Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed Book Review – 4 Stars @brianblessed

Brian Blessed

I do like an autobiography and especially one that has the authentic voice of its author.  There is no doubt with Brian Blessed’s ‘Absolute Pandemonium’ that you are getting the full GORDON’S ALIVE version of Blessed.  He even goes so far to tell you in the introduction that you should imagine his booming voice in your ear as you read and there is little difficulty doing this as his frank style and bombastic nature hurtles off the page.  An early story about toilet trouble on the side of a mountain sets the tone and you know you are in for a ride.

Having seen interviews with Blessed in the past, as well as documentaries and even his acting roles, you get the sense that he is an eccentric.  It is not until you read this book that you realise how true this is.  Many of his stories are funny and a little bizarre, but a few of them venture into the plain weird and “Ok, thanks Brian” area of walking away slowly.  He is happy to talk about his fractious relationships with some other actors and there is a particularly nice section all about his edgy relationship with Peter O’Toole – part love, part hate.

There are some odd tales too – his days working in a funeral parlour, his childhood enjoyment of playing with dead cats and his ability to transcend our mortal plane.  That’s right, there are sections on how he is able to see the future or time slows down.  Truly an eccentric who is happy to write it all down.  This is refreshing, if a little weird at times.  However, no matter what Blessed is talking about, it is amusing.  He has written serious books about his mountain climbing in the past, this is his shouty, sweary book.

There is so much gold in this book, but only when Blessed rattles through the stories.  The insights into his childhood, or trying to get into acting school are quick and amusing.  The book gets a little bogged down in places as he highlights sections of his life.  A film with Katherine Hepburn is important to Brian, but it slows the pace of the book down.  You get the feeling that this is less of a linear biography, but cherry picking tales from his life.  There is at least another volume in Blessed yet and it would have been nice to have some of the gaps filled in this outing.

Fans of Blessed’s more eccentric work will love this book, it is the full beard.  The pace lags at times, but overall the book is fast paced and not too long.  Those looking for the definitive story of the man’s life are looking in the wrong place, instead hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

4 Stars

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Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide by Emma Yarlett Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Nibbles Dinosaurs

Some of you may already be aware of Nibbles.  He is a little monster that likes to nibble everything.  Nibble nibbles socks, Nibble nibbles clocks, but the thing that Nibble likes to nibble most is books!  Therefore, putting him in a book is not the safest place as he will try and eat his way out.  Whilst the first book saw the tyke getting into trouble in fairy tales, this time it is non-fiction that has whetted his appetite and in particular a book all about dinosaurs.

Nibbles has escaped once more, but instead of devouring Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks, he is munching his way through the Jurassic era.  Although he himself is a monster, Nibbles is only small so when the dinosaurs find out that he is causing trouble they decide to chase him from their book.  Can Nibbles escape the Land of the Dinosaurs before being stomped on?

They are few books that broke the 4th wall better than the original ‘Nibbles’.  Here was a character that could hop in and out of famous stories by eating his way around.  This meant that the layout of the book was a triumph – glorious hardback with mini books contained within.  There is hours of fun just to be had peering through the various holes in the book that Nibbles made.  More of the same would have been great, but with ‘‘The Dinosaur Guide’’ it is a case of more of the similar, showing that changing something small can make a big difference.

The fact that this is non-fiction, rather than fiction means that the book feels quite different.  It made a kind of twisted sense that Nibbles would eat fairy tales and disrupting well known stories means that you know what trouble he is causing as his antics alter the original narrative.  By consuming non-fiction, this structure is missing.  Instead you have a creature venturing forth through a typical encyclopaedia style fact book.  When he gets in the way of a dinosaur they pop out of their frames and chase him.  It does work, but the fun of disrupting traditional folk tales is far greater than just a chase book filled with angry dinosaurs.

Despite the subject matter not being as keen as the first title, the structure of the book is still a tour de force.  This is a wonderful A4 hardback full of flaps that can he looked under.  More often than not you will find a big hole behind it that Nibbles has created.  In terms of interaction, the fun is still wonderful.  You can also learn a little if you read around the holes as there are some genuine Dino facts on offer.

The issue with this title is that the narrative structure is missing by the decision to use non-fiction.  In its stead Emma Yarlett has increased the cheek factor.  The first book had a little mild naughtiness, but ‘‘Dinosaur Guide’’ has brought out the crassness.  There is more than one reference to dinosaur poo in this book.  The original did not need to resort to this humour.  I cannot help feeling that one or two more children’s story based outings would have been nice before tackling dinosaurs.  What you have is a very well put together book that lacks the satisfaction of the first.  Many children will still enjoy this outing, but it is just not up to muster.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

3.5 Stars

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals by DK Book Review – 4.5 Stars

VIP Animals

The Animal Kingdom is a diverse one, full of creatures that do all sorts of things.  The number of animals out there is so vast that even vets need to do a quick google when something strange appears in their practice.  For the budding vet-to-be, animals are a constant source of fascination and they will absorb as much knowledge as you can give them.  It is not practical to visit the zoo every day, but getting an educational and entertaining animal encylopedia is.

