Storm-wake

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Moss has lived with Pa on a remote island for as long as she remembers. The Old World has disappeared beneath the waves – only Pa’s magic, harnessing the wondrous stormflowers on the island, can save the sunken continents. But a storm is brewing, promising cataclysmic changes.

I received a review copy of this from Chicken House and wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s taken me a while to get round to reading and I wish I’d read it sooner. It was wonderful.

Classed as YA, it is in one sense a classic ‘coming-of-age’ narrative. We see Moss as she grows from a ‘Small Thing’ into her teens, and watch as her relationships with both “wild-boy” Cal and Pa change as she does. However, there’s a lot more going on here, and in some ways I’m not sure where or how I’d categorise this, which is no bad thing.

Let’s start with the island and its stormflowers – described in Lucy Christopher’s beautiful and lyrical style, there is a dream-like feel to the place, the flowers and the magical qualities that surround them. But are things as idyllic as they seem, or is there a darker side to the flowers and their effects? There’s a heavy, heady link to poppies and their opioid connections made, but we’re left to draw our own conclusions as the book progresses.

Much of the book feels like this: the line between fantasy and reality is not so much blurred as changeable and shifting. There is a wonderful balance between the real and the fantastic: the real often seeming to be written between the lines of the magic on the page, which I thought was so cleverly done and only added to the sense of foreboding and doubt that gradually creeps in as Moss begins to realise that perhaps not everything is how she has grown up believing it to be.

While not a retelling as such, I loved the many parallels with The Tempest in the book. I want to say more, but am loath to give any spoilers away. Suffice to say – the influence is there with similarities carefully woven into the story. If you don’t know it, it won’t matter: it stands as a well-crafted story in its own right.

This is a book for being swallowed up in – immersed in stories, stormy seas, stormflower smoke and the tingle-fizz of petals on tongues, scales on skin and whispers of another world. You could easily find yourself going as mad as Pa if you try to wrap your head round what’s really real, what’s magic, what’s illusion, what’s lies, what’s truth, what’s a version of all of these… and that’s partly why I loved this book as much as I did. It’ll definitely be a book to come back to and one that will withstand multiple readings.

I’ve not read any of Lucy Christopher’s other books, but will be looking out for them: have you read any? Which would you recommend?

 

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WWW Wednesday 15/8/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’,  every Wednesday, we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

WWW Wednesdays

What are you currently reading?

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I need to start timing these WWW Wednesday posts better! Just like last week, I finished my current book – Storm-Wake by Lucy Christopher – in bed with a coffee this morning (there may or may not have also been biscuits!), so technically I’m not reading anything at the moment again! But close enough! Full review is here, but I thought it was wonderful.

What have you just finished reading?

I’ve not got through loads, but it’s been a mystery-filled MG sort of week with:

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Kat Wolfe Investigates by Lauren St John (‘Middle-Grade/MG’): This was my introduction to Lauren St John (the shame!) and a very welcome one. While animal stories are generally not really my cup of tea, this was a very well-written, fun mystery with layer upon layer to keep you guessing til the end. It deserves to be hugely popular with its target readers and would make a perfect pressie for any MG mystery/animal fans in your life! You can see a full review here.

Agatha Oddly: The Secret Key by Lena Jones (‘Middle-Grade/MG’): The first in a new detective series for MG readers, this just didn’t do it for me, sadly. I know it will grab others with its mysterious red slime filling London’s waterworks, a sassy and confident female MC and a mysterious underground society, but it just didn’t come together for me.


It’s also been a week for picture books and board books, and there’ll be plenty of posts to follow about these too, but in brief, this week I’ve also read:

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Ten Little Robots by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty (picture book) – the latest in the ‘Ten Little…’ series and every bit as bold, bright and busy as the rest. Thumbs up!

Some Birds by Matt Spink (picture book) – simple rhyming text matched with the most BEAUTIFUL illustrations. Such a gorgeous book. There should be a colouring book of it…

100 Dogs by Michael Whaite (picture book) – this one has been buzzing around in my twitter feed for some time so I picked it up yesterday – it’s fantastic! Perfectly executed rhyming text (something which can be so hard to get right), wonderfully detailed and expressive illustrations and as many different dogs as you can think of (well, ok, 100 of them) – absolutely spot on.

Baby Lit A-Z and Alice in Wonderland (board books) – I’d not seen this series before, but I am now on a mission to collect them all! Classic characters in contemporary illustrations teaching everything from colours to weather to the alphabet.

