#BookReview: Unstoppable: My Life So Far by Maria Sharapova #MPBooks

An interesting autobiography by a well-known tennis star.

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UnstoppableTitle: Unstoppable: My Life So Far

Author: Maria Sharapova

Publisher: Penguin

Genre: Autobiography, Non-fiction, Sports (tennis)

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Description: The fiercely honest, fearless, darkly funny autobiography of global tennis star Maria Sharapova.
In the middle of the night, a father and his daughter step off a Greyhound bus in Florida and head straight to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. They ring the bell, though no one is expecting them and they don’t speak English. They have arrived from Russia with just seven hundred dollars and the conviction that this six-year-old girl will be the world’s next great tennis star. They are right. This is Maria Sharapova’s gripping and fearless autobiography, telling her story from her roots in the small Siberian town her parents fled to after the Chernobyl disaster, through her arrival in the US with nothing and her phenomenal rise to success – winning Wimbledon aged just seventeen – to the disasters that threatened her career and her fight back. Here the five-time Grand Slam winner gives us candid insights into her relationship with her father, who gave up his job and life in Russia to dedicate himself to his daughter; the truth behind her famous rivalry with Serena Williams; the injuries and suspension controversy that threatened to end it all; and her recent battle to get back on court. Told with the same combative, no-holds-barred attitude as her game, it’s a story of crazy luck, mistakes, rivalries, sacrifice, survival and, above all, the constant, unwavering determination to win.

My Review: I’ve always loved watching and following tennis but I’ve never been a fan of Maria Sharapova. I was hoping this book would help to change my mind and in many ways it does, but I’m left with a mixture of feelings after reading this.

‘Unstoppable: My Life So Far’ is an easy read and I got into this book right away. The first page shows a couple of pictures of Sharapova as a child before beginning with a prologue where she talks about her recent doping ban. It’s a brilliant start to the book as it explains the truth of the ban and makes you wonder if it should have happened at all. The prologue is brief and there is more on the ban in the last chapter of book, with the rest of the story following in a chronological order, beginning with Sharapova’s life in Gomel, Belarus.

The book has a really easy to read style making it feel as if Sharapova is chatting with you while telling you her life. Her early years before moving to the US are just fascinating to read and it gave me a sense of the strength and determination she has inside her. As the book progresses and details her life in America you begin to have a real sense of respect for her. I never knew the life she led, the difficulties she faced early on and the conditions she and her father lived in. It all makes you feel real respect for her and I thought I would really enjoy the whole book from start to finish. But as Sharapova reveals the first information about Serena Williams, I did start to feel differently about her.

I’ll admit right now that I do like Serena Williams but I was prepared to here some real truths about how the rivalry began, regardless of who did what to who. The book is advertised as explaining this ‘legendary rivalry’ but no matter how many times Sharapova brings up the issues around her and Williams I couldn’t see any real conflicts in her story. At the very first mention of seeing the Williams sisters she seems to have set up her own barrier against them and this became more clear the further I read on. At several points in the story Sharapova even explains the behaviour Williams showed towards her, behaviour which I can only see as positive and even friendly, and yet Sharapova sees it as alien, as if it wasn’t real. In the end her mentions of Williams began to grate on me and it really spoiled my reading. It felt like a bitter attempt to instill some hatred towards Williams, especially when she mentions a particular incident post match which sounds like a private moment, which I doubt any other players would mention publically.

Although people who are not into tennis may enjoy this book there’s no explanation of how tennis games work and there’s a lot of descriptions around certain matches which may lose some people but I found it very interesting to read. I was never confused at any point during these chapters and it was good to hear how someone feels in the middle of the match, the thoughts and feelings they go through as you never really see when watching a tennis match as a spectator. In the last chapters Sharapova details other aspects of her life. As a child she speaks of few moments that go outside of the tennis life but in the last chapters she starts to talk about relationships. This is also an interesting part of her book and it was good to see more of her life outside of tennis. The last pages detail the ban again and the struggle she went through. It was good to hear more details of this and it did make me respect her a little more, however it was still hard to enjoy this book that much by the end given how Sharapova describes not only Williams but tennis relationships in general.

