#Believathon

Well, I must be mad! Having just finished the most insane reading challenge I’m taking on another! Although this time I’m hoping I can go easier and take things more at my own pace, getting through as much as I can get through but with less pressure!

This time, I’ll be taking part in Believathon during November – a twitter-based reading challenge celebrating children’s books, especially MG. All the information can be found here, and you can follow the goings on via @believathon and #Believathon on twitter.

There is a group read, which is Frostheart by Jamie Littler. Luckily we’re allowed to read this in advance as I’ve already read this one!

Then there are ten prompts for the month, of which you can do all ten or just choose 4 and read one a week.

I’ve chosen a book for each prompt but have chosen four of these that will be my priorities. Any I read on top of that I’m seeing as a bonus!

So, my four definites are:

Below are all the prompts and my choices for them.

1. A book featuring magic.

2. A book featuring myths and legends.

3. A book featuring real world issues.

4. A book set in the past.

5. A book with a strong sense of friendship.

6. A creepy or atmospheric book.

7. A seasonal book.

8. A book featuring an animal character.

OK, maybe a clockwork crow is cheating a tiny bit, but…!

9. A children’s classic

10. A childhood favourite.

This one is proving tricky to pick. The Hobbit, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, A Little Princess and Goodnight Mister Tom are all contenders. As are Chimney Witch Chase, Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat or Tilly Mint and the Dodo. TBC…!

Are you taking part in #Believathon? What have you chosen for it?

Have you read any of these books already?

Autumn Overview – Teen/YA

Continuing my recap of the books I read as part of my recent ‘reading challenge’, today I’m summarising my thoughts on the YA books I read.I should probably add that I didn’t choose any of the books I read for this, and consequently while I normally avoid posting negative reviews I wanted to post a thorough recap of this challenge, so the negatives are in there too!

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder – A brilliantly bleak but hopeful read, great use of language and dialogue, and blending fact and fiction through its historical influence and inspiration.

Jemima Small Versus the Universe by Tamsin Winter – A bit too optimistic and rose-tinted for my personal tastes, but it dealt really well with body issues, bullying and loss and would make a great tween read. A book and an author I’m sure would be popular.

How to Rob a Bank by Tom Mitchell – I really didn’t get into this! Fast-paced and farcical, maybe it would be a good light-hearted, contemporary read for teen/tween readers, but I just found it too far-fetched and lacking in depth or substance.

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson –Lots I liked about this – the murder mystery element kept me guessing and I liked the way the twists kept coming and the plot kept developing, I also liked the way the romance didn’t take over or feel forced. But I did feel like there were too many ‘issues’ crammed into one book.

Somebody Give This Heart a Pen by Sophia Thakur – I thought this was really moving and relatable. I thought it was a fantastic collection of poetry covering a wide range of issues – it’s one I’ll be returning to and one I’d like to see break through and be a hit with teen readers.

Internment by Samira Ahmed – I think I liked the idea of this more than the actual thing! The storyline is a terrifyingly relevant, all too plausible dystopia in which Muslims are being gradually segregated and interned. Elements of it felt scarily possible and read really well, but overall I found the romance overshadowed this and it became a bit too easily solved and sorted.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi – Loved this. Powerful, thought-provoking, original and imaginative with immensely likeable characters and voice. Also really great to see a trans main character whose trans status was completely unrelated to the plot and had nothing to do with the story. How representation should be!

I Will Not Be Erased by Gal-Dem (various) – Informative, positive, empowering and reassuring, this looks at many relevant teen issues . The use of diaries/experiences from their own teen lives does make it seem like more than just more adults spouting wisdom BUT if I’d read it as a teen I know I’d still have given it an eye-roll! However, it gives a voice and a message of encouragement to those who maybe don’t see themselves represented as often, so maybe they would appreciate it more than I would have!

The Million Pieces of Neena Gill by Emma Smith-Barton – I thought the representation of mental health and the way we see Neena’s spiralling downwards as the book progresses was excellent, accurate and unflinching but sensitive. Personally, I disliked the romance aspect of the book and the way this played into the plot, but I suspect teen readers would enjoy it.

In the Shadow of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling – Perfect for those with a love of mythology and/or history this had a great sense of place and time with main characters I really got behind. I also really liked the ending.

Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge – Deliciously creepy and atmospheric, this wove family history, mythology and horror together brilliantly. Again, I loved that though it featured romance, it didn’t take over and there was a really positive message about self-confidence too.

