The Supreme Lie

I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read this on netgalley in exchange for an honest (but late – sorry!) review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Supreme Lie by Geraldine McCaughrean, cover art by Leo Nickolls, interior art by Keith Robinson, published by Usborne

I had high hopes for this after loving Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends and, while WTWE is still my favourite, this certainly lived up to expectations; I loved the darkness of WTWE but for those who may have found it a little too dark, this provides a little more light relief and hope to balance out its heavier themes and events.

When a catastrophic flood hits Afalia and the Suprema (their Head of State) secretly flees, her maid Gloria is forced to step in and pretend to be her in order to cover it up.

With rising water levels, impossible choices deceitful politicians and an unhappy public, Gloria and Timor (the Suprema’s husband) must make some difficult and dangerous decisions which sees thousands of lives (their own included) at risk.

I loved the characters in this – they were without doubt its strongest feature for me. Gloria herself was a brilliant, believable main character who you couldn’t fail to empathise with and warm to. Her naivety and optimism were her strengths and a perfect tonic to the lies and treachery all around her.

The rest of the cast were fantastic too (I especially liked Timor) and the twists and doubts surrounding their actions, motives and intentions were very clever, with some truly despicable, though all too believable and familiar, villains.

Running alongside Gloria’s narrative is that of Clem, or more accurately Clem’s dog Heinz. Clem lives outside the capital; cut off and flooded out his family flee but are separated from his beloved dog Heinz, who we follow on his journey through the floodwater to reunite with his boy.

This was a really effective way of highlighting the damage and devastation caused by the freak rain and flooding, to both communities and to the natural world, which was so hard to read without a worrying air of ‘that could be us’ hanging over it.

Likewise, it served also to show the way those outside the capital were pretty much abandoned to their fates and left to look out for themselves (and each other). I won’t say much more here for risk of spoilers but the Rosies and were wonderful to read!

This was also a great way to provide that aforementioned light to balance out the dark. The use of both Clem’s dog, Heinz and Gloria’s dog, Daisy, was a great way to inject some hope, comfort and loyalty into a book otherwise filled with despair, discomfort and deception.

And their relationships with the children in the story was a heart-warming thing. Dog lovers everywhere will feel this in their hearts.

The use of newspaper reports throughout raised the very topical issue of ‘fake news’ and cleverly highlighted the way political agendas, and politicians themselves, can manipulate and manufacture what the public see and hear for their own gains or plans.

I loved the twist in the newspaper tale and the daily anagrams, and Keith Robinson has done a fantastic job of illustrating these articles, which feel real and perfectly in keeping with the rest of the book. They are a brilliant addition to the story.

Dark and darkly funny too, this is a sharp and witty social and political commentary that I thoroughly enjoyed – “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” has never felt so true or so timely.

Grow

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.

Grow by Luke Palmer, cover art by unknown, published by Firefly Press

There are a growing number of books exploring race and racism and/or extremism. For the most part, these are set in fairly multi-cultural areas and tell the stories at those suffering from prejudice, from racist behaviour and attitudes. And rightly so – they are important stories which need to be heard.

However, I was intrigued by this one coming at the issue from a slightly different angle. Set in a predominantly white British area, Grow is Josh’s story. Struggling to cope after his dad’s death in a terrorist attack, he finds himself targeted by white supremacists and is slowly sucked into a terrifying world of bullying, intimidation and fear.

The characters were really well drawn and I thought the way we are able to gradually learn more about their backgrounds and individual stories was so skilfully done, and so much of this opened up a plethora of other discussions and themes too.

At no point do you feel for the white supremacists targeting Josh, but the book does allow us to consider what has brought them to this point.

Likewise, Dana’s story is so hard to read, but so important and so sensitively told – both implicit and hard-hitting at the same time. The way it ties into the main plot works well too.

This was a really compelling but difficult read; there were so many points at which I was desperate for Josh to realise what’s going on/do something about it but it’s all too clear he won’t/can’t because of how angry or scared or stuck or ashamed he feels.

Indeed, Josh’s emotions were brilliantly depicted and never has the phrase emotional roller-coaster felt so apt.

