The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of The Clockwork Crow from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

I bought my own copy of The Velvet Fox straight after finishing it!

Opinions and views are all my own.

The Clockwork Crow and The Velvet Fox by Catherine Fisher, cover art

I requested The Clockwork Crow based solely on that gorgeous cover and title – I’m a sucker for a pretty book, but knew from the look of it that it was likely my sort of thing despite not knowing anything else about it!

And I still didn’t really know what it was about when I started it. Which is unusual for me. But it has such an atmospheric and mysterious opening that I was immediately drawn in and gripped.

Alongside a feel of classic children’s fiction, there’s a wonderful sense of other-worldly magic afoot, and the dark, cold, winter timing of book one and the changeable beginnings of autumn in book two both suit it perfectly.

Seren is travelling from the orphanage she’s lives at for years to a new home with her godfather in Wales. She has high hopes for a warm welcome and an adoptive family she’ll feel part of.

However, when she gets there, it’s eerily quiet, shut up almost, and only a skeletal staff remain to maintain the place and take care of her – the Lord and Lady are in London it transpires, and as for their son Tomos…why will no one speak of him? And where is he?

Having found herself in charge of a strange package at the station, upon arrival she opens assembles a rather shabby clockwork crow, but as with so much else – it’s not as it seems and it soon becomes apparent that it’s not just a mechanical bird, but an enchanted, and rather crotchet one. But its also the only ally Seren has as she sets out to discover what’s going on…

Well, I finished the first book and began the sevond immediately! In The Velvet Fox, we see Seren once more confronting the Fair Family, who have found their way into Plas y Fran and seem to have everyone but her under their spell. Can Seren and Crow outwit them a sevond time?

Seren was immediately likeable and the Crow was just brilliant – think Cogheart’s Malkin, or Rumblestar’s Bartholomew – arrogant, grumpy, sharp and prone to exaggeration, but with a heart of gold really! He makes the perfect companion for Seren’s quest, adding plenty of humour and a dash of blunt realism (which is quite something for an enchanted, talking, clockwork bird!). There’s also a fantastic ‘supporting cast’ – all of whom feel well fleshed out and likeable.

I loved so much about these books – the setting, the historical feel and especially the way they used folklore and tradition.

There seem to be many books at the moment which twist, draw on or spin off fairytales; this is no bad thing in my book, I love it!

But, while this book does do that – there are flavours, echoes and whispers of many familiar fairytales in here, especially in The Velvet Fox – it was also refreshing to see these books drawing on more of the folkloric side of things – the tales of faery folk, ill omens, superstitions and charms etc.

I really liked seeing the faeries depicted as sinister tricksters in keeping with old tales and beliefs and it gave the books a really dark edge without making them scary or off-putting for younger readers.

Indeed, the faery folk made for an terrible and impressive foe, and The Velvet Fox especially has both a truly detestable villain in the firm of Mrs Honeybourne, who is from the Delores Umbridge school of sweet smiling baddies and the brilliantly sly Fox himself.

Overall, short but perfectly formed, this is a magical and atmospheric pair of books, with elements of classic children’s stories, traditional oral tale telling and a dose of humour too. Wonderful – and a perfect December read!

Top Ten Tuesday – Thanks

For anyone who doesn’t know Top Ten Tuesday is run by That Artsy Reader Girl, who provides a weekly prompt for us to respond to with our Tuesday top tens on that theme.

Today’s prompt is a Thankful Freebie, do here’s my Top Ten bookish things I’m thankful for…

1. Having adults around me who really fostered my love of reading as a child. My mum especially, my aunt when I was a teenager, my primary school teachers, and my local librarians throughout!

2. Having books in the house – both growing up and now. We were, and are, lucky enough to both be able to afford to have books and have space to hoard them!

3. Seeing ‘myself’ represented in books, especially as a child. As a white “middle class” female, I’ve never had to struggle to find books that showed ‘me’, my sort of life or experiences.