Jelly by Clare Rees – It certainly wins points for originality! The slightly odd setting and circumstance grew on me and were clever ways at highlighting environmental issues now, but it didn’t have a style or voice I particularly loved and I felt like there was a lack of depth to the characters.

All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins – I really liked the voice of our narrator and it’s made me want to read Collins’ first book now too, despite not usually being a fan of ‘contemporary’ YA. Dealt really sensitively with real-life themes, particularly change, and nice to bi-sexuality being portrayed in YA.

Autumn Overview – MG

Continuing my recap of the books I read as part of my recent ‘reading challenge’, today I’m summarising my thoughts on the MG books I read.

I should probably add that I didn’t choose any of the books I read for this, and consequently while I normally avoid posting negative reviews I wanted to post a thorough recap of this challenge, so the negatives are in there too, though the MG selection was particularly good!

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton – Brilliant for very young readers just starting on short chapter books with energetic illustrations matching the humorous text, it set the scene for more adventures from this funny duo.

Charlie Changes Into a Chicken by Sam Cope – Younger readers will love the pace & silly humour (and I loved those French pigeons!), plus a really sensitive way in to looking at dealing with big emotions.

We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo – A quick, light-hearted, fun read that nevertheless managed to look gently at some sensitive issues such as depression and loss. I particularly liked main character Luna’s little brother Fabien who brought a great amount of warmth and humourto the book.

High Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson – Perfect for Murder Most Unladylike fans, but brought bang up to date. With BAME main characters living in a tower block this is fresh, exciting, relevant and absolutely begging for more mysteries in the series.

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J Halpin – Loved this and the idea behind the fabrics and the magical elements of the story. Both creepy and magical, it felt very fairytale-esque and mythical whilst remaining its own thing and I thought the characters were fantastic. 

Our Castle By The Sea by Lucy Strange – Perfect for fans of Emma Carroll, a great piece of children’s historical fiction that made me want to read Lucy Strange’s first book too. This brought together tough issues of war, immigration and racism with familiar themes of family and friendship in an adventure that kept me hooked and retained a sense of mystery to the end.

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle – Thoroughly enjoyable. A great balance of mystery, history and humour perfect for this age group.

Potkin and Stubbs by Sophie Green – Really distinctive voice that I very much enjoyed the feel of, and in general a fun and exciting thriller-cum-ghost story perfect for follow-ups, which was very original and enjoyable with a likeable main character. However, elements of the plot – the detective’s alcoholism, the asylum and mad doctors – made me a little uncomfortable, though maybe I’m being over-sensitive.

The Midnight Hour by Benjamin Read and Laura Trinder – A really imaginative world with lots of interesting characters and brilliant baddies. I loved the idea of the night post and the ‘Midnight Hour’ itself, but honestly I lost interest a bit by the end and I wasn’t as invested in the characters as I like to be!

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan – I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this, but I really, really did! Unique style which I absolutely loved and a brilliant look at first crushes, growing up, finding out who you are and an LGBT character coming out in an ‘MG’ book – hurrah! Really glad I read it and I’ll be keeping Meg Grehan on my radar.

Asha and the Spirit Bird by Jasbinder Bilan – Wonderful sense of place – fantastic description – and a great adventure for this age group. Reminiscent of Jess Butterworth.

The Boy With the Butterfly Mind by Victoria Williamson – Bonus points just for Jamie – I loved him as a character, thought his voice was so original and shed a lot of light on ADHD in a non-preachy or generic way. I really, really enjoyed his chapters and liked the style of using a dual narrative. Unfortunately I just could NOT get on with Elin as a character and the ending felt a little bit too ‘happily ever after’. 

How High The Moon by Karyn Parsons – I loved this, it felt like Maya Angelou’s ‘Singin’ and Swingin’…’ crossed with Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but for children. Absolutely stunning and the voice, characters and sense of time, place and culture all felt spot on.

The Middler by Kirsty Applebaum – I really enjoyed this. A great mix of dystopia, politics, adventure, inequality and division and those MG classics family and friendship, this felt perfectly pitched for its age group and I could see it being popular. Maggie was a really likeable, well-written main character and I thought the way the plot unravelled was brilliant.

Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins by David Ashby – Loved the word play and language, its humour and the way it drew on fairytales but still felt really unique. I reviewed this one before just reading took over, you can read my review here

 

Autumn Overview: Picture Books

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, some of the books I read as part of my recent ‘reading challenge’ were picture books, so I’m starting my recap with a brief summary of those. I should probably add that I didn’t choose any of the books I read for this, and consequently while I normally avoid posting negative reviews I wanted to post a thorough recap of this challenge, so the negatives are in there too. In fact, I found many of the picture books chosen for this a bit disappointing, but there were some highlights like One Fox or The Suitcase.

