WWW Wednesday 29/7/20

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

What are you currently reading?

Boy Everywhere by A. M. Dassu

I’m about a third of the way in to this, it’s taking me a while to read as it’s an ebook with an awkward format but I am absolutely persevering because it’s brilliant. The story of Sami’s, family’s flight from Syria is told with such a convincing voice, totally lacking in melodrama but really making the danger, fear and conditions of the journey starkly clear.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Continuing my attempt to keep resfong some adult fiction alongside MG/YA. I’ve only just started this but I’m liking Kya and the wetland setting.

The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke, audiobook read by Gemma Whelan

I wasn’t convinced about this, but it’s looking like a, popular one at work so I thought I should read it. I went for the audiobook to try and squeeze it in, but I am really not liking the narrator!

That said, I don’t think I’d be a big fan of this even without her. There are elements I like but on the whole I am not getting on with it. I don’t feel as my connection to the characters other than annoyance at Milou’s constant prickly ears and Lotta’s Holy Gouda-ing, they seem unbelievably naive and really there’s just a, lot about this that is grating on me.

I’d probably DNF if I didn’t feel I needed to know what’s what with it for work!

What have you just finished reading?

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I really enjoyed this. I didn’t love it quite as much as I did The Underground Railroad but I still thought it was a really great read. Like the best of MG in emphatically adult form – overcoming almost unimaginable hardship, sadness and inequality, this is a wonderful tale of friendship, loyalty and bravery.

Mic Drop by Sharna Jackson

I really enjoyed this – an easy to read, fun mystery that was judt as good as the first. You can read my review here.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, audiobook read by Patrick Ness and Jason Isaacs

Such a sensitive and well-written book. Very clever and very moving.

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

Love, love, LOVED this. I feel so, so lucky to have read it early! My review is here.

What will you read next?

Honestly I need to take stock again I think! Probably the new Sophie Anderson, The Castle of Tangled Magic, on netgalley though.

Have you read any of these?

What are you currently reading?

Death Sets Sail

I feel incredibly lucky to have been sent a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens

I can’t believe its the final Murder Most Unladylike. I was, admittedly a little late in joining The Detective Society, but once Amy introduced me I was well and truly hooked and read the rest of the series one after the other in quick succession.

I’ve just re-read my series review of them (which you can read here) and found it really interesting to look back on a series which is now a firm favourite and how it really grew on me as I read with both Daisy herself and a couple of the earlier books taking some warming to at first!

I think though I’d love to go back to re-read them now and suspect I’d enjoy them much more having seen the progression and development of the characters, their families, school and friends.

Anyway, I digress!

Back to Death Sets Sail! I was SO thrilled to get an early copy of this and it didn’t disappoint at all – it had everything you could possibly wish for in a series finale, and more!

That said, there’s very little I can say about it for fear of spoilers!

I will try, but this may be a pretty short review…

This book sees Daisy and Hazel spending their school holidays with new friend, Amina, in Egypt on a cruise down the Nile.

Now, I haven’t read any Agatha Christie, but I know Robin is a big fan and that this is at least in part something of a tribute to Christie’s Death on the Nile, so I suspect for those who have read that there’ll be plenty of easter eggs to find.

Regardless of whether or not you get the Death on the Nile references though, this is an absolutely brilliant murder mystery in its own right. As you’d expect if you’ve been following the series.

The setting is richly described and I loved the way its ‘foreign-ness’ took us back to Daisy’s trip to Hong Kong with Hazel in a Spoonful of Murder. Their differing reactions to the mummies (and the offer of a mummified finger or two!) was wonderfully in keeping with their characters and friendship.

I also thought Amina’s annoyance at the misunderstanding, exploitation and downright disrespect of her home and culture was a great point of view to bring to the book.

This (combined with the gloriously ridiculous but believable ‘cult’ The Breath of Life who all believe they are white British reincarnations of Pharaohs) would be a great way into discussing the way the British behaved historically around Egyptian digs, artefacts and their entitlement to them.

But it remains a great read even if you don’t go that deeply into it!

The Breath of Life are an absolutely stellar cast of suspects. Each suspicious and dislikable on their own awful ways and hilarious together – their ritual especially is utterly brilliant to ‘watch’.

Joining Hazel and Daisy on board are Hazel’s father and little sisters. May is just a joy to read – a mischievous, bold future detective in the making, and there’s some wonderfully touching moments between Hazel and her father too.

The Junior Pinkertons, George and Alexander are also booked on the cruise – entirely by coincidence of course and nothing whatsoever to do with Hazel!) and I love that our final Detective Society case is shared with them. Daisy and George’s bickering is as funny as ever, and as for Hazel and Alexander…

As ever there are plenty of red herrings and twists in the solving of the case. I’m always, a bit rubbish at working them out and I definitely didn’t see this one coming!

