March – April

A look back at last month’s reading and ahead to my reading plans for April.

I had thirteen books on my tbr for March. I only read seven of them, but I did read eight that weren’t on there, so I finished up reading fifteen in total (including three re-reads) – four audiobooks and eleven in print.

I’ve kept the adult/YA reads ticking over with a couple of adult fiction reads and a couple which straddle the two.

Next month I have another ambitious TBR, with four netgalley books to read. I’m especially excited for Nicola Penfold’s new one.

I have five books I’ve been sent to review on the shelf. I don’t think I’ll get to them all but I might chip away at it a bit..!

A much more exciting pile is this stack of new (or newish!) gems and I’m much more likely to get through these!

My adult pick for this month will be Hamnet, mostly because I know it’ll be a big one when I go back to work. And my YA pick is The Firekeeper’s Daughter, which I’m hoping I might be able to get on audio. Hopefully I’ll squeeze a couple more adult and YA in too.

It’s hard to know how my reading (and blogging!) will go when I’m back in work in the next couple of weeks. I expect it will all slow right down, at least initially, but we’ll see!

Either way I’m unlikely to get through all sixteen of these plus the extras that inevitably appear, but I can try…!

Have you read any of my April to-reads?

How was your reading in March?

What are you hoping to read this month?

WWW Wednesday 31/3/21

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

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What will you read next?

So, first up, my current reads:

Grow by Luke Palmer

I’ve not got very far with this. I feel like I’m going to like it well enough, but not be blown away by it. But we’ll see…

Here in the Real World by Sara Pennypacker, audiobook read by Noah Galvin

I’ve been meaning to read this for ages so I’m squeezing it in on audio. I’m not far in yet, so my thoughts on it are still very much TBC!

A Vanishing of Griffins by S. A. Patrick

I haven’t actually started this yet but what else but this could I pick up after finishing A Darkness of Dragons?!

What have you just finished reading?

Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

In the end, this didn’t quite work for me. I liked the lyrical prose, but it didn’t suit the story and I found it got in the way of me really investing in the characters.

I usually like books with multiple perspectives but I don’t feel like this added anything here and I’d have preferred just one or two POVs.

For a book with such hard-hitting, difficult and uncomfortable themes (poverty, prostitution, rape, domestic violence, gang violence…) it could have been powerful, but didn’t deliver.

Bloom by Nicola Skinner, audiobook read by Lauren Chandler

I loved this and it’s made me even more excited for Nicola’s new book Starboard which I’m hoping to read soon! Full review to follow.

A Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

I was a bit poorly this week, so I curled up in bed for a comfort re-read of this favourite and it more than did the trick. Love it.

A Darkness of Dragons by S A Patrick

I finally, finally got round to reading this and the only good thing about it taking me so long to get to is that I can go straight into book two immediately! This was great, I’ll try and get a review up ASAP!

Also, to those of you who’ve read it: what did it remind me of??! In a good way this felt like it had a flavour of another book or author (not the plot or characters or anything specific just a feeling or the style maybe) – any ideas? I feel like there’s a hint of Howl, a bit of Podkin but it’s neither of those I’m thinking of I don’t think – I absolutely can’t place what it is it reminded me of!

What’s next?

These are all highly likely to change, but…

My next ebook will be The Supreme Lie by Geraldine Mcaughrean.

My next audiobook will probably be The Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley.

My next physical children’s book will probably be Starfell: Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom by Dominique Valente.

And my next adult read will probably be Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Peapod’s Picks – New Easter Picture Books

We were lucky enough to receive free copies of these from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

With Easter round the corner, we were very pleased to receive two new picture books from Hachette perfect for this time of year!

Free-Range Freddy by Rachel Bright and Izzy Evans

A rhyming, rhythmic paean to wildness and non-conformity that hops, pops and bops along with energy and pace.

New chick Freddy causes chaos on the farm with his movement, noise and mess…but despite their initial displeasure the other animals grow to love it and soon embrace their wild sides too.

Alongside classic style illustrations, there’s a lovely use of language – from from its well-flowing rhyme to onomatopoeiac shrieks, squawks, cricks and cracks to some wonderful choices of vocabulary (bulbous, floppled, wobbled) this is great to read aloud and listen to.

With a message that every child needs to hear sometimes, this is lots of fun and Freddy’s spirited ways will appeal to children everywhere!

Oscar the Hungry Unicorn Eats Easter by Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson

Everyone’s favourite hungry unicorn is back! And no easter egg is safe!

It’s Easter and Princess Oola and friends are excitedly hunting for eggs…only they can’t find any. Not one. What (or should we say who!) could have happened to them all?!

