waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Boy With One Name

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Twelve-year-old Jones is an orphan, training as an apprentice hunter alongside his mentor, Maitland, tackling ogres, trolls and all manner of cr51zdbuofu8l-_uy250_eatures that live in the Badlands – a hidden part of our own world, and which most people think exist only in fairytales and nightmares. But all Jones secretly wants to be is an ordinary boy and to leave the magical world forever…
When an ogre hunt goes wrong and Maitland is killed, Jones finally has a chance to find out where he came from. But the truth he uncovers isn’t what he’s expecting and it seems that if Jones is going to make his dream come true he’ll have to defeat a creature not even Maitland had dared take on and he won’t be able to do it alone…
 
He’s going to need help from Ruby, the first girl he’s ever met. She’s outspoken, fearless and determined to prove she’s as good as any boy, and unlike Jones, being ordinary is the last thing on her mind. Ruby’s desperate to find her place in the world and thinks the Badlands could be it. So, working together isn’t going to be straightforward. In fact, it could be downright dangerous.
 
But who said getting what you want is supposed to easy, even if it is just wanting to be ordinary?

 

Why I can’t wait:

  • Shaddowlands of any type thrill me. The Boy with One Name builds on a tradition of worlds-alongside-our-world. I loved Ned’s Circus of Marvels, with its aggressive fairy folk, and The Beginning Woods, where imagination belonged to a different world. Odds are, Jones has a connection to the Badlands which qualifies him alone for the task at hand.

 

  • ‘prove she’s as good as any boy’. Queue exploration of gender equality. I hope this is explored through Ruby’s character development.

 

  • Why did Maitland not dare to take this creature on? Is the creature ferocious, or did some past event deter him?

 

  • I enjoyed Wallis’s YA novel, The Dark Inside. The connection between the neglected protagonist and Webster, a homeless man who claims to be cursed, reminded me of David Almond’s work. Middle Grade adventure is where it is happening, and I am interested to read Wallis’s take on the genre.

 

 

The Boy With One Name

Simon and Schuster Children’s UK

August 2017

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top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday – 20.06.2017

My soul in ten books.

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is ‘series I’ve been meaning to start but haven’t’. Having written about books left on my shelves a fortnight ago, I decided to turn the theme on its head, and write about books I have revisited so often, their pages have crumbled to tissue. You may have realised, I initially skim-read, and thought the them was ‘books I have been meaning to start’. Huge apologies … except, I loved putting this list together. 

Initially, I decided to set a criteria that I must first have read the book in childhood. For the purpose of the post, ‘childhood’ meant under 18. This wasn’t such a challenge. At 27, that included 2/3 of my life. It didn’t merit cutting out the other third. I lowered the bar to eleven, and something interesting happened.

I answered the question in a heartbeat. My bookish soul emerged. If my house turned to pixie dust overnight, these are the books I would buy the next morning.

Given the extent of their readership, I discounted Harry Potter, Narnia and His Dark Materials. A hundred similar lists include all three, and it gets repetitive. Many of these authors are as well known as Rowling, but you didn’t know I would include these books before you started reading. 

These are books I own in multiple editions. Books I have paid out of my nose for in a beautiful binding. Books I have traipsed across town to buy. Instead of giving you micro-reviews, I will tell you about these gestures of love.

 

 

 

1.) Song for a Dark Queen by Rosemary Sutcliff –  kept tabs on the copy in the local library for a childhood, hoping I would find it in a clear out. Traipsed across London in my early 20s to acquire. 

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2.) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burrnett – chose special edition, illustarted by Lauren Child. 

3.) Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh – ‘Til three Queens save a princely cat‘. Own multiple editions. Paid silly money for a first edition on my 18th birthday. This gesture was supposed to mark the start of adulthood, and new found finances to collect rare books … 

4.) Charm School by Anne Fine – shared with children’s book group when I worked as a bookseller. They loved it as much I do. 

5.) Lady Daisy by Dick King-Smith – aside from thumbing on a near-annual basis, I have not made any gestures of love towards this old favourite. As a child, it sent me into a porcelain doll phase. These dolls were disappointing. None of them came to life. 

6.) Charlotte Sometimes – do not believe anybody who tells you there are two endings. The ending seems to vary with every edition.

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7.) The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and  Nicola Bayley – formed a presentation around this for an interview. 

8.) The Naming of William Rutherford by Linda Kempton – a small publisher did a reprint, but changed the dates in the book. This was apparently to be ‘with the times’, but it did not fit. Families in the noughties were less likely to eat breakfast over a newspaper, and there was no explanation as to why Tom didn’t find the crucial piece of information on Google. I found an older copy in Hay-on-Wye. 

9.) Skellig by David Almond – in September 2016, I did a three day writing course with David Almond. On the last afternoon, he signed my books. Meeting an author helps you connect with their work in a whole new way. 

10.) The Fantastic Flying Journey by Gerald Durrell – began by childhood tradition of buying the class book, because I could not wait to find out what happened next. Last year, I found an older copy in a charity shop. I couldn’t leave it. 

