Monthly Wrap Up · TBR

May Wrap-Up and June TBR

Books I have read:


The Stars at Oktober Bend – Glenda Millard

Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie Sue Hitchcock

Maresi – Maria Turtschaninoff

Like Other Girls – Claire Hennessy

Spellslinger – Sebastian de Castell

The Dreamsnatcher and The Shadow Keeper (rereads) – Abi Elphinstone

One Silver Summer – Rachel Hickman

Evie’s Ghost – Helen Peters


Carnegie List – 3/8 

The books have been so varied. The Stars at Oktober Bend is my winner-so-far. It is also the most literary of the three. What do I even mean by literary? Beloved of people with an interest in textual analysis, perhaps. If I had to chose an all-rounder, it would be Wolf Hollow. The story zips along, but it has beautiful sentences which hint at the direction the plot will take.

I have ordered the two books I was missing, and hope to finish the list in time for the announcement. This is my main target in June, which adds five books to my TBR: 

As mentioned in my Top Ten Tuesday post of 30.05.2017, I have imposed a month long book-buying ban. The dragon who guards my gold hoard is looking kind of grumpy. Something had to be done. I wish I’d had the forethought to preorder Showstopper by Hayley Barker. I love circus-settings, and I’m desperate to read this. However, I have a terrible – wonderful – habit of buying books in bulk.

Also on my TBR list – 


What was your favourite book of the month? What is on your June TBR? 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – 31.05.2017

516uqwut3il-_sx322_bo1204203200_Synopsis: An exciting subterranean London adventure, the first in a middle-grade trilogy. Hyacinth Hayward has recently arrived from America and is having difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings, especially being in the sole company of her eccentric mother. Everything feels strange. Very strange. And it gets stranger the day she accidentally unleashes the power of a secret river running through London. To prevent a second Great Fire, Hyacinth needs to retrieve a single, magically charged drop of water from somewhere in the city sewer system. Along the way she encounters an eclectic cast of characters – the shambling, monstrous Saltpetre Men who kidnap her mother, the Toshers who battle for control of magical artefacts and a giant pig with whom she has a tea party. The clock is ticking – will she figure out who to trust? (From Walker Books Website.) 


  • The stakes are high. Do not take the official death toll from the Great Fire of London seriously – as this letter to the Guardian points out, the lives of many poor Londoners were never recorded, let alone their deaths. We’re talking obliteration here. If that isn’t bad enough, her mother has been kidnapped. How will Hyacinth cope with such pressure?


  • Although this has a modern-day setting, it sounds Wonderlandish in terms of its characters. Tea parties with giant pigs, and the delightfully named ‘Toshers’. It sounds Frances Hardinge-esqe in terms of its population. I hope, as in Hardinge’s work, this world and its eclectic demographic will come with BACKSTORY.


  • I’m a Londoner – I grew up and lived in London for 26 years. Where adult fiction often dwells (most boringly, in my opinion,) on the-state-of-the-capital, children’s fiction tends to be more adventurous with London’s streets. One consequence of this, which delights the Londoner in me, is more attention is paid to specific areas of London. If you’ve spent any time in the capital, you’ll know one street feels different to the next. (disclaimer in the interest of balance – Jamarach’s Menagerie does this well. Interestingly, it is a coming-of-age novel. I would recommend it to older teens.)


  • I’m all about Middle Grade Adventure trilogies. Some of my favouite kid-lit of recent years falls under that heading: from Thirteen Treasures to The Dreamsnatcher, to The Last Wild and now The Huntress. I’m always open for another MG adventure trilogy, and look forward to reading.


The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein

June 2017

Walker Books UK



Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Thank you for hosting.

top ten tuesday

Ten Books I Absolutely Must Read From My Shelves Before I Buy a SINGLE Book.


Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week, bloggers make a list on a related theme. I decided to take part for the first time this week, and found the theme was ‘most anticipated reads for the rest of 2017’.  Sticking to it would have been like staring at a chocolate eclair while on a diet, because I’ve just announced a four week book-buying ban. Why? It’s basically a case of reader-I-did-it-again. 