The Easter Bunny can’t make more so the friends work together to decorate and hide some…but when they forget where they’re hidden is there anyone who could help sniff them out?!

Taking him from disgrace to hero, Oscar’s insatiable appetite and ability to sniff out chocolate at a hundred paces is a deliciously daft slice of Easter fun.

As a fan of both the first Oscar book and chocolate, Peapod loved this! He thought seeing Oscar munch all the eggs was very funny and was totally taken by the Easter bunny and pirates too.

On that note – the pirates were an inspired touch! Who doesn’t immediately think of pirates at Easter?! They were such silly fun and – like the rest of this brilliantly bright, bold book – illustrated perfectly.

How could you not love a book that can combine the Easter bunny, a chocoholic unicorn, pirates burying, losing and digging for treasure, a princess and more…?! An egg-cellent Easter treat!

Peapod’s Picks – Mr Postmouse

I’ve been meaning to review these little gems for a while, but poor old Mr Postmouse kept meeting with delays! But here we are finally with two of Peapod’s recent favourites.

Here Comes Mr Postmouse and Mr Postmouse goes on Holiday by Marianne Dubuc, published by Book Island

I first spotted Here Comes Mr Postmouse on Book Island’s twitter feed while Peapod was at the height of his Postman Pat obsession (I say that like it’s faded. We’re months in. He still loves it. Pat is here to stay.) and thought the postman theme combined with illustrations I loved the look of had to be a good shout.

And it was.

It’s an unassuming tale of a Postmouse on his rounds, delivering parcels and letters to creatures big and small. There’s something stinky for the skunks, something sweet for the ants, something speedy for turtle and something rather suspicious for the chickens…

The cross-section style illustrations are undoubtedly the star of the show, with simple caption-like text narrating the journey, adding gentle humour and drawing our attention to the details.

We love this. We is SO much to see, talk about, imagine, discuss, be inspired by, laugh at, point out, notice, delve into, make links with…

…and there’s poo too. Which, of course Peapod loves!

After it arrived, I was looking for the tweet I’d seen originally when I spied another, older tweet from @bookgiftblogger informing me there was another Mr Postmouse book! I ordered it immediately!

Told in the same style as the first, here we see Mr Postmouse and family set off on their holidays! But of course, “a postman never really finishes his rounds”, so while they’re away they’ve parcel’s to deliver to their friends further afield!

From forest to ocean, volcano to oasis, jungle to town and mountain to sky, we’re whisked around the world where there’s even more to see!

It’s a wonderful journey which really captures the imagination and the exciting unlikely sorts of encounters that can only exist in the wonderful world of children’s stories and ideas.

I love that as well as being utterly lovely to share as a complete story, these books are perfect for dipping into or reading a few pages at a time.

With so much to spot, you really want to pore over the pages and spend time with them so it’s been great to keep revisiting these (both with Peapod and without!) to see what else we notice.

With a menagerie of animals taking centre stage, all your favourite fairy tale folk hiding thereabouts, and some ingeniously imagined houses, homes and ways of life these books are just a delight. Perfect for sharing or losing yourself in! We love them!

Picture Book and Play – Easter Bunnies!

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

As Easter approaches, Peapod and I have begun some Easter themed activities, starting with our Easter cards.

I totally cheated for this one and found it on a good old g**gle search.

I have tried to find the original source to credit here, but I’m just on an endless Pinterest-Google cycle so just please know: this isn’t my own idea and I’m not being asked to use it, but I did love it. If it’s yours, shout and I’ll credit you 🙂

We had a good laugh getting the footprints done and it was a great sensory experience for Peapod!

And once we’d done the spaced out ones for the cards, he had a great time stomping round (with me holding on!) shouting “fee fi fo fum…smell blood man…be dead…grind bones make my bread!” so a bit of a bookish bonus there too!

That said, between tickly brushes, slippery paint and a wriggly toddler I’m glad there were two of us on hand to help…and even then it wasn’t without mishap 😬! Definitely one to do on the grass outside next time!

We also did a quick bunny craft which he really surprised me with.

I put out bunny templates, cotton wool balls, pritt stick, sticky eyes and scissors and, honestly, I was expecting two bits of cotton wool half-heartedly stuck to it with several mismatched eyes and probably a severed head.

But (obviously with guidance!) he carefully covered the whole bunny, stuck some eyes on in about the right place (miraculously with no help) and (with me turning the card and doing the inside fiddly bits) followed the lines to cut it out too.

He even chose to do another independently…although that did end up de-furred and with eyes on its ears some time later!!

