The Deathless Girls

I requested and received a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review, but I’ve since bought the beautiful, finished (and signed!) hardback edition anyway. All opinions are my own.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, cover art by Olga Baumert

I’m a big fan of Kiran Millwood-Hargrave’s MG books so I’ve been really looking forward to both this and her adult fiction debut, The Mercies, due out in February (snapped up the proof copy that arrived in work today!)

I’m also a big fan of anything that draws on folk or fairytale, myth or legend, cultural histories or fables so the fact that this is a spin on the Dracula legend from the ‘brides” point of view was really appealing.

And it’s testament to Kiran’s writing that I approached the end of the books invested in the sisters that I was still hoping they would ‘escape’ despite knowing their fate!

Although what I absolutely did not see coming was the way in which they finally became his brides in the final chapters, and especially Kizzy’s role in this – this was one of my favourite parts of the book which I can’t talk about without spoilers so if/when you’ve read it please let me know your thoughts!!

The sisters in question are brave and feisty Kizzy and the less confident Lil who loves her sister dearly but often feels like she lives in her shadow.

Part of a small and close-knit travelling community, they return to their camp on their divining day to find it burnt down and their families and friends killed or captured. Not without a fight, they too are taken to serve a nearby Boyar, leading them straight into the path of the much-feared ‘Dragon’ or Dracul – a mysterious, powerful figure about whom rumour abounds.

I loved this. It had everything I’ve come to expect from her younger books – rich, lyrical prose with vivid, detailed description that transports you right into the story; I felt the rawness of the girls’ emotions – their fear, anger, pain and loss especially, but also the flares and flickers of warmth, comfort, joy and love.

I’ve read mixed reviews of this and I think a lot of it comes down to expectation. So, let me say here that while this is a brides of Dracula story, it is their story not his – their backgrounds, family and the events which led them into his path – therefore, it is not the next Twilight, Buffy or Anne Rice vampire fest.

It is a story about sisterhood (both literal and figurative), family, love and loyalty; and it is a story primarily about power in all its guises – about in/equality, slavery and subjugation and it is a book which shouts, sings and echoes with indignation at abuses of power.

It is, therefore, unflinching and brutal at times and while this makes it uncomfortable to read that is as it should be to address these themes well and there is also tenderness, hope and strength.

Atmospheric, powerful and beautiful. Bring on The Mercies!

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Peapod’s Picks – The Hat Books!

We were lucky enough to request and receive board book copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. However, we already own bought copies of the paperback versions, so we knew in advance we loved them! Opinions and views are all my own.

Peapod’s Picks is a weekly round up of some of the books that Peapod* has read (often, but not always, for his bedtime stories) each week plus a review of at least one of them.

*His social media alter ego, not his real name!

Those of you who’ve been here once or twice before will know what huge fans of Jon Klassen we are and how much we love both these books and his collaborations with Mac Barnett.

We have had these for a while but despite mentioning them often, I’ve never properly reviewed them. So receiving board book versions of the first two seems like a good opportunity!

I Want My Hat Back

The original and (some I would say) the best!

Wonderfully witty with a delightfully dark ending, this book is a perfect example of a funny yet sophisticated picture book that has appeal across all ages (although try telling that to parents that just want a long picture book for their mini reading prodigies 🙄)

Bear is looking for his hat. Despite the matter of fact style of speech, it’s clear he’s very upset about it going missing. He very politely asks around, stopping to help a poor tortoise in need – oh the complexities of this character! – along the way.

There are so many clever techniques employed here, ftom the different coloured text to denote the different character’s speech to the way Klassen packs SO much expression into his character’s faces (those of you familiar with the shape trilogy will already know it’s all in the eyes!)

Then there’s the use of dramatic irony, so when Bear realises where he has seen his hat it’s a brilliantly celebratory moment. This is made even better as it is followed swiftly by his reaction and the way the book’s use of repetition delivers the punchline is the perfect ending!

And of course having a bash-able, chewable, non-tearable version is even better now that Peapod is do enthusiastic in his book love!

