Middle Grade Reviews

Review – Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk



I looked at my arms. They were the same colour Osh made by mixing purple and yellow, blue and orange, red and green. 

I wondered what people on those other islands looked like. Maybe I was a real islander after all. Just not an Elizabeth islander. Except I was here, on the Elizabeths, regardless of where else I might belong.

‘Lots of people here come from other places, right?’ I said. 

‘What, here? Penikese? I just told you they did Crow.’ 

‘I didn’t mean just here,’ I said. 

(Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk. P63.) 



Crow lives with Osh. She supposes they both had other names once, but Osh is the name she has always called him, and Crow is the name he chose when she swept up on the sea. Crow wants to know who she was before Osh. Who put a baby in a boat, and trusted the waves to take that baby to a safer home? Her only clues are the ring which Osh found alongside her, and letter. Most of its words are smudged.

Most people on the Elizabeth Islands won’t come near Crow, in case she comes from the leprosy colony which used to be on Penikese. It seems as good a place as any for Crow to start her search. Crow’s not the only person taking interest in Penikese. Why does that strange man keep visiting the island, and why is he carrying a shovel?

There’s more than one secret buried on Penikese. 



The world is beautifully described and the characters are well introduced. Osh has secrets he wants to forget. Crow has a past she wants to learn. Miss Maggie is the third important character. I love Miss Maggie. She’s so patient with Osh, who accepts her presence but closes himself to her friendship and affections. A sub-plot is also set up: Captain Kidd hid some of his treasure in the Elizabeth Islands.

There is a point in every novel where the plot ‘bites’. It is possible to reel in huge amounts of information from the set-up. At the point where there plot bit, Crow decided to search Penikese for information about babies born on the island, and the villain’s interest in the island became apparent.

I loved Wolf Hollow. I read it in a sitting. Regardless, I had one major issue with the story. An issue serious enough for me to discount it as my possible favourite for the Carnegie. Betty was brilliantly constructed, but the message disturbed me. ‘Some people are bad through and through’? It’s a small step between this and throwing stones. Beyond the Bright Sea isn’t so damning of its villain, but nor is it particularly interested in his character. SPOILER:  I expected the villain to be linked to the main plot, the story of Crow’s birth. Instead, he is only part of the subplot. His intentions aren’t particularly relevant. He’s a greedy guy, and not a very nice one.

The best thing about the novel was the relationships between Crow, Osh and Miss Maggie. Wherever they’ve come from, they’ve found their family. Osh will fight for his right to live quietly on the islands. Wolk is brilliant at one line summaries. A sentence or two which ties up an event, and makes comment on a wider issue. My favourite is the observation about who people who aren’t willing to touch a door-knob opened by Crow – who doesn’t have leprosy, but might have been born on Penikese – are willing to dig up the island once they stand to gain from it.  It is these observations which will stick with me, alongside the island setting.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday – The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Towns

Synopsis (from GoodReads) –

61xijy9q4blMorrigan Crow is cursed. Having been born on Eventide, the unluckiest day for any child to be born, she’s blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks–and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on her eleventh birthday.

But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.

It’s then that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city’s most prestigious organization: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart–an extraordinary talent that Morrigan insists she does not have. To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests–or she’ll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate


Why I can’t wait to read The Trials of Morrigan Crow:

  • Morrigan Crow is blamed for all Misfortune. This reminds me of Peg O’Nell, the ghost said to haunts Waddow Hall in Lancashire, (no idea whether anybody told the Girl Guide Association when they took the property over.) Having listened to songs about Peg O’Nell, it will be lovely to read a book which thinks about what it might be like to be the person blamed for all misfortune, and what sort of trouble might come of it.


  • It’s folksy. This is a continuation of my first thought. It is lovely to see more books which either draw on folk legend, or have a folksy atmosphere. Previous authors who have done this well include Alan Garner, Marcus Sedgwick and Michelle Harrison. 


  • The Wundrous Society trials set a specific objective. If Morrigan Crow fails, she will have to go back and confront her fears. I have a hunch that Morrigan will learn something about herself in Nevermoor which she will take back to her old life. I am intrigued about Morrigan’s connection to Nevermoor. Is there a past connection she is unaware of?