There is swearing in the book. There isn’t much in the first chapters but there is some use of the f and s word later on. The ending is good and I enjoyed reading the book as a whole. There’s a lot of detail of her early life and in these chapters I found a newfound respect for Sharapova. It will certainly change your mind about her when you read about the difficult circumstances she had in her early life. I also found her easy to read style fun to read and I was gripped throughout some of her early life chapters. However the digs at Williams, her explanations of friendships in tennis and the overall feel of pettiness, this spoiled what could have been a really great read. It’s not that I’m a fan of Serena Williams that makes me dislike this part of the book, it would be the same no matter who was mentioned. It’s just not what I expect to read when I pick up an autobiography and that’s why I have reduced my rating which is a shame.
-Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy.


Do you enjoy tennis or are you a fan of Sharapova?  Would you like to read this book?  Please let me know any thoughts you have I’d love to hear from you 🙂  You can also follow me in these places: 

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#BookReview: Changes by Anthony Browne #MPBooks

An interesting surreal picture book with an interesting subject.

Changes book coverTitle: Changes

Author/Illustrator: Anthony Browne

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Children’s picture book

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Description: When Joseph’s mother comes home, says his father, things are going to change. And almost at once they do – in the weirdest of ways . . .

My Review:  I’m not sure what to say about this very surreal and strange book. Joseph Kaye is waiting at home while his dad has gone to pick up his mum. He’s been told things will change but what did his father mean by that? ‘Changes’ is a large book, a bit bigger than A4 in size and filled with thick glossy pages of illustrations and easy to read text.

As Joseph ponders on the question of what will change, his imagination starts coming up with all sorts of things. First he sees the kettle changing its shape. Before he knows it the kettle’s become a cat! Is this what his father meant when he said things were going to change? The whole story follows this similar feel with Joseph left alone to imagine all sorts of things happening.

The opening page of the book – clear images and text.

I really like the illustrations. I’ve always enjoyed Dali’s paintings and Browne’s illustrations take on a similar feel. There are lots of different things happening to the objects around Joseph and it’s interesting just to look at the pictures and spot all the surreal changes going on. Even some very small objects such as a framed photo on top of the television have hidden fun extras that you may not notice the first time you read this book.

Interesting surreal images

Although the illustrations are good, I’m not sure the story will really be understood by kids and it felt a little strange. I’m going to put a spoiler here by telling you that the ending of the book has a twist: That the ‘change’ is that Joseph has a new baby sister which his parents bring home for him to met. This is a good twist but I’m not sure kids will really understand this ending if they are reading it alone.

More surreal pictures 🙂

The illustrations are great in this book and I think many kids will really enjoy looking at the pictures and spotting all the changes that appear, but whether the message in the story will be understood, and whether it’s a good book for discussing a new sibling to children I’m not so sure.
-Thanks to Walker books for a free copy (as part of The Anthony Browne Collection).


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#BookReview: National Theatre: Play in a Box #MPBooks

A fun kit for kids interested in acting or performing!

Play in a BoxTitle: Play in a Box

Author: National Theatre

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Fun Activity kit

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Description: Discover how to create, direct and act in your very own play in this brilliant kit from the National Theatre. Inside find everything you need to put on a show, including ideas and inspiration for the characters, settings and plot, as well as expert top tips for staging, costume, make-up, props, sound and lighting. Contains 30 Character Cards, 8 Setting Cards, Plot Twist Book, 32-page Stagecraft Handbook and a programme and tickets to colour in. This kit will be the perfect gift and give hours of fun to all young actors, directors and theatre-lovers.

