Middle Grade Reviews

Review: A Far Away Magic by Amy Wilson

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Extract:

‘A promise can’t change what you are, Bavar,’ she stares at me, and her eyes are bright, and I don’t want to see what is reflected in them. She thinks I can be like them, and still be me, not be a monster.’

(A Faraway Magic by Amy Wilson. P25.)birdSynopsis:

When Angel starts a new school, she doesn’t want to make any friends. She is greiving for her parents, and her old life, and nobody believes her account of the incident that killed them. When she sees Bavar, she knows he isn’t human. 

Bavar wants to disappear. He wants to be like any other boy at school. He lives in a house filled with his ancestor’s shouting voices – portraits and sculptures come to life to admonish him. The house also hides a rift in the world. It is Bavar’s job to stop the raksasa coming through the rift, before any more damage is done. Angel understands about that damage because she has witnessed it firsthand. She wants to fight, but Bavar keeps turning away. 

Angel and Bavar must work out their differences and work together to repair the rift between the two worlds, before more people get hurt.

 birdReview:

A Girl Called Owl is one of my favourite books of 2017. A Far Away Magic is darker in tone, but equally magical and gripping. Amy Wilson writes about subtle magic. A door in an old house hides a dark secret, and there is a sense of something lurking at the edge of everyday life. This isn’t in-your-face magic, but magic which prickles your skin.

The dual narrative was interesting. Two characters must reach the same point of understanding, but begin with opposite problems. Angel knows nothing about the power which destroyed her family, but wants to end it. Bavar wants to hide himself from others and pass as normal for as long as possible. I liked how the characters were able to reach an understanding by learning more about the situation. They were unable to change each other, but could come to a new understanding together. At the start Bavar is told that Angel will be his catalyst, but I think the books shows how we all have an impact on each other, and can enable each other to do things which seem impossible alone. 

Angel’s grief is beautifully portrayed. She refuses to acknowledge or show her feelings, and pushes other people away. It was an honest and realistic portrayal of grief, and it fitted in well with the dark shadows and sense of threat. There is no suggestion that Angel should move on from her feelings, but life creeps back into her world and it starts with friendship. 

My big heroine is Bavar’s Aunt Aoife. At the start she appears a bit hippy-dippy, sending him to school with a basket instead of a lunch box, and baking terrible cakes. It becomes clear she is the one who insists Bavar should have a childhood. I love the message at the end: normal can have a thousand different faces. Going to school and not fitting in makes many children feel ‘abnormal’, but good days and bad days and not feeling like you belong are all normal. It is carrying on which is important.

Amy Wilson’s writing is lyrical and deep with meaning, and she is an extraordinary talent. A Far Away Magic is darker in tone than A Girl Called Owl but I love them equally, and I can’t wait to see what else she writes. 

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Young Adult Reviews

Review – Literally by Lucy Keating

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Extract:

‘Annabelle,’ she says, ‘I am not writing about you. I am writing you.

I blink a few times. ‘I don’t understand,’ I say.

‘You are in my book,’ Lucy says, as though she’s explaining that today is Tuesday. ‘You’re a character. In fact, so is everyone.’ The hand holding her car keys makes a sweeping motion over the facade of my school.

(Literally by Lucy Keating. P30.) 

birdSynopsis:

Annabelle Burns is the perfect student. She lives in the perfect house, with the perfect family. Nothing has ever gone wrong, until Mum and Dad announce they are splitting up weeks before Annabelle finishes high-school. Suddenly Annabelle doesn’t know who she wants to become. For the first time in her life, she has no idea what the immediate future will hold.

Author Lucy Keating comes to speak to Annabelle’s creative writing class. Following her own split, she has decided to break from her traditional tragedies and write a romance with a happy ending. She’s writing about a girl whose parents have just split, a girl who doesn’t know what the future holds ….