 

Have you read any of these books? Tell me about ridiculous and beautiful gestures you have made towards your favourite books!

If you would like to know more about these books, check back on Friday. This post has inspired me to start a Flashback Friday series.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Letters to the Lighthouse by Emma Carroll

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Extract: 

Emerging from an alley-way was a man I did not recognise. He was tall, with slicked-back hair, wearing a mackintosh belted tightly around his middle. He looked wet through, like he’d waded through a river to get here. Sukie went right up to him and shook his hand. I stopped in the middle of the street, confused. 

What was she doing

They were talking now. It didn’t look like a normal chat about the weather either, because their heads were close together and the man kept glancing behind him. He gave Sukie a piece of paper, before taking her hand and squeezing it in both of his. 

Was she out here searching for us then? It didn’t look that way. 

All I knew was she’d left us in a hurry, and this was where she’d gone – not to the toilet or the tube station, but to meet a young. It was probably why she’d got glammed up in the first place. I didn’t know whether to laugh or burst into tears.

‘Sukie!’ I yelled.

She spun around. A strange shadow flitted over her face. As the young man shrank back into the shadows, Sukie hobbled towards me, shaking her head. 

Synopsis: 

Olive cannot accept her father might have died in the war. ‘Missing in action’ means ‘missing’. With the Second World War rife in Europe, plenty of people have become separated from their families. With her mother stressed, and a little brother to look after, Olive does not know where she would be without her big sister Sukie. Sukie is the pretty one, the life and soul of the party, and she always knows what to do.     

Except Sukie is up to something. On the night of the air raid, Olive sees Sukie take a piece of paper from a stranger. Then the bomb explodes.

Olive wakes up in hospital. Sukie disappeared in the blast. Mum doesn’t seem to think Sukie is dead, but she won’t explain why. Olive and Cliff are evacuated to Devon, alongside irascible Esther Jenkins. Something is afoot in Budmouth Point, and the coded message Sukie took the night of the blast appears to link her to this sleepy village in Devon.

Olive wants the truth. She wants to find her sister. She wants to know why Esther Jenkins hasn’t got a nice word to say.

 

Review:

Budmouth is a place of small-town politics. You can live there nearly all your life and still be an incomer. It is a place where people can’t mind their own business – usually a minor annoyance, but as Olive is constantly warned, in times of War, careless talk costs lives. It makes an excellent setting for a story which deals with prejudice, and for secretive missions. Whatever is going on, the stakes are always there. The likelihood is, your business will be found out.

I love the characters. Carroll uses description sparingly. Each character represents a trait – Cliff, the playful child.  Queenie, in her oversized jumpers and spectacles, is industrious, and refuses to be feminine. The buildings in Budmouth are described the same way. By the end of the novel, they feel as much like characters as Budmouth’s human population. My favourite is the lighthouse, which works as a metaphor for lost people searching for light and shelter.

The main theme is prejudice and displacement. The discussion about people forced from their homes is as relevant today as it was during WW2, when the story is set. The themes come out of the story in manageable chunks. For the most part, the story is a young girl’s search for the truth. The situation is always there under the surface.

Carroll captures beautifully a child’s perspective of the war. There is never a time she is not aware something terribly wrong is going on, but she unravels it at her own pace. This reminded me of something Morpurgo said in April, when he spoke in conjunction with Seven Stories. He talked about how children now are exposed to vastly more information than children during the Second World War. Truth, lies and opinion are a click away. Olive’s information about the Holocaust comes in drips, starting with a newsreel at the cinema. It is easy for adults to gloss over what is happening, especially with soundbites about ‘careless talk’ at their disposal.

Olive’s relationship with Esther is both a subplot and key to the Olive’s character development. Throughout the novel, from Esther to Queenie to Ephraim the lighthouse keeper, Olive learns that you may not know the secrets a person is carrying.

This may be my favourite of Carroll’s novels. Given how much I love In Darkling Wood, with its enchanted wood, that takes saying. She is the Penelope Lively of our time. Her work is rooted in history. As with Lively’s work, Carroll’s interest in the past comes out differently in each of her works. Her work is versatile, but always well-constructed. By the end of each novel, I feel a part of its world … or perhaps those worlds feel like a little part of me? Roll on The Lost Boy.

 

 

 

Chat

Chat – how’s that book ban going?

How is that book ban going? After two false starts, I put my debit card into my mum’s care.

Let’s clarify. Mum won’t stop me buying books. She won’t give or deny permission. I’m too old. The point of giving Mum my card is to put a step between myself and the ridiculous ease with which I can buy books. (NB. Quite often, details are registered online. My solution is still effective. The card is shining-new. I don’t know the security details.)  ‘Fessing up to the fact I’m buying another books puts me off big-time. For the next four weeks, book buying will not be my guilty secret.  

Ten days on, (‘I am a bookworm. It has been ten days since my last purchase’) I’m thriving. I’m thinking of extending the ban. I’m actually enjoying it.