A very much littler Peapod enjoying it in a very much calmer way than he does now!

This is Not My Hat

Written in a similarly minimal and deadpan style to I Want My Hat Back, we are once again treated to the bigger picture as our narrator – the small hat thief – talks us through his cunning escape with the hat that “is not mine. I just stole it.”

This is a great book for those turn-the-page-punchlines – where we can often see what’s going to happen, but it’s still funny when it does.

As I’m the first book, so much of this book’s humour is in the eyes – so expressive and conveying such a lot! And despite the characters saying or doing very little, you will find yourself really believing in them.

I groaned fondly at our fishy narrator. There is something really innocent about them (think a young child’s attempts at denying wrong doing or playing hide and seek), despite their light fin(ger)s and this self-belief really made me smile.

As for our poor victim, it’s ALL in the illustrations as he doesn’t say a word, but we know his thoughts and feelings too.

And, as in I Want…, the book points a finger towards questions of right and wrong without making a judgement or telling you what to do/think.

With a slightly more ambiguous ending, you can even convince yourself that no fish were eaten at the end of this story. You’d be wrong of course, but it’s possible to read it that way!

Funny, clever and just as brilliant as book one!

We Found a Hat

While this third installment retains the stripped back style and dry humour of the first two, it is more touching and less murdersome than the previous books!

Here, two tortoises have found a hat. It looks good on them both, so what should they do?

I’ve said it already but it’s all in the eyes! The excitement at the find, the torment, the indecision, the love for hat and friend, the sorrow…although there are (a few) words, this story is as easily told through the pictures (and eyes) alone.

And, as with This is Not My Hat, there are complex ideas subtly running through this, to be unpicked (or not) as much or as little as you want to. Fairness, sharing (or not), friendship, sacrifice and the feelings of others.

While this wasn’t as dark as the other two books, it was just as clever, just as dry and just as beautifully illustrated and I really loved it just as much in the end. It was such a warm and hopeful end to the trilogy.

I’m hoping this will also be out in board book soon. And I’m also very much looking forward to this hardback ‘hat box’ set:

Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens

I can’t take a picture of my copies YET as I bought/borrowed them as ebooks to read during evenings/nights getting Peapod back to sleep! But the first and last have sprayed edges now, so I’m hoping this is in the pipeline for all of them and will be buying them all as they come out like that!

Way back at the start of 2018 I was sent a copy of A Spoonful of Murder from the publishers to read and review. I really enjoyed it and made the decision to go back and read the whole series in order…and then everything else (new books, life, having a baby) took over and its only in the last couple of months I’ve managed to do it by using the ebooks on my phone in the evenings whilst settling Peapod.

I won’t do a full review of them all, but in place of a WWW Wednesday this week, I’ll give a brief rundown and my (hopefully spoiler free) thoughts on the series overall (basically I love it). So, let’s begin…

Murder Most Unladylike

In which we meet Hazel and Daisy at Deepdean and see them solve Miss Bell’s murder.

I really enjoyed this – I loved Hazel as a narrator and, although I didn’t warm to Daisy in quite the same way, I really liked getting to know them and Deepdean with its Big Girls and bunbreaks and tuck boxes and prep.

I really like the pages of notes summarising the suspects and case so far too. Although I was still useless at guessing who the murderer was!

Arsenic for Tea

Maybe because I still hadn’t properly warmed to Daisy yet (or maybe just the toffs in country houses vibe) but this was a book that divided me a bit.

I found Daisy’s family hard work (apart from Uncle Felix who had enough mischief to save him!) and while I know some of them (no spoilers) were likely intended to be less than loveable, others should have elicited a bit of sympathy at least but just grated on me.

That said – I loved the actual murder, the setting and way it took place, and I thought Miss Alston was a brilliant character, as was the victim (though one in a very likeable way and one in a list despicable one!)and yet again I couldn’t guess who did it!

Hazel and her support of Daisy endeared herself to me even more, and I even softened a bit towards Daisy too.

