Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

Review: The Tide by Clare Helen Walsh and Ashling Lindsay

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Sometimes Grandad forgets things. Like what the sandwiches are for or who he is with. His memories are like the tide. Sometimes they are far away and distant. Other times they come crashing in.

Grandad still loves everybody just as much. And when the tide is in, everyone celebrates.

A beautiful and reflective story about observing the changes in a loved one with dementia.

Dementia is an unforgiving condition and there is currently no cure. Watching a loved one change and struggle is equally unforgiving. The suffer’s behaviour might seem perplexing, and correcting someone with dementia when they are certain of a fact is futile. Even for a small child who isn’t in a caring role, this can be frustrating. The Tide acknowledges this, yet also shows a protagonist move from bewilderment and fear into a state of acceptance.

Grandad loves everybody just as much as he always did. His memories just happen to ebb and flow, and he behaves differently at times. 

The tone of this story is beautiful. As someone who has seen dementia in the family, I know how frustrating it is when people get too upbeat. The book gently explores what might change and what remains the same, and how the good moments become more precious. It doesn’t suggest that the changes are good, only that the love between everyone concerned remains the same. And that there will be good times. 

A gentle colour-pallette is broken up with bright details. These stand out in the pale pictures like the brighter moments in the story. There is a poignant picture where the protagonist stands alone against a blank background. She looks tiny in a double-page spread of nothingness. The text explores her fear the everything about Granddad is going. A later spread shows herself and Granddad dancing in the waves, like an answer to the first spread. The tide will come in again. And then everything will feel brighter for a while. 

An outstanding story which not only teaches the reader about dementia but encourages them to empathise with both the sufferer and their loved ones. This is the best picture book about dementia I have seen and I highly recommend it to everyone. 

 

Thanks to Little Tiger UK for my gifted copy of The Tide. Opinions my own.

 

 

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Guest Post

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

Blog Tour: In The Shadow Of Heroes by Nicholas Bowling

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About In The Shadow Of Heroes

Emperor Nero has decreed that he shall have The Golden Fleece of Greek mythology, and nothing will stand in his way. 

When scholar Tullus goes missing, his slave Cadmus knows he must go after him. When a girl called Tog turns up with a secret message, the pair set out to help Tullus on a quest which will take them to the edges of the Roman Empire and force them to question what is reality and what is a myth. 

One of my favourite subjects at school was Latin. Both the language itself and the stories we learned about Roman culture. I thought at once of a Classics teacher when I began this story and was delighted to find out that Bowling is a Latin teacher and a classics graduate. His interest in the past and in the myths of those times is all over his work. Cadmus and Tog behave in ways which are realistic for their times and are fully engaging to the modern audience. 

The quest opens up an amazing world where the objects from Greek mythology are up for grabs. I always think it is interesting to imagine how mythological items would be abused by people in power. 

I am delighted to welcome Nicholas Bowling to my blog. He has written a guest piece which explains how Nero (a legendary figure himself) had an interest in mythology. 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR for arranging this opportunity, and to Nicholas for your time. 

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The Myth of Nero by Nicholas Bowling. 

In 69 AD, reports spread through Greece and Asia minor that the Roman Emperor Nero had arrived on the island of Kythnos. He had robbed traders, had armed slaves for an insurrection and had ousted the Roman commander. The arrival of the Emperor anywhere in his empire was bound to cause anxiety to the locals, regardless of his behaviour. This instance was particularly troubling, though, because Nero had killed himself the previous year.

In all there were three “Pseudo-Neros” who came out of the woodwork following his death. Oracles and historians alike spoke of the “Nero Redivivus” legend, in which the monster returned from hiding to wage war on the empire he had once ruled. St Augustine and the early Christians foretold his return as late as the 5th century, and went so far as to label him the Antichrist. Such was the cruelty, decadence and downright weirdness of Nero’s reign, he had already become an almost mythical character within his own lifetime; once he was dead, the myth took on a life of its own. Nowadays the name “Nero” is still a byword for tyranny.

Not only did Nero become a myth himself, but he also had a fascinating relationship with myth while he was alive. He was obsessed with Greek culture and art, in particular with poetry and singing. In fact, he fancied himself the greatest singer who had ever lived, Apollo reborn, and – to the great shame of Rome – participated in poetry recitals dressed as the god himself. The famous story of him singing about the fall of Troy while the Great Fire of Rome raged around him is probably apocryphal but still gives an insight into how he was perceived by his subjects. In Nero’s deluded mind, reality and fiction seemed to blur. The historian Suetonius called him “scaenicus imperator” – “the emperor of the stage”, whose whole life seemed to be a story he was enacting.

