Young Adult Reviews

To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo



My mother would deny me the heart of a prince, but the heart of a prince would be enough to erase any bad feelings between us. I could continue with my legacy, and the Queen would no longer have to worry about our kind being hunted. If I do this, we would both get what we want.

(To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo. PP. 50-51.) 


Lira has a heart for every year she has been alive. Every year on her birthday, she kills another prince and stashes their heart in her chest. When she saves a prince from being killed by a mermaid, Lira is transformed into a human in punishment. The only way to win back the trust of her mother, the Sea Queen, is to kill the Prince Elian and deliver his heart ahead of the Winter Solstice.

Prince Elian would rather be a captain than a king. He roams the seas in his ship, the Saad, killing sirens to rid the world of their threat. When he saves Lira from drowning, he knows there is more to her than meets the eye. Could she be the key to helping him destroy siren-kind for good? Can he trust her? Can she trust him? How many deals will Elian have to make before he can face the Sea Queen?birdReview:

To Kill A Kingdom imagines sirens and mermaids in all their bloody glory. It makes many references to Disney’s The Little Mermaid, but you won’t find friendly fish and singing lobsters here. Instead there is murder, revenge and hate-to-love romance.

The story is told in a dual-narrative. Both Lira and Elian narrate. This worked well and allowed us to see the same kingdoms through different eyes. My favourite part was the world-building. There is a city made of gold, a ship where a teenage prince plays at being a captain and an ice-kingdom which perpetrates its own myths to ensure a loyal following. Sounds good? If you like fairy tales you will enjoy this for the world alone.

I enjoyed the plot, particularly Lira’s transformation from a girl who would do anything her mother wanted into a young woman who thinks people should give their respect freely. Although this was fantasy, it made some very serious comments about emotionally manipulative parents. It reminded me of The Sin Eater’s Daughter in this respect.

There is also an emphasis on finding your own people. Elian would rather pick his crew than be forced to live the life he was born into. This is one of those novels where even the minor characters feel totally real. There is Madrid, the only female pirate, and Kye the fiercely-protective friend who hates it when the prince writes him off as a body-guard. The crew are loyal to Elian, and slow to trust Lira. 

This is already proving popular, and I enjoyed it for the world alone. It is a strong first novel which makes a good interpretation of an existing fairy tale. I look forward to hearing more from Christo.


Thanks to Hot Key Books and Readers First for my copy. Opinions my own.



Five Things I Haven’t Done Since September


Spring has sprung. Or at least it is springing. The nights are getting shorter, the mornings brighter and Marks And Spencers are selling cute raspberry-flavoured miniature biscuits. However much I like the crispy days of early autumn, by the time spring rolls around I am as ready as the next person to kick off my winter boots and sit back in the sunlight. Lambs! Blossom! Spring is a time of new hope and good feelings.

It feels like a long time since September and sunlight. Here are some of the things I haven’t done since September which I am welcoming back into my life. birdRead a Book Outdoors:

I am the kind of person who will make an office out in the garden. A mug of tea, a couple of pillows and a stack of notebooks. There is nothing like reading and writing outdoors. Birdsong and fresh air and a natural breeze. The second we have three dry days in a row I will pull out my tent and set up camp in the garden. 


Worn shoes without socks:

When autumn came in I was pleased to get back into my winter boots. Right now I would be glad to kick them off. Socks no longer feel like a hug for my feet. They are starting to feel more like a prison. Time for a good pedicure and some vitamin-D. I can’t wait to feel the grass between my toes. 


Woken up in a good mood: 

Dark. Wet. Really dark. Waking up in the dark plays havoc with my body clock. How am I supposed to get up when my internal alarm-clock thinks it is the middle of the night? More to the point, how am I supposed to keep my eyes open? Never mind those smiley-happy people. In the winter I am not myself until I have had two mugs of caffeine and a kitty cuddle. Roll on dawn chorus at 4am. 


Eaten Cold Spreads:

Avocado slices, and homemade hummus and pitta bread chips. Cheeses and quince jelly and pomegranate seeds. Childhood holidays in Greece have given me a lifelong love of rolling feasts. There is nothing better than a table covered in salads and dips and miniature pies. 