My Review: This is such a fun kit and great for any kids who love the idea of acting or performing. The National Theatre Play in a Box comes with several things inside: A booklet called ‘Stagecraft Handbook’, 30 character cards (2 of them blank), 8 settings cards, a Plot Twist Book, a program to fill in and colour and tickets to also fill in and colour. All the items in the box can be used by kids to put on their own play but I’ll break them down to make it easier to know what you’re actually getting. At the end I’ll give my conclusion if you’d prefer to skip to that.

The whole Play in a Box kit 🙂


-Stagecraft Handbook:
This is the main book and is around A5ish in size and shape. It’s a short booklet rather than a book and has glossy covers with thick glossy and very colourful pages inside. Although listed on Amazon as a hardback, this refers to the box the kit comes in rather than the book.
On the first pages of the book there are brief explanations of all the other things you get in this kit before moving on to the details of how to put on a play. It cover everything from first deciding on a story for your play, then characters before moving on to costumes, prop design and how to actually act on stage. What I love about this book is how easy, simple and fun everything is. Rather than lots of text which can seem boring, there are lots of easy to understand pictures along with snippets of text. The book covers so many aspects of putting on a play and although I knew most of the tips and tricks that are explained here, having done a lot of theatre work in the past, I still learned some fun things you can do to create a certain feel on stage or how to use large props like cars when you can’t actually have a car on stage! There are also some key words explained, which are used in real theatres, such foley, house and gel, making the book more valuable as even I didn’t know what a ‘gel’ was in theatre-speak.
The whole books is made even more fun by the fact that Billy the Backstage Cat, a fun cat character, is pictured throughout the book giving little extra information – I just love kids books that add that little fun extra!

The stagecraft Handbook is colourful and easy to understand

 

-Settings Cards:
There are eight cards each with a different settings. When trying to come up with a new story for a play these cards are a great way of imagining a new setting. On one side is a picture of the setting (which can be used as inspiration for a kid’s own stage) while the other side of that setting has a brief explanation of the setting, along with sounds you might hear, questions on what might happen in such a place and some handy tips on how to create that setting. Settings include a Forest of Enchantment, Planet X, and a Secret Laboratory.

-Character Cards:
There are 28 cards that have characters on them. A character card contains a picture of a character such as an astronaut called Commander Mo Meteor on one side with some text about them on the back. The text suggests what type of character they are as well as suggestions on what they are like, what they are thinking, and some tips on how to make that character seem real, such as bouncing while walking to make it look like an astronaut in light gravity.
The character cards are separated on the back (the side with the text) by colours. Yellow cards are hero characters, red are friends, blue are opponents and green are strangers.
The idea of the cards is to mix and match them to give you ideas of the different characters you might have in a play. I think they’re very clever, especially with the tips on how to make them believable. There are also two blank cards so you can create your own characters, and colour them in.
The twenty eight characters include both people and animals such as a doctor, detective, ghost and rabbit.

Setting and Character cards are easy to use and fun to read.


-Plot Twist Book:
If kids are struggling to come up with ideas for all three acts of a play, the start, middle and finish, then the plot twist book is a great addition to this kit. It’s a tiny booklet barely bigger than a playing card but so easy to read. Each page is very simply designed with an idea of a beginning, middle or ending along with questions such as why did it happen, who will help you and can they be trusted. The twists include ideas like You Have to Find Something, You Get Lost and You Discover a Big, Bad Secret Plan.

-Programme:
The program is a small folded sheet of paper which kids can design and colour in on. It has some fun spaces to add information about the play, the cast and some fun reviews on the back of the play. Kids can use this programme as it is or it could be photocopied in order to create more in the future. It’s certainly something I didn’t think of adding when I performed plays at home for family when I was little.

-Tickets:
Just like the program these are tickets to colour in and add details of the play. You get a total of nine tickets, each numbered for nine different seats but these can again be copied or recreated if kids want to put on more plays.