  • Nevermoor and The Wundrous Society remind me of the quirky worlds of Sibeal Pounder. I like it when a magical world isn’t what we typically expect of magic. The front cover of the US edition shows people floating beneath umbrellas. I have a feeling the world will be a quirky, original take on magic.


  • The book has been sold in multiple regions, everybody’s talking about it on Twitter, and it looks set to be all round wonderful. What can I say? I’m excited. 



The Trials of Morrigan Crow

October 2017

Orion Publishing (UK)

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver



I read once that you get déjà vu when the two halves of your brain process things are different speed: the right hand half a few second before the left, or vice versa. Science is probably my worst subject, so I didn’t understand the whole article, but that would explain the weird double feeling it leaves you with, like the whole world is splitting in half – or you are.  

That’s the way I feel, at least: like there’s a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which. 

The thing about déjà vu is it has always passed really quickly – thiry seconds, a minute at most. 

But this doesn’t pass.

Everything is the same: Eileen Cho squealing over her roses in first period and Samara Phillips leaning over and crooning, ‘he must really love you.’ I pass the same people in the halls at the same time. Aaron Stern spills his coffee all over the hallway again, and Carol Lin starts screaming at him again.

Even her words are the same, ‘Were you dropped on your head one too many times or something?’ I have to admit it is pretty funny, even the second time around. Even when I feel like I’m crazy. Even when I feel like I could scream.

Even weirder are the little blips and wrinkles, the things that have shifted around.

(Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. P66.) 


Sam doesn’t believe in that whole ‘life flashing before your eyes’ thing. Still, if she’d known she was going to die today, she would have expected to see her triumphs. The really important stuff: all the parties, and all the times she got drunk. The moment Rob asked her out. Instead she sees Vicky Hamlin’s expression, right after everybody told her she was fat. Not what Sam would have chosen.

Then again, she didn’t choose to die in a car crash, or to relive her final day over and over.  

Every time it starts the same. The flash of white light, the falling. Then the alarm clock rings, and it’s Cupid Day again. Cupid Day is a big day at Thomas Jefferson High. The number of roses delivered to you throughout the day is a sign of your popularity. Sam’s popular. She used to be one of the unpopular kids, then she learnt how to dress, and how to stick by the right people. How to laugh at the wrong ones. She figures that’s just how it is.

Everything else about the day differs with each rewind. Sam sees different perspectives, and learns all the different places her actions could have lead. She also finds out things she didn’t see the first time, like what Juliet Sykes did after everybody turned on her at that party. Like how even Lindsay doesn’t do things for no reason at all.

A great narrative on bullying, mental health and collective responsibility.



 OK, I’m totally late to the party, but how addictive is Before I Fall? Superficially, it sounds complicated, until you realise Sam’s emotional narrative forms the structure. The genius is in the multi-faceted day. Sam’s final day changes with every retell, but every change puts a new perspective on Day 1. Every day *could* have been the first day. We’re in multi-dimensional reality territory and I love it.

The days are underpinned by recurring events – the alarm clock. A scrum for the last parking space. The delivery of a rose from childhood friend Kent. Whichever variation of the day we are in, this repetition gives the day a time frame.

Occasional italicised paragraphs interrupt the story. This make clear that Sam narrates from wherever she is suspended. When the first day sets Sam’s character up as a shallow, thoughtless and cruel, it is clear from the italicised text that she acknowledges how wrong she got that first day. She also offers a challenge to the reader: How different am I from you?

As Juliet Sykes’s story unfolds, it becomes clear Sam’s initial challenge relates to every single reader. A brilliant one-liner encapsulates the novel: ‘We are all the Hangman’. The teenagers who scream abuse at Juliet on day one didn’t make individual decisions to bully her. Sam needs to learn this. Sam spends a whole day blaming Lindsay, but it makes no difference to Juliet’s outcome. This is an important way of thinking about suicide prevention. It isn’t about one person in one moment. We are interconnected.  