4. Having access to a library, both now and as a child. Especially with library closures left, right and centre, I’ve been lucky to have well-stocked libraries around me.

4. Being able to work with books, especially children’s books! Like any job, there’s pros and cons, but when all is said and done, it’s great being surrounded by books, talk books and share some book love all day.

5. The not inconsiderable discount that comes with that and means I can afford to buy more books than I’d ever be able to on my pay otherwise.

6. Likewise, the free books I’m lucky enough to be sent from publishers through work. I’ve read SO many good books this way!

7. Being able to run our story sessions. Sticking on the work theme for just one more! I used to love reading, looking at books, acting out stories etc with kids in my class so it’s been lovely to still see a bit of that magic through running our story times at work now.

8. And even better than that, is bring able to share books with Peapod. I love this and I’m so pleased to see how much he loves books already too!

9. I’m also thankful to all those creating all these books we love – the authors, the illustrators, editors, publishers, writing groups, proof-readers etc etc. Without your imagination, skill and huge amounts of hard work there’s be no books to be thankful for!

10. And of course I’m thankful to have this blog and to all of you who stop by to read it!

What bookish things would you say thank you for?

Peapod’s Picks – Little Wise Wolf

We chose, bought and paid for this ourselves and have not been asked to review it. Opinions and thoughts our own.

9781911496120

Little Wise Wolf by Gijs van der Hammen, Illustrated by Hanneke Siemensma, Translated by Laura Watkinson

This was one of those lovely, ‘perks of the job’ type finds that I chanced upon only because a customer at work had ordered a copy, it came in as part of the delivery and (me being me) I caught a glimpse of the cover and went “ooooh, that’s a Rachael book!” and had a flick through. I then immediately ordered another copy in for myself Peapod.

So, it was the illustrations that initially pulled me in and ultimately totally sold this to me, but let’s pause for a minute and start with the story itself.

Wolf is clever. In fact, he is the cleverest creature around. He likes big books (and he cannot lie…sorry, couldn’t resist) and learning and, perhaps most importantly, solitude. The other animals admire his wisdom and often come to ask him questions, but Little Wise Wolf doesn’t have time for them and sends them away.

When the King sends for Little Wise Wolf to cure him from his illness, Wolf sets out on a long journey and, as he finds himself ill-prepared, cold, hungry and tired in the forest, he realises that perhaps not everything can be learned from books alone and that sometimes it helps to have friends by your side.

This is a fable-like tale with a refreshing message not just of helping others, but also of ASKING for help and leaning on others when you need it. I thought this was so nice to see, especially as mental health issues are on the rise and the idea of community, working together and looking out for one another simultaneously becoming less common.

It makes the point that no matter how clever/strong/talented/skilled etc you may be at something, there is always something you can learn and always someone who knows something you don’t, which I think is a powerful message, especially as it’s the animals who perhaps aren’t the most academically gifted in the story who end up being the heroes.

What I also liked a lot was that while we saw Wolf make friends in the story and realise how it can be helpful, and enjoyable, to be around others, he didn’t suddenly become a super-sociable, ‘people-person’. I was left with very much the feeling that he was still him – he still preferred his own company and his “big books” but had now realised that finding time for others was beneficial all round too.

Those of you who read my posts often will know how averse I am to didactic or saccharine picture books and, as a book with a message, there’s always that risk. This one was saved from that fate wonderfully by both the artwork (more on that in a minute) and the writing style – and by extension it’s translation. I have no way of knowing how it reads in the original Dutch, but the matter-of-fact style, deadpan tone and short, curt sentences of the translation work brilliantly both with the fable-like nature of the tale and with the illustrations.

And, oh those illustrations! (You knew this as coming didn’t you?!)

Even the end-papers are beautiful, and I love the little, stitch-like trail that shows Wolf’s journey both here and in the book itself. There is a textile element to much of the artwork, with a feel of printed patterned fabric, embroidered details and stitching – the butterflies, flowers and trees or the textures on the rocks and rainfall for example.