First Class Murder

I really enjoyed this, I thought the setting of the Orient Express was so much fun and I liked seeing a bit more of Hazel’s background and personality too through having her dad with her on the trip.

I also liked meeting Alexander and seeing them gradually (and in Daisy’s case begrudgingly!) begin to make friends and work together.

I thought the cast of suspects was brilliant in this one too and I got a bit closer to guessing this time but I think Daisy would still take a dim view of my detecting skills!

Jolly Foul Play

This was probably my least favourite of the series. It took me a lot longer to get into, and while I did very much get into it in the end and there was lots I really enjoyed, the heavy school/friendship groups and relationships themes weren’t really my thing. However, I have to say they were very relatable and well-written. In particular, Daisy and Hazel’s falling out was very hard to read as it felt so believable and I was willing them to make up!

What I did really enjoy in this one was the inclusion of Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie in the Detective Society’s activities!

Mistletoe and Murder

I nearly skipped this temporarily so I could go back to it at Christmas, but in the end I listened to Amy‘s (my Murder Most Unladylike guru!) advice to read it in order and I’m so glad I did!

I really loved this one. I loved the Cambridge setting, which was described so vividly, as was life there. And I was pleased to see the way it really highlighted the disparity between men and women there too.

I also liked both Daisy (who had been steadily growing on me since book 1) and her brother Bertie (who I really wasn’t all that keen on in AfT) an awful lot more in this one.

There were some excellent characters/suspects and I was pleased to see The Junior Pinkertons join the investigation (although I have to confess, I’m with Daisy and much prefer George to Alexander!)

The Christmas morning ending was so festive it will rival a Hogwarts Christmas in my fond, Christmas scenes in books memories too!

Cream Buns and Crime

I’m cheating a bit and using my WWW Wednesday post comments on this one, as they sum it up very well!

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (ebook)

This is a really fun addition to the series with shorter mysteries from The Detective Society and The Junior Pinkertons, as well as recipes, code breaking puzzles and information about real unsolved crimes and authors.

I loved that a lot of it was written ‘by’ Daisy and it has firmly cemented her place in my affections after an uncertain start. She’s bloody brilliant and I love her.

My favourite parts have to be Daisy being a ghost which absolutely cracked me up and the chapter written by Beanie and Kitty – I loved hearing more from them, Beanie especially who I think is wonderful!

A Spoonful of Murder

And so we’re back to the book I started with. I toyed with not re-reading this as I was desperate to read the latter books that I’d not yet read, but in the end decided to see how it differed this time around having read the previous books.

The conclusion being, unsurprisingly, that I loved it even more! Although I knew there was a change in the character dynamics when I read it first, I couldn’t really appreciate it until I’d read the lead up and having done so, seeing Hazel become the confident, knowledgeable one and Daisy on less sure footing was even better to read.

The Hong Kong setting and reading more about Hazel’s family, life and background was fantastic and clearly well-researched. And the mystery, which I didn’t guess as I knew from the first time round, is a cracker.

I think my favourite thing about this is seeing no-nonsense, buck-up Daisy’s unwavering and utter support and comfort for Hazel. Written in a really believable way that absolutely fits their characters and friendship, it was lovely to see.

The Case of the Missing Treasure

A short, fun mini mystery. This was enjoyable to read and set the scene well for…

Death in the Spotlight

I loved this so much. It’s hard to say why without giving too much away but there’s…

  • A fantastic setting
  • Uncle Felix and Mrs M (back on governess duties and doing a commendable job!)
  • The dramatic appearance of an old comrade of The Detective Society which made me grin!
  • A little bit of Hong Kong Hazel back in London – including a very daring un-Hazel-ish mission!
  • The Junior Pinkertons
  • Equality and LGBT issues and representation is dealt with subtly but amazingly powerfully too
  • The BEST plot twists
  • Daisy and Hazel’s characters and friendship becoming even deeper and more brilliant.
  • So many obstacles to solving the case!

Phew! Just fab!

Top Marks for Murder

We’re back at Deepdean once more but so much has changed and Daisy especially is feeling it, but there’s nothing like a good murder to take her mind off things and bring her back to her usual self!