When it came to writing “In the Shadow of Heroes,” Nero was a gift of a character – in fact, he was the starting point for the whole thing. The book re-examines myths we think we know and asks readers to imagine that those stories really took place, and left real, tangible objects for us to find. As a choice of antagonist, who better than Nero: the mythical bogey-man who couldn’t tell the difference between story and reality?

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HEROES by Nicholas Bowling out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow Nicholas Bowling on twitter @thenickbowling

 

Bath · Lifestyle

Soap And Glory product selection – my ultimate evening treats.

Soap And Glory product selection – my ultimate evening treats.

Winter brings dark days and long evenings and bubble-bath. 

With the cold and the dark, it is only natural that we should use nice bath products to give ourselves a lift. And with a Christmas haul to explore I was able to do just that. Someone who knows me very well bought me a tin of Soap And Glory wonders. It is round as a drum and lined with tissue-paper and contains a whole selection of treats. 

So how have I been getting on with the products?

Like a dream. I haven’t sampled everything yet, but those have opened have become integral to my evening routine. Soap And Glory is just a bit special. It fills the niche between luxury bath stuff and day-to-day regular products. The vintage feel to the labels is instantly recognisable and I am a fan of their pinks and oranges and unashamed love of all things peaches’n’cream. 

Here are my thoughts on four Soap And Glory products. 

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img_8122Clean On Me – creamy shower gel 

If you’re looking for a pre-bedtime shower treat, this one is for you. 

Clean On Me is like a shower-gel with extra moisturising cream. It feels smooth as it rubs on and bubbles up into a perfect lather. Once rinsed, it leaves my skin silky-shiny. The gel has a gentle orange smell which is more like orange-oil mixed with vanilla than a full-on tangerine. It only takes a few squirts in the palm for a full massage. 

A lovely day-to-day treat. 

 

img_8120The Scrub Of Your Life – body scrub

A body scrub which doesn’t take your skin off? Sign me up. 

There are two types of body scrubs – the heavy duty and the daily helper. This is a daily, a body buffer rather than a scrub, but I love it for that because it allows me to add a different texture to my daily routine. It comes in a handy squeeze tube (yay to no extra plastic toppers) and comes out as a thick gel layered with orange beads. 

The scent put me in mind of a walk through an orchard. Think mandarin and strawberries and vanilla and amber. It is a dreamy, fruity scent which is much stronger than the Clean On Me shower gel. 

Afterwards I felt fresh, much more so than after an ordinary shower, and that feeling lasted for hours. 

 

Hand Food – Hand Cream 

img_8124A scented hand cream which keeps my hands soft. Magic. 

I have the kind of skin which throws up a reaction to the tiniest hint of artificial ingredients. Especially on my skin. I use olive oil soaps, unscented hand cream and even have to buy a specific brand of washing-up liquid. 

This is why Hand Cream is such a revelation. It not only keeps my hands in a reasonable state, it actually hydrates them. It is so light too, and not the tiniest bit greasy. The scent is described as marshmallow although it put me in mind of strawberry ice-cream. 

 

img_8125Melty Talented – Multi-use balm

This is a multi-talented pot of glory. 

It looks like wax but is more like oil to the touch. On application, it is light and shiny and nourishing. I use it on my cuticles most of all, but it is also there for dry elbows, scaly-skin, and emergency lip balm. 

The almond and mango scents come out above all the others, although there is a hint of coconut. 

The tin is really useful to slip into a handbag or travel case. It would be a great product to carry around for any little irritation. 

 

All products featured were Christmas gifts from family members and I have no affiliation with Soap And Glory.

 

Young Adult Reviews

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa

Review: Shadow Of The Fox by Julie Kagawa. 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Non-Fiction

Review: Absolutely Everything by Christopher Lloyd.

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Review: Absolutely Everything by Christopher Lloyd.

Do you want to know about everything? Absolutely everything? Earth, Dinosaurs, the past, the present. It’s all covered here. This is the book for children who are hungry for facts. A cross between an encyclopedia and a trivia-book, Absolutely Everything explores any number of subjects. 

This book begins with pre-history and leads to the present day. The sections are not strictly chronological – they cover time periods which slightly overlap. This does away with the common impression that history was divided into neat sections. Historical periods overlap, with the events of one era leading directly to another. Not that this is a history book – it dips into history, science, geography, technology and politics. While this was a fabulous selection, I would have liked to see artistic and literary achievement thrown into the mix. This, of course, is the problem the author faced – there is so much worth covering in a book of this scale – and he has already embarked upon book two. 