She’s writing about Annabelle. In comes new boy Will, the most perfect boy Annabelle has ever seen. Lucy Keating is adamant that Annabelle and Will will overcome their love triangle and live happily ever after, but is that what Annabelle wants?

A light-hearted read which pokes fun at novel structure and the tropes of YA fiction. A must-read for any writer or bookworm.birdReview:

I read Literally in two sittings, and couldn’t put it down. Literally is:

  • A super-addictive novel. It follows the tropes of contemporary YA. We know the moment Will walks into the classroom that Annabelle will fall head-over-heels in love
  • A witty commentary on the writing process, the conventions of YA fiction and the reasons we write. When Will walks into the classroom, it is observed that he has entered in a stereotypical new-boy role.

By the time you finish this I promise you will have a pen and notebook in your hands, ready to put what you’ve learned into practice. Please don’t think this makes Literally a textbook, or a didactic novel. The information comes through satire of Annabelle’s story. For example, she’s out with Will when she realises every shop and restaurant she has ever known is called TK or TK’s. TK is a term used by writers and editors to signify that information will be added at a later date. As someone who writes, I loved this. It is like a little message from the author – you don’t have to know everything to get started.

I loved the focus on teenage stress, and the pressure young people feel to know who they want to be. Why do we expect people to know at 17 or 18 how they want to live in the future? Most of us spend the rest of our lives figuring it out. It can take years before we know who we really want to be, and how we might get there. The search for a clear-cut ‘self’ or ‘future’ can be misguided. I liked how the theme extended to Annabelle’s parents. Having raised a family, they are ready to reassess their lives. This was very true to life, where young people undergoing big changes find their parents are ready to do the same.

It was also nice to see a high-achieving protagonist, who is interested in writing, journalism and literary theory. YA characters often like books, but I can’t think of many characters who go beyond reading for pleasure into active study or perusal of a literary discipline. I hope Literally encourages young people to write, and to find a out which forms of writing they like best.

Highly recommended. I can’t wait to share this with my writing and blogging friends.

 

Huge thanks to Harper360 for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas Around The World

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Today’s post is from Christina at Chrikaru. Christina is a special friend. We are bookshelf-twins, and equally obsessed with getting our hands on every book available. Christina’s other interest is language-learning. Her blog is filled with fantastic multi-lingual flash-cards. She speaks four languages fluently, and is learning four others. Her talent has taken her to other countries, and she has spent Christmas around the world. She has shared her experiences of other customs and traditions. A HUGE thank-you Christina, and it is lovely to welcome you to my blog. birdVietnam

This was my first Christmas overseas and away from my family – I was pretty young and me and my roommate had to work as Christmas day is not a holiday in Vietnam. My roommate’s dad and my brother came out to visit us, bringing the essential supplies of crisps and chocolate. Christmas dinner was local crabs and noodle soup, eaten on a rush mat on the floor of our tiny room, followed by a sing-along with several hundred of our students at the university. Bizarre but unique experience!

Ireland.

Cpost1Christmas back home is a three day celebration. Christmas Eve is spent driving around visiting the extended family, drinking lots of tea, catching up and exchanging gifts. Most years we also went to our church for mince pies, carols and midnight service. Presents from friends and extended family go under the tree straight away, but presents for the immediate family are a bit different. Our family tradition is to conceal them in our rooms, then each member of the family has to sneak downstairs and put them under the tree…all without being caught of course! Christmas Day was always Mum, Dad, my brother and me. The day usually starts with getting stockings from the end of bed, then us all coming downstairs and having breakfast (parents are both diabetic so this is an essential!). My job has always been to sort the presents into piles for each person, then we start opening them. My dad usually likes to read the paper in the morning so I normally have to chivvy him to actually open his gifts! After that we all go for a long walk. When we were younger we used to go to a Christmas morning service too. Then a light lunch before the cooking of Christmas dinner begins in earnest. As a kid I always felt very grown up at Christmas because it was my job to get our special tablecloth out and set the table. The tablecloth started off as a plain white linen one, then my mum embroidered it over the years to commemorate special events e.g. when each child was born, trips overseas, etc. It’s lovely to reminisce about these every year at Christmas! Boxing Day is always spent with my sister and her family – usually we go to her house, exchange gifts and have a second Christmas dinner! On the 27th, most years, my family would host a party at our house when anyone was welcome – a chance for me to see my friends before the New Year and to catch up with people that we hadn’t managed to see before Christmas. Is this very different from your traditions?

