Young Adult Reviews

Review: Begin, End, Begin – A #LoveOzYA Anthology

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Begin, End, Begin was established as a result of the #loveOZYA community, a social media group who promote everything there is to love about Australian YA. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey and The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak are two of the best YA books I’ve ever read, but without a large range available in most British shops, it takes the internet to promote titles between countries.

It is a great anthology of short stories. Lots of the stories pick up on the pressure young people are under to achieve in a world which seems to offer little in return. I was pleased to find stories about first jobs and post-school choices – this is something I think British YA is lacking. In every other age-band it is commonly understood that young people want to read about the near future, as well as the things which reflect their current age. There are stories here about balancing school with a part time job, about university choices and how difficult it can be to move away from the life you have always known.

I would love to hear what some teenage readers think about the anthology. Did you feel it reflected your concerns?

In one sense it was nice not to recognise the author names because I read blind. I didn’t know whether an author was a debut author, a major award-winner or a midlist staple. I read the words alone. Having read these stories, I am keen to read novels bythe featured authors, and to explore the breadth of Aussie YA. Here are some short reviews of my favourite stories:birdOne Small Step by  Annie Kaufman

 The first child born on a Mars colony has been featured on social media since birth. Every step of her life has been watched, and it is no different now she is making her choice about university. Zaida’s parents want her to accept Harvard so they can share the good news with their audience on Earth, but is that what Zaida wants? There is someone back on Mars she would like to stay for.

This story shows a problem which has only faced the current generation of kids – social media parenting. Do we have a right to put our child’s life on the internet? At what age should someone decide for themselves? These are new questions, and it is good to see conversation directed at the people who matter most: the young people who have grown up in a time of social media.

The pressure to decide your future at a young age is also well portrayed. Why does everyone think Zaida should know what she wants now? Where do we get this misconception that everyone picks one path? Young people are afraid to stray from the traditional route of school-university-career, but in reality most lives don’t work that way. What happens when you hate your course? When you want to do a job unrelated to your qualifications? When you relocate for love to a place which makes your job unviable? Young people need to know that these hurdles are normal, and life is less predictable than it can seem.

 

 

I Can See The Ending by Will Kostakis

Adam can see the future. He plots it on post-it notes every time he sees something new. He knows his friend’s kitten won’t survive, and he knows he will one day divorce the girl he wants to date. Should he date her, knowing how it ends?

A story which reminds us life won’t always be smooth. Things which have taken years to build can end in a moment. Should we give up before we hurt ourselves, or enter with realistic expectations?

Adam and Nina work in a shopping-centre food court, and Adam thinks he is losing hours because he has hit 18 and must be paid a higher salary. It was nice to see the dull, disappointing reality of youth depicted alongside the romance. Life isn’t all successes and late-night parties, and it is good for young readers to know that saving money in a boring job is where lots of things start.

 

 

Oona Underground by Lili Wilkinson

Meg would follow Oona anywhere. When Oona sent a note into circulation, saying it would predict her future love, Meg stole it. She couldn’t risk Oona choosing someone else. Meg follows Oona to the Witch Queen to learn their destiny.

A lyrical story about letting other people make their own choices. This reminded me of David Almond’s A Song for Ella Grey. Both have vibes of Orpheus and Eurydice, and both are about girls who love another girl so much they would follow her to the end of the world.

 

 

Last Night At Mount Solemn Observatory by Danielle Binks

 Bowie’s brother King is about to travel the world, and Bowie wants to be part of his last night in town. She loves King, and the friends he has made even though so many people don’t bother to get to know him because he uses sign language.

The descriptions of sign language were fascinating, and I loved how the characters’ names all made expressive signs. Bowie is a great protagonist – she loves maths, and there were lots of maths in-jokes. It was lovely to see a story where interest in maths is celebrated.

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Harper 360 for my copy. Opinions remain my own.

waiting on wednesday

Waiting On Wednesday: The Goose Road by Rowena House

bannergooseroadwowSynopsis [from Walker Books]:

dsdal0cx4aigff0France 1916. Angélique Lacroix is haymaking when the postman delivers the news: her father is dead, killed on a distant battlefield. She makes herself a promise: the farm will remain exactly the same until her beloved older brother comes home from the Front. “I think of it like a magical spell. If I can stop time, if nothing ever changes, then maybe he won’t change either.” But a storm ruins the harvest, her mother falls ill and then the requisition appears… In a last-ditch attempt to save the farm from bankruptcy, Angélique embarks on a journey across France with her brother’s flock of magnificent Toulouse geese.birdWhy I can’t wait to read The Goose Road:

  • I live near the Solway Firth. For six months of the year, we share the land with both pink-footed and barnacle geese. They fly over my home twice a day in great formations. We hear them before we see them. I go to the window every time. Geese are part of my life and landscape, and I understand how their presence can form a special part of a life. I want the book for this reason alone.

