Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: In Blossom by Yooju Cheon

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Review: In Blossom by Yooju Cheon

A cat. A dog. One sunny day they meet on a bench. Cat eats her lunch and dog reads his book, but the sun twinkles, the breeze blows and there is something sweet in the air …

A beautiful metaphorical look at falling in love. The budding attraction between Cat and Dog is shown as cherry blossom. It flits backwards and forwards between them as they sneak looks at each other over their separate activities. The romance grows from one petal to a whole shower, and eventually, Cat offers to share her lunch. 

img_8302It is that first moment. We’ve seen it in adverts, in films and in stories when characters reflect on the moment the very first moment they saw their partners. Now is has been turned into a beautiful picture book suitable for people of all ages. As well as being a lovely way to introduce the idea of attraction to young children, (you could do this without even going into words) it would make an adorable gift for someone special. I can’t think of a lovelier way of saying there’s something between us than sharing this beautiful story. 

The artwork is as sweet and precious as the story. The line drawings and restricted colour-pallette mean our eyes are drawn to the cherry blossom which falls from the trees. I also adore the facial expressions. As I mentioned above, it is in many ways a story which had been told a thousand times, but that is exactly the point of romance. It is new and special every time. Cat and Dog are just about the cutest couple I have ever seen, and we’re rooting for them to talk to each other. 

The book also captures the beauty of Spring. Those precious days when the world has been decorated with colour and fragrance. 

A lovely, gentle read and a poetic look at the first signs of love. 

 

Thanks to Quarto Children’s Books for my gifted copy of In Blossom. Opinions my own.

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Chat · Reflection

Two years of blogging – reflections

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Happy blog day to me.

Two years ago I came home from a book event and typed up my thoughts. It seemed as good a moment as any to start that blog. It feels like minutes since I hit ‘publish’ on my first post and watched my stats until I saw activity which didn’t actually come from my Mum. 

Two years is a strange mark in blogging. In one way I have learned so much, but I also have so much still to learn. Last year I was determined to make the move to self-hosting, but now I am glad I waited. Free WordPress may not be glamorous but it has given me space to test out content from different niches and work on different skills before making the jump. 

So what have I been up to in my second year of blogging? 

Over the last year, I have been lucky enough to attend several bookish events, listen to established authors and meet other bloggers. I am already booked in for the NYA Literary Festival this March and can’t wait to see you all again. Twitter chats are brilliant, but there is nothing like meeting in person. 

I was particularly motivated by Abi Elphinstone at the Edinburgh Book Festival, who spoke about using her own strengths to plot stories and sticking out rejection to reach success. 

It was also a pleasure to meet Robin Stevens in December. The Murder Most Unladylike series is one of my favourite middle-grade mystery series, and Robin Stevens gave some brilliant advice about creating believable characters.

Over the past twelve months, I have written a novel manuscript. I had attempted this before and it had ended in ‘Frankenstein’s monsters’ (did I steal that? It is the perfect description of those early projects. The ones which had some good stuff in them. The odd scene or character or brilliant bit of dialogue. A couple even had a soul, but they just didn’t hold together as a story. Calling them nothing belies the effort which went into them, but calling them novel manuscripts would be like calling Frankenstein’s monster human.) 

This year I finished a 40,000-word middle-grade mystery. With the average number of manuscripts ahead of publication stated as four, I am looking ahead to my next plots, but it is encouraging to finally have something in the drawer . I know blogging played a big part in getting me to this stage. Networking with writers at all stages of their career has been invaluable, and I have friends who have cheered me on through every scrap of writing over the past two years. Thanks to you all. 

If you are thinking about starting a book blog, do it.  Take time to find out what sort of book-blogger you are. There are promoters and there are people who want to build a network of bookish friends and there are people looking to develop their reading as part of a professional goal (eg teachers looking to improve the way they use texts in the classroom). Some bloggers are social-bunnies while others are introverts. Some bloggers want to create dazzling content while others slip it into a very hectic timetable. Everyone’s approach is valid and that variety makes the blogosphere a more interesting place. 

In my first two years, I have tried content from different niches. I have tried sticking to schedule and I have tried going with the flow. I almost expanded to include literary fiction, then dropped that in favour of picture books and illustrated non-fiction. I have dabbled with lifestyle content as a way of expanding my audience. There can be immense pressure when everything is quantified in likes and stats. My advice? Enjoy playing.

What do I want to take forward over the coming year? 

