waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The House With Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson

Twelve-year-old Marinka dreams of a normal life, where her house stays in one place long enough for her to make friends. But her house has chicken legs and moves on without warning. The only people Marinka meets are dead, and they disappear when her grandmother, Baba Yaga, guides them through The Gate. Marinka wants to change her destiny, but her house has other ideas…

 

Why I can’t wait to read The House With Chicken Legs:

 

  • I love fairy tales and folk lore. Russian fairytales aren’t one of the areas I am better aquainted with, and it will be lovely to expand my knowledge alongside reading the novel.

 

  • ‘The only people Marinka meets are dead.’ The Gate and the dead remind me of Sabriel, a series I loved as a teenager and must finish. The most intriguing thing about Sabriel was her ability to bring people back from the gates of death.

 

  • Is there one place the house wants to go? A fate it has in mind, or something it wants to fix? I’m intrigued about the motives of this house.

 

  • Marinka has met few people, and lived closely with her Grandmother. I wonder whether an adventure will be a challenge for someone who has lead a relatively isolated life, and how she will change as a character.

 

  • Sophie Anderson is a fell dweller. I want to see whether the Cumbrian landscape has influenced her writing.

 

The House With Chicken Legs

Usbourne Publishing Ltd

April 2018

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8 Novelty Presents Where The Novelty Wore Off

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There’s no need to buy Christmas presents this year. Not in our house. Between the garage, the loft and the cupboard under the stairs, we have a house full of presents-past, which have barely been touched. It would make a great sleepover, if I could be bothered to go through the packing boxes.

We moved two years ago. Plenty went to charity shops, but the move happened in a small time frame. You have to pity the removal company. They boxed it all up, and here it is. Still unsorted, thanks to the additional storage in the new house.

Here are some of the unloved Christmas presents I would find if I went through the boxes. Reader – buy wisely. You may want it for Christmas, but will you want it once the novelty wears off? bird1-1213888416aexzPopcorn Maker. And Ice-cream maker, and fondue set. We didn’t go so far as the chocolate fountain. The Ice-cream maker had a healthy run during my childhood, but the others were gimmiks all the way.

Scalextric.  Every birthday between the ages of eight and 13, Dad tried to persuade me I wanted a Scalextric. He nearly succeeded when I was ten. Eventually the truth came out. The only thing my daddy ever wanted. As a small boy, he had a car track, but not an actual Scalextric. A family decision was made to buy the one thing Dad had ever wanted. How many times has it been played with? I reckon twice.

Robin Felting Kit. Still knocking around in my bedroom from last Christmas. It’s your fault, Kirstie Allsopp. You made it look so easy. Stab the polystyrene and the felt attaches. Stabby, stab, stab, and you too have a claim to creativity. What happened when I stabbed the polystyrene? The felt fell on the floor, and I made a small hole.

Grabby Machine. Think Toy Story. Think the Clllllaaaawwww. Own your very own (mini) arcade machine, and enjoy infinite goes to get things out. Great fun, until you snorkelling_with_the_swollen_purple_headrealise if you ever want to play with it you’ll have to fill it yourself. Put stuff you might want in, and everybody falls out over the fiver. Put tat in and nobody can be bothered to play with it. We bought this for a get-together and it was definitely a one-hit wonder. 

Hair braiding. This goes back to when I was nine or ten, and was probably advertised in a pre-teen magazine. Hands up who remembers Girl Talk? Star Girl? 1990s Zoella. I have the kind of hair which grows outwards rather than down, and zilch interest in the methods required to tame it. 

71sv4w2iyul-_ac_us218_Adult Colouring Book. It’s mindful. It’s got pretty little bunny rabbits amid intricate designs. I might have finished half a page. 

Modern Monopoly. Like standard Mononpoly, except you get a pretend credit card, and even the brown ones are beyond the wildest dreams of Millenials. Instead of chance cards, some flipping machine can hit you with a ‘chance’ at any moment and rob you of your hard-earned cash. Enough to sour family relations. 

Wii Fit. Not a computer game, not exercise, and it is galling when a nine year-old beats wii_balance_board_transparentyou at hula hoops because you have no co-ordination. Go for a walk. There’s more to see. 