Fussed over baby animals:

The lambs are back. Skipping on the hillocks and sleeping under the hedges. There are a group of sheep in the field to the side of the village green. Currently there are four lambs, all button-eyed and lively. I defy you to feel miserable when faced with a lamb. 


Middle Grade Reviews

A Witch Alone by James Nicol



If she went to find the book she would see Estar, perhaps. Maybe even see Erraldur, the feyling city. And she couldn’t expect others to go in her place. She was the only one able to read from the book, so how could they hope someone else would be able to find it?

(A Witch Alone by James Nicol. P68.) 


During an eventful holiday in Kingsport, Arianwyn is given a secret mission by the High Elder. She must venture into the Great Wood and bring back the Book of Quiet Glyphs. Arianwyn returns to Lull to find it in chaos. The hex which caused trouble during her training has spread. Spirit Creatures and Feylings have been driven from their woodland home towards Lull. As tensions cause Arianwyn’s support network to deteriorate, she must confront her mission alone and learn the truth about the Book of Quiet Glyphs.  



James Nicol’s writing is refreshing. It is exactly what middle grade should be, full of lemon cakes and magic and moon hares. I love the progression between books one and two. Arianwyn has got her star badge, but her magical education is not at an end. Her adventures are only just beginning.

Newly qualified Arianwyn needs to believe that she deserves her badge. She thinks that being a qualified witch means she should be able to solve everything alone. This is exacerbated when she is forced to keep her mission from her best friend and confidant Salle. I loved Salle’s development, as she searches for her own place in life and learns to see herself as something more than Arianwyn’s sidekick.

This story was very relatable. Arianwyn does not receive the training and emotional support she needs from Miss Newman or The High Elder. Miss Newman’s character was developed brilliantly. We have all met that person who thinks they are a cut above others because they are in a managerial position. The mentor who gives snippy comments and criticism, but no advice.

I love this world of Snotlings and moon hares and magical voids. There is just enough danger to keep things interesting, but not so much that a young reader would get overwhelmed. The war is happening far away and there is a sense of political agendas playing out the the Witch’s Council, but this not the main story. Our main concern is Arianwyn and her friends, and their adventures in Lull. The main themes are friendship and self-confidence.

Gimma’s return made a fantastic sub-plot. I love the fact that she is given a second chance in Lull, and that the other characters learn to see beyond the events of book one. This is a very positive message of forgiveness and the fact that we all make mistakes and get things wrong.

The ending set the story up for a sequel and I can see this developing into a longer series. This is a very strong second book and I look forward to Arianwyn’s return.


Louise Nettleton

Thanks to Chicken House Books and Jazz B for my copy of A Witch Alone. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Kaya’s Heart Song by Diwa Tharan Sanders

heartsongbanner.jpgimg_5015 With increasing pressure on children to achieve good results, maintain friendships and to grow up in a world of non-stop information, it is important to teach them the importance of relaxation and living in the moment. It is also important for children to make the link between relaxation and increased happiness. 

img_5076When Mama hums it helps her to relax. She calls it her heart song. Humming helps her to move into a state of awareness known as mindfulness. Kaya sets off in search of her own heart song. Along the way she helps Pak to reawaken the magical elephant carousel. The reader is encouraged to find their own heart song through play and adventure. A message at the back gives some additional information about mindfulness. 

The artwork is beautiful. Jewel-bright elephants and flowers stand out against a calming green background. The pictures, like the text, encourage a state of calm. 

A couple of reviews have suggested that this would be too abstract for the youngest picture book readers, but I don’t think that is the case. The reader may not understand the concept of mindfulness when it is explained to them, but they can explore the difference between calm and excitement. 

img_5078Lantana’s mission is to redress the balance seen in publishing so that children of all nationalities see themselves represented in fiction. Representation goes beyond skin colour – imagine if the food you ate or the words you used were never shown in fiction. Kaya’s Heart Song is set in Malaysia and shows children from different backgrounds together on the carousel. 

A beautiful addition to any bookshelf, and a great resource for mindfulness and relaxation. 


Thank you to Lantana Publishing for sending a copy of the book. Opinions my own.

Louise Nettleton.


