blog tour · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

Review: When It Rains by Rassi Narika

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Why does it rain? There are so many things you can’t do when it rains. 

Kira watches miserably as rain pours down the windowsill. It isn’t fair. She’ll have to wear her heaviest clothing, there won’t be anybody outside to play with and if she takes her books outside they will get squished to a pulp. She’s certain there can’t be anything good about rainy days. Then her friends Ana and Ilo come to play, and what started out as a boring day turns into a wet weather adventure. 

A beautiful story about perspective and finding an upside to bad weather. 

Jumping in puddles, watching duckling splashing about and seeing everybody’s bright umbrellas from a high-up window. The rain has a bad reputation, and to little children especially it can mean getting stuck indoors. Remember wet break? Or being called inside to avoid catching a chill? Sometimes I think the dangers of rain are a myth handed down from one generation to another. There is so much to do and see on a mild or even moderately wet day, and allowing children to play in the rain sets them up to carry on in all weathers later in life. 

A gentle narrative begins with questions, building a sense of disappointment, which is slowly replaced with wonder and happiness. This isn’t a story about overawing discoveries, but about the inner joy which can come from spending time observing nature and the outdoors with a group of friends. As well as being a great book to share with young readers, it would make a lovely introduction to study of the early Romantic poets whose ideas about joy and the outdoors were in line with this story. 

Pale watercolour and line illustrations evoke the rain as much as the words. It seems in places as if the rainwater has dripped on to the page, but instead of spoiling it, it has created beautiful textures. Bursts of bright colour such as the umbrellas and raincoats bring joy into the pale pictures. 

This story was translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning Maharsi Degoul. Reading children’s books in translation is a joy, and I think it is pivotal for readers to see words and ideas from other cultures from an early age. Even something as simple as seeing different words for ‘mother’ and ‘father’ opens up the concept of other cultures and languages and encourages young readers to ask big questions about what lives might be like in a country other than their own. 

A beautiful book which captures that early childhood interest in the outdoors, and openness to new ideas. 

 

Thanks to The Emma Press for my gifted copy of When It Rains. Opinions my own.

 

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teen · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

Blog Tour: The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher

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Extract:

I know what she means. Rescuing Lady MacBeth simply shone a light on a much bigger problem. And the worst part is we’re in the wrong … not only did we steal a chicken, we released three hundred more. What if we were seen? Claire will not hesitate to destroy us.

(The Cantankerous Molly Darling by Alvy Carragher. P53.)

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Synopsis:

Molly’s life should be simple.

Instead her mother is moping in the attic and dating Gary ‘The Hulk’, her sister Polly is engaged to a boy with an IQ to rival a gnat and nothing is getting repaired because money is tight. Now her chicken companions have been sold to the shoddy local farm.

When Molly and her friend Tess rescue one of the chickens, they accidentally set hundreds of other chickens free. Then drama queen Claire Kelly doctors some video footage to make out the chickens were stolen in a wilful act of chicken hate crime.

Together with her friends and supporters, Molly sets out to prove the conditions on the farm are unacceptable. But will life ever be as mundane as it should be in a quiet area of rural Ireland?

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Review:

Cold Comfort Farm meets a rural Irish childhood. With added social media. This is the sweetest teen novel I have read in ages, and possibly the funniest. It shares the same charm and biting wit as the classic novel but throws in the sort of dysfunction and family changes faced by many teenagers today. And chickens. A whole load of chickens.

 Molly Darling is in many ways my teenage self. The kid who watches everything from one step back and keeps a running satirical commentary. She’s fond of the outdoors, less fond of people and happy to hide among the family book towers. Her wit and strong desire for peace and normality make her an easily relatable character.

 Unfortunately, she’s faced not only with the changes and dramas in her family (like her eighteen-year-old sister’s insistence that she will marry the latest boyfriend) but also with the challenges of social media, in the form of blogger-supreme Claire Kelly.

 The plot centres around Claire’s exaggerated claims, which she backs by editing different video clips together to prove the truth. This is a form of bullying which has become more common in recent years, with the rising interest in video editing. The cruelty is twofold – firstly that any viewpoint can be pushed with a bit of clever editing, and secondly that it can take one point and twist it into gold. In the story, a girl sneaking into a barn to rescue her pet chicken is made to look like a hardened criminal. Zoom in on a face and put the voice from one clip over another and presto. You can claim anything.