Clockwork Seal. If I had more display space, this would be out. It is an object of beauty. Wind it up and it flaps its flippers. Only … there’s not much more to do with it, and it gathers dust. 

 

rainbow_loom_multicolored_bandsOne I would Keep: Loom Bands. I bought the first packet for ‘research’. Could I teach my Rainbows how to make a simple bracelet? The sparkly blue, the grape-scented purple and the official Rainbow Loom? Those were all for me. This shouldn’t have been a hobby I clicked with. Aside from being 20 years older than the average weaver, I have no coordination. Guess what? I got into intricate designs, as demonstrated by tween vloggers. Great fun. 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: King Bones by Chris Hallatt Wells

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Extract:

Danny felt a solid wall behind him. He turned and through the murk he saw the outline of a mighty door carved from solid stone.

Danny felt the creature’s breath on his exposed neck. He felt their terrible hands reaching towards him. The door was his only escape. Although he knew the stone door was far too heavy for a boy to open by himself, Danny pushed it anyway. 

At his first touch, the stone door swung inwards, silently, on oiled hinges.

‘Welcome Danny Bouygues,’ boomed a voice. ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’

It was the king. birdSynopsis:

The crown jewels have been stolen.

When Danny’s parents are arrested for the theft, he is sent to stay with Aunty Ratbag. Infamous in Danny’s family for hating children, life with Aunty Ratbag is a series of rules and punishments. Even worse is Greezy Academy. Everyone in Greezy is terrible, except for that new girl, and the local gravedigger.

Then the gravedigger introduces him to King Bones, undead Anglo-Saxon King. King Bones and his warriors want to rescue their wives, who were buried in a different place. So begins Danny’s mission, which leads to friendship and a life of theft.birdReview:

King Bones is an adventure which appeals to children’s sense of macabre. It’s humour which will appeal to fans of Gareth P Jones and Chris Priestly.

You’ve got to pity Danny. The first half of the story sets you up to root for him, as he endures the imprisonment of his parents, life with Aunty Ratbag, and the torture which counts for education in the town of Greezy. The school reminds me of Dahl’s Matilda, without Miss Honey. Danny and new girl Audrey stand out as the only people who find their situation strange. I liked the contrast between their home lives. Where Danny is with the frankly abusive Aunty Ratbag, Audrey’s home is palatial. I’m glad Danny had issues over this. It wouldn’t have felt realistic if he’d not begrudged Audrey her luck.

It’s fun to see a story about a child who becomes a master thief which isn’t apologetic for the fact. It’s not a new thing – Oliver Twist has endured for centuries – but I suppose given the natural shape of a story, it is usual for a protagonist to develop beyond their thieving ways. Not so here, and I’m glad. Danny and Audrey are good characters, good people, who have an adventure. Most children understand the boundary between life and fiction. Theft can be fun in fiction.

There is also some great historical content, which will go down well with teachers covering the Anglo-Saxon period. Personally, I enjoyed the story more once King Bones came along, and would have liked him to be introduced earlier, but I’m sure the Dahlesque school will go down as well with other readers. Hallatt Wells certainly doesn’t hold back on toilet humour, or the grotty and grim.

 

Thanks to Mikka at Everything With Words for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.

 

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London Round-up

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So ends radio-silence. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I had an appointment in London, and stayed a few days with family. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I’m glad I live elsewhere. Most of the time. It was strange to be in a place so familiar, and to feel so shut-out from it. I grew up in London. Lived there for nearly 26 years without seeing a fraction of the major attractions. It was always there for another day. I lived in the suburbs, which made it just enough of an effort that I talked myself out of getting to know the town.Now I live in a place of open sky. Of migratory birds, and fells and marshland. Most of the time that is where I would rather be, but I am grateful to have a place to stay in London. 

The main event this year was the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Library. I img_4053watched the programme ahead, and although this contained spoilers, it completely raised my expectations. I hadn’t realised it was such a large exhibition. 

It was beyond everything I had hoped. 

