Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Guest Post

Author Guest-Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

Author Guest-Post: Michelle Harrison’s gingerbread recipe

 

2018
Author Michelle Harrison

There is one middle-grade novel I am extra-specially looking forward to in 2019. Michelle Harrison writes folksy, magical stories full of black-cats, fairies and local traditions. I have loved every story she has written so far, and  A Pinch Of Magic looks equally amazing.

 

It is the story of three sisters who must break a deadly curse which has haunted their family for generations. Each sister possesses an object which has been handed down the family – a mirrior, a carpet bag and a set of wooden nesting-dolls. None of these objects is what it seems. 

 

The Widdershins sisters kindly agreed to share their gingerbread recipie. It is a pleasure and a delight to welcome Michelle Harrison and the Widdershins to my blog. 

 

Widdershins Gingerbread

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The isle of Crowstone, home to the Widdershins sisters ‒ Betty, Fliss and Charlie ‒ is often damp and chilly thanks to the freezing fogs from the nearby Misty Marshes. So what better treat to stay cosy with than some warming, spiced gingerbread?

Ingredients

  • 350g plain flour (plus extra for rolling out)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 125g butter
  • 175g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 4 tbsp golden syrup

 

mh1Makes approx. 20 pieces, depending on cutter size. I found this gorgeous Russian doll one on eBay which came with a stamp to press in the detail. I’ve used it several times and the shapes are always met with delight. Without further ado I’ll hand over to the Widdershins . . .

Method

 

FLISS: In a large bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon. Add the butter and rub together with your fingers ‒ CLEAN fingers, Charlie! ‒ until it looks and feels like sand.

BETTY: Sand? That looks more like shingle from the marshes. Rub it in some more.

FLISS: Shh. This is my recipe.

CHARLIE: No, it’s not. It’s Granny’s.

BETTY: Stop eating the sugar, Charlie.

FLISS: Stir in the sugar. I usually close my eyes and make a wish when I do this part.

BETTY: Can you wish not to burn it this time?

FLISS: *Snorts* Lightly beat the egg and the golden syrup together in a jug—

CHARLIE: Make sure it’s a free range egg. They’re tastier and kinder to the chickens.

FLISS: —then pour the egg/syrup mix into the bowl. Combine until it begins to clump together, then remove from the bowl and knead until smooth.

BETTY: Sprinkle some flour on to your work surface so the dough doesn’t get too sticky. When it’s ready, wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for fifteen minutes. This stops it spreading out too much and losing its shape while it’s baking.

FLISS: Ooh, yes. I always forget that part.

CHARLIE: Who cares what it looks like? Get it in the oven I WANT TO EAT IT!

FLISS: Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper. Once chilled, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 0.5cm on a lightly floured surface, and cut out the gingerbread shapes. Place them on the tray with a gap between them and bake for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden brown. This usually gives me just enough time to write a little love poem.

BETTY: No, this is when you clean up the kitchen and keep an eye on the oven, feather-brain. The best gingerbread is a bit chewy, so don’t overdo it! Once it’s out of the oven, leave it on the tray for a few minutes, then move to a wire rack to finish cooling.

CHARLIE: IS IT READY YET?

FLISS: Once cooled, you can make your shapes look pretty by adding icing, and silver balls or sprinkles.

CHARLIE: Or just scoff it as it is. Jumping jackdaws, that’s good!

 

Huge thanks to Michelle Harrison for your time. A Pinch Of Magic publishes in February 2019. Pre-order here.

 

Check out day one and day two of Blogmas. 

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Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Twelve Days Of Christmas by Brian Wildsmith

Review: The Twelve Days Of Christmas by Brian Wildsmith

img_7584Four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves … and a Partridge in a pear tree. Join in with the song with this beautiful gift edition, illustrated by artist Brian Wildsmith.

The Twelve Days Of Christmas is one of the most popular carols and one often taught to children. The repetition and the counting-rhyme make it an obvious choice to sing with the very young. This edition would make a lovely gift for children or adults. You almost don’t need the words because the illustrations speak so beautifully for themselves.

