My Name is River

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this from the publishers on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

My Name is River by Emma Rea

I didn’t know anything about this before reading, except that it looked a bit wild and I liked the title, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Dylan’s family farm has been sold to BlueBird – a huge, multinational pharmaceutical company and he’s devastated.

Floyd’s dad has disappeared with his younger brother on a work trip (for BlueBird) to Brazil.

Dylan and Floyd know each other from school but aren’t really friends. Now though, they join forces to go looking for answers to their problems.

With some inspired forged letters, signatures and perfectly pitched excuses and plans Dylan and Floyd are off to Brazil while their parents think they’re at camp and school think they’re sick at home. It’s a classic and will ignite children’s imaginations fantastically – what child hasn’t dreamed up madcap plans like this?!

Two young boys travelling to Brazil in secret to save their family and farm when neither speaks the language or knows anyone there or anything about where they’re going – it should be the most ridiculous, unbelievable plot to never make it to a book BUT it’s just brilliant!

This book has it all – friendship and family; adventure, peril and humour; the environment and a fantastic setting; power, class and poverty; other countries, cultures and ways of life…

Dylan and Floyd make a great pair of very loyal and likeable protagonists, but when they’re joined by Lucia it’s she who steals the show! With her passion for learning, an impressive sense of determination and self-belief and a love of languages that is matched only by her flamboyant and fantastic use of English words and phrases. She is a star.

There is a thoroughly detestable baddie in one of those we-can-see-it-coming-before-the-characters-can roles which works perfectly and makes for a very enjoyable and gripping read. There is, however, an element of mystery about what exactly they are doing which means we’re hooked and kept guessing til a dramatic reveal at the end!

The book addresses environmental and social issues as well as looking at our similarities and differences with others, helping readers to explore and consider the way we treat our planet, each other and what it means to be a global citizen.

The settings on the book are well-drawn and immersive, again helping the reader to both feel in the midst of the action but also to really see the contrasts – from the Welsh farm to Manaus’ busy streets to the slums to the lush Amazonian rainforests (particularly vivid in their description).

This is a book that crossed genres and covered wide themes, and will have wide appeal. A hugely enjoyable, funny and moving adventure with a love of the natural world and the importance of seeing our place in the wider world woven through it. I can’t wait to see more from this author.

 

Peapod’s Picks 15/7/20

A weekly(ish!) round up of some of the books Peapod has been enjoying recently.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

This is never one to sit and collect dust and has been back at the forefront of his choices at bedtime for the last couple of weeks.

He likes to tell us the story now too – “Noooo. Noooo. Yes! Noooo. Rock. Sad. You!” – which is the best! You can read my original review here.

Mini Rabbit Must Help by John Bond

Our other regular bedtime read, this has been chosen almost every night since we got it too. He loves telling us what’s happening in the pictures here too, you can read our review here.

This has been another popular bedtime or pre-bath pick too. We’re big Hairy Maclary fans and I’d love them to do more of the stories in board book format as while Peapod is able to carefully handle a paperback, he finds these much easier and prefers them.

He loves seeing Hairy Maclary hiding from Zachary Quack in this one – “hide!” and giggles away as we do “pittery pattery, skittery skattery, zip” up and down his arms!

It’s a really sweet story of friendship, playing with and helping each other, all set in Linley Dodd’s wonderfully energetic and linguistically pleasing rhyming text. Lots of fun and great to read.

We’ve also been having something of an Emily Gravett time of things recently, which I am not complaining about in the least, as she’s a real favourite of mine.

In Monkey and Me, we see a child visiting the zoo with her toy monkey, pretending to be all the animals (which of course its also lovely for little readers to do too).

It’s got lovely, simple repetitive text that’s absolutely perfect for little ones to join in with and finish the phrase with the animal, which Peapod loves to do.

I love the layout and how it so carefully matches the animals as well as the images themselves. I also love the very last spread which perfectly sums up the evd of a lovely day out (with an extra bit of fun little ones will love!)

In Where’s Bear? Bear and Hare are playing hide and seek, but Bear is too big to find a good hiding spot…or is he?!

This might just be the perfect book for us at the moment! Peapod LOVES hiding things then we all have to pretend to look for them everywhere shouting out hammed up “noooo”s when we can’t find it.