There is of course one other bloody enormous elephant in the room review for anyone who’s read the blurb – “only one of the Detective Society will make it home alive”! And you’ll get absolutely nothing about that out of me except that it makes for an inspired, emotional and perfectly fitting end to the series.

This was as funny, warm and clever as we’ve come to expect from Robin’s Murder Most Unladylike series. Daisy and Hazel were both on top form, but it was also clear how they’d grown since their first case.

This is a series I love to recommend, enthuse about and discuss with young readers at work and this is an absolute triumph of a finale.

MG Takes on Thursday – NSquared

#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.

I’m cheating ever so slightly this week with two books (think of it like a 2 for 1 offer?!):

High Rise Mystery and Mic Drop by Sharna Jackson, cover art by Wumzum, published by Knights Of

I first met Nic and Norva in High Rise Mystery when I was helping with shortlisting for Waterstones Children’s Book Prize (my money is still on this to win!) and I’ve just finished their latest investigation, Mic Drop.

Set in a high-rise housing estate, The Tri, this is a brilliant new murder mystery series that will keep you guessing until the end.

In book one, Nic and Norva investigate the mysterious death of art tutor Hugo and Mic Drop sees another murder on the Tri, this time of former resident turned pop superstar TrojKat.

I was hooked on both, continually second guessing myself and changing my mind about ‘whodunnit’!

Nik and Norva are a great duo, each bringing their own personality and strengths to the mystery, and their chalk-and-cheese characters bring lots of humour and attitude to the books. Siblings everywhere will relate!

The urban, high-rise setting adds a touch of reality to it, as does the dialogue, and these books really stands out from other children’s crime and mystery novels. Fresh, diverse and modern, they will be instantly accessible to many young readers who will recognise their own homes, areas and neighbours in the books.

Fans of Murder Most Unladylike looking for another detective duo to get hooked on should look no further – it’s MMU but brought bang up to date!

My favourite sentence from page 11 of Mic Drop:

“Norva shot me a look, and gripped Katarzyna’s hand tighter.”

In three words:

Modern murder mysteries.

Peapod’s Pick(nic)s

Peapod is currently picnic mad.

We went on a picnic a couple of weeks ago and since then, he’s been hungering for more (pardon the pun!)

We spent a good few hours on Saturday delaying leaving the house so we didn’t have to have lunch at 10am while he wandered round, picnic bag in hand demanding “mick mick!”

His nins have been on picnics. We’ve had pretend picnics (which mainly involve pretending to hilariously drop our food or running back and forth between two spots as we shout out “Rain! Home!” or “Sun! Picnic!”).

What nearly-not-quite-two year old doesn’t want a bowl of olives for their picnic…?!

It is officially all about the picnic in our house at the moment!

So, I bought these two books for us to read:

We’ve enjoyed Picnic by John Burningham, in which Girl and Boy go on a picnic with Sheep, Pig and Duck. Many things (including themselves) are hidden or lost or dropped along the way, and as the reader we’re asked to find them.

I thought Peapod would be all over this as he loves hiding and finding games. And he has enjoyed it, but it’s We’re Going on a Picnic by Pat Hutchins that’s really captured his imagination.

Hen, Duck and Goose pick and pack some fruit and head off out for a picnic together. They stop at various points but each time decide somewhere else might make a better spot and move on (this made me laugh a lot as someone who can never quite settle on the perfect picnic spot!).

Mouse, Squirrel and Rabbit have noticed that tasty picnic though and each time Hen, Duck and Goose stop their basket becomes just a little lighter…

Peapod loves this story. Its gentle but clever and subtle visual humour is brilliant, with all the action happening in the illustrations. The text isn’t too repetitive, but retains familiarity and repeated phrases throughout that make it perfect for joining in with and retelling.

We’ve had lots of fun acting this out and retelling it with his toys and it’s been lovely to see him develop it too with Hen and Squirrel playing football or them all sharing the picnic food at the end!

Have you read either of these?

Do you have any other picnic-themed picture books we can add to our collection?!

WWW Wednesday 22/7/20

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

What are you currently reading?

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

I thought Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was absolutely fantastic, so after starting to get back into adult fiction again and seeing Mary over at Book Craic say how much she’d enjoyed this, it was an obvious next read! I’m only a chapter in so far, but I think I’ll enjoy it!

Mic Drop by Sharna Jackson

This is the first in a detective double that I’m SO excited for this week! Though, as much as I’m looking forward to this it’s very much the support act!