‘Shall I buy one book or nine?’ says I. Guess which answer won out. Much as I love books, the small pile of gold I keep guarded by dragon cannot take it. 

This week, I have made a list of ten books on my shelves I ABSOLUTELY MUST read before I buy another book. Let’s see how far into June it lasts.

Have you ever imposed a book ban? Did you stick to it? (More to the point, how?) Let me know in the comments below. 


Yep … I’m guilty of buying in bulk. 


Carnegie Medal 2017 · Young Adult Reviews

Review – The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard


Carnegie List 3/8


(Manny’s narration) I had never heard of pansies. Flowers do not grow where landmines are buried. I studied the picture on the packet and those flowers reminded me of the faces I saw in my dreams. They had big frightened eyes and no mouths. I dropped the paper on the seat and picked up my singlet. I needed to run again. That was the feeling I had inside me when I thought of the faces. But, before I ran, I saw that there was handwriting on the back of the packet. That is what stopped me from running. 


my desire is

to be understood

my soul is filled 

with songbirds

but when I open my mouth to 

set them free 

they sh*t 

on my lips. 


(The Stars at Oktober Bend, Glenda Millard. P32.) 



Alice Nightingale is ‘forever 12’. She searches inside herself and out for the truth about what happened the night she went counted the stars at Oktober Bend. Words don’t come easily when she speaks, but when she writes they give flight to her thoughts. Thoughts about the mother who left, and the father who died, and the grandfather in prison.

Manny James has memories inside him he would rather forget. Memories of his little sister, and life in Sierra Leone. He finds a poem and connects it to the red-haired girl who stands under the stars and throws her poems to the world. Manny wants to learn more about Alice, but he must contend with the prejudices of people who think the Nightingales are nothing but trouble.

Together, they search for the truth about themselves beyond their circumstances. 



Don’t be fooled by those short sentences – the use of language in The Stars at Oktober Bend is genius. Alice’s voice is superficially childish. She suffers from ‘theasurus syndrome’ – misuse of long words where a short one would do – and repeatedly uses words and phrases she has read in the family Bible. It soon becomes apparent that Alice has a gift for observation, and for crafting apposite metaphors. Alice also has a gift for poetry, and the book is worth reading for Alice’s poems alone. Read carefully – every poem contains a line or an image which tells you something you haven’t yet learnt in the text.

Alice is searching for the truth about what happened on a night when she was 12. The reader gathers clues with her – from her beautiful language, and from the revelations of other characters. This reminds me of stream of consciousness in Modernist literature, where thoughts occur as they would in real life. She questions whether she will, as the doctors say, be ‘forever twelve’. This is interesting in itself – Alice is caught on the cusp of adolescence, the cusp of abstract thought. When Alice meets Manny, she questions to what extent she will be able to enter a relationship.

While Alice searches for answers, the present day is not forgotten. There is Alice’s emerging relationship with Manny, the behaviour of a couple of local boys and their threats towards Alice’s brother Joey, and Manny himself. There is also the question of Gram’s bad lungs, and how much longer the Nightingales can hide away from the world.

   Alice has acquired brain injury. I am sometimes wary of novels which deal with health conditions. There has been discussion about this within the YA Twitter community. There is nothing worse than a novel which invites people to sob over a person coming to terms with their health condition. This is not equal representation. The tone of The Stars at Oktober Bend is spot-on. Alice is a character, not an information leaflet. In terms of Alice’s brain injury and seizures, the reader is told only what the need to know for the plot. Alice’s development as a character is not about her health condition, but her relationship with herself and the world. This does not mean the brain injury plays no part. It means it is one aspect of Alice’s life. It does not define Alice.

Not only does Alice have difficulties with her health, she faces prejudice from the outside world. Millard portrayed this beautifully, from the man who tries to underpay her for her work to the ballet teacher who insists Alice’s seizures ‘disrupt’ the lessons.  

