I requested and received advance proof copies of both of these for free, in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.
The books I’m reviewing today are, on the surface, completely different – one a fantasy tale filled with magic; the other a historical tale of rural Scotland.
However, both books are driven by the main characters’ longings to see more of the world than just their tiny corner of it. They hunger for adventure, the thrill of the unknown and the chance to experience new places.
And in both, there is great (but incredibly different) consideration given to how this affects their family and friendships, particularly their relationships with their sisters.
Both books are full of realistic family relationships, but both shine a particular light on those between the sisters – prickly, exasperating and with a clear pecking order, but at the same time fiercely loyal, defensive, protective and loving.
In A Pinch of Magic by Michelle Harrison, we see Betty and her sisters try to use three magical everyday objects – an old carpet bag, a set of nesting dolls and a mirror – to break a family curse that keeps them trapped on their small island home.
The way the history – of the curse, the place, their family – magic and local folklore is woven into the story, often as ‘tales within a tale’ I thought was very clever and it was these parts of the book I liked best.
The introduction of Colton, a young boy in the local prison, adds yet another dimension to the story too as do the stories of Sorsha and her mother – prodding us to consider right and wrong, ‘otherness’, difference, blame and trust.
There are nods to many classic fairy tale and magic tropes but the way they are used feels original and Michelle Harrison skillfully balances these fantasy aspects with good old-fashioned, non-magic adventure which adds twists and tension.
This was a gripping adventure with lots of my favourite things – history, magic and folklore – and I’m looking forward to seeing where book 2 takes us next.
I’m also very much looking forward to Little Bird Lands – the follow up to the fantastic Little Bird Flies by Karen McCombie. I read this after it was recommended by Amy at Golden Books Girl and I’m so glad I did.
Here we meet Bridie (Little Bird) and her family on a remote Scottish island in the late 19th Century. Their kind and fair Laird has died and change is on its way…
In the very best of ways, this was reminiscent of many other authors and books (including His Bloody Project so by no means am I suggesting ‘the same as’ when I say reminiscent of!) It’s like the author has taken a bit of Gill Lewis, a touch of Frances Hardinge, a little of Emma Carroll, just a smidgen of Geraldine McCaughrean and a drop of Julia Green, then stirred a sprinkling of each through her own quite unique tale.
And unique it is – it feels very different to other offerings for this age group, whilst having everything it needs to be popular with it – friendships, family, villains and escape.
Rich in historic and geographical detail, it really is like being there – racing and tumbling to the top of Glas Crags I could picture te view, feel the crisp, fresh air…seeing the boats arrive and greeting the visitors I felt that mix of excitement, nerves, pride and curiosity…hurrying through the city streets I’m surrounded by the hustle, bustle and hum of it all – the noise, the smells, the people.
As well as the contrasting settings, the different lives lived by rich and poor are well depicted too and their reactions to one another highlight these differences well. Without any spoilers slipping out, I found certain members of the upper class in the book to be thoroughly odious – wonderfully written!
Meanwhile, Bridie herself is a brilliant main character – full of energy, dreams, determination and curiosity. Born with one hand and foot mis-formed, she is quick to dismiss pity and show her independence.
There is so much to enjoy about this book – the setting really was my favourite thing about it, but the characters are so well written too and the complex feelings of change, growing up and losing something to gain another are explored brilliantly.
An historic, rural adventure, with brave and immensely likeable characters and despicable antagonists, a dramatic escape and the thrill of the new – I can’t wait for the sequel.