Middle Grade Reviews

Review: What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah

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Extract:

… there are all these layers and categories when it comes to lies. Fibbing is a nicer word, but means the same thing as lying as far as I can tell. Then there are white lies and black lies, lies you need to tell so people don’t get offended, and lies that stop people panicking. It’s all so confusing.

(What Lexie Did by Emma Shevah. P33.)birdSynopsis:

Lexie comes from a big Greek Cypriot family. She reckons ‘cousin’ isn’t a big enough word to describe her relationship with Eleni. They’re practically twins. When Eleni was born, she nearly died because of her heart condition. Everyone says it was baby Lexie who saved Eleni’s life, by lying alongside her in the hospital cot. They’ve been close all their lives.

Lexie thought nothing could come between her and Eleni. That was before the picnic and the whole truth-and-lies saga. When Lexie tells the truth at a family picnic, everyone calls her a tell-tale. Next time she is asked an awkward question, she tells a lie. A big, fat lie which splits her family apart.

Can Lexie find a way to put things right?birdReview:

Think My Big Fat Greek Wedding from the perspective of a ten-year-old. A fib about a family heirloom splits a family apart in the run-up to a wedding.

Emma Shevah is brilliant at showing the interactions between children. Think games and routines and giggles. Think sibling-squabbles and looking out for your family. Lexie and Eleni have a close relationship until new-girl Anastasia arrives. A friendship triangle ensues, with lots of tension and drama. This novel has a strong voice. Lexie is funny and philosophical and loves lexicography. She is always trying to think of new words and phrases for her notebook.

The main theme is integrity. Younger children are taught to tell the truth as if it is a golden rule. As they reach adolescence they learn that it isn’t that simple. The truth can upset people, other people get away with blatant lies, and there will be times when two people’s differing truths are equally valid. The novel’s message is realistic. It encourages children to think of truth as a guiding principle rather than a golden-rule.  

A note at the back of the book explains how much research Shevah did to write a Greek Cypriot family. This really shines through. From food to family to Grandparents overly-obsessed with tradition, the book is like a window into an authentic life.

Warm-hearted, relatable and laugh-out-loud funny. Thumb-up for Lexie and her ginormous family.  

 

Huge thanks to Chicken House Books for my copy of What Lexie Did. Opinions my own.

Short Story

Guest Review: Make More Noise! short story anthology.

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Repro_MakeMoreNoise_cvr.inddIf you missed out on  #Vote100, where have you been?
1918 was the first time women in the UK had the right to vote. Although voting rights were still not equal with their male counterparts, this was a crucial step in the battle for female suffrage in the UK.
Make More Noise! is an anthology of short stories written to mark this centenary. It focuses on gender equality and the importance of political rights. 
I have teamed up with Amy from GoldenBooksGirl to read and review the book. Amy has reviewed half the stories, and my reviews will be appearing shortly on her blog. 
Huge thanks Amy for your contribution. 
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On Your Bike by Jeanne Willis- I really struggled with the narrative voice of this, and overall didn’t like it despite the super interesting concept of a woman traveling the world by bike. It felt fairly repetitive and dull, and I think it could have been so much better. 

The Tuesday Afternoon Ghost by Ella Risbridger- I loved this. It was an atmospheric, not quite ghost story about two girls who experience an unusual accident. Some moments sent a shiver down my spine, and I enjoyed the exploration of friendship) I’ve been a fan of Ella Risbridger’s columns for years, and my first experience of her fiction writing was just as wonderful. Let me tell you, if she releases a children’s or YA book, I will be ALL over that.

The Otter Path by Emma Carroll- another story I adored. This one is about saving otters and celebrating land girls, and it’s full of Emma Carroll’s trademark excellence. It’s so well written, full of heart and there was even a bit where I cried. It was interesting to learn more about land girls, and I also enjoyed the message that you shouldn’t judge people based on the way they seem alone.

