October, October

October, October by Katya Balen, illustrated by Angela Harding.

In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I was very kindly sent a copy of this by Bloomsbury.

However, I had already bought both a physical copy (knowing nothing about the book and based solely on Angela Harding’s beautiful cover) and an e-book version (having started it and not been able to put it down when I went up and down stairs to Peapod each eve)

So, yes, I was technically gifted a copy, but I think the fact that I’ve also bought two copies for myself should prove that both a) I loved this book and b) I’m being honest about just how much!

I really couldn’t put this down. The contrasting settings of woodland and town were vivid and real; I felt like I was being granted a glimpse of a secret, wild world both raw and beautiful in the woods, while I saw the claustrophobic bustle and noise of the city through fresh eyes as they overwhelmed October.

October has just turned eleven and has grown up living ‘wild’ in the woods with her dad. She loves their life and the nature that surrounds her.

I loved reading about their life – seeing how they embraced it with autumn dips in freezing waters and fires outside looking at the stars; how they cared for the wood, striking a balance between respecting its natural, wild ways and tending to it to keep it alive and growing; the little details and practicalities of life there. Katya Balen does a fantastic job of portraying a life both demanding and cosy, hard but rewarding.

However, October’s life as she knows it is brought crashing down when she is forced to move to her mum’s London terrace when her dad is hospitalised after an accident.

October hasn’t spoken to her mum since she left when October was four, despite her mum’s best efforts, and seeing October grapple with both city life and living with a parent she wants nothing to do with, that she feels abandoned by and resentment towards, is an incredibly difficult but believable read.

October is such a fantastic character and I really felt myself in her shoes as she’s runs the gamut of emotions. Incredibly moving, there were times my heart ached for her, but just as many moments of sheer joy; she was truly fantastic to read.

This is a book about growing, adapting and overcoming, about finding hidden treasures in unlikely places, about letting go and learning to fly.

It is an absolute gem of a book, with stunning illustrations from Angela Harding and I cannot recommend it enough.

WWW Wednesday 28/10/20

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

What are you currently reading?

The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery

I will be starting this today. I’m expecting part The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and part Land of Roar…we’ll see!


Taylor and Rose – Secret Agents: Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

I’m only a chapter of so I’m but I had to go straight onto these after finishing The Sinclair Mysteries!


What have you just finished reading?

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

I loved this! You can read my review here.


October, October by Katya Balen

I loved this too! I’ll post a review later today or tomorrow!


The Sinclairs Mysteries: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

An excellent ending to a highly enjoyable series!



I posted my anticipated tbr for October at the start of the month and of the six books, I read five plus a couple of extras so I’m pretty pleased with that!

 

What will you read next?

Um…

Have you read any of these? What are you reading at the moment?

The Once and Future Witches

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow, art work by

This might end up being one of the shortest reviews I write as I just can’t seem to find the words for this book, but it is utterly, utterly spellbinding and I absolutely LOVED it.

Following three sisters (naturally), it is a tale of family and of loyalties, betrayals, suffering and survival, set in a time when women are second class citizens with no rights and no voice.

The sisters Eastwood are unexpectedly reunited following the death of their abusive father, but as they meet, magic stirs.

For this is also a tale of magic. Of wills and ways and words, of forgotten rhymes and passed down tales, of nature’s treasures and objects found, of old wives’ tales and whispers on the grapevine.

Juniper is a wonderful character, a determined and wilful force of nature. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned seems like an apt description, although it tuns much deeper than that and her tenderness, fragility, youth and yearning are all expertly woven into her tale too.

Determined to see a change, or to be that change, what begins as her joining the suffragist movement quickly becomes much more as she riles against the injustice and mistreatment rife around her.

This is a story of sisterhood, of strong females and strong female bonds, of standing up for yourself and helping those around you do the same.

It is a tale of revenge, regret and powerful emotions; of hate, grief, love and fear.

It is a tale both historical and relevant, political and personal, magical and real.

It is a tale showing how fierce a fairytale can be.

Indeed, the way in which fairytales are used in the story is so clever and effective and, ultimately, so incredibly captivating.

Absolutely one of my favourite reads this year. I had it on netgalley but bought the hardback halfway through, as soon as it was released and have ordered Alix’s first book ‘The Ten Doors of January’ to be one of my first reads in the new year.