He’s also loving counting all the time and can get to 6 (to ten if you don’t mind missing 7 and 8!) so the counting element of the book is perfect too.
This is a fab book with plenty of warmth and humour. We love it. I’ve bought him the other Bear and Hare books too, but he hasn’t got them yet!

Ketchup on your Cornflakes by Nick Sharratt

A delightfully daft classic to finish. Peapod has this one in his basket of books by his kitchen and chooses it regularly, loving making odd or awful combinations with the flap style pages and reacting with a loud “ugh!” or “noooo!” Lots of fun!

Have you read any of these?

Which picture books have you read this week?

WWW Wednesday 15/7/20

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday.

What are you currently reading?


The Confession by Jessie Burton


I really loved The Miniaturist and I enjoyed The Muse so I was looking forward to this. It’s not really what I was expecting and I’m not loving it as much as her previous books, but I’m liking it more as I go on so we’ll see…



Holes by Louis Sachar, audiobook read by Kerry Beyer

This is one of those books that is regularly on reading lists and often picked up by children abd parents in work, so I’ve thought for ages I should read it despite not being desperate to do so. I’m not really enjoying it much but it’s early days…

What have you just finished reading?

The Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon


I LOVED this. A favourite for this year for sure. You can read my review here.


The Corset by Laura Purcell


I was a big fan of Laura Purcell’s first book, The Silent Companions, and I really enjoyed this one too. Ive ordered Bone China by the same author and am excited for her new book, The Shape of Darkness, out next year too.


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, audiobook read by Simon Prebble


Although this is lost definitely of its time, if you read it bearing that in mind, it’s very enjoyable. Holmes is an excellent character and I really liked seeing how he figured out all the cases.


A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Review to follow tomorrow, but for now let’s say I think this is a much-needed, well-written book that will be deservedly popular but I didn’t love it on a personal level.


My Name is River by Emma Rea

I really enjoyed this. Fab setting, fab characters and fab themes. Full review to follow.

What will you read next?

I’m going back to work at the end of the month, so I’ve reshuffled my tbr a bit to try and get some new, recent and upcoming reads read before my return.

On audio, I’d like to listen to A Monster Calls or the garden double I mentioned last week (The Secret Garden and Tom’s Midnight Garden) but haven’t dived into yet!

Have you read any of these?

What are you currently reading?

Back to Work TBR

So, my furlough is drawing to a close. Peapod is back in nursery and I am due back in work at the end of the month. With that in mind, I’m having a good look at my ridiculous TBR to see which I might need/want to prioritise reading before being back.

I have these on my netgalley (with a couple of others pending approval..)

so I’d like to get through some of these before I return. Top of the list are probably Black Kids, Eight Pieces of Silva and My Name is River at the top of my list as they’re all out as I return to work.

Then I’ve been through my physical TBR shelves and prioritised this little lot…

Obviously there’s not a chance in hell of me getting through all of these but let’s see how many I can manage… Wish me luck!

Have you read any of these?

Which should I read first?

The Lost Soul Atlas

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon, cover art by ?

I’ll preface this review with a warning that it’s one of my long, rambling ones in which I try and fail to explain why I love a book so much. If you don’t have time for that, I’ll give you the short version – this book is wonderful. Go and buy it.

I was a huge fan of Zana Fraillon’s first two books – The Bone Sparrow and The Ones That Disappeared – so I was beyond excited to see she had a new book due and then to be approved to read it.

In both her previous novels, Zana uses stories and friendship to shine a light on some very difficult and important subjects (child refugees in The Bone Sparrow and child slavery and trafficking in The Ones That Disappeared).

Whilst The Lost Soul Atlas is aimed perhaps slightly younger, it too uses the power of story, imagination and friendship to tell a story of homelessness, specifically homeless children, and the corrupt system and blinkered society which fails them. And it too is absolutely brilliant.

Perhaps a little less gritty and graphic than her previous books, the book nevertheless paints a bleak picture of the dangerous world which some children are forced to live in; it tells of a hopeless situation in which these children are somehow finding hope, positivity and possibility.

Cleverly written, there is humour, joy, creativity and optimism amongst these children, but at no point is their situation treated lightly – this is no jolly survival adventure – it is quite clear how hard life is as their cynicism, mistrust and defensive behaviours demonstrate.