Oliver’s characters are brilliantly depicted. She’s the writer who can nail down a butterfly by writing it on to the page. When I related to a character, I didn’t feel I was reading something knew; I felt Oliver was telling me to myself in ways I couldn’t have recognised. 

I loved Kent. I’m not usually such a sucker for the-boy-we’re-supposed-to-like. Kent represents the values Sam needs to rediscover. On Day One, Sam can’t understand how Kent can be happy when he’s unpopular. Slowly, she comes to terms with the idea that there’s more to life than this strange system of social judgement. When she’s ready to see Kent for who he is, and not for his social status, she finds there is a lot to like.

Treatment of Sam’s friendship group was sympathetic. I never thought I’d find myself sticking up for Queen Bees, but I was pleased their friendship wasn’t written off by the narrative. Lindsay may be a bully, but Sam doesn’t think she is any less of a person. Given the theme of collective responsibility, this was important. It was also truer to life. Too many similar narratives show the bully left behind by the reformed, without any consideration of the years of friendship behind them. 

Before I Fall is now available on Netflix. If you’ve joined the modern era and subscribed, let me know whether it lives up to expectations. Meanwhile, I’ll get hold of some more Lauren Oliver. The best thing about being late to the party? It’s in full swing. There’s a stack of books waiting to be bought.


Huge thanks to Chapter 5/Hodder Books for my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.

Cats · Chat

Caturday – Meet Maisie and Willow

Every Saturday, my Twitter feed is full of felines. Half the world puts up a picture of their cat. Why not? It’s Caturday?

Every day is Caturday in my house. We love cats. I’ve had cats since I was born. My life’s ambition is to become mad cat person. Sorry guys. Cats are just nicer than humans. What can I say?

Maise and Willow came to us in October, from Eden Animal Rescue. I would like to make Maisie and Willow more of a presence on my blog. Frankly, they help write the pieces. Maisie’s rolling about at my feet as I type. They deserve some of the credit. Today I’m going to introduce you to their personalities bookish style. Which books sum them up?


Maisie (Maisie Moomintroll, Maisius, McDaisie) : maisie

Favourite Place: curled up on a chair.

Hobbies: Sunbathing, butterfly hunting, opening cupboard doors (then hiding in said cupboard until everyone is worried sick). 

  • Six Dinner Sid – Maisie lives for her food. She sometimes patrols around her food bowl for an hour and half before tea. Maisie is also clever enough to come up with a Sid-like scheme. She would love to fed six times over.
  •  Augustus Gloop, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Is that mean? Maisie isn’t a nincompoop, but she’s definitely on the chubby side. Like Gloop, she lives for food, and not only food. Maisie is obsessed with Dreamies. For the non-feline acquainted, these are the tid-bits which come in brightly coloured packets. Maisie likes these so much, we have to buy the mega-pack. Maisie likes these so much, she parks herself in the porch when it’s clear we are going out, and refuses to go back into the house until the Dreamie bribe is offered.
  •  The Gumbie Cat (Old Possum’s) Our Lucy was also a Gumbie, so we’re well acquainted with them. Gumbies are superficially gentle, passive creatures. Don’t be fooled. If they want to train you up, they will spring into action.


Willow (Willoughby-Woo, Beanie) :willow

Favourite Place: field behind the house

Hobbies: Hunting, Hunting String, Hunting Toes. 

  • Diary of a Killer Cat – ‘for pity’s sake I’m a cat’. That’s Willow. This week we’ve had three live shrews and two dead ones. We don’t count the butterflies.
  • Jekyll and Hyde – I confess, I’ve not read the novel. Willow has a Jekyll and Hyde complex. Her killer cat ego is complimented by her sweet nature. Willow doesn’t do cuddles – she burrows. Under blankets, up your cardigan sleeve. When she is burrowing, she purrs a special squeaky purr. It becomes difficult to believe her rodent head-count.
Middle Grade Reviews

Review: School for Skylarks by Sam Angus



Great Aunt Ada’s house was so far proving most unusual, and Lyla began to look forward to telling Mop all about the things that happened in it. One thing though was a little disappointing, and that was the matter of Old Alfred the armadillo not being alive. So, because she did in fact hope there might be others, she asked, ‘Are there any live armadillos in your house, Great Aunt Ada?’