We’ve also got some bunny painting to do at the weekend to use up the last often footprint paint! We’re going to use cotton wool to splodge, stamp and probably spread the paint over our bunnies for some colourful Easter pics!

Of course, with all these Easter bunnies on the go, we had to get some of our best bunny books out to read too.

We read Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit by Lorna Scobie which I’ve reviewed before here and absolutely love.

(Incidentally – I was made up that our copy of Lorna’s new book ‘Duck, Duck, Dad?’ arrived the other day but had to resist the temptation to read it as it’s Peapod’s present for his dad’s birthday so we’ll review after that!)

Next up was Hooray for Hoppy! by Tim Hopgood, another enduring favourite we’ve read for the last couple of years at this time. Read more here.

And finally, Hop Little Bunnies by Martha Mumford and Laura Hughes, which again we have reviewed before but remains a favourite.

Peapod very much enjoyed dancing his newly made bunny around the room singing “hop little bunny” too!

And just because we couldn’t possibly get to them all yesterday, here’s some more of our favourite bunny books that we’ve got in our basket at the moment!

Have you got any favourite bunny books?

Will you be making any Easter cards or crafts?

What have you been reading or playing this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – Crater Lake, Evolution

#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.

Crater Lake Evolution by Jennifer Killick, cover art by Anne Glenn, published by Firefly Press

If you’ve not yet read the first Crater Lake, don’t read this one (yet!) but start there. Normally I’d say ‘you probably could read it as a stand alone/out of order’ and I mean, yes, you probably could but so much of this builds on, follows on from and refers back to book one that it wouldn’t be the best idea.

However, as soon as you have read book one – READ THIS!

We rejoin unlikely hero Lance and friends in the first term of secondary school, and its safe to say ‘Big School’ has thrown them in a big way. They’ve changed, grown apart, fallen out and generally struggled with the transition.

But they’re going to have to put misunderstandings, jealousy and dodgy earrings aside because…

…the spores are back in town.

With WiFi down after a strange explosion in the local lab, a mysterious creature on the loose and a curfew in place, more nosy neighbours than you can shake a stick at, and parents either missing or acting very strangely, it’s not long before Lance realises something weird is going on, and it’s up to him to get to the bottom of it again. But to do that, he’ll need help.

Can he get the gang back together to save Straybridge?

And on that note, said gang are brilliant. They’re a great mix of very relatable and recognisable 11-12 year olds who act and sound so realistic (Ade’s “hair dollop” in a doughnut cracked me up!).

This is an author who knows the age she writes (and writes for) well (although, I have to say its Lance’s mum that really stood out for me in this!)

There is a really observant, tender and reassuring look at friendship groups and the way they can change in the background of this alien invasion.

Likewise, the humour is one of the best things about the book. Lightening the mood when it all gets a bit heavy, the balance between the potentially deadly events unfolding and the comic gold that is the dialogue here is perfect (with a special nod to newcomer Karim who delivers so much of it).

Between sarky retorts, deliberations about poo, quick comebacks and schmaltzy cushions, there is a remarkable amount of laughter for a book about a town being gradually taken over by an alien lifeform.

There is a lot I loved about this book that I can’t talk about for fear of spoilers (though I will say the Stranger Things chat and bugsplaining were brilliant) but the whole thing is just superbly executed. And it refers back to book one in the absolute best ways while being an entirely different beast too.

The creepy atmosphere steadily grows, the tension builds brilliantly and you can really sense the imminent danger mounting. This is as relentless as the first, with just as many twists, turns and surprises; fast-paced, exciting and utterly gripping.

And if you’re thinking ‘yeah, but aliens aren’t really for me’ – don’t be put off! I really don’t do sci-fi but here I make an exception – it is great!

My favourite quote from page 10:

I stare at the smoke churning and bubbling in the sky above my town: a town where literally nothing interesting ever happens, and I feel a creeping dread prickling in my chest.”

This book in three words:

Aliens. Friendship. Laughs.

Have you read the first Crater Lake?

Will you be picking this one up?

WWW Wednesday 24/3/21

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

What are you currently reading?

What have you just finished reading?

What will you read next?

So, first up, my current reads:

Eve Out of her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman

I’ve only just started this so all I can tell you so far is it’s going to be bleak and needs basically all the trigger warnings.

Grow by Luke Palmer

I’m only a couple of chapters into this too. I’m definitely intrigued and quite like the writing so far.

Bloom by Nicola Skinner, audiobook read by Lauren Chandler

I’ve been meaning to read this for so long and the publication of Nicola’s new book, Starboard, prompted me to get this read via the audiobook. I’m really enjoying it so far.