Little Gestalten’s Grimm and Andersen Fairy Tale Collections (fairy tales) – GORGEOUS!! I’ve been on the hunt for a fairy tale collection with just the right illustrations for years now: nothing too old-fashioned, colour, but not too childish and with the right text rather than simplified for children or minute and closely packed for adults. These were shrink-wrapped so I had to take a bit of a punt, but they are perfect!

What are you planning on reading next?

Like last week, that is still a very good question!

I still haven’t started Katherine Rundell’s Into the Jungle from last week (I think it’s becoming one of those that I want to read so much I keep putting it off!) and I still have that whole shelf full of adult fiction to start on, so maybe some of those. Though

But yesterday, I went to the library for the first time in an embarrassingly long time and picked up some books there too, so I may have to prioritise those so that I don’t get side-tracked, forget about them and end up with a stupidly huge fine!

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I picked up Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys because I LOVED her book ‘Salt to the Sea (it’s a phenomenal YA/Adult fiction told via several converging fictional narratives based on the true story of the sinking of the German military transport ship the Wilhelm Gustloff in WW2). Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has been one of those books I’ve meant to read for ages, but not got round to and I think Egg and Spoon might be one of the only Gregory Maguire books I’ve not read: I love his twisty takes on fairy tales.

So, I think Egg and Spoon might pip the others to the post, but what do you think? What should I read next?!

Have you read any of the books I’ve read this week? What are you reading at the moment?

Oi Cat!

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Well, what can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? This series is an absolute treasure trove of fun and, like so many little ones I meet in work, I can’t get enough of it! While this is technically a review of Oi Cat (thank you Hachette for my review copy), it will inevitably be a review of the series as a whole!

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‘Oi Cat’ follows hotly on the heels of ‘Oi Frog’ and ‘Oi Dog!’. For anyone unfamiliar with this series (I’m trying not to judge, but where have you been?! Get them all. Immediately!) a brief recap of the story so far…

In ‘Oi Frog’ we meet a discontented Frog, fed up of having to sit on a log, and a bossy cat who explains to him he has to because, after all “frogs sit on logs”, and then goes on to recount all the other rhyming places animals must sit (gophers on sofas and puffins on muffins being two of my favourites!). That is, until Frog makes the mistake of asking where dogs sit…

Cue ‘Oi Dog’ which picks up where ‘Oi Frog’ left off, namely with one very squashed and disgruntled frog who has had enough and is changing the rules! This time, it’s Frog’s turn to decide where everyone should sit, with leopards on shepherds and elephants on smelly pants being this book’s highlights for me, although I could have probably picked all of them (I didn’t think it possible but Oi Dog somehow managed to raise the rhyming bar a notch or two!) Cats, Frog decides must sit on gnats!

Which leads us nicely to ‘Oi Cat’, in which Cat is getting  very itchy bottom from being made to sit on gnats. This will of course go down an absolute storm with young readers – who doesn’t love some bottom jokes?! Even just reading the word bottom out loud is hilarious (you know you’re smiling…). And so the search begins to find Cat a more comfortable seat, bringing with it all the usual rhyming fun and games.

A rollicking riot of rhyming fun, this is a sharp and witty series that’s perfect for reading aloud (and adding your own rhymes to!), with fantastically well-defined characters and hilarious twists at the end of each book. Jim Field’s bright, bold and expressive illustrations complement the text perfectly and might be some of my favourite picture books illustrations around – I can’t imagine one without the other.

An absolute must have for any picture book collection.

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There’s also the brilliant Oi Goat, which was a special World Book Day book this year – we read it at storytime and it went down a treat! Check out our goats…!

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And I am beside myself with excitement waiting for….

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I flipping love platypuses!

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(this guy’s already featured in one blog post, but any excuse for some platy-action!)

Am I Yours?

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Who does this lost egg belong to? Can our little egg find its way back to the right parents before it hatches?