I’m wary of too many spoilers, but here’s an overview. The exhibition is divided by Hogwarts subjects. It contains original material from JKR, manuscripts and objects relating to magic from over the centuries, and other Potter paraphernalia. There is also original material from Jim Kay, the artist responsible for the new illustrated editions. I hadn’t realised his paintings were so huge! In my dream-life, I would hang one of these on my study wall. There are also some clever digital sideshows, such as a potions-making game. 

img_4063The highlight for me was the original material, both from Kay and Rowling. It was lovely to see how Potter progressed. My favourite artifact was one of Rowling earliest attempts to write a scene from Potter. No spoilers – but a word of advice. Rowling’s material attracts the largest crowds. Behave as if this is a queue – join the end, and walk along the display cases. It only takes a couple of people before everyone does the same thing, and those who don’t want to wait can peep over shoulders rather than see the whole case. This takes longer than trying to scrum in, but ensures you see every object clearly. This is Britain, after all – people know the rules of a queue. Join the end, and wait patiently for your go. 

img_4101This trip could be described as ‘the big kid’ trip. Sure, I went to the Tate, but even the exhibition there encouraged adults to rediscover their inner-child. I’m talking about the swings in the Turbine Hall. The message is supposed to be about the power when we work together, and how we could free ourselves from the force of economics if we worked together. Nice idea … but I went higher on the swings when I sat alone. Could be a metaphor for my life. We’ll return to that in a couple of years. In the meantime, if anybody wants to donate for a replica set of swings to be built on my village green, I’ll ensure they get a plaque. 

I also visited old favourites – Hamleys, Disney and Foyles. Self-explanatory, but I’ll share some pictures. I was lucky not to be evicted from Hamleys, ‘Have a go,’ said the cheery sales-assistant, handing me a giant frisbee. Well, nobody asked whether I had co-ordination. I really didn’t mean to lob it at that crowd of tourists …. 

 

Do you have a favourite place to visit in London? Have you seen the Potter exhibition yet? Let me know in the comments below. 

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday – Stranger by Keren David

strangerbannerSynopsis (from Amazon UK) – 

41p6vpjdesl-_sx322_bo1204203200_Astor, Ontario. 1904.
A boy staggers out of the forest covered in blood and collapses at the feet of 16-year-old Emmy. While others are suspicious and afraid, Emmy is drawn to him. Is he really the monster the townsfolk say he is?

Astor, Ontario. 1994. 
Megan arrives from London for her great grandmother Emmy’s 105th birthday. It should be a happy family occasion, but Megan is nursing a broken heart and carrying a secret she fears might consume her.

One family. Two women. A century of secrets. A timeless love story.

 

birdWhy I can’t wait to read Stranger by Keren David – 

The effect of a past event over a lifetime. As a teenager, this was basically my favourite theme. Sally Beauman, Anita Shreve, anything published by Virago. Women whose lives were changed in a single moment in youth. These are the books that built me, and it is lovely to see one written with teenagers in mind. 

It’s nice to see a book set in the 1990s. The third golden age of children’s publishing didn’t begin until the late 90s, so with a few notable and prolific exceptions, (Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson, Dick King-Smith and JK Rowling) there are few well-known children’s books whose protagonists share my childhood. 

North America. ‘Monstrous’ children coming out of the forest. Has the boy lived there? Was he raised in the forest, or has he been hiding in the vast wilderness? My curiosity has been provoked. Whatever the truth, the time-setting will make this story even more interesting. Society was very judgmental in the early 1900s. 

The relationship between two females, of different generations. See point one. How will Emmy’s story change Megan’s perception of her own life? 

 

Stranger by Keren David

Atom Books

April 2018

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Delayed NaNoWriMO: Week 1

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Week one? I had 6500 words when I went to London. A week’s delay, and guess what? I wanted to change everything about my introduction. So I cheated. I’m doing ‘delayed start’ NaNoWriMo. 

Let me tell you a secret. When I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I wasn’t convinced. Word counters? Chat boards? Shouldn’t I be writing? Week One has persuaded me there is value to this exercise. The word counter and word sprints encourage forward momentum. Those words may not be perfect, but perfection is not the objective. This is draft zero. The rough draft. The point is to get something down.

I’m private about my writing, but the second thing NaNo encourages is networking. I have shared a fragment with a couple of trusted people, and their feedback is encouraging. I haven’t investigated the chat boards yet, but it is great to know they are there. Maybe there will be a plot hole in my story which needs talking over, or a character others can help me develop. In the meanwhile, it is just great to have so many people in my Twitter network aiming for the same thing. It’s amazing how a few positive words can keep you going. 