This book is also slightly more fantastical than the previous two. Rather than a hint at the fantastic or the simple telling of stories, here we move between reality, memories and an incredibly well-crafted fantasy world – the Afterlife to be specific.

Twig is dead. The Gods have ensured that the dead forget, living out their afterlife (so to speak) in blissful ignorance with yoga and games of bridge. But Twig doesn’t want to forget. He wants to remember, and so he strays into The Gatherer’s path and is entrusted with the task of opening the crossings between worlds once more and freeing the memories the Gods are keeping for themselves.

With an atlas, a key, a bundle of bones, a Guardian in the form of a skeletal raven and a small army of ‘stick people’ Meeples, Twig sets out on his quest and as he does we see how it was he arrived there through his unfolding memories of life and events before.

Twig and his da had lived a poor but relatively happy life sharing stories in a cramped, shared flat, but with a roof over their heads at least. Until one day, Twig goes out to see where his Da goes at night and things go wrong.

Without his Da, Twig is lucky to be taken under Flea’s wing as he joins their group of street children, The Beasts, in their makeshift shelters in The Boneyard.

Switching between the two, the book is at once an immersive fantasy quest and a tense tale of life on the streets, in which it is easy to see how strong emotions, impossible hopes, naivety and desperation can make you most vulnerable to exploitation and being drawn involuntarily but irrevocably into a dark world of corruption.

There is so much to love about this book I hardly know where to begin – from the clever use of humour (and some truly awful, so-bad-they’re-good jokes) to balance the darker side of things to Flea’s hilarious insults and Kkruk’s begrudging sidekick stance; from the use and imagery of the maps and stories (“because stories are the maps for how we can be”) to the riddles, magic and characters Twig meets on his quest; from the friendships and loyalties both strengthened and challenged to the energy and life of good times in spite of the bad; from the nod to Alice in Wonderland to the distinct feel of Pratchett, especially in the Gods, to the way folklore and family tales are threaded throughout… and so much more besides.

The characters are brilliant. Kkruk the Sentries and the librarians really put the life into The Afterlife and Twig is a very likeable main character, who your heart goes out to as he grapples with strange new worlds.

But it was Flea (and their friendship with Twig) who I loved best. Creative, caring and ever hopeful but street-wise and uncompromising in their morals and actions they were an utterly fantastic character who I’d love to have been friends with myself!

I was also pleased to see Flea’s gender questioned, commented on and left unknown without becoming an issue or having any bearing on the story.

‘So, are you a boy?’
Flea shrugs. ‘Sometimes. And sometimes I’m a girl.
And sometimes I’m both at the same time or neither.
Mostly I’m just somewhere in between. Anyway…”

The other characters were just as good. The rest of Twig’s Blood Family, for example, give away shades and hints of their back stories – enough to give them depth and difference and individual traits, and enough to see how various children can end up in such a bleak situation, but not so much that it bogs down the story.

The Hoblin meanwhile is brilliantly written as she manages to convey both real and fairytale evil and danger.

In short, I loved this book. It is, without doubt, in my top books of the year, and given that there’s still over five months to go, that’s no mean feat.

It helps of course that I love a map on a book so a whole story with maps woven through it was always going to appeal (can we please have an accompanying illustrated atlas with The Lost Soul Atlas (both book and painted), Flea’s tent maps and the rest in?!)

Punchy, unflinching and refusing to look away from the very real and heartbreaking situation on our streets, it is also a funny and wonderfully immersive fantasy. A magical tale of friendship, loyalty, suffering and hope, this is a story which will speak straight to your heart and to your imagination.

WWW Wednesday 7/7/20

WWW Wednesday is hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’ every Wednesday.

What are you currently reading?


The Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon


I’ve had a slow reading week and haven’t made much progress with this but I am LOVING it!



The Corset by Laura Purcell


Every time I drag myself back to adult fiction for a bit I realise again how much I enjoy it! I really enjoyed The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell and this is proving equally gripping.



The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, audiobook read by Simon Prebble

I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes story and though it took me a bit to get into it, I’m enjoying this now.

What have you just finished reading?


Lord of the Flies by William Golding, audiobook read by Martin Jarvis

Enjoying it feels like the wrong phrase, but I do think it was well done and I’m glad to have read it.