While the story is a familiar one (lost baby – looking for parents – finds lots of others but not their own because of x/y/z – reunited for a happy ending), this is a charming picture book with plenty of thoughtful details that bring it into its own. I really liked:

  • The fact that it’s not mentioned whether the baby dinosaur, its parents or most of the dinosaurs it meets along the way are male or female, making it perfect for any family to share and any child to enjoy.
  • The facts you learn about the dinosaurs as egg ‘meets’ them, and the details given about them in the text: great as a gentle introduction to dinosaurs for the curious and a springboard for talking about their different features and finding out more.
  • The way the dinosaurs are named throughout the book then illustrated and labelled at the back – young dino fans will LOVE this (and it gives grown ups like me who are useless at remembering which dinosaurs are which a chance at learning some of them!)
  • The repetition of “What do you look like inside that shell? I can’t see in so I can’t tell.” Lovely for joining in with, and for talking about what children think might be in the shell…
  • …and leading on from that the element of surprise at the end. It’s nice that we don’t know which dinosaurs might be its parents either: plenty of opportunities for guessing and talking!
  • The illustrations are lovely too – bright, rich, gentle, they’re detailed enough to add interest but simple enough not to confuse or take over. The dinosaur faces in particular make me smile.

There’s plenty to talk about, compare and find out when looking at this book, but it’s also a lovely, warm story that is perfect to snuggle up together to share at bedtime.

Thank you to Oxford University Press for my review copy.

No Fixed Address

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Can you ever feel at home when your ‘house’ is always on the move?

Felix and his mom Astrid have a secret: they are living in a van. Astrid promises it’s only til she finds a new job and begs Felix not to breathe a word. So when Felix starts a new school, he does his best to hide it, even though his home has some serious downsides, like no privacy, heating, space or bathroom.

But Felix has a plan to turn their lives around. All he needs is a little luck a lot of brain power…

This is another book, a bit like ‘The List of Real Things’ that straddles the MG/YA age range. Technically YA, it would be best suited to younger YA readers or more mature MG readers ready to start reading slightly older books. It tackles the serious, all-too relevant and sadly all-too prevalent issue of homelessness, but with humour, hope and a lot of luck involved, preventing it from becoming too weighty, serious or bleak.

It highlights in particular the ‘hidden homeless’ – a worryingly high number of people (hat is sadly only getting higher) who, for one reason or another (losing their jobs, finding their tenancies unexpectedly ended, illness etc.), find themselves without a fixed place to live: not (yet) sleeping rough, but for example on the couches of friends, in hostels, or in the case of Felix and his mum Astrid in the story, in cars or vans.

I thought Susin Nielsen did a wonderful job at highlighting the many challenges this throws up – both practically and emotionally – with a real lightness of touch and without it becoming a heavy, ‘preachy’ or depressing read. While your heart goes out to Felix as he tries to hide his home-life from people at school, including his friends, there is plenty of humour within the book, not least between him and his best friend Dylan to counteract it. Felix himself is an enormously likeable main character – determined, resilient and ever the optimist – and I thought his mum Astrid was well-written too.

The direction the book takes as Felix tries to find a way out of their desperate situation is somewhat whimsical and highly unlikely, but it works wonderfully within the context and feel of the rest of the book. Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination (and if I’m honest, it all gets tied off a bit too neatly for me by the end) but it’s an enjoyable, easy to read book with an important message and a feel-good, optimistic heart.

The List of Real Things

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Grace knows the difference between what’s real and the strange ideas that float around in her little sister’s mind.

Their parents died – that’s real.

A secret hotel on the cliff-top where their parents are waiting – definitely NOT real.

So when grief strikes again, Grace is determined not to let her sister’s outlandish imagination spiral out of control. But the line between truth and fantasy is more complicated than it seems…

This was a quick read, but a thoroughly enjoyable one. A real one-sitting-somewhere-comfy-with-a-cup-of-coffee-and-cake sort of book.

Yes, some of what was likely to happen was easy to guess early on, but the how, where and why of it wasn’t. And, yes, the secondary characters felt like a slightly predictable assortment at times, but a wonderfully endearing assortment at that: a bit like when you get a box of chocs – you expect to find a caramel, a strawberry, a truffle, a praline etc. …there’s no real surprises, but that’s because it works and it’s what we want. It also gave the main characters and their very well-drawn and unique personalities chance to shine.

The story is told from Grace’s point of view: she’s 14 and since their parents died has been her little sister, Bee’s most loyal and caring protector. But as she starts to become interested in make-up, boys and popularity, she finds herself increasingly conflicted between her absolute love of and concern for Bee, and being embarrassed and annoyed by both Bee and her unconventional, not-especially-well-off family life.

It’s a testament to how well Grace was written that she drove me nuts at times: she’s a teenage girl starting to push away from her family and find her place, if she wasn’t frustrating and at times incredibly dislikeable, she wouldn’t have been at all believable.

I thought the challenges she was facing were very well written: trying to be the grown up one, looking out for her sister and taking on too much at times, whilst simultaneously struggling with all the usual teen issues too: belonging, friendships, fitting in and, of course, boys. I loved seeing her mature and find herself as the book progressed.