The rest of the kit – fun to use and great little extras to have 🙂


Conclusion:
This is such a fun kit and so much to do. I was extra interested in getting this kit and taking a look at it as I used to stage plays and shows at home when I was a child all the time, and I later became interested and involved in acting and stage work at school. Everything about this book is fun from the Stagecraft handbook to the programme you can create and colour in. There’s so many ideas for different plots and characters and settings that it really gets kids using their imagination. I think any kids interested in this type of kit would just love it. I would have been using this like crazy if it existed when I was younger, and with so many different cards and ideas there’s plenty of chances for kids to use this kit again and again!
-Thanks to Walker Books for a free copy.


What do you think of this kit?  Is it one you would be interested in getting?  Do or did you ever enjoy performing/acting?  Please let me know any thoughts, I’d love to hear from you 🙂  You can also find me in these places: 

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#BookReview: Willy the Dreamer by Anthony Browne #MPBooks

A picture book with a fascinating surreal take on some famous artwork.

Willy the Dreamer book coverTitle: Willy the Dreamer

Author/Illustrator: Anthony Browne

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Children’s picture book

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Description: Willy loves to dream. He dreams that he’s a film-star, a painter, a ballet dancer. He dreams of fierce monsters and super-heroes. Willy’s dreamland is a gallery of amazing and magical pictures. Enter and see.

My Review:  This is a surreal and interesting children’s picture book that’s great for introducing kids to the world of art as well as sparking the imagination. ‘Willy the Dreamer’ doesn’t have much of a story, it is a book that is more about the pictures inside than the story being told. The paperback is a bit larger than A4 in size and filled with thick and glossy, colourful pages, mainly of large pictures of Willy’s dreams.

The story runs along the bottom of the page and is a short and repetitive story made of simple sentences about what Willy dreams. Above the writing there is a large picture of Willy’s dream, each page dedicated to one of his dreams. The pictures are quite amazing and very detailed. Although all the pictures are of Willy and his dream, the images are his versions of famous paintings or movie characters, book characters, etc. These illustrations are amazing to look at and I was particularly drawn to pictures of paintings such as Dali’s ‘The Persistence of Memory’ which has melting bananas instead of melting clocks for example.

The first page of this big book 🙂

The further you go into the book the more detailed the pictures become. Each one of the images is very detailed and a perfect altered copy of a real painting. There are plenty of little extra things to spot too such as how many bananas you can find (so many objects are morphed into bananas and I couldn’t help laughing at one of Van Gogh’s paintings of a bed ‘Bedroom in Arles’ where the bed is an entire banana!). There are also funny surreal extras such as a hammerhead shark literally having a hammer for a head.

Some famous images inspired these dreams of Willy – clear and fun pictures!

The book has a good ending, though the last page image is a twist on the first which I didn’t notice straight away!. This is more of a visual book than a storybook. I really enjoyed reading this and can’t help but constantly flick back to see the pictures again. I might be a bit biased having studied art but I think this is a great book which kids will love and one which also has an educational quality as children will learn and know famous paintings through Willy’s dreams, and adults will love sharing this book too as there’s just so much to see and think about!
-Thanks to Walker Books for a free copy (as part of The Anthony Browne Collection).


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#BookReview: Julius Zebra Entangled with the Egyptians by Gary Northfield #MPBooks

A hilarious and very silly story with some great illustrations!

Julius Zebra Entangled with the Egyptians book coverTitle: Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians!

Author/Illustrator: Gary Northfield

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Middle grade/Older children’s fiction, humour

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Description: So, you think you know about Julius Zebra do you?
He’s a gladiatorial champion!  Liberator of enslaved beasts!  A rebel of the Roman Empire!
But when Julius is shipwrecked on the shores of Ancient Egypt and mistaken for a horse god his luck takes a new turn and soon he’s bathing in donkey’s milk and being crowned Pharaoh of Egypt.  Just how long will his golden fortunes last?

My Review:   This is such a funny book and perfect to bring a smile to anyone’s face. ‘Julius Zebra: Entangled with the Egyptians’ is the second book in the Julius Zebra series, the previous books being ‘Rumble with the Romans’ and ‘Bundle with the Britons’. You don’t need to have read any Julius Zebra books before reading this one as it’s a complete story in itself, (and I never read the first book before trying out the second one a few months ago) but it is extra fun to know where all the characters come from and what they’ve been through.