Combined with the use of a range of media to create a range of effects, the muted tones, the heavy, rough, almost child-like style of Wolf himself (and those red boots – both a striking feature that stands out against the dark backgrounds and more than a tap of the nose to Miss RR Hood, surely?!), the way the city and country contrast so brilliantly and yet feel very much from the same ‘pen’ – it all comes together to create a visual feast that works wonderfully to tell the story, convey emotion and atmosphere, but which is also thoroughly gorgeous to look at all on its own.

Ok, so this was more of a Rachael-Picks than Peapod (again!), but he loved it too! Will be keeping a beady eye on the author, illustrator and publisher (Book Island) in the hope of more in this vein!

Beast Feast

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.

Beast Feast by Emma Yarlett

I read Emma Yarlett’s Dragon Post last year and loved it – a really lovely story with lots of letters to open and read, it was an absolute joy! And this is just as good!

Beast is cooking Dinner for his, beastie friends. Dinner, however, is not happy about it and comes up with various ways to make meeting the guest’s culinary demands (being plump, salted and chilled among others) easier to endure.

Consequently, Dinner and Beast have a lovely time eating chocolate cake, swimming in the salty sea and playing in the snow. But as they spend more time together, Beast begins to wonder whether he really wants to eat Dinner after all. But what can he do – the guests are all invited! Dinner must be served…

This is SUCH a fantastic book. I mean, come on, it has a character called Dinner!

As with Dragon Post, this is a really cute and funny story about friendship with stunning illustrations and LETTERS to open (I love a letter!) which are all ‘written’ on different types of paper and in different styles to match their senders.

“Alrite Dingbat?” – this cracked me up!

The inside covers alone are enough to make it worth buying – covered in laugh out loud, scrapbook style in foul/flavoursome recipes, they’re a delight to pore over.

It’s just brilliant.

There’s so much scope to use this in schools as a springboard for letter writing, creative/English work creating beasts and character building, cooking and/or science designing disgusting (or delicious!) dishes… the list goes on… But it’s also just a thoroughly enjoyable read for sharing (and playing, cooking, talking, writing…) at home!

Love, LOVE, LOVE it!

Believathon – Halfway Check In!

I mentioned at the end of October that I’d be taking part in Believathon this month.

I chose ten books – one for each prompt, with the hope of reading at least four – one per week on average.

We’re now (just over) halfway through and I’ve read two books (plus the group book which I’d already read) and I’m halfway through another (North Child). Here’s a recap of my reading so far…

Group Read – Frostheart by Jamie Littler

So, I have to confess two things.

The first is that, as Waterstones book of the month for October, I’d already read this ahead of the challenge.

The second *whispers* I’m just not mad on it. I know EVERYONE else is, but it just didn’t do it for me. An unrateable if you will.

On paper (no pun intended) this has everything I usually like in a book – an outcast, a quest, magic and adventure; tentative new friendships, unlikely heroes and unexpected allies; an icy setting with a journey across it and rich and believable traditions and ‘ways’ within different tribes; devious baddies, terrifying monsters… and a Yeti who is, quite frankly brilliant.

It has all this and yet I just wasn’t invested in it. It has excitement, deception, anguish, growth, warmth, humour, fear, bravery, treachery, teamwork…I could go on. It was, essentially, great. Except that it wasn’t (for me) and, honestly, I don’t know why.

A Book Featuring Magic – The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell

So, this was another that fell a bit short of my expectations. I think this was mostly because I’d built my expectations up too high to begin with. But I did find it a bit slow to get into and I didn’t gel easily with the writing style/voice either.

Which all sounds terribly negative for a book I did actually quite like! As I did end up liking this, and I plan to read book two. I just didn’t LOVE it the way I’d expected to.