 Alvy Carragher calls this behaviour out by pitting antagonist Claire against a group of kids who genuinely have good hearts. Claire knows she has an audience and she knows what she is doing. I rooted shamelessly for Molly and her friends in their search for justice and kindness.

 This is a countryside book in many ways. Chickens are kept as pets and found dead at the side of the road. Although Molly’s vegan friends are persistent in their cause, there’s no shying away from why farm animals are kept. It is also a book about small communities, family life and people who work tirelessly for very little profit.

 I will be shouting from the rooftops about this one. It has just the right blend of heart, humour, and social commentary to make it last and, while Molly would probably prefer a quiet life, I hope it gets the noise it deserves.

 

 Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and Chicken House Books for my gifted copy of The Cantankerous Molly Darling. Opinions my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blog tour

Blog Tour: Tigeropolis – Caught In The Trap by R. D. Dikstra

Blog Tour: Tigeropolis – Caught In The Trap by R. D. Dikstra

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About the Tigeropolis series:

Tigeropolis follows the adventures of a family of tigers in the foothills of the Himalayas. The series begins with the tigers, who have lived sheltered lives away from sight, realise that unless they make an appearance, nobody would take interest in saving their beautiful forest home. 

Once they are out in the public eye again, the tigers relearn how to act wild and negotiate matters so that they are running things without the humans realising. A thriving Tigeropolois is formed. 

Book three sees the tigers facing a new and deadly threat  – poachers. 

Tigeropolis – Caught In A Trap

When tiger cubs Bittu and Matti are out playing they come across a metal trap on the ground. It is the first sign of poachers who would threaten the peace of Tigeropolis. 

The tigers make a plan, but if they are going to outwit a gang of hardened criminals, they will need to join together with other animals and use all their knowledge of the local area. 

With strong themes of conservation, wildlife protection and extinction running through the series, these books are extremely topical and hit on important themes. Although they are shorter reads with cartoon-like illustrations, the threat posed by the poachers is sufficient that these books would be better suited to older middle-grade readers (9 plus). 

What makes the books stand out is their authentic representation of Indian culture. Books set in the jungles around the Himalayas have in the past had an anglicised version of Indian culture, but these are more realistic and up to date. 

The cheeky cubs and their extended family make what could have been a difficult theme into a fun adventure. If you are looing for stories which touch on themes of conservation these would be a great place to start. 

 

Thanks to Literally PR and Belle Media for my copy of Tigeropolis – Caught In A Trap. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton.

Blog Tour: The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton.

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Extract:

Resistance comes in many forms and alliances take many shapes. Sometimes it’s all fire and storms, cutting of the heads of important people. Other times it’s slow, a crack forming in a glass, inching forward sliver by sliver, spreading out across the entire surface.

(The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton. P146.)

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Synopsis:

Only the Belles hold the power to make a person beautiful.

Now they are on the run. Princess Sophia has seized the throne and is offering a reward for the successful return of the Belles. She sees them not as people but as property belonging to the kingdom.

The only hope the Belles have is to find the rightful heir Princess Charlotte and return her to the throne. Otherwise they will never be truly free.

A rebel group called the Iron Ladies extends their support. Their mission is the same, to return Charlotte to the throne, but their views about beauty are very different.

What cost will it take for the Belles to find freedom?

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Review:

Beauty has a price, and some would seek to own it.

 The Belles introduced us to Princess Sophia, who was set on being the most beautiful of all and didn’t care what the price was to anyone else. As an antagonist I find her interesting because her character poses questions. If beauty is a commodity, can one person have an unjust share? There are clear messages about class division which are applicable to the modern day. Should we judge people on their appearance when some can afford to alter it so very much more than others?

The Everlasting Rose gives us more background to the Belles. Camille learns something about herself, something which puts her in more danger than any of the others. As she searches for answers, she discovers more about the origin of herself and her sisters. I love the whole concept of the Belles, and how beautifully the story is told as if they are almost myth but not quite.

Like many second books, the rebellion is growing, and we are introduced to new factions and fighters. The Belle join forces with a group who are against the concept of beauty altogether because they share a common aim. This compromise and the opposing views make for good drama as the rebellion builds.

The world is very much as I remembered it. Behind every pocket of beauty – every flower, every tiny pet, every teahouse – lies some darker fact. The book encourages us not to take everything at face value, especially not the things we crave.

A strong second book which will keep you turning the pages. I was glad to be back in the world of The Belles and impressed by how much depth Dhonielle Clayton can put into a single description. A story of rebellion which has beauty and ugliness in equal measures.