What have you just finished reading?

Bigfoot Mountain by Roderick O’Grady

This really didn’t work for me unfortunately.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I thought the science involved in this would put me off, but it didn’t at all. I really enjoyed it. I won’t be posting a review here, keeping the blog space for kids books, but you can read my review on the Waterstones page if you’re interested.

Little Bird Lands by Karen McCombie, audiobook read by Helen McAlpine

I really enjoyed this, having finally got to it. It didn’t have the pace abd adventure of Little Bird Flies, but there were still lots of interesting themes raised and difficulties to overcome.

Crater Lake, Evolution by Jennifer Killick

This was a great sequel. Jennifer’s ability to balance the creepy and dangerous with humour is spot on. Full review to follow.

What’s next?

My next adult/YA read will be either Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas or Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. Probably.

My next audiobook will be Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein

My next ebook will be The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean and my next physical kids book will be A Darkness of Dragons by S A Patrick probably.

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

Picture Book and Play – Room on the Broom

Picture Book And Play is a weekly post in which we look at a picture book (or books) Peapod’s been enjoying recently and some of the play we’ve had based on it.

It’s a short post this week (and regular readers will be disappointed to hear there’s not a tractor or digger in sight) with just a quick, fun look at an absolute classic that there are MILLIONS (OK, maybe not millions but a lot) of activities you could link to it.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan

This is a favourite here of both mine and Peapod’s, and one which is a Halloween staple – for us at home when I used to teach and at storytimes in work! You can read more of our thoughts on it here.

It only came up this week because Peapod randomly mentioned it, but it ended up tying in really well with our off-the-cuff outdoor play on Monday; I’d put Peapod’s water play things out with some flowers and herbs that seen better days, along with his scissors, spoons etc. for some mixing, pouring, cutting…

Obviously there’s so much to get out of this – capacity, hand-eye coordination, sensory exploration, find motor skills, experimentation…

But as we played, it became the witch’s cauldron as she makes her spell for the new broom.

We improvised with a tulip for Frog’s lily, found a pinecone for Cat and a twig for Bird. No bones to be seen though (luckily!) so Dog had to make do with a tulip stem!

And of course after all that we needed a truly magnificent broom…!

So we spent the rest of the afternoon flying round on sweeping brushes and acting out the story, with Peapod dramatically throwing the rush down “Broom snapped in pieces!” and running around on it “Whoooosh! Gone!” and me, for my part, roaring that I’d eat him with chips. Good times.

We had his Room on the Broom jigsaws out again too, and there’s obviously loads more you can do with this book (off the top of my head witch, wand and broomstick crafts; loose parts spells, treasure hunts, dragon painting, natural objects in playdough…) but this was just a spontaneous fun afternoon that unintentionally ended up being based on the book!

If nothing else, surely that highlights the power of stories for children – we’ve not read this since October, but five months later Peapod instigated an afternoon of play from it.

Do you love Room on the Broom as much as we do?!

Which picture books have you been reading this week?

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Edge of the Ocean

#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.

Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L. D. Lapinski, cover art by Natalie Smillie, published by Hachette Children’s

The first Strangeworlds book was magnificent and sucked me right in (you can read my review here) so I was very excited to read book two!

If you’ve not read book one, start there! If you have you surely won’t need me to convince you to grab book two, but just in case you need a nudge…

I admit, it did take a couple of chapters to reorient myself, but once I did, I devoured this in just a couple of sittings; I could not put it down.

Flick and Jonathan are back and as brilliant a pairing as ever! The addition of Jonathan’s cousin Avery adds another dimension and plenty of interest, and their friendship continues to go from strength to strength in the most hilarious, awkward and heartfelt ways.

Jonathan is one of my favourite characters, not just in this series but in children’s fiction and to see him sailing the seas, swashbuckling and soaked to the skin raised many a smile.

He’s written with such a fabulous dry wit and I have to say that it’s a testament to LD Lapinski’s writing that in the midst of a rollicking, riotous pirate adventure one of my favourite scenes was Jonathan in the veg aisle at Tesco.

On a more serious note, there’s developments from the first book that will have a lump in your throat as often as a laugh and the balance struck is perfect.

Flick for her part has just managed to escape her lifelong grounding and it’s a good thing too, as Strangeworlds are summoned to The Break – a flat, watery world which is vanishing fast.

And so begins a fast-paced, action-packed piratical adventure like no other!

Faced with a lost suitcase, warring pirate crews and mysterious mer-folk they know nothing about, the Strangeworlds crew set about trying to save the inhabitants of The Break (whilst still being home in time for tea).