It took a while to gain momentum and really get going – it felt like there was a lot of scene-setting and background to get through and the pace was quite slow until the latter part of the book. Once we were well and truly underway, I was hooked, it just took a while to get there!

Likewise, while the world-building and sheer imagination needed to conceive the Impossible Places and their inhabitants and ‘fuzzics’ were outstanding, I felt I had to concentrate quite hard to really picture it and piece it all together. In some parts, this is undoubtedly down to my dismal scientific understanding, but in general I just didn’t feel transported to this eccentric and eclectic place as easily as I’d have liked to have been.

That said, it really was a wonderful place – I loved the idea of the Trolls’ ‘junk’ vehicles especially and the potential for so many more fantastic places across the Impossible Places as the series continues is huge.

Similarly the characters – I thought the core postal crew of Fletch, Wilmot, Ursa and Stonker were brilliant. I loved their characters and dynamics. Likewise, some of the smaller parts like the underwater ghosts and Neoma (who had more than a touch of Pratchett’s Angua about her) were great for various reasons. But our main character Suzy left me not all that bothered about her – I didn’t dislike her, I just wasn’t that invested – and I get that Frederick was intended to be a bit of a slippery fish, but I couldn’t sympathise or warm to him at all.

Overall, this was a highly original, funny and very imaginative adventure. I’m hoping that it’s laid the groundwork for a faster paced sequel, and I’m hoping a return to the impossible places with Suzy will really get me gripped as there’s scope for this to run and run.

A Book with a Strong Sense of Friendship – Skycircus by Peter Bunzl

The friendship between Lily and Robert in this series is a brilliant one. They’re supportive and caring and know each other so well, and there’s absolutely no hint of it being anything other than platonic. Such a great pair.

And such a great book.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to reading it, but it was definitely worth the wait and it’s got me even more excited for Shadowsea (the next book in the series) now! You can read my full review of it here.

And that’s it! I’m halfway through North Child (oh my goodness – this book! So much love) and I’ve just started the Clockwork Crow too.

I’m hoping I can read a bit more over the next couple of weeks and exceed my minimum of four, but realistically I have to accept that ten was ambitious!

Are you taking part in Believathon? What have you read for it/recently?

Skycircus

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.

Skycircus by Peter Bunzl, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander

This is the third installment in the Cogheart series, following the original Cogheart and its sequel Moonlocket.

I loved both the first two books, Cogheart itself especially, and was so excited for this, so I have no idea how it got so buried in my TBR (there’s a WWW Wednesday post from October 24th last tsar saying I’m planning to read it as one of my nexf few books! Past me – what happened?!)

But, I finally read it as part of #Believathon this month and it was worth the wait! It was also the first time I’ve buddy-read a book, as Amy and I read it alongside each other, and I really enjoyed being able to share our thoughts and talk about what was happening as I went along.

One of the things I liked best was that, although it rejoins Lily, Robert and Malkin from the first two books, and does follow on from what’s happened to them previously and, in particular Lily’s past, it would be very easy to read this having not read the first two books, or to read it and go back to them. It works really well as a stand alone adventure, though of course it is even better if you’ve already read the others!

Here, we meet Lily on her birthday as a mysterious parcel arrives for her seemingly out if nowhere containing her mother’s old notebook and an invitation to the circus, where she’s excited to see there’s another ‘hybrid’ – part human, part mechanical – and she has wings, just like the work she’s discovering her mother was interested in. Could this be a link to her past and getting to know her mother like she never had chance to?

Of course, when they arrive at the circus, all is not as it seems and Lily, Robert and Malkin soon find themselves captured and whisked away as part of an unhappy circus crew with a sinister, and it transpires all too familiar leader. It’s up to them to bring the hybrids and humans together to overcome those in control, escape and restore the Skycircus to its happier past.