On the surface Josh is coping well with his dad’s death, but underneath the grief is still raw and he’s unable to process it. Easily turned to anger and blame, we see him spiral through negative emotions which are fuel to the white supremacists’ grooming fire.

His growing realisation that what he’s involved with is wrong is perhaps the hardest to read – the sense of having nowhere to turn, of desperately wanting it to stop but feeling powerless and/or too scared to try to stop it.

And with good reason – there is real menace from the gang he finds himself caught up with, and the way they find a way into Josh’s life is insidious – it’s clear to see just how easy it is for this sort of thing to happen.

This is a bit pf a slow burner, but it’s characters are deep and the plot believable because of it. There’s a great twist at the end too. While I did see it coming, it took me a long time and I thought it was clever and brings an added level of tension to the closing chapters.

I also really liked the way nature and growth were used, through Dana and Josh’s Grandad’s gardening, both symbolically to reflect Josh’s journey, but also for the wider message of the benefits nature and the outdoors can have.

Overall, this is a moving book that will make you think. With themes of grief, loss, mental health, racism and pressure as well as thought-provoking social commentary, it’s one that should have a place in every secondary school library.

The Fountains of Silence

I was so thrilled to be offered a free copy of this to review. All views and opinions are my own.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Let me preface this review with a warning – this was one of those books I utterly loved, so apologies in advance for fangirling, waxing lyrical and/or going off on personal tangents. I will try to rein it in.

But if it really is a case of TLDR, ultimately my message here is this – you must read this book. Historical, heartbreaking and hopeful it is a story of love, loss and loyalty; of secrets, of strength and of silence.

For those of you prepared to wade in with me, I hope I can do some justice to this fantastic book…

I read Ruta Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea in 2017, when it won the Carnegie medal, and it blew me away. So when I was offered the chance to read her most recent book (also on the Carnegie longlist this year) and take part in this blog tour for it, I absolutely jumped at the chance.

Fountains of Silence is set in Madrid,1957. The Spanish Civil War is over, but Franco’s dictatorship most certainly is not.

After twenty years almost entirely cut off from other nations, Spain is just beginning to reopen its doors to outsiders, notably Americans with money. The Hilton Castellana opens, formerly a palace and now the place to be for travelling businessmen, politicians, musicians and stars.

But just beyond the parties, cocktails, glamour and wealth lies a Spain devastated by the fascist regime.
Poverty reigns. Women are powerless – no passports, no property, no bank accounts, no say. Republican ‘reds’, or more likely their left-behind children, live in silence, desperation and fear.

And from these two worlds come our main characters, Daniel – son of a wealthy Texan oil tycoon, and Ana – a maid at the Hilton whose family feel the effects of the civil war and Franco’s regime daily.

However, rather than focusing solely on their narratives, Ruta skilfully uses multiple perspectives to bring together the stories of those around Ana and Daniel too, thereby delivering a much broader, deeper and more complex view of the experiences and difficulties faced by the many different people caught up in Franco’s regime.

I loved the characters in this (even poor misunderstood Nick, who I really didn’t like much at first but really warmed to and who became one of my favourites by the end!) I rooted for them so deeply.

Their stories are so cleverly and effectively woven together, and I loved how it was predominantly through their interactions and encounters that we really saw the stark contrast between life for Daniel and for Ana and her family.

Daniel’s misjudged trip to Ana’s home in Vallecas, for example is one of my standout moments in the book. It has stuck with me so intensely since reading and I continue to think about it for so many reasons; because of Daniel’s doing the unthinkable and turning up there with his gifts of expensive wine and chocolates, but primarily for the portrait it painted of Vallecas itself and the people who lived there.

It felt so real; I felt like I was there, seeing it firsthand. Indeed, this is true of the book as a whole, and one of my favourite things about it was the use of Daniel’s photography to tell the story. I’ve always loved photography as an art form and I’m a sucker for a photo exhibition, so this worked so well for me.

(On a personal level, it also took me back to my days in Madrid, when, almost crippled with social anxiety and rarely leaving my flat if it meant going alone, I would spend nearly an entire day psyching myself up to go out to an exhibition. It was always photography that would get me there.)

