Young Adult Reviews

Review: Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl

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Extract:

Time is standing still. It has become trapped inside an eighth of a second like a luna moth inside a mason jar. There is a way out, of course. There is one means by which the moth can escape and time can fly irrevocably free. Each of you must vote during the last three minutes of every wake. You must choose the single person among you who will survive.

(Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl. P31.)

birdSynopsis:

Bee hasn’t spoken to her best friends since her boyfriend’s death a year before. Now she is ready to face them. On the night she confronts them, she and her friends are in a car crash. They are transported to a Neverworld Wake – a strange dimension where pockets of time repeat themselves. A sinister man known as the keeper tells the friends that only one of them can return to life. There must be a consensus about who that person should be.

Trapped in a strange reality, Bee and her friends hash over what happened the year before as each tries to figure out ways to manipulate the Neverworld Wake.

birdReview:

Imagine The Secret History, throw in some physics and add a Hunger-Games style survival contest. That’s Neverworld Wake. If it sounds like an odd combination, just you wait. It doesn’t just work. It sucks you in and keeps hold of you until you’re on the final page.

If physics and alternate realities aren’t your thing, don’t be put off. The Neverworld mirrors the characters’ lives, so most of the locations from the real world feature in the story. Essentially the world enables the characters to move about in time and space. This allows them to solve a case which has been written off as a suicide. 

There are two major questions throughout the novel:

1.) what happened to Jim Mason – rich kid, musical genius and Bee’s boyfriend?

2.) which of the five friends will return from the Neverworld Wake?

Like Bee, the reader is not quite certain who to trust. The mystery is layered and complex. As soon as one question is answered, two more are posed. This kept me turning the pages because I wanted to reach the moment where all became apparent.

I read Marisha Pessl’s debut when I was seventeen and I remember being totally hooked. The book was not branded as YA, but I have always wondered if it would be rebranded. It is one of the novels I remember best from my teens. It kept me hooked with its mix of insanely wealthy characters and unsolved mystery.

I recommend this to readers of mystery novels and to people who like worlds which are slightly dark and edgy. I’m pleased to see Pessl working in YA and look forward to reading more of her work.

 

 

 

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Young Adult Reviews

Review: Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

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Extract:

Hard as I try, I just can’t imagine a world where the next few months working with Callie aren’t miserable. Maybe Callie isn’t the biggest bully in school, but she is not what I would call nice either. 

(Puddin’ by Julie Murphy.) 

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Synopsis:

Millie Michalchuck has spent every summer at Daisy Ranch fat camp. This year will be different. There is a job at her uncle’s gym, her secret crush and she is determined to make it to broadcast journalism camp

 Callie Reyes lives for the Shamrocks, the school dance team. She wants to get to nationals with her team and doesn’t care what she has to do to get there. Millie and Callie have nothing in common. So they think. An act of retribution brings the girls together and they find they have more in common than they thought.

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Review:

A feisty, chatty read full of friendship and attitude. Confession: I haven’t read Dumplin’. It was one of those books everybody was talking about last year, but I never got around to adding it to my pile. Puddin’ is the companion novel, but it works well as a standalone. So well that I am going to put Dumplin’ on order and I have a chart counting down to the film release. So what is the fuss all about?

The first thing I can say is Puddin’ is totally relatable. It is about finding out who our friends are and making choices for ourselves. It also challenges the American High School stereotypes. Sure, at its heart it is about a pretty girl and a smart one, but instead of making them polar-opposites it shows that both have vulnerabilities and flaws. Both girls are regularly judged on their appearance. People write Millie off because she is fat – her word – and everybody assumes Callie is stupid because she is pretty. This shared revelation brings the girls closer.

The other storyline I loved was about Millie’s friend Amanda. Amanda comes out as biromantic ace (that’s someone who is asexual but crushes on both genders.) How refreshing to see a character on the asexual spectrum beginning a relationship. Amanda explains that she knows her sexuality the same way as any straight person knows. Asexuality is the last big unknown in LGBTQA+ and huge numbers of misconceptions still exist.  It is wonderful to see this representation, and three cheers for Millie who accepts and supports her friend.

