WWW Wednesday 11/11/20

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

What are you currently reading?

A Clock of Stars: The Shadow Moth by Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell

It took me a while to get really into this, but now that I am, I really am!

Taylor and Rose – Secret Agents: Spies in St Petersburg by Katherine Woodfine, audiobook read by Jessica Preddy

Still hate the narrator. Still enjoying the series.

What have you just finished reading?

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

I really enjoyed the writing style in this and look forward to more from this author. My full review is here.


Storm by Nicola Skinner, cover art by Flavia Sorrentino

This book really blew me away. Not my usual sort of choice, but brilliantly written. Full review is here.


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

See above! I really liked how the two parts of the story came together for a grand and dramatic finale!

What will you read next?


I finally posted my Believathon picks the other day, so next up will be Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray.

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

Believathon 3 – Storm

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompts The Torn Page – Read a book with supernatural elements and The Spilled Ink – Read a book with ghosts in it, though it fits the prompts for a couple of other rooms too.

Storm by Nicola Skinner, illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino, published by Harper Collins

Firstly, if you’re not sold on that striking cover, then allow me to share with you the even more gorgeous end papers and cover-beneath-the-cover (which I only found when Peapod started reading this. He hates dust jackets!)

Simply stunning. And they set the bar pretty high for the book.

But let me tell you, it more than does them justice.

I had no idea what this was about; it was a total surprise and not at all what I expected from that cover but something I was excited about – it felt really DIFFERENT!

And it was.

Frankie has just woken up. One hundred years after she died in an unforeseen tsunami that hit her village. And she’s as angry now as she was when she was alive.

Frankie’s always had a temper. And now she’s dead, there’s even more to get angry about.

I could not figure out how this would work or where it would go, but oh my goodness it is SUPERB.

How anyone can take family and friendship issues, a poltergeist and supporting cast of ghosts, a villainous ghost hunter and his downtrodden ghost-seeing son, throw in some astute, wry and thought-provoking social commentary and come up with a children’s book that isn’t ridiculous or farcical and doesn’t find itself pulling too far in one direction or another is unbelievable.

Or it would be if Nicola Skinner hadn’t pulled it off masterfully here.

This is quite simply one of the best children’s books I’ve read in recent years. And from someone who doesn’t really read contemporary or funny books, I don’t say that lightly.

I loved so much about this – the blend of real life and supernatural happenings; tough issues and gross, funny or spooky goings on; heartache and humour. The balance in it all was spot on.

It takes some really hard topics and emotions and addresses them brilliantly. It feels more blunt than many books, but that’s not to say it lacks sensitivity, it just doesn’t shy away from death or the often ugly nature of the human condition. Yes, it’s dark at times, it pulls no punches, but it’s also full of heart and incredibly moving.

And Frankie’s voice feels perfect too. Anger, guilt, sorrow, frustration, anxiety, confusion, uncertainty, and moments of happiness, warmth and fond memories – she runs the gamut of emotions, and always with a cracking sense of humour, realism and poignancy.

Honestly, I can’t tell you how much I rated this. It feels so fresh, so unique, so utterly original and written in such an engaging, observant and understanding way.

I can’t wait to go back and read Bloom and to see what Nicola has in store for us next.

Believathon 3 – When Life Gives You Mangoes

I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.

This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Fingerprints – Read a book by an author from a different culture than you, thiugh it also fits the prompts for a couple of other rooms too.

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten, cover art by Bex Glendening, published by Pushkin

Clara can’t remember anything about last summer and best friend Gaynah is constantly picking at the fact. Their friendship is under strain as Gaynah acts less and less like a best friend should.

When new girl Rudy arrives, Clara begins to spend time with her – playing, exploring and even venturing to Clara’s estranged uncle’s old house through the banana groves, where all is gradually revealed.

I’ll be honest, contemporary (as many of you know well!) is not my usual thing. But this has me hooked – it’s a real ‘all in one sitting’ of a book!

Kereen Getten’s author bio at the back of the book says:

And this real life experience – “Her town is where I was born. The game ‘pick leaf’ is a game I played” – and the fondness with which it is drawn on here, is the biggest thing that makes this book so special.

It has left me yearning to read more about Sycamore, its inhabitants and their way of life. Or, if not there precisely, then somewhere else that draws on Kereen’s Jamaican background, as this small community is depicted vividly and warmly.

I was completely drawn in and it all feels so real. I could feel the sweat from the baking hot sun and hear grumpy Ms Gee hollering. It was a world apart from anything I know – as Rudy’s arrival and her mother’s questioning of Clara’s walk home alone attested to – but I felt like I knew it.