Review: Brazen by Penelope Bagieu


Brazen tells the story of fifteen women who defied the social pressures of their time to live as they chose. There have been a lot of books about women’s life stories in the past year. Some have clearly aimed to change our perceptions of womanhood while others have churned out the life stories of any woman vaguely in the public eye. Brazen has a clear agenda. Its whole tone is subversive. 

Penelope Bagieu has established herself as a graphic artist, and has previously published graphic biographies. The stories in Brazen are told through cartoon strips. They start with the subject’s childhood, establish what they were up against and tell the story of their journey to success and their legacy. I love the continuity between the strips. Every strip starts with a pen portrait and dates of birth and death, and ends with a double page picture depicting a defining moment in the subject’s life. 

The book represents a good range of women, culturally, historically and in terms of role. All the women overcame some kind of prejudice or common perception about women. Margaret Hamilton, for example, was told she would never act without a nose job. She ended up playing the Wicked Witch Of The West in the 1939 film of The Wizard Of Oz. She played the part so well it became one of the best known roles in Hollywood (and she totally eclipsed Dorothy …)

While lots of these books about women’s lives have been aimed at children – or primarily at children, as Goodnight Stories For Rebel Girls has proved to have crossover appeal – Brazen has a darker, wittier tone which would make it a good choice for teenagers or adults. The humour is tongue-in-cheek but not inappropriate for children. 

I love the use of graphic art to give an overview of a person’s life. I can’t wait to leave my copy lying around the house. I don’t think people be able to resist picking it up. 


Thanks to Sarah Garnham and Ebury Publishing for my copy of Brazen. Opinions my own.


Short Story

Fan-Fiction: Now We Rise Blog Tour

COBB Blog Tour Banner.png

Today is a very special post.

Children Of Blood And Bone is a reccent favourite. By favourite I mean I have been imploring everyone to read it. This isn’t just good, guys, it is stellar. 

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour. This is the most open and unconventional blog tour I have been invited to join, and it is a breath of fresh air. Instead of asking everyone to write a review for a scheduled date, it invites bloggers to create orignial content. As much original content as they like during the period of the blog tour. 

If you like Hogwarts Houses and Divergent factions, you will love the magi clans. Essentially these define people by how they channel their magic. Reapers see the dead, healers cure people. Tiders channel their magic into water and Winders into air. My story is about a Tider and and Winder. It takes a similar theme to Children Of Blood And Bone but imagines the troubles and strengths a Winder might have when faced with a tyrant. Along the way she meets a boy called Taki … but I won’t spoil it. 

Constructive feedback is always welcome. Hope you enjoy. 



(Photograph: Paul Nettleton)

Cry Mama Khazri – Louise Nettleton

Sit quiet when the soldiers come. That’s what Mama always taught me. Sit quiet, say nothing and listen to the wind. Even so, the first time the soldiers came, Mama was impressed that I had sat quiet at the back of the cupboard, even as people screamed and shots rang out and doors were broken apart.

‘Did you not feel frightened?’ she said.

‘No Mama,’ I told her. ‘The wind sung me a lullaby.’

Nobody else heard it. There were no other winders in our village, no other children who played games with the wind. The wind played games with me and told me stories and when other children’s papers blew away, mine always sailed back into my hands.

One day I moved from the back of the cupboard and pressed my eye to the key-hole. I had always imagined the soldiers to be unnaturally big and was surprised to see that most of them were boys. At their head was General Arun, the King’s nephew. The General lead raids on the villages. Some said he wanted to weed out magi, but often there was no reason for the raids other than Arun enjoyed it. Before he killed people he let them beg for as long as possible. Let them build up hope and thank him for his mercy before he ran them through with his bayonet. When he made a kill, the general left a white blossom on the ground. Some said it marked one step closer to purifying the land, but most people in the villages thought it was a boast. It was the General’s way of saying he was leader of the hunt.

