A Secret Of Birds and Bone

A Secret of Birds and Bone by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, artwork by Helen Crawford-White

If you know anything about my reading tastes, you’ll know I’m a huge Kiran fan! I positively bounced to the till showing anyone I passed that “It’s in! It’s in!” when this arrived at work last week and snapped it up and started it that day.

It does not disappoint.

With the most beautiful sounding bone creations, underground tunnels, secret passages and plenty of mystery, this is as atmospheric and enchanting as you’d expect from Kiran Millwood Hargrave.

And with guards assisted by vicious magpies, a duchess who’s never seen, a mother who’s vanished after completing a secret commission and a nun who is not what she seems there is plenty of intrigue and drama too.

Sofia’s mother is a bone builder, crafting the most exquisite creations from bones – from fine furniture to ornate reliquaries to intricate keepsakes to complex locks to Sofia’s entire house.

This was one of my favourite elements of the story – I loved reading and picturing her creations, they really set my imagination alight.

One day though, Sofia’s sees her mother receive an unexpected – and seemingly unwelcome – guest, and from that point on, neither she nor her brother Ermin are allowed in the workshop or to know what her mother is working on.

We join Sofia on her twelfth birthday as her mother heads into the town promising to explain everything when she returns.

However, things do not go to plan and Sofia and Ermin find themselves on a dark journey into unknown underground passages seeking to find out where their mother is and what has happened to her.

I also loved the underground world Kiran created – the caves, pools and clues as well as the darkness and the danger of the chase were immersive and thrilling. The filth of their escape felt particularly believable too and by the time they left the tunnels, I felt almost as dirty, soaked, battered and stinking as they must have been!

Joining Sofia and Ermin is Ghino who they meet hiding in the secret passages of the city. He adds a dose of suburban knowledge as well an element of uncertainty to the group, and I especially enjoyed seeing the dynamic between him and Sofia as their journey progressed.

I thought the way in which we see their relationship, and Sofia’s thoughts towards him change was excellent and really helped to build up to the end of the book too.

The way in which the guards’ magpies and their mother’s bone-building are woven into the story add a wonderful air of fantasy without tipping it into full on magic, which suits the historical nature of the story and adds to the feel of it, without asking us to believe in anything other-worldly.

This has everything you’d expect from Kiran and everything you’d want from a MG adventure – main characters you root for and sinister antagonists, fantastic atmosphere and a unique and exciting setting, not to mention tension, betrayal and twists at every turn. Utterly spell-binding and Helen Crawford-White’gorgeous artwork makes it visually beautiful too.

#MGTakesOnThursday – The Girl of Ink and Stars

#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.

Today I’ve chosen one of the first MG books I read as a grown up (or certainly for a very long time). When I left teaching and stumbled into my job as a bookseller I had a good knowledge of picture books but not as much recent knowledge of older children’s fiction.

This was one of the first MG books I picked up – it was our Children’s Book Prize winner and it wasn’t hard to see why; it is definitely at least partially what got me hooked on MG!

The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood-Hargrave, cover design by Helen Crawford-White

My favourite sentence from page 11:

“Governor Adori had rebuilt it from stone, twice as big, because if his daughter was going, it had to look grander.”

This is such a gorgeous book – both visually, with its stunning cover, maps and page decor and in its lush, myth-rich island narrative.

I love maps in books, again both visually and in their use, so the main character being a cartographer’s daughter desperate but unable to follow in his footsteps really appealed.

Amidst some dark goings on on their island, Isabella’s best friend, Lupe, disappears. Undeterred by the fact that the majority of the island – and anything beyond it – are out of bounds, she sets off to find her with an old map, myths and the stars as her guide.

A tale of friendship, family, loyalty and love woven with threads of folklore, history, politics and power. Embedded in a rich and mysterious setting, both dark and beautiful in turns, this is an absolute must-read MG book for me and one those of you who know me and my tastes will be utterly unsurprised to hear I love!

Writing this has also made me think it’s time for a re-read…

In three four words (sorry Mary!): maps, magic, myths mystery.

The Mercies

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Ever since reading Kiran’s debut MG novel The Girl of Ink and Stars when it was our Children’s Book of the Month at work a few years ago, I have been hooked and she has quickly become one of my absolute favourite authors.

When she released a YA novel, The Deathless Girls, last year, I was excited but nervous – would it live up to her MG? Would I still enjoy her writing for an older audience? I needn’t have worried, of course, and the same is true here; The Mercies is her first novel for adults, and it’s brilliant.

Based on true events, the book tells the tale of a storm which wipes out – almost entirely – the male population of a small, Norwegian island as they are out fishing. Left to fend for themselves, initially at least, we see the women coping with loss, grief and adjusting to the harsh challenges of island life in very different ways, in a time when there were still very clear expectations of what women should, and more emphatically, should not do.

A new Commissioner arrives, with both his inexperienced young wife and plans to root out any unholy behaviour, leading to persecution and witch trials.