Originally published in the 1970s, the illustration style is in keeping with picture books from the second golden age of Children’s literature – the works of John Burningham and Eric Carle spring to mind. Some of the pictures are impressionistic and there is a heavy focus on pattern and colour. I love the colour-palette – the reds, purples and yellows have the quality stained-glass or paper decorations.

This new edition is a lovely size – it would fit into most stockings and would certainly make a lovely Secret Santa present or a table gift. A traditional rhyme with retro illustrations. Buy this for the arty friend in your life or for children who appreciate gifts which they will love equally in 40 years’ time.  

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press for my copy of The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Opinions my own.

 

Check out day one and day three of Blogmas 2018. 

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat by Lucy Rowland And Paula Bowles

Review: Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat by Lucy Rowland And Paula Bowles

img_7588Furry, purry Sammy Claws dreams of the day that Santa will take him up in the sleigh, but every time Sammy tries to help with the Christmas preparations he ends up causing trouble. When Sammy Claws falls asleep in a box, he finds himself wrapped up and packaged away in the back of the sleigh. Can Sammy save Santa when he gets into a spot of bother?

A cute and funny story about Santa’s pet cat.

Ginormous purrs for this lovely story about Santa’s pet cat. Cat lovers will recognise Sammy – he’s the sort of cat who licks the bowl clean, asks for more then falls asleep in a corner. He’s also warm-hearted. As someone who has always lived with cats, I know how they come to help with different tasks. Help, unfortunately, often means delay and disruption.

Even so, we love our furry friends. As Santa finds out, they are there for us in ways we may not even expect. Sammy’s run-in with two burglars is classic comedy. Think people in black-and-white stripes sneaking up on the sleigh while good old Santa is busy down the chimney. Get in practice for the panto season with cries of they’re behind you, and calls for Sammy to wake up and help. This story would make a lovely read-aloud because of the opportunities for acting and audience-involvement. 

The illustration is bold and twinkly. I love the blue backgrounds. Lots of starry skies and icy North-Pole dwellings. It feels just a little bit magical and provides the natural backdrop for Santa’s red sleigh. I love the detailed buildings and the bright textile patterns which bring out Christmassy details like wrapping paper and warm scarves.

At long last there is a story about Santa’s cat. Sammy Claws is as memorable and sweet as any literary cat and you will cheer him on as he saves Christmas Day.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books for my copy of Sammy Claws The Christmas Cat. Opinions my own.

 

Check out day two of Blogmas 2018. 

 

 

blog tour

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

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shadowofthefox

Blog Tour: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Shadow Of The Fox is one of my favourite YA reads this year, and it is your new YA fantasy addiction. Set in a world of demons and tree-spirits, ghosts and shapeshifters, it follows a girl on her quest to prevent a terrible power from falling into the wrong hands. 

I was delighted to be invited on to the blog tour and I particularly wanted to hear how Japanese mythology had shaped the book. My friend Christina has lived and worked in Japan and knows the language and culture well. When I visited her in October, she introduced me to a whole landscape which I had never known before. Shadow Of The Fox took me further into this landscape and made me hungry for more fantasy inspired by world mythology. 

A big thank-you to Julie Kagawa for taking the time to tell us how mythology shaped your story. birdbreak

About Shadow Of The Fox and Japanese mythology – Julie Kagawa. 

Shadow of the fox’s main protagonist is Yumeko, a girl who is also half-kitsune.  Kitsune are the magical, shapeshifting foxes of Japanese legend, and one of their most beloved creatures of myth.  Kitsune appear everywhere in Japan: in anime and manga, folktales, toys and video games, even in food.  Kitsune udon (noodles) and Inari zushi (tofu sushi) are tied to foxes, as both have a sweet fried tofu pouch that is said to be a kitsune’s favorite food.  Fox statues can be found at Japanese shrines, particularly the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, as kitsune are also messengers of Inari, the god of rice.    

In Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko struggles with the two sides of herself.  She wants to be a good human, but she is also mischievous and loves playing pranks due to her kitsune nature.  Having lived in an isolated temple all her life, she is very innocent and naive to the world, but she has a fox’s intelligence and learns quickly.  Which will come in handy when she flees her home and runs into all manner of Japanese monsters and yokai.  Yumeko isn’t a warrior, but she is kitsune, and will have to use all of her cunning, magic and fox talents if she wants to survive.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. 

shadowofthefox

Extract:

‘Take it, Yumenko-chan,’ Master Isao ordered, and held it out to me. ‘It must not fall into the hands of the demons. You must keep it safe at all costs.’ Another boom rattled the beams overhead, and one of the monks behind us drew in a sharp breath. Master Isao’s gaze never wavered from mine. ‘Take the scroll,’ he said again, ‘and leave this place. Run, and don’t look back.’ 

(Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. P96.) 

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Synopsis:

Every millennium, the great Kami Dragon will rise again to the one who summons him and grant one wish. Such is the dragon’s power that the scroll containing the words needed to summon him was torn in three. The pieces are guarded because if they fell into the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.

Yumenko was raised by the monks of the Silent Winds temple. There she was taught to guard her true nature, for Yuemnko is half-kitsune and her fox-like magic could lead her astray. When the temple is burned and the monks killed, Yumenko is charged with guarding their greatest treasure – the first piece of the scroll.

Kage is a demon-hunter and member of the shadow clan. He is charged with retrieving the scroll at any cost. When he meets Yumenko, the pair form an alliance, but each is hiding a secret from the other.

As darkness rises around them the pair hunt for the next piece of the scroll.

birdbreakReview:

A classic quest-narrative meets a rich and detailed world, with characters so real you will feel as if you have walked alongside them. Shadow Of The Fox was like seeing anime in novel form.

The story is a duel-narrative – chapters alternate between Yumenko and Kage’s narration. The result is that we see the same world and situation through different eyes, and we’re waiting for a moment when the pair come to a joint resolution.

What I enjoyed most was the influence of Japanese mythology, in particular how Yumenko’s kitsune side means she is drawn towards nature. She’s aware of other shape-shifters. Of tree-spirits and wind witches. This world of magic and warriors hooked me in and I would love to read the myths which inspired the setting. We also learn something about Japanese culture, particularly the social customs.

There are different threats in this world. The main threat comes from a wonderful antagonist, Lady Satomi, and her connection with the demonic forces. Minor threats come from other mythological characters who serve to get in the way of the main quest. Lady Satomi is the perfect antagonist because she believes what she is doing is right and proper. She’s also decidedly creepy, the sort of baddie who comes into your head in the small hours.

Kage is a complex character. He has been taught not to bond with others or to show emotions and holds ideas about the perfect warrior, but his instinct is always to protect Yumenko. Kage is also occasionally influenced by the sword he carries – a sword with demonic powers. His storyline is about the conflict between what he has been made and his inner-nature and I hope his inner-nature wins out by the end of the trilogy.

The ancient magic and high-stakes quest make this novel unputdownable. I would love to investigate Julie Kagawa’s backlist and I look forward to continuing the series.

 

Thanks to Nina Douglas PR and HQ Stories for my copy of Shadow Of The Fox. Opinions my own.

 

If you like quest narratives, check out The Cradle Of All The Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan. 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Review: City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

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Extract:

I’ve seen people on TV – ‘ghost whisperers’ – talk about crossing over, connecting with the other side like it’s flipping a switch or opening a door. But for me, it’s this – finding the part in the curtain, catching hold of the fabric, and pulling.

Sometimes, when there’s nothing to find, the veil is barely there, more smoke than cloth and hard to catch hold of. But when a place is haunted – really haunted – the fabric twists around me, pulling me through. 

(City Of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. P13.)

birdbreak Synopsis:

Cass can see through the veil which separates the living from the dead. She’s also best friends with a ghost, Jacob, who has been by her side since he saved her life. If that wasn’t weird enough, her parents are obsessed with ghosts, even though they can’t see them at all.