Some of the shots he takes are so powerful – the nun, the Crows, his father… – and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Robert Capa, who is indeed referenced in the book. The images felt so vividly painted, and when Ana adds captions to them this only adds to their impact (and even more so the way in which she does this and the events that follow). I could see them, taped up on that hotel wall as clearly as if I’d walked round them in exhibition.

The setting and Ruta’s ability to take us there, is second to none. I was absolutely transported.

I was lucky enough to listen to Ruta talk about her writing, and she talks of trying to visit the places she’s writing about, to get a feel for them, and this really comes across.

I lived in Madrid for three years and, despite being set many decades earlier, this really took me back there – the shutters going down for siesta, the streets and the places and their feel, the food, the lives, the culture… Immersive, evocative and, for me personally, very nostalgic too.

As well as the places themselves, Ruta also talked about the many artefacts she used to help recreate that time and place, and the sheer joy she conveyed as she talked about the items and artefacts she’d found in her research for this was nothing short of infectious.

“… because I have the items…I can touch them and feel them, hopefully I can describe them in a way to readers that is more of a sensory experience…you want to immerse the reader…”

Ruta Sepetys

And immersive it is. It’s not always an easy read, as it confronts the suffering of the Spanish people then – the barbaric homes for orphaned republican children, the oppression, the empty coffins and stolen babies, the sheer imbalance of power, the censorship, the fear and the secrets – but it does feel incredibly authentic.

And the complex and believable characters and the way we see Spain through their eyes had a lot to do with that. From loyal and obedient Puri as she begins to question what she’s bought into for so long, to hardened Fuga furious at the secret he uncovers and the suffering around him, to Ana’s feelings of fear and being caged, limited, trapped.

When I heard Ruta speak, she talked of the people she’d met during her research, both incidentally and as part of her interviews, and I think this comes across so strongly in the book.

In the main characters, yes, but equally in the absolutely stellar supporting cast and in those we pass just briefly – the girl with no shoes or the old lady in Vallecas, Lorenza, the crowd at the amateur bull fight (and indeed in Fuga himself), Paco Lobo and Buttons (two of my favourite characters, despite being ‘bit parts’ – I loved hearing on the zoom call where Buttons had come from, and I would love to see Paco Lobo heading up a book of his own!)

It’s safe to say this isn’t an easy book at times, there is great hardship, great sadness and great suffering here. But there is also great community, great hope and great resilience.

Full of grit and courage, this is a powerful and moving story, helping to bring to light some of the very real stories which for so long were shrouded in silence. I can’t recommend it enough.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour too!

Mina and the Undead Playlist Post

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

Mina and the Undead by Amy McCaw, cover art by Becky Chilcott, published by Uclan

Vampires have always been part of Mina’s life, growing up in Whitby (which inspired at least some of Stoker’s Dracula) with a (now estranged) mother seemingly obsessed by them too. But they can’t be real…can they?

It’s summer 1995 and Mina is headed to stay with her sister Libby in New Orleans, hoping she might stay more permanently if things work out…but will they survive the summer?

Libby works at a haunted house style attraction giving interactive horror-movie-inspired tours full of thrills, where Mina hopes to join the team,and she’s arriving just in time for ‘Fang Fest’ in the city too. Roommate Jared seems to love a good ghost story just as much as she does and is full of local myths and urban legends (oh, and he’s gorgeous too – well, of course he is!) And then there’s the recent spate of murders which seems to be getting closer and closer to home…

As someone who grew up loving Point Horror, American Gothic and the like (not to mention pretty much all the vampire films referenced in the book) I know teen me would have devoured this; a group of cool, independent older teens at the centre of a vsmpiric murder mystery with a bit of Gothic romance thrown in for good measure. Yes please.

Creepy, full of twists, cleverly plotted and achingly retro this has it all – angst, family issues and romantic tension in amongst blood bars, crime scenes and graveyards. Sisters, lovers, suspects, dead friends, missing mums, a strangely accurate psychic… and of course vampires. This has everything a horror-loving, YA fan could want!