The Race by Ally Kennen- this is the story of Faith, as she goes to stay with her aunt and uncle on their farm and takes part in the titular race. I liked the dynamics of the big family, especially the humour, and I thought it was a nice story. I have an Ally Kennen book on my TBR, and this has made it more of a priority!

Discuss, Decide, Do by Catherine Johnson- This is the story of Claudette, a Jewish girl facing personal problems,  who witnesses a fascist protest against Jews just after World War Two. I thought the characters, particularly Claudette and Rita, and I found it fascinating to read at the end that it had been based on true events.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Spark by Alice Broadway

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Extract:

‘Tell her – and tell her clearly – that if you are not for us, you are against us. She will go to Featherstone, and she will do what she is told, or her friends here will suffer’

(Spark by Alice Broadway. P24.)

 

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The events of Ink left Leora questioning everything she thought she knew about herself and her community. As someone who is half-marked/half-blank, can she continue to live in the Marked community of Saintstone?

Leora is sent by Mayor Longsight to gather information on the Blanks. This takes her outside of Saintstone and puts her in touch with the community her birth-mother belonged to. Leora learns a new set of rituals and stories while she searches for information about her birth-mother.

Will she find safety there? As events unfold, Leora must work out where the threat is coming from.
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Review:

Spark continues the story where Ink left off and takes us into the wider world and the blank community. For those of you who are not familiar with the series, it is set in a world where some people’s bodies are covered with tattoo-like marks. These marks detail a person’s history: their age and occupation and rites of passage. In Saintstone, people are deeply suspicious of anyone without marks. This fear is exacerbated by religious stories and a corrupt political regime.

In Ink we learned the stories of Saintstone. The Blank community has a contrasting set of stories. The same characters and events take place, but the stories have different themes and outcomes. I love this exploration of storytelling. How theme begins with the storyteller’s opinions. As much as I loved Spark itself, my favourite part was the way it reshaped what we thought we knew.

Leora’s issues are so relatable. She is trying to figure out where she belongs, and she has also realised that one person’s truth may be nothing like another’s. Young people try to form their own opinions, but they are surrounded by adults who sincerely believe their own version of events. Leora has a lot of internal conflicts, which demonstrates that brave heroines don’t have to be full of action.

I also love the theme of political corruption. Even in a community where truth is the watch-word, it turns out that ‘truth’ has a smaller voice than ‘power’. This is a bitter-truth which many of us learn the hard way. It can also be liberating to understand this – that just because someone has the status to come out on top, it doesn’t mean they were correct or even honest. In a climate of misinformation and prejudice, these themes have never been more relevant.

The ending is explosive. I’m counting down for the next installment. Alice Broadway is a major-talent and she has created a fascinating world.

 

Huge thanks to Scholastic UK for my copy of Spark. Opinions my own.

Chat

Bath, Book, Bed – why adults need downtime too.

Booktrust came up with this slogan, and I think adults could learn from it. 

When I was a small child, my mum read to me religiously. Every night, my sister and I picked a couple of books each. I credit those evening readathons for my lifelong love of books.

Bath, Book, Bed is a campaign run by Booktrust, which promotes reading as part of a bedtime routine. Parents are encouraged to develop a pre-bedtime routine to help their little ‘uns embrace the world of sleep.

It is a great campaign and a great slogan.

My question is – can we extend bath, book, bed into our adult lives? Having adopted these routines in childhood, many of us lose sight of winding down time as we get older. We live in a 24/7 world where me time can feel like a luxury. Actually, it is a necessity. While we may not need a daily routine to keep us under the covers, downtime and regularity can be our ticket to a better night’s sleep.

Reading is a great way to take quiet, reflective time. 

I would like to hear from bloggers and influencers about their bath, book, bed. I’m going to invite bloggers to talk about their bath, book, bed. As well as supporting Booktrust in their campaign, I hope it will encourage adults to wind down and look after themselves. 