So what about my project? It’s a Middle-Grade novel. I’ve been working on it for five or six weeks, but the ideas have shifted within that time. I’ve probably written nearly 50,000 words already, but that’s across a couple of starts, a couple of endings, and some key scenes. In other words, I’ve played with ideas, and I have a firm idea of some things which will happen. I’ll tell you more later on. There is nothing worse than sharing ideas too early. They come out like unset blancmange. If you’ve ever spoiled blancmange, you’ll know it makes you want to hang up your apron.  

I’m sold on the principal – a month’s hard work to get ideas out. Time limits often spur people on to work, and as of week one, it is having that effect on me. 

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review – The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

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Extract:

She turns around. She sees all these girls talking to one another, girls who normally wouldn’t mix. Grace wants to celebrate. She wants to hug somebody. A twinge of pride surfaces. She wants to tell them she did this. Then shame takes pride’s place. Does Mom’s ego ever rear its ugly head like this? Does her chest fill with pride when she looks at her rapt congregation? Does she forget to be humble? Does she forget that we are only ever vessels of God, of His work? Does she ever, just a little bit, want to take His place? 

A commotion in the halls. Coach Baxter and his football cronies march through, tearing down the signs. ‘This is unacceptable,’ coach says, his face red, veins pulsing out of his neck. ‘Principal Slatterly will not condone these rumours. This is bullying, ladies. That’s what it is.’ 

(The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed. Quote taken from advance copy.) birdSynopsis:

Everybody knows about Lucy Moyniton. She’s the girl who claimed to be raped by a group of young men. She’s the girl who upset the conservative community in Presscott, Oregan. Who stirred things up with her tale. Everybody knows it happened, but admitting it would mean speaking against central figures in the community.

Nobody knows what happened to Lucy afterwards.

Grace’s family move into Lucy’s old home, and Grace can’t stop thinking about the girl who was so desperate, she scratched a plea for help into her bedroom walls. Grace makes two unlikely friends. Not the kind of safe, somewhere-in-the-middle girls she usually befriends, but Rosina with her firey temper, and Erin. Erin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and is widely treated as a joke, or a ‘special case’.

The girls are fed-up with behaviour in Prescott. Together they form the Nowhere Girls, an annoynimous group for girls to come together and speak out about issues affecting their everyday lives.

The key figures in the community, including the school principal, don’t like The Nowhere Girls. At all. That man with his hate-blog? That’s a bit of a joke. These girls? They’re going to cause trouble.

birdReview:

 A book that needed to happen, and a book I will shout about to all my friends. The Nowhere Girls deals with hard-hitting subjects, but it is compulsively readable, with characters who stay with you after you finish.

It would have been easy to show religious, conservative America and treat it like a closed case. X happens here because Y. Amy Reed is a better author than that. Yes, a conservative religious group hold tight reins over a small town. However, Grace is also a Christian. Her mother is a preacher, who challenges the idea that religion needs to be Conservative. Jesus, she believes, came to promote change. This makes the issue less simplistic, and more like real life, which is amazing.

This is Reed’s strength – characters so real they become like people like people you have known, people you worry about and care about and cry about.

Feminism is one of my big concerns. The Nowhere Girls lived up to my expectations, with its straight-talking style. Nothing is glossed over. Infact, glossing-over is something it speaks against. Doubtless there will be someone who objects to its discussion of rape and sex and periods, but if girls don’t talk about these things how will they know right from wrong? Safe from unsafe? As the characters gain power by talking to each other, the book opens conversations among its readers. One of the most important conversations it opens is about consent. No means no means no, regardless of whether you know them, whether you are drunk, or wearing skimpy clothes.

The thing I loved was the portrayal of Erin’s Asperger’s. Finally, someone has shown the way people behave around those on the spectrum. The rolled eyes, the jibes, the understanding. Erin experiences the world in a different way, but she is one of the girls.

A book which deals with topical issues. Read this to experience what life is like for women. Then talk about it. Loudly.

 

Huge thanks to Stephanie at Atom Books for sending a copy in exchange for review. This does not affect the honesty of my review.