BOOK REVIEWS: The pleasures of reading Dahl

Everyone needs a bit of Roald Dahl in their lives - and Jonathan Cape have obliged with a delightful, attractive reissue of some of the master’s greatest.

Get the lot and you can even while away a few hours debating their relative merits. George’s Marvellous Medicine has always been a personal favourite; Danny The Champion Of The World has never seemed in the same league.

The Witches and Matilda are crackers; why does everyone make such a fuss about the inferior BFG. Esio Trott, The Twits and The Giraffe And The Pelly And Me are also in the new collection, hardback and beautifully presented, priced £7.99 to £9.99.

All are either brilliant from first page to last or have flashes of brilliance throughout - terrific reading for adults and children alike as the strangest of imaginations runs riot, invariably starting off in the world of the real before giving it the weirdest of weird twists and then twisting it some more to take us into the contorted, bonkers world of Dahl.

Just as we all need a bit of Dahl, so too do we all need a revolting fact book in our lives. Mitchell Symons has got the market pretty much sewn up at the moment. His latest volume, posing all sorts of questions most people would never think or dare ask, is Why Does Ear Wax Taste So Gross?

Gross indeed and in the most delightful of ways, but mostly it’s just fascinating, packed with all sorts of weird and wonderful did-you-knows that you’ll be desperate to stash away and slip seamlessly into conversation at the most (or maybe least) appropriate moment (£7.99, Doubleday Childrens, seven to nine-year-olds).

The Jacqueline juggernaut, meanwhile, rolls on, with The Jacqueline Wilson Diary 2011 the latest must-have Wilson accessory. The blurb says that it is “by Jacqueline Wilson” which sounds worryingly like missing the point of a diary. Fortunately, however, Jacqueline has left more than enough space for you to record whatever you want in it. Attractively presented, it is priced £6.99 (Doubleday Childrens, seven to nine-year-olds).

Back in the world of fiction, Ranger’s Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan (£5.99, Yearling, nine to 11-year-olds) comes recommended.

After years as a Ranger’s Apprentice, Will is now the protector of his first fief. Not long into his service, everything that can go wrong, does: Keren, a renegade knight, has taken over Castle Macindaw, a strategic gateway to the North - poisoning the royal family in the process - and is holding Will’s friend Alyss captive. The situation grows worse when Will uncovers Keren’s secret alliance with the Scotti, who have plans to plunder Araluen. Time is of the essence, and Will must recruit a motley crew to rescue Alyss and reclaim Castle Macindaw, before the Scotti can make it their own.

It rattles along, vivid and persuasive, with a great story-teller creating a succession of memorable scenes.

Pitched at the very girly end of girly is Sweet Hearts: Strictly Friends? by Jo Cotterill

(£5.99, Red Fox, nine to 11-year-olds), an engaging tale set in the glamorous world of ballroom dancing.

Megan can’t believe she’s had to move 200 miles away from her home. What about her school and her friends? Not to mention her dancing and her dancing partner, Jake, who has been her best friend since forever…

There’s a little whiff of hanging on to Jacqueline Wilson’s coat tails, but it’s a good story sweetly told.

The Young Chieftain by Ken Howard (£5.99. Tamarind, nine to 11-year-olds) is a book which aims to hit much harder and does so.

Jamie’s dad is killed. Suddenly, he and his mother must travel from their Los Angeles home to a remote Scottish island to bury him. Here, Jamie finds himself at the heart of ancient feuds where even his life is at risk.

There’s a mysterious, magical stone. There’s a secret place only true chieftains can find. There’s a huge struggle for power.

Ancient and modern combine well in a tale which will keep young minds gripped. For the adults, the appeal will be that it is so well written.

X-Isle by Steve Augarde (£7.99, David Fickling Books, 12 years and up) also hits the spot.

Ever since the floods came and washed the world away, survivors have been desperate to win a place on X-Isle, the island where life is rumoured to be easier than on what’s left of the mainland. Only young boys are in with a chance, the smaller and lighter the better.

Baz and Ray are two of the lucky few to be chosen, but they soon discover that X-Isle is a far cry from paradise. Ruled by Preacher John, a dangerous religious fanatic, it’s a violent, unpredictable place where terrible things can happen at any moment.

It’s a book very much in the thriller category, and it’s strikingly well handled, pacy and sure, gripping and ultimately satisfying.

For much younger readers, there’s considerable charm in Rose And Izzy The Cheekiest Dogs On The Farm by Jon Katz (£5.99, Red Fox, seven to nine-years-old)

When Jon Katz hears about Izzy, a three-year-old Border collie kept alone in a field, he can’t help but agree to take him in. But Jon already has three other dogs at home back on his farm including Rose - Jon’s hard-working sidekick. How will the rest of the farm take to the new arrival?

Mark Haddon is a name which instantly spells The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time. With Boom! (£5.99, David Fickling Books, seven to nine-years-old), he’s aiming at a much younger audience, though adults will love it too - a rollercoaster read with spaceships, spies and mortal danger.

Jim and his best friend Charlie weren’t looking for adventure, when they decided to bug the staffroom . . . But then they overhear their teachers speaking in a secret language and it’s too late to turn back. And now they have to explain to the police, the headmistress and their parents where they’ve been for a whole week – without mentioning the aliens.

Also new out is Trash by Andy Mulligan (£10.99, David Fickling Books, 12 and up).

Raphael is a dumpsite boy. He spends his days wading through mountains of steaming trash, sifting it, sorting it, breathing it, sleeping next to it.

Then one unlucky-lucky day, Raphael’s world turns upside down. A small leather bag falls into his hands. It’s a bag of clues. It’s a bag of hope. It’s a bag that will change everything.

Soon Raphael and his friends Gardo and Rat are running for their lives. Wanted by the police, it takes all their quick-thinking, fast-talking to stay ahead. As the net tightens, they uncover a dead man’s mission to put right a terrible wrong.

And now it’s three street-boys against the world...