If I want to keep anything from my first two years, it is my commitment to be kind. Social media can be exhausting, and nothing depresses me more than when new bloggers join in a chat or an event and get totally overlooked. If I keep anything from my earliest years of blogging, I want to remember to be the person who says ‘hi’. The person who likes a post even though the photograph is wonky. Remember always that there are real people behind those posts. 

Reviewing picture books and younger middle-grade has not only helped me to find books which I love promoting, it has also helped me to find whole different networks. The people who talk about these formats on Twitter are some of the most dedicated and insightful readers I have had the pleasure of engaging with. From librarians and teachers to parents and content-creators and aspiring authors and illustrators, their approaches to these texts may be different but they share a dedication and interest. 

Reviewing picture books has also shown me how much I love considering theme and ways of using books to promote empathy. Maybe that is partly to do with the climate we are currently living in, but I don’t think there has ever been a better time for reading deeper. Look out for more in the coming year. 

I would also love to do more collaborations with lifestyle bloggers. Doing these really pushes me out of my ‘comfort’ niches and makes for a more rounded and interesting blog. 

Finally, I want to hear from you all. Share your thoughts, post your blog links and tell me what you are loving. My readers are the reason I keep typing. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported BookMurmuration over the past two years. Here’s to the next two. 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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Extract:

‘I’m not saying that. I’ve definitely been scared of someone before. Real scared,’ I added, thinking how loud a gun sounds when it’s fired in a small room. ‘That’s how come I know how to run so fast. But now, the only person I’m scared of, other than my mother … I mean, like, I do things I know aren’t cool, but even though I know they aren’t cool, like beating on Brandon, all of a sudden I’m doing it anyway, y’know. So I guess … I guess the only other person I’m really scared of, maybe … is me.

(Ghost by Jason Reynolds. P57.) 

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Synopsis:

Ghost isn’t a bad kid, but he’s got a record at school for ‘altercations’. He just can’t cope with the other kids making fun of his home in the roughest part of town or his shabby clothes. Ghost knows he’s a great runner, possibly one of the best, but he runs alone.

Then Ghost meets Coach who offers him a deal – he can join The Defenders, one of the best running teams in town, but a single incident and Ghost is off the team.

If Ghost can stay on track, he might have a bright future ahead. Together with the other newbies, Ghost trains hard and learns to be part of a team. The trouble is, Ghost needs move on from his past.

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Review:

This is the story of a boy with a huge talent. A boy who could make his name as a professional runner. Talent isn’t enough to get where you want to be. There are other qualities, such as resilience, determination, and drive. There is support from your loved ones and mentoring from people with more experience. So many factors determine success.

Ghost is one of those kids who is too quickly written off. He comes from the roughest area of town, can’t afford the equipment he needs to train and is struggling to cope with the challenges life has already thrown at him.

It takes someone special to see past that and Coach is that person. The bond between Coach and Ghost was one of my favourite things about the novel. Coach doesn’t condone Ghost’s behaviour, but he does understand that Ghost needs a second chance. And a third one. He understands that the behaviour isn’t coming from nowhere and that without guidance and something to focus on Ghost will find it difficult to change.

Ghost spends huge amounts of time running and he also has an interest in sports theory and trivia. It is difficult not to root for someone who shows so much passion, and I thought the story spoke volumes about the inequality in our society. There are talented kids from all walks of life, but some kids need extra help to maintain a commitment.

The book is the first in a series, and the other books will follow the other newbies on the running team. Ghost, Lu, Patina and Sunny. I am looking forward to the next book very much and will recommend Ghost far and wide.

 

Thanks to EdPr and Knights Of for my gifted copy of Ghost. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart.

Review: The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart.

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Extract:

‘Many of us feel that realities work like a spider’s web; a disturbance at one point leads to tremors being felt in many other places, just as a spider knows when a fly gets stuck in its trap.’

(The Star-Spun Web by Sinéad O’Hart. P87.) 

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Synopsis:

Tess de Sousa was left at Ackerbee’s Home For Lost and Foundlings under strange circumstances. Years later, when a man comes to claim her, there is nothing Mrs Ackerbee can do except give Tess the strange device which was left with her when she was a baby.

Tess is taken to Roedeer Lodge by the sinister Mr Cleat. It soon becomes apparent that his interest in Tess is part of his own scheming. Added to that, Tess suffers unkindness from housekeeper Mrs Thistleton.

When Tess learns what her strange device is, and how it can connect her to other worlds, she realises she is part of a much bigger plan.

A modern classic with elements of The Secret Garden and His Dark Materials.

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Review:

Sometimes a special book comes along. One which keeps the reader awake into the night. Where the reader feels as if they have lived alongside the character and shared their experiences. The Star-Spun Web is such a book.