It’s also packed to the rafters with 90s pop culture references that I’m not sure how many teens will get (as if they weren’t even born then – it wasn’t that long ago!), but that I loved! They had me reliving my youth in the best way and, even if you don’t fully get them or know them well, they definitely added to the story’s atmosphere and authenticity.

With that in mind, I bring you my Mina and the Undead Playlist – what would you add?!

When the World Was Ours

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

When the World Was Ours by Liz Kessler, cover art by unknown, published by Simon and Schuster

Although it can feel a popular topic and a crowded market at times, I’m always interested to see a new book set during wartime; it’s one of my favourite themes for children’s literature.

So I was really excited to be sent a copy of this.

Set during World War Two and written from the alternating viewpoints of three best friends – Leo, Elsa and Max – we follow their stories from pre-wartime through to the end of the war.

I really loved the use of the three different narratives and the way we joined each of them at the same points in time really helped emphasise how their lives were changing both in themselves and changing compared to each other’s.

I think everyone reading will feel one story speaks to them more strongly than the others, although all are compelling and incredibly moving. For me, it was Max’s.

I don’t really want to write too much more about that for fear of spoilers, but I found his character and situation so complex – frustrating and heartbreaking; his was the story that I desperately wanted to change and the story which felt the easiest to slip into.

If any of the book is a cautionary tale for today (and let me assure you, it subtly but emphatically is) against against complacency, against ignorance, against following the herd and believing the hype, against keeping your head down, against each man for himself…it is Max’s.

But Leo and Elsa’s stories are equally important, emotional and tough. While this may not be as graphic or hard-hitting in some ways as other books about the Holocaust, it has a quiet, haunting ability to stay with you long after reading.

And this has much to do with the relationships, memories, hopes and resilience of our main characters. It is these human connections that are central to the novel and in turn our connection to it.

A story of family, friendship, love and hope in the bleakest of times. This is a poignant story with an important message not only to remember, but to prevent anything like it happening again.

Witch

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.

Witch, written and illustrated by Finbar Hawkins.

Witches and the witch trials of the seventeenth century feel like a hot topic recently, and it would be easy to allow a sense of ennui set in…if it weren’t for how different the books I’ve read or heard of all are.

And this is an excellent example of that – telling the story of Evey and her sister Dill, it blends historical fact with fantasy, stunning art with beautiful prose.

Written from Evey’s perspective, the writing can take a little adjusting to, but it has a real historical feel. While I am emphatically not a historian so have no frame of reference as to its accuracy, it certainly has the feel of being from another time long past and really helps transport you to the time.

It also has a real poetry about it, both in its structure and phrasing, and in its use of imagery, symbolism and language. This is beautifully matched by the artwork in the book – detailed sketches of the natural world which add atmosphere and which I found myself pausing to study at the start of each chapter.

However, while it is undoubtedly beautiful, it is also unflinching in its confrontation of the witch hunts and trials.

The start of the book really sets the tone as, along with Evey (Eveline of the Birds to give her her full title) and little sister Dill, we witness the brutal beating and murder of their mother. It is a scene that takes your breath away and one that will haunt me, as it haunts Evey throughout the book.

Her mother’s dying wish is for Evey and Dill to find her somewhat estranged sister in a nearby coven. They make their way their, with Evey vowing vengeance and after leaving Dill in their care, she embarks on a mission to hunt the hunters.

And so behind a tale rich in nature and ‘magick’, is a darker tale of betrayal, revenge and over-powering emotions – predominantly love, anger and grief.

Sibling relations also feature strongly, with the complicated and often conflicting emotions and instincts they involve closely examined and sensitively drawn.

This is also a story of human nature. Of mob rule, the power of a crowd and our ability to quickly forget those who have helped us to suit our current needs.

I really liked the way elements of fantasy and magic were brought in, and the way they were SO closely linked with nature. The scene with the crows in particular was vivid and wondrous, despite its violence, and I could not look away.

This was a short but powerful read, written with a unique and compelling voice. I have ordered the finished, physical book and will be keeping my eyes out for whatever Finbar Hawkins does next.

