Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Eye Of The North by Sinéad O’Hart

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Extract:

None of this made any sense to Emmeline, but somehow, the way Pale Face said the word creature, she knew it had to take a capital letter. Every muscle in her body tensed as sh tried to ask a question that she felt, on the whole, she’d rather not know the answer to.

‘What Creature?’ she whispered.

‘What Creature, indeed?’ replied Pale Face.

(The Eye Of the North by Sinéad O’Hart. P89.)

birdSynopsis

Emmeline’s parents have tried to kill her in the past. She is certain of it. They may be eminent scientists, but life with them is a total hazard. Now they have disappeared. Emmeline receives a ship ticket, and instructions to meet her new guardian in Paris. On board the ship she befriends Thing, who stows away on ships and calls them home.

When Dr Bauer kidnaps Emmeline, she learns that her parents are more than scientists. They are part of a secret organisation, and they know all about the mythical creatures hidden in this world. Creatures like the Kraken. One drop of its blood grants the drinker immortal life. Imagine what Dr Bauer could do with immortality, and the Kraken under his control.

He’s not the only one chasing the Kraken. While various parties scheme and plot to awaken it, Emmeline, Thing and the mysterious Order of the White Flower work to stop them. Who knows what will happen if the Kraken awakes?

birdReview:

Airships, secret societies and mythical beasts combine to make a thrilling adventure. My favourite part of this story was the mythical beasts. It is no secret that I like magic and animals, especially in Middle Grade novels, but what I liked particularly here was the significance of the mythical animals in this world. It is impossible to talk about this in huge depth without any spoilers, but the ending left me hoping this would play a huge part in any sequels. If you liked Ned’s Circus Of Marvel’s you will love this. There are magical creatures in this world and they could cause a whole lot more trouble than most people realise.

 

O’Hart creates some vivid characters – her description of the Northwitch was so good I felt I was standing in front of her. My favourite character was Thing. He’s so happy-go-lucky, but memories of his past resurface and challenge his perception of himself. I did hope to learn more about Thing’s past. Perhaps knowing where and who is irrelevant to the story, or perhaps we will learn more in further novels.

 

Sometimes there is more than one perspective. When this combined with a lot of action, I would have liked to follow one character. My advice is roll with it – the reason I wanted to stick with the characters is their storylines were gripping, switching to another character’s narration keeps you in suspense.

 

The ending is cleverly designed to allow for more adventures without making a sequel necessary to book one. This is a complete adventure. Sinead O’Hart clearly has a head full of ideas and I can’t wait to see what else she creates. If you’re looking for a fast-paced wintery adventure, look no further.

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Chat · Guest Post

Chocolate Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan Author Guest Post

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Chris Callaghan is the author of The Great Chocoplot. If you liked the sweets in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory you’ll love this. You’ll crave a Blocka Chokka bar as you follow Jelly on her quest to stop the Chocopocalypse. Part adventure, part hilarious satire on modern life, The Great Chocoplot is a fantastic read for Middle Grade readers and big kids alike. Read my review here. 

Chris has written about his memories of childhood selection boxes, and I am so pleased to welcome him for the 14th Day of Blogmas. Huge thanks for the wonderful post. bird

Selection Boxes of Christmas Past – Chris Callaghan. 

The 1970s are where my childhood Christmas memories flutter around my head like the snow falling in Bedford Falls. But it isn’t all memories of Morecambe and Wise, fights over the double edition of the Radio Times, or Boney M having a ‘New Entry’ into the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops – some of my memories are of the classic selection box.

Gchriscchocolateboxeso into any supermarket in the run up to Christmas and you’ll find all manner of chocolate and sweetie delights, packaged in alluring festive trimmings. There will be the occasional box containing a few assorted treats but these, in my opinion, are not quite the same as the traditional selection box of my childhood.

 

I remember that they were a fairly standard present. Usually there to bulk-up a pile of other wrapped presents to enhance the ‘wow factor’ of that 5am entrance into the living room. Also, often handed out by next door neighbours or Auntie’s you hadn’t seen since last Christmas. Even before it was unwrapped you knew exactly what is was, with its distinctive flat, rectangular shape and gentle weight – but of course you had to pretend!

“Ooo, I wonder what it is?” we lied. Still maybe clinging to the hope that it was a Scalextric Set or an Airfix Millennium Falcon. But no, it was a few bars of chocolate and some sweets.