Just as clever and twisty in a very different way to Death in the Spotlight, I could not guess this one – or rather I could claim to have guessed since I pretty much suspected everyone at some point!

I loved seeing Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie really involved in this one too. I think their characters have grow n and grown over the series and it was lovely to really spend some time with them in this as they’re all do different and all great in their own ways (Lavinia and Beanie especially, sorry Kitty!)

I was also hugely pleased to see Inspector Priestley who is one of my favourite characters in the books and I really liked the way he was ‘deployed’.

I think what this series, and this book especially, does incredibly well is to take everyday issues of growing up, family life, changes, friendships and relationships and deal with them really well in the background. They never become ‘issues’ books but you will find yourself and situations you encounter I these books, as will all their young readers, and there’s a great comfort in that.

I love, love, LOVE this series. It has left a hole in my reading life, so I’m very much hoping there’ll be another one sooner than soon!

Thank you to Amy for keeping them on my radar and making sure I read them all eventually – I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed them all!

Have you read the series? Which is your favourite? Are you a Hazel or a Daisy (or one of the other characters!)?

Tuesday Trio – Early Chapter Books

I requested and received copies of these free from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

A trio of treats for younger readers – reviewing some of the early chapter books I’ve read recently.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Paula Harrison is already a firm favourite with young, early chapter book readers and this first venture into the highly illustrated versions is likely to be just as popular as her Secret Rescuers and Rescue Princess series are.

This new series retains the animal theme, this time with cats. Kitty is a young superhero, following in her mum’s footsteps, with cat-like super powers – agility, speed, night vision.

In her first adventure, we see Kitty discover her super powers, meet her feline friends and overcome her fears to save the day.

With simply written text and lots of gorgeous high contrast, orange, black and white illustrations this will be an appealing book for those just starting to build their confidence with more independent reading.

Between a group of cats with very different personalities, family life and superhero escapades there’s a good mix of interests covered which will appeal to this age group – familiar enough to feel safe but exciting enough to add a bit of adventure.

Purr-fect (see what I did there?!) for fans of Isadora Moon, I can see this series really taking off.

Kevin’s Great Escape by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I was a huge fan of the first Kevin book so I was super excited to receive a copy of book two, which I loved just as much!

Here we rejoin biscuit-loving roly-poly-flying-pony Kevin, best friend Max and his sister Daisy as Daisy’s favourite pop star Misty Twiglet (what a name!) moves into the area with her manager on the lookout for exotic pets for her mansion’s garden.

Of course, a flying pony would make an excellent addition to the collection but all is not as it seems and Kevin soon finds himself kidnapped!

There’s plenty of humour, as you’d expect, and a host of well-executed and exaggerated characters that stop just short of becoming caricatures – from cruel and cold-hearted music mogul Baz to hired heavyweight Lumphammer, to Misty Twiglet herself, the pop sensation (who “dresses like a posh cobweb” – I love this!) to goth teen superfan Daisy! Not to mention all the other creatures imprisoned alongside Kevin…

…and BEYONCE AND NEVILLE ARE BACK and playing their daring parts in Kevin’s rescue!

This is loads of fun, with fun poked at the characters lovingly, and relationships between Max and Kevin, as well as between Max and Daisy, drawn with warmth.

There’s a great balance found between the hectic, hare-brained hustle and bustle of adventure and the feel good family factor.

Just as good as book one, this is another brilliantly daft, fast-paced adventure that’s guaranteed to have you giggling.

Jasper and Scruff by Nicola Colton

Jasper is cultured, well read and fed, and enjoys the finer things in life, which is why he’s hoping to be invited to join illustrious and exclusive members club The Sophisticats by impressing them at dinner. After all, it’s important to have the right friends too.

Everything is ready for a perfect evening, until Scruff makes an appearance while Jasper’s out shopping for supplies.

In a take on the classic theme, Scruff is everythibg Jasper’s not – a dig fir a start, and a hairy, slobbery, all-over-the-place mess of one at that. He’s also enthusiastic, friendly and persistent.