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, audiobook read by Patrick Ness and Jason Isaacs

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to read this! I’m about a third of the way through and very much enjoying it.

What have you just finished reading?

The Confession by Jessie Burton

I ended up liking this more than I thought I would. Though its not one I’d revisit or rave about, I do think it was very well-written with clever parallels and strong themes, which often made me pause and think especially about the complexities of growing older, of being a woman and of relationships with others and ourselves.

Holes by Louis Sachar, audiobook read by Kerry Beyer

This picked up as I really didn’t think I’d enjoy it at all, but it was a solid 3 stars at best and I fail to see the reasons behind the huge and enduring popularity of this book.

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari

I really enjoyed this. You can read my review of it here.

The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

Fantastic book. My review is here.

What will you read next?

The main event in my detective double. I am so not ready for this series to end, so I go in both reluctantly but also with huge excitement!

Have you read any of these?

What are you currently reading?

When Secrets Set Sail

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.

When Secrets Set Sail by Sita Brahmachari

I really loved Sita’s last book, Where the River Runs Gold so I jumped at the chance to read this one too.

It didn’t quite take my breath away the way Where the River Runs Gold did, but I still very much enjoyed it, the symbolism especially, and it’s one that I can see going down very well with fans of Emma Carroll, A.M. Howell and Gill Lewis’ The Closest Thing to Flying.

Part ghost story, part historical mystery and partly contemporary, Where Secrets Set Sail is a tale rich in culture, history and family; it is a story about knowing, or not knowing, where you come from; of promises, secrets and injustices, both in society and closer to home.

Imitiaz is being adopted by Usha’s family, but timing is poor as she’s moving in just after Usha’s grandmother, Kali Ma’s funeral and Usha seems distracted and unhappy to have her there.

While Usha does have her misgivings about Immy’s arrival, it’s the presence of Kali Ma’s ghost, the arrival of a strange stray cat and the mysterious book and conch shell she’s found in her grandmother’s things that she’s dwelling on.

That, and the imminent prospect of having to give up their home. Her parents run The Hearth downstairs – a community hub supporting refugees and others – but it’s being threatened by bigoted locals who ‘don’t want that sort around here, thank you’. The only way to save it is to find some lost documents, but time is running out.

Imitiaz is sceptical of Usha’s tall tales of ghosts at first, thinking she’s just trying to scare her away and being cold and unfriendly. But when another ghost, Lucky, appears to her too the girls begin to work together to solve a mystery that they hope will bring them closer, bring peace to the ghosts and save their home.

I really liked the way the many themes of the story slotted together, and found the themes of knowing where you come from and the importance of heritage especially engaging.

From Immy trying to find her place as someone who knows nothing of her background to Usha’s family history and the trouble secrets can cause, to the broader social histories of Ayahs and the Windrush generation, the book is steeped in history and strong in its message to remember them.

In particular the story of the forgotten Ayahs – nannies brought back to England with families returning from India but then left stranded with no passage back – was really interesting, very sad and something I’d previously known nothing about.

I thought the way racism was highlighted, both historically and in the present, too was important, timely and subtly but clearly done.

I thought the use of art, symbolism and traditions in the book as a whole, but especially in the girls’ hunt for the truth was very effective and helped create a real atmosphere, as did the wonderful ship house they live in!

The mystery of Kali Ma and Lucky’s stories and how they are connected is brilliantly unravelled and I really liked the way it drew in other cultures, stories, people and events too (the founding of the NHS, the first female doctors, Roma families and the injustice they have faced and still face today and much more besides).

This is a brilliant historical mystery, rich in culture and with family, identity and equality at its heart. Highly recommended!

The Black Kids

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.

I don’t read a huge amount of YA (far less than I should!) but I loved The Hate U Give and the premise of this combined with the ‘perfect if you loved THUG’ taglines and general buzz about it really pulled me in.

Ashley is well-off, spoilt (by her own admission) and black. Until recently, the latter hasn’t played much part in her thoughts or her daily life – her best friends are rich, white kids; her home is in a rich, white area and her life has almost always been as theirs is (although, as we see when she starts to reflect on it, perhaps it hasn’t and she’s just chosen to ignore the more casually racist behaviours around her).

We’re told in the synopsis online that

everything changes one afternoon in April, when four police officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

but it’s not quite this clear cut.

The LA riots of the 1990s (that began when the officers who beat up Rodney King were acquitted) do form the backdrop to the novel and they do become increasingly intrinsic to Ashley’s choices, feelings and actions, but their effects – on Ashley and more broadly – are not quite so quick and defined as this.

