Category Archives: Egmont Books

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I should open today’s post with a disclaimer right from that start that books about WWI or WWII are something I feel over saturate the market. If done well they can be incredibly emotive and powerful but all too often they fall into the ‘man and woman fall in love, he goes off to war, its horrific, she hears he is dead but actually it was a mistaken telegram and they get back together, the end’. I should also mention that I don’t really like horses (much to the dismay of one of my closest friends) be they real or fictional ones. Why on earth read ‘War Horse’ then? Actually not because of the movie, which I was slightly aware was being released soon, but because I saw DogEarDiscs rate it five stars on Good Reads and had been contemplating reading more YA so it seemed like a good idea.

Egmont Books, paperback, 1982, fiction, 182 pages, borrowed from the library

I didn’t think I was going to like ‘War Horse’ when I started it, not because war books are so hit and miss with me or because I don’t like horses, both facts are true yet I knew this was coming from the title so was ready, but because I didn’t expect the novel to be narrated by the horse, Joey, himself. As soon as I realised this I thought something a little ruder than ‘oh no’ because my saccharine alert had been switched on. Like child narrators, animal narration can kill a book with one out of place word or description. Interestingly ‘War Horse’ both excels and in some ways fails because of this device.

Joey is a half bred foal when he is separated from his mother at an auction, ‘little I was worth’, and bought by an alcoholic farmer at a market in Devon who doesn’t actually want him but buys him as he is so cheap. On the farm he meets Albert and the two form an instant bond, slowly but surely Joey becomes one of the finest horses around, something Albert’s father never believed possible, yet when war is declared Albert’s father sees an opportunity of financial gain and the fates of Joey and Albert are changed, especially as Albert is not old enough to fight. Despite the fact I know you can all imagine what happens with the novel I don’t want to give too much more away but we do from this point see the war through the eyes of a horse.

In some ways Joey narrating this is a really interesting idea. It gives a very different spin on the whole war idea, a different angle in many ways. This is also probably much more effective on its intended audience as this book is aimed at a younger market and so in a way makes this more accessible, we all like animals on the whole when we are younger don’t we?  Yet as an adult reading this it added a certain distance, it was emotive and I could imagine as a kid this book hitting home but as an adult it really wasn’t. As the story plays out further characters, it is a war after all, might not be around for all that long and so characters are never quite feel fully developed. Great to illustrate to children the effects of war and quite shocking, as an adult I wanted further character development before I could really feel losses as and when they came, even in the case of Emilie which should have been much more effecting.

This isn’t all negative I promise. There are some very successful moments for example when Joey crosses no man’s, interestingly when it is just Joey describing his surrounding and the atmosphere, was very eerie indeed. I also thought Morpurgo did something that was particularly clever, and that was to not create any major villains. In fact all the ‘baddies’, apart from the war itself, are offstage really. Morpurgo doesn’t make the British soldiers ‘good’ and the German’s ‘bad’ instead he illustrates two sides of a war and how innocent men were brought into it from both sides because they had no choice/felt it was right for their country but didn’t want the war in the first place. That I thought was very powerful.

As you can see it’s a mixed bag of feeling for me with ‘War Horse’. I am glad that I have read it, but it didn’t hit all the buttons I had hoped it would, thankfully though it wasn’t saccharine in the slightest, it moved me, just not as much as I was expecting it was going to. I do think that I should mention that the book was originally published in 1982, it’s as old as me can you believe it, and I think naturally all books, not just children’s, have developed with a society that isn’t as easy to shock so that needs to be taken into account too.

I would be interested to see how it has been adapted though; my uncle and cousin came back from the movies and had clearly had a good cry. Who else has read it? Who has seen the play or the film? What did you think?

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Filed under Egmont Books, Michael Morpurgo, Review, Young Adult Fiction

The Bookboy Reads #3

I am very sorry that I have not had time to do a blog of late, but I have been inordinately busy. In response to some of your comments on my last blog, I love the Harry Potter books and am a massive Harry Potter geek (has anybody had chance to see the latest film?). If you have, I‘d love to hear your comments about it, and hear if or how you think it differs from the book. Also, I am a very big fan of classics, and in a future blog, I will feature some of them. I am not the biggest fan of graphic novels (but if there is one of the Harry Potter series, I might just be persuaded!) Thank you, as well, to Kristen.M for her recommendations, and I will look them up in due course.