This was a brilliant book and the circus made for a fantastic setting. As we saw the show, and met Angelique/Angela – a winged hybrid – for the first time I was transported both to this circus but also back to Angela Carter’s ‘Nights at the Circus’ and its star Fevvers. Peter Bunzl kindly answered my question on twitter confirming that this was an influence and I think a wonderful one.

He said he also drew on the brilliant Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which became gloriously apparent as we became immersed in the circus life, and especially as the story reached its climax (no spoilers!). Peter also talks in the acknowledgements about some of the research and trips to see the circus he did in writing this, and I think it shows – the book seems to really capture circus life.

The adventure itself is tense and exciting, with some excellent twists and jaw-dropping revelations. Themes of friendship and inclusion were woven in well and the historical nature of the story helped to explore inequality and the beginnings of women in science (both Amy and I felt thoroughly ashamed of ourselves for being caught out at one point, as no doubt we were expected to be – we’ll played Peter!!)

Lily and Robert are both likeable characters, but it’s Malkin I was most pleased to see again! The mechanical fix perhaps played a smaller part in this adventure, but was every bit as dry and sardonic as usual when he did feature. You can practically hear his eyes rolling in his voice and I love what this brings to the feel of the book as a whole.

This was a fantastic addition to a fantastic series and I’m only glad I left it so long because it means I font have too long to wait now before book four, Shadowsea. I’m so intrigued about where that will go, though both Amy and I agreed we’re expecting the return of at least one villain!

Top Ten Tuesday – Changes

For anyone who doesn’t know Top Ten Tuesday is run by That Artsy Reader Girl, who provides a weekly prompt for us to respond to with our Tuesday top tens on that theme.

Today’s prompt is

Changes in my Reading Life

I’m not sure, as I begin writing this, that I’ll get ten points from it, though I’m fairly sure I’ll ramble and go off on Ed nough tangents to cover ten points worth of post!

1. Actually reading – so I’ve always read. I was brought up with my mum in particular passing on her love of reading to me with trips to both library and local bookshop, bedtime stories every night and later reading in bed to myself, I could read before starting school and devoured books there too. So, as a child I always had a book to hand.

As I got older, I still read but it dwindled and when I started teaching it was gradually pushed out, my classroom was full of picture books still, but on a personal level it became a treat for holidays rather than a regular part of my life. It was only when I left that my love for it, and time for it, really grew again.

Just seeing these again and reading through done of the other titles has made me SO nostalgic. Maybe I need to do a PH re-read…

2. What I read – this has changed a lot in some ways but not much in others over the years. For example, I used to love type books when I was younger – Point Horror then Stephen King – but never read that now, though my love of picture books has never left (I got The Gruffalo’s Child for my 21st birthday…).

3. When/where I read – While I have read at other times too, bedtime and holidays are my two biggest times for reading. Or at least they were til Peapod came along! Over the last year, I’ve gone from regularly reading in bed before sleep and binging on book after book after book in the sun to snatching a few pages when I can!

Some of the last holiday reading before Peapod arrived!

Though I do still try to read a few pages before bed I’ve had to learn to do as I on the sofa downstairs instead of in bed (harder than it sounds at first!) and I get a lot of my reading done on my break in work, and on my commute, now.

4. How I read – if you’d asked me about ebooks a year or two ago, you’d have been met with a sneer and an emphatic “not a chance”. Now, I have embraced them as they’re the only way I can read in bed without waking Peapod.

My main read is always a physical book, but I now have an ebook on my phone too for those nights when I’m up with him more than I’m down! But let me also say that the books I get as ebooks are

a) always paid for

b) quite often books I have been sent physical copies (either proof or finished) of too

c) ones I’ll buy a physical copy of too if I haven’t got one and I enjoy it

Likewise, audiobooks were never for me (but let me add that does not in any way mean I didn’t see them as reading – that viewpoint baffles me. A book is a book.) but when Peapod was little(r) we spent hours pacing thr streets with the pram as, along with his sling, it was the only way he’d nap. So once he was asleep, I’d put an audiobook on while I walked. It stuck and I still have one on the go now for naptime cleaning or odd half hours when I’ve things to do but he’s with his dad. I don’t listen as often now but I’d like to keep reading them.