I loved how Alice and Manny had similar development, despite having opposite problems. Alice wants to remember; Manny want to forget. Generally, the book looks at how the world responds to people who ‘with issues’ – be it poverty, bereavement, abuse or anything else you can dream of. The resounding message was we are people regardless of what has happened to us, and this, I think, makes the book both important and memorable.


Old Barn Books

Page Count: 266


Have you read a book in written in poetry or unconventional prose? Did it affect your reading of the story?


Young Adult Reviews

Review – Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff



We were all quiet for a while.

“They say the ground where the men where standing ran red with blood.” I glanced over at Jai. She was ghostly pale but calm. “The rocks which did not roll into the ocean became the foundation of the outer wall.” 

“Where did the giant women come from? The sisters were in knowledge house, weren’t they?”

“I don’t know, Heo. Maybe they were summoned by the island itself. Maybe the First Sisters were capable of more than we know. It happened too long ago to know for sure.”

Heo and Ismi scampered down the path, shouting that they were giant women made of moonlight. Jai looked at me with a grave expression.

“Do you think the birds would still wake us? If somebody came?”



The Red Abbey – an all-female community and haven for women from the oppression of patriarchal society. Maresi has lived at the island since her sister starved to death during the Hunger Winter. Most novices in the abbey’s community are apprenticed to one of the sisters before Maresi’s age. Maresi is left behind. She is drawn to the work of Sister O, and the treasure trove of knowledge held in the abbey scrolls.

Written as a testament, Maresi records the events of the previous year: Jai arrives on the island to escape her abusive and murderous father. Like the founding sisters Maresi reads about in the scrolls, the Abbey community is forced to protect itself. Will they be offered protection from the Abbey’s Goddess? Will the island come to their defence, as it did for the first Sisters centuries before?



Maresi is short, but it has such an impact you remember sometimes less really is more. The Abbey protects both the girls who live within its walls, and the scrolls which contain generations of knowledge. For me the suspense lay in this more than in Jai’s storyline. If something needs protection, it is necessarily under threat. The story reads as a record of one incident in the Abbey’s history. The threat to the Abbey from patriarchal society is a many-headed monster. Jai’s storyline concludes, but the values of the Abbey are still under threat.

The religion at the centre of Abbey life plays a huge role in Maresi’s development. The Sisters of the Abbey have roles which personify different aspects of the religion, and different buildings in the abbey are dedicated to these various roles. I love this. It makes the religion into something concrete, which makes it easier to visualise. It also plays a part in the feminist narrative. The Sisters’ roles represent different aspects of a woman’s personality. There are nurturing roles, industrious roles and there is the Rose, a priestess-like figure who represents seductivity. Then there is Sister O, who keeps the key to the library scrolls.

Initially, I thought these were stereotypes of the female personality, but this is where Maresi’s development became crucial to my reading of the narrative. Essentially, Maresi learns that affinity is not the be all and end all when making life choices.

A lot of what we learn about Maresi is in relation to different possible futures. Might she oversee the Novices, or become the Mother herself? Would she or her friend make a better Rose? Is it possible, when she hears the Crone’s voice, the Maresi might die before she finds her calling? The moments which are about life on the island and the socialisation between the novices allow the different aspects of Maresi’s character to be seen together. This is where we see her as a person more than as a Novice.

Maresi forms part of a trilogy, the second book of which I am eager to read ASAP. I am hungry for more than three books. The second book takes place centuries before Maresi. Using the idea of the abbey scrolls, I wonder if the series could go beyond three novels. However, where longer series can run out of steam, trilogies often keep their momentum. A memorable read.

Pushkin Press

Page Count: 251


series crackdown

Series Crackdown Details and TBR


Series crackdown begins this weekend. Hosted by The Bookmoo, it encourages readers to finish a those series on their selves which have been gathering dust. Stretching over ten daysleepingspinners, it seemed like a generous time span to make a push with a couple of series from my shelves.