 

  • The mixture of WW1 history, family story and agriculture sounds like Morpurgo’s work, and it is a combination I can’t read too many times. It is the story of who we were not so long ago, and it is the closest to hearing our great-grandparents’ voices most of us will come. These are stories we have heard recycled, but never first-hand. A fictional voice helps us to relate to history.

 

  • The history of the home front is as interesting as the war itself. This is where life went on against the odds. There are stories of courage and survival here as much as there are on the battlefield. 

 

  • Conflict: the character vows to hold on to the farm until her brother returns. Immediately the narrative offers a challenge. Will Angélique’s brother return? I know I’ll hold my breath until the last pages to find out. 

 

The Goose Road by Rowena House

Walker Books UK

April 2018

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy

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Extract:

‘Arty, we can hardly traverse three continents without a sky-ship.’ 

‘There’s always a way, Maud. We could go to the Geographical Society and show them the locket.’ 

She paused for a moment then looked at him doubtfully. ‘They’ll need some convincing it means something. They don’t exactly think much of the Brightstorm name.’

(Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy.) birdSynopsis:

Arthur and Maudie’s life is turned upside down when their father dies on an expedition to reach South Polaris. Not only do they lose their father, they lose everything they have ever known. Their father is accused of stealing fuel from competitor Eudora Vane. As this breaks the Explorer’s code, his house and assets revert to The Geographical Society.

As the expedition to South Polaris failed, the prize fund still stands. The twins do not believe their father stole the fuel, so they join competitor Harriet Culpepper on her ship the Aurora. They set out on an adventure, but there are secrets along the way which others would rather they did not find.

birdReview:

Take to the skies with this fantastic Middle Grade adventure. Brightstorm has airships, secrets and a villain to rival Cruella deVill. I had high hopes from the description, and I wasn’t disappointed. The first chapter is perfect – it showed me the sort of book I would be reading, and left me asking questions about the world and about the twins’ situation.

Arthur and Maudie are great characters. Their relationship teaches us valuable lessons about family. Is family the bloodline we are born into, or the people around us who we love? It was interesting reading about twin main characters – Arthur felt like the main protagonist, but Maudie also developed over the story. There is a great moment where she says what she thinks for the first time.

The Geographical Society is a fantastic setting, which shows the disadvantages of class-based society. It is an institution built on tradition – it is narrow-minded and it fails to support social mobility. There are old families and there are new blood explorers. The usual route to becoming an explorer is to be born into a family of explorers. It is important for children to form their beliefs away form the prejudice of adults, and the world-building in Brightstorm supports this.

I love the idea of sapient animals – animals whose intelligence is recognised to be close to that of a human. The presence of intelligent animals reminded me of the daemons in His Dark Materials, and there is a fantastic plot twist which I didn’t see coming regarding a sapient animal.

Lots of people have praised the disability representation, and rightly so. Arthur is a character like any other in the adventure, and his arm is mentioned, but not studied. The things which define him are his interests, emotions and experiences. This is the kind of representation which is so desperately needed. Children need to see all kinds of people as part of their world, and as people they might meet and interact with.

If you like middle grade adventure, you need to read this. Hardy is a strong debut author and a wonderful new voice. I look forward to seeing what she writes next.

 

Huge thanks to Vashti Hardy and Scholastic UK for my ARC. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman

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Extract:

The stag pawed the earth in alarm.

‘Someone is working dark magic near the star friends.’

The owl nodded gravely, ‘I’m afraid it appears to be as we suspected. Two shades have already been defeated by the Star Animals and their friends. But now more trouble is coming their way.’

(Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman. P7.)

birdSynopsis:

The Star Friends have faced trouble from dark magic before, but they always come through with their magical animal friends at their sides. This time they are uncertain. The girls fall out among themselves. Will they ever work together again?

Meanwhile mean old Mrs Crooks is acting suspiciously, and her garden gnomes look exactly like one which hid the dark magic shades on a previous occasion. Could Mrs Crooks be responsible for the casting the shades?

A story about friendship and overcoming fear.birdReview: 

Secret Spell is part of a series aimed at younger midde-grade readers. Four girls develop their magical powers with the help of their star friends – magical animals. Their friendship and magical powers grow alongside each other, but they come up against dark magic known as shades. These are feel-good books for newly confident readers. The fantasy element is not overwhelming – there is plenty of day-to-day life which grounds the story in a familiar world.