The book begins with Ashley herself admitting that she wasn’t all that bothered by the case to begin with; she and her friends are on the cusp of Summer, graduation and college. Life is a lazy time of skipping school, going out and having fun as they all prepare to go their own ways.

On the surface, it’s a stereotypical scenario – well-off teens skipping school to sunbathe, swim and smoke, mess about with boys/girls and generally enjoy themselves without thinking too much about anyone or anything else.

However, it’s as we spend so much time just ‘hanging out’ with Ashley and her friends in this way that we see – both in their interactions and her memories of growing up there with them – that we see the casual, incidental racism embedded in their lives. Little comments, ‘jokes’ and assumptions made; the knowledge that when they’re stopped by the police for trespassing she’s probably the reason and definitely the one at risk.

However, they’re her friends. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just how things are. It’s okay.

Or is it?

Gradually Ashley begins to see the racism around her, amplified by the riots, and the contrast between her sheltered, protected life and the lives of the other black kids in her school and in neighbourhoods being looted, burned and vandalised.

It’s likely we’ll see a flux of books about racism given the current climate, but this one especially tackles it somehow subtly and frankly all at once and really addresses how larger events that seemingly have “nothing to do with us” can suddenly feel much closer to home.

In light of the fact that nearly 30 years on, as Black Lives Matters protests continue and we still have police officers kneeling on black necks and abusing their stop and search rights, we don’t seem to have changed at all.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

There are so many layers to this book, so many clever ideas and angles and so much to love about it that it’s hard to review without a sprawling essay full of tangents and spoilers.

It’s less a book I want to review and more a book I really want to talk about and share thoughts on.

So, I will instead keep it short(ish!) and say just this – it is superbly written with complexity, understanding and excellent characters and relationships.

It takes quite something to take a group of wealthy, spoilt brats and give them depth, but that is exactly what we get here. It doesn’t necessarily make them likeable, but it does make them believable and understandable.

Ashley herself is judgmental and self-absorbed (to begin with at least) but it is as she learns from her mistakes and opens herself up to possibilities, people outside her friendship group and begins to consider the wider world that we see her grow.

Her sister Jo and ‘nanny’ Lucia are both fantastic characters too who bring much in the way of context, contrast and social commentary.

Ultimately, this is a book about racism, but it is also a fantastic coming of age story, a realistic and sometimes difficult examination of family and an honest look at friendships – their evolution, their end and the beginnings of new ones. And the themes interplay brilliantly.

I feel like I’ve not done this book justice here, but it is a gripping, thought-provoking, complex and believable read.

It also references some awesome music and I very much need an accompanying The Black Kids soundtrack now!

MG Takes on Thursday

#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.

A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, cover art by Kay Wilson, published by Knights Of

I finally read this after absolutely everyone raved about it! Honestly, my personal reaction was maybe a bit more lukewarm BUT I can see how important a book it is and I will definitely be recommending it highly in work, so I decided to use this post to show why I’ll be recommending a book even though I didn’t particularly love it.

This book takes on themes of difference, bullying, friendship – all of which are both important and popular issues in children’s fiction.

The book makes it clear to its readers that difference is positive; that being yourself and having few friends is better than pretending to be someone else and being popular. It makes it clear it can be difficult, but also that it’s worth it to be yourself.

There is both a painful realism and a firm reassurance here and in the way in which bullying is addressed in the story.

I suspect many readers will see themselves in Addie (and maybe others will pause to question their own behaviours) as we see the brutally real way both children and her teacher treat her – in both obvious, directly hurtful ways and more passive and sly ways, as well as through inaction.

In particular I thought the way we saw Miss Murphy’s almost matter of fact cruelty, prejudice and impatience with Addie, and the way her behaviour also meant that the other children saw her treatment and views of Addie as acceptable was very powerful.

I hope this book will not only prove comforting, informative and/or strengthening to its readers, but that it will also help those who need it to recognise that what might be happening to them is not okay and help them to find help.

The book also celebrates a supportive, close family, with all its ups and downs, and explores what real friendship looks like.

Addie is autistic and the book also helps us to see what the world can be like for her, whilst also making clear that it’s not necessarily the same for others who are autistic, although it shows that some things are common. I think this is a great way for readers to try to understand more about this and to enable them to put themselves in another’s shoes.

The way in which Addie draws parallels with the witch hunts of the past is very clever too, and I especially liked the character of Addie’s older sister Keedie.

Did this book absolutely grab me and speak to me and make me want to press it onto everyone gabbling excitedly about it? No.

Is it a book I think is important, moving, helpful and interesting that covers themes children both want to and need to read about. Absolutely.

My favourite sentence from page 11

“She asks me no questions. She let’s go when I do.”

This book in three words:

Difference is good.

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?