What will you read next?

I’m not sure what to listen to next. I keep saying I should reread The Secret Garden and Tom’s Midnight Garden so maybe I’ll go for a garden double!

I’m not sure which of my #20booksofsummer books will be next, but possibly Wilde.

And my netgalley shelf is seriously packed so I’m not sure which first but I need to speed up my resting there! I should never have found the UK site!

Have you read any of these?

What are you currently reading?

20 Books of Summer #5 – The Last Paper Crane

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery, illustrated by Natsko Seki

Put simply I absolutely LOVED this book.

Cleverly combining verse and prose as it moves between the present day and Hiroshima in 1945 as the nuclear bomb that devastated the city is dropped, the book tells the story of Ichiro as he gradually reveals to his grand-daughter Mizuki the secret and the guilt that has consumed him ever since.

Then a teenager and caught in the bomb with his friend Hiro, we hear of their surfacing after it hits; their confusion and incomprehension as they take in what is left of their city; their injuries, pain and sickness and their attempts to find first Hiro’s sister Keiko and then, seemingly impossibly, help or safety.

Fast forward back to the present and Mizuki is determined to help her grandfather put his guilt to bed once and for all by finding out what happened to the one person he feels he let down more than anyone else.

This book draws together threads of friendship, family and loyalty whilst also examining how guilt can eat away at us, whether rational or not and of course, whilst also telling the story of that horrific event.

And it is this which really hit me like a punch in the guts while I read. To the point that all those usual expressions of ‘heartbreaking’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘powerful’ etc. are true but feel insufficient. For once, instead of trying to put my thoughts into a fully coherent review, I am simply going to copy out what I noted down as I read:

Unimaginable.

Impossible choices.

Guilt.

The power and deception of the inner voice.

Instant destruction.

Instant desolation.

Like a flipped switch.

All-consuming.

How would you cope?

Incomprehensible.

Isolation

Grief.

“And yet, how strong is the human spirit.” p 202

This book gave me actual goosebumps. I can’t tell you the last book that did that.

And Natsko Seki’s illustrations were perfect for it. Incredibly evocative, with a powerfully effective black and red palette, the desolation, destruction and desperation is overwhelming.

Likewise, I found the (seemingly!) simple calligraphy strokes around the haikus (which were some of my favourite pieces of text in the book, filled with both power and hope) really effective and reading Natsko Seki’s notes on how she created these only added to their sense and the book’s strong theme of family – its bonds and its history.

I find books which take momentous and atrocious events and occurences like this – war, slavery, witch trials etc – and make them personal so effective at making the senseless and unimaginable real, and this book is an absolutely first class example of how that is done well.

Powerful, evocative and brimming with emotion, this is a truly moving story which everyone should read.

Picture Book Picks – Quill Soup

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

Quill Soup by Alan Durant and Dale Blankenaar

Published as part of Tiny Owl’s #OneStoryManyVoices range, this is a telling of the African folktale “Quill Soup”, which will also be familiar to many from the European story ‘Stone Soup’ (and likely there are other versions too!)

When Noko the porcupine arrives in a village after a long journey he is tired and hungry, but it seems no one has any food they can share. Until, that is, Noko starts cooking up his delicious quill soup, which promises to be fit for a king. Then one by one, the other animal families manage to unearth some ‘forgotten about’ morsels to add to the pot.

A story bringing a message of community, of the importance of helping each other and of not turning a blind eye to the struggles of others, this is a timely and important tale.

Noko’s cunning, but also his natural warmth and generosity, are well conveyed by the text, as is the suspicious, self-interested nature of the other animals. There is a conspiratorial air to the tale too as we, the reader, begin to see and share in Noko’s clever plan.

But it’s the illustrations that really take this telling to another level. They are outstanding. Both captivating in their own right and perfectly suited to the story, each spread exceptionally well-matched to the text it accompanies.

I love how the images change as the story progresses. From a more almost urban feel to a more wild and natural one. From segregated, singular animals or groups of animals to a riot of beasts. From a more minimal, and predominantly cooler, palette to vibrant, colourful pages.

The textures, patterns and techniques are perfect for the story and its origins too and make this a truly stunning book to return to again and again.