He takes a shine to Jasper and despite Jasper’s best efforts to dissuade him (cue funny games of fetch and hide and seek) turns up at Jasper’s just in time to cause chaos at the Sophisticats dinner party.

At first Jasper panics, but as his guests become increasingly rude, he starts to realise just what makes a good friend and who the right friend for him might be.

It’s a sweet message that’s balanced by mishaps and mess making for a fun and lively text and even livelier illustrations that will both engage and encourage newly independent readers.

This first book sets the scene brilliantly for countless adventures from this unlikely and very funny duo, and I look forward to seeing what madcap mishaps they get involved in next!

WWW Wednesday 11/9/19

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

What are you currently reading?

Death in the Spotlight by Robin Stevens (ebook)

Of course I’m loving this because I’ve loved all this series (incidentally we got Murder Most Unladylike in with blue sprayed edges today! I hope they do all of them, surely they must?!) Though so far, I’m. Not loving the theatre setting as much and I’ve found it a bit slower to get going than usual. That all sounds very negative but it’s not really – I’m still very much enjoying it!

Uki and the Outcasts by Kieran Larwood, illustrated by David Wyatt.

I love the Five Realms books and this I s no exception. Although I do party wish it was another Podkin book, I think its a brilliant idea to hsvea book mid-series that would also be perfect as a stand alone read or fine as the durst book you read on that world. I’m loving Uki and his new found friends and the different world that’s being laid out to the one we’re familiar with from Podkin.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson)

I’m still very much enjoying this and love Diane Setterfield’s style of writing. I’ve loved the way the characters and their histories are central to the plot and scene-setting. I feel there’s going to be much weaving together of these stories as the mystery is unravelled.

What have you just finished reading?

A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens (ebook)

I loved reading this again now I know the characters better. The change in them thanks to the change of scene was really well written and believable, with some very touching and funny moments.

The Case of the Missing Treasure by Robin Stevens (ebook)

A short, fun read written by Daisy which – after reading Cream Buns and Crime – I was really pleased about. She does make me smile.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve been utterly useless at getting a review posted for this but i will do soon! I loved it. Kiran’s usual lyrical style and evocative descriptions but with added grit and darkness. And oh, how I loved the ending.

I Go Quiet by David Ouimet

This is a stunning book, perfect for introverts, book lovers and fans of Shaun Tan. Absolutely gorgeous, affirming and inspiring.

What will you read next?

Audio

I think Once Upon a River will take me a while (though hopefully not as long as Circe!) so I’m not sure yet.

E-book

I’ll be reaching the end (so far!) of the Murder Most Unladylike series with Top Marks for Murder.

Physical copy

So, Sequel September is being firmly sidelined. I can’t say much but I have a reading challenge for the next month or two – a lot to get through and not much time, wish me luck!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?

The Time of Green Magic

I requested and received a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Time of Green Magic by Hilary McKay. Cover art by

Hilary McKay’s Skylark’s War was one of my favourite books of last year.

And this has leapt straight into my favourites of 2019. I wrote on twitter when I finished it that it felt like “a duvet day of a book” and it absolutely does. Released this week, it is the perfect read for cold but cosy autumn days as the evenings draw nearer.

Unlike The Skylark’s War, The Time of Green Magic is set in the present day. But, like Skylark’s, it deals with the thorny issues of growing up – friendships and fallings out and first crushes and family.

It specifically focuses on changes to the family dynamic, as Abi’s Grandma – who until now has helped bring her up – returns to Jamaica and she and her dad move in with his new partner and her sons, Max and Louie.

I was really pleased (but not at all surprised) to see the ‘everyday-ness’ of the difficulties in this change. You’ll find no wicked stepmother here, no cruel or tormenting older siblings, no-one ignored or bullied or mistreated. This is very much a book about the fact that change, especially a change in home and family dynamics, no matter how positively or lovingly handled, can be hard. And that that’s ok.

