Fiction review: A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals

Cummins, L. (2016). A hungry lion or a dwindling assortment of animals. New York, United States: Simon & Schuster.

There’s a hungry lion, and some animals. And now there aren’t as many animals. You think you know where this story is going… until it doesn’t. And then it does. Cummins brilliantly fulfils and subverts expectations in this simple tale of subtracting animals, with a happy-ish twist ending.

The language is more advanced and may require some explanation but is told in a very easy, conversational style — although the story can be enjoyed just from the progression of pictures alone.  Interaction is encouraged as the reader can anticipate what is happening on the next page. The illustrations have a Quentin Blake feel to them, loose and messy but with very expressive faces, especially the titular lion. The plain background keeps the eye focussed on the characters appearing and disappearing, so it’s a great book for practising counting together in a fun way.

I would probably recommend this for children from age five up to get the most out of this story, but a more sensitive child may not enjoy the carnivorous nature of the book. It would be perfect for those who enjoyed I Want My Hat Back (Klassen, 2011), as it has a similar sense of humour.


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Fiction review: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

Evans, L. (2017). Wed wabbit. Oxford, United Kingdom: David Fickling Books.

During a thunderstorm Fidge is thrown into the land of her little sister Minnie’s favourite storybook — the Wimbley Woos — and so is her awful cousin Graham, his transitional object Dr Carrot, and Minnie’s toy Ella the Elephant. All Fidge wants to do is get home and see her sister in hospital, but things seem increasingly not quite right with the land of the Wimbley Woos. It seems a dictator has recently taken over and is literally sucking all the life and colour out of the inhabitants. Fidge might have to team up with the others in order to save the Wimbley Woos, get home, and fix the terrible decision that sent them there in the first place.

If this all sounds totally bonkers to you, you’re right — it is! But it’s also incredibly funny, and between the rhyming Wimbley Woos, the Monty-Python-esque Wed Wabbit, and a maternal drama teacher of a toy elephant, there’s a lot about embracing each other’s differences and growing as a person. If you think you can’t be emotionally moved by a toy carrot on wheels, think again. Wed Wabbit can be enjoyed by children aged eight to twelve, but it’s great for reading aloud to younger readers too.

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Fiction review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Thomas, A. (2017). The hate u give. London, United Kingdom: Walker Books.

A challenging read inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, soon to be a movie.

Sixteen-year-old Starr witnesses her childhood best friend Khalil get murdered by a policeman, and her life changes. Her angry and grieving neighbourhood is lashing out, making living there more and more precarious, while the response from Starr’s predominantly white school is to use the tragedy as an excuse to skip class. No punishment seems forthcoming for the policeman who committed murder, yet Khalil is slandered every day in the media.

As anger rises and violence grows, Starr has to decide whether to speak out to set the record straight and potentially gain justice for Khalil’s death, or stay quiet and protect herself and her family from retaliation.

While the book deals with heavy themes it isn’t an unrelentingly grim read; Starr has a warm, funny family and while one of her friendships goes sour, the others get stronger as a result. There are well-needed light moments spaced throughout the book and the feeling upon finishing is ultimately hopeful that positive change is on its way, and that we can be a part of that.


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Science fiction (double feature)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump for several months, but it’s starting to pick up again. Mostly I seem to be into Adventures in space! books at the moment (to be fair when am I not into Adventures in space! books?), possibly a result of the Star Wars renaissance. It’s a good time to be a science fiction fan.

Recent recommended reads:

cover of Ancillary JusticeThe Ancillary trilogy by Ann Leckie, beginning with Ancillary Justice – an approximation of the British Empire in space! AI ships with human bodies who love singing! Lots of tea! It can take a few chapters to get into but rewards persistence. Leckie is definitely one of my favourite new sci fi authors.