When I was fifteen Mama was killed. For weeks I spoke to nobody. I tried to tell people how I felt but my voice didn’t work. The wind spoke for me: gales tore through the village, uprooting trees and bringing roof-tiles down. The wind became my second Mama. It wrapped me in soft breezes and whispered comforts. So it might have gone on, except when I was reminded to sit tight, stay silent and do nothing when the soldiers came I could no longer nod in mute agreement. Why should the soldiers not hear about the pain they had caused? The next time the soldiers came I was ready. ‘Wind, you must not comfort me tonight,’ I said. ‘Comfort is no longer enough. If I am to sit quietly I need to know my voice has been heard.’  Wind magic is like a whisper crossed with blowing, blowing gently until your desire connects with the heart of the breeze. The wind caught my desires and the magic ignited. My back was against the cupboard wall but my mind was with the breeze.

This was different to any magic I had experienced. I was the puppet-master. The wind was obedient to my command. At my bidding it cried like a widow who had just learned of her partner’s passing. It cried like a small child whose mother had been cut down. I watched through the keyhole. The soldiers’ stumbled and misfired as they covered their ears. They had heard such cries before but had always been able to silence them with a bayonet or a sword. General Arun cursed and cried for his men to keep their positions. It made no difference. They fell back with their fingers in their ears and ran for the woods.

Give the girl a chance.

The elders talked long into the night. The village was recalled early the next morning, as the sun rose in the orange sky. A cock crowed, and I took it to be an omen. If the cock could not be silenced, nor could I.

‘Aira is of an age to test her magic,’ said the High Elder, ‘but she must visit our neighbours in Kalamon so she truly knows what the soldiers are capable of.’

I rigged a sail boat and set out along the coast. The wind was my constant companion along the journey and it sped me on my way. The journey which would have taken another person into the night took me two or three hours, and the sea remained calm although I had a great wind in my sails. When I reached the harbour at Kalamon I leapt out to drag my boat in, but a boy leapt from the jetty and took hold of the prow.

‘Thank you,’ I said, afraid my displeasure was evident in my voice. What made him think I wasn’t managing? The boy said nothing, nothing at all. His brow was furrowed as if doing the job was only an excuse to let his mind roam. He insisted he would walk me to the settlement in the olive groves.

‘There is no need,’ I said.

‘My Grandfather insists.’ He said it like it was final. Like me he had been taught to respect his elders.

Almost the whole village had been burned to the ground. Possessions were scattered everywhere – watches and photographs and wooden trinkets half-buried in the mud. The only survivors were the people who lived in the hills. Between the possessions were twenty or thirty white blossoms.

‘We will not clear it, although the soldiers say they will impose a fine if we do not get rid of this eye-sore. I replace the blossoms myself. Why should the truth rot away?’ It was the first thing he had said. His voice was deep for a boy his age, and melodic. It was clear he spoke from a place of hurt, a place of sorrow.

I remembered how little I had to say after Mama died, how I feared the damage I would cause if I tried to open my mouth. I no longer resented the boy’s help or his companionship. That night I told the wind to carry his tale. To tell it to the neighbouring villages, and the trading ports and the towns beyond the hills. Tell them that a young boy sits by the water for fear of looking at his homeland. When I searched for him the next morning, he was nowhere to be found.

I asked after him in the groves. People were so afraid they would miss the harvest that they did not look up from their work. Finally a man with cotton-white hair came over. He held out his hand and introduced himself as the boy’s grandfather.

‘Taki will not thank you for taking his story,’ he said. ‘Though I am pleased to think he opened up to you. He has not spoken a word since the night the village burned. His mother and father and sister died. Taki only survived because he was helping me with the harvest. He goes to the water every morning at dawn and does not return until sundown. Not unless …’ and here the man’s face split into a sad smile, ‘not unless I ask for his help. Taki is not a bad boy. He blames himself for what happened.’

Waves reared and crashed to shore. Taki stood amid them with nothing but a light spray hitting his legs.

‘You’re a tider?’ I said, intrigued to see magic channelled through water.

‘Haven’t you done enough damage?’ Taki came on to the sand and the sea settled back into an ordinary tide.

‘I met your grandfather,’ I said. ‘He says you’re a good boy.’

Taki’s mouth twitched. ‘He is everything I have in this world,’ said Taki. ‘I lost my whole family in that raid, and all my childhood companions. I want the General to know my feelings, but what good is crying? Crying never made a difference.’