I loved the way we saw the laid back, close-knit village community contrasted with the hustle and bustle, traffic and heavy air of the city as well as with Rudy and her mum’s experiences of England.

The way this unfamiliar setting and different way of life was carefully balanced with the universal truths of friendships, fallings out and adolescent moods (at least in the first half of the book) was spot on. Any child reading this, anywhere in the world, could easily relate to Clara’s feelings of hurt, anger and betrayal as she struggles with her friendship with best friend Gaynah.

Likewise, the game of Pick Leaf might be unknown to us; a dip in the sea or river might be uncommon to most; banana groves, forts and overgrown hills may not be the usual location for pretend play. BUT what child (and adult) can’t relate to a game of racing, finding, competing, running, winning. Or to splashing, swimming and playing in water. Or to games of make believe and adventure.

This is a glorious depiction of childhood in all its energy, joy, injustices, and heartache. The emotions and uncertainties, the highs and lows, the complexities of it all are portrayed perfectly.

And then there was the twist. OH. MY. GOD. THE TWIST.

I did not see that coming in a million years. I can’t say anything else for fear of spoiling it, but it was genius.

And it took this beyond childhood gripes and turned it into a book about community and family and what that really means. It gently looked at loss and grief and all the difficult emotions that are part of that, both for us and those around us. It made this something really special.

A moving, clever and compelling surprise of a story. More please!

Believathon #3 – The Mystery of the Missing Maleficarum

Believathon is a monthly readathon run by the brilliantly bookish Gavin, who is an expert on all things MG (and who seems to have found a way to stop time because I honestly don’t know how he fits all his bookish doings in!)

I have loved taking part in both the first two Believathons (you can see my posts about those here and here) but I really didn’t think I’d manage this month’s, because of this small stack of books I need to read for work…

However, I was desperate to find a way to take part, so I’m going to try and double up and with a little bit of cheating (oops, sorry!) I think I can do it. So, here’s my choices for the prompts this time:

The KeyRead a Mystery:

Taylor and Rose: Secret Agents – Peril in Paris by Katherine Woodfine

I’m already listening to this, so maybe it’s cheating just a tiny bit, but I only started it at the very end of October do I’m sneaking it in as my first book!

The Fingerprints – Read a book by an author from another culture to you:
When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

My first proper read for the challenge with no cheating! I’ve already finished this and will post my review shortly!

The Scream – Read an audiobook:


Taylor and Rose: Secret Agents by Katherine Woodfine, read by Jessica Preddy

Potentially doubling up with The Key here but after that I’ll be listening to the others, so this prompt will be one or all of these!

The Torn Page – Read a book with a supernatural element:

Storm by Nicola Skinner

I’m reading this one at the moment!

The Crown – Read a book set in an alternate world to our own:

A Clock of Stars by Francesca Gibbons

I have high hopes for this one!


The Spilled Ink – Read a book that features ghosts

I’m doubling up with this one. Storm here too.

The Dagger – Read a book that has a dangerous setting

Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray

I’ve been wanting to read this for SO LONG!

The Backpack – Read a book by a new-to-you author:

All of the books I’ve chosen bar the Taylor and Rose audiobooks fit this prompt!

The Footprints – Read a book which features a prominent villain:

I am hoping one of the other books I’ve picked will have a despicable villain I can double up here with. Otherwise, I’ll come back to it…

The Hand Mirror – Read a book with a beautiful cover:

Moonchild – Voyage of the Lost and Found by Aisha Bushby

This is beautiful but if you’re struggling for this (I don’t know how you would be, there are so many stunning covers out in MG now!) my favourite cover (and an equally stunning book) recently has been October, October.

The Chain – Read a book with a colourful cast of friends:

The Mask of Aribella by Anna Houghton

Honestly I’m not sure about this one, but I’ll give it a go!

The Flash of Lightning – Read a book that incorporates folktales

There are so many fantastic books for this prompt – any Sophie Anderson for a start if you’re stuck got ideas! – but none of the books I need to read count, so I’m going to come back yo this. I have a curve ball, sneak it in, sort of cheating idea which I might throw in for it…


The Shadow – Read a book first published in 2020:

Orion Lost by Alastair Chisholm

This is another I’m not convinced I’ll love but I am prepared to be surprised…!

And that’s me picked and done!

What do you think of my choices? Are you taking part in Believathon – what have you chosen? Or if not, what would you choose?

The Midnight Guardians

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this from the publishers. All views and opinions are my own.

