Young Adult Reviews

Review: Storm Wake by Lucy Christopher

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Extract:

‘The flowers work!’ he said. ‘I don’t know how, but they …’ the wind caught his words as he spun and spun, ‘ … they make things change, make things beautiful that were swirling-dark before.’ 

(Storm Wake by Lucy Christopher. P23.) birdSynopsis:

Moss has lived on the island with Pa and Cal for as long as she can remember. Pa says the island is a safe place. A place of stories and dreams. He says the rest of the world vanished during a flood, and that the island is the only place to have survived.

 When something strange is swept up during a storm, Moss is forced to question what she knows about herself and the island.  A lyrical reworking of The Tempest which will hold you in its dream.
bird

Review:

When the twist comes, it hits you with the force of a tempest.

The first part of the story swept me into the same dream as Moss and Pa. Everything was hazy. Peaceful. It was almost possible to believe that Moss and Pa were safe and well on their beautiful island. Except that’s not how stories work. When you are disabused of this notion, you are disabused well and hard. The island no longer looks like such a paradise.

At the end of The Tempest, dream fades into reality. Lucy Christopher has reworked this idea to give it additional depth. The story hinges around Pa, a counterpart to Prospero. Pa is manipulative, but he is also vulnerable. Desperate. Loving. As Moss reaches adolescence, she is no longer content to listen to Pa’s stories. Many young readers will relate to the moment of discovering that their guardians do not hold the definitive answers.

The second half of the book is about internal conflict. It is a battle of wills, and a story of discovery. 

The writing held my attention as much as the plot. The words themselves are lyrical. Storm and Cal use unusual phrases, such as storm-woke, which reflect their isolated upbringing on the island. I was also held by the description. I could imagine the world with all my senses – the crashing of the waves and the heady scent of flowers.

A dreamy book which will make you rethink escape and isolation.

 

Louise Nettleton

Do you have a favourite retelling? Have you read The Tempest? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thanks to Chicken House Books for my copy of Storm Wake. Opinions my own. 

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Book Haul

Book Haul – Early April 2018

bookhaulaprilBook Haul – Early April 2018

Christmas is a distant memory, summer holidays are a distant dream, and we’re in a transition stage where the spring-summer 2018 books are starting to hit our doorsteps. 

I’m looking forward to some fluffy summer love stories, to stories of beaches and islands and adventures on the sea. 

Being a book blogger, I am exceptionally lucky to receive books in exchange for review. I am grateful for every book which comes through the door, as it enables me to share a wider range of children’s fiction with my lovely readers. One massive thank you to everyone who has sent me book post. 

Here are the books I have received in the past couple of weeks. I hope to share as many of these as possible in full reviews, so check back if you see anything which grabs your interest. 

[No books bought or otherwise received since NYA Fest. Which you’ve heard all about.]

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The Big Book Of The Blue – Yuvval Zommer 

Thames And Hudson

img_5354Sharks and sea turtles, whales and rays. A fantastic fact-file of everything under the sea. A double-page spread is given to each of the featured species, and the information is presented as a series of fun facts. 

Yuval Zommer studied at the Royal College of Art. This is the kind of book you might find in the Tate Modern bookshop. It is visually stunning and would be useful for encouraging children to produce their own underwater art. 

A hide-and-seek game runs through the pages to entertain even the youngest reader. I can’t wait to tell you more in a full review. 

 

How To Write A Love Story – Katy Cannon

Stripes 

img_5358Tilly has always wanted to be an author like her gran, the bestselling romance novelist Bea Frost. When Gran asks Tilly to write her next romance novel, Tilly is forced to confront the fact she has never been kissed. She sets out with an action plan but finds that real life isn’t like a novel.

I love protagonists who write. Literally by Lucy Keating was a surprise favourite at the end of 2017. I hope the same combination of romance and writing will make HTWaLS a big hit. This is top of my fluffy-summer-novel pile.

That’s a mega-compliment. 

 

The Company Of Eight – Harriet Whitehorn

Stripes

img_5294-1The Circus Ship has set sail, taking with it Cass’s dream of becoming an acrobat. Desperate for adventure, she jumps on board another boat and follows the Circus Ship to sea. This leads towards danger she could not predict. 

Regular blog readers know I love fiction set in the circus. Circus school, circus train … now a circus ship. This sounds like the perfect adventure and is written by the talented author of the Violet series. 

 

The Electrical Venus – Julie Mayhew 

Hot Key Books

img_5335-1After struggling to earn her keep in a traveling show, Mim is pushed to the top of the bill as The Electrical Venus. Men queue up to buy one of her electrifying kisses. Mim wants to know whether her love will ever be worth more than a penny.

Another book set in the show industry, this one for a YA audience. The feminist themes sound fantastic, and I imagine this will be a lyrical story.