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Bath

Bath bombs and bubble mountains and scented candles. Day-to-day, I’m a shower person. When I have a bath, I’m in it for the experience. 

I like the kind of bath bombs which turn the water multiple colours. Intergalactic and The Experimenter by Lush are brilliant for turning the bath technicolor. 

Soap has to be freshly made. Forget that supermarket stuff. There’s a brilliant shop in Keswick called The Soap Company KeswickThey sell soaps which look practically edible and have uniquely Cumbrian names. (Image from The Soap Company Keswick.

Scented candles are my new favourite thing thanks to Rebecca from Taken Moons. Brave Of Heart smells of coffee and log fire and is named for Gryffindor house. 

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Book 

img_5431Do I read? Do I ever. 

Reading has been part of my bedtime routine since the year dot. I give a good evening over to reading, splitting my time between my nest in the study, and my bedroom. Guilty confession – a good book will keep me up past midnight. Booktrust forgot to mention that after children are fully initiated in bath, book, bed, they discover the joys of one last chapter.

I’ve just finished What Lexie Did, a warm and witty Middle-Grade novel about truth, lies, and family. Lexie is from a huge Greek-Cypriot family. Think My Big Fat Greek Wedding from the perspective of a ten-year-old, and throw in some additional drama. 

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Bed

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Bedtime is downtime. I leave my phone out of the bedroom otherwise I find myself flicking through Twitter. Nothing comes between me and sleep like social media. 

I adore PJs and recently discovered nightshirts. That sounds like the kind of thing your great-granny wears, but actually, this shirt is exactly like the kind I would wear in the day except it is softer and slouchier. Comfortable nightwear is essential to good sleep. 

My Mummy is a knitter, a crocheter, and general wool-wizard. She swears by pure wool, which means her blankets are the softest, cosiest things around. I always have one on the bed. My favourite is the ice-cream blanket, so named because its colours remind me of a cone with sprinkles. 

 

Want to tell me about your Bath, Book, Bed? Drop a note in the comments below with your Twitter handle. Bath, Book, Bed is a BookTrust slogan. This article was inspired by their campaign. Please check out their work here.

Louise Nettleton

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: How To Bee by Bren McDibble

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Extract:

I don’t know what honey tastes like. Gramps knows. He says ‘sweet like honey,’ sometimes. When the real bees flew from flower to flower, they did this job. One tiny bee could do the work of twenty kid bees every day.

(How To Bee by Bren McDibble.)  birdSynopsis:

Imagine a world without bees. Children are employed to pollinate the fruit trees by hand. Peony wants to be a Bee. She wants to help provide for her grandfather and sister Mags.

Peony is taken from her home and forced to work as a domestic maid in the city. There she encounters people who have more than she does, including Esmerelda, a girl who is afraid of the outdoors.

Peony needs to get home to the countryside. Will her mother ever understand that a simple live in the country is better than a life of servitude?

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Review:

Environmental crisis, poverty and a girl who longs for a simple life. How To Bee gave me the same tingles as Skellig. It is brilliantly crafted and will stick with me long after I have finished reading.

I was instantly drawn into Peony’s world. The children on the farm take on roles which were once integral to the natural world, pollinating the plants and removing pests from the crops. Peony’s mixed definitions – Bees are children who pollinate the plants, but they used to be living things – brings to life the generation brought up in a decimated world.

This is not a dystopia about overthrowing a regime. Like all good dystopias, it explores how we can make a positive change to our world, but there is no war. No corrupt-government. The novel manages to explore some huge themes – environmental crisis, social inequality and the impact of urbanisation – without the familiar story of rebellion. Instead, there is a girl who knows her own mind and a message of small-change-big-difference.  

Peony is a great heroine. She’s hardworking and caring, but also smart-mouthed and feisty.