This is a story that spoke straight to my heart and my love of all things fairytale, witchy, folkloric and other.

Peapod’s Picks – Birds, Bears, A Boy and A Beast!

We’re still enjoying Charlie and Lola, but have also added some more books to our repeated bedtime reads too.

Otto Blotter, Bird Spotter by Graham Carter

We were gifted this last year, but it’s only recently hooked Peapod in as we picked this up again when looking for a book about birds or binoculars after looking at the birds in our garden.


My absolute favourite thing about this book are the absolutely stunning illustrations; with an autumnal palette that almost glows, some beautiful birds and rich, detailed backgrounds they are, like the story itself, full of warmth.
A charming tale of a boy who yearns to explore while his family prefer to stay still and how an unusual, lost (and unusually large!) bird helps them find a way to bring their interests together. With gentle humour, a little mystery and much to enjoy, this is a lovely story, especially for nature lovers and budding explorers!

All that aside, Peapod mostly loves it for the giant poo. Of course.

Billy and the Beast by Nadia Shireen

This is Peapod’s favourite snack time story at the moment. It is read at least once a day when he’s not in nursery, more often two or three times back to back. He just loves it!

You can read my review of it here.

Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth

A classic! Little Bear can’t sleep because he’s scared of the dark, so Big Bear fetches lantern after lantern to no avail until he finally takes him outside to look at the dark all around.

I’ve always loved this (despite it being lengthy and repetitive as Peapod’s dad likes to point out! That’s its charm!) and Peapod has been utterly won over by it too. The baby-wearing, co-sleeping, contact-napping mum in me especially loves how little bear falls fast asleep as soon as he’s out of his own bed and snuggled in big bear’s arms!

Lost and Found/Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers

I love Oliver Jeffers’ books and they were always favourites to both teach from or read aloud when I was teaching so it’s been lovely to come back to them with Peapod. And it’s a good job as we’re reading them at least three times back to back most nights!

At first he was only interested in Lost and Found, loving the tale of the little boy who finds a penguin and tries to get him home to the South Pole only to realise the penguin wasn’t lost but lonely. He loves the ending, finishing the last sentence: “Penguin! Cuddle!”

Last night he was equally taken by the ship/ship’s horn, making us return to that page and asking what it was. The resulting ten minutes of all of us reading and re-reading that page making ship’s horn noises were joyous (if not exactly conducive to sleep!)

And he’s got into Up and Down now too, where we see Penguin trying to fly and the power of friends to support each other, help each other and catch each other when we fall is played out beautifully.

Peapod’s not bothered about that though. He just wants to know what the game that pops up through the book is.

“Backgammon.”

“Salmon!”

“Not salmon – backgammon.”

Peals of laughter.

Repeat.

Which picture books have made you chuckle recently?

#MGTakesOnThursday – Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble

#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 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.

Today I’ve gone slightly off-piste again with a poetry collection that’s perfect for primary rather than an MG novel. I couldn’t not choose this though as it should be in every school, if not in every classroom!

Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble – Magical Poems, chosen by Paul Cookson, illustrated by Eilidh Muldoon, published by Bloomsbury

Accompanied by fun illustrations with plenty of appeal, there is truly something for everyone in this magical poetry collection.

Old ones, new ones. Funny ones, thoughtful ones. Spooky ones, sparkly ones. Long ones, short ones. Rhyming, rhythmic and repetitive ones.

Magic words, spells and potions. Fairies, unicorns, dragons, ghosts and monsters. A smattering of nonsense, pop culture and legend, and a huge dollop of possibility, word play and imagination.

Perfect for reading for pleasure or to select specific poems to use as a writing stimulus in class – made up magic words; spells, recipes and potions; descriptive work on settings or creatures, even maths problems and puzzles thanks to Paul Cookson’s Mathematically, Telepathically Magical (which brought back fond memories of primary school for me and likely will for other older readers who remember this magic maths ‘trick’ doing the rounds!)

I started listing my favourites but it became ridiculously long! So I have chosen 3 (it seemed a fittingly magical number!)

The Witch by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge p50

Night Soup (a simple recipe) by James Carter p66-67

Crossing the Bounds by Jaz Stutley p68

This book in three words

Magic. Poetry. Imagination.