The hardcover book has shiny gold on the cover and inside the whole story is written in easy to read text along with funny illustrations on every page. After his last adventure in Britannia Julius and his friends find themselves shipwrecked on a beach. Before they know it the Egyptian army finds them and somehow Julius gets mistaken for a horse god! I don’t want to explain more of the plot as it’s just too funny and it would spoil it for me to go into detail, but will say that this book is hilarious and has a very daft and silly plot. When I read the previous book I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at all the silly things that happen to the characters and the way they react and I wasn’t disappointed with ‘Entangled with the Egyptians’ as there’s more of that brilliant humour!

Funny pictures among the text.

The story is just really silly with every moment being a chance for something funny to happen, and what makes it even more funny is the pictures. Rather than the odd illustration in the book which you’d look at after reading the text, there are pictures on every page and they are part of the story. You have to see what’s happening in the pictures and read the characters speech bubbles before reading the next part of the text. I love this style of illustrations and the images themselves are just really funny. Every small picture or large one spread on a double page is funny. It’s hard to describe but somehow the way the characters are drawn (and those eyes!) makes the plot all the more funny and just looking at the cover makes me laugh.

The story throughout is hilarious, there’s never a dull moment and although it’s predictably going to be very silly, I still didn’t know what was going to happen, especially at the end. I like the ending it’s fun and made the book feel like the last in the series but there’s an epilogue that shows that the story is far from over for Julius and his animal friends, which I’m so happy about as I really can’t get enough of Julius and his friends.

After the main story is finished there are a few pages of extras. There’s a quick explanation of how to read roman numerals, as all the page numbers are written in roman numerals. There is also information on how to write in hieroglyphics, a funny explanation of mummification along with some great pictures, and a glossary, explaining some of the real life things that exist in the book. A glossary was also in the previous book which I found fascinating and I especially liked this book’s addition as I’ve always loved learning about Ancient Egypt and I didn’t realise where ‘Heter’ comes from.

More funny illustrations! 😀

This whole book is so funny and silly and it really put a smile on my face. Although aimed at kids this book will make any adult laugh too. I think the sense of humour in this book is just perfect for me, and how funny someone finds the book might depend on their own type of humour, but I’d really recommend this book to anyone to try, especially if you enjoy really daft/silly stories. I can’t wait for a future instalment of the series and I could see this series going on for a long time, as long as there are ancient places for Julius to visit. A really great book and the fact that the line ‘We’re going on our holibobs!’ is used again just cracked me up (no idea why but it does!)
-Thanks to Walker Books for a free copy.


I loved this funny and silly book!  Would you like it too?  What do you think of the illustrations?  Let me know in the comments below.  Come check me out in these places too 🙂 : 

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#BookReview: Willy the Wimp by Anthony Browne #MPBooks

A very funny book with a great deeper message.

Willy the Wimp book coverTitle: Willy the Wimp

Author/Illustrator: Anthony Browne

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Children’s picture book

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Description: Willy, the diminutive chimp, wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s no wonder the suburban gorillas call him Willy the wimp–until one day Willy answers a bodybuilding advertisement with hilarious results.

My Review: This is an interesting book which I wasn’t expecting to like as much as I now do. This special anniversary edition of the book is in paperback, about A4 in width and square in shape. Inside there are glossy, thick pages with colourful illustrations and text. ‘Willy the Wimp’ is a simple story which seems a bit silly but at the same time has a great message which may have been lost on a few amazon reviewers.

the first page of ‘Willy the Wimp’ 🙂


Willy wouldn’t hurt anybody, not even a fly, but no matter what, the suburban gorillas still call him ‘Willy the Wimp’. Willy hates being called a wimp, and one day he reads an advert in a newspaper which promises to change everything. The book has such a simple story, Willy answers a body-building advert and follows all the rules to get fit and strong. The plot may seem simple and at first it seems silly that Willy goes through changes in order to deal with the gorillas, however, those that look at the book’s ending more carefully will realise that it’s a brilliant story of overcoming the bullies by doing something that makes you feel better and more confident, and feeling happy with who you are.