‘No … oh dear, you see there’s only Old Alfred who was a very dear companion, like Solomon – very constant, very dependable. That’s what you want: constancy and dependability. These are the things you need in those you chose to love, don’t you think? No point at all in wasting time in those who are not constant in their love for you.’

The Person Lyla loved most was Mop, so she thought about Mop, and then, though she didn’t know what to make of Aunt Ada’s words, found that they were discomfiting and somehow causing her toast to stick in her mouth a little.



Lyla hasn’t seen her father for years. Not since he left Lyla’s mother, Mop. It was all over the papers when he left Mop for another woman. Now he thinks it is acceptable to kidnap Lyla in the middle of the night, and take her to Great Aunt Ada’s. Lyla won’t stand for it.

Furlongs is a strange house. Great Aunt Ada works on her inventions, while the butler Solomon keeps things ticking along. Who would feed the stuffed armadillo without Solomon? Lyla is adamant she won’t be staying long, and devises various escape plans. She volunteers Furlongs for the war effort, but her plan goes horribly wrong. Instead of filling the house with soliders, the war office send a school full of girls.

Lyla is not only stuck at Furlongs. For the first time in her life, she interacts with girls her age and goes to school. She would like to be friends with rebellious Cat, but doesn’t know how to go about it.

Lyla refuses to read her father’s letters. She wants Mop to write, wants Mop to send the presents the other mother sends. Surely Mop won’t leave Lyla at Furlongs?



A touch Eva Ibbotson, a touch Dick King-Smith. Sam Angus’s gentle prose and eccentric characters brought tears to my eyes.

Lyla is a great protagonist. She gets things wrong. We know she’s getting things wrong, but we still root for her. Lyla is so desperate for a display of affection from her mother, it is difficult not to want a happy resolution. This kept me reading. I wanted to know how Lyla would adapt to life at Furlongs.

Great Aunt Ada is the kind of eccentric aunt who only turns up in children’s fiction. Lyla needs somewhere to stay, and conveniently there is a Great Aunt who lives in a mansion. Well … you wait until you read about Furlongs. I’m all for settings which reflect the readers’ lives, but dream worthy settings have their merits. Furlongs is heavenly, with it’s strange bedrooms and homemade fireworks. And animals! A ferret here, a horse there. Angus doesn’t run away with her setting. This isn’t nostalgia for jolly-old-Britannia. Angus uses her setting to explore themes which are relevant regardless of social background.

I love Lyla and Cat’s friendship. Cat is a great character, who proves that sometimes rebels have the right ideas. Less concerned with social appearances than her peers, Cat empathises with Lyla, and never gives up on their friendship.

Lyla’s desperation for Mop’s love is handled sensitively. Lyla’s feelings take centre-stage, but Mop’s perspective opens discussion about gender-equality. Do we expect the same of mothers as fathers? Do we judge mothers and fathers equally?

The book spans six years. This is quite a time period for a short book. One advantage is the snippets of information about World War Two which are fed into the narrative. Receiving this information alongside fictional characters gives a sense of how news might have been received at the time, and how much damage had been done to communities and countries by the time it came. Father’s letters are delightful. They made me want to search out real correspondence from soldiers – although I may invest heavily in tissues before I do so.


Have you read any of Sam Angus’s work? Which of her novels should I read next? Let me know in the comments below.




waiting on wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday: A Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Synopsis (from Bloomsbury Website)

9781408872758Valor is under arrest for the attempted murder of the crown prince. Her parents are outcasts from the royal court, her sister is banished for theft of a national treasure, and now Valor has been sentenced to life imprisonment at Demidova, a prison built from stone and ice.

But that’s exactly where she wants to be. For her sister was sent there too, and Valor embarks on an epic plan to break her out from the inside.