Picture Book Picks – Mini Rabbit Must Help

Mini Rabbit Must Help by John Bond

Mini Rabbit is back! Hurrah!

We first met Mini Rabbit in Mini Rabbit Not Lost back in early 2019 and it’s remained a firm favourite (you can read a review of it here) so I’ve been really looking forward to Mini Rabbit’s next adventure and I wasn’t disappointed.

It proved an instant hit with Peapod too and it’s jumped straight into our regular reads basket and is read at least once a day and most bedtimes too!

Mother Rabbit has a letter to post and Mini Rabbit is only too keen to help! Armed with cake slime and stick he sets off to post the letter…what could go wrong?!

Well, throw in a missed bus, sticky, cake-covered paws, a dip in the river, a strong gust of wind and a post box that’s ever so slightly too high and the answer, apparently, is lots.

As with the first book, Mini Rabbit’s childlike enthusiasm and exuberance paired with Mother Rabbit’s familiar blend of fond exasperation, patience and resignation (which will be familiar to parents everywhere) make for a wonderful pair of characters who’ll be instantly loved.

It’s this observant and humorous take on everyday events paired with John Bond’s unique voice that sees the Rabbits up there with the Large Family for us.

I especially love that there’s no moral, no message, no attempt to teach us anything (except maybe an incidental reminder that it’s nice to be nice and what goes around comes around) – it is just all about an enjoyable, well-crafted and engaging story.

Peapod loves seeing the letter get blown away then found by the bird (we were especially pleased to see the bird from Not Lost playing a starring role here!)

He comforts Mini Rabbit (“sad”) with a stroke, then delights in the bird returning the letter every time we read it. Likewise, he loves seeing the letter get covered in cake (and I love this link back to the first book!) “Cake!” he shouts pointing with glee at the cake-covered letter.

This is a book which absolutely captures the magic of a child’s world. It’s all the small familiar highs and lows of toddler life – independence, birds, cake, ducks, a can-do attitude like no other, letter posting, buses and helping all ramped up into an exciting and very funny adventure.

It has all the quirkiness, style and detail you’d expect, with so much going on in the pictures that, as with Not Lost, there’s something new every time and plenty, especially for those who are already fans, to spot.

Peapod is particularly taken with that box under Mother Rabbit’s desk – “Peep! Hide! Box!” and I love the postbox we see just before Mini Rabbit starts his epic hunt for one.

With so much to love, this is a brilliant new addition to our bookcase and I’m already impatiently waiting to see what Mini Rabbit gets up to next!

MG Takes on Thursday – Back Home

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant MG books!

To join in, all you need to do is:

  • Post a picture of the front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book.
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

This week I’ve chosen

Back Home by Michelle Magorian, cover art by David Frankland, published by Puffin

I chose Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom for #MGTakesOnThursday a few weeks ago and Amy recommended this one (thank you!)

I listened to the audiobook, which was read by the author, and enjoyed it immensely, but I’ve bought a physical copy now too.

At age 7, in 1940,Rusty was evacuated to America. Fast forward five years and our story begins as she returns to England to a very different life, and when she’s sent away to boarding school things turn even bleaker as she struggles to understand and follow the seemingly endless and nonsensical rules amongst people she feels she doesn’t belong with.

This is a fantastic story for anyone who’s ever felt out if place, misunderstood or frustrated that they can’t do wrong for doing right.

It captures Rusty’s dreams worries and frustrations so well and does a brilliant job of sending out a clear message that not only can girls do anything boys can, but also that following less academic interests and strengths is a viable option in education and beyond.

I really loved Rusty and could relate to much of her confusion, disbelief and annoyance at her mother’s actions. However, reading this as an adult I also really felt for Rusty’s mum, Peggy. Do I think she made the best choices? No. But it was clear how torn she felt and how constrained she too was by the expectations and societal norms around her.

All the characters were brilliantly written – from those your heart goes out to to those you hate. Bea in particular struck a chord with me, ever the peacemaker, forward-thinking, positive and understanding she had more than a smidge of my grandma, Dot (who herself acted mediator on many an occasion between my mum and I) about her and she was definitely my favourite character because of this.

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Rusty sipped the weird brown liquid. It was no use. She was never going to get used to this stuff. It tasted awful.”

This book in three words:

Do not conform.