My initial idea was to head into a six-book series which has been on my shelves for years. However, in my TBR for this month I chose to finish Abi Elphinstone’s trilogy, and continue Melinda Sailsbury’s trilogy with The Sleeping Prince and The Scarecrow Queen. These are not books I’ve had for YEARS, but books I expected to read in a day which have sat for a couple of months. Instead of pushing these books back further, when I want to read them so much, I am going to finish them for Series Crackdown. 

As I want to finish the Carnegie list over the next couple of weeks, three books is enough to participate, without throwing my Carnegie read-through off-course. 


Have you got a series languishing on your shelves? What are you reading for Series Crackdown?


WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday – 24.05.2017

Thanks to Sam for hosting this meme at Taking on a World of Words. This is the first time I have participated. The idea is to answer three questions – What am I currently reading, What did I reccently finish reading and What might I read next? 


Current Read: The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard

jacket_4From Carnegie Website – Alice is fifteen, with hair as red as fire and skin as pale as bone, but something inside her is broken. She has a brain injury, the result of an assault. Manny was once a child soldier. He is sixteen and has lost all his family. When Manny first sees Alice, she is sitting on the rusty roof of her river house, looking like a carving on an old-fashioned ship, sailing through the stars. He has a poem in his pocket and he knows the words by heart. And he is sure that girl has written them. When Manny and Alice meet they find the beginnings of love and healing.

I have only read the first pages. The idea of Alice imitating Biblical poetry reminded me of David Almond’s Billy Dean, who learns language instinctively and is likened to Bede. Although the language in my current read has hooked me, my initial thought was how dark children’s literature can be. In eight or twelve pages, I encountered abuse, abandonment and murder. This was made more poignant by the narration – Alice understands what she is saying, but has difficulty putting her thoughts into words. Superficially, her language sounds naïve, but when you go back over the words and think about what she has said, it hits you full-force. I think the narratorial voices may be the strength of the novel, and am eager to read on.

Next read: ?

There are so many books I might read next. I intend to read the Carnegie list before the winner is announced. The winner is announced mid-June, so with six books still to read, I am short on time. Both Salt to the Open Sea and The Bone Sparrow focus on the plight of refugees. The former is set in 1945, the latter in the modern day.

Series Crackdown kicks off this weekend – this is a ten day readathon hosted by The Bookmoo, which encourages people to read an unfinished series from their bookshelves. Having read Maresi over the weekend, I still have the last book in Abi Elphinstone’s trilogy. However, this will not take long to read, so hardly seems like taking part. If I am up for more of a challenge, I have John Maresden’s six book series. This starts with Tomorrow, when the War Began, which follows a group of teenagers who from a resistance group when the rest of their town is taken hostage at the start of a war. Their agricultural knowledge and familiarity with the land helps them survive and remain hidden.


Book I have just finished: Maresi by Maria97817826909171-e1443623670369 Turtschaninoff

The Red Abbey offers shelter to girls from patriarchal societies. Girls are educated, then chose whether to return – empowered- to their former homes, or remain as an apprentice to one of the Sisters. The novel is written as a first person account, as if the reader has found one of the abbey scrolls. Maresi records the events of the previous summer, which began when Jai arrived on the island, hoping to escape her abusive father. The story rolled along, and I loved how deeply Turtschaninoff had thought in forming the religion which is at the centre of abbey life. Check back for my review tomorrow. 

Have you read any of these novels? What are you reading next? Please comment below – I look forward to seeing your thoughts.

Carnegie Medal 2017 · Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk


CILIP Carnegie 2017 – 2/9


When I was smaller, I asked my grandfather how Wolf Hollow got its name.

‘They used to dig deep pits there, for catching wolves,’ he said. 

He was one of eight of us who lived together in the farmhouse that had been in our family for a hundred years, three generations tucked together under one roof after the Depression had tightened the whole country’s belt and made out farm the best of all places to live. Now, with a second world war raging, lots of people grew victory gardens to help feed themselves, but our whole farm was a giant victory garden that my grandfather had spent his whole life tending. 