No one has escaped from Demidova in over three hundred years, and if Valor is to succeed she will need all of her strength, courage and love. If the plan fails, she faces a chilling fate worse than any prison …


Why I can’t wait to read A Prisoner of Ice and Snow:


  • A chilling fate? From the way this is written, it sounds like a hint. Might Valor be turned to ice? This sounds a bit like the White Witch turning people to stone. I love Narnia as much as the next person, and think The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a great book. I also want to know more about the reign of Jadis at the White Witch. LWW picks up her story at the end of her rule. There must have been so many great stories from the preceeding years which we were never told. (See – bookworms talk as if stories are real.)


  • This new wave of ice settings? We’re seeing stories planned in the wake of Frozen. The tots who twirled around in Princess Elsa dresses are now Tweens, and their ice-magic is growing up with them. Reading the opening chapter of APoIaS, we have a glittering ice palace, hot chocolate vendors and even a Queen Ana. What’s changed is the stories. The stakes are higher, the situations are more interesting.


  • I hope to see some folksy touches. Ice worlds are difficult to bring to life. The Trolls and their ancient books of magic made Frozen. The first thing everybody remembers about Narnia is the fauns and talking animals. I am interested to see what makes Lauren’s ice kingdom unique.


  • Amy of GoldenBooksGirl is on the blog tour, and she raved about this book. Amy has impeccable taste in MG fiction. I can’t wait to see what got her so excited.


A Prisoner of Ice and Snow by Ruth Lauren

Bloomsbury Fiction

September 2017


Ten Examples of Bookish Angst

Most bookworms I know are introverts. Never mistake introvert for passive. All that reading makes us (that might be the royal us) overthinkers. Even so, you would be forgiven for thinking reading is a quiet and carefree hobby. Surely there could be nothing worrying about picking up a book? Here are ten examples I know of bookish angst. Shout out if you identify. I would love to know if you think of any more.

Worry? Me?


  • I want to lend this book to you but you will ruin the spine. I’m super-guilty on this charge. I love second hand books whose spines are marked like tree-rings, but treat my books that way and you’re blacklisted. It is possible to read without wrecking the book.


  • The sequel isn’t out for nearly a year but I need to know what happens now.


  • Worrying about characters as though they are real people. This is also a sign of a great book, but it is mildly concerning that I spend my days agonising over the fate of people who don’t exist.


  • You can never own too many books, but how the heck will I store any more? My shelves are overflowing, there is no space for more shelves. This is worthy of a post itself. My friend Christina has an overstuffed divan, and I’ve seen beautiful bedside tables made of book piles.


  • How can I leave the poor darling here? Joining the bookish community has reassured me that this is not cause for concern, although it doesn’t help the situation discussed in point four. Have you ever seen an all time favourite in a charity shop and found yourself taking it home because you can’t possibly leave it? Turns out I’m not alone. The Fantastic Flying Journey and The Patchwork Cat are books I struggle to leave on charity shop shelves.


  • Why should I join in the real world? The online bookish community falls somewhere between the world of books and the ‘real’ world (a world I find decidedly unreal. All those systems are as fictional as my stories.) Anyways, overthinking aside, sometimes I am invited to partake in the ‘real’ world when I am in the middle of an all time classic. Remember those old invitation slips? There should be a box for ‘it’s very kind of you, but I’m reading’.


  • I’ll never write like Dickens/Almond/similarly prestigious authors. I am better with this one. The big secret is there is one way in which anyone can write like the biggest’n’greatest authors. Everybody who published a book started by picking up a pen. 


  • What if the film spoils it? Let’s face it. I can be a cinema trip bore. If it’s based off a book, I’ll tell you the plot while you’re queuing for popcorn, and bemoan the changes throughout the film. The only two which equal the book are The Hours and Atonement. Three cheers for original scripts like Fantastic Beasts.


  • Loyalty card woes. Loyalty cards were designed to do this. If I buy one more, I’ll get a stamp. Getting-a-stamp has dictated how much I spend on books in 2017.


  • If I walk past the charity shop, I’ll miss something good. Less relevant now I live in a village which has a Post Office twice weekly, and no other shops. In the brief period I lived in Sussex, this was my mantra. I’ve never seen such good charity shops. Not to worry – I got a lifetime’s fill, and shelf’s worth of new books.