The way Hilary McKay writes families is both hugely perceptive and filled with warmth. Both here and in Skylark’s, her characters have a depth and reality that’s rare to see, and their relationships feel incredibly familiar and believable too.

The characters themselves are immensely likeable, especially little Louie who brought bags of humour to the book and utterly stole my heart!

Alongside these contemporary themes, it also ‘stars’ a wonderful old house, brimming with atmosphere, ivy and, it seems, magic.

This atmosphere is helped wonderfully by Hilary McKay’s masterful use of language. The description, phrases and vocabulary used are beautiful, funny, observant and detailed.

This combination of old and new, real and fantasy and the way nature and magic are intertwined with the way the characters cope with everyday struggles is very clever and well-balanced and gives the book a modern-but-not sort of feel. If it was a dress, it would be vintage but bang on trend today.

Abi is struggling with the upheavals in her life and we see her retreat into books. So immersed does she become that they almost feel real – she can smell, taste and touch it all, its almost like she’s there…

Meanwhile, six year old Louie is finding the change hard too and we see him cope with a new (imaginary?) friend Iffen – an increasingly big, cat-like something.

But is it all in their imagination? Or is there something else at play?

I loved the way this book took the ideas of imaginary friends and the way books can be an escape and made it real with an incredibly subtle and unique sort of magic. The best sort that leaves you questioning if it’s real, magic, imagination or a mix of the three.

This is an absolutely wonderful book and one of my favourites of the year. Full of humour, warmth and a magic all of its own.

WWW Wednesday 4/9/19

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

What are you currently reading?

A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens (ebook)

I read this when it came out, so I already know I’ll enjoy it! I decided to read it again now that I’ve read the Murder Most Unladylike books before it and know the characters better.

The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave.

I’ve nearly finished this and I am LOVING it! Full review ASAP!

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (audiobook)

This us the Fiction Book of the Month at work, and I did really like the sound of it but knew I’d never fit it in as a physical book so I’m listening to it. I’m enjoying it a lot, though I’m not very far in.

What have you just finished reading?

I, Cosmo by Carlie Sorosiak

A firm ‘unrateable‘ – this wasn’t really my cup of tea, but there were a lot of positives and for younger readers/dog lovers more into their contemporary MG it’s brilliant. Cosmo is a sweet, funny narrator and the way the author uses him to narrate is a great way to approach the family issues in the book. One I’m happy to recommend despite not loving it personally.

Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens (ebook)

This is a really gun addition to the series with shorter mysteries from The Detective Society and The Junior Pinkertons, as well as recipes, code breaking puzzles and information about real unsolved crimes and authors.

My favourite parts have to be Daisy being a ghost which absolutely cracked me up and the chapter written by Beanie and Kitty – I loved hearing more from them.

Circe by Madeleine Miller (audiobook)

I FINISHED IT!! This has taken me SO long, but I finished it last week. There was lots I enjoyed about it, but I seemed to wax and wane a bit with it – it woukd really grab me for a while, then I’d lose interest a bit, then something woukd get my attention again etc. I think I’d have done better if I’d been able to listen or read in longer spells though. Still, I’m taking a certain amount of satisfaction from finishing!

Kevin’s Great Escape by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

I loved the first Kevin book – The Legend of Kevin: a Roly-Poly Flying Pony – so I was very excited to get a copy of this one! Even more so when I saw Neville and Beyonce on the first page (guinea pigs with a penchant for adventure!).

Just as much fun as the first – review ASAP!

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue by Paula Harrison and Jenny Lovlie

OK, not exactly my ‘thing’ but a good one to know about for young readers, especially fans of Isadora Moon who I think will love Kitty!

What will you read next?

Audio

I think Once Upon a River will take me a while (though hopefully not as long as Circe!) so I’m not sure yet.

E-book

I’ll be working my way through the Murder Most Unladylike series!

Physical copy

Something from my Sequel September stack! I’m not sure which yet though…

… *edit* I know exactly what. Look what came into work today (and it’s part of a series so it even counts!!)

I also picked these up

so I’ll be squeezing them in too!

Have you read any of these?

What are you reading at the moment?