Friendship, girl-power and chasing your dreams. I have mega-love for this book and look forward to reading Dumplin’.

 

Louise Nettleton

Have you read Dumplin’? Who would your dream cast be for the film? Let me know in the comments below.

Guest Post

Blog Tour: Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers

Mirror Magic author Claire Fayers 

Mirror Magic is a middle grace fantasy about a world which is like ours, and yet unlike ours. It is about a girl called Ava who shares a connection with a Fair Folk boy. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour, and to welcome author Claire Fayers to my blog. 

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If William the Conqueror had Magic

Claire Fayers

Mirror Magic imagines a world exactly like our own but with one big difference – magic exists. Fairy mirrors connect us to the Unworld where the Fair Folk have promised to provide magical goods and services to anyone who asks.

The story starts in 1842, when most mirrors have stopped working and only one small town on the border of Wales and England still has access to the Unworld. The Wyse Weekly Mirror (expertly designed by Jess at Macmillan Children’s Books) gives an insight into daily happenings in the last town of magic.

But what of other time periods?

What would newspapers look like if, for example William the Conqueror had magic (and newspapers).

 

William the Conjuror Sets Sights on England

Inhabitants of southern England are today being urged to remain calm amid rumours that William, Duke of Normandy, is planning an invasion of the Kent coast.

Normandy is well known for its enchanted apples and it is feared that Duke William has singled out Kent as suitable land for an extension of his vast orchards.

Williams denies this. “The people of Normandy have a great fondness for Kent,” he said, speaking from his castle. “Many of us enjoy visiting in the summer months.”

Many French people have indeed been seen in Kent, measuring fields and complaining about the quality of the local cider.” Tourists or invaders? King Harold of England has so far declined to comment except to say he is aware of the situation.

 

Stamford Bridge Army ‘An Illusion’

The Norman army camped near Stamford Bridge in the north of England has proved to be a fairy illusion.

The deception was discovered too late for King Harold who had already marched all his forces north to meet the threat.

Meanwhile, a large number of tourists have arrived on the south coast from France and set up camp outside Hastings. “We are definitely not an army,” said William of Normandy, polishing his armour.

 

Harold Defeated at Hastings

Harold is dead. Long live King William of England.

After a fierce battle of arms and magic, King Harold has been defeated at Hastings. Harold, who was tricked into taking his army north, conjured a fairy road to travel back, but the journey exhausted his men and by the time they reached the Norman invaders, they were relying on magical energy potions.

Because of this, Harold insisted on keeping his magic mirror with him in the thick of battle. This proved his undoing when a stray arrow pierced the glass and Harold lost control of the Unworld. Witnesses report thick mist flowing from the broken mirror across the field of battle, turning the grass foul shades of orange and purple. Harold led a final, desperate charge at William’s mirror, but the Norman archers were ready and the king died under a hail of arrows.

 

Huge thanks to Claire Fayers for your wonderful post and to Karen Bultiauw for organising the blog tour. Mirror Magic is available from 14th June.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers

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Extract:

‘…Mirrors are usually passed down from father to son, but they don’t have to be. It is said that the original conjurors had some fairy blood in them, which was why they could use the mirrors, and that ability runs through families.’ 

(Mirror Magic by Claire Fayers. P29.)

birdSynopsis:

Wyse is the only town left in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld. Ava and her brother Matthew are forced to return to Wyse following the death of their father. The once magical town is no longer so magical, and it is under the control of Lord Skinner. What does Lord Skinner want? Why is he so interested in Ava Harcourt?

Ava looks into a magical mirror and meets Howell, who lives in Unwyse in the magical Unworld. Howell is the only one of the Fair Folk without magic. It seems he is doomed to a life of drudgery until the sinister Mr Bones takes a special interest in him.