When Cass’s parents start filming a new TV show, the family relocate to Edinburgh – one of the most haunted places in the world. When Cass meets a girl who shares her gift, she realises how much she doesn’t know about the veil, like what she’s supposed to do there and how dangerous some ghosts can be.birdbreakReview:

If you like ghost stories but don’t want your spirits to be totally bad, this is the book for you. Victoria Schwab (AKA VE Shwab) is one of the best-known YA authors of recent years. Her fantasy novels have attracted a dedicated following. This is the first book of hers I have read, and my immediate impression was that it was written by a fluent and confident storyteller. The story hooked me and I read it in one evening. It was hard to put my finger on exactly why except it was exceptional storytelling. Every chapter opening, every plot point grabs the reader in and keeps them turning the pages.

Cass survived a near-death experience, and since then she has been able to see the veil which separates the living from the undead. She’s also been followed by Jacob – a ghost who has broken all convention and come out into the living world. I loved the constant tip-toeing the pair do around the subject of death. That one of them is living and the other dead is a sensitive issue between the friends. As a survivor, Cass is constantly aware of herself as a living thing. Her experiences were explored with sensitivity and insight.

Edinburgh was the perfect setting for a ghost story and I am excited to think there might be more stories set in other cities around the world. The book really got into the history and folklore of Edinburgh. I love it when stories inspire interest in real places.

There is a ghost causing trouble in Edinburgh, and I did enjoy that story, but what I loved more was the setting – the many ghosts Cass encounters behind the veil and their different stories. I hope we’ll learn more of Jacob’s story. I loved the details about his character, like how he has Cass turning the pages of comic books for him so he can keep up his hobby from beyond the grave. Jacob is incorporated in a clever way – instead of talking in dialogue, Cass hears his thoughts in her head. This makes Jacob feel more otherworldly, for all that he likes the same things as most modern children.

A great start to a new series full of ghost-hunters and creepy historical stories. This would be perfect for any tween or younger teen with a touch of gothic. I look forward to seeing where Cass and her family travel next.

 

 

 

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent

knights

Extract:

‘The knights who left decided that the treasure was cursed. They wanted to return it, but one night the whole castle just disappeared without a trace.

No one knew what happened to it, or the knights, or their pile of treasure. I reckon they all fought each other to little pieces, then they rotted and their eyes fell out and now their skellingtons guard the treasure from anyone who comes looking for it.’

(Knights And Bikes by Gabrielle Kent. P23.)

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Synopsis:

Penfurzy Island is the best home in the world. There’s a scrapyard, a tor and a not-so-busy caravan park where Demelza lives. When another girl appears in the middle of the night, Demelza is determined to prove that exciting things do happen on Penfurzy, starting with the legend of the Penfurzy Knights and their missing treasure.

Then Demelza’s Dad makes a terrible announcement: he is going to sell the caravan park.

Can Demelza, her new friend Nessa and Honkers the goose find the treasure in time to save the caravan park? Who is Nessa anyway, and what is she doing on Penfurzy? Action and adventure and foam swords abound in this Retro-adventure.

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Review:

Remember the games you played between five and eleven-or-so? The ones where you and your friends could take on anything with a weapon (be it a toy sword, invisible ray-gun or silly string), transport (skateboard, bike or scooter) and a pinch of imagination. Knights And Bikes conjures up those games in a way which will make adult readers nostalgic. The best part of all? The Penfurzy Knights are real.

I loved the realistic setting. Lots of quest narratives are about children taken out of the ordinary. Children with special powers or equipment or all-powerful mentors. Nessa and Demelza are ordinary kids with a slice of attitude. They know they can do anything if only they pedal the fastest.

The story is set in the 1980s – a move which will be popular with many parents of current middle-grade readers. Novice writers are often told that children aren’t interested in the recent past. The advice is not to lose sight of modern childhood in favour of your own. I’ve always found this a pity – children are generally receptive and open to stories set in other periods of history and I think it is important for children to be able to place their special adults on a timeline and to understand what made their childhoods different.

I also liked that the nostalgia wasn’t rose-tinted. The bad (see the chain-smoking worker) is shown alongside the brilliant.

Knights Of is a brand-new publisher whose list for 2019 is looking very exciting. They are on a mission to publish voices which are underrepresented in children’s publishing, and they’ve already found some fabulous and exciting stories. Knights And Bikes was longlisted for the Blue Peter award and I’m we’ll hear more from this publisher in the near future.