Cover of Behind the ThroneBehind the Throne by K. G. Wagers – Often described as: What if Princess Leia and Han Solo were the same person? Foul-mouthed gunrunner Hailimi Bristol is forced to return to her home planet to take up the crown after most of the royal family are assassinated. Chaos ensues. I doubt I’d be able to cope with Hailimi in person (so much shouting, calm down) but I enjoyed the first book. Possibly not enough to check out the second, After the Crown, but I know others enjoyed it.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry PlanetThe Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers – Similar to Firefly in that it’s an ensemble cast in space who all love each other even when they hate each other, episodic plot, and occasional encounters with nasty aliens (lots of nice ones too). There’s a sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which explores what happens when the ship’s AI gets a body and learns to be an engineer. I think I liked that one even more and it’s a standalone so feel free to pick it up without having read the first. Readers who prefer a fast paced plot should steer clear but if you’re into character-driven feel-good science fiction, this is the author for you.

Other science fiction I’m looking forward to reading:

  • Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. First of a trilogy. To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris is given the “help” of a dead, insane but tactically brilliant traitor general.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Aliens prepare to invade. Humans are divided in their response to the threat. What happens next will surprise you!
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. Murder mystery in spaaaaaace!

Cover of Ninefox GambitCover of The Three-Body ProblemCover of Six Wakes

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Lately my reading has seemed depressingly apropos, given the recent news from Baltimore, Ferguson and Charleston. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is being published next month, yet for some not a lot has changed during that time.

How it Went Down, Kekla Magoon

The facts are these: Tariq Johnson, African American, was shot dead by white Jack Franklin, who then fled the scene. Everything else is in dispute. Told through the thoughts of eyewitnesses, family members, and a senatorial candidate cashing in on the publicity, How it Went Down details the struggles of a community trying to come to terms with and understand how, exactly, it went down.

This Side of Home, Renee Watson

As their historically ‘bad’ neighbourhood becomes trendy and increasingly filled with white families, twins Maya and Nikki find themselves growing apart. Maya is filled with indignation at the white businesses pushing poorer African American families out of their homes through increasing rents, whereas Nikki is happy that she can get good coffee from down the street. As they finish their last year of high school, Maya deals with her best friend moving across town, the possibility that she will go to college on her own, and a potential relationship with the white boy across the street.

Lies We Tell Ourselves, Robin Talley

Despite being set in 1959, the issues raised in Lies We Tell Ourselves are clearly not limited to that era. Set in a newly integrated school in Virginia, students are forced to work together regardless of race. When Sarah (African American) and Linda (white, integration opponent’s daughter) are assigned each other as partners on a school project, they both discover that some truths are not universal.

Cover of The Game of Love and DeathThe Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough

Love and Death select their players for their latest round of the Game. Love’s player, Henry: white, musical, orphaned but taken in by a friend’s wealthy family. Death’s player, Flora: African American, musical, orphaned and raised by her poor grandmother, and desperate to be a pilot. Set in Seattle during the Great Depression. If you like reading about unhappy people who play jazz, then this book is for you.

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Some recent reads

I came back from holiday at the end of May, yet it’s the end of June and I still haven’t posted. Partly this is due to not having read much while travelling (I think I only completed 4 in 4 weeks!) and partly because leaving springtime Europe to come back to midwinter is kind of depressing and I haven’t felt like doing much of anything. Except reading, luckily. I’ve got a bit to catch up on.

Books read just before/while overseas:

Under a Painted Sky, Stacey Lee

Girls dress as boys and head west during the California gold rush! Some slight suspension of belief required but so enjoyable it didn’t bother me. Loved the characters, and it’s more thoughtful than my flippant description makes it out to be.

Chime and also Well Wished, Franny Billingsley

I love-love-loved both Chime and Well Wished — beautifully written, with prickly main characters who pretend not to care about people because they’ve been hurt but actually care a lot.

Persona, Genevieve Valentine

Didn’t grab me as much as Girls at the Kingfisher Club. Felt like it ended just as things were starting to happen, so I’ll be happy if there’s a sequel. Still a very interesting futuristic world with environmental issues explored.