I said in my review of the first book that the world-building and imagination were top notch and that remains the case here too. To somehow make the fantastic so believable and tangible is no mean feat.

The characters Flick, Jonathan and Avery meet are brilliant too – the pirates tough, robust and wily; the merfolk vividly imagined and depicted.

Packed with excitement, twists, turns and magic (not forgetting the mortal danger, double-crossing and world-hopping), this is a high seas adventure like no other! Absolutely brilliant – I need book three immediately!

My favourite quote from page 211 (sorry Mary, I’m cheating):

“‘Are there any rules for talking to mer-folk?’ Avery asked.

This book in three words:

Pirates. Magic. Excitement.

Have you read the Strangeworlds books? Will you be picking this one up?

The Swallows’ Flight

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review, but will be buying the finished copy too! All views and opinions are my own.

The Swallows Flight by Hilary McKay, cover art by Dawn Cooper, published by Macmillan

Hilary McKay’s The Skylarks’ War shot into my favourite books ever when I read it back in 2018, so I was incredibly excited to hear there’d be a follow up, and even more thrilled to be able to read an advance copy on netgalley.

Let me tell you now – it has more than earned a place alongside Skylarks in my all time faves, being every bit as wonderful, and has cemented my opinion of Hilary McKay as one of my most highly-rated writers for children today.

So much of my feelings about Swallows echo those I had about Skylarks, with much of what I wrote there standing true for this book also.

And, somewhat inevitably, there will be many comparisons and parallels drawn between the two as I write this review as I loved the way the books link and follow on from each other.

Written as a companion novel to Skylarks, The Swallows’ Flight could easily be read without having read the former. However, I’d urge anyone planning to read Swallows to first read Skylarks; not only because it’s an absolutely outstanding book, but also because it really does add to Swallows to have read it.

It’s in the little references to past events, in the clever parallels and symbolism in the writing and, of course, in the characters.

We see several familiar characters return (later in life) alongside their families and I absolutely loved being able to rejoin some of the characters who I felt I’d got to know so well and who brought me so much joy to read in Skylarks.

I don’t know how much of a spoiler it is to say who reappears, so I’ll keep my lips tightly sealed other than to say that Grandfather in particular was the absolute star of the show here for me. His dry wit, stubbornness and, yes, his penchant for a drink allow for some wonderful comic moments (if these books ever became films and he wasn’t played by Richard E Grant it’d be an outrage).

But he also made for a very thought-provoking character, as I reflected on Skylarks as I read. And interestingly, it was him that helped other characters develop in some ways too, notably Kate, one of the new faces in the family and another of my favourite characters.

There’s a feel of I Capture the Castle’s Cassandra as she quietly notes down all her family and friends’ comings and goings, seemingly from the sidelines, as she is repeatedly overlooked and underestimated. But she’s stronger than she seems and I loved seeing her blossom in this.

I also loved her younger brother Charlie and new friend Ruby Amaryllis (and the story behind her birth and naming which was pitch-perfect for what we know of her mum already and for what we see of Ruby herself as she grows).

In fact it’s safe to say that all of the characters are an absolute joy to read; Hilary McKay is a writer who understands family dynamics and can bring her characters to life like no other. As in Skylarks, it is their depth and credibility their relationships and growth and our investment in them that really makes the book.

With Skylarks set around the First World War, Swallows takes us to a Europe on the brink of war once more, as World War Two approaches.

And this leads us to two more new characters I loved – Hans and Erik. They are an absolutely adorable double act, best friends with grand plans to run the zoo and nearby coffee stall. They are a delight to read – warm and loving and with that true spirit of carefree youth – and they complement the rest of the cast of characters superbly.

And, of course, they’re German.

I love the way that Swallows not only uses the multiple perspectives Skylarks does, but also the way it switches between Hans and Erik in Berlin and the families in England.

It created such tension and really added something to the way we see the war, encouraging the reader to consider it from all angles and helped us to learn more about its effects on ‘both sides’, with everyone just ‘doing what they can’.

As with Skylarks, this at no point shies away from the uncertainties and tragedies of war, nor its staggering, inconceivable scenes and events (Dunkirk for example), but they are always written about with such incredible deftness and sensitivity; its almost understated in its approach and hits so much harder because of it.

Quietly powerful, perceptive, funny and full of heart, this is a book to savour and to treasure.

As soon as its out (27th May – get it ordered!) it will be joining Skylarks on my shelf as a book that I will turn to for comfort, for escape…and for a chance to spend time once more with characters who now feel like old friends.