Bee herself was a wonderfully quirky and loveable character. 6 going on 60, her best friends are her Grandfather and the eccentric old librarians the Misses Allen. Which perhaps explains her rather odd way of speaking, even odder mannerisms and the very strange ideas she has which may or may not be real…

…which leads us to the fantasy element of the book. This is by and large a contemporary piece of fiction, set in the everyday lives of Bee and Grace as they come to terms with deaths in the family. However, when Bee starts talking to the family dog, seeing ghosts and trying to find out about an old hotel that absolutely does not exist any more, what’s real and what’s not becomes increasingly blurred.

And this leads us in turn to my only sticking point with this book, which is the age it is aimed at. As an MG book I thought the fantasy element was very effective, both as part of the plot and as a way of tackling the more sensitive issues of loss and grief that the book covers. Similarly, the characters themselves and the way the issues the family are facing are touched on but not really delved into in great depth felt just right for MG readers, but Young Adults may be left wanting a bit more.

So, although it’s technically YA, but I would say it sits much more comfortably at the top end of MG or as a good bridge between the two. I don’t like to pigeon-hole books into age and this is an enjoyable regardless that I’m by no means writing off for older readers (I’m in my mid-30s so categorically not MG or YA!). But, I’m also conscious that a lot of teen readers expect certain things from contemporary YA fiction and a lot of young readers and their families can find it hard to know what to read as they start to want to move on from just MG books.

So, I mention the age thing as a guide and as something which struck me as I read it with my bookseller hat on. Whatever your age, it is a great read to settle in for and consume all t ones (a bit like those chocolates I mentioned earlier!) and I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s books to add to my TBR pile!

Wiggly Wiggly: Playtime Rhymes

I feel like I haven’t reviewed any books for littlies for AGES! Been so busy catching up with the stack of MG/YA/Adult books I’d let build up that I just never got round to it. But now that I can stick my head above the surface of the others, it’s time to get caught up on the board/picture book side of things too! (And really, these are my favourite books to read and review!)

So, today it’s the turn of ‘Wiggly, Wiggly’, kindly sent to me for review by Walker.

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Really, all I need to say about this book is that it’s written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Chris Riddell (both former Children’s Laureates and both blooming brilliant). So, there – that should be all you need. But that’s not really much of a review is it, so I’ll start by reviewing another book (bear with me!)

The rhymes inside ‘Wiggly Wiggly’ are taken from the larger collection ‘A Great Big Cuddle’.9781406373462

The main difference being Wiggly Wiggly is a book for the youngest readers. It’s a board book which means sturdy (edible) pages and a good strong cover (best tested by throwing on the floor and bashing up and down a lot) and it features the very best rhymes for joining in with from A Great Big Cuddle. But, for toddlers upwards I’d recommend getting A Great Big Cuddle instead: it’s paperback and paper pages, so it’s not as durable for tiny hands and exuberant, excitable readers, but perfect to share together as they get a bit bigger and with LOTS more rhymes to enjoy!

Regardless of whether you go for Wiggly Wiggly or A Great Big Cuddle, all of the rhymes are firmly rooted in children’s own experiences and interests: things that they can relate to (food, greetings, cuddles and puddles) and/or that will spark their imagination (animals, toys and nonsense). And, in both, Chris Riddell’s illustrations bring them all to life superbly: full of expression, colour and movement – they leap off the page, they make you pause and look, they encourage talk, movement and laughter.

The rhymes are bursting at the seams with onomatopoeia, alliteration and rhyme – perfect for experimenting with making silly noises, using nonsense words, adding sound effects or changing your expression/volume/tempo etc.

Likewise, they are made for joining in with: finger rhymes, action rhymes, moving around or role-playing rhymes – they are impossible to read without getting moving in one way or another! For the very, very youngest it’s easy to see how you can move them or move with them or use your touch and movement to make them interactive, so there’s really no excuse not to get wiggling!

But the thing I liked absolutely best of all about this as a book of action rhymes is that there’s no instructions: no diagrams or drawings showing how to move your feet/hands/body so it’s yours to take wherever you and your little one want to take it! They are (as the sub-title ‘Playtime Rhymes’ suggests) perfect for playing with and making your own.

I can’t wait to start reading this with my little one (currently still on the inside so quite hard to wiggle with effectively!) and will be ‘upgrading’ to ‘A Great Big Cuddle’ as he gets older.