He was a serious man who always told me the truth, which I didn’t want but sometimes asked for anyway. When I asked him how Wolf Hollow got its name, for instance, he told me, even though I was only eight at the time. 



Wolf Hollow – named for the pit where wolves were trapped and shot for fear they would pick off the chickens. The place where Annabelle’s family farm the land, where Toby has roamed the hills since the last war. Toby, who carries three guns on his back but only shoots with his camera.

In the autumn of 1943, Betty Glengarry arrives and Annabelle learns how to lie. Betty is a bully, and Annabelle does not know who to tell. What she does know is Toby is watching the situation from the hills.

Then something serious happens, and fingers point at Toby. Like Scout Finch before her, Annabelle is determined to see justice …



I read this over 24 hours, cover to cover. The character, pace and descriptive writing kept me hooked. In terms of plot, it is like To Kill a Mockingbird, but the metaphor of the wolf pit brings the main character to a different conclusion.

Annabelle is a captivating character. Perceptive about the effect her actions might have on other people, there are also times when she fails to understand why somebody might be different from herself. The novel is narrated by a much older Annabelle. I like how this enables her to reflect on her younger self. She realises, for example, that as a child she did not have a word to describe the difference between her young self and Betty Glengarry. I would like to see a bit more to Betty – I don’t believe all characters need to be ‘rounded’, but we only saw young Annabelle’s perception of Betty as a bully, with some brief discussion of how her Grandparents have blinkers about their grandchild. I would love young Annabelle to learn *something* which makes her think about Betty from a different angle.

The judgement of Betty Glengarry as something dangerous – something which belongs in the wolf pit – seems at odds with the overriding message against prejudice, when we know so little about her background. This may be part of the book’s complexity. Annabelle is faced with contradictory revelations about life: for example, she learns to tell the truth, but finds that lies are sometimes necessary.

Annabelle’s extended family have different views on the situation, which allows her to see the problem from different perspectives. Aunt Lilly also becomes a figurehead for the prejudice exhibited by a large number of characters. This works nicely – it allows us to see how somebody’s view might be formed, what might influence it, and the ways it might change.

The writing is beautiful. Five very shiny stars for pace and suspense – the sentences flow into each other, with regular snippets of information to grab your attention and keep your mind firmly on the story. The descriptive writing is both beautiful and telling – from the girl who is not as beautiful as her name sounds, to the snake which retains the tread of the person who squashed it. Read the description carefully – it tells you where the story is heading.

Corgi (Penguin Random House)

Page Count: 291

Nb. My proof copy came to me second-hand. Many thanks to the person who put it into my hands.


Carnegie Medal 2017 · Young Adult Reviews

Review – The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock


CILIP Carnegie 2017 Shortlist – 1/8


I’ve realised over time that houses with moms in them do tend to smell better. If I close my eyes, I can just barely remember my mother’s wildflowers in their whiskey bottles. The very distant scent of my parents lingers in my brain, as they laugh and twirl around the kitchen. Deer blood on my father’s hands tinges all my memories of them – their skin, their hair, their clothes. They smell too much of love.

I don’t say any of this to Ray, who still has two parents and a house that smells like store-brought everything. I don’t want to scare him away.



Fairbanks, Alaska, 1970.

Ruth and her sister have lived with their abrasive Grandmother since the death of their parents. Now Ruth wants to escape, and she’s found a boy whose house smells of cedar to distract herself from her life of poverty and Catholicism.

Forced to face the consequences of their relationship, Ruth is sent away from Fairbanks to a place connected with her family’s past.

Ruth’s story is given prominence, but three other stories are interwoven with hers. There is Dora, who would rather disappear than return to her family in Fairbanks. Alyce, who has the chance to leave but won’t take it. Then there is Hank, running away from a life elsewhere.

The four stories offer multiple perspectives on teenage life in this wild and far-flung place.



