a pokey little flat. They see it as a fresh start, getting Jodie away from her current friends and giving her the chance of a good education.

Pearl is excited about the move and Jodi only goes along reluctantly preferring to remain in their old home (oh boy, did I sympathise with her then! It brought back memories of when we moved here!)

When they see Melchester College for the first time, Pearl can barely contain her excitement. It s exactly like the mansion she has always imagined them living in complete with a tower (she has always wanted to sleep in one with her sister).

It took almost no time for Pearl to make friends with a young lad called Harley. He becomes her most faithful companion and the two spend hours carefully spreading honey on the grass and watching the badgers.

The relationship between them is skilfully handled. I love the tender, gentle way their friendships blossoms almost into love. It s very sensitively handled and beautiful to watch Pearl s confidence grow she blooms like a flower.

But while Pearl is blossoming, poor Jodie is feeling lonely and desperate.

The sisters have never had secrets from each other, but it soon becomes clear that Pearl is hiding something and Jodie starts to feel insecure, pushing herself on Harley (I think she saw herself as a chaperone for Pearl she kind of needed to be needed, if that makes sense), getting them into scrapes. When she snoops in Pearl s diary, she is horrified that she s written that she has a secret with Harley ... She immediately jumps to the wrong conclusion, then her fears seem to be confirmed when she discovers Pearl has, bizarrely, sneaked out in the middle of the night.

Although this part of the story is fraught with tension, it s heart warming to see the love she has for her sister. They are both fiercely protective of each other they can argue with the best of them, but if anyone says anything against the other they will fly to their defence. The love between the two is palpable throughout the story.

From the time the students return to school, Jodie s behaviour worsens. It is sad because I could see what her family can t, and I wanted to reach out and give her a cuddle. I suddenly realised that I was totally engrossed in the book and had fully engaged with the characters.

I could see that she is simply attention seeking, trying to steal the spotlight form her sister and she is seething with jealousy. Pearl never used to be so popular, she used to NEED Jodie to be there, giving her confidence and the odd push in the right direction and Jodie misses her like crazy. She yearns to go back to the days when it was just the two of them.

Jodie is not a bad person she has some great skills, especially her love of children and her wonderful imagination. Seeing this, the headmaster decides to reward her good behaviour and gives her some responsibility. To her delight, she is given the task of telling the little children bedtime stories. Everything goes well until Halloween that fateful night, she lets her imagination run away with her and doesn t know when to stop. She cruelly tells them the tale of the white woman ghost who will come and get them she doesn t realise that she has frightened the children so that they have nightmares!

The end had me wiping away tears as Jacqueline put in a surprise twist I REALLY didn t see coming and then threw us another, right at the end. Although there were hints about that scattered throughout the story, it still came as a surprise.

I thought this was a very well written book and, if it s true that I really do write like her then I will be elated. I could really see everything she described.

A very well deserved 10/10

Middle School:The worst years of my life By James Patterson

My eyes lit up at the sight a new James Patterson book was out (and, even better, less than half price!) I know his books of old I think I could pick them out of a blind test but this was different. It was a children s book!

Middle School is the story of Rafe Khatchadorian, a social misfit with a home life that is not great (to put it mildly). He particularly dislikes his mother s partner, who is very unkind to him. He is a kind of caricature of the wicked stepfather. This works well for this type of book, but in most it would seem over the top the guy seems to have no redeeming features. Rafe is badly bullied in school and is head over heels in love with the most popular girl in school, the student council representative, Jeanne Galletta.

Rafe starts the book feeling shy and just wanting to be left alone to complete year 6 in peace.

That plan falls by the wayside though, when the class bully singles him out.

The reader really feels for Rafe as he struggles to cope, still trying to blend in.

After a long and tedious assembly he hatches his master plan with the aid of his best friend, Leo. He will go down in history as the first person to break ALL of the school rules! What he doesn t take into account, is the traumatic effect his actions will have on his beloved, long suffering mother.

She works long hours in a cafe, trying to keep a roof over the family s heads while her partner drinks away their money while lazing on the sofa all day. The book is hilarious and keeps the reader enthralled as Rafe plans his attack, deals with the constant bullying and experiences unrequited love for the first time.

Things begin to change when he realises how his actions hurt his beloved mother. He is horrified when hearing of one of his pranks makes her cry in work. He loves his mother dearly and would do anything to help make her life easier. Of course, Leo is very much against this move and tries to persuade him to continue on his chosen path.

My heart melted as I saw the effort he put in, trying to turn things around to little or no effect.

Eventually he commits one crime too far and things hang in the balance for the naughty but loveable rogue.

This is a typically well written book, although it does, for me , feel a little flat when he tries to improve his behaviour and puts more effort into his schoolwork. I could identify with the naughty side of him one of my favourite scenes had to be when he got his school report and his marks were bad, despite him putting his all into it. Terrified of a beating from his step father, he goes for a walk and burns the report! Oh what memories that brought back I used to hide my reports too! Rafe is the part of us that we have all experienced, whether at work or school the part where we want to challenge authority. Only difference is HE DOES!