The book very much examines how such things came about, both in the wider world and in a more specific and personal way to our characters. How personal gain, spite, fear and beliefs all contrive to bring out the very worst in us. It is eminently relevant and relatable today, despite bring based on events over 400 years ago. The more things change…

As well as the over-arching witch hunts, there are many other more domestic issues at play here too. This is a book which deals unflinchingly with a range of uncomfortable truths – male dominance and female subjugation (in more ways than one); racism, religion and control; alliances, cliques and betrayals, superstitions and suspicions. Ultimately it is a book about power, those that wield it, crave it, use it and suffer by it.

Kiran’s writing is always rich in detail and atmospheric, and this book is certainly that. Harsh landscapes match bleak times and heavy hearts and we feel all of it. Events here unfold slowly – I loved this as it gave time to really get under the skin of all the characters and into their lives. It also felt right for the isolated, rural setting of the book and for the history it told. I felt a part of that tiny community and when those characters I’d grown close to hurt, so did I.

Likewise, the ending broke me. The slow build and blow by blow account were so effective. I also really liked the actual ending (clear as mud, I know! But no spoilers!) both satisfying, but – like all of her books – with a tiny glint of hope.

I should say that I loved the slow pace of this book, but it will not be for everyone. If you were dissatisfied at The Deathless Girls dealing with the backstory of the brides and lacking much in the way of pace and action (I was not, I loved that too!) you may feel the same here.

However, I urge you to give it a try as it’s a simply magnificent book. As hopeful as it is harsh, as rich in detail as it is stark in reality. Already one of my favourite books this year, I can’t wait for my finished copy to arrive.

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!

WWW Wednesday: 24/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

What are you currently reading?

Another one I’ve been mega excited to read, it’s the 3rd in the Five Realms series – if you haven’t read them, you absolutely MUST! Only just started this, but I’m already right back in it.

I’d forgotten bits of the last book and I read a bit that had a recap/reminder of something and actually gasped out loud on the bus in a ‘oh my god, I’d totally forgotten that – I’m even more excited to see what happens now’ kind of way!

What have you just finished reading?

I loved this as much as I knew I would! Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of my favourite authors and this more than lived up to my expectations! I love how her books are so clearly he’s but also incredibly different from each other. This is a great winter read – hot drink and a cosy corner at the ready before you begin!

What are you planning on reading next?

I can’t wait to read Wundersmith, SkyCircus, Snowglobe…so much MG! But I also have some shorter chapter books to read.

And it’s only a week til Halloween, so surely I should read something spooky?!

Do you have any spooky book suggestions? Have you read any of the books here? What are you reading at the moment?

WWW Wednesday 10/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

It’ll be a short one this week as I’ve not managed much reading at all. I don’t know where this week has gone!

What are you currently reading?

I pre ordered this, having been ridiculously excited about it since it was announced. I picked it up early, at the end of September. And up until today, I still hadn’t started it! I think I’d built it up so much I haven’t quite been able to bring myself to begin! So, I’m taking the plunge today…

What have you just finished reading?

I didn’t know what to expect from this and hadn’t realised at all when I requested it that it was predominantly poetry, but it was a pleasant surprise – especially in light of my recent decision to read more poetry and dedicate Thursdays’ posts to it.

I enjoyed it, though it felt a bit like a book of two halves and I definitely preferred the first half. The latter part of the book did feel a bit ‘filler’, but on the whole it was a really creative and interesting take on the fairytale-retelling that seem very popular at the moment.

Full review to follow.

What are you planning on reading next?

I’m probably going to go on an MG spree, but as I’ve only just opened The Way Past Winter, I’m not sure yet, so instead of what I’ll read next, I’m asking/answering

What books were added to your TBR this week?

I received an absolutely bumper bookpost parcel from OUP this week and am very excited to dive into these, especially the Michael Morpurgo Myths and Legends.

I also received these gems from Harper Collins – I’m especially looking forward to Hubert Horatio.

I ordered both of these after seeing them on Read It Daddy and they both look fab!

And this is a treat to myself! I absolutely love it when a book has a map in it, so I just couldn’t resist!

Did you get any exciting book deliveries/purchases this week?

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

WWW Wednesday 3/10/18

Hosted by ‘Taking on a World of Words’, every Wednesday we ask and answer the 3 W’s:

Last time, I snuck an extra W in there too with what Peapod and I had read that week, but I’ve decided to do a regular “Peapod’s Picks” post each Friday instead – picture books/board books new and old!

This week’s WWW, then:

What are you currently reading?

I’ve only just opened this, so no idea about it yet, though it begins with a poem that I thought was beautiful so it’s a promising start…

What have you just finished reading?

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I finished The Lost Magician by Piers Torday. I’ve been meaning to read his ‘Wild’ books for quite some time and still not got round to them, but if this is anything to go by the hype surrounding them is justified!

It’s a fantastic, modern take on ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ and the perfect homage to libraries, librarians and all things bookish!

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Talking of modern takes on classic books, I’ve also read this beautiful modern version of ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’ which was one of my favourite fairy tales growing up.

Full reviews of both will follow…

What are you planning on reading next?

These are the most pressing of my TBR pile:

But I also have this which I’ve been waiting months for…

Which would you choose?

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