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.

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!

The Hungry Ghost

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

The Hungry Ghost by H S Norup, cover art by Anna Morrison

I read HS Norup’s first book, The Missing Barbegazi, back in December 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was thrilled so see something new from her.

Set in Singapore during ‘The Hungry Ghost’ month, this couldn’t have sounded more different to the snowy ski slopes of The Missing Barbegazi!

But contained within both books are intriguing mysteries, with each showing the importance of friendship, family and history, and with each having a fantastic sense of place and culture.

This, is unsurprising as Helle puts a great deal of her own personal experience and research into the books; she knows the places she writes and is therefore able to transport us there along with her.

Here, we are taken to Singapore as Freja is suddenly taken to live there with her Dad, stepmum and half brothers. It’s apparent immediately what a culture shock this is with everything very different to her life in Denmark.

Homesick, worried about her mum, upset at her dad’s absence as he spends so much time at work and finding it hard to reconcile her loyalty to her mum with the fact that her stepmum, Clementine, is actually quite nice, Freja seeks comfort in exploring her new surroundings.

She’s an outdoor girl through and through, balking at the pretty dresses Clementine has bought her and taking her trusty Swiss army knife and compass everywhere, so when she follows a mysterious girl out of the garden and into an overgrown and disused graveyard in the lush rainforest nearby she’s thrilled at the adventure and relieved at the escape.

But who is this girl, where has she come from and how is she connected to Hungry Ghost month being celebrated by locals?

I love the way we found out about The Hungry Ghost celebrations throughout the course of the book. Rather than an awkward and obtrusive information dump, we see more and more about it as Freja sees local offerings, takes a trip to Chinatown, ends up at one of the ‘getai’ celebrations and speaks to new friends and locals. I felt, like Freja, that I was gradually becoming part of the celebrations and really enjoyed finding out about them in this way, especially as it wasn’t something I knew about previously.

Likewise, I really liked the way the ideas of honouring and remembering the dead linked into Freja’s own family and story later on in the book.

And I liked how, as Freja began to solve the mystery of Ling’s past, we began to see a mystery of her own coming to the surface alongside it. I thought the way the two stories interwove, and the way the pieces to Freja’s story fell into place and subtly came to the forefront was so clever and made it all the more moving.

The use of mythology to unravel both stories added a touch of fantasy which complemented the ghostly celebrations and was another dip into Chinese culture in itself.

There was a really careful balance struck here which was so well done – firmly rooted in real life and dealing with issues of family, friendship and loss, the book manages to use ghosts, mythology and folklore without tipping over completely into fantasy.

Family is dealt with so well in the book – we see a range of situations, both past and present, which help Freja to make sense of the changes to her own family life.

And death and loss are addressed sensitively too, as we consider them as opportunities to celebrate rather than mourn; lives to remember rather than deaths to grieve, whilst still acknowledging the sadness they bring and the necessity of the grieving process.

This is a wonderful book, rich in its setting – my senses came alive in that graveyard and when passing through the Banyan tree and the descriptions of the natural world were so vivid – and full of Chinese culture and Singaporian ways of life.

A gradually unravelling, slightly supernatural mystery, with family, friendship and positivity at its heart, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and compelling adventure and a cleverly, sensitively told tale of dealing with loss too. Perfect for fans of Emma Carroll or A M Howell and highly recommended!

20 Books of Summer #4 – Lost

Lost by Ele Fountain

I was a huge fan of Ele Fountain’s first book, Boy 87 (a hugely under-rated upper-MG must-read if you ask me) so I was really excited about this.

We meet Lola as she searches for her brother, Amit, after they’ve become separated having suddenly found themselves homeless – street rats.

I really loved the way the book then looked back at their lives prior to this, cleverly highlighting the contrast between two very different worlds nestled side by side.

Previously, Lola and Amit were rich, comfortable and almost blind to the struggles of the less well off around them – a striking difference to the scared, starving and vulnerable children we see now facing hunger, fatigue, and police brutality amongst other things.

Their sense of entitlement and ignorance is at least marginally better than the active dislike, disapproval and superiority of their friends whose callous comments and unfeeling attitudes and actions are shocking but sadly believable.

We then follow Lola into the present, a flawed but very likeable character who I really rooted for and felt for as she desperately tried to do the right thing and take care of her brother with no real-world knowledge whatsoever.

And this is another element I thought was excellent about the book – the way it shows just how easily and suddenly homelessness can hit, how it can happen to anyone and how it’s not “their fault” through laziness or similar.

As she searches for Amit, we see her eyes gradually opened to the hardship that’s been around them all along and, perhaps even more importantly, the various reasons that led the children to be on the streets.

Through Lola we meet several “street rats” – sleeping in tunnels, working long days for pennies and no recognition, being chased away, beaten or recruited by gangs.

One of whom, Rafi, though prickly at first gradually allows Lola to get closer and helps her develop some street smarts and look for Amit. I thought he was a brilliant character and liked the way his friendship with Lola developed.

Because of this I both absolutely loved, but also inwardly cried “noooo!” at the ending! It was just right.

It’s great to see characters who grow and change their mindset as they learn more over the course of the book, though sad to see how shuttered, cruel and ignorant others choose to remain.

Highlighting the sadly all-too prevalent issues of child poverty and homelessness, this would be a great book for opening up discussion about these issues – both in the context of the book and more locally.