I liked the setting. The small village is safe for the girls to explore alone, meaning they go out into the woods and visit their neighbours without adults tagging alone. As someone who lives in a village, it is lovely to see this world represented in children’s fiction. It sounds quaint, but these places and childhoods still exist!

The main message of the novel was not to let fear cloud your perceptions. I liked the depth of the message – it explored how fear causes havoc if we fail to recognise and overcome it. This is a big lesson at a young age, and an important one. 

The novel shows the stresses and fears of modern childhood. The girls frequently find it difficult to arrange meetings due to their hectic schedules of clubs and tuition and music practice. Lottie is under particular stress as she is expected to pass a scholarship exam. This was a realistic portrayal of modern childhood, and it shows the price some children pay for these privileges. 

The story is nice as a stand-alone, but there are references to other Star Friends books. For this reason it might be better to start with book one, but I can see fans of the series enjoying the books in random order once they are familiar with the story. I loved The Sleepover Club as a comfort read when I was young, and I can see this series taking a similar place in on a child’s bookshelf. It would be easy for a child to imagine the Star Friends as their own friends, and great fun could be had making adventures and stories up to about these characters. Lucy Fleming’s Illustrations complete the book. They are fresh and modern and give both the animals and the friends wide-eyed appeal. 

 

Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Stripes Books for my review copy. Opinions remain my own.

 

Picture Book Reviews

Petra by Marianna Coppo

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Petra is a rock and this is how she rolls.

img_4772Petra is the story of a rock who is underestimated by the people around her. Set in the plants she is a mountain. In the pond she is an island. She’s full of potential, but people keep telling her she’s a rock. A pebble. They send her flying. After every setback Petra reinvents herself to fit her new surroundings. 

Petra is about perspective. It is also about life’s ups and downs.

I loved Petra from the cover. Her smile is impossible to resist. This is a feel-good book, and Coppo’s art creates those positive vibes. 

I wish I could give a copy of this book to anyone who has ever experienced a setback. Petra’s personality shines through every situation. Whether she is a rock, an elephant or an island she is upbeat little Petra, with her smile and rosy cheeks. People are not the sum of their successes and failures. Our true friends are the ones who see us for who we are. The ones who cheer us on every time we find our feet. It doesn’t matter that people tell Petra she is only a rock. Who are they to say what she might be, or how her life will pan out? 

img_4769The book offers plenty of discussion for child readers. It is difficult for young children to understand that life changes, and that unexpected things happen. Discuss Petra’s reaction – does she give-up, or does she find new things to do? This would also be a great book for introducing the concepts of past, present and future. (‘Petra was a mountain in the past, but now she is an egg. What do you think she might be in the future?’) 

With its soothing colour palette and upbeat protagonist, Petra would make a lovely bedtime story. It would be a lovely book for promoting life skills. With its mature art style and upbeat messages, it is a suitable book to gift to adult friends in need of encouragement. 

 

Chat

10 ways to keep Christmas alive

christmaseverydayWish it could be Christmas every day? While some people are pleased to get back into their daily routine, others would wear a Christmas jumper every day if only it wouldn’t spoil the magic of it. My Mum, sister and I have almost elfish levels of Christmas tolerance. My sister’s room has affectionately been called ‘the grotto’ for the past six weeks, while I wrap every one of my tree decorations in tissue paper and bubble wrap to ensure they are safe. Every single one.

Would it be Christmas if it came every day? The good news is you don’t have to decide. If Christmas is something you enjoy, there are ways to bring festive sparkle to even the dullest January.bird

Christmas tree farm in Iowa.Keep a live Christmas tree – this is a great idea for people with garden or patio space. My neighbours in London had a live tree. It was waist-high that first year, and the cutest thing is the new growth looks different, so you can see how much it has grown. I have a patio cherry tree which I bought eight years ago. I love watering and tending to my little tree. It isn’t high-maintenance, but encourages me to potter in the garden.

 

Keep a decoration out – A Simple one. It wouldn’t be special if we had them all out everyimg_4607 day, but why not keep one decoration out of the box? In my experience one misses the box, and it makes me smile to see them through the year. I have also wondered whether to keep my synthetic flowers out for bookstagram purposes.

 

Craft – start in the next few weeks, and you should have enough handmade cards for Christmas 2018. From cross-stitching to card-making to papercutting, many crafts have a back catalogue of Christmas patterns available.