“Thanks, Auntie. That’s brilliant!” we lied again. (I sound a bit ungrateful, don’t I! But let’s be honest, there’s a lot of greed in Christmas – just embrace it!)

 

But once we’d got bored with our proper toys (I’m sounding like a brat again), it was the pile of selection boxes that drew our attention. The first game upon opening would be refitting the treat, which had fallen out due to the tradition gentle shake of the unopened present, into the corresponding compartment in the crinkly and surprisingly noisy plastic tray. Once this was achieved, the decision-making process began.

Do you keep your favourite bar until last or chomp it down right now? That is maybe a decision that a grown up would ponder for a while, but for a child on Christmas morning – it’s easy!! (Greed again)

 

texan_bar__16585I’d always choose the Texan Bar first. An impossibly chewy delight that would not only take forever to eat, but would also easily remove any stubbornly remaining baby teeth. The Texan Bar has since ceased production, probably on Health & Safety grounds!

Then there’s the obvious ones to go for: Galaxy, Mars Bar and a Flake (which would have to eaten while singing the song and pretending to be in the bath).

 

The selection boxes would always come with a game on the back, where you would have to cut out tiny counters from the box itself. Using paper scissors for this task was a nightmare, as they could barely cut paper, so had a hell of a job cutting card (often leaving sore red ring marks around our fingers and mangled bits of card as counters). The game itself could be completed in a few minutes, with minimal enjoyment and rarely got a repeat run.

 

The day after Boxing Day, which is a pretty dull enough day already, would mean our selection boxes had the stuff we really weren’t keen on. For me, this meant Marathon (yes, Marathon kids, not Snickers!) and Topic. Nuts in chocolate still sends shivers down my spine. Although, there was a certain fun in eating around the nasty crunchy bits and spitting them out into the convenient plastic tray area provided with the box. But then as New Year approached, the only sweets left were the ones that you would never buy and were only ever eaten because your own greed insisted that they had to be eaten. This was always the fruit version of Polos, for me. I’ve never been a fan of boiled sweets and even though the proper mint Polos were a regular favourite, these rock-hard luminous rings of sticky doom were not what I’d call a treat!

They were always stuck together by the world’s strongest super glue. It would take the rusty chisel in Dad’s tool box from the cupboard under the stairs to break them apart. Or, if you couldn’t wait, just treat it like one complete lolly stick. Being an impatient/greedy child, it was a huge effort to try and crunch on this multi coloured Polo lolly. The effort didn’t match the pleasure!

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I suppose a selection box could be something you might share. But as kids (and as grown-ups) do we really, really want to share? There might have been the odd thing that was swapped with my little sister, but only if I’d gain an advantage, like swapping a Twix for Curly Wurly. A Twix is, let’s face it, a glorified biscuit, while a Curly Wurly is a … well, it’s a Curly Wurly, isn’t it!!

But as it’s Christmas, I should end by saying that we should all share what we have, because that’s what the festive season is all about. (There, I’ve said it. I don’t mean it, but I’ve said it.)

So, enjoy yourselves, and if you have to share something, make sure it’s something you don’t really like. A tube of fruit Polos, for example.

 

Happy (Greedy) Christmas!

 

Do you have a favourite selection box? Which chocolate would you eat, and which would you trade? Let me know in the comments below.

Guest Post · Uncategorized

Guest Post: Dream Christmas Cracker from Layla of Readable Life

laylabannerHello there! It’s Layla here from Readable Life with a guest post specially for blogmas! I had a brainstorm about the different ideas I could make a post about and settled on the idea that Louise gave me – dream cracker contents! Of course, this means that hypothetically I win all of the cracker pulls and keep all of these prizes!birdDream Cracker Contents

  1. Book voucher – Wouldn’t that be amazing? To pull a cracker and ta-dah! Book cropped-homepage_free_stuff_pod_resized.jpgvoucher! Especially if you’ve had your eye on a book and know EXACTLY what to spend it on.
  2. Chocolate buttons – Yes please! A shower of chocolate buttons to pop out of the cracker! So much better than a tiny sewing kit…
  3. Mini bath bombs – This would just be such a neat little idea! Mini Christmas themed bath bombs, all with different scents! That would be an absolute dream, plus imagine how pretty they’d look.
  4. Paper Santa hats – instead of paper crowns, how awesome would paper Santa hats be? With puffy paper pom-poms at the end with bells in them? I’m liking this idea more and more…
  5. Stickers – Any stickers. Christmassy, halloween, it doesn’t matter. Stickers are so much fun and it’d be nice to have a great big set of them just bursting out of the cracker!
Thank you Layla for your lovely answers. Check out Readable Life for more great content.
top ten tuesday

Ten[ish] Books I loved in 2017

2017 has been a stellar year for children’s literature. Picking 10 books was a challenge I was not worthy of, so I have divided my choices into MG and YA. Even then a sneaky extra worked its way onto the YA list. I left one or two off the MG list, but *deleting* an extra impossible.