We walked past the ruined village, thinking to call on Taki’s grandfather. The day was silent. No laughter, no dogs barking. No sounds from the grove. Not the sound of people singing or branches being trimmed. We turned a corner and saw smoke tearing through the trees. It burned my nose and throat and filled them with the smell of burning flesh. Taki broke into a run. I ran after him, but the ground blistered my feet and the smoke choked my lungs. I grabbed Taki around the waist and held him down.

‘Mother Air if you have ever loved me help us now!’ I cried. The oxygen left the flames and they died like a snuffed candle. Taki directed the river water to rain over the village. People came, coughing and retching from the smoke. Every one of them held a white blossom. A small girl approached Taki and held a flower out to him. For the first time in my life the wind was silent. No comfort whispered in my ear. When I tried to call to the wind I could not find the magic inside myself. There was nothing left but guilt and hollow anger. The image of the burned dwellings seemed to consume my thoughts.  I thought to leave that night. I was an intruder in this grief, and worse than that it was my fault the general had come. Survivors told us how General Arun had demanded to know where the magi were. Not a single person had spoken against us.

A makeshift camp was set up. All evening I cut bandages and applied salves and boiled water above a fire. I spoke to no-one. As night fell I crept from the emergency shelter towards the harbour. I threw my bag into my boat and pushed it out to sea.

‘Where do you think you’re going?’ The water pushed my boat back towards the shore. Taki took hold of the mast.

‘Taki … it’s my fault …’

‘It’s your fault General Arun will not rest until every one of our kind is dead? It’s your fault the soldiers set fire to civilian homes? Girl, you found a way to defy a tyrant. That doesn’t make the tyranny your fault.’

‘But those people. They died because of me.’

‘Those are my people you’re talking about. They didn’t die for you. They didn’t die for me. They died for what is right and it is our job to avenge them.’ Taki looked at me and it was as though the sea raged in his eyes. ‘I chose not to cry because I did not want my voice to be shouted down, but there is only so long a person can remain silent Crying is for the dead of night. Crying is a heart-song for the people we love. It is not the way to defeat a person like Arun. Let us shout and let us rise. Let us use our magic to rally people to action.’

Taki was right. The general would never listen to our pain. He was not afraid of our pain. He enjoyed it. He was afraid of our numbers, of his victims getting together and using their magic to put a stop to his time in power.

‘General Arun will return,’ I said. ‘He will not rest until he has our magi heads.’

Taki took a moment before he spoke. ‘He has hunted us for too long. He has told people our deaths cleanse the land. Now we must stand against him.’ As Taki spoke I felt a breeze tickle the back of my neck. I tried to ignore my fear and guilt. Arun had killed our people. Not me. Arun was on a merciless quest to rid the land of magi and he would destroy whole villages and towns and kill every person who stood in his way. I reached deep inside for a place of anger, a place of vengeance. The wind howled around the ghost village. It howled through the burned groves. I hoped this wind would be enough when Arun returned.

The moon rose. By its light I saw Arun’s ship cutting through the waters. Arun stood at the bow, his sharp profile lit by a swinging lantern. As the ship turned I saw two white flowers in Arun’s belt. There were shouts. Men came forward, gesturing to the harbour. As the ship pulled nearer Arun aimed a harpoon gun at my chest.

‘Little magi,’ he called. ‘What use is magic against a warship? Once I have killed you, I will take every person who tried to protect you.’

In my rage I called upon all the winds of the world, winds with a hundred different names – bora and caju, khazri and norte and squamish. They came from different places, each forged by its climate, but they howled with the same rage. I used my vengeance to summon them in kinship. Desert winds stung my face while arctic winds came biting cold. My hair flew around my face as I gathered my winds together.

The waves crashed into the rocks. I met Taki’s eye and he held my gaze. Together we built our magic until a tidal wave rose from the shoreline and thundered out to sea. It curled over and charged. The clouds parted, revealing the moon. By its light I saw our wave arching over the ship. Arun’s hand faltered on the harpoon gun as sea spray lashed his face. He fell overboard. Powerful currents held him beneath the water. Taki used his magic to fill the water with white blossom. Arun drowned in a sea of his own making.

The surviving soldiers turned their lifeboats away from shore. They cried for Arun but no answer came. No command. The men who had looked so powerful as in the days when I peeked through the keyhole suddenly looked fragile. They pulled their oars against a swelling sea.