 

Thanks to Victor Gollancz LTD for my gifted copy of The Everlasting Rose. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: The Year After You by Nina de Pass

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Extract:

In the dimly lit room, my scar is all the more acute: a jagged, burgundy line from wrist to elbow; a reminder that I am here, and I was there. This I will have to cover at all costs. 

(From The Year After You by Nina de Pass. P19.)

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Synopsis:

Nine months ago, Cara was involved in a car crash which killed her best friend.

As a last resort to deal with Cara’s PTSD, her mother sends her across the Atlantic to a boarding school in Switzerland. Hope Hall is nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Alps. It also has a reputation for taking in ‘lost causes’. Nobody at Hope knows Cara’s past, and she intended to keep it that way.

Although she has built barriers around herself and clung to her old life, she makes new friends, such as her roommate Ren and the enigmatic Hector. The closer she gets to these new friends, the more she reveals about herself. Is Cara ready to accept that what happened is in the past and allow herself a chance at the future?

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Review:

A deep and beautifully-written look at the challenges faced in the months after traumatic injury.

Cara’s injuries have healed but she is struggling with the rest of it. How her life appears to have begun again after the crash. That she has a scar on her arm to remind her of how much she went through and how relatively little she suffered compared to others. How telling other people what happened means facing judgment. Including her own.

Other reviewers have suggested Cara is a liar. Straight out, I’m going to challenge this. She’s not a liar. She’s certainly struggling to face things. Traumatic incidents shake your memory. For months and months. Little pieces come back at a time. The human brain is an extraordinary vessel which blocks what it cannot cope with. This allows it to concentrate on physical recovery. The downside is that, as memories drip back in, they must be confronted and processed.

Hope Hall is supposed to be a new start, but how can she ever start over when she is carrying so much emotional baggage?

Slowly Cara decides that she doesn’t want to push her new friends away. But to do that she must fully come to terms with what happened.

Alongside Cara’s experiences, the book examines mental health prejudice generally. Cara faces this early on, when one of the boys at school kicks up a fuss at the inclusion of someone who might be dangerous. Later on, we meet a character who thinks sweeping mental health incidents under the rug makes a better impression on society.

I love that this book was properly researched. It shows every emotion and experience connected to traumatic injury, including other people’s reactions. It is also beautifully written, and it is impossible not to fall in love with the setting. Think the modern-day Chalet School. For the very privileged. Think a boarding school where ice-skating is on the agenda.

There is a reason everyone is talking about this book. It is insightful and beautifully-written and unafraid to challenge prejudice and misconceptions. A huge achievement from a debut author.

 

Thanks to Ink Road for sending my copy of The Year After You as part of a promotional blog tour. Opinions remain my own.

blog tour · Middle Grade Reviews

Blog Tour: The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage

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Extract:

That’s when Dibs pokes his head in between us. ‘I think you’re brave, too.’ He smiles with his big beaver teeth. ‘Way braver than those girls in the movies who are always screaming and carrying on. You’re not screaming and carrying on or nothing and those Martians could zap us with their ray pistols or probe our brains with their mind-control mechanisms at any minute. That says brave to me. No doubt about it.’ 

(The Truth About Martians by Melissa Savage. P116.)

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Synopsis:

Milo wishes he had the same courage as his big brother Obie. The brother who died over a year ago. Milo is still grieving. On top of that, he wishes he could help his friend Dibs. Dib’s father is under a dark cloud and he regularly locks Dibs out of the house.  

Then a flying saucer crash-lands in the local area.

Milo and his friends investigate the crash and Milo learns that superheroes need more than super strength. They need superhuman hearts.

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Review:

Milo lives in a small town near Roswell in the 1940s. The Truth About Martians is based on a real-life event which happened in 1947. An army Air Force base announced that a flying saucer had been recovered. The story made major news around the world. Soon after, the US government announced that the saucer had in fact been a weather balloon. Conspiracy theories abounded and it makes prime material for fiction.

This is a story about life beyond our borders. Beyond our known experience. It is also a touching look at grief and living with loss.

What I loved about the story was the friendships. Milo and Dibs have a friendship founded firmly on comic books and their shared sweet-tooth. Their wider social group includes two boys they like-don’t-like, and Gracie. Milo may have a crush on Gracie, but she is determined to do the same things as the boys. The friendship group and child-sized world (do you remember when someone’s house marked the boundaries of your known existence?) felt real and the constant banter between Milo and Dibs reminded me of how intense childhood best-friendships could be.