Esmerelda has a phobia of going outdoors and could be described as agoraphobic. I loved how this was handled. Peony bonds with Esmerelda before we learn about her phobia. I thought this was a great way of building empathy. We care about the character before her issues are raised, and as such, she is never treated as something other.

The other main story is about Peony’s mother, who wants to start a new family in the city. Peony’s relationship with her mother is a key part of the plot. Her mother’s decisions keep Peony from her own goals. Peony’s mother is vulnerable. There is never any sense of the story condemning her, and Peony’s emotions are explored with sensitivity.

Peony’s voice will stay with you long after the last chapter. This has the potential to be a future classic. Read it ASAP, preferably outdoors with the sound of bees in the background.

 

Big thanks to Liz Scott PR and Old Barn Books for my ARC. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: She Persisted Around The World by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger

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13 women from around the world who changed history. Their stories are collected in this picture book to motivate young readers. 

Anthologies of inspirational women are having a ‘moment’. There is certainly interest in the topic, but there is also heavy competition. She Persisted Around The World is a little different from the other anthologies I have seen. Its features are shorter (two or three paragraphs long) making it friendly to slightly younger readers. 

img_5340I like the layout. Most entries have a single page illustration and a smaller illustration alongside the text. A couple of entries have a single illustration spread across two pages. This variety makes the book visually interesting. I liked the calm colour palette and the fact that the illustrations showed the girls in action (rather than resembling posed portraits.) 

There are some inspirational stories here, and it was lovely to see stories from around the world in one anthology. She Persisted becomes a refrain used in every story, and the reader is encouraged to adopt this attitude into their own life. 

Without dates or context, it was hard to situate the stories in history. Perhaps that was the author’s intention – that the girls should be united by their attitude and not differentiated by time or place – but I felt that there could have been more context. 

It is nice to see an anthology of life stories suitable for infants school readers. This would make a lovely addition to a book corner, to encourage even the youngest of children to hold their head up and be persistent in their ambitions. 

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas and Penguin Random House for my review copy. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Storm Wake by Lucy Christopher

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Extract:

‘The flowers work!’ he said. ‘I don’t know how, but they …’ the wind caught his words as he spun and spun, ‘ … they make things change, make things beautiful that were swirling-dark before.’ 

(Storm Wake by Lucy Christopher. P23.) birdSynopsis:

Moss has lived on the island with Pa and Cal for as long as she can remember. Pa says the island is a safe place. A place of stories and dreams. He says the rest of the world vanished during a flood, and that the island is the only place to have survived.

 When something strange is swept up during a storm, Moss is forced to question what she knows about herself and the island.  A lyrical reworking of The Tempest which will hold you in its dream.
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Review:

When the twist comes, it hits you with the force of a tempest.

The first part of the story swept me into the same dream as Moss and Pa. Everything was hazy. Peaceful. It was almost possible to believe that Moss and Pa were safe and well on their beautiful island. Except that’s not how stories work. When you are disabused of this notion, you are disabused well and hard. The island no longer looks like such a paradise.

At the end of The Tempest, dream fades into reality. Lucy Christopher has reworked this idea to give it additional depth. The story hinges around Pa, a counterpart to Prospero. Pa is manipulative, but he is also vulnerable. Desperate. Loving. As Moss reaches adolescence, she is no longer content to listen to Pa’s stories. Many young readers will relate to the moment of discovering that their guardians do not hold the definitive answers.

The second half of the book is about internal conflict. It is a battle of wills, and a story of discovery. 

The writing held my attention as much as the plot. The words themselves are lyrical. Storm and Cal use unusual phrases, such as storm-woke, which reflect their isolated upbringing on the island. I was also held by the description. I could imagine the world with all my senses – the crashing of the waves and the heady scent of flowers.

A dreamy book which will make you rethink escape and isolation.

 

Louise Nettleton

Do you have a favourite retelling? Have you read The Tempest? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thanks to Chicken House Books for my copy of Storm Wake. Opinions my own.