My favourite quote from pg 11

I have included the full poem featured on page 11, Whizzo McWizard’s Amazing Creations by Paul Cookson, which is a brilliant springboard into inventions and creations that is full of possibility and the excitement of trying, building, testing and making. If this doesn’t gave you and your kids thinking up your own amazing creations I’d be shocked!

WWW Wednesday 21/10/20

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

What are you currently reading?

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

I am absolutely LOVING this! Def one of my fave reads this year!

The Sinclairs Mysteries: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

I’ve nearly finished this now and as we draw to the end the tension is really mounting, especially as I can’t quite remember how it all plays out!

What have you just finished reading?

Nothing! After a few great reading weeks, this one has been slower, but also Once and Future Witches is a bit of a beast! So I haven’t actually reached the end of anything this week!

What will you read next?

All other reading plans and TBRs are about to go on hold as I attempt the impossible for a second year running for work. This year, I have just under 30 books to get through by January – GO!

That said, I’m desperate to try and squeeze the last of my October planned reads – October, October by Katya Balen and Forest of Moon and Sword by Amy Raphael – in still and The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery too, so… does anyone have any extra hours for my days?!

Have you read any of these? What are you reading at the moment?

The Big Book of Blooms

I was lucky enough to request and receive copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Big Book of Blooms and the Big Sticker Book of Blooms by Yuval Zommer

Yuval Zommer’s ‘Big Book of…’ range is such a brilliant series (you can read my review of The Big Book of Blue here) – gorgeous illustrations, bite-size facts and a touch which manages to be both light-hearted and quirky, but also to convey Yuval’s clear passion for and knowledge of his subject matter.

As the books all follow the same format, much of what I wrote about The Big Book of Blue also stands out here – the humour, vibrancy, and easy reading style, not to mention the choice of facts included.

While beasts and bugs may seem obviously interesting subject matter for children’s non-fiction, blooms could be seen as a less obvious, perhaps drier choice. Luckily though, we needn’t worry about that – we’re in safe hands here!

With weird and wonderful facts and figures encompassing dinosaurs, astronauts, Egyptian mummies, stinky plants, carnivorous plants, poisons, celebrations, fangs and traps…not to mention all the birds, bugs and beasts the plants co-exist with this is just as fascinating as all the others.

I always learn so much from these, as an adult, that while the use of short captions in and amongst the illustrations mean they are perfect for less confident readers, they will be just as appealing for keen beans and older readers.

With sections on different types of plants, as well as pollination and ecology, and finishing with a spread intended to get kids growing too (I especially loved that this was designed to be useful fo those with little or no garden space) there is huge scope here and plenty to both inform and inspire.

Likewise, the text itself is hugely accessible and engaging. The facts feel light and fun, but the language includes scientific vocabulary, explanations are clear and perfectly pitched and, as ever, there’s a brilliant glossary at the end. I especially love the spread showing the different parts of a flower – you’ve never seen a scientific diagram like it!

Which brings us, of course, to the illustrations. They are, in short, fantastic. Rich in texture and detail, and bursting with colour, life and a real sense of joy, I’m drawn into them and could pore over them for hours.

And with 15 golden bulbs to find hiding in the illustrations I have every excuse I need to do just that!

The accompanying sticker book is really so much more than a sticker book.

Packed with games, activities, colouring and, of course, stickers not to mention facts, it’s the perfect activity book for fact-loving youngsters. Ideal for journeys, holidays or rainy weekends there is loads to do, learn and see here too!

Hugely engaging, accessible and appealing, these books are written by a man who knows his audience remarkably well and which deserve a place on every child’s bookcase and in every classroom.

WWW Wednesday 14/10/20

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

What are you currently reading?

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E Harrow

I’ve only read the first chapter, but I think I’m going to love this!

The Sinclairs Mysteries: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

It’s funny how this is coming back to be from when I first read it as I get further in!


What have you just finished reading?

The House on Hoarder Hill by Kelly Ngai and Mikki Lish

I really enjoyed the blend of mystery, magic and family in this! You can read my review here.

Witch by Finbar Hawkins

I loved this – stunning in every sense, I read it on netgalley but have ordered the hardback for myself. You can read my review here.


The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris

This is SUCH a gorgeous book. Filled to the absolute brim with a love of nature, the poems are evocative and the illustrations bring it all to life in such rich and delicate detail. The glossary at the back is a wonderful touch too.

