Melt

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

Melt by Ele Fountain, cover art by unknown, published by Pushkin

This isn’t actually out til April, but hit that pre-order button as it’s one you won’t want to miss!

I always enjoy Ele’s books (you can read my reviews of Boy 87 and Lost here and here.) I’m always impressed with her ability to pack so much into such relatively short adventures (surely she’s got to do Barrington Stoke at some point??)

Quick reads they may be but the characters have depth, the settings are immersive and the plots are full of tension and heart-stopping moments. Melt was no exception.

And like her other books, there’s an environmental awareness and a touch of social commentary running through it, as we come face to face with eroded traditions and dying ways of life, melting ice caps and vanishing animals, and unscrupulous companies with greed at their heart.

As ever though, these are brilliantly threaded through the story – they enhance and give roots to the adventure rather than eclipsing it. As do the themes of friendship, family and learning from other times, places and people that we see explored too.

Set in the Arctic Circle and told from the dual narratives of Bea and Yutu, who find themselves unexpectedly thrown together to brave both elements and enemies, this is a thrilling story of survival.

Yutu lives with his grandma in a remote Arctic village. He’s desperate to follow in family tradition and hunt so sneaks away one weekend to prove himself capable. But the ice has been melting faster than he knew and with a sudden blizzard on the way, he finds himself in trouble…

Bea meanwhile lives in a busy town but has few friends thanks to always being on the move with her dad’s job. She joins her dad, who is a geologist for a big oil company, on a work trip to the area near Yutu’s home but when they arrive things are not quite what they seem and danger is waiting…

And so Bea and Yutu find themselves helping each other, on the run in perilous conditions.

I loved the way Bea and Yutu helped each other, learned from each other, gave each other confidence and courage and ultimately, of course, became friends. But I think Yutu’s grandmother, Miki, was my favourite character. And on both sides, it was nice to see present, supportive adults around.

The Arctic setting is stunningly portrayed, it is beautiful but equally unforgiving and the cold settled into my bones as I read. It was the perfect setting for this tense, fast-paced and thought-provoking thriller.

#MGTakesOnThursday – How to Bee

#MGTakesOnThursday was created by Mary over at Book Craic and is a brilliant way to shout about some brilliant 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.

It was World Bee Day yesterday, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give another shout out too a bee-themed MG book I love.

There have been a fair few MG books recently with environmental messages or themes of nature and climate change, but this is one of the first I remember seeing and it’s still one of my favourites.

How to Bee by Bren MacDibble, cover art by Joanna Hunt, published by Old Barn Books

I’ve cheated a bit with my favourite sentence from page 11, and I’ve chosen a whole favourite passage instead! Oops! Sorry, Mary!

Being first or second doesn’t mean you’re instant bee. Foreman has to like your style. You have to be gentle to the flowers and branches and not clumsy. With four of us done, Foreman blows his whistle and the other pests run up from their rows to hear who has won.

In three words?

Nature. Family. Drama.

You can read my full review of it here.

Have you read this?

Have you joined in with #MGTakesOnThursday?

Where the River Runs Gold

I requested and received a free copy of this from the publishers in exchange for honest reviews. Opinions and views are all my own.

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Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Evan Hollingdale

I was initially dubious of this. I’d heard from a friend what it was about and it sounded remarkably similar (I’m putting that kindly) to How To Bee, a less well-known book that I loved, so I was worried that this was going to be a bit of a rip off but one that totally over-shadowed the original (Waterstones Book of the Month, more well-known author and publisher etc.)

Luckily, I needn’t have worried. While both books stem from the idea that crops, insects (particularly bees and other pollinators) and flora/fauna in general are dying out and while there are some overlaps because of this (children being used as pollinators for example) they take very different approaches and are written in very different styles, with different themes and directions.

In fact, far from hating this the way I feared I might, I really, REALLY loved it – it’s gone straight into my favourite books of the year (along with Rumblestar and Wild Folk Rising – I think while totally different from Wild Folk Rising it has that same love of nature and folklore that is present in the Stargold Chronicles, which is possibly why I feel the same way about it).

