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‘Help I’m an Alien!’, Jo Franklin         Age8+

‘I have nothing in common with my family!’ Daniel Kendall is different – different to the other Kendalls anyway. After all, he’s the only one with brown hair and brown eyes, and what’s more, he’s taller than his family, his friends and probably everyone else in the entire world. Big sister Jessie has made it clear just how different Daniel is, by explaining that he is in fact, an alien, kindly adopted by her parents.  Confused, Daniel turns to his two friends, Freddo and Gordon the Geek, for help to return to his home planet.  But when things don’t go according to plan Daniel has to decide whether he is an alien or a human after all.


Daniel Kendall feels different. He doesn’t quite fit in with his family and even at school suffers torment for being ‘abnormally tall’. Nicknamed 'Oddbod' by his family, Daniel’s suspicions that he doesn’t belong are confirmed when his sister Jessie, tells him that he’s actually an alien. In his eagerness to find a reason for his ‘oddness’, Daniel sets about investigating with the help of his two – equally unusual – best friends.


This is a great fun story, with lots of humour (unpleasant toilet habits in particular!) and some slightly sweeter (less smelly!) moments, highlighting the difficulties we all sometimes face in ‘fitting-in’.  The fantastic opening line 'I have NOTHING in common with my family' is something we can all identify with! Daniel is a funny character, self-aware, who has many insights about himself and his family, brilliantly depicted through the illustrations and tables of information.  The pace of the narrative is perfectly pitched to keep the reader interested and entertained.  You very quickly feel great empathy for Daniel, especially where his ‘mega mean’ ‘obnoxious’ or ‘murderous’ sister Jessie is concerned! Luckily Daniel has his two friends, Gordon the Geek and Freddo, on hand to help him discover the truth about who he is.  You can instantly imagine Gordon the Geek, slightly nervous, with OCD tendencies, but happy to use his genius to help locate Daniel’s home planet. I found Freddo really quite uncouth – but of course that’s the whole point! And there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Daniel – as long as it doesn’t involve the police...The story climaxes in a hilarious nod to all those fans of sci-fi and in particular, Start Trek, out there (me included!) and in the end, Daniel discovers, with the help of his friends and family, that being different doesn’t necessarily mean you’re from another planet!


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‘The King’s Revenge’, Philip Womack     Age11+

They held hands in a circle, all of them, and faced each other. The things they had seen went unspoken between them. A thoughtless wish had brought them here. Stolen siblings, golden messengers; shadowsnakes; burning swords; other worlds. And all of it, all of the strange, rich, unknowable mess that was the universe, was vanishing.


The Broken King’s trap has been sprung.  Nobody can pass between the three worlds, and everything is beginning to decay. Simon and Flora now face a dangerous journey that will test them to their limits. They must travel to the home of the Threefold Goddess. Perils beset them on all sides.  Will they be able to reach her, discover what has gone wrong and save all three worlds from dying?


This is the final book in the Darkening Path trilogy, set in the fantastical Silver Kingdom and featuring a dazzling array of characters from across the three realms.  Simon and Flora along with their rescued siblings must complete one final quest to put right the damage done by the evil deeds of the King Selenus.  Quickly the magnitude of the challenge the young heroes face becomes clear; if they fail, the world and indeed, the universe as they know it will perish! With the help of their friends, including demi-god Mithras, his supporter Cautes, Pike, newly made Knight of the Shark and more, Simon, Flora, Johnny & Anna enter the Centre of the Worlds.


I loved this story.  I was totally drawn to the wonderful world of mystery, myth and magic in a way that I haven’t been with a fantasy novel since I first read the Chronicles of Narnia.  The narrative brilliantly depicts the world of the Silver Kingdom; the fantastical names, places and beings conjuring up images of a world I’d love to visit.  Balanced with some good old fashioned sibling rivalry, moments of humour and moments of real threat, the story carries the reader on an epic journey, with a final battle scene featuring a Roman Legion – what more could you want?! With characters you care about, the tale touches on themes of friendship, courage, loyalty and grief, interplayed throughout.  A sense of threat brewing almost until the final page, The King’s Revenge is a gripping adventure and I would thoroughly recommend it to all fantasy readers, young and old!

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Thicker than Water, Anne Cassidy     Age 14+

Blood may be thicker than water, but loyalty can be pushed to its limits....

Savvy George and gentle giant Lennie are drifters hustling for a living in a string of dead-end jobs.  George looks out for Lennie as they move from town to town, running from trouble and dreaming big. A place of their own, a record shop, a bit of money. But trouble follows Lennie like a shadow and George has his work cut out to keep him safe.....


Lennie is a great big blundering boy in the body of a 22 year old man, his mental health issues causing him to behave without thought for the consequences of his actions. It his loyal and faithful cousin, George, acting on a promise to his dying father, who picks up the pieces and cleans up the mess. But how far will he go to do this?


The author captures perfectly the relationship between George and Lennie.  George would do anything to keep Lennie from harm, but his increasing frustration and desperation becomes more difficult to hide as the story progresses. And Lennie won’t let anyone hurt George, but doesn’t understand that his actions hurt others. After yet another ‘incident’, they have to move towns again and end up working in a pub – George as a DJ/barman and Lennie as the only thing he can manage – doing odd jobs and lots of heavy lifting. The shady characters for whom they work and Dolly, the pretty young wife of the landlord’s vicious son Boxer add to the cast and you know something awful is going to happen.  Then a whisper of hope arrives in the shape of Danny, the well-presented bar manager with a past, who seems to want to help.  But this is short lived and soon George is driven to ‘protecting’ Lennie before anyone else can.


If you’ve read ‘Of Mice and Men’, you’re fairly sure of the ending of ‘Thicker Than Water’ which is based on the classic novella by John Steinbeck.  This does not detract from the story which reads like a short, sharp shock. The threat builds slowly but convincingly from the start and doesn’t let up until the final page.  With a well-written narrative, I felt huge sadness for both characters, as well as great empathy for their situation – no proper help and living in permanent fear for the future.  In the same way Steinbeck’s classic did, this book will prompt much discussion about right and wrong, and how clear the lines between the two are in this kind of situation. Published by Barrington Stoke, this book is an accessible read which will cause young people to reflect on issues surrounding mental health and employment problems. ‘Thicker Than Water’ is a timely recreation of a story that shows what happens when people who desperately need help don’t get it.  


More info:  Also reviewed for the Reading Zone

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