Wrecked

Wrecked by Louisa Reid

Louisa is an author local to my work and launched her previous book, Gloves Off, there last year. I have to admit I was still finding my feet and desperately catching up on reading after Mat Leave then so still haven’t read it, but I definitely plan to after reading this one.

Wrecked is a verse novel (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – verse is going to explode I think!) which tells Joe’s story as he faces charges for death by dangerous driving after his involvement in a late night car crash that sees the driver of the other car killed.

As the trial approaches, we look back at Joe’s relationship with Imogen (who was in the car with him) and see them move from something seemingly ‘perfect’ to something corrosive and self-destructive that neither of them can/will walk away from.

It’s hard to say too much about this without spoilers; even talking more about their relationship, the court case or Joe himself feels like it would give away too much – part of what’s great about this book is how all its small parts, all the seemingly incidental events gradually drip, drip, drips into something bigger.

And with hindsight at the end if the book, its easy to reflect on the events that led up to it and see them for what they were.

Challenging stereotypes and tackling ingrained and often unspoken about prejudices and ideas in a very clever way, the book also addresses manipulation, mental health and the often insidious nature of both.

It comes as no surprise that Louisa is a secondary school teacher – the young characters she’s written all feel and sound incredibly real.

Moving, believable and tense, this is an absolutely gripping read that had me silently willing Joe on and desperate to see how everything played out, although I almost couldn’t bear to read the outcome to his trial.

A cleverly written and compelling book that will have you angry, emotional and on the edge of your seat.

The Black Kids

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.

I don’t read a huge amount of YA (far less than I should!) but I loved The Hate U Give and the premise of this combined with the ‘perfect if you loved THUG’ taglines and general buzz about it really pulled me in.

Ashley is well-off, spoilt (by her own admission) and black. Until recently, the latter hasn’t played much part in her thoughts or her daily life – her best friends are rich, white kids; her home is in a rich, white area and her life has almost always been as theirs is (although, as we see when she starts to reflect on it, perhaps it hasn’t and she’s just chosen to ignore the more casually racist behaviours around her).

We’re told in the synopsis online that

everything changes one afternoon in April, when four police officers are acquitted after beating a black man named Rodney King half to death. Suddenly, Ashley’s not just one of the girls. She’s one of the black kids.

but it’s not quite this clear cut.

The LA riots of the 1990s (that began when the officers who beat up Rodney King were acquitted) do form the backdrop to the novel and they do become increasingly intrinsic to Ashley’s choices, feelings and actions, but their effects – on Ashley and more broadly – are not quite so quick and defined as this.

The book begins with Ashley herself admitting that she wasn’t all that bothered by the case to begin with; she and her friends are on the cusp of Summer, graduation and college. Life is a lazy time of skipping school, going out and having fun as they all prepare to go their own ways.

On the surface, it’s a stereotypical scenario – well-off teens skipping school to sunbathe, swim and smoke, mess about with boys/girls and generally enjoy themselves without thinking too much about anyone or anything else.

However, it’s as we spend so much time just ‘hanging out’ with Ashley and her friends in this way that we see – both in their interactions and her memories of growing up there with them – that we see the casual, incidental racism embedded in their lives. Little comments, ‘jokes’ and assumptions made; the knowledge that when they’re stopped by the police for trespassing she’s probably the reason and definitely the one at risk.

However, they’re her friends. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just how things are. It’s okay.

Or is it?

Gradually Ashley begins to see the racism around her, amplified by the riots, and the contrast between her sheltered, protected life and the lives of the other black kids in her school and in neighbourhoods being looted, burned and vandalised.

It’s likely we’ll see a flux of books about racism given the current climate, but this one especially tackles it somehow subtly and frankly all at once and really addresses how larger events that seemingly have “nothing to do with us” can suddenly feel much closer to home.

In light of the fact that nearly 30 years on, as Black Lives Matters protests continue and we still have police officers kneeling on black necks and abusing their stop and search rights, we don’t seem to have changed at all.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

There are so many layers to this book, so many clever ideas and angles and so much to love about it that it’s hard to review without a sprawling essay full of tangents and spoilers.

It’s less a book I want to review and more a book I really want to talk about and share thoughts on.