Photographs of landscape and historical sources are mixed with illustrations. These bring topics neatly to life and make it possible to visualise things we cannot see such as deep underwater life and historical events. Maps and graphs add detail and show different ways of recording information. 

The tone of each section is conversational, which may appeal to readers who otherwise find fact books daunting. It would be a lovely book to have out in a classroom and it would make a great Christmas present for kids who want to explore the breadth of human knowledge. 

My only other thought was that the time periods are not covered in equal measures – anything pre-1500s is given more space than the modern world. Perhaps that is the charm of this book – rather than being a comprehensive guide to anything, it allows children to figure out what fascinates them and gives them just enough that they want to go in search of more information. 

A real dip-into read which will appeal to the insatiably curious. 

 

Thanks to Laura Smythe PR and What On Earth Books for my copy of Absolutely Everything. Opinions my own.

Young Adult Reviews

Review: The Book Of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

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Extract:

There was no refusing this man. Malcolm led him out of the Terrace Room and along the corridor, and out onto the terrace before his father could see them. He closed the door very quietly behind them and found the garden brilliantly lit by the clearest full moon there’d been for months. It felt as if they were being lit by a floodlight.

“Did you say there was someone pursuing you?” said Malcolm quietly.

“Yes. There’s someone watching the bridge. Is there any other way across the river?”

“There’s my canoe. It’s down this way, sir. Let’s get off the terrace before anyone sees us.”

(The Book Of Dust – La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman. P186 – 187.) 

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Synopsis:

Malcolm lives in his parents’ pub in Godstow, where he helps with the customers and works on his canoe, La Belle Sauvage.

One night, Malcolm finds a message which puts him in touch with a resistance spy. When he agrees to keep her updated on the things he sees, Malcolm becomes aware of the powers that dictate the world around him.

The Magisterium holds power over all and it operates through different branches. The Constitutional Court Of Discipline is in charge of surveillance and discipline, while another branch goes into schools and persuades children to turn on their family and neighbours. 

Then there is Lord Asriel, clearly on the run, and there is Mrs Coulter with the evil demon, and the man named Coram. All these people are asking about one thing – a baby called Lyra who resides at the priory near to the inn.

With a storm brewing, and different sides all taking an interest in Lyra, Malcolm vows to be her protector and do what it takes to deliver her to safety.

birdbreakReview:

Set ten years before the events of His Dark Materials and featuring characters from the original trilogy, La Belle Sauvage has to be one of the most anticipated books in the history of children’s publishing. It tells the story of Lyra’s early childhood but centres on a new protagonist, Malcolm Polstead who takes it upon himself to watch out for Lyra.

Although the story is set in Lyra’s world, it features a far-smaller geographical area – the riverbanks of and around Oxford. The most interesting aspect of this was the magic specific to the location – it is a place of fairies and enchantment which draws directly on the English canon. The location, although ostensibly set close to our time-period, is more reminiscent of the Oxford known by Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. This can be explained by the fact that Lyra’s world is not our world but at times comes across as nostalgic.

Malcolm is a likeable character – he’s a nice boy who is handy to have around in a crisis. He questions what he is told when other children around him accept blindly the words of the Magisterium and he never takes what he sees at face value. I liked the parts of the story which focused on the new characters – at times it felt like they were new players in the same story, but this added a new depth to the original conflict.

I first read the original trilogy when I was nine and have read it at different points in my life. The books of the original trilogy have grown with me – I see more in them at every read, but at the same time I wish I could recapture that first reading which was so much about the adventure and the magic of the world. Reading La Belle Sauvage, although I was aware of the conflict between church and resistance, I recaptured that childish wonder as I was caught up in the descriptions of the chase downriver. At times it is less important to know why things are happening than to simply enjoy the journey.

I love the illustrations – the line-drawings suit the story and bring to life the riverbank landscape.

Described by Pullman as an ‘equal’ rather than a prequel or a sequel, the first book in the trilogy certainly gains depth with an understanding of the original books but I don’t think it is necessary to have read them to enjoy La Belle Sauvage. I look forward to seeing where the trilogy goes next – with the events of the next book take place after the events of the original trilogy, I am interested to find out what draws the series together.

 

Thanks to Riot Communications and David Fickling Books for my copy of La Belle Sauvage. Opinions my own.