Overall, this is a brilliant and important book, both heartbreaking and heartwarming in turn. With a fantastic sense of place, important issues and well-drawn characters and relationships, it more than lived up to my expectations.

Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins

I received a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.

Gribblebob’s Book of Unpleasant Goblins by David Ashby, cover art by to be added

I hadn’t even heard of this before I was sent it, but I very much enjoyed it.

Anna and her little brother Nils meet a strange man on their way home one afternoon, triggering a series of unbelievable events involving magic books and a school librarian who is more than she seems, brilliantly depicted enemies, a large sword and a worthy hero, a semi-invisible dog and ginger biscuits.

It’s a quick read, with very short chapters, making it ideal for less confident/enthusiastic readers to ‘dip their toes in’ without having to read something aimed at a younger audience too. On the flipside, it would also be great for younger, confident readers ready to move on a bit but not quite ready to take on the usual length MG books.

It ticks a lot of MG fantasy adventure boxes while remaining wholly original with some very unique world-building and a brilliant cast of characters, who really make the story come alive.

One of our good guys, Bengt, helps the overcoming-the-bullies, developing courage, making friends and showing heart storyline play out and will I’m sure be a favourite to many – if you liked Rumblestar’s Casper Tock, you’ll get right behind Bengt too!

Anna and Nils are a lovely sibling duo, with just the right balance of annoying each other and loyalty! Nils especially brings a great deal of humour to the book with his younger, more naive viewpoints, and Anna’s fierce protection of him sees her well-placed as the story’s takes-no-messin’-heroine!

We have a slice of charm and served up in the form of not entirely trustworthy, but dashing and daring Will, who is well-paired with rule-following, all round good guy Jack.

Gribblebob himself is fantastically written and probably my favourite of the characters. Crotchety and short, with some outstanding word play and use of language (something inherent throughout the book – Timberton Woods anyone?!) he feels like he’s straight out of Carroll’s Wonderland!

The dark, sinister and downright bad characters and creatures are equally well-written – imaginatively different and just the right amount of scary!

In a quest that’s over before tea-time, David Ashby has packed a lot into very little – no mean feat – and this makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, very funny and warm-hearted fantasy adventure that’s primed for a follow up (which I very much hope is on the cards!).

Mini Monday: 7/1/19

Kicking off 2019 with three snowy books (maybe it will bring the actual snow!)*

*The last of these reviews is a tweaked and slightly expanded version of one from WWW Wednesday last week – you can always skip it if you saw it first time round!

First up…

There’s a Yeti in the Playground by Pamela Butchart

Illustrated by Thomas Flintham

It’s snowing and Izzy and friends are hoping they’ll all be sent home early. But then they hear weird noises in the playground, and find a big footprint in the snow… And that’s when they know! There’s a YETI in the playground and it’s HUNGRY!

The young readers in work LOVE these books and it’s easy to see why with plots, plans and action aplenty – not to mention huge dollops of humour that adults will love too.

As a former infant teacher, so much of this made me properly laugh out loud – both supremely silly and totally believable at the same time! Anyone who’s ever been in a school will find plenty of familiar faces, recognisable rules and everyday events here, but bigger, bolder and funnier!

Snow, survival skills and being stuck in school – not to mention a seriously stinky scent! This is observational humour at its best – larger than life and laugh out loud!

Thanks to Nosy Crow for my copy.

The Missing Barbegazi by H. S. Norup

Cover design by Anna Morrison

Tessa knows that the Barbegazi exist because her beloved grandfather told her about them. So she sets out to prove to her family and friends that her grandfather wasn’t just a confused old man. But Tessa realises that uncovering the truth carries great responsibilities.

This was set on the ski slopes of Austria and is a great example of an author really knowing and loving their setting. It’s clearly well-loved territory, fondly described with little touches of the familiar that help to paint the picture for those of us who have never touched a ski!

Likewise, I enjoyed the fact that it was written from both Tessa and Gawion’s perspectives and the addition of the pages from the guide to Alpine elves was a really interesting and unusual way to add background information and detail.

With themes of friendship, loss and trust as well as protecting the environment and knowing when to keep a secret, this is a story of unlikely allegiances, cunning plots to foil the bad guy, wintry landscapes and daring late night escapades this is a great adventure, perfect for fans of Lauren St John’s Kat Wolfe Investigates or Jess Butterworth’s When The Mountains Roared.

Thanks to Pushkin for my copy.

Snowglobe by Amy Wilson

Cover illustration by Rachel Vale

Clementine discovers a mysterious house full of snowglobes, each containing a trapped magician. One of these is Dylan, a boy who teases her in the real world but who is now desperate for her help.

So Clem embarks on a mission to release Dylan and the other magicians, unknowingly unleashing a struggle for power that will put not only her family, but the future of magic itself in danger.

I finished reading this on Christmas Day. I think this is the first Christmas Day I’ve managed to read since I was little! It was lovely (even if I did have to read stood up!) and the magical feel of this book was perfectly suited to it!

I really enjoyed the characters of Ganymede, Io and Clem especially and the way strong emotions are portrayed and played out through the magic of the book worked really well.

But what I really loved were the magical elements of the book and the world building – so imaginative and exciting.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m still marvelling at the Snowglobes and the setting – at the worlds within a world within a world. The whole concept was such a unique idea and brilliantly described – so tangible and memorable. It made me want to go in and explore!

Thanks to Macmillan for my copy.

Have you read any of these – what did you think?

What are your favourite wintry or snowy books?