Japan

cpost2I was an exchange student in Japan for a year and celebrated Christmas with a mixture of students from all over the world. It was weird having to go to class on Christmas morning! After that each student cooked a dish from their home country to bring to a party, then we shared Christmas traditions from around the world. This still ranks as one of the achievements I am most proud of – cooking a roast dinner in a portable oven about the size of a small toaster! Strangely for me, Christmas Eve is a much bigger deal than Christmas in Japan – it is seen as a romantic day so you often see couples out and about on Christmas Eve. The second Christmas I spent in Japan was with my boyfriend and we spent the day eating lots of amazing Japanese food and playing in the snow!

Italy

Despite being an exchange student in Italy for 5 months, unfortunately I wasn’t there for Christmas. I would really love to spend Christmas there one year, particularly as I love all the stories that surround the holiday there – Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) might bring some presents but the main gift-giving occurs on the Epiphany when La Befana ( a witch) brings presents to children.

China

I spent 4 Christmases in China. Christmas Eve is much more popular but Christmas Day is a normal working day for most people. In my first year I went to work, then to have burgers with a group of my work colleagues! In the second year, we clubbed together with a group of expat to cook a Christmas dinner in my favourite café, fittingly called the Bookworm (a lending library and restaurant completely walled with books!) In the third year and fourth year my work organised a Christmas party and Christmas Day was a quiet one at home with friends. It felt quite odd as most people in China didn’t even really seem to be aware that it is a special day for anyone. In the four years I spent there I did begin to see a change though; every year the number of shops or businesses with Christmas decorations up increased.

Now I’m back living in the U.K.. This year I am spending Christmas with my partner’s family in Austria where they take Christmas very seriously – so excited to find out some new Christmas traditions! How are you planning to spend Christmas this year? Do your family have any traditions they follow? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Guest Post

Guest Post: Christmas At Dove Cottage – Then and Now.

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Have you ever thought of training in a literary house? Today’s Guest Post comes from Becky Hearfield, trainee with the Wordsworth Trust. Throughout the past year, I have attended a poetry reading group run by the trust, and the wonderful Susan Allen. The group means everything to me. It brings our local community together, and Susan is one of the first people I dared to show my writing to. Everything about the group supports people to find what interests them in writing, and to speak about it in their own words. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting Becky a couple of times over the year, and am amazed by how much the trainees do. It is lovely to hear from Becky at the end of her traineeship, and to hear what Christmas meant to the Wordsworths themselves. Thank you Becky for your time and fab post. birdChristmastime at Town End by Becky Hearfield 

The Wordsworths spent eight Christmases together at Town End, Grasmere and their domestic sphere changed considerably during that time. Wordsworth became husband to Mary Hutchinson in October 1802 and the couple welcomed three of their five children into the world at Dove Cottage, which was transformed into a home ‘crowded with life’ (Stephen Hebron, Dove Cottage).

dovecottage2The Wordsworths first arrive at Town End on 20th December 1799, just 5 days before Christmas and Dorothy Wordsworth’s 28th birthday, and although Dorothy tells us that their arrival is hailed by ‘a dying spark in the grate of the gloomy parlour’, it marks the bright beginning of a period of intense happiness and shared warmth. William and Dorothy waste no time in getting to know their neighbours and, in a letter dated Christmas Eve 1799, Wordsworth writes to his friend, and collaborator on Lyrical Ballads, Samuel Taylor Coleridge to detail the particulars of their new home and relate their first impressions of the local people, who would come to be very dear to them:

The people we have uniformly found kind-hearted frank & manly, prompt to serve without servility. This is but an experience of four days, but we have had dealings with persons of various occupations, & have had no reason whatever to complain.