The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker

I feel like I’m admitting to a disease, but I don’t like big fat books. In almost all cases I feel that the book would be improved by some ruthless editing. I don’t know that I enjoyed the Golem and the Djinni exactly, but I did keep reading to the end.

Other books read which I’ll hopefully review later:

  • The Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough
  • This Side of Home, Renee Watson
  • Reporting Under Fire, Kerrie Logan Hollihan
  • SuperMutant Magic Academy, Jillian Tamaki
  • Roller Girl, Victoria Jamieson
  • The Last Anniversary, Liane Moriarty
  • The Secrets We Keep, Trisha Leaver
  • Three Wished, Liane Moriarty
  • The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma
  • Murder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens
  • The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge — SUPER AWESOME, must review later
  • Bone Gap, Laura Ruby — SAME AS ABOVE
  • How It Went Down, Kekla Magoon
  • Fig, Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
  • Lulu Anew, Etienne Davodeau
  • All Our Pretty Songs, Sarah McCarry
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  • The Double Life of Cassiel Roadnight, Jenny Valentine

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Recent reads

Probably Nothing: A Diary of Not Your Average Nine Months, Matilda Tristram

Graphic novel that follows Matilda’s life before and after she is diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. I’ve decided biographical comics might be my favourite at the moment — I’m an inherently nosy person, so getting a look at someone else’s life is always interesting, even when it deals with something awful like cancer and chemotherapy. Matilda seems like a funny and snarky person, which helps.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers

Finally got around to reading this! I think I still like Strong Poison better, but I suspect that may change the next time I read it. An interesting snapshot of Oxford in the past, and the politics of a women’s college.

Wigram, Bee Dawson

A history of the development of civil and military aviation in Wigram/Canterbury. More interesting than it sounds! I was in the local museum recently and noticed a lady’s flying suit from the 1930s on display, and through researching the original owner became interested in the other local pilots who gained their licences at Wigram in the early days of flying.

Women Heroes of World War I and Women Heroes of World War II, Kathryn Atwood

Both books are completely fascinating, quick to read and full of amazing ladies. One of my favourite stories is of a couple of ladies (Lady Helena Gleichen and Nina Hollings) who decided that they’d learn radiography in order to help the war effort. After training and obtaining equipment, they offered their services to the British, who refused (‘women aren’t radiographers’). They offered their services to France, who accepted and then attempted to steal their equipment. Finally, they went to Italy, where they were incredibly helpful in locating internal wounds and assessing the impact of gas on soldiers. Apparently the lungs shrink to 2 inches in diameter! Ouch.

Code Name Pauline, Pearl Witherington Cornioley

This is another in the Women in Action series (same as the above two books), and is equally fascinating. If you like Code Name Verity or are at all interested in SOE and the French Resistance, you should read this.

We Landed by Moonlight, Hugh Verity

Can you sense a theme? Hugh Verity describes the pilots and flights of the ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) in World War II. A bit dry, but the stories are so exciting it’s easy to read anyway.

Black Dove, White Raven, Elizabeth Wein

A bit slower in pace than Code Name Verity or The Sunbird, but gets exciting. Loved the relationship between Em and Teo — in fact all the characters, even the smaller ones, are very well observed. Despite the best efforts of the cover, nothing about this book is black and white. (Except maybe mustard gas. Mustard gas is just evil.) I’ll write a more detailed review when I get back from holiday, because this deserves more than my frazzled brain can come up with pre-flights.

D.A., Connie Willis

Very short novella. Can’t say much without spoiling the plot, but if you like Connie Willis (which I do) then you’ll enjoy this.

There won’t be any posts for about a month while I’m overseas, unless I manage to write some up and schedule them before I go. I’m currently reading Under the Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and Persona by Genevieve Valentine, both of which I’m really enjoying and want to write about, so I might have to enthuse about those tomorrow. We’ll see.

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