Now to my first book, it is called ‘The Valley of Secrets’ and is by Charmian Hussey. The main character is a boy called Stephen who was abandoned at birth and lives in a care home. He goes on a course for people who struggle with academic subjects, but who excel at biology, zoology and wildlife conservation. There, he receives a letter from a lawyer called Albert Postlethwaite telling him to come to his office at a time that is suitable, and so Stephen pays him a visit. He learns, to his astonishment, that he had a Great Uncle who has died and left him his entire estate in Cornwall. So Stephen travels to Cornwall and settles into his new house. Once there, he finds a diary, which turns out to have been his Great Uncle’s from when he took a trip to the Amazon in 1911. Stephen discovers something that will turn his world upside down, but will it be to his advantage or disadvantage?

I found this book a joy to read and I think that it’s appropriate for 9 year olds and above. If you have read ‘Journey to the River Sea’ by Eva Ibbotson, then you will find this book enjoyable.

My second choice is ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning’ by Lemony Snicket. This book is about three siblings called Klaus, Sunny and Violet Baudelaire. They live with their parents in a mansion until it is burnt by an evil villain. A banker by the name of Mr Poe is put in charge of their affairs and comes to inform the children that their parents are dead. They are then put in the care of Count Olaf, who claims to be their distant relation, though the children doubt that this is true. Whilst Count Olaf displays no clear cruelty, he is not a loving guardian and does not really care about them at all. The only thing Olaf is after is the children’s fortune, which was left to them by their parents. Olaf schemes, plots and tries all manner of things to get his hands on their fortune. However, the only snag is that Violet (the eldest Baudelaire) inherits the fortune when she is 18, by law. Will Count Olaf get the Baudelaire fortune, or will he and his despicable henchmen fall at the last hurdle?

I would recommend this book to people over the age of 8, but there is simply no book on this planet (in my opinion) that you could compare it to.

Next on the agenda is ‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’ by Trenton Lee Stewart. The main character in this book is a boy by the name of Reynie Muldoon, and he is exceptionally clever. He lives in an orphanage, but when he sees an advertisement in the paper that reads, “Are you a Gifted Child looking for special Opportunities,” he just can’t resist the chance to find out what it’s all about. He goes to the designated place and is put through a series of rigorous tests, and, finally, gets through to the final stages. He meets the person who put the advertisement in the paper, and, also, the other children who got through to the final stages of the test. Mr Benedict (the man who put the advertisement in the paper), brought the children together to form a society. This society would try and defeat a man who was threatening to invade people’s minds. Will they defeat this evil nemesis, or will he prevail?

Anybody who likes mystery, danger and slightly weird ideas will like this book, and I think it is best suited to people of above 10, as the plot is slightly complex.

Second to last is a personal favourite of mine, ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R Tolkien. Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit. Hobbit’s do not like adventure, and would rather stay in their warm houses smoking pipes and eating second breakfasts. So when a wizard called Gandalf turns up on his doorstep with a horde of dwarves, he is astounded and confused. They inform him that they are on the way to The Lonely Mountain to seek the treasure that is rightfully theirs, but is being guarded jealously by a dragon by the name of Smaug. They want Bilbo to join them as a burglar, as he is small, nimble and light. They force Bilbo to accept, and so begins a quest of much peril and danger. Who could have imagined that a mere Hobbit could become such a hero?

‘The Hobbit’ is a classic, and there is only one book I can think of that it compares to, and that book is, ‘The Weirdstone of Brisingamen’ by Alan Garner. I would recommend it to age groups of 11 and above.

Lastly, I am going to review ‘The Higher Institute of Villainous Education’ by Mark Walden. This book begins with Otto Malpense waking up with a blinding headache in a helicopter with an observant boy by the name of Wing Fanchu. Otto is not sure how he got there, but the last thing he remembers is a woman clad all in black kidnapping him, as he publicly humiliates the Prime Minister of Britain. Otto and Wing arrive at H.I.V.E, where their life being trained as villains begins. They are taught all kinds of things, stealth and evasion, criminal history and tactical education. But Otto and Wing’s primary aim is to escape from H.I.V.E, I mean, how hard can it be?

This book is the first in a fantastic series, and if you have read any of the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, then you will like this book. I would recommend it to people of over 9.

Thank you very much for reading my blog (I hope you enjoyed it), and watch this space, as around New Year, I’ll be publishing my top reads ever which you might want to indulge in during 2011.

So long for now! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Bookboy Reads, Egmont Books, Harper Collins, Hodder & Stoughton