When Sadness Comes to Call by Eve Eland – Heart-warming, relatable and positive. The simple style and colour pallette work well with the text and the book is ideal for both those with experience of depression, explaining mental health to young readers or simply looking at feelings with little ones.

One Fox, A Counting Book Thriller by Kate Read – Loved this! Funny, clever, witty and gorgeous, stylish illustrations. Look forward to more from this author.

Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter by Graham Carter- An enjoyable read aloud with beautiful, rich illustrations. A great addition to bedtime story collections!


The Light in the Night by Marie Voigt – While I’m a fan Marie Voigt’s illustration style and this was a pleasant enough ‘don’t be scared of the dark’ story, it was a bit too sickly sweet for my tastes.

Big Cat by Emma Lazell – Delightfully daft, a fun read aloud with engaging text and busy illustrations.

Otto Goes North by Ulrike Kestere – Loved the illustrations, the sense of place, culture and craft. Less sold on the story itself, despite really wanting to like it as I LOVE lemurs!

The Green Giant by Katie Cottle – Really liked the lush and textured illustrations, but was less keen on the plot, as much as there was one, which didn’t make much sense to me. 

It’s Your World Now by Barry Falls – Really liked the collage style of the illustrations, and can see this being really popular and well-used in schools and as a gift, but it felt a bit twee to me personally.

Me and My Sister by Rose Robbins – While adults would get it it felt too vague for most children to understand the autism factor (which anyway varies wildly so I’d also be a bit worried this would be taken as ‘this is how being autistic is’) and too dull for them to enjoy it as a story in its own right. Would be better to see a story featuring an autistic character where the story is unrelated, in my opinion.

Once Upon a Unicorn Horn by Beatrice Blue – Wordy, saccharine and not for me! Lots of children will love the unicorn factor, but that is about as far as this goes. Honestly, I really did not get on with this book!

My Hair by Hannah Lee illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan – Plenty of potential appeal and I really liked the illustrations of all the different hairstyles. Great to see some BAME representation.

Look Up! by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dopo Adeola – A nice enough story to read aloud and great to see some BAME characters, but not one that wow-ed me.

I also read The Suitcase by Chris Naylor-Ballasteros which for some reason has escaped the photos! It’s one I love though and you can read my review of that here.

Of course, we’ve read lots and lots of other picture books with Peapod too. I’ve only included those I was sent as part of this challenge here.

Autumn Overview

I don’t normally do a monthly review or anything like that, but since going almost entirely silent for most of October, I thought a brief(ish) recap of my reeds before heading into November, and hopefully back onto the blog more often, would be a good way to welcome myself back!

So, as many of you know for the past 6 or 7 weeks, I’ve been cramming in books like I never have before for a secret sort of challenge that I still can’t really say much about, other than I’m pretty pleased with how I got on!

These are the books I managed to read in full (missing are a few children’s non fiction that I read too and a few YA that I skimmed but didn’t get through cover to cover).

If I take out the picture books, I got through 28 books, roughly 4 per week! I know for many of you this is normal, but it was a huge achievement for me and really took some doing!

I read a lot of books I wouldn’t normally have picked up, as well as a lot I’d had waiting patiently on my bookcase for ages. It was a a really good way to push me to read some more YA as well as a couple if contemporary MG – two types of books that always gets sidelined – and I was pleasantly surprised by a number of them. My challenge now is to remember how useful I found it and continue to read a bit more outside my comfort zone more often.

I’ll give a brief summary of my thoughts on each of the books over the next few days, split into picture books, MG and YA, beginning with picture books later today.

Its good to be back 😊

WWW Wednesday/AWOL for a while 9/10/19

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

What are you currently reading?

The Peculiar Peggs of Riddling Woods by Samuel J Halpin

I’m just a couple of chapters in but I’ve really enjoyed how the scene’s been set and the mysterious history and rules of it laid out. Both Poppy and Gran seem very likeable too. It seems to have a feel of Perfect about it, we’ll see…!

How to Rob a Bank by Tom Mitchell (ebook)

It’s safe to say this isn’t one I’d have chosen myself, and while other books I may not have picked up otherwise have been a pleasant surprise in that respect, I’m just trying yo get through this one. It’s not completely awful but it’s not for me.