Julie Mayhew is the author of The Big Lie, a fantastic speculative story with a F/F relationship lived in secret under the far right. It was a favourite of mine in 2015, and I am excited that Mayhew is still exploring feminist themes.

The Wondrous Dinosaurium – John Condon and Steve Brown

Maverick Arts Publishing 

img_5296Danny wants a new pet. He doesn’t want any old boring pet, like a cat or a dog or a goldfish. Danny wants a dinosaur. What follows is a trip … or two … two the Dinosaurium, a bucket-load of havoc and a spectacularly cute cameo from a tortoise. 

Maverick Arts Publishing publishes bright and upbeat picture books which are accessible to very youngest readers. They are also enjoyable for the adults reading alongside their child. The Wondrous Dinosaurium is no exception.

Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo – Alice Hemming and Kathryn Durst

Maverick Arts Publishing

Class 4X have a reputation. They are unruly, disobedient, and frankly unteachable. Past teachers have run away screaming, and there is no reason to suppose the new supply teacher will be any different. Except Mrs Ogg is different. Very different. Her first proposal is to take 4X to the zoo. What she fails to mention is this is no ordinary zoo

It is lovely to have some fiction for a younger middle-grade audience. Judging by the illustrations, this is going to be fantastically funny. 

 

Puddin’ – Julie Murphy 

Harper 360 (UK)

img_5293-1Mille has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. This year, she plans to skip fat camp and get closer to her crush. Callie Reyes is popular, but when it comes to friendship, she is more frenemy than friend. Circumstances bring the two girls together, and they are surprised to find they have more in common than they believed. 

Companion to the bestselling Dumplin’, this is a story of unexpected friendship and chasing your dreams. 

Dumplin’ was big on the blogging scene when I started out last year. Somehow I never got around to it, but with the film due this summer, I wanted to get on board. I’m expecting wicked humour, romance, and a big heart. 

 

Big thanks to all the named publishers for sending books for review. 

Have you got anything interesting on your TBR? Anything here you would like to read? Ask me questions, or join in the chat below. 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Colour Of The Sun by David Almond

wowcolourofthesunbannerSynopsis (from Hodder Children’s Books):

“The day is long, the world is wide, you’re young and free.”

51w0hs8achl-_ac_us218_One hot summer morning, Davie steps boldly out of his front door. The world he enters is very familiar – the little Tyneside town that has always been his home – but as the day passes, it becomes ever more mysterious.

A boy has been killed, and Davie thinks he might know who is responsible. He turns away from the gossip and excitement and sets off roaming towards the sunlit hills above the town.

As the day goes on, the real and the imaginary start to merge, and Davie knows that neither he nor his world will ever be the same again.bird

Why I can’t wait to read The Colour Of The Sun:

– Gangs and routines and friendships. I want to know Davie’s connection to the murdered boy, and what there is to learn about this boy’s life. David Almond is brilliant at setting up convincing links between children. 

– The real and the imaginary start to merge – I have read a couple of stories where the protagonist loses their grip on reality, but I am interested to know whether this is a straight psychological thriller. Is there some commentary on the nature of reality and imagination?

-The story takes place in a single day. This reminds me of modernist works such as Mrs Dalloway. I am interested to see how the story pans out in such a short time-scale.

-Almond has written about the same region in many of his novels, but it looks slightly different each time. Real meets imaginary, always to great effect. I love books which are set in a distinct geographical region. It is great to see different places reflected in fiction. 

– A new novel from David Almond is a treat. He is one of the greatest authors working today. He shows a deep love for the craft of storytelling. 

 

The Colour Of The Sun by David Almond

Hodder Children’s Books

May 2018

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

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Extract:

‘Yes, that’s a Royal Beast,’ Joeun murmured. ‘I’ve seen them in the capital … but I never thought I would see one in the wild. They’re very rare, and I’ve heard their numbers are declining because they only bear one offspring at a time. Yet for some reason the ones raised under the care of the Yojeh never bear young.’

(The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi. P 114.) birdSynopsis:

A young woman’s bond with nature puts her in danger of becoming a political pawn.

Elin’s mother cares for the Toda, the fearsome serpents which form the core of the kingdom’s army. When some of the Toda die, Elin’s mother is sentenced to death. With her last breath she commands the Toda to take her daughter to safety.

Elin is adopted by a bee-keeper and later takes up a place at Kazalumu sanctuary where she studies to become a beast doctor. She soon learns that she is able to communicate with the majestic flying beasts known as the Royal Beasts, the only creatures able to fight off the Toda.

A plot on the queen’s life centres around the Toda. When Elin’s powers are discovered, she becomes pawn at the centre of a centuries-old game.

birdReview:

Is it right to bond with an animal if that bond could put them in the centre of political turmoil? An extraordinary fantasy which examines human capacity for dominance. This was one of the best novels I have read. It is a must-read for fans of His Dark Materials and the Fantastic Beasts franchise.