‘Others will come,’ said Taki. The sun rose, turning the sky orange. It reminded me that after every battle a new day would come.

‘We will rise,’ I said. We watched dawn rise. I vowed then never to cry for mercy to a tyrant when I could summon a hurricane.




top ten tuesday

Ten Children’s Books About Cats

img_3882Cats are integral to my life. First there was Lucy. Gentle giant. The kind of cat who kept the house in order by licking her kittens (humans) into shape. Then there was Max. Diva. Deity. Think of Maui from Moana turned feline. What can I say folks, you’re welcome Max knew he blessed us with his presence and he capitalised on it. Now we have Maisie and Willow, our beautiful rescue cats. 

It is only natural that I like stories about cats.

Six Dinner Sid and The Diary Of A Killer Cat were childhood favourites. And Mog. Gentle, dozy Mog, who knew it was her role in life to keep her humans in check. There were stories about cats which I detested too. Those sugary here-kitty-kitty type stories. The ones where the cat was some kind of … pet.

I am suspicious of people who overuse the word pet. Sure, we talk about pet products and pet insurance. One word to refer to our animal companians. That’s fine. It is people who treat my animals as something inferior, something there for the human’s entertainment that I cannot abide. No. My girls are animals. They are part of the family. I like my cat books to reflect their nature (see … nature. Not trained behaviour.) If humans are involved in the story it needs to reflect the very special bond which can be formed between feline and homo-sapien. 

If you are still reading, odds are you are a cat person, in which case I salute you, and send respectful greetings to your feline friends. Let me know your favourite cat books in the comments below. 


The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley: 

Mowzer lives with her human Tom. He catches fish for her supper and knows the perfect place to tickle behind her ear. One day, the Great Storm Cat comes. The boats can’t get out to fish. The community starves. Mowzer and Tom are elderly. They have lived long lives. They take it upon themselves to go out and catch fish. It  is up to Mowzer to tame the Great Storm Cat with her beautiful voice.

Based on a Cornish legend, this is one of the best books about the life-long bond between human and cat. Mowzer is not Tom’s pet, she is his companion. Neither can contemplate life without the other. Nicola Bayley is famed for her illustrations of cats. Here her expertise brings the Great Storm Cat to life in a way which is both striking and memorable. 


Six Dinner Side by Inga Moore:

Six Dinner Sid: Sid is accoustoumed to six dinners a day. He answers to six different names and sleeps in six different houses. One day, Sid gets ill and the game is up. His humans are not best impressed with their cat-share arrangement. Can Sid find a place where his lifestyle will be accepted?

Some cats eat. And eat. And eat. When I rented a flat, I had regular visits from the handsome tabby upstairs. This chap would fling himself into a pan of baked-beans if you turned your back. Our Maisie likes her food too. She parades around her food bowl for up to nintey minutes ahead of food time. Everybody loves Sid because the story begins with a recognisable feline trait. 


Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler: 

Tabby McTat was a busker’s cat …

This rhyming story follows the adventures of Tabby McTat. McTat always lived with busker Fred. When Fred has an accident, McTat is taken in by a kindly couple and there he meets the love of his life, Sock. By the time Fred is found, McTat has a litter of kittens and a whole new life. 

I think I loved this book because it captures the ineractions of city cats. Our Max lived most of his life in London, and he had regular interactions (both friendships of a sort and blood-curdling fights) with the neighbourhood cats. 


Cat, You Better Come Home by Garrison Keillor:

A dark twist on Six Dinner Sid. A cat with expensive tastes does not get the lifestyle she is accoustomed to at home, so she sets out across the world on a globe-trotting adventure in search of fame and fortune. Delicious fortune. At first she has a great success, but ultimately she ends up at the front door with her tail between her legs. 

I found this slightly surreal book when I sorted books at a charity shop. I read to Max. It made no difference – he still preferred fresh king prawns to the ordinary frozen ones. 


The King Cat by Marta Altes:

This cat was king of his household until a disgusting, dribbly dog arrives. Cat is not keen to adjust to being one of two pets. A brilliant metaphor for new sibling jealousy.