‘‘My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals’’ is part of DK’s ‘‘Very Important’’ series that takes an encyclopaedic look at a given subject area.  Whilst the original book made a valiant attempt at trying to cover almost everything in one book, DK have sensibly focused on one area here – animals.  This is a large enough subject to cover on its own and DK have tackled it by focusing not just on animal types, but also traits.  The book is split into three parts; basic questions about animals, a deeper look at certain types and a section exploring some interesting animal antics.

As with all encyclopedias for children, there is a balance to be struck between educating the reader and making the book interesting enough to capture the imagination.  For an older reader ‘VIA’ may seem at first to be a little too in your face.  It is certainly a fun book to look at.  The hardback version is full of quality full colour photos that makes almost every page an assault on the senses.  If the visuals were the only thing with the book, it would have failed at being an encyclopedia.  Thankfully, DK have plenty of experience in this area.

Alongside the wonderful imagery are some solid facts for kids.  Whilst the likes of ‘‘Ripley’s’’ and ‘‘Guinness’’ are more about fun and not fact, ‘‘VIA’ ensures that the information is not lost.  The layouts of the pages differ, but most will have images of a few animals and the rest of the page will be dotted with factoids.  These are bitesize chunks of information that is palatable for the 4-8 year old market.  Extra credit should be given by DK’s commitment to helping with reading.  Certain words will be highlighted that show they are important.  For the younger reader this may prompt some questions to an adult about what it means.

The entire book is well designed to be inviting for a child interested in information and animals; from the colours to the layout.  Like with all encyclopedias there are gaps in what information is available, but the subject of animals is covered in enough detail here to sate the appetite of most pre-teens who are going to read the book.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars

Dog in Boots by Paula Metcalf Book Review – 4.5 Stars @luckytoes72

Dog in Boots

Love is a fickle beast and it is not helped that we often sabotage ourselves before we can even get the chance to be rejected by another.  That person can never love me, I am too hairy, short, tall, fat, or slim.  Our own hang ups get in the way of trying to see if someone will love us for our imperfections.  One such creature going through a crisis of this nature is Philip, a dog with short legs.  He has fallen for his new neighbour Penelope at first sight, but she towers over him.  Can Philip convince Penelope that he is a catch?  Maybe he can disguise the fact that is a little titchy.

The genre of romantic comedy is not the first thing you expect to read in a children’s picture book, but this is what Paula Metcalf set out to do with ‘Dog in Boots’ and she pulls it off.  This is a comedy of errors that has more than a little of de Bergerac about it, but rather than have a big nose, Philip has short legs.  He gets the help of his friends to disguise his stature and several of his daft ideas are very amusing.  When disguises fail, perhaps poetry will work?  The moment that Philip’s prose gets him into trouble is a highlight as it is very funny and uses the lift the flap element well.

As well as being a story book, ‘Dog’ is also a lift the flap book.  However, unlike many books with the flap format, there are not tons of them.  Each page is not adorned with flaps for the sake of them, but they are used sparingly to inform the story.  In fact, I don’t think I have seen flaps used quite as well as seen in this book, many of the best jokes are hidden behind the few flaps on offer.

Metcalf has done a wonderful job of taking an adult feeling romance story and making it appeal to kids.  Philip gets up to some silly antics, but at the core he just wants to go on a date.  The illustrations are clean, colourful and work well – only being enhanced by a good use of flaps.  For a 4-5 year old who is starting to read for themselves, or wants a slightly longer picture book to be read to them, ‘Dog in Boots’ is a great option.

4.5 Stars

Star Trek: Voyager – Her Klingon Soul by Michael Jan Friedman Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Her Klingon Soul

A lot of the Star Trek tie in novels are nonsense, but some are fun nonsense, whilst others are just bad.  When done correctly they can throw off some of the burden of being on TV and be a fun adventure that would cost too much to shoot.  ‘Her Klingon Soul’ by Michael Jan Friedman is a prime example of when they get it right.  Yes the story is silly, but at least it is great fun.

B’Elanna Torres has always been caught between her Human side and her Klingon side.  It annoys her no end that people assume that she is a certain way, therefore the Klingon Day of Honor is always going to make her blood boil.  The crew of the Voyager think that she wants to celebrate it, but B’Elanna just wants to be left alone.  Perhaps a stint on a prison planet will help?  This is where B’Elanna and Harry Kim find themselves once captured.  Can the Klingon/Human use both sides of her personality to survive the radioactive mine?

‘Soul’ is part of a wider series of Star Trek books called ‘Day of Honor’.  They all purport to have links to the Klingon holiday, but most times this is tenuous.  This particular outing is really just another adventure that happens to be set on that day.  You get a little bit of to and froing from B’Elanna about how the day feels, but there is little reason that her thought processes could not have happened another day.  She is constantly aware of her dual personality.