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Decorations at Dove Cottage today. 

On 20th December 2017, 218 years after the Wordsworths first arrived at Town End, the current residents of Grasmere, and neighbours of the Wordsworth Trust, gathered in the same ‘gloomy parlour’ to share mulled wine, mince pies and to sing carols by candlelight in celebration of that day in 1799. Just across the lane, at the Foyle Room (once the site of their neighbour Thomas Ashburner’s cottage), families were busy making kissing boughs and learning about Georgian Christmas traditions with the Trust’s Education Team. The President of the Wordsworth Trust, Pamela Woof, also gave her annual Christmas reading this December for the Trust’s Friends and Trustees. She read from Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal and noted the way the Wordsworths embraced the charitable spirit of the season in their daily lives, as they would readily share what they could with those who called at their home seeking solace. So, despite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum often being bereft of visitors in the winter season, Town End has been aglow with that special community spirit that only Christmastime can engender.

In a letter written to her friend Catherine Clarkson on 25th December 1805, Dorothy reflects on the ‘Blessings of the last six years’ and ‘the pleasures and consolations of Friendship.’ I arrived at Town End in January of this year to begin a traineeship with the Wordsworth Trust, working alongside their Community Outreach Officer, Susan Allen. The traineeship has lasted eleven months and is sadly coming to an end in the next few days. Just as Christmas Day 1805 gave Dorothy Wordsworth cause to reflect on the ‘Blessings’ and ‘Friendship’ she had been fortunate enough to receive in ‘the last six years’, in the build up to Christmas 2017, I find myself in an equally contemplative mood as I take stock of the ‘Blessings’ I have received here and prepare begin a new chapter elsewhere. The Trust now looks forward to welcoming a whole new batch of trainees in 2018, and even further ahead to 2020 as they work towards their Reimagining Wordsworth HLF funded project, in celebration of Wordsworth’s 250th birthday (https://www.reimaginingwordsworth.org.uk).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q and A/Author Interview

Dream Christmas Cracker – Author Michelle Harrison

 

91btlu-xnvlI love a trilogy, I love fairytales and folk legends. Michelle Harrison’s trilogy about a girl who can see fairies is one of my all-time favourites. Author of six novels, you can find one of her short stories in Winter Magic. Published in paperback for the first time, it brings some of the finest British children’s authors working today. I love how widely one starting point has been interpreted. Michelle Harrison’s story is linked to her stand-alone novel The Other Alice. 

I am excited to welcome Michelle to my blog, to tell you about her dream Christmas Cracker. 

 

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If you could create a cracker:

 

Would there be a joke inside? What would it be, or what would you have in place?

I’m not a fan of cracker jokes, they’re usually too corny for me. Instead, I’d have something like a mini book quiz, or a silly talking point like ‘Would you rather have reindeer antlers for a month, or a Rudolph red nose for a week?’ My family and I make up a lot of  ‘Would You Rathers’ and it keeps us entertained for hours! Or, if I were at a writers’ Christmas dinner, perhaps a favourite book recommendation, top writing tip or inspirational quote.

 

What sort of hat would you wear?

My first choice would be something simple like cat ears – black ones of course, but that’s not particularly Christmassy, is it? Antlers are always a favourite; reindeer are so beautiful but then there’s also a link to Gwyn ap Nudd, a figure in faerie folklore who is often depicted with horns or antlers. And, let’s face it, no one is going to fight you for that last piece of Christmas pudding if you’re sporting a decent set of

antlers . . .