The Beast Player takes place over the course of ten years, from the time Elin sees her mother murdered to the point where she is a young woman. This time-scale works because a large part of the book takes place when Elin is fourteen-years-old. Although it is a huge time-frame for one novel, it felt realistic to me that political unrest would build over years rather than months.

Elin is an interesting protagonist. She is strongminded, but unlike many recent YA protagonists, her strength is not self-destructive or external. She knows her own mind and strives always to protect the beasts with which she has formed a bond. She isn’t afraid to contradict others. I was pleased to see this in a female protagonist. Girls are criticised more readily than boys for speaking out, and I was pleased to see a character who doesn’t back down when her ideas are challenged.

The political battle is superficially about royalty and state, but beneath the surface there is corruption and deceit on all sides. The story makes commentary on human nature, recurring political patterns and our place among other living beings. The scope of these themes is phenomenal, yet it was never anything but a strong story.

This is storytelling at its best. Memorable characters and settings are used to make a huge statement about life. It is the kind of book which defies age boundaries. It deserves a place on every bookshelf.  

 

Huge thanks to Pushkin Press for my copy of The Beast Player. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews

Review: Not My Hats! by Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley

notmyhatsbannerimg_5313

Hettie the polar bear loves hats. She hat tall hats, small hats and any size at all hats. Hettie will never, ever share her hats. When Puffin comes along in search of a hat, Hettie remains firm, until she discovers Puffin might have something to share in return. 

A story of friendship and sharing. 

img_5316Issues of sharing will be familiar to parents of small children. The lovely thing about Not My Hats! is although it has a clear message, it never comes across as preachy. The story is made funnier by Hettie’s facial expressions, from her anger at the thought of sharing to her sudden interest in Puffin’s scarves. Everything about her is exaggerated. It is impossible not to love her, even when she is being a diva. 

The rhyme-scheme is fantastic. Children will soon join in as the words and the rhythm become familiar. I can see this being popular with infants school teachers. It would be a great resource for teaching phonics, particularly because it is not written for this purpose so does not feel in any way forced. 

I love how the muted pastel backgrounds are changed for primary colours when Hettie feels a particularly strong emotion. 

The illustrations are clear and simple, with a focus on the main characters and Hettie’s img_5315hats. There is minimal distraction from the main story. The pictures are bright and full of character, and I love the recurring fish motif. 

A delightful story, perfect for fans of Oh No George! and Oi! Frog! Be warned – this is one has an addictive rhythm, and you might be asked to read it three times in a row. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Maverick Arts Publishing for my copy of Not My Hats! Opinions my own.

Q & A · Q and A/Author Interview

Q&A: Author Meaghan McIssac

MeaghanMcIssac bannerimg_5130

A door to the future has been opened 

Movers have the ability to pull people from the future into the present day. Time travel is not only possible, it terrifies the authorities. Regular readers might remember that I reviewed Movers a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by the relevance of certain themes to the present day, and enjoyed the complex world McIssac has created.

Time travel, morals and strong female characters. There was so much I wanted to ask McIssac, and I am thrilled to be able to share her answers with you. 

Welcome Meaghan McIsssac, and many thanks for your time.  bird

Movers is set in world where people from the future at trying to immigrate to the past. It also features an organisation who are vehemently opposed to this movement. To what extent was this inspired by current events? Why did you decide to explore this through Sci-Fi?

I hadn’t really been considering any specific current event when I set out to write Movers over five years ago now. The idea actually came from something I’d read from Stephen Hawking who said that one of the most compelling reasons for Time Travel not existing is that,  if it did, we would be inundated with immigrants from the future. What a wild thought. What would that world look like? How would people now react to people from tomorrow? How would the government handle it? And the world took shape from there. I’ve definitely been struck by how applicable Movers has become to events unfolding in the news every night since then. So while I didn’t necessarily set out to comment on any current events, I think it’s great that people are able to engage with Movers, and Sci-fi as a whole, to help navigate  and make sense of important discussions surrounding those events . Sci-fi may take us to new worlds, but it also reflects the one around us. And I think that’s what makes it so captivating.

 

Pat’s mother is a movement advocate. Other parents in the story are against movement. How can fiction help young readers to shape their own political views?

I’m definitely not looking to shape anyone’s “political views” but I do think fiction can have an impact on a young reader’s moral compass and view of the world. Through Sci-fi, and all fiction, really, young readers are confronted with big questions and extreme dilemmas, but let’s face it, life is filled with these things too, and young people are forced to confront big questions by virtue of the world we live in today. Heck, I’m thirty and still figuring out my place! My hope is that fiction and story can provide an exciting and safe space to engage those questions, to sort out their feelings and reflect on thoughts and ideas that they hadn’t considered.