What is the connection between Lord Skinner and Mr Bones? Ava and Howell race to discover the truth and save the magic which connects the two worlds.

bird

Review:

An enchanting middle-grade fantasy. I love the setting: 1852, a town on the border between England and Wales, which happens to be the last place in Britain with a connection to the magical Unworld. I loved that premise that reflections are something more than what we see in the mirror. That conjurors can bring magical mirrors to life and use them to communicate with the Unworld.

There are several mysteries set up early on in the story: what happened that Ava’s father cut ties with the magical world? Is the mark on Ava’s face really left over from measles? Why have the magical mirrors stopped working? Who is Mr Bones and why does he want The Book? The answers are all connected in a way which is not immediately apparent, and I love how the story affects people on both sides of the mirror.

The world building is sublime. From fairy-tat gift shops to the mirror station, it feels as if Claire Fayers has visited her world rather than invented it. I loved how the magical setting fitted neatly in with British history. Some people reckon The Industrial Revolution killed the need for magic, for example, and magic is developing alongside industrial progress.

The book of magic which Ava and Howell must protect has a mind of its own. It can see into the future. Words appear on its pages, sometimes warning the characters of imminent danger, at other times spouting about novels which have not yet been written or events which will happen in 60 years. It is a witty, snarky book. Excerpts from the book appear at the head of each chapter, and I imagine they will cause young readers great hilarity.

I enjoyed this story very much. It is a must for fans of James Nicol and Abi Elphinstone. A real gem.

 

Thanks to Karen Bultiauw and Macmillain Children’s Books for my copy of Mirror Magic. Opinions my own.

Uncategorized

Review: Kat Wolfe Investigates

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Extract:

Kat put down her smoothie. ‘That’s the worst ever crime in Bluebell Bay – A stolen pumpkin?’ 

‘It wasn’t just any pumpkin,’ said Margot defensively. ‘It was a County Fair prize-winning, record-breaking pumpkin.’ 

(Kat Wolfe Investigates, P71, Lauren St John.) 

 

birdSynopsis:

Strange things are happening in Bluebell Bay. 

Following a break-in at their London flat, Kat Wolfe and her mother move to Bluebell Bay on the Jurrasic Coast. Kat’s Mum takes a position as the local vet, Kat gets the pet of her dreams and she is able to set-up as a pet sitter in return for some pocket money. Best of all, Bluebell Bay is supposedly crime-free. Nothing has happened since the theft of a prize pumpkin.

Then a local man and parrot owner Ramon disappears. Kat reckons something terrible has happened but only ‘incorrigible’ Harper Lamb takes her seriously. Their investigations bring them to the attention of several people, including Kat’s estranged Grandfather, the Minister Of Defence. 

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Review:

Kat Wolfe starts a new series from the wonderful Lauren St John. I have enjoyed her books for a number of years. Like Enid Blyton, Lauren St John matches young detectives with animal companions to memorable settings. Her stories always come to a rewarding conclusion. She is my go-to for a middle-grade mystery binge-fest. 

Kat Wolfe has all the winning qualities of the earlier books. Kat Wolfe and Harper Lamb make a fearless female team, and a cast of supporting characters has been established. I particularly loved Edith, the grudgingly-retired librarian, and Kat’s grandfather Lord Dirk Hamilton-Crosse.

I enjoyed the case of the missing parrot-owner. What appears to be a straightforward mystery turns into something deeper and more complex. Apparently disparate events come together into something huge. Without any spoilers, I loved the answer. It is topical and thought-provoking. Lauren St John’s novels always teach me something about the world. 

Animals play a big part in the book. There is Tiny, who is half Savannah-cat, a horse called Charming Outlaw, Bailey the parrot, Toby the dog, Hero the rescue cat and Eva the capuchin. As a cat-whisperer and lover of animals, I loved the messages about respect for animal friends. Lauren St John’s books more than any other recognise the difference between treating animals as pets and respecting pets as animals. Kat allows Tiny to come to her, she knows Charming Outlaw is frisky because he needs lots of exercise and she liberates Bailey from his cage. Over and over we see Kat respecting the animals as living creatures and I want to give this a double thumbs-up. 

If you’re looking for a solid mystery story, look no further. I look forward to further adventures from Wolfe and Lamb. 