5. What I (should!) make an effort to read more of – I have definite favourites when it comes to my reading, but am forever saying I will read more YA. I also need to get through loads of adult fiction that I really enjoy but never get to!

How has your reading life changed? Do we have any reading habits or changes in common?

WWW Wednesday 13/11/19

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

What are you currently reading?

North Child by Edith Pattou

I’ve not had much chance to read this so I’m still only about halfway through but it’s already a firm favourite, I’m absolutely LOVING it.

Skycircus by Peter Bunzl

I cannot believe its taken me this long to get to this, but I am thoroughly enjoying it so far. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Peter’s writing.

I’m buddy reading this one with Amy, something I’ve not done before, and I’m really enjoying being able to chat about it as I read too.

The Book of Dust, vol. 2: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman (audiobook read by Michael Sheen)

I’m not far into this yet either, but I’m enjoying it (though I’m not sure about Michael Sheen’s scouse accent 😂). I wasn’t sure what to expect from this or where it would go, and to be honest I’m still not! But I’m definitely hooked and intrigued..!

What have you just finished reading?

The Train to Impossible Places by PG Bell

This did grow on me, I ended up quite enjoying it and I’ll be reading book 2, but I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped to though I honestly can’t say why.

His Dark Materials: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman (audiobook read by Philip Pullman and cast)

As I said last week, this remains my least favourite of the series, but I’m glad to have re-read it before starting The Secret Commonwealth.

What will you read next?

Something else from my Believathon pile – which would you choose?!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Top Ten Tuesday – Bookmarks

For anyone who doesn’t know Top Ten Tuesday is run by That Artsy Reader Girl, who provides a weekly prompt for us to respond to with our Tuesday top tens on that theme.

This week’s theme is ‘Favourite Bookmarks’.

I am in no way organised enough for bookmarks! Any I have I lose, and even if I do know where they are, they’re never where I need them when I need them! So, a light-hearted, fave five take on today’s prompt…

1. Receipts. Since I always have a bag full, these are my most often used place holders.

2. The blurby sheet that publishers often send with books. If I’m starting a new book that’s been sent to me accompanied by info that quite often ends up as my bookmark, at least to begin with.

3. Bus tickets. Something else I often have on me that has all the right properties for a bookmark. In it goes.

4. Free bookmarks. A bit like the publisher blurb, if a book comes with a bookmark it often gets used (just not always in that book and quite often months later when it randomly turns up on a stack of books)

5. My tortoise paper clip. OK, this one is my actual favourite bookmark and it’s usually buried in the bottom of my bag which I almost always have nearby, so I don’t know why I don’t use it more often!

Do you use a bookmark…or are you a corner folder?!

Six for Sunday – Blue Books

Six for Sunday is Steph at alittlebutalot‘s creation with a prompt each week to blog about.

Today’s prompt is:

Books with Blue Covers

A book for all ages – The Fox and The Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith

Just gorgeous (though not as satisfyingly wry as The Bird and the Worm!)

A picture book – Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

I don’t mention Oliver Jeffers nearly enough when talking about my favourite picture books and picture book authors. This is up there!

An early chapter book – The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson

Speaking of favourites – I grew up with Plop. He has a firm place in both mine and my mum’s hearts!

An MG book – The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay

I really loved this, but I think it’s been a bit under-rated! It has such a cosy feel for this time of year. You can read my review of it here.

A YA bookHis Dark Materials vol. 1: Northern Lights

Another favourite! I’ve just finished my re-read of the trilogy so had to pick this one. Not sure yet what I think of the TV series – anyone else watching it?

An adult book – The Binding by Bridget Collins

Atmospheric, historic, gothic and bookish – even the fact that it’s a love story in disguise couldn’t put me off! You can read my review here.