Do you identify with any of these worries? Can you think of any more? Do share! Promise it is a secret…

Young Adult Reviews

Review – S.T.A.G.S by MA Bennett




The men stood too, while we left the room, and as we filed through the door to the drawing room I was the last, so I took my chance and grabbed his sleeve. He turned with an odd expression – pent up, excited and impatient all at once. I opened my mouth to thank him on behalf of the world’s women, realised how dumb that sounded and just couldn’t do it. Instead, I whispered, ‘Was that true? The tiger-mother thing?’ 

He frowned. ‘Of course not,’ he said. ‘My father runs a bank in Jaipur. You’re as bad as they are.’ And then I had to leave.

So now I knew. He wasn’t their friend after all. He had woven a tale to turn the guns on himself, to make himself the focus and the target, instead of Chanel. And more than that, he was locked in some strange rivalry with Henry de Wallencourt, fought from their two ends of the table. 



Greer MacDonald wins a scholarship to prestigious public school St Aidan the Great. It is a world away from comprehensive school.  At S.T.A.G.S, the teachers are called Friars, and the modern buildings have been around since the time of Henry VIII. Then there are the antlers. All around the school, there are motifs of antlers, and stories about stags.  

Nobody talks to scholarship girl Greer. It gets her down, but there are other ‘misfits’. There’s Shafeen, who dares to be Indian, and Nel, (short for Chanel.) Nel’s father has more money than half the other parents put together, but he made it by inventing a smart phone. Smart phones are out at STAGS. The Internet is for research purposes only. Most forms of technology are considered ‘Savage’. Nobody wants to be ‘Savage’. Everybody wants to be ‘Medieval’.

The Medievals run the school. They hang around in the quad at breaktimes, and bully other students during lessons. At the centre of the group is Henry de Wallencourt. Greer thinks Henry is different from the other Medievals. It’s never Henry who bullies. Besides, he’s so good looking. Greer receives an invite to the de Wallencourt country estate for the autumn break. It’s tradition – every year a group of students are invited to take part in blood sports and social events.

Greer hopes the invite is a sign she’s finally been accepted. Maybe even a chance to prove her worth, and become Medieval. She’s not prepared to listen to fellow scholarship girl Gemma, who begs her not to go…



From the opening lines, we know Greer was involved in manslaughter. MA Bennett is brilliant at keeping the reader in suspense. Greer narrates after the events. She hints at terrible things to come in the narrative. We keep reading, as we know more action is coming.

Bennett is also brilliant at suspense within a scene. My favourite moment was when Greer, Nel and Shafeen  creep around Longcross, (Henry’s stately home,)  in the middle of the night. When the silhouette of a man in a flat cap falls across the floor, we know who it belongs to, and we know the students might be in danger. We aren’t told this. We know it for ourselves. This increases the chill factor.

I love the trio of Greer, Nel and Shafeen. At the start, the three avoid each other. Each has their own motive. Greer is concerned about being ‘Medieval’. She wants to fit in with the group of popular students who eshew technology and modern day progress. Greer is afraid bonding with Nel and Shafeen might affect her chances. Most people live outside the world of STAGS and Longcross, but every secondary school has popularity groups. Anyone who has been the unpopular kid can relate to Greer. She’s so desperate to be popular, she is blind to the people who might be her friends.

Every setting is etched into my mind. STAGS is created around the emblem of the antlers, and the story of St Aiden, who helped a stag evade capture. There are stained glass windows which depict stags, and antlers etched above doors. STAGS is recognisable as a public school. Like Eton or Harrow, it’s ancient buildings are full of future leaders. A world never accessed by 99% of the population, the school is made more mysterious by its old-fashioned uniform and the strange obsession with stags.

The de Warlencourt estate also shows how upper-class life is unrecognisable to most people. There is a great moment when Greer thinks she is in the Great Hall, and learns that she is in the boot room. The de Warlencourt’s wellies enjoy better accommodation than most working-class families. The relationship between the team of servants to the family reminded me of Rebecca. Greer is politer to the servants than any of the ‘Medievals’, but like the second Mrs de Winter, her manners mark her out as somebody who doesn’t belong at Longcross.