So, I will instead keep it short(ish!) and say just this – it is superbly written with complexity, understanding and excellent characters and relationships.

It takes quite something to take a group of wealthy, spoilt brats and give them depth, but that is exactly what we get here. It doesn’t necessarily make them likeable, but it does make them believable and understandable.

Ashley herself is judgmental and self-absorbed (to begin with at least) but it is as she learns from her mistakes and opens herself up to possibilities, people outside her friendship group and begins to consider the wider world that we see her grow.

Her sister Jo and ‘nanny’ Lucia are both fantastic characters too who bring much in the way of context, contrast and social commentary.

Ultimately, this is a book about racism, but it is also a fantastic coming of age story, a realistic and sometimes difficult examination of family and an honest look at friendships – their evolution, their end and the beginnings of new ones. And the themes interplay brilliantly.

I feel like I’ve not done this book justice here, but it is a gripping, thought-provoking, complex and believable read.

It also references some awesome music and I very much need an accompanying The Black Kids soundtrack now!

The Lost Soul Atlas

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 Lost Soul Atlas by Zana Fraillon, cover art by ?

I’ll preface this review with a warning that it’s one of my long, rambling ones in which I try and fail to explain why I love a book so much. If you don’t have time for that, I’ll give you the short version – this book is wonderful. Go and buy it.

I was a huge fan of Zana Fraillon’s first two books – The Bone Sparrow and The Ones That Disappeared – so I was beyond excited to see she had a new book due and then to be approved to read it.

In both her previous novels, Zana uses stories and friendship to shine a light on some very difficult and important subjects (child refugees in The Bone Sparrow and child slavery and trafficking in The Ones That Disappeared).

Whilst The Lost Soul Atlas is aimed perhaps slightly younger, it too uses the power of story, imagination and friendship to tell a story of homelessness, specifically homeless children, and the corrupt system and blinkered society which fails them. And it too is absolutely brilliant.

Perhaps a little less gritty and graphic than her previous books, the book nevertheless paints a bleak picture of the dangerous world which some children are forced to live in; it tells of a hopeless situation in which these children are somehow finding hope, positivity and possibility.

Cleverly written, there is humour, joy, creativity and optimism amongst these children, but at no point is their situation treated lightly – this is no jolly survival adventure – it is quite clear how hard life is as their cynicism, mistrust and defensive behaviours demonstrate.

This book is also slightly more fantastical than the previous two. Rather than a hint at the fantastic or the simple telling of stories, here we move between reality, memories and an incredibly well-crafted fantasy world – the Afterlife to be specific.

Twig is dead. The Gods have ensured that the dead forget, living out their afterlife (so to speak) in blissful ignorance with yoga and games of bridge. But Twig doesn’t want to forget. He wants to remember, and so he strays into The Gatherer’s path and is entrusted with the task of opening the crossings between worlds once more and freeing the memories the Gods are keeping for themselves.

With an atlas, a key, a bundle of bones, a Guardian in the form of a skeletal raven and a small army of ‘stick people’ Meeples, Twig sets out on his quest and as he does we see how it was he arrived there through his unfolding memories of life and events before.

Twig and his da had lived a poor but relatively happy life sharing stories in a cramped, shared flat, but with a roof over their heads at least. Until one day, Twig goes out to see where his Da goes at night and things go wrong.

Without his Da, Twig is lucky to be taken under Flea’s wing as he joins their group of street children, The Beasts, in their makeshift shelters in The Boneyard.

Switching between the two, the book is at once an immersive fantasy quest and a tense tale of life on the streets, in which it is easy to see how strong emotions, impossible hopes, naivety and desperation can make you most vulnerable to exploitation and being drawn involuntarily but irrevocably into a dark world of corruption.

There is so much to love about this book I hardly know where to begin – from the clever use of humour (and some truly awful, so-bad-they’re-good jokes) to balance the darker side of things to Flea’s hilarious insults and Kkruk’s begrudging sidekick stance; from the use and imagery of the maps and stories (“because stories are the maps for how we can be”) to the riddles, magic and characters Twig meets on his quest; from the friendships and loyalties both strengthened and challenged to the energy and life of good times in spite of the bad; from the nod to Alice in Wonderland to the distinct feel of Pratchett, especially in the Gods, to the way folklore and family tales are threaded throughout… and so much more besides.