 

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Gingerbread person DNA.

Enjoy your food – If you enjoyed cooking or baking for Christmas, why go back to ready-meals? A three-course meal isn’t feasible every day, or even on a weekly basis, but whether it is baking on a Saturday, hosting a dinner party or starting a foodstagram account, you can turn food into a fulfilling hobby.

 

Visit a donkey sanctuary – When I lived in London, my favourite place to visit was Redwings Ada Cole in Essex. I sponsored a donkey for years, until he died. I kid you not, the sanctuary host birthday parties for their adoption club residents. You can sing happy birthday to a donkey and watch them eat donkey-friendly cake. I’ll never forget Ada Cole. It is a super-special place.

 

11781267186_ccfca86bbd_bBecome a visual merchandiser – Use your decorating skills to promote brands and make shops beautiful. As well as thinking up decorative schemes throughout the year, you will never have more fun than at Christmas. (Who did you think did the Liberty window? The Christmas Elves?) Check out entry routes and qualifications here.

 

Louise Nettleton

Would you like more Christmas in your year? What do you do throughout the year that keeps Christmas alive? Let me know in the comments below.

 

Literary Fiction Reviews

Review: The Devil’s Highway by Gregory Norminton

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Extract:

‘…Had Irene in all her strength risen, we would have driven the occupiers back into the sea. It was not faith or the lack of it that did for us. It was the cowardice of your elders. A shame they mean to ram down your throats. And will you kneel like supplicants while this happens?’

(The Devil’s Highway by Gregory Norminton. P86.) 

 

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Synopsis:

In Ancient Britain, a young boy discovers a terrorist plot against the Roman Invaders. His brother is implicated, and he thinks he can find a way to spare his family from retribution. In the 21st Century, a man shattered by divorce tries to assert his hold on family land and finds himself up against enraged locals who have always used the land. One of these is Aitch, who is traumatised after fighting in Afghanistan. In a future ravaged by climate change, a band of children try to reach safety. The world is ravaged by war, and the children are in danger from slavers and starvation. They fight among themselves about the extent to which they should trust outsiders.

Our relationship with the land is examined and questions are raised which have never been more pertinent. The cycle of time challenges our assumptions as we see the destructive nature of civilisation repeating itself.

birdReview:

One setting, three time-periods and a cycle which repeats over the centuries. The Devil’s Highway is an extraordinary work which challenges our ideas about civilisation, and explores our relationship with place and time. Themes and motifs recur and build as we cycle between three stories set along a Roman road known in folklore as The Devil’s Highway.

This is the sort of novel which demands a second reading. It is intelligent and thought-provoking, and I am certain I would make more connections on a second reading, as well as marveling at the detail I missed first time around. It shows different people coming into one place, so bent on progressing their own cause they are willing to cause destruction. It depicts the people caught in the wake of such times: a group of children, a band of disenfranchised young men and a man with PTSD. I was stuck by these depictions of the young caught up in the acts of their elders.

The future depicted is dystopian. The words which tell the story are like our own language, except instead of developing with time it has been ravaged. Languages fall apart as communities are broken up, and the children live in a world of tight tribes and poor connections. Reading the narrative this way was like experiencing that break-up. At one point a character points out that we should fear the damage of climate change far more than the damage of war. Climate change is equally the result of society bent on its own agenda, and the cycle of life will continue if we can reduce the impact of climate change.

The narrative set in the present is interesting within the context of the others. The disagreement we see is between landowner and local council tenants, but there is another war discussed. One which is happening far away in Afghanistan. This is the story of our time – of Brexit and dissatisfaction. Of the Middle East which has been invaded too many times by the West, and of the young men who have grown amid these wars and want revenge. We see a middle-class man hound the men from the council estate off ‘his’ land. It is the same cycle of behaviour we have seen before, played out on local scale. Perhaps everything begins on local scale, with attachment to land pitted against legal ownership or political control.

This is a compelling narrative which tells the story of our times without referring to Brexit or Syria or Trump. This is the story of our times, and it is the story of all times.

 

Thanks to 4th Estate Books for sending a copy to review. Opinions are my own.

 

top ten tuesday

TTT – Bookish Resolutions

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It’s a quick one today because I’ve written resolutions, anti-resolutions, goals and reflections, but I love to join in with Top Ten Tuesday. It is one of the best-loved memes of the bookish community and I meet so many different bloggers by taking part. I have reflected on the past year, and written a couple of goals for 2018. It is by no means ten, but these were my top thoughts. Do share your links and tell me how your reading changed across the past year. 