The story is a great one for breaking gender stereotypes. As well as Gracie’s determination to be an active and adventurous person, Milo has to get over his idea of one type of bravery. These themes are being seen more often as writers seek to help children break any stereotypes about what gender means.  

Think ET with added friendship and conspiracy. This really captured how it felt to live at a time when attention was turning to space and it would make a lovely introduction to that era.

 

THE TRUTH ABOUT MARTIANS by Melissa Savage out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
 
 
Follow Melissa Savage on twitter @melissadsavage 
Young Adult Reviews

Blog tour: Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon

 

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About Rosie Loves Jack

Rosie loves Jack. Jack loves Rosie. 

Rosie would spend every day and every hour with her boyfriend Jack, but due to a brain injury sustained when he was born, Jack finds it difficult to control his temper. After an incident at college, Jack goes away to learn some anger management techniques.

Rosie’s Dad says this is the last straw. He sees is as an opportunity to put an end to the relationship between Rosie and Jack. 

Rosie has other ideas. She may have Down’s Syndrome but she’s not going to let that define her and she’s not going to let her Dad treat her like a small child. Rosie leaves home in search of the boy she loves – even though people think girls like Rosie can’t survive a journey like that on their own. 

What makes Rosie Loves Jack special? Aside from Rosie’s voice, which is so distinctive, it will remain with you love after you close the book, I love the fact that the book confronts the fear and prejudice around people with neurological conditions, mental health problems, and additional needs. Jack certainly needs to learn to control his temper, but there are reasons why it is taking him longer to learn those behaviours than other people. Rosie’s Dad, like many people in the real world, judges Jack on one aspect of his condition and not on his whole personality. 

It is a deep irony that some people are more willing to forgive behaviour in those without additional needs. Everyone deserves the chance to grow. In the end, it is Rosie’s Dad who has to confront his own prejudice. 

Mel Darbon wrote this story because of the attitudes towards her brother. It is a sad fact that people with additional needs face a hard time – for example, only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in full-time employment, and even fewer in a job which matches their abilities. People are more willing to overlook issues in those with strong communication skills than in those with a genuine need for empathy and patience. Statistics like this will not change unless, as a society, we decide to show more tolerance. 

The novel gives voice to a group who are not often heard. 

As part of the blog tour, we were asked to choose from a series of questions. Like many characters, Rosie and her father undergo big emotional changes. I have written about what it is like as a reader to follow a character through their story. 

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What is it like to follow a character’s emotional journey? 

What makes something a story instead of a lump of writing?  

There are many answers to this question, but it begins with the protagonist – the main character who drives the story. Once upon a time there was a person with a flawed world-view. This person wanted something very much. Something stood in their way. There you have the (very very) basics of a story. The result of this is, of course, that writers put their protagonists through the wringer. Before we get to the end of the story, we know the protagonist will have faced many challenges and we know they will have developed their world-view as a result.

The question I chose to answer for the blog tour related specifically to these turning-points – the moment when the protagonist grows and changes as a result of their experience. How does it feel, as a reader, to follow these emotional journeys?

If we connect with a character – and particularly if we identify with their flaw – it can feel as if we have walked a thousand miles in their shoes. As if we were part of the journey and have undergone the same transformation. We may not have gone to wizard-school or crossed the seas, may not have been called up for the Hunger Games or trained a dragon but we can undergo the same learning journey as the character. This is why fiction is an important part of life and why it is the greatest teacher of empathy. It takes us to places we are unlikely to reach to help us change our worldview.

Reaching a turning-point in the story is an almost-spiritual moment. Whether this is the first book we have ever read or the six-thousand and fourth, we know it is coming.  The character has been pushed to their lowest ebb and we know this is the moment where they will have to confront their attitudes. As readers, we come in one step ahead of the protagonist, and there can be a great satisfaction in turning the page and seeing a character come to the same realisation.

Then comes the action-sequence. The moment where the protagonist lifts their head and walks to face their final challenge. This is a moment of empowerment for the reader, too, because we see that internal changes can result in proactive changes in life. If the character’s situation can change as a result of their growth, maybe we can change our own lives too. Maybe we change the world for others.

This is why I struggle to understand when people talk about fiction as if it is a form of light entertainment or a hobby which should be saved for the weekend. Fiction is empowering and it teaches us more about the world than our day-to-day lives ever can. Fiction gives us new approaches and it helps us to believe we can make a change.

 

Thanks to Usborne Publishing LTD for my copy of Rosie Loves Jack.