Ever visited another person’s house and noticed instantly how different it seems to yours? That is what the title relates to – that and, as far I could tell, not judging people by the first impressions. A house which smells of fresh cedar may not contain cedar within.

Bonnie Sue Hitchcock’s sentences are beautiful. The sort of beautiful you want to write in fancy ink and stick on your wall. The sort of beautiful you experience with multiple senses.  She sets her story in time and place by use of descriptive writing and regular references to contemporary detail. At times I wished I knew more about the North American references, but realised they anchored the story in time the same way Joanna Cannon used Garibaldis and Are You Being Served to bring 1970s Suburban Britain to life in The Trouble With Goats and Sheep.

The narrative reads like four interwoven short stories. They are set in the same place, over the same time period, but I was waiting for a moment of shared action and epiphany which did not come. The four narrators come together over the last pages, but any development has happened before this moment. Although the four narrators do not come together until the end, one meets another at various points. Instead of sharing one story, they work their way into each-other’s. This offers the reader multiple perspectives on the four main characters, and on some of the secondary characters.

My favourite character is Dora – she comes across as level-headed, yet she has a hang-up about one of the other characters. Her situation is serious – her parents are alcoholics, and her father has a track record for violence. Dora has been taken in by another family in Fairbanks, but is afraid she will have to go back to her father. I would root for Alyce if I read her story separately, but interwoven with Dora’s, Alyce and her ballet try-outs seem trivial, especially because Alyce is less likeable.

There is an interview with Bonnie Sue Hitchcock after the narrative – please, publishers, can we see this more often? The narrative did begin life as a series of short stories, with a larger number of character. This did not surprise me. It reminds me of Alice Munro and Sara Taylor – it certainly deserves an award for literary merit, but in terms of the Carnegie? If you’re looking for action, you might find the novel slow-going, which brings back the age-old discussion of what makes a ‘good’ children’s book – action VS literary merit. As this is the first of the short-listed books I have read, it would be unfair to say whether I think it should win, but my advice if you find it slow-going? Stick with it. It’s beautiful, and defies the conventional structure we see so often in YA.  I suggest reading in one or two sittings, so you can hold the narrator’s voices and stories in your head.


What do you think? To what extent is ‘literary merit’ about a novel’s form? 


Page Count: 254 

Faber and Faber





waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – 17.05.2017


Seek the scattered Storm-Opals of Sea, Sky and Land, before an enemy finds them and uses them to wield dark power . . .

The trail of the Storm-Opals takes Mouse further than she has ever been before. With her little brother Sparrow and friend Crow alongside her, she stumbles into the world of Sky, where fortresses are hidden amongst the clouds, secret libraries (skybraries) nestle atop gigantic icebergs and the sky swirls with warring tribes and their ferocious flying beasts. Can they solve Da’s message before it’s too late for their ship, their tribe and the whole of Trianukka?

Sky-soaring, beast-chattering, dream-dancing, draggle-riding, terrodyl-flying, world-saving adventure. 


Why I can’t wait:


  • Haven’t you read The Huntress: Sea??! I loved the world. It mixed whales and merwraiths, mad monks and tribal magic, and made a believeable, readable world. Driver seems to ENJOY the words she works with. I loved all the sea-related metaphors and idioms, to the point where I started making up my own for the joy of it. I’ve got my fingers crossed for some sky-related language.


  • Mouse developed so much across the course of Sea. Without spoiling the ending, she starts off desperate to be a leader like her grandmother, but not mad-keen on responsibility. I want to find out how further adventure changes and develops her character.


  • Everything Mouse’s tribe has worked for is still in peril … and I care. I care about this world, divided so rigidly into tribes. I care about the ship, which I totally want to build from Lego, and the relationship between Mouse and her little brother. I want to know how different the world will look at the end of the trilogy …


The Huntress: Sky by Sarah Driver

September 2017





Waiting on Wednesday is a meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Thank you for hosting.