I received this at work as it’s our Children’s Book of the Month for November, and I can’t help but feel a bit gutted that it’s not going to get the push it really deserves with us being shut.

Yes, there’s our online message, and word of mouth, and of course the wonderful world of book twitter, but this is one that is both timely and brilliant and one which I’d have been pressing into palms left, right and centre.

I will just have to do the best I can here and shout about it all the more when we reopen!

Put simply, this is one of the best World War 2 books I’ve read in a long time.

Always a hot topic in children’s literature, there’s a plethora of war themed books already, all with a different slant and many of which are favourites of mine.

So to choose a theme so well-mined already and come up with something so unique, so well pitched, so historically accurate and still so relevant today, not to mention so entertaining, magical and hopeful too, is really something and a huge credit to Ross Montgomery’s engaging writing style, meticulous research and understanding of his audience.

Col has been evacuated to live with his Aunt Claire after his dad dies during the war. His sister, Rose, has stayed behind in London to help the war effort but they have agreed to spend Christmas together. When Christmas comes but Rose doesn’t, Col sets off to find her.

Stopping at the cottage they always spent Christmas at, he finds his childhood imaginary friends come very much to life, having returned to protect him from The Midwinter King who has taken control of the Spirit World and has devastating plans for this one too.

I went into this a little hesitantly, expecting a mix of Narnia (which I loved as a child), Land of Roar (which – sorry! – I wasn’t a huge fan of) and some sort of war story. I didn’t really know how it would, or indeed could, work. But, oh it does!

The balance struck between fantasy, history and personal drama is perfect. Likewise, the blend of humour and more serious and emotive messages is just right.

The characters themselves are brilliant, and all with their own unique personalities, strengths and flaws.

The relationship between Mr Noakes (Badger in a waistcoat) and King of Rogues (faithful knight in shining armour) is such a great one, with brilliant bickering and superb sniping between these two friends.

Likewise, the relationship between King of Rogues and newcomer to the group, Ruth, is wonderful. The way their mistrust of each other, and her confident exterior proving a match for his self-importance is great fun to read, and it’s equally lovely to see them gradually accept each other as the story develops.

Ruth was definitely my favourite character in the book and I loved the way her inclusion helped bring another aspect of the war (the persecution of Jewish people and the Kindertransport) to the book. Her story really adds extra depth and breadth to the book, and the role her celebration of Chanukah plays in delivering the message of hope the book carries is very effective too.

I thought the way the historical elements of the book were brought in were excellent too, and the use of real newspaper articles was brilliant. This has clearly been extremely closely and keenly researched, with many little details and lesser known facts really bringing this into its own, as well as adding to the humorous aspects of the book (Mock Banana I’m looking at you!)

It also does a great job at making the war relevant today in its messages about power, dark times, hope and togetherness.

The fantastical elements were brilliant too. We meet talking trees (who will have you in stitches), squabbling giants and easily distracted fairy folk, not to mention the formidable Midwinter King and Green Man themselves. There is a huge array of fantasy folk and magic places, but the story never loses its very human heart.

(And for Labyrinth fans, there’s an absolute gem of a showdown you’ll love!)

This is a book with truly broad appeal. It’s wartime setting will price popular with children at home, aswell as in school libraries, class reads and as a stimulus for wartime topic work.

With themes of family, friendship, loss and hope it is both sensitive and moving, whilst its magical and humorous elements bring levity and a touch of fantasy.

It is a book which draws on much of what has gone before and makes it absolutely and completely it’s own. One of a kind.

WWW Wednesday 4/11/20

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

What are you currently reading?

When Life Gives You Mangoes by Kereen Getten

I’ve nearly finished this now and I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected to. Full review will follow shortly.


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

I’m enjoying this more than Sinclairs so far, although I still can’t stand the narrator!

What have you just finished reading?


The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery

I thought this was excellent, so we’ll crafted and balanced. Full review today or tomorrow.

Llama Out Loud by Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan


I do try to keep the blog pretty positive, but honestly I really didn’t like this at all. So much about it annoyed me. Luckily it was a quick read!


Cally and Jimmy: Twins in Trouble by Zoe Antoniades, illustrated by Katie Kear

This didn’t fare much better, I’m afraid. I’d pick it over Llama but still wasn’t that impressed.

What will you read next?


This is my ‘next reads’ stack! Next up from it is Storm by Nicola Skinner
I’m trying to find a way to link in with Believathon as I always love taking part in that! I’ve swung from can’t do it to maybe to no way to I think there’s a slim chance if I do a bit of cheating!! A Believathon post will (hopefully!) follow…

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

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?