It must be a challenge to take on travel between multiple worlds as part of a story when everyone associates it with His Dark Materials. A bit like writing about a magic school. Not that there haven’t been many stories about these things, but in some respects it must be a hard act to follow. Full credit to Sinéad O’Hart, because she has not only pulled it off, she has written a story which is equally as compelling and memorable.

There is a great cast of characters, from the ‘outspoken’ Mrs Ackerbee to Tess’s best friend Wilf. Think strong females and people who look out for each other.

It was lovely to see a story with STEM elements in the plot which doesn’t feel like it is about science. There is also a gothic touch, with the orphanage and the big house and the mysterious chapel in the grounds. Tess is free to roam the grounds but she is isolated from the rest of the world. The sense of foreboding inside the house reminded me of The Secret Garden and Rebecca. We know from the behaviour of the people around Tess that secrets are being kept, and something has to give.

I also loved Tess’s relationship with her spider, Violet. Tess goes out of her way to protect Violet, and acknowledges that animals can provide friendship and company as equally as humans. I loved Tess from the word go because of her consideration towards Violet.

An adventure which will keep you awake into the small hours and leave you desperate for more. I am looking forward to a reread at the earliest opportunity, and can’t wait to hear more from Sinéad O’Hart.

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for my gifted copy of the book. This was received as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Sinéad O’Hart, author of ‘The Star-Spun Web’, introduces her new character.

Blog Tour: Sinéad O’Hart, author of ‘The Star-Spun Web‘, introduces her new character.

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About The Star-Spun Web

Tess de Sousa was left at Ackerbee’s Home For Lost and Foundlings under strange circumstances. Years later, when a man comes to claim her, there is nothing Mrs Ackerbee can do except give Tess the strange device which was left with her when she was a baby.

Tess is taken to Roedeer Lodge by the sinister Mr Cleat. It soon becomes apparent that his interest in Tess is part of his own scheming. Added to that, Tess suffers unkindness from housekeeper Mrs Thistleton.

When Tess learns what her strange device is, and how it can connect her to other worlds, she realises she is part of a much bigger plan.

I loved The Eye Of The North last year. The Star-Spun web not only met my expectations, it blew them away. 

I am delighted to welcome Sinéad to my blog to talk about her protagonist. Thank you Sinéad for your time, and to Leilah at Stripes publishing for organising this content. 

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Sinéad O’Hart introduces Tess de Sousa. 

Who is this girl, and where did she come from? Tess and Violet originally came into my head starring in a different story completely, but they had one thing right from the start: they were a team and were very definitely meant to be together. When I needed to redraft the story, Tess and Violet had to slot into a different world, but things worked much better then – they’d found their true home, and Tess and Violet seemed to come alive in my hands. As for where Tess came from: I really have no idea! Tess, complete with Violet and her full name and how she looked, just arrived in my head one day, even if her story needed a bit of tweaking.

 

What inspired her story? I suppose she’s inspired by the women scientists and adventurers who inspire me, as well as being the sort of character I like to read about in other people’s books. As for what inspired her story: the setting, and the historical reality at the time, had a lot to do with it. Incorporating a real-life historical event into the story meant I worked back from that point, trying to create an interesting chain of events which might have led up to it. Also, the building Tess and her friends live in (Ackerbee’s) is a real building in Dublin city centre, though it’s not a children’s home. It’s a building I’ve loved for many years and I always wanted to put it in a story, so having that setting helped too.

 

I feel like Tess would be one of my best friends in school. Is there a fictional character or characters that you’d have wanted to hang out with at break-time if they were real? Characters I’d have liked to hang out with at school would have included:

Tiffany Aching, (a young witch in training from the books by Terry Pratchett – she first appears in the book The Wee Free Men) Rose Raventhorpe (from the Rose Raventhorpe Investigates series by Janine Beacham, Ivy Sparrow (from the Uncommoners series by Jennifer Bell), Coraline (from Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece Coraline), Lily and Robert (from the Cogheart series by Peter Bunzl, Twister (from the book Twister by Juliette Forrest) and the Brightstorm twins Arthur and Maudie from the Sky-Ship Adventure series first book, Brightstorm by Vashti Hardy). Imagine the trouble we’d cook up!

 

Thanks to Stripes Publishing for organising this content as part of a promotional blog-tour. Opinions remain my own.

Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’, talks about curses in folklore.

Blog Tour: Michelle Harrison, author of A Pinch Of Magic, talks about curses in folklore.

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Author Michelle Harrison with a copy of ‘A Pinch Of Magic’. 