 

What would you hope to see inside?

miniature_dnf_dictionary_055_ubtI love tiny, whimsical things – especially if they’re handmade. When I took bookbinding classes in Oxford a few years ago, one of the other students made the most beautiful miniature books. I would love to find one of these in a cracker, or perhaps a tiny snow globe or a beautiful Christmas decoration – something to treasure and bring out again each year. Humans have become so wasteful, so things like throwaway pieces of plastic and tat really bother me and crackers are notorious for this. I try to buy the ‘make your own’ cracker kits and put lottery tickets and little handcrafted chocolates inside, there are so many ways to be inventive.

 

Which fictional character would you pull it with?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’d love to pull a cracker with Turpin, a fairy from one of my own books (One Wish) to see her reaction when it went bang!, and also because she’s one of my favourite characters that I’ve created. Having said that, Turpin thieves everything she can get her hands on, and Christmas is really about giving, so I would probably say Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. It’s such a tragic story and one that’s always haunted me. I would love to give her a wonderful Christmas dinner in a warm house, and inside her cracker would be a key, so she could come and live with me.

Tags

Naughty Or Nice Tag

 

Coal for ‘naughty’, Candy-cane for ‘nice’. Simples? I was tagged by Liam at Bookworm Hole. He’s sent me a list of bookish things, and I have to tell you whether I’ve been naughty or nice. 

 

Received an advanced review copy and not reviewed it – 

bituminous_coalNAUGHTY. The first time I did this, the book touched on a subject I was unhappy to read about. There are good reasons people don’t finish books. I review most books I’m sent. It is difficult to know what to do when we just plain don’t get on with a book. Most bloggers start out as reviewers – people who want to talk about the books they have read with other bookish people. What is not apparent from the outside is the degree to which some people look for us to be promoters. Book reviews can and do affect a book’s sales, and authors are very real people who see negative reviews. When I don’t get on with a book, I feel the conflict between those two identities. Not reviewing is one solution which can suit all parties. 

 

Have less than 60% feedback rating on Netgalley –

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailNICE … I think. My suggested feedback averages around 80%. The trouble is when we get click-happy and are accepted for five at once. I have some to work through at the moment, but also have a large physical TBR pile. It might be worth a bit of time on Netgalley, before the damage is irreversible. 

 

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailRated a book on Goodreads, promised a full-review on your blog, then failed to keep your promise – 

NICE … Never promise. Never, ever promise. Failing to keep my Goodreads updated would be a fat lump of coal, but nobody asked me that. I find Goodreads time-consuming for what comes back from it. I believe it used to be about online book groups, but now it seems to be more about sales. Twitter has a nicer balance. 

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailFolded down the page of a book, spilled liquid on a book or otherwise blemished, blighted or marred a book –

The adjectives say it all. I should become a librarian. NICE.

 

 

Failed to finish a book –

Well, if they award lumps of coal for that, they deserve to have coal rammed down their throats. **QUESTION VOID**

 

bituminous_coalBought a book purely because it was pretty with no intention of reading it –

Intention? I probably intended to read it … but we’ll call that NAUGHTY. Strange the Dreamer and A Place Called Perfect come to mind. Their covers are striking. They were all over my Twitter feed and I *needed* them. Did I make any serious effort towards reading them. Nadda. Other books came along. 

 

bituminous_coalRead when you were meant to be doing something else – 

NAUGHTY. My hair is a constant mess and my handbag is always disorganised. It’s a choice between getting ready or the next chapter. There is no contest.

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailBorrowed a book and not returned it –

NICE. I have done this in the past, but it came about because the person in question failed to realise I hadn’t clicked with the book. Keep hold of it, keep hold of it … you know what happens. You can’t say no, you can’t read it. It sifts down the book pile and festers at the bottom.

 

bituminous_coalBroke a book buying ban –

NAUGHTY. I succeeded second time around, and went beyond my four week stipulation. The fact I stocked up ahead possibly helped. 

 

 

Started a review, left it for ages then forgotten what the book was about – 

The elf-jury would be split on this one. There have been times when I could have done a better job if I’d written it within 24 hours, but I’ve never failed to review as a result.