To narrow the choice further, I decided only to include:

  • novels – there have been some great short story anthologies, but I will give these a seperate post
  • Books with a 2017 publication date

 

Picking favourites is so subjective, and difficult – are you judging the most literary? Those you enjoyed most? Those which best suit their target audience?  I have called this ‘books I loved in 2017’ rather than ‘favourite books’.  There are still books I could include, but I am pleased with the range of books I settled on, and hope no offence is caused. 

I would like to highlight the number of debut authors on this list. Every book on this list is fantastic, but it is especially encouraging to see that children’s literature is producing new talent.

Thank-you to every author on this list for writing me a wonderland. 

 

Middle Grade

The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine

Kick by Mitch Johnson

Michael’s Spear by Hilton Pashley

Nevermoor – The Trials Of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

The Elephant Thief by Jane Kerr *

A Girl Called Owl by Amy Wilson *

The Amber Pendant [The Rose Muddle Mysteries]  by Imogen White

Letters To The Lighthouse by Emma Carroll 

Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

Where The World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean

 

Young Adult 

A Pocketful Of Crows by Joanne Harris

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli

A Semi-Definitive List Of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M McManus

S.T.A.G.S by MA Bennett

Piglettes by Clemantine Beauvais

The Stars At Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

Spellslinger by Sebastien De Castell

Ink by Alice Broadway *

The Jungle by Pooja Puri*

 

  • On old blog – link will take you off this site.

 

What is your top read of 2017? Let me know in the comments below.

Middle Grade Reviews

The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig

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Extract:

The cat stared sadly after Amelia. ‘I’ll miss you,’ he miaowed. And Amelia stared sadly after the cat. Charles Dickens stayed standing in the street, watching the raggedy, soot-covered, bare-footed orphan girl head off to spend Christmas in the workhouse.

(The Girl Who Saved Christmas by Matt Haig. P84.)  

birdSynopsis:

Amelia Wishart is trapped in the workhouse. Her mother died last year, and Amelia vowed she wouldn’t see another Christmas in the workhouse. Vowed she would find a way to escape. After a year of being tormented and punished by the horrible Mr Creeper, Amelia has given up hope. Not even Father Christmas has come to her rescue. So much for the magic of Christmas.

Meanwhile, Elfhelm survives a troll attack. Christmas was cancelled once, and Father Christmas is determined it won’t happen again. The Magic is fading. If Christmas is to happen, Father Christmas knows he needs to find Amelia, the girl whose hope once saved Christmas.

A search begins – everyone, from elves and chestnut sellers to Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria helps Father Christmas with his hunt for Amelia.

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Review:

This is the second book in Matt Haig’s Christmas series. I seem to be reading them backwards – although the adventures stand alone, and are enjoyable without previous knowledge, you do learn things about previous plots so I would recommend reading in order.

Where Father Christmas And Me was set entirely in/around Elfhelm, The Girl Who Saved Christmas has action in Elfhelm and Dickensian London. Matt Haig is great at building setting with details, and has done a good job of Victorian London. He makes a great contrast between the lives of the wealthy, like Dickens and Mr Creeper, and people experiencing different levels of poverty. I missed the pure Drimwickery – that’s magic – of a whole book set in Elfhelm, but not because London wasn’t done well.

Amelia’s story touches on the issue many children have with Christmas. If Father Christmas is magic, why can’t he do the impossible. In Amelia’s case, she wants her mother’s life to be saved. The resolution has a strong message about emotions, and the real-life magic of happiness – it can’t undo what has happened, but can remind you that the world can and will feel magical again. I like the gentle magic of Drimwickery. It touches on something we all experience in our lives.