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (audiobook read by Philip Pullman and full cast)

I am absolutely DYING to start The Secret Commonwealth but having reread (listened to) La Belle Sauvage I really, REALLY wanted to reread this too. Plus, it fits with the timeframe with La Belle Sauvage set before the original trilogy and The Secret Commonwealth set after it. So, SC is on hold and I’m listening to His Dark Materials first.

At first I wasn’t sure about the ‘full cast’ aspect of this and Lyra did NOT sound like my Lyra, but I have got used to it and am really enjoying it being read this way now.

What have you just finished reading?

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

This took me a few chapters to get into, but once I did I really loved it. Easier to solve than other recent mysteries, notably MMU (I actually figured it out! Unheard of!), but just as compelling and Nik and Norva were a great detective duo. I can’t wait for another mys-Tri-ry (see what I did there?! Groooaaan…!)

Jemima Small vs The Universe by Tamsin Winter

This was a bit of an unrateable for me, which was a nice surprise really as I really thought I’d hate it! But I didn’t. I liked Jemima and the other characters well enough but the whole fat-but-clever thing felt a bit…safe. I don’t know. Like, it didn’t matter that she was fat because she was a genius. I’d have preferred her to be solidly average, but where’s the story in that I suppose?

That said, the hurt and low self esteem caused to Jemima and her ‘Fat Club’ friends both intentionally, by bullies and the general public, as well as unintentionally though thoughtless comments or things intended to help that make them feel worse, is all incredibly sensitively and realistically written.

A book that’s likely to speak straight to the hearts of many readers because of its themes of physical appearances, bullying and family, it also has plenty of moments of real happiness and a positive, optimistic feel and would make a great ‘tween’ read.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (audiobook read by Michael Sheen)

Just as brilliant as the first time around, and Michael Sheen is a fantastic narrator.

What will you read next?

Audio

Pullman all the way! It’s just a, question of The Secret Commonwealth or Northern Lights…

E-book/Physical

I have these to get through in the next two weeks…

That isn’t going to happen but I’m going to try and read as many as I can (place your bets please?!) I’m going to say I’ll manage , which means very limited blogging both posting and reading! So apologies now for going awol for a bit. I’ll be back with a stack of reviews on the other side! Wish me luck…!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

WWW Wednesday 2/10/19

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

What are you currently reading?

High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

I’m not too far into this yet and I’m still not sure what I think. There are things I like – the setting and voice – and things I don’t – the pace and lists – so we’ll see how I feel as the mystery gets going.

Somebody Give This Heart A Pen by Sophia Thakur

I only started this in the last ten minutes of my lunch break, so I’ve only read the first coupe of poemsvut it is definitely very promising. I font read enough poetry but always enjoy it when I do…

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (audiobook read by Michael Sheen)

Just as brilliant as the first time around, and Michael Sheen is a fantastic narrator. I’ve nearly finished this, in theory just in time to start The Secret Commonwealth tomorrow but its made me really want to re-read the original His Dark Materials trilogy now so I’m umming and ah ing whether I can wait just a bit longer for TSC!

What have you just finished reading?

Frostheart by Jamie Littler

I’m really interested to see what others think of this, and look forward to discussing it as part of #Believathon in November as I didn’t dislike it as such but I found that I just didn’t care, despite it seeking like just the sort of book that’d grab me.

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson (ebook)

Generally speaking I enjoyed this. There were things that grated a bit and things I wasn’t sure about but overall its a thumbs up. You can read my review here.

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle

I’ll be posting my review of this tomorrow, but I really enjoyed it. Lots of fun with a classic feel it really captures the magic of having free reign for adventure for a child.

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder

I’ll try and get a review up for this later in the week too, but it’s another I very much enjoyed. It feels both historical and dystopian with a very original style. The men working in Bearmouth are there out of poverty, necessity and mostly because it is “the maker’s way”, except for Devlin who has other ideas. It is a tale of power, corruption and revolution.

We Won an Island by Charlotte Lo

This has probably been the biggest surprise of my reading challenge so far and its for reasons like this that I wanted to push myself to do it. This is one I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise and, while it won’t be a favourite that I return to year after year, I did like it a lot more than I expected. Warm-hearted, funny and well written, I’ll review it properly soon.

What will you read next?

Audio

Pullman all the way! It’s just a, question of The Secret Commonwealth or Northern Lights…

E-book

It’ll be something from my reading challenge, maybe Jemima Small as I said that last week but haven’t started it yet, or I might try and work through some MG first and go for The Boy With the Butterfly Mind.