 

candy-cane-classic_thumbnailWrote in a book you were reading – NICE. 2017 is the year I discovered stationery, or more specifically the year I got addicted to Paperchase. There is no need to write in books when you have a draw full of notebooks. I did annotate books as a student. It might be cute to read my Undergrad. copy of Wuthering Heights to see what I wrote in the margins. 

 

Finished a book and not added it to your Goodreads –

We spoke about this earlier … and I thought I’d got away with it. NAUGHTY. 

 

The Final Count – 

One question drawn, and one discounted. These aside the final count is:

candy-cane-classic_thumbnail candy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailcandy-cane-classic_thumbnailbituminous_coalbituminous_coalbituminous_coalbituminous_coal

 

A close call, but the survey says I’m nice enough. Does that mean I get a Book Token in my stocking? It’s a bit late in the season to tag anyone, but if you answer please let me know and I’ll leave a comment.

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review – The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell

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Extract:

‘… if we don’t find the secret ingredient soon any new batches of fudge we make just won’t be the same. It’ll just be ordinary fudge.’

‘Does that matter?’ said Mum. The factory makes lots of other things.

‘But fudge is our biggest seller by far,’ said Mr Hankiecrust. ‘If we don’t find the secret ingredient soon, it could be a disaster!’

(The Chocolate Factory Ghost by David O’Connell.)birdSynopsis:

Archie McBudge is in a whole load of trouble. He’s just inherited a chocolate factory from the Great Uncle he never knew he had. McBudge’s fudge is the factory’s bestseller, but the secret ingredient is missing. Not finding it will spell disaster.

Archie must solve a series of puzzles to prove himself worthy of his interheritence. If he fails, Mrs Puddingham-Pye will inherit. Archie has six clues to find – that’s six chances for Mrs Puddingham-Pye and her family to bump him off.

Helped by new friends Fliss and Billy, Archie figures out the puzzles and learns the strange stories about Dundoodle and the factory itself. Can he solve the puzzles and save his future?birdReview:

Addictive as a chocolate orange. I read it pretty much in one go, sucked in by the puzzle which turns into a deeper mystery – the mystery of what makes McBudge fudge taste so good. David O’Connell is a brilliant storyteller. The writing comes across as simple, but this is deceptive. Jokes are told at the perfect moment, information is revealed at a great pace and the result is you won’t be able to put this down.

It is nice to see a children’s book influenced by Scottish culture. Many of the place and character names sound Scottish – McBudge, Dundoodle, Tosh, Clootie Dumpling. The magic and legends of Dundoodle also have a distinctly Scottish feel.

The trio of main characters work well together. Yes, Archie finds out he is stinking rich, but Fliss has to overcome her feelings about this in order to make friends. I adore Billy, the kid obsessed with all things macabre, who considers himself such an expert in unusual happenings that he has his own business cards. He’s a strange kid, but that is exactly why you’ll *love* Billy. There is enough sense of who Fliss and Billy are without it being overwhelming for the very young target audience.

The world has a lovely texture. Fictional sweets have some prestigious forerunners, but the Tweetie Sweeties are up there with chocolate frogs, and I love how the confectionary plays a part in the puzzles. There are also some memorable locations, from Honeystone hall to the nooks and crannies inside the chocolate factory. This makes the story more vivid for readers, and more unique.  

In terms of child readers, this would be an ideal book for that tricky stage where children want something more challenging than easy readers, but are not up to the level of Harry Potter. When I worked as a bookseller, this was a question which came up regularly, usually with children of 7 or 8. This was just before the wonderful Sibeal Pounder came onto the scene, and there have been several other books since which are ideal for that age-group, but this sits nicely alongside them. That said, it is only child-like in the best sense of embracing humour and wordplay. Anybody who embraces this will enjoy the book, and I would recommend it as a quick read for much older children.

Definitely worth getting your hands on, and a lovely one to share with children.

 

Thanks to Liz Skelly and Bloomsbury Books for sending a copy in exchange for honest review.