As mentioned in my review of Father Christmas And Me, I think Matt Haig and Chris Mould are a strong partnership. The Girl Who Saved Christmas confirmed this. I particularly love the selfie-style illustrations of animals – the reindeer and Amelia’s black cat Captain Soot. It’s lovely to see a middle-grade book with memorable illustrations. This has happened in the past. Narnia would be different without Pauline Baynes, for example, and Dahl without Blake. The fashion changed, and illustrations were largely left out of Middle Grade books. I’m pleased to see them make a comeback. At times I read the illustrations as much as the text, and it was a joyous experience.  

I can’t wait to read book one. A book from Matt Haig looks set to become a Christmas tradition, and I can tell you, it beats Seasonal Dr Who.

Thanks to the lovely people at Canongate who sent a copy in exchange for honest review.

 

 

 

Chat · Q & A

2018 Deubt Author Sophie Anderson – Christmas Cracker Q&A

The House With Chicken Legs is a 2018 debut I am particularly excited about. Inspired by the myth of Baba Yaga, it is set in a house with chicken legs and a mind of it’s own. Everything about it sounds magical. You can read more about why I’m so excited in my Waiting On Wednesday post, where I flagged the book up as one to watch out for. Author Sophie Anderson kindly agreed to tell me about her dream Christmas cracker. Read about the book, then check out her answers!

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About the Book: 

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…

Available from Usborne Publishing

April 2018bird

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Christmas Cracker Q&A:

If you could create a cracker… Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?  Miniature books! ‘My Miniature Library’ by Daniela Terrazzini contains thirty tiny books to create; including fairy tales, nonsense rhymes, and nature guides. It looks delightful! (and perfect for anyone making home-made crackers)

 

What sort of hat would you wear? Something sparkly, made of moonbeams and magic.

 

What would you hope to see inside? Even the tiniest book contains infinite magic – so a miniature book would be enough for me!

 

Which fictional character would you pull it with? A House with Chicken Legs of course! Then I would sit on its roof and read us the story, as it danced beneath a star filled sky.

Memoir Reviews · Uncategorized

Review: Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

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Do you spend most of your time indoors? Feel unsettled when your reading time is disturbed? Would you be happy to live your life in the pages of books? All these are signs you might be a bookworm. The happy news is you’re not alone.

Lucy spent her childhood reading, aided by her Dad and chided by her Mum. Here she runs chronologically through her childhood reading, giving us information about books she remembers, reflections of reading and hilarious anecdotes about how people reacted to her book addiction.

 A warm and witty memoir, Bookworm will make you desperate to curl up with a pile of old paperbacks and read. If you needed an excuse, that is …birdMy hobbies include:

  • Reading
  • Amassing books
  • Browsing second hand bookshops
  • Talking about books with my equally bookish friend Christina over afternoon tea/bookshop shelves/Twitter as possible. 

Bookworm is a treat wrapped up in a delight. As a teenager, Lucy Mangan’s column in the Guardian weekend magazine assured me I was not the only person who would rather hide with a second-hand Puffin than socialise. I loved the recurring anecdotes about Lucy’s bookish behaviour, and about her very Northern extended family.

Bookworm works for me on three levels:

  • Discussion of favourite books
  • Memoir
  • Reflections on reading

There is no snobbery. Sometimes these memoirs feel more like a run through of the schools and libraries 100 most approved books than a reflection on genuine childhood reading. As a 9 year-old, for example, I read The Hobbit, and the first part of Lord-of-the-Rings. To say this alone exaggerates my childhood literary tastes, because yes I read Tolkien fairy early, but I went through my Sleepover Club stage the same year. Bookworm shows that young readers enjoy a range of books at different times, and that is healthy.

The memoir is well written. As well as painting a vivid picture of her family, it situates Lucy’s childhood reading in the context of the 1980s. What state was her local library service in? Her school library? Given recent cuts to libraries and school library budgets, these discussions need to be opened, and the first place to start is with how people benefited from them in the past.

Lucy’s reflections stem from her memories, but go deeper into what reading means at different times in our lifes. Reading for solace. Reading to recognise ourselves. To experience adventure, to binge on words and to think more deeply about the world. This is what non-bookworms fail to understand – reading is about so much more than holding a book.

I enjoyed Bookworm because I related to it, and for the wide selection of children’s books discussed. It is an enjoyable memoir, and I hope it will give other people the urge to amass books. 

 

Bookworm by Lucy Mangan

March 2018

Square Peg – Penguin Random House

 

Huge thanks to Square Peg for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.