Review: Gormless Gods and Hapless Heroes: Tim Baker and the Ancient Curse by Stella Tarakson

The first in what promises to be an epic series.

Publication date: 6th April 2017
Publisher: Sweet Cherry Publishing

Funny, compelling and oddly educational, Gormless Gods and Hapless Heroes: Tim Baker and the Ancient Curse blends realism and fantasy seamlessly. When Tim Baker accidentally broke his mother’s priceless, ancient vase, he expected to get a telling off not his own resident hero! As Hercules bursts through the life of the 21st century school boy like a bull in a china shop, Tim learns a little something about how to navigate his own life himself.

Tim and Hercules are a dynamic duo of entertainment. They are well-constructed characters, that Stella Tarakson truly brings to life. Tim is multi-faceted, and his reaction to Hercules’ takeover of his life is constructed in a sensitive and realistic way. Likewise, Hercules and Tim’s mum – who may have run the risk of fitting into stereotypes of the ‘meathead’ hero and ‘no-fun’ mum – demonstrate an unexpected breadth of character. Tarakson’s characterisation alone is a joy to experience, and the book just gets better and better.

Mythologically, it brings in more than I expected it to. The story juxtaposes the original labours of Hercules with the trials of being an awkward young boy trying to support both himself and his mother. Lesser known labours, such as the Augean stables, make a welcome appearance. Perhaps I was ready to be confronted by another portrayal of Hercules as per Disney or Kevin Sorbo, but what I got instead is a genuine adaptation of the original hero.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a school-and-friendship-based novel, and are open to the fantastical, mythological world the flows through it. It is the first in a series, and it ends with a cliffhanger, so I am excited to see how it develops! This is solid middle grade at its best.

 

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Review: The Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan

Myth and reality intermingle in a refreshing representation of Damascus.

Publication date: 11th April 2016
Publisher: Lantana Publishing

The Jasmine Sneeze is a fantastically vibrant read which takes the reader through a world of senses, accompanied by a comical cat. Sauntering through the city of Damascus, the reader follows Haroun on his quest to appease the Jasmine Spirit.

I haven’t read such a satisfying picture book in a while. The story flows perfectly and has just the right balance of conflict and character progression. Haroun is thoroughly likeable – despite being a bit of a grump when it comes to jasmine – and the Jasmine spirit is portray wonderfully. She has a childlike quality, both quick to anger and quick to forgive. A real joy to follow.

The illustrations are mesmerising, with bright block colours and complementary shades. Kaadan creates a magical landscape and brings Damascus to life. Haroun is adorable and humorous, and you can almost smell the jasmine. The only thing I might note, is that the font can be distracting: a simple sans serif which can seem incongruous in its colourful surroundings.

I recommend this as a wonderful feel-good book. It cannot fail to entertain readers of all ages and genders. There are quite a few words, so it might not be perfect for very early readers, but it can easily be read by more confident children or with an adult. All in all, definitely a book worth owning.

Review: Mystery and Mayhem – a short story collection

What it says on the tin – fantastic murder mysteries by contemporary children’s authors.

Publication date: 5th May 2016
Publisher: Egmont

I am partial to a good short story collection, and Mystery and Mayhem really delivers that bite-sized intrigue every short story should have. There is not a dull moment, and every story is on point.

Each writer has a unique voice, with a fascinating way of murdering their literary creations. Some play with your head, some play with your emotion – some do both in wonderful combination. Peppered with that special brand of British humour, with elements which range Gorey-esque to Blackadder and everything in between, the stories are separated into Impossible Mysteries, Canine Capers, Poison Plots or Closed-system Crimes.

It’s also interesting to note that the majority of these stories are set in the past – anything from Sherlock Holmes’ time to Hercule Poirot’s. This allows for a glamorous feel to the collection, with exotic fruit hidden in hoop skirts and horse-drawn carriages alongside online research and dog-walking services.

I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys fun, well-written literature (so… anyone). The stories are fantastic and, as I realised after I’d read it, they are all written by women. As it should be, no attention is drawn to this fact, they are simply described as “twelve of the best children’s crime writers writing today.” Yet it is hardly surprising, in retrospect, as the female characters are well-rounded and interesting, and there is a strong portrayal of male-female friendships with no need for romance, which is refreshing to read.

Review: Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Role reversal in a High Fantasy world.

Publication date: 7th June 2016
Publisher: First Second Books

In a world of fantastical creatures, elves and adventurers, it seems like there’s no place for Goblin. When his best friend Skeleton is cruelly taken as loot, he has to leave his cave and enter this hostile world, but it turns out that more people like goblins than you might think.

Nobody Likes a Goblin ticked all the boxes for me. It’s funny, fantastically illustrated and has a well-executed plot. The humour appeals to young readers as well as adults, especially those with knowledge of high fantasy tropes, along the lines of Dungeons and Dragons. There are even multiple threads which come together at the end, something which is not easily done in the confines of a picture book. This is a great achievement on Hatke’s part.

The illustrations are wonderful, with consistent attention to detail. Hatke obviously also has a tendency towards ‘easter eggs’, as the book is peppered with entertaining elements hidden in the background. The characters are remarkably expressive and the landscapes are portrayed with a depth which contributes to the fantastical atmosphere.

I recommend this picture book to readers of all ages – it has all the qualities of a great book. In terms of illustration, let’s just say that there are pages in there that I’d like to have as prints on my wall. Nobody Likes a Goblin is a fantastic read, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Hatke.