What will you read next?

I snuck in The Lost Spells ahead of it, so October, October by Katya Balen is still the next physical book on my October TBR, but The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery has just arrived for me too, so it might be that…

Have you read any of these?
What are you reading at the moment?

Witch

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.

Witch, written and illustrated by Finbar Hawkins.

Witches and the witch trials of the seventeenth century feel like a hot topic recently, and it would be easy to allow a sense of ennui set in…if it weren’t for how different the books I’ve read or heard of all are.

And this is an excellent example of that – telling the story of Evey and her sister Dill, it blends historical fact with fantasy, stunning art with beautiful prose.

Written from Evey’s perspective, the writing can take a little adjusting to, but it has a real historical feel. While I am emphatically not a historian so have no frame of reference as to its accuracy, it certainly has the feel of being from another time long past and really helps transport you to the time.

It also has a real poetry about it, both in its structure and phrasing, and in its use of imagery, symbolism and language. This is beautifully matched by the artwork in the book – detailed sketches of the natural world which add atmosphere and which I found myself pausing to study at the start of each chapter.

However, while it is undoubtedly beautiful, it is also unflinching in its confrontation of the witch hunts and trials.

The start of the book really sets the tone as, along with Evey (Eveline of the Birds to give her her full title) and little sister Dill, we witness the brutal beating and murder of their mother. It is a scene that takes your breath away and one that will haunt me, as it haunts Evey throughout the book.

Her mother’s dying wish is for Evey and Dill to find her somewhat estranged sister in a nearby coven. They make their way their, with Evey vowing vengeance and after leaving Dill in their care, she embarks on a mission to hunt the hunters.

And so behind a tale rich in nature and ‘magick’, is a darker tale of betrayal, revenge and over-powering emotions – predominantly love, anger and grief.

Sibling relations also feature strongly, with the complicated and often conflicting emotions and instincts they involve closely examined and sensitively drawn.

This is also a story of human nature. Of mob rule, the power of a crowd and our ability to quickly forget those who have helped us to suit our current needs.

I really liked the way elements of fantasy and magic were brought in, and the way they were SO closely linked with nature. The scene with the crows in particular was vivid and wondrous, despite its violence, and I could not look away.

This was a short but powerful read, written with a unique and compelling voice. I have ordered the finished, physical book and will be keeping my eyes out for whatever Finbar Hawkins does next.

The House on Hoarder Hill

I was lucky enough to request and receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review (ages ago – sorry!) All views and opinions are my own.

The House on Hoarder Hill by Kelly Ngai and Mikki Lish

I didn’t know what to expect from this. At first glance, it looks and sounds like a haunted house mystery, but it’s also heaps of fun.

Hedy and younger brother Spencer are spending their holidays at their Granddad’s, and they’re not exactly overjoyed about it. They don’t see him often and know that he has strict rules about not going in most of the rooms or touching things in the house. Sharing a room and with no internet, they are expecting to be bored.

But they soon realise its going to be anything but boring when strange messages start appearing around the place and they embark on a mission to find their Grandma Rose who’s been missing since before they were born.

And so they begin hunting for clues and trying to track her down, the help of the absolutely brilliant Stan (a mounted Stag’s head) and Doug (a bear[skin] rug) – a hilarious double act – along with their cousins Jelly and Mac, a somewhat mysterious housekeeper, ghosts both good and…less so, and some other helping hands.

I loved the eclectic cast of characters and how they all came together, as well as how they really fed into the mystery elements of the book – who to trust and who to doubt (I admit to being wrong about a couple of them!)

Likewise, the magical elements of the book were brilliantly varied and vibrant too. From enchanted objects to portals to ghosts, from magicians’ tricks to the mythological, it felt like a real treat for the imagination.

Alongside the magical and marvellous are more familial themes – sibling rivalries and bonds and its understanding of these relationships is what makes this book more than just another light-hearted magical romp. The characters – their feelings, their relationships and motivations – have depth and there is understanding underpinning the story.

The pace really picks up towards the end, bringing us to a dramatic finale and leaving us on tenterhooks for book two.

Funny, warm, magical and bursting with imagination – lots of fun and cleverly done! Bring on the sequel!