Physical copy

So many to choose from (and so many to get through) I think high on my list to read next will be The Peculiar Peggs or The Twisted Tree.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

The Secret Starling

I received a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Secret Starling by Judith Eagle, illustrated by Amy Geyer.

I didn’t know what to expect from this, only that I’d heard very good things about it.

Clara lives with her Uncle Edward in Braithwaite Manor, where he follows the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ line of child care, except as far as he’s concerned they shouldn’t be seen that much either and ‘care’ might be stretching things.

With limited dealings of the outside world, no friends (except Cook) and a boring routine of governesses, staying out of the way and meagre meals, Clara’s life is turned upside down when first her Uncle abandons her in the nearby village and then a boy her own age turns up expecting to stay. Coupled with the house being put up for sale, secrets about Clara’s family coming out if the woodwork and Cook’s wild and wonderful grandchildren turning up on the doorstep – Clara’s adventures are only just beginning.

Setting this in the 70s was inspired – modern enough to feel familiar, but old enough to have a classic feel too and be unimpeded by technology. For adult readers (even those not quite old enough for the 70s, ahem!), there’s the added bonus of bits of nostalgia – Woolworths, Lewis’ and Curly Wurlys!

Clara is fabulous – hopeful and impulsive, but also practical and determined. With Peter levelling her out somewhat they make an excellent main duo and Cook’s grandchildren only add to the excitement with horses indoors, gymnastics and wild fashion. There’s definitely a flavour of Pippi Longstocking to Amelia Ann, and to the book as a whole, which I enjoyed immensely.

I was also pleased to see the focus on male ballet dancers, both through Peter’s dreams for his future and the incorporation of famous ballet stars. It felt like a positive and encouraging message against stereotypical gender expectations without being contrived or clunky.

Whimsical and full of the joy of unbridled childhood, this is sure to capture children’s imagination as it whisks them along on its whirlwind of adventure and mystery. Wonderful.

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder

A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson, cover art by

As part of a homework assignment, self-confessed (several times, often quite unnecessarily) good girl and work-a-holic Pippa decides to research (and surreptitiously investigate) the death of local teen Sal Singh five years earlier after he was posthumously found to have murdered another popular local student, Andie Bell. Pip isn’t convinced though and sets out to discover what really happened, enlisting the help of Sal’s brother Ravi as, he finally sees someone willing to believe in his brother.

This book has been HUGELY popular both from what I’ve seen online and the war its flown off the table at work. So really, my review is neither here nor there – teens love this book so in short: if you want a gripping, contemporary YA murder mystery that touches on a wealth of other relevant issues and is written in the voice of an immensely likeable and non-intimidating teen narrator buy this book.

That aside, my thoughts are more mixed. I very much did enjoy this – I am categorically not a fan of contemporary, much less YA contemporary (which I tend to find too full of bad romance and melodrama) so this in itself is both surprising and very positive!

I really liked the murder mystery plot – having not long come out of the Murder Most Unladylike series, this followed on do well from it and I can see it being a huge hit with teens that have grown up reading MMU!

Written partly as Pip’s project notes and research, it has the same appeal as Hazel’s casebook notes in giving the reader regular summaries, updates, suspect lists etc, making it easy to follow Pip’s train of thought and make your own guesses. And, with clues and connections gradually revealed and plot twists that keep coming until the very end, this book will keep you guessing – I was hooked on the mystery aspects of it.

I was also pleased with the way relationships in the book were addressed. This being YA, there were always going to be relationships involved, but I was relieved that characters talking about them sounded real and believable, and that the Pip-Ravi dynamic developed as it did. Was it obvious from the start there’d be ‘something there’? Of course it was. Was it clumsy, hasty or over the top though? No, it was given time so it felt natural and gradual.

However, where this book fell down a bit for me personally was in trying to cover (seemingly) every issue and tick every box. Drugs? Check. Sexual abuse/underage sex? Check. Emotional abuse? Check. Peer pressure/school stresses? Check. Death and loss? Check. ‘Revenge’ porn? Check. Mental health issues? Check. Beauty/looks? Check. Popularity? Check.

Yes, these are issues it’s good to see in YA books and yes, they did help give the book its twists and turns, but it all felt a bit over the top by the end. By all means mention several of them but maybe make one your focus rather than incorporating everything.

Overall, this was a great YA crime mystery – dramatic but written with a touch of humour too, the twists just kept coming with the threats Pip receives added to the tension (these gave me a real Point Horror vibe which I loved!).