This book could easily not have worked for me. Generally speaking I HATE stories told in first person (I think there s a contrary part of me that says, But I m not doing that, I m reading!) and even worse (for me) is the conversational style Rafe tells his story as though he s having a conversation with the reader even asking them questions! This book uses BOTH of these techniques! However, bizarrely, it DID work primarily because it was impossible to see the many twists and turns which were very cleverly concealed from the reader until the last minute I couldn t see what was round the corner as you can in many books. I would think I had a handle on things and he d flip it over and make me realise I was wrong for me, the two cleverest twists were Leo s identity, and the reason the story started the way it did.

The theme of the book bullying was brilliantly handled. We are living in a time when it seems to be particularly prevalent, and I m glad James Patterson has written it in this way. It s clear that Rafe is doing all this for attention it s a cry for help because he has nobody he couldn t trust his mother s partner and his mother is too busy for him. The teachers are not looking at what is under their nose so they don t see what is happening to him. They take everything at face value so Rafe often unfairly gets into trouble. The book shows him going about it the wrong way. I m glad to say that the bully learns a very important lesson too!

I can t wait for the next instalment, which is out now, apparently!

Score: 9/10

Christmas Presence (Daniel M Warloch)

A few weeks ago I was handed a gift the latest offering from author Daniel M Warloch, namely Christmas Presence.

Having read the amazing Leap Year a few months ago I knew I was in for a treat this author has a habit of plucking you from your seat and transferring you into a whole new, magical world before you realise what has happened! By the time you reach the last page you are reluctant to return to the real world.

So a couple of days ago I shut myself away and prepared for the journey of a lifetime!

Having read his earlier book, about a trio of children who accidentally get trapped in an old ruin and need to escape FAST! I thought I knew what to expect from this talented writer. I was in for a big surprise!

In fact, Christmas Presence pulls the reader like a magnet. There is no escape for them from the instant they read that first sentence.

The story is told from the point of view of a very frightened Barnaby Tinker Tailor (I love that name!) who is clearly trapped in a strange and frightening place.

Barnaby talks directly to the reader, imploring them not to put the book down. He is just out of sight but can be clearly heard. He obviously needs to tell his story, but has to be careful not to get caught ... He frequently has to stop to check he is safe as a result the reader is looking and listening with him!

I was instantly hooked. I needed to know who he was hiding from and why! I was on the edge of my seat and even jumped when he said he had heard a noise! By the end of the first chapter, I genuinely cared about this lonely, frightened little boy. I had to hear his story!

Now, usually, when I read a book I do so over several days. But on this occasion I simply could not put it down I started reading at 10 in the morning and finished it at 7 the same evening!

Daniel knows how to create living images the reader can feel the pain Barnaby suffers when trying to remove a thorn which is embedded in his hand, to give just one example.

It would appear that Daniel is determined to find exactly the right word. He refuses, for example, to settle for saying something is red he tells us it is ruby coloured. I think this is part of his secret in making the books come alive in his skilful hands.

Another thing that helps hook the reader is that he uses very short paragraphs. They may say they will read just one more chapter but continue on for another 10 because it is such a quick read.

If there is any justice in this world, this book will be in Christmas stockings the world over this year.

So how would I describe Daniel? Talented, sure, and unique. To quote from one of my favourite songs, he s A combo of the old and new, like nothing else that you ve ever seen!

Leap Year by Daniel M Warloch

Leap Year is the debut children s novel by the incredibly talented Daniel M Warloch.

On picking up this book, which tells the tale of 3 brothers who go to visit an old, abandoned hall but become trapped and face a race against time to escape before hey are forced to remain there for the next 4 years, I was quickly engrossed and read the book in one sitting, something I rarely do.

With his gentle voice, Daniel embroils you in the story and, as he leads you deeper into the labyrinth of the hall, you feel as though you are a part of it. You feel the fear of the three brothers Jordan, James and Thomas, as they desperately try to flee the clutches of the place. The children try every trick in the book but it seems they are doomed to spending the next 4 years in the the hall. Little do the children know that help is coming from an unlikely source! Each of them are tested to the limit, drawing on inner resources they didn t know they had to survive this scary adventure.

Daniel M Warloch has a unique style which is all his own, yet also reminiscent of the old TV favourite, Jackanory!

The sales of this wonderful book are rocketing and the shops have to purchase ever more books to keep up with the demand. This unassuming, gentle and remarkable man is set to challenge the top authors like Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman and AL Stine to the coveted top slot in the children s ghost story charts.

I predict that we will hear considerably more of this personable gentleman and that this book will become a best seller by the year 2013!

Melanie Winrow 2012 - Author of The Narrowboat Adventure Of James, Katie & Lewis