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Blog Tour: Four things I liked about The Adventures Of Eric The Spider

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Eric is scary, he’s hairy and he is a whole load of fun.

The Adventures Of Eric The Spider is a self-published picture book which follows Eric through three short, rhyming adventures. The first story introduces Eric, the second sees him go camping where he is forced to confront the great outdoors, and the final story follows him on his birthday. 

Here are some of the things I like about the book:

  • The illustrations are bold, bright and full of character. I particularly like the spiders. The illustrator has clearly spent time observing how spiders move. 
  • I like spiders. As a kid, I often felt like the odd one out, and I also felt bewildered by other people’s reactions to harmless critters. This story puts the reader on Eric’s side. I hope it will help some young readers to respect spiders for what they are. 
  • Eric gets into some humorous predicaments. Spiders are much smaller than humans, so there is scope for situations which would not be possible with a human character. 
  • The short sections offer high reward to less confident readers.

 

Thanks to Faye Rogers PR for my copy of The Adventures Of Eric The Spider. Opinions my own.

Disney

Disney: Favourite Villain Songs

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Think of your favourite Disney songs and odds are at least one of them is a villain song. Disney are brilliant at exploring the darker side of human experience. Most of the songs here are as equally about the protagonist’s temptations as they are about the villain. A good villain song should be catchy, it should tap into the dissastisfaction most of us feel at some point and it should give us a clue about how the story is going to pan out. The songs I’ve chosen, without fail, tell us about the villain’s agenda. I love the music, the animation and how they reveal more about the characters. 

Here are my five favourite Disney villain songs.

 

  • Poor Unfortunate Souls

Sea Witch Ursula agrees to give mermaid Ariel legs so she can live ashore with her prince. End of the story? It’s only the beginning. Poor Unfortunate Souls is where Ursula reveals the catch. Ariel must give up her voice and get true love’s kiss within three days, or forfeit her soul to Ursula for all eternity. This is one of the best Disney villain songs. It is totally relatable – who hasn’t felt they will waste away if they don’t achieve their greatest desires? The more Ursula insists her service is practically sainthood, the more obvious is becomes she knows exactly what she is doing. She is the archetypal snake-oil merchant, profiting from other people’s misery.

 

  • Be Prepared

Scar plans to overthrow his brother King Mufasa and murder his young nephew Simba. He raises an army of hyenas, promising they will never go hungry if they help with his plan. In this song he incites the hyenas into actions. It is pretty dark as Disney goes, not least because it shows how a political leader can rouse the masses into action. Scar doesn’t respect his hyena army – he openly insults them – but he knows they are integral to his campaign.

 

  • Friends On The Other Side

The theme of the song is very similar to Poor Unfortunate Souls. Prince Naveen believes his problems will be solved by money and connections. He wants to marry a rich girl. Dr Facilier offers Naveen a transformation, but the outcome isn’t quite what he expected. Instead of making him wealthy, Facilier and his demonic friends turn Naveen into a frog.

While trippy animation introduces us to the demonic friends, Dr Facilier’s voice remains steady. He manipulates Naveen in the same easy way Ursula manipulates Ariel.

 

  • We Are Siamese

A pair of cats cause trouble and are only prevented from disturbing a baby by puppy Lady. This song is the epitome of understatement. The cats sing about their finer qualities in the same breath as they plan trouble. Their refined manners act as a perfect mask. When Lady chases the cats away from the baby, the cats pretend to be victims and Lady is sent out in disgrace.

 

  • Mother Knows Best

Rapunzel wants to leave the tower. Mother sings a nursey-rhyme style song about all the terrible things which might happen outside the tower. This is another relatable song – every young person is forced to confront the fact that their parents can’t solve everything. The song shows us what happens if we don’t get past those feelings. Mother is loving and protective to an extent which is creepy. The sickly-sweet tune contrasts with clips which make mother look totally spooky. 

 

Do you have a favourite Disney villain song? Any characters without an anthem who totally need one? Let me know in the comments below.