I was ridiculously excited to find the book is set in Cumbria. The county is a wonderful setting for a conflict which begins with notions of old money and class identity. Cumbria is full of old estates. There is also tension between people who have farmed the hills for generations and people who would support rewilding. (Dare you: visit the Lake District and say George Monbiot.) The address of Longcross is given as Cumberland. Not everybody will pick up on this, but this is ‘Medieval’. Cumbria didn’t exist until the 1960s.

The ending leaves the story open to a sequel. If you’re Medieval, write the date in your diaries. If you’re Savage, set a reminder on your iPhone. Meanwhile, I’ll be rereading STAGs. Join me, and let me know what you think? I say it’s epic.


Have you read STAGs? Are you Savage or Medieval? Let me know in the comments below!

Huge thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books for my copy. This does not affect the honesty of my review.


Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell




The sun was ferociously hot, and he was still alive. Those were the first two thoughts that came to Fred as he opened his eyes. He looked down at his wristwatch, but the face was cracked and the minute hand had fallen off. 

The two girls were asleep next to him. Both of them were covered in blood and scabs, but they were breathing easily. Con had her thumb in her mouth. There was a host of dragonflies in luminous blues and reds dancing around them. He thought they might be attracted to the blood. 

But there was no sign of the little boy. 

Max was missing. 

(The Explorer by Katherine Rundell, P16 – 17.) 



Fred is sensible. A nice boy. Everybody says so. Sometimes Fred wishes people would think of something more remarkable to say. Fred would love to do something impressive, something his father would take notice of. Then Fred is in a plane which crashes over the Amazon jungle. He survives alongside three other children: Lila, her little brother Max and fearless Con.

The jungle removes all the social conventions of the modernised world. Con and Lila may be dressed in frills, but Con won’t allow Fred to act the ‘fearless man’. Con finds she is equal to Fred, once society isn’t there to tell her otherwise.

The  children find a map, which leads them to the ruined temple and the Explorer. The Explorer has lived in jungle for a long time, and adapted to jungle life. He is not keen to meet the children. Children are noisy, and under-grown. Children remind him of something he would rather forget.

The Explorer is an adult. In the ‘real world’ adults help children. The Explorer thinks differently. The jungle is as real as it gets, and he won’t help the children go anywhere until he is certain they will keep a promise. A promise Fred refuses to make.



Katherine Rundell is masterful in revelation. Her exposition is spot-on. Reading her work is like following a bread crumb trail: Rundell drops just enough bread crumbs to keep you hunting for more. The children are interesting characters, but the Explorer himself makes the story. I wanted to know why he was in the jungle. What is this man’s backstory? Will he help the children? The introduction of the Explorer a third of the way in opened a treasure-trove of questions.

The Explorer’s story opens ideas about the Western world imposing its values on other cultures. Rundell uses the metaphor of early explorers bringing pianos and tea cups into the jungle, trying to make the expedition ‘comfortable’ by bringing home comforts. She interrogates the values of the time, and the way people took opportunity of other cultures instead of embracing them. Fred’s narrative is closely tied to this. Initially, he hopes to return home to impress the world with his tales of the jungle.

Rundell makes clever use of imagery throughout the novel to investigate character conflict. I love the Explorer’s private space. He forbids the children to look behind the vines. It mirrors his hidden secrets, and his fear the children’s presence will bring his past into the open.

Rundell investigates the way different relationships shape us, from friendships to love and family bonds. One of my favourite lines is about love at first sight being a recognition that a person or place will make your heart stronger. Rundell is perceptive about interactions between people. She shows the affect one person can have on another. 

There is some interesting exploration of gender. The jungle takes away the conventions of the modernised world. Con thrives. At the start she is cross and defensive, bunched up in a dress which she finds unnecessarily frilly. Once she is in the jungle, she never allows Fred to put himself above her. Fred must work alongside her as an equal. Lila goes unnoticed until Fred and Con fall out. Suddenly Lila – who cares for her little brother Max and an adopted sloth called Baca – speaks out. Quiet, nurturing, motherly Lila is more perceptive in this situation the Con or Fred.