The illustrations in this book are good and funny and show the story well. Some of the illustrations do look a bit silly though such as the gorillas, who are body building. They look so silly that it made me laugh.

Very colourful pictures and show what is happening well.

I do like the ending, there’s a very funny dialogue between Willy and Millie which itself made me laugh, and the last page is funny too! The ending is satisfying and I think plenty of kids will really enjoy this book. Whether they’ll get the subtle message in the story without an adult pointing it out though I’m not so sure, but this is definitely a book worth reading with kids particularly those who may be dealing with self-confidence issues.
-Thanks to Walker Books for a free copy (as part of The Anthony Browne Collection).


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#BookReview: Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht & Jarvis #MPBooks

A fun festive book with great illustrations and rhyming text!

Pick a Pine Tree book coverTitle: Pick a Pine Tree

Author: Patricia Toht

Illustrator: Jarvis

Publisher: Walker Books

Genre: Children’s Picture Book

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Description: Pick a pine tree from the lot – slim and tall or short and squat.  Long, straight limbs or branches bent…Mmm!  Just smell that piney scent!

My Review: This is a lovely and fun picture book for Christmas! This hardcover book is a little shorter in length, but a bit wider, than an A4 piece of paper. It’s filled with thick matt pages with lots of colourful illustrations which I just love! It’s hard to see from the picture of the cover but the title as well as the red ribbon on the side are actually sparkly, giving this book an extra Christmassy feel.

The story of ‘Pick a Pine Tree’ is such a simple one but something that so many kids will love to read. The story follows the journey of a pine tree. A family chooses a tree from a lot and then takes it home to be decorated. Although it may seem like a really simple plot (and it is) the magic comes from the rhyming style of the story which kids usually enjoy. The first lines of the book are: ‘Pick a pine tree from a lot – slim and tall or short and squat. One with spikey needle clumps, scaly bark, or sappy bumps.’ This rhyming pattern follows throughout the entire book making this easy for kids to read alone as well as with adults.

Very fun illustrations throughout the book.

The whole story focuses on the decorating of the tree and the different aspects that go into making it all Christmassy, as well as the fun you can have while decorating. The images really make this book shine and I have to say I love the seemingly simple pictures. Every picture looks a little like a kid’s drawing and they are all very colourful which makes every part of the story easy to understand and stand out. I do enjoy the whole look of all the pictures and the happy way everyone and everything looks but what I love even more is the fun extras on each page. A lot of the double page images have fun little extra things such as the cat that ‘helps’ to decorate the tree or a chance to spot the family dog.

The whole story is fun to read and although it’s simple it does work. The ending is fun and I love not only the final finished image of the decorating but also the hidden extra scene on the last page which makes the whole book a bit magical. The rhyming really does make this book so appealing and although there’s a bit of a strange rhyme at the end (doesn’t quite follow the same pattern on the last page) it still works well and makes the whole book feel like a fun thing to read in the run up to Christmas.

Fun rhyming text among the pictures 🙂

I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants to give their kids an early Christmas present, especially if they enjoy or you’d like to get them involved in the fun of decorating the tree. This would also make a great Christmas present overall as well as a fun book to read anytime of year when kids want to enjoy the magic of Christmas. I remember reading Christmas themed books months before December when I was a child and enjoying the build up to the time when Christmas happens so I know a lot of kids would enjoy this book, even at odd times of the year, and along with the rhyming nature and some fun images I’m sure a lot of adults would enjoy a quick read of this too.
-Thanks to Walker Books for a free copy.


Do you enjoy Christmas themed books?  What about rhyming picture books?   Do you enjoy the festive run up to Christmas, or would you prefer to hear about Xmas things closer to the date?  Please let me know your thoughts I’d love to hear from you 🙂  You can also find me in these places: 

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