About A Pinch Of Magic

Betty Widdershins longs to leave the family home on the island of Crowstone and explore the world. Crowstone is bleak and oppressive with its marshes and tower and prison and Betty is certain there must be more to the world. Then she learns that she and her sisters are bound by an ancient family curse to stay on the island for the rest of their lives …

I have been a fan of Michelle Harrison’s work for years. Her novels combine the folklore and old traditions which I knew and loved as a listener of folk music with page-turning adventures. A Pinch Of Magic is no exception. To read my full review, click here. 

I wanted to hear more about the curse which inspired the story, and what draws Michelle Harrison to folklore. She has not only answered those questions, but she has also made me think more deeply about what the curse in her story meant to its caster. 

Thank you to Michelle Harrison for your time. 

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Curses in Folklore by Michelle Harrison 

Folklore has featured in every book I’ve written to date, whether it’s wishing, witches, or ways of protection against malevolent fairies. As a horror-loving teenager I was obsessed with folklore in its modern form of urban legends. I was also terribly superstitious – something I’ve managed to get under control over the past few years, although it’s still an effort not to salute solitary magpies!

The concept for A Pinch of Magic came from the Essex village of Canewdon. It’s said that there will always be six witches there, and whenever one dies a stone falls from the church walls. The thought of stones falling out of an ancient building to warn of approaching death was something I found incredibly eerie, and evolved into the idea of a family curse. In my story, Betty Widdershins learns of the curse on her thirteenth birthday: no Widdershins girl can ever leave the island of Crowstone. If they do, they’ll die by the next sunset. Along with her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, Betty sets out to break the curse with the help of three magical items which have also been passed down the family: a hand mirror, a set of nesting dolls, and an old carpet bag. But are the objects enough to help them, or will they lead to more trouble?

It’s easy to understand the enduring appeal of a curse within a story. Many of us believe in luck, and we’ve all had times when it seems nothing more can go wrong or, conversely, we’re having such a run of good fortune we start to worry that it’s all about to crash down around us. The idea of curses plays on our fears; what if there are forces we can’t control working against us? Or, more frighteningly, someone who wishes us harm? We know the intent to curse is real enough – witch ladders and wax figures in museums all over the country are proof of the malevolent workings of dismissed servants and spurned lovers.

With our childhoods steeped in tales of spinning wheels and pricked fingers, it’s no wonder curses are rooted in our consciousness. Yet perhaps there’s another reason we find them so fascinating, even if we don’t like to admit it; they feed our desires for good old revenge – and gossip. Because curses aren’t thrown around lightly. There’s usually a reason, whether its jealousy, rivalry, or payback. When I created the Widdershins curse, I knew what it was, but not why – or with whom – it had begun. I only knew it would have come from a serious grudge against the family, and as I unpicked the knots and worked it all out the lines between villain and victim blurred. As Betty discovers, the wicked witch is not always what she’s made out to be, and perhaps anyone is capable of casting a curse, given the right motivation . . .

Check out the other stops on the tour: 

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Thank you to Simon And Schuster UK for arranging this piece as part of a promotional blog tour and for providing me with a proof of the book. Opinions remain my own.

 

 

 

Board Book

Review: Nibbles Numbers by Emma Yarlett

Review: Nibbles Numbers by Emma Yarlett

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Look out! Nibbles the book-munching monster is back, and this time he has munched his way into a book of numbers. He’s obviously taken in what he has read, though, because clever Nibbles munches the right number of holes in every page. Count along with him from one to ten. 

A clever and entertaining format which will raise smiles from children and their adult readers. 

What works about this is sheer design. An apparently simple idea which is executed to perfection. The book introduces numbers from one through to ten. Every number has its own double-page spread. The monster nibbles the correct number of holes in every page so that the reader can count along.

Iimg_8356t is difficult to remember as adults that children don’t automatically understand that numbers represent a quantity. When you think about it, children encounter arbitrary numbers too, (the number 12 bus, for example, has nothing to do with the number 12). Counting along and adding one every time is a brilliant way for children to familiarise themselves with the idea of quantity. 

The idea of a book-munching monster is hilarious. The reader releases nibbles from his cage as the start of the book by lifting a flap, and off he goes, all the way through the end cover. I bet these look lovely as a series and raise lots of smiles when the naughty monster gets to work on the books. There is great humour in something fictional apparently destroying books because this is exactly what young readers are told not to do. 

A bright and engaging book which will encourage children to early numeracy. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger Press for my gifted copy of Nibbles Numbers. Opinions remain my own.