 

Were there any challenges to writing time-travel?

Oh gosh, yes. Paradoxes, paradoxes, paradoxes. Time travel is one big tangled hairball of paradoxes. Think of Terminator — ‘Wait, if John Conner’s dad goes back in time to save his mom so that John Connor can be born, but his dad can only be his dad if John Connor is born in the first place to send him back in time, what comes first? What?… No wait…What?” This is ALL YOU THINK ABOUT in a time travel story. Not John Connor, no, but problems like these. If this plus this equals that, but this can only exist if that exists too…Oh goodness. The brain melts. So trying to patch up these tricky problems is a BIG challenge and requires a lot of organization. I am not the best at organization. I spent a lot of time doodling diagrams and moving skittles across my desk to try and get the answers I needed. Also lots of problem-solving sessions with friends and family and editors helped immensely. Time travel is a tricky beast, but it’s also a lot of fun.

 

How did you plan a novel set in the future?

Again, a lot of doodles. To be honest, I went into the time travel part of it a little naive. It wasn’t until I was revising that I realized how much planning would have helped avoid the paradox problems. So for book 2, which takes place both in the past and the future, I had multiple diagrams in my notebook of timelines with plot points marked on each one. I can’t recommend timelines enough. They change as the story develops, asking you to redraw them again and again, but they are so worth it for keeping the story organized.

 

Your female characters include intelligent Gabby and strong Rani. How did you make them into fully-rounded characters?  

I don’t do anything special for my female characters vs. my male characters. I just try to write convincing people — their fears, desires, their secrets and they just grow as the story unfolds. Writing is such a crazy process, because you make up these people and you think they are exactly who you want them to be, but it doesn’t take long for characters to take on a life of their own. Before you know it, they are saying and doing things you never planned for them to do. It’s kind of spooky, but exciting. Gabby and Rani came together the same way Pat did, the same way Roth and Leonard did — I set them free in my brain and they started saying and doing things that were totally them. It’s the best part of crafting a story, watching your characters become who they are!

 

Huge thanks to Meaghan McIssac for your time, and to Harriet Dunlea at Andersen Press for arranging this opportunity.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Steven

TEOOObannerimg_5334

Extract:

…his gaze is fixed so intently on me that he barely notices. Then he smiles this weird, bashful smile I’ve never seen before. Smiles. Danny. I mean, really. 

(The Exact Opposite Of Okay by Laura Steven. P19.) birdSynopsis:

Eighteen year-old Izzy is an aspiring comedian and writer. She doesn’t know how to take her next steps in life, only that her best friends and her grandmother will be at her side. There is no money, but Izzy doesn’t think life is so bad.

Then pictures of Izzy are leaked on to the internet. Pictures which show exactly what happened between her and a politician’s son. At the same time, Izzy’s friend Danny is getting stranger. He keeps buying her gifts, and he can’t accept that she doesn’t want a relationship. 

Who has set up the website? With her best friend Ajita at her side, Izzy tries to find out who is behind the website. It is not okay. It is The Exact Opposite Of Okay. 

birdReview:

The fact that behaviour isn’t criminal doesn’t mean it is acceptable. The Exact Opposite Of Okay challenges the beloved narrative that says good guys get the girl. The book also challenges the double-standards for men and women. Women are far more likely to be shamed for kissing someone and deciding not to date them than men.

You know those people with immense capacity for judging others? The I’ll-throw-the-first-stone-for-the-good-of-everyone-else types? They can destroy lives. The Exact Opposite Of Okay is the story of what happens when a girl is shamed for kissing more than one guy. Something which might have caused a bit of friction between two or three people is blown out of proportion into a national sensation. 

The story looks beyond the website’s creators to those who condone its existence. Her school board don’t want to be the first to speak out on her behalf. A politician thinks his son’s chances at Harvard might be spoiled if he takes equal responsibility. Izzy’s friend Danny can’t take no for an answer. Other kids in the school are happy to gossip and laugh. I was pleased to see this big-picture approach. Society’s beliefs stem from individual actions, and if we want a society in which women are equal, we must all take responsibility.

Laura Steven is clearly a strong observer of real life. The friendships feel real and raw. Friendships in YA can feel more like caricatures (think Mean girls VS nerds, and BFFs.) The Exact Opposite Of Okay shows relationships which are as complex – life comes between friendships, and issues constantly have to be resolved.

What makes this a total joy is Izzy’s narration. She’s witty, clever and isn’t ready to take the world lying down. She is shameless because she is fed up of seeing girls shamed and I love her to pieces. Laura Steven is one to watch out for. Her writing is raw and witty and right up to date in terms of language and trends. Read it, shout about it and join in the conversation.