There are books I want to buy, oh yes. There will always be books. Instead of buying on impulse, I have time to filter those books through my mind and learn which I want most. Currently, I’m craving are Quest and Odyssey. Companion books, Quest is aimed at the Middle Grade audience, Odyssey at YA. They contain short stories from the ‘Arhus 39’- 39 of the best emerging writers for young people from across Europe. These are the books I will buy at midnight, the day the ban breaks. What’s not to love?

You know what? Half those books I can’t live without … I still can’t live without. I’m a bookworm, for heaven’s sake. Books are my sustenance. However, I can wait for them. Buy them in smaller quantities. If one book makes a feast, it may be I don’t need to buy them by the armful.  

libraryLive in Cumbria? Did you know you have access to books from across the county? I’ve still got a bee in my bonnet about the proportion of YA to adult fiction at my local library. Instead of running to Waterstones, I took time to explore the library’s online catalogue.  I took out Dancing the Bear by Mini Thebo and Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean, (yep, the new one. Published this month.)

I realised how many amazing books I have on my shelves, (see ten books I must read, the Top Ten Tuesday post which triggered the book-buying ban.) I’m reading an e-book ahead of my first blog tour, and working through the Carnegie list. Here’s to the forthcoming reviews. Now I’ve stopped chasing book after book, I have so much to say about books I already own.

 

Have you ever instated a book ban? Did you take drastic measures to stick to it, or do you have self-restraint? (Teach me!) Were there any positive outcomes, or did your bookshop loyalty card burn a hole in your pocket? Chat below – I would love to hear your experiences!

 

 

 

 

 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – 14.06.2017

Synopsis (from Goodreads) – 

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska and The Hunger Games

35154365It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

Why I can’t wait: 

  • The Hunger Games is quoted as a precursor – I expect exploration of social inequality, a theme which has been popular in recent YA.
  • The hunted will fight back. How? Will they play the game? Subvert it? Introduce rules of their own? I want also to know why, or more specifically ‘at what point’? What provokes the ‘misfits’ into fighting back?
  • Take a theme and ramp it up. Them’s the rules. Misfits? Popularity structures? Imagine if the misfits were hunted … I love exploration of theme through OTT circumstances. 

 

August 2017

Hot Key Books

Carnegie Medal 2017

Review – Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce

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Extract:

– Wow, you really did make it work!

‘I am the Sputnik.’ 

Annabel’s friend swiped at her with her plastic lightsaber. Annabel parried. The friend’s lightsaber exploded in a thick black cloud of stinking smoke. Melted plastic dripped down the handle. The friend squealed with delight. Annabel squealed with even more delight. 

– Oh! Hang on, this could be really dangerous.

‘Yes, it ccould!’ Sputnik said with a smile, as thought really dangerous was the best thing a birthday party could ever be. ‘They’ll remember this for a long time.’ 

(Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce. P37.) 

 

Synopsis: 

Prez is spending his summer with the Blythes – a rambunctious family who allow children in Temporary Accommodation to spend summer on their farm. Prez misses his Grandad, who started forgetting things, like whether it might be a good time to show somebody a kitchen knife. Prez is afraid he will remain a ‘temporary’ child. He finds it difficult to use his voice.

One night, Prez opens the door to Sputnik. Prez thinks Sputnik is a boisterous young boy from another planet. Everybody else thinks Sputnik is a dog.

Chaos ensues. Sputnik’s mission is to write a guidebook selling the attractions of earth to beings from outer space. Otherwise Earth might just be destroyed. Nothing personal – there’s just no space for a boring planet.  Chaotic adventure follows chaotic adventure. Hadrian’s wall is rebuilt, the remote control starts working on things other than the telly and a toy light-saber becomes deadly in the hands of a small child.  Every adventure leads Prez closer to the future, and his unknown fate …

 

Review: 

Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth is the book on the Carnegie list which kids – masses of kids – will love. Cottrell Boyce, like Walliams or Jacquline Wilson, is a brand. Like Walliams and Wilson, Cotttrell Boyce writes well, and writes for his audience. While Sputnik deals with some deep issues, it has a lightness of touch which is absent across the shortlist. Only Reeve comes close.

Prez’s emotions come through before we are told of his circumstances. He refers to members of the Blythe family in a detached way, (‘the mum’ ‘the dad’.) It is clear he is afraid to get too close, afraid they will be gone before he knows them better.

Cottrell Boyce knows his audience. There is plenty of toilet humour, but underpinning this is a solid understanding of the concerns of childhood. Why are the wonders of the world all ruins? What would happen if you rewound a chicken – would you end up with a chicken or an egg? When we talk about ‘the concerns of childhood’, we so often mean the things adults fear children will be anxious about. Sputnik is attuned to the tone of playground chatter.  

The theme of dementia is not hammered into the audience. Over the course of the novel, a picture is built of the circumstances which lead to Prez being taken into care. When Prez returns to the flat in which he and Grandad lived, we learn about the routines he built up in an attempt to keep both their heads above water.  

 Did I enjoy the story? I’m intrigued to see how it fares. The list seems skewed towards books beloved of adult readers of Kid-Lit. (CILIP have given Beck a content warning, with an advisory age of 16+. Is that children’s fiction?) If the prize considers the intended audience, Sputnik is up there with the best.