With the shackles of the Day of Honor loosened you are provided with a fun action story.  The main thrust of the book is B’Elanna and Kim on a prison planet.  It is here that B’Elanna is able to study her two sides.  Can she lead the prisoners in a rebellion?  Friedman does a good job of creating a believable prison planet and has some dastardly villains.  The various fights, riots and escape attempts make for some entertaining reading.  We do learn a little bit about the Day of Honor, but it does not interfere with the action.

‘Her Klingon’ soul is not the greatest piece of science fiction ever written, but it certainly one of the more fun Star Trek tie in books.  The action is breezy and a lot happens over a short space of time.  Out of all the books in the ‘Day of Honor’ series, it is the most fun and possibly the best.

3.5 Stars

Bathroom Boogie by Clare Foges and Al Murphy Book Review – 4 Stars @ClareFoges

Bathroom Boogie

Every day I leave the house with the feeling that I left it in a pretty tidy state, but on my return some things always seem out of place.  This is especially true of my bathroom.  Why is there toothpaste on the mirror, or a flannel on the floor?  It would appear that I may not actually be to blame and that when I am at work all the bathroom items come out for a boogie.  Will I ever catch them in the act?

Clare Foges and Al Murphy return with another jolly rhyming book that explains what happens when you are not around.  Whilst the [[Kitchen Disco by Clare Foges and Al Murphy]] concentrated on the fruit and vegetables getting down, ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ explores what happens with the shampoo and toothpaste when you are not at home.

The best way to describe ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ is that it is joyous.  This is a book that is all about kids having fun, from the kooky idea and rhymes to the silly illustrations.  The combination of Foges and Murphy worked wonders in ‘‘Kitchen Disco’’ and ‘‘Bathroom Boogie’’ follows the same format.  Almost the exact same format.

On a positive note, this is no bad thing.  The idea that inanimate objects suddenly pop into life when you are out of the room is great fun for a child and they will love imagining what their bath toys are doing as they sleep.  Foges also returns with her rhymes.  The book is like a song that tells the story about a day in the life of the bathroom.  You are introduced to a series of characters and you even get a repeating chorus that you will be humming in no time.  The best element is once again Murphy’s excellent illustrations.  He has a way of creating colourful and daft characters that you love being with.  The raving toothbrushes are particularly amusing.  Murphy packs each page with drawings so that a child can hunt for everything and one or two elements are designed to make the adult chuckle.

On the surface all elements are once again present for lightening to strike again; idea, song, pictures.  However, the book is a little too similar to ‘‘Kitchen Disco’’, it follows the same format and even the song sounds similar – same tune, different lyrics.  The difference being that the words don’t scan quite as well.  Even so, this is still a great book that is full of fun ideas.  Fans of the first book may feel like it is more of the same, but this is a good same.  New readers won’t know and they will just read a really fun book that will have the family bopping all the way to bedtime.

4 Stars

Cool Duck and Lots of Hats by Elizabeth Dale and Giusi Capizzi Book Review – 4.5 Stars

Cool Duck

Children are a little like Pokemon; you may not be able to house them in a Pokeball, but they are always evolving.  Your little kiddo may have spent the first couple of years or so intent to sit on your lap and listen to you read a story, but at some point they are going to want to read themselves.  This is not the moment to lend them your copy of ‘‘Lord of the Rings’’ as their own first books will actually be simpler stories than the books that you have shared together.  You need to know your ducks and your hats before you can tackle what on Earth a Gruffalo is.

‘‘Cool Duck and Lots of Hats’’ by Elizabeth Dale and Giusi Capizzi is part of the Early Reader series of books by Maverick Arts Publishing and comes under the simplest Pink Band.  It actually contains two tales, one about a set of hot animals needing to cool down and one about a family with a series of increasingly large hats.  Each tale spans around 10 pages and is less about the narrative and more about associating simple words and concepts.

If you remember the ‘‘Billy Blue-hat’’ and ‘‘Roger Red-hat’’ books, this is essentially a modern series like this, but the tales are a little more fun and less 70s.  As a Pink Band book ‘‘Cool’’ offers the simplest form of reading. Each page may have four words on it e.g. the cat is hot, the duck is cool.  These words are placed next to one of Capizzi illustrations that are a colourful interpretation of what the words are saying e.g. a picture of a hot looking cat!

The stories included are extremely basic, but for a reason; this book is meant as a very first reader.  Connecting the concepts of the words with the images helps a child to understand – H, O, T means hot, like the cat in the picture.  Although incredibly simple, Dale’s stories are also a little daft so they are still fun.  Capizzi is able to capture this sense of lightness in the drawings.  This makes a book that could have felt like my first academic text, actually feel like my first special book just for me.

For parents who are worried about how they can help their child develop their reading, Maverick have included a section for both stories about the book aims, what the important words are and the type of questions you may want to ask.  All children will develop at different rates and the fact that all the Early Learner books are part of a staggered progression means that you can buy the book that suits your child.  I can certainly recommend ‘‘Cool Cat and Lots of Hats’’ as a very first emerging reader book; it is simple, but also simply fun.  Original review on thebookbag.co.uk

4.5 Stars