Cats get jealous. They get possessive of their humans. Maise and Willow love each other to pieces when they think nobody is looking, but if they are having a cuddle they want the human to themselves. Max … Max got jealous of laptops. He learned to push the screen down. I think he thought we were stroking the keyboards. 


Slinky Malinky by Lynley Dodd:

Slinky Malinky steals anything. Gloves, slippers socks. She gains a reputation as the local cat burgler. 

I knew a cat burglar Her name was Mabel. She had a penchant for gloves and ear-buds. We used to buy washing up gloves and write messages on them. Sometimes we looked out of the window and saw her dragging rubber gloves across the road. She was also an expert at breaking and entering. She used to follow sales-people around and slip through the open doors when people were distracted. She even made the local paper. 


Diary Of A Killer Cat by Anne Fine: 

So hang me. I killed the bird. For pity’s sake I’m a cat …

Tufty has a reputation as a cold-blooded murdurer. If it fits through the cat-flap, he’ll kill it and bring it home. When Tufty turns up with next-door’s rabbit, all hell breaks loose. Did Tufty really kill Thumper? Tufty watches with amusement as the humans devise a plan to put Thumper back in his cage before next-door cotton on. 

This is laugh-out-loud funny, and one of the best examples of voice an aspiring writer can find. 


The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy: 

The feral cats of Delhi fear no-one. They stick to their territories or pay the price. Now there is a new cat, a pampered house cat with strange powers. And something is stirring in the shuttered house. Something dark and dangerous. 

This may be fantasy, but it is particularly observant of feline behaviour. It is also a bloomin’ good story. I read it with my mouth open. Please tell me if you read this, because I want to talk about this series. 


Varjak Paw by SF Said:

Varjak Paw is a Mesopotamiam Blue. His cousins say he is not a good one. Mesopotamiam Blues do not dream of adventure. Varjak and his family live in a large house. When their wealthy owner dies, a strange gentleman comes in with his dangerous cats. Varjak must escape the house, learn the ways of his ancient ancestors and bring a dog back to help his family. 

Varjak learns a code called ‘the way’. It is like ninja-skills for cats, based on real cat behaviours. Literature has previously refered to the secret ways of cats. Cats have a mystique. Varjak Paws uses this to great effect. 


The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison:

‘You’re the only person and know. And, well … I’m hungry.’ 

This is the only book on my list which isn’t about cats. It has a great feline character, a talking cat called Tabitha who has come out of a fictional story into the real world. Tabitha may be a talking cat, but it is her feline behaviour which makes her real. Michelle Harrison knows her cats and it shows in the narrative. 


Do you have a favourite children’s book about cats? Do you have a feline friend? Let me know in the comments below.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Sal by Mick Kitson



Sal’s stepfather has been visiting her bedroom since she was ten. Now her little sister is the same age. When Robert threatens to do the same to Peppa, Sal kills him. She and Peppa escape to the forests of Galloway. They build a shelter, lay snares and live in the open like Bear Brylls.

Sal wants to stay with Peppa. To keep Peppa safe. Will the healing powers of nature and the kindness of their new friends be enough to help Sal and Peppa confront their situation?  A difficult but distinctive read which gives voice to people in society whose stories often go untold.birdReview:

It was clear from the outset that Sal would do anything for Peppa.  Her experiences make her determined to look after her little sister. The reader connects with her for this reason. Both voices felt realistic. Sal is constantly thinking about survival: wilderness techniques and hunting and surviving her ordinary life. Peppa likes words. Especially swear-words. Sal is a worrier while Peppa is a free-spirit.

The book begins after the inciting incident. This means the first section is told through flashbacks. It begins with the children in the wilderness. We build an understanding of why they are out there, and why they feel hunted.

At times I found there was too much additional information, especially the survival lectures and historical details. Although these created Sal’s voice, I felt I was wading through this information to get to the story. 

The ending achieved a good balance. It leaves the reader with hope but doesn’t make light of a terrible situation. This is an important story for and I hope it will help people to empathise with children in Sal’s situation. 


Thanks to Cannongate for sending an ARC. Opinions my own.