2017

Start a blog – BookMurmuration was born in February 2017 (it moved to WordPress in May). Writing about books taught me to read in more depth, and it gave me a network of bookish people to talk to about my reading. 

 

Read different genres – the genre which widened my perceptions was contemporary YA. Before I stared blogging, I thought it would only be relevant to teenagers. I thought it would be about love-triangles and giggly girls and lipstick. How wrong I was. Everybody was reading Wing Jones. I picked it up in a ‘3 for 2’ and read with my mouth open. I have learned more about writing by reading across a huge range of genres. bird2018

Picture Books – At long last, YA readers are discovering Middle Grade thanks to some brilliant promotion and community events on Twitter. There still seems to be an assumption that picture books are only read by children, and adults who pick them on behalf of children. Picture books are one of the greatest pleasures on this planet. They are quick-reads with hidden depth, and some outstanding artists work in this format. Lets see picture books loved by a wider audience! 

 

Literary Fiction – As a teenager, my staple diet was literary fiction. I rediscovered children’s literature when I sorted books in a charity shop aged 19/20, and it became my passion during the children’s literature module of my degree. I love literary fiction too, and the depth of understanding I have has increased ten-fold between my degree and blogging experience. It would be lovely to feature some on my blog, and I very much enjoyed The Devil’s Highway, which I read over Christmas. Check back for my review on Thursday. 

 

Get to more events – Introverts find it difficult to come out of their book pages, but I gained so much last year from an Arvon course, and a couple of events hosted by Seven Stories. I’ve already booked for the Northern YA Fest at Lancaster Uni, and a talk with Brian Connaghan and Sarah Crossan hosted by Seven Stories. Both of these events are *free* – if you’re in travelling distance, make sure you don’t miss out!

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone

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Extract:

“I am not asking to hear your voice because I value your opinion. I am not asking to hear your voice because I care about your feelings. I am asking to hear your voice because I own you.’ Her eyes darkened. ‘You bear the mark of the Sky Gods Eska, the very Gods who used terrible magic to stir up hatred between the people of Erkenwald. But I will use your voice to tear the Sky Gods down and rid this kingdom of their evil forever.”

(Sky Song by Abi Elphinstone.) birdSynopsis:

One upon a time the three tribes of Erkenwald were united. Then the Ice Queen took power and the tribes no longer trusted one another. The Ice Queen grew stronger. She took all adults prisoner, and fed on their voices with the help of an enchanted organ. Every day the sound of their cries echoes across the ice as she grows stronger.

Eska refuses to give the Ice Queen her voice. She is imprisoned in a music box, and forced to dance until she gives in. When Flint breaks into the palace with the help of his magical inventions, Eska sees her chance to escape. Together they journey across the ice, desperate to prevent the Ice Queen from stealing Eska’s voice and making her reign immortal.birdReview:

Word perfect. Sky Song reads like a fairy tale. Every word is in place, every twist of the plot comes at the perfect time, and the world is so vivid there were times I imagined I could see my breath in the frozen air.

The Ice Queen is a wonderful antagonist, and a worthy successor to the White Witch. She is built in a similar mould, but Elphinstone’s touches make her unique enough that she is terrifying all over again. The idea of a ruler alone in her palace, growing stronger on the voices of her prisoners was chilling. We know from the start that this is a villain who shows no mercy.

Flint is also a great character and I liked his story arc. He is one of the last people in Erkenwald to take an interest in magic. When his brother calls his inventions childish and stupid, Flint doesn’t stand up to him. He wants his brother’s approval, and he wants to be seen as a warrior. Over the course of the novel we see Flint gain confidence in himself and his abilities, and learn that bravery is about love and standing up for those we love. It is great to see messages about gender stereotyping of boys. A lot of young boys feel pressured to hide their feelings and come across as ‘tough’, and this offers them other ways to think about themselves.

Sky Song is a story of tolerance and acceptance. I loved the metaphor of tribes and wanderers. The tribes begin the story isolated from each other, but wanderers like Eska make friends with different people along the way. It was lovely to see a character with a disability whose condition is not named and examined. Flint’s sister Blu has Down’s Syndrome. Flint explains that Blu needs patience and guidance at times, but otherwise Blu is just one of the characters. She has her moments of triumph alongside Eska and Flint. Sky Song calls for tolerance of people from different backgrounds, of different abilities and simply in any situation where we may not understand another person’s motives. If we could all be as tolerant as Eska, Flint and Blu, the world would be a beautiful place.

 

A huge thanks to Simon And Schuster for my wonderful prize ARC.