This is one of those books that’s incredibly frustrating (in a good way) as I’ve really struggled to put anything into words about it (indeed my procrastination about this review is one of the main reasons I’m currently so behind!)

Simply put, I just thought it was excellent – beautifully written with well-drawn characters you absolutely get behind and feel for, as well as complex themes and multiple layers. It was at once soothing and angering; full of a folkloric magic and disturbingly plausible; believable bleak but full of hope.

With environment, nature and climate change are at its core, there are also questions raised about power, wealth, inequality and freedom. About fairness, society and childhood. About family, friends and roots. The way it draws on nature, folk tales, cultural heritage and the arts as well as celebrating differences, talents and togetherness is inspired.

Just wonderful.

The Dog Runner

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

I absolutely loved Bren MacDibble’s first book How to Bee (you can read my review here) so I was really excited about this one. And I was right to be.

While they are very different in a lot of respects, there are many similarities between them and their unique style and voice helps them stand out from other MG offerings.

Both are set in a not too distant dystopian future in which fictional (but entirely plausible) environmental crisis have come to pass. In this case, a fungus has spread across Australia killing all the grasses, wheats, grains…food is in increasingly short supply. This is both a love letter to nature and a wake up call to examine our behaviours and the things we take for granted in our everyday lives.

Both have the most wonderful main characters – Peony in How to Bee remains one of my favourite MCs in recent children’s reads. Here we follow Ella and her step brother, Emery, as they embark on a dangerous journey out of the city.

Ella’s mum has been deemed ‘Essential Personnel’ and can’t come home, as she’s needed by the government to help keep the power running. Their dad hasn’t come back after heading out into the city a few days ago, and while the plan had been to wait til they were all together to head up country, now Emery and Ella must go it alone. Well, almost, they have their dogs too.

Those of you who know me or who have been reading for a while will know I’m not the biggest lover of animal stories. But, while animals are integral to these books, there’s enough realism to avoid sentimentality. There is recognition that the animals are animals, with animal instincts, natures and behaviours. There’s no attempt to soften this or personify, sweeten or dumb them down. The dogs here are loved fiercely, but respected too. There’s a wonderful contrast to the dogs we see playing and piling on the children at the start of the book and the way they behave at various points later on. Bren Macdibble shows a great understanding of them and they feel real.

Ultimately, these are books with the environment at their heart and animals in their telling but people at their core.

Both have a strong family theme, with both taking on different aspects of modern family life. In The Dog Runner, the relationships within Ella and Emery’s step-family are explored. What I loved was the subtlety and realism with which this was done – there are no stereotypes; no outright dislike, jealousy or bad feeling. What there are much more complex feelings – of missing one half of your family while with the other, of liking and respecting a step-parent, but still battling that inner ‘you’re not my real parent’, of getting used to an already-there sibling you’ve just started living with, of finding how it all it fits together and making it work. Ella and Emery’s relationship is especially wonderful – they are a loving brother and sister, again no stereotypical, step-family snarking, they are loyal and caring and protective of one another.

Which is good, because on this journey they need to be. It’s lovely to see how reassuring and calming Emery is towards Ella as she struggles with worry, doubt and fear. Likewise, it’s great to see Ella have the chance to prove (to herself as much as anyone else) how courageous, strong and decisive she too can be when needed. They are a brilliant example of a balanced, realistic and, above all, close sibling team.

As with How To Bee, Bren MacDibble’s love of nature really comes through in the setting and the description of Ella and Emery’s journey. It is vivid – I felt the heat of the midday sun, the dust, the scratchy shrubs, the cool night air. All of it is superbly described and takes you right into the Australian landscape.

This is a gritty and tense adventure which takes on environmental issues with the urgency they deserve – there is threat writ large throughout in more ways than one. Pacy and full of danger, this is also a book which shouts of the importance of loyalty, family and self-belief. I loved it and I can’t wait to see what Bren Macdibble writes next.