The characters are brilliant. Kkruk the Sentries and the librarians really put the life into The Afterlife and Twig is a very likeable main character, who your heart goes out to as he grapples with strange new worlds.

But it was Flea (and their friendship with Twig) who I loved best. Creative, caring and ever hopeful but street-wise and uncompromising in their morals and actions they were an utterly fantastic character who I’d love to have been friends with myself!

I was also pleased to see Flea’s gender questioned, commented on and left unknown without becoming an issue or having any bearing on the story.

‘So, are you a boy?’
Flea shrugs. ‘Sometimes. And sometimes I’m a girl.
And sometimes I’m both at the same time or neither.
Mostly I’m just somewhere in between. Anyway…”

The other characters were just as good. The rest of Twig’s Blood Family, for example, give away shades and hints of their back stories – enough to give them depth and difference and individual traits, and enough to see how various children can end up in such a bleak situation, but not so much that it bogs down the story.

The Hoblin meanwhile is brilliantly written as she manages to convey both real and fairytale evil and danger.

In short, I loved this book. It is, without doubt, in my top books of the year, and given that there’s still over five months to go, that’s no mean feat.

It helps of course that I love a map on a book so a whole story with maps woven through it was always going to appeal (can we please have an accompanying illustrated atlas with The Lost Soul Atlas (both book and painted), Flea’s tent maps and the rest in?!)

Punchy, unflinching and refusing to look away from the very real and heartbreaking situation on our streets, it is also a funny and wonderfully immersive fantasy. A magical tale of friendship, loyalty, suffering and hope, this is a story which will speak straight to your heart and to your imagination.

20 Books of Summer #5 – The Last Paper Crane

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

The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery, illustrated by Natsko Seki

Put simply I absolutely LOVED this book.

Cleverly combining verse and prose as it moves between the present day and Hiroshima in 1945 as the nuclear bomb that devastated the city is dropped, the book tells the story of Ichiro as he gradually reveals to his grand-daughter Mizuki the secret and the guilt that has consumed him ever since.

Then a teenager and caught in the bomb with his friend Hiro, we hear of their surfacing after it hits; their confusion and incomprehension as they take in what is left of their city; their injuries, pain and sickness and their attempts to find first Hiro’s sister Keiko and then, seemingly impossibly, help or safety.

Fast forward back to the present and Mizuki is determined to help her grandfather put his guilt to bed once and for all by finding out what happened to the one person he feels he let down more than anyone else.

This book draws together threads of friendship, family and loyalty whilst also examining how guilt can eat away at us, whether rational or not and of course, whilst also telling the story of that horrific event.

And it is this which really hit me like a punch in the guts while I read. To the point that all those usual expressions of ‘heartbreaking’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘powerful’ etc. are true but feel insufficient. For once, instead of trying to put my thoughts into a fully coherent review, I am simply going to copy out what I noted down as I read:

Unimaginable.

Impossible choices.

Guilt.

The power and deception of the inner voice.

Instant destruction.

Instant desolation.

Like a flipped switch.

All-consuming.

How would you cope?

Incomprehensible.

Isolation

Grief.

“And yet, how strong is the human spirit.” p 202

This book gave me actual goosebumps. I can’t tell you the last book that did that.

And Natsko Seki’s illustrations were perfect for it. Incredibly evocative, with a powerfully effective black and red palette, the desolation, destruction and desperation is overwhelming.

Likewise, I found the (seemingly!) simple calligraphy strokes around the haikus (which were some of my favourite pieces of text in the book, filled with both power and hope) really effective and reading Natsko Seki’s notes on how she created these only added to their sense and the book’s strong theme of family – its bonds and its history.

I find books which take momentous and atrocious events and occurences like this – war, slavery, witch trials etc – and make them personal so effective at making the senseless and unimaginable real, and this book is an absolutely first class example of how that is done well.

Powerful, evocative and brimming with emotion, this is a truly moving story which everyone should read.