The Explorer is perceptive about the way the Western World treats other cultures. Similar in theme to Kensuke’s Kingdom, it focuses on cultural landmarks as much as wildlife. The book looks set to be beautiful, with illustrations around the text by Hannah Horn. I look forward to holding it in my hands. I recommend reading in one or two sittings. This way, you won’t have to wait for an answer to the questions which build in your mind. 


Huge thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing for sending me an advanced copy via NetGalley. This does not affect the honesty of my review.


Guest Chat – @goldenbooksgirl finds perfect summer destinations from her favourite fiction

Whether it’s the Leaning Tower of Piza or the Arctic wilderness, this is the time of year when social media EXPLODES with perfect pictures from perfect holidays. Meanwhile, some of us are sat at home making Pinterest boards of places we would like to visit. One way to ‘visit’ a place without stepping foot on a plane is to read a book with a great setting. Sure, you’re not actually there, but you might empathise with a new culture in a way you wouldn’t if you really were running around with a tour group or sipping cocktails on a sandy beach. Handing over to Amy from @goldenbooksgirl, one of my bestest blogging friends. Huge thanks to Amy, who is epic, awesome and all-over lovely. 




Seven Days of You by Cecilia Vinesse (Tokyo)

This book has some faults, but it did such a phenomenal job showcasing Tokyo that I still adored it. It`s the love story of Sophia and Jamie, in Sophia`s last ever week living in Tokyo, and her falling for the city all over again alongside her romance with Jamie. It made me want to jump on a plane immediately.

The Girl Who Rode the Wind by Stacy Gregg (Italy)

This is an utterly lovely contemporary adventure book, which also contains a lot of Italy`s culture and traditions and history (through the form of actual flashbacks to the main character`s grandmother when she was young, if my memory serves). I`m very overdue a reread of this, and I highly recommend it. And, as it`s Stacy Gregg, there`s obviously a huge horsey theme too! If you`d prefer some equestrian fun in Spain and learn more about that country instead, the 6th Pony Club Secrets book (Storm and the Silver Bridle would be perfect for you!

The White Giraffe series by Lauren St. John (South Africa)

While I`m not as big a fan of this series as I am of Lauren`s other books, the Laura Marlin Mysteries, I still really enjoyed them. They conjure up a beautiful, yet simeltaneously horrific picture of South Africa which is very accurate judging from comments made by a friend who lives there. Reading these was tough for me (I don`t do well with animal books, they always make me cry) but if they don`t make you want to go on a safari and experience the wonder of animals in the wild for yourself I truly don`t understand why.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins (Paris)

This is one of my favourite romance books EVER (you`ll understand why once you`ve read it). It explores Anna as she moves to an American school in Paris and soon develops a crush on handsome, charming Etienne. The only problem is that he already has a girlfriend…

This book made me desperate to go to Paris; this book created such an atmosphere and an ambience, and the scenes exploring the city were my very favourites.

New York, New York/The BSC in the USA by Ann M. Martin

If you read my blog, I make no secret about the fact that I adore the Babysitters Club series. These are super specials, which means that they`re narrated by every club member and even a few side characters sometimes (which is always super, super fun!). They`re set in New York and on a roadtrip across America and I can basically guarantee you`ll want to explore a few locations for yourself by the time you`re done. My personal favourite narrators in New York, New York are Stacey and Mary-Anne, who have been tasked with showing the children of diplomats the sights and in BSC in the USA I think my favourite location has to be the Grand Canyon.

Stella Etc series by Karen McCombie (British seaside)

If all my exotic picks aren`t your style, why not try this sea-set series with friendship, mystery and a huge dollop of Karen McCombie humour? They feature a fabulous, hugely likeable cast of characters (my personal favourite is TJ) and the historical mystery throughout all seven books is genuinely interesting. These also have the bonus of actually being set in summer, so they are PERFECT reads for a sunny day, especially as they`re quite short and easy to get through.


Have you read any books which make you want to pack a suitcase and jet off? Has a setting actually inspired you to travel? Let me know in the comments bellow.