Oi Goat – World Book Day Recommendation


Happy World Book Day! It is the happiest day of the year for readers and book lovers, and the most exciting thing is the books. Books which everyone can afford, books which children can buy with their tokens. I am particularly excited to see ‘Oi Goat’ by Kes Gray. Joining ‘Oi Frog’ ‘Oi Dog’ and ‘Oi Cat’, Kes Gray’s books celebrate word play and humour. I love the primary colours and Jim Field’s vibrant illustrations. Look at those facial expressions! I’m smiling before I have opened the book. 

World book day is a partnership between booksellers, publishers and other interested parties. Its main aim is to encourage reading for pleasure. Book ownership and reading for pleasure have a big impact on children’s attitudes to reading. 

A big THANK YOU to everyone who makes WBD happen. Teachers, booksellers, publishers … as a voracious reader it is lovely to see the thing which shapes my world celebrated and made available to young people. 

Have a good one. 

Young Adult Reviews

Double Review: Sita Brahmachari

doublereviewbannerWorry Angels:

img_4310Lots has changed in Amy’s life. When Dad moves out, Amy and her mother move to a new area. Amy’s anxiety increases and she refuses to go to her new school. Then Grace intervenes. Grace runs the support-centre. It is nothing like school, nothing like secondary school. It is an art-house. A place of baking and gardening and artwork.

Rima also comes to the support centre. She and her family were forced to flee their home in Syria and she has lots of difficult memories. Although she and Amy don’t speak the same language, they find ways to communicate their feelings and experiences.


A beautiful story which encourages empathy and friendship. Amy and Rima have very different experiences but both girls need help to express their emotions. I loved how Rima’s story didn’t overshadow Amy’s. In real life a lot of people would have written Amy off as a bit of a worrier. The story makes it clear that whatever our experiences we can use them to empathise with other people. Both girls learn to express themselves through art. Both girls need a bit of breathing space from the busy school environment.

Grace is a fantastic character. Her approach to life and learning will stay with you after you finish the story. Her pupils engage in art and day-to-day activities and Grace works academic learning into those activities (counting money for baking ingredients for example.)  It is lovely to see a book suggest that learning take more than one shape. Sometimes learning needs to be tailored to a pupil.

The other character I loved was Rima, the 23 year-old translator. I have said many times that YA often fails to give a realistic picture of life beyond university. If we believed YA books and films we would think that you either fall into a ready-made career or fail. Rima has finished her degree and needs more experience before she can start a career in translation. She is a volunteer translator. Both Worry Angels and Zebra Crossing Soul Song show realistic characters in their early 20s taking their first career steps. I want to shout from the rooftops about this! We need to see this more often.

Worry Angels is a lovely read and it is enhanced by Jane Ray’s beautiful illustrations.


 Zebra Crossing Soul Song:

zebracrossingLenny is resitting his A-Levels. He isn’t certain where he wants to go, or what he wants to be. His mind is stuck in the past. On the crossing and Otis, and what happened that day Otis lost it.

Otis was the crossing man. Lenny saw him everyday from nursery all the way to the end of school and they had a special bond. The new traffic lights can’t replace the interaction Lenny had with Otis – his songs and his life-lessons.

Lenny searches through his memories, seeking to understand what it was that made Otis loose his mind that day. He uncovers some valuable lessons about life and memory which help him to go forward.


Lenny is 19. YA often depicts people in their late teens as being impossibly grown-up and sorted. Zebra Crossing Soul Song was how shows a young person who still needs help and guidance from people more mature than himself. This is fantastic! Teenagers need to see themselves reflected in books. They need realistic role-models.

Lenny writes and records his own ‘soul songs’. Although they are written in simple language they capture complex thoughts and emotions. I hope this will encourage readers to write their own feelings in whatever words come. You don’t need an elaborate vocabulary to record your thoughts.

This is a fantastic book for encouraging empathy. Lenny feels left-behind. An ‘underachiever’. Someone not destined for much in life. Otis has a terrible sadness in his past. Lenny’s Dads feel that their relationship is judged by strangers. It is a wonderful book for getting into other people’s heads and imagining their lives.


Huge thanks to Barrington Stoke and Kirsten Lamb for my copies of Worry Angels and Zebra Crossing Soul Song. Opinions my own.